Timothy Leary

Dr. Timothy Francis Leary (22 October 1920 – 31 May 1996) was an American writer, psychologist, campaigner for psychedelic drug research and use, 1960s counterculture icon and computer software designer. He is most famous as a proponent of the therapeutic and spiritual benefits of LSD. During the 1960s, he coined and popularized the catch phrase "Turn on, tune in, drop out."


  • We always have urged people: Don't take LSD unless you are very well prepared, unless you are specifically prepared to go out of your mind. Don't take it unless you have someone that's very experienced with you to guide you through it. And don't take it unless you are ready to have your perspective on yourself and your life radically changed, because you're gonna be a different person, and you should be ready to face this possibility.
    • Documentary CBC: "How To Go Out of Your Mind: The LSD Crisis" (1966)

  • People use the word "natural" ... What is natural to me is these botanical species which interact directly with the nervous system. What I consider artificial is 4 years at Harvard, and the Bible, and Saint Patrick's cathedral, and the sunday school teachings.
    • LSD: Methods of Control (1966)

  • Art's certainly made a lot of money, and got on a lot of shows — he got himself into the Nixon White House riding on the death of his daughter. And I think that's ghoulish! That's ghoulish.

  • I declare that The Beatles are mutants. Prototypes of evolutionary agents sent by God, endowed with a mysterious power to create a new human species, a young race of laughing freemen.
    • As quoted in Shout! (1981) by Philip Norman, p. 365; and in An Encyclopedia of Quotations about Music (1981) by Nat Shapiro, p. 303

  • If you want to change the way people respond to you, change the way you respond to people.
    • Changing My Mind, Among Others (1982)

  • "Turn on" meant go within to activate your neural and genetic equipment. Become sensitive to the many and various levels of consciousness and the specific triggers that engage them. Drugs were one way to accomplish this end. "Tune in" meant interact harmoniously with the world around you — externalize, materialize, express your new internal perspectives. Drop out suggested an elective, selective, graceful process of detachment from involuntary or unconscious commitments. "Drop Out" meant self-reliance, a discovery of one's singularity, a commitment to mobility, choice, and change. Unhappily my explanations of this sequence of personal development were often misinterpreted to mean "Get stoned and abandon all constructive activity."
    • Flashbacks (1983)

  • Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition.
    • As quoted in Third and Possibly the Best 637 Best Things Anybody Ever Said (1987) by Robert Byrne, #40

  • We are dealing with the best-educated generation in history. They are a hundred times better educated than their grandparents, and ten times more sophisticated. There has never been such an open-minded group. The problem is that no one is giving them anything fresh. They've got a brain dressed up with nowhere to go.
    • Interview by David Sheff in Rolling Stone Twentieth Anniversary Issue (1987)

  • Think for yourself and question authority.
    • Timothy Leary's track on Sound Bites from the Counter Culture (1989)

  • That’s the left wing of the CIA debating the right wing of the CIA.
    • Discussing CNN’s Crossfire as quoted in Rolling Stone (14 December 1989)

  • I have always considered myself, when I learned what the word meant, I've always considered myself a Pagan.

  • The universe is an intelligence test.
    • As quoted in Cosmic Trigger : Final Secret of the Illuminati (1993) by Robert Anton Wilson, p. 170

  • Throughout human history, as our species has faced the frightening, terrorizing fact that we do not know who we are, or where we are going in this ocean of chaos, it has been the authorities — the political, the religious, the educational authorities — who attempted to comfort us by giving us order, rules, regulations, informing — forming in our minds — their view of reality. To think for yourself you must question authority and learn how to put yourself in a state of vulnerable open-mindedness, chaotic, confused vulnerability to inform yourself.

  • I am 100 percent in favor of the intelligent use of drugs, and 1,000 percent against the thoughtless use of them, whether caffeine or LSD. And drugs are not central to my life.
    • Chaos and Cyber Culture (1994)

  • A psychedelic experience is a journey to new realms of consciousness. The scope and content of the experience is limitless, but its characteristic features are the transcendence of verbal concepts, of space-time dimensions, and of the ego or identity. Such experiences of enlarged consciousness can occur in a variety of ways: sensory deprivation, yoga exercises, disciplined meditation, religious or aesthetic ecstasies, or spontaneously. Most recently they have become available to anyone through the ingestion of psychedelic drugs such as LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, DMT, etc. Of course, the drug does not produce the transcendent experience. It merely acts as a chemical key — it opens the mind, frees the nervous system of its ordinary patterns and structures.
    • The Psychedelic Experience (1995)

  • Monotheism is the primitive religion which centers human consciousness on Hive Authority. There is One God and His Name is _______ (substitute Hive-Label). If there is only One God then there is no choice, no option, no selection of reality. There is only Submission or Heresy. The word Islam means "submission". The basic posture of Christianity is kneeling. Thy will be done.
    • The Intelligence Agents (1996)

  • Each religion has got their own way of making you feel like a victim. The Christians say "you are a sinner", and you better just zip up your trousers and give the money to the pope and we'll give you a room up in the hotel in the sky.
    • Timothy Leary's Last Trip (1997)

  • We saw ourselves as anthropologists from the twenty-first century inhabiting a time module set somewhere in the dark ages of the 1960s. On this space colony we were attempting to create a new paganism and a new dedication to life as art.
    • On the Castalia Institute in Millbrook, New York; quoted in Storming Heaven : LSD and the American Dream (1998) by Jay Stevens, p. 208

  • You're only as young as the last time you changed your mind.
    • As quoted in Office Yoga : Simple Stretches for Busy People (2000) by Darrin Zeer, p. 52

  • In the information age, you don't teach philosophy as they did after feudalism. You perform it. If Aristotle were alive today he'd have a talk show.
    • As quoted in The Best Advice Ever for Teachers (2001) by Charles McGuire and Diana Abitz, p. 57

  • Why not?
    • Said repeatedly, with various inflections, these were among his last words before his death (31 May 1996), as quoted in "Timothy Leary's Last Moments" by Carol Rosin. Some have stated his final intelligible word was "Beautiful".

  • At one point consciousness-altering devices like the microscope and telescope were criminalized for exactly the same reasons that psychedelic plants were banned in later years. They allow us to peer into bits and zones of Chaos.
    • As quoted in Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia : How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings (2005), by Rob Brezsny, p. 8

  • Civilization is unbearable, but it is less unbearable at the top.
    • As quoted in Still Casting Shadows : A Shared Mosaic of U.S. History (2006) by B. Clay Shannon, p. 376

  • I've left specific instructions that I do not want to be brought back during a Republican administration.
    • On being brought back to life, during the period in which he considered putting his body into cyronic suspension, as quoted in The Nastiest Things Ever Said About Republicans (2006) by Martin Higgins, p. 130

Harvard Law School Forum (1966)

As quoted in "Leary calls LSD 'sacrament'" in The Tech (8 November 1966), p. 6

  • The only abuse of drugs is the control of drugs by other people. ...The only control is self-control.

  • What I feel or believe or experience is my business, and what I do is all our businesses; and reward or punish me according to whether I play the game well — ethically and rightly — or unethically.

  • There's one uneasy borderline between what is external and what is internal, and this borderline is defined exactly by the sense organs and the skin and the introduction of external things within my own body. Consciousness is altered by physical events and physical objects, which impinge upon my sense organs, or which I introduce into my body.
    Now the name traditionally given to external objects or processes which change you internally is sacrament. Sacraments are the visible and tangible techniques for bringing you close to your own divinity.

  • The language of God is not English or Latin; the language of God is cellular and molecular.

  • Anything that affects your senses ... is your business. If you want to kill yourself through nicotine or cyanide, it's your business.

Start your own Religion (1967)

Later re-published in The Politics of Ecstasy (1968) and Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out (1999)

  • That intermediate manifestation of the divine process which we call the DNA code has spent the last 2 billion years making this planet a Garden of Eden. An intricate web has been woven, a delicate fabric of chemical-electrical-seed-tissue=organism=species. A dancing, joyous harmony of energy transactions is rooted in the 12 inches of topsoil which covers the rock
core of this planet.
  • The Purpose of Life is Religious Discovery

  • Individual societies begin in harmonious adaptation to the environment and, like individuals, quickly get trapped into nonadaptive, artificial, repetitive sequences.
    When the individual's behavior and consciousness get hooked to a routine sequence of external actions, he is a dead robot, and it is time for him to die and be reborn. Time to "drop out," "turn on," and "tune in."
    This period of robotization is called the Kali Yuga, the Age of Strife and Empire...
    • The Purpose of Life is Religious Discovery

  • Actions which are conscious expressions of the turn-on, tune-in, drop-out rhythm are religious.
    The wise person devotes his life exclusively to the religious search — for therein is found the only ecstasy, the only meaning.
    Anything else is a competitive quarrel over (or Hollywood-love sharing of) studio props.
    • Drop Out, Turn On. Tune In.

The Politics of Ecstasy (1968)

This was republished as two volumes: Ch. 1 -11 as Politics of Ecstasy (1999) and Ch. 12 - 22 as Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out (1999)

  • Drugs Are the Religion of the People — The Only Hope is Dope
    • Section title in "The Seven Tongues of God"

  • If you are serious about your religion, if you really wist to commit yourself to the spiritual quest, you must learn how to use psychochemicals. Drugs are the religion of the twenty-first century. Pursuing the religious life today without using psychedelic drugs is like studying astronomy with the naked eye because that's how they did it in the first century A.D., and besides telescopes are unnatural.
    • "The Seven Tongues of God"

  • My advice to myself and to everyone else, particularly young people, is to turn on, tune in and drop out. By drop out, I mean to detach yourself from involvement in secular, external social games. But the dropping out has to occur internally before it can occur externally. I'm not telling kids just to quit school; I'm not telling people to quit their jobs. That is an inevitable development of the process of turning on and tuning in.
    • A Trip with Paul Kassner

  • My advice to people today is as follows: If you take the game of life seriously, if you take your nervous system seriously, if you take your sense organs seriously, if you take the energy process seriously, you must turn on, tune in, and drop out.
    • "Neurological Politics"'

Flashbacks, An Autobiography (1983)

  • John asked what he could do to help my campaign for governor.
    "Write a campaign song," I replied.
    "Okay," said John, "what's the theme?"
    "Our campaign slogan is 'Come together, join the party.'"
    "Great title," said John. He grabbed his guitar and started improvising.
Come together right now.
Don't come tomorrow, don't come alone,
Come together right now,
Over me.
  • On first proposing that John Lennon write a song for his California gubernatorial campaign; this eventually developed into the Beatles song, "Come Together", p. 281

  • While sitting in my prison cell, I was astonished to hear the local rock station play a new song by the Beatles entitled "Come Together." Although the new version was certainly a musical and lyrical improvement on my campaign song, I was a bit miffed that Lennon had passed me over this way. (I must explain that even the most good-natured persons tend to be a bit touchy about social neglect while in prison). When I sent a mild protest to John, he replied with typical Lennon charm and wit: that he was a tailor and I was a customer who had ordered a suit and never returned. So he sold it to someone else.
    • p. 388


  • Science is all a metaphor.

  • LSD is a drug that causes insanity in people who have not taken it.


  • The mark of a basic shit is that he can’t mind his own business.
    • Though at times attributed to Leary on the internet, no published source of this has been located. It is also sometimes attributed to William S. Burroughs, and seems to be a paraphrase of his expression in The Place of Dead Roads (1983), p. 155:
You are a Shit Spotter. It's satisfying work. … We have observed that most of the trouble in the world has been caused by ten to twenty percent of folks who can't mind their own business, because they have no business of their own to mind, any more than a smallpox virus ... The mark of a basic shit is that he has to be right.

  • But they all do sort of the same thing, and that is rearrange what you thought was real, and they remind you of the beauty of pretty simple things. You forget, because you're so busy going from A to Z, that there's 24 letters in between...
    You turn on... tune in... and you drop out...
    • Grace Slick, and Leary are both quoted in the Infected Mushroom song "Drop out" on the EP Deeply Disturbed (2003), but only the final portion actually quotes Leary.

Quotes about Leary

  • The most dangerous man alive.
    • Richard M. Nixon, as quoted in The War on Drugs : An International Encyclopedia (1999) by Ron Chepesiuk, p. 118

  • Timothy Leary's dead.
    No, no no no, he's outside, looking in.
    • Ray Thomas in "Legend of a Mind" on In Search of the Lost Chord (1968) by The Moody Blues

  • After West Point and the priesthood, LSD must have seemed downright logical.
    • Hunter S. Thompson, in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
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