Tim Leary to Gerald Heard: Psychedelics as Catalysts to Language Evolution (1961)

On my final day with Tim Leary’s archive, I found the most explicit possible support of a major component of my project thesis (about the connection between psychedelic science research and Romantic theories of poetic composition) in a 1961 exchange between Leary and Gerald Heard.

Heard wrote to Leary on March 23:


It was particularly interesting to know that the creative process can be specifically stimulated by psilocybin. What we have found here is that there is a tremendous stimulation of pattern and significance. But whether it be in painting or in writing, the Wordsworthian rule has seemed to be in action. The work of art is precipitated when ‘the emotion is recollected in tranquillity.’ While the emotive power is working the wealth of imagery is so abundant that the selective and limiting powers of composition seem unable to impose themselves or the experient feels uninclined to impose this limitation.


[* Note: “Wordsworthian” and “‘the emotion is recollected in tranquillity’” are underlined in pencil, presumably by Leary.]

Leary responded on April 10:


Your comments about the Wordsworthian rule are well taken. At the height of the mystical experience communication is unnecessary and indeed impossible. One of the great challenges in our research is “after-communication.” How can we describe it? The limitations of scientific prose become so apparent. […] My experience with psychedelics has made me less satisfied with abstract and general terms and more comfortable with terms which are concrete, specific and personal. In writing up our research I’ve been experimenting with new modes of communication–the results, as expected, vary in effectiveness but there’s reward in the trying.

1961 leary to heard romanticism