Timothy Leary's prison correspondence with Carl Sagan

Lisa Rein from the Timothy Leary estate writes,

Dr. Timothy Leary Futique Trust has released two letters from its archives from Carl Sagan, written to Tim Leary in the Spring of 1974. Turns out that Sagan visited Leary in prison at least once.

There are more than a few remarkable similarities when the lives of these two visionaries are compared. They were both scientific explorers and cultural activists - men of ideas and of action. They were geniuses at communication, not only in their books and talks, but as showmen, with extraordinary ability to spread their ideas to a mass audience.

Leary was the era's foremost advocate of inner space exploration, through humanistic psychology and mind-altering drugs, whereas Sagan was the highest profile advocate of space exploration and extra-terrestrial communication. Both were adept at using the media to illuminate their big ideas about inner space (Tim) and outer space (Carl).

Inner Space and Outer Space: Carl Sagan’s Letters to Timothy Leary (1974) (Thanks, Lisa!)

(Graphic: The "Starseed Transmission" in binary code, first printed in Terra II (1974), a manual for space migration, written in Folsom Prison by Leary and fellow prisoner, L. Wayne Benner.)


  1. Now now, you do not explore inner space with drugs and science. That place if for priests and prayers…

  2. Carl Sagan was a citizen of his times, & like Leary, used marijuana.
    “Sagan was a user and advocate of marijuana. Under the pseudonym “Mr. X”, he contributed an essay about smoking cannabis to the 1971 book Marihuana Reconsidered.[59][60] The essay explained that marijuana use had helped to inspire some of Sagan’s works and enhance sensual and intellectual experiences. After Sagan’s death, his friend Lester Grinspoon disclosed this information to Sagan’s biographer, Keay Davidson. The publishing of the biography, Carl Sagan: A Life, in 1999 brought media attention to this aspect of Sagan’s life.[61][62][63] Not long after his death, widow Ann Druyan had gone on to preside over the board of directors of NORML, a foundation dedicated to reforming cannabis laws.[64]”

    1.  Leary wasn’t a cult leader. He was a famous prof. who used the bully pulpit he had access to. There used to be adult, sometimes difficult dialogs in this country. But that was before they pulled the plug on education and almost free tuition to state universities. As Ronald Reagan said, though I’m not quoting him verbatim, why provide a university education to people who will use their questioning minds to resist the government?

    2. I dont hate Leary or Drugs, but its real dumb when people confuse their drug experiences for real insight

      1. Many scientists, authors and artists have had credited tremendous insights to drug use. I remember reading about a young guy who designed the trajectories that sent the Apollo astronauts to the moon; he said that he used to smoke pot to do the higher calculations.

      2. Seriously; what class of experiences offers insight that’s of a better quality?
        Are your insights of more value to me than mine?
        What qualifies as ‘real’ insight, anyway?

      3. I beg to differ. Some “drug” experiences really do lead to meaningful insights that resonate years later. Just because the whole premise is foreign to you doesn’t make it “real dumb”.  I don’t want to preach, so that’s all I’m going to say.

      4. Erm… wasn’t the insight into the structure of DNA uncovered in a trip? Of course a lot of hard ‘sober’ thinking preceded that.

  3. On a fork in the road leading to Leary’s ranch house, there was a sign bearing one of the best puns ever: 

    “No turn left unstoned”

    1.  I wish that A) LSD would have entered my life earlier than it did, and B) I would have had the opportunity to take my first trip in a tightly controlled environment.

      As far as giving it to kids, it’s a relatively harmless drug, particularly when you focus as much on set and setting (a term Leary is credited for) as he did. It’s less hard on one’s body than Ritalin, and folks who give kids Ritalin aren’t by necessity terrible people; a little misguided, depending on who you ask, but generally not considered evil.

    2. Yeah, and the Ritalin, Adderall, and Prozac we stuff our kids with now is so much more good and honorable.  Not to mention the never-ending supply of sugar…

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