Timothy Leary’s 8 Circuits of Consciousness

To any of you fellow psychonauts, cosmonauts, spiritual seekers and reality leapers, I recently read this text below in a fantastic (must-read!) book called Cosmic Trigger by Robert Anton Wilson (hint: regardless of subtitle it has very little to do with the Illuminati).

If your experience has been anything similar to mine, this may make what scientists refer to as a fuck ton of sense. Please note, however, this is just a model. You can learn more about this model and how to keep it as a model here.

Collecting here for future research.

“To understand neurological space, Dr. Leary assumes that the nervous system consists of eight potential circuits, or “gears,” or mini-brains. Four of these brains are in the usually active left lobe and are concerned with our terrestrial survival; four are extraterrestrial, reside in the “silent” or inactive right lobe, and are for use in our future evolution. This explains why the right lobe is usually inactive at this stage of our development, and why it becomes active when the person ingests psychedelics (or engages in other right lobe activating practices.)” – Robert Anton Wilson

We will explain each of the eight “brains” briefly:


I. The
Bio-Survival System

This invertebrate
brain was the first to evolve (2 to 3 million years ago) and is the
first activated when a human infant is born. It programs perception
onto an either-or grid divided into nurturing-helpful Things (which
it approaches) and noxious-dangerous Things (which it flees, or attacks).
The imprinting of this circuit sets up the basic attitude of trust or
suspicion which will ever after trigger approach or avoidance.

II. The
Emotional-Territorial System

This second,
more advanced bio-computer formed when vertebrates appeared and began
to compete for territory (perhaps 500,000,000 B.C.). In the individual,
this bigger tunnel-reality is activated when the DNA master-tape triggers
the metamorphosis from crawling to walking. As every parent knows, the
toddler is no longer a passive (bio-survival) infant but a mammalian
politician, full of physical (and psychic) territorial demands, quick
to meddle in family business and decision-making. Again the first imprint
on this circuit remains constant for life (unless brainwashed) and identifies
the stimuli which will automatically trigger dominant, aggressive behavior
or submissive, cooperative behavior. When we say that a person is behaving
emotionally, egotistically or ‘like a two-year-old,’ we mean that s/he
is blindly following one of the tunnel-realities imprinted on this circuit.

III. The
Time-Binding Semantic System

This third
brain was formed when hominid types began to differentiate from other
primate stock (circa 4-5 million B.C.) and is activated for the linear
left-lobe functions of the brain, determines our normal modes of artifact-manufacture
and conceptual thought, i.e., third circuit ‘mind.’

It is no
accident, then, that our logic (and our computer-design) follows either-or,
binary structure of these circuits. Nor is it an accident that our geometry,
until the last century, has been Euclidean. Euclid’s geometry, Aristotle’s
logic and Newton’s physics are meta-programs synthesizing and generalizing
first brain forward-back, second brain up-down and third brain right-left

IV. The
Social-Sexual System

The fourth
brain, dealing with the transmission of tribal or ethnic culture across
generations, introduces the fourth dimension, time.

Since each
of these tunnel-realities consists of biochemical imprints or matrices
in the nervous system, each of them is specifically triggered by neuro-transmitters
and other drugs.

how drugs that stimulate the first four circuits, which are already
activated, tend to be dangerously addictive, roughly ordered ascending
from the first circuit.

To activate
the first brain take an opiate. Mother Opium and Sister Morphine bring
you down to cellular intelligence, bio-survival passivity, the floating
consciousness of the newborn. (This is why Freudians identify opiate
addiction with the desire to return to infancy.)

To activate
the second tunnel-reality, take an abundant quantity of alcohol. Vertebrate
territorial patterns and mammalian emotional politics immediately appear
when the booze flows, as Thomas Nashe intuitively realized when he characterized
the various alcohol states by animal labels: “ass drunk,” “goat drunk,”
“swine drunk,” “bear drunk,” etc.

To activate
the third circuit, try coffee or tea, a high-protein diet, speed or

The specific
neurotransmitter for circuit four has not been synthesized yet, but
it is generated by the glands after pubescence and flows volcanically
through the bloodstreams of adolescents.

of these terrestrial drugs change basic biochemical imprints
The behaviors which they trigger are those which were wired into the
nervous system during the first stages of imprint vulnerability. The
circuit II drunk exhibits the emotional games or cons learned from parents
in infancy. The circuit III “mind” never gets beyond the permutations
and combinations of those tunnel-realities originally imprinted, or
abstractions associated with the imprints through later conditioning.
And so forth.

But all
this Pavlovian-Skinnerian robotism changes drastically and dramatically
when we turn to the right lobe, the future circuits and extraterrestrial
chemicals. The four evolving future ‘brains’ are:

V. The
Neurosomatic System

When this
fifth “body-brain” is activated, flat Euclidean figure-ground configurations
explode multi-dimensionally. Gestalts shift, in McLuhan’s terms, from
linear visual space to all-encompassing sensory space.
A hedonic turn-on occurs, a rapturous amusement, a detachment from the
previously compulsive mechanism of the first four circuits. I turned
this circuit on with pot and Tantra.

This fifth
brain began to appear about 4,000 years ago in the first leisure-class
civilizations and has been increasing statistically in recent centuries
(even before the Drug Revolution), a fact demonstrated by the hedonic
art of India, China, Rome and other affluent societies. More recently,
Ornstein and his school have demonstrated with electroencephalograms
that this circuit represents the first jump from the linear left lobe
of the brain to the analogical right lobe.

The opening
and imprinting of this circuit has been the preoccupation of “technicians
of the occult”–Tantric shamans and hatha yogis. While the fifth tunnel-reality
can be achieved by sensory deprivation, social isolation, physiological
stress or severe shock (ceremonial terror tactics, as practiced by such
rascal-gurus as Don Juan Matus or Aleister Crowley), it has traditionally
been reserved to the educated aristocracy of leisure societies who have
solved the four terrestrial survival problems.

About 20,000
years ago, the specific fifth brain neurotransmitter was discovered
by shamans in the Caspian Sea area of Asia and quickly spread to other
wizards throughout Eurasia and Africa. It is, of course, cannabis. Weed.
Mother Mary Jane.

It is no
accident that the pot-head generally refers to his neural state as “high”
or “spaced-out.” The transcendence of gravitational, digital, linear,
either-or, Aristotelian, Newtonian, Euclidean, planetary orientations
(circuits I-IV) is, in evolutionary perspective, part of our neurological
preparation for the inevitable migration off our home planet, now beginning.
This is why so many pot-heads are Star Trek freaks and science
fiction adepts. (Berkeley, California, certainly the Cannabis Capital
of the U.S., has a Federation Trading Post on Telegraph Avenue, where
the well-heeled can easily spend $500 or more in a single day, buying
Star Trek novels, magazines, newsletters, bumper stickers, photographs,
posters, tapes, etc., including even complete blueprints for the starship

The extraterrestrial
meaning of being “high” is confirmed by astronauts themselves; 85% of
those who have entered the free-fall zero gravity describe “mystic experiences”
or rapture states typical of the neurosomatic circuit. “No photo can
show how beautiful Earth looked,” raves Captain Ed Mitchell, describing
his Illumination in free-fall. He sounds like any successful yogi or
pot-head. No camera can show this experience because it is inside the
nervous system.

at the proper evolutionary time, triggers the neurosomatic mutation
Leary believes. Previously this mutation has been achieved “artificially”
by yogic or shamanic training or by the fifth circuit stimulant, cannabis.
Surfing, skiing, skin-diving and the new sexual culture (sensuous massage,
vibrators, imported Tantric arts, etc.) have evolved at the same time
as part of the hedonic conquest of gravity. The Turn-On state is always
described as “floating,” or, in the Zen metaphor, “one foot above the

VI. The
Neuroelectric System

The sixth
brain consists of the nervous system becoming aware of itself apart
from imprinted gravitational reality-maps (circuits I-IV) and even apart
from body-rapture (circuit V). Count Korzybski, the semanticist, called
this state “consciousness of abstracting.” Dr. John Lilly calls it “metaprogramming,”
i.e., awareness of programming one’s programming. This Einsteinian,
relativistic contelligence (consciousness-intelligence) recognizes,
for instance, that the Euclidean, Newtonian and Aristotelian reality-maps
are just three among billions of possible programs or models for experience.
I turned this circuit on with Peyote, LSD and Crowley’s “magick” metaprograms.

This level
of brain-functioning seems to have been reported first around 500 B.C.
among various “occult” groups connected by the Silk Route (Rome-North
India). It is so far beyond the terrestrial tunnel-realities that those
who have achieved it can barely communicate about it to ordinary humanity
(circuits I-IV) and can hardly be understood even by fifth circuit Rapture

The characteristics
of the neuroelectric circuit are high velocity, multiple choice, relativity,
and the fission-fusion of all perceptions into parallel science-fiction
universes of alternate possibilities.

The mammalian
politics which monitor power struggles among terrestrial humanity are
here transcended, i.e., seen as static, artificial, an elaborate charade.
One is neither coercively manipulated into another’s territorial reality
nor forced to struggle against it with reciprocal emotional game-playing
(the usual soap-opera dramatics). One simply elects, consciously, whether
or not to share the other’s reality-model.

for opening and imprinting the sixth circuit are described and rarely
experienced in advanced rajah yoga, and in the hermetic (coded) manuals
of the medieval-Renaissance alchemists and Illuminati.

No specific
sixth circuit chemical is yet available, but strong psychedelics like
mescaline (from my 1962-63 “sacred cactus,” peyotl) and psilocybin (from
the Mexican “magic mushroom,” teonactl) open the nervous system to a
mixed-media series of circuit V and circuit VI channels. This is appropriately
called “tripping,” as distinguished from straight-forward fifth circuit
“turning on” or “getting high.”

The suppression
of scientific research in this area has had the unfortunate result of
turning the outlaw drug culture back toward fifth circuit hedonics and
pre-scientific tunnel-realities (the occult revival, solipsism, Pop
Orientalism). Without scientific discipline and methodology, few can
successfully decode the often-frightening (but philosophically crucial)
sixth circuit metaprogramming signals. Such scientists as do continue
to study this subject dare not publish their results (which are illegal)
and record ever-wider tunnel-realities only in private conversations–like
the scholars of the Inquisitorial era. (Voltaire announced the Age of
Reason two centuries too soon. We are still in the Dark Ages.) Most
underground alchemists have given up on such challenging and risky self-work
and restrict their trips to fifth circuit erotic tunnels.

The evolutionary
function of the sixth circuit is to enable us to communicate at Einsteinian
relativities and neuro-electric accelerations, not using third circuit
laryngeal-manual symbols but directly via feedback, telepathy and computer
link-up. Neuro-electric signals will increasingly replace “speech” (hominid
grunts) after space migration.

When humans
have climbed out of the atmosphere-gravity well of planetary life, accelerated
sixth circuit contelligence will make possible high-energy communication
with “Higher Intelligences,” i.e., ourselves-in-the-future and other
post-terrestrial races.

It is charmingly
simple and obvious, once we realize that the spaced-out neural experiences
really are extraterrestrial, that getting high and spacing out are accurate
metaphors. Circuit V neurosomatic rapture is preparation for the next
step in our evolution, migration off the planet. Circuit VI is preparation
for the step after that, interspecies communication with advanced entities
possessing electronic (post-verbal) tunnel-realities.

VI is the “universal translator” often imagined by science-fiction writers,
already built into our brains by the DNA tape. Just as the circuits
of the future butterfly are already built into the caterpillar.

VII. The
Neurogenetic System

The seventh
brain kicks into action when the nervous system begins to receive signals
from within the individual neuron, from the DNA-RNA dialogue.
The first to achieve this mutation spoke of “memories of past lives,”
“reincarnation,” “immortality,” etc. That these adepts were recording
something real is indicated by the fact that many of them (especially
Hindu and Sufis) gave marvelously accurately poetic vistas of evolution
1,000 or 2,000 years before Darwin, and foresaw Superhumanity before

The “akashic
records” of Theosophy, the “collective unconscious” of Jung, the “phylogenetic
unconscious” of Grof and Ring, are three modern metaphors for this circuit.
The visions of past and future evolution described by those who have
had “out-of-body” experiences during close-to-death episodes also describes
the trans-time circuit VII tunnel-reality.

exercises to trigger circuit VII are not to be found in yogic teaching;
it usually happens, if at all, after several years of the kind of advanced
rajah yoga that develops circuit VI facility.

The specific
circuit VII neurotransmitter is, of course LSD. (Peyote and psilocybin
produce some circuit VII experiences also.)

VII is best considered, in terms of 1977 science, as the genetic archives,
activated by anti-histone proteins. The DNA memory coiling back to the
dawn of life. A sense of the inevitability of immortality and interspecies
symbiosis comes to all circuit VII mutants; we now see that this, also,
is an evolutionary forecast, since we stand right now on the doorstep
of extended longevity leading to immortality.

The exact
role of the right-lobe circuits and the reason for their activation
in the 1960s cultural revolution now becomes clear. As sociologist F.M.
Esfandiary writes in Upwingers, “Today when we speak of immortality
and of going to another world we no longer mean these in a theological
or metaphysical sense. People are now traveling to other worlds. People
are now striving for immortality. Transcendence is no longer a metaphysical
concept. It has become reality.”

The evolutionary
function of the seventh circuit and its evolutionary, aeon-spanning
tunnel-reality is to prepare us for conscious immortality and interspecies

The Neuro-Atomic System

Hold on
to your hats and breathe deeply–this is the farthest-out that human
intelligence has yet ventured.

probably precedes the biological unit or DNA tape-loop. “Out-of-body
experiences,” “astral projection,” contact with alien (extraterrestrial?)
“entities” or with a galactic Overmind, etc., such as I’ve experienced,
have all been reported for thousands of years, not merely by the ignorant,
the superstitious, the gullible, but often by the finest minds among
us (Socrates, Giordano Bruno, Edison, Buckminster Fuller, etc.). Such
experiences are reported daily to parapsychologists and have been experienced
by such scientists as Dr. John Lilly and Carlos Castaneda. Dr. Kenneth
Ring has attributed these phenomena to what he calls, very appropriately,
“the extraterrestrial unconscious.”

Dr. Leary
suggests that circuit VIII is literally neuro-atomic–infra, supra and
meta-physiological–a quantum model of consciousness and/or a conscious
model of quantum mechanics by the turned-on physicists discussed previously
(Prof. John Archibald Wheeler, Saul-Paul Sirag, Dr. Fritjof Capra, Dr.
Jack Sarfatti, etc.) indicates strongly that the “atomic consciousness”
first suggested by Leary in “The Seven Tongues of God” (1962) is the
explanatory link which will unite parapsychology and paraphysics into
the first scientific empirical experimental theology in history.

When the
nervous system is turned on to this quantum-level circuit, space-time
is obliterated. Einstein’s speed-of-light barrier is transcended; in
Dr. Sarfatti’s metaphor, we escape “electromagnetic chauvinism.” The
contelligence within the quantum projection booth IS the entire cosmic
“brain,” just as the micro-miniaturized DNA helix IS the local brain
guiding planetary evolution. As Lao-tse said from his own Circuit VIII
perspective, “The greatest is within the smallest.”

VIII is triggered by Ketamine, a neuro-chemical researched by Dr. John
Lilly, which is also (according to a wide-spread but unconfirmed rumor)
given to astronauts to prepare them for space. High doses of LSD also
produce some circuit VIII quantum awareness.

This neuro-atomic
contelligence is four mutations beyond terrestrial domesticity. (The
current ideological struggle is between circuit IV tribal moralists-or-collectivists
and circuit V hedonic individualists.) When our need for higher intelligence,
richer involvement in the cosmic script, further transcendence, will
no longer be satisfied by physical bodies, not even by immortal bodies
hopping across space-time at Warp 9, circuit VIII will open a further
frontier. New universes and realities. “Beyond theology: the science
and art of Godmanship,” as Alan Watts once wrote.

It is therefore
possible that the mysterious “entities” (angels and extraterrestrials)
monotonously reported by circuit VIII visionaries are members or races
already evolved to this level. But it is also possible, as Leary and
Sarfatti more recently suggest, that They are ourselves-in-the-future.

The left-lobe
terrestrial circuits contain the learned lessons of our evolutionary
past (and present). The right-lobe extraterrestrial circuits are the
evolutionary script for out future.

Thus far,
there have been two alternative explanations of why the Drug Revolution
happened. The first is presented in a sophisticated way by anthropologist
Weston LaBarre, and in an ignorant, moralistic way by most anti-drug
propaganda in the schools and mass media. This explanation says, in
essence, that millions have turned away from the legal down drugs
to illegal high drugs because we are living in troubled times
and many are seeking escape into fantasy.

This theory,
at its best, only partially explains the ugliest and most publicized
aspect of the revolution–the reckless drug abuse characteristic of
the immature. It says nothing about the millions of respectable doctors,
lawyers, engineers, etc., who have turned away from second circuit intoxication
with booze to fifth circuit rapture with weed.

Nor does
it account at all for the thoughtful, philosophical sixth circuit investigations
of persons of high intelligence and deep sensibility, such as Aldous
Huxley, Dr. Stanley Grof, Masters-Houston, Alan W. Watts, Carlos Castaneda,
Dr. John Lilly and thousands of scientific and lay researchers on consciousness.

A more
plausible theory, devised by psychiatrist Norman Zinberg out of the
work of Marshall McLuhan, holds that modern electronic media have so
shifted the nervous system’s parameters that young people no longer
enjoy “linear” drugs like alcohol and find meaning only in “non-linear”
weed and psychedelics.

This is
certainly part of the truth, but it is too narrow and overstresses TV
and computers without sufficiently stressing the general technological
picture–the ongoing Science-Fiction Revolution of which the most significant
aspects are Space Migration, Increased Intelligence and Life Extension,
which Leary has condensed into his SMI²LE formula.

Migration plus Increased Intelligence plus Life Extension means expansion
of humanity into all space-time. SM + I² + LE = infinity.

totally endorsing Charles Fort’s technological mysticism (“It steam-engines
when it comes steam-engine time”), it is obvious that the DNA metaprogram
for planetary evolution is far wiser than any of our individual nervous
systems–which are, in a sense, giant robots or sensors for DNA. Early
science-fiction of brilliant writers like Stapledon, Clarke, Heinlein;
Kubrick’s 2001–all were increasingly clear DNA signals transmitted
through the intuitive right lobe of sensitive artists, preparing us
for the extraterrestrial mutation.

It is scarcely
coincidental that mainstream “literary” intellectuals–the heir of the
Platonic-aristocratic tradition that a gentleman never uses his hands,
monkeys with tools or learns a manual craft–despise both science-fiction
and the dope culture. Nor is it coincidental that the Whole Earth
– created by Stewart Brand, a graduate of Ken Kesey’s Merry
Pranksters–are the New Testament of the rural drop-out culture, each
issue bulging with tons of eco-technological information about all the
manual, dextrous, gadgety know-how that Plato and his heirs consider
fit only for slaves. Not surprisingly, Brand’s latest publication, Co-Evolution
, has been devoted to publicizing Prof. Gerard O’Neill’s
space-habitat, L5.

Nor is
it an accident that dopers seem to prefer science-fiction to any other
reading, even including the extraterrestrial-flavored Hindu scriptures
and occult-shamanic circuit VI-VIII trip-poets like Crowley and Hesse.

The circuit
VI drugs may have contributed much to the metaprogramming consciousness
that has led to sudden awareness of “male chauvinism” (women’s liberationists),
“species chauvinism” (ecology, Lilly’s dolphin studies), “type-G star
chauvinism” (Carl Sagan), even “oxygen chauvinism” (the CETI conference),
etc. The imprinted tunnel-realities which identify one as “white-male-American-earthian”
etc. or “black-female-Cuban” etc. are no longer big enough to enclose
our exploding contelligence.

As Time
magazine said on November 26, 1973, “Within ten years, according to
pharmacologists, they will have perfected pills and cranial electrodes
of providing life-long bliss for everyone on Earth.” The 1960s hysteria
about weed and acid was just the overture to this fifth circuit break-through.
Nathan S. Kline, M.D., predicts real aphrodisiacs, drugs to speed up
learning, drugs to foster or terminate any behavior. … Those who were
jailed or beaten by cops in the 1960s were forerunners of the Revolution
of Inner Technology.

is a better guide to the emerging reality than anything in
the New York Review of Books. The life-support and defense-system
engineer, Scotty (circuit I), the emotional-sentimental Dr. McCoy (circuit
II), the logical science officer Mr. Spock (circuit III) and the alternately
paternalistic and romantic Captain Kirk (circuit IV) are perpetually
voyaging through our future neurological history and encountering circuit
V, VI, VII, and VIII intelligences, however crudely presented.

In short,
the various levels of consciousness and circuits we have been discussing,
and illustrating, are all biochemical imprints in the evolution of the
nervous system. Each imprint creates a bigger tunnel-reality. In the
Sufi metaphor, the donkey on the which we ride becomes a different donkey
after each imprint. The metaprogrammer continually learns more and is
increasingly able to be aware of itself operating. We are thus evolving
to intelligence-studying-intelligence (the nervous system studying the
nervous system) and are more and more capable of accelerating our own

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