EP 598 Harvard’s Social Relations Experiment, Timothy Leary and the Return of Psychedelics

While little known, Harvard University tried a grand experiment starting in the 1940’s as it merged parts of the psychology department with the anthropology and sociology departments into a construct known as the Department of Social Relations.  This interdisciplinary approach was meant to help unlock why we humans behave as we do.  It made the audacious claim that it would surpass in importance Harvard’s “big three” disciplines of economics, government, and history.   And while the tools and the scholars were put in place, there was much fractiousness among the faculty, a lack of collegiality and no overarching theory to under gird the effort.  It did produce scholarly work and trained many notable graduates.  Perhaps as we look at the boom today in the field of psychedelic drugs, which are being legalized in many states to treat various conditions, like PTSD and depression, and for recreational use, perhaps this Department will be best remembered for Timothy Leary’s experimentation with the psychedelic drug psilocybin. This was a forerunner to the counterculture movement of the 1960’s.  All this history is included in our guest Patrick Schmidt’s new book “Harvard’s Quixotic Pursuit of a New Science: The Rise and Fall of the Department of Social Relations”.