Timothy Leary’s Circumplex and Loving Extremes

Today I was reading an article titled “In Search of Higher Intelligence: The Daemonic Muse(s) of Aleister Crowley, Timothy Leary, and Robert Anton Wilson” in the latest issue of Paranthropology: Journal of Anthropological Approaches to the Paranormal.   The article attracted my attention because I feel that I’ve been unusually inspired once, and its something that I’d like too see happen again.

It happened one morning at 3am after an evening with friends.  I was home alone and trying to make myself sleepy enough to go bed when the lyrics and general melodic structure of Fifteen came to me in a flash.  I scrambled for  paper and pencil, and scrawled it out as quickly as I could, but  I could not write the lyrics down fast enough. The next morning, I did a little bit editing to my scribbled out lyrics, and came up with the chords and basic structure pretty much immediately.  I have not found myself inspired like that before nor since.  There are times when I wonder  if it was really me who wrote that song.

At any rate, I haven’t finished reading the Daemonic Muses article yet.  I got sidetracked when the author referred to early work of Timothy Leary from when he was a psychologist in Berkeley and hadn’t quite discovered psychedelics yet.  Apparently in the 1950’s Leary was working on a system of organizing and classifying personality and behavior, and came up with a system that looked like this:




The system is called Leary’s Circumplex and it is defined by two axes. On one axis you have a continuum of Dominance to Submission and on the other axis you have Hate to Love (or alternately hostility to warmth).  According to Leary, all human behaviors can be placed along this axis — a theory that has spawned a number of contemporary psychological tests.

The Circumplex is essentially a bulls eye, and theoretically speaking, the most psychologically well-adjusted person would lay directly in the center.  Moving outward to the circumference, one would find the extremes of dominant, submissive, loving, or hateful behavior.  These extremes, in Leary’s view, are undesirable.

The idea of finding a balance between dominant and submissive attitudes/behaviors certainly makes sense to me.  But finding a midpoint between love and hate? Is that really desirable?  I mean, isn’t it best to be as loving as possible all of the time?  Shouldn’t 100% love be a goal?  But when you look at the circumference of the loving side of the circle, there are adjectives such as “hypernormal” and “over-conventional,” suggesting that there is an inherent fakeness to that level of warmth.

Anyhow, Leary’s Circumplex has given me some food for thought.  Indeed I’ve made the mistake of being too loving and not critical enough, and that kind of thinking left me wide open for abuse.  Still, I’m not sure if Timothy Leary was onto something, or if it’s some kind of jaded thinking that views extreme warmth and loving kindness as “over-conventional”.  I’ll have to think on it some more…




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