Tools for Unauthorized Trip Reporting as a Site of Innovation in Psychological Research (1963-1972)

Publication Date


Document Type


Publication Title

Society for Social Studies of Science 2019 Annual Meeting

Conference Location

New Orleans, LA


This paper examines the relationship between independent psychedelic drug experimentation and institutionally supported psychological research during the 1960s and 1970s, focusing especially on the ways that counter-hegemonic practices among drug researchers were incorporated as a source of innovation within dominant paradigms of institutional psychology. The paper presents a case study concerning the Experiential Typewriter, a twenty-button writing interface designed in 1966 to facilitate research participants’ expression of complex subjective experience while intoxicated by psychedelic drugs. Invented by psychologists Timothy Leary and Ogden Lindsley, and designed by electrical engineer William Getzinger, the Experiential Typewriter repurposed a continuously-scrolling Esterline-Angus Event Recorder, using a specially designed twenty-button keyboard to chart subjects’ subjective state along the machine’s moving feed of polygraph paper.
The paper will use historical methods, examining the Experiential Typewriter as represented in published reports of its use, as well as archival sources including manuscripts, photographs, and session reports contained within co-inventor Timothy Leary’s personal archives (housed at New York Public Library). These sources show Leary and his collaborators operating simultaneously within the contexts of illicit drug consumption and institutional criminology research, with findings from independent psychedelic experiments influencing subsequent institutionally supported research.
In conclusion, I suggest that my case study concerning the Experiential Typewriter stands to enrich STS literature by strengthening the empirical and historical foundations of contemporary debates surrounding research ethics and methodologies, as well as the power dynamics between counter-hegemonic epistemologies and the dominant paradigms which frequently use them as a source of innovation.