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May 22, 2012

Timothy Leary’s Isolation Tank

By: Joe MacFarland

eBay Stories

eBay featured the MAPS auction of Timothy Leary’s sensory deprivation tank on eBay Stories, a blog that highlights “remarkable listings” found on the site. The floatation tank was given to Leary by John C. Lilly and it sold for $6,700, with all proceeds benefitting MAPS’ research.


Originally appearing here.

In 1960, a young Harvard lecturer named Timothy Leary started a research project called the Harvard Psilocybin Project with the goal of analyzing the effect of the compound psilocybin on human beings. For those of you who don’t know, psilocybin is the active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms, and its mind-altering effects are similar to those of LSD. At the time, these psychedelic compounds were still legal in the United States. Leary’s psychology experiments with psilocybin continued until 1962, but he was eventually fired from Harvard due, in part, to his advocacy of the use of mind-expanding drugs.

Leary became associated with the counterculture movement of the 1960s, and is known for inspiring students and others to “turn on, tune in, drop out.” That phrase, coined in 1967, became a revolutionary call for millions of disaffected youth, and led President Nixon to name Leary “the most dangerous man in America.” Leary was arrested multiple times on drug charges, finally ending up in solitary confinement in a California prison until his 1976 release by Governor Jerry Brown.

Towards the end of his life, Leary became fascinated by the Internet and virtual reality and urged folks to “turn on, boot up, jack in.” He declared the personal computer was the LSD of the 1990s with its ability to expand knowledge and the mind. In 1996, at the age of 75, Leary died of prostate cancer. At his request, his dying words were recorded, and his last word was “beautiful.”

In the last months of Leary’s battle with cancer, inventor John Lilly sent one of his visionary creations–an isolation, or flotation tank—to Leary to “ease his end of life suffering.” Today’s remarkable listing is that very same tank, the John C. Lilly Timothy Leary Floatation Tank, Sensory Deprivation Tank:

The listing describes the concept of a flotation tank in detail:

“The float tank is a little larger than a twin sized bed and chest high (4′ x 8′). It is filled with 10″ of water with epsom salts to create ideal floatation conditions. The user is pushed to the surface and floats like a cork, weightless as an astronaut in space. There is a lightweight door that you can leave open or close if you want to minimize outside noise and distraction. The tank is clean, in excellent working condition and contains an inside fan and stereo speakers.”

The tank is used by people for meditation and relaxation, and is said to have restorative properties.

Aside from the flotation tank, the winner receives two framed portraits of Leary and Lilly, signed by visionary artist, Dean Chamberlain:

In keeping with the spirit of Timothy Leary’s life work, 100 percent of the proceeds benefit the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). MAPS is a non-profit pharmaceutical company working with the FDA and international regulatory agencies to develop medical, legal, and cultural contexts for people to benefit from the careful use of psychedelics and marijuana.

The tank and the pictures are amazing, yet there is something vaguely sinister about the whole thing and we can’t figure out why. Is it because the floatation tank looks uninviting, like an above-ground grave?  We can’t decide whether this is the coolest or creepiest item to come up on eBay in a long time. What do you make of it?


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