Janelle Lawrence’s obituary of Jerry Lettvin appears in today’s Boston Globe. Lawrence captures quite a bit of the Jerry-ness. It begins:
MIT professor emeritus Jerome Lettvin [pictured here, around 1960] was best known for his work on the 1959 paper “What the Frog’s Eye Tells the Frog’s Brain.’’ His measurements of “bug detectors’’ in frogs’ eyes shook up neuroscience.
But it was his 1967 surprise showdown with counterculture guru Timothy Leary in a debate over the use of LSD that further cemented Dr. Lettvin’s fame at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Drafted at the last minute by student organizers, Dr. Lettvin left his frogs and, with no preparation time, faced a lotus-positioned Leary sitting on stage amid exotic trance-like effects.
When Leary likened an LSD user’s involuntary recurring trips to the experiences of an ancient mystic, Dr. Lettvin, a former Army psychiatrist during World War II, replied in his booming voice with one of the first expletives ever used on television. The audience’s wild cheers can be heard in an audio recording on YouTube….
Here’s video of that debate (of which you also should know that Jerry and Tim Leary were in fact good friends). Jerry arrives a little more than half-way into the video:
If you’d like to know more about Jerry, there’s a lot to know…