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Gerald Heard

Gerald Heard

British writer and academic
The basics
Occupations Author Novelist Writer Science fiction writer
Countries United Kingdom
Gender male
Birth October 6, 1889 (London)
Death August 14, 1971 (Santa Monica)
Education University of Cambridge
Authority IMDB id ISNI id Library of congress id Openlibrary id VIAF id
The details

Henry FitzGerald Heard (6 October 1889 – 14 August 1971), commonly called Gerald Heard, was a British-born American historian, science writer, public lecturer, educator, and philosopher. He wrote many articles and over 35 books.
Heard was a guide and mentor to numerous well-known Americans, including Henry Luce and Clare Boothe Luce, and Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, in the 1950s and 1960s. His work was a forerunner of, and influence on, the consciousness development movement that has spread in the Western world since the 1960s.

Early life

The son of an Anglo-Irish clergyman, Heard was born in London. Heard studied history and theology at the University of Cambridge, graduating with honours in history. After working in other roles, he lectured from 1926 to 1929 for Oxford University's extramural studies programme. Heard took a strong interest in developments in the sciences. In 1929, he edited The Realist, a short-lived monthly journal of scientific humanism (its sponsors included H.G. Wells, Arnold Bennett, Julian Huxley, and Aldous Huxley). In 1927 Heard began lecturing for South Place Ethical Society. During this period he was Science Commentator for the BBC for five years.

As a young man, he worked for the Agricultural Cooperative Movement in Ireland. In the 1920s and early 1930s, he acted as the personal secretary of Sir Horace Plunkett, founder of the cooperative movement, who spent his last years at Weybridge, England. Naomi Mitchison, who admired Plunkett and was a friend of Heard, wrote of that time: "H.P., as we all called him, was getting past his prime and often ill but struggling to go on with the work to which he was devoted. Gerald [Heard] who was shepherding him about fairly continually, apologized once for leaving a dinner party abruptly when H.P. was suddenly overwhelmed by exhaustion".

Horace Plunkett owned real estate in the U.S. states of Nebraska and Wyoming, and left some properties to Heard in his will.


Heard first embarked as a book author in 1924, but The Ascent of Humanity, published in 1929, marked his first foray into public acclaim as it received the British Academy's Hertz Prize. From 1930 to 1934 he served as a science and current-affairs commentator for the BBC. From 1932 to 1942 Heard was a council member of the Society for Psychical Research.

In 1931 Heard had initiated an informal research group to look into developing group-mindedness or group communications, which became known as The Engineers Study Group, because several of its members were engineers who afterwards were involved in the early development of computers. Naomi Mitchison, who was a friend of Heard, also participated actively in this group.

After 1936 Heard broke with Mitchison over her outspoken support for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War and her attempt, together with other members of the group, to run arms to Republican Spain. In his last letter to Mitchison, Heard expressed his sympathy for the victims of the war in Spain, but compared the taking of sides in a war to "The relatives of a patient suffering from a deadly disease believing that he is curable by a hedge doctor (...) I am convinced that the way civilization is going is fatal, and the usual remedies only inflame the disease".

At that time, Heard played a minor part in the development of the Peace Pledge Union. Heard became well known as an advocate for pacifism, arguing for the transformation of behaviour through meditation and "disciplined nonviolence". In 1937 he emigrated to the United States, accompanied by Aldous Huxley, Huxley's wife Maria, and their son Matthew Huxley, to give some lectures at Duke University. In the US, Heard's main activities were writing, lecturing, and the occasional radio and TV appearance. He had formed an identity as an informed individual who recognised no intrinsic conflict among history, science, literature, and theology. Though he lectured at Duke, Heard turned down the offer of a post there, and traveled west to settle in California.

Heard was the first among a group of literati friends (several others of whom, including Christopher Isherwood, were also British) to discover Swami Prabhavananda and Vedanta. Heard became an initiate of Vedanta. Like the outlook of his friend Aldous Huxley (another in this circle), the essence of Heard's mature outlook was that a human being can effectively pursue intentional evolution of consciousness. He maintained a regular discipline of meditation, along the lines of yoga, for many years.

Heard concluded that the impediment to be addressed was "the problem of letting in a free flow of comprehension beyond the everyday threshold of experience while keeping the mind clear." In 1942 he founded Trabuco College as a facility where comparative religion studies and practices could be pursued. It was essentially a cooperative training center for the spiritual life. Living as a freelance scholar, Heard had enjoyed security in America by way of what he’d inherited from Horace Plunkett as well as his own family. He used some of his inherited resources toward this most ambitious of projects. The idealistic experiment required land, and Heard bought 300 acres in Trabuco Canyon, in the Santa Ana Mountains.

Heard was the guiding light and a helpful resident sage, but by nature he was neither an organizer nor a manager. Felix Greene had filled these roles, but when he left the community and got married, the practical life of Trabuco College soon began to decay. Heard deeded the land and facilities to the Vedanta Society of Southern California, who still maintain the facility as a Ramakrishna monastery and retreat.


In 1954 Heard tried mescaline and, in the mid 1950s tried LSD. He felt that, used properly, these had strong potential to "enlarge Man's mind" by allowing a person to see beyond his ego.

In August 1956, Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson first took LSD—under Heard's guidance and with the officiating presence of Sidney Cohen, a psychiatrist then with the California Veterans Administration Hospital. According to Wilson, the session allowed him to re-experience a spontaneous spiritual experience he had had years before, which had enabled him to overcome his own alcoholism. In the late 1950s, Heard also worked with psychiatrist Cohen to introduce others to LSD, including John Huston and Steve Allen. With experience, Heard arrived at a judicious view of the value of psychedelics, since at its best the insights and ecstasies it facilitates are a temporary state. Religion writer Don Lattin wrote that Heard's view was "LSD might provide an experience of the great mysteries, but it offered no instant answers."

Heard was also responsible for introducing the then unknown Huston Smith to Huxley. Smith became one of the pre-eminent religious studies scholars in the United States. His book The World's Religions is a classic in the field, has sold over two million copies and is considered a particularly useful introduction to comparative religion. The meeting with Huxley led eventually to Smith's connection to Timothy Leary.

Five Ages of Man

In 1963, what some consider to be Heard's magnum opus, a book titled The Five Ages of Man, was published. According to Heard, the prevalent developmental stage among humans in today's well-industrialized societies (especially in the West) should be regarded as the fourth: the "humanic stage" of the "total individual," who is mentally dominated, feeling him- or herself to be autonomous, separate from other persons. Heard writes (p. 226) this stage is characterised by "the basic humanic concept of a mankind that is completely self-seeking because it is completely individualized into separate physiques that can have direct knowledge of only their own private pain and pleasure, inferring but faintly the feelings of others. Such a race of ingenious animals, each able to see and to seek his own advantage, must be kept in combination with each other by appealing to their separate interests."

In modern industrial societies, a person, especially if educated, has the opportunity to begin entering the "first maturity" of the humanic "total individual" in his or her mid teens. However, according to Heard — based on his decades of studies, his intuition, and his many years of reflection — a fifth stage is in the process of emerging: a post-individual psychological phase of persons and therefore of culture. According to Heard, the second maturity can be one that lies beyond "personal success, economic mastery, and the psychophysical capacity to enjoy life" (p. 240)

Heard termed this phase "Leptoid Man" (from the Greek word lepsis: "to leap") because humans increasingly face the opportunity to "take a leap" into a considerably expanded consciousness, in which the various aspects of the psyche will be integrated, without any aspects being repressed or seeming foreign. A society that recognises this stage of development will honour and support individuals in a "second maturity" who wish to resolve their inner conflicts and dissolve their inner blockages and become the sages of the modern world. Further, instead of simply enjoying biological and psychological health, as Freud and other important psychiatric or psychological philosophers of the "total-individual" phase conceived, Leptoid man will not only have entered a meaningful "second maturity" recognised by his or her society, but can then become a human of developed spirituality, similar to the mystics of the past; and a person of wisdom.

But collectively and culturally we are still in the transitional phase, not really recognising an identity beyond the super-individualistic fourth, "humanic" phase. Heard's views were cautionary about developments in society that were not balanced, about inappropriate aims of our use of technological power. He wrote: "we are aware of our precarious imbalance: of our persistent and ever-increasing production of power and our inadequacy of purpose; of our critical analytic ability and our creative paucity; of our triumphantly efficient technical education and our ineffective, irrelevant education for values, for meaning, for the training of the will, the lifting of the heart, and the illumination of the mind."


Toward the end of his life, Heard was given a bit of financial assistance by Henry and Clare Luce. Heard died on 14 August 1971 at his home in Santa Monica, California, of the effects of several earlier strokes he had, beginning in 1966.


Heard wrote fiction under the name H.F. Heard. This included three detective novels about Mr. Mycroft (implied to be Sherlock Holmes after his retirement). Mr. Mycroft and his friend, Mr. Silchester, appeared in three novels: A Taste for Honey, Reply Paid and The Notched Hairpin. The Great Fog and Other Weird Tales and The Lost Cavern and Other Tales of the Fantastic are collections of stories that include both science fiction and ghost stories. Hugh Lamb has described The Great Fog and The Lost Cavern as "two splendid books of short stories".

The Black Fox is an occult thriller featuring black magic. Doppelgangers is a dystopian novel, influenced by Huxley's Brave New World, set after the "Psychological Revolution." Anthony Boucher described Doppelgangers as "in style and imagination, the most exciting and provocative piece of science fiction since the heyday of M. P. Shiel."

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