Interview taken from the Twentieth Anniversary Issue of Rolling Stone Magazine

(C) 1987 Rolling Stone Magazine

                     T I M O T H Y   L E A R Y

      Interview taken from the Twentieth Anniversary Issue of
                      Rolling Stone Magazine

ROLLING STONE:  As the former so-called LSD guru, what do you
      think of Nancy Reagan's advice on drugs--"Just say no"?

TIMOTHY LEARY:  Our kids should be better mannered than that!  We
      should tell them, "Just say, 'No, thank you.'"  Any blanket
      "Just say no" is a negative approach to life, which is
      typical of the Reagan administration.

RS:  So you disagree with the huge antidrug campaign?

TL:  I'm totally opposed to nonadults using any drug.  However,
        the use of drugs by kids should be easily handled in a
        family in which there is trust and communication.  The
        fact that kids in the ghetto use drugs is viewed the
        wrong way.  The problem is not the drugs; the problem is
        the ghetto families where there are no models, there is no
        communication, no education.

RS:  So it's okay to tell children to say, "No, thank you."  How
        about the rest of us?

TL:  Shall break the news?  Adult Americans are supposed to make
        their own decisions about personal matters.  I am
        constitutional opposed to government prohibitions against
        my using any drug I want to.  Addicts pose a different
        problem.  They are, by definition, sick people.  If you
        love an alcoholic or a druggie or a gun freak, intervene.
        People who abuse drugs or booze or money or guns should be
        prevented from acting irresponsibly.  But ninety percent
        of adults can and do use drugs prudently and efficiently.

RS:  How do you feel about urine testing?

TL:  I have no problems with testing people who operate dangerous
        machinery or who run nuclear plants.  I don't want the
        pilot of my plane hallucinating.  But intelligent
        individuals are not going to work for companies that would
        force them to do demeaning things like pee in a bottle.
        God knows what they would want next.

TL:  There is a strong taboo discouraging experimentation with the
        human brain.  Before the Renaissance, there was a strong
        religious taboo against discovering how the body worked.
        This held back progress in medicine and biology for
        centuries.  Today a similar challenge faces the human
        species.  We must learn how the brain works.  That's what
        we were doing at Harvard and Millbrook during the 1960s.
        The psychedelic movement was a mind-exploration movement.
        None of us really understood what was happening when we
        took psychedelic drugs, because we had to use the mystical
        language of the past--Hindu terms like satori and samhadi,
        occult terms like illumination and transcendental.  We
        didn't have the scientific metaphors to understand what we
        were discovering.

RS:  And we do now?

TL:  Yup.  We had to have a personal-computer movement to help us
        understand the brain.  You see, we can only understand our
        inner workings in terms of the external, mechanical or
        technological models that we build.  We never understood
        the circulation of the blood until we had hydraulic
        systems moving water around.  We didn't understand
        metabolism until we had mastered thermodynamics with the
        steam engine and understood how coal and oil produce power
        and energy.  Only then could we figure out how
        carbohydrates and proteins work.  Coming from an
        industrial, mechanical culture, how could we possibly
        understand the brain?  Until recently we thought the brain
        was a machine like a big telephone system.  This is a
        completely inadequate metaphor.  The psychedelic-drug
        movement of the Sixties and the personal-computer movement
        of the Eighties are inner and outer reflections of each
        other.  You simply cannot understand psychedelic drugs,
        which activate the brain, unless you understand something
        about computers.  It is no accident that many of the
        people in the computer movement had experimented with LSD.

RS:  And what was learned?

TL:  Every person who took acid  has his or her own story to tell.
        That's the beautiful things about it.  Certainly there is
        no one who had an experience with LSD who didn't have an
        unforgettable, overwhelming experience.

RS:  How do computers help our inner exploration?

TL:  Computers help us understand how our brains process
        information.  For example, as a psychologist, I was taught
        that the synapse, where two nerve endings exchange
        information, was a sort of on-off switching device.  That
        is not true at all.  At the synapse there are millions of
        quantum signals, like an enormous television screen.
        There is probably more complex information exchanged
        between one synapse and another than in most computer
        programs.  But I have to have an understanding of
        computers to be able to say that.  There is a wonderful
        paradox here:  we can only navigate outside as well as we
        can navigate within.  What happened in the Sixties was
        that we did a lot of inner tripping, but we lacked the
        cybernetic-language technology to express and map and
        chart what we were experiencing.

RS:  Do you miss the Sixties?

TL:  Not really, thought I must say it was a fantastic age of
        exploration.  We had that old-time 1492 Columbus fever.
        We sensed that we were brain explorers.  We intuitively
        used metaphors of travel--"tripping," "coming down," "head
        pilots," "guiding voyagers."  The metaphor "turning on"
        relates to activating the television set and booting up
        the computer.

RS:  These days, the drugs in vogue are not mind exploring.  What
        does that say about the time?

TL:  The drugs that are popular today--cocaine, pills, ecstasy,
        Venus, Eve--tend to alter mood rather than expand
        consciousness.  They can be instructive and fun if handled
        prudently.  But we still have to learn how to communicate
        what we experience.  Let's be frank:  there will be new,
        improved drugs and wave of internal explorations.

RS:  With what end?

TL:  It is a genetic imperative to explore the brain.  Why?
        Because it's there.  If you are carrying around in you
        head 100 billion mainframe computers, you just have to get
        in there and learn how to operate them.  There is nothing
        in the outside universe that isn't mirrored and duplicated
        inside your brain.

RS:  Do you feel a kindred spirit with the people who are
        identified with the drug movement, such as Richard
        Alpert--a.k.a. Ram Dass--and novelist and Merry Prankster
        leader Ken Kesey?

TL:  Sure, although we all evolved so differently.  Richard talks
        about going back to the source, which means going back to
        the past.  For many good reasons, Richard committed
        himself to an extremely archaic Hindu orthodoxy.  But it's
        a peaceful philosophy of caring and charity.  Richard was
        the Mother Teresa of the psychedelic movement.  You can't
        knock that.  But Ram Dass ain't gonna blow your mind open
        with new revelations, and he ain't gonna encourage you to
        storm the gates of the info-space heaven with cybernetic

RS:  What about Ken Kesey?

TL:  Ken Kesey and his wife, Faye, are real Western heroes.
        Mythic ranchers.  Frontier people.  Oregon Trail folk.
        Salt of the good earth.  Rugged-individualist people you
        can depend on in a crunch.

RS:  How about others associated with that period?  Abbie Hoffman?

TL:  Abbie Hoffman is a wonderful legend.  The most radical,
        eloquent, rabble-rousing agitator of our time.

RS:  Jerry Rubin?

TL:  Jerry's your basic YMHA director, a likable young executive.
        Jerry is a liberal conformist.  He could just as well have
        been a young liberal Republican.  He's certainly not your
        new Aristotle or Plato.

RS:  What was his role then?

TL:  He had his own Holy Grail quest.  He certainly was out there
        in the front lines.  And he has a certain organizational
        charm, which I admire.  If you're looking for a veterans-
        of-the-Sixties consensus here, I'd guess that ninety
        percent of the people who were involved in the psychedelic
        brain-discovery movement would tell you that LSD paved the
        way for most of the cultural events of the last two
        decades--ecology, New Age, Shirley MacLaine, the born-
        again personal-religion stuff, the peace movement, the
        personal-fitness craze, pop art, personal-computer
        hacking, MTV, BLADE RUNNER, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE and the
        cybernetic Eighties.

RS:  Cybernetic?

TL:  I think each decade in the roaring twentieth century has
        produced new technologies and art forms for personalizing
        and popularizing electronic, light-speed quantum energies
        Since 1900 our society of factory workers and farmers has
        been transformed into an information-age culture totally
        committed to flashing realities on screens.  Americans
        spend more time looking at television monitors than they
        do gazing into the eyes of family and friends.  Power,
        politics and culture are determined by who controls the

RS:  How does this affect you?

TL:  I follow the trends of evolution.  I go with the electron
        flow.  I see myself as a quintessential American, just
        going along for the ride.

RS:  Quintessential?  You?

TL:  Hey, I'm sixty-seven years old.  I have actively experienced
        seven decades of accelerated change.  I've surfed each of
        the waves of the twentieth century with reasonable success
        and an amount of fun.  In the Forties, I was in the army
        for five years and in school on the GI bill for five
        years.  What could be more apple pie?  In the Fifties, I
        was a button-down young professor with kids, a suburban
        house, drinking martinis.  In the Sixties, I dutifully,
        diligently turned on, tuned in and, God knows, dropped
        out.  What was the alternative?  Turn off, tune out,
        blindly conform?
     The Seventies was the decade of the political prisoner.
        Nixon threw the dissenters in jail.  I was the first one
        to go into prison:  January 1970.  Then, after Watergate,
        it was the Nixon gang's turn.  In the next six years, I
        watched my federal pursurers join me:  the attorney
        general, John Mitchell; Haldeman and Ehrlichman; Gordon
        Liddy.  Now, in the Eighties, how can you avoid the
        computer revolution?

RS:  Can you describe your work in the computer field?

TL:  My work involves cybernetic psychology--the personalization
        amd popularization of quantum mechanics.  Packaging and
        communicating thoughts at light speeds.  Putting
        electronic appliances in the hands of individuals.  First
        we had the telephone, then radio, movies, television.  Now
        we have computers, video players, compact discs, home-
        editing appliances.  It's still just the beginning.  In
        the next five years we're gonna design you an inexpensive
        electronic facility for you living room.  You'll be able
        to move information and images around your screen in
        whatever way you want.  Now, that's revolutionary.

RS:  In what ways?

TL:  In the twenty-first century, whoever controls the screen
        controls consciousness, information and thought.  The
        screen is a mirror of your mind, get it?  If you are
        passively watching screens, you are getting programed.
        If you are editing you own screen, you are in control of
        you mind.  George Orwell had it wrong.  He was too
        optimistic.  He wrote in 1984 that Big Brother would watch
        us from screens on the walls of our living rooms or
        bedrooms.  But that is nothing.  You could always duck out
        of sight.  The current horror is that Americans
        voluntarily stick their amoeboid faces toward the screen
        six or seven hours a day and suck up information that Big
        Brother is putting there.  Here is the key to our future:
        We can and will control our own screens.  We are designing
        software that will empower you to produce and direct your
        own mind movies, your own prime-time shows.

RS:  And how will it affect us?

TL:  This will create a new model of human being, the cybernetic
        person.  A new movement is emerging.  It's something like
        the beatniks of the Fifties of the hippies of the Sixties.
        It's called cyberpunk.  The concept comes from William
        Gibson's book NEUROMANCER.  Cyberpunks are individuals who
        have the intelligence and the courage to access and use
        high-quantum technology for their own purposes and their
        own modes of communication.

RS:  For example?

TL:  In the movie WARGAMES the kid is a video hotshot.  At school,
        the authoritarian, smug teacher gives him a hard time.  He
        goes to the principal's office, gets the computer code and
        goes home and changes his grade.  He ends up using his
        cyber skills to match wits with the Pentagon computers.
        Another example of cyberpunk was the young man from
        Hamburg, Mathias Rust, who piloted a small Cessna through
        the electronic nets and defense systems of the Russians
        and landed in Red Square.  Why?  Not for the CIA, nor for
        the German army, but for his own fucking pleasure.  He is
        a classic cyberpunk.  Charles Lindburg, the Lone Eagle,
        was another.  Stanley Kubrick.  Jann Weaver.  Steve Jobs.
        I could go on.

RS:  And they symbolize what?

TL:  Taking control of the future ourselves.  Ignoring the old-
        time institutions and archaic politics.  You don't
        organize in old-time political groups to get involved in
        campaigns for political office.  You don't get involved in
        the old struggle for or against Big Brother.  You pilot
        out to the frontier and navigate a new life.  "Cyber"
        comes from the Greek word for "pilot."  Once you declare
        you independence in your mind, you're home free.
     As more and more people become free agents, or cyber pilots,
        it's gonna make an enormous difference.  When we get just
        ten percent of the people operating this way, it will
        change the system, because they are the smartest ten
        percent.  Star Wars, for example, cannot operate if ten
        percent of the computer techies think for themselves.  To
        run a modern society you depend upon skilled, innovative
        quantum intelligence.  These are exactly the people who
        are not going to become vassals to an economic or
        political organization.
     In his book NEUROMANCER, Gibson spells out a sociology for
        the twenty-first century that makes a lot of sense. The
        world is controlled by international global combines based
        in Japan, Germany, Switzerland.  Nationalism is down.  The
        multinationals won't allow war to break out; they can't
        let the Russians bomb America, because they own most of
        America.  And it's an amazingly free world.  The
        international combines don't care about your lifestyle.
        They just want us all to be consumers with individual
        options.  They're not like the Islamic fundamentalists or
        the Reagan right-wingers or the communist moralists.  They
        don't care what your sex life is.  They don't care what
        drugs you take, as long as you consume.  So there are
        going to be enormous free markets operating according to
        the laws of supply and demand--the basic form of

RS:  Who is most threatened by this idea?

TL:  The nationalists and the religious people.  Their power will
        be greatly diminished.

RS:  And what will happen in the political arena?

TL:  Politics are going to change in the next two or six years,
        when the baby-boom generation comes of age.  The baby
        boomers, born 1946 to 1964, are now between the ages of
        forty-one and twenty-three.  The 1988 election is the
        first in which every baby boomer will be over twenty-one.
        The older ones are going to be running for office.  That
        means in 1988, and certainly in 1992, the baby boomers,
        the Summer of Love kids, will take over.  This generation
        is 76 million strong.  They'll be in the position of the
        shark in the swimming pool, the polar bear in the small
        igloo.  They can do whatever they fuckin' want.

RS:  Yet young people today seem more conservative than ever.

TL:  I don't think the old terms like "liberal" or "conservative"
        make much sense.  They are individualists--skeptical, even
        cynical, about partisan politics.  They've seen their
        ideals dashed with Vietnam, Watergate, Iranscam.  These
        veterans of the Sixties are tough cookies.

RS:  But how long will it take to get this technology into the
        hands of more people?

TL:  Good point.  I can only repeat that the personalization and
        popularization of high technology is the key.
        Popularization means cybernetic appliances in the hands of
        the people.  It is not just the personal computer.  It's
        any electronic technology that allows you to change your
        screen.  With the new tape-editing appliances, you can
        become the director and producer of what you and your
        family see.  You can combine educational programs with
        entertainment, create collages with your own X-rated home
        movies and bits you taped off CNN news.

RS:  So we won't be dependant on outside programmers for all our
        entertainment and information.

TL:  Exactly.  Don't forget these media programmers want absolute
        control over our minds.  When it's on my screen, I'll
        decide how it plays.  The first time I got turned on to
        the new cyber-pilot idea was in a video arcade.  I watched
        my grandchildren moving rockets around on the screens.
        Well, if you can do what with blips, you can do it with

RS:  People like Jerry Falwell and Ed Meese probably wouldn't be
        too happy with your cyber-pilot concept.  Are you
        concerned about the regressive trends represented by
        Falwell and the Meese commission?

TL:  They must be scorned and ridiculed.  Still, when you think
        about it, the Meese commission doesn't really hurt self-
        directed Americans very much.  It stirs up a lot of
        excitement.  If 7-Eleven won't sell me PLAYBOY, I'll just
        go to another store down the block.  The poverty thing is
        what hurts:  people in the underclass deprived of
        information, discouraged from learning cybernetic skills.

RS:  How do you propose we combat that?

TL:  My company, Futique--that's the opposite of "antique"--has
        joined up with Activision to produce software programs
        that are so inexpensive and attractive that ghetto kids
        can quickly pick up the new language of screens and icons.
        More and more of the cybernetic equipment will become
        available.  It will filter into all homes eventually, just
        like television.

RS:  You speak to many college audiences.  What do you find out

TL:  We are dealing with the best-educated generation in history.
        They are a hundred times better educated than their
        grandparents, and ten times more sophisticated.  There has
        never been such an open-mined group.  The problem is that
        no one is giving them anything fresh.  They've got a brain
        dressed up with nowhere to go.

RS:  What do they expect when they come to see Tim Leary?

TL:  The average college student doesn't know who I am.  They
        weren't even born in l'ete d'amour.  But word gets around.
        The rumor is that I'm someone vaguely counterculture and
        highly controversial.

RS:  What are you trying to communicate to them?

TL:  This is the golden age of intelligence.  Instead of E=MC^2,
        it's I=MC^2, where "I" is information.  According to this
        formula, the aim is to activate your mind, awaken new
        ideas, improve your communication skills.  Pilot your
        life.  Smarten up.

RS:  And are the college kids responding?

TL:  I sense that a lot of college kids envy the Sixties.  They
        feel they have missed something.  Today there's not the
        excitement and the feeling of change, the feeling of
        engagement, that existed then.  So they tend to respond
        with enthusiasm to common-sense proposals for personal

RS:  It's ironic that the Sixties are viewed so fondly when many
        emerged from that period completely disillusioned.

TL:  It depends on your viewpoint.  The so-called Sixties actually
        started in 1967, when the oldest baby boomer became
        twenty-one.  The Summer of Love was a coming-of-age party.
        It was triggered symbolically by the Beatles' SGT. PEPPER
        album, which changed rock & roll into a new and powerful
        cultural form.  There had been preparations for it in
        jazz, in the beatniks, in Elvis Presley, in the rhythm &
        blues stuff, people like Ray Charles.  And the early
        elitist drug stuff, Ken Kensey and our group at Harvard.
        But the signal went global with SGT. PEPPER.  Every year
        after 1967 produced another public eruption:  the 1968
        Chicago riots; Woodstock in 1969; Kent State in 1970.  I
        think the Sixties peaked in 1976 when we elected a hippie-
        dippy, Howdy Doody guy named Jimmy Carter as president.
        Carter was quoting Bob Dylan and talking about peace and
        love and civil rights and human rights.  How strange that
        seems today!
     The spirit of the Summer of Love in America ended with a thud
        in 1980 when we elected Nancy Reagan as commander in
        chief.  But it rippled out globally.  It surfaces whenever
        young people get rid of the old World War II generals.
        Spain after Franco started its summer of freedom.
        Portugal.  Brazil when the colonels got the boot.
        Argentina.  The Phillippines.  What's happening in South
        Korea right now looks familiar, doesn't it?  College kids
        and civilians in shirt sleeves standing up to the helmeted
        national guard?  Shades of Kent State?  And now, exactly
        twenty years later, the Summer of Love is hitting Russia.
        Glasnost!  Openess!  Punk-rock clubs in Moscow!  Gorby
        singing "Give Peace a Chance"!  Mrs. Gorby quoting
        Lennon--John, not Vladimir Ilyich--to Yoko Ono!

RS:  Isn't the Reagan administration out of step with all this?

TL:  It doesn't matter.  It cannot stop the evolutionary wave.
        When it is time for the human species to activate their
        new brain circuits, it's gonna happen.  Nothing is going
        to stop it!  There is no way you can pass laws against the
        relentless increase in human intelligence.  The evolution
        of precise technology is so seductive.  There's no way you
        can stop individuals from exploring their brains and using
        the new cybernetic-knowledge appliances.

RS:  In the meantime?

TL:  The old game goes on.  It is the genetic duty of the power
        holders to in every way discourage change in the gene
        pool.  This means that those of us who are wired to change
        have to be really smart and really tough.  If we can't
        prevail over turkeys like Meese and Falwell, then fuck it,
        we don't deserve to get into the future.  If we can't
        outmaneuver vacuous four-letter robots like Bush and Bork
        and Kemp and Dole, then we better go back to school and
        smarten up.  We are dealing with moral-mental pygmies
        here.  We can navigate around Ollie North's 600-ship navy
        [smiles broadly].  They don't have a chance.

Interview by David Sheff

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