DAVID SHEFF: 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. 

DS:  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. 

DS:  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. 

DS:  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 thepilot 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. 

DS:  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. 

DS:  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. 

DS:  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. 

DS:  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. 

DS:  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. 

DS:  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. 

DS:  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         brainware. 

DS:  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. 

DS:  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. 

DS:  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. 

DS:  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. 


DS:  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         screens. 


DS:  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. 


DS:  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? 


DS:  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. 


DS:  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. 


DS:  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. 


DS:  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. 


DS:  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         democracy. 


DS:  Who is most threatened by this idea? 


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


DS:  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. 


DS:  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. 


DS:  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. 


DS:  So we won't be dependent 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         ideas. 


DS:  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. 


DS:  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. 


DS:  You speak to many college audiences.  What do you find out         there? 


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. 


DS:  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. 


DS:  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. 


DS:  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         change. 


DS:  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! 


DS:  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. 


DS:  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, Rolling Stone Magazine