This generation of baby boomers is 76 million strong. They can do whatever the want.
As the former so-called LSD gury, what do you think of Nancy's Reagan's advance on drugs - "Just say no"?
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.
So you disagree with the huge antidrug campaign?
I am totally opposed to non-adults 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.
So it's okay to tell children to say, "No, thank you." How about the rest of us?
Shall we break the news? Adult Americans are supposed to make their own decisions about personal matters.
I am constitutionally 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 am irresponsibly.
But ninety percent of adults can and do use drugs prudently and efficiently.
How do you feel about wine testing?
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.
In retrospect, what was the significance of the Sixties drug culture?
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 trancendental.
We didn't have the scientific metaphors to understand what we were discovering.
And we do now?
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 thermodynamic, with the steam engine and understood how coal and oil produce power and energy.
Only then could we figure out how carbohydrates and proteins works. 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.
And what was learned?
Every person who took acid has his or her own scory to tell. That's the beautiful thing about it. Certainly
there no one who had an experience with LSD who didn't have an unforgettable, overwhelming experience.
How do computers help our inner exploration?
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's 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.
Do you miss the Sixties?
Not really, though 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 die computer.
These days, the drugs in vogue are not mind expanding. What does they say about the time?
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, unproved drugs and waves of internal explorations.
With what end?
It is a generic imperative to explore the brain. Why? Because it's there. If we are carrying around in your 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.
Do you feel a kind of spirit with people who are identified with the drug movement, such as Richard Alpert - a.k.a. Ram
Dass - and nonelist and Merry Prankster leader Ken Kesey?
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 aint't gonna blow your mind open with new revelations, and he ain't gonna encourage you to storm the gates
of Ole info-space heaven with cybernetic brainware.
How about Ken Kesey?
Ken Kesey and his wife, Faye, are real Western heroes. Mythic ranchers. Frontier people. Oregon Trail folk. Salt of
the good earth. Rugged-individualist peopie you can depend on in a crunch.
How about others associated with that period? Abbie Hoffman?
Abbie Hoffman is a wonderful legend. The most radical, eloquent, rabble-rousing agitator of our time.
Jerry's your basic YMHA director, a likable young executive. Jerry is a liberal conformist. He could just as
well have been a young liuberal Republican. He s certatinly not your new Aristode or Plato
What was his role then?
He had his own Holy Grale 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-compurer hacking, MTV, Blade Runner, Saturday Night Live
and the cybernetic Eighties.
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.
How does this affect you?
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.
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 enormous 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, turned 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 pursuers join me: the attorney general, John Mitchell; Haldeman and Ehrlichman; Gordon Liddy.
Now, in the Eighties, how can you avoid the computer revolution?
Can you describe your work in the computer field?
My work involves cybernetic psychology - the personalization and 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 your
living room. You'll be able to move information and images around on your screen in whatever way you want. Now, that's
In what ways?
In the twenty-first century, whoever controls the screen controls consciousness, iformation and thought. The screen is a
mirror of your mind, get it? If you are passively watching screens, you are being programmed. If you are editing your own
screen, you are in control of your 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.
And how will it affect us?
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 or 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 highquantum
technology for their own purposes and their own modes of communication.
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, not for the German army, but for his own fucking pleasure. He is a classic cyberpunk. Charles
Lindberg, the Lone Eagle, was another. Stanley Kubrick. Jann Wenner. Steve Jobs. I could go on.
And they symbolize what?
Taking control of the future ourselves. Ignoring the old-time institutions and archaic politics. You don't organize in
old-time political groups or 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 your 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
Who is most treatend by this idea?
The nationalists and the religious people. Their power will be greatly diminished.
And what will happen in the political area?
Politics are going to change in the next two to 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 twenry-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.
Yet young people today seem more conservative than ever.
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 Stxties
are tough cookies.
But how long will it take to get this technology into the heads of more people?
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.
So we won't be dependent on outside programmers for all our entertainment and information.
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 that with blips, you can do it with ideas.
People like Jerry Fahwell and Ed Meese probably wouldn't be too happy with your cyber-pilot concept. Are you concerned
about the regressive trend represented by Fahwell and the Meese commission?
They must be scorned and ridiculed. Still, when you think about it, the Meese comission 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.
How do you propose to combat that?
My company, Furique - 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 the television.
You speak to many college audiences. Wbat do you find out there?
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-minded group. The problem is that no one
is giving them anything fresh. They've got a brain dressed up with nowhere to go.
What do they expect when they come to see Tim Leary?
The average college student doesn't know who I am. They weren't even born in l'est d'amour. But word gets around. The rumor
is that I'm someone vaguely counterculture and highly controversial.
What are you trying to communicate to them?
This is the golden age of intelligence. Instead of E = mc2, it's I = mc2, 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.
And are the college kids responding?
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.
It's ironic that the Sixties are viewed so foundly when many emerged from that period completely disillosioned?
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 comming-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
beamiks, in Elvis Presley, in the rhythm & blues stuff, people like Ray Charles. And the early elitist drug stuff,
Ken Kesey 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 hippiedippy. 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 Phihppines. 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! Openness! Punk-rock clubs in Moscow! Gorby singing "Give Peace a Chance"! Mrs. Gorby quoting Lennon -
John, not Vladimir Ilyich - to Yoko Ono!
Isn't the Reagan administration out of step with all this?
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 die relentless increase
in human intelligence. The evolution of precise technology is so seductive. There's no way you can stop indivduals from
exploring their brains and using the new cybernetic-knowledge appliances.
In the meantime?
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 to 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 Davis Sheff aus dem "Rolling Stone"