:: Cybernautics & Neuro-antics
Interviewer David Jay Brown:
"To me the philosophy of the twenty-first century... is the philosophy of information"
Timothy Leary has been a public icon of extreme controversy for several decades. Because of all the sensationalized publicity he has received from the media, much of this man 's real accomplishments have been obscured and his image distorted in many people 's minds. Timothy was a highly successful research psychologist long before he had his first encounter with psychedelic drugs. He received his Ph.D. from UC Berkeley, was on the distinguished faculty at Harvard, and his book Interpersonal Diagnosis of Personality-- called "the best work in psychotherapy " in 1957 by the Annual Review of Psychology-- remains a standard text in its field to this day. When his research with psychedelic drugs began to have an impact on the general public, and Leary refused to discontinue his research, he was dismissed from Harvard. Leary metamorphosizeed from academic professor to counterculture folk hero. He continued his research in Mexico and the Millbrook estate in N. Y., working with many influential writers, artists, scientific researchers, and philosophers. Timothy 's highly influential books and lectures made him extremely popular among young people and intensely feared by the establishment. He was sentenced to ten years in prison for less than a half an ounce of marijuana in 1970.
He escaped from prison with the help of the Weather Underground, and lived the wild life of a fugititive in North Africa and Europe. He was kidnapped by DEA agents in Afghanistan, brought back to American prison, and was finally paroled in 1976. Through all this Leary never lost his sense of optimism, nor his sense of humor, which are trademarks of his charisma. Leary is the author of more than twenty-five books and computer software programs. He continues to lecture, write, perform, and design educational computer software. We interviewed Timothy on the patio at his home in Beverly Hills on June the 20th in 1989. Even in the hot, sticky heat of that afternoon, Timothy was buzzing with lively electrical energy, and his good-humored optimism was contagious. Timothy spoke with us about his eight-circuit model of consciousness, the sociobiological implications of the cyberpunk movement, information theory, computers, cyber-space, and his plans for cryonic suspension. Timothy has a wonderful ability to make people around him feel good about themselves. He looks you directly in the eye, listens carefully, and gives you full attention when you speak. Most of all, he made us laugh.
DJB: What was it that originally inspired your interest in psychology? Was there an early event that sparked the interest?
TIMOTHY: From my earliest years of thinking about careers and futures, I always assumed I was going to be a philosopher. As early as ten, fifteen years old, !just assumed I was doing this. I've always been fascinated with communication. I was the editor of my school paper in high school, where I performed experiments in fissioning and collaging ideas. I edited this paper so that I filled it with works of writers who did not go to that high school, but whose works were necessary to fill it out.
I cite this as an example of my interest in communication, and new modes of communication. To me the philosophy of the twenty-first century, which is quantum philosophy, is the philosophy of information. We see this in the linguists, the seniticions, Kojipsky, Wittgenstein, and then the enormous breakthrough provided by the thought-digitizing appliance known as the computer. The history of the roaring twentieth century is the history of our becoming an information species, and you could hardly be a philosopher, or for that matter a scientist, in the twentieth century, if you're not working in this wave.
DJB: Just so that everyone is familiar with your eight-circuit model of consciousness, can you briefly explain the intention behind it and what it expresses?
TIMOTHY: Well, in the late 50s and 60s, a group of a hundred or so select psychologists and philosophers discovered the brain. That is, they discovered how to navigate and explore the brain, just like Magellan and Columbus did for the outer geography of the planet earth. People like Aldous Huxley, Alan Watts, and Albert Hofman used psyche-active vehicles to move around in the brain. One of the major philosophic tasks of the late twentieth century is mapping the different islands or hemispheres or continents in the universe of the brain.
I remember Huxley used the metaphor of the fire antipodes of the brain, or the mind--like Australia being discovered by Captain Cook. This is the first task of the psychedelic philosopher. So over the years I've produced dozens of sketch maps of the culvas circles, the circuits or the levels of consciousness. These were crude words to build up a vocabulary or a cartography of inner space. I don't use the notion of eight circuits now as much as I did, but that's why I did it.
RMN: Did you ever develop a holographic or integrational perspective for the model, to get rid of the higher and lower stuff?
TIMOTHY: By higher and lower I think you're referring to the notion of the linear or ordinal system of one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. There's no implication here that seven is any higher or any better than six. An ordinal system just sets up location--it's the geometry of ideas or thought. Running through all the ordinal systems that we developed was the idea that they're recursive. Eight merges into one, like a double helix, in the sense of the DNA code, which is a wonderful model of an ordinal system.
Although I certainly agree with your rejection of the notion of hierarchy, I strongly defend the notion of ordinal. Because things do end up in chains of neighborhood location, and you have to get to six before seven. When you get to six you have a choice--you could go to seven or back to five, or you could go to north six or west six. But the notion of topography and, not linear, but ordinal relations, is the key to the digital language of computers, which also happens to be the language of the universe. Quantum linguistics is based upon zeros and ones. They're off and on just as computers are.
DJB: Timothy, could you give us a sociobiological perspective on the cyberpunk movement?
TIMOTHY: As a result of the many waves of acculturation and popularization of quantum philosophy in the twentieth century--modern art, jazz, digitizing ideas in the form of telegraph, teletype, telephone, and television--it is inevitable that towards the end of the twentieth century we're developing an entirely new culture. This is going to be an informational culture--a communications culture ;n which most of the values, rituals, and certainly almost all of the laws of the tribal, feudal, or industrial societies no longer hold. We're taking thoughts and digitizing them so they can be hurled around the world at the speed of light. They can be duplicated. That's basically cybernetic or digital reality--digital language.
This new society has been described by Ted Nelson, who gives us the architecture of ideas in his Xanadu System, and Bedwood Fredkin, the quantum physicist, who has described the astro-physical algorithmic nature of reality. William Gibson has spelled it out in the most humanist, down, dirty, gritty, comprehensible, novel fashion. His books Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive spell out some of the most important dimensions of the new culture that's emerging. There's a new theology, new ethics, and certainly a new psychology. The word cyber-punk-to get back to your original question--is an early and wonderfully vulgar concept of the role model of the twenty-first century.
The twenty-first century person is a cybernetic person. He or she accepts the Heisenberg principle that you create all realities. Therefore you're responsible for everything that you experience. This identification of yourself as a quantum entity certainly dissolves most of the identification chords to your former culture, your former nation, your former religion, or any other external structure, even to your family, unless family members are redefined as cybernetic entities. The cyber-punk, or the cybernetic person, is a free agent. By the way, nobody uses that term anymore; it's like one of those words that was wonderful for awhile, then it carried all the freight it could, and it was kind of co-opted by some high-falutin' literary types, and so forth. But no one uses that word anymore, although we certainly hang it up on the trophy shelf as a wonderful bumper sticker.
DJB: What role do you think it's playing in an evolutionary sense?
TIMOTHY: The cybernetic person spends a very high percentage of his or her time and energy in what's now called cyber-space, communicating, mutually creating new realities with other people, on the other side of the screen. The cyber-punk person is a free agent, and the new society is made up of free agents who link-up at a much different level of social connection than family, work, or religious commitment. So the cyber-society is a society of highly skilled, highly courageous, cybernetic people who mutually create what we call "cyberias" or cyber-architectures, on the other side of the screen.
RMN: I hear that you've made arrangements for your head to be cryonically suspended. Could you explain what this entails, what led up to your decision, and what fantasies you have concerning your future recoordination?
TIMOTHY: My motive is the obvious basic human motive that I want to have options as to my future. I have no intention of dying passively. I have not lived in a helpless, submissive, or passive way, and I certainly don't intend to make the next transition as a victim. There are many options to the passive role of just going belly up when your Blue Cross runs out. I've written papers on this subject of the options--the various forms of rejuvenation, and reanimation.
Of course on the negative side we know that death has always been controlled by religious organizations, by state and social organizations, and more recently by medical and legal bureaucracies. Death is the ultimate control mechanism by which human beings can be rendered helpless. It's very reassuring that all the Right people bitterly oppose cryonics and the reanimation option. Every religious person, of course, considers this the ultimate heresy of taking the function of God, to determine your own transition. All state organizations resist the individual’s attempt to control any part of our lives, whether it's physical or neurological, through the medical monopoly.
This is the ultimate taboo, and it's, again, wonderfully reassuring to see how people just freeze, literally, when you suggest to them that there's any option that a courageous, thoughtful person and an industifist can take to avoid just allowing your body to be eaten by maggots or burned. That's called the barbecue or maggot option. Just in the last two years that I have been talking to people about it, I've seen a wonderful openness in people who formerly, two years ago, would have reckoned it a horror.
We went through this same thing with the notion of psychedelic drugs, that you could actually take a drug that would change your mind. Your mind is supposed to be made up by God, by your parents, or by Freud, and the idea that you could take this reckless responsibility shacked people. On the other hand, it can't be acceptable, until it's at least comprehensible. I think you can explain the hibernation-reanimation option very clearly. See, the idea is you don't die, you hibernate, and you try to preserve as much of your body, and certainly as much of your brain as you can. This is a classic philosophic tool. It was used by the Egyptians, who probably produced the most scientific, the most aesthetic, and the most glorious culture, although they had human flaws.
I can explain the notion in three or four sentences. It's well accepted now that we have heartbanks, where people whose hearts are very healthy, but who are brain-dead, have their hearts stored and then given to other people who have healthy brains, but need a heart. We have kidney banks. We have liver banks. We have lung banks. So this concept is that there will be a brain bank. The option there is not cryonics, it is just to store it. It turns out the brain is much easier to store than the heart, because the heart has got all those muscles, and it's a pump, whereas the brain, as you know, has no mechanical parts and no sensation. The brain has no muscles, and there is very little hardware to it. So the maintenance of the brain is a piece of cake compared to the heart. Think of the kidney--ugh, my god, all that plumbing, and all those juices that you have to maintain.
The idea is that we can have a brain bank within twenty, thirty, or forty years--perhaps within five years if we had a crash program. If a healthy person tragically had an accident where they were brain dead, but their body was in good shape, we'djust go to the brain bank and pick up a new brain. If I donate my brain to a brain bank, I can suggest the parameters that I'd like to have. This time I'd like to have it put into a black woman. Everyone probably will have some sort of a medical thing saying that you don't want your brain to be taken over by a Romanian, or a Dodger fan.
There will be all sorts of protections that individuals can have so no one can do anything to anyone that they don't want. Just as now you can sign away your rights to have your organs given to somebody else--it's the same thing. Now, of course, when you transport a brain the consequences are different. Again anything that has to do with the brain stirs up these incredible taboos. Imagine a young healthy black woman running around with Timothy Leary's brain. I mean, think of it.
RMN: After transferring the brain into another body, do you think it will retain all of its memory? What do you think happens to human consciousness then after death?
TIMOTHY: Yes, that's the obvious and wonderful question. We're now getting into the concept of soul. The soul is defined in the dictionary as an immaterial entity which resides in the body--but is not the body, and can leave the body-which monitors, or is responsible for consciousness, thought, memory, emotion, and all that. It's almost the same definition as the brain. The brain is defined almost the same way as the soul, except for the immaterial entity part.
The answer to your question is now just a technological question. Yes. Memories are stored in the brain. Then the question is how can you recover them. Now, there are programs called the Neuro-beurtilities, in which you have these disks, in case you lose a memory on another disk. You see, you can have a computer disk, get all the work you've done in the last six months on it, and it crashes. But then they have these disks that allow you to go back and bring them back, because the memories are frozen in the grooves, or in the molecular combinations in the brain.
But you have to have that way of accessing, or booting it up, which is called life, what you'd call soul, or that which you call animation. But we are speculating about the soul--where does the soul go when it leaves the body? When you begin working in cryonics, and reanimation-particularly reanimation of the mind, memories, or personality--what formerly was you is either dead or alive. It's called irreversible involuntary metabolic coma; that's death.
Once you say, well no, it's reversible, and it's going to be voluntary, then you open up this enormous mid-frontier. We'll just call it No-Man or No-Woman's Land. What percentage of your memory could you get back? See, if we can get less than fifty percent of your memory back, we'd consider that, probably, a failure. But, you have the option. So when you sign up for this, you can say, well don't reanimate me unless you can bring back seventy-five percent of my memory. Because we could bring that back with nanotechnology, which is being taught by Eric Drexler.
We could clone or bring back another David or another Timothy. But then the question--if I had none of my memories, would I be just like a robot? It would be a tragedy and a horror, but it then becomes an option. You know, at my age I can tell you, you lose a lot of memories along the way. Well, of course, you probably lose a lot of the ones you didn't want anyway. So at least we've taken these areas of total taboo and religious fanaticism from the past, and converted them into a scientific discourse, with experimental probabilities, in which you have options, and can share these options.
I'm going to the cryonics center Friday at Riverside--that's ALCOR. I'm going there with Harry Nealson, probably with Ringo Starr, and a group of our friends. We're planning a reunion. We're going to sign up as a group for hibernation, and reanimation, possibly fifty years from now. We're having lunch at the St. James Club Friday with a group of people, and one of the things we're speculating is, we'd like to have lunch again in fifty years. The champagne will be chilled, there's no question of that.
Now what I'm doing there is I'm introducing a very powerful, comforting notion that cryonics is not you're being frozen like a stiff, like a frozen steak in a freezer, and you're popped out in cellophane, and popped in the microwave. We're talking about groups of people who have enjoyed being together in this first life, who would want to reanimate together. Because I don't want to wake up, frankly, fifty years from now, and not have any of my friends there. I'11 be surrounded by these hot-shot scientists from the twenty-first century, and maybe a few of these scientists from ALCOR, who are nice people, but I don't hang out with them. I want my friends around too.
This, by the way, is agonizingly or heart-warming reminiscent of the Egyptians. Because when the Egyptians went into their reanimation laboratories, their wives, and then their pets, would join them. When their servants would die, then they'd do them too, and try to preserve them. The Christian archeologists said, well this is a Pagan policy, and they just wanted their servants there to wait on them in the future, the afterlife. But a more humanistic interpretation is that naturally they wanted to share this reanimation option with the people with whom they spent this life.
RMN: Have you heard about morphic fields?
RMN: Sheldrake theorizes that memory is not even stored in the brain. What do you think of that?
TIMOTHY: Where is it stored?
RMN: Well, the idea is that there's access by the brain to these non-material memory fields, through which the brain picks memory up, but does not necessarily store it.
TIMOTHY: But the brain is a receiving instrument that picks it up? Yes. Well, there's no question. You don't have to say non-material. You're just referring to something we haven't been able to measure yet. See, the air is full of television signals, and to show a primitive person that, they'd think it was magic, or it's immaterial. It's not. It is material. Remember, almost everything that the former primitive religions called spiritual, you can redefine as being immeasurable right now by our level of equipment.
The planet earth is being bombarded by radio signals from outer space, none of which are comprehensible to us, and part of evolution is the increasing ability to detect information. You see, it's all information, everything is information. Morphogenetic information is information signals that we are now too crude and childish to pick up. I tend to resist strongly this notion that there's a spiritual thing that's outward beyond science, because then we have no options, we're just kind of helpless victims, and someone comes along and does it. So I have no quarrel at all with this notion. My only quarrel is with people who try to limit or moralize about different options.
DJB: What role do you see computers playing in the evolution of human consciousness, and do you think it's possible to down-load, so to speak, human consciousness or brain software into a computer?
TIMOTHY: These concepts of computer and down-load are really primitive, and they lock conversation at a certain level. The notion of cyber-space is that we are now creating this enormous universe of digital signals in the form of all the radio programs and television shows that have ever been produced, and all the traffic that's been going around in satellites. That actually there is an ocean. There's literally an ocean of electronic signals up there that's just as tangible as the Atlantic ocean. But before Magellan we couldn't access it. Now we're learning to explore this ocean of cyber-space and electric signals, and create within it. So that down-loading is just not a precise term.
I'm working with groups now that wear computers. You see, so that every time I move my arm there is a correspondence of movement on the screen. I can actually reach in and move and change things in the screen. And you can be there too--so we can shake hands, or we can dance, or we can even take each other's clothes off, or we can play tennis with each other. You can be the ball for that matter. So it's not a question of down-loading programs. Just as graphic art and books allowed us to communicate better, so too will the realities of digital creativity that we create. So there's no more computer.
Everything that I can do can be digitized, preserved, and then you can interact with it. It's robotry now because we're always aware that there's a breathing, living, juicy human being who's doing it. On the other hand, my self is stored there, so that a hundred years from now, even though I don't come back in the physical form, my descendants, or anyone who wants to interact with Timothy Leary will be able to do it. We can actually play Frisbee, or we can probably fuck each other digitally on the screen, in years to come. This does not take the place of fleshy, juicy, interactions anymore than books took the place of touching, murmuring, and groping around.
As a matter of fact, you could argue that literature enriched human behavior. So that people fucked better, if they've read a few books, than if they had not. The same thing is true if you've had a hundred digital love affairs, digital tennis matches, or digital wars on the screen. You're going to be much more sophisticated, sensitive, and wise in your human and physical interactions-instead of being vulgarized, or even condemned, as they are now. The actual touch, like this, is considered this extraordinary, rare, and rich moment.
It's a high moment because Gosh, you know, we've been on the screen together, and we have been married three times, and you were a boy, and I was a girl, and we were gay, and this and that, and God knows what we've done, and now when we actually touch, we totally sanctify and glorify the rare opportunity of physical interaction, instead of just running around like animals. In the industrial age the concept of a body was of a messy machine. In the cybernetic age, the body is an incredible temple, bristling with sense organs, and information-sending output. So that's the down-load. I out-loaded your down-load.
RMN: As machines are comprised of earth-based products, Terence McKenna made the suggestion that it could be that through technological advancement the planet is organizing itself into a self-reflective conscious entity. What do you think of this idea?
TIMOTHY: That's fabulous. I'm a great admirer of Terence McKenna, and what he's doing. I must put a caveat here. All of our language is suspect as we move from a mechanical factory society, which is state-controlled, into a much freer cybernetic society. Now, all of us who grew up in the sixties have a terrible bias against technology, because technology was what was polluting the air, and grinding down the soil, and making a parking lot out of our planet. Much of this understandable contempt for technology has flipped over into a contempt for computers.
But there's a great difference between mechanical technology, which uses oil, metal, concrete, and is in material form, and the cybernetic technology which is invisible. Within two or three years of the computers, instead of the mainframe's enormous bar and building it will be as small as a cigarette box. So that the basic virtue and ethical goal in the cybernetic society is no longer big is better, and more is better, but smaller. Throughout, the lesson is learned from Hermes Trismagistus: as above, so below, as in the larger, so in the smaller.
The greatest wisdom is always housed in the smallest package. I think I even said that in the Psychedelic Prayers twenty-eight years ago. Look at the DNA code. The DNA code is invisible, and yet the DNA code has enough information to build you an Amazon rain forest, or build a hundred David Browns. I mean it's there. The point is certainly obvious. We've now learned that the atom is not just a bunch of billiard balls going around Bohr's solar system. The atom, we have every reason to expect, is charged with enormous miniaturized information. The fact that we can't decipher it is not the problem of the atom. That's what quantum physics demonstrates.
See, matter and energy are frozen clusters of quarks. Matter is simply information which is frozen, and then it dissolves. So the smaller the information unit, the more efficient, and the more kindly, because you don't have to chop down a forest of trees to build books. It can just be put on tiny little silicon chip. See, we've gone from carbon to silicon, because carbon is much more precious. Carbon is organic, whereas silicon is cybernetic. You want to have the silicon do whatever you can to spare the carbon, because the trees, bees and flowers are carbon based.
DJB: How do you feel about scientific progress these days, and what do you think is missing?
TIMOTHY: There's been a wonderful surge of new and imaginative science in the last ten or fifteen years. Prigogine's system theory, for example. Sheldrake's morphogenetic resonance, and the notion of the hundred monkeys. Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis. Terence McKenna. I could go on listing. All of these wonderful intuitions growing out of science have been landmarks. There's just one little slip you have to add to it that makes it all click, and that is that all of these wonderful thinkers and prophets are talking about information. See, another thing I must say is that the key to information theory and quantum philosophy is the notion that there are no laws of the universe. That's such a typical Victorian British Empire piece of shit, because the Judeo God is up there--he's the judge, and he's emitting laws and commandments, of all things.
DJB: How do you see the process of evolution working?
TIMOTHY: The way that evolution works at the level of astro-physics, or at the organic level, and even the level of human knowledge, is that it's all based on algorithms. I won't go into the details, but algorithms can be summed up as: if, if, if, if, if, if, if, if, if--then. So, if the sunlight is such, if the temperature is this, if the water level is this, if the meteorological stuff is this, and if there is enough nitrogen--Click--then it happens in every island around, all the leaves turn green. See, they're programmed that way.
DJB: Have you thought about Bell's Theorem, how the mechanism of nonlocality occurs?
TIMOTHY: This notion of the non-locality of cause--Bell's Theorem and all that--seems kind of mysterious, unless it's all information, of course. If you program an algorithm, you don't set laws; you're the program, and if the program is if, if, if, if--then, the same thing's going to happen on the other side of the galaxy if it's going to happen here. That's the non-locality of cause. It's totally comprehensible and inevitable if you understand it's all information chains and codes, and they all pop up if, if, if, if--then. This is not in any way a reductionist perspective. Another one of the problems of a soft philosophy and hard philosophy is reductionism.
There's no reductionism here because if you've played around with algorithms, like fractals for example, you realize that you never know what's going to happen. They asked Fredkin--who's the great prophet of all this--"Are you saying that God is some crazed computer hacker in the sky, who's writing all these programs for stars, and atoms?" If there are two of you, and one of me, and you're hydrogen, and I'm oxygen, we get water, see? But, if that's the if.
Fredkin said, "Well, I don't know about trying to identify the intelligence that set these algorithms up; we're too crude right now to speculate, but I'll tell you one thing about it. Whoever he, she, it, or they were who wrote these algorithms, they're surprised as hell every time because—quick—oh my god—look what they're doing now!" If you've ever seen how a fractal program operates, you know that these incredible forms develop, and yet they always come back to the basic forms of cosines, which are like the linings of the esophagus, which are like the clouds.
See, coastlines and coast-like phenomena are wonderful, because they are a way of miniaturizing information. If you took a coastline and pulled it out, it'd be like ten miles long, but not if you crunch it together, like the DNA code is. It's a way of miniaturizing and packaging. Now, the notion of algorithms account for non-locality of cause. Whether it's Bell's physical experiments, or Sheldrake's hundred monkeys. It's so comforting to know that everyone is right. It's just that we can improve the theories, and make Sheldrake and Bell more precise and comprehensible.
DJB: Can you tell us about any current projects on which you're working?
TIMOTHY: Yes, I'm working on a series of educational programs that allow us to convert education into exciting performance. I've recently been appointed a professor at Penn State. You don't teach courses, you coach. The stars in this metaphor of learning, naturally, are the students, just like baseball. The coach or the teacher--he's the one who just tells you how to use your bat. The stars are the players, who we formerly called students. So I'm coaching students at Penn State via computer. I'm also preparing to nationally syndicate a daily five-minute radio commentary and a weekly half-hour television talk show.
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