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Timothy Leary as proto-Transhumanist
July 19, 2013 9:44 AM   Subscribe

A new biography of Timothy Leary by R. U. Sirius emphasizes a Transhuman Leary and his SMI²LE (Space Migration + Intelligence Increase + Life Extension) material. Excerpted and discussed on Kurzweil dot net.

The source material can be found in the books Info-Psychology (née Exo-Psychology) and Neuropolitics. If you want to hear an oral presentation, one is the talk that Leary gave at Boulder, Colorado in 1983 while on one of his "Standup Philosopher" lecture tours. If you want to hear even more Leary there are 38 Leary show tapes archived at the online archives of the Psychedelic Salon podcast.
posted by bukvich (24 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Leary was very definitely on the vanguard of what became the transhumanist and singularity movements, but most people only know him as "that LSD guy" and don't know about SMI2LE and the turn he took during his prison term away from drugs and toward technology and meditation.
posted by localroger at 10:00 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


And by how sadly damaged his brain was in his last few years, which might have been unrelated to his frequent use of psychoactive chemicals... but it sure seems like something one should notice, at least.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:12 AM on July 19, 2013


I bought a copy of the second issue of Mondo200 from R.U. Sirius walking into a talk by Leary and Eric Gullichsen in 1988 about Virtual Reality. They showed a Black Hawk military simulation video that I am pretty sure they got from Mike Zyda.

John Walker had just written an internal Autdesk memo called "Through the Looking Glass," and many considered it the "biggest thing since landing on the moon." Everyone called it reality hacking back then.
posted by daniel9223 at 10:26 AM on July 19, 2013


Everyone called it reality hacking back then.

Sure -- Reality Hackers was actually the previous name of the magazine that became Mondo2000, if I recall correctly. The first issue's cover had Todd Rundgren reading a copy of this previous incarnation with a typically silly shocked look on his face.
posted by aught at 10:47 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mondo2000, issue 1 - the silly shocked look
posted by daniel9223 at 11:05 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


And by how sadly damaged his brain was in his last few years

Well I met him around 1993 and he seemed no more impaired than lots of other people in their 70's who never did any drugs. This seems like the usual "Drugs bad m'kay" propaganda that ignores everything Leary did between prison and his death.
posted by localroger at 11:27 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


> I met him around 1993

Could you expand that a little?
posted by bukvich at 11:45 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


localroger: And by how sadly damaged his brain was in his last few years

Well I met him around 1993 and he seemed no more impaired than lots of other people in their 70's who never did any drugs. This seems like the usual "Drugs bad m'kay" propaganda that ignores everything Leary did between prison and his death.
Could be. I saw the video of him as he neared death, and he looked about 99,000 years old.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:17 PM on July 19, 2013


Could you expand that a little?

He was guest at a big New Age themed conference / show, and we were there with a vendor booth selling rocks. (In those days if you were buying or selling semiprecious gemstones you got conversant with New Age philosophy whatever your personal attitude might be toward woo.)

We had on display a very dramatic 40 kg Arkansas quartz point mounted on a custom stand so it sticks up like a Saturn 5 rocket almost three feet tall. Leary made a point of walked the entire vendor floor and when he visited us he made an amusing show of hugging the giant crystal.

I also attended a couple of talks and workshops with him. He was alert and enthusiastic and very visibly excited by some of the biofeedback machines which were just then becoming available to amateur experimenters. There was an amusing turn where he asked for a volunteer to demonstrate an EEG based machine that would emit a tone when your were in a theta state. No sooner had Leary said "this might be difficult in such a distracting environment..." than the girl made the machine go off, and did so with enough regularity to keep interrupting Leary's presentation, which everyone found hilarious.

He was, of course, old but not the gaunt skeleton of his last year. Fuck cancer.
posted by localroger at 12:43 PM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I met Leary in '92. He wasn't befuddled or anything; on the contrary, he was operating in full prophet mode and was very funny and enthusiastic (in his khakis, white tee shirt, and purple sweater vest he looked like an elderly art teacher) about the potential of the internet and virtual reality. But he definitely gave off a stoner vibe and you wouldn't have had to be too hip to think "Wow, I'll bet this guy's done a lot of ... something ..."
posted by octobersurprise at 1:25 PM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Too bad he bailed out of getting himself frozen after death, allegedly because the cryonics dudes were too serious and didn't want to party with him. The only thing he could have done that would've been less 'transhuman' would be if he'd suddenly found god and lapsed into prayerful soliloquy.

Still, an eventful life, weirdly lived.
posted by gregor-e at 2:49 PM on July 19, 2013


Beyond Life with Timothy Leary is a documentary about his last days, his funeral, and various eulogy testimonials; the whole thing is currently on youtube. There is a lot of footage of him in his last days when he was promoting himself as the "first to die on the internet". The actual death is not on there. They don't say, as I recall, exactly how far they took it but I guess there might be some stuff from his last week. The highlights (from highest to lowest):

1. He says the last time he took LSD was with his wife and it cost him 100 thousand dollars. When they were tripping she decided they had to have a bigger house.

2. The cryonics plan is explained far more than a year in advance although it wasn't clear when they did the bit with him and the head tank. He looks perfectly healthy at that point. One of his relatives explains the plan change. With a small amount of time left the cryonics people were at his house explaining what they wanted to do and in the middle of this he changed his mind. According to the relative, he told them he did not want to be re-animated during a Republican administration; they did not laugh at his joke; he concluded they were no fun to be around and he only wanted fun people around while he was dying.

3. They interview Ram Dass, who is in great form.

4. Winona Ryder is his "goddaughter" (I have no idea what this means) and her father was his "Archivist" and they are both interviewed in full gush mode. They pan the archives and it looks like a hundred cartons of stuff.
posted by bukvich at 4:36 PM on July 19, 2013


I saw Leary give a talk at my sisters college back in the early 90's. He was definitely a little crispy around the edges. Let's save the fawning for someone who deserves it.
posted by jonmc at 6:20 PM on July 19, 2013


Winona Ryder is his "goddaughter" (I have no idea what this means)

It means he promised her parents to take care of her spiritual welfare if anything happened to them. That is the precise definition of what it means to be a godparent.
posted by localroger at 7:55 PM on July 19, 2013


He was definitely a little crispy around the edges.

Half the people I know who are 70+ could be described this way with more than a little accuracy. I got the "stoner vibe" octobersurprise mentions, but I had the distinct impression it was an affectation. He knew his audience and when he wanted to be sharp or precise he was quite capable of it, and I saw several examples of this at the show where I met him.
posted by localroger at 7:58 PM on July 19, 2013


Thanks for the post. As he said several times: "Everyone gets the Tim Leary they deserve."
posted by rmmcclay at 8:20 PM on July 19, 2013


Well, Leary was a heavy alcohol drinker and tobacco smoker as well. He lit up a smoke quite illegally (no smoking signs everywhere) at a talk I saw him in SF in '90 or so, but no one, including me was gonna call him on it.
posted by telstar at 10:19 PM on July 19, 2013


> It means he promised her parents to take care of her spiritual welfare if anything happened to them. That is the precise definition of what it means to be a godparent.

The wikipedia says she is Jewish and he was Catholic. This is weird. So your first sentence is fine, but the folks are making up their own definition there. (Not that there is anything wrong with that!)
posted by bukvich at 5:32 AM on July 20, 2013


the folks are making up their own definition there

You do realize that religions change, merge, syncretize, and split off, and that this has been going on since roughly the beginning of humanity, and Timothy Leary's entire life could be interpreted as a spiritual exploration, right?

Every Protestant denomination in existence started with someone taking someone else's definitions and changing them.

You do not need to follow Catholic convention to be a godparent any more than you need to follow it to be baptized. You just say you're doing it, and I know lots of Protestants who haven named godparents for their kids. All that is is a way of saying "if something happens to us so that we aren't there to be role models for you, look to this person."
posted by localroger at 6:37 AM on July 20, 2013


Oh, "Archivist" doesn't need scare quotes either. An archivist is someone who keeps your records in order -- your "archives." So that if Leary wanted, say, to take a look at the letter he received from so-and-so back in whenever he would ask Ryder and Ryder would go through the boxes and find it for him. People get paid to do that so people who don't want to be bothered don't have to do it for themselves.
posted by localroger at 7:08 AM on July 20, 2013


I kind of remember there being a lot of stuff about Leary's ideas in "Prometheus Unbound" by Robert Anton Wilson. Something about reprogramming the mind-brain computer. Money is "bio-survival tickets". Good times. That's a pretty good book, actually.
posted by thelonius at 9:09 AM on July 20, 2013




Golden Eternity those are like a gateway drug. Terrence McKenna--The Definitive UFO Tape. (Do Not begin with this one if your grasp on reality is at all precarious.)
posted by bukvich at 12:07 PM on July 21, 2013




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