How to Operate Your Brain: A User Manual by Timothy Leary (1993)

Speaking at the Human Be-In in January 1967, Timothy Leary uttered the famous phrase borrowed from Marshall McLuhan, “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” It was shorthand for saying experiment with psychedelics and achieve new levels of consciousness.

Almost 30 years later, Leary hadn’t lost his missionary zeal. In 1993 (and only a few years before his death), the former Harvard psychology professor recorded “a public service video” called How to Operate Your Brain. Here, Leary narrates an almost epileptic seizure-inducing video, providing what some consider “a guided meditation” of sorts. I’d prefer to call it an unorthodox ”user manual” that tries to impart Leary’s unique sense of enlightenment:

The aim of human life is to know thyself. Think for yourself. Question authority. Think with your friends. Create, create new realities. Philosophy is a team sport. Philosophy is the ultimate, the ultimate aphrodisiac pleasure. Learning how to operate your brain, learning how to operate your mind, learning how to redesign chaos.

As you get deeper into the meditation, you’ll realize one thing. Three decades may have passed since Leary popularized the catchphrase of the counterculture. But he’s still getting his ideas from McLuhan. If you follow the video (or transcript) to the end, you’ll discover that ones and zeros have basically taken the place of LSD. Leary says:

Now we have digital communication. We can create our fantasies. We can create our rhythms, design on screen…. Anyone in any culture watching this screen will get the general picture. It’s one global village. It’s one global human spirit, one global human race. As we link up through screens, linked by electrons and photons, we will create for the first time a global humanity, not separated by words or minds or nationalities or religious biases.

You can find McLuhan meditating on the concept of an Electronic Global Village in another vintage clip.

Related Content:

Beyond Timothy Leary: 2002 Film Revisits History of LSD

This is What Oliver Sacks Learned on LSD and Amphetamines

Aldous Huxley’s LSD Death Trip

McLuhan Said “The Medium Is The Message”; Two Pieces Of Media Decode the Famous Phrase



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  1. Alex Kuskis says . . . | November 16, 2012 / 3:13 pm

    Actually, there is no record of Marshall McLuhan having said anything like “Turn on, tune in, drop out” & the phrase cannot be found in his writings, lectures or letters. His sons deny that he said anything of the kind and indeed, it would have been an unusual thing to say for a conservative Catholic. I believe the attribution of the phrase to McLuhan comes from Leary himself, who might have been trying to lend it greater credibility by attributing it to McLuhan, who was world famous during the 1960s. Leary did get the idea of using pithy aphorisms to gain attention from McLuhan who was a master at it, having originated phrases like “the medium is the message”, “the global village” & many others.

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