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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Comments (6)
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  • 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.

  • Bobby says:

    He might of been try­ing to get a name for him­self like it was said with the John Lennon Come Togeth­er theme for his cam­paign. (:::) Has any­one ever seen the real T L with­out parts being
    cut out of every video they make of him?…” This includes the media that were doing it
    before com­put­ers and tech­nol­o­gy came about.

    (…) If so let us know cause we haven’t seen one, and don’t for­get to do your own inter­per­son­al trip, per­son­al­i­ty, behav­iors, skills, emo­tions instead of oth­er ppl’s. ” Learn How To Do You and Be You your­self is the key. 🔑

  • Frater Fortis Ignis says:

    As Leary said, phi­los­o­phy is a group effort, dum­b­ass who wrote this arti­cle. Go back to your TV and get holes drilled in your brain by non­sense.

  • THX says:

    please some­body can reu­pload the tran­script of the video? this link is bro­ken:
    thanks in advance

  • Daniel says:

    Tim­o­thy Leary was a prod­uct of his times. He says that the goal of life is to know one­self. But it is not very clear why this is need­ed. The search for a high­er lev­el of con­scious­ness is very old. I have found that state and under­stand what Tim­o­thy is try­ing to do. But he seems to ignore that there is an inac­ces­si­ble real­i­ty above us and that the whole task is for that real­i­ty to con­tact us. I hope you under­stand what I say here

  • Eugene says:

    Yes, very much so. Rudolf Stein­er picks up the rest of the con­ver­sa­tion (where Dr. Tim leaves us) and he lived before Dr. Tim. That Super­sen­si­ble real­i­ty must con­nect with us but we must be will­ing par­tic­i­pants and seek it. I think this is what Dr. Tim was most­ly involved with in his com­mu­ni­ca­tions with the pub­lic.

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