Timothy Leary, Marshall McLuhan & Electronic Media

08Jun14

This essay was previously published here, but was taken down by request, pending publication by BoingBoing, where it  just appeared this week. This is a short excerpt and readers should follow the link at bottom to read the full essay, especially the previously unpublished letter from Marshall McLuhan regarding Timothy Leary. The full essay can be found at http://tinyurl.com/p5geazq .

Timothy Leary & Marshall McLuhan, turned on & tuned in

Michael Horowitz and Lisa Rein tell the fascinating tale of McLuhan and Leary’s friendship, and present an unpublished letter from the Leary Archives.

Man is about to make use of that fabulous electrical network he carries around in his skull” – Timothy Leary & Richard Alpert, 1963

“Electric technology, by virtue of its immediate relation to our nervous system, is itself a sort of inner trip, with drugs playing the role of sub-plot or alternative mode. It may well appear a few years hence that the panic about psychedelic drugs relates less to the chemistry than to the hidden terrors which people feel in the presence of electric technology.” –Marshall McLuhan, June 1974 (From a previously unpublished letter, full text below.)

There is no other 1960s intellectual figure whom Timothy Leary came to admire more than Marshall McLuhan. He considered McLuhan’s famous statement – “The medium is the message” — the most important cultural insight of the ‘60s, a decade saturated with insightful and lasting one-liners, some of the most famous coming from Leary’s own brain. Leary has even credited the world’s foremost media theorist with giving him the pep talk that resulted in his own famous mantra: “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out.”

In 1964, when LSD was fast becoming a national issue on a trajectory that eventually made it the most vilified drug of the decade, McLuhan’s treatise Understanding Media became (alongside The Tibetan Book of the Dead) the latest roadmap for Leary’s positioning on the subject that had increasingly preoccupied him since he and Richard Alpert had been forced out of Harvard, where they had been doing groundbreaking research on psilocybin, LSD and DMT during the early 1960s.

McLuhan argued that all media are “extensions” of our human senses, bodies and minds, that “amplify and accelerate existing processes.” It was the medium itself, regardless of the content, that was the message. Read the full essay here: http://tinyurl.com/p5geazq .

See also Leary, McLuhan and Electronic Technology here: http://goo.gl/lBFBaE .

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3 Responses to “Timothy Leary, Marshall McLuhan & Electronic Media”

  1. Unfortunately Marshall never met Leary. The meal never took place. The letter is real enough though. Great read!

    • Thanks, Michael. I’m going to ask Lisa, one of the co-authors of the article and a Timothy Leary Archive librarian, if she has any proof of Leary’s having actually lunched with, or even met, Marshall McLuhan. If the only proof they have of the lunch meeting is Leary’s say-so, then I would say the meeting is unproven……AlexK

  2. Yep, meeting never happened, and the letter is far from an endorsement of Leary. To say there was a friendship is quite a stretch.


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