Today marks the debut of a new feature around these parts, Tomorrow Tuesday, which will explore things cosmic, comic and just plain nerdy. This is both to balance out the sociopolitical coverage and to better reflect my own personal interests. (Don’t worry language geeks: Etymological Adventures will appear every other week.)
We inaugurate this feature today with a brief look at Timothy Leary’s transhumanist Starseed theories. Though best known for capturing the sixties zeitgeist by turning on and dropping out, Leary was also extremely interested in the future, and it’s of the future that Starseed speaks.
First published in 1973 and developed while Leary was in the “black hole” of Folsom Prison, where he was held on marijuana possession charges and where he believes solitary confinement sent his and his friends’ minds into the future, offering details for what would become his theories, Leary’s philosophy basically says that some cosmic womb launched celestial semen across the universe, seeds from which grew diverse consciousnesses, including life on earth.
“Life is disseminated through the galaxies in the form of nucleotide templates. These ‘seeds’ land on planets, are activated by solar radiation. and evolve nervous systems. The bodies which house and transport nervous systems and the reproductive seeds are constructed in response to the atmospheric and gravitational characteristics of the host planet, the crumbling rock upon which we momentarily rest.”
This idea would become the basis of Leary’s future futurist work: theories that can be summed up with Leary’s very cheery, very of-that-era acronym, SMI2LE, which stands for Space Migration, Increased Intelligence, and Life Extension.
Space Migration: This is pretty standard stuff, i.e. the idea that future man will need to live in space or other planets to either save our own or because our own is already destroyed; but Leary also believed this type of migration would allow humans a more essential and evolutionarily-useful understanding of the universe.
Increased intelligence: The I2 in SMI2LE, this type of thinking breaks free from rote memorization and standardized testing, encouraging instead critical thinking and strengthening of the mind in general.
Life Extension: The real meat of Leary’s Starseed-centric philosophy, life extension is about more than just increased age and longer lives. It’s the idea that our minds and “robot bodies” are distinct, separable elements of our being.
While our bodies will turn to dust, our minds can operate on eight circuits, the final one of which will transmit our consciousness’ into the cosmos, into the atomic level. This is much like what Arthur C. Clarke wrote about in the Space Odyssey series, as well as in Childhood’s End: an over mind.
And in true Leary fashion, the various circuits of consciousness could be activated, he said, via drugs, with ketamine the key to the ultimate circuit. So, you heard it here first, folks: the future is a k-hole.
If you need more explanation, here’s a link to Leary’s 1979 comic book explaining this all in more detail.
Also, I’ve included an 80s-era video of Timothy Leary discussing how he thinks emerging technologies, like word processors that are really “thought processors,” will “raise the entire level of society.” This was long before Twitter.