timothy leary was doing macro level social work

Leary made a video called “How to operate your brain”:

There’s a transcript here. It strikes me that the most dangerous man in America was encouraging everyone to do a kind of psychotherapy. It fits with Lacan’s opinion that psychoanalysis is subversive.

The natural state of the brain is chaos. We’re dealing with a complexity of information. The first thing to do is to overwhelm your focused mind, your linear mind, by overloading signals, digital patterns, clusters of photons and electrons which produce a pleasant state of confused chaos. This is the state of the brain when it is ready to be informed, that is, to be reprogrammed.

He was basically right, in a literal sense. Chaotic attractors have to do with how the brain works:

The psychological state elicited by the classic psychedelics drugs, such as LSD and psilocybin, is one of the most fascinating and yet least understood states of consciousness. However, with the advent of modern functional neuroimaging techniques, the effect of these drugs on neural activity is now being revealed, although many of the varied phenomenological features of the psychedelic state remain challenging to explain. Integrated information theory (IIT) is one of the foremost contemporary theories of consciousness, providing a mathematical formalization of both the quantity and quality of conscious experience. This theory can be applied to all known states of consciousness, including the psychedelic state. Using the results of functional neuroimaging data on the psychedelic state, the effects of psychedelic drugs on both the level and structure of consciousness can be explained in terms of the conceptual framework of IIT. This new IIT-based model of the psychedelic state provides an explanation for many of its phenomenological features, including unconstrained cognition, alterations in the structure and meaning of concepts and a sense of expanded awareness. This model also suggests that whilst cognitive flexibility, creativity, and imagination are enhanced during the psychedelic state, this occurs at the expense of cause-effect information, as well as degrading the brain’s ability to organize, categorize, and differentiate the constituents of conscious experience. Furthermore, the model generates specific predictions that can be tested using a combination of functional imaging techniques, as has been applied to the study of levels of consciousness during anesthesia and following brain injury.

This is what was so threatening:

Chaos is beautiful. Now many times we are afraid because we want order. We can’t deal with the confusion and disorder. We want form. We want rules. Yes, throughout human history there have been people, religious leaders, political leaders, who will give you order. They will give you rules and commandments.

But chaos is basically good. Relax. Surf the waves of chaos and learn how to redesign your own realities. Sit back. Flow. Open your eyes. Turn off your minds. Unfocus, and let the waves of chaos roll over your brain. Float. Drift, Zoom. Design. Create new order, your order, your style from chaos.

Yes. Yes. Chaos. Yes, yes, chaos . . .

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.

This is really just saying that mindfulness and reframing stories help.  Leary thought we should be non-directive like Socrates:

Around three thousand years ago, a group of human beings in Athens, Greece, developed a new philosophy, a basic religion of humanity that is called humanism. Socrates said that the aim of human life is to know thyself. Create and design your own order from chaos. Socrates did not give commandments. Socrates did not impose order. Socrates asked questions. He encouraged his friends to speculate, design, to create, to interact their own versions of reality. Socrates said the way to perform philosophy is in small groups, raising questions, learning from each other, changing, changing your mind, growing together, thinking together.

The religious leaders said “You can’t say that, Socrates. The gods are in control. Who are you to say you have a self? How dare you think you can know? The Gods determine. Sacrifice to the gods; obey the gods.” Socrates said, “No. Look within.” For that, they gave Socrates the hemlock, because he dared to tell people, “Think for yourself. Question authority.”

To think for yourself, you must learn how to reprogram, reform, inform your own brain. To do this, to take responsibility for your brain, it is necessary to question everything that you have been taught, to question authority, to learn to take the brave step of taking responsibility for operating your brain. For designing, redesigning, reforming the chaos within.

It’s totally intersubjective.

We are also passing on, in this demonstration, the message of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the first and probably the greatest American philosopher who said, “Divinity lies within.” Don’t look to the churches or to the big marble institutions. Your divinity lies within. You must learn to operate your brain, operate your soul. Learn how to communicate brain to brain, soul to soul with other people. Your divinity lies within.

The brain is designed to design realities. If you operate your own brain skillfully, you can learn to design your own realities, learn how to communicate in the language of the brain: electrons and photons. We are doing this now. We are sending messages from our brains, using the vehicle of electrons and photons, to your eyeballs. As we watch this screen, our minds are bedazzled, our minds are softened, our linear, sharp logical thinking is gentled, and we are communicating brain to brain. We are using the electron, computer circuits, to feed each other’s brains with light.

Very diversity-friendly:

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.

Now listen to The Message from The Sponsor: “There is one, global human race.”

We’re just now learning to communicate brain to brain, soul to soul.

Naturally, people like Richard Nixon had a lot of resistance to national psychotherapy of this kind, although they insincerely repeated good advice.

Looks like a happy dude, practicing what he preaches, unafraid.