Stewart Brand

Stewart Brand: We Are (Still) As Gods

The former Merry Prankster and Whole Earth Catalog founder talks about psychedelics, computers, bringing back woolly mammoths, and his new documentary.


Has anyone lived a more interesting, influential, and inspiring life than Stewart Brand?

Born in 1938 and educated at Stanford and by the United States army, Brand was a Merry Prankster who helped conduct Ken Kesey's legendary acid tests in the 1960s. His guerilla campaign of selling buttons that asked "Why haven't we seen a photograph of the whole earth yet?" pushed NASA to release the first image of the planet from space and helped inspire the first Earth Day celebrations. From 1968 to 1971, he published the Whole Earth Catalog, which quickly became a bible to hippies on communes and techno-geeks such as Steve Jobs, who famously quoted its parting message: "Stay hungry, stay foolish." 

Brand has rightly been called "the intellectual Johnny Appleseed of the counterculture." He helped shape early techno-culture and cyberspace by reporting on the personal computer revolution and interacting with many of its key figures early on. His ideas were instrumental in the creation of the Well, one of the earliest online communities and he helped found The Long Now Foundation, which seeks to lengthen and deepen the way we all think about the past and the future. 

In a series of books on everything from the MIT Media Lab to how buildings learn to "eco-modernism," he has delineated a unique strain of ecological thought that embraces technology as a means of salvation and liberation rather than a destructive force that must be stopped. His current passion is Revive & Restore, an organization that is leading the "de-extinction movement" by using biotechnology to bring back plants and animals including the American Chestnut tree, the passenger pigeon, and the woolly mammoth.

Brand is the subject of the new documentary, We Are As Gods—a line from the first issue of the Whole Earth Catalog—which takes a long, critical look at his life and work. For today's podcast, Nick Gillespie talks with with Brand and the directors of the film, David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg, about his long, strange trip over the past 60 years that has taken place exclusively at the frontier of social and cultural change.