Terence McKenna once joked that, if nothing else, his success proved the value of a liberal arts education. His gift was the ability to integrate diverse areas of human experience, and to fuse them into rich and resonant words. In the years following my introduction to his work, those words had an enormous influence on my thinking, and indirectly contributed to the course my life would take.
I am grateful for the following:
Terence inspired a scientific approach to new and strange realities. His flights of speculation were grounded in a healthy skepticism, and a willingness to accept all explanations as provisional.
He introduced me to William Blake, Alfred North Whitehead, and Julian Jaynes, and laid the foundation for my reading of Teilhard de Chardin. These adventures in literature expanded my mind as much as anything else.
He led me to consider History, not only as a structured process, but as a condition, in which certain things must exist, and others cannot. History is the crucible of Thought — the condition and process through which we must pass on the way to freedom.
Whatever his personal flaws, Terence’s worldview was always deeply humanistic. It spoke to the uniqueness of the Human opportunity, yet was humble before the Mystery into which we are born.
Finally, his sense of humor. Like any technology, humor can be misused, and humor without courage is mere sarcasm. But without humor, courage is brittle and inflexible. Terence saw the dark side, but was always good for a laugh, even when the stakes were high and the message was urgent.
Thanks again, Terence, and so long. I hope this trip takes you where you always wanted to go.
Abrupt, May 2002
Terence McKenna Land at The Deoxyribonucleic Hyperdimension Hyperborea (McKenna’s web site)
More McKenna talks on Abrupt’s LOGOS page
There’s nothing like the smell of a late-summer New York club crowd to get the old blood pounding, is there? It’s a pleasure to be in Manhattan; Manhattan is my second-most favorite island in the world — only because I live on Hawaii. I feel more affinity to this island than to the other Hawaiian islands (which have various cultural extremes I’m not really capable of relating to. But you’ll hear more about that.) Anyway, it’s great to be here. It’s great to see so many familiar faces. It’s a pleasure to be here. I always feel when I come to Wetlands that I’m “checking in” with sort of my home base congregation.
About five years ago I moved out to Hawaii for the specific purpose of looking back at this scene and putting in a full-time effort to understand it. (Of course this tells you I didn’t have a job! I still don’t — but if you’re a cultural commentator, who needs a job, right? The glory alone is sufficient to pave one’s way.) And I — probably like you, here at the end of the Twentieth Century, having lived long enough to go at least once or twice around the block — I’m noticing that the strangeness is not receding. The strangeness seems to be accelerating.
The theme of this evening is “Logos meets Eros”. Well I don’t know a lot about Eros — I do think if you smoke after sex you’re probably doing it too quickly. But otherwise my expertise lies in another direction. I started out in psychedelic drugs, and people said it was a flight from reality. It still is a flight from reality, but I think reality is now a bit more scary than the drugs we used to fly from it, so long ago. Is that the victory of a cultural meme, or is that just the yawning grave opening ahead of us?
My thing is to be amazed at the world as given by nature, but ever more, as we approach this millennial speedbump in our cultural highway, to be amazed at people, and about the direction that mass psychology seems to be taking. And since I assume everybody here is a shaper of this mass psychology in the extremely powerful media-based jobs that you all occupy, it might be worth talking about that a little bit tonight.
I spent all afternoon at MOMA, as I always do when I come to town, (I know it’s a “thing” but I do it anyway) worshiping at the altar of modernism, so relieved now that it’s almost over. Because it’s going to be bracketed in this century, the Twentieth Century. It’s almost over. There’s very little left to run — a few i’s to be dotted, a few codas to be played, but essentially it’s a done deal. This end-of-the-century psychology is a psychology of hysterical conclusionism and summation and, to some degree, a rhetoric of fear that we can ever outdo ourselves. And I think it probably felt the same way a hundred years ago, if you had been in Vienna in 1899, when Jugendstil was bursting at its seams and Freud was beginning his theories and the Paris air show of 1905 was in the planning. There has always been a sense of fatalistic and apocalyptic excitement at the end of a century, and always throughout a culture at the edge of its technologies. To my mind the interesting technologies of the Twentieth Century have all been communication technologies. And I extend that to LSD, DVD, HDTV, GHB, 5-methoxy-DMT — all communication technologies for the purpose of transforming languages, transforming understanding.
And now it seems to me we’ve struck the main vein. Maybe it’s just that I live up on my mountain, and once a year, in pursuit of money, journey to cities — not like this; there are no cities like this, but the lesser lights — to gather the gold. I have this sense now of palpable acceleration, and it has many qualities, but the quality that fascinates me most is one I hadn’t predicted: it’s getting funnier. It’s getting funnier because everybody’s categories are disintegrating, and the cult of political correctness dictates that we never point out that other people don’t make sense. So not making sense has become enshrined as a domain of cultural activity — and god knows I’ve mined that.
Somebody once said — actually it was the mushroom itself, it wasn’t ‘somebody’ — somebody who happened to be a mushroom once said… what did they say? “If you’re not part of the problem you’re part of the solution.” [laughter] No. What was said was that culture is the shockwave of eschatology. Nothing is unannounced. This is like a weird quality of experience, you can’t learn this from physics or economics. (Maybe you can learn it from economics.) Nothing is unannounced. Everything is preceded by the shockwave of its coming. So somehow the spreading zaniness of reality is part of the boundary-dissolving qualities that are going to make up this new cultural mix of disembodied human beings, nanotechnologically-maintained environments, dissolved self-definitions, people living at many levels at the same time; intelligence as a kind of free-flowing nonlocal resource that comes and goes as needed; prosthesis, implant, boundary dissolution — these things are usually presented as fairly terrifying. But in fact I think behind it all lurks, you know, the demons who do calisthenics in the angles of every room on this planet to keep it all from collapsing into a flat line.
In other words, the thing which lies at the end of any epistemic investigation of what reality is, is surprise, astonishment. Not religious awe, not that kind of astonishment, but actually like pie-in-the-face hysteria, foodfights and falling anvils, explosions! This is what lies at the end of the epistemic enterprise. WHY is that? Well I think it has something to do with the fact that we are simply loaded monkeys, that our belief that we were proceeding as God’s messengers, or his research assistants, was somehow ill-contrived, misbegotten. What we’ve shipped for is not a voyage of discovery, it’s more like a ship of fools. It’s something which Hieronymous Bosch or Pieter Brueghel the Elder could appreciate. It’s probably best summed up in the work of Groucho Marx, but unfortunately he can’t be here tonight.
So I exist in this matrix, as you exist in this matrix, making our way through our lives, our affairs, our careers, our disasters. The thing that has struck me about it, for some time — and don’t bother telling me it’s a symptom of serious mental meltdown, I know that, I’ve lived with it — but the thing that’s struck me for some time is the artificiality of everything, how’s it’s like plotted, how it’s constructed, artificial. It can’t be that this is the first iteration. This is not the first take. There have been many takes. The fingerprints of the editing suite are all over this scene. If you don’t notice that it must be because you take your life for granted. And if you take your life for granted and you think it makes perfect sense that you’re doing whatever you do, this isn’t an issue for you. But for those of us who never thought that we would gaze on the things we’ve gazed upon, be the people we’ve become, see the things we’ve seen, the whole thing has this extravagant Pynchonesque kind of efflorescence about it that rides right on the edge of insanity (dare we say it).
This is what the Eros part of this thing means to me, if I’m to make any stab at it at all. When I was very young I must have had a very non-traumatic upbringing, because I discovered early in life a stunning truth that’s made my life very complicated in its wake, (but that I still think is true) and it’s that people are very easy to love. In fact, you can love anybody — if you are not constrained by expectation, class, the momentum of History, race, gender… For a child to make this discovery, and recall it, stick with it, be able to mnemonically pull it up at such situations like this, I think is extraordinary. And I stand outside it, I don’t draw any conclusions from it. It hasn’t made me a nicer person; don’t try to buy me a drink based on it! Somebody said, “loves Mankind, loathes individual human beings.” I don’t loathe individual human beings, but I do enjoy things the further I stand back from them. This is the Hawaiian perspective, the motivation for being the hermit with the nightclub career.
What this is, is an effort to generalize from one person’s life to everybody’s life, because the only thing I really bring to the party is a lot of experience and some ability to articulate it. It’s like it’s not my story, or it’s somebody else’s story I tell, it’s just The Story. And this story is the literary net of synchronistic connectivity that makes life something other than the laws of physics, particles flinging themselves through nothingness, waves dying out in empty space — this isn’t our experience of being. Our experience of being is meaning. That’s my experience. And the meaning is not always pleasant or life-affirming or even exactly rationally apprehensible. Sometimes meaning is a palpable thing: like liquid being poured through cracking ice, language moves ahead of its intent; it encloses its object and gives you almost a reverse casting of the thing intended. There are many ways for words to fits themselves over the contours of intentionality.
So personality becomes an issue, because in the future personality (if it exists at all) is going to be a very fluid, dynamic thing. One of our hangups is the idea that we come with one body/one mind, or one body and a mind split into two parts. All these are social fables, illusions. The fabric of reality is defined by whatever large numbers of people believe about it, and now — in the absence of an overarching metaphor that can claim everybody’s allegiance — reality is actually fracturing. I’ve called it the “balkanization of epistemology”. I’ve poked fun at the abductees and made jokes about pro-bono proctologists from nearby start systems… [laughter]
What this fracturing means is permission to manifest opinion as Art. That’s really all there is; there is no truth that is different from opinion, nothing is secure. Even mathematics, if you understand Kurt Gödel and people like this, even mathematics is an uncertain enterprise. Even common arithmetic is an uncertain enterprise.
So, what are we left with? When I argued a few weeks ago with Sheldrake and Abraham about this, I said, “We have to look at our messengers.” We have to look at the people who bring the news of the pro bono proctologists from nearby star systems, who bring the news of military establishments trading human body parts for fiber optic technology. We have to examine the messengers. Well they quickly stomped on that and said no, that won’t work, because when you go back into the history of ideas, lots of screwballs have obtained great success with their ideas — you don’t want to look too hard at Newton or Wagner or Thomas Aquinas, or anybody else. So the “squirrel” test, or the “fluff” test is insufficient. So then what are you left with? Well, basically, a sense of humor and a battered sense of aesthetics, I think!
Now I don’t know how loose-headed the heads in this town are. I rather suspect they’re screwed more tightly than the situation further west, and screwed more loosely than the situation further east. But I’m telling you, as the world reforms itself in these islands of defined opinion, the only thing which is going to make sense is sense which is conferred. So it becomes about Beauty, I think. Beauty. Beauty is an easier-to-realize value than Political Correctness, Bodhisattva Compassion — I mean what are these things? Who knows! The rancorous debates start as soon as they’re mentioned. Beauty is self-defined, perceived and understood without ambiguity. Beauty is the stuff that lies under the skins of our individual existences. James Joyce said in Finnegan’s Wake, “Here we moult in Moy Kain (meaning in the red light district of Dublin) and flop on the seemy side… But upmeyant, Prospector, you sprout all your abel and woof your wings.” Well you don’t have to go upmayent, Prospector, because right here, right now is a good enough place to do this.
Our past is disappearing. It’s almost closing behind us. At the MOMA today we were looking at this Russian avante-garde stuff, and I was thinking, “It seems so far away.” They seem almost like messages as distant as messages from the Sixteenth Century or the Fourteenth Century. I mean, what does it mean to us, the struggle between Fascism and Bolshevism, the struggle between the European banks and emerging socialist ideas in the 20’s and the 30’s? This stuff arrives absolutely as ancient as the cave paintings at Lascaux Our past is all becoming more and more somebody else’s past, irrelevant to the enterprise of the future. Oh yeah, I know that if you don’t learn from history you’re bound to repeat its errors, but the most important thing to learn from History is not to do it at all, that it’s a very bad idea, History. Look where it got us!
The only way we can essentially redeem what History has done to us, is to carry the understanding that it wrought back into the enterprise of the Human, creating sane systems of education, of resource extraction, of healthcare and community value. If we don’t carry the experience of History back into those domains, History will continue. I remember once when I was a fighting radical in the streets of Berkeley, and someone had let a banner down over front of a building. It was a quote from Jean-Paul Sartre. It said, “Socialism will not be transcended until we transcend the conditions which created it.” True; History, even more true. The dialogue about the transformation of the species, the integration of communication technologies, biotechnology — all this stuff, how it’s going to work out — is in the hands of shortsighted profiteering institutions, that are not particularly interested in your welfare or my welfare. In fact, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but nobody is particularly interested in your welfare or my welfare, in terms of the intellectual environment of risk through which you move every day. The number of cons you’re offered, the number of people who prey upon you, all of these things indicate that the culture has not yet realized the power of its own possibilities.
How will it realize the power of its own possibilities? I’m at this point pretty fatalistic: through time. I don’t feel I have to be here tonight or you have to listen tonight for us to come around any kind of corner. The momentum now is inevitable. Now it’s about each of us individually arranging the furniture of our own mind to deal with what has become inevitable. It wasn’t inevitable, but the Twentieth Century made it inevitable, through the Holocaust, Modernism, psychedelic drugs, syncopated music, the dislocation of time and space through media — all of that has now made this transformation inevitable. The human being, adapted to the savannas of Africa of 120 thousand years ago, is just dragged forward into the future by all of this. If you can get through life without trauma, heartbreak, agony, murderous rage, fury, betrayal, etc. etc., you’re a better man or woman than I am, for sure. I don’t think anybody can get through the narrow neck of — first of all, incarnation in a body, but more trying — incarnation inside a Historical society that is cannibalistic, low intentioned, and with values that are completely formed and modeled on the marketplace.
So I think about all of this all the time, and I feel great change. I try to monitor it, especially in the realm of society and technology. Everything is redefined every 30 days, every 60 days, redefined toward some kind of singularity, some kind of extra-ordinary moment in the fractal pattern of Historical unfoldment. You know, fractals are always repetitious, always low levels build to higher levels, but nevertheless, intrinsically to the pattern, there comes a moment where there is an apotheosis, a breakthrough to a new level of understanding. And then whatever the old world was, it simply dissipates. It goes away. Not that there isn’t political struggle, but once the (let’s call it) karmic underpinnings of a historical position — especially an oppressive historical position — once those underpinnings are articulated, revealed, shown in the light of day, then the game cannot continue.
I feel like in this calendrical moment, we can experience the calendar’s transformation, or we can use it, as others are using it, to put forward the idea that certain things are now obsolete, no longer to be practiced outside the confines of the Twentieth Century, not part of the Third Millennium. I’m thinking of fascism, sexism, racism — all the division-based consequences of old-style politics.
People say, “Where then do psychedelic drugs fit into all of this?” or “Do they fit into it?” Of course they fit into it, because the felt presence of experience — the reclaiming of the body — that’s the critical political battleground. Your mind is now your own, in some sense. It was a mistake; it wasn’t supposed to happen that way. But the acceleration of psychedelic use in the Twentieth Century, the explosive spread of the Internet… in some sense it’s as though we have broken from the slave’s quarters and are already milling in the streets. But we don’t yet have the power or the understanding to know where the centers of power are, and how it is that they disempower and manipulate us. That’s because we haven’t focused on the body. (This is, I suppose, the thing which gives the Eros thing cogency.)
The body is the battleground for these various definitions of Human-ness. Eros — representing the erotic celebration of diversity — is a terrifying specter to hold up in front of the order-crazed, constipated hierarchists who actually have the illusion that they own the enterprise. Nevertheless, this is what they’re looking toward. This is what was made inevitable by their own rapaciousness in the past, that they painted us so quickly into a corner of resource extraction and disgust with media manipulation that a breakout was inevitable, had to come.
My doctor brought it home to me. He was saying to me — as I buttoned up recently after an examination — he said, “You know, in the Nineteenth Century, most people your age were dead.” This is true. I’m soon to be 52; very few people, statistically, reached that level. I think part of what’s happening — and it’s odd to address an audience so young on this matter, but here’s something your parents may not be telling you — culture as a con is only good for about 35 years on average. Some people are impressed with culture till they go to the grave at 90; some people are thoroughly apprised of the fact that it’s horseshit by the time they’re 19. But the average person’s experience with culture lasts about 35 or 40 years. In the past, that was enough. Most people then were ready to die without ever blowing their whistle on the game. What is happening here is we are living past the age — by the millions — where cultural values make any sense at all. They simply are, after the ten thousandth piece of apple pie, the sixteenth Mercedes, the five hundredth whatever — it’s just seen to be intolerable, unbearable, the agony that resides in matter that the Surrealists were so prescient in insisting upon.
So culture generally is an infantilizing process. And some French people have mentioned this, but they didn’t really put it in a historical context: that this neotenizing trick — now so useful to advertising to create youth-crazed values in everybody — it hastens the end of this culture game. It hastens the awakening of many people to the fact that the felt presence of immediate experience is not negotiable. It has no price. And yet this is what’s taken from you when you go to the Job, when you dress for the image, when you kiss up to the power establishment. When your time is turned into money, the felt presence of immediate experience is analogous to being enslaved — let’s be frank about it — is enslavement. It’s simply that the rules of the game have been changed. [applause] Of course it’s easy to say if you’re unemployed like me. On the other hand, I’m meeting my obligations, somehow — always have — without ever truly working, without ever putting my shoulder to the wheel for the Man. (Of course I had to deal dope to do this! Once I’d gone past that, it worked.)
Well, I could go on in this vein for some time, as you see, but the thoughts that I wanted to leave you with tonight on this, because I feel like I am checking in, in some weird way, with my peer group — and maybe my most critical group as well, which is fine. We don’t need any gurus here, we don’t need any Laying Down of the Law. Anybody who tells you they have a clue as to what’s happening should be suspect for mental illness and delusions of grandeur. The thought is (and I haven’t said this yet but this is the conclusion from all of this): culture is an effort to satisfy this weird desire human beings have to close off experience, to live with closure, to force closure. That’s why cultural trips are so bizarre, why they don’t make sense to anybody but the Witoto or the Waorani or the Americans or the Japanese; if you’re not inside the culture it seems crazy. The cultures don’t make sense because they’re not trying to make sense. What they’re trying to do is produce closure, which then somehow makes a human being, who is living in the light of closure, a more manipulateable, a more malleable, a lesser thing.
So if the experience of the Twentieth Century didn’t do it for you, if psychedelics didn’t do it for you, I don’t know what could do it for you! The message coming back at all of us is: live without closure. That’s the honest position, given that you are some kind of a talking monkey, some kind of a primate, some kind of creature, on a planet, in an animal body, incarnate in a time and space. In the face of that, life without closure is the only kind of intellectual honesty there is. If you have to inoculate yourself against the various memes of closure that are around, psychedelics do that. That’s why they are so politically controversial and potent because — more than any other single act that you may voluntarily undertake — they pull the plug on the myth of cultural meaning. They show that these things are provisional, and that beneath the level of culture there is lurking this erotic, time-and-space-bound, feeling-defined, pre-linguistic mode of being, which is real being. Not becoming, not caught in the various fetishistic forms of tension that commodification of culture and delayed gratification and all these other buzzwords create, but a deeper level of authentic feeling. And it was there all the time, but is denied by the culture.
If we don’t come back to that, if we don’t re-access that, then this Historical thing, which grinds so many people down — none of whom are here tonight, I might add. They are lost in the barrios of third-world cities and in the disrupted environments created by this system — History will continue. I’m fond of quoting Stephen Daedelus (Joyce’s character) where he says, “History is the nightmare from which I am trying to awaken.” But ‘nightmare’ is not a strong enough metaphor. It’s a narcoleptic paralysis. It’s that horrible thing that happens at the edge of sleep — it’s that place where the pro bono proctologists from other star systems get their wedge into the seam, you know? If you’ve never had that paralysis at the edge of sleep, you don’t know the panic, the constriction, that it engenders.
We’re really at a very terminal point on the process of our historical unfoldment, in the same way that our hunter-gatherer phase led into agriculture and advanced role specialization and urbanization and all that. Now we’re ready to make another leap. But this time it’s going to be done in the light of consciousness, because consciousness is what was garnered in the last leap. How this is done depends essentially on the collective state of mind — how malleable it is, how phobic of closure it is, how open it is to the Logos, to the downloading of universal intent into Human understanding (which is what I would call the Logos), and finally, how deeply it operates in the light of Eros. How much love is there in this culture? How much love has been carried intact from the plains of Africa through the Minoan civilization and the Medieval period and the spread of people around the planet? How much of what we call true Human-ness made the journey with us to this new time? We’re going to find out. We’re going to find out by pooling the love that is in each of us, in a form in which it is coextensively shared by all of us. There may be many ways to talk about what this will feel like, what it will look like — but what it will BE, if it works, is Love. If it isn’t Love, than it’s less than a perfect sublimation of the alchemical purpose — and less-than-perfect is now off the menu. So the only way up is out. Up and out!
Q & A
Snippets of conversation recorded as Terence was pinned to the wall by Novelty fans.
TM: …We don’t have to worry about magicians without power who have desire for power, because it’s never going to come to that. It’s the magician who can actually manifest power — and usually that’s so sobering that that person gives up any wish to control anybody. I mean, I’ve seen weird shit go down, and it didn’t make me want to take hold of that energy. Somebody else it might’ve…
…I like really clear hallucinations, that are somewhat distant from me. What happens on DMT that is so freaky is: you see the hallucinations, and if you’re a practiced head you can sort of stand that. But at higher doses, you become the hallucination. And this is much harder to put up with, much harder to stay calm in the presence of, because you’re no longer looking at something weird, you have become something weird. I’m convinced that the hallucinogens touch the language — the thing inside us which describes reality, which is constantly explaining to you what’s going on — once it’s contaminated, or once it’s affected by the psychedelic, then you enter into a world where you don’t know what’s going on, where you can’t tell what is hallucination…
Q: Is that when you’re doing the visible language you’ve talked about, or singing?
TM: It’s just slightly past that. I think I do that (those language activities) to try to channel and confine that DMT-like energy. Because when it really comes over you, it’s like having your camera melt. There’s no longer a picture, there’s no longer a channel. It’s gotten behind what was looking at it, and now you really don’t know…
Q: Have you had your camera melted?
TM:Oh yeah! And what I do is, I just try to sing my way through it. One of the things that happens among European people, is when they feel threatened by being loaded, they just assume the fetal position, and their theory is, “If I can live through it, it will be alright. If I can stand it.” What you should do is sit up and sing! Just sing! Sing! Sing! Oxygenate your brain, force energy through your body. Then everything will rearrange itself. I think when people have bad trips it often means they’re not breathing enough.
Q: How do you compare salvia [divinorum] to DMT? I know that DMT is weirder, the way it sounds…
TM: Some people don’t think so. I think so. To me, salvia seems like a strong hallucinogenic drug, but it’s not as hard for me to explain to myself what’s going on as with DMT. DMT, if it works, pushes me into a place where I just have to admit that I don’t know what I’m talking about. All these metaphors that have been spun out, in books, and onstage, were just shadow play. The real thing is so appalling, so confounding, it’s just, you know, “may the baby Jesus shut your mouth and open your mind!”
TM: The pure compound? I did smoke it once. It came on so fast, that I found myself on it; I had no impression of getting high at all. I found it happening to me.
I was expecting it to be weirder than DMT. To me it didn’t seem to be weirder. To me it seems liked a very accelerated ayahuasca rush of some kind. It definitely distorts your body image in some way. People have these weird things where they’re half in and half out of something, and they talk about it and they try to crawl into it or crawl out of it… I liked it, I like the leaf. The way I do it is I take 35gms of leaf and I lie down in the dark, and I chew it. At about the 15 minute mark it begins afterimage streaming, you know, lights past the eyes. Then I just spit it out into a Kleenex without holding it. It’s a big mouthful.
Q: You’ve talked about plants as teachers. Would you say the same thing about ketamine? Even though it isn’t a plant, do you think it can teach you things?
TM: The thing about ketamine is that it’s active over a very large range. In other words, as little as 40mL is active, and yet people shoot 150, 200, without a problem. I’ve only done it about five times. I shot it every time, and I shot 140mL. At that dose, it’s not a very useful drug, because you can’t remember fucking anything. I really like drugs that you can remember.
TM: The other night I searched (the Web) for “self-transforming elf machines”. There were 36 hits! It surprised me. I sort of use the search engine like an oracle. I’ve used the phrase for DMT, “Arabian hyperspace”. So I thought of this, and then I searched it, “Arabian hyperspace”, in quotes. And it took me right to a transcript of the talk in which I’d said the thing! You can find your own mind on the Internet. I’m very grateful to the people who type up my talks and then post them at their websites.
Q [Abrupt]: I have a question about a theme in your work. It’s actually an absence, and I’m curious as to why. It’s the similarity that I sense with some of your visions of History, the visions of that process, and those I found in the work of de Chardin — at least The Phenomenon of Man. I’ve never heard it mentioned by you or in talks about you, as far as I know.
TM: I have talked about him. I did read Phenomenon of Man and Alpha-Omega. I have no knock on Chardin. I think that he got there first, and it’s all basically there. Maybe the reason I don’t mention it is that my mother was very big on pushing it on me! Yeah, he is the guy. He and McLuhan. If you take de Chardin and McLuhan together, there’s not much to add to all that.
Q [Abrupt]: It’s the visual aspect of his writing, that to me links him to what you say. And you bring in so many references to other writers that it seemed a little like a hole there.
TM: There’s sort of a hole there. Considering the amount of time I spent reading him, it is a hole, you’re right. Olaf Stapleton is another influence, but that was thoroughly rehearsed on the Novelty List. H. G. Wells was an influence.
What I like is big-picture thinkers. I like to think in terms of a thousand years, a million years — probably because when I was growing up in western Colorado, what I got into early in life was fossil collecting. We would find dinosaur bones and 200-million-year-old clam shells and stuff. And when I finally figured out that a million years is a thousand years a thousand times, it was like an epiphany. It just opened up underneath my feet, how fucking old it’s possible for things to be!
It’s a pleasure to be in Manhattan. This is my spring money run to the mainland. I’ve been in Boston (where I noticed that their liberalism is actually rooted in Christian rectitude, not secular liberalism as I’d always thought) and I’m on to Atlanta. So this is just a brief visit with my favorite town. It’s lovely to be here on an early spring evening. The city hasn’t begun to stink yet — I really like that time of year!
This is called “Flaking on the Edge of Fractal Uncertainty”, or something like that. Anyway, it’s just an excuse to catch up with you. I sort of feel like this is the home congregation — or at least the office of the Holy Roman Rota — the congregation of the faith. This is probably the audience where I feel most at home and have the least slack! I’ve been traveling madly since I was here last May. Mostly it seemed like a tour of the English-speaking world. I went to South Africa, to Australia, to England, back and forth to Hawaii many times. I think traveling really reinforces the impression that we are in the grip of the “transcendental attractor and the end of time.” You know, it’s one thing to stay home and follow it on the Internet, but the sense of the planet just exploding… These Australian and South African cities and populations trying to deal with political redefinition, technological onslaught, media onslaught — it’s amazing, amazing, very much like Neal Stephenson’s vision in Snow Crash.
I turned 50 since I’ve been here last year. [applause] It feels weasel-wise, although those of you who are ahead of me in time may find it naïve.
What I’d like to talk about — I guess it’s sort of a riff, a soliloquy, a monologue on the adumbrations of Heaven’s Gate, since that has a deep, humorous resonance with most people’s value systems these days. Actually my son, who was with me in Mexico in January, who’s 19, pushed me to think about these issues before all that, because he’s dealing with the culture in a very different way than I am. I listen to his laments and complaints with great interest. So the thing that I thought would be interesting to unpack a little this evening is what I call “the balkanization of epistemology” — or what he calls simply the “curse of relativism.” This is the idea that you can’t tell what’s going on anyway, so no matter how squirrelly what you think, it’s no squirrellier or no less squirrelly than what anybody else thinks. All ideas are somehow on this even footing, including ideas that have taken hundreds of years and the talent of thousands of people to put together, and something somebody just channeled in from Francis Bacon, who’s living under Catalina Island in a state of suspended animation with a troupe of Atlantean engineers who are uploading human fetal tissue to who-knows-where. [laughter]
This balkanization of epistemology: it’s sort of like, if you believed in economic theory, thinking that it would be a good idea if everybody printed their own money. And then to the degree that you had vigor for the use of your printing press, you could run off more and more copies of whatever meme you had invested in, and I suppose these things would compete. In your imagination they would compete — but anybody who’s studied economics for ten minutes can tell you there’s something called Gresham’s Law, which is that “bad money drives out good money.” And I think it’s even more true with ideology. Squirrelly ideas drive out ideas of depth and substance. There’s a kind of danger of being gently — without quite noticing what’s going on — ushered into a world of increasingly more cartoonlike ontological and epistemological fantasies about what’s going on, or what’s partially going on.
To my mind, conspiracy theory is a kind of flight from facing the fact that probably nobody is in charge. You want a vertiginous vision that’ll stand your hair on end? How about that? It’s not the Catholic Church, not the World Bank, not the Jews, not the Communist Party — nobody is in charge! I was in London in October, in the conference that these shaved, pierced and scarified deconstructive “contemporary artists” were having near Buckingham Palace. They put me in a hotel in Vincent Square, so I had to walk back through Whitehall late at night, which is where the Ministry of Defense and all the back-channel, super-secret British ministries are. And the lights are burning late in those buildings. I assume it’s because nobody has a grip, nobody has a clue. They have to pay guys with pony tails and earrings to turn on the machines every day, and then it sort of goes from there…
The balkanization of epistemology — it’s not a popular topic, because the simplest and most fun way to discuss it is to launch attack by example. Alice Roosevelt Longworth used to say at these White House dinners, “If you have nothing good to say about anyone, sit by me.” I’ve had the good fortune (or the ‘fortune’) to be on this circuit long enough to have collected horrifying stories about almost anyone you may ever have considered respecting, and given certain conditions I can trot this stuff out. It was a joke — I used to have this thing I called the “kiting checks and stealing cars” test, which was: examine a given guru or expert. Ask the question, how much time has he done for kiting checks and stealing cars? It turns out a lot of people can’t pass this test! (My own past disgressions were considerably more noble and ideologically motivated, but let’s not linger there.) So I was reading TIME Magazine on United coming down, and it turns out, yes, Marshall Applewhite — there was a mug shot, and I thought, “Oh, so what’d he do?” And then I saw: “Oh, car theft, of course!”
The reason I got onto this whole issue of witnessing and media and authenticity of experience, and so forth and so on, was because I was getting a lot of people asking me for my take on alien abductions. Apparently, some significant portion of our fellow citizens are under the impression that pro bono proctologists from a nearby star system are making unscheduled housecalls at night. Well, you and I know how difficult it is to get a medical professional to pay any attention at all to you! [laughter] So I think the likelihood of that occurring, based on that alone, needs to be carefully examined. Now I think I know what to make of this thing. I think we need to become much more subtle, first of all in our own thinking — in other words, there are rules for sorting out the “feces versus shoe polish” dilemmas that come along through life. I was recalling to one of my audiences Occam’s Razor. (And of course nobody had heard of Occam; that wasn’t a good sign, and I won’t put you to the test. Just nod “yes” when asked. “William of Occam?” “Yes.”) He had a razor. He said that hypotheses should not be multiplied without necessity. Seems reasonable. I’ll condense it, or modernify it, for you: it basically means, “Keep it simple, stupid!” In other words, the simplest explanation is to be preferred until it breaks down, and then the next simplest explanation is to be preferred.
I didn’t realize that this kind of thing was such a leap into deep thinking until one night I was on the Internet and this site was announcing that an object twice the size of Earth was accompanying Hale-Bopp, the comet, into the inner solar system. And they’d just put up the ponied-up photograph that was supposed to support this idea. So I thought, “Wow, great, what are the world’s great astronomers and observatories saying?” The web designer obviously anticipated my thought. I looked down and it said, “HEAR WHAT THE EXPERTS ARE SAYING” So I clicked on this button, thinking, “What’ll it be, the Hubble Telescope update? The Arecibo facility in Puerto Rico? The Atacama desert facility in Chile? The Keck in Hawaii?” No, it was something called The Farsight Institute, which brought the news that its remote viewers were in agreement that the object sighted was under Gray control and had an Atlantean architectonic and was on a peaceful mission, having already discharged its cargo of umbilical and fetal tissue traded from the U.S. Military for advanced technology. [laughter]
We can laugh about these things — we do laugh, we should laugh. It’s just too bad that some people off themselves in the process of struggling to try and figure out what’s going on. After the Heaven’s Gate thing, they were interviewing people on NPR, and people were saying, “Oh, I just can’t understand how these people could have worked themselves into believing such a bizarre group of ideas!” So then they buttoned that up and they said, “Well, now what’s happening with the White House Easter Egg Hunt?” [laughter] Yes. It turns out, you know, a lot of people are carrying a lot of peculiar intellectual baggage. I mean, I don’t have any problem with people having religious ideas, but I think they should be clearly labeled as “IRRATIONAL”, and those people should voluntarily recuse themselves from debates about the nature of reality. The spectrum of philosophical differentiation between the Resurrection, the Easter Bunny, and Heaven’s Gate is only a matter of taste and aesthetics. [laughter] Hey, it’s a hard truth, but something to consider.
So thinking about things like this, I’ve sort of come up with a rap, which I’m going to try out on you, which is the slim and meager fruits of my agonizingly slow maturation process. And I think there were hints of this last year, but these things come slowly. There’s this phenomenon in nature — nature is always a good thing to go back to when trying to tease apart what’s happening to us culturally and individually — there’s this phenomenon in nature called neoteny. (Perhaps I mispronounce it in my broad and charming Western drawl, but nobody knows this word anyway; you can get away with murder!) Neoteny. What it means is “the retention of juvenile characteristics into adulthood.” By a species — this is a strategy, it happens in nature, and it happens in evolution. For example (an evolutionary example), we human beings, of all the primates, are the most hairless. We have hair, and it’s all over our bodies, but it’s very fine and allows you to see through to the skin. This is an infantile characteristic of most primates, but we retain it into adulthood. Another similar example: our head-to-torso ratio is a fetal ratio when compared to most primates. In other words, the fetus of other primates looks more like a human being than the adult form.
Neoteny. There are much more spectacular examples of this which involve what appears to be an ability to express sexuality in actually two morphogenetic forms. There are creatures which live in swamps where, as long as the swamp ecosystems are at equilibrium, they basically appear to be like polliwogs — in other words, gilled creatures, fishlike creatures. And they actually can have sex with similar creatures of the opposite sex, and give birth to polliwog-like creatures, and this all appears to be species reproduction as we know it. The amazing thing is, if the swamp is disrupted and goes dry, these things dig into the dirt, and six months later they come out as gilled animals with flippers, able to breath oxygen and move around on the land. And they then can have sex with creatures of the opposite sex and produce a second form. The interpretation of this is that the first form is the neonatal but sexually mature form, that is pinned in place by environmental factors, and then the second form is actually the true mature form, which is only called forth under special conditions.
The reason I mention this is that I’m thinking more and more about this issue of media manipulation, the Internet, the evolution of culture, who shall control it, and what are its effects. My doctor — recently I had a physical — and he said, “You knew, in the Nineteenth Century, most people your age were dead.” And, yes, this is sobering to realize. Early death, something which has been with us until virtually the last half of the Twentieth Century, was a factor acting to reinforce a kind of cultural neoteny, within the cultural environment. Jung, I think, was on to this in some way, because he felt that the great adventure of individuation began in middle age.
Well, riffing off that, I think the idea that I’m coming to is that culture, in all of its offerings and splendor and artifactria, and especially in the form of ideologies, is not the friend of the life-prolonged, postmodern individual. Culture is not your friend. This is the vaguely-smelling-of-political-incorrectness message that continued drug use and philosophical abuse has brought to me. [laughter] Generally the way the intellectual life is presented is that there are good ideologies and bad ideologies, and by a mixture of intuition, logic, education, master of the tools of the culture, we make choices between good and bad ideologies. But you can’t help but notice, at a certain point of alienation, maturation, psychedelic boundary dissolution — it doesn’t matter what the vocabulary is you use — you can’t help but notice that culture is some kind of con game. It’s a scam. It’s a manipulation. It’s for the naÃ¯ve. They can only work this limited set of tricks upon you three times, four times, six times, before you get it. You figure it out, you know? How many art openings, how many Next Great Novels by the geniuses among us, how many filimic triumphs, Nobel Prizes, Booker fiction awards, and on and on and on, can we tolerate in the illusion that we are moving into the truly new and exciting? It works for awhile, is the idea.
So then, what does it mean to get beyond cultural values? How does that look? I can only speak for myself, obviously. (If you find this hideously unsettling and worrisome, just stifle it. After all, it’s just one guy, right? One unlettered nut and his coterie of cultists. So you don’t really make the world a safer place by stamping out this voice. [laughter]) It seemed to me in my peregrination through American culture that there were traps. It’s sort of like the Mahayana bardoes of the dead: there were allurements to be avoided, and obvious pitholes that no one in their right mind would drive into. The first one of these, I remember, was even before I contacted the larger initiatory machinery of society. It was under my father’s tutelage that I learned to kill: elk hunting was a right of passage where I grew up, and I dreaded this from the moment I was able to cognize what it was going to be. And in time it ground toward me, manifested itself, and in some kind of miraculous epiphany an animal actually sacrificed itself to my trembling hand, and I moved on. Essentially my father never asked anything of me again in that context. But the future was waiting with sharpened knives, “red in tooth and claw.” Not Nature red in tooth and claw — that’s a misnomer — but society. So the first thing to steer around was the military involvement; I passed that intelligence test with flying colors. (It didn’t hurt to be chickenshit and have bad vision, either — sort of the wind beneath my wings at that point.)
The next pitfall was corporatism, which never had a hold on me because I managed to choose the wrong schools in the first place. It was wonderful, in Boston last week, to actually go to Harvard for the first time. I totally liberated myself from ever wanting to have anything to do with that whole scene — not because it was so terrible, but because it was so ordinary, of course. This is part of my revelation about undoing the hype that evolves around the uninvestigated portions of reality. You’re impressed by Harvard? You’re impressed by crop circles? You’re impressed by the Black Virgin of Czestochowa? Go there. Go there, have a drink in the pub across the street, buy the T-shirt, listen to what the locals are saying, and it’ll all snap into focus very nicely.
But continuing — can you tell? — the thought. Beyond military involvement, corporate involvement, right universities, wrong universities, the one I think where middle-class values rear their heads most fiercely is the issue of marriage. I speak as somebody who has been ground finely on the anvil of this particular issue. It’s almost as though, we’re sort of like cuckoos — in fact we are cuckoos, but we’re also like cuckoos — in that we’re kicked out of the nest too early. So just as you’re about to cross that big golden bridge into adulthood, it says, “Last exit in the neonatal realm. Find somebody as clueless as yourself, get back to back, and start a marriage.” The process of being raised is essentially then self-generated. We then continue the process of culturation, acculturation, the acquisition of cultural values, and stuff, now bound in this romantic myth. One of the things I really had to come to terms with was how much of my relationships in the past had been dominated by sentimentalism, and what a craven thing that is, and how brutally it uses us. Because it basically cashes in on that you’re a nice person, and it screws you. Sentimentalism!
So then things happen. If you’re smart, you succeed at whatever you chose — advertising, film making, fashion, modeling, playwriting. There’s this insidious process which goes on in the culture, which is, just as you get your kids sent off to the Sorbonne, get your marriage dissolved, and your shrink patting you on the back and all of this, then money comes. You become successful, you get rich behind all this prostitution and self-mutilation that you did the previous twenty years. Just at a moment when, if they didn’t recognize you, you would turn on them in fury and construct a real identity, they in fact come around. And you are inculcated, and lifted further, and anesthetized, and now you become a mentor to people making their way through the same blood-stained labyrinth, the footprints through which you seem to recognize somehow.
The idea here is that, obviously we’re coming to some kind of cultural crunch. The print-created categories of the post-Renaissance are breaking down. We can explore this or deny it or create a mix of exploration and denial that is uniquely expressive of our own hopes and fears. Culture is some kind of a collective hallucination. It’s infantile. It’s an epistemological cartoon, and it’s breaking down. What brings the news that it’s breaking down are the absurdities that nibble at the fractal edge. The great absurd propositions that have been passed on and revered and sentimentalized for millennia, like the Resurrection and monotheism and da-da-da-da all this stuff, are now having their false premises illuminated by the cheap goods that are being sold in competition — that cheapen, essentially, the entire magic show. It’s now exposed as a bargain basement of trinket dealing and foolish goods. The wages of civilized existence are now found to be hollow in some way. But I think that people don’t want to culturally confront this because they’ve been told “alienation is bad; this is alienation.” Well, it’s alienation from insanity is the basic thing.
The culture has become self-limiting, toxic. This is why it’s generating technological antidotes to itself. That’s why it’s importing things like psychedelic plants and substances, or Eastern techniques of meditation, in a kind of delirium or a kind of self-review at the end of its existence. It’s furiously exporting, into the lens of its own self-inspection, every text, every drug, every ritual, every method, every cuisine, every language group, every folk dance — every anything — in a frantic effort to find some kind of connecting metaphor. Well there isn’t a connecting metaphor of the ordinary and usual sort. What all these ideologies do — all ideology — is provide closure of some sort, at the cost of realism. Whatever satisfaction you get from quantum physics or Marxism or Hasidism or any closed system of thought, you need to recognize that that satisfaction is purchased at the cost of realism. In Lit. Crit. there’s this term “willful suspension of disbelief”. Well that’s all very fine in the confrontation with art, but in the confrontation with that which claims to be real, it’s a precondition for being led down the primrose path.
I think the last time we got together the theme was how there were two kinds of people: artists and marks. The only way to relate to the engines of commodification of ideas and production of consumer ephemerata is to produce. The only sane position is to produce, because if you’re consuming, you are in the victim part of this equation. And as more and more people realize this, the level of artistic content and creativity asymptotically accelerates, as it knits itself together across the interface of evolving fields of knowledge. We are — whether you follow my deeper metaphysical harangues about the presence of an actual mathematical dwell point in the spatio-temporal domain, that is sucking us into a kind of black hole of novelty, connectivity and boundary dissolution; or whether you just, as a rationalist, observe the speed of the acceleration of computer technologies, media technologies, interactivity, data accessibility to the normal person and so forth and so on — it’s very clear from either perspective that social business as usual has been taken off the menu, and that we have unleashed, as a collectivity, something inside ourselves. Call it syntax, call it “grammar’s appetition for virtual reality,” call it the Gaian mind — it doesn’t matter, whether you have a beansprout vision of it or an Extropian vision of it — whatever it is, what we have called “human consciousness” is moving into a deeper relationship with prosthesis, at a faster rate than anything we’ve known in human history. In a way it isn’t new; since Ur we’ve been operating inside virtual realities of a sort. But when the medium is fired clay or steel and concrete, the speed at which these things unfold relative to a given human lifespan is such that a weird hallucination of equilibrium and business-as-usual is maintained.
That illusion of business-as-usual is giving way for us to a kind of vertiginous sense that the human unconscious, “morphogenetic field” –whatever it is — some kind of protean thing that links us all in an active, not passive, mode — is expressing itself through us. My dis of the alien thing earlier is not from the point of view of scientific rationalism. Not that I don’t think the alien is among us, but rather I think the most foolish among us pushed forward against the velvet rope with their chattering description of it, like sugar-crazed five year olds, and that cooler heads have to come in and look at this. The alien is — where? The alien is in our heads, in some way. And then people say, “Well, that’s the psychic explanation, that’s terribly humdrum.” No, no, I don’t mean that, exactly. I mean that, whatever its essence is, I will know it as I know your essence. You will know it as you know my essence, which is entirely as information. So then people say, “Well that’s some kind of flattening of it. You’re making it a literary conundrum, etc.” No no no no no, not that. The new technologies — VRML, enhanced reality, all that stuff — are showing us that the world is information.
You know, in every scenario of alien contact there is a prop. It has different ways of appearing, but basically it’s the landing zone. You have to build a landing zone, and every flying saucer cult worth its salt builds a landing zone. In a way, I think the new protean electronic Internet — the purpose of the Net is to catch the alien mind. The alien mind is within us. It will be coded by human fingers, but it will be truly alien. Simply because it is downloaded through the human neural network, do not think that the invoking of this thing — which is an artificial intelligence, a protean, non-human intelligence, a globally-distributed, self-learning, self-defining-teaching-integrating intelligence — is not going to be alien. And yet it is going to come through us.
The cheerful scenarios of Hollywood myth-making are going to be thin comfort indeed when we begin to see, indeed, just how alien we ourselves are, and how real we can make that for ourselves. Because we are dissolving away from the print-created nexus of rationalism and geometry that we call “public space.” It came into existence, you know, 500 years ago; it’s dissolving over the next fifteen or twenty years. And what it will leave us all in is a domain of Imagination, neither clearly public nor private, but clearly, intensely numinous, and realized in a way that we at this stage can barely even begin to comprehend. We have been living in the Imagination but our feet touch the earth because the laws of physics and the laws of materials and architectonic constraints held the Imagination in place. But what will we become when we unfold into the Dream? The answer’s going to depend on how clearly we think about it going in, and how demanding we are, upon ourselves, in terms of the kind of beauty we create.
We can see from how capitalism manipulates the commodification of ideas, that what it tends to do is flatten and trivialize, because it appeals to the mass mind. Is this simply a momentum of the print technology, that will play itself out in the new media multiverse? Or is it a more pernicious tendency that is going to try to actually survive the cultural transition? I certainly fear the latter, and feel that the best antidote to the survival of that tendency is for people to consciously celebrate diversity. Consciously insist on an expansion of language and an erasure of categories, and a psychedelicization of the cultural enterprise in the service of beauty, diversity, astonishment… and mystery, the theme that I wanted to return and end with, which is: ideology flattens reality because it denies the Mystery, because it has all the answers. Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter; the ideology, by providing a complete explanation, automatically certifies its own falseness. In the interests of cultural maturity and living a postmodern existence, and taking art as our — the image comes to me, T. S. Eliot says in The Wasteland, “Come in under the shadow of this red rock.” For him it was the churches. For us, I think it has to be art freed from ideology, a celebration of beauty, culture with a direct relationship to beauty through the felt presence of immediate experience. That’s what the growing beyond ideology and certitude gives back to us, is actually the dynamic sense of being alive in uncertainty. Civilization denies that, and in a sense cheats us of our birthright in uncertainty.
Anyway, that’s what I wanted to download on you tonight. Thank you very much.
Q & A
This is one of those social situations where lack of brevity is proof of psychosis, and you WILL be judged!
Q1 It's one question, but it's in two parts. The first thing is the idea of neoteny. It struck me that there's a similarity between that idea of there being two forms of the same organism, with the Heaven's Gate people's idea that they were in human form, and that if they were taken out of one environment (which is the socio-cultural environment) and put into that special environment which is the cult (which is sort of "digging underground"), then they would be reborn into the next level.
TM Yeah, I advance these things as models. The Heaven’s Gate thing — to me, all of this stuff is an intelligence test. Those people failed it. [laughter] But my point in my main lecture was that they are not as bizarre as they are made out to be, in the sense that lots of people are running around with extremely bizarre ideas, that we have simply gotten used to because they are socially sanctioned. When Pliny the Younger first wrote his report to the Roman Emperor on Christianity (I was recently reading a book called The Christians as the Romans Saw Them) he said, “This is a cult. It’s a cult of Christ. Religions deal with the great issues of cosmic origins and final endings. This doesn’t deal with that; it’s a cult of Christ.” So we have built a culture around that cult, and yet the rantings of a Southern preacher suitably liquored up on Jim Beam and syphilis was convincing, I think, that these are the rantings of a diseased mind. So what I think people should do is learn to trust their intuition and develop their crap detectors to a little higher state of subtlety. Because as we approach — whatever this thing is — the narrow neck of happenstance that is constricting the end-of-the-century phenomena, there are going to be more and more claims upon our attention and our imagination, “wonder workers” moving among the people and on the networks. Do your mental calisthenics early, so that when they come knocking on your door, you will have the strength to tell them to keep on moving.
I couldn’t believe the way in which the media portrayed the Heaven’s Gate people as very careful thinkers, very reasonable people — I mean, I heard about this thing in 1975. Somebody said, “Hey, there are these two people who are running around who say that they’re off a spacecraft. You wanna go see?” [extremely irked voice] “NO!” Yet ‘decent people’ — and most of us are ‘decent people’ — just lack the imagination to imagine where you can get if you embrace pathological lying as a professional strategy for advancement. Joseph Goebbels showed that this can really take you places! I’m sorry, you have a follow-up?
Q1 This is a question about culture in general, when you mentioned the Net being a landing pad. It struck me that the reason we're all so addicted to culture is because it is the landing pad, we're trying to trap something in it. What I see as the obstacle to 'honing your crap detector' is not wanting to give up your claim on Beauty. If you've been trapped in your cultural net, if you don't want to give up your neural connection to Beauty, and live without it -- like in spiritual traditions you have this idea that you have to pass through this desert, where you have given up your water...
TM I would differ with you. I preach reason, but when into a tight place, I think the appeal to beauty is a deeper and more intuitive dimension in which to make the judgment. In other words, I’m like a thoroughgoing Platonist. I say, the Good, the True, and the Beautiful: these are three aspects of something we’re trying to maximize. Truth; you can formally learn the rules by which one approaches Truth. It’s tricky. The Good, it’s even trickier. Beauty makes a direct appeal to the senses. Somebody asked me, what did I think about the face on Mars? And I had no problem dismissing that because it was tacky. [laughter] In other words, that’s all you have to know about that, because the Mystery will not be tacky! It is not tacky!
Well that’s awfully harsh. It’s awfully harsh, but it brought us to the right position rather quickly and with dispatch — which was the point: why put these people through misery, if in fact ultimately we’re going to have to say that their commodification of whatever intellectual system they’re peddling is found wanting? So I think if we built a society based on Beauty, strange Beauty, the True and the Good aspects of this three-pronged enterprise would fall naturally into place. I have that faith.
Q1 I didn't mean give up Beauty, but give up our claim to Beauty -- [tape ends]
TM You can see more art in twenty minutes on high-dose psilocybin that you see in a long afternoon wandering around Florence. [applause]
Q1 That's right, but most of us don't spend our time in the psychedelic state.
TM Well, no, but we should spend our time reflecting on it, I think.
Q2 This is not a culture question, it's a drug question. What do think is the evolutionary advantage that led to addiction, and why does it still persist? What's the purpose of addiction? I have my answers, but I'd like to hear from you.
TM This touches a big subject for me, and some of you are familiar with my position on this. I think that psilocybin in the earlier human diet interfered with the ordinary primate tendency to form gender-based hierarchies, and that we actually medicated male dominance out of our behavioral repertoire during the period in which we were evolving language and culture and humor and theater and that sort of thing. Then later, when the psilocybin came unstuck from the human enterprise because of climatological change, this kind of abuse syndrome arose, because there was a sense of having had a relationship that was interrupted. And this is why human beings addict to countless substances, and behaviors, and each other, and political ideologies. In a way ideologies are drug fixes, because they fix some certain kind of mental disequilibrium. You just give yourself a shot of Marxism or Hegelian idealism and say, “Oh, that makes the pain go away!” [laughter]
But that’s what it is: it’s disequilibrium brought on by being torn from the Gaian matrix, by having an early pseudo-symbiotic relationship with mushrooms interrupted. How about that?
Q2 It seems to make it a totally pathological issue instead of an adaptation. I think there might be more to it than that.
TM Well there might be more to it than that. It’s pathological only when it’s exercised in the presence of an inappropriate stimulus. In other words, it’s pathological to addict to morphine, Marxism or monotheism; it’s not pathological to addict to self-reflection, punctuality and — I don’t know, it’s just behavior. But thank you, it’s not easy to climb up and face the music.
Q3 I was wondering, with the 2012 date, and approaching more and more connectivity, things are coming closer together and people are realizing that things are connected: it seems that there is a technological side to that. But in a way, the whole technology is geared towards military stuff, NASA's involved in this and that; it's going that direction. But hemp, for instance, the earthly, natural type of thing -- the same people who are promoting technology and those things are down on psilocybin -- laws against it, paranoia against it -- because it changes people's minds. It ties them into a connectivity that's with the earth, with the earth grid, as opposed to something else, something out there that people are going for...
TM I think you’re right about the whole issue about drug suppression in this society. It has to do with the fact that these things have unacceptable social consequences in the area of deconditioning and dissolving boundaries, and that they actually are synergistic to forms of local community and affinity-group building that establishments find very threatening. This all has to do — surely you can see how it all works — with the idea that culture is some kind of conditioning process, that you are not supposed to get behind or get in front of, or doubt. And it’s complicated; you’re given many choices. You know, you can teach at Wellesley, you can go into banking, into brain surgery, and you’re still within the game. The reason drugs are inveighed against so furiously — when you can demonstrate in terms of the normal criteria by which social menaces are judged, that these don’t even make it onto the radar — obviously there is some phobia or taboo or secret agenda about repressing these things. I think it’s simply that we are very anxious in this society about other people’s states of mind. The idea that people would take control of their states of mind by intoxicating themselves, or in any way altering consciousness, is considered fundamentally disloyal.
You’re making this point very well, but I am not a pessimist, I am not into these conspiratorial theories, because from my point of view it all seems to be being negotiated in a fairly sane manner. In other words, the military-industrial complex has quietly taken its place as number 2 — behind the entertainment and media industries. Governments are being told by corporations, “Keep the roads repaired and care for the sick! We’ll take over the manufacture and distribution of commodified goods.” And apparently, in the same way that the Church was patted on the back and toddled off the stage at the end of the Thirty Years War, nation-states are going through this. Their raison d’Ãªtre for their existence, which was the whole Cold War paranoia scenario, has pretty much been unplugged. There’s a lot of retro-inertia and people moving at different speeds within the system, but I think we’re now living in the corporate, post-informational, boundary-less collectivity, and it was built by guys with pony tails with rings in their ears, who were druggies, basically.
I think there’s a lot of bad things going on, but mostly just to make money. Very few scenarios of control are going to bring those who generate them much happiness. There’s money to be made, for sure, on the good side and the dark side of the cultural transition. But as far as the drug thing is concerned, the very presence of the word ‘drug’ in our culture, in the de-numenized form in which it exists, makes it very hard to talk about the issue. I mean, everything is defined as a drug by those who are looking at it from a marketing and commodification position. Society, again, is not going to help you with this. You’re actually going to have to someday face the fact that you’re going to get as far as your intelligence can carry you. Expecting the society to undergo some fundamental reform, and then for it to take over the function of your transformation, is probably hopelessly naâˆšÃ˜ve. What this is, is not a free ride; it’s some sort of opportunity in the midst of chaos. I think!
Q4 My question is in relation to Jewish mysticism, and specifically the Kabbalah. The Kabbalists believe in tikkun, which is the restoration of matter and creation, when the divine Seed is reconnected with the Godhead. My question is, do you believe that this is a metaphor for cosmic consciousness, in that we, as Man, as the earth, has a collective soul or collective consciousness, that somehow can be connected with the Other and brought forth to a new dimension of time and space?
TM The persistent myth of the West is this thing about the “going forth of the Word,” and the descent or the declension of the Word into matter. Kabbalistic mysticism has a lot to say about the realization or coming into being of the Word. Reality from that kind of point of view is some kind of literary construct. The difference between science and magic, fundamentally, is that science believes the universe is made of something, like matter and energy, and magic believes the universe is made of language.
Q4 What about the fusion of the two? What if language was sort of a lower evolutionary form of communication, and the higher form of communication would be something like telepathy or sensational connection?
TM If you have a powerful enough language, you can take control of reality. This is what magical languages, like in the late Renaissance, were about. The only thing which comes close to that today is code for computers. Essentially, these are languages which, when executed, something happens. They are languages of efficacy. They carry, not meaning, but motivation to activity. This Kabbalistic question is very interesting; someone showed me, recently, a sculptural object, which, when illuminated from various angles by a source of light behind it would cast, one after another, each of the Hebrew letters on a screen. In other words, this was a higher-dimensional object which had the entire Hebrew alphabet somehow embedded in it. When I mentioned this to Ralph Abraham, he said, “Well, all you have to do is digitize and quantify that object, and we’ll be able to compute from that three-dimensional object to a 5-, 6-, 7-, 8-, or 9-dimensional object, which would cast all letters of all alphabets into matter.” So one way of thinking of the “transcendental object at the end of time” is as this kind of Ur-letter or Ur-word in hyperspace, from which, as it sheds the radiance of its syntactical numenosity into lower and lower dimensions, realities — as literary functions of being — constellate themselves.
Q4 So would you say it's sort of like the fusion of the unconscious with the conscious, in such a way that we can experience the entire world in one moment, or the entire universe in one moment, or the entire works of creation in one moment?
TM Yeah, I think one way of thinking of the Internet is as a hardwiring of the Human Unconscious. In other words, all these databases, all these buried complexes and this data is becoming accessible to the inspection of the conscious mind in a single moment. So it’s almost as though, whatever the post-historical experience is, it’s something that cannot be achieved or approached in the presence of baggage as anti-progressive as the unconscious mind. We are discovering that we are, in a sense, simply protrusions on this larger protean form called “the human collectivity”, “the community”, the “unconscious”. Our dear identity, so dearly won, is simply a kind of convention of how we present ourselves in Newtonian space. But we are collectivizing even as we discover the depth of our individuality. It’s a paradox, but it’s not a self-canceling paradox; it’s a truth.
Q4 Would you say that the Godhead is what we would consider perfection?
TM I think of it as connectivity and novelty. Perfection — I’ve never tended toward these neo-Platonic things where it gets more “One”-ish, more “White”-ish, or “Light”-ish. For me it gets just weirder and weirder. [laughter and applause] You know, whether all these scenarios of transcendence and transfiguration come to be in some “real” dimension (whatever that means), you may be sure that, long before fifteen years have passed, every major and minor religion on this planet will have a VRML simulacrum of its eschatology up and running for you to comparison shop with!
Q5 I've heard you several times, and I come because you use words so wonderfully. I have something to say about the print culture versus the Internet. I'm a librarian at a city college, and I see the Internet mostly being used by very ignorant people -- I'm afraid I see more the pernicious effects of the Internet. And when I read about people like Negroponte, who speak of bodies as "meat", to me that's the opposite of Beauty, because Beauty, as you said, is connected to the senses. So I don't see a liberation in terms of virtual reality, necessarily. I think it depends on who's doing it. At the moment -- you used the word 'commodification' a lot -- as a post-Marxist I can say that everything is being commodified now, including the World Wide Web -- although the kids with the rings in their ears didn't make as much money as Bill Gates, who didn't have a ring in his ear. [TM: He had a ringing in his ear!] What I'm getting at is that everything is still very much controlled by money, and as long as it's controlled by money, I don't see how it's going to be liberating.
Just one more comment. You speak so well; I heard you talk about Aldous Huxley, and you were the only one who talked about Aldous Huxley. (Everybody else talked about themselves.) What I'm getting at is, you are absolutely grounded in the print culture. Much of what you say about Beauty is what William Morris says as well. I guess I'm trying to make something of a defense for the print culture, and something of a warning about seeing the WWW as necessarily liberating.
TM You’re right that I’m definitely rooted in the print culture. I consider basically my entire schtick as proving that you can turn a liberal education into a borscht-belt phenomenon. [laughter] That shows how short people’s memories are — “Oh, he quotes Homer! Amazing!”
But I think the fear that the Internet was going to plunge us into a world of barbarian illiteracy was a transition phase. Now I’m meeting people whom, I think, you would consider largely illiterate — in that they’ve never read a book — but they are very fully in command of the tools of the culture because they do all their reading on the Internet. What’s happening is simply a celebration of diversity. Capitalism built the Internet, but it has not yet made a great deal of money off it. McLuhan said that no technology in history has ever been implemented with even a partial appreciation of what its real effects were going to be. The Internet is supposedly a great place to do business, but what I see it doing is empowering previously marginalized minorities and positions. It has certainly pulled the plug on the agenda of the nation-state. Corporations do not use war as an instrument of national policy. They do not like starving refugees; they like well-fed, true believing customer bases. And to this end they have exported a lot of chaos to ghettos of the world — and even there, there’s a shrinking of the commitment to the kind of chaos that typified the age of nationalism.
We make these different metaphors about what’s happening; here’s a sort of neo-Christian metaphor, which follows McLuhan. We lived through the age of the patriarchal beehive or anthill, we lived through the age of the glorification of the perfect Man, and now what we’re seeing is the protean advent of the age of the Holy Ghost. Electricity in McLuhan’s pantheon was the descent of the Holy Ghost. It clothes the planet in numenosity, it accelerates information to the speed of light, and it creates a kind of collectivity of understanding. Were we not so secular and so embedded within it, we would see its transcendental implications much more clearly, I think. People like Teilhard de Chardin and McLuhan and various others have seen that. But the rest of us are so focused on the commodification issue that it seems banal and mundane. It is, in fact, not banal and mundane, and I think quickly this is going to become more and more apparent to more and more people. We’ve only been dealing with the Internet for about three years, really, as a culture, and already it dominates all discussions of salvation, destruction, chaos, redemption. Wait ’til you see what’s coming!
Q6 With this new glut of information and ideology: is it simply a matter of there being so many more, or is the choice between mystery and ideology any more difficult than it has ever been?
TM Well, I think so, because I really believe that you have to take seriously the hidden agenda of every form of media that you embrace or reject. So it’s not simply about “more”, it’s that print, the electric light, every form of media changes us in ways that we don’t suspect or understand until we move beyond it. Now we’re understanding things about print that previously we couldn’t even language to ourselves, because it was like the surface of our own bodies. Now we see that the assumptions of interchangeability based on modern industrial processes, or the assumptions about the quality of our voting (one person/one vote) — this kind of mechanistic thinking about society, which we were raised not to question, are in fact notions that only make sense in the print-constellated universe. Now that we’re moving into a world with different sensory ratios, how we do science, how we do fashion, how we do art, how we do relationships, how we define things as deeply ingrained and supposedly outside social manipulation as gender identity, and things like that, are discovered to be completely fluid.
Q6 But haven't they always been fluid, even though the ideology may have said differently? Wouldn't the fundamental decision between being fluid and remaining solid stay as equally powerful (even in the context of the fluid network, etc.)?
TM I think so. But as you say, our attention has drifted away from that. This whole thing I was trying to put across tonight, without just saying it flat out, was that we have become silly, we have become infantile. We lack dimension. This is not an adult style of civilization, the way we live. Now you’re saying, well maybe in the past there have been adult styles. I don’t know — maybe, maybe not. I’d probably tend to resist it. But for sure, this society is silly, trivial, juvenile, infantile, self-denying, self-flattening, uses a simplified vocabulary for emotion, for relationships, and to chart its way forward. And so then the defining of social values and the expression of social institutions is left to faceless collectivities — these “They”‘s we’re always talking about — the Corporations, the Media, the Government, the Somebody. Again, this is an infantile myth of how reality works. Imagine if you were actually a free and responsible individual! Play with this idea; it has implications for you, I think. And it may not have been true in the past. As I look back to how I was raised and the people who raised me, everybody was living inside a cartoon, a sitcom of some sort. We’ve blown the whistle on that. That was what the work of the deconstruction that modernism performed on the bourgeois sensibility was all about, to tell you you’re more complicated than that, deeper than that, more dynamic, more self-surprising than that, more psychedelic than that. More sexy than that, smarter than that! I’m sorry, not to rant.
Q7 All I really want to know is -- you know, I had this great philosophical question, a psychedelic question, I was all excited -- but all I really want to know is: how does Terence McKenna live? How do these nights affect your life? [applause]
TM I’m trying to “walk the walk and talk the talk”. What that means at the moment to me is: three years ago I moved from northern California where I’d been for 35 years in a kind of sandal/beansprout/blurred-gender culture that spoke a rhetoric of rainforest action and so forth and so on. I moved to Hawaii; I moved off the grid. I live within thirty seconds of climaxed rainforest. I have an ISDN-speed (128k) connection straight onto the Internet (through the air, wireless; I point at my provider). So I’m trying to study the Internet in isolation from the rest of the culture. I just want, basically, an archaic world of nature and natural values, and the fastest most hi-tech machine I can get my hands on.
Somebody said, “What, is your message still the same?” My message is still the same, and it has nothing to do with me. The message is, “Don’t follow me, eat a shroom!” [applause] Unlock the cultural box and check out what’s going on. Your nervous system, your sexuality, and your vegetable friends provide an antidote to cultural dystopia, alienation, and victimization. Don’t be a victim. Don’t consume. Produce art. Keep your powder dry, one hand over your wallet, the other hand over your asshole — this the way to proceed with this society, I think. And then we’ll all meet at the end and make extremely high art. I see it coming. [applause]
It’s great to be here! It’s absolutely great to be here. I think yesterday in Manhattan was as beautiful a day as I’ve ever seen anywhere. I hope you all noticed. It’s the kind of day that makes you want to just… drop acid! And walk around in the park… Anyhow, I’m delighted to be here. It’s been awhile since I’ve been in this town.
What’s new with me? (I’ll get all that calm-us-down, make-us-feel-at-home stuff behind me.) I’ve moved off the mainland; I’m living in the Free and Sovereign State of Hawaii now, loving it. When the word reaches the mainland that we want independence, I hope all of you will support that and help make it a possibility!
Before I was in Manhattan, I was in Heidelberg, Germany, for two weeks working on a film, and this is the project that’s been on my mind recently. We’re doing a film called “The Rosicrucian Enlightenment.” It’s an effort to use an incident in early 17th-century European history, right before the 30-Years War, to make a kind of propaganda film, consciously using this earlier historical episode — which involved a granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth of England and young Frederick the Elector Palatine of Bohemia, and their effort to build an alchemical kingdom in central Europe, right before the 30-Years War. It’s a wonderful romantic story — alchemy, magick, politics. But the purpose of it is to make a statement about our own politics and circumstance. So that’ll be coming down the pipe in awhile.
I’m doing a four-city tour, talking about the plunge into novelty that we are experiencing according to me, and the challenge of the millennium, which we will experience according to nearly everybody — or at least everybody who keeps or cares about the Western calendar. And these things are parallel.
Just a bit of background here… I’m the purveyor of a notion that is uniquely my own (basically, no one wanted to steal it from me!): the idea that there is a quality in the world that has been overlooked by Science, and overlooked by Western religions, as far as that’s concerned — a quality which I call “novelty”. (And I cribbed this from Alfred North Whitehead.) It’s a very slippery concept to define mathematically or precisely, but intuitively I think it’s right there on the surface; we all know what novelty is. Novelty is density of connection. It’s that which is new or never tried. It’s the unusual, the statistically improbable, the interesting. I maintain that Nature herself is a kind of distillery of novelty, that over any swath of time what we see is a tendency to accumulate and preserve this connectedness. And this is a quality that affects social systems, biological systems, physical systems — it’s a law across all scales of phenomenon that Nature tends to become more complex through time, and tends to struggle against entropy and habit to maintain that complexity.
Well, as a rap at that level, you can take it or leave it — it’s sort of a recension of the idea of Tao. But I went much further with it; I mathematized it, I made it into an algorithm that can be run on computers. And what the output of this software then is, are what I call “maps” of novelty or “maps” of time. (I’m delivering this at light speed because I’m trying to get somewhere.)
The point being, since late February, and until the middle of next week, the theory has predicted an enormous plunge into novelty, whatever that is. And I have been anticipating this particular dip toward the weird for many years because it is such a dramatic one; it’s a test for the theory. I think when you came in this evening you were given a card with my web site address on it. There’s extensive exhibits there — you can learn more about this than most people with lives would ever care to know, at the web site. But the question before the house this evening is, one week or less than a week from the bottom of the novelty trough, how are we doing? Is it simply an illusion of the psilocybin-addled minority, or is there in fact a kind of concrescence underway, a kind of plunge into deeper and deeper connectivity that anticipates somehow this much larger plunge into novelty that will inevitably accompany the calendar? (The calendrical change at the turn of the century.)
Well, I’m a patient character, so it would be my tendency to not try to sort this out until, say, after the election. A lot of people want to second-guess the situation, or have strong opinions of their own. I got a piece of email today. (Maybe it’s a person that’s in this room — it wasn’t somebody I knew.) They said, “Isn’t it about time to come clean about the fact that the novelty plunge has been a huge bore?” So that stirred me, and I actually made a little list — and I’m not saying that we’ve nailed this to the barn door. But confronted with a critic, I want to respond. So here is just a partial list off the top of my head, composed back in the hotel an hour and a half ago of interesting and unusual things which have happened in the last 90 days, roughly, since the 25th of February.
Several new planets have been discovered around other stars. 70 Virginis, 47 Ursae Minoris, and Beta Pictoris — stars within 40 light years of Earth — have all been discovered to have planets of Jupiter mass or less. This has to do with new technologies being put in place. We can expect a planet a month at this point, and the resolution is getting finer and finer. We’re very very close to the Holy Grail of the water-heavy, oxygen-rich signature of a world like our own somewhere within 40 light years of Earth. That’s one item. (I’ll do the astronomy part first.)
Ten billion new galaxies were discovered and announced. I believe it was the missing eighty percent of the universe! That was in the last 90 days.
And then — though probably few of you actually noticed it, because you live in this wonderful dazzling verticality of an arcology filled with light… But for those of us who live off the grid and in rural areas, the brightest comet since 1658, and an unpredicted one at that — which is interesting, cause I could have fudged, you know, and made it fit in the slot. But nobody knew. I saw this comet from rural Hawaii, and it was absolutely stunning. I mean comets are one of those things guaranteed to disappoint, and this was dazzling.
So that’s the astronomy section of what’s happened in the last 90 days. Turning to biology, the Human Genome Project announced its completion, years earlier than they thought they would. That is the key piece of data about ourselves that we have never had before. It’s the algebra of biology itself, now fully elucidated, and it will mean the cure of diseases, it will mean — all kinds of things will flow from that.
Right at the turn from not-so-interesting to very interesting, back there at the end of February, half a dozen atoms of antimatter were created at CERN in Switzerland. Not antiparticles, which are very humdrum and have been around, but antimolecules of hydrogen — antihydrogen and antihelium. Antimatter converts to energy 100% in the presence of ordinary matter. If you want to fling Manhattan to Andromeda, this is the technology you need to have! Well, remember that happened in James Blish’s novel Cities in Flight — do you all remember that? The story of John Amalfi, the mayor of New York City when New York City was well beyond the Milky Way?
Another interesting point described in the Times two days ago: it’s now agreed by everyone that a very large asteroid impact 4 or 5 million years ago delivered a huge amount of organic material to the Earth’s surface without destroying it in the impact. I won’t bother you with the details, but what this means is organic material which forms in deep space is delivered regularly to the surface of the Earth. This changes entirely our picture of who we are, where we came from, and the uniqueness of life as a terrestrial phenomenon.
And finally — and this is just as I say an off-the-top-of-my-head list — roving the Internet I learned that the nanotechnologists (the people who are working at the itty-bitty scale) have finally produced the nanoassembler which they have been seeking — which lays the basis for a very bizarre technology, a technology of machines too small to see. I think we’ve discussed at times the phenomenon of putting 10,000 steam engines on a chip; more steam engines can be put on a one-centimeter chip than were operating in England in 1850, at the height of the age of steam.
Well, so what are we to conclude from all this? Novelty apparently doesn’t come in the form of politics, wars, revolutions, upheavals — that was the change of another era. In the present era, what change seems to mean, or where it seems to be concentrated, is in technology, and in science. All these scientific discoveries I mentioned are the result of the application of advanced technologies: signal processing technologies and this sort of thing. It’s as though the acceleration into novelty is now very much a phenomenon of our technical productions, our machines, our interconnectivity. And it’s interesting — we have now the Internet; we are familiar with the inner network of our own emotions, associations, this sort of thing; and we are becoming more and more aware of the interpenetrating network that connects all life back into the biosphere, back into the dynamics of the Gaian matrix of oceans and rivers and biological recycling of materials. So I submit that, at this point, if you don’t think we are experiencing an incredible plunge into novelty, you have an uphill case to defend.
I’m not suggesting that this pace of breakneck change will continue indefinitely. It won’t. In every period of time, if examined at sufficient resolution, you see that novelty is retarded or obstructed by another force, a force more akin to resistance of some sort. And I name this “habit”. So on all scales, process — in your own life, in the life of the nation, in the life of the species and the life of the planet — a struggle between habit and novelty. Habit and novelty: what novelty builds up and offers up as unusual and improbable, the forces of entropy and of habit and of business as usual attempt to pull down. But as I say, the good news is that over time, these things that retard novelty must yield. And the interesting thing about this idea is that it lays the basis for an ethic. Because it takes the phenomenon of ourselves — our sprawling cities, our uncontrolled technologies, our dreams, our fears — and it places them at the very center of the drama. We are no longer existentially-marginalized observers. History is no longer some kind of hideous mistake. Rather, everything is seen to serve this advance into novelty.
Well then of course the obvious question to ask is, “Where is it all leading?” I mean, how novel can things become, and how rapidly, before we become unrecognizable to ourselves? Well the answer is, not much. Working from a mathematical point of view — and it’s going out on a limb to do so, because many squirrels occupy this particular part of the park — nevertheless I’ve been willing to go out on a limb and extrapolate these processes forward and say: somewhere beyond 2012, reality as we know it is taken off the menu. And I’ve been saying this since 1971, and the only model I had was the boundary-dissolving challenge of the psychedelic experience. And I still think that, in some sense, history is an invoking of that — it’s a slow-moving psychedelic experience of some sort that builds to some kind of revelatory crescendo, almost like an individuation process in the Jungian model — not of a single person, but of an entire culture or a species.
We are in the grip of some kind of an attractor, and when we look back at history, we can have a sense, I think, that we have never been here before. But we are so accustomed to causal thought, that we assume we have been pushed here, pushed here by historical necessity, by bad political decisions, by the vicissitudes of evolution (cultural and otherwise). I don’t think so. I think we have been pulled here, that we are under the aegis of a kind of an attractor. Some people would call it a “destiny”, but what it is is a dream that is pulling us deeper and deeper into the adventure of existential becoming. And faster and faster — that’s the other thing. Deeper and deeper, faster and faster, so that the rate of change that people were accustomed to before the Industrial Revolution, for example — we can barely conceive of such slow-moving, stately, meta-stable societies. On the other hand, within the 20th Century, the acceleration has been even more intense, and continues to accelerate.
Well, people think it’s an illusion, or it’s a subjective perception that is best saved for their therapist. No, what you see is true: it is happening. The denial of it, I think, comes from the fact that it’s very hard for people to imagine transformation without catastrophe, because that’s the only kind we’ve ever known. Societies build up wealth and stability and a model of themselves, and then — plague, invaders, crop failures, something happens… Catastrophe. But I sense, I think, an incredible opportunity for positive transformation, that the tools that have been given into our hands now make it possible for us to discover who and what we really are. And I think since de Sade people have thought it would be a fairly rough ride. I don’t think so. I think that’s a form of cultural paranoia that keeps us from exploring what our politics could be.
It happens that I’m named after a Roman dramatist, a very minor character who wrote these sort of foppish little social comedies that didn’t amount to much — but one quote comes down from this guy, Terence. And he said, “I am a human being, and therefore nothing human is alien to me.” And I’ve sort of taken that as my banner. I’m an anarchist. Being an anarchist means you’re not afraid of your fellow man. All the political theories that come out of Thomas Hobbes and the paranoid school are about controlling the perceived inherent evil in human beings. Well, I think if you perceive it and assume it, and set society up as basically a series of checks and balances against the assumed bestial nature of your fellow human beings, you’re going to have a nightmare. And this is the legacy of the Post-Enlightenment meditation on how human beings should behave.
One of the reasons I love to come to New York is because it convinces me that the future works. The future is going to be very much like the present, here. Very large parts of the world are undergoing Manhattanization, and if Manhattanization is not a positive process, then they’re descending into a hell. But what I see is an incredible victory of pluralism, of tolerance, of multiplicity. It’s got to be that way: we cannot have our little private xenophobic agendas, our historical grudges, our gender obsessions. All these things which divide us and set us apart from ourselves, I think, are legacies of a previous and now obsolete set of technologies. And this is one of the things that I want to talk about this evening.
Since this is the world capitol of media (and probably won’t be for long, because there will be no world capitol of media — it’s spreading everywhere) I think it’s worth talking about what media is, what it has done to us, what it can be, and how it relates to this effort to try and birth a new kind of humanness out of our present dilemma. In this part of the rap very I’m McLuhanistic in my approach. I think we never understand the impact of a technology until it’s too late. And you could almost go further and say you never understand the impact of a technology until it is already obsolete.
For the past 300 years or so, Western civilization has been ruled or held together by the phenomenon of what is called mass media It begins with newspapers and of course leads into the much more penetrating and global electronic forms of media such as network television and so forth and so on. The interesting thing about these forms of media is that they are all tabloid. All of them. Imagine a newspaper such as the most venerable newspaper in this town: it is designed, because it is a commercial enterprise, to be read by millions and millions of people. It’s a cultural slight of hand on our part to not realize that no one should read a newspaper designed to be read by millions and millions of people — that that trivializes and commonalizes information beyond the point of recognition or relevancy. These forms of mass media that we’re familiar with are what are called “one-to-many” forms of media. An editor, a talk show host, a somebody is dispersed to consumers — who have no ability to feed back, or only very unsatisfying ones like through letters to the editor or something, which is a joke. So one-to-many communication has created a hierarchy of values. It has created, in fact — and McLuhan made this point — the very notion of “the public” is a print-created idea. There was no “public” before there was large-scale print. Information was held by privileged classes, held very closely.
In the present evolving situation, the new forms of media — and by that I mean specifically the Net, the Web in all its manifestations — is an any-to-any form of communication. One person can communicate to thousands, thousands can send email to one person who somehow earns their ire or desire, or any variation on this can be worked. And the incredible pluralizing of lifestyles and the richness that has come recently to high-tech industrial societies is a consequence of the breakdown of these print maintained and created stereotypes which have everyone marching around in uniforms — suits, mostly! That now is finished. So it leads then to the question, “where do we put our own lives in all of this?” And I think that the answer — and this comes out of a long involvement with psychedelics and with the Image per se (and for me the psychedelics were always the way to get into the realm of the images) — the obligation on all of us, I think, is to use this medium, these new forms of media, and produce art, furiously. That’s what it’s all for. That’s what liberation really means: it isn’t permission to jog. It’s permission to create!
The obligation that rests upon everybody in this room — and the poorest and most twisted among us still probably falls in the upper 5% percent of people on this Earth in terms of opportunity, disposable income, access to resources, so forth and so on — the way to redeem this exclusivity is to push the art pedal to the floor. And I’m trying to do this with my web site. I’m very keen on these new technologies because I don’t see them as they stand today — that’s exciting enough — but I see them as what they could be. And my idea, with a high-speed, semi-virtual sort of environment online, is that this is an environment in which you can display the contents of your mind, your heart, your soul, your aspirations. We are not these shaven monkeys that we appear to be. That’s the surface, and beneath it lies the most complex organ of the human body, which is the mind-body interface. The experience, the ideas, the understanding of each of us is unique, but somehow useless to the community unless expressed. And we have become consumers to such a degree that we have sold our own uniqueness down the river.
And so I believe that the humanizing of the future lies in a tremendously rich kind of symbiosis between a nature-based psychedelic archaism in the presence of the fastest and finest information technology that we can get our hands on. Already these technologies have put an end to the marginalization of bohemian and other forms of subculture. What these technologies do is they remove the hegemony of values and substitute instead a more realistic mix of possibilities — all kinds of possibilities. Whatever your agenda is, whatever your political position, your sexual politics, your taste in art and literature and music — whatever is on your mind, if you really care about it, you should wish to communicate it. And the communications tools that have been set before you are immensely powerful at this point.
So then the question becomes, “What is to be communicated?” Is there a coherent zeitgeist? Or is there just to be an efflorescence of individually-driven creativity? Well this individually-driven creativity thing is a very late-arriving notion of what an artist is. An artist is essentially a magician, and a pipeline for the Logos, for the Demiurge, the Overmind, this hovering, generalized kind of World Soul that is downloading its intent into history in the form of love affairs, revolutions, inventions, ideas, so forth and so on. And so for that kind of an inspired artistic output, there has to be a connection in to this Logos, to this Demiurgos. And other than depending on being born a genius — which very few of us can do — the only effective and dependable way that I know to do that is through a relationship to the psychedelic experience. I say “experience”; I thought of saying “plants” — because certainly there are psychedelic experiences not based on plants. But I find the plant experiences most compelling, because I think somehow we are at our most fulfilled when we have a heart connection to Nature, to the living world. And this doesn’t mean that you have to camp out in rainforests, or something like that. I mean, have you noticed? Your mind is embedded in the living world: your body meets you everywhere you go, and is as complex and astonishing and as capable of horrifying you as any Amazon rainforest. Connection to Nature. Without that you get Existentialism, and worse. You get art whoring itself to the interior decoration conspiracy, or something like that. I mean, not that people don’t need chachkas, I’m not saying that! But there are higher purposes to be served here.
So, a return, then, to the psychedelic experience. How radical is that? Is that a return to tradition? Is that a break with tradition? Is this an advocacy of some kind of narcoleptic dystopia a la Brave New World? You have to find out for yourself.
But one of the things that is finished with the death of mass media and the rise of the psychedelic “Net”, one of the things that is finished with them forever is ideology. Ideology is poisonous. It’s not that there are good ideologies and bad ideologies — ALL ideology is poisonous. Because to have an ideological position assumes that you understand the nature of reality. How likely is that? How likely is that? And, in the Twentieth Century, if we have not learned the bankruptcy of ideology, then I don’t know what it would take. We have on the Right the stunning example of German National Socialism. We have on the Left the stunning example of Soviet Communism. And then all the blathering and wasted time and… crap that went on in all the spectrum in between.
This ties into a larger issue which I’m interested in — and this is another way of saying “ideology is bankrupt”: Culture Is Not Your Friend. Culture is not your friend, no matter what your culture is. And this is sort of not a Politically Correct thing to say, because in the present ambiance (sort of, those who haven’t gotten the word,) there’s a lot of attention to recovering our ethnic roots and to expressing our unique ethnicity, and so forth and so on — I think that’s the beginning of understanding. But all terms that stress ethnicity are words applied to groups of people. Have you ever noticed that? Have you ever noticed that you’re not a group of people, you’re a person? So you may be “Jewish”, you may be “Black”, you may be this, you may be that but there is no obligation to take upon yourself the generalized quality of these things, because the generalized qualities belong to thousands of people examined at a time. If you misunderstand that you become a caricature. You act out your ethnicity as a caricature.
So culture is not your friend, ideology is not your friend… Who’s your friend? Well, to my mind, the felt presence of immediate experience is the surest dimension, the surest guide that you can possibly have. The felt presence of immediate experience. Feeling is primary. All ratiocination and intellectualization and analysis is secondary, and comes out of culture. No matter what your culture is, it has answers. Cultures thinks up answers. So a child asks its mother a question, like, “Where do we go when we die?” or, “Why does Daddy go to work?” Cultural answers are always provided, but nobody knows the real answers to these questions — that’s outside of culture. So coming to terms and fully expressing your culture is like a stage in development. And then beyond that lies the aspiration of the felt presence of immediate experience, and its implications. It’s a very hard thing to deal with and to do when you are poisoned with ideology. And ideologies are very difficult to deconstruct and rid yourself of through a simple talking therapy of some sort, through simply trying to work it out. The best antidote for ideology is to raise the intensity of the felt presence of experience to such excruciating levels that it simply vaporizes ideological illusion. And this is what psychedelics are for, I think.
And it also explains (if you’ve ever wondered) the incredible phobia of these things on the part of the establishment, the incredibly deep alarm that these things trigger in people. You know, Tim Leary once said of LSD, it’s “a compound that occasionally causes psychotic behavior in people who don’t take it.” That’s how powerful these things are! And the reason is, they are a direct challenge to the myth of the tribe — whatever the myth is: Fascist, Democrat, Socialist, Communist — everybody can get together on the idea that psychedelics are somehow dangerous and antisocial and pose some kind of threat to the body politic. That’s because all these ideologies, from the psychedelic point of view, are seen in all their limitations and foolishness, and their historical assumptions and their naivetè writ large across them. Ideology is a fool’s game. Or it’s a scoundrel’s game. Because scoundrels use ideology to control fools. And nobody wants to be caught in that situation.
We have two routes to the felt presence of immediate experience beyond the ordinary. Basically: the psychedelic experience and the sexual experience. And if they could make sex illegal, they would — you know they would! It alarms them profoundly! They wish people began from the waste up! But there’s just nothin’ they can do about it! And in the case of psychedelics they wish people began from the head down! Well, this tells you, I think, that culture is not your friend. It doesn’t mean you have to flee from it, it doesn’t mean you have to become a critic of it, in any noticeable or astonishing way, it just means you have to smarten up. In Hawaii they have a saying. They say “be akamai”. It means, just “be smart.” And what it means to me is, it means “pay attention”. Pay attention to what is going on around you.
My method, my style, has always been to be open-minded, to be critical, to be rational, but to seek the weird. And to seek it seriously. Now if you seek the weird without a critical intelligence, it will find you faster than you can lock your apartment behind you! The number of squirrelly ideas on the market these days is truly alarming. I coined a phrase (I hope), “the balkanization of epistemology”. This is what we’re dealing with now. You understand what I mean? It means people can’t tell shit from shinola, but they wanna talk about it, a lot! This is a place where you have to bring to bear what are called razors, logical razors. One is: hypotheses should not be multiplied without necessity. Another is: equations should not be multiplied without necessity. Razors always seek what is called the principle of parsimony. In other words, keep it simple, stupid. The simplest explanation is always to be preferred first. If is found inadequate then ratchet it up. One notch. Not twenty notches, one notch. Then we see if that works. You may think this is some kind of down-prescription for reducing the world to a fairly predictable and mundane place. It isn’t at all. It’s a way to rapidly filter out a lot of nonsense. But the truly weird — and the truly true — can survive this process. It doesn’t do any damage to them, and you will then find them intact.
And I can only testify to my own experience. I’ve looked into a number of things, and found most inadequate for what I was interested in. What I was interested in was, I wanted to be astonished. I think astonishment is a very rare emotion. I wanted to be astounded. I remember when I was a little kid, there was a science fiction magazine, Astounding Tales, and I would just look at the cover and I would think, “What kind of emotion is it to be astounded?” Well I’ve only found it on DMT, I have to tell you. I don’t know maybe I’m a… Well, no, I was astounded by Jerusalem, I was astounded by the Mosque of Omar, there’ve been maybe five or six other moments in my life when true astonishment broke through. But the psychedelic experience intensely brought to focus is made of pure astonishment. And I find that feeling to be a kind of maximizing of everything that I aspire to, enjoy… It’s a combination of intellectual pleasure, surprise, amazement at one’s presence before such a thing. And I invite all of you to seek the weird, and to put it to the test, and to force those who would purvey various paths to the mystery to deliver. You know? It’s not subtle. That’s the one thing you have to understand. It’s not about looking into somebody’s eyes and getting the whammy, it’s not about some intuitive knowing, it’s not some vague… It’s about begging for mercy because they are rotating and balancing the wheels of your after-death vehicle having taken you prisoner in your own apartment! That’s my idea of an encounter with the incredible. God knows, the worst thing you can say about any drug is that it’s subtle! Deliver us from subtle drugs, please!
Well, I mentioned this balkanization of epistemology thing because my own theory tells me that as [tape stops]
…in the presence of the Mystery. Nobody knows what life is — don’t let anybody kid you. And nobody knows its limits or its constraints. And to the degree that you assume these things are known, you marginalize yourself. You become a spectator, and a consumer, and a dupe, and a placeholder in this great opera. That’s not what any of us want, I think. I think what we want to do is seize this moment, between birth and God knows what, to make a difference. To make a difference. Sometimes people say to me, well this thing you’re on about the novelty and the concrescence — it all sounds very automatic. What’s the political implications of this? Are we just riding along on the back of the dog, and there is no political implication? No, I don’t think so. I think the political implication is to understand the situation. The essence of political clarity lies in a correct assessment of the situation. What is to be done? What serves? What is dragging the boat, and what is actually carrying us forward? And I maintain that it’s a very complicated situation.
It’s troubling to me that in our community of dissidents, it’s very hard for people to see the commonality of connection, difficult for ecologists and feminists and radical media people and psychedelic people to make common cause. And yet, to my mind, these things are just facets of the same agenda. There will be no feminizing of culture without psychedelics. There will be no psychedelic revolution without a gender consciousness revolution. And so forth and so on. It all is of a piece. By allowing ourselves to be divided and linearly broken into old-style political factions, we’re in a sense disempowered.
You know it’s a curious thing in the 20th Century, it’s a paradox, a coincidentia oppositorum: it is the most radically innovative and event-driven of centuries, and yet large portions of the world, during much of the 20th Century, have been enormously culturally constipated. And I think of our own culture. Around 1970, there was such terror of the future in this culture, that it was essentially canceled. And that there was this retro thing for 20 years, 25 years — the same art, the same fashion, the same personalities, the same issues, over and over again. Meanwhile, the cosmic clock is ticking, and what it means is the pressure is building behind the dam. And I really feel that in the last three months — we will in the future look back and understand that the dam broke in this period. This is when the density of connection on the Internet, the cosmic nature of our circumstance — I mentioned this — cohesion of the youth/music/drug/media culture… Enough factors are in prominent trajectory now that I, at any rate, unaided by anything stronger than a little cannabis, can see the end of the tunnel. I see now how it will all work, how we can get from here to there with no miracles, no new technology, no drug yet to be designed — we have it all. We have it all now in place. We need a little more bandwidth, we need a little more slack, we need a little more DMT circulating around!… The pieces are in place! And if each one of us were basically to convey this information to someone who didn’t know it, we would very quickly multiply this understanding until it became the consensus.
People don’t intrinsically fear the future. They fear it because they’ve been programmed to fear it. And they’re programmed to fear it because the institutions that lead us are clueless. I mean, they think talking about capital gains tax is revolutionary! Ladies and gentlemen, I think there will be more eggs broken than that before we straighten this whole situation out. We now have the potential to transform matter into energy with 100% efficiency, we have the power to read our own genetic code, and alter it, we have the power to connect ourselves together, we have the power to search our cultural database accumulated over 50,000 years, instantly, from any point on the globe, by ordinary people. We have the benefits of the anthropologist, the biochemist, the botanist, the neurologist, who have delivered substances into our pharmacopoeia that allow us to alter consciousness, explore consciousness. The end result of all of these tools is the rebuilding of the human self-image. I’ve talked at times about what I call “turning the human being inside-out.” We want to see the Soul. We want to concretize the soul. We each carry within ourselves a fragment of something which wants to be put together again. But it cannot be put together in the present ambience of strife, science, hegemony, male dominance, consumerism… bad television… terrible haircuts — all the rest of it! It cannot be put together in that environment. But it can be put together in the dimension of virtual collectivity and community that we are building. It wants to come together.
In a sense we’re like these animals that, generation after generation, they never manifest their mature form. These are like certain kinds of lungfish — they’re fish and they have fish babies that have fish babies that have fish babies… Then comes a season when the water dries up, and they don’t have fish babies, they develop lungs and crawl out onto the land, have a different kind of offspring. And this is what is happening to us. The little warm pool of historical foolishness in which we have been paddling around — that little amniotic ocean of self-congratulatory denial is now dried up. And it’s basically a case of fish or cut bait. I feel ready. I feel we’re ready. I feel we have the tools, and the geniuses, the people, and the dreams, and the allies to now make a move. And a huge amount of it rests on young people. My generation, people who born after World War II and came through the 60’s, laid a certain kind of groundwork, but we didn’t understand enough about what the enterprise was. It was impossible to understand it in one decade, the nature of the enterprise. We’ve now had 30 years, and a new generation has the benefit of that experience and the benefit of the new technology. And the benefit of the deeper confusion of the establishment. And all of these factors, I think, mean that the long-awaited paradigm shift is now a matter of individual and collective decision coming out of the artistic and scientific community. And that’s us.
So the time is now, the tools are here. We can use the turn of the millennium as a kind of flog on the dissipation of print-created values. This isn’t going to happen tomorrow or next week — it lies beyond the turn of the century. Until then, the cultural agenda will be under the control of the institutions that control it today. But they, I believe, don’t realize how profoundly terminal for their enterprise the year 2000 is going to be. And beyond the turn of the century — if we have laid the groundwork, and kept the faith, and built the networks, and gained the experience — they’ll be ready to talk turkey. We will build the world that we sense in our dreams. I mean, where we are headed is into the Imagination. It’s where we’ve always been headed. That’s what telling stories around the campfire is all about. But now the Imagination beckons. It more than beckons, it reaches out its hand to lead us into an astonishing new world… Meet me there!
Thank you very much!
Q & A
Okay, well this is the part of these things that I actually enjoy the most, which is an opportunity for feedback. It really bums me that, no matter how I cut the cake, it’s a middle-aged white guy up on stage, pontificating — we’re talking about one-to-many, here’s a one-to-many exercise. So this is the chance to redress the balance, and this is where I usually have the most fun and learn things. So anybody who has a question, it doesn’t have to hold to tonight’s topic — whatever that was. Feel free. I give long answers, so get your licks in early.
Q1: Good evening, Terence. I had a very enjoyable time listening to you. It seems to me that in your vision of the future there is a dichotomy of Nature and Technology, one that is effectively aimed at destroying itself. I’d like you to address that issue on two different levels for me. Practically, are the resources that we have available to us today — the ones that we have left — enough to be able to power this technology to 2012? It takes 40,000 pounds of materials to scrunch down into one 4-pound laptop computer, in terms of petroleum, raw minerals… That’s one thing I need to question; I don’t know if that’s going to be possible. Secondly, philosophically, if we have to exploit nature to achieve our ends where does that leave us if we are trying to go back to nature? That’s where the dichotomy for me lies. And as a brief corollary to those two points, I wondered how you reconcile the fact that the great majority of people and, obviously, species on this planet, aren’t going to have access to the technology that we’re speaking of today.
TM: So two questions and a corollary — for a pot smoker like me…[garbled]! So basically the question is, how can we deliver this to everybody without extracting all the glass, metal, and so forth, in the planet? Well, one answer is nanotechnology, miniaturization. If we could actually bring that on line, even in a modest form, the standing crop of materials already extracted from the earth would be sufficient to maintain the technology. We’re very long on heavy metals and materials now, and very short on creative engineering uses of those things.
I guess I should describe how I live a little bit, because I’m trying to live what I’m talking about. So here’s how it comes out, as an example. I live in Hawaii. I live up a four-wheel-drive road that is very miserable and difficult. There are no power lines in, there are no telephone lines. The sun generates the electricity. I reach the Internet wirelessly (and now at low speed, but soon at high speed). I can push back from my desk and walk in the forest, or go online and adjust my web site which is on the Levity server here in Manhattan. To me this is how it should be. The office culture is probably a major raison d’etre for the existence of modern cities. There’s no reason now for office culture to be maintained. And once corporations realize this, I think they will break it down. There’s no reason now for most people to commute. One of the dilemmas of my own life is, I like being a player in the culture and I like having people read my books and so forth, but I don’t like climbing on 747s and crossing nine time zones to give a speech. So, my hope is that telepresence and these kinds of things will have an impact.
The other thing is — and I didn’t talk that much about it in the talk — consumerism is much overdone, I mean to the level of pathology. People, somehow — and this is a place where media comes in — somehow, media needs to make it unhip to have a lot of stuff. And this is a tall order for media because it’s media’s job to sell stuff, and the more stuff that sells the more successful it is. But the selling of this stuff will eventually lead to what you’re talking about: the complete devastation of the environment, the complete impoverishment of everybody. So, again, the only thing I know that can address this disparity of wealth, and convince people without things that they are rich, are psychedelics. Once you realize that you have more art in your head than they’re auctioning over at Christie’s, you feel much better about things! So acquiring things as a substitute for authentic being needs to be denounced for the neurotic behavior that it is — no matter how good your taste! Presently we tend to behave as though, if you acquire things that are tacky, that’s terrible, but if you acquire things that are [affectedly] “exquisite”, that’s wonderful. No, it’s just a relative kind of terrible. True aristocrats live with nothing, I think. I had a professor of Chinese philosophy and language once, and he had lived in Peking for 20 years and he had been all over the world. And he invited me to have dinner at his house one time. I thought, “Wow, I’ll get to see some kind of great art collection. I’m sure this guy just has great stuff!” He had nothing. That was because he was a Taoist scholar. We should do similarly!
Q2: Well I sort of feel badly about putting the question like this, but: listening to the sweep over thought going around the radar screen tonight, I couldn’t help but notice that UFOs were gone. What happened to the UFOs?
TM: The squirrels abducted them!!
Well, you want me to say something about UFOs, or something about something…?
Q2: Well you used to say, you know, UFOs were like (in a 1983 tape I guess) sparks from the unconscious flying back from the end of time and all that. And it just seemed to be completely missing from the picture — it’s a curiosity as to why it’s missing.
TM: Okay, well here’s why. First of all, I stand by everything I said. Something strange haunts the skies of Earth. I have seen it, other people have seen it, but there are two parallel phenomenon. There are the UFOs, and there are those who believe in the UFOs. And as emphasis moves from one to the other, the discussion becomes so hopelessly squirrelly, that I just can’t participate in it. I have encountered DMT creatures, I have encountered aliens; I have never had an unscheduled proctological examination in my home at 3 in the morning by people who hail from Zeta Reticuli!
I’m glad you brought this up. This is a good place to test all these razors I was talking about, this balkanization of epistemology. I was really talking around this issue. Here’s my take on the entire abduction phenomenon. For some reason — possibly food additives, but much more likely, a lot of television and movies — but for some reason, a small percentage of people here at the end of the Twentieth Century have lost the ability to distinguish between memory and dream. And as Ross Perot says, “End of story!” That’s what’s happening. Imagine a person in an archaic society. The most dramatic narrative event is an old shaman telling a story around the campfire. And it’s always the traditional stories of the culture, the known stories. Well then imagine one of us. We have watched 50,000 half-hour sitcoms in our lives. We have watched thousands of movies, more than we could ever remember watching. That’s all in there. And if believe Freud, Jung, or anybody else who’s thought about the unconscious, you know that the unconscious can use that material to create scenarios of pathology or individuation. So if someone tells a story about an abduction, the first thing to ask are hard questions. And the quality of research being done on these abductions is ludicrous; the people who are sent to investigate these things end up being attorneys for the people making these claims! I just find it utterly underwhelming in the evidence department. It also irritates my sense of the Alien. The Alien is so alien that it cannot be reduced to something as preposterous as silver flannel pajamas, large eyes, and an interest in studying your rear end. The Alien is truly alien!
I don’t know what to make of this breakdown of rational discourse on this issue. But it’s not coming from the psychedelic community. The psychedelic community is far more sophisticated than the alien community. I said to Whitley Streiber, I said, “If you had to tell this story, and preface it by saying you’d taken 5 grams of psilocybin, you couldn’t have given it to your grandmother. ” So it has to do with different approaches to evidence, and different aesthetics, I think. So I’m all keen for the UFOs, but very keen to divide away all the silliness. I think we’re approaching a time where it might be reasonable — gently, kindly, and with a smile on our faces — to denounce just plain foolishness. There’s a lot of absolute foolishness —
[Voice from crowd:] Remember Terence!
TM: [laughs] I’m not sure — you want to say more?
Voice: Well nothing new is alien to you. To call it foolishness is to judge it, right?
TM: “To call it foolishness is to judge it.” Well I didn’t say don’t judge. I thought what I was saying is, make distinctions. You have to judge. You’re going to be presented with and endless smorgasbord of ideological options. Where do you go — Mormonism, Scientology, the Hassids, the Zennies, the Buddhas? Where do you put your faith? You’re going to be constantly called upon to make this call. Now you don’t have to make sense to me; you don’t have to use my criteria. But you should use some criteria which you can rationally defend. The problem with the UFO community, I think, is that they are too credulous, and consequently there is too large a body of evidence left claiming that it should be taken seriously. There is something bizarre going on — at the edge of language, at the edge of collective attention — unusual anomalies haunt the epistemic enterprise like ghosts. But people who come forth to proclaim what this is haven’t taken the depth of the mystery. I mean what it is is the Cosmic Giggle, and they’re not going to nail that to the barn door; that’s its nature, that it’s mercurial, shifting beyond your reach. It changes as you behold it.
Q2: Thank you, I won’t bring it up again! [laughter]
TM: I didn’t mean to beat up on you, I…Yes?
Q3: Hi. I got your software, and I started to read the book, and I gotta ask you: How come a descent into novelty? Is it that easy to get to novelty?
TM: You mean why not an ascent?
Q3: Why not an ascent? And can you say more about the context of North Whitehead, and the period of time we’re in right now?
TM: Okay. First of all, why a descent into novelty rather than an ascent? It was my thing to do as I wanted to do it, and it seemed to me — the way I thought of time was I thought of it like a river. And so I thought of it as flowing toward its lowest level. And I thought of history as a river and Eternity as the ocean. So naturally history flows downhill to reach Eternity. I also like the fact that when the descent in elevation is rapid, the river runs faster, and when the landscape is almost flat, the river broadens out and meanders. So it was to preserve this idea of time as a fluid. The other reason is a mathematical reason. It has to do with the fact that if we have novelty moving downward, then the maximum of novelty is zero. If we have novelty moving upward, the maximum of novelty is just some very large number, and that’s not very appealing.
Now you said to talk a little bit more about this time we’re passing through. Well, one thing I didn’t mention in the talk (because it takes for granted that you’ve studied my thing, which is a lot to presume) — there are resonances in my theory. It’s not simply that it’s either novelty or habit. There are resonances between one time and another time. And the time we are in right now is a very strong resonance to the middle Tenth Century. In a sense, we are emerging from the Dark Ages. It’s not good to push the analogy too hard, because many times are intersecting. But in ordinary theory of history or theory of causality, the most important moment before this one is the moment immediately preceding this one. My thing says something different. It says no, each moment in time is a kind of interference pattern made up of other times, some near, some far. Their relationship is not linear. And that’s why we suddenly get a burst of Egyptian-style furniture, or suddenly a lot of talk about Judy Blake, or suddenly a remake of the story of Aeschylus… Fashion, or the ebb and flow of mass obsession, is based on feeling the zeitgeist, and the zeitgeist carries these messages from many times and many places. And there was a third part?
Q3: I wanted to know more about Alfred North Whitehead and how the I Ching and everything got together.
TM: Well, people think of Alfred North Whitehead as a somewhat obscure and stuffy guy, just because he was English and it was the 1920’s and guess he didn’t do a lot of bong rips or something. But if you read Process and Reality — I strongly urge you to read this book. It’s not easy, but you don’t need a Sanskrit dictionary, and you don’t need to take up residence down at the ashram and sweep up… Whitehead has a language that he speaks, and he talks of feelings as the primary datum of reality. And he talks about time as moving towards what he calls “concrescence”. And he talks about complex systems such as an organization or a human being as a “nexus of actual occasions”. Well I just find his vocabulary, his way of thinking about things, and his mathematical rigor to be tremendously appealing. If you take Whitehead to you breast, you don’t have to hang your head in front of anybody, because his mathematics is impeccable. He is one of the great mathematical thinkers of the Twentieth Century. So it is a very solid foundation that will support a very psychedelic view of how reality works.
Q3: Thank you.
TM: Thank you.
Q4: I want to know if you believe in the paranormal abilities of humans, and if so, if you think that can lead to the ultimate wireless communication.
TM: Yes, absolutely. I don’t have any inside track on this. But I said my method was to search the weird and then to pay attention, and I have seen — maybe for a minute out of my 50 years of existence — I have seen people do paranormal things. What it was, was it was my brother, reading my mind — not what I was thinking, but something that had happened to me 14 months ago that he had never been told. No one had ever been told. And in a condition of quite advanced psychic discombobulation, he just spieled this story. I was so impressed, I went to psychiatrists and people who spend time in back wards, locked wards, because I thought, “That must be where this stuff goes on.” And some people said yes and some people said no. Apparently schizophrenics are not nearly as interesting as I had hoped they would be.
But I’m not ready to give up on this. First of all, how many psychiatrist residents have ever seen an unmedicated schizophrenic? None, I submit to you. I was in the Amazon basin when my brother went around the bend, and medical health care delivery was out of the question. How many people deal, in the Twentieth Century, with schizophrenia naked? What it seemed to me to be was a kind of — it was almost like it’s a disease of spacetime itself. You walk into a nexus and then you’re tweaked, and you see too much, you say too much. And it’s very hard to get you squeezed back down into what they call a “coping mode”. And that’s all most psychiatry’s about; it doesn’t ask philosophical questions. They’re trying to get you back on the street, back at your job, performing the necessary social function.
So yeah, I think that the obvious tool for studying paranormal abilities in human beings are psychedelics. That’s the only time I’ve ever seen anything like this go down. And yet this is not done. It’s impossible to get permission to give psychedelics to people with [any] other experimental protocol than to see whether they live through it — let alone get permission to flip cards or do other, more advanced, kinds of tests for paranormal ability. This is another place where culture is not your friend. Culture tells you what is possible. For instance, I’ve been with cultures where people could smell water, and it was a life and death deal. Well, is that a paranormal ability? I’ve been in cultures where people claim that when they wanted ayahuasca, they would listen, and then they would hear the vine calling, and then they would go and get it. In their culture this was how you did it; it was not paranormal. In our culture there’s no way to explain that. So I think language imprisons us, and then what is human becomes exotic in some cases. Thank you.
Q5: Is the point of visual art to be put on the Internet now? I’m a painter, and I drove an hour and a half to the area, and I don’t have access to the Internet. Recently somebody wanted me to make a copy of my paintings specifically so it could be put on the Internet, and I tried to do it, and it didn’t work. And I’m wondering if I need to adapt…?
TM: Well, it’s a stretch for all of us. A year ago, I had no web site, I didn’t know what HTML was, I had no scanner — I just had the belief that web sites were an important thing. Now I do my own programming, I maintain the web site here in Manhattan from Hawaii. You’re going to have to accept the fact that you’re going to have to learn a bunch of new stuff. At first a person my age resents that. Now that I’m into it, I haven’t had this much fun since the 1960’s, I haven’t learned so much stuff! So what kind of stuff do you learn? Do you just learn the software — you’re the slave to commercialism, in some sense? I don’t see it that way. Photoshop teaches you about light. The 3D rendering programs teach you about space. The animation programs teach you about motion. And believe me, it’s not simple. When you’re in a 3D rendering program, of the sort that gives you, simultaneously, three views, from three different angles, of the object which you’re sculpting — a stupid person cannot coordinate all that data! And I started out unable to coordinate all that data. And then you learn, “Oh, it’s like I have three eyes, viewing it from three different positions, and if I just relax into this, I can grok it.” So I think we are all going to go back to school, big time, and between myself and the open grave I see no end to learning. Learning, learning, learning.
The tools are so powerful. Yes, pictorial art, hung on the walls of galleries (which I am certainly friendly toward, always visit as many galleries as I can, wherever I go, and have been interested in this my whole intellectual life) still is incredibly rarefied and removed from the lives of most people. And you are, somehow, handmaiden to the interior decoration industries. So I think most artists dream of a deeper communication and a wider audience. I mean it’s fine to be collected by a dozen people, but I don’t think that would be satisfaction before the throne of Eternity. The real satisfaction is in influencing. If you care enough about your vision to paint it, you must surely want it then to influence people. And the Net is simply the way that’s to be done now.
Q5: My worry is just that there’s something lost in the medium, because it’s not a direct experience of the medium.
TM: Well, something is lost. Something is lost in reproduction — the same something, probably. But I find the clear scans on the Net to be at least as satisfying as four-color printing. I don’t think that’s the problem.
Q5: Thank you.
Q6: [Comment about the importance of affirming the future.]
Q7: [Starts with a plug for party the following night.] My question relates to an earlier question, the UFO thing. I noticed on the poster something that you were quoted as saying, that we are in a symbiotic relationship with an entity that’s disguising itself as an alien invasion. You already addressed this a little bit, but I’d like to hear more about this.
TM: The quote was that “we have a symbiotic relationship with something which has disguised itself as an alien invasion so as not to alarm us.” What I meant by that was that an alien invasion is a myth of our culture. Since the 50’s we’ve had the example of The Day the Earth Stood Still and When Worlds Collide right on up through that television series which I didn’t see, where they changed all the Nazis to aliens and then it was a huge success. So alien invasion is a piece of our cultural toolbox, but that’s not what’s happening. What’s happening is something… less easy to name than “alien invader” is reaching out toward us. It could be the Gaian Mind, it could be the Oversoul of humanity… I don’t think it comes from the distant stars — it knows us too well, and loves us too much. It could come from the dead. Now that’s what I mean by something weirder than an alien invasion. An alien invasion compared to a collective mass contact by the dear departed is pretty mundane stuff.
So, whatever this thing is, it keeps itself masked. I’ve literally had the experience on mushrooms of saying to it, “Show me what you are, for yourself.” Well, it’s like there’s this enormous organ chord, the temperature falls, black velvet curtains are raised — and after about 20 seconds of that, I’m saying, “That’s enough of what you are for yourself! Let’s go back to the dancing mice…” So what I mean is that our journey through time, our historical journey to this moment, has not be unaccompanied. We have always been accompanied by this thing. The Demiurgos — some people just throw down their cards and call it God and be done with it. I’m not ready for that, because I don’t think it’s the God who “hung the stars like lamps in Heaven,” as Milton said. It’s not that God. If it is a god, it’s the god of Biology. And I don’t have any problem with that.
I think that the reason people took psychedelics, and the reason psychedelics had such an impact on early human society, was, not because they dissolved sexual boundaries, not because they increased hunting skills, not because they did all those things — which they did do — but, because they brought us into communication with this invisible, all-pervading Mind, that essentially civilization is a denial of that Mind. You stop herding your cattle across the plains, you stop having orgies, you stop taking boundary-dissolving substances, and what do you do? You build walls. You herd everybody inside. And then you appoint a god-king. Then you tell everybody else to take orders from this guy. And what this is, is a pathology, a denial that we are part and parcel of the greater intent of planetary biology. So now the planet is so slammed to the wall by the untrammeled practice of history, that the Gaian murmuring grows louder. It grows much louder. [tape ends]
[The following is based on my brief notes of the last few questions.]
Q7 asks about the idea that we are approaching a shift to a higher molecular vibrational frequency, if we are heading into another dimension.
TM doesn’t give much weight to the vibrational frequency theory, but does believe we will make some sort of dimensional transition.
Q8 states that he is manic depressive, and is constantly creating his own reality. Since being released from a mental hospital, he has been successfully managing his own life. He wonders whether taking psychedelics might be ill-advised for him.
TM agrees that it must come down to individual judgment, and that there are some people whose boundaries are best left undissolved.
Q9 mentions that she has just come from Colorado, where she learned that an abundance of clean air and sunlight can be every bit as visionary as DMT. She worries that people living in New York are badly deprived of such resources/experiences.
TM responds with a mushroom vision he once had, in which he saw Manhattan island, as it stands today, except with ivy and other plants covering all the buildings. He advocates this vision, saying this would provide an ample supply of oxygen, and would generally “naturalize” the urban environment. He recalls being in Berlin soon after the legalization of marijuana, and seeing green shoots rising from window boxes all down the streets.
Well it’s great to be here. It’s been kind of a long day for me, so I may not be able to maintain the ordinary veneer of genteel, cultured affability. I may have to simply cut to the chase here.
You know, we’ve worked ourselves into quite a little situation here. We’ve got a rising youth culture, a government out of control, an environment that’s all ripped up, and we’ve got no place to go. So, who you gonna call? My solution in a situation like that is to roll another one. [laughter] Because it’s been my supposition for a long, long time that these vegetables that we’re pushing around on our plates are actually trying to talk to us. And they’re saying all kinds of things, among them some things which are fairly counter-intuitive. It seems to me that history has failed, and Western civilization has failed, and dominator-primate politics has failed, object-fetish consumerism has failed, the national security government has failed. And so then, where do go from here? What kind of new world can we create? And what kind of guidelines are there that we can follow?
And I — you know, every time you come to New York it’s obligatory to visit the museums, MOMA, this’n’that, see what’s going on in Soho. The conclusion that I come to looking at this is that as we move beyond modernity, it’s more and more clear that the real impulse of the Twentieth Century is towards the archaic, toward the primitive. Everything from Freudianism to body piercing, from quantum physics to abstract expressionism, from Dada to house music, is saying “BACK AWAY” from the linear, constipated world of print-head materialism that is what we inherit from the Western/European past. That style of thinking about life and human relations has essentially toxified the planet and allowed us to paint ourselves into a corner from which there is no escape.
Or is there? You know, a deliberate derangement of the senses worked for Rimbaud; it might work for us as well. What we have to do is go to the rainforests, the aborigines, and check up — check in — on what we have always dismissed, which is the world of natural magic and wisdom obtained through intoxication. This is what we’ve lost, and this is why our creativity is insufficient to overwhelm the cultural crisis which is confronting us. We have to stir it up. We have to mix it up. Ideas dictated out of the agenda of washed-up capitalism and science and religion are simply insufficient. Reason has failed. History has failed. And what we all have to do, I think, is fall back on ourselves. We have to stop waiting for the revelation to come from CNN or Time Magazine, and get lives! And what getting lives means is ignoring the idiotic laws that would dictate to us the kind of states of mind that we can entertain. [applause] You know, I’m sure it was alarming to Buddhists, but the Supreme Court decision last week that okayed animal sacrifice in a religious context was a door swinging open on the possible legalization of psychedelics. [applause] The concept of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” is enshrined in the documents upon which this nation of ours is supposedly founded. If the pursuit of happiness does not mean the right to experiment with your own state of mind, then those words aren’t worth the hemp they’re written on. [laughter]
But the point of view that I’ve come to evolve out of 25 years of looking at this problem and churning through culture and so forth and so on is not simply a call for individual self-responsibility and a pulling away from these institutions. That’s pretty standard fare, I think. There’s something else going on which is worth talking about. And that is the fact that the human world is apparently under the influence of some kind of attractor, or force, that secular people have ignored because the only words to talk about it were the vocabularies of beastly, bankrupt religions. But nevertheless, this force, this unfolding agenda, this design which we seem to embody, needs to be talked about. Because I really believe that history is ending. And I’ve taken a lot of flak for that, because no one can conceive of the breakdown of the system in which we’re embedded to that degree. It’s a kind of transcendental faith that history is accelerating. The rate of the ingression of novelty into three-dimensional space is asymptotically increasing. The kind of knitting together that is taking place in the world is laying the stage for the emergence of new forms of organization, new properties of being. And I really think that the drama of life on this planet is pointed toward the time that we are living in, that we’re approaching a symmetry break on a scale of the kind of symmetry break that occurred when life pulled its slimy bottom out of the sea and crawled onto the land. We are approaching the symmetry break where we shed the monkey, we shed the hardwired negative animal impulses that keep us chained to the Earth and deny us our dreams of completion.
History is a kind of indicator of the nearby presence of a transcendental object. And as we approach the transcendental object, history will become more and more hallucinatory, more and more dreamlike, more and more surreal — does this sound familiar to you? It’s the neighborhood, right? [laughter] That’s because we are so close now to this transcendental object, that is the inspiration for religion and vision and revelation, that all you have to do to connect up to it is close your eyes, smoke a bomber, take five grams of mushrooms in silent darkness, and the veil will be lifted, and you see, then, the plan. You see what all these historical vectors have been pointing towards. You see the transcendental object at the end of time — a cross between your own soul and the flying saucer of cheap science fiction. I mean — the city of Revelations, hanging at the end of the Twentieth Century like a beacon. I really think that this is happening, and that what the — It’s as though we are boring through a mountain, towards someone else who is boring through that mountain, and there will be a handshake at a certain point in time. We are moving, literally, into the realm of the imagination. This is where the human future lies. This has been understood by some people since at least the time of William Blake.
We are like creatures caught in a interrupted embryogenesis: halfway to angelhood, the worst among us somehow got control of the social agenda, and we’ve been hammering on each other with monotheism, racism, sexism, materialism, for the past 10,000 years. We betrayed the aboriginal intellect, the aboriginal intelligence, that existed for probably a hundred thousand years with drama, with poetry, with altruism, with courage, with self-sacrifice — with all the higher values that we think of as human — but without the devastatingly toxifying habits of Western Man: slavery, city-building, kingship, and, the three M’s — monogamy, monotony, and monotheism. [laughter] These things have to be pitched out!
Or, maybe not. Who knows? [laughter]
Woman in audience: What’s wrong with monogamy?
What’s wrong with monogamy. What’s wrong with monogamy is that it, uh, it forbids and interferes with polygamy! [laughter and applause] Otherwise, I think it has a lot to recommend it! Yeah, I know, monogamy is a tough one. Monogamy is a tough one, but I have more and more the feeling that as you grow up, just as you’re about to go across the great Golden Gate Bridge to adulthood, there’s one last sign, which says, “LAST EXIT BEFORE AUTHENTIC ADULTHOOD. BECOME ADDICTED TO SOMEONE AS LAME AS YOURSELF, AND MAYBE THE TWO OF YOU CAN PASS YOURSELF OFF AS ONE INDIVIDUAL AND STUMBLE THROUGH LIFE TO COMPLETION.” [much laughter]
Same woman: But what’s wrong with it?
TM: I don’t think you should take me too seriously — I’m deeply into a divorce. [laughter] [sarcastically:] But I’m sure it’s not distorting my judgment a single iota. [laughter]
Gee, I thought what you were going to object to was monotheism, but apparently not! No, see, here’s the thing: back when mushrooms and nomadism ruled the world, monogamy was traded in for an orgiastic social style. And what’s interesting about orgy — besides that — is that in an orgiastic situation, men cannot trace lines of male paternity. And consequently, loyalty goes to the children of the group. It’s a tremendous force for group cohesion that the men collectively transfer their loyalty to the children as a collective group. And it creates a very tightly-knit social unit. I think that — I mean, it’s absurd — you can’t advocate orgy in a world riddled with epidemics of sexually-transmitted diseases and five and a half billion people. Nevertheless, the spirit of the thing can be worked out between you and your friends in any of a number of ways, and all of these arrangements which break the dominator mold are further permission for further breaking of the mold.
Why have we grown so polite as they have grown so much more treacherous and weasel-like? Why are we so content to allow the worst among us to set the social agenda? In the absence of Marxism, there is now no critique being carried out of the capitalist enterprise, and it’ll peel your skin off and peddle it back to you. It is doing that. Capitalism in principle is not, I think, a bad thing, but it requires endlessly-exploitable natural resources. And since the exploration of space has been taken off the agenda, there is no endlessly-exploitable frontier. So capitalism is going to deal itself out of existence, but before it does that, you’re gonna pay $50 for a latte, because inflation is going impoverish all of us before people get pissed off enough to realize that all of the last hundred years of economic progress was actually a shell game to create billionaires, while the great masses of people saw their standard of living eroded and destroyed. You don’t have to take psilocybin to figure this stuff out. You know, it isn’t all elf machines from hyperspace! [laughter]
Somebody asked me what did I think was going to happen in 2012? And I said there were probably a number of scenarios. One of the most radical I can imagine is that everyone would begin to behave appropriately! I mean, can imagine what that would be like? You can imagine the first minute, because in the first minute, of course, everyone would turn off their console, take off their clothes, and walk outside. What happens after the first minute, in terms of appropriate activity, staggers the imagination! And where you would be three weeks into it is preposterous to even conceive. That’s the soft version of the coming of the millennium. The hard version, I’m not really even sure… In the Amazon — in my book True Hallucinations I wrote about my brother and myself and our adventures down there. His expectation — once, he told me, “People are leaving their workbenches and offices with tears of joy streaming down their faces. They’re staring at the sky.” Fool that I was, I believed him. But it’s a reasonable hope.
Here’s the deal. We have the science, the technology, the money, the infrastructure, to do almost anything that we want to do. The problem is changing our minds. We have a hell of a time changing our minds. And yet, we must. There is no choice about it. The reason I’m a psychedelic advocate is not because I think it’s easy, or because I think it’s a sure thing — I don’t think it’s easy or a sure thing. It’s simply that it’s the only game in town. Nothing else can change your mind on a dime like we are going to have to change our minds on a dime. If we had 500 years to sort this out, we could maybe have a fighting chance without radical pharmacological intervention. As it is, if we don’t awaken, we are going to let it slip through our fingers.
And if hortatory preaching could do it, then the Sermon on the Mount would have turned the trick. It didn’t and it won’t. You have to somehow give people an experience — an experience that is not somebody else’s experience — their experience, that radically recrystallizes their understanding of the world. And these shamanic plants that have been quietly growing and maintaining themselves for millennia, are in fact — and for what reason? it’s beyond me — for some reason, these are pipelines into a kind of planetary mind. The big bugaboo of Western civ is that we deny the existence of spirit. It’s been a thousand-year project to eliminate the spirit from all explanations of how reality works, or the personality works, or anything works. The absence of spirit permits the murder of the planet. But the cost of the denial of spirit is life empty of meaning, which doesn’t mean we have to return to the world of beady-eyed priestcraft and its slimy minions. But it does mean that we have to recover an authentic experience of the transcendental. And apparently what this means, then, is fusion with Nature, and the psychedelics do this. They dissolve boundaries. They open the way to the Gaian mind.
Now you can believe this is bullshit, but you cannot believe it’s bullshit unless you have made the experiment yourself and found it to be wanting — this isn’t a philosophy course, here. We’re talking about something real. And if the critics are not willing to invest time in it, then the critics have already declared their terror and fear of the solution. You know, it reminds me a little of something that Tim Leary — well, I always thought Tim Leary said this, but when I asked him, he completely disowned this brilliant remark, which let me know he was an enlightened man cause I never would have disowned it. So, somebody said — not Tim Leary — “LSD is a psychedelic drug which occasionally causes psychotic behavior in people who have NOT taken it.” [laughter, clapping]
Now a lot of drugs are like that, and we have a lot of psychotic people running around who have been driven mad by drugs they never took. But what they did take was your civil rights, your freedom to guide your own life, and your right to make your own decisions. This kind of thing is intolerable. If there is an iota of possibility that these substances enhance consciousness — and remember, they used to be called “consciousness expanding” drugs (just a straight phenomenological description) — if there’s an iota of possibility that they augment consciousness, then we have to put the pedal to the metal in this matter. Because it is the absence of consciousness that is pushing us toward extinction, that is causing us to loot our children’s future, that is causing us to accept the elimination of thousands of species per month without pouring into the streets to loot and smash the institutions of those who allow these kinds of atrocities to go forward. I think the era of politeness has gone on just about long enough. And there’s going to have to come a moment where people stand up and are counted. We have seen our freedom taken away, we have seen our environment destroyed, we have seen our political dialogue polluted, and still we take it, and take it, and take it.
You know, being counter-cultural is more than a fashion statement. I recall an obscure Chinese philosopher named Mao Tse Tung, who once said, “The Revolution is not a dinner party!” Of course, he went on to say it’s an armed struggle, prosecuted by the forces of the people. I don’t think we’re ready to call for armed struggle, but I think it is time to call for “HANDS OFF THE AMERICAN MIND. GIVE US BACK OUR MIND.” The American mind is one of the most creative minds in the world, and it is being confined, compromised, and sold down the river by people who can’t think of anything better to do with the world than fabricate it into stupid products and sell it at twice its natural worth. [applause]
Q & A
Well, I could go on and on — and do, you may have noticed — but I think it’s much more fruitful when these things are interactive and driven by questions. And I’m not fragile; you don’t have to hold back. I’m from Berkeley — we throw chairs when we’re displeased. So, feel free to have at it. But is there anybody who’d like to comment or participate in this discussion?
Man in audience: Thank you, Mr. McKenna. The whole bit about quoting Mao was kind of interesting if you think of the arms in terms of modems — I mean, the fact that we now live in a point in time when it’s possible to completely transfer power without shedding a drop of blood if you have the right passwords and access codes. There is a unique tilt on Mao’s “armed struggle” coming up real soon, if you think in terms of information war rather than the kind of bloodshed that’s been marking history up until now.
Vis a vis your whole thing with the organic psychedelics versus LSD, for instance — which is enjoying a great revival right now, presently, in this city — I don’t know about elsewhere [laughter] — vis a vis the LSD thing — there’s a point in the temporal flow with LSD where it drops, slows down, and then there’s the sensation of temporal cessation wherein one generally tends to perceive a presence behind the world — which sounds a lot like the robot elves of yours. I’m just interested in your take, in the distinction that you draw between the organic psychedelics and — for example — LSD.
TM: Well LSD kind of has a foot in both worlds. You know, you start, when you make LSD, with ergonomine, which you get from ergot, which is grown on plantations in Pakistan. But then you elaborate the molecule and make it synthetic. I certainly think we wouldn’t be here, and I wouldn’t be here, if it weren’t for LSD. The wonderful thing about LSD is that it’s possible to manufacture so much in the underground. I mean, there is a problem with that in that it tends to promote criminal syndicalism. [same man in audience: “Not if you give it away!”] Good point! [laughter, applause] But, if you have a trust fund and your roommate is a first-year biochemist, in a long weekend you can produce ten million hits. This means you’re not, of course, involved in helping out the folks in your building, you have some more ambitious agenda. But this is a unique situation with LSD, because you need so little of it. You see, if you set out to create ten thousand doses or ten million doses of psilocybin, the facilities of Upjohn corporation would be insufficient. You would need stainless-steel vats of thousand-gallon capacity and incredible quality-control equipment.
So LSD came along at the perfect moment in the life of the collectivity to focus us on the psychedelic experience. But I don’t think LSD is what I would call a “full-spectrum” psychedelic, because what I was always obsessed with was visions. And psilocybin and the tryptamines are much more reliable visionary activators. People say, “Why are you so into this vision thing? You’re just some kind of vision fascist.” [laughter] No, no — I mean, or: Maybe, but! [laughter] Maybe but — here’s the thing — the reason the visions were so impressive to me is because that was, to me, the proof that it wasn’t me. You know, when you take LSD, you have strange thoughts, many thoughts, illuminating thoughts…
[unintelligible question from audience]
You mean, what do I think of that in terms of DMT? [more from audience member] Well, I never encountered elves on LSD, but I did hear a story recently. And since all we have are anecdotes, I’ll pass it on, for whatever it’s worth.
A friend of mine told me a story. He and a friend of his miscalculated a dose and took LSD, and then they went to a dance. And they realized they were too loaded to be there. So they just backed up against the wall and slid down the wall and sat there. And as they sat, shoulder to shoulder, mouths hanging, watching these people dance, slowly, slowly, the dance came to a complete halt. Everything was frozen. And at that moment, the door swung open, and an elf came into the room [laughter] and waltzed through all these people, looked around, actually picked up a skirt or two and looked under it, and then exited. And then the movie started up again. [more laughter]
Well now, I’m not a theosophist or an Alice Bailey-ist or any of that malarkey. But on the other hand, this seems to suggest this old theosophical idea of vibratory levels of existence — you know, that if you’re moving at a zillion hertz you do not see things moving at very much higher or lower frequencies. Now I never was so aware of the time-stopping thing on DMT, but it is definitely true that when you smoke DMT, if you do sufficiently, you burst in to a place that is inhabited by these — what I call — self-transforming machine elves, these jeweled, self-dribbling basketballs that are squealing and squeaking in this alien language that condenses like metallic rain and falls out of the air of the room and is able to morph itself into Faberge-like objects that are scintillating and faceted and reflective of other possibilities and objects… [side one of tape ends]
Woman in audience: Hi, Terence, I wanted to know what products you have available. [laughter]
TM: Hey. Listen. The point guy can’t make the sale! [laughter] But, one of the things that I think is best about the thing I do, or one of the things that I like best about what I do is provide an excuse for the psychedelic community to assemble. Because, believe it or not, these days we look like everybody else out there. How the hell that happened, I don’t know! [laughter] So it’s very important for you to pay attention to who’s here, because without a doubt, somebody here has what you need! [laughter] Whatever you need — you know, what do you need? A loan? A girlfriend? Well, we all need different things — besides the fact that we all need DMT.
[question from audience]
Where do we go from DMT? Well, where do we go from there? I think the idea is to use psychedelics to remove anxiety without undercutting political action. In other words, we can do political work, ulcerated and clenched with terror and fear and always looking over our shoulders; or we can do that same work with a sense of play and lightheartedness. It’s the same work, so why not have a good time while we do it? It’s the good time we have that drives them so crazy and pisses them so off! [applause]
[question from audience]
What’s new and fun that you haven’t experienced? Oh, well here’s something new and fun. There’s a plant, called Salvia divinorum, which is absolutely legal. It’s not only legal, the active principle is unknown to science — therefore it can’t be made illegal! [sings:] S-A-L-V-I-A D-I-V-I-N-O-R-U-M Salvia divinorum — remember you heard it here first! [laughter] Okay, so here’s the deal with this. This is a plant that was carried on the books for years as a hallucinogen, but nobody took it seriously because when the botanists and the chemists would test for alkaloids, it’s alkaloid negative. So they said, “Well then, to Hell with it, it just can’t be.” But recently, an anthropologist who will remain nameless spent some time with the Indians where this stuff is happening, and they showed him how to do it. And he has been telling everyone how to do it. And, you know, true to the spirit of that, here’s how you do it.
First of all, this is a plant that looks like a coleus, which is a common houseplant. You could grow this stuff in your window box or your apartment; it would pose no problem whatsoever. It’s also — cuttings are available from plant dealers. And what you do is you take about fifteen leaves, which are about like… [hand gesture] that, and you pull out the mid-rib, so you just have the soft, leafy material. And you roll it up into a quid, and you put it in your cheek, and you lie down in darkness where you can see one of those illuminated digital clocks, you know? Lay there for fifteen minutes by the clock, slowly squeezing the stuff down. And it’s very bitter. I mean you feel like the whole front of your mouth wraps around this stuff, but it’s worth it. It’s worth it. And after about fifteen minutes, if you will just spit this into a receptacle, Kleenex, whatever, uh, hygienic product is your choice [snickering] then, about two minutes later, it will begin to stream. In other words, these afterimage-colored lights begin to form and come past you. And about two minutes after that, these cobalt-blue, magenta hallucinations begin to unfold. And what it reminded me of was “Nude Descending a Staircase” but as if Duchamp had done it in ultraviolet and blue and cobalt, and just this —
[question from audience] Where did I learn about this plant? Well I’ve known about it for years, but like everybody else I just didn’t take it seriously. [question] No no, it’s in the Oaxaca Mountains, it’s in the Sierra Mazateca of central Mexico. And after about 45 minutes, it all gently goes away. And believe me, I’m a skeptic, I’m hard to move off the dime, I’m not an airhead. And it worked, it worked. And — very interesting — I called the guy who gave it to me the next morning and I said, “It looks to me like it has the potential to be a craze!” And he said, “The very word that occurred to me — craze! CRAZE!” [laughter] So, like I said, you heard it here first.
Man in audience: I have a question. As a physician who’s interested in medical anthropology, what about the effect of this in terms of human development in utero?
TM: You mean the effect on the developing fetus? [“Yes”] Of Salvia divinorum? [“No. Psilocybin.”] Oh, psilocybin. Well, here’s my approach to this, and this is why I advocate the use of plants with a history of shamanic usage. Because these things are illegal, human research is essentially outlawed. As users we suffer under the prohibition, but imagine that science, one of the most powerful forces in our society, has been told, “GET LOST. Forget about psychedelic chemistry and forget about human studies.” This is why I don’t advocate MDMA use. In answer to your question, the human data on psilocybin is provided by the fact that it has a history of at least a millennium of human usage. If a plant has been accepted into a society as that one has, as a regularly-applied shamanic tool, then I think you can be relatively certain that blindness, miscarriage, tumors, and so forth, are not a problem. Probably a lot of human beings have given their lives and their health for that data to be available to us in that way. Do you want to follow up? No? [“Thank you.”] Did I satisfy you? Great! Great.
Woman in audience: As a poet and an art historian who has lived in a lot of cultures where I’ve worked with indigenous peoples — amongst the Yamamoto I had the blowgun done up my nose, in Peru I tried San Pedro, in Sichuan province in China with the baini I tried many of the old herbs. One of the things I’d like to mention, which I think a lot of Americans and Europeans don’t understand, is the ritual use of these hallucinogenics within the culture. I think it’s very important. I’m heading off now to work — to make a film with the indigenous people in Taiwan, Formosa. It’s a shamanic culture. I think the problem is that when these things are removed from the mythological stance within a community — the biggest problem in this country — which strikes me as a writer also — is this lack of mythology that exists anymore. It’s one thing for hallucinogenics, but it’s another thing for also creating a use — as you mentioned before, which I liked very much — of the imagination, a sense that a human being has the right to expand their own horizons, within whatever powers they wish and with whatever means. And I’d like to see a greater awareness that these things can expand an already fertile ground which first has to be created.
TM: That’s right! And what might be, [laughter, applause] well…
Woman: Thank you! And, what I’d like to ask, when I come back, is — I used to be on WBAI — and when I come back, I’d like to do something on these people that very few people have worked with. In fact, I have a military permit to go out, and it’s a culture that — unlike the Ainu and the Reipus(?) I’m doing another exhibition on now, soon, at the museum — but, the group in Formosa, AKA Taiwan, was first occupied by the Japanese but have a history for thousands of years. And I have to have a military permit to now get out — granted, I have lived in warzones before, you know, with the Hmong in Laos, etc. etc. etc., so as you might say, I get very bored living here! But — [TM: “Why? They’re all here.” [snickers] Well that’s what I think, also, but, the key is, in a sense, these are ways, too. So I was going to ask you, when I come back, if you’d like to do something, maybe a radio show on some shamanic [unintelligible].
TM: Sure, absolutely. Let me follow up on this. The issue of ritual and style of drug taking: I think that it’s — well, here’s how I do psilocybin. I do it on an empty stomach in silent darkness. And I think that this is the way to do it, because I’m interested, essentially, in the pure phenomenology of it. I don’t want to know what it does to Bach, or Coil. I want to know what it does to nothin’. I don’t want to see how it can affect Rembrandt or a natural scene. I just want it where I can study the ding ansich of the thing, you know? And I have nothing against a good time, and hanging out, but it is no substitute for serious psychedelic taking. And, you know, people forget, or people don’t realize, if you take a drug that you don’t like, then an excellent strategy for getting rid of it is to exercise like a crazy person, like go out and chop a bunch of wood or something. Well, so then what I see is people taking low doses and dancing their asses off, in very noisy environments dense with social signals. This is like a strategy for avoiding the psychedelic breakthrough. How could it ever find you in all of that? [applause]
So I smoke pot and confine myself to vodka gimlets most of the time in public, and then really pile it on in private, really pile it on. These things can’t hurt you, not at any reasonable dose. I mean, for instance, let’s take psilocybin. The effective dose is 15 milligrams; the LD50 is something like 225 milligrams per kilogram. Your stomach won’t even hold that many mushrooms. So death is not a possibility. DMT — same thing. I mean, DMT is a neurotransmitter. People sometimes say, “Is it dangerous?” The answer is, “Only if you fear death by astonishment!”
Man in audience [Dmitry from “Dee-Lite”]: Yeah, I just wanted to comment on the thing about taking psychedelics in noisy environments. I just happen to disagree with what you said, because, first of all I think collective tripping is really important, and it creates a communal vibe that’s really terrific and has every advantage to advancing your mind within it. Also you can — there’s something to be said about getting lost in the groove. It can join the music and take you to a new — and open your mind with the music, because music is the tool to open your mind. And dancing — dancing is spiritual, dancing makes your…[falters] Excuse me, I’m getting very nervous.
TM: Well, here’s the thing. These things are not mutually exclusive, it’s not like you have to choose. My problem is, I know people are dancing and they’re having these collective experiences. My fear is that they’re not having the other experiences. And you have to have both. [man: “Absolutely.”] That’s all.
And as far as the dance thing, let me say, I mean, I think that what’s happening with house music and the ambient music thing is the most healthy sign out of the culture in 25 years — at last, you know. Because the truth is, rock and roll became a tool of the very people it was supposed to discomfort. [applause] You know? [comment from crowd] Pardon me? Well, but what’s wrong with ambient and house music? We don’t need to “free the harpsichord,” you know. [laughter] It’s a done deal, I think. And there is so much talent waiting in the wings. I mean, I’m on my way tomorrow to London, on to Frankfurt — these are enormous cauldrons of creativity that are exporting this music all over the world. And the message is absolutely the message that needs to be put out. It’s a message of community, of sensuality, and of intelligence. I mean: love, sex, intelligence — that’s what the shamen are talking about.
Dmitry: Well, the music comes from here, too. This is one of major centers of world dance music.
TM: Oh, you don’t have to have an inferiority complex in New York! [laughter]
New man in audience: Terence, it was wonderful to meet you tonight. Your editor Dan Levy is a good friend of mine. I’m a musician, and I just wanted to say, yeah, music is terribly important to everybody’s life. But I want to thank you, and one of the things I respect most about you is your research, as far as text goes, because you’ve really traveled the world and you’ve dug up a lot of things that — I want to thank your translators, too, because that’s one of the most unsung arts in the world. When you dig up something, it’s not everybody that can just know what it means. Translators — let’s put in a plug for them. [TM: “The unsung heroes!”] It’s true! [“Yes, it’s true.”] But I just wanted to take one second and ask you — I was raised in a quote-unquote “Christian” environment, and one of the things I learned about Christianity as I grew up and came through it was that — we’re all here to learn something, and I’m not telling anybody in this room anything — but I was curious about the Book of Urantia, if you had heard of it and you might be able to comment on it.
TM: [snickers from audience] Well, here’s the thing. My tendency is to think that if you can channel without drugs, you’re probably mentally ill. [laughter] However, the Urantia book is the most extravagant and baroque and earliest of these things; they definitely got in ahead of the trend. So, to my mind, these things are like synthetic scripture, or efforts to resacralize language by casting it in a scriptural mode. My method — a lot of people are irritated with me, because if you really spend time with me, I’m actually a rationalist, and a kind of reductionist; I’m not “woo-woo”. Because I really think that the truth can stand on its own. And so I tend to be very conservative in my choice of facts. For instance, if we’re dating the pyramid, I’d probably call the American Archaeology Society before I would call the priests of the Coven of Atlantis. But I know there’s disagreement on these things. [laughter]
I think, you know — with the Urantia book and the Seth material, and then all little Sethettes that came along afterwards — I think basically it’s like anything else: you have to have your crap detector turned up on HIGH, and then just move forward with it, and what works for you, works for you. And all of these things should be taken as provisional. You know, when you rise as I have, from a cowtown in Colorado to giving speeches at very exclusive and chic New York nightclubs, you realize — because you tend to meet quote-unquote “celebrities” along the way — you realize that that’s all a racket. And you further realize it must have always been a racket. So, Lorenzo de’ Medici, Genghis Khan, Hitler — LAME! [laughter] Idiotic, ordinary, dreary, boring to have dinner with!
So, part of this psychedelic thing, I think, is really about self-empowerment. You know, Robert Anton Wilson has this wonderful rap, he says: “Define the world as a conspiracy run by you and your friends.” If you don’t have that as your model, then you probably have a loser’s model, and who wants to be a loser? So, just assume, you know, that you and your friends are gaining power, moving into positions of influence, and shortly about to take control! What does this have to do with the Urantia book? I don’t know, but here’s where we ended up, folks!
Woman in audience: I think a lot of people would agree that evolution is at a pretty questionable point right now. In fact, I personally believe that since the car has been introduced that we’ve been de-evolving. I guess my question to you is, through your hallucinogenic experiences, what do you think the lesson is to human society, that we’re supposed to learn, to sort of transcend the point we’re at now?
TM: You mean generally, what’s the lesson?
Woman: Generally, yeah. What are we supposed to do to sort of make this breach, cause I think we’re at a pretty precarious point.
TM: Well, it’s a complicated question, and I don’t want to unveil my whole cosmology this late in the game. But — why not have a stab at it? [laughter] Here’s the problem, as I see it. For a very long time, as we evolved out of the animal nature, perhaps a hundred thousand years, psilocybin was part of our diet and our rituals and our religion. And though those individuals taking the psilocybin didn’t know it, it was having a very profound effect upon them. What it was doing was suppressing a primate behavior that is so basic to primates that it goes clear back to squirrel monkeys. And what that behavior is is a tendency to form what are called male-dominance hierarchies. And we all know what this is, because it bedevils our own political situation, and our own effort to create a reasonable society. But there was a great long period in the human past when this tendency was pharmacologically suppressed, in the same way that you would give Prozac to somebody to suppress a tendency to manic-depression. In other words, what the shamans of the High Paleolithic figured out was how to medicate people so that they would live together in harmony, decency, and dignity.
The problem is, that that strategy depended upon the simultaneity of psilocybin intoxication and the orgiastic sexual style that I talked about earlier. And when the mushrooms ceased to be available, men and women were simultaneously becoming able to coordinate cause and effect, to the point that women were realizing that when they returned in their yearly wanderings to old camps, there would be food growing in the discard piles. And at the same time, men were realizing that the consequences of the sex act was the birth of a child. In other words, there came a certain point in human intellectual maturity when a distant cause and its effect were finally connected, and at that moment, agriculture was born. And agriculture was born as a response to the drying of the African continent. And we — literally — we fell into history.
You’ve heard me talk about Genesis as the story of history’s first drug bust. It was history’s first drug bust. I mean, that story is the story of the suppression of an earlier, feminine-driven mushroom religion. And once we stopped taking psilocybin, that old, old primate behavior pattern — male dominance — reasserted itself. But now, not in an animal species, but in a species with language, technology, agriculture, strategic planning, memory, recall, so forth and so on. And we used the re-emergence of that tendency to establish cities, kingship, slavery, property — the whole grab bag of pathologies that characterize Western civilization were born around the re-emergence of male dominance.
And now we’re in a similar situation. And you know, no less conservative and sober a character than Arthur Koestler wrote a book called The Ghost in the Machine twenty years ago, and he reached the same conclusion. He said, “We are best at bashing each other’s brains out. And since that’s no longer appropriate — if it ever was — we need a drug to make us able to live together in ways that we must live together if we’re going to have cities of 10 million people and a global civilization.” I think his analysis was on the right track, but shallow. I think we have that drug, and the anxiety and the restlessness and the dissatisfaction that has attended the historical experience is because we have this itch that we can’t scratch.
This is the key to our weird relationship to substances. I mean, think about it. Of course, elephants will push down fences to get to rotting papaya and butterflies will fall over beside bowls of sugar. But we addict to dozens of substances. We not only addict to substances, we addict to behaviors. You know, guy goes to the front door in the morning and if the paper isn’t rolled at his feet, he turns into a beast! We also addict to each other. You know? Our most sublime human relationships — when they fall into difficulty, we experience the condition of a broken heart, which looks — in terms of its presentation of symptoms — very much like junk withdrawal. Probably because it is, because there has been some kind of pheromonal lock-on that has gone on because you’ve been hanging out with this person so much. And now that the pheromonal thing is broken and interrupted, you can barely function, you know? And it takes weeks, if not months, to reclaim your identity. We have an itch that we can’t scratch, until we make our way back to the primary chemical mediator of our human-ness. And that was — I’m convinced — psilocybin. And that this is the missing link; this would allow us to understand the sudden doubling of the human brain in less than a million and a half years — one of the great mysteries of evolutionary theory — so forth and so on.
And the fact that the society is so anxious on this subject is an indication that this is the real taboo. We have found it. This is IT. And therefore, it has to be brought out of the closet. And it wouldn’t hurt for us to come out of the closet. I mean, when we are secretive, when we deny it, we are carrying out the Man’s work for him. They don’t have to arrest us if we’re willing to be our own guards and police. It’s absurd. This is part of your birthright. It is part of our lives. We pay taxes; we’re legitimate. And it should not be swept under the rug. Are we going to be the last minority on this planet to claim its civil rights? Why? When what we represent is an impulse back toward the aboriginal totality that gives life meaning. [applause]
Man in audience: You’ve proclaimed that there is this hyper-dimensional reality which is accessible through these psychedelics, that we are immersed in it. And you’re somewhat surprised that there is very little being done about this. It’s something that is so — as you say — unbelievable and unfathomable and there’s so little research being done. The majority of people don’t even care or know about this. Now, we gathered in this room, we care very much and we might have some connection to this and access to this reality. Maybe it’s only certain people have a predilection or interest in it, such as like people who want to go rock climbing or surfing, and that’s what they go to all extents to. But most people, if they were exposed to what you say — the five grams in silent darkness — would come back and not want anything to do with that experience, not have any understanding, any connection, and just want to hold on to the very simple reality which our consensus has constructed for most people to exist in. And that it really is just this fringe thing, and that’s why there isn’t much more interest in this — then how can the psychedelic actually affect the masses that don’t really have much connection to that?
TM: Well, revolutions are made with between five and ten percent of a population. No revolution in history has had more than that level of support. I’m not saying everybody should take psilocybin. I mean, God knows, there are plenty of people among us who don’t need their boundaries dissolved, and if they are going to dissolve their boundaries, please don’t do it when I’m around. [laughter] But those people are people who have been damaged in any of the dozens and hundreds of ways that this society has figured out to damage people. But I do think that it should be an option, and it should be an option that people are educated about. One thing that we’ve done is that we’ve completely poisoned the well of language when it comes to the subject of substances. Because the word “drug” reaches from heroin to aspirin through psilocybin to propaganda. I mean, it’s a word so widely-used that it’s meaningless. And we are living in an atmosphere of complete hypocrisy; the most dangerous drugs ever discovered by human beings are being freely dispensed all over the place. I mean, tobacco, sugar, alcohol — these are the great addictive and destroying drugs, and they are the least interfered-with and the most commercialized. And the psychedelics — no claim of addiction was ever made, even by their critics.
The issue with psychedelics is that they call into question the illusions of the masters. And I think it doesn’t matter who the masters are. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about a fascist dictatorship, a high-tech industrial democracy, or a Third World banana republic — if you start taking psychedelics, you will start questioning the reality around you, and question-asking is not what the control freaks are interested in. They want you to work at your idiotic job, buy the crap they’re peddling you over the media, and keep your opinions to yourself, please. Or, there is spectrum of opinion offered, and it’s all represented on the McLaughlin Group and if you go beyond that, then you’re some kind of mad person.
This is all nonsense — we are allowing the least among us to control the agenda. That would be bad enough under any circumstances, but we’re in an emergency. This is a crisis. We should be going through lifeboat drills at this point, and instead, the band plays on, and the game continues to be played. The narcotics game, the government role in it, apparent suppression/tacit support, millions and billions of dollars in hot money being used to finance the murder of editors of left-wing newspapers and the financing of private armies in various rathole countries that are the client states of the remnants of the empire we created to oppose the Soviet Union. It’s all CRAP. And as soon as we call a halt to it, we’ll all be better off, I think. [applause]
Man in audience: I do recognize a lot of Alfred Korzybski in what you are saying, and I wonder, is Korzybski’s time-binding effect — is the drug going to be the trigger for the time-binding effect?
TM: It could very well be. Korzybski was very influenced by Whitehead, and I was very influenced by Whitehead. And Whitehead has this idea that he calls concrescence. And he says, “The world is growing toward concrescence.” And that’s what I call “the transcendental object at the end of time.” I really think that we are — we are not going to disappoint ourselves. History is a psychedelic experience, and we have come through, now, the darker bardos, and are about to — potentially — enter the payoff zone, the transcendental zone, the zone where it all makes sense. You know, a huge number of people have suffered unimaginably that we could be here this evening. Nine times in the last million years, ice, miles deep, has moved south from the poles, pushing everything in front of it. There have been upheavals, epidemics, droughts — everything — and yet we arrive, on time and under budget, here this evening. That’s the kind of tradition we have to continue, a tradition of human nobility and human striving. And enough of the whining from those who have piled up uncounted millions of dollars, and still are willing to suppress us in order to obtain more. It’s obscene. It’s obscene. [applause]
Man in audience: Yeah. Sorry to bother you one more time, but you just quoted Koestler. And Mike Murphy in his new book, The Future of the Body, he quotes Koestler, talking about — Koestler at one point took a very fatalistic approach to humanity, with the idea that — the big problem, in his view, was that we didn’t have a vertical equivalent of the corpus callosum that allows the two horizontal hemispheres to speak to each other. And he says that it may be a fatal flaw in our species — that there’s nothing that will link the vertical components of the serpent brain out to the neocortex. And I was wondering if your take on this, of these vegetable drugs, might be that they might be inducing — if there would be anything towards the inducement of — possible growth in that area?
TM: Yeah, I think that’s a very interesting idea. You may know a book by Julian Jaynes, called The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. It may well be that there has to be some kind of neural correction in us. For one thing, we cannot tolerate the luxury of an unconscious mind. That belongs to a more primitive stage of human development. When you have hydrogen bombs and can deliver synthetic plagues by missile to the other side of the planet, then you cannot be driven by the agendas of animals and half-conscious human beings. I mean, it’s like placing Jeffrey Dahmer at the head of the Pentagon, or something. [laughter] And that’s the — Hey, we probably got it. He’s there.
But this is what I meant when I said we can do anything. What we have inherited from the past — as misguided as it may be — may have been — are tools of immense power. And tools are neutral things, you know? It’s the monkey wielding the tool that you have to keep your eye on. And so, we are now challenged to apply the tools that have been created. Are we to clean up the Earth? De-emphasize the material side of our technology? recognize the right of every human being to a healthy, secure existence? De-emphasize the marketing of violence as a patina on product fetishism? De-emphasize the objectification of women as another patina on object fetishism? stop the peddling of loser scenarios to everyone? stop tying up our accumulated wealth in a useless standing crop of ever-more-obsolete arsenals and delivery systems?
I mean, it’s okay to live like there’s no tomorrow if you’re at some primitive stage of culture with endless frontiers of exploitable resources in all directions. That’s not where we’re at. We have burned through all that, and yet still we party on. And the signs are on the wall. We have invented a sin that no other culture ever even conceived of: it’s the sin of looting the future. No other culture was ever so narcissistic and self-indulgent that it cared nothing for the future of its children. Children have always been the value focus for a civilization. But when you pile up four trillion dollars in debt, when you cut down the rain forests and blow off the atmosphere, it means you are in the grip of such an orgy of narcissistic excess that the best thing for it would be for somebody to just walk over and put a bullet through your head as a favor to everybody else.
We don’t need that kind of a fate. We need to be as noble as the people who preceded us, and a hell of a lot smarter, because nobility by itself is not sufficient. We’re going to have to play a very cagey game now. And it’s okay with me; I anticipate it. I mean, I think primates love a hell of a good fight, and we’ve got one on our hands. We have unleashed processes that, if not skillfully controlled, are extraordinarily terminal — even in the short term. And again, I see psychedelics as the only way to react fast enough to have an impact on the runaway momentum of historical error.
Man in audience: I wonder if you could say something about the relationship between psychedelics and our inherent structure and chemistry. I mean, is it unlocking something that’s latent in us that we should be and should have been aware of all along?
TM: Sure. I’m very interested in this. Here’s the great paradox in this domain, as far as I’m concerned. DMT, without contest, is the most powerful psychedelic that I know of — and I hope there’s nothing stronger, cause if there is, I don’t wanna know about it! [laughter] It’s very brief and fast acting, and it clears your system very quickly. It occurs as a neurotransmitter in ordinary human metabolism. Now isn’t that interesting? That the most powerful and radical and alien of all these hallucinogens is the one most like — in fact, exactly like — what’s in your own body. This is also a Catch 22 for the Establishment cause it means we’re all holding, all the time! They can come and get you, folks! It’s worse than a U. A. — you haven’t got a prayer!
And one thing very interesting about DMT is that, if you’ve had it, it’s possible to have a dream, years later, in which something’s going on, and going on, and then someone whips out a little glass pipe, and puts it in your mouth, and you have the complete experience. Not a pale memory or a vivid memory — the real thing happens in the dream. Well this is big news, because what it’s saying is that human metabolism is very, very close to being able to produce this at any time, and sometimes it can produce it. Now, it’s known that DMT is at its highest concentration in cerebrospinal fluid between 3 and 4 AM in most people. And that’s the time of day when the deep REM sleep occurs, accompanied by deep dreaming. So, it looks to me like the chemistry of dream and the chemistry of the psychedelic experience are the same. In fact, you know, if the government is really serious in eliminating psychedelics, then throw down the 10 million dollars or 20 million dollars that it would take to develop a drug that allows people to remember their dreams. Because I think every night, we return to the psychedelic source, that the dreams you remember are the surface of the dream, and that every single night, we sink back down in to the primordial field of mind out of which we reconstruct ourselves.
Now, I’m telling you, if DMT were legal, in six months, a skilled laboratory team trained in the study of biofeedback techniques, could train a human being to trigger that on the natch. Well then, this is something that we would teach our children in the seventh grade, and from then on, that would solve the entire issue of the hallucinogenic substances, their availability, their legality, and so forth. Legalize the dream! Reclaim the human mind! Let’s make dreams legal, let’s make plants legal, let’s legalize the imagination, empower hope, and begin to build the kind of world that we would feel alright about handing our children on to. Because if we don’t do that, we’re going to come off as the lamest generation in human history, and we aren’t. The creativity, the connectedness, the potential for good is enormous.
And most people in this planet are embedded in pre-potent systems of relationship, meaning obligation and inherited religious and cultural ideas. So you may think that you don’t count, but actually we all probably are part of a sub-population of about 5% of the global population — people who have disposable income, can read, follow global advances, get good data, and feel a political and moral obligation to do something about it. We tend to feel as powerless as a Guatemalan peasant or something like that, but in fact, that’s a myth They want you to accept. The real responsibility for saving the world rests on the literate middle- and upper-middle-class masses of the high-tech industrial democracies. That’s US. It’s our responsibility to make a change and to act for all those silent, downtrodden people who have been so victimized by the system that they couldn’t turn out at a New York nightclub and hear an aesthete rail against the evils of the Establishment. And that’s probably enough railing against the evils of the Establishment.