Terence McKenna: Live at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, NYC

New York, who loves you?

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.

Copyright ©1996 Terence McKenna. All Rights Reserved. Recorded at The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, Synod Hall, NYC, and transcribed by Abrupt, with permission from Dan Levy.

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