Table of Contents
So welcome to healing the inner elf through trance, dance, and diet. If you think you’re in the wrong room, check your program. Let’s see…. There’s some propagandizing to do. In no particular order. This is just my schedule for the next year. Fairly set. In case you want to avoid this kind of an encounter again in a calendar year, this’ll help you coordinate that. I think there’s an event in there where it says it’s one or two things, and it’s not the angels and archetypes in L.A., it’s the other event in New York City. So scratch out the aliens event. It’s in New York City; that thing, that weekend. And then, finally, the desperate need to make a living overwhelmed my commitment to good taste and so, like so many others, I will lead a trip to Egypt in December. Hey! Listen! You, too, could be forced to these kinds of desperate measures! And the only way to make it bearable is to insulate one’s self with one’s friends so that you don’t have to have anything to do with the other people on these tours. So, you know, we can suffer together, folks, if you want to pony up several thousand dollars. I don’t think they’ll invite me back if they have anyone here listening to my pitch. Okay, maybe the—oh! And the optional cruise up the Nile! I’ll be there, too, so…. It’s two weeks of incredible fun. There’ll be a come-as-you-were party on the third night of the cruise! So, enough poking fun at our colleagues at their expense.
Finally, there is a book out. Those of you who—if you’ve ever wanted to buy a Terence McKenna book and have been frustrated because you didn’t want to grow psychedelic mushrooms in your kitchen (which was the only other book around), you can now purchase this book. However, only in the Esalen bookstore, because it can’t legally be sold until the 17th of February. So the Esalen bookstore made a special deal with Bantam and got a couple of cases of it for this weekend. So you could actually be the first person on your block, you see? The title is Food of the Gods. Not “Why Eve was Right,” which is what I wanted, but you learn your place in the hierarchy of being when you work with Bantam Books. But, seriously, this is my best shot at making a rational argument—sort of—based on archeology, history, and so forth, for the importance of psychedelics in culture and in the present situation. And for a need to rethink cultural and legal attitudes toward these things. So that’s in the mix. And that’s—I think I’ll save the rest of this paper for tomorrow morning.
What happened to the Harper’s book that was going to be released the first?
It’s not in the stores yet.
Fans of inter-nesting publishing struggles. What happened was: the two publishers decided, some faster than others, that it would be better if the Bantam book came out first. So the Bantam book is out. And the question refers to a second book called The Archaic Revival, which will be out in May, and which will, in no way, duplicate this. They’re completely different books. But there was a little jostling toward the finish line and Harper’s decided to let Bantam go first. After twenty years of being ignored it was nice to see that these people were paying attention. So anyway… that’s it for the gossip department.
Welcome to Esalen, those of you who’ve never been here before. Welcome to the refurbished big house, fans of renovation who have been here before. And the best way these things work, I think—or what we’ve fallen into as a habit—is, on this first meeting, people basically just state, if they wish to, who they are. But for my edification: what can I tell you? You know, “what do you want?” It’s brief enough, and it will go past very quickly. So, out of people stating their interests and concerns tonight will come an agenda of topics for the rest of the weekend. And once I get going, my style is pretty much just to rave. So feel free to interrupt, otherwise it will just go past. And you can interrupt for clarification or to ask a question, or whatever. It’s very informal. It’s so informal that I don’t even know the name of it. Does anybody have a catalog?
“A Weekend with Terence McKenna.”
We finally just hurled all pretense to the wind rather than endlessly recycling…. A-ha. Well… we can probably fill that bill.
So this… to my mind, the importance of these things is that everybody is self-selected to be here. And it’s an extraordinarily peculiar set of concerns that fall into nexus in this situation. So we represent some kind of an affinity group. And I think it’s very important for the people to get to know each other because, you know, all kinds of relationships, arrangements, possibilities can emerge out of these meetings. Someone in this room has what you’re looking for. And your problem is to figure out who and then go from there. So to aid you the clues emerge tonight when we go around in the circle and everybody gets a brief chance—and for some people it will be probably their only opportunity because some people step out of the light—to say anything you want, provided it’s brief. Lack of brevity is proof of psychosis in this situation. And, after all, we are in a center for psychophysical healing so, please honor that.
My take on science—I mean, just… I might as well couch it as a comment to you, but it will come out in some other form anyway—is: science is excellent at doing at what it was designed to do, but it has expanded its province into all reality and seeks to pass judgment in areas where it has no real business going. It’s a very limited method that achieves its claim to universality by wildly exaggerating its accomplishments. For example: science, to do its work—I mean modern science; post-Newton—depends on probability theory. But probability theory has a built-in assumption that has never been thoroughly looked at. And that is the assumption of what Newton called “pure duration.” Meaning that, if you describe a scientific procedure to someone, they don’t ask whether you did it on a Wednesday or a Saturday. Science seeks to be time-independent. And in order to do that it has to make the assumption that time is invariant. There’s no—this is just a first try with Occam’s Razor. In fact, in our own lives, what we experience is endless variation. In other words, it may be that the hydrogen bond, when it breaks, always breaks the same way. But love affairs, investment strategies, political campaigns, the building of empires, these things are always characterized by a kind of uniqueness. And science, by invading these domains with probabilistic conceptions, gives us the science of statistics, polling, and hands to us mythical entities like the citizen or the average white male. These are just absurd abstractions that are generated by a particular kind of worldview that is not really examining its first premises.
So I would propose a modified definition of science that would then let it do its work in peace, which is: science is the study of those phenomena which are time-independent. But in many realms of nature a new theory to replace probability theory and flat duration is necessary. The power of probability is simply based on its success in these very, very limited domains. And now there’s no way back from that. Modern science is thoroughgoingly probabilistic. If you were to try and remake—I mean, they’re always raving about the new paradigm in science, and it’s always usually some tiny diddling of what they’ve already got—if you were to really try and remake science, then you would have to replace the assumption of invariability in time with a mathematical statement about its variability. And we’ll talk more about that tomorrow because there is room for that.
Science is not reason. Reason is a different domain. And I think anything which is unreasonable, ultimately unreasonable, is just patently absurd. That’s why I don’t feel great affinity with most of the marching hordes of the new age: because, you know, the fact of the matter is they don’t possess any razors for separating the nuts from the berries. But nevertheless, our intellectual choices are not between the channelers of Lazarus and the American scientific establishment. There’s a vast set of possibilities in between there and beyond those poles of discourse that can be worked out. Every society that’s always existed has had the built-in assumption that they only needed to find out five percent more about reality, and then it would all fall into place, and that they had the right tools for doing that. But we look back, then, with this great sense of superiority on the naïveté of the ancient Egyptians, the ancient Greeks, the Maya, the 17th-century English—everybody. We look back on their naïveté. But in fact, our own cultural enterprise is obviously fraught with a peculiar illogic and childishness and naïveté. I mean, we’re a culture that robs our children to create a potlach culture in the present, and would look fairly pathological from any cultural perspective outside our own.
Psychedelics Dissolve Boundaries
The thing—I mean, this is a segue, but it makes sense—the thing that I think psychedelics do that addresses this problem and many, many problems (or choke-points in our ideological effort to understand what’s going on) is the contribution that they make is that they dissolve boundaries. And culture—the word “virtual reality” was used when we went around the circle—culture is the sanctioned virtual reality, and it is put in place by the machinery of local language, you see? And so then you’re born into this circumstance and you’re told, “You are a male child. You are a citizen. You are a citizen of the United States. You are a Christian. You are a Jew. You will go to college. You will do thi—” And this you never question. It’s called the social contract. It hasn’t gone unnoticed by western philosophers, it’s just gone unnoticed by those of us who are its foremost victims. They try to tell you that you’re in a social contract. But when you ask to see your signature on the document they tell you that you were born into this contract. Well, what the hell kind of a contract is that? It means that you were born into a kind of enslavement to a linguistically empowered paradigm—a virtual reality—within which you will walk around your entire life congratulating yourself on its accomplishments and ignoring its contradictions and weaknesses.
So what psychedelics do, and why they are in all times and all places such social dynamite, is: they dissolve the cultural machinery. Doesn’t matter, you know? Head-shrinking Amazon native, Hasidic Jew, Chinese merchant in Singapore… whoever it is, the psychedelic dissolves their cultural construct and puts them in touch with the fact of being an organism. Being an organism is like what you get when you take off your real clothing. Not this clothing, but the clothing of language, programming, and assumption. Then you find yourself within the context of organism, outside the context of culture. And the reason this is not a mass movement is: many people hear that and they say, “I know what that is! That’s called being nuts! I don’t want that. That sounds absolutely terrifying.” Well, these are people for whom that cultural machinery is necessary armoring in an almost Reichian sense. Necessary armoring. They cannot face the world without culture because they are, in fact, defined by culture.
Now, who are these people? These are the people—and we, each, to some degree, imbibe in this category—these are the people whose values are set by the engines of commerce and propaganda. These are the people who dress as they are told to dress, spend as they are told to spend, believe as they are told to believe. But within every human being there is a kind of—at least the possibility—of a revulsion against this kind of anesthesia of uniqueness. Because that’s what it is: you can put your uniqueness to sleep. And then you dress Gucci, and you invest with these people, and you drive this car, and you know you’re correct. Because your accountants, your managers, your agents, your public—whoever—your husband, your lover is telling you that you’re correct. Definition from without means being defined by the cultural machinery.
Cultures other than our own have somehow always known, perhaps because nature is such a huge force outside the Western industrial democracies. People have always known that this was a fiction. That the world of cultural values is a necessary illusion, if you will. And so they create a class of people called shamans, or seers, or magicians, or trans-ecstatics, or what have you, and these people are deputized by the cultural machinery to go beyond it. To go beyond it and to return with truth. Not culturally sanctioned truth, but just truth: the felt experience of being an organism that I’m talking about. And by this process, cultures conduct their evolution—if you’re an evolutionary thinker—or their random walk through time—if you’re more of a phenomenologist. But whatever they’re doing, we’re not doing that. Because the mechanisms that we have used to close off access to the beyond-culture dimension have, in our hands, grown so strong that we have, in a sense, succeeded to the point where we’ve put ourselves out of business.
And the people to blame for this are these wily Greeks. Because while everybody else was carving horned masks and painting themselves with cross-hatching and stuff like that, the Greeks got the idea, “We’ll do it differently. We will portray the surface of the naked human body in marble.” What this means is that the “I” rises to the surface of reality and looks around for the first time from the point of view that we would call naïve realism. But what a cultural journey it took to reach naïve realism, because you had to sever yourself endlessly from the intuition of a symbolic, magical, spirit-haunted universe. And the Greeks—through a series of cultural accidents and, I would say, mistakes—ultimately achieved this. And they had, then, an alphabet, a phonetic alphabet which empowered a further severing of linguistic intentionality from the essence of the object intended. Because, you see, a phonetic alphabet symbolizes sound. It doesn’t symbolize the way something looks, or its thing-hood, it just symbolizes sound. And the phonetic alphabet then issued into a series of cultural styles—science, rationalism, mathematical analysis of phenomena. I mean, this was something absolutely unheard of, and is the unique contribution of the Western mind. That, you know, people noticed that you could take a gut string and shorten it by half, and the torn would shift one octave, and stuff like that. And they got the idea of numerical analysis, which opened up the path into culture to the present world. Well, each of these steps into realism—and remember, I said we would call it naïve realism—now that word takes on a different meaning from the context of the twentieth century. It was naïve. It was horribly naïve. In fact, we were led down the primrose path by such simplistic notions. Because what was suppressed was the invisible, messy world of the spirit and the human unconscious. This is the great tension that illuminates Greek civilization. You know?
Take Plato as an example. Because here, in one thinker, these distinct strains of thought, these antithetical strings of thought are perfectly present. You have an overarching realism, a drive to categorize and to arrange in rational relationships, and you have a thoroughgoing mysticism with roots back into the Minoan religion of Crete, and back into Egypt and Africa. I mean, it’s really extraordinary. And that was the last moment in the Western cultural enterprise when these things were in balance. And they were not in balance in any one particular person. If you lived in that world you probably had to pick and choose. And the skeptics were sneering at the gnostics, who were saying secret knowledge came from an unspeakable place beyond the machinery of cosmic fate. And the skeptics just thought, “Hell, paloney! What kind of talk is that?” Now we live in the consequences of this naïve realism. Because—like all forms of innocence—if allowed to grow beyond the proper bounds, it becomes festering. It becomes decadent. It becomes not innocence, but idiocy. It turns on itself. And this is, I think, the kind of world that we’re living in.
Now, parallel to this cultural adventure of several thousand years, the rainforest peoples of the warm tropics of the world kept intact the high Paleolithic style of cultural relativism mitigated by natural magic. And what did natural magic mean? It meant these boundary-dissolving experiences with hallucinogens. Now, it isn’t simply—I don’t want to make it sound reductionist—it isn’t simply that culture builds up structure, and psychedelics dissolve structure and then conduct you into some shimmering existential realm of trans-cultural being. It isn’t that. It’s that in that shimmering, trans-cultural realm of being you discover new modalities, new rules. There’s something there when you dissolve all the boundaries that you can. And the paradox of what is there, from the point of view of the legacy of rationalism, is: what is there is an immense love and affection and intentionality waiting to engulf suffering mankind, or the individual.
Something Weird is Going On
This is what I call the “mind behind nature;” what people call Gaia, the mind of the planet, the organized entelechy that somehow is the mothering force that encloses the whole of planetary life; this is a real thing. And I would never have thought so had I not had experiences which forced me to consider this. I think without the experiences, that rap comes off as horribly namby-pamby, you know? I mean, it’s just, “Oh my god! Not another one of these Gaia-people,” you know? But, in fact, this is a fact of reality which anyone (who has the courage to make the proper investigations) can satisfy themselves is a real object of experience. You see—I’m 45, I grew up through the fifties and I can remember these movies where the white people get captured by the cannibals and put in the pot to be boiled. And there was always a witch doctor, right? Well, this guy just epitomized the most nightmarish forces of unbridled primitivism and ignorance imaginable. Now this has become—or is in the act of becoming, I hope—the guiding paradigm of the culture. Because what the shaman is, is the person who is still—and it’s men and women—the person who is still in touch with this organic intelligence that lies behind nature.
Now, the puzzle behind all of this—I really don’t think that there would be much of a problem if what we were dealing with was a planet with teeming oceans, teeming jungles, climaxed forests in the temperate and tropical zone, arctic tundra, so forth and so on. The clue that something weird is going on on this planet is ourselves. Obviously! I mean, we are like a fart at the opera. Everything else makes sense; we don’t make sense. And the speed with which the human type emerged from the protohominids is unparalleled in the evolutionary history of life. Edward O. Wilson called the doubling of the human brain size in under three million years the most rapid doubling of organ size in a major animal in the entire history of life on this planet. Us! There’s something weird about human beings.
And so much of the explanatory machinery of culture is designed to make it go away, you see? Even something as respectable and expressive of liberal values as Darwinism is, in fact, an effort to explain how it’s all okay. It’s natural. Don’t worry, it’s natural! You just get mutation, and you have natural selection, and you have traits, and these traits extend themselves… but it’s a great step, you know, to Milton, to the space shuttle, to an integrated global economy. I mean, are these the products of animal existence? The Darwinist says yes. And we tend to huddle under his umbrella because these shit-slinging fundamentalists seem to be the only other people out there. But obviously, when you’re impaled on the horns of that kind of a dilemma, there needs to be a breakthrough to a third, fourth, or fifth possibility.
And what I will argue for this weekend is that something very, very peculiar adheres to the adventure of being human, and that it is not all business as usual. We are not simply an advanced chimpanzee. Neither are we the sons and daughters of the Lord God almighty—I mean, that also seems, to me, to be a stretch and to raise certain problems not easily swept under the rug. There has to be a third possibility. And I think that when we start, as we will tomorrow, talking about the way psychedelics synergize and stabilize certain abilities within a hominid population, and the way in which, then, other cultural reinforcements can be built upon that, you will see at least part of the story has to do with the way in which, by being forced toward an omnivorous diet by virtue of having to leave the canopy homeland for a bipedal existence in the grasslands, we had to undergo a huge dietary change. And part of our strangeness has to do with the evolutionary changes worked upon us by virtue of our exposing ourselves to unusually high amounts of mutagens in foods as we expanded our diet. And drugs and foods come in here.
The other part of the equation, which is much more speculative and which we’ll talk about tomorrow night, has to do with the notion of an attractor, and of trying to look at human-ness not as a mistake, a cosmic error, or—as Heidegger said of man, “We are flung into being.” The idea always being that it doesn’t make sense that there’s an arbitrariness to us. But I think that there’s a way of analyzing process that will show that we are not only part of what is going on—an embedded part of what is going on—but that we actually represent a place where all the eggs are poured into one basket. And I’ll just say a little bit about this tonight.
When you look at the history of the universe (if you look with unbiased eyes) I think what you will see is that the universe is a novelty-producing and -conserving system of some sort. The early universe was so simple that—and we’re now going with science here for a minute—we’re asked to believe that it sprang from nothingness in a single moment; that its diameter was less than that of an electron. And then, in a very short period of time, a number of very dramatic things happened. But they are all couched in terms of an expansion. And cooling. From the moment the universe is born, it begins to cool. And as it cools, complexity magically crystallizes out. The original universe—there weren’t even atoms [ed. note: Terence mistakenly refers to “atoms” here even though he means “electrons.”] because there was such high temperatures that atoms [again, he means “electrons”] could not stabilize themselves into orbits around atomic nuclei. So there was what’s called a plasma: just a soup of naked electrons.
And then, gradually, as the universe cooled, the simplest of all atomic systems was able to form: the hydrogen atom. And these hydrogen atoms were produced in staggering amounts, and they began to clump together. And this is tricky, but not our problem. This is a problem for science. They don’t know why they clumped, because it should’ve all been smooth right down to today. But it isn’t. So in this clumping process, of course, great temperatures and pressures were created at the centers of these masses of hydrogen, and a novel process therefore could spring into existence: the process of fusion. And fusion of hydrogen in early stars cooked out heavier elements: iron, sulfur, and especially carbon. Well, after that, then, you get all those atomic species. And then they can aggregate into molecular species. And then, because of the presence of four-valent carbon, very complex molecules called polymers—which are chain molecules—can form. Some of them acquire the quality of being able to replicate. Some of them acquire the ability to enclose themselves in a membrane. And so forth and so on and, in short, the march is on toward you and I here this evening. But what’s interesting to note is that each successive stage in this process happens more rapidly than the process which preceded it. So that the early universe—ten billion years goes on, and it’s all about this star-formation cookout thing. And then planetary formation. Then, once you get—and then a billion years they wait for primitive prokaryotic life. And then, once it happens, the eukaryotes follow fast. And after them, the ciliated protozoas. And, you know, it’s just a moment to Madonna. Both of them!
Okay! Now, what science says about this process is that what we’re seeing is an illusion, or that it doesn’t matter. They’re saying it is not a law of the universe that novelty be conserved and that each new level of novelty precede more quickly than the one which was its parent. And so by chopping it off like that, human history is denied any relevance in the natural order. It is not part of the natural order. And even though we think we’re a secular society, our assumptions about history are straight out of Genesis. We do not think of history as a branch of biology, which it obviously is. So what I believe is happening is an accelerating process of novelty-conservation that has reached such a point, now, at the close of the second millennium, that it is absurd to try to propagate the human future by fantasy centuries into the future. There is no future because the rate of acceleration is so close to approaching infinity that no possible future can be imagined.
Now, people talk about this, but they never draw the implications. You’ve probably seen some show on television where they say: here’s the curve of human energy release. And here’s the stone age, and here’s the sixteenth century, and here’s the twentieth century, and it’s headed for infinity. Okay. Next slide! Here’s the curve of human speed. In 1750, people could go as fast as a horse could gallop. In 1820, the steam engine. And then, the twentieth century. And then it goes to infinity. And they say, okay, here’s the human population curve. In the year 1000, there were 400 million people on Earth. In the year 1850… and so forth, and it goes to infinity. So nobody takes—they don’t believe it. They don’t believe that the rational extrapolation of the trends visibly beheld in the present preclude the possibility of any imaginable future.
Or, at least, I don’t believe so. I believe that we’re actually in the grip of a process that cannot be halted or accelerated, but which is now in a process of tightening its gyres as William Butler Yeats said. That what we call the chaos of twentieth century history is, in fact, the speeding-up of this temporal process to the point where it is now visible within a single human lifetime. I mean, we’re like may flies or something. We’re born one day and we die the next. So only the most incredibly accelerated kinds of change make any impression upon us whatsoever. I mean, mostly we say nothing happens. But in fact, in the twentieth century it’s incredible. In the last twelve months there has been more change compressed into time than in the previous twenty years. And those twenty years have more change in them than the previous hundred years. And that hundred years had more change in it than the previous thousand years. And that thousand years had more change in it than the previous ten thousand years. But science tells us this is meaningless. This is not a real, legitimate phenomenon that you’re talking about. You’re just lining up facts to make it appear as though there is an attractor. To make it appear as though the human historical enterprise is about to run itself into a stone wall, or off a cliff, or into another dimension.
And this is really the question, I think. Because psychedelics are—or were, once—described as consciousness-expanding drugs. Phenomenological description: consciousness-expanding drugs. Well, if that’s true—or if there’s even the slimmest possibility that that’s true—then we have to avail ourselves of these things because consciousness is precisely what we are starving for the lack of. And history is no longer rationally apprehendable by the systems which created it. I mean, everybody who’s running around gloating over what happened to Marxist Leninism should understand that Marxist Leninism is traceable right back to the social contract theory of Rousseau, and that Western liberalism is traceable to the same root. And the crisis of Marxism is: they just died first. That’s all. But all these ideologies are on the brink of a coronary thrombosis, and we’re going to have to catch the falling bodies when it hits. I mean, do you think that mercantile capitalism—which extracts the environmental reserves at an ever-accelerating rate—has any future whatsoever on this planet? They’re just looting the last few hundred billion dollars’ worth of stuff before they announce that everybody’s going to have to go on a diet that will drop your jaw, you know?
The Archaic Revival
So we’ve come to the end of our rope. So then, what do we have to do about it? Well, what we have to do is, we have to look back in time and find cultural models that served in the past. And many of you who’ve been here before have heard me talk about what I call the “Archaic Revival:” an effort to jerk twentieth-century culture 180 degrees and send it right back to the value systems of the high Paleolithic. Because that’s the last moment that intelligence, language, religion co-existed with nature on this planet in a less-than-fatal arrangement. You know? From the moment that agriculture was invented the die was cast.
Because, first of all, agriculture is a strategy for dumping a huge database—the database of the hunter-gatherer—and replacing it with a database that is important for only five or six species of plant. You then give up nomadism, which begins to concentrate your impact on the land into one place. You then plant these crops, and you have such success producing food that, now, moving anywhere is unthinkable. Plus, the big project after the fall harvest festival is: now we have to build a wall to keep the starving people from stealing our surplus. So immediately there’s us successful people, and those people who weren’t successful and lived different cultural values, and who didn’t produce a food surplus. So we’ve decided we’re going to sharpen sticks and kill all of them. So then you have warfare, thicker walls, retreat into cities, standing armies, defense of territory, a class structure emerges, the notion of wealth as an abstraction—because wealth in an aboriginal society is a sharpened stone! Not your portfolio with your investments neatly listed, you see?
So this is just a pass over these themes. I know a lot of people came hundreds of miles and drove a long way today, and I tend to whip you with this stuff. But the idea is that the psychedelics are more than the best fun there is (which they are), more than a tool for exploring your own psyche and straightening out your own kinks (which they are), they are in fact the key to understanding the pathology that culture has become and the way out. There has to be a way out, and it really is this Archaic Revival. And if you’re resisting it, think of it this way: if we don’t organize the Archaic Revival it will be handed to us on a platter in the form of failed agriculture (because the ozone hole is screwed up), infrastructures falling apart, financial systems falling apart, the rise of fundamentalist religion. In other words, we are going to have a return to a previous historical model. And it can either be managed humanely through an honoring of the feminine, an honoring of the Earth, a return to the techniques of ecstasy that characterized the high Paleolithic shamanism, or it can be handed to us in the form of shortages, famines, disease, inter-nesting warfare, nuclear proliferation, toxic dumping, so forth and so on.
But one way or another, this whole edifice put in place by the Renaissance and jacked up to high speed by the European Enlightenment and delivered into this hellish climax by mathematical analysis and the rise of global technology—and remember, each of us has never seen these changes within a lifetime. And yet, within the past two hundred years, the world has gotten tremendously more pathological, tremendously more ill. The size of cities, the power to extract natural resources, to mine Siberia and the mountains of Chile and the interior of the Amazon and Borneo. And these unimaginable technological infrastructures have been put in place to sustain a dying patient. That’s what we have here. We’re on respirators. We’re getting intravenous feeding. They are monitoring everything because it’s not healthy. It can only be sustained through the most extraordinary and heroic means. We’re taking bone marrow of the children of the future in order to keep a corpse alive. And people don’t find their voice. They don’t seem to know how to call a halt. I listen to the politicos who aspire to leadership, and they have the same problem with the vision-thing as the maximum leader of the present moment. So these are the things that we’ll talk about this weekend. And you must steer me or I will harangue, and it’s not a pretty sight, I must tell you!
Drugs: A Historical Context
Are there legal ramifications, or do you have, like—
Legal ramifications to this plant collection in Hawai’i?
Are some of the plants regulated?
Well, this is sort of a touchy area. There’s nothing that is out and out drag-em-away-kicking-and-screaming illegal, like coca or something like that.
Sounds like it would irritate the authorities nonetheless.
It may potentially be some kind of irritant to them. You would have to be a field botanist of great skill and sophistication to find anything that was a problem. There are plants that are in some nebulous dimension illegal, but there’s never been a test case of it, you see. Because one of the things that would be a rational reformation of the drug laws and would, in fact, follow the lead of English common law, is to distinguish between a plant and a drug. In fact, at one point I advocated what I called the “Vegetable Drug Act,” which would just be simply to state that plants are not drugs, and plants cannot be illegal; you cannot make a portion of nature illegal. This is crazy thinking.
One of the things that I talk about in my book that we’ve never talked about much in these weekends because the groups don’t seem to have much interest in it, but I found it sort of fascinating, was: for example, in the case of opium, most of us grow up with a completely demonized vision of the morphine family. I mean, this is the lowest of the low and if somebody gets mixed up in junk it’s just considered slow suicide and so forth. And it is certainly true that heroin addiction is fairly destructive and doesn’t do your relationships any good, and that sort of thing. But it was very interesting to me in the process of writing this book to discover that opium—which has been known and used by human beings for at least 4,000 years, possibly longer—nobody ever suggested that opium was addictive until the seventeenth century, when the English physician John Playfair noted for the first time that exposure to opium created a craving for more opium. It had been used for three thousand years without anybody ever noticing that it was addicting. And one of the tendencies that this book traces fairly clearly is the tendency to refine and strengthen drugs until they become social problems. We don’t seem to rest until we push them to the most virulent, most destructive form.
A good example of this that you’re all familiar with is coca, and cocaine, and crack. Because coca is—if you go into a coca-using area of the Amazon or the Andes, the villagers, the people you meet, they are very well aware of the cocaine problem in the United States, and the DEA, and all this. And the first thing they want to tell you is: coca is not a drug, it’s a food. And Tim Plowman, god rest his soul—a good friend of many of us who died a few years ago; great field botanist—he did studies of the nutritional value of coca and discovered that, in fact, in a coca-using population, up to 30 percent of the vitamins and minerals in the diet are coming from coca. And it is not a social problem. It does not lead to antisocial behavior, or child abandonment, or violence, or anything like that. It is, in fact, largely—it makes life possible in the jungle because it gives you the energy that you must have. The jungle is an extremely encroaching place, and if the only tool you have to hold back the jungle is a self-sharpened machete, in the absence of coca, you would toss in the towel after a couple of weeks of struggling with this. In the presence of coca you can settle down to a lifetime. It’s a short life; you’ll be dead between 35 and 40, but a lifetime of struggling with the jungle.
You see, one misconception that it’s probably important to clear up, that people have about the jungle, is: when they see the climaxed tropical rainforest they assume that this tremendous richness of vegetation must signal a tremendous availability of food, fruits, and things. This is not at all the case. It’s very easy to starve to death in a tropical jungle. The reason for this—especially an old tropical jungle like the Amazon—the reason for this is because evolutionary competition is so keen among species that there is no luxury to produce rich, juicy fruits loaded with sugars and stuff like that. Often, in the Amazon, people will show you what they’re eating as a treat; something they found along the trail. And when you bear down on what it is, it’s often a fruit or something like that that has just a millimeter-thin film of slightly sweet pulp, or something like that, around it. There isn’t a—it’s not a place where it’s easy to get a food supply together. So a drug like coca, which suppresses appetite—this is its second important consequence—is in great demand. And the suppression of appetite, the providing of energy, it’s made for this very, very harsh environment.
The other thing is: there are other psychoactive compounds in coca. Other so-called caines. And they mitigate the property of the cocaine. Western science got a hold of this and quickly turned it into cocaine, which is very hard on the major muscles of the heart, highly addictive, and a fairly pernicious drug. Although it’s the monkey doing it that you usually have to wonder about. And then, in our perverse way, we go to crack cocaine, which is an even more virulent form, more easily delivered. And the evolution of drug delivery systems is an interesting aspect of the whole drug problem. Hypodermic syringes were invented in the nineteenth century, just in time for the invention of morphine. And following on the heels of those two inventions were two great wars: the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War in Europe happening at roughly the same time. Out of those two wars emerged the first population of hard drug addicts in Western culture. There had never been anything like that before. At the close of the Civil War, morphine addiction was called the soldier’s disease because there had been so much indiscriminate use of morphine on the battlefields of the Civil War.
The Origin of Language
I am answering your question about agriculture, by the way. Stick with me here!
So then, this is, to my mind, the partnership paradise of pre-history in which the feminine was honored, men and women existed in equilibrium, child caring was shared, men—because of the strong upper body and different physical characteristics—were assigned the hunting, and also because women had babies clinging to them all the time and were not so mobile. So there was an early division of labor. And I think—although I wouldn’t argue this to the death, but it seems reasonable to me—that women are probably the inventors of language. And for this we can both thank them and wonder about the consequences of it.
Now, why would women be the inventors of language? It’s because hunting is a fairly generalized concept where great emphasis is placed on stoic waiting and physical strength. You need to be able to keep your mouth shut for hours and hours at a time, sitting stock-still, waiting. And then, when the moment comes, just wail on whatever it is that’s running by. The position of the—
That’s the best description of hunting I’ve ever heard!
Well, the gatherer is an entirely different problem. And the women took to gathering. What gathering is all about is fine distinctions. You want to be able to say when someone says to you, “Where did you find these wonderful roots?” you want to be able to say, “They’re down near the sulfur spring. They grow in the ground underneath the plant with the small yellow flowers and the serrated leaf edge with a furry underneath.” In other words, it’s a tremendous problem of location, linguistically. And if any of you are botanists you know that, until the invention of photography, botany created a whole special language for itself called taxonomic description, where you’d say, “Well, this plant is sespatose with chrenolate leaves and trichomes are present.” And what this is is an excruciatingly detailed physical description. And women also were socialized more than men because they shared child care, they spent time together in food preparation. And food preparation is part of it as well. You have to be able to not only tell where the plant came from, you have to create a linguistic machine for conveying how it is to be used.
Well, I think that this partnership paradise was really the moment when human beings were most human, most at peace within and without. Between men and women, between adults and children, between the human family and the environment. Because we were nomadic, our populations were kept small. And I think that the sexual style of these early human beings that… we can reconstruct it by looking at phenomena like the pygmy chimpanzees, and then looking at sexual and social styles among aboriginal people like in the Amazon. And the chief thing that comes out of that is: group values predominate. So consequently, the great tension that drives our society, which is the tension of mate-claiming and -holding—which we call maintaining and breaking relationships—really wasn’t there. In that hunter-gatherer quasi-nomadic situation, the natural style would’ve been orgiastic.
And orgy has a very interesting social consequence. It makes it impossible for men to trace lines of male paternity. This is very important. In other words, the children in an orgiastic society are society’s children. Women know who their children are because they see them come out of their bodies, and unless they put them down and forget where they put them, they will always be able to go back to their children. Because the sex act and the fact of birth are separated by nine months, it took a long, long time for the role of the specific male to dawn on these societies. Once male paternity becomes an issue, there’s tremendous tension because the orgiastic style is appealing, on one level, to everybody—I think. But on aother level, if you’re concerned about male paternity, you want to suppress orgy. You want to control women. And, in fact, you begin to think of them as my women and your women. And I have nothing to do with your women and you have nothing to do with my women. So women become a source of great anxiety in this situation.
The Mushroom Cult
Well now, this is—I want to make it clear—this is not to say that we fell from a state of grace that was laid onto us by nature, because the style of all monkeys is male dominance. Even if you go back to the primitive primates, the squirrel monkeys and like that, male dominance hierarchies are always what’s happening. So I think that the admission of psilocybin into the protohominid diet actually corrected—if you want to use that word—corrected a social style that had been present in the monkeys for millions of years. And just for maybe fifty or a hundred thousand years the tendency to form male-dominance hierarchies was suppressed by this cult of psilocybin you saw in the planes of Africa.
Well, then, the very forces which created this situation—which were the drying-up of the African continent, which shrank the great rainforest—broke up this partnership paradise because the mushrooms became—instead of being abundant all year long on these rainy grasslands—the rains became less frequent, the distance between water holes became greater, the mushrooms became seasonal. The orgies—which had probably been lunar at first—become more stretched out. Maybe they’re equinoctial and solstitial. And finally, annual. And finally, occasional. And finally, they don’t happen at all. Now, while this is going on, people are aware that the mushroom is getting harder to access. And so, for the first time, they begin thinking of strategies of preservation. And in a world without refrigeration the obvious strategy is drying or preserving in some medium. Drying of mushrooms is not an effective strategy unless you have hermetically sealed peanut butter jars, and ziploc baggies, and stuff which we presume they didn’t have. So then, your only choice is some method of preservation. And what I see in the archeology of the ancient Near East is a supplanting of the mushroom cult by a cult of honey. And honey is a very excellent antiseptic preserving medium, and in many cultures it’s used that way. In Mexico—to this day, in the Mexican Indian villages—they put the mushrooms and stir them into honey, and then they can preserve them for many months that way.
There’s a problem here, though, which is that honey itself can become an intoxicating substance. Honey ferments into mead, which is a crude form of alcohol. Well, alcohol could hardly be more different than psilocybin in terms of the social values that it promotes. Alcohol promotes an inflated sense of ego, an inflated sense of one’s linguistic skill, and a lowering of sensitivity to social cueing. You see this in any singles bar, you know? The guys become boorish. They hit on the women because now, finally, they have the courage to hit on the women, and the whole thing gives rise to the fairly unhappy cultural situation of which we’re the heirs. I mean, most women—I don’t know how true it is of the women in this room under thirty—but most women, they’re early sexual imprinting goes on in an ambiance of alcohol use and abuse, and that’s, then, lifelong. Because it steals one’s nerves for love or battle. This is what was always said about alcohol.
The Adoption of Agriculture
So the women who were the gatherers of this hunting and gathering equation… essentially, they were too smart; they outsmarted themselves. They had this enormous database on wild plants and plants that could be gathered in the environment. And they were nomads. And what nomadism means in this African context is that you follow the great herds of cattle around on a yearly cycle as they moved from water hole to water hole. And you camp for a few weeks, and then you move on, following the herds. The problem with this is: in the discard of these camps—in the middens of these camps—there would inevitably be seeds discarded as waste. Well, at a certain point, women noticed that the middens (the dumps of last year’s camp) was a great place to find food because it seemed to concentrate in those places. And it was because the seeds were being discarded there. So at some point a lady Einstein of the high Paleolithic put it together.
And it’s interesting: this has to do with the conquest of the temporal dimension in terms of cause and effect. In other words, at the same time that the guys were figuring out, “Oh, if you have sex with this woman then, nine months later, there will be a child,” the women were figuring out, “Oh, if we throw food away here and bury it, twelve months later there will be food growing on this very spot.” Well, at that point this huge database of information on plants that could be gathered was dumped. And the women said, “We don’t have to do that anymore. Let’s just take what we know about emmer wheat, rye, oats, and a couple of other cereal grains, and we will grow those. And we don’t have to gather anymore.” Or: gathering can decline in importance tremendously. But in order to care for the emmer wheat and the rye and the oats, the sedentary lifestyle displaced the nomadic lifestyle.
And I talked a little bit last night about the consequences of the invention of agriculture. The first consequence was surplus. Something the human race had never dealt with before, because in the hunter-gather situation, once you’ve gathered enough you stop working. Agriculture is a process where you sort of push a button and, lo and behold, here comes abundance. More abundance than you know what to do with. So you have a new problem. The problem is not getting enough food, now the problem is preserving it and defending it. And both of these problems can be solved by ceasing to wander and beginning to build walls. And so this is what was done. The most advanced human structure on this planet 10,000 years ago was the grain tower at Jericho. And it was specifically built for agricultural surplus, and it was built with walls around it to defend itself.
Around 10,000 to 11,000 years ago in the archaeological record—all across Europe, the ancient Middle East, and North Africa—we get the appearance of what’s called the tanged point technocomplex. What this means is: in older strata than the strata of the tanged point technocomplex, when you find an arrowhead, you find one arrowhead. It was lost by some Paleolithic hunter in the pursuit of game. 12,000 years ago, what you suddenly find are huge concentrations of arrowhead in one place. These are not hunting sites. These are sites where somebody laid siege to somebody else’s scene in order to grab their women, and their food supply, and their animals. In other words, warfare is the natural consequence of agriculture. And the cultural pattern that we see in the ancient Middle East is a pattern of walled cities, kingship, suppression of women, slavery, and bronze-tipped warfare. All the progenitors of our own curiously twisted cultural adaptation are set in place there.
[???] this is a slight—which may be only important to me, but… you know, what you’re saying is that, really, once the first woman (or women, or whoever it was) made this temporal connection and saw that we shit the seeds out, whatever happens, [???] more food. We don’t have to wander around so much. Once that happened, the die was cast, you know, for McDonald’s and the military-industrial complex, in effect. And that, once some tribe or bunch of people have a lot more than they can use, and it’s there, then it becomes tempting and, in a way, adaptive for other people to say, “Why wander around out here; screw around. Let’s just go kill these people and take their shit.” And that’s a lot easier.
Now—and also what you’re saying is that nobody noticed that this was fucked up at this point.
Well, it happened over a very long period. And the other thing that I’m saying is—oh, go ahead.
No, I mean, to me that seems to be an important point. In other words, there is a major maladaptive cultural development that happened over a lot of time. But at the time nobody else was noticing that this was bad.
And it was driven by weather, see? It was driven by the fact that things were just getting drier, and people were trying to find a solution to the drying problem. The—
Nobody thought to say, “If we don’t store up this stuff, these other people won’t keep trying to kill us.”
Right. Nobody could conceive of how to return to the nomadic style. And, of course, once people started agriculture, then, in some cases, to be a nomad meant you would have to move through these people’s areas and their fields, and then they would be waiting for you with rocks and clubs, because they don’t want your herds tromping through their fields.
Eden and Ego
But the real key factor—which straight anthropology doesn’t acknowledge—is that the slow fading of the use of psilocybin is what permitted all of this, Because the boundary-dissolving quality of psilocybin is the most important quality. And it changed us from monkeys into these shamanic, feminine-honoring, goddess-worshiping, nomadic people. And then, when it began to fade, the reassertion of these older primate pattern, the reestablishment of male dominance over women and so forth—there was nothing to stop it. So I really see psilocybin as a kind of an inoculation against the primate nature. That, before the first moment of human history, the human being had been perfected. And by that I mean: human beings means people able to express affection and care for others, people filled with a sense of group cooperation and group destiny, and so forth and so on. And that, really, we should see psilocybin as an inoculation against the formation of ego. Ego is the psychic component which is the fly in the soup. Once—and the ego… it’s a maladaptive attitude which changing conditions made into an adaptive attitude. It went from being a form of pathology to being the only game in town as the nature of the situation changed. Ego is dissolved by hallucinogens. And so the hallucinogens kept this egoless society in a kind of stasis for a long, long time. But when the presence of the mushroom weakened and disappeared, then this older primate patterns flowed in and dominated the situation.
In the story of Adam and Eve, in Genesis, you essentially get this message, except it’s told from a dominator point of view. I mean, a careful reading of Genesis will show this is the story of history’s first drug bust. And it’s a woman who’s in trouble. What she does is: she eats a forbidden fruit. It’s forbidden to her by a male, by Yahweh. And she also corrupts her roommate. And if you read in the older recensions, like the Q document, it’s very clear: it says that their eyes were opened. The issue is not that this is a poisonous plant. At one point in the story, Yahweh, walking in the garden, mumbles to himself, “If they eat of the fruit of the tree of life, they will become as we are.” The issue was one of a striving for equality on the part of the human beings, and a suppression of that desire for equality by this gardener, this keeper of the garden, whoever this guy was. And so then, in the story, they’re tossed out of Eden. And it says an angel was set at the eastern gate of Eden with a flaming sword so that they could never make their way back into Eden.
To my mind, this is simply the African sun drying up this partnership paradise. About 10,000 B.C., people begin to settle in the Nile valley. Before that, people didn’t live in the Nile valley. It was an unhealthy place. It was a boggy, malarial lowland, and people lived in what we call the Sahara Desert, but which was then the Saharan grassland. It was only when the grassland turned to desert that people moved out of the grassland and then settled near the river. And those are the proto-dynastic civilizations of the Egyptian archaeological record. In the Tassili plateau in southern Algeria there are rock paintings 7,000 to 15,000 years old that show shamans with mushrooms sprouting out of their bodies and being held, hands full of mushrooms. They’re reproduced in my book here.
So I think part of what is happening in the twentieth century is: we’re making our way back into deep time, and we’re discovering our own childhood. And what we’re discovering is a pattern of abuse and trauma. The reason human beings are so given to addiction and so restlessly uncomfortable with being is because we—every single one of us—are the victims of a dysfunctional relationship, and the trauma that occurred in the childhood of our species. We were meant to be the mushroom-using monkey. We were meant to have a balanced relationship between the masculine and the feminine. We were meant to be the caretakers of the Earth. But when the connection to the mushroom was broken, then we turned to building grain silos, forging spears, building walled cities, establishing the mythology of kingship, slave classes, so forth and so on. And this is why the rediscovery of these things in the twentieth century is so important. Because we have now been at this male-dominator, linear culture for about seven or eight thousand years—depending on how you want to measure it—and it has pushed us to the brink of extinction. Not only us, but the entire planet is now threatened with upheaval, mass extinction, toxification—because of our maladaption to being. We don’t know how to behave.
I have a question about [???] here. The sum evidence [???] humans [???] persistent wiped out. For example, we may have wiped out the Neanderthals, who may have been—despite what has been said in the past—a peaceful, evolved species. And then, earlier on, we may have wiped out [???] and some of the other pre-[???]. And they were not the great mammals, the other mammals. We’ve seen them get wiped out just at the time we humans were developing into this real hunting trip.
Yeah. I mean, I think this is true. There was a big paleontological conference in Canada a few years ago devoted to studying the Ice Age extinctions of the great mammals. And the conclusion was it had to be human beings.
Yeah, because [???] been through many cycles of ice ages. Why should they suddenly disappear in the last ice age? Except that humans were driven [???] this hunting—
Very early we began making this kind of impact on the Earth.
Terence? I want to ask you if you [???] the distinction between appropriate use of these drugs then and now, between men and women?
You mean a different way to do it?
[???] yeah, appropriate use.
Hmm. Nobody’s ever asked me that question before.
And addiction concerns.
Yeah, what was the question?
Well, the question over here was: is there a different protocol, or should there be a different protocol for men and women using mushrooms or using psychedelics? And the question over here was…
Just adding to that: present day addiction concerns. Because we seem to have such a problem with addiction in terms of, you know, abusing all these drugs that can really help us. So how do we…
Well, I think what we have to do is: we have to bring this issue into consciousness, which is never done in a cultural context. I mean, why do we take drugs is the real question. And I think that—you know, the answer… why do we take bad drugs, let’s ask that question. I think it’s because we want to scratch a certain itch and we can’t figure out how to get at it. And so people… they addict to sex, to money, to drugs, to having the morning paper delivered on time—I mean, I myself am threatened with falling into a hysterical rage if I get up and there are no eggs. I have to consciously take hold of myself, “You’re not going to die if you have to drive into town and buy a dozen eggs, so don’t let it spoil your entire day,” you know?
The question about a protocol for men and women—I think it is true that men have more of a problem with drugs than women, and more of a problem… it’s because they have more of a problem with the surrender issue. Women, by virtue—and it’s not so true of modern women, but modern women are a very recent phenomenon on the scene—women are biologically scripted for these boundary-dissolving experiences because they will, in a traditional society, give birth. Usually many, many times in their life. And every single time it’s a complete boundary-dissolving tremendum. A man, if he’s careful, can go from birth to the grave without ever getting into a tight spot like that.
Ego in Depth
[???] say is that these drugs help to balance this male-dominating tendency for quite a while, and certainly now, in its resurgence, it seems to be a real [???] explore a much greater harmony. So you’re talking about letting go of the ego, especially the male ego. So I’m wondering: is there not a place there for the woman, or the female of the species, to explore that—or a need? No need, no obligation, no…
No, no, there is a need. Because, you see, nothing on Earth is as much like a man as a woman. We tend to forget this. And ego is not now a male problem. We are all completely infected by ego because it’s a tradition—I mean, even the rhetoric of feminism, in some cases, is a rhetoric of ego-strength. They say, “Be assertive! Don’t take this stuff anymore! Stand up for what you are!” Well, that’s all very good, except that it isn’t the feminine that you are always standing up for. Sometimes it’s just sheer assertiveness, which is an ego kind of thing. I think that women have a slight jump on men, but at this late stage in the game everybody has to do work on this problem because we have made ego such a cultural value.
Now, the reason men may have stronger egos, generally, than women goes back—I think—to that hunting-gathering dichotomy again. Women, when they went gathering, would go two or three with their babies on their backs. And while they were gathering—you know, in all primitive societies you always hear about the chatter of the women. Women do chatter. As the masters of language they exist in a sea of this kind of communication. Guys don’t talk to each other, you know? I mean, it’s very rare. And if, in your life, you were repeatedly over and over again told, “Okay, you stay here on this point, and you watch all day long, and we will drive the game by at evening, and then you make the kill.” I’ve been in that situation because I was forced through these male initiations in the meathead society I grew up in. If you’re a ten-year-old, fourteen-year-old kid and they set you up on what they call a “point”—a hunting point; they give you a gun and they set you up on a point, and they say, “Wait here five hours”—the major struggle is to not be dissolved into the environment; to not become frightened, or it’s called wendigo psychosis. You know, it’s to hold the wilderness at bay. And so you have to have rituals of ego empowerment to do that. And the hunter is the exemplar of ego personified. So I think just these different cultural styles made men more egotistical, and also they didn’t have… women are naturally hormonally scripted to transfer loyalty and self-identification to their children. It’s a much more abstract thing for a male to put his child first. For a woman it’s unthinkable that it could be any other way. For a man it’s a consciously argued decision.
Ego is our problem. I mean, you can talk about nuclear waste or nuclear proliferation, but it all gets back to: we are not willing to set aside our desires for big houses, and many cars, and tremendous comfort. And we do not have group values. The reason the planet is dying is because we cannot place the good of the group above our own desires. Consistently. We know the Earth is dying, and yet, who recently has made a voluntary act of simplification of their life or something like that? We’re aware of the problem, but we can’t—some do, but a vanishingly small amount compared to the people who are just out there striving like crazy to get theirs. And, sadly, the dissolution of communism—which certainly had its problems, they’re there for everybody to see—but the rhetoric of communism was collectivism. You know? Care for the collectivity. In the absence of anybody saying that, now we just have a dog-eat-dog world, and the devil take the hindmost. And it looks like the devil will take the hindmost.
The problem with ego is that it’s one of those words that mean all things to all people, and I think we need to say that, even in the societies where mushrooms were plentiful and boundary dissolution took place, people came [???] eventually. And necessarily so, because you need an ego in development. I think you were even one who once said that we need an ego so, if you’re in a restaurant, you take your fork and put it in your mouth instead of somebody else’s. So, you know, [???] scaffold on which you build personality—
Well, I think our millions of years of primate existence give us a pretty strong ego—and then it was just this brief interlude with psychedelic plants that changed it. And let me say a little bit more about that. It sounds sort of clinical to say that it’s ego-dissolving. It’s like we’re dissolving a cyst or something, and that’s a good metaphor as far as it goes. But “why is the ego dissolving?” is a good question. What is is about psilocybin that causes the ego to dissolve? Well, I think what it is, is it shows you the true size of the world. And in the presence of the true size of the world you finally figure out how important you are. And you aren’t important! You know? You don’t matter a jot or a tittle in the big picture. You get a picture of ten million years, and ten local light years of space, and then you say, “Well, how important is it what I think?” And then it’s humbling. It’s not disempowering. It’s humbling. You see. A-ha, I should get with the program. I only have meaning if I get with the program. If I’m sailing against the program it’s like an ant railing against god. I mean, who cares? What difference does it make?
It’s a losing battle.
It’s a losing battle.
But at one point—I think in chapter 53—the quarterdeck, the first mate Starbuck, who represents Christian right reason, says—they’re talking about Moby Dick and he takes the animal rights position, and he says to Ahab, “Captain, to seek revenge on a dumb brute seems blasphemy!” And Ahab turns on him in fury and he says, “Blasphemy, Starbuck? Speak not to me of blasphemy! I would strike out the sun if it insulted me! For could it do that, then could I do the other; since there is ever a sort of fair play.” The ego believes that it’s on a level playing field with God Almighty! What could be more egotistical than that, you know?
Wisdom Within Psychedelics
So psychedelics—whatever they do for us in our personal lives, as a societal force they dissolve the ego. And what is it that they dissolve it into? Why is it so wonderful to dissolve the ego? This, now, comes to this sort of—we’ve been talking evolution and so forth, and it all makes sense, and I don’t think it frightens anybody because it’s all happening on safe ground. But, in fact, what lies behind all this—what you find when you dissolve the ego—is this mind, this intelligence which seems to be distributed through nature and which, if you’re really alienated, you will call the alien because you don’t know what else to call it. If you’re a woman in touch with what that means you will call it Gaia. If you’re an aspiring shaman you will call it the spirit helpers. But the big news is that the rise of the ego has suppressed a portion of reality, which is that nature is an animate and minded thing of some sort. And this breaks the rule. I mean, it’s okay to say it’s animate. You have the Gaia hypothesis, and everybody congratulates themselves on what a leap forward that is—and it is, but it’s quite another step to realize that it is not that the Earth is alive, it’s that the Earth is intelligent. The Earth is some kind of mind. And before we throw up our hands and say, “Well, how could that be? How could a planet have a mind?” Is it any less peculiar that a monkey could have a mind? You know? How do monkeys have minds? That’s the miracle. A planet is a very large system, probably able to pull many tricks out of the bag. It’s our portion of mind that is so puzzling.
And what shamanism is about—psychedelic shamanism is connecting back into this Gaian mind. And I confess, you can’t take the measure of a thing like this. To say is it a god or a goddess? is it an extraterrestrial that has somehow lodged in the ecosystem of this planet and permeates it somehow as a distributed mind? We can’t know what it is. But it’s presence has something to do with our presence here. What stabilizes shamanic and aboriginal societies, and what stabilized those Paleolithic societies was this direct pipeline to the mind of the goddess. And she/it told human beings how to behave, what to do, how to live. Isn’t this what Castaneda is claiming for psychedelics? They show you the right way to live. And in the absence of this connection, you can’t figure it out. You know? I mean, you can sort of figure it out, but we have lost touch with our mentor. We were literally wrenched from the teaching breast of the Gaian mother too soon, and so we became dysfunctional. Turned to warfare, city-building, resource-extraction, and propaganda.
Terence, can you… [???] you’re talking about the rate of evolution of the brain and the biological process that [???] time frame for that, and do you think that the shape of the brain, or the predominance of the different parts of it, of the different stages, have anything to do with this idea of ego or shared experience through an evolving brain? With the mushroom, it sounded like what you were talking about was the trigger or the catalyst for it.
Well, I think—what the mushroom is the catalyst for is language. Language is a very mysterious activity. In all of nature, if you were to look for the thumbprint of god, this is the best candidate. Language represents a fundamental break with all other forms of natural organization. There may be people here who are fond of the mumblings of dolphins, or the—you know, there is communication in the natural world. But it’s a long way from the brightest dolphin who ever lived to Paradise Lost or Hamlet. I mean, we are creatures of language on a level that is not met anywhere else. And our language flows out into three-dimensional space. You see, culture is the condensation of language. This building is an idea that we have then wrought in stone and wood. Esalen is an idea. San Franciso is an idea. The United States is an idea. It means they are things which begin originally in the domain of language, and then we draw them down into matter. The fact that you can recognize, instantly, millions of sentences that you’ve never heard before—Chomsky and his school has spent a lot of time trying to understand this. So language is like the privileged vehicle by which human beings relate to the world.
And interestingly enough, psychedelics—especially psilocybin—triggers language-like activity. It causes what’s called glossolalia: speaking in tongues. Speaking in tongues is simply language in the absence of sanctioned meaning. It means you’ve got words, you’ve got declension, you’ve got grammar, but you just didn’t bother to have meaning. And I think that we tend to believe language is for the conveyance of meaning. But I think that’s just because we came late to thinking about the problem. Obviously, it seems to me people were indulging in language-like activity for a long, long time before there was meaning. It was a form of entertainment. It’s a form of amusement. It’s something people did around the fire at night for each other. The original languages were all abstract. The marriage of language to naïve realism is probably less than 15,000 years old and has to do with agriculture and the rise of all this other stuff.
Is that what you were doing at the end of the experiment at Petaluma?
You mean that funny stuff? Yes. The ning may huaxikipi tut nem vidiki boobek nedamqua haxikepiping. See how there’s emotion, and there’s intentionality, and there’s anticipation, but there’s no meaning. Meaning is just the cherry on the cake; it comes very, very late in that process. And one of the strange things about us as a species is our absence of an emotional vocabulary. We have 10,000 words to describe the process of binding a book, for crying out loud! But when it gets down to emotion we have “I love you,” “I hate you,” and “I’m not sure.” And yet, if you pay attention to your mind, the subtlest and most kaleidoscopic dimension of your being is the shifting screen of your emotions. And yet we can convey only the tiniest part of that to each other. A place like Esalen is built on trying to open the valve to emotional language so that people can say what they feel. Most people—including myself—I’m sure have not the clue as to how you begin to say what you feel. The psychedelic experience is a good place to begin because these feelings are so unusual that you can sort of attempt to language them without feeling you’re going too far out on a limb with your personal being. But when you start talking to somebody about—what is that poem? Is it by Robert Browning? How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. To say to someone “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” and then to actually try to compose your own list in real-time, it’s too “embarrassing”—whatever that means. It means we don’t want to go that way. We want to mask ourselves. We feel reluctance to push in to that domain.
And I assume this is because this was what happened to language—well, no, it may have always been that way. It is a thing of surfaces. I mean, it’s tremendously easy to use language to describe a plant. Very hard to use it to describe a mood. Maybe this is because you can eat plants and not moods, and so it’s ultimately a tool, a survival skill. But our poetry, our art, the places where we rise toward the perfection of our humanness are usually in the domain of language married to emotion, you see?
Question about the place of pecking order in all this that you’re talking about. In most animals you see a pecking order emergence, and my feeling from 100 experiments is that—as far as psilocybin mushrooms, when I was in Palenque where the Mayan civilization is, the people who live there don’t use those mushrooms. The people who, I got a strong feeling, the people who were in the Mayan civilization at the time did not use them. But the priests did, and that perhaps—way back, when you’re talking, way back in the early evolution of things—that whoever was on the top of the pecking order either got the best mushrooms or kept the mushrooms for themselves or away from the people. The knowledge that this could bring to normal people was antithetical to the needs and desires of the ones who were higher in the pecking order.
Yeah, I think you’re quite right. The scenario you sketch out is what’s called the Grand Inquisitor scenario. You all remember in The Brothers Karamazov the story that Ilia or one of them tells about how, during the Inquisition, Christ miraculously appears on Earth. And he goes to visit the Grand Inquisitor. And then this conversation takes place between them. And Christ says, “Do you know who I am?” And the Inquisitor says, “Yes, I know who you are. We don’t want it. We’ve got it worked out. We don’t need Galilean troublemakers. We’ve moved beyond that stage.” And this is a similar sort of situation, I think.
You see, it’s a long slide from shamanism into priestcraft, and the way it happens (I think) is: when the psychedelic becomes no longer accessible or understood, then priestcraft gets going with a vengeance. There’s always a tendency, or a tension, in religion between the irrational force of revelation and the desire to institutionally organize. Early Christianity was a victim of this. For the first 120 years after the crucifixion, Christians were useless to anybody because they just stood around waiting for the end of the world. And then, after 120 years of this, some people—Tertullian, Origen, Justinian, that crowd—said, “Shouldn’t we be investing in real estate and getting a little something together here? This waiting for the end of the world… hell, who knows?” You know? And so then the institutionalized church sprang into being.
Another place in cultural history where this happened is in the mystery that surrounds soma. Soma was some kind of psychedelic plant. Nobody knows for sure what it was, but the whole of the Ṛgveda—which is the earliest stratum of the Hindu literature—the whole of the Ṛgveda is hymns to soma. This incredibly extravagant praise for this intoxicant of some sort which the people were using. Well, if it was so wonderful, how could it ever be lost? How could you ever lose… it would be like our civilization losing the secret of how to make Coca-Cola. It’s almost impossible to imagine an upheaval so thoroughgoing that we wouldn’t forget how to make Coca-Cola, and so then we would collect Coke bottles and say, “This represents the vanished sacrament if only we knew!” The only way you can lose a secret with that kind of cultural import is if, prior to the loss of it, knowledge of it has been restricted.
[???] animal. So why would it be different for [???] that I think the humans who got a little bit on top decided that this was not a good thing for us to have.
Well, what I’m saying is: it would only be true in the case of humans if they were using psilocybin. In other words, in the absence of psilocybin, human beings will behave like kittens, calves, and pups. But that psilocybin actually erodes the ego. And this is what’s put against a lot of psychedelics. They say, “Well, these stoners, they don’t punch the time clock. And when you threaten to fire them it seems to have no effect on them. I don’t know how you reach these people!” Well, the way you reach them is: you appeal to something other than the ego. The modern industrial civilization has very skillfully promoted certain drugs and suppressed others. A perfect example is caffeine. Caffeine—I hate to tell you this—caffeine is a fairly dangerous drug. It isn’t dangerous in that a cup of coffee will kill you, but a lifestyle built around caffeine is not going to—you’re not going to live to be 100 years old, or even 70, unless you are statistically in the improbable group. Why is caffeine not only tolerated but exalted? Because, boy, you can spin those widgets onto their winkles just endlessly without a thought on your mind. It is the perfect drug for modern industrial manufacturing. Why do you think caffeine—a dangerous, health-destroying, destructive drug that has to be brought from the ends of the earth—is enshrined in every labor contract in the western world as a right? The coffee break! If somebody tried to take away the coffee break the masses would rise in righteous fury and pull them down. We don’t have a beer break! We don’t have a pot break! I mean, they would—if you suggested: “Well, we don’t want a coffee break, we want to be able to smoke a joint at 11 in the morning,” they would say, “You’re just some kinda… you’re a social degenerate! A troublemaker! A mad dog! A criminal!” And yet, the cost-health benefit ratio of those two drugs… there’s no comparison. Obviously, pot would be the better choice. The problem is: then you’re going to be standing there dreaming rather than spinning the widgets onto the nuts, right?
[???] did for that [???] coca leaves?
Coca leaves would be very good. I suspect in the future we may see the legalization of coca as a sop to the mentality that wishes to see cocaine. Andy Wile, who’s a good friend of mine—we don’t agree on everything, but a few years ago he had great enthusiasm for a coca chewing gum. And I never got on the bandwagon because I didn’t see that we needed another high-focus industrial stimulant on the market. But coca would be great. And certainly, in the Amazon, if you’re a patrón, you encourage your workers to chew coca. I mean, they’re worthless without coca. Give them coca and put a machete in their hands and they will just flail for hours at the bush.
Another example that’s interesting that shows how blinded and unaware we are of how drugs have shaped our society: we all know that slavery ended in the United States in the Civil War. And most people, if you question them, think that slavery existed before the Civil War in many places back into ancient times. This is not true at all. Slavery died in Western civilization with the collapse of the Roman empire. During the Dark Ages and the Medieval period, if you owned a slave, you owned one slave. It was the equivalent of owning a Ferrari or a Lamborghini; it was an index of immense wealth and social status. And that slave would be a houseboy or a cook or something like that; someone close in to you, taking care of you. It was inconceivable to use slave labor in the production of an agricultural product until Europe acquired an insatiable desire for sugar.
Now, let’s think about sugar for a moment. Nobody needs sugar. You can go from birth to the grave without ever having a teaspoonful of white sugar. You will never miss it. Throughout the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages, sugar was a drug, a medicine. It was used to pack wounds, to keep wounds septic. And it was very expensive, and there was very little of it. Nobody even knew where it came from. It was called cane honey because they knew it came from some kind of jointed grass, but nobody had a clear picture of what sugar was. Well, when you extract sugar from sugarcane it requires in pre-modern technology a temperature of about 130°F (54°C). You cannot—free men will not work sugar. It’s too unpleasant. You faint. You die from heat prostration. You have to take prisoners and you have to chain them to the sugar vats. And so before the discovery of America—in the 50 years before the discovery of America—they began growing sugarcane in the east Atlantic islands: Madeira and the Canary Islands. And they brought Africans and sold them into slavery specifically for sugar production.
Now we—when we get American history they tell you that slaves were used to produce cotton and tobacco. In fact, this is not quite the truth. They had to find things for slaves to do because they brought so many slaves to the New World to work sugar, and they had so many children, that then they just expanded and said, “Well, we’ve used slaves to work sugar, we might as well use them in cotton and in tobacco production.” In 1800, every ounce of sugar entering England was being produced by slave labor of the most brutal and demeaning sort. And there was very little protest over this. It was just accepted. And to this day, sugar cultivation in the Third World is a kind of institutionalized slavery. Christian—you know, the popes, the kings of Europe, all of Christian civilization acquiesced in the bringing back of a practice that had been discredited during the fall of Rome in order to supply the insatiable need for sugar. It was an addiction. It had no cultural defense whatsoever.
Why do you suppose honey didn’t ascend to the prominence that sugar did in this society?
I just think you can’t produce enough of it. You know? I mean, look at the price of a pound of sugar today versus the price of a pound of honey. Isn’t honey five to ten times more expensive than granulated white sugar? I imagine this is always the case.
I don’t agree with something. It may be a [???] definition, but I don’t think slavery died out. I think it was… serfs were bound to the land, the duke had the right to take the woman you wanted, the people belonged to him.
Well, you’re right that serfdom replaced slavery. But in a way, serfdom was a much more humane system. First of all, you could not be separated from the land. Serfs were—
Yeah, [???] were [???]
So you could—and families were not separated. It was a kind of bondage to the land, but the separating of families, the selling of people at auction and this kind of—
Yeah. So you’re right that serfdom persisted. But you see, in late Roman times they had what was called the latifunda. And these were essentially agricultural concentration camps where people grew agricultural products under the lash for Roman markets. And that disappeared until the 1440s in the West.
Anybody else have… yeah?
You might want to [???] this too, but following this gentleman’s question, I wonder if the psychedelic experience [???] psilocybin and its ego-dissolving properties that it has, what happens that an elite would control that and keep it from everyone else. If it were truly ego-dissolving [???]
No, wait. So many people are saying “yeah, this must be an important point.” I didn’t understand it. What is it again?
What happens to make an elite few control a property that’s unifying and ego-dissolving, and keep it for themselves and away from the populace?
Well, I think it’s because these things have another quality which we haven’t talked too much about, which is the psychedelics are the source of special information. And these hierarchies want to control the information. In other words: it’s the “pipeline to God” problem. And the Protestant Reformation was a whole effort to overthrow the papal claim that you couldn’t just pray, you had to have theologians interpret scripture and dogma, and they would gently guide you toward the right understanding. But that you weren’t supposed to have a direct relationship to spirit, you were supposed to leave that to experts. So I think that’s another issue: that the psychedelics empower with gnosis true information. And every society is based on a lie of some sort. So having people going around the official lie and getting in touch with reality turns them into social dissidents. And you have to control that.
That was exactly what happened in the 1960s. We can talk about it a little bit, but what happened was: too many people were getting stoned and then checking out of the official canon of the culture. And people just said, you know, you can take that job and shove it! And this was very alarming. Now, every society can tolerate a certain amount of this. You always have people who just aren’t playing the game. But what happened in the 1960s was that LSD entered the picture. And LSD is different from all other psychedelic drugs in one tremendously important quality, and that is: a single skilled chemist in a small apartment with about $40,000 worth of equipment, in a single long weekend, can produce 40 to 60 million hits of a drug. 40 to 60 million hits! This is a loaded gun at the head of society.
Now, I wrote a book on growing mushrooms, and years a-grow grew mushrooms quite a bit. And I can tell you an absolutely dedicated mushroom grower, working his ass off for six months, can produce maybe four, five thousand hits of mushrooms. In other words, it’s entirely a neighborhood phenomenon. It doesn’t affect the dials that measure the fate of society. But you produce 40 million hits of a drug, you have entered the realm of global politics. You now probably have more power—you and your friends probably now have more power to affect the fate of the world than let’s say the government of Switzerland. Well, no, not Switzerland; they have the banks. But the government of Finland, let’s say. You have just shoved Finland out of the way and taken your place in the hierarchy. So no government would put up with that for a moment.
It’s analogous to splitting the atom, in a sense.
Yeah, they don’t allow you to assemble nuclear warheads in your basement, and they’re not going to allow you to manufacture LSD in your basement either for the same reason.
In a way, it sounds like the LSD then could—well, LSD related to psilocybin is like cocaine related to coca. In a way, if you look at it, it’s too easy to get.
Well, you see, it’s not that there’s something wrong with LSD. Here we have one hit of LSD. There’s nothing wrong with it compared to one hit of psilocybin. The problem is that you can—it’s just like agriculture: overproduction. It changes you from a tripper into somebody who thinks they should buy machine guns because you now have five million dollars shoved under your mattress, and everybody knows. God, you wouldn’t dare take LSD in a situation like that. The presence of so much LSD has turned you into a defensive paranoid. Now you must defend your fortune. Forget LSD! It’s changed from a vehicle of spiritual enlightenment into a commodity that must be defended at all costs, see?
[???] in terms of what the government thinks of this. I mean, you look at what the government’s doing with drug sentences now, and I—just in Hawai’i, for marijuana-growing, is a minimum ten-year sentence. And [???] a federal law for possession of nuclear weapons is a maximum of twelve years.
So if you have a joint, you get ten years—
If you’re growing.
If you’re growing, you get ten years. If you have a ten-megaton thermonuclear device—
You get probation!
Well, that shows you where the alarms are sounding, doesn’t it, folks?
You see, the hidden issue—and it need not be hidden among us—the hidden issue that the government always tries to paint itself as the mother hen, concerned about her errant chicks. And so to keep you from crashing into other people on the freeway, to keep you from leaping out of buildings or committing suicide, we have to control these drugs. As a matter of fact, you know, this is absurd. More people die because of alcohol than all illegal drugs combined in a given year. The government is not your friend on this issue. The government is very concerned to control the mass mind. And marijuana—my god, since the British commission on hemp (which was in 1889, I believe; the British East India Committee company commissioned a study of hemp), they have spent millions and millions and millions of dollars to find something—anything, you name it!—wrong with cannabis. There is nothing wrong with cannabis. It is the most thoroughly tested, pawed-over, and examined drug in human history. And they just come up with the lamest stuff. They tell you you’re gonna have tits. Give me a break! They say you won’t be motivated in your job. Like your job is supposed to be the sine qua non against which all things are to be measured.
[???] when I get a training bra.
Yeah, right! And I think people on our side of this question have been tremendously naïve, because people just think, “We just have to convince them that it’s harmless!” It ain’t harmless. It is a knife poised at the heart of dominator values. It would make the modern industrial assembly line, political loyalties, the macho image-projection—all of these little tricks that they’re running are severely eroded by cannabis and they will stop at nothing to eradicate it. Look at the budget of the DEA. What are they doing? They’re giving—65% is dedicated to cannabis eradication. Heroin gets 20%, coke gets all the rest. It’s demonstrably absurd the way the money is spent—unless you have a secret agenda of some sort. And if your agenda is to suppress the evolution of unwanted social attitudes in the American public, then you have to keep your eye on cannabis very, very closely.
It could even be more diabolical. We won’t waste a lot of time on this, but there’s another agenda there, which is: if you were in the business of making lots and lots of money off of illegal drugs, it would be very much in your interest—very much—to be sure that those drugs remained illegal.
And expensive. I take [???] that.
I don’t think that that’s necessarily true. I mean, it may be true in some regards.
But Steve, the new guy who heads the war on drugs—Martinez, this guy?—I heard him on NPR this week, and his most passionate moment in the half-hour interview was… he said, “We have pushed the price of an ounce of cannabis past the price of an ounce of gold, and we’re going to keep it that way!” Nothing about eradication! Talk about keeping the price high!
As far as the government’s concerned, [???] billions of dollars a year to prosecute and incarcerate [???] and specifically marijuana, not to mention the lost revenue that they could obtain by simply taxing it, which they would if it were available to those people who didn’t have the wherewithal to grow it themselves.
Right. The fact that they refuse to tax it when they’re starving for revenue shows that there must be a secret agenda. It doesn’t make any kind of sense.
Something else going on there, too, is that if you have a government which needs to do many, many things which are untraceable, as soon as you put money into it, it’s traceable. But drugs provide a really nice source of untraceable money. It’s all like cash.
Yeah. That’s another level. And we might as well say a little about that. When I wrote this book I did a lot of research about an area I didn’t know that much about—which is, let’s say, from 1500 to the present: drugs of addiction. And what I discovered is: drug-smuggling is like assassination. If the government isn’t involved it never seems to really happen. And governments have been using drugs for centuries as forms of secret revenue. This whole sugar thing that I laid out to you, those were decisions made by the Crowned heads of Europe in collusion with the pope, it wasn’t common people who set those policies in place. During the 1960s when the black ghettos began to come apart, suddenly number 3 China White heroin was cheaper and more available than it had ever been at any time in the history of the heroin problem in the United States. Why? Because the CIA saw all these black guys are getting up—a bunch of uppity [censored], as the government calls them—you just smother it in heroin. Get everybody either hooked or making money, and they’re not—
[???] I mean, that’s absolutely brilliant. If that’s your agenda, there’s no better way to go about it than this. It’s just like you couldn’t invent a better drug than crack—
—to distract these people and just have them killing each other, and not messing with the real [???]
And they don’t care, really, about the effect of drugs. And one faction will work against another. For example, I’m a great aficionado of hashish, and hashish became very hard to get in the United States in the late seventies. But as soon as the Russians invaded Afghanistan, suddenly, there were massive amounts of excellent Afghani hashish at prices nobody had seen for fifteen years. The reason was that the CIA knows that hashish—it’s not really a problem, but they wanted an income for the Mujahideen. And they had to pay for all these weapons. So they just started bringing this in wholesale, and it wasn’t even a smuggling operation. I mean, I received reports from people who said, “Smuggling? They’re not smuggling, they’re unloading it on Pier 39 with the Stevedore Union. Local 1030 is taking off 500-pound blocks of hashish by the tens of thousands.” And the day the Afghan war ended, they staged an enormous series of interlocking busts on their own infrastructure, and they closed down, and they pulled it to pieces.
When [???] kicked out the Shah, the Iranian heroin business then fell under the control of the Mullahs, and at that point, suddenly, cocaine emerges as a major problem in the United States—because we just switched our supply lines. We could no longer depend on Iranian heroin because we couldn’t depend on these screwy Islamic fundamentalists, so we just turned toward all of these company assets in Honduras, and Ecuador, and Colombia. Very, very cynical. You know, it’s only been 120 years since the so-called Opium Wars. Very few people know what the Opium Wars—what was the issue in the Opium Wars? Well, it turns out the British government wanted to deal opium in China and the Chinese emperor told them to get lost. And they flipped! And they sent naval units, and they laid siege to several Chinese cities, and they forced the Chinese imperial court to agree that they could deal as much opium as they wanted on the wharves of Shanghai and Chusan. Why did the English suddenly decide that they had to go into the opium business? Their stealth.
Every drug problem can usually be traced to a previous drug problem. The British East India Company spent a huge amount of time building a world tea trade. And the Chinese were very smart. They sold tea in the ports of China to the English, but for 250 years they would never let the English see how the tea was grown or what it was, exactly. What the English bought were bale tea, and all of Europe was addicted to a drug that nobody knew exactly where it came from or what it was. Well, then, eventually the secret was lost—stolen, let’s be frank, friends. Eventually the secret was stolen, wrenched from the hands of the Chinese, and the English began furiously growing tea in Ceylon.
Although, again, what agriculture does: they produced too much tea. And they blew the market; the bottom out of the tea trade. So here’s the British East India Company with this huge infrastructure, coaling stations all around the world, and a vast fleet of tea ships, and nobody can sell tea and make any money. So then they said, “Well, let’s put Indians to work in Goa and we’ll grow opium.” And said, “Whoa, but opium? Isn’t that a drug? That’s not a good thing to do.” And said, “Well, no, no, we’re not going to sell it in England. That’s not the plan. We’ll sell it in China! There are more people in China, and they’re not English, so let’s let them have it.” So that’s why the tea traders became opium traders, and that’s why the Opium Wars were fought: it was to protect English mercantile capitalism from the effects of the collapse of the tea trade. The Japanese, when they invaded Manchuria in the Second World War, they immediately began producing heroin and opium in vast amounts—not, then, as an economic strategy, but as a strategy to break the will of the Chinese population by encouraging addiction. And there was vast amounts of opium addiction. If any of you saw The Last Emperor of China, you recall that his mistress was severely addicted to opium and depicted it in a number of scenes.
So governments have very cynically manipulated drugs so that the drugs which make it possible for capitalism to function are cheap and freely available, and the drugs which erode dominator values or cause people to question their situation are savagely suppressed.
It seems like the dominator will always be in control because the psychedelic user will have a decreased ego.
You mean, how can we win if we’re taking psychedelics? I think you just put me out of business. That’s it, folks!
I’m slightly caught out on that. I think that what we have to say is that we must win by example. You know, the I Ching says you must never confront evil directly, because then it learns how to defend itself. The hippies were certainly no threat to the government as a military force, but as an example—as a model for others to follow—I think they scared them to death. They were probably very happy to see them all turn into weathermen and begin hurtling molotov cocktails. That they understood.
[???] the existing apparatus of conflict.
Right. They could relate to that. But flowers in the barrels of their guns spelled ruin and defeat, and they knew it.
There was an article in the Chronicle the other day about non-violent warfare. You know, the idea of what drugs or gases that will temporarily disable people to prevent physical aggression in war. I mean, I think it’s a step forward, in a way.
I think it’s a step forward, although it was hatched by the military-industrial complex in a desperate effort to keep the money flowing. They’re so frantic they’re willing to cut a deal at this point. A kinder, gentler warfare is what we’re talking about here.
So, back to basics. [???] that it dissolves the ego and it shows you the true size of the world, and it’s a humbling experience, and it’s a religious experience, really, is no longer—I mean, just like you were saying, that’s not so. So, is it that the basic question, how to get to that without using the machinery?
You mean without using the drugs?
Oh, yes. I mean, isn’t that the basic question? If, you know, you can tell them all to stick it up wherever, and you go on and you continue your religious, humbling, ego-dissolving experiences without [???]?
Well, the problem there is: is it possible? Is it possible to attain these states any way other than with drugs? And this usually comes around at some point in these weekends as a bone of contention, because we live in a society that offers an endless smorgasbord of non-pharmacological forms of spiritual advancement. I mean, there’s—first of all—all the orthodox forms of religiosity. You can study the Torah, you can study Christian theology, or you can be a holotropic breather, or you can—you know, it’s endless, this stuff. I am very lumpen, and this is where I feel myself to be the most crude among us, because none of this stuff works for me. And in my darker moments I even say it doesn’t work for anybody. But there’s always somebody who assures me that it happens for them naturally. And I just—you know… lucky for you, you’re saving a pile of money! The rest of us are going to spend their whole lives trying to get to it. But basically, I’m very skeptical.
And then the other problem is: if you don’t do it with drugs, it seems like there’s always some weird-beard personality in the picture. You know? Babaji, or Sri Muckaround Hammurabi, or Lama So-And-So, or Sister Somebody, and these people are inevitably pathological. I mean, wouldn’t you be if you were Sister Somebody and…? And I think drugs are much safer than gurus. Gurus are… it’s part of this thing; we don’t want to take responsibility for ourselves. And I guess I’m loathed for saying this, because I just blow the whistle on all these people who have very good livings and are surrounded by adoring fans. And people are perverse—and by ‘people’ I include myself in that. I mean, people are perverse, and one of the things they like to do, you see, is they like to surrender if it’s safe. And so here you have two choices: you can take this plant drug—which is in use among the witch doctors of the Amazon, and about which there are all these extravagant and horrifying stories, and maybe you’ll go mad, and maybe you’ll be enlightened, and maybe you’ll see God, or maybe you’ll be devoured by a giant snake—and choose that path. Or you can just sweep up around the ashram for ten or fifteen years, and make sure that Babaji always has a bowl of brown rice at his elbow, and he will lift you up and do the thing. And people say, “Well, I think I’ll go with Babaji. I don’t want to…” And what it is, is: it’s a fear of surrender. And—
I don’t… I hear you. And my concern is the original values are—you know, the values about doing it as a people—I don’t know… you know, it’s very individualistic. I’m not sure that I can get to where I got to without the drugs. But I have felt certain experiences that are not exactly like that, but they were meaningful. And I’m not sure at this point—I mean, I’m toying with the idea—but I’m not sure that I’m willing to play the game because it’s become the game. And, you know, not partake in it as a religious experience, as a group, as a kinder, gentler… you know… it’s hard because I certainly don’t want to follow Baba-whatever, and that’s not my game either. And without judgment, absolutely. I’m just really trying to understand and find the way that the initial values, and the initial humbling, could be found.
And in terms of addiction—which I’ve dealt with in terms of pot; and a relatively powerful addiction for me it was—I began to use it as a non-religious experience. It was a deadening experience for me. It was a… you know, isolating experience. This world feels like shit, you know? And it certainly—
But see, that’s an act of perception.
Absolutely! That’s what I’m saying. It’s certainly—
Well, there are options other than the two—
Very much. [???] I’m sure serve me. But I’m trying to find…
One of the questions that’s worth talking about—because I’ve never made up my mind about this—is: the psychedelics are always cast as an option in the spiritual quest. You can study yoga or meditation, or you can take drugs, or you can do good works like Mother Theresa or something like that. I’ve never been absolutely certain that psychedelics have anything whatsoever to do with the spiritual quest. If we define the spiritual quest as that which impels you to the moral life, then I don’t really see… I don’t understand. I have certainly taken a lot of psychedelics. I certainly am no moral exemplar, nor have I ever felt pressure to be one while on a psychedelic trip. The mushroom has never said to me, “As a leader of the people, you should be a better person.”
Inevitably, these spiritual hierophanies tend toward a vocabulary of unity and light and completion, and that’s not the vocabulary that I would apply to the psychedelic experience. The psychedelic experience is weirder than that. It’s about self-transforming elf-machines from hyperspace kicking down your front door and rotating all four tires on your after-death vehicle, and also checking the radiator. Is that a spiritual experience? Hell, who knows what kind of an experience it is!
We use ‘psychedelic’ in a very limited sense and [???] to tryptamine [???] psychedelics. There are, of course, many psychedelics which we don’t have [???] running around.
Well, I call those things ‘psychoactive.’ But you’re right. You’re right. There’s psychoactive…. See, here’s the thing: there’s a series of declensions here. There’s ‘psychedelic,’ there’s ‘psychoactive,’ and there’s ‘altered states.’ There are hundreds and hundreds of altered states; most non-drug. And then there are altered states of consciousness which are drug-induced. I can feel an aspirin hit. I mean, I can actually feel the shift in my reality from two buffered aspirin. And then, of course, there’s caffeine stimulation, and downers, and all of these things. None of this is psychedelic in the ordinary sense. And the psychedelic experience, for me, is this very narrowly defined thing where you see visions. Hallucinations aren’t even sufficient, because there are all kinds of hallucinations. You know? Moving grids of color and little swimming things. And then you get the mice dancing in rows, and the little candies floating by, and…. This—you can’t build a pyramid out of that kind of stuff. But the real vision is a very mysterious thing; impossible by rational standards. And we are all rationalist enough that, even in confrontation with it, we know that it’s miraculous.
So a thing worth thinking about and worth talking about this weekend is whether or not the psychedelics are in fact part of what is ordinarily thought of as the spiritual quest or this quest for religious understanding. There are people who take psychedelics who don’t have an iota of spirituality in them. If you’re interested, there’s a very interesting book called Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man by Michael Taussig. Michael Taussig, I dare say, would be very uncomfortable in this room. He would dismiss us all as fruits and flakes because he’s a Marxist labor organizer. There’s no vertical gain in this guy’s worldview. And yet, he’s taken more ayahuasca probably than anybody in this room, and been loaded—thoroughly loaded! So it’s very interesting to read his book and garner his conclusions. He sees it in an entirely different way.
I think it is a way to access insight, but it doesn’t seem to support the Neoplatonic hierarchy of ascending light and space that is the assumption of Western religion. There’s no white light at the end of the tunnel in psilocybin. Instead, there’s the alien addition of the Encyclopædia Britannica. Maybe that’s a spiritually enlightening thing to encounter, or maybe not.
In comparison to LSD?
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, LSD fits—LSD is more classically psychoanalytic, number one, and number two: supportive of the metaphors of Western religiosity. It does move you toward the dissolving whiteness, the oneness with the unspeakable of Meister Eckhart and that crowd.
Well, but they put them in a chapel on Good Friday! So the set and setting, then, highly determined the trip.
Good man! Over here.
A couple times during the morning, and actually once last night, I tripped; the topic of addiction came up and I heard a number of people say psychedelics can be addictive. I believe that could possibly be true. I don’t know it to be true, but it could be possibly true. In lighter doses. But in strong psychedelic, full-blown experience I don’t see how it possibly could be addictive. And moving on that same line of thought: if that’s the case, then aren’t we using the wrong word? If we’re not making a distinction between drugs and psychedelics?
Well, you have to make a distinction between physiological and psychological addiction. Most addictions are psychological. Addiction to eggs in the morning, addiction to having your newspaper on time, and addiction to—well, the controversial one, I think, is cannabis. Is it or is it not addicting? And I’ve had occasion to fiddle with this in the course of my life, and I think the answer is fairly complicated. I think the answer is: yes, sometimes. Or: no, but sometimes, yes. A year or so ago I was in therapy with a—had a lot of problems with my relationship and so forth—and I was in therapy with this woman who I really respected a lot, and she seemed very bright. But, strangely enough, she knew almost nothing about drugs, and it was a weird thing for me to have a therapist like that. And she kept coming back to this thing about cannabis, and she’d say, “Well, now, how many times a day do you get stoned?” I’d say, “Oh, ten or a dozen.” She’d say, “Well, how many years have you been doing this?” I’d say, “Twenty-five.” She said, “Well, you must be completely lost in this!” And it became an issue in the therapy. So finally I said to her, “I’ll quit. I’ll just quit.” Because I—the therapy. “I quit!” I said, “Because I am convinced this isn’t a problem, and it will be useful for you to see that someone with this kind of a history of cannabis use doesn’t have a problem quitting.” And I did quit. And I had absolutely no problem with it, which amazed me. I had been whistling past the graveyard when I made these brave statements. It was no problem whatsoever. But at other times in my life, when I’ve tried to quit, it’s been a real tussle of some sort. And I think that the setting has a great deal to do.
You know, I think we’re now fairly addicted to the concept of addiction. As the evolution of drug attitudes has progressed—well, let’s take heroin, for example. In the nineteenth century, the user of opiates was called the drug fiend. You were a fiend. This means that the concept that is being evoked here is of demonic possession. You know? A junkie has a monkey on his back—that’s another fiend image. You’re possessed; you can’t stop yourself. In the twentieth century, addiction is viewed as a disease. And once you view addiction as a disease, you’ve totally released yourself from responsibility to do anything about it. After all, if you have multiple sclerosis we don’t stigmatize you as morally lax and unable to discipline yourself. So if you have the disease of morphine addiction—well, it’s not your fault, it just sort of happened to you, you know? Like the flu or something. Well, I think this makes it almost impossible to begin any kind of rational program of cure because you just say, “Doctor, fix me. There’s something wrong with me.”
What I’m talking about, though, is this five grams of mushrooms or 40 milligrams of DMT—I mean, how often can you do that?
Oh no. I think that’s a complete red herring. Nobody can be addicted to psychedelics. Only if they use them as though it were another drug. In other words, it’s possible to take many doses of LSD, and what you are is: you’re a speedhead. This is not what LSD does, this is what methamphetamine does. All psychedelics, in low doses, appear to be the same drug. You know? Mescaline, LSD, psilocybin, harmine—not DMT, because there is no such thing as “a little bit,” it appears. But it’s only when you take large doses—effective doses; I don’t mean heroic doses—but when you take effective doses, then the differences immediately emerge.
I don’t know. I think addiction is a disempowering concept. I noticed there seems to be a backlash building. It’s now okay to publicly ridicule twelve-step programs and you’re not just denounced as a mad dog of some sort, because people have seen through it. And people now announce their addiction to everything at the bat of an eye.
There seems to be a movement amongst AA—that particular twelve-step program—that I’ve heard (and I know people who are doing it), they are working with psychedelics. I mean, they’re not drinking alcohol, but they’re working with psychedelics. And there seems to be, I wouldn’t say a lot of people, but it’s fairly well spread.
Oh, well, I think that people who are very serious about AA are usually pretty open about agreeing to the power of psychedelics. I mean, I know that in the AA program you’re supposed to be totally clean and not do anything, but I’ve had people who were major figures in AA tell me you’re exactly right on. This is the right thing.
You know, in the early sixties, when LSD was first being explored by psychiatrists, they began giving it to people—chronic alcoholics. And they were getting close to 80 percent cure of chronic alcoholism with a single exposure to LSD. Well, that doesn’t mean that LSD is the magic bullet for alcoholism. That would be hard to feature. What it means is that if you take LSD, you’re forced to examine the dynamics of your life, and if you notice that you’re killing yourself, you will be inspired to stop doing whatever you’re doing. I mean, it can be alcohol, it can be hard drugs, it can be that you’re mean to your wife and children, it can be that you’re chiseling business partner. And on the LSD you say, “Hey, that’s not a smart thing to do. I shouldn’t do that.” And then you can usually muster the energy to stop.
No, the paradox of our society and it’s cockamamie attitude towards drugs—the most dangerous drugs we legalize. You know? The drugs that do the most social harm, we create mega-industries out of them. And then we demonize everybody else’s drugs. And this is a situation that has been exacerbated since the middle of the nineteenth century. You see, we forget that all of this information about drugs has arrived in Western civilization only in the last 100 to 120 years. The same revolution in thinking that brings Darwin’s theory of evolution and an awareness of… let’s call it the relativisim of culture—suddenly we realize that there are Shinto, and Zen, and Shamanism, and Hinduism, and all of these things—also brought the arrival in Western culture of the information about extremely exotic drug habits or drug usages that were very localized until very recently.
I mean, ayahuasca is a good example. In our lifetime, ayahuasca has gone from being the subject of William Burrough’s and Allen Ginsberg’s book The Yage Letters—where they actually had to make the equivalent of a spiritual pilgrimage to South America to sort through this—it’s gone from that to Brazilian missionaries of these ayahuasca religions setting up camp in Malibu, and Boston, and Berkeley, and turning people on. Other drug—well, psilocybin: an even more dramatic example. In 1953, the use of psilocybin was restricted to certain Mazatecan Indian tribes in central Mexico. Thanks to the promulgation of home methods of cultivation, now it’s a standard item on the psychedelic menu of most high-tech industrial cultures. So we haven’t really had time to assimilate all this and make sense of it.
Addiction is simply a—what’s the word? A shibboleth, is that the word? You know? It’s a false boogeyman. I mean, our real addictions are to status, property, money, and power over others. If you’ve got that under control, I think people’s relationship to opiates would be a minor part of the agenda. But we love to demonize the exotic and to pat ourselves on the back. Alcohol culture—cultures that tolerate and encourage alcohol are just besotted with alcohol. It touches every aspect of life. For instance, there are certain subcultures that I think are more besotted than others. Academe is just a nightmare of alcoholic abuse and misbehavior, and carrying on of the most bestial and depressing sort. These are the carriers of the eggs; they’re carrying the basket in which the eggs of culture have been hidden.
Did that get it? Did it get something?
[???] one more time about academia.
That academic culture runs very heavily on alcohol. If you’ve ever been to faculty parties or—do you think you could advance to full professor in the English department at Cal and Stanford if you were a tea totaler? I don’t think so. I think you would be suspect as a pariah; not one of the boys, not a team player. You know? Because a lot of hard drinking goes on in those situations.
That’s also true of politics, too.
Politics. Incredible—you know, Washington… if you want to go to a hard-drinking town. These guys that stumble across the front page of our newspaper are just the ones who get caught. I mean, everybody is juicing it real strong inside the beltway. Yeah, having a belt inside the beltway.
Yeah, a couple of weeks ago a CBS reporter [???] they were talking about when they brought up about somebody’s mistress and all that—one of the presidential candidates. He said if you had to eliminate everybody who had sexual problems or drinking problems in Washington, about 10 percent would qualify to run for anything.
That’s right. That’s right. Yeah. We now are fixated on people’s sexual peccadilloes in politics, but imagine if getting sloppily drunk made you ineligible for high public office. Don’t forget: having one toke of marijuana, twenty years in the past, disqualifies you from the Supreme Court. You can’t get near it. You’re just a monster of vice. And yet, a clown like Clarence Thomas—I hope you all read the Rolling Stone encounter between Clarence Thomas and Hunter S. Thompson. Oh, it’s classic! It’s classic. The guy was such a beast that he frightened Hunter Thompson with his drug-abused treatment of women and antics.
Anyway… Anything else left over from this morning?
Talking about institutions being rife with alcohol: with alcohol cultures it seems that business is the one place that seems to be changing. That it doesn’t really work as well, and that the hierarchical structures do not fit against what the real day-to-day needs are. You don’t have an underlying funded environment like government or universities, where you live or die. And that these new models are taking hold. And that businesses are trying to transform themselves into learning organizations, and keeping up with change, and are more open than I’ve ever remember it being before.
Well, probably because they’re very aware of the bottom line and they’re actually seeing the cost of alcoholism in their workforce, whereas—as you point out—government and academe, these are places where you feed at the tough of public moneys, in some sense. I mean, if you’re a tenured professor, I don’t know what kind of a drunk you would have to be turned into in order to get thrown out of the university. I mean, short of serial murder they don’t punish you for anything once you have tenure.
Somebody had something over here?
I just wondered [???] if you’d seen At Play in the Fields of the Lord?
I actually had such an emotional stake in that movie that I listened to Lew Carlino—who wanted to direct it, and I wanted to be the expert; you know, the consultant—but I didn’t go see it because he said they ruined it.
Yeah, they did.
That it was just botched. If you’ve read the book—have you read the book?
The book is one of the most wonderful—it is, I would say, the most wonderful piece of fiction ever written about the Amazon. And—without naming names—I understand these actors did a terrible job. And Babenco, who directed it, they thought they were so smart to get a guy, a Third World director. But Héctor Babenco had never been to the jungle. He’s a Rio de Janeiro boy. Just ’cause he did Kiss of the Spider Woman, that didn’t set him up for this at all. What Lew said to me was, he said, “There was no sweat, there were no bugs, there was no grime. What kind of an Amazon picture is this?”
Their portrayal of his ayahuasca experience was just pathetic.
Yeah, I heard it was wide off the mark. I mean, I hope it wasn’t wonderful for you, because here—
I enjoyed it tremendously.
Well, there. You see? That’s what makes—
I was stunned when I saw it.
I don’t know. You know? I mean, I just—you probably ought to go see it just so—
No, I think I probably should go see it. Now that my initial disappointment has—
You know, it’s Hollywood. It’s not… I mean, maybe throw out the idea that there should be any realism or truth in it. But what it did do—I thought, personally—was that at least it did give people, the audience, a somewhat more vivid and somewhat more accurate picture of this kind of tribal reality. Anything I know of that’s ever been in a Hollywood movie.
It’s a better picture of this situation.
More authentic. I didn’t see it at play, so I can’t say. But I thought John did a good job with that, considering he had never had a psychedelic experience at that point. He was feeling by theory, and he got pretty close to it. There have been attempts in Hollywood to deal with this theme, most of them quite unhappy. What was that awful thing with Richard Chamber? Altered States—pshh.
[???] is coming out with Val Kilmer. Spirit Fire.
Oh yeah, I saw the previews of this movie.
Uh-huh. Well, we want to encourage them. Keep trying, folks. They may get it sooner or later. But it’s hard for them to handle this kind of thing because it’s very elusive. Showing an internalized world, and especially one that is different from person to person, is very, very tricky.
One last comment about the alcoholism and LSD thing. I was at UCLA in the late fifties, early sixties, when Sidney Cohen was doing that research, and I don’t think the statistics were quite as high as you mentioned. But if they worked at all, [???] behind every alcoholic is a spiritual seeker—you know [???]—and if LSD worked at all it might be because of the luminous states that it produced, which is what the alcoholic was really seeking and wanting to touch.
Well, also, there’s a lot of contextualizing of drug experiences. For instance, the Chinese school of poetry surrounding Li Bo—who was a Tang Dynasty poet—was alcohol. Alcohol was their drug of transcendence. And these groups of poets would get together, and they would drink heavily, and then they would declaim poetry, and scribes would write it down, and we inherit this as a corpus of sublime artistic outpouring. And yet, it was created in an environment which we identify with a very low-consciousness state. So yeah, it is a contextualized thing, definitely.
So are we finished with that for the moment? We can always go back.
Describing the Psychedelic Experience
Well, I thought—I sort of try to divide these things into different domains of concern, and I thought of the morning as sort of the sociological, anthropological, historical shtick. And then I thought maybe what we should do this afternoon—mainly because it’s my favorite part—is to talk about the content of these experiences. Not only because it’s fun, but because one of the things I discovered in trying to wage this kind of career is: because we’re talking about something invisible—an experience—and because we can’t all drop here in this room and compare notes, it’s often hard to get everybody to the same starting gate. People have entirely different notions of what you actually mean when you say “a psychedelic experience.” Most people—even straight people—have had what they call a drug experience. They either remember the time they drank a whole bottle of cough syrup, or the time that they went in for minor surgery and were given an anesthetic, or the time they had root canal work, and everybody eventu—it’s hard to live a life where you don’t eventually get your mind altered. This does not set you up for the psychedelic experience. And because there’s no consensus about this, it’s worthwhile talking about the gradations and what is really possible.
At the broadest level, you have what are called “altered states.” And altered states are any state different from the state you were just in, you know? So if you have a double espresso, you enter an altered state. If you climb a mountain in three minutes, you have an altered state. If you dive into cold water, altered state. And there are an infinitude of these altered states. If states didn’t alter, life would be pretty boring. The moment-to-moment experience of being is an experience of altering states. I’m horny. I’m sleepy. I’m pissed off. These are all altered states.
Then, as you close in through the concentric circle of this particular mandala, you come to “psychoactive.” The impact of psychoactive drugs. Now we’ve eliminated jumping into cold water, climbing mountains. Now we’re firmly in the domain of drugs. Substances of some sort. And it includes foods. I mean, you all know what an MSG flush is like. Well—or do you? Does everybody know what I’m talking about? Chinese Restaurant Syndrome? Okay. Well, that’s a metabolite—monosodium glutamate—being taken in excess amount and causing an altered state. You could think of it as a drug. Anything which changes your mind can be abused as a drug. Jalapeño peppers are—in many shamanic societies people eat huge amounts of jalapeño peppers and identify the feeling as power. And they say, “I am building my inner heat so that I can cure.” You know? It’s a very conscious kind of thing.
Well, then there are the more traditional psychoactive states. States of tranquility brought on by tranquilizers: halcyon, Valium—you know, there’s a million of these things and they come and go—Prozac. Or states of agitation: methadrine, benzadrene, dexadrine, amphetamine, white sugar, caffeine, theobromine (the active agent in cocoa and chocolate). And each one of these things pushes you into a different state which is largely emotive and rooted in the body.
But when you get to the psycho—well, before we talk about the psychedelics—then there are drugs which are mental drugs which I don’t consider psychedelic. My definition of psychedelic is tighter than most peoples’. For instance, you may know about datura. Datura is jimsonweed and these ornamental plants with the large white bell-like flowers. Well, if you make a tea out of the leaves, root, flowers, or seed of that plant, it will turn you every way but loose. It is a completely disorienting, freaky kind of experience with loss of memory, confusion of sequence, delusion of reference, amnesia, projective imagining, so forth and so on. To my mind it is not a psychedelic state. I call it a deliriant or a confusant. I remember—I always usually end up telling this story—what put me off datura was, years ago, when I lived in Nepal, I had this English friend and we experimented with all kinds of drugs. And one day I was in the market buying potatoes and tomatoes—the only two things you could get in Boudhanath at that time—and I encountered this guy, and we started just exchanging the news of the day. And in the course of the conversation I became aware that he thought I was visiting him in his apartment. He was so lost in this stuff that he didn’t know we were out in the street, in the market. He thought I had come by his rooms. Well, I just said, “That’s too stoned. Nobody needs to be that twisted around.” You literally do not know what is happening.
To my mind, the psychedelics can be chemically defined (with very few exceptions) as indoles. Now, the only exception to this is mescaline. Mescaline is not an indole, it’s a phenylethylamine—or some people consider it a cyclosized amphetamine, which is a phenylethylamine. I am not fond of mescaline. It seems to me that, to get to psychedelic levels with it, you have to take so much that you’re fairly rattled. It’s hard on you. And it’s hard on you the next day. And many people who are great devotees of peyote—when you question them very closely, it isn’t the quality of the visions, it’s some more murky thing. It’s that they like hanging out with Native Americans, they like drumming all night, they love ceremonies, they like going to the southwest. But it’s not the quality of the visions—not that mescaline can’t do that; it certainly can if you read these early researchers like Heinrich Klüver, Silas Weir Mitchell, Havelock Ellis. These are wonderful descriptions of full-on psychedelic states. But they were using pure mescaline, and close to a gram a throw, which is a lot. Most people, when they take pure mescaline—if you actually measure the amount that they’re taking—they’re taking well under what is clinically considered the effective dose. If you look in the Merck Manual or the PDR, the clinically recommended dose of pure mescaline is 750 milligrams. Three quarters of a gram of alkaloid. Very few people actually take that.
And this brings us to one of the issues around psychedelics. There are a lot of wannabe experts running around who didn’t take enough. Because you have to take a lot—not a lot—but you have to take a frightening amount to get into what it’s really about. People who have taken 50 gamma of LSD or 100 gamma of LSD or 2 grams of mushrooms or something like that, they are not qualified to hold forth on the nature of the psychedelic experience because those doses don’t deliver it to you. What they deliver is the periphery of the psychedelic experience: accelerated thought processes, a kind of depth and richness to cognition that is unfamiliar, an ability to analyze situations from unusual perspectives, or to reach unexpected conclusions. And I found this reluctance to come to grips with the full psychedelic experience even among Amazonian shaman. People are reluctant to go the full distance.
We were with shamans at one point in Peru—ayahuasca shamans—and I was aware of an admixture plant that was stronger than the admixture plant that they were using. And I kept asking this guy: “What about so-and-so? Why don’t we do that?” And at first all he would say was that it’s not for Christians, which was strange because he always knocked Christians. But I kept pressing. And finally he said, “We just don’t do it that way.” And I said, “Why not?” And he said, “Because it’s male bizzaro!” You know? And I said, “Isn’t that what we’re shooting for?” Apparently not. A curing shaman wants to be empowered to cure, he doesn’t conceive of himself as a Magellan of the phenomenological realm who’s setting out to circumnavigate the mental universe in an evening.
And then all of the psychedelics—they deliver differing levels of this. And then, what you always have to bear in mind when you listen to me talk about this, is: there are physiological differences among people. In the same way that person A can detect a compound X at one part in 10,000, but person B cannot detect the same compound unless it’s there in a thousand parts in 10,000. We are genetically different in this area of drug receptors. And it’s even possible—although it is also permissive of a kind of crypto-fascism—to believe that there are shamanic lines, families (races, even), that are more or less inclined to this. The Irish are always singled out as special offenders in this area. The stereotype of the Irish is that they have a peculiarly intense relationship to intoxication and to little people in a nearby but invisible world. I don’t put a lot of credence to this, but it’s very hard for me to tell because I can only sample myself, and I happen to be Irish—although leavened with Sicilian genes to keep it from getting out of hand.
So what you really have to do when you start exploring psychedelics is to try and figure out what’s the center of the mandala? What are people talking about? What is it when it’s really—when you arrive on the money? And to my mind, the compound that is most interesting for doing that is DMT. DMT is the most interesting, in some ways, of the psychedelics because more issues are raised by it than any other. Such issues as—I mean, I’ll just run over some of them so you get a feeling for it: DMT is the strongest hallucinogen there is. If it’s possible to get more loaded than that, I don’t want to know about it. And I say so when I’m there. I say, “My god, if you can get more loaded than this, keep it away from me!” So that’s it: it’s the strongest. It’s also the shortest acting. DMT, when smoked, in most people, return you to normal in under ten minutes. Under ten minutes! Now, this is interesting because people who think there’s nothing to this should actually invest the ten minutes to find out what’s—you know, a ten-minute DMT trip is worth twenty years’ of academic pharmacology, art history, psychology, and all this other malarkey. Because then you just say, “Okay, I got it. I got it.”
Another very interesting thing about DMT is: it occurs naturally in the human brain. Well, now what’s going on here? He’s saying the strongest drug, the fastest drug, is the most natural drug? It means that you don’t have to sail off into 3-hydroxy 4-parietal M-methyl marubi-shtick or something like that to get into the exotic realms. No, a human metabolite which takes only ten minutes to undergo its entire exfoliation and quenching is the strongest of all.
Well then, what does “strong” mean? What is a strong psychedelic? You know, it’s highly personal. Every psychedelic trip is. But what happens on DMT for a large number of people—I mean, we don’t have any statistics, but it is a completely confounding experience. You may have had the expectation—you might think if you had never had a psychedelic experience, it sort of begins like the Bach B Minor Fugue and goes from there as you rise into the realms of light and union with the deity, or something like that. That’s not what happens on DMT. What happens on DMT I referred to this morning: a troop of elves smashes down your front door and rotates and balances the wheels on the after-death vehicle, present you with the bill, and then depart. And it’s completely paradigm-shattering. Union with the white light you could handle! An invasion of your apartment by jeweled self-dribbling basketballs from hyperspace that are speaking in demotic Greek is not something that you anticipated and could handle. Sometimes people say, “Is DMT dangerous? It sounds so crazy. Is it dangerous?” The answer is: only if you fear death by astonishment. Remember how you laughed when this possibility was raised, and a moment will come that will wipe the smile right off your face!
And this death by astonishment thing—well, one thing about it. Let me say a little bit more about it. One thing that endears DMT to me is: I like to say it doesn’t affect your mind. It doesn’t seem to affect your mind. In other words, you don’t change under the influence of DMT. You don’t become a kinder, gentler person. You don’t sink into a line of drool from one corner of your mouth as you sit there, twitching. You don’t change. What happens is: the world is completely replaced. Instantly, 100 percent. It’s all gone. And what is put in its place… not one iota of what is put in its place was taken from this world. So it’s a 100 percent reality channel-switch. They don’t even retain three-dimensional space and linear time. It’s not like you go to an exotic place; Morocco or New Guinea. It’s like you—reality is swapped out for something else. And when you try to say what it is you realize that language has evolved in this world, and it can serve no other. Or it takes years of practice. So what you’re looking at is literally the unspeakable; the indescribable falls into your lap. And when you try—you’re loaded, right? You’re there and you’re trying to explain to yourself what’s happening. And so this is like you try to pour water over the trans-dimensional objects in front of you. The water of language. And it just beads up and flows off like water off a duck’s back. You cannot say what’s there.
And I’ve spent—I dunno—25 years fiddling with this. It’s become the compass of my inspiration trying to say what is on the other side of that boundary. Just two large tokes away at any given time is this non-Euclidean, non-Newtonian, irrational, un-Englishable place! But it’s not smooth and empty and clear. That’s not what gives it its indescribability. What gives it its indescribability is its utter weirdness, its alienness, its power to astonish. What happens to me when I smoke DMT is: there’s a kind of a going toward it. There’s a sequella of events which lead to the antechamber of the mystery. I mean, you take a toke: you feel strange, your whole body feels odd. You take a second toke: all the oxygen seems to have been pumped out of the room. Everything jumps into clarity. It’s that visual acuity thing. You take a third toke, if you’re able, and then you lay back and you see this thing which looks like a rose or a chrysanthemum: this orange, spinning, flower-like thing. It takes it about 15 seconds to form, and it’s like a membrane.
And then you break through it. You break through it, and then you’re in this place. And there’s an enormous cheer which goes up as you pass through this membrane. Some of you may know the Pink Floyd song about how the gnomes have learned a new way to say hoo-ray? They’re waiting! And you burst into this place, and you’re saying, “Geez, this stuff is really speedy!” I mean, that’s like describing a space shuttle launching as noisy, you know? You say, “This stuff… it’s… you know…” and you say, “Am I alright? Am I alright?” That’s the first question. And so then you run your mind around the track and you say, “Hmm, heartbeat? Normal? Yeah, normal. Heartbeat: normal. Pulse? Normal. Breathing? Breathe, breathe, breathe… yes.” But what’s right here, right here and from here out, is this thing which—no matter how much science fiction you’ve done, no matter how much William Burroughs you’ve read, no matter how much time you’ve spent in the company of the weird, the bizarre, the autre, and the peculiar—you weren’t ready. And it’s completely real. It’s, in a way, more real than the contents of ordinary reality. Because see how the shadows here are muted, and there’s a lot of transitional zones from one color to another, and so forth? This isn’t like that. This is crystalline clear, solid; you can see the light reflected in the depths of these objects, and everything is very brightly colored, and everything is moving very, very rapidly.
And there are entities there. It’s not about calling them up, or the whisperings of them, or… no, they’re in your face! And they’re right here, and they’re worse than in your face, because what they do is: they jump into your chest. And then they jump out. And so you’re like this. You have to keep saying, “Keep breathing, keep breathing, don’t freak out, pay attention.” And the entities speak to you. And they speak both in English and another way, which we’ll get to in a minute. But in English what they say is, “Do not give way to wonder. Hang on. Don’t just go gaga with disbelief. Pay attention! Pay attention!” And what they’re trying to do is: they’re trying to show you something. They are very aware of the fleeting nature of this encounter. And they say, “Don’t just spiral off into amazement and start raving about God and all that. Forget that. Pay attention to what we’re doing.” And then, what they’re doing is: they’re dancing around, they’re jumping around, they’re emerging explicitly out of the background, bounding toward you, jumping into your chest, bounding away, and they offer. They make offerings. And they love you. That’s the other thing. They say this. They say, “We love you! You come so rarely! And here you are. Welcome! Welcome!” And then they make these offerings.
And the offerings are objects of some sort. And now remember: you are not changed. You’re exactly the person you were a few minutes before. So you’re not exalted or depressed, you’re just trying to make sense of this. And the objects which they offer are like Fabergé eggs or exquisitely tooled and enameled pieces of machinery. But they don’t have rigid outlines. These objects are, themselves, somehow alive, and transforming, and changing. So when these creatures—I call them tykes—when these tykes offer you these objects, you grok it. You look at it and immediately—because you are yourself—you have this realization: my god, if I could get this thing back into my world, history would never be the same. A single one of these objects is—somehow, you can tell by looking at it—this would confound my world beyond hope of recovery. It cannot exist. What I’m being shown is a tiny area where miracles are being transformed.
And the creatures—the tykes—are singing. They are speaking in a kind of trans-linguistic glossolalia. They are actually making these objects with their voices. They are singing these things into existence. And what the message is, is: do what we’re doing! You can do what we’re doing! Do it! And they get quite pushy about this. They say, “Dammit, do it!” And you’re saying, “Bu… buk… buck… bu…” and they say, “No! Do it! Do it now! Do it!” And say, “I can’t handle this.” And then this kind of reaction goes on for a while.
Well then, I actually—I don’t take credit for it, it was not willed—but something comes up from inside of you, something comes out of you, and you discover you can do it; that you can use language to condense objects into existence in this space. It’s the dream of all magic, but here it is folks: happening in real-time. And then they’re just delighted. They just go mad with delight and turn somersaults, and turn themselves inside-out, and they all jump into your chest at once.
And after many, many encounters of this sort—I mean, when I first did DMT I couldn’t bring anything out of it. I just said, “It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever encountered, and I can’t say anything about it, and I don’t think I will be able to say anything about it.” But by going back repeatedly and working at it I think I’ve gotten a pretty coherent—well, let’s not go that far—I think I’ve got a pretty clear metaphor, anyway, for what’s happening in there. And I think a lot of people have this experience. When you talk to shamans they say, “Oh, yes. The helping spirits. Those are the helping spirits. They can help you cure, find lost object—you didn’t know about helping spirits?” You say, “Well, I knew, but I… I… I had no idea that it was so literal!” They say, “Oh no, that’s the helping spirits.”
But then the other thing they say—if you press a shaman, if you say, “Well, what exactly is a helping spirit?” they’ll say, “A helping spirit is an ancestor.” Say, “You mean to tell me those are dead people in there?” Say, “Yes. Ancestor. Dead person. You didn’t know about ancestors, apparently. This is what happens to people who die.” And you say, “My god, is it possible that what we’re breaking into here is an ecology of souls?” That these are not extraterrestrials from Zubenelgenubi or Zeta Reticuli Beta, these are the dear departed. And they exist in a realm which, for want of a better word, let’s call eternity. And somehow this drug—or whatever it is—is allowing me to see across the bay at the veil. This is the lifting—you want to talk about boundary dissolution! It’s one thing to get tight to your partner, it’s quite another to get tight to the dear departed of centuries past. That’s a serious boundary dissolution when that happens.
What these creatures want, according to them, is: they want us to transform our language somehow. And I don’t know what this means. At this point in the weekend and in my life, we all are on the cutting edge. And nobody is ahead of anybody else. Clearly, we need to transform our language, because our culture is created by our language, and our culture is toxic, murderous, and on a downhill bummer. Somehow we need to transform our language, but is this what they mean? That we’re supposed to condense machines out of the air in front of us? How does this relate to the persistent idea promulgated by Robert Graves and other people that there is a primal language of poetry? That poetry as we know it is a pale, pale thing, and that at some time in the human past people were in command of languages which literally compelled belief. They compelled belief because they don’t make an appeal through argument or metaphor, they compel belief because they are able to present themselves as imagery. You know, William Blake said, “If the truth can be told so as to be understood, it will be believed.”
And so these things have—and it’s very confusing because you wonder. You say, “Have people been doing this for thousands of years? And if so, have they always encountered this tremendous urgency on the other side?” If people have been doing it for thousands of years, why is there this urgency on the part of these entities? And who exactly and what exactly are they?
It appalls me—you can probably tell—that I have to talk about this, because this is not my bailiwick. I’m a rationalist who’s just had a very weird set of experiences, but I am a rationalist. I have no patience with channeling, the lords of the many rays, the devas—there’s this whole thing going around about disincarnate intelligence, and it’s mostly under the control of fairly, shall we say, non-rigorous thinkers. But I like to think that I am a rigorous thinker, and yet here I am telling you that elf-legions await in hyperspace one toke away. The difference between my rap and the Findhorn folks or somebody like that is that we have an operational method for testing my assertion. We can all smoke DMT, or you can make it your business to now find out about this and see for yourself. And not everybody agrees with me. Some people say it wasn’t anything like that. But some people agree. And I think if you get two out of ten agreeing with a rap like this, then you better pay attention!
You said that no method of meditation or anything else prepares you for it. I mean, I’ve certainly smoked a fair amount of DMT—maybe not 50 times, but probably approaching it at that—and I’m still not prepared for it. Each time it seems like all the times before haven’t prepared me for what I get into. Is there a point where you found that you are prepared?
No, you’re never prepared because, in fact—and I mentioned this last night—something goes on in the DMT flash that I don’t think anyone can bring back. There is, at the core of the experience, something is revealed that is so appalling that nobody can bring it back into ordinary reality. And that’s why it’s hard to understand. Because, you know, I’ve done it a number of times, and every time I approach it it scares me shitless. I cannot approach it any other way. And it’s physical. My palms sweat, I can’t hold the pipe, my hand shakes, I wish I hadn’t gotten myself into this situation. I fear it like death itself. That’s the clue, folks.
I think that what happens—and I’ve reached this opinion by reason and rationalization, not by direct experience—I think that what happens at the center of the mandala of that experience is that you do understand that these are souls. You have some kind of experience which converts you to this view beyond a shadow of a doubt. I’m not saying you meet your dead grandmother, but it’s something like that. And that experience is simultaneously so affirming and at the same time so paradigm-shattering that you can’t retain it. You return to this world with a story of jeweled self-transforming basketballs and Fabergé eggs and a lesson in hyper-language. But there is a moment, I think, where you find out something truly, truly paradigm-shattering that you can’t even tell yourself, it’s such an appalling revelation.
The only thing I can think of that would fill that bill is something about the nature of life and death. That you actually go under the board, you find out the thing which nobody is ever supposed to find out in this world. And I suspect it’s what shamans know; that a shaman is a person who knows the unspeakable secret. And once you know it, there’s no going back. You become fae; enchanted. You’re touched by the other. You now are a part of fairyland. And this gives you—I don’t know what it gives you—charisma, magical power, the possibility to heal. But it also sets you apart from your fellows because they don’t know from it. They don’t know. Science can’t survive in that environment for half a minute. The entire construct of Western reason disappears into that dimension like hurtling and ice cube into a blast furnace. It just can’t survive that encounter. If flying saucers were to land on the South Lawn of the White House tomorrow it wouldn’t change the fact that DMT is the weirdest thing in the universe.
I haven’t done DMT… yet. I’m just fascinated now. So you’re describing this experience in some way, which sometimes I think you’re communicating it to us [???]. But now after this has happened, in the ten minutes of time as we know it passed, and you were saying that physically your mind is working, your emotions are working… the drug goes out of your system, you’re snapped back into boring old reality. Then what happens? You know what I mean?
You spend the next weeks sort of trying to integrate what the hell this is about?
No, you don’t do either in most cases. What you do is: you immediately forget. Immediately. So if you talk to a person five minutes after they’ve smoked DMT, they’re usually into saying, “It was incredible! It was amazing!” And then you talk to them a half hour later, and they say, “It was the most incredible thing that’s ever happened to me, but I can’t remember anything about it.” And the fact that it’s so brief—we tend to value things based on how long they last. Something which only lasts two minutes, once it’s over, how can you say that that was the most important thing that ever happened to you? It is utterly irrelevant, it made no statement about your life, what you should do with your future, who you are, where you’re going, or anything like that. It was just as though reality was rend and you looked into an alien dimension, and then the rend was sealed and everything goes back to being fine and dandy, thank you. It takes a lot of effort to stay focused on this dimension. I mean—
Some [???] let’s say [???] and the amnesia happens, and you just cannot integrate anything about that vision into your personality or your mind. It’s like it happens, and it stops happening, and you can’t absorb it. But then what must happen is, at some time in the future, the curiosity is up and you want to go and try to get it again.
Well, what it did for me was: it’s evidence against certain points of view, is what it is. It says—rationalism is just vaporized. And that never returns for you. Only if you can completely suppress the experience can you ever return to ordinary rationalism. You’ve just been in a place that was crawling with elves! Even if that never happens again, it did happen, and you—from now on—must take account of that in your modeling of the universe. You now know that elves really exist. This will make you much more interesting to your children! You’ve been re-converted to a belief in Santa Claus is what’s happened. And now Santa’s gone back up the chimney, but you’re left saying, “God, he was really here!”
Yeah. The milk’s gone, the cookies eaten! What the hell?
A couple of questions. Can you bring volition to it?
Do something in that place?
Can you decide in advance that—since you’ve done this more than once, and you describe [???] is the same each time, is it?
It’s pretty much the same, yeah.
The other side question to that is: if three people were in the room doing it together, would they have—if you caught them in that period or if you caught them immediately afterwards—would their impressions of it be very similar?
I’ve sat in situations where you would turn one person on, then another person—maybe do six people in the course of an evening. And reactions vary. But, also, there’s a skill to doing it. And that’s a part of the problem. It’s very harsh—the smoke is very harsh. And you have to hold on to these big tokes. So that, if a person can’t hang on to the toke, they’re pretty much out of luck. It’s a pity that it comes down to such a mechanical matter. This is why the best candidates for DMT, I think, are leather-lunged hash-abusers. They have the lungs for it.
My other question on that is: you have described it as an [???] phenomena, but what benefit is it? What are the beneficial aspects of it?
Well, to me it seems like the beneficial aspects arise by extrapolation. It teaches you—this is what it taught me. I mean, I will never forget my first DMT trip because I was such a case going into it. If you had known me when I was 19 years old, I was into Jean-Paul Sartre, [Albert] Camus, Marxism, Freud. I was a jerk! And I came down from it, and I said, “I can’t believe it.” That was all I could say for about twenty minutes. I was, like, in shock. I said, “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it! Jesus, I can’t believe it!” And I said, “I’ve got to go back to square one.” All these people I dismissed. All these people who say the universe is made of levels, who say there are disincarnate intelligences, who say that death is not simply the yawning grave. I had dismissed all those people as crybabies and sobsisters. And they said no! The point of view that I previously dismissed is apparently what’s actually happening.
So in a single experience I was converted from naïve rationalism, realism, reductionism, to my present position—whatever it is. Really, all I’ve done is: worked out the personal implications for me of the DMT flash, and I’ve also tried to create linguistic models of it. So the worth of it is that it shows you, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the world is made of magic. That’s what the world is made of. Not natural law, not interlocking cause and effect, not any of these things that are normally…. The world is magic. Not a little bit; 100%. Every atom—from one end of this cosmos to the other—is magic, magic, magic.
Certain concerns just die in the first thirty seconds of the DMT flash and can never be brought back, to my mind. I’ve seen people who I considered—what I call fragile. Some people are not good candidates for the psychedelic experience because they’ve been damaged by life in some way. And so for them, boundaries shouldn’t be dissolved because their whole challenge is to keep boundaries in place. I remember one case particularly: a woman who was a friend of mine, I really liked her, but I thought of her as fragile, and not somebody you wanted to lean on in a crisis. She smoked DMT, thrashed, moaned, rolled her eyes back, gave all the exterior symptoms of really having grabbed on. After about ten minutes she sat up and said, “It didn’t work. Nothing happened.” I said, “Nothing happened? Well, you want to try again?” “No way. Never, ever again.” So it did work, but the personality was somehow able to seal itself off from the implications, because the implications quite literally would have destroyed that person. It was a truth they weren’t ready for.
And I suppose it’s wonderful that DMT saves you from that. I felt in danger of dying from astonishment when I did it. And I do every time I do it. I don’t know how they keep the lid on this stuff. I think this is the secret that wants to be told. i think that we are, in a sense, here, involved in some kind of—I mean, I don’t want to lay this trip on too heavy—but in a sense, we’re involved in a little cosmic drama here. Fate has chosen you to hear about this. If you’ve never heard of it before, you’re hearing about it now. Now, you don’t have to do anything with the fact that you’re hearing about it. But you have been told at this point. If you now go forward and live in your, you know… mundane, stock portfolio, BMW existence, it’s because you’re making a choice. Because you heard from Terence McKenna that there was an entirely other possibility. You don’t have to avail yourself of it. But I think it’s a moment of great import in a person’s life when they are told about DMT, because it’s what everyone thinks is impossible. That’s actually what it is.
Terence, I have a question. [???] because that, with DMT, the mind gives way to the inner self, that you are seeing this thing [???] your soul, but that you become your soul in a new [???]?
Well, what I don’t understand is: why are the things you see so alien? I mean, you would think that—we have 15,000 years of poetry, painting, songs, story—how come there’s no tradition of this? How come our folkways and our art and our drama are so utterly empty of an awareness of this? This is—to my mind, actually; probably—the central fact of being, or at least it’s as important as sexuality. To go from birth to the grave without ever encountering DMT is, to my mind, like going from birth to the grave without ever having a sexual experience; it means you skated through life. You never got it! You never figured out what it was for! And that unnerves me, because I think what life is for is to figure it out. You know? Life is some kind of an opportunity.
Okay Terence, how and from whom do you buy this stuff?
Well, they haven’t made it easy for you. They’ve made it illegal. So that’s really the question: where do you get it? I can’t solve all your problems for you, but that’s what you need to know.
Is there any place that it is legal? A country or…
Oh, it’s legal in most countries. See, there isn’t enough of it around. It’s never been a social problem. They just made it illegal in the 1960s because they made everything illegal. If somebody is proposing to the DEA that a drug be made illegal, how do you decide if a drug should be made illegal if you’re of their mindset? Well, the first thing you do is: you look at emergency room admissions over the past ten years. You say, “How many people have been dragged into emergency rooms either raving or dying on this drug?” The numbers for DMT—how many people in the past 15 years have been brought to emergency rooms? Zero! Nobody! Because it doesn’t last long enough. With our healthcare delivery system it could last an hour and there would still be no… you’d have to take it in the emergency room! And then they’d have to run to keep the emergency alive long enough for anybody to look at it!
Where are the—have you noticed… is the only difference between whether you get one or three tokes as far as dosage?
Yes. You have to learn how much you need, because some people are very sensitive and some people are incredibly insensitive. That’s why I took the time to describe this feeling of the air being pumped out of the room, and then the appearance of this flower-like mandala. If the flower-like mandala persists for longer than thirty seconds or a minute, you’re not going to break through. You need to sit up and ask for another toke. And I tell people when I turn people on to it—whenever I’m in some country where it’s legal—I always say to them: “At the 30-second mark, I will say ‘Do you want another hit?’ If you don’t, don’t say anything. You don’t have to do anything. If you do, you must sit up on your own power. If you can’t sit up, it’s my judgment that you’re too loaded to take another hit.” So it’s tricky to lead people into that.
What’s the history of this? How long has it been around?
Well, that’s an interesting question because, as a plant hallucinogen, DMT has been around a long time. But in the Amazon, as a snuff. And it’s what gives the visions to ayahuasca. You see, ayahuasca is a combinatory drug. It’s two plants mixed together. One inhibits an enzyme system in the body called the monoamine oxidase system, whose job it is to deactivate monoamines—of which all these drugs which we’re talking about are. And the other chemical in ayahuasca is DMT. So what the shamans in the Amazon are really doing is: they are inhibiting the monoamine oxidase system, and that allows the DMT to be orally active.
You see, if you were to just have some DMT and decide that, rather than smoke it, you’re going to take it orally, nothing will happen. It will be destroyed in your gut by this system by the monoamine oxidase system. But if you inhibit that system you can make it become orally active. But when it’s orally active it’s much more diminished and stretched out. But a very stiff dose of ayahuasca—you can, at the hour and twenty-five minute mark, on a very strong dose of ayahuasca, if you’re familiar with the territory, you can look around and say, “My god! It’s building toward being like a DMT flash. It is like a DMT flash.” Except that it goes on for a lot longer—20, 30 minutes.
I question whether, in traditional societies, anybody ever really reaches these reality-obliterating levels. Among the Yanomami, they make a snuff out of the seeds of anadenanthera peregrina. And I’ve done that snuff, and it’s very painful to do because you have to blow a couple of tablespoons of ground, toasted material up into your nostrils. You can’t self-administer it, you have to have a friend blower. And then you scream, fall back, salivate. And by the time you’ve got your act together, he’s got it loaded again for the other nostril. And then, if you do that, after about ten minutes of sitting and shaking your head and saying, “Jeez, what have I done?” a psychedelic state will creep over you. A trip. But not the DMT flash.
So I think it’s an interesting question. DMT was characterized and purified only in 1956 by a Czech chemist named Szára. And it may be, then, that only since 1956 have people been able to access that tremendous flash. I have, at times, given DMT to—well, in one case, a very well-known Tibetan spiritual teacher who shall remain nameless. But what he said after doing it was, “They’re the lesser lights.” What he meant was: when you enter the bardo, you see—on the first stage of the bardo you see these so-called lesser lights. If you go beyond the lesser lights, you cut the thread that binds you to the physical body, and you then cannot return. You must head deeper into the death-realm. So he said, “They’re the lesser lights. Seen it many times! Unusual that it should be caused by a plant, but… there you have it.”
[???] foragers and the DMT was in the plants, did that affect our nervous system or did it have to have the MAO inhibitors?
It has to have the MAO inhibitors to be orally active. Although it’s a question: why did we invent smoking in the first place?
I was thinking of it not so much as a hallucinogen, but as a formative thing for the species.
Well, definitely, these things must have acted—all of… you see, all of these indoles which we’ve been talking about are drugs, but there are other indoles which are growth hormones, sexual hormones, all kinds of stuff. And a lot of our physical expression has probably been altered by exposure to plants. I mean, our hairlessness. There are many aspects about us that are what is called neoteny. Do you all know what neoteny is? It’s retention of infantile characteristics into adulthood. And if you look at the ratio, for instance, of our skull size to our body size and compare it to other monkeys, we’re like juvenile monkeys. Even in the adult form. We appear juvenile in our proportions. Our hairlessness. Other monkeys are born hairless but then they quickly grow body hair. We don’t. We retain the juvenile characteristics. And this is probably—when you encounter it in other animal life it’s always assumed to be a response to mutational pressure. And there may be progressive juvenilization going on in the human species. If sex gets any more dangerous, I think probably it will be eliminated as a method of reproduction, and we’ll go to vats. This will further exacerbate this tendency towards neoteny.
The way in which we permit and encourage a larval relationship to television, and the fact that the content of television is so idiotic—you know, they say it’s now down to being geared for the average eleven-year-old. My eleven-year-old is bored to death with TV. So this is a neotenization that is culturally sanctioned. We’re accepting a kind of society where millions and millions of people have very simple thoughts, and spend all their time in a larval state, imbibing manufactured datastreams that come to them over the boob tube. This is not a pretty picture, actually. These people are not entirely human beings. They would, I’m sure, rise in holy wrath if they heard that, but they never will hear it because it’s not going to be broadcast on any channel they watch.
I’m confused about the deadened spiritual leaders thing that he said. Was that DMT? Is it your understanding they saw the DMT elves?
I… don’t know if they saw the elves. He was of such a stature that I couldn’t really hammer at him. He pronounced it the “lesser lights” and I bowed my way out of the room—
Oh, because these yogas that these Tibetans are into are all designed to familiarize themselves with the after-death state. In one way, in one possibility—you know, like the notion of Tibetan religion is that what life is for is to get ready for dying, and that this getting ready for dying has to do with this metaphor of vehicle: that you’re supposed to build an after-death vehicle. So that, when you die and put the key in the ignition, it’s not going to chug, chug, chug, and then turn over and not go. Because then you’re in real trouble. You want your after-death vehicle well-serviced and fully fueled when you need it, because then you’re going to drive off into the unknown.
Does that mean that those guys experience the same thing as others experience on DMT?
Well, what is persistently claimed for shamanism—and certainly, Tibetan religion has roots deep in central Asian shamanism—what’s claimed for shamanism is that the shaman can travel to the realms of the dead. That the shaman is in a super-human condition, not entirely alive, not dead, but has physically transformed himself or herself into something, a creature of the interzone. And this is the power of shaman. That they can come and go from the interzone. And how seriously we should take this? Very seriously. Because we have no technology for accessing these places.
There’s a lot of cultural hubris involved in all this. We can’t imagine that any other culture is in possession of any information that we don’t have a pre-prepared file on. And I think that, when you spend time with these shamans and really get into it, you finally realize: Western civilization is completely infantile. It’s completely hung up on the surface, it is not grounded in the dynamics of nature. We are childish. You know, I have heard it said—I had an Indian friend, and he told me once he was going to return to live in India. I said, “My god, you’re going back to India. It’s such a nightmare. Why…?” And he said, “I know it’s a nightmare. I hate everything about it except one thing.” And I said, “What’s that?” And he said, “People in the West are so simple. I can’t stand it.”
And this is true. I mean, if you don’t think so, go buy hash in the markets of Bombay and you will discover you are such a child, you don’t know what’s going on. You’re so easily manipulated, and led, so eager to be friendly. You take everyone at face value. Someone smiles at you, you think they’re your friend. The line I love which you hear occasionally in India and in other Third World countries is, “I am your friend. I am not like all the others!”
[???] special price!
Yes, special price! Welcome!
From my brother!
[???] able to formulate questions in this situation? I mean, it sounds like you deduced that they may be souls.
Yeah. No, I deduced that. No, you can’t really ask questions because they’re—you can on psilocybin. With other psychedelics. But you cannot do that with DMT because they know what they want to talk about. They only want to talk about this one thing, about this language-transformation possibility.
That they want you to do.
They want you to do.
And that happens for others as well?
Yeah, a number of people have reported it. At the risk of repeating myself: there is a metaphor in the natural world which sheds some light on this, which is… you all know that octopi change color? This is well understood. Most people think it’s because they can camouflage themselves, and so when they move across the reef they go orange, red, blue-green depending on what’s behind them. This is not what is happening with octopi color changes. What is happening is that they communicate with each other by changing not only their colors—which they can have a very large repertoire of color changes, traveling dots, blushes, so forth; there are technical terms for all of these—but also because an octopus is a mollusk. It’s a very soft-bodied creature. They can fold and unfold various parts of their bodies very rapidly. So they can modulate what you see so that, for instance, if there’s a red spot in the equivalent of their armpit, by raising and lowering an arm very rapidly they can flash you this red spot. Well, at first pass, you just think, “Well, isn’t that interesting! Octopi communicate by changing their shape and color.” But if you go back and analyze it a little more closely, something very profound is happening here.
You get to it by analyzing the nature of how we communicate. We communicate with small mouth-noises. And we are physiologically set up to produce small mouth-noises. The average human being can talk for a couple of hours without showing much sign of fatigue. Those of us who train hard can do it endlessly! And what’s happening with small mouth-noise communication is: an acoustical wave is moving through space. It’s been formed by the sender based on consulting of an internal dictionary. And then I see, a-ha, the word for “could you please help me.” The words are “could you please help me.” And then I say, “Could you please help me?” And then the acoustical wave goes across space, enters the ear of the intended object of the communication. They look in their dictionary and they say, “Oh, he’s asking for assistance. ‘Could you please help me’ means ‘Can I have assistance.’”
But now, what if the utterance is extremely complex? Then, the object of this intended communication looks in their dictionary and they say, “Well, he either means that he would like to have an affair with me, or he means he would like the name of my tailor, or he means that his clothes cost more.” And there’s ambiguity in all of this. And one thing we avoid doing very much in ordinary speech is saying to somebody, “What do you exactly mean?” Because we fake it. A lot of communication is “U-huh. U-huh.” And you say, “Well, I don’t know, exactly. He said… I think he… I dunno. It was somethin’. He wants somethin’.”
What’s happening here with the cephalopods—the squids and the octopi—is: there is no ambiguity. The surface of the octopus’s body is the surface of the octopus’s mind. The mind changes and controls the appearance of the body. There’s no culturally sanctioned dictionary. One octopus can tell what another means by looking. And the meaning is biologically and genetically scripted, not culturally scripted. An octopus from thousands of miles away from where another octopus originated, if they are the same species, can understand instantly what is intended. So in a way, the octopus has involved a very complex linguistic system where the surface of the creature is its mind!
You know the book by John Steinbeck, Sweet Thursday?
You should read that book. The main character, Doc, has a laboratory where he studies octopus. And he studies them in order to see if he can induce apoplexy.
Apoplexy encephalopoidia. Sounds good!
You know, there are kind—to show you how important this kind of communication is to octopi: the octopi evolved in the circalittoral zone, meaning in shallow waters off of continents in reef environments. But there’s a lot of life in reef environments. It’s as intense as a rainforest. So there’s a lot of evolutionary pressure on a reef environment. And one strategy, if you’re under a lot of evolutionary pressure, is to just go somewhere else; go where there isn’t pressure. And where there isn’t pressure—competition for food and stuff like that—in the oceans is in what’s called the benthic depths: the abysses of the oceans. And many species of octopi have evolved into the abyssal environments. And they have retained their ability to communicate with each other in these zones of utter darkness by evolving phosphorescent organs that stud their bodies. So there are even octopi which have eyelid-like membranes over little lights that they can turn on and off at will. And then they can flutter these eyelid-like membranes. If you can ever see film of this taken through the windows of bathyscaphes and other deep-ocean exploration vessels, it’s pure idea. The animal has disappeared. The animal has become its language. They never see anything of each other but their language. The body and the language have become the same thing.
And I think that this is what we are being pointed toward. This is what those elves in hyperspace are trying to push us toward. Remember how I said they sing objects into existence, and the objects themselves then become kind of autonomous entities capable of singing other objects into existence. It’s that in order to get the ambiguity out of language we’re going to have to go to a wider bandwidth. And the wider bandwidth is visual. It’s incredible that this world of nuclear powers and integrated global economies and so forth and so on is held together by small mouth noises, is held together by a method of communication 90 percent of which is lost in noise and ambiguity. We barely can communicate with each other, and yet we have seized the tiller of planetary existence and propose to set the agenda for every lifeform on this planet from virus to grizzly bear. I think our problem with managing our situation is that we don’t have a way of getting ambiguity out of our languages.
Why is that a problem?
Because you can misuse ambiguity. George Bush can tell us that he is the environmental president; that he wants a kinder, gentler America; that he feels the pain. You would call this horse shit if it weren’t so pathetic. Somebody once said language was invented to lie. Small mouth-noise language was certainly invented to lie because it doesn’t existentially map back onto the surface of appearances. This whole fantasy or hope of telepathy lies behind a lot of psychedelic imagery. Well, telepathy—when most people think about telepathy, they think that they will be able to hear what you think. If they could hear what you think then there wouldn’t be ambiguity. But, in fact, there would be as much ambiguity as there is in spoken language because people speak as much crap to themselves as they do to other people. The only way you can transcend the ambiguity of language is if you turn it into something beheld. And I think that culture is the program within the monkey species that is an attempt to make language visible.
And that’s why virtual reality—which we haven’t talked about too much, but which somebody mentioned as we went around last night—virtual reality holds great promise. Because at the operational level, what virtual reality is, is: it’s a way of showing somebody the inside of your mind. Showing somebody. And notice that, when we talk about language, our notions of clarity—there it is—our notions of clear speaking are all visual metaphors. If you think you really understand somebody, then you say, “I see what you mean.” Or you say, “You’re completely transparent to me.” If somebody is eloquent you say, “He spoke clearly.” “She painted a picture.” What this means is that we have an unconscious bias in favor of the visual sense. It’s what our eyes tell us that we believe.
Your DMT experiences have revealed to you that the surface, the naïve realism of our world which you referred to on the first talk, is not the whole picture, right?
And it does not, in fact, communicate to us the important meaningfulness of life, right? It does not take from us the pain of existence and the fear of death, and all these problems that all of human beings have had as far as we know. Then why is visual communication the answer to these things? Why is it impossible for [???] communicating in a visual way? I’m not sure of the technical problems, it’s just that I personally [???] in many different media. And I’m sure a lot of people here are creative. And the great challenge of creativity is trying to make physical what it is that’s inside. And the technology to do it, even with compu—you know, virtual… the problem with virtual reality is it’s boring and it’s clumsy, and it’s not a very interesting place to be.
Well, it’s very young.
It’s very young. But how does—
Well, I think the key to the answer to your objection lies in the word naïve. Naïve realism won’t do. What we need is sophisticated realism. The world is very complicated. I don’t think naïve anything is going to take us very far. What we need is a very sophisticated analysis of our situation. Every artist—well, no; that’s not true because there’s music, and some people say all art aspires to the condition of music. But, to my mind, the visual arts all aspire to this elimination of ambiguity from communication. This is why, I suppose, if we were to try to create a theory of aesthetic here, I would argue that sculpture is a superior mode of communication to painting, let’s say—because sculpture has an infinite number of points of view built into it, while the pictorial representation assumes a single or a very limited number of points of view.
What we have to do is both contact our inner reality and then clarify our tools for communicating it. The culture cannot evolve faster than the language evolves. Because—remember, we said last night—the culture is made out of language. And what we are doing here at Esalen, or what you’re doing when you try to persuade people to recycle, or what you’re doing when you’re trying to persuade people to re-examine their attitudes towards the feminine is: we’re trying to get them to change their language. The bad people have always understood this very clearly. It’s called propaganda. You know—Lenin said, “Give me the child at age seven, and I will return you the man,” because this seems to be how it works. What we need to do is clean up our language. There are terrible problems in English. I mean, the subject-object relationship. At least English is gender-neutral. Languages which aren’t are just, you know… carry heavy freight in that department that would be very difficult to overcome.
Our ultimate descrip—notice that our most powerful descriptions of reality are mathematical. Mathematics is an artificial language specifically created with the intent of eliminating ambiguity. Now, the problem is we can’t all follow these mathematical languages, but we probably could if we gave it more effort.
Terence, the vocalization in telegraphy are so miserable as tools [???] so important of a job of communicating—real communication. I’ve often fantasized in my mind that, in some dim, dark past, this species had a power of direct communication that, somehow, was lost. A sort of babble-concept. It was somehow lost. Probably because of the overloading of the networks. That would be one hypothesis. In other words, when you have too many circuits going, then people have to dream up other ways of talking with each other. But it’s so inefficient to talk. Our speech and our language is so hard that I can’t believe that this species started out with that.
No, I think that language was evolved in an ambiance of nearly continuous psilocybin intoxication, and that what we call poetry is, in fact, clear speech. Ursprache: a language so powerful that its linguistic intent is directly beheld if you hear it. And the babble-myth is a good one. We have fallen into a realm of corrupted language. And somehow recovering this primal language is the task of saving the human world. It sounds airy-fairy; it’s saying that poetry can save the planet. But very powerful bardic poetry of a sort that we haven’t seen for several millennia.
Well, some cats, dogs, et cetera—it’s evidenced, the capability of direct communication, over—
There’s non-verbal communication, which is much more direct. In fact, schizophrenic children believe more non-verbal communication than verbal communication. I mother who says “I love you” is definitely a schizophrenic double-bind message. And that child will believe this, versus whatever comes out of the mouth. So…
Well, but isn’t—
…it’s not complete, it’s not detailed. But we believe more what’s in front of our eyes. Just like you were saying. And we do have it, it exists. All the time.
But the problem is that we have a drive to communicate all kinds of things which can’t be done that way.
They’re more complex.
They’re more complex. And so then we’ve created provisional languages. But I agree. I think that, originally, language was to communicate emotion. This glossolalia that I did this morning, or whenever I did it—let me do it a little bit and then talk about it to make the point. Yeedong huai huaxikipipin eymundi kivi mankti teiaykam quakat. Now, when you analyze that, and make recordings, and really analyze it, there is syntax. There is syntax. But there’s no meaning. But I just did it, and I just did it at the speed of an ordinary conversation. What was happening in my brain when I did it, if there was no meaning—in other words, what I did is: I said to myself, “Take the meaning-maker out of the loop, but let the language flow.” Well, then, from where comes the modulation, the tonality, the differences? Well, the only place it could possibly have come from is my internal state. What you just heard from me was the most honest thing I’ve said today! [Recording Interruption] situation reflected in a verbal exercise that was not designed to convince you, or impress you, or drag you into my vision of things, it was simply… that’s who I was at that moment.
Ralph Metzner and I once had a notion of giving a workshop, or a weekend, in which half of all utterance would have to be in glossolalia. So that you said, “Well, I’m a committed Marxist-Leninist myself, however, iistaxi mi quai hua myan daftikimitinkt.” You say, “Oh, well, so he’s a Marxist, but he’s also this other thing. That’s who he is emotionally.” Then you could balance it. And, you see, we suppress these internal states. We create meaning as a kind of community venture, but there’s not much of us in it when we do that behavior. The paucity of words for emotions in our language is a clue to the fact that we have put too much emphasis on nuts and bolts stuff and not enough emphasis on conveying the essence of who we are. And so now we empower a special class of people called artists, and their job is to convey this essence.
But what we need to do is make life into art and take upon ourselves an awareness of the responsibilities that language puts upon us. We’re not going to save the world, or honor the feminine, or do anything worthwhile until we change the way we talk about these things. That’s the first step. And in any political agenda the first thing they want to do is control definitions. This is what the Nazis did brilliantly. If you define someone who is Jewish as “not a human being”—which is what the Nazis did, they called them Untermensch: the under-men, sub-human. So you’ve changed the reality of what this person is in your mind. Now you can build ovens, deport them, put them in slave labor camps—because you’ve changed their essential nature by changing how you speak about them. And most of the changes we’ve allowed in language have been of this negative, destructive, disempowering sort: the curse of simplification, the easy answer, the glib reply. This is what our politicians—they say, “You just cut the capital gains tax and it’ll be fine!” Everybody knows: this is malarkey, it won’t be fine! But language metaphors are being misused to delude, and to keep some people on top and some people on the bottom.
The reason we’re spending so much time on this is because I think that what psychedelics do is: they catalyze new forms of language. The greatest leap forward in language evolution that happened in my lifetime was under the influence of LSD in the 1960s. And people now make fun of all of that. The concept of the vibes, the concept of grokking, the concept of an ego trip, the concept of a put-down. People didn’t know what an ego-trip was until they took LSD. There was no word in the language for that. And notice how much energy the establishment has put into denigrating the kinds of languages that evolved in the 1960s.
It’s penetrated everywhere.
It’s penetrated everywhere. Well, that addresses a different issue, which is the meme wars. You all know, I suppose, that a meme is the smallest unit of an idea. In the same way that genes are the smallest units of heredity, ideas are made out of memes. Any coherent notion is a meme. “Women should be respected”—that’s a meme. It’s competing against the meme that “Women are worthless”—that’s another meme. These two memes compete in this society. Believing one of those memes leads to a certain set of consequences. Believing the other meme leads to a different set of consequences. Memes evolve in exactly the same way that organisms evolve. Large ideological structures can be made up of thousands of memes: the meme of democracy is a very complicated meme. It makes certain assumptions about literacy, and voting, and responsibility, and so forth and so on.
I believe that what we’re involved in here is a meme war, and that the best memes will win if the playing field is level. That’s why we’re talking about the psychedelic experience. If we don’t talk about it, it isn’t a meme; it’s a private obsession, it’s something underground. But we bring it into competition in the environment of natural selection for applicable meaning when we utter it. And that’s why the beginning of any social change is discussion.
I sort of wanted to share an experience only because it’s remarkably like what you were talking about. And that is: [???] on psilocybin I met an entity that was right on the picture frame, you know? It was almost annoying. It was like an eel made out of some beautiful chiffon and with a dog’s head. You know, kind of looking at me. And it was right there on the picture frame.
Oh, well that’s the dog-headed chiffon eel!
It’s the fact that [???]. And the other instance was: walking down a spiral staircase with what looked like plants shoving [???] at me. And I [???] rude, that was my take on it. [???]
These were psilocybin visions?
Yeah, one of the things we didn’t talk about this afternoon is the ambiance of that DMT state. What is the attitude of these tykes toward you? And it’s a curious attitude. They are not entirely friendly, or they cannot entirely be trusted. And if you’re a graduate of Irish fairytale literature you know that fairies are very, very tricky. That’s essentially their major characteristic. And their sense of humor and their sense of comedy doesn’t always dovetail very smoothly with our own. I’ve sort of described the tykes as piratical. When I try to remember where I’ve had that feeling that I have in the DMT space, where in my life I ran across that feeling before, it was in Indian markets as a child buying hashish for purposes of smuggling. And being conducted into these situations where everyone was your friend, but they had led you through such a labyrinth of streets, and relieved of you of all your gold, and had given you a Coca-Cola, and put you in a room and told you to wait, and said, “We’re your friends. Not to worry. All is going to be alright.” And it always was. And this is sort of the feeling you have with these things.
And it came to me because, at the end of this afternoon, we were talking about memes and I had said how these things offer you these objects. I think what they are is meme-traders in another dimension, and what they want is ideas. And they sort of use the technique that we would use in trading with magpies. You know how a magpie will take a piece of colored glass—let’s shift the metaphor: pack rats. Are you all familiar with pack rats? I grew up in the high mountains of Colorado where pack rats exist. And pack rats are traders: they will always leave something for what they take. And so the trick is to get them to leave something more valuable than what they take. And there are numerous anecdotal stories in Colorado about leaving a 7-Up cap out and getting back a diamond wedding ring in trade, because the pack rats…. Like, one way—a way when I was a kid, we used to hunt treasure in old ghost towns. And the way we would do it is we would look for huge abandoned or not-abandoned pack rat nests. And there, in the pack rat nest, you would discover watches, coins, jewelry, rings, and broken glass, bobby pins, bottle caps—you know, all the detritus. So the DMT creatures are meme-traders of some sort, and what they’re offering—these things they’re offering—are the equivalent of glass beads. They’re saying, “This is the sort of thing a quasi-intelligent primate ought to be able to respond to. So how would you like this?” You say, “Oh, wow! Let me have that!” And they say, “Well, just a moment. Can’t you give us a piece of your folklore, or a chunk of religious ontology, or a little bit of political philosophy? And then we’ll give you the bauble.” And so there is a trading.
And what I intend to talk about tonight—in utter indulgence of my own ego, having spent the day denouncing the ego—is an idea. This is what they trade in, is ideas. And they handed me a very interesting idea, in trade for something which I didn’t value all that much (but which I think they really got a bang out of), which was: I traded them the I Ching in its Wilhelm Baynes translation, and they gave me a complete hyper-dimensional map of time. And they took the I Ching and twisted it around and wired it back upon itself, and then handed it back to me as a gesture, so that I could relate to this primitive artifact of my own culture in a new way. And I don’t know how much of this we can convey in the absence of a computer, but I’m willing to give it a whirl. And in the spirit of the lady who just spoke, I will try to make it anecdotal. Because: Saturday night; people have had enough of this stuff anyway.
So, here’s my story. In 1971—well, actually, I realized after talking last night that I never introduced myself, or did anything formal at all. I just… the engineer was at my elbow and began pummeling him, and then that just led out to the gray wastes of heaving rhetoric, and never got back to anything approaching an introduction. And I’ve made allusions to my rationalism and so forth, but my story is sort of like the Unsinkable Molly Brown. I grew up in a coal mining town in Colorado. And I was always a weird kid. While everybody else was playing little league baseball I was off in the dry arroyos near my home, digging up fossils and being maladaptive in many different ways.
The thing that I was always tracing, or looking for, was a kind of iridescence that adheres to certain kinds of matter, certain situations, and even certain kinds of people. So it started out with a fascination with minerals. A rock-hound. And then that led into fossils. And that led to butterflies, which was a lifelong obsession until so much pummeling with Buddhist ethics made me give it up a few years ago—but resentfully, I must say. You know, Buddhism is fine, but no one knows the pleasure of the capture of a birdwing ornithopterid in the jungles of Saram. You want to talk about hardwiring in the human organism? We’ve been insectivores for nine million years, and there’s a thrill there in the capture of a large butterfly that—well, sorry to drift off into…. Forgive me!
Iridescence, yes. And so then the butterflies sort of carried me along for a while, and then, when puberty hit, pineal symbolism overwhelmed everything else and I got into rocketry: the compounding of fuels and the launching of these things from the local baseball diamond and airport at incredible peril to myself and the people around me. And then I discovered at a certain point—I had always been a kind of a science chauvinist. And then, at a certain point, I discovered art, literature, poetry, music, dance, theater. The whole of the humanities came flooding in. But the guiding aesthetic was always an aesthetic of the weird. I guess I should mention that I’m a double Scorpio. But the aesthetic of the weird drove me. And nothing was strange enough. I loved the science-fiction films of the 1950s, and I was into the music of John Cage early, early on. And, of course, all of these things funneled me toward psychedelics. I mean, psychedelics are like the quintessential essence of this aesthetic of the weird. Once you get to psychedelics, it’s like you’ve hit the main vein of weird, you know? No more do you have to closet yourself in the attic with your copy of Hieronymous Bosch. You can now move out into the real thing.
So that propelled me to a lot of traveling. And traveling, I think, is second or third in importance in the human experience. I would say sexuality, psychedelic drugs, and travel. This is my prescription for destroying your digestive tract, or something. And I went, first, to Africa, and then to the Seychelles islands, and then to India, and lived in Japan for a while, and then eventually went back to Asia. And I had encountered LSD in Berkeley, where I went as an undergraduate, in the fall of 1965. that was the other thing about me. I was incredibly lucky in that, a kid from a cow town in Colorado, I was able to find my way to ground zero of the cultural scene. I was able to put myself at the corner of Shaddock and Bancroft in the fall of 1965. So the whole thing was just being staged for my benefit, I thought. Well, so then I became very interested in psychedelics. And I actually smoked DMT early in 1967. A tremendously fortuitous moment in the history of the development of my thinking. Apparently, SRI, the army, was trying to develop a drug called BZ, which was an aerosol-delivered hallucinogenic tryptamine that would be delivered by an artillery shell into a Vietnamese village, and while everybody was stoned on DMT, our boys would come in and kick butt or do whatever they do. And a 55-gallon drum of solid DMT had been boosted off the back of a truck by some Stanford graduate students. And—I’m telling you, it was incredible. I mean, it’s never been that good. I don’t know what this stuff was, exactly?
A 55-gallon drum of—
There might even be some more?
There might be, actually! The search for the treasure of the Sierra Madres!
So I had this benchmark. A-ha. DMT. And I took a fair bit of LSD in those undergraduate years at Berkeley, but I have to confess: it was never easy for me. It always seemed like psychoanalytic Drano, kind of. And after each acid trip I would say, “My God! I’m not going to do that again!” Well, of course, then, two weeks later I would be back to it.
But I was—my style has always been to be a reader, and to inform myself. So I read The Doors of Perception, and Havelock Ellis, and Weir Mitchell; all these people I mentioned this afternoon. And what fascinated me was how they insisted on visions, particularly Havelock Ellis’s descriptions of his mescaline experiences where he says “architectural ruins dripping with globular jewels, strange statuary leering from darkened doorways.” And I said, “Hey, I want it!” You know? Where do we… how do I get that? And LSD didn’t really do it for me, although my most satisfying LSD trips—and this is, just maybe, a practical suggestion—were in the presence of good hashish. Hashish seems to be able to pull the pure translucency of LSD toward a much crazier, more psychedelic, more mushroomic-like place, at least for me.
So then I went to India and I knocked around for a while, and I quickly became incredibly disillusioned with all of that. I mean, I don’t know, folks. Everybody has different experiences, and you can only judge your own path, but I just thought it was the most outrageous con that has ever come down the pike. That maybe, millennia ago, there was something going on, but it has been so enfolded by priestcraft and dogma and class-consciousness and everybody’s out to con everybody else, and there you are—what do you know? I mean, these people have been at this for a thousand years and you fly in from Malibu, sugar- and money-heavy into their midst? Well, they know just exactly how to turn you every way but loose. And eventually all you ask is that they turn you loose, you know? Now, I know there are people for whom this message is unwelcome, who are within this room this evening. But I’m not knocking Indian spirituality. I think that there is a great wisdom about how to live that these world religions have accumulated. The problem was, I was 23 years old and I wasn’t interested in wisdom on how to live. I was interested in how do you get as loaded as possible and then be able to talk about it.
So I went through all these experiences and was abandoned by the love of my life, and all kinds of things happened, and eventually I decided that the answer lay in the Amazon. And so in late 1970 I had been living in Vancouver, British Columbia—I couldn’t enter the States because I had a price on my head; not much of one, but an uncomfortable situation to be in. So then I went to the Amazon for the first time with my brother and a couple of friends who came with me from the States, and then we quickly made common cause with a woman down there, and she came with us. So it was two women and three guys, and we were—considering that I was the oldest, and I was 25 years old, as I look back on it, we were an incredibly serious and well-informed group of 22–25-year-olds. And our intent—we had all graduated from the school of DMT, we were all post-revolutionary Berkeley communard types. And we had collectively decided that the only hope lay in somehow getting into the DMT flash for longer than a minute to a minute and a half, and that the strategy for doing this must be, then, to go to the Amazon and explore these psychoactive drugs. And the one that we were interested in is one that even today has yet to become an item on the Malibu consciousness circuit, a drug called ukuhe. Ukuhe. It’s used only by the Witoto, Bora, and Muinani tribes of the Lower Putumayo of Camisaria Amazonas in Colombia. Very limited geographic area in a completely remote part of the Amazon. And what was interesting to us was: the anthropological reports were that they rolled it up—it was the resin of a tree—and that they rolled it up into little pills, and that they took the little pills, and then they would lie in their hammocks and they would speak to the little men. And so we said, “This has got to be it.” And Richard Evans Schultes of Harvard had already published on the chemistry of ukuhe, and it definitely contained DMT. So we said, okay, these people have found the way into what we then called the “beta-level,” just for shorthand.
So the way into the beta-level was to be achieved by ukuhe. So we put together this expedition and we descended the Putumayo river, which is the border between Colombia and Ecuador and Peru, to a place called San José del Encanto on the Rio Igara Paraná, which flows into the Putumayo there. And at that point it’s a 120-kilometer, overland, 5-day walk to a remote mission called La Chorrera. Most places in the Amazon are history-less. But La Chorrera had a very dark history behind it, which I didn’t really know at the time, and probably very few people in this room have ever heard of or know anything about what’s called the Putumayo rubber horror. What this was was a rehearsal for some of Hiroshima, Auschwitz, you name it. It went on from 1912 to 1915 in the Amazon when, in a frantic effort to get natural rubber to fight the First World War, British banks bankrolled an episode of genocidal brutality that is remarkable both for the depth of the horror and for how thoroughly it’s been completely forgotten. And what they did, these British banks, they financed this Peruvian mafia called the House of Arana to basically enslave Indians over a vast area of the Amazon and force them to extract the natural rubber under pain of death. And there are endless stories of the atrocities. People had the soles of their feet removed by machete if they didn’t meet the rubber quotas. And just nightmare after nightmare. If you want to read about it, there’s the British Royal High Commission under Roger Casement. And that was another story. You see, Roger Casement was the last man hung for homosexuality by the British Crown. He had been the British Consul General in Rio de Janeiro and had exposed this rubber atrocity and all the collusion of British banks and stuff like that. But a few years later, he expressed Irish sympathies. Sympathies with the Easter rising of 1919, and immediately the foreign office came forward with love letters between him and Parnell, the Irish revolutionary, and he was hung for being a homosexual.
But anyway, La Chorrera had this very dark history of these rubber atrocities. Well, we rolled in there, and immediately there began the unfolding over just about a three-week period—I mean, a very short length of time; from the 27th February 1971 until the 22th of March, so a period of just under four weeks—it was like the doorway was standing open. All rational expectation had to be put behind. It was as though our whole lives had built to this moment. And what we thought was a quest for an obscure, orally active tryptamine drug, it turned out it was more as though something—something which had been with us from the cradle—actually lured us to this extremely remote place where there was no way out, no radio, no communication of any sort; lured us to this place to then begin this series of unfolding ideas. And these ideas that were released in that three-week period are basically all I ever worked with. I haven’t had an original thought since March 1971, essentially. It’s just been endless rescinsion and reworking of what happened there.
Well, what happened was: taking a lot of mushrooms and being in this incredibly natural, beautiful, low-toxin environment—I mean, there was barely even radio waves in this place, it was so remote—it was like our minds began to dissolve back into the order of nature. And we began to discover what the order of nature actually is. And it took the form of an idea, which my brother, Dennis—who’s the pharmacologist of the gang, although he wasn’t at the time; he has gone on to become the person he most was before he studied the subject. Now he is a molecular biologist, research pharmacologist, and drug designer. Then he was a 21-year-old kid with a rave. But he proposed that there was a way to take these psychedelic drugs and to use sound to cause a small number of these drug molecules to permanently bond into the DNA. The term for this is intercalate. And it’s known now, although it wasn’t known then, that many drugs do this. Many drugs do intercalate. You all know how DNA is a double helix with nucleotide rungs on the ladder? Well, certain molecules—especially certain drug molecules—can slide right in between the rungs of that ladder. And without imparting any physical deformation to the molecule they can change its properties. In fact, this may be how psychedelic drugs work.
Now, we’re at the edge of known physiology and neurophysiology when we talk like this. One of the great puzzles of biology, or human biology, is the persistence of memory. In other words, it’s said that every molecule in your body is cycled within a five-year period, that six years ago there wasn’t a single atom in your body that is now in your body. The form persists, but the matter is traded in and out—except in one case, which is: the neurons do not trade out. The neurons that you’re born with are the neurons that you die with. So then, the problem here is memory. You can be 70 years old and have an absolutely crystal-clear memory of your first day of attending school in that red brick school house 65 years ago. Okay. Conservatively, seven times every molecule in your body has been swapped out. So where has this memory been all this time that you can pull it up with perfect clarity? This is a great mystery of metabolism, unsolved to this day.
There are several possibilities. One possibility is that memories are not located in the body at all—although suggesting this is no magic bullet. It raises a number of questions probably as difficult to solve as the original question for which this was proposed as a solution. Okay, what are the other possibilities? The memories must be stored, then, in the non-degrading part of the body. The non-degrading part of the body is the neural DNA—the cell nuclei of neurons don’t change within your lifetime. Well, so then you take this idea to an orthodox molecular biologist or neurophysiologist or geneticist, and they say, “Well, this is just bunk. In the first place, you don’t understand the concept ‘information.’ The kind of information which is stored in DNA is sequences of nucleotides which code for protein. To confuse that with an image of your great-grandmother’s face is to just have such a mush of categories that it’s hopeless to even talk to you.” Okay, so that destroyed the supposition, but it didn’t solve the problem of memory.
What about the possibility that what happens when you remember that school house 65 years ago that you aren’t remembering it, you are remembering the last time you remembered it? That you only actually remember that school house once, and then every time after that all you remember is the last time you remembered it?
But what if you haven’t remembered it for 50 years? I mean, this happens.
But I’m suggesting that you’re not remembering it each time, you’re only remembering a snapshot of it. You remember the last time you remembered it.
But what if that was more than that length of time ago?
Yeah. That doesn’t solve this problem of how is the memory trace able to persist?
Well, so Dennis’s notion was: he said that some form of superconductivity must be involved. Now, this was 1971. Superconductivity was not known to occur more than 3⁄10 of a degree above absolute zero. He said, “No, there must be room-temperature superconductivity going on in the DNA. This must be how the DNA preserves information.” Now, if you know anything about superconductivity, it is the perfect physical phenomenon to use for preserving information because no information degrades in a superconducting circuit. Say you have a ring of super-cooled gold and you impart an electric current to this ring: that current—barring interruption of the superconducting state—will circle that gold ring with zero resistance for eternity. Now, the only thing which can cause the superconducting phenomenon to cease is if a high-energy source overwhelms the superconductivity, comes in from the outside and disrupts it.
Yeah. That doesn’t solve this problem of how is the memory trace able to persist?
Now, think about the problem that nature faces with the genetic machinery. The key to life is error-free copying. Wherever there is error, then there becomes mutation or problem or incompatibility. So all of the strategies of genetic preservation of information seek to maximize the absence of error. So the perfect mechanism for doing this would be a superconducting mechanism. Now, you see, the major cause of mutation in the natural environment is cosmic radiation, ambient cosmic rays, high-energy particles that smash into the genome, physically collide with the DNA, and break the bonds and disrupt the message so that it can’t be copied. Superconductivity would be the natural medium to retard this process. So Dennis’s notion was that the DNA was a kind of superconducting storage device and that, in fact, what we call the Jungian unconscious or the racial memory or the genetic memory could be tapped into and that, what a drug trip is, is a neurotransmitter that competes with serotonin that then broadcasts off this genetic memory bank a slightly different slice of the catalog. Serotonin broadcasts are the equivalent of traffic and weather reports where it tells you how to get around in the world, and where not to go, and how to avoid problems. If you swap out the serotonin channel for the psilocybin channel, suddenly it’s the equivalent of Pacifica Radio: it’s running philosophy discussions and classical music from another planet, you see? Because the efficiency and the emphasis of these neurotransmitters is different.
Well, so we went through a series of startling revelations and experiences using this idea, because he was dead serious about doing this and decided that I would be the likely candidate for what he called hypercarbolation. And that we would saturate me with drug molecules, and then he knew how to do the thing to make an ordinary trip turn into the forever-trip by locking these molecules into their bond sites. Oh, and that’s the piece of the puzzle that I didn’t explain that you might not realize: when a molecule is at zero degrees absolute, it becomes superconducting. So if you can cool a molecule to that level, it will immediately bond permanently to whatever is physically nearby. So Dennis said, what you do is: you saturate your body with these drug molecules, and then—using a complex theory of harmonic canceling, which I won’t regale you with this evening—he thought there was a way to generate sound that would affect a very small number of these drug molecules and cause them actually to superconductively bond into the DNA. And then the trip would be permanent. The trip would be scripted into the genome, or at least for the life of the organism. And he suggested that if you make the DNA superconducting in this way that, eventually, death is no problem. It’s just sort of like a shedding, and you go into the rivers and the water in the air, and you become very tiny. You become the size of your DNA nucleus.
Well, I thought that this was a very highly unlikely notion. So unlikely that, since he was so gung-ho to try it, the best thing to do would be to just let it rip. And if there was something there, that would be interesting. But that I was willing to bet dollars to doughnuts against it. Well, he set up the experiment, he did the experiment, and he had made very extravagant and inflated predictions about what would happen. He thought that you would literally give birth to your mind as a physical substance. I don’t know whether it would flow out of your nose or where it would come from, but he thought that there was a kind of superconducting, hyper-…“translinguistic matter,” he called it. He thought there was a way to dissolve the boundaries between matter and spirit and create an obsidian fluid that would be obedient to your own imagination, that would in fact be you. You would just preserve your body as a convenient reference point. But you would actually become this stuff.
What were you guys on?
I’m telling you! So I thought, “Huh, sure. So try it.”
What’s to lose?
Yeah, what’s to lose? We didn’t come all this way for nothing. You say you know what you’re doing. Nobody else has a clue. So go for it!
Well, what happened was not what he predicted, but not nothing. And that was the great puzzlement of this experience. Because what happened was: immediately after this procedure was carried out, I could tell that something had changed in me. And it took me a few hours to figure out what it was. And what it was, was: it was though a switch had been thrown and I began to understand. That’s all it was. It was—Whitehead defines “understanding” as “the apperception of pattern as such.” And suddenly, I began seeing things very differently. I began to see the relationships between things. On one level and among levels. And I stopped sleeping. I didn’t sleep for eleven days. Effortlessly! And every night during this eleven days I would, in the late evening, I would just become very, very impatient for all these people to go to bed—my companions—because the chatter of the camp would interrupt my thoughts. And what I just wanted to do was: I would just go in the jungle, and I would just put my hand on a tree, and I would just stand and think and think and think and think and think. And it was this endless cascade. It was not like a psychedelic trip. There was no hallucination, there was simply this unfoldment. And it was like as though I was just filled to overflowing with gnosis. I would sit down on this ground and begin thinking, and I would lose myself in my thoughts. And when I would come back to my situation I would look down in front of myself and see that, while I had been thinking, my hands had built a fire out of small sticks. It was as though everything was cognitive activity.
Dennis went what would be conventionally called a psychotic episode, but it wasn’t a typical psychotic episode. It was a kind of turning inside out so that he became—in a single moment after the hypercarbolation, it was like he ended up at the other end of the universe, turned inside out, and headed backwards. And over the next 14 days he came through a progressive narrowing of his… what he was identifying with. So that: first it was the whole universe, then it was the galaxy, then the solar system, then each of the planets moving in, then all life on Earth, then all mammals, then all human beings, then all Irish, then, finally, all the McKennas there ever were. And then, finally, the question was: was he him or me? And then he got that sorted out, finally. And then he was fine—shaken, but fine.
We’ve now reached the 22nd of March 1971, and I was just… I couldn’t talk to anybody. I was in a very, very, very, very strange place. I mean, things went on—well, just as an example, because there wasn’t much of this 3D stuff that you could wrap your mind around, but everything was teaching me. Everything had a message for me. And I would go out into the jungle and I would raise my arms above my head and I would call the butterflies into me out of the jungle. And they would come! First by dozens, and then by hundreds. And I would stand there, and here’s how the thought progression would go: I would call the butterflies in, and then it would move me to tears. So there I am, standing, covered with butterflies, tears of joy streaming down my face, and streaming down my face, and streaming down my face. And finally I begin thinking, “So now what?” And then I think, “Ah! The people back at the camp who doubt me. Those bastards! Wait till they see this!” So then I would go to the camp smiling the tiny smile that only Buddhas can manage, and I would invite them into the jungle to see something unannounced. And so they would say, “Well, I don’t know. You’re just… uh, all right, we’ll go.” So then we would go into the jungle, and I would raise my hands above my head, and I would call the butterflies in, and none would come! And these people were just saying, “Oh god! It’s getting worse and worse and worse! Your brother is nuts, you have delusions of grand— This is pathetic! This is a mind in wreckage. This is the green hell. This is the thing we feared the most!” You know?
And so, eventually—and any of you who are self-diagnosed as schizophrenic will agree with me on this, I’m sure—the key to surviving schizophrenia in one piece and avoiding massive intervention by the mental healthcare authorities is: shut up! Shut up about it! Do not talk about it! All the—of course you can raise the dead and heal the sick and divine distant events, but just shut up about it or you’re not going to make it through. Eventually, everybody else sort of renegotiated themselves back to some kind of reality. My brother flew back to the States. And I was, in a sense, left in the Amazon to mull all this.
So is there unfinished business from last night? Yeah?
Was the voice that was directing you on the Timewave stuff—is this something that’s done under the influence that you hear this voice, or it’s just your natural… you just hear this voice whenever?
Well, it’s sort—you know, we talked last night about… Dennis had this notion that he could bond these molecules in permanently, and… you know, you only get to be one person, so it’s very hard to know what it’s like to stand in someone else’s shoes. But going into that experience in the Amazon I was a fairly disorganized… I don’t think I had a very bright future, actually. And I spent my last dime to get in there. So it was some kind of heart of darkness thing where I was just pulling out all the plugs and sinking deeper and deeper. And since then, my life has the character of pure science fiction. I mean, it’s—I sort of became the alien ambassador and was given a sinecure and appointed to, then, mediate between the other and a certain kind of person in a certain kind of society. So the weirdness never leaves me, to answer your question. But, in a sense, this idea is completed now. I mean, there are always unanswered questions, but the complete metaphor is there.
The mystery, I think, is… well, it has two sides: it has a profound side and an absurd side. The profound side is: is the world tidally locked with an extra-dimensional object of some sort that has sucked an animal species into history and is, you know, revealing itself through the transformation of our flesh and machines? And if not, on this schedule of 2012 and so forth, then what does this idea exist for? Is it just simply that I have a peculiar pathology married to a certain amount of charisma, so instead of being locked up and dragged away I can turn it into a marketable product in a very marginal way that allows me to keep paying my phone bill and stuff like that? Is that what it is? Notice that the idea is not designed to last. It’s designed to auto-destruct one way or the other in 2012. So this whole ideological vision has written all over it, “Perishable. Apply immediately. Do not use after December 22, 2012 A.D.” So I don’t really understand much about what’s going on. It seems to me there are levels and levels and veils and veils.
It puzzles me that life seems to have become some kind of story. It’s much ore a literary construct than it is the product of the stochastic motions of atoms under the impingement of the four basic forces of physics. Everything appears to me to be authored in some strange way. And I wonder if this is not the spreading assumption of the psychedelic illusion/delusion/revelation that life is, in fact, art in some very profound way. And then, being somehow fated to literature and the spoken and written word, I wonder: if this is a novel, if this is a construct of artifice, well then it behooves each one of us to ask the question: who am I in the plot? Who am I in the context of the story? I mean, maybe it’s your story. The Shlomo Eckbock story, you know? Or maybe you exist to draw the bath for m’lady on page 220 and then bow your way out of the room never to be heard of again in the story, you know? That wonderful line in Proofrock:
I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, will do
To start a scene, swell a procession
Advise the prince
Careful, obtuse, meticulous,
At times a bit ridiculous.
Anyway. Are you that person or are you Prince Hamlet? And then the question becomes: if you, the character in this literary construct, are slowly becoming aware that it’s a literary construct, then is that part of the plot? Is this a story about a sort of Pirandello-esque exposition of the levels of personality as we rise into awareness that we are caged by artifice? Or are you getting out from under the control of the author?
I sort of think that… well, one thing that I’ve sort of discovered as my career has gone through its circuitous and glacial advancement is that, as you make your way into what are called the “corridors of power,” you discover they’re remarkably uncrowded and there are no waiting lines at the water fountains. There doesn’t seem to be anybody really running the show above the level which just makes sure that UPS delivers on time. Above there, where you would think there would be—you know, in the captain’s tower—there’s a kind of eerie emptiness. And I think that means that one can aspire upward in this matter of taking a little bit more control of the plot, and that the goal is not so much to advance your character, act out your character and—by brilliant marriages or daring military campaigns or feats of investment genius—to somehow begin to take over the stage. This isn’t the way to move the evolution of the personality. The way to move the evolution of the personality is toward empathy and eventual simulation of the viewpoint of the author. The author is the one who is in charge of the pattern and has some kind of a vision which, if the author knows what she or he is doing, this is all being woven toward a hierophany, a catharsis that illuminates, educates, leaves us in a better place. And I think the payoff on this is: if you become the author, the author is sort of in the position of a programmer. The author can save or destroy any character. So if you become the author you can write an ending that will save your character from the destruction that was inevitably built into it for you to get into this mess in the first place, you see?
Now, what lies behind such raving as this? Can this coffee really be that strong?
Terence, when you were in the jungle and Dennis had his 14-day psychotic episode or whatever it was, did he take the same drug that you did? Did you both do the same thing?
Very shortly after we got into it, he didn’t do any drugs because it was perfectly clear that he had no need of them. The way it worked was: we had a series of mushroom trips. Well, we had walked all this way through the jungle. And later I had occasion to walk that trail again—110 clicks—and it was so difficult the second time that I had to face the fact that the first time we had actually had, like, wings on our feet or something. We accomplished an impossible physical feat without even noticing that we were doing it. And then, when we got there, we had a series of mushroom trips. And on the third mushroom trip we were talking in the hut. It was in the middle of the night. And he was saying how he regretted that he hadn’t been able to reach our father by telephone before he left for Colombia because he hadn’t been able to really say goodbye properly. You know, this kind of unsettled trip. And we were all sitting in hammocks in darkness. And you could hear a Witoto walking on the trail because his transistor radio was on. You always know when an Amazon Indian is nearby because they’re tuned to… anyway.
So we could hear this Indian with his transistor radio winding up the trail toward us. I remember, it was an ad for Costeña: los cerveza mas mejor de Colombia! And then, as it came and faded, then Dennis made this very strange noise, which was like a metallic… well, a very strange noise. And it was like, that was really, for him, the moment. It came in a moment. And then we talked, and he was agitated all night long, and he kept wanting to go down the hill to where these other people were sleeping, and it was… And by morning he was saying, “You know what we could do with this?” And then he just laid out this whole theory of molecular canceling and molecular intercalation. But drugs had a surprisingly little amount to do with it once he caught the wave.
So you never used ukuhe?
We went through this whole thing at La Chorrera and left at the end of March, and the woman I was with and I stayed in Colombia another month. Everybody else went back. And we wrestled with it another month. And I was quite out of it, I think. I believed that she would give birth to the word itself, and I believed that it would be a little glass faience bead that I had lost in Laos five years earlier. And when she began to develop a round sore on the top of her mouth that was exactly the size of this thing, then I realized that this little object would drop down onto her tongue someday soon, and she would deliver it to me, and that it would be the word made flesh. It would be the… now are you alarmed? Now? Now do you begin to get the drift that we’ve attempted to suppress so long? And, you know, I thought that this thing would essentially be a suitable second body—I can’t explain it. It was the philosopher’s stone, it was everything. We were nuts, let’s face it!
But on the other hand, there was—concentrically surrounding this thing—there were immense synchronicities. The world around us seemed to be mad as well. It seemed like we were caught in the infundibulum of the concrescence, or something. It’s now what I would expect to happen just days or hours before the final closure on that wave that we looked at last night. But in our local domain it seemed to be happening for us then. I was flaming, and it took me years and years to dial it down so that it’s even as friendly and packagable as it is in the present moment, because for a long time it wasn’t. It just drove people to the walls. They just said, “I don’t know, and I don’t want to hear any… and I’ve had it, and call me when you’re better.”
Would you say, though, [???] inhibitor reaction?
Well, we did brew ayahuasca and take it. But I think, having lived with shamans since then and having learned a lot, lot more about ayahuasca, I think that the ayahuasca that we brewed was so weak as to be dismissable.
Uh, yeah, you had mentioned a transformation of flesh and machinery. With your understanding of shamanism, could you speak a little bit to shape shifting? Their idea of shape shifting? And how that may occur as far as our end point here—our common end point? And also, because [???] technology that allows us to pattern these theories, and perhaps bring us our own notion of authorship due to that, and what that means for our own flesh transformation.
Yes, well, in a way, I think these new technologies of information retrieval and virtual realities and this sort of thing are simply the engineering mentality following along behind the shamanistic intent, and putting it in place in silicon and glass and so forth and so on. The persistent rumor in real off-river Amazon psychedelic shamanism is of this fluid, this stuff—which you can generate out of your body under the influence of these compounds—that is this trans-linguistic matter, this spirit-matter amalgam which you literally give birth to out of your own body. And what the claim is that’s made for this stuff is: it’s like a collapse of ordinary geometry. There are stars inside this stuff. You can also look into it and see who stole the pig, you know? You can look into it and you can see how the fishing would be if you moved upriver. It’s a cybernetic, trans-dimensional medium of some sort that is generated out of the mysteries of the physiology of the human body. Well, god, this is so far off the beaten track from anything in the Western repertoire of conception that we just gape at the notion. And it’s hard to get confirmation, but what they say… See, ayahuasca is all about group-mindedness, states of group-mind. It’s also, when you analyze it chemically, it’s brain soup. There’s nothing in ayahuasca that isn’t in your brain as we sit here. It’s made out of DMT, and it’s made out of beta carbolines like harmine and harmaline. These things all occur naturally in your brain. So in these off-river tribal situations, people take it all in a group, and when the boundaries dissolve there is a group-mind present that is able to make decisions. And the shape-shifting and the mystery of—who was it we were just talking about? The fallacy of misplaced concreteness. This is the fallacy which haunts the Western mind. For the shaman, attention gathers energy to itself. And so you can create a projection.
So the mystery of shamanism and the mystery of the psychedelic experience is a mystery of language. How can we—we are imprisoned by language, and yet it should be our vehicle for liberation. And something has happened to our language through the phoenetic alphabet, through the abuse that print has laid onto our thinking. You all probably know the ideas of Marshall McLuhan, who felt that the linear quality of print created such notions as the citizen, the industrial assembly line, the theory of interchangeable parts—a whole bunch of conceptions which we take totally for granted are, in fact, adumbrations of the shift of sensory ratios caused by an unexamined acceptance of the printed word.
One thing probably worth talking about this morning is: is there hope in all of this? And some people find my rap very ambiguous because this meltdown point in 2012—which we slap-dashedly sometimes refer to as the end of the world and so forth—seems, number one: irrational, number two: despairing. Well, I don’t think we can do too much about its irrationality. But I think living in the light of the expectation of something like that orders your priorities. And in case you didn’t notice, we all have our own mini-apocalypse built right in. You may miss the end of the world, but you definitely are going to have a front row seat for the end of your world, so, you know, is that any less profound? Are you such a selfless Democrat that you’re more interested in the end of the world than the end of your world?
I think it’s a sort of light-hearted way to follow the Tibetans into the notion that life is a preparation for the big D—although we don’t have to think of it like that. We just say life is preparation for the inevitable collapse of the state-vector into abiological hyperspace. I heard a doctor on NPR last week, and they were talking about cancer or something. Anyway, something where a lot of people die. And he was saying, “Yes, well, it isn’t easy to prepare people for the mortality experience,” and the interviewer said, “Did I understand you to refer to death as ‘the mortality experience’?” I thought that maybe that’s a good idea, you know? Kind of soften the blow. It’s just one more experience.
Well, someone asked, when we first went around, to try and talk about the future. I don’t know if I made the point strongly enough. I wasn’t sure I felt it click. And I think it’s a strong one, and it’s somewhat new with me. It’s this idea that we represent some kind of singularity, or that we announce the nearby presence of a singularity. That the evolution of life and cultural form and all that is clearly funneling toward something fairly unimaginable. I mean, I really don’t think we can imagine our future. Because when we try to project some little science fiction scenario of our future, we inevitably select a very small number of trends, and then we propagate them forward without integrating the forward propagation of everything else that is going to be happening simultaneously.
There are options such as nanotechnology; the building of super-tiny machines. Space migration was once an option; this seems to be fading. It seems to have been written off the menu by the powers that be as the Soviet Union cracks to pieces. The human race’s ability to leave this planet becomes a memory of ancient times. I mean, we could not return to the moon in less than 15 years if we committed ourselves to it tomorrow. So the space-thing seems to have been taken off the agenda. There’s nanotechnology, there’s virtual reality. The present solution seems to be this enforced larval neoteny on the consuming blue-collar masses in the high-tech societies, and triage through epidemic disease and mismanagement in the third world.
It’s a huge mix, this problem of saving the world or halting the forward thrust into catastrophe. People say, “Well, why do you worry about saving the world? You just said it’s going to end in 2012.” I don’t see that rap as any sort of permission for political irresponsibility or a lack of attention to world problems. If it’s true—great, we’re golden. If it’s not true, and what a long shot it is, then we should still keep our eye on the ball with all of this stuff.
Somebody asked me once, “You’re always talking about saving the world. Why don’t you ask the mushrooms how to save the world?” And I had never actually done that. And I did it recently. And the results were very interesting. I don’t often get messages from the mushroom that I quake to bring into the public arena, fearing an avalanche of political criticism. But when I asked the mushroom how we could save the world, it hesitated approximately a third of a second, and then it said, “Every woman should bear only one natural child.” An idea which had never occurred to me, actually. Which I now have looked into—I’m the father of two children, by the way.
This is a very interesting notion. The population of the Earth would drop by 50% in 40 years. Without war, progrom, displacement of populations, so forth and so on. Another interesting thing about this suggestion from the mushroom is, it requires very little input, impact, or management by men, this suggestion. Women have been powerless for millennia. Now, apparently, here’s a suggestion of how they could take great power without asking any man’s permission.
That’s not quite accurate.
It’s not quite accurate, we’ll get—
It’s actually, practically, not that accurate at all.
Oh? Well, tell me why.
Well, because—there’s two reasons, I would say. From a practical standpoint, being a woman who is still fertile, no birth control is 100% effective.
Yes. Is that it?
No. And the second one is, there are women in a lot of situations—be that reasons like political reasons where there are men—just like there’s men all over the country sort of following abortion clinics. To me it doesn’t seem accurate to say that it’s totally in the hands of women.
Well, let me try and convince you. I took this simple suggestion—each woman should have one natural child—and I began looking into it. And then I found a demographer who told me what I consider to be the second piece of this puzzle. And this I had never thought of. A woman who has a child on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, or Malibu, or Berkeley—that child will have 800 to 1,000 times the negative impact on the carrying capacity and resources of the Earth of a child born to a woman in Bangladesh because of the difference in material culture, you see? Well, now, that implies, to me, that if you wanted to make a social change in the area of the impact of the human population on the Earth, then you should not preach contraception and birth control in the back streets of Dhaka and Lahore, you should preach it in Malibu, and Berkeley, and Manhattan.
Now, the interesting thing about that is that these are the people—these women are the people you are most likely to convert to your point of view. They are college-educated, comfortable, all the resources of media are available to them, they are informed, intelligent, educated, healthy people—self-involved people. So you can come to these women and you can say, “Here’s the deal: we want you to follow a course of action which will increase your disposable income, increase your leisure time, and propel you to the forefront of political heroism without contest.” You see? Now, the use of resource by these populations, these women and their children, is so intense, the pyramid is so steep, that your objections about birth control isn’t effective and so forth—I’ll bet you that if you could get 15% of the women in that population to commit themselves to this one natural child thing, that within 10 years there would be a measurable margin of relief on the extraction of world resources. So that, here is a way to back away from the abyss without, you know, nightmarish reorganization of society, engineered diseases, third world triage, all this other stuff. And in the first 40 years, the population would fall by half, then the next 40 years it would fall by half again. The amount of wealth that would be accruing to those still alive—everybody would see their standard of living rise quite naturally as a consequence of the falling pressure on resources.
Now, why is this—if it’s such a great idea—not being done? Here’s why as far as I can figure out. It’s because nobody can figure out how you make a buck in that situation!
Why can’t all the men have vasectomies after they’ve fathered one child?
Well, yes. The method—how you achieve it—is debatable. I think men should cooperate with the effort. But the point is this one natural child per mother. Now, you see, the first argument you hear is that this is bad for children. But the average American family is under three children. Most people have two children. Now, what’s the history of having two children? Having two children has nothing to do with traditional family patterns or human child-rearing. Two children is a compromise between the natural family of six to eight, and the demands of the industrial revolution, and the guilt of Christian civilization. Two children is a horrible number of children to have. Mostly, when you have two children, they fight like cats and dogs. And it’s just a horrible compromise between the way people used to have huge extended families and the industrial revolution’s preference for your actually having as few children as possible to make you a more efficient worker.
Well, this is a peculiarly nuts-and-bolts suggestion. It’s not airy-fairy at all. And yet, it would work. And it’s the only other thing I’ve thought of besides mass-dosing of the population with psilocybin that seems to be a humane way to put the brakes on. Because we have real problems, folks. We are very insulated. But if you saw the data on the ozone hole—you know, they’ve been wailing about the ozone hole for five or six years, saying that it’s disappearing at a rate of 4% a year. Well then, last week, they announced that 40% of it disappeared in the last six months. This should have been a special meeting of the United Nations with all heads of state attending; a complete emergency. Instead, you know, who Bill Clinton is screwing pushed it off the front page. I mean, this is the kind of shit-for-brains society that we’re living in.
So we have real problems. And I have never head a plan for pulling back from the abyss that had less coercion and less ideological freight to it than this one woman, one child thing. You see, it doesn’t address politics, it addresses biology. Overpopulation is what’s driving us crazy. All other problems—toxic waste disposal, epidemic disease, resource extraction, degradation of the environment, collapse of the atmosphere, inability to satisfy third-world aspirations—all of these problems are population problems. And capitalism doesn’t want to talk about it because capitalism is not a human being. Capitalism is a Moloch, a god, a god of bloody sacrifice that sees human beings as ants. And the more ants there are, the more offerings there can be to Moloch. But this is not a good situation for us ants. And, you know, capitalism is a gun pointed at the head of global civilization. If you read the theoreticians of capitalism—Adam Smith and so forth—capitalism assumes an unlimited exploitable frontier. There is no such creature! So it has turned pathological. The only frontier now left to exploit is not a frontier in space, but a frontier in time. We steal the future from our children by plunging massively deeper and deeper into debt. But this frontier—the end is in sight. And when we hit that wall, we will join the Eastern Bloc in a fundamental reappraisal of our situation.
Democracy I believe in. I mean, I think democracy is the psychedelic form of government because I don’t see it as a product of rational thought. I see it as institutionalized anarchy. Democracy is biology managed for human purposes, you know? It honors the biological unit. It takes the biological unit and gives it a vote. And that’s a way for Mother Nature to then enter into human history. I mean, I’m fairly mystical about democracy. Sort of like William Blake.
What about the experiment in China on one child, one woman?
Well, I think it was very coercive and I think it shows that it’s silly to preach it to poor women in rural populations. You want to preach it to educated urban women who can evaluate it from many different points of view. You don’t want it to be coercive. I think if you try to do it from the top down, meaning through these college-educated, wealthy women first, that the visible benefit of it would make it the very sheep thing to do throughout the world. The reason people have large families in the third world is because they fear for their security in their old age. You must provide an alternative to that anxiety that is believable, or they’re not going to go for it, you know?
Here as well, not just in…
Yeah, here as well. But to a somewhat lesser degree. But yes, you’re right.
How are you preparing for 2012 yourself, personally?
Well, by going way out on a limb, I guess. People ask me, “What’ll you do if nothing happens in 2012?” Well, by god-sent coincidence, my sixty-fifth birthday occurs a month before the date. So then, I think I’ll just steal away in disgrace and find myself a girl on an island who runs fish traps and disappear forever. As to what I do in the meantime… I should make it clear: I don’t believe this stuff. I find believing in these high-flown complicated synthetic systems to come off sort of like pathology. So I entertain ideas, but I don’t give belief over. I’m very amazed by the Timewave. It continuously surprises and delights me, and I don’t know… very few people are obviously as into it as I am. But it’s proof enough, as far as I’m concerned. I mean, it’s all I ever would’ve asked for, you know? It’s a gem from the other. It’s Aladdin’s lamp. It’s what I wanted and I got it.
At one point, in La Chorera, naturally, this question arose in our group: “Why us?” You know? Why us? Why are the aliens revealing the unified field theory of space and time to us? And the mushroom just replied without hesitation, “Because you don’t believe in anything.” You know? And that, apparently, is what’s required. D’y’all know that Van Morrison song about “no guru, no method, no teacher, just you and me and nature in the garden. In the garden”? I think that’s actually where it’s at. So what I do, between now and 2012, is: I’m a meme-spreader, a meme-replicator.
A meme is a terrible thing to waste.
A meme is a terrible thing to waste. And the purpose of these teaching-things is to turn you into fellow replicators of the meme. I mean, I see it all in the metaphors of molecular biology. I have a new sequence of codons here, and I want to insert it into each one of you without error in copying, and then you should go forth and tell other people and copy it into their head, and this meme will spread. Because we cannot evolve faster than our language. The edge of being is the edge of meaning, and somehow we have to push the edge of meaning, we have to extend it. Because if we appear to be confronted by insoluble problems, it’s because we have the wrong language for dealing with this problem. You know, you learn that with computers. Certain languages are good for certain kinds of problems. And we have to constantly evolve language and push it forward. And the way I think of the psychedelics is: they are catalysts to the imagination. That’s what they were back 100,000 years ago.
The imagination—which was just this glimmering, this iridescence on the surface of ape cognition—was under the influence of the reciprocal feedback of self-reflection, you know, that is created by watching your own mind because it has suddenly become interesting, because it has suddenly been flooded by a psychoactive amine. That iridescence has been coaxed into language, art, architecture, music, poetry, the whole ball of wax. But now we know these things. It’s no longer a sort of haphazard process. We can—by analyzing different kinds of cultures existing in the world today and cultures that existed in the past—we can uncover, reveal, unravel the lost secret of our origins.
And I think—you know, I haven’t talked too much this weekend, but I’m very keen for the notion of what I call the “archaic revival.” And the archaic revival is this overarching metaphor that is the way for us to go to save our necks at this point. When a culture gets into trouble, instinctively, what it does is it goes back through its own past until it finds a moment where things seem to make sense. And then it brings that moment forward into the present. The perfect example is when medieval Christianity no longer made sense to a major proportion or percentage of the people of western Europe, because of the rise of new kinds of classes, new forms of wealth, new information about the world outside Europe—when the medieval vision lost its power, the intellectuals of that time instinctively reached backwards into the past, looking for a stable model. And finally, they reached the golden age Periclean Athens. And there they found Plato, Aristotle, the dramatists, so forth. And they created classicism.
Now, notice that we’re talking, here, about the 1400s. Classicism was brought to birth in the 1400s, 2000 years after the death of Plato. And we are still, to a tremendous degree, we are the children of this classical revival which we call the Renaissance. Our theories of law, our theories of government, our notion of justice, our notions of city-planning, of architecture, military planning and so forth and so on are all drawn from classical Greek and Roman models that were brought back from the dead 500 years ago by a bunch of Italian investment bankers who thought this was a good model to build on to hang their civilization on. And now this has run out. The contradictions are too extreme. Classicism—I don’t want to say it’s failed, but it has just taken us as far as it can go.
So now, we—again, we confront great existential confusion. We confront cultural values completely different from our own, such as rain forest aborigines and so forth, we confront the toxic legacy of modern science, the retreating species counts of the Earth, the decaying atmosphere, all these things. So we must now reach far back into time for a new cultural model. Our crisis is so great that we have to reach back to the high Paleolithic, to the moment immediately before the invention of agriculture and the creation of the dominator ego. And I see—you know, people talk about the new age and the new paradigm and this and that—well, it’s larger than that. It’s been going on throughout the twentieth century. The purification of mescaline in Berlin in 1897, Freud begins to publish around the turn of the century, Jung—they are discovering the primitive unconscious. They are revealing to Edwardian and Viennese ladies and gentlemen of great culture and breeding that they have inside them brawling, incestuous, violent, lust-driven animal natures. In other words, they are reintroducing an awareness of the primitive into this tremendously constipated, male-dominated, late-nineteenth century, post-Victorian cultural milieu.
And then, following hard upon them, the Impressionists in the 1880s giving away to analytical cubism and all that. Cubism arose as a result of the fascination of a few artists with primitive African masks. Picasso and his circle. And when they brought this stuff back to Paris in 1905 through 1915, nobody had ever seen this kind of thing. And these guys began trying to deconstruct the pictorial space of people like Degas and those people into the pictorial space of the primitive mentality. Meanwhile, anthropologists were bringing in and Frazer published the Golden Bough, which laid before the European intellectual community this vast repository of integrated mythology. National socialism, surrealism, all of these things—some negative, some positive—are all aspects of the twentieth century fascination and revivification of the primitive. Rock’n’Roll. The rise of sexual permissiveness. The rise of styles of dancing which were not the minuet and so forth. All of this signals this fascination with the primitive.
But at the center of it stand two phenomena, or two integrated phenomena: the personality of the shaman and the fact of the psychedelic experience. And we’ve come late to that, you know? The 1960s is when this theme was first announced for any large number of people. And I think that we have to consciously deconstruct this constipated, classical, industrial, linear, dominator civilization that we’re trapped inside because it’s a vehicle we can’t steer. It’s glued to the tracks which run right over the cliff. If we can not alter the assumptions of this society, if the George Bushes and Helmut Kohls of this world are going to continue to run things, then, you know, head for the bunkers, folks, and pray! Because the bunkers aren’t going to be any consolation.
Terence, I’m sorry. I’ve been listening very closely to you for a few days, and I hear what you’re saying here and I’m trying to formulate a question. I guess my question is—and maybe it’s a political question—because there’s so many people who, at this moment, although they recognize that not all is well [???], you know, they’re reasonably comfortable still, they have a certain amount of self-image, and wealth, and personality invested in this terrible, corrupt system. And, by and large, they’re the ones who are at the reigns and control the resources. You know? How does the archaic revival be made attractive and seductive and pleasurable and aesthetic? To these people, especially? Not to mention, you know, the influx of Latino economic refugees into the country, who just want a television set, man?
Yeah, well, this is a real problem: that the third world people can only aspire to the example they’ve been given, and it’s an example of consumerism and so forth.
And it’s a—may I just say?
Yeah, go ahead.
It’s an example not only of consumerism, but of a certain freedom and liberation of human expressiveness and spirit. That they perceive—you know, it’s not that all people are fucked up. They look at America and this consumer culture and they see the good parts, you know?
Well, I think that you can’t reform human nature. So what we have to do, then, is dematerialize the culture in some way. And I don’t talk too much about this because, frankly, I haven’t really got a clue as to how you would do that. I mean, I know there’s nanotechnology and so forth and so on. But what we need to do is take the matter out of thing-dom. So that everybody can live in the Frank Lloyd Wright Waterfall House. I mean, it costs $9.99 and you buy it at the 7-11 and take it home and slap it on, and you can live in it!
So that’s why I, in spite of my nature-boy thrust in most contexts, I’m very interested in virtual reality and the idea of making the imagination explicit or interiorizing the exterior world. I mean, one vision that I’ve had of a kind of future utopia is, it opens on a world which looks like our world of 10,000 years ago: people live tribally, they are physically perfect, they’re naked, they want for nothing. But they appear to have no material culture whatsoever. Then, when you shift your point of view so that you’re inside one of these people’s heads, you discover that, when they close their eyes, there are menus hanging in space in front of them. And by glancing at these menus with a certain intensity they are able to make their way into a culture that is entirely three-dimensionally present for them, but which nowhere impinges on the world of three-dimensional space. Sort of the idea that you could have the Vatican library installed optionally when you have dental work, you know? And then just by pushing your tongue over there, why, you could view the Fabrianos, or whatever.
I don’t think this is that far-fetched. I mean, a lot of money is going toward this. Money can be made from this. And remember, I was saying that we have to figure out—unless we’re ready to, you know, hang the rascals—then we’re going to have to figure out some way to make money out of saving the world so that capitalism can seize its rapacious destruction of things. And I think these entertainment technologies are the way to go. I think that what we should all be trading in, in 15 to 20 years from now, is ideas. And ideas should be worth more than anything. And this is happening. I mean, I was impressed. There was a virtual reality conference here last summer, and a number of people came from Fujitsu. And the Japanese are not dragging their ass on this stuff the way we are. They understand what it is. And Fujitsu has a research team of 30 people who work full time on virtual reality. And their data-sampling rates and their equipment was far superior to anything here.
The Japanese culture is an excellent model for this future that we’re trying to move into, because what the Japanese seem to understand that nobody else understands is, they’ve had centuries of experience with limited resource management. And, you know, our style is cut it down, dig it out, and when it’s gone, move on. And now we’re at the end of our rope with that. We have to manage this thing like a spaceship; limited resources.
Isn’t—looking at the context of the purpose, the events, a presumed purpose for the sequence of events or history or transformation, and technology—you know, the illusion of technology being the driver that’s now allowing all of these things as being. What else can you expect to have happened with that kind of power and with a monkey brain? What else would it do than just what it’s done?
And do you see this as not necessarily something to take apart, undo, or wrong, but as a necessary intermediate or mediation toward a future that is being created through these stresses that this technology has set up?
Yeah. History is just a 25,000-year dash from the trees to the starship. And while it’s going on, it’s wild and woolly. But it only lasts like that, and then you’re in the starship. Because we are like bacteria, or something, in the shortness of our lifespan. To us, 25,000 years—you can get lost in the middle of that and you can’t see either end. But from the point of view of a species, it’s just instantaneous.
Anyway, these are the ravings of an unhinged mind. I noticed, last week—speaking of unhinged minds—did any of you see Science News with the cover “Cretaceous Catastrophe” that shows an asteroid impacting the Earth? You know, this thing happened 65 million years ago. It’s now pretty well confirmed that a very large object collided with the Earth and laid down a layer of iridium isotope that you can find in sedimentary material all over the world at a certain stratigraphic level. It’s called the K-T boundary; the Cretaceous–Tertiary boundary. 65 million years ago, everything on this planet larger than a chicken died, and some people think in a single moment, in a single cataclysmic impact. But what was interesting about this Science News article was: they were saying there is puzzling data on the K-T boundary. Because it does appear that there was this immense impact and catastrophe, but what’s peculiar is: there appears to have been a major dieback of species underway before the impact. That, in the million years preceding the impact, there was some kind of eco-crisis on the planet. And then this asteroid struck. And I thought—t had never occurred to me before—I thought… well, two possibilities occurred to me. Is it possible—you know, the dinosaurs that we find are the lumbering, enormous ones, but it’s always agreed that there were a vast number of small-boned, gracile dinosaurs that were much smaller. Is it possible that there was a breakout of intelligence in the saurian line? And that, as we were able to emerge in just under 3 million years, is it possible that there was an intelligent species of reptilian sort that was actually evolving a technical civilization which then caused this dieback of species? I mean, this had never occurred to me before. And then it was wiped out by this impact. Although, whenever you have intelligent life in the presence of large explosions, a safe bet is that the intelligent life is responsible for the large explosions. So it may be that there was war in heaven 60 million years ago.
The other possibility which occurred to me second was: one scenario for solving our problem is a mass migration into the past. That, if we could literally dump this whole scene and go 100 million years into the past of the planet and set up there, in a confined zone—if it were only 10,000 years deep, it would never show in any fossil record. It would just be—if we held ourselves to a 10,000-year-wide window, that’s such a brief period of time and so long ago, that we would basically just appear to have disappeared.
Anyway, I’m constantly churning through this stuff, trying to understand. I think this is a haunted planet, and we are a haunted species. This business of these asteroidal impacts—you see, as an aficionado of novelty, somebody who can project 500 million years on a computer screen and, at 500 million years, the only kind of novelty you’re tracking is biological novelty. The sudden, punctuated forward-surges of evolution and so forth. Well, every solid body in the solar system is heavily cratered. Some of these craters are planet-smashers. There is considerable and ever-increasing evidence that the cosmic neighborhood is fairly unstable. One of the scenarios that I’ve had to entertain in trying to understand the voice inside the mushroom, the Timewave, the 2012 thing, and so forth and so on is: is it possible that biology is somehow prescient, that biology somehow exists in eternity and knows the fate of the planet, and that what we are is a desperate strategy of escape, and that the planet can actually sense the possibility of a complete life-destroying asteroidal impact? And so a species, a bipedal monkey with binocular vision, has been led into the antechamber of nature’s secrets in order to build machineries and unleash energies sufficient to either deflect that incoming object or flee the planet in anticipation of it. I think life is tremendously tenacious and has an immense capacity to organize itself, to meet any crisis—provided it knows it’s coming. And there are scars on this planet, enormous scars. There’s a scar a billion and a half years old on the Canadian shield that is twice the size of the lunar crater Copernicus. This thing that came down 50,000 years ago, out near Flagstaff, Arizona—that was a tiny object. It was something like 30 meters across. It was moving nine times the speed of a rifle bullet. It was six miles into the Earth in the first second of impact. Everything within 800 miles died instantly, and this was a nothing-burger, this thing.
And, you know, the thing at the K-T boundary, the thing which killed the dinosaurs—they now believe they have the impact point. Oh, in fact, this is interesting and it reflects on our psychedelic mix: they’ve searched the planet for the impact point of the K-T killer, whatever it was, and now they’ve located it. And ground zero is at a little town called Progreso on the northern coast of Yucatán. At the time of the impact, the entire area was a shallow ocean. But what I find eerie about the location of this impact point is: 65 million years afterwards, on this exact spot, a civilization will arise obsessed with the end of time and determined to give a date to it. I mean, it’s within 110 miles of Chichen Itza, it’s new Dzibilchaltún, it’s right in the heart of classic Maya country.
So it’s almost as though, you know—the question that I would like to have you leave here with is, a new appreciation of how hard it is to figure out what is going on? I mean, what is going on? It’s very easy to smooth it all out and say, you know, that the Pentagon runs it all, and so forth and so on. But once you start digging, I mean, the world is a labyrinth, a sponge of interconnected labyrinthine interstices; the weirdest connections. You know? Who knew who and what they were doing about it. And then, you know, these reports that come in. And some are false, and some are true. But the sum total of it all is to paint a picture of excruciating weirdness. And people are just not pushing the right buttons. I mean, I guarantee you: you take five dried grams of psilocybin in silent darkness in your own living room on a Saturday night, and, you know… Ferdinand Magellan—move over! You will see things no one has ever seen before and no one will ever see again. And these things are real. They have existential validity. They have the power to move hearts and change lives—if we can but bring them back into the domain of the group mind, of the tribal campfire. We are surrounded of oceans of alien beauty, alien intent, bizarre ideas.
I’m convinced that these things which the tykes offer in the DMT holding pan are idea-systems, ultimately. The Timewave—which, you know, took me four years to create, and requires computer assistance and all this stuff—it was just one of those things. They have closets full of this stuff. And they just pull it out and show it to you and take it away. “Oh, you like that? Try this! How ’bout this?” Each one of these things stretches the monkey mind to its limits. I am a rationalist. And yet, if you press into these weird zones, you can overcome what I call the “trailer court syndrome”—which is, you know, that nobody ever gets kidnapped by a flying saucer except people who live in trailer courts? You can overcome that. You—with your B.A. in psychology and your friendship with Rollo May—you can be kidnapped by flying saucers!
Something about crop circles—
Hah! Crop circles?
No, I know. I just wanted—you mentioned that earlier. And I know these guys said that they made the crop circles, but…
Well, the crop circles are such—first of all, it’s a wonderful example of my contention that the world is made of language. Because whatever the crop circles are, what they are is: they are glyphs of some sort. I mean, they are designed to be seen. It would be absurd to maintain that someone was trying not to be seen. So these crop circles are to be looked at. And then, radiating out from the act of looking at them, reality ripples like air above a desert highway. The UFO people—who were just on the brink of seeking honest work—suddenly, this tremendous shot in the arm. Everybody declares themselves a seriologist and moves to… I mean, nobody seems to think it’s—well, I don’t know how much time to spend on this. No one seems to think it’s weird that all of these Earth mysteries people in England—John Michel and so forth—that this tremendous mystery just happens to be within a three-hour drive of their front door. I mean, why isn’t it happening in the steppes of central Asia? Obviously, it seems to me, it is to be seen by the very people who would then offer an explanation of it. Rupert and I have spent a fair bit of time trying to understand the psychology behind the crop circles. And we have come up with two ideas which I’ll try out on you.
The first thing to notice about the crop circles is that southern England is peppered with military bases of high security. Military bases where nuclear weapons, cruise missiles, so forth and so on—it’s all there. So now we’re asked to believe that the airspace of England is being nightly violated by an agency or agencies unseen and undetectable in the very area where these nuclear weapons are stored, and we’re asked to believe that the ministry of defense is not concerned about this. That either means that the ministry of defense is falling down on their job, or they must know what’s going on. Well, now, Jacques Vallée is the person who pioneered in the study of flying saucers. He said, “the way to understand flying saucers is: don’t ask who’s inside or where do they come from, ask what effect are they having? If you assume they are succeeding in what they want to do, then watch what they do and you will see what their purpose is.” Okay, so what effect are the crop circles having? Well, what they have done is: they are a magnet for the fringe establishment of the British Isles to come out of the woodwork and proclaim the imminence of some great event. And they have come more and more out on this limb. And what I speculated to Rupert was that MI5—which is British Intelligence—it’s possible that they could actually view the New Age as a resurgence of paganism that threatens the Christian establishment of Anglican England. And so what they have done is: they have created a disinformation program. They will lure all these people out onto this limb where they are all saying, you know, “Couldn’t be done by human beings! Absolutely beyond the power of science to explain!” And then they will reveal a team of MI5 folks who say, “Watch. We’ll do it for world TV. You people are all flakes. You should never have gained the power in this society that you have. And now you do have to go find honest work.”
There were those two guys who—
Those two—yeah, they seemed like that. So then, we came up with a yet more elaborate theory, which I somewhat prefer. The only country that has really taken an interest in these crop circles other than the English themselves are the Japanese. And this has gotten immense coverage in Japan in the popular press. And when you go to these crop circles, the number of Japanese is astonishing because it has been written into all these tours apparently, and it’s a photographic subject, and it’s very au courant, and so forth. So it’s a big deal. So what I suggested to Rupert was MTI, which is the Ministry of Trade and Industry—is obviously carrying on a clandestine project in the study of semiotics, in the study of the Western mind and how it relates to the manipulation of certain symbols. Because they are in charge of marketing and advertising and creating a marketing psychology in Japan. So what I think we’re dealing with here is a ultra-clandestine team of ninja stem-snappers who pose as Japanese tourists and television crews and so forth, and then, at the drop of a hat, can flash into this Zen stem-snapping mode and create these things. And the press that it generates and the discussion provides a very deep index into the English mind.
Notice how eerily appealing to the English mind this is. And it’s possible that you can extend this to the cattle-mutilations of a few years ago in the Midwest, because the relationship of cattle-mutilations in the lonely western prairie under a crescent moon—the relationship of that image to the American mystique of the lonesome cowboy and the gunfight at the okay corral, and all that, is eerily similar to the relationship of the English mind to its Earth mysteries out there on the Salisbury plain. So I think it’s a human agency, and that, therefore, it’s some kind of a disinformation project. It’s very interesting that these two guys came forward, because it completely shifted the argument from this “no human being could possibly do it” to “they couldn’t possibly have done all of them.” It was like a deep, defensive mood. And I was amazed at the vehemence of people in England, because I thought it was good fun and that you could talk to anybody about it, and talk about the Ministry of Trade and Industry and MI5. And people were like… they were shocked at my lack of sensitivity to the emerging messages from the telluric depths of the suffering Earth. Hey, maybe it’s happening! But, you know, I was raised in the tradition of Occam’s razor, which says hypotheses should not be multiplied without necessity. And I saw no necessity of reaching out to that.
So one of the things that’s really important, I think, about psychedelic get-togethers—however marginal and contrived—is that everybody gets to see who else is in the community. Most of the time we’re fairly deep in the closet and can’t be told from a typical convention of investment bankers or sports car enthusiasts or anything else. I won’t keep you too long tonight because, as I’ve said, a lot of people came a long distance. I always think about these things before, because I wonder: is it changing? What’s my role in relationship to it? Have I sort of fallen into being some kind of gatekeeper or, in a worst case, a dancing bear? This issue of infotainment. And recently I found myself in clubs at four in the morning raving at people at high decibel with the perfect knowledge that they couldn’t understand a word I was saying. And I wonder: this is a strange thing to happen to a philosopher. Is this what my daddy raised me for?
What clubs are you raving at?
Blow my cover! Well, not in LA yet. In San Francisco we did a rave at—was it the Paradise Club?—down below Market. And in the Fox Warfield I appeared with a shaman, which was insane. They give you a microphone and just push you on stage. Just breathing on one of these microphones makes the walls move back. And Megatripolis in London; I appeared there. And Knowledge. The point being, I keep trying to understand where to put the psychedelic experience in terms of the available cultural pigeonholes. Is it to subvert academic thinking? Is it to ignore all that constipated bourgeois dominator malarkey and go for the kids?
I’ve been here as scholar-in-residence for a week, and so I’ve given a couple of lectures—which, naturally, some of the themes we’ll talk about have been anticipated. I think, what is the point of thinking this way—the way I’m willing to purvey—rather than some other way? What is so great about this point of view? And I decided that it’s actually… the final defense is that it’s the most fun. This is not normally how we evaluate ideologies. Normally, the concern is: which is true? And then, whatever is decided is true—no matter how dreary and depressing that may be—then, somehow, because it’s true, some enormous moral obligation descends upon you to believe in it.
I remember this from my own intellectual journey when I was 14, 15 and 16: the world looked very bleak. And so I read Camus, and Sartre, and the lesser lights of that dreary French existential school. And, because it was true, you had come to terms with it, supposedly. You know, life is a drag! But as you mature intellectually, or as you spiral off the track into madness—whichever my particular development can be described as—you discover that truth is philosophical coinage for the naïve. The banks of philosophy do not trade federal truth certificates. That’s for the hoi polloi. What’s going on among the professionals is something very different; a sense of the limitations of knowledge.
Cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am,” appeared to be a kind of axiom, a kind of bedrock statement. I – think – therefore – I – am. Now, somehow, in the seventeenth century, this appeared to have some kind of incontrovertible logic about it. Like “I am I.” But when you analyze it, it’s an incredibly complex statement embedded in assumptions that can barely be languaged. Just look at the connector “therefore” and try to wrap your mind around what this actually means, and what are the limits of the meaning, and what is implied? It’s a profoundly intuitive concept not easily languaged. All knowing is incredibly provisional, and this is something which is hidden within in the context of a culture. Because cultures don’t run around announcing how they haven’t got their acts together. That’s not what culture is about. Culture is all about announcing how we do have our act together. Look at this Gothic cathedral, or look at this Stonehenge, or look at this wonderful human sacrifice we just put on here. We know what we’re doing. We know how to run nature and ourselves.
In the twentieth century, at last, the evolution of philosophy has become sophisticated enough to sort of question this search for truth. I studied philosophy from somebody some of you may have read or personally known: Paul Feyerabend, who was a wonderful philosopher of science and, essentially, an anarchist. He wrote a book called Against Method, and he talks in there about the provisional nature of knowing and how naïve we are in the ways in which we manipulate data about the world. Just as an example, we imbibe without question the very complex philosophical assumptions that lie behind probability theory. So that, for instance, talking about averages poses no intellectual problem for us. If you want to know how much current is running through a wire and you take ten measurements, you add them, and you divide by ten, we then say, “This is how much current is running through the wire.” Strangely enough, when you go back to your original ten measurements, no one of them may be the value which you now announce to be the true value for the current running through the wire. All of our epistemic enterprise, all of the effort to understand the world, is hedged about by this uncertainty. Wittgenstein was once asked if a particular proposition was true, and he said it’s true enough. And this is the voice of modern philosophy—where, at last, enough simple common sense has sunk into the philosophical enterprise that we’re now talking about things being true enough rather than the revelation of God’s truth. I mean, good grief, if you met a termite wandering across the floor of the jungle and interviewed him on his life’s work and he announced that it was the discovery of certain truth, you would be fairly condescending on how you related to that. But do you believe that you are greatly different in your cosmic positioning than that termite? You know… what? Monkeys are better at this that insects? I don’t think so!
So I spend a lot of time trying to make my ideas seem rationally apprehendable. But, in a way, that’s just sleight of hand. Their attraction for me—and I hope for you—is not their rational apprehendability but that they’re fun. You can’t top this for fun. I mean, if you can, I’ll convert to your way of doing it. Because the phenomenal world is delightful. It’s humorous. It has locked within itself all the adumbrations and reflections of its aspirations, its past and its unfulfilled possibilities. I really think this is what the psychedelic thing is about—or at least for me—it’s a kind of sensual glorification of multiplicity. That’s why, if we were to look at spiritual traditions and try to categorize them into great or weaning categories, then I think what you would get are the minimalist schools which are all about white lights, nirvāṇas, satoris, śūnyatās, and things largely unsayable that discourse despairs of describing. And those ontologies that glorify the phenomenal world—and that would be Paganism, psychedelic thinking, shamanism—notice that these are more nitty-gritty positions not driven by a thirst for abstraction but driven by a thirst for sensation.
To my mind, the centerpiece of the experience of being, and the centerpiece of the psychedelic experience, and the point around which the great issues of modernity revolve is the issue of the felt presence of experience: the relationship of the individual to the sensorium of the body. We see it in all kinds of subtle ways and unsubtle ways. Unsubtle ways: the whole issue about a woman’s right to control her reproductive processes. Subtle ways: the way in which the entire society is an engine for producing certain behavioral outcomes in the marketplace. Everybody is being programmed and manipulated. And I think the antidote to that, in some sense, is this wider appreciation of complexity and experience. Experience.
The reason the psychedelic thing is so powerful and can touch so many people of so many different classes and outlooks is that it’s an experience. It’s not an ideology. So we’re not talking something which competes on a level with, say, Marxism, behaviorism, deconstructionism. This is something which is more operating on the level of sexuality, emotion, devotion. It’s a feeling, and it’s a birthright of the organism that has been socially restricted and controlled in a very weird way. We are literally a schizophrenic species. We are at war with our own nature. Civilization—whatever that means—is felt to be so fragile an enterprise that it’s constantly refusing to come to terms with the context in which it finds itself, which is the animal body, sexuality, emotion, pain, desire, elation, ecstasy. And so we go outside of those things and create a generalized abstraction, and reason backward.
The reason psychedelics, I think, are so frightening to the guardians of social order is because they represent a direct addressing of experience. And for a very long time—I mean, one millennia, five millennia… choose a number—experience has been hierarchically distributed in human society from the top. You get a Christ or a Hitler or a Pope. It’s a leader of some sort, or a visionary. And then the exegesis of the vision is passed down through, and we imbibe it as a product coming with the sanction of social correctness. This has had a kind of neotenizing effect on us as human beings. What I mean by neoteny is the retention of juvenile characteristics. We have allowed ourselves to become more and more childlike to the point where, now, some considerable percentage of us allow ourselves to be warehoused in a larval condition most of our waking lives watching television. And consumer-object-based fetishism, and the cycle of production of money for the acquisition of fetish material, then the inevitable disappointment, the reformulation of the fetish, so forth and so on. This is what occupies us. You know, it was William James, I think, who said, “If we don’t read the books with which we line our apartments, then we are no better than our cats and dogs.” And I guess I would say, “If we don’t take the psychedelic plants that are in the environment—that we can avail ourselves of—then we are no better than our cats and dogs.”
There are doorways open to us, but they are all experiential and personal. They lie in the realm of sexuality and, I guess, what you would call experimental psychology. And areas where we get very nervous and want to follow rote, follow tradition, and be assured that we are not deviant, that we are not strange, that we are not violating any canons of the tribe. But I think because of the social crisis—meaning this vast generalized sense that everyone has that things are out of control—we are going to have to go back to first principles. And what that means is a return to the authenticity of the body. You know, McLuhan wrote about how media distorts human self-images? One of the reasons that I’m involved in virtual reality and electronic media and all of that sort of thing is because I think that the age of the distortion of the human self-image by media is coming to an end. That the medias of the future will be largely transparent, and that this is very important because it’s going to allow us to discover who we are. A person who can read is a person who possesses an ability that is tremendously distorting of their essential relationship to their humanness. I mean, if language is a bizarre activity—and no question that it is—reading is orders of magnitude more bizarre yet, because abstract signs are being manipulated at close to conversational speed; in some cases faster than conversational speed.
So much of culture is complex behavior, and I think that what the psychedelics show (that is a secret that some people don’t want told) is that we can redesign our behavior. We can change very, very quickly. The image of ourselves as somehow the rigid inheritors of evolutionary programming and therefore doomed like lemmings or monarch butterflies to enact a programmed pattern of behavior and destroy ourselves isn’t what I see happening at all. The whole history of humanness is a history of unexpected, adaptive response to unusual circumstances. And I believe that’s because the imagination has played such an important role in defining who and what we are. And whatever the imagination is, psychedelics catalyze it. Psychedelics enhance it. The thin bandwidth of interior self-monitoring that goes on in normal consciousness becomes much more clear, three-dimensional, and intensified under the influence of psychedelics. These things used to be called consciousness-expanding drugs—it was just a good old phenomenological description. Well, consciousness (or the absence of it) is what’s pushing our species towards some kind of crack-up.
So if there are factors in the rain forests, in the Arctic tundra, in the toolkits of preliterate and aboriginal people that can act to transform consciousness, then this is where we have to put our attention. If we could feel the consequences of what we are doing, we would stop doing it. The reason we don’t stop is because we are partially anesthetized to the consequences of untrammeled population growth, unregulated capitalist market-oriented behaviors, so forth and so on. We are semi-conscious. This is our problem. We’re like someone half awake inside a burning building. Are we going to suffocate and become a crispy critter or are we going to sufficiently integrate the situation to grope our way to an entrance and call 911? In our case, I don’t know who comes when you call 911. But it’s something like that.
During the weekend we’ll talk a lot about human history, because I think human history is something that we are far too blasé about. We take it for granted because our own lives are so ephemeral—last seventy years or something. We think of history as something that was installed with the rocks. But in fact it isn’t. It, too, is a behavior very recent. Like language, another behavior very recent. Physically, human beings have been about the way we are for 100,000 years; much the way we are for half a million years. But the behaviors have changed radically. From nomadic partnership, from societies based on shamanic intoxication, orgiastic sexuality, no fixed abode, to a massive, integrated, global, electronically-based civilization. These are extraordinary modifications of behavior. It’s as though hummingbirds were to begin assembling locomotives. That’s the kind of radical transformation that we see inside our own species.
Well, then the question is: what’s it about? What we are doing—by replacing one behavior after another, never resting, never satisfied—is, in practical terms: we’re accelerating the entire temporal continuum. We seem to be pushing process toward some kind of dimensional apotheosis of some sort. We’re not content to let things rest. And human history is the record of this process, which begins as a kind of random walk across the epigenetic landscape of culture. But the random walk finds a compass heading. And this compass heading has many names. You can call it unity. You can call it God. You can call it a chicken in every pot. You can call it completion. But whatever it is, freedom seems to be its central feature. We want freedom. We want freedom from the constraints of the cycles of the sun and the moon. We want freedom from drought and weather, freedom from the movement of game, and the growth of plants. Freedom from control by mendacious popes and kings, freedom from ideology, freedom from want. And this idea of freeing ourselves has become the compass of the human journey. That which doesn’t free doesn’t serve.
This has become almost a kind of universal ideal. No one on Earth preaches the virtues of slavery. There may be people who practice slavery, but they have the decency to keep their mouths shut about it because the defense of slavery has become impossible in polite company. Slowly, there has been, I think, over time, the growth of an ideal of what human perfection is. First worked on by the great religions, and then—some time, I suppose, around the time of the Italian Renaissance—handed over to secular forces that began to say freedom is more than the right to wear wool and pray 24 hours a day. Freedom means the acquisition of property, of the visible manifestations of wealth, the acquisition of information. Freedom with the publication of the first books becomes associated with accessing the database of the culture. Well, what we’ve learned through Freud and Jung is that the database of the culture goes deeper than we may have anticipated, and that the final keys to the deeper levels are, in fact, plants that were part of our shamanic heritage millennia ago. So freedom has become, basically, a project in the Blakian imagination. Blake called it the divine imagination. We now dream of transcending the constraints of matter, spacetime, and energy themselves. I mean, this is what stuff like nanotechnology and virtual reality and this sort of thing is about. We wish to find ourselves in the imagination.
Well, I maintain that this desire is a kind of nostalgia for a paradisaical possibility that actually existed in the past. And that, to understand the human predicament, we’re going to have to come to terms with the idea—which has been around for a long time, but not given much coinage recently—that history is a fall. That this is a lesser state than we have known in the past. That all this material culture and all this exhibition of energy control and so forth and so on is actually… these are the toys of lesser gods. And that being integrated in nature, at peace with the rhythms of life and death, and co-identified with the eternal organisms of community—that these were actually higher and nobler ideas that somehow became compromised with the fall into history.
And it has to do with the relationship to the lost continents of our own minds. That’s what this psychedelic thing is really about. I think it’s as profound as the European discovery of the lost half of the planet 500 years ago. It’s that half of the human mind became disconnected from the ego. And for a thousand years or more, these things have drifted in such profound estrangement from each other that, when reunited, the only thing that we can map it to is a flying saucer invasion, or a descent of angelic intent, or something, because we have become so alienated from the collected images of the soul.
While it’s true that shamanism has existed forever and ever, and that some people—midwives, shamans, visionaries, schizophrenics—have been doing this in all times and places. Nevertheless, it now has a special poignancy because the official philosophy of our civilization—capitalism, materialism, reductionism; I guess that’s it, maybe misogyny is in there somewhere—has played itself out. It’s failed. Modernism has failed. Modernity has failed. The rational analysis of matter has led to the revelation of the irrationality of matter. The attempts to create systems of perfect deterministic prediction have lead to the revelation of the chaos that haunts all systems and makes all prediction, in principle, impossible. The prosecution of the dream of a formal edifice of logic to explain mathematical structures in truth has given way to Gödel’s incommensurability theorem, which shows you that basically nothing makes sense. Everywhere where reason has shown its light, the greater darkness has been revealed.
And so I think a turning point has come in the human enterprise. Childhood’s end is upon us. We have to drop the naïve assumptions of certain truth, perfect understanding. The conjuring rod of reason turns out to be a fairly weak magic after all. And we have to begin to cultivate a sense of mystery, a sense of living without closure. Because that, in fact, is how the world is. The world is a mystery. It’s not going to yield to the fragile constructs of the human mind. Some portion may be rationally apprehendable, but the basic facts of the matter are that we do not know where we come, nor why, nor where we’re going, nor according to what plan. Instead of seeking a flawed communication with the intentionality of deity, I think the psychedelic religious agenda—if that’s how you want to think of it—is a more modest one. It’s a cultivation of a sense of wonder in the presence of something which obviously cannot be encompassed by the human mind. It can no more be encompassed by the human mind than the ocean can be emptied into a thimble. Once you get that straight, you can go back to getting high, staying tight with your friends, making love, growing your garden, and appreciating the felt presence of experience, and realizing that the abstraction game, the high-modeling game, is, in fact, simply a game and that there should be no emotional investment in these structures.
What I’ve learned from the mushrooms ultimately is that ideas are for play. And the final payback from all of this is a sense of fun, a sense of humor. The truth, for sure, when it arrives, will make you smile. If it doesn’t, you should seek a deeper truth. For a long time it troubled me—this question of truth and falsity. And now I think that it’s more like this: that the person who has the best idea—or, let’s put it this way: the best idea (and that means the funniest idea, the idea that brings the small smile to the corners of your mouth) that idea will win. It will win. It’s twee the cheerful. Twee treads on the tail of the tiger, no blame. No blame because the cheerfulness of twee overcomes the inherent reticence of the world. The light touch is the right touch. And if psychedelics don’t give this to you, you may be an incurable case. There may be no hope for you but Martin Heidegger in high doses, or whatever they do with people who have displaced funny bones.
The world is truly a strange place. Getting stranger all the time. It’s more the character of a pun or an optical illusion than it is the world of humorless, scurrying gray atoms and invisible forces that we inherit from nature. The laboratory of being is your own body, your experience. Everything else is going to come as an unconfirmable rumor so fraught around with epistemological problems that you might as well toss it out at the beginning and not even bother with it. The basic thing is the empowerment of experience. That’s why sexuality has always raised such a ruckus among authority freaks. It’s why the psychedelic is so unsettling. It’s why youth itself is unsettling, because these things cause symmetry breaks: they cause a shift in perspective. But this is, in fact, at this point in time, exactly what we have to have.
It may be that we’re going to rack and ruin, but it’s not an unconscious process. There are the technologies, the information retrieval systems, the engineering capacities to fight like hell against the dying of the light, if that’s what’s going on. But the will has to be activated. And the problem is, the people creating the problems—which are the people in the high-tech industrial democracies, people like you and me—are the furthest from the consequences of the problems. Here, we anticipate the apocalypse and it’s a theological discussion. You go to Somalia and the apocalypse is well under way. It’s moved beyond the planning stage in many parts of the world, but the parts that we don’t go to. And yet we represent—for all our humility and financial difficulties, whatever they may be—we represent, probably, the five percent of the world’s people who have some ability to contact control and direct the resources and the technologies that are available on this planet. If you’re able to sit here at Esalen this evening, then you automatically are in that five percent classed as the world controllers, you and your friends.
Why can’t—if enough people lock into that space—[???] undeniable unity to cause almost an epidemic on the planet [???]?
Well, I’m not worried. I think that what is happening is a transformational process, not the bankruptcy of ideology, not the spin-down of technical civilization. I’ll argue through much of tomorrow and tomorrow evening that history is not our fault. That you no more can blame us for the shape of human history than you can blame a fetus for the unfolding morphology within the womb. That history is the necessary distortion of an animal species to lead it to the brink of an ontological transformation. When we get into this issue of politics, it’s a very tricky issue I think, to handle from a psychedelic point of view. Because the psychedelic point of view as I read it from a fairly deep level is that it’s a done deal. It’s OK! Basically, we’re going to make it. We’ve been on a straight line vector for millions of years with this transcendental attractor that has shaped us, called us out of matter, and is revealing itself through us. But knowing that is not permission for sitting on your can or ceasing to participate in the struggle to create a just and caring society. It does mean that you shouldn’t worry. That worry is off the menu. That you don’t know enough to worry is one of the arguments to be made.
So it’s basically a case of: we need to act locally and think not simply globally, but cosmically, and, in our cosmic ruminations, struggle to erase boundaries and to see that the difference between us and the next species in waiting in the evolutionary elevator, and the difference between life and death, and the difference between pre- and post-history—these are differences that can be easily erased. And when they are, what comes through is this lost sense of unity and purpose and rightness that we’re trying to recapture.
Well, that’s all I really wanted to say about that tonight. I didn’t want to keep you past ten. We’ll get together here tomorrow morning. Get a good night’s sleep. The baths are open 24 hours a day. Thank you very much. Bring your questions, controversies, and whatever, and we’ll dig into all this with great gusto on the morrow. Thank you very much!
It’s only 10am and already it’s been mighty peculiar. Did anybody have any particularly strong reaction to last night or feel that we were started off on a wrong direction, or the right direction? Or, in other words, is there any feedback from all of that last night? I’m beginning to have the feeling that the need to stoke the furnace of psychedelic information is a task that is being generalized into the culture, and which is a relief for me because it frees me to discuss my own megalomaniacal concerns, which are this mathematical effort to model history that will probably be mentioned off and on all day and then dealt with in detail this evening.
Strangely enough, the novelty wave—or my theory about how history is structured—normally leads me into a situation of whipping the horse ever faster toward apocalypse and millennium. Very recently, we’ve entered into a phase where it’s more like you should get out your lawn chairs and learn to play Solitaire or something. Because at least by the expectations of the time wave, the next couple of years are going to be incredibly repetitious, mundane, pattern-bound, and ho-hum compared to what we’ve just been through. We really have been through—though, from our close perspective, it’s hard to tell it—probably one of the most profound decades or five or six years of the twentieth century. The whole slow, catastrophic collapse of Marxism and what it’s meant for Islam and capitalism. That all is now in the past, but very dramatic.
I like talking about my chaotic notion of time because it seems to me that the scientific data that is arising week by week is supporting my originally somewhat far-fetched contention that the universe is getting weirder and weirder and weirder at an extraordinarily asymptotic rate. I mean, just two examples in the last six weeks, both bizarre. This ice-drilling project in Greenland has brought up a 325,000-year continuous record of snowfall. And because of the decay of isotopic oxygen, there’s some mumbo-jumbo by which you can determine the temperature of the air at the time the snow fell. So what they’re getting is a continuous temperature record over 375,000 years. And they can hardly believe what it’s telling them. It’s telling them that the climate, the weather has been nuts for tens of millennia. That there are five-year periods where the world temperature fell twenty degrees and remained there for seventy years, and then bounced back. A picture of completely chaotic climatological fluctuation has emerged just in the last two months. I mean, they’re holding congresses and flying people in and drilling a second core to try to understand this, because it’s always been thought that the planet’s climates were fairly stable, except that the human factor was capable of perturbing it. Now it looks like these glaciations are merely macrophysical reflections of micro-reflections in the climate that are extremely dramatic. So that’s one piece of data that’s arrived in the last six weeks arguing that the universe is a strange and chaotic place on an accelerated trajectory toward novelty.
The other is much more peculiar. And, in fact, it’s at a level in the scientific literature where panic has not quite broken out. Are you all aware of this very large object which has entered orbit around the planet Jupiter, and which has broken up into between seventeen and twenty-five objects? This is not coming to you from the Fortean Times and The Star. This is Astronomy, and Sky & Telescope. It’s apparently a cometary body. But it’s very large, and it has broken up and gone into Jovian orbit. But the orbit is decaying rabidly and the whole situation is explicit enough that they can say with reasonable certainty that, next July 22nd, these objects are going to encounter the Jovian surface with a greater release of kinetic energy than the extinction which wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
The impact as presently calculated will occur on the side of the planet turned away from the Earth, but within six hours that side will swing into view of terrestrial telescopes. The amount of energy released in the impact—it will be possible to calculate it by studying the reflected flash off the Jovian satellites. So what we’re talking about here is, in the words of Astronomy magazine, a once in a hundred million year event. But that’s the clue that something weird is going on. Once in a hundred million year events don’t happen in the lifetime of a single human being. What are the odds of that? And we also had Marilyn Monroe, the Kennedy assassination, the landing on the Moon. How many once in a 100 million year events can you cram into a single lifetime? Well, I don’t know what this thing going on out at Jupiter is about, but it’s bizarre.
It’s bizarre that, in science now, things like chaos theory and non-linear dynamical systems and these kinds of things, these intellectual tools arrive just as the assumed stability of reality—established by Newtonian gentlemen in powered wigs working through their brass instruments—that all flies apart and there’s just the heaving oceans of the spaghetti of ambiguity as string theory and non-localization stretches you from here to Zenebl Gnoubie and back again. The feedback between the perceiver and the object perceived is tightening. I don’t know if this is a psychedelic theme. It’s the theme of my psychedelic explorations. I think of the shamanic model as inherited from classical aboriginal shamanism worldwide, which is a model of levels that the universe is somehow made of distinct levels. Energetic, geographic, however, but there is an access, an elevator, that allows you to move from level to level. This is usually some extraordinary technique of physical stress-production—or, in the hipper societies, a pharmacological intervention of some sort.
The information is deployed differently on each level. They’re like defined perspectives on the stuff of being; the raw perceptual input of experience. I really think that—and I don’t understand… you can’t quite wrap language around it, but it has something to do with the fact that we’re physical creatures at all—that the mind, at its deepest organizational level, reflects the geometric principles of the organization of space and time. So the mind, as present in us at this moment, has been folded and sculpted and shaped into a tool for threat-detection in three-dimensional space because the body is a fragile thing borne along upon the vicissitudes of matter. But when you take a psychedelic or when you perturb ordinary brain chemistry by any means—illness, high fever, lightning strike, hunger, prolonged drumming, grief, all of these ways—then there is a transition of level, or what Mircea Eliade, in this wonderful phrase, called the “rupture of plane.” The rupture of the mundane plane—isn’t that great… you’d almost swore you’d have to smoke DMT to get together a phrase like “the rupture of the mundane plane.” But then, the organization of the information on these different planes has hitherto been largely thought to be somewhat expressionistic or haphazard à la the Jungian maps of the unconscious, or something like that.
I think that there is actually more to be gained by making a strict mathematical model and saying that the shaman is a person who penetrates to a literal informational hyperspace of some sort, and to take it literally in terms of a geometric explanation. Because, think about it for a minute: shamans are primarily, in their aboriginal setting, they function in three roles. They predict the weather. Weather prediction is very important in shamanic cultures. They tell where game has gone. In other words, they monitor the food source of the group and direct the hunting and gathering activities according to the availability of the food. And then, thirdly, they cure disease. And this is very important, and they are incredibly adept at choosing patients who will recover. This would be a cynical way of putting it. They are very adept at choosing patients who make miraculous recoveries. Some of you may know the tape recordings of María Sabina’s mushrooms Velada made by Wasson, where an eleven-year-old child is brought to her and she says that she wont shamanize for this case, that this kid is not going to make it. And then he doesn’t make it. He dies within three weeks.
Well if you’re a materialist of the modern stripe, then the only way you can deal with this testimony about shamanism, about the precognitive knowledge of weather and game movements and the miraculous ability to cure, is to deny it. To deny it and say that this some kind of sleight of hand or they are very closely observant of nature. In other words, some only this argument that denigrates the thing. But I think when you actually look at the ethnographic data from all parts of the world collected in the field by people who spent time with the Azande, and the Kikuyu, and the Witoto and the Kyrgyz and so on, the body of testimony of what we would call paranormal phenomenon is sufficiently impressive that another model has to be called into play. And I think it’s that there are ways to push the mind by extraordinary pharmacological encounters or stress into a kind of higher-dimensional space. This would be sort of like the idea that the indeterminacy that adheres to matter at the quantum mechanical level—the fact that it displays itself as particle or wave depending on the questions being asked—that that fundamental indeterminacy apparently has to be amplified through every level of nature, including the human level. So that when you get to ourselves, the mystery of ourselves is the particulate, finite and dissolving body, and the intuition of the unseen wave-like, infinite spirit, the indwelling entelechy that creates the cohesion of the nexus of actual occasions that is the coordinated prehension of an organic system, right?
We’ll just stop there… Yes?
Let me see if I’m getting this right. Somehow I’m getting the image of you mathematically decoding the language of the gods in a way.
Well, except that it isn’t actually a language. It’s more like a point of view. Yeah. I mean, what I’m suggesting here is that the magic, if that’s the word—or the grandiosity, the power of ecstatic exhalation that resides in the psychedelic—is because it is literally a change of dimensional perspective. And—let’s see, I hope this isn’t too an obscure an example, but in the fourteenth century, Petrarch climbed a mountain somewhere in Italy and wrote a passage about it, and invented the observation of landscape and nature in this single work of art. People had never done that before. It was an entirely new thing to climb a mountain and look at nature and feel the unity and the grandiosity of it, and write about it. It was part of Renaissance humanism. It was part of getting people out of those dreary, urine-stenchy cathedrals that they’d been hanging out in for far too long.
So what I’m suggesting is that, in a sense, the shaman is someone who climbs an inner mountain—but a real mountain, a geometric mountain—and then has a higher perspective; that it’s a shift of awareness. We all are body and soul/spirit, but to the degree that we concentrate on one, we occlude the other. I don’t really like the sound of that because it sounds like you could turn that into some kind of asceticism, which in principle I am against. But I think the key is paying attention to mental life without bias. One of the things I’ve been talking to the staff here because I’m scholar-in-residence is Finnegan’s Wake. We’ve been taking it apart and looking at it, and noticing that part of the genius of Joyce in the way the Wake is composed is that all terms are transparent. Every word, you can see through it to other words, to other associations, to other connections. So nothing is explicit and overt and defined. It’s a mental universe.
The novel can take two directions. It can try to create what’s called realism, which is, in a sense, an attempt to duplicate the laws of optics on the printed page in narrative, so that you have lord and lady so-and-so moving about their country home with the crisis of daughter and servants, or whatever. But then, that’s not the world those people are living in, that’s the world you would see if you were a camera watching them. The world they’re living in is a much less crystalline and temporally defined world. It’s a world where memory and anticipation are in a disystolic relationship as the attention of the characters ebbs and flows, focuses and merges. This is what a great deal of modern literature is about.
[???] and that we’re trapped? Is that what you’re saying?
Well, trapped in artifice. Trapped in art. In a sense, yeah. That’s why Proust and Joyce—who are so different—can be seen to be essentially about the same thing. A true rendering of experience is very hard. This is the great challenge. I think that’s why—you know, somebody asked me recently what was I doing with myself or where was I going? It seems to me that, once you work your way into all of these places, the real test of your psychedelic authenticity is the ability to write a novel. Because what you have to show to yourself—not necessarily to anyone else—but what you have to show to yourself is that you can put yourself into the mother giving birth, the fascist interrogating a prisoner, the child at play, the gangster plotting the advance of his career. In other words, that the human experience is open to you; that you know what it’s like. Hooker and priest, saint and sinner—it’s all accessible to you. That’s the sign to me that a person has really dissolved their boundaries and done their inner work, because the quintessence of understanding is the ability to occupy other people’s points of view. I certainly make no claims in this area. In fact, I’m very weak in this area. I learned a long time ago by watching how I play chess that my emotional immaturity is right on the surface, because the way I play chess is, I make brilliant plans and then I attempt to carry them out as though there was me and nobody else there. And meanwhile, coming at me across the board is this bewildering series of interruptions which throw off the plan!
This is the Via Dolorosa, right? The street of tears. And I think there’s a crying tradition among North American Indians. Stress is what we’re talking about on one level. I’m not sure that—it may be that there are two ways to attain these places: stress and psychedelics. And then we could have a discussion about whether psychedelics are a subset of stress or not. I mean, that’s sort of like whether you think of surfing as stress. Obviously it’s strenuous and it can kill you but some people think of it as exhilarating. There are many ways to perturb the mind. The reason, when we talk about psychedelics, we fall automatically into a vocabulary of travel. We talk about journeys and tripping and that sort of thing. This is because travel is how people normally attain this if they don’t have pharmacological means, and that’s always been respectable. Even among very bourgeois societies like the nineteenth century England. The summer holiday in Italy was de rigueur, and if you saw room with a view, this was where Eros and the dark Latinate unconscious was expected to swarm over these pale English women and initiate them into unspeakable pleasures and debauchery. Doesn’t sound half bad, does it?
You talked about—I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around it—but my question has to do with one of the topics of the weekend, which is ethos versus politics, inner versus outer. Psychedelics are a way of experiencing other planes of reality, or reality in a different way. But it seems as if you’re also talking about a way of using that that requires some—I don’t know if there is inner discipline, or…—how do you use it so that it’s not just a distraction or a drug? You know what I mean?
Well, I think—
The fetishes. The fetish-objects. Like, you know…
Well, I think the simple answer to how do you do it without trivializing it is that you do doses that scare you. You know? I mean, these things are not physically dangerous, and yet they are terrifying at what are pharmacologically completely harmless doses. The LD50 for psilocybin is hundreds of milligrams per kilogram. And yet, if you take anywhere above 25 milligrams of psilocybin, I think strongest wayfaring soul reaches for the brake pedal somewhere in there. It’s amazing how we just skim the surface of this. And we can’t go very deep because language fails. Most of you who have done committed doses know that you go into a realm where it gets weirder and weirder and weirder, and then, finally, the very machinery of explaining to the observer what is happening begins to melt. And then you are there, with it, for a while. And then you descend out of that, and the language mechanism reactivates and says, “We are now leaving the utterly unspeakable behind.”
It’s an extraordinary thing. The motivation of my career, I guess, is I just can’t believe how this much strangeness could lay that close to the surface, and the enterprise of human history be conducted for 10,000 years with people running around trying to do weird things—writing polyphonic music, and the Rudolfian court, and Hieronymus Bosch, and all this stuff—right under the surface! Just a Niagara of peculiarity and strangeness that makes no sense to me when I put on the hat of the biologist. Why should an advanced animal of some sort have this curious relationship to an invisible river of imagery running collectively through the brains of all and each? What is that about? The beauty of it—as in Blake’s word, the futurity of it—the fact that, in the glistening of the flowing waters of the unconscious, you glimpse not only the square-topped towers of Ilium, and the ruins of Carthage, and Petra, and all that, but you also see the intimations of some kind of magnificent future. Is it in the imagination? Is it directly ahead in the time stream? Is it lost in dream? The whole circumstance of being alive and being a self-reflecting, thinking human being is just too peculiar for words.
Would you say that, as far as the terror of this goes and what makes people hit the off-button, to push the brakes to the floor board, something that you were saying last night about lost continents, remember? It seems that this psychedelic experience isn’t new in the sense of a cultural endeavor, that’s called out the discovery of the unconscious. And Freud attributed that to the Romantic poets. So I think what you say, that one could see the whole modern and post modern era of this progressive discovery of this lost continent, the unconscious, and perhaps it is, as Native Americans would put it, the purification—in the sense that psychoanalysis, the analysis of the unconscious, brings to light hidden aspects of truth of people’s lives, or their collective lives, that no one wanted to face. But these things have been layered into the unconscious. So it’s a process of bringing things to light, or as Carl Jung said, enlightenment does not consist of visualizing figures of light, but making the dark unconscious. Would you say that?
Well, I’m not sure I understand the question. If you’re saying how derivative of… I mean, I basically agree with the premise. I would just push the thing further back into time. I think where this all… it’s fun to try and find various break points. I mean, was it Tim Leary, was it Alfred Jarry, was it Lenormand, or was it the French symbolists? I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. I think that what’s popularly called the age of the marvelous indicates the real descent of the western mind toward the psychedelic confrontation. When we look at the time wave tonight, maybe we’ll get around to talking about this. But basically, with the inventing of printing in 1440, I now see books as obviously a psychedelic drug of enormous power. The early books were manufactured with chains on them so that they could be bolted to tables so that addicts would not tear them loose and take them home. The invention of printing and the seizure of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks set off an age of scientific advancement, exploration, so forth and so on, that led to the discovery of the new world only 500 years ago. And this had the impact on Europe that flying saucers on the White House lawn would have on us. It was an alien planet that had been discovered with trackless jungles and temperate forests and people clad in gold practicing strange religions and enormous trading. It was an alien civilization, and at the same time, the grip of the medieval church was breaking down and people had a fascination with the bizarre, with the phantasmagoria of natural existence. They were bringing back birds of paradise form Bougainville. They were bringing back carved Incan and Mayan material, codices, all of this stuff. This is the period shortly, then, into it of the great flowering of European magic. The establishment of the Rudolfian court in Prague and all of that.
It was the age of the Wunderkammer, the wonder cabinet, where you collected together stuffed birds, amanites, gnostic gems, bits of archaic detritus, large insects, narwhal horns, all of this stuff. It was pre-Linnaean, it was before the categorical mind had stepped in and the whole thing was just a maelstrom of individuated data collections. And I think that’s where the psychedelic thing in the west became explicit.
Back to this man’s question about the actual taking of a psychedelic: I think it’s real important that it be done with an intent and to kind of ask for or put it out there whatever it is that you need or want.
Yes, you have to talk to these things. You do it on an empty stomach in silent darkness in a situation —where you feel secure which can mean in your apartment with the phones unplugged and the door locked, or off in some jungle or somewhere. But It’s very important: empty stomach and silent darkness and intent, as you say. And then, not a reckless dose but a committed dose. Not to see if it works—it works, other people have established that. You don’t need to do research to confirm that it’s psychoactive. You just do it! And then, you know, there are techniques for navigating through there. The best is a pure heart. But since we can’t always come up with that, sweating blood also helps.
In terms of actual, physical techniques, singing—this is what I learned in the Amazon; that you don’t always have enough presence of mind to breathe, but if you will sing, the breathing will take care of itself and the body is an instrument. The Yogis, they got that right. The body is an instrument for tuning through these dimensions. I don’t know what it all confirms. I don’t rush to embrace any particular esoteric school. In fact, I’m fairly scornful of all of that because I see how it’s used to promote priestly hierarchy and mumbo-jumbo and that sort of thing. But certainly, science doesn’t have the whole story. The human body is an incredible esoteric instrument. It’s just that I think you need to self-teach yourself.
The shaman’s perception, which is, I guess, that’s what you’re trying to get to; be able to see on the subconscious level. It starts with pure heart and pure mind largely because their minds aren’t cluttered with everything that the rest of ours are. They don’t have to overcome the knowledge, the facts, the awareness of the material life because they don’t start with that. Right? They start with drugs, and they start with purity [???]. How do you get past that? It would seem to me, in this case, the more you know, the more difficult it would be to reach that pure second conscious level where it’s just a matter of knowing through the vision of your consciousness will do. [???] neurotransmitter [???]
Well, I don’t know about that. I see the logic of it. I had a shaman tell me once, in the Amazon, he said, “It’s not easy for us to do this. It’s no easier for us to do this than for you to do it.” And I imagine, giving shamans pure DMT and stuff like that, and watching them go through it, that they’re macho, they do it, but at the core are as sensible and afraid as anybody would be. Everybody comes down to a local language structure and a local set of cultural myths. And the shaman’s job is to be outside, behind, and under that. He’s sort of an archetypal plumber. He sees and he knows where the shit goes. He knows how to repair the system that is invisible to everybody else. I think it’s very challenging to do this stuff in any cultural context. One thing you find that you may not expect when you go to the Amazon is: not all shamans have the great zest for going as deep as possible. There are a lot of shamans whose attitude is, you get in, you do the work and you get out fast. And you take only as much as you need to.
It’s a question. I mean, which is more important to the content of your psychedelic experience? The books you’ve read in your life or your genetic heritage? That kind of thing. Teasing this apart, the only way we’ll ever know—and this is why I tend to encourage and hang out with the technical crowd on one level—virtual reality is a technology that might allow you to show somebody the inside of your head. If I could spend six months building a virtual reality which was my DMT trip, then escort someone into it and show it, then they would say, “That’s exactly what happens to me!” or they would say, “You know, that was the damndest thing. Nowhere does that come tangential to anything familiar to me.” Well, then, this would be wonderful in either case. You would either have confirmation of a generally recognized reality or a breakthrough to an immense domain of potential creativity where every individual could create their own equally personally compelling metaphysical joyride of some sort.
I think on one level what we’re doing here is something that’s never been done before in Western society that I’m particularly aware of, which is: we are talking about the psychedelic experience. This is the first step towards understanding it. I guess the first step is having it. The first step is having it. But then, so many people have had it who don’t attempt to English it, and it’s quite respectable to do that. Too much has been made of the indescribability of it. I mean, it’s fine to say that, but then decency demands that you go forward and describe it. You’re pushing, there, against the envelope of language.
The culture cannot evolve faster than the language. The language is the flashlight that shows the path. And so, if we don’t talk about something—race, homosexuality, drug experiences—then no cultural progress takes place on that front. It’s like it just doesn’t exist. So part of what we’re trying to do here is create a dialogue that is not necessarily politically confrontational. Too much of the public dialogue about drugs is all about whether they should be legalized or not. You can take care of that in one sentence: Yes they should, and they won’t be. So now let’s move on with that.
Experience—this is probably the richest domain of experience that we have. I mean, you may go on your vacation to Benares and I may go to Argentina, and we will get back and talk about the restaurants, national parks, and museums that we visited, but far more interesting conversation could take place if I do psilocybin and you do mescaline and then we get together and talk about the places we have seen. In other words, this psychedelic universe—whatever it is—is the major datum of experience. It’s larger than this planet. Nobody knows how large it is. The further in you go, the bigger it gets. We don’t know what to make of something like that. That’s the reverse of our expectations.
You seem to use sound a lot as a key issue. You were mentioning in South America you sang songs. Were those songs ayahuasca songs, or Inca songs, or little ditties you were doing your own self?
They were in some cases ayahuasca songs that Don Fidel taught, and in some cases just taking ayahuasca. I learned and called them songs, but one of the things that’s so interesting about ayahuasca is that it promotes a synesthesia that’s very dramatic. You see sound. And when you make it you have an experience which is beyond English by several leaps. The experience of generating colors out of a vibration so that you go mmmmmmmmmmmm, and a chartreuse line like a neon light descends and hangs there. And then you can move it off and it goes from chartreuse to lemon yellow. Then you just begin playing with this, and within 30 seconds you’re doing something that seems to you only intelligent insects on other planets do.
Is it true for everyone you know who you’ve talked to about ayahuasca?
I think if you can come through, yeah. I mean, you have to sort of get your wits about you because ayahuasca sweeps over you, there’s stomach stuff, there’s waves of hallucination. But once you sort of get your sea legs you can do this. It’s very clear when you’re with these shamans that these performances are pictorial. Originally, the active principle of banisteriopsis caapi was called telepathine. When Theodor Koch-Grünberg and those people went in there in the early years of the nineteenth century, they collected samples, took it back to Berlin, characterized it, called it telepathine. And then it was later realized that the compound had been earlier isolated from eganum harmala and called harmaline. And the rules of chemical nomenclature give the early discovery precedent.
But it was called telepathine because the tribal groups using it seemed to have this extraordinary group-mindedness. This is one of the things that I’m keen to talk about: is the fact that telepathy of a sort we didn’t conceive of seems to lie very close to the surface in these states. I think most people think of telepathy as: you hear what I think. That’s telepathy. That is not what psychedelic telepathy is. Psychedelic telepathy is: you see what I mean. You see what I mean! And there is a way to use voice, inflection and tonality to edge people’s transduction of the language experience out of the audio, out of the ear mode, and into the visual mode. This is something which is neurologically very fragile in us. It’s as though the land is very flat and the river flows one way through the audio-processing channel of the neocortex, but just a very slight shift of the inner stratigraphy and the river would flow another way. It would flow into the visual cortex and language would become a thing beheld.
One of the things that’s so interesting about ayahuasca is that it contains DMT and harmaline, and these are both brain neurotransmitters occurring in normal metabolism—suggesting that there is simply a one- or two-gene mutation, or the intensity of the expression of a gene already present, that would switch brain chemistry toward visual processing. Meanwhile, in the culture, simultaneously, there is this tendency going on: the culture is becoming more and more imagistic. The invention of photography, high-speed color printing, film—we see and we relate through the image much more. So I think psychedelics and media and the predisposition of the neuro-landscape is setting us up for a kind of ontological transformation of the project of communication.
As you’re saying this, I’m observing the way that I’m listening to you and I’m seeing what you mean. Your language—like, when you say “neurological,” I see a picture. It goes really fast, but I’m seeing what you mean. That’s how I’m comprehending you.
Yes, well you’re embarrassing me by turning the magnifying glass upon the current project of communication. But that’s the name of the game.
Maybe it evolves as we evolve—that seeing what you mean.
Yes. I mean, one reason some people have criticized me is because I use big words. But I’ve always had the feeling that if you use big words right, your listener understands perfectly what you mean. I don’t know how that works exactly, or it may just be an illusion of mine, but it’s a very satisfying one.
It seems like, in a way, you’re working with sound and you’ve got in touch with that sound on different levels. But you express it in conscious communication—which, anyone’s consciousness is somewhat a lie. It becomes more conscious. They hear communication or understanding and it all clicks right.
Well, I think language is a behavior. It was acquired 50,000 or 100,000 years ago. And I think people don’t use it enough. Ninety percent of spoken communication is trivial. It’s very interesting to try and use the descriptive blade of voice. It’s like Mañjuśrī: it’s the sword of discriminating wisdom. Communication is about discrimination. It’s about finely delineating difference. With this sword of discriminating wisdom you make your way into the world. And, granted, it’s an image of penetration and cleavage and so for and so on, but what you’re left with, then, is the cognitive enterprise.
After all these years, what is it these days that would make you want to hit the brakes?
Out in the state, you mean? Well, it does this thing on me occasionally which I call “going all Halloweenish.” And I say, “Why are you doing this to me?” It’s scary. It’s probably just my own inner demons. I ride this stuff through but I always feel like you should never take the sea for granted. And the metaphor we’re dealing with here is the sailing of small ships over great and turbulent depths. I’ve also noticed, my god, if an iota of pride lodges in your character it can rub your face in it like you just don’t want to know from. So I respect it. I fear it, and the strangeness of it.
Somebody near and dear to me—I won’t name them—but just recently described taking ayahuasca. And the dose was somewhat low, so after a couple of hours they smoked some DMT on top of it. With your MAO inhibited like that, this is a pretty hairy-chested thing to undertake. Don’t try this at home, folks! With your MAO inhibited like that, it just settled in and he said, “It is strange!” When you get the tabs trimmed and you get the focus right and you can just look at it—he said, “It just says ‘behold if you can, oh mortal, the essence of Treggyuggmagnalammaglaackt!’,” and you’re just saying, “Oh my God!”
It is clear that it presents itself through a series of veils. It’s so kind to first-timers and second-timers. It’s like a series of Disney-esque images. But god, once you’re into it, it begins to part the veil and you realize that the human mind is just like the mind of a gnat falling into the sun of peculiarity. And you say, “How did…” You know, “Pfffffff…” And then you come back and try and talk about it.
I have two questions. One: after all of your psychedelic experience and these experiences of other capacities and abilities in the brain, when you come back to the mundane plane, have you found yourself developing the ability to use your brain in the mundane plane in the same way that you have experienced its capacity in a psychedelic plane? And also, do you think that all of this is just like the tip of the iceberg in terms of leaving this dimension? Like, maybe a near death experience;, leaving the body ultimately through death? And is all this just kind of like the beginning of that? You seem to feel that the fear component is important to you. Is it more like the fear of dying, ultimately, when you go too far?
I think in my case it’s a fear of madness. I’ve convinced myself that dying is highly unlikely. The madness question is a totally open book. I mean, who knows?
It could be worse.
Yeah. And you do get into places where the only reassurances that it won’t last, you know? And as far as the tip of the iceberg question and death and all that—I have a lot of intellectual resistance in this area myself. I was raised Catholic, I fought my way free of that, as I said, toward Camusian existentialism, and then I got hooked into all this and then was just swerved back into a more spiritually teeming universe than I ever would have thought possible. It’s hard to talk about. It may be that what the psychedelic thing is, is that it is some kind of look over the edge.
Out of, let’s say, 50,000 years of conscious human experience, 49,500 of those years has been lived in the assumption that something survives physical death. And only in the last 500 years in Europe has this become a gradually less and less popular assumption. We don’t understand what biology is. We understand some of the details of how form maintains itself, but we don’t understand the mystery of the descent of form into matter. And we don’t understand where mind fits in to the loop of causality. So the testimony of DMT for me is that there is a nearby dimension teeming with intelligence that, from one perspective—and one of the more conservative perspectives—seems like an ecology of souls. It seems as though that what the shamans always said they were doing was, in fact, precisely what they were doing. They always said, “We do it by ancestor magic. We go to the realm of the ancestors. The ancestors exist in some kind of super space.” But “ancestor” is a sanitized term for a dead person. And what we’re talking about here, apparently, is: beyond the train of mortal care there is this super-space where, apparently, everything is made out of mind. And so, in James Joyce’s wonderful phrase, “if you want to be phoenixed, come and be parked, up n’ent, prospector, you sprout all your worth and you woof your wings.” Is that perfectly clear? Well, “if you want to be phoenixed, come and be parked” means: if you want to be transformed and reborn as an angel, you have to die. And “up n’ent prospector,” “prospector” means rock hunter, as in searching for the philosopher’s stone; you’re a prospector. “You sprout all your worth and you woof your wings,” meaning you make your own body out of the imagination. And I don’t know what this means.
One of the things that interest me is the fact that we seem to be moving towards a transformation more radical than any that has ever occurred to our species before. So radical that, in the interest of intellectual fairness, one of the possibilities that has to be put on the list is that we’re about to go extinct. 100%. And we don’t know what that means because we don’t know what death is. When you look at the record of biology on this planet, 95% of every evolved species that have ever lived are now extinct. This is what nature produces, are fossils of extinct species. And so then the question is, we’re down here to ultimate values. Are we trying to have what the Catholic church with an utter lack of irony calls a happy death? Or are we trying to seize the levers of the cultural machinery and pull out of the power dive at the last minute and get this baby back up to altitude and sorted out here? What’s going on? Or are there in fact any controls in front of us at all? Or are we the hapless passenger on this strange vehicle that is… you know?
Doesn’t it seem with all the soul searching and people getting in touch with what you might call the source, that the messages will be coming down as what you might call the way to go?
Well, that’s what I think. It’s what I think. It’s also possibly delusional, so be forewarned. But it appears to me that history is ever more rapidly vindicating the notion that it is building towards some kind of apotheosis; some kind of apocalyptic apocatastasis. Anyway, something in Greek. The people who project the human future thousands of years—they don’t understand the asymptotic speed. You talk to somebody in, like, let’s just take a field—gene transplant: you talk to somebody who is tops in gene transplant. They tell you things which just drop your jaw. Then you walk over here to another laboratory and talk to somebody in parallel processing computation, and they tell you astounding things. Well, you realize these two people don’t know each other. All of this information is vectoring together. And the connections are being made, and it’s out of control. No company, no government, no religious group—nobody is in control of this, and yet there is a plan. It isn’t a chaos. There is a morphology being expressed that won’t wait. And we all are simply the cells being directed into this archaeological expression of mind.
When you were talking before about the enlightenment period where artifacts were being brought, displayed, and enjoyed—I’m wondering about the Time Wave 1996. What kind of cultural manifestations we might be involved in [???], if that’s making any sense?
No that makes sense. It might make more sense to other people this evening, but the answer to the question is: the parallel resonance between now and then, or between 1996 and the past, was the great flowering of the Umayyad Caliphate at Baghdad, which was the birth of modern science through the codification of algebra. And so two things to keep your eye on in 1996 are the political fates of Islam worldwide and breakthroughs of a major sort in abstract systems of description, like algebra and that sort of thing. Or it could—
Or virtual realities? Or…
Well, certainly there were technological breakthroughs under those caliphs as well. They were the great patrons. They preserved all this. They don’t get any credit. We talk about our heritage from the Greeks, but we never talk about how that heritage comes through the Arabs. There’s a great book called How Greek Science Passed to the Arabs.
You said this last night and I want to see if I’ve got this straight. You said that the mushroom said: don’t worry, everything is going to be okay?
I think worry is preposterous. That was Wei Po Yang; a sixth century Chinese Taoist sage said that. Worry presupposes that you understand what’s going on. And I think it’s safe to say that we do not have a clue as to what is going on. We can’t even tell whether it’s a happy ending or a catastrophe. We can’t tell whether we’re slamming into the wall of our cultural limits at 50,000 miles an hour or we’re about to go hand in hand off to the galactic center with the human soul as companion and vehicle. We just do not know what’s going on. I think it’s safe to say that we’re approaching a symmetry break. That—whether you’re a horrified pessimist or a gung-ho optimist—everybody can see that the make-or-break point is coming up. Because life is either going to get a lot drearier suddenly or there’s going to be some kind of a breakthrough. I don’t think cosmetic management of the cultural crisis will work much past the current Clinton administration. This is apparently the last go at spin doctoring the apocalypse.
I just wanted to ask how you feel about the technology behind the AIDS crisis as part of that [???] of certain areas that is beleaguered, [???]?
So what do you mean exactly by “the technology behind the AIDS crisis”?
Well, I mean what is [???] a trip or not?
Well, in a sense, I see AIDS as the inevitable consequence of the ocean-crossing airliner. Always, sites of pilgrimage were sites of disease-conveyance. Any virus worth its salt would jump into this situation and exploit it. Now, as to the darker side of the AIDS thing in terms of: was this a product of human engineering or human intent, or so forth or so on—that’s an interesting question but, in a way, it really doesn’t matter. It’s a product of human behavior. And I don’t mean simply sexual or homosexual behavior, I mean such behaviors as travel, pilgrimage, the wish to mix it all up. I mean, think of the gene streaming that is taking place in the twentieth century: I know a Tibetan married to an Egyptian woman. And stuff like that’s going on all over the map. So there are all kinds of crises.
When we were a nomadic community, the transmission of disease was retarded by the fact that human groups didn’t really come into that much contact with each other. When you’re in a place like terminal one at Heathrow and you just look around you—my god, you know? Muslim priests, Tibetan Lamas, Botswanan Dignitaries, and people are just swarming and swarming and swarming, and using the bathrooms and coughing. And in these airliners—when they fly over the ocean, when they fly above 30,000 feet—they recycle the air in such a way that, if there is one person who has a problem, 275 people are having their immune systems on red alert by the time you get to Tokyo or New York. Not to rave, but…
I’m not sure, but it sounds like you’re talking about early Christianity, the abstract, that all sounds hallucinatory—a look back towards paradise, or something like that?
Well, in a sense, one way of analyzing Christ—if we keep pretty much to the strict orthodoxy and accept the gospels and so forth—is: it’s as if he presents a shamanic figure. And the unique claim of Christianity was this bizarre doctrine of the resurrection of the body. That was the part that was the jaw dropper. Christianity—working from the primary text—looks very much like some strange kind of biological magical invocation of some sort. There is that amazing passage in one of the gospels where the three Marys (Mary, the mother of James, Mary Magdalene, and the other one) go to the tomb. And Christ is standing outside the tomb and one of the woman starts toward him and he says, “Touch me not, for I am not yet completely of the nature of the Father.” Well, good grief! What’s going on here? He is resurrected. He has overcome death. But he says, “Touch me not, I am not yet completely of the nature of the Father.”
My interpretation—it’s maybe too much to get into at this point—but my notion of what religions are is that this dwell-point at the end of history, which is acting as an attractor for the temporal process, and drawing and sculpting and shaping everything as it is brought into its light, as it were, has a kind of reverse causality operating. And what Wordsworth called intimations of immortality haunt time like a ghost. And so if you’re a Buddha, a Mahavira, a Christ, a Mohammad, you get, essentially—again, it’s a geometric theory. You are simply geometrically positioned vis-à-vis the object at the end of time that you become a false reflector of its light. And these false reflectors always distort it in some way. It’s the nature of it. It’s no rap on them. It’s just the nature of it that they distort it. And some distort it horribly: a Hitler, a David Koresh. And some distort it, maybe we like to think, less: a Buddha, a Mahavira, But the point is they all distort it. Marshall McLuhan said, you know, our mistake is that we’re driving the vehicle of culture into the future using only the rear-view mirror. And that’s sort of what we do.
But then, each one of us, you see—we are like Christ and Buddha and Mahavira—we also have a perspective on the transcendental object at the end of time; on the divine. And we work it out in our life: in our psychedelic experiences, our sexual epiphanies, whatever it is that moves us. And I think, really… well, it’s just what Blake said: psychedelics are window-washing equipment for cleansing the glass of perception that allows you to then perceive the world as infinite. And also, because this transcendental object lies ahead of us in time, to know it is in some sense very woo-woo, very tricky to English; in some sense to know the future.
And that this is, I think, where the existential power—or the quality of Mnemosyne-ess, of realness—comes into the shaman’s personality. The shaman knows the future in the same way that I, as a 46-year-old man, can advise my 12-year-old daughter and have an immense kind of position of existential authenticity in her world. It’s because I know the future. I know that the first love will not be the last love, and I know that heartbreak lies along the way, and all this. I’m wise—from her perspective. Well, a shaman is a wise person. And they are wise because they know the future—not of the individual only, but also of the culture. And that’s why when the TV cameras arrive in the Ecuadorian village and they boot the medicine man out of his thing, they say, “Well José, what do you think of the fact that the forest is being cleared?” The usual reply is, “Eh…” You know?
Blake also said religion and politics are the same thing. This is a political seminar. I’ve been waiting to ask you this. I’m wondering if you would entertain a question on what religions are in viruses? I want to talk about the dark side of Christianity and if I could get you to frame it in this way? On psychedelics, with books, Christianity—I think a better word is Christianism, as a spiritual ideology—looks like a warfare, a protracted warfare, if you will, against the Earth, against the body, against our very humanness. And I think we accept that there are these invisible things called viruses that attack the organic body. But would you be willing to entertain the possibility that there can be a spiritual virus that attacks the planetary body; in fact attacks Gaia? And the reason I ask that is because, you remember Porphyry—long ago when Christianity was on the rise, a Neoplatonic philosopher—said that he thought Christianity was a disease of the soul. And I think Freud and Jung has pretty much proved the same thing.
Well, long before the viral metaphor, somewhat before the viral metaphor became au courant, Jung talked about what he called psychic epidemics. He—in, I think, 1934—wrote an essay on the return of Wotan as an archetype of the German soul, and very presciently picked up on what National Socialism was all about.
I’m talking about monotheism when I say Christianism.
Ah, now that’s an interesting—
Patriarchy and monotheism and Christianism as the apotheosis—I get to use that word, too—in Western history of Western society, Christianity or Christianism being the apotheosis of the patriarchy.
Well, I’m, on one level, not keen about monotheism. I think it gives a distorted map for the psyche to emulate. But I also see Christianity as a pretty radical betrayal of the monotheistic agenda. Monotheism, whatever its social consequences, makes sense. It’s a drive towards philosophical economy. And so you get down to the idea: well, not many gods but one God, and it works like this. Christianity is a gnostic cult of physical redemptionism grafted onto this Jewish theology by Alexandrian controversialists who had a very curious notion of what they wanted to do. I see Islam as a reclaiming of the pure intent of Judaism to conduct a philosophical discussion of the consequences of monotheism. And that all becomes really murky with the mystery of the Trinity and the nature of the Father and the Son. Christianity is an incredibly exotic religion. I mean, other religions are just absolutely straight ahead. They’re metaphysical systems with moral consequences. Christianity is about the absolute worship of the irrational and the incredible. Origen—who was one of the great patristic writers, great Christian fathers—they said, “Your religion is absurd. It’s preposterous.” And he said, “Credo quia absurdum”—“I believe it because it is absurd.” That’s the foundation of the Western mind. All this mumbo-jumbo about reason and evidence—when you strip it away it’s ultimately a faith in the absolutely, incontrovertibly incredible: the resurrection.
And all three—see, the permission for this belief, its true, comes out of the earlier stratum of Judaism where an earlier unlikely promise is made: the promise that God would enter history. That’s what set them up for this later deal. God will enter history, they were told. So then, if you’re a theologian of this faith, the question obviously arises: how will God enter history? And you ruminate on that for 500 or 600 years and eventually what you come up with is: he will send his own son. He will send a divine manifestation that will be an absolute union of spirit and matter. There will be a descent of the Paraclete into our midst. And the idea of the messiah is born, which is an incredibly peculiarly Western idea. I mean, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Mencius, Confucius—these were guys, you know? A messiah is a horse of a different feather. A messiah is not exactly a human being, you know? A messiah is a convalescence of historical force of great energy. So… I don’t know, where are we with all of this?
I don’t want to argue [???], I just think there is another way of looking at it. Also, these are the same guys that we have to remember, the white, male guys, when we see the Pope over here, we see the medieval picture. These are the same guys who burned Giordano Bruno—the great poet, visionary, and scientist of the state—because he wouldn’t recant, probably because of a stubborn Calabrian. I’m not sure about that, though—
But look at the reputation they gave him! Bruno without the pyre is a whiskey priest laying waste to the maids of Umbria. No, I mean, here is my point on this: I agree that history has been a nightmare. And if it could have been any other way, then probably some answers have to be given and some debts paid.
But I’m saying there might have been another way if they hadn’t burned all the libraries, sought to destroy knowledge to the point where, in the middle ages, when the Christians so-called liberated places like Toledo and found these Arabic writings about the Greek lost science, they couldn’t even translate it because they didn’t even have a concept of zero. It’s like the barbarians won in our society!
Well, they… yeah. No, they won—
Would they have won if they closed down the philosophical schools and didn’t destroy all the knowledge? Would it have been different? Well, we’ll never know because we didn’t have the chance!
Well, what I hear you saying is: life is tough.
Especially for Pagan philosophers.
Yes, you have to make your career choices carefully here.
Is your belief in this one dwell-point to which history is moving a form of monotheism?
Is it a form of monotheism? Well, I guess it’s a form of Neoplatonism. I had digested all that—Porphyry, Proclus, Plotinus. I do feel the power of the argument that, when all boundaries are dissolved, there will only be the plenum, the one. It’s an idea with a very long history in Western philosophy. It goes back to the Timaeus. See, my idea of how this thing is working is that boundaries are dissolving. If you want to make one prediction that you can take to the bank, that would be it: boundaries are dissolving. So any scheme that involves setting up new boundaries is probably doomed.
Well, yes. So, it is a kind of impressionistic pastiche that we are trying to anticipate. The other thing is—and this goes slightly more to the guts of the mathematics of my theory—but I think that time is wrapping itself in an involuting spiral, where each cycle is 1⁄64 as long as the cycle that preceded it. Well, if you accept that premise then you have a cosmogonic scheme where half of the unfolding of the manifestation of the cosmos will occur in the the last hour and 35 minutes of its existence. So attempting to anticipate what it will be like as we go down the maelstrom towards the lapis at the end of history, it can only be conceived psychedelically and wordlessly. I really think history is a psychedelic experience. And this old saw about how ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny—if you carry that through to completion, then all organic process ends in the big question mark of death. And we individually recapitulate that journey. We, each, will end in death. One of the things that always amuses me is that people are so resistant to the idea of the end of the world, never apparently having noticed that it’s a fairly academic question when played against the fact of the certainty of their own death! You know? Their world is going to end, so what’s with all this altruistic concern about all the rest of us? We’ll take care of our own apocalypse, thank you! You just need to come to terms with your own, because it’s inevitable.
Somebody had…? Yeah.
What do you think will happen to Islam when the East hits the West and fundamentalists end up struggling to survive and to reclaim its old territories?
Well, I think that, as this postmodern, post-communist thing unfolds, for several reasons, Islam is poised to make the greatest steps forward since the tenth century. For two reasons. First of all because—out there in central Asia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kirghizia—an enormous chunk of real estate is poised, and rightfully, toward moving toward fundamentalist Islam. If those states become Islamic states, Islam will effectively double the amount of land that it controls on this planet. The other thing is: as time accelerates, as the weirdness spreads—the global networking, the simulacra, the teledildonics, the virtual reality—as all this stuff becomes more and more prevalent, a lot of people are going to freak out and reach for the button marked return to traditional values. And on a global scale this is Islam. Christianity is a whore to capitalism. Christianity is not traditional values. Islam is not kidding. And I can imagine millions and millions of people alive today who can’t imagine that they would ever entertain conversion to Islam who will, before the end of their lives, make it part of what they’re about. Because there is no other traditional system available. It’s either that or what I call consumer object fetishism—which means the Mercedes, the house in St. Tropez, the Rolex watch, all of that.
The weekend seminar!
Diamonds on the soles of her shoes!
What about Judaism? Or [???]
I don’t think it—well, Judaism is not a converting religion. You say you want to become a Jew, they send some guy three times to convince you it’s a bad idea. You’re not going to.
In between, you have the Islam and you have Christianity. But in the society it doesn’t seem like you have what you would call the word of truth coming out of the music, or out of society. It’s like bits and pieces and fragments. But there is no basic word of what you might call hope or truth.
You mean out of popular culture?
Right. There is nothing really—maybe less, to some degree—coming out. But there’s not a lot coming out. You hear fragments in music…
This is why I associate myself with rave culture, and house and ambient music, and all that. Because that—you all know what this is, right? Well, see, that’s part of the problem. For years and years, youth has just been wandering in the desert of neolism and industrial noise bands, and that sort of thing. So now, out of England, there is a new kind of music which has different kinds of names. It’s called house, it’s called ambient, it’s called rave, it’s called trance, dance, tribal rap. It comes out of hip-hop. It doesn’t come out of rock’n’roll. In fact, it’s quite consciously not rock’n’roll. And it’s very optimistic. The people who are 18 to 28 are the most with-it generation in a while, and they are not buying into the consumer-object fetishism, and they don’t seem to be converting to Islam in large numbers either. So I think that you’ll be amazed in that popular culture will take a very positive turn in the next few years. There’s immense energy under the surface. Most of these bands produce CDs in pressings of 2,000 or 3,000 copies, but it’s a very vital and alive thing.
Are you seeing that they might come out with a wave of conscious lyrics that are true, and like, somehow in the 60s, you had Pink Floyd and The Beatles, and all the groups but there was a basic movement and everyone at that time could relate to those words?
Well, I think we’re just slightly premature. If the 90s are the 60s turned upside down, then we probably have to wait until 96—and that the energy is gathering. I’ll show you on the Time Wave tonight—not that that’s gospel—but it does appear that there is a kind of gathering charge under the atmosphere of this Southern white-boy eschaton that’s attempting to be created. But when that’s all over, and the hard lesson is learned that Christ himself couldn’t right the American Government as presently constituted, then I think we’ll get down to a more serious dialogue. It probably involved electing a fascist president—but what’s new about that?
The media likes to hold up the popular cultural mass movements and what kind of distortion happens when people start looking in that mirror. How do you plan to avoid what you call the Timothy Leary syndrome, wherein you allow something good and a few people in the know become trivialized, banal, and totality commercialized? How do you plan to escape the [???]?
You mean me, personally?
Yeah. I mean, if you’re connected with the rave moment, how—
Oh, I will pursue what I call the Salinger-Pynchon strategy. This is where I’m going to become progressively more remote, hard to reach, legendary, and sort of just fade off. But I don’t really have any complaints about the media. If I could get the kind of consideration from Mondo 2000 that I get from the New York Times, all would be rosy in my world. It’s your friends who scare you to death in the media.
I think it was Colin Wilson who said, when he published The Outsider, that there were two ways that the society could totality destroy ones creativity. One was by totality ignoring you and the other one was by recognizing you.
Yes, that’s right. You become a cliché.
About the 18 to 28 group—my concern is: what’s going to happen to them? You know? What [???] politics [???] to them?
Well, what’s going to happen to all of us? We’re all in the same—
[???] doing for them, so that what happened in the 60s doesn’t happen, where there’s just this incredible—or being particularly aware of the incredible kind of resistance, and brain washing, and cult-snatching off people [???].
I don’t think we want to get into a wrangle with the establishment over some life or death issue like the Vietnam War. That permitted an incredible penetration of the underground. The great middle class—who was maybe not interested in the war, but who was also not interested in tearing their clothes off and smoking pot in the panhandle—they were willing to stand by and watch while the establishment really did a job. I think, also, a stealth strategy is best. You don’t want to manufacture ten million hits of LSD in the dormitory on the weekend and then go for the jugular of society. Obviously, this alarms ordinary people. Remember when Ken Kesey used to tour the country with the bus, Furthur? Well, they had a big banner which was on the front of it, which said, “We have come for your daughters.” Now, this is great for a laugh, but it doesn’t reassure the folks out there in Baboon Wazoo when you roll into town.
—kind of teaching discretion since the general tendency of youth is to be kind of—
Well, and a lot of survivors of the 60s are now in position to help. A fifth column within. All the years of guilt you’ve built up over how you betrayed the revolution could be redeemed in a single moment down the road a few years, because you can intervene at some crucial point.
Does that include stoning Bob Dole?
Stoning Bob Dole? Dosing Dole? No, I think the Republicans—their only hope of survival is to nominate Perot, which they probably will do.
I wish I believed in your writing off of fundamental Christianity, but I kind of see it as such a strong irrational force that I’m really worry about it. I’m wondering why you think it’s not?
Well, again, when we look at the Time Wave tonight you’ll see that we’re in a period which has a very strong resonance with the Dark Ages. You probably noticed anyway. I think that fundamentalist Christianity is rising in its power, but that that power doesn’t extend much beyond the turn of the century. That there is going to be a last gasp and a final bubble in their attempt to influence the political agenda. But, in a sense, their grip is already broken. But there are enormous battles which lie ahead. By the turn of the century, I don’t see it as particularly a problem. It’s only, you know, in America that this horrible business goes on. Europe is a truly secular society. They are just absolutely baffled that our political agenda can be influenced so strongly by what they perceive as crazy people. Rattlesnake-handling ecstatics from the hills of Tennessee,—I mean, you have to go to Bengal to get stuff like that!
[???] again, and they’re taking apart our sacred constitution. You’re standing here, sitting here, talking about—
Yeah, you said crypto fascism in the brochure, but there’s also—won’t you also admit that there is Christo-fascism and that we need to be worried about that just as much?
Well, for instance, this Supreme Court decision on animal sacrifice is alarming to animal rights people. But the larger issue, to my mind, is that it’s an invitation for eccentric religious practices to get constitutional protection. And the Supreme Court even re-invited the submission of the Oregon Peyote case based on that. I think that the election was about this and that, cut it how you may, those people got their asses whooped. They just keep screaming about it because they’re bad sports. But the election basically turned into a referendum on this family values crapola that they assumed everyone would rally around. And instead, that was the final evisceration. So I think they are very poor sports, but that they not controlling the political agenda of this country. Of course, give the Democratic party enough rope and I’m sure they can sufficiently fumble the ball to probably get Hermann Goering elected.
I’m just wondering if anyone is in such disbelief as I am that in the anti-papist country of Thomas Jefferson, the Pope could come here and draw a crowd that looks like The Beatles visit in the 60s. You know, a stadium full of all these people crying and tearing at him. This is supposed to be a secular society. Why does this guy get this kind of reaction from the American populace? Doesn’t that disturb you?
Well, what disturbed me about the Papal visit is, I could see that some very, very sly public relations people are going for the same demographic I’m interested in. The way in which it was presented as an outreach to youth, and how he’s in the hood, he’s our guy, he’s my man! The pope, my man! I just thought this is bizarre. But also a measure of desperation. I just think this, too, will pass away. Let’s check the Time Wave. I think it has something more to do with the captivity at Avignon than the politics of Denver, I think.
Help me out here somebody, where are we? Yes.
[???] is that the second-generation are very beautiful kids. They’ve got really good, straight spiritual training for 18, 20 years. They don’t have anything to do with the institution [???] strict rules and regulations. And they have a very nice appreciation for drugs, and chanting, dancing, and feasting. I think when the raves get with the second-generation Hare Krishnas, it will be nice combination.
Well, see, in a sense, the rave is an attempt to be second-generation freaks; to actually learn from the 60s. I’m pretty positive about it. It’s just going to be a smörgåsbord. The evidence is going to come in faster and faster, supporting all positions. Things are going to get a lot worse and a lot better, and it’s all going to happen simultaneously. I really believe that, from 1945 to 2012, we are reliving in a compressed form about 4,300 years of human history. Very literally. This is not a metaphor. And if you take that seriously, then we have reached 765 AD. That’s as far as we’ve come from 1945. And ahead of us lies the establishment of Gothic Europe, the Black Plague, Newton’s laws, the Italian Renaissance, the Machine Age, the European Enlightenment, the discovery of atomic power, DNA. All that lies beyond the turn of the century. So when people are frustrated by the fact that we can’t see what the transcendental object at the end of time is going to look like—I can’t say here is what it will be like on the great day when it comes—it’s because it lies, literally, below the horizon of rational apprehension.
But that doesn’t mean that, when you look east, the sky isn’t streaked with the blush of rosy dawn. It is; it has been for centuries. We’re moving toward this thing. It has to do with the idea of human freedom, it has to do with the idea of the inherent dignity of human beings, it has to do with the idea of everybody should have four square meals and a roof over their head. It stretches from the sublime to the mundane. It’s an idea of how it should be. And sometimes it resides in the secular domain through the schemes of Marxism or even of National Socialism, and sometimes it resides in the domain of religion as some kind of great cleansing or the descent of the glory or the coming of the Maitreya. But human history is the outer shell of the phenomenon—that’s one way of thinking of it. So if you find yourself inside human history, then you are inside the attractor field of the transcendental object. And then you just have to find where you are in the historical galaxy. Are you just about to escape its influence and drift off into the interstellar darkness, or are you closer in to the core and therefore irrevocably locked and irrevocably being moved, slowly but with great certitude, towards the confrontation and revelation of this thing?
And, of course, it happens to us individually with death. There’s no escaping it! But then we choose—in the same way we’re a little dodgy about facing our own death, we’re even more dodgy about thinking about the fate of the species. Science has tried to tell us that human history is purposeless. Well, this is a very odd contention because, if it is purposeless, it’s the only purposeless and disordered process that’s ever been observed. And there it is, right smack in the middle as the sum total of the activity of the most conscious entities known to exist in the cosmos—a strange place for purposelessness to crop up with such a vengeance!
You talked about how psilocybin mushrooms are responsible for the big cranial leap from the protohominid to Homo sapiens. Do you think it’s possible that, again, the psilocybin mushroom can play a role in our next evolutionary leap of some form? It may not be physical, but…?
Yeah. Well, that’s a good question. I don’t think I’ve talked too much about this because it has a sort of funny vibration to it. But sort of following Isaac Asimov’s style of writing Foundation and Empire; Second Foundation—if you haven’t read these books, these are huge science fiction histories of the future. It seems to me you could make a case that there is something called the strophariad. It’s great that this Latin word works out this way. And the first strophariad was established on Earth half a million years ago and lasted until 12,000 years ago, and then it ended. Then there was the historical era, the imperial era, the era of ego, kingship, phonetic alphabets, exteriorized technology, standing armies, urbanism, architecture, hierarchical structure, forced social role playing, so forth and so on.
And then, beginning in 1953—that would be the year zero of the second strophariad. That when the Abraham and Sarah of the new order—Gordon and Valentina Wasson—discover the mushrooms in the mountains of Mexico. And then, of course, in the 70s the brother’s McKenna propagate the method for cultivation, which turns it from a rare tropical endemic into a denizen of every attic and cellar from Nome to Calcutta.
And the symbiosis between human beings and the fungi is reestablished. And it’s a symbiosis that leads directly back to a connection into the Gaian mind of the planet. It would be great. It’s a little grandiose for me to claim it, but it would be wonderful if technology would miniaturize itself, if sexuality would generalize itself, if nomadism, electronically sustained through universal issuance of power books and fax-modems, were to come into vogue, and an entirely new social—isn’t that what it says on the dollar bill? A new social order for the ages would be born. And we could all become an eye floating above our own pyramidal database of uniquely sculpted virtually real personal brick-a-brack. I think that the mushroom has an immense role to play in the human drama.
What do you mean, “symbiosis”? What do we give the mushroom?
We give it hands. It has no power to manipulate the environment. It touches the environment as lightly as a—
Are you saying that you think it’s an intelligent thing that needs expression through human mind and body?
Well, that’s one idea that I have entertained: that it’s some kind of thing that blew in here a long, long time ago. As I was saying earlier this morning, we will come to live in the imagination. If you look at the mushroom, it looks like an organism that engineered itself that way and said, “Let’s deemphasize our bodies, let’s reproduce by spores, let’s be primary decomposers, let’s get out of the food chain, let’s spread ourselves as lightly as cobwebs through the ecosystems we inhabit.” But—
And see who eats us first?
And see who eats us first! But it seems to have like a database of intelligence that is trans-planetary. And we don’t know what kind of a barrier space represents to the drift of life. We’ve only known about DNA since 1950. Presumably, any civilization with a full understanding of DNA could design itself and create a karma-less body, an eternal style, an enormous telepathic capacity. So mushroomhood may be something that we’re headed for—or at least it may serve as a natural model for a new style of organic existence as the shedding of the monkey begins to be progressively accelerated.
It’s perfectly clear that I don’t think that we can go to the stars as hairless monkeys. It’s just bad packaging. It was great for the conquest of a terrestrial environment, but if we’re serious about taking our place in the hegemony of galactarian civilization, then I think a considerable downsizing and repackaging is going to be necessary for that. And the spores offer a good blueprint for that.
Well, I see that it’s noon. To your scattered bodies: go. We’ll meet back here at four o’clock and I’ll probably be in the tubs part of the afternoon. I’ll be giving an interview part of that time. But I’m happy to talk to you. Any time I’m around untrammeled, feel free.
Well, let’s see. It was suggested to me that maybe we should confine questions to designated periods, so as not to break what was perceived by some as the forward thrust of rhetorical momentum and perceived by others as the unmitigated exhibition of megalomania. Oh, I’m for that! So maybe we’ll do that. I was sorry to hear that because questions are such an easy way out!
Let’s talk a little bit about any loose ends of this morning, and then I’ll talk for a while, and then we’ll entertain discussion at the end of that. Is anybody disappointed? Are we not getting to your favorite subject, or somehow slighting some side of it that you’re afraid isn’t going to get its full treatment? Or any comment on what went on this morning? Anybody?
I was just talking to some people in the bookstore, and my experiences are not—I thought everybody had pretty much the same experiences. But with me and mushrooms, I had profound teachings, and teachings of things that I was unconsciously aware of. You know? And, like, given really good advice, and sometimes instructions, as well as awarenesses. So I don’t know if this would be boring because I know you’ve done this a lot, but I would like to [???].
So you like stories? I agree. I just never know—I’m always trying to calculate. There’s just such a limited number of hours. Is it okay to swap stories and never mention the Paleolithic? What gets sacrificed for what? But I agree. I think stories are great, and I certainly don’t discourage them.
As you were talking about before, the intelligence in these substances, the intelligence that seems to be in these substances [???]
So that’s what interests you? Well yeah, it’s what interests me. What I keep going back to is how confounding it is. How confounding it is to rational expectation that a plant can—exactly as you say: it gives you specific advice. It can color-coordinate your wardrobe if this is a major concern of yours. It has no snobbery in what it will deal with. It’s eerily like a companion. I mean, I can’t… no other—even psychedelic!—does that. It’s in a sort of a category by itself as an entelechy. On DMT you encounter these self-transforming machine elves, or the gnomes of hyperspace. But these things are drenched with the peculiar or the outré.
Often, in the mushroom thing, it’s very approachable and friendly and manageable—at least on a certain level. It’s like anybody, any personality. It has depth. I never know. Is this news to people or is this ho-hum and we’ve been over all this many times before? The mushroom as mind. The mushroom as historical; something which is penetrating human history, changing what it means to be a human being. In my book, Food of the Gods, I argue that it actually shaped human organization out of primate organization. That our bizarre situation in nature—that of being half primate and half archangel—is explainable only if you assume some extraordinary catalytic agent coming into our environment around the time when we were descending from the trees and becoming omnivorous and switching over to becoming nomadic grassland animals. The human brain size doubled in two million years; the most extraordinary transformation of the major organ of a higher animal in the entire paleontological record. This would, under any circumstances, be an extraordinary challenge to the theory of evolution. The fact that the theory of evolution was generated by this very organ under discussion makes its inability to explain it particularly embarrassing if you follow my logic.
So there was some extraordinary catalytic action that, in terms of the geological record, was like a bolt of lightning. A species—a primate, an arboreal creature transformed into a grassland forager—suddenly stands upright, begins to perform symbolic activities. Our peculiar relationship to our sexuality and to dominance hierarchies, I believe, has to do with the fact that, as primates, we are genetically scripted to have male dominance hierarchies. But for a very long time the presence of psilocybin in the human diet pharmacologically interrupted that maladaptive behavior and created an orgiastic social style that was very strong glue for group consciousness, because men could not trace lines of male paternity under those circumstances. And so a very old primate behavior was—for a couple of million years, perhaps—overwhelmed by a dietary factor.
Then, fairly recently—with the drying of the African continent—the mushroom religion, and the society that had gathered around it, and the social and sexual style that had gathered around it, collapsed. And these ancient people around 10,000 BC migrated in yet another wave of migration out of Africa into the Middle East and established the early human stratigraphy that we see in the Nile Valley and at Jericho and other places. That’s the fall into history. Because, in the absence of the mushroom, the old primate program reemerges. And it’s right at that moment—as we break with the African grasslands and as we become sowers of cereal grains across Asia Minor—it’s right at that moment that a whole series of maladaptive institutions spring into being simultaneously: male kingship, standing armies, urban concentrations, canonized law, suppression of a goddess-religion in favor of a religion of male warrior figures, the age of Gilgamesh, agriculture. All of that comes at once. I think it represents a break with the Gaian mind previously maintained through this quasi-symbiotic, shamanic, psychedelic, mushroom connection—a break with that, and a profound alienation, then, from the natural world that issues into history.
I mean, Gilgamesh, for crying out loud—the earliest piece of literature out of that area that we have—is a story about a guy who gets a hold on the loyalty of the shaman and co-opts his loyalty and gets him to help him cut down the world tree. They go off into the wilderness—Enkidu the shaman figure and Gilgamesh the wily king figure—and they cut down the world tree. This is the earliest piece of literature out of that area.
Just to leave no stern untoned, in our own liturgical tradition, a story of that antiquity is the whole Bible story of Genesis, which is the story of a drug bust, essentially. A whole hassle about a forbidden plant; a plant that conveys knowledge. The owner of the garden has decided this knowledge is not for the human beings. And then the woman—the woman: the gatherer, the one who represents the old religious strata, the now being suppressed heretical, fungal connection—the woman eats of the plant, then she corrupts her roommate, the landlord goes berserk, the lease is canceled. And, in the final fade on that story, what we get is: “And God set an angel at the eastern gate of Eden with a flaming sword that they might not find their way back.”
Well, that’s simply an image of the desiccating African sun driving these people out of the Saharan cradle of this mother goddess: psilocybin-based, nomadic, cattle-centered religion, which was a kind of style that had arisen there and flourished for 100,000 years, and then the fall into history is real.
We are like the children of a kind of a dysfunctional relationship. There really is a trauma of some sort in our past. History really is a kind of pathological bereavement because we were dropped on our heads 12,000 years ago and we’ve been trying to sort it out ever since. It explains, to my mind, our fascination with drugs. It is true that many animals—yes, elephants trample down fences to get to rotting papaya and butterflies hang out at dishes of sugar until their little legs are clawing the air—but human beings are of a different order when it comes to addictions. We physically addict to several dozen substances, psychologically addict to dozens more, addict to behaviors, political ideologies, each other, art works, you name it! People go bananas in some cases if deprived of any of these things, and show all the symptoms of heroin withdrawal: insomnia, palpitating heart, irritability, irrational decision-making, delusion, so forth and so on. The extraordinary confluence of events necessary to call us into being as a thinking species was this kind of quasi-symbiotic relationship that evolved between us, cattle, and fungi, where the fungi became—or is, for some mysterious still to be discovered—a pipeline into a mind, an entelechy, which we can only image as feminine and can only associate somehow to the environment, to the ecosystem. This is the Gaian mind. This is what the goddess really is. The goddess is a network of connective intelligence that is operating on this planet.
And I think it’s not, in its essence, mysterious. It’s simply that what the psychedelic does is: it dissolves boundaries. And one of the boundaries that it dissolves is the boundary between community, which is a behavioral boundary maintained by the convention of language and, therefore, not as set in concrete as you might wish to be congealed. Between that boundary and nature there comes a dissolution. And then there is, lo and behold, not the barren howling atoms of Democratian materialism but, instead, nature: pulsating, minded, alive, caring, threaded into the human enterprise, willing to advise you on your fashion choices and investments. And it’s an astonishing thing. We were the great celebrants of that in this Paleolithic world. We were its chief acolytes, if you will, because our glory was the neocortex: the language processing capacity that we brought into the game—because we had been primates in the canopy of trees, with a pack-signaling repertoire at the level of dogs, or something like that. And then, under the stimulation of the glossolalias brought on by ecstatic doses of psilocybin in this context of orgiastic boundary-dissolving sexuality, this mystery was connected with. And it is exactly the same mystery that you hit at five grams in silent darkness. And it’s still mysterious. Thomas Aquinas, Heidegger… they don’t really shed much light on this. We haven’t in 25,000 years learned anything that makes this trivial or dismissible. It still raises the hair on the back of your neck. It still feels like the true indwelling of a metaphysical essence. It turns out that all the careful deconstruction of living nature by materialism was in vain. I mean, nature is alive and minded! I don’t know what this means.
I, myself—as I sit here, not loaded (particularly)—cannot grasp the implication of a minded nature. It means that we’re living in a world much closer to the spirit of early Greek mythology than the spirit of our own materialist philosophies. And I suppose that’s why there’s an argument for being au courant in your philosophical biases, because from places in our cultural canon like quantum physics and chaos mathematics, places that are very like early Greek philosophy—I mean, Heraclitus speaks for chaos, and I suppose Parmenides or Thales speaks for some of these other points of view—quantum physics, the discrete nature of the world. These things, if you can assimilate them, are very close to what is perceived with psychedelics, but very, very far from the models that are being inherited from the past. At the very center, you put your finger on it to bring it back around to that, at the most confounding center of this mystery is the presence, the voice, the companion, the ally. It’s crazy! It literally is impossible within the context of the cultural expectation, and yet it’s real.
This was what got me onto all this years and years ago, because somehow I had friends early on who said these plants talk to you. And I just thought, “My god, they’re losing their marbles!” And I would take LSD and smoke cannabis and do these things, and have all kinds of strange experiences, but I never got what this thing was about how the plants talk to you until I got to psilocybin. And then it’s just like… but you have to invoke it. You have to speak to it. It doesn’t speak until spoken to. They’re shy. They’re like fairies—hell, they may be fairies; who knows? You have to coax it out. And then it will just come forward. It’s the damndest thing. As I sit here—a man of 46, earning a living by telling people how you coax fairies out from under invisible bushes—I wonder myself at what the cultural crisis has come to. Nevertheless, it’s true! It’s as true as anything. And it’s more confounding than most things.
I don’t know what it means. I’ve been through the possible explanations: Jung, autonomous psychic entities escaped from the controlling influence of the Superego; yes. But when you’re talking to a gnome, saying that to them is absurd as suggesting to a Javanese person that they’re an autonomous portion of the psyche that has escaped from the control of the ego. It doesn’t wash. I think that somehow we, unlike shamans, we haven’t taken these worlds seriously enough. Because we have a materialist basis. One of the things—this is maybe a point worth making, and then I’ll stop raving about this—one of the things that quantum mechanics has secured is the necessity of the observer for the ongoing enfoldment of phenomena. To me, that means that hallucinations have undergone an ontological shift of status. If hallucinations are now part of reality, they are primary data for theory-making in the same way that the movement of the stars is, or the changing of the tides. Quantum mechanics secures the mind as the necessary agent in all process. And so, hallucinations are no longer off the table or out of evidence in terms of trying to understand what’s going on with reality.
That brings up the question that I’ve heard posed before. Sometimes it’s on people’s minds and they don’t want to say it, and that is: why should people believe this Irish raving tale-tell of human evolution? I mean, after all, I have to admit, I am in awe by your intellectual prowess. I figure everybody knows this guy talking about stories. A guy that can convince his girlfriend to bring his lover on a trip down to Putumayo could talk a whole generation into anything!
Your powers of persuasion are fantastic.
Thank you! I appreciate that. Are you saying… what is your question? I mean, I agree. I think the best idea will win. In a sense you’re right. The person who can tell the best story, that story will win. But “best story” is a complex concept. It also means “best formal mathematical underpinning.” You get high points for that. Most people come up rather short in that department. I come out of the Berkeley tradition of all-night conversations. I think often, in arguments, you don’t make progress until the ninth hour. And I’m willing to debate all this stuff.
As far as my theory of evolution is concerned: first of all, you might suppose there is a large and established body of theory that has to be exploded—what the straight people say about how we doubled our brain size and got culture and mathematics. It turns out, no, they haven’t got a clue. There is no big theory which has to be blown up. The best shot the straight people can give it is, they say that we were puny and small in a world of the large and the lumbering, and so we learned to throw rocks with great precision and accuracy. They would essentially make the big league baseball player the pinnacle of human evolutionary development and then say, once we had done that, we had so much brain capacity left over that the plays of Shakespeare and modern mathematics were no problem.
I say that this is hokum. Obviously, they’ve done these experiments where they raise identical rats in environments which are very rich in experience and then poor in experience, and the ones raised in the rich environment, when—hang on, folks!—sacrificed, exhibit in the brain slices a much more complex arborization than the ones that were in the learning-poor environment. So I think that one way of thinking about these psychedelics, and especially the psilocybin family coming out of these mushrooms, is that they were catalysts for the human imagination. They catalyze cognitive activity—whatever it is: counting your toes, painting on your friend, playing around in anthills, making funny noises in your off hours, arranging the roots you’ve collected in different categories. It just promotes cognitive activity, which you then take back into the group.
Is there a different effect [???] between the fresh mushroom, let’s say [???] right off the dung patty, and the dried mushroom?
I don’t think particularly. You mean, like, is the spiritual intelligence present in the dried stuff?
Is the effect more potent?
Well, the fresh ones definitely are kickaroo just simply because the psilocybin isn’t bound up in dried cellulose matrix. It dissolves much quicker. That’s probably what that’s about.
One of the things that I think happened—I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand this scenario of transition from what I call the mushroom partnership paradise to the historical bummer that came down when all that blew up. I can imagine, as Africa grew drier, the mushroom would have perhaps over millennia slowly faded in availability. Instead of being all the time everywhere, it would go to being seasonal and then to be only in the rain shadows of mountains and stuff like that. I’m sure a certain amount of cultural specialization would take place, i.e. you would appoint shamans to be the people who take the mushrooms in order to keep the connect open. And the other thing that would go on is: there would be anxiety about preservation, to try and keep a supply available for human use. Well, perversely, the most obvious method of preserving mushrooms or any other delicate foodstuff in that kind of an environment is to desiccate it in honey; put it into a crystalline honey and the sugar will draw the water out of it. This is why you hear about the Romans eating hummingbird tongues pickled in honey. It’s because the honey made the whole process possible.
The problem there in our scenario where we’re talking about how drugs shape culture is that honey itself has the perverse ability to become a psychoactive substance to ferment into mead. If you’ve ever been in the tropics and experienced aboriginal honeys, they have a much higher water content than what you are getting at the A&P. And they do quickly ferment. When you’re offered honey, it’s often a completely baffling and horrible thing that you can’t really associate to what you know at home.
As an example there of how drug styles shape cultural styles: alcohol, the fermented meads in early cereal beers of the ancient Middle East, they create a completely different set of cultural values. Gone are the orgies, gone the connection to the Gaian mind. Now what you have is an increased sense of verbal facility and the lowering of sensitivity to social cueing. The kind of behavior you see in singles bars on a Friday night. A lot of negative imprinting goes on around alcohol, or in the past has gone on around alcohol. This thing I was talking about earlier, the itch we can’t scratch, this fascination with drugs—once the umbilical connection was broken to the Gaian mind in this African situation, then it was just a series of insufficient substitutes. The early beers and meads, opium appears to come into the picture shortly after this time, cannabis we have no idea how old it is. To my mind, cannabis is the closest substitute for the social glue and provides the same kinds of social functions that the mushroom may have provided. It may have later, across central Asia, played a somewhat similar but subsidiary role.
We have explored nature frantically in search of intoxicants of all kinds. This continues to this day. The old-style primate dominance hierarchy reemerged. And what it brings with it is moral cruelty, and an insensitivity to suffering, and a willingness to sacrifice others for grandiose political schemes, and a willingness to let dogma rule over common sense, and so forth and so on. And 10,000 years of letting that run rampant—as an engine of cultural destruction, it can’t be beat. The pygmies in the rainforest are no match for it, nor is anybody else. After 10,000 years of letting that run rampant over the landscape, here we are. And strangely enough, then, here we are gathered for the deathbed scene of Western civilization, and as every text is published, every archaeological site excavated, every occult system explored, every drug injected, so forth and so on, comes the news from ethnography—this minor branch of anthropology—that people are taking these drugs, these plants, in the rainforest and making extraordinary claims about its ability to transport you into other dimensions and heal and so forth. It’s like the Ouroboric snake taking its tail in its mouth, and the energy just runs around the circle.
History is somehow redeemed, I think, by this return to the archaic. The question of what history was for, I’m not sure. But what caused it, I’m pretty clear on. It’s a pathology or it’s a series of behaviors that are responsive to the tremendous trauma and stress of the breakup of this symbiotic relationship with nature. It’s like a crisis of adolescence or a temporary psychosis, or something like that. And now, strangely enough, we have gained through the peregrination of history a vast knowledge about forbidden and dark subjects: the control of matter, the control of the genetic units of life itself, the building of instrumentalities that can survive flight to the stars, so forth and so on. But to this point, this has all been in the service of some weird Faustian conqueror-complex. Now, all these tools have to be put at the service of a kind of ethos of planetary care-giving and ecological maintenance. It has all fallen into our responsibility.
In a sense, we have come of age. Child of the Earth, now here is the inheritance. There are a few dents in the Ferrari from some of the little episodes we took before we settled down, but it’s all ours to make of what we will. And then, behind that—what is it that Andrew Marvell says in his poem? The grave’s a lovely quiet place, but none do, dare I think embrace, for always at my back I hear, time’s winged chariot hurrying near. And of course, behind this level I’m talking about is time’s chariot hurrying near. The fact that rising over our world is the black sun of the incomprehensible event of our cultural transformation that has been built into our cultural mythology since Abraham hesitated to slay his son. This is our thing. The finite apotheosis of the world, and all these yet un-integrated but soon to be integrated technologies, control languages, understandings are leading to the transformation of the human self-image.
And, really, the psychedelic experience is just inoculating yourself for the onslaught of transformation that is going to be rolling towards you through 3D. It’s not going to come entirely through drugs, you know. It’s going to come through the culture. It already is. It’s batshit weird out there. You don’t have to have a bone through your nose to pick up on that.
Did you have a question?
I read a theory that primates rose from four legs to two—exactly why, I don’t remember—but once up in the higher air the brain enlarged and prospered more rapidly. And the number of neurons in the brain increased so that we now have 100 billion neurons. And that was the real origin of civilization.
Oh, I see what you’re saying. Well, it is true, if you’ve ever observed even squirrel monkeys, which are a fairly primitive primate. Squirrel monkeys, if they want to run quickly, will rise up off their front legs. There’s a lot of question about bipedalism and when it came in. Some people think it didn’t come in until we leave the trees. We were a complex animal, there’s no doubt about it, when we were in the arboreal canopy. But we were probably no more complex that the Prosimians that exist in the world today. You see, the real challenge for evolutionary theory is not that the human brain could evolve at all—that seems reasonable and somewhat inevitable—but the speed is really shocking. A transformation of a major organ like that, when charted in some other animal order, occurs on a scale of 50 million years. In the human beings it occurred in a million and a half years. And if you’re just going to limit yourself to the rules of ordinary evolutionary theory, then when you look at that transformation of that major organ in a million and a half years, you have to say there was an extraordinary selective pressure operating there that apparently operated on no other species at no other time in the history of the Earth.
I think—to generalize a bit here—that the un-discussed dimension of evolution is diet. You see, if you study evolution without great depth, what they tell you is that mutation is acted upon by natural selection and that mutation is caused by gene breakage and gene modification, and that gene modification is caused by radiation—cosmic radiation reaching the Earth. Now, that part of the story is a gross simplification. Gene breakage is actually caused by stress of all sorts. And incidental cosmic radiation reaching the surface of the Earth is only one kind of stress. Another kind of stress is chemical toxins in the environment, especially chemical toxins in the diet. So if you have a species which comes under nutritional pressure, it has two options: it can either go extinct or it can begin experimenting with its diet. And if it begins experimenting with its diet, there is many a slip before it gets it sorted out.
Many exposures to toxic and poisonous substances or quasi-toxic substances skew the ovulation cycle or affect expression of body hair or cause the retention of juvenile characteristics. So when an animal is undergoing dietary transformation, it’s in a situation of extraordinary mutational flux. An example that I think makes this perfectly clear is: sweet potatoes are a big part of human diets in many tropical parts of the world, and many primates are keen for sweet potatoes. But Ortho-Novum and birth control drugs like that are made from those same sweet potatoes, from dioscorea vines which are grown on huge mechanized plantations in northern Mexico. That’s where the birth control hormone comes from.
Well now, here’s the scenario: a hungry band of foraging primates comes upon a big patch of what looks like our favorite food—sweet potatoes—and everybody chows down. And it turns out it’s jammed with these hormones and lactation, ovulation, menstruation, fertility, fetal formation—all of these things, you just shuffled the deck folks. You don’t know what you’re going to get out of that. If the animals are sensitive enough to the situation to stop eating it, well then it’s just a localized catastrophe. But if they persist they will be mutational or extinct within several generations. So I’m suggesting that, at this moment when we left the trees, there was a great deal of dietary experimentation going on and psilocybin was a factor in there.
Looking at us, and trying to understand our relationship to the other primates, one of the things that evolutionary primatologists have always noted is that human beings exhibit was is called neoteny. Do you all know what this is? Neoteny is the preservation of juvenile characteristics into adulthood. We all do this. If you look at our skull proportion to our bodies, it’s an infantile proportion when you compare us to other primates. Human adults look like the fetuses of other primate species. Our hairlessness: that’s a fetal and juvenile characteristic in other primates that fades in adulthood. We retain it. And so forth and so on. This is the kind of thing that we see in other species that are reacting to toxic episodes in their earlier evolutionary history. And we are a funny looking monkey, you have to admit. And ugly suckers, too! Thank god the estrogen reddening of the bottom was suppressed before we got down to the business of civilization. Public masturbation seems to be under control, but otherwise, if you’ve ever looked at those Prosimians and the proboscis monkeys of Southeast Asia, they’re just like very ugly people, you know?
Anyway, enough about that. Yes?
Were there other predators that were likely to happen upon this psilocybin [???]?
No. Well, possibly. See, the thing is, animals tend to specialize their food supply. An animal will not explore a new food unless it’s under nutritional pressure. I don’t know if there were other animals being pushed out of that same environment. A sort of parallel family that, if the primates hadn’t seized the golden ring, might have gotten somewhere were the raccoons. The raccoons have a pretty advanced optical system, a pretty adaptable hand, a reasonable level of socialization and would make a cute movie, I suppose.
Maybe bears, weren’t they omnivorous?
Bears also have been suggested as one of the lines from which an intelligent species might emerge, yeah.
When these mushrooms in the wild die, do they just decompose eventually or do insects eat them?
Well, they persist. They are not the kind of mushrooms that auto-digest. Some kinds of mushrooms just turn into slime. Most of the psilocybin mushrooms, especially the more palatable ones, persist. Well, you should understand the mushroom that you see, which mycologists call a carpophore, is just a small part of what a mushroom is. A mushroom is really a very fine network of spider-like material, cobwebby material, that’s under the soil. And it can stay like that for decades no problem, growing, vegetatively propagating itself the way a houseplant is vegetatively propagated. No sexual reproduction involved there, just an individual getting bigger and bigger.
Last year, you may recall, they reported some of these mushrooms clones that were acres in size and weighed more than a sperm whale and were in fact the world’s largest organisms—were these enormous fungal individuals sleeping in the Oregon forest for unaccounted eons, dreaming nightmarish dreams that were… no, I’m sorry. What?
They were 30 miles big?
I know. The mind boggles to the point where I lost my thread in the thing.
Oh! The natural history of the mushroom! So what I was saying: the mushroom is like something that happens when this fungal mat, this mycelial network, gets in the mood for sunbathing and sexual thrills. And so then it undergoes dikaryotic self-expression. The genetics of fungi are somewhat complex to the point where I never really have understood it myself. They’re not like you and me, let’s just put it like that. And then it fruits! It fruits: that’s what the carpophore is; it’s also called a fruiting body. In the Stropharia Cubensis mushroom, a single mushroom can shed up to 3 million spores a minute for six weeks. So, you know, it’s a truly astonishing deal. And they’re at the bottom of the food chain. They’re primary decomposers. If you were a Buddhist with a hyperdegree in molecular biology, you were trying to design a karma-free body, you would have to become a fungus. Because they are the only blameless members of the food chain, because they exist on dead matter. They don’t destroy anything. They don’t live off living material. And the spore is this tiny microscopic capsule of genetic material that is surrounded by an organic layer of material that is as electron-dense as many metals.
And I maintain that these spores, in fact, percolate through space. That they can survive the conditions of extraterrestrial environments. If you want to store mushrooms spores, you essentially store them in liquid nitrogen. It’s about as outer-spaceish as it gets. And you can calculate—if a single mushroom sheds 3 million spores a minute for six weeks, I’m telling you, there are a lot of spores being shed into the terrestrial environment. And then they percolate. And some percolate out into the outer atmosphere where they become involved in highly energetic events that actually detach them from the terrestrial environment. I think one of the easy predictions you can make—it’s like a knockoff and yet it would be the cover of Time magazine—it’s perfectly obvious that space is no barrier to certain viruses and spores, and that one of the future revolutions of biology will this will somehow be proven.
It’s always puzzled me—and some of you have heard me talk about it—that psilocybin is an indole which is phosphorylated in the 4-position. This is chemist-talk, but the important thing for our discussion is: it is the only 4-substituted phosphorylation of an indole on this planet. And that’s very weird. Why? The way I would expect chemical evolution to work is if you have molecule A then you should find molecule sort of A and nearly A, and A + 1, and A + 2, but here’s a molecule that has no near relatives. I think one kind of mentality looks for extraterrestrial life by sifting for radio signals with a telescope. I think one way to look for an extraterrestrial thumbprint would be to make a thorough molecular categorizing of the molecules on this planet to see if there’s anything that looks like it blew in from somewhere else. And psilocybin would be a strong candidate. What is it doing in some forty species of mushroom? There are hundreds of species of mushrooms which do not contain psilocybin, proving, therefore, that psilocybin is not somehow a necessity for fungal existence. Well then, if you believe that evolution operates with a certain economy, then why do these forty species furiously dedicate a major portion of their metabolic budget to making a metabolite that seems to have no purpose?
I think when we finally—if we ever—tease apart this psychedelic thing, what we’ll discover is it’s an interspecies communication system. That life is a seamless web of signal transduction, and that we somehow have become isolated from this process by our historical pathology. So for us the voices have grown mute. We can’t get the signal. And consequently it’s a pretty grim row to hoe. There’s a curve with the introduction of every drug of great expectation. I mean, once it was Milltown, and then Valium, and then something else. And usually, once as your data sample swells, you begin to see the negative effects of these things.
I’m sort of not the person to ask this because I’m very… some people have said “blindly prejudiced” in favor of plants. But I just think human beings have evolved in the presence of living systems, and that’s a very good filter to pass drugs through. The question: do they occur in living systems? I mean, God knows. There’s enough stress built into modern life. It’s like a stress production machine. I’m constantly trying to tell myself that we’re having a good time now, and that this is what it’s all about.
If I may go off on a tear here. I followed with interest the crop circle phenomenon in England. And recently a book has been written by an American called Around in Circles. And it basically buries the crop circle phenomenon. If your metaphysic was hanging on this, you better head for cover in a hurry. But the most interesting figure to me in the controversy was this British meteorologist, Terence Meaden, who, at the beginning, his position was: this is the wind. These things are vortices caused by heat convection. And they’re capable of swirling the wheat into these patterns. He was, you see, a reductionist. He was saying there’s nothing unusual going on here, so forth and so on. Then, as the phenomenon got rolling, the circles became more and more elaborate. And Meaden, always being asked by the media to explain these things, came to insist—he eventually electrified his vortices and they became plasma vortices, a rare natural phenomenon disputed by some whether it even exists or not. And once he had in place the concept of the plasma vortex, no matter how elaborate the crop circles became—the straight lines, triangles, triangles in triangles—Meaden could always explain that if you were cognizant of the higher mathematics which ruled the world of plasma physics, this was all perfectly straightforward and, in fact, predictable from theory. And this went on until the BBC made a crop circle and then took him out to it and got him to certify it as genuine and to lecture on the various features which made it impossible for human beings to create such a structure. And then revealed to him that it was, in fact, artificial. Now, if you’ll repeat your question, I’ll connect this up to it.
Well, that’s an interesting question. So far we’ve had this cheerful little scenario where the monkey descends to the bottom of the tree empty of tummy, and lo and behold, here is this mushroom. I called it, I think, an extraordinary confluence of events or some weasel-term like that. What I was skirting around is the issue of: was this simply a wonderfully fortuitous confluence of events or was this a thickening of the plot? Was this a bringing together of two elements that had been designed to meet each other in the councils of the Galactarian eons before somewhere else? I don’t know. It does appear to be a viral catalyst for technological civilization. You give it to a monkey and 15,000 years later they’re landing instruments on their nearest planetary neighbor.
I had a professor in college who said what he thought it was all about was that someday flying saucers would visit the Earth and they would take all the fissionable material away and they would just then explain that human history was a project to concentrate fissionable material for their purposes: “And now, thank you very much. You people can go back to picking fleas and beating each other’s brains out as far as we’re concerned.” You know? We do that. There’s a technique for extracting gold out of very low-grade gold ore where what you do is, you crush the gold into a watery slurry and then you infect this muddy gold-laden water with a kind of bacterium that concentrates gold in its body tissues. And then you stir this up and cook this up, and then you just skim off the bacteria and harvest the gold out of their body tissues.
I actually lost the thread of that. My point was that if you’re committed enough to a hypothesis, no matter how the data can twist and turn, you can fit it to the hypothesis. I find it possible to entertain the idea that the mushroom actually is some kind of extraterrestrial thing. After all, we don’t really know what the nature of the cosmic situation is. We don’t know whether life arises wherever conditions are okay. We don’t know how chaotic the universe is. Like: do most planets get ten hundred-million-year shots at stability where they can get higher animals together before some comet or geomagnetic reversal or something flips it over? I do think that, if you were an extraterrestrial and you had an ethos of non-invasiveness and you wanted to have a very low-key interaction with an intelligent species, the way to do it would be to come at it through an intoxication. You don’t appear with trillion-ton beryllium ships over major cities. You know? “We have been studying you for 50,000 years.” I don’t think it’s done like that. I think it’s more like: you find a dimension in the cultural world of the species you’re trying to study where weirdness is sanctioned. And Then you set up your lemonade stand in that world. In this case the world of psychedelic intoxication. Yeah.
Well, I’m not sure it’s all about their purpose. Everybody assumes their purpose is to communicate with us. It seems to me if their purpose is to communicate with us, they could have just communicated with us. The purpose appears to be to influence or to observe. My purpose is to tell all secrets. I’m at war with the keepers of the secrets.
It’s one way of looking at it. I don’t think they’ve done it to another species. It seems that what they are is, they’re meme-traders on one level. They’ve blown in here and they have this intentionality to communicate. The content of the DMT experience is where this contact becomes much more explicit, more puzzling, more alien and more strange. What’s happening with psilocybin usually is a voice. And a voice you can handle, because if it doesn’t speak in English, you can’t understand it. So it must operate within a certain narrow band of rational apprehendability, or you lose it and it makes no sense. On the other hand, a visual input can go off the beam of rational apprehendability and you’re still looking at it. As it loses coherency and tentacles sprout and ciliary snap and exogonal eyeballs roll by, and then it gets its fix back on. “Oh, excuse me! For a moment I merely lost my face!” as it were.
The content of the DMT thing is really puzzling. One of the motivations for my career is to get other people to check it out. Because here is truly confounding data: that you don’t have to make an expedition to the heart of the Amazon, or battle your way through hours of waves of nausea and dark spaces chanting your mantra obsessively. When you smoke DMT, thirty seconds later you’re in the presence of the unspeakable and the show is going full blast. These tyke-like self-transforming machine-elf things that rush forward to exhibit their rhetorical skills in a three-dimensional language that you look at rather than hear, and they offer you the technological artifactory of another dimension. Fabergé eggs and Ming Dynasty orreries and just the most amazing fabricated objects, which they make out of language. They demonstrate language in another dimension. That’s why I really think that part of what we’re moving toward is technological only in the most fundamental sense. It’s going to arise out of the body. The project of language in human beings is only partially completed. It doesn’t have to stop at little mouth noises. There’s a way to pass over into something more grandiose, more enclosing, more boundary-dissolving, more emotionally intense.
What I always tell people who are really dedicates—and it’s deep advice—is: go to the Amazon. The mere act of placing yourself in the Amazon is pretty psychedelic in and of itself. And then, as you make your way through these colorful personalities that are the Peruvian people and their medical practitioners, all kinds of adventures happen. And then, eventually, if you’re lucky, you actually get to the good brew and it will just knock your pins right out from under you, sweep you screaming into the cataracts of perturbability.
Well, it may be. It may be. You have to take a number if you want to accuse me. You just don’t elbow your way to the front of the line like that. I don’t have any problem with the idea that dance is a primary language. Cognitive activity is the term that I prefer. Clearly, we had an animal existence of a very limited number of concerns: not to be killed, to feed our children, to get sufficient sex, and like that. And then we broke through to something else—and self-expression. I think people danced for each other, did glossolalia for each other, body painted, made faces, did all of these things. And for a long, long time before meaning was invented. And the reason language got a special position in all this is that it’s easier to make small mouth noises than it is to dance. It’s easier to make small mouth noises than it is to make faces or gestures. So it was an energy-economy thing.
But self-expression comes out of the body, and dance—you’re probably right—very well was primary. I think where my fetish lies, if there’s a genuine accusation in all of this—but like any fetishist, I will defend it—is for the visual. People say, “Why do you always insist that you always have to have hallucinations? Why are you so bent about the visual connection?” Well, the answer is: a voice in the head or a funny bunch of thoughts—like, for me, that’s what LSD was: it was for very odd kinds of thinking. All of these things could be generated out of my own psyche. But I’m pretty familiar with the inventory of my psyche as far as its image-bank is concerned, because it’s drawn like yours is: from the culture. It only stretches so far from Hieronymus Bosch to Andy Warhol and all the themes in between. Well, so then, when you turn on psilocybin and you get these bursts—I’ve never seen anything like that before!—then that convinces me that this is the real McCoy.
So the fetish for the visual is pretty real, I think. The object-fetishism—these things aren’t exactly objects. You have to understand that we download through many levels of compression in order to sit in this room and talk about such outlandish things. I describe them as objects like Fabergé eggs made of agate, chalcedony, and ivory, but I could just as easily have described them as puns interlocking in a dance of casuistry, reflexive meaning, and teleological entendre of great satisfying depth. Something like that, you see? Because they’re both/and. These things exist in another dimension. And I don’t do the best job. If I could make it weirder for you, I would. People say, “You evoke images very well.” Sometimes that’s the defeat of rhetoric, because what we’re really talking about is in fact so hard to invoke. We’re really pushing the envelope of language. It really frustrates me when people have psychedelic experiences and don’t talk about them, because to me that’s what they’re for. They’re to fertilize the enterprise of communication. It’s to be talked about. And if it’s not talked about, it’s sort of like seeds which fall on sterile ground.
Well, I’ve heard it. This is also said about the Maya. It was said even about the dinosaurs—which doesn’t mean it can’t happen. I don’t know if I believe it ever has happened. Obviously, I believe in principle that it can happen. It’s always seemed to me that—this used to be the motivation for my LSD taking—it seemed to me that you could sit down in a room with someone and begin—this is maybe what I’m trying to do with you, but we never get there: sit down in a room with someone and begin to have a conversation that would take it apart—take it apart!—and leave nothing there. You know? At the end: no guru, no method, no teacher, and no nothing else either. I think that the world is held together by a misunderstanding and that, if you could overcome that misunderstanding, it would just fold up and deconstruct. In a sense, this is what the concept of enlightenment is, I think. It’s a series of insights or thoughts or revelations, one which projects forward into another, which leads you to just say, “Oh, it’s not this, and it’s not that, and it’s not this…”
Well, I guess the mundane plane is the misunderstanding. I guess if we analyze the mundane plane we see what constitutes the misunderstanding: a belief in three-dimensional space and time, a belief in the finite life of the organism. And then the rupture of the mundane plane leads to this kind of platonic super-space where there seems, then, to rest incontrovertible truths. They are not truths approached by logic and argument, they are self-evidently true. So they’re either true for you or they’re not true. Shamanism sort of views all this very optimistically; takes the existence of this trans-mundane world as a higher world. A world in which healing can be done and the community can be made to cohere. And the shaman is essentially a technician, wiring and repairing and moving behind the board of culture, keeping all these lines open and together. Is that where your interest lies?
Well, yes, I see. So apparently, it seems to me—it looks like mind is something that, if we were to make an analogy, it’s somewhat like sulfur in that sulfur has this weird quality of having two melting points. You have solid yellow sulfur, and you heat it and it melts, but then you keep heating it and it turns back into a solid. You continue heating it and it melts again. This is a curious property of sulfur, but not magical. The human mind seems, to me, to be like that. It’s something that, in the mundane plane, it has collapsed down into a tool for threat detection and social account-keeping, basically. But when you go alone or with your nearest and dearest to wilderness, or places where you feel secure, and you perturb the chemical foundations of consciousness, then this is the equivalent of heating the sulfur. And lo and behold, a new geometry is cast out of the fluid mercury of the psychedelicized mind.
I think I said this morning, I really favor a geometric model. I think that the shaman’s power comes from the fact that the shamans really are seeing things from a higher-dimensional perspective. That’s not a metaphor or an analogy, that’s the voice of mathematics speaking. As I analyze the history of biology and higher animals and culture and so forth, what I see as a continuous theme from the very beginning is the conquest of dimensionality. Life conquers dimensions. Life begins as a fixed slime in one place with no eyes, no ears, no nothing. And it evolves tactile awareness. Then it slowly becomes—through the sequestering of pigment-sensitive cells onto its surface—it acquires the notion of a gradient of light and darkness. And then, through the formation of lenses, it’s able to stabilize an impression of the exterior world. It evolves progressively more advanced forms of locomotion. Eventually it evolves memory and complex cognitive interior maps for anticipating the future. This is a description of a strategy for the conquest of dimensionality.
I think, really, the shamans are the people among us who represent the next evolutionary level. They’re people who have learned to do what we can’t do: to come and go from hyperspace—whatever it is. An informational super-space that exists inside the psychology of the individual and the group that we can’t even see, because we’re materialists, fixated on the topological surfaces of the three-dimensional manifold—which is only one level in the onion of reality. These shamans have moved over to another level. But I think they are the paradigm for a new authentication of the human experience. And it’s all about experience. This is what we clearly have wandered too far from. We are too in our heads. The consequences of a phonetic alphabet, monotheism, modern science, Greek aesthetics, yadda, yadda, yadda, is just to move us too far from experience. So then, this compensating thing is coming back in, and the shaman is the paradigmatic figure. And when you analyze what shamanism is, the psychedelic experience is revealed to be the sine qua non of this lifestyle.
I’ve fiddled with screenplays. My objection to most visions of extraterrestrials is: people don’t understand—extraterrestrials are not mundane. They don’t want our beautiful women, they don’t have a fascination with our gross industrial output. The real trick with an extraterrestrial is to know when you’re in the presence of one. Because it is going to be so strange and of such a different order of magnitude in many parameters that the trick is recognition, I think.
I mean, eventually we may come to see that we are not all to be traced back to one blob of germplasm—the warm pond theory. I think the warm pond theory is in for serious revision. I think interesting genes have blown in here every once in a while over the millennia as the Earth has ground forward. And, of course, those genes get embedded in living systems. The mitochondria, which power the animal cell, were originally free-swimming bacteria that got into a symbiotic relationship with some kind of membrane-like matrix. And before they knew it, they had been incorporated as sub cellular organelles of a larger system. Mind that this doesn’t happen to you!
Well, isn’t it the role of the artist? It’s to stretch the envelope. It’s to bring the news from the edge. The musician, the shaman, the smith, the physician—these were all originally combined, you know? Because the mystery of creation and the mystery of the human body—this was all spun together. That’s why when people say what is the proper response to the culture crisis, I think the response is to shamanize. And that means to help with the healing, to explore the invisible world, and to make art; to try to make art. To try and anticipate the revelatory process by which the transcendental other is drawing the historical matrix into an ever clearer reflection of its identity—whatever it is. It’s going to come through us somehow. We invoke it. We’re boring toward it through the mountain of human history. It’s boring toward us. We can anticipate it. It senses us. This is a real relationship here, but it’s a relationship where illusion must be shed and shed and shed about what the other is.
[???] might describe [???]
Well, it’s not clear. As I say, it’s not clear what the intent is. After all, what we now take to be the great canon of Western art were basically a fairly self-indulgent bunch of courtly types spiraling around, producing public relations flackery for royal families. There are different ways of looking at the artistic enterprise in each time and place.
Well, I maintain history is a self-limiting process and that you can see the end from here. You have to have a pretty complicated rap to deny that we are in some kind of unusual situation here, folks. That suggests to me that this is awfully close to the surface of ordinary metabolism considering what a shocking shift of consciousness it is. Millions of people go to the grave without ever having a DMT trip, unless they have it at the brink of the grave—that we don’t know about. But the idea that in a dream such a shockingly extreme physiological response could be elicited means, if we could do human work with DMT unfettered in an environment of biofeedback and that sort of thing, that you could teach people to have this experience. Well, that may be what it’s all about: a non-invasive, non-drug technique for just opening up a portion of your brain that, somehow, cultural abuse has closed off to us and that, if we could access it, that would be the dream time and that would be the entry into the domain outside of history.
Yeah. The Seth Material. Well, I used to say if you can do this without drugs, you’re probably mentally ill. I tend to take a hard view of it. I don’t exactly understand the razzmatazz that surrounds it. I’ve talked with many entities. I’ve never felt the need to establish the spelling of their English name. This wish to name the entity puzzles me.
But I didn’t then write a book and then go on opre and say that I was channeling Dorothy and that the world should pay attention. It seems to me a curious relationship to your own mental life that you would say you were a channeler. It’s just, these are the things we think and it’s a way of casting it. For instance, it never occurs to me or doesn’t seem to me a very interesting question to say of the mushroom: is it the same person each time? What a joke! It’s some kind of enormous intellectual agency. It’s not a human being, that’s the thing. The channeling—I guess my take on channeling (and it will come out maybe tonight when we talk about the Time Wave) is that the real skinny is that you have a connection to everybody who ever lived. And there’s a way of tuning your internal machinery in such a way that here comes Marie Antoinette, or here comes Beethoven. But it isn’t that Beethoven is a relative of yours, or still less, that you were Beethoven. How likely is that for crying out loud? It’s simply that they’re all there in some cultural super-space and can be reached and called down. I mean, they’re an idea. Beethoven is an idea. His grumpiness, the hands behind the back, the da-da-da-dah. We know Beethoven. So he lives in some kind of super-space. And I think people are just much too literal.
I have this trouble with channeling, and with flying saucer people, and with the fans of great Atlantis, and the people who believe that lantern-jawed Neanderthal visages ten miles high are gracing the deserts of Mars. All of this, the attraction of this kind of thing completely puzzles me because it’s so hokey. And if you want the real thing, it’s just five dried grams away. The real thing! So that you will have done with anecdotes by the denizens of trailer camps in Florida, or all of this other stuff. It’s not that the woo-woo isn’t out there. It’s that it’s so much more woo-woo than the beady-eyed peddlers of it assume. They just have no idea of what they’re playing with.
The New Age, generally, I find somewhat obnoxious because it’s a flight from the psychedelic experience. What you can safely say about the New Age is: if a technique doesn’t work, they’ll proclaim it. I’m very much in favor of anything which breaks down the conceptions of ordinary medical practice. That’s the most important part of the New Age: the attack on the medical fascism of the hierarchy. But people confuse science with reason, and think that if you’re anti-science then you’re somehow just permitted to go bananas. No. You can be anti-science, but nobody gets released from stuff like the rules of evidence. You have to make sense. Your position (whatever it is) just can’t be sky blue. And you should then expect to be treated with the same respect as somebody who’s gotten themselves epistemologically together and ontologically oriented. There are flaky ideas in this world.
People associate with me with the New Age because that was the only place where I was originally tolerated. But I really want my ideas to be tested in the ordinary way, by the ordinary methods. I offer a mathematical formalism, and then, surrounding that, a bunch of arm waving verbal exegesis. The core thing is the mathematical algorithm to be tested by the ordinary rules of evidence and falsification. You can read Karl Popper to figure out what all that’s about. I love science. I just think it’s just incredibly pretentious and has claimed too much. Its methods are great. Its constipated conservatism is maddening. Because what it deals with is the most interesting thing there is: nature. Nature is very, very interesting, complex, and permits all kinds of radical speculation about what has happened. It’s just that science is also a business, and also a priesthood, and also a men’s club, and also the plaything of certain classes. So all that has to be overcome.
My method, I suppose—if “method” is the word—that I would share with you (since this question about the New Age came up) is not to embrace things which simply outrage bourgeois sensibilities, but to explore edges: to test edges yourself. That’s the important part: yourself. You don’t learn about tantra by reading about tantra, or ibogaine by reading about ibogaine. You have to go and do these things. And what you will discover is: you will be fleeced a few times in your youth with this method. You’ll get in with some flying saucer cult, or some beady-eyed guru and his fanatical devotees. But eventually you’ll learn the neighborhood and you’ll become street smart and you won’t be a mark. That’s the goal of real spiritual method: is to not be a mark. And then, when you get that together, lo and behold, you would think this would lead to cynicism; you’d say, “Well, I went and stayed with Babaji, and he was a jackass. And then I joined the Unitarian Uniformitarian Unifunctionalists, and that was just a scam,” and so forth and so on. You would think it would lead to cynicism. Not if you keep to the edges. Because eventually you’re going to come to psychedelics. And then, lo and behold, jackpot! The real thing! Weirdness beyond all possibility to comprehend. You have just won the publisher’s clearing sweepstakes of peculiarity.
I had this happen in the sixties. I got into a place with LSD where I had this LSD and I would give my friends one, and I would take one, and then I would excuse myself to the bathroom and take five more. And then I would end up holding their hand all night long. And I felt weird about it. I felt, like, where is all this stuff going? It’s like it’s not working. And when that happened to me, I just said it’s time to dry out for a while. And I did, and then everything worked normally later.
One of the weirdest things I’ve encountered is: about one in twenty people don’t react to DMT. and it looks genetic to me. I can’t believe you could resist that; if it’s coming at them the way it comes at me, nothing could stop it. And yet, they will do it and take enormous inhalations, and then say, “Is this it? I don’t know, it’s kind of strange but it doesn’t seem…,” and you’re just like, “Oh my God, what is this?”
And one thing to bear in mind in all of this is that we talk a lot about the mental effects of drugs, but these drugs are tiny objects. They are molecules. And they won’t work unless they find their way to your synaptic cleft and find waiting for them there what are called drug receptors. Think of them as little outlet holes into which the drug can plug itself. And how many of these little receptors you have is part of your genetic inheritance. And so some people have a lot and some people have a little, and some people have some for some and some people have some for others. And you have to learn what works for you and what the right tool is.
Yes, toad is 5-methoxy-DMT. It’s an exudate of bufo alvarius, a large southwestern toad.
So it is DMT? [???]
No, no. No, no, it is not DMT. It is 5-methoxy-DMT, and it doesn’t cause the same thing that DMT causes. It causes an intense void-like emotion that is very dissolving, but it is not accompanied by the kind of visual activity that DMT…. The visual activity on DMT is astonishing. I mean, it conveys you into a world more complex than the world we’re living in; a world of brilliant colors and faceted surfaces.
How long is [???]?
Yes, but on ayahuasca—unless it’s really horrendously strong—you will never reach the kinds of places you reach on a DMT flash.
[???] smoking it?
Smoking it? No, there is nothing like that this side of the yawning grave—I hope! I mean, I don’t know. Is everybody cognizant of what that’s like? About how fast the world can be rearranged and how totally replaced it can be by something that you not only hadn’t imagined, until thirty seconds before that, you couldn’t imagine. And now here it is, and you just gaze. You gape in slack-jawed disbelief at what has happened to reality.
Oh no, it doesn’t induce. Somebody asked: is it dangerous? The danger with DMT is death by astonishment. This is an entirely possible outcome of your involvement with it, especially if you’re intelligent. I think the more intelligent you are, the more at risk you are at death by astonishment because you just say: good grief!
But I see that it’s 6:04 and time to knock off. We’ll do the Time Wave tonight. It’s a kind of indulgence of me because it’s the only original idea I’ve ever had. So you’re forewarned if you have something better to do. The hardcore will assemble here at 8. And will there be a technician to boot the disk, or is there somebody here who’s DOS…? Cool. Good. Okay.
Well, I’m pro-virtual reality just in the sense that I don’t think it should be made illegal and stamped out. I think it should be a legitimate area of research. I certainly don’t think most people should plan on decamping to virtual reality land for the rest of much of their lives. That wouldn’t be a good idea. I see it primarily as a tool for studying language and communication. You never know where a technology is going to lead. When Edison invented the phonograph record, his sincere belief was that its major application would be in the making of wills, because you would have an incontrovertible record of the person’s voice speaking and so it wouldn’t be legally contestable in court. Well I don’t know if anybody has ever made a will on a phonograph record, you know? It clearly had an entirely different use and application.
So here we’ve arrived at Sunday morning. This is basically loose ends, complaints, resolution, that whole bit. So let’s work our way into it, and then, if need be, I’ll harangue. So anybody have anything they want to… yeah?
I like understanding. I think—you know, Whitehead said that understanding is the apperception of pattern as such. That’s all. As such. And so you can look at any situation and see different patterns. I mean, like in this room: if we were sociologists we could analyze where the women are and where the men are, and that would be a pattern and we could talk about that. Then we could switch our field of interest and talk about where the men and women over forty are, and the men and women under forty—an entirely different pattern. Where the people wearing socks are and the barefoot people. And you realize that in any assemblage of objects there’s an infinite number of patterns of connection. And the more of them you see, the more you have this feeling which we call understanding. And it’s a feeling of having assimilated the object to yourself. And the great mysterious assemblage, the mother of all weird assemblages, is history, you know? The peregrinations of our species through time and the detritus of that journey.
I have a friend in London who is a rare book dealer. And when I’m in London I’m usually able to contrive a situation where he has to have some errand out. And so then I’m left alone for hours with the books inside these multiple concentric circles of security. And I can open up all the cases and pore through this stuff. And it’s astonishing. I mean, just the cul-de-sacs into which the human mind has wandered, you know? Phlogiston theory, the Chaldean oracles, the Wunderkammer, the hollow Earth thing. And then all this literature of exploration. I mean, the stratigraphy of the human experiences: maps and machines and diaries and blueprints. And out of all this, if there can be a pattern, then there’s a kind of an epiphany, a kind of sense of order, of “Aha, it does make sense. It isn’t simply a chaos.”
Well, that’s a Hindu notion of this same thing, essentially—this Platonic super-dimension where all and everything is suspended and in place. If you ever want to have a very bizarre sub-psychedelic experience when you’re in Oxford, go to the Pitt Rivers museum. Everybody goes to the Ashmolean—and of course you should to see the Uccello’s and all that—but on the kinkier side, the Pitt Rivers museum. Pitt Rivers was an early ethnographer in England. And into one of those Victorian cast metal and glass ceiling buildings he gathered hundreds of millions of objects classified by category. So, you know, there are like 50,000 needles from all over the world in drawers. 10,000 pairs of pliers from all over the world, from all times and places. And on and on. And they’re in drawers which you can open. And the stuff is stacked up twenty feet high. And you realize that it’s a concentration of [???]. It’s a concrescence. There’s one section where there are over two hundred drawers labeled “magical amulets,” and you open these drawers and look: “magical amulets, southern Iraq,” “magical amulets, Syria,” and on and on. Very bizarre. That, to me, is searching for pattern through the detritus of human history.
Because I really think that we are caught up in a relationship with something very, very mysterious. I don’t like religious vocabularies, but an epiphany is taking place. Consciousness is really important, and it is using the stuff of biology to create some kind of new order in nature. And technology, I’m convinced, has something to do with it; that machines are more than they appear to be. And the machine as we have known it is to a possible technology what the chipped flint is to the technology that we possess today. I mean, the concept of a machine—which is downloading of a function into matter—is a concept of immense profundity. Life may be able to extend its career by orders of magnitude through this means. And life is now seen to be, I think, clearly central in the evolution and the career of the universe.
Most stars gutter out of existence after 500, 600 million years. That’s the average lifetime of a star. We happen to be on a planet around an extraordinarily slow-burning and smooth-burning star that has lasted a long time. But life on this planet has been here for at least two billion years. That’s three times the life of the average star. Biology is persistent. Biology is a major player. And biology is not entropic, you know? A star—no matter how smooth-burning and self-sustaining—is on a downward energy curve toward heat death and extinction. Biology, on the other hand, pumps itself to higher and higher levels of complexity faster and faster. And it uses the dying stars as stepping-stones for one to another. You know, for instance, in the Hawaiian Islands there’s thirty million years of evolution visible. But no island out there has been above water more than six million years. The islands keep slipping beneath the sea and rising at the western edge of the complex, and the life keeps stepping from island to island and perpetuating itself.
Hans Moravec has done calculations of the kinds of computational simulations that could be carried out if you had a computer where every atom was a switch and the computer was the size of the solar system. With a computer of that size you could resurrect every DNA sequence that has ever existed on this planet. And he feels that you would feel a moral obligation so to do, and that the resurrection of the dead would become a social project pursued with government funding.
Well, I don’t think Rupert would agree that biology is entropic. The way biology works is by being what’s called an open system far from equilibrium. You see, a closed system (like a star or a fire) will always drift toward equilibrium, which is entropic. But the miracle of biology is that by taking in matter, by being an open system and allowing matter to come into the system and then breaking down that matter and extracting energy from it, the biological organism achieves the miracle of evading equilibrium. It hovers off the main curve of equilibrium. So people who talk about the third—what?
Well, this is debatable at the highest level. There’s a problem there, because for some weird reason the identifiable amount of matter in the universe falls so close to the cusp of either “it is open” or “it’s closed” that they can’t tell. And why this is probably means there’s something wrong with the theory. You know Bridgman said a coincidence is what you have left over when you apply a bad theory.
But I want to go back for a moment to this question of the open system far from equilibrium. The second law of thermodynamics, which was thought to be inviolate, states that all systems run down into entropy. But in practical terms—given the facts that I just stated about how life is three times as persistent than the average star and that if you view life on this planet as a single unified system of genes—then we have to say that there has been a dissipative structure far from equilibrium. For two billion years it’s been able to maintain itself well off the entropic curve. So I think the second law of thermodynamics looks much more provisional from that light.
Well—but, see, it’s been the third law that has been the downer—I mean the second law—because it seems to dictate some existential terminus to everything. But see, that’s when you view the universe as matter. Here’s another thing you have to lay over this: that all comes out of a materialistic view of the universe. If you view the universe as information, the picture becomes much more complicated. We don’t really understand what this process is of symbolic signification, of arbitrary assignment of significant association. And it’s not simply something done in human language. The codons of the DNA that code the three nucleotide codons that code for a amino acids that build proteins are arbitrarily assigned at the molecular level. There is no inherent logic that says that guanine-guanine-guanine (that codon) should code for what it does. It’s entirely arbitrary. And yet, out of that leap towards arbitrary signification comes life itself. So we shouldn’t assume—and it’s a natural tendency to fall back into it—that we know what we’re talking about. You know, that our intellectual journey through time has taken us to the level where we can actually glimpse what the basic ordering principle is. It may lie in language, not matter.
I keep waiting for you to get to the political implications of all this.
Oh, well, I think I passed through it lightly, but let me take another stab at it. If my picture of things is correct or even close, then the future is going to become considerably more dramatic from the middle nineties on. What we have directly in front of us is sort of the long golden garden party afternoon before the news arrives. As the world gets more and more and more peculiar and improbable—and given the kind of things going on out at Jupiter that I talked about; this seems to be arriving on schedule, all this chaotic activity—there’s going to be various political stances arise in relation to all of this stuff. For instance, one faction will say that nothing at all is wrong. This is, I think, what we see going on now: that there’s a kind of collusion by governments and institutions to manage apocalyptic awareness and to say, “Well, you don’t need to worry about the fact that ozone is disappearing from the atmosphere, because by 2000 we will have a 7% reduction in output of CFCs, and by 2050 we’re planning a further 7%.” And you say “No, no, these are crazy people, obviously.” There’s a lot of arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic going on. But I think eventually, as the fluctuations become more violent, they will burst through and political dialogues will start on various fronts. It’s hard to say where it will come.
For instance, you know, historians of the breakup of the Soviet Union can reasonably argue that what, actually, the hole in the dike there was the Chernobyl explosion, and that actually set off a series of thoughts, of awareness. People’s minds changed. It was like a psychedelic drug, this radiation spreading through Soviet society. Because they realized: my God, this was a power plant. It was at ground level. It wasn’t even a designed explosion. And eight days after it happened, above Auckland, New Zealand, you could sample the radiation in the air. So there was a whole crisis of faith in the command economy, in everything. And this could happen. This will happen.
The one thing you can be sure of is that the nineties will be shaped by the unexpected. It could be anything. A hot day in August in Mexico City, and a million people die when finally all of these toxic levels come together as they potentially could. Or it could be a nuclear failure, or it could be an assassination, or it could be the outbreak of a synthetic disease, or anything, you know? And what this will bring home to people is that the meta-stable nature of society is beginning to break down; that the shock waves of the future are building up. You know, in engineering an airfoil, engineers have to take account of what is called Q-forces; vibration. If you don’t design the airfoil correctly, as you approach the speed of sound, the wings of the airplane will be torn off. And so you have to redesign the airplane to move through this barrier. What we have to do is redesign the cultural airfoil so that we slip f—
You mean that it shouldn’t support wrecking the third world? Pardon me?
No, see, I think that that kind of thing is like talking about closing air bases near Sacramento and whether western civilization can survive the shock of this loss of jobs. We’re turning into an information society, and managers are trying to meet the crisis. But if my faith rested with human managers, I’d be frantic. The main thing is that the design process is being imposed by nature itself just in the way that a supersonic aircraft has its design imposed by nature itself: the nature of the medium is dictating the shape of the society that is coming into being. The main thing is to try to make this through with as little bloodshed and hysteria as possible, and it’s very hard call. I mean, looking at something like Bosnia, you know, the impulse to use F-18s to correct the problem is very great. And yet, you know, in the past this has not brought joy and thanksgiving where it was used. And also, the hubris of thinking that your job is to separate these people.
On the other hand, we can’t have people running around trading nuclear weapons in the red light district of Frankfurt—which is going on; this is actually going on. There is a great potential for chaos on the Eurasian landmass right now. How should that be managed? And a lot of people have nuclear weapons that have no business having nuclear weapons. I think we need to disarm from the top—that’s a political agenda. And one thing that has to be understand is that what is going on is a process of fragmentation. And that is what is supposed to happen at this cultural stage, I think. McLuhan talked about what he called electronic feudalism: wherever fragmentation is resisted, violence and war and horror will break out. For instance, five years ago there was great anticipation of a federal Europe. That ran against the current of dissolution, and now we see there won’t be any federal Europe. I mean, there will be something on paper in Brussels to keep the diplomats shuffling back and forth and there will be no unified psychology. They’re going tribal.
The great political force shaping the nineties on one level is ethnicity and turf battles. As these huge ideologies withdraw their imperium, all these local satrapies and warlords begin to exercise their historical claims. Islam is set to make enormous gains. This has to be accepted in the West. It shouldn’t be resisted. The historical momentum is too great and, you know, it’s 700 million people, and it represents the only reservoir of tradition of significance left on the planet.
In terms of a political agenda, it’s pretty clear. The psychedelic thing speaks to freedom. And so you can shine that on a number of issues: women’s rights, abortion, legalization of drugs. But not absolute libertarian anarchy, because I don’t think we want to get rid of the Food and Drug Administration. We may want to execute the top echelon and replace it, but the concept of—you know, I mean, I’ve lived in a country without a pure drug act, and it’s a nightmare. In India you can’t buy pepper without being afraid that it’s been contaminated with lead flakes to make it weigh more when you buy it in the market.
Well, but none of us ever had a psychedelic experience in a safe environment. I mean, we come out of the nightmare ages. I took psychedelic drugs under the aegis of Richard Milhouse Nixon. I mean, I’ve stared at archetypal danger in the face. I took psychedelics under Indira Gandhi. That was…
Well, see, here’s the bottom line on this. It’s exactly—and I’ve said this ad nauseum, but I can’t think of another metaphor for it—it’s exactly like a birth. So what you have when you have a birth is: it’s going to happen. And then the only option you have is, you know: is it going to happen smoothly and with skillful pain management and quickly brought to a conclusion, or is it just going to be an opera of agony and hysteria and pleading and so forth and so on? And the way to ease the historical crisis is by spreading awareness. And you’re right, the psychedelic is the primary catalyst, and then what follows along is this vocabulary of: “Relax for cryin’ out loud!” And if hearing the word “relax” is enough, then so be it. If you have to have the time wave and all this mathematics to prove to yourself that you should relax, then that’s fine, too.
But the bottom line is that we’re in the roller coaster. The little pipe has now been dropped into your lap. Please do not stand up. Scream if you want. Hang on and we’ll come through it. But we have to reassure people. And the way you reassure people is by getting them to transcend the systems which are spreading the anxiety. I mean, if you’re a fascist, if you’re a capitalist, if you have some vested interest in the system, then you’re going to be sweating blood. You have to divest yourself of a commitment to the system, because it’s in the process of transformation.
Everything… dig what the fact—here’s a hard psychedelic truth, actually. You want to boil it down to the bottom line. This is the one thing I’ve learned, maybe, from psychedelics, which is (and this is the message of the time wave, and this is the message of your life and my life) that nothing lasts. Heraclitus said it: panta rhei, “all flows,” “nothing lasts.” You know? Not your enemies, not your fortune, not who you sleep with at night, not the books, not the house in Saint-Tropez, not even the children. Nothing lasts! And to the degree that you avert your gaze from this truth, you build the potential for pain into your life. And everything is this act of embracing the present moment, the felt presence of experience, and then moving on to the next felt moment of experience. It’s literally psychological nomadism is what it is. And that’s what we evolved to do and that’s what we’re happiest doing. But we’ve fallen into this object-fetishism, sedentary, agriculture-based style, and then we’re frustrated. So a recovering of this ability to surrender and release. And it’s very hard for me, and it’s very hard for anybody who has an ego, and it’s why the psychedelic experience is so challenging.
The Maya established their own civilization in a not very interesting part of their own calendar—not at the beginning, but sort of two thirds of the way through. So it looks as though they counted forward to an end date, rather than just had an establishment date. And how they were able to count forward that many thousands of years to a solstice without losing any time or being off even by a day is hard to figure. I made an interesting discovery just a few weeks ago with a program called Voyager. I don’t think we discussed this, did we? There’s a program called Voyager, which lets you view anywhere in the solar system from 10,000 years in the past to 10,000 years in the future. So I typed in the longitude and latitude of La Chorrera, December 21st, 2012 AD. I knew that the exact moment of the solstice is 11:18 am Greenwich. So I knew, then, that this was 6:18 am local time at La Chorrera. I put in all these coordinates and saw that the sun—if you turn and look east along the equator—the sun has risen just about 12 minutes before. And I went up to the menu and chose the ecliptic, and it slashed down through it—as it would because the sun defines the ecliptic; the ecliptic is the path the sun follows. But then I went up and chose “define the galactic ecliptic,” and it drew a line which made crosshairs that exactly caught the sun in the crosshairs.
Now, this is very interesting. Those of you who aren’t astrologers or astronomers, let me explain what’s going on. This is what’s called a heliacal rising. And what is happening is :the galactic center—which is where the plane of the ecliptic and the plane of the galactic ecliptic cross each other at 28 degrees Sagittarius on the cusp of Capricorn—there, that point, the galactic center is rising at the exact moment of the rising of the sun (that’s called a heliacal rising), and this heliacal rising is in this case occurring on the winter solstice. And so then you ask yourself, as you do of any such astrological configuration: how often does this occur? Using Newtonian mechanics, where you simply propagate Newtonian laws backward through time infinitely, the answer is: it happens once every 26,000 years. Because it’s a phenomenon that depends on the equinoctial great year of precession. You all know that this happens? Okay. Now, if you use modern mathematics to calculate how often this happens, where you put in the chaotic factor into these orbits, you discover that this doesn’t happen once every 26,000 years. It happens once, only, in all eternity. Because in orbital calculation back beyond 20,000 years, uncertainty accumulates in these calculations and they are not reliable. The solar system itself is chaotic.
I think someone is “processing,” as they say.
No, wait. Let me see if I want to say—oh, I know. So, just the last thing on that. If any of you are interested in that—and its an area that I’m interested because I don’t quite understand what all this means—but there is a book called Hamlet’s Mill which deals with this old, old myth of worldwide myths of the galaxy in the Paleolithic era. And there’s a lot about this notion in many cultures that there are these gates—you know, conceptually, gates—which need to all align themselves, and then there’s some kind of straight shot.
And you felt they made the Mayan calendar, out of that, line up so accurately?
Well, they end their calendar on this particular solstice. Oh, I know what I wanted to say about this, because I don’t want to leave it. It’s a real question because the galactic center, as a concept, was not defined for western science until the early 1960s, so how could the Maya have locked in on a concept so abstruse? It means you would have to know there is a galaxy and so forth and so on. The only explanation I can come up with for that (which maybe shows my ability to explain everything by one hypothesis) is that perhaps there is a drug which allows you to see at the far infrared end of the spectrum. So that instead of hypothesizing that the Maya had a super-advanced mathematics and a radio telescope and all this fancy equipment, maybe it was simply that they had a drug that, when you look at the night sky in the direction of Sagittarius, there’s an enormous pulsing thing in the sky, which you then could (because you can see it in this drug state) calculate when it would be eclipsed by certain bodies. It seems to me a more economical… because it’s a real thing to explain how they would have known this.
And then the question: what does it mean? You know, there are in many cultures—the Norse Culture, the Hindu, and so forth—this idea that the world exists for a finite time, and then the stars return to, like, an original setting. And it’s sort of like an alarm clock: after it has gone through one complete cycle and it returns to the original setting, then the world disappears, or is destroyed, or the gods come. Anyway, it points the end of a cosmic cycle. And I find… this whole thing is—you haven’t known me my whole life, so it’s hard for you to deconstruct it—this is not my style of thinking. I mean, I’m repelled by the particularity, and the messianism, and the counter-logical nature of it. And yet, attempting to objectively describe the content of the psychedelic experience and the map of the human mind that it makes visible, this is the message that I get. It’s as general or as specific as you want. I mean, it’s as general as:‘everything is going to change soon. And it’s specific as: these computer programs that show you not only the exact moment when it’s going to change, but the exact numerical valuation of every moment in the entire history of the cosmos back a trillion years preceding it.
So it’s as though, in the plants, or in nature, or in the human mind—depending just on where your depth of focus is—is this pattern which can be as generally stated as I said (everything is in the process of transforming), or as specifically stated as a mathematical formalism. And we’ve lost it. History has been the pursuit of a false god: the god of stability, the god of permanence, the god of the unchanging. And we’ve become just neurotic on this subject.
You mentioned last night: one of the big things is that our thinking process is off. It’s wrong. And this morning you had: nothing lasts. That’s a basic truth. But we all cling to building visions, or projects and ideas that we can cling to and hold on to. We try to make reality more structured and solid. And what’s happening around us is that it is falling down, in a way. The structured society, say, in the next… I think 1996, will start crumbling. It is crumbling now. But all that solidness that everyone has built—right, security in a way—and then all you realize is: nothing does last, and you’re just experiencing life.
Well, in a sense, the bottom line of this—from a feeling and a heart place—is that what’s being said here is: reclaim experience. Do not dwell in the mistakes of the past, do not lose yourself in the castles of the future, and do not give your authenticity away to experts, gurus, government commissions, bosses, wives, mates. Take back your mind and your body, and begin to engage with the fact that you are alive, you are going to die, nobody knows what being alive is, nobody knows what dying is. You’re involved in a mysterious engagement where every living moment presents you with mystery, opportunity, and wonder. There is no mundane dimension, really. If you have the eyes to see it, it’s all transcendental. And every object—a leaf, a bird, a pebble—everything leads back to the basic questions. Everything is the stone. I mean, the stone is present. It’s a matter of you being present for the stone.
I’m not a great spiritual searcher, but I did a vision quest once where you traumatize yourself to get the vision. And one of the things that I realized that hit me home was that life is chaos and that, in the human mind, even our walls are built to give ourselves a sense of stability; to protect ourselves and our foundations we created a sense of stability that really doesn’t exist: it’s our name.
Well, the quest for permanence, you know? And by having children, this is a pretty good way to do it because you’ve actually got a shot at a billion years with a lot of luck. But building houses on the slopes of Hawaiian volcanoes is probably not something….
So you mean it’s a whole different dimension. That’s how you imagine it?
Well, yes. I mean, I’ve imagined it many different ways, and according to how recently I’ve been loaded, I take different positions. People are pushing me (I think because they don’t want me to disgrace myself) towards a soft version. Something like that we all make nice and clean up the Earth, you know? No, no, no. I’m convinced—and I think the time wave argues for this, and looking at the prediction of the cometary impact on Jupiter next July—how can you argue, then, that this wave is generated out of human biology or culture? It’s not. It’s not even generated out of biology if it’s predicting a cometary impact on the Jovian surface. Presumably no biology is involved. We’re talking about: what we’re seeing is the laws of physics themselves beginning to go into some kind of crisis. It’s no blame for human beings. We are the witnesses and we were somehow called forth by this. But the laws of physics are going into crisis. This is why I urge people to look at Alfred North Whitehead, who was a very scientific and mathematically grounded thinker, and who talked about what he called sudden shifts of epochs. His philosophy made a place for sudden shifts of epochs. And what that means is: the speed of light drops by half over 24 hours, or the charge of the electron is rearranged because…. Even though one of the peculiar properties of a fractal universe is: almost all the transitions are very smooth, but every once in a while you come around the corner and there is a transition that just sidewinds you because you’re crossing over one of these nodes at the highest level of the structure. And then profound things occur.
The shamanic ethos that you talked about in the description of this weekend, is that what you mean by the commitment to direct experience?
Yeah. The commitment to direct experience, and then the commitment to build a language for this; to build a culture. The suppression of psychedelics has had the unfortunate effect of making it impossible for us to build a linguistically coherent community and have a shared body of experience—because, you know, you just cant say this stuff to everybody. So, to put it in very simple, understandable terms: coming out of the closet on psychedelics should be part of the political agenda. Psychedelics should not be classed with other drugs, and certainly the Schedule I category, which seems to be reserved only for very hard narcotics and all psychedelics. That’s just a cockamamie categorization. And the whole society is phobic of the mind, terrified of the unconscious, terrified of dissolving the ego, very anxious if you dissolve your ego. It’s a real issue. It’s a taboo; very thoroughly a taboo.
Does the commitment to direct experience preclude a metaphysical perspective for you?
No, but the direct datum for metaphysical speculation should be one’s own experience. If you’ve studied modern philosophy, I think you discover that it’s very clear that all you can rely on is your senses. You can’t rely on what anybody tells you. You can’t rely on anything that you—you know, the real laboratory bench for philosophy is you looking at your mind, and examining it, and trying to make judgments about it. Reclaiming experience and the political consequences of reclaiming experience are that, far more than we realize, we’re embedded in a hierarchy of declension where information is distributed over MacNeil/Lehrer, Time magazine, and CNN, and we—the serfs down in the valleys—are the grateful recipients of the news. “And now, for all you jerks out there: the news!” And so we don’t believe anything of our own experience. We wait to be told that a White House commission or a Blue Ribbon group….
How does this affect history?
Well, I think of history as this prison. I mean, I would go with Stephen Dedalus, who said history is the nightmare from which I’m trying to awaken. That’s the consequence of bad metaphysic.
Earlier you called it a misunderstanding, and I’m saying that you have to deal. In this sense it’s all about metaphysics.
Well, but that works. I mean, if you think of it as a misunderstanding, then the dissolving of the prison of gnostic confinement was an act of contact with the higher hidden order of things behind appearances. I mean, that was the gnostic epiphany. And I would say if history is the prison, then the psychedelic experience is the epiphany of dissolution that frees. And then you see eternity, you see the Platonic… time as the moving image of eternity. The mystery is revealed. That’s this whole thing about how a shaman is somebody who has seen the end. That’s all. And that’s what confers this wisdom: is having seen the end. It’s kind of ultimate experience. And then you take your place: you go back to your group, and take your place, and perform your function.
I’m wondering if you’ve had experiences of talking with other shamanic teachers who also talk about this. I know Henry Taylor, who is an Arapaho medicine man, and has that 2000-year-old shamanic tradition. He says that there is time coming—he doesn’t say 2012, but he says soon, like in the next decade or so—when life will not be as we know it at all. We won’t eat the same food and [???]. So I’ve heard that from him, and I’m wondering if you—
There are about—I made a list of them once—there are about five or six different sources of this 2012 thing. There are some Hasids in Israel who have decided that July 2012 something is going to happen, the Mayan calendar, my thing, something else, some of these Indian prophecies. Of course, you see, my theory would explain this. Because what’s happening—it would say—is that, as we get closer and closer to the transcendental object, it gives off what I call scintilla. They’re like sparks or little reflections that ricochet backward through time. So you take a psychedelic or you have a dream, and then you say I had this dream, and there were flying saucers and it was the end of the world and they were taking millions of people of off the planet while there was some kind of an adjustment. Well, I would call that a typical transcendental object anticipation dream, where your dream is not true—that isn’t how it’s going to happen. The human mind cannot encompass how it’s going to happen. But that’s a little fable about how it’s going to happen.
Some of you may know Arthur C. Clarke’s wonderful book, Childhood’s End. If you’ve never read this, it’s wonderful! And it’s about the end of the world; it’s a believable scenario for how it could in fact be transformed. And it’s just spine-chilling. It’s wonderful. Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke. It, too, is simply a fable. The real thing will be beyond your wildest imaginings. Literally. I mean, it’s messianic return, it’s flying saucer invasion, it’s Gaian revelation. It’s all that and more and more and more. Because eventually the machinery of anticipation fails, and you just say it’s more than we bargained for. It’s the jackpot.
Yes, you wanted to say something?
I’m interested in your thoughts on psychedelic drugs in levels of maturity. In children for example, to your knowledge, are there cultures where, at a particular age—not three, maybe it’s five, maybe it’s fifteen—when are humans who are allowed to be exposed to these chemicals [???] indoctrinated?
Well, among the Augaruna Jivaro in Ecuador, they put ayahuasca on the mother’s nipple the third day after birth. So they quickly establish at least a chemical recognition in the immune system. It’s an important question: what do you tell your kids about drugs? I thrashed around about this. I have two kids, a 15-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl, and this question comes up in the family and at these groups a lot. I think all you can do is: you have to tell the truth. You have to just lay it out and educate them. It’s the one place where you can actually function as a parent, because the schools are lying. And you just say: this is part of life. You’re going to have to make choices. There are dozens of drugs. They are associated with different lifestyles, risk levels, sensations, kinds of people. And the main thing I think to avoid is hypocrisy. I think it’s really weird, people who say: “We can’t smoke dope until the children go to bed.” This is weird! I mean, first of all, the children know. And what they know is that you’re conflicted and giving off different signals about it. If there are drugs you do that you wouldn’t want your children to see you doing, you shouldn’t be doing those drugs! That’s a perfect litmus test.
When do they get to? Is age twelve the age? Talking about mushrooms.
Well, the first thing to recognize is that it’s not up to you. That if you wait too long, then they’ll just present you with fait accompli. So if you say, “You know, I think it would really be good if you’d wait until you’re fifteen to do mushrooms,” they say, “Right. Okay.” And then you found out that it was done. Sometime between thirteen and sixteen they’re going to sort it out. It’s right up there with sex. And the thing to do is to really say: “This is very adult business, and you can get into trouble of all different kinds, and here’s the kind of trouble you can get into.” I mean, my son is surrounded by cautionary tales, and I try to warn him that the great age of hashish smuggling lies in the fourteenth century and shouldn’t be duplicated.
Oh, I’d say we’re pretty tight. I mean, we live together as sort of bachelor roommates and try to not get into conflicts over women. But we like the same kind of music, and it’s done me no harm with my son to get into this rave club, staying up all night, London, New York, Frankfurt scene. Because he just loves that. And it amazes me. I mean, when I was a kid I was socially terrified, and I remember I used to never go to the canteen dances because I knew there were these enormous guys who would just stomp me. I used to lurk in the park across the street and watch them going to and from the canteen because I couldn’t socially show my face. So it’s a late-flowering adolescence that it perfectly in synchrony with my son.
Do you believe that theory that some people in the sixties will tell you: that because they were [???], that their children have more of a chance to be [???], and do you think it’s all a social thing?
Well, to me that’s this issue. This is a real hard issue, I think, for parents—and to some degree deeper, even, and harder than the drug issue. And that is—I think I can speak for most people here and say: we are alienated intellectuals of some sort. An alienation is ipso facto not such a cool thing to be. It means that you’re constantly aware of the failings and the betrayals. It’s alienation. And we’re alienated intellectuals. So then you have kids, and you see that there seem to be only two paths open: they can become nitwits or they can become alienated intellectuals. And which do you want for your children? Do you want them to be perfectly satisfied with a house on the cliffs, two cars in the garage, and their position at the advertising agency? Or do you want them to be like you: haunted and always in conflict and never able to come to terms with—that’s a big problem.
I want to come clean and say I have a 15-year-old daughter who hears all this stuff about it. And I’ve had to come to terms with that. And it’s like… I’ve said this to her, and probably alienated. Do you want to be totally uninformed? Do you want to be another stupid American or do you want to be alienated like your father?
And she says: “I’ll take stupid.”
Well, my daughter is not conservative, exactly, but she looks upon me differently than Finn does, I think. Although she’s only twelve. We’ll see what it does to her to go through all that. But that’s a real problem. I don’t regret my alienation. It’s hard for people sometimes to understand where I’m coming from. Like, a lot of people will go through a weekend like this, and one of the rare resistances I get is: people say, “Your vision is so dark!” Which is completely puzzling to me, because it’s the most optimistic vision conceivable—not only by me, but by anybody. I mean, I say that heaven is eighteen years away, and they accuse me of pessimism? What that tells me is that the word “transformation” is so threatening to some people that—yeah, “change”—that no matter how much you talk about how great it’s going to be, all they come away with is: “Oh boy, a big change!”
Maybe it’s the way you describe certain analogies. When you’re talking about some guy falling through a black hole through eternity, it kind of sounds like shit! Like, that sounds like it’s going to hurt!
No, it’s the Silver Surfer.
Well, this is the question that gets down to an all-Catholic catechism classes: “Sister, will there be sex in heaven?”
The end is going to be an individual thing. Whether it’s 2012 or the end of Pompeii, for everybody who it was the end in Pompeii, for some it may have been ecstatic and for others it may have been terrible. But we all face it individually. You can’t predict….
So what you’re saying is that it’s the accumulation of fate. It’s really what you did before that ultimate moment.
Whether it’s the end in the way that 2012 will come about, or the way it came about in Pompeii, or any other end. Any. It’s all going to be individually, and it depends on what your situation is at the moment. Because it’ll be a grand moment. You may have a beautiful high. Somebody else might be in the depths of depression. That sort of thing.
Well, so what you’re saying is: it will come like a thief in the night. Unannounced. This is what Christ told Nicodemus. He said, “I will come like a thief in the night. No man will know the moment of my coming.” Blake talks about this. He says, “Though Satan’s watchfiends shall search through all eternity for the moment, they will never find the moment.” Apparently, the moment is a very big deal. That’s why it’s interesting that this all devolves down to a moment. If you’re interested in this kind of thing and want to keep your psychological wits about you, read When Prophecy Failed. It’s a wonderful book about a flying saucer cult that comes to expect the end of the world, and has been infiltrated by two Stanford sociologists who then observe what it is like for this very, very devoted cultish group of people to be disappointed, to have an extraordinary disconfirmation of their theology, and what they do about that, and how they react to it.
You mean in 2012, December 23rd?
Well, people ask me: “What will you do if nothing happens?” I am not a believer. I want to keep this tar-baby definitely at arm’s length. I think it’s very interesting that I have this idea, very interesting that the wave conforms to history. It’s all weird, I grant you. It’s like being trapped inside a science fiction novel. But I could go through December 21st, 2012, have absolutely nothing happen and say, “Well, that blows it off. Let’s go have some coffee.” And my sixty-fifth birthday will occur thirty days in front of the date, so I will just gracefully retire. I think that would be the decent thing to do at that moment. Just say, “It’s been nice. Surely you didn’t take it seriously!”
One of the things that has impressed me this weekend is your encyclopedic knowledge. And one of the things I’d like you ask you is: what do you read to get the news?
What do I read to get the news?
How do you get all this information?
Well, for instance, the best thing to read to keep abreast of science is Science News. It’s totally unpretentious. It’s nuts to subscribe to Nature or Science. They cost a hundred dollars a year and you cannot understand a word of it. And so you read Science News, which comes out once a week and tells you things months in front of everybody else. I subscribe to Archeology magazine, Astronomy magazine, On Our Backs—just to keep in touch with the lesbian erotic literature front. Very important! Yeah, sure. And let me see, what else? I’ve, for twenty years, been a member of the Society for the Study of Alchemy and the History of Chemistry, so I get Ambix. I don’t know. A lot of information flows through my scene. People send me stuff. There’s a very lively underground press, you know? Psychedelic Illuminations, Reactor out of Chicago, Talking Raven out of Seattle, a very lively English press, music press, and psychedelic press. There’s a very—you shouldn’t read mainstream media, particularly because there’s a much more interesting strata of information under the surface.
In the question of practicality, how reliable or unreliable are street psychedelics?
As reliable or unreliable as the street chemist who made them. That’s the problem, you know. When you’re confronted with an off-color powder, all bets are off. Because the motivation for making this powder, in nine times out of ten, was to make money. And corners can be cut. That’s why, if you really want to liberate yourself from the illegal and toxic cycle of drug production, you should grow mushrooms. My brother and I wrote a book called Psilocybin: Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide. If you want to get into alchemy, this is real alchemy. The formula is: rye to mold, mold to gold. You can take a twenty-five pound sack of rye, which costs 19.99, and you can turn it into $22,000 worth of mushrooms—not that you would want to do that, of course. You would want to turn it into an enormous number of mushrooms which you would give to everybody in your apartment building and neighborhood. But it was one of the most satisfying things about my career. It doesn’t happen much anymore because that book is long in the past. But when I first started public speaking, people would come up to me and say: “We just want to thank you for writing the mushroom book. You kept a family of six off welfare for eight years.” And… you know. So growing the mushroom is a wonderful, satisfying thing. I mean, the mushroom is an incredible workhorse organism. It will take dry weight of rye and transform it into dry weight of mushroom at 12% efficiency. That’s just amazing! And it’s in short supply these days—like cleanliness, punctuality, attention to detail, responsibility, sensitivity to small shifts of parameters. It teaches you. It literally teaches you to be the kind of person that wants to take the mushroom.
Is it out of print? Can it be found?
No, it isn’t out of print. It can be found. It can be ordered from a place in San Francisco called Quick Trade. And they’ll even take a credit card number. So Quick Trade has it.
Is there anywhere in LA that carries it?
Yes, some very hip bookstores keep—
What about The Invisible Landscape?
San Francisco? Yeah, The Invisible Landscape, which has been very hard to get for ten years or so, will be reprinted next year from Harper on the 15th of April with considerable new material and revision. When that’s done—when True Hallucinations, Invisible Landscape, Archaic Revival, the Time Wave Software in the Mac and MS-DOS version—when all that’s out there, that’s essentially the bit. And I may be considerably less inevident because I don’t see myself—as it is, I’ve given every one of these raps sixty times and Paul has archived it. And I would like to go off to some jungle or island somewhere and get back into stretching the envelope with these plants and substances.
Could you give us a sense of what’s going on in Europe with [???]?
Well, what’s going on in Europe is that this very large, intelligent, postmodern youth culture is sustaining itself and growing. And it has more than the dimensions of a fad. The house music scene has been around since 1988, and it’s growing still and innovating still. And it’s a very tribal, positive message, and it’s very critical of establishmentarian values. It started out as an MDMA-based club thing and it’s turned much deeper, much more towards psychedelics. I’ve given talks like this in Megatripolis, which is a London nightclub in Charing Cross. We turned out three hundred people. I talked from ten to midnight and then we danced till 4:30. And this kind of thing—Sasha and Ann Shulgin took London by storm. There’s really a fertilization going on. There is a similar scene in Berlin, a similar scene in Frankfurt, and I think common cause can be made. The Europeans have a different attitude toward all this drug problem. They see it as a social problem to somehow be studied and solved, not that you have embraced Satanism if you smoke a joint, which seems to be the American attitude. And eventually, European attitudes will just shame us into changing our—pardon me?
Is there a drug hysteria there?
No, there is not a drug hysteria there. You can, in a very good Berlin restaurant, after dinner, make a spliff and pass it around, and the waiters bring you a silver ashtray as they’re clearing the table.
I thought that the legal punishment for illicit drugs was a lot more intense in Europe.
No. No. I mean, the Swiss are talking about giving heroin to seven hundred addicts and they just concluded this free needle thing. They’re open to experiment—both social experiments with large numbers of drug users, and clinical medical work is being done there. It’s being done in Switzerland. Hanscarl Leuner is doing work.
I know of one in Amsterdam, where they take about two hundred people, some inmates, some college students, some working class people, some hippies—various groups of people—and they give them all ecstasy. And somebody will talk and sort of work the whole program, the whole communication, into a oneness, where everyone experiences that together and they say profound things happen in the psyches of all those people.
Yeah, a lot of things are happening. The hemp movement is very strong in Germany and getting stronger in England. But I believe that the boundary-dissolving quality of these psychedelics makes them social dynamite, and that the policy makers figured this out long ago, and that this is not a simple, straightforward issue like it’s trying to be presented. That they just can’t allow these drugs to be legal. They will shift social values too much. They know that alcohol, tobacco, and sugar are much more detrimental than, let’s say, mescaline, psilocybin, and cannabis. But this is not an argument about detriment, this is an argument about what social values shall be affirmed and what’s suppressed. And alcohol keeps a dominance in place. A very rote-like, machine-like, assembly-line society can be maintained based on alcohol, red meat, tobacco, caffeine. They don’t want people philosophizing and kicking back and getting in touch with their feelings about the system. So I predict that, at the very best, there will be a kind of permissiveness. But no legal revolution is in sight, I think, unless it comes through the hemp argument. Simply that we can’t afford to let the tax revenue go by, and the resource base that hemp would represent, and so we have to change our attitudes on this.
I’d like you to talk about emergence of women [???].
We didn’t talk too much about women this time. Sometimes we talk a lot about all that. The major difference between historical society and this archaic thing that I’m so enthusiastic for, I think, was the position of women. That women were—that nature is imaged as feminine, and that in the partnership society there was role-appropriate behavior. Obviously, women represent the unconscious, and the untamed, and the wild side of things, and that’s why the control of women is so high up on the agenda of everybody who is trying to hold the line on what’s happening. The more rapidly that women can find their place, the better it’s going to be. Then the question is: what is their place? I think feminism (understandably, but nevertheless) did itself no good by deciding that what liberation meant was that 50% of the country CEOs should be women. I mean, it meant nobody examined the system into which all these people were going to be liberated and noticed that it was a horrible, repressive system, itself deserving of radical reformation. But I think the agenda of women seems to be now being reexamined and thought about.
I’m amazed at how powerful misogyny is and how politically incorrect the nineties are from the vantage point of, say, the mid-seventies. I mean, like, in media, women have clearly lost ground. The bimbo is back big. How this is to be addressed, I don’t know. I think it’s all related to… well, here this opens up a big issue, but let me just mention it. Esalen is one of the places which promoted the idea that you can heal various conditions through visualization and imaging, you know? But one of the consequences of that that has never really been dealt with anywhere is: if there are images that can heal, then there are images that can sicken, there are images that can make ill. And our terror of psychedelics and anxiety over sex have led us to substitute for those legitimate domains of human experience an incredible plethora of images of violence. I am very, very strong first amendment person. I don’t think anybody should be restricted in anything. But I’m troubled by the obvious effect of images of violence on society and women. The woman question is right in there. As long as we tolerate an unrestrained outpouring of violent images, we’re undercutting any chance women have of moving their agenda forward. And I don’t know how you do anything about this. It’s a very difficult problem. Plato, you know—well, violence without violence to women is like a circus without lions. Violence is code word for violence against women.
Violence is no fun without women, is that what you're saying?
It doesn’t sell, particularly.
[???] sex and violence?
Well, the number of images. I mean, see, we try to pretend we’re not being shaped by our technology. But an average evening of TV brings you 350 images of violent death and dismemberment. Well, in a lifetime of hunting people down and hacking their heads off you wouldn’t see that much violence if you were in a media-free world. So what the hell is going on here, you know? It’s that somehow we’re anxious about sexuality, so: no, no, there can’t be any of that. And we’re anxious about drugs, that’s not even on the agenda. So then the only pizzazz is left in this violence thing, and it’s like a drug in that you build up very rapid tolerance, and so there has to be just more and more piled on. And it’s amazing to me that this is all done in the service of the ideals of the marketplace. This is all done so people can make lots of money. It’s an extraordinary abdication of responsibility on the part of all members of society that we tolerate this kind of iconoclastic behavior. Anyway, that’s why I think of television as a drug, and a very insidious drug; a drug you can program. I mean, a drug you can buy time on for your message. And yet, millions of people are being warehoused in larval states of mind for years and years out there in the flats, just getting those sixty channels nine hours a day pouring into their—
It’s voluntary. I mean—
No, it's not.
No, you're—there are so many levels of programming. You see, what happened is—I mean, this is just my take on it—but it was a very traumatic thing for my parents’ generation to go through the Depression and then the defeat of Hitler in Europe, and all that science fiction stuff about eugenics and what was done to the Jews and all that. People were just fed up with the twentieth century by the time the atom bomb arrived. And what they wanted and what they had been promised by the New Deal Democrats was a paradise. Well, the only way you could deliver paradise in that political context was: it has to be an ersatz paradise; a paradise of stucco, and TV, and TV dinners, and tube furniture. And that’s what they got. They got an ersatz paradise. And then out of that come the discontent of their children, who see that Howdy Doody and a water sprinkler on the front lawn doesn’t feel like paradise. And that is what has driven American society deeper and deeper into artificiality: is the need to supply this synthetic, manufactured paradise. That’s why the cult of the celebrity and the intense media saturation and all of this is diversion, divertissement; a substitute for a life. That’s why what “get a life” means is: go get stoned, go get laid, go climb a mountain, or kayak a river—but somehow take back your own authenticity from the people who are peddling you canned experience with laugh tracks, with caffeine augmentation, and so forth and so on.
The real message of psychedelics, I think, is to reclaim experience and to trust yourself. Your perceptions are primary. Your feelings are correct. Everything must constellate out and make sense and parse with what you know. If you don’t start from that assumption then you are off-center to begin with. And the psychedelics will dissolve the cultural programming that has potentially made you a mark and restore your authenticity. And that’s what it’s all about: whether the only transformation in life is the personal dying that awaits each of us, or whether there is a grand opening and opportunity just ahead at the end of history.
That’s all, folks!