I can’t imagine a domain of human endeavor that isn’t impacted by the imagination. I mean, teasing the imagination apart from the talking monkey is not an easy thing to do. Imagining ourselves without imagination is itself a paradox. And yet, you know—what is it? And why is it? If you take the view that biology does nothing in vain and evolutionary economics are incredibly spare, then why have this faculty that allows one to command and manipulate realities which do not exist? I mean that’s, to my mind, the basic function of the imagination. Some people might argue and say, “Well, for most people the imagination is the coordination of mundane data.” In other words, if I work this hard and if I have this much money, can I afford that car? To my mind this is not putting great pressure on the human imagination. The human imagination, as I suppose it, is almost an extension of the visual faculty. Imagination is something that one beholds, something that takes—people speak of castles in the air or something like that.
One idea that is worth entertaining—because it is entertaining, not necessarily because it’s the truth—but is the idea that the imagination is actually a kind of window onto realities not present. In other words, it’s very clear from an evolutionary point of view that our body and our sensory perceptors are organized in such a way as to protect us: to warn of danger, to give you the muscles to respond to that danger when it comes. The imagination doesn’t seem to work quite like that. If the imagination runs riot in the dimension of the mundane, it’s paranoia. In other words, if you believe every cop on the corner is looking at you, every chance heard comment is about you, the imagination is, in that situation, pathological. It is taking the raw data of experience and giving it a maladaptive spin.
So then, where is the imagination appropriate? And it seems that it is most appropriate in the domain of human creativity. That, in fact, separating art from imagination is simply the exercise of separating cause from effect. Art, sculpture, poetry, painting, dance is like the footprint of where the imagination has been. And, you know, the abstract expressionists—Pollock particularly—always insisted that a painting, a Pollock, is not what process is about, the process is about making a Pollock; being Pollock, the act of creation. What the rest of us have been left with is a husk, a tracing, something left behind which says, “Imagination was here. Imagination acted in this place." And this is what is left.
A very interesting thing that’s going on in physics at the moment is—and I don’t want to spend too much time on this because it is slightly off subject, but it certainly is fascinating—the great bridge between art and science that was supposedly built in the twentieth century hinged on this thing called the uncertainty principle. It was the idea that, as you know more and more about things about certain aspects of a system (an atomic system in this case), certain other parts of it lose focus and become less and less clear. For example, if you know velocity you don’t know position. As you hone in on exact position, velocity becomes smeared out. And probably more ink and more breast beating has been shed over this aspect of modern physics than any other. Now, for the great embarrassment of all the people who held workshops, and wrote books, and pontificated on this matter, it appears that this is what it always looked like: fuzzy and confused thinking.
And the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, or rather the Heisenberg formulation of the quantum theory is now not to be preferred. The preferred understanding now is the version of quantum theory formulated by David Bohm. The difference between these two theories mathematically is precisely zero. There is no difference. But they make different assumptions. And the reason, originally, that the Heisenberg formulation was preferred was because it was felt that this uncertainty principle, which was a hard swallow, was not as hard a swallow as a piece of baggage which the Bohm theory carried embedded in it. And that piece of baggage was called nonlocality.
The two theories produced identical mathematical descriptions of nature, but one had this uncertainty principle in it. The other had built into it nonlocality. Nonlocality is the idea that any two particles that have been associated with each other in the past retain, across space and time, a kind of connectivity such that, if you change a physical aspect of one of these particles, the law of conservation of parity will cause the other particle to also undergo a change at the exact same moment, even though they may by now be separated by millions of light-years of space and time. This was thought to be so counterintuitive, so preposterous, that the Heisenberg uncertainty principle was chosen as the lesser of two evils.
But it turns out over the past ten years experiments have been done in the laboratory—not thought experiments, actual apparatus experiments—which secure that nonlocality actually is real. There is, below the ordinary surface of space and time ruled by relativistic physics, there is this strange domain of instantaneous connectivity of all matter, of all phenomena. It raises the possibility, then, that the imagination is in fact a kind of organ of perception. Not an organ of creative unfoldment, but actually an organ of perception. And that what is perceived in the imagination is that which is not local and never can be.
So, I myself am up in the air about this, or as you get to know me better you will see I don’t feel the need to believe or disbelieve to proclaim this true or untrue, but it is useful at this stage for understanding our mental life. I’ve spent a lot of time talking to people and thinking about the origins of consciousness, and in one sense asking the question, “What is the imagination?” is a different way of asking the same question, “What is the origin of consciousness?” And as some of you know to distraction, I believe that psilocybin mushrooms played a role kick-starting human evolution. I don’t want to repeat all that here, it’s been stated many times. But what I want to point out is that we can see in nature, I think, the declension from the full-blown human imaginative capacity back into the organization of the animal mind. We can see these stages through which this must have unfolded.
The interesting animal to look at in all of this, for the moment, are the top carnivores. This is not PC in a vegan environment, but thought just has to lead you wherever it leads you. It’s very clear to me that top carnivores coordinate data in the environment very judiciously. Cows have very little to say about grass. But cats, hunting cats, have a great deal to say about their diet because a top carnivore—to be successful—must in a certain sense think like its prey. And so at the very point of the emergence of these coordinated strategies held in the mind there’s a paradox: the earliest consciousness is consciousness which apes other consciousness. In other words, the top carnivore which is the most successful is the carnivore that can think most like a weasel, or a groundhog, or a rabbit Because this ability to think like the prey gives you a leg up on the prey. And if you’ve ever seen—not domestic cats, but small jungle hunting cats or jaguars or something like that—in the sudden presence of a chicken a hundred feet away or something, they fall into a fit of imagining because they can almost taste it. They probably can taste it. And they fall into a strategic mode that is clearly an intense state of imagining. But it is triggered by the presence of the prey.
What is interesting about human beings is: we went one step beyond that. We—for reasons which don’t need to concern us here—acquired the ability to strategically suppose, not in the presence of the stimulus, but in fact back in the back of the cave around the fire with our bellies full, telling tall tales. And it’s interesting that the imagination is the land of “what if”. And “what if” is almost like a statement in a computer language. “If" is a Boolean operator, if you know what I mean. “If” breaks the flow of reality into two possibilities: if A or B or more. And this ability to contemplate worlds which are only in potentia is the basis of the imagination.
And I would submit to you, since we all are sitting here in monkey bodies, that it’s pretty clear that the stimulus for all this if-thinking comes in two forms: food and sex. In other words we think about what we are going to eat, we construct our behavior along an “if” tree. If I go to the water hole, if I take my sharpened arrows, if I lie in wait, if the gods favor me, I will bring down dinner. The sexual game is played the same way: if I approach the desirable female with the correct offerings, if her mood is correct, if my gifts are found pleasing, then some wonderful thing will follow from all of this. So animals, I don’t think, think like this. They may think, but they don’t think like this. It seems to be a unique human ability that probably has to do with, as I say—in our case there were many different factors. For example, we became the top carnivore on the planet. But who would have placed their bet on a monkey to be the top carnivore when there were saber-toothed cats walking around that weighed 1,100 pounds? How were we able to insinuate ourselves into a more powerful position than these enormously powerful animals that we once shared the Earth with, and that, in fact, we hunted to extinction. It’s our destiny and our fate to have removed the so-called megafauna from this planet. It is now generally agreed by paleontologists that the disappearance of the megafauna and the appearance of the human beings are linked in time.
Well, we did this by imitating those carnivores. And imitation is an act of the imagination. We like (in our story about ourselves) to think of ourselves as bold hunters, but the evolutionary truth of the matter is probably that, as the first wave of primate radiation into the grassland occurred, as the diet was in transition, we were scavengers of carrion. We were not noble hunters bringing down mighty animals. We followed along behind lions; lion kills. There’s one school of evolutionary theory that believes that this is why our olfactory senses are so diminished, because, quite frankly, we had our face in rotten meat for a million years. And if that doesn’t dull your appetite for keen smells, nothing will. Least you despair, I’ll tell you that there’s a countertheory that says: no, no we lost our sense of smell when we stood upright because we lifted our face off the ground. In either case, there seems to be the idea that, when you get away from the olfactory action, the energy to support the maintenance of that sense collapses. For whatever reason, we made our way to the brink of the imagination. In other words, I don’t think we require a deus ex machina to take ourselves to the position of being top carnivore on the planet.
We have a mean throwing arm. You may notice no animal throws things the way we do. Other primates hurl excrement down on agonized explorers, but fortunately not with great accuracy. And anyway, that particular material is rarely deadly anyway. But a human being—for example, a big-league baseball pitcher—can, at 125 miles an hour, put a baseball across a 17-inch plate over and over again. One theory of the origin of consciousness wants to say that throwing something is an interesting activity because, though it may appear to be the same activity as digging grubs or scratching your ass or something like that, in fact it requires coordination toward a future outcome that is highly mathematical. In other words, you may not think in numbers, but you must somehow sense the concept of trajectory, coordination of target and intent, and when you get all this up and running, according to some people you have enough brain power left over to write the Fifth Symphony, invent quantum physics, and paint The Last Supper if you like.
This seems preposterous to me. I think that how the imagination got such a hold on us was that we accepted into our diet catalysts that we were unaware of that pushed our mental state around, specifically psychedelics of various sorts. And a reasonable working definition of psychedelics—what they do, whether you’re for it or against it, whether you think it triggers paranoia or ataraxia—they are catalysts for the imagination. They catalyze thought. Thought becomes more baroque, it reaches deeper into reality for data, it sees forms of connectivity that previously escaped it, it makes leaps of assumption—not always correct, but sometimes correct. So what it does is by, to some degree, transferring chaos into the mental world it creates a much richer dynamic. And so thought processes become more complicated, and in a sense, then, language becomes the behavior which expresses the imagination. It can be expressed in a limited form, through dance, through gesture, and of course it can be expressed very well through painting if you’ve reached the stage where you have painting and are not chipping rock, or drawing in blood in the sand, or something like that. If have a really rich technology behind your artistic intent. But that rich technology would have never arisen without the intercession of language.
And so these two things which make us unique among nature’s productions on this planet—imagination and language—seem to be almost like the exterior and interior manifestation of the same thing, the same phenomenon. And what it is, is: it’s a facility with data, an ability to connect it in novel ways for one’s own entertainment and amusement if nothing else. Storytelling is obviously this kind of activity, where modules—a ghost, a princess, a lost kingdom, a disturbed father-son relationship—these modules are manipulated to entertain people. And, you know, it’s a cliché that there are only five stories. And I think Robert Graves, in The White Goddess, argued that there’s only one story, and we keep telling variants of this story over and over again.
Well, what history then is, or what culture is, is: the phenomenon that attends the rise and spread of the imagination in the human species. But because the imagination works on this “what if” model, it always tends toward idealism. In other words, it is not simply a networked process, it’s a networked process with a vector field. In other words, it’s going somewhere. It’s not just a random walk. It’s headed somewhere. We idealize. If you’re going to play the game “what if,” most people who are psychologically healthy don’t sit around entertaining dire possibilities. “What if I get a terrible disease?” “What if I’m run over by a truck?” No, people say, “What if I make a lot of money?” or “What if I meet someone who gives me a lot of money?” And it, you know, it begins to tend toward idealism. And we are obviously ruled by ideals and ideas. We haven’t found a good one yet, but we certainly have sacrificed a lot of blood and time in the process of discovering a whole bunch of bad ideas. And we haven’t lost our faith in ideas even though human history is the record. Not one idea has survived from the distant past in its original form. And some of the most persistent ideas (I would argue) are some of the most pernicious ideas. The idea of man’s inherent flaw—that’s an old, old idea—and how much suffering has existed because of it.
But culture, then, is the record of the human imagination. Well, that’s fine. That is of interest to anthropologists and somebody else—who knows. What gives the whole thing a lot of bite is that, more and more, the imagination is where we spend our time. You know, there’s a lot of talk these days about virtual reality: an immersive state-of-the-art technology in which you put on goggles and special clothing, or enter special environments, and then you are in artificial worlds created by computers. And this is thought to be very woo-woo and far out. But, in fact, if you’re paying attention, we’ve been living inside virtual realities for about 10,000 years. I mean, what is a city but a complete denial of nature? And say, no, no, not trees, mud holes, waterfalls, and all that. Straight lines, laid-out roads, class hierarchies reflected in local geography—meaning the rich people live here, surrounded by the not-so-rich people, all served by the poor people who are so glad they’re no the outcast people. So, you know, urbanization is essentially the first of these impulses where society leaves nature and enters into its own private Idaho. And the growth of cities and the growth of the immediacy, I guess you would say, of the urban experience has been a constant of human evolution since urbanization began.
Now the only difference that the new technologies offer is: we are going to do this with light, not mortar, brick, steel, aluminum, and titanium—which are incredibly intractable materials. I mean, it’s amazing to me. We started with the toughest stuff. And of course it cost enormous amounts of human blood and treasure to work with such intractable materials. It’s always been amazing to me that the largest buildings human beings ever built are, in a sense, the first buildings human beings ever built. Because the first pyramids of Egypt are enormous, even by modern scale, and yet they were among the earliest buildings ever built. In virtual reality the difference between a hundred-story building and a ten-story building is one zero. That’s all! In a line of code you specify one hundred over ten and you get a hundred-story building instead of a ten-story building. What this should tell us is that, in the domain of light, the intractability of matter is overcome. And so we are on the brink of a time. We have arrived. We are at the time where the human imagination now need meet no barriers to its intent. And so we are going to find out who we are. We are going to discover what it means to be human when there is no resistance to human will.
Now, this is, I suppose, like a litmus test for paranoia. Is this going to be a nightmare of, you know, 24-hour a day sadomasochistic pornography or is it going to be—will we literally build heaven on Earth? Knowing what I know about the human animal, I suspect it will be both/and, because we’re not going to get everybody marching in the same direction on this. And one person’s hell is another person’s heaven. But the imagination—which to this point has been a human faculty and the consolation of artists—is about to turn into real -estate. You know, as real as any real estate there is.
And in a way, I think the shamans, who for the past 50,000 years have been… essentially they leaped over the material phase of imagination engineering and went to nanotechnology 25,000–30,000 years ago. By nanotechnology I mean reliance on machines to achieve your goals, machines that are under one nanometer in size; smaller than a billionth of an inch. We don’t think of drug molecules as machines, but in fact they are machines and they perform their work in the synapse like machines. So shamanism didn’t use matter to build its realities, it was more sophisticated than that. It directly addressed the capacity of the human mind in the presence of unusual neurochemicals to produce unusual phenomena and unusual sensoria of experience.
Now what’s happening is: these two strains of development—the (let’s call it) pharmacological, nano-technological, low-tech, natural, shamanic path and the high-tech, material-manipulating, macro-physical technologies—are encountering each other and meeting in the domain of the modern computer. And this is fascinating. The world is becoming more and more defined by the imagination. And those of us who are involved in creating this, I think, have the feeling that it has in it a kind of built-in dynamic toward finality. In other words, this is not a process than can go on for hundreds of thousands—or even hundreds—of years, because the human imagination is so endlessly self-transcending, whatever its most advanced creation of the moment is, it’s in the process of obviating and denying it and seeking to go beyond it. And, you know, I think it was Plato—I’m not sure he said it first—but he said, “If God does not exist, human beings will create God.” I think the truth is they’re not even going to wait to find out. It’s easier to cut to the technical solution and sort the whole thing out later. And if the God we make and the God we find are in conflict with each other, they’ll just have to duke it out. Maybe they’ll Marduk it out, I’m not sure.
Because, you know, there’s a wonderful phrase in Myths, Dreams, And Mysteries, a book by Mircea Eliade, where he’s talking about powered flight, of all things; the Wright brothers. And he says, “Whatever we make of this as an engineering feat, it speaks volumes about the humans psyche’s desire to transcend itself infinitely.” And so, you know, in a sense the powered flight is a psychological breakthrough. Because man flies. Well then, spacecraft—we break beyond the embrace of gravity. And these technological breakthroughs are always presented in terms of overcoming some set of boundary constraints imposed by nature. And in virtual reality all boundary constraints are overcome by nature, just as in the imagination. But the imagination, metabolically sustained—in other words, you eat well, then you smoke a lot of hash, and then you enter into an imaginative reality—but as metabolism ebbs and flows, as your food digests, as the drugs leave your system, this reality (whatever it is) falls to pieces and it’s washed away.
But the virtual realities created in code are more enduring. They are, in fact, as enduring as the code-maker. And so we’re beginning to talk in terms of dreams which don’t go away. Worlds of the imagination which one can work on for months, and then lead one’s critics through and collect their critiques and make the connections and dot the I’s and cross the T’s according to the way one’s critics and friends think it should be done. And so what this means is: somehow the imagination always, among the most private of domains, is like everything else under the impact of the new technologies: being redefined so that there is no private and public distinction anymore. So we are on the brink of losing, in a sense, a part of our individuality. We are going to be able to show each other what we mean, we are going to be able to build hallucinations, and then walk through them, and discuss them, and edit them, and re-edit them.
And I, you know—to this point we’ve been doing psychology sort of like a blind man polishing a Cadillac in total darkness. You know? If you keep excellent notes and don’t lose your place, you form a kind of a notion of what a Cadillac must be. But what we’re about to do is just turn on the fluorescent lighting and look at the thing. And I don’t know what this will bring. I think it will redefine us. We are a great mystery to ourselves and to each other, but not in principle. Only through limitations imposed by the physical body and limitations of technology. And so I think, you know, what our yearning for community, for collectivity, for telepathy, for universal human understanding is, in a sense, going to be self-fulfilled by simply opening up the imagination—not as a private dimension, but as a public and shared dimension.
And this will be, I think, incredibly enriching and surprising. We are going to find out what the human critter really is, and what we are really capable of. And I’m not afraid of this at all, because I think—well, basically I am a Platonist, and Plato identified the good and the true and the beautiful as the same thing. But notice it’s very hard to know what is good, and it’s even more difficult to know what is true. But it is intuitively understood what is beautiful. So beauty is the easy way in. Beauty leads to the good and the true.
And we are on the brink, I think, of taking a stride toward beauty that is the greatest stride in that direction since the emergence of language in the human species. And the emergence of language in the human species was the first shoe dropping in this enterprise. And the building of virtual realities that can be shared and critiqued and understood is the dropping of the second shoe. A true civilization lives in its own imagination and lives through its imagination. And when this is an accessible possibility to most people I think a great deal of our inhumanity will simply fall away from us, because it is not inherent. It is the product of misapprehension. Misapprehension of each others goals, and intent, and aesthetic.
So I think that’s about all I have to say about that tonight. I get spun into it and I can’t stop. I don’t know whether I am talking to you or to me, but this is some of what we’ll talk about this weekend. This may be the longest single uninterrupted Spiel you hear from me. As I said, these things are best driven when people inject their agenda into it. But these are the things I’m thinking about. History feels very risky to a lot of people. I think that it is risky, but it is because the stakes are so high. We really have an opportunity to transcend ourselves and to fulfill the human enterprise on this planet. And, you know, I’m just so aware of the limitations of the people of the past—their agonies, their concerns. I mean, how many children were born stillborn, how many women died at childbirth? Nine times in the last five million years the glaciers have ground south from the poles, pushing everything in their path. Those people didn’t drop the ball. The amount of human suffering and agony that has gone into carrying us to this moment of privilege and opportunity is incalculable, and can only be redeemed if we bring this inherent human beauty into the world as spiritual food for ourselves and for the human community.
We talked a little bit about the imagination last night just to give a sort of a feeling for the vocabulary of the territory. If there’s anything coming out of that anybody wants to say or that—
Regarding the emerging language and imagination in developing humans, and how the concept of music fits into that paradigm, do you think it adds a specific human quality to the development of language?
Well, it’s very interesting. I’m working on a book now. A lot of it is about the subject of language. It’s a little hard to talk about it in English, because in English the word “language” both means the general linguistic facility and it also is heard as meaning “speech.” And as I looked into language and studied it, and studied what other people had said about it, there were some surprises. The first surprise is that the straight people in the field—what is taught in the academy—is that language is no more than 35,000 years old. This was astonishing to me. I just, for some reason—my own intellectual biases—assumed that the conservative academic position would be that spoken language is old, because it seems so basically a part of us. How can it have arrived 35,000 years ago? That makes it something as artificial as a bicycle pump or a transistor radio.
Well, the problem here is that this word, “language,” is misheard in English. So in writing this new book I had to make a very clear distinction: language is old. Honeybees do it, dolphins do it. It’s even possible (when you think of chemical communication) that flowers and ants do it. Nature is knit together by communication—which has rules, has syntax, and so is language. If you’ve ever stood in a rainforest or any species-dense environment—it’s alive with signals, with sounds, with odors that are carrying messages. These things are not just produced for aesthetic effect, they have intended hearers and so forth and so on. And language in human beings is old because we know that we evolved from pack-hunting primates, socialized primates, that had—as we observe the behavior of primates alive in the world today—very complex repertoires of signals. Signals which mean “dive for cover, an eagle is cruising the area,” or “here is food, enough for a dozen of us,” and so forth. Complex pack signaling.
And it was the greatest technological leap we’ve ever made, and in some ways the cleanest and the most astonishing. It’s almost like a resonance. Remember last night? I mentioned how strange it was that the largest buildings people ever built were the first buildings they ever built. Well, the greatest technological revolution so far ever launched by human beings was, in a sense, this early one—I won’t call it the first because there was toolmaking before that, there was fire before that—but somewhere in Africa, no less than 40,000 years ago. And this means a time when human beings who looked like you and I, maybe a little pigmentation differential, but basically people exactly like you and I had already radiated all over the planet. I mean, by 40,000 years ago nobody argues that people weren’t everywhere.
Recent finds in Australia have pushed back the date of aboriginal penetration into Australia to 120,000 years. And that’s not woo-woo, that Wollongong University Department of Archeology’s stuff. 120,000 years. So people were all over the world. Well, did they communicate? They certainly did communicate. They communicated with dance, with gesture, and—leading back to your question—with music. They communicated in all kinds of ways. But we now know from the study of the introduction of media that if a medium of sufficient power and bandwidth is introduced into a population, it will abandon all previous forms of media in favor of this. We saw this in America after World War II when a print-literate society within a decade became a television society. We are seeing it now where, in the face of five years, the Internet goes from being “say what?” to indispensable for huge numbers of people. And that’s in the space of five years.
Someone in Africa—probably loaded, experimenting with singing and chanting and sound—was lifted out of their plane. In other words, they actually had a breakthrough in the imagination, and they said, “How would it be if?” This amazing word, the power of “if.” How would it be if we decided that a certain sound is associated with a certain thing? And let’s play a little game. Every time I make this sound, you think of this thing, and let’s a make a little list. Let’s take five sounds and assign them to five common things. And now I’ll make the sound and you think the thing. Well, behind all this is the organizational architecture of the human organism which, onto a game such as that, will effortlessly lay what is called syntax. And Chomsky and others have shown that what is called the rules of transformational grammar, or the deep structures of language, are genetic. All languages, in order to be intelligible, have to obey these rules. A language which does not obey these rules is not a language, is not intelligible.
So through a breakthrough in imagination, a kind of stepping sideways from the (by then) old enterprise of entertaining each other with funny mouth noises, language was produced. Probably—I mean, literally at a definable moment in space and time. A person—you know, the mother or father of all media—discovered utterance, and it was like an intellectual virus spreading through the population, and moving as quickly as human beings could carry it because it was a superior form of media. Before, communication had been, I imagine, highly slanted toward emotional states and time-bounded states. You know, you go up to somebody, you take hold of them, you look at them and they understand: we’re either going hunting or we’re going to go have sex, and it will be spelled out in just the next little while. That kind of thing. And this kind of communication was a sufficiently viscous social glue to hold small hunting-gathering groups together.
As society complexifies and spreads out through space and time it either loses its coherency or it evolves methods of communication to keep it in touch with itself. I am not a linguist. I read a lot of this linguistic literature without really understanding it, but I know that the people who give their lives to this believe that they can extrapolate the rules of spoken language of the modern European languages to reason backward toward a language that was spoken 12,000–10,000 years ago called “Indo-European” or “Proto-Indo European.” And this was thought to be, you know, the great achievement of linguistics as of fifteen or twenty years ago. Now a new generation of people have pushed it further back. There is a language called Nostratic, which is a language that was spoken on the Anatolian Plateau and acrosssouthern Europe 15,000–25,000 thousand years ago.
And now people like Shevoroshkin at Stanford—and this was all done by Russians, by the way. The Russians hold the high ground in linguistics. It was Russian insights that cracked the Mayan language, too. But Shevoroshkin and his people are now talking about a language called “Old World.” And “Old World” is the first language ever spoken on this planet by higher primates. Beyond “Old World”, there is inarticulate silence. And “Old World” is a 35,000 year old language. How can we know such things? You have to push into linguistic literature, and you’re a better man than I am,[???]. There are websites you can go to where people speak in Old World, and you can hear what it sounded like. And it sounds like a bunch of really primitive people!
Terence, how do we know that we really evolved this language?
Well, this is an interesting area. You know, one of my sub-themes is novelty and that, supposedly, reality becomes more novel as we approach the present. And this is certainly true of biology and many, many phenomena. But there is an important exception, so I’m told. I’m not yet entirely convinced of this yet, but convinced enough to pass it on. And that is—though this obviously contains a paradox—language is seen to be more complicated as you go back in time, structurally and in number of words. So that, for instance, Old English in considerably richer in certain areas than modern English. Now, I say, probably what’s happening is that technical vocabularies are keeping the boat roughly at equilibrium. But, you know, for every widget word, a word describing some subset of our technology, if we’re losing words that indicate emotional nuances, or nuances of rapport and understanding, then the language is being impoverished. Most scholars of English believe that, you know, Shakespeare caught the wave. Shakespeare is not only a phenomenon of immense human genius focused in one person, but it’s also a moment of incredible linguistic richness and opportunity that didn’t exist 200 years before and didn’t survive 200 years after.
Well, but as I lay in the tubs at Esalen, a vast vocabulary of subtle gradients of interpersonal states of angst, longing, need, rejection, triumph, and defeat are passed in front of me, and frankly I would rather read my manual on my hard disk sometimes. But I’m a tough nut to crack.
But this does lead on to an aspect of all this that I wanted to talk about, which is: language is—I’m sure you’ve heard it said—it’s a double-edged sword because it liberates as it enslaves. All clarity is achieved by the sacrifice of true identity. You know, the world is actually a messy and difficult to articulate place, and if you can make it all seem very simple and smooth-running then you’re a con-artist of some sort.
I’ve always said: “As soon as I speak, I already lie.”
Yes, well, one group of linguists suggest probably the big impulse producing language originally was the wish to lie, to say, “If only I could deceive people more!” And I always, you know, along this line—the wonderful thing which Winston Churchill said at the height of World War II, he said, “Truth is so precious that she must always be accompanied by a bodyguard of lies.” That’s an interesting point of view: the truth is not something that you trot out and show everybody, that you surround truth with lies so that only the discerning—you know, we simple, straightforward, plain dealers don’t think like that, but believe me, you get with an Amazonian shaman or someone like that, he is not operating under a strong moral obligation to tell you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth as quickly as he possibly can. No, it’s all about, you know, leading you this way, and then dropping you and watching you wiggle. And then leading you another way. And eventually, because truth is guarded—in our society the commodification of information has made it something that you want to deliver with maximum punch to its target audience as fast as possible and cash the check and get out. But that is not traditionally how its done.
Well, it divides the seamlessness of reality into the articulated and the unarticulated. You know, Trumbull Stickney, who’s not exactly a household name, was one of those poets who died in the trenches of World War I, the golden generation, and he wrote a poem called Meaning’s Edge. And he said in that poem, “I do not understand you, ‘tis because I lean over your meaning’s edge, and feel the dizziness of the things that you have not said.” And it’s that “the dizziness of things unsaid” that always surrounds the enterprise of communication, especially spoken language.
Now, to go back to this thing about the evolution of language and technology, and are we getting better or worse at it—communication— I discern, at least if you look at the evolution of media the way you would look at the evolution of a species or a group of genera in an organic situation, a very pronounced preference for the visual. You know, the idea of colorful and rich speech, which was all we had for a long time, gives way in the early nineteenth century to photography. And it’s still, and it’s black and white. But immediately the people who invent it can think of nothing but color and motion. And by 1900 they got that under control. And then there’s stuff like stereophonic sound, and on and on. Clearly, we view the language-forming enterprise as a task not yet brought to completion.
One of the things that seems to always come up in these things is the fact that so-called primitive or aboriginal or pre-literate people using psychedelic plants that melt local cultural conditioning seem to access a place where language is much more a visual enterprise. Ayahuasca circles sing, but the singing is critiqued as though it were pictorial activity. In other words, after the shaman stop singing, you hear people saying, “I liked the part with the orange spots, but I thought the olive drab magenta section was self-indulgent,” or something like that. And you think, you know, this is a critique of a song? No, the sound is the carrier, the acoustical wave is no longer in the foreground of the experience of appreciating the performance. It has become the carrier of something visible.
And, you know, a lot of people think that somewhere in the human future lies telepathy. And it’s usually imagined as you hear what I think. A kind of extension of what we have. But I think it’s more likely to develop along the lines of you see what I mean. In other words, we add dimensionality to language, and we then can walk around it. I touched on some of this last night with the virtual reality. Because virtual reality, in the service of the ideals that I’m interested in, would become a technology for showing each other the contents of our imagination with less ambiguity than we have ever had before.
Well, I suppose every technology has created more opportunity for deception. You can’t have complex, illusionistic realities unless you work in pictorial space. Yes, I don’t think these technologies will reform the human character, also I’m not sure—subterfuge is a major part of art, it certainly is a major part of legerdemain. Every sentence is essentially a conjuration. And, you know, the rabbit of meaning is pulled out of the hat of constructive syntax. So you cannot have truth unless you allow for the possibility of error.
You know, this is the point that illuminates why predestination is a waste of time. Predestination is the idea that the universe is a kind of film, and it’s running, and it’s all determined how it’s going to come out, and there’s nothing anybody or anything can do to affect it. God created it, and it’s unfolding. Well the thing that makes predestination theory worthless in my estimation is: notice that if that’s true, then you think what you think because you can’t think anything else. And that puts the enterprise of seeking truth in a preposterous position. In order to seek truth one must have the option of screwing up, and then it’s the dichotomy between the screwing up and finding truth that creates the sense of dynamic existential completion.
Well, this is—now you’re at the cutting edge. I mean, yes, yes, and yes. Sound is the fourth dimension. Sound is a very effective way of transducing energy into the body. The body is virtually transparent to sound. The mushroom said to me once, apropos of absolutely nothing, it said, “What you call ‘man’ we call ‘time’.” And time and metabolism—metabolism is permitted by time, and somehow time is caused by metabolism. And then sound is in there as an energy transducer. And yes, I think a future technology of sound probably will cure disease and set people right. All this business that goes on in shamanism with blowing on the body and projecting sound into the body—obviously, some of it is misunderstood and marginal and showmanship, but at the core sound has, I think, not yet been given its complete role in all of this. The fact that you can see sound under certain conditions. You know, there’s a phenomenon called sonoluminescence that creates temperatures twenty times greater than the surface of the sun. This is done in a test tube by simply using acoustical waves and bubbling fluid to collapse and create extremely brief, high-pressure states. So—sonoluminescence. There’s a website you can visit. Isn’t there always?
Well, I guess what I’m sort of saying is that once you have the concept of nanotechnology, then you see that drugs and prosthesis, or computers, or tools, are categorically migrating toward each other. You probably heard me say the only difference between computers and drugs is that one is too large to swallow, and our best people are working on that very problem. So yeah, I think that, from the middle of the nineteenth century on, without really much drugs to help them along—I mean, a little ether, a little hashish—poets and artists in Europe were obsessed with synesthesia.
There’s a wonderful New Yorker cartoon—maybe some of you saw it—a bunch of guys in suits are sitting around what is obviously a corporate board room, and in the background there is a profit and loss chart, and it’s clearly headed into hell. And the chairman of the board is saying to a small, smiling man sitting on the other end of the table: “You’re right Higgins, a deliberate disordering of the senses worked for Rimbaud, but would it work for us?” So this is a reference to a symbolist poet of the nineteenth century and the belief that we need to erase the boundaries between the senses, and create a synesthesic, a hallucinogenic—a psychedelic, if you will—reality. I mean, the late nineteenth century the Pre-Raphaelites, the Jugendstil impulse, that was all like they could smell psychedelics in the air of the future. They couldn’t quite get high, but they were definitely bird-dogging in the right direction.
So yeah, the trick—if we’re going to design our own states of mind—is to make sure that we don’t dump the baby out with the bathwater. We want the net to be as haunted as possible. We don’t want to lose its atavistic connections back into the darker recesses and resources of the unconscious. That why Bill Gibson’s novel Neuromancer is so prescient—because here it is: this super-technological fantasy, but at the center of the net the Gods of voodoo are reappearing. And I came to the realization thinking about the Internet. Uh, you know, the Other is within us. When the other finally—if it ever—comes into full manifestation, it won’t come in mile-wide ships of titanium that position themselves over the secretariat building of the U.N. It won’t come like that. It will come out of human hands and human dreams. It will be fully other. I am not copping out here. It will be fully other. But it can only be built through us.
This addresses what I was beginning to get at last night when I talked about non-local information. The alien is real, but the alien is not here in this stupid sense. The alien can only manifest itself through us. But this probably means that, given a sufficiently resilient technology, it can manifest completely through us. So, in a sense, the Internet is a kind of landing pad. There has always been in our fantasies of extraterrestrial contact the notion of “the pad” which has to be built for them. And people claim is the Nazca lines and all—you know, it’s an archetype: the idea of the prepared space that awaits the arrival of the Other. But now, because of the nature of the Internet, because you can’t see who’s coding, you can almost imagine that we’re calling the thing forth. And I think it will probably appear as a website. And, you know, when it’s sorted out, you’ll realize: “My God! http://zetareticulae.org is really coming from Zeta Reticulae!” But through virtual, through non-local Bohmian space.
It’s totally separate in the sense that it is somewhere else in the universe and evolving complete along its own lines, and not in any way under our control. But then you turn the coin over and the division between it and us is completely seamless because of the non-local nature of information. In other words, this is an incredibly empowering idea, if true. I mean, it will make a revolution in psychology that few people have yet even sensed coming. What we’re talking about here is putting the Jungian idea of the collective unconscious—first, expanding it to the size of the cosmos, and then showing with physics exactly how the trick is done. So we are not separate from any place.
Obviously, when you evolve inside an animal body localized in space and time, you get a hellacious set of reflexes and muscles designed to deal with immediate threat in the environment. But at the core of the oyster is this portal into universalism which we have denigrated to what we call the imagination. It is a—there is a third eye. The third eye exists, but it doesn’t look out at this world. You’ve got two perfectly good eyes for doing that. The third eye looks out at the holographic matrix of informational totality. And then the problem for that form of perception is filtering.
Would you say that another word [???]
Well, Ātman means “soul” or “being.” Yes. It’s simply that consciousness is distributed and holographic and nobody has their brand on it. What we have been calling human consciousness is the only consciousness there is. It’s something you tap into, not something you evolve out of yourself. I mean, you required a local language to create a local model of this universal input. If your local language is insufficient then you abide in a domain of intuition. A that’s what I would call animal consciousness: it’s a domain of intuition of being. Animals intuit being. But given a more advanced nervous system, a more advanced cultural toolkit, the intuition changes into a direct perception, and you begin to make poetry and experience loss and feel love, and you begin to feel the emotional outlines of the enterprise of being and how far one can go into that. I assume it’s infinite, or at least appears infinite from our limited position.
So the local language is [???]
Well, the local language is a necessary compromise. It’s interesting. The thing that makes psychedelics so central to a discussion like this is: they are the only thing which pulls the plug on the illusion, the illusion created by local language. That’s why people are both in love with it and terrified of it—because it addresses a fundamental aspect of reality, and it addresses it incontrovertibly. And people who feel culture as a safety zone that is keeping at bay the black oceans of God-knows-what are not interested in taking psychedelics. On the other hand, people who feel confined by the cultural dream, and who want to cross the black oceans of who-knows-what to see what’s on the other side, they embrace that same experience as a God-sent gift. But it’s the same phenomenon.
So it addresses, you know, one’s own fundamental relationship to the unknown. Local languages, like local cultures and architectural styles, and everything else, are designed to create, I think, an infantile sense of security. One of the bees up my rear end these days is the idea that culture is not our friend, that we have been very naïve about what culture is and how it is something designed for the convenience of the species. And, you know, it could turn you into a janitor, or a banker, or a celebrity, or anything else with no interest or concern for whether that’s good for you. It plays with individuals and, you know, most people think (or at least I think most people think) that when you get to be—I dunno, 30, 35, 40, or something—you have jumped all the hurdles. You got your college degree, you had some children, you made some money, you lost some money, maybe you had a marriage, maybe you had several, and anyway, people sort of get the feeling: well, I’ve done it. Actually, the major adventure still lies ahead. And the major adventure is to claim your authentic true being, which is not culturally given to you. The culture will not explain to you how to be a real human being. It will tell you how to be banker, politician, Indian chief, masseuse, actress, whatever. But it will not give you true being. And maybe this is the voice of somebody who just turned fifty talking, but I thought it would get simpler. It doesn’t. Because this rejection of culture thing is the last and hardest step to take. And there are all kinds of impediments to taking it. The fact that in middle age, if you’ve played the game right, you get a lot of money—that’s totally stultifying in most cases in terms of going forward to the next level. It’s almost as though culture is an enterprise self-organized to buy you off at the moment when you might be most dangerous to its values and goals.
[???] humanity trying to reach harmony?
Well, you know, in Revelations, the ancient of days is described as—there’s a sword which comes out of the mouth. It’s a very hard image to picture. But a sword, a turning sword, which comes out the mouth. And of course the whole Western myth of creation is: the world was made by an utterance. In principio erat Verbum et Verbum caro factum est. “In the beginning was the word, and the word was made flesh.” And in some sense, I think, what is not stated there is that, then, out of the flesh, the word must be re-distilled. That’s the second half of the historical process. In this book—which I may mention at some point—the statement is made, “God created man in order to taste the bitter fruit of time.”
In the DMT flash, the entities that appear, their entire program is a program of language-acquisition. And, you know, this is a point that’s brushed over in science fiction films because it’s actually such a conundrum. Those of you who saw—and you suffered as I did—Mars Attacks: the little role for Rod Steiger in there as the German guy with the translation machine. Well, if you think about alien contact,—real alien contact—we cannot assume that universal understanding is easily achieved. The very first aspect of true alien contact would probably be a language lesson of some sort. Because the aliens don’t want to communicate about our gross national product or our political system. If they do, they’re not really aliens, they’re just odd looking people from far away. Real aliens have something really alien to communicate, and it can only be communicated in an alien language.
So I think it’s very suggestive that these invisible entities that we contact when we dissolve the local language boundaries—and they are, they’re like mud walls built around our little hut of mental… our collection of boats and stuff that we’ve pushed together—and then we dissolve the walls and there’s alien people, there’s alien minds out there waiting to trade with us. They probably have always been trading with individual geniuses through dream, through insight, through imagination. I mean many—if you’ve read Thomas Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions you know that, even in as constipated and self-conscious an enterprise as science, the real breakthroughs occur in situations of delirium, frenzy, drunkenness, inspiration. And then guys—usually it’s guys—spend the whole rest of their professional life trying to make it sound reasonable and rational, and how it preceded from earlier work done by other people, and so forth and so on. This is just a fantasy, a kind way of attaining respectability.
Well, yeah. I mean, Hinduism and Hebrew and… I think those are the two biggies, have really elaborate theories of the power and the place in the universal scheme things of certain tones, and…. As I was sitting I was thinking Sufi and then I was also thinking Pythagorean. I mean, some people called this the Pythagorean impulse: the belief that, basically, the universe is harmonious and exists as a series of octaves, and that if you know the mechanics of this you can converse with angels, you can ascend to higher levels. Yes. Again, it’s an issue of language. I mean, some languages fill your pockets with lead, and some languages, you know, give you a helium balloon for plunging into these metaphysical areas.
One thing I wanted to talk about this morning—and maybe this is the place to get into it—is: we’ve spoken of the imagination as a seemingly boundless realm, but it’s not ruleless. And people who encounter it without rules often have very difficult experiences, the most difficult of which can be raving madness, I would think. And so if we’re going to embrace the imagination as the new benchmark of being, then we need to talk about what the rules are that obtain in the imagination. You know, the fourteenth-century nominalist William of Occam dealt with questions like, “Can God do anything?” “Yes, God can do anything.” “Then can God make a rock so heavy that God can’t pick it up?” And then, if not, why not, and what does this mean? Well, this is an effort to tame the imagination. And Occam concluded from exercises like that that even God must follow the rules of logical necessity, otherwise becoming trapped in self-negating paradox.
So I, in thinking about this, I listed three areas where rules might be gleaned that could be applied to the imagination. The first two are linked somehow. Mathematics. Mathematics is not what you think it is. Mathematics is basically rational thinking about defined sets of entities. And since the imagination is nothing but defined sets of entities, the rules which govern them are worth learning. In practical terms what this comes down to is logic. And one of the problems that I think haunts the current cultural impasse is the fact that there is a lot of hostility to science. And it has spilled ov—and science we should be very suspicious of. It’s a wonder-worker. It’s a magician dealing its wares in the marketplace. So we should be suspicious of science, but this scientistic paranoia has spilled over into a suspicion of reason. This is too much.
If you abandon reason you will have nothing to guide you but the emotional depth of the situation. This is what Heidegger called the depth of the call. And in the twentieth century, the history of following the depth of the call has not been a happy one. We can not trust the call of the blood uncritiqued by reason. Reason is primary in this situation. Well, so then, many people say, “Well, mathematics is impossible, logic is difficult. Isn’t there a third possibility? Isn’t there yet another way to get a handle on this?” And the answer is: yes, but I’m not sure its easier. It may seem at first easier, but that is aesthetics. The imagination must serve the ideal of the beautiful. I talked about this a little bit last night. That which is tasteless is to be avoided at all costs, and ninety percent of the difficulty in your intellectual life would never have happened if you had just had better taste. Am I not right? You know? I look at this “Heaven’s Gate” thing in amazement because of its tastelessness, that’s all. I mean, it is utterly unappealing for that reason. I don’t even have to reach for the club of logic. If it had been better scripted, I might need logic, but the aesthetics of the situation are just so overwhelmingly ugh. But—
What’s Heaven’s Gate?
The suicide cult that eliminated itself in San Diego.
Well, usually—I mean, usually people ask me, “What will happen in 2012?” and I say, “It’s like asking a man facing east at 2 am, ‘What will sunrise look like?’” In other words, it’s too early to ask.
I mean in terms of [???] technology [???]
Well, I think that, A: I don’t have an answer to the problem of the bully and the slave, unless—as the Marxists claim—that is inimical to disparity of wealth. Because I think disparity of wealth is a transient phenomenon based on a limited technology, but it is entirely possible that we can make everyone a king and we will still have bullies and slaves. So if the Marxists are wrong, and the addressing of the economic disparity doesn’t change the structure of the human soul, then we will have to go deeper. And I don’t know how this is going to look. There’s a lot of tension in any community that discusses this kind of stuff over where the body lies in all of this. Can we solve our problems and maintain our individual existences, or are we in fact furiously building a level of hierarchical control above the level of the individual that will make things like states and corporations seem like pale soup indeed? Are we in fact trying to create a superorganism? What is the relationship of an idea like that to classic fascism?
What about the Internet? Is it the coming of the superorganism? It is prosthesis on an incredible scale. It is going to redefine what it is to be human. I think technologies are neither gods nor demons, it’s what you do with it. But the dilemma of human freedom is that we don’t know where we rest in the universal hierarchy of good and evil. In other words, what would we do if we could do anything? Would our transcendent impulses drive us to a kind of angelhood, or as James Joyce says, “would we flop on the seamy side?” And the answer normally given is: “some would do one, and some the other.” Yes, but what if we erase that possibility of individual action, and is there then only one destiny? And then: what shall it be, and who shall decide? I would be fairly pessimistic if I saw this all going on on a level playing field. But it isn’t going on on a level playing field. Transcendence is favored. Nature seems to be in the business of building systems which transcend themselves. We can see that as far back in time as we care to look, and throughout all of nature. So it seems like we actually have a hell of a tailwind helping us toward the transcendent Other. Probably that is what will make the difference. We couldn’t have done it by ourselves, but we happen to be in a universe which is itself involved in the process of bootstrapping to higher levels.
Well, traditionally—meaning since the invention of print—the artist has had this role where the eccentricity and the Bohemian lifestyle and so forth of the artist was tolerated because the argument was the artist is a kind of antenna for this mysterious thing called the future. And the artist would sound the alarm and bring the news. In a sense, we don’t hear this kind of talk anymore because this is the future. You know, have become the very thing our parents warned us against. Those cheerful dreams of endless progressivism that built up the nineteenth century and early twentieth century have given way to a much more cynical and sophisticated understanding that our buildings may become taller, our automobiles shinier, but somehow the human animal is not moving forward at the same rate as our technology.
So what we have to do, then, is give people opportunities and let the devil take the hindmost. At least create a world where those who aspire to transcendence are not blocked in the aspiration. And of course it’s not that some of us are these pure aspirants and others the haunters of the sleazy side of the Internet. We each a play all these roles and move in between them according to taste and mood. I mean, one of the great falsities of print is the making illegitimate of schizophrenia. I mean, we are all just swarms of personalities. The idea that a healthy person has a unified identity is just a silly idea. It’s like believing that sexual preference comes in only two flavors or something. It’s one of those incredibly weird simplifications that, once made, everybody lines up and salutes no matter how much agony it causes the individuals.
Well, last night what I said was that I was a Platonist, and that Plato felt that the world was approached through three paths: the good, the true, and the beautiful. But that goodness is controversial, and truth difficult to discern, but that beauty has a kind of resonant self-evidence. And so, following beauty, it’s my faith will lead to the good and the true. And some beauty is—I mean, I’m a fan of extreme forms of beauty, Hieronymus Bosch and Redon, and James Ensor. I mean, the beautiful can be grotesque. Of course, this then opens up a whole aesthetic can of worms that maybe we don’t want to get into.
Well, beautiful art is never bad.
Yes, I think that the beauty of the grotesque is the unique modern contribution to the discussion of beauty. And it’s a higher form of perception. I mean, it’s all very fine to find beauty in a wildflowers and women dancing in diaphanous dresses and harpsichord music. And it’s quite another to find beauty in ripped-up railway tickets and found objects and smashed machinery and that sort of thing. The modern sensibility has been unsentimental and has, in that sense, I think, advanced the canon of beauty. Modernity I’m feeling much better about, now that it’s over, you know? It’s such a huge enterprise to look back on, you know? What faith, what simplicity, what naïveté those people possessed. I can hardly get over it. The twentieth century—for all of its brutality and its flirtation with the dark side of the human soul—the counterpoint to that was its incredible optimism and idealism and simplicity. I mean, the simplicity of fascism, the simplicity of Marxism, the simplicity of democratic political theory. I mean, these are ideologies that clearly never met a human being!
How do you reconcile the notion of [???]
Well, the idea of an attractor, you see—these huge thought structures that we live inside that we’re not even aware of—and one of them is the idea that causes precede their effect. This seems like a non-statement to most people. Of course causes precede effects. But, in fact, if causes always preceded effects, then many, many processes would be unpredictable, but are in fact predictable. And this has to do with this word we introduced last night briefly: the creode. The runnel. A given process. The destiny of the people or the evolution of a political system or the growth of a series of interconnected scientific ideas is not, in fact, free to develop in any direction it wants. It is going on in an epigenetic environment of intellectual confinement of some sort. And in the same way that water runs downhill, a given idea developing in a given time and place will predictably develop in a certain direction.
One of the very large creodes that we can see at work in nature and society is what I call the conquest of dimensionality. Biology is a strategy for moving into and occupying ever more dimensions. And biology begins as a point-like chemical replicating system attached to a primordial clay in the proverbial warm pond somewhere a the dawn of time, and as life develops it folds itself, it becomes a three-dimensional object, it replicates itself in time. By that means it claims the temporal dimension. After two or three billion years of that it has evolved itself to the point where, with strong muscles, it can move through space. With superb visual organs it can coordinate its exterior environment. And finally, through the advent of language, it can tell its story—it can move information around not present. And as soon as you begin to code that information—into stone or magnetic medium or whatever—in a sense, time has stopped. You are moving outward now.
And this very large creode seems to inform not only biology but the human enterprise as well. So when I talk about stuff like the evolution of photolithography, and moving pictures out of photography, and the evolution of surround sound, and the global airline system, and these kinds of things, these are dimension-conquering phenomena designed to shrink the Earth to a point. And of course the Internet is the mother of all dimensional conquest. I mean, in a single forty-minute session on the Internet I may talk to computers in Helsinki, Australia, Paris, Vanuatu, you name it. And I don’t even notice that this has happened. Yeah, it doesn’t matter. It’s meaningless to think in those terms because, in fact, you might as well think of it all being inside your CPU sitting on your desk. It has the same effect.
And what that is, is: it’s the sum-total of human knowledge being daily augmented. And the fury with which people put their thing on the Internet—everything from, you know, how grandma’s recovering from her stroke to, I visited a language site the other night that had 122 syllabuses for 122 languages that were philological engines for searching these languages. I got there through the Voynich manuscript site. Yes, that all still goes on; that community is at work. So apparently we will not rest until all space and all time is brought down into, for all practical purposes, a single point. And this is an idea that has been around in various forms since at least the sixteenth century. I mean, it’s the alchemical idea of the philosopher’s stone: a universal panacea, a medicine which makes you wise, immortal, all-seeing, all knowing, all good, but interestingly conceived as an artifact of technology, conceived as something brought into being through the effort of a technological worker in concert, in resonance, with the intention of nature—which is to do the same thing. The human world is simply a catalyst for nature’s intentions. We are speeding up nature’s program of dimensional transcendence.
[???] sound more and more like the Akashic records [???]
It is. It is that and—it is, in a sense, the Jungian unconscious, but no longer unconscious. In a sense, what we’re saying is, you know, we all—before the Internet you were who you are, you knew what you knew, and you knew there was a great deal that you didn’t know. You had once known it, but forgotten it, or never learned it but somebody somewhere knew it. And because we had this vast, dark companion, the unconscious, bad things keep jumping out of it. It was remarkable to me that, throughout the Cold War period, a planet ruled by carnivorous monkeys filled with ideological hatreds under immense economic and social pressure, and yet nobody ever used atomic weapons except once—the two Japanese instances. And in a sense they don’t count because they didn’t know what it was. They had to use it to see what it was. And once they saw what it was, remarkable restraint set in. I would never have guessed that we would have been capable. I mean, remember how deep the fear of the Soviet Union was. Remember that, for 35 years, a thermo-nuclear strike was a possibility within a half an hour of any undue movement on the other side. And yet, somehow we got through that. So there is in the human animal an effort to awaken.
You know, it was H.P.—oh, no, no—it was H. G. Wells who said, “History is a race between education and catastrophe.” It’s a white-knuckle enterprise. Catastrophe edges inches ahead, education moves ahead. And again, if it were a level playing field I’d be betting on catastrophe, because I believe that nature favors the good, the true, and the beautiful. I’ve got all my money on education. I think we’ll make it, but I think we have to scare ourselves to death in order to keep focused. You know, we’re primates and we don’t really dig in and get rolling until we’re painted into a corner.
I guess the answer is: you have to somehow make it your friend. You have to make it your friend. There are ways to do that. Actually, I made a little list. You played right into my hands. The first and probably oldest friend—older, even, than psychedelics—is dreams. Dreams are hugely important. I was in Australia in February and I did a lot of reading up before I went down. The aboriginals of Australia have been at the cultural enterprise for a long, long time along a different path than the rest of us. I mean, I’ve spent time with Amazon tribes and with people in central Asia, and yes, they’re funky, and yes, they’re different. But these Australian aboriginals are onto something quite other. Many people barely open their eyes. People sit silently. People don’t talk. This again relates to what we said about language. In Australia among these people you get the feeling that they don’t talk because they’re not sure it’s here to stay. If an aboriginal wants to communicate something to you they would rather walk with you a half mile into the bush and point at it than to simply describe it back at camp. So the dreamtime and the Jungian unconscious, and the unconscious made conscious by the Internet, begin to sound like the same things. I previously didn’t have much interest in the Australian aboriginals because I was slightly irritated by [???] reliant on psychedelics. And so it was like, what am I supposed to do with these people? They’re clearly very loaded and very far out, and how do they do that without drugs? It was paradigm-agonizing to me.
Well, it turns out that they just are better at keeping secrets than people in the Amazon. There’s a revolution breaking over ethnobotany. We have been saying for decades that South America was the most hallucinogen-rich ecology on the planet, and why was that, and wasn’t it fascinating, and so forth and so on. In the next eighteen months some Australian ethnobotanists and trippers are going to publish data that shows that the Australian aboriginal worldview is entirely running on DMT. These acacias, this gumtree ecology that stretches from Queensland down to the south coast, is replete with DMT. It’s simply that the aboriginal culture is even more secretive than other aboriginal cultures in other parts of the world, and only very, very slowly is this information being let out. So dreams are one of the great friends of the imagination.
Yeah, that’s what I’m saying, basically. There’ll be more. It’s not for me to take the thunder. Very good people have hundreds and hundreds of pages about to be published, and they’ve got the data and they’ve done the analysis.
Well, I pretty much take the position that there may be people who can do it on the natch, but there’s no technique. It’s something you have to be born to. And there’s no culture that can do it. I think throughout the human population there may be one person in a hundred who has a futuristic set of synapses. Because I occasionally, in a group like this, somebody will come up to me and say, “Well, I’ve never taken a psychedelic drug but I know exactly what you’re talking about, and I see visions,” and so forth and so on. I used to think that these people were nut cases. I’ve now encountered enough of it that I modify my position to say these are just incredibly fortunate people. And you can’t tell how much of it is personality and how much of it is chemically real. Again, how much of what I’m saying to you right now—it’s being processed differently in every head in the room. Some people are seeing pictures, some people are hearing words, some people are logically building on what I say, and for some people it’s just music. And so it’s very different, and, again, it’s something very hard to share because it’s so subjective. But throughout the world there are what we would call primitive or aboriginal cultures, and some are drug users and some are not. And it isn’t a matter of ecology, it’s a matter of something else. In eastern Ecuador you have tribes that are totally druggy, and across the river people who never touch anything, living—basically, what appears to the unschooled observer, two cultural systems not that different from each other.
But generally speaking, the psychedelic cultures seem more… let me put it this way: the psychedelic cultures seem less dogmatic. Shamanism comes in two flavors, at least two. There’s what I call a traditional shamanism—is very rigid and ritual-driven, and usually non-psychedelic. And the other kind of shamanism—there are rituals, but they are basically for the consumer, not the producer. And what shamans in these psychedelic cultures are, are simply alienated intellectuals. You know, I’ve been in situations in the Amazon where you fly into some remote place and the people come and the women come and they want to touch the airplane. And they want to look at your camera and touch your clothes, and all this. And so while this is going on, meanwhile, standing off, is the shaman. And he doesn’t give a shit about the airplane or your camera or any of that. He is interested in you as a person. And what he is, is: he’s alienated from the values of his culture. The keeper of the values is the one person who knows that the values are bullshit! That’s what they’re doing in that function. It’s like: somebody has to know. And so all the people are, you know, cow-towing and going through their business, but the shaman at the top realizes: my god, we stare out onto an abyss. We do not know. They’re like scientists. They are scientists, essentially.
Well, this is an interesting question. There’s a hard and soft answer. It depends on whether you think the need to commodify is so basic to human beings that it can’t be removed. If that’s true then the Internet still holds out a certain amount of hope. A hardcore anti-capitalist position wants to eliminate capitalism because it sees it as an unreclaimable evil. But it’s possible that the only thing wrong with capitalism is that it manufactures, distributes, and commodifies physical objects. What if there was a capitalism that only commodified information and light? That might be more tolerable. You know, in the future—not that long in the future—if you want to live at Versailles it’ll cost you 149 dollars to buy the software package and set it up and live in it. Well, if Versailles can be made to cost 149 dollars, how much is it worth? And the answer is: only what the market will pay.
So, I think, for a long time this process of raising standards of living has been underway, and it is certainly true that, today in the world, hundreds of millions of people live better than emperors and kings two centuries ago. So I think the important thing—well, before we totally dismiss capitalism we should see if it can operate in a virtual, informational environment less destructively. If it can’t, then something else will have to come along. But certainly, capitalism based on the extraction of resources and their fabrication by cheap labor populations into objects to be sold in a central economy, that’s finished, that’s a dinosaur, that’s self limiting. Because there is not an ultimately exploitable resource base. The end of that kind of capitalism is easily discerned.
Well, that’s an interesting question. Is there a kind of natural selection of means in the marketplace? There probably is. For example, imagine: governments deal with information completely differently than corporations. If a government obtains the proprietary technology, its impulse is to classify it, move it out of site, and exploit it for political advantage. If a corporation achieves a proprietary technology, it drops a huge amount of money on promoting it, rushes products based on it to market, and tries to spread it everywhere as fast as it can. This certainly has caused the evolution of certain kinds of technology. But the two systems—the capitalist corporate systems and the governmental systems—value and put emphasis on different kinds of technologies. For example, nation states use war as an instrument of national policy. Corporations almost never do that. Corporations don’t like war. It busts up environments, it makes products difficult to move around. And where you had healthy, happy customers, you now have hollow-eyed refugees standing around with their hands out.
But those were national interests. No corporation could have launched a war like that. It wasn’t Exxon who had a knife poised at their throat, it was the economies of France, Germany, and the United States. Also, that war was generations ago. A completely different set of political rules were in place. That was probably the last of those sorts of wars, I would bet. What capitalism does with wars is, it exports it to already burnt out market areas like Rwanda, Bosnia, Albania. They don’t care what people do to each other in those places because there’s no market there anyway.
Let me go on with my list here. I think I got through dreams and drugs, which were probably the biggies. This is friends of the imagination, in case you’ve lost your place here. Fiction, and the enterprise of fiction—not necessarily science fiction. Although it’s interesting: if you look at the golden age of science fiction, the magazines that created that had names like Amazing, Astounding, and If. These are the very words and themes that we’ve been pursuing around here. But fiction is—until we get virtual reality up and running—in the hands of a master; the best way we have of showing each other the contents of our own heads. Any of you who have made your way through The Temembrance of Things Past, Proust’s enormous novel about fin de siècle life in Paris, there are thoughts uttered there that are so fragile and delicate that, when you read it, you think you were the only person who ever thought this, and you never bothered to mention it to anybody because it seems so ineffable. And yet, Proust has gotten it down on the page. So it shows you what human beings are. And of course our world—
Can you give an example of that? [???]
I’m trying to think of an example. There’s an example where they’re going to a beach town and he’s riding with this dowager woman, a great society woman, and he’s watching the trees go by the carriage. And he notices that—now, how does this work?—that the nearer trees move faster than the trees further away. And then, over this spatial metaphor is mapped a temporal metaphor about people changing in time. And, you know, God knows what it is in French, but even in English it’s this exquisitely complicated thought. But you wouldn’t think anybody could actually do justice to the feeling. And yet, there it is in its completion.
The other great friend of the imagination is travel. Travel is another way, a more gentle way, to break down cultural conditioning. What we call culture shock is when you go to Afghanistan or Albania and you realize that your expectations of how a table should be set, what a toilet looks like, how a bus ticket works, and how a telephone is supposed to operate were so narrowly defined that now you’re confronted with a telephone and a toilet and you don’t even know which end is which. And it’s not for nothing that the vocabulary of psychedelic experience has borrowed from the vocabulary of travel. So we take a trip, we have a journey, we go to an alien landscape.
And then, finally, the great friend of the imagination is the future, because it’s in the future that we place our hope, our fears, our suppositions. I mean, the future is a land of things imagined, things that have not yet undergone the formality of actually occurring.
As a friend of the imagination? Well, did I not mention last night that the two great motivators were food fantasies and sex fantasies? And yes, the sexual imagination is at a very early—I almost said “primitive,” but I don’t mean that, but I mean early level—because if I’m understanding you correctly, it revolves around the if operator. If I approach the desirable female with the proper blandishments; if—and then, of course, just sexual fantasy—then we will do this, then we will do that, and so on.
It certainly is a vehicle for altered states. Whether I would call them imagination or not—I suppose I would. But now that I am thinking about your question, I think there are pitfalls in the imagination. And probably the sexual pitfall is sentimentality. Well, tastelesness is in there, too. Sentimentality is a virulent form of tastelessness. And sentimentality is very hard to root out. You may think you’re a hard cookie, but I’ll bet there are areas of sentimental delusion so broad and deep in every one of us. And some people carry that to the grave, they’re the lucky ones. The rest of us have divorces, bankruptcies, muggings, and what have you, and slowly our sentimentality is pounded out of us. And it’s a good thing to lose sentimentality because it’s a false aesthetic, and I think we recognize it. It’s also very easily manipulated. It is truly a false aesthetic in the hands of modern media because it is a great ploy for buying. If you can induce sentimentality in people, they will buy the object of that induction.
Well, your word, “idealism,” is good here, because it brings me to something I always eventually get to, which is in line with this thought—culture is not your friend. Ideology is not your friend. And ideology… some people think what we’re trying to do here is sort out good ideologies from bad. Should I be a Marxist? Should I be a deconstructionist? And the answer is: no, none of the above. All ideologies are viral infections of some sort, memetic infections that erode your functionability and your comfort with yourself. Ideologies set up polarities that are based on discontent. And ideologies are always, always, always based on false premises. Whatever the—I mean, name an ideology and I’ll tell you the false premises that it’s based on. So, part of this process of cultural maturity that I’ve been talking about is to get beyond ideology without embracing cynicism. It’s not a fuck you thing, it’s a deeply saddening awareness that we are not yet angel enough that we should take ourselves that seriously.
Yes, I would say sentimentality is the feeling of attachment we have to our ideologies. So, for instance, someone says, “Well, you know, Marxism… maybe we didn’t have the right answer, but we certainly had a sense of a mission, and a wonderful… you know, we knew who we were!” That’s crazy talk. You know, if it was wrong, it was wrong. That’s like old Nazis sitting around, saying, “The great old days!” What was so great about the old days? You want community? Join a bowling league, for cryin’ out loud!
No, that’s a lesser evil. That’s nostalgia—another impulse for marketing frenzy.
But romanticism, I think, is a legitimate impulse, and well situated within historical context, and so forth and so on. Sentimentality can break out anywhere, anytime, and can find anything for its object. Sentimentality is a lazy form of thinking, I think. You know, people don’t want to think the hard thoughts, and yet I find the hard thoughts very paradoxically liberating.
For instance, here is a hard thought—I don’t want anybody to burst into tears on me, so gird your loins—but, you know, I’ve spent a lifetime taking drugs, knocking around the world, having affairs, being married, being unmarried, this, that, and the other. If somebody asked me, “So what do you know? What have you learned?” I would have to say what I’ve learned is that nothing lasts. There’s a hard thought. Is that a cause for joy or despair? Well, if you’re thinking about everything you loved and how it’s going to turn into mush as you’re shoveled into the grave, it’s a hard thought. But, on the other hand, if you think about all the jerks who’ve oppressed you, it’s a great consolation to know that they, too, will go down into that good night. Nothing lasts. That is not a cause for joy or despair. It’s a cause for expanding one’s feeling in the moment. If nothing lasts, then there’s a conclusion—not a feeling—to be drawn from that observation. The conclusion to be drawn from it is, then: the felt presence of the immediate moment must be what life is for. And somebody who could take that perception and use it that way could immediately transcend all kinds of neurotic behavior—longings, regrets, doubts, fears. No. You just say no. The felt presence of immediate experience.
Oh. Well, first of all, let me comment on the Buddhist thing. I’m not that friendly to that formulation because it still is postponing gratification. It’s saying death is the bouquet of life, you should live towards death. I would say the bouquet of life is this moment. But to the more important point of longevity: I certainly am not interested in living forever—whatever that might mean—because I suspect if you live forever you miss the point. In other words, I think you miss the bouquet. On the other hand, I don’t see anything wrong with—well, no, that’s too much to say. The only problem I have with living past—whatever; threescore and ten—is: you get into political issues of: are people buying time at the expense of somebody else?
One of the weirdest things about this culture is: we’ve invented a sin for which there is no name, it’s so beyond most people’s ability to conceive. And this sin that we’ve invented is: we steal the future from our children. You know, we do it with our medical health care plans where we know that all this fine surgery and stuff that you’re getting is at the expense of the next generation of people. We overuse resources, leaving nothing for future generations. I don’t know how that would all be sorted out. I’m attracted by the idea of living as long as I want to live. I wonder how long that would be. And of course, if you make people comfortable, probably they would like to live a lot longer. What reason is there for a person to check out of a comfortable situation? In a sense, what nature does is it makes the body a less and less comfortable place to be until finally you just say, “Alright already!” You know? “Beam me up, Scotty!”
But then, you know, the other possibility is: what if there were forms of existence that were dematerialized? How would we feel about going into circuitry for a few rounds of eternity, and what are the moral implications of that? I don’t know. I’ve had this argument with Robert Anton Wilson. He’s a big enthusiast for life extension. It depends on what you think death is. And I’ve managed to talk myself into the idea that death is probably not simply dissolution and chaos—not because I have received any guidance from on high, but just as I observe nature, she has a wonderful parsimoniousness about her behavior.
And clearly, this form—which is basically an unraveled DNA molecule that is now making a lot of claims on resources in the environment in order to keep this body going—nature people a lot of effort into this. And I think that the best model for what life is, based not on religious thinking but on biological thinking is: life is what you get when a hyper-dimensional object protrudes into ordinary space. In other words, if we take this cup and cut it in two, it doesn’t change. It just becomes a cup in two pieces. But it doesn’t bleed, it doesn’t rot, it doesn’t lose its essence. If we take any living being from a bacterium to a brontosaur and cut it in two, the entire system falls apart very quickly and we’ve created a mess and we see that the thing that we had is no longer there. So I think what biology is, is the intrusion into three-dimensional space and time of hyper-dimensional objects.
And the other clue to that—that seems an argument for it—is that we do have this thing called a mind, but we can’t find it anywhere. It doesn’t seem to be anywhere. Even when you get down to the level of electrodes in the brain, and saying words to people, and watching oscilloscopes, you still can’t seem to quite nail it down. So I think probably these objects retract back into hyperspace, higher space, and that this is what the soul is. There is something to the psyche of a morphogenetic field. And we clothe ourselves in matter, but we are not matter.
And so to actually complete a human cycle of existence you have to go into death. It’s where you came from, in some sense. I mean, we put a lot of attention into death. We don’t look very much at birth. We think we understand it. I mean, we all know the story about the sperm and the egg and all that, but before that, what is going on? You know, whence cometh these forms? We seem to have the matter down pretty good. But really, what a being is, is the intrusion into spacetime of a form. And the form is unique, and then it retreats.
I think it would be one of the great jokes of human history if here—at the end of the twentieth century, at the end of the millennium, with all this techno-hypola surging around us—if we were to actually gain insight into the after-death state. And one of the reasons I’m so keen for DMT is because when I have given it to people who were purported experts in the after-death state—Tibetan lamas and shamans and this sort of thing—they come back and they say, “Yup, that’s the territory alright!”
And so in my highest states I have had the insight—which I will convey to you without saying it’s true—that this is the most limited form of existence you will ever know. You can’t be deader than this. This is the bottom line! And so the good news is: it’s only up from here! But, of course, you have to bet the farm on this cheerful rap. And there’s no whining if you’re wrong. This is an all-or-nothing bet, and so, naturally, it brings your heart into your throat. But that’s the kind of enterprise life is. All risk and the race to the swift, I think.
Ram Dass says that [???]
Well, I don’t know. And I wonder what I will think when I approach the great divide. It’s easy in the pink of health to speculate and play the philosoph, and all that nonsense. But the last dance you dance, you dance alone. And nobody will be watching. But I have seen people die, and it is an inspiration. I hope to have that equanimity of mind.
The other thing about death that needs to be said is: we all imagine that we will have a leisurely philosophical death. That’s what we all want, you know? Months to get used to the idea, to say goodbye, to gather friends, to make our bequeathments, to speak our final wisdom. But death, for most people, comes messily and unexpectedly. And so I don’t think you should live in an anticipation of the drama of your deathbed scene. Better to repair to the moment, you know? Being a realist, primarily. What I find always waiting when I return from these flights of philosophical fancy and imagination is my body, my history, my space, my time. And these things are all good; it’s a great space, a great time, a great body, a great being to be. So the real message of the psychedelic experience and of the anti-historical thrust of the critique we’ve been carrying out here is to take the moment. The felt presence of immediate experience. This is all you know. It’s all you will ever know. Everything else comes as unconfirmed rumor, innuendo, unrealized possibility, fading memory, conjecture, lie, hope—who knows. But in the moment of being we have the completion of being. It is always complete. Every moment. And to the degree that we force ourselves to look beyond it or cannot find ourselves within it, we betray it. And then we have more work to do.
Well, that’s enough, I think, for the morning.
Well, you have to somehow exercise that invisible muscle that tolerates strangeness. My brother had the notion of what he called extra-environmentalism. He said the reason we are fascinated by the alien is because we want to become the alien. And the alien—this is the thing I keep coming back to about the need to graduate from culture. I mean, I’m really into this. It’s not about recovering your Irish, Jewish, Slavic roots. We’re beyond that. It’s about discovering and acting from your uniqueness, and not defining yourself as a member of a class or a category. That’s a print-created mental error. Things like racism, sexism—all these forms of averaging and leveling—are sloppy forms of thought.
Have you ever noticed that race, for example, is a quality that adheres only to large groups of people? To speak of a race you have to have a bunch of people. It’s not a quality that adheres to an individual any more than an individual water molecule is wet. Wetness is something that only emerges when you have millions of water molecules. And I think this is a print-created phenomenon. This overuse of simple categories is a kind of genuflection to the simplification of the world that takes place through print. So, for instance, we analyze social problems through the use of the category “class.” We say, “Well, the ruling class is screwing the lower class,” or “The working class isn’t getting its fair deal.” This kind of gross oversimplification makes the solutions to problems almost intractable because the objects that your model seeks to manipulate—classes—is an illusion in the first place. And we see, I think, in the twentieth century the bankruptcy of this kind of thinking about human problems.
A friend of mine says of mushrooms that, every time he takes them, the goal is to stand more. To stand more. And what is meant by that is: hey, it ain’t easy to go the limit, and that the thing is constantly able to challenge your categorical maps no matter how advanced your categorical maps are. It can always raise the stakes painfully higher. And so the goal is to stand more. And the more you stand, the more your own place of intellectual origins, your own cultural Venn, recedes into quaintness. This is what you were talking about: about getting beyond culture. Culture is a simplification and a lie. It’s the currency by which fools navigate the world. Smart people get beyond it. You can choose when to do that.
I don’t think for myself it happened until my middle forties. And then, suddenly, because experience and maturation somehow found each other and carried me forward, I began to think like this. Before, I was—in a sense—a true believer. For all the psychedelic experiences and political activism, and so forth and so on, I hadn’t yet understood that culture was a vehicle that could only be ridden so far, and then beyond that lies the great and to be defined unknown of one’s own individuality. And many people never get beyond the imposed neoteny of imposed conventionalism. As I said, it’s insidious that in middle life circumstances tend to deliver us money—either our parents die or our professional activities finally pay off—and that money is usually the final nail in the coffin of ever evolving beyond cultural convention. Why should we? At last we’ve achieved the fruits of our labors, the good life, the comfortable dream. But it’s the dream of anesthesia. You know, that feeling you feel is the gurney that’s rolling you toward the tissue-disposal oven.
So anyway…. Yeah, Mike?
Yeah, it does. You’re right that “cool,” then—if you aren’t cool, you go to incredible lengths to achieve by your ersatz means, by buying 3,500 dollar sunglasses and getting tattooed, and, you know… but it can’t really be faked. But the whole engine of marketing is designed to make you think that it can be faked. I don’t know if I’m cool or not, but I am incredibly resistant to any effort to make me think I’m un-cool. In other words, because the answer always lies in commodification. I’m not using the right body cologne, I’m not wearing the right Italian designer clothes, I don’t slump with a half-sneer on my face. All of these things which are marketed as the accoutrements of cool. So you get a clueless culture aping cool. And of course real cool can’t be commodified. That’s what makes it so cool, and so maddeningly distant from the un-cool.
As long as we’re on this kind of tack: this morning I talked about the imagination and its friends, and you recall the list and I won’t refresh it. But I thought it would also be useful to talk about the enemies of the imagination. We’ve talked about culture as the enemy of imagination. And I think we’ve done enough of that. The other thing that I think is the enemy of the imagination—and this may seem paradoxical, and it may raise hackles, and it may bring controversy, but it has to be said. There’s always been a strain of this in my thinking, in what I’m about to say. But my son pointed out to me that I needed to hammer this particular key harder. My son is sort of my surrogate in the culture, he goes out to the highways and byways and listens to the murmurings of the people and then tells me what’s going on.
And this brings us to the subject of relativism. I’d never quite heard it put this way until he put it to me this way. What is relativism? Relativism is the idea that your ideas are as good as anybody else’s ideas, and all ideas are equal in worth because nobody can tell what’s going on anyway. It’s the “live and let live” laid-back approach to doing intellectual heavy lifting. I’m a nihilist, you’re a Nazi, you’re a Christian, you’re something else. Hey, no big deal! Let’s just hoist a beer and party on! Well, I have to defer.
It’s a problem, especially in California where this thing has gone from being a pathology to the defining mode of normalcy. But it allows stuff like Heaven’s Gate, it allows Jonestown. Nobody ever said to those people, “You’re full of shit!” You know? “Don’t think like this! This will lead to catastrophe.” Instead people said, “Hey, cool! See you in the sky!” And people say, “Well, but now this sounds like you’re advocating acrimonious and emotionally painful judgment-making that will leave some of us disenfranchised from our belief in the space-people or the presence of great Atlantis,” or something else that’s very cherished. Yes! Yes, we have loosened our girding sufficiently, folks. We are now open-minded enough. You don’t want to become so open-minded that the wind can whistle between your ears. And there are logical razors and rules of evidence that can be brought to bear on any situation.
So, for instance, our culture is awash in claims of all sorts—religious claims (the thousand various religious offerings on the market), and then it moves over into medical claims, dietary claims, claims of superior sources of knowledge. I can read the Dead Sea Scrolls, you can’t. She’s talking to the space people, you can’t. This guy is accessing past lives, you can’t. There are all these whisperings and intimations of special connection and uniqueness. If you are passive in the face of this, I think your intellectual arteries will fill up with mental cholesterol and eventually you’ll have the equivalent of a coronary thrombosis of the intellectual level.
It’s very important to hone intuition and logical razors so that reasonable questions can be asked. And it may break the mirrored surface of “We’re all in it together;” the illusion of community maintained by nobody ever criticizing anybody else. But this nobody-ever-criticizing-anybody-else brings the intellectual enterprise and the refinement of human knowledge to a screeching halt. The way in which the intellectual enterprise moves forward is by being critiqued, analyzed, subjected to tests.
And, you know, you’ve all heard me knock science, and I have many bad things to say about science. It has to answer for some of its sins. But the great thing about science and the thing which makes it unique in the history of human intellectual endeavors is: it is a human intellectual enterprise in which you get lots of credit for proving that you’re wrong. Scientists really respect each other for proving that they are wrong. If you have a theory that you’ve defended for 15 years and then you publish a paper saying, “I’ve been over it again, I’ve looked at the data again, and you know what fellow colleagues? I botched it. I was wrong.” They promote you for this. They say this is the essence of intellectual honesty. We know you do good work because we see how you trashed your early accomplishments.
Religion doesn’t work like this. In a religious domain you never admit you’re wrong, you further elaborate the story to save whatever preposterous notion has been exposed. And you never deny, you never recant, you never go back. And so what you get is error based on error, based on delusion, based on illusion, based on lie, based on half-truth, based on supposition, based on somebody-thought-it-would-be-nice-if! And it’s no wonder there’s not a great deal of spiritual juice in that. So I think there are many things to be said about science—that it has relied on probability to too great an extent, so forth and so on. These are technical issues, but in our personal lives it’s a wonderful thing to take as a model. Always seek, A, the simplest explanation. This is called the principle of parsimony, otherwise known as Occam’s Razor. Sounds very fancy. All it means is: always prefer the simplest explanation. Try the simplest explanation first. If it fails, complicate it as little as you have to to go to the next level. But we live in a culture where the simplest explanation is never accepted. Somebody sees a light in the sky: immediately it’s a UFO invasion. The possibility that it was a meteorite, a piece of aircraft in trouble, something like this, is not entertained. And so, consequently, people’s intellectual lives become incredibly baroque, but unanchored in the world of observation and reasonable discourse. And god knows, the world is so tricky that without rules and razors you are as lambs led to the slaughter. And I’m speaking of the world as we have always found it. Add on to that the world based on techniques of mass psychology, advertising, political propaganda, image manipulation—there are many forces that seek to victimize us.
And the only way through this is rational analysis of what is being presented. It amazes me that this is considered a radical position. This is what used to be called a good liberal education. And then somewhere after the sixties, when the government decided that universal public education only created mobs milling in the streets calling for human rights, education ceased to serve the goal of producing an informed citizenry, and instead we took an authoritarian model: the purpose of education is to produce unquestioning consumers with an alcoholic obsession for work. And so it is. But as people who may have had one foot in this system at one point, and another foot in it at another, I think it behooves us to be alarmed and to attempt to recapture our soul, essentially, from the nets of propaganda, market management, commodity obsession, money fetishism—these various, extremely infective memes that are spread everywhere.
Yeah, yeah. A birthright to be left alone. This is why it was interesting, you know, the debate that went on in the first Clinton administration: there is no right to privacy in the constitution. It’s something we all talk about and assume, but in fact you can’t find a strong legal basis for this. It needs to be articulated. We need a dimension that is free from the potential incursions of those who would manipulate us. The constitution enshrines the right of a person, I believe, to be secure in one’s home and possessions, but that’s not a strong enough statement to nail down the right of privacy. This may be the single greatest right which everyone is being denied—many of other people are oppressed in other ways, but we are all denied the right of privacy.
Interestingly, years ago when I got divorced, at some point in these proceedings you have to file some kind of a court document—I guess it’s an intent or a declaration to divorce or something. Within five days my mailbox was crowded with invitations to join singles groups. And it was very clear to me that people were going over these court records and getting the names of guys between ages of 30 to 50 who were filing for divorce and hitting them before they got home from the courthouse with invitations. And it’s insidious that we are accessible to this kind of invitations and seen as victims. I mean, here’s a tremendously private personal tragedy, but for a whole segment of society it’s not a private personal tragedy, it’s a marketing opportunity! You have pain? We have answers!
Yeah, somebody over here.
Since 1965 when young people started using drugs, we lost more privacy in the name of drug investigation. For example, it’s very simple to get a group of judges something with search warrants, I know all about this, I’ve been a victim of it [???]
Well yes. I mean, for example, before drugs were an issue, if we take a subset of the population like white college students, this was without contest one of the most law-abiding subsets of the population. White college students are more law-abiding than white stock brokers, or almost any other segment of the population that you can name. But if you turn cannabis into a schedule one drug—a felony—suddenly, all these people that never felt inspired to dissent, never felt the heavy hand of the government, are automatically members of a criminal class. And what this does is both radicalize the people so persecuted and, in a feedback loop of paranoia, drive the government then into a frenzy of trying to penetrate, understand, and control this minority group.
The idea that states of mind are matters for legal manipulation—it’s amazing that that discussion is even taking place in the democracy founded by Thomas Jefferson. You know, how does it happen that American conservatism, which used to stand for a free market economy and a laissez-fairre attitude toward life, becomes instead the purveyor of the most draconian and invasive approach to social management ever conceived of? And what I’m talking about is the piss test. The idea that any civilization would tolerate that level of invasion into the lives of its citizens, and that those who would advocate it would dare to call themselves conservatives, in the whole Marxist episode nobody ever was asked to piss in a cup in the Soviet Union or Mao’s China to establish their loyalty to the government or the corporation. And yet that went down here with barely a murmur.
Well, this is a society based on paranoia. I can remember in the fifties, when we were being dinned with the evils of Communism, they would tell you finally they would reach for the most outlandish bummer you can imagine. And they would say, “You know, in Russia children are encouraged to report on their parents if they criticize the government?” Well, my god, now in America if children report on their parents and the parents are dragged away to prison, the mainstream straight people stand up and applaud. This is a wonderful example of the nuclear family functioning at its maximum best.
Well, no, there are numerous examples of this. I don’t know what to say about this, I despair of right-wing/left-wing political solutions. I think everybody is so corrupted by the agenda of capitalism that it’s amazing that we have any rights at all left. I mean, you know, thank god for Jefferson, and thank god for the Constitution. Every time I go to England it just gives me the absolute willies. These people have no Constitution. If you get into some kind of complicated wrangle in England, the old boys club—guys in powdered wigs in locked rooms—decide what happens to you and your fate. And England is not exactly Tajikistan. We tend to think of it as a source of democratic ideals. But in fact, in the absence of a written constitution, it’s just what the establishment says the law is; what the establishment says it is.
What are you going to do about it? I mean, to convince the Heaven’s Gate people that what they believe is bullshit?
Well, first of all, let me say that I’m a member in good standing of the ACLU, and they saved my ass in Los Angeles. I don’t really see the contradiction. We cannot abandon culture completely. One could. In other words, it’s perfectly clear to me that, because of psychedelics, if I started eating mushrooms and didn’t stop, I would in a day or two have to move up onto the ridge, and I would begin to browse on the local flora. And then, in a week or so, discard my clothes, and in a year or two my eyebrows would grow down along my face. And I would be like the monk on cold mountain. I could do that. You could do that. Once you find psychedelics, there’s nothing that stands between you and a complete checkout from your cultural heritage. The only cost to you is the complete abandonment of everything you’ve ever known and loved. And if you can give that up—these monkish people, these fuzzy people, these people who hang out with dragons in the clouds—you could become one of them.
Most spiritual seekers drive whatever spiritual vehicle they’ve rented with their foot on the gas pedal. Once you get to psychedelics, you begin asking “Where is the brake?” Because you have now the power to transform yourself. If the search was for power, you’ve found it. But, you see, searching for answers is the position of an ingénue: it’s the journey of the fool. What I assume all of you people have to grapple with in different degrees is the fact that, by chance or design or good fortune, you have found the answer. Seeking is over with in this room! But what you have to do now is a much more demanding and grownup thing: you have to face the answer. And you have to take the measure of yourself against the answer. You said you wanted to ascend into the dragon realms, you said you wanted these spiritual realities to become vivid for you. But now there’s nothing between you and it except the decision to make it happen. And where do you come down on that?
So when I push things like extra-environmentalism and critique of culture and all that, I mean it in a very wussed-out sort of way. If I really meant it I wouldn’t be here saying it, I’d just let you all figure it out yourself and I would go off and be a legend, and you could follow me into it if you wanted. I love things about the culture. And I define this loving of things about the culture as a kind of weakness. I’m not proud of the fact that the highest I can get is to teach at Esalen. I’m not at all proud of the fact that that seems to be where I top out. Had I greater courage I would go further. but… I don’t! So I’m hoping that you people—my graduate students, as it were—will sacrifice yourselves on the pyre going further and report back.
The thing is a paradox. And you either live with the paradox, I think—and that contains a certain amount of hypocrisy (and hypocrisy was a word we used earlier)—or you become so individuated that, from the point of view of everybody else, you’re mad. And I’ve been that, too. And it’s very hard to do it and remain in society. I don’t think I could have done it. My episodes of madness occurred (thank God!) 700 miles up a jungle river in baboon assholia, but had it happened in Manhattan or something like that, it would have quickly set up ripples that would have inexorably complicated and made my life much more difficult.
What do you think—I read a quote once from Oscar Wilde saying that your personal duty in life is to be as artificial as possible?
Duty in life is to be as artificial as possible.
And sometimes I deal with this paradox. I’ll go back to that quote. I don’t know what that means—
I know. It’s an interesting quote. It meant something to him; completely different than what it must mean to us.
And I always kind of refer to that whenever I feel like I’m a hypocrite, you know, with this—
Well, I’ll tell you a boring little secret about how I go to be who I am. I grew up in a town in Western Colorado where, if you read Time magazine, you were suspect of being some kind of left-wing intellectual. I mean, this was podunk. And as I grew up there I became aware of all these extremely strongly expressed cultural values. And most of them were hostile to something. Either Jews were bad, or black people were bad, or people who didn’t work were bad, or people who made messy paintings were bad. All of these things were bad.
And one day it occurred to me: I will take the position that all these things are good! These things are good! Abstract expressionism, Jews, black people, science: good, good, good, good! And everybody said, “There’s something wrong with this kid!” And I didn’t understand my own position. I mean, I would look at a Pollock and think, you know, “It is messy. It may be horse shit. But we must never admit that. We must defend the genius of Pollock unto death because we don’t understand it.”
And by taking that position, slowly I actually did understand some of these things and make them my own. And I discovered that that was the path to wisdom: a total rejection of the culture I came up with. Well, now, I don’t know how that would work if you were born of Jewish parents in New York who were members of the Communist party and always took you to wonderful art exhibitions and made sure you got to Carnegie. If you rejected all that, you’d become a jerk like the people around me in that small Colorado town. So this is not a failsafe prescription. But in my case, by an embracing of everything artificial and antithetical and opposed by and smeared at by the people around me, I made my way to, you know, real depth, real worth, real culture. Not that I assimilated these things, but at least I came to live in the light of them.
It’s a great puzzle. I mean, all of you who have children—and I have two—know that we are alienated intellectuals. I mean, broadly speaking, this is what we are. We are alienated intellectuals. And so we bitch about the government and we critique the monetary system and so forth and so on. Well, then, you see your children on the brink of reason, and then you say, you know, “Jeez, my alienation has brought me alienation, but I can’t let the kids grow up to be marks, to be pawns of the market economy and the propaganda machine, people scratching their heads trying to figure out whether they’re Republicans or Democrats. I can’t put that on my children.” And so then you say, “Okay. Then they must join in the alienation. They must be taken out of the culture as we were taken out of the culture.” And this is a momentous decision because this act of separating from the culture is unambiguously alienating, and yet it seems to be the only way to find the self. Otherwise you never contact the self, you contact a commodified cartoon of the self that finds meaning in outboard motors and basketball and all this other crap that’s peddled as reality.
So our relationship to our culture, I think, is a very uncomfortable one. And of course psychedelics exacerbate this. And you know, I think—if you have children—that it’s one thing to talk alienation, but once they get to the place where they are asking to take LSD or to take psilocybin… you know, Kafka said a wonderful thing. I think it’s In The Penal Colony. He said, “You choose to be free, but it’s the last choice you’ll ever make.” And, you know, that’s sort of the dilemma in which we find ourselves.
Wouldn’t it fulfill all of our personal mythologies if I could now detail a long history of persecution nobly born by me? But the truth is: they don’t give a shit. They are so confident of their control that, I think, if I appear on their screen at all they just say, “This is some egghead, some spouting character who talks to a bunch of rich people in small rooms, and we don’t care.” I have the feeling there’s something which I call the five percent rule, which is: as long as any school of dissent remains below five percent of the population, no money is budgeted to destroy it. You know? It’s just they have learned about noise in the social circuitry and they just say, “Yeah, these people, they gripe.” We are held up as an example of what a free society this is. They say, “You think we have a controlled society? You think we tell people what to say? Go down to Esalen and hear what Terence McKenna is saying. We tolerate this. What clearer proof do you need that we are magnanimous, generous, open-hearted and liberal. We tolerate this kind of thing.”
I think, of course, that they do not understand the nature of the game. But it’s a good thing, because if the game is played on their terms, we lose. What they don’t understand is the power of means, and the fact that psychedelics are a touchstone of creativity, and creativity can always provide breakouts from any situation no matter how confined. And also, they have a horrifying fascination with us, because they—as the managers of society—probably know more about it’s internal contradictions and its failings and its shortcomings than we do. The information we have available to us is the declassified, downloaded, cleaned-up stuff.
Recently I was in London, and the conference was down at the ICA, which is down near Buckingham Palace. And so the hotel was on Vincent Square. So it was about a twenty minute walk from Vincent Square down to the ICA. And it’s right through Whitehall—it’s where all the intelligence agencies, and the ministry of defense, and all this. And we would stay late at the ICA. And walking back at two in the morning—the lights in Whitehall are burning at two in the morning! The lights at the ministry of defense and the ministry of economic planning are on at two in the morning. Why? Because people are sweating blood in those buildings. They are working around the clock to keep the entire system—
Look at these rainforest clearing statistics! Look at this oil slick! Look at this! This is costing us money, gentlemen! What about this? And the answer is: you can manage some of the future some of the time, and you can manage all of the future some of the time, but you can’t manage all of the future all of the time. It keeps breaking loose in most unexpected fashion. The Internet is a perfect example. Here was a privileged instrument of the intelligence community and the scientific elite that served it. Ultra-high security, totally out of the reach of the common man. And meanwhile, over at Ratheon, they’re trying to—this was year ago—they were trying to develop a chip to guide a heat-seeking missile for the Navy. And they had certain design specifications which had to be met. And the project had ground on for a couple of years and they couldn’t make this chip meet the specifications. Finally the project was canceled. The chip is thrown in the trash. And then some engineer digs it out and he says, “You know what we could do with this? We can’t hit a plane in flight with a missile with this thing, but you know what we can do with it? We can make a little desktop computer with this.” And these guys said, “Why in the hell would we want to do that? We have enormous computers, we have computers the size of a city block, why would we want to do that?” They say, “No, no, you don’t understand. Not for us. We have the god-like technology. It’s a commercial thing! We can sell it to the marks, and they can word-process with it or something.” And so it came to be.
But then they didn’t understand that these things—it’s a pretty harmless thing, a computer sitting on a desktop with Word running on it. But you sell 20 million of them, and before you realize: my god, they can all be connected together! And then people just plug them in, and an entirely new beast springs into being. A technology so powerful that the head of the CIA ten years ago didn’t have that kind of access to information, that kind of access to real-time imaging, that kind of access to econometric data, and that sort of thing. And so it escaped. And so, while they were watching various… while they were keeping us from building nuclear weapons—they seemed to do that rather well; no terrorist has ever set off a thermonuclear device so far as we know, so they were watching from the ramparts for that because it was something they could understand—this thing came rushing in the back-door, and now the cat is out of the bag.
I’m sure that that’s true. I’m sure that that’s true. You know, the fact that the IRS is running on twenty-year-old computers. The government is just being left behind. And the world corporate state doesn’t care, it finds governments a huge and boring nuisance. You know, in the same way that, after the Thirty Years’ War, basically there was an enormous social shift in Europe. Before the Thirty Years’ War, Europe was ruled by popes and kings. After the Thirty Years’ War it was ruled by parliaments and people. I mean, that’s a generalization, but true. Well, now the nation state is being put out to pasture. It’s being told (as the Church was being told in the seventeenth century), “You care for the poor, you take care of the highways, you bury the dead, and you educate the children. But all the stuff which makes money—we, the new streamlined form of social organization—we’ll take care of the money-making enterprise. And your job is to keep the roads cleared and the dead out of sight.”
And so this is happening. When I understood this, it was like a bolt of lightning. When Jesse Helms stood up on the floor of the U.S. Senate and called for the assassination of the American president, I realized, “This has become circus. These people are yahoos!” When was the last time the governor of the World Bank threatened the life of an American president? When was the last time that someone who sits on the board of directors of the IMF felt the need to physically threaten the life of a president? No, it doesn’t happen. Real power doesn’t act that way. Only pseudo-power, yahoo-power, thug-power acts that way.
And so government has become largely irrelevant. I don’t know whether this is good or bad. It certainly is complex. War was an instrument of national policy for governments. War is not an instrument of policy for corporations; they hate war. But governments kept cultures in a deep freeze. We spend a lot of time lamenting the destruction of aboriginal cultures—this rainforest tribe, that central Mexican language group, so forth and so on. But while we’re lamenting the loss of these exotic cultures, notice that your culture is being erased. If you were raised in a close-knit Jewish family, if you were raised in a small town in the Midwest, those cultures are gone for most people. We have all been given mall culture and commodification of values. It isn’t only happening to the Witoto and the Huichol, it’s happening everywhere. This uniformitarianism of culture is entirely for the convenience of market economy. If you can get everyone drinking the same brand of vodka it’s much easier to sell and market vodka than if you have to appeal to ethnicity and local tastes and so forth and so on. Everyone and everything is being leveled, dumbed down, and subjected to a hideous homogenization process.
No. This leads to the brink of the question about paranoia and conspiracy theory. I am very puzzled by the popularity of conspiracy theory. It seems to me it must just indicate a paranoid tendency in the population, because what I see is: the more you aspire to control, the more frustrated and maddened you must be by the situation. So, an example would be the communist party of the USSR: infinite power to penetrate the lives of people, to manipulate media images, you have total control of the newspapers, total control of TV, total control, total control. And then the top guy dumps the whole thing. So I think that no one is in charge, and that this is a very good thing, because it allows the internal dynamic of the situation to express itself.
Everybody who wants to control the situation is fighting a losing battle. And if you bank with chaos, your stock just keeps growing exponentially. Chaos is spreading. It’s the place to put your bets. All efforts to ideologically, or economically, or any other way, channel the global process seems to meet with incredible frustration. Nobody is in charge. The so-called great successful conspiracies of history are so successful, they don’t even think of themselves as conspiracies. If you’ve been running a given piece of turf for five or six hundred years, you don’t run around in conspiratorial mode, you stride boldly across the landscape. It’s yours. You own it—you think; you suppose.
Oh, you mean, if only Hitler were alive in Argentina calling the shots, it would all make so much more sense then! That would explain things!
In the absence of an overarching demon like that it’s a little hard to explain things. I don’t know. I don’t feel this need for intellectual closure. I don’t see why things should make sense. They never have. And they are always in process of formation. And as soon as any given goal or benchmark is achieved, it’s abandoned and redefined in favor of something else. No, I think conspiracy theory is a very disempowering thing, because what it says is: you can’t control the world, or it’s more difficult to control the world than you think it is. Not so.
I’ve had a very different experience. My experience with the corridors of power, if you want to put it that way, is that there are an immense number of clueless people. It’s almost like Mckenna’s Law: as you advance in social hierarchy, the percentage of smart people does not increase. So let’s now move to a cabinet meeting of the Clinton administration. There are as many stupid people—truly moronic people—sitting in that room as there are sitting in this room. It doesn’t seem to make any difference. Because people don’t find their seats according to intellectual or social merit. Every human situation is bedeviled by morons! No matter how high you rise, you’re surrounded by fools. And you’re lucky if you’re not one of them! I mean, that’s the basic thing to try and guard against.
The other thing is: at the top it’s remarkably empty. You think, if you’ve never been there, that toward the top of the control pyramid there must be many people standing in line eager to take the helm, eager to make big decisions and establish their reputations and do whatever they do. Instead, what you find is this fear as you go up the hierarchy. My god, if I make this decision and it goes wrong I will lose my chairmanship, or I will lose my something-or-other. So, as you approach these enormously powerful levers for manipulating society, everybody’s holding their hands behind their back. They don’t want their fingerprints on the lever because they know there could be war crime trials if you stumble and get it wrong. You may have thought you were on a golden crusade—suddenly, you’re looking at twelve guys in powdered wigs who think you’re a jerk, and they’re going to hang you for the stunt you pulled! So it’s like that.
I used to think it was not true that all spiritual work began with one’s self. I felt like that was a way of disempowering people and saying, “You know, if you wait until you’re an avatar, you’ll never join the people rioting in the street.” And I used to say, “If you see people rioting, you have a moral obligation to join. You don’t even have to know what it’s about.” The people rioting is a sufficient imperative to political action to be there. Well, I’m not 25 anymore. That provided a lot of fun, but I now think you do not make an unflawed contribution unless you have first gotten your ducks somewhat in order. I’m not saying you have to be able to walk on water, but you have to have at least considered your own life and your values, and that sort of thing.
It’s pretty simple, the ethical life. It’s just demanding. Many of you have heard me say this. This is my… this is Father McKenna talking to you. The moral life does not consist of wheatgrass diet, or affirmations, or any of that. The moral life is—unless you’re at Esalen—you should clothe the naked, you should feed the hungry, comfort the afflicted, bury the dead, and there are a couple others; obvious things to be done. It’s not about how many prostrations you do, or what lineage you’ve associated yourself with, or how much cholesterol is in your diet. And somehow we have confused the ethical and moral dimension with the dimension of physical practices. Probably because we have been too infected by the means of tired Asian religions that long ago gave up moral philosophy in favor of rotational activity, because the social problems of Asia are overwhelming. That’s a response to an overwhelming human tragedy, the quietism of Asian religion—I think.
I mean, I’m exaggerating it [???] feel the movement from that position.
Well, and it’s flawed, is what you’re saying. Yeah, I agree. I mean, the person helped by that person is still advanced, but the whole system is not served by misguided dogooderism, or the large noblesse oblige is an insulting attitude to take, because the real nature of the human condition is that we’re all in it together. This is one of the reasons why I am so hostile to all forms of spiritual hierarchy. I have never seen a truly superior person, I don’t believe. And if I have, they were so humble and self-effacing that they never would have claimed that superiority as their own. If somebody tells you they’re a superior person—my god, they’re automatically to be taken off the active list. That alone screws the pooch right there!
And it’s tremendously disempowering. The mushroom said to me once—and I’ve said it to many of you many times—it said: for one human being to seek enlightenment from another is like a grain of sand on the beach seeking enlightenment from another. Don’t you get it? It’s the same flesh. It’s the same flesh! Nobody knows anything you don’t know. And even if they do, it’s not your knowledge, so what good is it doing you? The idea that it’s okay for you not to understand mathematics, or not to play the violin—because somebody else does it very well—is a complete cop-out. You will be held responsible for what you know and what you can do. And using the excuse that you lived in the same world with Jascha Heifetz is not going to get you off the hook of not knowing how to play the violin. (I say this as someone who does not play the violin.)
It’s fun to take responsibility. It’s fun to test the waters. The hardest thing to put across to one’s self and to other people is that the universe is a more friendly place than we have been told. Culture is institutionalized paranoia, and it’s very hard to decondition oneself from this. No matter how deconditioned you may think you are, there is more and more work to be done. And I think the essence of Taoism, and why its roots in nature are so powerful, is because what Taoism is saying is: if you will quiet your mind, and if you will pay attention, you will discover that you are supported and cared for by the dynamic of the universe. This should be obvious by virtue of the fact that you’re even alive! I mean, how unlikely is your existence? I put it to you: pretty unlikely! And yet, here you are. Well, do you just think it was the greatest series of well-rolled dice in history? That’s silly. That’s ridiculous. Probability would never have delivered us to this room this afternoon. Probability sculpted by loving intent has delivered us to this room this afternoon. Once you can sense that living intent and make it an object of familiarity, that is the antidote to cultural paranoia and to the acceptance of your identity through imposed definitions by other people.
And, of course, psychedelics figure in here because they dissolve more dramatically and more effectively than anything else the cultural and linguistic and habitual assumptions that are masking that presence of Tao. It really is true, as the Bible says: you must become as a little child. That means you must become pre-culture. You must recover who you were before the engines of culture went to work on you, and abused you, and made you afraid, and dumbed you down, and distorted your values, and so forth and so on.
See, I think what’s happened is: at the top of the culture it’s profoundly intellectually bankrupt. There is no plan except to keep peddling stuff basically until the forests are gone and the oceans polluted. And this is not malevolent. It’s not malevolent, it’s simply: they are clueless! They have run out of steam. And so the answer is to try and keep the game going as long as possible—with daytime TV, with casino gambling, with lotteries, with endless distractions, with pop culture fads, with cults of celebrity, with spectacular trials and gory mass murders and endless circuses, while the people at the top are saying, you know, sooner or later the shit is going to hit the fan. Sooner or later the dam will burst. And they say, “Well, let’s make sure it’s later, not sooner. Because I’ve got two kids at the Sorbonne, I’m paying off a Mercedes, and I need to get this taken care of before it all falls apart.” So in the absence of any cultural plan imposed from the top, this strange dynamic is happening.
This has happened before in cultural history, where some huge enterprise—like Christianity or Patriarchy or something like that—after running its games for millennia, it just runs out of steam. And often there’s nothing to rush in and fill the vacuum, nothing that is consciously engineered to do that. And so, then, in those situations an actual creative bifurcation can take place, because what is about to happen is not in the hands of human managers. It lies deeper in the dynamics of the whole system. And we all feel, I think, this sense of excitement, and the approach of the unimaginably new, and we don’t know whether it’s the aliens coming to pull our chestnuts out of the fire, or virtual reality, or a new drug, or a new style of sexual behaving, or starflight. We don’t know what it is, but we can feel that it will transcend the categories of our managers, and they and we will then have to make sense of whatever this new reality is. It terrifies some people, it liberates others. It’s the same reality.
Stephen Vincent Benét said something at the end of John Brown’s Body. He says, “When the prophets of strange religions ball out their bizarre despair, do not join them on the mountain. Say only, then: it is here. It is here.” Because it is here. I mean, that was 1927 when he wrote that, and he spoke then of technology as our humble servant, already half a god. That was in 1927. You can imagine, then, what that technology is today.
A manager class. I’d rather talk about a point in history where there’s no more commodities. Yes, I don’t think there will be a manager class. A manager class—you manage toward ideology. If we could transcend ideology, the way to manage society I think would be self-evident. The problem is trying to force it into the service of some kind of ideological vision. And then, of course, it becomes intractable. Because no ideological vision we’ve ever had has been true to our humanness. You know, the Christian version of what human beings are, the Nazi version, the Marxist version, the secular market-oriented version. These all somehow insult various parts of our humanness. And so when an attempt is made to push us into these things it doesn’t work, and you get instead war, anxiety, and q-forces swamp the social system. I think the managing of society would be fairly simple in the absence of ideology. But we’re addicted to ideology, because somewhere along the line we’ve gotten the idea that you can’t understand the world without an ideology when, in fact, ideologies are incredible impediments.
Well, I suppose as long as we are disparate entities there will be hierarchies of control. That seems obvious. But it seems as though we are playing with the idea that we may not be disparate entities, or that we may be only provisionally disparate entities. We are a peculiar creature—we human beings. As a mass phenomenon we are somewhat like a slime mold. We have a life cycle where, part of our life cycle, we appear to be completely separate individuals. But apparently, if you view our development over the past few centuries, we’re entering into some aggregation phase triggered by pheromones spread through technology, and we are beginning to create some kind of a superorganism. And the fear of some people is that, once inside this superorganism, we will be forced into a permanent status as a sub-level of the hierarchy. In other words, you will have to give up your individuality and you will just become a kind of liver cell or brain cell or something in this organism. But I don’t think this is the case. I think we have the unique ability to combine these two modes of existence. This is why we have this notion of society and the private reality of the individual.
And probably, in the domain of society, there will always be forms of—I don’t want to say control—but management of the distribution of commodity. But the idea, I think, is to empower this other dimension, to spend as much time as possible in the individual, free-swimming, free-agent mode. In other words, not to see membership in society as a goal and a value to be conserved, but to see it as a necessary evil. You know? We need social organization, but in minimal doses. And when we go on a bender of addiction to social normative behaviors, then you get a psychic epidemic like national socialism where people voluntarily abandon their individuality to act in concert with some kind of mass impulse. This is extremely evolutionary retrograde. It’s not what we want to do.
So I guess what I’m pleading for is an enlightened form of alienation. Not simply an emotionally driven alienation, but a strategically driven alienation. See, alienation can be used not to create neurosis, but to attain freedom. Creative alienation. Alienation that embraces itself as the source of inspiration. Nobody ever said it was going to be comfortable to be a human being and to ride one of these bipedal bodies from the cradle to the grave. It’s an uncomfortable but (I maintain) manageable situation. But you have to have the lights on. You have to have your emotional responses in order, your intellectual responses in order, you have to have garnered some sense of how we got to this situation, and you have to have some sense of the tools available to transform it.
Well, it’s certainly true that the human classroom is the most untransformed portion of society over the last two hundred years. I mean, we still pass on our cultural values to our children the way it was done two or three hundred years ago. This may be changing. Again, I don’t mean to make the Internet the panacea of all problems, but it seems to me here is a problem that the Internet can address and you don’t have to be a technocrat to see how it has enormous power. Because education is a process, on one level, of putting correct information in front of people. And in the present form of education the great choke point is the limitations of human teachers, who—as finely and nobly motivated as they are—inevitably, they pass on their own limitations to their students. In the presence of the Internet this is somewhat mitigated. And there’s a great leveling going on in the educational process. The quality of information available to all of us, if we learn how to make our way to it, is orders of magnitude more dependable than it was a generation ago. I mean, we have basically traded in cultural illusions for hard fact.
Did you want to say something else?
Would you discuss the breakup [???]
McLuhan talked about this. He talked about something called electronic feudalism. And he said that the rise of electronic media would bring a retribalization of culture and that the nation state would completely disappear. And I think this is happening. It won’t disappear completely, but in the metaphor I made a few minutes ago it will sort of take on the role of the church: it’s largely irrelevant. Corporations now call the shots.
Print, you see, has what are called hidden biases. It allows, and in fact makes inevitable, certain kinds of ideas that, once you get outside the domain of print conditioning, these ideas appear if not absurd, then at least simply provisional. What I’m thinking of are ideas such as the idea that all men—apologies to women—that all men are created equal. This is a faith of print-created society. There’s absolutely no evidence that this is true. In fact, there’s considerable evidence to the contrary.
But the argument against not believing it is that if we don’t believe this we can’t have social justice. So we must embrace an obviously preposterous idea in order to achieve social justice. Why is this preposterous idea so attractive? Well, it’s because print is linear and uniform. Every lowercase “e” looks like every other lowercase “e”. Therefore, if the world of print is made out of these interchangeable and equally weighted entities, so must be the society that practices print culture. So we get the idea of one man, one vote.
Another example, a different example, is assembly of objects out of interchangeable parts. Before print, if someone made an object, it was a unique object. The idea of an object, let’s say a water-wheel or something like that, where if it broke down you got in touch with the company and they sent “the part,” and you then took out the bad part, put in the good part, and the pump merrily proceeds—that’s a print-created idea: interchangeable parts. And so we begin to see that the conventions of the printer’s shop become the conventions of an entire society. And how it does its politics and how it assembles its commodities are all dictated by the invisible assumptions of a form of media that nobody really looked at its potential effects before it was put in place.
McLuhan saw that this kind of rational, linear, compartmentalized, uniformitarian culture would be completely broken up by electronics. And so it has come to pass. The great forms of print-media are what are called “one too many.” A publisher publishes a book, and many people read it. These “one too many” or “top-down” forms of media are perfect for controlling large numbers of people. You have the idea of the “Ministry of Truth,” you know, where “truth” is something dispensed by governments and received with grateful upturned faces by bewildered citizenry that would otherwise have apparently no access to truth. This is madness talking.
The new electronic media are what’s called “any-to-ny.” If I want to speak to you or if I want to send email to you, that can be done. If you and I want to send email to 500 people, that can be done. Any-to-any communication is anti-hierarchical. There’s no assumption of expertise or power or anything else as you ascend the pyramid of information-transfer and -dispersal. And so it’s almost like the Wizard of Oz effect: suddenly people say, “You’re not all powerful! You’re not the Wizard. You’re a fat man in a stained overcoat pulling levers behind the scenes.” and then the whole illusion drops away,;the illusion of leaders, or privileged ideologies, of special forms of understanding. This is resisted by some people—usually control freaks—because they say, “Well, in the absence of illusion you would have chaos.” Yes, indeed! Indeed, the mother of all progress. The source of all innovation and creativity. The wind that blows the ship of paradigm shift: chaos. And the idea somehow that the human mind should interpose itself between society and this expression of chaos is just an illusion of control freaks and how—
Well, an ideology is a simplification of reality where the vast, seething, messy baroqueness of being is put through some kind of rasher of language and comes out grossly simplified. And because it’s grossly simplified it becomes like a kind of algebra of idiocy where, now, you can set up these little equations and they solve themselves, and you get a feeling of satisfaction from that. But in fact the whole thing betrays the human enterprise. And to give you a graphic example of what I’m talking about, I’m thinking of a scene from novel called Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières, where a guy who’s a communist in the Greek partisans during the war beats a villager to death who has given shelter and food to some non-Communist partisans fighting in the mountains. And the protagonist of this particular part of the novel says to this guy, as he’s beating this old man to death, he says, “Why are you killing this old man? He is harmless.” And the guy, without even missing a stroke, turns to him and says, “It’s a matter of historical necessity.” This is the voice of absolute fanaticism speaking, and this is the voice of pure ideology. In other words: unconscionable acts. The Holocaust! Up to that level of unconscionable acts become intellectually defensible in the presence of a complete corruption of language. And so ideology always paves the way towards atrocity.
Well, ideals and ideology are not quite the same thing. Ideals are simple and don’t knit themselves into vast intellectual structures. In other words, an ideal of mine is to do as little harm as possible. I may not meet this ideal, but it is an ideal of mine to try and do as good a job as I can. But in the name of that ideal, it doesn’t lead on—there isn’t a “therefore.” “Therefore” what? Therefore I should become a Mormon? Therefore I should no longer eat meat? Therefore I should no longer have sex? Therefore…? No, there isn’t that kind of implication. But ideology always implies implications. “If man is, as Marxists say, an economic creature, then the following must follow, and the following must follow from that.”
So I think ideals are very close to our emotions. They’re things that spring from the heart. Their boundaries are not well-defined and the implications are not clear. If I say my ideal is to do good for mankind, the next step is not at all clear. But if I profess an ideology, the next step is always deceptively clear. So I think ideologies flatten complexity. You know, people don’t like paradox. I’m not sure why this is. I think it’s a quality of print culture. People want closure. They want every program, or every intellectual argument, or every examination of a phenomenon to end with a conclusion. QED. Therefore, this is what it is. But you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to notice that this betrays the complexity of the world. The world is never one thing, or even several things. The world always has dimensions which exceed the descriptive machinery that you’re applying to it.
And I don’t know who it was, George Bernard Shaw or Nietzsche, or some other nineteenth-century bad boy, but it has been said that the essence of intellectual maturity is to be able to simultaneously hold two contradictory thoughts in your mind at the same time. Now you are actually approaching the beginning of intellectual maturity. But if you’re always saying, “Well if it’s this, then it can’t be that. And if it’s this, it can’t be that,” then you have been hoisted on the petard of dualism.
And it’s more than a joke to say that dualism is the root of all evil. Of course it is, it’s the root of all good. What really we are given is a seamless continuum of phenomena that we are asked—not to understand, that’s preposterous; why should talking monkeys understand reality?—but to feel. We can feel. We have an extremely complex body and nervous system and perceptual apparatus which ushers us into feeling. So you have not mastered a situation when you understand it. When you understand the situation you’re probably on the road to catastrophe. When you feel the situation you are probably moving into a good position, then, to act in that situation. And often we—in fact, usually—we do not understand our feelings. That’s a strange thing to ask of one’s feelings. If we understand our feelings, it’s simply a footnote on our intellectual housekeeping. It is neither necessary nor sufficient.
What is necessary and what is sufficient is feeling into the moment. I think this is where we got to at some point earlier in this: that the felt presence of immediate experience is the defining phenomenon of being. If you can’t reach it, you are in trouble. You need some kind of help—psychedelics, therapy, loving kindness. Something. And if you can reach it, then you have contacted the authentic domain of being. I almost said of humanness, but it goes deeper than that, because the animal world is living in that space.
Well, I think because of the good offices of quantum physics and some other things we are beginning to realize that things like chaos, like paradox—these are not names for intellectual black holes, these are names for the sources of life’s richness and its creative advance lies in these things. Reducing, as we have done over the past 200 years, the universe to a machine, some kind of a machine, then robs it of meaning. And then we stand back and look at our lives and our societies and say, “How come they have no meaning?” It’s because we labored like demons to make sure that they didn’t have meaning, and now we have no one to blame but ourselves for the gross simplification of reality and the betrayal of experience that we achieved in that process.
Yeah… well, yeah.
You know, years ago in Canada there was a political party called the Social Credit Party, and they had a very complex scheme that nobody could understand. And they ran on the platform under the motto: you don’t have to understand social credit in order to vote for it. So this is sort of what you’re talking about.
Why not, yes! Feelings are primary. The primary datum of experience is feeling. And then out of that comes a logical reframing of experience. And then, still lower on the rung—and I maintain low enough on the rung that one shouldn’t go that low—is an ideological recasting of experience. It’s a delicate thing. I’m not offering a simple answer here. It requires constant fine-tuning and intelligence. And every day, I think, it’s almost like we need—what is it that the Marxists used to do, self-criticism?—we need to be alert to ideology. It’s constantly seducing us.
Yeah, dialectic. But the idea of criticism, self-criticism, that you and your colleges and comrades constantly search your behavior for betrayal of the ideology. I think we need to constantly search ourselves not for the betrayal of ideology, but for the embracing of it, and say, “Oh dear, I’m starting to believe something. Slap! Slap! Aah, that feels better!” Because these ideologies are incredibly draining and distracting. They get in the way between us and true feeling.
On the other hand, if you don’t apply logical razors to experience, then feeling is open to all kinds of interpretations that become, somehow, themselves springboards to ideology. I think it’s really important to try to keep things as simple as possible, because they will still be hellaciously complex if you are true to experience. The simplest explanation of what is going on here is still maddeningly baroque. So throwing on flying saucers and papal-plotting and plans of great Atlantis only further exacerbate the problem. If you just deal with the given, of our fact of your history and your destiny, things are quite complex enough.
And, of course, again: what the psychedelics do is provide a reference point in organism. It’s like a reset button. It says beyond ideology, beyond cultural programming, beyond language, beyond hope, beyond fear, beyond expectation, there is the raw datum of experience. Here, have a dose. Didn’t work? Have a bigger dose! And if we keep returning to the raw datum of experience, then these other things, they will re-crystallize around us. But not with the imprisoning intensity that they have for straight people. We know that behind all this constipated social stability lies the chaos of the psychedelic experience. It’s important to keep it in mind in very un-psychedelic situations. But people who have never broken through the cultural dream take it to be reality and commit crimes based on delusions about what is and isn’t reality.
Well, not to speak of whales and dolphins specifically, but nature as a dynamic field of activity beyond the reach of politicians, image makers, and so forth and so on—nature is the constant psychedelic companion of the human experience. I think we know this, that’s why we crowd into cities and build walls and keep nature at bay. If you go into nature alone and don’t eat much and don’t speak much, within 72 hours the hills speak and the winds confer with you. You are conveyed into an animate, caring, living, natural dynamic.
But it’s threatening to the ego. This is the first time in 2 hours I’ve used this word. The ego is a maladaptive, tumor-like growth in the personality that has been inculcated into you by the toxicity of culture. It is literally the response to toxic culture; the growth of ego. The more toxic the culture, the more the ego is revered as a natural value within that culture. So responding to dolphins and whales and anthills and termite swarms and these kinds of things is an opening to the natural dynamic that’s all around us. Many people never observe nature except when psychedelics force it upon them.
But this is a very—I think if you feel afraid of psychedelics but you want the juice that you may sense there, take up wilderness camping and do it assiduously. And though it’s a slower process and you may not have specifically colored hallucinations, the conclusions that you will emerge with are essentially the same as the psychedelic voyager emerges from. Nature is deep, ordered, dynamical, and caring for the project of being. And so should we be. The order that we seek is the natural order of our bodies and our minds and interface with the world, not the unnatural order of ideology, commodification, propaganda, and a misuse of communication.
No, I think it’s very difficult because the process of education—without anybody quite knowing where the crime was committed—has turned from a handing on of cultural values to a handing on of this neurotic behavior around commodification. And people are clueless, and they’re being used and abused. Seemingly intelligent people behave in incredibly stupid ways. The phenomenon of the respectability of aimless shopping. Shopping in unconscionable! It’s stupid! It’s tasteless! It’s murderous toward the Earth! And yet, people who teach at Esalen will suddenly drop their guru persona and whip out the charge plate and head for Robinson’s. What kind of thinking is going on here? They are clearly not alienated enough. Alienation may be for them just a stance, but where they’re really comfortable is down at Barney’s racking up the charge card. Somehow the message has to be put across that there are no exceptions to the obligation to decommodify experience. And anybody who feels alienated from this orgy of consumerism is going to have to look elsewhere for their values.
I feel blessed because I guess I’m just so alienated that it doesn’t touch me. But recently, for some reason, I had to lay out my income for an attorney and say how much I spent every month on things like entertainment, and so forth and so on. So he called me on the phone. He said, “You declared fifteen dollars a month for entertainment.” He said, “Based on your income, do you know how much would be a standard deduction for entertainment?” And I said, “How much?” He said, “700 dollars a month.” I said, “That’s inconceivable to me. What kind of idiot would I be?” And I said, “I put down the fifteen dollars because I knew you wanted something, but in fact I don’t think I spend fifteen dollars a month on entertainment.” I mean, what is entertainment, anyway? So, you know—I suppose it just sounds like preaching a kind of monkishness, but what is the charm of all this crap? Can anybody explain it to me?
I heard a story about the Dalai Lama. I mean, let this ricochet around in your mind. The Dalai Lama came to Los Angeles, and so the committee to receive him and make his visit comfortable wanted to do something with him in L.A. that would be uniquely L.A., but that would be amusing for Dalai. So they decided to take him to Rodeo Drive. And basically, they just turned him loose with his translator and said, “We’ll meet you back here in an hour and a half. And check it out. This is a unique place in American culture.”
So then, after it was over and they were all having their double espresso with a Campari, or whatever they were having, the Dalai Lama said, “I want to thank you so much for making this experience available to me. I feel I understand Americans so much better now. I saw so many things I wanted!” This is the Dalai Lama talking. He saw so many things he wanted. Well, if the Dalai Lama is not immune, my god, what chance have you and I? If the Dalai Lama can’t hold this stuff back, you know, you might as well buy that Hermès scarf. Just give up! Give them 200 dollars for the damn thing and enjoy it!
As an old anarchist I can tell you: efforts to organize anarchists are so fraught with contradiction that I wish you luck. And I’ll make a small donation, but I don’t think it can be done that way. I think—
Yes, you will definitely give me fifteen dollars’ worth of entertainment per month!
I’m listening to this, and I’m thinking of what my father would say if I told [???]
Well, I hate to tell you this, but I would never do what you are doing. This may be the ultimate teaching. Do not ever again spend money to see me! My god, how much income is going down the drain as the ultimate oral empowerment is given. Okay, as long as you take it as entertainment, that’s fine.
I have one more little story. I didn’t tell you the story about the two rabbis, did I? Good. This is my ending story for the afternoon. I don’t present it as a summation, but it amuses me. For those of you who don’t like Jewish jokes, you will notice as this joke is told that it is easily translated into a Zen mode, a Sufi mode. I just like the Jewish flavor.
There were two rabbis, extremely advanced, high Rabbi’s. Talmudists. Great men of accomplishment. And they were at temple. And one of them prayed, and he said, “Lord.” He stood up and spoke aloud and he said, “Lord, I am nothing.” And then he sat down, and the other guy got up. And he said, “Lord, I am nothing.” And there was a guy there sweeping the floor, a custodial person. And he thought, “Well, people are praying. I could get a prayer in here.” So he stood up and said, “Lord, I am nothing.” And the first rabbi looked at the second rabbi and said, “So, look who think he’s nothing!”
That’s it. That’s a story about the imagination!
The time wave is a variable wave scaled against time, and can be scaled against very large amounts of time. Even amounts of time larger than the life of the universe. Thousands, millions of times larger than that. And you might ask, “What’s the point of scaling a temporal description over periods of time so vast that there is no reason to assume they ever existed?” Well, the answer is that, at these transition points, these dramatic shift points, the software Automatically—as in the course of running the algorithm—keeps track of days to end, days until you get down here to a hypothetical end point. Even if this is not billions of years, but trillions of years. It will keep track of this day count number. And what we discovered to our bewildered amazement was: these day counts were almost always prime numbers or the product of two primes.
What are you measuring again?
Well, I’ll answer your question, but it isn’t relevant to what I’m talking about. What I’m measuring, what this is measuring is the ebb and flow of novelty and habit. And you’ve actually led me back to the main track, so we’ll get serious and get out of pointer. That’s always a sign that we’re really serious. I don’t want to give my ordinary timewave lecture, because I’ve given it enough that the meme is actually established in the culture and there are dozens of tapes of it and written versions and fights on the Internet. So why should I explain it to you all over again? I’ll just assume that, in the course of talking about specific issues that relate to it, you will pick up the rules of the game. And then if you’re just too excruciated by your confusion you can ask a question and I’ll try and answer it.
The basic assumption is: there is a quality to reality which science has overlooked. Some people in the East have called it Tao. I want to divorce myself from the freight of that tradition and I want to call it “novelty.” Novelty is the quality in nature that seeks complexity. That’s what it is. And it’s countervailing force is called “habit.” So what I’m proposing to you is that we live in a universe ruled by two fundamental forces that are larger than physics and electromagnetism and all of those good things. And these two forces are habit and novelty. And in every situation—whether it lasts a millisecond or a billion years—the struggle between these two tendencies of the universe can be discerned. Now, it’s pretty self-explanatory what these terms mean, but I’ll run through it.
“Habit” means repetition of previously established pattern, continuation of an equilibrium situation, a tendency for a system to degrade entropically under the aegis of the second law of thermodyanmics, a conservative tendency, a preservationist tendency. Habit, right? For crying out loud. Okay. The other thing is “novelty,” the opposite of habit. What is novelty? It’s the new, the untried, levels of complexification previously unachieved, unusual connectivity, creativity, surprise. Novelty.
And these two things are locked in struggle over vast scales of time. Notice I did not say eternally locked in struggle. They are not eternally locked in struggle because the good news is: novelty is winning. Novelty is winning. If you get big enough chunks of time, though there may be vicissitudes—ups and downs—ultimately the situation ends up more novel than it started out. Ilya Prigogine, who got the Nobel Prize for work in non-equilibrium thermodynamics, called this the principle of order through perturbation. A counterintuitive phenomenon in physical chemistry. Because for a very long time, one of the strongest-held faiths in physics was that the universe is undergoing thermodynamic degradation. In other words, everything is tending to fall apart. Prigogine showed that this is not true. That, even in simple physical systems, there can be spontaneous mutation to higher states of order.
So what’s really going on in the universe is a struggle between these two tendencies. Biology represents the emergence of a very novel set of chemical strategies for the preservation and maintenance of novelty. The emergence of higher animals and culture and language and technology—these things are also novel strategies building on previous achievements in the novelty department building toward our dear selves. And one of the interesting things about this kind of thinking is: it gives a new importance to the human world. Science will tell you that we’re lucky to be here and we’re simply the awestruck witnesses to some kind of incomprehensible thing that has nothing to do with us anyway. Novelty theory would say: no, no, human complexity represents, at this point, the apex of accomplishment in the domain of novelty. And hence, somehow, the cutting edge of universal evolution in this moment in space and time has come to rest in ourselves.
So, what else do I want to say about this? Well, let’s look at this screen for a minute and I’ll sort of explain the rules of the game. This is a span of time portrayed along the horizontal axis, as you’re used to seeing. In this case it’s seven billion years simply because we set it to be so. And this represents the ebb and flow of novelty. Now, here’s one moment in the next two hours—if you pay attention, this is the moment. When the wave moves up, habit is increasing, not decreasing. It’s counterintuitive if you’re into the stock market. In the stock market we always want it to go up unless we’re selling short, but none of you would do that, I’m sure. So in this case the excitement is where the wave moves down. And if this is seven billion years, notice that what I said is true of this screen: we end up in a far more novel position than we started. We started out up here, habit was winning the battle for at least 700 million years along here, then it lost its foothold and novelty surged forward almost uninterruptedly—although this is quite a hiccup. It probably lasted 200 million years, this hiccup. And if you want to get a notion of the scale of what we’re looking at, then life emerged from the primordial oceans at the top of this pimple. All this is what’s called the archeozoic and the prebiotic phase of the Earth’s existence.
Good question. It derails my plan for economy, but since you had the intelligence to ask it you should probably be told. The basic data—and I don’t want anyone to laugh. My god, you laugh before I tell you! So that it doesn’t hurt so much.
The basic data comes out of the I Ching. Thank you for being so polite. If somebody had told me—this is the most powerful attack on this idea, and it begins like this: so, um, you want to make a revision in physics based on a Chinese occult divinatory system? Are we getting this correct? Well, in spite of the sneering, let me see if I can make it make a little more sense to you. I’m not going to review what the I Ching is. In an environment as exotic as this that would insult our intelligence. The interesting thing about the I Ching, even its skeptics agree, is that it seems to work. Very puzzling. Other forms of sortilege seem much less certain. Here’s what I think is happening.
First of all, let’s look at the Western notion of time as we derive it from Newton. The Western notion of time is that time is what is known as pure duration. All time is in Western physics is the place where you put process so that it doesn’t all happen at once. Time has no quality. It’s pure duration. Think of it as a perfectly smooth surface. The only modification to this doctrine in the past 500 years is: Einstein came along a hundred years ago and said: in the presence of massive gravitational fields this perfect smoothness is slightly distorted over very large scales. So we go from perfectly smooth, pure duration, to very slightly curved spacetime. But the main idea which is contiguous through all of these intellectual evolutions is the idea that the local fine structure of time can be portrayed as a zero-dimensional space. If that’s too technical for you, it means that locally it is okay to think of time as perfectly smooth.
I say it isn’t. Why should it be? This has to do with a form—remember, we talked about sentimentality and how it can distort thinking? This adherence to the idea that time is perfectly smooth is a sentimental notion left over from our infatuation with perfect geometrical shapes when Greek science kicked off about 2,500 years ago. It took Kepler and Copernicus to demonstrate that the orbits of the planets were not perfect circles because God loves perfect circles. And one by one, the perfect objects of Greek mathematical and geometric theorizing have been laid aside. The planets do not move in perfect circles. Nothing else has been found to have mathematical perfection, except that this idea of pure duration has been hung onto.
And there’s a reason for this. And I apologize for the digression, but it’s very hard to snip the loose ends on a thing like this. The reason this idea of pure duration has been hung onto is because modern science does its business through a series of hat-tricks called probability theory. And probability theory is the idea that you can learn something useful about a phenomenon—let’s say, for instance, you want to know how much voltage is running through a wire. Strange thing about this value that you come up with is this: it is not necessary that it correspond to any one of the thousand measurements that you took. It’s entirely possible you will get a value that is not congruent with any one of your measurements. But we say with confidence, “Well, it’s the average!” It’s the average.
Lurking behind this notion, “average,” is the unexamined assumption that time is completely uniform, that it does not matter when the measurement is made. Now, why do we assume that? Is there any reason to assume that? Well not—looking at nature—no, there is no reason to assume that. Looking at science, hell yes there is a reason to assume that. You can’t do science unless you assume that. Because science depends on what is called the experimental method. An experiment is: you arrange a funny little unusual situation which is designed to cause some phenomenon normally lost in the noise of being to be thrown into high relief.
Basic to the idea of the experiment is what is called the restoration of initial conditions. In other words, we’re going to roll a ball bearing down a ruler and measure its velocity. And we do this, and we say, “restore initial conditions.” That means: pick up the ball bearing and move it back to the top of the ramp. But now, notice that time has passed since the first time the ball bearing rolled down the ramp. If time is not uniform then you cannot restore initial conditions. If you cannot restore initial conditions, you cannot make sense of probabilistic data. So we have assumed and conserved this sentimental notion of Greek science because it makes it possible to do modern science. If we were intellectually honest about what’s going on, then what we really should say is that probability theory and modern science is the study of those natural phenomena so coarse-grained that an assumption of the restoration of initial conditions does not destroy the integrity of the phenomenon. In other words, it’s a lens that can be focused only to a certain depth. And beyond that it begins to give false data. Of course ball bearings always roll down ramps the same way, of course two liquids always mix together in the same way, but who cares about these things?
What we’re interested in are love affairs, dynastic transitions, corporate takeovers, political revolutions, family feuds. And the interesting thing about these things is: they never happen the same way twice. Have there ever been two identical births, divorces, love affairs, corporate takeovers? Of course not. We would not expect such a thing. We understand that the complexity of those phenomena ensures their uniqueness.
So this theory has probably not stormed the intellectual battlements of Western civilization, for one reason, because it poses so fundamental a challenge. Science can not swallow the timewave. You have to choose one or the other. The timewave is not a cult, it is not occult. But it is not science as we have done it for the past 500 years, because it assumes that one of our primary intuitions is actually true: the intuition that every moment is unique. It treats that as the central starting point for an entirely new metaphysic of being. And so the smooth duration, the simple answer, the parsimonious good try has to be put aside.
Now, why the I Ching? Because in the same way that Western culture evolved a maniacal obsession with matter that ends with atomic fusion, sequencing of the DNA, room temperature superconductors, Buckminster-Fullerenes, and all that—in the same way that Western intellectual methods were relentlessly pushed towards an understanding of matter, in the East a different obsession held sway. For cultural factors not needing to be discussed here, people were interested not in matter, but in time. The other great mystery given to us in this dimension: time. If you’re interested in time, you don’t conquer time by building vast instrumentalities and seeking a primary particle and all that. The way you understand and investigate time is by moving inward into metabolism. The human body is a knot in time. It is non-thermodynamic state of equilibrium maintained by the miracle of metabolism. Metabolism is a slow, controlled chemical burning of organic material; so subtle a form of burning that the energy is trapped in various membranes and cytochrome cascades and put to the work of organism.
And if you imagine, then, at some time thousands of years in the past, people possessing techniques which today we would call yogic—but what they really are, are what they would now call stilling of the heart techniques. Techniques for suppressing gross bodily function. In other words, noticeable breathing, noticeable heartbeat, noticeable pulse. Techniques for stilling all this. It turns out that, if this can be don—and is persistently claimed that it can be done—as noise leaves the physiological circuits (and circus), the mind falls inward into a world of interiorized phenomena for which we have no language but the language of idiots, because this is not our cultural obsession. So we say, “Well, it’s dream, it’s hallucination, it’s who knows. Let’s see what’s going on with the 11 o’clock news”
But in other cultures complex vocabularies were produced to study these states. Vocabularies as complex as our scientific vocabularies. And in the same way that, in the nineteenth century, Mendeleev and those people came to discern that all matter is produced out of the combination of a limited number of elements—there were arguments about how many, but it’s generally assumed under 110, and that’s generous—out of 110 basic elements the entire world of material phenomena emerges. Similarly, in the inspection of time it was realized that time, too, comes in flavors, if you will. Not 50,000, not 300,000,000, not 4, not 8, but 64. And this probably has to do something with the cube root of 4 and certain things having to do with the dimensionality of time and space. I mean, why this number is a reason for speculation. It’s a number built into biology, too. There are 64 codons coding for the 8 amino acids. This is no coincidence. It’s something about the basic grammar of being itself arises around these numbers.
They not only saw that time is made of these elements, but they saw that they occurred in certain fixed patterns of recurrence at different levels, at different speeds. And that, from the point of view of this I Ching philosophy, a given moment in being at some locus in space and time is a kind of interference pattern created by moving levels of (let us call them) influences. And these influences interpenetrate each other on many levels. And all of this can in fact be quantified, and mathematicized, and portrayed in the universal language of mathematics. And that’s what I’ve tried to do. I’m sorry this answer ran so long. But I want to make it seem reasonable to you that there are categories in time as well as in matter, and that if you can discern these categories, you can gain as powerful an intellectual understanding of time as we have of matter.
Let me get back to how this thing is read, and then I want to move forward here. When the wave moves up, habit is increasing. When the wave moves dramatically down, novelty is increasing. And time on all scales is made out of ascents into habit, plunges into novelty, novelty troughs, and further ascents into habit. And you can feel these things in your own life, you know. When the luck is running with you, nothing can stop you. When the wave is against you, God help you. And this happens to empires, this happens to political careers, it happens to species, it happens to entire orders of biological life. 100,000,000 years of endless radiation of all kinds of niches across the planet. Then, suddenly, a planetary cooling and a mass extinction and the novel forms disappear. But over long periods of time, as I said, habit is vanquished and novelty is concentrated. And that’s part of the story; half of the story.
The other half of the story is that this process of movement into deeper novelty is speeding up. Always has been speeding up. Goes faster and faster and faster. So if this is seven billion years, you can see back here things were deadly slow. Here, life appears. Once life appears the pace quickens. Once life leaves the ocean, at this scale, the thing is practically a direct descent into novelty. Though when we blow this up, as we can do, we will see that what looks here like a smooth, straight shot into the lap of God turns out to be the old rugged path that we’ve followed for a long, long time.
Every theory has a hard swallow. The hard swallow in ordinary science is the big bang. Notice that it’s the limit test for credulity. If you can believe that the entire universe sprang from nothing in a single instant for no reason, what would you resist as a hypothesis? It’s the limit case for improbability as far as I can tell. Nevertheless, science says, “Give us one free miracle, and we can then go from there and never ask the favor again.” So apparently you get one free miracle in your system building. I prefer to locate my miracle at the end.
And you may say, well, is that just arbitrary? Why December 21, 2012? Well, obviously, if the theory has any utility, if this idea of habit and novelty has any instructive value at all, then we should find novel events clustered in these troughs and we should find periods of constipated recidivism on these upsweeps. So now we have two data fields with which to play. We have the formal and the mathematically defined and utterly inflexible wave, and we have the vicissitudes of natural and human history. On the natural history level: asteroids impacts, glaciations, extinctions, fluctuations in incidental incoming solar energy, cooling of the oceans, enormous volcanic eruptions, this sort of thing. In the human world: wars, revolutions, technological innovations, migrations of people, introductions of new technologies.
And so the idea, then, is to take the mathematically defined wave and the admittedly messy data of natural and human history and seek a best fit between them. And when you impartially get them lined up so that it seems that most major episodes of novelty that historians, or people who care about these things, agree on, and most low point in the wave, line up with each other, then you simply go to the end of the wave and look at end point and it picks out a date. And I did this and I will show you my correlations. An astonishing thing about the date I arrived at by this method is—
As a big picture, I think this is pretty accurate to how most educated historians would view what has gone on on this planet for the last 6,000 years. It’s telling us that 4,500 BC a descent into novelty is under way, and it didn’t start very far back here. Quite a steep descent into novelty. And in fact, what we find here is Sumer, Ur, Chaldea, Babylon, Egypt. And so a series of civilizations each leaping beyond the accomplishments of the other until we reach the pyramid-building phase of Egypt; the old kingdom.
And then, right down here, there’s a kind of novelty trough. Egyptian civilization rages across here. And, in fact, it does fulfill the intuition of theosophists and other people that Egypt achieved something that was not surpassed in novelty until early Roman times. In other words, clear, all this happens, but you don’t get all this level of novelty until you get over here to about 220 B.C. And I maintain, technologically, so forth and so on, that’s probably just about right.
This upswing back into habit—the historical record is characterized by brutal civilizations. The Hities, the Metani, imperial Assyria. You know, motorcycle gangs with chariots is what we’re talking about here. If we were to blow this up, we would see that there were some interesting plunges into novelty. Phonetic alphabets, expansion of Phonecian trade routes, and so forth and so on. But the turning point is up here. And as far as Western history is concerned, what happens up here is: Homer sings his song. And I maintain, symbolically and literally, that’s what started it all. That’s what set the last phase in motion.
I had a professor—maybe I’m echoing his prejudice; a philosophy professor in college—and he said, “You want to know where it all went wrong? I’ll tell you where it all went wrong. When the Greeks stopped being fishermen and pulled their boats up on the shore and started to talk philosophy, it all went wrong.” Well, I don’t know if it went wrong. It certainly went in a different direction. Homer sings his song and it begins an almost unbroken cascade into modernity.
I want to talk about this one for a minute because there is an aspect of this theory that I find very appealing that I haven’t touched on yet, which is: if you’ve been paying attention you’ve noticed that screens repeat themselves. Remember I showed you a screen where I said at the top of a certain mountain, Homer sang his song? This is that same shape, but we’re now not looking at thousands of years, we’re only looking at 52 years. Well, what’s the deal? Well, because this thing is a fractal, it has built into it automatic resonances. So it gives you a very rich data field to work with. If this is a span of time from 1944 to 1996, it on another level is a span of time from roughly late-Egyptian time to the Umayyad Caliphates, with Homer singing his song up here. On the short scale, the 52-year scale, this is 1967. Now, these two things are, according to this theory, in a situation of resonance or geometrical relationship to each other. Is there anything about the world of Homer that is like the world of 1967? And I maintain: yes, a tendency to easy lifestyles, loose shoes, and sophomoric philosophy characterize both eras.
You see, it’s a way of explaining such transient phenomena as fads and fashions. Why are we suddenly putting lion claws on the legs of our bathtubs? Well, because we’re passing through a period of resonance when that was done in the past. In other words, the orthodox theories of history and time would tell you that the most important moment shaping this moment is the moment which just preceded this moment. It was, as it were, the conduit for the wave of causal necessity to arrive at this moment. But I’m saying something different. I’m saying that every moment in time is an interference pattern made by other moments in time that are related to each other not through linear seriality, but through this much more complex schema of relations. So if you suddenly walk into a room and there’s a heavy hit of black granite, inverted corners, and silver shadowing, it’s a Jugendstil resonance.
And I live in a kind of waking hallucination. I have a little aphorism which covers this. It’s: Rome falls nine times an hour. It falls more than that and less than that, but let’s say it falls nine times an hour. Well, then your job is to notice every time it falls. In other words, what we think of as our random musings and our personal mental furniture is, in fact, our subconscious awareness of these systems of temporal resonance operating around us. So, as I look out at a crowd like this, if I let myself go, I notice that Kant is sleeping in the corner, and that Madame Defarge seems to have just come in from the baths and taken her seat. Cleopatra is headed for the john, and so forth and so on. How real is this? Eh, who knows. It’s a matter of discernment.
What I would say—I mean, first of all, let’s get a little more honest here. There’s a lot of argument about where Homer actually sang his song. We can only really pinpoint it to within about 150 years. It’s up here somewhere. Now, I could zero in on this, but 1967 is here. 1968 is just over the top. The first moon flight is there. Well, now suddenly we have the Homeric resonance. What is Homer but a story of noble men on a long and far voyage, and eventually the homeward return and then the heroics of that echoes over the centuries. Probably the only heroic episode of the twentieth century that’s unsullied by hyperbole and manipulation and so forth is the flight to the moon. I mean, that was pretty amazing. I don’t care about the politics or any of the rest of that. What it took to do that—you’ll notice we’re not doing it. We don’t have the gumption, the technology, or the national focus to do that. In a sense, I take the moon flight to be the capstone of modernism. I consider postmodern time to begin after that. I mean, what was the seventies but a whining reprise of the sixties? Then everything else has followed from that.
I myself am more provisional. I will advocate this. But I’m aware—more, I think, than many in my audience—how unlikely this is. I am basically a devil’s advocate because I’m fascinated with the fact that I thought this up. And this is not my style. It’s hard for you to believe that because I’ve been now talking about it since 1971, so it has become me, in a sense. But it isn’t me. This is not how I think, this is not how I ever thought. I had to be led by the hand. I’m sloppier than this. I’m not precise. This was told to me. And it’s eerie. It’s turned my life to science fiction, because I don’t know what this is all about.
I don’t know why I’m here talking about this. I don’t know why you’re here listening to it. And I’m puzzled that, outside this room, the world is moving towards, not this theory, but these kinds of conclusions. Is it the millennium? Well, this isn’t about the millennium. This says forget the millennium, it’s a complete waste of time; a speed-bump on the way to the real event. I’ve tried to think of rational explanations for why this theory. I’ve had to go pretty far afield. Here’s a rational explanation: suppose the millennium is so psychically charged that there’s a danger of mass hysteria of some sort, mass suicides or something like that. Perhaps the collective unconscious senses this, and my mission is to smear the expectation. In other words, what this does is: it says don’t get excited about the millennium. And then, once the millennium is past, it will say: and don’t worry about McKenna, either. In other words, it’s a way of cheating you past the millennium. If there weren’t people running around saying 2012, 2010, 2008, 2006, 2004, there would be so much energy concentrated on the millennium that there might be various forms of mass hysteria. I don’t know. But it’s a more reasonable explanation than that the secret of universal temporal architectonics has been handed over to an Irishman by a mushroom for the edification of mankind. That is too much!
I’m amazed that—because, you see, it’s so precise. And I don’t know if you can tell from what I’ve said this evening, but it’s very clear to me that it’s not about being right some of the time. If it fails once, it fails completely. There’s no wiggle room. That’s why it’s so interesting to try to trap it. This is not something where if we get seven out of ten, we’re going to keep preaching. This thing must be right 10,000 times out of 10,000 tries. And I offer it to you and to other people because I think smarter people than me ought to be able to destroy it. Remember when I talked about how when science gets points for proving you’re wrong? If I could prove this was bunk I would get a lot of points. If anybody could prove it was wrong, absolutely wrong—but it’s amazingly slippery. So slippery, in fact, that it’s almost like a living thing. Just when you think you’ve pushed it into a corner that it can’t escape from, you get a Martian meteorite full of fossils right in your lap.
So we’re struggling to say, you know, is this a message? Is this meaning? Or is this self-generated hallucination? I don’t know. I offer it as part of this weekend on imagination because this is my best trick in the imagination. My little theory of evolution is no more than a conversational rap, a “how would it be if?” This is considerably different because it rests on a mathematical foundation. And don’t forget: it does come genuinely from the I Ching. So we have this peculiar, three-pronged situation. We have a pattern in the King Wen sequence, taken by an Irishman and contorted into a mathematical wave which gives a prediction for the apotheosis of the world, which matches the assumptions of a vanished Mesoamerican civilization. Huh? Why?
Well, this question, when I calculate my own personal wave—first of all, I do entertain the idea that we may each have our own timewave, sort of following the model of astrology. But I’m aware—and I’m sure those of you who are professional astrologers are also aware—that the natal horoscope is essentially a commercial con. In other words, the royal art of astrology was invented to guide the destiny of peoples and kings, pharaohs and courts. But in the late Roman period, the world’s first yuppies came into being, or one of the world’s first instances of yuppies, and they thought, “Well, the emperor has his horoscope cast. Am I less than the emperor? I too should have my horoscope cast.” And enterprising Hellenistic astronomers were only too pleased to oblige.
Otto Neugebauer published a wonderful book of the natal horoscopes of rich Athenian and Roman citizens. And to some degree I think it is a slight distortion of astrology for astrological purposes. Nevertheless, in terms of the timewave, a reasonable question would be: if this is true, then how can I have a bad day while you’re having a good day? In other words, if novelty ebbs and flows according to this schedule, shouldn’t we all be having good days and bad days together? And obviously we don’t. So what, then, must be happening is that we are on different places in the wave-system.
Then—if that’s true—then, in a sense, this huge wave could be thought of as the summation of all the little waves which comprise it. It’s perfectly obvious. Let’s say this were a huge scale of time; several thousand years. Then this might be a period of time as long as an entire lifetime. But not everybody alive in the world at that time would experience their life as an uninterrupted plunge into novelty. No. A large percentage of people might. There is this phenomenon of the Zeitgeist. And to the degree that we participate in our time, our life is in concert with the larger wave. This wave has durations of cycles in it, and one of the cycles—the cycle we’re living through now—stretches from 1945 to 2012. It actually stretches from the Hiroshima bomb blast to the winter solstice of 2012. Well, I was born 18 months after that event. So if I have a personal timewave, it will end 18 months after the end of this wave. How can that be when this wave seems to dictate the end of all lesser waves? Another mystery to be unraveled by traversing the territory.
I don’t know what the timewave is portraying. In other words, novelty—how is it transmitted? Is it detectable? Can we build a meter other than this timewave? Could we build a parallel technology which would confirm the existence of this thing? What can you do with novelty? The electromagnetic field, it turns out, you can transmit information, light cities, smelt metal if you know how to do the trick. What you could do with this, I’m not sure. You see, if the last cycle from 1945 to 2012 is real, then in a sense all larger cycles are compacted into it. In a sense, from 1945 to 2012, we’re re-living the entire history of the world. If that’s true, then we have reached roughly 1000 A.D. That means that, between now and 2012, we must traverse a… I don’t even have the words for it. A domain of cultural domain equivalent to the domain we traversed between 1000 A.D and the present. In other words, slightly more than 1,000 years of resonances have to be compacted into the next 16 years.
Consequently, there’s this feeling of things moving faster and faster. In a universe which was actually built on this kind of architecture—imagine this!—a universe that actually had this kind of closure, where each time cycle was 1⁄64th the size of the one that preceded it. Before a universe of that structure reached the domain of Planck’s constant (6.55 × 10-25 erg seconds), it would undergo half of its unfolding into existence in the last hour and 35 minutes before the crunch. In other words, if this is the kind of universe that we’re living in, half of the unfoldment into novelty will occur in the last day of the existence. That’s how huge these rates of acceleration are.
So when people ask the question what will happen in 2012, they’re asking you to see around the corner nine times. It can’t be done. Language fails. Apparently, as far as I can tell, what will happen as novelty asymptotically increases in the final months, hours, minutes, milliseconds is: boundaries will dissolve. All boundaries. They’re already dissolving. We see the nation state dissolving, but wait till the atomic field dissolves. Everything is apparently crunching together in some kind of meltdown. It’s the equivalent of a black hole, but it’s not a gravitational collapse. It’s a novelty collapse. We are collapsing into a black hole of novelty.
And I’ve tried to imagine: how could this happen? What could happen without God’s direct intervention, A, and B, fleets of extraterrestrial starships appearing over every city on the planet? In other words, is there anything that we could self-generate that would fulfill this kind of a scenario? And it turns out I found at least one answer, which is time travel. If in fact what happens in 2012 is that we begin the conquest of this previously unscratched dimension called time, then it is perfectly reasonable that a linear depiction of the ebb and flow of novelty would stop at a certain point, because once time becomes non-linear, you can’t portray it on a Cartesian graph anymore. You need a higher-dimensional matrix. It starts coming at you out of the screen. The novelty overflows the dimensional container you’ve built for it.
Interestingly, when I had this idea 15 years ago, there was no idea in greater contempt in the scientific journals. I mean, time travel: ha ha ha! The grandfather paradox, this and that and other thing. Now it’s a perfectly respectable thing to discuss. There are schemes for time travel on the books that would work. It would require some godlike technologies. In other words, you’d have to be able to spin a cylinder the size of Jupiter 9⁄10 the speed of light, but if you can spin such a cylinder at such a speed and travel along its horizontal axis, you will in fact be moved backwards through time. Everybody agrees on this. They just say you can’t do it. Well, hell, where have we heard that before? We can’t do it. But yes, if you think of it you can do it. And if there’s a crude, brute force way to do it, then there’s a subtle, tricky, easy way to do it that comes along a little bit later. I mean, the vacuum tube was not the end of that line of development, and what we’re talking about here is a vacuum tube version of a time machine.
A time machine may not be what we think it is. The future is not like the past except that it hasn’t happened. If you were to suddenly find yourself in the future, it’s a vector storm of unrealized possibilities. You’ve never seen an unrealized possibility. All you’ve ever seen are realized possibilities, and you don’t know what an unrealized possibility would look like. There are a lot more of them than there are realized possibilities. And they fill the space called the future. If you suddenly found yourself in the future you wouldn’t even recognize it as that, you’d just think you’d gone mad, I think.
So, I don’t know. I should wrap this up. The basic notion is: this is what I learned from psychedelics, so this is my show-and-tell. It’s an indulgence of my ego to do this because most of what I tell you, you could learn somewhere else. I just have read the books and can regurgitate this stuff, point you towards the plants, lead you through the philosophical issues, talk about the medical stuff. It’s not particularly flashy, it’s just a mental shortcut for you. This is original. And nobody has every tried to wrest it from my grasp. That’s how original it is. Nobody else wants the hideous responsibility of defending this particular piece of intellectual baggage.
Why I like it is I believe that the idea which is the most fun is probably closest to the truth. And I find this idea to be absolutely delightful. It also has a kind of weird completedness about it. Even though nobody has made any contribution to this theory but me—in other words, I thought it up, top to bottom, start to finish—it doesn’t feel to me like a human being could do that. It feels to me that this is the product of an entire civilization. It must have taken hundreds of years, many workers spread out in space and time. I can tell it, and I was told it (that’s how I know it), but no single individual, and certainly not myself, could have dreamed this up from scratch.
How long were you [???] over time?
You mean before I had the whole thing? From 1971 to 1975. It was interesting—and this I can not ever share with anybody else, you’ll just have to believe me—but the way it was revealed was very odd because it never let me see where I was going. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing. It said, “Go buy graph paper. Go get your I Ching. Look at the King Wen sequence. Graph the first order of difference.” I would try and guess: what are we doing? Are we trying to discover an ancient Chinese calendar? Are we… why are we doing it? It said, “No, no, don’t worry about that. Next step.” It always hid from me where I was headed. It still hides from me where I’m headed. The software has been written, the controversy rages on the Internet. I even now have critics. That’s good. That shows that it is moving out of the realm of private Idaho into the realm of debatable cultural artifact.
I think that if it’s true, or if it has a part of the truth, we will know before 2012. In other words, a lot of people observed—not a lot, but a few hundred maniacs—observed this prediction about 1996 and then watched the ensuing debate, my critics, my defense, their response, so forth and so on. So it’s being watched. And the meme spreads. And apparently we’ll be helped by things like simply where we are in relationship to the calendar. Simply because we’re approaching a millennial turn, the producers of nitwit TV shows want to talk to me. They say, “I understand you have a way of predicting the future given to you by UFO’s, I heard. We want to put you on the air!” Well, you know, I’m not sure about the wisdom of all of this, but I figure let the meme fight for its life in the jungle of competing models of reality.
When I pull back from the specificity and the fact that I invented it—that’s my biggest problem. If I hadn’t invented this, if I had just heard that somebody invented it and this is what it was, I think I would find it very interesting. But since I know the inventor very well, I’m very prone to doubt the thing. I mean, this is not a guy you would want to put a lot of pressure on. So… I don’t know. I’m puzzled. And I offer it as an unsolved puzzle. I preached here earlier that you mustn’t seek closure. And so I don’t with this. If it’s a communication, it’s a very curious communication. If it’s non-communication, it’s even more curious. If it’s a delusion, why is it so mathematically formal? If I’m pathological, why aren’t there attendant sequela? Why just this very defined thing?
The whole thing smacks of the impossible. It’s even pushed me towards the idea maybe that this is not actually a reality. We’re trapped—or I’m trapped; I don’t know if you’re trapped—but we’re in some kind of piece of fiction. It’s like a Phillip K. Dick deal, you know? We’re in some kind of simulacrum, and the clue to the fact that it’s a simulacrum is this impossible idea. And so the point of the idea is not to believe it, but to use it as a wedge to fight our way out of this labyrinth and back to whatever reality we were in before we fell into this situation. Something like that.
Anyway, I have the feeling like I’m blathering and spinning my wheels. Is there some final question that brings this all to a… yes?
How long were you [???] over time?
Yeah, that is an interesting question. Like people say, “Well, now is this some kind of permission for irresponsibility? Are you saying that the world is going to transform itself no matter what happens?” I’m enough of an old political activist to sense the anguish behind that question, because I don’t want to say, “Yes, don’t worry about the Palestinians, don’t worry about the Bangladeshies. It’s a done deal. It’s all fine, you can take your eye off the ball and your foot off the pedal.” That seems crazy to me, to give advice like that. And yet, this thing seems to be saying it is a done deal, it’s going to be fine, it’s going to arrive on schedule, under budget. You don’t have to preach it, you don’t have to worry about it.
So then, apparently, where it lies is that it is a done deal, but how the deal is done is not a done deal. That there will be a deal is sealed. That is written into the laws of physics if this is correct. No escape from the transcendence. But how we present ourselves to it is our contribution. It does not say what will happen, it simply says where the novelty will cluster. And apparently what happens is still a matter of human decision and of the unfolding of causal necessity. So, in a sense, it’s saying there is a safety net under you, but you still should make an effort not to fall.
How long were you [???] over time?
I hear what you’re saying. Yes, a strange thing about the Mayan calendar is: it begins in 3135 B.C. and it ends in 2012. The Mayan civilization began, as far as anybody can tell, around 300 B.C. and was a done deal by 790 A.D. So here was a culture that lived by a calendar that seemed to have no relationship to its own cultural origins or ends. That’s odd. That’s not how people do a calendar. The other weird thing about the Mayan calendar is: it begins on a slow Thursday in August. In other words, it doesn’t begin at a solstice, it doesn’t begin at an equinox, it doesn’t begin with a special astrological configuration in the sky. It begins on nothing-burger-day in 3135 B.C. But it runs forward to a winter solstice and ends precisely on a winter solstice. Whoever heard of a calendar that was formed from calculating backward from a point thousands of years in the future? What kind of squirrelly culture would do that? And the answer is: we don’t know. But yes, this is a great puzzle that the Mayans seem weirdly disconnected from their own calendar.
The reason the Maya are so fascinating is because they had astronomy, they had politics, poetry, architecture, and they don’t owe anything to Greece, or Egypt, or Sumeria, or Babylon, or Ur, or Chaldea. They thought it up themselves, they did it themselves, they met problem after problem after problem and solved them in astonishingly unique ways. You know, it’s just a matter of cultural accident. When Cortez sailed into the Bay of Campeche, the difference between medieval Spanish civilization and the civilization of the Aztecs, in terms of technological level and understanding, they were practically on a par. I mean, the Spanish had no antibiotics, they had no advanced weaponry, no advanced communication. They had better ships, but had the voyage not been done that way, 150 years later the Aztecs might have landed on the coast of Spain and claimed it for Montezuma’s successor. That’s how nearly in parallel they were. But then, of course, the bifurcation was tremendous. One civilization wiped out and the other, through the looting of the former, finances its way into modern science. And 500 years later we have atom bombs, and antibiotics, and DNA sequencing.
Anyway, that’s it for this evening. Thank you for your attention and your indulgence. I’m very grateful to you.
Well, first of all, let me say: I don’t know. But then, here’s what I think. The model that I’ve always carried in my head is of a target, like a bullseye. And at the center of the bullseye is the dimethyltryptamine high-dose experience which, even though I’ve spent my whole career raving about how strange it is, I always hit low. I mean, it is beyond description. Language fails—your language, my language, everybody’s language. And as you move out from that, maybe the next circle out is high-dose ayahuasca, followed by high-dose psilocybin, or maybe those two are reversed. And then, further out, LSD. And then, further out, things like 2-CB. And then, yet further out, things like ecstasy. And what’s leaving the picture are, first of all, intense three-dimensional hallucinations, then intense two-dimensional hallucinations, and the more exotic transformations of the mental state. But I have the feeling that we’re always aiming for this center of this mandala. Somebody else might have a different model of consciousness. Roland Fischer had a toroidal model and various states of arousal. But to my mind, if you raise the dose of any psychedelic it becomes more and more like DMT. You have to take over 500 micrograms of LSD for it to be like DMT. Very few people these days do that much acid because it brings a lot of physical stuff with it. Ayahuasca, at moderate doses, is the classical hallucinogen of Amazonian shamanism that you’ve all read about. But double that dose and it becomes indistinguishable from DMT. Same with psilocybin. If a 5-gram trip is a classic psilocybin trip, an 8-gram trip is like a DMT trip. So now, some people are saying of alpha salvinorin that it’s much stronger than DMT; it’s much more frightening and bizarre. Just to save my sanity, I choose not to believe that. Because I’ve been saying for years: if there’s something stronger than that, I don’t want to know about it. Because that definitely pushed me as far as I wanted to go.
My son, I think, has more experience with all of this than anybody else I know. And I said to him, “Where would you put it?” And he said, “It’s almost as strong as DMT.” It’s sort of like that. But over this set of values and comparisons I’ve just made you have to overlay the fact that—like your blue eyes, your height, your body weight, your intelligence, and everything else about you that makes you unique—your inherited allotment of drug synapses is unique. This is why some people are sensitive to drugs, some people insensitive, some people extremely sensitive. And one of the things about exploring consciousness with substances is: you have to sort of learn what works for you. You may have gotten the idea from hanging out with the wrong people that the way you explore drugs is by doing as many as possible and in as many combinations as possible. I couldn’t do that. I have never done that, and I can’t do that. My body just can’t take it. If I want a more intense drug experience, I take more of one drug. Part of exploring this area is to learn what works for you. For example, the most dramatic and easy to understand example I think is cannabis. Most people, after a preliminary brush with cannabis which may last years, tend to decide that it somehow interferes or that they have memory problems or feelings of social paranoia, and abandon it. Some small percentage of people experience no short-term memory loss and basically can’t live without it. I speak from firsthand knowledge of this condition. So learning what works for you is very important, and then pushing that; push that to it’s limits. What fascinates me—I’ll just unload my personal opinion on you—are the tryptamine hallucinogens. I always found LSD too what—I call—abrasively psychoanalytical. I don’t want to endlessly reflect on my childhood upbringing and whether I’m a good or a bad person. I’ll do a little bit of that, but I think I got that under control. I’m not interested in myself in quite the way some people are interested in themselves.
What I’m interested in, and what’s always been the holy grail for me, are visual hallucinations. And people have said, “You’re a nut on this subject.” But the reason I’m so into visual hallucinations is because when I’m seeing something that I could not previously have even imagined, then I am completely convinced I’m in the presence of an Other. Because I couldn’t think that up. And yet I’m looking at it. Low doses of psychedelics or moderate doses of psychedelics transform the quality of thought—you think faster, think deeper, think odder, think broader. But you need more for that to burst through into hallucination. And that always has fascinated me. It’s just, I guess, in my personality.
I was thinking some months ago about the books that have really influenced me in my life. And, you know, we try to make a respectable list that makes us seem profound. So, you know, Moby Dick, Finnegan’s Wake, Whitehead—yeah, okay, that’s the public list. What are the real books? Well, Bartholomew Cubbins”and the 500 Hats, that was a biggie. But a really important book for me was a little book that Aldous Huxley wrote almost as a throwaway, I’m sure he barely gave it a thought. It’s a book called The Art of Seeing. Seeing! And basically, the message of this book can be given in one sentence: pay attention to what your eyes are telling you. The eyes are it, and it’s the visual thing that is so thrilling, so sexy, so infinitely deep. In that book Huxley tells you how to look at a painting by, basically: clear your mind, open your eyes, stand still—that’s very important when viewing paintings—stand still and let it come in. And then he gave advice. And this is advice which I’ve seen acted out in both of my children; incredibly simple advice in the world of child-rearing and incredibly important. And the advice was: draw from nature. Literally, with a pencil. Draw things! Because drawing things forces you to look at them. And don’t draw from pictures. If you want to draw a bowl of fruit, get a bowl of fruit. And then you say, “Oh, I see, when an object is red, its shadows are not black, its shadows are deep pink. And when an object has this curvature, it spreads light around itself like this.” And as you learn to look, this is a very impersonal process. You’re not thinking about your childhood traumas or any of that stuff, you’re really getting into the world. And this is how the world can communicate back to you. The world is something to look at. And that attitude in the presence of psychedelics will throw open a cornucopia of riches to you.
Did you want to say something?
Cannabis is in a different category. I mix cannabis with air, with light, with being awake, with being asleep. There was a period in my life when I used to awaken at 3 am in order to smoke because I couldn’t go from 11:30 to 6:00 without it. I mean, granted, I was in Asia and the rules were different. No, I don’t know what life is like without cannabis. I hear there is such a thing. No, what I mean is I know people who say, “Well, we had a really far-out time Saturday night! We did 120 milliliters of ketamine and followed it with ecstasy a half our later, and then we broke out the nitrous, and somebody had a little 5-MeO with them.” And then I say, “How was it?” They say, “Far out!” And I don’t doubt it for a minute.
I don’t want to go any place that I can’t find my way back to, because I might want to show somebody. And it’s sort of like the multi-body problem in mathematics. You can calculate every point in a system if there are only two bodies, but you only have to add a third before it becomes beyond calculation. And drug synergies are an absolutely unexplored area. You cannot go to the medical literature and find any papers on what happens when you combine LSD with 2-CB. There isn’t such a paper on this planet. So if you’re going to do that, just know that nobody has ever been there before—and I don’t mean intellectually, I mean physiologically. I don’t know very much about the death of this writer who calls himself D. M. Turner. But he did die, and his best known book is a book that I felt was completely irresponsible because it advocated these multiple synergistic drug doses—stuff like I just said: 2-CB plus ketamine plus nitrous plus E plus this plus that. That’s not how I would do it. I would say single pure substances, and if you’re unsatisfied with the experience, as Dr. Leary used to say, “When in doubt, double the dose.” But he didn’t say, “When in doubt, empty the medicine cabinet.” Just double the dose, thank you. And Tim was a pretty reckless and wild act kind of guy. So if he took that position, I don’t think we have to be ashamed to line up behind that.
Ketamine. It has a lot of enthusiasts. The most effective way to do it is by injection. Automatically this raises flags of alarm for me. I just somewhere picked up the idea that banging things is a bad idea. But let’s move past that, because it can be snorted. Ketamine is what is called a disassociative anesthetic. It is not an alkaloid. It is a veterinary anesthetic. In other words, if you have a race horse and you needed to wrap its tendon or work on it in some way, this is the drug of choice. I cannot deny that the experiences that I’ve had—and I only had five—were very, very interesting. I always did it in the presence of a physician. And I always did quite, as I understand it, quite high doses. I did around 140 milliliters.
One of the things about ketamine is it’s active over a huge range. Some people who roll it into their lifestyle tend to do small doses, like 40, 50, 60. When used as an anesthetic in pediatric surgery and stuff like that, 600 milliliters IV push. That would be like being hit by a freight train moving at ten times the speed of sound. You would never know what hit you. For me—I’m just speaking subjectively—it was a sort of empty space. It was a light-filled space, and the metaphor that came to me was: it’s like a new skyscraper and they don’t have any tenants. So there are these endless hallways lit by fluorescent lights and water coolers every 300 feet, but there’s nobody there.
I talked to Rupert about this, because one of the things we’ve kicked around over the years is the idea that drugs are like morphogenetic fields. So, for instance, when you take psilocybin, it takes you. And, in a sense, you are participating in every psilocybin trip anybody ever had. And because it was taken for thousands of years by Mesoamerican shamans, it’s been decorated by them in a sense. It has their mark on it. So the morphogenetic field is extremely stable. Nothing you can do in there—you may be able to carve your initials on a picnic table or something, but you’re not going to be able to make major changes in that landscape.
But suppose you’re a drug chemist, and suppose you read one of Sasha’s papers where he tosses out the thought that one of the O-methylation in the 4 position of the tri-methoxy isomer of the this and that might be hallucinogenic, and you make it. Nobody has ever taken this drug. It’s a synthetic drug. You have made it and now you’re going to take it. In a sense, if you come down saying, “This was an incredibly beautiful visionary experience,” the next person is very likely to have a beautiful visionary experience. If you come down saying, “It was nightmarish and I felt bugs crawling under my skin,” and all this, what’s happening is: the morphogenetic field is crystallizing around this drug.
The feeling I had with ketamine was: it’s really pretty undefined territory. The one thing I learned from ketamine, and I actually have to give it credit for this, is: I got so loaded on that stuff that I lost the concept “loaded,” and that’s never happened to me before. I couldn’t understand what was happening because I couldn’t remember what being high is. So here I am, and I sort of come into awareness, and I say, “What is this?” and the answer is, “Who knows?” The next question" “Who’s asking?” Answer: “Who knows?” And so I just look at it for a while, and then suddenly, out of left field, this “aha” experience: “I must be stoned!” And then it’s like everything crystallizes. “That’s it! I’m a human being! I took a drug! I’m lying on the floor! This is a trip” And then you say, “Oh, this is a trip! Gotcha! Now I know what’s happening. We’re having a trip. Okay, let’s have the trip.” But until I got that sorted out, it was like the biggest, “Huh?”
So I would not—I don’t prefer it because part of my ethic, I guess you would say, is that you should be able to communicate your experiences. It’s almost like an obligation. It’s like, if you go fishing on our lake, you should give some of the fish to the village. If you go fishing and catch a lot of fish and eat them out in the boat and come back with nothing but bones for the village, then this is kind of bad behavior. So I stay clear of ketamine. I have a bias—it used to be stronger—against synthetic substances. But again, in fairness I have to say, with these drugs, people have different kinds of experiences. I’ve said to people on ketamine, “You don’t really hallucinate in the way that I want to hallucinate,” and people say, “Oh no, I had fantastic… it was beyond DMT.” So again, the individual thing.
And then what’s the final thing? Then just physical things about ketamine. I don’t like a drug so strong that the house could burn down around you and you would never bat an eye. And that could certainly happen on ketamine. At height, you had not a clue. They could remove your head and you would not bat an eye. The other thing I noticed about ketamine is: it really sticks to your ribs. In other words, the experience lasts an hour, you come down, but the next day you’re driving on the freeway and comes a wave where you say, “Oh my god, what is this?” And I think it sequesters the fatty tissue or something, and that makes it a little dicey. I hope I didn’t rain on anybody’s parade here. The people that are into it are passionately into it. I accused one guy one time of being a mono-pharmaphile. I said, “My god, you won’t take a drink, you won’t have a hit, but this stuff—five times a day!”
Well, I’m as interested as you are. I don’t have any special information. I did talk earlier in the weekend about this model of the hyper-dimensional object intruding into three-dimensional spacetime, and through the miracle of metabolism wrapping matter around itself for a few years. And then, when the hyper-dimensional form retracts out of this lower-dimensional matrix, the matter that it’s organized of simply falls apart. I like that model. My DMT trips—I think I mentioned this too—I’ve given it to some Tibetan guys and they said, “You can’t go further than that and return.” What he actually said was, “It’s the lesser lights.” The lesser lights appear at the beginning of the bardo.
The thing about DMT—and we didn’t talk about it much this weekend—is that it’s an inhabited space. A huge percentage of the people that take it encounter entities of some sort in there. Not entities like wombats and foxes, but entities with intelligence of some sort, with language of some sort. Well, remember I talked about the principle of parsimony, of preferring the simplest explanation first? Well, when you have a drug which conveys you into an inhabited space, even the simplest explanation is going to be pretty baroque. Some people—including myself—wanted to leap to the conclusion that these must be the aliens. We’ve finally found their hive. It isn’t under the Atlantic trench, it isn’t inside Mount Everest. They’re hiding inside this organic molecule. But I think in service of the principle of parsimony, preferring the simplest explanation, these things must be human souls. It’s easier for me to believe in the human soul than to believe in a colony of extraterrestrials camped inside an alkaloid. But it’s not that easy for me to believe in human souls. But still, the feeling you have from these things is one of immense affection for humanity. That wouldn’t come from a diplomatic mission from Zubenelgenubi, this intense love.
I dare to hope—having deconditioned myself from my Catholic childhood, and gone through existentialism, and all that—now I dare to hope that maybe there is some kind of existence beyond the grave. One of the funny feelings… there are a number of—how would you would call it—thematic layers in the DMT experience, but one of the thematic layers is: weird as this place is that you burst into, it’s: somebody very strange worked very to produce a place that they thought would be reassuring to a human being. And the analogy—it’s stronger than an analogy—the feeling that comes through is: this is a maternity ward. It’s as though you’re being born. And these marvelous self-transforming Fabergé crystalline 4D toys that they’re handing out in this space may be to them nothing more than the equivalent of those extruded plastic geometric shapes that we hang on a string over a bassinet. And if you ask a child psychologist why do we do this, they say it coordinates the child’s ability to see spatial, and so forth and so on. It’s very like that. You have been born into an alien world, and the only thing you can do is gape. Basically gape in utter amazement. And everyone is surrounding you, and they’re saying, “Welcome. It’s okay. Be happy.”
Well then, if it is like a maternity ward, then one can know as much about whatever universe that is as one could deduce about this universe from looking at the four walls of a maternity ward in a small hospital in, say, Salinas. In other words, if you were to actually die rather than smoke DMT, then—if we follow this model—then you would be in that place but there would be no going back to this world after five minutes. Instead, there would be the next five minutes in that place, followed by the next five minutes. And I can tell, within hours you would be beyond the reach of anything you have ever called humanness or thought of. In other words, this isn’t a world where one comes back and whispers in the ears of people and bangs doors in the middle of the night. It appears, like, once out of the body, this incredibly enfolded and compacted field called the soul begins to unfold into it’s death rite, I suppose you could say. And quickly one would become incomprehensible to this world. And all that is retained is the affection for us in our limited situation.
Of course, thinking along these lines, I’ve looked at the literature of near-death experience. What those people are describing is something far more mundane than a DMT trip. Either they are dumbing down the DMT trip and suppressing the oddness of it, or they’re having a quite different experience. Because what’s being said in the near-death thing, generally, is a tunnel. And then loving relatives: reassuring and familiar peoples. The DMT thing is a tunnel, but it isn’t loving relatives waiting at the end, it’s a welcoming committee of professional midwives. And they help you through. So I would suggest with a great heat, that if we want to study the near-death and after-death experience, that actually, you come far closer to dying (whatever that means) on DMT than you do in drownings and things like that.
Well, any situation can be looked at from a point of view that reveals the whole fractal. In other words, what it’s saying is: experience is holographic on one level, but linearly sequential on another level. In a way, this is a continuation of the discussion of death. Because if we leave off the historical modeling and turn toward the modeling of an individual life with the timewave, then, again, there is a message of hope. It says the most novel and amazing thing that will ever happen to you is the last thing that will ever happen to you. And I would like to believe that. I would like to believe that we gather our experience, we become wiser, we meet people, life becomes more novel, we have children, they have children, we have success, we have failure. If you’re living right, your life should get more and more baroque, beautiful, complicated, mysterious. And then you die. And then it really gets interesting!
That’s what this all seems to want us to believe, let’s put it that way. And then people say, “If the world is fractal, is it not true that the evolution of an individual could be extrapolated to be the evolution of the whole system?” And then that leads to the mildly unsettling possibility that what this great transition we’re moving towards is, is not T1 for everybody, But D1 for everybody. In other words: death. Death is the thing that really stirs us. We don’t know what it is. We don’t know whether we’re supposed to flee from it or race toward it. People say, well, then, is it possible—just take the date 2012 as a marker—is it possible that everyone would die? It’s possible.
I’ve looked a lot at asteroid impactors, because the people who study these things know that this is not an act of God or a miracle, that this happens. It has happened, it will happen. And it happens on different scales, from things like meteor craters in Arizona 50,000 years ago—everything within 800 miles of that impact died instantly 50,000 years ago. But 65 million years ago an object the size of Manhattan impacted in the Gulf of Campeche, and nothing on this planet larger than a chicken walked away from that. Well now, if you talk about ecological disaster, there’s never been one like that in the history of the planet. Thousands, tens of thousands of species died, entire orders of animals were wiped out, the continents were rearranged. But guess what? The flowering plants of which we are so fond, and our dear selves—of which we are even more fond—would never have had a chance to insinuate themselves into the evolutionary life of this planet had there not been that clearing-out of the reptilian climax. So then you look at this and say, “Well, was this the greatest mass extinction in history, or the greatest leap forward for biology in the history of the planet?” And the answer is: it was both!
Out of enormous death comes an enormous surge in the domain of organic novelty. I prefer to think that it is not a planetary catastrophe or a mass dying. And I’ll tell you why. This is a place—now we’re working from the notebooks, in other words this is not prepared for public consumption, this is something I meditate on in the baths—I can’t help but notice that, as novelty increases in time according to this model, that the spatial domain of its focus narrows. So, for instance, in the early phase of the timewave, the stars are condensing and the galaxies are forming. We could say that the entire universe is moving toward novelty. But once carbon chemistry appears, the cycles of fusion in stars and production of heavy elements and things like this are stabilized. And the domain of novelty becomes biology. And for a billion and a half years biology evolves and adumbrates its forms and moves from the prokaryotes to the eukaryotes to the multi-cellular. The conquest of the land begins. But then, with the emergence of language-using and tool-using higher primates, in a sense, novelty leaves the domain of organic life. And organic life becomes meta-stable and evolution and mutation happens, but where the action has moved to is into the epigenetic domain entirely defined on this planet by human activity. And so the human beings are the carriers of novelty. And that has gone on until about—oh, pick a number—but basically 3,000 to 2,500 years ago.
And then the novelty seems to concentrate itself into southern Europe. The Greeks take some kind of step that no other people have ever taken. You know, even today—if you go around the world and visit tribal people and ask to see their art, they show you (if you ask to see depictions of human beings) they show you symbolic depictions of human beings. That’s what an African mask is, that’s what a Sepic river carving is. These are symbols of human beings. The Greek mind crossed an invisible boundary. And somebody said, “Let’s take a block of marble, or some clay, and let’s not symbolize a human being, let us make a perfect topological simulacrum of a human being. A face that looks like a face, flesh that looks like flesh.” It was as though the Greek consciousness rose to the surface and left the unconscious behind. And the eyes were open, and no longer saw through symbolic filters, but instead it said nature, in and of itself. This is the foundation for science and art as we know it.
So the novelty then was largely in the hands—largely, I’m rushing here; the exceptions are obvious—in the hands of what we call the Greco-Roman mind. And so it has been for a couple of thousand years. Well then, pick a number—100 years or so ago—it further contracted the novelty, it further contracted itself into the high-tech industrial democracies. And now it has further retracted. One of the problems we’re having in our society is; there’s a bifurcation going on in society. Part of us are going with the new novel technologies that knit us together and make us dimensionless, telepathic creatures through the Internet. And some people are digging in their heels and saying, “No, no, no, beyond newspapers I can’t go.” So those people are being left behind. They are practicing old style culture in an equilibrium state. So now it isn’t even all of the high-tech populations of the industrial democracies.
As we get closer to 2012, if this process proceeds, then the source of novelty will constrict even further. I guess it may eventually come down to one or two people, or a group of people. And maybe those people will make a machine. And then the machine will be the source of the novelty and all of us will be put out to the pasture of equilibrium and maintain the rest of the world as it was. But the novelty will have focused to some kind of incredibly intense point. And so, looking at it from that model, it’s hard to see how it could be an asteroid impact or something like that, because that would affect all biology, all geology. It would completely violate this long-standing tendency of the novelty to concentrate itself.
Well, now, the Buddhists have an interesting perspective that maybe has something to do with this. There are many schools of Buddhism and I don’t want to get into that, but there are schools which hold the following doctrine: that, if a single person could attain enlightenment, then all sentient beings in the cosmos would attain enlightenment instantly. In other words, that only one person or one being has to break through the boundary for the entire state system to collapse and rearrange itself.
It’s December 21st, 2012. And through the world-wide VRML hook-up of the Internet, everybody with an IQ above 10 has gathered in the great collective space to witness the first attempt to send a human being through time. And at the World Temporal Studies Institute at La Chorrera in the Amazon the president of so-and-so makes a speech, the lady time traveler makes a speech, he straps on her helmet, she steps into the machine. The fanfare for the common man is played, a button is pushed, and off she goes into the future. Now, what has always been put against time travel schemes is what’s called the grandfather paradox. And this is easy to understand. It goes like this: if time travel were possible, I could travel back in time and kill my grandfather. If I did that I wouldn’t exist, so I couldn’t do it, therefore there’s a closed loop of paradox. Therefore, time travel is impossible. I put this to the mushroom, and it said, “Well, time travel is possible, but you can only travel as far back in time as the moment of the invention of the first time machine. You can’t travel further back in time than that because there were no time machines before that.” So it’s a kind of barrier.
So then I thought, “Hmm.” So then, here was my model of what would happen when the lady temponaut sails off into the future. Let’s forget about her and ask the question, “What happens next in our world?” And my first guess was: what happens next is thousands and thousands of time machines arrive from all points in the future. They have come back through time to witness the first time machine take off. It’s as though you had a Piper Cub that you could fly to Kittyhawk, North Carolina, to that windy morning in late December when the brothers Wright rolled it out of their bicycle shop and fired her up. And then I said, “But wait a minute, we haven’t dealt with the grandfather paradox. One of these time machines from the distant future on its way to the first time-flight could stop off and kill the grandfather of the driver of that time machine, and we haven’t gotten anywhere at all.”
So then I produced a slightly more complicated model. But it works, and so here’s what it is. It’s that, because the future is not what we think it is—well, here’s a metaphor which makes it more clear. In this world that we’re living in right now we have people such as Bill Gates and his research and development teams. And we have people such as the upriver people in the Amazon that I spent time with: bare-assed people living at a very minimal cultural level. Gates and his people and this Amazon tribe occupy the same planet and the same moment in history. But who is influencing who? Very few people in the world are taking up the Amazonian lifestyle or point of view. Millions and millions of people are going Gates’ direction and more and more will. So what I concluded from that is that advanced states of culture tend to squeeze out or mitigate less advanced states of culture.
Now let’s return to the time-flight. What happens when the lady temponaut goes into the future is not that time machines arrive from all over the future. What happens is that the entire rest of the history of the universe happens instantly. In other words, a future—evolutionary developments, conquest of the galaxy, vast technologies that allow starflight and wormhole travel, and all of that—the fruits of all that are delivered instantly to our doorstep in 2012. I call it the God-Whistle model. In other words, we end the whole thing. We collapse the state vector and everything goes into a state of novelty. And what happens then, I think, is the universe becomes entirely made of light.
This is sort of the cherry on the cake. You know there is something in physics called the principle of parity. This is that particles can appear out of nothingness, as long as they appear in pairs, such that, after a certain period of time, the members of the pair encounter and annihilate each other. When this happens physicists say parity is conserved. It’s known in quantum physics that there is a phenomenon called vacuum fluctuation. Vacuum fluctuation is a situation where, in absolutely empty space, suddenly out of the quantum subspace particles jump into existence. They follow trajectories, they encounter each other, they annihilate each other, parity is conserved, and so it’s okay. It’s okay. So then you talk to these quantum physicists, and you say, “Well, how large can one of these vacuum fluctuations be?” They say they last milliseconds, nanoseconds. You say, “Is there a theoretical upper limit on the size of a vacuum fluctuation dictated by theory?” And they say, “No. No, no. It’s simply that the longer the fluctuation lasts, the rarer it is. So in other words, the longer a fluctuation lasts, the less likely you are to encounter one. Then you say, “Is it possible that this entire universe is such a vacuum fluctuation?” They say, “Well, yes, but that would be very rare to have such a long one!” You say, “Well, hell, you only need one!” Calculating the probability of a unitive event is a fool’s game. It’s either 100% sure or 0 sure.
So here is a model—and I took this from the Swedish physicists Hannes Alfvén, who hasn’t gotten enough credit, but who’s really a very interesting thinker. Imagine that the universe is this kind of vacuum fluctuation: a 17 billion year long vacuum fluctuation. What it means, then, is that, at the big bang, not one universe was born, but two. And they sailed off into the superspaces and have no connectivity with each other—or they have Bell non-local connectivity or something—but anyway, they are distinctly separate. They are unbeknown to each other on a collision course with each other. Parity must be conserved—eventually. And a model like this holds open the possibility of the instantaneous transformation of the entire cosmos, because the collision of these two universes would not occur in three-dimensional space, it would occur in a higher-dimensional space. So this cosmological model holds out the possibility that all matter in the universe could be instantaneously canceled in this encounter with the antimatter twin that was born at the beginning of the cosmos.
Okay, if you’re still following we’re almost to paydirt. Every particle known to physics posses an antiparticle which is locked into this parity-conserving thing I’ve laid out for you—with one exception, one astonishing and amazing exception: the photon has no antiparticle. There is no anti-photon. So this universe that is on a collision course with itself in hyperspace, at the moment of the conservation of parity, all matter vanishes. And what is left is a universe made entirely of light. And we have no model, or I have no model, for a universe made of light. There would be no gravity because gravity is a property of matter. Such a universe could be modeled. And then the question is: what would happen to forms? What would happen to your body, my body, this planet?
The answer is: no one can know. But it is very interesting that the esoteric traditions of nearly every religion talk about light a great deal: talk about ascent to the light, cultivation of the light, the after-death vehicle as a thing made of light. So I just put this out here because it occurred to me. My imagination, in an effort to make the assumptions novelty theory congruent with the known laws of physics, I discovered this sounds like wild-hair stuff, but no violation of the known laws of physics is involved in this scenario. Perhaps what enlightenment is, is: it happens to a universe when it drops its matter and antimatter out of its structure and it becomes entirely made of light. That would certainly fulfill the novelty theory. Anyway, that’s enough of that malarkey.
You see, the way the novelty theory is structured is: you have this wave, and it is iterated on different scales. And if you have a given level—let’s call it A—above A is a larger level that is A × 64. Below is a smaller level that is 1⁄64 of A. And wherever you are in the hierarchy this is true. Levels above 64 times larger, levels below 64 times smaller. Modern astrophysics—they’re arguing about it right now—the universe is under 20 billion years old. Everybody agrees on that. And the question is: is it 9, 12, 13, 14? But it’s under 20.
The timewave has a cycle. The largest cycle I have found necessary, except for the prime number research, is a 72-billion-year cycle. So let’s call that the top cycle, the A-level: a 72-billion-year cycle; plenty of time for the universe to evolve to its present state. Below that level is a cycle 1⁄64 that size. What would that be? Roughly 1.2 billion years. At the initiation of that cycle—I don’t know, some dramatic thing happens in biology. Below it is another cycle. If the B-level is 1.2 billion years, then the next level is 1⁄64 of that. I think it’s roughly 275 million years. Next cycle, divide it by 64, whatever it is—750,000 years. Next cycle… you see where I’m going. Well, eventually you get to a cycle that’s 4,306 years in duration. That is basically the cycle of late history. I mean, certainly there was history before 4,000 years, but the continuous march of global civilization over the last 4,000 years. Well, then, the next cycle down is only 67 years long. And I mentioned it last night: from 1945 to 2012. Each cycle begins with a bang, literally. Below the 67-year cycle there is a 384-day cycle, and that will run from late 2011 (somewhere in November 2011) to the end of 2012. And I call that the “Year of the Jackpot.” It’s a 13-month year, but the entire history of the universe will be reprised in that 384-day period. Well, then comes a 6-day cycle. By this time, either I will have gently bowed out or the entire world will be aware of what is happening, because the novelty will be so intense. Imagine a 6-day cycle in which the entire previous 67-year, 4,306-year, na-na-na-na-na to the top level, are all being compressed and replayed in 6 days. Well, then comes the hour-and-35-minute cycle. Then comes the minute-and-a-half cycle. Then comes the 1.3-second cycle.
Now, at that point—1.3 seconds—if we assume that the cycles cannot be iterated beyond the level of Planck’s constant (which is 6.55 × 10-23 erg seconds), the way for you to think of that is as a jiffy. It’s the grain of the universe. We don’t feel the need to discuss lengths of time shorter than that because there aren’t lengths of time shorter than that. Time comes in those packets of that size. Well, if you’re at the 1.3-second cycle, you still have thirteen cycles to go through before you reach the realm of Planck’s constant. And you have come through 13 cycles. So the universe is only half done 1.3 seconds before its end. That’s why asking what will happen in 2012 is preposterous. The mind fails. Half of the universe’s evolutionary unfolding will occur in the last few milliseconds of its existence because of the asymptotic acceleration of the expression of novelty.
So it’s this thing which began very gently, very stately. The march of the atoms, the condensation of the stars and the galaxies, the emergence of biology, the emergence of higher animals, the emergence of… and just into, then, a screeching photo finish where all this stuff is bundled together, squeezed together, connected, transformed, lifted into higher dimensions. You see, this is not a process we can not take responsibility for, or discuss our guilt or innocence. This is the cosmos itself tearing loose from its previous constraints and moving ever faster toward ever greater freedom with ever more appetite and momentum until it achieves its goal, which is infinite novelty throughout all space and time. Holographic connectedness, God-mindedness, whatever your vocabulary is.
[???] the entire expansion of the universe—
Oh yeah, this is a completely legitimate move. I mean, it’s mind-boggling to think of this in human scales of time—that half of the universe is occurred in a few milliseconds. But dig the fact: that is the position of orthodox physics as we sit here. It’s simply that they say it happened at the beginning. I say it’ll happen at the end. What they’re saying in physics now is that the big bang occurred, and then a few nanoseconds after the big bang there was this thing called the inflationary expansion phase. It lasted a few nanoseconds, and in those few nanoseconds the universe became tens of orders of magnitude larger than it was. So it’s a legitimate move in physics, however counter-intuitive it may seem on the human scale.
[???] the many-worlds?
Well, the problem with the many-worlds theory is it violates the principle of parsimony. In other words, that is not the simplest explanation. Do you all know what this is? It’s the idea that, whenever a process in the universe encounters a bifurcation point, that it goes both ways. In other words, the multiplication of possibilities in a situation like that is staggering. And I just don’t feel the need for it. If I understood Wheeler’s mathematics better I might. But that theory has been around since the middle seventies, and he has a very respected position at Princeton, but he doesn’t seem to be able to sway his colleagues—which doesn’t mean he’s wrong. I’m just saying it’s a bit baroque for my taste.
Well, once beyond the zero point, by definition, novelty must mean the simultaneous realization of bifurcations of all sorts. In other words, what ultimate novelty must mean is: anything we say it means. There are no limitations when novelty soars to infinity. The universe is a series of impediments to the expression of novelty, and when it has overcome all those impediments there is a flawless, higher-dimensional matrix throughout all being—I guess that’s how you put it.
Is that the many-worlds theory?
No, that’s another can of strings. And that’s a different thing and more exotic. There’s a lot of this stuff going around. I am by no means the strangest cat on the block. This guy, Alan Guth, have any of you looked at his website? This is a guy who’s being paid a salary by MIT, for God’s sake. And his thing is all about making universes. And he says we can make universes and put them on the shelf. I made this one in February, botched that one in March. And talks about how the ultimate proof of the direction in which modern physics is moving is to make a universe. After all, if they begin from an area smaller than the diameter of the hydrogen atom, a major laboratory could just stamp them out like hotcakes. Of course, the question is: what are they good for? What do you do with a universe once you’ve made one? But as an exercise in the imagination, take a look at what this guy is into.
Let me just try to sum this up, not certainly to sum up the ideas, because the ideas are not really that important. They may be true, they may be untrue, they may reside in a domain where those rules don’t apply. The feeling that I hope you take away from all of this is—
—when you are most self-reliant, you know, maybe you don’t understand ten-dimensional vector calculus. Then don’t use that tool to understand. Hone the tools that you have and try to create models. And understand that all models are provisional. This is the antidote to the idea of ideology. Ideology is when you believe something passionately. Models are when you dispassionately attempt to define the operation of a system. And the word “model” implies that you are perfectly willing to discard the model when a better model comes along. I mean, get a grip, people! Where is it writ in adamantine that talking monkeys should be able to understand the universe? If you met a termite who told you that he was on a quest to understand the universe, a certain lip-curling cynicism would ensue. Well, do you think you’re better positioned than that termite to undertake that?
So the thing is to understand what one understands, and then to build outward from that. And the tools are mathematics, drugs, attention to phenomena, intuition, community, and inspiration. And these things may not solve your marital problems or increase your earning power, but they will put you in touch with the larger dynamic of being. I think being is most appreciated when it is understood. That’s why worship raises my hackles. Worship is what animals do to the mystery because they can’t assimilate or understand it, if they even deal with it at all. But true religiosity is signified by honest intellectual efforts to model and understand. And it’s by that process that we increase our connectivity to the universe and the depth and richness of our connectivity to our community. That’s what it’s really all about. That’s our glory: to understand, to model, to describe, to explore, to appreciate.
So meet me at the waterfall at the top of the river. Thank you very much!