Build Your Own Damn Wagon

June 29, 1994

"Do not watch, do not consume," implores Terence McKenna, inviting us on a thought-provoking journey to reclaim our humanness. By building our own conceptual wagons, rather than riding ready-made vehicles of meaning, we can travel along unique paths of critical thinking. Once within our own virtual worlds, the wonder of our distinctive minds will be open for discovery.




You finished up saying that the most important thing is felt experience.


The felt presence of immediate experience.


Right. And I’m wondering how you—to me it’s either the [???] between that and the whole cyberspace-thing, which is not felt experience.



Well, no. It’s immediate experience. What I mean is experience as product. In other words, if you’re interacting on an AOL conference, that’s your primary experience. But if you’re watching TV, then you’re consuming packaged experience. So what it means, the felt presence of immediate experience, is a kind of empowering of yourself as a producer rather than a consumer of experience. I don’t know if I said it the other night, but one of the don’ts of Zippyhood is: don’t watch. In other words, don’t allow yourself to be cast in the role of spectator, of voyeuristic spectator. This is a phenomenon of—well, certainly, the post-Renaissance. The disembodied point of view that sees all and is somehow invasive. The third-person narrator. And through film and photography this voyeurism has been empowered. And it’s actually a kind of technological fetish, or a fetish which technology has permitted. So I think watching, generally speaking, is a bad thing. You want to participate and act. So that’s the thing about the felt presence of immediate experience.


You know, Morris Berman wrote a great book called Coming to our Senses. If you’re interested in these kinds of issues and very wonderful cultural analysis, Coming to our Senses is a great book. And it shows how, for complex reasons, Western civilization has armored itself against feeling, against body-consciousness, against sexuality, against the excesses of birth and death, and that the cost of this has been… you know, it’s great. So the thing I like about the Zippy culture and the house/trance/dance/techno culture is that it’s about feeling. The combination of young people, drugs, a fairly sexually charged social environment and syncopated music is just all designed to draw you into you and your friends and your scene and your hood and your place in the cosmos, and not sell you out as consumer to Hollywood or Manhattan manufactured forms of entertainment.


A part of what comes out in these long rambling talks about the world is that, in the absence of a Marxist critique of capitalism, it doesn’t mean that capitalism is without flaw, God forbid, it just means it now has no critics. And you have to think about it from your own perspective, and what is it doing for you, and does it serve, does it not serve? You know, one of the hardest things with launching the Zippy meme that I talked about the other day is to keep it out of the hands of the people for whom everything is fashion. This word, “fashion,” means two things: fast money and no political impact. You know? And it’s how everybody is disempowered by being turned into a fashion icon. Somebody flagellates themselves, pierces themselves, scarifies themselves, and the next thing they know they’re on the cover of Interview magazine. That wasn’t the plan. The culture is so capable of assimilating and disarming its critics through hype and fashion—I mean, I was horrified to see that ad; Allen Ginsberg wore khakis. Did you see that? I mean, this is the guy who wrote fiery attacks on mammon and said he’d seen the best minds of his generation destroyed by madness, dragging themselves, hysterical, naked, through the Negro streets, looking for an angry fix. From that to a khaki ad?


So is Madison Avenue desperate?


No. Apparently, American poetry is more desperate than Madison Avenue! Well, anyway, that’s enough free-form haranguing on that subject. Anybody else about last week’s stuff? Yeah, Faseem.



How does—you say that it’s not good to watch. But where does that leave reading a book or looking at a great painting, or something like that? When you’re reading a book, aren’t you just as engaged as you are when you’re watching TV? I mean, you sit there and don’t do anything.



Well, you know, if you were a purist you could make that argument. I think what you have to say about books is: they’ve been writing them for about 2,000 years fairly seriously. So if you choose carefully, you’re likely to get a better book than if you choose your channel carefully. It’s just a higher—books are in the nature of their being more structurally focused. What?


What about just, like, a fixed image, you know? Like a painting? Or sitting outside and staring at a tree for three hours? You know? Isn’t there some experience that is simply you?



Well, staring at a tree—that is the felt presence of immediate experience. You know? That’s like a working definition of meditation or something. That’s real, that’s you; in a place, in a time, relating.

Here’s the cyberspace story for the day. This is today’s New York Times:

Freedom of expression has always been the rule in the fast-growing global web of public and private computer networks known as cyberspace.

Notice that it’s known as cyberspace. The newspaper of record is going with the lexicographical flow, and so it’s real now. It has the reality you can only achieve by appearing on the front page of the New York Times.

But even as thousands of Americans each week join the several million who use computer networks to share ideas and chat with others, the companies that control the networks—and sometimes individual users—are beginning to play the role of censor.

And it describes a guy in Norway who, when he received an ad from a Phoenix divorce attorney on the Internet, he designed something called a killbot, which was a program which automatically canceled these people’s advertising worldwide. And then there’s a long navel-gazing discussion about what does this mean, and are there laws, and so forth and so on. And what do the laws mean?


Well, which brings me to what I sort of wanted to talk about today. I hope these things get more interactive, or they seem interesting enough for you to participate. Today’s talk arises, for me, out of things I’ve thought about as result of the other talk. Because for me the discussion the other day was basically about watching the soup churn and picking out various pieces of carrot, meat, and potato, and naming them, and letting them drop back in the soup. What does this all come to? For years—for as long as I’ve been around Esalen, the cognoscenti have been awaiting what is called the P.S.: the paradigm shift. And it has been announced many times, you know? Sighted in the parking lot, seen in the baths. And yet, it’s an incredibly elusive creature and never willing to really come out of the underbrush and be identified. And then there is the question: and what’s so great about it? Well, we won’t know that until we have it in our sights.


But I think—let’s see, did I bring it with me? Did I have that much prudence of mind? Yes, I did. Here is the issue of Brain/mind Bulletin on Prigogine’s grappling with the time paradox, as it’s called.


What date is that?



The date is… it’s a special issue. May 1994. So this is a month old. And the conclusion that’s coming out of his work is that nature is not governed by eternal laws. Which is a very big piece of news in science, because it has been the assumption (really, since the Greeks) that there is a higher world of mathematical perfection and that, somehow, the world of physical appearance and substance is a shadow in Plato’s formulation, or a reflection of this higher, perfect, eternal world, which is mathematical in its foundation and best conceived somewhat like the mind of God. And so then the task of science has been to elucidate these eternal, unchanging rules, and to place nature in the context of this system of rules for purposes originally of philosophical contemplation, and for the last thousand years or so for the purposes of technological manipulation.


Well, a number of us—over the past fifteen years—have been very restless with this idea. It seems to be naïve, philosophically. And it seems also not in congruence with the observable facts of nature. Prigogine made his reputation by attacking the second law of thermodynamics, which was thought to be the most inviolate law in nature: the law that systems run down, and that order and energy is dissipated ultimately as heat, and that disorder is the destiny of all organized systems. Prigogine showed that this is not true in classical chemical systems. He established what is called the principle of order through fluctuation, which is a situation where, for reasons not immediately apprehendable in classical chemical dynamics, a system will spontaneously mutate to a higher state of order. And we’re not talking biological or social systems, we’re talking just simple chemical systems.


Life is a very, very dramatic example of what Prigogine was talking about. We have genes in us that occur in flatworms; absolutely undifferentiated from their expression in the human body. Well, those genes are arguably 3.5 billion years old. Since the life of an ordinary star—not our star, which is a slow-burning and special kind of star—but ordinary stars have an order of existence of 600 million years, one sixth the known rate of the persistence of life on this one piece of real estate. So life is a phenomenon that violates the second law of thermodynamics on a planet-wide scale with ease for 3.6 billion years. Fascinating!


And social systems, similarly, perturb themselves into higher states of order. A gene… the ordinary mechanisms of Darwinian evolution have to do with taking chaotic events such as mutation—in other words, events which represent a degradation from an ideal state of order—and somehow using these stumbles, we could say, to become great leaps forward. A curious ability to take lemons and make lemonade. That seems to be what biology is doing there. Well, I know Prigogine only slightly informally. My great intellectual comrade-in-arms is Rupert Sheldrake. And Rupert—this is his bailiwick as well, because what he is saying (in a slightly different voice) is that nature is a process which, in a sense, predicts itself. In other words, he’s saying that the way things have happened in the past is the way that they most tend to happen in the present and the future.


This is not a scientific idea at all. It’s a very unscientific idea. In its most extreme examples it appears absurd. And he, being a clear thinker, is willing to push the theory into the domain of the absurd examples. What do I mean by absurd examples? I mean that, if you believe this concept, then teaching rats in Australia to run a certain kind of maze should make it easier for rats in England to run that same maze. Rats in England should run it faster once its run by rats in Australia. In other words, what he’s saying is: the mere act of something happening sort of digs a ditch through the epistemic murk of causality. This is what the biologist C. H. Waddington called a creode. A creode is a developmental pathway. And once you have one, a process will tend to run in that pathway rather than on one side of it or on the other. And so what Rupert’s theory carries as an implication is what Prigogine now proclaims, which is that what we thought were eternal natural laws are simply something more like habits. Habits of nature. And that nature begins in a state of… in a highly undetermined state where the set of possible creodes—that word, which means developmental pathway—the set of possible creodes radiating out from the origin point approaches some enormous high number. But things must undergo the formality of actually occurring. Whitehead’s phrase: things must undergo the formality of actually occurring. So out of these many possible developmental creodes a path will be chosen.


This is called now, in physics, a symmetry break. And in theory these symmetry breaks are not determined. They could occur anywhere. Now, what I mean by that is: a common one is—and don’t hold me to the numbers—but I believe the electron is 1,860 times heavier than the proton. [Note: It is the other way around. The proton is heavier than the electron.] No theory can account for this. There is nothing apparently magical about this being 1,800-so-forth times heavier than the proton. So it’s called a symmetry break. In the original mix of possibilities the universe just developed—





Symmetry. As in:

Tyger Tyger burning bright,

In the forests of the night:

What immortal hand or eye,

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

That kind of symme-try. Or symmetry, as we from the cattle towns of western Colorado say!


How does Darwin fit into this as far as the theories of evolution? I mean, are you basically implying an accidental chaotic dance is going on in regards to how life is unfolding? There is no rhythm, there is no reason, there is no rhyme to the unfoldment of evolution [???]?



Well, certainly that was Darwin’s idea. It’s not necessarily mine. See, since the nineteenth century, to the twentieth century, the word “chaos” has actually changed. In the nineteenth century, “chaos” meant disorder. And in a sense, you could almost say that Darwin was the first chaos theorist. Because they discovered—the people; Darwin and his school—that you could take two processes which are both random, and that by running these two random processes together you could attain striking examples of order and symmetry and beauty. And to them this proved that God is not necessary. They said, look: no God, nothing, no God up the sleeve. Just—here is random mutation, no mystery here. Here is natural selection, no mystery here. I shuffle the deck together, and here: I get peacocks, harlequin beetles, gray whales, and human beings. And no God necessary. But what—and we’ve talked about this a lot, so I don’t want to spend too much time on it—what they were obsessed by in the nineteenth century was the elimination of purpose, which goes to your question. They were totally against the idea that there is a plan; God’s plan. Because they were very concerned to continue the tradition of free will that they inherited from French rationalism. And they felt they were holding the line against the church of England.


In a way, this brings me to what I wanted to talk about today, which was—I mean, there are many paths into this—about the paradigm shift. We’ve talked now for a few minutes about natural law versus the idea that the universe is some kind of evolving organism. And I want to talk about two opposed sets of terms. The old paradigm and what it implied and how it worked, and the new paradigm and how it’s different and what it implies, and how it works, because I think we’re getting close to paydirt on this great change of consciousness thing that everybody is waiting to have happen. That enough data is accumulating, enough global web-weaving is happening that we’re close to criticality on having the new paradigm emerge. Perhaps Prigogine’s little announcement is the beginning of that. But here are the terms.


First of all, old paradigm. Freedom and law. This is what it’s about. Freedom and law. This great opposing and dichotomous set of concepts. First the laws of nature: eternal, platonic, suspended in some philosophical super-space, beyond argument, beyond contradiction. And then the mystery of freedom: that man is free and therefore responsible, and therefore somehow bears a measure of guilt for the historical predicament. So human freedom is the precondition for the assumption of man’s flaw, man’s fall. You know, what Thomas Aquinas called the felix culpa: the happy flaw.


And these ideas of law and freedom have been worked out since the late seventeenth century when, after the Cromwellian Revolution was disposed of and Newton published the Principia in England, people like John Locke, and Hume, and Thomas Hobbes began to work out the social implications of all this, while Newton and Leibniz and other people on the continent—Fibonacci and so forth—worked out the implications of the law part of it and created science as we know it, practice it, love it, hate it today.


Okay. Now, the new paradigm. And the meaning—I guess we should talk for a minute about what a paradigm is. A paradigm is a lens through which you see the world. And everything is transformed when you look through this lens: your food, your religion, your sexuality, your science, your economics—everything is transformed. And for 500 years, let’s say, we have looked at the world through the lens of freedom and law. And our whole social dialogue has been: how can we have as much freedom as possible and law? And what is law? And what is freedom? This is what the dialogue has been about since the Renaissance.


Habit and novelty are the new—or what I would propose as the two concepts that are rising out of a synthesis of twentieth-century experience as the new defining terms of a universal paradigm. And first I want to talk about habit because I’ve already sort of anticipated that by talking about Sheldrake and Prigogine. You see, if you—and believe me, it’s not easy for me to give up my Platonism. I mean, I am, to this day, highly platonic. But I don’t think we can just be Platonists. There’s been some development since 530 B.C. Take a look at Alfred North Whitehead. The problem is the eternality of the ideas and the supra-ordinary ontos of their existence, as a philosopher would say. In other words, that they are nowhere to be found in what we call the world. They are like with God, or with the square root of minus one, or something like that.


So habit, rather than law, has the curious effect of invigorating the universe and making it not something static, like a piece of furniture—or as Newton imagined it: a divine clock; a machine built by God and then set going to the last tick of eternity. But if habit is to replace law, then the universe is more like an organism. It’s more like a creature. It learns. It gains experience. As it matures it changes its strategy. As it expands its experience it gains new domains of emergent subtlety. And this is, in fact, what we see. We see that the universe began as a plasma of free electrons. And then there was a period of astrophysical condensation: stars and planets. And then a period of nuclear chemistry ruled the universe as stars aggregated.


Is that not law?



Well, the point I’m making, see, is that it progressed from one phenomenon to another. It didn’t remain static. Apparently, each episode of becoming—rather than stabilizing itself like a machine would, it actually becomes the foundation for some completely new phenomena.


And that’s what you call habit?



Well, as opposed to law. See, I think law allows freedom because freedom means you go outside of law. But law doesn’t allow novelty, exactly. That’s a slightly different concept. So if you take seriously this idea that the concept of law can be replaced by the idea of habit, then suddenly you’re not in a Newtonian machine, a soulless cuckoo clock of natural laws. What you’re inside is an organism. And since you are an organism, there is suddenly an enormous dimension for empathy. You can understand, then: aha! I feel. I strive. I know hope and disappointment, and I can therefore transfer these qualities to the dynamic of the world around me. And this is very important—again, recall: what we’re talking about is why one paradigm replaces another—this is very important for us as a species to get in contact with what we’ve done to the planet. If the planet is a thing, you can basically use it. If it’s an organism, then you must relate to it the way you would relate to another person, or at least to a fine animal or something like that.


Can I ask a question? How would you suggest I go from looking through the paradigm of law into the paradigm of habit, and how I’m seeing and experiencing the world? What would you suggest? And my perceptual approach to the world around me?



Okay. Well, that’s next. And this is probably the most controversial of all this. It was very important when this freedom and law dichotomy was set up. Every paradigm has a hidden or secret agenda. And what lies behind this freedom and law thing is Christian ethics. It’s very important in Christian ethics—other than some fairly minor and screwball variants—to maintain the idea of human freedom. Because man cannot fall and be redeemed without the dimension of human freedom. And the dimension of human freedom is a precondition for guilt. Only the free can be guilty, because only the free are responsible for what they do. You know? After all, if the universe is a determinism, then you do what you do because you couldn’t do anything else. And so to expect you to take responsibility for that is a little weird.


So it was very important to establish the idea of human freedom. And all our political systems are built on various adumbrations of this concept of freedom. Habit and novelty is a little shift slightly east on this issue. There’s a lot less freedom in the habit and novelty equation, and there’s a lot less responsibility. And responsibility—you know, Wei Boyang, the ninth-century Chinese alchemist, said, “Worry is preposterous.” Worry is preposterous. And then the exegesis explains that, in order to worry, you have to know what’s going on. If you don’t know what’s going on, worry is an absurd—I mean, it’s like someone who knows nothing about automobiles worrying that their car may break down. It’s immaterial.


So freedom is a very touchy subject, and I offer this in an exploratory manner. There are very respectable orthodox positions which would tell you that the creation of the ideal of human freedom and the way in which it has been enshrined and defended in Western political institutions is the crowning achievement of the civilization. The problem is:,it has a curious relationship to other important power concentrations: the community and the ego. You know, where does freedom lie in that spectrum? When we say—if you are a Jeffersonian Democrat, a materialist, a paid-up member of the Democratic party—and you say you are free, do you mean you are free to do whatever you want to do, or do you mean you are free to participate in the general will of the community? This is not a closed issue.


Over the centuries, the answer to that question has shifted. The nineteenth century—in America, based on the exposure to frontier hardship and that sort of thing—was much more about the freedom of the community to do what it wanted to do. In the twentieth century, consumerism and the disappearing of frontiers and the rise of populations and the packing of populations very tightly—freedom has tended to mean the right to gratify the whims of the ego. And this has led to a whole bunch of anti-communal attitudes and phenomena: class struggle, consumerism, manufacture of useless and soon-to-be obsolete objects, people trapped in a rat race of media-propagated needs and low salary and… you know, the rat race.


So the thing from the very beginning that has always puzzled me when people talked about the future was: there’s a general agreement that it’s going to be more collective. That, you know, we talk in terms of the Internet, we talk in terms boundary dissolution, a community. And yet, the great metaphor for collectivism is now in ruins. Marxism—I mean, it’s finished. And so there is no countervailing force to this freedom and law image at the moment. But I think that when community coalesces around the felt need to express community values, then the paradigm shift will be very close to happening.


Now, when will that happen? Things will have to get a lot worse. Because, you see, the paradox is that the people who can change the world—people like you and me, the upper 5% of the literate elites of the industrial democracies—we’re the furthest away from the bad news. You know, we’re getting three squares, and having a fine time. So somehow there has to be a sense of danger or impending chaos. And then we will, I hope, organize ourselves to get out of it.


So you’re saying the organism is reaching a point of transformation that [???] very painful for many and not so painful for few? [???] all?



Well, I guess that leads to the subject of change. You know, change is in of itself neither painful nor pleasurable. But, you know the Bob Dylan song that says, “When you got nothin’, you got nothin’ to lose”—well, a lot of people have nothin’ and a few people have something. And I think it wouldn’t hurt for everybody to lighten their ballast a little bit, to float higher.


So these ideas have a lot of implications. A paradigm touches everything, and it begins very deeply, but I think that my—you know, fractal mathematics, chaos theory, complexity theory, my own stuff with the timewave—all of this is going to, in a sense, erase much of the mystery about the future. That the future is ( in a freedom and law system) necessarily unknowable, because if you knew the future, then this idea of freedom would fall under a shadow. But if you replace freedom with the idea of novelty and see, then, that no matter how unique a situation is, it was somehow preceded, announced, anticipated by earlier situations, then the anxiety that is built into the freedom and law formulation disappears. Because you see with the acceptance of this idea of freedom comes the acceptance of an unknown future. When, in fact, a great deal of the future can be triangulated and known, even with old style mathematical and cognitive techniques. And when you toss in the new stuff, then we indeed have had lights on our vehicles, and it does throw a high-beam into the future.





Well, novelty replaces freedom in that freedom is this idea that anything is possible and that you create it, and novelty is the idea that sometimes interesting things are possible, and you are more like the gifted recipient. You know? It embeds you more. Freedom is a fairly alienating concept. This is what modern existentialism understood. You know that woman—can’t remember her name—Marjorie Grene, who wrote that book Dreadful Freedom; talks about how, once you embrace freedom, a great deal of supportive structure fell away. Which they—the existentialists—embraced as a necessary confrontation with man’s situation in the cosmos. But I think they were pessimistic. You know, Sartre’s ultimate formulation of all this was, he said, “Nature is mute.” Well, nature is not mute. That’s ridiculous. How could somebody get so tweaked around as to hold that position? I don’t believe it. Nature is not mute. Nature is the available statement for deconstruction on the nature of being. But if you don’t believe that, then you’re an existentialist and you believe that human freedom is the proper domain of becoming. But this has not led to very happy… I see that as a prologue to some kind of fascism, you know? The Nietzschean super-will is in there someplace.


But I think native peoples, aboriginals—if you could explain these two things, freedom and law—they’re not going to get freedom and law. An Amazon tribe wouldn’t have a clue. But if you talk about novelty and habit, this they understand. This is what life is to anybody who’s paying attention, while freedom and law both are high-flown abstractions that come out of a very special philosophical agenda that, by the time Hume and Locke and John Stuart Mill got to it, it was 2,000 years old.


If most of the time novelty [???], and habit as a word is a put-off [???] to think about—I think, in our culture, for me, it’s something I’ve moved away from.


You mean that novelty sounds trivial?


Novelty is seen as superficial and habit is seen as something that I can’t have no control over, it’s something that I do over, and over, and over, and over, and over—


Well, in a sense, yeah.


So [???] this interesting [???] and law and freedoms in my life [???]


Well, everybody who ever had a civics class—law and freedom…


…so it’s interesting to—



Well, I should explain—since you bring it up, it may be in other people’s minds. The reason I use the word “novelty” is because I’m a great fan of Alfred North Whitehead, who was probably the last and greatest of the Platonists. And he has a theory—which is put forth in Process and Reality, which is his life’s work; magnum opus—in which novelty is the word he wants to use. Because he says: out of the background of what has been emerges the unique. And he (as I feel) felt that what we call nature is a novelty-conserving engine, that what nature glories in is novelty. You know, the pattern on the butterfly’s wing, the color of the polyp, the molecular species of the synapse, the chemical dynamics at the heart of a star. That, somehow, nature is—originally, I called the counterpoise of novelty (logically, I think) entropy, which is a familiar concept in physics; well understood mathematically. But Rupert convinced me that habit was a much more applicable idea. And novelty is easy to understand, but hard to define. It’s like the word “complexity,” another word very easy to understand, very hard to define. I mean, whole conferences are held on what is complexity, and people leave in fury, not speaking to each other. But intuitively we grasp what this means. Sometimes, for novelty, I’ve used the phrase “density of connection.” Because I think that the arborization of the nervous system in the human brain or in the vascular system of a plant—that as many points as can be cotangential to each other defines the complexity of a system. But it’s basically and ultimately an intuitive and poetic concept, which is probably as it should be.


The novelty of nature is embedded in the habit of nature, right?


Nature is almost all habit, and a tiny, tiny cutting edge of novelty. That’s right.


I relate that to that to the… you know, at the subatomic particle level. In fact, that’s complete novelty. Anything can happen, except for this constraint by [???] habits [???] symmetry principles.



Yes, although—I don’t know if I want to get off into this. But since you’re here, Paul, it’s a good time. Are you following all this stuff about how uncertainty is really taking a beating and people are saying that it isn’t this mysterious property of nature, it’s a mysterious property of Swedish quantum physicists, and that David Bohm’s formulation of the quanta is a much more elegant formulation and eliminates the uncertainty domain at the cost of introducing non-locality? Which, because of Bell’s theorem, they’re practically ready to admit. So there is this sort of wild horse movement in quantum physics to make it completely explicit and predictable, and get rid of all the woo-woo that comes in with the Niels Bohr formulation.


I wasn’t thinking so much of the uncertainty principle, but, for example, time can reverse. There’s nothing at the subatomic particle level that constrains time one way or the other, as far as I know. And so lots of things can happen. And yet, there are certain habits that’ve evolved in the universe, which we call laws of physics, or actually the symmetry principles. And it seems to me that it would have to be that way. That’s what’s happening at the nature level, but it’s reflecting something that’s happening at a deeper level.



Well, you came in late, but part of what we were talking about was Prigogine and some of his new work. And one of the things he casts doubt on, or is very skeptical of, is the irreversibility principle. He says time is a process, it’s not a concept. And that there is an arrow, which is good news for my position because I’ve always felt that there was an arrow.


Is there order in the disorder? I mean, I’m hearing you say order, I’m hearing you say disorder. Is there an order to the chaos? Enough to create it as predictable?


Chaos is the mother of order!


So it is a system, then? It is, in a sense, its own law.



Well, yeah. One of the things that I have down here to cover, but we haven’t steered near it—but that does it—is: if we go… I mean, for a scientist, here’s the real difference between what freedom and law means and what novelty and habit means. The way science has been done since Newton is through probability theory. You get this with Cantor and these people. Probability theory is a very, very necessary tool for science. But it may be a bogus assumption about nature.


Let’s think about probability theory for a moment. Here’s how it works: you want to know how much electricity is flowing through a wire. You carry out a thousand measurements. You add them together. You divide by a thousand. You now say this is how much electricity is flowing through the line. Well, but it’s entirely possible that, if you look back through the thousand measurements you made, not one will be the same as this average value which you’re now holding up and saying is how much electricity is flowing through the line. Not one of your measurements confirms your final conclusion. But people say, “Well, but induction, and accumulation of sample, and averaging!” Averaging is what’s going on here at the center. And the key to using averaging with intellectual effectiveness is: you’re making an assumption that’s very deep. And the assumption you’re making is that time is invariant. Well, that is simply an assumption! It is the essentially untested assumption of science over the past 500 years.


[???] that this is the amount of electricity that’s flowing through this particular point in time—



Well, but the whole notion of science is not that we attain states of intellectual consensus, but that we have a true reflection of the phenomena. So then here’s a case where this becomes more important: the speed of light. The speed of light in the general and special theory of relativity is specified to be a constant. So, since 1908, the speed of light has been measured on this one planet with various devices. Not once has any device any gotten a value exactly congruent with any other device. Never! Well, so then they rush forward very flustered that you would even mention this embarrassment. And they say, “Well, you don’t understand. It’s the limit of the instrumentality.” Well, but wait a minute. This is just a phrase some weasel lawyer-scientist put together to explain why they weren’t getting the right value. Because they’re saying, “We’re measuring the speed of light. We’re within 30 meters per second of where it was yesterday.” Or, “This measurement is only off by 20 meters per second. One part in billions.” But the point is: you’re not getting the same measurement that you got yesterday. So why are you saying that the speed of light is constant? Well, because the entire theory of relativity falls to pieces if you ever yield on that principle.


And so then a person (who was trying to do what in science is called “save the phenomenon”) would say, “Well, let’s plot the speed of light and see how much it’s varying.” Well now, if it is in fact what is called the limit of the instrumentality that is causing this problem, then do we all agree that the values should cluster around a mean? In other words, this guy is 30 meters too fast, this guy in Australia, he gets 30 meters too slow. This person is 70 meters to the…. Right? The values would cluster. Right. But what do we actually see when we examine these variations in the speed of light? We see that, from 1908 until 1975—and I’ll explain why 1975—from 1908 to 1975 the speed of light has apparently slightly increased. The values are not staying constant. They’re drifting slightly upward. Well, we are on one tiny planet in one very narrow slice of time, and yet we—having measured the speed of light to be sliding slowly toward faster and faster—have created a physics based on the assumption that’s a universal constant and never changes. Weird! Completely in contravention to the stated methods of science.


Well then, what happens in 1972? They hold a conference in Geneva and everybody lays their cards out on the table, and they say, “Look, this is just a pain. This whole business about the speed of light. From now on the International Geophysical Union will define the speed of light. And nobody should go and measure it. Don’t do that! If you want to know the speed of light, flip open your handbook of physical constants and we, the International Physical Union, have decreed that this is the speed of light!” Weird!


And, you know, we could go on with similar examples. Melting points: when a compound is created (or isolated from nature; that has never been created before), one of the first things you do with it is you—as a physical chemist—you determine its melting point. This then goes into a handbook that’s published around the world; of melting points. Well, the apparatus for doing melting point measurements hasn’t changed greatly in 100 years. Melting points for certain compounds have fluctuated 3 degrees Centigrade. We’re not talking thousandths of a degree here, we’re talking about all-over-the-map kind of stuff. Rupert studied this. You know? Got a complete set of the twentieth century’s published melting points. You know—what is chromium dioxide? What did it melt at at 1934? What did it melt at at 1958? And looked at this, made charts showing many melting points rising with the measurements over time. Took it to the editors of the publishing house. They were amazed. They hadn’t a clue. It’s a complete bafflement. Unless you believe that these things are wavering and that everything is not subject to eternal laws.



It’s interesting that you said that the speed of light is accelerating, that these are all going up. I mean, everything seems to be increasing [???] returns [???].



Yeah. I mean, it’s slight. It’s slight. But very suggestive. And when you think about it, if you really believe in eternal laws of nature, then you just have a philosophical mess on your hands. I mean, eternal laws of nature. The universe—




Yeah. The universe is a finite thing. It burst into existence X billion years ago. Where are you going to say the laws of nature were before the universe existed. And don’t forget: we’re not only talking about laws of physics. That’s one thing. What about the laws of gene segregation? Where were they before biology existed? What kind of a question is that to even ask? Clearly we’re in a sort of loop here of ignorance. It’s ignorance that generates questions that have no meaning, you know?


So the universe is a thing where habit constrains but novelty overcomes that constraint. And once overcome, new levels of novelty become incorporated into the old set of constraints. I mean, like, for instance, take Manhattan. Manhattan is an incredibly novel addition to the geography of southern New York. And yet, once in place, it has its rules. You don’t break them. If you break the rules you’ll be run over by a city bus or mugged or something. So novelty establishes new domains of constraint. And then out of that constraint new novelty emerges.


And this is a principle which I believe—thanks to Prigogine and others—reaches all the way across the domain of phenomena. We’re not just simply talking about what goes on in biology. We’re talking about what goes on in astrophysics, biology, cultural anthropology, sociology. These principles are universal. And this is something new. This is something new in the twentieth century. And it’s been a hard battle. You know, the theory of evolution is essentially a theory which is an effort to account for the large numbers of diverse plants and animals on the planet. Darwin, in his diaries, referred to what he was doing as searching for a solution to the species problem. It was not thought to have anything to do with sociology or geology, but now I think we can see: if we are willing to accept that the universe is an organism rather than a machine—which is what we inherit out of Descartes and Newton—if we can see that the universe is an organism, then we can see that it is evolving across all spectrums of phenomena. Stars evolve, societies evolve, personalities, communities, tectonic systems. Everything seeks higher states of order. This is the Progogine principle: that systems actually seek higher states of order. He and Manfred Eigen and that crowd coined the phrase dissipative structure.


Dissipative structures are these special situations which arise in nature where order is actually preserved far from equilibrium. That’s the technical way of saying it. In other words, equilibrium is where you get to when you let go, and then you drift toward death, disintegration, decay, equilibrium. And sooner or later, in the old paradigm, all systems will reach equilibrium. A cup of coffee left standing becomes a cold cup of coffee. Everything seeks equilibrium. But what Prigogine showed was that some systems don’t, and that they are incredibly tenacious—life being the most obvious example. How does it do it? How does life perform this trick of maintaining itself homeostatically far from equilibrium? Well, it does it through the process of transferring order in the environment into its energy cycle, and then passing disorder out of the system. This is what we call eating and excreting. You take in a very highly ordered protein with a lot of energy bound into carbohydrate and protein. You extract energy from that and excrete out a much less differentiated, much less energy-intensive material. And by cycling energy through the form, the morphogenetic form of the body maintains itself. It’s a kind of miracle. I mean, the form is like a ghost in matter. The matter flows through it and the form puts the matter through a series of contortions that allow the form to exist. And as long as the form—the organismic form—can obtain high-grade stuff which it can get energy out of, it will maintain itself far from equilibrium. And through the miracle of genetics and heredity this maintenance of a state far from equilibrium has been going on on this planet for several billion years.


And of course, mind emerges out of this. Mind is a phenomenon of metabolic activity. So far as we know, where there is not metabolism, there is not consciousness. Even computers—they have to have a flow of electrons in their guts. When there’s no electrons flowing, there’s no computation taking place. Similarly for us: when there is no flow of electrons, no charge transfer, then you’re dead. You know? And there’s no coming back from that. But if you have had children, look what’s happened: half of your information has been kept alive in the non-equilibrium thermodynamic state of the dissipative structure which is the species, you see?


Having experienced altered states where my mind seemed very disconnected with my body, it almost seemed as if it was an entity unto itself. You know, that…



Well, some of our best people are working on this. I don’t know how far they’ll get. It’s a great question, isn’t it?


I mean, even stuff [???] the brain. I mean the neurology of the brain is not the mind. I mean, as some argue. I mean…



Well, we talked about this the other day, you know? Is the brain the repository of consciousness or is it like a TV antenna? Seeking consciousness in the brain may be like seeking little men in the radio. And the problem of memory. Where was it? We had that whole discussion about memory, and then, in the New York Times, there was a whole article about molecular theories of memory, and what a big bust it was, and how they hadn’t really gotten anywhere. Oh, I know what it was about: it was about the silent areas of the genome. Remember how we talked about how only 5% of the DNA transcripts protein and the other 95% is what’s called trash DNA? Except that it appears to be very necessary and no one knows why. And then how this was a possible storage site for memory. But I… I dunno. It may require technologies we can’t even imagine to correctly model memory.


They’re now talking about what are called terabyte storage modules, which would be crystals basically read by the intersection of very, very fine laser beams. They could intersect at any of a very large number of points in this terabyte cube. And each of these possible points is a 0 or a 1. And so you have a very, very dense storage potential. But, you know, we have a way to go. There are 9 billion genes, approximately, in most higher mammals. And you can get that easily on the head of a pin. Easily on the head of a pin. So nature as model for nanotechnological storage of information. We still have a way to go with all of that.


Well, we can talk about this or not talk about it. Anybody have anything they want to take off from on this? It’s a big subject. It’s nebulous. The paradigm change is everything, you see? And the paradigms now come out of science. How we view nature determines how we view ourselves, how we plan our societies, and how we relate to the past.


[???] habit, creodes, and falling into this rut which is continuing to channel along through it [???] the process that we’ve been basically going through. And as new ideas are spawned, new things, little pieces of novelty, you [???] along the path because [???] jump out of our tracks and joining with other tracks and perhaps create new habit patterns for [???] fascinated by the feeling of it, the energy [???] were saying, and the sense that it’s really just rather continually bringing out new ideas that are going to change us and transition us. Rather like what Sheldrake’s talked about. Once you’ve gone the maze, you run the maze, everybody else is going to run the maze that much better. So each idea that you spawn, each idea that somebody spawns, eventually helping to make it so that it’s going to continue to [???]



Yeah, well, we’ve talked here—not this year, but last year—about memes. You know what memes are? Memes are the smallest units of a concept. And they’re like genes. The word is deliberately constructed to rhyme with gene. And so when I say, “Every woman should consider having only one child,” that’s a meme. And that meme goes out into society, where it competes with the family values meme, the gay lifestyle meme, the celibacy meme—they all compete like animals in an environment; an environment of information. And then some win and some lose. You know, like the meme of the 18-child family is not doing too well these days. Yet, in 1800, the average American woman gave birth 13 times in her life. The average American. So memes come and go. And they compete, sometimes fairly with each other, sometimes not. I mean, a bad meme can gain ascendancy if you artificially enhance it by spending money. You hire a publicist, and then they say a bad idea is a good idea, and then the bad idea gains a certain coherency.


So yes. And under the influence of technological innovation and psychedelic drugs and cultural pluralism and all these things—more and more memes are being generated and released. Like, shamanism is a meme. The I Ching is a meme. Yoga is a meme. Chinese herbal medicine is another meme. And these things just furiously compete. And the ones with the most effective memes—whatever that means; always this mystery, the survival of the fittest—and then whoever survives you call the fittest. But it’s forcing mutation of these very rigid, linear, post-Renaissance structures that have been put in place in Europe and derivative civilizations without ever being subjected to serious competition from other times and places.


So that’s part of what’s driving us forward into the future. And the other thing is simply the availability of information. That this is the age when all secrets were told or they are being told. If you’re a standard user of the Internet you actually know more about what’s going on in the world than probably the director of the Central Intelligence Agency fifteen years ago! Fifteen years ago, that guy, he had the secret reports, the agents in the field, the—what do they call them?—the national projections on every country, and so forth. Well, now you have all that, and the democratization of information is a very interesting phenomenon. And it tends, I think, to replace freedom and law with novelty and habit. One of the great things about the Internet is how difficult it is to regulate it, how it’s almost beyond anticipation. It’s as big as the human imagination.


It would appear that technology—unlike electricity,which we can control—that perhaps we cannot potentially control the Internet?



Well, I don’t think we’ve ever controlled a technology. This is what McLuhan is all about.


[???] and sold it, is what I mean. Or educated as to be a part of that…


Or you recognized [???] control.



Well, but every technology carries utterly unpredictable consequences. Nobody dreamed that the automobile would create a sexual revolution because it’s a rolling bedroom. Nobody dreamed that the automobile would destroy the extended family, that people would move hundreds and hundreds of miles from [each other]. The automobile created the suburb. McLuhan, on print, he says that the linear, uniform qualities of print created the very possibility of science, of the idea of ordered nature. Before the printed book, nobody demanded that nature be ordered. It was nice to be able to predict the movement of the stars, but the idea that the precision of stellar movement could be extended down to the oceans and the animals life—that’s a post-Cartesian ideal for sure. He—McLuhan—said that the citizen is a creation of print. The public is a creation of print. There was no “public” in the Middle Ages. You don’t have a public unless you have books or their derivatives. The idea of “audience.” These things that are so basic to us. The idea of interchangeable parts in the manufacture of all kinds of objects. That’s from print. So forth and so on. Similarly, television had hidden impacts on sensory ratios.


McLuhan—strangely, his interpretation of television was that it restored us to a Medieval sensory ratio. He said that print was an ear-culture and that television is an eye-culture. He believed the TV screen was more like a page of Medieval manuscript than either was like a printed book, because he said (in the case of the TV screen and the Medieval manuscript) you must look. You must look. In the case of the book you do not look, you read. And reading is a completely different function than looking, and creates different ratios in the senses.


You know, the emergence of the laws of perspective in the 1460s must have burst over the consciousness of European humanity like a paradigm change. When they first began doing perspective, they sold, manufactured, for the art schools in Italy these things called perspectographs that would project a recessional grid onto a canvas so people could learn how to do it. Well, we do it absolutely unconsciously. I mean, for us the laws of perspective are a fact of nature. And yet they were discovered by an advanced group of thinkers less than 500 years ago. That’s odd.


[???] you mean the laws of perspective, like things this far away from you appear smaller?



Right, that was the breakthrough. So he said, “Gee, I never noticed that quite before! You’re right.” And someone like Piaget has studied this phenomenon in the development of the drawing styles of young children, and believes, then, that a child essentially—in the spirit of the old song that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny—the child develops through these cultural phases. You know, from the iconic hieroglyphic to the flattened—I can’t remember the art historical term—and then, lo and behold, the perspective locks in and the child can see.


Is that to say that kids who draw in the pre—before they realize about perspective—are not seeing perspective?



That’s the assumption.

So let me see if I did my list…. I didn’t say transcending the calculus, but it’s down here. But I think we flayed the history of mathematics enough. Well… yeah?


It’s interesting how theology is going to show up in all of this mix, because… you’ve mentioned all these various disciplines, ways of seeing, and I’m curious of whether we’re going to start to create a, say, a paradigm that is not theological so much, but a way of seeing the world as [???] spiritual. Using that word and attempting to somehow see the world in that light with this new way of seeing, this new way of…. I’m curious how that will translate itself.



The freedom and law bit… the God of that universe is the blind watchmaker—you know?—who made the universe, who set it going, and who went to Idaho or something. The God of the habit and novelty world is Gaian. Everything is pictured organismically. Everything is pictured as fractal subsets of other things. And I think that that Gaian goddess will empower feeling that the blind watchmaker doesn’t. I mean, the only hope in Christianity—and it’s a kind of a footnote—is that the blind watchmaker will someday return or send a representative, and then that’ll be good. But in the meantime you are just shit out of luck. You have to sort it out on your own, you know? The Gaian thing is more congruent with the way agricultural and aboriginal peoples all over the world have always imaged nature.


It’s a curious thing, the Western commitment to abstraction. It’s a unique cultural set. You know, if you are at all familiar with the Maya civilization—they achieved great things in mathematics and in technical understanding of city planning and coordination of large-scale tasks, and this sort of thing. But they never left the woods in a certain sense. Their buildings are adorned with floral ornament, they remain shamans through the high classic, they remained bound by huge public ritual and spectacle and this sort of thing. And Western civilization, this freedom thing, and then this God who went away and abandoned us—the blind watchmaker—this all set us up for an entirely different kind of cultural style. And I don’t judge it. I think the accomplishments of Western civilization stagger the mind. But they are like… it’s like a mad child. The toys created by the mad child of Western civilization should clearly be turned over to mom for checkout and application, because left in the service of the childish worldview of Western civilization, these things are just tools for polluting the environment, decimating the cities of your enemies, so forth and so on.


So we’ve outgrown the technology and it [???] served us?



Yeah. I think it’s very clear that technology has become a demon. That, probably, the moment is—you know, when the first atomic pile was lit. And certainly at Alamogordo. I mean, Fermi was appalled. He said this is a dark moment for the human race. In spite of the fact that it meant the end of fascism and all that. On a scale of a hundred, a thousand years, it meant the genie was out of the bottle. Never again would human beings live without the power to wreck the planet.


Well, so that’s enough of that. Anybody want to say anything, or shall we pack it in here today? You can turn it any way you like, but I think it’s interesting because there’s been a lot of talk over the years about the new paradigm. And there have been small paradigms which have claimed to be it, and old wine in new bottles that’s claimed to be it. But it’s going to come from a reexamination of time, and the whole idea of temporal invariance, and of mathematical modeling of nature through the techniques derivative of the calculus. It isn’t going to be that way anymore. What these fractal and chaos theory and complexity theory models represent is the first steps beyond the objects of Greek mathematics in 2,500 years. We’ve been using the perfect circle, the perfect cube, the dodecahedron. All of calculus is based on the ellipsis that can be sectioned from a cone. And now, suddenly, entirely new strides. And it’s a huge revolution. It’s very hard to get it all in focus with what this all means. We are very fortunate to live through an age of enormous reappraisal.

Alright, thank you. Yeah? You want to say something?


Actually, I was sitting where David was sitting the other day, and we talked a little bit afterwards [???]


David Gellman? No, we haven’t talked.


He brought up something about the shaman, the artist, the magician. The sense of the other ways to accomplish some of the same goals, perhaps, that science is going towards. And obviously the roots seem to be converging more than diverging. And I’m curious—at the time when he talked to you last he brought up the question. You sort of talked about it a little bit, but it changed when we spoke afterwards. He said, “I wanted to talk more. I was hoping we’d get back into—”


About shamanism and art and magic?


Yeah, the sense of what [???] the goals [???] and the way they come to. And I know you think I’m more than just a level of science.



Yeah. I’m a critic of science. I think it’s an interesting artifact, but it’s become a tyrant. It’s become the arbiter of all truth, and that’s ridiculous. That’s absolutely ridiculous. Most of what’s interesting doesn’t fall under the purvey of science.

Well, shamanism (and the modern echo of it in the artist) is this awareness. It’s a humbler position. Because what shamanism is saying is that, ultimately, art is the best you can do. And science has a Faustian dynamic. It dreams of a kind of ultimate resolution. They’re even talking in here about—Leibniz said, “In the lest of substances, eyes as piercing as those of God could read the whole course of the universe.” That’s what science wants: eyes as piercing as those of God. In the meantime, the shaman acts to ameliorate our condition. We are meat. We are suspended between the vagina and grave. It’s all up for grabs. Humor is an admission of ignorance. Ignorance is the precondition for knowledge. Magic… and, in a sense—to take it to a deeper level—magic is a deeper perception than science. Because science believes that the world is truly there. It is naïve in its empiricism. Magic knows that the world is made of language, that the world is a construct of forceful imagination. And the people who don’t know this are walking around inside the realities created by the people who do. Madison Avenue understands this. Government propaganda agencies fully understand this. And to the degree that you empower yourself, you will become more and more a dweller in linguistic constructs of your own making.


This is what I meant—this is a good closure—this is what I meant by “do not watch, do not consume.” In other words, do not lease other people’s linguistic structures and live in them. Build your own virtual worlds, build your own values, and your own house of mirrors. And then you are on equal footing. But if you are consuming the manufactured linguistic structures—Marxism, Freudianism, Christianity, Keynesian economics, you name it—then you are (to a degree) giving up your humanness, your uniqueness. In a Buddhist philosophy this is a value greatly to be conserved: human uniqueness. And I don’t think any culture in history has been so at war with human uniqueness, because we have the technology to export so many so-called pat answers. No matter what your problem is, there’s a book and a self-help group for you. Well, that’s not… no, no, no, that isn’t it at all! Build your own damn wagon!

Alright, enough of this!

Terence McKenna

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