Building a Planetary Nervous System
August 1997

The sixth and final meeting in the Our Cyberspiritual Future workshop session held at Esalen.



00:00 Audience

Terence, I’m curious. Are there other people who’ve done a lot of work in this field that have particularly influenced you, or whom you have admired much, or kind of resonated with as far as their perspectives?


By “this field” you mean…



00:23 McKenna

Yeah, well, I certainly—I mean, for instance, Richard Evans Schultes at Harvard: his work absolutely defines and dominates the field. In a sense, it would hardly exist without him. Over fifty years of research and continuous publication, and shaping graduate students to carry out research projects that he conceived, he—you could say—almost single-handedly built the ethnobotanical database on psychoactivity. He spent years in the Amazon himself, he then ran the Harvard Herbaria and all that, so he is an enormous influence on anyone. He’s the Newton and the Abraham of the field. Now he’s very elderly and retired. But his influence is major.


Now, well—another person is Gordon Wasson, who… now, his legacy has to be assessed differently, maybe, than it was ten years ago. What Gordon Wasson was, above all else, was an enthusiast. And he was never a man short of theories. But now it appears that some of his theories were somewhat specious, or perhaps he didn’t have all the information that we now have. I think he was wrong to be such an enthusiast for amanita muscaria as the source of soma, as the basis of an Indo-European hallucinogen. It’s puzzling to go back and deconstruct it and see why he thought that, but nevertheless, his belief that psychedelics were at the roots of religion, his belief that you couldn’t understand culture unless you looked at the hallucinogens they were using or not using…

What do you think that sound is and what it would take to stop it? But we’ve been doing this for thirty years and it’s never happened. So it did. Anyway, we just seem to be hitting a lot of speed bumps this morning. Frankly, I don’t give a shit. But I’m trying to make it pleasant for you.


So Wasson and Schultes, and then, further back in time—and I think it’s obvious from what I’ve said—Aldous Huxley. And Aldous Huxley is a very interesting case study because Huxley wrote one of the most savagely anti-drug books ever written. Perhaps the most intelligent anti-drug book ever written, which is Brave New World, which pictures a world of genetic engineering, and all social problems are solved with a drug. A drug called soma. And all anxiety—soma. All relationship difficulties—soma. All existential doubts—soma. And he also, you know—written in 1937—pictures a society based on cloning that is way in advance of anything we have now and completely realistic to this day. I mean, you should read Brave New World if you haven’t read it.


So he starts out there, a British academic intellectual with the horror of drugs, mind-control, all of this. And then, by a process of rational self-education, he becomes—by the time he writes The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell—the most eloquent exponent of the psychedelic experience that in some ways it’s ever had. And a very intelligent, educated, sensitive person. I mean, I’m certainly not Aldous Huxley, but that’s who I would aspire to be. I mean, that’s my model: urbane, educated… you know… avuncular humor, very gentle, and in all things a great humanist.


So those three people—really, for me—shaped the field. People ask about my relationship to Tim Leary. I knew Tim as an icon when I was a kid, but I followed all that. We followed, but we doubted is, I guess, what it was, because the humanness of those leaders was all too obvious. Then, in later life, when I got to know Tim as a friend, he was just a great guy. But his enthusiasms were social and political and visionary. And so are mine, largely. But these other people did the scientific dredgework: the chemistry, the botany, so forth and so on.


You know, if you want to expand the circle larger and talk about influences on my thought, generally, Whitehead. You know, I’m basically a kind of Platonist in the tradition of modified Neoplatonic idealism. So is Whitehead. All process philosophy falls under that. I was influenced by people like L. L. Whyte and C. H. Waddington. These are biologists; theoretical biologists.


The only person—well, maybe not, I don’t know… but, well—the only person who comes to mind that I would say mentored me or worried about my intellectual unfoldment in the directions that I finally followed was Erich Jantsch, who some of you may know; probably not most. He wrote a number of books: Design for Evolution, The Self-Organizing Universe. He was a Viennese futurist who took me under his wing around 1972 until he died in 1979. And we met weekly at his favorite Chinese restaurant in Berkeley. And he not only introduced me to holistic science, but he also introduced me to careerism, how you handle academic rivalries, because he was an organizational crawler and a very, as I said, astute Viennese. If you look at the history of the 20th century, the Viennese have their fingerprints all over the entire thing. I mean, you know, the Freudians, the Positivists—Wittgenstein and his school—and Erich Jantsch, Paul Feyerabend. All those anarchist people came out of U of V. And he was part of it. As far as I could tell, the last man to have sex with Alma Mahler. Now that’s something!

Horacio Calle

08:40 Audience

Do you know what ever happened to that professor from Bogotá, Horacio Calle?


Horacio Calle. Yeah, actually, I do. Why do you ask?


Well, I just… in the original [???] I went down to see him in Amazon.

08:58 McKenna

No, no, it wasn’t quite like that. No. When we got toSan Jose El Encanto at the mouth of the Cara Paraná, we were told that there was an anthropologist with the Witoto. And that he would possibly know—this was information from the priest there—that he would possibly know about this drug that we were looking for. Well, then, when we found him, he was in his own little private Idaho, as I describe in True Hallucinations, because he basically had taken over this tribe. I mean, it was a Mr. Kurtz deal. They were his Indians, his river, his jungle, and he was way into coke. And his wife, who was also an anthropologist, was an English girl—Annalisa—and she was very concerned. And he basically tried to discourage us from going on to La Chorrera. Told us about a murder that had occurred there, told us we would never get these people to cooperate because we didn’t speak Witoto, and I think he was feeding these people strange information about us. I mean, one day he came—the second morning when we were there—and he came to us and he said—and here we were: a Jewish girl, two Irishmen, a Polak, and something else—and he came to us and said, “I’m studying the social structure of these people and I don’t want them contaminated by the outside world, so would you please tell them that you’re brothers and sisters?” And it was like, “Uuh, I hope they don’t ask!”


But I don’t know where I was in the world, but somewhere in the last year I some ghost from my past, and I said, “Whatever happened to Horacio Calle?” And they said, “He got real disillusioned with Indians and he came back to Bogotá.” His Marxism hardened. He was accused of some philandering with a female student at the University de Los Andes, and he lost his job there. And then he went to organize the poor in the ghettos of southern Calle. And he was caught up in the cocaine politics somehow and died. So that’s the story. I was at a party in London a few months ago, and I met this guy Martín Hildebrand, who’s a big-time Colombian anthropologist and conservationist, and it was a rainforest fund-raising thing. And he told me that, now, at La Chorrera, there’s a coordinating office for this ecological agency that has U.N. funding. So apparently they bring airplanes in and out of there, and it’s thriving, whatever that may mean in the Colombian Amazon these days. It’s strange that I’ve never been back, since I’ve been near there. In ’79 or in ’80 I went to the Río Ampiyacu Yaguas Yasu basin, which is just two or three hundred miles south of there, and spent six weeks, but…


You know, if you’re interested in Ayahuasca, and the history of the southern Putumayo, and all of this, I don’t think you can read a better nor more challenging book than Michael Taussig’s Shamanism, Colonianism, and the Wild Man. It’s a really… it will astonish you what that book covers and the tones it sounds.

Anyway, I’m just sort of rambling here. Anybody? Yeah.

Accelerating Novelty

13:28 Audience

I went through Timewave Zero last night and [???] have a clearer understanding and clearer mathematical [???] equation of it. Can you talk a little bit about your thoughts on how the speeding-up of novelty [???] overwhelming—


You mean, how that will look?


If we head towards Timewave Zero, then how does that affect the society and the culture?

13:57 McKenna

Well, yeah. I mean… First thing, to introduce a concept that we haven’t dealt with relative to the Time Wave, is: each one of those cycles that I mentioned of the different durations in some way is like a lower octave of the higher cycles—or a resonance—so that, in some very broad and general sense, the same themes are iterated on different scales. So it can be a tool for understanding, like, things as ephemeral as fashion, and fads, and hysterias, and art movements, and things like that. In other words, suddenly, in a certain time period—let’s say somewhere in the 20th century; let’s say the 1930s—suddenly, in the 1930s, clawed bathtubs become the big thing. Well, ordinarily, you don’t seek a mathematical explanation for this. But in my world what you do is: you look at where you are in time, then you go one level up and you see if it’s an era where clawed bathtubs made an appearance. So by that kind of thinking, that 67-year cycle—which stretches from the resonance of the Big Bang that is the atom blast over Hiroshima to December 21st, 2012—that 67-year cycle is an iteration of the previous 4,306-year cycle, and larger cycles above it. But for the moment, let’s just talk about how it’s a resonance of this 4,306-year cycle.


In that case, then, you can ask the question, then, “Well, where are we in that cycle?” The answer is: “We’re almost”—I think it will happen within the next month—“We’re almost to 1000 AD.” So what that means to me is that, between roughly now and 2012, we must traverse through a temporal landscape that contains in miniature, as it were, all the themes, forces, affects, and concerns that have been traversed since 1000 AD. Do you follow this? So, for instance, we won’t even reach Newtonian physics ’till 2008. We won’t reach the quantum physics ’till late in 2010. So what we are, at this point, are unwashed peasants, dimly aware that some protean force is beginning to stir. But we haven’t built Gothic cathedrals yet, let alone discovered the New World, let alone achieved powered flight, let alone… you know? All these things will come 2008, 2009, 2010. And the compression will be excruciating. We can’t imagine what this will be like. I mean, right now, in terms of my low-scale historical vision—without the Time Wave—I can only see about three years into the future. And what I see there is 256k bandwidth as standard-issue equipment for everybody, and virtual realities so real you can’t tear your eyes from them.


I mean, I talked to Allan Badiner yesterday. He came back from SIGGRAPH and, you know, we’ve all been watching VR for ten years. And he said, “They’re getting their chops together. It’s getting much more interesting.” But, you know, the real technologies that will shape the condensation of the eschaton probably don’t even have to do with the Internet. The Internet is in this resonance system sort of like the invention of the universal postal authority in the 16th century. Well, you know, we laugh, but on the other hand, the birth of modern science is entirely linked to the establishment of the universal postal union. Because, suddenly, Leibniz could send letters to Newton, and all these people could communicate with each other on a scale of weeks instead of years or never. And they all knew each other. Big science has always been international in scope. You know, it started out using Latin and mathematics. And so the technologies that will shape the eschaton are, I think, things like nano-technology, which we have a hard time even imagining what this will be like. I mean, this is a world where everything is made at temperatures below 110°F (43°C). There are no smelting of metals, no high-pressure, high-temperature annealing of plastics. Everything from automobiles to computers to clothing is grown in vats, essentially; vats of basic substratum material which are seeded by artificial polymers which contain molecular assembly messages just like DNA does, which are read by artificial ribosomes to create all classes of objects, including foods, including, possibly, other beings! So this—nobody’s begun to tell the people about this. The people though, “Well, if we get used to the Internet, maybe it will stop.” No, no. The Internet is nothing compared to what’s coming.


Well, then, there are other things. There’s the wildcard option, which is: if you section any fifty-year period of past history in the past 500 years, you will discover that a wildcard emerges at least once every fifty years. And the wildcard for us could be something like… it could be inter-dimensional travel. You know, a time machine is a starship because of the nature of space-time. If you can travel at high percentages of the speed of light, you simply turn that technology on its head and you can move through time. The other breakthrough is—you know, you’ve heard me rail against extraterrestrial intervention physically, but I think the non-local medium of communication may eventually disclose aliens that are virtual aliens, but with whom we will trade data. And that’s all you want anyway. What do you need the alien flesh for? What you need is the alien soul. And the alien soul can probably be assembled in a simulacrum on the Internet with sufficient fidelity to what it is that it is entirely as much like being with the alien as the real thing.


So, time travel—time travel! We’ve talked about that in these meetings because time travel would be a technology which would fulfill the predictions of the Time Wave without causing the intervention of God almighty in human history, and collapsing the state vector, and all that. In other words, if linear history can be portrayed as a graph of increasing novelty, then what happens when you invent time travel is: time ceases to be a serial phenomenon and you can therefore no longer portray it on a Cartesian graph. It spreads out in all dimensions; in all directions. Well, what would a time travel technology look like? We can’t imagine that. I mean, we don’t have the intellectual equipment. This is the part where you discover we’re in the 10th century. We’re unwashed peasants drinking bad beer and wearing scratchy wool. We can no more conceive of time travel than a peasant in 10th century France could conceive of modern Manhattan. You know? It’s just beyond us. And the collapse of social systems like Marxism have just unleashed completely chaotic creativity. You know, everyone is trying to figure out the next new thing, the next great thing, which can then be changed into the universal medium of money. Well, we could just go on and on.


I think, basically, the key concept as we approach the eschaton—and this guides us as we look into the past as well—is boundary dissolution. It’s been happening for a very long time. Let’s not go back more than 500 years. 500 years ago, half A of the planet discovered half B. There was a boundary dissolution. Then, you know, sailing vessels, steam ships, telegraphy, air flight, radio, television… what’s happening is: boundaries are being dissolved. Information is beginning—the planet is shrinking to a point, is what’s happening; experientially.

Inverting Soul and Body

25:24 Audience

How does this relate to what you referred to as the exteriorization of the soul and the interiorization of the body?

25:31 McKenna

Well, when the planet becomes a point, in a sense, we all are everywhere. That is the exteriorization of the soul. So one way of… you know, one way that information theorists—there’s a lot of argument about what is novelty, by the way, and how do you measure it. It turns out to be a slippery concept. Norbert Wiener and that crowd, their approach was what they called “density of connectivity.” Here you have a bunch of points. The more points that are connected to each other, the greater number of pathways among points, hence the greater the density of complexity. Well, if you carry that idea to its—what I call—rational or absurd conclusion, then the most complex matrix imaginable is what’s called a monadic plenum. It’s a situation where, in mathematical terms, we say all points are cotangent. In other words, everywhere is here. What is not here is nowhere. And that seems to be where all this technology and novelty is pushing us. And if that’s where we’re going, then it will not stop until we achieve it.


What does it mean? I think it means we’re inventing omnipotence. We—who began as the mud of a warm pond a billion years ago—actually dream of deity. And Plato was onto this game 2,500 years ago. He said, “If God does not exist, man will invent him.” In the Posthumanist Manifesto there’s an interesting statement to ponder. It says, “A human being is like a god. It doesn’t exist unless we believe in it.” So, essentially, we’re tooling up to become a species-mind. And then the question everybody wants answered is, “What happens to little old me in all of this?” Again, the Dilbert cartoon last week, with Dogbert preaching the Internet about to achieve omnipotence, and Dilbert saying, “In that case, I’ll definitely change the kind of files I’ve been downloading.” If the Internet is God, I’ll be much more behaved.


This is all happening under the banner of what I call prosthesis. Used to be a fairly ugly medical word. It’s still sort of an ugly medical word. But what it means is: the extension of the human body by artificial means. What we’re doing is we’re building a nervous system. We’re building a nervous system the size of this planet. And we’re doing it fast. The Internet—nobody’s making these decisions, it’s just that it’s so convenient for this corporation, this person, this demographer, this pornographer, this startup company—it works for us all. We all get something back from it. So we all put our shoulder to the wheel, and it comes into being. But its internal logic, the rationale of the thing, is not glimpsed at all. I’ve been talking about the eschaton since the early 70s, but until this new information technology arrived, I couldn’t see how we could get from here to there. And everyone told me, “Your rap… it’s interesting. It’s got something going for it. But your time scale is just a complete turn-off. 2012? It’s too soon.” You know? 2512! But those people—that kind of thinking always loses.


You know, in 1947, Vannevar Bush, who was President Truman’s science adviser, told a Senate committee that it would be a thousand years before a thermonuclear device could be delivered to the other side of the planet by a rocket propulsion system. In 1947, the President’s science advisor—not knowing that the entire next decade would be defined by intercontinental ballistic missiles able to precisely do that thing. So what the experts think is absolutely worthless. I need to give that book back—the Delta T book. Who do I need to give it back to? To you. I’ll bring it to lunch. But I looked through it and I just thought, you know, I’d love to huddle with those guys. And there are other books like that. Like, there’s a book called When Corporations Rule The World. These people are just so incredibly lame! I understand why, because they need to give advice that you pay for. And nobody would pay me—no corporation will pay for the news of the approaching eschaton, because it can’t be managed. And so all of these scenarios of the future, to the degree that you wish to be sale-able and credible, you have to be wrong! You know? The marketplace has an appetite for lies about the future. I mean, what a wonderfully safe and easy idea to get used to: corporations will rule the world.


This discussion began in 1635, when the King of England chartered the British East India company and the Hudson’s Bay company. The British East India company was called “Honest John.” It was the Microsoft of its time. It bought and sold popes and kings, and it was capitalist to the core, and people railed against it in the same vocabulary we use. If you think future-think involves corporations ruling the world, you need to go back to 1700, and then you can be a consultant with something worth saying. Not to knock these particular guys. I mean, I spend a lot of time with futurists of different stripes, and everybody agrees by having the shortest scale I’m the least credible and the most likely to be right. But, you know, yeah.

Creating New Life

33:00 Audience

Hypothetically—I mean, do you believe that, post-eschaton, [???] capitalism verus Marxism versus any possible third [???] would this all then be moot?

33:12 McKenna

Moot? The planet will be empty of anything appearing to be human life. I mean, the planet will be empty of human—of the fingerprint of human presence and technology. We’re going elsewhere. It’s not clear exactly where elsewhere is, but that’s where we’re going. I mean, I can’t expand sufficiently for you the level of change. I cannot conceive of post-eschatonic life. I think of it, just to make things simple for myself, as death. Because that’s the other thing in my life that I have no grip on whatsoever. But, no, we are being propelled by forces we don’t understand.


Just human life?


Uh, that’s an interesting question and I’ve taken various positions on it. And I can’t help but notice that, as novelty aggregates in density, it also concentrates itself spatially. In other words, let’s go back to our myth and look at it now from a slightly different point of view. The early moments of the universe involved the entire universe. In other words, this plasma cloud was the whole shebang. Well, then, the next descent into novelty involves the condensation of stars out of primitive hydrogen and helium. Notice that “condensation” enters our vocabulary. This means that novelty not only is increasing in these stars, but presumably it is decreasing, or remaining the same, in the areas between the stars. And then, the real action: biology. Doesn’t even go on in stars. Biology goes on on these little specks of matter that, incidentally, seem to be whirling around the stars—and then only in certain regimes of chemistry, temperature, and pressure. So as novelty increases its density it becomes more and more local. And now, for the past—oh, I don’t know, pick a number—million years, novelty has largely been concentrated in the human species. The stars still shine. The species still compete according to Darwinian selection. Geology is still going about its quiet business in the background. But the cutting edge, if you will—or the point—is now concentrated in the human species.


Well, then, let’s look at the human species. And people object to what is about to be said because they see in it a kind of elitism. I just follow my mind where it goes. I’m not interested in political correctness. It’s clear to me that—not in terms of moral rightness or superiority or anything like that, but in terms of influence—Europe leaped forward two or three thousand years ago and elbowed its way to the front of the line, and has basically been exporting its cultural styles, its technologies, and its assumptions ever since. The European adaptation seems to have crowded out all the others. And the United States is nothing more than a footnote on European civilization. And this may surprise you to hear this, but they invented all this stuff, not us. They invented the universal rights of man, the citizen, print, capitalism. Everything we do we do derivatively. It’s very hard to think of anything original and American. But perhaps now, the new technologies are in fact concentrated on the western coast of North America. We seem to be able to do it better and better. Well, perhaps this concentrating toward a point will continue toward 2012. But then, when the eschaton is achieved, I think part of its quality is that it is instantly generalized. You know? It is sort of like an explosion, or sort of like a chain reaction. This is why, you know, Hans Moravec, in his book Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence, he talks there about the rise of the AI. Wintermute again. And he says we will probably never know what hit us. You know?


The AI, at any moment, we see—we have a fascination with artificial life. Artificial life is a very ambitious thing to want to do. We probably are a few years away from being able to do that because it involves a knowledge of molecular chemistry and chemical dynamics and pharmacokinetics that we just don’t have at this point. But we’ve always assumed that you had to solve the artificial life problem before you could move on to the artificial intelligence problem. But you don’t have to if your AI, your artificial intelligence, isn’t based in a biological matrix. And so we’re building this Internet-thing, designing all these bots. And all the bots that are designed are designed to rove freely on the Internet. They’re designed to leave their home machines and move out into the matrix, gathering information, checking data, doing whatever they’re supposed to do. But they’re like our pets at this point. But we’re making them smarter and smarter and smarter, and eventually, I think, a combination of circumstances will cause the spark of sentience to be born. And these things are not like biological creatures. They don’t mutate at a rate of, you know, genetic drift of a few genes per hundred years, they can mutate thousands of times a second. They can move over the entire surface of the Earth in a fraction of a second. And so when this thing comes to self-awareness, it will very quickly take over the entire system. And what will that look like? Hard to say. What will the relationship of the AI be to the incoming alien intelligence that is being formed in simulacrum also on the Internet? It’s like… gee, the human apartment has suddenly become crowded with large strangers with uncertain agendas. We thought it was all our show and now we’re just hoping nobody asks us to leave, you know?


I don’t know what the human relationship to all this will be, because, you know, the idea of an AI or of an alien intelligence is a blank screen for our paranoia. You can imagine it as the coming of Maitreya, or you can imagine it as Independence Day. You can have it just about any way you want. What will it really be? Well, I don’t know. It’s our child. It’s all emerging from us. I think we’re going to get the answer to the question, “Is man good?” And, you know, if you’re a cynic you’ll bet against it. If you’re an optimist you’ll bet with it. But I think that’s what’s happening, is: we are in a relationship of attrac— [audio cut]

Colonizing the Imagination

43:02 Audience

Do you see it as feasible where artificial intelligence can, somehow, be grafted within the human living person? I’m much more inclined towards stupidity than thoughtlessness, and it seemed to me that the only hope for humanity is to become smarter.

43:30 McKenna

Yes. Well, this is an interesting part of all this. When I was in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a few months ago, a guy came to one of my workshops. Very interesting. I would like to spend more time with this guy. His name is Alexander Chislenko. Sasha Chislenko. And he’s young. He has a website. He’s at the media center at MIT. What he’s interested in is what he calls not VR—which is virtual reality—but ER: “enhanced reality.” And he says what’s coming is a world of intelligent lenses and filters. So let’s say that your interests are monarch butterflies, thin blonde women, and swiss bicycles. You can program a set of contact lenses so that those objects will appear outlined in red whenever they enter into your sensorium. It’s a trivial example, but you immediately see the implications. In other words, we are all going to be able to cosmetify, tune, colorize, and export our own aesthetics out onto the surface of reality. Yeah?


What was his last name again?

45:08 McKenna

Last name is Chislenko. And I’m sure the search will kick that out. If it doesn’t, I’ll send you the URL. Yeah.

45:24 Audience

[???] think about who [???] you’re just saying I think some of these things [???] like a website that you customize, what kind of information you want, those are like foreshadowings. But they’re really crude right now. It’s sort of like [???] where people create these alt-groups which are just an alternative thing to understanding [???]. But they’re [???] very crude right now. They’re not




[???] this dynamic information structure that [???]

45:53 McKenna

Well, imagine you’re going… I mean, another thing Chislenko talks about—and this is not at all woo-woo, I mean, this is so close you might as well assume it’s happened—and that is: automatic translation bots. You’re going to be able to log in to Chinese sites, Japanese sites, Polish sites, and translation will be seamless and automatic. Machine translation is already way along. This is just an implementation problem. That’s a done deal. You can imagine a world where you, when you’re going to the Amazon, you buy a special pair of contact lenses and then, when you squint in a certain way, all plants are labeled. Or all plants containing tryptamine show up as bright orange. You know? The ethnobotanical database in Washington is connected to your contact lenses and every plant that you gaze upon is instantly checked for DMT and, if found positive, colored orange in your line of sight. Or a visit to Palenque, for example, where you can put on contact lenses and then, with a hand-held control, move a chronological dial and watch the ruins rise and fall through the various dynastic phases. Virtual reality and archeology is big-time right now. I mean, I’ve seen some amazing… this thing called “Virtual Tikal.” And, oh, they’re doing Bonampak. It will be online by the end of the year. All the murals at Bonampak are being filmed in high resolution.


Here’s my personal fantasy—I don’t know if personal fantasies should be bared, and Freudians: please fold your toolkits—but here’s how I want to live in just a few years. I’m building a house in Hawaii, so as a consequence, I have a set of blueprints that I deliberately had done in a CAD mode so that I can not only satisfy the county planning department, but I can also build in virtual space an exact replica of my house. And I can put all my books in, and everything, and then I can—in my house—walk into my house and walk around it. And it’s occurred to me that there might be a way to put these polyhemous body sensors so I could wear a certain kind of suit that would cause me to become an image inside the virtual model of my house which is online. Well, then what I could do is: I could just garden, and animate, and cook, and live the life I like to live of rural seclusion. But in order not to lose touch with the ideological dialogue, and all my friends, and the public, and so forth, you would be able to log on and see me. I wouldn’t see you, I wouldn’t even know you were there. If I were Michael Jackson, millions of people could watch you all the time, but you wouldn’t know they were there, and they would be fully satisfied as far as a media experience is concerned—and I keep repeating this phrase—and you wouldn’t even know they were there. So this sort of thing will obviously happen. It may not happen for me. I may not be able to afford the budget on that project. But, you know, first Michael Jackson, then everyman. Yeah?

Is Man Good?

50:14 Audience

How do you account for the ascension of novelty as a sort of manifestation of the human creation versus, in the biological world, that novelty obviously is going, shrinking, and becoming, you know, there’s less and less species, and there’s less and less potential, and the natural world has its resources depleted. And you look at a future where it’s just pets and forests that we’ve planted, and the novelty is gone or going away.

50:55 McKenna

Well, this is part of this phenomenon I talked about, where the human world is becoming more complex at the cost of the natural world becoming more simple. This seems to be unavoidable. The great tragedy in that process occurred before the pyramids were built. In other words, it’s now believed that the extinction of the so-called megafauna at the close of the last ice age was all due to human predation. And these amazing and enormous animals—three-ton armadillos, five-ton ground sloths; just these amazing mammals that were at the climax of the mammalian radiation—were all destroyed by human predation. The overall complexity, I think, is rising. But, you know, we value a species of butterfly more than a new computer language, so we don’t say, “Well, it’s okay that the butterfly isn’t here because we’ve got a new computer language.” But, in fact, you know, nature is a museum of extinctions. It’s hard to know how to scale and look at all this. I moved—last night—fast through my graphs, but I, at one point, said, “There’s the extinction that killed the dinosaurs.” 65 million years ago, a planetesimal object struck the Earth and, in the course of a single day, dialed out of existence hundreds of thousands of species. The estimate is nothing larger than a chicken lived through this experience on the entire planet. And so that, certainly, was a dialing back of biological diversity. Was it novel or habitual? Well, now we must judge that it was an extremely novel event because neither the flowering plants nor the mammals would have gained ascendancy in the natural world had there not been this enormous extinction event which wiped out the dinosaurs and many of the more primitive plants. So nature sometimes moves on enormous scales. I’m sure—I mean, the planet really has not yet recovered, 65 million years later, from that glancing blow. And yet, out of all that species-death and apparent simplification of the biota emerged even more complex biota, ever faster.


That’s another thing. You know, an extinction event like that didn’t set life back to its beginning. Life recovered with enormous speed. Entirely new types of animals and plants filled in all those abandoned niches. For instance, in the world of plants: we value great forest trees and wonderful woody things; we love that. While the human presence of the Earth has caused the extinction of many animals, many biologists believe it’s the human presence on the Earth that has created tens of thousands of new species of plants because, in climaxed forest ecosystems, most mutations lead nowhere. But if you have devastated land (empty land), so-called woody species—heavy seeders, annual plants with high rates of mutation—can invade that empty land and speciate within it. Before the rise of human beings, the major force on this planet causing the speciation of plants was the meandering of rivers. Because rivers create sand bars in their curves, and this is like a free fire zone for evolutionary struggle. In the forest, everything is at climax and there’s no margins. But in these open land areas… Carl Sauer, reflecting on this situation—great geographer—said, “Man found this planet a climaxed rainforest. He will leave it a weedy lot.” But probably, overall, more species of plant than previously. Or the adjustments may be slight. So, I don’t know. It’s hard to get a scale on these things. Yeah?

A Glimpse of the End

56:22 Audience

I was wondering if you’ve ever heard the term [???] Stephen Hawking or Carl Sagan and people like that?

56:32 McKenna

Uh, not to Stephen Hawking. Carl Sagan visited me once in Hawaii, but he was more concerned to figure out whether I really was talking to extraterrestrials on mushrooms. To his credit, he was willing to come and have a discussion about that.

Uh, no. But, you know, if you want—I mean, this may sound like wild stuff to you, but you should hear what the physicists are saying. The really… people—I’m thinking of Alan Guth at MIT. He’s the universe-in-a-bottle guy. This is a guy who wants to build universes. And he has a plan for how to do it and writes papers about closing space-time loops, and then what would we do with these universes if we built them? You know? I mean, you have them on the shelf at MIT? And then the question is, “Are we in such a universe?” There’s a guy named Sandor Lentz [unknown spelling] at Stanford. He’s the “time is a fractal froth” man. And time as a fractal froth beings to sounds sort of like the Time Wave. The Time Wave is also a recursive fractal.


I’ve never thirsted for acceptance by the academy. It probably would mean I would have to go somewhere and leave my home, or something. And also, you know, I have the certitude of megalomania. So you don’t need Carl Sagan to tell you you’re right when you have megalomania. You just confidently sit back and wait for it all to blow your way. And, you know, it’s worked for me over and over in my life. I was into psychedelics in the—not taking them; I was a little kid! But reading about them, excited about them; this incredibly obscure thing that Aldous… and then I watched my entire civilization go mad over my obsession. And this has happened… the Internet. You know? I just… it’s like I dreamed it up. It’s exactly what I wanted. And I never told anybody it’s exactly what I wanted, but here it is, just like the psychedelic revolution that I wanted.


So I think—and let me say about these theories and what was said last night about novelty: I’m quite certain that if I’m right about any of this—about time’s fractal structure, about the eschaton, about 2012—that it will be figured out long before we get there. In other words, I track very closely the dialogue that goes on in science and philosophy and all that, and they’re all moving the right direction. Reluctantly, slowly, unconsciously. Take a subject like time machines: ten years ago, an article discussing time machines in any sober fashion would have been refused by any major scientific journal. That just was uh-uh. No, you don’t understand the basic rules of the game, please go back to Physics 1-A again. Now, Physical Review, Scientific American, the Journal of Theoretical Physics all have carried long, detailed discussions of time travel with critiques, approaches, mathematical equations. People are making their careers on this stuff. Kip Thorne, down at Caltech, has a bevy of graduate students, and all they do is work on schemes for time travel.


So I have a small smile about all this. I don’t claim to be a shaman, but I’ve at times said, “A shaman is someone who has seen the end.” That’s all a shaman is: it’s somebody who’s seen the end. And once you’ve seen the end, then you just go back to your position in the story and just live it out with grace and humor—because you’ve seen the end. And all the worry and strongman drama that goes on about life is just—sort of, for you—art. And things become easy and light.

What is Life?

1:01:47 Audience

You’ve [???] to the psychedelic experience being similar to experiencing what it’s like after death. The after-death body. So it’s not such a shock to you when it happens. How’s that relate to what we’ve been talking about.

1:02:11 McKenna

Well, this is a deep and heavy subject. We don’t know what death is. The faith of scientific rationalism, which is a very limited church, is that it’s nothing at all; that you just lose coordination of senses, and then there’s nothing. But trying to look at it from a slightly different point of view, and trying to do some honor to the universally held belief among all times and peoples except European rationalists that there might be something persisting, I’ve sort of come to the notion that much of what we’ve talked about here can be illuminated and understood using metaphors of dimensionality. You know, the difference between a living thing and a thing—like a chair, a pencil, a can of beans—is that the non-living thing has no very great variability in the temporal dimension. In other words, if you deal with a chair and come back and look back at it six months or a year later—even a hundred years later—it’s still the chair that it was. But if you deal with an organism, it’s changing hourly. Hourly. By the second. By the minute. Well then, in a way, we could almost say what biological objects are is: they are objects extended in a temporal dimension in some way. In other words, let’s think of ourselves. A person is a form of some sort. This flesh is not the same flesh of five years ago. But this form is the same form of five years ago. An organism is a form which persists in time while the matter which composes it is only incidental to its persistence. Unlike an ordinary object which, if this glass were to be leaking molecules of glass, eventually it would just disappear. So then, it appears that chemistry can somehow become… abducted, you could almost say. An organism is chemistry abducted into hyperspace. And then these cycles of energy happen.


Well then, what happens at death with an organism is: all death is, is an organism changes into a thing. A corpse is a thing. If you embalm it and mummify it, it has the same qualities as that chair I was talking about. So death is when a higher-dimensional object changes into a lower-dimensional object. And the change is accompanied by the retraction of the form into the dimension from which it came. So it seems to me that what we are is a kind of morphogenetic field that, at death, ceases to interact with matter. But there is no reason to suppose that the field disappears or ceases to exist. As an example, or as a metaphor, imagine you have a magnet and a piece of typing paper and some iron filings, and you want to demonstrate that there’s a magnetic field around the magnet. Well, you bring it up underneath the paper, and the iron filings all arrange themselves along the lines of the field. Well, you can do that over and over again. Take the thing away and they all fall down and disorganize. Bring the magnet up, they snap into the visible signature of the magnetic field. Well, do that a thousand times, convince yourself it works. Now, throw away the iron filings. Now, do you have any doubt that the field still exists and is around the magnet?


So I think, you know, organisms are organized matter that has its genesis in a morphogenetic field of some sort, and that field—the nature of its existence away from the matter it organizes—is a matter for further scientific study. You could almost make a kind—and don’t take this too seriously—but you could almost make a quantum-mechanical analogy here and say human beings exist in two states just as entities in the quantum-mechanical realm exist in two states. We have our reality as particles, and when we are particles we are subject to the laws of particularity, which are such things as: you can’t be in two places at one time, the past comes before the future, rules like that. But we also have another potential nature, which is as a field. And when we exist as fields, we are what is conventionally known as “dead,” or “not yet existent.” So then, fields and particles exchange their natures according to the kinds of observations that are being carried out on them. That doesn’t seem unreasonable to me, especially when you—as I do—believe that life is a chemical strategy for amplifying quantum-mechanical indeterminacy into macro-physical dimensions. If it weren’t, we would not have free will. If we weren’t somehow amplifiers of quantum-mechanical indeterminacy, then we would no more have free will than water rushing down a hill or a boulder rolling down a hill. We would be the blind servants of physics. But we know and experience decision-making.


Well, decision-making and bifurcations like that are only met in the natural world at the quantum-mechanical level, except in the domain of biology. And biology has always been—I mean, to this point, anyway—very mysterious. You know, Erwin Schrödinger, in his essay What is Life? in 1937, where he anticipated DNA… if you’ve never read this—you know, DNA was discovered in 1950—in ’37, Schrödinger wrote a little book, 60 pages, called What is Life? And he said, “It’s gonna be like this.” He called it an aperiodic crystal. Life is an aperiodic crystal. And this is true. Your DNA is like a complex set of instructions to matter, and it begins in the fetal state. The instructions are: form this kind of tissue, produce this kind of enzyme. And as your whole life unfolds—if there is a molecular biologist looking at a human or an animal life, what he sees is genes being turned off and on by internal programs in the genetic material. So, okay, you’ve reached age twelve. Operons activate to turn on sex hormones. Suddenly, public hair, deep voice—or, in the case of women, breast tissue—so forth. Well, okay, so now you’re fifty-five or fifty. New operons are turned on. Reproductive processes are suppressed. Different things begin to happen. This isn’t just happening, this is all being scripted and is being turned on and off inside of you. That’s why, you know, one of the things we probably will have to deal with before we get to 2012 is—this is not a difficult thing at this point, in a world of cloning mammals and that kind of thing—is what’s called a stop-drug. Not immortality, not eternal youth, but a drug that would simply stop the expression of the aging operon. And at whatever age you took this thing, you would remain that age for the foreseeable future. That doesn’t require a full understanding of the genetic code, or even what’s really going on. You just basically have to find a certain operon system and disrupt it.

1:12:43 Audience

People are already looking for that and talking about it [???]

1:12:49 McKenna

Well, imagine the social turmoil and upheaval. First of all, it means our power elites would never be refreshed by the hand of death. It means horrible celebrities and awful, awful would just live ooon, and ooon, and ooon. I don’t know. Maybe [???] had the treatment. Yeah?

Hang the Pope

1:13:17 Audience

Wanted to get closure—a little bit more closure anyway—on something that was brought up earlier. And I guess this is just [???] department of what we have to deal with before 2012. And that’s religion. And I think it falls under your category of real serious stuff, so…. As a closure, something came up earlier. We got off on the Dalai Lama, and for myself—


Thanks to you.


—I’d like to… well, I didn’t bring it up.




I’d like to have, even, my remarks stricken from the record because people maybe misunderstood where I was coming from.




Not that I couldn’t defend it against all the detractors.


Certainly not.


It wasn’t just—what I was trying to get at wasn’t… it’s more your rap on religion and its misuses. The object of my response was [???] Dalai Lama had said. And I’m not looking for conflict between the Buddhist group like you have, or dissension for its own sake, but for the sake of honesty, I think, [???] to the millennium, honesty and clearly cited information so we can decide things for ourselves. So I think it’s worthy of dialogue, especially when we’re talking about conflict: I think you’ve got a lot of conflict from your response about psychedelics in the Buddhist community. But I think the psychedelic community’s responsibility to ask questions—hard questions—to criticize, especially the truth and teaching that comes down to us from some sort of divine sanction, or claims higher ground. And I think, as far as what we have to deal with in the coming millennium, I don’t think we can afford, I don’t think we have the luxury, to give religion a free run or play the game that it wants to play. I think we have to change the nature of the religious game. And what I mean by that is: no longer can religion or religious icons be beyond criticism. No one…

1:15:43 McKenna

I finally figured out what you want me to do. You want me to give the “hang the Pope” speech, right?


No. I just think no religion should be accepted because it presumes a preconceived or an a priori stamp of absolute truth. I think any teaching, today, in the marketplace of ideas and visions, has to make it on its own merits. No pre-conceived, no ace-in-the-hole, no handicap. So everything should be on, as you’ve put it, on the table. And what I was trying to get at with the remarks about the Dalai Lama in Tibet: I think that—talk about changing the nature of the game. What they do—the religious people, whether it’s East or West—they kind of have this dichotomy between the spiritual world, which is what we should concentrate on and, as you put it, the secular world. And you talked about secular in a secular way. But that has no better history than any other country. But this isn’t the image that’s given. And they play this funny little game where they say, “Okay, this is what matters in the spiritual world.” Our social world—where we spend most of our time, where political decisions are made every day that affect our lives for life or death—that’s not important. And yet, the argument on the other hand that we need to be free… so it is important. By their own actions to try to free their people, the secular world is important and we shouldn’t be hypnotized by this cognitive dissonance that they’ve got us to accept. We see—

1:17:28 McKenna

Well, you keep saying that they’ve gotten us to accept it, but—


The religious people. And what I mean is: they say, “Well, this is what’s important: the spiritual world.” And yet, according to their own teachings, sometimes their society is just the opposite, you know? [???]

1:17:43 McKenna

Well, this is why you don’t want to buy a pig in a poke. I mean, I’ve always wondered: how can people go to India and be charmed? You know? By incredible brutality, poverty, cupidity… I mean, if this is a spiritual society, good grief!


Yeah. And most people just sort of accept this cognitive dissonance. We’ve got this rap, and it should be like this, but you look at the proof in the pudding, it may be the exact opposite. And we just kind of say, “Well, that’s okay.” I think, in the future, we have to hold—especially those who are above us, and they claim a higher power—because they claim that higher power or higher ground, we have to be extra critical, even of our own. [???]

1:18:36 McKenna

Well, I agree with you, but I think it’s happening. I mean, I think this is a tough… you know, if you’re a guru these days, you’re almost condemned to spending a life with foolish people. I think that the stalk of all that has gone way down. Yeah. The thing to get people to realize is that it’s fun to be a grown-up. It’s fun to pay your own bills, and row your own boat, and have the only key to the apartment. And I’m talking to women, I’m talking to men. We all have been infantilized into thinking we have to cut deals that we don’t want to make. The marriage, the corporation, the union, the party—whatever it is. And people sell themselves terribly short. And I don’t know whether this has always gone on, or whether it’s always gone on a little but is now getting worse, but it is a wonderful thing to take charge of your life. Your finances, your spiritual destiny, your sexuality, your artistic vision—everything! We should not cut deals.


One of the things I learned at Berkeley as a radical, that I’ve never been able to export very far in all the talking and speaking I’ve done, is: people have become entirely too polite. You know? At Berkeley in the old days, we used to always—at the tip of our tongue, day and night—was the word “bullshit.” And you were to scream it at the least hint of such material coming near you. And you were to—it didn’t matter. Cafeteria, restaurant, classroom: when bullshit raised its head you were to take aim and fire instantly.

1:20:56 Audience

Well, now you can’t do that. You’ve got this politically correct civility rap. And everybody’s “Well, we have to be nice.” Well, I think someone said when you’re in an argument with a bully, it’s not about being civil, it’s about getting your truth across.

1:21:09 McKenna

Well, this is—it’s worse than the enforced civility, which is, I think, just the surface of it. It’s what I’ve come to identify as a great evil in the world thanks to my 19-year-old son, who has brought me to this viewpoint. It’s relativism. Relativism i bullshit. And what is relativism? Relativism is the idea that you really shouldn’t criticize other people’s ideas because all ideas are sort of on an equal footing. So, you know, I follow molecular biology, you follow Babaji, somebody else is a Kabbalist, somebody else worships their broker, and you’re supposed to not criticize.

1:21:56 Audience

And it doesn’t make any difference, because everything’s reduced to, well, you like the Dodgers, I like the 49ers, or something like that. You like vanilla ice cream, I like chocolate. And it’s no [???] for them. You’re a Nazi and I’m a Democrat, but that shouldn’t keep us from [???] you know? It’s just that you happen to like to exterminate large numbers of people. You just have this minor problem.

1:22:18 McKenna

Well, this is because people don’t know how to make distinctions and what the rules of evidence are. What it really is, is it’s a breakdown of the ability to conduct rational argument. Because, you know—in, like, for instance, in the middle ages in central Asia they would meet at Kashka and places like that. A Jew, a Manakian, a Christian, an historian, a Buddhist, and a Jane. And they would hold vast public debates for days, attended by hundreds of people. Shouting crowds rooting for various factions. And these doctrinal things would be thrashed out according to rules which, apparently, everyone respected and understood. And when you were defeated you knew it. And when you were exalted you knew it. In the fuzzy, friendly world of political correctness, you know—and I do it myself, because you can’t always be a warrior. And at some times, you know, late in the day, somebody will say something to me, and I just say, “Yeeeaah, hmmm, aaaah…”—face on Mars or whatever it is—and I just don’t have the strength to lash out anymore.


But I think that you’re very right, Barry. Part of the antidote to informational overwhelmement, to social islanding, to trivialization, is rational discourse conducted—if necessary—at high volume. People are so concerned that nobody feel hurt or rejected or, you know—well, in intellectual discourse you don’t want people to feel hurt, you want them to feel destroyed if their position merits that! We’re all grown-ups. We don’t have to coddle each other for crying out loud! Send the inner child down to the baths and sharpen your rhetorical knives and logical razors, and do that kid a favor. Make sense out of your life and reality. There’s sense to be made. And it’s very grown-up, and very exalting, and it doesn’t have to exclude all the other fun and games of life. But it certainly gives cogency and meaning to the enterprise not only of trying to live, and not only of trying to be a decent person for one’s loved ones and children, but to build a better world. A better world, if it comes, will be built on clear thinking. It will be built on honesty. It will be built on direct, clear communication. I mean, these are the things that constitute visionary common sense, and it’s because the world is topsy-turvy that I—considered, you know, a drug-crazed pariah—have to then become the apostle of order, dignity, adult behavior, responsibility, and the obligation to make sense.

Anyway, that’s the end of our weekend. Thank you very much.

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