Dreaming Awake at the End of Time

December 13, 1998

Join Terence for an eclectic think along the deconstruction of the deepening worldwide weirdness. With his characteristic hope and humor, McKenna examined time and its mysteries, the nature of language, the techniques of ecstasy, high technology and virtual cyberspace, the role of hallucinogenic plants in shamanism and the evolution of human cultures, and the foundations of postmodern spirituality.



Can you hear in the back? Good. I assume so. Yes? Good.

Well, it’s a pleasure to be in San Francisco. This is sort of a hometown of mine—one of my home towns. I’ve been on a tour, or a rave. Spoken three times and raved twice in the past five or seven days. This is the end, so if I’m comfortable with this stuff at all, I must be comfortable with it this evening. And it’s nice to see a small, full house. That’s the most exciting kind of audience to talk to, I think. So thank you all for turning out on a rainy night.


Before I get into the main body of tonight’s entertainment, I want to call your attention to the propaganda for an event in Mexico, and another event in Hawai’i. In the case of the Mexico event, you get a major slice of the psychedelic community. You get Robert Montgomery and Jonathan Ott, Ann and Sasha Shulgin, Manolo Torres, Christian Resch, Terence McKenna—and others who unfortunately slip my mind—at the ceremonial center of Palenque in Chiapas. We’ve been doing these events somewhere in Mayan Mexico for the past ten or twelve years. Many of you are graduates, which doesn’t mean you can’t come again, but I want to invite all of you there. If you’re interested in ethnobotany, shamanism, ethnopharmacology, altered states of consciousness, the politics of all of this, this is as intense and information-packed an exposure as you can have, and it’s straight from the mouths of the scholars and scientists and writers who have spent a great deal of time in that area. So I just want to invite you to that. It’s also a great party. It’s the height of mushroom season. There’s nothing we could do about that! So… you just are on your own.


When I start out on these tours I usually have an agenda and prepared remarks. And then, as I make my way through my venues and I hear the feedback and I feel the ambiance of the people and the throb of the Zeitgeist, it all sort of just simply dissolves into an ongoing commentary on our moment in space and time, and the various dimensions, adumbrations, and opportunities of our dilemma. But I want tonight to couch it for you in the context of, I guess, an extended metaphor. We could talk about these things many ways, but I find this particular extended metaphor illuminating.


And I start by recalling an observation from someone whose name rarely falls from my lips, and that would be Gurdjieff. Gurdjieff said at one point, or was known to comment, that “people are asleep,” he said. And he—by implication—suggested people awaken. Now, I’m not sure if he fully grasped the implication for his own product line, had that occurred, but in any case, you’re on it, you’re with me, yes. It’s very hard to give these lectures in such a way so that every person hears something different. Which is what is supposed to be going on, you know?


Well, so, thinking about this comment that people are asleep, I see several implications. I asked myself: what is “awake” in my own notion? And I thought to myself “awake” is, for me, where the laws of physics are fully operable. You know? Hurled objects shatter, electricity shocks, I cannot fly. The laws of physics are in operation. In that domain I consider myself to be fully awake. Now, in terms of occult and spiritual traditions, the admonition to awaken always seems to imply that higher consciousness is approached through an expansion of clarity and awareness. And that seems obvious. I don’t argue with it—as a rationalist. But as somebody who has run the edges, I’ve noticed something somewhat counterintuitive to that teaching, and it’s this: it’s that, to contact the cosmic giggle, to have the flow of casuistry begin to give off synchronistic ripples—whitecaps in the billows of the coincidental ether, if you will—to achieve that requires… a precondition is a kind of unconsciousness, a kind of drifting, a certain taking your eye off the ball. A certain assumption that things are simpler than they are almost always precedes what Mircea Eliade called the “rupture of plane” that indicates that there is an archetypal world, an archetypal power beyond, behind profane appearances.


And in my own life—for those of you who are conversant with my output—when I went to the Amazon in 1971 and had the experiences that are described in True Hallucinations, I had been (for many months before that) in Asia, smuggling, hanging out. And I had taken my eye off the ball. I had become very gentle, very relativistic in my approach to other people’s opinions and behaviors. I was easy-going, is what I’m trying to say. Too easy-going! And in that situation of semi-unconsciousness and openness, the cosmic giggle approaches. And I compare this—this is closing of a theme—I compare this to sleep, or to states that lie between waking and sleeping. And so, again, an odd take on this remark of Gurdjieff’s.


I remember someone many years ago said to me—they evoked the symbol of the yin and the the yang, the two tears folded against each other within a circle. And this person—who was no rishi, roshi, geisha, or guru, but simply observant—said, “It’s not the black side. It’s not the white side. It’s the interface. It’s the edge.” And I found, by observing sleep—and some of you may recall the motto in Athanasius Kircher’s Amphiatrium Sapientium that’s chiseled over the alchemist’s doorway. I can’t do it in Latin, but it says, “While sleeping, watch.” While sleeping, watch. And I’ve noticed that, while going to sleep, there is a barrier, a place in the process of going to sleep, that is like a mercurial edge. It’s a river. It’s a zone of hypnagogia. You often pass through it post orgasm. It’s a place of drifting, amoeboid, colored after-image lights, and then: true hallucination. Images. Strange, transcendental, or transpersonal images.


Well, so then, so far in the context of pursuing this extended metaphor about sleep, I’ve talked basically, essentially, about the individual’s relationship to the concept, to the fact. But there’s also a social or a political, a species-wide implication. It occurs to me that, at any given moment, because of the way the planet is as a thing, some considerable percentage of human beings are asleep. Always. And many are awake. And so, if the world’s soul is made of the collective consciousness of human beings, then it is never entirely awake. It is never entirely asleep. It exists in some kind of indeterminate zone.


And this, to me, is the clue to understanding something that is personally fascinating to me. And it revolves around why people believe such weird things. And why—either as a consequence of the approach of the millennium, or the breakdown of traditional values, or the density of electromagnetic radiation, or for some reason—a Balkanization of epistemology is taking place. And what I mean by that is: there is no longer a commonality of understanding. I mean, for some people, quantum physics provides the answers. Their next-door neighbor may look to the channeling of archangels with equal fervor. I mean, if this is not a Balkanization of epistemology, I don’t know what it is.


It is accompanied by a related phenomenon, which is: technology or the historical momentum of things is creating such a bewildering social milieu that the monkey mind cannot find a simple story—a simple creation myth, or redemption myth—to lay over the crazy, contradictory, patchwork of profane techno-consumerist post-McLuhanist, electronic pre-apocalyptic existence. And so, into that dimension of anxiety created by this inability to parse reality rushes a bewildering variety of squirrelly notions— epistemological cartoons, if you will, and conspiracy theory, in my humble opinion. I’m somewhat immune to paranoia, so those of you who aren’t… you know, gaze in wonder!


Conspiracy theory is a kind of epistemological cartoon about reality. I mean, isn’t it so simple to believe that things are run by the Greys, and that all we have to do is trade sufficient fetal tissue to them and we can solve our technological problems. Or, isn’t it comforting to believe that the Jews are behind everything, or the Communist Party, or the Catholic Church, or the Masons. Well, these are epistemological cartoons. It’s, you know, kindergarten stuff in the art of amateur historiography. I believe that the truth of the matter is far more terrifying. That the real truth that dare not speak itself is that no one is in control. Absolutely no one! You know, you don’t understand Monica? You don’t understand Netanyahu? It’s because nobody is in control. This stuff is ruled by the equations of dynamics and chaos. Now, there may be entities seeking control—the world bank, the communist party, the rich, the somebody-or-others—but to seek control is to take enormous aggravation upon yourself. Because this process that is underway will take the control freak by the short and curly and throw them against the wall. It’s like trying to control a dream, you see. The global destiny of the species is somehow unfolding with the logic of a dream.


Well now, a Jungian would say: no surprise here. History is the collective dream of humanity. It is run by archetypal energies. It is downloaded by the Zeitgeist into the various milieus and epochs of which it is composed. This seems reasonable to me. I don’t want to give you the impression it’s too linear to understand that what I am saying is that awake is good, asleep is bad. What I would rather do is explain this whole gradient of possible positioning vis-à-vis your life and your destiny—these choices that you have—and then have people understand that they choose. You choose to be asleep, or partially asleep, or fully awake, or to be one part of the time in some situations and one part of the time in other situations.


Now, if, in fact, we exist inside some kind of morphogenetic field that is created by the sum total of human minds on the planet, and if, in fact, in half or more of those minds at any given moment the rules of the dream hold sway, then it is no surprise that, when we make our way into society, or just when we live our lives, there’s an eeriness to it, there’s a fatedness to it, there’s a plottedness to it. You know, we are inside some kind of engine of narrative, I believe. You know, some science-fiction writers such as Greg Egan and others have suggested that this could even be a form of recorded medium. You can see the thumb prints of editors on our reality if you are truly paying attention. I mean, if you’re a devoté of the theory of stochastic and random unfolding of events, then you have to look very carefully at how un-random and how mythical and archetypal most people’s lives are.


You know, if you take psychedelics and hurl yourself to the edge and spend time with strange, aboriginal people in remote parts of the world, the cosmic giggle becomes your friend. But, in fact, ordinary people’s lives, everyone’s lives, are touched by deep magic. And I’ve—you know, again, the primary datum is experience, and then the models are built backward from the primary data without prejudice and in an attempt to transcend historical momentum. And when I do that, what I see is that the carrier of the field of the cosmic giggle in most people’s lives is love. Love is some kind of output which messes with the entropic tendency toward probabilistic behavior in nature.


What do I mean by that? I mean: you can be the janitor at Microsoft, and the Vice President and Chief of Operations, his daughter can bring him lunch one day. And you can, from a distance, have your eye fall upon her and fall in love with her. And, you know, from that point to having the five children she bears you go off to Harvard and the Sorbonne, it’s just a matter of running the clock forward. These things have—I mean, to you it may seem like a miracle, but to those of us who are students of human happenstance it’s inevitable. I mean, you can launch your story. And I’ve, you know, in the course of taking psychedelics and looking at my life and other people’s lives and narrative, I think that the secret of—I don’t want to say anything as pretentious as transcendence or enlightenment—but the secret of taking hold of one’s destiny is to understand that one is a character. A character is a different thing than this model you inherit out of the idea that you’re a three-dimensional animal inside a democracy with a Christian heritage and, you know, a Dewey Decimal cataloging system, or whatever.


Anyway, these are some of the notions that occur to me in the context of comparing dream on many scales. You have to really struggle, I think, to believe that you actually live inside the model of reality that science and Newtonian physics and the mathematical analysis of nature have given us. Not to get too philosophical here, but for positivist philosophers everything that is important—color, feeling, taste, tone, ambition, apprehension, appetition—these things are called secondary qualities. In other words, they’re peripheral. They arise at a lower level of understanding. They are somehow determined by the presence of the animal body and, hence, dismissible by a theory of pure abstraction which says what is real is spin, charge, angular momentum. None of these things are very rich concepts for a living human being. Who knows what any of these things are.


We don’t have time in a situation like this to explore all the implications of this dream analogy that I’m pursuing, but one that interests me is the plasticity of time in the dream. And I think I would argue as the devil’s advocate that it is the plasticity of historical time, and the acceleration—the sense of an out-of-control spin-up or spin-down into new domains of possibility—that is the strongest evidence present at hand that we are in some kind of dream. I’ve struggled my whole life with—I’ve always believed, or I’ve always felt, the power of the statement “the world is made of language.” But, of course, you think about this proposition for thirty seconds and the question that arises then is, “If the world is made of language, then why isn’t it the way I want it to be?” Why does it have this prepotent momentum for it’s own… it has it’s own raison d’être, even if it is language.


Well I think—and it’s appropriate to speak of this to an audience as digitally sophisticated as I assume you must be—I think the primary insight that has been secured here at the end of the twentieth century—the primary contribution of twentieth-century thinking, if you will—is to have understood, finally, that information is primary. That this world, this cosmos, this universe, this body and soul are all made of information. Information is a deeper and more primary concept than space, time, matter, energy, charge, spin, angular momentum. The world is made of language.


The implication for the digerati is that reality can therefore be hacked. If reality is made of language, then what we’re saying is that it’s code. And if it’s code, then it is far more deeply open to manipulation than we ever dared dream. We’ve been messing around on the desktop opening files with religions and political systems and xenophobic theories of racial superiority—all this crap that haunts the human historical adventure. It means we have not addressed the deeper levels. And in thinking about this, and the relationship to dream and human culture, I have realized that cultures are like operating systems. We are like hardware. The human animal is a piece of biological wetware/hardware. And it has been, we know, pretty much as we confront it today for at least 140,000 years. At Klasies River Cave Mouth in South Africa they have excavated Homo sapiens sapiens skeletons 100,000 years old, and that person could have sat in the front row here tonight and nobody would have batted an eyebrow.


So the human hardware has been in place for a while. What has changed rapidly in comparison to the rates of biological evolution are the operating systems. The people who excavated Ur—which was at that time thought to be the world’s first city, and in any case is a city seven millennia old—when they excavated the central plaza at Ur they discovered that a black, basaltic slab had been set up there by the earliest kings of Ur, and that was the cultural operating system. And if—in a deal trading goats for olives—a dispute arose, people had reference to the central operating system, and these things were determined. Well, now, Ur-101 was fine for olives and goat-trading, but it didn’t support higher mathematics, it didn’t support rational exploration of nature, it didn’t support astrological knowledge about the movement of the stars. As we have gone forward through culture we have swapped out these operating systems. And at each swap-out there has been a lot of hair-pulling and cussing and screaming. Anyone who has installed a new operating system is completely familiar with that sickening, from-the-bowels kind of coldness as you realize it all hangs by a thread.


Now, this situation—or this operating system metaphor—I think is a useful one for understanding (and again, a circle closes) the Balkanization of epistemology that causes me such anxiety. If you meet an aboriginal person from the Amazon, for example, they may be running Witoto 3.0 as their operating system: nicely supports animistic magic, a huge capacity when it comes to making fish traps and bird traps. Witoto is a powerful operating system for a rainforest aboriginal. In our culture there are—I have no idea—at least ten or twenty operating systems all going at the same time. Some will run Mormonism. Some will support Catholicism. Others, Kabbalah goes at the speed of light. Others support quantum physics, some support econometrics, others support political correctness. And these things are mutually exclusive.


And so, looking at this, and looking at this clash of operating systems, I’ve come to the conclusion—and some of you may have heard me say this before—that culture is not your friend. That’s the final conclusion. This came to me a few months ago when I had my yearly physical, and as I was buttoning up my doctor said to me, “You know, in the nineteenth century, most people your age were dead.” And I realized that this was true, and that, among all the revolutions that we are enduring, one of them is that we live nearly twice as long as people lived very recently in the past. Culture is a kind of neoteny. And I don’t want to belabor that at great length, but for those of you who are not biologists: neoteny is the retention of juvenile characteristics into adulthood. It’s used to describe animal behavior. For instance, I’ll give the most spectacular example of neoteny: there is a kind of animal which lives in ponds in Africa and it reproduces like a fish. It lays eggs on the bottom of these ponds, more fish-like animals come from these eggs, and so forth. However, if the pond dries up, the creature undergoes metamorphosis and becomes an animal somewhat like a gecko, and lays eggs, and from these eggs come creatures that are like geckos. In other words, this is an animal which actually achieves sexual maturity in two forms, depending on environmental stress. Spectacular example of neoteny. Turning to human beings, a less spectacular example—but relevant to us—is our general body hairlessness compared to other primates. We look like fetal apes. Human beings look like fetal apes. Why? What is neoteny? Well this is hotly debated among evolutionary biologists.


But the point I want to make is a socio-political comment, which is: culture itself is some kind of neotenizing force. Because what a culture provides is a bunch of rules (so you don’t have to think) and a bunch of myths (so you don’t have to think again). Culture has all the answers, you know? You wanna know where people came from? Well, when the sky god got out of his canoe at first waterfall and took a leak, then we, the true people, appeared like ants, and we’ve been living here ever since. Oh… huh! Gee, thanks. I’m glad I asked. This is what culture does for you.


But now technology throws a curve. And the curve is that we live so long that we figure out what a scam this is. We figure out that what you’re supposed to work for isn’t worth having. We figure out that our politicians are buffoons. We figure out that professional scientists are reputation-building, grab-tailing weasels. We discover that all organizations are corrupted by ambition. You get the picture. We figure it out. Well then, as intellectuals—and anybody that figures it out is an intellectual, believe me, because they’re slinging the programming to push you the other way. So then, intellectuals—defined as people who figure it out—discover that you are alienated. That’s what “figuring it out” means: it means that you understand that the BMW, the Harvard degree, the whatever-it-is, that this is all baloney and manipulated and hyped, and that mostly you have a bunch of clueless people who are figuring out which fork they should use. But this position is presented as alienation, and therefore somehow tinged with the potential for pathology. You know, it’s a bad thing to be alienated.


Now, let’s speak for a moment—in order to fulfill the promise read in the introduction—about psychedelics, and what are they doing in this fine situation? Well, what they’re doing is forcing this maturation process by dissolving boundaries—which is what they do. They are exposing the cultural operating system for what it is, which is just a bunch of hacked together rules that evolved over time. They weren’t sent from God from mount Sinai. It’s just a bunch of hacked together rules. So psychedelics, in that sense, spread alienation. But what they alienate us from is preposterous, Earth-murdering, sexist, consumerist, shallow, trivial, inane, insane, and dangerous. And that’s what they alienate us from.


So again, this neotenizing thing is like the condition of unconsciousness that I described as the precondition for the cosmic giggle. Glamor, acts of magical conjuration, hypnotic delusion and illusion, hysterias, fads, pseudo-revelations, strange truths whispered in every quarter—this is the character of our time. And people have seemed to believe that they were fulfilling their responsibilities intellectually; people seem to feel they are doing that when they reject the past. They say, “Well, that was all screwed up. But since I got with Master Shuggi I’ve understood the way it really is supposed to be.” No, this is just trading one set of neotenizing operating systems for another.


The real hard choice that you’re being pushed toward—and that you might consider making before the yawning grave rings down the curtain on this cosmic drama—is actually intellectual responsibility, freedom, and a devotion to what scientists call elegance of thought. You know, people say, “Well, how can you tell one theory from another? And is science better than religion?” and this and that. After a lot of arm-waving it should be conceded that the final call is aesthetic. That, because we are monkeys, because we are so far from God, we cannot set knowing the truth as the standard for choosing among the models we can produce. We must set our aesthetic compass towards the more true—what Wittgenstein called the true enough. And then the question is, “Well, how do you recognize that?”


Well, this is a rich field of human study called philosophy of science, or epistemology and ontology. How do we know what is real? But Plato—who all the rest of philosophy is a footnote upon—Plato said that the key lay in the concepts the good, the true, and the beautiful. The good: what is it? Tricky, tricky, tricky. The true: what is it? Trickier, even trickier. The beautiful: what is it? Easy to discern. The beautiful is easy to discern. You are going to be condemned to live out the consequences of your taste. Really! Really. And if you have no taste, God help you, because you are self-condemned to an appalling nightmare. You won’t be getting it, all the subtle stuff will go by you, while your head is filled with cant, nonsense, foolishness. So again, the metaphor of the dream, and of making choices based on beauty. And beauty is downloaded into the human cultural milieu largely through dreams. Other ideas may also come in dreams, but I think studies have shown that architects, designers, people who are actually at the top of the pyramid in any design process, are very aware of their dreams, their reveries, their insights. So that’s the way to set the compass. Not toward truth, not toward the good—not because these aren’t fine things, but because they’re so slippery—but toward beauty. And with that in place, to my mind, hope follows as a natural consequence.


We talk a lot—and I’m sure there are people in this room who are well versed and connected into the world of virtual reality, which is a very hot topic and may have all kinds of implications for our future and the evolution of consciousness—but it’s worth pointing out that we have been making virtual realities for a very, very long time. That language—spoken language—is the original code for hacking virtual reality. When you sit the children down around the fire and begin to tell the old, old stories, and the pictures rise out of the flames, that is virtual reality. And so is—and this is the point I want to make—so are all the artifacts, all the impedimenta of human existence. I mean, a virtual reality built in aluminum, stucco, steel, and glass is not immediately erased the way you clear a screen. And the cost of making it is great. But Ur was a virtual reality. The Agora at Athens, ancient Rome, Canterbury Cathedral—these are virtual realities.


Men and women have toiled at agriculture, at warfare, at childrearing, at many, many activities in the long march toward self-definition. But more and more we have—and this is true of societies that are aboriginal and without economy—when we free ourselves we are not freed into a void. When we free ourselves we are freed into the dimension in which art is an obligation. And this is the great turning point. I think that the design process—whatever that means—must become conscious, global, integrated. The entire human domain (which means the entire planet and its surrounding near space) should be enclosed and included in a coherent plan driven by human values and a thirst for transformational beauty. And I mention this because I believe that many of the people capable of making major contributions to that are in this room, or within a hundred miles of this room tonight. And we are people of immense privilege by any way of slicing the planetary demographic. Even the poorest among us who wheedled their way in here this evening are in the top one percent of the planetary social pyramid. On a planet where hundreds of millions of people are starving, the obligation upon the conscious people near the control surfaces, near the levers of the human machine, is immense.


So with freedom—and I know this is a cliché, but hopefully not in this context—with freedom of that sort comes enormous responsibility. And it’s paradoxical. Responsibility to dream and, coexisting and simultaneous with that, an obligation to awaken. In other words, an obligation to make sense, be non-trivial, not to squander resources in foolishness. An obligation to awaken, and an obligation to, at the same time, dream. And then the rational mind screams out, “But this is impossible! This is paradox!” But the subtle mind understands that we have now reached square one. By openly confronting the necessity for paradox, and by openly confronting the fact that we can only enclose our dilemma by speaking in at least two modes at once, we begin to actually honor the complexity of the situation.


And so tonight the thought I want to leave with you is: the simultaneous project of awakening, and the simultaneous project of entering deeper into the dream for the purpose of cultivating, evoking, experiencing, remembering, transmitting, and communicating beauty—which feeds back into the awakening process. Otherwise the awakening will be traumatic and demoralizing. We will awaken to an AIDS-ravaged Earth, to ecotastrophy, planetary warming, complete collapse of any concern for the destiny of future generations. This awakening must not be disempowering. And the mantle that can be spread over the awakening to counteract the possibility of disempowerment is this wish to evoke, realize, and serve the project of bringing ever greater amounts of beauty into the world.


I think that’s the end of the formal lecture here this evening. Thank you very much. I didn’t say… we will have an intermission of about twenty minutes so you can… “What did he say? What did he say?” And then we will get back together and undergo the more creative process, and the more organic part of the evening, which is Q and A. And for those of you who can’t stay for that, I appreciate your attention and your concern, and thank you all very much, and we’ll assemble here in twenty minutes.

Q & A Session


…history of shamanic use in the Andes of South America. People take—you can be a strict constructionist in the matter of psychedelics or you can cast your net widely. There are many substances in nature which alter consciousness: either stimulate or sedate, or create more ambiguous and spectacular effects. I would describe the effects of datura as a deliriant.


Now, the shamans who use these things have special techniques, both of preparation and of training that allow them to control or navigate around the more unpleasant aspects of datura. It tends to provoke memory loss—shall we say—bizarre behavior such as taking your clothes off in public, and so on. And it creates a general ambiance of uncertainty about the nature of reality. And what I mean by that is: you talk to people who aren’t there, you smoke cigarettes that aren’t there, you answer phone calls when you’re standing in the woods. From the outside it looks pretty fucked up, you know? But some aboriginal and native traditions have managed to tame this, at least in the shamanic context.


I—I guess in this matter—am a kind of strict constructionist in that, when I say “psychedelic,” I have something very specific in mind that a substance or a plant should do. It should not inhibit clarity. In other words, not episodes of forgetfulness, lack of memory, passing out, or confusion. It shouldn’t interfere with that. And it should transform thought. And it should be accompanied by visual hallucinations with eyes closed. That’s what I love. That’s what I live for. People have said to me, “You’re some kind of a vision chauvinist.” It’s true. And usually, the people who were saying this were people who were great enthusiasts of LSD. LSD, I would never argue, is not a psychedelic, but you have to take massive amounts, and usually in combination with some other substance (like hashish or mescaline) in order to elicit from LSD what I’m after, which is cascades of, Niagras of, visual beauty in darkness with eyes closed. I have had deep psychological insights on LSD, I have had creative breakthroughs, I have had bonding experiences. But I’ve found it difficult to get the visions like I wanted them. And the best I worked out with LSD was: I would smoke as much Afghani hash as I could at the top of the trip, and then it would do the thing, in fact. It would do it.


The thing that led me to psilocybin, or to grow mushrooms and explore that, was the descriptions of Wasson and the early workers, that it was easy to visually hallucinate. And I had read the earlier accounts of Havelock Ellis and people like that, and it was about… you know, if you’ve ever read—I think it’s The Dance of Life—Havelock Ellis’ description of mescaline, he talks about alien buildings, jeweled ruins, fantastically efflorescent rainforests growing and transforming before his eyes. That’s what I was after. I wanted not a disturbance in the optic nerve. You know, like, on LSD you get those little things that look sort of like fans that creep across the walls? That’s more like something in the visual cortex than something in the mind, it seems to me. And I was fascinated—and who isn’t? I mean, I never hear this question discussed, but to me it was the obvious question about these visions was, “Where do they come from?” You know, how can I be astonished by the contents of my own mind, and astonished over and over again? Where is this stuff coming from? And I looked at Jung, and I entertained the fantasy of extraterrestrial contact, and I still haven’t answered this question. But I think it’s a question which the critics of the psychedelic experience haven’t wanted to deal with.


You know, if you read the psychedelic literature, you can tell what psilocybin does to heart beat, sperm count, perception of tone, on and on. They never talk about the real content, you know? Because it’s always individual. And they say, “Well, science can’t handle individual phenomena. We measure the properties of large numbers of people.” Well, that hopelessly flattens the thing. I know this is a long answer to this question, but it’s worth laying all this out because the lady’s question raises issues of: how do you categorize psychedelics? Which are, which aren’t? Are some dangerous? And to what degree? Certainly, datura is dangerous—not only because of it’s deliriant quality, which makes you irresponsible, but also because it dilates your pupils, and you stumble around. And at higher doses it can cause convulsion and death, which is a rare thing from what I consider the true psychedelics.


There is—if we want to take an excursion here for a moment and learn a little pharmacology—there is, if you’re going to talk about pharmacology, there’s one concept that you should get straight, and that’s called LD50. It means lethal dose 50. What does this mean? Well, you have twenty rats, and you give them a certain amount of, let’s say, mescaline. When half the rats die, that dose (expressed as milligrams per kilogram of body weight) is called the LD50. And when pharmacologists assess the danger in a drug, they ask the following question: “What is the ratio of the LD50 to the effective dose?” And if the LD50 of a drug is only twenty times the effective dose, that’s considered an incredibly toxic, dangerous, and dubious drug. A good drug is a drug where where the LD50 is 200 times more than the effective dose. In the case of LSD, the LD50 for man has never been determined. That’s how safe LSD is. We’re talking about lethality here, not… you know?


And so people say, “Well, are there unsafe psychedelics?” And yes, you just look up the LD50’s, line them up, and see which have the better ratios. By that measurement, by that standard, LSD is the most desirable. But the LD50 of psilocybin is very impressive. You can take a hundred times the effective dose of psilocybin and expect to live. Mescaline—not. Mescaline has a bad profile. As an amphetamine, if you took twenty times the effective dose of mescaline, you would probably die. Of course, an effective dose of mescaline is nearly a gram of pure material: 700 milligrams. If you took twenty times 700 milligrams you would be taking nearly two-thirds of an ounce of mescaline, and why should you survive? After all, stupidity does have consequences.


But really, people always ask the question, “Are psychedelics dangerous?” And they mean physically dangerous. What should be said—and it’s recently been pointed out to me that I don’t say it very often—is that the biggest danger with psychedelics is that, while you are in that open state, some moron will mess with you, and either lay a suggestion or plant an idea or manipulate you or scare you or turn you in a way that you wouldn’t ordinarily go. And this is why psychedelic etiquette means knowing your tripping partners. People who take psychedelics with strangers at high dose do come back with wild tales to tell, but I don’t think you can do that over and over again without having some horrible thing befall you. My mind is not—I mean, some people seem more resilient. I am not. You know, people often ask me to trip them and I won’t. And it’s not because of concern for the legal system or the fact that I am not licensed for psychotherapy, or any of that. It’s because I can’t stand it when people come apart on psychedelics. I am, you know—if you’re interested in this subject or if you share my sensitivity, read Carl Jung’s little book called On the Psychology of the Transference, and then you will understand. In fact, that should be a standard tome for trippers. Understand the transference. Understand what it is, how to fight it, and (this is psychic martial arts) your psychic health will be immeasurably improved by understanding the dynamics of the transference, which is quite simple. The book is not that thick.


Now, to answer the lady’s question: when I took datura I had reality-distorting—strange. And if I had been a personality of a different sort I might have followed it deeper. But it appeared to me to be ambiguous and evil. Not evil—maybe evil. What happened to me was—this was in Nepal years and years ago. Nepali shamanism is based in part on datura, the taking of the seed capsules. An English friend of mine who had the room next to mine took it, and I took it in my room. And it was a situation where, to get to the facilities, I had to walk through his room. And he and I were friends, but we had a very slight rivalry going for the attention of a woman. And I think this woman was not aware that either of us was interested in her, but we were both aware that the other one was aware. And midway through my trip I decided I had to go to the bathroom, and so I stepped through into this guy’s room. And they were in bed together having sex. And I guess I went outside and then, the next morning after sleeping many hours, I encountered the guy and I said, “How was your trip?” And he said, “It was wonderful.” And I said, “Yes, well, uh… I saw.” And he said, “What did you see?” And I said, “Well, I saw that you were with Julietta,” and he said, “I thought so, too. But she wasn’t there.”


And so, you know, what conclusion do we draw from this? That this stuff is—well, I’ll tell you what took me off it finally, was about a week later. There seemed to be a rash of this datura-taking moving through the traveler community there in this little Nepali village where I lived. And about a week later I was buying tomatoes in the market, and I encountered a different person than this English friend of mine, and he told me that he’d been taking a lot of datura. And I said, “Oh, well that’s interesting. I took it. I don’t think I’ll be taking it again.” And as the conversation developed I realized he thought we were in his apartment. And we were not, we were in the market. And, you know, this tells you it’s time to dry out. Anyway, I use that as a springboard to different subjects. You were very patient. Next question?


I hope I can remember what my question was.


It’s a test!


I agree that there’s something sort of mysterious about where these psychedelic effects come from. And I refer again to the sort of classic psychedelics: psilocybin, LSD. But the fact that you generally need to take a substance or a drug, it’s a material thing, does in some sense sort of go in a strange way to reinforcing a pretty basic scientific, almost mechanistic, view of the universe. And I just wondered if you had thought about that or have any comments.



Well, let me try to convince you otherwise. I mean, I see what you’re saying. You’re saying that, because this transformative (possibly spiritual) experience is causally connected to the act of taking a matter of a certain type into your body, that it seems to argue for the materialist proposition that mind is an epiphenomenon of the functioning of brain and so forth. Am I restating it right?


Well, yeah sort of but, I wouldn’t necessarily go so far as to say that it forces you to conclude that the mind is an epiphenomenon of the brain, but that there is some sort real validity to chemistry, mathematics, physics. You talked about the Balkanization of epistemology: that those things are, in some sense, far more real than say, channeling—what did you say?—archangels, et cetera.



Oh, I see what you’re saying. Well, yes. I mean, this relates to what I was saying about the Balkanization of epistemology. It’s really strange to me that science is in the act of flinging open the curtains on a staggering vision of what it is to be alive in this cosmos. I mean, we now can look back through the Hubble and other telescopes thirteen billion years, to within six-hundred million years of the primary explosion that presumptively created this universe. Meanwhile, we’re tearing open the nature of the human genome, the nature of the heart of the atom. This is the great, great age for the expansion of the scientific vision. But the population is somehow incapable of staying up with what’s going on, and so we have the greatest proliferation of occultism in all forms since the sixteenth century. It’s almost as though there’s a bifurcation of the culture. The scientific—the makers of new science are going deeper and deeper in a direction that the rest of the public not only cannot follow them into, but is actually headed the other way. And it’s a condemnation of our educational system that people have not understood that science, for all its flaws, is the only tool for understanding the nature of reality that has any kind of track record whatsoever. The others just have a story to tell. You know, the Buddha story, the Jesus story. Fine stories, but that’s all they have: is a rap.


The amazing—you see, why is science different? Somebody could just say, “Well, but isn’t it just a rap?” Well, it is, but it plays by slightly different rules than these other explanatory systems. Science is the only explanatory system where you get points for proving you’re wrong. You know? I mean, you form a hypothesis. You publish a paper. Then you do further experiments. You discover your conclusions in paper A were completely wrong. You retract paper A and issue paper B, and your fellow scientists say, “This guy does very good work! These are careful thinkers. You can bank on these people. They’re not flakey.” What religion operates like that? You know? Can you imagine coming out of the ashram and having the guru say to his students, “Well, we managed to reduce that hypothesis to rubble in morning meditation, didn’t we?”


So, you know, it’s… and then let me return to answer that question based on my original misunderstanding of it. And I would say this: it is no reduction of the psychedelic experience to say that it is caused by drugs because they are material, atomic systems, and therefore we know all about them. Every electron is the yawning mouth of a wormhole that leads to quadrillions of higher-dimensional universes that are completely beyond rational apprehension. Matter is not lacking in magic. Matter is magic. So when you hear these people like [Daniel] Dennett and all these talk-show materialists running around, these people haven’t gotten the news that’s coming out of quantum physics.


I mean, you see, there’s a problem—or let me describe to you the state of play here. The way science works is: science respects fidelity of theory to experimental results. What really thrills a scientist is when you have a theory that makes a prediction down to five or six decimal points, and then you perform an experiment, and it’s spot on down to five or six decimal points. And then everybody involved in what’s going on has extremely high confidence that they’re on the right track. Well, now, only one science is ever that good: physics. Macrophysics. Chemistry—it’s good, but it’s not that good. Ecology, biology, demography: these are pretty loose. They play with numbers, but it’s to hide; it’s a fig leaf. And by the time you get to sociology or something like that, I mean, these clowns have just snuck under the tent and should actually be shown the door and put back outside with the card-readers.


So for several hundred years, you know—since, let’s say, Galileo and serious physics—this is how science has been. It’s been a pyramid of envy directed toward the paradigmatic science, which was physics, and which could produce this incredible congruence of theory and experimental data. Well, so then physics, of course, charges forward deeper into matter, asking deeper questions. Well, once you pass below the level of the electron it’s like, suddenly—it’s like smoking DMT or something: absolute madness breaks out. Where, before, you had these wonderful theories and they were feeding back this data, now suddenly you have backward-flowing time, you have particles which appear magically on one side of an energy barrier without apparently crossing through it. You have non-locality, which seems to imply that every particle that exists is somehow magically connected with every other particle. We now have quantum teleportation, we have black holes, we have singularities.


And don’t be fooled folks, what is a singularity? It’s just a place where you agree that the rules are canceled because you don’t know what the hell else to do. And it’s fine, you know. It used to be, in physics, that they had one singularity. It was called the big bang. And so you say, “Well, one singularity.” Essentially what science is saying is, “Give us one free miracle and then we can run it from there!” But the theory of special relativity then introduced the concept of black holes. And, of course, black holes are enormous gravitational masses so massive that neither light nor information can leave them. And what do black holes have at the center of them? Well, a singularity. Well, how many black holes are there in the universe? Eh, 1014. That’s a lot of singularities if you’re trying to produce a theory without singularities. I mean, essentially that’s an admission of total intellectual defeat. My god, if there are 1014 singularities, you’re not even doing science. You just might as well be, you know, channeling Atlantis or something.


So it troubles me because I think this stuff is rich, that physics is feeding back, and that ultimately a model of consciousness will come out of studying the deeper levels of the behavior of matter. But the conclusions are all going to support the non-scientific, non-rational factions. In other words, Bell nonlocality is real. All matter in the universe is in contact with all other matter through some kind of higher space, based on their original connectivity. Quantum teleportation is a possibility. These violations—backward-flowing-time and violations of rational casuistry—are all real. In other words, science—meaning physics, at this point—prosecuted its agenda of deconstructing nature to the point where it let loose the elves of madness, paradox, contradiction, and peculiarity. And that can now never be put back. I mean, the dirty little secret is that, at bedrock, the universe is more like a DMT flash than it is an eighteenth-century garden party, as we were previously assured by the practitioners of science. Sorry, I think that’s enough ranting on that subject.

Yes? If you want to—excuse me—if you want to ask a question, I guess what the consensus of the group is is to go and stand, or I’ll point to you. The reason we didn’t originally say go and stand is because, if you get a nut in the line, there’s a certain fatedness to their eventually getting to the microphone. Which, if I am sensitive enough in the pointing-out process, could never happen. So this is… we’re trusting that you’re sane.


That’s why I got up here early.


Yeah, good. Okay. Thanks for being patient.


Thanks, Terence. I have a technical question, but I think it’s an interesting one, and may be important. Your name has become identified with the date 2012, because you have said that, at a certain moment in the year 2012, an event will take place of tremendous or even infinite novelty. And this is based on your work on what you call the Timewave, and novelty theory, and so on, which seems to indicate that, around that date, something extraordinary will happen. And you confirm this by saying that, interestingly and synchronistically perhaps—I’m not sure that’s what you appeal to—but you say that the Mayan calendar also points to precisely the same date. And number three, you say that at that time, also, an astronomical event will take place, namely the conjunction of the winter solstice with the galactic center. An event which only happens every 25,000 years, roughly 26,000 years. So, the last time that happened, our ancestors were painting bison on the walls of caves. It’s a long, long cycle, this precession of the equinoxes that brings the winter solstice around the circle of the zodiac every 26,000 years. And you say that this is going to happen again in the year 2012. What my question is concerned with is that third element, namely this precession of the equinoxes in the year 2012. As you know, the galactic center is not on the ecliptic, is not on the zodiac, but is a bit above it. And so the sun on the winter solstice will never be in conjunction with the galactic center. But an event that is linked with that, and I think far more precise and significant, is the fact that, not in the year 2012, but right now, as we sit here, the winter solstice is moving into conjunction with the place where the galactic equator crosses the zodiac. This is happening now, 1998, 1999. And I’m wondering why you look to this year 2012 and the imprecise conjunction with the galactic center, rather than the precise and the remarkable return of the winter solstice to the galactic equator, where it was, again, 25,000 years ago when the cave paintings, when the first bursts of self-consciousness were occurring in our species. And I raise this not because I think or know that there’s any truth to the meaning of this, but I do find it exquisitely beautiful that this is happening right now, and I’m wondering what you think about that.



Well, thank you for framing and imparting an extremely intelligent question. I mean, you got it almost all right, and all the details right. And for those of you who have no idea what that was all about, I’m not sure I can help you. But for those of you who do know what that was all about, here’s my response. First of all, your statement that the galactic center is now transiting the solstitial node rather than in 2012—that’s the only part of the thing you laid out that I would—


Galactic equator.



Yeah—that I would disagree with, and here’s why. When we say the “galactic center,” it turns out, when you turn the lights on on that concept, that it’s extremely slippery. The galaxy is not a basketball. It has a center of mass, which we can’t determine from where we are because we’re out on one limb; edge of it. It has a center of luminosity. It has a volumetric center. I mean, how do you in fact even define what the galaxy is? Because at its outer edges it feathers out into extragalactic space.


Now, what we’re arguing over here is a difference of 12 years. If we accept the premise that we’re trying to locate a point in time where this conjunction of the galactic center and the heliacal rising of the solstitial sun occurs. Now, if you run out and buy a program to run on your PC, like Voyager, and you look at these solstitial sunrises over the next 14 or 15 years, it actually depends on the program you buy, what the contention is that is supported. This is a deep subject. Very interesting. Raises issues of bio-astronomy, archeoastronomy, galactic dynamics. Complicated issues. A book has come out in the last six months called Maya Cosmogenesis 2012 by John Major Jenkins. He’s a fine scholar. I wrote an introduction to the book. But he, over hundreds of pages, can educate you and bring you up to speed about these issues.


If the Maya had never existed we would still be looking at the end of a millennium based on the Gregorian calendar. Now, we tend to say, well, you know, that the Gregorian calendar is out of sync with the Maya. That if there is a collective unconscious, then the European mind somehow made a sloppy download of it. Because the Gregorian calendar is off key to the Mayan by twelve years. But on a scale of a thousand years, that’s a difference of 0.12 percent or something. And on a scale of a billion years, what is being off by twelve years? On a scale of a million years, what is being off by twelve years? So it seems crazy to me to have, you know, violent factions for 2012, and then that… I mean, the point is that something—the galactic mind, the intelligence of the species, the integrated Gaian and galactic entelechy—something is trying to deliver a message. And it is writ large, this message, in our largest systems of defining and understanding time. We are at the end of a cosmic cycle. You can say 1,000 years if you’re a Gregorianist, or you can say a 5,3XX-year cycle, if you’re a Mayanist, or you can say a 25–26,000 year cycle if you’re a precessionist. But the point is we are there. We are there. We are in parking orbit around the eschaton.


And, you know, it permeates our lives. All you have to do is sit down, smoke a bomber, and look, and it’s there, you know? It is pregnant. We are pregnant with this eschatological breakthrough. And, you know, people want it to arrive in the form of ships the size of Manitoba hovering over the Oval Office—perhaps offering oral sex, I’m not sure. But, you see, we are such ephemeral creatures in time. We’re like mayflies or something. Mayflies, who only live for seven days. In other words, our temporal window of perception is so extreme—I mean, people say, “Well, nothing much ever seems to happen.” Well, a hundred years ago there were no movies, automobiles, airplanes, telephones, Internet, atom bombs, antibiotics, DNA sequencing—you know, it’s endless. So, in the space of… and yet, people say, “Eh, nothing much ever seems to happen,” you know? An incredible ability to not register radical change seems to be a precondition of existing in the presence of radical change.


Now, for those of you who care about my theories in this area of mathematics, and deconstruction of the I Ching, and analogising to the Mayan calendar: it is a mathematical game, it is an intellectual game. I discern patterns in nature that cause me to believe that science—which I recently praised—has overlooked. Very important aspects of reality that you don’t need an atom-smasher or a DNA sequencer or a probe to Ganymede to register. And what do I mean by that? Science has overlooked two aspects of nature that, as you sit here, I believe you can hear my case and that you will find in my favor. Here’s what it is.


The first thing which science has not taken on board is the fact that, as you get nearer and nearer the moment in time that we call the present, things become more and more complicated. Now, that may seem like a trivial statement, but there’s no reason for the universe to work like that. Why does the universe go from simple to complicated? Why do you get, at first—moments after the big bang—an ocean of free electrons at such a state of temperature and energy that no molecular bonds can form, atomic systems can’t even form because the bond strength is overwhelmed by the thermal energy in the system. Then it cools down and atoms condense—a more complicated thing than electrons by orders of magnitude. Further cooling, further nuclear cooking of the most primitive elements—hydrogen and helium—in gravitationally aggregated masses called stars cooks out the heavier elements. They emerge. They were never seen before until fusion began to occur in these hydrogen masses. And these fusion processes cook out iron, sulfur, carbon—bingo! Carbon. Molecules! Now, an order of magnitude in their complexity greater than atoms as atoms are to compared to electrons. And then, you know—and I’m compressing 13 billion years of emergence here into 30 seconds—then, out of the molecular soup, you get long chain polymers. Out of the long chain polymers you get molecular transcription systems, i.e. pre-biotic stuff. Out of that you get non-nucleated DNA. Out of that: nucleated DNA. Out of that: membranes, organelles, organisms, higher organisms, differentiation of tissue, our dear selves, culture, language, technology, and the eschaton.


Now, why—this is so obvious. I mean, leaving out the eschaton, if you like. But all the rest of it is totally self-apparent. Why doesn’t science take that on board as a major problem in the description of nature: the emergence of complexity? Well, you ask a scientist, they say, “Well, you see, these are separate domains of nature. How atoms become molecules has nothing to do with how animals become human beings.” This is bullshit! This is just some kind of compartmentalized thinking where you don’t want to come to grips with the overarching metaphors that are working on various levels. The understanding of the fractal ordering of nature now makes it clear that voting patterns in Orange County, distribution of anemones on the Great Barrier Reef, and the cratering of Europa all follow the same power laws. So that’s the first thing which science has staring in the face and has never taken on board.


Now, I said there were two things. The second thing is related to the first. (Double-shot of espresso; you’re really getting your money’s worth here!) The second thing which science has refused to take on board is that this process of complexification that I just described to you—as you approach the place and time called the present—happens faster and faster. That was not necessarily implied by the first observation! The first observation was simply that there was a process which was moving from simple to complex. Now we have the concept of a process which is ever-accelerating as it moves from the simple to the complex. So, more and more happens as you approach the present. And since these processes have been running since the bing bang, there is no argument to be entertained that they will reverse themselves suddenly. No, they’re not going to reverse themselves after thirteen billion years. Duh!


So then—but! The implication of that, carried to its ultimate extreme, leads to a conclusion most people find too wild to entertain: if the universe is evolving deeper and deeper into complexity, faster and faster, and if, now, in a human lifetime, we can see a small portion of this curve—it no longer appears flat to us because of our nearness in relation. You understand what I’m saying? We can actually discern the curve. And so that means, I believe, that by extrapolating this process, we should then logically conclude that we are very near—relative to the life of the universe—we are very near to the place where this ramping-up of complexity will become so excruciatingly rapid that more change will happen in a single week than happened in the previous thirteen billion years. And that, then, there will come a moment where more will happen in a single minute than happened in the previous thirteen billion years. And then a moment will come when more will happen in 6.55 × 1023 erg-seconds—more will happened than has happened. And people say, “Well, but that’s crazy. I mean, what kind of universe is that that ramps up…?”


Well, wait a minute! What’s so crazy about this? Let’s look at what the competition is peddling. What the competition would have you believe is that the universe sprang from nothing, in a single moment, for no reason. Well, now, whatever you think about that theory—in the interests of being awake, please notice that that is the limit case for credulity! Do you know what I mean by that? I mean that, if you can believe that, you can believe anything! That is the most improbable proposition the human mind can conceive of. I challenge you to top it. You know, I mean—I know the Scientologists think God is a clam on another planet, but I don’t think that tops this idea that the universe sprang from nothing in a single moment for no reason. That is article of faith number one.


I say: no, no! If we’re talking about universes that spring from nothing—if we’re gonna talk like that—then surely such universes occur in a situation of great complexity. In other words, if we’re going to look for an enormous eruption of emergent phenomena, an enormous, sudden, unexpected download of novelty, we shouldn’t look in a domain of zero-space, zero-time, zero-energy, zero-anti-entropic-organization. That’s the worst place to look. That’s the least likely place where such a singularity would spring out. Where should you look, if you believe in this Jabberwock, this chimera, this particular beast? Where should you hunt this Snark? You should hunt it in domains of immense complexity where you have matter, energy, light, chemistry, language, machines, people, cultures, intentionality—minds, minds, minds. And if you throw all that stuff together and shake it up, it’s maybe not a sure thing that you will get a singularity, but you’re certainly betting right. Now you’ve figured it out.


So, I think that science is extremely hostile to the idea that the universe is complexifying, and complexifying more and more rapidly. Why? It’s just a historical issue. It has to do with the fact that nineteenth century English biology was extremely hostile to what it called deism. Deism was the reigning religious paradigm of the nineteenth century, and it’s the idea that God is a clockmaker, and that God made the universe and wound it up like a clock, and went away. And what irked Darwin and Lyell and those people was the idea that the universe has a purpose. You see, they thought that, if it has a purpose, this somehow means there is a God. And they weren’t up for that. They were trying to build rational science into a tool for understanding nature. I think we have grown beyond that. And it’s foolish to wear those tight, nineteenth-century, high-buttoned shoes. We can believe that the universe is following an organizational vector. We can believe that the universe is under the influence of a strange attractor. We can believe that the universe is pulled toward a future de nomoi, as well as pushed by the unfolding of causal necessity. We can believe all of that without evoking the nineteenth-century concept of God.


Now, why do I spend so much time on this? And what’s so great about all this? Here’s what’s so great about all this. If you will join me in this belief that the universe works as I have described: it’s an engine for the generation of complexity, and it preserves complexity, and it builds on complexity to ever-higher levels. If you entertain this, guess what happens? It’s like a light comes on on the human condition. Who are we in my story? Well, first let me tell you who are “we” in science’s story. We are nobody! We are lucky to be here. We are a cosmic accident. We exist on an ordinary star, at the edge of a typical galaxy, in an ordinary part of space and time. And essentially, our existence is without meaning, or you have to perform one of those existential pas de deux where you confer meaning, or, you know, one of these postmodern soft shoes. But if I’m right—that the universe has an appetite for novelty—then we are the apple of its eye. Suddenly, cosmic purpose is restored to us. We left the center of the cosmic stage in the thirteenth century and haven’t been back since. But this idea says: no, people matter. You are the cutting edge of a thirteen-billion-year-old process of defining novelty. Your acts matter. Your thoughts matter. Your purpose? To add to the complexity. Your enemy? Disorder, entropy, stupidity, and tastelessness.


And so, suddenly, then—you know, you have a morality, you have an ethical arrow, you have contextualization in the processes of nature, you have meaning, you have authenticity, you have hope. You have the cancellation of existentialism and positivism and all that late-twentieth-century crapola that people used to entertain back in the old days. So that’s why I am so keen for the idea of novelty: because it seems self-evident. And, you know, we can argue about whether the eschaton will arrive in 2000, or 2012, or 3000. But I cannot believe that there is anybody in this room tonight who can—the hardest thing to imagine is human history going on for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of more years. That’s impossible! We see around us the processes that make of history a self-limited game. The clock’s ticking, folks. You think we can do gene-splicing and Internet and psychedelic drugs and manipulation of our genetic material and starflight and anti-matter and quantum teleportation and all these things? You can extrapolate that five-hundred years into the future? Don’t be ridiculous! No, history is some kind of a phase transition. It only lasts about 25,000 years. Some people think that’s a long time, some people think it’s a short time. It depends on where you stand. I think of it as, snap! You know? One moment you’re hunting ungulates on the plains of Africa, and the next moment you’re hurling a gold ytterbium superconducting extrastellar device toward Alpha Centauri with all of mankind aboard in virtual space being run as a simulation in circuitry. You know? It’s just first the one thing, then the other thing.


But now, history—which lasts 25,000 years—is this weird period where you’re neither fish nor fowl. You know? You’re not the hunting ape anymore, but you are not yet the sixteen-dimensional digital god. You know? And in that transition phase there is confusion, there is angst. But now we’re at the end. We have no—I maintain anybody who’s peddling angst and peddling pessimism and peddling all this stuff is just that’s so two-minutes ago!



I heard you on the radio being interviewed a while back talking about—it’s DMT, is that the…?


That is.


And that got me really interested. And you said that it was basically unavailable.


From me. Is that your question?


Well… no. Close, close. No, I was really wondering—I had interpreted that you had said that it was pretty much unavailable, period. And I was wondering if, in fact, it was available, and if not, I mean that just sort of renewed my interest in psychedelics. Which, now, do you think is the second-best choice?


Well, first let me say—because it’s an—


And I’d like to hear maybe just a little more about DMT.



Okay. Well, first thing, let me say—which is a piece of practical advice. The psychedelic community is cleverly invisible because our choices in gender expression, fashion, so forth and so on, have, by crypto-osmosis, come to dominate the values of the culture. We can no longer tell ourselves from straight people. So the only opportunity where we really come out of the woodwork is a thing like this. But then, of course, there’s a tendency to fall into old-think, and everybody focus on the alpha male spiel-meister at the front of the room. So let me point out to you: I’m leaving, I’m going home to Hawaii tomorrow morning. But this is your community. This is your community. And whatever it is that you think you need, there are a dozen people in this room who can help you out. And I am not one of them, because I have a different assignment. But look around. And, of course, be careful. But, after all, this is about consciousness, right? I mean, if you’re not conscious enough to conduct that social transaction without flubbing it up, that’s probably God’s way of telling you you shouldn’t be proceeding toward high doses anyway. Yeah. Oh, and you wanted me to say more about it.


[???] and, anyway, I’m going with the man in the black and red poncho.



The man in the black and red poncho. Yeah, I mean, in a way it’s impossible to talk about DMT, but on the other hand, it’s fun to try to talk about it because it pushes the horse of language into a lather. Basically, when you smoke DMT, what happens is pure confoundment. And, you know—I’m trying to speak generally here—in the sense that different people are confounded by different things. So, of course, it addresses you personally. Your level and tolerance for confoundment is a very personal thing. People have asked me about DMT: is it dangerous? And the real answer is: only if you fear death by astonishment. You know? And you deliver that line, and then people laugh—except the people who’ve done DMT don’t laugh because they understand: death by astonishment is no remote possibility. Death by astonishment is right there. When was the last time you were astonished? Unless I smoke DMT, it doesn’t happen to me. Amazed—occasionally. Astonished? Never. Astonishment is when your jaw hangs—for a long time. You know? And DMT is simply confounding.


Now, how could something be that confounding? I mean, you can imagine taking a drug, and realizing that you should treat your partner better, or realizing that God really exists, or realizing that you should exercise more, or realizing that the planet is an organized intelligence. But how could something be as confounding as DMT is? Well, I think the answer to that—and it took me a while to get to this—is that the reason it’s so confounding is because its impact is on the language-forming capacity itself. So the reason it’s so confounding is because the thing which is trying to look at the DMT is infected by it; by the process of inspection.


So DMT does not provide an experience which you analyze. Nothing so tidy goes on. The syntactical machinery of description undergoes some kind of hyper-dimensional inflation instantly. And then, you know, you cannot tell yourself what it is that you understand. In other words, what DMT does can’t be downloaded into as low-dimensional a language as English. And so, you’re like… I remember a B-movie I saw when I was a kid, and it was set somewhere in Mexico and there was a big swamp, and there was a dinosaur in the swamp. And at one point this campesino comes, who encounters the dinosaur, comes rushing out of the swamp and the patrón of the ranch is there, and this terrified guy is there in this serape, and he can only point to the forest and sort of make a croaking sound. And that’s what English allows you to do with the experience of DMT. You just come down a sputtering mess, if it works. You just come down saying, you know, “My god! It’s not what I thought it was.” And this is after you’ve done it twenty times. You say, “It’s not what I thought it was. It’s not what I can think it is!”


And to me it’s a miracle, because my intellectual arrow and how I brought myself up in terms of all these things was: I am a rationalist, and I am interested in testing, and verifying, and proceeding to define truth by non-exotic means. In other words, no archangels, none of that. And as I matured intellectually, I began to eliminate mystery from the world. You know? I’d look into some spiritual discipline, conclude, “No, that’s a bunch of crap.” I’d go to some teacher, conclude, “No, this guy is a weasel.” I tested. I sought the weird, but with an attitude of critical skepticism. And I assumed, blithely, that with this flashlight I would soon prove there were no elves out there in the darkness. Turns out: no, no. This is the way to proceed, because stuff which is malarkey will be exposed as malarkey. Instantly, you know? You just go to the guru and you say, “What can you show me?” And if the guy wants you to sweep up around the ashram for a dozen years or so you say, “No, I’m outta here.” But when you get to DMT, it delivers. It delivers. It is as strange as anything can be. It is, you know, it is not only stranger than you suppose, as you sit here, it is stranger than you can suppose.


And what makes me wild about this is we’re not talking about something that you have to go 500 miles up a jungle river and live with primitive people and study techniques for thirty years. We’re talking about something which, if I had a pipe loaded with it in my hand, each one of you would be thirty seconds away from what I’m talking about. Well, you know, you’ve tripped and yeah, you lived in Paris and you went to Trebizond and all these things, but nothing like this ever descended. But it’s so near. You know, it’s not attained by practicing tantric techniques or building up mon—it’s none of that. It’s just near. Very near. One toke away is this absolutely reality-dissolving, category-reconstructing, mind-boggling possibility. And I feel like this is a truth that has to be told. I’m like the campesino running out of the swamp and saying, you know, “Over here!” You know? “The orange thing! Do that!”

Alright, that’s enough about DMT. You gotta take hold here. Thank you very, very much. Thank you.

Terence McKenna


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