The first thing I wanted to talk about was: because the summer solstice is a great pagan celebration, and because we self-consciously celebrate it with the sense that we are participating in something which goes slightly against the grain of the dominator culture in which we’re embedded, and because that culture has made a paragon of reason, I thought it might be fun tonight to just talk a little bit about reason and intuition, and the forms and the politics that attend each. So let me dig into this a little and think aloud.
Reason, which is always held up as the path to true understanding, has two forms. They are called deduction and induction. And all forms of reason can be subsumed under these two types. Now, deduction—which is considered the stronger form of reason—is called reasoning from first principles, and it works like this: you start from an idea which cannot be proven. You accept it as given and you reason outward from it. An example that is familiar to all of us would be Euclid’s elements of plane geometry. You start with what appears to be an incontrovertible truth, or what we agree appears to be an incontrovertible truth. In the case of Euclid, propositions such as, “parallel lines never cross, never meet.” Well, you can imagine a railroad in your head and run your mind along it to infinity, and then you’ve inspected the infinite railroad, and lo and behold, at the no point did the rails cross. So you accept this as true. Then you can reason from it. Now, in the case of the Euclidean proposition that parallel lines don’t meet, you test the truth of it by carrying out this imaginary inspection of the items involved and verifying that the statement appears true in all cases that you can imagine.
But other branches of human knowledge also use deduction. Interestingly enough, theology. Theology. So theology reasons in the following manner: God exists. This is perhaps not Christian theology, this is a generic theology. God exists. Because Christian theology would seek to go further back and prove, in some cases such as scholasticism, that God exists. But let’s just start with the given assumption that God exists. And then a second assumption: and God loves us. Given these two assumptions, then deduction goes to work and elaborates an explanation for why we are not with God, how we can get to God, and so forth and so on.
So deduction is useful—notice that my two examples have been drawn from (in the case of Euclid) mathematics, in the case of the second case from theology, a branch of philosophy. So deduction seems to have an important role in these abstract systems. But remember, I said it was one of two forms of reasoning that are ordinarily dealt with. Now, the second form of reasoning is, to my mind, more interesting. The second form of reasoning is induction. Not deduction, induction. And induction—for those who believe in it—is thought to be without doubt a superior form of reasoning to deduction because it leads to a control and a manipulation of real consequences in the world.
Okay, what is induction, and how does it work? Well, it works like this: when I hit the water with a shovel it makes a splash. Every time I hit the water with the shovel it makes a splash. Therefore—this is the leap, the “therefore”—therefore, shovels can be used to make water splash. Now, notice what is interesting about this in contrast to deduction is that there is no untested first principle. You don’t state something and then reason from it, you make repetitious observations, and then those observations which are most repetitious you raise to the status of laws. Induction.
And this was abhorrent to philosophical thinkers because it doesn’t have this Aristotelean purity that deduction has. It doesn’t have this mathematical elegance. It’s messy. It’s all down in the world, observing and comparing and repeating experimentally procedures. But nevertheless, out of inductive reasoning comes the structure of modern science.
Okay. But now there’s a funny thing about induction. It’s making an unstated assumption about time. It is making the assumption that time is invariant. Because what it is saying is: if A precedes B in a 1,000 cases, then it is likely that A will precede B in the 1,001st case. In other words, it’s a probabilistic theory. It assumes that probabilistic laws give momentum to repetitious observation. Now, the question is: is this so? And the answer is: well, it’s so in some cases, but not in the most interesting cases. The most interesting cases I believe are the cases which lie in the realm of primary experience of being—the felt experience of being. And in that realm—the realm of love affairs, divorces, lawsuits, religions, political upheavals, and that sort of thing—induction is no good guide at all. One love affair does not explain another. One marriage does not illuminate another. One revolution really does not shed light on another. There may be generalizations, but when you live through these things, what you take from them is the uniqueness of the experience.
The first principles that are reasoned from in deduction, whether in the realm of a deductive mathematical system like Euclid or a rational theology, these things are seen to rest on foundations of sand because of this problem of the axiom. In mathematics the axiom appears fairly secure because it’s self-evident—such as: parallel lines never meet. It rests on its self-evidence to make its appeal to reason, you see. You can see that it is true, though no one has ever figured out how to prove this. You can see that it is true. But when you move from the realm of axioms to the realm of theological first principles, the appeal then is not at all to the obviousness of it, but to the desirability of it. That God exists, that God loves us. We hope these things are true, but they are certainly not self-evident in the scheme of things from the point of view of most of us. So what this shows, then, I think, is that, in the matter of deeper things, deductive reasoning rests only on the appeal that hope can lend to its case.
Okay. So from me, this is a critique of deduction. Now, what about induction? I referred to the fact that its premises rest on this notion of temporal invariance, which seems to be true only for the grossest of phenomena. Science has made great hay in dimension by creating laws—which are essentially predictive laws—of cyclical phenomena that define for us what part of reality goes around and comes around. In other words, we can predict simple phenomena involving the mechanical orbits in gravitational fields, we can make simple predictions about the end results of certain chemical processes, certain nuclear processes, so forth and so on. But when you lay it against the background of nature and experience, it begins to look like pretty thin soup. It’s no basis for claiming epistemic preeminence.
And this is the point that I want to make: science claims epistemic preeminence. That means that science doesn’t say, “We are an ideology like Buddhism and Taoism and the Tarot.” They say, “We are a metasystem. We shall judge all other systems in our scales.” Well, this is politics, but not good philosophy. Because there is no basis for this claim to epistemic preeminence. So this someone egghead rave is supposed to pass for a pagan polemic on the summer solstice because it’s an attack on the foundations of reason itself. And as you know, when reason goes, barbarism and madness cannot be far behind. And as a self-declared philosophical anarchist, as in fact the founding member of the Henri Poincaré Anarchist Internationale, our motto is: chaos is order. I believe that it’s entirely appropriate to carry out an attack on reason.
Okay. So then, what are we left with? Well, what we’re left with is intuition. Intuition. And what is it, and how does it work? Well, it’s a feeling into things that comes to answers and leaves no trail. That’s the thing. It leaves no trail. So you have it, but you haven’t the argument for it. And so its power must reside in its truthfulness. So the power of intuition lies in its ability to express truth in contravention to the forward flow of logic and casuistry. Well, is it always to be this—you know how the Tao is presented as this Eastern concept that you can barely wrap your mind around and that hovers at the edge of intelligibility?—well, really, these so-called obscure oriental philosophical stances always turn out to have a corollary in Western thinking. And the corollary to the Tao, to Taoism, is institutionalism; is an ability to sense the constraints and opportunities in the moment and act through it. Intuition.
And intuition is always presented in the dominator society as, one: vague, two: feminine, three: unreliable. But this is simply because of this bias toward deductive and inductive systems whose falsity I have just demonstrated to you. In fact, in the felt domain of experience called “living,” intuition is how most of us—even the most self-defined as non-intuitional—are operating. Intuition is a kind of field processing of both the foreground and the background of experience. It’s a gestalt understanding that is subliminal and that leads the whole organism through an invisible set of creodes towards the maximizing of some kind of a goal. Okay. End of act one.
The second act opens in the middle of the nineteenth century with science responding, albeit unconsciously, to an understanding of what I’ve just said: the inadequacy of reason, the necessity of intuition. And yet, all this going on in a domain of Victorian gentlemen with beards to their belts and a world where pianos wore pants. So, you know, it worked its way out subtly in the notion of evolution. And evolution is a very interesting concept that even those of us who profess to believe in it, I think, don’t fully grasp what comes in this package.
We all are taught that, in the nineteenth century, a great struggle was waged between science and religion because science had the audacity to suggest that human beings were descended from the great apes. And we all know who took what sides and the kind of polemics that were raised, and we all know the happy ending of this story with the great triumph of modern evolutionary biology. However, that, to my mind—looking at it from the point of view of a philosopher—is all sham. Or it’s like the eleven o’clock news version of what actually happened. That’s how rather silly people understood the great intellectual watershed struggle of the nineteenth century. That is not, in fact, what it was about. That’s not what it was about
The outrageous assertion of the evolutionists—of Darwin particularly, and his school—was not that human beings were descended from the great apes. In fact, the outrageous assertion wasn’t even contained in the part of the manuscript that was called The Descent of Man. You recall it was called The Origin of Species and the Descent of Man. And where the real kicker was lodged was in The Origin of Species. Why? Because Darwin set out to show that nature could be the product of processes without purpose. That was the bit that brought the roof down. Ordinary people couldn’t understand this. This is the so-called teleological issue. But this is what brought the Christian church roaring to its feet in confrontation with evolutionary biology: the assertion that nature could be accounted for by processes that were not guided toward a higher end, by a higher power; that simply random molecular processes and then pressures of environmental selection could cause to come to be animals, plants, and ultimately human beings. But the fight was over teleology. The fight was over whether or not the universe has a purpose toward which all creation moves ineluctably, or whether nature is (what the Darwinists called it, which was) trendlessly fluctuating. Trendlessly fluctuating.
So it was an attack on God, not the divine status of man. That was peanuts in this poker game. It was an attack on the need for God per se as an efficient cause in the machinery of universal being. Well, it’s a very interesting question and a very interesting struggle, because we are still caught up in it. American transcendentalism—while all this was going on in England—American transcendentalism was exploring the transcendental realms of the human spirit cast against the background of the American landscape.
And this question of the telos in nature was to make lifelong friends into enemies and sunder families. Alfred Russel Wallace, who was the co-discoverer of evolution with Darwin—really, preceded him—he had a fever. He was a professional butterfly collector, as I was once in my youth, and on the island of Ternate in eastern Indonesia Wallace fell into a malarial fever. And at the height of this fever he wrote down a page and a half of scribbling which, when he came down from this illness and read it, it seemed to hold up. And what he had discovered was what all biology was seeking: what he called the solution to the problem of the species. And he looked at this thing, and what it was, was: a description of natural selection. And it seemed to work.
Well, Wallace was from the lower classes, had made his living in England as a surveyor, was essentially a field biologist because he was not accepted by the gentleman scientists of England. He didn’t know where to turn. So he fired off a letter to the only person he could think of to ask, who was the greatest biologist of the day: Charles Darwin, at home in England in his garden, working over twenty years of notes on the problem of the species. When Darwin got this letter from this unknown character postmarked Embonne [?], Dutch East Indies, and read it, he paled visibly. And he went to his friend, Sir Charles Lyle, who was the greatest geologist of the day; the proponent of catastrophism, and was to develop into one of the great defenders of Darwin’s theory. He went to Charles Lyle and said, “I’ve been working twenty years on this idea. This came in the post. This is it. It’s all here.” And Lyle said, “Don’t worry, my friend. We will schedule two papers to be delivered at the Royal Society. They will be delivered on the same evening, and yours shall be first!” And so it was. And so it comes down to us as Darwin’s theory of evolution.
But in fact, in a way for philosophical purists, it may have been better that way, because Wallace—who was in many ways a deeper thinker than Darwin, was a Fabian socialist, was fascinated by paranormal phenomena as well as being interested in electricity, biogeography, anthropology; truly one of the last of the great polymaths—Wallace was unable to take the final step on the question of teleology. And he said, “I cannot believe that random processes ameliorated by natural selection can give rise to a creature such as man.”
So this was the break in the nineteenth century. And it arises out of the earlier foundation of the struggle between intuition and reason. I mean, I think our intuition must place us in Wallace’s camp—that there is a telos of some sort. There is an Omega Point toward which all creation (however unsteadily) moves. And it is because of this Omega Point that we do live in a cosmos and not a chaos, not simply a raging confusion but something that is structured and ordered. Well, in spite of the fact that evolution was seeking to serve the most rigorous scientific desires to exclude teleology and to exclude God from the process of the natural world, it introduced a bizarre concept which cut against its own purposes.
The concept is: a kind of progress in nature where previously none had been. So that, from Aristotle to the nineteenth century, what you have as a theory of nature is what’s called the Great Chain of Being, or the Great Ladder of Being. And it stretches from God, through the archangels, the serabim, the cherubim, man, then the animal kingdom, the vegetable kingdom, so forth and so on. But it is imagined as static, as put in place by the fiat looks of creation. Set in place for all time. What Darwin did was to see it as not a Great Chain of Being, but as an escalator of being. He added the notion of progressive movement toward higher and higher forms, more and more complex manifestations of the intrinsic ingression of novelty into actual events.
And this idea is very, very interesting and cogent and pregnant with possibility for all of us and our world. You see, what it is, really, is: it’s a recasting of an idea that had been banished for several centuries from Western thinking. It is the alchemical idea that nature is driving to perfect itself. This was what the alchemists believed. They believed that, through time, lesser metals became gold, and that what the alchemist was trying to do was to compress time. He was trying to catalyze a natural process so that what took thousands (in their imagination) years in the body of the Earth could be compressed into days or weeks in the alembic of the alchemist.
Well, as science defined itself throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth century under the impetus of Descartes and Kant and all of these people, this notion of the world as a distillate apparatus was given up. But it returns in the idea of evolution. And we inherit it in the social world. Now, this is a delicate point. There is something called Social Darwinism, otherwise known as fascism. Social Darwinism uses a very vulgar understanding of evolutionary dynamics to justify class oppression by saying that it must be right that some people have their foot on other people’s necks because isn’t this what nature is about? Struggle of the fittest and survival of the longest-fanged, the swiftest claw, the sharpest tooth? Well, the answer is: no, absolutely not.
This rests on an understanding of nature that was in vogue 150 years ago, but is not in vogue now. That’s what you see when you look at nature in the human dimension. But when you analyze nature as an integrated system of chemical reactions—gene transfer, catalytic self-regulating activities, hypercycles of energy, nutrients, and metabolism—when you analyze nature from that point of view, you see that it seeks to maximize cooperation, connectedness. Mutual interdependability is the thing which holds the whole thing together. And the species that is most successful is not the species that can dominate all others, it’s the species that can make itself indispensable to all others. Look at the evolutionary success of the bacteria. You know, they settled in for the long haul and no higher form of life can operate without them. And so the possibility of bacteria becoming extinct is laughable. I mean, they’ll be the last to go because they have made themselves indispensable.
This idea, then, of evolution has strongly entered the human world. And science hates this. I had somebody once say to me, “If it doesn’t involve genes, it ain’t evolution. And you should not use the word evolution to describe progressive change.” They didn’t like that. They said evolution is a technical term used by biologists and it applies to genetic material only. Books do not evolve, social systems do not evolve, corporations, relationships do not evolve. This is a misuse of the word. Well, since then, evolutionary thinkers like C. H. Waddington, Erich Jantsch, West Churchman, Paul Feyerabend, Ervin László have, I think, by the sheer force and volume of their writings overwhelmed this notion and reclaimed evolution as a much broader concept than it was understood to be in the nineteenth century.
Evolution is now understood to be the triumphant march out of chaos into order, connectedness, self-expression, and self-reflection that begins with the first moments following the big bang. In other words, we have atomic evolution—evolution of atomic systems as electrons settle down into stable orbits. We have chemical evolution into more and more complex molecular forms, which finally become polymers. These polymers further evolve into complex intergetic systems capable of self-replication, motility, and eventually the writing of operas. So what we see when we look at the universe is that you have to be blind to this progressive tendency that has worked its will with the random plasma of pure electrons, with the chemistry of stars, with the molecular chemistry of primitive planets, with plant and animal life, with human epigenetic coding systems—carving, dance, ritual, vocalization, magic—and this process precedes right up into the twentieth century with this phenomenon that we all give some credence to: the notion that we are living in a period of compressed time.
Well, so what are we to do with that? I think what we have to do is begin, then, to design this process. It is now moving fast enough that it is within the ken of each one of us to see progressive consolidation of change taking place in the world around us. We, as human beings, I think, are destined to be the design and control element in this thing; in this global Gaian process. Never mind that we have done it so badly up to now, because now—meaning the twentieth century—is a completely different kind of epistemic world than any world that preceded it. And to the degree that we can shed the inherited behavior patterns of previous centuries, previous cultural styles, and actually take hold of the tools present at hand, we can guide and control this evolutionary process.
Culture—as it is, in a sense, the software of the infrastructure of the global civilization, which is the hardware. We don’t need to make major design revisions in the hardware. The hardware is how we produce and move around food, how we produce energy. The major restructuring there is simply a matter of cleaning it up, making it more efficient, less toxic, less enslaved to the notion of making a buck, more enslaved to the notion of serving human needs. So the hardware structure can be pretty much redesigned along the lines that are clear to even the engineering mentalities among us. What is not so clear is that culture can be redefined as software and radically rewritten so that it runs much more smoothly.
Now, notice that I did not say that we were software or hardware. We are neither. We are the user. And this is the important thing to remember. We are not scripting ourselves into some kind of machine future, we are designing the future that we want to have rather than allowing the blunders of our grandparents to dictate the kind of future we will have. We’re very late waking up to the necessity for this. This is because we tend to operate along very short-term goals. It’s very hard for us to put in place a project that looks 40 or 50 years ahead. It was interesting—a couple of years ago there was an article in the Whole Earth Review about a chapel at Oxford: that the main beam of this chapel, which was an oak beam about so by so, was rotted through with worms and had to be replaced. And it was no problem because, 800 years ago, an English king planted an oak tree that was to be grown for the specific purpose of replacing this beam when it should need to be replaced. And so this 750-year-old oak tree was cut and the beam hewn and put into place. And it inspired them to plant another oak tree—which is not a bad idea!
Okay. Well, so that’s maybe enough about evolution. Now I want to talk about revolution, which is also in the solstitial theme, because what the solstice marks is the return of the heliacal rising of the sun to a certain fixed star against the background of fixed stars in our calendar system. What it really celebrates is the longest day of the year, the day when the sun makes its deepest incursion into the northern latitudes. It’s interesting—the theme of revolution is dealt with in the I Ching. And since, of course, the I Ching was one of the five Confucian classics, you might turn to that passage expecting a discourse on political reformations. And when you look at the hexagram revolution it says nothing about political guidance to revolutionaries, it says instead: the magician is a calendar-maker. He measures the seasons and he sets them right.
And so the last idea, maybe, that I want to leave with you tonight is a few thoughts about the calendar, because I have fastened onto the calendar as an interesting vehicle for changing people’s conceptions of reality. I don’t think we realize how thoroughly our worldview is dominated by the unconscious preconceptions that are built into our calendar. The Chinese understood this. This is why, when there were great social revolutions, a new calendar was always put in place. We have used the present calendar with a minor correction for 2,000 years—for one entire zodiacal age. And we assume—I assume we assume—that we use this calendar that we do because it must be a very good one. And it must be the best of all. And it must be the simplest. And it is true that, when you look back into time, you do find bizarre calendrical arrangements. For instance, I don’t know if you knew this, but Roman months counted up to the middle day of the month and then, like a rocket launching, counted down to the end day of the month. This is why the middle day of Roman months—which was called the ides—was considered an unlucky day, because that was the day that the upward switched to a downward count. Well, we would find this very clumsy.
But notice that what the logic—and we’ve talked about logic, reason, and deduction this evening—the logic behind our calendar is that it is a good solar calendar. Well, what do we mean by a good solar calendar? Well, calendar-makers will tell you that a good solar calendar is a calendar such that, on the same day of every year, the sun rises in the same place against the background of the fixed stars. This is what we mean when we say the sun is in Aries: we mean that, at dawn, the constellation Aries is blotted out by the heliacal light of the rising sun. But the sun is this solar, masculine, Apollonian archetype. It is the archetype of the ego as God. It is the archetype of the center, the unity.
The solar calendar is set up so that we do not have what is called a precession. A precession is where the days slip against the background of the fixed stars. The notion of our calendar is that it is an agricultural calendar, and we want our great agricultural holidays to always fall in the times of harvest and planting. So a solar year must be used. But what this does is it has an underlying assumption which is false, and which has been inculcated into our psychology to detrimental ends. And it is this: that this obsession with fixing the solstices and the equinoxes against the fixed stars is the effort to build a structure on the very largest level—the level of the planet itself—to build a structure that is fixed, that is enduring. And the great pride of our calendar is that we say it does not slip. That means it’s fixed and enduring.
Well, you may not know that the reason it doesn’t slip is because there’s a fudge factor in it. We’re all familiar with the fudge factor of leap year—that every four years we have to add a [day] to keep it okay. But how many of you knew that every century-year divisible by 400 is also a leap year, even if it occurs out of sequence? The year 2000 will be such a leap year. It is a century-year divisible by 400. So was 1600. And so in that case you have a leap year even though the previous or the following year may be a leap year. So there is a fudge factor in the high and mighty solar paternal calendar that keeps it on track.
Well, somewhat facetiously, what I propose at least as a thought model is an entirely different year length: 384 days. Now, 384 days is an interesting number. It’s thirteen lunations—precisely thirteen lunations. And so we would have, therefore, a need for a thirteenth month in the calendar. And I propose that the thirteenth month follow August and precede September and be called Remember. And the month of Remember will be a month of great mnemonic celebration and recovery of the past. It will be a celebration of the past. Well, okay, now we have thirteen months. That’s wonderful. But we have purchased this thirteenth month at the expense of nineteen days that overshoot the solar year. What about that? Well, instead of viewing that as a problem (as it always has been viewed), let’s view it as an opportunity. What happens if you use a day length nineteen days longer than the solar year? Well, it means that the great festivals of the solar year—Easter, Christmas, the Fourth of July (let’s call it Independence Day so we don’t confuse ourselves, because it’s going to move)—that these great festivals will do what is called precess. Each year they will come nineteen days later against the solar year than the year before.
So in such a calendrical system, as a child, Christmas would occur, let us say, in winter. By the time you were in your middle teens, Christmas would be occurring in springtime. By the time you were in your mid-twenties, Christmas would be occurring in high summer. And in your mid-thirties it would occur in autumn. And through a life of 60 or 70 years the solar festivals would migrate through the seasons. Well, this may seem trivial to you—and hey, it may be!—but the psychology of it is that it’s trying to build in at the highest level a truth which we have lost sight of, which is the idea that everything flows, that everything is impermanent, that flux is the only standard. Flux is the only thing you can depend on.
If we gave ourselves permission at the highest and deepest psychological level—the place where we measure time and the spectacle of our life as spread out against the grid of the history that we live through—if we were to give that permission to be portrayed on a grid that emphasized flow, transience, change, and recursion rather than this constipated solar square against the fixed stars, then what we are really doing, you see, is changing archetypes. We are changing archetypes. And what are we changing? We are changing the Apollonian, solar, paternalistic, dominator archetype for the feminine, oceanic, intuitive, giving and taking archetype of flow and life and death and completion through change rather than completion which seeks to stave off change and then is inevitably swept away, and therefore somehow touched with pathos.
Well, maybe that’s enough. Maybe there are questions. This was somewhat meandering. I’ll recap it for you to try and give you the illusion that there was a plan. We began by celebrating the solstice with an attack on reason and logic in favor of the primacy of intuition in spite of its nakedness. Intuition cannot clothe itself in the armor of logic, but I hope I demonstrated to you that the armor of logic is wide-mesh chain mail. In fact, it’s chicken wire. In fact, it may be chicken shit, so…!
So the primacy of intuition and how that intuition led into a peculiar episode in nineteenth century science where committed atheists found themselves serving the recovery of the alchemical ideal through the notion of nature as an engine of telos and progressivism. And then, from that, the notion of our own century as the concrescence of this teleological process that is leading everything into deeper and deeper modes of self-reflection and connectedness. And finally, to put the snake’s tail in its mouth, to return to the theme of the solstice and to offer, again, a counterpose to the calendar of reason, the calendar of solar-paternalism, to offer instead a potential calendar in celebration of flux, change, growth, and feminism, which are the values that are going to have to be maximized if we are going to open a dialogue with our souls and the soul of the planet and save ourselves from the lethal momentum that so many hundreds of years of dominator culture have imparted to the machinery of our civilization.
I mean, we must awaken. And these little probes—games about logic and calendars and shifting perspective on these various issues—this is just a way to promote cognitive activity, to say the path out of the Selva Oscura, the path out of the dark wood in which we find ourselves, is cognition, thought, getting smart fast. We have to dance, sing, calculate, and drum our way out of the circumstances into which we have fallen. And to the degree that we can celebrate the irrational, the feminine, the unconscious, the trans-personal, and even the psychedelic, to the degree that we can celebrate these things, we are giving permission for the order that is in nature to manifest.
The plan wants to come to be. We have to get out of the way. And what that means is: all the tricks in the book to diminish ego, to diminish ego as a cultural ideal. I mean, ego is not a male problem, it’s not a yuppie problem, it’s not a white people problem, it’s just a problem. And until we get this higher perspective we are going to continue to rattle the bars of our cage. The higher perspective depends on seeing things on a scale of thousands of years and potentially millions of light-years. A cosmic scale—the correct scale; the scale on which we are truly operating. I mean, the minutiae of our personal lives is that. It’s that our lives are an opening into a trans-personal opportunity, you know?
I mean, I’ve said this in my smaller class: I take the notion of tantra seriously—if by “tantra” what we mean is the shortcut path: that life is some kind of opportunity. It’s an opening between unbridgeable chasms of the unknown. And yet, out of chaos—for 20, 40, 70 years—we come into a domain of immense opportunity. It is a conundrum, it is a puzzle, it is something to be figured out. And I have the faith that, if we can figure this out, we can somehow not only make a better world for our children, but in some other profound way we can even undo what has been done. This would be the ultimate dream: that somehow we can discover an elegant escape that will leave us with the clear understanding that the problem was an illusion. It was an illusion. It was the last illusion.
What, in your position, is the effect of myth? What has happened to our society, you think, by [???] the obvious cooperative evolutionary process about us everywhere, and yet we don’t have a myth that fits it? What will happen to us if we don’t get a myth?
Well, we do have a myth, we just don’t call it that. I mean, our myth is the Faustian myth that reason can wring the secrets from nature and thereby make man a god. This is the myth of modern science. All of the alchemical dreams of the sixteenth century—transformation of matter, prolongation of life, so forth and so on—have been achieved by twentieth-century science. The problem is that our myth is a fatal one.
That’s what I’m saying. Where is a myth that fits the evolutionary [???]? I hear the calendar as a myth that would fit. What happens to us if we don’t get one?
Well, what happens to us if we don’t get one is we just drive this bicycle right over the cliff in the next 40 or 50 years. The myth that is trying to be born in science—and it has to be born there because that’s the dominant church—the myth that is trying to be born in science is the rebirth of the spirit. The spirit has been banished from science. And not that long. Don’t think that it’s been that long. As late as the early twentieth century there were people like Driesch in Germany, who were embryologists who were looking at the morphogenesis of form, and they said there must be what they called the élan vital: there had to be a vital spark. There had to be an indestructible something there. Well then, of course, DNA came along to explain no, no, it isn’t that at all, it’s just these proteins are uncoded and so forth.
But spirit has never really died in certain branches of biology and psychology. You see, there are problems for science. The chief problem is this one: that I can hold out my hand, that I can tell you that I’m going to close it, and that this happens. What you see is mind over matter. What you see is free will. You see mind willing matter to behave, and it happens. Within the confines of the body paranormal activity appears to be going on. None of these hotshots can explain how you can conceive of turning your hand into a fist and cause it to happen. Right there is the defeat of 2,000 years of rational scientific philosophy. And they just say, “Yes, that’s right. But we make great fighter planes!”
So I see Rupert Sheldrake as very important in the process in building a new scientific myth, because what he is saying is on one level completely outlandish, on another level he completes a program that has been going on since the 1850s. Tonight I talked about biology and evolution, but there were parallel events in the nineteenth century going on in the field of the study of magnetism and electricity. And people like Faraday and Helmholtz and James Clerk Maxwell were discovering fields. Well, fields are extremely, sort of, metaphysical phenomena. I mean, they are invisible, they pervade all space, they can’t be seen, and yet instruments can be seen to detect them. And not only that, we can transmit music and voice hundreds of miles right now. This room is interpenetrated by hundreds and hundreds of long-distance telephone calls, high-frequency radio transmissions, high-frequency television. We see none of this. If you had told someone in the 1850s that in the twentieth century people would live in an ocean of invisible vibrational energy carrying messages over thousands of miles they would not have believed it. Sheldrake is simply saying that the part of reality that science has hitherto been unable to account for is going to have to be accounted for by adding a field into the already allowed fields, which are the electromagnetic field, basically; the electromagnetic spectrum.
Well, this field which Sheldrake wants to establish is called a morphogenetic field. It means that somehow the history of this glass is attendant upon it. The history of the glass has followed it here this evening, as has the history of the pillow, and your history, and your history. And that we are, in fact—that the past is present in the present. That, in fact, the present is somehow a cascade of effects coming out of the past, not along the lines of causal declension (cause and effect), but also in this other way. And I think that there’s a lot to this. And I think that eventually Sheldrake will be heard. As yet, he’s unable to stride to the blackboard and write the equations for the morphogenetic field, but this could come in time. And when it does it will elucidate the hidden dimension that so bedevils our understanding. Because it will explain why things are as they are. That they are as they are because they are a wavefront out of the past meeting the boundary constraints of the present situation.
My own personal effort to restart a dialogue on the psychedelic issue is because I believe that psychology has reduced its field of expertise unnecessarily by seeking to see everything as an adjunct to the functional or dysfunctional human personality. In other words, we don’t know what the mind is. The notion that it arises out of the brain is something that the reductionists hypothesized with Sherrington in the 1920s—my god, they’ve had 60 years to make good on this and they’ve gotten nowhere, you know? How long do you beat a hypothesis before you proclaim it a dead horse? Same thing with molecular biology: DNA was decoded in 1950; 35 years ago. And has molecular biology taken a significant step since? I mean, yes, I know about operons and all that stuff, but that’s really the details. No understanding of the mechanisms of life have emerged out of reductionist biology, and no understandings of the mechanisms of mind, thought, and cognition have emerged out of reductionist psychology.
So what we’re going to have to admit—and this is a tough thing, but this is what goes along with intellectual revolutions—is the inadequacy of the present models. And the paradigm reformers are in for big trouble because these paradigms can’t be reformed, these paradigms have to be junked. It’s junk! It’s worthless! I mean, it’s fine if you want to make fighter planes, but what does that prove about your knowledge of the nature of being? It doesn’t prove anything. It’s just a cultural artifact. So I think the myth that is seeking to be born is the rebirth of the spirit. And it’s a strange thing, because we all feel it. We all know it. But we live in such a top-down ecology of knowledge that, until Time magazine proclaims the rebirth of the spirit, nobody’s going to cop to what’s going on.
Yeah, intuition is this same kind of thing. The feminine is the same thing. I mean, I don’t want to burden this group because you haven’t stuck with me over days and days. But what I’m saying in my (what I think of as) course is that we had a symbiotic relationship as recently as 20,000 years ago with a vegetable mind, an organized entelechy, a goddess, a spirit—whatever you want to call it—a mind that was brutally truncated. Our symbiotic relationship was brutally truncated by climatological and historical factors that caused us to fall from that state of grace, ecological balance, symbiosis, into the wandering herd of car thieves that we are. And our ennui, our existential discomfort, our Angst, is a product of this severing of our relationship to spirit. We are the children of a dysfunctional relationship that we have to bring to the surface.
And, you know—if you are (what I imagine) an ordinary person—this will start out sounding preposterous, begin sounding menacing, and I hope end up convincing you. We are worthless without a stabilizing umbilical connection to the Mind At Large in nature. And the way we have always achieved this is through shamanism, natural magic, and ecstasy. This is, in fact, what ecstasy is: ecstasy is being in the presence of the Other. And the Other is not a philosophical hypothesization or somebody’s notion, the Other is the thing we share this planet with; that we as a culture have not glimpsed for a thousand years because we’ve retreated into walled cities and walled languages and walled idea-systems. We nowhere come tangential to the flesh of the Earth. When we do—alone, in the wilderness—then it overwhelms us, it moves us, it terrifies us, because we have been so long away from it.
So this is what the reclamation is about. The spirit is not some airy-fairy notion floating above everything. The spirit is something which, when it enters into your cross-section of reality, it leaves your knees knocking and your heart pounding. I mean, the path with heart is the path that astonishes. And that sense of astonishment can only come from an other: from a lover, or an other. It cannot come out of the self.
So is there other questions on all of this?
[???] evolution. You imply that this is the time to really take some intention with respect to the direction of our evolution. And I wonder if maybe that’s just an illusion whose time has come? And it’s part of the illusion of separateness? And the process will go on, and this is part of the process of having illusions and reactions [???]?
Well, we won’t know until we try. But what we have very, very suddenly—almost overnight—put in place is, number one: an entirely global system for collecting information about reality and ourselves. We never had this before. We didn’t even have it thirty years ago. Now you can find out what’s going on. You can go, if necessary, anywhere you need to go: within 72 hours you can be on the ground almost anywhere on Earth, checking out what’s going on. In the meantime, anthropological data, sociological data, climatological data, demographic data, political data, defense strategy data—all of this stuff is available. We now know at least what cards are in play. And this is the first time this has been so. We are now a global culture. You know, from the rainforests of the Amazon to the wastes of the Kalahari, from Nome to Santiago—it’s one family, one people. A nuclear power explosion that happens in the western Soviet Union is measured two weeks later in Johannesburg and everywhere else on the planet.
So I think we are living under extraordinary conditions; that there are opportunities in place. The other thing is: you know, nine million computers a month are being connected together. Now, people think that computers are office machines, but all of our technology is an excretion of the imagination. All of our technology is the condensation of ideological intention. And the fact that we now have turned our attention to information—the true stuff of reality—is a hopeful sign. For three centuries we’ve been obsessed with matter. We thought that was the true stuff of reality. Well, it turns out that’s just nonsense. A flawed philosophical premise gave us this bias in favor of materialism. But with information, changes can really be made. And also, information informs people.
I’m very much enamored of the notion of the meme. A meme is the smallest unit of an idea. It is to ideas what genes are to proteins. Genes make proteins, memes make ideas. And the way you encourage a meme is the way you encourage a protein: you replicate it. There are two ways of replicating memes. You can tell somebody, and they will tell somebody. or you can tell two people. You can repeat yourself. Or you can tell a bunch of people. And the idea is that we are not—the global meme pool is now in place. All ideas are in competition. And it’s a level playing field. This is, to my mind, what accounts for the overnight evaporation of Marxism. This was a meme which could not survive on a level playing field. When the playing field was leveled—meaning: when a free press was allowed—that was it for that meme. That was like trying to sell flying pigs in Brooklyn. Just… people are too smart, so it’s not going to happen
So I believe, then, that memes compete with each other, and that the best ones are the ones which rise to the top. I have a real faith that ideology in this case will mirror biology, and that more and more complex, and well-adapted, and efficient, and co-adaptive, and mutually self-reinforcing, and mutual community-feedback, and all of these things—that the memes which maximize these evolutionary goals will fall naturally into place. And so this thing which happened in China was a struggle about the meme-meme. Because democracy is the idea that gives permission for all the memes to compete. I mean, democracy is very close to the heart of any anarchist. You know, Plato said you can always tell a democracy when you approach them from the sea, because unchained dogs run on the wharf. Well, what he was referring to was the chaos and the disorder of democracies.
So releasing memes into a competitive environment is very important. Every government on Earth—no matter what a bunch of repressive, totalitarian, militaristic clowns they may actually be—they have to give lip service to the idea that they support a free press, and free exchange of information, and so forth and so on. The battle over that has been won. Now it’s about how we interpret what we call victory. Nevertheless, as the little people in the world, I think it behooves all of us to seek to promote this process wherever possible. If you have a good idea, say it; for God’s sake, say it! I mean, we’re drowning for lack of good ideas. We need every good idea we can get. If the future is not going to be made of good ideas it’s going to be made of bad ideas. And we’ve seen enough of what that can bring.
History is a digression. History is the briefest of all natural phenomena. It began 10,000–15,000 years ago, and appears as though it will quench itself within 500 years. It is obviously a self-funneling process that digs its walls higher and higher because it is going toward some kind of transcendence. It is a metamorphosis. It is not a steady state. History is some kind of process balanced on a pinnacle, and it either goes back, I suppose, into speechless animal-organization if we blow up the world, or it turns into something else. But it is not something to be maintained. It is transitory and designed to be so. It’s like a birth: it tears the planet apart, it contorts the people undergoing it. Before it’s over, the heavy metals are ripped out of the surface of the Earth, the forests are cut down. This thing happens. And then, let us hope, it is over and we go to some less materialistic, less destructive phase.
This is why, you know, the question that the psychedelics raise for each of us as individuals is the question that the culture is going to have to answer collectively, in time, as well. It is: what are we when we can be anything we can imagine? I don’t know. I think we are surrounded by mystery. I think the psychedelics—because they enlarge the dimension of mind—they bring the mystery in close. They allow us to contemplate possibilities that we would never have contemplated because they give us the power of the imagination and the data. How can we take these new data that enter experience and integrate them meaningfully into ourselves?
Well, I think that the way you do this is by realizing that the drama that is unfolding must be a human drama. So, for instance, the entities that are glimpsed in these exotic psychedelic states that inform the shamans and so fort, we say it’s another dimension and we hypothesize, then, that these are extraterrestrials or demons or plant-spirits. We never face the fact that, to redeem our own anxiety, they have to be something more than plant-spirits. They have to be something more than demons. They have to be something more than friendly extraterrestrials. My own private opinion about this is: I think that what psychedelics in these high-dose, correct, set-setting situations carry us into is an ecology of souls. This is what we’re seeing. I mean, if that’s not a shocking enough way of putting it, how about this: what we’re seeing is the dead. Those things in that place are our ancestors.
It’s as though there is an ecology and a cycle of energy that reaches beyond visible life. There is an ecology of many dimensions. That life is transformation into a transcendental realm. That those self-transforming jeweled elf-machines—that are manufacturing the talking Fabergé eggs and the liquid crystal lattices of multiple-fractal dimensions—those are dead friends. These places lie just over the hill. This is what is meant when it’s said that shamans know how to pass through the doors that the dead pass through daily. That the adventure of being, I think, is not going to stop with saving the rainforest or feeding everybody or going off to Arcturus. That the adventure of being persists through time.
This would explain the freaky immediacy and the weirdness, the charge, the numinosity of the contact in hyperspace. If this is an ecology of souls, if what we are seeing is in fact what we always thought we would never see or know—which is information about the next stage of existence—then this is a tremendous salutary force pouring into existence. And when you think about it, isn’t this the most likely hypothesis? We know how improbable extraterrestrials are. And the only organized entelechies we have ever contacted or had familiarity with are people. Therefore, isn’t it likely that what we’re dealing with are people? Well, then hypotheses multiply. Perhaps they’re people from the future. Perhaps that’s the future. And then we like that because it holds everything in the dimensions we’re familiar with. The idea that it’s the dead is a little more hackle-raising, a little more peculiar, a little more heartful, a little more hard to assimilate, and probably closer to the mark. That it is an ecology of souls—that’s where we go. That’s why they can make objects out of language. It’s because it is the flesh becoming word. And then the word becoming flesh. That this is a cycle between two dimensions of existence, and only the shamans know what is happening because only they operate outside the confines of profane history. Only they make the journey into the matrix where, for some reason, the living and the dead are co-existent.
Well, this… you know, just seems like raving madness. Except that this is what every anthropologist has collected in his notebooks from every preliterate group worldwide. They’re into the ancestors. Not extraterrestrials, not voyagers from the far future, but the dead. And it has the ring of truth, to me. This would explain this intuition that the psychedelics somehow have a historical role to play, because—deny it as we may wish to—we are in a great dying. It is well advanced. So then there’s this sobering realization that, my God, what we feared most is possibly about to happen. Well, then, if we believe in the Tao, if we believe in the unobstructed unfolding of things from the first moments of the universe, then what we have to do is take hold and face the music.
And I don’t think it’s that bad, but I think there’s a hard swallow in the transition. There is a leap into this other possibility. So it is not simply an opportunity for a political revolution, or a social revolution, or an ecological revolution. It’s all that. It’s much more. It has to do with deconstructing the dualism of life and death itself and creating the ontos of a new reality that is based on the presence of eternity. That’s what eternity is: eternity is the present-at-hand, hyperdimensionally beheld. And it is found to be a domain of magic and caring and mystery that mingles life and death as the only possible way of overcoming the contradiction.
It has always, in hindsight, appalled me—as I go into the truly deep psychedelic places—how casual one becomes about death. Not that you seek it, but that it seems almost a trivial issue. Because these two things are seen to be all of apiece. There is continuity, but there is astonishment. We do not recognize ourselves. The shaman alone has the privileged vantage point to know what he beholds. And I think that’s how we define where we are on the shamanic path: do you know what you behold? I mean, some people come down and say, “pretty pictures.” Other people come down and say, “dancing mice.” “Hieroglyphs.” Do we know what we behold? We need to know what we behold, because inevitably we become what we behold.