So everyone can hear, yes? I can hear anyway. Good. Well, I want to thank Mandala books; Jan. I want to thank Jay Weidner for bringing me back to Seattle, the home of real grunge and real peculiarity. Before I plunge into this I should tell you (because Harper would like me to) that The Invisible Landscape—after years and years of being out of print—is shipping right now. I don’t know if it’s in the bookstores, but it’s real. And True Hallucinations is going into paper at the same time, so if you couldn’t afford the $22, wait for the $12… or the 2012.
What I wanted to talk about tonight simply because it’s the thing that is moving me to the edge of my chair at the moment is: I called the talk Eros and the Eschaton. What I could have called it is Eros and the Eschaton: What Science Forgot. Because somebody asked me recently, “Is there any permission to hope?” More specifically, is there any permission for smart people to hope? I mean, it’s easy to hope if you’re stupid, but is there any basis for intelligent people to hope? And I wanted to deal with that because I think so. It was, to me, a shocking question because I live in an aura of hope because I live in a twilit world of my own self-generated, cannabinated fantasy. And I forget that not everyone is so fortunate and that there’s a lot of despair and uncertainty out there. So I wanted to talk about this. I’ll talk for a while and then we’ll break and have an intermission. I’ll sign books if anybody needs a book signed. And then we’ll come back and do Q&A on this until we’re sick of it, basically. (If there’s a technician adjusting this, help me out a little bit.)
Eros and the Eschaton: these are the two areas that I think compromise the old paradigm and give permission to hope. Strangely, neither of these words is that well known, which gives you a measure of how completely the dominator position has squelched, subverted and downplayed any opposition to its worldview. Eros we know about in some kind of devalued, shticky kind of glitzy way because we get it in the eroticization of media and society. But really, what Eros means in the Greek sense is a kind of unity of nature, a kind of all-pervasive order that bridges one ontological level to another. This is not permitted in the official worldview of our civilization, which is science. The world of inorganic chemistry is not thought to make any statement about the organic world, and the organic world is not thought to be extrapolatable into the world of culture and thought. There are imagined to be clear breaks in these categories.
I had a biologist tell me once, “If genes aren’t involved, it ain’t evolution.” So that means you can’t talk about the evolution of the Earth as a physical body. You can’t talk about the evolution of human social institutions. Evolution is somehow a word appropriate to biology and appropriate nowhere else. And this brings me, then, to the first factor—easily discerned by anybody who has their eyes open—that compromises and erodes the hopeless, existential view of the world that we’re getting from science. And that is the idea that nature is, in fact, across all scales and all levels of phenomena, a unity. It’s not a coincidence that electrons spinning around an atomic nucleus and planets going around a star and star clusters orbiting around the gravitational center of a galaxy—it’s no coincidence that these systems exhibit the same kind of order on different scales. And yet, science would say that is a coincidence.
P. W. Bridgman, who was a philosopher of science, defined a coincidence as what you have left over when you apply a bad theory. It means that you’ve overlooked something, and what jumps out at you as a coincidence is actually a set of relationships whose casuistry and whose relationships to each other are simply hidden from you. What I’ve observed—and I think it’s fair to give credit to the psychedelic experience for this—what I’ve observed is that nature builds on previously established levels of complexity. This is a great general, natural law that your own senses will confirm for you, but that has never been allowed into the canon of science. What I mean by that—“nature builds on complexity”—is the following.
When the universe was born in the dubious and controversial circumstance called the Big Bang, it was at first simply a pure plasma of electrons. It was the simplest that it could possibly be. There were no atoms. There were no molecules. There were no highly organized systems of any kind. There was simply a pure plasma of expanding energy. And as the universe cooled—simply cooled—new kinds of phenomena, we say, “emerged” out of the situation. As the universe cooled, atomic nuclei could form and electrons could settle into stable orbits. As the universe further cooled, the chemical bond became a possibility. Still later the hydrogen bond, which is a weaker bond, which is the basis of biology.
So, as the universe aged, it complexified. This is so obvious that it’s never really been challenged. But, on the other hand, it’s never been embraced as a general and dependable principle, either. Follow it through with me: out of atomic systems come chemical systems. Out of chemical systems comes the covalent hydrogen bond, the carbon bond; complex chemistry that is prebiotic, organic. Out of that chemistry come the macro-physical systems that we call membranes, jells, charge transfer complexes, this sort of thing. These systems are the chemical preconditions for life—simple life; the life of the prokaryotes, the life of naked unnucleated DNA that characterized primitive life on the planet. Out of that life come eukaryotes—nucleated cells—and then complex colonies of cells. And then cell specialization, leading to higher animals, leading to social animals, leading to complex social systems, leading to technologies, leading to globe-girdling, electronically-based, information-transfer oriented cultures like ourselves.
Someone once said, “What’s so progressive about media? It’s the spreading of darkness at the speed of light.” It can be. It can be. So this is very interesting: that, apparently, the way the universe works is upon a platform of previously achieved complexity—chemical, electrical, social, biological… whatever—new forms of complexity can be built that cross these ontological boundaries. In other words, what I mean by that is that biology is based on complex chemistry, but it is more than complex chemistry. Social systems are based on the organization that is animal life, and yet it is more than animal life. So this is a general law of the universe overlooked by science: that, out of complexity emerges greater complexity. We could almost say that the universe—nature—is a novelty-conserving or complexity-conversing engine. It makes complexity and it preserves it, and it uses it as the basis for further complexity.
Now, there’s more to this than simply that. I think we all observationally could agree what has been said so far. The added wrinkle, or an added wrinkle, is that each advancement into complexity, into novelty, precedes more quickly than the stage that preceded it. This is very profound, because if accepted as a serious first principle, it ends the marginalization of our own species to the level of spectator-status in a universe that knows nothing of us and cares nothing for us. This is the most advanced position that modern science will allow us: spectators to a drama we didn’t write, shouldn’t expect to understand, and cannot influence. But I say: if, in fact, novelty is the name of the game, if in fact the conservation and complexification of novelty is what the universe is striving for, then, suddenly, our own human enterprise—previously marginalized—takes on an immense new importance. We are apparently players in the cosmic drama, and in this particular act of the cosmic drama we hold a very central role.
We are at the pinnacle of the expression of complexification in the animal world, and somehow this complexity which is concentrated in us has flowed over out of the domain of animal organization and into this mysterious domain which we call culture, language, consciousness, higher values. Each stage of advancement into complexity occurs more quickly than the stage which preceded it. After the initial Big Bang there was a period of billions of years when the universe cooled, stars condensed, planetary systems formed, and then the quickening process crossed an invisible Rubicon into the domain of animal and biological organization.
Well, you see, since the rise of Western monotheism, the human experience has been marginalized. We have been told that we were unimportant in the cosmic drama. But we now know—from the feedback that we’re getting from the impact of human culture on the Earth—that we are a major factor shaping the temperatures of the oceans, the composition of the atmosphere, the general speed and complexity of speciation on the planet, so forth and so on. A single species—ourselves—has broken from the ordinary constraints of animal nature and created a new world, an epigenetic world—meaning, a world not based on gene transfer and chemical propagation and preservation of information, but a world based on ideas, on symbols, on technologies, on tools, on ideas downloaded out of the human imagination and concretized in three-dimensional space as choppers, aeropoints, particle accelerators, gene sequencers, spacecraft, what have you.
All of this complexification is occurring at a faster and faster rate. And this brings me, then, to the second quality or phenomena that science has overlooked, which is the acceleration of complexification. That the early history of the universe proceeded with excruciating slowness. Then life took hold in the oceans of this planet. A quickening of process and evolution—but still, things proceeded on a scale of tens of millions of years to clock major change. Then the conquest of the land, higher animals, higher exposure to radiation, faster change, species following species, one upon another. Then, fifty thousand, a hundred thousand, a million years ago (anyway, recently), the crossover into the domain of culture, tool making, myth making, dance, poetry, song, story. And that set the stage for the fall into history; the incredibly unusual and self-consuming process that has been going on for the past fifteen or twenty thousand years. A biological snap of the finger. And yet, in that time, everything that we call human, everything that we associate with higher values has been adumbrated, elaborated, created, set in place by one species: ourselves.
This acceleration of time or complexity shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, within the fabric of our own lives, we can almost daily, hourly, by the minute feel it speeding up, taking hold. It’s a cliché that time is moving faster and faster, a cliché of the mass media. But I want to suggest that this is not a perceptual illusion or a cultural mirage, that this is actually happening to the space-time matrix. That time is, in fact, speeding up. That history—in which we are embedded, because our life of fifty to eighty years is so ephemeral on a scale of ten to fifteen thousand years—but nevertheless, history is a state of incredible destabilization.
It’s a chaostrophy in the process of happening. It begins with animals kept in balance by natural selection and it ends with a global Internet of electronic information-transfer and a language using species hurling its instruments towards the stars. There is no reason for us to suppose that this process of acceleration is ever going to slow down or be deflected. It has been a law of nature from the very beginning of nature that this acceleration was built in. What poses a problem to us, as thinking individuals, is that the speed of involution toward concrescence is now so great that we can feel the tug of it within the confines of our own lives. There has been more change since 1960 than in the previous several thousand years. There has been more change since 1992 than in the previous thousand years. Change is accelerating. Invention, connection, adumbration of ideas, mathematical algorithms, connectivity of people, social systems—this is all accelerating furiously and under the control of no one; not the Catholic church, the communist party, the IMF. No one is in charge of this process. This is what makes history so interesting. It’s a runaway freight train on a dark and stormy night.
This is why I’m not particularly sympathetic to a conspiracy theory, because I can’t make the leap to faith that would cause you to believe that anyone could get hold of the beast enough to control it. Conspiracies—of course we have conspiracies up the kazoo, but none of them are succeeding. They’re all being swept away, compromised, astonished by new information, and endlessly agonized.
So, two factors relating to Eros: the movement into complexity and the fact that that movement goes ever faster. And the second quality—the acceleration of the movement into novelty—leads me to the third point, which is, I suppose, more controversial. And I am frankly willing to admit that my sensitivity to this third point is based on my psychedelic experience. Science is the exploration of the experience of nature without psychedelics. And I propose, therefore, to expand that enterprise and say we need a science beyond science. We need a science which plays with a full deck.
The reason the psychedelic experience is so important here is not some namby-pamby notion that it expands consciousness, or it makes you more perceptive, or something like that. That is all true, but it isn’t strongly enough put. A cultural point of view is like a crystal. You have an amorphous cultural medium which, at certain temperatures, will form a crystal of cultural convention, if you will. And within the geometry of that crystal certain things make sense and certain things are excluded from making sense. Science is a condensed cultural point of view that is a rigid crystal of interlocking assumptions; assumptions such as “matter is primary,” “mind is tertiary,” “causality works from the past into the future,” so forth and so on. What psychedelics do—in terms of their impact on the physical brain and organism of human beings—is: they withdraw cultural programming, they dissolve cultural assumptions, they lift you out of that reassuring crystalline matrix of interlocking truths, which are lies. And instead, they throw you into the presence of the great “Who knows?” The mystery. The mystery that has been banished from Western thought since the rise of Christianity and the suppression of the mystery religions.
Now, the model that attracts me to the psychedelic experience is not that it makes you smarter—a kind of simple-minded idea, paradoxically—or the idea that (you are paying attention, aren’t you?) it’s some kind of magnifying glass into the personal unconscious: your trauma, your childhood memories, the satanic abuse your parents laid on you, so forth and so on. The model which I like is a geometric model and says simply that, since the rise of the Greek alphabet, print, linear thinking, and science, we have become imprisoned in a causal universe of material connectivity, and that this is a cultural myth as much as believing that we are the sons and daughters of the great father who got out of his canoe at the second waterfall to take a leak. These are just cultural myths.
What is revealed through the psychedelic experience, I think, is a higher-dimensional perspective on reality. And I use “higher-dimensional” in the mathematical sense. Literally: you are lifted out of the plane of cultural assumptions and can look down with a kind of god-like understanding that one obtains when one flies in an airplane over a landscape previously only viewed from the ground. In other words, from the vantage point of the psychedelic experience, the cultural landscape is seen more nearly in its correct perspective: seen as historically bounded, spatially and intellectually bounded.
Now, it’s no coincidence that, if you analyze biology—what it is—it’s a kind of conquest of dimensionality. The earliest forms of life were probably slimes of some sort, stabilized on a clay surface—immobile, unable to perceive light, with no sense of time, merely a fingernail or a toehold in existence. And then, if you look at the entire fossil record, what you see is the evolution of senses; sensory preceptors and organs of locomotion. The preceptors—the eye, the hand—bring into the cognitive field the sense of things at a distance. And then language provides models for these things at a distance. Similarly, fins, legs, and so forth—means of locomotion carry us through space.
This is a journey of dimensionality. And, essentially, what animals are that plants are not are life forms mobile in a very conscious way in the spatial dimension. This is why, from the point of view of evolutionary biologists, animals are somehow more advanced than plants. Well, if conquest of dimensionality is the criteria, then notice that we, again, occupy a special and privileged position in nature because we cannot only run with the best of them, see with the best of them, but we can remember and anticipate like crazy. And other animals are not doing this. Other animals may imprint past situations of danger or opportunity, but they do not analyze experience and extrapolate it toward the hidden domain of the future. And consciousness is the generalized word that we use for this coordination of complex perception to create a world that draws from the past and builds a model of the future, and then suspends the perceiving organism in this magical moment called the “Now,” where the past is coordinated for the purpose of navigating the future. McLuhan called it “driving with the rear-view mirror,” and the only thing that’s good about it is it’s better than driving with no mirror at all.
Alright, now: what this conquest of dimensionality comes to be in the presence of psychedelics is an anticipation of the future. We can anticipate the future. We know to within microseconds when the sun will rise. We know within a few percentage points where the prime rate will be in six months. Some things we can predict fairly closely, some things with less precision. But the perception of the future is very important to us. When we marry the need to perceive the future with the psychedelic experience, I believe we come up with data that is very, very difficult for science to come to terms with. And this is the third item—or, really, the second item in the list—what science forgot. It’s what I call the Eschaton. Now, “eschaton” is a rare word. Until very recently, unheard outside schools of theology—which I understand were a dying enterprise. Eschaton comes from the Greek word εσχ, which just means “the end.” The eschaton is the last thing, the final thing.
It’s very important to science to eliminate from its thinking any suspicion that this eschaton might exist. Because if it were to exist, it would impart to reality a purpose, you see? If the eschaton exists, then it’s like a goal, or an attraction point, or an energy sync toward which historical process is being moved. And science is incredibly hostile toward the idea of purpose. If you are not involved in the sciences this may come as somewhat of a surprise to you. If you are a workbench scientist or a theoretician, you know that this is what’s called the problem of teleology. It is because modern science defined itself in the nineteenth century, when the reining philosophy was Deism—and Deism was the idea that the universe is a clock made by God. God wound this clock and has walked away from it. And the clock will eventually run down. That theological construct was poisonous to evolutionary theory in the nineteenth century. And so they said we must create a theory of reality that does not require a goal, does not require a purpose. Everything must be pushed from the past. Nothing must be pulled toward the future.
The problem with this is that it does not fulfill our intuitions about reality. We can see that evolution—biological evolution—has built on chemical systems. We can see that social and historical systems build on biology. As people with open minds—or as open as they can be inside this culture—we nevertheless have this intuition of purpose. And it is dramatically underscored by the psychedelic experience, which takes the raw material of your life, your culture, your history and tells you this is not an existential mishmash to be lived out with dignity because there’s nothing else to be done with it—some kind of Camusian “Why not?” affirmation. It says “No!” It says your reality is a coherent cosmos. And embedded in your own sense of identity, embedded in your own sense of purpose, is a microscopic reflection of the larger purpose that is built into the universe. Now, this is not just blowing smoke in the sense of “It’s a nice idea,” or its like a religious idea like saying “Jesus loves you” and so feel alright about yourself. It isn’t like that. It’s a theory about reality that has teeth because reality is actually following the script that this particular version of reality dictates. Reality is accelerating toward an unimaginable Omega Point. We are the inheritors of immense momentum in our social systems, our philosophical and scientific and technological approaches to the world.
Because we’re driving the historical vehicle with a rear-view mirror, it appears to us that we’re headed straight into a brick wall at a thousand miles an hour. It appears that we are destroying the Earth, polluting the atmosphere, wrecking the oceans, dehumanizing ourselves, robbing our children of a future, so forth and so on. I believe what is in fact going on is that we are burning our bridges. One by one, we’re burning our bridges to the past. We cannot go back to the mushroom-dotted plains of Africa or the canopied rainforests of five million years ago. We can’t even go back to the era of Cayuse and six-shooter of two hundred years ago. We have burned our bridges. We are preparing for a kind of cultural forward escape.
And this question—is there cause for optimism?—the answer is: it depends on where you placed your bets. If you placed your bets on male-dominated institutions based on consumer fetishism, propaganda, classism, and materialism, then God help you—you should call your broker! If, on the other hand, you’ve recognized that a lifeboat strategy is involved here, that what is really important is empowering personal experience, backing off from consumer-object fetishism, freeing the mind, empowering the imagination, then, in that case, I think you can feel pretty good about what is going on.
You know, there is a lot of talk about cultural death, and disenfranchisement, and it’s usually couched in terms of some happy naked people in the rainforest, or in Tajikistan making their rugs, or milking their camels, or something—and isn’t it too bad that their culture is being blown up and traded in for mall culture and shopping by remote? But in fact, all culture is being destroyed. All culture is being sold down the river by the sorts of people who want to turn the entire planet into an international airport arrival concourse. And that’s not the victory of somebody’s culture over somebody else’s culture. Nobody ever had a culture like that. That’s just the victory of schlockmeisterism and crapola over good taste and good sense.
If I were dependent on the notion that human institutions are necessary to pull us out of the ditch, I would be very despairing. As I said: nobody’s in charge. Not the IMF, the pope, the communist party, the Jews. No, no, no! Nobody has their finger on what’s going on. So then, why hope? Isn’t it just a runaway train out of control? I don’t think so. I think the out-of-control-ness is the most hopeful thing about it. After all, whose control is it out of? You and I never controlled it in the first place! Why are we anxious about the fact that it’s out of control? I think if it’s out of control, then our side is winning.
To me, the most confounding datum of the psychedelic experience is this thing which I call the Eschaton. And I want to talk about it a little bit this evening because I think it is the hardest thing for people to grasp about my particular rap. Sometimes, I’ve talked to many of you about psychedelic plants, shamanism, techniques, chemistry, approaches, so forth and so on. I’m approaching this evening as a graduate seminar. I figure everybody has their little mojo-kit and their particular way of approaching these things, and then the question is: what kind of conclusions can we draw? And the conclusion that I draw is—and this is sort of pulling together what I said before—we are central to the human drama, and to the drama of nature and process on this planet. The opposition, which is science—well, first let me say this.
Every model of the universe has a hard swallow. What I mean by a “hard swallow” is: a place where the argument cannot hide the fact that there’s something slightly fishy about it. The hard swallow built into science is this business about the Big Bang. Now, let’s give this a little attention here. This is the notion that the universe, for no reason, sprang from nothing in a single instant. Well now, before we dissect this, notice that this is the limit-test for credulity. Whether you believe this or not, notice that it is not possible to conceive of something more unlikely or less likely to be believed. I defy anyone! It’s just the limit-case for unlikelihood that the universe would spring from nothing in a single instant for no reason. If you believe that, my family has a bridge across the Hudson River that will give you a lease option for five dollars. It makes no sense. It is, in fact, no different from saying, “And God said: let there be light!” What these philosophers of science are saying is, “Give us one free miracle and we will roll from that point forward from the birth of time to the crack of doom.” Just one free miracle, and then it will all unravel according to natural law, and these bizarre equations that nobody can understand but which are so holy in this enterprise.
Well, I say, then: if science gets one free miracle, then everybody gets one free miracle. And I perceive that it is true when you build these large scale cosmogonic theories that you have to have kind of an umbilical cord, or a point to start from that is different from all other points in the system. So, if we have to have a singularity in our modeling of what reality is, let’s make it as modest and as non-unlikely a singularity as possible. The singularity that arises for no reason in absolutely empty space, instantly, is the least likely of all singularities. Doesn’t it seem more likely—if we have to have a singularity—that it occurs in a domain with a rich history with many causal streams feeding into the situation that nurtures the complexity. In other words, to put it simply, if you have to have a singularity, doesn’t it make more sense to put it at the end of a cosmogonic process than at the beginning?
I think this is the great breakthrough of psychedelics and shamanism: that science got it absolutely wrong. The universe didn’t begin in a singularity. Who knows how the universe began, or would even presume to judge! But the universe ends in a singularity. It has been growing more singular, more complex, more unique, more novel every passing moment since it burst into existence. And if that’s true, then we represent a kind of concrescence of universal intent. We’re not mere spectators, or a cosmic accident, or some sideshow, or the Greek chorus to the main event. The human experience is the main event. The coordination of perception, of hope, of dream, of vision that occurs inside the human heart-mind-body interface is the most complex phenomenon in the universe.
Now, even the physicalists will agree that the human neocortex represents the most densely ramified matter known to exist in the biological world. And you don’t have to be rocket scientist to see that human society, human history, human art, human literature, represent things for which there is no analog in the world of wasps, groundhogs, killer whales and so forth and so on. In our species, complexity has turned inward upon itself. And, in our species, time has accelerated. Time has left the gentle ebb and flow of gene transfer and adaptation that characterizes biological evolution and, instead, historical time is generated. So I believe that science and its reluctance to deal with the psychedelic experience and the way in which science has used the law to suppress its rival in this case arises out of a profound discomfort on the part of science about this future state of complexification that is clearly the grail, the dwell point, the end point of the human historical process.
No one of us, I think, can imagine that history could go on for another thousand years. I mean, what would it look like? At the current rate of population growth, spread of epidemic disease, rate of invention, connectivity, depletion of resources, the atmosphere—it is impossible to conceive of another thousand years of human history. History, then, is ending. History is a kind of gestation process. It’s a kind of metamorphosis. It’s an episode in the life of a species. If you think of the simple example of metamorphosis—that of caterpillar to butterfly—we all know that there is this intermediate resting stage where the caterpillar is, for all practical purposes, enzymatically dissolved and then reconstituted as an entirely different kind of organism with different physical structures, different eyes, different legs, a different way of breathing, with wings where no wings were before, with a different kind of feeding apparatus.
This is what’s happening to us. History is a process of metamorphosis. It’s a pupation stage. It begins with naked monkeys and it ends with a human–machine planet-girdling interface capable of releasing the energies that light the stars. And it lasts about 15,000–20,000 years, and during that period the entire process hangs in the balance. It’s a period of high risk. It’s like what a butterfly is doing in a cocoon or what is happening to a child in the womb. It’s a gestation process where one form of life is being changed into another.
Well, this would all happen naturally and with a great deal of anxiety, I imagine, as history builds to its ever more climatic and horrifying crescendo, and we would all be ignorant or very baffled about what’s going on were it not for the institution of psychedelic shamanism. Remember, I said that what is dissolved are the crystalline structures of cultural assumption? Well, one of the strongest symmetries in our cultural crystal is the symmetry that gathers around the concept of past and future. The shaman actually rises into a domain where past and future are different areas on the same topological manifold. This is not a metaphor. It’s what’s really going on.
If you think about shamanism in its classical guise for a moment, it is about predicting weather, predicting game movement, and curing disease. If you had a prescient or extraordinary understanding of the future, each one of us would be able to do these things. Predicting the weather—you just look into next week and there it is. Predicting the movement of game—same deal. Curing the sick actually involves very judicious choice of your patients with a pre-knowledge of who will get well and who will not get well. So it’s as though the members of the culture are imprisoned in linear time and the shaman is not. And why not? Because the shaman has perturbed the brain states sanctioned by the culture, sanctioned by its educational processes, its habits, its attitudes. And into that vacuum created by the perturbation of these cultural values rushes the raw unanalyzed datum of reality.
This is what Aldous Huxley called “removing the reducing valve of consciousness.” And suddenly, culture is seen to be a relative phenomena; the stockbroker no different from the rainforest shaman, each somewhat similar to the Trobriand islander or the Eskimo. Culture is simply clothing upon the human experience. But the human organism outside the confines of culture, in a direct relationship to nature, transcends time and space. This was a fact, I believe, that was known in pre-history and, in fact, was the source of Paleolithic values—which were not material, not linear, not surplus-oriented, not class-oriented, not power-oriented, but rather oriented toward a kind of egalitarian partnership in an environment of great material simplicity. Human beings lived like that for probably a half a million years. With poetry, with dance, with mathematics, with magic, with story, with humor, but not with the paralyzing and toxic artifacts of the late-evolving, machine-worshiping, monotheistic, linear, phonetic alphabet, tight-ass, straight culture that we are a part of.
So now, at a kind of moment of great cultural challenge and dynamic for Western civilization—which has for a thousand years called all the shots and shoved itself down everybody’s throat whether they liked it or not—in the last hundred years, through the science of anthropology, and ethnography, and ethnomedicine, and botany, the news has arrived that these “primitive” people are in fact master technicians of journeying into a world of the neurological imagination. A world we didn’t even know exists. A world that is as distant to us as the world at the heart of the atom is from the rainforest fisherman. And because our own cultural values seem a little shoddy at this moment, those on the fringes of western civilization have begun to seek alternatives, begun to look at alternative religions—yoga, Tantra, Buddhism, Zen, whatever—alternative approaches to diet—vegetarianism, macrobiotic, so forth and so on—and alternative approaches to authentic experience, which means psychedelics.
In the early stage of psychedelic involvement, everyone was sort of flying under the banner of hands-on Freudianism or hands-on Jungianism. You know? We’re going to see those archetypes, we’re going confront those sexual repressions, we’re going to journey into those traumatic childhood memories. Now it’s understood, I think, that those metaphors were fairly inadequate and that, actually, we stand on the brink of an unexplored landscape of planetary size. The world of the high Paleolithic, which is a Gaian world—a world of feeling, not analytical, intellectual constructs, but a world of empowered feeling, empathy and intuitive understanding. An understanding that doesn’t arise in a context of Greek logic, but in a context of animal knowing in the authentic mode of the body.
So, just to bring it all around here: the great exhibit which we must always keep in front of ourselves and our critics is the mystery of the human mind and body. No one knows how it is that I can command my hand to make a fist and that it will do that. That’s mind over matter. That’s the violation of every scientific principle in the books, and yet it is the most trivial experience any of us have. We expect to command our body. We expect the mental will to order the monkey-flesh into action and it will follow. The body is the nexus of the mystery of life. And our culture takes us out of the body and sells our loyalty into political systems, into religions, into inanimate objects and machines, collections, so forth and so on.
The felt experience of the body is what the psychedelics are handing back to us. That’s why it’s called escape: because it’s escape from HBO, from walking the mall, from seeing what’s on the tube, from consuming trash media. It’s escape from all of that into the authenticity of the body. This is why sexuality is so edgy in this society. They’d make it illegal if they but could figure out how. It’s the one drug they can’t tear from our grip, and so they lay a guilt trip about it.
But sexuality and psychedelics, by carrying us back to an authentic sense of the body, carry us back to the domain of authentic values. And more and more, the message that people are getting as they avail themselves of the psychedelic experience is that it is not a journey into the human unconsciousness or into the ghost bardos of our chaotic civilization. It’s a journey into the presence of the Gaian mind. That the Earth is a coherent whole. It is a thinking, feeling, intending being that, in terms of our value structures, it would be foolish to image as anything other than female. And when cultural values—created by male dominance, and science, and linearity, and so forth and so on—when those values are dissolved, what is waiting there is this incredibly poignant experience of matrix; what James Joyce called the mama matrix most mysterious: nothing more than our bodies and the earth out of which our bodies came.
History as we have lived it in the West has been a turning of our back on that. And now history has failed. Western cultural institutions, having become global cultural institutions, now show themselves to be [in]adequate to inspire, lead or carry anyone into a future worth living in. At this moment, then, this reconnecting to the Gaian mind becomes a kind of moral imperative. So this whole drug issue is not an issue even about criminal syndicates, or about untaxed billions, or about the mental health of our youth, or any of that malarkey. I mean, my God, the most destructive drugs known to the species are peddled on every street corner without restriction.
The real issue is what kind of mental worlds shall people inhabit? What kinds of hope shall be permitted? What kind of value systems shall be allowed? And the value systems that aggrandize the possessions of things, the tearing up of the Earth, competition, classism, racism, sexism, have led us to the brink of catastrophe. Now, I think, we have to abandon Western cultural values and return to the deeper wisdom of the body in connection with the plants. That’s the seamless web that leads us back into the heart of nature. And if we can do this, then this very narrow neck of cultural crisis can be navigated.
Very little of the past can be saved. The architectonics, the machines, the systems of monetary exchange and propaganda, the silly religions, the asinine aesthetic canons—very little of that can be saved. But what can be saved is the sense of love and caring and mutuality that we all put into and take from the human enterprise. You know, there’s a Grateful Dead song that says, “You can’t go back and you can’t stand still. If the thunder don’t get you, then the lightnin’ will.” And we now hold—through the possession of these psychedelics—catalysts for the human imagination of sufficient power that, if we use them, we can deconstruct the lethal vehicle that is carrying us toward the brink of apocalypse. We can deconstruct that vehicle and redesign it into a kind of starship that would carry us and our children out into the broad starry galaxy we know to be awaiting us. But it’s a cultural test. Nature is pitiless. Intelligence is a grand experience upon which a great deal has been risked. But if it proves inadequate, nature will cover it over with the same kind of cool impunity that she covered over the dinosaurs, and the trilobites, and the crossopterygian fishes, and all those other folks who came before.
So what we must do, I think, is see our future in the imagination, catalyze the imagination, form symbiotic relationships with the plants, affirm archaic values, and spread the good news that what is out of control, what is in fact dying, is a world that had become too top-heavy with its own hubris, too bent by its own false value systems, and too dehumanized to care about what happened to its own children. So I say: good riddance to it! Bring on the archaic revival and lets create a new world. And that’s it!
If this wasn’t perfectly clear, I’m sure the questions and answers will make it so. Let’s take a half-hour break. I’ll sign books if anybody wants me to and then we’ll get together here for the hardcore. Thank you very, very much!
Q & A Session
…pull it together so we can get on to the fun part here.
If you want copies of the tape, Tad is out front at that table. You can wander out there during the Q&A. People keep asking about his book. This is the most important one.
Okay. Well, I trust that that was all perfectly clear before the break. This is the part I enjoy the most because I’m not into the white-guy-at-the-front-of-the-room-with-all-the-answers trip. It’s just unfortunate that I have the body I do. I’m actually a lesbian trapped in a man’s body, but I’ve done the very best with that that I could—which hasn’t been bad, lemme tell you!
Yes? Wait a minute. Wait, wait. You’re gonna have to yell and then I’ll repeat it.
Well, this is a really interesting question. I can talk about it. I’ll repeat the question. It’s: can I talk about the relationship of advanced mathematics to modeling of consciousness in laymen’s terms, correct?
One of the great mysteries still to be addressed by philosophy is: why is it that numbers—which are, after all, constructs of the human mind—why is it that numbers are so incredibly powerful for the description of nature? Nature, after all, is somehow given. We find it all around us. And numbers arise in the depths of human ratiocination. So what is the relationship of these things to each other?
This may appear to be an easy question. It’s such a difficult question that it wasn’t even asked in philosophy until the twentieth century. It’s very puzzling. And I think that it indicates a fundamental congruency between processes that are mental and the structure of the world itself. This is why I didn’t get into it too much tonight in a popular lecture like this, but I’m the inventor or the purveyor of a mathematical theory of consciousness. And I believe that more powerful than any atom smasher, more subtle than any space telescope is the human mind. The human mind is the most subtle and superb of all instruments for the study and measurement of nature. When we look into ourselves we discover the same patterns that we discover in the birth and death of a species, the flow of a river, the collapse of a corporation, or the flowering of a love affair. It’s that process is somehow under the aegis of a kind of universal equation of description. So it doesn’t matter whether it’s the birth and death of your hope, or the rise and fall of the Assyrian Empire, or the evolution of the Pacific Ocean. Processes always occur in the same way. And this is why there is congruence between the mental world of human beings and the world of abstract mathematics and the world of nature. These things are, as it were, simply different levels of condensation of the same universal stuff.
This is why the concept of truth can have some meaning. I mean, when you think about it, truth—why should it even be possible for us as monkeys to entertain that notion? Where is it writ large that mammals traveling in packs should have any relationship to truth whatsoever. And yet, the faith is that, somehow, thinking means something. It’s not just something we do, it means something. It means something because there is sufficient freedom within the human system to be both right or wrong. And this right or wrong lays upon us the obligation of mirroring nature in models which we build in our own minds.
Now, the old idea in science was that these mathematical models of nature were, in fact, laws, truths—eternal, platonic truths that were being teased out. In the twentieth century, a slight epistemological sophistication leads to this word “models,” where we say we’re modeling reality. And our model is only as good as we need it to be. If we’re trying to model the flight of an artillery shell, the model needs to be only good enough to get the artillery shell to its target. We don’t need to understand the essence of lead or the nature of motion there, we simply need the model to kick out the data that interests us. And in the twentieth century it’s been understood that all knowledge is dependent upon the question asked. And the relationship of mathematics to nature is one of the profound indicators, I think, that truth can be known. Maybe not the truth, but I always think of the positivist philosopher Wittgenstein, who was once asked in a classroom situation about a certain proposition, “Is it the truth?” And he said, “Well, it’s certainly true enough.” And, you know, that’s where we are with our modeling of the world and with our mathematics. It is the truest truth we know. It is true enough.
Somebody else, here? Yeah, in front.
The question is from a stage magician, and the question is: what is the nature of magic, or what is magic, or the wonder that it invokes?
There are two theories. I mean, magic is not a trivial issue at all. There are two theories about how the world works, and each one depends on a fundamental assumption about what the world is. There’s the scientific theory which says the world is tiny packets of matter, squealing along through empty space at close to the speed of light and subject to a certain set of interlocking laws. That’s what science tells us the world is. Another theory is—and to my mind, a much more appealing and intuitively correct theory—is, the world is language. The world is made of language. We can say that the world is composed of little demons doing calisthenics, each one the size of a pissant’s eyebrow, or we can say the world is made out of tiny wave mechanical packets of matter flying along at the speed of light. But notice that what we get each time is words. Our model of what the world is is made of words, and the world is composed of description.
Now, in the era before science, scientists like to say people were more epistemologically naïve. What they mean by that is: they didn’t have a clear understanding of the division between the inside and the outside, between what we imagine and what actually is. But if you live long enough I think you discover what we imagine and what actually is are very close to the same thing. Now, whenever you say the world is made of language, the positivists object by saying, “Well, then why isn’t it the way we say it is?” I didn’t say it’s the way we say it is, I said it’s made of language. And part of the inspiration for my career is the realization that you could get up in front of audiences and say how the world is and, to a small degree, for a limited time in a limited space, it shimmers and recasts itself and becomes the thing that we say that it is. The mind is somehow a co-creator in the process of reality through acts of language.
And language is very, very mysterious. I mean, it is true magic. People run all over the place looking for paranormal abilities. But notice that, when I speak (if your internal dictionary matches my internal dictionary), that my thoughts cross through the air as an acoustical pressure wave and are reconstructed inside your cerebral cortex as your thought, your understanding of my words. Telepathy exists—it’s just that the carrier wave is small mouth noises. All so-called primitive people know that the world is made of language, that you sing it into existence, that what you say it is is what it is, that it is maintained in existence by an act of rational apprehension. And it’s only science which has taken this very weird approach and said no, no, the world is somehow independent from the act of description. And this is not a situation where we have two separate points of view, both open-hearted and trying their best to work hard for you. Science carried out its analysis of nature to the point where it shot itself in the foot. Science carried out an analysis of nature that went to such depth that it discovered that nature doesn’t exist except as an object of description. That there are no little objects winging their way through empty space. There is only a situation describable by multi-leveled fishy formula and, when you drop a mind into that situation, the fishy formula condense out into a little particle which can be measured. Mind is necessary for the world to undergo the formality of existing. This is what quantum physics teaches. Unfortunately, this news has not reached the other sciences. This is a real failure on the part of science.
You see, throughout the nineteenth century, physics was the paradigmatic science. It was the science everybody envied. It’s not unusual in physics for theory and experiment to be congruent to three decimal points of accuracy. That just causes scientists to go wild. They love that, when theory and measurement fall into congruency like that. And so everyone wanted to be like physics. Chemistry sought that, sociology, psychology, biology. Meanwhile, physics—pursuing the exploration of matter—broke through to a domain where matter ceased to be definable, ceased to even exist in any ordinary way, seemed to behave in incredibly strange ways. Time flows backward, energy crosses barriers without ever going through them, by tunneling through them in some way. Modern biology is still afflicted with physics-envy. Meanwhile, physics has gone on to a realm of such exotic and surreal uncertainty that it’s, at this point, to the left of psychology in the precision of its metaphors. So science has undercut itself and now exists in a state of unrecognized crisis that, hopefully, the psychedelic experience will exacerbate to the point where this will arrive on the plate of every experimentalist and observer of nature.
People don’t take enough, that’s all. You know? I mean, people are confused about what’s going on. First of all—
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—comfortable with, and rarely, and with great attention to set and setting. The social use of psychedelics in the club scene or at rock and roll concerts and so forth—I mean, when I go to those kinds of scenes I just smoke pot. I don’t—because I want to be part of what’s going on, I want to have a good time. But you would be nuts to take a major psychedelic in that circumstance. Socially dense environments filled with light and noise are a strategy for coming down. You know? I mean, if you took a drug you didn’t like, the smartest thing to do would be to jog around the block ten times and then chop a bunch of wood. Very similar to dancing your ass off, in other words.
So the way I recommend doing psychedelics is in silence darkness and with as little input from other people as possible. I mean, I say alone if you are experienced; if you’re really confident. Just alone, for cryin’ out loud. If that gives you pause and you must have a sitter—and let’s use the word “sitter,” not “guide.” My god, nobody’s guiding you anywhere. They have no more notion where you are than we know where Judge Carter is at this point. So the sitter. And my idea of the perfect sitter is, you know: you have a little Tibetan bell by your side, and the sitter is three rooms away, and if you need the sitter you ring the bell, they stick their head in the room and say, “It’s cool. Lay down.” And, you know, do that.
And I, you know—as long as this question was brought up and so much of the lecture was somewhat high-toned, let me get into this for a minute. There are thousands of altered states. You know? We know them: orgasm, indigestion, two cappuccinos, where tequila takes you…. So, endless altered states. And I’m not really interested in them more or less than any of you are. I mean, they’re part of life. But what I’m interested in as an experimentalist, as a connoisseur of nature—somebody who loves fossils, butterflies, rainforests, that kind of thing—is this family of compounds called the indole hallucinogens. Indoles. And they cause hallucination. And some people say that I’m a fetishist about this, that who cares, or that there are other things besides hallucination. Yes, I know. Maybe. And of course.
But the reason I’m so fascinated by hallucinations is because, to my mind, when you’re hallucinating, you have an absolutely clear proof that you are not generating this material. You know? It’s not funny ideas. It’s not racing thoughts. It’s not insight into what your boyfriend really meant yesterday. That kind of thing we all can generate by just inspecting our own minds. But a hallucination is to be in the presence of that which previously could not be imagined. And if it previously could not be imagined, then there is no grounds for believing that you generated it out of yourself. I mean, we should each know our own inventory, you know? You know what’s in your cupboard, you know what’s in your chest of drawers. For god’s sake, you ought to know what’s in your mind! Well then, if something comes forward and you say, “That’s not mine. That’s not in my inventory!” then you have a kind of perfect proof that this is coming from somewhere else. And then the question becomes: where? And we can set off into that. Opinions differ. And nobody has God’s truth on it.
A reductionist—somebody who didn’t like these substances—would say, “Oh, it’s just neurological chaos. It’s just you’ve interrupted the normal functioning of good brain chemicals and evil brain chemicals are now giving a sense of a chaos.” Well, that just doesn’t cut the mustard. I mean, that kind of stuff may work if you’re talking to the troops, but not if you’re talking to anybody who’s ever been there. I know what a neurological chaos would look like. It would look like bright lights, moving patterns, colored this, something that. It would not be ruins, landscapes, machines, paintings, works of art, building plans, weapons, bits of manufactured technological detritus. These things are too coherent. They’re objects in some kind of superstructure of the mind.
And for me this was the revelation. I didn’t get into this business by being an airhead or a screwball. My attitude was always: if it’s real, it can take the pressure. You know? You don’t have to pussyfoot around the real thing. If they’re telling you, you know, “Oh, you must lower your voice and avert your gaze,” or this and that, then you’re probably in the presence of crap. Because the real thing is real! It doesn’t demand that you adjust your opinion to suit it. It’s real! That means it is preeminent. That means it sets the agenda. And I studied yoga, I wandered around in the East, I was fast-shuffled by beady-eyed little men in dotes. I know the whole spiritual supermarket and rigmarole, and I find nothing there to interest me on the level of five grams of psilocybin mushrooms in silent darkness. I mean, that’s where the pedal meets the metal. That’s where the rubber meets the road.
And the inspiration for me to get up and talk to an audience like this simply comes from the fact that I cannot believe that this could be kept under wraps the way it has. I mean, I kidded with you earlier that they would make sex illegal if they could. Well, they can’t, so it isn’t. But the psychedelic experience is as central to understanding your human-ness as having sex, or having a child, or having responsibilities, or having hopes and dreams. And yet it is illegal. We are somehow told… we are infantilized. We’re told, “You can wander around within the sanctioned playpen of ordinary consciousness, and we have some intoxicants over here if you want to mess yourself up. We’ve got some scotch here, and some tobacco, and red meat, and some sugar, and a little TV, and so forth and so on.” But these boundary-dissolving hallucinogens that give you a sense of unity with your fellow man and nature are somehow forbidden. This is an outrage. It’s a sign of cultural immaturity. And the fact that we tolerate it is a sign that we are living in a society as oppressed as any society in the past.
—to a short question, but I think it’s really important—my thing is not about my opinion or what I saw in Africa, or anything like that. This is: get it straight. This is about an experience. Not my experience, your experience. It’s about an experience which you have, like getting laid or going to Africa. You must do the experience, otherwise it’s just whistling past the graveyard. And we’re not talking about something like being born again or meeting the flying saucers, or something like that where good works and prayer are the method. No. If you take a sufficient dose of an active compound, it will deliver itself to you on the money. If it doesn’t work, take more! Nobody is in a position to dismiss this just because it didn’t work for them on one or two tries. This is an art. It’s an art. It’s something you coax into existence. I mean, you have to learn to make love, you have to learn to speak English—anything worth doing is an art that is acquired. This is part of our birthright, perhaps the most important part of our birthright. These substances will deliver. It is the confoundment of psychology and science generally. And that’s why it’s so touchy for cultural institutions. But you are not a cultural institution, you are a free and independent human being. And these things have your name written on them in big gold letters.
[ missing audio ]
—there is a word, then that word is like a stepping stone out into the fog. And as long as we let the establishment set the language agenda, we will be imprisoned in the tiny, rather pedestrian world of consumerism and schlocko values that the establishment has prepared for us. So the way I think of these psychedelics—or a different way—is that they’re catalysts for the imagination. Catalysts to say what has never been said, to see what has never been seen, to draw, paint, sing, sculpt, dance, and act what has never before been done. To push the envelope of creativity and language. And what’s really important is: I call it the “felt presence of direct experience,” which is a fancy term which just simply means we have to stop consu—
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Yeah, over here?
Well, religion is simply the word we use to describe our intuition that there is something outside the realm of culture and the three-dimensional surfaces of things. That there is a hidden dimension to reality—call it a plan, a purpose, a loving God, a cosmos instead of a chaos. And psychedelics, I believe, reveal a greater order than the order of the human world. This is why the way I do them is either in darkness—which means surrounded by my body, which is part of nature—or in nature itself: in the mountains, at the beach, in the jungle. Because what we are lacking, existentially, is any sense of order, meaning, and beauty in the world, because the society we’re living in has no order or beauty or meaning. It’s just a scam and a rat race. But if you take the psychedelics in these contexts where the culture and its artifacts are suppressed, then you connect up to the greater whole.
The question of god—meaning, in Milton’s phrase, “The God who hung the stars like lamps in heaven”—I don’t think psychedelics can address that definitively. But there is another god; a goddess. The goddess of biology. The goddess of the coherent animal-human world, the world of the oceans, the atmosphere, and the planet. In short: our world, the world we were born into, that we evolved into, and that we came from. That world the psychedelics want to connect us up to. Because our individuality as people and as a species is an illusion of bad language that the psychedelics dissolve into the greater feeling of connectedness that underlies our being here. And to my mind that’s the religious impulse. It’s not a laundry list of moral dos and dont’s or a set of dietary prescriptions or practices. It’s a sense of connectedness, responsibility for your fellow human beings, and for the Earth you’re walking around on. And because these psychedelics come out of that plant/vegetable matrix, they are the way back into it.
I want a woman, here.
Good question. Well, the answer is, I think, pretty obvious.
Could you repeat it?
Yes. How do we emancipate people from the foolishness of the drug war? How do we—as a community, as a point of view—how do we gain legitimacy? This is a really important question. I mean, if you look around yourself tonight, you don’t see the uneducated, the unhealthy, the demented or the deluded, and yet this is the stereotype of our subculture. Instead, what you see are well-dressed creative people holding down positions in society, the parents of children, the heads of departments, the authors of books, the painters of paintings. You may not have noticed, but in this society they’re not handing out rights. Ask black people. Ask members of any sexual minority. They don’t hand out rights in this society. And we—meaning we psychedelic people, by and large; this isn’t always true—but by and large we tend to be white and middle class. A translation of those two terms into “gutless” would not be inappropriate. We have the most to lose. And so we’re not given to hurling ourselves into the breach or building barricades in the street to hurl our bodies against the machine. Nevertheless, if you don’t claim your political birthright it will never be given to you. And black people, and gay people, and American Indians, Native Americans, all of these people have learned that you don’t go on bended knee to petition the official culture for your rights. You have to take them.
And people ask me, “How can you stand up and say the things you do? Why don’t they take you away?” They don’t take me away because they’re more chickenshit than you think, they’re more off-balance than you think, they’re more uncertain of themselves than you think! The legitimacy of this point of view is established in their minds. The reason drugs are illegal and suppressed and blah, blah is because you can make a shitload of money off them in that context. It’s a money issue. Do you think a loving government is trying to keep you from jumping out of third-floor windows, and that’s why LSD is illegal? I mean, give me a break! For cryin’ out loud! If this government felt strongly enough about certain issues, all of us between 18 and 26 would be sent off to die for that policy decision. So the government is not interested in your health. The government is artificially interested in inflating the prices of certain substances in order to create a focus for clandestine money that is used, then, to destabilize unfriendly governments, murder labor union leaders, kill and blackmail the editors of left-wing newspapers, so forth and so on. Drugs are enormous big business. And: not psychedelic drugs.
Psychedelic drugs—the only one that ever amounted to anything as a financial enterprise was cannabis. And cannabis is many things besides psychedelic. The deep, dramatic psychedelics—which are all schedule one, the most repressed schedule—don’t produce great amounts of money at all. What they do produce is questioning minds. They cause people to ask questions. They cause people to ask for clarification. They cause people to challenge cultural values, because they decondition you. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Hasid, a communist apparatchik, a rainforest shaman—if you take psychedelics you will question your first premises. And that is a business that all governments—right, left, middle—are in the business of repressing. They don’t want to have to explain why things are done as they are. But if we don’t begin asking for that explanation they’re going to run this planet right into ruin. And we are the generation responsible. You are the generation that is responsible. You can’t claim that you grew up in a village in Nigeria and you didn’t know. You can’t claim that you’re the child of poor Bangladeshi parents and you had no opportunity. The responsibility rests upon the educated, and the financially capable of doing something about it. And by that measure you and I are probably in the upper three percent of people on this planet. And if we don’t take responsibility, then that responsibility will devolve to others—beady-eyed others with an agenda that would stand your hair on end!
Yes, over here. This’ll be the last question, so make it hit.
Well, let’s go back and talk about schizophrenia for just a second. The question is, you know, schizophrenia involves basically breaking with ordinary value systems, and how does it relate to the psychedelic state? And people who have schizophrenic relatives in their family tree, how should they relate to the psychedelic experience, and so forth? I mean, I’m extrapolating, but that’s the basic thing.
Well, there are different things to be said about this. First of all: how many psychiatric residents—who are the people who come most in contact with schizophrenics (whatever that means)—how many psychiatric residents have ever seen an undrugged schizophrenic? Very, very few. Because the very first thing that happens is, for the convenience of physicians and the nursing staff, some outlandish drug is brought into the picture which then deflects this healing process from ever reaching any kind of natural conclusion.
Schizophrenia is just a catch-all term for forms of mental behavior that we don’t understand. In the nineteenth century there was a term, “melancholia,” which we would now call “bipolar depression,” so forth and so on. But all forms of sadness, unhappiness, maladaptation, so forth and so on, were poured into this label, “melancholia.” Now, schizophrenia is a similar thing. I can remember an experience I had years ago. I was at the Tollman Library at the University of California—which is the Psych library—and I was looking up some drug or something. And I just saw a book, and I pulled it off the shelf. A book about schizophrenia. And it said, “the typical schizophrenic lives in a world of twilight imagining. Marginal to his society, incapable of holding a regular job, these people live on the fringes, content to drift in their own self-created value system.” I said, “That’s it! That’s it! Now I understand!”
We have no tradition of shamanism. We have no tradition of journeying into these mental worlds. We are terrified of madness. We fear it because the Western mind is a house of cards. And the people who built that house of cards know that. And they are terrified of madness. Tim Leary once said—or I gave him credit for saying; he later told me he never said it. But whoever said it, this was a brilliant statement. Someone once said, “LSD is a psychedelic substance which occasionally causes psychotic behavior in people who have not taken it.” Right? And I would bet you that more people have exhibited psychotic behavior from not taking LSD, but just thinking about it, than ever exhibited it from taking it. Certainly, in my family, I watched my parents both go psychotic from the mere fact that LSD existed. They would never have taken it. There is a great phobia about the mind. The Western mind is very queasy when first principles are questioned. Rarer than corpses in this society are the untreated mad, because we can’t come to terms with that.
A shaman is someone who swims in the same ocean as a schizophrenic. But the shaman has thousands and thousands of years of sanctioned technique and tradition to draw upon. In a traditional society, if you exhibit “schizophrenic tendencies,” you are immediately drawn out of the pack and put under the care and tutelage of master shamans. You are told, “You are special. Your abilities are very central to the health of our society. You will cure, you will prophecy, you will guide our society in its most fundamental decisions.” Contrast this with what a person exhibiting schizophrenic activity in our society is told. They’re told, “You don’t fit in. You are becoming a problem. You don’t pull your own weight. You are not of equal worth to the rest of us. You are sick. You have to go to the hospital. You have to be locked up. You are on par with prisoners and lost dogs in our society.” So that treatment of schizophrenia makes it incurable. Imagine if you were slightly odd, and the solution were to take you and lock you into a place where everyone was seriously mad. That would drive anyone mad. If you’ve ever been in a mad house you know that it’s an environment calculated to make you crazy and to keep you crazy. This would never happen in an aboriginal or traditional society.
I wrote a book—I mean, this has to be the wrap-up because we’re over time—but I wrote a book called The Archaic Revival. I signed it tonight for some of you. The idea there is that we have gone sick by following a path of untrammeled rationalism, male dominance, attention to the visible surface of things, practicality, bottom-line-ism. We have gone very, very sick. And the body politic—like any body when it feels itself to be sick—it begins to produce antibodies or strategies for overcoming the condition of dis-ease. And the twentieth century is an enormous effort at self-healing. Phenomena as diverse as surrealism, body piercing, psychedelic drug use, sexual permissiveness, jazz, experimental dance, rave culture, tattooing—the list is endless—what do all these things have in common? They represent various styles of rejection of linear values. The society is trying to cure itself by an archaic revival, by a reversion to archaic values. So when I see people manifesting sexual ambiguity, or scarifying themselves, or showing a lot of flesh, or dancing to syncopated music, or getting loaded, or violating ordinary canons of sexual behavior, I applaud all of this because it’s an impulse to return to what is felt by the body; what is authentic, what is archaic.
And when you tease apart these archaic impulses, at the very center of all these impulses is the desire to return to a world of magical empowerment of feeling. And at the center of that impulse is the shaman: stoned, intoxicated on plants, speaking with the spirit helpers, dancing in the moonlight, and vivifying and invoking a world of conscious living mystery. That’s what the world is. The world is not an unsolved problem for scientists or sociologists. The world is a living mystery. Our birth, our death, our being in the moment—these are mysteries. They are doorways opening on to unimaginable vistas of self-exploration, empowerment, and hope for the human enterprise. And our culture has killed that, taken it away from us, made us consumers of shoddy products and shoddier ideals. We have to get away from that, and the way to get away from it is by a return to the authentic experience of the body. And that means sexually empowering ourselves, and it means getting loaded; exploring the mind as a tool for personal and social transformation. The hour is late. The clock is ticking. We will be judged very harshly if we fumble the ball. We are the inheritors of millions and millions of years of successfully lived lives and successful adaptations to changing conditions in the natural world. Now the challenge passes to us, the living, that the yet-to-be-born may have a place to put their feet, an esc—
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