Evolving Times

April 29, 1995

This evening address is one of Terence’s funniest, in which much is said about monkeys, mushrooms, plants, and people. The question and answer session gets good and lively, with his unique analysis of UFOs, governments, and possible evolutionary pathways for us and the planet.



Well, I like to lead with good news, so let me assure that at no point this evening will I read from—or quote—the poet Rumi. It’s a pleasure to be in Sacramento. It’s a pleasure to be in California. I lived here for about thirty years before moving out about eight months ago—lived over in Occidental. So I sort of feel like this is a hometown congregation.


You may have seen the story in the Bee this morning. It was a reasonable detailing of my theory of evolution. I noticed that one expert wouldn’t even give his name to allow his “no comment” to have attribution. Gentlemen, this is no way to behave in the face of an ideological revolution. Anyway—and, plus: it isn’t even my weirdest idea! But that was left unmentioned, thankfully, in the article.


But since the article dealt so specifically with evolution, and because that probably is my best candidate for entrer into any kind of respectability—something I crave intensely in every atom of my body—I thought I would discuss it with you this evening and try and make it seem a little less absurd than my critics might make it seem.


First of all, let me lay out for you the nature of the problem. Right now, the nature of the problem is finding the damn phone and shutting it off! No, the nature of the problem is that evolutionary theory tells us that we are some kind of advanced animal of some sort, and science has waged a noble struggle over the past 150 years to secure this position against all attacks by orthodox religious thinking. And yet, there is—after it’s all said and done—the sense that, if we are an animal, we are a very, very peculiar sort of animal indeed. A unique animal. An animal capable of language and coordinated planning. An animal not bound to a particular social or sexual style—we have monogamous human societies, polygamous societies; this is very different from animals. We have poetry, we have mathematics, we have drama. A whole spectrum of effects that is far from anything that we find in animal organization.


And this problem has fascinated me for a long, long time—as it’s fascinated a lot of people—because, obviously, it’s a great embarrassment to the theory of evolution that it can’t account for human consciousness. Because, after all, human consciousness produced the theory of evolution! So, you see, it’s a significant failure there. So, obviously, if you accept the basic rules of the evolutionary game, which are that there is random mutation—which means gene drift, mixing of genes through sexual reproduction, cosmic rays which cause birth defects and mutations, this sort of thing—and natural selection. And these two factors—natural selection and mutation—are sufficient to account for praying mantises, chipmunks, tropical rainforests, but not us. And the reason is that we emerged too quickly from the background of the rest of ordinary nature.


In the space of about two billion years the human brain doubled in size. And Lumholtz, who is an orthodox evolutionary biologist, calls this the most dramatic transformation of a major organ of a higher animal in the entire history of life. And it happened to us! It happened to that very organ that is responsible for the theory of evolution. So, what extraordinary confluence of factors could have come together there to take, essentially, an arboreal monkey—an ape of some sort that had been at an evolutionary climax in the canopy of the rainforest for a couple of million years—what extraordinary set of factors could then set that creature marching down the road toward Elvis, the Internet, Bill Clinton, and all the rest of it?


Well, I imagined—when I first started thinking about this—that there must be some huge edifice of established theory; that we have to go up in there and blow up. Surely, somebody has staked out this ground and made some kind of an argument about human consciousness. Well, in terms of science: not. Or almost not. I mean, in terms of religion it’s simple. I mean, God made us from the clay of the Earth. In terms of science, the best shot is pretty weak soup from my point of view.


Here’s what science is telling us: that, when you throw something, you have to plan. Because once you let go of whatever it is you are throwing, you can no longer control it. And so, because we were small and weak and hunted in packs, we learned to throw like hell: at very large, onrushing, woolly, fellow mammals of various sorts. And you had to plan your throw. Consequently, we developed brain capacity to do this, and head enough left over to invent quantum physics, paint the Mona Lisa, invent the phonetic alphabet, philosophy, religion, and all the rest of it. In other words, it was the coordination of the hand and the eye to the throwing arm—this is what the orthodox folks tell us—that gave us this extra brain capacity. That we, sort of, then managed into human civilization. Well, notice that this would make the pinnacle of the evolutionary ladder the gum-chewing, big league baseball pitcher. Because, you know, he can put that pill right across the plate at high speed, time after time.


As somebody who learned everything they know about sadomasochism in PE class, I’m not really ready to embrace this theory. It definitely runs against my paradigm. So I’ve built another story. And it—to my mind—meets the objections, answers the question “Where did consciousness come from?” But instead of doing it very nicely and neatly, it raises—in the very act of answering this question—other questions, maybe more closer to home. Questions that reflect on our social organization, our politics, how we treat each other in the here and now; even with implications for the future. But we’ll get to that. For the moment, let me just run through this for you.


There’s sort of a basic situation that all theories of evolution have to come to terms with, and this is that our remote, protohominid primate ape ancestors lived and developed in Africa. If you have a non-African theory of human origin—and there are such things—the evidence is strongly against you. If it were stock, I’d sell. The evidence is pretty strong that, whatever happened that brought us out of the animal body, it happened in Africa.


Well, all animals tend to—and plants for that matter—tend to reach evolutionary climax, and occupy a niche, and stabilize in that niche. Cockroaches, ants achieved this hundreds of millions of years ago and have not changed greatly since. Most of biology is this iterative occupation of a climaxed niche. Very little of biology is the pushing forward into radical new forms, new species—still rarer: new genera. For that there has to be disruption, of some sort, of the environment. And it can be the meandering of a river, or an asteroid strike, or the retreat of a glacier—something which creates open land.


Well, for five, six million years now, the African continent has been slowly drying. And three million years ago it was covered by rainforest, at the equator, from east to west. And that was the environment of human ancestor types. They were canopy-dwelling, they were fruit-eating, they ate, some percentage of insects composed their diet, they had a pack-signaling repertoire that was fairly complicated by animal standards. And there they were, happily living in the canopy. But Africa began to dry up. And they came under nutritional pressure.


Now, simpler animals—insects, for example: when their food source is withdrawn, they usually buy the farm. They don’t have much flexibility of diet. If you’ve ever tried to raise caterpillars into butterflies for your children, you know that if you give the caterpillars the wrong leaves, they just can’t make any sense out of it, and they die. More advanced animals—when confronted with dietary pressure or disappearance of ordinary food supplies—before they give up the ghost, they will experiment with other food sources in the environment. Now, the reason this isn’t normally done is thought—the reason animals are conservative in their food choices—it’s thought to be a way of avoiding mutational influences in the form of tertiary chemicals, toxins, viruses, and things like this, that would be in unusual foods. One of the things that accompanies our acquisition of consciousness is gastronomy: the appreciation of flavor, the approach to food that makes it an art. Animals don’t do this. They’re just trying to get enough protein to keep the old engines running. The notion of flavoring is counter-intuitive to animals. And flavoring’s probably, in part, a mutagenic influence to our diet.


When our remote ancestors came under environmental pressure (their environment was shrinking, the rainforest was being replaced by grasslands) and nutritional pressure (their ordinary diet of fruit and insects was being restricted), they began exploring this new environment of the grasslands. And this is the era of knuckle-walking, turning into bipedalism. It’s the era of the coordination of binocular vision. So forth and so on. There was a paper published recently which anticipates my point—but I can’t wait to hit you with it—a paper published recently about canopy-dwelling monkeys who only leave the canopy for the acquisition of one particular food. And the food they will come to the ground for and risk predation is mushrooms.


So it seems perfectly reasonable to suggest that our remote ancestors, exploring the new environment of the grasslands, would have encountered—as you would, if you were to go to the tropics—psilocybin-containing mushrooms growing in the dung of cattle. Many dung-growing—so-called coprolitic—mushrooms produce psilocybin. Among them stropharia cubensis, which is one of the largest and pandemically distributed of these mushrooms.


I’m sure that our early ancestors also tested other kinds of food. They were testing everything. They were digging for corms with pointed sticks. And I’m sure there were many ecological and medical disasters as a consequence of this. For instance, the birth control steroids in modern birth control pills are produced by dioscorea vines, grown on plantations in Mexico. Well, dioscorea is the family of sweet potatoes. Imagine a hungry band of primates that come up on a patch of sweet potatoes that are heavy in these steroids. It would raise holy havoc with their reproductive cycle. It would interfere with menstruation, ovulation, lactation, fertility, and, you know…. Human genetic history is the story of many such encounters with mutagenic influences in the environment—most of them catastrophic, detrimental, lethal. But in some few cases there would have been salutary results—advantages conferred upon the animals that accept these new foods into their food chain.


And I want to particularly emphasize psilocybin because I believe it’s the key. You see, we’re looking for some kind of factor which could have exploded the human brain size at a rate ten times faster than evolution normally takes place. So it’s going to be an unusual situation. Perhaps the need to throw a boulder at distance accurately, or perhaps contact with an unusual food item or drug-containing plant. But it was something unusual. If it weren’t unusual, it wouldn’t have taken this planet a billion and a half years to bring forth its first intelligent species. Well, so let’s look at psilocybin, then, in a little more detail.


It has a number of properties not specifically related to its psychoactivity that make it an ideal candidate for a catalyst for the emergence of consciousness in an advanced animal. First of all, and at the early stage of human invasion of this new grassland environment—protohominid invasion, I should say—we were testing foods. We would certainly have tested this food. I’ve seen these things the size of dinner plates in the Amazon after a rain, and they are silvery with blue and purple shading. They are the most dramatic thing in the environment, whether you know anything about them as psychoactive agents or not. Certainly, they would have been tested for food. I’ve seen baboons in Kenya investigating cow pies and flipping them over, because beetle grubs nestle underneath them. So, cow pies are a natural vector for hungry baboons. So that everything is in place; it’s trivial to suggest otherwise, I would maintain.


Okay. The first quality of psilocybin which isn’t specifically related to its psychoactivity is that, in small doses—doses that are the kind you might obtain if you were just sort of eating it along with little roots, grassroots, small bugs; you know, so forth and so on—visual acuity is improved. Specifically, edge-detection is improved. Well, now, it seems to me, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that, if you’re in a highly competitive evolutionary environment—in grassland, an environment characterized by large predators (hunting cats), and also characterized by small ungulate prey—that having an increased sensitivity to edge-movement might make the difference between whether or not you live to tell the tale or you become somebody’s dinner, or it would certainly make the difference between going home empty-handed and taking dinner home with you. So, a factor which enhanced edge-detection on those animals accepting that food supply into their food chain, they would have a slightly increased chance of evolutionary success as opposed to the non-psilocybin members of their group. And this increased hunting success would tend to out-breed the non-psilocybin-using members of the group.


At slightly higher doses, in highly sexed animals like primates, all alkaloids are what are called CNS stimulants—central nervous system stimulants. That means that they produce arousal. And in sexually extremely active animals like primates, arousal means erection, usually in the male, usually followed by hanky-panky—what anthropologists and primatologists call successful instances of copulation. Well, again, what is this? It’s a second factor tending to out-breed the non-psilocybin-using members of the population. They’re now definitely moving to the rear of the parade. They don’t have as much hunting success, they don’t have as much food for themselves and their offspring, they’re not having as much sex, so they’re not having as many offspring, and—in terms of rising and falling numbers—those that have some allergy, prejudice, or fear of the mushroom are just being shunted out of the breeding population.


Well, at still higher doses—approaching effective doses of 20 milligrams or more; in other words 4 grams dried and up, or 45 grams wet and up—hunting is out of the question. Sex is something you can consider, but it’s out of the question. And you are basically nailed to the ground in a state of mind which we—for all of our sophistication, our logical positivism, our superconducting super colliders, and all the rest of it—haven’t a clue as to what it is, what it means, what its implications are. The full-blown psychedelic experience of which we can only speak in terms of religious hierophany, epiphany, apocatastasis, and all those other great Greek words—ataraxia, you know? In other words: we like it, but we don’t understand it. And it is, therefore, the basis for religion.


Well, so, right there you have a three-step process, driven by nothing more than hunger and curiosity, that leads remote primate ancestors to a confrontation with what Rudolf Otto called the “wholly other.” The holy, the Numinous, the transcendental. And this is on slightly less firm ground, but in my own personal experience—and having collected psychedelic experiences lifelong—I feel confident in saying that, at high doses, psilocybin causes glossolalia. Glossolalia is syntactically structured language-like behavior in the absence of meaning. “Speaking in tongues” is what Christian fundamentalists call it, but they don’t have a monopoly on it. It’s ancient. It occurs in all cultures. It’s shamanic. And what it is, is: it’s a kind of neurological seizure where linguistic organization spontaneously is verbalized. No animal does this. It must have something to do with the acquisition of language by human beings. And what I think is going on is that, probably, language was entertainment long before it was meaning; that it’s a kind of tuneless singing. And that, having discovered that we could make an almost endless repertoire of small mouth noises, we did this for each other for amusement, to pass the time. I mean, god knows there was a lot of it! And it probably was very late in the evolution of this ability that some very tight-assed rational type said, “You know, we could attach a specific meaning to a specific sound, and then every time I made that sound you’d know what I meant, and then you could go and get it for me!” You see? It’s a sort of—it’s the “as long as you’re up get me a Grant’s” theory of language.


So that’s the basic idea, and I really believe that, sometime in the last fifty thousand years, before twelve thousand years ago, a kind of paradise came into existence. A situation in which men and women, parents and children, people and animals, human institutions and the land all were in dynamic balance. And not in any primitive sense at all. Language was fully developed. Poetry may have been at its climax. Dance, magic, poetics, altruism, philosophy—there is no reason to think that these things were not practiced as adroitly as we practice them today. And it was under the aegis of the boundary-dissolving influence of psilocybin. We were nomadic, we were breeders and caretakers of cattle, we worshiped a great goddess, we followed a yearly round in a vast grassland cut by crystal streams that were washing down out of the higher altitudes, and we were probably black as your hat, for that matter. And it was great.


Well, if it was so great, what happened? Well, the very forces which created this situation—and you will recall what it was: it was the drying of the African continent forcing us out of the trees, forcing us to change our diet, forcing us to accept a dung-growing mushroom. And there were other factors forcing us into consciousness as well when we became omnivorous. The first form of consciousness is having the point of view of your prey. Predatory animals have the highest form of animal consciousness; big cats. But it’s a consciousness of the exterior world. Psilocybin forced us beyond that, into consciousness of the imaginal world; the world of the imagination inside our heads. What happened was: the mushroom faded. The climate changed. What had been everywhere became seasonal, moved into the rain shadows of mountains, became the prerogative of a special class of people called shamans, who were like the designated hitters for dealing with the hyperspace of the mythos. In other words, over millennia, the connection went from available to everyone all the time to ever more tenuous, ever more tenuous, finally faded out entirely.


It’s even more complicated than that. Because, surely, people would have—as they saw this happening—made attempts to preserve the mushroom. And in a world without refrigeration, the only effective way to do this is preservation in honey. You can dry mushrooms, but in a world without hermetically sealed peanut butter jars, drying is a very short-term strategy for preservation. The only thing which will really work is preservation in honey. The problem there is that, honey itself—especially aboriginal honeys, which have a lot more water in them than what you get in those little plastic bears at the A&P—aboriginal honeys are very runny. And so what do they do? They, themselves, have the capacity for turning into a psychoactive substance: alcohol. But alcohol promotes a completely different set of cultural values and attitudes than psilocybin. Psilocybin is a boundary-dissolving hallucinogen. Mead alcohol gives an enhanced sense of verbal acuity in the presence of lowered sensitivity to social cues. In other words, one can make an ass of one’s self.


But now I want to backtrack for a minute. I will return to this thing about the loss of the mushroom, but there’s something that I want to go over with you that’s really important in all this to me. And that is: this isn’t simply the story of how an intoxicant promoted consciousness, and then we fell into history by losing that intoxicant, and went into other intoxicants—with consequences to be evaluated. It’s that, but it’s more. Because psilocybin had a very, very peculiar effect, over and above what I’ve mentioned so far. And it is this over-and-above-effect that makes my theory so controversial and academics—I think—so phobic of it, because it rips open a whole can of worms.


And this is the problem: all primates—clear back to squirrel monkeys and old-world monkeys—all primates form dominance hierarchies. This means that the sharp-fanged, hard-bodied young males control everybody else. The women, the elderly, the sick, the children, homosexuals—everybody finds their place somewhere in this dominance hierarchy run by these dominant alpha males. We are no different. We, also, as we sit here this evening, operate under this kind of a social organization. I mean, we complain about, we analyze it, we are aware of it, but we live under it. It’s how it is. So, here is my suggestion: that, what psilocybin did was, it changed behavior. It interfered with primate behavior. Specifically, it interfered with this tendency to form monogamous pairs and dominance hierarchies. And so the ordinary tendency of the primates to organize themselves that way was interrupted—medicated out of existence, if you like; vaccinated against, if you like—by the presence of psilocybin in the diet. And this overemphasizing or chemical accentuation of sexuality, occasioned by the arousal of the psilocybin, was sufficient to dissolve the ordinary tendency toward monogamy and replace it with an orgiastic sexual style—or they coexisted simultaneously. I mean, who knows? We weren’t there. It’s sort of—the way I imagine it is, that at every new and full moon, there were group mushroom-parties which, basically, simply got out of hand. Regularly. And so the monogamous pair-bond would be under pressure, if not completely eliminated. Many cultures have this, even to this day. I mean, in a sense, Mardi Gras is a festival where the rules are dissolved and nobody is supposed to go to their spouse the Monday after and say, “You know, was that you I saw dressed as Marie Antoinette?” Because the rules are… there is permission to break the rules. And many societies do this.


The result of an orgiastic style like that is: men cannot trace lines of male paternity. And so there is a tremendous social glue, a tremendous force for the cohesion of community. Men don’t, then, think in terms of “my children,” they think in terms of “our children;” the children of the group. And under the aegis of this group—this polymorphic sexual style, group childcare, and extended family rearing—we produced everything that we think of as human; that we value. Our art, our music, our philosophy, our sense of each other’s worth, body painting, tattooing, piercing—all the accoutrements that distinguish us from animal existence were put in place when we had a different kind of mind than we have now. We didn’t have a mind that that favored role specialization, and male dominance, and anxiety over female sexual activity related to feelings of male ownership. That all came later.


We became human beings in this other world of values and psychological attitudes. Problem is that, as I say, the mushroom faded. But by the time it had faded, we were no longer the wordless symbiotes of cattle, the barely sentient hunters of the African plain. By the time we were finished with the mushrooms we had language, we had social institutions. But what we began to lose was—you know, you can get as wet eyed as you want about it, but—respect for each other. A sense of each other’s individuality. A sense of love. A sense of community. And it must have been—though it happened over a long period of time—very much like what we’re living through now: a sense that people are no damn good and getting worse. A sense that—why can’t we be as we once were? Where is our sense of each other? Where is our ability to care for each other? So forth and so on.


I wrote a book called Food of the Gods, in which I tell this story in the first third of the book—that I have just told you—and then I show that, what history is, essentially, is a careening, out-of-control effort to find our way back to this state of primordial balance. One of the things that marks us as humans, that is unique, is our obsessions with drugs; our ability to addict. We addict not only to substances, we addict to each other, we addict to ideologies—Marxism, Christianity, Skinkism as practiced in Washington, whatever. And we addict to each other. You know? I mean, I am a romantic with the best of them, but I can’t help noticing that a broken heart and heroin withdrawal show very similar presentations. Really! Insomnia, sweating, sense of diminished self-esteem, hysteria—you know, it’s very, very similar. So, a psychologist looking at a person with an addictive syndrome will say, “Well you were damaged in childhood. There is some trauma there that you’re trying to compensate. You’re trying to compensate.”


Well, I’m not that keen on all this psychologizing, but I do think that we could apply this model to ourselves on a grand scale. We were essentially torn from the Gaian womb, thrust into the birth canal of history, and expelled sometime around the fall of the Roman Empire into the cold, hard world of modern science, existentialism, and all the rest of it. And we have searched the planet for substances which would assuage our sense of pain. And there are things out there. You know? Alcohol, the whole morphine family, so forth and so on. But these things always have consequences. There’s a price to be paid.


The very knowledge of psilocybin was lost to the entire planet—except for some tribes in the Mexican mountains—for several millennia until Valentina and Gordon Wasson went, in the early 1950s, and found these mushrooms and brought them out. And then Albert Hofmann, who had earlier discovered LSD, synthesized the compound and made it available. That was 1955. Well, by 1966, all human research with these things had been forbidden. We have—it’s not that science mowed this field and moved on. It’s that science has never really been here. We haven’t looked at the implications of diet on early human evolution. We don’t have a theory for the evolution of consciousness of any consequence, and yet, the factors I’ve laid out for you—increased visual acuity, an impact on sexual and social behaviors, triggering of glossolalia-like phenomena in the presence of a boundary-dissolving psychedelic experience—these are catalysts sufficiently dramatic that, inculcated into a cultural style, I think they explain a great deal about where we came from and who we are.


Now, the irony of all of this is that we live in a society that has made all—practically any—discussion of this illegal. Certainly, if I were to end this lecture by handing out doses of psilocybin I would be gently taken by the elbow and led away forever. The Western mind is particularly phobic of this subject. We have bent our laws so that people can jump out of airplanes in the pursuit of thrills, so that they can bungee-cord off major highway bridges and freeway overpasses—so concerned are we to fulfill society’s need for thrills. But this is something else. It provokes all kinds of alarmed reactions. And, perhaps—you believe—unfairly. I think that, when you examine the situation, it’s possible to understand very clearly why this is such a social issue. Because what these things do, if you look—and now I’m slightly broadening my rap to include other psychedelics besides psilocybin, but psilocybin is certainly true in all cases. What these things do, if you had to generalize 100,000 psychedelic experiences—the ones where people thought they were God, the ones where people had to be taken to the ER room and have their stomach pumped; all of them—if you generalize what these substances do, is: they dissolve boundaries. They dissolve boundaries. If you love it, you’ll love it. If you hate it, you’ll hate it. But that’s what they do: they dissolve boundaries.


Now, the reason this provokes a lot of social anxiety is because all societies are about the maintenance of boundaries. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a stockbroker in New York, a Zen monk in Kyoto, a Hasid in Jerusalem—your society is held together by boundaries and definitions. And anything which dissolves those boundaries and introduces relativity into cultural modeling is felt to be threatening, because we like to believe that our reality is somehow sanctioned; that this is how it should be. But, in fact, that’s just a cultural judgment. All cultures think that their culture represents a sanctioned reality. It doesn’t. It just represents the current download of their linguistic enterprise.


At the core of the Western anxiety about boundaries is something that we are very proud of, that we believe we invented. We call it the ego. Sometimes we call it the democratic individual. We say no Eastern society could have produced this. We took this from the Greeks, we perfected it through the Romans, we brought it up through the medieval period; John Locke, and Thomas Hobbes, and all those folks fixed it up for us in the eighteenth century, Thomas Jefferson ironed out the wrinkles, and modern America is the shining example of what you can do if you empower the ego, the citizen, the individual. We want nothing of tribalism, still less of collectivism, and—God forbid!—nothing whatsoever to do with communism! See, all these things set us going.


But, in fact, the ego is appropriate only to a certain point. I mean, yes, we need egos so that, when you take someone to dinner at a reasonable restaurant, you place food in your mouth, not their mouth. This is what the ego is for; it tells you who pays. But, in fact, what the ego is, is the return to consciousness of this psychic structure related to the patterns of dominance. And the way I think of the ego is: it’s like a cyst, or a calcareous growth, or a tumor that gets going in the personality. And—if not treated—it becomes chronic, and then there is no cure. There can only be a certain amount of maintenance and medication of it, but it’s incurable. Except—unless we resort to not only non-prescription drugs, but drugs currently illegal. In other words, the psychedelics—through this boundary-dissolving function—dissolve that boundary as well. And so they promote a larger sense of the world than the values of capitalism, competitiveness, object fetishism, property acquisition, and—the bottom line—empower.


So the issue—as was always, since the 1960s forward—I think, is not simply an issue of religious freedom, or an issue of an eccentric minority social practice being tolerated by the majority—the way they tolerate handing out pamphlets in airports, or something like that. The issue is, in fact: what kind of people shall we be? And then: what kind of society shall we put in place?


And that’s why my theory of evolution is not simply a dry footnote on an issue that involves anthropologists, primatologists, and biologists, but it turns into a political issue because our unhappy, addicted, ego-driven condition has become not simply the source of our own unhappiness—that was bad enough—but now it’s the source of great discomfort and dislocation for all life and human society on the planet. We are out of control. We are, basically, severely addicted to things and cannot stop ourselves. And we know—or we should know—that there is not enough petroleum, heavy metal, so forth and so on in the planet to give all the thing-addicts all the things that we know they must have in order to be happy. We have spread this intellectual virus from pole to pole, to Turkmenistan and Borneo, to the upper Amazon and to the Tajiks. Everybody wants kids, you know? Everybody wants the pause that refreshes. What are we going to do about this?


Well, so far, we’ve been treating it like an endless garden party. There’s no serious plan on the table to deal with this at all. I think that the momentum of human history is pushing us inexorably toward some kind of day of reckoning, and in which we are either going to have to turn consciously toward brutality and selfishness, and say, “Well, let India go. Let Bangladesh go.” Triage. Costs too much. Can’t possibly fix the problem. In order to maintain our locked compounds, and our fifty channels of television, and the endless availability of arugula we have to let India go. We’re going to have to turn that way. In other words: each consciously participate in a choice to brutalize the human enterprise, or we’re going to have to seriously talk about very major restructurings of our society. And I don’t really know how we do that.


I was living in northern California a couple years ago, when they wanted to close an airbase near here, and the newspapers were filled for weeks with analysis of whether Western civilization could absorb this hammer-blow at the very heart of its institutions—of closing one frickin’ airbase, for crying out loud! That’s not my idea of major change. You know? We may have to give up some of our pretty things. We may have to discipline some of the irresponsible social philosophies that run amok among us. And no, I don’t mean the advocacy of psychedelic plants, I mean the Roman Catholic church’s position on population control in the third world. The Germans take quite a knock for the holocaust, but the Catholic church manages to push more people into death, disease, and degradation every year than the holocaust managed in its entire show, and it’s thought rather crass to even mention the fact. It seems to me, as long as these Catholic bishops can show their face in public, that we are in complicity with mass murder. It’s not pleasant news, but what are you going to do about it? Islamic fundamentalism—another bunch of knotheads with an anti-human agenda. What are we going to do about this? Are we going to go gently into that good night of planetary chaos, extreme distortion of class structure, defense of what we have at any cost against those who have nothing? There doesn’t seem to be any other plan on the horizon.


Arthur Koestler, who probably never thought he would be quoted by Terence McKenna—a very conservative character; you’ll recall, he was a Marxist who turned on Marxism, and led a very interesting intellectual life—he wrote a book thirty years ago called The Ghost in the Machine. And he made a case similar to mine, but a little simpler. He observed: human beings are hardwired for homicide. This is what we do best, because this was something we had to do, apparently, at some point in our past—at least in Koestler’s view; he didn’t believe in a mushroom paradise. But he reached the same conclusion that I have, which is: we need a pharmacological intervention on antisocial behavior, or we are not going to get hold of our dilemma.


There have been dystopias based on drug intervention on aggressive behavior. You all remember Brave New World, where, every time anybody raised their voice, they were given a gram of soma and told “a gram is better than a damn.” And so, nobody ever had a thought in their head. Well, that’s a terrible drug! Let’s not introduce that. Uh-oh—the bad news is: we’ve had it for decades. It’s called television. You know? We have millions of people in larval, low-awareness lives in their little condominium apartments, just ladling this garbage into their minds. The average American watches five and a half hours of TV a day, so imagine how much time these people watch. I mean, to think of that as human at all… if that were a drug, we’d be up in arms! You know? If people were loaded at home with that level of mental condition, day after day after day, we would do something about it!


So, I can’t propose a grand solution, but I do think that it is pregnant with implication that, here—at the end of the twentieth century, with all of these problems hammering down on us—the news comes from the rain forests and the deserts that these aboriginal people—while we made the descent into history, and got the top quark, and planted the flag on the Moon, and all that—they kept the faith. And they have a materia medica, a toolbox, that can carry us back into a connection with the planet.


Now, the question might be asked: why do you have such overwhelming faith in what is, after all, a substance, a drug? I mean, don’t psychedelics just cause you to see pretty pictures and patterns, and tally up your gains and losses, and then you come down, and that’s it? And the answer is: no. What is mysterious here—and I mentioned it in the early part of my talk—what is mysterious here is this thing we call the “psychedelic experience.” Those people nailed to the ground around the campfires 50,000 years ago—they didn’t know what it was. And when we go in there—armed with our Heidegger, and our Husserl, and our Wittgenstein, and our Merleau-Pontywe don’t know what it is, either. There has been no progress in 60,000 years in reducing the psychedelic experience to a known quantity. It is as terrifying, as awesome, as ecstatic, as irreducible to us as it was to them.


Well, what is that? As secular people, we rarely experience religious awe—especially of the uncontrollable sort. I believe that what makes the psychedelic experience so central is that it is a connection into a larger modality of organization on the planet—which is a fancy way of saying it connects you up to the mind of Nature herself. The planet is not just a hodgepodge of competing species. That’s the old evolutionary model. That’s been obsolete for decades. The new evolutionary model is that, where we see species, Nature sees only a gene swarm: genes moving at various speeds, being transferred around—a large percentage of them by sexual propagation, but a large percentage of them by asexual and vegetative propagation, and still others by more exotic methods of propagation such as go on in the fungi and the bacteria. The world is a gene swarm. And people like Lynn Margulis and James Lovelock have been suggesting for years that the Earth is a kind of thermostatic self-regulator. Well, if you carry that idea far enough, “thermostatic self-regulator” is a way of saying a kind of computational engine; a kind of computer; a kind of mind! A kind of mind—the Gaian mind. The reason those mushroom-eating, orgiastically-behaving people worshiped a great horned goddess, the reason they imaged the numinous other as feminine, was because they had a connection into a kind of overarching intelligence that they instinctively and intuitively felt to be feminine.


And we retain this in our languages as the idea of “mother nature,” and the femininity of the land, and so forth and so on, but it’s just become a distant metaphor to us. I think our intelligence is a source of toxicity to nature and discomfort to ourselves—unless our values are based on planetary values, are linked to the values of the rest of nature. And that means we need to fit ourselves more appropriately into the scheme of things by limiting our numbers, by limiting our extraction of natural resources and toxification of the environment. We need to realize that there is a hegemony of life on the planet—not necessarily a hegemony of intelligence. Intelligence is not a license to trample. The proper role of intelligence in a planetary ecology is that of gardener, caregiver, and maintainer of balance. Well… so where do we go, and what do psychedelics have to say about that?


Well, I believe that psychedelics show us something which capitalist, consumer-fetish oriented society doesn’t want us to know. What psychedelics show us is the incredible richness of our minds. That you—little you—can produce more art in a twenty-minute burst of hallucinatory intoxication than the Western mind has produced in the last 500 years. Our socially created space is incredibly impoverished. You know? We have Picasso’s contribution and Pollock’s contribution, and everybody’s contribution—but it, all together, is as nothing compared to the richness that resides in each one of us a half inch behind your eyebrows. We are told, “Oh well, if you want beauty you have to own a Lexus.” Or, you know, if you want a sense of satisfaction then you need a triple car garage. On and on. This is absolutely not true. These are substitute addictions that will never satisfy for the genuine article. And the genuine article is a connection into the Gaian mind.


Well, I don’t believe or expect for a moment that ever again, naked, tattooed, and joyous we will herd our cattle across the grasslands of Africa. I mean, there are six billion of us—that chance has been blown. But what can we do to ameliorate our situation? Well, I have always been an optimist. I’m more optimistic right now than I have been for a long time. Because sometimes, when you’re an optimist, you’re an optimist simply on principle. You believe it’s going to turn out alright, but you don’t see how it possibly could. I’m beginning to see how it possibly could turn out alright, and my notion is—first of all, I follow in my thinking about shamanism, and I follow the great historian of religion Mircea Eliade, who got it almost all right, except that he never embraced psychedelics. He thought they were decadent. But that was just his French-European education, and he came to early. But anyway, Eliade wrote a book called Shamanism, and then he subtitled it “The Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy.” Now, he wrote the book in French. In French, “technique” has a connotation that it doesn’t have in English. It means both “a way to do things,” and it means “technology.”


Later, the French sociologist Jacques Ellul wrote a book called Propaganda, and the little banner under which his book flew, which is printed right on the frontispiece, is: he says, “There are no political solutions, only technological ones. The rest is propaganda.” And then he spends 200 pages explaining what he means by “political solutions,” “technological solutions,” and “propaganda.” By Ellul’s understanding, I agree. I think ideology is toxic. All ideology. It’s not that there are good ones and bad ones. All ideology is toxic because ideology is a kind of insult to the gift of human free thinking. I mean, if you adopt some ideology—Leninism, Mormonism, it doesn’t matter—then you have all the answers. You just go and look in the catechism. Well, I don’t know why they issued you a brain. They could have just given you the catechism. Technology, as the counterpoint to ideology, is a very different animal.


Right now we’re going through a technophobic phase because people think technology means exploding nuclear power plants, and irradiated food, and TV. But all “technology” really means—in the McLuhan sense—is: “the extensions of Man.” The extensions of Man. And so, language is a technology, shamanism is a technology, psilocybin is a technology, and, certainly, the Internet is a technology. It’s—slowly, I think—dawning on a number of people that, if we’re talking about hallucinogens as consciousness-expanding drugs, then the only difference between a drug and a computer is that one is slightly too large to swallow—and our best people are working on that problem even as we speak! The drugs of the future will be much more like computers. The computers of the future will be much more like drugs. And I think what we have to recognize is that we are in a very brief and low-energy technical phase in technology. Basically, we’re at the tail end of the petro-chemical steam era, and where we are headed is toward the solid-state, fiber optic, global community of the Internet.


When I was in San Francisco two weeks ago, the buzz was all about VRML, the virtual reality markup language, whose protocols are being set now so that we will be able to build websites on the net that you can put on your helmet and walk around in. Sun Microsystems is about to introduce something called Hot Java which will let you build and interact with your website without going through your server. Bandwidth is broadening as we speak. The whole world is being brought into the domain of electricity. And you may not know it, but Marshall McLuhan thought that this was the descent of the Holy Ghost. As a convert to Catholicism—he sort of went the opposite direction as me—as a convert to Catholicism, he decided that the descent of the third person of the Trinity and the worldwide spread of electricity were the same event. So I think that what we have to do is dematerialize culture in every way possible. And that means pharmacologize culture, computerize culture, network culture, virtualize culture, and make of it, thereby, a tool for the production of our poetic flights; a technology for the putting in place of our dreams as exhibits that we can show each other. This is what it is. This is what technology can be in the service of boundary dissolution. In the service of boundary maintenance you get hydrogen bombs and sarin. In the service of boundary dissolution you get psychoactive substances, and the Internet, and sexual experimentalism, social justice, tolerance, and community.


And the choice is to be made on an individual level by each and every one of us. I don’t advocate a mass outbreak of psychedelic use. I think these things are a private matter. The only thing comparable to them in our human experience is our sexuality—and that’s a private matter. How we define it, how we express it, how we act it out, who we do it with, what we think about it and what we choose to say in public about it is all in our hands. I do not think that the government, under the guise of some phony, alarmist, pseudo-scientific rhetoric, should attempt to control the evolution of consciousness. After all, if these things truly are consciousness-expanding, it doesn’t take too much intelligence to realize that it is the absence of consciousness that is causing our flirtation with extinction and planetary disaster. If there is any way to raise consciousness—diet, drug, machine, sexual practice, mantra, yantra, whatever it is—we should be furiously exploring and applying it. Because if we should fumble the ball, if we should actually—where our ancestors over thousands of generations did not fail—if we are to fail, the magnitude of the tragedy will be immense, because failure is not inevitable. It is not inevitable that we should fail. There are ideas, personalities, technologies available right now which, if honestly explored and implemented, could rescue the human enterprise from the disgrace that hovers over us. We don’t want this to end in a toxified garbage pit ruled by Nazis—which is, you know, the way we may well be headed. The Gaian mind has always been there.


Nature originally—through the plants and shamanism—provided the tools for us to access this incredible natural database. Through the vicissitudes of history, previous generations lost the key in Western society. Since the 1960s the key has been re-found. It’s a matter of great social controversy, it’s a matter of great risk to those who take it—how they will be viewed by their peers—but ignorance is no longer an excuse. Anthropology in the last hundred years has laid at our doorstep the tools necessary for an archaic reconstruction of a society and human values within that society. It’s inconceivable that Western industrial capitalism could run on another 500 or 1,000 years. It will not continue as it has. It will deteriorate under the pressure of resource scarcity. And what few democratic values we have obtained, what little space for reasoned discourse has been created, will be the first to be swept away. So it’s very, very important that people take back their minds, and that people analyze our dilemma in the context of the entire human story—from the descent onto the grassland to our potential destiny as citizens of the galaxy and the universe. We are at a critical turning point. And, as I say, the tools, the data that holds the potential for our salvation is now known, it is available, it is among us. But it is misrepresented, it is slandered, it is litigated against, and it’s up to each one of us to relate to this situation in a fashion that will allow us to answer the question that will surely be put to us in a some point in the future, which is: “What did you do to help save the world?”

Well, I’ll knock off now. I’ll sign books. We’ll take, like, a 10-minute break and then we’ll come back and do questions. Thank you very much for your attention!


—disaster, and that, in fact, what we’re involved with here at the end of the twentieth century is some kind of accelerated forward escape into transformation. And when I lecture that subject, I more or less imply that it’s inevitable. In other words, that it’s not that we have to to X, Y or Z, that it’s on track. I think it is on track, but I also think there’s a place for the kind of politics we discussed this evening, because, as the world gets crazier and crazier, a lot of people are going to get very, very anxious. This thing in Oklahoma City is an example of people getting anxious.


So, what needs to be done is to spread the idea that anxiety is inappropriate. It’s sort of like, we, who are psychedelic, have to function as sitters for society because society is going to thrash, and resist, and think it’s dying, and be deluded, and regurgitate unconscious material, and so forth and so on. And the role, then, for psychedelic people, I think, is to try and spread calm. I’m very convinced that things are going to get a lot nuttier than they are, and they’re a lot nuttier now than they have been for a while.


But it doesn’t mean the bad people are winning, or that we are going to fumble the ball, or anything. The mushroom said to me once—it said, “This is what it’s like when a species departs for the stars.” It’s a birthing. It’s complicated. If you had never seen a human birth, and you came around the corner of a building in your daily round, and it was happening—it vibrates medical emergency. I mean, blood is being shed, tissues stretched—it doesn’t… you really have to have your chops together to step back and say, “How wonderful! New life coming into the world!” Because, you know, that’s not the vibe of it. And I think that’s the circumstance that we’re in: this is the birth canal to a new order. And, at the moment, it looks like suffocation, constriction, limitation, possible death. But we need to inform ourselves and get a big perspective.


And there’s no way to get a big perspective like education and psychedelic experiences. If we can see history for what it is—it’s a 25,000-year, nearly instantaneous transition from one state of being to another. And, yes, there are 1,500 generations of people who live in that paper-thin transition time. But when it’s over, it’s over. And we will leave history behind the way you dump a used placenta, I’m sure.




I wondered: is there any reliable information on the relationship between psychedelics and early Christianity?



Reliable information on psychedelic use in early Christianity? The answer is no. I mean, there is a book by John Allegro, called The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross. He was a very respected Dead Sea scholar until he wrote that book, and that basically finished his career as a classicist. He says some incredibly provocative things in that book. To judge whether he’s right or wrong you would have to be an Assyrian philologist, about which I know nothing. So, to the layperson, it seemed to be quite an impressive book. But apparently, to his specialist colleagues, it was sloppy thinking, and a travesty, and reason to deny tenure.


Saint Augustine was a Montanist before he—no, he was a Manichæan before he converted to Christianity. And he mentions that Manichæans forbade the use of mushrooms—the eating of mushrooms; it doesn’t say the use of mushrooms. But the ancient Middle East… we don’t know very much about psychedelic sacramentalism. It may have been there, it may not have been there. Absence of reference is not proof of absence, because of cult secrecy, and other factors like that. We do know that the—or, we feel we’re on firmer ground in saying—that the Greek mystery religions emphatically probably were psychedelic, especially the Eleusinian Mysteries: the mysteries that were practiced on the plain outside of Athens every year for over 2,000 years. And everybody who was anybody in the ancient world made the journey to Eleusis to celebrate the greater mysteries, which were celebrated in September.


Interesting approach to psychedelics there: you could only legitimately participate in the mystery at Eleusis once in your life. So imagine if you had a single, high-dose, psychedelic experience under ideal conditions—in other words, in darkness, under the care of experts—and then the rest of your life you had to sort it all out based on what happened that one evening. It was extraordinarily powerful for the ancient world. Eventually, it was destroyed. Alaric the Visigoth, who was a barbarian—but that didn’t stop him from being a convert to Christianity—Alaric the Visigoth burned Eleusis on his way to North Africa to burn other things.




I was wondering, Terence, if you’d had a chance to read The Emperor’s New Mind, by Roger Penrose, I think? It’s an argument against the idea of AI—Artificial Intelligence—and whether you were able to follow his argument, because I would take it you would probably be opposed to his argument.


I haven’t read the book. I like Roger Penrose’s early work. He’s saying artificial intelligence is impossible?


Yeah, based on—and he goes through the Turing [Test], and I heard you bring it up once.


The Turing test.


The Turing test for artificial intelligence. And he also brings in the incompleteness theorem.


Oh, Gödel’s incommensurability thing?


Maybe a little on that?



A little Gödel, please? In 24 time? Well, I don’t have a particularly strong opinion one way or another on AI. I certainly think computers can be a lot more intelligent than they are before we settle the question of whether they can pass the Turing test. You all know the Turing test is this test—Alan Turing was a mathematician; he figured it out during World War II—and it’s basically: if you call “X” on a telephone and you can’t tell whether “X” is a person or a machine, then “X” passes the Turing test. And every year they have Turing tests where judges converse by telephone with computers and people, and try and decide which are the computers and which are the people. And it’s still pretty easy, because the people exhibit exasperation, incorrect information, misinterpret the question, so forth and so on.


There are some wild thinkers out there, far wilder than me. If you want to read a wild book, read Hans Moravec’s book Mind Children: The Future of Human and Artificial Intelligence. There’s a book! And… I’m having a memory lapse here, help me out…




Tipler. (I said help me out with a memory lapse, you don’t have to read my mind, for God’s sake!) Yes, thank you, Creon.

Tipler’s book is the end of all speculation where artificial intelligence is concerned. I think machine-human interfacing is very important. I think that the debate about whether a computer can think like a human being is kind of not very interesting. Computers think like computers. Already, vast amounts of what we call “human society” are entirely run by machines, including very important financial sectors, market decisions, resource extraction decisions, inventory resupply decisions that feed clear back from the warehouse to the mine—in other words, machines say how much tin should be extracted, and at what rate and, therefore, to certain degree, say who should come to work and who shouldn’t on certain days. A lot of design work of circuitry: engineers will simply tell a computer what the circuit should do and leave the actual architecture of the circuitry to machine decision. This means more and more parts of the human world are being given over to machines to design. But when you see how much the world looks like the arrival concourse of an international airport, having computers design the world might not be a bad idea.


Definitely, computers figure in our future. I mean, I wasn’t joking when I said drugs and computers are migrating toward each other. I can imagine a world—and this is not the ultimate world by any means—a world five, six, seven years in the future where the equivalent of today’s advanced Macintosh would be something you glue on your thumbnail, and communicate with that way. And beyond that lie enormous computational and data-accessing abilities that may be accessed through implants. We’re going to have to decide how much of the monkey we want to take with us into the future. We don’t want to take the homicidal killer, we don’t want to take the male dominator—but it would probably be a mistake to leave the body entirely behind. After all, the body gives us our orientation in the world, and our sense of ourselves as somehow coextensive with animal life. But how much of what we call human is really human is going to be major topic for discussion from here to the end of time.

Yeah, in the back.



Two questions on ecstasy. Number one: what’s your take on MDMA? And what’s the optimum grams to take to achieve sexual ecstasy?


Sexual ecstasy on ecstasy?


Sexual ecstasy on mushrooms.



Oh, on mushrooms! Oh, I see.

Well, first about MDMA. Well, there is no doubt that, from here to the end of time—whether it be eighteen years or a thousand years away—science is going to produce more and more psychoactive drugs. There a psychoactive drugs on the shelf now, waiting for human testing and government approval around the world. We cannot explore the brain, we cannot explore neurochemistry, without these drugs being a natural consequence of this program of research. MDMA is a cyclosized amphetamine—like MDA, like mescaline—which is a naturally-occurring compound of this type. In the hands of a skilled psychotherapist MDMA leads to conflict resolution, insights into relationships, this sort of thing. I’m not entirely convinced that it’s the silver bullet for these conditions. Every drug that has made its way on to the alternative culture scene has first built itself as a love drug. That’s an unfailing market ploy to get a drug to the forefront of public attention. Cannabis was sold to us as a love drug, LSD, psilocybin, ibogaine. MDMA is no different. MDMA does promote a certain kind of empathy, not a whole lot of vigorous sexal activity. In terms of what dose of psilocybin leads you into a sexual rather than a visually acute or visionarily ecstatified situation: I would say, for 145-pound person, probably two to three grams is this agitated, sexually active—or, if no sex is happening, maybe dancing and drumming—in other words, a thoroughly aroused, busy, active dose. As the dose rises, activity slows. And finally you just want to sit down, and then, finally, you just want to lay down, and then you’re into the other phase.

Behind you there was another question.



Yeah, I was going say that John Lilly has an interesting kind of speculation about the future possibilities of solid state entities in his autobiography of a scientist. But I was really curious if you have anything to say, or, you know, about the credibility of the author William Cooper, who wrote the book called Behold A Pale Horse. Do you know that book?


This is the flying saucer debunker.


—conspiracy theory—


And isn’t he the one who said he was the CIA guy for a long time?


—naval intelligence.



Well, this is slightly off the track, or might seem to some people to be slightly off the track. I don’t know William Cooper’s book. I regard that whole flying saucer thing as a civil war in a leper colony. But I do think—having been, like probably most of you, very interested in flying saucers from the time I was a kid, and I grew up when it was all happening. A couple of years ago I accepted an invitation for the first time to go to a flying saucer conference. If you’ve never been to one, and you’re interested in flying saucers—go! You will have more insights into the phenomenon in a conference like that than in ten years of studying it, because what’s perfectly clear is that these people are self-selected for gullibility. It’s not their fault, it’s just that the ticket through the front door is, “Would you believe this?”


I think probably what happened—historically speaking—is that, in 1947, when the first UFOs were seen, it was a weird world. The explosion of the atom bomb, the work toward the hydrogen bomb. People didn’t know. Einstein, and Truman, and all those—they didn’t know what it really meant. They thought that it is conceivable that the solar system is monitored. And it is conceivable that this is the switch which turns on the monitor and brings attention. I mean, they were in awe of the atom bomb, and they realized they were tampering with cosmic forces. And then, at this moment of cosmic awe and realization of tampering, they began to get reports of spacecraft entering the skies of Earth and interacting with human beings. Well, what they did—the CIA had just been founded in 1948, and so forth and so on—what they did is, they put a lot of time and effort into infiltrating all these groups that claimed knowledge of what was going on. And as a survivor of the new left I can tell you: when the government gets interested in infiltrating, two out of every three members of SDS was a government informant at the height of its membership! So, I believe that what happened was these flying saucer groups were massively infiltrated by the government in the course of pursuing its constitutional obligation to maintain the public welfare. And by 1954 or 1955 the government was perfectly convinced that whatever flying saucers were, they did not pose a threat to the integrity of the air defenses of North America. And that was their real concern.


But bureaucracies are weird creatures. They really exist only to perpetuate themselves. So, at some point inside these agencies, they must have had to face the fact that they had massively infiltrated a bunch of very flaky people, and now their choice was to either end the program, tell the budget people that, no, they wouldn’t be needing that 10 million dollars this year, or keep going with it because they now had a group of people self-selected for gullibility. And that group of people became the victims of every chemical experiment, weird technology, propaganda experiment, and so forth and so on, because their friends and relatives had already written them off as completely untrustworthy. Who would believe them, no matter what story they told? So I really felt I was among severely damaged people. And it wasn’t their fault. It’s that they had become part of something that had become part of something that had become part of something, and they never really had a fighting chance. Do strange lights haunt the skies of Earth? You bet their booties they do. But, the flying saucer cults are a social phenomenon and largely unrelated to whatever this anomaly is.




Dr. Buckminster Fuller often spoke of the ephemeralization of technology. Do you think there will come a time when we are indistinguishable from our technology, and would that be the sort of apotheosis that you speak about in your books?



No, I think it would go the other way: that we’re moving toward a time when our technology is indistinguishable from us. In other words, I don’t want us to all turn into 7100 ADAV. That doesn’t seem like a good idea. But, on the other hand, I could imagine as a hopeful scenario a future world of, let’s say, 500 [million] or a billion healthy, happy, well-fed people of all races, political persuasions, gender preferences, and so forth and so on. And those people would essentially live as our archaic ancestors did: very little material culture; nomadic. But if you could transport yourself into the body of one of these people you would discover that, when they close their eyes, there are menus hanging in space. In other words, the computer that was on the back of the thumbnail—5 years later, that computer moves into being a kind of an implant, a black contact lens that is sewn into your eyelids at age 6, so that when you close your eyes you’re actually looking at an interface. And the entire database of the culture could be placed there.


You see, really, what computers are doing is: they’re making what we call the collective unconscious conscious. All data, all images are potentially accessible through the network. And I’m still getting used to the idea of the network myself. Like, I keep thinking, “Oh, I have this timeline. I could get somebody’s chronology and put it at my website.” And then I remember: “No, no, all I have to do is point to their website. I don’t have to copy or move anything.” If there is one list, that’s all the world needs. Anybody else who needs that list can point to it from their website. So the speed at which new structures can be created is astonishing! I mean, almost literally overnight you can build a website and begin to point at other websites, and bring resources into yours. This is a technology which is going turn out to not be what people think it is. It’s going to be a technology for showing each other the inside of our heads; for showing each other our dreams.


One thing I didn’t talk about in the main part of the lecture is that psychedelics are catalysts for language. They speed up and catalyze the language-formation process. And a culture cannot evolve any faster than its language evolves, and it cannot be anymore glued together than the bandwidth that its languages will tolerate. And so, what this technology that is putting in place is going to mean is: the way in which it will dissolve boundaries is by making us transparent to each other. I mean, I can imagine a child of the future—we all bring home our drawings to stick on refrigerators and things like that—in the future, we won’t stick them on refrigerators, we will stick them in our website. And everything will go into our website. And by the time we are twenty-five or something, our website will be the size of the American Museum of Natural History, and you can wander through it. And, as a gesture of intimacy, you can invite someone else to wander through it. Well, that’s who you are: it’s your imagination. And I think, in a sense—I have said at times that the cultural enterprise is an effort to turn ourselves inside out: we want to put the body into the imagination and we want the imagination to replace the laws of physics. With these technologies we can probably do that. But it will have to run on psychedelic design principles, or it’s certain to be a mess.




What can you tell us about the problems that some people experience with the digestibility of the mushrooms, and how can it lead to pain and some discomfort, and sometimes to, like, a nightmarish type of experience?



Well, first of all, let me say this: there are several mushrooms which contain psilocybin which grow in cow dung. What I urge people to do—if you are serious about this—is to grow your own. This is moderately self-serving, because I wrote a book about how to grow your own mushrooms. But there are many such books—you don’t have to buy mine, you only need it if you want the best one. But, you see, here—Stamets’s book is excellent, and if you want to go large-scale, Stamets’s book is the one.


But let me say something, then. After the brain, the stomach is the most heavily innervated organ in the body, and anxiety has a way of cropping up as a stomach ache. So, a lot of people have anxiety in the first hour of taking mushrooms, and they believe that something in the mushroom is giving them gastric distress. It really isn’t. It’s more like a case of butterflies on an empty stomach, because you should take mushrooms on an empty stomach. You can try a suppository. You can try another drug, if you want. But there is, in this psychedelic business, something to be said for simply disciplining your hind brain. Also: you can suppress nausea with cannabis. So, you know, a mixture of self-discipline, pharmacological steering, so forth and so on. If you have a severe reaction to the mushroom, you probably shouldn’t take it. I mean, after all, it is a fungus, and as mammals we have developed some pretty strong uh allergenic reactions to fungi—some of us. And certain reactions to psilocybin are not psychedelic reactions, like enormous sweating or something like that. That’s more an indication of an allergy. If you are going to get into psychedelics, one of the things you have to do is learn your way around. Psychedelic sophistication doesn’t mean you took everything there is in combination with everything else there is, at high doses, with your friends, at rock concerts. It means that you figured out what worked for you, and then really put the pedal to the metal, you know?




I recently came by David Hudson’s work on Orbitally Rearranged Monoatomic Elements and found that these monoatomic heavy metals act as superconductors—conduct light force through our nervous system. Are you familiar with this work at all?


No. You’ve stumped the star. I mean, I’m interested in organic superconductivity and room-temperature superconductivity, but I don’t know his work, so i can’t comment on it.


It’s fairly new. It’s—he’s saying he’s going to be coming out with a book in six to nine months called ORMEs, which is Orbitally Rearranged Monoatomic Elements.


I am sure it will find its way to my desk.

Now, all these hands. Oh, he should be the guy, you tell me. Alright.



How much of our consensus reality do you think is based on inexorable physical laws, things that aren’t [???] creations, and how much—if any—is subject to change without notice simply based on a consensus belief of what should be or what is going to be? How do you think things work?



Well, I mean, this is sort of where I’m at. I mean, as you were asking the question, I was… my tendency would be to say “none.” That none of our reality is based on inexorable physical law. But I only want that to be true. I’m not sure it is true. Whitehead used to say—he had this thing about what he called “stubborn facts,” and he said there are some stubborn facts. And you can cut your philosophy any way you want, but if you don’t take account of the stubborn facts, you’ll have a problem. A lot of reality is made of language. How much? I’m not sure. But my hope is that a great deal is made of language. Rupert Sheldrake, who’s a good friend of mine—and we sort of think along the same lines—he believes that there are not inexorable physical laws, that there are just very old habits. He would think of the speed of light as a very old habit. These physical constants may be changing. We don’t know. I mean, take the speed of light: we’ve measured it on one planet since 1906 and cheerfully extrapolate it to every corner of the known universe with no sense that there might be a problem there at all. Yet, if you’re a critic of this, you can look at the speed of light as measured from 1906, and you will notice that the values have been slowly going up. It’s apparently going slightly faster than it was a century ago. [Curator’s note: this statement is false.] Well, people just dump on that and say, “No, no, you poor moron, you don’t understand. It’s that the instrumentality has become more precise and so the measurement may have changed slightly.” Oh yeah? Well, it seems to me, in that case, the points should cluster. How come the more recent ones are faster than the earlier ones, consistently? In other words, it’s not that we’re getting measurements which cluster around a value, it’s that we’re getting measurements which are going out this way, toward faster.


I think language is the key to making reality. I think our language is a very weak language. Computer languages may be more powerful—you know, VRML, or mathematics. But I believe the world is made of language. That’s the magical belief. But then the challenge to that belief is: okay, wiseguys, so how come the world isn’t the way you say it is? Well, that’s ungenerous, I think, because it doesn’t work quite like that. Consensus is set by societies, by millions of people. Reality is a phenomenon of many linguistically operating subsystems. Maybe, if you and I were stranded on a desert island, we could get a reality going. We probably could, but it would surely be shattered when somebody showed up to take us home again.

Over here.



Why would primates be the only ones that use the mushrooms, and secondly, is there any written documentation of this mushroom [???]?



The documentation… well, there wouldn’t be anything written, of course—it’s earlier than that—but the documentation: it is well known that the Sahara was wetter in the past. Even as recently as Roman times, Pliny called it the breadbasket of Rome. And we know that human populations were out there. In the Tassili Plateau of southern Algeria there are rock paintings—rupestre paintings—that show shamans with mushrooms sprouting out of their bodies and in their hands. So we have mushroom use, we have evidence of mushroom use at the era of the great horned paleolithic goddess. The presence or absence of monogamy and polygamy is debatable. However, the archeology of this area has not been well studied, and won’t be soon—thanks to Islamic fundamentalism, Algeria is no place to do archeology right now.


Now, to the first part of your question: why was it human beings who ate the mushrooms? Well, to use the mushrooms as a doorway to higher intelligence, you would have had to already come a certain distance down the path of higher animal organization. We were bipedal, we had a pack signaling repertoire, we had binocular vision, and the reason we used the mushrooms was because we were under nutritional pressure. There may have been other animals under nutritional pressure, but they may have been more tightly bound to their original diet, or they may simply have had behavioral organization that the mushroom couldn’t dissolve or break through.


There has been talk among evolutionary biologists about if there were no primates on this planet, what order of animals might occupy the conscious niche, or be able to come in there. And, interestingly, raccoons are candidates. Raccoons have well-positioned eyes, they have a very complex hand and—years and years ago I used to grow mushrooms, and I grew them by my own method, naturally, in jars, and I would have jars infected with mycelium-permeated rye, and I would put it out on the back porch at night—or I did, once. And I awoke in the middle of the night to this terrific racket, and there were raccoons on the back porch. They could smell the rye infested with the psilocybin-containing mycelium. They could unscrew the lids and plunge their mitts into this stuff. And as I turned on the lights, I saw these little bandit faces with these mycelial crumbs on their little upturned muzzles, and they wouldn’t back off! The other thing was, they were standing up on the their hind legs. So they were standing on the their hind legs, holding a jar, holding this stuff, and tottering toward me. So, I just took one look and backed off. And for the rest of the evening you could tell that they were approaching the orgiastic boundary because the carrying on, the sexual squeaking and squealing, and thumping and pounding going on in the back yard was just incredible. So, you know, they might be interesting test animals to put through this.




Jacques Vallée based his Passport to Magonia largely on the [???], which you are familiar with. I want to have your comments on the numinous dangers of the UFO phenomena with regard to the [???], and the role of this phenomenon, which I think you referred to as “the other” earlier in your talk, as the transformation you have us going through in the future.



Yes, Jacques Vallée was a UFO researcher, and the book that was mentioned, Passport to Magonia, was one of his earliest books on the subject. He’s gone through a lot of changes about it. The numinous—I think what’s going on is that, in a sense, there is leakage from the future. This is a broad subject and it’s late in the evening, so I’ll give it to you in headlines. But basically, science takes the position that nature is without purpose. In other words, nature has no goal. Nature proceeds forward according the unfolding of chance and necessity. But I don’t believe this. I think nature is an engine for the conservation of novelty. Nature’s purpose is to generate ever-greater novelty. And that, in fact, history is the dawning realization that we are about to descend down a very steep novelty-sink, as it were, into immense amounts of novelty. And this is why we image the other in the twentieth century as the extraterrestrial: because out of the unconscious comes this image of the other as the extraterrestrial.


I think we are in the presence of what I call the transcendental object at the end of time, and that religions call it the Messiah, or the Maitreya, secularists call it Utopia, millenarians call it something else, mushroom enthusiasts something else—but that we are in the presence of the transcendental object at the end of time. And that it casts and enormous reflection back through history, especially recent history. But any person encountering this backward-moving shadow of the transcendental object will attempt to interpret it in cultural terms that they can relate to. So if they happen to be a French peasant in the eleventh century, they will assume its the Virgin Mary. If they’re a sexual scientific rationalist in the twentieth century, they will assume it’s a spacecraft of some sort. The Celts and their relationship to little people and an invisible world—this is a generally held belief that they are exemplifying, that is world wide, which is that the dead are somehow co-present in the space of the living, but invisibly so. Except to those who have the gift of second sight, or are magically empowered, or shamanically adept.


The last thought I should leave you with this—and it’s adumbration of this question, but it also has deeper implications: the model that you’re usually given of the psychedelic experience is a religious model, that the mysteries of religions—Hindu, Buddhist, or something or other—are somehow illuminated by this boundary-dissolving experience. My model is a little different, a little cooler and—I think—a little more formal, and it’s this: that consciousness is an omnidirectional threat-detection response.

[Recording ends]

Terence McKenna


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