The Gnostic Astronaut

June 1984

Going off the deep end at Shared Visions Bookstore in Berkeley, trailblazer Terence McKenna plunges into freaky psychedelic phenomena that unravel consensual reality. He describes gonzo techniques for sparking glossolalia on ’shrooms—speaking pure alien word salad in an ecstatic state beyond language. McKenna argues these kooky experiences expose the limits of our linguistic operating systems, suggesting our minds are hardwired into a deeper bio-lingo. He ponders far out connections between psychedelics, paranormal events, and alien contact, and emphasizes riding the wave of raw experience over textbook pharmacology in grokking the psychedelic sphere.




What I want to talk about—and I don’t really want to, I would like a discussion about it, if that’s possible—is those components of the psychedelic experience which exceed either the psychedelic paradigm or raise the issue of violations of some kind of larger paradigm. And there are two areas where this is noticeable, and one is fairly common in the literature, and that’s the report of telepathic phenomena and that sort of thing, which has been persistently a repressed sub-theme in psychedelic research ever since Havelock Ellis began experimenting with mescaline. And the other thing is a constellation of issues that seem to me related—although they may not seem related to you, and we touched on this this afternoon in Stan’s talk, which is the question of the extraterrestrial connection, or whatever it is, and what do these things mean?


The first thing I want to say about all this is: there’s been a phrase used by several people which is “the full spectrum of psychedelic effects.” People will tell you at what dose the full spectrum of psychedelic effects occurs, or we heard yesterday that LSD elicits the full spectrum of psychedelic effects. But, in fact, there is no catalog of psychedelic effects. And how does one know what the full spectrum is? It’s a very tricky matter. What I have encountered at fairly high doses of psilocybin and on DMT—but strangely on nothing else—that I find very interesting is the whole problem of interiorized voices, relationships with hidden agencies of uncertain parameters, and, related to that, states that I think the vocabulary we inherit from the religious systems that we’ve recently overthrown leave us with nothing to say about them but that they’re states of possession. And the word demonic has been used but not defined, and it’s somehow a form of negativity that does not seem to be operational, but it’s very upsetting, nevertheless, to people.


So what I find and what I think is generally a part of the shamanic practice of taking mushrooms is that, at fairly low doses—meaning… I can’t speak of pure psilocybin, but at five dried grams—it’s very easy to invoke a voice, a kind of lógos-like phenomenon, which operates as the typical hierophant. It’s the teaching voice. It’s Virgil to Dante. It’s a very large and superior force which takes you by the hand and then narrates the various scenarios that you’re conveyed through. And the trick, of course, is the trick that’s such a conundrum of the literature of involvement with demons and devils, which is: the trick is to get something out of it and get away clean. And the way that works operationally when tristing with the mushroom voice is: it’s the challenge to get it to tell you something that you’re sure you didn’t know already, so that you can have some validation that you’re not just talking to the back of your head. And though this sounds trivial at first, as you move into the dialogue with the other it becomes apparent that it’s going to be elusive; mercurial is a word that suggests itself.


Now, another aspect of the psilocybin intoxication—which may or may not be related to this, and that I have sort of, I guess, insisted upon more than anybody else—is that it triggers phenomena having to do with the language centers. Henry Munn, in a book called Hallucinogens and Shamanism, edited by Michael Harner, talks about this. And I went to some lengths to talk to him about it, and I found out that, though he agreed with my opinions on the subject, he didn’t hold them nearly as strongly as I did. That, for him, it had been a fairly elusive and upsetting phenomenon. But this is a form of glossolalia that I really am convinced is an affect of tryptamines that is a psychedelic affect that I don’t believe it happens with anything else. At least, it doesn’t happen in my experience with anything else, and the literature doesn’t mention anything like this. It does not happen with ayahuasca—even though, chemically, you would think ayahuasca would have the same properties as the other tryptamine hallucinogens.


And so I want to describe a typical encounter with this phenomenon, because a client has had this experience over a dozen times, and it’s almost always unvarying. The problem is: the client happens to be myself, so getting independent confirmation that this could happen to someone else has not been very easy. Nevertheless, I operate under the faith that there’s nothing unique about me, and that anything I could experience is a generally accessible human phenomenon. I mean, I think it would be preposterous to operate under any other kind of assumption. In giving DMT to people casually to over a number of years, only four people have reported the kind of phenomenon that I’m interested in. And, of course, every single one of them had been primed by me. Nevertheless, the experience is of such an ontologically different modality that it’s difficult to see how you could cue it to somebody. They would have to have it.


And what it involves is a transformation of language into something which is no longer sound decoded by brain through the consultation of a culturally validated dictionary, but instead it becomes sound which is beheld, and meaning which is beheld. And this idea of a visible language, when it first came to me—or when I first realized that that was the phrase I was going to have to use to describe what was happening—I had never heard or imagined of such a thing. But then I went back into the literature and I discovered that, as usual, the Greeks got there first—or at least, in this case, the Jewish Greeks or the Greek Jews. Because in Philo Judaeus, who was a contemporary of Christ, there is a discussion of what he calls the more perfect lógos. And he says: “The more perfect Logos will be apprehended through seeing, not through hearing. And yet it will cross from being heard to being seen without ever going through a noticeable moment when it shifts from one modality to the other.” And this seems to be what is happening in the DMT flash—when you smoke the freebase, not the hydrochloride. But when you smoke the freebase, you have this spontaneous experience of generating what you identify first as a thought and then as a sound, but which eventually becomes some kind of synaesthesic, linguistic modality for which we don’t have words yet. Telepathy I always conceived of as looking into your own mind and hearing what someone else was thinking. But the notion that telepathy might be someone speaking and producing a three-dimensional object in the air that could be rotated and mutually beheld by the speaker and the listener had never occurred to me. But experiment with the DMT showed that this extraordinary kind of state is actually potentially triggerable again and again.


And it’s almost as though there is a sensorium of the world which, in order to be reconstructed in the interior horizon of transcendence that is the being of a given individual, the sensorium has to be arbitrarily broken down into its perceptual components of sound, sight, odor, tactility, et cetera. And normally, as it enters the human organism, these categories—which are arbitrary, but as old as the human body itself—are maintained. But they need not necessarily be maintained. The incoming sensory data can be recombined in such a way that no trace of the portal of entry is left upon it. And in that case you get this freely evolving topology of light and sound that is trans-linguistic. It has a grammar of form, if you will, so that it is not shorn of meaning, it is simply shorn of the kind of particularized meaning that logical necessity imposes on language. Instead, it has an emotional richness, a kind of poetic death that is not like ordinary language at all—and, in fact, causes one to think of discussions of primary poetic languages such as the one that goes on in The White Goddess by Robert Graves, where he wants to suggest that there is a proto-language, an Ursprache, that transcends conventionalized dictionaries; a language which to hear it is to understand it. And I think that this kind of organization of information lies at the basis of the psychedelic experience.


In other words, you can think of cultural conventions and human languages as software languages that are historical adumbrations of an assembly language which is prehistoric and probably in the genes and antedates all notion of human conventionalizing of activity, and is actually biologically the basis of language. As I said in the opening remarks: that, if you want to see the thumbprint of God in the world, it seems to me that the phenomenon of human language is where you look. I mean, human language is a psychic ability. I can make thoughts in your head by simply uttering certain small mouth noises. And the degree of fineness of the images that I can produce in your head (and you in mine) through the use of small mouth noises is something which we’re still exploring.


I think that, you know, it’s well known that the human animal has not appreciably evolved in 50,000 or 60,000 years, possibly much longer. Once culture was established, the soma of the human species was relatively stabilized. Then change was no longer genetic, it became epigenetic. And you get—just as the stability sets in in the animal form—you begin to get this fantastic proliferation of epigenetic change in the form of the evolution of culture, languages, alphabets. It all seems to be related somehow to the encoding of information. And the psychedelic state also seems to be about the revelation of kinds of information which are normally either not efficacious or unavailable for other reasons. And it is not that culture is evolving. The evolution of culture is an epiphenomenon attendant upon the evolution of language. Language is the part of man which is evolving. Culture carries along.


At the present moment we are able to speak twenty-first century ideas to each other, but our culture is carrying along at about the 1950s level. Nevertheless, it seems to me that this thing which psilocybin does to the language-producing part of the brain is not, then, some mere affect, some trivial affect of an obscure hallucinogen on a peripheral part of the brain. It means that it is, in fact, a catalyst for evolution because it is a catalyst for the evolution of language. We are not going to move into the future until we create that future through language. And the hardest thing to cause to change is language. It has an immense inertia because it is so un-self-reflective of itself. And this is what we need to inject into it: is an element of self-reflection, so that the evolution of language can become more conscious and less random. Because it’s the non-randomizing of the evolution of language that will give us a real hold on the kinds of social modalities that we want to produce in the future.


Now, I don’t know if the tryptamine-induced glossolalia will have a major role to play in that. It may be simply one of the many promising scintillas, or sparks, thrown off by the psychedelic experience that invites exploration. But certainly all of these things—the chanting, the glossolalia, the inner discourses with alien forces, the self-examination of one’s own motives—all of these things are linguistic activities and go on in the context of linguistic action. It seems to me that what these drugs synergize is cognitive activities of all sorts. This is why originally they were called consciousness-expanding drugs. And this synergy of cognitive activity has to be taken very, very seriously because it’s having a massive effect on our society.


As individuals, we tend to concentrate on the six to twelve hours following the ingestion of the given drug. But the real impact is a societal impact that is spread out over decades, and I don’t think that there’s any question at all. But the best part of the social program of the LSD reformers of the 60s has been enacted in large measure. It’s simply that it’s at a profane level, not pleasing to the purist. But I believe that people have deeper and subtler senses of humor, I think people have more refined aesthetic sensitivity, I think people have a greater sensitivity to the mysteries of human interaction, simply because so much LSD was taken in the 60s. And these are permanent changes that will not be wiped out.


Our language is largely in the place where it was left by about 1969. But from the period of 1959 to 1969, dozens of concepts and notions—ego-trip, bummer, flashback, rupture of plane—all of these terms were invented that allowed a handle on the experience. And essentially, the whole twentieth century cultural experience has been an effort to create languages of sufficient power to give descriptions of the internal transcendence of being as we experienced it in the present at hand. And Stan touched on this this afternoon: the Freudian interest in the repression of desire and the placement of the critical period in childhood—n other words: out of the present, but still within the context of the life of the experient. And then Jung, trying to say: well, it’s that, but it’s more than that. And bringing in the notion of a collective unconscious.


But it isn’t that these guys were describing the unconscious or limiting or delineating the unconscious, it was that they were going through linguistic forms of metamorphosis in an attempt to describe what was a black box which, essentially, I think, still eludes them. Because though the Jungian model was fairly satisfying, I think by, we’ll say, the middle 1940s, it was just at that time that, then, these psychedelic agents began coming on. And what they show is that if we can keep the Freudian term, the unconscious, then huge portions of the unconscious seem to have very little to do with human beings—individually or collectively—and that large portions of the unconscious present themselves more like a topological manifold. In other words: more like a place that is no more interested in the traumas or repressed wish-fulfillment of human beings than boulders, wildflowers, and waterfalls are interested in these things.


In other words, the unconscious began to take on a character of a dimension rather than a repository of energy. It seemed to be instead something deployed spatially that could be entered into. And immediately, of course, the literatures and traditions and mythologies of the world were searched, and we discovered: yes, shamanism. There is a tradition of a therapeutic practitioner who, in order to cure his patient or himself, goes to a place. And then there are many descriptions. It’s either an ascent through cosmic levels, or a descent into an inferno, or into the center of the Earth, or into a cavern. But the stress was on the spatial metaphor: that it was a place.


And I think that the psychedelics are beginning to confirm this in a way that’s very hard for us to assimilate. In other words, it seems as though the science fiction metaphor of another dimension is actually, in some ways, more applicable than these reductionist models which wanted to say: well, it’s a representation of a certain symptomatology, or it’s a representation of a certain past event system. It doesn’t seem to be like that. And it raises questions about the relationship of the mind to the body—which I talked about the first night—that are very interesting.


One of the things, again, that Stan touched on this afternoon, was what he called synchronistic events attendant upon taking psychedelic drugs. And this means that you take a psychedelic drug, and then someone you’ve been thinking of who lives far away shows up at your doorstep. This kind of thing. The word synchronicity was coined by Jung, and it means a meaningful coincidence. But I think it was P. [W]. Bridgman who said that a coincidence is what he have left over when you apply a bad theory. And there can be just so many of these meaningful coincidences before somebody has to stand up and say, you know: hell, this can’t be coincidences, meaningful or otherwise! Something else is happening here. And on psilocybin—and I think it’s, you know, based on anecdotal material, but I think it’s generally true of other psychedelics in varying degrees—the synchronistic component is more like a poltergeist phenomenon. It’s as though there are small eddies of autonomous psychic energy that disturb the periphery of awareness. It’s the, it’s the rats in the wall phenomenon, you know; the scratchings, the rustlings, fire flarings need to be studied. The phenomenon of people lying on floors silent for hours and then sitting up at the very moment that the fire flares, the window blows open, the baby cries, almost as though there are waves of compression of... coincidence? Connectedness? What is it? I’m not sure.


[???] lose control.



Something like that, that move through a modality. So all of these things suggest that, actually, we don’t know what we’re doing with psychedelics. That, because things that you put into your mouth that are not foods must necessarily be medicines, we have assigned these things to our doctors to explain to us. And I noticed in the first talk this afternoon it was said: well, there’s the schizotoxin, the theory that—yeah, the psychotomimetic theory. Then there’s also the theory that these things induce religious experiences. But so did the psychiatrists who figured this out immediately step aside and make room for priests, or what was the conclusion of that model of how it should be done?


So I don’t think they are—I think it’s odd that our reaction to them was to immediately say: well, if you’re dying of cancer, we’ll give it to you. If you’re seriously neurotic, you can be put on the waiting list. Everybody else, hit the streets if you’re interested. There is this notion, you know, that what we all experience is mental health, and certainly doesn’t require any drug intervention because it, in fact, is normality. But Jung and others have had, you know, more the idea of an open-ended process: that there is an unlimited potential for understanding and for coming to terms with being in the world and for opening up to other people. And I think that it would be very interesting to take the approach that these things should be restricted to people with an exceptional ability; that going along with winning the Nobel Prize was your license to possess and take psychedelics and to hand them out to your friends.


It’s interesting that when this was all being hashed out at the very beginning, it was Aldous Huxley’s notion that this is how it should be done. He said, you know: engineers, artists, diplomats, administrators—people must be exposed to these things. And then somewhere along the line, I think, personalities arose with messianic tendencies, and the notion became that you would count success in millions of followers rather than in the quality of the people who were taking it. And that proved, you know, a sad thing, because the society in which that conception arose had a demographic bulge in the 12–30-year-old group, and it just all ended rather badly.


So as I said at the beginning, there’s no conclusion about all of this stuff. It is the frontier. There is a very large frontier. We’re very fond of the notion of an ever-expanding sphere of understanding, but has anyone stopped to notice that if you have an ever-expanding sphere of understanding, necessarily, the surface volume of the frontier of the unknown becomes larger and larger? So, you know, it’s like building a bonfire bigger and bigger to convince yourself that there’s an awful lot of darkness. So I think, you know, the key to getting around the cultural momentum that has placed us in this position is to return to the Baconian method, which is simply the collection of facts and the examination of them until patterns emerge, and that then the major datum for thinking about the psychedelic experience should be the experience. And that the pharmacology, and all of these things, they will elucidate operational details of how these things function at the wetware level. But they will never elucidate the component which is beheld by the experient in confrontation with the drug. In fact, it’s silly to demand that of them, because that’s not the kind of information that they are able to deliver.


In fact, no system of thought is able to deliver that kind of a description. That has to come from the individual. And that’s why I am fond of speaking of these things as deconditioning agents. Because what they show you is that, you know: each man, each woman, their own Magellan. You need no longer participate in a pyramid of information where it’s filtering down to you from the scientific, medical, governmental, and military elite, being explained by CBS, NBC, Newsweek, and Time. You can discover, actually, that the adventure of being is not a cultural adventure, it’s not a societal adventure, it’s a personal adventure, and that this is what you really need to be involved in. All this is happening. This is why shamanism has gained such a hold, because it’s a metaphor for personal responsibility. And I think we all take personal responsibility for the evolution of our worldviews—psychedelic people, I’m referring to, take responsibility for the evolution of their worldviews. But still, we operate under the shadow of what’s right to say about it and what’s not right to say about it.


For instance, the UFO thing is a cultural taboo and not believed in by intellectually nice people. It’s more the province of telephone line repairmen and that sort of slice. But the fact of the matter is that, no matter how much it may discomfort drug researchers and UFO people—because each is struggling to gain respectability in an inherently dubious field—but actually, you know, there would be a fertile advance made if these two groups could talk to each other. Some people hearing me say that must wonder what in the world I’m talking about. How can a problem of unidentified aircraft be related to the phenomenology of the psychedelic experience? But, you see, it isn’t so much a problem of unidentified aircraft, it’s a problem of not recognizing that the entire spectrum of existence is embedded in a linguistic model that is created by the workings of minds, and that mind is an imponderable, and yet it’s set at the beginning of the equation.


In 1978 a very spectacular daylight meteorite crossed the United States from east to west. Required about 35 seconds for it to go from one side of the country to the other. There was no warning that this thing would occur. And in the 35 seconds that it was over the continental United States, thousands and thousands of people saw it. But we got 32 very good photographs of it from different points along the ground, two movies of it from two different points along its pathway, and it was very well documented. UFOs have been visiting people and appearing all over the world for thirty years, and the hardware faction can’t come up with anything. So it seems clear to me that what we’re dealing with is a kind of mass psychic phenomenon of some sort. And it’s very interesting that one of the anecdotal things in circulation about psychedelics is that they are actually catalysts for this kind of thing. And what this means is not clear, but it should certainly be investigated. I mean, if there’s a chemical agent which can repeatedly trigger a phenomenon that bizarre, it should be looked at.


Jung very early suggested—in a book called Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky that he published in 1948—that it was, in fact, a projection of the mass psyche; that it was assimilable to the goals of alchemical transubstantiation. He called it the rotunda, the scintilla, the spark, the spinning thing. And it’s all these things, but it is the clue that we are somehow trapped inside some kind of artifice; that the world that we’re inside of is much more like a work of art than it is like the smooth-running mechanistic machine that Newtonian science describes. That description works very well for all low-grade phenomena up to about the level of the weather. But from there on, the notion that the world is simply, you know, probabilistic processes following these various creodes of least resistance becomes very untenable.


Because each of us, in our experience of being, lives in a highly theatrical world. And what I mean by that is that you can see a woman at a great distance from you—in class, in opportunity, all of these things—and you fall in love with this woman, and it’s hopeless. But of course, as we all know, it’s also inevitable. And that inevitability totally violates physics, because it really is hopeless. How is it, then, that each of our lives is a work of art, of unbelievable chance encounters, coincidences, and wishes projected onto the world, but never spoken and strangely fulfilled in the oddest ways? I think that it’s because the world is made of language, and that if the Eastern conception that “the universe is mind” has any operational impact in the world, it will be through conceiving of mind as the underlying, self-aware, self-active, world-forming grammar of being. So that what Freud called the superego, what I call the overmind—there have been different ways of talking about it—has to be seen not as a passive homeostatic controlling device, but actually as the most intelligent organization on this planet. And we are all only components of this, believing ourselves to be the highest expression of freedom, but it is actually at the species level that organization is controlled. And that’s why the emergence of ideas—like the calculus or the invention of LSD or the steam engine—why these things have the curious property of being regulated from above: it’s because the world is not nearly as chaotic and random as we suppose. We are actually trapped inside a giant organism. And it is not Gaia—that’s a much larger organism. We are trapped inside a large organism which is the human collectivity. And that’s why we are such different monkeys: because there is this group mind—which none of us is aware of or has ever perceived—that is actually mediating the human experience. And it is no more apprehendable to us than the group mind of an anthill is apprehendable to us. It can’t be seen.


What it is, is: it’s an interlocking set of conventions, linguistic directions, genetic components, assumptions, and what for lack of a better word you would call innate tendencies. And these things (which we wear as as the clothing of our species-hood) are actually the constraints directing us first one way and then another. And if we want to take control of our destiny, we’re going to have to rise into empathy with this overmind, this superego. And there’s no reason to think this can’t be done. I’m sure you’re all familiar with Julian Jaynes’ theory that, until very recently—in fact, until Homeric times—everyone heard voices in moments of crisis. If you were in a moment of crisis, suddenly and quite naturally a voice spoke in your head and said, you know, “Get the hell out of there!” or “Do something!” And everyone understood that this was God or the king or the dead king—it depended on where you located in the Middle East. But there were people who traded between these various locations. And the first cynics is what they were, because they noticed that over at Ur, god spoke to everybody. But down at Nineveh, it was the dead king, who everybody heard in their head. And this logical discrepancy cast doubt, and they became the first people to not hear the voice, but to assimilate it.


And this is what we call the ego. It is what we experience as the self. Something which 2,000 years ago was a god—which only intervened in human affairs to save lives and give heavy advice—has become for each of us the central focus through which we mediate our sensorium and project models of the world. So it is not—we are far more plastic than we realize. And I think what Stan was saying tonight about how the goal is to be in the—I forget the term; the hylolytic [?], the matter-oriented side of it—but to have this awareness, a complete awareness of the other side, so that you are simultaneously locked in Newtonian spacetime and the parameters of the situation, and you are simultaneously liberated into a complete awareness of the other potential. And the way I recognize that state—and this may be idiosyncratic—but I can tell I’m in that state when, no matter what I’m doing and no matter where I go, I can see the Earth hanging in space by simply referencing that image and discovering it present in my head in a way that is not like a thought or something artificially induced. It’s a real modality that is present and accessible. And I think that means, you know, that you have enough of yourself committed to the overmind that you’re operating in the light of it.


And the many consequences flow from that that are efficacious at the personal level. For instance, there is something which has been called the Tao of the ancestors. What that means, I think, is simply that, for each one of us, there is a way to do the things we must do that is the most energy-efficient way to do it. And I’m talking about opening a door, picking up a fork. the best way to do it is to follow the creode that is the Tao of the ancestors; to recognize that you are a genetic expression (a partial genetic expression) of a gene pool which has received genetic expression at each generation in your family for thousands and thousands of generations, and that you are just the latest recension of this gene pool, then you release the ego, and you act with this awareness. These are psychedelically-induced states of being that, I think, make it easier to live in the world. And how many of them are there/ Who knows?


For instance, under the influence of psilocybin in the Amazon, I notice what I am completely convinced is an atrophied human ability. It’s a very simple ability, but we have lost it. It’s the ability to know how to walk from point A to point B, not following the shortest distance, but following, automatically, the path of least resistance. So that you don’t go down into valleys and then climb hills, you automatically stay on ridges, even though you take more circuitous paths to your goal. And I could feel this sense working. It was just like a part of the dashboard that had previously be covered up with a sun cover. Here was a human sense—which we don’t particularly need, because we’ve erected linear cities, where the path of least resistance usually is a straight line. But you can imagine, people in rugged country: this is a sense which would confer great survival adaptability and be tremendously important.


So I think that what we need to do is tease these human abilities out of the psychedelic experience; that really, the psychedelic experience is like an intimation of immortality. And at varying distances in time from the point you occupy, it shows you ever more vague intimations of the future, but they are there nevertheless. Language is probably somehow related to the endogenous hallucinogens in the human brain. The evolution of culture is probably related to these things. It’s been suggested that DMT in the brain is mediating what we experience as attention; that when you look, and look hard, something is happening in the brain having to do with DMT; that it mediates awareness in a very moment to moment way.


The future evolution of mankind is going to be based on these states. But the last point I want to make is one about how evolution occurs. It isn’t that a mutation happens and it confers greater adaptability upon an individual, and therefore that individual and his offspring numerically gain over competitor individuals of the same species. This is not how it works. The way it works is: you have constant mutating of a gene pool from the influx of cosmic radiation and other factors. There is always a low level of mutants in a population. But they are of no consequence as long as the selective parameters remain the same. But when the selective parameters change suddenly, these individuals who were previously masked in the general population, the selective advantage that they have now comes immediately to the fore, and they act very quickly and critically to send the evolution of a given species off in a different direction. This is why the fossil record progresses in fits and starts: because sudden shifts of environment caused the apparent emergence of new types. It isn’t that they cause it. It’s that the new types were always there but not with any advantage. It’s that the new situation has conferred a sudden advantage on them and they are moving, then, into positions of dominance in the population—or the society, if we’re talking about human beings.


I think that the psychedelic experience is like that at the present level. It has conferred—there is a population of different people in the general population, and as conditions change, these people will be seen to have adaptive advantages. Without being metaphysical about it, an obvious advantage is what I call the deconditioning effect: that we live in a jungle of propaganda—you know, “buy this,” “believe this,” “wear this.” If you have a symbiotic relationship with a deconditioning agent, you’re much more likely to thread your way through that with your soul and your bank account intact. So this is one way of thinking of it. But what the psychedelics really do, I think, is release us from cultural machinery, and put you right up against the human essence, and say you no longer have to pretend that you’re Scotch-Irish or Witoto or Jewish. You can actually explore the human modality independent of the inertia of these exterior labels. And so it places responsibility, it raises questions of validity, existential honesty with one’s self. And I think it promotes the moral life, which I don’t think happens if you buy deeply into myths of the tribe; if you’re a devoted practitioner of Marxism, fascism, capitalism. I don’t think these things will lead you to the moral life because they don’t arise out of experience.


Experience is everything. These are drugs of experience. It’s very important to take the moment seriously. Reincarnation and all these things aside, what if this were your unique opportunity to unravel it all and not be caught in dissolution? Because I think that there is a potential for immortality, but it isn’t assured, it is something which comes to the courageous. And somehow, in the historical experience, we’ve gotten the idea through orthodox religions that salvation comes to the subservient. And this is totally wrong. It is more like the Greek ideal of the hero: that if you are heroic enough, once you’re dead, you’ll be a god. And I think this is what these things summon us all to. And the thing to look at are the things which don’t fit any paradigm: the anomalies, the paranormal things, the self-transforming elf machines, the UFOs, all of these things.


[???] you didn’t tell the story; the UFO story.



Oh, which UFO story? Well, I don’t know. It has to do with this whole thing. You see, the alien is an archetype as well as whatever else it may be. I mean, if aliens didn’t exist or don’t exist, we would still invent them because it’s the other. You know, I’ve made the metaphor that we have arrived at some kind of collective puberty where we now are fascinated by the notion of a non-human partner. We’re obsessed: as an adolescent is obsessed with sex, we’re obsessed with the notion of alien love. We want this. And yet we have all the feelings about it that an adolescent brings to the early sexual experience. It seems like an abyss, a devouring, a kind of a giving up, impossible. And yet, our historical development has led us to the place where we now realized this was possible. It’s like finding out the facts of life. The facts of life are that there could be a girl next door. And now—who’s an alien; of course! What other kind of girl next door could it be? So then: hmmm, there’s a girl next door. And so all the talk about the wonderful technical benefits that we would reap and all this is obviously—it isn’t that. It’s an erotic fascination with the notion of the other that drives us


And perhaps this is why, in the psychedelic experience, the alien emerges so fully and completely: because it is a repressed notion. Although, I’ve noticed that, in the history of the phenomenology of the UFO contacts, the theme was first a light in the sky, then we had all these exotic abductions, and in the last four or five years there are more and more persistent stories of sexual relations, pregnancies, this kind of thing. Well, this obviously means that, you know, we’re growing up, we’re getting older, the pressure is on to come to terms with how this thing is going to present itself. Yes. So, you know, it’s hardly respectable to say these things anywhere. I mean, fortunately I work for a living, so I can say these things, but the amount of anecdotal material that would come pouring forth if these things were stressed, I think, would shock everyone.


And somehow it has to be taken out—and this is a really sensitive issue that is very hard to talk about: how can such a screwy notion be taken out of the hands of squirrels? In other words, we have no shortage of people assuring us that aliens of all sorts are channeling left, channeling right, this, that, the other thing. The problem is the reverse of the problem in radiotelescopy, where they search the skies and get nothing. Our problem is just a cacophony of hysterical claim-making. Where do you begin, you know? The Urantia Book, you’ve got “the nine,” you’ve got all kinds. And this is not a new phenomenon, it’s—well, you could choose your point, but certainly since the onset of Theosophy and Alice Bailey’s school, and there’s been a lot of channeling in the twentieth century.


So the problem is one of filters. Which aliens do you believe, and how do you tell garbage from the real thing? And I think this is a problem for information theorists. It’s a poker-playing problem, essentially, and shouldn’t be difficult to solve if we apply ourselves to it. It’s just that, for us, the notion of a dialog with an interior other is psychopathy. So we’re very leery of that—or we’re very Leary of that….


Alpert or Metzner?



Anyway, I noticed that Sasha—when he described the phenomenology of psilocybin—didn’t say a thing about self-transforming elf machines or whispered messages from gods and demons. He did mention demons. So you’re free to believe that this is the raving of an unhinged mind, but, you know, being a Jeremiah figure is a great tradition, and they usually have the last laugh.

Are there any questions? Please.



Sort of, psilocybin glossolalia—there’s not any words that are in any cultures right now, but that has meaning for you.




Have you ever heard of, or have you yourself ever communicated with another person in this language?



You mean while I was loaded and they were loaded?





Yes. It’s—


And the both of you had this experience of shared meaning?



Yes, but see: how can we check, since English won’t flow back and forth?


No, I just—I mean, I’ll take your word if you both experienced shared meaning and confirmed it. That’s about as far you can go, I think.



I think so. But when I listen to recordings of this glossolalia down it makes me very uncomfortable, and I wonder what could possibly be the matter with me that I place so much emphasis on this. And I’ve noticed, you know, it’ll clear most rooms in a hurry. I mean, it’s all: people are with it, you know, and they say, oh, it’s far out, and all this stuff, and then you play it and they say, “Well, you know, I’ve gotta go do something.” I mean, they draw back. It seems too quirky, too quirky.


So it’s like you do some, and they do some back and forth, except it’s totally unintelligible to the English ear?



Yeah, it’s totally unintelligible to the English ear. What it sounds like when I listen to it down is: it sounds like a language; a human language very, very far removed from English.


What you’re talking about really could be the language before we were trying to build the tower of Babel. We all shared the same language, and then it got split up because we were [???] or something.



The Ursprache. This is the term for that: Ursprache, the “first language.” Yes, it may. That’s what I mean by an assembly language. But the things that happen on psychedelics with language just defy rational apprehension. I mean, for instance, there’s a Celtic saying that poetry is made at the edge of running water. And I’ve noticed on psilocybin at times, that, as you approach running water—like a river or a waterfall, you know—you begin to think in rhyme, in sprung verse. And it seems preposterous, and you say, you know, this is too crazy to mention to anyone. AAnd you’re right! But nevertheless it’s happening, you know? And as you leave the river, thought becomes perfectly normal. And people say, well, white noise is doing this—that’s an explanation? And, you know—or you look at historical phenomena: Muhammad, it turns out, spoke in verse, and it was considered a sign of election. Glossolalia with shaman is not that not that rare. Spirit voices.


I mean, it happens without drugs all the time.



Yes, although—I don’t know if you know this book by [Felicitas] Goodman called Speaking in Tongues, which is, as far as I know, the major work in English. It’s done strictly from the sociological approach. But there is some physiological data, the most interesting being that, on the floor of these Costa Rican churches where she did her research, after these sessions they would measure pools of saliva 18 inches across deposited by single individuals. Also, what was going on was: there was a lot of hyped-up, you know, Hallelujah type stuff, and then someone would fall into the glossolalia and utter a burst of it, and then be almost like a post-epileptic situation, and they would turn to the people around them and say, “Did I do it? Did I really speak in tongues?” This is not what the DMT glossolalia is like. What it is—and I’ll take a minute and describe it, because—


Do you have it recorded?



Not with me. But I’ll describe how it comes, because I think people often say to me, “Well, I took mushrooms and nothing like that ever happened.” Well, the first time it happened to me was the first time I smoked DMT. And I’m not sure that it would happen on psilocybin if you didn’t have a lead into it. You have to invoke it. In other words, it isn’t that psilocybin causes it (and this is interesting), it’s that psilocybin carries you to a place where it is possible, given several other things which seem to be necessary. So psilocybin is necessary but not sufficient for this phenomenon. What else is required is a thing which is sort of hard to describe, but it’s an attitude of expectation, it’s an attitude of being on the verge of communication even though nobody else is present. In other words, you have to invoke it. And that word, strangely enough, has a history related to demonic summoning and that sort of thing. But that’s what you do: you invoke it. You feel the load of the psilocybin and you say, “Aha, it’s enough now.”


And then you test a rel—you try it, and you do this by consciously speaking gibberish. In other words, what seems to be happening is that you have to release your brain’s expectation that sound will have meaning. Because when we all speak, always, the words have a meaning attached them or else there’s something wrong with you. But if you will speak gibberish for a moment, just for a moment—it’s like priming the pump—and the break, then, is made with whatever connects language to meaning, and language begins to flower and to take off and to develop these abstract modalities that are free of association, but that are obviously highly ordered and grammatical, and going through complicated—it’s like a sonata. And, in fact, it’s led me to suggest that, probably, language existed thousands and thousands of years before meaning; that this is what these evolving monkeys on the brink of self-reflection did for each other as a form of entertainment. It’s not as much of an energy drain as chanting and singing. You just carry it on at a conversational level, but, you know, it’s word music: very, very fine nuances of the stuff it’s manipulating—which is not meaning, but whatever it is; this topological manifold—very fine nuances can be imparted to it by these small mouth noises. And—



So is it anything like what babies who are about to learn to speak do? To carry on these things? And it sounds like a language that you just don’t understand. There’s all this inflection, and it sounds very intelligent if you could just kinda catch it.


It’s like that—





It’s like that, only more so.


More complex?



Like, one of the things that seems to be going on is: there seems to be more phonemes than are actually in any human language. I mean, isn’t that there are 52 phonemes and no language known has more than 41, or something like that? Because if you do this for a while—and it’s so much fun, it’s a kind of ecstasy to do it that there’s no reason to stop if you’re alone—after you’ve done it for an hour or so, your face, your mouth, is just hanging down to your waist. I mean, it’s like you’ve just done something to the whole front of your head, and all the musculature has dissolved because you’ve been making all these sounds that you never make. And the whole front of your face feels different. So every language has a set of coded mouth positions which are expected and easily facilitated through use.


Is it easier if there’s somebody else there to hear it?



No, there’s rarely somebody there to hear it when I do it. I sometimes wish.


Is it easier, in other words—I got the impression that there was something about the attention, the listening to somebody else, that facilitated it. A channeling through.



Oh, I don’t know. I mean, for instance, I’m very shy about it. I feel like it’s a very personal thing to do, so that it’s hard for me to do it in the presence of other people. But this is just, perhaps, my personality or my association with it.


Do you think you’re a better speaker in English since having these experiences?



Yes, well, this is something—


Is there more fluidity that there are—you know, you have developed, you know, in your face, in your expression, and…?



Well, here’s what I think it is—and Henry Munn made this point in his article. And I said earlier, you know, that what we need is the evolution of language, and it’s all about the evolution of language. Yes. It’s a continuum. And as I—I guess it was here or somewhere recently—I said, you know, it begins as a clear thought, it moves into eloquence, it then becomes charismatic. At that point, if it goes any further, it will be called demonic possession because it’s happening too much. You’re not supposed to be that compelling, you’re not supposed to be that powerful a speaker. And if you stick with it past demonic possession it becomes these objects; it actually crosses over and becomes the topological modality that I mentioned.


Jill and I were talking in the baths the other night because she made her sounds down there, and I caught it at a certain angle visually, and I could see these things coming out of her mouth which looked like blue smoke. And I’ve seen this before. It looks like heatwaves off a highway. And perhaps it’s nothing more than heated air that’s been in the lungs, heated by the body, has a different refractive index than the exterior air, it’s probably expelled in a series of waves. And so, if you have the light just right, what you see is a displacement of light, a flickering in the vicinity of the mouth. But I think I’ve also—in a stoned state—watched that condense into this more visible language. And it’s as though, you know, there are finer and finer levels of vibration. The whole notion of the word becoming flesh which occurs in cosmogonic myths as diverse as the Judaeo-Christian and the Australian aborigine: it’s always about a word. A word was uttered, and this word was somehow more than a word, it adumbrated through dimensions and caused the phenomenon of being. And this is the sort of thing that is happening.


But to answer your question: yes, I think that I have verbal facility because I’ve taken so much of this drug. And maybe I had a tendency toward it at the beginning—being Irish and not given to hard work—but nevertheless, it definitely does this, and it does it temporarily. Like, when you take psilocybin, if you actually try to do what we call raving—which is, you know, a high speed soliloquy—but the raving can just go anywhere. And if it’s true that what we are are creatures of information, then this is very interesting that it synergizes this ability. Everything that we are doing is informational deployment. I mean, we take in raw materials and we excrete manufactured objects which are essentially ideas. We take in air and we expel words. Everything that we do is about stamping higher orders of information on unorganized lower forms of raw material. And it’s moving out of us, moving out of our bodies. This technical engine that we have created of computers and scientific institutions and rapacious government agencies and commercial concerns—


It has a life of its own.



It has a life of its own. It’s defining what humanity will be for itself. It’s a war about language. About—you know, Joseph Goebbels was the great twentieth century thinker who understood this more clearly than anyone else and set the rules of the game. So that the deconditioning effect of the drugs, the introduction to alien modalities, the glossolalia, the accessing of the vision state—all of these things have to do with information and the life of its own that it is taking on. And we are like the privileged observers of this. It’s as though—well, no less a psychedelic voyager, researcher, and bon vivant than William Burroughs said: English is a virus from outer space. And that’s what I’ve been trying to say, and now I’m finished!




You say that the first thing that comes to mind when you talk about the creative power of sound or language—for me it’s the experience that I’ve had with the holophonic sound, where you have this sense, you know, that qualities in other senses are created through sound.




And I wonder what would happen if you record this holophonically, and then people listen to that?



Now that’s an idea! That’s a very interesting idea.



I heard a lot of things, you know: it transmits qualities, emotions, details in unusual states and so on. But there I came as close as I’ve ever been to understanding that there is something special about the creative power of sound.



Of sound, yes. I think sound—



I always saw it as a metaphor that what science has discovered about vibrations and so on, when they talk about sound, they really mean vibrations and not sound literally.



Well, they talk too much about sound, I think, and not enough about language. Most people, when they think about the creative power of sound, they think about the mantric approach: syllables, sustained tones. And what I’m more interested in is the self-transforming power of grammar; that there is really something going on there.


Yeah, but there’s just, you know, the next stage.



Right. Well, these things—it’s all gradations. This is all of a piece somehow. And how the visual cortex and the voice relate to each other is not well understood. One thing I want to mention—I just thought of it because there may be experimentalists in the room. This appeared three months ago in Scientific American, and to me just seems astonishing. It is that anyone who can sustain a hundred hertz hum—that’s a hundred cycle per second hum—can look at an electric fan, and if you can sustain this hundred-cycle hum, you can slow the fan down, make it appear to stop, make it go backwards. You can do this to a phonograph record, you can do it to a spinning wheel. This is not stoned, this is simply using the voice. Well, it sounds like pure magic. How can such a thing happen? The explanation of the Scientific American was that, actually, the resonant voice cavity is imparting vibration to the eyeballs, and that it’s actually this subtle vibration breaking up the photon input, and you’re actually getting a stroboscopic effect. Well, the guy who wrote the article said that he had no training in music and he was tone deaf. So to test the theory that it was vibration of the eyes, he built a little machine where he strapped his chin onto a box, and by manipulating a dial could make the box vibrate and impart the vibration to his chin. And you can make TV pictures appear to roll, or you can fix rolling without getting out of your chair by…. And he attached his chin to the box, and ran it up to a hundred hertz and, lo and behold, this effect was happening.


Well, imagine an Amazonian shaman being able to approach a waterfall or something like that, and make the water stop or flow uphill—things like this—with no technology except the human voice. How many things are there like that, you know? How many human abilities are there that we are just unaware of or have masked? And what could you do with it? I mean, I suggest stopping a waterfall because I’ve just given it five seconds’ thought. But what if you’d given a millennium of thought to social institutions and little tricks and party games that could be used if you could stop time with your voice? And we bring orthodox physics to bear and say, well, acoustical vibration, stroboscopic effect, et cetera, blah, blah. But, what is experientially happening is: here’s a man who uses sound to control the speed of passing time. If that’s not a magical ability, what is? And yet, it’s all nuts and bolts. And he hasn’t even taken his first hit of ayahuasca. This is just on the natch! Right? So what happens when you add in, you know, the exotic psycho-dynamics of these compounds?



Well, that’s like, what I—two things come to mind. One is: I understand that Hitler’s generals would go into him, you know, and they’re gonna talk him out of this next invasion, because he’s totally off the wall. And they come out glassy-eyed and convinced they’re gonna go and invade some more.



Well, he’d probably been chatting with Joseph Goebbels before they walked in.



Well, the other thing is Milton Erickson, who, just with his voice, does all sorts of things with people that are, you know, totally—


He can’t even speak their language. He can do it to people that he doesn’t understand them and they don’t understand him.


With sound. And he moves his head around in real unusual ways, even after you stop talking. And who knows what that does.



Ayahuasqueros are interesting, because when you meet a few of them, they all have a bunch of mannerisms which have to do with their voice. And a certain sound that they make, who—the only honky I’ve ever met who came even close to this was Ralph Metzner has a curious speech habit—which is this kind of a purr at the back of your throat. But these ayahuasqueros do it very noticeably. And when they’re listening to you you hear them purring. And they have very smooth, liquid, invasive voices. And of course, ayahuasca—the way in which it’s taken, it’s very interesting. There’s no drumming, I’ve never seen a musical instrument at an ayahuasca session. Everything is voice, voice, voice. And that’s what they’re into.


Don Fidel.



Don Fidel is a good example. Many of you have probably heard his tape. But there are many such practitioners. They also, in the curing process, use very sharp sounds. And, in fact, when you talk to Don Fidel, he has a very animated style that is not the macho Spanish style at all. His speech is punctuated with beeeow, bittt, tchhh—all these aspirations, sharp. sounds. And he obviously has a relationship to sound that’s very different than we do.


We have the tape down here.



We can play it some time, or in an intermission some time. And it’s wonderful to trip to. It’s very good.

So that’s how the boar ate the cabbage. Thank you—for your tolerance!

Terence McKenna

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