Now to Terence McKenna. Terence McKenna has become legendary for his investigations into psychedelic mushrooms, virtual reality, UFOs, evolution, the rebirth of the goddess, and the end of history. His numerous books include the recent Archaic Revival and Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge, and trialougues with Rupert Sheldrake and Ralph Abraham. Terence McKenna is a scholar and brilliant interdimensional adventurer with an understanding of nature from the depths of the Amazon to the most current scientific breakthroughs. He is a shamanologist who traverses the worlds of the psyche and the spirit, bringing back startling visions of the revelatory nature of existence. Simply put, he takes enormous chances, breaks all the rules, and comes back with pearls. Welcome, Terence McKenna: Imagination in the Light of Nature.
Well, it’s a pleasure to be here. I’ve heard of preaching to the choir, but this is absurd. Out of deference to where we’re meeting, I’ll try to curb my anti-clerical tendencies—for the next hour, anyway. Before I get into this I’d like to thank a number of people associated with Earth Trust: Andrew, Matthew, Georgeanne, Elizabeth. They’re the people who put this event together. Jim Essex is handling security tonight, and we appreciate that. My goodness, a balcony as well! All the usual suspects appear to have been herded into one room. That was a wonderful introduction from Georgeanne. I’d love to meet that guy sometime.
I accepted this invitation to speak because I think what the Earth Trust Foundation is doing is not only very important, but I also perceive the potential for a pun in their name, and I’ll talk about that a little this evening. I think we’re living through extraordinary times, even more extraordinary than usual over the past couple of years. I think you have to be fairly lumpen indeed to not feel the flux, the change that is cascading into the historical process at this time. Bifurcations, opportunities for choice are opening up all around us. And yet, it’s a kind of coincidentia oppositorum. There’s also great risk, great anguish, great uncertainty about where we as a species and as a planet are headed. And I certainly don’t have any final answers, but I think we can talk about these things and build a sense of community and a sense of direction that is capable of overcoming some of the paralysis that has characterized the last couple of decades.
Because as we move closer and closer to the millennium, it’s becoming clearer and clearer—to me, at least, and I would like to try and convince you of the fact—that 10,000 years of human history, of the human adventure, are coming to a kind of culmination in our lifetimes. This is the make-or-break decade; this and the decade which will follow it. The human enterprise has grown from an enterprise confined to one primate species isolated on the grasslands of Africa, to an enterprise which now echoes and re-echoes in the life of every organism on the planet. We have, for better or ill, seized the tiller of planetary development, seized the tiller of human history. And the question is: whither are we headed? Where do we want to take the human adventure?
And I think we’ve been preparing for this culmination for a long, long time. I see human history as essentially an unconscious but unerring movement toward something. And the question is: what? Is it simply that we have been preparing to commit suicide with greater and greater efficiency for 15,000 years? If you place your faith in secular politicians and the kind of ideas that are being peddled in the ideological marketplace of the mainstream, you could hardly conclude anything else. But I submit that, occluded from our vision (and for very good reasons) is the raison dêtre of this process—human history—and that we are now in a position to raise the veil on what that goal might be. But there will be a number of casualties to this raising of the veil—not least among them science as ordinarily practiced, dominator politics as ordinarily practiced, and the division of our human community into factions defined by race, religion, and class. All of these institutions and styles of the past have now become essentially lethal if we expect to evolve deeper into some kind of humane future.
My interest in this, or my awareness of these issues, has grown over the years through an involvement in shamanism; shamanism that was specifically rooted in the kind of experiences that are induced by psychoactive plants. Now, this is an area that our society is extraordinarily phobic and nervous; concerning. And the reason, I think, is not far to seek. Because modern institutions depend on the transmission of a certain worldview, and then willing acquiescence in the truth of that worldview by the populations into which it is being exported. In other words, a kind of cultural brainwashing is necessary for modern cultures to work at all. And the consequences of the acceptance of this situation of brainwashing is further acceleration toward catastrophe.
Many people are in anticipation of a kind of apocalypse, a kind of complete breakdown of social institutions and ideals. And I must say to you: the apocalypse is not something which is coming. The apocalypse has arrived in major portions of the planet. And it’s only because we live within a bubble of incredible privilege and social insulation that we still have the luxury of anticipating the apocalypse. If you go to Bosnia or Somalia or Peru or much of the third world, then it appears that the apocalypse has already arrived. And I wonder, then: what magnitude of responsibility rests upon those of us who still have the luxury of the time and the clarity to think about what can be done to save ourselves, and in so doing, save the planet?
And the conclusion that I’ve reached (and it’s not easily condensed into a bumper sticker, unfortunately) is that we have to—this is something that I evolved in my own personal life, which is: when you lose the thread, when you become confused, the best strategy is to think back to the last sane moment that you knew, and then act from there. And this is an impulse that affects societies as well as human beings. This year we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the New World—our world. Now, that was an historical event essentially financed by Italian banking families and the spinoffs of their enterprises. They created a world on the wreckage of the collapse of the medieval Christian eschatology based on classicism. And that model has survived and functioned fairly well up into the twentieth century. This is a standard impulse within a society: to go back to an earlier time, and to create new models and new institutions based on an ever more ancient past.
Now, our situation is global and extreme. And so when we reach back into the past for a model, we have to pass over Greece, we have to pass over dynastic Egypt. We have to go back to a time before history: before the fall into hierarchical dominance, before city-states, before slavery, before advanced technology, before agriculture. And when we go that far back into time we discover a world that, until very recently, was completely incomprehensible to us. A world that was thought of as primitive, simplistic, child-like as late as the 1950s, and for many people unto this moment. But careful analysis of these aboriginal societies leads to the conclusion that history is a dysfunctional state of some sort. History is an act of brutish insensitivity only achievable through an act of self-limitation from the demands and the inspiration of nature.
And I reached these conclusions basically as a rationalist. I think that—and this is based largely on the context of the psychedelic experiences that I have had, and that I have had described to me not only by aboriginal people, but by people such as yourselves—apparently there is a great discovery or insight which our culture is deliberately designed to suppress, distort, and ignore, and this is the discovery that nature is some kind of minded entity. That nature is not simply, you know, the random flight of atoms through electromagnetic fields. Nature is not the empty, despiritualized, lumpen matter that we inherit from modern physics. But it is instead a kind of intelligence, a kind of mind. And as long as we were embedded in this mind, as long as we were a part of its purposes and processes, harmony existed on this planet between human beings and the rest of nature, between men and women, between adults and children, and within the human individual. And the reason that this harmony was able to maintain itself for perhaps twenty-five times the duration of history is because it honored and balanced all the components that created it.
Now, in my book, Food of the Gods, I put forth an elaborate reconstruction of evolutionary theory based on the idea that psychedelic compounds (specifically psilocybin) were what kept us in this dynamic balance with the mind behind nature. And I’ve lectured that often enough to you that I’m going to only indicate it tonight—to your great relief, I’m sure. I’ve said it often enough that I think we can operate in the light of it as an established possibility, or a respectable theory. But the question that I’d like to talk to you about tonight is: if that were true, what does that say for the future? What are we to do? Where are we to seek hope? And what kind of obligation devolves upon each of us?
Well, if this is true—that history is a kind of neurosis, a kind of dysfunction based on a broken line of communication into nature—then how can it be repaired? The personal answer is, to my mind, obvious: it’s an involvement with aboriginal peoples and their practices and attitudes. And I’m not talking about drumming here, folks. I’m talking about availing oneself of the pharmacological and psychobotanical doorways that lead in to a feeling-toned relationship with the natural mind. This is actually the matrix out of which consciousness was born. We find our way back to it through the judicious use of psychedelic plants. And I think I have made that point enough times that I don’t have to repeat myself.
What I’d like to talk about tonight is: how do we—a self-defined cultural elite as much as anybody hanging out in their office in Century City—how do we (the psychedelically informed, postmodern, neo-shamanic community) go, move, from being a tolerated and somewhat loathsome fringe population to a voice in the dialogue here, in anticipation of the end of the world, that can be heard? How do we do that? Well, I think that there are a number of possibilities, and I always enjoy making this point in this town particularly, because this is the city of the graven images—not in gold and stone, but in film and light. This is the meme engine of the western world. Those of you who work in media know the power of the word: “As it is said, so shall it be.”
And so the tool of the revolutionaries at the end of the millennium is, to my mind, art: art which connects people, which transcends the mundane, and which empowers hope. And of course it can have many forms and occur in many media, but it must be true to itself. It must be true to the thing we were before the descent into history. And I don’t see history entirely as a pathology. I see it—the story I like, which seems to me to illuminate the situation, is the story of the prodigal son. We, western civilization, we are the prodigal son. We left the confines of the family of nature and we made a hellish descent into intellectual limitation, into matter, into model-building that was deliberately self-limited. We exorcised the spirit from our model-building. We exorcised a caring and enfolding matrix of maternal understanding, and what we created were models based on atoms flying through the void. This may have been a necessary precondition to our shedding the theological misconceptions that occurred when male dominance got a hold of the idea of religion.
—becomes a lethal idea if practiced too long.
—models. That’s why I use the word “model” so frequently rather than the concept of truth. I mean, for monkeys to speak of truth is hubris of the highest degree. I mean, where is it writ large that talking monkeys should be able to model the cosmos? If a sea urchin or a raccoon were to propose to you that it had a viable truth about the universe, the absurdity of that assertion would be self-evident. But in our own case we make an exception. Too bad!
So now, what is happening after 25,000 years or 15,000 years of agriculture is that the processes that seemed eternal—the processes of tilling the fields, smelting metals, establishing markets, cutting deals, so forth and so on—have, in our lifetimes, emerged as self-limiting processes. You know, people think I’m a wild-eyed character because I predict some kind of transcendent transformation of the world within our lifetimes. But if you could sit in on the board meetings of the people who own the planet, they posses data moving across their desks every day which entirely support my contention that business as usual has been taken off the menu. You have only to propagate the curves of population growth, of HIV infection, of ozone depletion, of toxification of the oceans, so forth and so on (we all know the laundry list) to convince yourself that business as usual is no longer an option. There is no middle way. There is no Ozzie and Harriet third millennium scenario.
The choices are either a hideous, nightmarish world. A Soylent Green kind of world, a world where people of privilege defend that privilege with tremendous establishments of armament and propaganda, and the rest of the world slips into poverty, starvation, desperation and death. This is the kind of world that rationalists fear. And it’s also the only kind of world that they can imagine, because they are bankrupt of inspiration and ideas. And so the entire effort of the establishment has become one of holding down panic, keeping the ball in play, keeping ordinary people and ordinary populations quiescent: through drugs which are not psychedelic, through forms of media which are not transcendental and inspiring, but which are narcoleptic and deadening—I won’t name any names here. And this is the fiction that we live in, and this is why our situation feels so schizophrenic. And, of course, as we go through this presidential election, the contradictions are heightened almost to the point of nausea. Because what is under discussion is what manner of fine-tuning shall be applied to the social machinery in order to make it possible to hold together the illusion of business as usual? And the answer is: there is no such fine-tuning. It’s all finished.
And instead, what is needed is a radical openness to new ideas of all sorts. And I believe that once the radical openness to new ideas is given respectability, the boundless creativity of the human mind will be tapped into and come to our aid. But we have to stop trying to preserve a status quo which has made us neurotic and self-defeating, admit that we have wandered long in the wilderness, and then begin to talk about what should be done about it. And I’ve always felt that the phobia which the powers that be feel toward the psychedelic experience is essentially a phobia of of creativity, a phobia of dissolved boundaries, a phobia of honest discussion on a level playing field. All cultures are lies of some sort. We recently have lived through the very instructive example of the self-destruction of the socialist world. The contradictions became unbearable. The fiction of the glorious forward stride of socialist man toward a worker utopia eventually became insupportable in the face of the knock on the door in the middle of the night, the endless cues to buy food that wasn’t there, so forth and so on. But before we lapse into some kind of smugness about this we have to recognize that there are internal contradictions in our world as well.
Adam Smith, in The Wealth of Nations, stated the general theory of capitalism. And the general theory of capitalism is: access to cheap labor and extractable, inexpensive natural resources makes possible a manufacturing cycle in which finished objects can then be peddled to a core population that represents an advanced stage of civilization. Well, now, this—however flawed this theory may have been, it worked as long as those two conditions were met: cheap labor and cheap extractable natural resources. This is now impossible. There is no cheap labor. And the cost of continued extraction of natural resources is the death of the planet. What we have to do is back away from our obsession with things. We can no longer define our worth through attachment to things. We have to create a psychology that reinforces inner worth.
And, you know, I hate to tell you, but strangely enough this runs counter to democratic values. Because the notion behind democratic values is the person as physical atom in a social system. In other words, the notion of democracy is that we are all equal and can be used interchangeably in any social equation. This is the best we could do—the Greeks dreamed this up—until we back away from materialism. And materialism is not necessarily wedded or welded to democratic values. Democracy works (in the kind of world we’re living in) only if it is severed from a capitalist consumer cycle.
The other thing we have to do is: take responsibility for our population. And, you know, people are fond of just throwing up their hands and saying that the social momentum, the momentum toward world catastrophe, is so great that nothing can be conceived of (short of friendly visitors from Zeta Reticuli bailing us out) that would lead to any kind of sane and rational world. But have you noticed that if every woman were to bear only one natural child, the population of the Earth would fall by fifty percent in about forty years—without war, epidemic disease, or forced migration. Now, this is interesting. I don’t advocate it. I simply think it’s interesting that such a simple solution would have such an enormous impact on problems generally thought to be intractable.
I discussed this idea with demographers, and they pointed out to me (and some of you have heard me say this before, but I think it’s worth repeating): a woman on the Upper East Side of New York, or in Malibu, who has a child, that child will have between 800 and 1,000 times more negative impact on the environment of the Earth than a child born to a woman in Bangladesh. Where do we preach birth control? Bangladesh. Why do we do this? Well, I’m not sure. This woman in Malibu or on the Upper East Side is a very likely candidate to be open to this message. She is, after all, college educated, media sophisticated, and feels, I think, generally, a fair responsibility towards the problems that we all confront.
Well, so then why aren’t these kinds of ideas being tried? We could set up a set of social values where we could go to intelligent, educated women in high-tech industrial democracies, and without any shuck or jive say, “How would like vastly increased leisure time, a vast increase in your disposable income, and the genuine status of hero in the fight to save the planet?” Now, naturally you can’t do this if you have these fundamentalist yahoos running around raving about “family values.” But hopefully these people are going to be shipped back to whatever syphilitic Bible-pounding rathole they all came out of in the first place.
So I was puzzled as I explored this idea, wondering not why is hasn’t been tried, but why I’d never heard it even discussed. And it came to me, finally: it’s because nobody has figured out how you make a buck in a situation of retreating demographics like that. But notice what’s going on. If you had a situation where the Earth’s population was dropping by fifty percent in a forty-year period, it might be difficult for a corporation to make money in that kind of a situation by selling its products, but the wealth of the living would increase by fifty percent. Because you would, every week, be inheriting farms and country homes from cousins and aunts and uncles you didn’t even know you had. So the wealth of individuals would increase, but the wealth of corporations would be under severe stress in that kind of a situation. Well, then that means these corporations have become a kind of toxic force operating against the best interests of individuals.
Well, now, the other thing is—and this is sort of a switch in tack—the dematerializing of our lives is, I think, another area where we could make a significant conscious contribution to at least pumping the brakes on the approach toward the passing of a fail-safe point. And that means: exploring such admittedly odious possibilities as virtual reality, where light replaces matter and computer codes and this sort of thing replace the manipulation of matter by the kinds of crude technologies that we have grown accustomed to. I can imagine a world where we commit ourselves not to something like Star Wars, but if the technical mentality must have a bone to chew on, then let’s set a global or national technical goal of producing (by the year 2005, say) a technology which results in something which looks like black contact lenses, contact lenses which are installed in the eyelid such that, when you close your eyes, menus hang in space. The entire culture could be dematerialized and downloaded into an electronic virtual culture that would nowhere come tangential to the Earth and require very limited resource extraction.
If this mattered as much as being able to knock down seven hundred incoming intercontinental ballistic missiles in a minute and a half, you can bet your boots it would be on your plate by breakfast time. It is within reach. It’s simply that we are not organizing ourselves to save ourselves, we are organizing ourselves to deny our dilemma and to continue the fiction of business as usual. And the only catalyst that I, personally, in a lifetime of experience have encountered that can change us quickly enough to set us moving in these new directions is the psychedelic experience. If hortatory preaching could do it, then I would think the Deer Park sermon at Sarnoth or the Sermon on the Mount would have been the turning point. And obviously those were just speed bumps on the way to the apocalypse.
So what is necessary, you see, is to address the organism, to address experience. And the way it is done is by dissolving boundaries. Because the reason we are able to sit here tonight without freaking out completely about the situation that we’re in is because we have incredible barriers against a full assimilation of the information that is available to us right now. I mean, the fact that we can maintain our sanguinity and look at something like the AIDS epidemic means that we are emotionally numb to threats to our very existence. I mean, the African continent is truly in danger of becoming an empty continent through disease. I don’t want to see an empty tropical world inherited by re-empowered honky men fifty years in the future. I think that would be an obscene denouement to the AIDS situation. These sorts of things are intolerable.
We have the technological ability, the financial punch—even at this late date in the mismanaged republican game—to change the world. What we seem to lack is the means, the ability, the chutzpah (whatever it is) to change our minds. We must change our minds. Each and every one of us. This election they’re screaming, “Change! Change!” And when you look at the minuscule differences that you’re offered, and people say, “My god, you’re not going to knock Clinton, too, are you?” No, no. I’m for minuscule change in the absence of any other possibility, but only because I think it will make it easier for us to do the larger business of radically transforming society.
Well, so that’s all sort of nuts and bolts stuff. And I wanted to sort of talk about that for a while, and then I wanted to change my focus. Because above and beyond the practical things that we can do collectively and individually, I think we also have to seriously rethink our first principles. And that lead me in a more philosophical and theoretical direction. I can’t fail to talk to you about the conclusions that I draw from the psychedelic experience, because that’s been the major influence on my thinking.
When I first began experimenting with these shamanic plants, I assumed that the available models would suffice for understanding what was going on. The first available model was: you are perturbing brain chemistry, and so you are essentially mixing up the test pattern. That theory could be dispensed with about thirty minutes into the first experience, because these experiences are not chaotic in the old sense, they are coherent, architectonic, transformative. They are not the antithesis, but the quintessence of meaning. Meaning is enhanced, not obliterated.
So then I moved on to a kind of Freudian expectation. Aha, these psychedelic plants and compounds must be a kind of instant psychotherapy, a catalyst for the study of personal neurosis, a tool for the recovery of traumatic memory, so forth and so on. All true, but woefully inadequate to the totality of the experience, much of which seems to lie far outside the parameters of some notion as cheerful as instant psychotherapy.
Okay, so then jack the metaphor slightly higher. It must be, then, that it was not Freud but Jung who was right! And so it must be that this is an insight into not only my personality, my past, my trauma, but a collectivity of myth, of expectation that is written into the mammalian and primate genes that we carry in our bodies, and that these vast forms glimpsed in the psychedelic dimension are in fact the archetypes of Jung. They are the over-structure of the mass psyche that arises out of our physical and mental organization, and around which language crystallizes various cultural interpretations, in which we then take up residence and cheerfully and unthinkingly live out our lives. Well, it turns out that also is completely, while true, inadequate to the sum-total of the experience.
So in the past few years—and probably because I have been associating with mathematicians and people like Ralph Abraham and Rupert Sheldrake a bit—I’ve come to what I call the geometric model of the psychedelic experience. And I certainly don’t represent it as the end of the intellectual road, but it is a provisional model that is the best I can do at the moment. I think that—and it seems logically compelling to me—that consciousness as ordinarily experienced is a human ability shaped by evolutionary pressure. And since evolutionary threat and harm usually comes at us in three-dimensional space, this is where consciousness has been forced, really, to concentrate and define itself. Now, lest I’m not making myself clear, let me restate it. Because of the possibility of being stepped on by woolly mammoths and eaten by saber-toothed tigers, the primitive evolving mind of human beings concentrated on nearby space and time, because that’s where threat comes from—the kind of threat that has to be immediately responded to by running away or fighting or something like that. But consciousness—if the psychedelics prove anything, they prove that consciousness is an incredibly plastic and malleable medium.
And so what happens when you take a compound like psilocybin in silent darkness—in a situation of no threat and low anxiety and low input from the exterior world—is that this function (which is essentially in most situations a closed fist ready to strike out at something coming from nearby) unfolds into something much more beautiful, much more interesting, and much more true to itself. In other words, not defined by an exterior context or situation, but defined by its own mechanics. And when this happens, what we see is… well, a number of things, or one thing potentially describable in a number of different ways.
What we see is that time and becoming is not entirely driven by the consequences of the past. This is the philosophy which reigns in the world of three-dimensional space. But in higher-dimensional modalities it is possible to contact something which I sometimes call the great attractor, sometimes the transcendental object at the end of time, and sometimes the big surprise. In other words, one can discover within one’s self something that is not pushing us from behind into a frightening and unknowable future, but something which is actually calling to us from the future and casting a waving and flickering shadow down into the lower-dimensional slice of ordinary reality.
Now, people such as ourselves largely have been phobic of this concept, because it’s been under the control of beady-eyed little priests for centuries and centuries, and they have used it as an argument for a laundry list of moral dos and don’ts, which is a complete perversion of what it is. What it is, is uh the attractor, or the Omega Point, or the transcendental object at the end of time. It is the lost portion of ourselves. It’s the portion of ourselves that we left behind when we made the descent into matter and physicality that being a thing made of meat and bone and nerve entails. And most people—at least in these secular high-tech democracies—have so lost touch with this that they never lay eyes on it again until they close their eyes for the last time.
The one thing that we have all imbibed too deeply is the secular belief that death is nothingness.
—are left to fall back on the schemes of the secular politicians and the managers. And these are the least worthy among us to lead us anywhere. Culture is a kind of diversion, a kind of entertainment that takes us away from the real business of being. And the real business of being is to cultivate the thing within ourselves which is most like this radiant, attractive force that is drawing all organization into itself.
Well, what is it, then, that we must cultivate within ourselves in order to reflect and do honor to the attractor at the end of history? Well, I think that it’s love. That without love, all this intellectual cirumlobration and all this linguistic diddling with interior images is flawed and narcissistic. Love is not easily comprehended—perhaps not comprehensible at all. It is a mystery. A mystery into which we are being absorbed. And at the absorption into the true unfolding of the mystery of love, life and death, history and the eschaton, the aboriginal and the secular are all melded into one. This is happening to us.
You know, it’s a cliché of modern journalism to say that time is speeding up. It’s thought of as a metaphor. It is not a metaphor. The crisis that we are experiencing is in part a crisis in ourselves, but it’s also a crisis of the physics in which we are embedded. You see, to account for history, I think you have to stand the standard model of what the universe is completely on its head. The standard model that we inherit from physics opens with something called the big bang. Interestingly, the way science operates is, it says: give us one free miracle, and then we can explain everything. Well, if science gets one free miracle, then I think every ideology ought to be given the same advantage.
So I think that the miracle of the big bang is an unlikelihood so preposterous that it could almost be seen as the limit case for credulity. What I mean by that is: if you can believe that, you can believe anything! I mean, if you can believe the universe sprang from nothing in a single instant from an area considerably smaller than the cross-section of a gnat’s eyebrow, then I’d like to talk to you after the show about purchasing a large bridge across the Hudson River that’s been in my family for generations. Scientists don’t like this kind of talk.
If I get one free miracle, then where I would put it is not in the absolute ultra hyper vacuum of the pre-physical realm before time and space began its unfoldment. That seems to me to be an extraordinarily unlikely place to have a universe spring from. I think the place to put the free miracle is in a domain in which their are many kinds of energy, many kinds of motion, many forms of organization—inorganic, organic, social, aesthetic, psychological, so forth and so on. In other words, a world somewhat like our own. And so I believe that we are actually moving toward the culmination of history which all these cockeyed religions actually promised. It’s just that they so distorted the vision in order to get their moral laundry list tagged onto the thing that it became oppressive and unrecognizable.
But, you see, if there were only chipmunks and wildcats and cockroaches on this planet, then Darwinian evolutionary theory as modified by molecular biology would be completely adequate to explain the situation. It is ourselves that overturn that cheerful model of what is going on. We represent a breakout from the rules of organic nature and evolution that is no mere small exception. Because whatever this breakout that we represent is, it has become the dominant force shaping the planet.
Well, what is it? It’s that history is the shockwave of eschatology. I think of the surface of a pond. And the time before history is the surface of that pond at absolute equilibrium: calm, mirror-smooth. Well, then the surface of the pond begins to churn and ripple and froth. Why? Because something enormous is moving beneath the surface. Something is about to break the surface. History is that agitation of the pond of time. All these migrations, technologies, civilizations, martyrs, saints, kings, fiends, all of this language, poetry, propaganda, these hideous paintings with people’s eyes rolled back in ecstasy, the architectonic forms—all of this is in anticipation of something literally unthinkable, but something which invades our lives, our dreams, our psychedelic experiences with increasing urgency. Because we are being pulled toward it at a faster and faster rate. This is what the psychedelic experience in the modern context reveals.
Because really, in my notion, the shaman is a geometer, a hands-on geometer. And what the shaman is doing is rising out of the plane of mundane cultural existence. Mircea Eliade uses the wonderful phrase “rupture of plane” to describe the voyage of the shaman up the trunk of Yggdrasil, the cosmic world ash. Well, this rising out of the plane of sanctioned, mundane existence literally gives a higher perspective. And what that higher perspective shows is the flow of information out of biology, into the epigenetic domain of language, song, drama, mask-making, and then writing, sculpting, and then electronic data transfer, so forth and so on. And then the flowing forward of these self-reflecting noetic activities into the domain (the field, as it were) of this transcendental object at the end of time, which cannot be at this point in history defined, because it is below the event horizon of the historical process.
All that we can see of it at this point in time is the rosy glow of its promise. Dawn is breaking over Jerusalem. The east is streaked with red. And every click of the cosmic clock brings us closer to the process for which the planet called us into existence. This is the revelation of the Gaian mind. This is the end of the fiction of civilization and the return to a kind of symbiotic dynamic with a mind whose depth and dimensionality cannot be known by the primate mind of human beings. We are literally moving into the field of a mystery. In fact, its hold on us is now so great, the channel so straight, the walls so steep, that there can’t be any turning back. This is the process that was served by the chipping of the first flint, the raising of the first temple, the offering of the first sacrifice. And we now are in a position to understand this, to appreciate this process, and to communicate it to other people. Because without this model, I wrack my brain, I don’t think there is a way to make sense of what is happening to the world.
Many of you have heard me say—but I think it’s worth repeating—what is happening here is not the death of the species or the death of a planetary ecosystem, what is happening here is the birth of a new cosmic order. And if you were to encounter someone giving birth and you had never seen it or even heard it, your impression would be one of emergency. Blood is being shed, there’s moaning and groaning and pain and pleading. It’s a great leap to be able to look at this and say, “Aha, something wonderful is happening here. A new life is about to enter the cosmos. An individual that never existed before is about to take his or her place among us.” This is what we are caught in.
And in the same way that the amniotic ocean of the womb must have seemed an environment worth preserving at all cost, so too did the naïve dimensions of our resource-gobbling past. But, lo and behold, the amniotic ocean grows cloudy. The food is no longer being delivered effortlessly through the umbilical cord. In fact, the walls are closing in on us. And there is a sense of suffocation, of hopelessness, of an impending catastrophe, because we are now in transition. We are in the planetary birth canal of a new order. And the best advice anybody can be given at this point, I think, is: hang on Hannah! You simply must believe, because there can be no going back now. But ahead of us lies an unimaginable world characterized by varieties of freedom and opportunity that it would be preposterous for us to attempt to conceive of at this point, except through the glimmering scintillas of anticipation that come to us from eternity—through dream, through prophecy, through the psychedelic experience.
And if we trust in what we know, and communicate this empowering vision, and act as though it all depended on us and our acts of collective caring and attention to each other and the Earth—if we act that way, but know that that is a fiction, and that actually we are part of an unfolding process for which life was created, then I think instead of hopelessness, despair, anxiety, division, fear, and loathing there is a replacement with hope, a sense of community, a sense of transcendental adventure. I mean, consciousness rests in us. We don’t know what lies out there in the starry galaxy. And it’s thin soup to await the coming of the UFO-nauts or something like that. The real empowering adventure lies through responsibility to each other, love, and aesthetic anticipation of the transcendental realm. And when these things are put in place, the power of the nay-sayers and the frightened and the materialists and the control freaks and the business-as-usual crowd will be broken. They cannot maintain—no one is in charge at this moment. And this is good news! Because it means that for the first time in a long time these processes are beginning to unfold themselves without bearing the imprint of resistance upon them.
In the end it’s all lost in radiance. And if this seems peculiar to you—the idea of the transformation of the world and a transcendence into a realm beyond imagining—recall that you, yourself, are scheduled for death very shortly. And so it’s built in for you. The only twiddle on the dial that I’m offering is that this kind of transformation lies ahead for everything. Not the death of the materialists, but the resurrection of the alchemists, the rarefaction and transformation of the human mind and body into some kind of eternal golden vehicle for the roving-through and the discovery of a universe wider, grander, deeper than anything that we could imagine. And to preserve its power and its transformative essence we have to keep it away from moral prescription, from too clear a definition. It is not an unsolved problem. It is a mystery. And closure kills the heart of the mystery. So we have to embrace this uncertainty not as a problem to be overcome, but as an opportunity for shedding our pasts, shedding the monkey, shedding the bad habits of history that have accumulated, and moving into a world that is literally beyond our wildest imaginings. It can’t be any other way.
Business as usual, as I said, is off the menu, and now it’s a struggle between those who would have us lay down quietly in a kind of anesthesia-anticipating ruin, or those who would have us stand up and claim our birthright and go forward into the shamanic domain of the spirit that exists when the human soul and the soul of the Earth recognize each other and are united in one. And this is coming, and it’s possible, and it’s now. And thank you very much!
Q & A Session
So, because of the constraints of time and so forth, we decided we’ll go right into a Q & A that we’ll do for a little while. And I guess they’ve set up microphones down here, so if anyone wants to ask a question—and lord knows, I hope someone does—come down to the microphone and we’ll work through it. Try not to trample each other.
Thank you very much, by the way, for your response. This stuff is mighty peculiar. I want you to know I think so, too. I haven’t grown blasé. Yeah?
Whew! You get better, Terence!
Thank you! It’s nice of you to say so!
I’ve just been really impressed lately with more and more stuff. I’ve been hearing about cannabis hemp, and maybe that could be the trans-time way of aesthetically bringing about this loving revolution that you seem to be describing.
Is that a question? I can treat it as a question.
Well, yeah. Go ahead.
Well, you know, in this book that I wrote, Food of the Gods—which I guess is on sale back there somewhere—I talk about drugs as cultural clothing, and how the pattern seems to be: every culture selects two or three drugs to be its favorites, and then furiously inveys against everything else as just the curse of Satan. Cannabis is a particularly interesting case because I think most intelligent people, and certainly anyone who studies these things, would agree with my statement that, of the major intoxicants known to mankind, surely cannabis must be the most benign. And yet, it is incredibly stigmatized by the establishment. And I think this is entirely because it promotes this kind of boundary-dissolving awareness that I’m talking about.
The psychedelics are not an addiction problem, they are not the root of some crime problem that is overwhelming society. The only problem with psychedelics is that they empower people to ask questions. And that—which was supposed to be the whole purpose of the American union: to create a society of free men and women—has in fact become very frightening to the establishment.
For example, contrast caffeine and cannabis. Caffeine (it’s well known) causes liver cancer, there may be a relationship to heart disease, so forth and son on. It is not the scourge of the Earth. On the other hand, it is not the most clean and safe drug around, and many people abuse it. Yet, it is written into every labor contract signed between management and labor in the entire Western world as the coffee break. Now, why is that? It’s because human beings—having been jacked up on caffeine—willfully return to the keyboard and the assembly line, and the last three hours of the eight-hour day that is enshrined in the capitalist ideal is made possible by caffeine. Cannabis, on the other hand—more money has been spent to find something wrong with cannabis than on any other drug in the pharmacopeia. And, you know, there’s nothing there, folks! I mean, there is nothing that you can hold up with certainty.
And so why is it stigmatized and caffeine is not? Because it makes people uninterested in working on the assembly line, interested in long animated conversations, interested in exploring new ways of looking at things. And this is just an anathema. The drugs which are dangerous to society are sugar, alcohol, and tobacco—the ones which are freely peddled on every street corner in the Western world! The social consequences if every alcoholic were a pothead, if every tobacco smoker were a pot smoker, the social consequences for society would be very, very positive. The number of hospitalizations, violent crimes, so forth and so on, would decline dramatically. We are not rational in our attitude towards these things. Drugs which empower self-reflection and community are being suppressed, drugs which permit enslavement (either through addiction or to capitalist styles of time expenditure) are promoted, advertised, glorified. This is unconscionable. I mean, I don’t want to say any more about it. I’ve got a long line.
I was actually sort of hoping you’d also comment on the capitalistic potential. Because this could be the safe form of capitalism is, you know, give these entrepreneurs hemp seeds, let them make 10,000 different luxury products—
Well, I’m all for that. Yeah, I think that the potential of the hemp plant has been deliberately downplayed and distorted because nobody knew what to do about its potential as an intoxicant. I think the whole thing is a disgrace. It’s been manipulated and it’s been misrepresented, and it’s a wonderful thing that these hemp people are coming forward and doing something about it.
So you’re saying that capitalism might not have to die because we have hemp, or…?
Well, capitalism is going to have to severely modify itself. What I’m interested in—I mean, I’m not anti-capitalist in the sense that I don’t think anybody should make a profit, I’m anti-capitalist in the sense that I don’t think people should make a living dealing unnecessary junk to people who’ve been saturated with advertising designed by fiends to distort their judgment. Yeah.
This is a question about the great attractor, or something you called that.
Did you ever see that movie, 2001?
A couple of times.
[???] symbolized in that movie by the monolith?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that’s the myth of what I’m saying. If instead of having those monkeys jumping around in front of a slab of linoleum they had had them cavorting in the presence of a mushroom, then you would’ve pretty much had my theory in a nutshell!
Could kind of a [???] also be [???] like a connection between the monolith or the mushroom and star systems, and we’re getting pulled that way?
Well, the connection is that a black hole represents a singularity in physics. And what is a singularity? A singularity is a place where the rules don’t apply. As an aside, let me point out that, remember how I said science said: grant us one miracle and we can explain everything? Well, but then, out of the theory of relativity you get black holes. Well, if you talk to a physicist, they will tell you that at the center of every black hole there is a singularity, meaning a place where the laws of physics break down. Well, so then you say to these astrophysicists: well, how many black holes are there in the universe. They say: well, probably 1011? You say: I see. So it isn’t that you wanted one miracle, it’s that you want 1011 exceptions to your physics. And you call that a coherent theory of space and time? It’s more shot through with exceptions than anything I can imagine. So I think it’s by analogy. There are stranger things in this universe than physical black holes. There are also the hyper-dimensional wells into which mental constructs evolve, and the black hole operates as a kind of analogy to that process—or it’s the same thing in a different octave.
[???] you do psychedelics?
You do, but the trick is to bring something back. Because—
Is it much like [???]
The Hudson Bridge, and [???] I was wondering if you could comment in honor of the elections that are coming up about the word “democracy” that you were talking about, and the Orwellian misuse of this [???] very interesting concept about how democracy can’t exist [???] I was looking to elaborate on that. I thought [???] people.
Well, I didn’t mean to sound undemocratic. As I was saying it I realized there was ambiguity there. I am a democrat through and through. To me, it isn’t a form of government, it’s an aspect of biology. I mean, of course: one person, one vote. Any other scheme seems wildly artificial in the face of that. But, you see, democracy as Jefferson and John Stuart Mill envisioned it, they couldn’t conceive of Madison Avenue, of the invasive penetration of media, and this sort of thing. And we pretend we have a democracy, but the population that votes is so assaulted by lies and spectacularly manipulated special effects that, to pretend that people are making informed decisions based on a careful and rational assessment of the issues is an absurd fiction. So somehow, if we want to preserve democracy, I think we’re going to have to seriously consider how to deal with modern technology’s ability to rig the election.
You know, Plato—who we all give lip service to—was very suspicious of what he called the poets. He didn’t think that everybody should be allowed to run around saying anything they wanted. Freedom of speech, in the minds of the founding fathers, meant: freedom of political speech. And I think political speech should be protected. But speech for the purpose of peddling flawed merchandise or cracked-brain ideologies of various sorts is—speech which is inimical to the common good should not claim the same protections as political speech. Right now in Switzerland, it’s very interesting. There’s a national debate raging about the limiting of advertising. This is the only country in the Western world that I know of that has actually confronted the fact that advertising does not make free choice easier, it’s an effort to make it impossible. And I think, you know, somewhere along the line in the unfolding of the new social agenda we’re going to have to consider the possibility that speech which is harmful to the public good needs to be regulated in some way. I mean, this is a complicated matter, but it should be looked at.
And how is democracy inhibited by the pursuit of materialism, or the materialistic worldview as we have?
Well, the reason I say capitalism and democracy are at loggerheads is because these are two separate theories of human worth. Democracy says: one person, one vote. Capitalism says: you are what you have. And these are completely different theories of human worth, and I don’t see how we can pretend that they’re commiserate.
Thank you. If there ever was or if there ever is any need on this planet, in America, for legislators, congress members, city council members, presidents—and I expect there is—I certainly would like to say that people with your consciousness and people with your consciousness and people with the consciousness in this room should be in those positions today. We’d have a much, much better planet.
Well, thank you very much. I’m not sure you’re right. I would like to figure out some way to make democracy ever more representative. Let me say—let me just, in the interests of general perverseness—the thing that fascinated me about Perot was the idea of an electronic town meeting is an incredibly subversive idea from the point of view of any governing establishment. I mean, that was to the establishment the equivalent of advocating the legalization of LSD. Anything which gives people more direct control of their institutions is looked upon with immense suspicion by the establishment. They want representative government, which means that we, the unwashed masses, are expected to choose wise and wealthy white men from among our numbers, and then they will interpret what is good for us and vote for that kind of legislation. I think that the idea of everybody inputting into societal decisions through electronic media is an incredibly radical idea and not one that any establishment politician of either of the major parties can ever be expected to support or get behind, because that pulls the rug out from under their game.
I would expect there’s, even with all the similarities, there’s much diversity even in this room. I feel—there’s a popular bumper sticker. It says, “If the people will lead, the leaders will follow.” I think we can make a difference, and I think it’s real important to link the political and the spiritual. I think there’s never been a real massively oriented spiritual presence in any election campaign that I’ve ever seen. And I think the time is right now to save this planet. I think we need to do that. That we need to go forward, in this room, and get involved in the campaigns of people that we know are going to make a difference.
Yeah, I agree.
The most spiritual statement I can close by saying right now is that this planet cannot tolerate another four years of George Bush and end well. Thank you very much!
Thank you for sharing!
Your speech was very reminiscent of [???] religions. In your opinion, this necessary transformation will be this sort of [???] or will it be gradual?
Well, it is happening, but it’s happening ever faster, and it’s a kind of asymptotic acceleration. I mean, I think that if I’m right, by the year 2000, a major item of public discourse will be the accelerating dissolution of boundaries. I don’t know how much longer they can maintain the fiction of business as usual, because it’s getting harder and harder to maintain that something very, very bizarre isn’t happening to us. They still talk about business as usual.
I don’t… one—I mean, should I say this? I mean, why not…! It will be very interesting to see how Mr. Clinton does if he’s elected president. I suspect that what he exists for is to prove that switching from Republican to Democrat is nowhere near a radical enough transition to make a significant difference in our problems. But once we move people of goodwill—and I grant that to those people—once we move people of goodwill into positions of management, and discover we still cannot halt the processes that are underway, then we’ll be ready for a serious dialogue about serious change.
Yeah. I perceived a paradoxical kind of kink in your lecture, and I thought maybe you could address that. It was when, first of all, you were talking about the hubris of modern Western man, of considering that we could make up models for how to perceive of the universe. And then later on you said that a certain nihilism starts to exist when we consider death to be just bleak nothingness. But doesn’t the same kind of nihilism tend to exist when you have the same kind of—if we don’t consider ourselves rational beings, don’t you start getting the same kind of nihilism, and wouldn’t that result in the same problem? And you kind of implicitly addressed that when you started just making your own model of the universe in the kind of way that you claim Western civilization was doing it? You started making up your own model and your own scenario.
Well, I think that models exist for navigational purposes, not for metaphysical purposes. In other words, you need a model to get through daily life, but you should never confuse the model with reality. This is what I was referring to when I talked about how you have to accept the absence of closure. It’s too technical to get into here, but something like Gödel’s incommensurability theorem proves that you can never generate all possible true statements out of a formal system. There is always going to be a residuum of the unknowable and the mysterious. And I think that’s the part of the process that lets you know that you’re a thinking monkey. So I don’t see how nihilism is necessarily a consequence of that.
You have to embrace the mystery. And unfortunately the male dominator mentality feels threatened by the mystery, and so it keeps trying to squeeze it out. But to the degree that it does that it betrays the descriptive enterprise. And Gödel, who is one of the unsung heroes of twentieth century thinking—mainly because nobody can understand him, including me—secured this as a formal mathematical proof. And so we must live in the light of the fact that we cannot know everything about anything. My brother put this beautifully once when he said, “Have you ever noticed how, as the sphere of understanding expands, the surface area of ignorance grows ever larger?”
With all due respect, you just mentioned something I was going to ask you about. Can you—I’m very interested in what your brother was doing, and what happened with him, and where I could get some information on what he was doing. Also, does it have any connection with the 19.5 degrees connection north-south on the planetary alignment and hyper-dimensional reality? Thank you.
Well, I’m glad you asked that. It gives me a chance to pitch my next commercial enterprise, which is Harper in San Francisco will publish a book next year which I wrote, actually, called True Hallucinations, which will go over and tell the story in rippingly good fictional style of our expedition to the Amazon and the consequences that flowed from it. As to what Dennis is doing these days, he’s a drug designer and pharmacologist working for Shaman Pharmaceuticals south of San Francisco—a hellish marriage of commercialism and transcendental concerns! Yeah.
The idea, Shaman Pharmaceuticals, Inc., is definitely worth pondering! Yeah?
Terence, thank you for sharing, and I’d like to say: your role as a cosmic facilitator, your ability to bring people together—I think it’s a miracle, the fact that there’s hundreds of people here this evening. I think it creates unlimited possibilities for each and every one of us. But I don’t think we’re really looking at this as an opportunity, and I think it could be. I think there’s people here tonight that could be a part of your future, a part of your life, and you may not know it. I was standing at the front door as people were coming in tonight just watching the interaction and trying to see how people were feeling coming here tonight and listening to you and being a part of it. And I think for the most part it’s very much like the psychedelic experience. It’s very personal and it’s very private, and you leave here with the sense of maybe better understanding and a clearer perspective on the way things are. But to really create possibilities is to share amongst ourselves, to introduce yourself to someone, and to exchange information. You know, it’s a situation where unless you really are able to network as a team—and I think that’s what we are, we are a team—and as we really consider the possibilities and the miracles not only Terence creates by sharing, but maybe the miracles that we can create amongst ourselves.
Yeah. I agree. I think one of the major reasons psychedelics are so repressed is so that we will not form a visible community. I mean, this is how homosexuals were suppressed: by making it such an unthinkable lifestyle that if you were one, you dare not speak its name. I’m fond of saying to my audiences: you know, we look pretty much like the rest of society. But you should look around at who’s here tonight. Somebody here has what you need—whatever it is! And to the degree that we can make connections, we are more and more powerful. It’s literally like coming out of the closet. I mean, you just have to stand up and say, you know: I’m stoned and I’m proud! What’re you gonna do about it?
I’d like to be the first one to introduce myself. My name is Harris and I work in the music industry at a company called Organic Entertainment, which was inspired by you. Thank you!
Maybe we should have psychedelic yellow pages [???]. Thank you!
Hi. I’m about halfway through reading the Maya Factor, and I [???] maybe if I read one more page I’ll know what the heck he’s talking about. But there seems to be some synchronicity or correlation maybe between what you’re talking about and what’s coming, and between the galactic being that he’s talking about. And I wondered if you could speak to that, or if there is a correlation.
Well I think of that work and works similar as the poetry in anticipation of the millennium. And since I don’t think of myself as a poet, I’m trying to really nail it to the wall in a formal way. But there is throughout the present world and for some time many different anticipations of a transformation of the world. I mean, the Hopi have it, the fundamentalist Christians await the second coming, the Shia await the thirteenth Imam, the [???] are awaiting the coming of the twenty-fifth [???], so forth and so on. This is definitely a time of anticipation of great change. And I think we all feel it. You have only to close your eyes or smoke a joint or daydream, and just under the surface is the transcendental object. And it’s faceted. And to Jose it shows one facet, to me another, to each of us a unique facet that emotionally resonates with our personality and calls us home. Yes, this is the final time. Anyone who tells you business as usual is a safe bet is going to waste your money.
Thank you. And I have a personal question. Kind of quick, but are you familiar with the [???] Indians of Guatemala?
Write me a letter about them if I should know about them.
Well, just to elaborate briefly. There was somebody who was studying—it’s a brother of a friend who I just found out about who was studying for his PhD in linguistic anthropology about 18 years ago, and went to hang out with them, and did some kind of ceremony with them where he had some kind of psychedelic that he thought might’ve been jimsonweed. But he’d previously done psychedelics, so evidently it wasn’t that kind of experience. But he’s never really come back from that. He still hears voices and has never been the same. And maybe they’re Indian voices, I asked his brother, and he said no, they’re English. So they’re all pretty much paranoid messages that he gets, and things talking to him. I wondered: maybe some shaman spell’s been put on him with the psychedelics, or maybe it just touched on something in him that put him over. But basically, now he’s on tranquilizers. So that doesn’t help, either.
Well, I would say of that what I sometimes say about channeling, which is: you know, just because somebody’s dead doesn’t mean they know what they’re talking about. So if you have voices, you still have the same obligation to make them make sense that you would if they were sitting in front of you.
So you’re saying it’s a cop out? Is that what you’re…?
Well, I’m saying you can’t just take it at face value. There’s no substitute for discriminating intelligence. You have to bring that to every situation in your life, psychedelic or otherwise.
One more question, then we’re going to have to shut this down. This is—blame them!
Hi. I almost didn’t come up here. I heard you talk in 1989, and I got up and talked and was a little nervous, and I still am. The gentleman [???] stated that I really felt a need to connect with each other. So that time I got up and said I would be a focus point. Since then I’ve published a newsletter—did you get my newsletter? The Link?
I published a newsletter, Link, for the purpose, actually, of hooking two groups. [???] groups and Terence McKenna’s group. Now I’ve got about 100–150 names. And it really is a mechanism to help us link. So I’ve set myself up as [???] people who want to somehow connect [???] information on [???] and also what’s happening. We’ve met four or five times after you talked. It was very informative and also very practical.
Well, if you’ll stand on the steps outside, here is the man in the purple shirt—if you’re interested in community and networking, here’s an opportunity. If you’re not, then you chose to reject it.
Thank you all very, very much!