Light of the Third Millennium

October 4, 1997

Speaking at the Whole Life Expo in Palmer Auditorium, Terence says our task is to surf the accelerating wave of novelty to dissolve cultural delusions. Psychedelics and technology can download new perspectives, stripping away outdated assumptions. Through imagination, language, and art we can meet the eschaton: the transcendental object at the end of time. Our task is liberate ourselves, take responsibility for our ideas, make visionary art, and find community without fear.




Alright. Wonderful to see so many people turned out after having just been here a scant year ago. I’m delighted that they invited me back. The deal is: no jokes about Camaro raffles, no jokes about MultiVite suppositories—so just consider it as if it didn’t happen. No, it is a pleasure to be here. I’m fascinated by this green and intelligent part of Texas. I grew up with all the prejudices against Texas that you have in western Colorado, where Texans arrive to kill our elk once a year and then depart, and leave us once again bereft of glory and drawl. So I did a radio show—some of you may have heard it—and it was an occasion to be up at the campus. Wonderful university. I see a lot of universities, and a lot of them look like Air Force bases. And you’re very fortunate to have the University of Texas at Austin. There’s some great people associated with that faculty.


Okay. Let me get a wet whistle here. How many people have read at least one of my books? A lot of people. Well, so what I’m thinking is: I have some things on my mind, and I’ll run through that, but I’d like to leave a lot of time for Q & A. Because my thing has several facets, and maybe you’re interested in salvia divinorum and I’m raving on about modeling an animation, or maybe you’re interested in the end of history and I can’t shut up about serotonin metabolism. So this is all part of the picture, but driven by your needs and your agenda I think it’s much more fruitful—it’s much more fun for me. The audiences in these things are the great joy. And I should say to you as I say to all my audiences: the psychedelic community is still small and tight, and we look pretty much like everybody else out there. That’s part of our victory, I might point out. It’s not that we came to look like them, it’s that they finally let it down and now they all look like us. But a gathering like this is an occasion to actually see your local psychedelic community. So take a look around: somebody in this room has what you need. And it’s like an intelligence test, isn’t it? All social interaction is, it turns out.


Okay. I guess I should bring you up to date on what I’ve been doing before I plunge into the heart of this, since my own life is my own adventure, and how I then read the larger picture of reality. I think everybody sees their life that way. After all, if you’re not the hero in your novel, what kind of novel is it? You need to do some heavy editing. Robert Anton Wilson once said, “We should define reality as a plot run by a closely knit group of powerful insiders: yourself and your friends, of course. If you don’t believe that, you have a loser scenario, and who needs a loser scenario?”


So what I’ve been doing since I saw you last is basically a lot of traveling. I went to South Africa last October, and that was an education. It was a nonstop two-week intensive education in humanness, third-world colonial politics, Dutch Afrikaner history. A whole bunch of things I knew very little about. It was inspiring, challenging, amazing. Africa, the human home, is right now the great theater of struggle for the human soul. How we deal with the political and social problems of Africa is going to say a great deal about how we will be judged by the future. The problems of Africa are almost entirely created from outside of Africa. And the solutions which are being produced on native soil need all the nurturing and support that we (who cheer on the brotherhood of man) can give it.


And then, in February, I went to Australia. And if I had known about Australia what I know now thirty years ago, I’m sure my life would be very different. I said last night at a book signing it’s weirdly like Texas. I mean, it’s large, it’s largely empty, and it has a very eccentric population of hard-riving folks who are lovely to party with and know how to barbecue. So what more can I say?


Okay. So enough with personal reportage, local color, putting us all at ease, and all the rest of that forensic malarkey. Cut to the chase. When I think about talking to an audience like this, I go through my toolkit and try to say, you know, what is cogent, what’s meaningful, what can bring us forward? And there seem to be—it’s a changing list, but at the moment what seems to be going is the old perennial: psychedelic alteration of consciousness for purposes of personal exploration, social reformation, creation of a new art, a new politic. That’s one of the major pieces of the puzzle. Another major piece is the new communications technologies—and I mean not only the Internet, but the software that allows us (each and every one of us) to be animators, filmmakers, visually expressive people who can produce emotionally moving works of great depth and beauty. This is something that technology has brought to us. And, strangely enough, a technology largely produced by psychedelic heads—people like ourselves. I told you last year—I think when we discussed drugs and technology—that the only difference between a computer and a psychedelic was: one was too large to swallow. Well, you know, great progress has been made in twelve months. In another three or four years we will be able to swallow the computer. Some of us may never be able to swallow it.


The third piece of the puzzle—which is sort of mine alone to play with, since no one else wants to be this publicly crazy—is the whole business of novelty theory, the approach of a singularity in time that is sculpting the human and natural world, and that is so large an object in the intuitive sphere of human beings that it almost has religious overtones.


And then the question for me (and the question for you, I suppose) is: how much of this can you take without having to take it all? How much of these ideas can you imbibe without having to go the whole distance? And the answer is, you know: it’s a personal matter for each person to feel into their circumstance—which means their history, both psychedelic and non-psychedelic—and then to feel into the projection of their future. Do you think you are repeating the lifestyles and algorithms of your parents and grandparents ad infinitum back to Adam, or do you feel like you’ve stepped to the front of the train of human evolution? That you are making yourself new every day? If we reach too far back into the stabilizing metaphors of the past we get rigidity, habit, limitation. If we step too quickly into the unlimited freedom of the future we lose our grounding. Socialism did this over the past hundred years. And because it abandoned any contact with a realistic human psychology, the best-intended people ended up creating nightmare societies. If your theory is not true to the nature of humanness, you will end up beating human beings like metal on the anvil of your ideology. And this creates great human suffering and historical catastrophe. And I maintain that our own society suffers from a failure to adequately model and reflect the true nature of human beings. We have ideas, we have ideals that get in the way of realism and immediate experience.


And when I was thinking about all of this, and how to put I into a metaphor that would be appealing and amusing and lead people to look deeper into these things, I began to play with the idea. It’s a religious idea. You all have heard—although probably more often in English than in Latin—the thought In principio et verbum, et verbum caro factum est, which means “in the beginning was the word, and the word was made flesh.” This is the great overarching myth of western religion. It equally informs Islam, Christianity, Judaism. These three great flavors of monotheism all accept this primary statement. “In the beginning was the word, and the word was made flesh.” What does it mean—for a moment taken away from the tired exegesis of the cults that have hammered at it for so long? What does it mean in and of itself? It means that language is somehow the privileged medium of exchange between human beings and the divine. That the descent of the word into flesh makes the flesh more than flesh, makes the word more than the word. The union of flesh and word launches the cosmic drama of fall and redemption that is the Ur-myth of Western society.


And for centuries and centuries we’ve concentrated on one end of this story of the fall and the redemption. We have concentrated on the fall. But meanwhile, through all the grimy betrayals and bloody backsliding of human history, the word has quietly advanced its agenda. And I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently, because in a new book I’m writing I’m writing a lot about spoken language—speech. And I’ve come to a conclusion that, typical of me, is far from orthodoxy and far from much cover provided by anybody else’s ideas on this matter. I’ve come to the conclusion that language is very old, thinking is very old, communicating is very old—by glance, by gesture, by dance, by meme, by intuition—but speech is very recent. It’s a technological innovation as fresh as the Pentium chip or the spinning wheel. It’s something someone invented somewhere. It’s the most successful technological leap forward ever made. It’s the discovery of symbolic signification. That a noise—meaning nothing—can by convention be given a meaning, and that that meaning will then attend that utterance wherever it occurs in the presence of those who have joined in the agreement that attaches the symbol to the meaningless utterance. It’s a coding breakthrough. Somebody hacked this about 35,000 years ago.


And immediately, as forms of media have a way of doing, it swamped the previous methods of communication. Because (A) it worked in the dark. Suddenly, evenings were not so boring any more. It worked in the dark. Also, the touchy-feely forms of communication were generally one-on-one and related, probably, to having sex or aggressive physical encounters. But suddenly, one voice could reach many, and many could respond. And virtual reality was born at that moment—not here in the late twentieth century, but at that moment. Because acoustical environments laden with symbolic meaning became the name of the game. Stories is what we call these things. And they are the proper use of the advanced form of medium known as human speech. It’s using human speech to create three-dimensional scenarios that unfold, and everyone is carried along with the drama and the wonder of it.


From that beginning, in a series of successively accelerating leaps, the word has made its way into the world. It’s interesting that straight linguists and paleolinguists believe human language is no more than 35,000 years old. Imagine that! We possess Homo sapiens sapiens skeletons 110,000 years old—people like the person who rode with you on the bus yesterday; people that modern—and yet the experts tell us no one spoke until 35,000 years ago. No one wrote until 5,000–6,000 years ago. Reading and writing is simply a carrying forward of the original program of signification, first using acoustical signals, and then some other hacker had the brilliant idea: well, if we can use sound to carry abstract associations, why not abstract symbols to carry abstract associations? And writing was born. And what writing allows is expansion of the database, because things are not dependent on the wetware of human memory to survive from generation to generation. Suddenly the mush of brain is replaced by the durability of wood and stone and clay, and these things then become the medium upon which the primary database of the culture is being carried forward.


Well, the rest of the story you know. And this is not a lecture in the history of communication. Each succeeding refinement in communication has brought the word deeper into its association with the flesh, until the present. And at this moment there is a kind of what dynamicists call a cusp: a turning of the system upon its axes. And the word is now beginning to make the return journey to the mysterious and hidden source from which it descended. In other words, spirit is now beginning to disentangle itself from matter. The twentieth century will be remembered as the great clash point, the great arena of conflict, between the triumphal positivist and rational systems that European thought has developed over the past 300 years and the new irrational systems of thought which anthropology cheerfully imported into white high culture in the guise of reportage about the primitive.


But this reportage about the primitive turns out to be a kind of ouroboric conundrum: the snake taking its tail in its mouth. In the past hundred years, as these super-technologies have been developed in the West—the smashing of atoms, the invention of radio, television, computers, immunology, so forth and so on—data has been arriving about the practices of aboriginal cultures all over the planet. That they dissolve ordinary realities, ordinary cultural values, through an interaction, a symbiosis, a relationship to local plants that perturb brain chemistry. And in this domain of perturbed brain chemistry, the cultural operating system is wiped clean and something older—even for these people—something older, more vitalistic, more in touch with the animal’s soul replaces it; replaces the cultural operating system. Something not determined by history and geography, but something writ in the language of the flesh itself.


This is who you are. This is true nakedness. You are not naked when you take off your clothes. You still wear your religious assumptions, your prejudices, your fears, your illusions, your delusions. When you shed the cultural operating system, then essentially you stand naked before the inspection of your own psyche. Desmond Morris called it the naked ape. And it’s from that position (a position outside the cultural operating system) that we can begin to ask real questions about: what does it mean to be human? What kind of circumstance are we caught in? And what kind of structures (if any) can we put in place to assuage the pain, and accentuate the glory and the wonder that lurks waiting for us in this very narrow slice of time between the birth canal and the yawning grave? In other words: we have to return to first premises.


So I’ve been thinking about this a lot. And at first it seemed to me only a metaphor—this phrase “culture is your operating system.” But because I travel around a lot and get that jolting experience frequently—of, let’s say, leaving London on a foggy evening and arriving in Johannesburg fourteen hours later to a sweltering day in a city of fourteen million on the brink of anarchy—I get to change my operating system frequently. And so I notice the relativity of these systems. And some work for some things, and some for others.


For instance, if you are a positivist, if you’re running Positivism 4.0, you can’t support UFOs. Positivism 4.0 does not support UFOs. If, on the other hand, you’re running Urantia Book 5.1 as your operating system, UFOs and a number of other things can get in through the door. That is what we would technically say is a more tolerant operating system, or its plug-ins support special effects denied the positivist. Well, it’s fun to think this way because it shows you that you don’t have to be the victim of your culture. It’s not like your eye color or your height or your gender. It’s fragile. It can be remade if you wish it to be.


And then the question is: well, how does one download a new operating system? Well, first of all, you have to clear some space on your disk. The best way to do this is probably with a pharmacological agent. You think of some while I have a drink of water…! Psilocybin is an excellent disk cleaner. You can put a lot of things in the trash and have them just disappear with a psilocybin upgrade. Other pharmacological agents that will clear your disk are ayahuasca. And of course these are gentle clearings of the disk which take five, six, seven hours. If you’re in a hurry to dump that old data and leap right into the new operating system, click on the button marked dimethyltryptamine. A compressed disk-erasure will immediately be downloaded, unstuffed, bin-hexed, implemented, installed, run, and you will find yourself with an entirely different head.


Now, shamans have always known—though they may not have used the kind of language I’m using here—shamans have always known this trick. What trick? It has two facets. First of all: that culture is an operating system—that’s all it is—and that the operating system can be wiped out and replaced by something else. So essentially, what’s going on among shamans and those who resort to them (for curing and counseling and so forth) is: somebody is running a slightly more advanced operating system than the customer. The shaman is in possession of certain facts (about plants, about animals, about healing, about human psychology, about the local geography, about mojo of many different sorts) that the client is not aware of. The client is running Culture Lite. The shaman paid for the registered and licensed version of the software, and is running a much heavier version of the software than the client. I think we should all aspire to make this upgrade. It’s very important that you have all the bells and whistles on your operating system, otherwise somebody is going to be able to get leg up on you.


Well, what’s wrong with the operating system that we have—Consumer Capitalism 5.0, or whatever it is? Well, it’s dumb! It’s retro. It’s very non-competitive. It’s messy. It wastes the environment. It wastes human resources. It’s inefficient. It runs on stereotypes. It runs on a low sampling rate—which is what creates stereotypes: low sample rates make everybody appear alike, when in fact the glory is in everyone’s differences. And the current operating system is flawed. It actually has bugs in it that generate contradictions—contradictions such as: we’re cutting the Earth from beneath our own feet, we’re poisoning the atmosphere that we breathe. This is not intelligent behavior. This is a culture with a bug in its operating system that’s making it produce erratic, dysfunctional, malfunctional behavior. Time to call a tech! And who are the techs? The shamans are the techs. Well, so I think you get the idea. Very important to upgrade your operating system by dumping obsolete cultural subroutines. They are simply taking up disk space. They are not advancing you in any way whatsoever.


Now, a very large group of people who followed this advice and rebuilt their operating systems in the 1960s went on, then, to build this most amazing of all cultural artifacts: the Internet. The Internet is light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t care if it’s being used to peddle pornography, I don’t care if it’s being trivialized in a thousand ways. Anything can be trivialized. The important point is that it is leveling the playing field of global society. It is creating de facto an entirely new set of political realities. None of the constipated, oligarchic structures that are resisting this were ever asked. Their greed betrayed them into investing in this in the first place without ever fully grasping what the implications of it were for their larger agenda. The Internet basically means: you can now be as free as you are motivated to be, as free as you dare to be.


Tim Leary, years ago—it was something he used to say that never got quoted as much as “turn on, tune in, drop out,” but it seemed to me it was maybe better advice—and he used to say: “Find the others. Find the others!” Well, you know, if you’re a gay kid in Fargo, North Dakota, if you’re a mescaline enthusiast in Winnipeg, if you’re a student of alchemy in Moosejaw, community is pretty much out of reach for you—or it was until the coming of the Internet. And the Internet introduces everybody (no matter how weird, no matter how marginalized, no matter how peculiar) to the fact that there are others like you. There are others like you. Find the others. Make common cause. Realize that it’s the deals you cut and the friends you make that determine where you’re going to be standing when the flash hits. I mean, that’s just obvious.


And, you see, the cultural game is a game of uniformitarianism. Cultural myths are that we are all alike. We Americans, each created equal. I mean, if you can believe that at an operational level, then I have some bridges I would like to sell you. It’s a necessary truth to do political business, but it is not the truth. The truth is that you are not created equal with your self from day to day—leave alone any comparison with anybody else. You are not the person you were yesterday, nor the person you will be next week. What is an observation like that? What shadow does it cast in a world of “all people are created equal”? These are clashes of operating systems. There’s an axiom in one (“all created equal”) and an axiom in the other (“each divergent”). These things can’t be parsed. They can’t be brought together. So culture plays a game of simplification. If you can make people think alike, they will buy alike, they will worship alike. And if, you know, politics demands it, they will kill alike. So the uniformitarian agenda of culture is not an agenda friendly to you, or to me, or to any other individual. And if you start out from that point of view, you will soon realize that culture is not your friend.


Now, this is not exactly politically correct to say, what with everybody running around recovering their Latvian roots, and their Irishness, and their this, their whatever. Culture is not your friend. If you define yourself as a member of a group—of any group—know that that is a gross simplification, and that everything about you that is interesting and unique is betrayed by defining yourself in that way. You know, most racism is practiced by people of the race that they are making racial judgements about. White people have far more racial opinions about white people than any other racial group, because that’s where they spend their time. These gross simplifications betray humanity, betray uniqueness, make sane politics impossible. What we have to do is get back to the reality of the flesh, the reality of the individual identity. This is how we come packaged. A race—that’s an abstraction. These days, you have to have three years of genetics under your belt to give a satisfactory definition of the word, if we’re really going to go to the mat on it. I mean, it’s an abstraction of modern science. It’s a notion so far removed from anything you and I come in contact with that we should just junk it.


What we need to celebrate is the individual. Have you not noticed (I certainly have) that every historical change you can think of—in fact, any change you can think of; forget about human beings—any change in any system that you can think of is always ultimately traceable to one unit in the system undergoing a phase state change of some sort. No group—there are no group decisions. Those things come later. The genius of creativity and of initiation of activity always lies with the individual. And it’s very interesting that this is what the psychedelics address. They address us uniquely as individuals. You can sit next to somebody who drank from the same bottle you did, and be perfectly confident that their experience has very little congruency with your own.


Well, so then, if we let the scales of cultural values fall from our eyes, and try not to look at the world through the eyes of science or democracy or capitalism or Christianity, what is there beyond ideology? What are the facts of the matter? As I see it, the most visible facts on the surface of things, on the surface of being, I see the law of increasing complexity. Things have gotten more complicated through time. I have never met anyone who could successfully argue against this. That doesn’t mean it’s true, but it means that it may be (as Wittgenstein used to say) true enough. True enough. That, as you approach the present moment in the only area of the universe which we have accurate data about (which is this planet), things become more complicated. A million years ago there were no human civilizations. A thousand years ago there were no machines to speak of. A hundred years ago there was no communication infrastructure to speak of. Ten years ago there was no Internet. Eighteen months ago there was no Java. Things are complexifying, intensifying, moving together. This is the universal drama that is reaching culmination in our lifetimes. Because—and I offer this… don’t believe me, for God’s sake! Don’t believe anybody. Just take this stuff in and then measure it against your own experience.


The second extra-cultural fact that I’ve been able to discern—the first being: things get more complicated as you approach the present. And the second being: that process of complexification is occurring faster and faster. The early universe was very slow-moving. It took a long time for things to cool down and life to begin its agonizing march out of the slime, into animal form, meeting extinction and catastrophe and setback after setback. But always picking itself up, literally, out of the mud and moving forward. Well, as life left the ocean, the pace of evolution quickened. As life radiated across the land, the number of phyla multiplied, the number of species multiplied. Finally, a million years ago—pick a number: a million and a half years ago—the higher primates begin to use tools. Fire enters the picture.


And, just as an aside: isn’t it interesting how long people used tools and fire before spoken language enters the picture? I mean, we possess tools a million years old. Human tools. Language? 35,000 years old. When I was in South Africa last year, I was in this place that reminded me of the Four Corners area around Moab, Utah. It was like nothing like I had expected South Africa to be. And when I wasn’t teaching, I would wander the dry arroyos and hunt for human tools. And there was an archeologist staying in the hotel there, and we would drink in the evening in the bar, and I would lay my day’s find out on the bar, and he would sort it into piles, and he’d say: “Nothing in this pile is less than 165,000 years old. Everything in this pile is from ” [audio cut] human tools, we’re talking about!


Now I’ve lost my thread, because I was so thrilled with my sidebar. I think I can get it back. Ah, yeah. Here it is, here it is! Ha-ha! And they say potheads can’t think! Here it is.


The second obvious fact which haunts the post-cultural viewpoint is this acceleration of change. And I’ve sort of built my career on this because I am a rationalist, but I feel the emotional power of this thing. We are caught in a basin of attraction, to use a mathematical term. In other words: we are under the influence of something which is pulling us into the future—or into novelty, if you want to put it that way—at a faster and faster rate. So problems which are presented in the following terms “If we don’t do something in 500 years, we will run out of this, that, or the other,” or, “If we don’t do something, in a thousand years this or that will happen,” these are meaningless statistics.


Because the acceleration into novelty is rewriting the rules now every eighteen months. We are descending now into a well of novelty such that more change is now occurring in a single human lifetime than occurred in the previous ten thousand years of human history. We are approaching at a faster and faster rate something unthinkable, something which is sculpting us in its image, something which shamans have always known was there—though they may not have used the metaphor of ahead of us in time. That’s a Western download of where it is, because you could just as well say it’s in heaven, or behind us in time, or everywhere, or nowhere. The point is: we’re about to arrive in its presence, and it is shaping us to prepare us for the arrival. It is making us more and more in its image.


This is not a new process. This began a long, long time ago. But it’s now reaching its culmination. And I said a few minutes ago the Internet is light at the end of the tunnel. The Internet is the beginning of a nervous system that is knitting not only all human beings, but all life together, all information together. Because, you know, there already is an Internet. It’s called the integrated ecosystem of planet three. It runs on pheromones, it runs on weather systems, ocean tides, telluric currents moving in the Earth, thousands of methods [audio cut] it is that way because our cultural tradition is one of reductionism: tear things apart, break them into their subordinate units, break those into still smaller units. Well, when you have a theory of reality like that, what you end up with is all the pieces spread out, and no car and nowhere to go.


But nature has always operated as an integrated system of communication. And the Internet is, in a sense, nothing more than a human aping of a natural system already in place. If we could do it through pheromones, light, mycelium, and electromagnetic pulses through the Earth, we wouldn’t be stringing copper and cable and fiber-optic. Those things are simply historical artifacts of the moment. What lies ahead on the Internet, what lies ahead, I think, for us—and this is the last point I really want to make, and we can talk about all this—is: you know, I have been a true resister of the alien penetration of human civilization, because I just saw no evidence for it. But the chant that they are coming has now grown so loud that I feel like one sort of has to ask one’s self: well, short of just one hundred percent skepticism, what the hell is going on with this alien hype?


And I think that the problem is one of modeling and intelligence. There is an alien. We are in the cultural process of meeting this alien. But they do not come in thousand-ton beryllium ships from Zubenelgenubi to trade high technology for human fetal tissue. I mean, that’s an intelligence test, folks! That’s not how it works. Our own hysteria makes it very difficult to deal with the presence of the alien. And the alien knows that. That’s why it has disguised itself as a psychedelic experience, I think. You know how in all those 1950s B-science fiction movies there was always this theme of the landing area? And I saw it in Mars Attacks!, too. There must be a landing zone. Somehow we must let them know that we welcome them by building a landing area. And the Nazca plain has been claimed, and on and on, and on.


I think that the alien is a creature of pure information. It’s purely information. It’s non-local. It comes out of the Bell non-locality part of the universe that exists distributed through hyperspace. The alien is real, but it is only made of information. And therefore, the only dimension in which it can be encountered is a dimension of pure information. Fortunately, we are building a dimension of pure information. Providentially we have named it the Net. The Net is a net for catching the alien mind. How will it come? Will it descend upon our websites in a flash of light? I don’t think so. How it will come is hacked through human fingers. The alien is real, but it is within us. It can only communicate information. And that information has to be made real in this world by human coders.


So if we were to set out lightheartedly to build a virtual reality as alien as we could make it, I maintain that three quarters of the way our hair would be standing on end, because we would realize: we are not inventing this, we are discovering it. You know, Michelangelo said: “The form is in the block of marble. What I do is: I take away the part that is unnecessary and reveal the human torso within the block of marble.” In the same way, the alien is already within us. But we must model it, we must call it forth into a dimension of potential dialogue.


And I think that, ultimately, this is what high-tech society can bring to the shamanic equation. Shamans have been dealing with spirits, entities, powers for more than 100,000 years, but it has always been on a one-to-one basis. One human being at a time went up Mount Sinai to talk to the fire on the mountain. But with virtual reality we have a technology that allows us to show each other our dreams—and, yes, our hallucinations. And as we begin to show each other the contents of our own heads, and as we begin to explore the alien Niagaras of beauty that pour through your consciousness under the influence of some of these substances, we are going to discover that we are not what we thought we were. The monkey flesh is being penetrated by something (dare I say it?) divine—or at least alien, trans-planetary, and beyond the power of human comprehension. I don’t know if we are talking about god almighty here. I don’t know if we’re talking about the god who hung the stars like lamps in heaven, as Milton says. That seems a tall order. Maybe what we’re talking about is the god of biology.


Something has happened to this planet. It has become infected with an informational—call it virus, call it force, call it being—that is using matter (and yes, using our flesh and our thoughts) to bootsrap itself to higher and higher levels. And now the prosthesis of machinery and the possibility of an artificial intelligence raises the real option of producing… of actually midwifing the birth of an entirely new, not species, but order of biology and intelligence in existence. The human–machine symbiot is upon us. I mean, it’s been with us for a while—since the first wheel was carved, since the first stick was sharpened. But that was all very simple stuff. Now it’s clear that we are in partnership with an other mind which comes to us through our machineries and through the biosphere. Wherever we press beyond the thin curtain of rationalist culture, we discover the incredibly rich, erotic, scary, promising presence of this intelligent other, which beckons us out of history and says, you know: the galaxy lies waiting. A galaxy of galaxies lie waiting. Lose the encumbrances of three-dimensional space. Return with the word to its higher and hidden source.


And at that point you will discover the alchemical paraclete will be given unto you, the alchemical dispensation will be given, and—as James Joyce said—man will be dirigible. What did he mean? He meant that we will lose the limitations of physical and three-dimensional space; that we are destined to become mental creatures. But we say, “Well, but isn’t this a terrible thing? What about this, that, and the other?” All the things you’re worrying about, we turned our back on 25,000 years ago. We have been marching through this virtual reality of our own creation for the entire duration of what is called human history.


Now, is there a political implication to all of this? I think the political implication is (A) a personal one: we all must try to understand what is happening. We need to try to understand what is happening. And in my humble opinion, ideology is only going to get in your way. Nobody understands what is happening. Not Buddhists, not Christians, not government scientists, not—you know, no one understands what is happening. So forget ideologies. They betray, they limit, they lead astray. Just deal with the raw data and trust yourself. Nobody is smarter than you are. And what if they are? What good is their understanding doing you? There are people who walk around saying, “Well, I don’t understand quantum physics. But somewhere, somebody understands it.” That’s not a very helpful attitude toward preserving the insights of quantum physics. Inform yourself.


What does “inform yourself” mean? It means transcend and mistrust ideology. Go for direct experience. What do you think when you face the waterfall? What do you think when you have sex? What do you think when you take psilocybin? Everything else is unconfirmable rumor, useless, probably lies. So liberate yourself from the illusion of culture. Take responsibility for what you think and what you do.


And then, the other political implication toward community is: a lot of people are going to be very anxious, because change raises anxiety in people. And people who have limited opportunities to educate themselves—because of culturally inflicted abuse—are scared. Because they can sense that everything familiar is giving way, but they don’t want to embrace the unimaginable. These people need to be reassured. They need to be reassured by example, and by hearing optimistic and reasonable rhetoric about the future. Selling the future as an eight-alarm fire (which is how the media does it) only makes a sane future impossible. So we need a responsible approach to thinking about the future. And it means taking personal responsibility—for your drug-taking, for the ideas, the memes that you push into society, and for the images that we share among ourselves.


You know, one of the great truisms of the New Age is that images can heal. But I’ve never heard anybody discuss the obvious contra-implication, which is: images can make you sick. And you are constantly bombarded with images which disempower, divide, confuse, and make crazy, basically. So, I think the reason psychedelics are such political dynamite in any culture is because they dissolve cultural assumptions. The scales fall from people’s eyes and they say: “Does this make sense? Does my job make sense? Does my relationship make sense—to my significant other, to my government, to my children, to my environment? Do these relationships make sense?” And of course the answer for most people in high-tech society is: no! We’ve been compromised, we’ve been deluded, we’ve been sold a massive pottage.


The way out, then, is personal responsibility, new operating systems downloaded from outside of culture—which means from the deeper wisdom of the psychedelic plants—and then a commitment to community, and a motto of: “To the future, without fear!” Without fear. Thank you very much!

Q & A Session



Well, so much for a promise to be brief. You just wind the guy up and point him, and off he goes—the robot who preaches freedom! Questions? Challenge? Anything, anybody? Yeah, you.





Well, yeah. It’s a tricky question, because what’s being maximized as things come together is novelty. And so then we have to have a discussion about: what is novelty? To my mind, an explosion takes a complicated situation and reduces—or, as mathematicians would say: flattens—its dimensionality. An art gallery or beautiful home is far more interesting before an explosion than after. So I don’t see how some kind of catastrophe would entirely fulfill the bill.


On the other hand, a partial catastrophe of some sort—because I believe primates are at their best when cornered, and we aren’t cornered yet. I mean, we talk about how we’re cornered, and people say this is the end of the world—this ain’t the end of the world, this is the long garden party before the end of the world, with strolling musicians and superbly catered food and women in diaphanous gowns and high-toned conversation. Wait until you see the end of the world! It isn’t about deciding to come up to Austin to attend the Whole Life Expo, let me tell you!

So… yes. Yes, I should repeat questions. Different part of the room. Back here. White shirt. You, sir. This guy, yeah.





Yes, you eloquently represent the position that language was invented in order to lie, right? Well, that’s what the second guy who got a hold of it, I’m sure, probably did with it. You’re right that I have an incredible enthusiasm for verbal speech, but it’s only because it’s easy for me to do. If I didn’t do this, I’d have to find honest work. However, I am aware—or… yeah, I’m very aware of the limitations of language. And one of the things I’ve talked about a lot is what I call visible language. You use the example of telepathy—that if we were in telepathic communication, how could I lie? Because you would perceive my intent. The key to making language more true is to make it more visual. Now, that can’t just take the form of bigger vocabulary and more colorful metaphors. Like, people will say, “When he spoke he painted a picture,” or, “Listening to him was like watching a movie.” I think ordinary speech goes through a series of stages from articulate, to eloquent, to poetic, to demagogic. And at demagogic is where you want to be careful, because then you can turn—essentially, Hitler turned history on its head with speeches. He just could really deliver a stem-winder.


I’ve been fascinated by the fact that, in the Amazon, under the influence of ayahuasca, people sing songs, but they see the song that they sing. And when you hear people talking about it afterwards, people will say (after listening to a song), “You know, I loved the part with the olive drab and the chrome, but I thought when he got into the magenta and yellow stripe thing it was just too much.” Well, this is a critique of a song? And then, when you take ayahuasca with these people, you discover to your amazement that huuuummmm is a blue ribbon a foot across that descends from floor to ceiling and has a yellow center, and hiiimmmm puts knobs in the ribbon. And you can start singing and building, modeling, animating in three dimensions with sound.


Well, I maintain that our insistence technologically on pushing our media toward ever more immediate sensations—so that, if we have photography, it’s black and white, we demand color; if it’s color, we demand motion; if it’s motion, we demand sound; if it’s sound and motion, we want 3D—it’s that we trust our eyes. And the natural domain of communication is visual for human beings. We’re like octopi in that way. So really, language needs to evolve toward the visual. And that’s why I’m very keen for technically dense prosthetic environments where, every time you say the word “and,” a yellow three-dimensional triangle appears in the air. Every time you say “or,” an orange ball appears. A computer is listening to what you’re saying and giving a geometric accompaniment to speech. I think that there are forms of telepathy that we can evolve through the use of drugs and computer-assisted technologies that will allow us to see each other’s dreams.


In spite of your correct assessment that I’m keen for the spoken word, I spent all summer learning modeling and three-dimensional animation programs from my son, because I want to animate, I want to model. I see things on my trips that I have never been able to English, but if I were a fully competent modeler and animator I would just say: check it out! And I’m going to do that. And I urge you to do that. I mean, it’s a funny thing to be told: you want to spiritually advance? Study 3D animation. But these are the frontiers of communication. We have an obligation to make our language more immediate. It is the most godlike thing we do. If you’re looking for the thumbprint of almighty god on the biological organization of this planet, it is human language. It is a miracle! I don’t give a hoot what the dolphins and the honeybees are out there in the woods doing. It ain’t like Milton. It ain’t even like Bob Dylan. It ain’t even as good as this, I’m willing to say! No, human communication is what we are, and it will lead us to be a symbiotic species if we put the pedal to the metal.


For people like yourselves, who I assume to be (no matter how you finagled your way in here this afternoon) part of the upper three percent of the ruling elite on this planet, there is a real obligation to use privilege to communicate and to make art. I think this is what, if the good life has any purpose other than to drink beer and watch TV, it’s to produce art. This is how you make a payback into the community. And art is ambiguous. Your art may say things to people other than yourself that it would never say to you. But that’s how we make the community richer, that’s how we enlarge the dimensions of the human soul—by making art.





Stand up and yell.





Louder. You said you take psilocybin and see self-transforming machine elves? No.










The question is: when you encounter the self-transforming machine elves in hyperspace, do you think that’s a reflection of ourselves, or do you think it’s an alien, or—I mean, I’m paraphrasing, but it’s something like that. It’s tricky, because we are not what we think we are. Maybe I didn’t spend enough time on this alien thing. I referred to non-local domains of information. This has to do with this idea in quantum physics that there is something called Bell non-locality: that all particles that were ever associated remain associated in some mysterious way, no matter how far apart in space and time they may have drifted. Well, according to the Big Bang, all particles were once closely associated. At the moment of the Big Bang everything was in a space less than the diameter of a proton, or some piddling distance like that.


Well, so then, this was an idea that was just thought so outlandish—that there could be this dimension of instantaneous dimension of connectivity—that it was dismissed from quantum physics in favor of an acceptance of a somewhat less outlandish but equally challenging notion, which was the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. And that’s how it was left for about forty years. But there were thought experiments that people talked about that could test for this Bell non-locality. Well, eventually these apparatus were actually built, and these experiments were performed, And what do you know, Joe—Bell non-locality can be demonstrated the same way any other physical phenomenon can be demonstrated, given a sufficiently prepared laboratory situation. It’s real. It’s not woo-woo. It’s actually scientifically true at the fundamental core of physics that all space and all time is in some form of simultaneous connection.


Now, it gets a little dicey if you ask questions like, “Can we use this to get and send information?” And I don’t want to go into that, because I think I already have the answer. No matter how good the arguments against it, I believe this is what the human imagination is. That you have two eyes to show you local space, and then you have an organ called the mind—which doesn’t protrude anywhere on the surface of your body, except occasionally in some cases it will lodge on a surrogate—but generally the mind is invisible. But it gives you non-local data. That’s what the imagination is: that’s non-local data. Everything in the imagination is real—somewhere. Somewhere so far away in space and time that it makes absolutely non sense to give it another thought ever again. Don’t ever think that thought again. But know that everything in the imagination is real. So it’s ridiculous to speak of my imagination or the human imagination, there is just the imagination.


But see, if all information is there, 99.999 percent of that information is not intended for human beings and makes no sense whatsoever to us. It’s basically static. It’s either above or below our cognitive power to organize, and so it is meaningless. But 0.0000001 percent of this non-local data is enough like local data that we can make metaphoric bridges to it and say: well, it was like this, and it was sort of like this, and it was a kind of a this, and it reminded me of something else. And that’s the stuff of the imagination.


And to the degree that you can accept alien data without freaking out, you can go deeper into the imagination. I have a friend who says of psilocybin mushrooms: “Every time I take it, my goal is to stand more.” And he doesn’t mean stand more in terms of dosage, he means stand more in terms of content. Because it can always raise the bar higher than you can jump. I mean, I’ve had dialogues with it where, after hours of dancing mice and personal revelations and kind of a sense of familiarity, I’ve said to it, “Well, what are you really? Show me what you are for yourself.” Well, my god, the temperature in the room begins to fall towards zero, black draperies rise, there’s an organ tone that shakes the Earth. And after about thirty seconds I say, “Hey, enough of what you are for yourself. Let’s go back to the dancing mice and the little candies rolling in the dark!” You know? It knows that you have a limited capacity to absorb its alienness.


That’s why we have what’s called human history: human history is the process of standing more. And now we’ve sort of come to the short and curly part of the process, where they’re just around the corner. I mean, all you have to do is smoke a doobie, look out at the evening sky, have a dream, talk to a friend, and the alien is very, very… its trailing aura—or its leading aura, I guess—its leading aura has now intersected human psychology. But cheerful stories of space brothers and scary silly stories of fetal-trading high-technology freaks in league with the government—hey, it’s so much bigger than that. It’s so big that it has disguised itself as an alien invasion to keep from really alarming us with what it really is.

How are we doing here? Couple more questions. A lady, yes. Would you like to come up and we’ll get you on tape here.



I was just wondering what you thought about the possibility of: as we become more aware of what we are doing to the environment, and the responsibility of those industrialized nations that are consuming more than their share, that if we could get on equal playing field, then those underdeveloped countries, they have a great deal of the resources that they’re using up to basically pay their national debts. If they could receive technology so that they can be on an equal playing field on the Internet, et cetera, in exchange for our consumption, that it might be an interesting evolution in terms of—



Well, I think it’s happening. In other words, some people have objected that the Internet and computers are an elitist technology in the hands of a bunch of white folks. To some degree that’s true. But on the other hand, if the automobile had followed the same curve of cost-benefit that the computer has followed in its development, then the average automobile of today would cost a buck and a half and it would go 100,000 miles on ten cents’ worth of gas. That’s the kind of bang for your buck you’re getting from the modern PC compared to where it was 35 years ago. No technology in history has had its costs fall so quickly. And there is no reason to think that those costs will level off. If a good PC today is fourteen hundred dollars, there’s no reason why in five years it shouldn’t be 140 dollars, and there’s no reason why in ten years it shouldn’t be fourteen dollars and be worn on your thumbnail. This can all be done. All these prices are artificially inflated.


The other thing abut the Internet is: it is going wireless. And as it goes wireless it goes totally global. If I can just brag for a minute and make an example of myself—I have a wireless connection to the Internet. At first I got a wireless connection because I couldn’t get any other kind, because I lived way up on a volcano. But now my wireless connection is one megabyte. That’s 45 times faster than 28.8. The poor people down on copper—they can’t do better than 56, because the infrastructure already exists and therefore limits the bandwidth. By going outside the infrastructure—this sounds like a reprise of my talk—by going outside the infrastructure and building alone from ground up, I suddenly find myself looking down the gun barrel of a T1-connection, and it is heaven itself, let me tell you. And the people who sold it to me—and there must be dozens of other companies—are bent on conquering the world. Meaning: putting everybody who wants to be online for pennies in the next five to six years.


And, you know, if you live in Manhattan or even Austin, what is the Internet? It’s another diversion, it’s another piece of entertainment. But what is it like in Somalia, in Seychelles, in Bangalore? What kind of impact does it have there? You talk about a culture-dissolving effect based on psychedelics—how about a culture-dissolving effect based on access to the Internet? And people say: well, Western values will swamp all others. Certainly to some degree that is true. But did that just begin yesterday? Isn’t that what the bloody business has been about for five hundred miserable years, ever since the barbarian Cortéz arrived in Mexico? I think so. Well, don’t get me off on that.

One last question. Who’s just burning? Anybody burning? There’s somebody burning.



So where do you think we’re going to be on December 22nd, 2012?



All together! All together. It’s a nice answer. Here’s another one. Why have only one answer? It’s too early to tell. In other words, asking that question in 1997 is like asking a man looking east at 1 am what he thinks the sunrise will be like. It’s just too early. The sun lies over the event horizon of the planet. In other words, we can’t see around the corner—yet. In terms of our analogous cultural development, right now we’ve reached approximately the year 1000 AD. And between now and 2012, at an incredibly accelerated rate, we have to do a number of things: discover the New World, invent the calculus, have the Renaissance, then have the Reformation, then have the Industrial Reformation, then have the twentieth century. All that has to be squeezed into the next fourteen years.


The real outlines of what is tearing toward us will probably be the province of squirrels and visionaries like myself until around 2004 and 2005. And by that time it will be clear to everyone what is on the end of every fork, as William Burroughs once said. In other words, it will be clear that history has been cancelled. It will be clear that there is no human future except through hyper-spatial breakthrough. We will all be walking around on an Internet that is 90% VRML-based, and hence three-dimensional and interactive. And nanotechnology will be beginning to deliver its goods to society, new forms of propulsion system are going to move the outer planets to within a few weeks' travel, so forth and so on. So we cannot, at this moment, know the true nature of the eschaton, because at this moment, if we knew the true nature of the eschaton, it would shatter our cultural assumptions and our individual understanding completely. We have a lot of heavy lifting to do. There’s a lot of self-education, hard tripping, and heroic dosing that needs to be done before we can meet the eschaton on a level playing field. Be there or be square. Thank you!

Terence McKenna

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