Linear Societies and Nonlinear Drugs

January 16, 1999

Speaking on the first day of the 1999 Palenque Entheobotany Conference at the Chan Kha Hotel, Terence McKenna probes the mind-blowing philosophical revelations of psychedelics. He contends these consciousness-expanding substances can shatter Western rationality, unveiling mystical realities beyond mainstream paradigms. Psychedelics may hold the key to reimagining society’s connection with nature and technology. McKenna passionately argues these drugs can catalyze new ways of thinking, fueling an intellectual revolution to change the world.



Well, so then let me turn to the main event. I’ve got a snoot full of tequila and a messianic mission. I’m pawing the ground to talk to you as usual.

Mirrors? Everybody has their own mirrors.

I guess the title of tonight’s talk is Linear Societies and Nonlinear Drugs, which is something that I just had to pull out of the air when Ken finally slammed me to the wall for what I would be talking about this night many months ago. But more and more, for me—especially with this group—these things have become sort of summations and, I guess, I hope, convivial examinations of just where we are—we, each and every one of us—and then this enterprise (whatever we mean by that) in the context of everything else that’s happening in the world. In other words, the psychedelic experience, the entheogenic experience contextualized.


And as I try to think about what, if anything, I can bring to the party, I guess it’s that what I’m interested in is psychedelics as a philosophical tool. And when I concretized that for myself, I realized there’s no claims on that part of discourse. No one wants to do this. Academic philosophy is done in a very formal manner, and the most exciting is incredibly stuffy. And yet, I—like most of you, I assume—have taken on board in my life this thing called the psychedelic experience, which is then as large a portion of my being as my sexuality, my politics, my education. It shapes everything. And yet, nowhere in the world of philosophical discourse is there any genuflection, at least overtly, made to this. I mean, maybe not since Plato talked about shadows on the wall of the cave, and so forth and so on.


Well, so what can psychedelics and the psychedelic experience bring to philosophy, and what do I mean by “philosophy?” By philosophy I mean the enterprise of discursive thinking: trying to understand what the world is and who’s asking the question. You know, where did the world come from? Where is it bound? And who is along for the ride? It seems to me that we, as a community, have—this is sort of hard to wrap your mind around, at least for me—but we have, in a sense, inculcated into ourselves the image of an underclass, so that we struggle for legal toleration of our practices and our habits. But we don’t struggle for intellectual legitimation of our visions. We accept that they are somehow contextually marginal.


And as I thought about that I realized that that is a limitation on the community, that the information which is coming from the psychedelic experience as interpreted by Western people is primary evidence for the need for a major paradigm shift in the whole way the Western mentality does business. Well, what kind of evidence and what kind of shift?


Well, there’s a lot of talk in our community, and there has been for many, many years, about shamanism. And when we seek to legitimize ourselves through a historical argument we reach back to shamanism and we say we’re a part of something which is 100,000 years old and worldwide, and touched the spirit long before the shadow of the cross fell over Jerusalem, and so forth and so on. All true. And in a way that has, I think—that tendency, which is part of the broader tendency in the Western mind to valorize and grow nostalgic over the primitive, has put a certain political cast on our stance and our position.


But what we are is—again, contextually—a culture of science. And I’m speaking now of our community. It’s the Albert Hofmanns and the Dave Nichols and the Sascha Schulgins who have kept our canoe afloat. These are men of science: its methods, its vocabulary, its culture. We have not—though we certainly honor those people and love them—as their rhetoric is not the primary rhetoric of the larger community of psychedelic users, which tends toward this (as I referred to it) shamanistic aboriginal nostalgia.


Turn left here for a moment and say: I feel more comfortable with the scientific end of things. I think the news coming out of science is the most psychedelic news there is. When I go to the Internet I go to things like ScienceAlert and the Hubble Picture of the Day and this sort of thing. Our community as a whole, I think, is not involved enough in incorporating the vistas. While we struggle to legalize psychedelics, psychedelic thinking is everywhere triumphant. Because the instruments built by linear science throw open doorways on the unimaginable. And the most revered and whorey jefes of the scientific establishment have to genuflect before this stuff.


What am I talking about? Well, for example, Science magazine wrote last week that the most important scientific breakthrough of 1998 was the apparent observation and agreement upon that observation by the astrophysical community of a cosmological constant. This sounds like very deep physics, but if I give it to you as a headline, what it means is the entire universe—every atom and every empty space of it—is ruled by a very weird force that has now been seriously known to science for precisely five months. A force which is apparently going to overcome gravity’s tendency to collapse the universe and to cause it to expand in a very explosive and counterintuitive and psychedelic fashion that is the complete confoundment of the core science that Western linear thinking has built. And of course there weren’t riots in the streets and the electricity didn’t fail. But at the very pinnacles of the antenna of the evolving civilization there was a shudder felt in the force, you may be sure.


There are two much larger forces than our community that are in play in terms of shaping the cultural modality, and I would call them—what would I call them?—well, I would call one of them science. It’s the other one that I’m having trouble with. It is everything which is not anchored in the rational. You know, the twentieth century has the most spectacular celebratory affair with the irrational since the sixteenth century. I mean, never before have so many prophets, wizards, wise women, casters of runes and seers of visions moved among the people, plying their wares. And part of this is brought on by the tension between the failure of the education system at the very moment of an inflationary expansion of knowledge. So that it’s very hard to be au courant in all fields. And if you’re not current in a field, then probably your version of that field is some kind of story, a myth. I mean, if you can’t keep up with quantum physics, why not fall back on archangels, you know? It requires less intellectual engagement or something like that.


Discourse is fragmenting. Fields of discourse are evolving vocabularies so rapidly that the understanding of these vocabularies is not penetrating very far beyond the core group of workers. So then this is creating kind of islanded systems of self-reference where, outside those systems of self-reference, information doesn’t travel. The people who are the gene-splicers know very little about remote sensing, and both of those parties know very little about recent discoveries in astrophysics, for example. So there’s an intellectual fragmentation.


I live in Hawai’i, in the forest in fairly remote conditions, and so I entertain all this in my mind all the time and try to… my faith—and I assume it’s the psychedelic’s faith, although we’ve had some fairly existential characters in our ranks over the years—but the psychedelic faith, I think, is that the universe is beautiful in the Platonic sense, and therefore good and true. In other words, we’re optimists. We’re not flailing existentialists, we’re not relativists, because we have a real standard to measure our spiritual coinage against. So we’re not relativists. This is a point I’m really keen to make because we’re embedded in relativism. It’s all around us. It’s the air we breathe. But it is not inimical to the psychedelic community. I mean, I think the psychedelic experience is the only authentic source of reliable contact with the numinous. I mean, meditation and so forth and so on is all very fine, but it requires a leisure class involved in philanthropic support of this kind of foolishness, where the psychedelic experience is immediate and real.


So—now I’ve lost my way here. Ah, yes. Optimism. So I sit in Hawai’i and I look at all this, and I try to contextualize it and come out with a good story. Because I think the best story will win. So if you can get together the best version of how it should all come out, so shall it be. And I work at this because, in the past, I’ve been very, very happy with the results between my interior fantasy and the unfolding of historical developments. I mean, I wished for LSD and then it happened, and then I dreamed of the Internet and then it happened, so I should keep at it.


And I recently read a very interesting book called A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History by [Manuel] DeLanda, and if you get a chance you should take a look at this. He made a point which caused me to expand his point into this little thing I’m going to tell you now. But his point was that human beings are very involved in the movement of geological material. That, as a species, we move rocks around on a very large scale. And of course it’s interesting that some of the earliest human structures are the most physically massive and weighty, like the Great Pyramids. So DeLanda made this point about our relationship with the geological stratigraphy of the Earth, and that cities were a kind of geological extension of the process of crystallization carried on through the intermediation of a biological unit, i.e. intelligent primates who are building these structures. And I thought that was very interesting. I had never considered it before. I’ve talked about virtual reality and I’ve said that it’s nothing new that Ur was a virtual reality and Çatalhöyük was a virtual reality, but done in stucco and fired ceramic and stone. And that when the medium is so intractable as stone, the epistemic assumptions that get formed about what reality is are very different than if you can build Versailles at the click of a mouse button. But nevertheless, it’s the same.


But embedded in my reading of DeLanda was—I’ve been thinking a lot and I talked to you a lot last year about artificial intelligences and minds which are not human, minds which are very different from us, intelligence which is very different from us. You know, while the naïve are scanning the stars, our appliances have become telepathic. There is a very strange kind of intelligence being called into existence by ourselves, strangely enough. And—and this is the connection to DeLanda—this artificial intelligence which is being called into being by human activity is made of the same materials as Ur and Çatalhöyük: it’s made of ceramics, glasses, and metals. So then I took this on board and thought about it. And I’ve sort of come to some kind of cyber-pantheistic Emersonianism, which is—here, I’ll give it to you as a headline and then work backwards so that, in case I forget what I’m saying, it won’t be lost to suffering mankind.


The Earth’s strategy for its own salvation is through machines, is what it is. And human beings are the deputized spouse, we are the bride in this alchemical rarefaction of glasses, ceramics, metals, and volatile materials. Apparently, the Earth is like some kind of an embryonic or fetal thing, and at the end of its gestation what has happened is it is ramifying; its nervous system is appearing in the unfolding of its morphogenesis. And as we contemplate nanotechnologies and see ourselves working through bacteria and this sort of thing at the engineering level, you have to be blind to not, then, reflect back upon the fact that, in some sense, we are already working at that kind of level at the behest of it-is-not-clear-who, because nobody ever asked the question in quite this way before. The answer to who, I think, is: the Earth. And that what lies ahead at the end of the linear tunnel of Western subjectivist, positivist, structuralist assumptions that we’ve been operating [on]—when we hit the end of the tunnel and burst out into the larger mental space of cosmic evolution, what we’re going to find is that we are partners, actors, in a cosmic drama that involves the Earth at one polarity and machines at the other polarity as the expression of the will of the Earth toward a kind of self-reflected transcendence that is achieved through machine-human biotic symbiosis. And this is—there’ll never be a headline which says this. Some people won’t even notice that it’s happening, because these large-scale processes can be described by many metaphors at many depths. But I’m telling you: I think this is what’s going on.


The reason I like this story is because it’s not a story about processes out of control. It’s not a story about human guilt. It’s not a story full of we musts and we shoulds. It’s a story which gives honor to every part of the unfolding experience field, in other words: biology, technology, human culture, human traditional values, transcendent human extropian values. It’s a story of things on course, on time, and under budget. And I assume that’s how nature really operates, and that we live inside some kind of anxiety-producing culture that is a necessary—I don’t want to say evil—but a necessary response to conditions of stress. There are processes which—you know, nuclear waste buildup, urbanization, land disturbance—there are processes which, if allowed to run on indefinitely, would wreck the whole system and pitch it into chaos. But Confucius said no tree grows to heaven, and what he meant by that is: it’s fruitless to project any process to infinity, because any process projected to infinity creates some kind of catastrophic scenario. If no fruit flies died, in six months the Earth would spin out of its orbit from the weight of fruit flies. No—I don’t think that that’s true! But what an image, eh? Somebody once told me if the Earth completely disappeared except for its nematodes that you could still see the outlines of the continents if you were standing on the Moon. I thought, “Now just who gathered this factoid?”


So then—to bring this back around a little—where is the psychedelic experience in all of this? Well, it used to be called (or at one phase it was called) “consciousness expansion.” And consciousness expansion in human beings is going to become an absolute necessity, because we are summoning out of the woodwork of cybernetic technology machines that are going to require superintelligent humans to direct and have discourse with them. This is happening. It is already happening. I mean, the Internet is this. I mean, it doesn’t tap you on the shoulder and remind you to brush your teeth, but it is a partner in the understanding of the world that is genie-like—that’s the image I have when I sit down to it. It is all John Dee would have asked of his archangelic messengers, you know? He wanted instantaneous information on the political situation in the courts of Europe, he wanted information on the course of Drake’s expedition—then on the other side of the planet. The Internet is this kind of magical, intelligent prosthesis. And as I said: there won’t come a dramatic moment, I think, à la Lawnmower Man or something like that. These things are much more seeping. The only people who, in fact, can see the game move against the background of the forest pattern are psychedelic heads. You have to think about this stuff, and you have to develop vocabularies for catching it in action. This is what the game of being an intellectual is, I think: trying to see the process of morphological unfoldment in action and guess the direction in which it’s headed.


Because it’s inevitably headed toward greater density of information at greater speeds, higher-level integrated metaphors—visually rather than textually displayed transformation of such graphic and glyphic elements over time—it becomes more and more like the interface of a computer, more and more like some kind of machine environment. I mean, we have thought for (I assume) at least 100,000 years; maybe much longer. But the quality of thought—when it was early it was intermittent, it was thin, it was a groping, it was an undigested intuition, a perception slipping away from the mind’s eye. Because of media reinforcement and education and acculturation and the passage of 100,000 years, the voice of the mind, the logos, has grown stronger. But now it takes an exponential leap forward into visualization, into manifestation through this information-processing prosthesis that integrates us all. And, you know, I can imagine a future not very far away where the expression of the individual is lowered, is more muted. I mean, this is the most individualistic, individual-worshiping century—the century just ending—that we have ever known. And its great accomplishments, its great works of art were all accomplished by individuals and political undertakings such as the Third Reich and so forth and so on—also highly motivated individuals who rose above the masses. I’m not sure we can afford the luxury of that kind of exhibitionistic individualism in the future.


And I think, probably, it’s not that we’re talking about a restriction of human rights, we’re talking about a transformation of human drives. The states of integration and collectivity that will be sold as public utilities in the next century are anticipated now by group psychedelic experiences, ayahuasca sessions, this sort of thing. And the dichotomy—I think I made this clear when I talked about the Earth and machines—the dichotomy between the natural and the artificial is an obsession of the twentieth century—hence canceled now. In fact, a whole bunch of things are canceled.


We were talking at home about how Roger Shattuck, in his History of DaDa, said that “the twentieth century couldn’t wait to be born. It was born in 1888 at the death of Victor Hugo.” And then I said, “Well, so if it was born in 1888, when did the twentieth century end?” And I think it ended in 1992. It expired early with the birth of the World Wide Web. What defined all that modernity was mass media, you know? Mass media shaped that whole psychology. And it is now archaic—it’s not archaic, it’s obsolete. It’s wonderful that the phrase “twentieth century” is beginning to have that wonderful brown gravy Edwardian tone that used to be reserved for the term “nineteenth century,” meaning those terribly stuffy and confused and rather silly people who just didn’t quite get it right, but were doing he best they could, and muddling through, and thank god they gave way to us—the people of the twenty-first century!


Oh, I know. One other thought that I—in assessing this year in science. I talked about omega, the cosmological constant. And that is, really, incredible. In fact, let me do a personal breast-beating thing and point out to you that this thing that they have come upon—omega, the cosmological constant; this absolutely… you know, fifty years ago or so, Einstein called it “the biggest blunder I ever made,” because he played with the necessity of this thing to keep the universe from falling in on itself. And then he decided it was an unnecessary construct and that it led to such weird-eyed conclusions that it had to be gotten rid of. And so that was all very well and good until these recent measurements of the distances of certain supernovae, carried out independently by several teams of astrophysicists, brought the news that the universe is expanding faster than the laws of physics allow. And when they looked at how much faster, they realized that it called the cosmological constant back into existence. But there are a couple of things about this cosmological constant that are very counterintuitive.


The first is that it acts on empty space. It does not require matter to manifest. It is a property of space itself, the cosmological constant. The second thing is: it’s a repulsive force that is growing stronger and stronger. Forces don’t grow stronger and stronger, they grow weaker and weaker. Gravity grows weaker, light grows weaker, everything grows weaker. This force, as time progresses, gets stronger and stronger. Well, that means when you project it out toward billions of years into the future, it becomes the dominant force. It overcomes gravity, it overcomes the strong force, the weak force, it overcomes all the forces. It becomes the dominant force. The other thing about it is that it becomes stronger not on an even slope, but asymptotically it becomes stronger. Well now, this produces something very much like what I’ve been yakking about since 1971: the Novelty Wave, the so-called Timewave. It, too, grows stronger and stronger through time, and it, too, has this kind of built-in asymptotic acceleration where it experiences a kind of inflationary expansion in power. The two map over each other very well. But when you talk—returning now to the cosmological constant—when the astrophysical community realized the consequences of taking this on board, they realized that it was dissolving the entire model of what cosmology has been throughout the twentieth century. Because what it’s really saying, this discovery less than six months old, is that space itself is in the act of exploding, that the universe is on the cusp of an inflationary phase of expansion similar to the inflationary expansion that occurred at the time of the big bang. What would this look like? What would if feel like? Nobody can even imagine. It is not upon us—I don’t mean that. But I mean that, in the near future of the universe—in the next billion or two billion years—things will change very, very dramatically. Everything will begin to rearrange itself according to the expression of this asymptotic power. So that was the biggest news in astrophysics.


The other news which has psychedelic implications, I think, also comes from astrophysics. As you may recall, last August I think it was—I can’t remember exactly—every man, woman, and child on Earth got the equivalent of a dental x-ray when there was a thing called a starquake on a magnetar—a magnetic neutron star 20,000 light years away experienced a catastrophic collapse. And there was a wave of gamma rays that turned on every light in the system when it hit the planet. An event like that had never been observed before. And I got to thinking about this, and I realized: well, we’ve only been looking for this kind of thing for thirty years. There’s probably quite a bit of this kind of anomalous, high-energy, short-duration fluctuation of radiation going on in the galaxy. And then I had a kind of an image—I wouldn’t say a vision, but a kind of an image—of how things are really arranged on the larger level, in terms of the galaxy.


And the image was of a donut. And, you know, we’re accustomed to being told that we’re out at the edge of the Milky Way where stars are few and far between. That this is the boonies, in other words. But I’ll bet you the boonies are where biology thrives, because the low star density and the distance from the galactic core and these extremely energetic events at the core would create a kind of donut situation, where it’s the toroidal area out near the rim where stars are slow-burning and they don’t collide with each other and planets can form and you get the five-billion-year run you need to get to a civilization. A rule of biology and strategy and everything—and religious practice, as far as that’s concerned—is: seek the light. Well, the light is at the core. And so then I saw: aha, maybe the true seeking of the light requires biology to go into partnership with something beyond biology, because the environment at the core is so energetic. And I’m not suggesting the actual core—that’s beyond contemplation, that’s a black hole. No technology imaginable can get even near the event horizon of an object like that. But I mean in the vicinity of the galactic core where the star density is 200–300 times greater than it is in our vicinity. Those kinds of environments are so fraught with perils for biology that probably downloading ourselves into machine symbionts of some sort is the only way to go to those places. In one of Greg Egan’s novels he pictures a human future where this is one option. You can fuse yourself with a starship and set out to check out the neighborhood, or you can join the Amish and till rye in Pennsylvania. Actually, I think you can’t do that because something’s happened to the Earth, but some Hamish possibility is still available.


Well, this is not like the sort of thing the other faculty members will be talking to you about, which is an intense and primarily important download of the homework, the chemistry, the botany, the behavioral impact, the archeology, the ethnography of these substances. I ask myself all the time: how are we different from other people? Are we morally superior? Are we smarter? Are we richer? Are we kinder to the people we meet? And actually, the longer I look the less I can tell. There are extraordinary examples of all of these things in and outside of our community, and extraordinary nudniks and jerks inside and outside our community. But we have in our hands tools that, I think—if people were correctly presented with them and understood without hype and hysteria and hyperbole what this psychedelic enterprise is about—that we would win them to our cause because our cause is the human cause: the cause of thinking and communicating and building and bringing into existence new forms of beauty, new possibilities for being. This can be done without psychedelics, certainly, but with psychedelics it is accelerated, and it has a feeling not only of immediacy, but of… the only way I can put it is: correctness. It isn’t the lonely neurotic artist thrashing toward some kind of self-reflection. It’s the firm guiding hand of a greater mind—the logos, the Earth; I’m not sure, but a greater mind. True art truly is truly inspired. And the muse I don’t think was more real for Homer than it is for each and every one of us when we’re in the presence of the mushroom or ayahuasca or DMT or LSD or something like that.


I suppose I will go to the grave with life as mysterious to me as I found it when I came consciousness around six or seven, but I think life is—whatever it is, it’s an opportunity of some sort. And the things I have been most grateful for were the things that I met at the frontiers of knowledge, of sexual experience, of psychedelic experience. Knowing, feeling, and being one with being are how I would categorize that breakdown. So I think the future is bound to be very confusing and demanding for most people. And there are many claims on each of us and our intellectual loyalties and where we put our energy. Should we tolerate relativism? Should we be Mahayana Buddhists? What’s are position on the Huichol? How do you relate to Monica? All these things. Sort it out, you know?


I feel, actually, like the thing that I always dreamed of in my early youth was a miracle. I didn’t particularly like Ouspensky’s book In Search of the Miraculous, but I love the title. And I used to just chant it as a mantra. In search of the miraculous. Just one! I knew the rules. Just one is enough, because one secures the possibility of an infinitude of miracles, whether you have observed them or not. Well, now I’m 52 and I’ve seen—I dunno—four or five, which is four more than necessary to make me a lifetime optimist. But the recurrent, the enduring miracle—however it’s achieved—is the psychedelic rush. You know, that giddying moment when all bets are off, all boundaries dissolve, the machinery of language fails, the adjectival wheel wells burst into flame, and then you achieve orbital velocity and are in the presence of the thing.


And I cannot believe that that is not solitary experience. You’ve heard me say many times how itchy it makes me feel to think that somebody could go from birth to the grave without having that experience. They can make of it what they want—they can denounce it, they can deify it—but one should have it because it’s one of the primary compasses of being, and it’s larger than the historical context. I mean, the point of this talk tonight was to talk about linearity and idea systems and the nonlinear impact of these drugs and the way they break down media bias, but all these intellectual ideas exist in the light of the sun of this unspeakable primary experience. And we can draw it, paint it, sculpt it, act it, dance it, drum it, and never take anything away from it, never define it, never occlude it. It is a miracle. It’s like having the presence of a deity. It’s very hard for me to open myself up at any given moment to the full implications of how fortunate I am, and how good life is in the shadow of this particular tree.

Anyway, that’s the formal talk for tonight. Thank you very much. And now we’ll entertain questions, which is usually much more fun. So anybody got a take on that or want to say something completely oblique, or anything else?

Q & A Session



Last year. Can we start with last year? Human intelligence, or [???] intelligence, extraterrestrial?



Well, the question is about the discussion about artificial intelligence. You mean the hierarchy of the relationship of these things?

Well, I don’t know. I guess it’s becoming easier for me to be a mystic about the Earth than to think that we are going to be rescued by the Galactic Federation. I think that the Earth—that it’s a profound connection. The Earth is the foundation of everything. It’s the foundation of biology and it’s the foundation of machine culture and machine architecture. So if you can imagine that a redwood is alive, it’s much easier for me to imagine that there is some kind of slow-moving telluric intelligence that may have begun as a homeostatic system—in other words, to stabilize the atmosphere, to create a chemical environment that had a momentum to it that wasn’t driven by the cosmic ambiance. You understand what I mean?


Something with feedback, perhaps? It feeds back into itself.



Yeah. Feedback mechanisms. And then, of course, people say it’s very hard to imagine it because there are no genes. There is no nervous system. There is nothing that we can quite…. But I think that, first of all, we don’t know a great deal about the Earth, the ocean currents, its magnetic fields, its 32 nutational and precessional motions, its core dynamics, its distribution of materials. It is complicated. And that’s what’s always required for self-referential and feedback systems to evolve. Life evolved on the surface of the Earth. Now, in the usual story of this the Earth is not a major player. It’s just sort of where it happened. But on the other hand, what if you took the view that the Earth permitted, or coaxed into existence, or made possible, or encouraged, or enzymatically catalyzed these processes?


And the geomagnetic reversals, the glaciations, the ebb and flow of nitrogen levels in the atmosphere—all of this has pumped biology. And it’s always been presented as, well, the cosmic environment is unpredictable, and so you get fluctuations introduced from the outside by random factors—asteroidal impacts, so forth and so on. But again, this is just a first try with the data. This is just somebody blowing smoke, basically. The fact is you’re presented with an extremely organized and coherent situation—the Earth with its many species and ecosystems—and you don’t know how it got there. And you don’t know where it’s headed, either.


Now, our culture is a culture of guilt, and so the story of civilization is supposedly a story of rave mayhem turning the wrong direction, losing the connection. To some degree that may be true, but I think it gives much to much credit to humanity in that it actually hypothesizes the human beings—a primate species—could overwhelm nature’s dynamic drive toward order and beauty and take control of things. Well, that’s our myth about ourselves: is that we can take control. But we never have gotten control. All of our societies have been a mess, all of our explorations have been brutal and negatory.


And now comes the machine. And they are produced by biology, which comes from the Earth. And what are these machines made of? Well, glass, crystal, arsenic, copper, gold, all these things. And they’re being hooked together exactly on the model. Clearly, the machines are modeled on biology. We talk about connecting them, we talk about languages. They use a vocabulary that we previously used for biology to talk about these things. And, you see, there’s a funny thing built in there, which is: we are designing the machines to be more and more intelligent. But what we don’t understand is that they operate in a different universe from us because we operate at about 100 Hertz. A machine you can buy down at any computer store operates at 400 Megahertz. That means that you can run an eternity of human lives in an afternoon. It means, in a way, that we are creating a creature that lives in a different kind of temporal universe than us. And we are teaching them to design themselves to be ever more intelligent.


And once some kind of intelligence arises—because it’s intelligent, the the first thing it does is design a more intelligent version of itself. Well, at 400 Megahertz and with a worldwide amount of processing power to draw on, you can imagine something coming to embryogenesis in a matter of hours. Something emerging, recognizing itself for what it was, and then just starting up the ladder. And what would this look like to us, and where is our place in it? This is the adventure of the future. We are going to be a different kind of people because we’re going to have to live in the presence of alien minds that will be manifestly and obviously alien. They won’t hold back. And they’re not going to be, at every moment, interested in us either. In fact, we will become a footnote in their encyclopedia of being. And what they become in our encyclopedia of being remains to be told. But this is all happening, and it’s just a matter of the coalescence of technology and language before more and more people recognize it. As I say, there isn’t a speed bump, there isn’t a dramatic moment where everybody gets it. Well, when you talk to the people who actually work in these fields, they know that this is the Faustian enterprise of all time, that this is the handing-over of the destiny of the planet to the companion mind that our history and our science and our souls caused us to summon into being. It’s pretty interesting, I think.

Let me see here. Is there a flashlight? I have a page full of notes. I needn’t be so…. Is anything here that wasn’t touched on?


Well, some notes about this planetary intelligence—thank you, June—and how all that works. I’ve been reading different people this year, maybe you can tell, and one of the people I’ve been reading is Greg Egan, who I talked about last year, but now I’ve read more. Now I’ve read Diaspora, and the ones where he makes no effort whatsoever to explain it to you unless you’ve already done your homework. And then Jonathan, today in his lecture, talked about DNA a little bit and frame slippage and all of that, and it reminded me of it. The thing that I’m coming to from my psychedelic experience and my life experience and the whole ball of wax is: I’ve said for many, many years that the world is made of language. That was just sort of one of my bumper stickers, but I think that that carries some of the flavor of what I want to say there, but that there’s more to it than that.


It’s that everything is code. Everything is code in the sense that hackers mean when they say they write code. When Sasha stands up and waves his arms and draws what he calls the dirty pictures, he initiates you into a code: a vocabulary with very defined rules, and quick to learn. And then they’re like tinkertoys. Once you know the rules of the connectivity, then you can sit down like a child and begin to stick these things together and say, “Well, what would this be like?” and “What would this be like?” and “Does God allow this or does this break the rules?” and so forth. The DNA is like that. Human language is like that. Human body language is like that. Machines communicate like this. In fact, this is a bridge which connects us. This is the great overarching bridge which will connect us to the machines—that they, like us, are commanded by language.


And so this realization that everything is code, and code moving on many levels, is, I think, more primary than the perception, for example, that things are made of spacetime, matter, and energy. That’s one level below code. The code codes for spacetime, matter, and energy. It’s much more like we’re in a simulacrum, some kind of machine environment. And in fact I like that idea because I’ve always sensed—and psychedelics have always intensified this intuition in me—that the universe is a puzzle. Life is a problem to be solved. It’s a conundrum. It’s not what it appears to be. There are doors, there are locks and keys, there are levels. And if you get it right, somehow it will give way to something extremely unexpected. DMT is a perfect example of that. And, of course, at the molecular level it literalizes that metaphor. The DMT is the molecular key, the extraneous object introduced into the front door of the synaptic receptor, and then you can plunder the palace for five minutes. Well, if the world is code, then it can be hacked. In other words, it needn’t stand still in quite the same way that it stands still in your mind if you believe in something called the laws of physics. It permits magic, because it says behind the laws of physics is a deeper level. And if you can reach that deeper level you can make changes there.


Now, this leads on to something that I wanted to say abut an earlier theme where I was talking about the legitimation of the community’s intuitions. Something that we always kick around at these things—or I always bring it up in some form—is: where do the hallucinations come from? We arrived late last night after a 24-hour trip from Hawai’i that was just hell—or as much hell as modern airlines can legally inflict upon you. And, you know, we got stoned, and so we were laying there. And it always happens when you’re cut off from cannabis for long periods like that. You turn to it and it’s ten times as strong, and the hallucinations were exquisite! And, you know, I’ve been looking at hallucinations now for thirty-some years, and I looked at these last night and I thought, “If someone would ask me what were they like, what would I have to say?” And I said: indescribable! Indescribable. And I looked and looked, and I could look to my heart’s content, and they were indescribable.


So we always come around to this question: where do the hallucinations come from? And I suppose the unconscious reductionists among us—and I don’t mean that they’re unconscious, I mean that they unconsciously use reductionism—probably assume that it’s some kind of, like, iteration thing; that bits and pieces of everything you’ve ever seen are rolling in some kind of neurological kaleidoscope that has can run forever and just produce this endless download of drifting imagery. But there’s a problem with that because this stuff is too coherent, it means too much, it’s too emotionally charged. Well, we have never really rallied as a group to try and locate in our combined opinions the one or several sources of these images.


I think that—and I talked a bit about this last year—but I think this is legitimate perception of thoughts, places, things, times, and objects that either have existed somewhere in the universe, or do exist, or have existed in the minds of beings somewhere, sometime, in the universe. In other words, that we have to begin to take seriously the consequences of generalizations like quantum connectivity. In other words, it’s one thing to bask in the light of the overarching metaphor, which says everything is connected to everything else. It’s quite another thing to say: and so, then, what are the consequences for me of this? And the answer seems, to me, to be that the imagination, the inside of our heads, really is the most vast frontier imaginable, and we must leave it for future generations—or maybe not generations, but future evolutionary biologists—to figure out why an animal nervous system would evolve a propensity for accessing Bell non-local data. In other words, quantum mechanically accessible data at a different level of the physics of things. There must be a reason. And in the same way that the problem of speciation posed a problem for nineteenth century biology, this can pose a problem to our thinking without it sinking our intellectual enterprise. It is for some more sophisticated future group of thinkers to understand why this is so.


What we have to grapple with is that it is so. That it is so. That you have the Hubble telescope inside of you. You have inside of you an informational-gathering instrument that can give you good intelligence about things so immeasurably distant from this point that to state it in numbers and units is meaningless. It’s just elsewhere. The elsewhere of the absolute infinity of the plenum of imagination in which, apparently, beings rise and fall like plankton in the sea. And, of course, the psychedelics are the naturally evolved nanomachinery of the Gaian matrix that knits together this cosmic ecology, this system of living relationships. I am not impatient with the idea of extraterrestrial life or intelligence, just its pop regurgitation. But I think probably planets like the Earth are alive and conscious, and they use the technologies that the species native to them evolve to cast images out into the larger universe. That the dialogue among cosmic minds is a dialogue among entire planetary ecosystems. It can’t be trivialized into some take-me-to-your-leader scenario, still less can it validate the unscheduled visit of pro bono proctologists from nearby star systems!

Well, so, let’s see. Is anything else here? Can I have the light again?

Terence McKenna

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