Nature is the Center of the Mandala

September 12, 1987

Presented at the Shared Visions bookstore, Terence talks about humanity's path towards greater consciousness, and attempts to take a glance at what comes after the Omega Point.


Well, it’s a pleasure to be back with all of you. I feel like this is the home parish, so to speak. This seems to be the place where I see the most number of faces that I recognize, so it’s sort of like a family meeting.


The formal title of the lecture is Nature is the Center of the Mandala. And this is really, basically, simply a structure to work off to anticipate and discuss where nature lies in the future; the cultural future that is unfolding in front of all of us. And to background my thoughts on this matter a little bit. I have always had a relationship to nature which I pretty much took for granted. But perhaps it was more intense and somewhat unique than most people’s. I grew up in a small town in Colorado. I was very early into being a rock hound, and then a butterfly collector. I had no interest in stamps or baseball cards or anything like that. It was always natural objects. And the attraction to tropical butterflies was the exuberant expanse of color, the affirmation of the pattern richness of the universe that was soon to be thrown out like a spark by these things. And eventually I pursued it quite far and was, for some time, a professional butterfly collector in tropical Indonesia in a pre-Buddhist incarnation.


And this search for iridescence thrown off by nature, seen first in the glint of metallic ore crystals, and then in the colorful expanse of butterflies, and then in tropical fish, reached a kind of apotheosis with the discovery of the psychedelic plant hallucinogens where, suddenly, the color, the flash, the iridescence was not two- or three-dimensional, but it was multi-dimensional. It was inside one, outside one. It was like the ultimate tropical aquarium, the ultimate butterfly cabinet, the ultimate mineral shelf.


And it led me to travel, then, and to place the particular experience of nature in the wider context of place. And I traveled in Indonesia, as I mentioned, where—because of glaciation and the shallowness of the oceans—evolution has been proceeding at different rates on different islands relative to the depths of the separating channels. So as you go from island to island in Indonesia, it’s like stepping into ten different bedrooms, all by the same interior decorator, but all slightly different. Different because of the context in which the evolution took place.


And these times spent—and then of course there were the times in the Amazon, which most of you have heard me lecture on, where the pursuit of psychedelic plants was really in the forefront. But I came to see nature as experienced—meaning as it hits you when you walk around in it and pick at it and carry it with you—that this kind of nature had been read out of the repertoire of images that most people bring to bear on their reality. And consequently, the reality is despirited. The spirit resident in nature is not visible when these mechanistic grids are laid over it. Sort of by a kind of anticipatory osmosis we called our company (which has existed now ten years or more) Lux Natura. Lux natura means “the light in nature.” The lux natura is the salvational radiance that can be found in the organic kingdom. It’s a term of Paracelsus. And it has slipped from the grip of modern human beings, except in special cases where it is cultivated as a sensitivity or where it is pursued as in the guise of an aspect of the psychedelic experience.


So, what is nature? And what’s so great about it that it should be the center of the mandala? Well, it seems to me that it is psyche in a way that has become occluded by the perverse development of language. So that what we take to be exterior to ourselves and sustained by the laws of physics—which do not arise out of the human mind—is in fact not that at all, but a kind of stratum of expectation that has been laid down by the human journey through time.


Now, granted, there are aspects of nature which are not part of the human journey through time, but they are occult from our point of view. They are not expressed, except perhaps through the demonic artifice of an instrumentality. And this has been the course, or the strategy, of science—is to use an instrumentality to reveal the mechanics of the occult side of nature. The problem is that this occult side of nature, once explicated, does not yield a satisfying reflection of ourselves. It yields instead a very unflattering reflection of ourselves—if any at all.


So, you know, in Hawai’i, sitting on the mountainside, you think that you are like Lenin in Germany or something, and you have to politically think it all through so that, to whatever degree one’s voice is heard, mistakes are not made. Because it seems to me clear that a small miracle is taking place. It is that—and I was saying this to Roy today—it is that our point of view is actually gaining ground. The thing which we least expected to happen, I think, that all this New Age hustle and bustle—though, granted, that 95% of it is just intellectual noise and efforts that fail, efforts, to coin the perfect analogy, that fail—nevertheless there is a residual 5% that appears to have become the cutting edge of the guiding image of this mega culture.


So it becomes important, then, for people who identify themselves with the Human Potential Movement, spiritual development, the rebirth of intuition, all of these things, to make a place in the plan for the role of nature. And different responses have gone on to that. The Gaia response, which claims nature as a stabilizing feminine force—which, I’m all for that. I think that’s definitely the image that has to emerge: the recognition of the presence of control mechanisms which are not coercive, but which are Taoistic, is a way of coming to terms with nature that we have resisted. You know, it’s a simple idea. It’s just the idea that, before technology, people had to store firewood in the autumn for the winter. And in the spring they had to sharpen tools for the late spring planting, and this sort of thing. That there was an implicit rhythm laid down by nature that entered the human cosmos at every level, and then was reflected in the poetry, the culture building, the language evolution, et cetera.


And between urbanization, other factors removed the influence of these rhythms, ending in the final culmination of the modern city where life under electric light goes on 24 hours a day. There’s then a flattening of the human dimension. There is no more a sense of being embedded in flux. There is instead the myth of the eternal culture. It’s like Woody Allen: you know, his comment that he didn’t like to go to the country because you see all these screened doors with cobwebs in the corners? Well, you gotta come to terms with this kind of thing. Because there is no question that there is a deepening ambiguity in the present moment. There is a something steeling over global civilization.


I was at a conference recently where someone proposed the notion that our time is not special. That there is nothing unique about this moment other than it is presently occurring. I think nothing could be further from the truth. That, actually, the deepening ambiguity of the historical experience—which registers in all of us as a sense of how weird it is, how compressed time is, how complicated the interconnections are—is a real phenomenon which eventually will be elucidated. In other words, it will be recognized as a phenomenon. Eventually there is going to be a break with the prevailing paradigm of historical process.


In case you are not aware of it, the prevailing paradigm of historical process is the one which calls itself the trendlessly fluctuating theory. And it says: we trendlessly fluctuate, and to search for a trend is to just be drawn into a kind of cultural hysteria. The fact of the matter is that, standing outside the cultural hysteria, the trend is fairly clear: it is a trend toward temporal compression and the emergence of ambiguity. How is it possible? You know, you look at something like Common Ground or even the Shared Visions newsletter, and you say, you know, apparently the major commodity moving on world markets is ambiguity. The voices which whisper to us from crystals, herbs, and housewives, the invisible fields from all dimensions which impinge upon us, the imagined histories and futures which intersect the present moment. I mean, if all of these models (or even a small portion of them) are given credence, then the density of the human experience is considerably deepened. I mean, how many past lives can you keep track of? How many extraterrestrial channels can you have opened before you begin to realize that, you know, you’re not living in a kind of society like mom and dad were used to.


So back to the theme of nature. Nature anticipates all of this and anchors it. Nature is actually the goal at the end of history. We’re getting closer and closer to the end of history, and we will not go past it with a moment of blindness. There will be vouchsafe intuitions about the emerging structure of the Other into which culture is being subsumed. You’re all familiar with the image of the ouroborus, the snake which takes its tail in its mouth? Well, the end of history (which you’ve heard me talk about as an archaic revival) is, that’s true, an archaic revival, but the ground of being which the original archaic renaissance occurred was nature. So, in terms of expression of design elements, in terms of the expression of human relationships, political agendas, all of these things, the economies of nature are going to set the guiding images.


It’s very interesting. I read [E. O. Wilson’s][1] book Biophilia, in which he describes his work with ants in Surinam, and how there are ants which grow fungi in their nests. They cut leaves off trees and chew them up into this mash, which they then store in rooms underground, and they bring the right spores to it and grow it there, and it produces a sugar which the ants then eat, and they tend the fungal gardens. They actually remove foreign spores and this sort of thing. And the whole symbiosis goes on. Well, it’s a symbiosis between a social organism (the ant) and a fungal organism which is able to provide an enzyme (sugar), which drives the ant society to a greater state of activity. Activity being the bottom line in an insect economy, where how much you can get done determines how well you survive, provided the creodes of getting done are well established.


Well, this provides a curious analogy to the situation that exists in human societies vis-à-vis hallucinogenic plants. Hallucinogenic plants act as enzymes which stimulate imagination. And imagination—having a practical side to itself—is usually reconnected to this process in a feedback loop that asks the question: how can we make more of the hallucinogenic plant which is giving us all these great ideas? So then you get, initially, the invention of agriculture. But one can’t grow all plants in one place, as we learned even about Hawai’i. So then the feedback loop in the imagination driven by the presence of the hallucinogen in the diet asks the question: how can we get the plants that we can’t grow? And the answer is networks of trade and systems of barter. And behind that lies the need for language, similar sorts of things.


These kinds of symbiotic processes are implicit in the human experience. Some of you have heard another lecture I give which goes into this in great detail, where I actually try to show that the presence of mushrooms in the dung of ungulate animals on the veld of Africa 150,000 years ago drove a set of processes which resulted in self-reflecting human beings. I won’t recapitulate that now, except to say that that process didn’t end with the invention of language or the domestication of cattle. It continues right up until the present day. It really is as though, from a planetary point of view, what has happened is: an enzyme system—called the human species—was deputized into an information-gathering mode, sent out as a kind of prodigal subsystem (a kind of episome of the social environment) to cognize the organization of the natural world through a process called human history, or the historical advance of understanding toward a sufficiently complete modeling of the ground that closure could occur.


And that is now, I think, what is happening: that the human species—which was deputized for Gaia into the fall, the fall into profane time, the time of non-participation in the immediacy of the Tao through a series of successive linguistic declensions—that’s what it was. I mean, this begins to sound almost biblical. Because what we’re saying is there’s a fall, and the fall is somehow related to the confusion of languages—not one from another, but from the object of experience. And as the language became less and less natural, the world of the species using this language became less and less natural. Because the evolution of symbols moved toward the abstract, became the realization of ideals. Notice that, as early as Platonic philosophy—well, no, even pre-Socratic philosophy begets the annunciation of abstractions—great overweening concepts which subsume large sets of particulars underneath them. And this ability to subsume the particulars under a name, which is a class name, is the beginning of this process of replacing the natural language with the symbolic structures that then interfere between soul and nature.


The reason for this process we can really only guess at. It seems as though nature requires this reflection upon itself. That the completion of nature is somehow in the hands of a single target species which acts as an enzyme within the global organism of Gaia. From the point of view of an extraterrestrial looking down on the surface of the planet, there are not discreet organisms, there is simply a gene swarm. And through transmission of viruses and numerous non-genetic ways in which genes are transformed, the previously imagined sharp declensions between species are actually somewhat illusory. So that, really, within the confines of my body, the unfolding of gene expression and the molecular assembly of enzyme systems and proteins and that sort of thing is simply under a tighter regimen of control than are the same kind of processes which are going on between people. We are really a loosely regulated organism that has a tendency to ever tighten the control between its subunits. So that you can see the evolution of language, the evolution of technology (and its being at the service of media), the rise of cities, oral poetry, all of these things—we seem to strive for greater and greater cohesion, greater and greater free-flow of thought among ourselves.


And what we’re looking toward is a moment when the artificial language structures which bind us within the notion of ourselves are dissolved in the presence of the realization that we are a part of nature. And when that happens, the childhood of our species will pass away and we will stand tremulously on the brink of, really, the first moments of coherent human civilization. And when that happens, the noise which haunts our social systems—our inability to couple things together so that they work—will begin to evaporate. This, I think, is already beginning to happen. It’s a slow process, but it’s a kind of cascading phenomenon such that, once it begins to happen, it happens faster and faster.


And the mirroring of psyche—that was always the glamor, if you will, which stood behind nature—is correctly perceived with greater and greater clarity as this process proceeds. And this correct perceiving of nature’s relationship to self and language is the essence of all of these cultural vectors that are converging: feminism, the exploration of space, the perfection of the thinking machine, or of the human-machine interface, the mysterium tremendum at the core of the psychedelic experience. All of these things are, I think, going to be seen as anticipations of this post-historical state which lies beyond the working-out of the themes that have been set in motion by materialistic science. In other words, the forces that are being set in motion and sustained by so-called new thought; New Age thinking. Because this seems to be happening, because it seems that we—and by we I mean all of us—did in fact identify early on a trend in society which is now going to have enormous repercussions. That there is a responsibility to clear thinking about what this thing is and how it works.


There seems to be a kind of a rush to get in line with the sloppiest metaphor as quickly as possible. So that, you know, there have been a number of, let’s say, syncretic faiths or new myths that have arisen and competed with each other with greater and lesser degrees of success. I suppose that this is a healthy thing, except that it gives such comfort to the people who think we’re all airheads. You know? I mean, they observe all this and it confirms for them that it’s a hopeless lot.


So I guess what I wanna say about that is that everybody has their own version of what is the mistake which is being made, right? So here’s my version of what is the mistake that’s being made. It’s that there is a confusion between scientific materialism and reason. Science has set itself up as a kind of new pontificate and brooks no challenge. It expects to make judgment on any idea emerging from any realm of human endeavor. It has set itself up as judge and jury. The fact of the matter is that this is only by virtue of its spectacular acts of technological prestidigitation that it’s able to presume to do this.


Because, really, what science is most successful in telling us about are realms which none of us have ever penetrated, nor are ever likely to. I mean, how much do you wish to know about the rings of Neptune, or the quark? We are continuously sold the line that somehow, when the metaphors of consciousness are fully mapped onto quantum physics and biology, that a great step forward will have been taken. It seems to me that, since the information coming out of quantum physics and the molecular biology is so removed from the realm of common experience, that if we succeed in mapping mental phenomena onto those realms we will have succeeded in the final act of alienation. Because we will have at last totally removed our experience of ourselves from the realm of felt cognition.


So I think that instead of the idea that there needs to be a kind of erection of an overarching metaphor from the physical sciences into the social and psychiatric sciences, instead there should be the recognition and celebration of mystery. That, in fact, we are an intelligent species caught in a historical process. No generation which preceded us knew what was going on. And there is no reason to assume that we know what’s going on or that the generation which follows us will know what’s going on. And what kind of trip is it anyway to insist on knowing what’s going on? It’s a highly unlikely enterprise. I mean, look at the data sample. The data sample is your lifetime on one planet in one tiny corner of the universe. And from this—via the fallacy of induction—certain principles of uniformity are extended to the far-flung corners of the cosmos in space and time. And then a bunch of fancy metaphors are built up that nobody can check on anyway. And then this is called understanding? You see, it isn’t understanding. Understanding issues into appropriate activity. And, you know, a model of the universe which doesn’t issue into appropriate activity in the here and now is a curious model indeed. After all, appropriate activity in the here and now, I would think, would be the sine qua non. Everything else is unconfirmed rumor. So mature is the visible manifestation of this mystery. It entirely surrounds and completes us. It is there to be beheld and imbibed in. It is simply that one must either replace the sterile language of scientific materialism, or one must bring no language whatsoever to it, so that it speaks for itself.


I’ve noticed with ayahuasca, this South American visionary vine that’s a hallucinogen: unlike the mushroom it does not speak. It shows. Its language is visible. A fractal hieroglyphic surface of intermediate dimensions that contains an endless unfolding of phenomena at level after level, apparently—you know, who knows? Down into the microphysical realm. This is a correct seeing of what is. The mystery is copresent with its denial. It is a matter of changing points of view. And changing points of view is a matter of retooling language. If nature is psyche, then [interruption] is the autopoietic, self-reflecting cloud of cognition that manifests as language. It is partly based in the structure of matter, it is partly based in the implicit syntax of the perceiver, it is partly an interference pattern between the two. But it is as close to the ground that one can approach without theory.


Which brings me, then, to the last point that I want to make about this, which is: the key to the forward-looking expression of the archaic revival, the key to making the New Age fulfill its best hope and not fall into a kind of cryptofascism of paradigmatic warfare, is to enunciate two principles which are really two ways of saying the same thing. They are the primacy of experience and the toxic nature of ideology. This, to me, is the core. And if the New Age, the archaic revival, whatever—if it can exemplify these two principles, we will navigate past the dangerous shoals that inevitably rip any social point of view that attempts to leave its cult status and enter the mainstream.


The primacy of experience means: I connect it to Heidegger’s notion of what he called “care for the project of being.” The primacy of felt experience begins with a notion as simple as “be here now.” But it takes that further and says, you know: we must take ourselves more seriously. More lightly and more seriously at the same time. We are not at the bottom of a pyramid of goods and information production where we pay the sucker’s price for everything as it’s handed down through a series of intractable pieces of cultural machinery that we have no effect on. That is the myth that is being promulgated by those very institutions: the myth of the hapless consumer, the myth of the meaning of faddism. That there is, in fact, a meaning to switching from one ideology to another ideology the way hemlines and perfumes and decorator colors come and go.


This kind of allowing ourselves to be self-victimized, you know—I mean, god forbid, I’m now at an age where, three times in my life, I’ve seen good ideas emerging on the fringes of American culture end up as slogans for Madison Avenue. You know, first with the beats, then with the hippies. I’ll never forget the day I first confronted a billboard which talked about the Dodge Rebellion. I mean, “rebellion” was our word, not their word! And here they were, you know? Our word selling this piece of tin junk. So the co-option that comes from disempowering yourself with regard to what you view as important. Which is more important to you, your opinion or Ted Koppel’s opinion? It’s got to be your opinion, you know? Because these other things are just chimeras. They’re myths in the electronic night.


The other side of that is the toxicity of ideology: that ideology itself is poisonous. That, you know, in the 15th and 16th century it’s like 120 years of intermittent religious war because people were so uptight about whether or not you’re a Catholic or a Huguenot or a Walloon, or… all this stuff. And these were life or death issues. And finally people just became sick of it. And I hope, I choose to believe, that we may be approaching such a watershed with the social ideologies that have just been digging themselves into the global population for the past hundred years. They are extremely bankrupt. The notion of any kind of serious competition between Marxist-Leninism and capitalist democratic techno-fascism (or whatever it is) is ludicrous! Neither system works in the presence of the need to wage ideological warfare against the other. And yet, it’s fairly clear that each society could function quite well if it didn’t have that burden. And similarly, in many microcosms of that situation around the world, it’s clear that ideology has become some kind of anachronism. It’s a kind of lack of good taste. It’s like being a nut, you know? So that you come on with some ideology, and people just look at their plate. They’re embarrassed for you. And well they should be. Because that butters no bread. That’s just a big pain in the neck.


The ideology which naturally claims our attention is pretty well understood. You know, it’s like it says in the Old Testament: “You can know the truth. The truth is the still, small voice in your heart.” We don’t have to take courses in theology and ethics to get all this down. The political agenda is fairly clear. You know? You feed people. You cure disease. You anticipate and solve social problems having to do with sewage disposal, distribution of land and wealth. So forth and so on. I mean, who’s kidding who? None of this stuff is controversial unless you’re living inside a locked ward—which we seem to be doing.


So, more and more, this anti-ideological position has to be articulated. It’s no big deal about how you cause language to evolve. You cause language to evolve by saying new and intelligent things to each other. And then other people say, “Oh, so this thing that I’ve always thought but never felt like saying is actually legitimate and okay?” And, “I can say it?” And, “I will say it!” And then it begins to move like a wave through society. You will be told that, for me to advocate the poisonous nature of ideology without calling it anarchy, is to peddle my own private ideology. But this is absurd. It’s like saying if someone tells you not to drive that they’re advocating a certain style of driving. That isn’t it at all, you know? It’s a translation of level. It’s something entirely different.


Both of these things—the toxic nature of ideology and the importance of the felt presence of immediate experience—can be brought together under the notion that we cannot afford the continued existence of (what has been called throughout most of the 20th century) the unconscious. That the unconscious is actually a kind of neurotic excuse for not getting our act together as a species. It is a kind of infantilism; a giving of permission by each of us to all of us to not get our act together. And the way in which the unconscious is eliminated is by turning the language machinery back upon itself and reflecting on the process of attention. This is what Buddhism is all about: attention to attention. Awareness of the modality of the cognitive process. Don’t be fooled by yourself! Don’t be made a sucker of by yourself. Just rise above that possibility by paying attention. Attention to attention causes the light of language to fall into these dark and unilluminated corners where infantilism is tolerated in the individual personality.


Doing that to oneself has a kind of a morphogenic field effect, a kind of chain reaction which sweeps through society. This is, I believe, what all these gurus are always trying to say in a somewhat—I don’t know—more concrete and therefore somewhat less convincing fashion: that it’s simply that the act of conscious self-inspection creates more conscious people, which create a more conscious society, which erodes the possibility of the poisonous and toxic effects of ideology. This is what psychedelics were and are about in terms of their social position and their legal position in society. Psychedelics are illegal not because a loving government is concerned that you may jump out of a third-story window. Psychedelics are illegal because they dissolve opinion structures and culturally laid down models of behavior and information processing. They open you up to the possibility that everything you know is wrong. And, you know, government and society spend a lot of money educating you into being a loyal worker, consumer, debt payer, and citizen.


So if anarchy is to have a meaning—and I think it is the great future for human society because what it means is: only responsible human beings can exist in an anarchistic society. To the degree that people are responsible, we will have anarchy. And the reason America, I believe, historically has been so successful is because it’s really a place where you can almost get away with anything. And if that is lost, if monolithic ideologies throw a damper on that, then cultural momentum will pass to other cultures. And, in fact, to some degree I see this coming. We had a conversation with a prominent politician recently, and he pointed out that Japan is now the leading Western country. This indicates a cultural crisis of some depth for the ideals of the American constitution. My brother is a brain scientist at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland, the crown jewel of American brain science. Everybody there is a Japanese graduate student doing work on a two-year or three-year scholarship. But I don’t see or hear a New Age voice coming out of the Japanese. I think this is the cultural model that the West is uniquely able to promulgate and perfect. Because it comes out of a rejection of the tradition of scientific materialism that we are responsible for and that we are most sophisticated about. Where, for instance, Japan has come fairly recently to high tech and mass industrialization.


So I just basically want to leave you with that. The notion is that nature—which is the linguistically expressed topological manifold of the psyche—is an historical object that is pulling us forward, and that when we actually cross into the eschatology that appears fairly eminent, we will find it to have been anticipated by the human relationship to nature, the embedding of psyche in nature through the mysterious relationship mediated by language. And the key to unfolding a sane society—in my single, humble opinion—is an obligation to reason that clearly distinguishes between reason and science, an obligation to self-involvement in immediate experience (and that means psychedelics, sexuality, and what I call time—but what I really mean is a kind of deep literary involvement with the felt presence—psychedelics, sexuality and time) to empower the individual, to make the individual naturally responsible, to create, then, the basis for a caring, global society that will transcend the historical cultures as though we were just moving very naturally out of winter and into spring. No apocalypse, no millennium, no rescue by flying saucers, no Mayan return. Simply the unfolding of understanding in a program of mutual caring and responsibility. This is the highest aspiration of the New Age. And I feel that it is attainable.

So let’s break, and then we’ll have questions. Thank you very, very much!

Q & A Session


Okay, is there any kind of response to this evening’s talk? Wonderful, yes.


In my daily life I can do a yoga practice and I can maintain a certain amount of purity of perspective through diet and through meditation, things like that. And if I take a psychedelic drug it makes it very difficult for me to function in the world, because almost too much information is coming in in order to really take that.


So your question is: how do you integrate taking psychedelics into an ordinary workday existence? Well, I don’t know that it is easily integrated. I mean, I’m not sure whether you mean you can’t function while it’s happening, or you can’t function three weeks afterwards. With the psychedelics it’s not a matter of high frequency, I think. The good trips are usually good for plenty of rumination for a long time. The harder the hit, the longer you want to ponder it before you go that route again. It isn’t like a practice. It isn’t like something you do daily. It’s more like a unique act of courage that arises out of the substratum of ordinary daily existence, whether it be profane or sacral.


There really isn’t an answer to your question. As long as we’re part of the worker anthill or living in a society which makes tremendous demands on us, it’s going to be a problem. The way to take psychedelics is—you must have seen these t-shirts which say I take drugs seriously. Well, that’s the way to take them. Which means: rarely, and at substantially challenging doses, and in an atmosphere where there are no distractions. And by that I mean—other people will say something different—but I mean: no light and no sound, including music unless you’re a musician or you have some special relationship to music. But really, what you’re trying to see is the surface of the brain-mind interface. And to the degree that you can create a situation of sensory deprivation, you will have a greater expectation of succeeding.


Some people wouldn’t dream of tripping without music. But I find that, you know, it becomes the trip. The whole thing then becomes about that piece of music. Where, in silence, it would have been equally audially interesting. The early model of a psychedelic experience was sort of that you eat an orange and look at art books and listen to Bach’s choral preludes. But that art historical approach to it doesn’t give enough credit to the power of the substance. I mean, it can lift veil after veil in silent darkness to just catapult you into endlessly undulating tapestries of organic beauty. And there need be no sensory input—in fact, shouldn’t be for this to happen.

You had a question?


I was wondering about practical sort of tips. How do you take something back? Sort of like going to a magic kingdom and wanting to take back a golden piece with you, or a key, or something? Because I lose it. You know what I mean?


Well, I think I sort of touched on this obliquely tonight. That attention to attention (or paying attention to the nuances of cognition) is a psychedelic way of being. I mean, if any of you are familiar with Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu—he didn’t take drugs except for laudanum and valerian and alcohol and absinthe and tobacco, and things like that. So he was drug-free, and he managed to refine, you know, this art of just the awareness of the tensions and nuances in the moment. Really, what I have come to believe about the psychedelic experience is that it is simply a compressed instance of what we call understanding. So that living psychedelically is trying to live in an atmosphere of continuous unfolding of understanding. So that every day you know more and see into things with greater depth than you did before. And this is a process of education. What the psychedelic experience is, is: it’s the process of education so compressed that is has become a cascade of actual visual images rather than a kind of slow unfoldment of linked perception.


But really, attention to attention, and appreciation of the immediate. I always think when this comes up of William Blake’s advice. Blake was, as you know, a great mystical visionary English poet who spoke with angels and had these wonderful visions of the angelic world, and he was asked what was the secret of his angelic poetry. And he said: “Attend the minute particulars.” That’s all. Just attend the minute particulars. And what he meant was to focus attention in the moment. Not to betray attention into expectation born of abstraction, or regret born of misplaced assumption, or remembrance born of boredom and alienation in the moment. But just to attend the minute particulars. It’s a way of training. It’s life yoga. People think that psychedelics are somehow the easy way out. This is what people think who wouldn’t dare dream of taking one. And it’s not because it’s the easy way out. It’s because they sense the reality of it, the reality of the fact of it, and the challenge of assimilating it.


I mean, it’s very real. It’s not a metaphor. It’s not an analogy. It’s not a dramatic reconstruction. It is not a simulacrum. It is not a model. It is the pith essence of the thing itself. It’s real. And I don’t know how many things can make that claim. I mean, everyone has a different set of experiences. My own experiences of the other—of the transcendent, naked beauty of truth—have almost all entirely come out of the psychedelic realm, or out of involvement with the viscerality of my emotions. You know, the death of my mother, the birth of my children, the act of marrying someone. Not else, but those.


So, I think it’s about attending the minute particulars as a kind of practice. It may not get you anywhere for several years. But if you attend the minute particulars, cultivate an ongoing stream of self-description, telling yourself what is happening, get used to the idea that mind can penetrate the immediate surface of being and reveal the tactile density of it as a manifold whose measure cannot be immediately taken by the eyes. That it’s deep, it’s connected, it’s complex. Everything holds within itself the anticipation and the memory of everything else.



I just want to feel that optimistic.


Well, it’s hard to feel optimistic sometimes. But it’s almost like an obligation. And I think there’s enough evidence around to support it. If Ronald Reagan is going to begin the process of the dismantling of strategic nuclear stockpiles, then, you know, what would a civilized and humane political leader be doing in this context? So on one level I’m fairly cynical. I see people whose major life’s work has been banditry and bloody rampage getting into the history books as great peacemakers. Nevertheless, I love the fact that the constraints of the situation have forced these clowns into this position.


That’s what I mean when I say that no political group, no faction has its hands on the tiller of history. There is an invisible hand which seems to be channeling the life of these institutions toward what we deem progressive ends. Not because these people have converted to altruism and reason and sweetness and light, but because it’s a way for them to save their political ass. So it has become expedient. Peace has become politically expedient. Consequently, we shall have it, I think. In a big hurry. Now, granted, it doesn’t address starvation, sexism, abuses of propaganda, torture, all of these things. But I feel like there is a kind of a log jam in human affairs that formed in the late sixties, where we all looked over into the future and saw what it was, and the governing agencies froze with terror and attempted to halt the onrushing momentum of the 20th century—to not only make psychedelic drugs illegal for the public, but to actually end scientific research into them. This is phenomenal. Scientific research is supposed to be freely pursued in any field. That’s the banner under which science rides its horse. But apparently this doesn’t apply to hallucinogens. Freezing all dialogue on disarmament, freezing all dialogue on the projection, globally, of imperial power and strategic stockpiles. All this was frozen in place in the late sixties, and it’s only now beginning to give way. The future has a momentum that no institution can deny. And the 25 years of constipated dithering that we have just come through has only meant that now the transition into the new order will be that much more sudden and that much more complete. So I guess I am optimistic. I see many causes for pessimism, but generally I think things globally are working out fine.


Now, it may be—and I addressed this tonight in the talk a little bit—it may be that a sane, humane, and well-fed world is coming into being, but it may not be led by the United States of America. We muscled down with strategic arsenals unable to produce things which the rest of the world wants to buy, entertaining a massive trade deficit, tolerant of reactionary, pseudo-religious forms of political cryptofascism. We are—I hope no one’s offended by that—we are not exactly in the best position to lead the charge into this great and glorious future. A society with a tradition of resource management, like Japan, is perhaps in a much better position. Although then there are other problems. Japan speaks a language no one understands. It’s going to be quite a world if the power of the projection of the Japanese cultural self-image is to become so overwhelming that Japanese is to become the dominant language of the West. Although this is a possibility. Certainly, if any of you are familiar with the fiction of William Gibson (and if not I urge it upon you; this is some of the most exciting science fiction being written), he pictures a world where Japanese cultural dominance, I would say, is a primary factor.


So yes, I’m optimistic. We have to be. It’s the only game in town. And look at the opportunities. It’s simply a matter of insisting on human values garnered from the felt experience of the moment and holding back the toxic effects of ideology—in other words, this anarchic prescription that I sort of put forth this evening—mainly holding back the toxic effects of ideology. Because then we can create a sane world. If we just recognized that pragmatism, love for each other, and a reasonable amount of good will will do quite nicely, I think the shriller voices, the ideologically driven voices, can be made déclassé. Not repressed, just simply recognized as tasteless, you know?

Anything else? Yes?


Did you reflect on what cultural will be like after the end of time? And what the end of time has to do with what [???]?


What kind of time? We have different kinds of time, or…?


Well, yeah. Certainly, I’ve reflected on what it’s like. It’s sort of a blank screen on which to project your mind: what will it be like once we pass the Omega Point? I’m not really sure. I mean, you can take two approaches to it. You can take the sort of deus ex machina approach, which means we can’t know what it is because it’s going to be so wonderful it’s going to be like the descent of the flying saucers, and we will all march into the four-gated city and that will be it. Or you can take a more conservative approach and say maybe there’s something going on in the trends around us that we can extrapolate to try and understand the world beyond the end of time.


Taking that approach, what I think is happening (and it’s been happening for a long time and it’s very interesting) is that culture is another dimension. And perhaps properly so. In the early part of my talk I talked about how culture had subsumed the position of nature, so that we had lost sight of nature by erecting culture through erecting these linguistic structures. But I notice that—and not only linguistic structures but architectural structures; the infrastructure of our society. That is what culture is. The way we differ from the Witoto is all the stuff that we have bound into ideas and excreted through our engineering processes to surround ourselves with.


This dimension, which is culture, is becoming ever more all-inclusive at the same time that it’s also becoming, strangely enough, ever more ethereal, ever less material. A perfect example of this—I don’t know how many of you are familiar with it—but if you deal with the Macintosh computer, the operating system of the Mac is the genius of it. And what makes it the best in the biz is that it attempts to trick you into believing that you’re dealing with ordinary three-dimensional space. You know, you don’t type in commands, you don’t choose printed options. You move in a symbolic representation of three-dimensional space. Well, again, to mention William Gibson and his novels: what he imagines is simply a larger version of this conventionalized symbolic representation of three-dimensional space. So that, in his novels, his characters enter into a world where the Bank of America database is perceived as a huge red rectangle hundreds of feet in height in a certain spot in the memory of this global computer. And—yes, it’s cyberspace—and near it is the memory bank of Wells Fargo or something else. So that when you enter into cyberspace, ordinary reality is replaced by a symbolic representation of the informational content of ordinary reality. Well, this is in fact happening. It’s happening at a very rapid rate. So the dimension which we call culture—which we have previously erected in the three-dimensional world around us through the intercession of what we call manufacturing and architecture—is very rapidly being internalized and erected as cyberspace: this alternative dimension to ordinary three-dimensional space in which our minds are able to move like fish in water.


What I think lies beyond the end of time is a very concrete realization of this other dimension. That’s why things like the time wave that I’ve developed, and some of these other projections, run off the scale. The world beyond the end of history is literally not mappable in the lower-order set of mapping that are applicable to history. So it is like being downloaded into circuitry. It’s possible to conceive of the entire human species fitting into the area of a large refrigerator in cyberspace. So that the goal of history is the creation of a mirror image of culture in the cyberspatial dimension, so that culture in the dimension of nature can be slowly retracted. Slowly retracted into the compressed quintessence.


You can almost think of this as an alchemical process. We’re talking about forging a philosopher’s stone out of a hyper-dimensional medium which is composed of energy and language, and into which we can all cast ourselves at will. It is—you know, Plato said, “If God didn’t exist, man would invent him/her/it.” Well, it may well be that the pilot’s seat, the pilot’s chair, of the flying saucer is empty. It awaits mankind. It is the condensed expectation of complete interpenetration of all of us through each other and our cultural artifacts in a mode that we cannot even imagine.


At an earlier talk at Will’s[2] here, a couple of years ago, I did a talk called Shedding the Monkey in which I talked about dropping the primate image that is projected onto the human soul through the accidents of biological evolution. That, as we take control of our genetic heritage, as we take control of the process of manufacturing culture, we are going to become what we dream we are. And we have never really explored consciously what it is we dream we are. But very shortly this will become a major part of the cultural agenda, because we are going to be able to do anything. And with that kind of power (again, recurring through the theme of the evening) I think we have to anchor ourselves in nature. So, sort of my apotheosis, or my vision of how this should come to be is that everyone is given their own 500 acres of paradise in the chip. And that is your heritage, your space, your right place to be. And out of the mellowness which accrues only to the very wealthy—which we will then, each and every one of us, fall into that category—we will be able to return to the dimension of the limited pie and very decorously and thoughtfully apportion it out in a sane and rational manner.


And it’s very, very tricky, this rush toward the ability to completely realize the self-image in hyperspace. My mother used to say to me when I was a small child, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” And I think that’s the dream: to turn wishes into horses that beggars may ride. And it’s that world where we each get our own horse, or when our ship comes in, that lies beyond the historical dimension. Because it’s where, in effect, each becomes all, and then is freed into the imagination of the oversoul to create whatever castles in the imagination seem most pleasing. It’s the triumph of art. Art in the imagination and reverence for nature in the placental dimension which is the life-support system for this fantastic indulgence in the expression of the imagination.



I have a question about culture and the toxicity of ideology. I’m an educator. I educate young children. And I would like you to address what we can do, or what are your ideas about what society can do, so that we don’t have to undo it at some point. I mean, most of us here have to undo what we went through as children (in public education, anyway) so that we can at least come to some level of awareness of peacefulness within ourselves. What is the popular side of it, what is your…?


Well, in Hawai’i this past year we home-schooled our children, and we also coincidentally rented office space from a major company which creates home schooling curriculums. And on their letterhead they had the motto: you are your child’s best teacher. And we found out how hard it is to live up to that ideal. And yet, in a way, we also found out how rewarding it was to attempt it. When we return to northern California our children will go to public school. I think, basically, you have to not leave it up the schools. You have to check in on what’s going on and input into the process. I don’t feel that I can give a very deep answer to this. I think it’s one of the most perplexing problems. One thing I think that’s terribly wrong with education is that there is no sense of history instilled in people. And history has almost as bad a rap on it as mathematics. And yet, these are the two modes of thought which I think would do the most to anchor us. Because they both are about different forms of grounding. One grounds in eternal demonstrable principles, mathematics, and the other dissipates amnesia.


It’s a very weird thing that somebody can’t tell you, isn’t quite clear on whether event X happened in the 13th or the 16th century. I mean, after all, 13th, 16th, 19th—how would you like to be so imprecisely perceived in somebody’s mind that they couldn’t get within 300 years of where you lived and died? So the lack of a sense of history makes us, really, prey to manipulation. That’s why I’m cynical enough to believe that the deemphasizing of history that’s going on in American education over the past 30 years is almost the equivalent of a plot. Even as recently as when I graduated from the university—and it took me twelve years, so I didn’t graduate until 1975—but the idea was that if you went to a university, you emerged a liberal gentleperson, well-informed on the accomplishments of your culture, its history, its aspirations, its ways of governing itself, its ways of resolving conflict and so on. Now I think these things have become gigantic trade schools. And you are expected to learn to do a job. And when not doing your job, malls have been provided for you to shop in, and 240 channels of garbage have been piped into your home for you to keep up on what it is that is au courant to go out and buy.


And this creation of this history-less, mindless, consumerist person at the expense of the ideal of the democratically informed citizen is going to wreak great havoc in our society. People often compliment me on, you know, my enchanting command of the various subjects and so forth and so on, and I’m amazed. Because what’s being sold to you here tonight, ladies and gentlemen, is nothing more than the fruits of a liberal college education, you know? You go to college, you learn about gnosticism, Platonic philosophy—or you once did. But no more, apparently. So it can be sold as the most far out fringy thing in the New Age. This is amnesia on quite a scale.


And the other thing I would say in answer to your question about education is: separating physical culture from competition. That the notion of physical culture—and by that I mean gym class—and competition is one of the… I mean, now I feel the bile rising because we’re talking serious here now. But saving people from the grief of P.E. is, I think, a major way to heal the culture. When we were living in Hawai’i, Kat asked our son: how did he think of himself? And he said he thought of himself as an artist and an athlete. And I thought that this was just an amazing breakthrough. Because I thought of myself as a sort of 95-pound weakling. And the notion that my son could be physically just like I was at his age, and yet conceive of himself as an athlete and have this balanced view of art, athlete, junior scientist and so forth, meant we must be doing something right. And what it is, is: stressing physical culture. Being in the ocean, hiking, running, skateboarding, biking, all these things, without the notion of males crashing against each other for the purposes of racking up points with females and elders to lay the groundwork for the whole imposition of the alpha-male primate hierarchy that makes society such a mess. So that’s that for education.

Maybe one more question, if there is one. Yes?


You mentioned [???] power to [???]?


I think I must’ve mentioned ayahuasca, though I’ll briefly mention it again. If any of you are interested in ayahuasca, the standard reference work that’s in print is called Hallucinogens and Shamanism, edited by Michael Harner. There are I think about three articles in there about ayahuasca. Ayahuasca is a combinatory preparation, a beverage, made by boiling down the bark of a jungle liana which contains harmine and other monoamine oxidase inhibiting compounds, and adding DMT, which occurs in psychotria viridis, a plant related to coffee. And it’s generally, by the people there, viewed as a tonic, contributive, something which keeps the society in equilibrium. Also been written about by Marlene Dobkin De Rios and others. And I understand there are therapists in the Bay Area working very quietly to create an awareness of its potential impact on psychotherapy.


Which, we can personally attest that it has a great potential. We saw physical symptoms relieved in the Amazon, we saw neurotic behavior patterns dissolve. And it’s just one of many shamanic devices, plant hallucinogens, that have not been studied by medical science and will not be studied as long as the current hysteria about psychedelic drug research represses the scientific community from having anything to do with these things. Nevertheless, its history as a curing agent among these tribes goes back to at least pre-conquest times. And it has a reputation for inducing states of group-mindedness which approach the level of being almost telepathic. So it’s being used in the Amazon to regulate social processes as well as the health of individuals. So it’s very, very interesting in the way that it seems to be a kind of pristine model of the many ways that a psychedelic compound can have a healing effect in a society.

Well, I think that’s about it for this evening. It’s ten thirty. I want to thank you all very much. It’s good to be back.


  1. McKenna incorrectly attributes the book to Steven Jay Gould. Maybe he confounded the author’s names because he had also read Gould’s book on geological evolution (Time’s Arrow, Time’s Cycle), or because of the long-running public feud S. J. Gould had with E. O. Wilson and other evolutionary biologists over human sociobiology and its later descendant evolutionary psychology.

  2. Will Noffke, owner of the Shared Visions bookstore.

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