00:00

The big news coming out of science in the last ten years, perhaps the last certain truth that science will secure before its transformation—and it’s a very important one—it’s that nature is self-similar across scale. This is something that couldn’t have been said even ten years ago. Nature is self-similar across scale. This is big news, big understanding. And what does it mean? Well, it means—I’m sure you all have pondered the similarity between the structure of an atom, a galaxy, and a solar system. And if you inquired about this you were told it’s coincidence. Well, P. W. Bridgman is the person who pointed out that a coincidence is what you have left over when you apply a theory, you see? So until ten years ago, when you asked this question, you would be told it’s a coincidence. You know, it’s easy to make a scientific revolution. I can remember when I was about nine, going to my mother in a state of high excitement and saying, “Have you noticed that South America will fit against Africa like a puzzle piece?” And then we looked into it, and we were told this is a coincidence. Well, it wasn’t ten years before continental drift made a revolution out of the Earth sciences by doing what? By recognizing what an eight-year-old child could point out: that Africa and South America were obviously once joined together. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see this, you just have to have some experience with crossword puzzles and an open mind.

02:09

So nature is self-similar across scales. That means that an atom is like a galaxy, is like a solar system. But it means more than that. It means that we can extrapolate toward cosmic processes by thinking about our own lives. Because our own lives are a tiny fractal piece of data that is part of a much larger integrated modular hierarchy that we now realize will have the same architectonic as our own immediate experience, except it will be expressed on a much larger scale. So that’s the first and simplest part of this suggestion for a reformation of science that I want to propose. First of all, that this fractal principle, more clearly enunciated and understood—everybody is talking about fractals. But it took Ralph Abraham to get it down to a bumper sticker for me. And it is. Nature is self-similar across scales. Companies explode the same way economies explode, the same way the biota of a continent explode. Processes are always similar, but only differ in scale. And what that means, then, is that our most immediate datum of experience—which is the feeling of being in a body, alive and feeling—can be extrapolated and mapped onto larger and smaller processes in the universe. To give not only a sentient universe, a living universe, a dynamic universe, a universe with purpose, but it also gives us a universe with a very interesting set of closure properties that are different from the ones we learned from science.

04:29

The thing about science and its cosmology is that it makes us irrelevant. We’re told that we are an accident around an ordinary star in an ordinary galaxy in an ordinary portion of the local supercluster, and it’s just ordinary, ordinary, ordinary, nothing to be excited about. And then you have existentialism which says: if you want to get excited, you have to admit that you’re just doing it on your own hook. This is called conferring meaning rather than discovering meaning. We confer meaning, the existentialists tell us, and it’s good as long as it lasts, and then that’s nothing, too. But all of these conclusions have been based on ignoring a second fact about nature that is as cogent as its fractality—and far more important for us, I believe.

05:34

And this second factor is that the further back in time you go, the slower everything unfolds. Our present domain of experience is a domain of furious activity. Many, many things go on on this planet in a single day. There are inventions. There are books. There are transactions. There are meetings and dissolutions. We live in a busy, busy, busy world. As you journey backward in time the world becomes less and less busy. And when you leave the domain of organic evolution the world becomes boring as hell. And when you go further back to the period before even molecular chemistry, you know, it’s so boring one can barely compose a comment so infused with ennui is the observer in the contemplation of the scene. But science has never inculcated this observation into its model of reality. We’re told time is invariant. Therefore, this notion of speeding up—or of complexity in some parts of time and not in others—it must be an artifact of observation. It must be an illusion or a mistake. It isn’t real. But I maintain it is one of the most persistent facts about reality. And I’ve spoken of it here in terms of things get simpler as you go backward in time. We could stand that on its head and point out that things get more complex as you move forward in time. And that means that this moment is the most complex moment the universe has ever known—at least the local universe. That means, in a way, if the universe started at the big bang, it ends right here, right now—what I call local now. Because the rest of time has not yet undergone the formality of occurring. So here we are: the inheritors of the big bang standing in the ultra-complex local now.

08:21

Now, what do I mean by “complex?” Well, on the platform of cellular evolution arose higher animals, complex ecosystems. On the platform of that arose early human culture. Upon that platform rose late human culture—including ourselves, including technology. My point here that I want to try to sell you on is that nature is a novelty-conserving engine of some sort. That, far from being a random process driven toward entropy by the second law of thermodynamics, nature is a process of complexification. That, whenever this process is dealt a blow, it immediately sets out to recover and surpass whatever previous level of complexification it had attained.

09:35

Well, now, the important thing about this—other than just its intrinsic importance for people doing philosophy—is that it holds out the possibility of a theory of ethics, because we are the most complex phenomenon that we know of on this planet. Now, you may edge forward in your seat, ready to spring forward with some objection, but give me a moment here. Complexity is a tricky concept to define, first of all—to define mathematically or any other way. Norbert Wiener and some of those people spent some time on this. But intuitively I think it’s a pretty straightforward concept. The way I define complexity is density of connections. If point A has 16 connecting points, it is less complex than point B with 32 connecting points. That seems fairly clear. You would have an uphill battle to argue against that. Some weasel might, but who knows? I mean, hell, you can’t get consensus on what time it is!

10:53

But if nature is a novelty-conserving engine—if that’s what nature treasures—then we are not the chance witnesses of an existential universe, we are in fact All God’s Chillun in some sense. In other words, we represent the quintessent gathering-together of novelty. We are more than mere matter. We are more than mere biology. We are more than mere aboriginal culture. We are all of those things, plus we are our skin of technical connections, our extruded culture, our fecal coral reef of transistors, resistors, transponders, databases, and transmission systems. All of that is superimposed on the organic. So, suddenly, this message that has been relatively ignored by secular intellectuals for 500 years—the message of our importance in the divine plan—gets a real leg up.

12:26

The puzzle, then, is: if we’re the part of the universe where value has come to rest in the process of concrescing complexity, then why is it that, in practical terms, we seem like a loaded gun held at the head of the planet? In other words, all other systems and processes seem to have been put at risk to achieve this thin and wavering spire of complexification that threatens to come down around our ears at any moment and send us back to the 14th century, if not the Stone Age, if we mismanage ourselves.

13:15

Well, I think that we need to look at this process from the broadest possible perspective and try to decondition ourselves from the assumptions of science. Every theory has what I call a hard swallow. Because, probably, every theory is horse shit in some sense. I mean, truth is known in silence. So if you’re going out of that area you should expect some rather peculiar blemishes on the enterprise. So every theory has a hard swallow. Science—their hard swallow is what’s called the big bang: the idea that the universe sprang from nothing for no reason whatsoever in a single moment. So, notice that whether you find that persuasive or not, it is the limit test for credulity. Do you understand what I mean? I mean: if you will believe that, what would you dig in your heels on? I mean, if you would believe that, then my family has a bridge over the Hudson River that we are willing to let go for a song, and you could really get in on something good there! The big bang is completely improbable. Utterly improbable. It is the most improbable of all improbabilities. So just remember that when the fascism of science is telling you that astrologers don’t know what they’re talking about, and somebody else doesn’t know what they’re talking about. I mean, science has built a house of cards on worse than sand—quicksand!

15:18

I would like to propose a completely different theory which sounds—I know—far-fetched, but I think it answers certain problems that can’t be reasonably dealt with otherwise. I would like to propose that the universe is headed toward a singularity. Not that it was born in a singularity and has been blasted outward with the unraveling of the laws of physics ever since, but rather the idea that the universe is not a purposeless explosion running down into entropy, but in fact the universe is some kind of process that is running along fairly well-defined runnels—or what the British biologist C. H. Waddington called creodes. In other words, it is not—again—it is not a flat surface over which we are free to lurch and careen in some kind of random walk or parody of Brownian motion. It isn’t that at all. It is a topology. It is a surface, a slalom, whose high walls confine us as we move deeper and deeper into the process of complexification. And we move into that process faster and faster and faster.

16:51

And this is where it gets woo-woo, because—I am willing to say I’m convinced, anyway—I’m willing to say I’m convinced that history is the enunciation of the nearby presence of a transformational event. In other words, a planet without history is what you get if it’s business as usual. The chipmunks dig their burrows, the hummingbirds fertilize the trumpet flowers, the ants dig out the ground. Everything proceeds normally. History is what happens when an animal species has its genome distorted by the nearby presence of a transcendental object. It only lasts 12,000 to 15,000 generations. It’s very brief in terms of the life of—if the life of this planet were a city block, history would be as thick as a piece of typing paper. That’s how long it lasts. And yet this is all we’ve ever known: the inside of this transitory domain called history.

18:22

And, without thinking about it very much, our secular society tells us to assume it will go on forever. You know? Assume it will go on forever. That’s a bigger stretch than the big bang for me. I cannot see how anyone could assume that human history will go on—not forever—but let’s say as long as it has gone on. Can anyone imagine the next 10,000 years of technological development and global civilization? It’s a joke! Can anyone imagine the next 1,000 years? Or 100 years? I think that the asymptotic curve of technological development, complexification, the spread of communication technologies, and yadda, yadda, yadda is happening so fast that, within our lifetimes, we can see the transcendental object rearing up and throwing the shadow of its enormous protean form across the surface of social processes and social evolution.

19:40

The purpose of history is to create planetary crisis. And it’s doing a splendid job of it. Apparently, monkeys would rather kick back and chill, and so we only function well under pressure. And so the pressure is rising. And, you know, our responses have been astonishing. When the African continent dried up we invented agriculture. When spoken language was insufficient we invented alphabets. When they were insufficient we invented mathematical modeling. When the complexity of the world exceeded our mathematical models we built computational machinery to expand the power of our mathematical tools. We seem to function well under pressure. And now we are coming under pressure.

20:44

I think that for a very long time—maybe, oh, I don’t know… pick a number, but let’s say 50,000 years; at least since language—shamans or users of hallucinogenic plants have had what Wordsworth called Intimations of Immortality. That, aside from everything else which crowds the shamanic mindspace, there is this view along the forward vector of time to this brilliant boundary-dissolving light that seems to throw its influence across all processes that precede it. And religions—great religions that involve the fates of hundreds of millions of people—are intimations of this transcendental object at the end of time. And they all get it wrong, of course. They get it wrong because it is always filtered through the vicissitudes of the historical moment and the political needs of those who are telling the tale. But if you take all of these things not as God’s revealed truth, but more as God’s image in the funhouse mirror of bent ideology, you can sort of extract out of all these images a sense of what the transcendental reality must be like.

22:26

And I think—referring to the idea that we are fractally organized; that we are microcosms of the larger structure of the universe—then I think in the natural phenomenon of orgasm, and in the—how would you put it?—the human-plant interaction occasioned by psychedelics—so orgasm and the psychedelic experience—we actually, in fractal form, anticipate this boundary-dissolving conclusion to the historical process. That’s why Eros is like a compass of hope; why everybody says—after the hortatory political breast-beating and all of that—everyone knows that what we really need is love. That, without that, it won’t work. With that, the political, social, intellectual and technological details will probably take care of themselves. But love in the heart of a monkey—which is what we are—is an effort to image this transcendental thing at the end of time. I mean, to love is to open to the presence of the other, and that’s a very, very profound boundary dissolution. Ultimately, at death, I think—probably the only way you can meet death fully in command of your faculties is to love it, to surrender to it.

24:19

Well, we each can make whatever peace we can or cannot make with our own death, but we get much more agitated when we contemplate the death of the species or the death of the planet. Because that seems to involve such higher stakes, such greater loss. What I observe in nature is: nature is a very high-stakes gambler. You know, nature is like the good shepherd in the Gospel’s story. I mean, she will leave the 99 to save the one that is lost. Her interest in complexity and her willingness to allow it to adumbrate in ourselves to such excruciating levels is basically a willingness to put every gray whale, dandelion, parakeet, and spotted owl on notice that the human enterprise is somehow an acceptable risk for them to endure.

25:28

And I think that the way psychedelics play into all of this is: they—by being boundary-dissolving, by being deconditioning agents—they strip from your eyes this downer-trip that we have inherited out of a scientific model of reality. We are not lost in a mute, uncaring, purposeless universe. How anybody could ever suppose this… it takes an extraordinary power of the denial of simple observation to come to this conclusion. Nevertheless, this is what modern science tells us. If this isn’t obvious to you, then you probably need to do five grams in silent darkness on an empty stomach and just weigh the various ideas that are being peddled in the intellectual marketplace. You know, big bang, God’s love, transcendental object at the end of history—it’s a small number of items on the menu.

26:44

Most of these items on the menu are simply ideologies. None—except for psychedelics, I would submit—are an experience; a direct experience. And this is what gives it a leg up: it’s not an appeal to reason. It’s not an appeal to reason. And, in fact, it is ultimately unreasonable. You know? Tertullian, when he was asked about the resurrection, they said, “Why do you believe in this? It’s so stupid!” And he said, “Credo quia absurdum!”—I believe it because it is absurd! I believe it because it is absurd. This is a thoroughly modern sentiment. If the rest of the fathers of the early church had been as hip as that statement we wouldn’t’ve come away with original sin and the virgin birth.

27:45

I believe that there is very little time left, that history is the enunciation of human morphogenetic transformation that is under the control of the largest control-structures in the planetary ecology. In other words, it’s not up to Bill Clinton or “Skink” Gingrich or any of these reptiles. It is not a matter of human decision. It is built in to the dynamics of the planet. And, consequently, all this Western breast-beating and blame-taking about what we did and how we fucked up, and all this, is a bunch of nonsense. Nobody screwed up! You have to have an enormous sense of your own self-importance to believe that you got away from the control of nature and, against her wishes, were able to set the planet up for Armageddon. I mean, it’s such a typical Western fantasy of freedom and opportunity to do evil. History is not evil. It’s misguided and messy, and very redundant and iterative. But it isn’t evil.

29:26

For some reason—12,000–15,000 years ago—the human family divided into two camps: the sacred ritual, eternal shamanic style of existence (which lived lightly on the land and is tribal and non-technologically based), and our style, which was a style of conquest and denial, virtual reality building. I mean, now this is thought to be the technological edge, but the earliest technology for virtual reality implementation was language, followed quickly by the hardwiring we call urbanization. Once you have an urban setting you are walking around inside a virtual reality. This is an ideology that has been turned into matter. It’s as virtual as anything could possibly be. There’s nothing new about setting up symbols and taking them for truth. I mean, this seems to be our unique curse, as it were.

30:54

What the psychedelics do is decondition us from all the media-induced ratios of perception and value systems, and then you just see that culture is just some story that a bunch of people got together. All culture! Doesn’t matter whether you’re rainforest pygmies or Japanese bankers or whoever you are. Your story is just some story that has a certain amount of drama, a certain amount of self-congratulation, a certain amount of risk, and it… keeps thought away, that story. But if we dissolve our cultural story, then we discover what it is that we’ve been ignoring for 20,000 years—which is the nature of nature: that it preserves novelty, that it is an engine for the production of complexity, that this complexity extends from the abiotic realm, into the biotic, into the cultural, into the technological, seamlessly with no ontological break or transformation.

32:17

Consciousness is a kind of omni-directional threat-detection and -assessment system that a very paranoid and small monkey put in place in a grassland environment frequented by very large hunting cats. And so the purpose of consciousness is to inform you of something horrific about to happen, in the hope that you can then take some action against it. But in the bottom of a cave, or high up in a tree, or on a small island—or somewhere where you feel safe—if you will then intoxicate yourself with psychedelics, the evolutionarily defined and paranoid threat-detection configuration of consciousness breaks down. And you discover that you have an angel inside your head. And this angel is the non-paranoid, non-carnivorous monkey who is still, nevertheless, you. And that, from this angelic point of perception, both the past and the future have an immediacy, a co-presence with the moment, that they lack in ordinary experience.

33:47

And I believe that, as we create a non-paranoid world—a loving world, a world where people can operate in an atmosphere of trust of each other—that consciousness is slowly trying to relax and recast itself. And the grease for these skids is, of course, the psychedelic experience, because it forces this dissolving of cultural values. It catalyzes it. What it might take you 40 years to do through a process of rational analysis and psychotherapy and deconstruction and so forth and so on—it can happen, literally, overnight on a sufficiently alarming dose of a psychedelic substance. The reason I’m willing to speak to this is because I think it’s not without reason that, in this final moment of historical culmination, that our inventorying of the life and customs of this planet has brought to our attention, then, these aboriginal practices. Because they are the other half of the equation. What we have brought forward is little truths like energy equals mass times the velocity of light squared, so forth and so on. We are the masters of matter and energy, but not the masters of our own dreams; our own spiritual striving. For that we’re going to have to infuse our sense of technical accomplishment with the heart, basically. The heart that these aboriginal cultures have kept intact.



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