Tonight we’re going to hear Terence McKenna. The big issue these days—and it has nothing to do with his talk—is this idea of self-reflection, and of self-referential things, and the paradoxes that can come out of that. I find Terence McKenna a kind of self-referential person. He’s spoken to us at least once—
Twice, I think. Right. And each time I have experienced an almost hallucinogenic experience in listening to him talk. And I’m looking forward very much tonight to hearing him speak on dreams, hallucinogens, and UFOs. New and Old Maps of Hyperspace—take off!
Well, thank you very much. I’m very glad to be here. Special thanks to Ruth and Arthur and the Institute for asking me back for a third time. Perhaps the third time is the charm. We’ll see here.
My name is Terence McKenna, and my training is basically in shamanism and botany and ethnography. And my interest is in hallucinogenic drugs, especially plant hallucinogens as they’re used in a shamanic context. And what impels me to speak to a room full of people like this is the belief that the major important point regarding hallucinogens has been largely overlooked, even though we’re now fifteen or twenty or thirty—depending on how you count it—years into the psychedelic age. The central point about the psychedelic experience is the content of the experience, and this has been occluded or obfuscated by the behavioral and statistical and scientific methods that have been brought to bear to study hallucinogenic experience. So what I’m going to address this evening is essentially my own experience with hallucinogens, and how I extrapolate it into the world based on its own being and other people’s psychedelic experiences that I have interacted with.
Before I get into that, I want to clarify something about shamanism. There are two schools about the basis of shamanism; shamanistic experience. One is the older school exemplified by Mircea Eliade, who holds that all narcotic shamanism is decadent. He prefers drumming, dancing, self-mutilation—even ordeal poisons all precede the efficacy of hallucinogens. He believes they are resorted to when the tradition is vitiated and people are grasping at straws. I take this to be simply a cultural bias of the school of anthropology that he exemplified, and the time in which his work was done.
Now, Gordon Wasson has taken the opposite tack, and takes the position that non-narcotic shamanism is decadent because it is on its way to becoming ritual. In other words, drumming, fasting, flagellation, all these things work to a degree, and sometimes. And they are not dependable in the same way that hallucinogens are. And this plays on Western people’s biases in favor of the idea that you have to work hard to get somewhere, and if you don’t work hard, it isn’t useful.
My own experience in looking at non-narcotic shamanism—essentially non-narcotic shamanism in Indonesia and in Nepal—was that Wasson’s intuition was very correct. There is a grasping-after. And I see that grasping-after blending into the evolution of all higher religions. In other words, experientially, there is only one religion, and it is shamanism and shamanic ecstasy. But it is very difficult to maintain in a agrarian context. Hunting and gathering societies (which have much less structured social hierarchies) seem to be able to function with the hallucinogenic experience embedded in them. As soon as you rise even to the level of primitive agriculturalists, it becomes much more important to be able to get up in the morning and go to work than it does to have these ecstatic experiences, because the plants have to be tended, the fields tilled, and so on.
I formed these opinions about non-narcotic shamanism early in my career of looking at this phenomenon. I didn’t contact narcotic shamanism until I went to the Amazon Basin, initially, in 1971, although I was familiar with the hallucinogenic state from growing up basically in the counterculture in Berkeley. But what I found in South America after sifting through these various experiences is that the family of drugs constellated around tryptophan—specifically DMT (dimethyltryptamine), and psilocybin (which is chemically very similar to DMT)—that these compounds had a relationship to reality far different from all the other hallucinogens (the scopolamine, hyoscyamine, tropane family that you get in datura and that kind of thing) or LSD, which… laboratory LSD does not occur in nature, but isomers of it occur in nature. Although to be taken at hallucinogenic doses, they must be taken at hundreds of times the amount.
So that’s basically the scientific, medical, anthropological basis of what I’m saying: a career spent in Asia and more recently in the Amazon, looking at this phenomenon. And I want to take my conclusions tonight and contrast them with the modern predicament, and try to make a model using the hallucinogenic experience. A model that makes some of the anxieties of being human, and especially some of the anxieties of being human in the twentieth century context, more palatable. And to do that, I want to evoke a number of abysses, a number of empty places that our minds tend normally to shy away from. First to invoke them, and then to integrate them through the idea of what is conventionally called the UFO or the UFO experience.
These abysses are basically four embedded in a fifth. The four are: the biological abyss that is represented by death and dying that is the central crisis of every individual existence. And (almost as a reflection of that crisis on a higher plane) the historical abyss represented by the end of history, and the apocalypse, and possibly the millennium. But in any case, the end of history that Western religion—whether it be Judaism, Christianity, or whatever—has appointed to our world and made basic to Western man’s view of things. And which now, because of the existence of nuclear weapons and this kind of thing, poses a terminal threat to the culture. So two abysses: the biological and the historical, the latter being symbolized in the apocalyptic crisis.
A third abyss could be called the psychological. And this is represented by dreams in general experience, and by hallucinogens. It is this casting off from the moorings of the ego, making the night-sea journey into the Other, and being at the mercy of… call it the collective unconscious, the overmind of the species, what have you. The fourth abyss, which is one whose emergence is unique in our time, is the actual physical abyss which surrounds this planet for lightyears in all directions. Because suddenly, now—because of our level of technology and scientific mapping—we realize that it is there, and we realize that it is a source of our cosmic loneliness, and we realize that it presents an immense challenge of the sort we like to accept as a Western culture; challenges of energy, engineering, and distance.
So these are the four abysses: the abyss of space, the abyss of [biology], the abyss of the psychedelic experience, and the abyss of dying. And these four general categories have to be seen embedded in a somewhat subtler kind of abyss, which is the abyss of the unspeakable. In other words, that language—which is the primary tool of cognition of the species—casts nets against these other gulfs and comes away with different kinds of maps. But you cannot put much trust in these maps unless you’ve carried out a thorough analysis of language. And once you’ve done that, for sure you will not put much trust in any of these maps, because the thinness of the web on which it all is hung will be readily apparent.
It’s my assumption (whenever I am confronted with opposites) to try to unify them, to create a coincidencia oppositorum as was done in alchemy. To not force the system to closure, but to try and leave the system open enough so that the differences can resonate and become complimentary rather than antithetical. So I would like to unify, here, not two dualisms, but these four opposed; these pairs. You could think of them as the quadripartite elements of a kind of mandala. The means to unifying that mandala is integration of the psychedelic experience. I’m going to make the assumption, specifically, of the psilocybin or tryptamine experience. And what it appears to be is something which is much more assimilable to the science fiction metaphor of a parallel universe than it is to the Freudian metaphor of the repression of desire, or even the Jungian metaphor of a collective, species-wide memory and experience bank. It is much more, I think, of the character of a parallel continuum.
And in order to erect the intellectual edifice of the past thousand years, this possibility has had to be ignored, much in the way that you would apply Occam’s razor to a situation, and just say, “Well, we will not admit the more complex phenomenon, because we should form a theory that is true to the simplest phenomena first, and then build out from it.” And this has worked in a demonic kind of way, in the sense that we have taken command of the atomic world—which is a very simple world compared, for instance, to the variables that you meet in sociology or biology—but at the cost of formulating theories about how the world is put together that nowhere come tangential to experience. So we have a bizarre situation where our best models of reality that are kept for us by the priesthood of science are like exhibits in a museum, because they cannot be mapped onto the simple fact of individual experience.
Shamanism, on the other hand, is this worldwide (since paleolithic times) tradition, which says that you must make your own experience the centerpiece of any model of the world that you build. No amount of readings from meters—whether they’re metering cyclotrons or any other kind of instrument—are going to satisfy you. Once you understand that, then what the task becomes is one of making sense of these metaphors (so-called), or myths (so-called), that are the pre-Western, pre-print, pre-literate mappings of the world.
An example of how this problem distorts other problems is the problem of extraterrestrial contact, which is: the way science presents the problem of extraterrestrial contact is that we are alone, and that, to assuage our cosmic loneliness, we should build ever larger radio telescopes and million-channel signal analyzers, and sift the radio noise coming from the stars. And eventually, if a signal is found, an immense philosophical turning point will have occurred, and we will then place ourselves in the context of the cosmos. This is actually a red herring kind of argument, because outside of the highly technical Western societies that have evolved in the last 300 years, people have been talking to the Other since man began. Angels, demons, fairies, sprites, elves—all of this is as phenomenologically a part of human experience as, we’ll say, birds of paradise, which I’m sure none of you have had anything to do with, but believe inflexibly that such creatures exist because it is allowed by the experts that they exist.
What psilocybin focuses as a problem that these other hallucinogens do not is: it allows a dialogue with the Other that is full of give and take. In other words, there are entities in the hallucinogenic world that psilocybin and DMT and a few other not well-known or widely distributed plant hallucinogens induce. I think it was William Blake who said, “The truth cannot be told so as to be understood without being believed.” And this is the kind of information that is coming through the psilocybin experience. It is information which you have to believe it. You have to believe it because it has this ring of authenticity. It is the lógos; it is the Word, somehow. And what is being said is that our alienation—and this word is interesting, “alienation”—our alienation from ourselves has caused us to set up a number of straw men that are keeping us from building, actually, a mature model of how the universe really works.
The content of the dialogue with the other is a content that indicates that man’s horizons are infinitely bright, that death is in fact—well, as Thomas Vaughan put it: “The body is the placenta of the soul.” And this fact has not yet been assimilated, because it runs counter to Western reductionist, materialist empiricism. But this idea that the body is placenta to the soul is not an object of faith or a dogma, it’s a program for activity. The activity that it implies should be undertaken is: a familiarization with the soul. And the soul has been banned from Western thinking about the self for nigh on 400 years—at least in leading circles.
But I take this concept very seriously. And I think—if any of you are familiar with the literature of alchemy—alchemy is about the generation of a psychic construct, a wholeness, a thing which has many properties, which is paradoxical, which is both mind and matter, which can do anything. This is the last gasp of the soul before it’s submerged completely. In other words, it became trapped in an association with cthonic matter in the last historical epoch before it disappeared completely from Western consciousness.
Psychedelic drugs (especially psilocybin) allow a searchlight to be thrown on these deeper levels of the psyche, as Jung correctly stated. But it is not a museum of archetypes or psychic constructs, as he seemed to assume. It is a frontier of wholeness into which any person so motivated and so courageous as to wish to do it can go, and leave the mundane plane far behind. In other words, it is a dimension of vertical gain that is real and is present in all of our lives, and that we do not acknowledge except as an anomaly. Because we have been told that it’s an anomaly. We have been told that these perceptions have to be devalued.
The result of this is to so distort the psychic life of the species in the present historical context that we have this UFO disease, which is essentially a rupture into three-dimensional space of this archetype of wholeness. And it haunts time like a ghost, and it haunts human experience in the twentieth century, because it is a symbol of alienation. And the word “alien” has in fact come to be applied to this thing. It is alien. It comes from the stars. It is totally nonhuman. It has great potential for mankind, but it can barely be Englished at all. And actually, what it is is the self in the form in which it is most accessible to the ego, given the ego’s programming with all this scientific garbage about the density of life in the universe, the distance to the stars, the probability of chemical evolution occurring here and there and yonder. It is, in other words, something which, in order not to alarm us, has disguised itself as an extraterrestrial being, but is in fact the collectivity of the human psyche signaling a profound historical crisis.
I talked about this before. I talked about the danger of succumbing to belief in UFOs, because of the damage it did to free will. And that, yes, the UFO is making war on science, because science has created such a masculine overbalance in the intellectual life of the species that this automatic mechanism has been triggered: a history-stopping archetype is being released into the skies of this planet. And if we are not careful it will halt all intellectual inquiry in the same way that the Christos archetype halted intellectual inquiry in the Hellenistic age. I don’t want to go into this too deeply, but it’s clear to me that Hellenistic science was destroyed by the Christos archetype because the Democritean atomists and materialists who ran Roman civilization had no patience whatsoever with this superstition that was being circulated among the servants about a man who rose from the dead and all that went with it. But before they knew what had happened their whole civilization was in ruin, because the archetype had frozen the forward thrust of this masculine, dominant, ethically depotentiated, technologically obsessed, slave-built society. And for a thousand years, hydrostatics, mathematics, metallurgy, you name it—that was nothing. Only the words of one Galilean radical could occupy the time of any intellectual successfully.
Okay, we have now, two thousand years later, fought our way somewhat clear of that problem. But the problem it solved—which is the problem of this masculine overbalance and, this obsessive technological thrust, this dehumanizing thrust—has reached an even more intense peak And now appears the flying saucer with the capacity of undoing that by again destroying science, by simply being a miracle. That’s all that is required to wreck science: is a miracle visible worldwide. Because scientists say that that can’t happen. Consequently, if that does happen, their house is in real disorder.
So I touched on this before, any of you who heard me. Tonight I want to talk more about the flying saucer—not from the point of view of the people who are going to get the whammy when it appears unbidden, but from the point of view of an insider. In other words, one can do more than simply say, “Oh yes, I understand what this is. The overmind is visibly manifest in the skies of Earth in order to skew history toward an eschatological mode that will stifle inquiry in order, basically, to preserve the species from extinction.” But a mature humanity could get into a place where we no longer require these metaphysical spankings from messiahs and flying saucers that come along every thousand years or so to mess up the mess that has been created, and to try and send people off on another tack.
And the way to do this is to look at the abysses that confront man as species and individual, and try to unify them. And I think that psilocybin offers a way out, because it allows a dialogue with the overmind that is not—you won’t read about in Scientific American or anywhere else. You will carry it out. And the carrying out of this dialogue will essentially eschatologize you as a person, and lift you out of the historical context. It’s like Stephen Dedalus said in Ulysses: “History is the the nightmare that I am trying to awake from.” Well, I would turn it around a bit and say: “History is what I’m trying to go to sleep from in order to get away from it.” In other words, the dream is eschatological. The dream is zero time, and outside of history. Escape into the dream. Escape: a key thing charged against these drugs—that they are for escapists. I think the people who make this charge hardly dare dream to what degree they are escapists. Escape. Escape from the planet, from death, and from the problem (if possible) of the unspeakable.
So now, to say a bit about about death and dying. If you leave aside the last 300 years of historical experience as it was handled in Europe and America, and examine the phenomenon of death—the doctrine of the soul in all its ramifications: neo-Platonic, Christian, dynastic Egyptian, et cetera; I’m sure you’re all familiar with some or all of these—what you get is the idea that there is a light body, or a thing, an entelechy, that is somehow mixed up in the body during life, and at death, or at dying, is involved in a crisis in which these two envelopes separate, and one loses its raison d’être and falls into dissolution. Metabolism stops. And the other one goes we know not where. Perhaps nowhere, if you believe it doesn’t exist. But then you have the problem of trying to explain life—which, by the way, though science makes great claims and has done very well in systems of nuclear particles and even simple atomic systems, the idea that science can make any statement about what life is or where it comes from is preposterous. Science has nothing to say about how you can decide to close your hand into a fist, and it happens. This is utterly outside the realm of scientific explanation. Because what we see in that phenomenon is mind as a first cause. In other words, we see matter—it’s an example of telekinesis: matter is caused by mind to move. So science has—we need not fear the sneers of science in the matter of the fate or origin of the soul.
And, as I say, my thrust into this has always been the psychedelic experience. But I’ve been thinking recently more about dreams, because dreams are a much more generalized form of experience of the hyper-dimension, or the mode in which life and mind seem to be embedded. And looking at dreams and looking at what people with shamanic traditions say about dreams, you come to the realization that, experientially, for those people, it is a parallel continuum. The shaman accesses it with hallucinogens (or other things which I mentioned, but most efficaciously with hallucinogens), but everybody else accesses it through dreams. Now, Freud’s idea about dreams was—I forget the German term, but he called them “day residues.” He always felt that you could trace the content of the dream down to a distortion of something that happened during the day, or, you know, during waking time.
I think that it’s much more useful to try and make, actually, a kind of geometric model of consciousness, and to take seriously the idea of a parallel continuum, and to say that the mind and the body are embedded in the dream. And the dream is a kind—not a kind of, but a higher-order spatial dimension. So that, in sleep, you are released into the real world of which the world of waking is only the surface. And in a very literal sense it’s the surface. It’s the surface in a geometric sense; that there is a plenum. And recent experiments in quantum physics tend to back this up. There is a holographic plenum of information. All information is everywhere. Information that is not here is nowhere. And that information stands outside of historical time. It’s like Plato said: “Time is the moving image of eternity.” Eternity does not have a temporal existence—even the kind of temporal existence where you say it always existed. It does not have temporal duration of any sort. It is eternity.
We are not primarily biology with mind emerging as a kind of iridescence, a kind of epiphenomenon at the higher levels of organization of biology. We are, in fact, hyper-dimensional objects of some sort which cast a shadow into matter. And the shadow in matter is the body. And at death what happens, basically, is that the shadow withdraws, or the thing which casts the shadow withdraws, and metabolism ceases, and matter—which had been organized into a dissipative structure in a very localized area, sustaining itself against entropy by cycling material in and degrading it and expelling it—that whole phenomenon ceases. But the thing which ordered it is not affected by that. And when I make these declarative statements, I’m making them from the point of view of this shamanic tradition which touches all these higher religions. Everything, basically, except rationalism holds to some version of what I’m saying.
So then, the dream state and the psychedelic state acquire great import because there is, then, a task to life. And the task to life is to become familiar with this thing which is causing being, and to be familiar with it at the moment of passing. In other words, the metaphor is used by several traditions of a vehicle; an after death vehicle, an astral body, something like that. And, shamanism and certain yogas, Taoist yoga, claim very clearly that the purpose is to familiarize yourself with this after-death body in life. And then the act of dying will not create confusion in the psyche. You will recognize what is happening, you will know what to do, and you will make the clean break.
And there does seem to be the possibility of a problem in dying. In other words, what I’m telling you is not that you’re condemned to eternal life. I’m saying it’s a possibility that you can muff it through ignorance. In other words, at the moment of death there is a kind of a separation. It’s like birth. The metaphor is trivial but perfect. There is a possibility of damage, of incorrect activity. Again, William Blake, who said that as you start into the spiral, there is the possibility of falling from the golden track into eternal death. But it is only a crisis of a moment; it’s a crisis of passage. And the whole purpose of shamanism, and of life correctly lived, is to strengthen the soul and to strengthen the relationship to the soul so that this passage can be cleanly made.
Okay. This is not anything Earth-shaking, or it’s well known; it’s a traditional position, actually. But now I want to assimilate one more abyss into this model, one less familiar to us as rationalists, but well familiar to us just one level deeper in the psyche as Christians and Westerners. And that is this idea that the world will end, that there will be a final time. That there is not only the crisis of the death of the individual, there is the crisis of the death of the species. What this seems to be about is that, from the time that there is an awareness of the existence of the soul (we’ll say circa 50,000 B.P.), until the resolution of the apocalyptic potential, there is something like 50,000 years—which, in biological time, is only a moment, but it is the entire span of history times five. In that period, everything hangs in the balance, because it is a mad rush from monkeydom to starshiphood. And in the leap across those 25,000 years, energies are released, religions are shot off like sparks, philosophies evolve and die, science arises, magic arises, all of these things which control power with greater and lesser degrees of ethical constancy appear. There is the possibility—as in the metaphor of dying—there is a possibility of mucking it up, of aborting the species-transformation into a hyperspatial entelechy.
We are now—there can be no doubt—that we are now in the final seconds of that crisis. A crisis which involves the end of history, the departure from the planet, the triumph over death, and the release of the individual from matter. We are, in fact, closing distance with the most profound event a planetary ecology can encounter, which is the freeing of life from the dark chrysalis of matter. The old metaphor of psyche as the butterfly is a species-wide metaphor. We must undergo a metamorphosis in order to survive the momentum of the historical forces already in motion.
Well, if you know anything about evolutionary biology, you know that man is considered to be an unevolving species. In other words, sometime in the last 100,000 years, with the invention of culture, the biological evolution of man ceased and evolution became a cultural phenomenon. Tools, languages, and philosophies began to evolve, but the human somatype began to remain the same. So we are very much like people a long time ago. But technology is the real skin of our species. Man—correctly seen in the context of the last 500 years—is an extruder of a technological shell. We take in matter that has a low degree of organization, we put it through mental filters, and we extrude Lindisfarne gospels, space shuttles, all of these things. This is what we do. We’re like coral animals embedded in a technological reef of extruded psychic objects. And the tool is the flying saucer, or the soul exteriorized in three dimensional space. It’s as James Joyce said: it’s the problem of how man may be dirigible, right? And how man may be dirigible is basically by turning himself inside out. In other words, the body must become an interiorized hologramatic object embedded in a solid-state hyper-dimensional matrix which is eternal. So that man wanders through Elysium in his body—this is a kind of Islamic paradise that I’m putting out here—wanders through Elysium in his body, experiencing all the pleasures of the flesh, but not realizing that he is a holographic projection of a solid-state matrix that is micro-miniaturized, superconducting, and nowhere to be found. It is part of the plenum.
And all history is about producing prototypes of this situation with greater and greater closure toward the ideal. So that airplanes, automobiles, condominiums, space shuttles, space colonies, starships of the hardware, speed of light, spin-dizzy drive type—all of these are, as Mircea Eliade said, self-transforming images of flight that speak volumes about man’s aspiration to self-transcendence. So that our wish, our salvation, and our only hope, basically, is to end the historical crisis by becoming the alien, by ending alienation, by recognizing the alien as the self, in fact; recognizing the alien as an overmind which holds all the physical laws of the planet intact in the same way that you hold an idea intact in your mind.
In other words, all these givens which are thought to be so writ in adamantine are actually merely the moods of the god (if you will) which we happen to be. And the whole thing about human history is recovering this piece of lost information so that man may be dirigible—or again, to quote Finnegan’s Wake: (Moicane is the red light district of Dublin) “Here in Moicane, we flop on the seamy side. But n’ent, prospector, you sprout all your worth and you woof your wings. So if you want to be phoenixed, come and be parked.” It’s that simple, you see? But it takes courage to be parked when the grim reaper draws near. “A blessing in disguise,” Joyce calls him.
So to me, what psychedelics point out—and where I think society will go once they are integrated to the point where large groups of people can plan research programs without fear of being persecuted for it—is: it models the after-death state. It may do more than model it. It may essentially reveal the nature of it. That our mind (what we each call our mind) can be… the modalities of appearance and understanding can be shifted so that we see it within the context of the one mind. And then, problems like the existence of extraterrestrials and that kind of thing become trivial, because the one mind that I am talking about contains all experiences of the other. All experiences of the other. There is not the Newtonian universe deployed throughout the parsecs and chiliocosms of physical space and the interior mental universe. They are the same thing. We perceive them as unresolvable dualisms because of what is called, or what I call, the quality of the code—meaning the language we use to discuss this problem has these built-in dualisms.
This is a problem of language. All codes have code qualities except the lógos. The lógos is perfect, and therefore it partakes of no quality other than itself. But so long as you deal, so long as you map with something other than the lógos, there will be code qualities. And the dualism built into our language makes the death of the species, the death of the individual—these seem to be opposed things. Likewise, the problems biology (and, by extrapolation, exobiology) pose by examining the physical universe, versus the angel- and demon- haunted world that depth psychology is reporting on is again set up as a dichotomy.
All that is needed to go beyond an academic understanding of what I’ve been saying is to have the experience of this tryptamine-induced ecstasy. In other words, for reasons which I leave to my brother, the tryptamine molecule has this unique property of releasing the structured self into the over-self. And each person who has that experience undergoes a mini-apocalypse, a mini-entry and mapping into hyperspace. For society to change in this direction nothing is necessary except for this experience to become an object of general concern.
Now, I’m not saying everybody should rush out and take mushrooms, in case you thought that’s what I was saying. But I am saying that these fields of information which—I don’t know if you’re like me, but my experience of these things is basically literary. I read Plotinus, I read Heraclitus, I read all this stuff, and I try to integrate it intellectually. But it is a plane of experience that is directly accessible. And the role that each of us plays in relationship to it determines how we will present ourselves in the final transformation that this hints of.
In other words, in this theory there is a kind of teleological bias. There is a belief that there is a hyperobject—called the overmind, or God, or what have you—that casts a shadow into time. And history is the experiencing of this shadow. And as you draw closer and closer to the source of the shadow, the paradoxes intensify, the rate of change intensifies. Because what is happening is that this hyperobject is beginning to ingress into three-dimensional space. One way of thinking of it is that the waking world and the world of the dream begin to become one, so that the school of flying saucer criticism which has said flying saucers are hallucinations was, in a certain sense, correct—in that the laws which operate in the dream, the laws which operate in hyperspace, can at times operate in three-dimensional space when the barrier between the two modes becomes weak. And then you have these curious experiences, sometimes called psychotic breaks, sometimes called whatever, but which always have a tremendous impact on the person they’re happening to because there seems to be an exterior component that could not possibly be mental.
What I’m talking about is: when coincidences begin to build and build and build, until you finally say, you know, “I don’t know what is going on, but it’s preposterous to claim that this is a psychological phenomenon.” Because these are changes in the world—what Jung called synchronicity, and made a certain model of. But what it really is, is that an alternative physics is beginning to impinge on reality. And it is the physics of light, essentially. Light is composed of photons. Photons have no antiparticle. This means that there is no dualism in the world of light. And if you try to imagine the experience from the point of view of a thing made of light, you realize—I’m sure you’re all familiar with the conventions of relativity, which say that time slows down as you approach the speed of light. But what is never said about that is that, if you move at the speed of light, there is no time whatsoever. There is an experience of time zero.
So if you imagine, for a moment, yourself to be made of light or in possession of a vehicle which can move at the speed of light, you can traverse from any point in the universe to any other with a subjective experience of time zero. This means that you cross to Alpha Centauri—time zero. But the amount of time that has passed in the relativistic universe is whatever it is; four and a half years. But if you move very great distances, if you cross 250,000 light years across to Andromeda, you still have an experience of time zero. The only experience of time that you have is a subjective time that is created by your own mentation. But in relationship to the so-called Newtonian universe, there is no time whatsoever. You exist in eternity. You have become eternal. Now, of course, the universe is aging at a staggering rate all around you in this situation. But you perceive it as a fact of the universe the way we perceive Newtonian physics as a fact of this universe. So you have essentially translated into this eternal mode that I mentioned: time as the moving image of eternity. You are then away from the moving image. You exist in this static mode.
I believe that this is what technology pushes toward, and that there is no opposition between, you know, ecological balance, and the people who want to leave the planet, and the hyper-technologists, and the hyper-naturalists. All of these are red herrings. The real historical entity which is becoming imminent is the human soul. The monkey body has served to carry to this moment of release—and it will always serve as a focus of self image, but it will exist in a world made by the human imagination. This is what the return to the father, the transcendence of Isis, the rising out of the gnostic universe of iron that traps the light, all these metaphors—this is what it means. It means release into the human imagination.
Very shortly, as it were, a dry run for this phenomenon will take place in the form of space exploration and space colonies. Because there, the coral reef-like animal called man that has extruded technology all over the surface of the Earth will be freed at last from the constraints of anything but his own imagination and the limitations of materials. So that, for instance, the earliest space colonies—of course there will be an effort to duplicate the ecosystem of Hawai’i, and this and that. You know, these exercises in ecological understanding to prove you know what you’re doing. But as soon as this is under control we will be released into the realm of art, which is what we have always striven for. We will make our world—all of our world. And the world we came from will be maintained as a garden. But what Eliade indicated as these endless metaphors of self-transforming flight will be realized momentarily as the technology of the space colony.
What is lining up right behind that, of course, is the fact that the transition from earth to space is a staggeringly tight genetic filter; a much tighter filter than any previous frontier ever has been, even the genetic demographic filter represented by the New World. It’s said that, you know, the vitality of America is because only the dreamers and the pioneers and the schemers made the trip across. This will be even more true of the transition to space. And the technological conquest of space will set the stage, then, for the interiorization of that metaphor, and the conquest of inner space, and the collapse of the state vectors associated with this technology deployed in Newtonian space. And then man will have become more than dirigible.
I think a break here is in order.
Let’s have a break.
I’ll just say a couple more things, and then there seemed to be a lot of questions, so I’ll throw it open for questions. But before I do that, I mentioned this book, The Invisible Landscape, that my brother and I wrote, and I’ll say just a bit about it because it relates to what’s been said. I spoke in general terms about the technology which would interiorize the body, exteriorize the soul. Spoke of it as a long-term technological goal—meaning visible within the next hundred or so years, following on to space travel, that sort of thing. But what The Invisible Landscape is about is an effort to short-circuit that chronology, and to actually, in a certain sense, force the issue. It’s the story—or rather, it’s the intellectual underpinnings of the story—of an expedition to the Amazon by my brother and myself and several other people in 1971, in which my brother formulated an idea that involved using harmine and harmaline. These are compounds which occur in banisteriopsis caapi, which is the woody vine that is the basis for ayahuasca. And ayahuasca is one of these plant hallucinogens that releases you into this dimension I’m discussing.
An effort to use harmine in conjunction with the human voice in a (what we called) the experiment at La Chorrerra, which was basically—you can take it as very loose science or very tight magic, but it was an effort to use sound to charge the molecular structure of these harmine molecules metabolizing in vivo, in the body, in such a way that they would bind preferentially into certain molecular structures. Our candidate at the time was DNA. I think Frank Barr has convinced me that there is as great a likelihood that it involves binding into melanin bodies as likely a possibility as that it involves DNA. But it involves binding into a molecular site where information is stored, so that this information is then broadcast in, essentially, the mind in such a way that you begin to get a readout on the structure of the soul. In other words, this was an effort to use a kind of shamanic technology to bell the cat, if you will; to hang a superconducting, telemetric, psychedelic device on the overmind so that there would be a continuous readout of information from this dimension. And the success or failure of this you may judge by reading the book, because the first half of the book describes the experiment, the theoretical underpinning of the experiment. The second half of the book describes the theory of the structure of time that derived from the bizarre mental states that followed upon the experiment. I don’t claim that we succeeded. I just claim that our theory of what happened is better than any theory any of our critics have been able to bring forward.
But whether we succeeded or not, that kind of thinking points the way. In other words, when I speak of the technology of building the starship, I imagine it will be done with voltages far below the voltage of a common flashlight battery. This is, after all, where the most interesting phenomena go on in nature. Thought is that kind of phenomenon, metabolism is that kind of phenomenon. So I think that, you know, an aquarian science—or a science that places the psychedelic experience at the center of its program of investigation—should move toward a practical realization of this goal: the goal of eliminating the barrier between the ego and the overself, so that the ego can perceive itself as an expression of the overself. So that the anxiety of being cast into matter, of apparently facing a tremendous biological crisis in the form of death, of apparently facing a tremendous physical species crisis in the form of the apocalypse, the crisis of limitation in physical space by being planet-bound—all of these things can be obviated by cultivating the soul, basically. By practicing shamanism using these tryptamine drugs that I’ve described.
And my plea to scientists, administrators, and politicians who may be listening to my voice is to look again at psilocybin. To not lump it with the other psychedelics. To realize that it is a phenomenon unto itself and it has an enormous potential for transforming mankind—not simply transforming the people who take it, but it is like an art movement or a mathematical understanding or a scientific breakthrough. It holds the possibility of transforming the entire society simply by virtue of the information that is coming through. This is a source of gnosis. And the voice of gnosis has been silenced in the Western mind for at least a thousand years.
I like to think that when these Franciscans and Dominicans arrived in Mexico in the sixteenth century, they immediately set about stamping this thing out. The Indians called it teonanácatl, the flesh of the gods. Well, the Catholic church has a monopoly on theophagia and was not pleased by this particular approach to what was going on. Now—300, 400 (whatever it is) years after that initial contact—I think that Eros, which retreated from Greece and retreated from Europe with the rise of Christianity, retreated to the mountains of the Sierra Mazeteca, essentially, and then was finally pushed into seclusion there. It now reemerges in Western consciousness. And our institutions, our epistemology, all of these things are so shakily founded and so misconstrued that, with the help of shamanically inspired personalities, we can release this thing once again. I mean, the lógos can be unleashed once again, and the voice that spoke to Plato and Parmenides and Heraclitus, that voice can speak again in the minds of modern people. And when it does, the alienation will be ended because we will have become the alien. And this is the promise that is held out. And I realize that it may seem to some a nightmare vision, but all historical changes of immense magnitude have had that quality, because they propel people into a completely new world.
Are there any questions? Yes?
Well, you indicate that this essentially needs to be done through hallucinogens. I’m not saying they’re good or bad, I’m just saying that there appear to be many ways of discovering the inner reality, the ultimate reality.
You want me to comment on that?
I agree with you that this is a strongly held position. I always, in my explorations, have recourse to my own experience, and I’ve not had good luck with any of these other techniques. I spent time in India, practiced yoga, scoured the various rishis, roshis, geishas and gurus that Asia had to offer, and I believe they must be talking about something, but it, in my experience, is so pale and so far removed from the actual closure with the intense tryptamine ecstasy, that I don’t really know what to make of it. And I am willing to believe these things are possible, I just must be a very grounded person.
Well maybe it’s a shortcut for a lot of people.
Well, tantra, for instance, claims to be—that’s what tantra means, is: the shortcut path. And certainly, they might be on the right track. Sexuality, orgasm, these things do have tryptamine-esque qualities to them. But the main thing about psilocybin—and I stress it over all these other hallucinogens—is information. Immense amounts of information. In my experience, a hallucinogen like LSD, the hallucinations seem largely to be somehow related to the structure of the optic nerve, or they are essentially trivial. They are geometric patterns, shifting lights, this and that—unless synergized by another drug. The classic psychedelic experience that started it all with Huxley and those people was, I believe, 200 micrograms of LSD and 30 milligrams of mescaline. And I would believe that that would deliver a visionary experience rather than an experience of hallucinations. And the difference is: what psilocybin shows you is not colored lights and moving grids, it shows you places: jungles, cities, machines, books, architectonic form of incredible complexity. Just click, click, click. There is no possibility that this could be construed as noise of any sort. It is, in fact, the most highly ordered visual information that you ever experienced. Much more highly ordered than the visual experience I’m having at this moment of this room.
But is that information in the form of a flood of data? That isn’t gnosis. I mean, could you spell out what you mean? You certainly must mean something more important or valuable than data.
Well, no. No. I think I talked about this last time—that Philo Judaeus talks about what he calls a “more perfect lógos.” He says a more perfect lógos would be beheld rather than heard. In other words, the formulation you get in the gospel of John: In principio erat verbum, et verbum caro factum est. “In the beginning was the word”—yes, it was the word in the beginning. But this is a strange kind of word. It is a word which is visually beheld. And the language in which the gnosis communicates is a language of visual forms such that there is no ambiguity about meaning, because there is no recourse to a dictionary of agreed upon signification. It is purely beheld.
This is why it’s very hard—one of the main problems of psychedelic drugs is to bring back information. Because it is hard to English it. And the reason it’s hard to English it is because it’s like trying to make a three-dimensional rendering of a fourth-dimensional object. Only through the medium of sight can the true modality of this lógos be perceived. That’s why it’s so interesting (and I should have maybe talked more about it) that psilocybin and ayahuasca—which is this aboriginal drug which uses tryptamine to make it run—is… there’s a telepathic component, which is: there is a shared state of mind. Because the unfolding hallucination is shared in complete silence. And, you know, it’s very hard to prove this to a scientist. But if four people are having this experience, you know, one people can, like, monologue it, and then cease the monologue and another person will take it up. Everyone is seeing the same thing. And it is the quality of being visual information—to answer your question, Arthur—that seems to make this lógos believable. In the way that I quoted William Blake when he said the truth cannot be told.
That is very powerful, that statement.
And you do believe it. You do believe it.
But I was going to say that—you’re speaking of seeing. And we say QED after the demonstration in geometry, but the Hindus says “behold.” Now, the seeing involved there I wouldn’t think of as visual, but it does get the word “seeing” a name. Seeing, you somehow, your whole whatever it is (I wouldn’t say mind; your being), resonates. I like to use the term “recognize.” You see that this is the same thing as the other thing. And I don’t know whether it’s seeing, but seeing is a good word, but I wouldn’t call it visual.
No, well, it isn’t exactly visual. I mean, again, to quote Philo Judaeus on the lógos: he says that the lógos goes from a thing heard to a thing seen without ever crossing through a quantized transition point. And yet, this seems impossible. It seems a logical impossibility, because it is either one or the other. And yet, when you actually have the experience, you see: aha! It is as though the thought is heard!
Well, that’s the recognition.
The thought which is heard becomes more and more intense until, finally, its intensity is such that, with there being no jump or glitch, you now are beholding it in a three-dimensional visual space, and you command it. And this is very typical of psilocybin.
I have two questions. One: when you were talking in terms of the dialogue, I was wondering if you could kind of be more descriptive in that regard. And the other thing was: as far as the effects of this type of experience, especially over, say, a prolonged period of time on the body, and the body as an energy system -- how do you balance that or how do you counteract possible negative effects?
Okay, well, I’ll take the last part first, which is about the body. I’m not an abuser. It takes me a long time to assimilate each experience. And I feel, you know, I never have lost my respect for it. I mean, I really feel dread is one of the emotions that I always feel as I approach it, because I have no faith that my sails won’t be ripped this time. I always make the metaphor, you know: it’s like sailing out into a dark ocean in your little skiff. And you may view the moon rising serenely over the calm black water, or something the size of a freight train may roar right through your scene and leave you clutching at an oar. And I don’t know, astrology is maybe helpful in figuring out when to go and when not to go, but there needs to be a way to figure out when to go and when not to go.
Now, your question about the dialogue. I mean this very literally. It speaks to you. You speak to it. It says things. I don’t know how many of you have read the book that my brother and I wrote under pseudonyms called Psilocybin: The Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide, but in the introduction there, there is a rap which is all about: I am old, fifty times older than thought in your species, and I came from the stars. Well that’s verbatim, you know? I just was writing it furiously. And sometimes it’s very human. I mean, my approach to it is hasidic. I rave at it, it raves at me. We argue about what it’s going to cough up and what it isn’t. And I say, “Well, look. You know, I’m the grower. You can’t hold back on me!” And it says, “Well, but if I showed you the flying saucer for five minutes you would figure out how it works!” And I said, “Well, you know, come through!” I remember once I asked it—what was it?—it has these many manifestations. Sometimes it’s like Dorothy, sometimes it’s like a very Talmudic sort of pawn-broker. And I asked it one time, “What are you doing on Earth?" And it said, “Wll, you know, you’re a mushroom, you live cheap. It’s very… this was a quiet neighborhood till the monkeys got out of control.”
I’d like some clarification on some of the things you said. I can understand, at least in my own way, how this idea about an over-consciousness—or, you know—casting a shadow, and that our psychedelic experience or dream experience has to do with getting in touch with that. But you said that some—I’m not really positive about this, which is why I need some clarification on it—is that in some sense that those brief experiences, something about that our experience was in order to get back there, and that was the reason for us to be?
Let me see. Well, I think that this object that—as a friend of mine said: history is the shockwave of eschatology. In other words, we are living in a very unique moment, ten or twenty thousand years long, where this immense transition is happening. And the object at the end of and beyond history—which is the human species transformed into this eternal, superconducting, overmind, spacecraft thing—is casting a shadow back through time. And all religion, all philosophy, all wars, pogroms, persecutions are because people do not get the message right. And that’s because there is both the forward-flowing casuistry of being, causal determinism, and the interference pattern that is formed against that by the backward-flowing fact of this eschatological hyperobject throwing its shadow across the landscape. So we exist. There is a great deal of noise. This situation called history is totally unique. It will only last for a moment. It began a moment ago, it will only last for a moment. But in that moment there is, like, this tremendous burst of static as the monkey goes to godhood. And there is this crossing of the… I don’t like to call it the casuistry, but the efficacy of the eschaton, this final eschatological object, and the forward flow of entropic circumstance.
Does that get it for you? Maybe.
Well, I have a little bit of trouble thinking, kind of like, which came first? Are you saying the chicken or the egg? Are you saying that this over-consciousness has something to do with…?
Well, I’m certainly saying that life is necessary. It is not an idea that we have been skewed onto a siding called organic existence, and that our actual place is in eternity. No. There is something about—this is a very important part of the cycle. It is a filter. Remember I mentioned that I thought there was the possibility of extinction? There was the possibility of falling into physis forever. And so, in that sense, the metaphor of the fall is valid. There is a spiritual obligation. There is a task to be done. It isn’t, though, simply something as simpleminded as following a set of somebody else’s rules. It’s that the noetic enterprise is a primary obligation of being in this circumstance, and that your salvation is linked to it. And not everyone has to read alchemical texts or study superconducting biochemistry to make the transition.
Most people make it naïvely by thinking clearly about the present at hand. But we (and I) are intellectuals trapped in a world of too much information. Innocence is gone for us. We cannot expect to cross the rainbow bridge through the act a of a good act of contrition. That won’t be sufficient. We have to understand. And I recall, you know, Whitehead said understanding is the apperception of pattern as such. Because to fear death is to not understand what’s going on. And to even see it as a big deal is to not understand what is going on—though I don’t claim to have reached that exalted plane.
But cognitive activity is the defining fact of humanness. Language, thought, analysis, art, poetry, myth-making—these are the things that point the way toward the realm of being of the eschaton. That is what Joyce means when he says man may become dirigible. In other words, man may be released into a realm of pure engineering. The imagination is everywhere. This was Blake’s perception, this is where we come from, this is where we’re going. And it is only to be approached through cognitive activity, I think.
Can you comment on the importance of your discussion on the I Ching in your book?
Well, very briefly—because I always feeling this part bores people more than any other because it hinges on tiny details—but briefly, what the lógos said to me was that time is not simply a homogeneous medium where things occur. You can think of it as a fluctuating density of probability. So that, though science will tell us what can happen and what cannot happen, we have no theory that explains why, out of everything that could happen, certain things undergo what Whitehead called the formality of actually occurring. And this was what the lógos sought to explain to me. Why, out of all the myriad things that could happen, certain things undergo the formality of occurring? And it is because there is a modular hierarchy of waves of temporal conditioning, or temporal density, or in other words, a given moment it is more likely for a certain event—rated highly improbable—it is more probable at some moments than others. And taking that simple perception, and being led by the hand by the lógos, we were able to construe maps of time which we run on a computer, and which give a map of the ingression of what I call novelty. The ingression of novelty into time.
Now, as a general statement, it’s obvious that novelty generally is increasing. It has been since the very beginning of the universe. Because first there was only the possibility of nuclear interaction, and then, as temperatures fell below the bond strength of the nucleus, atomic systems could be formed. And then, as temperatures fell, molecular systems could be formed. And much later, life became possible. And then as very high lifeforms, complex lifeforms, evolved, thought became possible, culture was invented. Then, with the invention of printing and language, and then printing, and then electronic information movement, and this kind of thing. What is happening is: there is an ingression of novelty toward what Whitehead—and I took his term—called concrescence. And this is a tightening gyre. Everything is flowing together. And, in fact, the man-made lapis, the alchemical stone at the end of time, occurs when everything flows together, when the laws of physics are obviated and the universe disappears. And what is left is the tightly bound plenum—the monad, if you wish—able to express itself for itself rather than able only to cast a shadow into physis as its reflection.
And I come very close here to classical millenarian and apocalyptarian thought. My view of the rate at which change is accelerating, and the way the gyre is tightening, causes me to think (and the [time] wave predicts this) that it is not long, it is soon. 50 years, 25 years, 35 years. Then this event will occur. It is the entry of the species into hyperspace. But it will appear to be the collapse of the state vector, and the end of physical laws, and the release of the mind into itself.
And all these other images—the starship, the space colony, all that—these are precursors. Again: the idea that history is the shockwave of eschatology. As you close distance with the eschatological object, the reflections it is throwing off become more and more true to the thing itself. And in the final moment, God stands revealed. There are no more reflections of the mystery. The mystery in all its nakedness, then, is seen. And nothing else exists. But what this is, decency can safely scarcely hint at it.