Opening the Doors of Creativity

October 20, 1990


Well, I am most pleased and most happy to introduce our very special guest speaker tonight, Mr. Terence McKenna.


Well, it’s a pleasure to be here. It’s wonderful to see so many familiar faces, and so many faces, period. I’ve never been to Port Hueneme before—probably some of you feel the same way. But I’ve been doing a lot of traveling recently. I was in New York last weekend at the Open Center, and in Prague two weeks before that, so this is the end of a long season of traveling. I’m not home yet, but at least I’m in my own time zone. I want to especially thank Andy Voth and the Carnegie Museum of Art in Oxnard for inviting me to participate. It represents a real commitment to free speech and first amendment rights, I think, for an art museum. Art museums have been taking some knocks recently, and so I think they doubly should be commended for their courage.


And, I want to explain, as Andy mentioned: this is a benefit for Botanical Dimensions, which explains the double price over the ticket. All of this money will go to the preservation of medicinal plants with a history of shamanic usage. That is the special focus of our botanical garden in Hawai’i. And before I start the formal lecture, I’d like to just say a little bit about that. As you know, the rainforests of the world are being cleared at a very frightening rate, and perhaps voices are beginning to be heard to halt this destruction of the natural environment. But whether it’s halted or not, the destruction of the knowledge of native peoples concerning the uses of the plants in the rainforest, this is disappearing without doubt in the next thirty years. Because these people are moving into cities, taking jobs in the ordinary market economy, and thousands of years of accumulated folk medical knowledge is being lost.


So the real-world political work that Kat and I do is associated with Botanical Dimensions. We conceived it together many, many years ago, and then about six years ago, Kat took it over, put it on its official feet, made it a nonprofit foundation, and has run it day to day since then with tremendous energy and efficiency. So I’d like to acknowledge Kat McKenna here—my better half; in fact, my only good half.


And then I wanted to underscore what Andy said: a very special event, two weeks from now at the Carnegie Museum. Roy Tuckman, Roy of Hollywood, bon vivant, countercultural figure, informational ferret of our time, will be recast as an experimental composer of great energy and imagination, and I hope you’ll all turn out for Roy. He’s been a wonderful force in my life and I think in the cultural life of Southern California. Both Roy and Diane have done a wonderful job in raising the quality of public dialogue in Southern California, which I think is a precondition for any kind of clear thinking about our future or our political situation. So here’s to Roy and Diane.


Okay. Well, the theme that unites these lectures is creativity and the techniques by which the artist can refine his or her vision, expand the vision, communicate the vision. And before I get into that issue, I thought I would talk just a little bit about my notion of creativity per se: what is it in and of itself? And when I think like that, of course, I cast my mind back to nature. Nature is the great visible engine of creativity against which all other creative efforts are measured. And creativity in nature has a curious distribution. It’s something which accumulates through time. If we stand back and look at the universe, we see that, at its earliest moments, it was very simple. It was a plenum. It was without characters or characteristics. It was what in Hindu mythology is called the turiya, which is described as attributeless. And naturally, if something is without attribution, you can’t say much about it. It takes a while for it to undergo a declension into more creative realms. And these creative realms are distinguished as domains of difference.


The precondition for creativity is, I think, disequilibrium—what mathematicians now call chaos. And through the life of the universe, as temperatures have fallen, more and more complex compound structures have arisen. And though there’s been, you know, many a slipping back in this process, over very large spans of time we can say that creativity is conserved, that the universe becomes more creative. And out of that state of creative fecundity more creativity is manifest. So that, from that point of view, the universe is almost what we would have to call an art-making machine: an engine for the production of ever more novel forms of connectedness, ever more exotic juxtapositions of disparate elements. And out of this, I believe, arises (implicitly) a set of principles we can then apply to the human artist in the human world.


Nature’s creativity is, obviously, the wellspring of human creativity. We emerge out of nature almost—and this idea I think was fairly present close to the surface of the medieval mind—we emerge out of nature almost as its finest work of art. The medieval mind spoke of the productions of nature: this is a phrase you hear as late as the 18th century. The productions of nature. And human creativity emerges out of that, whether you have a model of the Aristotelian great ladder of being, or a more modern evolutionary view where we actually consolidate emergent properties and somehow bring them to a focus of self-reflection.


Now, I’m sure that we couldn’t carry out a discussion of this sort without observing that the prototypic figure for the artist, as well as for the scientist, is the shaman. The shaman is the figure at the beginning of human history that unites the doctor, the scientist, and the artist into a single notion of care-giving and creativity. And I think that, you know, to whatever degree art over the past several centuries has wandered in the desert, it is because this shamanic function has been either suppressed or forgotten. And different images of the artist have been held up at different times: the artist as artisan, the artist as handmaiden of a ruling class or family, the artist as designer for the production of integrated objects into a civilization.


This notion of the artist as mystical journeyer, as one who goes into a world unseen by others and then returns to tell them of it, was pretty much lost in the post-medieval and renaissance conception of art—up until the late 19th century or early 20th century, where, beginning with the Romantics, there is a new permission to explore the irrational. This really is the bridge back to the archaic, shamanic function of the artist: permission to explore the irrational. The Romantics did it with their elevation of titanic emotion, of romantic love specifically. The symbolists, in the mid-19th century, did it by a re-emphasis on the emotional content of the image and a rejection of the previous rationalism. And that emphasis on the image and on the emotions set the stage, then, for what I take to be the truly shamanic movements in art, which begin, really, with Alfred Jarry in the late 1880s, early 1890s. Jarry, you may remember, was the founder of something called the École du Pataphysique: the ’Pataphysical College. Jarry announced ’Pataphysics is the science. The problem was, nobody could understand what it meant or what it stood for—including Jarry. Jarry was tied with Lautréamont, who (you may recall) said, “I am fascinated by that kind of beauty that arises when a sewing machine meets a bicycle on an operating table.” See, this was a true effort to bend the boundaries of art, to create new permission. Permission, really, for the unthinkable.


And this, again, reinforces the shamanic function. What do we mean when we say “the unthinkable”? We mean the envelope of that which can be conceived. And for at least 200 years, the ostensible mission of the artist has been to test the conceptual and imagistic envelope of what the society is willing to tolerate. And this has taken many forms: the deconstruction of imagery that we get with abstract impressionism (going back into impressionism and the pointillists), or the permission for the irrational imagery of the unconscious. Surrealism and German expressionism make use of this permission. Always the idea being to somehow destroy the idols of the tribe, dissolve the conceptual boundary of ordinary expectation.


Well, in order to do this, it seems to me there is a precondition for the creation of art which I call understanding. And I don’t mean this in an intellectual sense. I mean it in the sense that Alfred North Whitehead intended when he defined understanding as the apperception of pattern as such. As such: there’s nothing more to it than that. You see, if we were to look at this room, and we were to squint our eyes—and I’m doing this right now and I see that the room divides itself into people dressed in red and people dressed in blue. This is a pattern, and it tells me something about what I’m looking at. Now I shift my depth of field. Now I’m looking at where men are sitting and where women are sitting. This is a different pattern and it tells me more about what I am looking at. The number of these patterns theoretically present in any construction is infinite. That says to me, then, that the depth of understanding cannot be known. It cannot be known. Everything is imminent. William Blake makes this point, you know? That you can see infinity in a grain of sand.


So understanding, then, is the precondition for creativity. And this understanding is not so much intellectual as it is visual. Visual. And in thinking about this, I realized what an influence on my own ideas in this area Aldous Huxley was. Not the Huxley that we might ordinarily associate with my concerns, the Huxley of The Doors of Perception and of Heaven and Hell, but the Huxley of a very modest book that he wrote in the early fifties that called The Art of Seeing. The Art of Seeing. And in that book he makes the point that a good art education begins with a good drawing hand. That to be able to coordinate the hand and eye and to see into nature, to see into the patterns present as such, is the precondition for a kind of approach to the absolute.


Now, out of this process of seeing—which I’m calling understanding—the creative process ushers in novelty. And many of you have heard me speak of novelty in another context: in the context of nature as a novelty-producing engine of some sort, and ourselves almost as the handiwork of nature. But this same handiwork of nature which we represent, we also internalize and re-express through the novelty of the human world. Well, now, if we take seriously the shamanic model as a basis for our authentic art, then certainly in the modern context what we see missing from the repertoire of the artist are shamanic techniques. And it’s for the discussion of these shamanic techniques, I believe, that I was brought here this evening.


So I want you to cast your mind back to a great seminal moment, germinal moment, in the history of human thought, which was: about 25,000 years ago, the great glaciers that had covered most of the Eurasian land mass began to melt and human populations that had been islanded from each other for about 15 millennia began to re-contact each other and reconnect. And out of this comes what is called the Magdalenian Revolution, from 18,000 to 22,000 years ago. And what it is, is nothing less than a tremendous explosion of creativity and aesthetic self-expression on the part of the human species.


We find for the first time bone and antler technology takes its place alongside stone technology. Musical instruments appear over a wide area. And cave paintings—some paintings in areas and recesses so remote from the surface of the ground that it takes several hours to reach them—are painted and set up in dramatic tableaus specifically designed to bring together sound, light, and dance in hierophanies. Extravaganzas of aesthetic output that invoke a kind of transcendent Other; that human beings, for the first time, are trying to come to grips with and make some kind of cultural statement about. And this pulling into matter of the ideas of human beings—first, you know, in the forms of beadwork and chipped stone and carved bone—within twenty thousand years ushers into the kinds of high civilizations that we see around us, and points us toward the kind of extraplanetary mega civilization that we can feel operating on our own present like a kind of great attractor.


Now, this whole intellectual adventure in exteriorization of ideas is entirely an aesthetic adventure. Until very recently, utility is only a secondary consideration. The real notion is a kind of seizure by the tremendum, by the Other, which then forces us to take up matter (clay, bone, flint) and put it through a mental process where we then excrete it as objects that have lodged within them ideas. This seems to be the special, unique, transcendental function of the human animal: is the production and condensation of ideas. And what made it possible for the human animal is language. If you’re seeking the thumbprint of the transcendental on the myriad phenomena that compose life on this planet, to my mind the place to look is human language. Human language represents an ontological break of major magnitude with anything else going on on this planet. I mean, yes, bees dance and dolphins squeak and chimpanzees do what they do, but it’s a hell of a step from there to Wallace Stevens, let alone William Shakespeare.


Language is the unique province of human beings, and language is the unique tool of the artist. The artist is the person of language. And I’ve, you know, given a lot of thought to this because the work that I’ve done with psilocybin mushrooms and the observations of psychedelic plant use in the Amazon, centered around ayahuasca, lead me to the conclusion that it is the synergy and catalysis of language that lies behind not only the emergence of human consciousness out of animal organization, but then its ability to set a course for a transcendental dimension and pursue that course against all the vicissitudes of biology and history over ten or fifteen thousand years. Language has made us more than a group of pack-hunting monkeys. It’s made us a group of pack-hunting monkeys with a dream. And the fallout from that dream has given us our glory and our shame: our weaponry, our technology, our art, our hopes, our fears. All of this arises out of our own ability to articulate and to communicate with each other. And I use this in the broadest sense. I mean, for me, the glory of the human animal is cognitive activity: song, dance, sculpture, poetry. All of these cognitive activities—when we participate in them, we cross out of the domain of animal organization and into the domain of a genuine relationship to the transcendent.


As you know, shamans in all times and places gain their power through relationships with helping spirits, which they sometimes call ancestors, sometimes call nature spirits. But somehow the acquisition of a relationship to a disincarnate intelligence is the precondition for authentic shamanism. Now, nowhere in our world do we have an institution like that that we do not consider pathological, except in the now very thinly spread tradition of the muse. That artists—alone among human beings—are given permission to talk in terms of “my inspiration,” or “a voice which told me to do this,” or “a vision that must be realized.” The thin thread of shamanic descent into our profane world leads through the office of the artist. And so, if society is to somehow take hold of itself at this penultimate moment, as we literally waver on the brink of planetary extinction, then the artist (like Ariadne following her thread out of the labyrinth) is going to have to follow this shamanic thread back through time.


And, you know, one of the most disempowering things that has been done to us by the male-dominant culture is to brush out our footprints into the past. We don’t have a clue as to how we got here. Most people can’t think further back than the first Nixon administration—let alone, you know, the arrival of the Vikings, the fall of Çatalhöyük, the melting of the glaciers, so forth and so on. We have been disempowered by a rational tendency to deny our irrational roots, which are kind of an embarrassment to science because science is the special province of the ego. And magic and art are the special province of something else. I could name it, but I won’t. It prefers to be unnamed, I think.


So how seriously, then, are we to take this—I’ll call it an obligation—to follow the shamanic thread back into time? Well, I think that it is a matter of saving our own souls. That this is the real challenge. You know, I love to dig at the yogans by saying nobody ever went into an ashram with their knees knocking in fear over the tremendous dimension they know they were about to enter through meditation. Still more true and more sad is the notion that very few of us pick up our sculpting tools or our airbrush with our knees knocking with fear because we know we are invoking and acting with the muse at our elbow. And somehow I think the artists need to recover this sense of mystery.


One of the most depressing things to me about the art scene—and I had a chance to reconnect with this because I was just in New York—is: it now has a kind of directionless quality. You can go into a gallery and you cannot tell whether it is 1990, 1980, 1970, or 1960. Because a kind of eschatological malaise has settled over art. All notion of any forward movement toward a transcendental ideal has been put aside for the exploration of idiosyncratic vision. And I grant you: this is a tension, and perhaps in the question period we can talk about this. There is a tension between the individual vision and the notion of an attractor or a collective vision which wants to be expressed. But to my mind this is the same dichotomous tension that haunts the individual in his or her relationship to Tao. You know, we don’t want to be lost in ego, but on the other hand, if we completely express the Tao, we have no sense of self. The ideal seems to be a kind of coincidencia oppositorum: a kind of literalizing of a paradox where what we have is Tao, but we perceive it as ego.


And in the application of this notion to the art problem I would say what we need is a situation where schooling—if you want to put it that way, or a tendency toward a coherent vision expressed by many artists—is spontaneous. Each artist imagines that they are pursuing their own vision. Yet, obviously, they are in the grip of an archetype which is rising through the medium of the unconscious. Now, the last time we saw this in American art was in abstract expressionism, which was probably, in terms of the values, in terms of tension and the amount of emotional gain between one artistic moment and another, the break between abstract expressionism and what preceded it was the most radical break in American art in this century. Abstract expressionism actually carried us into a confrontation with what the quantum physicists were telling us: that the universe is field upon field of integrated vibration, but there is no top level, there is no bottom level. That the ordinary structures of provisional spacetime are simply that. That if we can rise out of the human dimension, then we discover these larger, more integrated dimensions where mind and nature somehow interpenetrate each other. A vision like that, a coherent vision, has yet to announce itself here in the post-history, pre-apocalypse phase of things.


Well, I guess I have a kind of reactionary side when I think about the creative endeavor. I believe that the psychedelic experience—as encountered by each of you in the privacy of your own mind, or as encountered by a preliterate society somewhere in the world—that that psychedelic experience is in a way the Rosetta stone not only for understanding the encryption that our own lives represent each to ourselves. but it’s also a Rosetta stone for uncoding the historical experience. Art is this endeavor to leave the animal domain behind, to create another dimension orthogonal to the concerns of ordinary history. And this orthogonal domain, to my mind, is glimpsed most clearly in the psychedelic experience.


The psychedelic experience shows you more art in an hour and a half than the human species has produced in fifteen or twenty thousand years. Now, this is an incredible claim. This is why I make it. The energy barrier which separates us from this tremendous repository of transcendental imagery is very low. You know, it’s a matter of a little personal commitment and the substances which make the transition possible. The perturbation of brain chemistry is easily done. What is not so easily done is the assimilation of the consequences of this act. Ordinarily, we assume that consciousness is channeled between tremendously deep walls, that there is no way to force a confrontation with the Other or the transcendent or the unconscious. We tend to assume that, you know, we’re going to have to do double-duty at the ashram for three decades before we’re vouchsafed even a glimpse into these places.


This is not true. Culture—and this is my message to artists and to anybody else who cares to notice—culture is a plot against the expansion of consciousness. And this plot prosecutes its goals through a limiting of language. Language is the battleground over which the fight will take place. Because what we cannot say, we cannot communicate. And, by “say” I mean dance, paint, sing, meme. What we cannot say, we cannot communicate. We can conceive of things that we cannot communicate, and I think every one of us here has done that. And that’s a thrilling thing. That is the deep homework: that the psychedelic inner astronaut sees things which no human being has ever seen before and no other human being will ever see again. But, in fact, this has no meaning unless it is possible to carry it back into the collectivity. And what motivates me to talk to groups like this is the belief that we do not have centuries of gently unfolding time ahead of us in which to, you know, gently tease apart the threads of the human endeavor and create a bright new world. That’s not our circumstance. This is a fire in a madhouse. And to get a hold on the situation, I think we are going to have to force the issue.


Well, one way of forcing the issue—or a chemical definition of forcing the issue when you’re talking about a chemical reaction—is catalysis. We want to catalyze consciousness. We want to move it faster toward its goals, whatever those goals are. Well, I believe that, to the present moment, language—again, in the broadest sense: speech, dance, musical composition—language has just been allowed to grow like topsy. It’s been a kind of every man for himself situation. Now what we really need, as we see ourselves moving from one species among tens of thousands of species on this planet, over the past ten thousand years, we have redefined ourselves. And now, like it or not, we are the custodians of the destiny of this planet. Our decisions affect every lifeform on the planet. And yet we are still communicating with each other with the extremely precise medium of small mouth noises mediated by ignorance and hate. This doesn’t seem like the way to do business as we approach the third millennium.


So what I’m hopeful for, and what I actually see happening—I mean, I think we’re on the right track. The birth of a new kind of humanity is going to take place. But there are still a lot of decisions to be made. How violent shall this birth be? What toll shall it take upon our mother, the Earth? What shape shall the baby be in when it is finally delivered? These are the decisions that artists can mediate and control. Most people are afraid of the unconscious. This is why, you know, you can have a psychedelic compound like DMT—which is very much like ordinary brain chemistry, appears completely physiologically harmless, only lasts ten minutes, extremely powerful—and generally in this society you have no takers. This is because there has been a failure of moral courage. And the failure of moral courage is perhaps most evident in our own community: the community of the artist. In a way, it’s the poets who have failed us, because they have not provided a song or sung a vision that we could all move in concert to. So now we are in the absurd position of being able to do anything, and what we are doing is fouling our own nest and pushing ourselves toward planetary toxification and extinction. This is because the poets, the artists, have not articulated a moral vision. The moral vision must come from the unconscious.


It doesn’t have to do, I believe, with, you know, these post-meaning movements in art: deconstructionism and this sort of thing. I mean, I’m basically putting out a very conservative, but I think exciting, program for art: that art’s task is to save the soul of mankind. And that anything less is a dithering while Rome burns. Because if the artists—who are self-selected for,being able to journey into the Other—if the artists cannot find the way, then the way cannot be found. Ideology is extremely alien to art—political ideology, I mean. And if you will but notice: it is political ideology that has been calling the shots for the last seven or eight hundred years. We can transcend politics if we can put some other program in place. You cannot transcend politics into a void. And I believe that a world without ideology could be created if what were put in place of ideology were the notion or the realization of the good, the true, and the beautiful. You know, the three-tiered canon of the Platonic aesthetic. Reconnect the notion of the good, the true and the beautiful. Then use psychedelics to empower the artist to go into this vast dimension that surrounds human history on all sides to an infinite depth, and return from that world with the transcendental images that can lift us to a new cultural level. The muse is there. The dull maps that rationalism has given us are nothing more than whistling past the graveyard by the bad little boys of science. You only have to avail yourselves of these shamanic tools to rediscover a nature which is not mute—as Sartre said in a kind of culmination of the modern viewpoint—nature is not mute, it is man who is deaf. And the way to open our ears, open our eyes, and reconnect with the intent of a living world is through the psychedelics.


Now, as you know, biology runs on genes. And genes are the units of meaning of heredity. But we could make a model of the informational environment that is represented by culture—and, in fact, this is done. A word has been invented: meme. A meme is not the smallest unit of heredity, a meme is the smallest unit of meaning of an idea. Ideas are made of memes. And I think the art community might function with more efficiency in the production of visionary aesthetic breakthroughs if we would think of ourselves as an environment modeled after the natural environment, where we as artists are attempting to create memes which enter an environment of other memes that are in competition with each other, and out of this competition of memes ever more appropriate, adapted, and suitable ideas can gather and link themselves together into higher and higher organisms.


Now, in order for this to happen, there is an obligation upon each one of us to carry our ideas clearly. Because in the same way that a gene must be copied correctly to be replicated or it will cause some pathological mutation, a meme must be correctly replicated or it will cause a pathological mutation. For instance, I would say what the Nazis did to Friederich Nietzsche’s philosophy was a bad copy: a miscopied meme became a toxic mutation inside a culture. So I would suggest to the people in this room tonight that you take a good look around at who’s here. Artistic people, psychedelic people look pretty much like everybody else out in society. But we have come here tonight, self-selected for our interest in the empowering capacity of psychedelic plants and the empowering capacity of art. So we represent an affinity group: a population with the potential for mutagenic impact on the ideological structures of the rest of society. So look around. Someone here has what you need. And if you can only figure out who it is, you can make a novel connection to move, then, into a new level of creativity.


What is this new level of creativity? Some of you may be familiar with a theme that was very big in medieval religious art, which was the apocalypse of St. John or of somebody. There are a number of these apocalypses. And I think that many of us may come out of a kind of a secular background or have not given this kind of a religious idea too much consideration, but my idiosyncratic conclusion, based simply on trying to be honest about the content of the psychedelic experience, is that human history really is on a collision course with a transcendental object of some sort. It is not going to be business as usual into the endless unfolding confines of the future. The very fact that human history is occurring on this planet, the very fact that a primate has left the ordinary pattern of primate activity and gone into the business of running stock markets and molecular biology labs and art museums, indicates to me the nearby presence in another dimension of a kind of hyper-organizing force, or what I call the transcendental object. And I believe that this transcendental object is casting an enormous shadow over the human historical landscape.


So that, if you’re back in ancient Judea, you have an anticipation of the Messiah. If you are at Eleusis, at the height of the practice of the Eleusinian Mysteries, you have an anticipation of the dark god. These anticipations of an unspeakable transcendent reality that are always clothed in the assumptions of the individual artist and the society in which he or she is working, are in fact genuine, and that you don’t have to give yourself over to fundamentalist religion to connect with the fact that human history is an adventure. And this adventure has a number of startling reverses and sudden plot shifts that are very difficult to anticipate, and that we are coming up on one of those. The civilization that was created out of the collapse of the medieval world has now shown its contradictions to be unbearable. And though no one of us knows what the shape of the new civilization will be, somehow in the singing of the ayahuasca songs in the rainforest, in the tremendous, hyper-metallic, transcendental, off-planetary flash of psilocybin, in the teaching of the self-transforming machine elves that seem to dwell in the DMT dimension, we see that the ordinary linear expectations of history are breaking down, and that the truth of the imminence of the mystery is breaking through all the structures of denial of the male dominator paradigm that has been in place so long.


The way to make this birth process smooth—the way to bring it to a conclusion that will not betray the thousands and thousands of generations of people who suffered birth and disease and migration and starvation and lonely death so that we could sit here this evening—the redeeming of the human enterprise all lies, then, in helping this thing come to birth. And each artist is an antenna to the transcendental Other. And as we go with our own history into that thing, and then create a unique confluence of our uniqueness and its uniqueness, we collectively create an arrow. An arrow out of history, out of time, perhaps even out of matter, that will redeem, then, the idea that man is good. Redeem the idea that man is good. This is the promise of art, and its fulfillment is never more near than the present moment. Thank you very much.


I think we’ll take a ten or fifteen minute break, and then we’ll come back and you can have questions and we’ll do that for a little while. Thanks very, very much.


Now I’m happy to take questions. Here.


You spoke about science being in the realm of ego and art and shamanism being in some other realm behind [???]. My own psychedelic experience convinced me of the existence of that other realm, but I felt not enough sense of personal power to be that antenna that you’re saying that artists can be for bringing that Other until I became convinced of the existence not only of me but then the other realm and the other realm within me. And perhaps the psychedelic experience prepared me for that second awareness, but I can I get your comment on how, if possible, that second awareness could become more easily accessible, and [???]


What do you mean by the second awareness? Say a little more about it.


Being aware that the other realm is something that’s also very personal, and—


Well, yes, I mean, it seems it’s a landscape that begins within the self and seems to extend into the world. I mean, one of the very puzzling things about the psychedelic experience is that it argues that we are not atomic individuals running around in some kind of society, but that if you actually drain the psychic water away, you’ll discover that we’re all connected at the roots. That it isn’t a journey to another world, it’s a journey inward to a world that is already present and there. The astonishing thing is how alienated we are from our own interior, from the interior world, to the point where we can hardly recognize it.


I mean, I’ve talked a lot about the alien nature of the psychedelic experience and how it seems to be mappable over something as radical as the UFO experience. This is because we truly do not know who we are. The past 10,000 years have been so disempowering to us. We are really like the children of a dysfunctional relationship. We don’t know where we have come from. It’s very hard for us to emotionally connect with the consequences of what we’re doing. I mean, that really horrifies me: that this is a society that loots the future. I mean, the symbol of that is devouring of children. We literally, for our own comfort in the present moment, are making it very difficult for future generations to contemplate having anything approaching the level of resource availability that we have. And this kind of situation could not be tolerated if we had not gone through a tremendous series of traumatic emotionally disemboweling experiences.


You know, the Native Americans have a litmus test for all activity: does it serve the children? And so much of what we do is so anti-future that it’s almost as though the fundamentalist position exists to permit the destruction of the environment. I mean, this was perfectly encapsulated by this clown James Watt, who was Secretary of the Interior, and said we don’t need to expand the National Parks because Jesus is coming. I mean, this is a mentality so against the grain of the obvious that it has to be looked upon as pathological.

Another question. Here in the corner.


Hello Terence. I’ve known you for a long time, but you’ve never met me. I’m one of Roy’s night people. And I guess I don’t know, I guess I’ve got to preface this remark by saying that I got about a $50,000 education and three degrees, college degrees, in psychology, but I’ve never learned anything like I’ve learned from listening to Roy’s show on KPFK [???]. In pursuing those degrees, I’ve decided to learn a little bit about it hands-on, so I went to work in a mental institution. So it’s my misfortune, actually, to be earning my survival at this time by working in that capacity. I would like to see psychology take a different direction, and I know that what you’re talking about provides a focus, soon a direction, for psychology to take which I think would blow the lid off the thing. So when we really get close to—I mean, I’m in total agreement that Freud and Jung discovered the subconscious about a hundred years ago, but they discovered it 900 [???] in Santa Fe. How do we get closer to this in this kind of society? That’s the first part of this question. And the second part of this question—I’m a little bit nervous speaking in front of all these people—but the second part of this question has to do with a study that you spoke of in 1972 where, with single-dose administration of LSD, alcoholics were achieving a 72% success rate. And I would you like you to speak a little bit on the pro-psychedelic approach to the anti-drug approach.


Yes, well, thank you for giving me the opportunity to make the point, because in the present atmosphere of hysteria and misinformation this is too easily run over. It is important to make the distinction that what has happened, really, is that the well of language—on this issue of consciousness alteration—the well of language has been poisoned; where you cannot make any sense if you use the words that have been granted us to use. I mean, let’s take the word “drug:” you know, we have a drug war, but as I drove into town I noticed a drug store! Well, you know, with that compressed a vocabulary, you can’t make any sense at all of what’s going on. So I think what we have to do is make an operational argument about drugs and say, you know: what is it that society finds offensive about drug abuse? And then, what does that have to do with psychedelics?


Well, my own analysis of this is that what is offensive about drug abuse is an unconscious, repetitious, and demonstrably destructive pattern of behavior. And whenever you see someone behaving that way, everyone feels repulsed and brought down. And, in fact, severe drug addictions are like this. But, as a matter of record, this is what psychedelics make absolutely impossible. Number one, the notion of unexamined behavior: how can you have unexamined behavior if you take psychedelics? It holds you up into a blast furnace of self-reflection! Certainly it does not promote repetitious drug use. I mean, I consider myself a great fan of psilocybin, and if I can screw my courage to the sticking point a couple of times a year, I’m doing alright. I know someone who says DMT is their favorite substance. And when I asked them, “When was the last time you did it?” they said, “1968.” And it lasted three minutes! This is not a pattern of drug abuse, you see.


So it’s a matter of educating the public. And this is probably a good place for me to get a pitch in. I wrote a book on contract for Bantam, and hopefully it’ll be out next fall. I want to call it, and I’m hoping they’ll go along with me, “Why Eve Was Right: Plants, Drugs, and History.” Because right there, in the beginning of the Western story in Genesis, what you get is: it’s the story of history’s first drug bust. It’s the story of a woman who follows her own mind and makes a decision about consciousness alteration. And then it works! I mean, [it] says, “And they were naked and she perceived them as naked.” In other words: she got true information about the situation. But you have Yahweh there, mumbling to himself as he wanders around the garden in an old bathrobe, and he’s saying, “If they eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, they will become as we are.” That was always the issue, you see: it wasn’t a health issue, it wasn’t an abuse issue. It’s about who finds out what’s really going on and who doesn’t. And this book I wrote for Bantam makes very clear that the style of a culture is almost and invariably a style of seeing the world through a certain set of drugs, or a drug.


For example, you know, here we’re in the middle of a drug abuse problem, but caffeine has been entirely institutionalized since the Industrial Revolution. It’s the only drug that has been honored in every labor contract that is signed anywhere: you have the coffee break. The coffee break guarantees the worker’s right to stimulate themselves, and in fact ultimately obligates the workers to stimulate themselves, because the machines and the task that they have been given totally reinforce the need for coffee. And the typing pool couldn’t exist without coffee. Similarly, alcohol. Alcohol is tremendously spun in to the patterns of male dominance. How many women have their first sexual imprinting in an atmosphere of male dominance and alcohol abuse? I mean, it almost goes hand in hand. And certainly up until the 20th century, there was about 800 years there where I don’t think anybody got laid in Europe unless they were juiced. Because, you know, first of all, people didn’t bathe enough to make it an appetizing thing to contemplate—unless you were pretty lit.


And terrible distortions of Western politics and religiosity have taken place because of drugs. For example—and this, to me, one of the most shocking examples imaginable—slavery died with the fall of the Roman empire. Rome had a system of labor called the Latifundia, which was essentially a slave work crew. And that institution died with the fall of Rome. During the Medieval period, if you were into slavery, it meant you had one slave. And this slave was extremely well looked-after and cared for because they were a symbol of munificent opulence on your part; that you could afford such a luxury. It was like having a Maserati, to have a slave. Well then, around 1400, before the discovery of America, in the eastern Atlantic islands of Madeira, they began experimenting with the growing of cane sugar. And it was fine, except that the sugar has to be boiled at 130 degrees, and no one would work around that. They discovered that they had to chain people to the cooking apparatus for the extraction of sugar. And they began bringing Africans to do this. And they not only reinvented slavery for the deliberate production of sugar—which was utterly unnecessary to the diet of Europe. I mean, there hadn’t been a ton of sugar imported into Europe in the previous thousand years. And suddenly they felt this tremendous need for sugar, and they reinstitutionalized slavery with the added insult that, for the first time, a particular race was singled out as being somehow made for slavery. And this is the beginning of black xenophobia on the part of Europeans: the association with the sugar trade.


By 1800, every pound of sugar being imported into England was being produced by slave labor. And slavery was going at a rate that had not been seen since the Rome of Caligula. All in the name of commerce, all in the name of having this essentially trivial kick from sugar. So it’s really important to educate ourselves as to what constitutes a drug, and how drugs are legislated against and suppressed or promoted and advertised entirely according to whether they fit into the agenda of the reigning model of culture, whatever that may be.

Yeah, here? Yes.


Who are the shamans of our time which share with us this model?


Of our times, you mean?


[???] times that we associate with or are familiar with [???].


Oh, good. So within the 20th century: the great shamanic artists. Well, you know, it’s just an opportunity to list a bunch of prejudices, obviously. Certainly, the Grateful Dead seem to me to be… nobody’s done it longer, better than they have. And rock’n’roll generally is an extremely powerful form of shamanic performance. When I look over the 20th century, James Joyce, for what he did for language, the permission he gave to make language a living object. Jackson Pollock is a great personal hero of mine. Here was a boy from Cody, Wyoming, who managed to cut his way to the heart of the New York art world. To my mind, he was the abstract expressionist par excellence, and the high waters of American art have never reached higher than that. Bob Dylan. The Rolling Stones. Maybe these aren’t the answers you expected because these are such movers of masses of people. Art doesn’t have to operate on that huge scale. I mean, art can be extremely intimate.


But shamanic art, art that moves us to a sense of the transcendental—there’s been too little of that in this century. Not since the surrealists has there been a movement with the stated goal of carrying people into an unimaginable world. And I have a lot of respect for the surrealists, especially Max Ernst. I think Ernst’s career was broad and deep over a long period of time. The art that excites me now is the art of the moving image. I’m a little impatient with gallery art because so much of it has become the handmaiden to the interior decorating business, and that was never the intent, you know? The moving image, to my mind, is the connecting theme in the 20th century between art and dream and psychedelics. So film is the extremely powerful artform that emerges into its own in the 20th century. And film seems to me an anticipation of what is possible with psychedelics. I have great hope now for art produced by the interaction of human beings and computers. And crude as it is and controversial as it is, I think virtual reality will eventually have a contribution to make, but it’s long in the future. The technologists have to perfect the medium and then the artists have to work with it.


My own favorite artist—which I don’t offer as fulfilling that shamanic intent, but they’re simply my favorites—are Vladimir Nabokov as a novelist. This is flawless stuff. Emotionally, intellectually complete and hilariously funny. William Gibson’s accomplishment in creating cyberpunk and envisioning a future so real that you can taste. This is a tremendous accomplishment. But I feel about art the way I feel about rock’n’roll and the way I think most psychedelic people must feel, which is: it’s such pale stuff compared to what’s out there. I mean, I feel like if we could open the sluice gates to the dimensions that we explore psychedelically, we would just be inundated by art. And as it is, we receive it in thimblefuls. How can we open ourselves up to this? Because I really believe that the art unites us. It dissolves the boundaries between us. It empowers us. It makes us a collectivity. You notice that the great overweening control structures—the government, for example—never communicates to us with images that are aesthetically pleasing, it always communicates with images that convey obligation, which is a downer in anybody’s book. So somehow we have been the consumers of imagery when we should become the producers of it. And all the people in the 20th century who have made that work serve to inspire in that direction.

I don’t know. There are so many of you. Somebody in the back who’s—oh, way up there.


[???] question. If it is assumed that [???] alkaloids such as harmine, [???] are actual MAO-inhibitors, then this is why the DMT is orally active in the ayahuasca group. My question is: some forms of ayahuasca are made without DMT [???] are hallucinogenic or are the alkaloids just inhibiting the MAO from limiting serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain? I don’t know if you followed that.


No, I follow it. The question is: do I remember it? The question is: is it so that the beta-carboline alkaloids inhibit MAO and thus make DMT active in ayahuasca? And yes, this is not debatable. It’s now secured by my brother. Several years ago he published on this. It was always hypothesized that the beta-carbolines were MAO-inhibitors, but then ultimately they proved it. Well, so then the questioner went on to ask: if this is so, then what about these cases where beta-carboline alkaloids are reportedly taken without DMT, and then what does this mean? Is it hallucinogenic on its own? And the answer is: harmaline is hallucinogenic by itself, but fairly close to the threshold of toxicity. So the ordinary strategy in the Amazon is to combine the DMT with the beta-carbolines, and that makes the DMT highly reactive. It is not, then, destroyed in the gut as would ordinarily be the case, but crosses into the bloodstream and through the blood-brain barrier, and reaches the brain.


I think achieving hallucinogenic levels with beta-carbolines without DMT is probably a pretty unpleasant experience, although some of these deep-jungle tribes do do it. You don’t want to get the idea that just because somebody lives way upriver that they know what they’re doing. Manuel Córdova-Rios, in his second book The Rio Tigre and Beyond, talks about going on curare-collecting and rosewood-collecting expeditions to people of the Aguaruna Jivaro group, and discovering that their ayahuasca was garbage. That they just didn’t know how to make it even though, you know, they were bare-assed Indians living off in the woods. And he showed them how to make it, and they practically made him a cultural hero. They said: my god, we’ve been drinking swill for untold millennia and you came and fixed us up! And this is a puzzling thing to us as outsiders, because we assume they’re always going for the gusto. But sometimes not, you know. I mean, cultures have peculiar adaptations.

This lady. Yes.


You said that we’re fouling the nest. Could we be evolving? You mentioned that we went from matter to object. Should we actually be going object to energy? And when you say that art should save us all, I would say it should chronicle.


Well, you touch on a very interesting point, one that I in my own mind am not clear about. Is it that we are to transcend this world and go into some titanic dimension of energy or spirit that we can scarcely imagine? Is that what this birth is? Is the only way we can grant peace to this planet to turn ourselves into electrons moving in an ytterbium cube that we bury on the dark side of the Moon? Is it something like that? I’m troubled by that because I would like to keep it all together. I would like to see us as a part of nature. But I’m not so uninformed concerning the historical adventure that I don’t know that what is called Gnosticism is a very strong strain in the human animal, and especially in Western thought. And Gnosticism, in its most severe form, can be boiled down to the proposition that: we are strangers here, we don’t belong here, this is not our world, we come from a place made of light, and we will never rest until we return to it. Now, the problem with that formulation is: it sets us up for tremendous discontinuity and unhappiness until we achieve that return to the realm of light. It’s a kind of Faustian theme, you know?


And yet, the other possibility—which I, as a co-founder of a botanical garden and a lover of nature, incline to—is: isn’t there some way that we can make our peace with the Earth? Isn’t there some way that we can have archaic and eat it, too? And I more and more, to my own discomfiture, conclude that there isn’t. That the human adventure is a forward-going adventure. That we do close off options. We never again are going to be a small tribe of hunter-gatherers with our flocks on the plains of Africa enjoying our mushrooms and our orgies at every full moon. Somehow, long long ago, that option was cut off. Shucks! But I think that it’s good to cultivate this poignancy. That if we’re going to go storm Arcturus, at least we should do so with some sense of what has been left behind and not just turn ourselves into mechanical technocrats. Somehow, the living spirit has to be brought with us. And this is really the high task for shamanism: how can we—who have always as shamans had a relationship to the spirits of the Earth, of the waters, of the sky—if we are setting out for Alpha Ensagittarius or something like that, how can we do that and not leave our soul behind?


You know, the Arabs have the belief that a man’s soul can move no faster than a camel gallops. So if you drive in your Mercedes from Jeddah to Riadh, you have to rest for a while so your soul can catch up. Well, I don’t think we should leave our human soul behind. Somehow we have to internalize the entirety of the biological world if we are going to become a spacefaring species, otherwise we’re going to get out there and discover that something vital was left behind. And this is a great tension between ourselves and the Earth, between our destiny as an energy-using, dream-concrescing, spacefaring, stormtrooper kind of species—I mean, that’s all male dominance and male mentality talking—and the need to somehow fold that into a nurturing stance, a preserving stance, a stance that recognizes that the conservation of archaic values is really our only hope. And those two things exist in a dynamic tension. This is maybe the issue that the artistic community can clarify, and that must be clarified before we can make a definitive step into the future. Right now we’re uncertain. Stewardship or angelhood—which shall it be?

Maybe. I’ll take one more question. Some poor soul over here. Yes, in the back.


When I think of a superman, I think of [???] wanted to embrace at all. I would like to say: what is [???] reconcile with superman?


Well, I don’t really think of it as the Nietzschean superman. But something you said—you know that poem by Yeats called Sailing to Byzantium? And there’s this wonderful phrase in there. I’m not sure I can quote it perfectly, but it goes something like this: “Once out of nature, I would be a thing of gold and gold enameling.” Once out of nature—he means once he’s dead. Once out of nature I would be a thing of gold and gold enameling. And then he says something about “a nightingale set to sing for the lords and ladies of Byzantium of what has been and what will be.” But what it is, you see, is the image of the condensation of a quasi-mechanical object. The soul as object, as objectification.


And to my mind this is where the image of the UFO has something to teach us. The UFO is not an extraterrestrial machine that haunts the skies of the Earth, the UFO is a totality symbol thrown off by our tangential approach to the end of history. I think yes, the Nietzchean superman, that whole thing was tried by the Nazis, and they realized it in its full expression, and it was nightmarish. What I’m proposing is more—there’s no man in it. It’s the concrescence of the collective soul of humanity. That somehow I see history as an alchemical task and process. And the artist, as artificer, it is the task of the artist to complete this alchemical concrescence. And it’s a kind of irrational thing. It is irrational. It’s that mind and matter are approaching each other on a trajectory that will bring them together with no damage to the quintessential nature of each. And we can’t imagine that, because for us things are mind or matter. We can’t conceive of a coincidentia oppositorum. And yet, it’s that which we must hold in our mind if we want to see truth. I mean, even in quantum physics they teach you that the universe is composed of what they call islands of boolean algebra embedded in an ocean of ordinary algebra. What they mean is: they’re having their archaic and eating it too. They’re trying to say that it’s both-and.


And it is an irrational process. It isn’t a Nietzschean program of realization. It’s a kind of an opening. Something wants to be born. The promptings of our religions, with all the irrational and hysterical trappings that attend them, nevertheless have a core perception that there is, between man and nature, a kind of compact. And this compact will be redeemed. I mean, I really thing that this is the psychedelic faith. That we are the prodigal species. We have descended into the inferno of matter to try and recover the pearl of immortality. The pearl of immortality is the perfected and reconstructed Earth. And somehow we are to be the critical factor in this equation, or the point species. We are not acting for ourselves, we are the energy-manipulating species that I believe carries the hopes of all life.


All nature is watching this drama. The life of our star is finite. The life of the planet is finite. But potentially, self-reflecting understanding may be, in fact, immortal. And yet, it is breaking out of the trappings of matter. And this is a process so large, so strange, that I don’t think a single mind can encompass it within a single moment. It’s something that we triangulate over and over again. And for me, the psychedelic experience is how you do that. The psychedelic experience is literally a rising into a higher dimension—in the geometric sense. And from that higher dimension the psychedelic voyager carries out a transecting of the lower-dimensional object which is the world. And in the same way that we can build up an image of a cone out of an infinite number of ellipsoidal transections, we can build up a true model of the world by carrying out a number of these transections from a higher dimension. And then it shows us how the world really works.


And when you understand how the world really works—I’m beginning to get just a hint of it—it works through love, and dream, and intention to connect. Through love and dream and intention toward connection. And these are ultimately irrational values. And they ultimately must be irrationally embraced. Because the momentum toward a rational conclusion is tremendous, but unfortunately completely fatal. And this is the invitation that the artist has always extended: toward a radical break with the momentum of rationalism. It’s simply that now, in this moment of tremendous crisis, when the artist is at last called upon to perform, and there must be no stitches dropped—because this dance is the dance of transformation of the planet itself—this is the moment of empowering. This is what all the shamanism of the past built toward. This final, magical invocation. James Joyce said, “Man will be dirigible.” That’s simply a way of saying that we will find a way to make our dreams and the dreams of the planet and the life it carries one dream. And the way to do it is to reconnect up to the Gaian mind through the channels of communication that were always there, but that have not been really taken up since the late neolithic. It’s time for us to call home. And you know how to do it. It’s just a matter of having the courage to do it. To act and then to have that empowering act spread back through the psychology of the planet.


I’m very optimistic. I think we are awakening to a new day from a long, long night of the soul. But it must be done collectively, gently, lovingly, and with a complete faith that we are an infant held in the arms of nature, that nature wants this to happen, that we are not an aberration. We are, granted, peculiar. But we are not an aberration. We are a necessary oddness to the completion of the whole, and this is our glory, and this is why we’ve been graced with self-reflection. And we can redeem that tremendous empowerment by going forward in love and faith to save the world through art and the pursuit of meaning.

Thank you very, very much!

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