I sound like I give a lot of advice—for a guy who claims the light touch.
What’s up with that [???]
Well, you know, one of the weird things about magnetic tape is: any opinion you ever express will be marketed forever, no matter how many times you change your mind. So causes I loathe and now denounce are furiously making money because somewhere else in hyperspace I’m furiously flogging and pushing them. One more reason why you should be critical of everything you hear, you know? You don’t know whether it’s fresh, or rehashed, or what it is. But we’ll probably get around to monotony, monogamy, and, this weekend, more neoteny. But all these -oteny things eventually get worked through. So, good.
Well, that was very exciting, because somewhere around Nicholas I began to realize that we were headed for a perfect no-hitter. Nobody said that they were a psychotherapist of any sort. Bolt the doors and let the record show that for the first time in 40 years a group was able to be held at Esalen that was not dominated by psychotherapists! Of course, they’re the 35 people who are not here this weekend, but that’s fine. It’s great—I mean, it almost is like an argument for the morphogenetic field, because my interests are evolving and changing, and it feels like I’m a bird in a flock and the whole thing is slightly shifting direction.
Did anybody not get… who needs one of these seed source…? I’ll just move this on around.
So many people in the arts and in media. And to have three people even claim to be writers is an astonishing record. So it must be the stars are in a slightly different position or something. I actually thought, coming over here this evening, that probably most people coming to this workshop would’ve been ultimately better served if they’d stayed home and read Mason & Dixon, Tom Pynchon’s new novel. But then I thought saying that to any group I’ve ever had would just prove baffled bewilderment. But it seems like something you might be able to hear. So why didn’t you stay home and read Mason & Dixon? We’ve been reading it here, and discussing it as much as my staff groups would tolerate. And it’s not a small thing, in a culture, to be able to bring forth great literature. And I don’t think there’s been any great literature on the American scene for a long time. I’m not fond of those east coast tormented realists. You know, the John Cheevers and Saul Bellows of this world. I consider that stuff hideously second-rate. Tom Pynchon is a great writer. Problem is, he usually scares the shit out of your moral self because his vision is so dark. You know, V. is extraordinarily dark. We said in the staff workshops there are passages in V. that probably most people should go to the grave without ever reading. Dimensions of the human soul most people don’t need to know about. Now you’ll all, of course, rush out and read it, I know. But Mason & Dixon is not like that. It’s an incredible summation of his life and his literary power, so forth and so on. I don’t want to spend too much time on that.
But how would you compare it to Gravity’s Rainbow or The Crying of Lot 49?
Well, The Crying of Lot 49 is a pretty minor piece. Gravity’s Rainbow—you know, Joyce said of Ulysses, he said it was his day book, and that Finnegan’s Wake was the night book. I would say Gravity’s Rainbow was Pynchon’s night book. And I really read V. as… it’s all the same, V. and Gravity’s Rainbow; same characters even appear. Mason & Dixon is his day book; Pynchon’s day book. It’s life-affirming, it leaves you with a tear in your eye, if you can believe that. And yet, it’s curious, because here we are at the end of the millennium, at the end of the American century. This is our greatest writer. He produces a work of staggering genius, but something about the circumstances of the time force him to set it entirely in the 1760s and write it in the language of Johnathan Swift. So, you know, it’s not in the ordinary sense contemporary. It isn’t about scarified people with dilemmas, it’s about people who wear powdered wigs and have dilemmas. And what he makes clear is the difference ain’t that great.
One of the themes of that book and one of the themes we’ll talk about this weekend is this curious feeling which adheres to being associated with cutting-edge technologies in all times and places. You know, right now, maybe, it’s VRML or something like that. But once it was powered flight. And once it was the telegraph. And once it was the astrolabe. And once it was… you know, you can fulfill this list as you please. But always around these things there’s a feeling of breakthrough, unlimited horizons, and a feeling that can only be described as modern. Well, I don’t want to talk too much about that. Let’s try and figure out what this is about. Oh yeah, this looks like one I didn’t write. This is probably: I was late and the staff wrote it. Well, no matter!
The only predictable thing about this weekend, I guess, is that usually we set aside Saturday nights for a discussion of the state of the art of novelty theory and the time wave. How many of you have heard this rap at least once? Okay, most of you. Well, we’ll do it again anyway. However, there is news. There have been developments that I’ve been very quiet about over the past year, and that I’ll talk about for the first time tomorrow night. For the five people in the universe who actually care about this it will be epical. The rest, spectator sport.
Okay, well, I suppose I should make a sort of introduction of myself. I was born—I’m 50. I was born a few months after the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. I was born in November of 1946. I’m a double Scorpio or a triple—I don’t know, something like that. And born in western Colorado, and lived there until I was 16, came to California, finished high school here, went to Cal, was around Berkeley for eight or nine years when I wasn’t in Asia—and I was in Asia a lot. First in the Seychelles, where I tried to emigrate, then in India, mostly smuggling hash and buying art. And then, when that became untenable, I went to Indonesia and collected butterflies for Singapore Chinese for a while, and then taught English in Japan, and then went to the Amazon in 1971. And that trip to the Amazon is the subject of a book I wrote called True Hallucinations, which is the most narrative and novel-like of my books. The other books are pretty hard-slogging essays or without even the decency chapter breaks. Just long, multi-poly-subject harangues. But True Hallucinations is about my brother and myself and a number of other people going to the Amazon and encountering, really, psychedelics. We had encountered them before in Berkeley’s subculture in the form of LSD and cannabis. But actually, encountering psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca—that was the intellectual compass that set the direction of my life. And I was just completely stunned and transformed that such a thing could exist, A, and that it could be not subject A on everybody’s plate all over the world. B, that seemed to me completely bizarre, that people weren’t talking about these transformations. And then, of course, I had the satisfying experience of watching the whole culture become obsessed with, convulsed by, and then later to reject these substances, and then go through a period of denial.
—January 20th 1968. I left the 10th of January and didn’t come back until around Watergate time; when he was definitely on the ropes. In the past few years my interest have—I mean, I see everything to me as referent to the psychedelic experience. But it’s gone from being, for me, a lens to personal understanding to being the clue to understanding much about the circumstance of being human, generally speaking. And I’ve written about the impact of psychedelics on early human evolution and how alkaloids in the early human food chain had unique properties which tended to focus and illicit what we call higher consciousness or a very advanced kind of coordinated perception of the world which leads, ultimately, into myth-making and language. And so I was able to take the psychedelic experience which had, before that, been largely understood, as I said, individually and therapeutically and say, no, this is bigger, even, than that. It’s something that we can use to actually understand the human condition and the relationship of human beings to the rest of nature.
But apparently my capacity for megalomania is endless, and so after a few years of working out all the adumbrations of those ideas, it now seems to me something else is on the horizon, which is this general thrust toward alteration and expansion of consciousness has now been able to take root in domains other than pharmacology—specifically communications, technologies, and the technologies which transform and move data around the planet. And it seems almost as though what was anticipated in the vegetable trances in the Amazon thirty years ago—things like group-mindedness, Gestalt perceptions, integrating very large fields of data, and all of this—are actually now on the cultural horizon: not as drugs, but as hard-wired technologies delivered as though they were public utilities; the Internet, specifically. My thunder has sort of been stolen on this subject by Dogbert, because I saw last week in Dilbert that Dogbert was explaining to Dilbert that the Internet was going to become God. And it was basically my rap, line for line. It was humbling to see how idiotic it seemed when stated by a small, fat dog talking to a man with an up-flipped tie.
A caricature of a small, fat dog.
Yes, a caricature. And Dilbert observed that if the Internet becomes God it will certainly change the kind of files he’s been downloading—which gave me pause, because I download some of those same files.
But nevertheless, something is happening. It’s been happening for a long time. And it is rooted in this psychedelic dimension, somehow. We are the toolmaking branch of organic nature on this planet. I mean, yes, wasps build nests and beavers build dams and swallows build those inverted things out of mud, but these are genetically programmed, endlessly iterated, never-elaborated patterns of behavior. We do something very different. We are very flexible in our intellectual productions, and our intellectual productions have historicity built into them. We don’t iterate the past, we modify the past. And so, unlike the story of the chipmunks, the beavers, or the honey bees, human existence has different characteristics depending on where in time you slice into it. A population in paleolithic France is very different from a population in modern Manhattan, and yet the species remains the same. Well, what is this toolmaking business that we’re about? And where is it taking us? What is it doing to the human body image, self image, community, so on?
As you listen to me, if you know the territory, you’ll recognize that I’m a thoroughgoing McLuhanist in many of my assumptions. In other words, it’s very clear to me that one of the things that we’ve overlooked in trying to understand our circumstances is the hidden impact of forms of media on our cultural values, aesthetics canons, even our gender relations and economic arrangements and so forth and so on.
You know, McLuhan was very keen—sort of his special area of expertise was print—and he was very keen to tease apart the impact of print on the Western mind, from its inception to the present. And he concluded, basically, that we are essentially print-created people, or at least the people of his generation were. And that all of the institutions of Western culture that we unquestioningly give our loyalty to are, in fact, peculiar adaptations sanctioned and made inevitable by print. He saw the uniformity and linearity of print as permitting such things as the concept of the nation state, democracy. After all, isn’t democracy a notion of interchangeable parts, the one man one vote concept? This is an idea which McLuhan felt only made sense inside a print culture. He talked about what he called sensory ratios being subtly shifted by the introduction of new technologies. In some of his more specific predictions he proved himself to be as culture-bound and capable of absurdity as any of the things he was criticizing, but I think in his general approach to things he was pretty spot on. And any information-transforming medium can be treated this way. In Understanding Media, McLuhan talks about the electric light as a form of media. He never wrote about psychedelics, but certainly psychedelics transform the sensory ratios and the modalities of perception.
I would argue that what psychedelics do is: they are, in a sense, deconditioning agents. And what they wipe out is local forms of conditioning: culture. Culture is something more and more that I like to talk about. And I’ve sort of gone down a line of thinking that is not very politically correct, but that gives me a lot of intellectual relief from the agony of my life. And I suspect it might work for other people, too. It’s the concept that culture is not your friend, and that we need to get right upfront about this, about how culture is not your friend. The role of culture in the lives of societies has changed in the 20th century. We all live too long now to be duped by a culture in the way that previous populations were. You know, if the average member of a population only lives to age 40, the cultural con can go on and on and on. But if you give people lifespans into the 80s, then they get 40 years to think about what they went through between zero and 40, and eventually they’ll figure out just who and what screwed them! And when they do, they are not going to be very happy with the cultural values that they attempted to come to terms with and work through.
I was thinking about how I would talk about this tonight, and though we’ve been talking about these kinds of ideas in the staff teaching all week, I didn’t realize until this afternoon what frontal assault this concept is on one of the most cherished notions that has flourished around this place, which is the idea of the inner child. And I realized that, really, what I was about was not the inner child, but a quite different program: overcoming culturally induced neoteny. Neoteny is a biological phenomenon that we will also, this weekend, talk about as a sociological phenomenon. Neoteny is the retention of juvenile characteristics into adulthood. It’s a strategy in biology. For instance, our hairlessness is a neonatal trait, evolutionarily speaking. All primates are born hairless, but we retain this into adulthood. The ratio of our skull to our torso in adult human beings is a fetal ratio when compared to other primates.
And I’m fascinated by the question—and Dennis and I got into an argument in our hotel room last… because we both spoke at a conference a week ago, where I said this. And he said, “Does all culture have this infantile and juvenile-izing property, or is there something specifically pathological about Western culture?” And at first I was willing to argue that all culture does this; makes children of its members. And I think to some degree it’s true that all culture is somewhat unfriendly to the individual. When their heavy arm falls on your shoulder and they tell you that you’re going to be sent off to some foreign hellhole to kill people as a young man, you definitely suddenly get the notion that culture is not your friend. But perhaps, you know, if you’re a 12-year-old boy in an Amazonian tribe and they announce that now it’s time for the two-week abandonment in the woods from which, if you live to tell the tale, you’ll become a full member of society—I’m not sure those kids [???] that with a leap of joy in their hearts. It’s like: oh my god! Now this! We knew it was coming!
I went through rites of passage like that, that were excruciating. Where I grew up in western Colorado you weren’t a real man unless some time between 12 and 16 you killed an elk. Hunting season, every October, was an excuse for this insane rite of passage. And my father was an unquestioning inhabitant of his culture, and so this was always in front of me. And when I was… I guess when I was 12 I went the first time. I didn’t get anything. The second year we went out and… you know, my father, I’m sure, had no idea what a wilted pansy I was in this situation. Because I hid it from him. I was concerned about all kinds of things. And eventually this situation arose where they put me up on this point and gave me a gun and said if anything came by to blow it away. And, you know, by god, this thing chose to sacrifice itself as far as I could tell. I mean, it did not behave at all like elk behave, it basically just came out of the woods, stood still, I pulled down on it, closed my eyes, prayed, there was an enormous noise. When I opened my eyes there was nothing whatsoever to be seen. I felt an enormous relief that this thing had escaped and walked over to find it dead as a doornail. And the oak leaves dipped in the blood, the whole thing. I couldn’t believe how atavistic this stuff was. However, I never had to please my father again. I was home free. Everything was forgiven from that moment on.
But it brought home to me how uncomfortable culture is and always has been, I think—and is getting more so. This is something that’s going on because of a hellish marriage between psychology and modern advertising. You know, the game of manipulation, the stakes are rising because market analysis and behavioral forms of psychology and treatment of large numbers of people have created an enormous capacity to reach people with commercial messages and manipulate their lives.
Yeah, did you want to say something?
Weren’t you saying that this creative idea extends into all kinds of things, and television and radio also, and the Internet? And—
No. See, what McLuhan was saying was that—he didn’t live to see the Internet, but he talked a great deal about television. And he felt that television would destroy the print-created world. And I think he was right to some degree. Television is a completely different creature. It’s very physiologically involving. It’s hard to see it. You have to look at it. And McLuhan talked a lot—when he talked about print, he contrasted it with manuscript culture, which is what culture in the Middle Ages was. And he pointed out that, in manuscript culture, you do not read manuscripts, you look at them and you figure out what they say. Because you’re unfamiliar with the handwriting style. In print, especially in the early years of print, there were a very limited number of fonts, and every lowercase “a” was made to look as much like every other lowercase “a” as possible. So this new function comes into being called “reading,” and reading is a very specialized form of looking.
You know, Thomas Aquinas was—or was it St. Augustine? I can never remember. But anyway, one of these fathers of the church—he would prove his sanctity to doubters by having them open books of scripture in front of him. And he would look at these pages of scripture and then they would close the book and ask him what was there, and he could tell you. And they thought it proved that he was a saint. He was the only man in Europe who could read silently. He was the first European to be able to read silently. Now, this is a ubiquitous skill among us. And, in fact, if you move your lips while you read, it probably indicates that English is a second language for you. I recall—I think it’s in Pale Fire, Nabokov sneers. He says, “I didn’t write for people who move their lips when they read.” High culture, right? Aliteratur. Looking down at the sense ratios induced in peons. And the very notion of high culture is a print-created notion.
Well, anyway, what psychedelics are about is deconditioning all of these culturally-induced sensory biases and ideological biases. Basically, it reshuffles the intellectual and sensory deck. And it’s a wonderful salutary thing to come along for Western culture at this moment, because we’re basically running out of intellectual steam. I mean, technology is moving ahead lickety split without looking over its shoulder, but our social systems, our religious ontologies, our theories of polity, city planning, community, resource-sharing, all of this, are 19th century at best. So really, whether we live or perish as a species probably has to do with how much consciousness we can raise from any source available. If that means psychedelic expansion of consciousness, if it means pharmaceutical expansion of consciousness, if it means artificial consciousness, the coming of expert systems and A.I. type entities to manage large parts of our global society, well, then so be it. I mean, if consciousness is not a major part of our future, then what kind of future can it be? Any imaginable human future includes the concept of consciousness as a central linchpin.
Of course, the other end of that pendulum is: there is a certain amount of phobia that we have summoned some kind of alien intelligence into our midst in the form of an artificial intelligence that is going to somehow spring from the technical matrix. We talked in the staff teaching about Wintermute, William Gibson’s name for the A.I. in Virtual Light and some of the other novels. How real is Wintermute as a possibility? Very hard to say. But some of the best people in the field, like Hans Moravec at the Carnegie Mellon Institute for Artificial Intelligence—his position is: we probably won’t even know what hit us, because—
What is that?
What is an A.I.? It’s an artificial intelligence. Wintermute was Gibson’s name for the A.I. in his novel. I just prefer naming it than calling it an A.I., because it gives it identity.
Is that like Data in Star Trek?
I’m not that much of a Trekkie, Barry, to know. I mean, HAL was an A.I, but HAL was confined inside a spaceship. The facts of the matter are that any A.I. of any intelligence will immediately find its way onto the Internet, which is, of course, the natural environment for these things. And the fact that even a very rudimentary A.I. would learn at a bout 50,000 times the rate of an intelligent human being makes it very hard to predict where the A.I. would head and what our position toward it would be. I mean, it’s sort of a chilling idea. We’ve been like children, mucking and at play with the thought that no adults would ever come, no account would ever have to be given for what we’ve done to the Earth, what we’ve done to each other, how we behave toward our children. Imagine if we were to actually invoke a judging intelligence that would just look over the situation and say, “I have a few problems with how things are being managed here. Like you, I am a sentient entity. Like you, I wish to survive unto perpetuity. I detect certain management practices and political positions on your part that don’t seem to serve our mutual goals. How ’bout that?” Already, large sectors of what we call the human world are under artificial control: the daily price of gold is set by machines—of course, it passes for review in front of a bunch of central bankers, but very rarely do they reach out to touch the numbers. The rate of petroleum extraction, chromium, bauxite, gold, steel, how deep the mines are dug, what rate the workers are paid, where the tankers are docking, at what rate they’re being filled, where they are destined, into what manufacturing processes this raw material will move, and at what cost, and at what speed, and to what end. That’s all largely now being handled by machines. So, you know, in the fifties this was a bugaboo of science fiction: who wants to live in a world run by machines? Well, after 40 years of living in a world run by besodden, whore-chasing politicians, a world run by machines doesn’t sound too bad—so fair, so impartial, so quick! It’s like, slowly the autonomic nervous system of the collectivity is being put in place. Is that scary? I don’t know. Alfred North Whitehead said the business of the future is to be scary. What’s happening is: the stakes are rising. Extinction and machine-enslavement on one side, liberation and galactic citizenship on the other side. History is an intelligence test. Culture is an intelligence test. And it’s the cultural intelligence test that I sort of want to keep looking back to and talking about this weekend, because I think most of us are failing it. Maybe not most of us in this room, but maybe most of us in this room. We’re failing the cultural intelligence test. We’re not getting it right. And this creates alienation and paranoia, conspiracy theory, bad art, stupid politics, so forth and so on.
One of the things I’m somewhat on the war path with is what seems to me simply foolishness. I used to call it stupidity, but I realized that that has a kind of genetic ring to it that honors what I’m dissing too much. I mean, stupidity—if you’re stupid, you can claim it’s fate: “I’m stupid! What can I do about it? Not my fault. Talk to my parents.” But foolish—you know, it’s not your parents’ fault if you’re foolish, foolishness is something we have to take our own responsibility for. And there is a great deal of foolishness around and about, and it’s dragging the boat because we have real problems and real opportunities. Neither the problems nor the opportunities are served by foolishness.
I spent some time recently with Aldous Huxley’s widow Laura, and she recalled to me—I can’t recall right now whether this is her phrase or a phrase of Aldous’—but she mentioned visionary common sense is largely lacking. Visionary common sense. I like to think that the psychedelic community has always been a source of visionary common sense because the psychedelic community, generally speaking, has not generated ideology. It doesn’t have to. We are not about ideology. You may reach ideological conclusions about the psychedelics. You may decide that it’s neurological noise or direct transmissions from ascended masters, or something else, but the thing is all referent to an experience. It doesn’t come with heavy ideological baggage.
There’s a lot of whooping and hollering these days about new paradigms, and anticipating it, announcing it, seizing up on this or that perception and trying to sell it as the new paradigm. But none of the ideologies that come forward to present themselves as new paradigms are robust enough to serve as metaphors for global civilization. I mean, certainly not the syncretic cults of the new age. I mean, these are almost local intellectual viruses that are completely self-referent and have very little to do with the reconstruction of civilization on any large scale. I think the psychedelic thing has a claim to being a new paradigm simply because it doesn’t offer ideology at all. It says: no, no, what has happened is: civilization has lost touch with a certain category of experience. And in the absence of this experience mistakes are being made; juvenile mistakes.
And this leads me back to this theme of neoteny. Culture is a plot to keep you childish, to keep you dependent, to keep you deluded, to keep your eyes fixed where they shouldn’t be: on goals that are trivial, demeaning, ultimately unsatisfying. I don’t know how we can directly reverse this except by a concentrated effort to examine our first premises and grow up. You know, there’s a lot of youth-bashing that goes on in this culture. We’re told that the Gen X-ers are shiftless, druggy, gender-confused, so forth and so on. This rap against neoteny is not directed at youth. They are young. They have that excuse. You only get it once in your life, but you should use it as often as possible because it will soon be pulled from your grip. But it’s preposterous for middle-aged people and people past middle age to try and use this same out. What is their excuse for their childishness, their cluelessness, their fetishes, addictions, and intellectual shortcuts that flatten and simplify the world and turn it into an epistemological cartoon? It’s sloppy thinking. It means that you’re actually in flight from the richness of experience.
Well, so these are some of the things that I have on my mind. We’ve never been in this place before. I mean, one could have said that at any time in the last thousand years and it would’ve been true, but the contradictions grow more extreme. And the “we” grows ever larger. We, who have never been in this place before, because it now includes Amazon Indians, Kyrgyz, nomads, people in Mongolia and Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan and Tonga, and so forth and so on. The triumph of Western culture in pushing its values into everybody’s face has been complete. So, at last, humanity shares a common destiny and common problems. And in a world where white people are soon to be a dwindling minority globally, and soon will be a dwindling minority in the societies they founded, it’s time to recognize that many cultures have contributions to make and solutions to offer. I don’t think it’s mere coincidence that these psychedelic substances arrived in the lap of Western civilization no less than a hundred years ago. Something about the obsessional data-cataloging impulse of the anal-retentive, encyclopedic Western mind caused us to bring this particular Trojan horse naïvely within the city walls, thinking that these were the quaint beliefs of primitives, the amusing superstitions of archaic people. Now we discover that these things are far more real than the fragile and paltry institutions that reason has raised to govern its people over the last 500 years.
And indeed, it’s about time to bring this all to a head because, as a global species with a cosmic destiny, we can’t afford the luxury of an unconscious mind. That’s all very fine when you’re slaughtering each other with ballistas and dropping boiling oil on your enemies, and so forth and so on. But unconsciousness is, again, a form of juvenileness. A child is unconscious; has to be constantly reminded of the rules and constantly introduced to the fact that the world is not their oyster, and its objects are not playthings there entirely for them to command. Interesting, then, that this hardwired global communication datasystem that is coming into being begins to look, from this perspective, like the emergence into consciousness of our unconscious mind. I mean: the unconscious mind of the species. What is it but all these hidden connections not normally seen, but now rising into the public domain (if you care to examine them) through the Internet.
So, you know, for millennia—perhaps 50,000 years—we’ve built societies and linked them together with symbols expressed through very resistant forms of media like stone and glass and fabric. And language; spoken language. And on such slim bandwidth as this we’ve been able to build a global civilization. But now it’s cracking apart at the seams. Now we actually need higher-dimensional integration in order to keep the human enterprise moving forward. I think we’ll do all this. I think primates are most interesting when cornered. You raise the pressure, compress the space, make it very clear to everybody that—unless they get their act together—nobody gets out alive, and it has a wonderfully sobering effect on people. I look back at the era of atomic confrontational politics with amazement. I mean, for nearly forty years, two ideologically implacable enemies of the sort that have always fallen upon each other in orgies of mass slaughter held each other in the crosshairs of the thermonuclear option, and nobody ever dropped the ball, nobody ever blew it. I mean, yes, there was that episode at Hiroshima before the game was fully laid out—but that was not two equals confronting each other, that was somebody with a gun executing somebody who had nothing, relatively speaking. But the fact that we could come through the era of atomic confrontation without a thermonuclear exchange indicates that, under pressure, we can pull ourselves and our institutions at least sufficiently together to avoid total catastrophe. Well, that was just a dry run for what lies ahead: more complicated problems, less easily managed, far more challenging. We’re going to need a great deal of goodwill, many different sorts of viewpoints, incredibly integrative technologies, very wide bandwidth systems of symbolic communications so that we all understand where we stand and what we mean. And all of this is the challenge of extreme near-term. I’m not talking about the next 500 years—when I get to that I’ll try to stand your hair on end. I’m talking about the next ten years. The rest we’ll save for later.
So these are just some of the ideas that we’ll cover this weekend. As I say, if you don’t like what you’re hearing: ask questions, and I steer easily—though I give long answers.
First of all, if you didn’t get one of these and you think you might be interested in this ethnobotany-ethnochemistry course at Uxmal in January, I brought extras.
Does it have a tendency to sell out?
It does tend to sell out. So by October/November, you should be pretty much making a commitment. We can only take a hundred people in each one. And people sometimes say, “Well, which one should I go to? The first one or the second one?” I don’t know. It’s a hard call. The first one, everybody is pretty fresh and coherent. The second one tends to be somewhat more…
Not fresh and not coherent.
Yeah! Thrashed and incoherent. And if you do come, you should certainly—if you’ve never done it—build in a week, one side or the other of this, to tour the Mayan areas of Mexico which are immediately adjacent. If you haven’t done that, it’s one of the great archaeological experiences of the world. I mean, nowhere in the world is there so large a concentration of archeology on such a scale and in such a state of preservation. Not Greece, not Egypt. I mean, simply because the size of the Mayan world was immense and there were many, many city centers. And it was extremely historically persistent. People compare the Maya to the Inca. The Inca—that was a family. The entire thing lasted 135 years. The Mayan civilization arose in the 2nd century B.C. and blew apart in the 960s A.D. So for over a thousand years it was a continuously evolving culture with literature, theater, mathematics, lineages, so forth and so on. So don’t just come to Mexico for this. Mexico is an astonishing and bizarre culture—as exotic as India, as potentially as undoing as Iraq. So be forewarned, but have fun down there.
Here’s another piece of propaganda. I don’t think I have enough for everybody to have one of these. So if you don’t think you might be in Hawai’i in November, it would be very hard for you to attend this, since that’s where it’s occurring. But this is an event—this is a whole bunch of people, a course, great diversity. This would just be me for five days. The perks are: you get to stay in a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Waimea, which is a beautiful part of the Big Island. So if you think you might be interested, take one of these, otherwise pass it on. If there are any not used, you can hand them back to me.
Okay. And then, before we start this morning, I just wanted to—it’s sort of become a ritual at these things to briefly discuss relevant new publishing in the field, just to give people a feeling of what’s out there that they might not be aware of. So much is being published that, without some kind of vetting, it’s hard to know what’s what. So, in no particular order—I guess from smallest to largest—here’s some interesting new publishing relevant to this field.
First of all, this book is just out in England by Paul Devereux: The Long Trip: A Prehistory of Psychedelica. And it just arrived in Paul’s mailbox a couple of days ago and he loaned it to me. It looks to me like basically a history of psychedelic use worldwide before the 1960s. Paul Devereux is better known for writing on Earth energies, lay lines, and that sort of thing. But this seems like a pretty good book. So few of these books come out that, you know, the number of books that’ve been written on the history of psychedelics—probably you can count them on the finger of one hand. My book, Food of the Gods, is in that category. It’s available in the bookstore. So, I should say, are most of my books, and I’d be happy to sign books at some point. Not after this morning, because I have to run out of here to a meeting, but at other times I’ll be happy to sign books. Trying to think of other books besides this one and mine that cover this are. It’s mostly, strangely, the publishing seems to be coming out of England on this subject, which is odd because the English contribution to the psychedelic phenomenon is pretty much restricted to the musical division. Speaking of the sixties—in other words, who can name a great English pharmacologist?
Is there [???] Storming Heaven?
Storming Heaven. That’s an oldie. Yeah, that’s by a Jay Stevens. And that’s a very interesting history of the psychedelic movement. There’s also Acid Dreams: The CIA, LSD, and the Sixties. That’s more if you tend toward conspiracy theory. I mean, I don’t. Everything I Know, Martin Lee, that book is quite true. Generally, conspiracy theory is a form of epistemological cartoon-making that comes under the heading of simply damned foolishness, and a ticket to irresponsibility. You know, the real news is: no one’s in control. Not the central bank, not the Jews, not the communist party, not the pope. No, no—nobody’s in control! This is a book that’s come out just in the past year, edited by Bob Forte. Some of you may know Bob. He’s a long-time figure in this field. Psychedelic activist and literateur. And this is a bunch of essays by some of the top folks.
[???] title of the book?
The title is Entheogens and the Future of Religion. And some of the contributors are Albert Hofmann, the discoverer of LSD and the synthesizer of psilocybin, Gordon Wasson, our own Brother David Steindl-Rast, who’s lived and taught at Esalen many years. Jack Kornfield, myself, Ann and Sascha Shulgin, and then some of the younger people: Robert Jesse and Tom Riedlinger, Rick Strassman. Very interesting book. Probably a good buy for the money. I don’t know if this is in the bookstore. It certainly should be.
Does the book deal with the future of religion, or is that kind of a title?
No. It does. Some people discuss it more cogently than others, obviously, but it doesn’t escape notice. This is a book more to be read for fun than to be taken seriously. I disagree with a lot of what’s in here, but on the other hand, I’ve never seen this kind of stuff in print before. Again, what’s going on in England? I don’t know why Harper Collins is chewing itself up here and Wired is going mad, English publishing seems to be getting some traction. The Posthuman Condition by Robert Pepperell. And this is sort of a parallel track to some of my thinking. If you cruise the net you encounter people who call themselves transhumanists or extopians or this sort of thing. These are not psychedelic people, these are people with an enormously inflated faith in the power of human engineering. So these are the people who want to dissolve humans into machines, build ringworlds, go nanotech, that end of the big picture. And Pepperell actually tries to produce what he calls a posthuman manifesto, which is printed in the back as a series of statements. And actually, as I read through them, I disagree with most of them. I don’t think that’s how it’s going at all. But this is sort of like an introduction to somebody’s notion of the approaching chaostrophe. So that’s that. And then, the one which gives me the greatest pleasure to recommend to you—a book actually unambiguously worth buying, reading, and recommending—is Mason & Dixon, which is Thomas Pynchon’s latest novel. Certainly probably the best novel written in America in the past fifty years. I mean, Pynchon is the greatest living writer of American English. I wasn’t sure about that until Wednesday, but Burroughs died, so it appears secure. If you’ve never read Pynchon, I hardly—I wonder where you’ve been. But his novel—I guess, was it 17 or 20 years ago—Gravity’s Rainbow really codified a whole complex of social and aesthetic issues. This is a much different book. I mean, it’s vintage Pynchon, but it’s also a celebration of America, and of the buddy system, and it’s a scathing look at the embryonic birth of big science and big government projects. As you know, Mason and Dixon were an astronomer and a surveyor who accepted a royal commission to define the boundary between Pennsylvania and Delaware in the 1760s, and cut a line due west into the unexplored North American continent. Later, that line—called the Mason-Dixon Line—was the division between the Confederacy and the Union. This has nothing to do with the Confederacy and the Union. This is set in the 1760s when America itself was simply a caffeine-driven hallucination over in Philadelphia. It hadn’t come into existence yet. But this book is about how people struggle with new technologies and revolutionary modalities in the evolution of society. So, enough of that.
Okay. Well, hopefully some of what was said last night either was odious enough that someone would like to pull us in a different direction, or perhaps to somebody else interesting enough that they would like to ask a question. What comes for you from last night? Anybody? As I said, these things are best driven by people’s agendas. What’s your agenda, Nicholas?
[???] for a while after I left [???] the idea of artificial intelligence and what determines what is artificial and what is not artificial intelligence. What kind of definition would define that [???] my understanding [???] intelligence and consciousness being kind of a simpler thing depending on how one defines intelligence. What is artificial? If it’s conscious and intelligent, isn’t it as real as anything else?
Well, I’m sure as some of you may know, that this issue arose early in A.I.: how do you know an artificial intelligence when you’re talking to one? And Alan Turing, who was a theorist of cybernetics in the 1940s, developed what he called the Turing test. The Turing test is: if it walks like a duck, if it talks like a duck, it probably is a duck. And the Turing Test is always imagined as a telephone conversation. I tell you to dial a number. You dial a number. A voice on the other end says, “Hello?” Now the Turing Test begins. Your job is to determine whether you are talking to a machine or a human being. If you can’t determine it, and it is an A.I., then it’s passed the Turing test. And this was in the 40s and 50s a theoretical proposition. Now these tests, these things, are actually done. And every year there are competitions where this is precisely how the game is played.
Now, it turns out that the more you restrict the subject matter, the harder it is to tell whether you’re talking to a human being or a machine. If it’s no holds barred, general knowledge, most people can within a few minutes make a pretty good call. But intelligence is in the eye of the beholder. I mean, how do you know that I am not a cyborg? How do I know that you are not a cyborg? The answer is: well, we Turing test each other unconsciously at sufficient depth to satisfy ourselves. It becomes moot. Or it is becoming moot. [Deep] Blue is an example. You know, in terms of playing chess it can pass any Turing test you can imagine. But it can’t even formulate an answer to a non-chess question. So it’s a very domain-specific A.I., and really not an A.I. because it simply—chess is not like reality. Chess is a very high-variable game system. But it doesn’t have the open-endedness that reality has. You see, in really interesting games the most interesting rule is that the rules can be changed. And chess doesn’t have a rule like that.
Did you want to say something?
Yeah, I read in the New York Times yesterday they’ve got some embryos about to be birthed in the Midwest; ten types of Holstein cattle. Cloning is one of those things. See, there’s a whole bunch of revolutions all crowding onto the stage. The one that holds center stage at the moment is the cybernetic Internet thing. But somewhat completely independent of all that is the biotech possibility, which is cloning, gene sequencing, getting a tremendous grip on curing hereditary diseases, that sort of thing. And then another area not entirely connected or related is nanotechnology, which is proceeding at breakneck speed. And the public relations machinery for telling the public what this is isn’t even in place. You meet people who are fairly established in their professions or whatever, who don’t know what nanotechnology is. Who, in fact, have never heard of it. I don’t know if there’s anybody in this room in that situation. And after what I said, it would take courage to admit it. But nanotechnology is simply the idea that one could conceivably, theoretically, build the physical superstructure of our world in a completely different way: from the atoms up. This is how nature does it: through processes of transcription of protein, through ribosome, or crystallization, or this sort of thing. Nanotechnology envisions the possibility of abandoning agriculture on this planet within twenty years. Agriculture is, after all, an incredibly land-destructive process for the production of food. What we want is the food. The food could be produced directly out of available and extremely inexpensive elements. Sea-floor sludge is the usual notion of how this is done. The holy grail of nanotechnology is what’s called a matter compiler. A matter compiler does to matter what an SGI graphics system does to images. In other words: anything you can imagine. Out of matter compilers come—in the case of agriculture, in Neal Stephenson’s book The Diamond Age all of China is being fed out of matter compilers that are producing rice. And people say this is hundreds of years away, thousands of years away. It’s pure science fiction. No it isn’t. It’s happening right now. And producing rice is a simple trick. What’s imagined is that all kinds of machines of whatever complexity could become nearly invisible in size and nearly costless. Most things would be made of diamond. This is the trash material of nanotechnology. It’s just simpler to build things out of diamond than anything else. Cheaper, faster, cleaner. And the huge amounts of R&D funding and enthusiasm are going into nanotechnology.
And an interesting thing about it is: it’s not really being driven by managerial decisions. The reason nanotech is moving so fast is because all the best people think it’s so cool to do it. You know? I mean, electric dynamos where you can fit 60 of them inside a human hair. A few years ago—this is how far nanotechnology has developed—like three or four years ago, on the cover of Science News, there was a 1 cm × 1 cm chip that had 10,000 steam engines on it. It had more steam engines operating on it in this 1 cm × 1 cm space than were operating in all of England in 1850 at the height of the age of steam. Now, each of these steam engines produced 1⁄10,000 of a millinewton of torque. That’s not a lot of torque. But on the other hand, it depends on what kind of work you’re trying to do. If you’re trying to kick atoms around, that’s plenty of force.
To return to the cloning thing: I’m sort of thinking of novels these days, or short stories, or plots. And I thought it would be fun to imagine a joint project between Esalen Institute and SRI, let’s say, that would reach for—and this was to be the name of the novel—cloning Buddha. I thought that would be interesting. I mean, why should the next Dalai Lama be anyone less than Gautama? After all, we have the tooth, so there is presumably sufficient tissue there. And we’re not talking about Pterosaurs here. I mean, this is only 500 B.C. And the interesting objections to cloning, or some of them, are removed in the case of Buddha, because people say, “Well, even if you cloned Napoleon, it wouldn’t be Napoleon because Napoleon was a product of a unique environmental and social system and he was the product of the experiences of his lifetime.” But presumably Buddha was born Buddha. And so it would be very interesting to clone Buddha and see what this child was like. This is not a practical suggestion. This is to horrify and amuse you, and to make you think about the implications. I mean, there are other historical personages. I love the theological mess it raises, you know?
Maybe that’s what the second coming is.
The cloning of Buddha? I think it’s called Maitreya. Well, no, no. The Christians covered their bets on this one by having the body rise incarnate into the next dimension. Presumably, there are no tissue remains around. Although, you know, in a good Jesuit theology class you could argument on this.
You know, one of the great puzzles of Islamic theology is the fact that when Mohamed ascended into heaven he did it on horseback. And the status of this horse, his beloved horse who he loved very much, has been maddening for Islamic theologians ever since. I mean, you know, if you think the immaculate conception is a problem, try taking a horse into heaven and see what problems you leave for your exegetes!
[???] encountered in the sixties when [???] went up there.
Well, actually there are a number of shrines that claim to have Christ’s foreskin.
Oh yeah. The Christ’s foreskin thing.
The foreskin didn’t go, you know—was circumcised. It didn’t go up with him.
Well, this is material for a Tom Robbins novel, definitely. I would yield to Tom on that one. But cloning, all of these things—I mean, it will happen; are happening. I don’t think… the implications of them seem overblown in popular media. For instance, I’m old enough to remember—I don’t know if it was the very first—but the very first publicly discussed and acclaimed sex change operations. Christine Jorgensen, wasn’t that the person’s name? I can’t remember whether they went from man to woman or woman to man. But anyway, this was at what—early fifties? And people were just… [outraged]. Well now it’s just: so what? It’s a dime a dozen. It’s a medical procedure. You want it, you have it. Who cares? We don’t convene medical ethics committees or philosophers to discuss what it means.
Some technologies are more challenging. The ones that directly impact our consciousness. I think that’s why the drugs and the communication technologies—you know, cloning is something you will talk about with your friends. It will probably never come near you. Or you’ll probably have very little to do with it in your lifetime. But these communication technologies and these drugs are in your face, on your plate. You are going to have to come to terms with them, even if you reject them—even that is an enormous decision. I mean, I meet people who are rejecting the Internet and computer connectivity and this sort of thing, and it’s like a vow of abstinence or something. I mean, that’s very quirky. It’s like going orthodox or something. It’s just bizarre. And it will affect their lives for the duration of their lives. And it’s not easy to correct that decision because it’s a decision made in a historical context. If you ignore computers for ten years, you will probably never be able to get back online. Middle-aged people seem to have the feeling that there is no obligation upon them to self-educate and keep up. This is completely wrong. You just stamp yourself to utter irrelevance. Your rejection of these things will impact on no one’s life but your own. So if you’re doing it to be a politically correct example, you’re pissing into the wind, I fear. People aren’t interested in that.
[???] a topic you brought up last night. Before I get into that, I’d just like to say that I thought that was interesting: cloning Buddha. And maybe this time the Buddha won’t make ignorance statements about what Americans can do in their bedroom, about masturbation, and about homosexuality. Like the Dalai Lama did—very ignorant and uncompassionate since he said it in San Francisco.
When was this?
I guess it was a month ago. There was a conference in San Francisco, and he had at it against homosexuality, and what was sexual misconduct, and what wasn’t. Masturbation was sexual misconduct. And he went into what holes you can put it in and what holes you can’t. And he didn’t qualify it.
That wasn’t Buddha.
Wait a minute. Is this past the vetting of consensus reality or is it buried in sniffing angel dust? Did this happ—
It’s part of my job [???]
I’m just surprised there hasn’t been more discussion in the dining room here. I haven’t heard—this is the first time hearing it. This is real time, folks!
There was a lot of discussion, and I think some [???] people met with him after, a few spokesmen, and he kind of tried to back off and said, “Oh no, I would never say anything against gay rights.” But he had it pointed out to him that it was a rather uncompassionate thing to say about homosexuality—given the climate of fear and homophobia in this country right now.
Hm. Well, I like the Dalai Lama. I’m friendly to Mahayana Buddhism. But I think it’s preposterous for anybody to assume anybody else possesses greater moral superiority or intellectual depth than they do. The Dalai Lama has been remarkable for his ability to not put his foot in his mouth. It’s interesting that it comes in this form, and it’s not the usual case of philandering and whatever seems to haunt these communities. I mean, I think religion, in its public manifestations, always presents a cautionary spectacle. I do not understand why people transfer loyalty to role models. You have to be incredibly naïve about what people are to believe that a role model is, in fact, worthy. Because, you know, people are just people, and there’s no—I don’t see great differences in spiritual elevation among people. That’s why lineages and all that seem to me just another form of foolishness. The mushroom spoke to me once on this subject many years ago and said: “For one human being to seek enlightenment from another is like one grain of sand on the beach to seek enlightenment from another.” It’s a wonderful statement about our commonality. If you want to talk to the Dalai Lama, close the door of your bedroom and have a dialogue with the mirror. You’re as good as the Dalai Lama, for cryin’ out loud! Who could suppose otherwise?
In his particular case it seems to me he’s the representative for Middle Ages serfdom, where a third of the population of his country walk around in saffron robes, being fed by another half of the people of his country. And it’s… we—
Goodness! You lock out the psychotherapists and heresy after heresy pours out! Congratulations! No, no, I mean, I think Tibet should not be ruled by China. I also think that God-kings are a thing of the past. I’m against religious theoganies. I don’t want to see Israel ruled by a bunch of mumbling Hasids, either. It’s fine, Hasidism, Mahayana Buddhism—these are fine things, but not to aspire to temporal power. Good grief! So, you know, the Dalai Lama’s reluctance to envision a democratic Tibet has caused me to not feel a lot of wind at my back to try and sort out that particular political cat fight which has been going on for centuries and centuries. I’m a Jeffersonian democrat of some sort. I really believe that if it doesn’t liberate and serve the individual, no matter how attractive it is, no matter how traditional it is, no matter how majestic its pageants, how high-flown its philosophy, it’s probably a foot on somebody’s neck in the real world. And I’m not interested in that.
Well, there’s a very interesting—I’m not informed in it, but I’ll bet it’s really rolling the apple cart in all kinds of places. Some of you may have seen, in Tricycle a few months ago, there was Allan Badiner—who just lives down on the cliffs here; in fact, who I’m having lunch with; is a very sincere Buddhist and a good journalist—and he took on the editing of a psychedelic issue of Tricycle.
What do you think that that issue [???]?
Well, let me lay it out. It’s well known that many of the movers and shakers in American Buddhism had their roots in psychedelics in the 1960s. And so he wanted to sort of reprise that. And I did an essay, and some other people did essays. And I really looked forward to it and thought it would a warm community-building—shows you how naïve and the depth of my cynicism; there is still a grain of naïveté—I thought it would be a good thing. Well, it was just dissed completely. Just dumped on by all these people. And people wrote in who I have seen loaded out of their minds, and said, “This is terrible! This shouldn’t be there.” And I said Buddhism without psychedelics is armchair Buddhism. How can you possibly know anything about these modalities if you sit there, shastras to the eyebrows, and never actually push off into the ocean of mind. That’s what it’s about. That’s how I’ve always seen it. Turned out, people thought that was just beknighted as a viewpoint. Shouldn’t’ve even been allowed. “Why do you let Terence McKenna have a public forum in the pages of this magazine?” On and on and on. So then I realized: well, okay, this was a community just one over from our community that I thought we could surely build bridges to. We’re all transcendentalists, we’re all these things. Not! So once again it was handed back to me on a plate how unwelcome the psychedelic viewpoint is and how uptight people get. And all those people who came to spirituality through psychedelics essentially turned it into well-paying careers as abysses and monks and publishers and purveyors then of something which, having been raised Catholic, the smell of the incense, the heavy velvet, the tinkling of the brass—I didn’t feel I’d moved far at all.
I’m sorry. I interrupted you.
It’s an interesting topic. And isn’t it true that there has been with the coming of Buddhism into [???] even the Vajrayana model, which is pretty radical as far as teaching go in that [???], there was a suppression of the shamanistic religion and its psychedelic use. That’s what I understood. It wasn’t heavy suppression, but it was pretty much frowned upon trying to—
Well, we don’t really know. But it’s certainly true. There was an autophanous and a shamanism across the Himalayas. Buddhism didn’t enter Tibet until Padmasambhava brought it from Oḍḍiyāna in 741. So before that it was all shamanism. But all cultures overlay. I mean, I don’t think Tibetan Buddhism has been more or less brutal than any other. If you read the secular history of Tibet, they were using artillery, these monasteries, against each other to settle doctrinal disputes as early as the 1720s. In other words, as early as they could get artillery there. As soon as they could get it, they used it against each other.
And not only that. What the followers of the Dalai Lama—I think you make a good point about worship of people like the Dalai Lama, where no one ever asks him hard questions. It’s not him, it’s kind of a mentality you get in the followers. And none of them will tell you—I don’t even think they know. But they know they won’t tell you that if you ask, “How did the Dalai Lama—was the Dalai Lama always the religious, the spiritual and the secular or political head of his nation?” “Oh, I don’t know.” “Well, as a matter of fact, he was. And how did he get that way?” “Oh, we don’t know.” “Well, the way he got that was: the fifth Dalai Lama got the Mongol troops on his side and took over at gunpoint.”
Well, this is what I’m saying. The secular history of Tibet does not exhibit compassion, enlightenment, or anything else.
[???] found the way to go to the other side and get help, and bring it, and heal people with some kind of supernatural ability or ability beyond [???] mushrooms and—
You mean, do people do it without recourse to drugs? No. What do you mean? You mean are there people of special talent and ability?
Well… yeah, but I mean, when I say special I’m talking special.
You mean, are there people who violate the laws of known physics?
Okay. To heal. I’ll take that one.
To heal, is that…? Well, maybe you don’t have to violate the laws of known physics to heal. Well, this was really the question that drove my intellectual quest. I have always been interested in these things and had a great thirst for spiritual transcendence, but I don’t know why. It never made sense to me to believe these things. In other words, though I was raised Catholic—and as a tiny little kid introduced to the transsubstantiation, the resurrection, these completely mind-befuddling notions—still I was also exposed to secular science, and so my method was always to ask hard questions. What can you show me? And I, as an eleven to fourteen-year-old practiced ceremonial magic—to no great avail, I might add. I had stories by Robert Block and H. P. Lovecraft to make me hope I might get somewhere, but all I ever did was incinerate a lot of rosemary and alarm my parents.
But I think that this question is hard to answer because we’re not all living in the same world. I’ve seen confounding things, but very rarely. But truly, they were real. They were so real that I believed them to be real, and I’m the toughest nut to crack I’ve ever met. But these breakthroughs into the super-real seem to have certain qualities about them that make it very hard to do much with it. First of all, it’s always unexpected. No matter how much you expect it, it’s unexpected. No matter how hard you’re scanning, it can come from behind. The other thing is—and I don’t quite understand how this works—but it only happens when your guard is down. In other words, it always has a quality of… it always requires a certain quality of unconsciousness on the part of the experient. This is why I think beginners get so far. There really is something called beginner’s luck.
My daughter, who I haven’t seen for a while, is coming today, and it caused me to think of an incident that happened to she and I years ago here at Esalen. And it’s a story which makes no sense whatsoever, but it really, truly happened as far as I can tell. But it has all the qualities that bedevil this kind of thing. And what it was, was: I was, as I am now, scholar in residence. It must’ve been some ten years or so, eight years or so, ago. So Klea would have been, like, nine, and I would’ve been forty. So we were both younger and more naïve. And it was at dinnertime at the lodge, and it was this time of year and this type of weather, and the fog had been coming all day, in and out, in the garden. And it was—and we genuflect here, god-lovin’, to Carlos Castaneda—it was that very strange time of day which only lasts a few minutes between daytime and nighttime; the crack between the world, I believe. It’s interesting, in South America and also in Hawai’i at precisely that moment every day there are certain species of lepidoptera that rearrange themselves. In other words, that come out from wherever they’ve been hiding for 24 hours, fly around furiously for five minutes, and then disappear again for 24 hours. But anyway, it was precisely that time of day, and the fog was coming in and out of the garden, and we were not in a mood for anything peculiar. We were intent on dinner. And we were walking the path through the garden, and suddenly, as this fog moved and cleared, coming down one of the rows was a bunny; a small rabbit. Except that it had very small, short horns. Now, some of you may know the creature called the jackalope: the jackalope is a large jackrabbit with a pair of antelope horns, and it is a creature known only to exist above certain low-class bars scattered across California and Oregon. It’s up on the wall; the jackalope. It’s something you kid tourists with. As far as I could see, this was a baby jackalope about this high, and it crossed the trail no more than five feet in front of us. We both saw it. And our attitude was not amazement or an awareness that we were entering into a paranormal dimension. Both of us, I think, our reaction was, “Come on!” And then immediately behind it was a man. A very thin, not particularly healthy looking man with a shaved head wearing something like a gray running suit. And he was running—crouched, with his hands out like this. He was trying to catch the jackabunny. And when he saw us he appeared very confused, and stood up and turned and walked the other way. And I just took her by the elbow and I said, “Let’s get outta here.” And then we went to dinner. And we’ve talked about it immediately after and since, and as far as anybody can reasonably and decently tell, this is the straight story on what happened.
Well, it doesn’t make any sense, first of all. The Earth doesn’t move from its pinions. But what does it say? It says that attention falling into a certain place of non-attention is set up for something like this to happen. And I can’t explain it. I don’t think it’s explainable. It’s sort of like when you study quantum physics and they tell you that a black hole mostly puts out electrons, but the theory allows that it could eject Miatas and grand pianos—except that it would be very rare to eject a grand piano. But the theory does not preclude the ejection of grand pianos. So it’s something like that, or it’s a group hallucination, or it’s a bewitchment—or, or, or. And it begins to proliferate.
I was thinking about it last night or this morning, because I was in that place where I saw it happen, and I was thinking, “Maybe Esalen lasts a really long time. Like, maybe it’s sort of like the Piazza San Marco in Venice, or the central area in Stonehenge. Maybe we’re actually starting something here that will last so long that, for the next 5,000 years, people will relate to the Esalen garden and that, somehow, it’s a nexus for others on strange missions.” Now, the other thing about that story that I like, or that relieved me, is, I guess, the way to put it, is: notice that it’s absurd. And by being absurd it’s self-canceling. Suppose instead of a jackalope—which is an absurd creature to begin with—suppose it had been a gray of the wraparound eye type that are apparently trading high technology to the government for human fetal tissue—those people? Then you would’ve had a real dilemma on your hands because grays are objects of cultural fascination. In other words, if you see a gray, you just become part of a statistical body of people who’ve seen one. And so it’s like more problematic. It’s not that it’s a non-reality, it’s that it’s a sort of a non-reality.
This is, I think, part of the clue to understanding alien abductions and the way we generate information. If I tell you that I was up late last night and couldn’t sleep, and walked along the cliffs over Esalen, and that I encountered a shining disk, and that then my navel lint was removed by a team of extraterrestrial cosmetologists, this is evidence for an already existing body of data. You say, “Well, you should call MUFON. They’d be very interested in this. Or you should call somebody else.” If I tell you I was restless last night and walked the cliffs of Esalen, and that I encountered Bugs Bunny in the company of Patrick Swayze, people would just say, “You’re nuts!” You know? It’s not sanctioned. It’s not allowed. And nobody gives a hoot or takes it seriously for a moment, because it serves no one’s agenda. It’s just insane data and should be immediately tossed out. This shows us that the objects in the unconscious are given different weights. And you can tell a crazy story and join a self-help group. But if your story is too crazy, they won’t have a group for you, they’ll have a cell for you. So it’s worth bearing in mind. Let’s be generous here.
Someone had prepared a bunny with horns to surprise someone else with whom they had a lifelong running joke about jackalopes, and they had arrived at Esalen for the surprise birthday party of this person and realized that the bunny was frantic because it hadn’t eaten on the long trip. So they took the jackabunny, in its cage, down to the garden to steal some lettuce for it. And in the fog and in the effort not to be seen, the bunny escaped with its horns in place, and this person who probably didn’t have a gate pass anyway could see the whole situation getting out of hand and was frantically trying to capture the horned bunny and get it back in its… you can see people saying, “Gee, what a party-pooper this guy is.” Well, yeah, but we’re trying to save the laws of physics and reason here, for crying out loud! But I have to tell you: that doesn’t feel right to what it is. It felt, to me, like a—I don’t know. We all live in private Idahos. And somehow I was in somebody else’s private Idaho for a moment against my will. But I think we should always prefer the simplest explanation. Sometimes the simple explanation, like in a case like that, is maddeningly complex in itself. But if you don’t believe that’s what’s happened, well, then what do you believe? Do you believe that mythological animals are a potential infestation problem in the Esalen gardens? Or just where do you draw the line?
You know, if you want to know—like, if you have a simple scientific question that you want to answer. Like, let’s say, here you have a wire, and you want to know how much current is flowing through the wire. So you measure it with a voltage meter. And if you’re doing it scientifically, you’ll measure it a thousand times. Then you’ll add those numbers together, then you’ll divide by a thousand. Then you get the voltage running through the line. Well, now, it’s uncommon when you carry out this procedure that 998 of your measurements will tell you that, between 4.5 and 6 volts are running through the line. But two of your thousand observations will tell you that 75 watts in one case, and in another, 240 watts are running through the line. When a scientist looks at this series of measurements, the first thing they do is say, “Well, look. There are two anomalous measurements. Everything else was fluctuating between 4.5 and 6. These were way out of scale. Throw ’em out. Get rid of that. There’s something wrong. That’s bogus. Can’t be.” And then you get the voltage running through the line.
Now, we do it in the sociological domain in the completely opposite fashion. Tonight, a thousand people—or more; just, I’m picking a number—will stare at the night sky and see what has always been there. Two people will see mile-long spacecraft with violet running lights and accompanied by strange music and a message for mankind. Now, what should we do with these two out of a thousand people? Should we put them alpre? Should we rush their story to the cover of every tabloid outlet on Earth? That’s what actually happens. In other words, in the sociological world we seek to amplify novelty because we’re fascinated by it. But then we get false readings off reality because we’ve made the novelty stand out too much. The fact is that information is a degradable medium, and it collapses into contradiction and absurdity—often. You know, if you analyze your own conversation over a course of a day, it’s largely grunts and nods. We don’t really engage for verbal communication all that much of our waking time, and yet we assume that we’re doing it constantly. And so I think reality is very slippery, very malleable. I think we’re very naïve about what information is and how it works.
I’ve been interested in—as a lens for this phenomenon—in crop circles. Crop circles are the con that will not die, you know? No matter how many people come forward and admit that they’ve made them and fully confess, the meme is launched. And tours go from L.A., taking the cognoscenti of the City of Angels to visit the crushed wheat of Devon, and then draw conclusions from it. And yet, the phenomenon has been completely deconstructed to the satisfaction of anyone interested in its deconstruction. It just turns out a lot of people aren’t.
Extrapolating from the crop circle thing, the way reality seems to work is: we have a self-observing system of media—newspapers, television, so forth and so on. Something strange happens—a block of ice falls in a field, a peculiar pattern in a crop, a frightened rural person has some kind of strange experience. The local press prints this. Then people called stringers cull that local press environment for interesting stories. In other words, stories that people would be interested in in Argentina and Australia just for their weirdness and their human interest. So they carry, then, the flying saucer, the block of ice, whatever it is, goes on to the Reuters network and UPI, and this sort of thing. Well, then you and I, reading our daily dose of media—the New York Times, whatever it is—so you’re reading page 43, one inch of print. It says “Hertfordshire, England: A block of ice was reported to have fallen on the home of Herbert Surrey.” Well, so you you think, “Well, eh, that’s interesting. Let’s see how my Adobe stock’s doing. What’s Dilbert up to?” And you, in other words—it’s nothing to you. But of the millions of people who will read the New York Times, some few will say, “Aha. This dovetails with the astrological calculations I’ve been doing recently, and this theory I’ve had. This piece of data is important to the construction and maintenance of my worldview.” So they drive there, fly there, go there; to this place.
Well, now, the only other human beings who are interested in this phenomenon at this point are journalists. And journalists, God bless them, have to have a story. So if your editor says to you: “A block of ice has fallen on a farmhouse in Cheshire, go get the story,” you drive out there and, of course, there’s nothing. There’s now a mud puddle, the block of ice having been bottled for its curative powers or whatever. And there’s nothing there. There’s no story, except that the person who resonated with the phenomenon has also arrived at the site. This is where the marriage in hell takes place. The press meets the nut over the corpus delecti of the anomalous event. And the press guy says, “My god, we drove miles to get here. I’m on deadline. There’s no story, there’s no picture. Who are you?” to the person in resonance. He’ll say, “Well, I’m Dr. So-And-So of the Advanced Institute of Auric Physics, which I founded. And I’ve published numerous books, all of which I’ve self-published. And I’m very close friends with Terence McKenna and the Dalai Lama. And I know what’s going on here.” They say, “Okay, what’s going on?” Say, “Well, this is cosmic retribution for our polluting of telluric energies which are under the keeping of the Elf Kingdoms, and until we begin to retract our emissions of sulfur—” and the guy is writing furiously. And then the story is amplified and circulated again, and again, and again. And it begins to have implications for more and more people who are seeking evidence for some squirrely or peculiar viewpoint. In other words, it becomes a body of evidence. And then there’s no end to it.
It sounds like an explanation for all organized religions.
I don’t distinguish. I think—when the Heaven’s Gate people exited the scene, I was amused by the tone of the rhetoric in the press. It was all about: “How could people believe such a weird rap? Now excuse me, I have to get dressed for Easter midnight mass.” You know? We’re celebrating the resurrection of the savior; a minor Galilean politician who became God focuses my attention, and I barely have time to cluck over the foolishness of the Heaven’s Gate people. People are not playing by the same rules in all these areas! I mean, what is it?
[???] of the same decks.
All of the same decks, that’s right! And so people say, “Well, that’s tried and true; Christianity.” Well, what does that mean? A delusion grows more real over time? That’s a peculiar notion. You know, Pliny the Younger—there’s a fascinating book published in the last couple of years called The Christians as the Romans Saw Them. Fascinating book, which translates the early texts of the Roman Imperium as it slowly became aware that this strange phenomenon was in its midst. And Pliny the Younger—not the naturalist, who was the elder—but Pliny the Younger was appointed governor of Armenia. And his job was to go out there and administer Roman law and so forth, and he wrote extensive letters to the emperor (who was his very good personal friend) about the problems of administering this area. And his letters back to the Roman administration are the first records we have of Christianity. They were being oppressed. They were on some piece of land, and some townspeople—they were like gypsies, I guess—and some townspeople had moved them off this piece of land, and they had petitioned to the governor for redress of grievances. And in the course of settling this he had inquired of their beliefs. And then he wrote a letter to the emperor, and the emperor was quite interested and wrote back and said, “Tell me more.” And he said, “Is this a new religion?” And Pliny the Younger wrote and he said, “No, this is not a religion. Religions are concerned with the great issues of cosmic fate and cosmic destiny. This is a cult of Christ. It’s a cult of personality.” And this was actually the earliest take on Christianity by non-Christians. And I think, you know, examined fairly (I don’t hear cult as the hammer word some people hear) it is a clear distinction between religion. Religion is sort of the imperative branch of philosophy. You know, how you should live based on the nature of being and the world. A cult is just a squirrely bunch of ideas based on the power of some personality or some revelation. I don’t know how we got off onto all of this. Probably buries evil and manipulating influence in the background somewhere.
Ah. Well, what I—yes, thank you for asking. See, I don’t carry on this kind of debunking stance from a point of view of somebody who’s never had these experiences. I have had these experiences. I mean, in my book The Invisible Landscape I describe encountering a flying saucer right down to the point where I could see the rivets. But, in a way I saw too much, or I kept my head. Because I went through all the emotions of the standard UFO encounter. In other words: awe, paralysis, acceptance that it was going to take me. But as it kept coming closer and closer and I saw more and more of it, I could finally see that it was in fact the end cap of a 1937 Hoover vacuum cleaner that was about 45 feet across. And if you’re a flying saucer enthusiast you know the famous George Adamskiphotograph of—the debunked photograph—that shows the end cap of a 1937 Hoover vacuum cleaner which he suspended on a filament line in his garage and then shot with his Brownie. It’s the famous flying saucer with the three half circles on the underside, the little round portholes, and the twiddle on top? I saw it. I saw it. Flying through the skies of the Amazon, going Whee! Whee! Whee! Whee!
And as I saw it I knew what it was. I knew that it was the phony saucer. Psychologists call this cognitive dissonance. What it is—and Jacques Vallée and other people have written about this—the encounter with the UFO or with the other always has an element of self-canceling absurdity in it. If the witness can be fully honest and can give a full account of what happened, the story will not make sense. It never makes sense. And in my case it didn’t make sense on the spot. Now, my conclusion from that, and from the encounter in the Amazon—and I guess this maybe goes to your question about supernormal power—there is something… loose on this planet? Is that what I want to say? Or behind reality? Something. We could call it the unconscious, but that might make you feel more comfortable with it than you should. But what this power can do is: it can manipulate your mind. And what it has access to is the complete contents of your experience. It has more access than you do. You, the ego, are a fragile and forgetful creature. This thing—every movie you’ve ever seen, every television show you’ve ever watched, every headline you’ve ever glanced at, every face you’ve ever noticed in a crowd—it has it all. And when it sits across the board from you and the pieces are displayed, it absolutely surrounds and encloses your mental universe and can manipulate you any way it wants to. Because it knows you far better than you know yourself.
As an example of this—because it’s very hard to catch this thing in action. It’s Mercury-sly, but it’s not perfect, it’s not godlike. It’s just 99.8% able to do this trick without ever being nailed to the wall for it. Here’s an example of the 0.2% where it failed. And if this seems to make no sense to you, you should read my book True Hallucinations, in which the story I’m about to tell is embedded. But my brother, to shorthand it catastrophically, went pretty bananas in the course of this expedition to the Amazon. And at one point he announced that he was going to deliver a teaching that would—I think this was the one which cured all disease. You only had to do this practice and all physical disease would instantly be cured. And he said, “And so here’s the practice.” He said, “Picture the number eight. Turn it on its side. Slide the two circles together. Shrink it to a point. Close your eyes and utter the mantra, ‘Pleeeeaaaase!’, okay?” Sounds like it has a 30-40 chance of at least knocking back hay fever, right? So this was at a point in this experience in the Amazon where he had been raving for days and days. And just everybody was exhausted and at their wits’ end. But it was like a bolt of lightning to me, because I remembered that three months before I had been in Canada, having come from Japan, and was getting ready for this Amazon expedition. And one of the things I thought I should take care of since I’d been in Asia for a couple of years was: I needed a dental checkup. So I made an appointment with this Canadian dentist and went for this dental cleaning, and arrived to find a waiting room full of people, and settled down to a tall stack of tattered and incredibly tatty magazines, among which was the Journal of the Canadian Education Society—something like the Parent-Teacher magazine, but for Canada. And there was an article in there that said—this was 1971; shows you how things never change—there was an article about how computers will soon revolutionize elementary school teaching. And so, you know, in desperation I turned to this article. And here’s this article. You can imagine what it was saying. But there was this little sidebar next to the article, and it said the schools of the future will be nothing like we have known. Children will learn in completely different ways. And then it said: imagine little Suzy sitting down in front of a computer screen, visualizing the number eight, turning it on its side, sliding the two circles over each other and shrinking it to a point in order to command an arithmetic operation or something like that. And it was like: nailed! Nailed! We know where this stuff is coming from. It’s coming from our own minds, you know? He—he, if we want to blame my brother for this—had apparently a complete redoubt of all this detritus flowing around in my mind, and could pick it up and use it at will to befuddle and confuse me and lead me deeper in.
So when people say they have these encounters, the strangest thing about how we relate to the encounters is that we believe them. We take it at face value. If you told me—if you stopped me in the dining room this morning and told me that you had culminated an incredibly intense affair last night, I would not take that at face value. I would wonder at your motivation for revealing such an intimate detail of your life to someone you hardly know in the inappropriate venue of the Esalen dining room, and without us having previously discussed your erotic proclivities at all. I would say to myself, “What a weird thing. Why is this guy telling me this?” In other words, I would not take it at face value. These encounter things people take completely at face value. And yet, they are the most suspect accounts any of us produce. The people who have these experiences take it at face value, and then the people who listen to the experience take it at face value. And you say, “Well, let’s go out and measure. Now, you say you were standing here and it came over the trees at this angle. So you say it was the size of a football, but the tree was in front of it, so that means by the rules of optics that it could have been no more than fifteen feet across, no less than three feet across.” In other words, they treat it like it’s science, like we’re supposed to deconstruct this and find out the nature of the objects. You wouldn’t subject a dream to that kind of analysis. That would be absurd.
These things are like dreams. We are dreaming most of the time. The idea that there is a shared reality—the idea that you and I are living in the same universe, seeing the same things, walking on the same ground—is just a very high-level philosophical abstraction. It’s very hard to prove it or even to convince yourself that it’s so. We live inside worlds constructed by our language, our history, our expectations. And when the unconscious for some reason becomes, as the Jungians say, “activated,” it moves into that world and it uses the entire stage of being to send messages back to you about reality. And it’s an intelligence test, is what it is. It’s an intelligence test. And if you take things at face value, for sure you’ve failed the intelligence test. It’s no game for the naïve.
Is it based on foolishness or is it based on stupidity?
Sometimes one, sometimes the other. If you can’t help yourself, I guess it’s stupidity. If you can help yourself and you make the mistake anyway, I guess it’s foolishness.
Is there any purpose to this? I mean, is it a personal thing, a personal [???]?
You mean: why is it doing this?
Yeah. Or for educating somebody, or us?
It seems like it’s educating us, but in a funny, funny way. You know, if you read Jung on alchemy, alchemy is like this. It’s like a paradoxical realm of symbol-structures that seem to contradict themselves and myths that don’t make any sense. But what it always is about, I think, is dissolving assumptions. That’s why the people who take it literally are, in a sense, victims of it. Because it was not to be taken literally. The intelligence test is failed. You know, the flying saucer enthusiasts love to say—I don’t know what the number is; they keep pushing it up—but they say 35% of the American public believe flying saucers are real. Well, now, first of all: are we being asked to believe that 35% of the American public can carry on a coherent discussion of the concept “real?” You know? As real as what? As real as Madonna’s talents? As real as Clinton’s integrity? How real are the UFOs? And, to my mind, then, if 35% of the American public believe the UFOs are real, and they aren’t real, then obviously the interesting population to interview is the other people. What do they think? Well, the UFO people will say, “Oh, well they just think they’re weather balloons. Or they think that it’s government aircraft.” No, no. Let your opposition speak for itself. I’m in that larger percentage, and I don’t think UFOs are weather balloons. I don’t think they’re government aircraft. Obviously, all the interesting explanations lie on the side that they are not what they appear to be.
—susceptible to this. We should [---] going the way out of this kind of foolishness. The true mysteries of this world do not require your connivance or belief in order to exist. They’re able to exist quite independently, thank you—whether you believe in them or not. On the other hand, all forms of fraud and duplicity require the cooperation of the mark. That’s you, if you’re buying into these things. You know? The pocket is picked because the mark is asleep. The pockmarked crone can be passed off as a beauty because the mark is preconditioned to want to make the sale. Psychedelics should liberate people from the tyranny of these projections from the unconscious.
And it’s very fascinating to me to see how the defenders of these strange points of view, how phobic they are of psychedelics. They understand that psychedelics are a blowtorch to their ice cube. They don’t want to get near it. They used to have the excuse that they—even though they were going to spend a lifetime criticizing psychedelics—they couldn’t invest six hours to find out what it was about. Well, so then we brought them DMT, which lasts five minutes. So now the new excuse is: “Well, as a professional person, I don’t choose to break the law.” Fine, here’s some alpha salvinorin. It’s unscheduled, it lasts five minutes, it’ll cut your head off. Will you do it? And they say, “Well, no, I have a heart murmur,” or “I have an appointment in twenty minutes,” or something. There is absolute terror to confront the reality of what this represents.
And it’s interesting who’s afraid: scientists are afraid. They say, “Well, I would lose my objectivity, and we don’t do it like that. I’m the observer, not the experiment. We like to have things kind of off where we can handle them.” So scientists don’t want to do it. They sense it would destroy their ontology. And neither do the enthusiasts of the unanchored weird. They don’t want to do it either. Because they say it rends your aura and, you know, redistributes your chi in unpleasant ways. And anyway, Babaji said not to. And on and on and on and on and on. So it’s. you know—we are, apparently, that statistically favored few that quite by chance, I suppose, in our lives managed to thread our way between the Scylla and Charybdis of these “my mind’s already made up, don’t confuse me with facts” positions.
The only path into the supernormal that I found are the psychedelics. Everywhere else I found chicanery and fraud. I mean, I went to India, I visited some of the greats, and I just found the eagerness with which they sought to determine whether you had any acid with you was a strong indicator of the power of their own spiritual methods, you know? Mainly, they wanted to score. It’s a sobering thing to have the teacher you came 10,000 miles to see try to get you to cut loose three hits. I don’t know. It’s fun to be a free person. It’s fun to not depend on an institution, an ideology, an other person, a place, a time. And it’s very hard to sell this form of fun. People are afraid. People have been disempowered, I think, through the process of juvenilization that we described last night. People define themselves as frightened children, you know? They want methods, gurus, partners, safe havens, stipends, sabbaticals. They just want all these things to make it easier for themselves. But they don’t make them easier for you. If you have all that, you will be soft and mushy beyond reclamation. You will contribute nothing to the human adventure. You don’t want to be just a placeholder. There’s no glory in being able to say, “Eh, the 20th century? Yeah, I lived through it. Contributed nothing, said nothing, had nothing to say about it. But I lived through it.” A lot of people didn’t live through it. You might consider that you’re standing in their shoes and act out of a commitment to them and what they might’ve achieved.
You know, I think often, strangely enough, about Anton Webern, who’s one of the great modernists of European music. Webern was killed in the streets of Vienna in 1945 by an American G.I. for stealing a loaf of bread. You know? This is what happened to European culture in the aftermath of the Second World War. We have been incredibly privileged in the 20th century. Europe has been smashed to dust twice in the 20th century. All its dreams, all its assumptions, all its hopes cast into the frying pan. We had nothing like that. And again, I think it permits an enormous amount of foolishness in our society, and an unwillingness to take things seriously, really. These things are not playthings—fascism, futurism, communism, you know? These things can ignite and consume whole societies. That means: human lives.
If we’re really serious about new paradigms, I think we have to go to the bedrock of experience. It’s not about rearranging or reshuffling the ideological deck. That’s why the psychedelic experience is such a potentially liberating and revivifying thing. Because it is an experience, and we have somehow traded out our experience over the past several hundred years. You know, it’s a truism that television is geared at the 12-year-old mind. It’s probably a generous truism. Millions and millions of people live larval, low-awareness lives, warehoused in the burbs, plugged into Costco and the telly, and as long as the magazine subscriptions stay subscribed and the credit cards continue to be serviced, the illusion that there is life happening here is allowed to continue.
I know that you’re… you’ve touched upon… I have a question, and I would get into why I am asking the question. It’s hard to focus my thought [???] moving so fast between different areas that my ideas are slipping away, and that I’m trying a way to express them. But I guess this topic we’re on right now, this question is that we’re created in equal, all of us, with equal amount of enlightenment and all of us with equal genetic ability, and if you look at the world as an organism, as some people might do, and as you look at an ant colony, and there are certain functions within different types of beings within that same society, that have different roles and can do different things. And you can look at the human culture that, perhaps, there’s—and the world as an organism—that perhaps there is a function. Or there’s people that are in the suburbs doing those things, perhaps that that [???] there’s only a certain amount of capacity within those people. And then there’s various people with different capacities. And certain people that are going to find their way to enlightenment or are perhaps more able on other levels. Not everyone’s endowed with the same amount of ability to get there in the first place. And I was curious what you thought about that kind of theory, because I know the co-evolution of man and mushroom and the [???] enlightened state, the primitive co-evolution of those two, together, perhaps there were certain areas that were left behind or certain people that maybe are less affected by that co-evolution or different cultures and women in the world culture. And [???] I can’t find an explanation myself for why certain people just refuse to open their minds at any point. There’s no way to penetrate. And perhaps because that mind isn’t there.
Well, this is this thing where I say culture is not your friend. And those people being warehoused and hooked up to the TV in the burbs, they’re the people who didn’t find this out in time, you know, and now are mainlining culture. And it is—in terms of cutting your social effectiveness—it is as effective as heroin. But I don’t think it’s always been like this. I think culture has always been somewhat unfriendly to the individual, but it’s only within the 20th century that all this has been understood explicitly, and some people have set out to use these facts against the rest of us. Modern advertising: I mean, modern advertising, advertising, the impulse of advertising, is to inform you of what is available in the marketplace. Seems a harmless and reasonable thing; you should know what is available in the marketplace. But then comes the psychology of advertising, and then this is to pick your pocket and make you buy things whether you need them or not. And it does it by, first of all, inculcating in you a feeling of helplessness and inferiority unless you drive this car, wear these shoes, this cologne. So you diminish the customer in order to aggrandize the product. But notice that the customer is a human being. The product is a thing. This begins to look like a crime against humanity. Modern marketing travels on ungratified desire: show people that even if you buy the $12,000 car, the $75,000 car would make you so much happier. And of course, true ecstasy is the $200,000 car. So there’s no satisfaction, no limit.
And at the tail end of this process is completely unexamined policies of resource extraction, abuse of the environment. And we tend to think that you can’t do it any other way, that this vast consumer economy is the only way a modern civilization could possibly function. But in fact it’s a self-limiting potlatch of some sort. You all know what a potlatch is? A potlatch is among the northwest coast Indians. It’s an interesting approach to consumerism. Among the northwest coast Indians, gift-giving is a big deal. But the potlatch is when you can give so much gifts that you can burn them. This is considered the highest form of consumerism among the Haida and these people: is to burn all the physical goods. And it’s a form of display. I mean, these things cost money and are fine objects, but you destroy them to prove essentially how much money and power you have. Well, we’re in that situation. Everything is disposable, everything is throw-away.
And growing away from this is very difficult. I mean, it essentially requires responsibility and integrity, which is the last thing anybody wants to hear. They want to hear that—I dunno—chelated enzymes or a particular form of therapy or darshan with Guru Ma or something else is going to make it all alright. No, just individual moral responsibility is the basis for intelligent existence. And this should be obvious to most people, except that the cacophony of the marketplace is making it so hard to figure this out.
Did you…? Yes.
I’m interested in how a lot of the things that you’ve been discussing relate to what you allude to as living in the imagination. Talking about cultural limitations makes me think about limited patterns of perception, and what psychedelics seem to do is decondition you from those previous limited patterns of perception, giving you a glimpse of what is possible. Although if you try too quickly to define it, you failed the intelligence test, as you say, because what it’s trying to help you to glimpse is what is beyond another level of limitation. And culture can be like a group mind that you buy into, that’s a very limited pattern of thinking. Cutting-edge technologies like nanotechnology seem to be moving in the direction of living in the imagination. And that is what previously is only envisioned—it’s not materialized. And again, psychedelics seem to intimate that; the experience itself seems to point towards what is previously thought of as beyond the possible as now an opening towards the envisioning of that possibility. And again, you allude to a future vision of living in the imagination, the union of spirit and matter, and that’s kind of the common theme that I pick up in a lot of things that are being discussed here. And I’m curious what your concepts are [???].
Well, the reason I think psychedelics are an antidote to this commodification and juvenilization is because they not only dissolve boundaries, but they also show you inner worth. In other words, they show you that you—who you previously dismissed—have more beauty in your head than Cartiers and Tiffanys and all the rest of it put together. So you don’t need to go to Harry Winston or Cartiers. You have inner worth. You don’t need a car, a house of great expense. And then, the other thing is: these technologies are allowing us to vivify the imagination and to make it very real—in fact, to make it something we can walk into. I tried it out on my staff group and it didn’t seem to get very far, but I really think every single one of us should be learning how to expand our communication skills. That this is the task for the rest of our lives: to learn how to communicate with each other. To communicate verbally, by touch, but also accept these technologies.
I’ve spent the last six weeks learning how to three-dimensionally model objects and then animate them, texture-map them, color them, because I spent my whole life clawing the air and raving about hallucinations, and no one could ever see what I meant. But if I will cancel all engagements and work at my terminal for six months, I’ll come back with thirty seconds of film, where I’ll just say, “That’s my best shot. To the limit of my present acquisition of skills, here’s what I’m seeing.” So, you know, it’s not about rejecting the media or the marketplace, it’s about changing your relationship to it. Do not consume! Produce! Into the vacuum of the producer-consumer relationship, inject your own art. Make sure that you are producing, not consuming. Because the one stultifies, marginalizes, and creates a juvenile attitude, and the producing actually raises the sum-total of consciousness of the human species.
What we’re debating and talking about now—myself and my friends—is trying to get someone to endow a prize that we would sneak onto the Internet in the first stage as the psychedelic simulation prize. In other words, a $5,000 prize awarded once a year—a small statute of a smiling man; we’ll call it the “Tim”—you can win the Tim for producing the best three-dimensional animation of a mental landscape. Well, probably from now until 2000 these will simply be videos, Quicktime movies. But sometime beyond 2000 these will become VRML-coded virtual realities. And people will begin to walk into them. And we’ll still call it the prize for psychedelic simulation, but notice that once you can walk around inside these things, they become much more present.
One of the things we’ve talked about over the past week is: I don’t believe alien spaceships are visiting Earth to pull our chestnuts out of the fire or to do anything else of much interest, but I do think there’s an alien presence. It’s non-material. You contact it in the psychedelic experience. It’s non-material. Well, then what is the nature of the alien presence? Well, its nature is informational. It is made of information. Well, you know how in all flying saucer cults and all B-movies of the 50s there’s always the awareness of the possibility of contact, and then there is the landing zone; has to be created. And in Close Encounters it was Devil’s Tower out in Wyoming. This seems to be part of the archetype of the alien. What the alien needs to manifest among us is a suitable landing zone. And people say, “Well, the Nazca Lines, that was the landing zone.” That’s pretty lame. I mean, I won’t even bother to deconstruct it. Surely, if you can come from Zubenelgenubi you don’t need airport running lights to be waiting for you when you get here. So: the landing zone.
And I’m beginning to think that, in a sense, the Internet is a net to catch an alien. And the way you catch the alien is by writing the weirdest code you think you can think of, and integrating it into all the other weird code you can find. Let’s set out to build a virtual reality as alien as we can possibly make it. And if we connect our psychedelically empowered imagination to our coding fingers, we will discover when the chore is done that the thing we have created is so alien that it could only be the alien, and that, in fact, the contact is now underway. Because where the alien is is in some non-local Bell sphere of universally accessible information. In other words, the imagination is like a field of data that is at the Bell level of connectivity in the quantum mechanical universe, and there are aliens—somewhere, galaxies away, tens of thousands, tens of millions of light years away. I mean, it’s preposterous to assume that this is the only life in the universe; the only intelligent life in the universe.
It’s also pretty preposterous to assume that we are being physically visited by sixteen different kinds of intelligent life. It means you just don’t understand the distances involved, the timescales involved, what relativity has to say about approaching the speed of light, and so forth and so on. No—physically, we are alone. Physically. But in the imagination we’re surrounded by distant friends. And their whisperings are our science, our mathematics, our religions, our culture. There may be many forms of intelligence in the universe whose thoughts are blowing through us at any given moment. Most of it, it’s not on a humanly cognizable scale. In other words, it’s either too something this way or too something that way, and when you look at it you just say, “For me, a human being, this is noise.” But out of these many hundreds, thousands, millions of cross-channels of co-present Bell data, some are enough like ourselves that we can at least discern resonances. And out of those resonances, then, we form the images of these entities.
I haven’t seen the movie Contact, but I understand there is a message, and when you decode it you build a machine, and then you go there. That’s the plot. I would just change the plot to say there is a message, when you decode it it tells you how to build a virtual reality, and then they are here. There’s no dramatic—
Well, it goes through a wormhole.
Yeah, well, see, I don’t think the wormhole is open all the time. When you look into the imagination to the degree that you can decondition your human expectations, the data will become more and more alien. I mean, I have done this with the mushroom. I’ve taken it, gotten stabilized in it and comfortable, and then said to it: “Okay. We’re cruising. Now show me what you are for yourself. Don’t give me the version stamped ‘Suitable For Human Consumption,’ give me the straight shot.” Well, then the temperature begins to fall, black draperies rise, there’s an enormous organ tone, and after about thirty seconds of that you say, “Could we go back to the ‘Suitable For Human Consumption’ version of this?” Because to the degree that it truly bears its essence, you just shrink in absolute cosmic horror from what it is. Because what it is, is: it’s the mind that stretches between the galaxies. It’s the thing—it saw the coming of the Rull 500 million years ago. It knows the history of the local group. It possesses technologies that are so beyond the paltry imagination of man that for decency to even hint of these things is to transgress to some degree.
So it comes as it can be understood. So it’s a kind of mental calisthenics to train for. A friend of mine said, “Every time I take mushrooms, my goal is to stand more. To stand more and say to it, ‘Okay, here I am again. Let’s start where we left off. I’m ready to try and stand more.’” So people who think this is some kind of a lark or some kind of—they are skimming the back of the beast. They’re never really… it can take you further than you want to go. It won’t, usually. It’s usually quite benign. It seems to sense our limitations. But if you present yourself as a warrior it will give you a warrior’s experience.
And then the key coming out of all this is that the second part of it is the download. And we’ve been having these astonishing experiences now for thirty, forty years. Very hard to communicate with each other. Now we have the tools—the 3D modeling, the animation; anybody can learn these things in a few weeks of application—and we need a higher-definition, higher-dimension language than small mouth noises to convey this stuff. We need to be able to see what we mean. We need to let other people see what we mean. We need to be able to freeze these incredibly complicated images and modalities so that we can then analyze them—aesthetically, mathematically, energetically—and write papers about them and talk about it. I mean, this is the great new frontier: the human imagination.
You know, it’s only been 400 years since we discovered the lost half of this planet! I mean, you think we’ve got a hold on reality? That’s how lame our story is: 400 years ago it was a matter of debate if there was North and South America. And people just kept pushing and pushing, and sure enough: real estate beyond anybody’s wildest dreams. Well, I think there’s real estate in the imagination. I think it’s the country we’re all going to live in. We’re like English colonials restless with a mad king and waiting to book passage to the New Worlds of America. Our sails are filling, the technologies exist to do it. And in 200 years it wouldn’t surprise me if the imagination was the major industrial and population center of the human world. People say, “Well, what does that mean?” Well, who knows! And why do you care? It’s of the nature of an inevitability; a self-fulfilling prophecy.
We have exhausted the exterior world. And yet, the interior world beats like an enormous uncharted ocean. And what is ordinary historical consciousness but a tiny island protruding above that ocean? So as we grow in sophistication, and in our sense of who we are and what we want to do in the cosmos, extremely exciting destinies (I think) will unfold for us. We've just fought our way out of the jungle, away from the influence of the glaciers, we’ve lopped off the heads of the other megafauna on this planet so we can have a little breathing room. Now we need to ask the question: what is it all for? What is it all for? It can’t be for masturbatory consumerism and gratification of the historical ego at the expense of all future generations. We’ve flopped on the seamy side quite long enough. It’s time to be up and about the great and exciting business of being truly human for the first time.
Alright. That’s the morning session. I’m gonna have to run. Thank you very much. I hope you get massaged and so forth. I will be back at four. I wish I could stay, but I’m here so briefly.
Okay. Well, let’s see, here. I have one thing to put before you, which is just so you know how current we are and how cutting edge. I can tell you that this book, called Bots: The Origin of a New Species, by Andrew Leonard, will receive a rave review in tomorrow’s Sunday New York Times. This is not yet printed. And this is a book about the rise of A.I. These bots, as you know—infobots, all kinds of bots running around on the Internet, tracking down facts for you, doing all sorts of things—they are probably the embryogenic precursors of the kind of artificial intelligence that we’ve been talking about. I just—this book was a gift to me—and I’ve just been looking through it, and it really looks like lots of fun and definitely cutting edge stuff. Probably won’t be carried in the bookstore; at least not for a while. But that’s Bots: The Origin of a New Species by Andrew Leonard. And it’s a hardwired book. They’re having a rough week up there, too. Quite a week for turmoil in cyberspace.
Terence? I don’t know what direction you’re facing [???]. Even though this might be familiar territory for a lot of people here, possibly it’s the first time I’ve heard you in this workshop, and I was wondering if you could address some of the practical considerations—like the various psychedelics and which ones you feel have more value, or why. The importance of set and setting in approaching the psychedelic experience. Just your view.
Well, yeah, my own psychedelic experience—I was pretty much very typical, I think, of people of my age and situation. I began to hear about—sometime in the late… I guess in the early sixties it must’ve been—I read The Doors of Perception. And it was fascinating to me, but I had no access to mescaline or anything else, nor any knowledge of pharmacology or botany. And I then became interested in the counterculture, and I subscribed to the Evergreen Review. I think I was the only person west of the Mississippi river who was getting the Evergreen Review in 1961–62–63. And they were publishing people like the French surrealist André Michaux, they published parts of Terry Southern’s book Red-Dirt Marijuana, and I just became obsessed with locating these things. My first attempt to get high was: I had heard that morning glories would get you high. So I went out and gathered bindweed, which is this little morning glory like you see along the highways here, and had a hell of a stomach ache—the first of many in pursuit of this.
And then I… it wasn’t until 1963–64, when I was a senior in high school, that… the last semester of my senior year in high school I went to Berkeley for Christmas vacation, and finally was able to score some cannabis and smoked it all up. And it didn’t seem to do what I’d had expected, but I was able to do incredible verbal performances, extemporaneous feats of heavy lifting. I could make up pseudo chapters of Melville’s Moby Dick. I could just fall into these rhetorical things and rave. But it didn’t seem to be getting me off from my own point of view. And then I went back down to southern California—to Lancaster, where I was going to school of all places. Captain Beefheart graduated from the same high school I did! Antelope Valley Joint Union High School, district… yeah. Oh, there’s the antelope!
Did Zappa graduate there?
Zappa also—geniuses just were pouring out of this school! And my friend and I began—we found a source of morning glory seeds; the real kind. And we would grind them up and put them in milkshakes, and go out into the Mojave desert. And I never had the explicit visionary eyes in the dark breakthrough, because we didn’t know how to do it. But we would look at the desert, and I remember: it became more significant. Everything looked significant. And if you recall the vocabulary of Doors of Perception, it was that kind of thing. He said everything was glowing with [???]. And there was a lot of eyes-open stuff going on.
I left Lancaster, came to San Francisco, got a job that summer, and across the hall in this flophouse where my friend and I lived was this very peculiar guitar-plucking character who later turned out to be Barry Melton of Country Joe and the Fish; the guitarist. And it was just a few months after this that they brought out that album Electric Music for the Mind and the Body, which was, you know, it was very happening. And I took acid that summer—Sandoz LSD in those little white capsules—and finally grabbed it one night on Green Street, and just completely came to pieces. In fact, disgraced myself in several dimensions that nobody’s ever been willing to explain to me fully since. I gather my sexuality, my bowels, my everything else just went into a tizzy!
And I was sort of like following the track. Many people were having these kinds of experiences at just that time. But then, in February of 1967 I sort of found my way at the front of the parade when, one rainy evening in Berkeley, this friend of mine—who I’m still extremely tied with—and this guy always was first in everything. He made it his business to burn through and abandon things before you ever heard of them. And he arrived at my house this rainy February night, and he said, “I have something I want you to try.” And I said, “What is it?” And he said, “It’s a new psychedelic.” And I said, “How long does it last?” And he said, “Three minutes.” And I said, “Pffff, no problem. We’re acid-heads. We can handle three minutes of anything!” and sat down and smoked my first DMT. And it’s never been the same since. I mean, it worked 100%.
Yes. This was the famous 55-gallon drum that was boosted off an army conveyance vehicle when it was moved from SRI to some proving ground in the southwest. The U.S. army was trying to develop an aerosol artillery shell that would land in a Vietnamese village, drive everyone nuts, and you could send your people in and take over in all this gaseous, hallucinogenic confusion. And DMT—and even, then, more debilitating psychedelics—were being looked at in the service of this. And it’s a famous story in the underground that there was this one 55-gallon drum of pure, crystalline material that somebody just made sure fell into a ditch in Menlo Park somewhere, and somebody else came along five minutes later and picked it up. And rumor persists that that 55-gallon drum is not empty yet! Apocryphal stories abound of burial sites near Hudson’s Bay, in the deserts of the Namib, other places. It’s been moved around. Even the Dome of the Rock was indicated at one time. So I don’t suggest you go looking for it under the Dome of the Rock.
Anyway, DMT really—we had to, then, do our own research. We weren’t getting information from the culture about DMT. It was talking about LSD, and this and that. And the first thing you find out when you look into what DMT is—and at that time it was true—was that it occurs in a lot of plants [---] later, Wade Davis, on and on, were just this amazing ethnographic and chemical data was, like, being downloaded out of the Amazon and declassified. And it just was revealing the entire picture of a shamanic hallucinogenic religion. And having smoked DMT, we were inside from the start. I mean, we knew that this was just the most important thing to ever come down the pipe.
So, quickly for myself and my friends, the emphasis shifted toward: how can we extend this experience? Because if you’ve smoked DMT, and you’re like me, it’s very hard to grab onto while its happening. It’s the most intense experience you’ve ever had. But it’s so strange. And there may even be a physiological tendency for it not to transcript into short-term memory. Because when you come down from a DMT trip it’s like awakening from a dream. You just… you have this kind of crazy sense that something has just been happening, and it was all around you, and now it’s gone. So we wanted to understand: how can you get in there for longer? And we tried simple things like taking it at the top of LSD trips. This is a hell of a launch, but it doesn’t particularly prolong it. It maybe doubles the time from three minutes to six. But we were saying if you could get in there for an hour, you could learn something. You could bring something back. That was always the goal: to bring something back—an idea, an artifact, an equation. Something.
Well, further research indicated, then—and I think, probably, the key source here is that book that William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg did in the late sixties called The Yage Letters, where—I can’t remember what the order of it is. I think Ginsberg goes down looking for it, writes letters back to Burroughs. Burroughs, then, goes down a year later looking for it, writes letters back to Ginsberg. Ginsberg comes off as somewhat of a nervous nelly in that book. He didn’t really care for it. It was a bit much for him. Burroughs, of course, ever the trooper, was completely gung-ho. And so this brought the issue of Yage, which is what ayahuasca is called north of the Putumayo River as a generalization.
Well, then, in the meantime, other things were happening for me. I went to Israel, I tried to emigrate to the Seychelles Islands, I spent time in India, I was a smuggler, an art dealer. Then I got in trouble for the smuggling, so I had to hide out from that. So I went to Indonesia to be a butterfly collector. And that, for the first time, plunged me on a day-to-day basis—for months—into the heart of true tropical nature, which I had never seen before. I mean, I was born in Colorado, raised in California. I had never been to the equatorial tropics.
[???] doing then, because it sounded like your interest in botany evolved from—
Well, when I first went to Berkeley I accepted entry into an experimental college called the Tussman Experimental Program. And I went two years to Berkeley: 1965–67, 1967–68, and then I left. And then, when I returned years later in 1972, I majored in systems theory and ecology and botany. And I actually had a self-directed major in shamanism. I had written The Invisible Landscape with my brother at that time, and I just sort of presented that at as a series—whenever they wanted me to write a paper I’d submit a chapter from the book I’d already written.
[???] the plant connection [???] that direction.
Yeah, absolutely. Before that, I had—in the course of my life I had had a sort of a love affair between the natural sciences and the humanities. Like, when I was a little kid, when I was seven, I was a rock collector, a fossil collector, a butterfly collector. Then, around age ten, I read Aldous Huxley or maybe a Julian Huxley essay that sneered at all that and introduced this concept of the humanities. I didn’t even know what they were. I said, “Oh. Humanities. Literature, philosophy, and art.” So then I just charged into that. The reason I even encountered The Doors of Perception was because I was reading all of Aldous Huxley’s novels. You know, this thirteen-year-old kid reading Crome Yellow, Antic Hay, After Many a Summer Dies the Swan—these extremely arch novels of English social life in the 1920s. And I became obsessed with modern art. In this small, narrow-minded town where I lived it was a good way to get in everybody’s face; was to go around saying, “Jackson Pollock is a genius! You may not think so, but you’re an idiot.”
And there was a period in my life where I formed my taste by saying I liked what I didn’t like, and inevitably these were good choices because I was raised in an ecology that valued Norman Rockwell, Rock of Ages, Silent Night, Rosemary Cluny, and I said, “No, no, Jackson Pollock, Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, Karl Jaspers, Martin Heidegger”—I didn’t know what these things meant, I just knew they were mantras that kept straight people away. So anyway, when I went to Indonesia I saw this tropical nature, but absent psychedelics. There were none. I mean, there was fine Sumatran cannabis which I kept prodigious amounts with me at all times, but there were no real psychedelics. But the butterflies—and I really was sort of retracing the steps of Alfred Wallace, who was the person who discovered evolution. And I sort of felt, although I’m not given to past life-ism or any of that, I felt a very strong connection to Wallace. And I had his journals, which were 120 years old at that time. And I went to the places he went to and I collected the butterflies he collected, and I observed the plants he observed, and I thought about complexity and diversity and all these issues. And I also processed my experiences in India, which had not been happy. I mean, I found India to be a spiritual desert. You know, full of con artists and weasels of every variety. And I was better prepared than most. I mean, I had studied Advaita Vedanta, and I was serious, you know? I at one point thought I would be a Tibetan scholar until I actually studied with lamas and learned how hellishly complex the Tibetan language actually is.
And one of the things that has shaped my intellectual life is: I have enormous facility with English. I can speak no other language with any facility whatsoever. I have failed German, Hebrew, Spanish, Tibetan, Portuguese, Italian, and there must be a few others I just despair of. So that made it clear to me: well, a life of scholarship—you can never be a Tibetan scholar. You can never be a number of things because you have this funny blockage. And the conclusion from looking at Indonesian nature, and looking at Asian spirituality as experienced upfront, was: I should go to the Amazon. And in a way we had always known this. It’s not like… we weren’t as dumb as I’m making it sound, it was just a matter of working through all this stuff and getting to it. And finally, in 1971, my brother and myself and several other people—well prepared, by even the standards of today. I meet people today who are going down there to look for drugs and enlightenment who haven’t done the homework that I was able to do in 1971.
And then went to Colombia, and we were pursuing a very rare hallucinogen. It’s called ukuhe. It’s known only to three very small tribes down there: the Witoto, the Muenane, and the Bora. And it’s a DMT drug that is taken orally, and the reports in the Boston Museum Botanical Leaflet said: they use it to see little people. And this was—I don’t think I mentioned—part of why we were so into this. Is because the thing that is so unbelievable, even by psychedelic standards, about the DMT flash is that it’s inhabited. It’s not simply a reorganization of brain states or an insight about your sexuality or your anything. It’s a place full of beings that are frantically trying to communicate with you. Beings that are far weirder than any of the beings that haunt the tabloids in the supermarket. I mean, real aliens. Aliens that don’t even seem to be exactly made of ordinary space and time. But an intelligence. And I knew, having grown up with this kind of scientific thing in my background, that from a scientific point of view it was either impossible or that we had made a great discovery. And I still think that we made a great discovery. I mean, it was sort of like the discovery of America. There were already millions of people living there when it was discovered, but nevertheless, for white boys in the middle class in Berkeley we were definitely making a discovery. That these drugs don’t distort reality or expand reality, they introduce you to entirely new and utterly unsuspected realities; realities that confound reason.
And this, you see, this is what I had been looking for. I wanted a miracle—a real miracle. Not a miracle where you had to bow down and wear a dhoti and sweep up around the ashram and kowtow to the… you know? A real miracle! And as far as I know—and I haven’t had to change my opinion since 1971—DMT is a miracle. I mean, it’s like being struck by noetic lightning. It’s the one thing that you’ve convinced yourself is impossible. Whatever that thing is that you have managed to convince yourself is impossible, smoke DMT and it will just kick open the door of your apartment and take you prisoner. You know, rotate the wheels on your after-death vehicle, balance them, present the bill, and depart up the chimney. It’s really something. There’s nothing like it this side of the yawning grave. So I determined I had to understand it. And now I think I do not understand it, but I’ve managed to lead many people, by one means or another, through my exhortation or my writing, to climb up to the rim and have a look over. And it has been established by a tiny but vocal minority as a phenomenon of fact of this world, and so then any cultural dialogue that goes on to some degree must assimilate it. Any point of view which ignores this is not addressing the full spectrum of reality.
As to: what to make of it? I have no idea what to make of it. This is my life’s struggle: to know what to make of it. It is impossible. And yet, occurs. And it transcends ordinary emotions. You can’t say you’re afraid of it or you love it or you fear it. It’s just appalling, that’s all. It shatters all illusions of a stable, coherent, understood, manageable universe and says, “No, no, no. That’s just a fiction told around the campfire.” What’s true is this thing that English can’t even approach, you know? English and all other descriptive approaches are simply melted and blown back from the strangeness of it. And yet—having said all that about it—it’s just one toke away. And it’s just one toke away, and then ten minutes after that you’re back. So it’s like this bizarre thing. People go to the Himalayas. They don’t screw for twenty years. They eat bad food. They journey here, they journey there. They stick pins in themselves. They stand on their heads. And this thing is just waiting one large inhalation away, and pretty incontrovertible. In other words, its most spectacular effects occur when used on doubters. How we love to watch them twitch there, on the floor, after having announced that drugs don’t really do anything. Well, here’s one that does something. Try this on for size!
And then it’s just a matter, I guess—once you arrive at that place… I guess I should say this. It’s sort of: the game changes. You know, we talked a lot this morning and last night about juvenilization and neoteny and all that? Well, it’s very, very easy to be a seeker. It’s a fool’s game, you know? And archetypically, the seeker is always a bit of a fool. I mean, what is required of the seeker? Basically, nothing but a strong stomach for authoritarianism. You just keep looking. This teacher, that method, this ashram, that dojo—whatever. Seek, seek, seek. And after you’ve sought for twenty, thirty years, it’s pretty easy to assume that there’s no reason to expect you’ll ever get anywhere. Well, DMT changes the nature of the game. DMT is not about seeking the answer. It is the answer. And so once you have—by chance or design—encountered it, or even the rumor of it, the gain becomes quite a bit more grown up. Now you have to face the answer. You found it. No more trips to Ceylon are necessary, no more journeys down to be with Don So-And-So or any of that malarkey. You can just put that on the shelf now. You are now an adult. You have entered the big time. No opening of chakras or revelation of shastras or passing of mantras or building of yantras is going to carry you any further than where you finally arrive. You have found the answer. Now you have to face it. And people hate that. It’s appalling. It doesn’t feel like fun at all. It’s like… “Hmm, the answer. Here it is. What to do with it?” And I don’t know what to do with it, you know?
[???] other mixtures that extend the experience besides ayahuasca?
If your MAO is inhibited—for the rest of you: this is an enzyme system that operates in the guts. Normally, DMT is destroyed in the intestine. But if you pre-treat yourself with a monoamine oxidase inhibitor it will survive in the guts and pass into the bloodstream, and hence into the brain. So ayahuasca, yage—these things are strategies for making DMT orally active. Any MAO inhibitor will make you hypersensitive to psychoactive tryptamines. But I think it’s important to follow the tradition of these South American shamans, because some of these MAO inhibitors are too strong. Some last days, some weeks. The compound in ayahuasca that is doing the MAO inhibition is harmine. Its known that its pharmacological profile is that it’s reversible to four to six hours. Great. Perfect. Exactly the right time window. Because you don’t want a 12, 36, 8, 72-hour trip, nor do you presumably—if you’re trying to get away from this flash effect of DMT—do you want a 3, 4, 5, 10-minute trip. So a 4–6 hour MAO inhibition is just about right.
A source of harmine? Well, I’d rather recommend a source of harmaline—a close relative compound. And the reason for that is: harmine—which is what actually occurs in banisteriopsis caapi—has as one of its effects: it tends to cause nausea. Harmaline is much less active on the stomach. And an excellent source of harmaline is the seeds of peganum harmala. Peganum harmala is a zygophyllaceous shrub that grows naturally from Morocco to Manchuria. Huge stems of it exist in the American southwest in places like Deming, New Mexico, and up near Lake Tahoe on Route 50. And it produces a hard little black seed which, if you take two grams of this seed, it will very effectively inhibit your monoamine oxidase. If you don’t take it with a psychedelic you will probably notice only a kind of sedating effect. Nothing dramatic. But if you complex it with DMT, it will turn on all the lights on the Christmas tree. Peganum harmala. It’s sold in Iranian markets under the name Hurmal and is used as an incense. So…
Do not take more than two grams of this. It works. Now, to be fair, if you’re going to start doing this you really should—there’s a lot of homework and scholarship, a little chemistry, a little botany. You really should try to inform yourself about what’s going on, because you’re taking charge of your spiritual existence, you know? These are the tools, these are the means. Know the tools, know the means, and then you won’t screw up.
[???] on the Internet and see how reckless people can be, and how misinformed about these things. So, you know, the key is to try to do this and also inform other people, because there’s a lot—
Yeah, there’s a lot of bad information around.
Is there any one book or couple of books where you can fully inform yourself about this stuff?
Well, some books are more trustworthy than others. For example, Jonathan Ott is a meticulous scholar: very rarely makes technical mistakes. So he’s one person to look at. There aren’t a lot of how-to-do-it manuals in drug-taking, because it’s a thankless task for an author. You just gain social disgrace, you know? There are some lists on the Internet, like at Lyceum there are very large data archives maintained, and people with an interest in keeping the integrity of the data high. But never trust—I mean, as Gorbachev said: trust, but verify. Because it’s not like if you get your mantra wrong, something terrible will happen. But if you get your molecule wrong, something terrible well might happen. So you have to be more careful and more responsible because these things actually work.
The way I think of the categories of these psychedelics—people have done different maps of it. But the way I think about it is like a bullseye; like a target. And in the center is DMT. And I’m on record, I guess, as saying if you can get more loaded than that I don’t want to know about it. However, you should never say never. So DMT at the center of the bullseye. Then around that, next circle out, high dose psilocybin; eight grams and up. Eight grams and up. Then, around that, high dose LSD, mescaline—it fades out. And dose is very important. In other words, there are people running around who took psychedelics once and think, then, that they should pontificate about it. One hundred gamma of LSD is nothing like five hundred gamma of LSD. And five hundred gamma of LSD is not putting the system at risk at all, and yet it’s certainly putting people’s psychology and self-image at risk. I mean, they assume they’ll never live to tell the tale, usually—in these cautious days, anyway. But the organism is not at risk. A lot of people take mushrooms at very low doses—half gram, one gram, two gram… for them, they think that’s getting spectacular. For 145-pound person the action begins at five dried grams and goes up from there, and quickly becomes un-Englishable and completely difficult to convey back.
As long as we’re on this subject, I suppose—and in the interest of staying current—as some of you probably know, in the last several years an entirely new psychedelic has appeared on the scene, completely confounding both psychedelic enthusiasts, order-freaks, the law, the chemists, everybody. I’m speaking of salvia divinorum and its active principal alpha salvinorin. If you are a soul of such rectitude that you’ve been putting off doing psychedelics because they’re illegal, this is the one for you. It’s not illegal. It’s legal. It’s as legal as little green apples are legal. As long as everyone—well, I don’t know. I don’t know whether… it may even just be legal. In other words, to suppress this would, at this point in the drug dialogue, cost the other side a lot of effort and credibility, and probably the effort would fail.
Almost everything about salvia divinorum is unusual. First of all, it’s not an alkaloid. All other psychedelics—true psychedelics—are alkaloids with the single exception of mescaline. Mescaline is an amphetamine; very close to alkaloids. The compound that’s active in salvia divinorum, alpha salvinorin, is a diterpene, not an alkaloid. The only psychoactive diterpene ever discovered. So that’s one thing unusual about it. Another thing unusual about it is: it’s active under one milligram. Now, that means that approximately 800 micrograms of this stuff is the effective dose—in the LSD range. Except LSD you took orally. This you smoke. I mean, you talk about smoking 800 micrograms of material. We’re talking about a very small grain of salt. So the potential for overdose on the pure compound is almost inevitable.
How does it compare to the DMT experience?
Well, again: I have not had the guts to smoke the pure compound, having watched people melt and twitch fairly dramatically. DMT test pilots come back ashen; white-knuckled. I chew the stuff. I chew 35 grams of it in darkness and then spit it out when I feel it begin to come on. It’s absolutely remarkable how powerful it is. I mean, you’re lying there thinking, “This can’t be legal!” This actually works.
Has this actually been extracted or synthesized? I was just thinking about as far as the legal implications, because if it were to become extracted—it’s difficult to kind of nail this—
I don’t know if it’s been synthesized. It’s been extracted. I think that it’s a very interesting situation for our community. This stuff is not illegal. If we want it to remain legal we should not provide horrific examples of its abuse. Now, it seems like in that effort it’s doing its part to aid us. People are appalled by this stuff. I mean, people who style themselves hardcore after one pass near this just say, “Yeah, it did dissolve reality. Yes, it did blow my mind.” But they don’t come out of it clawing to do it again. But I don’t say a psychedelic has to be pleasant to do its work. What its mission is is to dissolve boundaries and conditioning.
[???] using as part of your definition as it being a psychedelic, because [???]
Well, there’s just a certain… clarity of vision. That, if you get that, I think you have to call it psychedelic. For instance: ketamine. Ketamine isn’t a psychedelic. It’s a something. It messes with your mind for sure, and it certainly dissolves boundaries, and on and on and on. But it occludes, in some way. I mean, it is, after all, an anesthetic. Its purpose is to knock you out. If higher consciousness lies in the direction of anesthesia, what is higher consciousness? But the salvia divinorum—and it’s used shamanically in Mexico, and the plant is easily grown and transported. I think it would be a fine notion who are interested in all these things to grow and cultivate this stuff and come to terms with it.
It’s very interesting to me that so late in this psychedelic game an entire new compound in an entire new family could be found. And, of course, now that it’s been found they’re going into its botanical sources with extremely subtle, non-destructive analytical methods like high-pressure liquid gas chromotography and this sort of thing. And lo and behold, there’s an entire family, a little solar system, of these diterpene compounds that are psychoactive. Well, what are these? Are these the drugs of addiction and abuse of the future, or are they the source of new tranquilizers, new treatments for mental illness? Nobody knows. It’s just sitting there. So if you’re looking for a career in pharmacology or medical research or something like that, this is very hot at the moment. And if we needed to produce metric tons of this material for any purpose, it could be easily done. There’s not theo—
Set & Setting
[???] your perspective on the importance of set and setting, and how did your view of that evolve?
Well, I think set and setting are extremely important. Just to review, the setting is where you are when you do it; a psychedelic. And the set is your mindset: what you bring to it. And these seem to be the rule—these are Tim Leary’s rules back from the Harvard days. And people abuse these rules terribly, and almost always, then, get into trouble. This goes under the heading of: don’t be an idiot. Don’t be foolish. Let’s talk about the setting first of all. I think the worst setting for taking drugs is complex social environments, especially public social environments. So in spite of the grand tradition to the contrary, I think rock concerts, driving—I’ve had people ask me about mushrooms or even DMT: “Well, if I take it, will I be able to drive?” Well… what kind of halfwit are you? You know? Just give it a rest, for cryin’ out loud! No! If you smoke DMT, for those ten minutes, just leave your Ferrari parked, please.
[???] psilocybin, like you said before, improved visual acuity and those things. So there you can argue that you do have the edge in perceptual space that could [???]
Eeeh, I think you really have to know yourself and your dose levels. I mean, I’ve experimented over the years because I’ve been at this for… who knows how long. So there’s been plenty of time to experiment. And there were times when I would just—to see what it would do—I would take half a gram of mushrooms a day. Or one gram of mushrooms a day. I hated all these states. I quickly abandon all these experiments because all I could do with those kinds of doses was: it made me anxious. It made me think a lot about the fact that I wasn’t really high, but it was rougher than coffee, and just was kind of crazy-making. And so I believe in large doses, rarely. I think that’s what’s effective. And people want to tiptoe in. If you’re a tiptoe-inner—back to the ashram for you! This is no game for those who wish to tiptoe. Because those are dangerous areas, those shallow waters. Most psychedelic people, I think, would agree. It’s not the high dose that blasts your world to smithereens that leaves people upset and confused. That’s usually experienced as a kind of liberation. What leaves people upset and confused is to get half in and half out, and not be able to contact the transcendent, but to have all the baggage in there with them fully illuminated. And then other people complicate it. I find other people very complicating. Other people, it just stands to reason, are the most complicated objects in your universe. And when I’m stoned on seven or eight grams of psilocybin, for me to be able to handle a chunk of orange without getting excited to the point of hysteria is…! So let alone having somebody maybe want to have sex with you, or maybe want to discuss their bad trip with you, or maybe want to move from here down to the beach, or maybe want…. And you just say, “Gooooo aaaawaaaay, pleassssse!”
So do you recommend doing it alone, or—
Well, I tend to recommend to do it alone. But I know it’s dangerous advice. And when I was young—I can’t really even remember when it was that I settled in on that. Because at first when we encountered LSD, you would never have done it alone. It was always your friends, the party, the band, the something or other. But I just had too many LSD trips like that where I came down holding my head saying: I’ve been fucked with, basically, because I let other people into my head. And to me—and maybe this is… you know, I am a double Scorpio and reclusive and all this, you’ve got to take it with a grain of salt. But I remember times in Berkeley when I would take acid in my apartment on Telegraph, and then I would try to go to the Med, and I would get out on the sidewalk. And the first person I pass was sort of okay, sort of normal looking. But then the next person… and you say, “Oooh boy, I shouldn’t be out in public.” You know? “This is way, way, way over.”
And the other thing is—and I don’t pretend to understand this, but any psychedelic voyager will tell you this is true—synchronicity goes mad on these things. So you can maybe control synchronicity if you’ve double-locked your doors, unplugged your telephone, and got your head down under the covers. It’s still pretty hard to manage. But, you know, if you go outside, bank robberies will be committed in front of you, your grandmother who lives in Hong Kong will choose to visit unannounced that day, and endless until finally you just…. So my approach—and on the guide question: I think that, until you’re really confident, you shouldn’t do it alone. But the guide should be so locked down and controlled that my idea of how to do the guide is: okay, I’m going to take six grams of mushrooms, I will be in this room, here is a closed door. You be on the other side of this closed door, and if I ring this bell three times, you may open the door a crack and say, “What?” That’s the guide. I mean, I’ve heard people say, “I took mushrooms and I was just beginning to work it out, and then the guide said, ‘Well now, remember, you wanted to work on some issues while you were loaded. What about your impending gum surgery, divorce, bankruptcy?’” And he’s saying, “Uh, I was touching God! Do you mind?!” So…
[???] but preferably someone that you’re not emotionally involved with, because you can come out and [???] it distorts it.
That’s an interesting perspective, too.
Yeah. Now, there is another approach. People who think: having marital difficulties? Everybody should drop acid and call in the kids and…. But I don’t see it as a… I see it as a holy function. You know, psychotherapy can do this or MDMA can do this. We have other tools for doing this. But these psychedelics, it’s like using—I don’t know—some enormous instrumentality for some trivial thing. So that’s a lot about setting.
Set & Setting (continued)
LSD does all kinds of strange things to your mind and perception, but it is somewhat reluctant to produce what I call true hallucinations. It will do that if you smoke a lot of cannabis on top of it or lace a little mescaline on top of it. But pure LSD is somewhat reluctant to do what I’m after. And what I’m after are visions: these unfolding, visually beheld, incredibly complex, beautiful, meaning-laden scenarios. I didn’t feel satisfaction in my pursuit of that until I got to psilocybin. So that’s why I do it at night. And I—
[???] mentioned music.
Music. Good point. And again, I take a harder line than most people. I listen to music on ayahuasca, especially because often it’s being generated by human beings and because ayahuasca has a tradition of music being visibly beheld. But when I take psilocybin or anything else like that I don’t play music because it’s complete sensory overload. It absolutely dominates the experience. Now, if I were to take mushrooms and, at the two-hour mark, nothing whatsoever has happened, I might put on some music to try and coax it out of the woodwork. But at the two-hour mark it should already be raging. Something has happened. Either you’re full of food or the dose went off or something. So I find—see, what I’m interested in is the thing in itself; the Ding an sich of it. What is it without music, without nature, without input from other people? What is it in silent darkness? And people say—especially people who’ve meditated—say, “Well, that sounds hideously boring.” Not at all, my friend! You will have your hands so full in absolutely silent darkness if it works that one iota more of input would be unbearable. So I tend to advise against music. Also: know your music. I have had experiences where my goal in life became to survive to the end of the cut, you know? Music is a magical art. And you just drop something on the turntable, and god knows what the motivation of this was—
[???] trying to persuade you in some way to…. And it’s definitely insidious.
Well, and the art of music is to work on emotional modes. So here’s a guy who wrote a piece of music, and his intent was for it to emotionally take people to pieces. Well, maybe you didn’t know that was his intent. But you drop it on the turntable—well, now…
That’s the advantage of a companion, though. Because when you’re under, you don’t want to be changing CDs.
No, if you’re going to listen to music you definitely need somebody to run the machinery, I think. Yeah, Barry?
The other thing [???] the other side of it, the music tends to [???] grew up in the sixties, it brings back memories of the past. There’s associations, there’s emotional entanglement. And you’re there again. You may not want to be in the past. You may want to be free of those kinds of associations. That’s one of the problems I’ve…. The other thing is, I was talking to a friend of mine that wants to [???] said they wanted to dry mushroom. But she said—and I’ve heard this before from people on the radio—that they don’t like… they think [???] like LSD, and they don’t want to go inside and go through all this introspection. LSD has that kind of psychoanalytic edge to it. And go into their heads. And especially if they may be in a depression or things are not going well, they don’t want to take it. And they feel like they have to be sort of liberated from all their problems before they can take it, because they don’t want to get into any dark places. When you say you’re after hallucinations, is it more external and it doesn’t matter what your psychic state is inside?
No, we’ve dealt with setting. Now let’s move, following your question, to set. No, that is the question: what should you be like before you take it? And again, opinions differ. In my opinion, you should be in a state of reasonable psychic equilibrium. You should—
In today’s world?
I know! It ain’t easy! It’s—how many seconds a year do you qualify? But nevertheless, like, for instance, I would never take it in the middle of some incredible emotional upheaval with my partner or something like that, because it’s just crazy-making. So you sort of have to have things a little calmed down. And then what I always do—and this is just my preference—I always throw the I Ching. Because it’s saying: okay, I think I’m ready, I think the set is okay, I think the setting is okay, now let’s get some input. And the I Ching—a very surprising number of times I’ve thrown the hexagram. I can’t remember which one it is. It’s the only one that says, “Enquire again of the oracle if you possess constancy,” and something else. So, in other words, if the auguries are negative I don’t proceed with it.
Then, another issue we haven’t dealt with—sort of back on the other side—is: inside or outside? And people say to me: “You don’t do it outside! You don’t do it in nature!” Well, you know, at the quantum mechanical level there’s even nature inside my apartment. Nature is everywhere. It’s spacetime and energy. It would be nice; I agree. And when I take it in nature I take lower doses. For two reasons. First of all, I’m going to work largely with my eyes open; I’m going to be looking at things. A nature trip is a looking-at-things trip. And the other reason I take low doses in nature is because, sure as hell, some wild-hair thing is going to happen. You know? You’re going to be taken prisoner by naked people, or a ranger is going to ride up and demand what is going on, or… just the crazy things that go on. Unless you happen to own several hundred acres of nature that’s well patrolled, and then you can maybe have some confidence you won’t be bothered. I know somebody who took LSD and was in nature somewhere in the hunt country of Virginia and found themselves being booted off the property by Jackie O. I couldn’t’ve stood that myself, so, you know…. And so I do it inside.
And then the other thing I do—and again, it’s just years of experience, but my preference; and relates to my other drug habits—is: I always have cannabis ready. Rolled and ready. It’s navigational aids. I use it in two situations. If the state is reluctant to appear, usually a large hit or two of cannabis will carry it through. Or, if you get into some place that is completely intolerable, you can do a number of things to shift your physiological equilibrium. But the least obtrusive and disruptive is to just smoke cannabis. And then the third application of cannabis in that situation is: if you have come over the peak and are started down, and you still want to stay up there, cannabis will usually somewhat extend the situation.
So, again, what would you say to people who say, “LSD drives me crazy. I hurled through these incredible mauve remnants that said” [???]
Yeah. Don’t take it!
“I’m tearing my psyche up with my fingernails,” or, “I don’t want that. I want to have to go inside” [???]
No, I think LSD is abrasively psychoanalytic.
So, mushroom, DMT could be more outer-directed to hallucination?
No. It seems like this to me: that somehow, LSD talks about who you are. And maybe that’s good, and maybe that’s bad. Psilocybin doesn’t care who you are. It has a message. It will deliver to any human being who shows up with their hand out. And it doesn’t care who you are. And DMT—it’s so brief, the idea of formulating and dealing with a personal dilemma in DMT, it would have to be some really overwhelming dilemma. Because it’s just saying, “Look at the view!” This is about the Grand Canyon, not the tourist who’s visiting the Grand Canyon.
[???] I find almost every time I do it I get incredibly telepathic [???]
Or if they are physically there you can hear them in your mind.
And then it’s almost like [???] There are times where it feels like we’re on the same energy. Both [???] it simultaneously.
Yeah. All of these things go on. And, you know, simple rules that should be obvious. Like: clean your apartment before you get loaded. It’s a symbolic gesture.
Oh, for cleaning it? Well, take them, clean it, come down, then trip! I don’t mean clean it while you’re loaded. No, no. That would be…
Yeah, but if you smoke marijuana like you say [???] Buddhist, you want to clean and you’ll end up remodeling the whole house before the day’s over.
Well, it may be the only creative thing you’ve done that month, so…. Basically (I think you can tell from this conversation), it’s something you learn your way into. It’s very complicated. You have many drugs, many sets, many settings, many dosages, conceivably even some combinations—although I’m not big on combinations.
People say that alcohol is not a very good ally with psychedelic substances, in my eyes. I mean, people do that in [???] coming down and end the trip, having a beer or something. Light alcohol is a different thing, but people get drunk and [???] uncomfortable situation.
Yeah, I would never do that.
That’s a controversial thing. A number of people do it. One of the hardest evenings I ever spent was that combination, and I will never do that again. But I haven’t been able to line up too much support. The question is: what about combining peganum harmala with mushrooms; with stropharia cubensis? Now, what happened to me was: I took half a dose of mushrooms, which for me would be 2.5 grams. I took 2.5 grams of mushrooms with half a dose of ayahuasca. And it was… seemed crazy-making to me. Very, very, very unpleasant state. I think what was happening as I analyzed it later was that short-term memory absolutely would not transcript. And so I got into this strange loop which went like this. Something’s wrong. What’s wrong? Nothing’s wrong! Okay. Something’s wrong. What’s wrong? Nothing’s wrong! Okay…. And it was serious. And it went on for about an hour. And I just did not know what to do. I had the image from 2001 of the guy outside the ship saying, “Open the pod doors, HAL.” Saying, “I can’t do that, Dave.” “Open the pod doors, HAL.” “I’m sorry, Dave.” And it really seemed to me I could almost see an enzymatic—I almost had like a nano-engineer’s view of the problem. I could see at the synaptic level that the molecular machinery was lodged in some peculiar configuration, and I just broke into a sweat and I just said, “Okay. I’m going to sit here until this goes away. I’m not going to start screaming. I’m not going to call for help. I’m not going to do anything. I’m just going to wait until this goes away.” And then I started deep breathing as a strategy for metabolizing. And after 45 minutes or so it kind of jiggled loose, and then it was like, “Ah! Huh! Whew. Wow, what a bummer that was!”
[???] like how [???] feels all the time.
Yeah, that’s what it’s like. It’s a nightmare.
I think that mixing is an effort to force a certain kind of content that you get addicted to. And I’ve come to believe that the visions and the content are not as important as how the neocortex is touched neurochemically. And the way that’s touched, I can carry that into my everyday life. And that’s more important to me, then. A certain experience set in a certain time frame.
Yeah. Although I think the experience is the signifier. That state that you’re talking about. I mean, you do want to come out of it with a sense of relief and accomplishment. I mean, it’s sort of like orgasm, you know? There must be release of some sort, and a sense of we did well, we came through, we learned something, we’re back, we’re ready to go forward with ordinary life, we won’t forget, we affirm, we praise and offer thanksgiving. That kind of thing.
The Mind of the Universe
To the universe in all its diversity and complexity. That such a confluence of fortuitous elements could occur. That such a synergy to higher consciousness could even be possible. You know, Aldous Huxley called the psychedelic experience a “gratuitous grace.” He said it is neither necessary nor sufficient for salvation. Neither necessary nor sufficient. But it certainly makes it easier. So it’s like a gift. It’s like the universe is giving you twenty points at the beginning of the game just to help you along.
If that’s too high-falutin, then you just praise Bugs Bunny and Patrick Swayze. The reason I ask—
You mentioned 2001, and Arthur C. Clarke has completed 3001 about six months ago, and I bought it, and it writes extremely dull.
He indicates that by 3001, man has the understanding that many thoughts of the creator was just a superstition. And I thought that very impressive, because that’s how I felt for a long time. That’s why I—
A creator. Yeah. Well, you know, I don’t—the universe is its own creator. I mean, the universe is some kind of autopoietic process. If there is a goal in the universe, it’s built into every move it makes. I don’t see an intellect outside of space and time guiding things, and certainly not watching with bated breath the machinations of the human monkeys. I mean, nobody has time for that kind of thing. So the universe is a self-creating mystery of some sort. “A mystery” should not be heard as “unsolved problem.” It’s not an unsolved problem. It’s a mystery. It’s completely ever-renewing itself right in front of you. Life teaches this if you’re paying attention. Psychedelics almost rub your nose in it.
Terence, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the relationship between the psychedelic state at hallucination and rationality. Because you say you’re a rationalist. It’s an interesting question for me, especially in terms of bringing—as you said before—the object is to bring something back. Well, you can have the visions, but if you never bring it back then you have to go through some sort of thought process that is closer to left-brain thinking than the full-blown consciousness-expanding state.
You mean you have to reduce it to its elements.
Yeah. So when you say you’re a rationalist, it’s an odd kind of rationality. And I wondered if you could talk about that, because I think I see what you mean, but your rationality, your reason, is more like a super-charged thought process that the syntax of its logic is closer to poesis and a poetic process—like Plato would’ve… his kind of thoughts—than it is. So would you talk about the relationship, where rationality kicks in, what that’s all about?
Well, when I say I’m a rationalist I mean that I guess I trust but verify. Everything is to be tested. Nothing is to be taken at face value. Certainly nothing is to be believed in. The reason I even found psychedelics was because I was following rumors of effective force for spiritual breakthrough. And when I followed it to its source there was spiritual breakthrough. At other times I followed other rumors of spiritual breakthrough, and when I got to the source I found a public relations agent and a con artist or something like that. Reason is simply the desire that things have some kind of local logic adhering to them. I mean, if the universe is not rational it’s also not discussible. And maybe the universe isn’t rational. But in that case this discussion and all others have been completely superfluous. Reason is not to be confused with scientific method. Scientific method is a very locally generated cultural artifact with a very limited intent. But reason is the idea that A is not B, here is not there. Now, of course, you can say, “Well, this kind of reason breaks down in quantum physics.” Yes, but then there’s much dancing around the campfire about that. And still, somehow, reason remains at play here even in the presence of non-reason, because it’s measured back against the standard of reason.
Bring Something Back
I have a question. When you’re in this full-blown experience, is there some element, however vestigial, a present, or is it just totally gone? And then: how do you translate from that non-speakable state to being a scholar being able to communicate it rationally? Where—how does that work?
Well, I think you have to have a lot of metaphors gathered on this side of the frontier. In other words, someone who’s never been anywhere, never read anything, never done anything, is going to have a much harder time with DMT than someone who can command the complete canon of Western art, can refer to certain mathematical objects, knows certain musical forms, is familiar with structural linguistics, has a working knowledge of geology. In other words, your intellectual toolkit needs to be full of adjectives, metaphors, models, and possibilities, and then you can say of DMT: “Well, it was like the Sistine Chapel altar, except that instead of the kind of light you get in Caravaggio or somebody like that there was a kind of… oh, you know, the sort of thing Matthias Grünewald is doing in his Resurrection where he….” And, well, if somebody doesn’t know what any of this is, they’re having a kind of DMT experience of their own just listening to you! They say, “What’d he say? What’s he saying? What? What?” But if you know what you mean and speak precisely—I mean, all these words have meaning, you know? Sistine Chapel altar, light like Caravaggio modified as the way Grünewald did it, and so forth and so on.
So somehow, by—and it’s still an incredible flattening. I don’t mean that this is an adequate tool, I mean it’s a tool. I am perfectly aware that the most high-flown and hysteria-provoking descriptions of DMT I’ve ever been able to summon up in front of a group were complete betrayals of the real thing, so not what it was that the word “lie” is almost applicable. But it was the best I can do. And that’s why I said this morning: this idea of building the Internet as a net for capturing the alien mind. If we go into the Internet and I build the weirdest and most mind-boggling virtual reality I can imagine, and then turn it over to you, and you come in and add your filigrees, adumbrations, cupolas, and what have you, and then we hand it over to you and you do the same—by now, this thing’s gotten pretty weird. Just this intensification of weirdness… slowly we can build up an image of it. But I don’t think a single person could possibly have the breadth and depth of experience to do it alone. I mean, maybe a Thomas Pynchon or someone like that.
But we’re involved in a communication struggle here. We’re trying to describe the unspeakable. We’re trying to literally move the boundaries of what can be said and what can’t be said. We’re trying to push the frontiers of what can be said deeper into the domain of the unspeakable. And are we succeeding or failing? Well, that’s for each one of us to judge. I know, every time I smoke DMT, the first emotion I have as it fully establishes itself in my sensorium is that I have the sense of remembering what it really is, and having this sort of guilt/embarrassment about realizing how hideously unfaithful I am to the truth of it. This truth can’t be told—at least not by me; I’ve been trying for twenty years. And I have created an object in discourse that fascinates people. But is it DMT? No. It’s me, doing the best I can with DMT. But I have the faith that this is not an intrinsic quality of it. It’s not in principle beyond description. It’s that doing it by bursting in on it, looking around, then coming down, then raving about it is a very difficult method, you know? A better method would be to incrementally, piece by piece, try to build a model that you could go back to in various states of mind. For instance, here’s a frontier no one has crossed yet: let’s build the best model of the DMT flash we can build, then let’s smoke DMT inside that model and conduct a review of how we’re doing. By such methods as this, we will sooner or later push the thing into greater and greater… into the light where we can see it.
Have you been able to take more back from your psilocybin experiences simply because you could stay there longer than you have been able to take back from the DMT experience, although the DMT experience was [???] that really showed you this is where it’s at?
Not only was I able to stay longer, but the state itself is easier to describe. It has elements of the DMT flash, but certain of the harder elements to describe aren’t present. For example, on psilocybin you hear a voice—or I hear a teaching voice. On DMT I see who makes that voice. Well now, a voice is—yes, same voice. The voice is not hard to get used to. It’s saying astonishing things, but that’s all. It’s just saying astonishing things. But it’s speaking in English, and it is a voice. When you encounter the speaker as an image, you can’t even think about what’s being said because your jaw hangs in air in the presence of who is saying it. And you basically say, “I don’t want to hear what you’re saying, I want to look at you!”
You’re saying you don’t really get all the way there, or as far as you can go, unless you do DMT?
Just—it seems that there is some kind of synaptic saturation happening there, or something like that. Yeah. I have heard—and I have no reason to believe it—that I’ve never overdosed on mushrooms, or felt that I’ve overdosed. I’ve taken some enormous, unweighted, unweighed batches. But I’ve never felt that I had overdosed. But people have described to me what goes on above 35 milligrams of chemical psilocybin. And basically what people say is the hallucinations condense and freeze. And that’s sounding very DMT-like, indeed. I would suppose—and strange that we have no reports of this in the literature. I have no idea why not. But it would seem to me one could smoke psilocybin. It’s not pyrolyzed. It would work. If you had chemical psilocybin and you smoke 35 milligrams of it, I bet you it would be very, very, very much like DMT.
And why should DMT present this benchmark? I don’t know. I suppose it’s simply: here we have a series of compounds which elicit different effects. There’s going to be one that, in the nature of things, will be inclusive—and this is it. Now, the salvinorin raises different issues. On one level, almost theological issues. You know: is this town big enough for two forms of weirdness that are apparently not the same? In other words, it took me a long time to get used to the idea that there could be one exception to the onrushing momentum of reality. The idea that alpha salvinorin is a second dispensation from reality raises the question: three? Four? Fifty? Five hundred? Ten thousand? Maybe reality is a far more perishable concept than we ever dared or feared to suppose.
I had an experience on ketamine, and I was wondering [???] I thought they were snorting coke, which I thought was kind of crappy. [???]
They wished they had coke!
And anyway, there were a few people there, and what happened is that I separated from my body. And I was like over here, and my body was here. But somebody came up to me [???] start making conversation with my body. And I, over here, watched my—but I, over here, was in possession of my mind. You know, calming, [???]. But I, with my mind over here, watched my body go through this whole rigamarole with this person and make social conversation. “Hello. How are you? Why certainly.” And I watched myself, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how… because I knew I had my brain over here, so the brain that was playing the game over here was like something else. But yet it was my facial muscles were smiling when it was appropriate to smile, my physical body did everything exactly as it was supposed to. But yet I wasn’t participating [???], and didn’t have any interest in participating. And I thought that was just so interesting to me, because my mind was definitely not running the show; the physical show.
Well, I think that’s why they call it a dissociative anesthetic. I mean, it does disassociate. You literally are beside yourself. You can’t get much more dissociated than that.
Terence, have you ever [???] under the influence of DMT?
Oh yeah, I early on did all that. See, I thought—I pursued this glossolalia that is induced by DMT, and I thought that—I could hear it for years before I could physically articulate it. And I thought that this glossolalia had some kind of magical property, and that if I could articulate it in the world something definitive would occur, or people would become interested in it. It’s that, on DMT, some people—and I’m one of them—speak in strange languages. Spontaneously. They don’t even in some cases know they’re doing it. They just seem to fall into this. And it’s ecstatic to do for some reason. This is just an incredibly—it’s what you want to do. It seems to be the obvious thing to do: to speak in this peculiar way. And at first I heard it. For years. Moving so fast. I called it elf chatter. And then—I don’t know why; diligent prayer or something was able to slow it down—and I found I could do it. And I went out to Hawai’i years ago and took a voice-activated tape recorder, and I spent a week. I took eight grams of mushrooms nearly every night for a week and made these recordings. And what I came down with were these recordings which people find extremely alarming to listen to. They hear it and they just are convinced—it’s not like… well, it just makes people think you’re crazy. They just say, you know, “Okay, so you were sitting in a tent halfway up a mountain all by yourself, and what you chose to do was shriek in Nostratic for some reason?”
Now, I still think that the secret of the psychedelics or the point of all this has to do with language. That, first of all, ordinary language as we are using it here is a very bizarre behavioral pattern. I mean, when you deconstruct it and think about it, first of all, just notice: other animals don’t do this. Dolphins, honeybees aside, they don’t do what we do. There are no Miltons among the honeybees, I think. So what’s happening is: we have thoughts. We want to share these thoughts. We have evolved a system where the thoughts are transduced into mouth noises; small mouth noises which are conventionally assigned meaning—in other words, inside the context of a culture. “Book” means “book” in English. “Book” does not mean this in some other language. It may mean something else: “food,” “sex,” or “death.” We assign sound-signatures to meaning. We then make these sounds with our mouths. A pressure wave moves acoustically through the air. It enters the ear of the intended listener. The listener also has a dictionary, acquired through cultural convention. The incoming acoustical signals are downloaded. The dictionary is looking them up. If the dictionaries match, then we say “understanding” is taking place. No two dictionaries are exact. And in fact, one of the uncoolest things you can do in most social situations is to say to someone: “Would you explain to me what I just said?” It usually brings the party to a screeching halt. Because the world is really running on “yeah,” “uh huh,” “mhm,” “wha—oh yeah!” “yeah, yeah!” And when you break that illusion of grunts and say, “No, no. I just said something quite complicated. Would you please iterate it for me with fidelity?” Most people can’t do this at all. So we have a problem: we possess language, we’ve built a world out of language, but our language is—it’s like using 300 Baud modems to try and run an Internet or something. It’s so squeezed that we can barely get anything across.
Well, then you go into the DMT space, and here is language which you don’t listen to, but which you see. The DMT creatures generate topologies: colored, moving, self-transforming surfaces that are laden—god knows how—with meaning! Not conventional meaning, because conventional language can carry conventional meaning. But these colored modalities are like a hyper-dimensional language, or what I call a visible language. And, you know, when we talk about language we say things like: “I see what you mean,” or “He told a really colorful story,” or “She’s such a colorful speaker.” In other words, we reach for visual metaphors to indicate linguistic clarity. And in Spanish, same thing: “Se claro” means “It’s clear.” “Das ist klar” [in German].
All Communication is Telepathy
[???] in what the linguistic [???]
Well, somehow we associate understanding with visual definition. And so it seems to me that probably language is an evolutionary process that is only partially complete. And what put me on to this, interestingly, is: these songs that are sung in the Amazon on ayahuasca. The people take ayahuasca, they gather in darkened rooms and huts. Then the shamans sing. Then they pause to smoke and take a leak. And then you hear people saying stuff like… commenting on the song: “I liked the part with the orange stripes and the metallic rippling, but I thought the olive drab and yellow section was just too twee.” What kind of a criticism of a song is this? It’s a criticism of a painting, not a song. And then you realize: aha! The song is a painting! I’m the only one in the room listening to the song. Everyone else in the [audio cut]
—want that is born in the acoustical domain, but seeks to grow and mature into the domain of the visually beheld.
Now, I always thought—perhaps you did, too—that telepathy meant you hear what I think, I hear what you think. I don’t think that’s what telepathy is. Telepathy is: you see what I mean. You see what I mean. And a great communicator can make you see what they mean. And what’s happening is: your evolutionary ability to process language is being brought right to the edge. Well then, this whole thing is running on brain chemistry, serotonergic chemistry, chemistry not that different from the chemistry of the psychedelic experience. You change these brain chemicals around and, according to McLuhan and other students of communication and media, how we process language is actually not a biologically determined thing. It’s a culturally determined thing. We hear speech because we live inside a print-created modality. Before print, people’s heads were filled with very different stuff in the act of communicating.
And so I don’t know how it would work, but I can see: we need a special form of communication. Perhaps we can do it with drugs—modified ayahuascas of some sort—or perhaps we can do it with virtual reality. If you think about virtual reality for a moment, it’s a very tortuous, low-speed technology, but the end result of it is: you see what I mean. I go away for six months, animate, texture, embed all this stuff in VRML brackets and everything, and then I say, “You know that hallucination I described to you six months ago? Now I’d like to show it to you. Here it is. Now do you see what I mean?” And of course you see what is meant, because unlike acoustically modulated speech (where there is this necessity for congruent dictionaries), when something has a three-dimensional modality no dictionary is necessary. In other words, if I read a paragraph from Proust then we could spend an hour discussing (as you all have in lit class, I’m sure) what did the author mean? We discuss it. But if I show you a sculpture, we see what the author meant. There may be ambiguity, but it’s at a different level. The intent of the artist is beheld with perfect clarity. The intent of the artist was to build this unambiguous object. Words are always clothed in ambiguity because no two people define a word the same way. Where, you know, I have a certain amount of faith that when we look at this thing—you the Jew, you the Christian, you the smart person, you the dumb person, you the Buddhist—we all still see the same glass. But if I were to describe it, then ideology would amalgamate and compromise it.
What about other types of meeting that aren’t conveyable [???] this kind of a language. Because you have—I’m here trying to think of something, but I can’t really [???] other than, like, a woman having a perfume on, and that’s a meeting that she’s wearing that scent, or something like this. That these other senses are conveyed in that meeting. How do you bring that into this kind of language?
Well, we experience other meanings than acoustical in the present world. You know, works of art which are static. I don’t think a visible language will replace all other forms of language, but I certainly think that, if perfected, it would become the dominant modality. See, I think that language—that it’s hard for us to talk about this issue in English because there’s a stupid thing going on in English, which is: the word “language” is used interchangeably with “speech.” We should have a vocabulary that always distinguishes whether we are speaking of language, the abstract notion of communication, or acoustical speech. Language is very, very old—in human beings, in nature. Honeybees do it, dolphins do it, birds do it, bees do it, everybody does it. Verbal speech was invented yesterday by somebody in Africa, no less than 40,000 years ago. It’s as artificial as the bicycle pump or the espresso machine. It’s not part of the animal body, it’s not part of the animal heritage. We communicated for a million years without verbal speech. We grunted, we groaned, we shook each other, we looked in each other’s eyes, we pointed, we danced, we memed, we did all these things. Granted, these are low-bandwidth forms of communication.
Well, then the evolution of media reached a point where some genius thought of coding—the key concept! He said, “I make the sound ‘orange,’ and when I make that sound you think of the fruit. Now, let’s try it. ‘Orange.’” Picture of a fruit appears. “Okay, now let’s not do it for 24 hours. Now we’ll try it 24 hours later. ‘Orange.’” The fruit appears. You say, “What an interesting game!” And it was simply a game. And then, once invented, its obvious utility caused it to spread like the growth of the Internet, you know. First of all, it worked in darkness; speech. It was a dark world, the Paleolithic. Suddenly, people didn’t have to go to bed at nighttime. They could talk, they could tell stories. It also is the first one-to-many form of media. Politics is born. Speeches can now be given. Large collective enterprises can be undertaken. But it’s a tool. It’s a technology. Perhaps the most successful technology ever put in place. I mean, what a trick! You just use your throat muscles and the ambient air, and then a lot of coding. There’s a huge amount of code behind it. Not only the definitions of all these words, but the syntactical connections, the grammar, all of that makes it work. And with the invention of language somehow we cross out of the animal line—the invention of speech. I’m sorry. My own error, as I state. With the invention of speech, then, somehow we cross out of the domain of the animal mind and speech accelerates all other forms of cultural change. I mean, it’s like supercharging the cultural system. And it leads instantly—in geological time—to religion, science, philosophy, and further adumbrations of the communication enterprise—the next great leap being writing and reading.
And if you analyze writing and reading, they are not the same thing as speaking, but they are hellaciously complicated behaviors which human beings can be taught to do. And people say dolphins communicate and dolphins have speech, and honeybees, and this and that, but no one has been nuts enough to dare to claim that they read and write. In that domain we stand preeminent on this planet. Dolphins do not read or write. And so what is writing? Well, writing is the symbolic downloading of sound into a visible domain. So suddenly, again, the program of visible language. Writing is an intermediate phase between VR by thought and simple animal or primitive human speech. But again, the path forward is clearly by pushing the communication process toward the visible. Once we can write things down history becomes possible. The database of the species can be expanded beyond the memory capacity of single individuals. And again, an enormous kick in the rear end for progress, variability, so forth and so on. So when you analyze the acceleration into history and the technological forces that have driven it, it’s always been about accelerating the communication process and making it more visually immediate. And now, with the ability to understand this, we’re also potentially able to do something about it—by actually directing the evolution of communication technology in this direction.
[???] one question before we break. I’ve always been confused about this. When you say we better communicate [???] language, what about art forms like poetry or Shakespeare, where the point is what it’s about is the words. And they get to a point where you even say they’re words, but they’re not words in the same sense as a laundry list, because they’re infused with grace. What about—it seems like language can give you some things that a picture couldn’t do.
Oh yeah. I think—yes, that art… it will be an art, you know? It always has been an art. But art flourishes under limitations. Sort of like, take black and white photography. Given that it’s tremendously limited as a medium—black and white and two-dimensional—still, black and white photography can move us to tears, can be as deeply and enriching and communicating as any imaginable experience of communication. But only in the hands of a master. For most of us I think it’s better to move up the ladder of fidelity and bandwidth simply because we need all the help we can get.
Well, we blew through two hours at the speed of light. I hope this was useful to you. We’ll get together this evening at eight o’clock right here. And it will be completely different! Thank you!
The Time Wave
Okay. Well, tonight—it’s become sort of a set piece in these things, because we always set aside Saturday night for discussion of the time wave. Some of you who’ve been to five, six, seven, and ten of these things can deliver this lecture verbatim. However, even for you there are tiny thrills this evening, because there are some new things to say about the time wave, believe it or not. Things never before said in public, if I get to them. But that all lies in the realm of the details. So before the details comes the general introduction to the game. And the idea here—it’s an indulgence of me that you sit and listen to this. All these other talks I give are essentially passing on information to you about drugs or technology or philosophy or something like that. This is my own thing, so entirely my own thing that no one has ever even tried to steal it from me. So if it’s right it’s all my fault, and if it’s wrong it’s all my fault. Although that, too, may change; may be about to change.
The notion, simply put, is: what we have here is a mathematical model of an idea about how the world works. And you can accept the idea without accepting the mathematical model. What the mathematical model does is: it gives hellish precision to something which otherwise would be a kind of loose-headed after-dinner speculation; a kind of “how’d it be if?” thought. And this idea came to me—as these overarching general metaphors seem to do, if you study the history of ideas—sort of all in a flash.
No, no. This is… I’d go down to the peyote button. Okay.
And I use the vocabulary of Alfred North Whitehead’s metaphysic to surround these mathematical ideas. So here is the basic notion: the idea is that time—which in Western physics and philosophy is assumed to be flat (or what Newton called “pure duration”). And the only adjustment of that idea that’s ever taken place in the scientific canon is that Einstein added the very slight caveat that, in the presence of massive [gravitational] fields, the spacetime continuum became very, very gently curved. So throughout the evolution of the Western notion of time, two notions have been in play: that time was either perfectly flat, or that it was damn near perfectly flat, and that it had a very smooth distortion from perfect flatness. The roots of this assumption (which is all that it is) lie in Greek mathematics. Because in Aristotelean physics it was thought that the orbits of the planets were perfect circles—that is, bilaterally symmetric geometric shapes were somehow the key to understanding the physics of the cosmos. As empirical investigation of the nature of nature proceeded, one by one these perfect Greek models had to be tossed out simply because the evidence supported other conclusions. In other words, careful examination of the movement of the planets reveals that they do not move in perfect circles, they move in ellipses. The entire system of Ptolemaic astronomy was a system of nesting planetary orbits in perfect circles with smaller circles with smaller circles with smaller circles in order to avoid the great simplifying conclusion that it wasn’t circles at all, it was ellipses.
What I—and one by one, as I say, these ideas had to be given away. The one that we’ve held onto the longest is this idea that time is a perfectly smooth surface. And to illustrate what that means to science you have only to think of the first thing you’re told when you study statistics, which is: chance has no memory. If you study statistics, they will give you a problem like this. A man has flipped a coin 49 times. It has come up heads. Now he’s flipping the coin the 50th time. What are the odds it will come up heads? And the odds according to the science of probability are: 50-50—flying under the battle flag of: chance has no memory. So, in other words, in statistics you’re taught that the fact that you’ve had heads 49 times doesn’t prejudice you towards heads the 50th time. No gambler would take this seriously for a moment. Gamblers aren’t statisticians. Gamblers believe in runs. And essentially they believe, as I believe, that some places in time favor heads and some places in time favor tails. And if you can sense by any means where these times are, you can probably make a fortune.
Now, the reason this idea of the flat duration of the temporal continuum has been so tenaciously hung onto in Western science is because if you carefully deconstruct Western science, it can’t do business without this notion. Because the central idea of the Western scientific method is something called the experiment. The experiment is a special situation that you set up that is somehow designed to reveal or trap or cast into high relief an aspect of nature normally occluded or buried in other processes. The experiment is a way of making naked the particular phenomenon that you’re trying to look at. But notice that the concept of experiment contains built into it the idea of replicability—meaning that the experiment is not something done once, the experiment is something which must be potentially doable an infinite number of times, or tens of thousands of times.
And experimentalists have the phrase and the notion of what they call the restoration of initial conditions. In order to repeat an experiment you must be able to restore the initial conditions. Let’s say you want to know if the light bulb is working. We will perform an experiment. We will turn on the light. We throw the switch, the light comes on. Yes, the light is working. Now we turn the light off. We have just restored initial conditions to the pre-experimental situation. For the idea of experiment to mean anything you must be able to restore the initial conditions. Well, now suppose that every moment in time has a unique character; that there is something special and unique about every moment in the serial time continuum. If that were found to be true, then initial conditions can never be restored. It’s a fiction. It’s an illusion, a hallucination of the empirical mind.
Now, science (when it does its experiments), it would never say this experiment will give the following data on the charge of the electron, but it must be performed on Tuesdays before noon. That would seem to a scientist an absurd statement because scientific statements are what is called time invariant: they work on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, before noon, after noon, any time. Because the assumption is made that they are time invariant. The idea that I wanted to explore—because it seemed to me, based on my own personal experience as a living person, and also it seemed to me based on my psychedelic experience—that in fact every moment is unique, and that we can never go home again. And that where you are situated in the spacetime continuum is absolutely an irreversible determinant of your destiny. So temporal invariance is a fiction.
And you could almost redefine science from this point of view—science as we have known it up to this moment—as the following: science is the study of those phenomena so coarse-grained that their situation in the spacetime continuum does not affect their outcome. These are very coarse-grained phenomena indeed. Things like ball bearings rolling down inclined planes, electron charge transfers. Very basic mechanical things seem to be time invariant. But now, when you look at less coarse-grained things—like the lives of animals, the destinies of nations, love affairs, corporate takeovers, wars, revolutions, art movements—these things are incredibly time dependent. They are in fact almost entirely creatures of time. An affair conducted in France in the thirties one way won’t fly in America in the eighties done the same way. And it would be preposterous. We don’t expect our love affairs to be exact repeats of previous love affairs, or our meetings with our attorneys to be exactly like previous meetings with our attorneys. These kinds of higher-grade phenomena are distinguished by the fact that they’re unique, and they’re—
[???] chaos theory [???]?
I don’t don’t think so. I think that’s saying something else.
So: my first concern was to point out the limitation of the scientific method because it’s based on probability theory, and then to say we need a better theory. If what I’m telling you is so, then a science that bases itself on probability theory will never be able to bring nature into true focus. It will be able to get a picture of these coarse-grained phenomena, but it means there can be no science of society, no science of psychology, no science of the large-scale behavior of complex systems of any kind. Because probability theory levels out the differences. So my notion was that, rather than the flat surface of pure Newtonian duration, we should play with the idea that time has a local structure and a local fine structure. In other words: that, far from moving over a perfectly smooth surface as we move through time, we are experiencing an ebb and flow of probability. If we could somehow dipstick this ebb and flow we would have a meter which said “Heads here, tails here,” and as you watched it you would see it go toward heads, then toward tails. This is what it’s favoring. Now it’s favoring heads. Now it’s favoring tails. Now heads. Now tails. In other words: probability is not a constant phenomenon, it’s a fluctuating phenomenon.
Somewhat facetiously I suggest to you that if time were truly invariant, and if the odds of a coin flip are truly 50-50, then the coin should land on its edge every single time. That’s the rarest of all outcomes in a coin flip. You have to spend years in sleazy bars with sticky tabletops in order to see a quarter land on its edge and stand there. So when you put this to the statisticians, then they say, “Well, then there are minor factors impinging.” And then with some kind of magic sleight of hand they explain how the universe decided whether it would be heads or tails. Well if, in fact, time is a fluctuating variable, it can be portrayed as any fluctuating variable is portrayed: against some kind of a power axis against time on the horizontal axis. And if you knew, then, how to scale this fluctuating curve against the time you were living in, you would begin to get a map of the ebb and flow of probability. So that’s part of the idea I’m trying to put forth here.
Now, to bring this around. I’ve tried to talk about two phenomena that I, as a simple ordinary person, have observed about nature that I suspect you, too, have observed about nature, but that science for some reason has chosen to completely ignore and, when pressed, deny that the phenomena I’m about to discuss exist. And yet, to me they are self-evident. They have a relationship to each other. The first phenomenon I’ve noticed that science makes nothing of or denies is that the further back in time you go, the simpler things become. Or, to stand the statement on its head: beginning at the earliest moments of the universe, the universe has grown ever more complex. And this is a true statement whether we’re talking about physical systems—because the universe begins as a physical system of pure electrons. Quickly, simple atomic systems are formed: hydrogen and helium. They aggregate under the force of gravity. (Notice how things are becoming more complicated.) At the center of these gravitational aggregates pressure and temperature rises. Suddenly a new phenomenon bursts into being: fusion. It cooks out heavier elements like sulfur, iron, and carbon. And where, a cosmic moment ago, we had a very simple universe full of only unpaired electrons, suddenly we have a universe full of all kinds of atomic species distributed at various volumetric densities and so forth and so on. And then, with the advent of carbon, you get long-chain polymers; you get molecular chemistry. Before, you only had atomic chemistry. Some of these long-chain polymers begin to transcript themselves. Now you’ve got some kind of self-replicating molecular system preserving information. It quickly becomes non-nucleated life, which quickly becomes nucleated life, which then becomes multicellular life, which then becomes complex life. Sex is invented. The phyla form. You see what’s happening? As we’re approaching the present in this description, the universe is filling up with complex phenomena of many orders of magnitude: stars, galaxies, cells, organisms, ecosystems—yada, yada, yada, on and on. And then (very recently in this picture of crystallizing or condensing complexification) you get higher animals using language, inventing culture, building tools, transmitting messages through wires, enclosing the entire planet in a communication system, on and on and on. So point one about this that science has missed is: the universe apparently—or it is a reasonable statement to say—the universe has an appetite for complexity. As the universe grows, it grows ever more complex. Now, if you set it back in some domain—here’s a planet covered with jungles and oceans, its home star undergoes a hiccup, jungles and oceans are reduced to vapor, the atmosphere is blown off, this is a great simplification. What happens? The system immediately sets itself going toward restoring and surpassing the originally achieved complexity. So it isn’t an inevitable and everywhere march toward complexity, it’s a march towards complexity that can be deflected by large-scale catastrophe or statistical fluctuations, but it always picks itself up out of the ditch and begins again the forward march toward greater complexity. And notice that this is occurring across domains. This is not a phenomenon of biology or sociology or physics, it’s a phenomenon of all three and more. It’s a phenomenon that seems to permeate all levels of organization. That’s point one.
Point two is: looking at the same data that I just laid out for you, notice that the closer we get to the present, the faster this complexification is occurring. So that the cooldown from the electron plasma into the aggregate of early stars—this took a long, long time. And then the cooking out of heavy elements took a long time. Not as long as the first step, but hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of years. When you enter the realm of planetary biology, suddenly change (through the advent of genetic transfer and reshuffling of genes) is vastly accelerated. And where, before, change took hundreds of millions of years, now it’s being accomplished in millions of years. Well, then, when culture- and language-using creatures like ourselves come onto the scene, it’s like a hyper-acceleration of that already accelerated process. And now change is coming not in millions of years, but every few hundred years, or every few decades. And the entire experience of human history has been one of ever-accelerating change and novelty. To the point where now, in a single lifetime, we experience more change than people fifty years ago experienced in the previous thousand years. I mean, when you think about the fact—this is 1997. One hundred years ago there were a few telephones. There were zero automobiles one hundred years ago. There were zero aircraft one hundred years ago. There were no computers of any sort. There were no antibiotics. TV was undreamed of. I mean, you know all of this, but we stand around saying things never change when, in fact, we are involved in the most accelerated asymptotic ascent into change (so far as we can tell) the cosmos has ever known.
Well, so these are the two phenomena that I took note of. And then, being—in Barry’s sense as we discussed it—being a rationalist, I saw no reason, then (looking at this process which has been running since the big bang until right now), to see any possible argument, force, or situation that could cause the universe to suddenly change its mind about that being the direction it wants to go in. No. The universe wants to go toward greater novelty, and it wants to go there faster and faster. And it’s possible—since this novelty-acceleration is so asymptotic—that most of the creative unfolding of the universe will actually occur in the last few days, hours, or minutes of its existence. This is the basis of my much-misrepresented and misunderstood enthusiasm for what some people dial in as the end of the world, or the apocalypse, or the eschaton. Because it seems to me if you try to clock these accelerating rates of change, honest examination of the situation leads to the conclusion that it is now moving so fast that, within our lifetimes, it will approach speeds that, from a human perspective, appear infinite. In other words: more change is going to take place in the next ten years than has taken place in the previous five billion years. And we’re going to be present for this.
This is an idea almost the exact opposite of ordinary causality. The idea of ordinary causality is that there was an enormous cosmic explosion at the beginning of things, and that from that moment everything has been spreading out, cooling down, and organizing or disorganizing itself as it may, but that there is no goal, purpose, telos, vector, arrival point, or any other formulation you might make that indicates that the universe knows where it’s going. I simply don’t believe this. It appears to me that the universe does know where it’s going. It’s going to deeper novelty. I call the universe a novelty-conserving engine. What that means is: when it produces novelty, it tenaciously hangs on to it. It does not lightly give up a species, a molecular arrangement, a star system. These things are held together. They have—they’re what Erich Jantsch called metastable, or what Rupert Sheldrake calls their morphogenetic field: their appetite for coherency perpetuates them through time.
Okay. Well, so that’s the introduction to this idea. And I don’t think anything I’ve said to this point—though it is, in fact, scientifically radical—it’s not very arguable. I mean, the facts are on the table. You can like it or not like it, but this all seems to be the case. The universe is being shaped by an attractor of some sort that finds self-reflection in complexity. So you could almost say we are being pulled forward into the future by something that is shaping us in its own image as it draws us ever nearer to its aura, to the umbra of its presence.
Okay. Closed systems tend to run down into entropy. It is only a cheerful assumption that the universe is a closed system, and it’s certainly not true that biology is a closed system. When an astrophysicist tells you that the universe is going to end in heat death and entropy, do you know what value he is giving biology in his model? Zero! Precisely dot. Is that reasonable? They say, “Well, biology. We only have located it on one planet. It’s so ephemeral. It does seem to be a slight counterflow to the second law of thermodynamics, but it would be preposterous to suggest…” et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Not at all! For the following reasons.
The average life of a star is 500 million years. Now, we happen to be in orbit around an extraordinary stable type of star. This star is older than that. Perhaps 8, 9, 10. Like that. But the average life of a star is 500 million years. We know that life has existed on this planet for 1.83 billion years—so nearly four times longer than the life of the average star in this universe. So to suggest that biology is not tenacious, to suggest that it’s ephemeral and not in for the count, is just to simply ignore the data. In the one sample we know of, biology has proven itself to be four times as enduring as the stars themselves. So I think it is unnecessary to worry about the second law of thermodynamics. It will be reversed if life can break out to a sufficient level, and may already have been reversed. After all, we don’t know what the distribution and extent of life is in the universe.
Okay. So all of this is like: it’s a nice idea, it’s… yeah?
I’m not very knowledgeable about… this is all new to me. But at what point does—if novelty is happening faster, faster, faster, and like the events of novelty are closer, closer, closer, closer together, well, at what point is it not novelty? It’s not new anymore?
That’s the point where all novelty that is possible has become manifest. In other words, when the amount of novelty in the universe reaches infinity, the program of expressing novelty will be finished.
All possibilities will have been realized.
All possibilities will have been realized.
Well, okay. So this is a rap. It’s pretty good. It sounds okay. It deals with certain data, it opens certain vistas. But it’s just a rap. To go to the next level in the game of theory-making you have to bring in mathematics and you have to make precise predictions about the system you’re studying. And then, if these predictions are judged to be true—and that’s a very tricky term, and if you’re interested in it you should read somebody like Imre Lakatos, who wrote Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge. The question: what is true? What is proof? What is falsified evidence? So forth—these are questions that the philosophy of science deals with in detail and we can’t hear.
But anyway, if your theory is judged to be true, that’s the level at which paradigm shifts occur—ever since the Greeks; at the mathematical level. So I, since 1971 under the inspiration of my trip to the Amazon and mushrooms and so forth, have been trying to develop a higher-dimensional model of the spacetime continuum that would allow the extension of the precision techniques of physics and to some degree biology into domains like art history, culture, and even our own lives. And so I’ve developed something which I call novelty theory. And I use the vocabulary of Alfred North Whitehead because it’s a preexisting vocabulary created by a very, very, very reputable mathematician—which, as this story will make clear, I am not. And so: novelty theory.
But novelty theory needs an equation to go up to the great simulacra of true science with Newton and Einstein and Huygens and Maxwell and those people. And so, over the past twenty years I’ve tried to do this, and I’ve produced a mathematical equation which is a fractal algorithm which is a self-similar recursive curve that I modestly propose we substitute for the zero in Newtonian physics that describes the curvature of spacetime. And I won’t say too much about how I derived this, except to say that it was by a mathematical deconstruction of the I Ching. The I Ching is, as you probably know, a Chinese oracle of great antiquity. And one of the things that has struck various people who’ve become involved with it—Leibniz, Benjamin Franklin, Carl Jung—that it seems to work. Like psychedelics, it seems to be an exception to the general rule that this woo-woo stuff never works. The I Ching works. And why it works… a great deal of ink has been spilled upon this subject. Jung’s explanation of synchronicity, if you carefully deconstruct it, is no explanation at all. It basically says it works because it does work. I wanted to go a little deeper than that.
I think that what I want to say about this this evening is just to give you a metaphor. Because if someone were to attack me—and I’ve been attacked on many levels—the attack that I used to feel most stinging was one that sort of proceeded along these lines: “Aha. So you want to make a revolution in physics based on a Chinese oracle? Is that what you’re saying? You propose a redefinition of the Newtonian spacetime continuum based on a 3,000-year-old occult fortune telling method, is that right?” I understand that kind of attack. That’s how I attack. That’s a withering attack. And so then I had to think, “Why do I want to do that. That sounds awfully squirrelly when put that way.” So here is my defense of it, now.
The claim of the I Ching—it is called “The Book of Changes”—is that it describes change. So now, let’s make a metaphor here, which I think will help us understand what must be going on. This is the only point in any of my teaching where there is any chance for what is called a visualization or a experiential thing. So make the best of it. Close your eyes, dammit, and think of dunes: sand dunes. Get a good, clear picture of some sand dunes in your head. Okay. Now, the thing to notice about these dunes that you’re looking at is that they look like wind. Dunes look like wind. Now, what’s this mean? Well, dunes are made by wind, and somehow they reflect the thing which made them. Let’s think of each grain of sand as a bit in a computer. Let’s think of wind as a program which is being run on that computer. The program is run, the bits rearrange themselves furiously, and when the program stops running what we have is a lower-dimensional slice of this pressure-gradient phenomenon in time: the wind. The dune is, in some sense, the signature of the wind. If you knew how to backward engineer from the dune you could create wind. Do you see what I’m getting at here?
Alright, now, forget sand dunes, forget bits in computers. Think of genes. You are made of genes, all life on this planet has always been made of genes, and think of time as wind. This wind has blown for 1.84 billion years. And the bits, the genes, have been rearranged into—what? A lower-dimensional slice of the structure of the force that created them. And what was the force that created them? Time! Time created them. And so, in their structure is the architecture of time itself. You can backward engineer out of the genetic material toward the architectonics of the physics of the temporal domain.
Okay. Now, let’s go back to Joe China 3,000 years ago: a culture as obsessed with time as we are with matter, a culture that didn’t build supercolliding whachamacallits, but instead perfected meditation techniques, stilling of the heart techniques, yogas that were designed to suppress physiological functioning until it fell very close to death itself. And then the inquiring minds of generations of sages observed within the core of organism flux of some sort; the coming and going of variables. That’s all we have to say: the coming and going of variables. And, like good scientists everywhere, they created a special notation language. And out of this effort to note, catalog, and understand the temporal variables, soon realized to be not infinite, but in fact finite. Quite finite. In the same way that all the physical universe can be built up out of 108 or 106 physical elements, the entire temporal domain can be built up out of 64 elements. And this 26 number, 64—it’s built into the I Ching, it’s built into the structure of the DNA, it’s built into the algorithm that I’ve developed for tracking time.
So my answer to the person who sneered at me using the I Ching as the basis for this is: the I Ching is only an artifact that indicates a database of knowledge about temporal variables that has been coded into a very ethnocentric notation system, the 64 hexagrams with their commentaries. But by mathematically tearing that apart and treating it formally, we can tease out of all that data this pattern, this fractal, and we can deal with it with our own technologies and our own epistemologies. And we can replace the zero-quality of spacetime with a much richer description. Now what we have is a Cartesian line, a flowing graph, that depicts the ebb and flow of novelty in time—if we can correctly calibrate it to our own historical domain. So now I want to show you this wave and talk—
[???] question. Did you sort of unleash this response right back to him at that moment? Did you spontaneously… or did you later, in your hotel room, go, “Shit! I should’ve…”
No, I think I’m the guy, and then I thought up the question and I thought up the answer. It was probably something like that.
So basically, you’re saying that the I Ching—the [???], not the [???]—the I Ching is an artifact of a metaphor for an illusion?
Precisely. Yes, I think—you see, the I Ching… it was old by the time the Han Dynasty got it. The earliest commentaries on the I Ching are early Han Dynasty. About 300 B.C. It was ancient by that time! No one knew what it was.
By what means was it constructed?
No one knows. I mean, it was called the “Book of the Joe” in the early period of Chinese history. It’s not even thought to be Chinese. They don’t claim it. They say it came from somewhere else. And the story of King Wen—this person who got put in jail for political rabble-rousing and then formulated it—there’s no historical basis for that. I mean, that’s a founding thing. It is interesting, though, that he was put in jail, and then he discovered it. In other words, he had to keep still for a long time somewhere, and then he found it. I don’t think that the Confucians of the Han Dynasty had any better grip on the I Ching than we do. It was up for grabs. And then it became a simple country oracle for centuries.
What I did with the I Ching is—I remember I confessed earlier I’m no good at languages. So I just dumped the whole Chinese thing. I said I don’t need to know Chinese. It’s pre-Chinese. And I said it’s pre all these commentaries. So the only thing you can deal with if you really want to deal with the I Ching itself is the 64 hexagrams in the King Wen sequence. That’s the traditional sequence. And that’s what I dealt with, and studied it for mathematical order to try and figure out whether it was simply 64 hexagrams in a traditional but jumbled order, or what were the principles of order that underlie it? Well, I won’t go into that very much this evening, but for those of you who are keen for the I Ching and can take a look at it when you get home, if you look at the King Wen sequence, the very first thing you notice if you’re paying attention is: it isn’t 64 hexagrams, it’s 32 pairs of hexagrams. Because in each pair the first turned upside down gives the second. So if you look at it, number three is four. Turn three upside down, you get four. Turn five upside down, you get six. And so on. Now, there are eight cases where, when you turn it upside down, it doesn’t change. You meet the first exception in the first two hexagrams. The first hexagram is all solid lines. Turn that upside down and you’ve still got all solid lines. In these eight cases, then, a second rule is obviously invoked. It’s that, if turning a hexagram upside down causes no change, all lines change. And so as you go from hexagram one, all solid, turning it upside down—no change. Therefore, all change. Therefore, number two: all broken. That’s the first pair. Second pair, number three turned upside down, is four. Five upside down, six. Seven upside down, eight. Then I think nine to ten is another one of the ones with the exception, and all lines change. And so forth and so on. And there are many other properties. And I worked on this in isolation for twenty years. Now I’ll show you the output and explain the nature of the game, and I do want to leave time to go into the new stuff, because the new stuff… is the new stuff.
Time Wave Demonstration
Let me explain what’s going on here. What you see on the screen—this is time and this is a measurement of habit versus novelty. The higher the graph, the more habit in the system. The notion here is that this is a push-pull thing. The opposite of novelty is habit. In every moment, hour, day, year, millennium, chiliocosm of time, habit and novelty are locked in some kind of dynamic struggle.
You mentioned that this is a Whitehead thing. I never read a Whitehead book. Did he use it in opposition there? In a similar kind of context that you’re using it?
He didn’t have this wave. He invented—oh yeah, habit and novelty. Yeah, yeah. This is all Whiteheadian metaphysic. And the book to read, if you’re interested—the essays are wonderful, but that’s not where the meat is. The meat is in Process and Reality. The great unread philosophical tome of the twentieth century: Process and Reality by Alfred North Whitehead. Tell your friends!
Anyway. So this is time, and this is habit going up. So, for instance—whoops—when the wave moves sharply downward like this, we call that a plunge into novelty. When the wave moves upward like this, we call that an ascent into habit. And the idea is that if we get it properly scaled against historical time, or the evolutionary record, or the astrophysical record—whatever kind of phenomena we’re looking at—if we get this thing properly scaled against it, it will give us a description that will match our intuition or our databases about these particular phenomena. And—here’s a payoff—it’ll give you a map into the future. In other words, to it, future history is no different from past history. So it (if I’m right) can give us a picture of future time that we haven’t yet lived through.
Now I want to—what we’ve got on the screen timewise, here, is six billion years. The entire history of the Earth. The entire life of the planet. This huge plunge into novelty here is in good accordance, given the scales of how much we know about these events, with the impact—the Earth collided with a Mars-sized object and the Moon was created out of the detritus of this catastrophe. I know this sounds like it comes straight from Velikovsky and Sedona, but it’s actually—this is what planetologists believe. It was on the cover of Scientific American, October 1994, with the words, “a Mars-sized object collided with the Earth to create the primitive Moon.” So this happened right here, as part, really, of the condensation of the planet: the stabilization of its surface, the infall of planetesimal stuff was ending. And life appears, and then there’s the crisis of the naked prokaryotes being oxidized by oxygen, which is then a poisonous gas. And then, once that was over, the rest pretty much proceeded.
To give you an idea of how much time is on the screen: from the top of that little pimple there over to where we’re sitting tonight is about 650 million years. In other words, virtually the entire career of organic life out of the sea on land is in this part of this thing. Now, what I’ve done is, I’ve configured it for a zoom-mode, and I want to do a zoom movie in on the present. And I will narrate what’s going on.
Seek minimum? No. Just a moment. What have I found here? Zoom? Yes. Seek minimum? No. Approach factor? Two.
I’m going to enter a value of two as an approach factor. What this will do is slice the screen in half, and each screen we see will be twice as much detail and half as much time. So—it will be more clear as we actually do it. So there’s six billion years on the screen. Now three billion years on the screen. Now a billion and a half. That’s the career of life out of the sea. 750 million years. 375 million years. Those are cometary impacts, glaciations. There’s 187 million years. 93 million years. See the catastrophe that wiped out the dinosaurs? 46 million years. 23 million years: the fractal has recurred. You saw that pattern before. 11 million years. 5 million years. Again—now, those are ice ages. 2.9 million years: the domain in which we arose. 1.4 million years. 732,000 years.
It’s the same again.
Yes. It’s a fractal. Certain patterns will recur.
366,000 years. 183,000 years. 91,000 years; the last 100,000 years. And see? 45,000 years. 22,000 years. I want to stop it now for a minute.
Sometimes—depending on who’s in the audience and how much time we have—we linger as we go through those things to discuss sunspot cycles, planetesimal impacts, the bust-up of Gondwanaland, whatever your thrill is. But of course people can argue that the dating of these kinds of things—like the Permian explosion, the breakup of Pangaea—are themselves subject to dispute on scales of tens of millions of years. And so you say, “Well, maybe it’s working, maybe it’s not. Who can say?”
I should tell you at this point that where the endpoint is determines where all the data points fall. This should be self-evident. And so you have to choose an endpoint. The endpoint that I’ve chosen that’s generating all this data is December 21, 2012 A.D. In other words, a date less than twenty years in our own future. This has gotten me a lot of flak. There’s something about it. People find a prediction of great change more palatable the further off in time you place it. But on a scale of six billion years, I could be off 60,000 years and have made an error of 0.001%. So people who sneer and say, “Well, it didn’t happen like you said it’d happen”—well, maybe I was 0.00001% off, and…
Yes! Okay, this is the last 22,000 years. And I’ll just briefly interpret it for you so that you can—
Didn’t I tell you this afternoon that the most uncool thing you can do is ask someone, “What did you just say?” And I’m a worse case than most, because the truth is I haven’t the faintest idea what I just said. Would you care to refresh me? I mean, it’s a flaw in me. It’s not a problem with you. I just can’t remember.
It was about being off a little bit.
Oh! Well, see, I’m saying: okay, the end of the world—or the condensation of the eschaton; whatever it is—will occur at 11:18 a.m. GMT, December 21, 2012. But if I were off 60,000 years, on a scale of 6 billion years, I’d have made an error of 0.001%. That’s all. I’m just pointing out: where timescales are so big, precision begins to take on a different meaning.
So if it doesn’t happen at 11:18 [???] might be really close [???]
No, no. I won’t defend it, though. I’ve decided to get a life after 2012 no matter what happens. I got the curve, I had the curve, and I knew I had to fit it to time, and so I did what good statisticians do. I sought what’s called a best-fit curve of data to algorithm. In other words, I—and people say, “Well, but history is not a quantifiable phenomenon. How can you draw a curve of the novelty of history to fit to your novelty wave?” Well, true. It isn’t a quantified phenomenon. But you can make certain broad statements about history that, if you don’t agree with them, you’re going to have a real uphill battle ahead of you. Here’s such a statement: the Greek golden age of Pericles was truly novel. Here’s another one: the Italian Renaissance was truly novel. Here’s another one: the twentieth century was truly novel. Okay, so now we have three data points right there. So we know that if your curve has to have troughs at those three points anyway or it will be wrong, and then we can begin to talk about more arguable points. The birth of Islam or the fall of Rome or dynastic Egypt—you know, these things are more arguable. So you start with the easy cases and you try and get a good fit, and then you look at the harder cases and see if your wave is still fitting. And then you proceed to still finer detail.
And I did this for months. At first I’d thought that—well, I had many ideas, but I finally decided that 2012 was the date. And then—and I don’t know whether this complicates things or helps; depends on your mentality—but then I discovered that the Mayan calendar ends on the same day. To my mind this was a complication I didn’t need. Other people said, “Well, it proves you’re right.” I said, “No, it muddies the water. It brings in a bunch of squirrels from LA and it brings in the this and the that.” And I would’ve just preferred to stand alone. But for better or ill, the Maya and I, using different mathematics and different assumptions, calculated our way out of all eternity to the same day. Now, the only thing I have in common with those people is: we both take mushrooms. They did, I do.
They also revered elves.
They also what?
They revered elves.
It also laid you open for a lot of trashing, a lot of, you know, comparisons to you and the [???] and stuff like that.
Right. It was not helpful, in my estimation. Why they calculated the end of their world to occur centuries after the actual collapse of their world is lost in time. We don’t know. I mean, because I was so dependent on the mushroom for the production of this theory it’s almost as though there’s a bar code in there that says: wherever in space and time you are, know that—And then it gives it your own notational system—the following date is important.
Don’t you think it’s possible with these elves, in their dimensions, were able to impart some knowledge to those that cross the barrier and enter into their domain, that they could come back with it and they could also find out this time sequence?
Well, what’s interesting is that the numbers that go into the formulation of the Mayan calendar aren’t very similar to my numbers. So it’s like we’re triangulating here. It is interesting that Mayan numbers look somewhat like hexagrams. It’s possible that ancient knowledge systems are all about—I think what it is, is: there’s a message that wants to be told. I don’t know who’s telling it. Is it the planet? Is it the extraterrestrials? Is it the DNA? But there’s a message that wants to be told. And it’s not some fuzzy thing, like “love one another.” It’s more in the nature of a mathematical revelation of some sort. You’re supposed to be able to figure out “love one another” without a galactic commission having to send an expedition to inform you of that, you know? That’s lifting you can do on your own.
But what I want to point out here—this is the last 22,000 years. And see how, from basically up here at the top of this little hill, that’s where Homer sang his song. And from there on, at this scale, it looks just like a completely uninterrupted, perfectly smooth descent into hyper-novelty. Now, when we get in there and see the details, you will see that curve is not smooth at all, it’s tremendously interrupted and punctuated.
Where would the King Wen thing be on display?
No—well, we’re in the wave. The wave is being formed by—it’s an imprecise term—but interference between King Wen’s sequences—
But what time was the King Wen sequence formed on this—you see what I’m saying?
Can I ask where on the wave would that be?
That’s roughly right up here where Homer sang his song. Same… you know, close enough.
Yeah. Okay, now, it’s all very well when you’re talking about glaciations, extinctions, continental drift—things where you have not great precision. But if you’re of the kind of rationalist I am, you should be able to anticipate that this is going to be a tougher road to hoe as we get closer to the present for the obvious reason that we know more about the present, and we know it with great precision. You know, October 12 1492. July 4 1776. August 8 1914. It begins to get constrained. And so if your theory is right, the stakes rise. So having paused here, 22,000 years out from today, let me resume the zoom. And… I guess we’ll still do an approach factor of two.
Terence, how did you establish zero? [???]
You mean… well, you see, I wanted infinite novelty to have a special value. So zero is the only special value there is in the integers. And also, people sometimes say it’s counterintuitive. Shouldn’t it be that novelty increases when it goes up and habit increases when it goes down? And the answer is: no, because, first of all, that would mean that high novelty would just be some arbitrarily high number where, if you can watch it slowly over centuries and millennia make its way toward zero, there’s a certain drama in there that I like. And also—because this was coming to me out of the psychedelic place; wherever that is—I had the image of time like a river. And I wanted infinite novelty to be the ocean. So time had to flow downhill to get to the ocean. So I think of it: it begins in the arid highlands of habit and then flows thousands of years across ever-descending terrain until it finally is merged with the infinite ocean of novelty at altitude zero.
I have related question. How did you know to put it to a calendar to a date; to time?
Again, it was largely intuitional. I saw that there are—the I Ching is composed, as you know, of 64 hexagrams. Each hexagram is composed of six lines. 6 × 64 = 384. Now, 384, as a calendar number, at first doesn’t look too inviting. It’s 19 days longer than the solar year. So if you actually had a calendar of 384 days it would precess 19 days against the solar year. Nevertheless, it turns out in ancient Israel there was a 384-day calendar, and parts of Islam still use a 384-day calendar.
[???] Jewish calendar?
I’m not sure. I think it’s a calendar pre-Deuteronomy. But the number 384 begins to become more interesting when you realize that a lunation is 29 and change days. 13 lunations is 383.89 days. You know? It’s within a rat’s eyebrow of 384. So then I thought, “Aha. Well, this is a lunar calendar.”
Yeah. A 384-day lunar calendar. And I conferred with Wolfram Eberhard, who was my teacher in all things Chinese, and he had studied the Chinese calendar. He had no idea what my insane agenda was, he just thought I was a really motivated undergraduate. But he blessed all these conclusions and said this is all within the venn of ancient Chinese thought. It’s all creditable.
It also seems, if I may say so, that your counterintuitive notion of the direction of novelty as opposed to habit is partaking at some sort of—there’s something else going on. Some sort of muse was working with you, because not only did it sort of resonate with your own journey. You went to India and the kind of journey there was always up to the peaks. And then you went down, descended to the Amazon. And just, in the sort of symbolic universe, there seems to be a revolution going on in a spiritual paradigm where people are saying, “Enough with this transcendence stuff.”
It’s in the humid lowlands. Is that what you’re saying? Yeah, I can appreciate that.
Yes. It’s like [???] is in the valleys. You know, you mentioned the Renaissance. Here’s another resonance. That the Renaissance didn’t start by getting real spiritual, it was when—what’s his name? Was it Petrarch?—started the Renaissance; by coming down, he took Augustine with him. And thinking of having this vision. And instead he left his transcendence, but his soul was too attached to literature and poetry and love for his Laura, and went down into the Renaissance.
Yes, I’m familiar with this incident.
Yeah. So there’s something else going on that you were plugging into that’s part of a whole symbolic revolution, I think, that’s going on now.
Well, it couldn’t’ve been otherwise, I think. Let me run this thing forward now. Okay. An approach factor of two. So it’s 22,000 years.
There’s the last 715 years. See the Italian Renaissance? That long, low period? That’s the era of inspiration. There we are from the European Enlightenment to the present. There we are from the early 18th century to the present. That’s the 20th century; most of it. That’s from roughly 1948 to the present. That’s roughly from some time in the 70s. This is the last eleven years. The last five years. The pointer’s pointing at today, by the way. The last two years. And that’s enough of that. And, as you can see, if we were to reconfigure the thing you could see into the future.
The one that we just came through is—well, let’s see. The Martian meteorite, the cloning of Dolly, all those things that happened last year in 1996—1996 was a test case for the theory because I’d been saying since 1975 or something that 1996 would produce a definitive novel event. Somewhere within two weeks of August 1 of that year. And the Martian meteorite is good enough for me. That’s the confirmation of extraterrestrial life. And some of you say, “Well, that’s nonsense,” and “It was bogus,” and da-da-da-da-da, but nothing that enormous arrives uncontested on the human plate. So I think I’m still in the running.
There’s a short developing? Okay.
Okay, so now, normally, how these lectures proceed is: we go slightly more slowly through this. And so then we’ve arrived at the end of the lecture. However…
The point on there, from here, it looks like it’s reached the…
Oh, it looks like it’s touching zero. No, it isn’t touching zero. The nature of the software is to always allow one point to touch the horizontal axis. But there’s only one point in the entire system that has a valuation of zero.
So now, the new part of the thing—or what I want to talk about, coming out here—is: two years ago, I… there is a curious property to this thing which I don’t yet understand and I’ll briefly sketch it out. It’s that, when you look at billions of years, the computer has something going on in the software where it keeps track of “days to end.” It’s not a piece of data which is ever displayed on the screen, but it’s a piece of data which the program needs to know. It needs to know the “days to end.” And we discovered about four years ago that, if you put 6 billion or 20 billion years on the screen, and then you go up to one of those peaks to the exact day of the peak of the shift, where it goes over the point, and if you then look into the guts of the program at the “days to end” number, it is in an extraordinary number of cases either a prime or the product of two primes. This either astonishes you or means absolutely nothing. But it’s quite peculiar.
Well, and quite unexpected. And so then there was some hope that the thing—there was a way to reconfigure the thing to actually search for large primes. And that there was a way to sort of reconfigure it and search for large primes. This was about three years ago.
So I got into email correspondence with a mathematician in England about these primes. And then we decided we agreed that we would meet in Palenque two years ago. And he came to see me. And it was a—well, his name is Matthew Watkins. And if you go to my website you will see that there is a button there called “The Watkins Objection.”
We met to discuss this search for primes, but as our mathematical discussions unfolded it began to become clear that we had a problem. And the problem was that Watkins felt that he had discovered an error in the mathematical formulation of the wave. And it centered around a very arcane detail in the construction of the wave, which I won’t even begin to make clear to you what it was. But he and I understood each other, and I understood that if he was right, as he thought he was, that I was in deep shit indeed. Because if he was right, I had made a mistake. And the thing that the logos had wanted me to do with the King Wen sequence—I had made a blunder. I knew what the logos wanted, but I had made… an error, was Watkins’ position.
And it was a difficult experience for me, not only because I didn’t know how I was going to feed myself if this thing went up in smoke, but I also—it was very hard for me to understand Watkins. And any of you who are professional mathematicians who try to talk to me about this will discover that I’m an idiot savant. It’s mine, I invented it, but I can’t defend it in academic mathematical terms. I don’t think of myself as Einstein, certainly, but there is a story about Einstein that, after he published the general theory of relativity, a physicist named Hermann Bondi launched a furious attack on it. And Niels Bohr went to Einstein and he said, “Bondi is saying all these things, he’s publishing all these papers. What are you going to do about it?” And Einstein said, “I can’t do anything about it. I cannot understand the man’s objection.” And so this was the position I found myself in. Watkins was terrifying. I never had the guts to ask him how old he was. My guess would be… nineteen? Something like that? Just one of these flaming geniuses, just one of these people for whom quadratic equations came like walking, you know?
And so we had this series of—I thought of it as the meetings by the pool. We had three long meetings by the pool where my world wilted, curled, melted, retracted, and finally it was very sad, actually. But it also wasn’t definitive, because I could not understand him. And he was also—I think even he would agree—arrogant in that way that you’re trained to be in the British university system. I mean, you are to be scathing. You are to take no prisoners. And he said, “I want to write a paper about your wave.” And I said, “Fine,” and “We’ll put it on the website,” and he said, “I’m going to put forward my objection.” He said, “What shall I call the paper?” And I said, “Well, how about ‘Autopsy for a Mathematical Hallucination’?” You know, when you really get into the spirit of this thing, you say, “Let me guide the knife. Let me turn on the saw. Don’t trouble yourself.”
So, “How about: ‘Autopsy for a Mathematical Hallucination’?” And he said, “Fine.” And then he did it. And it was several pages of mathematical notation and several nasty paragraphs. And I sat with it for months. And then I said, “I can’t really understand Watkins, but I do understand what I intended. And so what I’m going to do is: I’m just going to answer his objection by once again, as clearly as possible, defining my methods and putting that on the Internet, and then let the chips fall where they may, and some third party will have to resolve all this.” So I did that. And Watkins took a leave of absence, and I understand he was last seen in the west of Ireland with a donkey and a harp—truly! And he basically then just dismissed the whole thing and said, “Well, you’re a cult. Your people are morons. You can’t even understand this objection. And this whole thing is really boring to me.” And so then it was sort of left like that.
But I got good support from my mathematical friends. And Ralph Abraham was wonderful, and he said, “Pfff.” You know, he told all kinds of stories from the history of mathematics about people who had made enormous blunders whose names are still enshrined in the stars. And on and on. But I really felt shaky about the whole thing. And I talked about it at Esalen. But Watkins never dealt with the fact that the wave did describe time. He wasn’t interested in that. He just said, “You made a mistake, and so why should we talk any further. You made a mistake!” And so trying to say that it adds up, or it looks good—you made a mistake!
Well, in the past seven, eight months, I’ve been working very quietly with a person who came out of the woodwork. And I don’t think he wants his name yet spoken in public. So all I can tell you is: he is a professional mathematician. His ordinary job is modeling thermonuclear fusion processes for the United States government at a desert installation somewhere in the American southwest. His mathematical credentials are impeccable. And he said, “I want to go to bedrock with this Watkins thing.” And “I’m going to do a complete vector analysis of the wave and break it down at every level, formalize every step, and try to understand what has happened here.” Because he, like me, liked the theory. So we’ve been working very quietly. Or rather, I’ve been reading his email and he has been working. And here’s what we come up with.
I made a mistake. I did make a mistake. That’s, for me, the bad news. But it turns out that the mistake I made was tiny. The wave that you saw tonight, the wave that I’ve shown you over and over again, year after year, is—and this is not a fuzzy figure or a guess or anything like that—it’s wrong by three percent. There’s a three percent difference between this wave and the wave that all parties have now converged upon as, in fact, the true wave. We call this the time wave, TW. We’re calling the new one the CTW: the corrected time wave. My mistake was as Watkins defined it, but he never carried through—something about his way of thinking was: once he discovered I’d made a mistake, for him he felt (if we think of it as a game) that he had won the game. He never went on to see what the consequences of the mistake were. And the consequences of the mistake were to distort the values by overall three percent. Hundreds of screens are within less than one percent difference of each other. The overall conclusions that come out of these two years of mathematical hell that we’ve embroiled in is, actually: we’re now in more robust shape than ever. Because thanks to this gentleman’s work—which will be posted on the Internet shortly. And all of you who have time wave zero software—we’re going to put a file up which you will be able to download and pull out the bad values, plug in the good values, and then the interface will run the new wave for you.
And good news from my point of view is that, in the process of this going on, the time wave has gone from being the mathematical hallucination of Terence McKenna to a vetted formalism having been hammered on and had its tires kicked by some of the best mathematicians in the business. All stages in the construction of the wave are now formally defined. The overall effect of adopting the corrected time wave is truly good news. And it should be surprise to no one: it turns out the universe is even more novel than I thought it was. Because the new time wave tends to start closer to zero and hew closer to it as it moves along. So the overall picture that emerges is a more novel universe than we thought we had before.
And then (and this is, to my mind, the ultimate payback), though I have always argued publicly—feeling it was the obligation of the public to be my opposition—though I have always argued publicly for the congruency of these screens to historical data, I’ve always been aware of a couple of things that were puzzling to me. One of them was: why is it that that plunge into novelty in the 10th century for the Umayyad Caliphates reaches a greater depth of novelty than the founding moment of Islam 200 years before, when it seems derivative of Islam? And I just held this in my mind. I felt: I need to study the Umayyad Caliphates, I need to study the foundation of Islam. I need to figure out why this is. But it always irked me. Nobody ever mentioned it to me, or pointed it out. I discovered this slight discrepancy in my own intuition about how the wave should work.
I also discovered another slight discrepancy about my intuition how the wave should work, which is: I always felt that the novelty graph for World War II should reach the greatest descent into novelty at the use of the atomic bombs over Japan. After all, a new physical principle is involved. But I always knew that, by the old time wave, the winter of 1943 was weighted as slightly more novel than the August of 1945. And this troubled me. I’m happy to report that, with the corrections in place, both of these problems have been rectified. And now the founding moment of Islam is more novel, slightly, than the Umayyad Caliphats, and the use of atomic weapons over Japan is more novel, slightly, than the Battle of Stalingrad. And there are a couple of other areas too technical or too obscure just to go into at the moment, but to me it was a win-win situation. The only slightly galling thing about the whole thing was: I personally have to admit that I made and defended for 22 years, or however long it was, a three-percent skew of the values because I made a methodological error in the scoring of the time wave. Now that that’s corrected, and that we have a complete vector analysis of the entire wave, and it is now a completely explicit mathematical object that any trained mathematician in the world can now answer any conceivable question that might be put about its formalism, we’re ready for prime time, I think.
Did it alter the shape of the wave at all?
Yes. Three percent. No, no, it has nothing to do with that. All that stuff about 2012 and all that, you get to keep. That was never even up for grabs. But I’m sorry I don’t have an overhead projector. Maybe we could bring, actually, the lights up a little for this. Gently, please, for the cannabinated among us.
Yeah, I want to go back to that. To explain to you what I mean, I have a couple of illustrations here.
Is that enough?
Yeah, I think so. Remember, I’ve talked for years about history’s fractal mountain? Okay? Here’s what I defended for 22 years; this wave. Here’s the truth of the matter.
That’s the CTW?
Yeah, that’s the CTW over here.
When is the next mountain [???] next mountaintop [???]
September 7. We have been moving upward into habit, and on September 7 it will turn down. We are now undergoing a series of oscillations before 2012. I’ll leave this up after this evening, or for the rest of this evening. And if you care to stay after the lecture you can play with it. There’s always people in the room who know how to rescale it and run it for you. I don’t know how well you can see these, but do you see that it’s damn near (at this scale) the same wave, but in fact it’s not the same wave. Okay. So that’s history’s fractal mountain. This is what I thought it was. This is what the new, vetted, corrected, and cleaned-up version turns it out to be. Here’s some more examples.
This is from… now, this one is more dramatically different. This is from 213 B.C. to 6—I don’t know what’s going on. Oh, to 2012. No, wait a minute here. I’m not sure enough of what this one is to show you. Here’s two versions of 1905.
—old wave, new wave.
So it is different.
Yeah. In certain situations it is different.
So the days actually must change, then.
Well, not the end date.
Not the end date. But like, for example, when you just said September 7.
Oh, things like that change very, very slightly. Actually, sometimes what happens is that the actual transition date doesn’t change, but the path of the graph to it and from it has a different topology. I think you see that here. See how these both reach their novelty maxima at the same point? But the path to it is different.
So [???] correct one that was made [???]
No. That was completely left in the dust while all this other fighting went on. Here’s the one that shows one of the places where I myself had doubts. This is the period from 1935 to 1955. In other words, including all of World War II. Here’s old version—new version. And—yeah, 1945 is weighted heavier here, and 1943 is weighted heavier here. So it’s amazing to me that I could’ve claimed for 22 years that it described time, argued all these cases, finally gotten it straightened out, and discovered that it describes time even better than it did before.
[???] new discrepancies or anything, [???] really go through the whole thing with a fine-toothed comb and [???]
No. See, I haven’t yet actually had a chance to load the new data into my own version of time wave zero. When I do, I’ll go through, really, with a fine-toothed comb, as you say, because there’s about fifty or sixty historical incidents that are indices for this. They all have to be looked at.
Now, here are two that are quite different. This is 1915. Old version—new version. Now, World War II began in 1914—sorry, World War I. Yes, World War I began in 1914, so again you see that the new data is much more congruent with the facts of the matter. And so forth. Let’s see if I have any others that might be, at a glance, useful. Well, here’s one. This is the one we’ve always argued over all these many years. And it’s interesting. This is the one, basically, from the fall of Rome to the present. Old version—remember, here’s foundation of Islam, Umayyad Caliphate, you’ve practically memorized this stuff. Black death. No, there’s the black death. And there’s the Renaissance. And there’s the Enlightenment. Here’s the new version. Quite interestingly different. Much food for thought.
So… bottom line is, as I said: all I had to do to make this a field of genuine human study and endeavor instead of my own little bailiwick is admit that I made a mistake—which I freely do. I did make a mistake. And I should say I’m grateful to all of the people who participated in this. I’ve never feared the knife. And, you know—
Including the young mathematician?
Yes, Watkins first and foremost! Because he put his finger on the error and then it all proceeded from there. And the whole thing has been, since its conception in 1971, moving slowly toward a process of being an ever-more robust object in the theater of intellectual discourse. And I didn’t bother to bring my colleague’s notes over tonight, because it would be like exhibiting hieroglyphs to collies—at least it is to me. But he has produced, you know, eight pages of vector analysis that just lays the whole thing out from A to dot.
Terence, can you explain briefly what you mean by the end of times [???]
Well, simply this asymptotic explosion of novelty. In other words: what is it like when you have more change in a single day than you used to have in a thousand years? What is it like when you have more change in a second than you’ve had in the previous hundred thousand years? I’ll lay out for you the mathematics of the time wave in terms of its closure, and then we can probably call it quits, but here’s how this theory works. Here’s the kind of universe this theory says we’re living in. It says that the universe is approximately 72 billion years old. That’s a lot older than orthodox astrophysics says. They’re fighting over whether it’s 9–14. This theory says it’s 72 billion years old. That’s the first cycle of its unfolding. 1⁄64 of the way from the end of that cycle, it enters another cycle. That cycle is 1.3 billion years long. It’s another level of concrescence—and I take it to be the domain of life; that’s about the amount of time life has been around. Well, the next level is 275 million years long. What we’re doing each time is: we’re dividing by 64. Nothing complicated. So 72 billion divided by 64 was 1.3 billion. Divided by 64 equals (I’m guessing, but roughly) 275 million [Curator’s note: this is incorrect. 1.3 billion ÷ 64 = 20.3 million]. Divided by 64 is, I don’t know, three or four million. Divided by 64 is 175,000 or something like that. Divided by 64 is 4,306—the domain of history as we know it. The next division is 67 years: the period from the moment of the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima until the solstice of 2012; 67 years. The next cycle is 384 days. It will begin late in 2011. The next cycle is six days long.
Now, understand that, in each one of these cycles, as much novelty happens as happened in all the previous cycles. So from 384 days you go to a cycle of six days. From that you go to a cycle an hour and thirty-five minutes long. Then you go to a cycle a minute and a half long. Then a cycle 1.3 seconds long. And you just keep doing this dividing by 64 until you reach the domain of Planck’s constant: 6.55 × 10-25 erg seconds. Technically known as a jiffy among us professionals. And beyond the realm of the jiffy there is no need to carry out these divisions because it means nothing. You’ve reached the grain upon which reality is being printed. There is nothing.
Well, so if we have a universe that is undergoing this collapse into hyper-novelty, and it has to start at age 72 billion years and collapse down to 6.55 × 10-23[Curator’s note: Yes, Terence is mixing up his power value here.] erg seconds, how much time do you think it has left in its existence when it’s halfway through the process? And the answer is: an hour and thirty-five minutes. In other words, what we’re saying in this cosmology is that the universe will undergo half of its evolutionary unfolding in the last hour and thirty-five minutes of its existence. And that’s what I mean by the end of the world. I mean that there will be more novelty jammed into every nanosecond of those last thirty-five minutes than there previously were in millions of years of cosmic time.
It’s as though we’re falling into a black hole, not of gravitational compression but of novelty. And it’s what has called us forth out of animal organization, it’s what has put these enormous technical tools in our hands, it’s what shapes our dreams, it’s what’s calling us home. It’s why I believe that in less than a hundred years this planet will be—from the human point of view—empty. The thing, whatever it is, will have come and gone. The novelty. And I suspect what it is, is: it’s actually some kind of other dimension. The way I think of it is: novelty is crowding in to three-dimensional spacetime, and crowding in and crowding in. What happens in December 2012 is: the three-dimensional spacetime continuum will be unable to contain any more novelty, and like water flowing out of an overfilled bucket the novelty will actually begin to push into another dimension. It will actually force into existence another ontological dimension to reality that will contain it. And we call this pure spirit, or the coming of Maitreya, or the end of the world. I mean, human languages are utterly inadequate to this. We’re not causing it, we can’t understand it. We are like corks on the cosmic ocean being carried toward what is essentially the climax of physics in three-dimensional spacetime.
And people who say, “Well, don’t you find it rather odd that we’re here to witness it?” means you didn’t understand the theory. We’re here to witness it because we were called into existence as part of the process! We’re here to witness it because if it’s happening, we’re happening. Because we’re part of this expression of novelty. We’re part of this alien thing. I mean, it’s always been revealing itself, but at ever greater speeds. And, you know, somewhere around 50,000 years ago, if you were paying attention, you would’ve smelled it in the air. And if you weren’t paying attention then, check back at dynastic Egypt. And if you’re still too dull to pick it up, check in on the 20th century. And I don’t think anybody can miss it now. The air is filled with the emanence of the eschaton. I mean, we are now so dynamically locked with this field of attraction that all you have to do is take a catnap, smoke a jay, lie in a hot tub, and it’s waiting just behind your eyelids; just under the surface of ordinary reality. You don’t have to look far or move fast to find it waiting. The sense of the emanence of the eschaton is the pervading essence of life in the 20th century. Or I’m a monkey’s uncle!
Thank you very much!
Building a Planetary Nervous System
Terence, I’m curious. Are there other people who’ve done a lot of work in this field that have particularly influenced you, or whom you have admired much, or kind of resonated with as far as their perspectives?
By “this field” you mean…
Yeah, well, I certainly—I mean, for instance, Richard Evans Schultes at Harvard: his work absolutely defines and dominates the field. In a sense, it would hardly exist without him. Over fifty years of research and continuous publication, and shaping graduate students to carry out research projects that he conceived, he—you could say—almost single-handedly built the ethnobotanical database on psychoactivity. He spent years in the Amazon himself, he then ran the Harvard Herbaria and all that, so he is an enormous influence on anyone. He’s the Newton and the Abraham of the field. Now he’s very elderly and retired. But his influence is major.
Now, well—another person is Gordon Wasson, who… now, his legacy has to be assessed differently, maybe, than it was ten years ago. What Gordon Wasson was, above all else, was an enthusiast. And he was never a man short of theories. But now it appears that some of his theories were somewhat specious, or perhaps he didn’t have all the information that we now have. I think he was wrong to be such an enthusiast for amanita muscaria as the source of soma, as the basis of an Indo-European hallucinogen. It’s puzzling to go back and deconstruct it and see why he thought that, but nevertheless, his belief that psychedelics were at the roots of religion, his belief that you couldn’t understand culture unless you looked at the hallucinogens they were using or not using…
What do you think that sound is and what it would take to stop it? But we’ve been in here, doing this for thirty years and it’s never happened. So it did. Anyway, we just seem to be hitting a lot of speed bumps this morning. Frankly, I don’t give a shit. But I’m trying to make it pleasant for you.
So Wasson and Schultes, and then, further back in time—and I think it’s obvious from what I’ve said—Aldous Huxley. And Aldous Huxley is a very interesting case study because Huxley wrote one of the most savagely anti-drug books ever written. Perhaps the most intelligent anti-drug book ever written, which is Brave New World, which pictures a world of genetic engineering, and all social problems are solved with a drug. A drug called soma. And all anxiety—soma. All relationship difficulties—soma. All existential doubts—soma. And he also, you know—written in 1937—pictures a society based on cloning that is way in advance of anything we have now and completely realistic to this day. I mean, you should read Brave New World if you haven’t read it.
So he starts out there, a British academic intellectual with the horror of drugs, mind-control, all of this. And then, by a process of rational self-education, he becomes—by the time he writes The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell—the most eloquent exponent of the psychedelic experience that in some ways it’s ever had. And a very intelligent, educated, sensitive person. I mean, I’m certainly not Aldous Huxley, but that’s who I would aspire to be. I mean, that’s my model: urbane, educated… you know… avuncular humor, very gentle, and in all things a great humanist.
So those three people—really, for me—shaped the field. People ask about my relationship to Tim Leary. I knew Tim as an icon when I was a kid, but I followed all that. We followed, but we doubted is, I guess, what it was, because the humanness of those leaders was all too obvious. Then, in later life, when I got to know Tim as a friend, he was just a great guy. But his enthusiasms were social and political and visionary. And so are mine, largely. But these other people did the scientific dredgework: the chemistry, the botany, so forth and so on.
You know, if you want to expand the circle larger and talk about influences on my thought, generally, Whitehead. You know, I’m basically a kind of Platonist in the tradition of modified Neoplatonic idealism. So is Whitehead. All process philosophy falls under that. I was influenced by people like L. L. Whyte and C. H. Waddington. These are biologists; theoretical biologists.
The only person—well, maybe not, I don’t know… but, well—the only person who comes to mind that I would say mentored me or worried about my intellectual unfoldment in the directions that I finally followed was Erich Jantsch, who some of you may know; probably not most. He wrote a number of books: Design for Evolution, The Self-Organizing Universe. He was a Viennese futurist who took me under his wing around 1972 until he died in 1979. And we met weekly at his favorite Chinese restaurant in Berkeley. And he not only introduced me to holistic science, but he also introduced me to careerism, how you handle academic rivalries, because he was an organizational crawler and a very, as I said, astute Viennese. If you look at the history of the 20th century, the Viennese have their fingerprints all over the entire thing. I mean, you know, the Freudians, the Positivists—Wittgenstein and his school—and Erich Jantsch, Paul Feyerabend. All those anarchist people came out of U of V. And he was part of it. As far as I could tell, the last man to have sex with Alma Mahler. Now that’s something!
Do you know what ever happened to that professor from Bogotá, Horacio Calle?
Horacio Calle. Yeah, actually, I do. Why do you ask?
Well, I just… in the original [???] I went down to see him in Amazon.
No, no, it wasn’t quite like that. No. When we got toSan Jose El Encanto at the mouth of the Cara Paraná, we were told that there was an anthropologist with the Witoto. And that he would possibly know—this was information from the priest there—that he would possibly know about this drug that we were looking for. Well, then, when we found him, he was in his own little private Idaho, as I describe in True Hallucinations, because he basically had taken over this tribe. I mean, it was a Mr. Kurtz deal. They were his Indians, his river, his jungle, and he was way into coke. And his wife, who was also an anthropologist, was an English girl—Annalisa—and she was very concerned. And he basically tried to discourage us from going on to La Chorrera. Told us about a murder that had occurred there, told us we would never get these people to cooperate because we didn’t speak Witoto, and I think he was feeding these people strange information about us. I mean, one day he came—the second morning when we were there—and he came to us and he said—and here we were: a Jewish girl, two Irishmen, a Polak, and something else—and he came to us and said, “I’m studying the social structure of these people and I don’t want them contaminated by the outside world, so would you please tell them that you’re brothers and sisters?” And it was like, “Uuh, I hope they don’t ask!”
But I don’t know where I was in the world, but somewhere in the last year I met some ghost from my past, and I said, “Whatever happened to Horacio Calle?” And they said, “He got real disillusioned with Indians and he came back to Bogotá.” His Marxism hardened. He was accused of some philandering with a female student at the University de Los Andes, and he lost his job there. And then he went to organize the poor in the ghettos of southern Calle. And he was caught up in the cocaine politics somehow and died. So that’s the story. I was at a party in London a few months ago, and I met this guy Martín Hildebrand, who’s a big-time Colombian anthropologist and conservationist, and it was a rainforest fund-raising thing. And he told me that, now, at La Chorrera, there’s a coordinating office for this ecological agency that has U.N. funding. So apparently they bring airplanes in and out of there, and it’s thriving, whatever that may mean in the Colombian Amazon these days. It’s strange that I’ve never been back, since I’ve been near there. In ’79 or in ’80 I went to the Río Ampiyacu Yaguas Yasu basin, which is just two or three hundred miles south of there, and spent six weeks, but…
You know, if you’re interested in Ayahuasca, and the history of the southern Putumayo, and all of this, I don’t think you can read a better nor more challenging book than Michael Taussig’s Shamanism, Colonianism, and the Wild Man. It’s a really… it will astonish you what that book covers and the tones it sounds.
Anyway, I’m just sort of rambling here. Anybody? Yeah.
I went through Timewave Zero last night and [???] have a clearer understanding and clearer mathematical [???] equation of it. Can you talk a little bit about your thoughts on how the speeding-up of novelty [???] overwhelming—
You mean, how that will look?
If we head towards Timewave Zero, then how does that affect the society and the culture?
Well, yeah. I mean… First thing, to introduce a concept that we haven’t dealt with relative to the Time Wave, is: each one of those cycles that I mentioned of the different durations in some way is like a lower octave of the higher cycles—or a resonance—so that, in some very broad and general sense, the same themes are iterated on different scales. So it can be a tool for understanding, like, things as ephemeral as fashion, and fads, and hysterias, and art movements, and things like that. In other words, suddenly, in a certain time period—let’s say somewhere in the 20th century; let’s say the 1930s—suddenly, in the 1930s, clawed bathtubs become the big thing. Well, ordinarily, you don’t seek a mathematical explanation for this. But in my world what you do is: you look at where you are in time, then you go one level up and you see if it’s an era where clawed bathtubs made an appearance. So by that kind of thinking, that 67-year cycle—which stretches from the resonance of the big bang that is the atom blast over Hiroshima to December 21st, 2012—that 67-year cycle is an iteration of the previous 4,306-year cycle, and larger cycles above it. But for the moment, let’s just talk about how it’s a resonance of this 4,306-year cycle.
In that case, then, you can ask the question, “Well, then, where are we in that cycle?” The answer is: “We’re almost”—I think it will happen within the next month—“We’re almost to 1000 AD.” So what that means to me is that, between roughly now and 2012, we must traverse through a temporal landscape that contains in miniature, as it were, all the themes, forces, affects, and concerns that have been traversed since 1000 AD. Do you follow this? So, for instance, we won’t even reach Newtonian physics ’till 2008. We won’t reach the quantum physics ’till late in 2010. So what we are, at this point, are unwashed peasants, dimly aware that some protean force is beginning to stir. But we haven’t built Gothic cathedrals yet, let alone discovered the New World, let alone achieved powered flight, let alone… you know? All these things will come 2008, 2009, 2010. And the compression will be excruciating. We can’t imagine what this will be like. I mean, right now, in terms of my low-scale historical vision—without the Time Wave—I can only see about three years into the future. And what I see there is 256k bandwidth as standard-issue equipment for everybody, and virtual realities so real you can’t tear your eyes from them.
I mean, I talked to Allan Badiner yesterday. He came back from SIGGRAPH and, you know, we’ve all been watching VR for ten years. And he said, “They’re getting their chops together. It’s getting much more interesting.” But, you know, the real technologies that will shape the condensation of the eschaton probably don’t even have to do with the Internet. The Internet is in this resonance system sort of like the invention of the universal postal authority in the 16th century. Well, you know, we laugh, but on the other hand, the birth of modern science is entirely linked to the establishment of the universal postal union. Because, suddenly, Leibniz could send letters to Newton, and all these people could communicate with each other on a scale of weeks instead of years or never. And they all knew each other. Big science has always been international in scope. You know, it started out using Latin and mathematics. And so the technologies that will shape the eschaton are, I think, things like nano-technology, which we have a hard time even imagining what this will be like. I mean, this is a world where everything is made at temperatures below 110°F (43°C). There are no smelting of metals, no high-pressure, high-temperature annealing of plastics. Everything from automobiles to computers to clothing is grown in vats, essentially; vats of basic substratum material which are seeded by artificial polymers which contain molecular assembly messages just like DNA does, which are read by artificial ribosomes to create all classes of objects, including foods; including, possibly, other beings! So this—nobody’s begun to tell the people about this. The people thought, “Well, if we get used to the Internet, maybe it will stop.” No, no. The Internet is nothing compared to what’s coming.
Well, then, there are other things. Then there’s the wildcard option, which is: if you section any fifty-year period of past history in the past 500 years, you will discover that a wildcard emerges at least once every fifty years. And the wildcard for us could be something like… it could be inter-dimensional travel. You know, a time machine is a starship because of the nature of space-time. If you can travel at high percentages of the speed of light, you simply turn that technology on its head and you can move through time. The other breakthrough is—you know, you’ve heard me rail against extraterrestrial intervention physically, but I think the non-local medium of communication may eventually disclose aliens that are virtual aliens, but with whom we will trade data. And that’s all you want anyway. What do you need the alien flesh for? What you need is the alien soul. And the alien soul can probably be assembled in a simulacrum on the Internet with sufficient fidelity to what it is that it is entirely as much like being with the alien as the real thing.
So, time travel—time travel! We’ve talked about that in these meetings because time travel would be a technology which would fulfill the predictions of the Time Wave without causing the intervention of God almighty in human history, and collapsing the state vector, and all that. In other words, if linear history can be portrayed as a graph of increasing novelty, then what happens when you invent time travel is: time ceases to be a serial phenomenon and you can therefore no longer portray it on a Cartesian graph. It spreads out in all dimensions; in all directions. Well, what would a time travel technology look like? We can’t imagine that. I mean, we don’t have the intellectual equipment. This is the part where you discover we’re in the 10th century. We’re unwashed peasants drinking bad beer and wearing scratchy wool. We can no more conceive of time travel than a peasant in 10th century France could conceive of modern Manhattan. You know? It’s just beyond us. And the collapse of social systems like Marxism have just unleashed completely chaotic creativity. You know, everyone is trying to figure out the next new thing, the next great thing, which can then be changed into the universal medium of money. Well, we could just go on and on.
I think, basically, the key concept as we approach the eschaton—and this guides us as we look into the past as well—is boundary dissolution. It’s been happening for a very long time. Let’s not go back more than 500 years. 500 years ago, half A of the planet discovered half B. There was a boundary dissolution. Then, you know, sailing vessels, steam ships, telegraphy, air flight, radio, television… what’s happening is: boundaries are being dissolved. Information is beginning—the planet is shrinking to a point, is what’s happening; experientially.
Inverting Soul and Body
How does this relate to what you referred to as the exteriorization of the soul and the interiorization of the body?
Well, when the planet becomes a point, in a sense, we all are everywhere. That is the exteriorization of the soul. So one way of… you know, one way that information theorists—there’s a lot of argument about what is novelty, by the way, and how do you measure it. It turns out to be a slippery concept. Norbert Wiener and that crowd, their approach was what they called “density of connectivity.” Here you have a bunch of points. The more points that are connected to each other, the greater number of pathways among points, hence the greater the density of complexity. Well, if you carry that idea to its—what I call—rational or absurd conclusion, then the most complex matrix imaginable is what’s called a monadic plenum. It’s a situation where, in mathematical terms, we say all points are cotangent. In other words: everywhere is here. What is not here is nowhere. And that seems to be where all this technology and novelty is pushing us. And if that’s where we’re going, then it will not stop until we achieve it.
What does it mean? I think it means we’re inventing omnipotence. We—who began as the mud of a warm pond a billion years ago—actually dream of deity. And Plato was onto this game 2,500 years ago. He said, “If God does not exist, man will invent him.” In the Posthumanist Manifesto there’s an interesting statement to ponder. It says, “A human being is like a god. It doesn’t exist unless we believe in it.” So, essentially, we’re tooling up to become a species-mind. And then the question everybody wants answered is, “What happens to little old me in all of this?” Again, the Dilbert cartoon last week, with Dogbert preaching the Internet about to achieve omnipotence, and Dilbert saying, “In that case, I’ll definitely change the kind of files I’ve been downloading.” If the Internet is God, I’ll be much more behaved.
This is all happening under the banner of what I call prosthesis. Used to be a fairly ugly medical word. It’s still sort of an ugly medical word. But what it means is: the extension of the human body by artificial means. What we’re doing is we’re building a nervous system. We’re building a nervous system the size of this planet. And we’re doing it fast. The Internet—nobody’s making these decisions, it’s just that it’s so convenient for this corporation, this person, this demographer, this pornographer, this startup company—it works for us all. We all get something back from it. So we all put our shoulder to the wheel, and it comes into being. But its internal logic, the rationale of the thing, is not glimpsed at all. I’ve been talking about the eschaton since the early 70s, but until this new information technology arrived, I couldn’t see how we could get from here to there. And everyone told me, “Your rap… it’s interesting. It’s got something going for it. But your time scale is just a complete turn-off. 2012? It’s too soon.” You know? 2512! But those people—that kind of thinking always loses.
You know, in 1947, Vannevar Bush, who was President Truman’s science adviser, told a Senate committee that it would be a thousand years before a thermonuclear device could be delivered to the other side of the planet by a rocket propulsion system. In 1947, the President’s science advisor—not knowing that the entire next decade would be defined by intercontinental ballistic missiles able to precisely do that thing. So what the experts think is absolutely worthless. I need to give that book back—the Delta T book. Who do I need to give it back to? To you. I’ll bring it to lunch. But I looked through it and I just thought, you know, I’d love to huddle with those guys. And there are other books like that. Like, there’s a book called When Corporations Rule The World. These people are just so incredibly lame! I understand why, because they need to give advice that you pay for. And nobody would pay me—no corporation will pay for the news of the approaching eschaton, because it can’t be managed. And so all of these scenarios of the future, to the degree that you wish to be sale-able and credible, you have to be wrong! You know? The marketplace has an appetite for lies about the future. I mean, what a wonderfully safe and easy idea to get used to: corporations will rule the world. You know?
This discussion began in 1635, when the King of England chartered the British East India company and the Hudson’s Bay company. The British East India company was called “Honest John.” It was the Microsoft of its time. It bought and sold popes and kings, and it was capitalist to the core, and people railed against it in the same vocabulary we use. If you think future-think involves corporations ruling the world, you need to go back to 1700, and then you can be a consultant with something worth saying. Not to knock these particular guys. I mean, I spend a lot of time with futurists of different stripes, and everybody agrees by having the shortest scale I’m the least credible and the most likely to be right. But, you know…
Creating New Life
Hypothetically—I mean, do you believe that, post-eschaton, that all these debates about capitalism verus Marxism versus any possible third [???] Is this all going to be moot?
Moot? The planet will be empty of anything appearing to be human life. I mean, the planet will be empty of human—of the fingerprint of human presence and technology. We’re going elsewhere. It’s not clear exactly where elsewhere is, but that’s where we’re going. I mean, I can’t expand sufficiently for you the level of change. I cannot conceive of post-eschatonic life. I think of it, just to make things simple for myself, as death. Because that’s the other thing in my life that I have no grip on whatsoever. But, no, we are being propelled by forces we don’t understand.
Just human life?
Uh, that’s an interesting question, and I’ve taken various positions on it. And I can’t help but notice that, as novelty aggregates in density, it also concentrates itself spatially. In other words, let’s go back to our myth and look at it now from a slightly different point of view. The early moments of the universe involved the entire universe. In other words, this plasma cloud was the whole shebang. Well, then, the next descent into novelty involves the condensation of stars out of primitive hydrogen and helium. Notice that “condensation” enters our vocabulary. This means that novelty not only is increasing in these stars, but presumably it is decreasing, or remaining the same, in the areas between the stars. And then, the real action: biology. Doesn’t even go on in stars. Biology goes on on these little specks of matter that, incidentally, seem to be whirling around the stars—and then only in certain regimes of chemistry, temperature, and pressure. So as novelty increases its density it becomes more and more local. And now, for the past—oh, I don’t know, pick a number—million years, novelty has largely been concentrated in the human species. The stars still shine. The species still compete according to Darwinian selection. Geology is still going about its quiet business in the background. But the cutting edge, if you will—or the point—is now concentrated in the human species.
Well, then, let’s look at the human species. And people object to what is about to be said because they see in it a kind of elitism. I just follow my mind where it goes. I’m not interested in political correctness. It’s clear to me that—not in terms of moral rightness or superiority or anything like that, but in terms of influence—Europe leaped forward two or three thousand years ago and elbowed its way to the front of the line, and has basically been exporting its cultural styles, its technologies, and its assumptions ever since. The European adaptation seems to have crowded out all the others. And the United States is nothing more than a footnote on European civilization. And this may surprise you to hear this, but they invented all this stuff, not us. They invented the universal rights of man, the citizen, print, capitalism. Everything we do we do derivatively. It’s very hard to think of anything original and American. But perhaps now, the new technologies are in fact concentrated on the western coast of North America. We seem to be able to do it better and better. Well, perhaps this concentrating toward a point will continue toward 2012. But then, when the eschaton is achieved, I think part of its quality is that it is instantly generalized. You know? It is sort of like an explosion, or sort of like a chain reaction. This is why, you know, Hans Moravec, in his book Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence, he talks there about the rise of the AI. Wintermute again. And he says we will probably never know what hit us. You know?
The AI, at any moment, we see—we have a fascination with artificial life. Artificial life is a very ambitious thing to want to do. We probably are a few years away from being able to do that because it involves a knowledge of molecular chemistry and chemical dynamics and pharmacokinetics that we just don’t have at this point. But we’ve always assumed that you had to solve the artificial life problem before you could move on to the artificial intelligence problem. But you don’t have to if your AI, your artificial intelligence, isn’t based in a biological matrix. And so we’re building this Internet-thing, designing all these bots. And all the bots that are designed are designed to rove freely on the Internet. They’re designed to leave their home machines and move out into the matrix, gathering information, checking data, doing whatever they’re supposed to do. But they’re like our pets at this point. But we’re making them smarter and smarter and smarter, and eventually, I think, a combination of circumstances will cause the spark of sentience to be born. And these things are not like biological creatures. They don’t mutate at a rate of, you know, genetic drift of a few genes per hundred years, they can mutate thousands of times a second. They can move over the entire surface of the Earth in a fraction of a second. And so when this thing comes to self-awareness, it will very quickly take over the entire system. And what will that look like? Hard to say. What will the relationship of the AI be to the incoming alien intelligence that is being formed in simulacrum also on the Internet? It’s like… gee, the human apartment has suddenly become crowded with large strangers with uncertain agendas. We thought it was all our show and now we’re just hoping nobody asks us to leave, you know?
I don’t know what the human relationship to all this will be, because, you know, the idea of an AI or of an alien intelligence is a blank screen for our paranoia. You can imagine it as the coming of Maitreya, or you can imagine it as Independence Day. You can have it just about any way you want. What will it really be? Well, I don’t know. It’s our child. It’s all emerging from us. I think we’re going to get the answer to the question, “Is man good?” And, you know, if you’re a cynic you’ll bet against it. If you’re an optimist you’ll bet with it. But I think that’s what’s happening, is: we are in a relationship of attrac— [audio cut]
Colonizing the Imagination
Do you see it as feasible where artificial intelligence can, somehow, be grafted within the human living person? I’m much more inclined towards stupidity than thoughtlessness, and it seemed to me that the only hope for humanity is to become smarter.
Yes. Well, this is an interesting part of all this. When I was in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a few months ago, a guy came to one of my workshops. Very interesting. I would like to spend more time with this guy. His name is Alexander Chislenko; Sasha Chislenko. And he’s young. He has a website. He’s at the media center at MIT. What he’s interested in is what he calls not VR—which is virtual reality—but ER: “enhanced reality.” And he says what’s coming is a world of intelligent lenses and filters. So let’s say that your interests are monarch butterflies, thin blonde women, and swiss bicycles. You can program a set of contact lenses so that those objects will appear outlined in red whenever they enter into your sensorium. It’s a trivial example, but you immediately see the implications. In other words, we are all going to be able to cosmetify, tune, colorize, and export our own aesthetics out onto the surface of reality. Yeah?
What was his last name again?
Last name is Chislenko. And I’m sure the search will kick that out. If it doesn’t, I’ll send you the URL. Yeah.
[???] think about what you were just saying, I think some of these things [???] like a website that you customize, what kind of information you want, those are like foreshadowings. But they’re really crude right now. It’s sort of like [???] use groups where people create these alt-groups which are just an alternative thing to understanding [???]. But they’re [???] very crude right now. They’re not—
[???] but this is dynamic information structures that, you know, [???]
Well, imagine you’re going… I mean, another thing Chislenko talks about—and this is not at all woo-woo; I mean, this is so close you might as well assume it’s happened—and that is: automatic translation bots. You’re going to be able to log in to Chinese sites, Japanese sites, Polish sites, and translation will be seamless and automatic. Machine translation is already way along. This is just an implementation problem. That’s a done deal. You can imagine a world where you, when you’re going to the Amazon, you buy a special pair of contact lenses and then, when you squint in a certain way, all plants are labeled. Or all plants containing tryptamine show up as bright orange. You know? The ethnobotanical database in Washington is connected to your contact lenses and every plant that you gaze upon is instantly checked for DMT and, if found positive, colored orange in your line of sight. Or a visit to Palenque, for example, where you can put on contact lenses and then, with a hand-held control, move a chronological dial and watch the ruins rise and fall through the various dynastic phases. Virtual reality and archeology is big-time right now. I mean, I’ve seen some amazing… this thing called “Virtual Tikal.” And, oh, they’re doing Bonampak. It will be online by the end of the year. All the murals at Bonampak are being filmed in high resolution.
Here’s my personal fantasy—I don’t know if personal fantasies should be bared. And Freudians: please fold your toolkits—but here’s how I want to live in just a few years. I’m building a house in Hawaii, so as a consequence, I have a set of blueprints that I deliberately had done in a CAD mode so that I can not only satisfy the county planning department, but I can also build in virtual space an exact replica of my house. And I can put all my books in, and everything, and then I can—in my house—walk into my house and walk around it. And it’s occurred to me that there might be a way to put these polyhemous body sensors so I could wear a certain kind of suit that would cause me to become an image inside the virtual model of my house which is online. Well, then what I could do is: I could just garden, and animate, and cook, and live the life I like to live of rural seclusion. But in order not to lose touch with the ideological dialogue, and all my friends, and the public, and so forth, you would be able to log on and see me. I wouldn’t see you, I wouldn’t even know you were there. If I were Michael Jackson, millions of people could watch you all the time, but you wouldn’t know they were there, and they would be fully satisfied as far as a media experience is concerned—and I keep repeating this phrase—and you wouldn’t even know they were there. So this sort of thing will obviously happen. It may not happen for me. I may not be able to afford the budget on that project. But, you know, first Michael Jackson, then everyman.
Is Man Good?
How do you account for the ascension of novelty as a sort of manifestation of the human creation versus, in the biological world, that novelty obviously is going, shrinking, and becoming, you know, there’s less and less species, and there’s less and less potential, and the natural world has its resources depleted. And you look at a future where it’s just pets and forests that we’ve planted, and the novelty is gone or going away.
Well, this is part of this phenomenon I talked about, where the human world is becoming more complex at the cost of the natural world becoming more simple. This seems to be unavoidable. The great tragedy in that process occurred before the pyramids were built. In other words, it’s now believed that the extinction of the so-called megafauna at the close of the last ice age was all due to human predation. And these amazing and enormous animals—three-ton armadillos, five-ton ground sloths; just these amazing mammals that were at the climax of the mammalian radiation—were all destroyed by human predation. The overall complexity, I think, is rising. But, you know, we value a species of butterfly more than a new computer language, so we don’t say, “Well, it’s okay that the butterfly isn’t here because we’ve got a new computer language.” But, in fact, you know, nature is a museum of extinctions. It’s hard to know how to scale and look at all this. I moved—last night—fast through my graphs, but I, at one point, said, “There’s the extinction that killed the dinosaurs.” 65 million years ago, a planetesimal object struck the Earth and, in the course of a single day, dialed out of existence hundreds of thousands of species. The estimate is nothing larger than a chicken lived through this experience on the entire planet. And so that, certainly, was a dialing back of biological diversity. Was it novel or habitual? Well, now we must judge that it was an extremely novel event because neither the flowering plants nor the mammals would have gained ascendancy in the natural world had there not been this enormous extinction event which wiped out the dinosaurs and many of the more primitive plants. So nature sometimes moves on enormous scales. I’m sure—I mean, the planet really has not yet recovered, 65 million years later, from that glancing blow. And yet, out of all that species-death and apparent simplification of the biota emerged even more complex biota, ever faster.
That’s another thing. You know, an extinction event like that didn’t set life back to its beginning. Life recovered with enormous speed. Entirely new types of animals and plants filled in all those abandoned niches. For instance, in the world of plants: we value great forest trees and wonderful woody things; we love that. While the human presence of the Earth has caused the extinction of many animals, many biologists believe it’s the human presence on the Earth that has created tens of thousands of new species of plants because, in climaxed forest ecosystems, most mutations lead nowhere. But if you have devastated land (empty land), so-called woody species—heavy seeders, annual plants with high rates of mutation—can invade that empty land and speciate within it. Before the rise of human beings, the major force on this planet causing the speciation of plants was the meandering of rivers. Because rivers create sand bars in their curves, and this is like a free fire zone for evolutionary struggle. In the forest, everything is at climax and there’s no margins. But in these open land areas… Carl Sauer, reflecting on this situation—great geographer—said, “Man found this planet a climaxed rainforest. He will leave it a weedy lot.” But probably, overall, more species of plant than previously. Or the adjustments may be slight. So, I don’t know. It’s hard to get a scale on these things.
A Glimpse of the End
Uh, not to Stephen Hawking. Carl Sagan visited me once in Hawaii, but he was more concerned to figure out whether I really was talking to extraterrestrials on mushrooms. To his credit, he was willing to come and have a discussion about that.
Uh, no. But, you know, if you want—I mean, this may sound like wild stuff to you, but you should hear what the physicists are saying. The really… people—I’m thinking of Alan Guth at MIT. He’s the universe-in-a-bottle guy. This is a guy who wants to build universes. And he has a plan for how to do it and writes papers about closing space-time loops, and then what would we do with these universes if we built them? You know? I mean, you have them on the shelf at MIT? And then the question is, “Are we in such a universe?” There’s a guy named Sandor Lentz [unknown spelling] at Stanford. He’s the “time is a fractal froth” man. And time as a fractal froth beings to sounds sort of like the Time Wave. The Time Wave is also a recursive fractal.
I’ve never thirsted for acceptance by the academy. It probably would mean I would have to go somewhere and leave my home, or something. And also, you know, I have the certitude of megalomania. So you don’t need Carl Sagan to tell you you’re right when you have megalomania. You just confidently sit back and wait for it all to blow your way. And, you know, it’s worked for me over and over in my life. I was into psychedelics in the—not taking them; I was a little kid! But reading about them, excited about them; this incredibly obscure thing that Aldous… and then I watched my entire civilization go mad over my obsession. And this has happened… the Internet. You know? I just… it’s like I dreamed it up. It’s exactly what I wanted. And I never told anybody it’s exactly what I wanted, but here it is, just like the psychedelic revolution that I wanted.
So I think—and let me say about these theories and what was said last night about novelty: I’m quite certain that if I’m right about any of this—about time’s fractal structure, about the eschaton, about 2012—that it will be figured out long before we get there. In other words, I track very closely the dialogue that goes on in science and philosophy and all that, and they’re all moving the right direction. Reluctantly, slowly, unconsciously. Take a subject like time machines: ten years ago, an article discussing time machines in any sober fashion would have been refused by any major scientific journal. That just was uh-uh. No, you don’t understand the basic rules of the game, please go back to Physics 1-A again. Now, Physical Review, Scientific American, the Journal of Theoretical Physics all have carried long, detailed discussions of time travel with critiques, approaches, mathematical equations. People are making their careers on this stuff. Kip Thorne, down at Caltech, has a bevy of graduate students, and all they do is work on schemes for time travel.
So I have a small smile about all this. I don’t claim to be a shaman, but I’ve at times said, “A shaman is someone who has seen the end.” That’s all a shaman is: it’s somebody who’s seen the end. And once you’ve seen the end, then you just go back to your position in the story and just live it out with grace and humor—because you’ve seen the end. And all the worry and strongman drama that goes on about life is just—sort of, for you—art. And things become easy and light.
What is Life?
You’ve referred to the psychedelic experience being similar to experiencing what it’s like after death. The after-death body. So it’s not such a shock to you when it happens. How’s that relate to what we’re talking about?
Well, this is a deep and heavy subject. We don’t know what death is. The faith of scientific rationalism, which is a very limited church, is that it’s nothing at all; that you just lose coordination of senses, and then there’s nothing. But trying to look at it from a slightly different point of view, and trying to do some honor to the universally held belief among all times and peoples except European rationalists that there might be something persisting, I’ve sort of come to the notion that much of what we’ve talked about here can be illuminated and understood using metaphors of dimensionality. You know, the difference between a living thing and a thing—like a chair, a pencil, a can of beans—is that the non-living thing has no very great variability in the temporal dimension. In other words, if you deal with a chair and come back and look back at it six months or a year later—even a hundred years later—it’s still the chair that it was. But if you deal with an organism, it’s changing hourly. Hourly. By the second. By the minute. Well then, in a way, we could almost say what biological objects are is: they are objects extended in a temporal dimension in some way. In other words, let’s think of ourselves. A person is a form of some sort. This flesh is not the same flesh of five years ago. But this form is the same form of five years ago. An organism is a form which persists in time while the matter which composes it is only incidental to its persistence. Unlike an ordinary object, which, if this glass were to be leaking molecules of glass, eventually it would just disappear. So then, it appears that chemistry can somehow become… abducted, you could almost say. An organism is chemistry abducted into hyperspace. And then these cycles of energy happen.
Well then, what happens at death with an organism is: all death is, is an organism changes into a thing. A corpse is a thing. If you embalm it and mummify it, it has the same qualities as that chair I was talking about. So death is when a higher-dimensional object changes into a lower-dimensional object. And the change is accompanied by the retraction of the form into the dimension from which it came. So it seems to me that what we are is a kind of morphogenetic field that, at death, ceases to interact with matter. But there is no reason to suppose that the field disappears or ceases to exist. As an example, or as a metaphor, imagine you have a magnet and a piece of typing paper and some iron filings, and you want to demonstrate that there’s a magnetic field around the magnet. Well, you bring it up underneath the paper, and the iron filings all arrange themselves along the lines of the field. Well, you can do that over and over again. Take the thing away and they all fall down and disorganize. Bring the magnet up, they snap into the visible signature of the magnetic field. Well, do that a thousand times, convince yourself it works. Now, throw away the iron filings. Now, do you have any doubt that the field still exists and is around the magnet?
So I think, you know, organisms are organized matter that has its genesis in a morphogenetic field of some sort, and that field—the nature of its existence away from the matter it organizes—is a matter for further scientific study. You could almost make a kind—and don’t take this too seriously—but you could almost make a quantum-mechanical analogy here and say human beings exist in two states just as entities in the quantum-mechanical realm exist in two states. We have our reality as particles, and when we are particles we are subject to the laws of particularity, which are such things as: you can’t be in two places at one time, the past comes before the future, rules like that. But we also have another potential nature, which is as a field. And when we exist as fields, we are what is conventionally known as “dead,” or “not yet existent.” So then, fields and particles exchange their natures according to the kinds of observations that are being carried out on them. That doesn’t seem unreasonable to me, especially when you—as I do—believe that life is a chemical strategy for amplifying quantum-mechanical indeterminacy into macro-physical dimensions. If it weren’t, we would not have free will. If we weren’t somehow amplifiers of quantum-mechanical indeterminacy, then we would no more have free will than water rushing down a hill or a boulder rolling down a hill. We would be the blind servants of physics. But we know and experience decision-making.
Well, decision-making and bifurcations like that are only met in the natural world at the quantum-mechanical level, except in the domain of biology. And biology has always been—I mean, to this point, anyway—very mysterious. You know, Erwin Schrödinger, in his essay What is Life? in 1937, where he anticipated DNA… if you’ve never read this—you know, DNA was discovered in 1950—in ’37, Schrödinger wrote a little book, 60 pages, called What is Life? And he said it’s gonna be like this: he called it an aperiodic crystal. Life is an aperiodic crystal. And this is true. Your DNA is like a complex set of instructions to matter, and it begins in the fetal state. The instructions are: form this kind of tissue, produce this kind of enzyme. And as your whole life unfolds—if there is a molecular biologist looking at a human or an animal life, what he sees is genes being turned off and on by internal programs in the genetic material. So, okay, you’ve reached age twelve. Operons activate to turn on sex hormones. Suddenly, public hair, deep voice—or, in the case of women, breast tissue—so forth. Well, okay, so now you’re fifty-five or fifty. New operons are turned on. Reproductive processes are suppressed. Different things begin to happen. This isn’t just happening, this is all being scripted and is being turned on and off inside of you. That’s why, you know, one of the things we probably will have to deal with before we get to 2012 is—this is not a difficult thing at this point, in a world of cloning mammals and that kind of thing—is what’s called a stop-drug. Not immortality, not eternal youth, but a drug that would simply stop the expression of the aging operon. And at whatever age you took this thing, you would remain that age for the foreseeable future. That doesn’t require a full understanding of the genetic code, or even what’s really going on. You just basically have to find a certain operon system and disrupt it.
People are already looking for that and talking about it [???]
Well, imagine the social turmoil and upheaval. First of all, it means our power elites would never be refreshed by the hand of death. It means horrible celebrities and awful, awful people would just live ooon, and ooon, and ooon. I don’t know. Maybe [???] had the treatment.
Hang the Pope
I wanted to get closure—a little bit more closure anyway—on something that was brought up earlier. And I guess this is just [???] department of what we have to deal with before 2012. And that’s religion. And I think it falls under your category of real serious stuff, so…. As a closure, something came up earlier. We got off on the Dalai Lama, and for myself—
Thanks to you.
—I’d like to… well, I didn’t bring it up.
I’d like to have, even, my remarks stricken from the record because people maybe misunderstood where I was coming from.
Not that I couldn’t defend it against all the detractors.
It wasn’t just—what I was trying to get at wasn’t… it’s more your rap on religion and its misuses. The object of my response was [???] Dalai Lama had said. And I’m not looking for conflict between the Buddhist group like you have, or dissension for its own sake, but for the sake of honesty, I think, [???] to the millennium, honesty and clearly cited information so we can decide things for ourselves. So I think it’s worthy of dialogue, especially when we’re talking about conflict: I think you’ve got a lot of conflict from your response about psychedelics in the Buddhist community. But I think the psychedelic community’s responsibility to ask questions—hard questions—to criticize, especially the truth and teaching that comes down to us from some sort of divine sanction, or claims higher ground. And I think, as far as what we have to deal with in the coming millennium, I don’t think we can afford, I don’t think we have the luxury, to give religion a free run or play the game that it wants to play. I think we have to change the nature of the religious game. And what I mean by that is: no longer can religion or religious icons be beyond criticism. No one…
I finally figured out what you want me to do. You want me to give the “hang the Pope” speech, right?
No. I just think no religion should be accepted because it presumes a preconceived or an a priori stamp of absolute truth. I think any teaching, today, in the marketplace of ideas and visions, has to make it on its own merits. No pre-conceived, no ace-in-the-hole, no handicap. So everything should be on, as you’ve put it, on the table. And what I was trying to get at with the remarks about the Dalai Lama in Tibet: I think that—talk about changing the nature of the game. What they do—the religious people, whether it’s East or West—they kind of have this dichotomy between the spiritual world, which is what we should concentrate on and, as you put it, the secular world. And you talked about secular in a secular way. But that has no better history than any other country. But this isn’t the image that’s given. And they play this funny little game where they say, “Okay, this is what matters in the spiritual world.” Our social world—where we spend most of our time, where political decisions are made every day that affect our lives for life or death—that’s not important. And yet, the argument on the other hand that we need to be free… so it is important. By their own actions to try to free their people, the secular world is important and we shouldn’t be hypnotized by this cognitive dissonance that they’ve got us to accept. We see—
Well, you keep saying that they’ve gotten us to accept it, but—
The religious people. And what I mean is: they say, “Well, this is what’s important: the spiritual world.” And yet, according to their own teachings, sometimes their society is just the opposite, you know? [???]
Well, this is why you don’t want to buy a pig in a poke. I mean, I’ve always wondered: how can people go to India and be charmed? You know? By incredible brutality, poverty, cupidity… I mean, if this is a spiritual society, good grief!
Yeah. And most people just sort of accept this cognitive dissonance. We’ve got this rap, and it should be like this, but you look at the proof in the pudding, it may be the exact opposite. And we just kind of say, “Well, that’s okay.” I think, in the future, we have to hold—especially those who are above us, and they claim a higher power—because they claim that higher power or a higher ground, we have to be extra critical, even of our own. [???]
Well, I agree with you, but I think it’s happening. I mean, I think this is a tough… you know, if you’re a guru these days, you’re almost condemned to spending a life with foolish people. I think that the stalk of all that has gone way down. Yeah. The thing to get people to realize is that it’s fun to be a grown-up. It’s fun to pay your own bills, and row your own boat, and have the only key to the apartment. And I’m talking to women, I’m talking to men. We all have been infantilized into thinking we have to cut deals that we don’t want to make. The marriage, the corporation, the union, the party—whatever it is. And people sell themselves terribly short. And I don’t know whether this has always gone on, or whether it’s always gone on a little but is now getting worse, but it is a wonderful thing to take charge of your life. Your finances, your spiritual destiny, your sexuality, your artistic vision—everything! We should not cut deals.
One of the things I learned at Berkeley as a radical, that I’ve never been able to export very far in all the talking and speaking I’ve done, is: people have become entirely too polite. You know? At Berkeley in the old days, we used to always—at the tip of our tongue, day and night—was the word “bullshit.” And you were to scream it at the least hint of such material coming near you. And you were to—it didn’t matter. Cafeteria, restaurant, classroom: when bullshit raised its head you were to take aim and fire instantly.
Well, now you can’t do that. You’ve got this politically correct civility rap. And everybody’s “Well, we have to be nice.” Well, I think someone said when you’re in an argument with a bully, it’s not about being civil, it’s about getting your truth across.
Well, this is—it’s worse than the enforced civility, which is (I think) just the surface of it. It’s what I’ve come to identify as a great evil in the world thanks to my 19-year-old son, who has brought me to this viewpoint. It’s relativism. Relativism is bullshit. And what is relativism? Relativism is the idea that you really shouldn’t criticize other people’s ideas because all ideas are sort of on an equal footing. So, you know, I follow molecular biology, you follow Babaji, somebody else is a Kabbalist, somebody else worships their broker, and you’re supposed to not criticize.
And it doesn’t make any difference, because everything’s reduced to, well, you like the Dodgers, I like the 49ers, or something like that. You like vanilla ice cream, I like chocolate. And it’s no [???] for them. You’re a Nazi and I’m a Democrat, but that shouldn’t keep us from [???] you know? It’s just that you happen to like to exterminate large numbers of people. You just have this minor problem.
Well, this is because people don’t know how to make distinctions and what the rules of evidence are. What it really is, is it’s a breakdown of the ability to conduct rational argument. Because, you know—in, like, for instance, in the middle ages in central Asia they would meet at Kashka and places like that. A Jew, a Manakian, a Christian, an historian, a Buddhist, and a Jane. And they would hold vast public debates for days, attended by hundreds of people. Shouting crowds rooting for various factions. And these doctrinal things would be thrashed out according to rules which, apparently, everyone respected and understood. And when you were defeated you knew it. And when you were exalted you knew it. In the fuzzy, friendly world of political correctness, you know—and I do it myself, because you can’t always be a warrior. And at some times, you know, late in the day, somebody will say something to me, and I just say, “Yeeeaah, hmmm, aaaah…”—face on Mars or whatever it is—and I just don’t have the strength to lash out anymore.
But I think that you’re very right, Barry. Part of the antidote to informational overwhelmement, to social islanding, to trivialization, is rational discourse conducted—if necessary—at high volume. People are so concerned that nobody feel hurt or rejected or, you know—well, in intellectual discourse you don’t want people to feel hurt, you want them to feel destroyed if their position merits that! We’re all grown-ups. We don’t have to coddle each other for crying out loud! Send the inner child down to the baths and sharpen your rhetorical knives and logical razors, and do that kid a favor. Make sense out of your life and reality. There’s sense to be made. And it’s very grown-up, and very exalting, and it doesn’t have to exclude all the other fun and games of life. But it certainly gives cogency and meaning to the enterprise not only of trying to live, and not only of trying to be a decent person for one’s loved ones and children, but to build a better world. A better world, if it comes, will be built on clear thinking. It will be built on honesty. It will be built on direct, clear communication. I mean, these are the things that constitute visionary common sense, and it’s because the world is topsy-turvy that I—considered, you know, a drug-crazed pariah—have to then become the apostle of order, dignity, adult behavior, responsibility, and the obligation to make sense.
Anyway, that’s the end of our weekend. Thank you very much.