The Primacy of Direct Experience

June 1994

In this, the closing session of a June 1994 workshop, Terence McKenna tells us directly what he thinks this human life is actually about: the primacy of direct experience; a focus on the present-at-hand.



As old bush pilots say, we’re turning final here. The thing last night—as I’ve said at the beginning, but it may have been lost in the shuffle—is a kind of indulgence to me because it’s a completely original idea. And like all original ideas, it runs a strong risk of being just simply wrong. But because what it seeks to do is so grandiose and because it seems to do it to some degree—and then that, of course, falls upon the eye of the beholder to assess—it seems worth communicating as an example. If you don’t choose to believe it or take it to your heart, then, as an example, what it can function for you as is a picture of the sorts of ideas that are out there; the kinds of insights that we can draw out. And people—always in these things, we discuss what could be done? What should be done? What can we do other than what we’re doing to make that kind of a world come to be, or come closer to be?


My notion is simply art. As I think I told you at some point, the idea is not to confront bad ideas but to come up with good ideas. Otherwise, your enemies define the game and you are the loyal opposition. And, you know—how many years have we been the loyal opposition? And hasn’t it been an unsatisfying experience? So I think every single one of us has immense inner resources and the psychedelics confirm that. And by “inner resources” I mean of intelligence and information and beauty. I think we would be happier people and this would be a better world if we spent more time bringing that out rather than opposing somebody else’s vision of what is happening.


The I Ching says at one point, “if evil is directly confronted and named, it perfects weapons to defend itself.” It says in any direct confrontation with evil, you show it, you reflect too much of it back upon itself, and it learns to defend itself. And the strategy, then, is one of stealth, I think.


Beginning at least with—oh I don’t know, it’s just an art historical game—but let’s say the pre-Raphaelites. There have been these waves of aesthetic and social descent. I mentioned the ’Pataphysics movement in France in the 1890s. Dada, Surrealism, and the abstract-expressionists, and the Beats, and the Hippies, and the Punks—I mean, these different tones, different adumbrations, but always the same message, which is that satisfaction and completion can’t be found within the official culture. And, you know, I came up into that. I was born and raised in an incredibly conventional situation by very loving parents in a pleasant environment, and I just couldn’t wait to break their hearts, and get away to sin, and the big cities, and all of that.


So the important message to take out of all of this, I think—for people in your position who may or may not wish to grapple with abstract mathematical models of time, or trade with naked aboriginals in steaming jungles—what can you take into your own life? It seems to me what the whole thing, the tension between these bohemian counter-cultural critiques and bourgeois society is about, is what I call the primacy of direct experience. You know? If you are inside a Christian world, or a capitalist world, or a Jewish world, or a Republican world, or a Democratic world—these are worlds of ideas. These are ideas. We can live by ideas, but we can’t live by ideas alone. It creates megalomania. It creates unbalance. It creates a grotesque parody of what life is supposed to be about. And what life—I think—is supposed to be about is the reclamation of the primacy of direct experience. That means sex, and psychedelics, and dancing, and conversation, and good eating, and lots of exercise, and travel, and attention to what Wittgenstein called the “present at hand.” The present at hand. Meaning: what you can reach is what’s real. And everything else becomes progressively more hypothetical, more abstract. Anticipating Wittgenstein, talking about our reach, William Blake said, “attend the minute particulars.” This was his advice for life. Attend the minute particulars. Well, that’s good eighteenth-century prose for: “pay attention to the details.” Keep your eye on the ball.


The nexus of mystery and of being and the theater of our drama of redemption is the body. The body! And we have been thoroughly weirded out on the subject of the body because we have been the inheritors of a very complex, head-oriented, abstraction-devoted social system; cultural theory. But we see the consequences of not-feeling all around us. The toxification of the Earth, the toleration of overpopulation—and the institutions that promote it—is all achieved through a deadening of feeling. If we could feel what we are doing—to the Earth, to the elderly, to the young, to racial and social minorities—if we could feel the agony of what we do, we would stop doing it. But we have what we call “reasons” for why it is the way it is. Arguments, theories, blame—you know? It’s somebody else’s fault, or the poor are always with us, or something else. These are all evasions of the obligation to create a community based on love and tolerance. Hardly a radical notion, and yet incredibly difficult to bring into existence. And, you know, perhaps the world will transform itself in 2012 and we need to have no further concern about all these things. But perhaps not.


We need to live our lives in the light of the assumption of an open future, not an absolutely free future but not a determined future. An open future in which acts of human authentication—acts of human authenticity—push forward the universal project of the conservation of novelty.


You know, Martin Heidegger, the German metaphysician, the way he got it together was: he said what life is for is what he called “care for the project of being.” Care for the project of being! This is what we are called to. Again, Heidegger’s phrase. We are called to care for the project of being. And that means an appreciation of the minute particulars, an appreciation and a recognition of difference, an appreciation and a recognition of our position in the cosmos—which is both insignificant and paradoxically grandiose at the same time. You know, Pascal said, “Man is a reed bent by the wind. But he is a thinking reed.” And that’s the paradox of our being: our fragileness in nature. And yet, the supernatural grandiosity that we sense in the hallways of our souls.


And shamanism is not religion, really. At its fundamental level it’s the science of direct experience. Other forms of science may deal with the states of the quanta, or the orbits of the Pleiades. But shamanism is the science of direct experience, and its laboratory is the human body and the human nexus in space and time. You’re given (on average) sixty, seventy years, and (on average) 145 pounds of meat. This is what you’re dealt: the meat and the time. And then it’s up to you to sort this out and make of it what you will. And the entropic path—the downward path into blame, unhappiness, self-blocking, so forth and so on—that’s always there. You know? You can release yourself into the river of consequences and take no responsibility for who you are. But the higher-stakes game—the more interesting game—is to see the whole thing as an opportunity.


Heidegger—I’m amazed I’m quoting Heidegger so much this morning! Heidegger, again: he said the body is not a thing, nor is it a process. Which is surprising because that’s considered an advanced view; that it is a process. He said it is not a thing, nor is it a process. It is a window of opportunity which opens into eternity. It’s a window of opportunity. But opportunity implies the non-exercise of itself. An opportunity is something that you must seize. It doesn’t press itself upon you. It doesn’t force itself upon you. It merely is there if you want to use it.


My approach to life and the whole megillah is that it’s like a puzzle. It’s a mystery. It is a kōan. And salvation occurs simultaneously through an act of love (that’s not news, but here’s news), simultaneously through an act of love and an act of rational apprehension. Understanding! Love without understanding is not the full story. Real love requires understanding. Rational apprehension is a kind of penetration of the beloved—person, nation, ecosystem, whatever the beloved is. Understanding is the higher dispensation.


These psychedelics—which, you know, in the sixties and fifties were simply called “consciousness-expanding” drugs; a good old phenomenological description—if there’s an iota of possibility that they expand consciousness, then we must put our attention on this area. Because it is the absence of consciousness that is making our situation so very uncomfortable. People going for the fast buck, people elbowing their neighbor and their neighbor’s concerns out of the way; trampling over each other. Low-consciousness activity is the problem. And as concerned people, as intelligent people, as people of wealth and leisure—and, you know, you may think you’re scraping bottom, but the lowest among us here is still in the upper five percent of the elites of this planet because you just don’t get here any other way. So upon us devolves a certain responsibility, not only for ourselves but—you know, the average human being on this planet is a 23-year-old black woman with two children. A certain responsibility of that concrescence of the human experience.


The thing I just want to leave you with is that, though this has been very heady and egg-heady—which is how I am—we have talked ideas, but we have not laid down a method, or a dogma, or a program. There’s nothing to sign up for. There’s no higher level of initiation if you give me $1,500 dollars, or anything like that. What we have been celebrating here is an experience. We haven’t had the experience, we’ve just talked about it, and analyzed it, and anticipated it. But it is there to be had, out there in nature, with nothing between you and it. To steal from Van Morrison, “No guru, no method, no teacher. Just you and me and mother nature, in the garden, in the garden, wet with rain.”


And you may choose to hear this message—and then life will continue for you as it has with the tools you have in your toolkit—or you can choose to go out there and meet it. But it’s not an easy path because it’s the real path. And the fear is real, and the risk is real, and the reward is real. It’s beyond hype, which is for us almost unimaginable, because everything comes clothed in flamboyant self-anticipation. And it’s, in a sense, a secret. And yet, paradoxically, a secret which can be freely told of, as we’ve told of it here. But the human mind has an incredible capacity to turn away from challenge, opportunity, risk. So what I want to remind you [of] is that we only circled around the mystery. We used our intellectual flashlights, we saw glimpses of it. But the real meat of this path is alone in silent darkness on five grams, or something, or something.


Plotinus—the great neoplatonist philosopher of the Byzantine empire and a great mystic—spoke of the mystical apotheosis as the flight of the alone to the alone. And I’ve always thought that was an excellent program for how to meet the psychedelic experience. It is a mystery. It is not an unsolved problem. It’s a true mystery. And we are not accustomed to this. I’ve searched the world for mysteries and I’ve found illusions, fraud, misunderstanding, obfuscation, impenetrable complexity, but never true mystery except in this one tiny, tiny area of the chemical and biological world. And there, for—I guess because, you know, in the greater plan, everything must exist. And so, therefore, must magic. But the doorway to it, the doorway into that world, is a very confined spot in the vast data field of this world. And you could miss it, although I’m doing my best to make sure that that doesn’t happen.


Where spiritual advancement is discussed, I want psychedelics to be discussed. Where transformative social visions are put forth, I want psychedelics to be part of the agenda. To me, the only thing you can compare it to is sexuality, on one level. But it’s different from sexuality because sexuality is written into the bones. Very few people can go from birth to the grave and escape it in some form; some confrontation. I mean, even the celibate monk—basically his life is a confrontation with sexuality in that form.


The psychedelic experience is very different. You can go from birth to the grave and never even hear of it. And millions and millions of people have. But they were—and I don’t say this in a blaming sense; it’s a tragedy—they were infantilized by their circumstances in time and space. They never experienced that dimension of freedom. It’s like having an automobile, and you drive it around and it seems to work fine, but there’s this button on the dashboard and you never investigate to find out what it does; what it is. And there is in us this switch which can only be thrown by forming—well, until the era of modern science, very recently—could only be thrown by forming a relationship with a plant with an entirely different order of being. And when that switch is thrown, this entire other dimension of humanness is revealed.


You can tell—even if you’ve never been there—from the excited testimony, hysterical denunciations, and passionate defenses that it is an area charged with meaning for the human experience. So I hope that this get-together inspires you to go further and go deeper. I think that there’s no other game in town. Doing art without this in your experience is essentially like trying to do art without good light. Trying to live a life without the illumination of this experience is a far more difficult thing, because what do you have to guide you? The secular faiths, the religious faiths, and the obvious confusion that both have spread in their wake. Sexuality is a path to a kind of authenticity, but it has to be negotiated with another human being in a very careful and subtle dance of energy. This is not like that. This is something where you—there is a subtle dance of energy but it’s not with another human being. It’s with—and then you can either think of it as a mushroom, or god, or the universe itself, or Gaia. It will take all those projections with equal ease.


So somehow, each of you from different pasts and with different futures have come through this place where we were all cotangent for four days. And if you are not a psychedelic person and you—through the fact of having been here—become one, then you will look back on this weekend as a primary turning point in your process of simply growing and growing up. And if that happens to you, that is the satisfaction of my work. As I say, I don’t think of myself as a guru. I think of myself as a doorman. And I’m very happy to see people pass into the four-star experience that lies through the fogged and etched glass. And that’s really all I have to say. I’ll entertain loose-end questions, or if anybody wants to say anything, or whatever needs to be done. Now we can do it. But thank you very, very much, and I look forward to seeing you all downstream, some sooner, some later, eventually at the general judgment. Whether it occurs in 2012 or on some more extended scale, we will all stand in the same place.



I had asked you once to give me your definition of the soul. I’ve heard many people try to define it and I’d just like to hear your definition.



Yeah, well, it’s a complicated thing. It has a long history. Because the idea of spirit is in there, and so is the idea of intellect. And these spirit, soul, intellect—various philosophies have moved them around. I think of the soul as a kind of, hmm…. Well, you know how I think we can assume that we all have a pancreas? But probably no one here has ever seen their pancreas. Well, that’s because it’s in a dimension that’s rarely revealed, i.e., within the confines of the tissue of your body. I think of the soul as a hyper-dimensional organ. It’s an organ that you can’t see, like the pancreas. But if you open up the body you will see the pancreas. You won’t see the soul. But if you were to rise up into a higher mathematical dimension, a human being would look like a worm because the worm would extend from birth to death. All the intermediate states would be there. The entire lifetime would be perceived in a single moment. And that’s how I think of the soul. The soul is not who you are now. The soul is who you are, and will be, and have been. So it’s your self extended in time.


Plato said time is the moving image of eternity. And what we were doing last night, in a way, was looking at snapshots of that moving image. I think that, at death—if the soul survives—then, in a sense, what happens is you flow back through your entire life and it exists all at once in a single moment. That’s the paradox of hyperspace: that what is serially presented in Newtonian space is holistically apprehended in hyperspace.


And similarly, there is a group soul; a group mind. And all the same processes apply. In a way, the transcendental object at the end of time is history. I think I said—at least I think—that history is like a psychedelic experience. And we are building towards the apotheosis. The place where language fails, where the ego dissolves. You can no longer make sense of it. It’s been getting weirder and weirder, and finally the speed at which the weirdness is accumulating just avalanches over you, and you can no longer make sense of it.


An idea which I didn’t talk about very much in this workshop, but that’s dear to my heart, is the idea of the Philosopher’s Stone. In the sixteenth century in Europe, before the rise of modern science and chemical theory, the ontological distinction between “world” and “self” was not as strongly defined as it is in modern people. And consequently, people working with substances entered into a kind of participation mystique in which the contents of the unconscious were actually projected onto matter. Carl Jung made much of this because he realized that these alchemical texts, which are so cryptic and bizarre, could be treated like dreams because they were downloads of unconscious material.


But I think that the alchemists were, in a sense, on the right track; in that what is being sought in the concrescence, what the essence of the thing at the end of the world is. It’s a union of spirit and matter is what it is. And it’s union of spirit and matter that occurs in such a way that each retains the characteristics that it brought into the union. In alchemical terms this is called a coincidentia oppositorum. In modern terms: “it’s not allowed.” It’s a logical contradiction. But I think that the essence of understanding the world is to be able to hold a logical contradiction in your mind and not force things to be either/or. And the Philosopher’s Stone is the idea that you could have a kind of matter—think of it as a small pebble—which is yet somehow made of mind, and hence is an object freely commendable in the imagination. And they sought this. They tried to make this. This was a technological agenda from 1540 up until the Thirty Years’ War.


The universal panacea—you know, the pan supersubstantialis—all these terms for this lapis, this stone. And what it is, it’s a place in space and time where anything can happen. Anything can happen! So imagine that what we are involved in, collectively and each of us, is an effort to give birth to the soul. To somehow cause the soul to come into existence. One way of thinking about this—I think I said this earlier, but it probably means more now—is that the historical enterprise is an effort to turn the human body inside out so that the soul becomes visible and the body becomes a process that you can command in the imagination. Do you understand what that would look like?


So, then, here’s the comic book version of what I’m talking about. Here we have the Philosopher’s Stone. I have just—by a crypto-biological process—regurgitated it into my hand, and here it is. Okay. So it’s my soul objectified outside my body. It’s a holographic matrix of space and time. When you look into it, you can see stars in there. And if you need to go somewhere, you stretch it out and sit on it, and it carries you there. And if you’re hungry, you eat it. And if you need a shower it becomes a levitating shower head above your head from which warm water pours. And if you need to know something, you ask it. And if you need to wear something, it becomes it. What it is, is it’s a union of matter and your imagination. You say, “well, such a thing could only happen in a dream.” Well, quite right. I think we may be headed into a dream. Either the after-death dream, or the nano-cyber-technological dream, or the pharmaco-shamanic dream. We are headed into some kind of a dream. We are going to live in the imagination, and the imagination is the domain of the soul. I mean, I’m not kidding! We are going to live in the imagination. It will cease to be metaphor. It will become real estate. That’s how real the imagination is going to be. And it may be virtual reality, pharmacological reality, after-death reality, nano-tech reality—we’ll find a way. We will find a way.


Because I think that this union of spirit and matter is an agenda in the human program that runs very, very deep. This is why we spoke for the first time. Language is a union of spirit and matter. The spirit of the thinking mind and the very ephemeral matter of the air, which can carry an acoustical signal. The word is on its way to becoming flesh. Wasn’t that the promise? And similarly, the flesh is on it’s way to becoming word. That’s what all that raving is all about. The language is a partial condensation of the Philosopher’s Stone. So is a 747. It will carry you places.


All technology is the effort to create, ultimately, the ultimate tool. The ultimate tool! And what can the ultimate tool do, and what is the ultimate tool for? The ultimate tool can do anything. Obviously that’s what the ultimate tool is. Well now, it’s very interesting that we have arrived—in the last forty years or so—into the realm of the cybernetic machine, because it has a different ὄντος than previous tools. I don’t know how much you know about computers, but think of a computer—all a computer is (even the most sophisticated of computers), is an enormous set of switches. So here you have a machine with fifty million switches. Set the switches one way and it will predict the weather. Set the switches another way and it will give you a helluva chess game. Set the switches another way and it will balance your checkbook. The computer begins to look like the crudest approximation of the union of spirit and matter. And look at it! There it is: gallium-arsenide, silicon, gold, platinum. But what is flowing through it? Electrons. But these electrons flow according to the architectonic plans of thought. It’s thought that flows in the computer. Not its thought—our thought. We tell it what to think and it thinks it. And as the computer shrinks, and as the data storage increases, more and more spirit is being stored in less and less matter.


We talked about virtual reality, we talked about implants that could create dream states—or maybe we didn’t, but it was on my mind—all of these things. And so I think, you know, that through technology we are taking our oldest intuitions—call it the intuition of the dream time—and creating it so that it is real. And the alchemical union, which was abandoned by early modern science, actually will reemerge as a reasonable scientific endeavor once the new sciences of information theory, and chaos theory, and complexity theory, and so forth and so on are put in place. We are in a position to create the Philosopher’s Stone. And, you know, it will not only carry you through space, it will carry you through time. I think that’s what’s going on at 2012. That technology, which appears to be just a secular concern of capitalism and scientific R&D, is in fact a sacred calling, and that the purpose of it is to mirror the mind of human beings through the perfection of the tool.


And the perfect tool—when it arrives—will end the historical process, which was the tool-making process. And it will end it by virtue of the fact that, among other features, the Philosopher’s Stone allows you to move through time. That’s why that graph comes down to that place in 2012 and then can’t be propagated any further. Because it’s a picture of a serial linear society unfolding, and at that point, the serial linear society becomes an anachronism.



You were raised Catholic and, at the end, there’s always the sheep and the goats. [???] Do you see—



What do you mean, who eats it? Well, I have two impulses here. One is to say nobody eats it. That it’s just a bad fairy tale. And a lot of people—this is something that sometimes brings people clawing there way out of their seats to get at me—but it goes back to what I said earlier. I think redemption is an act of intellectual apprehension. I had a professor when I went to college, Joe Tussman, and what he claimed was that intelligence is something that you can teach. That we have been entirely mislead to think of intelligence as something innate that you’re born with. He was a teacher and he seemed to make good on his premise. So if evil exists—and I’m not sure it does—it is ignorance, which is a Hindu position. Avidyā. Avidyā: obscuring of vidyā; Ignorance.


So I think that there is an obligation to understand. To understand. I’m not putting aside the obligation to love and to feel. But those obligations seem to have their defenders everywhere. But there is an obligation to understand. Ignorance is ignorance. It’s not a good thing. There’s no way it’s good to not know something. And, you know—one of the things that I come up against and we had humorous brush with it last night— is that this thing that I talked about, the Time Wave, requires a knowledge of history, a slight knowledge. Nobody has it. Nobody has it. I go to Germany and I lecture this stuff. And when I first started going to Europe to teach this stuff, I thought oh this will really be fun. These Europeans, it’s a better educational system, they’ll know whats up. They don’t know what up. I talk about Otto the Great, they can’t place him within 500 years. Generally, the audience, occasionally someone can. Amnesia is a pathology in the individual. If you have an individual that can’t account for where they were in 1990, then you need to look into it. What was it? A blow on the head? A long drop? What happened to you? And yet, in ourselves, we accept this weird history-less thing. It’s going to bite us in the ass.


It’s a cliché to say those who don’t learn from history are bound to repeat it. That’s all very fine if you’re running around throwing spears and pulling catapults around. But if you have atom bombs, you can’t be so stupid. So one of the things that occurs to me is: we human beings come equipped with something called the unconscious mind, discovered by Freud and Jung in Vienna, for us, but apparent throughout history. The unconscious mind. And part of this technological and historical crisis that we’re in has to do with the fact that we can no longer afford this luxury. This is fine if you’re chipping flint or running around howling at the moon. Then you can have an unconscious mind. But a global civilization cannot have an irrational and out-of-control component driving its social systems and social decisions.


So part of what we all have to do is get smarter. And psychedelics (consciousness-expanding drugs) expand consciousness, and so do these technologies. And I think I said to you—the little joke about how a computer is simply a drug that you can’t swallow. In the future that won’t be true. The computers of the future will be the size of double-locked capsules or smaller. They probably will be taken internally, and just insert themselves in your tissue, and grow gold fibers into your brain-systems and interact with you. Well, now, are we talking about a drug or a machine? The answer is that biology is very machine-like at the micro-physical level. The genes are being read, the ribosomes are connecting the proteins together. The whole thing looks rather like a factory of moving mechanical parts.


But the databases that are being created and the protocols for moving through them are permission to a new level of intelligence. The Internet I find truly awesome. I mean, when you get in there, I start out from my home in occidental. Then I ask a question which requires the Internet to access the main computer at Shibuya University in southern Tokyo. We’re there! If I’m not paying attention, I don’t even realize that we are now talking to the university computer there. But then we need a certain image of a certain painting. Well, it turns out, it’s online at a database at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. We’re there! And in a session, you know, you may move around the world ten times. I have an automatic system on my computer at home that goes on in the middle of the night and has a series of key words programmed into it; things I’m interested in. And in the quiet hours of the night my computer moves from one university data system to another, looking for files and downloading them into my system so that, when I get up in the morning, I have these files on screen.


I mean, I’m interested in a dying cult in Iran. A religion that’s existed for a very long time, but is now down to a few hundred people. Well, there’s a scholar in Leipzig who is interested in this. There’s some people at the UN. We carry on a little interest group. And there are even real Mandaeans in our interest group: actual members of this dying religion. It’s a special concern of mine and I’m fairly confident I’m connected up to 90 percent of the people in the world who care about this, because so few do care. So you build these interest groups. You can expand your eccentricity. It’s a tremendous permission for eccentricity—and community, because you find the other eccentrics who are into the same weird subset of knowledge that you are.


And then the other thing is: general knowledge is much more accessible and available. You know, schools have not changed, essentially, in two hundred years. And yet, education is the thing which allows us to be democratic societies and to control our industrial policies and make informed decisions. Think of the change that has occurred in society in those two hundred years, and people are still going to the little red schoolhouse and sitting at their desks. I mean, yes, we have play group and indirect lighting, but hardly the revolution that we’re looking for. Anything else? I’m just rambling here.



In terms of language in this Internet. Is it whoever speaks English?



Basically. I mean, that’s basically it. But I think that’s necessary. And English is clearly, at this point, for historical reasons, the richest language in the world because it has so many technical subsets and geographical subsets. I mean, England alone—you move through linguistic zones and you can’t understand what people are saying, and neither can the Londoners with you, for that matter. And then you go to India where English is spoken widely, and that’s a whole experience. A one-world language seems to me a fairly conservative but necessary thing to put on the agenda.



What sort of breakthrough do you think we can make with virtual reality in education?



In education? Well, for instance, an application for virtual reality that’s very big right now is—archaeologists have gotten onto this and love it because you can… let’s imagine a city like Dzibilchaltun. It was continuously inhabited for 1,500 years, so you just feed in the plans for every fifty-year increment, and then you can walk the streets of this city and look at astronomical arrangements, see how, at the close of baktun eight, they apparently destroyed a fortification and moved it a hundred feet further west. So at the University of Pennsylvania and the places that the Maya thing is being pushed hard, they’re building up, basically, a virtual database of the Mayan civilization. This sounds to me much more exciting than reading about Tikal, or poring over maps, or even slides and film. You know? To be able to walk through imperial Tikal on a festival day at the close of baktun nine and see the reconstructed friezes and everything—they’re not doing that for education or entertainment. They’re doing it as an adjunct to the discipline of archeology. But it obviously will later be sold into the “education/entertainment” market, you know?


So that’s one use. To me the exciting thing about virtual reality is that we will be able to show each other our dreams. It’s another way of objectifying the soul; what we’ve been talking about, you know? A child of five, given a virtual reality toolkit, will begin to build their world and by the time you’re twenty, your world will be—I dunno—the size of Manhattan. And that’s you. That’s yours. Nobody can walk those streets without your permission. If you love someone and you give them permission, they can literally walk into your dreams. Your dreams when you were five, when you were ten, when you were fifteen. Your fascist phase, your Mozart phase, your, you know, whatever!


That is that four-dimensional centipede of the soul that I’m talking about. It’s not it itself but its an imprint of it, a download of it. We will build our dreams, and then live in them and share them. Imagine! Suppose you want to build a building, and suppose you want it to be ten stories high, and suppose in the design process you decide that actually it would better if it was a hundred stories high. Imagine what this does to the budget of that building. In virtual reality, one zero is what it takes to make to make the ten story building a hundred story building. Where it says “number of stories” you add one zero and suddenly it’s now a hundred stories high. No muss, no fuss, no zoning commission problems, no material delivery problems. Because it’s made of light. It’s made of mind.


A very interesting exercise to do in your own mind is to sit down somewhere under a tree and imagine that you could live in any fashion you wanted, in any environment you wanted. In other words, design your own flying saucer, let’s say. Well, at first—you know, if you’re like me—at first it’s just very nice. It’s Italian egg modern or something, and we’ll hang my favorite Pollack over here. In other words, at first it’s just as if I had won the lottery and like I’m suddenly staggeringly rich. But then you say, “Well, but wait! I can do anything. I don’t have to have a Pollack, I could have Pollack!” I don’t have to—if I want a ceiling 700 feet high, done! 7,000 feet high, done! You realize, “Oh my god, I’m in the imagination.” I can have it any way I want. And it’s a dizzying prospect. It’s very interesting. Would you have a body? What kind of body would it be? How would you spend your days? Would you build the world’s greatest art collection? Or, you know, you could become a bumblebee. You could do anything! And it’s such a dizzying thing when it begins to open up in front of you. And then finally you realize that, with that kind of power, if you had that kind of power, there is an automatic desire, I think, to begin to pull it in and say, “Well, I think I’ll not wear clothes. I think I’ll live in nature. I think I’ll…”—in other words, the stuff-obsession falls away when you can have anything.


And you begin to find your way back to some kind of bedrock. I think I’ve told you—or I’ve told some of my groups—my vision of a kind of perfect future (beyond 2012, let’s say) is a world where everyone is living as Amazon rainforest Indians live, or close to that level. In other words: naked, very little work to do, plenty of food, everybody is sexually comfortable with themselves and everybody else, so forth and so on. What it looks like is an aboriginal paradise of some kind. But if you displace yourself from the point of the view of an exterior observer and step into the body of one of these people in this world, you discover that, when you close your eyes, there are menus hanging in space. And by looking—the equivalent of pointing and clicking—you move into a cultural architecture of some sort that is completely virtual and that’s where people spend a lot of their time.


This could be done. I mean, this will be done! We do it already, except that the interface, as they say, is very clumsy. You know, you have to sit in an orthopedic chair and stare at a flickering phosphine screen. But these are all just technical details to be worked out. So I think this idea of a neo-archaism, an archaic revival, will end with an aboriginal exterior in dynamic balance with a reconstituted Earth. But that the interior horizon of transcendence will be a virtual cultural landscape that will be wilder than Blade Runner, more dynamic than Dune, more anything than anything that you can imagine. And we will be living, then, in the imagination and yet celebrating the body in three-dimensional space. History will be over then. We will understand what it means to have history be over because we will be living the way people lived before the first furrow was plowed.



You said earlier that part of, I guess, the mystical quest is love. Then you said you wanted to emphasize [???] understanding. I’m having a lot of trouble incorporating that love in this reality-imagination. I see myself: if I can have anything I want, the first thing that kicks in is greed. And then maybe what happens is I let go of it and I won’t need things any more, like you said. But I still can’t incorporate and imagine this whole thing, where whatever love is would fit in.



Well, love is not a dimensioned constant, as they say. In other words, I think the love you carry in. I think we’re pretty well wired for love, or we wouldn’t have gotten this far. I mean, it’s been hell for the last five million years. There’s been a lot of upheaval. You know? A lot of burying of miscarriages and small infants near the caved front, and that sort of thing. Love springs from biology. And we are fully biologically empowered beings. The love that springs from understanding is the intimacy that comes from penetration of another point of view. I mean, the vocabulary is necessarily sexual, but I think of love as a solvent. It really penetrates any situation. It just washes through and touches all levels of a situation. It may be the unique complement that we bring to this mix. You know, I mean, our machines may think faster, image better, so forth and so on, but love seems to actually be the thumb print of divinity upon on biology because it doesn’t seem necessary. Even sexuality is not particularly necessary in its intensely emotionally realized form. There are fish where the female lays the eggs, and an hour later the male swims over them and ejaculates. Well, what kind of community is based on this kind of intimacy? It may not even enter these fishes’ minds that there is a relationship. In other words, the female lays eggs, the male ejaculates. No member of that species may have ever put together the fact that these things somehow have a causal relationship. Yeah?



Quick question about the unconscious. Now that we can no longer afford it—and I can see why with the reference to atom bombs—what do you think it was for, originally?



I think that we’re going to need a lot of energy. I think that we’re going to need to be able to undertake very dramatic engineering works. The other thing is, you know, you can look at it this way: that knowledge is power. And, you know, when you’re talking about nuclear chemistry, knowledge really is power. So, in a way, it’s a test. You uncover these hideous sources of power and it injects a new immediacy into the moral dimension of your existence. I find it extraordinary that atom bombs were used only in one case—the Hiroshima/Nagasaki case—against human beings by human beings. You’ve got your Rwanda, and Bosnia, and even Auschwitz, but nevertheless, crazy as we may be, nobody ever got that pissed off.


We’ve had them now for fifty years, these devices. Able to be delivered within thirty minutes anywhere on the planet, and there have been some mighty dicey hassles come and go in that fifty years. But nobody ever went for broke, you know? And I think it means that there is a measure of sanity at some level. I mean, It’s too bad that you have to have the fate of the planet in the balance for people to exercise a little statesmanship, but that seemed to be the case.

Anything else? My god, maybe we’ve got it wrapped up!

Terence McKenna

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