So you know that this is only the second time that we have been trialoguing in public, but for many years we are trialoguing in private. And our plan here is to try to maintain our private process in public. So whereas we are interested in your feedback eventually, what we would like to begin with is to have the space to proceed as we do in private—to the degree that we can. And at the same time, of course, we can’t help but be conscious of the fact that you’re here, and we’ve tuned. So I would ask you, if you think of questions while we’re talking, to note them down. Because we are interested to hear them eventually, and to respond if we can, as time permits later. But for an hour or so we’d like the space to perform like television to a passive audience, in spite of the fact that we are always complaining about this passive addiction. And that’s one of our so-called rules.
We have some other ones that we’ve—some other rules that we have evolved; rules or methods of inducing an altered state, a joint state: the trialogue mode. And this consists—the main step is kind of an induction. And so usually we have an induction process in which one person makes the call to the trialogue mode. And in spite of what Terence said, I’m not going to do a dog and pony show, but I’m going to take my turn this morning at the induction, which usually takes fifteen or twenty minutes.
Having given these rules, I’m now going to break them. Because you are here, we felt the need for a slightly longer induction. And what I’m going to do is to try to set the stage not only for this morning’s trialogue, but for the whole day. So I’m going to—there’s three steps, then—I’m going to tell a personal story, then I’m going to show a video the last ten minutes, and then I’m going to do the induction for this morning’s trialogue, which will necessarily have to be really compressed. So we have developed some methods for the rapid induction of the trialogue state, and I’m going to experiment with another shortcut to the induction process this morning—which, of course, if I risk this, might fail.
So the first story took place a year ago, and Terence and Rupert were involved in a part of this story. I was sitting in my office with my secretary Nina about a year and a half ago. There was a knock on the door. She said, “Well, this is a friend of a friend of mine who wants to interview you.” But I was very busy with the telephone and the correspondence and stuff, so he came and sat and I answered his questions without thinking. Later on, a month or so passed, a photographer arrived, and I began to realize that I’d done something significant. I’d given an interview for GQ Magazine. I called my children, who know about such things, and asked them what was GQ Magazine. And they knew what it was, and follow and read it to some extent. They live in Hollywood.
I was in Italy when the magazine finally arrived on the stands. And of course I had notified my children, my mother, and everybody, and I was very proud in spite of my style of grass that I had been the first one in our circle to actually be photographed for GQ. But I was shocked in Firenze to open the first page of the magazine and to see my picture occupying a large part of the first page, the table of contents page, where the heading says: Abraham Sells Drugs to Mathematicians. And there were some other insulting things in the interview—that, as far as I can remember, was largely fiction—that occurred later on in the magazine. So I didn’t mention it to anybody. I came back to California, and I was very pleased that nobody mentioned it. Nobody had noticed. There were one or two phone calls, and I realized that nobody, after all, does read GQ. And if they do look at the pictures, they somehow overlooked mine. So I squeaked by and I was safe after all this dangerous pass being outed by GQ.
Suddenly, my peace was disturbed once again by a hundred phone calls in a single day, asking: what did I think of the article about me in the San Francisco Examiner, or the San Jose Mercury, and so on? After all, the embers in the fire left by GQ had flamed up again in the pen of a journalist, a woman who writes a computer column for the San Francisco Examiner had received in her mailbox a copy of this article in GQ, in which Timothy Leary is quoted as saying, “The Japanese go to Burma for teak, and they go to California for novelty and creativity. Everybody knows that California has this resource thanks to psychedelics.” And there, again it quoted me as the supplier of a scientific renaissance in the 1960s.
And this columnist didn’t believe what was asserted by Timothy Leary and others in the GQ article—that the computer revolution and the computer graphic innovations of California had been built upon a psychedelic foundation. So she set out to prove this story false. She was about to go to SIGGRAPH, the largest gathering of computer graphic professionals in the world. Annually somewhere in the United States 30,000 or so people gather, all of whom are vitally involved in the computer revolution. She thought she would set this heresy to rest by conducting a sample survey at SIGGRAPH a year ago in Las Vegas. She began her interviews at the airport the minute she stepped off the plane and, by the time she got back to her desk in San Francisco, had talked to 180 important professionals of the computer graphic field, all of whom answered yes to her question, “Do you take psychedelics, and is this important in your work?” So the column syndicated in all these newspapers finally said that, and again, unfortunately, or kindly, remembered me.
Shortly after this second accident in my story, I was in Hollyhock—the Esalen of the far north, with Rupert and some others of you here—and I had a kind of psychotic break in the night. I couldn’t sleep and I was consumed with a paranoid fantasy about this outage, and what it would mean in my future career, and the police at my door, and so on. And I knew that my fears had kind of blown up unnecessarily, but I needed someone to talk to. The person I knew best there was Rupert. And he was very busy in counsel with various friends, but eventually I took Rupert aside and confided to him this secret and all my fears. His response, within a day or two, was to repeat the story to everybody in Canada, while assuring me that it’s good to be outed, and it would be good to come out, and to come out maybe in a best-selling book which Brockman, our agent, could sell and hawk for a huge royalty advance, and so on. I tried thinking positively about this episode, but when I came home I still felt nervous about it, and I said no to many interviews from ABC News, and the United Nations, and other people who called to check out this significant story. I did not rise to the occasion, and so I’ve decided today, by popular request, to tell the truth. And this is perhaps relevant to our theme for today: different aspects of vision and our theme this morning of psychedelics and mathematical vision.
So it all began in 1967, when I was a professor of mathematics at Princeton and one of my students turned me on to LSD. That led to my moving to California a year later, and my meeting at UC Santa Cruz a chemistry graduate student who was doing his Ph.D. thesis on the synthesis of DMT. He and I smoked up a large bottle of DMT in 1969, and that resulted in a kind of secret resolve which swerved my career to a search for the connections between mathematics and the experience of the lógos, or what Terence calls the transcendent other: this hyper-dimensional space full of meaning and wisdom and beauty, which feels more real than ordinary reality, and to which we have returned many times over the years for instruction and pleasure.
And in the course of the next twenty years there were various steps I took to explore this connection between mathematics and the lógos. For example I apprenticed myself myself to a neurophysiologist and tried to construct brain models made out of the basic objects of chaos theory. This was about the time that chaos theory was discovered by the scientific community and the chaos revolution began in 1973. I built a vibrating fluid machine to visualize vibrations in transparent media, because I felt on the basis of direct experience that the Hindu metaphor of vibrations was an important on, a valuable one, and therefore that we could learn more about consciousness, communication, resonance, and the emergence of form and pattern in the physical, biological, social, and intellectual worlds through actually watching vibrations in transparent media ordinarily invisible, and making them visible. I was inspired by Hans Jenny, an amateur scientist in Switzerland, a follower of Rudolf Steiner, who had built an ingenious gadget for rendering these transparent fluids visible.
About this time we discovered in Santa Cruz computer graphics, because the first affordable computer graphic terminals had appeared on the market. I started a project of teaching mathematics with computer graphics, and eventually tried to simulate the mathematical models for neurophysiology and for vibrating fluids in computer programs with computer graphic displays. In this way evolved a new class of mathematical models called CDs: cellular dynamata. They are, really, an especially appropriate mathematical object for modeling or trying to understand the brain, the mind, the visionary experience, and so on—as close, anyway as mathematics could come to simulation of this experience.
At the same time, other mathematicians—some of whom may have been recipients of my gifts in the 1960s—began their own experiments with computer graphics in different places, and began to make films, which I used to show in annual film shows in Santa Cruz. And there, eventually, I got to see on the screen a computer graphic film made by somebody else, a friend of mine, which had an uncanny resemblance to my first DMT trip—to the extent that, as I told Terence at that time in the middle-1980s—I felt that my first DMT trip could have been simply a clairvoyance of this evening later on many years later, when I would be sitting in this theater watching a computer graphic film made by Tom Banchoff. You remember that?
Eventually we were able to construct machines in Santa Cruz which could simulate these kind of mathematical models that I call CDs at a reasonable speed, first slowly, and then faster and faster. And in 1989 I had a fantastic experience at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, where I was given access to, at that time, the fastest supercomputer, the MPP: the Massively Parallel Processor. And my CD model for the visual cortex had been programmed into this machine by the only person able to program it, and I was invited to come and view the result. And looking at the color screen of this super computer was like looking through the window at the future, and seeing an excellent memory of a DMT vision, not only proceeding apace on the screen, but also going about a hundred times faster than a human experience, and also under the control of knobs which I could turn at the terminal. And so we immediately recorded this video, which I’d like to show you now. It lasts for ten minutes. It was in 1989 on the day of my first look through this window.
So if you could turn this on. I don’t think you have to move very far. You could use this space. And it doesn’t require a perfect view of the screen. And then we’ll resume my story.
I guess that’s the end of this. Maybe we could lift up the Venetian blinds and turn up the lights now. Yes, we probably can. In fact, you can help yourself to the door.
So, returning to my story now—and I’ll quickly bring it to a close—there is, first of all, a twenty-year evolution from my DMT year, 1969, to my MPP year, 1989. And following this twenty-year evolution and the recording of that video, we have two things that I’ll mention. One is the story with GQ and SIGGRAPH, and the Examiner that I’ve told you, which essentially poses the question, “Has a psychedelic had an influence in the evolution of science, mathematics, the computer revolution, computer graphics, and so on?” And the other event, in 1990—we got to see after, I think, the publication of a paper on this in the International Journal of Bifurcation and Chaos—we saw an interesting article in the monthly notices of the American Mathematical Society, the largest union of research mathematicians in the world, which amazingly redefined mathematics, dropping numbers and geometrical spaces as relics of history, and adopting a new definition of mathematics as the study of spacetime pattern. It was not written by me. And this is just int he pages of Science and the monthly notices of the American Mathematical Society.
So we have to admit that mathematics has been reborn, and this rebirth is some kind of outcome, a panoply, of the computer revolution and the psychedelic revolution, which took place concurrently, concomitantly, cooperatively, in the 1960s. And I might mention a current event on this horizon. Redefining this material as an art medium, I’m going to be able to give a concert of this material played in realtime with a genuine supercomputer, in October in the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, the largest Gothic cathedral in the world.
Well then, let’s come to our subject. And I don’t know if you gentlemen need to move up a little bit so that we can powwow. Now, since I took so much time in a personal odyssey, I have to induce a trialogue in one minute. And so this shortcut, what I want to do is just pose one or two questions and read one or two excerpts from some favorite books here. So we have to accept now, I think, a mathematics either in the new definition, or the old one. In the Renaissance cosmology of John Dee, mathematics is seen as the joint therapist of Father Sky and Mother Earth—or a kind of an intellectual, spiritual, elastic medium connecting up the heavenly realms and Gaia herself. That puts mathematics on the same level as the lógos, or the holy spirit. So let’s just consider that for the sake of discussion.
And, having seen is as a language of spacetime pattern, let me ask you this, Terence and Rupe: to what extent could the psychedelic vision of the lógos be externalized? Could it be externalized by any means, either by verbal descriptions or by computer simulations, by drawings of inspired really visionary artists? Or, on the other hand, in what ways could possibly mathematical vision serve the spirit and extend the mind? Is there a role, in other words, for this kind of thing in our main concerns? And to give you a fast-forward into the answer, let me read just a couple of things here from Food of the Gods:
Oh, good choice!
In Terence’s confessional chapter, chapter fifteen, the section he called “Art and the Revolution,” he says:
The archaic revival is a clarion call to recover our birthright, however uncomfortable that may make us. It is a call to realize that life lived in the absence of the psychedelic experience, upon which primordial shamanism is based, is life trivialized, life denied! Life enslaved to the ego and its fear of dissolution in the mysterious matrix of feeling that is all around us. It is in the archaic revival that our transcendence of the historical dilemma actually lies. There is something more. It is now clear that new developments in many areas, including mind–machine interfacing, pharmacology of the synthetic variety, and data storage imaging and retrieval techniques; it is now clear that new developments in these areas are coalescing into the potential for a truly demonic, or an angelic self-imaging of our culture.
Do you remember that all? I don’t know if you’ve tapped into chapter fifteen, Rupe? Here’s another, then, in The Rebirth of Nature. The final paragraph of the entire book entitled “A New Renaissance.” Rupert says:
As soon as we allow ourselves to think of the world as alive, we recognize that a part of us knew this all along. It is like emerging from winter into spring. We can begin to reconnect our mental life with our own direct, intuitive experiences of nature. We can participate in the spirits of sacred places and times. We can see that we have much to learn from traditional societies who have never lost their sense of connection with the living world around them. We can acknowledge the animistic traditions of our ancestors, and we can begin to develop a richer understanding of human nature, shaped by a tradition and collective memory, linked to the Earth and the heavens, related to all forms of life, and consciously open to the creative power expressed in all evolution. We are reborn into a living world.
I call down, then, the trialogue mode. Psychedelics and Mathematical Vision.
Well, the question that you posed in all of that, the nuts and bolts question, is: can it be visualized with technologies ranging from paint and brush to supercomputers? I think it can. I think it is not, in principle, mysterious. That it’s a domain to be explored. It may be fleeting, like the situation that follows upon the splitting of the atom, or something like that. It may be remote. But it is, in principle, describable. And it’s simply a matter of paying attention, gaining inspiration, and gaining skill of technical execution. I think you think that, don’t you?
Well, I think that any models that we can build—verbal, visual, or mathematical—are really, really feeble compared to the experience itself. On the other hand, this experience is within all, and without all, and we are immersed in this spiritual world. So the tiniest resonance from the most feeble model may suffice to excite, as poetry excites emotion, to excite spirit. And this is the essence of communication, is to have a compact representation. So the experience is infinitely complex, and the representations have to be really simple. The representation restricted to verbal mode alone might be too feeble, not similar enough, to excite by resonance the similar state.
I mean, we have the situation whee we agree that not every person is going to become a cephalopod, not every person has the time to become a shaman. But we need a certain number of shamans in our culture to help to reconnect human society and the planet and the sky. So we need some kind of amplifying and communicating device between the few people who are our real shamans, let’s say sacred artists of the future, and the mass society watching MTV. And the question is: can these means be of use to the clarion call that you’ve given in your book?
Yeah. I mean, I think that what makes it confusing is, when you go into these domains, the encounter is an emotionally powerful one. And the situation is so novel that the experient tends to assume that this emotional power is coming from the input. It’s not. It’s coming from the encounter with the input. I mean, it’s like posing the question: can you make a stirring record of the Grand Canyon? Yes you can, with helicopter-mounted cameras and this sort of thing. But the emotion you have watching that, you bring to it.
So the psychedelic dimension is objective, but it’s also so awesome and so different from what we know that it encourages and promotes and triggers awe in us. And so we bring something to it which we can never image or reduce to a verbal description, or a piece of film. But in principle I think the thing itself is just more of reality. It’s like the heart of the cell, the radar maps of the Venusian surface, the center of the atom. I mean, these are real tests—
But this kind of reality, we don’t need more of this. We’ve already got so much.
No, we need more of this mental lógos world. It’s the lógos world that we’ve lost the connection with. And so these computer programs, psychedelic drugs, dynamic modeling schemes are the equivalent of probes, like Voyager—but they’re sent not to an alien planet, but to an alien phase space of some sort; but one that we need connection to.
I agree with Terence. The problem is, one, the emotional intensity of a psychedelic experience is totally different from seeing the computer graphic display; the kind we saw. And it’s possible to get something a bit like that just by shaking a kaleidoscope and looking into it. And in these expensive novelty shops that dot California I can find fancy kaleidoscopes beautifully made. And people buy them, I suppose, and you look through them, and within a few seconds you’re just bored. Nobody ever really looks at them for very long. You can see a dazzling series of displays of pattern and color, but somehow they have no meaning, and don’t engage one.
And I think the difference between a representation of the state and being in the state itself is this sense of meaning, engagement, and intensity. And that, I think, is the problem. Because I don’t think it’s just a graphic representation, because then, meaning an intensity, we can find in many areas. I, for one—being a botanist—am very drawn to flowers. I love looking at flowers. And sometimes you can look at a whole garden full of flowers, like here in Esalen, and it’s quite meaningless. At other times you can look at a single flower for a long time, you can go into it, it’s like a mandala—you enter into that realm, and it takes on incredible meaning, beauty, and significance. And the realm of the flowers is one that’s explored in these mandala-type psychedelic spaces, if you like, and one can sometimes enter into it and sometimes one doesn’t. The same with butterflies and many other natural creations. So it seems to me the problem is how to enter into that engagement, intensity, and sense of meaning, rather than representation of the pattern itself. Because there are plenty of patterns around in the natural world.
Well, but these are spacetime patterns. And whereas we can say the words “spacetime pattern,” we nevertheless have no language for individual spacetime patterns. Within spacetime patterns, as experienced by us, as perceived by us, there is a kind of a resonance between different patterns that we see—let us say, the bobbing kelp forest in the ocean down here. That somehow makes different elements of that spacetime pattern make a resonance with different patterns of neurotransmitters in the visual cortex or something. So some aspects are perceived, and other aspects are not, they remain invisible to us. And yet, we don’t have any language for what we perceive, so we can’t—as Rupert suggested—have data and storage and retrieval on this level. We don’t have language for that. You’ve been speaking of the flowers in the garden, or the images in the kaleidoscope. These are static patterns. We have an extensive verbal language for that.
So what I’m suggesting is an expansion of our visual-linguistic capability in the direction of a universal language for spacetime pattern, such that we could then speak of our experience. We could remember spacetime pattern experiences, call them by name. We could mention to each other the mere drop of a word or a code, an I-75, the highway 1, highway 0, and then we would be transmitting a huge image of spacetime pattern, along with whatever emotion you remember from your time when you experienced that, awakening this in the mind of the listener, and therefore able to converse, intellectualize, understand, and reconnect with the spacetime pattern and feeling of the spiritual world.
I mean, let’s face it, we have had the most extensive experience of this world through visual metaphors of… well, movies. We experience the lógos as movies. We don’t experience it as words—although there are sounds, and words pop up, and sometimes there’s writing on the wall like graffiti. Basically, it’s an infinite field of consciousness, of vibration, of waves moving, of intelligence, which may be disconnected in different parts. And when we travel in this realm we go somewhere we’ve been before, and we recognize it, and that excites in us memory, which is reinforced, which is extended, upon which we can do further experiment. Because we do remember. There’s somehow a mental faculty, individually and within. It has data storage and retrieval, and it has a language or something. And yet, we can’t share it. Even it’s just, say, us three. We have many experience which (I trust, I have great faith) are similar, that are universal experience. And yet we are absolutely speechless in verbalizing them to each other so we could see whether we had or didn’t have any similarity in this certain… “I’m sorry, words fail me.”
Well, I don’t know. It seems to me that mind responds—it has an affinity for itself. And if it’s universal, then it has an affinity for the universal mind. What’s interesting about the example of the kaleidoscope is: it’s boring after a few minutes. We all agree on that. If you analyze how it works and take it apart, the base units in most kaleidoscopes are pieces of broken glass, pebbles, things like this. Detritus, junk. And somehow, splitting this into six sections with a mirror and putting it in heavy oil is supposed to bring you to the realm of something watchable and interesting. But it isn’t. The brain machines being produced in Germany are the same way. All pattern seems to quickly lose its charm unless it’s pattern that has been put through the sieve of minds—any mind. So that we enjoy looking at the ruins and the artifacts of vanished civilizations a lot more than random arrangements of natural objects.
It seems to me what we’re looking for when we say it’s like a DMT trip—the MPPI data on chaos—then what we’re saying is: aha, here in this pattern there is the footprint of meaning. It’s as though an architect passed through here, and so we can appreciate it. So we’re always looking for the betraying presence of an order that is more than an order of—I don’t know even how to say it—economy, I guess. We look for an aesthetic order. And when we find that, then we have this reciprocal sense of recognition and transcendence. And this is what the psychedelic experience provides in spades.
Now, a critic of the psychedelic experience would object: of course it’s made of mind. It’s made of your mind. But for the psychedelic voyager, this does not seem to be obvious. The intuition is: it is made of mind, but it is not made of my mind. So then either there’s an identity problem, or a real frontier of communication is being crossed. But I think when we say we look for living pattern, or aesthetically satisfying order, what we really mean is: look for is the sign that mind has somehow touched the stochastic processes of nature.
Yes. But still, the limiting factor seems to be neither the richness of display we find in nature, nor even the language that we communicate with, but rather the ability to go into something with intensity of vision. Because I don’t think language is a limiting problem. I mean, for example, music can be written down in a language. You can get a score of Beethoven symphonies or Mozart piano concertos. I mean, I can read music, but for me it doesn’t come to life from this language. I have to hear it for it to come to life. The language is indeed a kind of communication, but it has to come to life.
Presume that mathematical notation is a form of notating things in the mathematical landscape which mathematicians can see. And take the realm of plants again: if you look at the incredible richness of botany, of flower forms, there is a language for this. It’s used by botanists and florists. You’ve got books about—there are words for these different kinds of flowers. And for a botanist, the whole thing can be written down in this specialized language. But even so, it doesn’t mean that most botanists spend most of their time contemplating the beauty of flowers. They’re rushing to the next committee meeting or getting their paper ready for the next journal or something. Somehow there isn’t much time spent actually entering into these realms, even for people whose profession it is to be concerned with them. So we’re neither short of images, nor of languages in many realms, but rather of the time, the space, and the inclination to enter into these realms, to be within them.
Well, this is a good metaphor, I think—the musical metaphor. Let’s just think of this for a minute. I don’t propose that a mathematical model of a brain or a plant or something would be as wonderful as a brain or a plant. Life will not be replaced by language. We never demand that much of ordinary language or poetry or of the graphic arts. Nevertheless, the evolution of music has been greatly aided by musical notation. Of course, we wouldn’t like music to end and simply be left with a library of musical scores. Nevertheless, the evolution of music, the evolution of culture, has been enormously facilitated by having a graphic language that can, to some extent, recall the actual musical experience. And this is the role that I’m proposing for mathematics: not to replace the Earth or the heavenly realms, but just somehow to facilitate the traffic through, let us say, simply an analog on the same level of musical staff notation as it pertains to the visual experience of spacetime patterns—whether of a flower in a garden or waving at sea or the psychedelic vision.
Maybe I need to tell you of last week in Denmark. I attended a conference about chaos theory and its applications, and I showed this video. And there was in the audience another speaker who is the world expert on algorithmic information theory. This is a way of telling the difference between chaos and randomness. And as Terence as saying, there was in verbal representation a kind of economy; that there’s a simple formula that calls forth complex experience. And this economy is the reason that language is interesting. Algorithmic information theory gives a way of measuring randomness. What seems to us as random sometimes can be generated by a very small code, or musical staff notation, for example.
And when data from the scientific experiment looks random when you try to test it as to whether there is or isn’t a compact economical model for it. And if there is, it’s more chaotic and less random. So there’s a measure for this. According to their definition, a truly random process is one which would provide data which could not be represented by any formula shorter than itself. But it turns out that the weirdest, most random-looking data from the natural world—for example, earthquakes, sun spots, and so on—always seems to have a very compact mathematical model. Therefore it’s not truly random, it only looks random. And this is what is called deep data.
So what I’m suggesting is an increase in our encyclopedia of models, extending language, so that we can name, store, retrieve, and recreate not the experience itself, but the data of it, as it were, for the sake of communication, with something which is very small, so that many of these models can be put in the closet. And this is exactly what musical staff notation did for music. It pertains not only to the spiritual experience, but also to fundamental questions on the future of human society’s environmental problems. Can we understand the spacetime nature of the planet well enough (since it’s so complex) to even be sensitive to it and cooperate with it? I mean, if we can’t even understand what we’re seeing when we look at the planet, then there’s not much we can do to cooperate. Biogeography, for example, is a botanical field that could be revolutionized by a staff notation for spacetime pattern, which it doesn’t have.
But surely, what we’re looking for is meaning that seems to us somehow full of significance. In terms of information, even patterns, we’ve got libraries full. You go into any bookshop and you’re just overwhelmed by the quantity of stuff there. And the idea of just having even more models on the shelf, even more, somehow doesn’t seem very exciting to me. I mean, what would be exciting would be to see some deep meaning in all of this. And maybe mathematics is one way to find the deep meaning in things. But if so, I’m not quite sure how.
Well, the taxonomy of plants is not full of meaning, and nevertheless vocabulary has evolved, so that “exfoliate” and all these words are put on a page, and then another botanist can read this and actually tell: well, yes, this is the plant. Therefore, it’s safe to eat it an have experiments. So I think a further development in the evolution from the state of having language may be the generation of meaning. I mean, meaning is not given in the data. We have to grok things. We have to struggle and evolve understanding by some hermeneutical process. So our language, as people said when printing began, that would be the end of memory. When writing began, that would be the end of history.
Well, in both cases they were correct, I think.
Yes, well, when language began, that’s when we lost our connection with the natural world.
Maybe it was a kind of language, yeah.
Maybe language processed acoustically. But it’s not in the generation of it that you want to put your attention, but in the reception/decoding of it. That when language became something acoustically processed, it became so bloodless that it became then the willing servant of abstraction—which before had been and exotic and little-explored branch of linguistic activity that suddenly burgeoned into the major concern of a lot of people. But language processed visually is here-and-now stuff of great density. And acoustical language permits a level of abstraction that creates a higher inclusiveness, but that’s achieved by a necessary dropping out of detail.
I’m glad to hear you say so, since it always sounds like you think the lógos itself is speech. But I’m—
I’m astonished at the resistance I’m getting here to the idea of visual language. I think, that—well, when I travel in France, I’m riding in the train or something, and I’m really bothered by all the gossip going around, because I understand French. And I realize that this couple is having trouble, and then the train is not stopping in the station that I expected, and so on. When I travel in Japan, I don’t understand anything, so it seems to me it’s really very silent there. It’s very quiet. I just don’t hear anything. And where we have an oral language for certain phenomena, we then perceive it. It is moved by a moving truck. This moving van comes along and transports this stuff from the unconscious system to the conscious system. Then we deal with it in a different way. And these visions—spacetime patterns which we can’t recognize, for which we have no visual language—they are essentially unconscious to us, so therefore we can’t interact with them. And this might be a fundamental reason that the planet is dying. Either we shouldn’t have verbal language, or we should have verbal language and visual language as well. I’m not sure which. But since verbal language is so poorly adapted to spacetime patterns—I mean, we don’t describe music in verbal language, we have staff notation: a visual language for music. And I think that our intellectual relationship to the sky and to the Earth would be vastly improved by developing a larger closet of models for visual processing. But I can’t get you to agree to this.
No, I agree. I agree. I think you’re right. That seeing language—I regard language as some kind of project that is uncompleted as we sit here. That it isn’t the transfer of thought and intention into speech—that doesn’t do it. I mean, clearly, the whole world is held together by small mouth noises, and it’s only barely held together by small mouth noises. If we could have a tighter network of communication, we would in a sense be a less diffuse species. Communication, the lack of it, is what’s shoving us over the brink into possible planetary catastrophe.
So making language more explicit through visualization seems a natural step to take, and it seems to me an inevitable step to take once you have the psychedelic experience. Because then you see that—if you buy into the idea that psychedelics somehow are showing you the evolutionary path yet to be followed—then it seems obvious this what it entails is a further completion of the project of language. Maybe what all this technology is about is actually a more explicit condensation of the word. I mean, it is interesting. Modernity is characterized by an ever more explicit evocation of the image. I mean, you just have to go back a hundred years, and the best anyone could do was an albumin tint photograph. Now we have color lithography.
High Definition TV.
HDTV. High-speed printing. Virtual reality. It’s as though language, the word, is becoming flesh. And condensing into the visual realm would be almost a kind of telepathy compared to the kind of linguistic reality we’re living in now. I mean—
Glad to hear it.
Yeah. No argument on that.
Well, I think—I mean, what we may be doing is returning after a detour of centuries into the realm of literacy. See, I think it’s interesting that, in most of human history (and still today for more than half the people alive on this planet), literacy is not the big thing about language. It’s spoken language. Most cultures are originally oral cultures. Still, the majority of people can’t read and write. If you can’t read and write, it means that the visual cortex in the left hemisphere of your brain has not been hijacked by the speech centers. As soon as you learn to read and write, the visual part of the left-hand side of the brain gets taken over by the speech centers, which are to do with sound and the processing of sound, and becomes adapted to reading and writing letters; language. And this knocks out one half of a large part of half of one’s brain’s visual processing capacity. It gets into the habit of dealing with linear print.
Rather [???] to knock out the other half!
Well, I think that, as far as I know, there’s been very few studies of the difference in thought patterns between people who can’t read and write and those who can. And I’m not now talking about people in our society who can’t read and write because they’re dyslexic or dropped out of school, but whole cultures like many traditional cultures where nobody reads and writes, or very few do. There, language has a different role.
In India, when I lived there, I found in illiterate people there was an extremely powerful—language is a very powerful medium, and it conjures up metaphors, images in a quite different way than it does for people who are literate. So you yourself, complaining, you find new generations of students at Santa Cruz can’t read or write anymore. And it may be this process of short-circuiting out literacy is already well advanced, and that a new kind of visual language is developing.
But I think that there’s been actually a huge amount of discussion about this difference between so-called print linear cultures and oral aboriginal cultures. This is what McLuhan’s whole work was about in saying that, somehow, the symbolic signification of language—first through writing and then through printing—has had all kinds of effects on the evolution of the Western mind that we (until McLuhan) were totally unaware of. I mean, he believes that the linear uniform quality of print creates the intellectual preconditions for the acceptance of an idea like democracy; that you would never get that notion. The Greeks invented it. They had a phonetic alphabet. Modern industrial methods of production based on interchangeable parts—he felt that was inconceivable except by a print culture that had the notion of moveable type. The idea of the citizen is a uniformitarian impulse laid over the biological diversity of our individuality that could never have occurred in a culture without print.
So the bottom line in the McLuhanist analysis is that we tend to be incredibly naïve about the information-processing technologies we put in place. Because all we care about is input and output, and what we don’t understand is: it’s the plumbing between the input and the output that gives a culture its whole tone, its values, its implicit political assumptions, its attitude toward nature, so forth and so on—and that what we are is a print culture. You know, linear, hierarchical—
What we were.
What we were. Yes. We’re undergoing a transition in the twentieth century. But the intellectuals, unfortunately, at the top of the pyramid are the last to get the news. I mean, they’re still poring over Locke and Hegel when, you know, what’s really happening is Guns and Roses and Nirvana—and I don’t mean the Buddhist state of transcendence. So culture tends to be ruled by the people who are the last to get the news in terms of new technologies which are reshaping the culture.
Like, I think all this beefing about the death of literacy—you might as well be at the passing of the high-button shoe or the beaver hat. I mean, literacy is finished. It was a phase. It’s not to be preserved by anyone other than curators. The rest of us are going to live, obviously, in a culture shaped by new forms of media.
We haven’t giving up reading and writing books ourselves, have we?
Well, I think we’re reactionaries, surely. It’s the drugs we extol that get us called modern—or postmodern.
Well, we’d like to abandon books and only make documentary videos for PBS and BBC. But it doesn’t—
It pays so much better!
What? It doesn’t pay. It can’t support the process. So that’s at best for some time in the future. Meanwhile, the reason that I complain that my students are illiterate is that history is unavailable to them. There’s no way to tap into it. All these fantastic books on the middle ages, the prehistoric, the archeology, and so on—this stuff is never going to be translated into documentary videos. It’s not enough to just have a few curators who are in touch with the Library of Congress and the British Museum. I think that we need a large number of people who read as a hobby, or something. Meanwhile—
But don’t you think, Ralph, that that’s actually a kind of amnesia? It’s not that they’re illiterate. Illiterate is when you don’t know the difference between Melville and Hawthorne. Amnesia is when you don’t know whether the Thirty Years’ War came before or after the War of the Roses.
Well, if you’re literate and you forgot, you could look it up in the Encyclopedia Britannica, or dial it up in a hypercard, and then there’s going to be a CD-ROM for it. In fact, I think you’re the manufacturer, yes.
So these historical media, let us say, they don’t lose their importance just because new media developed. Now, there’s a further problem which you touched on extensively in your book, which relates television as a drug. And I think this is interesting—that we had botanical drugs, that we have chemical drugs, now we have electronic drugs. What’s coming next. So the fact is that my students have watched television seven hours a day, six and a half according to your book, since birth. And they are unbelievably quick with images. It’s great, because this is a fantastic advance in human intelligence. And the way that information can be communicated in 25 seconds by the best of the television commercials, I think, is truly astonishing. And you can’t show these commercials in the African bush or something and get a response. You have to have people who have been trained up to it by doing their visual calisthenics six and a half hours a day since birth. So that’s good.
What’s not so good is that the material is available in the video store, or from the Library of Congress after we get FTPI and so on, this material is unbelievably poor. And the fact is that, if you make a PBS documentary on Food of the Gods, for example, nobody will watch it because they’re busy watching Dynasty or—I don’t even know the names of them. And that somehow, the drug abuse aspect of the media has already dominated this future, so that this creode is already so deep that it’s unlikely we can swerve the video technology into an interesting cultural resource.
Well, that is my problem with your approach, actually. These computer graphics use basically television-style technologies.
No. The computer graphics, you see, are going to be—we’re only five years away from having supercomputers like that. That was made on a 200-megaflop machine which cost 13 million dollars three years ago, and today you can buy them for 500,0000 dollars. We’re using the 500,000-dollar one [???] delivered to the Cathedral of St. John Divine. In five years, that will be in the kitchen keeping track of your recipes and running your microwave.
So the possibility is to interact with this. You see, it already becomes as interesting as a psychedelic trip as long as you can interact. What’s wrong with this passive medium is that some idiot programmed it and made it available, and then it was distributed as a drug, and people are actually addicted to the passive process of sitting there, knocked out, and just receiving somebody else’s fantasy. So I think that when these supercomputers are available in kitchens and kindergarten playrooms, and people are brought on, this is an extension of life. This is an increase in the size of the playroom.
The thing is, you can’t underestimate the perversity of people in terms of their tendency to prefer this passive thing. I remember in 1977, when I bought my first home computer, you got a manual with it called Basic BASIC. And the intent of this manual was to teach you how to program your computer. Well, six months of trying to peddle that to the American public and they realized they had to completely rethink the product; that only a vanishingly small number of people were ever going to program a computer. It’s like when you used to buy an automobile and you got a toolbox with it. Well, that’s not been true since the twenties. So there’s a certain responsibility on the consumer not to demand the prepackaged stuff.
The MPPI, these big machines, are, to my mind, like the psychedelic drug state, but then everybody’s trip is like the software they bring to it and run. And someone who goes to the MPPI machine to keep track of their recipes is essentially trivializing it, because they don’t know what it could do. This is probably the equivalent of going to a psychedelic drug to solve your relationship problems. It’s that the question you framed was so stupid and mini-minded, and perhaps the psychedelic can help. But what a tremendous misappropriation of this power.
Well, every tool will be misused as well as used; will be misused more than it’s used. And the most popular books are cookbooks, and nevertheless we write books. And to some little extent they participate in the evolution of history. The fact that most books are used for recipes doesn’t totally destroy all value of books. And so it is with the new media. Whereas most people will use them to create a hypercard stack of recipes or sex postures or something, there will still be a lot of arcane and important material available in this medium which can’t be accessed any other way.
Nevertheless, I must say you’re kind of dragging me down here. Maybe it’s time I need some help from this group. I became very depressed this year when I realized that no only my students couldn’t read or write, but also that their interest in computers was much less than the preceding generation a year ago, which was [???] for the last three or four years interest in computers has been on the decline. So, along with the television medium, the interactive capability—I mean, you’re right about the toolkit that comes the car. So we’re not even to use tools like Adobe Illustrator or Hypercard or even [???] not to use any of those tools. To be only interested in computer games. The most brilliant kids in high school do nothing but play Tetron Gameboy. Just think that over. I have my colleague—brilliant professors of mathematics from China—who do nothing but, after work, they play Tetron Gameboy. Think it over.
But ten years ago it would’ve been heroin. Now it’s just Gameboy.
What do you mean, just Gameboy? It’s much more dangerous! It hasn’t been made illegal yet.
True. They can just do it unto death.
But just one final point I want to make. The model you are suggesting takes us further into the artificial world, the man-made world of technology. And we’ve still got this incredible resource. Five million species of beetles in the Amazon. I mean, incredible diversity of the natural world that hardly anyone’s interested in anymore. There are these herbarian collections, all these different plant, butterfly collections, geological museums with rocks and crystals of every kind. You go into them in London or Prague or anywhere, they’re completely deserted. That there’s an incredible diversity of form in the natural world, and we become more and more plugged into the entirely human world of technologies and man-made patterns, models, and so on. How does this relate towards—how could it help in a greater sense of connection with the bigger world?
Yes. Well, this will be maybe a good place to stop. I believe that our connection to the natural world will be enormously enhanced by the new media. And this is in spite of the fact that most people will relate to it as a new form of drug. I don’t feel personally responsible for the habits of the human species. I think that planetaria, for example—which are artificial models of the sky, which are brighter and simpler and easier to understand, especially along with special programs that show only certain motions at one time—that planetaria have an enormous potential to turn people on to the real sky, which, after all, is the ultimate source of our mind, our intellect, our mathematics and languages and so on.
So although the construction of planetaria in big cities around the world is an expansion of synthetic world at the expense of the natural, that the whole idea then is to try to turn a switch in some few people that makes them aware of what was there all the time. And I think a hypercard stack with high-speed, high-quality color pictures and sound giving all the beetles in the Amazon jungle would enormously help me personally to understand what I’m seeing when I go there.
So nevertheless, nobody goes to planetaria. Nobody accesses these. Few schoolchildren will go once, and nobody will really be affected by them. So somehow the habits of society are such that we can’t make good use what could be critical good use of technology. And in the meanwhile, there are these elements that amplify infinitely the bad uses for some kind of piracy, I guess.
But I’d like to defend Ralph to you, Rupe. I don’t think that it’s really a journey deeper into artificiality. I mean, science has been dependent on instrumentality for a long, long time. The natural world that Ralph’s program would reveal is the natural world of syntax. That, in other words, language would become a much more accessible object for study if it were visually explicit. And I expect that this is happening. So it seems to me it’s just a new frontier in natural history. It’s this most complex and least understood of all behaviors, which is language. And while the instrumentalities may be computers, high-speed imaging, and so forth, it’s no more than using the Hubble telescope or something like that to tease data out of a very distant part of the universe, and then make it explicit. And if we could understand language, we would understand something about our own place in nature that eludes us. Because it’s clearly the most complex thing we do, and we’re the most complex thing we know. And the feedback from it is culture: the most anomalous phenomenon in the natural world. So I think it’s pretty exciting to use these things to try and understand—I mean, people say spirit, cognition, consciousness. But ultimately, just language is what should come out of this. A much deeper understanding of language.
Well, it’s time. Is this okay? It’s time to open up for our interaction of the larger scale. Customarily, whoever does the induction also summarizes or concludes. I don’t feel I have the wherewithal to really conclude this. I would like to just end the trialogue with a kind of emotional reaction to the synthesis of all this what I see as a negative feedback to not only my idea this morning, but also my life work.
I’m going to say that this was kind of a strategy that backfired. I chose from an initial statement where I put mathematics on a fairly high pedestal there as the marriage counselor of Father Sky and Mother Earth. I then, for the sake of discussion with these guys, for or own group mind, I scaled down the image of mathematics to an extension of language, a kind of language, a visual language, and so on. Because we have to actually discuss mathematics here without really knowing what it is. It’s a study of spacetime pattern or something.
I just want to end by saying this: that mathematics is part of the natural world. It is not an extension. It’s just part of the natural world. Mathematics is a landscape which can be explored, simply and directly, and with much incredible pleasure, delight, and advancement, as a psychedelic lógos or any other aspect of the intellect. Mathematical landscape does not belong to the human species. It belongs not to the Earth, but to the sky. It’s part of the infinite universe we live in. And whatever microscopes, telescopes, chaoscopes, or computer graphic tools we can devise to enhance our vision of the mathematical universe is definitely advantageous.
How this will fit into society, however, we admit that we are in a problem. We are in a cultural problem. We are in an evolutionary challenge from which the human species may not survive. Part of our difficulty is the rejection—I mean, this is perhaps a small part—but mathematics is essential in the marriage of Father Sky and Mother Earth. And our culture has totally rejected mathematics. So it’s possible that that’s part of the problem. And that’s kind of what I’ve given my life work to, as it were.
So the answer to the question on the psychedelic and the mathematic vision is that there is a relationship and it’s kind of abstract, because we’re stymied, I guess, to summarize our discussion, by bad habits of the human species a the present time. So I’ll leave it there, and let’s consider your questions.
Q & A Session
Well, this question of the perverse quality of human beings. That I think that, for me, one of the [???] pattern that we just saw is the element of drama. Which, I saw a cartoon in the New Yorker recently. It showed some businessman sitting at his desk and [???] going, “There’s no plot,” looking out at nature. And it seems that the thing that involved [???] that they are [???] of suspense or thrill. And that’s what the psychedelic experience is as well. It [???] experience of a drama that involves your identity in some way. And the question for me is: how do you bring this drama into the [???]? I’ve heard this thing today about how Wagner did that for opera, and [???] brought together theater and art and poetry and music on the stage, and brought music into a new language form. And it seems like that what you’re talking about trying to do.
Yes. Well, the sky—like mathematics—is a kind of landscape which is there. And after watching enough to get a general idea of it, people did project onto it all kind of drama stories, myths. And the sky then—it took a few thousand years—did become completely alive. Now, in this new view of mathematics in the new mathematics we’re talking about, the exploration of a world is seen for the first time. So I think in a few hundred years it will be plenty full of myths. And in the meanwhile it’s much more exciting to explore it in person than you can possibly grok from a video snapshot of somebody else’s exploration.
Hello. First of all, as I was viewing what you had on the television, the first thing I found that the music was a turn off. It just didn’t collate with what the images were. But looking back to ancient times of India where they used mandalas to meditate on, to expand your consciousness or to go through to the transpersonal, in current time, with our technology, this could be somewhat correlated with that as the new science of VR, virtual reality, that I’ve read a lot about. Have you thought of using these images on a wraparound screen and be in that space? And could there possibly be any way that one could record or somehow elicit from those images sound by some technology? So you would be seeing these images by actually being in a three-dimensional space, and hearing the sound of the images, and possibly touching upon deep [???] truths of mathematics that are in us and in the universe, and thereby give a similar kind of an experience of expansion and awareness?
Yes. I’m sorry that the soundtrack wasn’t better correlated with the picture. But the picture also is not a documentary film or something, it’s just a record of the very first glimpse through this window. A video recorder happened to be handy. For the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on the 17th of October we are creating a three-computer network that will translate pictoral elements into sound using pattern recognition algorithms that are part of chaos theory. So that will be maybe the first performance of a new kind of instrument in which the visual and oral representations of the mathematical landscape are linked in a central way. That doesn’t mean that will be played beautifully for the first time, but my vision in the long run is that we will have new artistic environment in a virtual reality situation involving the cooperation of a lot of people playing simultaneously in a mathematical world of picture and sound. That’s just a few years away.
This [???] for me. First of all, when you turned the screen on, the first feeling was: I’ve seen that before. And it wasn’t on psychedelics. And it brought me back two years ago, working with a young man in a therapy situation, where I was putting him through a process—very complex process, but one that cannot be done with the mind. And when he was able to do this, I said, “What did you feel?” And he said, “I felt my brain moving.” And it brought me back to the fact that when I experienced this thing before that you showed on the screen, what it felt like to me was that I was actually observing what was actually going on inside on a quantum level; that I was actually seeing all of the movement inside, not in a way we typically relate it or picture it, but as it actually was occurring. So it felt like a journey into myself on some level.
Now, I never thought of it as something passive—for this reason: I work a lot with receptivity, and what I know that the mind does is, it takes something and it makes one thing more important than the other. So right now, you’re my figure and they’re my ground. But in actuality I believe life is occurring as a constantly changing figureless ground. So when I took that, and I project it large, and I got into it, I realized it was a constantly changing figureless ground. And as soon as I allowed that to happen, there was nothing my mind could hold on to. At which point the whole thing opened up. My receptivity opened up. And that didn’t become something that was passively viewed, but that became something that opened up the key to my whole spectrum opening up, at which time I began to discover my inside. Not what was out there, but what was going on inside. So even though I’m not an individual who plays much in this realm—
Hey, get that, guys? See?
—even though [???] much in this kind of technology, for years I’ve known that if I could set up a visual experience with a constantly changing figureless ground, perhaps in a surround or hemispheric screen type of situation, that it could act as a catalyst for us to discover—in the same way as psychedelics do—on a broader sense what’s going on. I mean, we such a tiny piece of reality. Literally. We think we’re seeing the whole thing. And it’s almost as though the electromagnetic spectrum opened up at that moment, and I was able to get into perhaps the UV or the infrared or something else going on.
So I think if that technology could be expanded a bit further under the right conditions, it could act as a very nice catalyst for self-discovery, and in that way put us more in touch with much of the meaning that people were saying was not there, and our connection with nature.
That’s great. We’ll see when these devices are to be found everywhere and you have your own, then you would be able to pursue its possibilities in a certain direction which would never occur to me or Terence or Rupert. And then it would—like, many different new ideas would become manifest for this first time, and become therapies.
[???] I also feel, at least where I live, planetariums—you can’t even get into them without a reservation. They are packed [???] in San Francisco, the Exploratorium is packed with people. Lectures [???] virtual reality—I think people are very, very interested, and anxious to learn from these kind of things. I don’t agree—
Oh, that’s great to hear. Well, I am a consultant for the San José Children’s Discovery Museum, and we are building something like this for that museum. And, I gather, while it’s surrounded by gangs [???].
I’m wondering how you feel about maybe part of the difficulty of doing mathematics as a language is that it’s sort of available to so few people, and that there are—I mean, the priesthood of mathematics is perhaps even smaller than the priesthood of psychedelics. So having the two be interrelated in some way. It seemed to me like society maybe hasn’t repudiated mathematics in a far greater manner than it has psychedelics. Because, you know, at one point in history, to be a well-rounded person, you had to have a fair amount of knowledge of mathematics. And now, if you can add without a calculator, you’re perhaps at a higher level than your peers. So… wondering how you feel about that.
Yes. Well, mathematics is—I mean, as a profession—the community of research mathematicians is and has been through this century in a very mysterious downward spiral, where it was not simply the rejection of mathematics by society. The mathematicians, like who would be attracted into that field, there’s a sociological phenomenon going on, so that those people are increasingly elitist, and they also reject society. It’s some mutual aversion phenomenon. And I personally have been trying to work against that in every way I can by making mathematics into an art medium by playing it publicly, and by giving what I call mathematical performance. I have to admit, I have not been very successful, because generally people’s attitude about mathematics is such that the mere mention of the word is essentially to clear the room. So a lot of—I would say I have subjected you to some mathematics this morning that, if it had been identified as mathematics, you would’ve rejected it. But actually, this is mathematics. It’s very simple. It’s got nothing to do with what they’re teaching in school. Every person is good at mathematics. It’s like walking. It’s human birthright.
How do they always know that music and mathematics—you know, some [???] genius in music, they went together. And so it’s just like writing a note, but the way you’re interpreting it. So maybe mathematics is the same. And watching what you’ve done, I don’t know much about computers. I kind of live in the bush and I don’t watch TV or radio for a period of years, or read papers. So I can follow you, but I feel lost. But it’s like, what you’re producing here, and what you’re talking about with computers, is what our mind already can do. Like, we can already send pictures from our minds, and we can already talk to our mind, and we can pick up from our minds. And so what we can do with our minds, people are producing it in a mechanical way. And that’s what I [???].
Thank you. That’s what I wanted to say. That when you talk about it, that it seems so difficult. But just like doing it is easy like walking.
Something [???] basic question about [???] in language and man and all the [???] isn’t that the search of human beings to overcome polarity? I mean, to overcome the illusion that each being is all by himself or herself, and all we’re trying to do is, through communication, no matter what [???] that we’re trying [???] there could be the same reception of somebody else, except with [???] possible. Even if they have the best description or the same picture as [???] through my eyes [???] my experience. So this whole search basically tries to overcome polarity, but it’s not possible.
Yes. Well, it’s no coincidence that we are three, and that we’re promoting trialogue because it’s a lot different from dialogue. And whereas polarity—the idea of, okay, I’ve had my experience, and I’m unique, and nobody can share it exactly—that’s true. And this whole dialectical view of human experience is… somehow it’s intrinsic in the number two. It’s totally different with three. And our entire history since the goddess religion of the pre-historic times is based on three. And I have a suspicion that that—because society is based on two, or four, or one, or something—they don’t last. Here we have this tremendous historical tradition based on three. We’re manifesting that. For example, between Rupert and Terence, I provide some sort of mediating role. Likewise, Terence does between me and Rupe, and so on. So I think that our experience is unique. And then I think that our experience is also universal. And then I think that language is no good. But then I think that it’s pretty good.
In the process of creating spacetime pattern languages, like the one that you are doing, I think one tries to be very rational. Whereas life itself and psychedelic experiences is very irrational. So my question is: don’t you think this is a reductionist method, approaching this?
Yeah, I do. I think that this method is good and bad. Like, I think that the printed book is good and bad, and the written language is good and bad, and the oral language is good and bad. And I don’t know how it will come out, so I don’t even trust my own idea of good and bad. I mean, either we have a future as human species on this planet or not, we don’t even know what way to go. And ultimately, if we find a way to survive, then I guess that will be good, and meanwhile we’re trying everything. And although what I’m projecting has to do with computer because we’re in the computer revolution now and this is the current frontier of mathematics, traditionally mathematics has been without computers. It’s very important in our evolution now. I think, like music, people generally feel that historically it’s been positive.
I just [???] put MTV and Game Boy in a kind of historical perspective. McLuhan spoke about when we graft on a new technology, we go through this period of numbness where we are basically totally bewildered by it, or obsessed by it, or entranced by it. We don’t know how to use it yet. And in this context of when you talk about mathematics being science of spacetime and pattern, and therefore being at the basis of this new visual reality that we’re constructing—which MTV and Game Boy are a part of—in that the visual image is a more universal image. And it always has been, more than spoken word, more than the printed word. I mean, the most universal role that the spoken word probably played when all the nobility of Europe spoke French in, whatever, the eighteenth century. And it was the language of the elite. The visual language that’s coming through MTV and Game Boy is not the language of an elite, and it is a large step towards a universal language. We don’t know how to use it yet.
Why do you call it a language, Ralph?
Why do I call it a language?
Yeah. I mean, the language of MTV. Doesn’t it have to communicate to be a language?
Well, yes. Yes. I think it’s a language of very basic symbols. You know, like the language of cave painting. That’s a very rudimentary language.
Yeah, I’m not ready to buy in that the cave paintings were rudimentary. I agree MTV is. You’re doing it.
I’d just like to point out a couple of facts about language. I’m also a reactionary, and I mourn on the one hand the loss of literacy. But it occurs to me that language, particularly written language, [???] creativity [???] sense that, when we have four or five languages [???] changes slowly [???] you see that when you have a language [???] literacy [???] what to do, that it changes very, very quickly. And I suspect that [???] very quickly too. But it occurs to me also that language is a [???] to creativity because it’s such an imperfect medium that you have to react to it intellectually.
Yes. This is the yin-yang of it. I think that it’s time to go to lunch, and we might take one more. Is that okay? And then…
Just possibly two applications. I think there’s a Waldorf Rudolf Steiner teaching a class here, and I know they have a process called rhythmic, and maybe if she’s here she could explain. And it’s a form and a walk, and they play music, but I don’t know the whole process. That’s one thing that I wanted to say. And the other thing is: I know in the San Domingo religions of Brazil where they use ayahuasca, the process is a star form, in which several people have a star, and they sit in different points, and they use a kind of overmind process. So I wonder if, in any way, that maybe one could use certain mathematical symbols, and using psychedelics in that form? You know, to what end—I don’t know. Just as an experiment [???].
Well, what we teach [???] have a lot of interesting thoughts in relation to this discussion, because we emphasize a lot on geometry, form, [???] do a lot of movement in shape as well as drawing in shapes. So that mathematics isn’t just purely sort of adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, but it’s incorporated in [???] forms in lots of different ways. We actually discourage too much television-watching in children, and we try to encourage and to explore time and form and shape in lots of different ways through the ages, so that they actually grow to a love of mathematics. I could say more…. Anyway—
Yes. I think that a lot of groups are using old and new mathematical spacetime patterns as methods of group process—as the medicine circle, for example, where diagrams are drawn on the floor, people walk around, take their places, and so on. There is plenty of opportunity for using this material in a lot of different ways when you come to know it. So we all should try to come to know a lot more of the mathematical spacetime. Of course there are new discoveries. You’ve heard about chaos theory, and probably the most exciting time in the history of mathematics is today.
So this afternoon we’ll meet here at 4:00 pm for our next experiment.