I was thinking along the lines of kind of a collective consciousness. Do you see a change? [???]
Well, yeah, I think that this artifact which anthropology has brought back to us, which we call the psychedelic experience, is going to become part of our cultural inventory. Not the cultural inventory of mad bohemians or Esalen raconteurs, but everybody. And that, in fact, the psychedelic experience is already the model for what we call multimedia, how we think about education, so forth and so on. So with that experience under our belt, I think that will be sufficient permission, then, to create a whole new model of the world. And all this talk that has gone on throughout the 20th century, beginning with the Golden Dawn and Madam Blavatsky and that crowd, and coming up through the psychedelicos and the new ageists and the Gurdjieffians and all that, all this stuff about spirituality is not going to get off the mark until you have a technology of spirituality. Well, a technology of spirituality is not done with levers and steam engines and pulleys, it’s done pharmacologically. And I’ve said in the past week: the only difference between a computer and a drug is: a computer is a drug too large to swallow—but our best people are working to fix that Johnny Quick! And in a single breast implant there’s enough volume to put the entire downloaded database of the culture. And so it’s not a problem, data storage, for us, and accessibility, it’s all—what’s holding us back is simply habit, you know? If we weren’t 95% future-terrified conservatives, imagine what we could put in place! But one of the weird things about democracy is that it’s somewhat phobic in its relationship to change, you know? I mean, like, we have a democracy—ho, ho!—and if somebody wants to close an air base, my God, you have headlines three inches high! “How will the city of Fresno survive the closing of Screechpuke Air Force Base?” Well, I’ve got news for you: there may be some tumbles on the way that make the closing of an air force base look absolutely like peanuts. I mean, you may have to put your child on your back and set off into the radioactive rubble to forage for food. Well, then what will you think of air force base closings and other enormous shocks that we’re supposedly subject to? Not that the dollar drops below 99 yen, and you’re supposed to physically hit the deck, when it’s nothing to anybody who’s living in reality.
So somehow, culture has to be streamlined for survival. And my hope for that—there are only two ways to do it, I think. A kind of super-democratization, probably through electronics, or fascism. But fascism is—one thing it has is the long view. And democracies cannot function with the idea that anything past four years can’t be discussed. Because when the pressure comes on, when the cultural crunch hits, democratic values will go down the drain long before they turn off the lights and stop delivering the food or stop printing books, and stuff like that. Democratic values are so fragile you can’t even imagine. That will just go with the morning mist. And that’s why managing this all is very tricky.
And they key is to broaden the minds of the people. And I maintain—based on the fact that I’ve grown up around psychedelic communities and people and plants my whole life—that our cultural myopia is culturally induced. That people are not naturally as stupid as we seem to be. We seem to be the way we are because of bad cultural practices, bad educational practices, bad ethics, bad religion, bad this, bad that. And there is in people, I really feel (and I don’t think I’m Pollyannish about this), an innate depth and wisdom and interest in the larger issues of life. I mean, why didn’t the Greeks write soap operas instead of talking philosophy? Well, because talking philosophy was clearly more interesting than writing soap operas. Well, then why isn’t it to us? Well, because our playing field is not level, you know? We’re dealing with engines of manipulation and suasion that have studied us with greater care than you would wish to imagine in order to attain certain ends not necessarily friendly to you. This is what I meant when I said, “culture is not your friend:” culture is out to screw you in some way. It wants to sell you something, or it wants to have you react in a certain way. Culture is not your friend.
Did you want to say more?
I have a comment about [???] you were saying that time was out there. I thought that sort of the contemporary view of time is that time was one of the [???] forms of sensibility, coming out of [???] time and space are really functions of our own consciousness [???] part of nature, they’re part of us.
That is a perfect articulation of the enemy position. You’ve got it absolutely right. That’s what they’re saying. Lemme see, here. Where is it dealt with? The laws of nature must be considered as possibilities that are changing with the evolution of the system itself. They are built up in stages and are progressive. What Prigogine is saying, and what I’ve been saying for some time, is that time is a thing. Time is not what Kant said, it is not a category in the human mind. It is a real thing. It is as real as matter and energy. And the idea that time has no arrow, that processes can be run backward and forward—he is concerned to attack. Time matters. Resonance drives change. Let me see if I can find this here.
The notion that natural laws operate independent of time is crucial to predictability. Scientists speak of time-reversibility: a pendulum swings, it returns. The universe expands and contracts. But irreversibility also takes place, Prigogine said in a recent interview. Every time we manufacture a cup it’s from being to becoming, yet physics has denied time-duration irreversibility. This denial has made us foreigners in the world, he said. And if time is an illusion, a mere artifact of perception, what of the simple fact of biological evolution? How do we account for ourselves? We are the children, not the fathers of time, Prigogine said.
This is a great guy. He’s a great guy. He’s definitely the best dressed person in science.
I first want to say that Schopenhauer came along and made the observation that this concept of time, space, and causality being a priori forms of sensibility was also part of the Vedic system, and really the—
Well, I think German idealism is something that we are struggling mightily to come back from. German idealism is rooted in Greek idealism, in Platonism. I am certainly a Platonist, but I am a very cautious Platonist. I’m a provisionary Platonist. If you want to get this nailed down philosophically, the Alfred North Whitehead is your guy. Because Whitehead is a Platonist, but he understands the danger of pure idealism. Pure idealism contains paradoxes and problems that are almost insoluble. For instance, the idea of eternal laws of nature. This is an impossible thing to maintain, though it is science’s position, because where were these eternal laws of nature before the universe existed? Do they exist in some superordinate Platonic hyperspace? And it’s one thing to talk about the laws of nature like the speed of light, but what about laws of nature like gene segregation? Where were the laws of gene segregation before there were any genes in the universe? This effort to keep a Platonic world of the ideos free from contamination by the world of phenomena I think won’t withstand modern logical laundering. And that what we have to see, as Whitehead understood, that the universe is an organism. It’s changing, it’s evolving, it has an internal dynamic of unfoldment. But final causes are not fixed. The whole thing is somehow open and freely determinable throughout. This is a radical break with what we’re used to, but it is supported by experiment.
Do you think that there’s a metaphysical moment at the change of the direction of the pendulum, and applying Zeno’s paradox, you know: for the pendulum to get up to its height it has to go first halfway, and then halfway again, and halfway again, and halfway again. How does it ever…?
Well, Zeno’s paradox is not exactly a paradox. It’s a simple misunderstanding. An infinite series does not add up to infinity. For example, take the infinite series ½, ¼, ⅛, 1⁄16, 1⁄32, 1⁄64, 1⁄128, and so forth. What do you get if you add this infinite series? You get 1. There’s no mystery there. It’s an infinite series, yet it will sum to 1. It took [???] to figure this out. I mean, it remains unsolved for a long time, but it turns out it was just: people should’ve had another drink and tried harder, or something. It really isn’t that mysterious, I think, at this point in the history of mathematics.
What you are saying, that, first of all, the laws, then the environmental equilibrium isn’t so, and we can never reach that harmony? And also, physiologically, we’re getting so diseased we’ve lost our harmony.
Well, harmony—where has there ever been harmony in the history of the Earth? The Earth has constantly been bombarded by planitesimal impact, by fluctuations in the incidental solar radiation, by geomagnetic reversals, by continental drift, by episodes of volcanism. If you think of life as something which tends toward perfection, then—I heard a brilliant orthodox geneticist once say, “The first form of life was perfect.” It was perfect. And then it was damaged by radiation and mutated, and a repair was made. And then there was further damage and further repair, and further damage and further repair. And what we are are the inheritors of 1016 band-aided bad fixes. We are essentially a monstrous tumor that has evolved off from the perfect primary first lifeform.
I think what nature likes is to transcend itself. It is an artificer. It makes things. It solves problems and then it solves them again more elegantly, and keeps going back. And it can produce exquisite environments, ecosystems, and organisms if left to itself, but if the whole pot is stirred, then it doesn’t mind having the reset button hit. And then it goes back and it works it all through again. But the planet was old when consciousness appeared. Life was old. I mean, life, even fairly hefty life, has been around for 500 million years. So that’s 500 million. That’s 500 times longer than primates have been around. It’s 5,000 times longer than technological-using humans have been around. And it’s interesting that so late in its existence the planet would take such a radical turn toward a new level of emergent property. And certainly, we are the time-accelerators. That’s what we do: we catalyze process. The formation of species before the advent of human beings, the formation of plant species, was largely driven by rivers leaving their banks and clearing land and creating empty land that competitor species could then rush in. And this is where the speciation was happening: all along the sandbanks of rivers. With the appearance of human beings—you know, the cutting of forests, the destruction of environment—[this] has accelerated tremendously. And many species have taken advantage of that. Only in the last half of our evolutionary unfoldment have we become a species limiting the exfoliation of other species.
Well, what they’re trying to do, I take it, is raise consciousness. If they’re trying to save species from extinction they’re probably out of luck. Anyway, 95% of all life that has ever lived on this Earth is extinct. I mean, if you ask: what does nature do best? Create extinct species. That’s what nature seems to do very, very well.
You wanted to say something? No? You?
At what point does novelty become habit?
When new novelty pushes it into the background. In other words, agriculture was something once the most radical activity you could do on this planet. It was the cutting edge of technology. People were hacking agriculture. Now, agriculture is one of the most traditional human occupations you can pursue. It has been embedded in the background of human activity.
Would your prediction be, then, that also [???] structures that we have built up currently in this country and in the West will disappear in the next twenty years?
Well, in a sense, I think that’s already happening. It’s been predicted by people who didn’t even have my point of view. For instance, McLuhan predicted something which he called “electronic feudalism.” And he said the inevitable consequence of electronic media is a fragmentation of large systems of control. And by that he meant the nation-state. And certainly this has occurred in the Marxist part of the world. But, you know, it’s only been five years since the last Marxist state collapsed. Everybody’s holding their breath, but it may be that the virus is headed our way. With the collapse of ideology people are getting back to their old racial and curatorial beefs and hassles. And so we’re getting Croatia, Rwanda, but also Palestinian self-rule, self-rule in South Africa. It’s not all bad news. But yeah, I think fragmentation is underway. I think the state is largely irrelevant. I think the corporations are these international electronic organisms made of capital that operate transparently and invisibly, and it is probably their agenda which the planet is following. And I don’t say this conspiratorially—somebody’s running the world, and corporations are a logical force to follow on. The nation-state didn’t do a good job. I mean, the nation-state, for cryin’ out loud, brought us to the thermonuclear standoff, you know? Sony just wants to muck with your mind with weird commercials, but they don’t propose a thermonuclear exchange over commercial issues. And I think that nation-states valued war as an instrument of policy, and I think corporations find war horribly disruptive and expensive—I mean, not the corporations which sell armaments, but that’s a minority. One of the good things about being ruled by corporations is that, to do business, you have to have stability: you can’t have a bunch of crazy political ideologies or people busting up the infrastructure and all that. That’s a horrible interruption of business as usual.
I like what you said last night about things going asymptotic, and I sort of realized in my own little personal world of medicine all the issues of health care, the thing that has prompted the national health care debate is the extrapolation of that 14% of our gross national product is now being spent on health care, and it was 7% a decade ago, and you draw the curve, and all of a sudden you’re going to see it’s going to be 90%. And so it is, I don’t know—I can’t think of anything else off the top of my mind, so specifically, that fits into that asymptotic… for the public and a political debate.
Well, for example, there are many of these areas. Let’s take an obvious one: the population curve. You extrapolate the population curve based on current conservative statistics, and there isn’t room to stand on each other 70 years down the line. Well, then take the curve of micro-miniaturization of data storage: it tells you that within 30 years the entire cultural inventory of the species can be stored on the head of a pin. Well, then take the energy release curve: extrapolate it out 30 years, and we will be able to blow the entire planet apart like a stick of dynamite inside a rotten apple. Extrapolate the speed curve, and assume no upper limit, and you discover that within 30 years we should be able to travel 100 times the speed of light. Well, suppose this is all going to happen. Suppose these curves are real, and there is no switching out, no laws, in our way. See, all that’s holding together the illusion of the historical world is our inability to communicate with each other. Here is somebody over here. They are working on data encryption. Here is somebody who’s working on nanotechnology. Here’s starflight. Here, longevity. Here, cures for viral diseases. Well, none of these people talk to each other. None of them know of each other’s existence. And yet, one by one, they will arrive at their goals and this will all be fed together into a civilization that nobody is managing and nobody can imagine.
McLuhan was the one who pointed out that we have never been able to anticipate the impact of any technology. We always get it wrong. Most recently—I can remember as recently as 1977, when home computers began to be sold on the market, and there was a whole lot of bellyaching about how this was the end of literacy. And now people would watch computer screens and see endless literacy. No one predicted that small computers would bring the greatest explosion in publishing since the invention of the printing press, and that what they would be used for by people is desktop publishing. This was a completely unexpected effect. Who could’ve predicted that the automobile would actually function as a bedroom with wheels and break down the Calvinist structure of mate-choosing and marriage obligation within the community? Who would dream that the railroad would destroy the extended family and allow people to move hundreds of miles from their family? I think that the ultimate result of all this electronic technology is the literalizing of consciousness: that consciousness is coming into being. That’s why, you know—the 19th century had no industry equivalent to Hollywood. And Hollywood is a huge sector of the national economy, and what is it concerned with? It builds dreams, it peddles images. It’s entirely involved in the production of the imagination. And think of a company like Industrial Light and Magic: they’re not kidding! And when you look at their corporate ledger you understand they’re not kidding, and wish you had stock in it because Industrial Light and Magic is making very real money. So I think that all of these technologies and the psychedelic shamanism and the emphasis on a vocabulary of spiritualism and direct experience—that what this all leading to is the greatest empowering of the imagination since the birth of language, and that the effects are similarly unpredictable. I mean, who could’ve imagined, sitting around the paleolithic campfire, that “ugg-nug” meant “water” would lead to the World Trade Center, you know, in a direct line of development? But the thing is that it’s happening faster than any straight person can anticipate.
Somebody not presently in the room brought me a book called Metaman, and it looks very far out. It says the coming evolution of the human-machine intelligence, and it shows a picture of Europe with all these lights going everywhere. Well, when you open it up and read it it has phrases in it like, “within several decades human beings will this and that”—no, there aren’t several decades. This is far closer than you wish to suppose. It is essentially upon us. What is impeding our recognition of it is the presence of so much momentum in the system from the old way of doing things. I mean, for instance, what we are doing at this moment is incredibly unnecessary and archaic. And we do it because it’s how we’ve always done it: gather together and talk. But, you know, Tim Leary had a wonderful saying back in the sixties; he said, “Find the others.” Find the others. Well, if you go onto the net, no matter what your concern is—you know, the restoration of south German harpsichords, or whatever it is—there are hundreds of people waiting to share their secrets with you, to passionately communicate with you, to draw you into a community. The net is a tremendous permission for eccentricity. You know, if you’re a 245-pound white male and you want to present yourself as a seven-year-old black girl who’s made a great victory over polio—hey, nobody can stop you from doing that on the net. On the net you are who you say you are. And all interest groups, no matter how peculiar and formerly insulated, can contact each other instantly. So the idea, the very notion, of orthodoxy is melting away. Freakery is the wave of the future. The bohemians knew it, the ’pataphysicians knew it, the dadaists knew it, the surrealists knew it, the hippies, even the zippies. Eccentricity and the empowerment of individuality is a paradoxical part of living in an electronic collectivity.
[???] there are a lot of interesting psychedelics on the net, and have you been using the—
Oh yeah. I mean, I only relate to a single conference: alt.drugs, which has 700 postings daily. And it’s broken down into alt.mdma, alt.psilocybin, alt.this—I mean, there is a conference on the net called alt.terencemckenna, which I have never gone to! I have not the courage or the stomach, you know, to do that. But it shows you how fragmented it is. And anyone can start a conference. And some of them involve thousands and thousands of people. I mean, like alt.sex: you can imagine what that’s like. I mean, you couldn’t get all those people in Hollywood Stadium. Very interesting: in the last issue of Wired—which you haven’t received yet, but which I somehow have a hold of—there’s a very interesting market analysis of use of the net: who uses what. And what turns out (here it is): most popular newsgroups in April. These are the ten most popular newsgroups on the net. The first most popular is news announce. That you would expect. That’s just headline flashes: something, happened, someone’s killed. Something happens, you go there, you look. That would make sense. But the second most popular, visited in the month of April by half a million users, was alt.sex.stories. That’s a group where people just write racy things that may or may not have happened to them. 500,000 people. Now, we’re being told that there are 20 million people on the net right now. That means one in forty in the month of April of the entire net population accessed alt.sex.stories. Number three, with 450,000 visitors, was alt.binaries.pictures.erotica. Now, what’s interesting about that one is that that requires special equipment: a SLIP connection and Mosaic. It vastly restricts the number of people who could have accessed it, and yet it’s only 50,000 short of the alt.sex thing. In fourth place with 440,000 visitors in April: alt.sex. In fifth place, news and answers. But in sixth place with 380,000 users: rec.humor.funny.
So what’s going on here is: people are turning to the net for erotic thrills and laughs in staggering numbers. A major proportion. Well, that’s funny. We thought it was all about transferring business files and spreadsheets and similar nerdishness. No. It turns out sex and humor are what most people, according to the self-monitoring programs of the net itself, are into. Well, where is that going? And, you know, now it’s text. It’s 90% text, which is incredibly tedious and retro. I mean, you can’t believe this is the cutting edge as you’re typing away. But with SLIP connections and protocols like Mosaic, within—I mean, it’s galloping. It’s happening as we speak. Within six months, eight months, it will be 50% visual. And within a year that’s what it will be. People are building their realities right now. Ralph Abraham told me that he bought a storefront on the net, and there he sells his books on dynamics and chaos theory, and his tapes, and some t-shirts, and he posts his latest papers in progress. For crying out loud, it’s a shop front about advanced mathematics! And the automatic turnstile is telling him that a thousand people a day are checking out his little kiosk on the net, and they know it’s advanced mathematics. So what if he were selling—I dunno—vibrators or something? How many customers would he have per day? And what’s great about the net is that it’s not visible. We don’t see bulldozers crashing through neighborhoods, we don’t see the ordinary disruption that we associate with progress. In fact, we don’t see nothing! It’s going on yonder in hyperspace. The people who aren’t doing it think it has something to do with making telephone calls faster or something. They haven’t the faintest. And every one of us is in danger of being disenfranchised. You’ve got to keep up. Just living in the 20th century is becoming a full-time educational experience. You can never stop going to school. You have to master endless protocols, passwords, software. And it’s just like learning to drive or learning to walk—it’s net surfing and here to stay.
And it is curiously like what shamans have been doing for a long, long time with psychedelic plants. One way of thinking of it is that: what is happening is that the engineering mentality is simply catching up with the shamanic intent. And so what was previously done with plants and ritual and magical song is now being done with protocols and code-writing and encryption, so forth and so on, because the machines are extensions of ourselves—not our hands, as the age of mechanical technology was, but they are literal extensions of our minds. And this is very new stuff. It’s a great comfort to me that no one understands this. Because if no one understands it, no one can control it. And the people most given to control fantasies—the suits—are the least able to deal with this technology. I mean, they have to hire short-haired women and guys with ponytails to explain it all to them, and to keep it up and running. That’s why they even tolerate people like that around, because very few middle- and upper-level executives can do anything on their own. So they’ve just priced themselves out of the game. They are dinosaurs, and they will be given their golden parachutes and sent off to Palm Springs and Pebble Beach, and that’ll be it, I think.
I’ve noticed you brought up your copy of Moby Dick, and you have a marker in it. And I’m dying to know what that marker, what chapter—
Well, it’s my fallback position. I can always, if things get slow, make a literary analogy.
I read to my son, and reached chapter 36.
Is that Quarter-Deck?
That’s The Quarter-Deck.
That’s the marked chapter. Why do you read it to your son?
I just… you know, I just do. Just for him to hear the sounds of the words. Who lives out there? Moby Dick! [???] introducing him very early. That’s my favorite chapter in the book.
I’m of the opinion that there might be a future world where all that will be remembered about the people who populated North America is that they built amazing roads and they hunted whales. And people will say, “We built amazing roads because even atom bombs can’t destroy a freeway cloverleaf.” And they will say, “We hunted whales because this book is the American Iliad.” I mean, this book will last as long as language lasts. And it’s a very psychedelic book. I don’t know how germane it is to all of what we’re talking about, but it’s about a quest and it’s about an unrelenting devotion to a certain kind of truth. And it’s a tremendous allegory. I mean, Melville was no fool, and he was perfectly aware of the Assyrian religion that James Frazer was sketching out, and of the comparative mythology movement, and he used language to layer resonance in the same way that we have been talking here about how the world is made that way. Joyce did the same thing. Essentially, what I’m arguing is a kind of allegorical view of reality. You know, the genius of Ulysses, Joyce’s Ulysses now, is that a guy wants to buy some kidneys to fry for breakfast. And so he wanders around his neighborhood, and he chats with the butcher, and he has some adventures, and in the meantime he’s constantly thinking about his weird relationship, and the 20th century and science, and medicine, and all this stuff. And he, on another level, is Odysseus visiting the various ports of call in the Iliad. And so into the mundane life of this Irish Jew in 1906 comes this great historical echo of the Iliad. If you’ve never read Moby Dick you certainly should. It’s a crash course in psychedelic metaphysics, I would think. I can’t resist it. Let me read you a very small part. This is from chapter 36, which is called The Quarter-Deck. And those of you who’ve read it but forget the story: Ahab at last, the captain of the Pequod, he calls the crew together and he reveals what this is about: that this is no search whale oil for the lamps of New Bedford. That he had an encounter with the leviathan, as he calls it—with this thing which basically bent him completely out of shape, and in fact emasculated him. That’s very clear from the text. So he is Osiris who lost his penis, you’ll recall, in the confrontation with an enormous sea monster called Typhon. And then the goddess Isis searched through the underworld, trying to reconstruct Osiris. And in this chapter, The Quarter-Deck, the philosophy of American transcendentalism—which is what Melville was operating under, and which we know too little of. I often think how much deeper and richer American environmentalism would be if people would read their Emerson. I mean, Emerson is the American Blake, in a sense. And Melville comes out of that. But there is a moment in which the first mate, Starbuck—Ahab is raving on, and the first mate who represents Christian right reason tries to inject a note of sanity into this undertaking. In other words, he’s the straight man. He stands for Calvinism, rectitude, reason, science. And he says, speaking to Ahab, Starbuck says—Ahab has just shouted to the crew, “Art not game for Moby Dick?” And Starbuck says,
And then Starbuck delivers the famous line:
And Ahab says:
And then, in an aside:
The important part of that, from our point of view, is: “all visible objects are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event—in the living act, the undoubted deed—some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask.” I mean, that’s pure psychedelic philosophy!