State of the Stone


In this talk, McKenna gives one of his more hopeful presentations about love and the state of humanity at the end of the millenium.



I sort of think of these get-togethers—they happen periodically, cyclically, but unscheduled—as a State of the Stone addresses, or an opportunity for the community to come together and everybody see who’s here once again, who has survived, who’s gotten out, so forth and so on. I’m very bullish about the situation. Fortunately, I hold the theory that things have to get a lot worse before they can get better. So whenever I see things getting worse I assume that’s the first step toward progress. I think that, in the time we’ve been getting together and talking about these things, the general tone has changed dramatically. When I started talking about all of this, my audience was entirely my peers: old freaks. And many of you were ten years old. And now the message has been out there for about twelve years that psychedelics actually represent an opportunity for healing, an opportunity to return to religion as it was practiced before the invention of the marketplace. And I’m very pleased, as I go around meeting people and discussing this issue, to see how much of the youth culture has become sensitive to the psychedelic issue. Because it really means that after twenty, thirty years of unstinting distortion and misrepresentation by the media and some of the powers that be, that nevertheless the curiosity is intact, the opportunity is available, and people have not been fooled by the effort to denigrate, dumb down, sideline, water down, sell out, whitewash, and screw over the idea that psychedelic plants are an excellent and necessary part of any program of spiritual self-exploration.


I’m not going to talk that much about this today because I think it would be preaching to the converted. I’m not even going to remind you that our evolutionary heritage lies in the use of psychedelics; that it was in all probability psychedelics that called forth our humanness. I’ve talked about this in numerous forms. It doesn’t have to particularly gone over today. Since this is a hometown crowd, since this is peer review, I would rather go to some of the stuff that plays with more resistance in Des Moines and Cleveland and beta-test it here while there’s still time to recant. San Francisco is an incredibly forgiving town. If you need to go somewhere and make a mistake, this is probably the place.


Anyway, I’ve been altering my consciousness pharmacologically since I was eighteen, then trying to fold it back into the database of culture to make sense of it mathematically, religiously, philosophically, historically, artistically, so forth and so on. And my conclusions become more and more radical. Last night in Sacramento I lectured on psilocybin’s impact on human evolution, and they quoted some anthropologist somewhere who wouldn’t even give his name for the attribution of his “No comment,” saying it was too radical to even be considered. And I thought to myself—and the problem is, it’s the most respectable idea I’ve got! So, having given that its run for its money last night, what I’ll talk to you about today—and then later we can have a question period, and it can be free ranging, and whatever your concerns can come to the fore—but it occurs to me that science has very radically failed. And it’s an unusual point to make, because we live in the impression that science is somehow at the pinnacle of its explanatory powers, and that it is going to give us cleaner, better societies, safer sex, better entertainment, and ultimately some kind of explanation about how the universe really works. And in the past year—you know, like happy kittens—they have dragged in and dropped on our doorstep the top quark, which is something to find out there in the bulrushes. If you didn’t know to look for it, you probably would never find it. But nevertheless, for all of its capacity to razzle-dazzle, science has some serious drawbacks, some serious limitations that psychedelic experiences make more starkly evident, I think, simply because psychedelic people then compare the full spectrum of their experience to the paradigm they’re being offered.


For example, science proceeds probabilistically. This is how it’s been doing its work for about three centuries. This involves an assumption that has never been proven and is very, very difficult to test. It’s the assumption that time is invariant. You see, probability theory rests on the idea of experiment. Science proceeds by experiment. But built into the concept of experiment is this very fishy notion called the restoration of initial conditions. And it turns out that there ain’t no such creature. You can never restore initial conditions. A way of putting it is: you can never go home again. You know? Heraclitus said we never step into the same river twice. If you’re paying attention you might notice that that means we can never step into the same river once. Right?


You see, science is a historical process that began with the Greeks and naturally dealt with the simpler questions first. And the simpler questions are: what is the world made of? How does it work? The complex questions are things like: what is language? And: how do we know truth? The Greeks sort of bridged that one. But they had this idea that, because God was perfect, the universe should behave according to models of mathematical perfection. And so the planets were assumed to go in perfect circles, and the classical objects of Aristotelian geometry were made the basis of science. Now, one by one, over time, these perfect mathematical objects have had to be dumped and gotten rid of because they came into contradiction with observation. The difference between Ptolemaic astronomy and Copernican astronomy is that Ptolemaic astronomy does all its calculations with perfect circles within perfect circles. And what Copernicus said was: wouldn’t it be simpler to use ellipses? And then you only have to use one ellipse rather than circles within circles within circles. But the leap of faith, or the leap of understanding, that you have to make there is the understanding the planets don’t move in perfect circles. They’re not gods, they’re balls of rock obeying the laws of gravitation keeping them in orbit. So, one by one, these perfect objects of Greek mathematical explanation were abandoned.


The sole exception is the idea that time is a perfectly smooth surface. This idea is very necessary to science because it means that measurements of physical systems are not time-dependent. In other words, it would be counter-intuitive to a scientist to be told, “You will get a different charge for the electron if you measure it on Tuesdays and Thursdays than Mondays and Saturdays.” They would say that’s preposterous. The charge of the electron must be invariant in time. Why? It’s simply a first pass with the razor of simplicity. I mean, explanations should be as simple as possible, but no simpler, or you miss the point. So when we look at complex phenomena—like the fall of empires, love affairs, corporate takeovers, social revolutions—these things never happen the same way twice. That’s why we invented what we call the social sciences, meaning no science at all, but full of good intention. These kinds of complex phenomena are very critically dependent on initial conditions. You know, a love affair: between whom and whom? Where? Under what economic conditions? What were the religious preferences of the parties, and what did their parents think, and what did their children think? In other words, initial conditions set the course, and yet initial conditions are never the same in these complex systems. Science works very differently from ordinary perception, as you can see if you walked around on the floor of this gathering. Anomaly is highly prized here. If we have a thousand people who go out on a starry night and see only the ordinary constellations, that is buried. But if one person goes out on a starry night and sees a rectangular black object a city block long with softly glowing yellow lights moving along the horizon, that’s big news.


Science works exactly the opposite. If you want, for example, to carry out a scientific observation, and you measure (let’s say) the electrical charge running through a wire, and you measure it a thousand times, and 999 times it’s between three and four volts, but one time you get a measurement of 1,290 volts, a good scientist discards the aberrant measurement. Says, “Well, that can’t be right. That’s ridiculous. Get that puppy out of there! Now average the other 999.” Completely different way of doing intellectual business than the way it is done at the edge of human thought, where we seek the curious, the anomalous, the unusual. And then that leads us to wild generalizations backward against the pattern of normality, of normal happenstance.


Okay, so this enslavement to Greek idealism of a particular sort has caused science to be fairly helpless in describing the kind of complex systems that now more and more dominate our lives: global economies, the Internet, interlocking markets, so forth and so on. I want to suggest—it’s a two-part suggestion and this is the first part—that there is going to have to be a general revision of how science does its business if we want to actually extend the explanatory power of science into the domain of human social and intellectual complexity. And what science is going to have to do is recognize that, like everything else ever examined through the lens of science, time is going to have to be seen as some kind of variable phenomenon; something that is not a perfect mathematical plane, but has a topological texture at some level. It may appear smooth from a certain distance, but as your point of view sinks into it, this perfect smoothness is revealed to be, in fact, a composite of irregularities; that it is made of fractal subsets of itself. Now, science has led in this discovery of the fractal reordering of nature, but it hasn’t extended it to time.


The big news coming out of science in the last ten years, perhaps the last certain truth that science will secure before its transformation—and it’s a very important one—it’s that nature is self-similar across scale. This is something that couldn’t have been said even ten years ago. Nature is self-similar across scale. This is big news, big understanding. And what does it mean? Well, it means—I’m sure you all have pondered the similarity between the structure of an atom, a galaxy, and a solar system. And if you inquired about this you were told it’s coincidence. Well, P. W. Bridgman is the person who pointed out that a coincidence is what you have left over when you apply a bad theory, you see? So until ten years ago, when you asked this question, you would be told it’s a coincidence. You know, it’s easy to make a scientific revolution. I can remember when I was about nine, going to my mother in a state of high excitement and saying, “Have you noticed that South America will fit against Africa like a puzzle piece?” And then we looked into it, and we were told this is a coincidence. Well, it wasn’t ten years before continental drift made a revolution out of the Earth sciences by doing what? By recognizing what an eight-year-old child could point out: that Africa and South America were obviously once joined together. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see this, you just have to have some experience with crossword puzzles and an open mind.


So nature is self-similar across scales. That means that an atom is like a galaxy, is like a solar system. But it means more than that. It means that we can extrapolate toward cosmic processes by thinking about our own lives. Because our own lives are a tiny fractal piece of data that is part of a much larger integrated modular hierarchy that we now realize will have the same architectonic as our own immediate experience, except it will be expressed on a much larger scale. So that’s the first and simplest part of this suggestion for a reformation of science that I want to propose. First of all, that this fractal principle, more clearly enunciated and understood—everybody is talking about fractals. But it took Ralph Abraham to get it down to a bumper sticker for me. And it is. Nature is self-similar across scales. Companies explode the same way economies explode, the same way the biota of a continent explode. Processes are always similar, but only differ in scale. And what that means, then, is that our most immediate datum of experience—which is the feeling of being in a body, alive and feeling—can be extrapolated and mapped onto larger and smaller processes in the universe. To give not only a sentient universe, a living universe, a dynamic universe, a universe with purpose, but it also gives us a universe with a very interesting set of closure properties that are different from the ones we learned from science.


The thing about science and its cosmology is that it makes us irrelevant. We’re told that we are an accident around an ordinary star in an ordinary galaxy in an ordinary portion of the local supercluster, and it’s just ordinary, ordinary, ordinary, nothing to be excited about. And then you have existentialism which says: if you want to get excited, you have to admit that you’re just doing it on your own hook. This is called conferring meaning rather than discovering meaning. We confer meaning, the existentialists tell us, and it’s good as long as it lasts, and then that’s nothing, too. But all of these conclusions have been based on ignoring a second fact about nature that is as cogent as its fractality—and far more important for us, I believe.


And this second factor is that the further back in time you go, the slower everything unfolds. Our present domain of experience is a domain of furious activity. Many, many things go on on this planet in a single day. There are inventions. There are books. There are transactions. There are meetings and dissolutions. We live in a busy, busy, busy world. As you journey backward in time the world becomes less and less busy. And when you leave the domain of organic evolution the world becomes boring as hell. And when you go further back to the period before even molecular chemistry, you know, it’s so boring one can barely compose a comment so infused with ennui is the observer in the contemplation of the scene. But science has never inculcated this observation into its model of reality. We’re told time is invariant. Therefore, this notion of speeding up—or of complexity in some parts of time and not in others—it must be an artifact of observation. It must be an illusion or a mistake. It isn’t real. But I maintain it is one of the most persistent facts about reality. And I’ve spoken of it here in terms of things get simpler as you go backward in time. We could stand that on its head and point out that things get more complex as you move forward in time. And that means that this moment is the most complex moment the universe has ever known—at least the local universe. That means, in a way, if the universe started at the big bang, it ends right here, right now—what I call local now. Because the rest of time has not yet undergone the formality of occurring. So here we are: the inheritors of the big bang standing in the ultra-complex local now.


Now, what do I mean by “complex?” Well, on the platform of cellular evolution arose higher animals, complex ecosystems. On the platform of that arose early human culture. Upon that platform rose late human culture—including ourselves, including technology. My point here that I want to try to sell you on is that nature is a novelty-conserving engine of some sort. That, far from being a random process driven toward entropy by the second law of thermodynamics, nature is a process of complexification. That, whenever this process is dealt a blow, it immediately sets out to recover and surpass whatever previous level of complexification it had attained.


Well, now, the important thing about this—other than just its intrinsic importance for people doing philosophy—is that it holds out the possibility of a theory of ethics, because we are the most complex phenomenon that we know of on this planet. Now, you may edge forward in your seat, ready to spring forward with some objection, but give me a moment here. Complexity is a tricky concept to define, first of all—to define mathematically or any other way. Norbert Wiener and some of those people spent some time on this. But intuitively I think it’s a pretty straightforward concept. The way I define complexity is density of connections. If point A has 16 connecting points, it is less complex than point B with 32 connecting points. That seems fairly clear. You would have an uphill battle to argue against that. Some weasel might, but who knows? I mean, hell, you can’t get consensus on what time it is!


But if nature is a novelty-conserving engine—if that’s what nature treasures—then we are not the chance witnesses of an existential universe, we are in fact All God’s Chillun in some sense. In other words, we represent the quintessent gathering-together of novelty. We are more than mere matter. We are more than mere biology. We are more than mere aboriginal culture. We are all of those things, plus we are our skin of technical connections, our extruded culture, our fecal coral reef of transistors, resistors, transponders, databases, and transmission systems. All of that is superimposed on the organic. So, suddenly, this message that has been relatively ignored by secular intellectuals for 500 years—the message of our importance in the divine plan—gets a real leg up.


The puzzle, then, is: if we’re the part of the universe where value has come to rest in the process of concrescing complexity, then why is it that, in practical terms, we seem like a loaded gun held at the head of the planet? In other words, all other systems and processes seem to have been put at risk to achieve this thin and wavering spire of complexification that threatens to come down around our ears at any moment and send us back to the fourteenth century, if not the Stone Age, if we mismanage ourselves.


Well, I think that we need to look at this process from the broadest possible perspective and try to decondition ourselves from the assumptions of science. Every theory has what I call a hard swallow. Because, probably, every theory is horse shit in some sense. I mean, truth is known in silence. So if you’re going out of that area you should expect some rather peculiar blemishes on the enterprise. So every theory has a hard swallow. Science—their hard swallow is what’s called the big bang: the idea that the universe sprang from nothing for no reason whatsoever in a single moment. So, notice that whether you find that persuasive or not, it is the limit test for credulity. Do you understand what I mean? I mean: if you will believe that, what would you dig in your heels on? I mean, if you would believe that, then my family has a bridge over the Hudson River that we are willing to let go for a song, and you could really get in on something good there! The big bang is completely improbable. Utterly improbable. It is the most improbable of all improbabilities. So just remember that when the fascism of science is telling you that astrologers don’t know what they’re talking about, and somebody else doesn’t know what they’re talking about. I mean, science has built a house of cards on worse than sand—quicksand!


I would like to propose a completely different theory which sounds—I know—far-fetched, but I think it answers certain problems that can’t be reasonably dealt with otherwise. I would like to propose that the universe is headed toward a singularity. Not that it was born in a singularity and has been blasted outward with the unraveling of the laws of physics ever since, but rather the idea that the universe is not a purposeless explosion running down into entropy, but in fact the universe is some kind of process that is running along fairly well-defined runnels—or what the British biologist C. H. Waddington called creodes. In other words, it is not—again—it is not a flat surface over which we are free to lurch and careen in some kind of random walk or parody of Brownian motion. It isn’t that at all. It is a topology. It is a surface, a slalom, whose high walls confine us as we move deeper and deeper into the process of complexification. And we move into that process faster and faster and faster.


And this is where it gets woo-woo, because—I am willing to say I’m convinced, anyway—I’m willing to say I’m convinced that history is the enunciation of the nearby presence of a transformational event. In other words, a planet without history is what you get if it’s business as usual. The chipmunks dig their burrows, the hummingbirds fertilize the trumpet flowers, the ants dig out the ground. Everything proceeds normally. History is what happens when an animal species has its genome distorted by the nearby presence of a transcendental object. It only lasts 1,200 to 1,500 generations. It’s very brief in terms of the life of—if the life of this planet were a city block, history would be as thick as a piece of typing paper. That’s how long it lasts. And yet this is all we’ve ever known: the inside of this transitory domain called history.


And, without thinking about it very much, our secular society tells us to assume it will go on forever. You know? Assume it will go on forever. That’s a bigger stretch than the big bang for me. I cannot see how anyone could assume that human history will go on—not forever—but let’s say as long as it has gone on. Can anyone imagine the next 10,000 years of technological development and global civilization? It’s a joke! Can anyone imagine the next 1,000 years? Or 100 years? I think that the asymptotic curve of technological development, complexification, the spread of communication technologies, and yadda, yadda, yadda is happening so fast that, within our lifetimes, we can see the transcendental object rearing up and throwing the shadow of its enormous protean form across the surface of social processes and social evolution.


The purpose of history is to create a planetary crisis. And it’s doing a splendid job of it. Apparently, monkeys would rather kick back and chill, and so we only function well under pressure. And so the pressure is rising. And, you know, our responses have been astonishing. When the African continent dried up we invented agriculture. When spoken language was insufficient we invented alphabets. When they were insufficient we invented mathematical modeling. When the complexity of the world exceeded our mathematical models we built computational machinery to expand the power of our mathematical tools. We seem to function well under pressure. And now we are coming under pressure. Not this; this is not pressure. This is the long garden party before pressure, when people can still worry about whether they’re getting enough antioxidants and so forth and so on. (Not to gore anyone’s particular ox; I’m as concerned about antioxidants as the next person.)


But I think that for a very long time—maybe, oh, I don’t know… pick a number, but let’s say 50,000 years; at least since language—shamans or users of hallucinogenic plants have had what Wordsworth called Intimations of Immortality. That, aside from everything else which crowds the shamanic mindspace, there is this view along the forward vector of time to this brilliant boundary-dissolving light that seems to throw its influence across all processes that precede it. And religions—great religions that involve the fates of hundreds of millions of people—are intimations of this transcendental object at the end of time. And they all get it wrong, of course. They get it wrong because it is always filtered through the vicissitudes of the historical moment and the political needs of those who are telling the tale. But if you take all of these things not as God’s revealed truth, but more as God’s image in the funhouse mirror of bent ideology, you can sort of extract out of all these images a sense of what the transcendental reality must be like.


And I think—referring to the idea that we are fractally organized; that we are microcosms of the larger structure of the universe—then I think in the natural phenomenon of orgasm, and in the—how would you put it?—the human-plant interaction occasioned by psychedelics (so orgasm and the psychedelic experience), we actually, in fractal form, anticipate this boundary-dissolving conclusion to the historical process. I mean, that’s why Eros is like a compass of hope; why everybody says—after the hortatory political breast-beating and all of that—everyone knows that what we really need is love. That, without that, it won’t work. With that, the political, social, intellectual and technological details will probably take care of themselves. But love in the heart of a monkey—which is what we are—is an effort to image this transcendental thing at the end of time. I mean, to love is to open to the presence of the other, and that’s a very, very profound boundary dissolution. Ultimately, at death, I think—probably the only way you can meet death fully in command of your faculties is to love it, to surrender to it.


Well, we each can make whatever peace we can or cannot make with our own death, but we get much more agitated when we contemplate the death of the species or the death of the planet. Because that seems to involve such higher stakes, such greater loss. What I observe in nature is: nature is a very high-stakes gambler. You know, nature is like the good shepherd in the Gospel’s story. I mean, she will leave the 99 to save the one that is lost. Her interest in complexity and her willingness to allow it to adumbrate in ourselves to such excruciating levels is basically a willingness to put every gray whale, dandelion, parakeet, and spotted owl on notice that the human enterprise is somehow an acceptable risk for them to endure.


And I think that the way psychedelics play into all of this is: they—by being boundary-dissolving, by being deconditioning agents—they strip from your eyes this downer-trip that we have inherited out of a scientific model of reality. We are not lost in a mute, uncaring, purposeless universe. How anybody could ever suppose this… it takes an extraordinary power of the denial of simple observation to come to this conclusion. Nevertheless, this is what modern science tells us. If this isn’t obvious to you, then you probably need to do five grams in silent darkness on an empty stomach and just weigh the various ideas that are being peddled in the intellectual marketplace. You know, big bang, God’s love, transcendental object at the end of history—it’s a small number of items on the menu.


Most of these items on the menu are simply ideologies. None—except for psychedelics, I would submit—are an experience; a direct experience. And this is what gives it a leg up: it’s not an appeal to reason. It’s not an appeal to reason. And, in fact, it is ultimately unreasonable. You know? Tertullian, when he was asked about the resurrection, they said, “Why do you believe in this? It’s so stupid!” And he said, “Credo quia absurdum!”—I believe it because it is absurd! I believe it because it is absurd. This is a thoroughly modern sentiment. If the rest of the fathers of the early church had been as hip as that statement we wouldn’t’ve come away with original sin and the virgin birth.


I believe that there is very little time left, that history is the enunciation of human morphogenetic transformation that is under the control of the largest control-structures in the planetary ecology. In other words, it’s not up to Bill Clinton or “Skink” Gingrich or any of these reptiles. It is not a matter of human decision. It is built in to the dynamics of the planet. And consequently, all this Western breast-beating and blame-taking about what we did and how we fucked up, and all this, is a bunch of nonsense. Nobody screwed up! You have to have an enormous sense of your own self-importance to believe that you got away from the control of nature and, against her wishes, were able to set the planet up for Armageddon. I mean, it’s such a typical Western fantasy of freedom and opportunity to do evil. History is not evil. It’s misguided and messy, and very redundant and iterative. But it isn’t evil.


For some reason—10,000 to 15,000 years ago—the human family divided into two camps: the sacred ritual, eternal shamanic style of existence (which lived lightly on the land and is tribal and non-technologically based), and our style, which was a style of conquest and denial, virtual reality building. I mean, now this is thought to be the technological edge, but the earliest technology for virtual reality implementation was language, followed quickly by the hardwiring we call urbanization. Once you have an urban setting you are walking around inside a virtual reality. This is an ideology that has been turned into matter. It’s as virtual as anything could possibly be. There’s nothing new about setting up symbols and taking them for truth. I mean, this seems to be our unique curse, as it were.


What the psychedelics do is decondition us from all the media-induced ratios of perception and value systems, and then you just see that culture is just some story that a bunch of people got together. All culture! Doesn’t matter whether you’re rainforest pygmies or Japanese bankers or whoever you are. Your story is just some story that has a certain amount of drama, a certain amount of self-congratulation, a certain amount of risk, and it… keeps thought away, that story. But if we dissolve our cultural story, then we discover what it is that we’ve been ignoring for 20,000 years—which is the nature of nature: that it preserves novelty, that it is an engine for the production of complexity, that this complexity extends from the abiotic realm, into the biotic, into the cultural, into the technological, seamlessly with no ontological break or transformation.


You know, shamans have a number of abilities which are thought to indicate their special status. They can predict the weather. They can tell where the game has gone. They are very adept at seeing into little social hassles, like who’s sleeping with whom that they shouldn’t be, or who stole the chicken? And then, most importantly, shamans can cure. Or (to put it slightly more cynically), shamans have an incredible ability to choose clients that get well—which is not to knock them. I mean, any doctor will tell you this is part of being a good doctor. So if you analyze these abilities you see that they go from being miraculous and mysterious to being trivial and straightforward if you assume that the shamans can see forward into time in a way that ordinary people can’t. Well, then, where the game went, next week’s weather, who’s sleeping with who, and who will get well become trivial. No big deal. And so the charge that shamans are tricksters is in a sense true, except that the trick is not an illusion. It’s a real trick. They really can project their consciousness into hyperspace.


And thinking about this, and thinking about the psychedelic experience, I think this is a partial clue to how to unravel our dilemma in being. Because—here’s an analogy from chemistry. You’ve all probably took chemistry in high school. You know how sulfur has two melting points? Sulfur we think of as a yellow powder, but put it in a spoon and heat it, and it will turn to a black liquid. Keep heating it and that black liquid will turn to a black solid. Continue heating it and that black solid will turn back into a liquid. Sulfur has two melting points. This is a very curious property of some forms of matter.


It seems to me it suggests an analogy about our own consciousness, which is: consciousness is a kind of omni-directional threat-detection and -assessment system that a very paranoid and small monkey put in place in a grassland environment frequented by very large hunting cats. And so the purpose of consciousness is to inform you of something horrific about to happen, in the hope that you can then take some action against it. But in the bottom of a cave, or high up in a tree, or on a small island—or somewhere where you feel safe—if you will then intoxicate yourself with psychedelics, the evolutionarily defined and paranoid threat-detection configuration of consciousness breaks down. And you discover that you have an angel inside your head. And this angel is the non-paranoid, non-carnivorous monkey who is still, nevertheless, you. And that, from this angelic point of perception, both the past and the future have an immediacy, a co-presence with the moment, that they lack in ordinary experience.


And I believe that, as we create a non-paranoid world—a loving world, a world where people can operate in an atmosphere of trust of each other—that consciousness is slowly trying to relax and recast itself. And the grease for these skids is, of course, the psychedelic experience, because it forces this dissolving of cultural values. It catalyzes it. What it might take you 40 years to do through a process of rational analysis and psychotherapy and deconstruction and so forth and so on—it can happen, literally, overnight on a sufficiently alarming dose of a psychedelic substance. The reason I’m willing to speak to this is because I think it’s not without reason that, in this final moment of historical culmination, that our inventorying of the life and customs of this planet has brought to our attention, then, these aboriginal practices. Because they are the other half of the equation. What we have brought forward is little truths like energy equals mass times the velocity of light squared, so forth and so on. We are the masters of matter and energy, but not the masters of our own dreams, our own spiritual striving. For that we’re going to have to infuse our sense of technical accomplishment with the heart, basically. The heart that these aboriginal cultures have kept intact.


The next few years are going to be wild and woolly. Wilder and woollier than anything we have seen so far. This tendency of things to appear to be getting both better and worse is going to be itself exacerbated tremendously. And people who have outmoded or silly or incomplete or insufficient models of reality are going to find themselves running very,very hard to catch up with a rising sense of anxiety. I think it’s going to necessitate a discussion about time’s direction, the meaning of history, the meaning of the presence of messianic and utopian visions in our shamanic and spiritual legacy. And I’m convinced that the best thing we can do to help this along is to argue against anxiety, inform people concerning the shamanic technologies that are available to them, and urge people to have faith in the larger dynamical processes that define the universe.


The universe has been at this game a long, long, time. It knows what it is about far better than do we. And if we wish to align ourselves with cosmic purpose, we have to find out what it is. And to find out what it is, we have to go outside of our cultural values and our programming. And we are not, fortunately, without helpers, without aides. The plants have always been there. They are the repositories of this transforming gnosis. And if we avail ourselves of it, we can overcome the dis-ease of culture and begin to function for each other as we should, which is as nodes of transformative information and domains of permission, surrender, and affirmation, that recover the real meaning of humanness that history has tended to mitigate and betray.

That’s what I have to say this afternoon. It’s ten after four. Thank you, and I’ll do questions. So, questions?


Sure, the question is about ayahuasca and its ability to heal the body and the mind. In a way, the question is just a continuation of what we’ve been talking about, because ayahuasca is one of these aboriginal hallucinogens that has arrived on the menu of Western culture right when we need it. Ayahuasca is made of a large, woody jungle vine which contains an MAO-inhibitor, harmine, which is complexed with DMT which comes from a plant called psychotria viridis; chacruna. And these two plants are mixed together and boiled, and the solid fraction is eventually discarded, and the boiled fraction is concentrated tremendously, and then you get a liquid that is the equivalent of a slow-release DMT trip. And over four, five hours you are swept into a titanically alien psychedelic experience characterized by DMT-like hallucination.


Yeah. Good question. Interesting question. The question is: harmine and harmaline, what’s the difference? Well, both are β-carbolines. Harmine occurs in ayahuasca. Harmine is harder to take than harmaline. Harmaline occurs in syrian rue and is by itself a hallucinogen. And probably in the presence of cannabis, which certainly in Iran wouldn’t’ve been a problem, it’s probably quite an active hallucinogen. Harmine, the one in banisteriopsis caapi, is a little rugged. If you actually reach a hallucinatory level on it, you’re fairly close to toxicity. A lot of generalizations have been made about harmaline based on harmine that we now probably should go back and look at. If you are looking for a good MAO-inhibitor source, harmal (which is the seeds of perganum harmala) are sold in many Iranian markets. And if you buy—two grams of that reduced to powder, and taken orally, will thoroughly inhibit your MAO for four to six hours. And if you then add a tryptamine, it will not metabolize away and you’ll have a psychedelic experience of some sort. A lot of people are doing this. There’s a whole movement—I don’t know if you’re aware—about ayahuasca analogs. In other words: finding local plants in your environment that contain MAO-inhibitors and DMT, so that instead of going to the Amazon and spreading cultural death you can in the confines of your own kitchen cook up a kind of ayahuasca-like thing. A lot of people are experimenting with this. There have been a few tummy aches. We haven’t lost anybody. But this is definitely one of the frontiers of botanical consciousness.


While I’m on the subject, let me just in the interests of stirring the pot—so to speak—call your attention to: there is a new psychedelic that has been discovered that is, I believe, very destined to play a role in our future. And that is salvia divinorum, this Mexican mint, which has a compound—it’s either an isoquinoline or a [???] terpene, not an alkaloid—that is active at the one-milligram level. That’s astonishingly intense. That’s big news in pharmacology. LSD is active at 500 micrograms—that’s half a milligram. But LSD is a hybrid of the laboratory. This new compound, called alpha salvinorin or salvinorin alpha, occurs in this Mexican plant, salvia divinorum, in quite robust amounts. I mean, it’s well worth your while to extract it, it’s worth your while to chew it, it’s worth your while to smoke it. And the reports about this substance are pretty exciting. Even DMT test pilots come back quite knuckled from this one! As far as contraindications, you should know: some people lose consciousness and get up and move around, even though they’re loaded. So this suggests what we call the “tie them to the tree” protocol. You know? It only lasts about forty minutes, so just have somebody rope you as Ulysses had his crew rope him to the mast, and then you can hear the siren song without disgracing yourself.


Yes. This is a reference to my time wave theory, which I obliquely referred to today but didn’t flay you with the details. But the nice thing about my theory is it has these hideous tests built into it that are unavoidable. You can’t sweep it under the rug. And one of the tests is that the theory predicts that next year, beginning around I believe the end of February and on through until December, is going to be without contest the most dramatic plunge into novelty so far in our lifetimes. And so it has to outdo the fall of the Soviet Union, it has to even outdo Ross Perot’s announcing for the presidency. There are giants that it must surpass. So I will be either here crowing a year from now, or it will be very hard to get calls through to me as I’ll be in seclusion.



You were describing our consciousness as being in need of a lack of individuation.



Well, it’s the issue between individuation and ego, and I think your question implies a confusion of the two. I mean, we glory in our individuality, our uniqueness, our specialness. But the ego is something else. The ego is something which seeks to actually empower itself at the expense of other people. And so, you know, there has to be a tradeoff. I think the glory of Western civilization is our empowering of our uniqueness: the unique artistic vision, the unique scientific vision. The appalling thing about Western civilization is how we have taken the worst aspects of dominator society and institutionalized it, and then passed laws which make it almost impossible to overturn it. So I’m not preaching any form of anthill fascist or communist or otherwise, but I do think that we overidentify ourselves with things, we overidentify our happiness with objects. One of the great things about psychedelics that is so corrosive to capitalistic values is that psychedelics show you that the best stuff is in your own head, you know? Better than walking down Madison Avenue looking in the windows is sitting in your shabby apartment on six dried grams, looking in the windows, you know?


You talk about a transcendental object. The thing that [???] states, you can see sort of like a [???] where your consciousness is not mediated by senses, but you’re perceiving things that have a holographic quality to them. Could you talk about hypercognition and what this [???] perceiving hyper-cognitive beings?



Well, obviously the world arrives at the surface of your skin as one thing. And then it enters into perceptual channels of distinction: the eyes bring you some data, the ears bring you data. And the idea is that within the brain all these channels are supposed to be recombined to give you the original input. And apparently this a culturally defined undertaking. In other words, when you think, you think you’re thinking the way people have always thought. But in fact, how people think is very much dependent on media and informational biases in the society in which they were raised. I believe most Western people hear themselves think. In other words, they hear the equivalent of a voice speaking in their head, and it speaks their thoughts. When you smoke halfway decent pot or take psychedelics or something like that, you become aware that the processing of incoming audio data shifts slightly toward the visual, and you see what people mean. Or their speech seems more colorful; it seems to convey more. And I think whether we process incoming speech by the ear or by the eye, internally, is a piece of cultural conditioning, and that in fact we are in the act of changing over. That, you know, this generation of young people who are always dissed as illiterate are in fact print-illiterate, but they know more about electronic literacy than the people who are knocking them. And their bias is primarily toward the eye rather than the ear. That’s why what we really have are two cultures talking past each other. And I think that psychedelics sort of strip out culturally conditioned styles of sensory processing, and that what we call hallucinations are nothing more our thoughts beheld to some degree—and that we’re not used to beholding our thoughts, we’re used to hearing our thoughts.



The question is: talk about time speeding up. Maybe we’re experiencing the rapture right now. Well, in a sense that’s what I was hinting at. History is a very low volume version of the rapture. And the twentieth century is a slightly higher volume of the rapture. And the year preceding concrescence will be yet more like the rapture. And the minutes preceding concrescence, probably, hell, it will be the rapture! The universe is seeking some kind of completion at a very, very rapid state. And clearly technology is now what is driving it. For a long time it was driven by chemistry. And then, 1.3 billion years ago, it began to be driven by genetics. Biology became the carrier of change on this planet. 15,000–20,000 years ago, it moved into what some people call the epigenetic domain. That means change not in the genes: writing is an epigenetic behavior, language is an epigenetic behavior, painting, dance, language possibly borderline—quasi-genetic, quasi-epigenetic as Chomsky implied. The thing that we’re not coming to terms with, because it’s almost literally thinkable, is that history is a birthing process. History is a very dramatic, painful, sudden episode, where you begin at the top of the birth canal and you’re a cheerful nomad herding your cattle across the African plains, worshiping a mother goddess, having your orgies, having your intoxication, so forth and so on. That stuff’s at the top of the birth canal, 18,000, 17,000, 16,000 years ago. Now we are at the narrow neck, and we feel like we’re being squeezed to death, suffocated. There is not enough water, there is not enough air, there is only pressure, pressure, pressure, pressure, pressure. And how in this moment of cumulative global crisis can we imagine that this is simply a passage to a wider domain of being, as different from the world we have known as this world is from the amniotic oceans of the womb? But humanness survives. I mean, humanness is fully present in the womb, fully present in the world, makes the transition through the narrow neck of the birth canal. And we will make the transition, I am confident, through the narrow neck of modern history and into this wider post-historical domain.


How much of our foolishness, our religions, our prejudices, our habits we will be able to take with us into that new domain? We don’t know. We’ll be lucky if we get to keep the body! You know? And I’m for that. But I’m also completely aware it may not go according to my wishes. There may come a moment when there are levels of surrender that are trying to the most crazed among us. But nature is clearly, now, in the third and final act of her love affair with complexity. And our cultures, our technologies now have such a momentum for the production of this kind of complexity that political decisions hardly matter anymore. That’s become a side show. And, driven by money and scientific understanding, technology has taken the lead. And by “technology” I don’t mean simply machines, I use McLuhan’s definition: technology is simply the extensions of Man. The extensions of Man. We are hardwiring the unconscious. We are shrinking the planet to a point. We are democratizing the availability of data. We are digitalizing our past so that it doesn’t decay. And we are triangulating and anticipating our future, and discovering it (as we live into it) to be more fun than we ever dared imagine, more psychedelic than we ever dared imagine. And I look for this to continue until it just reaches excruciating levels. You put it very well: we are in the shadow of the rapture that is the end of history.

And this is the end of this little get-together! Thank you very much!

Terence McKenna

Document Options
Find out more