Well, I want to explain a little bit about why I should even be sitting here talking to you, and why I’m qualified to do that—if I’m qualified to do that. A few years ago, my wife and partner and I organized land that we owned in Hawai’i as a non-profit that could be turned into a botanical garden. And this is a unique botanical garden in that our focus is on psychoactive plants and plants with a history of shamanic usage. And even though we’re a very modest effort, it turns out we’re the only people in the world—as far as we can tell—who are actually doing this. You’re all aware of the speed at which the rainforests of the world are being cleared. But what is never mentioned is the even more rapid disappearance of folk knowledge about the rainforest. I’m an optimist and I believe that, eventually, the rainforest-clearing will be halted, and there will be huge preserves in the tropics.
But nothing will halt the homogenization of human knowledge and the abandonment of localized ancient folkways in favor of the kind of generic kinds of understanding that operate in the world cultural market. In the next 30 years it’s going to be the last opportunity that we will have to preserve 50,000–100,000 years of folk medical knowledge relative to the tropics. So this is the real-world political work that my wife and I do. And Kat runs it on a day-to-day basis. I’m its spokesman, but she does the grunt work and the organizing, and organizes the expeditions and the collections. If any of you are of a philanthropic bent, this is something I would be interested in discussing with you on our own. For the rest of you I simply want to inform you that this kind of effort is going on. If you find yourself in exotic foreign countries or planning to travel to remote tribal areas, we would be interested in signing you up to help in our collection efforts. I believe that the collecting and preserving of these psychedelic and psychoactive plants is equivalent to the preserving of ancient manuscripts that was done in the Dark Ages. Preserving things we don’t understand toward a brighter day when society will create an open enough climate of inquiry that these things can actually then be looked at.
Well, so much for that. As far as my qualifications—they’re pretty minimal in the academic realm. I have a degree in conservation of natural resources from the University of California at Berkeley, which is a little like saying I have a degree in tap dancing from the university of Antarctica! But from the time that I was a very small child I was an edge-runner. And I don’t know why, but this turned out to be a very fruitful natural style for getting ahead in the world. The exploration of edges: the oldest books, the forgotten countries, the unpronounceable islands, that sort of thing. And I was a rock collector, and a butterfly collector, and an amateur rocketeer, and all these things. And when I analyzed these pursuits of mine, it was the pursuit of a certain flash of iridescence: the iridescence that you get when you break open ore-bearing rock, or the iridescence that you get when you capture certain kinds of butterflies in tropical environments, or the kind of iridescence that you get when you mix potassium perchlorate in sugar in a hot-sauce pan and ignite it. In other words, pushing out at the edge of the permissible, at the edge of the probable; looking for a certain something—a scintilla, a spark, a possibility.
And as I matured and became a goggle-eyed chess master and hell-on-wheels science fair competitor, I came to assimilate the methodology of science, which is not particularly at the top of its share of the market at the moment. But I assimilated that, and I discovered the second part of the method that has been so serviceable to me, which is: the good stuff can take pressure. The good stuff doesn’t have to be looked at sideways. In other words, if something is real you can stress it, you can test it. It doesn’t require belief. This was, for me, a great intellectual watershed: the understanding that belief of any sort was a kind of encumbrance to the relationship that I was attempting to have with what I naïvely called reality. That was the thing.
And eventually this strategy of edge-running led me into psychedelics. I had had the good fortune to make my way to the University of California at Berkeley—this was 1965. I was at ground zero of the impending cultural implosion. My good fortune. But at that point, discovering psychedelics, I realized that not only the tired cliché that everything you know is wrong, but also that whatever is true cannot even be imagined. And since I discovered this on my own I don’t feel under any kind of constraint not to talk about it. I wasn’t initiated by any secret society. Nobody swore me to silence. So I seem to have gotten through a number of filters. I feel perfectly empowered to talk about this think which I think nobody is supposed to talk about. And I don’t mean the legal side of it, or the social side of it. I mean, that barely interests me at all. Who cares? I mean that the world we are living in is not at all as the linguistic structures we have inherited would have us have it; that we’re actually living inside some kind of artificial construction which is potentially permeable by human understanding, but to date has not been. We have been very much on the surface of things.
The question that I raise constantly with myself—and it’s interesting to talk about it with other people, then—is: just what is going on? Just… what do you think is going on? I mean, have you backed off from it? Do you have a grip on the outlines of the problem? Or are you just sort of adrift inside the context? Because the situation is mighty peculiar, friends! What we have here is a kind of creature made out of information, apparently loose in an environment of meaning, on the surface of a planet upon which gene swarming is happening. And all of these things—gene swarming, self-reflection, production of epigenetic codes like writing and this sort of thing—have no precedent. We don’t go out and collect other forms of these things, they all are generated out of us. We, as moderns, as inheritors of Cartesian rationalism, look out at a universe that our science tells us is energy, matter, conservation of mass and momentum, and yet we never notice the peculiar enigma posed by the question: who’s looking? Who’s looking? How is it possible that the coextensive continuum of apparent being is coordinated inside organism into an experience of ongoing becoming with which we have some kind of identification? This is very weird! It should provoke more comment than it is.
I think it’s fairly easy to compress the entire history of philosophy into the process of achieving age 8. By age 8, most of us—if we have the time on our hands—are able to carry out an analysis of being where we reach the conclusion that everything is events in the nervous system. You know? I mean, we understand this. We understand that light being reflected from objects then creates neurochemical events which reconstruct an image of the outer world. So we pay lip service to this idea that everything is a neurological event, but in fact we have a very strong faith in the so-called three-dimensional Newtonian world. And yet this is the faith that can be deconstructed on psychedelics. It shows us something which we give lip service to but which is very hard to raise to the level of a felt experience. And that is that the world is made of language. It is made of language. This is not, you know, something you say at sales meetings to boost sales, this is bedrock as far as I can tell. And everything else is unconfirmed rumor.
Well, then, you know, what is language? What is it, if the world is made out of it? Well, then this becomes dicey, because the tool for describing language is language. And you don’t have to have graduated to Logic 3 to understand that there’s a self-limiting program involved in something carrying out a complete description of itself. It’s a tautology; it can’t be done. Does that mean, then, that language can only be understood from the vantage point of the unspeakable? I think so. We didn’t know what that meant. We felt the unspeakable was like silence. That isn’t what it is. The unspeakable is the ground of language.
Well, how did we get into this situation? This is part of the question that relates to what is going on: how did we get into this situation? If you came in a flying saucer and observed the Earth, I think you would come to the conclusion that the breakout process, or the anomaly in the mix, is the human element. Animals of all sorts have existed on this planet, integrated into all kinds of ecosystems. And only in the phenomenon of human beings do you get this breakout away from genetics, away from the raw transmission of hereditary characteristics, and into a whole new realm of being; a whole new ontos of possibility which is epigenetics—codes, self-generated: language, song, dance, painting, chanting. All of these things are forms of expression, but they are not genetic expression. What seems to be happening—on this planet at least, and in the universe generally—is a conservation of complexity. A speeding-up of process and a conservation of complexity.
Now, the ordinary theory of evolution is thought to be a theory that is confined within the domain of biology. It’s a theory of how one organism supersedes another and there is advancement of form. But scientists are very nervous when you extend the concept of evolution to the inorganic universe at large. And yet, if you think about the life of the universe as we all have learned it from Carl Sagan, you know that we all began as an infinitely small, dense, hot dot. But that didn’t last long, because there wasn’t much going on, because there was so much energy that no arrangements could be made. Then there was a massive explosion and a tremendous drop in temperature. And at that point electrons could settle into orbits around atomic nuclei and you get atomic chemistry, which condenses into stars made of pure hydrogen and helium, which cook out iron and carbon: you get more complex chemistry with more complex bond possibilities. This allows the molecular bond to form for the first time. Suddenly an entirely new universe of possibilities springs into being. And at the end of that cascade of possibilities is organic life. Organic life, then, contorts and conserves information and folds it in upon itself and replicates it and distorts it, and you get more and more advanced forms of higher plant organisms, plants, and animals. Ultimately, this process ushers into human beings with culture; electronic culture. And then, finally, the cataclysmic connectedness of the 20th century. From a psychedelic point of view this is all a connected process.
You see, the Newtonian scientific thing lifted human beings out of the center of the cosmos properly and set them off to one side. Small planet, small star, small galaxy—to one side. And that may have been a refreshing dose of realism to the monotheistic ego that had been created out of the Medieval eschatology. But in a way it’s unsatisfying because the felt presence of experience has a centrality to it. I mean, we do feel that we are important—at least to ourselves. Well, can we create a metaphysic that is true to what is observed of the universe and true to our intuition? Yes we can, if we see history as the inheritor and the culminating process of all these other processes. And then, if we see ourselves installed at the cutting edge, at the leading edge of history, as its major players and actors. And this is, in fact, the situation. I mean, have you ever stopped to consider how many people didn’t screw up for you to be sitting here tonight? You know, your ancestors—how many times there were opportunities for, you know, the saber-toothed tiger to strike back, or the hunt to fail, or the fever to sweep through, or the breast to go dry? How many times were there opportunities that somebody had their eye on the ball, somebody paid attention? You are the inheritor of that process.
There’s a lot of talk in the New-Age-shmage about the Tao of the ancestors; or Tao. Well, what does the Tao of the ancestors mean except that you are the rearranged genetic component of your particular genetic stream, and your grandfather, your great-uncle, your grandmother, your great-aunt had ways of doing things—pitting peaches, planting beans, trimming flank steak. That’s the Tao of the ancestors: that there’s a way to do things. And that when you do things that way, that is the appropriate way for you to do it. And you can tell it’s the appropriate way because there is very little energy loss. That’s what the Tao is: it is appropriate activity.
And from a psychedelic point of view, when we analyze the state of the world, what we see is not that there are many problems—sexism, racism, air pollution, monotheism, you name it—not that there are many problems, but that there’s really just one problem. The problem is—well, it can be defined many ways. But it’s basically that we are inappropriate to ourselves. We are ill with ego. We have a narcissism that we cannot put down. Why? Why—given what we know about evolution and how it tries to smooth the way—why do we have a maladaptive relationship to reality? It doesn’t make any sense. Well, here’s why.
It’s nobody’s fault, first of all. It has to do with the fact that the monkey is lagging behind the dynamics of the planet. Three million years ago we were happy in the trees of Africa, in the canopied tropical equatorial forests of Africa. And in the way of planets there are long cycles of drying and aridification. And a cycle like that began in Africa. And these arboreal primates—which had a social form and a complex kind of pack signaling; they were fruitarian and highly specialized at it—came under environmental pressure because of the retreat of these rainforests and their replacement by grasslands. When an animal comes under environmental pressure like that it has to expand its diet or face extinction. It’s just that simple.
Now, to my mind, the great unexamined dynamic of evolutionary theory is diet, especially when we discuss human evolution. Why? It works like this: these monkeys are under pressure to expand their diet, therefore they must experiment with new kinds of food. When you experiment with new kinds of food you are opening yourself up to exotic chemicals and mutagenic compounds present in plants in your environment. Plants produce these things to ward off predation, discourage insects, attract pollinators; various reasons. But chemically speaking, the very compounds which are pheromones, sexual attractants, or poisons are also in the chemical families that impact on human physiology: alkaloids, steroids, hormones, neurotransmitters, and yes, psychedelic drugs. These things are all present in the diet.
Well, the peculiar way in which we differ from the other primates—I mean, speaking generally—is that we have what are called neonatal characteristics. The persistence of infantile characteristics into adulthood is typical of human beings. This is why we have this extremely long period of semi-nonfunctionability. Up to age 16 or something you’re not fully all there, you know? This is incredible for an animal. This means we’re almost like kangaroos. You know, when the kangaroo is born it’s 1⁄8 of an inch long. It lives in the mother’s pouch. It’s actually out of the body in practically maggot form. And our hairlessness and our large skull and numerous characteristics are neonatal, and were probably induced by mutations, alkaloids, and things like that in the diet.
The one I want to particularly call to your attention is psilocybin, because here is the scenario of human emergence. And I defy anyone to top it. This is how it happened. Here’s how the boar ate the cabbage—or something. Part of this pressure to expand diet had to do with abandoning vegetarianism and turning on to the fact that there were huge amounts of protein on the hoof in these grasslands in the form of ungulate mammals that were developing in the same environment. So these pack-hunting primates began to take an interest in these ungulate mammals and hunt them, club them, or predate on carrion kills by lions and that sort of thing. And when they did this, of course, if you follow herds of ungulate animals, you see a lot of what the president calls deep doo-doo. And in this you encounter mushrooms—the technical term is coprophilic: dung-loving, somewhat like the president. And these dung-loving coprophilic mushrooms contain psilocybin.
Well, if you’ve ever been in the veldt environment, or any environment where these pasture mushrooms are happening, they’re extremely noticeable in the environment. I mean, I have seen them in the Amazon the size of dinner plates. And you can see them from 300 yards away in a pasture. Also, in Kenya, I’ve observed, personally, pack-hunting baboons. And what they’re into are grubs that locate under cow pies. And so their technique is to run around flipping over cow pies and picking up weird things and smelling and tasting them. This means that the mushroom is planted directly in the evolutionary path of these evolving primates. They’re moving onto the grasslands, they’re following the herds, they’re looking for the game kills, and they’re encountering mushrooms and testing them for food value.
Okay. Very simple three-step process. When you take psilocybin in very small amounts—amounts so small that, subjectively, you don’t notice anything. Roland Fischer did tests in the 1960s and he showed—using rats and, later, graduate students—that small amounts of psilocybin actually increase visual acuity. And he gave people eye tests; a particular kind of eye test where there were two parallel bars, and by turning a crank out of sight of the test subject you could deform these bars so they were no longer parallel, and the subject would push a button when they felt the bars had moved out of parallel. No question. The very slightly stoned people could pick this up much faster than an ordinary person. Okay. You don’t have to be an evolutionary biologist to know that if there’s a plant in the environment of a hunting animal that will improve the visual acuity of that hunting animal, then those animals that admit that into their diet are going to outbreed the other individuals who don’t admit it into their diet because they’re going to have more success at hunting, which means more food, which means more babies and more successful adults, so forth and so on. First step.
Second step: slightly more psilocybin. Now what happens? Psilocybin is an indole hallucinogen like LSD, ibogaine, so forth, beta carbolines, DMT. Okay. It’s a CNS-activator. That means that it is going to cause CNS arousal. Forget CNS. It’s going to cause arousal. Forget arousal. That means erection. Okay. So in the mid-range dose on psilocybin it’s causing an interest in sexual activity. Increased generalized arousal, but it’s an itch you can’t scratch and you usually settle down to getting laid. I mean, this is just how arousal works. Okay. So then—now what is this doing? It’s like an aphrodisiac or something in the food chain of this animal. Well, what is it doing? It’s causing more of what primatologists call successful copulations. And these successful copulations are happening in the presence of an increased food source because of the increased visual acuity. So you see what is happening: the factors are beginning to snowball that will favor the outbreeding of the non-mushroom-using part of the population.
Well then, at still higher levels of psilocybin ingestion, you get the full-blown psychedelic ecstasy, which even we—as moderns with Heidegger and Husserl tucked under arm—we don’t know what the hell’s going on. We are as primitive in the face of it as people in the Magdalenian were. But it introduces the notion of a transcendent other, a tremendum, a trans-linguistic reality, the experience of the logos, the unspeakable. In other words: religion.
So here’s a three-step process. Increased success in hunting brings increased food supply, which brings increased sexual activity, which brings higher birthrate, which is all happening in the ambiance of this tremendous psychedelic experience. Now, I think that that alone is sufficient to make the case that it must have been indole alkaloids in the early human diet that catapulted us into this extraordinary relationship to language and cognition that we have. But there’s more to it than that, because we just have been glossing this thing that we call the psychedelic experience. After all, what is it?
Well, then, when you try and go into it and say what is it, I think that a number of issues are coming together that may not have appeared to be related. The hysteria over drugs in our society, the apparent approach of the end of all life as we know it on this planet, and our political wrongheadedness. Well, now what does all this have to do with a hypothesized relationship of proto-humans to a food source in the veldts of Africa a million years ago?
Well, I just prefer this kind of big picture analysis, that’s all! And what I think happened is that, if you know anything about monkeys, they’re not very pleasant creatures. They have a male-dominance hierarchy—what’s called an alpha male primate, and he kicks everybody around and keeps the good women for himself, and the good food, and so forth and so on. As we look at lower primates it’s a fairly discouraging picture. But I believe that shamanism in its heyday was, you know, not the feeble curing of psychological ailments that we grant to shamanism on the borders of the Third World today, but that it was a deeper understanding of nature and humanity than we possess right now. And that what the high shamanism of the paleolithic did was it put us into a quasi-symbiotic relationship with the mind of the Earth—if you can grok this. But there is actually a chemical network of communication. The Earth is a living organism, yes, but it’s also a reflected, minded organism. And this is beyond what Lovelock and all those people are willing to say. This is not based on science, this is based on the experience of meeting the management on the other side of science! The Earth is some kind of conscious entelechy and it is managing itself toward an end. We are embedded in a plan. We are not a breakaway mutation, we are a desperate response to something.
And what was going on back there in the high paleolithic was: on a very regular basis human beings in this nomadic hunter-gatherer situation were taking mushrooms together as a religious ritual. They were dissolving boundaries—this is what we experience when we take psilocybin. The generalized description of the psychedelic experience is: it dissolves boundaries. And the main boundary that it was dissolving and that it does dissolve is the ego. Psychedelics are an inoculation against selfishness at the expense of group values. And it is selfishness at the expense of group values that is shoving us toward Armageddon. These pastoralist, mushroom-taking, goddess-worshiping, equilibrium partnership societies were the solution to the human problem. They had achieved a kind of dynamisis that we can only envy. They were fully minded! Their thoughts were deeper than our thoughts. Their poetry was richer than our poetry. They didn’t build things. They didn’t have a demonic relationship to matter. Because every new and full moon they were taking mushrooms and jumping on each other in a big heap, and this was making it impossible to trace male paternity. And so care of children was generalized: it was a group phenomenon.
So then, what happened? If it was so wonderful, what the hell happened? Well, again: no blame. No blame. What happened was that the very processes that created this perfect world—which were a process of gradual drying of the African continent to force these monkeys out of the trees and into this grassland symbiotic pastoral nomadic adaptation—that drying process continued. And the grass dried up, and the waterholes got further and further apart, and the mushroom festivals were no longer held every Saturday night, they were held once a month, and then the solstices and equinoxes, and then at the solstice, and then every ten years, and then never. And the other thing that was going on was: there was frantic pressure to try and figure out how to preserve the mushroom since they were so hard to get. And the only solution anybody could come up with was honey. And honey is a material which, left to itself in that kind of an environment, will turn into mead. And mead is an alcoholic beverage. And the difference between a psilocybin cult and an alcoholic beverage is the difference between church and North Beach!
So around 9,500 years ago it wouldn’t work in Africa anymore. It was insupportable. And these people began moving out into the Nile valley and what is now Palestine. And if you know anything about the archeology of the Nile you know that, before this, the statigraphy is basically empty.
—he slays the cosmic bull. Then he goes to the shaman figure Enkidu, and against his will he puts big pressure on Enkidu to go with him into the wilderness, and there they cut down the tree of life. This is what they do. This is what Gilgamesh does. This is the first act of the first man in the first moment of the story of Western civilization. Out into the woods to chop down the tree of life. Meanwhile, the Semite, their story is the story of history’s first drug bust. You know, this woman finds this plant, the caretaker of the garden has put up signs which say don’t eat this plant. She eats it and the shit hits the fan!
And I recommend to you a thorough reading of Genesis. It’s astonishing what’s going on there. Here we have Yahwe after this little contretemps has taken place. Yahwe—he’s wandering around in the garden. He speaks—don’t ask me to who!—he speaks and he says, “If they eat of the fruit of the Tree of Life they will become as we are!” This can’t fly. So the issue is: everybody perceives the issue the same. Adam, Eve, and Yahwe. The tension is over. The fact that there would be equality if the plant knowledge were fully available. And it’s clear that it comes through the woman.
I think that women were the custodians of language. I think language was a woman’s mystery. Again, looking out from a point of view of evolutionary stress, the evolutionary stress on men was to be the stoic, silent hunter. To be able to hold a hunting position in a game drive for hours. And women stayed closer to home because they had children hanging off them, they had a different physical constituency, and they were in charge of the gathering part of the hunter-gatherer equation. Well, gathering is essentially the art of description: “It’s the small bush with the silver leaves at the bottom of the arroyo near the black rock with the gray scratch across it.” You know, you have to have your language skills down. You have to be able to describe hundreds of plants and their parts, and where they’re located, and how to separate them, and how to prepare them, and what part of year is important, and so forth and so on. And this repertoire of detail was what women had and what created, then, their power in this goddess-mushroom ambiance.
The thing that I’ve learned in studying history and living life is that the thing that makes you happy eventually makes you unhappy. Everything flows, nothing lasts. I mean, this is a hard truth to come to grips with, psychedelic or otherwise. Nothing lasts! Nothing lasts! Not even yourself. And what failed for the archaic world was: the cleverness of women evolved into the potential understanding of agriculture. They had this vast repertoire of understanding of plants. But when they abstracted it and generalized it, they realized: “We don’t need this. We just need to utilize what we know about these six plants and forget all this other stuff. And lean hard on these six plants.” Well, but then everything is—you’re not gathering now. You’re setting plow to the Earth. You’re wounding the Earth. And from there to this moment it’s just the blink of an eye. It’s that wonderful camera dissolve in 2001, where the bone is thrown into the air and, as it comes down, it turns into a space station in orbit around the Earth. The rest is history, as they say.
History is the story of the cancerous and unchecked growth of the ego: its institutions, its structures, its stratagems, its ploys. It’s worked every single angle. And I think that monotheism is appealing; philosophically has a certain economy. “One god,” you know? That wraps it up nicely. But, you know, you’ve got to be a little more subtle than that. Let’s take a Jungian perspective for a moment. Our gods are the images that we collectively empower ourselves to emulate. And if our god is omnipotent, omniscient, never wrong, always right, utterly unforgiving—this is a jerk! Who needs this? We don’t need this. Our image of deity is pathological. Our image of deity is the image of the cancerously untamed ego. And until we do something about this, we haven’t got the prayer of a snowball in hell. Exhortation is not going to do it. And now time is running out. Time is running out.
It was not for nothing that this psychedelic surge occurred in the sixties. The human story is not going to be allowed the luxury of being a comedy. You know what a comedy is? A comedy is when you’ve got no choice. This is going to be a tragedy because the cards are on the table. You know? If you drown because this boat is sinking, it’s because you didn’t bother to wander over and climb in the lifeboat. That’s the kind of situation we’re in. By analyzing the archaic context, which was the last sane moment this species ever knew—so what that it was 15,000 years ago? It’s a blink of an eye, you know? We’ve been ill since then. Now let’s fix it. The last sane moment we ever knew. And then comes the cascade of history. History is an absolute nightmare. And it can only be redeemed by us. This is this thing about the Tao of the ancestors, you know? Did all these people get freezed to death and stomped on by mastodons and eaten by saber-toothed tigers and ravaged by disease so you can blow it? You, with your Mercedes and your 48-foot television set? It can’t be that lame, you know?
So then, what is to be done, right? The Tolstoyan question: what is to be done? Is it a political program? What is it? I don’t think it is that. I think that the way the psychedelic thing works is: you must establish a level of authenticity in yourself vis-à-vis reality. And then you become a walking, social catalyst, regulator, meme-generator—whatever you want to put it. It’s authentic understanding without ideology. This is it. Psychedelics are not an ideology. Psychedelics are an experience. I mean, you can have the psychedelic experience without taking drugs, it’s just that you have to drive your car 100 miles an hour over a 300-foot cliff and live! You know? And then you come out of that ready to talk turkey! But, you know, we lose too many people that way.
Because, you see, what we’re in is serious denial. I mean, the capacity of the Western mind for denial of the predicament is just mind-boggling. I mean, here we are, calmly discussing, the clock is ticking, and we’re sitting on a planet stuffed full of thermonuclear bombs, disease delivery systems, crazo politicians, psychopaths at every organizational level, propaganda machine running wild—and we intellectuals calmly gather to, again, consult Tolstoy, consult this, consult that; try and figure it out. The level of denial is pretty incredible. And I think we have to go back to the sixties to see why that’s the case.
It’s because we’re very much afraid. The issue around psychedelics—both collectively and personally, if you’re doing them right—is surrender. You know? If you’re doing them right it scares you to death how much you do. Because you do so much that you lose control. That’s the thing. Control is the issue, always and everywhere. Now, we’ve got this scene so controlled that we’re on the brink of Armageddon behind control. How can it be very, very carefully deconstructed?
Well, I think the first thing is: we have to open a pipeline to the logos. We have to reach the goddess-mind behind nature. And this means following the classical prescriptions of shamanism. It’s true what they say. What the shamans say is truer than anything we can say about them. In other words, it’s not that they’re putting it through a language filter, or that they’re epistemologically naïve, or some horse shit like that. That’s not it. It’s you who are epistemologically naïve! And me. We have no idea what is possible in nature, in positions of courage and high intoxication.
So I see the whole 20th century as a very—it’s like trying to turn a battleship with an oar: it’s very, very slow-going. But with Freud and Jung we get the discovery of the unconscious. I mean, they discover it through a spyglass at 900 yards, but they do announce that it’s out there. And then, through surrealism, abstract expressionism, psychedelic drugs, so forth and so on, we are now exploring this domain. The analogous cultural crisis is the late 15th century; the 1490s. Printing was invented in Mainz in 1440. By 1492, the New World had been discovered. It’s 1490. We need to go somewhere. We don’t know quite where. But you can almost taste it. What it is, is that we are getting set to take flight into what has always been our destiny. We’re special. We are not outside the plan. But we’re in a loop of the plan that the rest of organic nature is not participating in. We are the hands of the planetary mind. And the technologies that we have assembled are for the purposes of the planetary mind. Surely, it must sense the finite nature of the life of the planet and the star itself. We are a kind of strategy for moving energy around.
Someone once said animals are a strategy invented by plants for moving seeds around. Well, I think human beings are a strategy invented by nature for catalyzing natural process. Clearly, the whole planet is being sped up. We are preparing to depart for a dimension which can only be called the imagination. This is what culture is. 8,000 years ago—when we began to crowd into cities and build walls and define everything into grids and mandalas—that was the beginning of the excrescence of mental space. That’s what we’re living in. These are all ideas. This was just unorganized matter put through the mills and presses of design to create a world that reflects the world that is living on the other side of our foreheads; the world of our imagination. But it has always operated against a background of the laws of physics. You know, the strength of materials, the laws of gravity. You just can’t build bridges with spans more than x, or skyscrapers taller than y. But in the imagination wishes are horses, beggars ride. And this is the cultural dimension that we have a potential to create.
I don’t think that there’s a way to manage this thing back down into the equilibrial pastoralism of 20,000 years ago. We burned those bridges. It’s a real crisis. We will not recognize our grandchildren. The metaphor that gives me hope when I look at the world is the metaphor of birth. That must be what is happening. I mean, if you were suddenly to come around a corner of the building and encounter someone giving birth, the entire ambiance is of crisis at least, if not alarm. I mean, pain is being felt, blood is being shed, anguish at high volume is being expressed. It’s crisis. If you’d never seen it, how could you believe that this was an ordinary part of existence scripted into being as a necessary part of its happening at all? It wouldn’t take you like that. And yet, that’s what is happening here. The mother and the child have now reached the moment where they must be parted. If they’re not parted, toxemia will set in. This is bad for the child, bad for the mother.
I’m not comfortable with this. I don’t like this gnostic thing of leaving the Earth behind, in any sense. Even if we just descend and become the size of grains of salt and live at the center of the Earth or something. It still means we’re going to leave everything that we know and love and understand behind. But nevertheless, you know, you reach these places in your life. The birth canal is the first one. Leaving home is the next one. And there are many leavings. It’s just that this is a big one. We will never be the same, the Earth will never be the same. And like the fetus—or, yes, poised at the head of the birth canal—we don’t know where we’re going. We really don’t see light at the end of the tunnel, and neither does the fetus. This is the surrender issue. It’s going to get crazier.
They were so relieved when the craziness stopped after October and November and December. But don’t be fooled. It was just a hesitation. The craziness is intensifying and intensifying. I believe that the transcendental object that is actually causing the lower-dimensional phenomenon which we call reality, that the transcendental object is coming tangential to the historical continuum; that that’s what this is all about. That, 100 years from now, the Earth will be empty of people. There won’t be a one, not a one! I mean, the breeze will move the grasses. We will be gone! Where? Huh! Guess! Who knows? Here’s hoping! We have to find the door, because the place is filling up with shit. It’s very simple. And there are many doors. Here’s a door: extinction! How do you like them apples? If you can’t find any other door, nature will kick open that door and push you right through it. And yet, you know, we possess creativity on a scale undreamed of. We can find a way out. There’s no problem. We have the technologies, the money, the resources. We have everything we need except the will. It’s a mental quality lacking in us: the will to do it, the will to undertake planetary-sized projects, the will to make a plan that has a 20-year, a 50-year, and a 500-year benchmark. But we are going to have to very quickly cease our infantilism.
And this brings me around to the fact that we are forever infantile if we do not avail ourselves of the psychedelic experience. It is on a par with sex. It makes my flesh crawl to imagine someone going from birth to the grave without ever having sex. Fortunately, life is scripted in such a way that few escape this edifying experience which most—if you question them around age 11—would seek to avoid. Well, the psychedelic experience is not made inevitable—except by death, if you insist on waiting that long—but a mature exploration of life includes it because it shows you who you are. It gives you a conducted tour of the captain’s quarters. You may not have even known the captain’s quarters existed! How much is your ignorance worth to you? We need to eliminate the unconscious mind. This is really what it comes down to, folks. We cannot—in an era of 30-minute delivery of thermonuclear weapons from anywhere to anywhere—we do not have the luxury of carrying around with us an enraged bull primate. We cannot afford the luxury of the unconscious, the hidden motive, the unexamined drive, the misunderstood acquisition.
The only way we can correct our cultural situation is by returning to an archaic style. This is what societies always do when they’re slammed to the wall. When the Medieval world blew up on itself they returned to the classic models of Rome and Greece and created classicism. Classicism was created in the 15th century, for God’s sake. There hadn’t been a Roman around for a thousand years. When a society gets into trouble it reaches back. We’ve got trouble in River City, big trouble, and we have to reach further back. Further, further. Egypt won’t do—the Nazis tried that. It won’t do. We have to go back to this high archaic shamanism. And it’s a hard swallow—for individuals and society—because we have made illegal this possibility because it is threatening to the dominance of the ego. The ego cannot coexist in the presence of a psychedelic religion or a psychedelic option.
To my mind this is the real issue behind this asinine drug war. We’re not going to have an epidemic of heroin addiction or cocaine abuse if we legalize all this trash. That’s ridiculous. But we are going to have people experimenting with psychedelics if all drugs are legalized. And that’s absolutely terrifying to any establishment. You know, Marxist, George Bush—you name it. Anybody who’s got a stake in order is appalled at the notion that someone would examine the understructure and undercarriage of the social engine. They’re not interested in that. That’s what has to be done. We need a thorough revisioning of reality; a thorough recommitment to a revitalization of religion based on experience. Not on the cant of priests, but on an experience. And there’s all kinds of stuff in the spiritual marketplace: yoga and spirulina diets and colored lights and this and that. This is all—as far as I’m concerned—malarkey. I mean, these things do things: they move you around, altered states. My god, there are thousands of altered states. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about simultaneously shitting white with tears of joy streaming down your face because of the intensity of the proximity of the mystery.
And it’s not difficult, it merely requires courage. Whoever went into the ashram with their knees knocking with terror over what the next yoga session would bring? I mean, gimme a break! We’re talking about the real thing, and you know what the real thing is. And it is assimilated by an act of courage and an act of responsibility and an act of understanding. If we commit ourselves back to this archaic thing, to the mind behind nature, it is our home, our birthright. I think of the human race as someone who became separated from their mother’s hand in a department store—for 15,000 years. And we’ve been running from department to department. You know? Is it tennis rackets? Is it bicycles? Is it sleds? What is it? Shoot it, chew it, this and that. No. No. We have to return to an authentic psychedelic shamanism that is rooted in our experience. If we empower our experience we will cease to be the easily manipulated democratic masses. Do you know what democratic masses—do you know what kind of an insult that is to you and me, to be called the “democratic masses?”
If we empower ourselves and become reacquainted with the authentic dimension within us, then we won’t put up with this crap anymore. This is what happened in the 1960s. People wouldn’t put up with it anymore and they poured into the streets and raised holy hell. Scared everybody to death. Why wouldn’t they put up with it anymore? Because they saw how shoddy, chintzy, and knocked-together it is. We’ve been sold a pig in a poke! It’s not worth having. These things don’t make us happy, they don’t bring us wisdom, they don’t give us depth. It’s an infantile, insulting, ridiculous society, except that it’s holding a gun to the head of every living thing on this planet. Shamanism with courage and commitment is, as far as I can see, the last, best hope of mankind. Otherwise there is no hope. In other words, I’m not saying this is easy, or now you’ve heard me say this, so we’re going to save the world. No, I give us a one chance in fifty. But this is the only game in town. You know? Helmut Kohl isn’t going to to it. Not Gorbie. Nobody. Those guys are caught in their own definitions. Nothing changes people like psychedelics. And changing people is what we’ve got to do—ourselves and other people. Fast.
Thank you very much. We’ll take an intermission, then I’ll come back for questions. That’s the good part. Thank you!
Q & A Session
So let’s just take questions, and we’ll go for a while. Before we begin there’s just one thing I want to say, a point that I want to make, which is—I say it in all situations where I come to a place like this for the first time, maybe you all do know each other; I get the feeling this is a small town—but anyway, psychedelic people look like everybody else. And the one good purpose served by these events is that they draw them out of the woodwork. So you might look around and see who your affinity group is. Odds are, whatever you need, someone in this room has it! Whatever you need!
Okay. So much for clowning around. Yes?
As a parent of a teenager and several other children, I felt a responsibility to bring my oldest daughter here tonight. These same substances that we’re talking about are out on the plaza on the streets of Santa Fe, and children are using them in ways that I think need guidance. Could you speak to that?
Yes, sure. I’m glad to. This is an excellent question. I have a boy (11), a girl (9)—so I’m meeting this as well. What do you say to your kids about this issue and about drugs generally?
The main thing about drugs is a lack of education. I mean, we have to educate people about drugs and we have to tell them the truth. And the truth, unfortunately, is complex. So how do you tell a kid a complex truth, you know? I mean, the surgeon general says tobacco is as addictive as heroin. Tobacco you get from a machine, heroin they send you up the river for years. How do you make sense of this for a kid? All I know to do is, first of all: I don’t hide anything I do from my children. And I think it’s a bad idea. I actually make a character judgment. I don’t think people should hide what they do from their children. This “we can’t light up a J until the children are in bed” stuff is malarkey, because it’s giving a message of subterfuge and confusion. It means you have no principles, you don’t know where you stand on this, you’re all over the map. In fact, you look like an addict to something. So why don’t you just… be out front about it?
The other thing is: it’s just like sex and all these tricky things that you come to with children. You try to give a good example, try to give the best information that you can, and stand back and hope. But I really think the main thing is openness and education. And I say to my kids, you know, “If you want to try something, discuss it with me. If you get past me, I’ll get it for you. So, you know, don’t be out on the street. We’ll make sense of it together—whatever decision we come to.”
That’s great. That’s exactly [???]
[???] sense, but I don’t know what else to do, you know?
My question is: you have talked about all the very positive things that psychedelics can do, and you have talked very well about it. You have expressed many wonderful truths. But then the other side of the coin is: what do you do or how do you deal with such occurrences as, for example, Charlie Manson, and psychedelics being used for satanic purposes?
The question of a Manson or something like that—I don’t deal with that because I regard it as anomalous. But what I hear you asking is: what about the dark side of psychedelics? And I think that’s certainly worth talking about. It isn’t a joyride, necessarily. One thing that is quite wonderful about psychedelics is that—and I’ll just speak of the mushroom in this case—is that it’s wonderfully kind to beginners. But if you are an acolyte of the priesthood, sooner or later it will scare the socks off you. And in many ways it can do this. In fact, that’s what so scary about it: it knows the way to scare you, just like it knows everything else about you.
And so, in my talk I stressed the facility with which one can access these places. And I sort of teased yoga. It is easy to access these places. The question is, then: but is it easy to control and manipulate and understand these places? And this is where it can turn you every way but loose. This is where you want to have your mantras polished and your yantras ready. Because in that domain it all works—all that malarkey that doesn’t ever work anywhere else. In that domain it works! And so I think one should have techniques. You know, the Ring Pass-Not, or mantras. Something that you have faith in. Power objects. Ultimately, the best advice I’ve ever come on—and, you know, it’s pretty sickening advice, but the goal is to survive these things—is Frank Herbert’s advice in Dune about fear. And he says, “Fear comes like a wind. It comes.” And the way you meet it is: you meet it. And you wait. And it blows, and it blows, and it blows itself out. And then you’re alone again. And that’s what you have to do. And then, in terms of practical instruction, there are ways to navigate through hard spots. Breath control, singing. Singing is wonderful. We tend to suffer silently. And if you get into a pressurized place on a psychedelic, I don’t think it’s a good idea to squeeze down and meet it like that. I think it’s much better to sing. To circulate huge volumes of oxygen through your body and just send your whole metabolism spiraling off in some other direction.
Shamanism was defined by the foremost commentator on it, Mircea Eliade, as the archaic techniques of ecstasy. Notice it’s “techniques.” And this is really important. This is not a religion or an ontology or a set of beliefs like Buddhism, Hinduism, Catholicism, you name it. It’s a set of techniques. And the techniques deliver the experience. And then, out of the experience, one creates whatever models of the universe seem appropriate. But this is what science was before science. This is what religion was before religion. And it’s deep. It’s the deepest thing there is. Our society, living in ignorance of this, is infantile and destructive and narcissistic and materialistic and the whole gamut, because we can’t touch the gold in life, you know? It’s hard for us. It’s very elusive. It’s far from us. Authenticity is fleeting and we require psychotherapists and self-affirmation, all this stuff, to hang on to it. But this was understood and is there.
I mean, my—how I got into this, like the gentleman who asked the question, is by being in the Amazon, by having searched India to see. Say, “What can you show me?” And they couldn’t show me anything. They wanted me to sweep the ashram for twelve years and then something wonderful was going to happen. But then, when I got to South America, I said, “What can you show me?” And this guy said, “Let’s sharpen our machetes. We’ll go out here and get some of this snake vine and come back, and I’ll show you.” And by ten o’clock that night, you know, I was sobbing in a guy’s arms. He’d shown me! I was a convert! I’d sweep his courtyard for twelve years without asking!
Would you speak more about your ayahuasca experiences in the Amazon?
Sure. For those of you who aren’t aware—although I think there’s high awareness in this town—but ayahuasca is a hallucinogenic plant and beverage made of that plant with others. It’s slow-release DMT. What’s happening is: DMT is being combined with an MAO-inhibitor to make it orally active, which would not ordinarily be the case. And it’s a slow-release DMT trip that lasts from four to six hours. It’s quite extraordinary. It’s existed in the Amazon for a long, long time. No one knows how long. I’m at work on a paper arguing that Mayan religion—that it reached as far up as Chiapas, this cult, at one time. And what’s interesting about it is: it’s a little different from psilocybin. Psilocybin has this millenarian high-tech outer space insects driving strange machines kind of thing to it. Ayahuasca is not like that. It’s all about water, and flow, and life, and organic, and suspension of liquids, and missible layers of flowing color. And it’s wonderful. It’s quite feminine. And it doesn’t speak the way ayahuasca does, but you become like a camera’s eye. You just become a roving eye, a moving eye, seeing incredible things.
And it had a reputation when it was first discovered. The alkaloid was isolated and named telepathine because it was felt that there were group states of mind going on. And this is so. This is happening. I mean, this is what—you want to talk about shamanism—this is what it’s about. These people—upriver, bare-ass people, not people working in sawmills but the still uncontacted or barely contacted people—the elders take this stuff together and they rise into a higher dimension of social data, is the only way to put it. In other words, they see the group, the predicament, in a hyperdimensional matrix of some sort where weather and game levels and social relations with other groups and all this other stuff are factored in. And then, collectively, they make a decision. And I went to the Amazon very interested in this because I think that part of what this whole incipient breakthrough that we’re talking about is about is what I call an ontological transformation of language.
I believe that language is something which, when done right, you look at it. You don’t hear it. When language is correctly performed it is something seen. And this is one of the arts of the high paleolithic that we have lost. We speak a barbarian speech: ear-speech. Ear-speech has a very shallow depth of signal. And these hallucinogenically—these societies rocked in the cradle of hallucinogenic ecstasis through their shamanism were living in a kind of poetic hologram; culturally created poetic hologram. This is what all this talk about the poetry of high antiquity is attempting to reference. You know, all this talk about the Celts and the tremendous accomplishments of [???] and Yugoslavia. It’s that language—before male dominance, the phonetic alphabet, monotheism, and all this other stuff confining cultural effects—language was something that you see. And when we take hallucinogens under group circumstances where there is an intent to have that kind of a linguistic experience, it occurs. It’s just under the surface. It’s in our biological organization, but somehow damped by our cultural organization; something we have to learn.
Well, this is what shamans knew in high antiquity. It’s what the peculiar interdimensional beings that I call self-transforming machine elves teach. It’s what the entities in the other dimension—the so-called spirit helpers, the allies; I call them the tykes; these things—this is what they teach: a new ontos of language. An ontos of language beheld. Can you imagine if you could see what I mean? How close that would make us? How, in fact, if you could see what I mean, we would be the same person? Because seeing is so intimately connected with our definition of who we are that we place no—what do I want to say?—leans against it. We accept what we see. That’s why, when we talk about perfected speech (someone doing a good job talking), we say, “He spoke clearly.” It’s a visual metaphor. Or we say to them, “I see what you mean. I see what you mean.” Means that, for us, authentic meaning is beheld. This is because this is how we did it until we fell into history. History is the realm of the lower-dimensional language slice. (Among other things, of course.)
Yes, someone else? Yes?
[???] true that language and the visual [???] connection with the symbols and [???] types, but to me it seems very [???] have crossed cultures [???]
I’m not sure [???]. Yes, to some extent. For instance, there are these repositories of imagery. [???] being Celtic, get these Celtic images. But then also I hit nodules of Mayan imagery. And I’m pretty sure there’s no Mayan genetic stuff floating around in my situation. I confess—I don’t know. It’s hard to make sense or to get a metaphor together that can encompass the psychedelic experience. I mean, for example, here’s a game that can be played on ayahuasca if it’s stiff, and that is: you can just say to the onrushing stream of vision, “Art Deco.” And suddenly there’ll be thousands of ashtrays, cigarette lighters, candy serviettes, stirring sticks, cocktail—all tumbling toward you in black space. And then you can say, you know, “Italian Baroque,” and here it comes! You know, these bleeding Madonnas and all this gold brocade. Well, that’s pretty… then you can say to it, “Hey, surprise me!” And the level of surprise… and you’ll begin to… until you say, “You’ve surprised me enough!” Well, the first two examples—Art Deco and Italian Baroque—these are coherent styles which affected whole eras and involved the lives of hundreds of artists and so forth. Well then, what’s happening with number three, the surprise me, where you’ve never seen anything like this before? Is it also potentially capable of seizing a decade or two by the throat and stamping every t-shirt and belt buckle with its kiss? And then, what are these things? These galaxies of stylistic motifs that you encounter in the hyperspace of the mind? Very bizarre.
I confess, there are no—I don’t think this stuff has limits. I think we’ve hit meaning’s edge here. It’s a tool. But here’s what it is. It’s… for anybody who has ever defined life as a quest or a path or a search or a mystery it’s like you’ve hit the main vein. It is a path, it is a quest, there is a mystery, and when you get to the mystery it’s better than you thought it would be, it’s better than you could think it would be. Hell, it’s the mystery! That’s what it is. And you say, “I never thought. I doubted all the way. The whole time I was looking I never thought, and yet…” You know? And it pays back. And you don’t have to sign up with the rattlesnake people and the men who wear dresses and all this clergy and dogma and malarkey. That isn’t it, you know? The mystery is real. It can take the heat. Can you? That’s the question.
How I do digress! Yes?
I’d like you to comment on how these psychedelics give us access to part of the mind that we don’t even imagine, and how this can be used.
Well, the answer has different depths. The first answer is: it’s as though there were a nearby dimension that is made out of art. Made out of art; great art! In one of these deep passes which lasts about twenty minutes you feel like you have seen more art than the human race has produced in the last 500 years. You—one person! The richness of our inner life is truly awesome. I mean, you know when they sent that probe out to Jupiter and hung it above these storms 11,000 miles wide and that sort of thing—that kind of stuff is in your mind! We have been so sold down the river by materialism. We’re living in a paradisaical palace and our task is to communicate this to each other. So the unifying and politically salvational aspect of psychedelics is that, by showing us all this beauty, I think it allows secular reasonable people to return to faith in the order of things, you know? This is real religion. This is why religion was created in the first place. Animals don’t need religion unless there’s something to respond to. And this is what it is: that there is a secret about this planet, about the way things are here, and that you find out the secret by digging in the sub-basement of your own mind. And then you come upon the lost records, the true history of your family.
And it’s as though—you know, I keep making these metaphors of dysfunctional relationships—but it’s as though we are amnesic. We suffer from this dysfunctional relationship in prehistory. Literally being torn from the arms of the goddess, plunged into male dominance by climatological catastrophe, and then left to wander. And we’re haunted by this sense of a perfect world, somehow lost, of a way of being somehow sensed. And then all these religions are hammering at us: do it this way, do it that way. And we’re just uncomfortable in reality. And it’s because we are amnesic. We have lost something. The wool is being pulled over our eyes. We are operating on one cylinder. We don’t understand about how there is this tremendous, affectionate, hoping entelechy that would like to help us through this—for its sake as much as our own. So getting in touch with that—and you can call it getting in touch with the other half of your mind, or getting in touch with your unconscious, or getting in touch with the planet, or getting in touch with the… you know, overmind in hyperspace—the point is there is an organized intelligent universe of meaning that is trying to break through into the chaotic human world. It’s the plan from the unconscious. And we are frozen, twisted. It’s been a long, rough ride. We can hardly see straight. And yet, you know, we need to back down, step aside, and surrender. And the voices are being heard. We know what needs to be done. It’s that ideology must be abandoned, nature must be served, the future must be served. I mean, these are hardly argumentative positions, yet who the hell is taking them? And yet, we must. So anything which is a catalyst to that kind of consciousness is definitely in play here at the wharf at the end of the world.
I want to tell you that I really love what you’re saying, and it’s [???] perception and I really appreciate it. Now, I’ve taken a lot of psychedelics, and I [???] confused. It is very difficult for me to live within [???] morality of the society, to live within society. And functioning to live. So I would like to hear more of your personal experience of how you align taking psychedelics and living in the world. Thank you.
The best advice I could give you is: don’t say everything you think. That’s how I do it. Well, but, I mean, the question is an important one. Many times when I first started doing this in 83, 84, 85, after talks like this, people would come up to me and they would say, “Until I heard you talk I thought I was crazy. And I’ve never told anybody any of these things that happened to me because other people seemed to be having a good time, and what was happening to me was what you’re talking about.” And part of the motivation for doing this is to build a community of agreement that can allow people to say, you know, the kinds of things that I say about self-transforming machine elves from hyperspace, and nobody reaches for a white telephone. You know? They say, “Oh, he’s talking about that, or he’s talking about his visions.” In other words, to give people permission to have an inner life, a rich inner life. Because it’s there. So building community and clarifying language is very, very important.
You know, it’s illegal to take drugs or sell drugs or whatever it is, so we don’t really have much practice even building up among ourselves images of what we’re talking about. Probably most people in this room—except for… well, and even then… I was going to say except for the cops, but even them—everybody in this room has a notion of what’s going on when I say “drug experience.” Everybody says, “Oh, it’s like the time my mmmmmh.” But no! Having had a drug experience doesn’t qualify you for talking about psychedelics or thinking you understand them, and even taking psychedelics doesn’t qualify you for talking about them or thinking you understand them. They are not to be extrapolated from anything else. It is unique. The fact that it’s even called intoxication is a joke. It’s more as though there is a doorway either another part of our mind or another part of the spacetime continuum.
And I’m pretty Amish on this. It’s a very narrow band of substances that do the thing that I find most fascinating. And you’re certainly free to disagree with me. But I place great stress on vision, on hallucinations. And people say, “Well, why? It makes you feel good, you have great insights. Why are you always harping on vision?” Because: being sort of a reductionist, the visions are the part of it that convince me that it isn’t me, because I can examine the visions and say, “Heh.” But an emotion or an insight—what would be the point in saying that isn’t me. But the visions are coming from somewhere else other than the self. Or, if this is the self, then it’s unrecognizable. The Jungian cartography did not set us up for it. It did set us up for what LSD is showing. But when you go deeper, like with DMT, the Jungian maps are useless. You don’t know where you are, and you don’t think anybody’s ever been here before. I mean, there are no initials on the trees, let me tell you!
So part of the answer to this “what is to be done” question and the political question and the question up here about integrating it into our lives, and what I’m trying to do—I mean, I should just be upfront with you—is: it’s a very conscious and subversive effort to goose along the evolution of language. We can’t create a new world unless we can talk about it. And so the forced evolution of language, the forced and rational and designed expansion of the capacity of language, is our best way to get out of this mess. We have problems we don’t even know we have because we don’t have words to talk about them. The psychedelics operating on the social level—where we’re not talking about my trip, your trip, but what does it do to millions of people—it enriches language. It incites colorful speech. It provokes metaphor. Know what I mean?
So that’s what it was doing way back then, and it gave us language and all these control languages that flow from it. But now we can consciously contemplate that effect and attempt to engineer it and attempt to create languages that make these dimensions real, that give them a political consequence, that give permission to other people to think about them, to explore them, to wonder about them. And by this means—very slowly; let us hope fast enough—attention will evolve. And it’s basically as fast as we each care to participate in this project. And it’s not easy. See, the initial political challenge is to get stoned. And people resist that because they’ve got something to lose, or they think they’ve got something to lose. So it’s very tough political work.
[???] It seems therefore that we’re stuck. We can see it, we can feel it, but we can’t quite [???] But if we’re continually using the [???]
Well, when we go beyond language, are we going to discover silence or song? That’s what I think. I mean, I think that this visual language thing needs to be thought about very carefully. For a long time it seemed to me it was unbreachable. It was a creature of my own imagination. But technologies exist that are going to—and are being perfected—that are going to allow us to see each other’s aesthetic intent, you know? To be able to leave—to follow the footprints of the artist through his own imagination in a kind of virtual reality. And I think probably we’re headed for some kind of quasi-telepathic meltdown, and that the ego is… its life is limited. And we have no idea how profoundly this will affect each of us because we may like to think we’re new style, but when it comes to the real trans-techno, polymorphically perverse, multi-cyber human being, I don’t know how many of us could cut the mustard, you know?
Well, but I don’t like getting into a dualism here. See, I think all terms are migrating toward each other. The drugs of the future will be computers, the computers of the future will be drugs. One way of thinking of the historical enterprise is that what we’re about here is: we’re trying to turn human beings inside out. We want to exteriorize the soul and interiorize the body, so that the body becomes an image of some sort freely commanded in a domain called the imagination, and the soul—previously difficult to locate—becomes actually a cultural artifact. I imagine it rather like a polished silver disk. And that exteriorized soul becomes the new loci of self-identification.
If any of you have followed Julian Jaynes’ work, you know that he thinks the ego arose in Homeric times. That recently; 1500 B.C. Yeats, in Sailing to Byzantium, has this wonderful line; something about “if ever out of nature I should be turned:” it’s all about becoming a jeweled object, a thing of gold and gold enameling to play for an emperor. It’s the image of the transformation of the human soul into a technical object. And a lot of people get their [???] up at this point. The image which I think unifies all this stuff is the flying saucer.
I mentioned in my main talk the transcendental object at the end of history, but nobody rose to the bait. The notion here, you see, is that the reason things are so nuts is because we are actually very close to some kind of temporal discontinuity. And the phenomenon of history itself is the shock wave of an imminent eschaton, if you will. In other words, the reason history exists is because of the nearby presence in time of a transcendental object (which I call the eschaton) which is casting a kind of lower-dimensional shadow backward through time so that all these messiahs and aesthetic anticipations and prophecies and all this are distorted interpretations of this transcendental object. And the flying saucer is this as well. The flying saucer haunts time like a ghost. What is it? It’s the cursor on God’s reality processor. If you’ve ever worked in word processing you know that there’s a little blinking thing called the cursor, and you move the cursor in the text to the place where you either want to put something in or take something out. And once you’ve made the excision or the inclusion you move the cursor elsewhere in the text. And this is what the UFO is. It’s like a ricocheting reflection of God’s mind at the end of time. And to cross it, to come into its aura, is to get this tremendous hit of the weird.
This is what the weird is, as a matter of fact. The weird is the backward-flowing causuistry from the object at the end of time. And the reason the 20th century is so fraught with contradiction, paradox, hope, horror is because we are drawing tangential to this transcendental object. And every time you take a psychedelic you are in eternity with the transcendental object. You see it dead ahead 22 years, and you’re closing with it at the speed of light or something. And it is what causes the phenomenon of ourselves being drawn out of nature. There is a drama, there is a wooing, there is a royal marriage, an alchemical process underway. And we’re the bride, and we are being drawn toward this union with this thing, which is what history was for. History is the placenta of this process to carry us to this moment of fusion where everything, then, falls together, makes sense, lifts off, closes down, and says goodnight. That’s all.
With ayahuasca, do you have a sense of witnessing a—that you have an experience experience when you’ve taken ayahuasca; some kind of change [???]?
Ayahuasca is these moving walls and membranes. It’s a labyrinth. The interesting thing about ayahuasca is, chemically, that it is made of neurohumoral substrate. Technically, there’s no drug there. There’s DMT and beta-carbolines, both of which occur endogenously in human metabolism. It’s a kind of brain cocktail. That’s why it has evolutionary implications, potentially. It’s possible that in the metabolic pathways of the pineal we’re only a one- or two-gene mutation away from switching out an inactive congener for a psychoactive congener in that pathway. And in fact this may have been traded off genetically through time. There may be shamanic lines. There may be people who have a facility for these things that is actually in the genes.
But to me the most spectacular hallucinogenesis occurs under DMT. And DMT—it’s interesting. It’s worth talking about for a moment because it, too, is an endogenous neurotransmitter. Even though it’s a schedule 1 drug, everyone’s carrying it all the time. You know? They don’t need anything else on the books, we’re all illegal as we sit here! But what’s interesting about DMT is it’s the strongest of all these hallucinogens. I mean, it comes on in a few seconds; 30–40 seconds. And yet it fades in a matter of 4–5 minutes. Well now, what does this mean, pharmacologically? You see, one way of thinking about a drug, if you’re trying to assess toxicity, is: how long does the drug stay in your system? If you have rubbery knees and blurred vision 48 hours after doing something, it’s garbage. You body should be able to get rid of it. Well, DMT clears your system in 3–7 minutes. It means it’s like hurling an ice cube into a blast furnace. It means that when the DMT hits the synaptic cleft these enzyme systems swing into action and say, “Hey, we understand what this is. We know how to de-alkaloid, de-animate, and shuttle this into harmless pathways like indoleacetic acid,” and then you come down almost as fast as it can be said. Yet it’s the most profound of all these things. Can phase you instantly into a place so bewilderingly and titanically bizarre and profound that your jaw hangs in the air. A place you never suspected existed. Not a thing, not a jot, not an iota! You never dreamed it was possible. And suddenly, there you are. You know?
This is profound information about the human organism, about ourselves, about who we are. I mean, who are you if that can happen to you? It’s a very mysterious part of you. I mean, go back and play the orgasm thing over and over again. But this is much more intense, much more content-laden. And yet, what is all this content; these weird objects, where are they coming from? What does it mean? Who are these entities in there? Are they wandering extraterrestrial do-gooders? Or is it humanity in a far-flung future trying to pull the chestnuts of the 20th century out of the fire? Or is it your dead grandmother? You can’t figure it out. And yet, it’s really happening to you. You have to come to terms with it. I mean, that, to me, is the strangest thing about all of this stuff; is that it’s real. It’s like science fiction. It means that the world is science fiction. It means that there are things and places and possibilities going on that just weed the mundane out. All those people who think the world is straight and rational and reasonable and squared off at the corners—they’re just whistling past the graveyard. It is so wide and woolly out there that you just come back eyes round, jaw slung, because it’s so peculiar and so near.
I mean, this culture that we’re living in is a tiny island, a bulwark raised against the unspeakable which is raging all around us. Hell, every time you hit the sack it closes over you, and it’s only through the grace of forgetting that we’re able to establish it here. You know, this tiny little bubble of sanity. Well, yes, but… what’s going on in the rest of reality? Grab a clue!
Do you think that [???] a lot of people will have access to virtual reality or [???]?
No, I think that it’s possible. I’m comfortable with virtual reality. I’m just getting used to it.
I did it in order to write articles about it. I visited all these labs. The heaviest battle I had with my wife this year was over virtual reality and whether or not it’s just another male mechano-techno-crapo trip—or, my position, that there might be something going on here. I don’t like it; that it’s so machine-like. On the other hand, all those machines could be shrunk down to the size of a sugar cube. For those of you who hate the idea of virtual reality I have an argument that might sway you. I just saw a paper—God, I hope this isn’t industrially proprietary information—but anyway, I just saw a paper. There are these people having a virtual reality system, but they want to slave it to a satellite navigation system so that it can locate wherever you are on Earth to within three feet. And then the proposal is all advertising will be made illegal in three dimensions and will be forced to go virtual, so that you will have to be wearing glasses. And you will see ordinary reality, except all the signs would be there. But if you take the glasses off, the signs will have been taken down in 3D. No billboards in 3D. No advertising, no print of any sort. If you want to read the signs you’re going to have to buy the goggles. So there’s an argument for virtual reality.
Oh, see it! Okay. Oh, they can see it. My apologies.
Well, let’s see. One last question and then you should go do something more interesting. I hope you can figure out what it is. Go into nature. Go into your own mind. I mean, the message is rising. The urgency is rising. And if you have ears to hear, hear, and eyes to see, see. In terms of what that means practically—and I suppose I should leave you with this thought—do these things in silent darkness. And do them with attention. Silent darkness. You don’t need Bach or moody blues. Just skip it. Silent darkness. Trust that your mind is richer than you think it is and study the darkness behind your closed eyelids with the expectation that you will see something. And pay attention to breathing and sound; song. Open your mouth. Let air move through you. And five grams of mushrooms in silent darkness—I’m telling you. It’ll make a believer out of you if you aren’t already. Good luck!