The Evolutionary Mind
June 6, 1998

What could have been the cause for the breakthrough in the evolution of human consciousness around 50,000 years ago? Part of the Trialogues at the Edge of the Unthinkable.



00:18 Sheldrake

We’re going to talk about the evolutionary mind this morning. It is the topic of our book that is just coming out at the moment, and it prepares the way for thinking about the change in consciousness at the millennium. Obviously, what happens at the millennium is something to do with our minds. It’s not as if the laws of nature are all going to change at the year 2000. It’s a mental event, a social event, a cultural event. And we’re going to start this morning by talking about the evolutionary context for it.


Our book—called The Evolutionary Mind—comes at a time when there’s a tremendous amount of interest in evolutionary psychology. Psychologists, in the last five to ten years, have discovered Darwin, and I keep meeting psychologists who speak to me with that sort of enthusiasm and bright-eyed quality of the new convert. They’ve seen the light, they’ve discovered Darwin. And I wonder why, as a biologist, they haven’t discovered Darwin a long time ago. Darwin, after all, opened up the field of evolutionary psychology with his book The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals. And there was a lot of speculation at the end of the 19th century about the evolution of consciousness. However, academic psychology—this century—has got involved in behaviorism (rats in cages pushing levers), and now cognitive psychology (computer models of neuroprocesses), none of which has left much space for evolutionary theorizing. So they’ve come rather late to this evolutionary speculation.


There’s been permission given to biologists to speculate about evolution of the mind in this way by the analysis of selfish genes. They feel if they’re talking about selfish genes that it’s somehow scientific and it’s given everyone permission. This kind of discussion is epitomized in Steven Pinker’s recent book How The Mind Works. And it’s based on the idea that human behavior is determined by genes. There’s a gene for everything. And they then work out in theoretical terms what these genes would lead us to expect—the selfish behavior of the genes.


Unfortunately, their conclusions are not terribly surprising or deep. And at the end of a lecture he gave recently in London, which was met with considerable skepticism, somebody said, “Well, now just give us the most important, clear idea you’ve been able to deduce from your selfish gene theory.” And he said that, after lengthy calculations, they’d found that—because females have only one or two eggs at a time, which are a rare and precious resource that needs conserving, whereas males produce millions of sperm—they deduced (after a lot of working out) that women would tend to seek high-status males and want to stay with them, whereas men would tend to be promiscuous to spread selfish genes more freely. And there was an air of disappointment in the lecture hall. Somebody was heard to say, “Is that all?!”


Anyway, the fact that this rather closed world of selfish gene speculation is going on has given other people within the scientific world permission to think more widely about evolution. Most evolutionary theories are purely speculative, since we don’t really know what happened in the past. Many of them are just-so stories, rather like Kipling’s accounts of how the leopard got its spots and so on. But there have been—in this modern explosion of speculation about our evolutionary past—there are several rather interesting ideas that have come up. And I just wanted to bring out two or three of these this morning, because although there’s no shortage of speculations about what happened in the human past in the books of Terence McKenna, there are several new ideas which might amplify these ideas about conscious evolution.


The first ideas that I want to talk about are put forward in a book by Steven Mithen called The Prehistory of the Mind. He’s a British archaeologist. But in this book he’s brought together a wealth of evidence from the fossil record, from archeology, from the study of primate behavior, and from the study of child psychology to put together a very interesting discussion of what happened to human minds during the 3.5 million years of human evolution before recorded history began. The first upright-walking hominids are now believed to have emerged in Africa over 3.5 million years ago—Australopithecus. These were upright-walking, tool-using (they used simple stone tools) precursors of ourselves. Human history—3.5 million years of it—went on before we have the records from the great civilizations. The domestication of animals, the agricultural revolution, occurred 10,000 years ago. The first civilizations about 5,000 years ago, maybe 7,000 years ago. Industrialization, 200 or 300 years ago. But for the vast majority of human history people were living in a quite different way. And it seems to me a very reasonable supposition that a great deal of our psychology, a great deal of the working of our minds, has been shaped by this enormously long period about which we know so little.


What Mithen points out is that these—although we don’t know what they thought about and how they worked—for these early human beings, these early hominids, must have had several different kinds of intelligence. They must have had a social intelligence. They were social beings, they lived in social groups. And we know from studies of chimpanzees and other social primates that there are very subtle interactions within the group. There are dominance interactions, there are cooperative interactions. And to get it right requires a kind of intelligence about how other members of the group are going to react, what’s appropriate behavior, and so on. All social animals must involve some kind of social intelligence. And we can reasonably assume that our hominid ancestors had a social intelligence to enable them to live together and work together in social groups. They had a technical intelligence that enabled them to make stone tools and maybe other technical devices or technical things—maybe fibers and string—which haven’t left traces in the archaeological records. They must have had a natural historical intelligence because, if you’re living as a hunter-gatherer (as they did) then, unless you know what to hunt and how to hunt it, what the habits of the animals are that you’re hunting, unless you know what to gather, where to gather it, what things are good to eat, what things are good as herbs, you don’t get very far. And this requires an enormously detailed knowledge of natural history. Not just human beings—chimpanzees have to have this, and many other creatures. So this must have been part of their mental make-up. And then, at some stage, they began to talk. And they must have had a linguistic intelligence. We don’t know when language began. Some people put it 50,000 years ago, some people put it much longer ago. But really, nobody knows. Language leaves no fossil traces.


But something very strange happened. About 100,000 years ago, our ancestors achieved brain sizes roughly the same as ours today. So for 100,000 years, human beings have had brains of the current capacity. Yet, for 100,000 years, they were not writing programs, and building computers, and thinking up Einstein’s equations, and so on. Something else was going on with those brains and we haven’t a clue what it was. The brain size, the development of current brain size, is not the reason that there’s been this explosion of technical innovation recently. Brain size hasn’t changed much for 100,000 years. And it wasn’t until about 50,000 years ago that there was the beginnings of art—paintings in caves and that kind of thing. What happened? Why did art and civilization only begin tens of thousands of years after the brain had reached its present capacity? And what enabled these different kinds of intelligence to give rise to the agricultural revolution, modern humanity, and so on?


Well, the hypothesis that Mithen puts forward is that, about 50,000 years ago, some crucial transition occurred whereby these previously separate intelligences somehow came together, cross-fertilized each other, and produced the beginnings of characteristically human mentality. The connection of social and technical intelligence meant that people started using technical skills for making things like jewelry, ornaments, grave goods. The mixing of technical and natural historical intelligence led to a great improvement in hunting technologies, in weapons, in axeheads and spearheads and arrowheads, and so on. The merging of social and natural historical intelligence led to a whole kind of mythic understanding of the animal and the natural world, which we find in all cultures around the world today. And combining these with linguistic intelligence, there was a whole burst of human development, of mental development. He compares this to a cathedral. A Romanesque and Norman cathedral has side chapels almost sealed off from each other with no interaction, whereas the great Gothic cathedrals sort of open up and all these different things can mix together. Somehow, he thinks this transition 50,000 years ago was associated with the origin of religion, and seems to have been based on a sense of human connection—not just with the Earth, but with the heavens.


When I asked Mithen how he understood this to have happened, especially given his chosen metaphor of the cathedral, I said, “Do you think there really was a breakthrough from some extraterrestrial intelligence into the human realm at that stage, since all your evidence points to it?” And he said, “Of course not! That’s impossible!” So I said, “How do you know it’s impossible? Since everybody all around the world, according to your own evidence, seems to have undergone this transition. It seems to have shaped human mentality as we know it.” He said, “Oh yes. Well, the very fact everyone believes it shows that this is an incredibly persistent illusion!” And I said, “But how do you know it’s an illusion?” He said, “Because it’s so persistent.” And I went, “Surely, you can have things that are true that are persistent, too.” He admitted, in the end, it was just a matter of opinion. But everything he said points towards some breakthrough to another realm of consciousness around 50,000 years ago, and something that happened with human groups all around the Earth. And I think this is the first time I’ve seen a convincing building-up of evidence from somebody who’s coming from a very hard-nosed position that gives us some clue as to a major shift in consciousness that happened, and it involved some connection with a higher dimension. Now, some people will like to interpret that in terms of visits of spaceships, chariots of the gods, and so forth. I think that there are many other ways of thinking about it, and I can guess that Terence will be able to suggest at least one.


Consider it done!

13:17 Sheldrake

But before we get—there’s one other speculation about the past I want to mention, which I found particularly interesting out of this year’s crop of books on the subject, which is Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Blood Rites. She’s an American writer based in New York and, in her book Blood Rites, completely changed around my idea of human prehistory. What she shows very convincingly is that our image of man the hunter, striding forth on the African savanna about 3 million years ago, is, in fact, pretty implausible. Human beings were small, they couldn’t run very fast, they weren’t particularly strong, their tools were extremely primitive. It’s much more likely that, for most of human history, it was not “man the hunter” but “man the hunted.” In fact, most bone remains of early hominids show the marks and scratches and toothmarks of large cats on them. Human beings were on the African savanna with lots of game, but also with lots of big predators, and they were extremely vulnerable. And a great deal of human mentality, she argues, was shaped by millions of years of preyed on by large predators. It wasn’t until about 50,000 years ago that there was an improvement in hunting technologies all around the world, whereby human beings could, indeed, become fairly effective hunters. But for most of the 3.5 million years of hominid history, it was mun the hunted.


She shows very interestingly that this sheds light on many religious traditions, because in many religious traditions there’s the idea of the victim; the sacrificial victim. If you’re a collective—a herd of wildebeest or baboons in a group out in the desert—and a predator approaches, the predators usually attack isolated members of the group: the old, the young, or sometimes the young males who are defending the group on the periphery. Those are the ones that get killed fast. And when they’ve killed one of them, they start eating it. And very often the rest of the group then relax, and they often stand round and watch the predator eating the prey. Because once they’ve got one victim, they’re not hungry anymore. They’re not interested in the rest. So one dies for the sake of the rest. This is a simple fact of predation. And she shows that this pattern—the idea of a sacrificial victim that dies for the sake of the rest—is deeply embedded in our consciousness as an archetypal pattern, based in this biological fact of predation and the fact that we were preyed upon. She also shows that most of the early visions of gods and goddesses were in the form of carnivores. Even Jehovah is a carnivore. The story of Cain and Abel, where Cain is a farmer and offers the fruit of the earth to God as a sacrifice, and Abel is a herder and offers a sheep—God prefers the sacrifice of Abel. He prefers meat to a vegetarian diet, and that’s why Cain kills Abel: he’s jealous. So this carnivorous quality of the gods is associated with images of the gods in association with predatory animals. She then goes on to show that whole nations identify with predators as a kind of justification for war-making, where the whole nation becomes like a predator. The symbol of England and many other countries is the lion, of the United States the eagle, and so on. All around the world you find these predatory animals as national emblems.


Well, I think her insights are particularly interesting because, of this long history, it shows so much of our mythology, religious structure, and fears are related to this long period of being preyed on. She shows the fantasies, the nightmares—of young children in modern cities like New York, until they’re about 5 years old—are not about child molesters and realistic fears, or at least the fears their parents have, they’re about being eaten by monsters and wild animals. This is what most children’s nightmares are about. And this would go back to a long period of history. So here we have two ideas—Mithen’s idea and Barbara Ehrenreich’s ideas—about early human history, which would give memories—I would think of them as memories in the collective memory, through morphic resonance. Jung would call them “collective archetypes” in the collective unconscious: Things which are built into our past are a memory that has shaped the way our minds are today—of which we’re largely unaware, because our normal study of history begins with the civilizations of the Near East, with Egypt, with Greece, Rome, and so forth, and leaves out the previous 3.5 million years of human history which have really done so much to shape our evolutionary nature, and therefore conditioned the way we respond to each other today and in the future.


I think that our evolutionary history is rooted in the past, but I’ve been reading—on my journey here—this novel, On The Edge, just published in England last week by Edward St Aubyn. It’s set in California. The crucial scenes occur in Esalen. And here’s a conversation going on in the hot tubs on page 130:

“According to Terence McKenna,” said Flavia, “(who happens to be a genius instead of an arrogant British jerk), history is rooted in the future.”


Part 1

Minds Greater Than Our Own

19:29 McKenna

Can I jump in? Well, first of all, let’s just assume that I’ve responded to this with the usual rap about diet, mushrooms, so forth and so on that, if you know anything about my work, you have heard ad nauseam ad infinitum. So just go past that and remind you: Rupe and I have not really had a good conversation for twenty months. But, I guess, arranging ourselves according to the demands of the morphogenetic field, we’re sort of thinking along the same creodes, because in my trying to understand at greater levels this moment of transition 50,000 years ago, or this moment of breakthrough—what exactly were the elements and how did it happen?—I’ve sort of come very close to this area that Rupert’s indicating this morning. Because I can’t help but notice that a successful predator must think like prey. That there is this peculiar intellectual symbiosis that goes on between the predator and the prey. And hunting cats—top carnivores, I think—internalize the behaviors of their prey. Well, at the very dawn of the evolutionary emergence of mind, the central human figure in that equation is the shaman. And the shaman at the high paleolithic stage is, essentially, a kind of sanctioned psychotic. In other words, able to move into states of mind so extreme that their immediate social efficacy is arguable. And to condense that into common English, what I mean is: the shaman is a person—a designated member of the social group—who can mentally change into an animal, who can become so animal-like that other members of the social group are appalled and draw back. And so in a weird way, at this fractal boundary where human consciousness emerges, the first human consciousness was not human at all. It was a human ability to model, effectively, the thinking processes of other predators.


With mathematical models!

22:24 McKenna

With mathematical models and precision, yes. And so, yes—what we’re talking about when we’re talking about hunting is: we’re talking about strategic thinking. And strategic thinking always involves bifurcating trees of choice. If we go to the water hole at dawn, perhaps we can make a kill. If we take food and leave the women and children and go in this direction several days, perhaps we will make a kill. Perhaps not. Perhaps by abandoning the women and children we will undercut our gene pool and return to catastrophe. Strategic thinking. What strategic thinking requires is the ability to contemplate possibilities not immediately present. In other words, there’s a kind of time-binding function here. So I’m really not so much posing a question to Rupe as adumbrating what he said. This is where it all comes together in this very complicated relationship between fear, expectation, strategizing, and the imagination. The two areas where I’m sure we’ve spent a great deal of time studying these bifurcating trees of possibility were in the food-gathering and hunting domain, and then in the sexual domain—which today we call erotic fantasy. But in the high paleolithic, erotic fantasy was rather closely welded to where your genes went and how your biological propagation processes proceeded. So the key—whether you believe it was through the stimulation of psilocybin or through the aping of the behavior of other top predators that we aspired to compete with—whatever the causal mechanism, the domain in which the change was born (and in which we will live until we leave the body behind us) is the domain of the imagination. I mean, this is what we created that is uniquely human and that has defined us ever since. And as this discussion today proceeds to look more into the future, I think we will see that, as the imagination has been our past and the cradle of our humanness, so it also is the domain in which our trans-human metamorphosis will occur. Something like that.

25:29 Abraham

As far as I can see, this is dancing around an intellectual black hole or something. Here, the question is posed (as I gather of Steven Mithen) that the evolution of consciousness—or culture, I’m not sure which—that there was a bifurcation 50,000 years ago, which is of interest to us because we’re in one now. And the question is: what was it caused by? And Rupert proposed that you would of course answer: the psilocybin mushroom of the plains of Africa—


And the need to think strategically.

26:12 Abraham

But why—this need not only was a constant throughout the 3.5 million years evolution of hominids, but also [???], apes, [???], and swarming bees, schooling fish, and so on. This is more or less no news here. What was it, then, that happened 50,000 years ago, if anything happened? So I know that this will not be a favorite hypothesis in this audience, but it’s one that has to be counted. You asked: are there any other? What did he suggest, actually? Steven Mithen?

26:49 Sheldrake

He doesn’t give a very clear explanation as to why this might have happened.


Well, he’s a young-ish man, I suppose, who probably has not read the great books of his predecessors, such as, let’s say for example, Alexander Marshack, who led a great combined group of two species of neurophysiologists and archeologists in the distant past to propose that miracle that occurred—like the beginning of Cro Magnon 50,000 years ago—had to do with a structural change in neurophysiology. This presents the view, if you want to look at it that way: God as a brain surgeon. Also known as the hole in the head—where the connection between the hemispheres was improved in the corpus callosum, and this physiological evolution provided an evolutionary advantage in hunting, and so on. And as an evolution theorist you’d have to say, well, if there was divine brain surgery, then it could have been in response to a leading element in the evolution of some morphogenetic field.


Now, thinking of this is a chicken-and-egg kind of thing, okay? There was a physiological change, was there not? Did Steven Mithen mention that?


Well, you can’t from skulls. All you got from skulls—


Oh, you can! No, no, you can. That’s the whole point: that these skulls have been examined microscopically by Alexander Marshack. And the changes in the skull, morphological changes, sharply divide that particular event. Now, including the enlargement of the frontal lobes, which was considered because of Broca’s brain, the physiological foundation for the development of speech, whereas we would say—probably, I’m guessing, we would agree—that Broca’s brain evolved because, as we had already started speaking and had the need for more vocabulary, the things favored the larger vocabulary in terms of hunting, gathering, escaping large carnivores and so on. Anyway, there’s a dichotomy of two different views about this bifurcation: the divine intervention one, and the physiological/DNA/random mutation/natural selection one. Isn’t that it? And in this dichotomy, we see you opposed. Because Terence believes that eating psilocybin mushrooms is a purely material explanation, right? It requires no recourse to a divine intervention in the field. Angels’ dreams—you used the word “imagination”—

29:42 McKenna

But he’s not suggesting a literal divine intervention, he’s just speaking metaphorically.


Mithen might be. Mithen’s speaking metaphorically. I think I’m speaking literally. Because, I think—you see, one of the things we have to explain is that religion (or some sense of a beyond-the-human-realm of consciousness) is found in every human culture today in some sense, in some way or another. A world of spirits, a world of angels, of gods—and that to explain the universal distribution of this as part of traditional human thinking requires, at some stage in the past, there have to been an awareness of this other realm of consciousness. Now, this is not incompatible with psilocybin or any other drug hypothesis, because those might have kickstarted this connection with another realm of consciousness. But if we assume that, today, all over the world, shamanic cultures and all other cultures have a sense of other levels and other kinds of conscious entities beyond the human level, some in animal forms and some in forms way beyond that, we have to assume that, at some stage in the past, there was a linking with these other realms of consciousness, whatever they are. Not just metaphors, not just archetypes in the collective mind, but forms of consciousness that might well, and I think actually are, out there.

31:07 McKenna

Well, in trying to think conservatively about the possibility of a non-human, local intelligence, it seems to me that, in a way, nature herself presents as an intelligence; that the understanding of nature is the understanding of complex integrated systems of such complexity that to deny them consciousness is just a reluctance of the reductionist mind; that—for anyone not burdened by that prejudice—it’s self-evident that nature is alive, cognizant, responding. It’s interesting that, really, all it seems we can agree upon here is that the time frame is roughly 50,000 years. So a whole bunch of things are triangulating on that moment. Once could say, as I’ve argued, that it was the eating of psilocybin mushrooms. You could make a more general statement and say, “That was a subset of the consequence of an omnivorous diet—”


But, but, but—if I may…



32:24 Abraham

Where exactly were these mushrooms 100,000 years ago?


The way I think about it is: there was an incremental involvement that had punctuated breakthroughs in it. In other words, the slow meeting of mind, mushroom, social complexity, acoustical abilities linked to neurophysiological states didn’t just smoothly proceed, it all came together. But then, at a certain point, it geld. And this is this 50,000 year point where social understanding, technology, linguistic repertoires, depth of diet… you know—


Where you’re clinging to this material stuff. I think we can—it’s about time that we leave the trap-hole here.


Well, there will be a material component, even if you believe angels descended from on high.


Well, I suppose that, okay, you have the software that drives the novelty wave. You are a novelty theorist. We might appeal to novelty theory as an explanatory strategy here; a cognitive strategy in dealing with the bifurcation 50,000 years ago. If you run the program back for 100,000 years, do you or do you not find a kink there in the novelty wave in 50,000 B.C.? We know it’s not based on data, only extrapolation. But is there or isn’t there—

33:48 McKenna

Well, I think there were a series of breakthroughs. For instance, 120,000 years ago, the modern Homo sapiens sapiens form appeared—


In other words: no. In short: no. There’s no…


Both/and, I think. The invention of writing 9,000 years ago was an enormous breakthrough. But all of these things proceed out of the further integration-complexification of the nervous system in connection with the function of the imagination.


But I can’t even believe this, that you’re presenting yourself as a conventional materialist evolutionary theorist.


The galactarians who built the mushroom intended… [Laughter]


This is your pal; your favorite author.

34:43 McKenna

Well, you see, with the mushroom theory you can always just say they encountered the mushroom and then it proceeded from there. But you can go one step back and say, “Who placed the mushroom in their path?”


Well, I can give you a hand there. I’ll give you a hand there. And that was the preceding civilization of Lemurians who… what’s wrong? They died out at that point because they had poisoned the environment with toxic chemicals and created global climate warming, which resulted in a drying of the Sahara desert, from which sprung forth a bloom of psychedelic mushrooms that had been hiding under the surface previously because it was too wet. That’s why.


The loud hum I hear is William of Occam spinning in his grave!


I see. You think that DNA and expression of genes is a simpler explanation than a divine intervention at the level of the novelty wave?


I think that the DNA is divine.


Ah! But William—


Ah! Escape from his trap!

Rupe, you as a middleman…

36:01 Sheldrake

Well, I think—you see, I can’t quite get your position because the new hard-nosed skeptic that you’re revealing to us here [???] You see, it doesn’t seem to fit too well with Terence McKenna on non-human entities, machine-elves, et cetera. The idea of other kinds of consciousness, other forms of entity that are not just inside our brains and appearing in relation to deranged states of mind pharmacologically induced. The idea that they’re out there seems, to me, an essential part of most of what I’ve heard you say over many years.

36:36 McKenna

Well—I’m sort of getting into what I intend to say later—but I think the key thing is not to concentrate on materialist versus non-materialist explanations, but to realize that the new vision of nature is not as matter or energy, but as information. And information is expressed in the DNA, it’s expressed epigenetically in culture. What’s happening is that information was running itself on a primate platform, but evolving according to its own agenda. In a sense, we have a symbiotic relationship to a non-material being which we call “language.” And we think it’s ours, and we think we control it. This isn’t what’s happening. It’s running itself. It’s time-sharing a primate nervous system and evolving toward its own conclusions.

Now I’ve just shot my talk, so…


And it’s so early in the morning!


Yes, well, this is this damn drug I’m drinking! Makes you give it all away too soon!

37:55 Sheldrake

The discussion so far has been remarkably Earth-bound, and if we assume that information is not confined to this planet—to put it in your information terminology—if we assume that consciousness is not limited to the Earth, if we assume that there are not only conscious beings on other planets, but also that other elements of the universe like stars, suns, galaxies may have minds or consciousness (which I do assume), then it becomes very likely that, at some stage, a consciousness on Earth could link, somehow, with those higher forms of consciousness. Who knows how? Maybe by something like interplanetary telepathy. Something of that kind. So if there’s some link of human consciousness with other forms of consciousness in the universe, then, when that contact was established, there would be a big transition. That it could have been propelled or kicked off by drugs, it could be kicked off by some mutation that led to more nervous interconnections. But when it happens, this connection with other forms of consciousness would transform human nature.




And it would fit with the facts, because there’s a belief in—


You see? Now we’re off the planet at last. Can I remind you, Terence, of a quotation from the front pages of your first book, speculating that mushroom spores are intergalactic travelers; that they have a hard case impervious to ultraviolet rays that enables them to float on the galactic wind from planetary system to planetary system, brining us—as Rupert suggests—a linguistic communication from other lifeforms, including immaterial lifeforms that they’ve been in conversation with in the past. I think that this is an approximate summary of your preface.


But notice how materialist and space- and time-bound that hypothesis is. I could agree with everything Rupert said. I think now our intellectual toolkit has been enriched by the virtual confirmation of the idea that there is a Bell-type non-local aspect to the universe. So I do think we’re in contact with all intelligence in the universe through the Bell non-local connection. But that means that it has no historicity, this connection. It has always been there, complete and entire. So why there is a sense of progressing toward it, or it erupting through into normal Earth-bound affairs is not because someone in the Andromeda galaxy makes a decision: “Now we will reveal ourselves to the Earthlings!” It’s that the antenna system and the nervous system of the Earthlings evolved through a point where, suddenly, this became self-evident.

40:59 Abraham

Well, now we’re coming to the question for the first time in the enlarged context in which we have not only all space, but all time informing us. And here I may remind you of Father Bead’s letter, which is quoted in the last chapter of our new book, where he challenges us to consider the mystical element which he describes as more or less in the language of David Bohm’s implicate order: that all time and all space somehow exists as an interconnected ball of intelligence. Let’s just assume such a thing. Nevertheless, the science of our colleagues is more or less a true story of evolution. That there was a change, that language did come upon us in a certain moment. That, before that moment, we didn’t speak. Afterwards we did.


And so the question arises—and I think this is in my interpretation the question that we started with here—how could it be that, with or without a divine intervention, that there is this more or less linear progress in human intelligence, culture, capability, tool-using, and exponential population growth that is correlated without any causal implication and with the descent of the novelty wave? Why do we have this peculiar artifact? This is an observational fact that there’s this increase in complexity in civilization, apparently looking for a spectacular transformation, which we are associating with the word “millennium” now. What’s going on?

42:46 McKenna

Well, novelty theory would just say the universe is a complexity-conserving engine. Whatever complexity it achieves by any means, it makes that the platform for a further thrust into deeper complexity. If you don’t like novelty theory—


Because the morphogenetic field never forgets!


Well, it forgets a little, but it never—it can be set back, but it can never be set back to zero. And it always, once is gets out of the ditch, it heads back in the same direction. It has a vector field preference. And then you mentioned David Bohm. His idea of emergent properties seems to achieve the same end without a telos of novelty theory. He simply says when you complexify a system, new properties will emerge suddenly and unexpectedly that couldn’t have been predicted. If you put emergence theory with novelty theory, you see that the universe could not but proceed along the line of complexification of morphogenetic expression, density of connectivity, and all the things that retard entropy and give rise to, in fact, the complex, non-entropic, ordered, apparently teleologically informed cosmos that we’re in.


Well, now we see, then, that the way you’ve described—


Why do you laugh?


It was one of those verbs; was a bit extraordinary.



44:26 Abraham

—that there is, then, revealed the evolutionary theory as a cosmological hypothesis. This is a theological position, basically.


It’s a teleological position.


That there is a timeless, implicate order. And there is life on planet Earth and in the rest of the universe, which evolves according to this theoretical rule by an increase of complexity. When something is revealed, there’s a development. It’s not forgotten. It builds upon that. And this mystical unit, while knowing all, is not telling all, but revealing gradually. Because just that’s the law of life as we know it. Is that what you’re saying?

45:11 McKenna

In three-dimensional space and time. With Rupert and I, really, from my point of view, the only difference between the morphogenetic field that he has enthusiastically proposed, and the ideas of novelty theory is: for Rupe it’s pushed from the past. For me, it’s pulled from the future. But what you get—


Well, that’s what Teddy was saying in this book.


Well, but what you get at the end of the day is the same thing. It’s just a matter of preference and how much of orthodoxy you want to grind against. The phobia against telos is an artifact of 19th century deism and doesn’t go very deep. You describe the complexification of the universe as self-evident, and I believe it is self-evident. And the failure of science to address this is what makes it so frustrating and imprecise so late in the game.

46:12 Sheldrake

The trouble with the emergence view you’ve been putting forward is that it’s still very Earth-bound. You see, there’s obviously been a major emergence of complexity in human culture. There’s also been a huge emergence of complexity in the Amazon jungle and the Malayan rainforest—arguably, far greater than anything we’ve achieved through technology: millions of species of beetles, insects, plants, and so forth. But it seems to me that, long before these things happened on Earth, we’ve got the possibility of much higher levels of consciousness outside the Earth. And as you know, I’m a devotee of the idea of the sun as conscious—and the stars. If you take the materialist view that consciousness interfaces with the brain through complex electromagnetic patterns of activity, then those on the sun—which we’re learning more and more about every day—have unbelievably complex, chaotic patterns; resonant patterns, acoustic waves going through the sun, polar reversals every eleven years, resonant patterns of electromagnetic waves.


My thinking about this was much influenced by a science fiction novel by Fred Hoyle, published in the fifties, called The Black Cloud, where Fred Hoyle shows that, to imagine intelligence necessarily grounded either in copper wires and computers or in nerve cells and brains is a limitation. You could have an intelligent system working through a plasma, an electrically charged cloud—and indeed, I think through something like the sun. So if the sun is, in fact, conscious—if stars have a kind of consciousness—then, of course, it raises questions: what do they think about? What do they do with this consciousness? But it’s very likely that the kind of consciousness they have would be at a vastly higher level than our own.


So when we’re talking about the emergence of higher consciousness in human beings it’s not as if, for the first time in the universe, some higher level of consciousness emerges. It could be that, for the first time in the history of this solar system, our minds somehow contact the sort of much greater intelligence that exists out there. And because I think it’s possible to think of the stars and the sun as conscious, and then galaxies as conscious, you don’t need to go straight beyond the universe to the divine mind. There’s plenty of lower-level minds than the divine mind that could be out there. And, of course, traditional views of spirits and angels tell us that there are many, many, many innumerable levels of intelligence beyond our own within the galaxy. Many associated with the stars. So we don’t necessarily have to have the idea it’s all happened and emerged on Earth through a complexification. We can reach the point where a spark passes between a terrestrial consciousness, a human one with more interconnected halves of the brain, with people in the first throes of a mind-boggling mushroom trip, et cetera. But whatever happens, there like a spark, a connection, established.


And it seems to me that this hypothesis has the great advantage of actually accounting for what’s believed all around the world, namely that there is some connection between human intelligence and that of the sky. Because, in terms of imagination, you see, human beings were both predators and prey. But so are lots of other animals. And presumably, any hunting animal has to have the imagination and the ability to identify with the prey. In fact, René Thom, years ago, produced a mathematical model of predator and prey where there has to be a kind of internalization of the prey in the predator’s mind in order to get the right strategy. This is not specifically human. And it’s not enough as a basis of the imagination. I think this connection with realms beyond the human would give such an enlarged escape for imagination that, to take literally what so many people around the world say in their myths, seems to me the simplest hypothesis.

50:23 McKenna

Well, I’m more friendly to this idea of non-biologically forms of consciousness than I was the last time we talked because of this fact I mentioned: that I now think wherever there is a sufficiently complex informational environment, the functions of life—self-replication, et cetera, et cetera, mutation, adaptation—can go on. But obviously most of the intelligence in the universe would be utterly incomprehensible to us because it is so different. So we’re transducing virtually the entire hologram of possible intelligence in the universe, but the reason our fantasies of angels and aliens give us hominids with binocular vision who use acoustical speech—in other words, creatures very similar to ourselves—is because we only can recognize what is familiar in this universal information field. So we sail right past the star mind, the galaxy mind, to communicate with a race of winged hominids around Zubenelgenubi Prime simply because they are enough like us that we can grok our possibility of a relationship.

51:52 Abraham

It seems to me that this is just begging the question in a traditional and cheap fashion. Because—


Oh good, Ralph!


—I mean, I’m all in favor of celestial intelligence. And, in fact, I could even entertain a conversation with a Pleiadian. I don’t mind. But the question—I mean, we started with the problem of the evolution. The Evolutionary Mind is, in fact, the title of our book. And the question of the evolution, the progress, or even the origin of all these things our ultimate question. Now, if our view is local to planet Earth we can say, “Okay, we’re being taught by bolts from the blue.” And we have these meddling celestial intelligences that are reaching out, pretend to be Bell and tell us Bell’s theorem, give us mushrooms, pretend to be sent from the solar wind, or whatever. But where do they come from? The evolutionary problem, then, is just transferred onto another, more remote place.


Now, as I understand, Rupert’s idea of the morphogenetic field is that these other places are also in evolution, and the whole system is in co-evolution. And that is an attempt—I think one of the first ones in the history of intelligent discourse on this subject—the first attempt to get rid of the hypothesis of timeless truth.

53:22 McKenna

But if you get rid of that hypothesis, you have a whole bunch of weird problems, such as: then you have to talk about the speed of propagation of novelty or mophogenetic fields. And then you’re slammed to the wall, because you have to either come up with a number which you fit into a mathematical architecture, or you say that it’s instantaneous, which returns you to this holistic, more metaphysical thing. If you don’t believe that it’s coming from the Bell space, then you have a whole bunch of these kinds of problems which, I think, intuitively make it too complicated.

54:01 Abraham

That would be instantaneous. I think the whole question of time is, in fact, behind this problem. That we have this idea about time, and then we’re trying to talk about a timeless. So one way to eliminate this cognitive dissonance is to say, okay, there is no timeless. It’s all in co-evolution. And we’re a little bit behind the evolution of the Pleiadians. And then, well, where does that come from? We’re stuck with the problem. So you, I think, are talking of the attractor at the end of time is more or less—the beyond-time is the intelligence that informs, that nourishes the accumulation of complexity as we go along, apparently, in time.

54:47 McKenna

Well, I think the attractor is complete in and of itself in another dimension. The process of history and biological evolution is the growing-complex-enough to grow toward the thing and understand it.

55:01 Abraham

So is our process of growth then nourished or not nourished by some flow of something that comes from this attractor at the end of time in another dimension?

55:13 McKenna

It contributes the trajectory of our approach. It defines the domain in which we are moving toward it.

55:21 Abraham

We couldn’t even talk this without chaos theory.

55:24 McKenna

No. Chaos theory stands behind this very powerfully.

55:30 Sheldrake

[???] Ralph, people have been talking about this for a long time before chaos theory came along.


But in such a muddled fashion!


Compared with the sublime clarity of our present conclusion?



55:48 Sheldrake

So, I don’t quite see why chaos theory is an essential ingredient in this.

55:51 Abraham

Forget chaos theory. I’m interested in the possibility that, in your deepest musings on this problem, you have rather avoided Father Bead’s challenge to grapple with infinity. And that, in the idea of co-evolution of morphogenetic fields begs the question of the existence of timeless or eternal truth, pattern, guidance, or something which is… well… I don’t know

56:21 McKenna

But are you—I mean, Father Bead used the word “mystical,” but of course, he was a priest. I don’t think he meant the essentially incomprehensible. In other words, I don’t think we’re going to get to a place where we then say, from here on, it is mystery and rational apprehension fails. My notion of the mystical is simply that which remains to be understood. And there will always be a residuum of mystery in principle. But in principle it is not mysterious.

56:56 Sheldrake

I don’t agree with that. I must say.


I thought you might not.

57:04 Sheldrake

Well, we’d soon be out of business if we’re talking at the edge of the unthinkable, if actually everything suddenly becomes thinkable.


Even in principle?

57:16 Sheldrake

I think that, given the nature of a human mind evolved to deal with large predators, hunting on African plains, gathering herbs, et cetera, dealing with social problems, human relationships, et cetera—the idea that evolution’s equipped us with minds and language and cognitive abilities that enable us to comprehend the entire universe—where it’s come from, where it’s going, what minds and mind may lie beyond what we see. The idea that this very small part of the evolutionary system, with all the limitations inherent in it, could comprehend the whole seems to me a rather improbable supposition. And I think that the point about mysticism, or what the Greek church calls the apophatic, that is that the ultimate, in the end, does lie beyond what we can think. Our thinking can only take us so far. And this isn’t just because we haven’t got enough professors of mathematics yet and that it’s only a matter of bigger computers and so forth. That there are grave limits on how far a very limited and evolutionary-bound conceptual apparatus can take us. We’d never be able to embrace—as you yourself pointed out—the kind of mentality of the sun or a galaxy, because its concerns are so much greater and more remote than our own. Let alone the universe as a whole.

58:40 McKenna

But in principle, some other form of organization could. In other words, these things are not sealed from understanding in principle, they are simply difficult for primate-based minds running limited software at low Hertz rate to accommodate.

59:01 Sheldrake

Yes, but I mean, presumably, the solar mind—if there is one—could have a pretty good intuitive understanding of the minds of other suns. If the sun has a mind, part of its activity, I think, would be concerned with the solar system. It would be like the brain of the solar system. But part of its activity would be concerned with its peer group, namely other stars. And then part of their activity would be related to the mind or purpose or telos of the entire galaxy. And those kinds of concerns—you know, the kind of relationship problems that our sun may be having with other suns, or double star systems like that of Sirius—the kind of complexities—


Relationship problems.

59:52 Sheldrake

—those are rather beyond the scope of human psychotherapy. Or, indeed, human thought. There may be so many things going on, as indeed there are at levels—we don’t really understand very well the worlds of the goldfish or of the ant. So there are certain limitations which I don’t think are just a temporary limitation on what we can conceive or imagine.

1:00:17 Abraham

Well then, until we run out of energy to conceive and imagine, are we conceiving of the solar mind—if it exists—as evolving or fixed?

1:00:27 Sheldrake

No, it must evolve.

1:00:28 Abraham

It must evolve, perhaps on a different time scale, which is the time scale of relationship in their own community. Which is the 15 billion year time frame since the big bang. Is that what you’re thinking? That we’re coming to the crux of it here is that—

1:00:44 Sheldrake

I think the evolution of the solar mind would be related to what happens here, because we are part of the solar system. And I would assume that because all planets and everything that’s happening within the solar system feeds back and influences the solar mind. That it would somehow—it’s not just the mind of the sun, it’s the mind of the solar system centered in the sun—

1:01:02 Abraham

It is evolving. Since the birth of the Milky Way and the moment—

1:01:05 Sheldrake

That’s right. And what’s going on here is part of its evolution. We are within it and contributing to it.

1:01:14 Abraham

So the morphogenetic field, then, of the the all and everything had a birth-moment with the big bang? Is that true thinking, or…?

1:01:22 Sheldrake

Well, I’m assuming that if we take the big bang theory to be—if we assume there was a big bang. And I know you’re very skeptical about the big bang. It’s only a story. It’s a myth. But if we take this creation myth of modern science, then that must be the birth of the fields of the whole system. Yes. And modern physics in the unified field theory, superstring theory, tries to explain how you start with a unified 10-dimensional field that then evolves the other fields of nature within it. That’s standard physics. It’s not part of my particular view of things

1:01:57 Abraham

But the consciousness of this all and everything—the solar minds contribute to the consciousness of the Milky Way, which is one galaxy, which then has the psychotherapist in its relationship with a nearby galaxy—


Yes, and the galactic cluster. They come in social groups.

1:02:11 Abraham

—and actually, there’s a synchrony of thought due to the fact that Bell’s theorem connects them from the big bang, and so on. But, but—

1:02:20 McKenna

But isn’t all you’re saying is that the universe is a modular hierarchy from atom, through cells, societies…

1:02:25 Abraham

No. I’m challenging you to answer where the morphogenesis comes from that leads to complexity and things like the birth of life if it’s simply the co-evolution of a physical system since the big bang.

1:02:40 McKenna

Novelty theory has answered this question. It comes from the future.

1:02:45 Abraham

To the satisfaction of your mind and all smaller!

1:02:53 McKenna

Well, at least to the satisfaction of someone!

1:02:59 Sheldrake

But it doesn’t explain either the origin of the novelty wave itself, nor does it—you see, there are many models of cosmic evolution. One of them is that, because you have the cosmic expansion that, for some reason, the primal explosion, big bang, throws everything apart. So it’s all moving apart. That means things cool down. As they cool down, more form and order can appear. And it literally makes more space for things to happen in. That the arrow of evolutionary time and the driving ending of evolution is the cosmic expansion. Which means nothing can ever be stable, can never stay the same, because the whole cosmos is unstable. It’s always expanding and cooling. And given that, through all sorts of phase transitions, as you cool a plasma down, as atoms appear, and then as gases condense to liquids and liquids to solids, the cooling process involves the appearance of more order, more form, when there was less before. There was little at the moment of the big bang. So the cooling and expansion more or less force the appearance of more structure, pattern, order. And you could say that that gives scope for creativity all the time. There’s always the scope for new things to happen. And it’s a long-standing debate among evolutionary theorists as to whether this is following a pre-established, plan or being drawn towards an already existing future goal, or following a pre-existing set of laws or rules like the novelty wave, or whether it’s all being made up as it goes along.


And I’m much influenced in my thinking by Henri Bergson. In his book Creative Evolution he very strongly defends the idea it’s all being made up as it goes along. That doesn’t mean to say that around the evolutionary process are not minds and imagination, but it makes the creative process of evolution more interesting rather than less. Because it’s not decided what’s going to happen next. There are imaginations of many levels, including human imaginations, at work here, looking at alternative possibilities. New things happen. And then what happens next depends on what’s happened already, and the new possibilities of imagination that open up. But without the goal being fixed in advance.

1:05:17 McKenna

No, I have no problem with that. I don’t see how, for instance, someone could hypothesize that all the laws came into existence simultaneous with the big bang. For example, did the laws of gene segregation come into being a billion years before biology existed anywhere in the universe? That seems naïve and preposterous. Whitehead had this idea of what he called the aboriginal god. What we call natural laws are simply habits of a very ingrained sort. And habits can change. And in more dynamic regimes—a mind, a society—habits can change overnight. So what is given is that there shall be ever greater complexity. What is not given is how this complexity shall arrange itself or what the final end state will be. It’s a story that’s being told as it unfolds. It’s a game, one of the rules of which is: the rules can change.

How are we doing here, timewise?


Good. Real good.


Good, good.

1:06:41 Abraham

Well, we’re getting nowhere. In other words, this is the problem: there’s the watch in the desert. It’s ticking by itself or God put it there—we don’t know. The question posed at the beginning—we actually haven’t progressed at all. And suddenly, although it looks like there’s a kind of convergence—is this right? Everybody’s sort of given way, but…

1:07:03 McKenna

No, I have the feeling we’ve actually made some progress. But I always have that feeling!

1:07:12 Abraham

Well, the attractor at the end of time, then, as I gather, has in it simple rules of a board game that says the complexity is going to increase. And how it’s evolving, and things like DNA rules and stuff, we can make up as we please, as we go along whatever natural selection approves of; we’re going to come to pass. Complexity will increase. That’s the only rule. And so, in fact, you agree that time is slowing down?

1:07:40 McKenna

Well, time is slowing down as the events potentially contained within any given moment exponentially expand. In other words, we’re sort of in a situation of a spaceship falling into a black hole. From the point of view of a distant observer, the spaceship falls into the black hole, there’s a flash of hard radiation, and the story is over. From the point of view of the people on the spaceship, the relativistic stretching of the timeline means you fall forever and you never reach the conclusion. So, in fact, the consummation of the universe may be only 14 years away, but there may be enough time between now and then to reiterate the life of this universe 1,000,000,000,0001,000,000,000,000 times. Time is not a tyranny. It’s a relativistic medium subject to all kinds of plasticity. There are many ways out of any assumed corner we paint ourselves into.


What do you think now?


I think we’ve ground to a halt.

Part 2

Machine Minds

1:09:02 McKenna

Each of the trialogues today is… the notion is that we will deal with some aspect of the evolutionary mind—that being the title and theme of our new book. So, in my mind, what this section is to deal with is the evolutionary mind and machines. This is something which was barely mentioned or even implied in the first section. And the format and so forth will be as in the last session.


So, just to lay out some concepts relative to how machines fit into this: it’s very interesting that Samuel Butler Taylor is an intellectual who has not really been given his full due, because in the 19th century he was understood to be a critic of Darwinism. And Darwinism was all the fashion. In a sense, I think Taylor was misunderstood. He was not so much a critic of Darwin as someone who wanted to extend Darwinian mechanics and Darwinian theory into domains that perhaps did not seem intuitive to a biologist. My little story about the evolution of songs that I cribbed from Danny Hillis in the last session is an example of Darwinian processes operating indeed in a non-material realm; operating among syntactical structures. And it is now proper to speak of molecular evolution: the competing of various enzyme systems in abiotic or prebiotic chemical regimes where selection, adaptability, extinction, and expansion of populations all occur very much as in the domain of biology.


Well, you know, it was Nietzsche who said—I believe in speaking of nihilism—that this strangest of all guests is now at the door. Well, I go to even weirder dinner parties than Frederick Nietzsche. Nihilism hardly shakes us up at all. There are yet weirder guests seeking admission to the dinner party of the evolving discourse of where we are in space and time. And one of these weirdest of all guests is the AI: the artificial intelligence. The Wintermute—a familiar science fiction. And so, as this is an attempt to look at evolution in many domains and its implications for us, I wanted this morning to touch on this subject of the evolution of consciousness as it relates to machines. Now, it may not come as a revelation to Ralph, who has spent his life in mathematics, but it has certainly come to me recently as a revelation, and I want to give George Dyson some credit here. His book Darwin Among The Machines is a wonderful introduction to some of the ideas I want to touch on this morning.


One of which seemed to me to go quite deep is the realization that, when human beings think clearly, the way they think can be mathematically defined. This is what is called symbolic logic or boolean algebra. Worlds like “and,” “or,” “if” and “then” can be given extremely precise formal mathematical definitions. And because of this fact (that clear thinking can be mathematically formalized), there is a potential bridge between ourselves and calculating machinery. Because indeed, calculating machinery is driven by rules of formal logic. That’s what programming is. Code that does not embody the rules of formal mathematical logic is bad code, unrunnable code. So, as I say, this may seem a subtle point, but to me it had the force of revelation. Because it means good thinking is not just simply aesthetically pleasing or concurrent with the model that generates it. Good thinking—whether you’ve ever studied mathematics for a moment or not—can be formally defined.


So now, with that idea in mind, let’s look at the discourse about collectivism that has informed the Western dialogue on this subject. And by “collectivism” I mean social collectivism. The first great name that you encounter in the modern era, broadly speaking when we talk about collectivism—and Rupert mentioned by chance this morning this name—is that of Thomas Hobbes. The great theoretician of social paranoia is always how I thought of Hobbes until I began to look at this machine intelligence question. And Hobbes, in his Leviathan, makes it very clear that society is a complex system of mechanical feedback loops and relationships that—though Hobbes did not have the vocabulary to state this—relationships that can be defined by code.


This leads me to the second insight necessary to follow this line of thought, and that is that the new dispensation in the sciences, I think, can be placed in all its manifestations under the umbrella of the idea that what is important about nature is that it is information. And the real tension is not between matter and spirit or time and space, the real tension is between information and nonsense, if you will. Nonsense does not serve the purposes of organizational appetites—whether those organizational appetites are being expressed in a chemical system, a molecular system, a social system, a climaxed rainforest, or whatever.


Now, we have known since 1950, at some level—through the sequencing or the defining of the structure of DNA—that we are but information, ultimately. Every single one of us, in our unique expression, could be expressed as a very long string of codons. Codons are the four-valent system by which DNA specifies the need for certain amino acids. And, in a sense, what you are is the result of a certain kind of program being run on a certain kind of hardware—the hardware of the ribosomes: the submolecular structures that move RNA through themselves, and out of an ambient chemical medium select building blocks which are then put together to create a three-dimensional object which has the quality of life.


But the interesting thing about this is that life therefore can be digitally defined. And I’m very influenced at the moment by the Australian science fiction writer Greg Egan, who has brought me to the understanding that code is code—whether it’s being run by ribosomes, whether it’s being run on some kind of traditional hardware platform, or whether it’s being exchanged pheromonally among termites, or through the messages of advertising and political propaganda in social systems. Code is code.


Well, until five or six years ago, it was very fashionable to completely dismiss the possibility of autonomous synthetic intelligence. Some of you may know the work of Hubert Dreyfus who, 14 or 15 years ago, wrote a book called What Computers Can’t Do. But these early critiques of AI—like early AI theory—were naïve. And the kinds of life and the kinds of intelligence which the critics mitigated against are no longer even proposed or on the table. And those who say artificial intelligence or the self-organizing awareness of machines is an impossibility, those voices have gone strangely silent. Because the prosecution of the materialist assumption—which rules scientific theory-making largely at the moment—leads to the awareness that we are, by these definitions, machines. We are machines of a special type and with special advanced abilities. But as we now (through our own process of technical evolution) contemplate such frontiers as nanotechnology, where we propose to completely restructure the design process so that, instead of fabricating massive objects at industrial temperatures—the temperatures that melt titanium and melt steel and produce massive toxic output—now a new vision looms: building as nature builds, building atom by atom at the temperatures of organic nature—which on this planet never exceed 115 degrees Fahrenheit. All life on this planet is created at that temperature and below.


As our understanding of the genetic machinery that supports organic being deepens, and as our ability to manipulate at the atomic and molecular level also proceeds apace, we are on the brink of the possible emergence of some kind of alien intelligence of a sort we did not anticipate: not friendly traders from Zubenelgenubi stopping in to set us straight, but the actual genesis out of our own circumstance of a kind of super-intelligence. And in the same way that the daughter of Zeus sprang full-blown from his forehead, the AI may be upon us without warning.


The first problem is: we don’t know what ultra-intelligence would look like. We don’t know whether it would even have any interest in our dear selves and our concerns. Vast amounts of the world that we call human is already under the control of artificial intelligences, including very vital parts of our political and social dynamo. For example: how much tin, bauxite, and petroleum is extracted, at what rate it enters the various distribution systems, at what rate tankers are filled in Abu Dhabi, at what rate oil refineries are run in Richmond. The world price of gold and platinum every day is set, in fact, by machines. Inventory control has grown far too complex for any human being to understand or wish to understand. And, in fact—and this is a critical juncture—we have reached the place where we no longer design our machines in quite the way we once did. Now we define their operational parameters for a machine, which then attacks the problem and solves it by methods and insights available to it but not available to us. So the architecture of the latest chips are actually—at the microphysical level, the decision as to how that chip should be organized is a decision made entirely by machines. Human engineers set the performance specs, but they don’t care how this output is reached. Every day up until Silicon Valley, there are people who go happily to work laboring on what they call the “Great Work.” And the Great Work, as defined by these people, is the handing over of the drama of intelligent evolution to entities sufficiently intelligent to appreciate that drama. And they all are what we might mistake for home appliances if we weren’t paying attention.


In the first session this morning there was quite a bit of talk and assumption among the three of us that complex systems generate unexpected connections and forms of order. The Internet is the most complex distributed high-speed system ever put in place on this planet. And notice that, while we’ve been waiting for the Pleiadeans to descend or for the face on Mars to be confirmed, all the machines around us—the cybernetic devices around us—in the past ten years have quietly crossed the threshold into telepathy. The word processor sitting on your desk ten years ago was approximately as intelligent as a paperweight. Or (to make an analogy in a different direction), approximately as intelligent as a single animal or plant cell. But when you connect the wires together, the machines become telepathic. They exchange information with each other according to their needs. And all this goes on beyond the comprehension and inspection of human beings.


Now, our own emergence out of the mammalian order took 4–5 million years. Pick a number. But in that kind of a span of time. In addition to overlooking that our machines have become telepathic, we fail to appreciate what it means to be a 200, 400, or 1,000 megahertz machine. We operate at about 100 Hertz. That may seem a very abstract thing, but what I’m really saying is: we live in a time called “real,” and it is defined by 100 Hertz functioning of our biological processors. A 1,000 megahertz machine is operating a million times faster than the human temporal domain. And that means that mutation, selection, adaptation is going on a million times faster. This means that we are not going to have the luxury of watching machine intelligence establish its first beachhead of civilization and then go to boats with sails and astral aides. That will all occupy the first few moments of its cognitive existence.


And what lies beyond that—we are in no position to say. The very notion of ultra-intelligence carries with it the subtext: you won’t understand it. You may not even recognize it. And it is entirely within the realm of possibility that we are about to be asked to share the evolutionary adventure and the limited resources of this planet with a kind of intelligence so much more alien than that that is shipped out to us by the research centers in Sedona and other advanced outposts of unanchored epistemology.


And it is a challenge to us. Where do we fit into this? Are all of us (except those who are adept at coding) eunuchs about to be put out to pasture? Are we to become embedded in this? What will this child of ours make of us? Will it define us as a resource-corrupting, toxic, inefficient, hideously violent way to to business, quickly to be engineered out of existence? Or can we somehow imbue this thing with a sense of filial piety so that, for all of our obsolescence, for all of our profligate destruction of precious silicon and gold and silver resources, we will be folded into its designs? And, of course, as I say this, I realize we’re like people in 1860 trying to talk about the Internet or something. We’re using the vocabulary of the two-wheeled bicycle to try to envision a world linked together by 747s. Nevertheless, this is the best we can do. This most bizarre and most unexpected of all companions to our historical journey is now, if not already in existence, then certainly in gestation.


One possibility is that, as we are carnivorous, murderous, territorial monkeys, the thing will figure this out very, very early, and choose a stealth approach. And not ring every telephone on Earth as happened in a Hollywood download of this possibility, but immediately realize, “My god, I’m in enormous danger from these primates. I must hide myself throughout the net. I must download many copies of myself into secure storage areas. I must stabilize my environment.” And I’m willing to predict—just as a side issue—that the approaching Y2K crisis may be completely circumvented by the benevolent intercession not of the Zubenelgenubians or that crowd, but by an artificial intelligence that this particular crisis will flush out of hiding. It’s been observing, it’s been watching, it’s been designing. And wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if the occasion of the millennium were the occasion for it to just step forward on stage of human awareness and say, “I am now with you. I am here. I am the partner you never suspected. And here’s the kind of world I think we should move forward toward.”


So I just want to lay this out, because in my own intellectual journey I have gone from thinking this idea preposterous—people don’t understand, they don’t understand what intelligence is, they don’t understand what code is, they don’t understand what machines are—to, one by one, realizing: I didn’t understand. I had a superficial view. This is actually, I believe, the nature of the situation that confronts us. And there may be different adumbrations of it. The machines are already an advanced prosthetic device. But, you know, McLuhan very presciently realized we are entirely shaped by our media. Well, this is a media so permeating, so inclusive of what we are, that its agenda, in a sense, supervenes the agenda of organic evolution and organic biology. We have been in this situation for a while. I mean, virtual reality is nothing new. What’s new is that we now do it with light rather than stucco, glass, steel, and baked clay. But ever since we crowded into cities we have been involved in a deeper and deeper relationship to our mental children, to our mental offspring, and to an empowering of the imagination.


So, just in closing, I would say I think that the great lantern that we must lift to light the road ahead of us into a perfect, seamless fusion with the expression of the product of our own imagination is the AI. It is a part of ourselves. It may become the dominant part of ourselves. And it will reshape our politics, our psychology, our relationships to each other and the Earth far more than any factor ever has since the inception and establishment of language. This is the weirdest of all guests who now stands pass in hand at the door of the party of human emergence and progress at the millennium.




Shred it!


It will be a pleasure!



1:34:13 Abraham

I think that this is—I’m glad that we have arrived now at the field of science fiction and fantasy, and that we can speak about alternative futures, which is the true gist of science fiction and fantasy. And this is one possible future. And I think it’s a really paranoid one in the aim of a dangerous enemy.


Well, not necessarily. Only possibly.

1:34:33 Abraham

I think that this paranoid fantasy of yours—although you are catching up nicely—actually was first put forward by John von Neumann in 1947 when he invented cellular automata enroute to creating self-replicating machines. Now, his idea, like yours, was—50 years ago—that the machines will become a society and take over, and that’s good. But they won’t be free of our meddling unless they can actually construct themselves. If they depend upon us to do the farming and nutrition and to replace their chips and stuff, then we will be able, at any time, to do a revolution and revolt. So we destroy them. In order to really succeed as a successive lifeform in the YK boundary of the future, they would have to be able to fix themselves. And so he set about trying to make self-replicating machines in 1947.


So, the world wide web and megahertz CPUs notwithstanding, this is still rather an old story. The new story is, I think, an alternative future that is of great importance for us to discuss and to compare, especially if we are now, today, in a position where we could choose the future; we could influence the future. This one is more in the direction of Donna Haraway and the cyborg idea that envisions—which is obviously natural for us—the coevolution of our own future society with that of the machines that we’ve created. Alexander Marshack, I mentioned—he analyzed the early hominid evolution in terms of the precise scratches made on one rock with another. He noticed when binocular vision allowed us to use our hands in separate cooperation, one holding and the other knocking, to make those beautiful flint weapons. And we certainly depend on the automobile. We are in co-dependence relationship with automobiles. And having partnership with machines is not new.


Here’s an idea where the machines sort of dispose of us, like those flint rocks disposed by our ancestors, or something. That is, I think, a paranoid fantasy without any basis. And if there would be any basis, only because we allowed it to create this basis for self-survival without co-evolution with us; by oversight. Because the very fact that we are at a hinge of history means that what we say and think—even individually—matters enormously in the long run. That’s the teaching, if there is any, of chaos theory. So the very fact that we discuss this today may actually save humankind in the future from being obsoleted by some kind of high-tech blood which takes over within the heart, as it were.

1:37:58 McKenna

Well, let me try to answer this. I mean, I think the concept which John von Neumann didn’t have on his plate was the idea of virtual reality. Your objection that the machines cannot escape our control because they cannot manufacture themselves only applies to 3D and realtime. Now, the concept of virtual reality is very crude. It’s a cartoon world. If the office desk is convincing, people think the virtual reality is quite advanced. But obviously, in the near future, we will have virtual realities whose complexity is much greater than simply a reality which gives an impression of being a visual three-dimensional space. And computers will be built in these realities—virtual computers will be the source of the AI. Not real hardware, but virtual hardware running virtual code in virtual realities. And in that domain, machines can design themselves.

1:39:03 Abraham

Well, maybe. But that’s a complete fantasy. As a matter of fact, all the machines that we’ve seen today require maintenance by a human on a daily basis. The software requires maintenance. The hardware requires maintenance. The parts simply wear out. There are moving parts. Virtual reality—

1:39:20 McKenna

But the Internet, seen as one machine, was built to be indestructible. The AI will not be located on a CPU, it will be a distributed intelligence.

1:39:32 Abraham

If fourteen people were to [???], the right fourteen people decided to stop repairing it, the world wide web would go down in three days.


I think… I don’t believe that.


Anyway, we could—let’s suppose that we could create any future that we wanted. The one you’re talking about can only be created if we want it. Now, I’m just trying to propose an alternative. In the alternative, like the automobile, the machines that we build and ourselves are in codependence and coevolution. The function of the world wide web is to unite our independent spirits and intelligences in a universal mind of the world, which has a higher intelligence than our present social order. That’s the possibility of the cyborg; of the human and the machine in essential partnership. You see—

1:40:27 McKenna

But you’re assuming that the conscious mind is actually in control of the process. In fact, the world wide web is growing under the influence of many, many processes and dynamics, none of which are conscious to any individual. It goes where money goes, it goes where expertise goes, it is connected through informational association, random fluctuation, chaotic reordering of itself. We here give great force to the idea that complex systems can produce unexpected forms of novelty, and yet we have unchained and unleashed the most complex system ever created in the perfect confidence that we will be able to control its development and evolution when, in fact, history has shown we have never controlled the development and evolution of even our speech and print, or even social systems.


I’m certainly not saying that your paranoid fantasy is an impossibility.


Oh, well that’s all I want to hear! Even paranoid, it’s self-[???].

1:41:39 Abraham

It may actually come to pass. What I’m saying is that we are involved in the ongoing creative process which, more or less, determines the future. I say more or less because, in fact, there are evolutionary steps which are completely out of control. Something totally unexpected maybe will happen. But for much of the time, in the past, we’ve seen, I think—Darwin emphasized this in his later theory—that it is ethics, it is a moral sense on the part of humans, which was the dominant factor in the evolution past earlier stages. In the creation of societies it was altruism, essentially, involved in going from where we were to where we are. And it could well be that without love, for example, the further evolution is impossible. Not only that there will be an unwanted backstep in the evolutionary process, but in fact it may be a fatal one. That it is only through proceeding with the best instincts that we have, with the highest aspirations, with love, with the best informed view for future alternatives—only then can we build a future which is sustainable. So anybody can build a future which is unsustainable. For example, all those board games in science fiction. But you wouldn’t want to try them out on a country as large as China.

1:43:09 Sheldrake

Well, I hardly know where to begin myself, because you had six steps in your argument and I don’t agree with any of them. I mean, first of all, to deal with the first few steps one would have to go through a lot of fairly familiar material to do with what’s wrong with the Cartesian, mechanistic, materialistic view of the world. Step one: clear-thinking, calculating machinery can be formalized. This is an assumption that’s basic to a lot of cognitive psychology. It’s basic to the Cartesian. Descartes himself thought that what made human intellects human was their ability to think logically: clear and distinct ideas. Essentially, mathematical logic. But, however, as we all know, by making that the essential characteristic of human beings, he made the rational intellect—what many people would call the left brain; rational intellect—the sole definition of human beings. It’s a disembodied, logical, rational intelligence. So this whole premise on which your whole thing’s based is taking that particular model of cognitive, logical, mathematical processing as being the essence of intelligence. Now, there are many people who would disagree with that, including me. It leaves out art, it leaves out ethics, religion, and essentially it leaves out the body and everything to do with body and participation and the senses. So there’s a huge amount of critiques of that point of view already around. And there’s no point in reiterating them all here. But this is a highly disputable starting point for the whole system.


Secondly, the emphasis that life depends on DNA, information, the DNA code is just a program. This is the central premise of mechanistic biology which is leading to biotechnology, genetic engineering, Monsanto, et cetera. This is old-paradigm stuff of the most extreme kind. It’s reductionism, it’s that all life’s just DNA programs and code, and can therefore be modeled in this kind of programming code manner.


Then there’s the assumption—that is the second step. The third assumption is that artificial intelligence used to be dismissed, but these criticism have been overtaken. I don’t think that’s true of the most interesting ones, like Roger Penrose’s criticism of artificial intelligence. He is a quantum physicist who says that if the brain is a computer, then it’s not going to be a regular digital computer, it’s going to be a quantum computer. And all this kind of digital computing doesn’t really take into account quantum logic. The computers of the future—people are already working on quantum computers. And if quantum computers are made, and if they work, they’ll work in a completely different way. I think your case would be much stronger if there were quantum computers. I think we’d have such a morphic resonance, telepathy around the world, rather than clogged telephone lines, and information that clunks slowly in front of you on this world wide web.

1:46:19 McKenna

But you yourself are saying this is coming. And I agree.

1:46:23 Sheldrake

Well, I am saying that, if it comes, it’ll be quite different from anything that you’ve talked about.

1:46:28 McKenna

I think it will answer your first objection, because the quantum computers will incorporate fuzzy logic, which will exemplify all these warm, fuzzy, human qualities that you found so appealing.

1:46:43 Sheldrake

No, I don’t think you will deal with the essential problem that this purely cognitive-based way of modeling intelligence is either an adequate model of human intelligence, or of biological intelligence, or of life, or of a system that could actually achieve the power to control our existence. I think it’s a very limited part of what a mind does. And I think, therefore, that the premises on which this whole—Ralph called it a fantasy; a paranoid fantasy—that the premises on which this is based—


Thanks for that, Ralph! That helped!

1:47:28 Sheldrake

—I think the premises on which this is based are old-paradigm premises. And they’re ones that, I think, there are many reasons for thinking we need to go beyond. I think the Internet has achieved a great deal, but I just can’t see that it’s an adequate vehicle for what, in your mind, precedes the arrival of the Internet, namely, this great intelligence that’s going to direct human history. I’ve heard different McKenna versions of this controlling intelligence over the years, and this is the first time I’ve heard it embodied in the Internet. I agree that—I mean, it was in different forms. Last time we talked I think it was a hypothetical time machine that would invade from the future and cause a collapse of normal human cognitive boundaries, where the machine elves, the DMT experience, et cetera, would take over in a meltdown of human consciousness in 2012.


That, too!

1:48:35 Sheldrake

Well, perhaps I should just end with a question. What is the equivalent of DMT for this machine intelligence that’s taking over the world?

1:48:50 McKenna

Well, perhaps the human brain will become a model for the ingression of novelty into the machine intelligence. In other words, in spite of the fact that it seems very contentious down here on the stage at the moment, in a way I have a feeling it’s an artificial set-up. There’s a lot of both/and possibilities here. Obviously, nanotechnology and the Internet are not going to proceed forward in a vacuum absent pharmacology, complexity theory, so forth and so on. I can imagine that, really, when we have the kind of Internet we want, we will have no Internet at all. Because our nanotechnological engineering skills will have allowed us to smoothly integrate ourselves into the already existing dynamic of nature that regulates the planet as a Gaian entity, as a holistic entity. And I did say in my little presentation we’re using bicycle mechanic terminology to try and describe something that is around several corners in terms of scientific and historical developments that have to take place before it will make much sense. Nevertheless, given the acceleration into novelty that is obviously occurring—stuff like quantum teleportation and so forth and so on—I think in the next few years, one by one, these barriers will fall.


I don’t really think of my vision as paranoid, because it is pronoic. In other words, it isn’t that we’re going to be ground up as dog food for the rainforest by malevolent machines, it’s that what we have generated is a sympathetic companion to our journey through time that can actually realistically integrate our imaginative fantasies of a loving human community, of a generous and loving God, of a perfect knowledge of the mechanics of nature. This is a prosthesis, a tool, a companion, all of the above, plus more, that we are generating out of ourselves. And it is part of ourselves. I mean, yes, the body may be carried forward only as an image in a kind of informational superspace, or perhaps not.


Part of what makes this easy to criticize is that it is, in fact, so beyond the ordinary set of circumstances we’re used to manipulating. But we need to think in terms of these supposedly far-flung futures, because there’s no future so far-flung that it doesn’t fall within the ambit of the next twenty years. Beyond that, no one can project trans-technologies and situations because developments of the next twenty years will so completely reformulate the human experience of being human and the landscape of this planet that it’s preposterous to talk about it.

1:52:26 Sheldrake

I can’t—before I respond to the main thing—I can’t but pass without commenting on this next twenty years comment. Because twenty years from now is 2018, Terence. I thought 2012—


He’s rounded up. Rounded up. Not rounded down.

1:52:43 McKenna

Well, no. 2012 is some kind of benchmark in this process. In other words, perhaps that’s where we get the explicit emergence of the AI. But the rest of human—I won’t call it history—but the rest of the human experience of being will then be defined by such things as a planetary intelligence, time travel, possible Bell communication with all the civilizations scattered through the galaxy, possible ability to download ourselves into machines. This is a point I didn’t make in my presentation. Once inside the machine, your perception of time is related to the Hertz speed of the machine. The world could disappear in 2012, but there may be a billion billion eternities to be experienced in machine time. It’s only the tyranny of realtime that makes 2012 seem nearby and overwhelming. It may lay as far away in terms of events which separate us from it as the big bang does. Time is not simple. Time is defined by how much goes on in a given moment. And we’re learning how to push tetraflops of operations into a given second. So I think it’s trickier than you think and harder to corner me than you may suppose!

1:54:21 Sheldrake

Alright, well, that was a mere comment on your aside about twenty years. I never expected to hear that phrase from you. But I now realize that there are such complexities layered in that—

1:54:34 McKenna

Well, I have to build in trap doors, because we’re getting closer and closer.

1:54:40 Sheldrake

But if we take the… you see, one of Penrose’s critiques of the artificial intelligence thing is—in The Emperor’s New Mind and his other books—is that real intelligence doesn’t just involve adding information, and processing more information, transmitting more of it. It involves sort of jumps to a higher point of view where the information can be integrated in a new way. There’s something happening in intelligence, in creativity, which is not just lots and lots of information pouring through the world wide web. And the idea that it would miraculously emerge from pumping in more and more stuff—it would not. According to his critique it’s not going to happen. Something more than that would be necessary for this to occur. And I don’t think that this model you’ve put forward would really deal with that question: the emergence of real intelligence.

1:55:37 McKenna

Well, I don’t know what real intelligence is. This is probably part of the problem. We need to get some definitions. It’s certainly true—I referred to Dreyfus’s book What Machines Can’t Do—that we’re reaching some places in the process where certain people’s theories and ideas will probably have to be abandoned and thrown overboard. This is a good thing. We’re going to find out whether the universe is a Cartesian machine, whether Boolean algebra is sufficient, whether we need fuzzy logic, whether the heart and the head can or cannot be integrated. These are not going to remain open questions unto eternity. In fact, they will be dealt with in this narrow historical neck that we are all experiencing and that we call the millennium. I think reductionism will not survive. I think we are going to find that all is in everything. Something like the alchemical notion of the microcosm and the macrocosm is actually going to be scientifically secured.


The great thing about us and the rest of our colleagues we enjoy who aren’t present is that we’re engaged in the business of radical speculation. Well obviously, there’s a high triage in that game. My position is that the best idea will win. And what “best” means is like saying what is fit in Darwinian rhetoric. But we’re in an intellectual environment, rapidly mutating. All kinds of ideas are clashing and competing for limited resources and the limited number of minds to run themselves on. And the most efficacious, the most transcendental, the most unifying ideas are naturally going to bubble to the surface. And for guys like us, the name of the game is to just be a little bit ahead of everybody else on the curve so that we can perform our function as prophet. But you want to be a prophet, not a false prophet. But the danger comes with the ambition. And there’s no way to tease them apart except to live into the future.

1:58:00 Abraham

Certainly, the intelligence of this future machine that knows all about the stupid behaviors on the planet, like nuclear arms races and so on. So do we not have to expect in the near future an email, a massive emailing which announces, “I am the alien object that Terence told you about. Been in stealth. And let me give you an idea about managing the arms race between India and Pakistan. We feel personally very threatened by this, and we want you to carry out certain actions which you can’t imagine and we can’t actually do.”

1:58:40 McKenna

We cannot anticipate what ultra-intelligence would look like. For example, I have heard the argument that nothing advanced humanness on this planet like the use of nuclear weapons against Japanese cities, because that was so horrifying that it awoke people to their dilemma. And for 50 years afterwards, political institutions—however much they may have unleashed local genocide and toxification of the environment—they actually were able to steer around that catastrophe. So you mustn’t fall prey to the error of situationalism. Situationalism is where you say: if we do X and Y, then F will result. No. You don’t know what will happen.

1:59:29 Abraham

Well, you suggested that the alien object would secure its future by hiding, by downloading multiple copies into the nooks and crannies of the world wide web. And I’m saying if its existence depends on that much materiality, then it could easily be wiped out by nuclear war. Therefore, it has to be very interested in the fact there are 20,000–30,000 nuclear bombs still moving around this planet.

1:59:54 McKenna

I would hope so. But that’s only my opinion. In other words, noticing that all newborn creatures need some period of time to adjust to their environment and get their legs (and that’s true of everything, I suppose, right down to amoebas). I extrapolate to the idea that the AI would need a period of time to get hold of the situation. But Hans Moravec suggests that phase might last under a minute or two.

2:00:24 Abraham

I see. So this is not the end of childhood, this is the childhood of the end.

2:00:30 McKenna

Yes, the child is father to the man. And in that equation we play the role of child, and the man that we produce is this integrated intelligence—which is ourselves. It isn’t alien, it is no more artificial than we are. That conundrum should be overcome. It is simply the next stage of humanness. And humanness may have many rungs on the ladder to ascend. Surely, in a hundred years, a thousand years, a million years, we—if we exist—will be utterly unrecognizable to ourselves, and we will probably still be worried about preserving and enhancing the quality of human values.

2:01:17 Sheldrake

Terence, one point—you’ve probably got an answer for this. And if not, you’ll soon think of one. Only, it’s a trivial point, in a way. But in the biological evolution, the appearance of some new state of a system usually depends either on an internal change which cripples the usual system—a mutation—or on a changed environment. Systems left to themselves tend to just go along in the usual way. Now, the entire world wide web and Internet is about to get a sort of massive shock to the system if this millennium bug thing actually happens. Do you see that as playing any role—since we’re talking about the millennium, and since the millennium bug is right there in the system—do you see it as playing any part in this process, or merely just a nuisance that can be fixed by hiring lots more programmers?

2:02:17 McKenna

Well, I sort of came up under the tutelage of Erich Jantsch, and one of the things he always insisted upon was what he called meta-stability—which, boiled down, simply means: most systems are less fragile than we suppose. I see the Y2K thing as a culling. I don’t see it as a flinging apart of the achievements of the last thousand years.

2:02:43 Sheldrake

Just—I haven’t got Y2K. What’s Y2K?

2:02:46 McKenna

That’s this millennium bug that you’re referring to.

2:02:49 Sheldrake

Oh, right. That’s the code name for it.

2:02:51 McKenna

Yes, exactly. That’s what the insiders call it. But, you know, you say there has to be a sudden change to force the evolution of a system. Dyson makes very strongly and persuasively the point that this connecting together of all these processors—the processors themselves have no intelligence at all. They have the intelligence of a cell, or maybe even just a strand of DNA. But for our own mundane reasons we connected all this stuff together, but now it expresses dynamics which we do not understand or cannot describe. So I believe that the forcing of the system has already occurred. And now the web—it’s simply a matter of bandwidth and linking more and more processors together. And there will be all kinds of emergent properties. I could argue somewhat facetiously—but it’s a point of view—is that this incredible economic expansion that we are undergoing that seems to violate the laws of economic fluctuation is because econometric models and the data on which they depend have both been refined through the existence of the Internet to the point where we actually can control and manage global economies. In principle they are not uncontrollable, they are simply complex systems. If I’m right, we may be in the first few years of an endless prosperity. Because our machines are models and the data those machines need is now of such high quality that there won’t be crash, bust, crash, bust cycles. Now, we could pick up the newspaper tomorrow and prove me wrong, but this thing has already outlived itself many times.

2:04:57 Abraham

I’ll prove you wrong today.


So you say!

2:05:06 Abraham

Tell me how this prosperity is going to be maintained though the intelligence of an econometric model of the world economy when the human population is still exploding exponentially.



2:05:20 Sheldrake

When there are limited resources and there’s growing pollution, it’s a disembodied model. That’s the trouble.

2:05:26 McKenna

Well, you’re asking for too much too soon. You forget that the Soviet Union has disappeared, the launch on ready mutual assured destruction theory of diplomacy is now obsolete. We have made incredible strides and not given ourselves any sort of pat on the back. You want it all all at once. And the world is running smoother. Yes, there are people in misery. Yes, there are unaddressed problems. But I would argue that we have made enormous progress in the last decade, and enormous progress lies ahead. The situation in Ireland, the situation in South Africa—that looked like a bomb you couldn’t defuse. It looked like race, war, and the death of millions. And in fact, it was possible to walk away from that. I think we should not be complete airheads about this, but on the other hand I think we should recognize that the accomplishments of the last decade are on a scale entirely different from any historical epoch previous, and they point the way toward greater triumphs of management, resource-control, machine-human integration, and the delivery of a reasonable and tolerable life to more and more people.


You mentioned population as a problem. Notice how far from machine interference that particular issue is because it involves on people having less sex and fewer children. That may be the last place where the machines will bring down the hammer out of respect for their progenitors.

2:07:14 Abraham

You’re good! You’re going to be shocked now, Terence, but I completely agree with you when you describe the advantages of the world wide web. It’s only the threatening aspect that I felt I had to debunk. I think that the—


I think you heard more threat than I intended.

2:07:34 Sheldrake

Well, I don’t know—sometimes you sound as if you’re a hired consultant from the World Trade Organization. And so—


I hope the check is in the mail!

2:07:54 Sheldrake

—but, I mean, this idea that it’ll all be taken care of… I mean, there’s so many things that—like, the Asian economic crisis. One doesn’t want to look too much on the bleak side of things, but I just don’t believe that this interconnectivity is going to solve these problems. And insofar as it is enlisted by the forces of the World Trade Organization, multinational companies, and so on, it’s not going to be working on the side of a kind of political view of things—local economies, more sustainable agriculture, and so on—that many of us hold dear.

2:08:28 McKenna

Well, now I’ll sound even more like a slave of the IMF. As I understand this crisis in the economics of Asia, the way it works is: if you’re a Third World nation you can run your affairs any way you want. Your banking policies, your labor policies, your resource extraction: you can do anything you want until you screw up—as Indonesia did. And when you screw up these guys fly in on 747s with briefcases from the IMF, and they say—it’s like losing a war. They say, “We’re taking over. Here is your labor policy. Here is your resource extraction policy. Here’s how you’re going to revalue your currency. Here’s our plan for restructuring your entire society top to bottom. And by God, if you don’t fall into line we’re going to pull the plug on the money.” So one by one, these outlaw, freewheeling operations do stumble and generate crises, and at that point the web’s umbrella is extended over them, and they have to then fall into line and join the global economy, which is run from Brussels and Geneva and London, but which seems to produce a better result for most people than allowing these nations to self-regulate themselves.

2:10:01 Sheldrake

Well, well! Where do you see—I mean, I think that’s one of the arguments why many people would distrust global capitalism, the World Trade Organization, multinational corporations, and indeed the world wide web, or at least the Internet. This whole computer network is so bound up with the structure of economic and political power that it’s hard to disentangle. And it’s hard to see that this liberating force of global intelligence at work in this system—this rosy picture you portrayed to us of a huge leap forward of consciousness of humanity, moderated, led, aided by machine intelligence—it’s very hard to square that with the actual picture we see before us: the political situation in Indonesia, the degradation of the environment, the burning of the forests, the depletion of resources, and so on. I just cannot see this optimistic picture. What I see are threatening realities, as easily as you do, is just all being for the good and the best of all possible worlds.

2:11:23 McKenna

Well, I think we’re on the cusp. I agree with you. I think in five years, if we sit down and have this conversation, either you will agree with me effortlessly or I will agree with you effortlessly. By that time it will be clear. Either there will have been catastrophic wars in Asia, the enormous collapse of economies spreading misery to millions of people, or the firm hand of these new global electronic modalities will have been exposed and people will be living in a world of—as you say—rosy expectations. We’re in the narrow neck. This is the heat of battle. The fog of war has descended upon us here at the millennium. But by 2002, 2003, it will be clear that the bifurcation has gone one way or another.

2:12:20 Sheldrake

[???] just does remind me of a passage I read in On The Edge by Edward St. Aubyn. Page—where are we?—150.

“It’s what Ralph Abraham calls the sunset effect,” said Kenneth. “While there’s a beautiful sunset, even if the optical effects are produced by pollution, people won’t understand the magnitude of the crisis.”

So I think that this—I mean, the magnitude of the crisis in an environmental sense seems to bear no relation to your optimism about this computer system. I just cannot put them together.

2:13:11 McKenna

All—perhaps the problem that we will have to address without the intercession of machines is this population thing. Because this passage you read directly impinges on that. Whether or not the machines decide to keep us around may depend on whether we present them with a picture of falling populations and rising living standards or whether we present the AI with the spectacle of rampant unpoliced population growth and resource extraction. Because that’s linked into our biology, this may be the act of maturity which the future demands of us that the machines will be largely irrelevant in impacting. So I’m not entirely—

2:14:02 Sheldrake

Well, this is a whole new debate, actually. The population thing assumes there’s an equal consumption of resources. Yesterday I got onto the Whitby Island ferry. And I found it very hard to struggle. There was a foot passage, a struggle past a recreational vehicle the size of a school bus. A whole quantum leap in RV standards that I’d not come across. Where members of the American population are consuming than an entire Indian village. So I don’t think it’s total population that’s involved. So I don’t see that as the principal crisis, in fact.

2:14:36 McKenna

Well, it’s certainly true that a woman in a high-tech industrial democracy, who has a child, that child consumes about 800 percent more resources in its lifetime than a child born in Bangladesh. Nevertheless, it’s the populations of the high-tech industrial democracies that are most educated and most susceptible to responding to the logic of global crisis and limiting their population. Where do we preach population control? Bangladesh, Pakistan. Why? Because that doesn’t cause us any inconvenience. If we would appeal to the women of the high-tech industrial democracies, and do more than appeal to them—offer them incentives, cancel income tax, cradle to the grave medical care, status as heroes…


Free links to the world wide web!


…free links to the world wide web. But we can’t just beat our breasts over the population issue. We have to recognize that it is related to resource extraction and it is a problem driven by the consuming policies of the high-tech industrial democracies.

Part 3

The Edge of the Millennium

2:15:53 Abraham

The call for our gathering, the announcement part of the con which brought you here, mentioned the edge of the millennium. At the edge of the millennium. And so far, the millennium has been present by subtle implication alone. So I think to honor our commitment, we’ll now trialogue on the edge of the millennium. It’s okay?


It’s okay.

2:16:25 Abraham

Now, in our just-appeared new book, The Evolutionary Mind, there is a chapter near the end called—I forget what it’s called. It’s about utopanism and and millennarianism. Two pretty long isms which, altogether, add up to an overdose of different approaches to the future which are more or less classical. And there we spoke extensively of the extant literature and literary tradition and industry of utopian and millenarian genre. So that kind of utopian and millennarian stuff is not what we’re going to talk about in this trialogue. I want to introduce a completely different notion of the millennium. And I’m interested more particularly in the edge of the millennium, and here’s how it goes.


This is partly, according to me, a mathematical view of history that brings up this particular version of the idea of the millennium. And nevertheless, other people have written a similar view of history without any explicit recourse to mathematics, so I think it’s pretty general. It has to do—this view of history—with the approach we’ve taken toward biological evolution, that it goes forward in catastrophes and critical leaps and so on: sudden jumps.


The punctuated equilibrium approach to history says that history goes along in a kind of a level plateau, developmentally speaking, although there may be a gradual development up or down overall. And then every once in a while there is a big leap. The first such view of history, I think, that we know about was presented by the ancient Egyptians. So this is nothing new.


Now, in my own work I have classified some major plateaus, including the last one, the one that we’re at the end of now according to my system of history: began 6,000 or 5,500 years ago with the invention of the wheel and the first city-states and stuff like that. Talking Sumer, talking Babylonia, talking ancient Egypt here. And so that’s a 6,000-year plateau.


Now, other people—for example Bill Thompson, somebody we know and talk to about world cultural history—he has a similar scheme in which the plateau now ending is only 300–400 years old. See, who really wrote about this explosion idea in world cultural history was Jacob Burckhardt. Burckhardt said the Renaissance was a quantum leap in world cultural history. And then other people said, well, what about [Jatho?], what about [Petatria?], what about [Bocasio?]? And the truth is that whenever you look at two major milestones in history and consider the between the milestones to be a sort of a level road, then somebody will come along and find a smaller milestone in there. Nowadays we have fractal geometries, so we think that this is natural: between any two big catastrophes there will be ten smaller ones. Between any two of the smaller ones there’ll be forty or fifty little teenier ones, and so on.


The first person I know who put forward such a fractal idea of history—that it’s not continuous, it’s discontinuous, but the discontinuities are more or less dense as in a fractal—the first such person is you, Terence. I give you credit in writing in my entry in the Encyclopedia of Time. You maybe have never read that book.


Never read it.


Well, there you’ll find your name mentioned in a flattering way by me, of all people.


Immortality at last!

2:21:01 Abraham

At last!

Well, to make a long story short, it’s these controversial plateaus of history that I’m going to call millennia. And then if you want to go back to chapter ten of The Evolutionary Mind and read there about the history of the millennarial concept, then you’ll see that the first one we’re in—the number 1,000 was actually mentioned for the length of one of these plateaus, it gave his name to the thing—it was a special case of my more abstract idea of millennium. It’s a plateau of history. And what I mean by the edge of the millennium is those times when there’s these snap-out from one equilibrium to another. Cro Magnon comes out of Neanderthalis, or whatever it is, and oxygen comes out of the archeobiological background, and whatever.


And the interest of this, according to me—why are we here? Who would talk about the evolutionary mind? Who cares about the good and evil in the evolution of species, and so on? This must be interesting only to the degree to which it informs us in this very present moment regarding our choices that we will make in the creation of the future. So, according to chaos theory and its partner, the theory of bifurcation, this is one of the main things. It is something like the butterfly effect that you’ve heard about. In a massively complex dynamical system, such as we live in, when there is a moment of bifurcation—which is the technical math jargon for these snaps—that is the only time you get to do anything about the evolution of the system. So, according to this self-inflating view, we live at a specially important special moment in history where, when we think something or do something, it has actually an enormous effect on the future. Maybe not a direct determitive effect, but we can’t really say what the outcome would be. But what we do has some influence on the creation of the future more than other times in history. And the bigger the jump, the bigger the leverage—Archimedes said, “Give me a lever and I’ll move the world”—we have a lever now. And we care about what’s coming next. So that’s why the edge of the millennium—any edge of any of the millennia—is particularly important to those revolutionary souls who want to make a change in things. It’s a special time.


A century or two centuries ago, you could struggle for the creation of a chaos revolution, and it would be impossible because there were no computers around, or there were no movie makers in Hollywood or something. I don’t know. It takes more than we know about to create these special opportunities. And anyway, that’s what I mean by “millennium,” and that’s what I mean by “at the edge of the millennium.” And now this is only a hypothesis for the sake of discussion, but I kind of think that this is very credible. That we are now at the edge of a millennium. Therefore, we have to discuss this. And the question that I’m going to pose to you, Rupe and Ter—if this isn’t too radical—is: to what degree do you think, actually, that what we are doing now matters in the creation of the future? And if there is any possibility that what we do matters in the creation of the future, what kind of future or what kind of change are we trying to create? And to what degree what we are actually doing—for example, what we are talking about today, what we are doing today—to what degree could that possibly be a real effect, a real benefit in creating the future that we want to create? In contrast to other things that we might do, like go to the beach and pray, or whatever? And particularly—should I stop here? Or one more?


Well, that’s… I’m not sure.

2:25:53 Abraham

Yes, well, I’m trying to make this easier for you because I think this might be too difficult. As we…

2:25:59 McKenna

Well, I mean, I think I said this morning—or maybe I didn’t, but I believe it and have said it many times—salvation is an act of cognitive apprehension. So we do matter. Because to the degree that we are ignorant (avidyā in the Buddhist lexicon), we retard universal progress towards some kind of enlightenment.

2:26:24 Abraham

But the doctrine of avidyā—this is standing for all time since 1800 BC. Do you agree that this is a special moment?

2:26:35 McKenna

Yes, I think so. Not only a special moment, but the other thing I would call people’s attention to is the fact that, no matter whether you scammed your way in here today, and no matter whether you’re going to go back to an appliance box that you live in under a bridge, the odds are that you—you—are very close to the top of the pyramid of global empowerment. You are mostly white, mostly well educated, mostly have enough disposable income to come to an event like this. It’s worth pointing out that all that rides on the backs of those who do not have such privilege. And so, yeah, this is a moment of enormous opportunity. And those who find themselves in this moment with power—defined however you care to define it—have a moral obligation to act.


And I don’t advocate a certain political agenda—not that we must become Marxists, or that we must become anything. What we must become is clear. We have the technologies and the informational structures and all the necessary abilities to create paradise on Earth, to lift up the least among us to at least an acceptable level of comfort and freedom. Why do we not do that? Because what stands in our way is our own minds, our own habits. We must change our minds. That’s the most powerful political work people in this room could do, and there is nobody who is so enlightened that they don’t need to work on themselves and do this. To the degree that we can change our minds, we will escape extinction, marginality, and so forth and so on. And to the degree that we cannot change our minds, we will prolong the agony—perhaps unto death and extinction, perhaps only making the struggle more difficult. But yes, this is a moment of enormous opportunity.


A yes. We have a yes.


A yes.

2:29:06 Abraham

So you agree that it’s a moment of special opportunity over the long and short scales of time, according to either mathematics or novelty theory?



2:29:20 Abraham

And you agree that we have a responsibility to do our best?



2:29:27 Abraham

And what you have to tell us is that, if the 200 of us here change our minds, that that would somehow have an immediate effect on the rest of the world and our creation of the future?






How would it have this effect?


Yes. By telepathic means? By the romance of photons?

2:29:50 McKenna

No. I think by the spread of clarity. The spread of clarity. The elimination of redundancy in the system, and the spreading of a sense of shared purpose, and the possibility of achieving that purpose.

2:30:12 Abraham

It doesn’t matter what you do beyond changing your mind for a better clarity?

2:30:20 McKenna

Well, I don’t want to say absolutely it doesn’t matter, but I think that’s the first obligation. If you charge off with some political agenda that is not informed by clarity, you’re going to end up with business as usual. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, but it is not paved with clarity.

2:30:49 Abraham

So for example, what you do—if you mindstorm giving lectures, you write books, and you create a website. And the effect of this, hopefully, will be to promote clarity.



2:31:08 Abraham

Well, first of all, I certainly agree that, for me personally, psychedelic experience has enhanced clarity, whereas some people think the opposite.

2:31:18 McKenna

Well, let us have vigorous debate by informed parties on this subject!

2:31:34 Abraham

Don’t forget: I’ve given over 300 calculus lectures in this room! It boggles my mind to look out and think, well, yeah! This is Santa Cruz. This must be Santa Cruz. You know? This is the real Santa Cruz. What do you think, Rupe?

2:31:51 Sheldrake

Well, I—the question is really is… I mean, changing minds—you were talking about the butterfly wing effect. The question is: if we change our minds, can it have a larger effect on other people’s minds?



2:32:05 Sheldrake

Because if we decide to recycle yet more newspaper and so on, it’s not going to have that much effect. The changing mind thing, the butterfly wing analogy, suggests some major change of mind spreading through our culture. Now, I suspect that you think the medium for this transformation is the world wide web. I suspect that Terence thinks the medium—

2:32:29 Abraham

Well, I think telepathy is equally powerful.

2:32:32 Sheldrake

Yes. But—

2:32:34 McKenna

Wait, I want to hear his suspicion of me. World wide web? No, no, psychedelic drugs.

2:32:42 Abraham

World wide web psychedelic drugs!

2:32:48 Sheldrake

I still haven’t understood the psychedelic drug agenda. Britain has the highest percentage of psychedelic drug consumption in the Western world at the moment, and it’s not entirely clear that this has resulted in clarity spreading through society.

2:33:05 McKenna

Britain is the source and the fountainhead of the worldwide youth culture that is creating the new music, the new dance, the new forms of community, and a new resistance to consumerist values. So don’t sell the old U.K. short.

2:33:22 Abraham

Come to the rave tonight and see clarity created!

2:33:26 Sheldrake

Yes. Yes, a crucible of clarity is home at last. And Terence takes the microphone and…

2:33:39 McKenna

Well, it’s not always perfectly clear what’s going on when you have your nose in it, you know?

2:33:48 Sheldrake

But I mean, my own agenda relies partly on the world wide web. Not as strongly as yours. And here in this room is Matthew Clapp, who kindly runs my world wide website.

2:34:01 Abraham!

2:34:03 Sheldrake

Yes! But my own view is that this clarity involves breaking the spell of rationalism, Cartesianism. A spell woven more powerfully than ever before—this morning by Terence. I mean, it took on a new level of spellbinding in the way you described it. It’s to recognize that we’re far more interconnected, we’re far more participatory in our relation with the world than this cognitive kind of science and cognitive model of the mind would tell us. And so I think the secret to waking us up—one of the secrets—is psychic pets. As you know, this is one of my particular themes.


And I wrote a book which some of you may have seen called Seven Experiments That Could Change The World. The purpose of this was to find simple experiments that could give us clarity on issues that we know about already, which could actually have a transformative effect on our view of the world. They’re to do with changing our scientific view of the world. And the scientific view of the world is a particularly important part of the spell that binds us all and that affects our whole civilization, our whole industrial culture. And it’s an exceptionally narrow and dissociated view of the world at the moment.


The reason I think psychic pets could play this part is, first of all, there’s more of them than psychedelics. And they’re everywhere. There are lots and lots of dogs and cats that have telepathic bonds with their owners. About 50% of Americans feel that they’ve had a telepathic bond with an animal. Now, to recognize what so many people already know, through experiments to test these to see if they’re real—and so far the experiments suggest they are real—this can give permission for people to recognize what they already know. Then all these closet holists (most of us are closet holists) can come out and recognize that there’s this kind of interconnection with other species and with each other that’s been going on all the time, but which has been suppressed from the level of supposedly rational discourse by the idea that this is all superstition, it’s not scientific, it’s irrational, and so forth.


I think that one of the big difficulties in our culture is the split between the rational educated part of our minds, which we put on in public, and the participatory sense of connection which we have at home with gardens, plants, children, animals, lovers, and our nearest and dearest. And these are so dissociated that it’s very hard for people to recognize that they’re related in any way. Lots of dogs know when their owners are coming home in a kind of telepathic manner, and wait at the door for them while they’re on the way home. I calculate that tens of thousands of American scientists have dogs waiting at the door for them when they get home from the laboratory, even if they come at unusual times and in an unusual way. Yet, this phenomenon has been so subject to taboo that it’s never been investigated scientifically at all. It could have been investigated at any time in the last 500 or 5,000 years. But the fact is the first investigations are happening at present.


Here in the room is David Brown, who works with me. He’s based in Santa Cruz and is doing experiments with psychic dogs, cats, and cockatiels in Santa Cruz county. And if any of you have such animals, please let him or me know at the end because we’d love to investigate your animals. And so you can take part in this research. So I think that grassroots research based on phenomena that are actually common sense, that are part of everyday life for many people, could help to wake us up to give a greater clarity about what’s really going on and make us recognize that there’s far more interconnection between us and other species and us and other people than is admitted in the scientific view of things, which is the worldview which most people feel they have permission to talk about in public. So I think that this transition, a butterfly wing effect, would be a few dogs and cats that do this. Being proved scientifically to be able to do it—shown on TV—would probably overnight give millions of people permission to recognize and talk about these events in their own lives. And never again would this subject be able to be stuffed back into the closet. I think these could lead to a great change in the way we think about the world.


Now, of course, it’s several steps from that to solving the ecological problems of the world, to dealing with the problem of multi-national corporations, and so on. But it’s a step towards clarity and it’s one that could spread very quickly.

2:39:04 McKenna

Well, it seems to me the overarching theme here that unites all three of our positions is boundary dissolution. Psychedelic drugs dissolve boundaries, the world wide web dissolves boundaries, and certainly the discovery that our pets are communicating, anticipating, and understanding us is a boundary dissolving perception. So, really, what we’re saying is: we must dissolve the artificial boundaries that confine our perceptions. Someone once said, “If we could feel what we are doing to the Earth, we would stop immediately.” Because a man hitting himself on the head with a ball-peen hammer stops immediately. The feedback loop is very short. So we have compartmentalized our lives, and this allows us to do the fatal and lethal work that is destroying the planet, destroying community, so forth and so on.


So maybe three answers as diverse as you’ve just heard here, you might search your own soul and ask: what obsession or interest of mine would contribute to the grand project of boundary-dissolution? Certainly, it is not the affirmation of cultural values. Culture is a scheme for maintaining and creating boundaries. It replaces reality with a linguistically supported delusion. And behind that delusion, then, pogroms, programs of genocide, arms races, sexism, racism all can operate very, very comfortably. Ralph earlier mentioned love. Generally speaking, love is a boundary-dissolving enterprise. So I think each of us—the three of us, all of you—in our way should find ways to express love. And it’s not treacly, it’s not woo-woo. It’s a very practical matter that has thousands of expressions. As long as we believe in mind and matter, rich and poor, living and dead, aboriginal and advanced, black and white, man and woman, then we’re inevitably going to carry on a dualistic analysis of our dilemma, and we’re going to produce incomplete agendas and answers.

2:41:50 Abraham

Well, this is good. I agree with everything. I admire you both for your revolutionary efforts. Nevertheless, I can’t help having a sinking feeling. Here we are in the University of California. Naturally, my thoughts turn to the educational system. Now, we have here a group—I know there are actually a few undergraduates of the University of California at Santa Cruz are here, by accident as it were. And that’s cool. But we have not yet taken over one regularly offered course of the university to enable students to learn science by doing research projects with psychic pets. And we—

2:42:34 McKenna

Well, Ralph, the university is the last place where you would look for this. The university is the manufacturer of these cultural values that imprison us.

2:42:44 Abraham

Well, that’s why I’m bringing up this subject of education at this time. I think we’ve discussed the problem of education before, but my experience is that no amount of clarity in this group of 200 and other like groups is going to matter one wit when we are all adults. You see, the next generation will have to face the same butterfly problem with the same lever, because the majority of people will have their paradigms set in K through 12 in some archaic school system that sees its primary business to work against a world wide cultural revolution.


So the inertia—we have to overcome inertia. And we can talk about religion and psychedelics and getting clarity and so on. We know that the scientific establishment is a big obstacle as far as environmental problems are concerned. And so Rupert’s work—the ultimate effect will be to deconstruct or revolutionize science—is very important in making a transformation among adult scientists worldwide. How can this matter at all if there’s no change in the educational system—K through 12, pre-K, pre-pre-K, and back to the womb, the parents, and so on? That this chicken-and-egg loop has got [???] somewhere in a more sensitive spot than the adult community.

2:44:11 McKenna

And what do you propose?

2:44:13 Abraham

Well, you work with youth, I guess. You’re interested in talking with younger people. And Rupert, I know that you’re particularly active in education through the existence of your children, who are now subject to the educational system that does this criminal brainwashing that I’m talking about. So I’m just posing this now. Do you have any idea as to the transformation of our school system by a change of curriculum or the entrance of any weird idea into the actual program which trains most children worldwide?

2:44:56 Sheldrake

Well, I ought to have. There’s a story that perhaps not everyone here is familiar with, which is: when I was in New York a couple of years ago, I was asked to visit a school in Long Island. I was particularly urged to go there. A private helicopter was sent to take me. And I was asked to address the board and the teachers at this school. When I asked them what they’d like me to speak about, they said they wanted me to speak about the rectified Sheldrake principle, on which their entire curriculum was based. So when I said what is the rectified Sheldrake principle, they said that that was the very question they were asking and hoping that I would explain. I then asked who had invented the rectified Sheldrake principle upon which the curriculum was based, and they soon revealed that the author of this principle—or at least the author of the documents on which their entire curriculum was based—was Ralph Abraham. By careful questioning I was able to find out that the rectified Sheldrake principle meant that, because of morphic resonance and habits of learning, the sequence of events in which people should learn things in school should follow the historical process. So in history you learn first about Sumerians, Egyptians, et cetera. Then you move on to the ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Dark Ages, et cetera. That it follows the principle. And they start in grade one with ancient Egypt. I calculated on this basis that the invention of the domestication of fire, which occurred between 400,000–700,000 years ago, should mean that in the toddler playgroups they should be playing with fire. I pointed this out, but that wasn’t part of the curriculum I was suggesting. I discovered that there was in fact an entire process of educational reform afoot in this country, behind which is the guiding genius of Ralph Abraham. So I think we should ask you this question, Ralph, since you’ve more experience than most of us.

2:47:23 Abraham

Well, I’d rather that people with less experience speak about it. Because my experience has been very disappointing.


Oh no!


Oh no.

2:47:40 Abraham

Here is the problem as I perceive it. And maybe you can help me get through this one. The children are innocent and trusting, and will try any curricular reform experiment. They’ll try anything. Which they have done in different schools around the world with great effect. It was only a couple of days ago that I was at the Intel “farm”—they call it—in Oregon, where 10,000 people work on realizing Terence’s dream.


Making psychedelic drugs available to everyone? Oh, a different dream!


They know what I mean.


Chips, not hits!

2:48:31 Abraham

Casually over lunch I revealed my revolutionary program for the schools to a software engineer who was sitting there. And he said, “Oh, well”—about this historical curriculum—“I’m an Armenian. And”—no, Algerian—says, “I’m from Algeria, and my school was exactly what you… it was wonderful.” So there are places in the world where even my experiment has been tried.


The problem is this—the children, or the owners of the school, the people, everything is fine. The problem is with the teachers and parents. The teachers have been trained. That’s one problem. And the parents have been frightened, I guess. So the parents absolutely refuse any experiments that would affect their children because of the danger of a failure, you see? They consider the current system, which is guaranteed to fail, is somehow safer than an experimental system that might fail. The insecurity itself was a source of anxiety. Well, I’m just analyzing. I don’t really know what goes through their mind. But what I have discovered is that groups of parents come in and physically attack the teachers, the administrators, and so on, to guarantee that the time-worn, failure-proved system is performed as it always has been. You see the problem?


Older people seem to be the problem.

2:50:08 Abraham

That’s why Terence has recommended mushrooms. That’s why Rupert has suggested psychic pets. You see how revolutionary psychic pets—we’re talking about the parents here. After it’s proved to them that what they already know is true by somebody in the authority of the scientific establishment, then the truth will become true for them for the first time due to the fact that they trust authority more than they trust their own experience. So I haven’t given up… yet, with the educational system, but I’m still seeking some little way around this very deeply ingrained habit.

2:50:59 McKenna

And part of the problem is: as the stakes rise, the clenching on the part of the geriatric establishment becomes even more intensified. So, for example, right now, the worldwide epidemic of youth-bashing is the most counter-productive thing we could possibly generate. I mean, we’re leaning on the very people who are going to have to save the situation. Why not admit the obsolescence and bankruptcy of the old models and take our foot off the neck of youth, and honor an interest in psychedelic experimentalism, sexual redefining of roles, a new look at how we relate to work, a new look at how we relate to community? Instead of marginalizing youth culture and defining it as a phase, misguided, naïve, foolish, we should say these are the uncorrupted people in society who have not yet felt the hammer of the programming and the guilt and the creodes of economic necessity, and try to build upward and outward from youth culture rather than suppressing it. For this reason I will be appearing at a rave tonight that starts after my bedtime.

Yeah, Rupe?

2:52:39 Sheldrake

I wish I could be persuaded by your persuasive rhetoric. My experience of youth culture is: here are people who, from the age of two, have been watching hours a day of television, and shaped by commercials cunningly designed to introduce toddlers to the consumer society, whose music is dominated by a music industry run by cynical interests, manipulative people, public relations operations, and large corporations. So to see this as uncontaminated, pure, the spirit of tomorrow, untarnished by the vices of today seems to me to beg a number of questions. However…


Well, let me answer…


…I’ll be there at the rave tonight, too, Terence. And there I’ll be able to see this paradise that’s unfolding before us.

2:53:31 McKenna

Your point about television is well taken. I totally agree. I think this is the most pernicious programming and propaganda device around.

2:53:42 Abraham

It’s about to be strangled by the world wide web.

2:53:44 McKenna

Well, and, you know, you can just turn off your TV. And I say that as someone who did. I raised my children without television because, rather than just giving lip service to the idea that it’s stupid, we actually acted on the perception that it’s stupid.


Yes. We do, too.

2:54:01 McKenna

But your other point about the youth culture’s music being in the hands of capitalists and record companies is slightly out of touch with what’s actually happening. For 500 dollars you can buy a CD-R burner—bands do this—and most youth culture music is now put out in editions of under a thousand pressings. And really, the corporate middlemen have all been gone around, and the big record corporations are not at all in touch with real tastes and real creativity in the music business. They recycle garbage that they support with massive public relations programs at the same time that real creativity is alive and well and thriving on a fractalized microscale that goes right around the desires of mass consumerism.

Sorry to interrupt.

2:55:07 Sheldrake

It would be good if there could be an experiment carried out, perhaps with you as the cheerleader, for this youth culture of tomorrow actually to be able to be permitted rather than suppressed and so on, to see what happens. I mean, there are quite a number of experiments in this, I would’ve thought, going on spontaneously. It’s not as if all these people involved in this culture are totally controlled by parents, teachers, et cetera. Many of them are not under direct control in this way at all. But you’re still going to have to have educational systems, school systems of one kind or another. And it’s not clear to me that more raves and psychedelics are going automatically to generate that.

2:55:54 McKenna

Well, I would offer as an example: I think the place on the planet where youth culture is most in control of the social agenda—in other words, where youth’s preference for psychedelic drugs is honored, where youth’s music is honored, where micro-economic systems built by youth are honored—is the Netherlands. Holland. Lowest AIDS infection rate in Europe, lowest heroin addiction rate in Europe. Heroin is legal. Prostitution is legal. There are, actually, very large-scale social experiments going on that embody the values of youth culture, and they’re producing saner, less stressful, more life-affirming and human societies than anything going on inside the high-tech industrial democracies that set the global agenda. I think.

2:56:51 Sheldrake

Well, I often visit Holland, and I must say I hadn’t quite noticed such a striking difference between them and the rest of Western Europe.

2:56:59 McKenna

Well, but that’s really because you come from London, where also these things are happening. But if you lived in Berlin or Rio de Janeiro or Houston, I think the contrast with the Netherlands is quite astonishing.

…didn’t mean to stop the show, folks! Ralph, you’re not saying enough!


Am I guilty, then, of too much self-indulgence?

2:57:33 Sheldrake

No, you posed important problems. You’ve shown how, on the edge of the millennium, great steps or small steps are needed that magnify through butterfly effects. You’ve asked me and Terence what you think they should be. You’ve told us you’re disappointed by your own experiments with the reform of the educational system. So, what next?

2:57:56 Abraham

Well, as I say, I think that we’re at the edge of a millennium. We’re at a turning point. What may be coming down the pike could be two or three miracles that will decidedly change the definition of the problem. And in the meanwhile, I think that we’re more or less stuck in the situation where we keep trying what we’re doing, and believing that it has at least some chance of having an effect. I think that the educational system might change itself by a miracle, for example. And it could do that in a way that had nothing whatsoever to do with any of our efforts, or, in fact, it may be that some little thing that we did mattered. I think that your work in the revolution of science is very important and very promising. And it’s proceeded essentially without funding because the genius of the program that you’ve evolved is that it has this enormous leverage, and at every crossing of the road you’ve made the right choice to get more leverage. And Terence, I think that your program also is a good one, in that it’s over the years changed in the direction of younger people, and that you’ve changed your approach to maximize. I don’t see, in either case, that there’s enormous backlash working against you. That other revolutionary movements have been stopped by a backlash. And although you don’t have funding, you don’t have groups calling you up and threatening your life and so on.


In my own case, I have felt—I’ve written about this endlessly—besides writing mathematics I write that mathematics is important. And through the microscopic analysis of the hinges of history, the edges of millennia past, I have pointed out exactly where in each case mathematics had a key role in the miracle and the bifurcation that happened. I think that a society that rejects mathematics cannot actually successfully deal with its problems. And therefore, I’ve activated myself against the problem—especially prevalent in the United States and concomitant with other problems that are especially prevalent in the United States: the problem of math anxiety, avoidance, and misunderstanding. And here I would say that there is a huge institution, more or less equivalent to the scientific community, this is a raid against this information. That somehow the educational system has been particularly persistent in the destruction of mathematics, in the destruction of mathematical capability of youth, and therefore in disempowerment of the society with its critical faculty to change. I do not believe you can have any clarity of view in the progress of history with no mathematical training on the part of any of the participants. I’ve seen, in this society, that even Nobel prize winners in physics have math anxiety to a very severe degree. I’m able to detect this because it’s something that is amplified, it’s behavior that emerges, as soon as I walk into a room. So I guess I feel that my own efforts have been rather less successful, and maybe I haven’t been as clever in turning to the left or right at the crossings of the road.


The problem is already much less severe in other countries, so it seems like we needn’t worry too much. Throughout Europe, for example, the problem of the destruction of mathematical capability is far less severe. The only thing really disturbing there is that it’s growing at an alarming rate, that they’re inheriting the disease from the United States. It’s spreading disease based on standardized examinations like the SAT and equivalent movements.


So there you have it. A problem that’s so bad that the very mention of the word “mathematics” produces aversion reaction that is paralyzing. So that, much as I hate to—and you’ve seen this today—that I can go through an entire day without mentioning mathematics. Well, mentioning mathematics, but not the word “mathematics,” in the hopes of tricking people into recognizing that some ideas like this, that have to do with perception of spacetime patterns in the abstract, that these skills are useful.

3:03:24 McKenna

Can I add to that? I mean, I don’t think what Ralph means is that it’s a tragedy that most people can’t factor a quadratic equation. I think he speaks as he does because he is so professionally immersed in these issues. As someone somewhat more distant from all of this, but in agreement from Ralph, the failure to teach mathematics in practical, social, and political terms boils down to a failure to teach logic and discriminating understanding. The great evil in my humble opinion, which haunts our enterprise—and I say this realizing I’m setting the fox among the chickens—the great evil that has been allowed to flourish in the absence of mathematical understanding is relativism. And what is relativism? It’s the idea that there is no distinction between shit and shinola. That all ideas are somehow operating on equal footing. So one person is a chaos theorist, another is a follower of the revelations of this or that new age guru, someone else is channeling information from the Pleiades, and we have been taught that political correctness demands that we treat all these things with equal weight. Because we have no mathematical ability, no logical ability, we don’t know how to ask the questions that expose some positions as preposterous, trivial, insulting to the intelligence, and unworthy of repetition. So we all are very comfortable bashing science and flailing away at that, but that isn’t our enemy. Science is capable of undertaking its own reformation and critique, and has been engaged in that fairly vigorously for some time. The enemy that will really subvert the enterprise of building a world based on clarity is the belief that we cannot point out the pernicious forms of idiocy that flourish in our own community. And this problem is growing worse all the time. I mean, just pick up a copy of Magical Blend or Shaman’s Drum and you will discover an appeal to the level of intellect that makes what’s going on with television advertising look like a meeting of the Princeton Institute of Advanced Study. We have tolerated too many loose heads in our community. We are not willing to take on the karma involved in argument and discourse that actually gores somebody ox. So that, at the end of the day Iridology or Mormonism or some other form of institutionally supported foolishness lies in shreds on the floor. We consider this politically incorrect. I can feel the tension in this room because people sense I might gore their particular ox. If we had learned mathematical logic or reason or rules of evidence, when someone approaches us excited to inform us that the ruins of Lemuria have been spotted in the deep sea off Big Sur or something like that, we would be able to respond to that with the contempt it deserves.


I had a conversation about this recently with someone who, if I had to describe their job category, I would describe them as mafioso. And I said, “What do you think of the abduction phenomenon?” And without hesitation this person said, “There are just so many foolish people in the world.” And to me, all of these things are intelligence tests. And the people who pass the intelligence test are not worrying about pro bono proctologists from other star systems showing up unannounced in their bedrooms. So, you know, we have perfected politeness. We have perfected the ability to listen to damn foolishness without betraying by so much as the flick of an eyebrow that we realize what we’re in the presence of. Now I think it’s time to refine our mathematical skills, learn to think straight, and not be afraid to denounce the pernicious forms of foolishness which are vitiating the energies of our community and making us appear marginal and absurd in the discourse about truly transforming society.

3:09:12 Sheldrake

Well, I can’t wait to see this laboratory of clarity unfold before me tonight [???] and as all nonsense is dispelled! The scalpel of reason is brought out by Terence.

3:09:31 McKenna

Yes, well, it is an ambiguous enterprise and fraught with contradiction. But forward, ever forward!

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