Well, The World and its Double is how we styled this. This is simply a high-visibility, flashy way of reminding people whose eyes fall upon that text that the world has a double: the world is not entirely or completely what it seems to be. Culture—and by culture I mean any culture, anywhere, any time—gives you the message that everything is humdrum, everything is normal. In other words, culture denies experience. You know, we all have had (and even a population of non-psychedelic people have had) prophetic dreams, intimations, unlikely strings of coincidences, all of these sort of things. These are experiences which cultures deny. Cultures put in place—I’m sure you’ve heard this word—a paradigm, and then what fits within the cultural paradigm is accentuated, stressed, and what doesn’t fit inside the cultural paradigm is denied, marginalized, argued against. And we live at the end of a thousand-year binge on the philosophical position known as materialism in its many guises. And the basic message of materialism is that the world is what it appears to be: a thing composed of matter, and pretty much confined to its surface. The world is what it appears to be.
Now this, on the face of it, is a tremendously naïve position. Because what it says is: the animal body that you inhabit, the eyes you look through, the fingers you feel through, are somehow the ultimate instruments of metaphysical conjecture—which is highly improbable. It seems to me metaphysical conjecture begins with the logic of the situation, and then proceeds in whatever direction that logic will carry you. Well, if logic is true to experience, then we have to make room in any theory for invisible connectedness between people, anticipation of a future that has not yet occurred, shared dreaming—all kinds of possibilities that materialism has denied.
For approximately 500 years, the great era of the triumph of modern science, materialism has had the field all to itself. And its argument for its preeminence was the beautiful toys that it could create: aircraft, railroads, global economies, television, spacecraft. But that is a fool’s argument for truth. I mean, that’s, after all, how a medicine show operates, you know: the juggler is so good that the medicine must be even better. This is not an entirely rational way to proceed. And now, at the end of 500 years of the practice of “rational” scientific culture, we’re literally at the end of our rope. Reason, and science, and the practice of unbridled capitalism have not delivered us into an angelic realm. Quite the contrary. They’ve delivered 3% of us into an angelic realm completely overshadowed by guilt about what’s happening to the other 97% of us who are eating it. It’s not a pretty picture, modern civilization.Most people in the world today are quite miserable, actually. They have very little hope. Their religions, their traditional value systems, are being eroded by Dallas and Hawaii 5-0, which are on the village television every night. Lifespans are being shortened by pesticides, chemicals, all kinds of things in the environment. And there is very little political light on the horizon.
So I believe that it’s reasonable (looking at this situation) to say that history failed, and that the grand dream of Western civilization has in fact failed. And now we are attempting—with basically a carved wooden oar—to turn a battleship around. And it’s a very frustrating undertaking: the momentum for catastrophe is enormous in this situation. But it’s not 100% certain that catastrophe is what we’re headed for, because we are not 100% unconscious. There are people struggling to figure out how to control population, struggling to figure out how to balance the relationship between the masculine and the feminine, struggling to bring amelioration of hunger and disease to various parts of the world.
So we’re in essentially a tragic situation. A tragic situation is a catastrophe when you know it. You see? And part of the Western impulse has been to subjugate all other cultural styles to our own. And this has taken the form of actually swallowing and digesting Native American culture. The ethnicity of European culture has been replaced by the mega-culture of Nouveau Europa, whatever that means. Cultures are melted down in the belly of the Western scientific beast, and then they become structural members in an ever-expanding edifice of Western scientism.
However, the psychedelic experience as practiced by shamans in many, many parts of the world is, apparently, a bite too large to swallow. Psychedelics arrived on the Western agenda only about a hundred years ago, when German chemists brought peyote to Berlin and extracted mescaline. And for the next 50 years, up until about 1945 (55 years, make it), very little happened. Mescaline did not—though it was taken by Havelock Ellis and William James and S. Weir Mitchell—it did not spawn a craze. It did not influence large numbers of intellectuals particularly. Then, in the forties, LSD was discovered. In the fifties, DMT and psilocybin were discovered. And then, in 1966, all these things were made illegal. There was no real opportunity for Western science to grapple with these things before they were decided to be too hot to handle—made not only unavailable to people such as you and I, ordinary people, but taken off the agenda of scientific research.
In the Middle Ages the church forbade dissection of human bodies. And medical students would visit battlefields and the gallows at night, and steal the bodies of victims of war and executed prisoners in order to learn human physiology. Where that spirit of scientific courage has gone, I don’t know. But there’s very little of it left. Now people feed at the trough of government grants and enormous corporate research budgets, and the idea of actually pursuing truth or attempting to understand the phenomenon in an unbiased fashion divorced from its commercial, social, and political dimensions is unheard of.
I wonder [???] we have to be able to control [???] and the more dangerous [???] to control people.
Well, yes. I think you put your finger on precisely the issue. Because—and slightly anticipating my argument—what psychedelics do, if you look at thousands of these experiences, is: they dissolve boundaries. They dissolve boundaries between you and your past, you and the part of your unconscious you don’t want to look at, between you and your partner, between you and the feminine (if you’re masculine) and vice versa, between you and the world. All the boundaries that we put up to keep ourselves from feeling our circumstance are dissolved. And boundary dissolution is the most threatening activity that can go on in a society. People get very—“people” meaning government institutions—become very nervous when people begin to talk to each other.
Their whole existence is about boundary creation.
Yes. The whole name of the Western game is to create boundaries and maintain them: the church and the state, the poor and the wealthy, the black and the white, the male and the female, the young and the old, the gay and the straight, the living and the dead, the foreign and the familiar. All of these categorical divisions allow a kind of thinking that is completely cockamamie. After all, reality is in fact a seamless, unspeakable something. And we understand that to perceive it separately is a necessary adjunct to the act of understanding, but it is not the end of the program of understanding. The particulate data has to be recombined in a paradigm; a seamless overview of what is happening. And the drugs that Western society has traditionally favored have either been drugs which maintain boundaries or drugs which promote mindless repetitious physical activity on the assembly line, in the slave galley, on the latifundi of the slave-driven agricultural project—whatever it is.
In the corporate office.
In the corporate office. This is why every labor contract on this planet—at least in Western civilization—contains a provision that all workers shall be allowed to use drugs twice a day at designated times, but the drug shall be caffeine. Now, the reason caffeine is so welcome in the workplace is because the last three hours of the workday are utterly unproductive unless you goose everybody with two cups of coffee, and then they can go back to the word processor, the widget-tightening machine, or whatever they’re doing, and mindlessly and happily carry on. If it were to be suggested that there be a pot break twice a day… you know, you would think that civilization was striking the iceberg or something! And alcohol—our society is an alcohol, red meat, sugar, and tobacco culture. And all of these are forms of speed, basically, in the way that we use them. I mean, yes, you can tranquilize yourself on alcohol, but you’re pushing toward levels where a lifetime of tranquilizing yourself on alcohol will be a short lifetime if you use it that way.
So there’s a lot of tension in society between the great exploring soul and the assembly-line citizen. The citizen is defined by obligation, and by the boundaries that define the next citizen—either because it’s neighbor, or worker, or employer, or something like that. And the grand exploring soul is marginalized as an eccentric or (if necessary) more seriously marginalized as mad in some way. I mean, madness basically (up until the level of physical violence) means you are behaving in a way which makes me feel uncomfortable, therefore there’s something wrong with you.
Yes. So now, it’s interesting—and this is one of the points that’s dear to me. I mean, they arrive in different orders each time. But I think of history as a kind of mass psychedelic experience, and the drug is technology. And as technology gets more and more perfected as a mirror of the human mind, the cultural experience becomes more and more hallucinatory. And for at least the past couple of hundred years, boundary dissolution has been underway at every level of Western civilization. I mean, you could push it further back: the Magna Carta, the fact that princes and lords of the realm would actually attempt to force the king’s signature on a document defining their privileges. They are, after all, ordinary human beings. The king is the divine appointed regent of God in heaven. So this was a severe boundary dissolution within the context of the age in which it was taking place. They were actually saying, “You, as Christ’s representative on Earth, should seed some of this omnipotence to us mere mortals, suspended in the political process.”
Well, that leads, then, to broader demands for human rights: for the idea that a permanent and large segment of society kept in permanent poverty is unacceptable. We got rid of debtors’ prisons and things like this. As the collectivity of our humanness becomes an intellectual legacy for all of us, there is a dissolving of boundaries of race, class, status, language, so forth and so on. And the whole of the twentieth century has seen a massive acceleration of this. The breakdown of the Soviet Union was in fact simply—it was even so described: the lifting of the Iron Curtain, meaning a membrane has suddenly disappeared. And more and more of these membranes are disappearing, and what is emerging, then, is a more and more psychedelic experience—meaning a sense of acceleration of information flow, a sense of rising ambiguity about what it all means, everything seems to carry both a good facet and a detrimental facet, the ambiguity of everything is increasing, the connectedness of everything is increasing. And I will argue later in the day that this is a general tendency of the time and space in which we are embedded, and that we ourselves are a reflection of this.
So this, then, goes toward addressing the first question of those outlines in the little flyer describing the weekend: where is life carrying us? What is this all about? Is it carrying us toward extinction, so that the rest of nature can heave an enormous sigh of relief and then get back to the business of nest-building, mating flights, and overposturing, and whatever it is that they’re doing out there? Or is it carrying us toward some kind of a transition? If you look back through the history of life—which is a long history; I mean, it reaches back a billion years—every advance happens suddenly, unpredictably, and in a very short period of time. Some of you who stay tuned to the scientific literature may have noticed this series of articles that were around last week, about what they’re calling the Big Bang of biology: that there was a period of time (incredibly brief, perhaps between a million and ten million years) when all the phyla of life on this planet radiated into existence. Some time between 525 and 535 million years ago, just, it all snapped into existence. The episode in which life left the sea is a similar highly confined transition event. People recently have written about what they call punctuated evolution: evolution is not, apparently, a slow curve of unfoldment, it is instead a series of equilibrium states punctuated by violent fluctuations in between, and then a new equilibrium state.
So history, I believe, is not an aberration any more than leaving the sea could be called an aberration of marine existence. I mean, obviously it is not marine existence, and obviously we are not living in the same world as groundhogs and hummingbirds, psychologically. But leaving the sea did not represent an ontological transition, it represented an extremely dramatic shift of modality. And this is what history is: history is characterized by its brevity, for one thing. I mean, we have packed more change into the last ten thousand years than the billion years which preceded it. And yet, as entities, as animals—meat—we have not changed at all in ten thousand years. If you were to go back to that era, the people would be exactly like people we see today. They wouldn’t be so racially heterogeneous, because the great gene streamings and migrations that characterize history had not yet taken place—but essentially, perfectly modern people.
Well, then history is apparently—if we view it as a process that nature tolerates, if not encourages—then history is essentially, apparently, important enough to jeopardize the stability of all the rest of the natural ecosystemic world. It’s as though nature is saying: “We are willing to place the entire planetary ecology in danger for 50,000 years in order for the opportunity to be explored of language-using, technologically-expressing intelligence carrying all of life to the next level.”
And it’s a terrifying enterprise. Because, apparently, to carry life to the next level, tremendous intellectual sophistication is required about the release and control of energy. The problem is: energy can be used to destroy as well as build. So as the human enterprise has moved toward greater and greater power and ability to manipulate the environment, the stakes in the cosmic game have risen. And now what we have is approximately a hundred billion dollars sitting in the center of the crap table, and one roll of the dice more and we’re going to either win it or lose everything. Because intelligence, if we fail, will never again reach the kind of levels on this planet that we have reached. Why? Because we have extracted all the available metals near the surface of the Earth. An evolving species following after us will find the Earth strangely depleted of usable materials down to the 1,500-foot level. And so intelligence coming beyond us will find it just does not have the resources to make the leap to technical civilization. So it’s beginning to look like a one-shot deal.
And the psychedelics are in there for two reasons. First of all, because they allow us, as individuals, to break out of the flat cultural illusion, and to rise up and look at this situation. So it’s for us a tool to understand our predicament. But the psychedelics are also what has driven this circumstance to arise in part, because what psychedelics do (and I think this isn’t too challengeable) is: they catalyze imagination. They drive you to think what you would not think otherwise. Well, notice that the enterprise of human history is nothing more than the fallout created by strange ideas. You know: “Let’s build a pyramid.” “Let’s build a windmill.” “Let’s build a water wheel” You know? And then: empires, philosophies, religions arise in the wake of these situations.
I’ve argued in the past—and I’m going to try not to repeat it here today, because I think you’ve all heard it, but I will just mention it in a sentence or two—that the critical catalyst propelling us out of the slowly evolving hominid line and caused us to take an orthogonal right-hand turn into culture, language, art, yearning, probably was the inclusion of psychedelic plants in our diet during that episodic moment when we went from being fruitarian canopy-dwellers to omnivorous pack-hunting creatures of the grassland. And it was the inclusion of psilocybin in our grassland diet that caused us to discover that there is a mind, and you can perturb it. I mean, think about—I don’t think you could discover consciousness if you didn’t perturb it. Because, as Marshall McLuhan said: whoever discovered water, it certainly wasn’t a fish. Well, we are fish swimming in consciousness, and yet we know it’s there. Well, the reason we know it’s there is because, if you perturb it, then you see it. And you perturb it by perturbing the engine which generates it, which is the mind/brain system resting behind your eyebrows. If you swap out the ordinary chemicals that are running that system in an invisible fashion, then you see. It’s like dropping ink into a bowl of clear water: suddenly, the convection currents operating in the clear water become visible, because you see the particles of ink tracing out the previously invisible dynamics of the standing water. The mind is precisely like that, and the psychedelic is like a dye-marker being dropped into this aqueous system. And then you say, “Oh, I see! It works like this, and like this.”
Well, if psychedelics are a catalyst for the imagination, and if history is driven by the imagination, it is driven through the fallout from the imagination, which is technology and culture. Technology and culture are the consequences, the derivatives, of the ratiocination of the mind. And technology has—like biological life, but on a much faster, accelerated timeframe—technology has this weird tendency to transcend itself, to bootstrap itself. You know, if you have a cart, then it implies better wheels, better bearings, better structure, and then higher speed, more control, more feedback from the machine—that means we need gas gauges, RPM readouts, so forth and so on. Technology—strangely enough, created by a biological creature—has itself this self-transcending quality.
But: ever-accelerating. This is the important point. Because the ever-accelerating accretion of technology means that history is strangely foreshortened at the future end, because it happens faster and faster. It’s like a process that begins very slowly, but once started has the quality of a cascade—or, you know, the rate at which falling bodies move; 32.5 feet per second per second. Each second it accelerates to twice the rate of infall that was occurring in the previous second. Technology is like this. And we now are in a domain where, if we attempt to propagate technological development forward fifty years, it becomes unmanageable as an intellectual task. We can talk about the automobile; what it might look like fifty years from now. It would float, it would go 500 miles an hour, it would be guided by your mind, so forth and so on. These kinds of ideas. But when you think that every artifact of our world will undergo that kind of transformation, and that the synergy among these transformed objects will create phenomena and situations that we can’t anticipate—that’s the key thing: our inability to anticipate the synergies between our technologies. I mean, the computer, LSD, spacecraft, holograms, organic superconductivity: those are just six areas where the integration of those concerns will produce unimaginable consequences.
[???] psychedelic [???] able to appreciate [???]
You mean, you’re referring to the sixties?
Well, yeah. I’m not sure the people aren’t ready. Clearly, the government isn’t. And it probably isn’t ready today. But the government isn’t ready to embrace psychedelics. But what the government of today, the way in which today’s government differs from the sixties government, is: there is a spreading sense of great uncertainty. The government in the 1960s believed in what it was doing. Now I think government exists simply to mitigate panic.
[???] the people are ready. [???]
No, the people are ready. And the people, then, have to set the social agenda. A progressive society is a society whose social agenda is set by the people. And an authoritarian society—that’s the only difference—is a society where the agenda is handed down from the top.
[???] alcohol, interest in medicine [???] are illegal [???]
Well, I go back and forth about this. Sometimes I think the best strategy of the government is to ignore it. The government is only as real as you think it is. And if everybody agreed it doesn’t exist, it wouldn’t have the [???] its agenda. On the other hand—that’s sort of the romantic perfectionist approach. A more practical approach would be to try and change the government’s attitude. For example—
[???] would have to deal with it [???]
[???]. I mean, the government does follow (in some cases) its own rules, usually when other people are watching. But for example, if you go back to this situation where the psychedelics were made illegal in 1966—somebody jumped out of a dorm window at the University of Michigan or something, and so they decided LSD was the scourge of mankind and that they would make it illegal. California, we’re talking about now. But they said, “Well, as long as we’re making this hallucinogen illegal, let’s make all hallucinogens illegal.” And so psilocybin was made illegal at the same time that LSD was. Well, no medical or social evidence was ever presented that there was anything wrong with psilocybin. In other words, the ordinary process of making a compound illegal is: you hold hearings and you bring in medical data. This many people died, there were this many emergency room admissions, so forth. This here is the lab data, here’s the profile on this. In the case of psilocybin, no medical or scientific data of any sort was ever presented to anybody. And it was made illegal in California. And when the Feds came along eight months later and decided to make all these things illegal nationwide, they said: “California already has a good, strong law. Let’s just take the California language and draw up into a federal statute.”
So it would be possible (if you had three million dollars to burn) to take a case to the Supreme Court and to fight the legal status of psilocybin on the grounds that no scientific evidence was ever presented that there’s anything wrong with it. That would at least have the effect of forcing a government-sponsored study of the human impact of psilocybin. This is now actually being done at the University of New Mexico. But it should’ve been done 35 years ago. It’s a very disturbing situation.
[???] lost control of [???] for most people to lose controls [???] swimming [???], one of the things that could be driven by technology. I’m wondering [???] fear, greed, [???] always individual human emotion [???] technology [???] moving independent of any individual, and yet I think [???] how they impact [???]
Well, the key word in what you said as I heard it was: ego and fear. The ultimate boundary dissolution is the dissolution of ego. I mean, we hope—we straight people—hope that they never meet it except at death. Of course they don’t realize going to sleep at night is a kind of ego dissolution. But the government is expressive of this dominator culture that we’re living in. The ego is a very recent invention, and its hold on reality is very tenuous, and consequently it walks around imbued with fear. I mean, it feels itself to be a mouse in a world of dinosaurs. That’s because it’s a very recent development.
I guess I have to go back to this scenario of human development and say, just very briefly, here’s how I think this worked. I’m not going to run through the whole evolutionary scenario, but this thing about ego—all primates have what are called dominance hierarchies. That simply means that the hard-bodied, long-fanged, young males kick everybody else around. They control the females, the children, homosexuals, the elderly. Everybody is taking orders from this dominance hierarchy. And this is true clear back into squirrel monkeys. It’s a generalized feature of primate behavior. And it’s an aspect of our behavior, as we sit here. Women—the feminine is not honored, the elderly are marginalized, homosexuals, that whole issue. Many of our social and political ills stem from this attitude. But, you see, I believe that when we left the trees and admitted psilocybin into our diet, that it has the effect of dissolving boundaries and making this maintenance of a dominance hierarchy very very difficult.
First of all, the key on one level to maintaining the dominance hierarchy is monogamous pair-bonding. That’s where it begins. In a society taking a lot of psilocybin, monogamous pair-bonding breaks down because of the CNS activation and sexual arousal. So in a psilocybin-using culture there will be a tendency to orgiastic sexual behavior rather than monogamous pair-bonding. What that does is: it causes an incredible social cohesion. Because in an orgiastic society men cannot trace lines of male paternity. So men’s attitude toward children is: “These children are all ours.” We, the group: it’s a glue that we (in our paranoid social style, with everybody having the deed to their property and their 11-foot-high fence) can hardly imagine. But psilocybin was artificially suppressing this dominator behavior style in the primate, the evolving protohominid, now hominid, now human being.
When psilocybin was taken out of the diet, the old, old primate program was still there. It had not been bred out. The genes were always there.It’s just that, for 50,000 or 100,000 years, we medicated ourselves—literally religiously: we religiously medicated ourselves every new and full moon, perhaps oftener, these orgies were happening, creating social cohesion, propagating everybody forward. The problem was: when the psilocybin was taken away, we had been under its influence for perhaps half a million years. We had evolved language, rudimentary abstract philosophy, a sense of religion. We had invented technology in the form of using fire and chipping flint and all that. The psilocybin goes away, and suddenly these skills, these tools, these technologies, are in the hands of marauding apes. Not anymore cohesive caring human social groups, but marauding territorial apes driven by the desire to control all weaker members of the social group.
And that’s our circumstance. We have, you know, the tools that would allow us to sculpt paradise, but we have the reflexes and value systems of anthropoid apes of some sort. So the split between our conscious hopes, our best foot, and the bottom of the human scale is appalling. I mean, look at the spread! It’s a spread from… well, from Mother Teresa to serial killers. I mean, you don’t get serial killers in the chipmunk population or the grasshopper population. I mean, these animals are not so set at variance with their basic nature that these kinds of pathologies can erupt. We, on the other hand, are half angel, half pack-hunting killer ape. And it doesn’t care on which side of the bed you get up on, or [???]
[???] technological [???] along these lines, I wonder if it’s not a good thing where technology gives us an indication what is possible and psychedelics expand that, so that we can actually get to [???] Technology could—well, let’s put it this way: you cannot imagine something that you have no experience of what it is, as a general rule. Therefore, you have masses of people and not enough psilocybin to go around, or [???] have to give them some basis on which to have a vision, or whatever. A television, an automobile, an airplane do supply at least the idea that these things are possible. Without the technology [???] get to the psilocybin. [???]
Yes. I mean, we’re an object-fetish society. I mean, our entire psychology is characterized by a profound discontent. That’s what we’re about. No matter what’s going on, after a little while we get restless and move on. Other animal species are embedded in a kind of world of endless genetic cycling. No fox grows bored with hunting, you know? And yet, our thing is a profound dis-ease. And I believe it’s because—and slowly you’ve forced me to do this whole rap, which I swore I wouldn’t do—I believe it’s because the psilocybin led us halfway toward a kind of godhead. But then it disappeared, and we are left in this very peculiar situation. This is the myth of the fall. You know, we are half angel, half beast, and these two natures are united in every one of us. And when you take psilocybin, you feel generally a great sense of community, an ascent to a higher level. If you completely restrict your intake of intoxicants of any sort, then you get the teetotaller type personality, which is characterized by incredible smugness, limited intellectual horizons, and an unbearable aura of self-congratulation that makes it pretty hard for the rest of us to put up with.
See, here is the final piece of this evolutionary key. Psilocybin, in small amounts, increases visual acuity. This is not an arguable point. I mean, you can just give people psilocybin and give them eye tests, and people with astigmatisms see better, your edge-detection ability is greatly increased. Well, you can see that an animal like our remote ancestors, in a hunting environment in the grassland, if there is an item of diet that will make you a better and more efficient hunter—the equivalent of chemical binoculars lying around on the grassland—those animals that avail themselves of this technology will be more successful hunters. And so it was. Animals using psilocybin were more successful at raising their offspring to reproductive age.
Well then, at slightly higher doses you get this CNS arousal—which, in highly sexed animals such as primates, arousal means sexual arousal; an erection in the male—so then there is, without the overwhelming influence of Christian ethics to guide their behaviors, I’m sure these organisms simply flopped in a heap and, you know, sorted it all out later. So that’s the middle range of the dosage. Low dose: success in hunting. Medium dose: social cohesion achieved through ego dissolution and orgiastic sexuality.
Yet higher doses—five grams and up—hunting is out of the question, sex is out of the question. You’re just nailed to the ground by the campfire, and in the course of the evening you discover religion, philosophy, art and, you know, all of that. So here is a unique chemical that, at every dose level, synergizes activity that leads to greater coherency and self-expression. The driving of the imagination—yes, in the question back here you said you can’t create what you can’t conceive of. This is why what the psychedelic experience does, really, is: it stretches the envelope of the imaginable. I mean, what can be imagined can be created. What cannot be imagined is not part of the play. So psilocybin really was a stimulant for the production of intellectual product in the form of songs, rituals, dances, body painting, abstract ideas. All of these things are what we are most unique.
Well, that’s how it seemed to me. It seemed to me, culture is a shabby lie—or at least, this culture is a shabby lie. I mean, if you work like a dog, you get 260 channels of bad television and a German automobile. What kind of perfection is that? Our secular society—religion is completely devalued, and consumer object fetishism is the only kind of worth that we collectively recognize. I’m sure you’ve all seen the T-shirt that says “He”—notice: he—“who dies with the most toys, wins.” That is in fact the banner under which we’re flying here. And the level of unhappiness is immense. I mean, the level of unhappiness among the poor—they’ve always been miserable. But we’ve managed to create something entirely new in human history: an utterly miserable ruling class! I mean, there seems no excuse for that.
Well, I guess this leads us to a subject worth talking about, which is: it’s very important to talk to the state or the substance. If you don’t talk to it, it won’t talk to you. It follows the rules of ordinary etiquette, and it does not speak to strangers. But if you will say to it the simplest thing like “Hello?” then it will say, “Hello.” And you say, “Is someone there?” It says “Yes. Ready and willing. What’s up?” But if you don’t speak to it, it won’t do that. That is to my mind the strangest property of psilocybin; is this speaking in English business. I mean, LSD doesn’t do that. Ayahuasca doesn’t do that. Psilocybin does for some reason. This is not my illusion. Nearly everybody who’s spent time with it has commented on this.
On DMT you see who you hear on the mushrooms. On the mushrooms you almost never encounter something that you can see. You see hallucinations, but you do not see the author of the data stream that’s saying “Did you know? I’ll bet you did know!” A standard form of address. But on DMT, they come bounding out of the woodwork. The strangest things happen on DMT; the most intense. And you can remember them. DMT is not like a psychedelic drug in the sense that you’re getting into the contents of your hopes, memories, fears, and dreams. It’s much more like a parallel continuum. It’s much more as though you’ve broken through to some alien data space. One of the most puzzling things about DMT is: it does not affect your mind. You know? It simply replaces the world one hundred percent with something completely unexpected. But your relationship to that unexpected thing is not one of exaggerated fear or exaggerated acceptance—as in: “Oh great, the world has just been replaced by elf machinery!” Your reaction is exactly what it would be if it happened to you without DMT. You’re appalled! You say, “What happened?” Because you don’t feel your mind moving. You just see that the world has been replaced by something that you could not have even conceived of or imagined before.
And these entities—these things which look like self-dribbling jeweled basketballs, something that the NBA might take an interest in—you see them, and they present themselves to you. They use language to condense visible objects out of the air. Now, I don’t know why they’re doing that. I mean, perhaps, on one level I assume that they’re trying to teach you to do that. On another level they seem to be giving a demonstration of the fact that reality is made of language. They’re saying, you know: “If you don’t believe reality is made of language, here, I’ll make you one!” And then blibbledy blibbledy blip, and there it is, and they hand it to you to be passed around in slack-jawed amazement among the human beings. This technology that they possess of these objects made of gold and emerald and chalcedony and agate that are morphing themselves even as you look at them are, you know, a technological dream come true. I mean, the lapis as elf excrescence, or something like that.
And why they’re there? I don’t know. And many, many questions: where are they when you’re not stoned? You know? Do they have an autonomous existence somewhere, or do they spring into existence a microsecond before you encounter them? Are they rooted in the dynamics of your psyche, or are they no more rooted in the dynamics of your psyche than the World Trade Center? It’s not clear.
I mean, I think I mentioned at some point just briefly that the archetype of DMT is the circus. These things are clowns at one level. They’re clowns. I mean, when you think of the circus, it’s a very complex archetype. A circus is for children. It’s a delight. And you take a child to a circus, and there are three rings and absurd clown antics going on. But then you lift your eyes up to the top of the tent, and there the lady in the tiny spangled costume is hanging by her teeth, working without nets. It’s about Eros and death. My first awareness of Eros was being three or four, and these women in these tiny costumes spinning around, and realizing, you know: if she falls, she dies. And then, away from the center ring and all this action, there are the sideshows: the goat-faced boy, the thing in the bottle, the Siamese twins, and fuzzy Charley. All of that is also very DMT-like. It really is the archetype of the circus.
I can remember when I was a kid in this small town in Colorado, every year at the 4th of July, the carnival would come to town for a week and set up. And we anticipated it throughout the year. But as soon as the carnival came to town, then you couldn’t play outside after 9 o’clock at night because carny people are different, we were told. And, you know, their means of support, sexual proclivities, and choice of intoxicants might have run counter to this Midwestern Catholic mining town I was in. And so then, there’s this sense of the disruption, the danger, the drama, the interest, the fun, and then they go away and life is as if they had never been there at all. And that’s what DMT is like.
I mean, it’s a secret of such magnitude that it’s inconceivable how it has ever been kept. Because in a world where information was fairly weighted, we would spend as much time talking about DMT as we spend talking about, I don’t know, the West Bank or something. And as you see by studying our newspapers, DMT is rarely, if ever, mentioned. I mean, never would be a good rule of thumb. The Western mind is very queasy around these experiences that cast into doubt its cherished illusions about how reality is put together. And when you get to DMT, you have hit the main vein. I mean, I hold it in reserve as the ultimate convincer. I mean, there are these people running around, you know, who say “Oh, you people who are into drugs! Haha! Give me a good branch whiskey and a little TV. I think you’re deluding yourself!” You say, “Do you? Well, if have you got five minutes to invest in this proposition, my cheerful friend? Because if you do, have I got news for you!”
It also seems to me, you know, considering the fact that DMT is a naturally occurring neurotransmitter, that you return to the baseline of consciousness in fifteen minutes, that it’s utterly harmless. What’s the matter with our critics? Why are they so phobic of it? You know, what is it? Are you tainted forever if you know the position of your enemy? Why are they so afraid to give it a chance? Well, I think I can answer my own question quoting a wonderful thing Tim Leary said years ago. He said LSD occasionally causes psychotic behavior in people who have not taken it. Right! That is the problem, I believe: that these drugs are causing outbreaks of psychosis among people who won’t get near them! And they are turned into frightened, paranoid, order freaks reaching for extra-legal and extra-constitutional means to make your life hell. Obviously their minds have been severely bent by the absence of this drug. However, the knowledge of it seemed to practically undo them.
Yeah, I mean, the first teaching is priceless. It’s that the world is beyond your ability to conceive or imagine. So give up any short-term plan to conceive or imagine. I think, really, the worth in these psychedelics is simply that they allow you to triangulate upon reality. I mean, in other words, if all you’ve got is “awake” and “asleep,” you can’t go far with that. But if you’ve got “awake,” “asleep,” and “DMT” as points, you can build a much more dimensionally rich model of consciousness. I think that it has to do with your own intelligence. Truly stupid people aren’t interested in psychedelics because they can’t figure out what the point of it is. It feeds off intelligence. It’s a consciousness-expanding drug. If you don’t have any consciousness, it can’t expand it. And I’ve met people who say, "Yeah, well, all this stuff, and big bugs talk to you and say strange stuff?" You say, “Yeah, well, you should have paid a little attention.”
I mean, it’s amazing to me how people don’t seem to—like the less intelligent you are, the less challenging the psychedelic experience becomes, because the less capable of entertaining the implications you are. Because you just say “Well yeah, a lot of bright lights, and there’s some talking bugs and spaceships, and I don’t know.” Well, you know, I guess it’s because those people are so ingrained in cultural values that they assume it’s not real. They just assume it’s a trip—whatever that means. It means you have permission not to take this experience seriously. It’s a trip. But what I’ve noticed is that, based on quantum mechanics’ need for an observer as part of any system, that’s big news for our field of study. Because what it means is hallucinations are as real as anything else. I mean, a hallucination is not like a Chevrolet. But on the other hand, a Chevrolet is not like a hallucination. Why should we demand that these things co-map over each other? A hallucination is a species of reality as capable of teaching you as a videotape about Kilimanjaro or anything else that falls through your life.
The question is: does DMT talk to you the way psilocybin does? It’s interesting that these two compounds—so closely related to each other—both have something to say about language, but they say it in precisely opposite ways. Psilocybin, it’s a teaching voice that speaks to you in your language. I had a very interesting experience that was an example of this to me. When I first started growing mushrooms I had to do a lot of batch testing, and so I was taking mushrooms a lot. And I would get into these places with it where it would say “Da dada da dada da dada dada says. Da dada da dada da dada dada says.” It would make these declarative statements and it would always put the word “says” on the end of the sentence. I thought, you know, weird, but what do you expect of a talking vegetable? What’s weird and what isn’t? So then I heard Wasson’s publication called María Sabina and her Mushroom Velada. It’s a set of six tapes of a mushroom session that María Sabina did in 1956. So here is María Sabina raving in Mazatec, and it’s going along like this: “Da dada da dada da dada dada su. Da dada da dada da dada dada su.” And I look in the inter-linear translation; “su” means “says” in Mazatec. So she’s hearing it in Mazatec, I’m hearing it in English. So that’s what psilocybin is capable of. What happens with DMT is it doesn’t speak to you in English. It speaks to you in elvish, and you understand. And under sufficiently hyped up conditions you are able to reply.
In other words, psilocybin pushes your brain state towards some kind of spontaneous glossolalia. And I think that this probably is mixed up with the generation of language itself. Because what happens on high-dose DMT is: these machine elves, these dribbling basketball things, they use this musical sing-sang-song language to make objects, which they then show you. They’re like machines or animals or crystals or crosses between, I don’t know, consommé and something else. They have these opalescent depths. They’re neither matter nor mind, neither solid nor liquid. But they make these things and set them loose in this environment. And these things themselves are emitting language and making other things. So they make machines which make machines, everybody’s chattering, squeaking, crawling over each other, clamoring for your attention. And what they’re trying to do is to get you to produce this glossolalia—for some reason which I cannot imagine why. When you’re stoned and you do the glossolalia, it’s an incredibly pleasurable experience. But so might be eating an orange or having sex if you were to do it at that moment. You can’t tell. But you can make this funny pseudo-linguistic stream of syllables that’s very, very satisfying. And, you know, it has a bit of art in it. I think probably we invented language long before meaning, and that it was some very practical person who got the idea that the music could have words, and that before that it was simply verbal amusement. After all, the most readily at hand musical instrument is the human voice.
I think that language as we practice it this afternoon in this room is an uncompleted enterprise; that language wants to be visual. It is in transition. Remember: it’s from the silence of prehistory to the visual language beyond the eschaton, and the overlapping of silence and visual language gives you audial language. The more perfect lógos would be beheld. This is what Philo Judaeus taught. And considering that many of these psychedelic compounds involved in the language phenomena—like DMT and harmine and harmaline—these all occur as part of human metabolism ordinarily. And I think that it’s possible that we are on the cusp of an evolutionary transformation of language having to do with an actual change in our physique, in our genetic output. Because why is it that monoamine oxidase inhibiting compounds like harmaline (specifically 5-methoxy-tetrahydroharmalan) occurs in the pineal gland. And the pineal gland has always been thought of as somehow connected to the soul. It was the seat of the soul for Descartes. And I think that maybe what history is, is the rather muddled situation that occurs in an animal species while it perfects a true language, and that we’re not there yet, folks, because a true language is beheld.
I think that the real nub of what we’re trying to get at here is that the world is mental in some way that we do not yet understand, but which we’re edging toward understanding. And the world is made of language. I can’t say that enough. And so whenever we get into these discussions about reality or effects in space and time, we are operating outside this assumption that the world is made of language. If the world is made of language, it’s very hard to figure out just where the edge of it is. I mean, do we really need to believe in the existence of distant galaxies like NGC-245 if, in fact, the world is being produced in the human cerebellum as a phenomenon of language? What exactly is the ontological status of these distant parts of the universe that register only as the faint tracings on our instruments, then interpreted through the fishy fiat of a bunch of stacked-up theories and formulas? I mean, did you know that the entire universe of radiotelescopy—radio telescopes were invented around 1950, they’ve been used to develop our entire picture of the universe—did you know that if you took all the energy that has fallen on all the radio telescopes on this planet since the invention of radiotelescopy, that it would be less energy than is generated by a cigarette ash falling a distance of two feet? So that’s where your data sample is coming from that you’ve built up this model of exploding galaxies and colliding quasars and mega-this and mega-that. I mean, it’s pretty flimsy stuff, folks, compared to the meat of the moment in which we find ourselves.
Now, magical philosophies—which have about 50,000–100,000 years under their belt as opposed to science, which goes back to the Renaissance—magical philosophies have always claimed that the world is made of language; that the world is a thing of words. And if you know these words you can take it apart and put it together any old way you wish. Our entire Western religious tradition begins with the incredibly cryptic statement: In principio et verbum, et verbo caro factum est. It’s fairly obscure even in English: “In the beginning was the word, and the word was made flesh.” What is this making the word into flesh? And does it not imply, then, that eventually the flesh will become word?
As I descend into mental disintegration and madness, I become more and more convinced that reality is more like a novel than a series of integrated tensor equations of the third degree, which is what physics would have us believe. The world is like a novel. It’s a novel in which you are a character. And there’s dramatic tension, plot, resolution, tragedy, nobility, betrayal—the whole gamut of emotions and human possibilities. And what we tend to do is always to marginalize, first, our own experience, and then all human experience. So our model of reality is that the universe is a zillion somethings that direction and a trillion somethings that direction, we are tiny and insignificant, our star is typical, our galaxy is typical, everything is utterly hum-drum, and there’s nothing going on here at all. Well, this is an incredibly dreary and disempowering model of reality.
I would rather believe that if, in fact, what the universe is is a novelty-producing and -conserving engine—and if we define novelty as density of connectedness—then guess what: the human neocortex becomes the center of the cosmic drama, because the human neocortex is the most densely ramified and connected material object known to exist in the universe. So after a thousand years of human marginalization, suddenly, through the injection of science, there is permission to believe that the cosmic drama really is about us, that we really do carry the load in this play, that this is a play about the career and preservation of novelty and complexity, and thus we are central actors in that drama. And hence, if something were to happen to us and our enterprise, the universe would be vastly impoverished by that loss.
Well, now we’re on the brink of decoding the human genome, and we will use computers to do this because we’re going to have to keep absolute track of millions of units of strings of characters. But the end result of this, I think, is that the flesh will be made word, and that we are textualizing our reality. And this may be what all these French people are screaming about that we can’t understand—the so-called deconstructionists. Because they keep saying: reality, it should be dealt with as a text. If you don’t treat it as a text, you will entirely miss the point of it.
Well, I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and first of all, my life is very strange. Because when I hit the mushroom at La Chorrera in 1971, Interpol was looking for me. I had a price on my head, I had no money, I had blown my college education, I had no job skills. I had nothing. And that is, of course, as all folklorists know, the precondition for exaltation. If you’re not poor and humble, I mean, what’s the point, you know? So, I was poor and humble. And then I got crossed up with this mushroom, and immediately life became art. Life became freakishly ordered, and plot elements began to unfold. And I have in my mind a picture of the curve of my mission—if you want to call it that—and, weirdly enough, reality has not yet departed from the curve. Now, the curve is getting steeper and steeper, and at some point, surely, reality and the curve will depart. Otherwise… decency forbids that I carry that thought further. But you do see what I mean, I think.
And all of us are beginning to take textual control of our lives and be able to write the plot. You see, if what we’re embedded in is a novel or some work of art like a novel, then what you want to do is figure out who in the novel you are. I mean, if your name is Joe Blow, is the name of this novel The Lives and Worlds of Joe Blow, or do you get to draw a bath for someone on page 230 and never be seen again? Now, as a character, the more conscious you become, the more you have free will within the context of the plot. I never understood this, and I’m not sure most people understand it.
Like, I grew up in Berkeley in the 1960s—you know, I was in Berkeley from 1965 to 1970, the Golden Age. I was so unconvinced of my own uniqueness that I never understood that the great drama that was unfolding around me—all I had to do was join, and I never joined. I thought it was spectator sport. I mean, I marched in the marches, I took acid, I got laid, I did all of those things. But what I mean by “I didn’t join” is: I didn’t realize that The Grateful Dead were a bus ride away that I could probably walk into that scene and make a place for myself. Or The Doors, or the Stones, or The Beatles; you pick it. In other words, I defined myself as a spectator rather than an actor. And we are all doing that far too much. You can get a get a lot rowdier than you are. You can make a lot more waves. There’s been too much politesse and too much parlor etiquette exercised recently by the counterculture. It’s perfectly alright to mix things up. It’s perfectly alright to try and accelerate the plot. This will move your character nearer and nearer to the center of the action.
And people have asked me then: is the goal to make yourself, the novel, about you? Is the goal to make the novel about yourself? I don’t think so. The goal is to become the author of the novel. Then you can write any damn ending you want for your character or any other. And this “becoming the author” is this psychedelic detachment. And suddenly you go from being a chessman on the board to the chess master looking at the board. It’s empowering. It’s self-control. Now, people who don’t know this are, like, made of denser stuff than the rest of us. You can just part them like wheat and move through them, because they have no sense of the nature of the game. They are still embedded in the old Newtonian paradigm and are completely powerless to control their own lives. That’s what happens to you in the Newtonian game: all the power flows to—I don’t know, the White House, the UN, Madison avenue. It’s not clear, but it certainly doesn’t reside with you.
More and more, I think, we need to decondition. That’s what I mean by “following the plot as written.” If you never decondition, you’re just a character in somebody else’s story. But if you decondition, you can begin to move your life the way you want. And miracles happen. Miracles do happen. They happen even to ordinary people in the realm of falling in love. Because there’s something about where the genes go that is very compelling to the universal lógos that’s watching over us all. So, you know, the stable boy can marry the princess if his heart is pure and the winds of the lógos are at his back. That’s why we love those fairy tales of the stable boy who inherits the kingdom: because we sense that as our story.
The question is: how can you bring back the psychedelic experience? Or: what can you bring it? I know of two techniques, neither very satisfying, both in combination moderately effective, but crude. The first is a voice-operated tape recorder. They sell these for a couple of hundred bucks. I’ve produced some amazing tapes with these. I have one voice-activated tape where you hear me clear my throat two hundred times in the course of an evening, because each time I would clear my throat, half way through the throat clearing, it’s voice activated, the tape recorder, so it would catch the last half of “Ahem!” “Ahem!” “Ahem!” However, if you have presence of mind sufficient to speak English, this would be a more informative record of your experience.
Yeah! And then the other technique—which is less technically dependent—is: if you have an insight at a certain level of the experience, you have to repeat it to yourself at another level of the experience, and then another level. And by this incremental bucketing method you can carry almost any insight out into the realm of the world.
These insights often don’t stand up to scrutiny. I had a really interesting experience just a week ago. I’m sure you’ve all had most of this experience, but I finally had it all. It’s the experience of having a dream, a very very complicated dream, the subject of which is the universal secret—which, if told, would transform everything. It’s the “I’ve got it!” phenomenon. And usually, what happens is: you wake up and it’s gone just before you get consciousness. And you say, “My God, I understood everything! I had it down to a single statement. If I could articulate it, the world would never be the same.” Well, this happened to me about a week ago. But by some miracle I actually was able to hang on to the statement into consciousness. And I woke up and yelled this thing. My son was appalled. I mean, it was six thirty in the morning, and I was able to get it out. I hope you’re ready. I sat straight up in bed and said: “A song is a song!” Profound stuff! I mean, maybe it is profound stuff. The profound stuff usually has that “An X is an X” construct, because essentially what it’s telling you is: silence would’ve been an acceptable substitute for this statement.
Well, let me say one more thing here just sort of to wind this up. The metaphor that makes sense for what we’re going through—because it gets the biology of it, it gets the drama of it, it gets the risk of it, it gets the fun and the joy of it—is the metaphor of birth. We are about to decant from three-dimensional space and time. Yes, the Earth is the cradle of mankind, but you can’t live in the cradle forever. And we’re not in this cradle alone. We are squashing and trampling on hundreds of other species that have as much right to be here as we are. So through technology (which means pharmacology, art, and the engineering sciences) we are trying to find a doorway into a new world for the spirit. And it is going to come out of human–machine interfacing, pharmacological redesign of the human brain-mind system, possibly digitalizing and downloading into the microphysical realm—we don’t know. I mean, if it makes your hair stand on end to think of being downloaded into the digital realm, there was once a fish who had a great deal of doubts about this plan to conquer the land, and tried to urge everyone to think again that no good could possibly come of it. But, in fact, the forward thrust of evolution is toward higher dimensions, greater complexity, more information, greater connectedness, and a deeper and deeper sense of the all-pervasiveness of love and meaning.
That’s what it’s really about. All these disparate physical elements come to nothing if they don’t add up to more than the sum of their parts. And the more than the sum of their parts is this transcendental element which we call love. That is the part of the eschaton that has never left us, that accompanied us across the African grassland and into history. I mean, granted, bloodied and battered by the experiences of sexism and racism and so forth, but never lost as an ideal, never lost as a guiding light and an experience. And I really think that when we dissolve all the boundaries, this is what we will discover: is an unconditional caring, an unconditional affection, that flows through all life and all matter and gives it meaning. And you don’t have to wait for the end of the world to get this news. You can just short-circuit the collective march toward that realization by accelerating your own microcosm of spirituality through the use of these hallucinogens. They are the doorways that the Gaian mind has installed in the historical process to let anybody out any time they want to, provided they have the courage to turn the knob and walk through the door.
Thank you very, very much! Thanks!
I don’t like the part of what I do that is a cult of personality. I don’t like it that a white guy sits at the front of the room and pontificates. And I don’t know if you’ve figured out this shuffle—but I have, and I know that I don’t know anything more than you know, really, and that it’s just a funny circumstance of fate that you sit and listen, and I speak. Because there are no experts, and there is only, you know, the integrity of doing and having done. And really, if you get the message, you will be able to transcend the need for any more of this. Because it’s really a message of self-trust and self-empowerment. And then, what I’m also trying to create is a community of shared associations about these weird states, so that we don’t have to all privately think we’re losing our marbles, you know? Let those who talk to the elves find each other and band together.
I am basically a scientist without portfolio, because no academic institution would ever trust me with a portfolio. But I move in the domain of the gurus, the channelers, the pontificators, and those with secret revealed knowledge from Atlantis and Lemuria. But I have contempt for all of that (whether it’s true or not) because they got there the wrong way, you know? You have to come through the rules of evidence and reason. Reason is not science. Don’t confuse them. I’m very much a critic of science and the scientific method, but I don’t think reason can be tossed out with that bathwater. What is being proposed here is that we’re on the brink of the discovery of another world; a world as potentially transforming of our world as the discovery of the Western hemisphere transformed European civilization in the 1500s. But the world that we’re about to discover is inside the mind. It’s mental real estate. We—who have made consciousness our game by building cities, elaborating literatures, tossing up religions, and setting armies marching—we who have made consciousness our game have barely scratched the surface of human consciousness.
And it’s not like we haven’t had a crack at it. I mean, these yogans have been over there digging away for millennia, Egyptian religion, Kabbalism, alchemy, Western traditions of mysticism. And I am a connoisseur of all that, don’t get me wrong, but what astonishes me is how embryonic it all is. We are not the tired inheritors of an ancient and sophisticated civilization in its twilight—which is what they’re all telling us—we are the know-nothing, fresh-scrubbed babes who are the new kids on the block who haven’t got a clue as to what the human enterprise could really be about. And we are coming now through a very narrow historical neck where the accumulated stupidity of the last 5,000 years—the dues now have to be paid. It ain’t fair, we didn’t do it. You know? We didn’t bring the slaves from Africa, we didn’t invent oligarchy, we didn’t do all these things. Nobody is interested in our whining about how we didn’t do it. It’s in your face.
And it’s clearly a crisis of two things: of consciousness and of conditioning. These are the two things that the psychedelics attack. We have the technological power, the engineering skills, to save our planet, to cure disease, to feed the hungry, to end war. But we lack the intellectual vision, the ability to change our minds. We must decondition ourselves from 10,000 years of bad behavior. And it’s not easy. I mean, imagine—I don’t know how many of you have ever confronted the fact that you were addicted to something. And some addictions are really serious; if you’ve ever been addicted to tobacco or heroin, I’m sure you know what I mean. Well then, imagine a global population addicted to a drug, the use of which is killing us, but there’s no doctor saying you should, there’s no rehab clinic to go to when you’re a species. We are on an absolutely destructive bender that will end with the death of the Earth, the impoverishment of its animal and plant population, and the collapse of our civilization into scarcity, unless we can somehow restructure our psychology and get hold of ourselves. And psychedelics are the only thing I’ve ever seen work on an individual level to do that.
You know, in the early sixties, they were curing—75% of chronic alcoholism cases that they treated with LSD, they were curing with one dose of LSD. One 500-microgram dose. Well now, obviously, LSD is not a magic bullet for alcoholism. That’s a preposterous idea. It’s simply that you take LSD, and if you’re a chronic alcoholic, you review your life and you notice that you’re killing yourself. And then you say, “My god, I’m killing myself! If I don’t stop what I’m doing, I will be dead!” That’s the strongest motivation to character rehabilitation there is. And that’s what we have to carry into the domain of public debate. I can’t believe how constipated American institutions are. I mean, here we are, under the aegis of a great crusading reformer from Arkansas; a new order in human affairs has dawned. But they suggest closing an airbase out at Sacramento and their editorial says to whether we can survive the shock of this massive change. Well, I’ve got news for you! You better do your change-related calisthenics if that was heavy lifting, because what you’ve got coming at you is something very, very different. We are now in a position to actually make something of ourselves; extend the design process to human destiny and produce something that will redeem 10,000 years of pogroms and migrations and attempted genocides and pointless wars and stupid religions that make people hate themselves and all the rest of it. If we’re going to redeem that legacy, then we have to do something quite spectacular.
Okay, now I will talk a little bit about what I’ve learned from psychedelics. I feel self-conscious doing it, but on the other hand, wouldn’t it be stupid for me to talk about what you’ve learned from psychedelics! That would add presumption to the sins already arrayed here. There are different models about what the psychedelic experience is. Here’s a couple.
Building on Western psychotherapy as elaborated by Freud and Jung, one view of what psychedelics are is: it’s the part of your mind that you’d rather not do business with. It’s the memories of childhood neglect or abuse. It’s repressed kinky fantasies. It’s, in other words, the Freudian idea of the unconscious: that somehow these are drugs which dissolve the boundary between conscious and unconscious mind, and then you can do accelerated psychotherapy because resistances have been pharmacologically overcome. That’s one model. It’s good as far as it goes, it just doesn’t go far enough. Then there’s another model, which I would call the traditional or shamanic model. And it says the cosmos is a series of levels, and these levels are connected by vertical routes of access which can be thought of as simply flights through space or magical trees or magical ladders. Anyway, there’s an image of ascent, and ordinary people exist on only one of these levels. But a shaman is not an ordinary person, a shaman is a super-human person who has the power of animal allies behind them, and they can go up and down in these elevators that move between levels, and they can therefore recover lost souls, see social hanky-panky, theft, and adultery, see the causes behind that, see the causes behind disease, so forth and so on. That would be the traditional one.
What I have concluded (after 25 years of fiddling with this) is that both of those ideas have a certain something to recommend them, but that they don’t go far enough, and that we get more to the meat of this if we leave off psychological (the first explanation) or sociological (the second explanation), and actually go for something a little more formal. To wit: a mathematical model of what shamanism is. And what I mean by that is: let’s think about what shamans do. They cure disease (and another way of putting that is: they have a remarkable facility for choosing patients who will recover), they predict weather (very important), they tell where game has gone, the movement of game, and they seem to have a paranormal ability to look into questions, as I mentioned, who’s sleeping with who, who stole the chicken, who—you know, social transgressions are an open book to them.
Well, thinking about this from a mathematician’s point of view, an all-encompassing explanation that would explain how all these magical feats are done is simply to suppose that the shaman is somehow able to project his or her consciousness into a higher dimension, not metaphorically—as in: Sylvester Stallone has many dimensions—not metaphorically, but literally, as in one dimension, two dimensions, three dimensions, and four. Because if you could move into the fourth dimension, the dimension orthogonal to Newtonian spacetime, seeing what the weather is going to be next week is easy as seeing what the weather is now. Seeing where the game went is as easy as seeing where the game are. Knowing who stole the chicken is simply defined by looking to see who stole the chicken.
And I have noticed that all of biology—not simply shamanism within the context of human society—but all of biology is in a sense a conquest of dimensionality. That, as we ascend the phylogeny of organic life, what animals are are a strategy for conquering spacetime. And complex animals do it better than simpler animals, and we do it better than any complex animal, and we twentieth-century people do it better than any people in any previous century, because we combined data in so many ways that they couldn’t: electronically, on film, on tape, so forth and so on. So the progress of organic life is deeper and deeper into dimensional conquest. Well, from that point of view, then, the shaman begin to look like the advance guard of a new kind of human being; a human being that is as advanced over where we are as we are advanced over people a million years ago. Because we have, you know, very elaborate strategies for coding the past. It’s a dimensional conquest.
So that’s part of what I’ve learned about psychedelics. And I could have left it there, but I never do. I always want to bring more under the umbrella of whatever metaphor it is that’s being pushed. And what I have discerned is that time is actually speeding up, that the universe is not what physics tells us it is. Physics tells us that the universe is a physical system, an entropic system, that was born in immense energy and chaos and will run down with a whimper, not a bang; run down into heat entropy and dissipation. The psychedelic data on this is completely different. The psychedelic data says: what that model left out was biology and mind.
Now, biology, you might imagine, is a fairly ephemeral, recent, fragile phenomenon. It is not. The average star in this galaxy gutters out after about seven hundred million years. Not our star; we happen to have the good fortune to be around a very stable, slow-burning star. But there has been biology on the planet at least two billion years—three times the average life of a star. So biology is not some Johnny-come-lately epiphenomenon, biology is a phenomenon more persistent than the life of the stars themselves. And biology is not a static thing. I mean, a star evolving now is not greatly different from a star evolving a billion years ago. Biology doesn’t work that way. Biology constantly changes the context in which evolution occurs.
The way I have downloaded this into a phrase is: the universe is—the biological universe, at least—is a novelty-conserving engine. Upon simple molecules are built complex molecules. Upon complex molecules are built complex polymers. Upon complex polymers come DNA. Out of DNA comes the whole machinery of the cell. Out of cells comes simple aggregate colony animals like hydra and that sort of thing. Out of that, true animals. Out of that, ever more complex animals, organs of locomotion, organs of sight, organs of smell, complex mental machinery for the coordinating of data in time and space. This is the whole story of the advancement of life. And in our species it reaches its culmination, and it crosses over into a new domain where change no longer occurs in the atomic and biological machinery of existence, it begins to take place in this world which we call mental. It’s called epigenetic change: change which cannot be traced back to mutation of the arrangements of molecules inside long-chain polymers, but change taking place in syntactical structures that are linguistically-based. And people have probably been using language with considerable facility for probably 50,000 years, possibly more. In our own time, we have created ever-more elaborate languages, ever more elaborate technologies for transforming, storing, and retrieving language, so that we are actually on the brink of being able to give every single one of you the complete cultural inventory, the complete database of human beings’ experience on this planet. That’s what these data-highways and networks are all about: the nervous system is being hardwired.
But what I wanted to draw your attention to about this is: it is not only an advance deeper and deeper into novelty, but it’s an advance in which each successive stage occurs more quickly than the stage which preceded it. So, you know, once you get the big bang, then nothing much happens for a long, long time. I mean, there’s plasma streaming through the universe, the universe is slowly cooling, but that’s the most dramatic complex process in the universe, this cooling. Then, after a certain point, more complex processes come in, complexification begins to build. And as it builds, it begins to happen faster and faster and faster.
And the great puzzle in the biological record is the suddenness of our own emergence, of our emergence—human emergence—out of the primate line. It happened with enormous suddenness. Lumholtz calls it the most explosive reorganization of a major organ of a higher animal in the entire fossil record. And that’s, you know, a great embarrassment to the theory of evolution, because this is the organ which generated the theory of evolution. We’re not talking an appendix or an eyebrow here, we’re talking the very organ which generated it. I think that we have taken far too much responsibility for what is happening, and that what we took to be a staircase we were climbing is actually an up-escalator. And if you will stop climbing you will notice that it does not impede your upward progress, because the ground you’re standing on is moving you toward the goal.
And I think that this idea—which may be the proof that I’m bonkers—requires a fairly radical reorganization of consciousness. Because what I’m saying is: the universe was not born in a fiery explosion from which it is being blasted outward ever since. The universe is not being pushed like that from behind. The universe is being pulled from the future toward a goal that is as inevitable as a marble reaching the bottom of a bowl when you release it up near the rim. You know, if you do that, the marble will roll down the side of the bowl, down, down, down, and eventually it will come to rest in the lowest energy state, which is the bottom of the bowl. That’s precisely my model of human history.
Now, bear in mind what the competition is peddling. The competition is peddling the idea that the universe sprang from nothing in a single moment for no reason. Now, whatever you think about that, notice that it’s the limit case for credulity. Do you understand what I mean? I mean: if you can believe that, it’s hard for me to imagine what you would balk at. If we were to sit down and say, “Let’s see, who can think of the most unlikely thing that could possibly happen?” I submit to you nobody could top the big bang. It is the improbability of improbabilities. It is the mother of all improbabilities right there.
So I’m suggesting something different. I’m suggesting that the universe is pulled toward a complex attractor that exists ahead of us in time, and that our ever-accelerating speed through the phenomenal world of connectivity and novelty is based on the fact that we are now very, very close to the attractor. All Western religions have insisted that God would come tangential to history, but they all lose their nerve when you ask when—which is the only interesting question about that hypothesis. I mean, if it’s not now, then what the hell difference does it make? It’s just pissing in the wind as far as I can see.
I think that the very real social crisis that is upon us—the crisis of population, of resource depletion, of atmospheric degradation, of epidemic disease—all these crises indicate that we are now down to the short epochs of this process of universal ingression into novelty, and that in fact it makes no sense whatsoever to speak of a human future. There is no human future. It’s inconceivable, given where we are today, to speak of the human world a thousand years from now or five hundred years from now. It is literally: it either doesn’t exist, or it’s beyond our power of imagining. It isn’t simply going to be non-polluting cars and smaller hi-fi speakers. I mean, that’s an idiot’s notion.
Better pictures than today.
Yeah, clearer TV pictures. It isn’t like that at all. I mentioned this this morning: how, when you look at only one line of technological development—automobiles or computers—it looks like you can rationally anticipate what’s going to happen. But when you realize that there are thousands of these lines of development, all transforming themselves, all moving towards some kind of omega point, then you realize that we’re in the grip of what I call a concrescence. And I maintain that you don’t have to believe me on this. You can see it from here. You just have to climb a high hill. There’s one: it’s called psilocybin. There’s one: it’s called ayahuasca. The view from the tops of these hills is of the concrescence. It lies now closer to us than the Johnson administration, for gods sake, in time. And, you know, I have an elaborate mathematical theory to back this up, which you should gratefully learn you are not going to be flayed with this afternoon. But I think it’s going to become more and more important for people to delinearize their view of time. Decondition yourself from the lie of history. After all, you know, if time were space, history would be a spider web. So bear that in mind.
Ah, concrescence. Concrescence is a word that I cribbed from the metaphysics of Alfred North Whitehead. And in fact, much of what I say, Whitehead provides the foundation for. He, like myself, had the idea that history grows toward what he called a nexus of completion. And these nexi of completion themselves grow together into what he called the concrescence. So a concrescence is a domain of extremely high novelty in comparison to whatever it’s embedded in. So, for instance, you walking in the wilderness, you are a concrescence, because you are more complex than the medium you’re moving through. A raisin embedded in a cornmeal muffin is a concrescence: it is more complex than the muffin matrix in which it finds itself. So a concrescence is a local state of unusually high complexity. And a concrescence exerts a kind of attraction. Let’s call it the temporal equivalent of gravity. So that all objects in the universe are drawn through time—not space; gravity draws you through space, time draws you toward the concrescence. This is why the universe is seen to be becoming more and more complex faster and faster.
The idea being, you see, that each epoch, being shorter than the one that preceded it, this generates an asymptotic curve of approach. And it’s become a cliché of our culture that time is speeding up. It actually is speeding up. It’s not that it seems like it’s speeding up, or it looks like it’s speeding up, it is speeding up. We and our entire world are being drawn into confrontation with something that, at this level, is lost below the event horizon of rational apprehension. That’s a fancy way of saying: you can’t know jack shit about it at this point in time. There will come a moment when it will rise above the horizon of rational apprehension.
And I think that history is a set of nested resonances. This is what I mean when I say nothing is unannounced. Nothing can take you by surprise if you’ve really been paying attention, because everything is preceded by its harbingers and heralds. And we are living in an era now where there is a great deal of apocalyptic expectation, anticipation, and hysteria—for several reasons. First of all, because Christianity just is hysterical in all times and places. Second of all, there’s a built-in goose in the calendar because we’re approaching a millennial year, and that always exacerbates this Christian thing outrageously because of the promise made—you know: amen, amen, I say to you this generation shall not pass away before I return to clean your plough, or whatever it is. And there is the physical evidence all around us that we are the witnesses to a planetary crisis that we cannot control or manage. I mean, it’s very hard to believe that we could manage ourselves back into a steady state. I mean, yeah, the Jews are talking to the Arabs and they’re trying to get things straightened out in South Africa, but what about the global population curve? What about the degrading atmosphere? I mean, you know, you’re just as dead even if you’re not killed by a racist or a fascist. So we can get certain problems under control, but it seems certain problems are beyond our control.
Also, there’s another level to all this, which is: when you take cores from the Greenland ice or make side-ranging radar maps of the Canadian shield, you discover that we are not the only force for disruption and chaos wandering around the universe looking for trouble. The universe is an incredibly chaotic and unstable place. Planetesimal impacts on the Earth have reset the biological clock at least three times in the last billion years. What we have been living through for the past fifty thousand years is an unusual era of meta stability, and it has allowed us to create a global civilization. But we can’t assume that we have fifty thousand years of stability ahead of us, or even a hundred thousand years of stability ahead of us.
And finally, you know, this curious resistance to idea of the end of the world always amuses me, because maybe the world will end and maybe it won’t end. But have you ever noticed that the end of your world is an absolute certainty? You’re going to go into the yawning grave—and rather soon, I should suspect. And possibly sooner than you’re prepared for. So quibbling over the end of other peoples’ world seems like a philosophical argument compared to the certainty of your own finality.
And I’ve been thinking—the question is out of Stephen Hawking’s book about parallel worlds and black holes and stuff—how can these physical oddities or anomalies be related to what I’m talking about? Well, first of all, we don’t know what a black hole is. A black hole has at the center of it a singularity. The definition of singularity is: you don’t know what it is! This is a fishy way of making theories, by the way. Stephen Hawking is a prime example. At one point in his career he was very keen for what were called mini black holes, and these were black holes that were under a centimeter in size, and a certain reading of his theory required 1016 of these things in the universe. Well, when you realize that there’s a singularity at the center of each one of them, you say: well, hell, what kind of physics are you doing if you have a physical theory that has 1016 exceptions to whatever rules it lays down? This isn’t a theory, this is a sieve that you’re waving around in the air!
However, the black hole does bear on this. Because, imagine an observer standing outside the event horizon of a black hole, watching an object approach the black hole. What you see—and this is similar to the argument or the example I gave a few minutes ago of the marble on the edge of the bowl—what you see is this. Let’s make it a spacecraft. This spacecraft that approaches the event horizon of the black hole, and then it’s caught in the gravitational tidal forces of the black hole, and it begins to go faster and faster, around and around, faster and faster. And at a certain point it disappears into the singularity. This is from the point of view of an observer outside the system. Now we flash to the stalwart captain and crew on the bridge of this starship. What happens from their point of view is: as they sink below the event horizon of the black hole and start the descent toward the singularity, time and space are dilated so dramatically that the singularity recedes to an infinite distance, and you fall forever toward it.
Well, what I would like to suggest—based on… well, here’s what I’d like to suggest. This is one way of thinking about it: that our planet is on a collision course with… something, which we actually at our present state of knowledge don’t have a word for. A black hole is simply a gravitationally massive object so massive that no light can leave it. What I’m talking about is something like that, except that it isn’t so much gravitationally massive as temporally massive. We are being sucked into the body of eternity. And I think it’s going to happen very soon.
Now, an obvious objection that someone would make to this—it’s a probabilistic objection—is: they would say, “Don’t you find it rather unusual that your own very minute and finite life should occur so close to this moment of universal dramatic climax? Doesn’t that clue you to the fact that you might be slightly deluded?” To which I reply: not at all! Because I think of this event horizon as a series of, like, ghost horizons. And once you enter into history, what history is, is the outer shell of the gravitational field of the attractor of the concrescence. In other words, history is the disturbance in nature which precedes the concrescence. It precedes it by only 50,000 years. A microsecond! So a geological microsecond before all life is melted down in the presence of the singularity, there is a curious interface zone that is not the singularity and not the absence of the singularity. It’s the singularity in the act of becoming. And it only lasts, as I say, a geological microsecond: 50,000 years. But if you happen to be born inside that microsecond, then you have a very curious perspective on the phenomenon indeed, because you observe it from inside the shell of the historical vehicle.
When the subject first came out about this thing, you described it as something we could know absolutely nothing about. So how to you substantiate the criteria which you pointed towards this [???]?
Well—no, no. You can predict where an electron will be without knowing what an electron is. In fact, no one knows what an electron is. And we predict their occurrence very easily. What can't be known about the singularity or the concrescence—it simply lies beyond rational apprehension. But the map of the phase space in which this concrescence is happening looks very much like an involuting spiral of some sort. In principle, the thing is unknowable in time, because if you could know it you would not be in time. Actually, it maps rather well onto Thomas Aquinas's notion of the nature of god, but I don't think we should make too much of that.
[???] describe multi-dimensional [???] last few minutes.
Yes, well, here is my notion. It's fairly simple, I think. It's a series of nested cycles where each cycle is only 1⁄64 in duration of the cycle which precedes it. So let's start with a cycle big enough that we can drop the whole life of our cosmos into it with plenty of elbow room, okay? So astrophysics tells us that the universe is between, at one end of the spectrum, 15 billion years, at the other end of the spectrum 25 billion years. So let's give it plenty of elbow room. Let's use a figure like 70 billion years. That's our great cycle. Now, inside that cycle there is a concresced cycle at the terminal end—the end which we call the future end; it has a past to future—at the future end there is a terminal cycle which is 1⁄64 of the 70 billion years. That's roughly one billion years. And nested at the end of that billion-year cycle, at the future end, is a 640-million-year cycle. No, whatever a billion divided by 64 is, anyway. And then, at the end of that cycle, another cycle, 1⁄64 as large.
Well, eventually, if you keep collapsing these, you'll get down to a cycle that is 4,300 years long—and change. That is the domain of true human history. I mean, granted, things went on before 4,300 years ago, but bloody little. I mean, 4,300 years in the past takes us back to before the building of the great pyramids, basically. So you can see: well, okay, in that 4,306-year cycle, at the end of it, comes a 67-year cycle that has all the themes of all these larger cycles compressed and folded into it. Only 67 years! It began on August 5, 1945, with a faint echo of the big bang as the atomic flower blossomed over Hiroshima. It runs from that day—August 5, 1945—to December 21, 2012. But 384 days before you reach that date, you cross into a cycle only 384 days long that has all these larger cycles compressed in it.
And six days before you reach the zero point you cross through into a domain of only six days' duration that has all these huge cycles compressed in it. From six days to an hour and thirty-five minutes, to one minute and six seconds, to 1.3 seconds, to 0.035 seconds, down to the domain of Planck's constant—6.55 × 10-23 erg seconds. Technically we refer to it as a jiffy. You finally get down to one jiffy.
Well now, what is happening—imagine the complex—oh, well, here’s the point I want to make. If you have a universe like that, 72 billion years in duration, it will undergo half of its evolution in the last thirty seconds of its existence. Can you imagine? Now, this is what the scientists do, except they spin it around. And that’s why—I can’t remember who wrote it, but the book called The First Three Minutes; Steven Weinberg’s book, The First Three Minutes, a book about the first three minutes in the life of the universe, where he leads you through all this complex physics as matter is crystallizing out of hyperspace and all this stuff—all I’m saying is: let’s put the complexity in the more likely end of the cycle. Let’s put it at the end when, after billions of years of evolution and all kinds of complexity and that sort of thing, everything comes together.
So this kind of a cycle, if we were actually living in a universe like this, could completely unfold itself according to its natural laws, and yet provide a miracle—the miracle of the concrescence. That’s why I’m so keen on boundary dissolution. The more boundaries that have dissolved, the closer to concrescence we are. And when you finally reach it, there are no boundaries. You are eternity, you are all space and time, you are alive and dead, here and there, before and after. The singularity is a coincidencia oppositorum: it can simultaneously coexist in states which are contradictory. It is Thomas Aquinas’s vision of God. It’s something which transcends rational apprehension. But it gives the universe meaning. Because all process, then, can be seen to be a seeking and a moving and an effort to approximate, connect with, and attend to this transcendental object at the end of time.
One way of thinking of it is like those bar balls that they hand in discos that send out thousands of reflections off everybody and everything in the room. Well, think of the transcendental object at the end of time as that bar ball, and then those reflective, twinkling, refractive lights are religions, scientific theories, gurus, works of art, poetry, great orgasms, great soufflés, great paintings. In other words—we even use this phrase—anything which has a spark of divinity in it is, in fact, referent to the original source of sparks of all divinity, which is the concresced, compressed experience of life and mind after billions of billions of years of unfolding itself within the confines of three-dimensional space.
And you can make this vision your friend through psychedelics. Because, as I said at the beginning of this rave, you can see it from here! Of course, not if you have your face plunged in your stock portfolio, you’re not going to see it; no. But if you will go up on the mountain and take five dried grams in silent darkness and pray through the night, you will absolutely, guaranteed, come into a sense of this thing. And it’s real. And history is simply a perturbation on the surface of the waters of time as we approach the lip of this cascade into concrescence, novelty, and completion. And the psychedelics raise you out of the historical matrix and give you a sense of participation in this transcendental reality. It’s the essence of religion, it’s the essence of psychic balance, it’s the source of shamanic power and mental health.
Yes, argyreia nervosa—if you’re an enthusiast of obscure hallucinogens—this is one to reckon with. Possibly, gram for gram, it is the most powerful plant hallucinogen on the planet. And yet, though there are thirteen species of argyreia, all containing psychoactive compounds, spread from Kerala in India down through Micronesia, there’s no history of human usage in that entire cultural area. So there are mysteries about who knows these things. You know, when you go to the Amazon, most people have a kind of “noble savage” prejudice, and they think that it has to be the naked people who are off-river, who are very wild and woolly, and then they make the good ayahuasca—often this is not the case. Often it’s the guy who lives on the edge of Iquitos or Pucallpa who tends his garden and is fairly conversant with the modern world.
Some of you may know F. Bruce Lamb’s book Rio Tigre and Beyond. He describes a situation in there where a man who had in his youth been kidnapped and learned to make very good ayahuasca, later he encounters another tribe of Indians. He’s on a rosewood-collecting expedition to a remote part of the jungle. And he encounters these Indians, and they invite him to take ayahuasca with them, and it’s just garbage as far as this guy can tell. So he says, “I’ll show you how they do it where I come from,” and makes it for these people, and literally becomes a culture hero overnight; is hailed as the great reformer of their ritual. Just simply because he showed them how to get really, really smashed on it. And yeah, the DMT is in the desmanthis and the peganum contains the MAO-inhibiting harmaline.
No, it’s in the root bark scrapings. And the harmaline in peganum harmala is spread throughout the plant and concentrated in the little black seeds. If you don’t want to drive out to Elko, find an Iranian market here in L.A., and tell them that you want to buy hurmal, and they will sell you the seeds of peganum harmala. It’s used in Iranian households as a fumigant and incense. You just throw some on a bed of coals and it makes this wonderful incense-like smoke, which is actually intoxicating. I mean, a wonderful thing to do if you want to do some exploratory chemistry is: take half a dose of mushrooms, and then, after a couple of hours, smoke some peganum harmala in a bong or a pipe, and the MAO-inhibiting characteristic of the harmaline will immediately lift the curtain for about fifteen minutes on a very spectacular series of very cool hallucinations. In other words, they’re hallucinations where you can just sit and look, thinking, “My goodness, this is fascinating and compelling,” rather than the other kind of hallucination where you’re, “Aaaaah!” You know? We call this mushroom-plus-peganum-harmala combination “vegetable television,” because it’s approximately that engaging. But very, very non-threatening and reassuring for beginners.
Could you repeat [???]
That’s five dried grams of mushrooms. After an hour and a half, smoke a quarter of a teaspoon of peganum harmala seeds.
Can the seeds be eaten [???]
Oh yeah. They’re very small and hard and black, and you’ll want to get a Braun coffee grinder. A Braun coffee grinder is a great tool for the would-be psychoactivist. It will flour nutmeg; reduce nutmeg to flour. That’s—nutmeg’s fascinating. I used to take it when I was in high school. I used to take it at night, and I would stay up late and study. It would sort of wire me. And then I would sleep. But when I would wake up in the morning, I would be absolutely smashed. And I didn’t even know what it really was. It was almost before I smoked cannabis. So I was dealing with these walks to school in the morning where all the colors were bright, a song on my lips, a skip in my step. I could hardly…. And you can also reduce morning glory seeds to flour in one of those Braun grinders. So that’s a very good kit.
No, I ground it in a mortar and pestle fairly crudely at that phase. But what you do is: you just cap it up. Flour it and cap it up. You know it contains myristicin, which is psychoactive and which is a precursor for MDMA, and is quite a nice thing. I mean, it’s not going to shake the foundations of the planet, but it’s very good.
A couple. Not a lot. Oh, that’s what I should say: do not—you know, people sometimes, with plants, they get the attitude that you need to do a lot because it’s spread thin. In most cases that’s true, but in the case of nutmeg it isn’t true. It’s—
A cap. A double-O capsule.
No, it does. Same, same. Yeah, the reason I prefer grinding the whole nutmeg was because it’s obviously fresher. And you can buy whole nutmeg at Safeway. Prisoners know this. If you’d done more hard time, you wouldn’t be asking these questions.
Well, let me say a little bit more about this. The Zoroastrian religion is generally considered to precede the Vedic religion of soma. Soma is this mysterious Vedic intoxicant of great antiquity. The ninth mandala of the Rigveda is this enormous hem of praise to soma; greater than Indra, it says. Unbroken throughout the history of the Zoroastrian religion is the sacrament of haoma. Haoma and soma appear to be historically related, and haoma is peganum harmala. If you’re interested in reading about all this, there’s a book called Haoma and Harmaline by David Flattery. It’s Near East Publication number 23, and it’s available from the Near East Studies department of UC Berkeley. Fascinating book. I mean, you learn, for instance, that in the classic phase of the Zoroastrian religion the only method for gaining knowledge about the invisible world was the use of drugs. Any other method was scorned as completely preposterous. And since this is rather close to my own position, I’m pleased to find it in place so early. In that book they discuss how there is this concept in Zoroastrianism of what is called the menang. The menang world. And the menang world is only accessible through haoma. It’s only accessible through pharmacological means. That’s the dogma.
Could you explain a little more about morning glory seeds?
Morning glory seeds; yes. Now this is something that’s accessible, and that those of you who find themselves bemoaning the lack of availability could overcome. The heavenly blue morning glory with the heart-shaped leaf, that’s important. Because I see around here blue morning glories with a leaf that looks like a grape leaf—that’s not it, folks. That won’t do it. It has to have a valentine-shaped leaf, and this brilliant blue, or white, or white and blue flower. Those are hybrids. The blue is the wild type. It’s called heavenly blue. The white is called pearly gates. And the white and blue is called flying saucer. These guys must’ve been doing more than…!
Now listen carefully and I’ll avoid a lawsuit and you’ll avoid a tummy ache. The morning glory seeds which are sold in garden stores here are the morning glory that you want—the heavenly blue morning glory. But seed companies have dipped these seeds in a poison specifically to keep you from getting high off these morning glory seeds. So what you have to do, then, is overcome this by stealth. Always our best weapon. Stealth means: buy the morning glories and grow them, and produce an uncontaminated crop of your own. Now, the morning glory seeds that you will produce by this means, you have to take around 250 for a person of ordinary body weight. So if you are low or high, make the adjustment accordingly. The morning glory seeds can be floured in your Braun grinder and then mixed into applesauce or a milkshake or some thick medium. Because actually it’s pretty disgusting.
Now, there’s a slight problem here, which is: the seed also contains estercumerone, which is an emetic and makes your stomach cramp. So that will leave after about an hour. So you can either pay your dues and sit there with a terrible tummy ache for this very critical hour, or there are strategies for getting that estercumerone out of there with solvent washes. I don’t want to give the details because too many people blow themselves to kingdom come. High molecular weight solvents like chloroform and petroleum ether tend to be slightly tricky for the non-chemist to work with. But if you are a chemist, go to the literature and you’ll figure it out. A solvent which sometimes works which is non-explosive, relatively, is grain alcohol. But grain alcohol—the reason chemists don’t use it is because it’s not very efficient. You’ll get like 60–70% of the sample. Where, if you go to chloroform or pet-ether, you can push that up to 96–97%.
If you get the seed, again, treat it like the morning glory. Flour it in a very fine grinder. Those seeds are hard as hell, so you’ve got to do that. Flour it. Soak it in water. Shake the water vigorously several times. The larger the volume of water, the more efficient the extraction will be. And then pour all the water through a Melitta filter, and then collect the water, and take it. I don’t think it would be a good idea to concentrate that by heat, or you’ll destroy the active principle.
These beta-carbolines—harmine, harmaline—there is a slight stomach thing. They come on in about an hour. There’s what’s called visual streaming. I’m assuming—first of all, I’m making a number of assumptions here: that you are sitting in silent darkness and that you have an empty stomach, and then you get visual streaming, which, if you’ve never seen this, it looks like you’re driving through a bunch of after images. There are these purple and chartreuse lights sliding past, and when you stare forward you can see them sliding past. After about ten minutes of that, and possibly a hit of cannabis, it becomes more explicit and you move into the realm of what’s called hypnagogia. Hypnagogia are dancing mice, little colored candies, pieces of ribbons, gears, screws. The trivia, the impedimencia of the phantasmagoria of your mind, you know? And then, after about ten minutes of that—and, of course, what’s happening if you have a pharmacological vision of this, is: thousands of these molecules are arriving at the synaptic site of activity, elbowing aside the local population of endogenous neurotransmitters, getting them out of the way, plugging themselves into the receptor site, and beginning to lift the electron spin resonance level and push them in new directions. And you can almost hear it doing this.
And then beyond the hypnagogia there is the actual trip. And it usually is in encountered—you have to go through what Mircea Eliade called the rupture of the mundane plane. This means that the world has to—it, like, falls apart or explodes or settles down on you, where it’s a sense of a rupture of plane. And then the visually coherent, emotionally-laden, information-laden, high-content hallucinations occur. And many people have taken psychedelic drugs and never gotten past the hypnagogia. They don’t know there’s something out there besides dancing mice and spinning geometric wheels and stuff like that. But beyond that you cross over. That’s the typical model of a trip.
Now, what happens with all of these things to greater and lesser degrees—LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, ayahuasca—is (and I’ve never actually ever heard an explanation for this): for some reason the experience comes in waves. There’s the first wave; that makes sense, that’s the drug taking hold. But why, then, after twenty minutes of unbelievably outlandish hallucination will it, like, all stop? You know? And it’s like: a moment ago you were screaming for mercy; now you look around, you say, “I’m down. Am I down? I seem to be down.” You know? And sometimes you seem to come all the way down. Like, on LSD, it’s like it totally turns off sometimes. And then, about five minutes later, it comes again and you get another wave. And if you’ve taken a really dedicated hit of ayahuasca, for example, you will get as many as five or six of these waves throughout the evening. And the first one is usually the strongest. If you take an effective but not strong dose of ayahuasca, you will get one pass. And then, if you take slightly less, you’ll get one pass and it will be weak. So if you take ayahuasca, at all times pay attention, because you may be looking at something thinking, “Well, this is not so interesting. I’m sure it’s going to be much better in an hour,” and you may actually be looking at as good as it’s going to get that evening. And psilocybin also comes in waves like this. LSD, very dramatically. DMT not. because DMT is one enormous, brief wave. I mean, DMT sort of brings all the issues together.
And the way I think of these psychedelics experientially is as a series of concentric circles. Maybe, like, the outer circle is mescaline, and the next circle in is LSD, and the next circle in is psilocybin, and the next circle in is DMT. It’s almost as though the psychedelic experience is whatever drug or whatever substance you take, it leads you deeper and deeper in the same direction. And, of course, with DMT you not only hear the aliens, you see the aliens. You not only see the aliens, you become an alien. It seems to be the most radical of all of these things in terms of the experience. It’s also the most natural of all of these things. It also is the safest. It stands the ordinary standards of courage and risk on their head. Because here it is: it’s the most terrifying, the most spectacular, and the safest. None of us, including myself, have fully come to grips with this paradox. We would rather do less safe, less scary drugs, I think. DMT is pretty impressive in most situations.
[???] meditation [???]
Well, no. I think they’re completely different realms of human activity. I can’t—I mean, meditation, you don’t hallucinate, you don’t—
They say you do, but they aren’t very convincing. And plus, the monks then rush over and explain that you’re doing it wrong! So, you know, what’s the deal? I think, if by “meditation” you mean lying down and closing your eyes, or sitting up and closing your eyes a lot, I do that a lot and I like it. But I would never confuse it with the psychedelic enterprise.
It’s only my opinion, but I really don’t. I think that all of these spiritual techniques are not substitutions for the psychedelic experience, but tradeoffs, you know? I mean, organized religion is as concerned with controlling social groups as organized politics is, and the visionary or ecstatic experience is unsettling to the religious mentality. You know, even among fundamentalist Christians,—if you’re not one, they all seem more or less alike, but if you move into that world you discover that they are very strongly polarized in two directions: those who are scripturalists and those who are experientialists (the glossolalias, the speaking in tongues, the holy rollers, that sort of thing). And the scripturalists are very uncomfortable around the experientialists, because to them it looks like demonic possession, and they get really agitated about that.
I think that medicine and meditation [???] take ayahuasca or psilocybin [???] and it’s incredible how they [???] after the experience is over, the next time I meditate, I feel like I’m still doing the medicine.
Yeah, well, I think that all of these techniques—like mantra, yantra, tantra, whatever—they work incredibly well in the presence of psychedelics—leading me to suppose that what these are are tools that were developed in the paleolithic world of psychedelic magic, and all we have now are these tools, but we don’t have the original engine that drove them. Yes, I am very bored by spiritual practice unless I’ve taken a psychedelic. And then, you know, mantric chanting is beyond the power of mind to encompass or describe. Sex isn’t bad either. And, you know, it seems to be a general functional enhancer, is what it is.
What about drums?
Acoustical driving is also a tried and true tradition. But, see, it’s not about the exclusivity of method, but the combination of method. I mean, what you want to do is beat your drum while sitting in yab-yum while stoned on X while at the holy mountain while the astrological configuration is correct. And then, you know, you know, line it all up and then push it through. That’s the way to do it, I think.
Would you comment about creativity? Like, using hallucinogens as a way to get [???]
Well, again, it goes back to this function of boundary dissolution. Creativity—if you analyze what do we mean when we say that—it basically means being able to transcend the ordinary. You see it in a way nobody else ever saw it (whatever “it” is), and so that’s creativity. Psychedelics, by dissolving the boundaries of cultural expectation, let you see things in new ways.
I was in a situation recently where it was evening, and silhouetted against the sky were flame cypress trees, but they were all black. And I was looking at them—I’ve seen flame cypress trees against twilight skies many times; you all have as well—and suddenly there was, like, this shift, and I didn’t see it as a flame cypress tree anymore, I saw it as black dust pouring out of a certain point of the sky and cascading like a waterfall. And I was looking at three waterfalls of micro-fine black powder pouring out of points about sixty feet above the ground. Well, I didn’t even mention it to the person I was with, but I just noticed this psychedelic perception.
The other night—this was really interesting to me—the other night, just as I was falling asleep, a phrase came into my mind that I liked, but I didn’t understand it. In fact, I didn’t think it meant anything, I just thought it was an interesting phrase. And I thought about it for about a minute, and then it did the same thing that the flame cypress tree did. It went ploink, and this other dimension sprouted out of it, and I understood it, and I thought, “This is a very interesting idea, and I’ve never thought it before.” The thought was: if time were space, then history is a cobweb. That was all it was. But I don’t take these leaps very often, so I was delighted. Because I knew a moment would come when I could lay it on a group of people like I’ve just done.
So it’s a catalyst for cognitive activity. That’s what the mushroom is. Dance, drum, song, painting, body expression, creativity, and simply the passive act of understanding. This is what it does for us, and this is what we love to do. I mean, we are creatures of the mind. You know, they talk about virtual reality as some future technology that’s going to change everything. We’ve been living in a virutal reality for the past 6,000 years. I mean, look at cities like New York and London and Los Angeles. I mean, nature has disappeared. Everything you see is a human idea downloaded into material existence. It’s entirely virtual. It doesn’t disappear at the punch of a dial, but it is as virutal as the virtual realities that will eventually be made out of light behind goggles.
Culture—the whole thing is that culture and language tend to become traps. And yet, they can be the platforms for enormous freedom if you understand what it’s all about. And what it’s all about is you. You are the center of the mandala. You are not marginalized in any way. And the message that the culture gives us is that we are marginal. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a hundred million dollars. Fortune magazine will inform you that so do ten thousand other people on the North American continent! There’s nothing special about you. And so we are constantly—this is part of the democratic legacy—we are constantly told: you’re not special. Special isn’t special. Anybody could do it.
What the psychedelics—and so then, when you look for guidance, direction, mentorship, we always look toward institutions: “Well, I’ll go to the university,” or, “I’ll go to the army,” or, “I’ll do something. Somebody will tell me; will give me a larger purpose.” But it’s really yourself that is the final arbiter. And if you keep yourself as the final arbiter, you will be less susceptible to infection by cultural illusion. Now, the problem with this is that it makes you feel bad to not be infected by cultural illusion, because it’s called alienation. You know? But this is—I can’t solve all problems. The reason we feel alienated is because the society is infantile, trivial, and stupid. So the cost of sanity in this society is a certain level of alienation. I grapple with this because I’m a parent. And I think anybody who has children, you come to this realization, you know: what’ll it be? Alienated cynical intellectual, or slack-jawed half-wit consumer of the horse shit being handed down from on high? There is not much choice in there, you see? And we all want our children to be well-adjusted. Unfortunately, there’s nothing to be well-adjusted to, so that’s a real problem.
It's almost like you've been inoculated [???] this culture.
Terence, [???] said that to be adjusted to the wrong society is to be the wrong [???]
Yeah. I think—well, and I really believe that extra-environmentalism (which is a nicer, though longer, word for alienation) is defensible and shouldn’t be thought of as pathological. What I noticed in going to the Amazon and Indonesia and these places is that the person you want to get to is the shaman, and that the shaman is different from everybody else. Like, when you go in to an Amazonian tribe that’s way upriver or something, the people behave the way you would expect naïve, untraveled people to behave. They want to touch your goretex, and, you know, look at your camera, and look through your binoculars, and fiddle with the can opener, and all this. No shaman would ever stoop to such behavior. A shaman knows that cultures are provisional, and is interested in you as a person. The other people don’t even see you as a person, because you’re huge, white, strange-smelling, and incomprehensible. The shaman sees you as a person, and it’s because he is alienated.
The reason shamans can do their magic is because they are outside the belief system. I really think that that’s true. Everyone else believes, you know, that the guy in the other village can send the mojo and mess with you. The shaman knows that that’s not quite how it works. And so then he, as it were, can go behind the board and fix the cultural TV that everybody else is just watching. So I think alienation, extra-environmentalism, shamanism—whatever you want to call it—is simply individualism in the context of cultures that don’t value individualism. And cultures don’t. You know, it’s said: nature acts to perserve the species, cultures act to preserve the illusions of the population. They’re not interested in you if you’re an Einstein or a Jackson Pollock or—unless they can fit you into the pre-established systems of commerce and canons of aesthetic order, and so forth and so on. And then that’s called being civilized.
Okay? Anything else? Yeah?
You mentioned something about this [???] frogs.
I don’t think I did, but if you say I did, I’d be—oh, could I? Well, yes. Let me explain. The question is: what’s with licking frogs? I’m not sure I got it right, but…. Well, you know, you kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince, and you probably lick a lot more! Toads, not frogs. Let’s give the devil his due here. Toads of certain species produce a relative of DMT in large glands in their necks. Why this is is not clear. Considering that this exudate, or this material, will kill a dog (if a dog picks up a toad like that in his mouth) within minutes. It’s pretty spectacular. It’s reasonable to suppose that, then, this is just a defense that has been evolved. Some of you may have seen the dinosaur in Jurassic Park that spits poison in your face? We’re talking something like that. The toad creates this 5-methoxy-DMT in this gland, and when glands are squeezed, it comes out on the surface of the toad’s skin. It’s a near-relative of DMT.
Speaking from my personal battery of many prejudices, I would say I don’t care for it. It complicates my job enormously. Because people do this stuff and they think (A) that it is DMT, or (B), if they’re slightly better informed, that it’s just like DMT. It is in fact chemically called 5-methoxy-DMT. However, it is nothing like DMT. It’s as much like DMT as radio is like television. And that’s where the difference lies. The 5-MEO does not trigger the most spectacular effect associated with DMT, which is these three-dimensional crawling hallucinations that come out of the woodwork and reveal the true nature of reality to you. When you take 5-MEO DMT you have all of the physical presentation of DMT. There’s a sense of a kind of light anesthesia through the limbs. There’s a sense of falling forward into a void. There’s a sense of losing body boundary. Now, at that point in DMT, those symptoms would give way to the trip. At that point in 5-MEO DMT, those symptoms give way to the beginning of the comedown. And people who have never taken DMT sometimes rave about 5-MEO and say, you know, “This is the most astonishing thing I’ve ever had!” People who are familiar with DMT can yawn their way all the way through it. Because you’re braced for the DMT thing. I mean, you think, “Oh my god, it feels just like it! Here it comes! It’s going to be upon me. Five, four, three, two, one… plus one, plus two, plus three, plus four, plus five.” It’s not coming in. It doesn’t come in. And then, 5-MEO is fatal in sheep as well as dogs. Spectacularly fatal in sheep. And so I guess if you’re a sheep, it’s counterindicated. It doesn’t seem to be harmful in human beings. But with so little data available I think maybe we shoould—you know, there are old psychedelicists and bold psychedelicists, but there are no old bold psychedelicists. Well, there might be a few. Of course, getting them to speak ordinary English is a real job—don’t point at me! I’m a child; a mere stripling!
Okay. Well, anybody else? We can do this until doomsday. I may never get to my agenda—not to discourage you. Well—yeah?
Have you had any contact with the government [???]
Have I had any contact with the government? Not exact—well, up until a week ago the answer to this question was: yes—I mean, no. When I got home from Esalen the last time, there was a really funny letter which I haven’t quite figured out how to respond to: “Dear Mr. McKenna, I’m an officer of the California State Police fascinated with DMT, and recently read the interview with you in the San Francisco Chronicle. I wonder if you would be willing to meet with me and have coffee so we can discuss this at your earliest possible convenience.” So what I did was fairly chickenshit, actually. I found a copy of Food of the Gods and I sent it off, and I said: this is my latest book, or this is a book of mine. It deals in part with DMT. Give it a quick read, and if you’re still interested in a get-together, call me. So I don't know exactly how to interpret this. I've always felt that the reason the government left me alone was because I'm an intellectual. And in the United States that is the most pathetic, ineffective form of non-entity known to exist, so once you establish that you’re an intellectual, they just… harmless—a nut of some sort. Yeah, now I’m a rapper. Now I’m making Leary’s mistake. The 15-to-25-year-old crowd.
But I’ve got news for you. Next year The Invisible Landscape is coming out. It was the book my brother and I originally wrote. And when that book comes out, all my books will be in the public domain—or, you know, available. Sound Photosynthesis has at least seventy of my tapes. Dolphin Tapes has forty more. Then there’s a scattering of other people with a few. I am not going to do this until hell freezes over. I have a whole other plan for myself. And I think, also, once you crusade for ten years, if you haven’t captured Jerusalem, you better go back to farming in Provence! And that’s more or less metaphorically what I intend to do.
No, I’ll tell you some of my plans—briefly, because it doesn’t relate to this. 220 species of trilobite occur in the shales of southern Bohemia. I plan to go to Prague and organize the peasants of Bohemia to collect these various species of trilobites, ship them into a central warehouse in Prague while we will identify, photograph them, and issue a very high-end catalog for collectors of rare fossils. And I will become the trilobite maven of Prague six, and disappear from this domain. Because I think I've said all I have to say—I mean, not today, thank god, but in the course of doing all this.
I've heard you mention that you see thought as becoming a real central point for thinkers [???] radical ideas [???] coalesce [???] bring this [???]
Well, I think that the—you know, the greatest period of American creativity in literature (and in other areas too, arguably) in the twentieth century was the twenties, and that’s because an expatriate community conducted a critique of American society from a foreign vantage point—in that case, Paris. And I think that, in spite of the Clinton hiatus, that the politics of light have not yet come to settle on the land of Jefferson, and that we should be prepared on a moment’s notice, basically, to—yes—to decamp to Prague and conduct all this from there. Also, you know, Prague was the capital of European civilization before the Thirty Years' War; before the rise of modern science. It’s an Italianate city untouched by either world war. It’s a beautiful place.