Vertigo at History’s Edge
April 1994

A lecture held at the Open Center in New York City with the subtitle “Nothing comes unannounced.”


Alright. So I trust the mic is adjusted and you’ve been through that? Been there, done that. Good.

It’s great to be back in New York on a spring evening. I can hardly restrain myself to pour into the matter at hand. However, before I do, I want to J. P. for that lengthy disclaimer and introduction. Now you know where he stands, and I think I know where I stand. The occasion for being here, if there needs to be an occasion, is that The Invisible Landscape is finally out in a new edition. It hasn’t been available since 1975. And somebody said to me, “You know, it’s really good that The Invisible Landscape came out last, because you actually sort of went downhill from there.” Which—I sort of agree. I think it’s the best piece. It’s also the least compromising. It’s not something you can shout about from four feet behind the footlights. It’s more the brothers McKenna’s collective stab at immortality. Anyway, it’s available. I think it’s a very interesting book. I hope you’ll read it. It’s the companion volume to True Hallucinations, which has been out in hardback for a year, but is now also out in paper. So much for the necessary self-promotion.


Okay, this is called either “Vertigo at History’s Edge” or “End”—I’m not sure which, because I hurried past the poster this morning when I wrote down the title. My notion with this lecture is to talk about: is there any reason why smart people should hope? In other words, can one combine intelligence with hope and not betray one or the other? Is the only reasonable position of intellectuals and people steeped in Western tradition and history one of total hand-wringing, head-scratching despair? This is the official position of the culture, as a matter of fact. Hope is very un-chic—or it was, until recently. There is now, I think, a turning of the corner on this issue in the culture. First of all, simply because despair has been done very well by a number of people. The French got there first. Nobody is gonna beat them at that game. And we’ve been at it since 1950, and I think the various positions have now been run through. So is there a reasonable basis for hope, and how deeply do we have to reconstruct the premises of our worldview in order to legitimately believe in the human enterprise, ourselves, and each other?


Well, the answer is: you’ve got to go deep. We’ve been on a bummer for a long time. Western civilization enshrines as its central mystery the law of thermodynamic entropy, which is a huge bring-down. It basically says everything falls apart, everything dissipates into less structure, less order, everything is fleeting. And from materialism we’ve learned to accept the idea that death is the yawning grave, you’re compost—that’s it. A series of very “existential” presumptions have been built into Western civilization over the past three or four hundred years with greater and greater ferocity. And this hopelessness is a concomitant to the rise of hierarchical managerial structures in Western society. In other words, a precondition for hierarchical management of society is a docile, confused, disheartened population, stabilized in an economic system that places a premium on low awareness, repetitious, un-creative lives. And this is the kind of situation in which many, many people—more and more people—find themselves.


So, because I have an innate intuition that the universe is a more positive enterprise than that, and because I think a fair examination of nature would support this anti-existential position, I sort of wanted to talk about this this evening and show how some of the things in my shtick—which are most misunderstood and most misrepresented—are, in fact, in orbit around this attempt to empower optimism in a domain of believability. I mean, it’s easy to be an optimist if you’re a nitwit, but… you know, to be an optimist and be cool, this is the challenge. It’s not easy.


I think that our worldview has overlooked two fundamental facts about the nature of reality. And the absence of these two fundamental facts in our models of how the universe works is what has given us such a downward trajectory into factionalism, existential despair, a broken connection to nature and, in some cases, to each other. Two fundamental things were overlooked. And I want to discuss them and then show how the recovery of these things feeds into a legitimate optimism.

Conservation of Novelty


Okay. The first thing that science overlooked—and by “science” I mean the entire Western value-package: the science, the politics, the religion, the aesthetics; because it is all derivative of Renaissance science and transformed classical values. What was overlooked was what I call the conservation of novelty. Now, what I mean by this is something very easy for you to convince yourself is happening. The conservation of novelty is simply that, over time, the universe has become more complicated. New levels of complexity become the foundations for yet deeper levels of complexity. And this phenomenon of the production and conservation of what I call novelty is not something which goes on only in the biological domain or only in the cultural domain or only in the domain of physics. It is a trans-categorical impulse in reality, meaning: it’s everywhere. Everywhere! The universe was born in a state of great simplicity. There were no atoms, there were no molecules, there were no stars. There was only a plasmic ocean of energy. The physics for describing this were very simple. As time passed, you could almost imagine complexity crystallizing out of a universe that cools. As it cools, new properties emerge—what David Bohm called “emergent properties”—come out of the universal mix. Atomic systems form. This creates an entirely new domain of matter different from the plasma that preceded it. As the universe cools, matter aggregates into stars. Stars cook out heavier elements. Among them: carbon. Carbon sets the stage for 4-valent complex polymer chemistry that sets the stage for life. Simple life sets the stage for complex life. Complex life sets the stage for multi-cellular, advanced animals; land animals. So forth and so on. You see what the process is, here. It’s that each emergent property becomes a building block for a new set of phenomena. The concrescence of atomic systems allows the physical world. The generation of carbon chemistry allows the organic world. The complexification of advanced animals allows the conscious world of human culture and civilization.


Now, interesting to note about this is: it’s fairly obvious. I don’t think we have to beat each other over the head with it. It’s pretty clear that it’s true and that it’s happening. Yet, science has never joined us in this perception of the obvious. Science believes in evolution in biological systems, but defines it as a completely non-progressive process where random mutation meets natural selection, and out of this comes an ever-differentiating set of forms. But an orthodox evolutionary biologist will be quick to tell you, “You mustn’t make the intellectual error of thinking of this as progress or advance or movement toward a goal.” These are all teleological ideas that science expunged from its evolutionary theory. So biological process is not seen as progressive, and yet, what I’m saying to you this evening is that not only is biology progressive, but it emerges out of an antecedent progressive process—the evolution of physical matter and the physical universe of stars and so forth—and it anticipates a deeper advance into progressive integration in the form of culture, language, human beings, the creation of material culture, the elaboration of the arts and sciences, so forth and so on.


Okay. That’s, I think, fairly obvious. And yet science, by denying it, gives us no arrow of purpose in the felt world of human existence. When you go to the universities and you ask, “What is history?” you will be told it’s a trendlessly fluctuating process. Well, this is fascinating. If it’s a trendlessly fluctuating process, it is the only process ever observed to behave in that fashion. Processes, by their very nature, have an innate predictability. So that’s the first thing that I think science, and the worldview derivative of it, has overlooked: that from the very birth of the universe there was a progressive advance into complexity that built on previously achieved levels and adumbrated those levels, brought them to still a deeper expression of novelty and complexification until we arrive at this moment in this city. And I submit to you: this is the most complex moment in the most complex place in the universe to date. Because we have the physical world, the natural world, your basic human world, your basic post-industrial human world, the world of electronic human integration, the world of post-modernity. We are living, we are the inheritors, of all the complexity that preceded us.

Asymptotic Acceleration


Okay. So then that brings me to the second point empowering optimism of a fairly radical sort. And again, I appeal to your observational intelligence. Nothing is going to be asserted that runs counter to intuition, but what is asserted runs counter to the description of reality that we’re getting from science. The second point relates to the first. It is this: not only has novelty conserved itself and built on what has been achieved in the past to move toward the future, but—and of the two points, this is the more important—each stage of advancement into novelty, into complexity, into concrescence, has proceeded more quickly than the phase which preceded it. The universe is in a state of asymptotic acceleration of some sort. And this has been completely ignored—not ignored, denied—by science. I mean, science says that everything interesting happened at the beginning of the birth of the universe. In a few very short eras a number of physical states came and went, a number of sets of physical laws superseded each other. But after a few minutes the universe settled into a steady cooling along the lines which we see around us, and then science says that, at some unimaginably distant point in the future, the stars will burn out, entropic heat death will set in, all structure will dissipate, and the whole thing will sort of evaporate away like an Alka-Seltzer tablet.


To maintain that kind of an entropic view of the universe, you have to completely ignore the importance of biology. Now, it so happens that we live around a very stable star that probably has a lifespan of 7 or 8 billion years. But this has given us a false sense of the stability and the enduringness of matter. The lives of most stars are on the order of half a billion to a billion years. Life has been active on this small planet for a billion and a half years. As a process with inert tenacity, life is as persistent as the stars themselves—in fact, more so. Now, we know that stars are simply large nuclear furnaces which eventually use up all their fuel and run down. But what life is, we’re not at all sure—hardly to speak of intelligence. Life and intelligence are the wildcards in the universal deck. We now aspire to a planetary civilization, to the electronic storage of information for eons, and we have only been at this global cultural game for about fifty years. It’s very clear—to me, at least—that life is a process as important in shaping the eventual destiny of the universe as physics or chemistry, and that intelligence also plays a role there.


Well, if you have a universe that is building on achieved novelty, and building faster and faster, then you have a universe which is consuming its share of time, if you will. A universe which is building toward its conclusive denouement much faster than the entities, the beings embedded in it might suppose. And I said that, in order to hope, you have to dump the whole scientific view of the universe. You also have to take your own humanness much more seriously. As a way to let us escape from moral obligation to ourselves and each other, science proclaimed the ephemerality of the human experience: that we arose on a minor planet around an uninteresting star in a typical galaxy, we are no more than animals, we will have our moment, we will sputter out, we will leave a greasy trace in the shales, and that will be it. And therefore, talking about higher values, love, ethical obligation and so forth is thought to be terribly old hat.


I take an entirely different view, harking back to the Renaissance humanists with a vengeance. And I think that human beings on this planet, and the kind of society that we live in, is an enunciation of the approaching ascent into higher levels of novelty. Nothing is unannounced. Nothing comes unexpectedly if you know how to read the signs. And for a very, very long time, the human species has been knitting itself together, claiming technologies which allow the manipulation of energy, letting its population run uncontrolled to force an ever-expanding cultural and technological frontier. The presence of ourselves on this planet is the major evidence that a transcendental process of some sort is underway here. If this were a planet of chipmunks, glaciers, butterflies and caribou herds, Darwinian evolution with a few twiddles would be perfectly adequate to explain what is going on here. But an acceleration of process in a limited domain of biology, beginning about a million years ago, indicates to me that we are now entering the short epochs—meaning: these periods in which the evolution of novelty occurs so rapidly that transitions from one domain to another actually can be noted within the lifetime of single human beings. It’s an enormous act of intellectual acrobatics to deny that we appear to be sailing toward catastrophe at a thousand miles an hour with nobody able to figure out where the brake is.


I believe governments [and] scientific-industrial democracies are simply now managing the terror of apocalypse because they have no clue as to how to halt, direct, manage, or control the processes that they have set in motion: population growth, extraction of minerals, toxification of the environment, the raising of middle-class expectations in the hearts of billions of impoverished people in the Third World. The institutions which created this situation have no notion as to how to direct and control it. This is why we’re not getting any kind of leadership from the top, why everything is managed toward a steady state. Meanwhile, technology—which is the downloading of human ideas into the domain of matter—is proceeding unabated around the clock. We have hardware for which we have not yet written software because we have no idea how to take advantage of the machines that have already been put in place. There is no one planning the evolution of our integration into our technology. You are free to write any kind of software you like. No one can foresee, then, the consequences of all of this technological development—software, wetware, hardware—being stirred together. The planet has shrunk to a single informational point. The passing of every day, every week, brings us closer and closer to a kind of informational tangentiality with each other.

The Mental Revolution


Well, I believe (following the dictum that nothing is unannounced) that we can—from what is happening to us now—extrapolate toward this adventure in transformational novelty that is now looming ahead of us with such presence that it casts an enormous shadow over the three-dimensional landscape of historical becoming. And we, as moderns, are very conflicted about this because the only vocabulary we have to deal with something like this is the vocabulary of discredited religions. Before the rise of science, before the rise of technology, when religions presided over a much more slow-moving and easily-managed world, great thinkers of all persuasions—through meditation and divine inspiration, whatever—saw that man’s journey was a journey from the demonic to the divine and that history was somehow the stage of human redemption. That view died with the rise of secular capitalism and industrial democracy.


And yet, here at the height of the trajectory of the enterprise of science and materialism, news comes from the rainforests, from the aboriginal peoples of the world that there are technologies of a different sort that have been in place since at least the last ice age. These are neuro-technologies, quasi-symbiotic relationships with plants, pharmacological approaches to manipulating human memory, aspiration, aesthetic concerns, so forth and so on. These psychedelic intimations have been presented to us as the naïve suppositions of primitives, the landscape of the Jungian unconscious, chaotic events happening in the human brain-mind system, so forth and so on. These are all reductionist explanations. I believe that what these psychedelic states are are actually a sense to a higher order of information. And by “a sense” I mean the word in the dimensional context as a mathematical idea. That, here we are deployed in a three-dimensional matrix: the past fades into unknowability, the future fades into unknowability, and only the crudest and least interesting of processes—like the rising of the sun and the tides—can be propagated into the future with confidence.


What shamans see in contrast to this is a hyperdimensional universe of information. They see the past, the origins, and they see the goal, the culmination, the place where the ouroboric snake takes its tail in its mouth. We—who are locked in linear history—don’t have this perspective. And what we have in its stead is immense anxiety. Immense anxiety about the future. We map the unknowable future onto the presumed experience of our own death and vice versa, and we build up a universe that is characterized by existential abysses: the unknown future, the inevitability of death, and the impossibility of intellectually assimilating what that means. Shamanism isn’t like this. Shamanism is a fractal point of view. What fractals are are structures that have their subsets embedded in them. Subsets embedded in them. So the course of the history of an entire people can be known by looking at the history of an individual or a family. All subsets refer to levels above and below them. This is entirely different from the kind of linear history that we get in a hierarchical scientific society. It is more characteristic of experience.


And this is a very important point, because the two phenomena that I tried to call your attention to that argue for hope are: the self-evident accumulation of novelty and the self-evident acceleration of that accumulation of novelty. Well, now: notice the phrase “self-evident.” These are not things that you have to study advanced mathematics to perceive, these are not things revealed to the holders of advanced degrees. This is stuff that one can tell by feeling into the world. The structure of linear society has disempowered the individual. We are all now—we have bought the Hobbesian notion that we are social atoms in a vaster machine than ourselves with a greater purpose than we can know. This is actually hogwash. As you move away from the human individual, the consciousness about what is happening becomes more and more low-grade and amoeba-like. You have the consciousness of the Giuliani administration, the consciousness of the American government. You see, as you widen the Venn, it becomes more and more primitive, more and more simply a matter of stimulus and response. But you—the supposed irrelevant atom at the center of this process—make very subtle judgments, take in information of all sorts, compare, contrast, weigh, understand, seek evidence. This is the subtlest thinking that’s going on. But we don’t reclaim our own minds. We look for institutional guidance. And yet, it was institutions that guided us to this moment.


So the character, then, of this next advance into novelty is, from my point of view, now easily discerned. It is boundary-dissolution. This is what is happening. This is why great wealth and great poverty must come to terms with each other, it’s why the First World and the Third World must come to terms with each other, it’s why gays and straights must come to terms with each other. Boundary-dissolution is what is happening. And this has been going on for a long time, but it affected our peripheral technologies first, almost without us noticing it. We’ve gone from a world where information moved at the speed of a horse’s gallop to a world where all information is cotangent. Space is only an illusion of the plebes. Everyone else—with their computer networks and their connections—knows that the world has become a kind of virtual point. And yet, still we maintain the most toxic of all the fictions to come out of the dominator experience: the fiction of the individual ego.


This maintenance of the fiction of ego is what is exacerbating a smooth transition into a new world order, because people have one foot in the dematerialized, collectivist, virtual, feeling-toned, experience-based future, but they also have one foot in the consumer-fetish, objectified, constipated, linear, acquisitive, class-conscious, sex-conscious, race-conscious past. And each one of us is a union of these opposites. Each one of us is trying to make some kind of an alloy of our hideously dysfunctional cultural past and the incredibly compelling, yet frightening dimensionless, boundaryless, polymorphic, polyamorous future. And, to my mind, then, the role that psychedelics play in all this is critical because they are catalysts for change. If you are not moving as fast as the general wave of novelty, psychedelics will bring you up to speed. Society will go from being utterly incomprehensible and horrifying to simply being horrifying. If you are up to speed with the cultural way, and you then avail yourself of psychedelics, you become a force for spreading calm, spreading understanding. Because make no mistake about it: as we close distance with the transcendental object at the end of time, there’s going to be a lot of vibration accumulate on the superstructures of the social airfoil. If the airfoil cannot be redesigned in flight as we approach this barrier, we will be ripped to pieces. H. G. Wells said in 1905, “History is a race between education and catastrophe.” And it is going to be a photo finish.


If we end up a smear through the shale and nature concludes that intelligence is something never again to put into the hopper, then it will be an enormous tragedy because we didn’t go down without a struggle. We have the technologies, the ideology, the compassion for each other, [audio cuts out] and caring world. We are not a lost cause—yet. But we may end up a lost cause. And people then say, “Well, what should be done?” You know? The Tolstoyan question: what, then, should be done?

A Series of Negatives


Well, I came up through the whole Berkeley-thing in the 1960s and all that, and I’m very weary of hortatory political prescriptions for what should be done. I mean, we saw that the best impulses in Marxism turn into the most horrifyingly regimented and totalitarian societies. Goodwill is not enough. So what is to be done? I think the answer to this is not only “nothing,” but considerably less than “nothing.” And what I mean by that is that the real solutions to our problems lie in a series of negatives.


Do not believe. Ideology has poisoned this planet. Ideology is bankrupt. It’s a skin-game. It’s a shell-game. It’s only for Marx—and Marks—it’s beneath your dignity as a body to get mixed up in ideology. I mean, after all, where is it writ large that talking monkeys should understand the nature of being anyway? So belief is an incredible cop-out on intellectual truth-seeking because belief precludes believing in its opposite. And so this is a self-limitation. You become your own cop. And the ideologies of the 20th century are so shoddy and hobbled together or toxic to human values, they’re not worth believing in anyway.


So: deconditioning ourselves from belief. Some people call it cynicism. I call it good sense. I’m not a cynical person, but I know shit from Shinola. And I don’t expect people who don’t to get a lot of respect from the rest of us. I mean, what does it mean if you’re an optimist and that means you can’t proclaim the difference between boot polish and excreta. It’s ridiculous.

Okay. Don’t believe.


The next thing which comes out of that and is an even stronger prohibition: don’t follow. Following is a tasteless position to find yourself in. Pets follow, vice presidents follow, and bad acts follow! So why follow? All of these gurus, geishas, roshis, and rishis are simply flim-flam artists. They’ve had thousands of years to get these cons together and run them on you. Believe me, I know—I’m a recovering Catholic! You have to fight your way free of the lead and then do not follow. Do. Not. Follow. It’s an obsolete, tasteless thing and there’s no human dignity in it whatsoever.


Then a harder one, a more radical one, the one that might get me shot: do not—in some profoundly metaphysical sense—consume. Do not consume! For obvious reasons, and then not-so-obvious reasons. The obvious reasons are that the fetish for objects made of matter is wrecking the planet. If everybody on earth had what the people in the front row here have, there wouldn’t be enough metal, glass, plastic, and petroleum in the planet to provide that kind of lifestyle to the billions of people who now aspire it. None of this stuff brings happiness, anyway.


I recently had the experience of having my 1975 Ford Granada blow up on me in the middle of the night, and so I had to buy a new car. So I went down a year and up a brand, and I got a 1974 BMW. And it cost me two grand. And I guarantee you, once you have the little thing on the steering wheel—the quaternity sign—you don’t need the $90,000 model.


What we should all do is buy antiques. Don’t consume anything which hasn’t already been made. There’s a lot of shit that’s been made; it’s all over the place. I see it in Manhattan going for a bundle! If we—what we need to do, you see, is retool our values so that what is new is odious, tasteless, déclassé, embarrassing, and not to be found in the better homes. The older things are, the better they are. Here’s a fifty-year-old chair, fine. Here’s a five-hundred-year-old chair, how much better! We need to cease to consume. And I’m somewhat facetious in suggesting that we all become aficionados of Chippendale furniture and that sort of thing. That isn’t the plan, either. But the endless fetishism for consumer objects is wrecking the planet.


And then, finally—well, no, not finally. There’s one after this. But another negative—and this is slightly more difficult to follow, requires a little cogitation; it’s insidious—we shouldn’t watch. We shouldn’t watch. Watching is some kind of voyeuristic, sadomasochistic peculiarity that we are permitting ourselves because we think there are too many of us to do. But I don’t think this is true. I think watching is an incredibly disempowering thing. Millions of people live half-awake larval lives watching 6.5 hours of TV a day. And as long as they stay in their homes—you know, shopping by phone and fax—everybody is happy. But they participate not at all in the society. They’re the Marks, and they consume. They consume the media, the entertainment, the clothes, the styles, the brands. They are the morons who are keeping this system running. And I assume, largely, that the people here tonight are not. We’re the people who grind out all this stuff.


I mean, I feel like I do this. I write books, I produce ideas. They are grist for the marketplace. Harper and Bantam don’t care what I’m saying, what they care about is how the books are selling. You know? Product number 3245AF: how is it doing in the marketplace?


Do not watch. Because when you’re watching you’re not at the center of things. Largely, what I’m talking about here is reclaiming experience. Reclaiming experience. This is what’s been taken from us. This is why the new music and dance culture is so important. This is why drug culture is so important. This is why the celebration of sexual minorities is so important. This is all about coming to grips with who you really are, and how you really feel—and then experiencing it.


You know, you are not owned. It is not he or she or them or it that you belong to. And we have been told that we have to fit in, that we have to make sense. This. Is. Not. True. We are creating a world that celebrates diversity, that celebrates the uniqueness of every person. The complexification of our species is a process directly dependent on the complexity that we each bring to the process. The diversity that is spreading through society is concomitant to the boundary dissolution. And I really believe that science’s inability to make sense of human beings in the world as part of nature—to make sense of art, love, hate, aspiration, fear—the failure to make sense of this is the failure to come to terms with the transcendental aspect of reality. We are the best evidence there is that something extraordinarily unusual is happening on this planet, and that it’s not something which will go on for millions of years.


It began about 20,000 years ago. It’s a self-advancing, self-expanding, self-defining process. And it takes no prisoners. You know? There is no going back. There is no going back from the momentum that history has imparted to the human imagination. There is only a going forward into what is called a forward escape: through art, through design, through management and integration, that we have to push the art-pedal to the floor. We have never designed our societies. We have never managed our societies, or our lives. We have never tried to make what we were serve an aesthetic agenda, and that’s why we’ve created a mess. In the absence of an aesthetic agenda, what we’ve created is Animal House on a global scale. So now it’s time to pay the piper.

Colonizing the Imagination


And (just in closing) the catalyst, now, is a combination of technologies—solid-state technologies—and pharmacology. The world that we are leaving behind, the world that failed us, was a world of ideologies and mechanical technologies. And the ideologies, one by one, are going down the tubes. Marxism. Freudianism. Fascism. They, one by one, will be discredited. They cannot sustain. And the mechanical technologies cannot be sustained. They pollute, they dehumanize, they wreck the planet. What is coming into place is a world where drugs replace ideology. That’s why drugs are so terrifying to those who oppose them. That’s why they say “You want to escape.” “You want to take drugs to escape.” That’s right! You want to escape! You want to escape fascism, communism, socialism, existentialism, phenomenology, positivism, all of this stuff. You want to escape ideology into the felt presence of the body. Which means drugs, and sex, and syncopated music!


And parallel to this development, and happening in different sectors of society, is the hard-wiring of our imagination. The building of databases that we can access instantaneously that make the human past co-present with the now. The boundary-dissolution that I’m talking about includes the division between past, present, and future. This is what it means to end Newtonian time. It means that the past, the present, and the future become a co-extensive domain where everyone, then, awakens to the fact—which was always there to be observed—that there is not simply one past. There is nothing called “the past.” I have a past, you have a past. It’s not the same past. Consequently, the futures we are going to are different. We create our own realities as a species and as an individual. And so what we’re passing through here—in the now, in this lecture in the 20th century—is a moment of community. A gam, as Melville would say. A gam is where two sailing ships, two whaling ships, meet at sea. That’s what we have here: a gam; a moment of dialogue. And then we will each go back to our own private Idahos.

Parallel to this development is the hard-wiring of our imagination. The building of databases that we can access instantaneously that make the human past co-present with the now. The boundary-dissolution that I’m talking about includes the division between past, present, and future. This is what it means to end Newtonian time.


But the thing to take back to those private Idahos is the awareness that human history secures the central importance of human beings. We are part of a universal adventure. What happens to us decrees the fate of a vast set of universal processes and circumstances. We are not ephemeral, irrelevant—to each other or to the greater whole. This is the truth of psychedelics that aboriginal societies have always known, and it’s the truth that we had to sacrifice in order to make the prodigal journey into matter. But the prodigal journey into matter has now been concluded. We found the top quark, we shut down the supercollider. Now we need to go back to the problems of the human soul. And there isn’t much time. But the tools that have been put into our hands are the most powerful tools there have ever been. The Gaian connection into the vegetable mind of the planet that we are trying to mirror and hardwire on a human scale. Nature is full of interest and affection for humanity. It’s up to us to discover that humanity in ourselves—because we have gone so sour along the rational path—and connect it up with the rest of nature. This is a process which is happening. But it’s a birth. It can go with ease because we help it from this side, or it can be traumatic because we resist and, as McLuhan said, insist on driving the automobile of history using only the rear-view mirror. That’s no way to proceed. We need to wake up, smell the coffee, turn on the lights, get loaded, and direct the human future toward a mirroring of aspirations such that we are pleased, then, to turn the enterprise over to those who follow us.


Well, that’s that, I think. We’ll take a brief break. Brief. Like, 15 minutes. I’ll sign books. I’ll only do signatures because of the shortness of the break. Circulate around. We’ll come back and do a half an hour or so of Q & A. Thank you very, very much for coming out tonight.

Q & A


[...] like that states spontaneously perturb themselves to higher states of order, that order within a system is conserved, so forth and so on. Yes, fractal mathematics is an intellectual revolution, the magnitude of which has not yet been fully appreciated, I think. It’s a very, very big deal. It’s just that so much is happening in our world that it’s very hard for us to know what are the real epical turning points and what is just flimflam and hypeola. But the power of fractal mathematics has carried the human mind to a whole new level. You know, mathematics was not thought to be a natural science by its practitioners. Until very recently it was thought to be an abstract undertaking. But it turns out it’s most abstract constructions have a curious congruency over population growth, the organization of species in a rainforest, so forth and so on. Yes, the cultural change that is coming is not superficial. It’s not simply about club dance styles, fashion, sexual mores. It’s about all that, but when it’s all over, the mathematics will be different, the physics will be different—everyting will be different. This is a major shift in cultural values.

You had a question. Do you still want to do it?

1:05:47 Audience

Can I get the negation number five?

1:05:49 McKenna

Oh, number five. I don’t think I really gave it its worth. Basically, number five is: do not multiply. Replace yourself, but do not multiply. Go forth and multiply—no. Go forth and lightly subtract is a better way to do it. I mean, I don’t want to get into it tonight, but I’ve talked at other times about how, if every woman would have just one child, the population of the Earth would fall by half in 40 years, and how the women in the high-tech industrial democracies are the most likely to get this message, because they’re educated, global, concerned citizens, and it is their children who are destroying the resource base of the world. Because a child born to a woman on the Upper East Side or Berkeley consumes between 800 and 1000 times more resources than a child born to a woman in Bangladesh. And when I talked earlier I referred to managing and designing societies. One of the things I think we need to talk about that has not yet come out of the sexual redefinition debate is, I think, that this whole thing about how do we feminize society, and women are not getting their fair shake, and what do we do about white male dominators and all that, and how do we make men more like women, so forth and so on—this is all somewhat cockamamie in terms of the idea that we need to feminize men. We don’t need to feminize men, we need to feminize society. And the obvious way to do that is return to paleolithic sexual ratios, which were probably about 70:30 women to men, rather than 50:50. The strict effort to maintain a sexual balance of 50:50 is some kind of monogamite plot, and it maintains male dominance and a generally masculine character to the enterprise of civilization. But if women were 70% of the population, that would quite naturally correct itself.

Over here.

1:08:16 Audience

In light of your insight with [???] what’s your take on the suicide of Kurt Cobain?

1:08:24 McKenna

Well, if your strategy—I’ve thought of this strategy, too, of course. I think any artist does.


What is the question?


“What do I think of Kurt Cobain’s suicide?”

And the answer is: as a strategy for advancing your career, I think you should wait until you’re a little bit deeper into your career. Anyway, it was my humble opinion that Primus did it better. And anyway, I like [???], so let me off the hook here. I’m a house guy. I wish those people luck, but you’re more likely to find me listening to World Without Walls.


1:09:17 Audience

I’m a teacher and I’m interested in the psychedelic nature of intuition. I wonder if you would speak to the nature of intuition and its role in learning, and, perhaps, how to encourage it.

1:09:31 McKenna

Well, intuition refers back to this—I made mention of “nothing comes unannounced.” That’s intuition. But the rational mind has a real ability to slough off the intuition. The intuition never shouts, it never grabs you by the lapels. It just says, “Hm. Maybe that airplane looks a little funny.” And then you don’t get on it, and it blows up. So intuition is basically a function of listening. And since it’s very hard for people to listen—especially dominator types or opinionated types—I think the key to intuition is to listen. It’s just like, you know, the key to nature is to look, I think. I read a wonderful quote last week—I think it was Goethe—said: “Thinking is better than knowing, but looking is best of all.” And I think that’s a very psychedelic perception. Knowing is the worst of all. Knowing is a huge drag, and it’s a [???] anyway. Nobody knows anything. Don’t let them kid you. I mean, we’re monkeys here. Let’s not lose sight of that.


1:10:58 Audience


1:12:43 McKenna

When I say we should stop consuming, I don’t for a moment suppose that we’re going to live in a world where no consumption takes place, or we’re going to live in a world where population growth is instantly halted. There’s more than one way to force novelty out of a system. And simply repetitiously breeding—that’s a habitual activity. And it does force a certain kind of novelty, but it’s a novelty born of desperation. My notion is that you get much more novelty out of a system if every person is valued, if every person has leisure time and opportunity for education, and this sort of thing. The ingression into novelty doesn’t necessarily mean an endless expansion of an inventory of available tchotchkes. It means a vertical integration of all of these possibilities. So I think we are going to elaborate more technologies, more connections; there are going to be all kinds of unusual configurations generated. But to simply suppose that we have to continue in the direction we’ve been going I think is a mistake. Capitalism is not a human-friendly meme. I mean, capitalism will sell the ground right out from under where you’re standing. It has developed a rapacious appetite for its own survival at the expense of human beings. Some memes do this. Fascism was a meme so virulent to the human agenda that major outbreaks of it—the whole planet halted what it was doing and stomped it out. And now we have residual outbreaks here and there. But, in terms of the ingression into novelty, it isn’t a matter of human decision. It’s happening. Around the clock. It’s unstoppable. The cultural experience is becoming more and more psychedelic as it becomes more and more trans-linear and post-Newtonian. Literally, society is entering into a kind of hyperspace—or cyberspace some people call it. I think of cyberspace as the literalization fo hyperspace. One is the platonic goal, the other is the human artifact that seeks to realize that goal. But definitely, the cascade of novelty has now reached such an intensity that you have to be very lumpen, indeed, I think, not to see it happening, especially if you live in a town like this one, for crying out loud. This is the concrescence of the concrescence here.

One more, and then we’ll call it quits. Here, on the aisle.

1:15:53 Audience



His last book?


Yeah. [???] few years ago.


Well, yeah. He died a few years ago. I’m not familiar with that book. I’m familiar with some major works—Understanding Media, Gutenberg Galaxy. What is your question?


I was curious what you thought of the [???] that he develops in that book?


I haven’t read it, so I can’t comment.

Such a dud for me to wuss out. I’ll take one more question. Yeah, here.

1:16:26 Audience

You mentioned cyberspace, and how we’re all sort of evolving towards an eventuality of hyperspace. And you see there’s two paths. Kind of, one going with technology, and one [???] through psychedelics. And there’s two views of technology. One is parallel, going along with it, mimicking it, maybe assimilation with it, combination with it, and it could be the wrong path. The correct path [???] the view that that path is a scaffolding [???] organic pathway where, if we mimicked it, it might bring a popularization or socialization of the psychedelic experience to bring organic hyperspace. I was curious to hear your view of how you see technology functioning on one path or the other [???].

1:17:20 McKenna

Well, what I actually imagine is a confluence of the two. The question basically was: compare and contrast evolving cybertechnology with shamanic technology, compare and contrast drugs and computers. Are these things in parallel, are they complimentary, or are they opposed? What are they? I think that computers are drugs too large to swallow, essentially, and that what we will see in the future is computers much more like drugs and drugs much more like computers. We’re going to see drugs that are information-based drugs. So if you want to study Hegel you will take Hegeline. We’re going to see drugs which are self-limiting in their effects. I mean, imagine, for instance, a form of heroin that it works ten times and then it never works again for you in your life. This is possible. There are drugs which will—I mean, I think this is an interesting frontier: drugs which only work for a while. So there’s no possibility of distorted or addictive lifestyles because it works for three months and then it stops working. And nobody spends money on something that doesn’t work. We’re going to see the whole serotonin pathway redesigned through the trans-Prozac drugs. We’re going to see psychedelic states simulated in virtual reality. We’re going to see the breakdown of three-dimensional space versus the machine space.


And all of these things are, essentially, psychedelic effects. It’s only this Newtonian emphasis on product and ego and body-locus that makes us see the drugs as somehow locked in the molecules. The entire experience of human history is a psychedelic experience, and we’re now in that place deep in the second hour where it all comes together. The integration of some kind of unity out of the multiplicity of phenomena is now in reach. We are literally hardwiring the human unconscious. The human unconscious is ceasing to exist. It’s becoming a smaller and smaller domain as it is transferred over into the hardwiring of the cultural database. We cannot become the species we want to be with an unconscious mind. That’s an artifact of the monkey-phase that has no place in a global civilization. And the making conscious of the unconscious is the combined task of cybernetics and pharmacology. And I trust that everything is on track and moving forward. It seems to me the adventure is underway. I don’t see myself as predicting something that will happen, I’ve become a narrator of a phenomenon in progress, if you understand what to look for. Granted, it will become more intense in subsequent episodes, but all the pieces are now in play. The challenge of post-modernity, the challenge of the psychedelic, millenarian, eschatonic world is the challenge of our own daily lives and relationships. It is here! It is here!

Alright. And I’m outta here. So, thank you!

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