I think it was Plato—I’m not sure he said it first—but he said, “If God does not exist, human beings will create God.” I think the truth is they’re not even going to wait to find out. It’s easier to cut to the technical solution and sort the whole thing out later. And if the God we make and the God we find are in conflict with each other, they’ll just have to duke it out.
Language is old. Honeybees do it, dolphins do it. It’s even possible (when you think of chemical communication) that flowers and ants do it. Nature is knit together by communication—which has rules, has syntax, and so is language. If you’ve ever stood in a rainforest or any species-dense environment—it’s alive with signals, with sounds, with odors that are carrying messages. These things are not just produced for aesthetic effect, they have intended hearers and so forth and so on.
Most people think (or at least I think most people think) that when you get to be—I dunno, 30, 35, 40, or something—you have jumped all the hurdles. You got your college degree, you had some children, you made some money, you lost some money, maybe you had a marriage, maybe you had several, and anyway, people sort of get the feeling: well, I’ve done it. Actually, the major adventure still lies ahead. And the major adventure is to claim your authentic true being, which is not culturally given to you. The culture will not explain to you how to be a real human being. It will tell you how to be banker, politician, Indian chief, masseuse, actress, whatever. But it will not give you true being. And maybe this is the voice of somebody who just turned fifty talking, but I thought it would get simpler. It doesn’t. Because this rejection of culture thing is the last and hardest step to take. And there are all kinds of impediments to taking it. The fact that in middle age, if you’ve played the game right, you get a lot of money—that’s totally stultifying in most cases in terms of going forward to the next level. It’s almost as though culture is an enterprise self-organized to buy you off at the moment when you might be most dangerous to its values and goals.
Can we solve our problems and maintain our individual existences, or are we in fact furiously building a level of hierarchical control above the level of the individual that will make things like states and corporations seem like pale soup indeed? Are we in fact trying to create a superorganism?
What about the Internet? Is it the coming of the superorganism? It is prosthesis on an incredible scale. It is going to redefine what it is to be human. I think technologies are neither gods nor demons, it’s what you do with it. But the dilemma of human freedom is that we don’t know where we rest in the universal hierarchy of good and evil.
Transcendence is favored. Nature seems to be in the business of building systems which transcend themselves. We can see that as far back in time as we care to look, and throughout all of nature. So it seems like we actually have a hell of a tailwind helping us toward the transcendent Other. Probably that is what will make the difference. We couldn’t have done it by ourselves, but we happen to be in a universe which is itself involved in the process of bootstrapping to higher levels.
When I talk about stuff like the evolution of photolithography, and moving pictures out of photography, and the evolution of surround sound, and the global airline system, and these kinds of things, these are dimension-conquering phenomena designed to shrink the Earth to a point. And of course the Internet is the mother of all dimensional conquest.
The human world is simply a catalyst for nature’s intentions. We are speeding up nature’s program of dimensional transcendence.
It was H. G. Wells who said, “History is a race between education and catastrophe.” It’s a white-knuckle enterprise. Catastrophe edges inches ahead, education moves ahead. And again, if it were a level playing field I’d be betting on catastrophe, because I believe that nature favors the good, the true, and the beautiful. I’ve got all my money on education. I think we’ll make it, but I think we have to scare ourselves to death in order to keep focused. You know, we’re primates and we don’t really dig in and get rolling until we’re painted into a corner.
I’ve spent a lifetime taking drugs, knocking around the world, having affairs, being married, being unmarried, this, that, and the other. If somebody asked me, “So what do you know? What have you learned?” I would have to say what I’ve learned is that nothing lasts. There’s a hard thought. Is that a cause for joy or despair? Well, if you’re thinking about everything you loved and how it’s going to turn into mush as you’re shoveled into the grave, it’s a hard thought. But, on the other hand, if you think about all the jerks who’ve oppressed you, it’s a great consolation to know that they, too, will go down into that good night. Nothing lasts. That is not a cause for joy or despair. It’s a cause for expanding one’s feeling in the moment. If nothing lasts, then there’s a conclusion—not a feeling—to be drawn from that observation. The conclusion to be drawn from it is, then: the felt presence of the immediate moment must be what life is for. And somebody who could take that perception and use it that way could immediately transcend all kinds of neurotic behavior—longings, regrets, doubts, fears. No. You just say no. The felt presence of immediate experience.
The felt presence of immediate experience. This is all you know. It’s all you will ever know. Everything else comes as unconfirmed rumor, innuendo, unrealized possibility, fading memory, conjecture, lie, hope—who knows. But in the moment of being we have the completion of being. It is always complete. Every moment.
I have never seen a truly superior person, I don’t believe. And if I have, they were so humble and self-effacing that they never would have claimed that superiority as their own. If somebody tells you they’re a superior person—my god, they’re automatically to be taken off the active list. That alone screws the pooch right there!
For one human being to seek enlightenment from another is like a grain of sand on the beach seeking enlightenment from another. Don’t you get it? It’s the same flesh. It’s the same flesh! Nobody knows anything you don’t know. And even if they do, it’s not your knowledge, so what good is it doing you? The idea that it’s okay for you not to understand mathematics, or not to play the violin—because somebody else does it very well—is a complete cop-out. You will be held responsible for what you know and what you can do. And using the excuse that you lived in the same world with Jascha Heifetz is not going to get you off the hook of not knowing how to play the violin. (I say this as someone who does not play the violin.)
It’s fun to take responsibility. It’s fun to test the waters. The hardest thing to put across to one’s self and to other people is that the universe is a more friendly place than we have been told. Culture is institutionalized paranoia, and it’s very hard to decondition oneself from this. No matter how deconditioned you may think you are, there is more and more work to be done.
At the top of the culture it’s profoundly intellectually bankrupt. There is no plan except to keep peddling stuff basically until the forests are gone and the oceans polluted. And this is not malevolent. It’s not malevolent, it’s simply: they are clueless! They have run out of steam. And so the answer is to try and keep the game going as long as possible—with daytime TV, with casino gambling, with lotteries, with endless distractions, with pop culture fads, with cults of celebrity, with spectacular trials and gory mass murders and endless circuses, while the people at the top are saying, you know, sooner or later the shit is going to hit the fan. Sooner or later the dam will burst. And they say, “Well, let’s make sure it’s later, not sooner. Because I’ve got two kids at the Sorbonne, I’m paying off a Mercedes, and I need to get this taken care of before it all falls apart.” So in the absence of any cultural plan imposed from the top, this strange dynamic is happening.
If you view our development over the past few centuries, we’re entering into some aggregation phase triggered by pheromones spread through technology, and we are beginning to create some kind of a superorganism. And the fear of some people is that, once inside this superorganism, we will be forced into a permanent status as a sub-level of the hierarchy. In other words, you will have to give up your individuality and you will just become a kind of liver cell or brain cell or something in this organism. But I don’t think this is the case. I think we have the unique ability to combine these two modes of existence.
Nobody ever said it was going to be comfortable to be a human being and to ride one of these bipedal bodies from the cradle to the grave. It’s an uncomfortable but (I maintain) manageable situation. But you have to have the lights on. You have to have your emotional responses in order, your intellectual responses in order, you have to have garnered some sense of how we got to this situation, and you have to have some sense of the tools available to transform it.
What really we are given is a seamless continuum of phenomena that we are asked—not to understand, that’s preposterous; why should talking monkeys understand reality?—but to feel. We can feel. We have an extremely complex body and nervous system and perceptual apparatus which ushers us into feeling. So you have not mastered a situation when you understand it. When you understand the situation you’re probably on the road to catastrophe. When you feel the situation you are probably moving into a good position, then, to act in that situation.
The felt presence of immediate experience is the defining phenomenon of being. If you can’t reach it, you are in trouble. You need some kind of help—psychedelics, therapy, loving kindness. Something. And if you can reach it, then you have contacted the authentic domain of being.
The ego is a maladaptive, tumor-like growth in the personality that has been inculcated into you by the toxicity of culture. It is literally the response to toxic culture; the growth of ego. The more toxic the culture, the more the ego is revered as a natural value within that culture.
Many people never observe nature except when psychedelics force it upon them.
The human body is a knot in time. It is non-thermodynamic state of equilibrium maintained by the miracle of metabolism. Metabolism is a slow, controlled chemical burning of organic material; so subtle a form of burning that the energy is trapped in various membranes and cytochrome cascades and put to the work of organism.