All quotes from Terence McKenna’s

We are the toolmaking branch of organic nature on this planet. I mean, yes, wasps build nests and beavers build dams and swallows build those inverted things out of mud, but these are genetically programmed, endlessly iterated, never-elaborated patterns of behavior. We do something very different. We are very flexible in our intellectual productions.

We’ve been like children, mucking and at play with the thought that no adults would ever come, no account would ever have to be given for what we’ve done to the Earth, what we’ve done to each other, how we behave toward our children. Imagine if we were to actually invoke a judging intelligence that would just look over the situation and say, “I have a few problems with how things are being managed here. Like you, I am a sentient entity. Like you, I wish to survive unto perpetuity. I detect certain management practices and political positions on your part that don’t seem to serve our mutual goals. How ’bout that?” Already, large sectors of what we call the human world are under artificial control: the daily price of gold is set by machines—of course, it passes for review in front of a bunch of central bankers, but very rarely do they reach out to touch the numbers. The rate of petroleum extraction, chromium, bauxite, gold, steel, how deep the mines are dug, what rate the workers are paid, where the tankers are docking, at what rate they’re being filled, where they are destined, into what manufacturing processes this raw material will move, and at what cost, and at what speed, and to what end. That’s all largely now being handled by machines. So, you know, in the fifties this was a bugaboo of science fiction: who wants to live in a world run by machines? Well, after 40 years of living in a world run by besodden, whore-chasing politicians, a world run by machines doesn’t sound too bad—so fair, so impartial, so quick! It’s like, slowly the autonomic nervous system of the collectivity is being put in place. Is that scary? I don’t know. Alfred North Whitehead said the business of the future is to be scary. What’s happening is: the stakes are rising. Extinction and machine-enslavement on one side, liberation and galactic citizenship on the other side. History is an intelligence test. Culture is an intelligence test. And it’s the cultural intelligence test that I sort of want to keep looking back to and talking about this weekend, because I think most of us are failing it. Maybe not most of us in this room, but maybe most of us in this room. We’re failing the cultural intelligence test. We’re not getting it right. And this creates alienation and paranoia, conspiracy theory, bad art, stupid politics, so forth and so on.

At last, humanity shares a common destiny and common problems. And in a world where white people are soon to be a dwindling minority globally, and soon will be a dwindling minority in the societies they founded, it’s time to recognize that many cultures have contributions to make and solutions to offer.

It’s about time to bring this all to a head because, as a global species with a cosmic destiny, we can’t afford the luxury of an unconscious mind. That’s all very fine when you’re slaughtering each other with ballistas and dropping boiling oil on your enemies, and so forth and so on. But unconsciousness is, again, a form of juvenileness. A child is unconscious; has to be constantly reminded of the rules and constantly introduced to the fact that the world is not their oyster, and its objects are not playthings there entirely for them to command. Interesting, then, that this hardwired global communication datasystem that is coming into being begins to look, from this perspective, like the emergence into consciousness of our unconscious mind. I mean: the unconscious mind of the species. What is it but all these hidden connections not normally seen, but now rising into the public domain (if you care to examine them) through the Internet.

I think primates are most interesting when cornered. You raise the pressure, compress the space, make it very clear to everybody that—unless they get their act together—nobody gets out alive, and it has a wonderfully sobering effect on people.

It’s fun to be a free person. It’s fun to not depend on an institution, an ideology, an other person, a place, a time. And it’s very hard to sell this form of fun. People are afraid. People have been disempowered, I think, through the process of juvenilization that we described last night. People define themselves as frightened children, you know? They want methods, gurus, partners, safe havens, stipends, sabbaticals. They just want all these things to make it easier for themselves. But they don’t make them easier for you. If you have all that, you will be soft and mushy beyond reclamation. You will contribute nothing to the human adventure. You don’t want to be just a placeholder. There’s no glory in being able to say, “Eh, the 20th century? Yeah, I lived through it. Contributed nothing, said nothing, had nothing to say about it. But I lived through it.” A lot of people didn’t live through it. You might consider that you’re standing in their shoes and act out of a commitment to them and what they might’ve achieved.

We have exhausted the exterior world. And yet, the interior world beats like an enormous uncharted ocean. And what is ordinary historical consciousness but a tiny island protruding above that ocean? So as we grow in sophistication, and in our sense of who we are and what we want to do in the cosmos, extremely exciting destinies (I think) will unfold for us. We've just fought our way out of the jungle, away from the influence of the glaciers, we’ve lopped off the heads of the other megafauna on this planet so we can have a little breathing room. Now we need to ask the question: what is it all for? What is it all for? It can’t be for masturbatory consumerism and gratification of the historical ego at the expense of all future generations. We’ve flopped on the seamy side quite long enough. It’s time to be up and about the great and exciting business of being truly human for the first time.

The universe is its own creator. I mean, the universe is some kind of autopoietic process. If there is a goal in the universe, it’s built into every move it makes. I don’t see an intellect outside of space and time guiding things, and certainly not watching with bated breath the machinations of the human monkeys.

Ordinary language as we are using it here is a very bizarre behavioral pattern. I mean, when you deconstruct it and think about it, first of all, just notice: other animals don’t do this. Dolphins, honeybees aside, they don’t do what we do. There are no Miltons among the honeybees, I think. So what’s happening is: we have thoughts. We want to share these thoughts. We have evolved a system where the thoughts are transduced into mouth noises; small mouth noises which are conventionally assigned meaning—in other words, inside the context of a culture. “Book” means “book” in English. “Book” does not mean this in some other language. It may mean something else: “food,” “sex,” or “death.” We assign sound-signatures to meaning. We then make these sounds with our mouths. A pressure wave moves acoustically through the air. It enters the ear of the intended listener. The listener also has a dictionary, acquired through cultural convention. The incoming acoustical signals are downloaded. The dictionary is looking them up. If the dictionaries match, then we say “understanding” is taking place.

The further back in time you go, the simpler things become. Or, to stand the statement on its head: beginning at the earliest moments of the universe, the universe has grown ever more complex. And this is a true statement whether we’re talking about physical systems—because the universe begins as a physical system of pure electrons. Quickly, simple atomic systems are formed: hydrogen and helium. They aggregate under the force of gravity. (Notice how things are becoming more complicated.) At the center of these gravitational aggregates pressure and temperature rises. Suddenly a new phenomenon bursts into being: fusion. It cooks out heavier elements like sulfur, iron, and carbon. And where, a cosmic moment ago, we had a very simple universe full of only unpaired electrons, suddenly we have a universe full of all kinds of atomic species distributed at various volumetric densities and so forth and so on. And then, with the advent of carbon, you get long-chain polymers; you get molecular chemistry. Before, you only had atomic chemistry. Some of these long-chain polymers begin to transcript themselves. Now you’ve got some kind of self-replicating molecular system preserving information. It quickly becomes non-nucleated life, which quickly becomes nucleated life, which then becomes multicellular life, which then becomes complex life. Sex is invented. The phyla form. You see what’s happening? As we’re approaching the present in this description, the universe is filling up with complex phenomena of many orders of magnitude: stars, galaxies, cells, organisms, ecosystems—yada, yada, yada, on and on. And then (very recently in this picture of crystallizing or condensing complexification) you get higher animals using language, inventing culture, building tools, transmitting messages through wires, enclosing the entire planet in a communication system, on and on and on.

Notice that the closer we get to the present, the faster this complexification is occurring. So that the cooldown from the electron plasma into the aggregate of early stars—this took a long, long time. And then the cooking out of heavy elements took a long time. Not as long as the first step, but hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of years. When you enter the realm of planetary biology, suddenly change (through the advent of genetic transfer and reshuffling of genes) is vastly accelerated. And where, before, change took hundreds of millions of years, now it’s being accomplished in millions of years. Well, then, when culture- and language-using creatures like ourselves come onto the scene, it’s like a hyper-acceleration of that already accelerated process. And now change is coming not in millions of years, but every few hundred years, or every few decades. And the entire experience of human history has been one of ever-accelerating change and novelty. To the point where now, in a single lifetime, we experience more change than people fifty years ago experienced in the previous thousand years. I mean, when you think about the fact—this is 1997. One hundred years ago there were a few telephones. There were zero automobiles one hundred years ago. There were zero aircraft one hundred years ago. There were no computers of any sort. There were no antibiotics. TV was undreamed of. I mean, you know all of this, but we stand around saying things never change when, in fact, we are involved in the most accelerated asymptotic ascent into change (so far as we can tell) the cosmos has ever known.

Most of the creative unfolding of the universe will actually occur in the last few days, hours, or minutes of its existence. This is the basis of my much-misrepresented and misunderstood enthusiasm for what some people dial in as the end of the world, or the apocalypse, or the eschaton. Because it seems to me if you try to clock these accelerating rates of change, honest examination of the situation leads to the conclusion that it is now moving so fast that, within our lifetimes, it will approach speeds that, from a human perspective, appear infinite. In other words: more change is going to take place in the next ten years than has taken place in the previous five billion years. And we’re going to be present for this.

The universe is being shaped by an attractor of some sort that finds self-reflection in complexity.

Boundary dissolution. It’s been happening for a very long time. Let’s not go back more than 500 years. 500 years ago, half A of the planet discovered half B. There was a boundary dissolution. Then, you know, sailing vessels, steam ships, telegraphy, air flight, radio, television… what’s happening is: boundaries are being dissolved. Information is beginning—the planet is shrinking to a point, is what’s happening; experientially.

Here you have a bunch of points. The more points that are connected to each other, the greater number of pathways among points, hence the greater the density of complexity. Well, if you carry that idea to its—what I call—rational or absurd conclusion, then the most complex matrix imaginable is what’s called a monadic plenum. It’s a situation where, in mathematical terms, we say all points are cotangent. In other words: everywhere is here. What is not here is nowhere. And that seems to be where all this technology and novelty is pushing us. And if that’s where we’re going, then it will not stop until we achieve it.

What does it mean? I think it means we’re inventing omnipotence. We—who began as the mud of a warm pond a billion years ago—actually dream of deity. And Plato was onto this game 2,500 years ago. He said, “If God does not exist, man will invent him.” In the Posthumanist Manifesto there’s an interesting statement to ponder. It says, “A human being is like a god. It doesn’t exist unless we believe in it.” So, essentially, we’re tooling up to become a species-mind. And then the question everybody wants answered is, “What happens to little old me in all of this?”

This is all happening under the banner of what I call prosthesis. Used to be a fairly ugly medical word. It’s still sort of an ugly medical word. But what it means is: the extension of the human body by artificial means. What we’re doing is we’re building a nervous system. We’re building a nervous system the size of this planet. And we’re doing it fast. The Internet—nobody’s making these decisions, it’s just that it’s so convenient for this corporation, this person, this demographer, this pornographer, this startup company—it works for us all. We all get something back from it. So we all put our shoulder to the wheel, and it comes into being.

I’ve at times said, “A shaman is someone who has seen the end.” That’s all a shaman is: it’s somebody who’s seen the end. And once you’ve seen the end, then you just go back to your position in the story and just live it out with grace and humor—because you’ve seen the end. And all the worry and strongman drama that goes on about life is just—sort of, for you—art. And things become easy and light.

Let’s think of ourselves. A person is a form of some sort. This flesh is not the same flesh of five years ago. But this form is the same form of five years ago. An organism is a form which persists in time while the matter which composes it is only incidental to its persistence. Unlike an ordinary object, which, if this glass were to be leaking molecules of glass, eventually it would just disappear. So then, it appears that chemistry can somehow become… abducted, you could almost say. An organism is chemistry abducted into hyperspace. And then these cycles of energy happen.

Organisms are organized matter that has its genesis in a morphogenetic field of some sort, and that field—the nature of its existence away from the matter it organizes—is a matter for further scientific study.

Part of the antidote to informational overwhelmement, to social islanding, to trivialization, is rational discourse conducted—if necessary—at high volume. People are so concerned that nobody feel hurt or rejected or, you know—well, in intellectual discourse you don’t want people to feel hurt, you want them to feel destroyed if their position merits that! We’re all grown-ups. We don’t have to coddle each other for crying out loud! Send the inner child down to the baths and sharpen your rhetorical knives and logical razors, and do that kid a favor. Make sense out of your life and reality. There’s sense to be made. And it’s very grown-up, and very exalting, and it doesn’t have to exclude all the other fun and games of life. But it certainly gives cogency and meaning to the enterprise not only of trying to live, and not only of trying to be a decent person for one’s loved ones and children, but to build a better world. A better world, if it comes, will be built on clear thinking. It will be built on honesty. It will be built on direct, clear communication. I mean, these are the things that constitute visionary common sense, and it’s because the world is topsy-turvy that I—considered, you know, a drug-crazed pariah—have to then become the apostle of order, dignity, adult behavior, responsibility, and the obligation to make sense.