All quotes from Terence McKenna’s

Computers are minds that work in the realm of computation, and human minds are minds that work in the realm of generalization, spatial coordination, understanding of natural language, so forth and so on. Are these kinds of minds so different from each other, pilgrims, that there is no bridge to be crossed? I would submit not.

Human progress has always depended on the whispering of alien minds, confrontations with the other, probes into dimensions where imagination and chance held the winning hands. So the shaman as paradigmatic figure is applicable both in the aboriginal social context and in the present social context: the skywalker, the one who goes between, the one who passes outside of the tribe and then returns with memes, insights, cures, designs, glossolalia, technologies, and refertilizes the human family by this means. It’s irrational, but it’s how it actually happens, and it’s how it’s always happened, and it may very well be the only way that it can happen. This cultivation of the irrational, this flirtation with the breakdown of boundaries.

We have come into a kind of post-cultural phase. All culture is dissolving in the face of the drug-like nature of the future. It’s music, it’s design. Indeed, the very people who will inhabit it appear to be the most switched-on, the most chance-taking, the most alive of the entire tribe: people who feel the beat, people who are not afraid to take chances, people for whom these technologies have always been very natural.

Every move we now make in relationship to the new technologies redefines them at the very boundaries where their own developmental impetus would lead them toward a kind of independence. In other words, we talk about artificial intelligence, we talk about the possibility of an AI coming into existence, but we do not really understand to what degree this is already true of our circumstance. In other words, how much of society is already homeostatically regulated by machines that are ultimately under human control, but practically speaking are almost never meddled with? The world price of gold, the rate of petroleum extraction and other base natural resources: how much of these things is on the high seas and in the pipeline at any given moment? How much electricity is flowing into a given electrical grid at any moment? The distribution and the billing of that electricity, all manufacturing and inventory processes, are under machine control. So in other words, the larger flows of energy, capital, and ideas already have a kind of autonomous life of their own that we encourage—because it makes us money, it makes our lives smoother, it empowers us. It’s a symbiotic relationship of empowerment.

You know, McLuhan once said of human beings: “We are the genitals of our technology. We exist only to improve next year’s model.” Well, it appears that they’re phasing us out of this ignominious role as well as every other role.

It seems to me the Earth’s strategy for its own salvation is through machines, and human beings are a kind of intermediary, catalytic step in the rarefaction of the Earth. The Earth is involved in a kind of alchemical sublimation of itself into a higher state of morphogenetic order, and that these machines that we build are actually the means by which the Earth itself is growing conscious. You know, if you study embryology, you know that the final ramification (the final spread and thinning out of the nervous system) happens very suddenly at the end of fetal development. And I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention, but in the last ten, twelve years or so, a very profound change has crept over our household appliances: they’ve become telepathic. So while we were arguing about the implications of the Internet for e-commerce or what have you, all of these passive machines previously used for playing Pong and word processing became subsets of a planetary node of information that is never turned off, that endlessly whispers to itself on the back channels, that is endlessly monitoring and being inputted data from the human world.

Concomitant to the development of all this technology—chaos theory, non-equilibrium thermodynamics, the work of Erich Jantsch, and Ilya Prigogine, and Ralph Abraham, and Stuart Kauffman (all these people who worked in complexity theory and perturbation of large-scale dissipative structures)—these people have secured that complex systems spontaneously mutate to higher states of order. This is counter-intuitive if you’re running physics 19th-century style as your OS, but if you’re actually keeping up with what’s going on, there’s nothing miraculous about this. All kinds of complex systems spontaneously mutate to higher states of order. But what it really means is that we are in the process of birthing some kind of strange companion.

We are, ourselves, elements acting and reacting in a system that we cannot understand. This seems natural to me, because my observations (as stated here this evening) rest on an assumption which science doesn’t share, but which I think is easily conveyed, and you can confirm it from your own experience of life. And it is this: that the universe grows more complex as we approach the present. It was simpler a million years ago. It was simpler yet a billion years ago. As you go backward in time, the universe becomes more simple. As you approach this golden moment, process, complexity is layered upon complexity—not only a planetary ecosystem, not only languages in cultures, but languages in cultures with high technology, with supercomputers, the ability to sequence our own genome, on and on and on. That’s self-evident. Equally self-evident is the fact that this process of complexification that informs all nature on all levels is visibly, palpably, obviously accelerating. And I don’t mean so that glaciers retreat fifty percent faster or volcanism is occurring at twelve percent greater rate than a million years ago. I mean viscerally accelerating. So that now, a human life is more than enough of a window to see the entire global system of relationships in transformation.

If I see a process which has been slowly accelerating for twelve billion years, it’s hard for me to imagine any force which could step forward out of nowhere and wrench that process in a new direction. Rather, I would assume that this process of exponential acceleration—into what I call novelty, which you might call complexity—is a law of being and cannot be retarded or deflected.

I think that the planet is like some kind of organism that is seeking morphogenetic transformation, and it’s doing it through the expression of intelligence and (out of intelligence) technology. Human beings are the agent of a new order of being. That’s why—though it’s obvious that we’re higher mammals, and some kind of primate, and so forth and so on—you can look at us from another point of view and see that we’re more like archangels than primates. We have qualities and concerns and anxieties that animals don’t share. We are mercurially suspended between two different orders of being. And our technologies, our fetishes, our religions—and my definition of technology is sufficiently broad that it includes even spoken language—all of our technologies push forward toward and make inevitable their own obsolescence. So we are, like, caught in an evolutionary cascade.

Print created a number of ideas which now have to be given up; ideas like the distinct and unique nature of the individual, the necessary hierarchical structuring of society—all of these things are going to be (if not given up entirely) dramatically modified, because the illusion that the Self has simple location is now exposed. The Self does not have simple location. This is why you are your brother’s keeper. This is why we all are responsible for each other. The idea that what happens in distant parts of the world makes no claim on my moral judgment or my moral understanding is wrong. The world—as revealed by quantum physics, as revealed by electronic experience—is what Leibniz called a plenum: it’s all one thing, it’s all connected, it’s all of a part.

We are prosthetic devices for these machines. We are their eyes and ears in the world. We provide the code. We provide the constraints. We build the hardware. It is a relationship of mutual benefit. It’s not entirely clear that our contribution will always be creative—in the sense that our primate hand will be on the tiller of existence as it has been—but certainly we are part of this equation of transformation that is making itself felt. And I think the distinction between flesh and machinery which is easily made now will be less easy to make in the future.

The high-temperature, heavy metal technologies that we have become obsessed with are extremely primitive and extremely toxic. That will all disappear as we model and genuflect in our manufacturing processes before the methods and style of nature, which is to pull atomic species from the local environment, and then to assemble them atom by atom by atom.

This AI that is coming into existence is, to my mind, not artificial at all, not alien at all. What it really is, is: it’s a new confirmational geometry of the collective Self of humanity.

This is what shamans are: they are 4D people. They are sanctioned members of a society who are allowed to put on the gloves (as it were), pull on the goggles, and look beyond the idols of the tribe, look beyond the myth. Well, in a way, as culture breaks down—in multi-culturalism, and the rise of the Internet, and a generation of people raised on hallucinogenic plants and substances—we all are asked to assimilate some portion of this shamanic potential to ourselves. And it’s about not blocking what is obvious. Nothing comes unannounced. I mean, this is the faith: nothing comes unannounced—but idiots can miss the announcement! So it’s very important to actually listen to your own intuition rather than driving through it.

This notion of the felt presence of immediate experience: this transcends the culture, the machines, the drugs, the history, the momentum of evolution. It’s all you will ever know and all you can ever know—is the felt presence of immediate experience. Everything else arrives as rumor, litigant, advocate, supposition, possibility. The felt moment of immediate experience is actually the mind and the body aware of each other, and aware of the flow of time, and the establishment of being through metabolism.

That is the contribution of the animal body to this evolutionary symbiosis—which I believe will end in the conquest of the universe by organized intelligence.

It will not be like the things which have come from the industrial economy. They will not be profane machines. They will be spiritual machines, alchemical gold, the universal panacea that Renaissance magic dared to dream of at the end of the 16th century. We are reaching out toward this mind child that will be born from the intellectual loins of our culture. And, to my mind, it’s the most exciting and transformative thing that has ever happened on this planet, and the miracle is that we are present—not only to witness it, but to be part of it, and to be raised up in an epiphany that will redeem the horror of history as nothing else can or could; redeem the horror of history through a transformation of the human soul into a galaxy-roving vehicle via our machines and our drugs and the externalization of our souls.

What civilization is, is: six billion people trying to make themselves happy by standing on each other’s shoulders and kicking each other’s teeth in. It’s not a pleasant situation. And yet, you can stand back and look at this planet and see that we have the money, the power, the medical understanding, the scientific know-how, the love, and the community to produce a kind of human paradise. But we are led by the least among us: the least intelligent, the least noble, the least visionary. We are led by the least among us, and we do not fight back against the dehumanizing values that are handed down as control icons.

How do we fight back? I think: by creating art. Art. Man was not put on this planet to toil in the mud—or: the god who put us on this planet to toil in the mud is no god I want to have any part of. It’s some kind of gnostic demon. It’s some kind of cannibalistic demiurge that should be thoroughly renounced and rejected. By putting the art pedal to the metal, we really, I think, maximize our humanness and become much more necessary and incomprehensible to the machines. This is what people were doing up until the invention of agriculture. I’m absolutely convinced that the absence of ceramic and textural material, and so forth and so on, does not indicate the absence of subtle minds, poetically empowered minds, minds with an incredible sense of humor and irony and community. And that it was the fall into history that enslaved us to the labor cycle, to the agricultural cycle. And notice how fiendish it is: a person who dedicates themselves to agriculture, who did in the Paleolithic, can produce hundreds of times the amount of food they can consume. Well, so why would anyone do that? Well, the answer is: because you can use it to play power games, you know? You can trade it for wives or land or animals or something like that. And so living in the moment, creating art—probably largely through poetry and body decoration and dance—gave way to toil and predatory social forms of behavior which we call commerce, capitalism, the market economy, so forth and so on.

This is a society, a world, a planet dying because there is not enough consciousness, because there is not enough awareness, enough coordination of intent to problem. And yet, we spend vast amounts of money stigmatizing people and substances that are part of this effort to expand consciousness, see things in different ways, unleash creativity. Isn’t it perfectly clear that “business as usual” is a bullet through the head? That there is no “business as usual” for anybody who’s interested in survival!