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The Transformations of Language Under the Influence of the Psychedelic Experience
The Transformations of Language Under the Influence of the Psychedelic Experience
Location, Berkeley, California
So, I've spoken about five times about various aspects of the psychedelic experience to audiences here and at Esalen and in Santa Barbara, and, one of the things that is a personal interest of mine that stands out from the general background of the psychedelic experience is the way that it is throws light on language, and I discovered that, uh, audiences seem fairly responsive to this question even though it seemed to me, at first, fairly hard to articulate it, and fairly hard to say too much about it. So, tonight, to indulge myself and anybody else who has a particular interest in this aspect of it, I want to say more about it and maybe talk for 40 minutes or so, and then, uh, take questions. And, I think it's by talking, uh, it's-it's perhaps a tautology to think that by talking about a linguistic phenomenon or a linguistic problem you can illuminate it. But, uh, I'm interested in how it strikes other people and the kind of dialog that can be generated by, uh, talking about it.
First of all, to background what I'm saying a little bit, I recently ran across, uh, a very interesting, uh, analogy or metaphor that seemed useful to me, which was- it was a historical analogy- saying that, uh, when civilizations come into crisis they inevitably- one of their strategies for survival is to cast back to an earlier period of time, an earlier cultural ideal, and then to try to exemplify its- to exemplify its values, and, as the obvious example and the most recent, uh, phenomenon of this sort on any large scale is the Renaissance in which the breakdown of Medieval society and the rise of mercantilism, uh, generated a need to cast back into time for a set of values and then to realize them. And, the period of time that was chosen was Classical, uh, Greece and Rome. And, so painting, sculpture, poetry, reflected an effort to recapture Classical values.
Um. What I think is happening in the present, and by 'the present' I mean the whole 20th century, is, uh, a similar thing, a similar culture crisis, but on a much grander and more global and more threatening scale and a casting back for a previous cultural model that can- whose ideals, if we could realize them, would save our own civilization: the same idea that the Renaissance had about Classical, uh, Greece. But, strangely, the period that we have decided, that we have fastened on without ever making a conscious decision, but as a reflection of decisions made in the mass psyche of the species, the period that we have settled on is the Archaic period, which
human history. And, so, uh, Cubism and, uh, uh, the things that were done for literature by Joyce and Pound and the, uh, glorification of barbarism and the recovery of the unconscious, first the sexual nature of the unconscious through Freud, later the mass archetypal, uh, structure through Jung. In other words, the great movements of the 20th century, even Marxism, can be seen as efforts to recapture, uh, prehistoric sacral values. And, this process has been going on for 50 years or so, different adumbrations of it at differing times. And, now, and for the past 10 years or so, the theme of shamanism, the rediscovery of paleolithic religion, and the rise of the use of hallucinogenic drugs, which were the driving force of paleolithic religion has, uh, come into the fore.
Well, ok. Holding that in your mind for a moment, recall, uh, Marshall McLuhan's idea that, uh, technologies for conveying information shift ratios in the mass psyche in the way that it relates to the world. And, he, uh, was famous for partic- predicting what he called electronic feudalism: he said that the, uh, the television screen was more like a page of manuscript than a page of print and that, as the linearity and uniformity and rational, uh, assumptions of grammar were transcended in the conveying of information to be replaced by electronic gestalts that were looked at rather than read, that, uh, the ratios between the, uh, senses would shift and that this would have profound effects on art and the history of ideas and this sort of thing.
What is happening is that a kind of super-McLuhanistic phenomenon is happening where we are collapsing, not into the electronic feudalism that he discussed, but into, uh, the electronic tribalism which he discussed, and it is shifting our, um, sensory ratios away from, uh, the audial and toward the visual, and this brings me now to my subject, which is the transformations of language under the ps- uh, under the influence of the psychedelic experience. The fact that there is a spectrum of vocal and psychological and psycho-mental phenomena that range all the way from, uh, the recess- the recitation of learned material through freely formed speech and into these trance-like, uh, religious phenomena that go under the category 'glossolalia'. And these things are experienced, uh, by the people who do them as having a varying relationship to the visual rather than the audial sense.
I've- we had a discussion a couple of nights ago with Ralph Abraham about when you are, uh, asked to conjure the idea of an orange, what is this idea made out of? When you close your eyes and think of an orange, is what you think of made of language or is it made of light? And, what you say in answer to this question, what does it say about you and your, uh, the way in which you're embedded in your culture? Under the influence of psilocybin, particularly, uh, the language-forming centers are activated, and they are activated in s- in tandem with, uh, the visual cortex, so that forms of synesthesia are experienced which are linked, first of all, to sound, so that people singing control the fabric of hallucination through sound, and we found this to be true of ayahuasca in the Amazon where definitely the shaman's use of voice controls the fabric, the visual fabric, of what's going on.
But, there is yet another level to that phenomenon, which is: with the addition of meaning, the control of the visual surface, the topology of meaning, if you will, rather than the ongoing decoding from a dictionary, is, uh, is transcended. Meaning, then, is able, also, to work its adumbrations on this topological surface, and you see into, um... well, there are different ways of cognizing it: the place where the
is coming from, the assembly language that lies behind all formalized or culturally, uh, validated languages, Wittgenstein called it 'the Unspeakable'. It's, it's the place where explication cannot go, almost by definition, in order to avoid a tautology.
Well, now, it seemed to me that, uh, uh... the nearness of these tryptamine hallucinogens to normal metabolites of brain chemistry and the fragileness that people like McLuhan and Julian Jaynes have shown to be, uh, a part of the way we construct our world; in other words, that it's a delicate balance of chemistry and language and history, uh,
these sensory ratios; that, given all this, it seemed probable to me that this phenomenon encountered in deep psychedelic experiences with psilocybin actually has a potential historical impact. It is a kind of human ability which is, at present, submerged in the psyche, contactable only by the shamanic means of journeying into historical hyperspace; in other words, of going into that place where the adumbrations of the future are intense enough that you can have, uh, an intimation, at least, of what is to come. And, I think
what is to come, and it is a kind of telepathy, but it's not telepathy as we imagined it to be. I sa- I- when I imagined telepathy, I though of it as hearing another person think and having them hear what you think. This is something where the modality of meaning is shifted out of a common dictionary that is, uh, a cultural convention, and into a, uh, a shared visual topology which is examined by both parties, both the speaker, who caused this thing to be, and the audience, who shares the space where this is happening.
Uh, it's interesting that, uh, beta-carbolines, which are used to, uh, accentuate the hallucinogenic effect of DMT in these ayahuasca preparations in, in, uh, Amazonas, is, um - is, uh, very definitely a part of normal human metabolism, brain metabolism. And, the MAO-inhibition that it's performing on, uh, DMT that is, uh, introduced from the outside is a mirror image of the kind of function that it's performing in the brain. So, the shifting of these sensory ratios is causing language to become more visual, and at this point I always have to quote Philo Judeas, who was a first century Alexandrian Jew who talked about the Logos. And, I have made analogies between the phenomenon I am describing and the Logos. But, in the critical quote, what he said was that a more perfect Logos was possible and that it would be a phenomenon which would pass from, uh, the modality of being heard to the modality of being beheld without ever crossing through a quantized point of transition where you could say it was one, now it is the other. And, I think, uh, the cultural shockwaves that will be generated by the emergence of visible language will so- will totally transform the culture to the point that the point beyond the end of history, the entry into hyperspace, the eschatological monad, all these, uh, religious or theological constructs about history are actually intuitions about language undergoing this transformation.
Now, several things about this transformation: it's obviously not something which the culture is doing as a decision; it isn't like home computers and cable TV; it isn't being brought on as an information utility; it's something which is being imposed from outside, and I think it is, uh- I'm sure most of you are familiar with the Gaia [pronounced gae-uh] or Gaia [pronounced guy-uh] hypothesis of homeostatic regulation of the environment of the Earth through the interaction of all life acting as a single organism. Well, it obviously regulates, uh, trigger species such as we are, are part of this homeostatic method of regulation, and I think the gradual evolution of language is actually the gradual lifting of the veil that is imposed between ourselves and meaning by the planetary ecology. In other words, the forward thrust of history is actually regulated by the ecology, and it is regulated through control of the evolution of language, because what you cannot think, you cannot do, and where you cannot imagine, you cannot steer your culture and go. So I'm proposing, on one level, that hallucinogens be thought of as, uh, human macro-, uh, almost, uh, social pheromones that, uh, regulate the rate at which language develops and therefore regulate, uh, the evolution of human culture generally.
Now, one final, uh, thought about all this. Um...[someone coughs], it seems clear to me, and I've mentioned it in the other lectures, that the evolution- that another aspect of what psychedelics are doing, and an aspect of what's happening to the culture generally, is it's transformation into a space-faring species and that the momentum for this has been building for millennia. It is not something that was decided in the 1950s. It is, in fact, what we're all to- about. I, I looked at a book recently by Terry Wilson about Brian Dyson called
Here To Go
. And, uh, he asked the question: "What are we here for?" And, he answers himself: "We're here to go." And, I think there's great truth in that, especially in the current historical moment where it's clear that, uh, man as a species and the planet as a unified ecosystem have become antagonistic to each other, and, uh, this is not unusual in nature. In fact, it's a phenomenon, um, that occurs between a mother and a fetus. When the fetus comes to term, when the birth is imminent, it must happen. Otherwise the, the, uh, survival of both parties is threatened. Even though the birth trauma for the mother and the child represents, uh, one of the major, uh, crises that they will face in their sojourn in existence. Nevertheless, it is inevitable and necessary, and if it comes off correctly, why, it's, uh, to the good of everyone.
Where psychedelics comes together with that is that it is going to require a transformation of human language and understanding, uh, to stop the momentum of the historical process, to halt nuclear proliferation, germ warfare, infantile 19th century politics, all these things. It cannot be accomplished through a frontal assault upon it by political means, and the I Ching says, you know, never- you never confront evil directly, because when it is named it sharpens it weapons and it learns to defend itself. So, what is called for is this
through hyperspace. Uh... God forbid, I think it was Tim Leary who said we should become ecological secret agents, uh- [audience laughter]. Is that what I'm concluding? Maybe.
Anyway. The transformation of language is, I think, uh, the signal that this archaic- that this nostalgia for the archaic world is coming to a head and that this is its culmination; this is the peculiar thing that we all sense is coming that we can't quite imagine, that is synthetic yet natural, that is obvious yet hidden, uh, and it, it- the interesting thing about it is that it is- emerges from an inner personal frontier. In other words, you're not going to hear this on the evening news, the President is not going to explain it to you, the secretary of- general of the UN isn't going to explain it to you. You are only going to advance into understanding this phenomena to the degree that you apply yourself to your being, to attention to being, to reflection on reflection, to attention on attention. And, then, it, uh, it will become clear, and because it is a, uh- a, um, gradient of evolution, it, it doesn't, uh, come with the force of a revelation. It is something which is drawn out almost in the same way that we move forward into time, this thing is drawn out. In fact, you could almost say that the act of history or the fact of history is a macro-phenomenon that arises out of the micro-physical fact of millions of people evolving their language. That is what causes the moving wave-front of, uh, of historical becoming.
So, uh, transformation of language through psychedelic drugs is, uh, a central factor of the s- evolution of the social matrix of the, of the rest of the century. My brother is working on, uh, the theory, putting together the argument for the idea that, uh, actually human history has
been mediated by man's interaction with hallucinogenic drugs, and that
the pheromonal regulator that links us to the rest of ecology, of the ecology, and it's simply accidents of, uh, botany and, uh, alkaloid distribution and historiography that allowed a culture to arise in Europe, which was an area confined geographically and poor in psychedelic plants, so that the mystery was confined to places like Eleusis and peripheral cults like the, possibly the mushroom berserkers or A
, I mean, um,
using cults in the Arctic regions. Uh, and, because of those accidents of, of botany and geography, a culture was able to get loose from, uh, such a tight- the tight constraints that the unconscious imposes. But, nevertheless, that culture, then, was the Promethean culture, the Faustian culture, which claimed the energies which will then send the mind
[ed. note: 'mind tribes?' I'm not sure I follow his remark here]
tribes to the stars. If it had not been for this historical episode, we would essentially be at the Amazonian level of culture, which is: suspended in the hallucinogenic dream but oblivious to the historical forces which are bearing down on that. And, tribalism is a social form which can exist at any level of technology. It's a complete illusion to associate it w-, uh, with low levels of technology. It is probably, in fact, uh, a form of social organization second only to the family in its ability to endure.
So, this must seem very strange to some people and home ground to other people [Terence laughs]. Are there any questions at this point? Nary a taker. Yes?
Q: Yeah, that last generalization sounded real broad. Maybe you could expand on tribalism is a social form which can exist at any technological level.
TM: Well, I think it's an attitude toward, uh, genes and property and, uh, information. Uh, the institutional hierarchically-structured societies that we associate with [someone coughs], uh, our own culture, which I assume we define consciously or unconsciously as somehow the superior culture, is just inherited from, uh, tribal organization but with a need to abstract the leadership quality so that control could function over wide areas. But, electronics actually is, you know- the entire human community is enclosed in a light-second of travel, so there is- the globalism is real. I mean, when I first read McLuhan, it seemed to me
true, but a thin voice crying in the wilderness. It was hard to see if, out of all the trends working in society, that was how it would come to be, but it certainly seems to be so. I, I think, uh- Well, it's, uh- H. G. Wells said, "history is a race between education and disaster." And I think, you know, that education was losing that race until electronics came along and, uh, now I would probably, uh, be optimistic.
I think that, uh, there is a global commonality of understanding coming into being, and it is not necessarily fostered by institutions. For instance, the invention of the microchip which makes possible the personal computer, uh, it was actually thought to be a mistake. It was not fast enough for the defense department purposes that it was engineered- that the research project that produced it was aiming for, and they produced instead this weird thing, which they couldn't imagine what to do with, because it was too slow for any military or industrial application. And- but, someone realized, you know, that, uh, it was just fine for human beings, and that it would va- and, that it would shift the, the, uh, pieces around on the board in the war between, you know, freedom and oligarchy and, uh, and, uh, human individuality and all these forces which seek to oppress it. So, I don't believe, you know, that the historical process is, is under the control of the many, many institutions that would wish to control it.
I don't- the break between nature and man has been over-stressed, I think, and that we should realize, you know, that we are very strange, but you can find very odd adaptations at many levels. And, uh, when you look at the, at the global ecology, you see that there
a species like us or otherwise it would mean that evolution gives up at the planetary level, that somehow when it encounters the edge of the atmosphere, it just says "Ok, well that's it. If the star goes, we all go, and there's no way around that." But, actually the obvious way around that is, uh, a technical species, a minded species that will open a hole using energy and understanding through which everything could escape if it had to because, uh, you know, as we, as our- the data flows back from these probes moving out through the solar system and beyond, it turns out that the 19th century intuition of catastrophism was, uh, very correct, that the universe is, in fact, a very turbulent place, and that you only have to open your time window a little bit, to like 100,000 years, for the probability of
turbulent events, uh, that a global ecosystem would react to and, uh, strategies have to be evolved.
I mean, Francis Crick has come out, uh, with his belief, the panspermia idea, that life actually evolves in a deep space environment and is conveyed then to planetary environments where it can, uh, uh, adapt and evolve evolutionary strategies by cometary material. At one point, we suggested that
, the psilocybin mushroom, was actually an intelligent species whose method, uh, whose strategy of evolutionary, uh, advance was the spore which could actually go into a kind of suspended animation for hundreds of thousands, millions of years and, by that means, radiate through the galaxy over very long periods of time, and, uh, that seemed like a very radical idea at the time. We hypothesized that, uh, spore liberation by an
on a planetary surface, then, through Brownian motion and, uh, accumulation of global charge on the surface on the spore, that there would be a small number of these tending to percolate out of any given atmosphere. And, given the enormous amounts of spores that are released, you could make an argument for this kind of evolutionary strategy. But, Crick, who
DNA, makes a much wilder hypothesis, which is that you don't even require a planetary ecosystem for, uh, DNA and life chemistry to evolve, that it can evolve in ultra-cold regimens in interstellar space, and then be conveyed to various planetary chemical regimens where it can respond and grow.
And, uh... all of these things, life, which we know from the rock that is dug out of South Africa chert, you can date back to at least, uh, 3.5 billion years. That's longer than the life of, uh, 40 percent of the stars in the universe. So, life is not an ephemeral process in an entropic universe. Life is a process that, uh, has a duration that exceeds that of star, uh, star life. And, life strategy for running against the second law of thermodynamics and, uh, expanding and conserving ordered structure over vast periods of time is a strategy of encoding information and retaining it. In other words, languages. And, these languages, which are abstract systems of notation that can be laid onto nucleotides or coconuts or scratches on clay or whatever, allow the conserving of complexity. And, uh, the- the, uh, the cross into visible language, that I see as the culmination of human historical culture, is a similar advance into this information self-expression of the magnitude, uh, similar to the generation of epigenetic information. In other words, the first writing, the first notation: that represented a break with genetic information that allowed, then, culture and memory and self-reflection.
Visible language will, uh, allow similar forward thrust deeper into human becoming, But, it will- it is also part of a phenomenon of leaving the planet and being anticipated now in these psychedelic drug states, because as we continue to insist on exploring the archaic through drugs and music and archaeology and, uh, our f- the whole thrust of 20th century self-explication, I think we're going to find that this was the basis of the Ur-shamanism. This is what magic is: it's, uh, being able to speak in a voice which makes things happen, being able to speak in a voice which causes facts to be beheld by groups of people in a way that has been purged from profane language, for us relegated to poetry and, uh, and that sort of thing.
Q: Would this kind of visional or beheld language have any basic structural units to it, like an alphabet, or would it be, uh, something so abstract which you couldn't re- resolve into basic... [??]
TM: Well, you know, people had to look at language probably fifteen thousand years before Noam Chomsky was able to write down the 15 rules of transformational grammar. It may have, there may be some, uh, a pixel or an alphabet or a, a reducible unit to it. It doesn't seem like that. It seems like, um, [clears throat] well, no, no, maybe topology, that we could imagine that René Thom's, uh, catastrophes, of which there are 7 good in 3 dimensions, but as you add dimensions to any system, the number of these potential catastrophes increases, and Ralph Abraham has described a number of the hyper-dimensional catastrophe states. Perhaps they could eventually, it could eventually be recognized as a grammar of catastrophe flow, where it changes first into one thing, then into another.
What you're asking basically is, w- you know, 'what is the meaning of meaning?', or, put another way, 'does language eventually become somehow a mirror of mathematics?'. And, I don't know, it would take a lot more analysis, uh, than I have done. I, I think describing this stuff is at the level of sailing up jungle rivers and sticking to the broad rivers and noting that, you know, at 3 in the afternoon you passed a river mouth flowing in, it was a mile-and-a-half wide, and you don't know where it was coming from or how many thousand square miles it was draining, and you just put a note on your map to return some day and ascend it. In other words, there's, uh, this archaic area of the mind. It's going to take a long time to explicate it. By the time we have assimilated our recontact with the archaic, you know, there will be colonies on Alpha Centauri, there will be thinking machines, there will be trans-dimensional vehicles and, uh, out-of-body consciousness via electronics. All these things will arise out of our grappling with an understanding of this shift in the sensory ratios that, uh, will essentially return modern man to the age of miracles. And, uh, though we won't put it that way, but we will privately experience it that way. I mean, that's what psychedelic drugs are. We don't put it that way, but we all who have been through it, you know, privately experience it as a miracle.
Q: It occurred, something that I've been devoting a fair amount of thought to lately -.haven't gotten very far - and that's the conviction under certain experiences, you're getting information from deep within your psyche or so, from deep within some sort of racial or human information - sometimes what you talked about before, foreign but yet human information and yet another experience that you are just willing to absolutely bet that's not human information that is coming into your brain, or whatever. Many people talk about this and I was just wondering if you would share your thoughts on that division or any hypotheses, whether you feel that that's accurate, not accurate...
TM: Well, it seems as though there is a, a tuning mechanism that you must somehow, by trial and error, find how to twiddle this knob and you move through these very concentrated areas of information. And, some of it can be blindingly personal, some of it appear to be movies of historical periods, some of it, uh, appear to be conformed to Jungian stuff, and then the alien part of it. And, I don't, I - I don't know, I mean this is the area I work in. I've held all kinds of opinions about this information and finally decided, you know, that it's too early to say what it is.
There's a school of, uh, New Age, or, I don't know exactly how to put it, but, the Seth books and that, uh, the, uh, Ilsa [Isha?] Schwaller De Lubicz and these people, where it's just, nobody asks any hard questions, it's just "oh, you're channeling a being from Arcturus and they're laying the law down." Fascinating; what are they saying? Well, that's interesting, what they're saying, but more interesting is trying to actually, uh, work up close to the mechanics involved in this channeling, uh, and I'm very skeptical, and yet it hasn't stopped me at all from doing it. I mean, I talk to them, but I don't, uh, give away the barn or the cow, I just try to engage in dialogue and, uh, you know, s- some traditions are very blasé about this sort of thing.
Buddhism, for instance, Vajrayana, it's just "oh yes, many worlds, many beings, beings, beings [audience chuckles], all kinds of beings on every level and you have to learn to deal with them." But, it- that's well and good until you actually are doing- dealing with these beings and go through, like that wonderful moment in Rosemary's Baby where she says "my God, this is really happening?" Well, there are those moments where you realize, you know, that this doesn't appear to be a hypostatization of discriminating intellect. It appears to be some kind of eight-armed shmiggy which is coming at you with all these, uh, [audience laughter] implements.
And, uh, I don't know, see, I think It's going to take a long time to sort this all out, and that in order to learn what we had to learn about matter to leave the planet, we had to
put ourselves through a head trip and close down the imagination or, uh, deputize special people to be imaginative who we called poets, and then labeled irrelevant. [audience laughs] Uh, it's going to now come upon us, and science is flowing into this area and beginning to recognize that it must have a romantic component. Uh, this is just the way of things. Ideas beget their opposites and then are subsumed by them. Anyone, yes.
Q: Can you relate this in any way to the crisis their having currently in the art world [???] the end of art, you know - that kind of thing...
TM: Could - could all this be related to the crisis in art? Well, I don't know what do you mean, the crisis since 1905 or 1975 or which...
Q: Take your pick. [laughs]
TM: Well. I-I'm not - it's not exactly a crisis. It - Art i- the goal of art is to be incomprehensible, or a portion of it has to be incomprehensible. I think, the- you know, these paintings at Lascaux and Altamira, which are now dated at 19,000 years old, when the first ones were discovered in the 1890s, they were thought to be, uh, 400 to 500 years old. And, as it dawned on people what this was, and this was like 1905 to 1925, it just- the abyss of time and history that opened up for people who were sensitive to it, the realization that, you know, my god, people have been feeling what I've fee - been feeling, thinking what I've been feeling for at least 20,000 years, and this impacted on Picasso, it impacted on Miro, it impacted on Clay, it impacted on Marcel DuChamp, all of these people.
And, much of the, of the 'bad boy' antics of modern art is actually, it's, uh, when you bring a primitive home to dinner. You know, when the 19th-century academy brings home a savage from the South Sea Island, Jarry with the cast of his penis, Marcel DuChamp, uh, insisting on wearing a, uh, a toilet thing around his neck at certain formal occasions. I - they were - and, and, for instance, in the punk, the current punk phenomenon of body painting, you know, they would be perfectly at home in the mountains of New Guinea. People love to paint themselves. This was very big before the last Ice Age. [audience laughs]
And, uh, you know, if you, if you believe heavy metal sets fashion, it looks like it's going to be very big in the next century. [audience laughs] Uh, but a more serious answer to your question is: I think that the, the crisis is onl- not- it depends... It's a crisis, it's an opportunity. What it is that art is becoming eschatological. The, the- from, uh, um, Duccio on, from the close of the medieval period on, art was conceived of a series of self-transcending styles moving toward various goals which usually derived from the philosophy of the time, um, beginning, you know, so that realism or mannerism, these various tendencies, would be pursued. What's happened in the 20th century with the legitimizing of experience and the, uh, and, and the legitimizing of experiment, and the destruction of the patronage system in the academy is that everything happens. There are people painting in New York today in the style of Jan Van Eyck and making a living at it.
And, there are also people doing all kinds of things, but it's very, very hard to pick out a new piece of art, if by- I don't think, uh - well, the art of the last 20 years has been art outside of time. Since the middle 60s, since William Wylie and funk and all that stuff began, uh, it's impossible to date art objects. They can have been made any time in the last, uh, 20 years. This is what eschatological time will be like, a transcendence of style, and people simply working in these various modes of self-expression which compete in a great atemporal carnival, um, wherein, unfortunately, the values of the marketplace play too great a role, but no other way of mediating it has been found. Part of what's happened to art is that it's been transformed into a, an enormous industry that must produce objects to decorate the apartments of the affluent, uh, on all continents who want to, you know, have art and be involved in art, but they are not, they don't have enough power to dictate style. They'll take whatever's put before them, which is very liberating for artists [audience laughs].
Anybody else have anything on their mind?... Not a soul. Yes, Mark.
Q: You talked about language as information structures...
TM: Uh huh,
Q: ...and, but you could also think of personality structure, that with which the witness consciousness identifies with as an information structure, too. Wh- Where do you draw the line between language that is beheld as something other and language that is, or- that - those information structures which are part of the, the identity experiencing?
TM: Well, you're asking 'what is the difference between self and other?'.
TM: Well, the-
Q: In terms of language.
TM: What you're asking is 'how do you know you're not talking to yourself?'.
TM: Uh huh. [audience laughter] Well, that's a very tricky question [clears throat and laughs; audience laughs]. Uh, I'm surprised that in 3,000 years of philosophizing somebody hasn't, uh, figured out a nifty way to always tell this. It would make a marvelous short story. Some little litmus test that you could perform. Uh, pretty much you have to go on intuition. Of course, what you always say is "I can't possibly know what I'm being told, therefore it isn't myself," but that's a very naive view of the psyche. On the other hand, when that reaches excruciating proportions there's a tendency to abandon, uh, sophistication and just believe in it anyway. But, uh, this thing about the shifting, uh, boundary between self and other is very tricky.
When I first smoked DMT, for instance, I mean, I th- I saw an absolute break between self and alien. I mean, I was myself and they were the aliens [audience chuckles], but then, you know, over years of working at- with it and seeing how it comes on with psilocybin, where instead of forming up over 40 seconds or so, it comes together over a half-an-hour or 40 minutes and you have to breathe and you have to ease it in, then you see how, you know, it is a kind of, uh, it is a kind of thing which emerges out of myself. It's like I pull a psychic plug and the opaque ink drains away, and there is this marvelous coral-like organism which I didn't think was a part of me but, you know, perhaps all through life and death we keep discovering new organs capable of amazing things that we didn't know we had.
And, uh, but I don't know. I mean, I don't think you can ask a single person to know. I think this is the question that shamanism deals with, and, and, not all- it's a mystery, you know, it's a mystery. Not only is the Other the Self, but is the m-, is the Other God? Is the Other the species-mind of the planet? Is the Other a
, a kind of god but a local force of some sort? I mean, these are wonderful questions to entertain when they have immediacy. And, this is what people did before history was: religion was their job and they worked at it, uh, very hard. And, but I'm not sure there are ever answers.
More and more recently, I've, uh - and I've always known this on some level - I think about, when I was about 16 or so, I realized it and briefly pursued it and never did, never returned to it, but I think that Taoism, if I had to pick an ontological vision that, uh, was compatible with what I think these drugs are about and with what I think, uh, is trying to happen, I would pick Taoism...for the following reasons: It's the only mystical tradition I know of - uh, possibly with the exception of shamanism, but shamanism doesn't really reflect on this - it's the only mystical tradition I know of that is not anti-scientific. It has no hostility to science; it is highly experimental. It's
compounding drugs with fungi and minerals and doing strange things on the side of fog-swept mountains and looking into your head and looking into your head and
looking into your head
. And trying to refine description, and it is open-ended.
And it is, um, botan- it is ethno- uh, ecologically sensitive. It is sensitive to the - it is not at all antagonistic to drugs. In fact, uh, o-on the subject of drugs, it's extremely straightforward and practical. Its stated goal is to compound the ninefold elixir of immortality. And, then how you do this, various methods came and went through the ages. But, its stress on
, its stress on analysis, its stress on contemplation without method. In fact, it's general antagonism toward method, all these things, uh, endear it to me a lot, and I think it's very compatible, uh, with the shamanic, uh, stance. In fact, you know, we cannot, uhhh - we are modern people, and even if you think of yourself as a practicing shaman - I don't think of myself that way; I think of myself as a shamanologist - but even if you think of yourself as a practicing shaman, you have to, uh, weld it to later traditions that answer more sophisticated questions that were posed later in historical time. And, Taoism would be an excellent vehicle for that, I think. Yeah.
Q: Yes- in Hindu, um, mythology there is reference to a state of being dissolved into the absolute, or being "one without a second", not, uh, defined by, uh, any past historical reference. Does that in any way connect to what you're talking about?
TM: Yeah. I think it is. This "one without a second" causes me to think of Plotinus. One of his definitions of the mystical experience was he called it "the flight of the alone to the alone," which mathematically adds up to the one without a second. Uh, as far as the, the, this end of history that seems to be appointed for history by Western religion. Yes, it is like dissolution, uh, the dissolution of the cosmos that goes on in Hindu cosmology. Hindu cosmology is a set of nested cycles similar in structure to the set of nested cycles that I proposed for time, uh, in
The Invisible Landscape
. And, uh, I think we're running into one of those compression points, that everything that has been going on on this planet for the last billion years has been a series of telescoping, telescoping processes of ever-accelerating, uh, intensity, connectivity, and momentum, leading finally to the generation of consciousness. A moment after that, uh, historical civilization. A moment after that, uh, modern science, and a moment after that, star flight. And, it is just, you know, a-a-a 10,000 year rush from monkeyhood to star-flight. A geological moment, but historically a grand opera that has everybody on the edge of their seat, because if the ball is fumbled, that's all she wrote. And, there's nothing that says that we
succeed, or at least we cannot
that there's something which says that we must succeed. Um, even if we are the chosen, uh, target species of Gaia, Gaia may not, uh, have all fingers on the button. We don't know where our own power ends and begins and where the power of the Other begins and ends. And, so we have to make our way carefully into these dimensions. Shamanism is thousands of years of accumulated information on how to navigate in these spaces. If we're becoming a shamanic society through the metaphor of space flight, uh, we're going to have to recover this information and, uh, there'll be some chills and spills along the way, I'm sure. Yeah.
Q: Yeah, Terence - I had a question: in the traditional use of substances that you've described - this ritual around it.
Q: The - There's also intention generally from shaman around healing, uh, and focus around hunting, uh, real earthly kind of pursuits around survival... and that seems to ground the experience in many ways or provide a focus for it. When we do it by ourselves, shans, uh, sans ritual, sans this kind of language, sans this kind of training, we're prey to the whole deceptions of the mind.
Q: And, so my question to you is, uh, what sort of critical inquiry do you personally use, what kind of critical language do you personally use with these forms in front of you? How do, you know w-... guard against self-deception? Uh, you use the words "critical analysis." What does that mean when you translate into practice these things?
TM: Well, it isn't so much, uh, in confrontation with the being that you have to un- have this critical analysis. In confrontation with the being, you act from the heart and in the moment. But, it's later, it's what do we think about these things as we sit here now, relatively unstoned and, uh, ah, your question raises all kinds of issues. I said I didn't think anyone was a shaman, or that I thought of myself as a shamanologist. This is because a shaman is, uh, educated by other shamen, inculcated, chosen out, educated, and brought along. In our society, we have to do it all by ourselves. And, you know, I've made a comparison to, uh, a man walking along the beach and coming upon a fully-rigged sailboat. How likely, comparing the sailboat to the psychedelic drug, how likely is it that this man can learn to sail without killing himself? Where, you know, it is no great matter to learn to sail if you learn from a sailor. So, this is the first barrier that's posed for us, or was posed, I think, in the 60s, when there were a lot of casualties to psychedelics, because it was assumed that everyone should do it, and so millions of people did, and actually, there are few societies, uh, where everyone does it, and those where that
the case, or where, for instance, all men do it, are not, uh, probably the most advanced, uh, shamanisms on the planet. So, it's a kind of a profession. It's a, it's, uhh, almost like clergy. It's to be deputized by the society as an ecstatic for the purpose of introducing back into society the material that comes from the mystical voyage for purposes of cultural renewal.
The chief thing which grounds the shaman, uh, at least in my practical experience with them, is the curing, the, that- and Mircea Eliade insists on this, that the primary function of the shaman is to cure and that all these other things go toward that. Uh, we all have to cure ourselves in a sense, in the sense that is contained in the notion that a psychedelic drug is a deconditioning agent. Now, I don't think a psychedelic drug is particularly a deconditioning agent if you're Witoto, or Bora, or Muinane, or something like that and you take it. You don't, then, denounce being that and leave for Lima. [audience chuckles] But, uh, but in our culture, psychedelics have had this effect of triggering a very fundamental question, of- questioning of, uh, values, and, and uh, intensifying alienation, creating alienated sub-classes.
Uh, this is n-, is a symptom of the general unhealthiness of the society, that you can't be psychedelic and be one hundred percent of this society, that certain things seem to impose themselves in your way. So I don't think that there is, uh, any easy answer to your question. We have to m- we, what we have over shaman is, uh, our wonderful electronic information retrieval systems. And the way that works is like this: you go to the Amazon and you're dealing [audience cough] with a tribe and they say, you know, 'we need this certain drug plant', and uh, um, 'the secret word for it is so-and-so, and we'll go and get it'. And, they do, and they know more about that drug plant than you do by a
crack. But, you ask them 'did they know that the people 20 miles further up the river use a different plant called something else?' And, you know this because you read it in a Harvard Museum botanical leaflet which tells you that- and they are astonished, you know? You have this weird overview, which they cannot conceive of. They are com- they are fully informed in a vertical fashion about one tradition, but you, by writing to Boston, Massachusetts and getting these leaflets and reading them, are more prepared to discuss the generalities of Amazon shamanism than
of the people you meet, and this is a great resource not to be sneered at. Uh, uh, there's a lot of information, and, like for instance when you read Mircea Eliade's
Shamanism: The Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy
, this is a global overview and you - I'm not saying you know more than any one single shaman knows about shamanic ecstasy, but you have a certain kind of knowledge which prepares you, a generalized cosmology which prepares you, and this is- these are the best maps that we have so we have to make use of them.
Q: Could you comment on how
issue relates to the more general one that seems to contain it: of the turning towards the archaic, the attempt to recapture or reintegrate the unconscious forces after a period of deliberately not being able to do so as a society and what- how that's going to affect both individual and social change over the next visible historical horizon?
TM: Well, obviously just on the surface of it, Freud in
Civilization and Its Discontents
made the point that sexuality is necessarily repressed for civilization to be possible. Sexuality is being redefined, uh, in this modern context, in an archaic context, so that it becomes, uh, more generalized. The romantic ideal gives place to a kind of tribal ideal. Uh, this is obviously happening and related to psychedelics and this effort to recapture the archaic. Uh, that's probably the m- the major impact that will- it will have, because we have no- our hangups are all hung around the issues that sexuality posed for civilization and the various solutions that were found in various times, all of which were, uh- or none of which were ever viable. This is what makes us feel sort of uncomfortable about ourselves is, there's never been a set of social rules that worked so well that most people weren't involved in trying to subvert them. And, uh, you know, what does that say about us and the, the 10,000 year endeavor we've been involved in, but I see that giving way to a more natural order.
In other words, many constraints have been placed upon us. We have accepted many constraints; we've accepted a kind of wounding. The myth of the fall is a statement about our feelings about ourselves, you know, that we had to go into history to recover something which had been lost that had been ours in the beginning but that we fumbled away, and then we had to descend into history and recover it, and it is this Edenic innocence and, uh, and the adumbrations that it will create at all levels of society.
[ed. note: this seems possibly to be a break in the talk]
Singing is a ritual act that automatically sets up its own rules and can be initiated at any time without hardly moving a muscle.
We were saying during the break up here that, uh, it's possible to imagine a kin-, a form of psychoanalysis where what you would do is simply ca- uh, urge people and go through with them as- learning as much about history as possible so that there were no blank spots, so that their amnesia about their historical position was recovered, as a way of treating neurosis, a way of actua- by locating people on the grid, by forcing them to find out who they really are in terms of all the other somebodies who have been around in all the other some-places that preceded them. And I think that- you can almost see that that is a recovery of the unconscious, that hi- the history of man that
you don't know
is what your unconscious is made out of, just as you- the history of yourself that you don't know is what your personal unconscious is made out of. However, much of the history of man that you don't know can probably be found by going and reading a book on the subject, and this has a tremendous, uh, centering, a spiritual efficacy that- all out of proportion to the act of studying history, which seems rather removed from everyday concerns.
Q: Yeah, what about a development of a suh- a language of consciousness, which we don't have - like Sanskrit's theoretically, uh... [??]...Maslow was playing around with words that would scientifically [audience cough] [comment inaudible] ..ase. Could you comment on that?
TM: Well, I think the I Ching is an effort, the most advanced effort, to do something like that, but it's a language of gestalt, and, uh, you know, I- I don't speak Japanese, but it's said of Japanese that nothing which is obvious is ever mentioned. Language is reserved for clarifying the unclear, so people are not saying "it's a hot day, isn't it" and that kind of stuff. They're reserving language. Uh, the other possibility is, you know, that the visual language is this and that as more and more of it is experienced and done, uh, it will be realized. It is the, the visual language- I'm not sure I stressed this this evening, but it is perhaps, uh, non-translatable into English because it is a language of emotion where emotion is seen to be as subtle a spectrum with integrated gradients of meaning as, uh- or integrated gradients of combination, as meaning has, so that there isn't, you know, love, hate, disgust, and something else, but, in fact, an infinitude of emotional states that can be triggered by vocal sound. And, in a way, of course, I'm simply describing singing, wordless singing, except that I'm describing how that can tra- rise to an ontologically different level and become
emotive that you understand
differentiations of emotion. I, I noticed when we were in the Amazon taking ayahuasca with these people, and they would sing these thousand-year-old songs, and you would eventually- you would get to the place where you had the absolute conviction that you understood, because you could stand off from your mind and say "the speed at which I'm going through emotional changes over what I'm hearing must mean that I understand what I'm hearing, because if I didn't understand it, I would just have a certain generalized emotion about it, but it is changing my interior state so rapidly that it is
the experience of understanding. That's the only thing it can be compared to.
Q: Could you elaborate more on the effect of the ayahuasca and with the combination with Stropharia cubensis that you mention in
[sic] in effect altering, uh, the DNA and when you mentioned the [stone box?]
TM: Uh-huh, yes, well the core chemical idea in
The Invisible Landscape
, for those of you who haven't read it, is, uh, that it is possible, or it was hypothesized that it was possible to use sound to cause hallucinogenic drug molecules that were present, uh, in the neuro- in the nucleus of neurons, having arrived there through axioplasmic transport from the synapse, uh, to cause them to- to, uh, occupy bond sites in DNA. The bond sites, specifically, which lie between the nucleotides. And, the molecular dimensions and everything are correct for this to be possible. In fact, it's been shown, in vitro, that certain hallucinogens
preferentially bond into DNA in very elegant experiments in which, uh, DNA was exposed to hallucinogenic drug molecules and then centrifuged and shown that its specific gravity had increased by precisely the molecular weight of the drug molecule, and no other compounds were present.
So, there is an affinity for bonding with the DNA on the part of these drug molecules. We hypothesized that the general psychedelic experience, the common psychedelic experience is simply these things, uh, displacing normal neurotransmitters such as serotonin at the synapse, undergoing axioplasmic transport to the nucleus, intercalating - which is the technical term for this kind of bonding - intercalating into the nuclear material there and shifting the electron spin resonance of the general, the generalized electron spin resonance signature of the molecule so that millions of cells having this happen to them are amplified into a higher cortical experience, which is the hallucinogenic experience. But in answer to your question, my brother went beyond this and hypothesized that you could intervene in this process, which would normally, you would expect to be quenched in 4 to 6 hours, whatever the duration of the psychedelic drug was, that it would be possible to intervene in the process with vocal- vocally generated sound, uh, generated in such a way that, of these millions of molecules in these bond states, a very few of them would be oriented in space toward the incoming wave front of sound in such a way that they would, uh, be canceled, that they would undergo the kind of harmonic canceling that happens when you like sound a note on the cello and then quench the string you've sounded and you hear the overtones abo- in octaves above and below it. And, he felt that this could be done with the human voice and performed an experiment to test this idea which seemed to indicate that, uh, it was possible, or at least that some bizarre drug synergy was prolonged and triggered by vocal sound. And, we have never proceeded into this any further. It would be easy to do so, you would get square wave generators and oscillating systems and you would try to tune in to this sound, because it's a very specific sound. Now, it, it sounds at first preposterous that, uh, quantum acoustical, uh, uhh, acoustically-mediated quantum mechanical changes could be controlled by the voice, but you have to remember, populations of millions of molecules are involved. Only a very few of which have to fulfill the complete set of special conditions that would allow this situation to arise. S- And, also, it isn't generally realized at what level the human perceptual apparatus operates in relationship to quantum mechanical events. For instance, uh, a single photon can be registered by the human eye. I'm sure some of you who had chemistry sets when you were children, they threw in a little thing call the spinthariscope, which was nothing more than a closed, uh, tube with a little lens in the end and at the other end a speck of radium on the end of a pin and then a phosphorous screen behind it. You would sit in a dark room for 10 minutes and then look into the spinthariscope, and you would see flashes of light coming out of the phosphorous screen at the end of it. Those flashes of light were single photons being released from, uh, the phosphorous matrix by the impact of decaying hard radiation from the radium.
Uh, in a similar vein, a single molecule bumping against the tympanic membrane of the human ear can be distinguished, and they've done this in very elegant experimental situations. So, actually, the human sensory apparatus, for what a continuous picture of the world it gives us, is under experimental conditions, uh, shown to be rather closer to portraying the quantum mechanical nature of reality, uh, than we might expect. So, I don't think it's, eh, on the face of it, preposterous that there could be technologies of vocal sound and, uh, control of physiological states of oneself and other people through the- through the controlled use of sound. After all, if you are of the brain theory of consciousness, and believe that, uh, every thought that we think is accompanied by chemical, uh, changes, the breaking and forming of chemical bonds, well, that means that, as I speak to you, my voice, if you understand me, or maybe if you even don't understand me, is going through a continuing process of generating and breaking down hundreds of compounds as
brain takes on a configuration somewhat analogous to the configuration of my brain at the moment of speaking. This is what communication must be seen to be by people who have a, uh, hard-brain theory of consciousness.
Q: What if you don't know anything about any of this?
TM: Well, then you're probably in better shape than all of us. [audience chuckles] You should go to the, uh, side of Cold Mountain and compound mushrooms and draw cold water from a well and, uh, thank lucky stars that that's the situation you find yourself in. In other words, in other words, uh, knowledge or verbal facility is no, uh, is no proof of knowing what you're talking about. [audience chuckles] You know, it's just verbal facility. No, I think the Taoist thing, I'm coming more and more to it, to, to see that its, its open-endedness, its insistence on humor, it's, uh, not grinding a bunch of dogmatic knives. And, now I'm talking about the cultural idea of Taoism. Taoism became secularized and, you know, played power politics at various times in the history of China just like the other Chinese religions, but its ideal remained the psychedelic ideal, I think. And, it's basically a dropped out, uh, a dropped out idea. It isn't that you should return to the court and, uh, take up the council of the king and try to save his ass; it's that, uh, you know, someone else can take care of that. But, these Taoist immortals became strange people. I mean, they were fleetingly glimpsed from the road running naked in the woods as, uh, people passed to and fro. Knowledge, I have said this before- made the analogy between understanding and gravity, that, you know, as something becomes gravitationally more and more dense, it eventually is so dense that light can't leave it, no information can leave it. It's said to be a black hole. It has curved space around itself and no information can leave it. I think as you advance on the path toward enlightenment, it becomes harder and harder for people to understand you, and when you finally achieve enlightenment, you ca- there's nothing- you can't say anything at all, and anything you say is-
be misunderstood; that's the proof that you're enlightened..... you know? [audience laughs] If you're a perfect black hole, you must be incomprehensible, no information must leave you.
So, if you understood anything I said tonight, it's a perfect proof that I'm far from enlightened [audience laughter]. But, thank you for coming anyway! [Terence laughs; audience laughs] Maybe on that note we should knock off. Is anyone burning? Good, then let's knock off. [Terence laughs; audience claps; Terence clears his throat]
Original Transcription by: Eva Petakovic
Review 1 by: wjaynay
Review 2 by [admin only]: Kevin Whitesides
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