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words and wit of the alchemical bard
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An Interview By James Kent
Before and Beyond History
Gaia, Eros, and the Archaic Revival
Gaia, Psychedelics, and the Archaic Revival
Having Archaic and Eating it Too
Leprechauns, Elves, or Dead Souls?
Making and Unmaking History and Language
Morphogenic Fields and Psychedelic Experiences
Mushrooms, Sex and Society
Psychedelics in the Age of Intelligent Machines
Terence McKenna's Trip
The grammar of ecstasy — The world within the word.
(aka This Counts, Somehow it Matters & A Higher Dimensional Section of Reality)
A Better World (Toward The End Of History)
A Conversation with Terence McKenna and Ram Dass
A Necessary Chaos
A report on crop circles with Abraham and Sheldrake
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aka The Psychedelic Option
aka The Psychedelic Option [Psychedelic Salon Title]
Day May 1990
Location, City, State
Well, I’ll just say a little bit about myself and how I relate to this. I don’t really like to talk about it in those terms, but since this is the getting-to-know-each-other thing, it’s very important to the what I understand that, um, everybody else understands, there is nothing special about it, or me. In other words, for what I’m trying to do to make sense – this access to this transcendental realm – has to be democratically available. It can’t depend on your spiritual accomplishment or your mastery of a technique or something like that. It isn’t like that. It’s something that is as much a part of us, as ordinary people, as our sexuality is. And sexuality is not something that is dispensed by gurus; it’s just something you figure out, and do, you know. And, this is much more along those lines. My -- How I explain to myself what I’m doing in this position is that I was just simply incredibly lucky, incredibly fortunate to be, at certain places, at certain times, when they were handing out the good stuff. [audience laughs]
And, um, so -- I see you in the same way. Someone over here – Fred – said that he was looking for the answer to the mystery of life. Well, the weird thing about taking that position is that you can fall into positions where you find it; where you find the answer. And, I sort of feel like that’s the situation that the deep plant psychedelic community is in. It’s a sense of having found the answer and now the task changes. It’s a completely different kind of spiritual universe that you live in after you’ve found the answer because the task becomes facing the answer. Facing it. You now have it. It’s no more about disciplining the passions and all that. No, no. It’s now been handed over, and so what are you going to do with it? And, this is,uh, to my mind, in a way, the problem and the challenge that we face globally as a species.
You know, if the holy grail of the Western mind was the ability to release energy and form matter and control nature then this is now achieved. The goal -- so, now, the whole context of the problem changes and the problem becomes changing our own minds, controlling the hand that controls the energy. And this is an entirely different kind of problem. It is not to be solved with the analytical knife plunged again and again into the body of nature. That whole approach is, uh, seen to be, uh, at best, passé, at worst, bankrupt. So, instead, it’s about trying to edge up close to nature and feeling, as individuals and as a society, very peculiar about this. You know, it’s like going back to your rape victim and pleading for their forgiveness. And yet, as I’ve tried to make sense of these psychedelic experiences, first, in a general way, saying, "What are these molecules for?" or is that a proper question to ask? "What are they doing for the plant? What are they doing for me?"
As I’ve tried to come to terms with what this might all be about, I’ve come more and more back to the notion that, uh, it all lies in the plants, that our peculiar restlessness which, in modern circumstances, has evolved into a rapacious appetite for addictive substances of all sorts - our peculiar, uh, inappropriateness in all contexts -- we are not quite simply complex mammals and we are certainly not angels and we just seem to occupy a very uncomfortable place in the hierarchy of, uh, creation. I think this has to do with the fact that we are, uh, the traumatized inheritors of a dysfunctional relationship, a relationship that grew dysfunctional, uh, in the last 15,000 to 25,000 years. And what we call history is the fall out of a dynamic here-and-now feeling-toned relationship with our environment and into, you know, this morbid anticipation of the future and worry about the past, basically, ego.
I recently spoke in New York and New York is a very nuts-and-bolts kind of town. And people there took issue with the notion that all of our problems can be boiled down to a single problem: If you trace the thread of every screw up back into the maze, it all comes back to a single issue which is excess of ego. We all have excess of ego. Our entire situation - legalistic, psychological, religious - everything is about this. That it doesn’t work. It’s maladaptive, and yet we have it. And, uh, why do we have it, if it’s maladaptive? If it doesn’t promote human values, then how in the hell did it get started and what is it that's maintaining and sustaining it? Well, this is what I want to talk about over the course of the weekend.
When I pushed the analysis of what the psychedelic experience meant, to the limits, I was surprised to discover that it left the domain of my personal relationship to the mystery. You know, what is it? What does it want from me? What is it trying to say? All that had to make room for another issue, which is, there's a political issue here. I think most people in this room - most people who have had the psychedelic experience - will agree that the most profound, the most open-hearted, the most moving moments of their lives, some of them, have been tied-in with those experiences. But, we seem unable, unwilling, or even afraid to extrapolate that conclusion to the notion that this is a general panacea for society because we cannot conceive that our, uh, that the solution to a spiritual dilemma could lie in matter. In other words, we ourselves have been infected by the inside/outside, matter/spirit dichotomy of the dominator culture. But, the notion that man – notice the gender thrust here – the notion that man could somehow bootstrap himself to godhead without reference to nature seems to me highly peculiar and simply nothing more than an expression of hubris, pride. A belief, you know, that we can do it our way, and alone.
So, all of this is very -- the shelf life is short on all of these issues because the planet is in a state of terminal crisis. Does that have anything to do with the psychedelic experience or are these separate issues? How can they be separate issues, if the psychedelic experience is a mirror of the state of the individual and collective psyche? And, if the planet is, uh, on a collision course with some kind of terminal crisis. It seems to me then that nature is struggling to right this disequilibrated planetary ecosystem. So, in a sense, there is nothing to be done except to watch and wait. But, on the other hand, we are not apart from nature. We are in some sense a portion of nature. This part of nature is the most reactive and energetic because we are reactive and energetic in the domain of epigenetic codes. We can foment rapid change. Until recently, it was a truism of thinking about society that all change had to be gradual. This myth has now been exploded. We know that, you know, you just take them all out and hang them, then that’s not gradual and suddenly you’ve got a new world. This had been done in several places with excellent success recently. So, change need not be gradual and, in fact, I think we’re entering into a historical domain where very little change will be gradual. Gradual change was a luxury of the past.
Well, how to come to terms with these processes and patterns - forming and reforming - in our lives, in our relationships, in our families, in our businesses, in the extended relationships we have with people? It's -- what is needed, you see, is a kind of collective breakthrough in apperception. I was thinking in the hot tub, today, that the most politically potent thing you can do for somebody is to educate them; to give them the facts. The facts are now so horrifying and the means of delivering the facts so effective that there is no excuse for everyone not beginning to act in an informed manner. And I - I think this is happening.
A few months ago, I was in Belize, which is an extremely poor country, a little chip of land in the armpit of the Yucatan that used to be British Honduras. I didn’t know there were countries this funky in the western hemisphere. I thought you had to go, you know -- they have the fortune, good or ill, of speaking English as a national language. So, when the British left, they just simply pointed their dishes to the sky and they got 270 channels of American television. It has completely educated the entire population of the country into an extremely sophisticated strategy for surviving in the real world of the present moment. They understand that their only resource is their nature, so they have made the entire country into a nature reserve. They understand that they -- that tourism is their only hope, and for tourism to work, they must halt the destruction of their environment. This, informing people at distant points of the value systems operating at the centers, where values are being created, allows people to position themselves for success.
I mean, a lot is being lost. You cannot pretend that the situation we’re in is unambiguously rosy. It isn’t. It’s extremely complicated. Marxism dissolves. What does this mean? It means that now, uh, 21 language groups and 16 tribal groups are open to exploitation, homogenization, the leveling of cultural values. Every- body will be turned into a kind of white-bread consuming citizen in a beige-fascist world. And this is the alternative to Armageddon. We hail this as a great step forward. What is happening is that all restrictions are being done away with against the expression of completely rapacious drives for immediate self-gratification. Until 18 months ago, only half the world had permission to behave like assholes. Now, this permission is being extended to everyone as quickly as possible as a right, you know, your right to join in the looting of the planet. Well, certainly Stalinism is a bad thing, but is the only ideological counterpoise to that to be high-tech mindless consumer, uh, fascism? I don’t think so. In fact, I know not. Because there isn’t enough metal in the planet to put a Volvo in every driveway of three and a half billion or four billion people.
So, the search for a serious revolution in values is on. It cannot -- it must come from the spiritual realm. And, the spiritual realm in practical terms means the imagination. The -- the frontier of our species is the imagination. Now, we have to take that slogan and somehow turn it into a technology. How can we go to the place where ideas come from? How can we somehow separate our architectonic fantasies from the ongoing momentum of the planet? Both are valid, you see, but we have to recognize that what we are is almost an ontological transformation of life. We are to life, what life is to the inorganic realm, and we need to separate ourselves from the planet. the planet -- the entire planet should be a bio-reserve. How many of these oxygen rich, water heavy worlds are there? Now it’s pie in the sky to talk about moving all heavy industry into space or to the asteroid belt or something like that. But, on the other hand, when you extrapolate a visionless future, even as much as three or four decades into the future, you see the accumulation of problems on such a scale that then there will be no pulling out of the power dive because once a society passes a certain point in the process of dissolution, you just don’t make a decision to change. It’s too late. You don’t have the engineering skills, you don’t have the technical community and you don’t have the resource extraction ability. It’s all slipped through your fingers.
Well, I think psychedelics are catalysts to thought, to imagination, to understanding. And, we are like somebody who has been dead drunk while the house was burning down around us and now we have awakened to the sound of falling timber and the smell of smoke. We have a certain limited amount of time to figure this situation out. We don’t have 500 years or 100 years. Anybody who speaks in terms of solutions that require 100 years or even 50 years to implement doesn’t understand the dynamics of the situation. History has some kind of will for its own transcendence. And, I think, we are now so close to the dropping of the mask and the realization of what the game was all along that the -- the sense of this nearby revelation informs all of our lives, I mean, drives our dreams, our thoughts, the choices we make. This is why we’re here in this room this evening. It’s very big news I think.
The world is not at all as we suppose it to be. I find that very amazing. I mean, that’s the bottom line, for me. I always think of these things in reference to that scene in
when the anthropoid apes are leaping up and down and screaming and pointing at the monolith. That’s what we’re doing here in this room. I mean, the subject of this weekend is unspeakable, you know. It can only be obliquely indicated. Whatever you say about it is not true, uh, and yet, it is somehow the informing mystery of being, and it is not remote, that’s the big news. That, the previous human model, which is that we are all poor groveling sinners and that gnosis will trickle down to us from the wonderful folks up on top of the steep building nearby where they’re conducting mysterious business with liver readings and star- gazing, that model is, uh, insufficient and insulting considering the situation we have been brought to by those very star-gazing men wearing dresses.
I think what we have to do is just take the machinery into our own hands. It’s a matter of personal responsibility to find out what the world is really doing and what it is. What do you think is going on? What do you think this is all about? Who do you think you are? What do you think English is? Uh, how do you really cognize notions like the future, the past, where I’ve been, what I want? I mean, you know, in Moby-Dick, Melville says, “If man will strike, strike through the mask!" Everything is a mask, and just behind that mask lurks, well, what? That’s the question. It’s the thing that informs every individual existence and that's fine and people have always lived in the shadow of that mystery. It is our weird privilege to live in an age where there is also to be a collective dropping of the mask. A moment of melting and recasting of what reality itself is to be. So, you know, discussing this, convincing ourselves of it and then working out the minute details of how it all is inevitable and couldn’t be any other way is how we will occupy ourselves this weekend.
I’m really conflicted in these situations because I feel for some reason - I suppose it’s an ego trip - that I want to be correctly perceived. I, as a person, want to be correctly perceived. And, I think of myself as a reasonable person, a person sensitive to concepts like evidence, causality, uh, so forth and so on. And yet what I have to say is completely unreasonable. I’m a messenger bearing news of complete madness approaching from all directions, so -- and I got into that position by staying pretty close to the principle of skepticism. I’m not a believer. In fact, when the aliens draped the mantle over my shoulders, they said, “It’s cause you don’t believe in anything.” This is why -- that's why you got this far, because you didn’t believe in anything. It’s a good method. Normally, it’s a method spawned out of futility. You say, "Well, fuck it!. I don’t believe in anything." But, it’s also very good for getting rid of a lot of crap because the real stuff can take the test of skepticism. The real stuff doesn’t have to be bowed down before, you know. It works. It's on its own.
The news is, and its very hard news to get out because it's news about the structure of reality, the news is coming back from, you know, 50, 60, 100 years of anthropologists, ethnographers, geographers, botanists dealing with the most quote-unquote primitive people in the most remote parts of the world. The news is that reality is not at all as we imagined it to be and that our prowess in the technical sciences is simply a cultural artifact, an accomplishment of ours. Some people do great tattoos; we send spacecraft to the stars. But, it doesn’t mean we understand anymore. And, in fact, the evidence is building that our style of society is the historical equivalent of a temper tantrum. You know, that it has no viability. It’s completely self-limiting. It’s destructive. And it hands nothing on to its receivers.
So, I sort of talk to this group and others from two points of view: I’m trying to convince you of something, and yet, reason dictates that I assume that you’re already convinced pretty much. So then, it’s also an effort to figure out what it is we’re so convinced of and then what is so great about it? Because I think, uh, some kind of -- this is a real mystery - the only one I know. This is the thing that you hope exists and assume doesn’t, if you're a reasonable person because it's that -- you know, all the dreams of childhood, all the sense of magic and the dissolvability and transcendability of boundaries, is returned. It is affirmed in this experience. Well, yet here we are, having this on the brink of a planetary meltdown of culture and ecosystem. So, is this just some kind of dancing on the brink or a kind of ultimate self-indulgence? Does it feed back into the central moral problem of the age, which is, what is to be done? What are we to do? How can we be effective, whatever that means? Is there a discernible role for each of us to play in the metamorphosis and near death of the planet that we are now experiencing or are we simply to witness it?
Well, I don’t think there is any point in thinking about these kinds of questions unless you draw back to the big picture and first premises. Uh, you know, a good example of what I mean is, suppose we save the rainforests and stabilize the population and then 50 years down the line, the sun explodes. It means that we didn’t get it. It means that we were not reading correctly the message nature was trying to hand to us. And, so, we did the wrong thing and are going to be blown out of the water for such churlishness. So, what's important is to figure out what is going on before you start pushing in the process. And, I don’t think you can do it from within a culture. In other words, if you’re a person of decent intent and moderate intelligence, and you read the great minds of your culture and study their thought, it’s insufficient because everybody is bound within an illusion of language. The entire enterprise of culture is this illusion of language. Homer was as sick with it as Heidegger. So, there’s no going back and no classic recension.
What we have to do is reach past to some kind of experience. It must be anchored in an experience. But, there is this thing about being human, which we, as a culture, have ignored, repressed, and don’t want to talk about, face or think about which is you can get loaded and nobody knows quite what to make of this. We dance around it with the same kind of furious, ambiguous intensity that we also reserve for sex which is also a boundary-dissolving, momentary, uh, loss of self into some kind of greater whole. And, It also just drives us into a frenzy. And we establish boundaries, we have hierarchies, we push it this way - it just drives us up the wall. Whoever she was who designed this system had the good sense to connect the sexual process very tightly into the generative process. So, there is no way you can get sex out of the human experience. I mean, people have tried in all times and places and in many strange ways. A hundred and fifty years ago, they were putting pants on pianos because it was thought that young men should not see pianos unclothed because it might excite them to impure thoughts. [audience laughs] And, this is real. In England and in our culture, not New Guinea or the moon, but in England pianos wore pants.
But, the psychedelic option is sort of like an appendix. You know, you can have it but you don’t need it, apparently. Apparently. That’s the key thing. Whether or not you have the psychedelic experience does not stand between you and the ability to pass on your genes into time. It does not stand between you and continued existence like the autonomic reflex of breathing. It’s a kind of a potential loop in development, which we can as culturally-coordinated creatures choose to follow or choose not to follow. But, this development is very recent. Until -- pick a number. Ten thousand years ago, the onset of puberty - which was, you know, a wave of hormonal release, basically - the onset of puberty was the signal to the social mechanisms of the people to begin the administration of psychedelic plants to carry people into adulthood, to carry them into a feeling-toned relationship with the mythological material that they had learned as children, but that they now would be expected to exemplify as realized adults within the Kung or Shu culture, or whatever it is that they are. We, in our anxiety about all this – and I'll talk about why. I'm sure will come out, but for the present, just to say – we have interfered with this and have enforced upon ourselves a kind of infantilism. This is a phenomenon that is well known and it’s called neotony.
Neotony is the preservation of adulthood characteristics into adulthood - [audience "childhood"] - childhood characteristics, infantile characteristics or even fetal characteristics into adulthood. So, for instance, all primate fetuses are hairless but only the human being retains this fetal characteristic throughout life. The very large head of the human infant, the percentage relationship to body mass remains, uh, very much in the fetal end of the statistics throughout life for human beings. We have large heads. The very prolonged, uh, period in which skills, cultural skills are acquired, up to 16 years. Well, this tendency towards biological neotony, which was reinforced by, uh, mutagenic influences in the diet, is carried over into culture as a cultural characteristic. Have you noticed that every generation views the generation it spawns as more childish than itself? And, we look back to our rugged grandparents who slogged across the plains and I suppose they looked back to people in chain mail who were only four feet high and who could go without eating for six months, or something like that. We become more and more soft, more and more infantile and the final phase of this was just the decision that we never needed to grow up at all. We never needed to find out about the nature of our relationship to being at all. And, so, the psychedelics were suppressed and what you have, in the pre-adolescent child, what is an extreme expression of ego. You know, the 11-year-old child, lets take as the example, is the supreme egoist. And, in a sense, we got hung up at that place because we, uh -- we didn’t get hung up in it; we fell into it. We were in balance, but the suppression of psychedelics created the precondition that allowed the generation of ego. And these are -- its very complicated and a lot of factors were at work you see. The mushroom style, the shamanic style of the nomadic hunter-gatherer is a style of goddess worship and, uh, psychedelic shamanism and orgiastic religion. There the shamanism and the religion overlap each other considerably.
The style that replaced that was a style of domination, hierarchy, with these alpha males -- with powerful males controlling females at the center of these hierarchies. And, to my mind, the concern that caused the shift was, uh, the accumulation in the psyche of these hominids of enough ego that there became concern for the line of male paternity. In other words, men wanted to know who their children were and that made the orgiastic style of religion in conflict because that was all about -- the children were the children of the group and sex was a shared activity even though there might be bonding. But, once people -- once men got it into their heads that they wanted to know who their offspring were, then females had to be controlled very rigidly and there had to be control of sexuality and the whole thing just turned into a nightmare. My women, my property, my children, my food, and my territory and so on and so forth.
What had been going on before was a true in
ipient symbiosis and this is the new idea that I want to communicate and that I’m 1) absolutely serious and, 2) literal about this idea. Our glory and our uniqueness, and why we are as we are, exists because we are a plant-animal symbiotic species. Our ordinary state, our state of nature - the way in which we existed until 10,000 years ago - was in a very tightly bound symbiotic relationship with plants. They were -- we domesticated them and we, uh, spread them, and we created environments for them through the use of burning. And, in return for this, this mysterious connection opened up where real information couched in humanly cognizable terms - information about where the reindeer went, who you should marry, and what the weather is going to do, stuff like that. Real information began to be traded back and forth.
Now, biologists are familiar with the notion of pheromones, message-bearing chemicals that regulate behavior within a species.But, we’re just getting ready to go to the next level and recognize the possibility of what have been called exopheromones, pheromones that regulate behavior between species. It’s very clear that in climaxed ecosystems of great age, such as the equatorial tropics of this planet, uh, exopheromonal interactions become the major mediating force in all the evolutionary exchanges going on. The old notion of competition and survival of the fittest is now seen to be bankrupt. The way that nature works is it's the species that can make itself most necessary to other species, the one that can cut energy deals with the most of its neighbors that is the successful one. So, you maximize cooperation, you maximize dependency, you maximize integration. This is the successful evolutionary strategy. I mean, of course, you can be a jaguar and crash around in the forest and eat things immediately smaller than you, but, um, jaguars will be a memory in the fossil record of this planet when the plants will still exist given that man were not part of the picture. So, uh, uh, the dynamic of, uh, of life dictates that these energy levels be held very close.
[Question] - Outside of the natural?
Well, no. Nothing is outside of the natural. All of this can be explained in terms of climatological flux on the African continent. Very briefly, you know, the primates evolved in Africa. Out of the primates came the hominids which were these gracile, upright, opposable thumb, binocular vision and there were a number of these and they existed for, you know, over the past six million years. But, Africa and the planet, because of repeated glaciation, is subject to cycles of drying. And, uh, every time the ice moved south, primate populations were bottled up in Africa. And, we know there have been four glaciations, immediately the last one, the ice melted 20,000 years ago. And, out of Africa that last time came pastoralists, people who had domesticated cattle and had a style of following cattle around rather than being just strictly hunter-gatherers.
Well, I maintain what happened was these arboreal, tree-canopy-living apes came under pressure as the continent dried up to expand their diet because the forests were disappearing and being replaced by grasslands. Well, most animal species eat only one or two kinds of food. This is a general rule in nature and it’s in order to hold down exposure to mutagenic influence. But, when an animal population is in a situation of food scarcity, the logical thing to do is to begin to test food sources and to expand your repertoire of food. Well, that’s what these primates coming out of the trees did. Number one, they began eating meat which gave them a real interest that they had never had before in these ungulate mammals that were evolving in the grasslands and they also began to test all kinds of other foods in the environment.
When you do that, you are exposing your population to mutation and mutation rates soared. And, it was during this period that the human brain sized doubled, in, like a million and a half years. Someone said it was the most rapid evolutionary expansion of a major organ ever seen in the fossil record. Nothing like it ever happened. Why? What was making this happen? Well, uh, it looks like probably huge numbers of mutations were taking place in this population because people were literally eating anything that they could get their hands on. And in this environment of the grasslands, the mushrooms were growing on the dung of these ungulate animals. Well, a weird thing about psilocybin is that in very low doses - doses so low you that don’t feel anything - uh, your vision improves. They’ve done tests with this and, you know, there is an improvement in visual acuity, uh, on psilocybin at low doses. Well, you can imagine the evolutionary impact of something like this on a hunting-gathering population where visual acuity is all that stands between you and grim starvation.
It means the population of animals -- the populations of these evolving hominids that accept the mushroom into their diet have just been given a tremendous leg up on nearby competing troops , the competing troops that don’t have it. It’s like chemical binoculars. Immediately there is an evolutionary reason for mushrooms to be eaten and for mushrooms to be accepted into the diet as an item. When you take slightly more mushrooms and like all alkaloids, it’s a CNS arousal. It means you feel alert, feel interested, and you want to boogie. Also, if you're male, it means you can sustain an erection. Now, arousal means arousal, so this stuff is an enzyme promoting sexual activity at that level. Well, sexual activity, you know, the number of copulations that occur within a population is directly related to the number of successful impregnations. So, suddenly you have these horny primates with a lot more interest in sexual contact and partners and all this means that these psilocybin-using creatures that are now more successful at hunting and more interested in sex have all kinds of pressures on them that will force them to outbreed the dull, uninteresting folks who don’t use mushrooms at this point. [audience laughs]
Well, so then, uh, yet higher mushroom doses, it’s no longer about sexual activity or clarity of vision. It becomes about the psychedelic trip, this tremendum, which is as awesome to you and me as it was to these so-called primitive folks 20,000 years ago. We don’t know what to make of it and they didn’t know what to make of it. They founded a religion about it. We’re trying to start the engine of that same religion all over again. And, the way in which this religious ecstasy manifests itself is in language activity, in cognition, but also in glossolalia, in spontaneous outbursts of syntactically organized vocal activity. Well, the great mystery of human emergence is language. What is it? Where did it come from? How did it ever get going on such a scale? So forth and so on.
But, it looks to me like what we’re seeing in psilocybin is a kind of neurological enzyme, a catalyst in the environment that could take an evolving primate population and put it through a series of forced changes that produce ultimately a self reflected, minded, uh, creature practicing a shamanic mother goddess religion in this nomadic context. And, that was paradise and that was the ideal for the archaic revival. In other words, that Eden actually existed. That, we are made for better things than what we’ve got. It says in Finnegan’s Wake, “Here in Moicane (Moicane was the red light district in Ireland) we flop on the seamy side, but up n'ent, prospector, you sprout all your worth and woof your wings.” That’s a promise for the future –" up n'ent, you sprout all your worth and woof your wings." But also, Antes, we sprouted our worth and woofed our wings, and this whole nostalgia for a perfected shamanism in prehistory is reasonable, I think.
I mean, I think, we had an unimaginably precious gift. We had consciousness and dynamic order. Consciousness as we experience it now within the confines of history is most analogous to cancer. I mean, it’s replicating, spreading, but it once was a dynamic ordered thing. People lived, they died, they made love, they had children, they herded their flocks, they had ecstatic flights into dimensions which we cannot even conceive of and they felt no need, you know, to break into the earth, to divert the rivers, to do all of this stuff. And, you know, even if we're not aesthetically attracted to that, we have to make a value judgment on it because it was not a runaway process. It did not push everything towards crisis.
Okay, well, so, what happened? What the hell happened if that’s how it was? Nature is just an ongoing story. The very drying processes that created those grasslands, that created those pressures on diet, that created the mother goddess religion that evolved those ungulate animals - that process continued and the grasslands dried up and the winds began to blow and the water holes got further and further apart from each other and the mushroom festivals went from every Saturday night to the first Saturday of every month, then to four times a year, and then to once a year, and then to once every five years and then to never. And, in the absence of the psychedelic experience, this ego thing gets going. I mean, it’s literally like a calcareous growth in the bloodstream of the psyche. If you don’t inoculate yourself against it, it will begin to take root and grow. And the world -- the boundaries of the world begin to move inward, you know, and you no longer see things on a planetary scale or a millennial scale. It’s just about my women, my money, my land, my children - all of this stuff.
And, at that point, you get the appearance of historical civilizations. You have kingship and the Age of Gilgamesh. My God! When you read the story of Gilgamesh, you just wonder what’s going on. Uh, Gilgamesh spurned the goddess and the goddess sent a bull which, to me, you know, is symbolic of the mystery of the mushroom, the ungulate herding horned animal, the cryptic symbol for the goddess. And he rejects the bull and he rejects the goddess. Then he takes Enkidu, the shaman figure and forces him to go with him into the wilderness. And what do they do in the wilderness - this oldest of all myths, this story of the first men - what do they do? They cut down the tree of life. That’s what they do. They cut down the tree of life and then it goes forward.
The earliest strata of mythology that comes out of these middle-eastern civilizations is full of this male/female nature artificial tension. The story of Genesis is a similar thing. I mean, what’s happening in Genesis is history’s first drug bust. [audience laughs] A woman is involved with a plant and the plant, uh, opens their eyes. And, they see that they are naked, which happens to be the case - they are naked. So, in other words, the see -- they grok their true existential condition. And Yahweh, wondering around mumbling to himself in the garden, says: “This thing that these people have done. What if they eat of the fruit of the tree of life? Then they will be as we are.” It’s very clear that there is concern to withhold knowledge that human beings are to be held in an inferior position. Otherwise, if they were to eat of the fruit of the tree of life, of knowledge, they would be as we are. So there’s this whole tension.
And, in the story in Genesis, you’ll recall that Adam and Eve are cast out of Eden and an angel is set at the east of Eden with a burning sword. Well, what I take this to be about is the -- it’s a story from a strata where already the shift to the dominator culture has taken place. But, they’re looking backward at the partnership society on the grasslands of Africa and the angel with the burning sword is nothing more than the sun. That they literally were cast out of Eden. Eden disappeared around them. It dried up and blew away and there was nowhere for them to go but the Nile Valley and Palestine. And these people who appear in the Nile Valley and Palestine at about 9800 BC, called Natufian, come out of nowhere with a very high culture and a tremendous ability to exploit plant resources. And I think they are the remnants of this partnership culture.
And you see our -- the way that this all ties into the present and attempts to be more than, you know, just a cultural reconstruction of prehistory - we’re trying to understand who we are, why we are the way we are. The major thing now is that we have transcended ideology. Nobody gives a hoot whether you’re a Marxist or any of that anymore because we’ve all seen through that. The new issue is human nature and it evolves around this drug thing, you know. Is it the truest and purest expression of human nature that you should drink nothing but cold water and eat nothing but raw vegetables and any departure from this is an abomination? Well, when you get to drugs, this is really an abomination. How -- what should be our relationship to substances and why are we the addictive creatures that we are? I mean, I know that elephants intoxicate on papayas and bumblebees get loaded on sugar-water, but human beings addict to dozens of substances, to behaviors, I mean, all kinds of things. A guy goes out in the morning to pick up his paper off his porch and it’s not there. And he has a heart attack and he has to sit down and he says, “My God! What am I going to do?” He has to have instant relief from the traumatic crisis of the non-presence of the morning information fix. Then, there is the phenomenon of falling in love which doesn’t really happen with other animals. Other animals bond, but they don’t go bananas in the way that we do on this issue. Uh, we’re chemically highly queued in a way that a lot of animals around us aren’t.
So then history, because of this, because of this addictive drive within us, because of this disrupted symbiotic relationship in prehistory -- see we’re looking for the score, but we can’t quite find it. Imperialism doesn’t do it, heroin doesn’t do it, sadomasochism doesn’t do it. Nothing quite does it, but we keep trying stuff: cocaine, money, fascism, mercantilism, ideology – all of this stuff. We are very, very restless and the path of our restless, frantic peregrinations across the intellectual landscape is what we call "history," you know. It’s our effort to try and get straight and get back to something, which we feel we deserve and that we lost. And we don’t know quite what it was.
Meanwhile, in the rainforest, in the arctic tundra, these little brown people have been keeping the gnosis going. Never questioning, never doubting, millennia after millennia going into these hyper-dimensional mind spaces and operating there. While this has been going on, we have been elaborating positivism, scientific philosophy, building atom smashers, so forth and so on. We have created then out of our infantile cultural style, uh, what Erich Fromm would call a fecal cultural style because we just excrete stuff, you know, all kinds of stuff. Uh, they have held this mystery, but they -- to my mind, the mistake that has been made is that it's been thought that they understood it. That we now go to the shamans and they will explain to us what the inner-skinny is on all this. That isn’t it. There’s no explaining this. Once you’ve been there, you know the futility of a notion like understanding the psychedelic experience. It’s like understanding the ocean or understanding planetary ecology. We think that things are to be understood, but some things are simply to be -- what's the word? -- appreciated, imbibed, to be in the darshan of them.
Well, let's talk a little bit more as we were did this morning. I talked a little more than I intended to. What is anybody's take on this. Did anybody not get their licks in this morning? Yeah?
[Question]: You mentioned the odd, the strange and the weird. Other than hallucinogens, how can we fool this brain away from the ego?
It’s pretty difficult. I think that’s why we’re in the situation that we’re in.
[Question]: I’m talking about things that we can do everyday, not just once a month.
There is no substitute for awareness in any situation. I mean, part of the work is the spectacular episodes of intoxication that break down the boundaries of our personality and reorient us and recast us. But, the other thing is just living that out from day to day and there’s no substitute for hard work. I mean, people say, “How can psychedelics be real? You’re saying that it’s some kind of shortcut to spiritual wisdom.” Well, it may be a shortcut, but nobody said it’s easy. Uh, it isn’t easy. No. It’s just that it’s ultimately effective. I don't know, I find myself preaching a doctrine that is hardly welcome in the touchy-feely circles that I’m usually teaching in, which is stifle it. There’s a doctrine to take home from the New Age. Stifle it. ou know, the ego is much too large. I mean, we need an ego, yes. That’s so that if you take somebody to dinner, you know whose mouth to put food in. That’s having an ego. But, above and beyond that, it becomes sort of superfluous. It’s a habit.It's a bad habit. It’s an infantile response that has been culturally supported to the point where it’s become institutionalized.
[Question]: Do you believe a person needs a strong enough ego before they can transcend or transform it? The reason I’m saying that, I’ve seen a lot of teenagers in the city and they experiment a lot with drugs, and especially with psychedelics. Sometimes I wonder if they’re really getting anything out of that early experimentation. I didn’t get into psychedelics until my late 20s.
Well, it’s a real complicated question. Civilizations evolve folkways to deal with the drugs that they’re interested in and this takes hundred or even thousands of years. Part of the question I hear you asking is - you say that these drugs dissolve the ego, but aren’t some people in a weakened ego condition when they come upon them and I think probably you're right. It’s not clear that the onset of puberty, when there’s a good deal of psycho-sexual and endocrine confusion going on anyway, that this is the precise right moment that you want to drop these psychedelics on somebody. Although this is done in many traditional societies. But, the problem is, in societies where there is shamanism, there’s an understood way to do it. There’s an understood way to initiate somebody. Kids growing up on the streets taking drugs of all sorts, in doses of all sorts, is very hard to sort it out, you know. I mean, people don’t have intent, they don’t have focus, they don’t have information. Everything is so fragmented in modern life. Part of what all this yammering about shamanism might eventually lead to is the reformation of psychotherapy along the lines of a shamanic style, so that then, uh, you know, people could have these voyages, could have the insight into their problems that you get from psychedelics.
[Question]: Also, in t hose cultures and societies where they do use psychotropic drug at puberty, I think those societies support the individual, the child growing up, in very positive ways and feed their ego in a very constructive, positive way so that they are not filled with a lot of self-consciousness and self-hatred and a lack of self-worth and so forth. A lot of the critical nature and the lack of nurturing and attention that a lot of us grow up with in our society then get weak egos from adolescents then on into adulthood. I think the developmental quality of life in different cultures has a lot to do with one’s ability to utilize the drugs and the plants effectively.
Cooperation is just an automatic response among many of these rainforest hunting-gathering people and when you finish a job, you go on and do another job until all the jobs are done. And, this is clearly a learned response because these are human beings just like us, but under the extreme pressure of being, you know, 20 people trying to hold it together in a rainforest through gathering. They have accepted that the tribal unit is the lowest common denominator and that everything has to operate in the light of that. Back here.
[Question]: Part of what was being discussed here was the difference between discursive and one-pointed meditation. And, discursive meditation is meditating on the stations of the cross if your Catholic, or the seven teachings of the self if you’re a Hindu, and it sort of serves years of doing that as establishing a ladder that can take you to the transcendent. One-pointed meditation, and even more profound than the use of psychedelics, can suddenly put you into a transcendent state and whether you’ll have the capacity to get back is the question. So, there might be a role for a period of discursive meditation or an education along that way before something instantly propels you into an experience of the transcendent.
Yes, although, um, this difficulty getting back is an interesting thing to talk about because I certainly know what you mean. I think, that everybody who takes psychedelics a lot eventually has a trip that stands their hair on end. And, the reasonable fear I’ve always felt about psychedelics was not that it would kill you - that’s not reasonable - uh, but, the somewhat murkier question, could it drive you mad? is a little harder to just say, of course, not because why not? It’s definitely rubbing up against those areas. I have real faith that it’s like flipping a coin and getting it to land on its edge. The psychedelic experience represents such a stage of disequilibrium that in almost all cases the entire system is striving to return to normal and will do so very quickly.You know, my life is built around one spectacular exception, where my brother took a bunch of things and had a theory and proceeded to sail off for the better part of three weeks. And, this sort of brings up another issue, we sit here relatively down and calm and we can talk about the LD50 of psilocybin. That’s how much you would have to give to 100 mice for 50 of them to die. This is what pharmacologists are all about. But, when your actually stoned in these places, you realize, or you have the apparent realization, that, of course, the mind is in control. And talking about safety – you’re only as safe as you think you are. Literally! And, if for a moment that you decide you’re not safe, the state is very fragile. It’s skittery. Get it going too fast in one direction and it will be very hard to run around and get in front of it, get it halted and moving off in some other direction.
[Question]: Is that what you meant by self-toxicity?
Did I use that phrase this morning?
[Question]: Well, no. I
a past tape, you did mention about self-toxicity and possible negative effects.
Well, yeah. I think this is what people fear, that they are self-toxic. We have all been disempowered. To some degree, we are self-toxic and that’s a real tragedy. It means we have been made our own enemy. Whether or not we are, we all fear self-toxicity. This is why in the 1960s when LSD first began to appear, people had such violent reactions to it. You know, Tim Leary said, “LSD is a psychedelic drug which causes psychotic behavior in people who haven’t taken it.” [audience laughs] This is absolutely true. Why would a drug that you don’t take cause you to become psychotic? It’s because the mere fact of its existence is so threatening to you because you know that you’re self-toxic. That’s what I always felt in the 60s. These people all know their crazy and they don’t want to get near anything which would perturb their psychic dynamics. They know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they're certifiably insane and they don’t want to hear about it. So, they’re not going to be delving in to something that shines a Kleg light on the mechanics of the psyche [audience laughs]. It’s the last thing that they are interested in.
[Question]: If the definition of ego is the reality-testing mode of the psyche. The psyches ability to perceive reality, then it almost seems that the psychedelic experience augments the ego to a new level rather than extinguishes the ego and that it gives a truer picture of reality.
Well, you know, Freud had this concept that he called the "superego" and this term has somewhat fallen out of use. And because we all tend to be a little more Jungian than that and we talk about the collective unconscious. But in a way, though I’m more sympathetic to Jung, I like the phrase superego because the phrase "collective unconscious" is a kind of blah concept. It’s like a databank, a repository, whereas superego seems to imply organization, intelligence, focus, and awareness. And, uh, what seems to emerge from these psychedelic experiences is that where we expected disorder or the absence of organization, we find order. We find mindedness. The superego seems to be everywhere. So, in a way, it is like that. It is that you're becoming more informed, but it diminishes your personal importance and the physical atom of your body, you know. I mean, we believe - and it may be true but the question is – how important is it that we are each unique and that somehow in this uniqueness is our worth? And that if something were to happen to you, we can’t replace you with me and you can’t stand in for me. But, uh, you know, back off to where you’re looking at a thousand years of this stuff and you see that each one of us actually is expendable and that the general processes in which we are embedded are so large that it probably doesn’t matter who you are. And I could have been you and you could have been me. Once you’ve got that nailed down, being becomes a whole different project.
Being is something out there that you do: you garden well, you bare and raise children, you feed people, you build objects, you know. It becomes something outside of you rather than something interiorized and, I think, you know, thousands and thousands of generations of people were born, lived and went into the ground with this kind of a psychology. And, we are all imprisoned by our cultural expectations to such a degree that the real problem is to make ourselves realize how blind we are. How much of what we’ve been taught, the words we use, the expectations we have hem us in. The psychedelics show us that cultural relativism, not as an exercise, not as something that you’re convinced of by rational argument, but that you just see it, immediately. I think we’re very malleable creatures and have held many positions in the last 10,000 years vis-à-vis these structures, which we call the ego, the superego, the self, the unconscious. It’s more fluid than we imagine.
Language may have emerged only 40,000 years ago. Well, imagine that, language is the software without which we wouldn’t be people, you know. I mean, language allows us to explore realms of subtlety and inclusive understanding that so exceed the animal grasp that they can barely be compared. Uh, I think that probably in the beginning, language was something that women held almost as a magical power. The reason for this is that there was greater selective pressure on woman than on men to develop language because the physically larger male - when there began to be role specialization - the physically larger male was made a hunter. Hunting places a premium on such values as stoicism, patience and an ability to keep your mouth shut.
The women were involved in gathering and because the children were physically with the women, this area in which the gathering went on was more tightly related to the living space. Well, if you know anything about the science of botany, you know that it is a science of the coordination of detail. Everything is about the detail. Here you have 50 species of grasses. To Joe Blow, they all look exactly the same. To a specialist in the gramineae, here is a whole rich universe of taxonomic diversity to be combed over and milked for years as you advance through the academic machinery. So, women had to learn all these differentiations. Women had to be able to make statements like, "It’s the small bush at the bottom of the draw with the wrinkled leaves and the sticky, white berries with the silver hairs on them.” See. It’s all color, shape, form and relationship words.
Well, this kind of language is the kind of language that gave us a leg up on animal organization. After a passage of time, I think this linguistic thing generally established itself but it was, uh, originally a thing that women were into. Even to this day, when you go into villages in third world parts of the planet, uh, there’s this phrase in all travel books, which is, the chattering of the village women. And, it’s true, they really do chatter and it’s because they are more collective creatures. The male is this proud, lonely hunting figure and the females represent the village values and they held the knowledge of the plants. They discovered all this stuff. You even get that in the Eden story. It’s a woman who’s blamed. Somehow these women have a deeper insight and the poor guy is just led to slaughter because he’s trying to get some chow. [audience laughs]
[Question]: Perhaps an appropriate image would be one of climbing a temple. (...) most impressive temple that I've ever visited. But, um, there, as you walk up the temple, if you pay attention, you hear (...) Budhism and different symbologies, but, basically, your vision of the surrounding jungle expands and your sense of self diminishes, so...
Because you see the larger world.
...you see the larger world from on high.
Yeah. From the center of the mandala. The same psychology is operating on the Mayan buildings. The Mayan buildings are barely buildings at all; they’re more like pedestals. This thing is 230 feet high but when you climb to the top of it, there’s room for twelve guys to stand shoulder to shoulder. And, that’s the building. It’s clearly to elevate them above the social space. It was literally a machine for lifting the priesthood into another dimension and the dimension into which it lifted them was an aerial dimension. They could see then the whole world; they could see the socbay stretching out to the next pyramid. They could see the next pyramid five or ten miles away on the horizon and could see the life of the city and all this.
You know, there’s a funny thing, um, it’s almost as though biology and then its ancillary tack on phenomenon - culture - is a kind of conquest of dimensions that has been going on for a very long time. And, this aids me in understanding the transformation that I think lies ahead for this planet. The earliest forms of life had only a tactile sense. That means all they knew was what they were bumping up against. And they would move around and what was edible was eaten and what wasn’t wasn’t. And then a long time passed, you know, 100 million to 200 million years, and certain specialized cells, uh, aggregated. And, these cells were light sensitive cells. They could send an on/off signal based on whether or not photons were falling on them. So eye spots developed and eye spots are just these sensors that tell you if it’s light or dark. And, suddenly these creatures could move off after a light source or could retreat from danger into a dark spot. While then, eventually, these eye spots evolved into the kinds of very finely coordinated optical systems that we have and octopi have and so forth.
At the same time, motility was developing. The ability to move through space. Well, have you ever noticed that when you look at something, at a place a few feet away from where you're sitting and then go there, physically move there, that what you have really done is you have coordinated a short trip into the future? Because you have looked at a spot and said - this is how the brain computer works - ” I am not in that place. I want to be in that place. I am in this place now. To get from this place now, to that place then, I have to move through the following points." And, when animals began to move, uh, another dimension was added to their repertoire of control. And, when they began to coordinate vision, another dimension was added to their repertoire of control. Well, we made then a great and fundamental break in our neurological organization. All animal life, as far as we can tell, is imprisoned between very steep temporal canyons having to do with the present moment. Animals are in the present moment in a way that would be very frightening to us, I think. If you could suddenly enter the mind of an animal, the immediate thing that you would notice that would really unnerve you was the absence of a past and a future. That just, you know -- talk about "Be There Now" - an animal has that down pat.
Well, when we, through language -- language is a strategy for binding time. Language is a strategy for taking the animal mind locked in the present moment and pushing it back conceivably to the creation of the universe as we do, and forward conceivably to the end of the universe. So, culture is a strategy for intensifying the dimensionality of an animal species. And, uh, the, uh, -- when you get into what’s called epigenetic coding, not simply being able to recall the past neurologically and project the future neurologically, but to actually write down the past and calculate the future. Well then what is happening is mind is spreading out through the dimensions available to it and this whole cultural intensification that we call the 20th century - the spinning down and interconnecting of technologies, and, uh, animal ecosystems and philosophical systems - all this knitting together is a going hyper dimensional of our species that yet more of the future and more of the past is apparently to be realized. And, if you know anything about virtual reality thinking, there time is to be homogenized completely. I mean, you will not be able to tell if its next week or last week because they will be approximately equally accessible. And, uh, somehow the psychedelic experience is related to this bootstrapping process of climbing organizationally from one dimension to another, deeper and deeper into complexity.
It’s almost as though the psychedelic experience is a viewing of the process from the highest dimension in the plane. One way of putting this that isn’t so mathematical is to say what you experience in the psychedelic experience is eternity. All of time. You leave the slowly revolving Taurus of time just as one would leave the galaxy in a spaceship and you go outside, and then you look back and you see all of time. You see the beginning of life, the end of life, the fiery death of this planet bi-millennia hence, whatever it is. And, I think this is a true vision. That this is what shamans have achieved. This is what we with all our sophistication are confounded by. A shaman is someone who has seen the end. A shaman is somebody who has seen it all. They’ve run the movie and run the movie and run the movie, and they’ve satisfied themselves that they understand the movie. Then they go back to their place in the movie and they live it with a small smile [audience laughs] because they know the end. They know how things work. They know what life is.
And, when you have even a piece of that action, you can get a real handle on peace of mind, on true authenticity because it’s in the tumbling forward rushing chaos of the lower dimensional slices of time that we lose it. That we become confused. Who am I? What do I want? Where am I? Who should I be with? What should I give myself to? This is a voice speaking from chaos. I remember once at a period of turmoil in my life, I - I took mushrooms to try and resolve my personal difficulties. And I said, "I’ll think of a question" – you know they say, "You think of a question" – so I said, "I'll think of a question" and the question was: "Am I doing the right thing?" And at the point in the trip I posed this question to it and the answer was, “What kind of a chicken shit question is that [audience laughs] to ask an extra-terrestrial entelechy?” So then I got it, you know. That that was a chicken shit question and that I had been completely misunderstanding the nature of the relationship. This wasn’t some kind of little glass ball that gives "Yes" or "No" when you turn it upside down.[audience laughs] This is -- I don’t know - words fail -- but, nobody to expect psychotherapy for free from, anyway.
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