|10, July 1996
|New York New York
Actually Recorded Oct. 7, 1996
Mitchell Jay Rabin: Welcome to the show A Better World. This is your host Mitchell Jay Rabin, and we’re very glad that you’re joining us again today. Today we are again, if I may say so, going to have a very interesting show. Today we have Terence McKenna on with us and we’re very pleased since Terence is here in New York, he decided to come and join us here at the studio.
Terence is here, going to be talking at St. John the Divine and at Source of Life Center, doing a weekend -this weekend - and you’ll be seeing this show, actually after the weekend, so if you get a taste of Terence’s antics and uh, wild thinking, you will be able to find out when Terence will be back in town for the next round. So welcome, Terence.
Terence McKenna: Pleasure to be here.
MJR: Great. Good to have you. Absolutely. So…God, there’s so much that we can really embark upon, to talk about, because you have...uh, Terence has been so interesting in this world, because he’s bringing such a rich array of different kinds of thoughts and fantasies to the fore. And, um, so, what I would like to talk about first is, if you would bring us up to speed on one of the main focuses of your work, which has been the software program dealing with time and novelty. You’ve spun out this entire idea of a theory of novelty, as you describe it, and maybe you can talk a little bit about that.
TM: Well, the software is now available in a DOS version and uh, in a very advanced Mac version. The raison d’etre for this present speaking tour is we’re in what’s called a novelty plunge, according to the theory; in other words, a very concentrated period of time in which a lot is predicted to happen. Since these predictions are the only way we have of testing novelty theory, it’s very interesting when there is a prediction of a very deep plunge in novelty, because then you get to actually measure the incoming data from the real world, so called, against theory.
MJR: So we are now in a deep novel plunge?
TM: Yes, we are in a novelty plunge which began around the end of February and which will reach its
maxima the middle of next week, and then…
TM:…sustain itself through the summer, so it’s not simply a plunge into novelty but a plunge into novelty
followed by a period of very intense exploration of that deep state of novelty.
MJR: Perhaps it’s only fair, Terence, to let the audience know from the outset that one of the main places of focus that you’ve been involved in, in the past 20 years or so, has been in dealing with shamanically-sanctioned plants, and bringing the wisdom of the plant world, you could say, to the foreground of our society.
TM: Yes, I’ve been very interested in hallucinogenic experience and shamanism and that sort of thing since the 60s and uh, what it has to do with time is, I think, if you spend enough time looking at these things, you come to see that the shamanic metaphor, the magical metaphor, are not as fully satisfying as thinking about these things in terms of dimensionality, that actually you do go into another dimension, not in the metaphorical sense, but in a sense that a mathematician would understand. It’s a…
MJR: Would you say a literal sense?
TM: A literal sense, yeah.
MJR: Mmm hmm. Now, many people who are very interested in dimensionality have been using all sorts of different ways and been attracted to anywhere from the use of flotation tanks to all sorts of different kinds of Tantric meditations, from the Buddhists, from the Sufis, from the Kabbalists and elsewhere. Now maybe it would be interesting to hear your point of view on these, which are really post-shamanic, religious kinds of disciplines. And you have some points of view on it that would be nice to hear.
TM: Well, the most practical point of view is whatever works for you, you should use. If we then try to generalize to what works for most people, uh, it seems to me the use of plant hallucinogens is particularly effective, simply because it transcends ideology, it transcends ritual, it goes directly to the physical brain, and by perturbing the living brain, it perturbs consciousness, and then out of that experience, conclusions are drawn within a cultural framework.
And so you know, an aboriginal rain forest shaman may get one reading on that and someone with training in quantum physics or something like that may reach a different conclusion, but the important thing of all these techniques, whether pharmacological, or you mentioned Tantra, is to perturb consciousness into insight about itself, by some means, and it’s very tricky because consciousness is like a very heavy fluid. It always seems to seek the gravity of the familiar.
MJR: Mmm hmm, right. So in a sense what we’re always struggling with or against, is the tendency toward habituation, and one of the things – places - we see that, of course, is mainly in mental habituation.
MJR: We think along the same lines, we think in the same linguistic patterns.
TM: Well, an interesting thing about people is our tendency to habituate and addict to not only drugs and foods, but behavior patterns, ideologies , routines, uh, the founder of general systems theory, Ludwig von Bertalanffy, said once an amusing thing, he said, “People are not machines, but in every situation in which they are given the chance to behave like machines, they will do so.”
MJR: Hmm. God, I think we have a society that proves that. The beehive mentality Robert Anton Wilson refers to.
TM: The problem is the power of media to co-opt people’s ordinary impulses and to channel them along to corporate or consumerist channels that are useful then not so much to the individual but to the organization that’s doing the manipulating.
MJR: Sure. Absolutely, and that is no doubt one of the main reasons there has been such legislation on all levels - social as well as legal - about such things as hallucinogenic plants, uh, because, in fact, I think your life is very much a testimony to that, when people ingest certain kinds of hallucinogens, the last thing they’re thinking about is authority, consumerism, or legality, for that matter.
TM: Well, it isn’t even so much that it neutralizes the consumerist impulses, it actually dissolves and erodes them, because uh, it sort of shows the relativity of all existence. Uh, consumerism is based on a strong reinforcement of ego, and ego is so easily relativized by the psychedelic experience that, in some sense, then, the psychedelic experience is the enemy of the consumerist society, and this makes for political dynamite or at least interesting political rhetoric.
MJR: At least. Well, one of the things that really does happen, um, with the psychedelic experience as well as through such, um, kind of simpler matters as contemplation and meditation, is people start to become cognizant of their lives, of their bodies, um, of the world around them, and the values that they’re in a sense being asked to embrace through standard practices in the society. These no longer look very tasteful, I think, is one of the things that happens.
TM: Yeah, I think you could make a simple model of the psychedelic experience and say that what really happens is um, that you develop attention to attention. There’s a pulling back. There’s a second level of attention and when you have that point of view, you are, to some degree, alienated because you’re more aware of the ambiguity that haunts every situation. But on the other hand, you are more conscious. You’re picking up on more of what the information is actually being passed in the situation.
MJR: Yeah. I want everyone to know that Terence McKenna has written a number of books, one of which is, I happen to have with me, called
The Archaic Revival. And there are numbers of others.
True Hallucinations is the last.
Food of the Gods. I did one with the British biologist Rupert Sheldrake and Ralph Abraham, um,
Trialogues at the Edge of the West, which is a three-fer – you get not only me but two other pretty interesting guys.
MJR: Yeah, uh huh. What were those explorations like in that book?
TM: We would have a dialogue and then the third person would critique the dialogue, and these dialogues were on subjects like quantum physics, chaos theory, psychedelics, the millennium, the soul, just sort of things we thought were in the air that people might be interested in.
MJR: Mmm hmm. You know, I wish you would tell that story about how you came across the whole idea of novelty and what brought you eventually to looking at the I Ching and the 64 hexagrams. I just love that story. It’s very revealing.
TM: If by “the story,” you mean the entire story of my life. The
Invisible Landscape story.
MJR: Start in Colorado. [laughter] Just pick it up at Berkeley.
TM: Basically, we were poking around in the Amazon jungle looking at hallucinogenic plants in the early 70s and had a series of very intense experiences, which…
MJR: This was you and your brother.
TM: Yes. Which resolved themselves down to a kind of mathematical obsession with the structure of the I Ching. For people watching who don’t know what the I Ching is, it’s a very old system of Chinese divination - system for predicting the future. And the thing about it that’s so astonishing is many very skeptical people have come to the conclusion that It somehow works and the question that we were asking was how does it work, how could such a thing work, rather than treating it as a mystical revelation. Well…
MJR: People have been asking that one for ages, including the Chinese.
TM:…to have a system that allows you to predict the future, you would have to understand what time is, and so by grappling with this problem in the I Ching, I came to have a notion of what time is or at least a theory I was willing to put out for argument, and that’s what the software you mentioned earlier was all about.
What it comes down to is the mathematics produces a graph, not that different from a stock market graph. It rises and it falls, but it’s not a graph of stock movement, it’s a graph of this quality of reality called novelty, which is slippery to define but I think intuitively pretty easy to grasp, and novelty comes and goes. It haunts time like a ghost. Sometimes there are long stretches where it is absent. Its opposite is habit, so you can think of reality as a kind of push-pull, a struggle between habit and novelty, and the good news from my point of view is that novelty is slowly winning.
There is the history of the universe or of the 20th century or of the past 6 weeks, is a history of steadily accumulating novelty and it’s what makes human society possible, electronic culture possible, a city like New York. These are obviously manifestations of novelty that have taken a very long time to accumulate, to come into being.
I mean, Manhattan 500 years ago, was a wooded rocky island. Uh, so clearly novelty has come to rest here and we see what it has wrought. Well in a sense the entire planet is in the grip of this developing efflorescence of novelty, but it isn’t something which develops smoothly, you know, 1% more per day or something like that.
MJR: In fits and starts.
TM: Exactly, fits and starts. Ebb and flow, but tending always toward greater novelty, eventually. And I think, you know, we’re reaching the place with it now where the speed at which the novelty is progressing is so great that people can feel it in their own lives. It’s not an abstraction. People feel something akin to psychic weather, and it comes in and novelty is frozen for a few weeks, and then the front breaks up and novelty, you have more than you can handle.
MJR: So there must be this intimate relationship, really, between your description of novelty and of perception.
TM: Yes, in a sense, I’m asking people to observe something within their own inner dynamic, but was always there, but that they really have no vocabulary for. I mean, one vocabulary that somewhat speaks to this is the concept of Tao. I mean, if you know anything about Tao, it’s an idea that there is an invisible force that permeates the world and it builds things up - dynasties, love affairs, corporations – and it tears things down, according to very mysterious dynamics of its own.
Well, that’s precisely what we’re talking about. The only thing I’ve tried to do is to replace mysticism with mathematics and say there is this force but it can be known, it can be charted, in the way that we can predict the weather or predict bond prices.
MJR: So, novelty, the theory, actually has some very practical uses in that case.
TM: Yes, because what it would tell you if it were widely accepted is it would tell you where to expect unusual events and where you would be wasting your time to look for unusual events. It doesn’t tell you what will happen because that is indeterminate, I believe, but that there is a kind of landscape over which events flow, sometimes faster, sometimes slower, like water over a terrain. I think that experience makes that seem fairly reasonable.
MJR: Yeah. You know, you’re just reminding me of a weekend I spent with you a couple of years ago at the Open Center when you said something about the nature of science and how we are all…we’ve been, in a sense, scientifically programmed to value science on a belief level, you could say, and to think that it is really the be-all, end-all, but you’ve made a very important point that has always really stuck with me, which is that there’s one domain that science does not control for, but acts as though it controls for, and that’s time. That time, you said, had a topography, that it had a shape to it, and that an experiment conducted on a Monday will not necessarily yield the same results on a Thursday afternoon.
TM: Yes, well, you’ve put your finger on a complex epistemological issue. Science, as we know it, uses probability theory as the fundamental mathematical tool, and how that works is you gather data, you put all the data together, you add it together, and then you average it. Well, this act of averaging has not been philosophically fully explored, in terms of what its implications are.
When you average a bunch of measurements, let’s say, you smear out their individuality, and so behind the use of averaging and probability theory is the implicit assumption that it doesn’t matter when the measurement was taken. In other words, in science they say time is not a dependent variable. It’s invariant, but that’s just a guess. We don’t know that it’s invariant. In our own experience, no love affair ever happens the same. No flu is quite like any other. No dinner is quite like any other. Our human world is filled with the unique felt-ness, felt presence of unique experience. But science gives us a world always based on these probabilistic generalities, which I think do great damage to the subtle, fine structure of experience.
MJR: Well, if we just look at a lunar cycle, we see that every single day is actually qualitatively and quantitatively different. One day is never going to be the same, by definition, as another day.
TM: Well, you could almost say, I suppose, that the scientist seeks what is similar between any two days or bluebirds or glaciers, and the poet seeks what is different. The artist seeks to celebrate the unique and so they really represent two ends of the spectrum.
MJR: Sure, I mean, each has its own value. This isn’t to negate the value of science.
TM: But science needs to undergo some pretty serious self-critiquing, because over the past 300 years or so, what has happened in science is by concentrating on picking things apart, the idea of spirit or a vital unifying entelechy or a force, that all has been completely discredited by science, and it leaves you then for no basis for any ethic or anything.
Basically, people and animals are machines, in this view and if you believe that, you start treating them like machines, and you start putting machine-like politics in place and it becomes nightmarish fairly quickly.
And so, it’s all right, I think science is coming along. Um, it’s a natural tendency of human beings to hit the easy problems first, and the easy problems are things like what’s going on when a ball bearing rolls downhill, what is water made out of. And the tricky problems are…
MJR: That one we haven’t fully answered yet.
TM: Well no, but the really tricky problems are questions like what is memory, what is language, what is…
TM: Yeah. And so these questions are eventually going to be…
MJR: What is a magic mushroom?
TM: What is a magic mushroom.
MJR: You have to answer that now.
TM: Well, basically any mushroom with psilocybin in it is pretty magical.
MJR: You describe magic mushrooms as language.
TM: They synergize, they catalyze language, they…probably as a footnote to the fact that they catalyze the imagination. They catalyze cognitive process. We don’t know what that exactly means, but you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that cognitive process is definitely the name of the human game, so anything which catalyzes art, poetry, literature, mathematics, politics, music, da, da, da…has major implications for the human enterprise. Of course, it’s illegal, it’s stigmatized, but these are simply local peculiarities of the folk.
MJR: It has nothing to do with the great longevity of time.
TM: Or the real meaning and implication of these things. I’m sure whatever work they do, they do it whether they’re scheduled or not.
MJR: Yeah, right, exactly. They’re not going to be limited by local customs of the United States or European governments at this little point in time. But a blip on the screen. In fact, that’s actually one of your great gifts to us all, Terence, which is to…for me, I really feel myself expand when I listen to you speak, because I give up all local notions of time and it goes far beyond in each direction, by the way, not just two, actually…it probably goes in more than that.
TM: Not only when will it end, but when did we get here? [laughter]
MJR: Really, really. You also talk about this transcendental object at the end of time.
TM: Well, in an effort to understand novelty, where it’s leading, you have to…if you extrapolate the notion, you have to realize it must lead to the most novel thing there is, that which there cannot be greater novelty than, so that’s the transcendental logic at the end of time. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel, a kind of attractor of some sort.
MJR: When you speculate according to the software – not the software, but according to novelty theory - and what you have extrapolated from your studies of the I Ching and et cetera, you have selected a date in time at which you postulate will be the end of history, and I always say in subtext, as we know it.
MJR: Could you say a word there? Saying that we’re out of time. Is that possible?
TM: We are. If not out of time now, soon to be out of time.
MJR: It’s a very bizarre notion, isn’t it? I won’t accept it.
TM: It’s like the end of a novel or the end of history. What does it mean? Well, it just means life becomes so complicated that a new dimension is added and then therefore it makes no sense to call it history, the way literacy and writing added a new dimension.
MJR: So, what, do you think there’s going to be a particular event or it’s gonna be some kind of quantum psychological leap or uh…
TM: I think it’s a knitting together of all these exotic technologies and human beings that are presently in the world, that cultural boundaries, national boundaries, gender boundaries, are all dissolving, and the consequence of that is literally inconceivable, to people embedded in history.
I mean, those of us who try to keep track of all these things are not able to keep track, and the people embedded in the process, as just trying to earn a job and have a career, are largely clueless as to the nature of the way in which things are crystallizing.
MJR: Like what?
TM: Well, like what. All kinds of things are happening. Let’s just take the last three months. The human genome has been sequenced. Extraterrestrial planets have been discovered around alien suns.
MJR: They have been discovered?
TM: They’ve discovered, with… 70 Virginis has two Jupiter mass planets around it. 47 Ursae Majoris has two half Jupiter mass planets in orbit around it, uh…
MJR: Was this written up in something other than the National Enquirer?
TM: Oh no, this is, uh, you’re not reading science news and
MJR: Yeah, I missed the last issues.
TM: That’s what I’m saying, the people who are embedded in trying to have a life….
MJR: What are you saying?
TM:…are not…let’s see, what else. Uh.
MJR: They found alien…what they’re referring to as extraterrestrial…
TM: Planets. Yes, there are now about six stars within 40 light years of Earth, known to have some kind of object around them. And this is all happening just in the last 3 months.
MJR: How novel.
TM: Anti-matter was created – a few hundred atoms of anti-helium was created at CERN in Switzerland about three months ago. Anti-matter converts to energy 100% in the presence of ordinary matter. It’s an ultimate kind of energy source.
TM: Let’s see. One other thing. Oh, analysis of this asteroid impact in Canada leads to the conclusion that a huge amount of organic material was delivered to Earth in that impact, and wasn’t destroyed by heat, so they’ve established that extraterrestrial biology is arriving on Earth. They’ve sequenced the human genome. They’ve discovered planets around alien stars. They’ve had great success in nanotechnology in the past…this is all in the past 90 days, we’re talking about.
So these kinds of things, extrapolated 10 years into the future, along with stuff like the internet, and pharmacology and teledildonics, and all this other stuff…
TM: Don’t ask.
MJR: Can we even look it up in the dictionary?
TM: After the show. [laughter] All lead to the conclusion that, uh, we are transcending ourselves faster than we realize. We are becoming unrecognizable. The transformation is not going to happen, the transition is underway. It’s underway.
MJR: Yeah. This is phenomenal. The transcendent object is approaching quickly.
TM: It’s emerging. Well, to take one example, fairly close to home most people. The internet. I mean, the internet is the most powerful and advanced technology ever put in place. It’s arisen virtually in the last five years. The world doesn’t look substantially different. I mean, we didn’t have to make highways other any of the things that other technologies have demanded, and yet, really, the nation state is now obsolete. So, probably is the office, as we know it. Corporations and nations haven’t yet realized, but when they begin to understand how much money they can save through telecommuting and this sort of thing, the whole raison d’etre for clustering into enormous cities may just disappear.
The other thing is, the internet is a tremendous force for empowering the margins – all sexual minorities, all political minorities, all artistic minorities - now can build very powerful communities on the internet, and push their vision, whatever it is, forward.
So traditionally, power to communicate and to control communication has been one of the most closely held prerogatives of the powerful, and now it’s just been given unto our hands. So I find that very exciting. I think that I haven’t felt this kind of excitement with a new technology since the introduction of LSD and there are similarities, to be sure.
MJR: Such as?
TM: Well, both empower community. The internet was largely created by people who were very much formed by that earlier revolution. I mean, the people who write VRML, the people who are putting Netscape and the new search engines and all this stuff out are freaks. I don’t think they would balk at that label at all. There are people who love working in these areas because they represent the same kind of feeling of unlimited possibility that the psychedelic community had in the 60s.
MJR: Yeah, I’m just wondering about the internet. I’ve just been thinking about it and just getting involved in it myself, and would like to hear what you have to say about this because the powerful have always, as you said, held a very close hand over media, and that’s one of the ways they maintain their, even if somewhat false power, they still have that position. Is there a way of propagandizing the internet where a couple of powerful, or of the powerful, power possessing beings, as they’re referred to, can usurp the general community feeling of community access?
TM: I don’t really think so. I mean, I think that the internet is so fundamentally a different beast, and here’s the distinction that I would make. For at least 200, maybe 300 years, Western civilization has been largely shaped by what is called mass media. It means, first of all, newspapers, and then all the electronic mass media.
The nature of mass media is what’s called one-to-many communication, where a Letterman or a somebody speaks and millions listen and emulate. The internet is what’s called any-to-any communication. You and I can have an email exchange, or I can send email to 1,000 people, or I can join a chat group of several hundred. And I think the changes are more profound than we can even imagine, because the mass media created two things we cannot imagine living without: the idea of the public and the idea of the citizen.
Now we hear a great deal about how society is dissolving into anarchy. What it is means is there is no more public consensus. And that is because the post-electronic media personality isn’t interested in following fads dictated from above in quite the same way. So instead what we have is an incredibly heterogeneous and complex society that’s all niches.
There’s no public anymore, there’s just niches. The Latino niche, the lesbian niche, the this niche, the that niche, and there is no cohesion anymore. Well, some people think this is a terrible thing. I happen to think it’s a very good thing, because I think it makes us much more difficult to coerce and to control.
So the ending of the age of mass media is something that the world corporate state has not really braced itself for, because it has so much money invested in these now dinosaur forms of media. So I think of the internet really as a 60 million television channel, you know, a 60 million channel TV, and naturally that creates…and it’s a two-way deal.
MJR: Yeah, right. It’s interactive.
TM: I think that the only way to deal with media and keep your wits about you is to produce it. Produce it. Not consume it.
MJR: To wit.
TM: God forbid, do not consume it and then, do not flee it. That doesn’t work, either. You could say, “Well, I never…I don’t”. No nothing-ism, even more easily manipulated.
The key is to produce. And things like Photoshop and MacroMind Director - and I don’t work for any of these people but I use their products - are incredibly empowering. Uh, you know, what used to require $50,000 worth of production equipment can now be done with three and the cost is falling. That’s got to be good for the spreading of counter cultural and minority viewpoints and opinions.
MJR: That’s a very, very good point. In fact I was just thinking about the internet in this respect a little bit very recently, and I was realizing in many ways it’s…another way of putting it is it’s a great equalizer. From a socioeconomic point of view, people who would never have anything to do with each other necessarily, would never cross paths, are being given an opportunity to meet via the net.
TM: And it’s safe. It’s safe. Yes, it creates a…
MJR: People in absolutely distinct economic strata can come together.
TM: Well, and no matter how minority your position, no matter how bizarre your interests, you can find a community of people on the internet absolutely…
MJR: Who share your views.
TM: Who share your views, and who are furiously advancing that agenda. The other thing is, what the internet was designed for, was research. And if you believe that information is power, then the information gathering research tool that has been given to the ordinary person, to actually find out what the hell is really going on…I feel with my internet connection, I have better intelligence than Stansfield Turner had when he ran the CIA for Jimmy Carter.
That’s how fast these technologies…it’s gone from, what only the CIA Director could have, that now sits on the desktop of millions of American homes. And what’s that, 12 years or something like that.
MJR: God. So there’s an incredible dispersion of information.
TM: And acceleration of connectivity. Everybody’s getting connected the way they wish. And of course some of it is perverse and some of it is silly and trivial, but we had silly and perverse and trivial long before we had the internet.
MJR: Right. Yes, it didn’t all of a sudden arise because people had a little desktop publishing computer on their desk. Right, absolutely. Talking about being connected, there’s something that’s always puzzled me, and maybe you can speak to this, which is, you’ve spoken about a time before history, when men and women did something very novel: got along. Do you remember that?
TM: Oh yeah. You want me to run that riff?
MJR: [laughter] Ok. Would you?
TM: It’s sort of a…
MJR: But I have a question that’s embedded in that…which, uh…do the riff and then I’ll ask the question.
TM: The riff has to do with…uh, I’ve done a lot of thinking about early human evolution, and how did we make the leap so suddenly, from an advanced monkey to, you know, a poetry spouting, dreaming thing we are, and the hidden factor, I think, is chemical acceleration agents in the environment, specifically psilocybin and other things. I mean, I’m giving you the light speed version of this, but what I said about the relationship between men and women is, I think that psilocybin dissolves ego, and that the ordinary dominance hierarchies in primates, which are male-dominance hierarchies, dissolved for about 100,000 years in human beings because of an item in the diet. Essentially, they were self-medicating themselves into a slightly different relationship to their psycho sexuality, and instead of an ego-enforced male hegemony expressing itself as monogamy, there was some kind of polygamist, orgiastic, more egalitarian kind of organization. The reason for thinking these kinds of things when looking at primates is we have bonobos, which are a kind of chimpanzee, and chimpanzees, genetically, they’re 98% similar but their sexual behaviors could hardly be more different. One is very male dominant and a lot of aggression and anxiety about female behavior.
The bonobos on the other hand are extremely loose, many kinds of sexual activity are tolerated and so forth and so on, so it looks like, in human beings, though how we express ourselves sexually is hugely important to us, it is not very tightly bound to genetics. It’s more like a cultural choice.
You’re free to be monogamous, polygamous, heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, asexual – this is not usually the case in an animal species. And I think this flexibility about our sexual expression was an effect of the different relationship to libido that experimenting with hallucinogenic plants in the paleolithic period induced. It’s a fun idea to play with, it sort of explains our nostalgia for a time of goddess worship, orgy, nomadism, all children and whatever minimal property there was held in common. It’s a kind of…
MJR: Anarchy, ecstasy…
TM: Anarchy, ecstasy, freedom. And It may be a myth or it may in fact be a memory of a time, and then of course once the mushroom…
MJR: Paradisal beginnings.
TM: Once the mushroom is taken out of the picture, those old bad habits – male dominance and so forth - returned with a vengeance, and that’s the point in history where you get history. Walled cities, standing armies, kingship, slavery, enforced role models, subjugation of women, the whole bit, so in a sense, I think the Western phobia about drugs, about hallucinogens, about these experiences has to do with the fact that the ego is very uncertain of its role, it’s not strong, it’s…
TM: It’s full of fear and paranoia that it could easily be unseated, and of course, take 5 grams of psilocybin in silent darkness, and your ego will be unseated…
MJR: That’s right. We would like to say once and for all that it doesn’t go quite that way, but…ok, well, thank you for that riff, I appreciate it, um, the question is, what I wonder about, in listening to you over the years, and they’ve been wonderful years, I’ll have you know. Um, in fact, we met originally in 1988. I was at a seminar on the subject of physical immortality where Terence was giving a talk. We were just reminiscing about that, just…before. What was that famous line you had?
TM: You’re immortal as long as you live.
MJR: Voila, there we have it. What is the role and especially since you have gotten so involved I Ching, which touches so many precious elements of human life. What is the role of character development in the shamanic and the psychedelic experience?
TM: Well, it’s an interesting question. I think sort of we touched on this a little bit earlier in our talk where I talked about developing the observer of attention, that there is a developing of a sense of…
MJR: A cybernetic position, actually.
TM: Well, and a sense of a proper relationship. I mean, a shaman is neither inflated nor deflated, neither excessively humble, nor excessively pretentious. And humor - if someone claims to be some kind of shaman and they do not take themselves lightly, then they’re probably some beetle-browed maniac of some sort, going for your wallet or worse.
So a sense of relative proportion and humor, and a sense of uh, not the inevitability, but sort of the just the power in things to unfold themselves along their own pathways. I’ve met a lot of shamans because I’ve spent time in the Amazon Basin, and invariably the signifying characteristic is simply a feeling of being at ease in their presence and a feeling of penetrating intelligence.
And isn’t that different from talking about Tibetan llamas or anyone like that. I mean, penetrating intelligence. Some people differ with me but I really believe salvation has something to do with intelligence. It may not be the whole story, but…
MJR: It’s not just a passing acquaintance.
TM: Well, I was quoting - I don’t know if I can get this right, but I was quoting last night John Stewart Mill to a friend of mine. John Stewart Mill said, “Not all conservative people are stupid, but most stupid people are conservative.” [laughter] I thought, amazing.
MJR: That’s great. I hear what you’re saying. So in terms of character development, one of the main things that you were focusing on was humor, which actually preempted one of my other questions, when I told you I was sitting down and doing something very novel, I’ll have you know, which was thinking of questions I would like to ask Terence.
One of the questions was, what is the role of humor – well not in the psychedelic experience, I think that’s kind of obvious - with shamanic experience, but that purview on life, which is pre-religious, so to speak, institutional religious.
What is the flavor of the life when people are so close to the earth and the plants, and is that something that you are inviting people to consider these days, in 1996 now, as a way for us to open up toward the transcendental object?
TM: Well, I’m not sure I follow the entire question but I’ll try a yes. Yes.
MJR: Do you want me to rephrase it?
TM: No, Let me take a stab at it. Two human activities seem to me pretty much to be outside of history. I mean, one is orgasm and the other is laughter. And they are physiological responses to circumstance that are universal. We do it no differently if we’re French or Armenian or whatever, and it breaks us out of culture for a moment, and so laughter, I think, is really the shaman’s greatest tool.
That’s why the shaman is always associated with the Trickster, and in the clinches, meaning when somebody’s dying or childbirth or snakebite or something, the shaman is a very serious and highly functional caregiver and technician but how the shaman lives with his people is as a clown and a gadfly and a critic and the guy who always says, well, don’t you think we should think again or how about this or how about that and I think that…
MJR: I see. It’s a playful spirit.
TM: It’s a playful spirit and it’s a spirit that isn’t dogmatic. That’s really important. These cultures are hideously dogmatic but the shaman is the one person in the culture who is deputized to make fun of it. And so I see ourselves as bohemians, as freaks, as natural critics of the society we live in, and in that sense, performing a shamanic function.
MJR: Right. Ok. Good. That answers the many-pronged question, and actually to go a step further with that is, um, I remember reading something that you were writing about transpersonally oriented psychotherapists and the role that you see them playing in today’s society as really being very instrumental.
TM: Well, now, there are, I don’t know, thousands, probably of people who I would consider shamans, who don’t live in the rainforest and don’t administer their skills to some tiny language group up some river but who are fully embedded citizens of high electronic culture. And this is a new shamanism that is coming into being. We need it. Psychotherapy has been very reluctant to get its feet wet, you know, the talking therapies, and finally the touching therapies, but very little of the taking it and going with the patient into the space kinds of therapies, because that is incredibly dangerous and demanding work, but it’s what people must do if they want to uh, work their way out of the modern dilemma.
MJR: Mmm hmm. And do you think that through ingestions, still at this point, this can help us? And it doesn’t mean that this has to be for everyone, all the time.
TM: Oh, it’s definitely not for everyone, but it’s an enormous boon to our culture to revivify the shamanic hallucinogens and to bring them into the developing mix of technology and pluralism and new therapies and so forth and so on. I think it’s one of the most important tools. I mean, as you well know, there is just simply nothing that effective and that dramatic for pushing you into a new world, whether you like it or not.
TM: And that’s where we’re going, whether we like it or not.
MJR: That’s true, too. And from that point of view, you use the word and make reference to the idea of evolution, and the more I think about it, the more I think that’s a very overused and under defined term. I’m not even sure anymore what it really is.
TM: Well, evolution, in biological terms, is not in the picture anymore. We are evolving now entirely in the domain of culture and so rapidly.
MJR: Culture and consciousness.
TM: Well, yes. They mirror each other. One is the byproduct of the other. But we’re not changing physically. We haven’t for 50,000 years.
MJR: We still have the appendix, et cetera.
TM: Yes. But we are mutating our cultural values and our technologies and our institutions at such a rate that as I say, we will not recognize ourselves in a very few years.
MJR: Hmm. And of course that’s not a biological recognition, it’s a psychic recognition.
TM: Yes. I mean, imagine someone brought forward to modern New York from 100 years ago. I mean, I’m sure they would assume…I don’t know what they would assume had happened in the intervening 100 years. It looks like Armageddon or something, but it’s not. It’s just normal unfolding of historical processes and technologies.
The mushroom once said to me, “This is what it’s like when a species prepares to depart for the stars. Not to worry.”
MJR: They’ve been speaking to you for a while, haven’t they?
TM: Long enough.
MJR: We are being signaled that we are…the end of time is really not in 2012, December 23rd or something like that. It’s really in about 4 minutes.
TM: See, it overtook even my expectations.
MJR: Much faster than either of us could have realized. In our closing minutes, Terence, are there any particular points that you would like to make? I mean, here we have this wonderful New York audience that is just loving you and lapping up this show, and I’m just wondering if there’s any particular, central points you would like to make, that you would like to communicate, to the folks that are listening.
TM: I think people should put the art pedal to the floor. I think our salvation is in producing as much beauty and as much communication as fast as possible, that what will make this white-knuckle ride to the end of history slightly easier is if we communicate - our dreams, our fears, our experience of what it’s like to go through this.
We’ve never been here before. This is a unique moment, and probably the future of the human race depends on how we comport ourselves over the next 25 years. So it’s a privilege, a challenge, an adventure. Everybody should jump in and uh, feel the surf.
MJR: Take off your seatbelt and get ready.
TM: That’s right.
MJR: Absolutely. Well, that’s wonderful. In fact I just realized, on a practical note, that you are beginning this think along tour in New York.
TM: That’s right.
MJR: As we speak.
TM: Well, this is the most novel place.
MJR: Really. This is the place to begin. And from here, you’re going to Santa Fe?
TM: Santa Fe, then Boulder, then Los Angeles, and then home to Hawaii.
MJR: Wonderful, wonderful. A great place to have a home in. Why don’t we give a way for people to get in touch with Axium. So, if they want to communicate to friends in other parts of the country while you’re dancing around…
TM: Yes, do you have the Axiom email address?
MJR: Their phone number is 1-800-76-AXIUM.
TM: Oh, well, that’ll do it.
MJR: Ok. Feel free to call to get more information on Terence’s think along tours as he dances across the country. Really glad that you danced into the studio.
TM: It was a pleasure to talk with you.
TM: Lots of fun.
MJR: Thanks so much. This is MJR for A Better World. Thanks again for joining us. Please call and give a couple of suggestions. Where is everybody now when I need you? Share your thoughts and feelings with me. Love to hear from you. I look forward to seeing you next week.
[outro music as credits roll]