JEFFREY MISHLOVE, Ph.D.: Hello and welcome. I'm Jeffrey Mishlove. Today we're going to examine "The Human Future." As we approach the year 2000, what are some of the novel features of our contemporary culture that are likely to become dominant in a future society? With me is Terence McKenna, a specialist in shamanistic cultures and hallucinogenic plants and drugs. Terence is the coauthor with his brother Dennis of The Invisible Landscape: Mind, Hallucinogens, and the I Ching, also Psilocybin:The Magic Mushroom Grower's Guide.
In addition he is a founder of Botanical Dimensions, a nonprofit organization devoted to preserving hallucinogenic plants as used by native peoples throughout the world, and he's also the author of Timewave Zero, a computer software package. Welcome, Terence.
TM: It's a pleasure to be here, Jeffrey.
MISHLOVE: You know, you're a specialist really in the past -- the ancient past, the prehistoric past of shamanistic cultures;and of course ancient peoples, shamans and other ancient peoples, have always attempted to look at the future. Today there are many, many scenarios about the future, and the one thing that seems to be certain is that the future will contain surprises -- that no matter how much we attempt to predict what the future will be, there will always be unexpected things.I think you have a unique perspective on the future, since your studies take you so deeply into the past. I wonder what some of the major features that you delineate in our present and our past society are that may tend to surprise us, or surprise conventional theorists about the future.
TM: Well, first let me say you make a valid point.My ordinary concern is shamanism, which is usually thought of as an archaic or an historical phenomenon. However, in my looking at the shamanistic phenomenon, I've discovered that shamans themselves, as you also mentioned,have a deep concern with seeing into the future, with having a feeling for the course of development of the society in which they are embedded.And strangely enough, my own career somewhat paralleled that model, as I was a student of Erich Jantsch, who was one of the great forecasters of the last ten years.
MISHLOVE: Systems theorist, as I recall.
TM: Systems theorist, exactly. And he was very concerned to model the future with a degree of realism that had previously not been possible, and he taught me that the way to do this is to concentrate on the novel and the unexpected. As you point out, much of the future will be in fact characterized by factors that are presently unpredictable. How then, by stretching our own definition of what is currently at the cutting edge of society, can we anticipate these future event systems? My own approach to this has been to try to concretize or locate areas of influence that seem to me, while very seminal in the present situation, probably fated to grow and flower over the next twenty-five years.
MISHLOVE: You know, I think it's interesting that you mention Erich Jantsch. He wrote a book, I believe it was called Design for Evolution.
MISHLOVE: In that book I was very interested in how a man of his scientific credentials as a systems theorist took a close look at the new age movement, and things such as Kundalini yoga, and examined how we might begin as a society to look at developing Kundalini to develop our own evolution biologically and as a species.
TM: Yes, well, he was an extremely broad thinker,not only a fine scientist but music critic, philosopher, what have you. A point that he was always very much concerned to make to me about the future was that much of the future is in place in the present. A typical residential street of today will look pretty much as it looks today thirty years from now, barring major catastrophic changes in society. A curious thing about history is how much momentum it does have. Nevertheless it is possible to isolate forces which are creating change. Four major forces which I will enumerate and discuss for you, the four that I think are probably among the most important, are first of all feminism. Feminism is a tremendously underestimated force, viewed in the present context primarily as a woman's concern. The understanding has not yet percolated throughout society that the advancement of women is a program vitally connected to the survival of human beings as a species. The reason for this is simply that institutions take on the character of the atoms which compose them, and what we are most menaced by -in the twentieth century- are dehumanized institutions. If women played a major role in policy formation and execution on the part of these institutions, I think they would have a far more benign and ecologically sensitive kind of character. So I see feminism not as a kind of war between the sexes or any of these stereotypic images, but as actually a kind of effort to shift the ratios of our emphasis that is expressed through our institutions.
MISHLOVE: In other words, you're not looking so much at whether women get more voting rights, or whether they get more women placed in high positions in government, but rather whether institutions have more of a nurturing quality.
MCKENNA: That's right. It isn't even really about women,it's about femininity -- injecting femininity into our decision-making process and our social policy. Naturally the most obvious way to do this is to bring women into the process, but that isn't necessarily how it should be done.
MISHLOVE: Well, there's a catch phrase now that's going around a lot in business circles -- "High tech, high touch." That seems to embody this notion of paying attention to human feelings and to caring about people as we develop a more technologically oriented society.
MCKENNA: Yes, although I'm suspicious of that, having seen several American revolutions turned into advertising slogans. I'm afraid this may be an effort to co-opt the really volcanic energy that feminism could bring to the social restructuring effort. But feminism is only one of these novel areas that are injecting change into our lives.
MISHLOVE: Why don't we list the others, and then perhaps we can look at how they interrelate with each other?
MCKENNA: Well, for example cybernetics is certainly a major area where we could spend some time. Space flight -- I don't think you would get a lot of argument from people that that is going to have a major impact on our lives. Then perhaps in a more controversial vein,and along the lines of my own special interests, I think hallucinogenic plants and the pushing back of the frontiers of the mind, the cataloging of ever more exotic states of experience through the use of hallucinogenic drugs, aerobic exercise, vitamin therapy, what have you, is going to be very, very important. Seen as an amalgam, what these things seem to imply is that we are really sweeping toward the climax of a thousand-year-old civilization -- a civilization that began, I suppose you could say, with the rise of medieval scholasticism, which then transformed itself into proto-modern science, which then became modern science, and then modern philosophy. We are really sweeping toward the culmination of the western contribution to the story of mankind, and what will that contribution be?It could well be a devastating species-exterminating thermonuclear war.Or it could be the culmination and completion of the ideals that we inherited from the Greeks. How we balance historical forces against the need to evolve consciousness is going to decide how the tale is told, and if you look at the things that I named -- feminism, cybernetics, consciousness expansion,space flight -- these are all different approaches toward the notion of expanding our frontiers, organizationally, geographically, informationally, consciously. The expansion of frontiers is the very essence of a continuing human future, a humane human future.
MISHLOVE: You used the word balance a little earlier in a pivotal way, and the four elements that you mentioned strike me as being rather balanced. Space flight and cybernetics seem to be expanding the frontiers of science and technology, and yet when we look at the inner exploration suggested by the rise of feminism and the return or revival or re-energizing of hallucinogenic drugs and other features of the consciousness movement, that suggests an expansion of the inner frontiers. It seems tome ultimately that if we are to survive the threats that now stand poised above our planet, that balance has to be essential, that we can't go too far either internally or externally without some balancing features.
MCKENNA: No, I think that's a very good point. In fact the entire lethal dimension to our cultural dilemma can be laid at the feet of a burgeoning scientific capability that developed at the expense of a concomitant ethical capacity. I think that we are not going to go to the stars as Republicans and Democrats, communists and free marketeers;we are not going to go to the stars as male chauvinists; nor are we going to go to the stars as uninformed clods. All of these various characteristics and ways of being are dross that the historical experience of the twentieth century is going to either burn away from us or burn us with. We have actually created a self-limiting situation for ourselves. We are the ones who have boxed ourselves into this dilemma, and we must now be the ones who have the cultural and intellectual wherewithal to take command of the situation and to navigate out of this cul-de-sac without wrecking the planet, without betraying our ethical heritage of some several thousand years. Balance is going to be essential to this -- a sense of openness to possibility,a sense of the true strangeness of the situation in which we find ourselves.
MISHLOVE: It strikes me that as we move into the future,as we move into the next millennium, perhaps the really novel feature that might emerge is that as a culture, as a global culture, we will be forced,I think, to take responsibility for ourselves on this planet in a way that we haven't previously been forced to do because we've always had room to expand, room to exploit the environment and ourselves. We're running out of room for that,so we must be responsible.
MCKENNA: Yes. Well, this is the century in which the chickens come home to roost. All the profligate processes of metal extraction and subjugation of native populations and land clearing in the tropics, that pot latch mentality must now give way to a more resource conserving state of mind, or we will be quite simply doomed. And I'm very much up on humanity,but I'm very concerned about the role that the United States is to play in this future. Certainly if resource management is going to be an important factor in the future, then the Japanese are out in front of all of us. Now, if not having committed resources to an obsolete infrastructure is going to have an impact, then certainly the Chinese have a leg up on all of us. Did you know that there are less than a thousand private automobiles in China? Can you conceive of the leap forward that can be made if you could go from the wooden cart to the spaceship without committing yourself to fifty years of highway building and gas stations and petroleum extraction and this sort of thing?
MISHLOVE: You have a remarkable talent here for seeing the positive side of a nation of a billion people living in what we would think of as destitute poverty. They don't have cars because the per capita income in China is about two hundred and fifty U.S. dollars a year.
MCKENNA: Well, I think Marshall McLuhan pointed out that any technology put in place is extremely difficult to dislodge, and that is our problem. We went for the automobile so completely that it will now be a major effort at cultural restructuring to leave it behind. The Chinese have no such problem. I think it was Freeman Dyson, or perhaps Gerrard O'Neill, who said, "No technology should be put in place that has a foreseeable obsolescence." This was his argument against nuclear power. And I think that's an excellent point. We should not commit ourselves to any course of action whose end state can be foreseen. This is why we have to commit ourselves to this kind of conscious, open-system, non-equilibrium future that futurists like Jantsch, and West Churchman and others have so eloquently described in their work.
MISHLOVE: Let's talk for a bit about the role of hallucinogens in the future. I think most people would agree that the marvelous decade of the 1960s, which seem to have awakened so many people to possibilities,was inextricably linked with the use of LSD and other hallucinogens at that period. It's interesting to me that today this is not talked about very much; you're one of the few people who are willing to look at the role that hallucinogens may have played at that time. How do you see hallucinogens? Do you imagine, for example, that a billion Chinese will return to...
MCKENNA: Using LSD? No, it isn't quite like that. I think that whatever we may say about the way hallucinogens were introduced into American society in the sixties, I think that that has now become a dead horse, and that we are looking at a much different sort of problem. The problem is that psychology is the science whose perfection we are most in need of, because our whole problem is that we do not communicate with each other. We do not understand our own motivations. We are waiting on psychology literally to save our necks, and governments are repressing the major tools that promise major advances in psychology. I may represent only a faction of opinion, but it is my opinion that the hallucinogenic plants and drugs are to psychology what Galileo's telescope was to astronomy. The difference is that the church was unable to suppress the telescope, but the state has had immense success in suppressing hallucinogens. I'm not speaking of keeping it out of the hands of high schoolers and college students; I'm talking about keeping it out of the hands of research pharmacologists. Science feels free to investigate any area that concerns it -- areas of our interpersonal relating, our sexuality, the effects of automobile crashes on human bodies studied through using monkeys. Nothing is sacred. However, when it comes to allowing scientists to study the effect of hallucinogenic compounds on brain function and psychology, a great wall, a great barrier, is raised, and I think it signifies the fear really, that the establishment has of unleashing the creativity and vitality that it senses to be tied up in these things. The very decade that you mentioned was the last decade, I think, when Americans had this feeling of an open-ended, hopeful, transcendent future. Ever since the 1960s we've been given shortages, limited resources, voluntary simplicity, and a host of other notions that boil down to repression.
MISHLOVE: So you're suggesting that the legal restrictions are perhaps a temporary aberration, and that the exploration of the human mind through hallucinogens or other means might get us in touch with avast resource within ourselves that we seem to have lost touch with a little bit as a culture.
MCKENNA: Yes. Well, if you contrast the state of modern astrophysics with astronomy as it was practiced in 1530, I think you can feel the kind of paradigm shift that I'm suggesting. We know nothing about the mind. There are a few theories -- Freud, Jung, Reich, so forth and so on -- but these are just guesses tossed into the unknown. And yet in principle the mind need not be a mystery; it's simply that the more complex objects in nature yield their secrets last. We understood falling lead balls long before we understood drops of water; we understood drops of water long before plastic polymers. The brain will yield, but it will yield to a different set of tools than the ones we have been applying.
MISHLOVE: As a philosopher, or at least a person who asks a lot of questions, I wonder if the ultimate nature of the mind is really knowable, any more than the ultimate nature of matter. It seems as if in some sense, as physicists today probe the ultimate nature of matter, they begin asking questions that sound more and more theological. And we get that way too with people who look at the mind, particularly people who explore hallucinogens.
MCKENNA: I think we can do a great deal, though, without having ultimate knowledge of something. As you yourself said, we have no ultimate knowledge of what matter is, or electricity, and yet we light our cities with electricity; we transform matter any way we wish. So I agree with you; the mind is inherently mysterious. If nothing else, Goedel's theorem will protect it from being understood -- that mind cannot understand mind. But I think brain, which is the receiver of mind, the stage upon which mind acts, the magic marionette, if you will, there's much to be learned there. That is in fact the great frontier of materialism, strangely enough.
MISHLOVE: As you look at the future, Terence, with your special lenses that really are unique to yourself, where do you see the realm of religion evolving?
MCKENNA: Well, I think we are rapidly growing into what I call a religion of the imagination, where we transcend individual archetypes and begin instead to realize that the mystery can take any form, and that a higher religion is a religion then which dispenses with the symbolic forms, the presentational modes of the mystery, and concentrates on the mystery itself as a kind of ineffable center of being that constellates everything around it to have meaning.
MISHLOVE: This would require obviously a dropping away,then, of dogma.
MCKENNA: Yes, well, I think dogma has served us ill. How ill is hard to say, but I think, for instance, the case could be made that it got us to this point. I think it was H.G. Wells who said, "History is a race between education and disaster," and I think we are in the homestretch, we are neck and neck, it is too close to call, and we must not take our eye off the ball. It is going to take the best effort of all of us to bring to birth the kind of transcendental human future that we all sense so pregnantly near the surface of things. It is not far away. It is here, it is now, if we could but invoke it, if we could but find the means to communicate to the deeper parts of ourselves and to each other, to bring that kind of perfected future into being. It's fallen out of fashion recently in a lot of existential whining and carping, but I think this is only a fad of the times. The future is endlessly bright and full of transcendental promise for those who are not afraid of it.
MISHLOVE: The future that you described was a fourfold future, in effect -- feminism, space flight, cybernetics, and hallucinogens.It reminds me of Jung's image of the mandala, the fourfold mandala, that we move into.
MCKENNA: Yes, well, these things could be imagined as the four quarters of a mandala that taken together create the totality of a free and caring world -- well fed, well governed, well intentioned,and pointed toward the exploration of the mystery of being, which is, I think, really the higher calling of human beings. We are naturally called to the mystery, we are naturally its acolytes, and in all other roles we perform rather badly, I think.
MISHLOVE: So there's a sense in which if we look at the future, we might ask ourselves, why have a future at all? What is the meaning,what is the purpose of being here? And you seem to be saying to study, to appreciate the mystery of it all.
MCKENNA: Well, I think that history is a kind of message from the ineffable -- that in the rise of dynastic families and the fall of empires and the migrations of peoples there is a vast tale being told; that we are caged within art, and that the great satisfaction of contemplating this spectacle is to know where in the tale you are.
MISHLOVE: Terence McKenna, thank you very much for being with me. It's been such a pleasure.
MCKENNA: It's always a pleasure to talk with you.