Gaia, Eros, and the Archaic Revival

24 August 1989
Ford Theatre, Los Angeles, California


This talk does not have any transcribers

Botanical Dimensions is a non-profit corporation driven by the notion that we must preserve the traditional folkloric information that pertains to plants, medicinal plants, and we must preserve the plants themselves. Within the next 30 years, all this priceless, millennial long legacy of medical healing information is going to be irrevocably lost. Now I don’t mean to add to your woes, I know you’re worrying about the ozone hole and all this, and in the body of my talk I will make it a seamless web, it’s all a single problem. But in [...] field work in the Amazon, Kat and I and our colleagues and have learnt that this information, this thin web of understanding between human beings and plants is in great danger of being lost, and it’s not simply that we are driven by the motivation of the anthropologist, of the curator, this information has a vital potential impact on modern healthcare delivery. How long we live, how healthy we are, how clear our minds are may well depend on preserving the botanical heritage of folk information and identified species in the warm tropics. I don’t know how many of you saw about a month ago on the front page of the New York Times there was a composite photograph of the Amazon last September over a 15 day period in infrared and showing thousands of fires, literally millions of acres being burned to clear for cattle. The land could be used for cattle for 3 years after this process, and then it becomes so brushy and scrubby that it is useless for any purpose. The Brazilian government commissioned these satellite photographs and they showed that 30% of the world’s yearly production of carbon dioxide, which is a greenhouse gas, was caused by these September burnings in the Amazon, and that the amount of particulate matter lifted into the stratosphere was equivalent to three eruptions the size of the El Chichòn volcano in Mexico. So this is a massive ecocidal impact, a massive insult to the atmosphere of the planet. And these kinds of things imperil all of us. We need to realize that it’s the New Age means archaic revival, if it means reaching back in time for models in the past that can study this culture as we move toward this ultra dimension that every can sense lies just ahead of us, then we’re going to have to put on the breaks, we’re going to have to act from a sense of real needs of real needs of the planet. Well in our own small way that’s what we’re trying to do at Botanical Dimensions. It’s where we anchor this high-flow rhetoric that I’m going to lay on you. In political reality it’s where we try to act, to actually do something, to save information, to save plants, that people may be healed, like that. 
I called this discussion The Light at the End of History, and in a way my remarks about Botanical Dimensions set the stage. I wanted to talk about the end of history in an optimistic way. I wanted to transcend the air-headedness that haunts and enrage rhetoric and still be able to say something positive about the future, both short term and long term, and give a kind of sense of possibility outside of the ordinary political agenda. The new age, if it means anything, it must mean a revivification of values that are traditional, because those are the only values that have ever worked. And I don’t mean traditional like 80 years ago, I mean like 500 years ago. In other words, there’s a need to spend for a cultural answer that is not couched in the terms of western european, male dominated, paternalistic, white civilization. Now I don’t suppose it’s any news to you that my inspiration for trying to take this position, or trying to understand what this stand might entail, is an involvement with the sources of shamanic ecstasy, and involvement with traditional usage of vision-producing plants. So in a moment when the whole world and the entire political apparatus is contorted by a fear of drugs, or at least in apparent stated fear of drugs… well these institutions are daily called many ways, I mean we’re talking about hundreds of billions of dollars in profits and who shall have it, and some people think they should make the profit because they know best what to do with the money and I welcome their representatives here this evening. So in the atmosphere of the present situation I bring the [limbs] that there is an older, different way of looking at these things, and the acquisition of gnosis, the acquisition of spiritual attainment, it’s not a matter of following gurus, or immersing oneself in mastering excruciatingly difficult, physiological techniques, it has more to do with what Roy was talking about, which is courage. The courage to commit oneself to full experience, whatever that means. To my mind the greatest undersold commodity, and it isn’t a commodity, in the world today is the felt presence of immediate experience. And this is what I suggest that, in part, the new age should stand for. And I should say, my own awareness of this emerged because I was willing to involve myself with the traditional vision-producing plants that had been used for millennia in all cultures throughout the world. I was saying to someone today “the whole history of the world can be seen as a careening set of relationships between human beings and plants, relationships made and broken, wheat, coffee, tobacco, tea, opium”. All of these things bring with them the names of dynasties and empires that rose and fell as these plants came into play and then disappeared. So what is there [hope] about in the present situation, what is going on in the world? Why is the 20th century such an apparent bizarre aberration? And why is our culture apparently the cutting edge of either the absolute apotheosis of the species, or its absolute transcendental transformation? And why is it so difficult to tell which it is? Does anyone have any [idea]? There’s a notion which is very useful in physics to rescue it from itself, which is singularity. A singularity is a place where the rules don’t work. So if you go to that place and have enough faith in the rules and they don’t work then you call it a singularity and you get to keep your theory. But it’s very bad to have a lot of singularities. The more singularities you have the weaker your theory, that’s why Stephen Hawkings decided that there weren’t singularities at the center of black holes because there were so many of them. Well my notion of what’s going on involves a singularity, but only one. The orthodox story of how the universe got here demands a singularity as well, but again, revised after Hawking, only one. Well so science puts its singularity at the beginning of the universe, and here is what it is, it is that suddenly and for no reason, the entire universe sprang from nothing, it was definitely smaller than a dime, and granted that we can explain everything. Well I reason somewhat differently. I agree that there would be a need for a singularity in a good model of what’s happening, but it seemed to me that the singularity would probably be more likely to emerge out of the very complex set of preconditions rather than just springing from nothing. So I imagined that well why not put the singularity at the end of the life of the universe, where all kinds of complex things can have had ample time to evolve and put themselves in place, and then perhaps these complex things whatever they may be will generate a singularity. So, in fact, this is the notion, it’s the notion that the whole history of the universe moves through a series of condensing stages, each stage requiring less time than its predecessor. And what these stages are is a gathering together of complexity. First you have the emergence of primitive chemistry in the hearts of stars, and that occurs after a long long time after the big bang. And then somewhat shortly after that, in terms of hundreds of millions of years, you get exotic chemistries on the surfaces of planets, and then more quickly life, and then rather shortly after that consciousness, and almost instantly then… this! 
So what I take this to be is a leading toward complexity of all the processes of the cosmos as a set of nested entities. Now what’s very interesting about this is suddenly human beings are moved centre stage in importance. Remember I said that I thought the empowering of felt immediate experience was what it was all about. So, suddenly, human beings, which in the scientific model are epiphenomenal observers, are centralized to the whole cosmogonic myth. Why? People all people, as we all know, are the weirdest and most complex objects in the universe, and throughout time, throughout history we see that they become yet more complex and more bizarre, through the generating of more and more codes, more and more bizarre interfacing with nature and self through technology, more and more self-reflection, more and more communication, more and more flowing together. Perhaps you can anticipate what this leads to. It leads to ever more frenzied historical existence, but it doesn’t go on forever. You know the general theory of history taught, say at [Cow] today, is called the pointlessly fluctuating theory of history, which is what it appears to be. It’s set for this factor of embedded complexity. Movement toward concrescence. I had an occasion to discuss this with Carl Sagan recently. And it was interesting, he pointed out that information has not moved faster since the discovery of radio. Radio moves at the speed of light. Since then the plateau of the rate of information transfer has been at a plateau. The largest atomic explosion ever detonated has been in 1958, there has been none larger since, which is I think something you can think about in the middle of the night. And the fastest object ever created by human beings reached its top speed and continues to hold it in 1967. So what is it that is growing more dense around us that we can see and feel in the literal complexification of our own lives. Well, I submit that it is collectiveness. That this is a theme that is not arising out of sociological factors, it’s arising out of the bones of the planet itself. We are not caught in some kind of universe where human beings are completely outside the plan. Rather I think history is somehow part of the plan. And by anticipating or somehow trying to come into resonance with what history’s part in the plan is, I think we can lift the pole of existential doubt that is the legacy of modern thought. In other words, there can be a postmodern philosophy that is organic, biological, human centered, human, and even psychedelic. 
But now what about this singularity? Isn’t it simply the end of the world that the fundamendalist are pushing, that the Hindus trod out every once in a while? Is that what it is? Is this [galasticism] wearing psilocybin clothing? Could be folks! No, I don’t really think so though. 
[18:18] The [mandarions], who are a very obscure religious cult, and hence very dear to my heart have a very interesting myth, which is, their eschatology is, they believe that at the end of the world a saviour will come, called the secret Adam. And the secret Adam rather than teaching a message will build a machine of some sort, they’re very explicit about this. And the machine is a light pump for gathering souls together and projecting them beyond the machinery of cosmic fate and back to their awesome and hidden home in the [...] with the old father who is hidden. They love that sort of thing. In any case this notion is very interesting. That somehow tool making is some kind of salvational exercise. That somehow technology which we have tended to abhor because in its present status it is so toxic and vulgar and so badly manipulated, and unethically manipulated, nevertheless what it represents is the continuation of a process which seems to be very dear to human beings, which is the process of fashioning ideas into matter. And I think that what we are moving toward, if we can come out of the other side of the very narrow political neck, the crisis that lumes ahead of us, because there is a historical crisis, make no mistake about it, but I’m speaking actually to a world that survives that crisis, a world beyond the century, and I think that world has a crack at allowing us to become what we wish to be, to project ourselves out of the [mocking] nature and to really explore what self-reflection means. This could easily turn into an outlandish nightmare, the challenge is very real. I know that many people that follow my ideas and come to these events are psychotherapists, and psychologists, and therapists of all sorts. There is a great responsibility here to the creation of the future image of the human mind because what we are moving toward is a technological singularity. In other words, the process of technology has been dominating our evolution since at least 25 thousand years ago, for far longer than that as a physiological type we’ve been steady, there’s been very little variance. But the proliferation of cultural artefacts has been ever increasing, asymptotically increasing now towards the point that one can see that what is actually being proposed by whatever this force is that is driving the human unconscious and realising ideas into the streaming of historical time, what is actually being proposed is a false self-imagine of the soul. I thought of this in terms of turning the human body inside out so that the soul is visible. And the body becomes an [...] in a realm which we call the imagination. These things are possible. This stuff is being labored toward, in these tall glassy buildings all around us even as we speak. Technology, information, transformation, and coding, it has a life of its own. If you were an extraterrestrial staring down at this planet you wouldn’t see a human civilization, what you would see is a swarm of codes, some of them genetic, some of them electronic, some of them pheromonal, acoustic codes, information is what’s lose on the surface this planet. Why? Why not! We have nothing else to compare it to. Perhaps this is what biology always ushers into. Is this ever more intense, ever more accelerated self-reflection, self expression. What is to be done with it? Well, I think that in a way it is doing what is to be done with it. And that a great deal of political education consists in standing back. What we are moving toward has a sense of itself. What we must provide is a channel of communication for a guiding image. A guiding image for the lives of each one of us, a guiding image for society. And what I think it is is the felt presence of immediate about. That’s what sex is about, that’s what psychedelics are about, it’s what good philosophy, good food, decency, it’s what all these things are about, valuing people, valuing the moment in which you are in as a [...]. Not, you know, it was a great poet who said “it is not he or she or them or it that you belong to”. There’s something to that I think. But in combination with this technological thing it isn’t simply a call to dignity and presence in the moment, it is a call to dream because we are going to become whatever it is we wish to be. We stand on the brink of entering a kind of hyperspacial dimension. The entire culture is poised on the brink of an ocean of imagination. The mind, which began you know 50, a hundred thousands years ago, a tiny spark pulled forth out of the darkness in the dim recesses of these pack hunting primates on the planes of Africa and then slowly, slowly all that looking into the camp fire, all those eons of boredom… somebody had to invent canasta. No, the game which was invented, the game which invented itself was symbiosis. Symbiosis with plants. Out of this primate stock there came one species that had the habit habit. The weird predilection for addicting to almost anything. To its mate, to its territory, to its place in the hierarchy and to plants. And this symbiosis between people and plants is what gives us the legacy of our great religions. Soma, this mysterious vegetable concoction which drove the imagination of Vedic thinkers as they moved out of caucasian Asia and into India over a 3000 years period. The whole of the Rig Veda is a hymn to Soma. What are these things that drove these civilizations? The Osirian civilization of Egypt, did it depend on tryptamines native in [...] What is the relationship of ergotized beer on mushrooms to the Eleusinian mysteries which put their stamp on the [faking] of Plato, Aristotle, Aeschilus, Aristophanes, the whole pantheon of Greek thinkers. [27:43] And then you see in cold Europe a cultural aberration arose and with the religion, with the peculiar suspicion of nature, a suspicion of nature so complete that when it resolved itself into a dualism and defined its satan, the power of satan had to rest entirely within himself, and thus plants as a tool of feminism, which was associated with satanism and demonic magic, [you bet your booties] knowledge of plants completely disappeared on the European continent on any serious level. I’m talking now about ecstatic visionary things, but there were also botanical problems. The cold nature of Europe seems to give it a predisposition toward the tropeins, belladonna, the solanaceous plants that are not true psychedelics, but really deliriants and frenzy-inducing kinds of, merely toxic, super-intoxicants. And with European civilization comes the fullest expression of male-dominated paternalism, which of course had been brought through from Judaism into earlier Christianity, but it reached its fullest expression in the feudal ideal and chivalry, which was the final degradation of women essentially, it carried out a process that had been going on since the fall of Mycenae in Greece. And with this comes an enormous legacy of neurosis and an enormous reluctance to be involved in the real, but rather to stratify, and to remove, to dominate, and to abstract, abstract, abstract. Leading to modern science, leading to the ability to answer all questions which are irrelevant. The further the question is from relevancy the more likely you are to get an absolutely down-to-a-[nuts]-eye-brow answer. Again, this tension between the need to centre the human being in our models and the willingness to leave human beings completely out of the picture in order to answer a whole different set of questions. So I think it’s a challenge to all of us, to each of us, to make this kind of an agenda count, to look into the future, to see that the image of what we’re going to become is so important that we need to realize we are creating it by our acts, by our acquiescence, in the acts of others as well. I mean, we are sitting through a particular period of idiocy, and there will be other periods of idiocy, but we can each move into the future at our own speed, at our own rate of understanding, the best ideas will win. It isn’t a matter of great power, it’s a matter of having the clearest image of the human soul, the clearest image of the historical goal that would be worthy enough to rescue meaning from the pyre of ruin that history is when you look back over it. All those [...], all those burning villages, those migrations, wars, and epidemics, those are our people back there. If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t be here. The human enterprise doesn’t exist to gutter out like a river flowing into a desert, we have to be smart. Obviously there is a great crisis, obviously no one can speak in terms of anything we can conceive of existing on this planet four or five hundred years from now. The historical neck is upon us. There is a concept, the concept of forward escape. This is what we need, a forward escape into another dimension. Now, perhaps it’s off the planet, perhaps it’s into the bones of the planet, perhaps it’s into a parallel dimension, perhaps it’s forward into time a million years. But we need, we must have, we will create this forward escape, it is the only possibility, it is not something to doubt, it is something to see as written into the record of advance as we behold it. The steady acceleration of novelty, the ever concrescing and densifying of connectedness means that we are riding the forward crest of a kind of informational wave, and what history is is a build up of a kind of pressure. You know in engineering schools they have what they call Q, vibration, as the structure approaches the speed of sound, and right before you rupture the sound barrier you are at Max Q, and the airframe is bucking and threatens to pull itself apart, and then you slide through into the other dimension where it’s smooth as glass. And this is what the 20th century is, it is this enormous culmination to a thrust toward another world that began about 12-15 thousand years ago. It’s a geological microsecond in which a species that was pawing for roots turns itself into some kind of archangelic hyperdimensional creature that goes off into the realms of its own imaginings. It is possibly the purpose of the planet. In any case, it is necessary for the planet as much as it’s necessary for us. The metaphor that we should hold in our minds as we confront the chaostrophy of the 20th century is the image of birth, it is bloody, it is messy, it does not look like part of the ordinary run of the mill of how life works, but it is, it is the sine qua non, that means you can’t get along without it. If the child and the mother are not parted at a certain moment toxemia can set in, this threatens the life of the infant, it threatens the life of the mother. This is all part of nature. These microcosmic processes are repeated in the macrocosm of the life of the planet. We are that [infinite], and we have come to term, and what awaits us can hardly be imagined, any more than a foetus can imagine being Ben Johnson. You looked good I thought. 
So I said this was a message of hope, and it is because I believe this process is built in. And that the way we can participate in it is by talking about it, by telling each other about it, by flexing the muscles of language to communicate with each other, to dispel the fear. This is the great weapon of simple people, is plain talk with each other. It’s always plain talk that topples governments, nothing else would do. It’s always plain talk that brings on great new ideas. And plain talk is an art. It’s an art that we all need to cultivate. It’s the personal facet of this projection of the clear self image. And plain talk empowers the felt presence of immediate experience. In fact it’s one of the best things you can do with immediate experience. It’s amazing how the most intelligents of us go through the day basically communicating with grunts and growls. You know, I can be cleaning up my house and in the course of half an hour Roma will fall and I will reinvent the Polio vaccine in my mind and if someone comes to the door and asks me what I’ve been doing I say “nothing”. And I think everyone is like that. What the psychedelics argue, you see, is that we have universes of beauty and wonder and [mooning] rocked up inside of ourselves, which we must find a way to share. And the only way we know is language, and art, and the transformation of language and art. And this is what we are called to to grow closer to one another. To make ourselves part of this unitary entity. It was anticipated in the 16th century by the great alchemists, then it was called the philosophers stone. What we are moving toward is a concrescence of ourselves, and our technology, and our past, and our future, and our intentions that will allow us to do anything. I remember a very [b] film I saw many years ago and the flying saucers were appearing all over the Earth and you didn’t see the flying saucers, but you saw people planting rice in paddies in Asia suddenly looking up at the sky and their eyes filling with tears and tears beginning to run down the wrinkled cheeks of these elderly oriental women, and then a flash to people in an African village pounding [tarou] and then looking to the sky, and people in a huge modern city. This is the kind of singularity that I’m talking about. Not piloted by friendly visitors, or unfriendly visitors from another world, but piloted essentially by the better part of ourselves, called by us from the future to join with us in rescuing the human and planetary enterprise through an act of understanding. Now, I’ve been accused of mysticism, and worse. But my image of the concrescence that culture is moving toward is something like this, it is the discovery of a principle, or an attitude, or a drug, or a device, it doesn’t really matter which, you can choose the metaphor that you like, a principle, an attitude, a drug, or a machine, but what’s important it’s what it does, and what it will do is transmitting information into the future, send information into the future. And when I first imagined this device, I, most people I think would put themselves, would ask themselves what would it be like at the other end where this information appears in the future, but what I wanted to imagine was what would it look like in this laboratory when the first message was successfully transmitted to the future. Let’s not call it a message, let’s call it a person, for the sake of imagery. So what would happen in this laboratory when the first time-traveller is sailed off into the future? Well now at first I thought that what would happen would that suddenly all over the world time machines would appear, piloted by people from the future who had come to see the first time travel… are you with me on this? But it tugged at my mind that there was something wrong in this because you know what you talk about time travel you must never have what’s called the grandfather paradox. This is, if I go back in time and shoot my own grandfather then I won’t exist so how could I shoot my grandfather? And in any situation where this happens you’re in trouble. So the grandfather paradox would exist in that situation where time travelers suddenly appeared at the first time travel experiment from the future. So then I had a different notion, slightly, I hope, more profound. And it is this: that if a technology were to be invented that could send some thing or person into the future, and if in the process of inventing this thing it would discover that you cannot send, you can send a time machine forward in time, you can send it backwards in time, but can never send a time machine further back in time than the invention of the first time machine. Why? Well because before that time machines didn’t exist. [44:14] That would explain why we don’t see time machines. So I choose to believe and will now attempt to convince you that this is in fact the kind of universe that we are living in, and that what our technology is pushing toward is the invention of some kind of something which in real plain talk is a time machine. In slightly less plain talk, what it’s happening, this concrescence, this singularity, this meeting together of everything is approaching the point where it can no longer be anymore knitted together unless it expands into the future. You follow? In other words it’s becoming so complexified that it’s requiring another dimension for its own self description, and the only dimension available to it it’s the future and so it’s beginning to move into this other dimension and we standing in the microcosm looking at this process say “oh, someone has invented a time machine”. But this is how it would work. What’s interesting about this idea is that if such a thing were to be created by any means, the effect would be to cause the entire rest of the future to happen almost instantly. In other words like heat distributing itself through a gas, the most advanced states that can possibly exist in the future lie just on the other side of this technological barrier of sending a person, or thing, into the future. Because the most advanced state flows back through the system and converts all pre-existing states to itself. So this is to me very interesting, it means in a way that we can toil toward a kind of psycho-technological switch which if thrown immerges us in body-mind, immerges us in the highest hypostatization available to the religions of our planet, the white light, the body-mind, whatever you care to style it. It actually may exist ahead of us in the historical continuum. And of course as in quantum physics where particles can penetrate energy barriers and appear on the other side without actually having attained the energy sufficient to go over the barrier, this is called virtual tunneling, information can make its way into the past. Even our past to a very slight degree. This is what created these psychedelic visions, these religious hierophanies, they are the products of advanced human personalities, holy men and women, staring at their minds in states of deep contemplation and anticipating the destiny of the human race, the destiny of biology on this planet, and I think that we are very close to be able to cross through the membrane and realize this eschatological possibility, to cross into a new ontos of being, the ontos of being that has called us forth across the millennia, out of the scattered jarring of the atoms, into organic existence, up through the cultural experience, across the horrific leap of history, and into authentic meaning. This is what the shamans have been seeing for thousands and thousands of years, this is what the ecstatics have anticipated, this is what the great religions, however poorly, have attempted to communicate to the mass of human kind. This is our hope, it’s our birth right, it’s our destiny. And in my opinion it is soon. For very good reasons, the reasons I have laid out tonight. We are to be, believe it or not, witness of the final act of the planetary drama of intelligence in 3 dimensions. Hard to believe isn’t it? I find it hard to believe… how lucky can you get? There’s an Irish prayer which is, and I think I’ll end this speech with this and then we’ll take an intermission and come back for questions, but there’s an Irish toaster prayer which is “may you be alive at the end of the world”, and so I make that toast to you, I believe we are alive at the end of the world, and it’s a wonderful world. Thank you, thank you.