From: Scotto (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Subject: More Terence
Date: Fri, 12 Jun 92 20:13:43 EDT
More from Terence...This is the opening lecture he gave during 'A weekend with Terence McKenna' at Esalen in February. (Danka, Cosmic Bob.) It's an overview, basically, of the topics he then covers the next two days. Enjoy...
My take on science, I mean, just, I might as well couch it as a comment to you, but it will come out in some other form anyway, is...science is excellent at doing what it was designed to do, but it has expanded its province into all reality and seeks to pass judgment in areas where it has no real business going. It's a very limited method that achieves its claim to universality by wildly exaggerating its accomplishments.BACK
For example, science, to do its work--I mean, modern science, post-Newton-- depends on probability theory, but probability theory has a built-in assumption that has never been thoroughly looked at, and that is the assumption of what Newton called 'pure duration.' Meaning that, science, if you describe a scientific procedure to someone, they don't ask whether you did it on a Wednesday or a Saturday. Science seeks to be time independant, and in order to do that it has to make the assumption that time is invariant. There's no, this is just a first try with Occam's razor. In fact, in our own lives, what we experience is endless variation. In other words, it may be that the hydrogen bond when it breaks always breaks the same way, but love affairs, investment strategies, political campaigns, the building of empires, these things are always characterized by a kind of uniqueness, and science, by invading these domains with probabilistic conceptions, gives us the science of statistics, polling, and hands to us mythical entities like the citizen or the average white male or--I mean, these are just absurd abstractions that are generated by a particular kind of world view that is not really examining its first premesis.
So I would propose a modified definition of science that would then let it do its work in peace, which is, science is the study of those phenomena which are time independant, but that in many realms of nature, a new theory to replace probability theory and flat duration is necessary. The power of probability is simply based on its success in these very very limited domains, and now there's no way back from that. Modern science is thoroughgoingly probabalistic. If you were to try and remake--I mean, they're always raving about the new paradigm in science, and it's always usually some tiny diddling of what they've already got. If you were to really try and remake science, then you would have to replace the assumption of invariability in time with a mathematical statement about its variability. And we'll talk more about that tomorrow, because there is room for that.
I mean, science is not reason. Reason is a different domain, and I think anything which is unreasonable, ultimately unreasonable, is just patently absurd. That's why I don't feel great affinity with most of the marching hordes of the New Age, because, you know, the fact of the matter is, they don't possess any razors for separating the nuts from the berries. But nevertheless, our intellectual choices are not between the channellers of Lazares and the American scientific establishment. There's a vast set of possibilities in between there and beyond those poles of discourse that can be worked out.
Every society that's always existed has had the built-in assumption that they only needed to find out five percent more about reality, and then it would all fall into place, and that they had the right tools for doing that. But we look back then with this great sense of superiority on the naivete of the ancient Egyptians, the ancient Greeks, the Maya, the 17th century English--everybody we look back on their naivete. But in fact our own cultural enterprise is obviously fraught with a peculiar illogic and childishness and naivete. I mean we're a culture that, you know, robs our children to create a pot luck culture in the present. This will look fairly, this would look fairly pathological from any cultural perspective outside our own.
The thing--I mean, this is a segueway but it makes sense--the thing that I think psychedelics do that addresses this problem and many many problems or choke points in our ideological effort to understand what's going on, is, the contribution that they make is that they dissolve boundaries. And culture-- I mean, the word 'virtual reality' was used as we went around the circle. Culture IS the sanctioned virtual reality. And it is put place by the machinery of local language, you see. And so then you're born into this circumstance, and you're told, you know, 'You are a male child. You are a citizen. You are a citizen of the United States. You are a Christian. You are a Jew. You will go to college. You will do this...' And this you never question. It's called the social contract. It hasn't gone unnoticed by Western philosophers. It's just, it's gone unnoticed by those of us who are its foremost victims. They try to tell you that you're in a social contract, but when you ask to see your signature on the document, they tell you that you were born into this contract. Well, what the hell kind of contract is that? It means that you were born into a kind of enslavement to a linguistically empowered paradigm, a virtual reality within which you will walk around your entire life, you know, congratulating yourself on its accomplishments and ignoring its contradictions and weaknesses.
So what psychedelics do, and why they are in all times and all places such social dynamite, is, they dissolve the cultural machinery. Doesn't matter, you know, head-shrinking Amazon native, Hassidic Jew, Chinese merchant in Singapore, whoever it is, the psychedelic dissolves their cultural construct and puts them in touch with the fact of being an organism. Being an organism is like what you get when you take off your real clothing. Not THIS clothing, but the clothing of language, programming and assumption. Then you find yourself within the context of organism, outside the context of culture.
And for the reason this is not a mass movement, is, many people hear that and they say, 'I know what that is. That's called being nuts. I don't want that. That sounds absolutely terrifying.' Well, these are the people for whom that cultural machinery is necessary armoring, almost in a Reichian sense. Necessary armoring. They cannot face the world without culture because they are in fact defined by culture. Now, who are these people? These are the people--and we each to some degree imbibe in this category--these are the people whose values are set by the engines of commerce and propaganda. These are the people who dress as they are told to dress, spend as they are told to spend, believe as they are told to believe. But within every human being there is a kind of, at least the possibility of a revulsion against this kind of anesthesia of uniqueness, because that's what it is. You can put your uniqueness to sleep, and then, you know, you dress Gucci and you invest with these people and you drive this car and you KNOW you're correct, because your accountants, your managers, your agents, your public, whoever, your husband, your lover is telling you that you're correct. Definition from without means being defined by the cultural machinery.
Cultures other than our own have somehow always known--perhaps because nature is a huge force outside the Western industrial democracies--people have always known that this was a fiction, that the world of cultural values is a necessary illusion, if you will. And so they create a class of people called shamans, or seers, or magicians, or transecstatics, or what have you, and these people are deputized by the cultural machinery to go beyond it, to go beyond it and to return with truth. Not culturally sanctioned truth, but just truth, the felt experience of being an organism that I'm talking about. And by this process, cultures conduct their evolution, if you're an evolutionary thinker, or their random walk through time, if you're more of a phenomenologist. But whatever they're doing, we're not doing that, because the mechanism that we have used to close off access to the beyond-culture dimension have in our hands grown so strong that we have in a sense succeeded to the point where we've put ourselves out of business.
And the people to blame for this are these wily Greeks, because while everybody else was carving horned masks and painting themselves with cross-hatching and stuff like that, the Greeks got the idea, 'We'll do it differently. We will portray the surface of the naked human body in marble.' What this means is that the eye rises to the surface of reality and looks around for the first time from the point of view that we would call naive realism. But what a cultural journey it took to reach naive realism, because you had to sever yourself endlessly from the intuition of a symbolic, magical spirit-haunted universe. And the Greeks, through a series of cultural accidents, and I would say mistakes ultimately, achieved this, and they had then an alphabet, a phoenetic alphabet which empowered a further severing of linguistic intentionality from the essence of the object intended, because you see, a phoenetic alphabet symbolizes sound. It doesn't symbolize the way something looks or its 'thinghood.' It just symbolizes sound. And the phoenetic alphabet then issued into a series of cultural styles, science, rationalism, mathematical analysis of phenomenon--I mean, this was something absolutely unheard of and is the unique contribution of the Western mind, that, you know, people noticed that you could take a gut string and shorten it by half and the tone would shift one octave, and stuff like that, and they got the idea of numberical analysis, which opened up the path into culture to the present world.
Well, each of these steps into realism, and remember I said we would call it naive realism--now that word takes on a different meaning from the context of the 20th century. It WAS naive. It was horribly naive. In fact, we were led down the primrose path by such simplistic notions, because what was surpressed was the invisible, messy world of the spirit and the human unconscious. This is the great tension that illuminates Greek civilization, you know, I mean, it's all--take Plato as an example, because here in one thinker these distict strains of thought, these antithetical strains of thought are perfectly present. You have, you know, an overarching realism, a drive to categorize and to arrange in rational relationships, and you have a thoroughgoing mysticism with roots back into the Minoan religion of Crete and back into Egypt and Africa. I mean, it's really extraordinary. And that was the last moment in the Western cultural enterprise when these things were in balance. And they were not in balance in any one person. If you lived in that world, you probably had to pick and choose, and, you know, the Skeptics were sneering at the Gnostics, who were saying secret knowledge came from an unspeakable place beyond the machinery of cosmic fate. The Skeptics just thought, you know, 'Baloney. What kind of talk is that?'
Now we live in the consequences of this naive realism, because like all forms of innocence, if allowed to grow beyond the proper bounds it becomes festering. It becomes decadent. It becomes not innocence but idiocy. It turns on itself. And this is I think the kind of world that we're living in.
Now, parallel to this cultural adventure of several thousand years...the rain forest peoples of the warm tropics of the world kept intact the high paleolithic style of cultural relativism mitigated by natural magic. And what did natural magic mean? It meant these boundary dissolving experiences with hallucinogens. Now it isn't simply, I don't want to make it sound reductionist, it isn't simply that culture builds up structure, and psychedelics dissolve structure and then conduct you into some shimmering, existential realm of transcultural being. It isn't that. It's that, in that shimmering transcultural realm of being, you discover new modalities, new rules. There's something there when you dissolve all the boundaries that you can. And the paradox of what is there, from the point of view of the legacy of rationalism, is, what is there is an immense love and affection and intentionality, waiting to engulf suffering mankind, or the individual. This is what I call the mind behind nature, what people call Gaia, the mind of the planet, the organized intellechy that somehow is the mothering force that encloses the whole of planetary life. This is a real thing. And I would never have thought so had I not had experiences which forced me to consider this. I think without the experiences, that rap comes off as horribly namby-pamby, you know, I mean, it's just, 'Oh my God, not another one of these Gaia people,' you know. But, in fact, this is a fact of reality which anyone who has the courage to make the proper investigations can satisfy themselves is a real object of experience.
You see, I guess, I mean, I'm 45. I grew up through the 50's and I can remember these movies where the white people get captured by the cannibals and put in the pot to be boiled. And there was always a witch doctor. Well, this guy just epitomized the most nightmarish forces of unbridled primitivism and ignorance imaginable. Now this has become, or is in the act of becoming I hope, the guiding paradigm of the culture, because what the shaman is, is the person who is still, and it's men and women, the person who is still in touch with this organic intelligence that lies behind nature.
Now, the puzzle behind all of this...I really don't think that there would be much of a problem if what we were dealing with was a planet with teeming oceans, teeming jungles, climaxed forests in the temperate and tropical zone, arctic tundras and so forth and so on. The clue that something weird is going on on this planet is ourselves, obviously. I mean, we are like a fart at the opera. Everything else makes sense. We don't make sense. And the speed with which the human type emerged from the protohominids is unparalleled in the evolutionary history of life. Edmund O. Wilson called the doubling of the human brain in size in under three million years the most rapid doubling of organ size in a major animal in the entire history of life on this planet. Us. There's something weird about human beings. And so much of the explanatory machinery of culture is designed to make it go away, you see. Even something as respectable and expressive of liberal values as Darwinism is in fact an effort to explain how it's all okay. It's natural. Don't worry. It's natural. You just get mutation, and you have natural selection, and you have traits, and these traits extend themselves--but, heh, it's a great step, you know, to Milton, to the Space Shuttle, to an integrated global economy. I mean, are these the products of animal existence? The Darwinist says yes, and we tend to huddle under his umbrella because, you know, these shit-slinging Fundamentalists seem to be the only other people out there.
But, obviously, when you're impaled on the horns of that kind of dilemma, there needs to be a breakthrough to a third, fourth, or fifth possibility. And what I will argue for this weekend is that something very very peculiar adheres to the adventure of being human, and that it is not all business as usual. We are not simply an advanced chimpanzee. Neither are we the sons and daughters of the Lord God Almighty. I mean, that also seems to me a stretch and to raise certain problems not easily swept under the rug. There has to be a third possibility. And I think that when we start, as we will tomorrow, talking about the way psychedelics synergize and stabilize certain abilities within a hominid population, and the way in which then other cultural reinforcements can be built upon that, you will see at least part of the story has to do with the way in which, by being forced toward an omniverous diet by virtue of having to leave the canopy homeland for a bipedal existence in the grasslands, we had to undergo a huge dietary change. And part of our strangeness has to do with the evolutionary changes worked upon us by virtue of our exposing ourselves to unusually high amounts of mutagens in foods as we expanded our diet, and drugs and foods come in here.
The other part of the equation, which is much more speculative and which we'll talk about tomorrow night, has to do with the notion of an attractor, and of trying to look at humanness not as a mistake, a cosmic error, or as Heideger said of man, he said we are flung into being, the idea always being that it doesn't make sense, that there's an arbitrariness to us. but I think that there's a way of analyzing process that will show that we are not only part of what is going on, an embedded part of what is going on, but that we actually represent the place where all the eggs are poured into one basket. And I'll just say a little bit about this tonight.
When you look at the history of the universe, if you look with unbiased eyes, I think that what you will see is that the universe is a novelty producing and conserving system of some sort. The early universe was so simple that, and we're going with science here for a minute, we're asked to believe that it sprang from nothingness in a single moment, that its diameter was less than that of an electron, and then in a very short period of time, a number of very dramatic things happened. But they are all couched in terms of an expansion, and cooling. From the moment the universe is born it begins to cool. And as it cools, complexity magically crystallizes out. The original universe, there weren't even atoms, because there was such high temperatures that atoms could not stabilize themselves into orbits around atomic nuclei. So there was what's called a plasma, just a soup of naked electrons. And then, gradually, as the universe cooled, the simplest of all atomic systems was able to form, the hydrogen atom. And these hydrogen atoms were produced in staggering amounts. And they began to clump together--and this is tricky, but not our problem. This is a problem for science. They don't know why they clumped, 'cuz it should have all been smooth, right down to today, but it isn't. So, in this clumping process, of course, great temperatures and pressures were created at the center of these masses of hydrogen. And, a *novel* process could therefore spring into existence, the process of fusion. And fusion of hydrogen in early stars cooked out heavier elements--iron, sulphur, and especially carbon. Well, after that then, you get all those atomic species, and then they can aggregate into molecular species, and then, because of the presence of forvalent carbon, very comples molecules called polymers, which are chain molecules, can form. Some of them acquire the quality of being able to replicate, some of THEM acquire the ability to enclose themselves in a membrane, and so forth and so on, and in short, the march is on toward you and I here this evening.
But, what's interesting to note is that each successive stage in this process happens more rapidly than the process which preceded it. So that, the early universe, ten billion years goes on, and it's all about this star formation cookout thing. And then, you know, planetary formation. Then once you get, and then a billion years they wait for primitive procariotic life, and then, once it happens, the eucariots follow fast, and after them the ciliated protozoas, and you know, it's just a moment to Madonna. Both of them.
Okay. Now, what science says about this process is that what we're seeing is an illusion, or that it doesn't matter. They're saying it is not a law of the universe that novelty be conserved and that each new level of novelty proceed more quickly than the one which was its parent. And so, by chopping it off like that, human history is denied any relevance in the natural order. It is not part of the natural order. Even though we think we're a secular society, our assumptions about history are straight out of Genesis, you know. We do not think of history as a branch of biology, which it obviously is.
So, what I believe is happening is an accelerating process of novelty conservation that has reached such a point now, at the close of the second millenium, that it is absurd to try to propagate the human future by fantasy centuries into the future. There is no future, because the rate of acceleration is so close to approaching infinity that no possible future can be imagined.
Now, people talk about this, but they never draw the implications. You've probably seen some show on television where they say, you know, 'Here's the curve of human energy release, and here's the Stone Age, and here's the 16th century, and here's the 20th century, and it's headed for infinity. Okay, next slide. Here's the curve of human speed. In 1750 people could go as fast as a horse could gallop, in 1820 the steam engine, and then the 20th century, and then it goes to infinity.' And they say, 'Okay, here's the human population curve. In the year 1000 there were 400 million people on Earth, in the year 1850, and so forth, and it goes to infinity.' So, nobody takes, they don't believe it. They don't believe that the rational extrapolation of the trends visibly beheld in the present preclude the possibility of any imaginable future, or at least, I don't believe so.
I believe that we're actually in the grip of a process that cannot be halted or accelerated but which is now in a process of tightening its gyres, as William Butler Yeats said, that what we call the chaos of 20th century history is in fact the speeding up of this temporal process to the point where it is now visible within a single human lifetime. I mean, we're like mayflies or something, you know, we're born one day and we die the next. So only the most incredibly accelerated kinds of change make any impression on us whatsoever. I mean, mostly we say nothing happens. But in fact, you know, in the 20th century, it's incredible. In the last twelve months, there has been more change that in the previous twenty years. And those twenty years had more change in them than the previous hundred years. And that hundred years had more change in it than the previous thousand years, and that thousand years had more change in it than the previous ten thousand years. But science tells us this is meaningless. This is not a real, legitimate phenomenon that we're talking about. You're just lining up facts to make it appear as though there is an attractor, to make it appear as though the human historical enterprise is about to run itself into a stone wall, or off a cliff, or into another dimension.
And this is really the question, I think, because psychedelics are, or were once, described as consciousness expanding drugs. Phenomenonlogical description: consciousness expanding drugs. Well, if that's true, or if there's even the slimmest possibility that that's true, then we have to avail ourselves of these things, because consciousness is precisely what we are starving for the lack of. And, history is no longer rationally apprehendible by the systems which created it. I mean, everybody who's running around gloating over what happened to Marxist-Leninism should understand that Marxist- Leninism is traceable right back to the social contract theory of Rousseau, and that Western liberalism is traceable to the same root, and the crisis of Marxism is they just died first, that's all. But all these ideologies are on the brink of a coronary thrombosis, and we're going to have to catch the falling bodies when it hits. I mean, do you think that mercantile capitalism, which extracts the environmental reserves at an ever-accelerating rate, has any future whatsoever on this planet? I mean, they're just looting the last few billion dollars worth of stuff before they announce that everybody's going to have to go on a diet that will drop your jaw, you know? So we've come to the end of our rope.
So then, what do we have to do about it? Well, what we have to do is look back in time and find cultural models that served in the past. And, you know, many of you have been here before, have heard me talk about the archaic revival, an effort to jerk 20th century culture 180 degrees, and send it right back to the value systems of the high paleolithic, because that's the last moment that intelligence, language, religion co-existed with nature on this planet in a less than fatal arrangement, you know? From the moment that agriculture was invented, the die was cast, because first of all, agriculture is a strategy for dumping a huge database, the database of the hunter-gatherer, and replacing it with a database that is important for only five or six species of plant. You then give up nomadism, which begins to concentrate your impact on the land into one place. You then plant these crops, and you have such success producing food that now, moving anywhere is unthinkable, plus, the big project after the fall harvest festival is, now we have to build a wall to keep the starving people from stealing our surplus. So immediately there is a Us Successful People and those people who weren't successful and who have different cultural values, and who didn't produce a food surplus. So, you know, we've decided we're going to sharpen sticks and kill all of them, so then you have warfare, thicker walls, retreat into cities, standing armies, defense of territory, class structure emerges, the notion of wealth as an abstraction--because wealth in an aboriginal society is a sharpened stone, not your portfolio with your investments neatly listed, you see.
So this is, you know, just a pass over these themes. The idea is that the psychedelics are more than the best fun there is, which they are; more than a tool for exploring your own psyche and straightening out your own kinks, which they are; they are, in fact, the key to understanding the pathology that culture has become, and the way out. I mean, there has to be a way out, and it really is this archaic revival. I mean, and if you're resisting it, think of it this way. If we don't organize the archaic revival, it will be handed to us on a platter in the form of failed agriculture, because the ozone hole is screwed up, infrastructures falling apart, financial systems falling apart, the rise of Fundamentalist religion...in other words, we are GOING to have a return to a previous historical model, and it can either be managed humanely, through an honoring of the feminine, an honoring of the Earth, a return to the techniques of ecstasy that characterized the high paleolithic shamanism, or it can be handed to us in the form of shortages, famines, disease, internessing warfare, nuclear proliferation, toxic dumping, so forth and so on. But one way or another, this whole edifice, put in place by the Renaissance and jacked up to speed by the European Enlightenment and delivered into this hellish climax by mathematical analysis and the rise of global technology--I mean, remember, each of us has never seen these changes within a lifetime, and yet within the past two hundred years, the world has gotten tremendously more pathological, tremendously more ill. The size of cities, the power to extract natural resources, to mine Siberia and the mountains of Chile and the interior of the Amazon and Borneo, and these unimaginable technological infrastructures have been put in place to sustain a dying patient. That's what we have here. We're on respirators. We're getting intravenous feeding. They are monitoring everything, because it's not healthy. It can only be sustained through the most extraordinary and heroic means. We're taking bone marrow from the children of the future in order to keep a corpse alive. And people don't find their voice. They don't seem to know how to call a halt, you know?
Faithfully keyed in by Scotto (ah, the dubious legality of it all...)