Terence McKenna Archives – Random Item #21 – Erik Davis: Data Density Data-Dense

Today’s random item from the Terence McKenna Archives is one that only mentions Terence in passing and, yet, feels more Terence-relevant than many of the items in the archives that feature him more heavily. It is a 1999 article in The Santa Fe New Mexican erikdavisnewspaper (Jan. 22) profiling Erik Davis (who Rob Brezsny apparently once called “the next Terence McKenna”) as prelude to a local event for the release of his book Techngnosis: Myth, Magic & Mysticism in the Age of Information at Santa Fe’s Plan B Evolving Arts. The profile, by Antonio Lopez, includes sections of an interview conducted with Davis by phone. I think those who pay attention to Terence McKenna will find this to be an interesting read. It’s a well-done profile of a writer (and podcaster!) whose work is well-worth paying attention to. He was also potentially the last person to interview Terence–it’s a long interview that I still think of as one of the best. The article includes a discussion of Davis’ visit to the Cyberthon in San Francisco in 1991, discussed in a previous blog post (Esquire, Apr. 1991), at which Terence and Tim Leary spoke along with VR pioneer Jaron Lanier and others, including Debbie Harlow, who told those in attendance that she had “received a newsletter put out by the criminal justice department of the state of Hawaii that quoted McKenna and Mondo 2000 on virtual reality and alerted judges to the possible dangers of this new “drug” (Spin, Apr. 1991).


Erik Davis speaking at Burning Man 2003 next to a picture of Terence McKenna, whose work provided the inspiration for the Palenque Norte theme camp.

The convergence of mysticism and pop culture is a niche journalist Erik Davis carved out one spoonful at a time.

Several years ago, in “Technopagans,” a story for Wired, Davis explored the neopagan world of Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) programmers and other Net practitioners and occult denizens in San Francisco [which features eventual Terence collaborator, and VRML co-inventor, Mark Pesce].

With the recent publication of his tome, Techgnosis: Myth, Magic and Mysticism in the Age of Information (Harmony Books), Davis has become somewhat of a de facto expert on the strange, secret history bridging technological culture and the spiritual realm.

“Personally I have always been fascinated by weird religious ideas, psychedelia and the occult,” he said. Moreover, he said, “I’ve always been a pop-culture junkie.”

“In terms of looking at new technology, I always look at it through a science-fiction lens because I’m interested in the mythic and fantastic aspects that are always part of the discussion of technology rather than tracking the business and technological aspects,” he said. “I’m interested in where the machine and psyche meet.”

In the early ’90s, such a connection became real in Northern California, where the Information Age and Aquarian Age mingled, symbolized by psychedelic mentors Terence McKenna and Timothy Leary exchanging with technological visionaries Jaron Lanier (an early developer of virtual reality) and Howard Rheingold. The Berkeley-based magazine Mondo 2000 served as a forum for the kookier aspects of the psychedelic-computer convergence.

Davis set out for San Francisco, where he attended the Cyberthon festival and gathering. “It was an attempt to be the Woodstock of virtual reality,” Davis said. “It was that whole San Francisco mixture of psychedelia and computer technology. When I was there, I saw that this is real. I wanted to know how it was that these ’60s psychedelia ideas became mixed up with information technology.”
Although the event proved pivotal in sparking Davis’ exploration of the netherworld of information technology and mysticism, the rhetoric of the movement remains a dream. “It did not develop into some great alternative culture,” Davis said. “The record is very bad. As I wrote the book over the years, I became more and more critical of the way that people use utopian, mystical and psychedelic language in order to hype technology. “There was some genuine, authentic experimental space that was really there and is still there but what I’m afraid happened is basically a certain kind of capitalism absorbed those energies and language with a purpose to sell something to consumers, like psychedelic screen savers that are in the offices of Internet startup companies that don’t do anything. “This is a true consensual hallucination, like Gibson said,” Davis said. “It’s not so clear what’s going on. In the end, I was rather disappointed in how these utopian dreams played out.”

Davis juggled to address an eclectic readership, which includes a cyber-theoretical, cyber-critical audience, smart new-agers and what he called “new consciousness” people, and those interested in underground spirituality. In addition, Davis believes Techgnosis appeals to those interested in the history of technology and contemporary culture from a journalistic perspective. “In response to that, my voice jumps inside the text,” Davis said. “It’s a symptom of how difficult it is to explain the moment we live in. You have to become a kind of pragmatic schizophrenic.”

“I’m trying to articulate the collective dreamworld of contemporary technological culture rather than just analyzing it,” Davis said. “Even though I use academic material and scholarly questions, I’m also equally interested in expressing something strange and fantastic about the times we find ourselves in. “For example, when I write about UFOs, on the one hand I’m very interested in the sociology of UFO believers. But on the other hand, I’m interested in catching the bizarre side of whatever it is that compels people to be fascinated with UFOs and looking at these perceptions that don’t fit into ordinary reality. “I’m not interested in whether UFOs are real but how people come to believe they are real. What is that about? It’s trying to do both things at once.”

Asked if he follows a particular spiritual path, the author remained cryptic. “I’m very interested in mindfulness practice,” Davis said. “I think paying attention to attention is one of the key tools for facing the Information Age.”

Weekly Terence McKenna Archival Haul (6/11/17)

Another mellow week at the Terence McKenna Archives. Here’s what we took in this time around:

  1. I received the other three issues of Psychedelic Monographs & Essays–I received and mentioned the first ordered issue last week only to note that there was not much to be found in its pages related to TM. Well, the same is largely true of the remaining volumes of PM&E, although there are a few mentions that I will note. In #2, there’s nothing. In #3, there is a citation for both The Invisible Landscape and the original audiobook of True Hallucinations (before a published book ever existed) as part of an article on Rupert Sheldrake and his ‘Hypothesis of Formative Causation’. The McKenna’s are cited among a group of observers who have noted “past life remembrance” with psychedelics. In #4 there are a few more citations: in an article on ‘Meditation and Resonance Effects’ by Philo Stone, the ‘Organismic Thought’ chapter of The Invisible Landscape is cited and in an article on ‘The Mushroom Entheogen’ Terence and Dennis are cited under their Oeric & Oss pseudonyms for their book, Psilocybin: Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide. Terence also shows up in an advertisement for an event in honor of Albert Hofmann at which he would be a featured presenter to take place on October 2, 1988 at the Scottish Rite Temple in Los Angeles and is listed on the subsequent page as among the board members for the Albert Hofmann Foundation. Finally, there is an advertisement for Terence’s talks, via Kat Harrison’s Lux Natura catalog, which appears near the end of the volume located next to an advertisement for Botanical Dimensions.

2. Exposure magazine from October 1990 included a dual-article with pieces written by both Timothy Leary and Terence McKenna. This is a fairly rare and little-known (and quite large) item. I am only aware of one other copy currently available online going for about $60.

3. I received a hard copy of an issue of SPIN magazine from April 1991 that I featured a couple weeks back in the weekly haul as a set of digital images. One thing that I failed to mention last time that I will highlight now is a curious mention of a government document that is supposed to reference Terence as a way of pointing to the potential dangers of virtual reality. I would be GREATLY obliged to anyone who might be able to help me track down that document…

At the end of McKenna’s talk, Debbie Harlow rose with a concrete warning: she and Jaron [Lanier] had recently received a newsletter put out by the criminal justice department of the state of Hawaii that quoted McKenna and Mondo 2000 on virtual reality and alerted judges to the possible dangers of this new “drug.”

4. The April 1995 issue of Yoga Journal featured an interview with Ralph Abraham, which mentioned Terence in passing as a collaborator.

I also spent a few hours in the Image Resource Center on campus scanning photos from Chip Simons’ early 1990s shoot at the house in Occidental. I will be able to offer these very high-quality photos as part of the forthcoming crowdfunding campaign and am excited to eventually show them.

And, finally, once again, I will also include a final section with books that came in this week that don’t mention Terence (or weren’t represented in his library) but that nonetheless might be of interest: