Critique: A Journal Exposing Consensus Reality was a quarterly countercultural publication that often specialized in issues surrounding conspiracy culture but also dealt with broader issues, as is made more clear in its alternate title: Critique: A Journal of Conspiracies & Metaphysics. It’s self-described purpose was “to question, explore, and expose consensus reality to assist in the transformation from consumer idiots to critically thinking, aware and developing individuals. And to prepare the way for the new paradigms and the new species.”
Issue #31 (Summer 1989) contained a 3-page interview with Terence McKenna conducted by David Jay Brown & Rebecca McClen. This is a different edit from the same interview that also later appeared in High Times magazine in 1992, and which later appeared again (also with a different edit) in Brown & McClen (Novick)’s book Mavericks of the Mind in 1993. The interview also appears in Terence’s own book The Archaic Revival, identifying Critique as the original publication, although the interview is much longer in the book than in the magazine.
A reference to Terence also appears elsewhere in the issue in Michael Grosso‘s article, ‘Endtime Anomalies’, where he says:
“The anomalous signs in the sky — which we call UFOs — seem designed to undermine confidence in our prevailing sense of reality. Terence McKenna compares these unidentified sky signs with the Resurrection of Jesus in the ancient world, something meant to counfound, paralyze, and suspend the intellectual cocksureness of the powers that be.” -Michael Grosso
In the introduction to the interview in Mavericks of the Mind, Rebecca McClen Novick provides some further details about the context of the interview: “This was our first interview. It took place on November 30th, 1988 in the dramatic setting of Big Sur. Overlooking the Pacific Ocean we sat on the top floor of the Big House at the Esalen Institute, where Terence was giving a weekend seminar. He needed little provocation to enchant us with the pyrotechnic wordplay which is his trademark, spinning together the cognitive destinies of Gaia, machines, and language and offering a highly unorthodox description of our own evolution.”
TM: “What we can say concerning the singularity is this: it is the obviation of life in three dimensional space, everything that is familiar comes to an end, everything that can be described in Euclidean space is superseded by modes of being which require a more complicated description than is currently available.”
TM: “We shouldn’t assume time travel is impossible simply because it hasn’t been done. There’s plenty of latitude in the laws of quantum physics to allow for moving information through time in various ways. Apparently you can move information through time, as long as you don’t move it through time faster than light.
DJB: “Why is that?”
TM: “I haven’t the faintest idea. (laughter) What am I, Einstein? (laughter)
DJB: “I’m wondering what you think the ultimate goal of human evolution is?
TM: “Oh, a good party. (laughter)
TM: “It’s very interesting that in the celebration of the Eleusinian mysteries, when they took the sacrament, what the god said was, “Procreate, procreate.” It is uncanny the way history is determined by who sleeps with whom, who gets born, what lines are drawn forward, what tendencies are accelerated. Most people experience what they call magic only in the dimension of mate-seeking, and this is where even the dullest people have astonishing coincidences, and unbelievable things go on; it’s almost as though hidden strings were being pulled…”
DJB: “Do you think that there’s any relationship between the self-transforming machine elves that you’ve encountered on your shamanic voyages and the solid state entities that John Lilly has contacted in his interdimensional travels?”
TM: “I don’t think there is much congruence. The solid state entities that he contacted seem to make him quite upset…”
TM: “Now let’s think about what machines are made of, in light of Sheldrake’s morphogenetic field theory. Machines are made of metal, glass, gold, silicon, and plastic; they are made of what the earth is made of. Now wouldn’t it be strange if biology were a way for earth to alchemically transform itself into a self-reflecting thing. In which case then, what we’re headed for inevitably, what we are in fact creating is a world run by machines… Actually the fear of being ruled by machines is the male ego’s fear of relinquishing control of the planet to the maternal matrix of Gaia. Ha. That’s it. Just a thought. (laughter).
TM: “Consciousness can’t evolve any faster than language. The rate at which language evolves determines how fast consciousness evolves, otherwise you’re just lost in what Wittgenstein calls ‘the unspeakable’. You can feel it, but you can’t speak of it, so it’s an entirely private reality.
…There have been periods in English when there were emotions which don’t exist anymore, because the words have been lost. This is getting very close to this business of how reality is made by language. Can we recover a lost emotion by creating a word for it? There are colors which don’t exist anymore because the words have been lost. I’m thinking of the word jacinth. This is a certain kind of orange. Once you know the word jacinth, you always can recognize it, but if you don’t have it, all you can say is it’s a little darker orange than something else. We’ve never tried to consciously evolve our language, we’ve just let it evolve, but now we have this level of awareness, and this level of cultural need where we really must plan where the new words should be generated. There are areas where words should be gotten rid of that empower politically wrong thinking… So planned evolution of language is the way to speed it toward expressing the frontier of consciousness.”
TM: “It was Ludwig von Bertallanfy, the inventor of general systems theory, who made the famous statement that “people are not machines, but in all situations where they are given the opportunity, they will act like machines,” so you have to keep disturbing them, ’cause they always settle down into a routine.”
TM: “I have named us [himself, Rupert Sheldrake, Ralph Abraham, and Frank Barr] Compressionists, or Psychedelic Compressionists. A Compressionism holds that the world is growing more and more complex, compressed, knitted together, and therefore holographically complete at every point, and that’s basically where the four of us stand, I think, but from different points of view.”
I’ll keep this one short. In 1998, Mystic Fire Video released a 5-video set called Apocalypse: Revelations for the New Millennium created by director Werner Weicke. Terence McKenna made a brief appearance in part one of the series, titled A Vision of the End. Although the videos were released in 1998, it’s possible that the recording of McKenna took place earlier as he sets the year of the eschaton, 2012, “20 years” into the future, which would suggest a recording date somewhere around 1992. Either way, I don’t believe that this short clip has been shared online before. So, here you go. Enjoy!
In an earlier ‘weekly haul’, I mentioned that the archives received a copy of Paul Krassner‘s book Murder at the Conspiracy Convention and Other American Absurdities, which contains Krassner’s interview with Terence under the title ‘Further Weirdness with Terence McKenna’. The same interview appears, with slightly different edits each time, in two of Krassner’s other books: Sex, Drugs, and the Twinkie Murders and Magic Mushrooms and Other Highs. The latter two books contain an extended Q&A (“in person and by e-mail”) that doesn’t appear in Murder at the Conspiracy Convention. The interview originally appeared in High Times #266 (October 1997) under the title ‘The Mushroom Apocalypse of Terence McKenna’.
The item that was selected through the random number generator for today is the 2nd edition of Magic Mushrooms and Other Highs (the 1st edition was self-published by Krassner). I don’t own a copy of either edition (I’ve never seen a copy of the 1st), but I was able to scan the relevant pages of a copy just to make sure that it is at least digitally represented in the archives. If you’d like to donate to help acquire a copy, which I’ve found online for $13.92, you can do so at the Transcription Project or through our crowdfund store (I’ve also found a copy of the original High Times for $9.97). Rather than continue to have individual blog posts for each of Krassner’s books that contain the interview, I am just going to finish out the series here with one final post about all of them, including some selections from the interview. I almost encountered Paul Krassner a few days ago at a Robert Anton Wilson event in Santa Cruz (about which I will post more soon), but he was was unable to attend. In the meantime, these are where you can find his interviews with Terence McKenna…Also of note is the Dedication to McKenna in Magic Mushrooms and Other Highs:
And, some excerpts from Krassner & Terence (passages set off by quotation marks are McKenna’s words):
With his curly brown hair and beard, a twinkle in his eye, and a lilt to his voice, he could easily pass for a leprechaun.
“I’m convinced that probably for most people, the most important thing in a workshop is nothing that I will say or do, but who you might meet here.”
He is a psychedelic adventurer and visionary author who serves as a missing link between botany and technology.
He handles the role with intelligence, grace, and humor. In person, he is spontaneously charming and effortlessly witty. He loves language, and though he is glib without being speedy, he chooses his words carefully. He communicates with the precision of an architect and the passion of a poet, speaking in a friendly, entertaining twang. He is, in short, a Mr. Rogers for grown-ups, and the neighborhood he welcomes you to explore is your own inner space.
Krassner describes an incident that occurred in San Francisco following the Saint Stupid Day Parade and a fundraiser event for Jack Kerouac’s daughter, Jan, in which he was arrested for possession of a bag of mushrooms that he hadn’t entirely been aware that he had possessed. It was, apparently, that incident that prompted his mission to meet and talk with Terence McKenna, which led to the present interview:
The cop’s question–“So, you like mushrooms, huh?”–was asked with such archetypal hostility that it kept reverberating inside my head. So you like mushrooms, huh? It was not as though I had done anything which might harm another human being. This was simply an authority figure’s need to control. But control what? My pleasure? Or was it deeper than that? This need to understand the basis of my plight became the impetus for my decision to meet Terence McKenna. He was, after all, the Head Mushroom Guru.
I contact McKenna in Hawaii, where he lives in happy isolation. “My website is on a machine in the Bronx, although I administer it from the Big Island.”
The workshop convenes… Everybody has arrived with their own personal agenda, and each will hear McKenna through their own individual filter.
Someone else publicly confides to him, “If my life were a ride through the fun house at Disneyland, you’re like one of the characters who keep popping up.”
McKenna confesses, “I’m an epistemological cartoon.”
“Why is there so much social tension over this psychedelic issue? Nobody who has informed themselves claims that great criminal fortunes are being made or that kids are being turned into psilocybin runners in the ghetto. We know that all the stupid reasons given for suppressing psychedelics are in fact some kind of lie.”
“Strangely enough, the way you cheat the grim reaper is by living as fast as you can, because all time is [is] the seriality of events, and the more events there are, the more time you have, so awareness becomes very important, and even, as the Buddhists say, awareness of awareness.”
Saturday morning at Esalen. Fresh fruit and vegetables galore. Hot cereal and stewed prunes. People will be passing gas all over the place…
McKenna maintains that “There are not good beliefs, there are just bad beliefs, because they inhibit human freedom.”
“Our legacy is the legacy of the children of the stoned monkeys.”
“If yoga can do it, great. If Transcendental Meditation can do it, great. The pope and the Dalai Lama, fine. But, in my experience, the only thing that changes consciousness as fast as we’re going to have to change it is psychedelics. We have to change it on the dime, because the processes that we have set in motion are going to drag us down.”
“We need to unify heart and head in the presence of super technology.”
“If psychedelics are so great, then what’s so great about us? Are we better than those poor people who have never taken psychedelics? Are we morally better? Are we wiser? Or are we just some kind of screwball cult like Mormons, who congratulate themselves on having achieved this supreme understanding, and yet to everybody else they just look like geeks? And we look like geeks. This really is a problem I carry with me, because I’ve advocated psychedelics my entire life, yet I often see incredibly bad behavior and stupidity and cruelty and insensitivity committed by psychedelic people.
The bottom line of psychedelics is not how good it makes you feel but how creative you are, and the acceleration of creativity that is taking place is immense, and if you can get off with the people who are responsible for most cutting-edge phenomena, they will admit that they began with psychedelics.”
“I really believe our evolutionary past holds the key to our evolutionary future.”
“The end of the Mayan calendar is the same day that I had calculated [archivist’s note: this is not actually true]. Well, this is not a reason for believing my theory, for you, but for me it was a reason. Too weird a coincidence. The only thing that I have in common with the Mayan civilization is that we both used psilocybin, and it’s almost as though when you purge the virus off your disc, there is at the bottom line, written in assembly code that cannot be expunged, a discard date that says, ‘Abandon this locality before December 21, 2012 AD.”
Someone else asks, “What book are you currently reading?”
I’m reading a book , it’s a hoot, Time Machines: Time Travel in Physics, Metaphyics, and Science Fiction by Paul Nahin. It’s published by the American Institute of Physics, so you need not hang your head in the subway.”
Another person asks, “How’s your website coming?”
“I’m just so damned proud of having hacked it in the first place. The things we’re discussing here, if you go there and download, it’s all there in high detail, and you can take your time. I think of it–in terms of my intellectual life–it’s more who I am than who I am sitting here, because I might forget a reference or skip over something. On the website, we got it right.”
Except that on the website you can’t appreciate McKenna’s speech patterns. He would pronounce pat-tern, as though his inner dictionary were separating syllables, certainly a shat-tering experience.
“Aliens don’t talk to individuals, they talk to species. And they don’t say things like, ‘Be vegetarian,’ the say things like, ‘Now do language. Now physics.'”
“[The universe] wants to conserve novelty at all costs. That seems to be more important to it than conserving biology. It will sacrifice biology if necessary to save novelty. Novelty is the top of the value hierarchy, as I see it, and biology, culture, technology, physics–all are simply means to an end.”
And, Krassner adds his own thought to the matter:
I remember the first time I came to Esalen, in 1970, for a workshop with John Lilly. He played a tape loop of one word being repeated continuously, but after a while you would begin to hear other words.
“When faced with repetition,” Lilly explained, “your human biocomputer automatically programs in novelty.”
“Finally, after I had alarmed a number of people, and my friends were meeting, speaking of intervention–on an idea for god’s sake–Ralph Abraham came to see me on his own, he wasn’t delegated by the interventionists, and said, ‘The problem here is that you have an occult diagram. Only you understand it, and only you can interpret it, and therefore it’s not very persuasive.”
“For me, this [discussion of the Timewave] is sort of the payoff of doing these weekends. In the other parts of the weekend, I basically function as the nutty professor. This is so personal that no one has ever tried to steal it. That’s how uniquely and wholly and totally mine it is. So if it’s malarkey I get all the blame, and if it’s true I get all the credit.”
“For those of you who are true fans of predictive accuracy, the day of the Human Be-In, January 13, 1967, is the day we go over the hump… We’re right about here [in the late 90s]. This is the pause before the storm. This is the most habituated moment that we will know for maybe the rest of time.”
“I suppose if I were a different kind of personality,” McKenna observes, “I would haunt the hallways of major universities and try to drag these guys into my theory. But for some reason, I think the Timewave itself empowers a certain kind of fatalism, and I just say if I’m right, I’m right; if I’m wrong, I’ve probably told enough people already.”
When Krassner asked Terence about the recent Heaven’s Gate mass-suicide:
“I encountered Do (then Bo) and Peep in 1972. They were contemptible, power-crazed new age creepoids then, and apparently things didn’t get better.”
When Krassner asked Terence about the “posteschaton”:
“I’ve created a series of scenarios in ascending weirdness which answers the question.
A low weirdness answer would be, suddenly everyone begins to behave appropriately. This is kind of a Buddhist, Taoist approach…we would just dissolve into appropriate behavior. Since we’ve never had that, we can’t imagine what it would be like.
Then there’s the transformation-of-physics scenario, which basically says, ‘All boundaries dissolve.’ What that would probably be like, the first hour of it would be like a thousands micrograms of LSD. After that, we can’t imagine or predict, because again it would have so totally changed the context…
Then there are the catastrophic scenarios that revolve around the question, “Death, where is thy sting?” And probably the most efficient of those is the planetesimal-impact scenario. A very large object strikes the earth and kills everybody, and that’s it…[or] the sun will explode. that would certainly clear the disc and fulfill the whole thing. The planet vaporizes, and collectively we and all life on earth move into the shimmering capsules of the post-mortem realm, whatever that is. Novel, novel.”
“The rise of the Web has been a great boost to my fantasies along these lines, because now I can see with the Web from here to the eschaton. Apparently, it’s a technology for dissolving space, time, personality, and just releasing everybody into a data stream, something like the imagination.”
One idea I have for an end-of-history scenario: Time travel becomes more and more discussible; finally there are laboratories working on it; finally there is a prototype machine; finally it’s possible to conceive of a test; and so on the morning of December 21, 2012, at the World Temporal Institute headquarters in the Amazon Basin, by a worldwide, high-definition, three-dimensional hook-up, the entire world tunes in to see the first flight into time. And the lady temponaut comes to the microphone and makes a few brief statements, hands are shaken, the champagne bottle is smashed, she climbs into her time machine, pushes the button and disappears into the far-flung reaches of the future. Now, the interesting question is, what happens next? And I already established for myself that you can travel backward into the past, but you can’t travel further into the past than the invention of the first time machine, for the simple reasons that there are no time machines before that, and if you were to take one where there are none, you get another paradox.
So, what happens when the lady temponaut slips into the future? Well, I think what would happen a millisecond later is tens of thousands of time machines would arrive from all points in the future, having come back through time, of course, to witness the first flight into time…And that’s as far as the road goes. That’s the end of the the time road.
[And, here, Terence goes even beyond this “normal” explanation of his]
But the grandfather paradox persists. One of those time travelers from 5,000 years in the future, on their way back to the first time-travel incident, could stop and kill his grandfather, and then we have this whole problem all over again. So, I thought about this for a long time, and I think I’ve found a way around it. But, as usual, at the cost of further weirdness.
Here’s what would really happen if we invented a time machine of that sort. The lady temponaut pushes the button, and instead of all time machines appearing instantly in the next moment, in order to preserve the system from that paradox, what will happen is, the rest of the history of the universe will occur instantly. And so that’s it. I call it the God whistle.
This is because you thought you were building a time machine, and in a sense you were, but the time machine isn’t what you thought it was. It caused the rest of time to happen instantaneously, and so the furthest-out developments of life, matter, and technology in the universe come right up against you a millisecond after you break that barrier, and in fact your discovery that traveling time is not traveling time, it’s a doorway into eternity, which is all of time, and that’s why it becomes more like a hyperspatial deal than a simple linear time-travel thing.”
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 newspaper (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.”
Today’s random item from the Terence McKenna Archives is actually an interesting one. It comes through PR Newswire (a NY-based press release distribution service) and advertises an appearance by Terence McKenna on Talk City, The Chat Network, which is described as “the #1 chat service on the Internet, known for its civilized environment, wide market acceptance, and quality programming.” I’d recommend reading this article to get a clear sense of the significance of Talk City in the history of web-based communication. It appears that (at least part of) their MO, in addition to general-topic open discussion forums, was to host people of interest and invite people to come chat with them in a text-based forum. Terence McKenna participated as the guest of honor in such a forum on the 16th of October, 1997…..”Visionary scholar, prophet or madman; you be the judge.”
CHALLENGE FOR THE WEB-SAVVY: I wonder if there is any chance that this chat is still represented somewhere on the web (or in someone’s personal file collection!). This would be a great session to retrojectively eavesdrop on as it must have unfolded somewhat different than a typical Q&A at a lecture.