Podcast 030 – “In the Valley of Novelty” (Part 4)


Guest speaker: Terence McKenna


(Minutes : Seconds into program)
[All quotations are by Terence McKenna]

3:05 “Basically, for me, the psychedelic experience was the path to revelation. It actually worked—on someone who thought nothing would work.”

4:06 “What I like to talk about [at these gatherings]—and what I have very little competition in terms of talking about—is the content of the psychedelic experience, which is very difficult to ‘English’, or to bring into any other language.”

4:39 “…that was sort of my core specialty, if you will: the ethno-pharmacology of consciousness and the phenomenology of the states there derived. But, after 25 or 30 years of doing this, it bleeds into all kinds of larger categories, like, ‘What is art?’, ‘What is human history?’, ‘What is the religious impulse?’, ‘What is the erotic impulse?’, ‘What is mathematics?’… ‘What is the future?’…”

5:50 Terence gives a brief personal history (childhood-1998).

9:20 “…psychedelics are actually a kind of miraculous reality that can stand the test of objective examination …there’s nothing ‘woo-woo’ about it. It has to do with perturbing states of brain chemistry and standing back and observing the effects wrought thereby.”

12:49 “…I think a lot of people who have never taken psychedelics have the idea that it’s thermodynamic noise, that it’s just the brain isn’t working right, it’s firing randomly, and then some portion of it is trying desperately to lay gestalts of meaning onto this random firing, and so you get this kind of surreal careening from one supposed illusionary perception to another. Anybody that’s taken psychedelics knows this is not a very apt or cogent description…”

14:01 “I do not say that this is the only path out of the mundane coil of blind casuistry and entropic degradation. I don’t say it’s the only path out—it’s the only path I found. And I checked some of the other major players… Perhaps yoga can deliver this, perhaps Mahayanist metaphysics can deliver these things. Perhaps I was impatient, or lumpen, or simply not intelligent enough. But the good news about psychedelics is that they are incredibly democratic—even the clueless can be swept along if the dose is sufficient.”

15:30 “…[the historical process] is inevitably ramping up into more and more hypersonic states of self-expression… and this is what’s causing this ‘end of history’ phenomenon, this eschatological intimation that now haunts the cultural dialogue. There is something deep and profound moving in the mass psyche… now exacerbated and focused by new communications technologies that are essentially prostheses, extensions of the human mind and body…”

18:10 “…at least since I read McLuhan and assimilated his notion of tools as things which have a feedback into how we see the world, it seemed to me that the psychedelic state was then like a predictive model for what human history wanted to do. Human history wants to break through all boundaries, to somehow have a realized collective relationship with deity, or with that which orders nature…”

18:56 “[The depth/meaning of the psychedlic experience] is all in the ‘implications’. It has to do with how much intelligence you bring to it in the beginning. If there’s no mind behind the retinal screen, then it’s just mental pyrotechnics. It’s how much we can make of the phenomenon that makes it so rich.”

19:30 “[Aldous Huxley] was asked at one point: ‘What is the psychedelic experience?’ and he said, ‘It’s a gratuitous grace… It is neither necessary for salvation, nor sufficient for salvation.’ But it certainly makes it easier… One has attained a very fortunate incarnation, I think, to be in a culture, in a place, in a time when psychedelic knowledge is available.”

20:20 “It’s a kind of paradox that… the hubristic enterprise of white man anthropology carried back all these medicine kits and mojo-bags and sacred plants and so forth and grew them in university botanical gardens and kept the stuff in locked drawers—it was like a Trojan Horse brought inside the city walls of Calvin’s Troy, and now the genie is out of the bottle.”

26:24 “…the reason for the emphasis on shamanism and other techniques is: you will need techniques if you go into the deep water; and they can make your life very simple and save you from unnecessary suffering. Not all suffering is necessary. Maybe no suffering is necessary.”

26:54 “One of the things that I’m keen to talk to you about is [that] there are various models of the psychedelic experience: that it’s the Jungian unconscious, that it’s the ancestor world, that it’s this or that. The one that I’m most struck by is [that] it’s the world of the Platonic ideals, it’s a world very closely related to mathematics. And in a way the shaman is a hyper-mathematician—not in that he proposes theorems and solves them, but that he perceives hyper-dimensionally.”

28:58 “My motivation is, basically, curiosity… I’m fascinated that we’ve gotten this far. I mean, given that the most economical situation would be pure nothingness: What is this [reality]? Why is nature doing these things? Why does organization have such tenacity? What does it mean that we appear so late in the process and represent such a difference in nature?”

29:44 “We get used to reality because it’s so stable, but in fact, it’s an absolutely confounding situation.”

30:15 After Terence mentions an Evelyn Underhill book on mysticism: “…I wanted these [mystical] experiences at a younger age… The thing that’s so powerful about the psychedelics is that they perform on demand, which, almost in principle, you cannot expect of a mystical experience, because that would be, essentially, man ordering God at man’s whim.”

31:23 “[The psychedelic] seems magical in the sense that it seems to respond to human will. One decides whether this is the evening or not. And sometimes people have said to me, well, don’t you want to achieve these things ‘on the natch’? Well, to me, that suggests a certain degree of out-of-controlness…”

32:22 “…it’s the difference [between] waiting in an attitude of the expectant supplicant, or being the hierophant… and being able to call down the power, or go up to the power, at will. And that’s a fantastic thing, and a responsibility.”

34:44 “Part of what the psychedelic point of view represents is living a certain portion of your life without answers. Just accepting that certain dilemmas will never resolve themselves into some kind of a complete answer. That’s why psychedelics are so different from any system being sold, from one of the great elder systems like Christianity, to the latest cult…”

36:20 Terence spends about six minutes discussing the pharmacology of DMT, focusing on plant sources and synthesis.

44:10 Terence recommends the the work of Mayan calendar expert John Major Jenkins.


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These program notes were compiled by Bill, who joins us in the Psychedelic Salon from his home in Japan.

Posted in Ayahuasca, DMT, Evolution, Language, Medicine, Psilocybin, Psychedelics, Shamanism, Terence McKenna (mp3), Valley of Novelty and tagged , , , , , , , , , .

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