Podcast 032 – “In the Valley of Novelty” (Part 6)


Guest speaker: Terence McKenna


(Minutes : Seconds into program)
1:05 “I think that Maxwell’s Laws of Thermodynamics are only part of the story, and that you also have to look at the work that Ilya Prigogine did in the 60’s and 70’s where he showed that there is this principle-which they called different things, but, basically, it was random perturbation to higher states of order… Sometimes systems spontaneously organize themselves into more complex forms.”

2:30 “Language is in conquest of dimensional expression-or, something is seeking to manifest itself in a domain of time and space of higher and higher dimension.”

2:50-4:33 Terence uses Novelty Theory to describe the history of biological evolution in terms of an increasing ability to exist in and perceive higher and higher dimensions of being.“…better eyes, better muscles, better coordination, better ability to move through this revealed topological manifold with a temporal axis.”

4:40 “What spoken language is about is the recovery of memory at a later date-it’s a data recall system. And you talk about the past… and you strategize from it… When you get to writing, this time-binding function is now totally explicit, the game is out in the open-the purpose of these endeavors is to keep the past from slipping away.”

5:42 “The primate conquest of time (through time-binding technology) is the phenomenon that we call human history. This is apparently what we’re about, this is why we speak, why we write, why we invent phonetic alphabets and mathematical notation-because we are binding time. Well, you can then propagate that process forward to say, ‘What would satisfy this drive?’ Well, nothing less than a complete conquest of time itself.”

6:54 “To make this leap to the full-coordination of 4-D requires some kind of machine symbiosis… It requires that we redesign and extend our nervous system over the entire planet, and that we undergo some kind of metamorphosis, and become, instead of semi-cannibalistic primates, machine tenders of a global nervous system, some of which is gold and copper and glass, and some of which is flesh and DNA and neurons, and this whole thing is in a state of self-designing foment.”

7:55 In the preceding podcast (In the Valley of Novelty – Part 5, 35:27), Terence says that two important facts about nature have been overlooked by science. The first one (discussed in Part 5) was the increase of Novelty/complexity through time. Now, Terence begins talking about the second one (the acceleration of this complexification).

8:05 “This process of producing Novelty… is not going on at a steady rate. It’s going on faster and faster as we approach the present. It’s like what mathematicians call a cascade… The early history of the universe is dull news… stars are condensing, galaxies are ordering themselves-this is the stuff of millennia, tens of millennia, greater spans of time… Once you get down to the last 500 million years on this planet, biology is the main show.”

9:42 “When you reach the last million years, it’s as though this process of the emergence of Novelty both concentrates itself in nature into a single line-the hominids-but it also intensifies itself by orders of magnitude. So change is then happening on a scale of hundreds of years-languages are changing, pottery designs [are changing]-and as we approach the present, this becomes more and more furious. What Novelty Theory is saying is: this is not an easily explained phenomenon.”

10:56 “Human history is the shockwave of some greater event about to emerge out of the order of nature. Human history-25,000 years is all it is-is like a shimmer, an aura, something that flashes across animal nature in the geological millisecond before the thing goes cosmic, or whatever it is that it’s going to go.”

15:08 “We even talk about downloading [sic] ourselves into machines. Well, as we sit here [in the summer of 1998], we’re functioning at about 100 hertz. If you were downloaded [sic] into even today’s desktop computer, you’d be running at 200 megahertz. Suddenly 2012 would appear as far away as the bust-up of Pangaea is in the other direction, because you would’ve stretched time. All time is is how much you can jam into a moment. It’s very easy to suppose that we’re on the brink of a kind of weird pseudo-immortality, where time spent in circuitry is essentially time spent in eternity…”

16:08 Terence acknowledges how much he was influenced by Teilhard de Chardin and Cardin’s conception of the ‘noosphere’.

17:32 “What I call ‘Novelty’, you could arguably call ‘Information’. What I call ‘Habit’, you could arguably call ‘Noise’.”

18:11 “The amount of order and disorder in any situation is dictated by the unique configuration of the local struggle between these two forces [novelty and entropy]… But the good news is… these two forces are not quite equally pitted. Over time, novelty wins… Order triumphs over disorder, and builds higher states of order. So, in a way, you could think of the whole process as what engineers call ‘a damped oscillation’.”

19:10 “A lot of the words that I use to talk about this are taken out of Alfred North Whitehead, who is, to my mind, the great unread philosopher of the 20th century. He wrote a book called ‘Process and Reality’ in which he tries to build a general vocabulary for talking about Being, and it comes off as very psychedelic and very chaotic dynamical…”

23:15 “Information is more primary than time and space, more primary than light and electromagnetism. Information is the stuff of Being… It’s almost as if it has a syntactical life of it’s own… it’s a virtual life-form running on a primate platform.”

23:58 Terence mentions an idea from Danny Hillis, writer of The Connection Machine. “We were early parasitized by a kind of virtual life-form that lives only in syntax and is essentially time-sharing and piggy-backing our nervous system… So now we can think with this linguistic symbiot that shares our brain-space.”

26:40 Terence highly recommends George Dyson’s Darwin Among the Machines.

29:40 Terence talks about how his Novelty Theory and Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of morphogenetic fields are related, but different-which leads into a discussion of causation and freewill.

31:49 “Novelty Theory is not predestination.”

34:28 “The internet is a huge-and not fully comprehended-cultural step that we have now totally committed ourselves to. It’s nothing less than the building of a thinking nervous system the size of the entire planet, and… everything is running on this strange companion that we built to be indestructible… It has no nodes of control, and it’s the most complex thing ever put in place on this planet since DNA cooked itself out of the primal ocean.”

35:47 “To the degree that people are psychedelic, they will be less anxious about what will happen, because what psychedelics show you is that there is life after history, there is something outside of culture. If you don’t know that, by one means or another, then you will define what’s happening as the end of the world, the literal apocalypse, the collapse of everything… [but] it’s just the collapse of historical, print-based cultural models and models of the self and the psyche. I embrace it. We’re not about to blow-out here, or go extinct…”

38:03 In the course of a six minute response to a statement about the will of god, Terence talks about the anti-Deism motivations of Charles Darwin and other 19th-century evolutionists; summarizes Darwinism; touches on post-Darwinian developments in evolution-theory; and points out the discovery of ‘basins of attraction’ in chaos theory.

43:57 “…and so, it [now] seems less
outlandish to us, I think, to suppose there is ‘a purpose’.”

44:20-49:00 Terence discusses astrology, the King Wen sequence of the I Ching, lunar cycles, sunspot cycles, and Chinese calendar systems.

50:46 Asked for his views on schizophrenia, Terence mentions his affinity for the opinions of Jung and R.D.Lang. “It turns out that [schizophrenia], which we pathologize pretty confidently, actually is not that different from people who are having real, legitimate breakthroughs and understanding their lives in new ways. It’s a shifting and reordering of the dominance of the psyche…”

51:35 “My really strong conviction [is that schizophrenia] should not be interfered with by depressive drugs. It’s some kind of a process, of a healing, of an acting out, and the biggest favor you can do the person is to let them, to the greatest degree possible, do what they want to do, and not interfere with them. And if you medicate them, and incarcerate them, the thing is aborted, and squashed, and distorted, and then they have a great deal of trouble ever getting their act together… How many psychiatric residents have even seen an untreated schizophrenic? The minute these people hit the front door of a hospital they’re given stelazine or lithium or something.”


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