James Kent: I've read a lot of interviews with you which were aimed at people who already knew who you were, but I wanted to try to get a broader view of who you are and what you do for a living. When I tell people I have this Terence McKenna interview, they're like, "Terence who?"
Terence McKenna: It's not possible to be famous enough. (laughs) I recently heard that Michael Jordan was retiring... and, I have to confess, who? This giant was passing from the scene and apparently I was going to become aware of him only at the last moment.
JK: I never watched much basketball, but I would sit down and watch if he was playing. It was pretty amazing to watch him play, he was...
TM: Just because he was so good.
JK: Yeah. When he was on it was like nobody could touch him.
JK: Well, one of the main things I wanted to cover today was a little bit about your life, your career, your day to day schedule, your itinerary...
TM: You mean at the moment?
JK: Well, what is it you do?
TM: Oh, what is it I do.
JK: Yes. I mean, I know you're a writer...
JK: And you're also called a "shamanist," but that is sort of a vague term. What do you call yourself?
TM: Well, I just think of myself as an itinerant intellectual, trying to stay afloat by writing, lecturing, film consulting - some friends of mine and I have formed a company to develop software... But basically I'm an unassociated intellectual, of which there probably aren't more than half a dozen in the country. I mean, I do not work for any university...
JK: Have you gotten any offers?
TM: No (breaks into laughter). But how perceptive. No, I do however work for a couple of the world's largest corporations, but that's....
JK: Which ones?
TM: Well, Food of the Gods is published by Bantam, that's Bertlesmann, which is the world's largest publishing consortium. And Harper, which publishes all my other books, is wholly owned by Rupert Murdoch.
JK: Oh? And how do you feel about that?
TM: Well, he never bothers me, so... (laughs). But it just shows how difficult it is to remain unentangled these days. "Publishing" now means multinational corporate association. What are you gonna do?
JK: And when was True Hallucinations released?
TM: April .
JK: And you're doing a lot of promotion for that?
TM: I did a lot of promotion work for it. It followed by a year my previous release, which was called Archaic Revival, and it preceded by a year — in other words, next April 15th will be the release of a book called The Invisible Landscape.
JK: That's a reprint, isn't it?
TM: It's a reprint but in the first edition no more than 1500 copies were sold. Most people have never seen this.
JK: No. I haven't. So what is the "Invisible Landscape?"
TM: Have you read True Hallucinations?
JK: No, I had a copy being sent to me, but it didn't arrive in time.
TM: Well True Hallucinations is like the easy-to-read narrative anecdotal version of what The Invisible Landscape is the no-holds-barred, all the footnotes, all the citation...
JK: A recounting of your experience at La Chorerra?
TM: Yes, though The Invisible Landscape is more talking about the ideas that came out of the event.
JK: Like Timewave Zero?
TM: It's in there. So are many of Dennis' theories.
TM: Exactly. It's all there.
JK: Well, I've been doing some research. It's funny, when I told my editor I was thinking of doing a story on you, she was very excited. I first heard of you, I think I heard you on public radio somewhere, and I tracked down some of your books and interviews, found a set of your tapes... I actually saw you speak somewhere around LA.
TM: Chapman College?
JK: Yes, Chapman [note: Future site of Meeting of the Minds]. I even found a bootleg of one of your weekend seminars at Esalen that I listened to while driving up, so I've compiled quite a wide assortment of topics that I'd like to cover today. Lets start off with personal background here just to get some reference. You were raised in Colorado, in a small mining town. Does the town still exist?
TM: Oh absolutely.
JK: Where is it?
TM: It's called Paomia, Colorado. It's actually become quite hip because in the '70s and '80s freaks moved in and bought all the apple and peach orchards.
JK: When you say "freaks" what do you mean?
TM: Hippies. (laughs)
JK: Oh, hippies. There's all different kind of freaks...
TM: And they went organic, the whole scene went organic. So when I was there it was absolutely podunk. I mean if you read Time Magazine you were suspected of Left leanings.
JK: Do your parents still live there?
TM: My mother died in 1970. My father remarried later and lives in Mesa, Arizona.
JK: What did they do when you were growing up?
TM: My father was a... Paomia was the town where my mother grew up, actually. My father was a salesman for a very large industrial electrical equipment company — switches, transformers, this sort of thing — and visited mines. He had a lot of uranium mines and lead mines. He had a four state territory which he worked with an airplane. The thing which was unusual about my growing up is in this small town, I guess we were close to being the richest people in town on close to fifteen thousand dollars a year. This was a county in Colorado where even up into the 1950s thirty percent of the county was on welfare. So it was a real hard-scrabble sort of environment.
JK: Now, your brother is Dennis, you're the oldest, right?
TM: That's correct.
JK: Growing up were you maladaptive?
TM: To the extreme.
JK: What kind of social difficulties did that bring you. Peer harassment?
TM: Well I had bad eyes and I was uncoordinated. And in an environment where there wasn't winter, spring, summer, fall, there was baseball, football, basketball, and... something else...
TM: (laughs) Yes. So I was marked out early as the peculiar one. Also, I was smart, so I was very accelerated in one dimension, very embryonic in another dimension.
JK: Were you picked on?
TM: There were bullies. There were certainly bullies who occupied a huge amount of my time. I mean on one level I think my supposed brilliant speaking ability comes from understanding that the problem is to keep them from killing you until the bell rings, and if you can just hold them five minutes longer by any means necessary, it'll be over. But as I grew older I became more seriously alienated. I mean, a lot of kids have those kinds of problems, but I began to realize that somewhere there was something called "Western Civilization" — there was philosophy, music, art, possibly even Jews. I mean, who knew how wild it could get. And here I was in this town where, like I say, Time Magazine meant you were an intellectual. So I left when I was 16.
TM: Los Altos, California, which is down on the peninsula. I lived there with relatives for a year. Then I finished high school in Lancaster, CA, which is a city up in the high desert north of LA.
JK: Ugh. So by this time what kind of exposure had you had to alternative sciences, philosophies, drugs, psychedelics?
TM: Oh drugs and psychedelics, not at all. I think I became aware of — oh I know where I became aware of psychedelics. It was the Spring of 1963. I read The Doors of Perception.
JK: And when were you born?
TM: November, 1946.
JK: November what?
TM: Sixteenth (double Scorpio). I read The Doors of Perception in early 1963. Then there began to be articles in the newspaper that spring about morning glory use. And I immediately started tracking down these morning glories. And, I just pursued that. I read everything I could...
JK: Did you experiment with Morning Glories?
TM: I did.
JK: Did you find them satisfying?
TM: I'm not exactly sure I would call them satisfying. They showed me that there was something there worth pursuing.
JK: So you attended college at Berkeley.
JK: You studied art?
TM: Art history.
JK: Is that what your degree is in, a B.A.?
TM: No no, my only degree is — I switched majors. My only degree is Bachelor of Science degree in Ecology and Conservation. It's complex to explain, but I arrived at Berkeley the year after the free speech movement and in an effort to keep the place from blowing sky high they had told this left-wing professor that he could have an experimental section of the university. But out of the incoming class of 15,000 or whatever it was, he could only take 150 freshman and design a special curriculum for them, and classes would not be in the regular university, they would be in an old frat house.
JK: This was a pilot program?
TM: Yes, it was an experimental program. So that's what I did. It was this thing called the Tussman Experimental College.
JK: Is that still around?
TM: Oh no no, it was run for a total of 6 years and then it was discontinued.
JK: Hmm. Okay. I'm going to shift gears here and get back to some personal questions. I didn't see you pull up, but what kind of car do you drive?
TM: (laughs) I drive a '75 Ford Grenada.
TM: My only car and I'm fiercely proud of it.
JK: How long have you had it?
TM: I've had it for five years. I bought it with 12,000 miles on it, now it has 80,000 miles on it.
JK: Hmm. Do you have cable TV?
TM: No. I don't have TV period.
JK: No TV?
TM: Well I have a VCR. I don't have an antenna to any broadcast television.
JK: As far as entertainment goes, what is your favorite venue for the arts? Music, movies...
TM: I listen to a lot of music. In terms of time commitment, I listen to music a lot.
JK: What's your favorite musical genre, style, or composer?
TM: I've been listening to a lot of house music.
JK: Really? Like techno?
TM: Techno, house, ambient, you know. Well I'm in that business partially. Also people send me stuff, and I'm very interested in it. I think it's very exciting music. I listen to a lot of baroque music, I guess. Those are the two categories. I have a lot of Rock-n-Roll but I don't listen to it much anymore. I have a lot of '80s New Age stuff which I've found doesn't wear well at all.
JK: As far as house music goes, do you have any groups you like?
TM: Well, I really like Coil. I really like Orb. I'm working with Szvuyu, which is an English group. I'm releasing a CD this Halloween with Spacetime Continuum. In fact I'm doing a rave on Halloween.
JK: While we're talking about it, tell me how you got introduced to the rave scene.
TM: I went to England and I gave lectures — the bouquet of flowers, pitcher of water, chair and podium lectures, and a lot of ravers came, and they came up to me and just sort of swept me along. They said, "You've got to see this scene. We're doing what you're talking about." Which seemed to me to be true. It's an incredibly — I mean I'm totally up on youth culture. I think media has done an incredible savaging of youth culture. I don't know what it was like to hang out with the Sex Pistols but it's lots of fun to hang out with the Shamen, or the various DJs, and you know there is a very lively house scene in San Francisco.
JK: What do you think the driving force of this scene is?
TM: Do you mean in terms of cultural agenda... drugs, or money?
JK: In terms of cultural agenda.
TM: Are you familiar with my notion of an Archaic Revival?
TM: Well there it is. This has been going on throughout the 20th century.
JK: But why are the youth of today so into it? What void in their lives in this rave scene fulfilling?
TM: Well England, which is where this was born, like so much, has been a Thatcherite hell for 15 years. A whole generation of kids have grown up in those steel towns in the midlands with absolutely no hope of bettering themselves and absolutely no faith that mainstream acculturation in Britain held anything out to them. And rather than producing an anger movement, like punk or something like that, it has produced a dropout movement more like the sixties. People aren't angry, they're just not participating. They're creating their own value systems and I think it's very healthy. I think a lot of this kind of thing comes out of the unconscious. Nobody sits around and figures this stuff out.
JK: Do you think this is an attempt to step away from cultural norms to reprogram their values, or at least deprogram the messages they receive from corporate media culture?
TM: Yeah, I think they're very aware of media culture and they're very anti media culture. For instance, in the clubs in London there's no stage, there is no cult of celebrity. The dancers are the show, the performers are pushed into the corners or locked in a box on a different level. And the whole macho rock-n-roll groupie destruction-derby psychology is not welcome in these scenes. People are a lot cooler. To somebody as cynical as I am a lot of it seems Polyannish. Songs about saving the wetlands and stuff like that. But on the other hand it's real and it's the right message. The right message is not the skinhead message or the "become a yuppie stockbroker" message. The real message is ecology, community, and feeling. And they've got it right. Now they have to get through the gauntlet of evil record companies, the communications media...
TM: The exploitative machinery waiting to make t-shirts and...
JK: So when you're called upon to join one of these ceremonies what sort of function do you fulfill?
TM: You mean at a rave?
TM: Oh I go on stage and I improvise some kind of stem-winding soliloquy to contact the self-transforming elf machines in hyperspace (laughs). It seems sort of weird to me, you know, a 46 year old man at three in the morning hanging out with a thousand loaded teenagers exhorting them to the eschaton.
JK: You use the term eschaton to describe some kind of singularity at the end of time. What is your definition of eschaton?
TM: Well all esch words derive from the greek notion of something final [gr. eskhatos - last]. So eschatology is the study of last things. There is a branch of theology where you study the end of the world and the general judgement and second coming. So the eschaton is the last thing. That would be a definition. It just simply means the last thing.
JK: Interesting. Who would you consider to be your peer group?
TM: My peer group?
JK: You know, contemporaries... collaborators.
TM: You mean people who I agree with? Who I'm most comfortable with?
JK: Close friends, people you find interesting or bounce ideas around with on a regular basis.
TM: Did you read Trialogues at the End of the West?
JK: No, I haven't.
TM: That was a book that I wrote with Ralph Abraham and Rupert Sheldrake, who I would consider peers. We don't see eye to eye on everything, but we get along very well as people, and we spend a lot of time together. Do you know who Sheldrake is?
JK: No, I know of Ralph Abraham.
TM: Well Sheldrake is a very controversial British theoretical biologist who wrote a book called A New Science of Life that Nature, the British journal of science, said was a candidate for burning. It created quite a controversy.
JK: Who else? What about in the literary world? Do you have any favorites?
TM: You mean who do I like or who do I spend time with?
JK: Either or?
TM: Well, I read and spend time with Tom Robbins, he's a friend of mine. Great guy. I read Steve Ericson, Lucious Shepherd, I don't know these guys but I would like to know them. I think they're very exciting. Steve Ericson wrote Tours of the Black Clock and Art Dense and Rubicon Beach.
JK: So what do you do for fun?
TM: What do I do for fun...(pause, thinking)?
JK: You know, leisure activities.
TM: Well I'm going through a divorce right now so excuse me if I can't remember (laughs).
JK: Do you want to talk about that at all, or say a few words?
TM: Well, it's certainly just punishment for being stupid enough to get married in the first place. It's kind of a little self-correcting mechanism there.
JK: So what is your relationship like now? Your family is still here in Occidental?
TM: Well my son lives with me, he's just at school.
JK: Your son?
TM: Yes, I have two children. A son who is 15 [Finn, now 21] and a girl who's twelve, about to turn 13 [now 17]. They were definitely the best thing to come out of the relationship, but I don't blame the personalities involved. I think marriage is a curse for everybody. I'm not too crazy about monogamy either. These are social styles that have very disruptive consequences on the psychic life of the individuals. But I was married when I was 30 years old. I hadn't really thought all this through. It was the only bourgeois value system I ever committed to, and as it turns out I should have stuck with my consistency.
JK: While we're on the subject of consistency, when someone asks Terence McKenna to speak, what topic is most requested?
TM: All they want to talk about is drugs.
JK: And how do you feel about that?
TM: I wish they'd go to the library or buy a tape or a book. I mean, I'd like to move on. I've said everything I have to say at least ten times, and, you know, I said it well, I hope. So, enough already.
JK: It seems to me that, when talking about drugs, you just elaborate a few simple positions over and over. Why is that?
TM: Well really, you see my position on drugs ultimately is that what I think about them is not important. What's important is that people be allowed to check it out for themselves. So consequently, if I'm succeeding at this my crowds should not get larger and larger, people should come once or twice, hear it, understand it, and go get a life.
JK: So how do you feel about having devotees who preach the McKenna party line, call you a guru, want to save your fingernail clippings for future generations...
TM: Well, as I've said on this subject if you think I'm a guru you haven't taken enough psilocybin (laughs). And I don't know what to tell people like that. "Take more! You're not figuring it out!" What makes the whole psychedelic thing so exciting to me is that it's for ordinary people. I am an ordinary person. It's not false humility, it's true. And so if it's for ordinary people then there's nothing to be learned from some advanced personality — assuming such a thing exists. And, what's so wonderful about psychedelics is their effectiveness and how democratic they are. That's what I would like people to get on to. In fact, a lot of people do. A lot of people pass through the thinking I'm a guru and take enough trips to understand that no, I was just a witness. I was just a witness.
JK: What were your initial goals when you first started on this journey. Coming back from La Chorrera you had quite a lot of information to mull through. Has everything sort of fallen into place since then or were there a lot of stages you had to go through to get where you are now?
TM: You mean did I ever drift away from it?
JK: Yes, sure.
TM: No, I never drifted away from it. Once I got the concept... I'm incredibly patient. I mean, for instance, my prediction of the singularity in 2012 is 20 [now 25] years old. the prediction is 20 years old. It's something that I've lived with for 20 years and I'll live with for 18 more. I'm very patient, but my attitude is that this thing that went on at La Chorrera was special enough that it's worth spending one life on. And it'll be my life. What I spend most of my time doing is reading philosophy, history, science, sociology, literature, and what I'm trying to figure out is am I out of context? Or, to put it another way, am I crazy? And the answer is no.
TM: Well something very unusual happened down there, and the world is in a very unusual circumstance, which most people don't seem to perceive. Weather we're talking about Bill Clinton or someone living under a bridge, we have never been here before. This is not business as usual. Management techniques that worked in the past are not going to work in the future.
JK: So what sustained you financially through those dark years in the '70s and '80s when Terence McKenna wasn't a big name?
TM: Well Terence McKenna wasn't a big name but O.T. Oss was.
TM: And, umm... I am O.T. Oss.
JK: Of course. So you lived on the royalties of the Magic Mushroom Growers Guide alone?
TM: And something which we should probably describe as "consulting".
JK: I see (laughs).
TM: (laughs loudly).
JK: (regaining composure) Well, I guess that's what I was shooting for with that question.
TM: Yes, there was a lot of "consulting" in the '70s. (laughs).
James Kent: How did your success with the 'Magic Mushroom Growers Guide' steamroll into a career?
Terrence McKenna: As the new age got going, say '80,'81, '82, I just found it incredibly irritating, and I was busy consulting and staying home and I also had small children, but I just thought it was such a bunch of crap.
JK: Talking about crystals and such?
TM: Yeah, the crystal, aura, past life, channeling business and I said, you know, why don't these people check out drugs? What's the matter with them, my god? And finally someone persuaded me to say that in a public situation, and it's been constant ever since.
JK: Could you be more specific about 'saying that in a public situation'?
TM: Arthur Young invited me to give a talk at the Berkeley Institute for the Study of Consciousness and there were people there who were from Esalen. So from that came the invitation to Esalen, and there was a very far out guy at Esalen who has since died who really believed in psychedelics. And all through the '80s, which were kind of a Dark Age for this stuff, they held a conference every year and paid everybody to come. Anybody who was a researcher in psychedelics or who even had strong opinions... and we all got to know each other. That's what Esalen did; it actually created a community by bringing us together from all over the country once or twice a year. Stan Grof, Gordon Wasson, John Lilly, Dave Nichols, Myron Stolaroff, Rick Yensen... virtually anybody who now has any visibility in the movement got to know everybody else during those years. And we all proceed in different directions, you know. I mean, Sasha is the great synthetic chemist, I'm the plant advocate, Grof is the transformative Freudian... people have their own bailiwick.
JK: So what do you hate most about what you do? What just burns you up every time?
TM: United Airlines. (Laughs) I'm getting nutty on the subject of how much I hate to fly 'cause I'm convinced that these air flights, especially the ones to Europe where they fly really high, you know, they recirculate the air, and if one person has the flu... So you arrive in Hamburg and you're supposed to get your act together and give a talk and you realize you're getting the flu. I hate the flying. I'm a hermit. I mean, my natural inclination is to be alone. I have been alone at times in my life for very long periods of time with perfect contentment. So it's kind of strange that I'm cast in this very public role.
JK: What would you most like to spend your time doing?
TM: I like doing some kind of research with a lot of books and a quiet setting. I mean, if I were not me for instance, I would go to a company like Voyager in L.A. and say, 'Hire me to build a CD-ROM of Ulysses.' And I'd take the text and put it on the surface and then line up the streets of Dublin and all the stuff behind. That's the kind of thing I like. I like tight, meticulous work. I've had jobs like insect specimen preparer in museums and art conservation and all these little, tiny, nitpicky kind of things. I really like that 'cause I can think when I have a job like that.
JK: How much of what you do do you feel is just pure crap, just absolute, well... garbage?
TM: What I hate is repetition, and that's what drives me crazy is the pressure to be more creative than you can be unless you repeat yourself. I would rather give three talks a year and have each one be absolutely stunning and unique than give 25 talks a year and have them be these weird clones of each other.
JK: What do you perceive your potential to be now, as far as what you can accomplish in the future?
TM: Well, I've laid out a theory that's very radical, but very complete in the sense that modern theories must be founded in mathematics. Otherwise, you don't have a theory, you have an idea. So, this theory is very complete, but very radical. The spirit in which I do intellectual work is closer to science than to anything else. I like criticism. I think there should be rules of discourse and rules of evidence. And if you can't stand behind your product you should prepare to abandon ship. So, the role I will play over the next 18 years, god willing, is advocate for this peculiar notion, trying to communicate it, and trying to invite a critique of it. I would like to have the best minds on the planet tell me where I went wrong. I'm willing to accept their judgement, but I want to have the dialogue.
JK: Who do you feel would be qualified to evaluate what you've pulled out of the King Wen sequence?
TM: Good question. Well, the problem is I have reached competent people, Ralph Abraham for example. But you think in your naivete that if you've discovered a world-shaking principle all you would have to do is run into the street waving it and people would say 'This is great, he's discovered a world-shaking principle!' In actually trying to carry it out you discover that people say it isn't a world-shaking principle. Or they say, 'You didn't discover it, this was discovered in 1830 by Wemmelholtz.' (Laughs) And your enthusiasm and certainty dissipate in the face of this peculiar attitude towards innovation. So, I've learned the only way to truly innovate is: big ideas must have advocates, so I will argue my position in any forum with anybody until it becomes clear to me that my ideas are absurd. And over time, an intellectual environment is like a natural environment; ideas are selected by natural selection. The better ideas survive.
JK: Meme wars...
TM: Yes. You have to get your candidate onto the playing field.
JK: So, specifically, if you could cut it down to 5 or 6 sentences, a sound byte, let's say, what is your agenda?
TM: Well, agenda implies...
JK: If you're advocating something...
TM: I think the world needs to awaken to the presence of the transcendental other and its accessibility through psychedelics. This is the single most important discovery of the 20th century. It came through anthropology. It came through a more careful examination of the societies of people previously dismissed as barbarians. And this discovery is as challenging and potentially capable of refashioning our institutions as the discovery of the New World was for Renaissance Europe.
JK: So how would you gauge your own historical importance?
TM: Well, if I'm right I'm Newton, if I'm wrong... I'm crazy. There's no middle ground. Or at least I like to think there's no middle ground because I would like it to be that way. This is the scientific impulse to force clear resolution of the data. I've discovered enough already about the I Ching that... I mean these matters are very technical, but I feel I'm on pretty firm ground. I'm waiting to meet the person who can overthrow this. That's who I want to meet, the person will just sit down and say 'Whoa, my dear, hello, you've completely forgot X,' and I'll say 'Oh!'
JK: How do you cope with the power that you have, now that you have people listening? Do you ever worry about accountability coming into play here?
TM: No, I don't. I suppose I should. As far as the following... I just blame this on sort of the childishness of our age. Look at Steven Hawking. Talk about an unlikely person to inspire groupies. I mean the man is a theoretical physicist who's seriously handicapped and barely comprehensible. But lord, by minions! This is very hard for me to relate to and understand. I meet so-called celebrities and the people who take themselves seriously are unbearable. This whole culture is a bunch of hype. Did you see Madonna's movie?
JK: Truth or Dare?
TM: Yeah... where they bring somebody back to meet her... Kevin...
JK: Oh, Kevin Costner.
TM: Yeah. She turns to the camera and says, 'Why is it that if you're a celebrity everybody thinks you should meet other celebrities?' And this is because we are essentially a very infantile culture. I have a great faith in my own ineffectiveness. Anybody who thinks they are pushing the world over the brink or saving the world from going over the brink is severely deluded about the nature of metastable systems. I wish people would just pass through me on their way to the information, and the information is to be found in books, of course. That's where it is.
JK: What sort of problems have you had with government authorities?
JK: None? In your entire life?
TM: Oh, no. Well, when I was a hashish smoker years and years ago in the '60s I had many problems with the American government, but we seem to have gotten that all ironed out. As far as this public career of drug advocacy this question is always asked, asked a great deal. Nobody has ever called me on the phone or even allowed me to be certain they were there, you know. No pressure, no matter how subtle, has ever been put on me.
JK: Well, you're also very subtle yourself. You're not as outspoken as say, Tim Leary was. You're not a rabble-rouser...
TM: If you follow me around enough I can be baited into rabble-rousing. People say, 'How come they don't come and get you?' and I've said it's because I use too many big words. They don't know what this is. They don't care. And anyway, my theory about drugs and the government is where money is not being made, they're not interested. What they're interested in are people making $100,000 a day dishing out blow in some rat's nest somewhere. Since I'm not making any money off illegal drugs it must be fairly dull to them I think.
JK: OK, lets discuss hypercarbolation. Did Dennis come up with this on fly, sort of out thin air?
TM: Out of thin air.
JK: So if I understand you correctly: at La Chorrera sonically induced superconductivity was used to intercalate psychoactive molecules into the rungs of DNA...
TM: Close, say it again.
JK: You claim that Dennis used his voice to sonically induce a state of superconductivity that could bind or 'intercalate' psychoactive molecules into the rungs of DNA.
TM: Yeah, to intercalate these molecules between the rungs. Yeah, that's it in a nutshell.
JK: Are you the only specimens to try that?
TM: Yes, to my knowledge.
JK: So it's never been attempted since then?
TM: Well, it was hard to find a volunteer willing to go bananas for three weeks, which is what happened to Dennis, you see. As Bill Burroughs said, 'We need a worthy vessel.' (Laughs)... It would be very interesting to me, and maybe... You asked about my agenda. I suppose this is on my agenda, to gain enough attention that serious money would be spent looking at some of these assertions. I mean, can you use sound to intercalate drug molecules into DNA? This question could be settled with test tubes. You don't need human beings, you just need square wave generators and...
JK: Isn't Dennis sort of travelling that route?
TM: Well, yes, but these chemical companies, they're not always hiring him to check out his fantasies of early adulthood. Dennis' attitude toward all this is very ambivalent, because he's the guy who basically ate the shit end of the stick. Are you going to interview him?
JK: I'll be catching up with him at some point, yes.
TM: He looks older than I am, but he's 4 years younger than I am. I get the feeling that I'm regarded as... let me reach for the word... I'm not finding it. It's somewhere between obstreperous... uh... A lot of people would like [La Chorrera] just to go away. Nobody saw as much as I saw. People saw lesser pieces of it. A lot of people are in certain levels of denial about what happened. Apparently this is the normal course... you get old, you forget all that crazy shit you were into. You go to work for a corporation. You get life insurance. It hasn't worked out for me that way. I saw too much. I know too much. They're gonna have to prove it to me that it didn't happen. Sneering has no effect on me. I'm immune to it. And Dennis' view is, I think, that he doesn't really know what happened and he doesn't really like thinking about it because it lies right next to this issue of going bananas for 3 weeks.
JK: How do you feel about insanity?
TM: It's an occupational hazard.
JK: Do you fear it?
TM: Mmhmm. I don't think anybody could do high doses of... I mean, some people are so lumpen that they don't connect to the implications. You know, they take 10 grams of psilocybin and [in his best bong-toke Cheech and Chong voice] 'Wow that was really fuckin' weird, maaan.'
TM: Right. So what about that? And they somehow blow it off. But I think the more intelligent you are, the more terrifying psychedelics become because you can't talk yourself out of it. You can't just say, 'Oh, a buncha weird shit,' you know. You took it because you took it seriously and now it's taken you seriously.
JK: Let's talk a little bit about this spiraling hum Dennis produced. Have you checked it out? Is it a key, is it a note?
TM: Well, I'm not... I have a total blind spot in the realm of musical nomenclature. I suspect that a musician of a certain type could listen to this and say, 'Oh, that's a...' Because here's what it is: [makes an ooooweeeoooweee noise that ascends in freuency at an accelerating rate] Now, that kind of ascending thing is obviously a smooth function of some sort, and someone who understood acoustics or music would just say, 'Oh, that's an asymptotic something or other.'
JK: Have you ever taken the wave and fed it through a sound mapper?
TM: No. See, there's never been money or... there's a kind of ambivalence about looking at all this stuff. I am not competent... I was not competent to do the experiment at La Chorrera and I didn't do it. The fact that the people who were competent to do it are phobic of it raises a certain problem. All of this, we've at times made lists of experimental approaches to various aspects of what was asserted about La Chorrera. There are many, many different approaches you can take. It's just they all require time, money, and staff.
JK: Are you familiar with the work of H.P. Lovecraft?
TM: Absolutely! I cut my teeth on H.P. Lovecraft. Dennis too.
JK: It seems that a lot of the imagery you pull out of psychedelics, especially this insectoid creature...
TM: Do you associate it to Nyarlotep, the crawling chaos, or Cthulu? (Laughs)
JK: Well, I was thinking of one diety in particular, [name omitted for safety of readers], who appears only within states of mad raving. Hey dwells in the intersection of time and space, and is referred to as the blasphemous evil which lurks just beyond the silken veil...
TM: Well, Dennis told me recently that he inhibited his MAO with some not very good ayahuasca, and since it was so boring having done this he smoked some DMT with his MAO all inhibited. And he said it was appalling. And he said you just feel this thing, and it's a mind, and it's there, and you're locked into it like that. He said it says, 'Behold, oh mortal, if you can, the form of (unintelligable growl)!' (Laughs)
JK: And of course every beast in Lovecraftian lore is revealed exactly like that...
TM: Yes, Ya Shugothoth...
JK: Shub Nigguroth...
TM: ...The goat with a thousand young! (Laughs)
JK: Let's talk about DMT for just a moment. You obviously have a lot of well thought out opinions and ideas, but you're very easy to dismiss as a crackpot because of these things you say about DMT and self-dribbling jeweled basketballs and such.
TM: Poke away, if people want to dismiss, they should at least...
JK: Right. Your answer, of course, is to take the ten minutes and see for yourself.
TM: Yes, it's only ten minutes.
JK: Why do you continue to pull it out of the closet? Don't you think there's a point where you say, 'I've talked enough about the DMT elves. I don't want to talk any more about the elves. There are other, you know, important things.' I'm curious as to...
TM: Well, let's see. DMT is the most interesting thing I've ever encountered. Essentially what you're saying is that I'm not being very strategic, and wouldn't it be better if I just didn't mention it. But you're talking to someone who is a profound thinker. I mean, you couldn't discover the timewave and not be a profound thinker. So the idea that I could either speed up or slow down the unfoldment of the thing is completely at variance with the mystery I'm trying to articulate. And I do think that in terms of assertions made, the assertions I make about DMT are not overly outrageous, and the means of proving them are simply to do it. Other people make mad assertions, but they're not so easily overcome. I've asked people to smoke DMT in order to disprove what I'm saying. I don't think they will, and I think there's a lot of arguing about what goes on and I don't think people do high enough doses... But I think that it's too accessible; it's not hard. I mean, you know, most people think you have to trek up a jungle river or go to Jupiter or something like that. This is something interesting that you can do in the confines of your apartment. (Laughs)
JK: I've heard people say that you've adopted DMT as a clever vehicle to put yourself in the forefront of the psychedelic community because DMT is such an obscure compound and there hasn't been much exposure of it. So it's almost like you've latched onto the one molecule that no one wants to latch onto because...
TM: Because it's so bizarre? When I smoked DMT for the first time it was 1967, and I figured that there would be pandemonium on the planet within the next three weeks. I thought surely you can't sit on something like this, but it turns out you can sit on something like this. So, I have always been amazed by how little it's discussed for a couple of reasons. Number one, it's so dramatic. Number two, it's so apparently harmless. It violates my notion of how reality is. I mean, this is designed for people who jump out of airplanes on Saturday afternoon to get their rocks off. And yet nobody's interested, you know. It's almost as though it is not rational. In other words, it's almost as though it carries its own protective shield or something. You don't hear about this until it wants you to hear about it, or something.
JK: Before I came into contact with anything that you had to say about DMT all I heard about it was it's a nightmare, stay away from it. It's a rollercoaster ride through hell.
TM: (Laughs) Well, now who could stay away from something described as a rollercoaster ride through hell? (Laughs) I mean, you could spend 5 million dollars and build a rollercoaster ride through hell and you would expect people to line up to the horizon for it. (Laughs) Hellcoaster!
JK: I want to talk a little bit about the elves. I think that when you say DMT elves people picture, you know, Tinkerbell flying around.
TM: Well, this is what I call the Disneyfication of elf land, and people expect cheerful friendly places that they know and can recognize. But it's much wierder and much more scarier than that; more like the lower-east side than it is like Wonderland.
JK: So, when you say elves, they're not in the shape of human elves.
TM: No. Here's what is elf-like about them. You have the impression that you're underground. Elves live in the center of the earth. They make things. This is what elves are traditionally said to do. They are makers of jewelry and fine machinery. These things are involved in language somehow. They're involved in pun and riddle. This is standard elf material. And there is this very peculiar kind of out-of-control, madcap humor. Also, elves are tricky.
JK: Plus there's the singing...
TM: Yes, and the singing. I haven't carried out a study of the evolution of the image of the elf in the Western mind, but I think probably Disney and Grimm obliterated whatever had come before. But these things up until that time were very ambiguous creatures of the threshold and woodland. They were known for stealing babies primarily.
JK: Have you ever considered they might be a reflection of some sub-atomic phenomenon?
TM: Quantum creatures? Yes, I've thought of that. Because I take very seriously the question, 'Where are they?' You know, are they here but invisible? Are they locked in the quantum realm? Are they on a planet around another star that we can somehow punch into on DMT? I take it seriously. I think it is like any other phenomenon of nature, it should be studied on its own terms.
JK: Do they always seem to know you're coming?
TM: Well, that may be an anthropomorphization. They cheer when you arrive.
JK: You can't sneak up on them? (Laughs)
TM: I don't think you can sneak up on them, no... (Laughs) Whether they're looking at their watches and waiting, I don't know.
JK: It would seem that smoking DMT is now the doorway into their domain. Why don't they have some other way to move into our world, some sort of reciprocal vehicle to make the journey? I guess what I'm saying is... are there certain conditions in a person's life besides smoking DMT which you feel would make them accessible to this... or would make them the perfect vehicle for this sort of elfin mischief to occur?
TM: I would really hope not. That's my definition of madness. That's why I'm not interested in the 'do it on the natch' people. I think they're sailing towards the cataracts. The last thing you want is to be able to do it on the natch, 'cause if you can do it on the natch there's a possibility that you cannot fucking stop it. (Laughs) I mean, I would be very alarmed if any sort of psychedelic effect established itself in ordinary consciousness. These are radical alterations of consciousness sustained by peculiar pharmacodynamics. You don't want that settling down on your tea party.
JK: You're fond of the notion that these elves may be ancestors, or at least that's the party line as far as shamans go.
TM: Shamans say they're souls, yes.
JK: Does it follow necessarily that they're human ancestors or just 'those who have come before?'
TM: Well, they're more like a human being than they are like an animal because they possess language. The two things that human beings do that animals don't, they do. Number one, they communicate linguistically. And two, they're fools for technology. I mean, it's a strange technology, but they're no weavers of cocoons, these elves. They make stuff, all kinds of stuff.
JK: (Laughs) You obviously, (or maybe you don't) notice some similarity between your accounts of the DMT experience and catalogs of near death experience from the beginning of time. What's your comment on this?
TM: Well, I mean, I certainly moved here without great conviction or certainty. You ask what is my opinion and I give it and I think it doesn't count for much more than that. But this is the central problem or the central dilemma of modern science: what is the status of spirit in relationship to organic life? And for 300 years the answer has been 'none whatsoever.' However, we're not getting as far with reductionism, empiricism, and behaviorism as we thought it would carry us. It appears that we've left something out. I think that it is this awareness of spirit, whatever that means. It means an architecture of connectedness in an invisible dimension. I think this is what the DMT establishes so dramatically. And that's why it's such an important, pivotal issue.
JK: Why do you think that smoking it is so important?
TM: As opposed to injecting it? Oh, because it's much more dramatic. This is one of the things that have caused science to not understand what I'm talking about because pharmacologists love to inject people with drugs. This is because they can get an absolute, quantified dose in the barrel of a syringe. I have not shot DMT, but I've talked to many people who have and I've studied the medical reports. It is nothing like smoking it. It comes on slower, it does not reach such an intense peak, and it goes away slower.
It's very hard to talk about DMT. The wildest metaphors are in fact lies... even mine are lies. There is something which happens which lies beyond the possibility of description and that's the strangest part of the DMT experience. And then all the parts you can describe which people say 'Jeez, that really sounds weird...' - that isn't it.
JK: What countries is DMT illegal in besides the United States? Do you know?
TM: I don't know. I suspect in practical terms very few. Probably it's illegal in all the high-tech industrial democracies because they will all have signed the United Nations convention on narcotics. It is not actively suppressed anywhere in the world because, A, there isn't much, and B, it's not posing any kind of a medical problem. I mean, the way you judge a drug if you're trying to figure out whether to suppress it is to look at emergency room admission statistics.
JK: It doesn't really seem to be the kind of substance that would cause a public health threat. I never understood why it was illegal, except that it just falls into that category of powerful things we don't really understand...
TM: It was made illegal when they made LSD illegal. They made everything illegal without any evidence, medical or otherwise, being presented. And then when the feds decided to make everything illegal they used the California statute as a model... and again no medical or scientific data was presented. So, if a person had the money, the laws making DMT illegal could be pretty strongly challenged. Also, the fact that it occurs in the human body... that has never been debated in a court. Can you make illegal an actual human metabolite?
JK: Transformative language is something you talk a lot about. You say, 'If any significant change is going to be made within society, you need to first transform the language.' Do you have any concrete idea about how one would go about doing that, or is this just a notion that you're fiddling with?
TM: Well, no. I don't simply mean speaking more clearly or something like that. I mean that language can... Apparently the human neurological architecture is such that incoming audio signals can either be processed in a low-dimensional audial environment, or in a much richer, higher-dimensional visual environment. When we hear great poetry... what we call great poetry is language which triggers this active high-dimensional visualizing capacity. I think language aspires to visibility, and that drugs like ayahuasca are allowing the people who use them to experience a kind of telepathy. It's not a telepathy of you hear what I think, it's a telepathy where you see what I mean. The fact that the chemicals in ayahusca, DMT and harmaline, both occur in the human brain, and that they carry with them this peculiar transformation of language, pushing it toward the visible, suggests to me that in the human brain, the language functions are not yet genetically established and defined, and it could be that we're just a one or two gene mutation away from having our language go from radio to TV essentially. And what this will make, if possible, is a much richer field of communication. People will be able to both communicate and receive communication about much subtler and more finely delineated matters.
JK: You also talk about an actual physical substance that will spontaneously take the shape of your thought.
TM: Well, now we're getting into eschaton territory, although it is claimed by these off-river tribes like the Juarani, the Agaruna-Jivaro, the Witoto, these kinds of people... that the shaman does what he does with this magical, iridescent, blue phlegm, which they regurgitate. It was thinking about that, taking those reports seriously rather than just dismissing it as ignorant Indians, that led Dennis down the path toward hypercarbolation. We tried to take seriously the notion that you could actually physically change your body chemistry in very profound ways under the influence of psychedelics.
JK: You use the word magic when you describe the fabric of reality and dismiss with the wave of a hand the laws of physics...
TM: Well, not quite with a wave of a hand, but...
JK: Well... what exactly do you mean when you say magic? Do you have a hard definition of it or is it magic in the sense of...?
TM: No. I think Arthur C. Clarke gave the best definition of magic. He said magic is a technology you don't understand. I just don't understand the hubris of modern science. As we look back at the past every society has assumed that it had 95% of the right answers... and was wrong. So, why should we make the same stupid assumption? And of course we're wrong, reality is incredibly mysterious. Science shines its light brightly in certain corners, but it doesn't illuminate the universe. It doesn't even illuminate the universe of the human body, let alone the human mind and soul.
JK: So what do you plan to be doing December 22, 2012?
TM: Paying careful attention. I will not be organizing an integrated worldwide group of rock festivals and performances, I hope. In fact, use this against me if I am.
JK: (Laughs) Some clever promoter might latch onto it.
TM: Well, I'm sure there will be those who cash in. People ask this question. It's funny to be at the center of all this. I'm not very attached. I understand how unlikely my assertion is...that it's a trillion to one chance. On the other hand I understand the consequences of my being wrong...no big deal. People are wrong all the time for crying out loud. I also know that this theory, which I feel is very strong... If I were off by 1%, the theory tells me I could be off by 10 million years. Well now, if I'm off by 1%, I say I'm dead on. But the theory says, well no, it isn't December 21, 2012, it's December 21, 2012 plus 10 million years. So, a reasonable person would expect nothing to happen. However, an intellectually honest person would give the situation every opportunity to overturn that expectation.
JK: Are you going to be watching Headline News? (Laughs)
TM: Well, no. The real answer to your question is if I'm right, I won't watch alone, because it won't sneak up on us. If I'm right, then by 2005, 2006, people will be looking at this theory to provide answers because what's going to happen if the theory is right is that it's going to get stranger and stranger until finally no amount of face-saving and explaining will be able to hide the fact that singularity stalks the planet.
JK: Don't you think that people tend to ignore strangeness though? Strangeness happens all the time and yet they turn on their TV at 8 o'clock and it's gone.
TM: Well, they have thresholds. The world we're living in is completely bizarre compared to the world we were living in 10 years ago. I mean, AIDS, multimedia, the disappearance of communism... If you had told somebody 15 years ago that within 15 years sexually transmitted diseases would threaten the human species, communism would be a memory, and people would be spending most of their time in machine-created environments, they would have been very puzzled. And this is just the beginning. We haven't hit the steep descents into novelty, which come after the turn of the century.
JK: And you firmly believe there's some sort of art to this existence. It's a work of art...you say it's syntactical in nature like a musical score.
TM: Yes, it's like a musical score. It's a complicated musical score.
JK: That's why I asked earlier if you've ever thought about putting the timewave through a sound synthesizer.
TM: Other people have suggested that. I'm simply not proficient enough with understanding sound and music to be the person to do that.
JK: After the event at La Chorrera there was a period of time when you were not mentally stable, when you were very unbalanced in a lot of ways.
TM: Well, there was a lot of debate. There was never an actual incident where people... I managed to avoid [a medical pronouncement]. There was just a lot of anguished conversation among my friends. Basically, my problem was that I had a one-track mind. I was obsessive about this stuff coming out of the I Ching and the timewave and the end of history and hypercarbolation and I would take roomfuls of people prisoner and hold them for up to 14 hours at a crack. Which is, of course, a sign of mania. On the other hand, I doubt that Shakespeare's plays or Moby Dick or Mont St. Michel were built without somebody giving a damn about how it came out.
JK: Now there are other people who believe that the last page of the Wall Street Journal is where the CIA communicates, and they have theories and charts and crypotography all mapped out, and it's all very elaborate... What's different between what you're doing and what they do?
TM: Well, the timewave predicts the past, and the past has happened, so there isn't a whole helluva lot of fudging you can do. Predicting the future is no challenge to anybody because who can rule you out of bounds? I think that, based on its ability to predict the past, judged by the ordinary ways we judge predictive success, that the timewave should be taken seriously. It isn't a mystical doctrine, and I don't defend it with mystical arguments. I put it forward as an exotic scientific hypothesis to be tested and overthrown by the usual methods.
JK: I think I heard you once say that the DMT experience mimics itself in dream states sometimes. Have you heard accounts of this happening, or is this just a personal experience?
TM: Oh, no. It's a personal thing and people have told me about it. What I actually said was if you smoke DMT, if you have the experience then, at some later time, even years later, you will have a dream in which a glass pipe is produced and the DMT flash actually occurs. And it occurs so dramatically in the dream that it suggests to me that this most dramatic of all psychedelic experiences is almost like a fingersnap away. There's some series of autonomic functions that if you could take hold of them - and biofeedback says you can take hold of any function you can monitor - if you could take hold of this particular function you could have a DMT flash at will.
JK: But that's like you were saying 'on the natch.'
TM: I don't think anybody's having DMT trips on the natch except in dreams. But if that were possible, you see, it would just change the entire discussion... it would end it. It would put it in the same category as sex. You're self-equipped; therefore nobody can stop you. (Laughs) JK: What defense do you have from people who dismiss you as a crackpot and say that any theory you come up with certainly can't be of any importance because you're not credentialed? I mean, what sort of credibility do you have?
TM: Well, these people have clearly never read Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolution. The only people who ever advance science forward are the people who come from the edge, from the outside, usually amateurs, usually not institutional. The way scientific advance happens is though completely irrational bursts of brilliance. Then they create a scenario of careful research and cross-checked data and slow accumulation. It doesn't happen like that. People are free to dismiss me, I don't even necessarily say they're wrong. The ideas need to be judged on their own merit. If they're saying they can't be true because I take drugs, that's like saying 'It can't be true because he's a Jew' or 'It can't be true because he's a homosexual.' These are not sufficient reasons to dismiss anybody's ideas.
JK: As an individual, what is your goal, besides sustaining yourself monetarily and not starving in the streets? Do you have some sort of goal that you would like to accomplish before your meeting with the infinite?
TM: Well, in my heart of hearts, I really think that somehow... this must all be true. Otherwise it doesn't make much sense. Because I'm clearly not a raving mad person...
JK: That's what they said in The TellTale Heart.
TM: Well, I may be a mad person, but... (Breaks into maniacal Edgar Allen Poe voice) 'Mad, certainly not mad! True, nervous, nervous, highly nervous. But on the other hand...' (laughs) I have very modest goals I suppose. I would like the psychedelic experience to take its place as a respected vehicle of spiritual work. That's a modest thing to want. On the other hand, I feel like the transformation of the human species is possible, not in the far future, but now. And it may well be that we are going extinct. But, if so, it's an incredible tragedy because we could go to Alpha Centauri instead. So, it's not simply that we are going extinct the way of the dodo or the trilobite because there were no metaphysical stakes on the table with those extinctions. With us there is something, perhaps the destiny of life in the universe if in fact biology could be... If biology is unique to this planet then, my god, the moral responsibility that falls on us is practically inconceivable. And if it isn't, nevertheless, the fate of life on this planet seems to be in our hands.
So, I don't understand why there isn't more visionary dreaming going on. And, by that, I don't mean pleading for machine elves to take control of the IMF, I mean stuff like, why is there no effort to build down the military industrial complex worldwide? Why is there no effort to save the environment? It's not a bleeding heart issue; it's the ground you're standing on. And what we call progressives, like Bill Clinton, I hear nothing progressive, nothing visionary. And yet that is what leadership is supposed to be about. So, I feel very, very frustrated because I see the last, best chance of humanity, a good chance...being betrayed by incredible perversity and stupidity. I mean, I think John Kennedy screwed movie stars and was some kind of a rich brat from New England, but I don't think that he was empty of idealism about the destiny of the human race. And these other people seem to be. I mean, maybe Bill Clinton doesn't fuck movie stars. OK, points for that. But how about a vision?
JK: I think he does...
TM: I think he does too...but I don't care if they would just get up off of their dead duffs and do something. I mean, I can't believe the debates that go on. They want to close an airbase in Sacramento. So, you would think that Western civilization was on the block. Well, if you can't close an airbase near Sacramento, how in the hell are you going to get rid of nuclear weapons, feed the hungry, cure AIDS, and create a decent environment for 6 billion people? I am afraid that the answer is...just junk democratic processes and put the world in the hands of benevolent technocrats.
JK: Philosopher kings.
TM: Philosopher kings. Not Samosa's or Saddam's, but well intentioned. But what that means is that the highest aspirations of Western social thinking, which culminate in the democratic, self-regulating individual are being put aside. We're saying no, no, it turns out that the bulk of human beings are too infantile, too childish, to manage their own fates. And, of course the world is not staying simple, you know, maybe people could manage their own fates in 1760, but can they in 2000? And I say yes always. I am a radical democrat. I used to say if you come upon a group of people setting fire to a building, you have to have very good reasons not to join in that action because the people are doing it. Now, do you have an agenda or understanding that is higher than what the people's agenda is? Some people say, 'You're just an anarchist.' And sure, fine. I marched behind that flag. That was the flag we carried in those demonstrations. We were never red, and in fact had total contempt for that. And were proven right I think. I don't know if that answers your question, but I'm very frustrated by the lack of imagination.
JK: The way you manipulated the I Ching, was it directly from the voice of the mushroom?
TM: It was pretty direct.
JK: Telling you 'OK, now do this.'
TM: Yeah, I had very little interest in the I Ching and no patience for that kind of behavior. I'd never done anything like that in my life. In fact, I've always felt that part of my life's problem personally was that I never go deep. And here I was, going deep, deep. I mean, I am pretty sure that many of the things I've discovered about the I Ching were put there by the people who created that sequence and have not been dealt with since. And god knows a lot of minds have fingered their way over the surface of that and they didn't find the way in. But I think I did and I think it's not a metaphysical assertion. Anybody who cares to can follow my argument and see if they agree or not.
JK: Now, why exactly did you have the William Baines translation of the I Ching with you in the Amazon?
TM: I had picked up the habit four or five years before all this of just throwing the I Ching at the new and full moon. It is the only ritual in my life and I did it very unritualistically. And so, consequentially I happened to have it with me in the Amazon.
JK: And what prompted you to turn to it at La Chorrera?
TM: As near as I can reconstruct it... the first line of the dialogue that lasted years... the first line was... the mushroom spoke and it said, 'Did you know, I'll bet you did know, that every day is made out of four other days.'Š And it just led me through. I guess the strongest argument for me personally that I was dealing with something outside of myself and 'real', whatever that means, was the way it was taught. It was just not my style, you know, and it just went on and on. Nobody else can share this perception because nobody knows what 'my style' even means. But I tell you: it was not my style.
JK: Now, this theory was sort of foisted on you. Did you go in asking for it? Did you say, 'Give me your best shot?' Or were you just randomly chosen to be the bearer of this news?
TM: Well, maybe something slightly different from either of those. I was puzzled by... As Dennis descended into this rave about the hypercarbolation I was all for it and I was fully backing him. But, every once in a while, this thought would cycle through: 'And nothing for me?' So, in a sense I think this was the gift, you know. He got the hypercarbolation and I got the timewave.
JK: Now, the other members of your party, were they as consciously 'enhanced?'
TM: Well, no. There was a lot of backbiting and controversy because... well, first of all the general irrationality of the situation. Also, I think at the time I did not give this enough weight because I had been butterfly collecting for 9 months before this all through Indonesia. But I think they were scared of the Amazon. And so, for me it was like another jungle, but for some of those people it was like, 'Oh my god, we're 200 miles up this river and this guy appears to be losing his mind and his brother appears to be becoming...'
JK: And you were 25 at the time? And the people you were with were 20, 22?
TM: I was the oldest.
JK: I can see how that would be daunting. (Laughs)
TM: We were very different from any 22-year-olds that I've ever met. In fact, that amazes me; what serious people we were. I mean, when I think of the 60's I think of humping in a heap, and going to dances. But, my god, we must have been serious, serious, serious...
JK: Did you ever experiment with oo-koo-he like you had...
TM: Oh yes, that's a whole other cycle that I've never published or written about because it's somewhat... it just doesn't really relate to all this. But in 1981 Dennis and I went back with Wade Davis who wrote The Serpent and the Rainbow. Dennis was getting his Ph.D. then in plant biochemistry and we went after the oo-koo-he again. Not in Columbia. We went to a place in Peru where there was a displaced population of Witoto and we got numerous samples of oo-koo-he. We took them, Dennis wrote his Ph.D. thesis on them, and they were fully chemically analyzed. It's a kind of a downer in the sense that what we finally concluded was that the Virola trees, which are the source of that drug, are genetically degraded in some way. Anyway, what it does is that it races your heart like crazy. We did it, and on this one particular batch where I thought Dennis was having a heart attack basically, the next morning we sought out the shaman. And he said, 'Yeah, it takes getting used to, doesn't it?' (Laughs) We said, 'No shit, man!'
JK: DMT or psychedelics as an alien artifact/technology - is this sort of a pet theory of yours or something you sort of latched onto?
TM: Well, I'm not wedded to any of this. I just simply state the facts, and the facts are that, not DMT so much, which is pretty common in many plants and animals, but psilocybin. Psilocybin is 4-phosphoryloxy-NN-dimethyltryptamine. This is slightly technical, but it is the only 4-phosphorylated indole on this planet. That's strange because the way biology works is if you have a molecule useful in a biological system, then in other biological systems you will get that same molecule or tiny variants; methylated or o-methylated. So here is psilocybin with the only hydrolation in the 4 position on the planet. Well now, they search for extraterrestrial life with radio telescopes waiting for a signal. Fine. Another way would be to search the biological inventory of this planet for something that looks like it did not evolve from the main, broad flow of animal and plant evolution. And if you do that, this 4-phosphorylated indole is sticking up there like a sore thumb. I'd like to see a paper about how many of these kinds of chemical anomalies are know to exist on this earth in life. And what's the explanation for this? I've never seen anybody discuss this kind of thing. And yet to my mind the psilocybin molecule is as artificial as a Coke bottle. JK: As it appears in nature.
TM: As it appears in nature. If you'll just inventory nature you'd pick this molecule up and say, 'Well what is this!'
JK: What's the difference between that and the 4-ring indole in LSD? Is it because it's produced synthetically?
TM: Well, LSD is a more complicated... LSD is produced quasi-synthetically. Usually they go from ergot, which is actually a natural product.
JK: It's also a fungus isn't it?
TM: Yes it is. It's not a mushroom, but it's a fungus. It's not a basidiomycelae. LSD is a more complicated molecule with a 3-dimensional architecture. Most psychedelic molecules are flat and planar, and in fact that's why they will fit in-between the base pairs of DNA. They're just little, thin sheets that shoot right in there. That I think is an incredibly peculiar situation that I've never heard anybody talk about. I mean, why is it that these drug molecules fit perfectly into DNA? Coincidence? Well, but the DNA is the core stuff, it's not letting anything in there that hasn't passed four billion years of evolutionary vetting. So, the fact that these molecules activate mind and have a relationship to the genetic material seems to me highly suggestive. Also, in here, the unsolved mystery of memory. Where are the memory traces? If your body changes every molecule every five years, then how can an eighty-year-old person remember the pattern of their grandmother's dress? I think that memory is one of those areas where reductionist science is sailing close to the rocks. I don't think you can produce a theory of memory out of reductionism.
JK: Has anyone ever mapped the physio-pharmacological change in the body when smoking DMT?
TM: You mean the actual breakdown pathway? No. The amount of research done on DMT is vanishingly small. It was discovered in '56 by a Czech. It was illegal by '66. There was a 10-year window of research. During those 10 years they didn't know how to do what we can do now, which is make what are called positron-emitting drugs. You see, if you make a radioactive drug, you actually put a radioactive atom into the drug. You can give that to cats and rats, but you can't give it to human beings because you're going to kill the animal four hours after administration. But with positron-emitting drugs, they give a strong signal in a CAT scan, and they're completely safe. And so what should be done now is some hot or warm DMT should be made. Dave Nichols could make it. He made hot harmine for Dennis. And then, give it to people in a CAT scan and see where it goes. I'm not sure what we would learn from that, but Dennis used positron-emitting LSD. In fact, he actually solved the mystery of where does LSD go in the human brain. 95% of the labeled LSD ended up in the clostrum, which was completely a surprise. The clostrum is an ancient brain sub-organ way in the back, way underneath.
JK: The reptilian sub-brain.
TM: Yeah, nobody knows what it does. Everybody thought that the LSD was going to flow to the neurocortex.
JK: That should be a sign right there that we're dealing with something that predates consciousness.
TM: Well, I saw in Science News two weeks ago that marijuana receptors have been discovered in the spleen. And it showed a chopped up piece of spleen tissue glowing with hot THC that was sticking all over it. Yeah, I think neurophysiology is as Gandhi said of Western civilization: 'It sounds like a good idea.' (Laughs)
JK: What would you say is the main difference between you and your theories set forth in The Food of the Gods and so forth and, say, Erich von Daniken [author of Chariots of the Gods]?
TM: Number one, I should say I have actually never read Erich von Daniken. But I know exactly what you're saying. The difference is I'm not making any assertions that I don't think other people can satisfy themselves concerning the truth of. It's one thing to be the spokesman for an experience that can only be had at the whim of the gods in lonely cornfields. What I'm advocating is simply that people examine these psychedelic substances that are throughout nature. If somebody thinks I'm full of shit, that's fine, but did they do their homework? Did they in fact investigate the phenomenon? That's all I'm asking. I mean, I can't believe that this is thought to be so radical. What other science carries out its program of research without ever coming in contact with the subject of its concern?
JK: But then there's also a rebuttal to that saying, 'Well, psychedelics make you crazy... they're dangerous, they're not to be tampered with!'
TM: Well isn't that what we're trying to find out? Do they make you crazy?
JK: Well, for a lot of people, I'd say for the majority of people, the FDA has ruled them dangerous and their research has been done for them. They don't need to make these distinctions any longer.
TM: Well, this is the larger question that you and I dealt with in a different context earlier, the infantilism of people. People can't be bothered to exercise their democratic rights. They can't be bothered to explore chemical states of mind on their own. Eventually, they probably won't even bother to have sex; it'll just come over the tube for them. There's an incredible abdication of individual responsibility and authenticity. That troubles me. Why should people trust the American government on the subject of psychedelic drugs? Has it ever been right about anything? I mean, any examples will be cheerfully entertained. Have they ever gotten it right? So suddenly they have the answers on something as subtle as psychedelic drugs? They got birth control wrong. They got abortion wrong. They got race rights wrong, women's rights wrong, gay rights wrong. Lousy foreign policy. Stupid space program. Miserable tax setup. Lousy healthcare program... and you want to hear their opinion on psychedelic drugs?
JK: Assertions that marijuana is a gateway drug, things like that are one of the big issues that they stand on. But it's a complete red herring. There's no way you could prove that. The only way it is a gateway to hard drugs is that it's in the same schedule. Cannabis is more like aspirin than it is like crack. (Laughs)
TM: Well, I'm not a conspiracy theorist. I don't think there's a conspiracy, but drugs, for centuries, for at least 600 years, have been enormous moneymakers for Western civilization. And by drugs I mean tea, coffee, sugar, opium. When this much money is being made I think governments are bought, or run scared. Or that it's a combination of the amounts of money that can be made and the enormous bureaucratic inertia of these agencies that are supposed to regulate all this and their corruptibility. So many people are making money off drugs that nobody can understand why it should be made legal. Pot right now in Sonoma County is $425.00 an ounce. Should we expect barefoot freaks to come out of the hills to parade for pot to be made legalized? My god, what would happen to them if pot were legalized? It's all that stands between them and going to live under a bridge. You know, they bring up these ships from Columbia and with high-speed speedboats they take the weed off. If you're in that scene in Miami you can make four trips a night to the mothership. You are nobody, and you make $300,000 per trip. You make $1.2 million a night. And you are not Mr. Big, you're nobody, you're just some flunky who takes the stuff off the ship. That's the kind of money that can be made in these drug deals. And these intelligence agencies, it costs a lot of money to murder newspaper editors and set up phony political parties and pay off demonstrators and do all this shit that they do. Take a flyer on drugs. It's so transparent that governments since the middle of the 19th century have been doing this. And what's happened is social consciousness in the meantime has evolved and certain practices previously deemed OK became morally odious. Slavery, that was a drug... and then the opium trade and how that happened. So, governments have simply distanced themselves and settled for kickbacks rather than launching the ships, unloading the stuff, and banking the money they now move into the background and they use Mafias, which are nothing more than off the books extensions of legitimate power, I think. I mean, the Mafia worked hand in hand with the U.S. Army during the invasion of Sicily. Lucky Luciano conferred with the Chief of Naval Operations on a daily basis and basically delivered Sicily to the 6th Army. Then they used the Mafia to break up the left-wing unions in Marseilles at the end of the war. So, I just think what governments can't do in the light of the day they allow Mafias to do, which they then loudly denounce, but in fact, the existence of these criminal syndicates is entirely at the pleasure of the government. That's not a conspiracy theory or even a paranoid view of things. I think that's a pretty, 'I mean, of course, of course, how else?'
JK: So basically you say there's no hope of drugs being legalized.
TM: No, I wouldn't say that. There's a lot going on. For one thing, people's consciousness is changing. And people have finally gotten the message that the relative risks of these things they were lied to about. I think most people now know that alcohol and tobacco are the two most destructive drugs on this planet. And it puzzles them at this point, 'How come then it is the way it is?' Eventually that puzzlement could turn into anger. But I would say it's 50/50 whether we'll make alcohol and tobacco illegal or legalize everything. I mean, think of the money to be made if alcohol and tobacco were made illegal.
JK: You were saying earlier... I just want to touch on this 'cause I saw a note of mine, that salvation will probably come in the form of art.
TM: The design process applied to human culture.
JK: The design process applied to human culture. When you're talking about the design process, you're talking about the imaginative construction of a system which works. How do art, singing, and dancing fit into this sort of design process which is a science?
TM: Well, the inspiration comes out of the unconscious. And so people have to put themselves in these right-brained states for this Gaian intentionality to be perceived. I mean, that's really what we're talking about.
JK: Although you never talk about it, when you're talking about these elves singing and creating this is a concept that Australian indigenous peoples have carried within them. Native American people singing the reality into existence over and over, singing creation, and singing life. It's their database, it's their social database is this art form. But to them it's not an art, it's how they communicate, it's how they see reality.
TM: Well, the word becoming flesh, singing it into existence. In some profound way that nobody understands, certainly I don't, we are imprisoned by our expectations, and somehow the change never happens until the expectations are deconditioned. I mean, as an example, if everyone thinks that black people and white people can't possibly have anything to do with each other, then they can't. So, the change must precede the fact.
JK: On the same level, if you have a government that assumes the relative ignorance of its citizens, it creates an ignorant population.
TM: You in fact make it so. You see, what happened in the 60's, the first postwar generation came of age that had been given what was then called a liberal education. When you're given a liberal education you read John Stuart Mill, Rousseau, Voltaire. What this makes you is a social critic. They said, my god, we're financing our own suicide! We don't want tens of millions of 25 year olds asking why we are not following John Stuart Mill's prescription for liberty. They said the universities must be turned into trade schools. Forget Western philosophy, art, and culture. Teach these people data entry, management skills, financial skills, and high tech. And this is what has happened. I think that the idea of universal, public liberal education was... they realized we'll all hang if we proceed along this path, and so they stopped it. And now people are given 6.5 hours of TV a day, the Brady Bunch, all this. Idiot jobs, idiot political choices, and people are completely diverted by... Michael Jordan's father's problems, baby so and so who was carried to term by a camel and a contract which is now being debated...
JK: Are you familiar with Noam Chomsky?
TM: Oh sure, yeah. He's an intrepid critic. I heard him on the radio the other day and it interested me. I identified with him. It's sort of hubris, I suppose.
JK: I identify the two of you together because although you come from very diverse angles, when you come down to it, you both have the same thing to say: educate yourself, open your mind to possibilities, the only change will come through a grass-roots sort of realization.
TM: Well, where I see us as similar is that the first love of both of us is utterly incomprehensible. In other words, I have listened to Chomsky lecture on his first love, which is transformational grammar, and you just come out holding your head and muttering, 'My god!' (Laughs) But I assume, without fully understanding it, that Chomsky has made a major field-redefining series of discoveries.
JK: I don't think the ramifications of what he's done will be known for another 30 to 40 years, and he at the moment is very wary of what he's done because he's revolutionized the field of rhetoric. I mean it's gonna be hardball now.
TM: Right. No, he's a great model and a very, very inspiring person. And relentless, as you must be in this social criticism.
JK: (Laughs) Well, to go along with the common view you don't need any support to back you up. If you have a scent of an opinion you have to have thousands of references and citations. You must do the research.
TM: You have to be impeccable, because they're gonna come after you every way they can think of.