October 27, 2009


Nevertheless, our cultural crisis is deepening. Deepening mainly because we have very poor connections between our fragmented and autonomous psychic structures - within ourselves as individuals and within ourselves as a society. Our whole problem is that we can't communicate with each other, we can't express intention. And the psychedelics are sitting there waiting to unify us, to introduce us to the trans-linguistic intention. To carry us forward into a realm of appropriate cultural activity, which is to my mind the realm beyond history. Beyond history lies effortless and appropriate cultural activity. And nature has proceeded us, as it always does, by laying out models that can be followed to realize this.
As an example and by request, I'll point out that the 19th century had a titular animal. Its titular animal was the horse, idealized as the steam engine, the Iron Horse. Marx talked about the locomotive of history, and there was this whole focusing on the horse archetype, which in the 20th century gave way to the titulary animal, the raptor, the bird of prey, as exemplified by high-performance fighter aircraft, as the kind of ultimate union of man and machine in some kind of glorification of the completion of a certain set of cultural ideals. You see?
Well, in thinking about this and in thinking about how language is the cultural frontier of our species, I went to nature looking for models of how we might move beyond the bird of prey, which when you think about it, it is the American symbol. It was also the symbol of the Third Reich. A lot of creepy scenes have actually been into birds of prey ... when Alaric the Visigoth burned Eleusis, it was the crow that fluttered on his battle standard as the greasy smoke swept by. So these dark birds have been with us.
Anyway, in looking for a new titulary animal and drawing the conclusion of what it would mean, I was drawn to look – strangely enough – at cephalopods, octopi. Because I felt, first of all, they are extremely alien. The break between our line of development in the phylogenetic tree and the mollusca, which is what a cephalopod is, is about 700 million years ago. Nevertheless, and many of you who are students of evolution know, that when evolutionists talk about parallel evolution, they always drag out the example of the optical system of the octopi. Because: Isn't this astonishing? It's very much like the human eye, and yet it developed entirely independently, and this shows how the same set of external factors impinging on a raw gene pool will inevitably sculpt the same organs or attain the same end, and so forth and so on.

Well, the optical capacity of octopi is one thing, what interested me was their linguistic organization. They are virtually entirely nervous system. First of all, they have eight arms in the case of the octopods, and ten arms in the case of the squid, the decapods. So coordinating all these organs of manipulation has given them a very evolved, capable nervous system as well as a highly evolved ocular system. But what is really interesting about them is that they communicate with each other by changing the color and texture of their skin and their physical shape. You may have known that octopi could change colors, but you may have thought it was camouflage or something very passive like that. It isn't that at all. They have a vast repertoire of traveling bars, dots, blushes, merging pastels, herringbone patterns, tweeds, mottled this-and-thats, can blush from apricot through teal into dove gray and on to olive ... do all of these things communicating to each other. That is what their large optical system is for. It is to be able to see each other. The other thing which octopi can do – besides having these chromatophores on the surface of their skin – they can change the texture of the skin surface: can make it rugose, papillaed, smooth, lobed, rubbery, runneled, so forth and so on. And then, of course, being shell-less molluscs, they can hide arms and display certain parts of themselves and carry on a dance.
When you analyze what is going on here, what at first seems like merely fascinating facts from natural history, begins to take on a more profound aspect. Because it is an ontological transformation of language that is going on in front of you. Note that by being able to communicate visually, they have no need of a conventionalized culturally reinforced dictionary. Rather, they experience pure intent of each other without ambiguity because each octopus can see what is meant – this is very important – can see what is meant.
And I think that this heralds, or could be made to herald, a transformation in our own definitions of language and communication: what we need is to see what we mean. It's not without consequence or implication, that when we try to communicate the notion of clarity of speech, we always shift into visual metaphors: I see what you mean, he painted a picture, his description was very colorful. It means that when we intend to indicate a lack of ambiguity and communication, we shift to visual analogies. This can in fact be actualized. And in fact, this is what is happening in the psychedelic experience. There we discover, just under the surface of human biological organization, the next level in the organization of language: It's the ability to generate some kind of acoustical hologram that is manipulated by linguistic intent.

Now don't ask me how this happens, because nobody knows how it happens. At this point it's magic. Nevertheless, the fact is it does happen - you can have this experience. It represents a synesthesia in the presence of ongoing communication. It is, in fact, telepathy. It is not what we thought telepathy would be, which I suppose if you're like me, you imagine telepathy would be hearing what other people think. It isn't that. It's seeing what other people mean. And them also seeing what they mean. So that once something has been communicated, both parties can walk around it and look at it the way you study a Brancusi or a Giacometti in an art gallery.
By eliminating the ambiguity of the audio signal and substituting the concreteness of the visual image, the membrane of separation, that allows the fiction of our individuality, can be temporarily overcome. You see? And the temporary overcoming of the illusion of individuality is a much richer notion of ego-death than the kind of white-light, null-states that it has imagined to be. Because the overcoming of the illusion of individuality has political consequences. The political consequences are that one can love one's neighbor, you see, because the commonalty of being is felt. Not reasoned toward, or propagandized into, or behaviorally reinforced, but felt.
This is why there is this persistent notion, which accompanies these psychedelic compounds, of a new political order based on love. This was a hard thing to say in the panhandle in 1965, it's not easy to say in heavy-metal L.A. in 1987. But it seems to be the fact of the matter that love, which poets have celebrated for eons as inaffable, may in fact have certain inaffable dimensions attached to it, but it may in fact be more affable than we had previously cared to imagine. And it's the invoking of the affability of love that has to do with discovering the shared birthright, the atemporal dimension that is co-present with this reality, a dimension that is a vast reservoir of anchoring – existential anchoring – for each and all of us in our lives.
So my response to feeling the political pull of this, feeling the power to transform language, that resided in these things, was to go to the people who I thought would know most about it: the shamans for whom hallucinogenic shamanism has never been an issue, for whom the notion that you're supposed to do it on the natch is a patent absurdity. I mean, if you're serious about doing it on the natch I suggest you eliminate all food. Because this notion of the pristine self somehow riding above the muck of the world, carrying on a spiritual evolution is absolute foolishness. We are made of the stuff of the world.
People, who do not confront the presence of the hallucinogenic possibility, are turning their back on their birthright. In the same way that if you do not experience sex throughout your life you are turning your back on your birthright. After all we could argue that to allow another person to touch you, is to not do it on the natch, right? But, dear friends, we're slicing too close to the bone here to take that approach. It's much better, I think, to open to the world. The world is communication. Nature is the great teacher. All human gurus are simply distillations of the wave of nature that is coming at you. So you can just short-circuit the whole human boil-down, and go straight to the executive suite by putting yourself under a tree in the wilderness. The Great Ones all have said this but they need to be taken more seriously on the subject of their own expendability. Me too.

Going to the Amazon with these kinds of notions and looking at what had been achieved there, I came to have a vision then of the future that could be. That we are sort of hurling ourselves into a new Stone Age where the fruits of the prodigal wandering, that I discussed in such detail last night, can be used to infuse new meaning into that paradise. The imagination of man and woman is so incomparably rich and exerts such an attraction on us as the builder-monkey that we have to honor that. We cannot demonize that and preach a kind of naturalism that if actually put in place would cause the starvation of tens of millions of people. We have passed the point where some kind of Luddite reform can save us. It's only, I think, very self-indulgent elites that can preach voluntary simplicity, because a lot of people are experiencing involuntary simplicity. And, unless you're one of them it rings rather hollow to be told that Zen values are best.
Re-inserting ourselves into nature is inspiration for cultural design – that's what it is, it's not flight from the design process but a re-invigoration of it.
Some of you may be aware of the concept of nanotechnology in which everything is built at the molecular level. By studying the mechanisms of the cell and the immune system and DNA, we begin to have a picture of how molecules and atoms are the machine parts of a microcosmic world, that if we were elf chemists, we could make our way into and create anything that we could imagine. I mean, I can foresee a world where all machines will be made by DNA-like polymers that will code base materials into larger and larger aggregates.

The minaturization of our world is a great frontier. As culture becomes more enveloping, its physical manifestation should become less material. You see? So the ultimate notion is of the world turned back to the form it held – let's say – 35,000 years ago, in which people lived in an environment of entirely climaxed natural perfection. However, behind their eyelids lies a culturally and consensually validated data phase space that is culture, civilization. Turn each of us into a telepathic aquarium that has a direct pipeline to the general ocean of mind and being. This is possible. In fact, its not only possible, it may be the only decent solution: to download ourselves into another dimension. (And I want to note in passing the collapse of Max Headroom. What a tragedy I think that is that his last show was tonight. This was a weird force for cultural transformation, but to be applauded. If anybody here tonight has anything to do with it, I wish them luck.) But this sort of notion ... the Max Headroom people and the William Gibson people have a very high-tech take on this, because they are interested in accentuating this tight blue-jean, cyber-punk kind of notion. But in fact the worlds that they describe will have many many different social sub-groups and social eco-systems forming in them. What the future really means is choice to become who we are, to flower out, to find our own way.
McLuhan saw all this 20 years ago: He said that the rise of global electronic feudalism would create an atomistic fragmentation of culture. It may well be that within 50 years the largest organizational entity on the planet will be corporations with a few million loyal employees, and all larger social institutions will have disappeared because they were unable to command loyalty in a social environment where direct experience has become empowered. And this empowering of direct experience, this return to the feminine, this legitimizing of the presence of the vaster regions of the unconscious – these are all aspects of this emerging paradigm of the spirit. "Understanding and Imagination in the Light of Nature", which is what this two-night party has been called, is a definition of the spirit. Understanding and imagination in the light of nature – in other words, true understanding, poetic imagination, standing as a mirror before nature as object, will cause the hologrammatic presence of the spirit to magically appear. It will be then seen to be a kind of emergent quality of the situation that was previously masked, simply because the elements had not fallen into the correct arrangement. And as we move forward through time over the next 25 years there will be many prophets of the transcendental object at the end of time, many takes.
The important thing is to recall Godel's Incompleteness Theorem and to always recognize the provisional nature of the metaphysical goods that you're going to be sold. Nobody has the faintest notion of what's going on. It's important to keep that in mind. If you have that in mind, then the game proceeds much more cleanly. What is ahead of us is true high adventure.