Art Bell: You have a theory about time. Time is one of my favorite all-time topics, so before we launch into what you think about time, tell me what you think time is. In other words, is time our invention, or is time a real thing ... I realize we're measuring it, but in the cosmic scheme of things, is there really time?
Terence McKenna on the Art Bell Show, 1997-05-22
Terence McKenna: Yeah, you give me a perfect entree to launch into this thing. See, in the west we have inherited from Newton what is called the idea of pure duration, which is simply that time is sort of a place where things are placed so that they don't all happen at once; in other words, it's used as quality-less, it's an abstraction. In fact, I think when we carry out a complete analysis of time, I think what we're going to discover is that like matter, time is composed of elemental, discrete types. All matter, organic and inorganic matter, is composed of 104, 108 elements ... there's some argument. Time, on the other hand, is thought to be this featureless, qualityless medium, but as we experience it, as living feeling creatures, time has qualities. There are times when everything seems to go right, and times when everything seems to go wrong ...
AB: That's absolutely true. I've wondered about that all my life. There are times when, in effect, you can do no wrong, and there are other periods of time when you can do no right, no matter what you do.
TM: Well, so in looking at this, I created a vocabulary ... actually I borrowed it from Alfred North Whitehead ... but I think I'm on to something which science has missed, and it's this; it's that the universe, or human life or an empire or an ecosystem, any large scale or small scale process, can be looked at as a dynamic struggle between two qualities which I call habit and novelty. And I think they're pretty self-explanatory. Habit is simply repetition of established patterns, conservation, holding back what has already been achieved into a system, and novelty is the chance-taking, the exploratory, the new, the never-before-seen. And these two qualities — habit and novelty — are locked in all situations in a kind of struggle. But the good news is that if you look at large scales of time, novelty is winning, and this is the point that I have been so concerned to make that I think science has overlooked. If you look back through the history of the human race, or life on this planet, or of the solar system and the galaxy, as you go backward in time, things become more simple, more basic. So turning that on its head, we can say that as you come towards the present things become more novel, more complex. So I've taken this as a universal law, affecting historical processes, biological processes and astrophysical processes. Nature produces and conserves novelty, and what I mean by that, as the universe cools the original cloud of electron plasma, eventually atomic systems form, as it further cools molecular systems, then long-chain polymers, then non-nucleated primitive DNA-containing life, later complex life, multi-cellular life, and this is a principle that reaches right up to our dear selves. And notice, Art, it's working across all scales of being. This is something that is as true of human societies as it is of termite populations or populations of atoms in a chemical system. Nature conserves, prefers novelty. And the interesting thing about an idea like this is that it stands the existentialism of modern philosophy on its head ... you know, what modern, atheistic existentialism says is that we're a cosmic accident and damn lucky to be here, and any meaning you get out of the situation, you're simply conferring. I say, no ... by looking deeply into the structure of nature, we can discover that novelty is what nature produces and conserves, and if that represents a universal value system, then the human world that we find today with our technologies and our complex societies represents the greatest novelty so far achieved, and suddenly you have a basis for an ethic — that which advances novelty is good, that which retards it is to be looked at very carefully.
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