Terence McKenna Talks to The Psychozoic Press by Elvin D. Smith
Originally published in the underground magazine The Psychozoic Press
Issues 5-9 (1983-1984)
Editor's note: This is the earliest known interview with Terence McKenna,
conducted near the start of his career as a public speaker
(usually at Esalen Institute in Big Sur and at Shared Visions in Berkeley).
Elvin D. Smith's IntroductionWhen is a book more than a book? When the material presented therein triggers within the mind of the reader conceptualizations greater than those which can be expected as a consequence of logical deduction.
The Invisible Landscape (1975) by Terence and Dennis McKenna is just such a book. When Terence sent me a review copy of this book some time ago, I was astounded, to put it mildly. The authors have shown how scientific knowledge in fields such as quantum physics, chemistry, genetics, and information theory interfaces with subjective metaphysical precepts manifested by the psychedelic experience. Science, they're telling us, has nearly reached the end of its rope by restricting its investigations to aspects of the physical world which can be repeatedly produced in controlled situations. Science has a difficult time getting an investigative handle on phenomena such as telepathy, UFO experiences, and similar paranormal phenomena, because these situations are difficult, if not impossible, to investigate from the laboratory bench.
Terence and his brother are also the authors of Psilocybin: Magic Mushroom Grower's Guide (1976), written under the pseudonyms O. T. Oss & O. N. Oeric. Terence has lectured extensively on hallucinogens and consciousness at the Esalen Institute, and is currently working on another book soon to be published. His brother is busy preparing a doctoral thesis on plant hallucinogens.
You could say Grower's Guide launched the starship and provided the initial acceleration. Now that we're so close to the hyperdimensional shock wave — as we transfer into the higher dimensions — the ontological linguistic transformation that Terence McKenna speaks of becomes necessary — indeed, the most obvious choice — for communication. There is quite a shock front to get the hyperdimensional shift to become probabilistically localized, but his discussion on time and the I Ching in The Invisible Landscape make the potentialities distinctly visible. Yet what I first noticed about Terence was not what he was saying, but how he was saying it. (Those of you who have heard him speak or heard his tapes will know what I'm talking about.) Terence, and his brother too, both have a peculiar way of enunciating every word with a lucidity unlike any other speaker I've heard. Perhaps he has access to a 7-element hyperdimensional communications processor or something. "Fascinating", as Spock would say. He's probably a skilled hypnotist besides...
Terence McKenna, author, lecturer, and shamanic explorer of the realm of psychedelic states, has been described by some as being "so far out, nobody knows what he's talking about", and by others as "the most innovative thinker our times". You be the judge.
The writings of the McKenna brothers are fascinating to me, not because I agree with everything they are saying (I don't), but because they are presenting ideas which are self-propagating. The Invisible Landscape triggered more questions in my mind than it answered; the impression is that the ideas presented are just the tip of the iceberg, a single needle on the redwood tree, one cell within the nervous system. In this sense, The Invisible Landscape is a book that's more than a book. I decided to talk to the author.
The InterviewPsychozoic Press: Mr. McKenna, what's the most important shortcoming as you see it of science's approach to studying the world around us?
Terence McKenna: Science is interested in the kind of phenomena where, when you recreate the initial conditions, the same effect is always observed. And yet in life, you never experience the same sort of initial conditions; they're always different. Every set of processes that are really interesting has many end states. So you can think of science as a kind of large-grid description of the world. It only explains the simple phenomena that can be repeatedly triggered. All the complex phenomena — consciousness, memory, culture — these things slip right through it.
PP: In the lecture you gave at the Esalen Institute on "Tryptamine Hallucinogens and Consciousness", you talked about calling yourself an explorer. You referred to LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, and other hallucinogens as each being a distinct phenomenological universe. Would the physics of concrescence you're talking about in The Invisible Landscape be a sort of proto-science which seeks to integrate these various phenomenological universes?
TM: "Concrescence" is a philosophical term taken from Alfred North Whitehead. It means the growing together of something. And on the highest level, the growing together of everything. And in that sense, yes, these psychedelic drugs anticipate future states of human consciousness. The historical process is an exploration of these psychedelic states at the cultural level. You can actually say society is becoming more psychedelic; it means that society is becoming more and more reflective of the modalities of mind, and that process can be seen as an informational "growing together", a concrescence.
PP: Yes. When you stop to think about the way thinking has evolved in physics, you can see that it covers larger and larger domains in trying to describe the material aspects of three-dimensional matter.
TM: Well, science has outsmarted itself by pushing its analysis of the physical world to such a limit that it becomes recursive. You discover that you're no longer talking about velocity and momentum and charge and spin, you're talking about syntax and language and point-of-view and perspective and emphasis. The language of psychology almost emerges as a necessary consequence of examining matter at the very deepest level. This is symbolized by the ouroboric snake taking its tail in its mouth. Any analysis pursued deeply enough will lead back to the question of who analyzes, and this is what has happened in physics.
PP: Some of the labels they have come up with to name these different qualities reflect that too: "charm", "color" and "beauty". The problems they have with labeling these things are kind of interesting in themselves.
TM: Well, they intuitively feel them to be primary qualities, so they want to label them with primary philosophical values. It's very Platonic — almost Pythagorean.
PP: Yes, I was reading something not long ago about the "truth" quark — that's getting pretty fundamental.
TM: That's right, the search is on for the truth quark, now that naked beauty has been observed!
The remainder of this interview is available on the CD-ROM.
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