2012 and the "Watkins Objection"
to Terence McKenna's "Timewave Theory"
by Matthew Watkins
As December 21st, 2012 approaches, more and more people seem to want to know about this. So I shall attempt to explain.
The first thing I want to make clear is that the term "Watkins Objection" was something Terence McKenna came up with, not me (that would have been unforgivably arrogant). He responded to my critique of his "Timewave Theory" by posting a webpage which described it with that label. I think his choice of the term reflected his desire to frame his theory within the language of "serious" academia: "Watkins Objection" sounds like something which belongs in the same category as the "Riemann Hypothesis", "Poincaré Conjecture", "Wigner's Surmise" or "Tate's Thesis" (these, unlike my "Objection", all being serious fixtures in higher mathematics).
In 1996, when I was in my mid-20s, December 2012 seemed like some distant future, but here we are (I'm writing this in August 2010) with not much more than two years to go. Back then, I wrote up an account of our meeting and discussion, explaining my "Objection" in great detail. This was written while events were still fresh in my mind and was put up on the Web for the historical record, but I doubt that many people have actually read it. With its various elements of Mayan calendrics, fractals and the I Ching, not to mention its origins in a psilocybin experience, some people will instinctively dismiss McKenna's Timewave Theory as nonsense — they don't feel the need to read a serious refutation of it. Other people just want to believe it — it has become an item of faith — so they're not going to read something which will only serve to undermine that faith. In any case, the arguments look quite technical to anyone who's not involved in the mathematical sciences ... even though there's not really any serious mathematics involved (it just looks like that because of the convoluted way in which TM set out his theory).
So, here's a condensed account for people who can't be bothered with all the technical details.
1. I didn't set out with the intention of "debunking" the Timewave Theory. Having been much impressed by a lot of what TM had to say in the early 90s, I was interested to know more about how he'd arrived at this theory. So I contacted him and asked. But the more I found out, the less inclined I was to take it seriously.
2. We met in Palenque in the spring of 1996, where he was leading workshops at a entheogenic plants conference, and had three long discussions where he listened carefully to what I had to say. By the end of this, he conceded that his theory didn't stand up to serious scrutiny and expressed a willingness to admit this to the general public. I remember being impressed by this wish to spread truth, despite it involving the demolition of a major part of his life's work.
3. Once he got home to Hawaii, though, he posted a webpage describing our discussion and giving his version of my critique of the Timewave Theory. I felt this to be entirely unsatisfactory, if not outright misleading (I don't have access to a copy of this now — he took it down fairly quickly). Once I'd expressed my disappointment about this to him, he was fully cooperative and let me write up my own detailed version of the events for his website. That piece (with a little introduction by TM) can be found here — he entitled it "Autopsy for a Mathematical Hallucination".
4. It seems that TM wasn't able to let go of the theory, though. He found a physicist called John Sheliak who was willing to look at the original theory, and my "Objection", and then put together an incredibly dense and unnecessarily complicated document involving "vector analysis". TM called this (ironically?) the "Sheliak Clarification" and (laughably) presented it as some kind of major scientific breakthrough. I'm quite certain that even fewer people have read this than ever read my original "Objection".
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