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08-07-2012, 04:55 AM
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Join Date: Dec 2011
| | Terence McKenna's story
I noticed many people in this forum appreciate Terence McKenna
. I am one of them: one particular McKenna lecture a friend sent to me a few years ago (this one: Dreaming Awake At The End Of Time (Terence McKenna) [FULL] - YouTube
) was an important element in a broader process by which I gave myself permission, and a little more latitude, to entertain ideas that seemed weird and illogical at first sight. Here was someone talking about incredibly weird and far out stuff, being open about his liking of 'drugs,' but at the same time talking with a straight face and coming across as someone very rational, sensible, and clearly highly erudite. That short-circuited a few wires in my head and helped open my mind to a whole segment of the intellectual universe that I had shut out up until that moment; to a kind of intellectual poetry that I found fascinating, fresh, and rejuvenating. For that, I will always be grateful to Terence.
Yet, several other of his 'ideas' I've always considered gratuitous and childish. That, in no way, diminished my appreciation of him, but I was always curious about how he could maintain this apparent cognitive dissonance in his mind. Well, it turns out he couldn't... read on.
As some of you may know, Dennis McKenna
, Terence's brother and a more-or-less well-known pharmacologist, is writing a book about Terence's life. Recently, Bruce Damer
gave a lecture in which he read an early draft of a key chapter of the book, wherein Dennis discusses Terence's struggles with reconciling his public persona with his true feelings about some of his own weirdest ideas. The talk was then published as podcast #316 in the "Psychedelic Salon
A few days after the original podcast, Terence's family requested that it be removed, for they were not in agreement with what Dennis had written about Terence. I never heard the original podcast, for I download those talks only very rarely. But my attention is always triggered when there is an attempt to white-wash anything. So I searched, and found, in a related Danish discussion forum I knew, a transcript of the relevant parts. If you want to know more, have a look here: Til alle McKenna-kendere - Psykedelisk filosofi
Just scroll down the Danish intro a tiny bit, till you find the transcript under the title "A Symbiosis Shattered, By Dennis McKenna". Don't try to auto-translate the page; the transcript is already in English.
Reading this, contrary to what Terence's family expected, only increased my respect for McKenna. The story portrays him as a human being, troubled like the rest of us. If you want to read it, do it quickly, for it may be removed.
08-07-2012, 09:17 PM
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Join Date: Dec 2008
Til alle McKenna-kendere - Psykedelisk filosofi
A Symbiosis Shattered |
By Dennis McKenna
(The Psychedelic Salon Podcast #316, 45:40 Ė 1:01:56)
By this time, Terence was getting a lot of attention for his Ďrapí, as he called it. He had been a featured speaker at a landmark conference on psychedelics held at UC, Santa Barbara in May, 1983 that featured a number of established and emerging luminaries, including Albert Hofmann, Sasha Shulgin, Andrew Weil, Ralph Metzner, Karl Ruck, Walter Houston Clark and others.
Terenceís edgy talk was titled: ďHallucinogens: Monkeys Discover Hyperspace A.K.A. Return to the Logos. It was quite unlike anything else presented there, and it was an important catalytic event in his emergence as a public persona. People loved hearing these wild ideas, and Terenceís mesmeric voice and articulate presentation made him the perfect spokesman.
It didnít matter that much that what he said was incomprehensible or nonsensical, his audience was uncritical and most did not have the education to challenge him, and few did. People just listened slack-jawed in fascination. I used to kid him that it didnít matter what he said; he could stand up and read the phonebook and people would hang on every word, because it wasnít what he said, it was that he said it so darned well. His rap was not science, it was not exactly philosophy, either, it was poetry and Terence was inventing himself as the Irish bard of the psychedelic zeitgeist.
By the time the 80ís faded into history, Terence was well ensconced in his iconic role as the chief spokesman for the new psychedelic culture, along with the timewave and the impending end of history, all thoroughly embellished with the collection of bizarre notions that we had dragged back from the jungles of La Chorrera twenty years previously. He had found his schtick and it was paying the bills, and he was out there on the public stage and there were growing legions of fans who loved to hear his rap.
There was no real competition for the niche he had carved out for himself; Leary was still around, but by this time old and boring. The original 60ís psychedelic message was about peace, free love, eastern wisdom and back to nature, Terenceís audience was mostly younger; genuine inhabitants of the global village predicted by McCluhan and rapidly morphing into reality. They had grown up bathed in the cool glow of television and far from being Luddite back-to-landers, these were world-spanning tech-nomads of an emerging global tribalism, the enthusiastic vanguard of the new, post-historical, archaic revival.
But even as Terence played out the role that destiny and fate had carved out for him, there were darker forces at work, well hidden from the glare of public adulation. As Terence became more visible as a public figure and began to accumulate a devoted following, on a personal level he became plagued by doubts about his ideas that he had vigorously espoused for years; and doubts about the role that the world had thrust upon him.
A strong, cognitive dissonance emerged between his public persona as the shaman guru and his own self-understanding that he was anything but an enlightened being. He didnít want to be the wise man guru telling people what to think, he wanted people to think for themselves, like Timothy Leary. That was the whole thrust of his message, he was human while others wanted him to be a bodhisattva.
Terence's pivotal, existential crisis came abruptly, some time in '88 or '89. Everything that happened after that event was fallout. I don't know exactly when it happened, and I don't know exactly what happened; I am piecing it together from what Kat has told me, and she has volunteered few details and I am reluctant to probe.
It happened when they were living for a time on the big island, and it was a mushroom trip they shared that was absolutely terrifying for Terence. It was terrifying because, for some reason, the mushroom turned on him. The gentle, wise, humorous mushroom spirit, that he had come to know and trust as an ally and teacher, ripped back the facade to reveal an abyss of utter existential despair. Terence kept saying, so Kat told me, that it was "a lack of all meaning, a lack of all meaning."
And this induced panic in Terence, and probably, I speculate, a feeling he was going mad. He couldn't deal with it. Kat's efforts to reassure him were fruitless. After that experience, he never again took mushrooms, and he took other psychedelics, such as DMT and ayahuasca, only on rare occasions and with great reluctance.
Whatever the specific content of the psychedelic experience might have been that triggered the cognitive collapse of Terence's worldview and precipitated his existential crisis, what was most remarkable was that he did not see it coming. He did not see it coming.
When one works deeply, and over long periods, with a particular plant teacher, there inevitably comes a point where the examination of the self comes front and center. One may learn much from psychedelics about archetypes, myths, and other dimensions, shamanic techniques, aliens and the construction of the cosmogonic and cognitive worldview, but sooner or later they hold up a mirror in which one must confront the self.
I believe Terence was not up for that. Up to that point, his existentially terrifying experience, his mushroom encounters had been very much about the Other, about receiving gnosis from a higher wisdom that was seemingly distinct from the self. But the source that originated the funny ideas about time, the extraterrestrial origins of the mushroom, and the entire metaphysics constructed around those ideas that Terence managed to make so appealing to his fans, were almost all entirely cerebral.
There was very little of self-reflection, emotion, or insight in those constructs. As long as it stayed on that level, Terence could handle it. When it became personal, and when it became about heart-related insights having to do with his emotional status and his relationships to others, I think it became very threatening for him. The mushrooms proffered the lesson, but it was not a lesson that Terence wanted to accept or acknowledge. It was too much about the self and no longer about the Other.
Since earliest childhood, ever since the incident in the sandbox, when Terence erected an emotional wall between himself and our father, Terence had been concerned to protect himself from almost all emotional entanglements, as a strategy for self-preservation. When the mushrooms kicked that wall down and forced him to confront his emotional alienation, the old, reactive defense mechanisms were activated and he could no longer bring himself to face it.
This incident also contributed to Terenceís growing doubts about his public role as an advocate of psychedelics, and the constellation of funny ideas that he represented in his role as the sage of hyperspace. The trickster mushroom had betrayed him. He could no longer take them, and the prospect of what they might present to him was too terrifying.
Yet there he was, in the public position of being the new Timothy Leary, the explorer-psychonaut who was supposedly plunging down the rabbit hole every weekend. Even now, many of Terenceís fans assume that during this period of his life he was taking high doses of mushrooms and DMT on a regular basis, and they are shocked to learn that that was not the case. Throughout most of the 90ís, Terence used psychedelics only on extremely rare occasions, and when he did take them the doses were modest.
His fans did not know this, but Terence knew it, and he knew that his public representation was disingenuous and, to his credit, it bothered him. Fundamentally, he wanted to be honest, but he could not be, and his fans would not let him be. Or at least that was his perception. His fans identified with him and, as a group, they were largely uncritical. Terence became so good at doing his schtick that it really didnít matter whether it made sense or not. It sounded great. It was what people wanted to hear, and it paid the bills, and it became the trap from which he could not escape.
On the rare occasions when someone did rise up to question the tenets of the faith, as the mathematician Matthew Watkins did with Terence and the timewave in 1996, rather than stimulate a thoughtful, productive, intellectual exchange that might have refined and extended the concept, it led to public ridicule in the form of vicious, personal attacks on the questioner, as other members of the fan base piled on. The fan base had become a cult, heretics were censured, mocked and shouted down.
In Terenceís defense, I donít believe he welcomed this kind of response. He did not lead the charge, he let others do it for him. I think that, in his heart of hearts, Terence would have welcomed honest discussion of some of the presumptions of his ideas, except that to do so would require that he step back from them, perhaps go into seclusion for a time while he conducted a careful reevaluation. But for that there was neither time nor resources nor incentive.
In fact, there was every incentive not to do that. After all, he was on the circuit. If the fans wanted to hear the schtick, the last thing they wanted to hear was Terence announce either that he had only been kidding and didnít really take any of it very seriously and never had, or that he had been overcome by doubts and needed some time to reconsider and take a harder look at the foundations of the theories. Either one of these responses would have been more honest; neither would have been well-tolerated by his fans. The one would have incurred their hostility on the dawning realization they had been duped, and the other would have severely interrupted cash-flows as the concepts were reworked and retooled.
Whatever had driven him in the months and years following La Chorrera to write extended screeds in cramped, microscopic script, and to construct the heavily annotated, hand-drawn graphs of time had long since left; he was no longer in the grip of the Logos. After all, he was on the circuit and there were plenty of adulating fans, many attractive, young women, a circuit of pleasing venues, good money, good food, love and admiration. All in response to what came naturally and effortlessly: the rap, the schtick Ė whatís not to like, why piss away a good gig?
The problem with this is that he didnít really believe much anymore, in the schtick or the concepts he purported to represent. He couldnít or wouldnít take psychedelics again to get recharged, perhaps to recover thereby some of the belief and passion. As a result, he became disillusioned with himself and with his fans. He could no longer be honest with either himself or his fans, and this led to a further cognitive dissonance. He began to feel even more like a fraud than ever; he became quite depressed. He became trapped in his own public persona like a caged performer on stage, and in response gradually lost respect for his fans.
In rereading the passage above, I have to say it comes off as a bit harsh and critical in a way that is perhaps unfair to Terence or to his fans. Not everything that Terence said in his public utterances was nonsense or made-up fabrications that sounded good and that had no real, logical validity, but not all or even most of Terenceís fans were gullible, unquestioning disciples.
Terence was at his best when he spoke on topics that were not directly related to the timewave or psychedelics. He was an astute observer and an incisive commentator on contemporary culture. He was prescient about many of the social, historical and technological forces that were creating, and are creating, our post-millennial world. This is the reason, I think, that the great body of Terenceís lectures survive in audio form on the net.
And twelve years after his death, people are still listening. Even though they date back to the 80ís and mid-90ís, they sound as fresh and as timely as if they were uttered yesterday. Terenceís genius was that he could envision the future that was imminent in current events. He could see that future and he could articulate it for the rest of us. He may have gotten the details wrong, and then hobbled by the assumptions of the metaphysics he constructed, but one only has to look around to realize that basically he got it remarkably right.
If Terence were resurrected tomorrow, he would be unsurprised by most of the events that have transpired since he left the corporeal realm in 2000. He were to have equally incisive observations and speculations about the future and how it is manifesting now, and how it will unfold over the decades of the 21st century.
Over the years since Terence died, Iíve been contacted by many people, most of them young, who tell me they owe Terence for everything they have learned, and that the subjects he discussed were more relevant to them than any other part of their educations. This is an enormous compliment for Terence and his talents. He had every right to feel proud of that and I hope he did. Terence gave people permission to think and to explore consciousness and to entertain funny ideas.
Terence, by example, taught it was fun to exercise the imagination; he taught that astonishment and wonder are the forces that drive our efforts to understand ourselves and the marvelous universe we inhabit. No matter how much we think we understand there is always infinitely more to be understood.
One of his favorite quotes from J. B. S. Halding, who said: ďMy suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.Ē Terence reveled in this insight, and it is more true today than when Halding first wrote it back in 1927.
08-08-2012, 12:55 AM
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Join Date: Apr 2010
Very interesting perspective, I had no idea. I enjoy Mckenna's lectures, but have always found some of his ideas pretty out there. His take on the I Ching and the singularity seems a little too close to numerology. He could also be insightful as well, though, such as on the subject of language and psychedelics.
Do you have a take on his Novelty theory, Bernardo? I'm not sure I even understand it fully.
08-08-2012, 01:46 AM
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Join Date: Dec 2011
Originally Posted by Sock
Do you have a take on his Novelty theory, Bernardo? I'm not sure I even understand it fully.
I look upon many of McKenna's ideas as intellectual art, so it doesn't matter much to me whether the ideas are right or wrong; only that they are beautiful...
The Time Wave has some beautiful underlying concepts that could still turn out to be true in a way vaguely related to the 'theory,' like the notion that time has qualities (i.e. quantum chance at a global level could, perhaps, show slight statistical deviations depending on different moments of time). The input data, however, (i.e. the particular sequence of I-Ching hexagrams) seems arbitrary, which disqualifies the idea from the category of real theories.
Does the 'theory' correctly model past historical events? I don't think so. McKenna had no objective way to associate novelty values with historical events, so his mapping was 100% subjective and, at least to some extent, arbitrary. Another person would probably map the same curve onto the same historical timeline in a very different way, choosing different historical events to highlight, and perhaps finding no match whatsoever. Therefore, I don't think the 'theory' predicts the future either.
But it is a delightful intellectual poem in its elegance, harmony, and sheer absurdity (I don't use the word 'absurdity' in a negative sense at all! Remember I once wrote a book titled 'Meaning in Absurdity'...
PS: For those who have no idea what this intellectual poem called 'Novelty Theory' means, here is the best explanation McKenna ever gave of it: Terence McKenna - Time and the I-Ching - YouTube