Terence Kemp McKenna (November 16, 1946 – April 3, 2000) was an American writer, philosopher, and ethnobotanist, who advocated paths of shamanism, and the use of hallucinogenic substances (primarily plant-based psychedelics) as a means of increasing many forms of human awareness. His ideas often revolve around his novelty theory of the universe.
- I've been thinking like this since 1968, talking about it like this since 1980, but I never knew what... how it would come or what it would be. In the last few years, with the rise of a technological, a cultural artefact like the internet, I now see how it will make its way into the world. We are building the nervous system of the human oversoul. We are individual units operating under social rules that are pushing us ever closer toward dissolving our societies... societies—human groups run by rules—into telepathic collectivities of some sort. ... We have come to the end of our sojourn in matter. We have come to the end of our separateness.
- Light of the Third Millenium Chicago, 1996, 50m09s
- Class boundaries, language boundaries, gender boundaries—all this stuff is melting. The universe seems to be evolving toward ever greater connection, and the only end that can come for that process is the moment when every point is connected to every other point. This is probably the most important moment. As I understand the tree of life, it’s a metaphor for a certain kind of connectivity. It’s a global, archetypal symbol of life understood in a certain way. An example of this tree metaphor is the internet. I really think that the internet is the tip of the evolutionary iceberg. In other words, people are waiting for Jesus to come. They’re waiting for the flying saucers to bail them out. They’re waiting for Earth changes. Meanwhile, the internet is here. The internet is more life-changing than an alien invasion, and far more interesting than an Earth change. It’s here. Information is power. And, it’s the power not to build, but to dissolve what has been built—to dissolve the boundaries.
- I've thought of many, many ways of expressing this that would make it less catastrophically radical. A very simple way that makes everybody feel a little better is to suppose that what happens on December 21, 2012, is that physicists who've been laboring for some time toward the technology of time travel, actually succeed. Suddenly the timewave is fulfilled, and yet the heavens do not fall, and angels don't appear to lift us into paradise. The reason history ends at that date is because after the invention of time travel the notion of a seriality of events ceases to have any meaning. Everybody agrees history ended yesterday. We then experience life in a posthistorical atemporal bubble where you not only tell where you live, but when you live.
- The alternative physics is a physics of light. Light is composed of photons, which have no antiparticle. This means that there is no dualism in the world of light. The conventions of relativity say that time slows down as one approaches the speed of light, but if one tries to imagine the point of view of a thing made of light, one must realize that what is never mentioned is that if one moves at the speed of light there is no time whatsoever. There is an experience of time zero. … The only experience of time that one can have is of a subjective time that is created by one's own mental processes, but in relationship to the Newtonian universe there is no time whatsoever. One exists in eternity, one has become eternal. The universe is aging at a staggering rate all around one in this situation, but that is perceived as a fact of this universe—the way we perceive Newtonian physics as a fact of this universe. One has transited into the eternal mode. One is then apart from the moving image; one exists in the completion of eternity.
- "New Maps of Hyperspace", a talk given at the invitation of Ruth and Arthur Young of the Berkeley Institute for the Study of Consciousness, 1984
- Human history represents such a radical break with the natural systems of biological organization that preceded it, that it must be the response to a kind of attractor, or dwell point that lies ahead in the temporal dimension. ... History is ending. I mean, we are to be the generation that witnesses the revelation of the purpose of the cosmos. History is the shock wave of the eschaton. History is the shock wave of eschatology, and what this means for those of us who will live through this transition into hyperspace, is that we will be privileged to see the greatest release of compressed change probably since the birth of the universe.
- For approximately 500 years [science's] argument for its pre-eminence was that it could create beautiful toys: aircraft, railroads, global economies, television, spacecraft. But that is a fool’s argument for truth! I mean, that’s after all how a medicine show operates, you know: the juggler is so good, the medicine must be even better! This is not an entirely rational way to proceed.
- The World and Its Double
- Novelty is density of connection. ... We are in the grip of some kind of an attractor, and when we look back at history, we can have a sense, I think, that we have never been here before. But we are so accustomed to causal thought, that we assume we have been pushed here, pushed here by historical necessity, by bad political decisions, by the vicissitudes of evolution (cultural and otherwise). I don’t think so. I think we have been pulled here, that we are under the aegis of a kind of an attractor. Some people would call it a “destiny”, but what it is is a dream that is pulling us deeper and deeper into the adventure of existential becoming. And faster and faster—that’s the other thing. Deeper and deeper, faster and faster, so that the rate of change that people were accustomed to before the Industrial Revolution, for example—we can barely conceive of such slow-moving, stately, meta-stable societies. On the other hand, within the 20th Century, the acceleration has been even more intense, and continues to accelerate.
- First of all, why a descent into novelty rather than an ascent? It was my thing to do as I wanted to do it, and it seemed to me—the way I thought of time was I thought of it like a river. And so I thought of it as flowing toward its lowest level. And I thought of history as a river and Eternity as the ocean. So naturally history flows downhill to reach Eternity. I also like the fact that when the descent in elevation is rapid, the river runs faster, and when the landscape is almost flat, the river broadens out and meanders. So it was to preserve this idea of time as a fluid. The other reason is a mathematical reason. It has to do with the fact that if we have novelty moving downward, then the maximum of novelty is zero.
- The human neocortex is the most densely ramified and complexified structure in the known universe.
- Alien Dreamtime 26–27 February 1993
- The view of science is that all processes ultimately run down, but entropy is maximized only in some far, far away future. The idea of entropy makes an assumption that the laws of the space-time continuum are infinitely and linearly extendable into the future. In the spiral time scheme of the timewave this assumption is not made. Rather, final time means passing out of one set of laws that are conditioning existence and into another radically different set of laws. The universe is seen as a series of compartmentalized eras or epochs whose laws are quite different from one another, with transitions from one epoch to another occurring with unexpected suddenness.
- True Hallucinations (1993)
- Progress of human civilization in the area of defining human freedom is not made from the top down. No king, no parliament, no government ever extended to the people more rights than the people insisted upon. And I think we've come to a place with this psychedelic issue. And we have the gay community as a model, and all the other communities, the ethnic communities. We simply have to say, Look: LSD has been around for fifty years now, we just celebrated the birthday. It ain't going away. WE are not going away. We are not slack-jawed, dazed, glazed, unemployable psychotic creeps. We are pillars of society. You can't run your computers, your fashion houses, your publishing houses, your damn magazines, you can't do anything in culture without psychedelic people in key positions. And this is the great unspoken truth of American Creativity. So I think it's basically time to just come out of the closet and go, "You know what, I'm stoned, and I'm proud."
- "True Hallucinations" (1993)
- Re: Evolution (24 June 1994) This is a paraphrase of William Blake's dictum: "Truth cannot be told, so as to be understood, and not be believ'd."
- We are caged by our cultural programming. Culture is a mass hallucination, and when you step outside the mass hallucination you see it for what it's worth.
- Eros and the Eschaton lecture (1994)
- I'm not trying to sign people up to a creed, I'm much more interested in the people that disagree. These ideas are powerful but this isn't mysticism in the ordinary sense to be protected by mumblings about faith and all that. This is the real thing.
-  i-D magazine interview (1996)
- Conspiracy theory, in my humble opinion … is a kind of epistemological cartoon about reality. I mean, isn't it so simple to believe that things are run by the greys, and that all we have to do is trade sufficient fetal tissue to them and then we can solve our technological problems, or isn't it comforting to believe that the Jews are behind everything, or the Communist Party, or the Catholic Church, or the Masons. Well, these are epistemological cartoons, you know, it is kindergarten in the art of amateur historiography.
I believe that the truth of the matter is far more terrifying, that the real truth that dare not speak itself, is that no one is in control, absolutely no one. … Nobody is in control. This stuff is ruled by the equations of dynamics and chaos. Now, there may be entities seeking control—the World Bank, the Communist Party, the rich, the somebody-or-others—but to seek control is to take enormous aggravation upon yourself. … Because this process which is underway will take the control-freak by the short and curly and throw them against the wall. It's like trying to control a dream, you see.
The global destiny of the species is somehow unfolding with the logic of a dream.
- "We have to stop CONSUMING our culture. We have to CREATE culture. DON'T watch TV, DON'T read magazines, don't even listen to NPR. Create your OWN roadshow. The nexus of space and time where you are — NOW — is the most immediate sector of your universe. And if you're worrying about Michael Jackson or Bill Clinton or somebody else, then you are disempowered. You're giving it all away to ICONS. Icons which are maintained by an electronic media so that, you want to dress like X or have lips like Y... This is shit-brained, this kind of thinking. That is all cultural diversion. What is real is you, and your friends, your associations, your highs, your orgasms, your hopes, your plans, your fears. And, we are told No, you're unimportant, you're peripheral — get a degree, get a job, get a this, get that, and then you're a player. You don't even want to play that game. You want to reclaim your mind and get it out of the hands of the cultural engineers who want to turn you into a half-baked moron consuming all this trash that's being manufactured out of the bones of a dying world."
- Reclaim Your Mind, from the lecture "Eros and the Eschaton"
- I think that people don't understand. As the Firesign Theater used to say, 'Everything you know is wrong.' But that is a very liberating understanding, because if everything you know is wrong, then all the problems you thought were insoluble can be framed differently. And there's a way to take the world apart and put it back unrecognizably. We don't really understand what consciousness is at the really deep levels. With some of the tryptamine hallucinogens, you see into possibilities where questions like, 'are you alive?' 'are you dead?' 'are you you?' seem to have been transcended. I think people have a very narrow conception of what is possible with reality, that we're surrounded by the howling abyss of the unknowable and nobody knows what's out there.
- Spacetime Tsunami, Interview with Carla Sinclair, bOING bOING #10.
- Because the fact is, what blinds us to the presence of alien intelligence is linguistic and cultural bias operating on ourselves. The world which we perceive is a tiny fraction of the world which we can perceive, which is a tiny fraction of the perceivable world, you see. We operate on a very narrow slice based on cultural conventions. So the important thing, if synergizing progress is the notion to be maximized (and I think it's the notion to be maximized), is to try and locate the blind spot in the culture — the place where the culture isn't looking, because it dare not — because if it were to look there, its previous values would dissolve, you see. For Western Civilization that place is the psychedelic experience as it emerges out of nature.
- "Understanding and Imagination in the Light of Nature"
- Thinkers are not a welcome addition to most social situations.
- quoted from an interview with Terence McKenna in How to be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson
Psychedelic Society (1984)
- From a speech given by Terence McKenna in 1984
- What blinds us, or what makes historical progress very difficult, is our lack of awareness of our ignorance. And [I think] that beliefs should be put aside, and that a psychedelic society would abandon belief systems [in favor of] direct experience and this is, I think much, of the problem of the modern dilemma, is that direct experience has been discounted and in its place all kind of belief systems have been erected... If you believe something, you're automatically precluded from believing in the opposite, which means that a degree of your human freedom has been forfeited in the act of this belief.
- Our ability to destroy ourselves is the mirror image of our ability to save ourselves, and what is lacking is the clear vision of what should be done... What needs to be done is that fundamental, ontological conceptions of reality need to be redone. We need a new language, and to have a new language we must have a new reality... A new reality will generate a new language, a new language will fix a new reality, and make it part of this reality.
- I believe that liberation, or let's even say, decency as a human quality, is an actual resonance and anticipation of this future perfected state of humanity. We can will the perfect future into being by becoming microcosms of the perfect future, and no longer casting blame outward on institutions or hierarchies of responsibility and control, but by realizing the opportunities here, the responsibilities here, and the two may never be congruent again, and the salvation of your immortal soul may depend on what you do with the opportunity.
- Orient yourself towards the psychedelic experience, towards the psychedelic phenomenon, as a source of information. A mirror image of the psychedelic experience in hardware are computer networks. Computer networks, paradoxically enough, are a deeply feminizing influence on society, where, in hardware, the unconscious is actually being created. It's as though we took the Platonic bon mot about how "if God did not exist, Man would invent him", and say "if the unconscious does not exist, humanity will invent it" — in the form of these vast networks able to transfer and transform information. This is in fact what we are caught up in, is a transforming of information. We have not physically changed in the last 40,000 years; the human type was established at the end of the last glaciation. But change, which was previously operable in the biological realm, is now operable in the realm of culture.
- Because too much we have lived in the light of the idea that your ideology will be dictated to you essentially by geography! And if you're born in India, you'll find out that the Cosmos is one way; if you're born in Brooklyn, you find out it's another way. What we need to do is transcend these localized grids of fate, which make us what we are but don't want to be.
- History is the in-rushing toward what the Buddhists call the realm of the densely packed, a transformational realm where the opposites are unified.
- The psychedelics are a red-hot social issue, ethical issue, whatever the term for it is, and it is precisely because they are a deconditioning agents: they will cast doubt in you if you are a Hasidic rabbi, a Marxist anthropologist, or an altar boy, because their business is to dissolve belief systems, and they do this very well and then they leave you with the raw datum of experience, what William James called in infants 'the blooming, buzzing experience.' And out of that you reconstruct the world, and you need to understand that it is a dialog where your decisions, the projection of your grammar onto the intellectual space in front of you, is going to gel into the mode of being. We actually create our own universe because we are all operating with our own private languages.
- We have numerous, extremely naïve assumptions built into our thinking, and our most venerable explanatory engines, such as science, happen also to be our oldest explanatory engines, and therefore they have built into them the most naïve and unexamined assumptions.
- Yet science is going to tell you that the only things worth describing are those phenomena that can be repeatedly triggered. This is being these are the only phenomena that science can describe and that's the name of the game as far as they are concerned. But we, to claim our freedom, to take advantage of the tiny moment between immense abysses of unknowability, perhaps death, perhaps other reincarnations, perhaps transitions into other life forms, these things we don't know, but in the moment of being human we have the unique opportunity to figure things out. And I have the faith that it is possible, sometime, somewhere, to have a conversation, perhaps no progress will be made until the ninth hour, but to have a conversation in which reality could be literally pulled to pieces, beyond the point of reconstructing.
- We have to claim anarchy and realize that systems have a life of their own that is anti-humanist. There is definitely an anti-humanist tendency in all systems.
- We must begin to send out ideological visions rather than be the consumers of them. We need to turn off the metaphorical televisions which are hooking us into the network of cultural assumptions dictated from the Pentagon and Madison Avenue and what-have-you. We need, instead, to turn on our terminals, and to begin to interact with like-minded people throughout the world and establish this new intellectual order, which will be then the salvation of mankind, I firmly believe– because it is a collectivity, and people will then feel the interrelatedness of their fates, feel the interrelatedness as a thing which transcends national divisions, ideological divisions, feel the primacy of being part of the human family.
Archaic Revival (1992)
- Archaic Revival 1992
- You can feel it. You can feel it in your own dreams. You can feel it in your own trips. You can feel that we're approaching the cusp of a catastrophe, and that beyond that cusp we are unrecognizable to ourselves. The wave of novelty that has rolled unbroken since the birth of the universe has now focused and coalesced itself in our species. And if it seems unlikely to you that the world is about to transform itself, then think of it this way: think of a pond, and think of how if the surface of the pond begins to boil—that's the signal that some enormous protean form is about to break the surface of the pond and reveal itself. Human history is the boiling of the pond surface of ordinary biology. We are flesh which has been caught in the grip of some kind of an attractor that lies ahead of us in time, and that is sculpting us to its ends; speaking to us through psychedelics, through visions, through culture, and technology, consciousness.
- History is the shock wave of eschatology. Something is at the end of time and it is casting an enormous shadow over human history, drawing all human becoming toward it. All the wars, the philosophies, the rapes, the pillaging, the migrations, the cities, the civilizations—all of this is occupying a microsecond of geological, planetary, and galactic time as the monkeys react to the symbiote, which is in the environment and which is feeding information to humanity about the larger picture. ... As nervous systems evolve to higher and higher levels, they come more and more to understand the true situation in which they are embedded. And the true situation in which we are embedded is an organism, an organization of active intelligence on a galactic scale.
- p. 41
- History is the shockwave of eschatology. In other words, we are living in a very unique moment, ten or twenty thousand years long, where an immense transition is happening. The object at the end of and beyond history is the human species fused into eternal tantric union with the superconducting Overmind/UFO. It is that mystery that casts its shadow back through time. All religion, all philosophy, all wars, pogroms, and persecutions happen because people do not get the message right. There is both the forward-flowing casuistry of being, casual determinism, and the interference pattern that is formed against that by the backward-flowing fact of this eschatological hyperobject throwing its shadow across the temporal landscape.
- What is happening to our world is ingression of novelty toward what Whitehead called "concrescence", a tightening gyre. Everything is flowing together. The "autopoetic lapis", the alchemical stone at the end of time, coalesces when everything flows together. When the laws of physics are obviated, the universe disappears, and what is left is the tightly bound plenum, the monad, able to express itself for itself, rather than only able to cast a shadow into physis as its reflection. I come very close here to classical millenarian and apocalyptic thought in my view of the rate at which change is accelerating. From the way the gyre is tightening, I predict that the concrescence will occur soon—around 2012 A.D. It will be the entry of our species into hyperspace, but it will appear to be the end of physical laws accompanied by the release of the mind into the imagination. ... As one closes distance with the eschatological object, the reflection it is throwing off resemble more and more the thing itself. In the final moment the Unspeakable stands revealed. There are no more reflections of the Mystery. The Mystery in all its nakedness is seen, and nothing else exists. But what it is, decency can safely scarcely hint; nevertheless, it is the crowning joy of futurism to seek anticipation of it.
- The UFO comes from this murky region, beyond the end of history, beyond the end of life. It is both suprahistorical and supraorganic. It is uncanny, alien; it raises the hair on the back of one's neck. It is both the apotheosis and the antithesis of the monkey's journey toward mind. It is the mind revealing itself. This is what all religion is about: shock waves given off by an event at the end of history. We are now very close to that event, and psilocybin can help us to understand it because psilocybin conveys one into the place where it is happening constantly. The Aeon, eternity, and the millennium are accomplished facts, not an anticipation. Hence the mushroom stands at the end of history. It stands for an object that pulls all history toward itself. It's a causal force that operates upon us backward through time. It is why things happen the way they do; because everything is being pulled forward toward a nexus of transformation.
- p. 70
- My interpretation of the (end date) is that it is the point at which the ingression into novelty and the degree of interconnectedness of the separate elements that comprise the concrescence will be such that the ontological nature of time itself will be transformed. History will end, and the transcendental object that has been drawing being into ever deeper reflections of itself since the first moments of the existence of the universe will finally be completely concrescent in the three-dimensional space-time continuum. Then the moving image of time will have discovered itself to be eternity.
- For the Eschaton, positioned in eternity, all things are somehow coexistent in time or outside of time. All events have already happened.
History Ends in Green (1993)
- Excerpts from an eight-hour lecture in March 1993 discussing human history, its future attractor and ultimate dissolution.
- Somewhere around 1945 we began to loot the future as a strategy for survival, some ethical norm was shattered.
- What's happening is that 8% of the world's people use 35% of the world's petroleum, and are ready to blow everybody off the map to keep it that way. This is nothing more than a manifestation of junkie psychology on a mass scale. We're addicted, they got it, we're happy to pay for it, but if they won't sell it we'll break into their house and take it, because by god it will go into our right arm. that's the plan.
- What you see, I think is the morphogenetic field. The invisible world that holds everything together. Not the net of matter and light, but the net of casuistry, of intentionality, of caring, of hope, of dream, of thought. That all is there, but it has been hidden from us for centuries because of the exorcism of the spirit that took place in order to allow science to do business. … We are all cells of a much larger body, and like the cells of our own body it is hard for us to glimpse the whole pattern of the whole of what is happening, and yet we can sense that there is a purpose, and there is a pattern...
Global Perspectives and Psychedelic Poetics (1994)
- The psychedelic community has not yet recognized or named itself as a community. We are well behind gays and black people and all those other mi-...we are still trying to figure out if we are a community. And if we are a community, and we have a domain of action, I think where it lies - it's not that we are all supposed to become dope dealers, it's that we are all supposed to become artists; that the transformation of culture through art is the proper understanding of what you can do with psychedelics besides blow your own mind. And I really think, you know, what we need to do is put the art-pedal to the floor, and understand that this is art - we are involved in some kind of enormous piece of performance art called Western civilization and, you know, it's been a C-minus performance so far... And they are just about to reach out with the hook and drag us offstage, unless we begin pulling rabbits out of the hat pretty furiously.
Technopagans at the End of History (1998)
- I think we have to have character models built of ourselves, and turn the whole thing over to our writers; and we'll just go off to Tahiti, and the writers can — it's the "Uncle Duke" solution. If you can turn yourself into a cartoon character, you can retire, and a whole team of people will keep you au courant. … You know, I think the only way to keep your career going is to retire the "bod", and create an online character– a Saturday morning cartoon show apparently is where the action is.
- It's strange — you know, the Net is denounced as austere, the product of the engineering mentality, so forth and so on. It's the most feminine influence that Western civilization has ever allowed itself to fall under the spell of. The troubadors of the fourteenth century were as nothing compared to the boundary-dissolving, feminizing, permitting, nurturing nature of the Net. Maybe that's why there is an overwhelming male preference for it, in its early form, because that's where that was needed. But it is Sophia, it is wisdom, it is the penetrating archetypal female logos of the world-soul, leading us away from what was very sharp-edged and uncomfortable and repressive to our creativity and our sexuality and our relationships to each other and to the Earth.
- Virtual reality is a fairly new concept to us; but once you grok it, it seems clear that any civilization that was capable of starflight and longevity extension, and so forth and so on, would also have a full VR toolkit under control. Well then, that means that when we go looking for the extraterrestrial, what will be the footprint? Perhaps vanished races are all around us, but downloaded into solid-state matrices that we have only recently come to the point where we could even recognize that possibility.
- Mark mentioned the vector of virtual reality, nanotechnology, global communications—it's clear that we're moving toward, if not the eschaton itself, then some kind of historical echo of it, in simulation, that, for all practical purposes, will be the same thing, as far as the impact it has on our lives.
For example, you could doubt my much-vaunted prediction that the world will become unrecognizable by 2012; but do you doubt for a moment that by 2012, every major religion on Earth will have vast simulations of its eschatological vision for you to wander in and try out– so that you can look in on Nirvana.com, or lope over to the Celestial City, or look in on Sufi paradise? I mean, religious ontologies will be marketed like beers! And will be made as realistic and compelling as possible!
Well then, who is to say what is real and what is not? "Real" is a distinction of a naïve mind, I think. We're getting beyond that. I mean, naïve empiricism worked well enough, until the discoveries of quantum physics seventy or eighty years ago revealed the hideous secret that the bedrock of reality is a funhouse basement!
Quotes about McKenna
- A cyclone of unorthodox ideas capable of lifting almost any brain out of its cognitive Kansas.
- What seems likely is that Terence was not only contending that the universe is a genetic, extra‑dimensional, interspecies verbal construct, but that it exists primarily as a result of our consciousness of it. What he may actually have been implying is, "the world is made of imagination". There is, after all, a possibility that when it comes to consensual reality, we're making it up. All of it. And language is the universal medium by which we identify and explain our creation to ourselves. Language lends reality to reality.
I do recall hearing Terence say once that everything in nature has stories to tell; not just scientific information to impart, mind you, but something akin to plot-line narration, if one is equipped to "read" it.
- Terence McKenna's website
- Brief biography at Rotten.com
- Novelty theory
- Terence McKenna Land
- She Who Remembers Audio Archives of Terence McKenna speeches (MP3s).
- Terence McKenna Bibliography
- Botanical Dimensions (founded by McKenna)
- Terence McKenna's opinions on the evolution of consciousness in the movie Cognition Factor (2009)