Downloading the Vision with Terence McKenna

Terence McKenna spent over thirty years exploring "the ethnopharmacology of spiritual transformation" and was a specialist in ethnomedicine of the Amazon basin. McKenna wrote of Food of the Gods, Archaic Revival, and The Invisible Landscape.

Mr. McKenna died of brain cancer eighteen months after giving this interview to Kathleen McGee.


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conduit: You’ve said "psilocybin triggers activity in the language-forming capacity of the brain that manifest as song and vision." If the mushroom was a catalyst for language in proto-humans, then what more could you say regarding the possible relationship between psilocybin and poetry in Homo Sapiens?

terence mckenna: It’s a very interesting area. Of all animals we have the most complicated language behavior and we have the most complicated cultural behavior. There is some link there. It seems to me what we call the human imagination is a capacity in the human brain which these psychedelic plants stimulate radically, and it is out of the imagination that comes not only poetry but scientific invention, models of how the universe works. It’s almost as though the effect of these plants on our brains has over historical periods of time pushed us to develop complex culture and very complicated ideas about the world, and that’s still going on. It is very clear that the cyber culture of today was created by a lot of psychedelic people from the 60s and 70s.

conduit: What is the role of the artist? For example, what would a novel look like?

mckenna: The job of the artist is always to push language beyond the boundaries previously defined. The narrative novel form has become very confining. Nonetheless people like Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, and Steve Erickson seem to work fairly comfortably within that. Art is going to become more interactive, three-dimensional, multimedia-driven, and much more seamlessly part of ordinary reality. The bedrock of all of this lies in the observation that the world is made of information. It’s all code. Your genetic heritage is code, your neurological processing of the moment is code, the machines around you are processed code. All levels of this code production are ruled by the rules of symbolic logic whether inside machines or inside organisms, and this is a very large paradigm shift. It will take awhile for western science and institutions to bring the canoe around to the new setting.

conduit: How long do you think this process will take?

mckenna: The next ten years should be very interesting. The technologies that lie beyond the millennium are going to make confronting all of this inevitable. Distributed processing power on the net with very large bands of connection for everyone, smart interactivity, all kinds of things that are in the pipeline are going to converge. The internet as we possess it in any given moment is not the internet of the next moment. It’s changing in very fundamental ways, not simply the interface seen by the user, but in very fundamental ways the internet is still evolving and growing.

conduit: More breaking down of cultural barriers?

mckenna: Different things are happening. The nation-state is disappearing. It’s a boundary-defined institution. What is created is a new culture of money—a new secular culture of money with corporations as the highest sub-unit. War is fading out, racism is fading out, but so is cultural diversity and non-market based value systems, so I think culture is losing and the individual is winning.

conduit: And that’s positive, in your point of view?

mckenna: I think it is. It’s nice that we love to see the Laplanders with their colorful caps, people in the South Sea Islands, but how pleasant is it to be these people? We can’t expect people to just function as museum dioramas.