Terence McKenna’s Final Interview
November 13, 2012 2:03 AM   Subscribe

For those of you who are confused like I was, Terence McKenna the ethnobotanist should not be confused with Terence McKenna the filmmaker.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:09 AM on November 13, 2012

Thanks for the post! Such a shame that he's gone, but his brother lives on (and was featured in this 2009 post).
posted by mannequito at 2:47 AM on November 13, 2012

I recently had to make a long car trip, and listened to about 6 hours straight of his lectures. It was other worldly, and really went deep into the brilliance of this man! Love me some Terence McKenna!
posted by tarantula at 5:15 AM on November 13, 2012

I didn't know anything about him before I watched this video. This idea that the universe's complexity is increasing, and that "more and more is happening", that time is speeding up... I don't buy it. I'm not trying to troll, and I'd like to be proven wrong, but it comes off as science-smelling woo.

It would seem that the question of whether he's right or not can be answered by whether the noospheric (I learned a new word today) complexity of the earth matters compared to, say, the quiet physical actions of deep space with a single grain of asteroid flying through it. My hunch is that there is no difference in significance and that the universe is indifferent.

Also, it's possible that psychedelics can make someone feel so connected to chaos that it feels understandable and personal. He was an eloquent speaker in this video, but my gut feeling is that he's imagined all of this.

The irony isn't lost on me that I'm using phrases like gut feeling and hunch while trying to disprove someone else's hunch. But, I'm not a scientist, and I don't think he is either.
posted by hanoixan at 6:12 AM on November 13, 2012

hanoixian, to be fair Terence McKenna is not the only scientist who looked at the geological/human-historical increase in complexity.

Consider that we are typing metafilter posts into a computer that is attached to a globally connected communications network populated with billions of sentient creatures. This stupendous fact gives me pause to think; Why aren't we sitting in a savannah somewhere chewing on grass stems? Of course there is an intellectual compartmentalization that occurs when we consider human activity relative to a patch of deep space, or the event horizon of a black hole. Perhaps this is where Terence McKenna strays from standard scientific ideology, I think in his view the consciousness of the person cannot be discarded from the understanding of the system in question--clearly not a scientific principle, more reflective of the I Ching. So perhaps the questions he raises about complexity and history are not "woo" but rather they are simply irrelevant to science as it is practiced in academia.
posted by kuatto at 7:06 AM on November 13, 2012

I agree with hanoixan. As much as I want to like Terence McKenna, I basically think psychedelics didn't help him. From what I can see, they can't really make you understand the universe better.* Certainly they can help you understand your inner life and other people, but I think we need to be more rational, not less, when it comes to understanding how impersonal, inhuman phenomena function.

*: I guess the unusual states of mind they bring about could trigger some scientific inspiration or something, but it's an exception.
posted by vogon_poet at 7:49 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Terence's schtick was, and he was oft to admit it, a pop-science remix of the ideas of Alfred North Whitehead. David Deutsch's TED talk Chemical scum that dream of distant quasars is an enjoyable primer to the complexity issue and how it plugs into cosmological models of life, and how that life conceives of its place in said cosmos.

Incidentally Terence's outright daftest (again, self-admitted) theory, time wave zero is due to come to fruition in about 6 weeks. I'm not optimistic about the instantaneous manifestation of the Great Transcendental Attractor at the end of time that will signal the perfect union of all matter and consciousness, but I'll be sure to be stoned off my gourd just in case it should.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 8:49 AM on November 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

From what I can see, they can't really make you understand the universe better. Certainly they can help you understand your inner life and other people,...

I'm just word sniping, but did you know that you've assumed that both your inner life and other people aren't part of the universe? Is that deliberate?
posted by benito.strauss at 9:07 AM on November 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

Most people haven't take psychedelics discovered or explained more recently than 1865.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:52 AM on November 13, 2012

I understand McKenna to be a transparently neo-shamanic trickster figure who selectively launched disparate ideas into the sky to see how they coalesce and fall under the gravity of 'consensus reality', for our shared speculation (his version of alchemy.) He was a poetic, eccentric performing intellectual, perhaps scientific at times but not a scientist. He made no bones about any of this.

In his abundant recorded talks, he was often very honest about his intent, that any sort of dogmatism is disempowering. And none of us can afford to be disempowered, there's already too much compounded suffering, too much at stake. So what the hell, let's see what happens if we entertain thought experiments, let's see if we can broaden channels to become the people we say we want to be. Stoned apes, time waves ... they were applying pressure to dogmatism, personal and otherwise. If the ideas are entertaining or give pause to beliefs, they are working.

Don't trust him, avail yourself in all manner and discover what you think when living is stretched beyond habit. That's his value to me.
posted by methinks at 11:04 AM on November 13, 2012 [8 favorites]

This discussion gets more interesting in the second half, around 40 min. His more ambitious speculations are hard to take seriously, but he says some neat stuff. We can all agree: he's never at loss for words.
posted by ovvl at 12:28 PM on November 13, 2012

methinks has it 100% correct - he knew he was at times full of shit, but he loved ideas. He loved to share those ideas. I'm not sure what he thought of all the suckers who took him too much at his word (I think I was one for quite some time).

He was a poet, a visionary, a bard. He is one of my prophets, and I don't believe in prophets, so what does that say? I don't think he ever fully believed anything - I think he just said, let's wait and see. It's weird, because I think in many ways he really was a scientist and really did think we need to study things.

I could say a hundred things about Terence but they'd all fall short. I wish I could have met him - it seemed like such a strange impossibility in the late 90s/early 00s, but now it seems it could be possible and now he's gone.

There is alchemical gnosis in his words, and I think he tries to go back to those traditions - he speaks of the UFO as exteriorizing the human soul - immanentizing the eschaton in a holographic matrix of self...

It is, the Alpha/Omega, the Above/Below, the Kingdom of Heaven that was within, now morphing in transdimensional shifts into the without. I love that man. He was a flawed human, he was full of shit, he was beautifully eloquent, and he was a dreamer.

12-21-12 will be just one more day like any other. He just chose that date AFTER he already came up with TWZ to fit with all the other New Age woo that was going around. I wish he could be around to see it. I think he'd say "yeah - I kinda figured... now where do we go?"

RIP Terence.
posted by symbioid at 1:36 PM on November 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

Most people haven't take psychedelics discovered or explained more recently than 1865.

Your favorite psychedelic sucks?
posted by msalt at 2:25 PM on November 13, 2012

For those of you who are confused like I was, he never actually gets down to talking about EarthBound.
posted by pullayup at 2:39 PM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Robert Anton Wilson, whom many of you here love, wrote and spoke of similar
issues as McKenna...for example the "doubling of knowledge" occurring at an accelerated,
at this point in time, almost exponential rate.

McKenna is hard to take seriously because his concepts are beyond conventional learning/conditioning. There is an element of feeling or perception built into his concepts,
like an in joke if you will, that objectivists will find more than irritating. But that seems to be a reaction to McKenna's hologramatic paradigm....the way a new way of looking at things can be extremely disconcerting.
posted by eggtooth at 2:56 PM on November 13, 2012

I'm just word sniping, but did you know that you've assumed that both your inner life and other people aren't part of the universe? Is that deliberate?

Part of is what's key though. There's a lot of universe that has nothing to do with your inner life, and I think Terence McKenna forgets that or doesn't believe it. Or only believes it sometimes, or something. But you're definitely not getting ultimate truth about reality out of psychedelic drugs.
posted by vogon_poet at 4:59 PM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

McKenna was thought provoking, that's basically it, and that 's a great thing to be. Of course he wasn't a "scientist", nor would he have wanted to be thought of as such. He knew science couldn't keep up with his radical imaginative speculations on reality and he knew the New Age crowd couldn't cope with his cynicism and criticisms of the new age trends. That's what I liked about him.
Plus he was damn funny, and his scathing social critiques were even better than his psychedelic raps I think.
posted by Liquidwolf at 5:32 PM on November 13, 2012

The First Word
posted by homunculus at 8:01 PM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

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