I recently spoke at VRTO 2018, an event showcase the vanguard ideas, technologies, issues, and controversies surrounding everything VR, AR, and Mixed Reality technologies. At the excellent suggestion of VRTO’s Executive Director Keram Malicki-Sanchez, I presented a paper called Our Cyberdelic Concrescence: Exhuming Terrence McKenna
Due to time, I gave a shorter version of this presentation. For posterity, I have published the full version of the original paper below:
Hi there! Looking good!
Thank you so much for inviting me and for the warm introduction. I feel very blessed to be here.
Like you, I don’t know what to expect this weekend, but I am damned excited to confront my ignorance about it.
My name is Eliott Edge. I’ll be brief—I am theorist and critic of VR. I was invited here thanks to a book I wrote called 3 Essays on Virtual Reality: Overlords, Civilization, and Escape. The essays contained therein were originally published through the Institute of Ethics and Emerging Technologies. And the book itself was generously endorsed and reviewed by some names you might know. Amber Case out of MIT, Douglas Rushkoff, Jason Silva the online evangelist, and the psychoanalyst and artist Dr Vanessa Sinclair. I will be signing copies and reading tarot cards at 1pm in the Venn Room afterwards so, swing on by.
Okay, that’s it for the obligatory plug.
So why talk about psychedelics substances and experiences in relation to VR? This question could really only arrive from a point that is virginal in regards to psychedelics. Anyone who has had a psychedelic episode needs no clarification, as it’s plain as the nose on your face. But for the uninitiated: psychedelics are chemical substances that induce altered states of consciousness, and thus altered realities. Thoughts, feelings, experiences, visions that wholly cannot be experienced otherwise, fall upon you that are titanic, very frequently religious or spiritual in scope, and yes sometimes even include what appear as alien entities of all sort. The word psychedelic itself means mind-manifesting. When you take a psychedelic, you enter another world. When you use VR you put on another head and see another world. So they are actually close relatives. One is media-technology induced altered states, the other is a chemically-induced altered state. And they are not the same, but they are fellow-travelers. One of the big differences between the two is that psychedelics can actually heal your mind. They can elevate long-lasting deep traumas, as we have seen in lots of research that’s been pouring out of places like John Hopkins where studies were conducted using psilocybin mushrooms on terminal cancer patients to help them deal with death anxiety. A new study in the journal Cell Reports showed that psychedelics repair circularity and function of cluttered brain neurons of rats, humans, and other animals. VR can’t really do that now at this stage in the game. In fact if you are in VR or AR or MR development, I really can’t recommend a more important research project for you than to experience your own psychedelic episode. Do that and you’ll be decades ahead of the competition. I guess that’s a very thinly-veiled endorsement to either drop LSD after this expo, or if you’re a real visionary adventurer, while at this expo.
VR offers a parallel to psychedelics (some, McKenna included, have argued that VR is the technological shadow of the psychedelic experience), but it is not at all the psychedelic experience proper, in all its quaking, annihilating, and mind-expanding glory. Beyond doing whatever you can to temporarily escape your local VR programming, an admission would be that consciousness itself is fundamental to all our virtual realities. Consciousness is the media through which all our cultures, religions, civilizations, thoughts, and reality tunnels play out. So although what we have created can be regarded as virtual realities, consciousness itself doesn’t necessarily fit the criteria. Consciousness is real, ‘Canada’ and ‘Canadian’ is imaginary, is virtual. Consciousness plays within the framework of ‘Canada’ and ‘Canadian’ but it isn’t those constructs on a fundamental level. Consciousness is not virtual reality, though it uses virtual realities to operate in.
Now onto the other weird word here: concrescence. Concrescence is an idea that McKenna brought up often, which was cribbed by Alfred North Whitehead’s Process Philosophy, but it was also an idea that Canada’s own stellar media prophet Marshall McLuhan, as well as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, flirted with—And that’s the idea of some kind of spiritual or evolutionary omega point existing off the future, and that the toil of all beings leads towards. Media and technology folks jumped on this and realized the global electronic communication and its evolution would also lead up to some kind of crossing of the rubicon. Today, most of you are familiar with this notion through the work of Ray Kurzweil and The Age of Spiritual Machines: that we’ll be uploading our consciousness into silicon, the body will become a platform for total manipulation through gene editing, including reducing and eventually ending the process of aging, and that virtual reality will become the new language of tomorrow. That’s the media-tech concrescence. And that was a strong focus for Terence McKenna, what role would VR play in the evolution of language, and how it would not merely enhance but in fact expand the human psyche and the human soul. So that’s what I’m going to rap about with you today.
Real quick show of hands, how many of you today know of Terence McKenna?
McKenna was an author, an ethnobotanist, researcher of world shamanism, and a philosophical gadfly with a consuming interest in VR, psychedelics, and the future. But he’s mostly known for the surviving audio and video recordings of his lectures that have made their way onto YouTube. He really exploded into global consciousness after YouTube, which sadly he didn’t live to see just how iconic he was going to become. Remember the 2012 hype? Outisde of the Mayan’s of course, it was largely due to McKenna. I quote him at length throughout my book. And he very much guided my own career as an author and speaker. But well the real reason why we’re looking at McKenna, which was actually Keram’s suggestion when he called me a few weeks ago, is that whether or not you know McKenna, he’s been a massive invisible hand behind the technorati even though he very much started as kind a password in the underground and counter culture labyrinth of psychedelic thought. But he’s the secret reason why Silicon Valley made its way to Burning Man. By the way: long live Larry Harvey. McKenna is also the reason why ayahuasca and microdosing has found a home in modern techno corporate American progress as well. Personally, these I read as crucial victories.
And in fact rather than just describe McKenna’s ideas to you, I thought it would be far more exciting to share a cut-up of statements McKenna made of the course of his career about virtual reality, the evolution of language, psychedelics, and the future. That’s because now that we are here today at VRTO, in the event horizon vortex of passion and projects wrestling with VR—McKenna’s voice is still guiding us just behind our thoughts, hopes, fears, and imagination regarding this important media-technology threshold that we are about to cross.
This is from a 2017 article published by Sociable and Tim Hinchcliffe called Microsoft Predicts Terence McKenna’s Cyberdelic Vision of Virtual Reality.
Hinchcliffe states: His [McKenna’s] prediction just got a big nod from Microsoft researcher Mar Gonzalez Franco, who prognosticates that by 2027 “we will have ubiquitous virtual reality systems that will provide such rich multisensorial experiences that will be capable of producing hallucinations which blend or alter perceived reality.”
Microsoft’ Predicts McKenna’s VR ‘Castles of the Imagination’ Terence McKenna once said in 1991, “This is to me what the computer and the virtual technologies all push toward – a kind of mirroring of our own souls – that what the agenda of cyberspace is is a kind of turning of the body inside-out, bringing the soul into visible manifestation in the world as a kind of internal, transdimensional object, and then turning the body into a freely-commanded object in the human imagination.” Microsoft predicts that with Virtual Reality “humans will retrain, recalibrate and improve their perceptual systems. In contrast to current virtual reality systems that only stimulate visual and auditory senses, in the future the experience will expand to other sensory modalities including tactile with haptic devices.”
And now without further ado we’ll dive straight on into McKenna. The following are all his words:
McKenna on VR
It is worth pointing out that we have been making virtual realities for a very, very long time. That language, spoken language, is the original code for hacking virtual reality. When you sit the children down around the fire and begin to tell the old, old stories and pictures rise out of the flames—that is virtual reality.
We live in a condensation of our imagination.
What we call reality is in fact nothing more than a culturally sanctioned and linguistically reinforced hallucination.
The future of communication is the future of the evolution of the human soul
The truth does not require your participation in order to exist. Bullshit does.
The importance of virtual reality, as I see it, is that is a technology that will allow us to show each other our dreams. We will be able to build structures in the imagination that we cannot now share with each other. I imagine a world where children begin to build their virtual realities they are five, six, seven. By the time they are twenty these virtual realities might be, practically speaking, the size of Manhattan. Well, then what real intimacy will mean is saying to someone ”Would you like to visit my world?” My world with my visions, my values, my dreams, my fears. In a sense, what virtual reality is, is a strategy to let us turn ourselves inside out. So that we see each other’s minds. You know octopi wear their minds on the outside of their bodies. Octopi communicate by changing colors and the smoothness of their bodies: they wear their meaning. We have an organ that we can do this with but it’s very limited: it’s called a face. If you look at people’s faces and are open, you can see into the mind. But virtual reality is going to allow us to share much much more of ourselves. After all my reality is not how I look. My reality is who I am. And the only way I could give that to you is by inviting you inside. This hasn’t much been said about virtual reality, because it doesn’t interest the commercial people who are developing it but I think this is what it will eventually be.
That’s what we’re clearing the decks for, to really unleash the imagination on previously undreamed-of scales.
With virtual reality we have a technology to show each other our dreams and, yes, our hallucinations. And as we begin to show each other the contents of our heads and as we begin to explore the alien niagaras of beauty that pour through your consciousness under the influence of some of these substances. We are going to discover that we are not what we thought we were. The monkey flesh is being penetrated by something… Dare I say it? Divine! Or at least alien, trans-planetary and beyond the power of human comprehension. I don’t know if we are talking about God Almighty here. I don’t know if we are talking about the god ‘who hang the stars like lamps in heaven,’ as Milton says. That seems a tall order. Maybe what we are talking about is the god of biology. Something has happened to this planet. It has been infected with an informational, call it virus, call it force, call it beam? That is using matter and yes, using our flesh and our thoughts to bootstrap itself to higher and higher levels. And now the prosthesis of machinery and the possibility of an artificial intelligence raises the real option of producing… of actually midwifing the birth of an entirely new, not species, but order of biological and intelligence in existence. The human machine symbiote is upon us. I mean it’s been with us for a while since the first wheel was carved, since the first stick was sharpened but that was all very simple stuff. Now it’s clear that we are in partnership with another mind which comes to us through our machinery’s and through the biosphere. Wherever we press beyond the thin curtain of rationalist culture we discover the incredibly rich, erotic, scary, promising, presence of this intelligent other which beckons us out of history and says, you know, “The galaxy lies waiting. A galaxy, or galaxies lie waiting. Loose the encumbrances of three dimensional space. Return with the word to its higher and hidden source.” And at that point you will discover the alchemical Paraclete will be given unto you. The alchemical dispensation will be given and as James Joyce said, “Man will be dirigible.” What did he mean? He meant that we will loose the limitations of physical and three dimensional space. We are destined to become mental creatures.
This is our future. Our future is in art. Our future is in realizing the imagination. And then, inhabiting it.
My fantasy about all this media and communication stuff is that eventually the human imagination and the world of three-dimensional physics will seamlessly merge in a dimension where human beings are each and all some kind of god and the imagination and physics can flow together, and the art that is in us intrinsically, that we encounter so dramatically in the psychedelic experience, can actually flow into manifestation. I don’t know whether this happens in circuitry or 3D. There are many dimensions opening ahead of us where our humanness can exfoliate in ways that it can’t do in 3D.
Technology has become prosthesis for the human species. It’s our machines and our technologies that are now the major evolutionary forces acting upon us. It’s not our political systems, it’s these extra-sexual children, these mind children that we have assembled out of the imagination.
Visible language—the idea that if we could see language. If language were a project of understanding that used the eyes for the extraction of meaning rather than the ears, that, it would be a kind of telepathy. There will be both a fusion of the observer with the object observed and with the person communicated with.
Software is endlessly evolving, too, everything seems to be evolving together. The future is always more complicated than any ideological agenda imagines it. Right at this moment, as we’re reaching toward virtual reality and immortality and whatnot, there are people scarifying themselves in the rainforest tonight and beating the log drums. Nothing has changed. It’s really about stretching out over a broader and broader spectrum.
I don’t see history as, a process of accepting and coming to terms with monkeyhood. I see that it will inevitably seek to transform and transcend monkeyhood, and, this will be very frightening, I mean as frightening–Imagine if even a 15th century person were to be in this room with us, and the value systems, the clash of, uh , assumptions about what is important and unimportant. And this will be a much more intense change that–and whether it is good or bad rests on a question that I have no answer for. And the question is: is man good?
What I often say in my public lectures is that civilization is the 10,000-year dash from the campfire to the starship. And it’s a complete riot, and nobody knows till the last second whether it ends in complete catastrophe or in, you know, everybody being gathered into the Lord and setting off for the galactic center. And we won’t know. It just becomes more and more frenzied and crazed. And in geological and biological terms it lasts only a micro-second. But if we who live seventy years have the fortune or misfortune to be born and die anywhere in that tiny 10,000-year span, it’s a pretty crazy situation.
The true potential for language to elevate and to unite the community was betrayed early on into the production of illusory and ideological goods which could then be marketed among the people to spread confusion. Psychedelics reflect on this because psychedelics stretch and pull and melt and recast the illusion-producing machinery of language. If you had to say the one thing that psychedelics do for everyone, whether they have a good trip or a bad trip – because it’s up to them to interpret what they make of this – is that it shows you the relativity of your cultural viewpoint. It’s just your point of view. You inherited from the geographical area, a culture, a set of parents. It has no relationship whatsoever to anything anchored in some kind of metaphysical super-space. It’s just your cultural point of view.
Most of reality is illusory. It’s just we do each other the courtesy of not pointing this out.
Hyperspace that’s being created. You know, we had this chance five thousand years ago when we started living in cities and we made all the wrong decisions. Hierarchical society, kingship, straight street plans, phonetic alphabets. This time I hope we’re a little smarter and we can exalt, magic, eroticism, the feminine, tribal values and an emphasis on the natural world and a deemphasis on consumerism, thing worship, sexism and generalized stupidity.
I think that the destiny of man and what man will make be his destiny – just because of how we are – is release into the imagination. And this is what all of our after death scenarios say, whether they are true or not, and they may be true. And, this is what poetry aspires to, art aspires to; it’s release into the imagination. We are creatures of the dream. And, once this is articulated with sufficient clarity, and, it, it’s happening now, but I think the work we do with these drugs, that we are the earliest pioneers in what over the next 100 years will lead to an understanding, of consciousness almost as a thing apart from the monkey body and brain. We are consciousness. we may not always be monkeys.
We fear the dehumanizing effect of so many computers. We fear them; we say that we’re moving further and further from nature, deeper and deeper into our own psyche. But this is a dualism. our psyche is nature, and we cannot move away from nature by exploring these places.
the entirety of human history has been the story of the monkey becoming the flying saucer. It is taking just that long in geological time. But we, for some strange reason, we happen to be living through the final moments of that process right now.
[We need a] philosophy not made around the campfire. But philosophy based on the acquisition of extreme experience. That’s how you figure out what the world is. Not by bicycling around in the ’burbs but by forcing extreme experience.
We are going to have to create a way out of this impasse that is probably going to mean a complete redefining of who we are and how we relate to each other, and space and time, and life and death. It appears that technology is now the thing that is guiding us forward. We are not being lead into the future by politicians. Politicians are running frantically along behind the wagon of history, trying to jump onto it. What is pulling the cart is technology. I think that technology is the program of realizing the practical concerns of the imagination, and that really where are headed is the imagination: it’s a place. I don’t know whether it’s in solid-state circuitry, or the in the bones of the planet, or in artificial archeologies in deep space. The future will figure out the details, but we are close enough to it now that we can anticipate it. It’s what the shamans always said was possible: a world of value and meaning lived in the light of nature.
We are going to take control of who we are by taking control of the physiological and psychological foundations upon which the self rests, and that means the chemical reengineering of ourselves into the state of Edenic innocence that was lost when we set out on the long trail of the sword and the hoe. “
We have been led to think of virtual realities as something on the screen of a computer, or presented through a headset, but that’s an electronic virtual reality. The primary technology for the building of virtual realities is language. Once you start talking about race pride, loyalty, our destiny, our God, our mission, it’s like building virtual realities, and people begin to treat these things as though they had the substantiality of real objects, and to build their lives, as though these things were real. And what is this? It’s a diminution of humanness. You’re choosing to limit yourself to a cultural reality, whether it’s the reality of being Witoto, or Orthodox Jewish, or, whatever it is, it’s a smaller world than the simple hardware you were born into this universe with.
This is where technology, virtual reality, cybernetics, human machine interfacing can actually, make an impact and explore a frontier. Visual language is a transformation of the physiological impulse towards syntax into a final product, speech, which is not heard with the ears, but beheld with the eyes. And, it’s very interesting that all our metaphors of clarity of speech are visual metaphors. We say I see what you mean, he spoke clearly. This means that at the organismic level we associate a higher, signal clarity with visual input. And on DMT and other tryptamine psychedelics you actually experience the field of language, both heard and self-generated as something that is visibly beheld. It’s, almost as though the project of communication becomes high speed sculpture in a conceptual dimension made of light and intentionality. Well, this would remain a kind of esoteric performance on the part of shamans at the height of intoxication, if it were not for the fact that, electronics and, electronic cultural media, computers, make it possible for us to actually create, records of these, higher linguistic modalities. In other words it’s possible to imagine a virtual reality that was driven by a speech operated synthesizer where the various parts of ordinary speech, adjectives, modifiers, subjects and objects, were, interpreted by the scientific, by the cybernetic environment as topological manifolds of various shapes so that speech would then generate a visibly beheld topology and it’s possible to imagine a future world where in setting up corporate takeovers, in other words in areas where, communication, clear communication, clear expression of intentionality was very important that people would actually go into the virtual reality to use the virtual language because its capacity for conveying intent would be much greater than ordinary spoken language. In other words, it it’s not for nothing that Plato connected up the notion of the good, the true and ultimately the beautiful. And the beautiful of those three concepts is the primary concept because it is visibly beheld, because it is seen. This is the great convincing power of the psychedelic experience. That it ultimately appeals to us through the sense that we value most, that we existentially relate to as the most authentic. And that is the visual. Visible language is a kind of telepathy. Because you see, if I made a statement in visual language and then you and I regard my statement we are somehow in the act of regarding made one. Because meaning is not being created out of, interiorized dictionaries which we each consult in the privacy of our own mind, but rather meaning is a visible manifold in the public domain. When meaning goes public and the differences between people then decline toward being insignificant. It’s a kind of a final, confirmation of the McLuhan apotheosis and I think visible language is coming. Life in the imagination is to be, the life of creativity carried on through virtual environments driven by, linguistic engines.
the starships of the future, in other words the the vehicles of the future which will explore the high frontier of the unknown will be syntactical. [inaudible] The engineers of the future will be poets. This is what virtual virtual reality folds out to. It’s the possibility of walking in to the constructs of the imagination. In a way culture is that. I mean, our cities, bridges, highways, airliners and art galleries are condensations out of the imagination, but at tremendous cost because we must make them out of matter. Once we can make them out of light, out of electrons, then we, you know, we won’t build skyscrapers a hundred and twenty stories high. We’ll build them as high as we want. roof height will no longer be a factor ruled by cost-effectiveness and gravity. It will be a parameter ruled by the imagination, as will all other parameters. And then we will discover what man truly is. When we are able to erect, stabilize, share and explore our dreams in a kind of virtual hyperspace that is seemed to be linguistic. That’s what its connectors are made out of. That’s what its thorough concrete and steel is, is, the edifice of language. This is what the stuff of the imagination is made of. And I think this is what we’re moving toward. The psychedelic shamans have always known this. Now the psychedelic underground art community points toward, this goal and and leads the way.
What put me on to the connection between archaic shamanism and the new technology and the new music was when I went to the Amazon and, spent time with the people down there who use a plant psychedelic called Ayahuasca. I discovered that, the people were singing what they called magical songs, that were, revealed to them under the intoxicating influence of this plant. But when they criticized the magical songs to each other, they treated them like painting, or like sculpture, not like music. So then when someone would sing a song and then, everyone would say well I like the part with the blue stripes and the yellow dots but I didn’t like the part that was red with gray overlay. In other words, for them sound was something that you see, rather than hear. And my, fantasy for virtual reality is to use it as a technology for objectifying language. Because, you see, if we could see what we meant when we spoke, it would be a kind of telepathy. The method that we use to communicate now, small mouth noises moving through space as acoustical signals and then the consulting of learned dictionaries. This is not, a wide band of communication and yet the whole world is held together by small mouth noises and their electronic transductions as radio, television and so forth. So what the cyberpunk generation holds out to the rest of us is a new kind of communication. A communication that is like telepathy because it’s seen with the eyes and so then it dissolves boundaries and unites us back into this tribal, community that we feel such a need for.
So it seems to me the way the cyberpunk cybertech community can keep its compass pointed toward a real human future is to always keep natural models in mind. … the engineers who have designed cyberspace and virtual reality environments in California are fond of saying that you can be anything in virtual reality. Well then it seems to me the thing you want to become is naked linguistic intent, pure intent toward communication and so by mapping the linguistic possibility onto a topological continuum and then processing it through, computers we actually create a true mirror for our own mind. And so to look upon this or to share it with other people is to participate in a true form of telepathy and I think this true boundary dissolving telepathy that unites us all into one family should be the goal of the cyberspatial community.
It’s always held against the technical community that somehow we’ve moved beyond the values of the natural and the biological world. But if you think about what the tools of cyberspace are, they are integrated circuits, chips and electronic components which are made of gold, platinum, arsenic, silver, copper, silicon. These are all the materials of the earth and in a sense what we are doing is organizing the raw material of the earth so that it can reflect the dynamics of electrons, of light, moving through fiber optic cables. So really, the in in the cybernetic revolution what is happening is a kind of completion of the dream of alchemy. That spirit could actually, come mingle with, metals and glass and, that out of this mingling of spirit and matter could come a new possibility, a new evolutionary option, a kind of philosopher’s stone, a kind of panacea at the end of time. And this is to me what the computer and the virtual technologies all push toward. A kind of mirroring of our own souls. That what the agenda of cyberspace is is a kind of, turning the body insight out. Bringing the soul into visible manifestation in the world as a kind of eternal transdimensional object and then turning the body into a freely commanded object in the human imagination. I mean this is the idea. To make this reality behind the menu and make the reality of cyberspace the reality in front of the screen, to reverse the figure ground relationship and find ourselves free at last in the imagination.
So when I try to imagine the cybernetic world of the not too distant future, what I imagine is a world where, all tools and toolkits have been tucked away into a virtual cyberspace. So what we see when we look at this world of the future is we see healthy men and women living in a natural environment, naked, happy, at peace and when these people close their eyes in this natural environment, what they see hanging in mental space are menus. And these menus are the way you make your way into an interface which is completely hidden in three dimensional space, but which is nothing more than a hard wiring, a downloading into, hardware, if you will, of the unco- the collectivity of the unconscious that exists anyway. I mean, what we’re doing is, the end male men engineering mentality is following along at hardwiring what the animal body has always been into. So, the future is a future of ultratechnology in a dimension that is split off from what is called the ordinary world. The ordinary world, the natural world is maintained like a botanical garden or a natural preserve and then the human imagination, which is this titanic, Promethean force that is loose in our species, it is free in a virtual reality to create all of the castles of the imagination, to create the mile long buildings in all kinds of architectural styles, to create the arcologies and vision spaces that are the affirmation of the imagination. We are our mental power to project imagery has become so powerful that now really our only option is to break with the planet and head out into a cultural space defined by our dreams and by our machines. And this is in fact what we’re doing and you people are many of the people who will do it. What we’re doing is we’re taking back our minds. I mean that’s more than a political slogan. We’re taking back our minds from reductionism, from materialism, from scientism, from all of these intellectual philosophies which disempowered the artist and made the artist somehow slave to other forces in society. In the cyberdelic future, artists will rule, because the world will be made of art.
What we’re doing is, invoking a kind of collective mind. It’s a a political project that has been the dream of civilization for as long as there has been civilization. And it actually is within the power of this generation to, create this kind of new definition of humanness, where all the shit and horror of the last five thousand years of human history can somehow be reclaimed or made to have meaning by the application of technology toward the reflection of the human soul.
It’s perfectly clear that if novelty is intensifying and locally concentrating then where it’s probably headed is into cyberspace or some kind of virtual space, the various ontologies of world religions will be peddled as theme parks in virtual space. You’ll be hard pressed to know whether you’re in heaven or simply in Heaven Land, which is a preview of heaven attainable by paying a $50 entrance fee at the turnstile. This is going to make it very difficult for all my predictions to be put in context, because they will be both true and untrue. Everything will come true in cyberspace; that’s the whole idea.
We are either going to change into this cybernetic hyper-dimensional hallucinogenic angel or we’re going to destroy ourselves. The opportunity for us to be happy hunters and gatherers integrated into the balance of nature, that fell away 15,000 years ago and cannot be recaptured.
What cyberspace is, on one level, is simply the human imagination vivified, hardwired. What we’re doing furiously, as fast as we can, is exteriorizing the human nervous system into a global organism of some sort, which has a weird kind of Husserlian intersubjectivity about it. It is neither subjective nor objective: we are subjective nodes embedded in this domain of technologically- created intersubjectivity between other human beings and machines.
you will either have a plan or you will become part of somebody else’s plan, and there are a million plans out there waiting to ensnare the clueless.
So, you know, when you think about the cybernetic community, the psychedelic community, the cyberpunk community. It’s in places like this that we gather and we self-select out of the rest of society. So what I think would be important to come out of any evening like this is that everybody take a good look at the people next to them and realize that somebody in this room has what you need. And you have what somebody in this room needs. The, the spreading of the idea of cyberspace has two aspects. It’s first of all informing people for whom all of this is new and completely unexpected, but then the other thing is deepening our own commitment to it and that means, more plant psychedelics. It means higher doses in silent darkness. It means a commitment and a courage to live out this way of life so that we can really take back our minds from the dominator culture, the linear paternalistic industrial capitalist culture and live the kind of erotic tribalism that we have our fondest memories of.
Endless realms of alien and unpredictable beauty lie ahead. And this is really what human beings were made for. I mean, we are the information generating, art making creature. All our higher activities, dance, painting, music, poetry, human relationships, all of these things have the character of art. And so the the future is lies in the realization of beauty, the making it more and more explicit, the sharing of our dreams by at last applying tools, not toward warfare, but toward the dissolving of boundaries between people and, nations so that, the real biological fact of a human community can show through. If we’re able to do that we’re we will be able to fast forward the cultural crisis and we will be able through psychedelics and mass media and the, distribution and control of the flow of information actually be able to save ourselves and this world from ruin. It rests in the hands of the high tech communities developing and controlling, information technology, because we have the money, we have the power to make any change we want in the world. But we have to change our minds. And that means better art and more psychedelics and so that’s the responsibility which rests on you guys, and, I’m sure you’re up to it. Thank you very much.
Edge on VR
Alright that’s it for McKenna. Now, what does all that hodgepodge really mean? When I originally heard that Facebook had acquired the Oculus Rift, my original enthusiasm for Oculus deflated. I imaged Facebook creating some kind of social VR space akin to a highly regulated and administered high school cafeteria. Nothing in my imagination and knowledge of Facebook encouraged me to see a vision far outside the VR high school cafeteria. Whereas if a company like say Tumble (via Yahoo) got their hands on Oculus, we’d have something more like the Amish and Mennonite uber-party and notorious youth ritual of Rumspringa. VR has to be weird, wild, and highly democratized; not another manifestation of what Timothy Adorno rightly criticized as the “totally administered world.”
In a nutshell, the reason why I wrote this book and the reason why I am here today is because I actually think we need to take a step forward with what I call the VR dialog. And what I mean by the VR dialog is a conversation that people who really ponder the meaning of VR inevitably find themselves falling into. People who find themselves curious about VR become insnared—that’s because VR is one of humanity’s oldest conversations. It stretches past Plato’s platonic realms, past the Upanishads, and into the very womb of our species. VR was born in the cave with the cave painting, the mind, and the imagination. This was the womb of our becoming as the creatures we are today. Indeed, when you really look at what VR means, you realize what makes human beings unique on the planet is our psychic VRs and cultural VR environments—infrastructure, engineering, architecture, and so on—these things have built and built and swelled that we now face the crisis of the anthropocene. For the moment, earth is ours. But, as we all know, that moment maybe quickly coming to an end. Now, people that are wholly obsessed with the meaning of VR and the VR dialog realize that the entirety of human beings civilization-making enterprise—from the cave painting to the tweet—has also been a multi-millennia long experiment with different forms of virtual reality and VR technologies. This is easily illustrated in Jim Blascovich and Jeremy Bailenson’s book ‘Infinite Reality’, where they illustrate that all media tech from the very beginning has been VR tech. They also point out something essential that should be mentioned. Given that I’m talking to a room full of VR aficionados, it is likely common among us that we realized that there are many different forms of VR. Blascovich and Bailenson point out that the first VR is always the mind. The imagination.
To bring psychedelics back into the fold of the conversation: as alienated as you may feel, psychedelics teach that you are not alone. They show you that life wants life. Life loves life in a fact, and you in your infinite bizarrerie and contradictions, and shames, and fears, and sexual ambiguities—you are actually just what the doctor ordered. And not just what the doctor ordered, but what the goddess ordered, the great doctor, the great shamanness ordered you into being. It is not that we are all supposed to be the same. VR is going to make this easier for us to understand, just as queer culture has. We are all supposed to be weird and wonderful. It is our ideologies that have sold us all short straws. It is ideology, human ideologies, that need to go, because they don’t include us or the wisdom of the goddess. That wisdom being: you exist, you were invited by creation to be here. You are supposed to be your perfectly weird you that you are. That’s exactly what we all need. We don’t need more Agent Smiths in the world. We need more Wachkoskis; by that I mean folks who are willing to deeply penetrate beyond the illusion that has come not from some evil demon outside of us—but from own projection of what is male and female, and successful and unsuccessful, correct and incorrect—are pushing us all to accept. All at our own personal individual loss. My hope is that VR is something that will accelerate the breakdown from capitalist dominator patriarchal heteronormative monkeys into what McKenna saw, and what all psychonauts see: loving acceptance from the heart of the divine that invited us to be here and invited us to participate in her grand cosmic drama. Not just be yourself. Become yourself. Become yourself and find the others. That is the future of VR, language, and ourselves as a species. Our ancestors got it. Nature loves us. It is the human mind which still hates other humans and hates itself. And that is the real lasting sin—“sin” meaning misfire—which has endured for so long and still needs to go.
Psychedelics make you comfortable with your deeply weird being. And VR tech, if it is any good, will do the same. It will not make more drones. It will not be a mould for the next model of Agent Smith. It will make more awakened extensions of divine nature into the world of sharing. I know that sounds airy fairy, but what it means is it will make us more connected to what we really are, which isn’t merely heteronormative capitalist monkeys fighting for the last banana on a dying planet—we are life itself. And life itself is far older than monkeys. And far richer. And life itself is actually love. Which is why it uses sex to propagate. It is about connection. That’s the goal of nature, existence, humanity—that’s what we all have in common. The bridge that both reality and human beings have in common is the want of authentic connection between different weird beings. And that bridging actually invariably goes onto heal them both (and all parties really) in the process. So, if your VR doesn’t do this: connect marvelously weird beings with other marvelously weird beings, and allow them to express themselves while allowing them in that expression to also heal themselves, then your VR will be like a billboard from your grandparents decade racing to catch up with technologies destined to be the home turf of another species. And it will no doubt do quite a gory look-at-me blood and guts snake oil masquerade as to its deeply needed value in the world. But basically you’ll end up looking myopic, needy, and old hat, a fossil, and when is that ever attractive? The future of VR tech are platforms where we can build and share the alien worlds that already exist inside of us today—that we can see, that we can detect crossing the microexpressions of each others wanting, yearning faces.
What VR can’t do that psychedelics can is that psychedelics turn your own tears into expressions of love and healing that wash over your very face. They are authentic communion with yourself and with spirit. The goddess. They show that you are important and you do matter.
When VR can heal, then it will actually be comparable to psychedelics. That’s your goal folks, if it were ever elaborated to you, it’d be that. Make me a VR that actually heals. Then we’ll actually be onto something of value to share with the rest of our brothers and sisters.
If you don’t treat VR like a portal into an uncanny weird future, than you’re as done as the dinosaurs. Like Douglas Rushkoff asks: what are we going to do when Augmented Reality has turned the world into one giant mall? The real leaders in VR are going to create tools that make it easy for folks the world over to create their own virtual realities. VRs that they can develop and then share with others. And the leading VR makers will be the counter culture, the avant grade, the psychedelic visionaries, and youths. They will actually be driving the future of language and communication, just as rock n’ roll did decades before them.
There is a greater agenda lurking behind the surface of all this flashy immersive tech. And those who intuit that are going to be the real leaders that I am talking about. Tomorrow’s leaders aren’t going to be the Fortune 500, or the top 40 over Forty. The real leaders are going to heal themselves and this world culture, in part with using VR tools. As one netizen Mystic_realmz said it, “With other senses we would have other realities.” VR makes this actually possible.
My advice, if I were to offer any advice is, create tools so young people and vanguard artist can more easily create virtual worlds. Provide the platform. And get psychedelic.
Finally, McKenna famous said “Find the others.” And that’s what we are doing here today at VRTO. Finding the others. So just look over your shoulder and introduce yourself, because, as said earlier, someone here has exactly what you need.
Thank you very much.
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