We have been firm friends since we first met in 1982, in California, and have been meeting at regular intervals ever since, both in the United States and in England.

We spend most of our time together talking, trying out ideas, arguing, speculating, and enjoying each others' company. Our professional interests and backgrounds are very different: Ralph is a chaos mathematician and pioneer in the field of computer graphics; Terence is a psychedelic explorer, ethnopharmacologist, and theorist of time; and Rupert is a controversial biologist, best known for his hypothesis of morphic resonance, the idea that there is an inherent memory in nature.


We also share many interests and enthusiasms in common, not least our affinity for India, where we have all lived at different times.

We soon found that these three-way discussions were especially stimulating and fruitful, at least for ourselves. We had no thought of these being anything other than private meetings of friends. But after some six years of these informal conversations, we were asked by Nancy Lunney, of the Esalen Institute, in Big Sur, California, to lead a weekend workshop together.


As a consequence, our trialogues emerged into the public domain in September 1989. These discussions, together with others we held at Esalen in private over the next two years, formed the basis of our book Trialogues at the Edge of the West, published by Bear and Co. in 1992.

This book has been translated into Dutch, French, German, Polish and Portuguese, and many people have told us that they found it stimulating, and that it has sparked off lively discussions among groups of friends. We have been encouraged to find that ideas and conversations can spread in this way, and hope that the present book will enable this process to go further.

We have continued to meet as opportunities have presented themselves, and this book, The Evolutionary Mind, is based on discussions at Esalen in September 1992; in June 1993 in the West of England, at Hazelwood House, in the Devon countryside; and at Terence's rainforest retreat on the slopes of the volcano Mauna Loa, on the Big Island of Hawaii, in September 1994.

We have called this book The Evolutionary Mind because this title best summarizes the common themes of our discussions. Most are strongly influenced by the idea of evolution— of life, science, technology, culture, and indeed the entire cosmos; and also by the prospects for a greatly enlarged understanding of minds, expansion of experience, and transformations of consciousness beyond anything we can at present conceive.

We are very grateful to Becky Luening of Wordrhythm for the accuracy of her transcriptions, and to Paul Herbert for the gift of his recordings. And once again we are indebted to Nancy Kaye Lunney and the Esalen Institute for hospitality.

Back to Contents




Chapter 1 - Grassroots Science

Rupert: As the organization of science becomes increasingly professional and institutional, big science increases in its scope and power. More research gets directed into huge projects like particle accelerators and the human genome project. Inevitably these attract funds, prestige and researchers away from the more traditional, low expense, low prestige branches of science.


The tendency toward big science and fewer "centers of excellence" is going on all the time. Access to big money is coming to dominate the whole structure of science as we know it. This is merely a carrying further of the process of professionalization and institutionalization that's overtaken mainstream science in the present century.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the situation was very different. Charles Darwin, for example, never held an academic post in any institution. In his books, for example in my favorite one, The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication,1 the research base on which he was drawing was that of practical plant and animal breeders, animal trainers, pigeon fanciers, colonial administrators, and so on. In other words, there was a vast wealth of knowledge and experience that fed into Darwin's kind of science, hardly any of which came out of government-funded scientific institutions.

We now see a completely different picture, as the non-professional experience becomes increasingly marginalized. You can't do research until you've got a Ph.D., and you're in an institution, and you've got a grant, and you can write the kind of proposal that impresses a committee of professional scientists.

Organized science is moving further and further in this direction, and is becoming increasingly commercialized as well. I question whether things have to be as they are. Is a new model possible? I think a new model of science is not only possible, but desirable; and not only desirable, but necessary.

On the one hand there's been a decline in public support for science. Genetic engineering is getting very bad press, and research in biotechnology excites more public fear than admiration. The same is true of nuclear research, particle physics re-search, star wars research, and many other aspects of big science. People blame the environmental crisis, nuclear pollution, factory farming, chemicals in food and toxic wastes, fairly or unfairly, on the scientific establishment. As public support for science declines, governments seeking to make cuts find it's quite easy to reduce science budgets. It does not cause many votes to be lost, in fact it may even be popular.

This declining public esteem and reduced funding has led to a reduction in scientific morale, and the proportion of young people who want to study is falling in Britain and in many other countries. Many scientists are very demoralized, and it looks as if the golden age of ever-expanding science budgets in the '60s and '70s is over, perhaps forever. In this context, a possible new approach to science becomes more feasible. It is necessary simply for economic and political reasons.

Fortunately, holistic research is much cheaper than reductionistic research. If you study whole systems you usually need relatively small funds. Conversely, the smaller the thing you study, the bigger the apparatus and the more the funding. When you get down to the most evanescent nuclear particles, you need accelerators many miles long, costing billions of dollars.

I have come to realize that interesting and important research projects can be done on very small budgets by students, or by amateurs outside the framework of institutional science. In my recent book, Seven Experiments that Could Change the World: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Revolutionary Science,2 I propose seven experiments, any one of which could break our current paradigms, most of which could be done for less than $50. One example is research with dogs or cats that know when their owner is coming home (Chapter 6).

I think the conditions are right for a new awakening, a new renaissance of research, a more democratic kind of science in which more people are empowered to take part. When you think about it, the kind of knowledge that Darwin drew on exists today, even more so. There are tens of thousands of amateur plant breeders, for example orchid growers, who lavish care and attention on the plants with their own funding, and some are breeding new varieties of orchids.


There are rose societies, bamboo societies, cactus societies, and so on, where people swap specimens and share their experience and knowledge. There are probably more pigeon enthusiasts, dog breeders, and rabbit fanciers than ever before; many millions of people worldwide. There are people who train horses and dogs, falconers who train falcons. There are old-style naturalists, such as bird-watchers, still around.


There are also millions of computers, previously the preserve of big institutions, making sophisticated mathematical analysis available to almost anyone. In addition there's the whole realm of psychedelic experience, where professional research is very limited in scope but amateur research has accumulated a wealth of experience

In summary, a great body of knowledge is currently avail-able through amateur networks and societies, at present almost completely disregarded by institutional science, and flourishing despite the lack of external funding. From this basis a new kind of grassroots science could arise, possibly through the extension of existing networks, possibly by building up regional research networks. This grassrots science need not be seen as a rival to existing science, but as complementary to it.


These two systems could cross-fertilize and influence each other.

Ralph: This sounds wonderful and very promising, and if it can simply happen as you've described it, then the decline of science could be reversed. Clever young people would be attracted and more and better information and understanding could be developed. I certainly think that's desirable, although I share with many ordinary people a decline of confidence in science, for the reasons you've described. The acceptance of a new model of grassroots science by the scientific establishment seems somehow very unlikely.


The population of the scientific establishment would have to be totally exchanged with new young people who had grown up in these new kinds of research groups. This would have to evolve through a series of developments difficult to envision at this time. I see a problem in the extension of networks and the sharing of results; the function of big science provided by publication in journals with the peer review process.


The very growth of population, civilization, and the scientific establishment means there's an immense amount of data, that if not shared or made available or archived in libraries, can't be accessed. I think the key to the development of a new model would be a new model of communication, for sharing the results of research.


It won't be sufficient for each group of pigeon fanciers in South Burlington, Vermont to have a journal or regional newsletter. There would be too many newsletters to read. How will the regional networks be organized and communicate with each other?


The secret key to empowering the success of this new development is the communications aspect of the computer revolution—electronic bulletin boards, computer networks, central electronic libraries, and developments not yet envisioned for the archiving and sharing of research information. Until everyone can access the results of previous research and easily survey all that has been done in a certain area, the dream can't really become a reality.

It may be that the lack of this kind of successful means of communication is the very reason that big laboratories and big sciences actually evolved. The governments have tried, experimented and proved, to their own satisfaction, that the investment of big bucks in the big laboratory gives a bigger bang than granting smaller sums to a large number of small laboratories.


Certainly these small groups will need grants.


They'll need some support and equipment. Inexpensive science still costs.

Rupert: If you take, say, pigeon fanciers, they already have journals: in Britain, for example, there are several, such as Racing Pigeon Weekly. None of them get grants. They buy their own pigeons, raise and maintain them, breed them, and there's a system of competitions and prizes for successful winners of races. The whole thing is completely self-financing. Cooperation between these different communities of researchers or practitioners already exists.


One could pose certain questions to them, like,

"How do racing pigeons home?"

This kind of question, when formulated and put out in the racing pigeon press, might engage a certain number of people wanting to do experiments, for example, moving the lofts away from the pigeons and seeing if they can find them. The results would be fed through these existing magazines and networks and there would be a debate within and beyond the pigeon fancying community.

It's partly a question of formulating questions that are of wider interest than the nuts and bolts questions asked within existing groups, leading to a larger picture.

Ralph: If the interesting questions come from a central authority, capturing the imagination of groups worldwide, and they accumulate their data in standard form readable by other groups, then a bigger regional or global picture could be developed. In order to synthesize all this information, a really large map or computer graphic display is required; something two steps beyond the budget of these small groups.


There would be a network where pigeon fanciers doing research with homing pigeons would create primary data stimulated by a certain question, and then secondary groups would access the data from other centers and other countries and test certain hypotheses about the strength of the morphogenetic field, for example.


For all of this to happen would require substantial motivation. These amateur groups have the habits of the 19th century. Broadcasting their results to central labs and secondary research groups trying to develop a larger global picture isn't part of their habit. The question of global environmental problems touches on what may very well be the powerful motivation that would incline these groups to a higher level of cooperation among themselves.


In the context of this idea bad news is good news; the rapidly approaching environmental problems are going to stimulate a global response.

Terence: I'm as interested as the next person in the reform of big science. However, rather than seeing Rupert's statement as a practical plan for the reform of science, I see it more as a proposal that can point out what's wrong with science and how far off the track we've got.


Grassroots science can approach rather tangible problems, but if you're interested in something like the neutrino output of the sun, instrumentalities of great cost are necessary. Science has not only moved from the easy problems to the hard problems in its evolution over the past thousand years; it's also moved from the cheap problems to the expensive problems. It's now wedded to instrumentalities of such size and cost that even nations seem to need to band together.


For instance, I don't think there's any way for grassroots science to finance and execute a super-collider project or an expedition to Mars.

Science has been vastly transformed from the simple impulse to understand the natural world around us, into a kind of hellish marriage with instrumentality, technology, capitalism, and the military-industrial complex.


Addressing these four areas of concern:

  1. Instrumentality refers to the great cost of scientific instruments

  2. Technology refers to the fact that science as the handmaiden of advanced product research has gained overwhelming sway over most of our lives

  3. Capitalism refers to the demands of an economic system that distorts the scientific impulse to understand the natural world, so that we spend hundreds of millions of dollars discovering whether chemicals that go into a facial soap are allergenic, while we wouldn't allocate $100 thousand to study a very basic and interesting question like how pigeons home

  4. The Military Industrial Complex refers to the largest governmental institutions which have largely appropriated major scientific research.

Science isn't done in the spirit of Greek curiosity about the order of nature, it's done to make money on a vast scale, and then to defend those fortunes. I dare say, no funding would be forthcoming if there was no anticipated payback from that funding.

I see your proposal as not so much leading to the reform of science, as to the creation of a parallel institution. We could call it the "people's science," or "hands-on science." I've named some of the most overwhelming and monolithic forces in our society.


How can we rescue Dame Science from the hands of such intractable foes of the original Greek impulse to simply understand the world?

Rupert: Part of the answer comes from the shift in paradigm which is happening for a variety of reasons independent of politics and economics, namely the move toward a more holistic model of science. As I said earlier, holistic research, looking at whole systems, is much cheaper than analytical research, looking at smaller systems.


Atomism, which is the philosophy that underlies reductionism, puts the greatest emphasis on the smallest possible things. The smaller the thing, the bigger the apparatus. The highest prestige attaches to superconducting super colliders, which are the biggest pieces of apparatus you can make, and are for studying the smallest particles of matter. If we undergo a shift of models, as we are doing, reductionist science seems somewhat less interesting, less relevant, less attractive.

You can see this happening in medicine. If the medical research system is entirely in the service of mechanistic medicine, the emphasis is on new methods of biochemical diagnosis using genetically engineered diagnostic aids and high-tech scanning equipment. Meanwhile holistic healing methods flourish successfully in small towns all around the world. There's not really much effort to compare these approaches, to see which work better than others.

It's clear that the economics of the medical system, with its escalating costs constantly spiraling upwards, is provoking a worldwide crisis in health care. If we can cut down on the cost of heart transplants and expensive scans by people doing more meditation, or acupuncture, or taking homeopathic remedies, it could lead to far cheaper medical insurance and a different kind of medical research.


For example, systematic surveys could be carried out by students or local communities, who would ask people what diseases they've had, how they think they've been cured, and how they rate the effectiveness of the different systems they've used. In many cases the word-of-mouth method is in fact how one gets to know about things like acupuncture or chiropraxis; somebody tells you they've been cured that way, and so you try it. Such a survey could be done at any level of sophistication or depth.

I think that as soon as you begin to look holistically at things, the need for large instruments is lessened. If we think differently about the need for missions to Mars, star wars technologies, human genome projects, large-scale nuclear physics projects, the need for vast instrumentalities may become less.

Terence: What you seem to be advocating is the collection, correlation and study of data as something which doesn't cost a lot of money and which can be done on home computers by self-organized networks of people. I agree that probably the forward rush of big science has ignored a lot of areas, but what do you say to the extraterrestrial planetologist or to the astrophysicist, or to the molecular biologist?


It seems there are large areas of science which have become so wedded to the need for instrumentalities of great cost that there is no way to do them without large research programs and enormously expensive instruments. What you're really focusing on, is not so much a down-sizing of science, as a re-focusing of it in the biological, medical, and sociological domains.


This is highly warranted, but can it be done? To tell the astrophysicist that the exploration of the galaxy will be halted, to tell the oceanographers that the exploration of the deep sea will be halted, is not entirely in the service of the original Greek impulse to understand nature.

Ralph: They're going to be told that anyway.

Rupert: They are being told already in Britain. Nuclear physicists are in shock.

Ralph: Even if popular support remained tremendous for sub-nuclear particles, the budget crisis would make it impossible to continue in that line. Meanwhile, we have new crises. Nuclear physics was a response to an urgent need in the military-industrial complex. Now we have new military problems, and the defense departments of various nations are doing an about face to reorient themselves toward new kinds of enemies.

We acknowledge that big science is going to continue to exist, but it must economize, reorient itself toward real problems in order to maintain popular support, and reintegrate with grassroots science because of economics, and because the information on that level is needed. I foresee that the new model for big science is going to be data banks, together with scientific visualization strategies based on computer graphics, which as you correctly implied, is expensive.


The "Mission to Planet Earth," NASA's proposal to monitor the temperature everywhere from satellites, will actually be very inexpensive compared to ground-based methods of collecting the same data. The problem is how to visualize it. Here we see groups working at the national laboratory level with enormous super computers that are really expensive, trying to devise ways to synthesize all this data and get the total picture. Until that's figured out, I don't think we'll benefit from all this grassroots science, either what exists today or what would be delivered in the future in response to some really exciting new questions proposed from a larger view of global planetary behavior.


The piece of the budget pie for science is shrinking. To get the largest results from a fixed or shrinking budget, it will continue to be necessary to have big science lab centers, where the synthesis of all the information is handled. The largest problem of science in the future will be to manage this enormous database.


The fact that physical scientists, rather than social and environmental scientists, have gotten a disproportionate piece of the pie so far is because they've not had to deal with databases that are of unmanageable size to deliver a product that's adapted by business for high-tech commodities, gadgets and consumer products.

Terence: Institutions expect a payoff on the investments they make and the people they train, and big science has been the tent under which product development has led to a pay-back for the university, so that laboratories can be endowed and so forth.


It's very hard to see how the small science model closes the loop and pays its own way. It reminds me of the English squire or naturalist, who carries out observations in his local area that are very interesting, but that only his private wealth allows him the luxury of pursuing. How will grassroots science support itself?


How will it be other than something in the hands of hobbyists and dilettantes?

Rupert: There are two things that can happen. Already amateurs do these things on quite a large scale. Pigeon fanciers, of whom there are about 250,000 in Britain, are mostly working class, and some are on social security. It's so cheap that you can do it on that level. This wouldn't just involve squires. We live in a far more prosperous society than ever before, so that this kind of expenditure of money on what people really enjoy, is widely available. Even if it's only at the level of gardening, one of the most popular of all hobbies, people don't need grants to buy plants for their garden, and they wouldn't need grants to graft different ones together or to breed different ones by crossing them.


When it comes to the need for additional funding for things like data banks, there could be a new system of regional research councils, where a tiny fraction, less than 1% of existing science budgets, would be put into funding grassroots science.


A tiny fraction of existing science or education budgets devoted to funding this grassroots network would be politically popular, and help to regenerate interest in science.

Terence: Don't you think, though, that the public support for science is based on an expectation that it will usher in new technologies which the mass of people have a great faith will deliver them into a somehow better world? If you break that chain of expectations, saying,

"We're now going to do science in such a way that you can forget about new technologies,"

...that the interest in science will decline to the level of the interest and support of tournament Chess?

Ralph: Forget the old model. We're talking about a revolution of science in the context of a major paradigm shift in which it would be one component. One of the things we're anticipating is global environmental problems. They're already here, in fact. People thinking of the future are going to expect from science, from government, from religion, from themselves, salvation from these serious problems. Just as from medical science people want cures for cancer and AIDS.


They want solutions, they don't want only products.

In order for grassroots science to participate in the solution of these problems, it isn't sufficient to develop a new and parallel scientific establishment living on its own and doing its best work on a low budget. We need to integrate that with a new model for society which would emerge under the evolutionary pressure of environmental problems.


The new grassroots science would have to link up in an effective way with scientific journals and glossy magazines like Scientific American, presenting the progress they make toward solutions of major problems, alongside the results of big laboratories and everybody else. It's not enough to offer competitions and prizes.


You must offer the possibility of publication, and access to the public support that nourishes amateur as well as professional scientists.

Terence: Take as a test case the depletion of the ozone. To study this requires the cooperation of several national Air Forces with massive data acquisition and analysis facilities. When you move from studying it to doing something about it, it may take a significant portion of every dollar we all make for the rest of our lives. The fate of the planet may hang in the balance. How can a grassroots science make a contribution to that?

Ralph: The ozone hole was first observed in Federal laboratories, which was correcting old data that it had neglected to study. If amateur scientists would have had access to the data sitting in this archive, then they might have made the discovery. The hole was originally thought to be totally isolated over the poles, but now they've discovered a vortex that is gradually sucking ozone from the temperate regions.


If amateur scientists had ozone observers, which are simple little telescope devices, they could measure the ozone density over their own home, then the rate at which the ozone depletion is diffusing over population centers would be observed when it might very well be overlooked by the large laboratories who exclusively devote their research to the activity over the polar regions.

Terence: And what about doing something about it?

Ralph: I can envision a new model in which big science existed as it is today on a lower budget, grassroots science existed as it does today on a larger budget, and the two are coupled together much more tightly, through information sharing mechanisms. The National Science Foundation, for example, of the United States, might have as its main mission the storage and provision of access to this enormous data, so that people can come up with a new hypothesis, a new question.


The small competition would stimulate high school students who could then actually obtain the data that no one else is looking at, about the ozone depletion or whatever, and win the prize for making a phenomenal new discovery from data.

Terence: We keep on returning to the fact that big science provides the data or else the data is accessible by non-expensive, local means; that somehow the problem is to acquire the data. For many problems, like the ozone hole, or the danger of planetesimal impact on the earth, or analyzing the effect of the Philippine volcanic eruption, the acquisition of this data is going to keep big science in business for a while.


I absolutely agree with you that there should be no such thing as classified scientific data, but I wonder if, at least in this stage of the technological revolution, a Mac is sufficient to deal with the data collected. Perhaps it is. If not, then the small scientist remains at a disadvantage, because number crunching is an important part of the analysis of the huge data stream that is coming in. Maybe the answer is to concentrate on dropping the cost of super computing.

Ralph: Well, that's happening.

Terence: Won't that require an enormous governmental project costing billions of dollars, the very thing we're trying to get away from?

Ralph: The computer revolution is actually the answer to the main problem. The prices are spontaneously dropping. Your personal super computer on the desk is a reality today. It'll be cheaper tomorrow; we can take that for granted.

Terence: Brought to us by Microsoft, one of the largest corporate entities in the American capitalist system. It won't be done by two guys in a garage. That era is gone forever.

Rupert: In concentrating on these huge problems, like the ozone hole, what do you do about it? While I don't deny there's a problem at that level, there are problems at much lower levels, where an enormously greater amount can be done by amateur data collection without vast number crunching, and where doing something about it can come about much sooner and quicker than solving enormous climate problems. A lot more has been done, in Britain at least, by amateur groups like Green-peace and Friends of the Earth.


These things don't need huge number crunchers. Fairly simple data is needed to turn doing something about it into political action through existing pressure groups. Friends of the Earth collects samples in rivers downstream from industrial firms and from drinking water supplies. For example, they find that in much of Britain the nitrate levels permitted by British and European regulations are exceeded, pesticide residue levels are far too high, etc. This kind of data, if collected at all by our government, is kept secret.


When it is collected and published, requiring no great sophistication or enormous number crunching, it can lead to enormous political effects, and pressure to do something about these things. Environmental groups already use rather simple analytical techniques, and very simple data processing methods, to great effect.

Terence: I think we're left with the conclusion that there has to be a parallelism that somehow leaves room for both of these approaches; that they address different areas of concern; and when they can make common cause, that's all well and good, but they're really directed toward, in most cases, different ends.

Rupert: Not necessarily. You said that people wanted science to give a product or something useful, but that's not really true in some cases. One of the most popular things in the whole of science, of interest even to three-year-olds, are dinosaurs. The interesting thing is that one of the most useless branches of science, paleontology, has enormous grassroots support.

Terence: A major paleontological project has the character of a major dam-building or excavation project. It costs millions.

Rupert: Most of these bones were collected in the last century by amateurs for virtually nothing. But it may cost millions to build huge plastic models of dinosaurs that emit roaring noises.

Terence: I'm talking about sinking a fossil shaft somewhere in the Gobi Desert and extracting in a proper scientific manner the fossils therein. This requires maintaining hundreds of people in the field, from staff scientists down to coolies, over two years, along with air transport of hundreds of tons of rock back to the museums.

Rupert: Paleontology was already a well-established science in the 19th century, on incredibly low budgets, mostly funded by amateurs. A wonderful example of low-cost, grassroots science.

Terence: I don't have that great a familiarity with paleontology, but I do know something about archeology, and it costs a fortune to do it right. Today, when you go into Guatemala or the Yucatan to excavate a Mayan site, you have to keep a team in the rainforest for six months.

Ralph: Rupert hasn't suggested slashing all budgets to zero. Presumably most of the expensive projects will continue to be funded according to the degree by which they can gain public support, provide exciting results, and solve important problems. Simultaneously, they could be influenced enormously by discoveries of the grassroots science groups, feeding into the determination of how this budget is supposed to be spent.

Terence: Sticking with archaeology for a moment, it's an interesting science in that it doesn't generate new products, or give us a sense of progress. It doesn't feed into the military industrial complex. It seems almost the model of what we're talking about, and yet for all those reasons it's absolutely famished for money, finding it very difficult to obtain funding.


An enormous amount of archaeology is funded only by the patronage of wealthy enthusiasts. It's not a happy experience to spend an evening with archaeologists listening to them discuss the difficulties they're having funding projects that they can in a few minutes convince you are very worthy and interesting.


Archaeology may show us problems that we can anticipate if we try to expand this model.

Rupert: At the moment, the archaeology budget, I'm sure, is a tiny fraction of the budget for the genome project or the super collider. Archaeology is actually a good case to use as a model. There's a large grassroots base, amateur participation, popular interest, and even the biggest projects are relatively cheap compared with large-scale science.

What I am proposing is not that a hundred percent of available funding should go to grassroots science and zero to existing institutional science, but rather that we change the present situation where 100 percent goes to existing institutional science. If 99 percent went to institutional science and 1 percent to grassroots science, it would turn around the situation, changing the base of science's popular appeal and I think bringing a whole new vigor and a whole new spirit into the scientific endeavor.

Another case in point is in your particular realm of expertise, Terence. Psychedelic research seems to me a very important component of consciousness research. We hear a lot about the need for consciousness research because we know so little about the human mind. A lot of funding goes into cognitive psychology, particularly if it involves computer models, because it can feed the development of new generations of computers.


Relatively low funding goes into research that's to do with psychotherapy, because it's mostly the province of practicing psychotherapists who are funded by the people that go to see them. A certain amount goes into official psychiatric and drug research to do with tranquillizers, and so on. But the vast majority of psychedelic research, which has a lot to say about the nature of consciousness, the range of the imagination, and the powers of the human mind, is not funded at all by official agencies. In fact every effort is made to suppress it.


Yet, in spite of official discouragement and suppression, research actually continues. Here's an area where for legal and other reasons, virtually the whole of the research effort is in the amateur domain. Here's an area where the formulation of appropriate questions could lead to interesting research being undertaken by explorers of the psychedelic realm.

Terence: I quite agree. This would be an obvious area where the simple codification and making available of data would have a tremendous impact on the models being developed within the field.

Ralph: A related area is astrology, and the so-called pseudo-sciences, altogether funded by amateur groups. If the means existed for sharing the information that already is known, it could result in various experiments that would lead psychedelic research, pseudosciences, and other theories, now totally rejected by regular science, to reemerge back into the mainstream and begin making a contribution toward the solution of our global problems.

Terence: Human sexuality is another area where data is not gathered because of institutional biases that are conscious or unconscious. It's probably one of the least organized areas of social research that exists, and yet it's central to our psychological health and our sense of equilibrium in the world. Nutrition is another.

Ralph: One of the faults of big science is associated with the reductionist perspective, which has led to a gradual, progressive, never-ending elimination, trimming, pruning off of different things that are labeled pseudoscience, amateur science, fringe science, and so on. The paranormal, nutrition, all kinds of alternative medicine—all these things that are rejected comprise a daily growing group, while the number of natural phenomena studied by big science, official science, and establishment science is always shrinking.


One of the important gains of the new model for alternative science would be to open up cracks in the structure for the reintegration of all these different threads, which represent a kind of a holistic approach to the field of knowledge, especially when you include archaeology, history, and social science.


What we're talking about is bigger than science really; the reintegration of the entire intellectual sphere.

Rupert: So how can all this be implemented?

Ralph: We've sort of derived a workable alternative system here, assuming that other paradigms in society will shift simultaneously. The key for the transformation into this new model would be changes in the universities and high schools. We mentioned several times high school students responding to prizes offered for solving problems. Universities have been one of the main institutions supporting the restrictive peer review, super professional, and archaic model of science.


If universities were reformed so that they had departments of integration, interdisciplinary programs, and a holistic approach, they could play a tremendous role in preparing people to be amateur scientists. The questions being proposed by the question centers should become part of the curriculum in universities.

The kind of change we want is a recognition that the full holistic range of intellectual endeavor, including what we call research, is nothing more than participation. A person who's going to participate in life, in evolution, in building the future of the planet and the species, will find that among other things, it's necessary to do research.


One can be an amateur athlete and an amateur scientist and an amateur historian and so on.


If universities are preparing people with a model of self-education which can be continued indefinitely, then of course they would be teaching grassroots science. They would be teaching where to find the questions, where to publish the answers, how to use the computer to, and generally how to, do it.

Rupert: In a sense, the move in science education towards students doing projects is working in this direction. The only trouble is that most of the projects they do are banal and derivative. It's assumed that a student cannot really do a truly original and interesting project. There are very few student projects that I've come across that can be seen as real research.


But the system of student projects is already in place; it is mainstream. It's just that taking its potential seriously hasn't happened yet.

Ralph: Students are demanding more interesting problems, and if they aren't forthcoming, they abandon science and go to something which is more interesting; where they have real problems that students can address, like computer science.


The creation of a new model for grassroots science would actually give universities the opportunity to revitalize their science curriculum, thereby attracting better students, and giving them something to aim at in their lifetime of research, without large grants and working in big laboratories for the military-industrial complex.



1  Charles Darwin, The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication (London: Murray, 1875).
2  Rupert Sheldrake, Seven Experiments that Could Change the World (London: Fourth Estate, 1994).

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Chapter 2 - Psychedelics, Computers, and Mathematics

Ralph: I was sitting in my office with my secretary Nina about a year and a half ago when there was a knock on the door. Nina said, "This is a friend of a friend of mine, who wants to interview you."


I was very busy with the telephone and the correspondence, so he came inside and I answered his questions without thinking. After a month or so, when a photographer arrived, I began to realize that I had given an interview for Gentleman's Quarterly (GQ) magazine. I called my children and asked them what was GQ magazine. They live in Hollywood and know about such things. I was in Italy when the magazine finally arrived on the stands. I was very proud, in spite of my style of dress, that I had been the first one in our circle of family and friends to actually be photographed for GQ.


But I was shocked in Firenze to open the first page of the magazine, and see my picture occupying a large part of the first page, with the table of contents, with the heading:

"Abraham sells drugs to mathematicians."

There were some other insulting things in the interview, that as far as I can remember, was largely fiction. I didn't mention it to anybody when I came back to California, and was very pleased that nobody mentioned it. Nobody had noticed. There were one or two phone calls, and I realized that nobody after all reads GQ.


If they do look at the pictures, they overlooked mine. I was safe after all at this dangerous pass.

Until suddenly, my peace was disturbed once again by 100 phone calls in a single day asking what did I think of the article about me in the San Francisco Examiner, or the Chronicle, or the San Jose Mercury News, and so on. All the embers in the fire left by GQ had flamed up again in the pen of a journalist.


A woman who writes a computer column for the San Francisco Examiner had received in her mail box a copy of the Gentleman's Quarterly article, in which Timothy Leary is quoted as saying,

"The Japanese go to Burma for teak, and they go to California for novelty and creativity. Everybody knows that California has this resource thanks to psychedelics."

Then the article quoted me as the supplier for the scientific renaissance in the 1960s. This columnist didn't believe what was asserted by Timothy Leary and others in the GQ article, that the computer revolution and the computer graphic innovations of California had been built upon a psychedelic foundation. She set out to prove this story false.


She went to Siggraph, the largest gathering of computer graphic professionals in the world, where annually somewhere in the United States 30,000 who are vitally involved in the computer revolution gather. She thought she would set this heresy to rest by conducting a sample survey, beginning her interviews at the airport the minute she stepped off the plane.


By the time she got back to her desk in San Francisco she'd talked to 180 important professionals of the computer graphic field, all of whom answered yes to the question,

"Do you take psychedelics, and is this important in your work?"

Her column, finally syndicated in a number of newspapers again, unfortunately, or kindly, remembered me. Shortly after this second incident in my story, I was in Hollyhock, the Esalen of the far north, on Cortes Island in British Columbia, with Rupert and other friends, and I had a kind of psychotic break in the night.


I couldn't sleep and was consumed with a paranoid fantasy about this outage and what it would mean in my future career, the police at my door and so on. I knew that my fears had blown up unnecessarily, but I needed someone to talk to. The person I knew best there was Rupert. And he was very busy in counsel with various friends, but eventually I took Rupert aside and confided to him this secret, and all my fears.


His response, within a day or two, was to repeat the story to everybody in Canada, assuring me that it's good to be outed, and it would be good to come out in a best-selling book, which John Brockman, our agent, could hawk for a huge royalty advance. I tried thinking positively about this episode, but when I came home still felt nervous about it and said "no" to many interviews from ABC News, and the United Nations, and other people who called to check out this significant story. I did not then rise to the occasion, and so I've decided today, by popular request, to tell the truth.

It all began in 1967 when I was a professor of mathematics at Princeton, and one of my students turned me on to LSD. That led to my moving to California a year later, and meeting at UC Santa Cruz a chemistry graduate student who was doing his Ph.D. thesis on the synthesis of DMT. He and I smoked up a large bottle of DMT in 1969, and that resulted in a kind of secret resolve, which swerved my career toward a search for the connections between mathematics and the experience of the logos, or what Terence calls "the transcendent other."


This is a hyper-dimensional space full of meaning and wisdom and beauty, which feels more real than ordinary reality, and to which we have returned many times over the years, for instruction and pleasure. In the course of the next 20 years there were various steps I took to explore the connection between mathematics and the logos.


About the time that chaos theory was discovered by the scientific community, and the chaos revolution began in 1978, I apprenticed myself to a neurophysiologist and tried to construct brain models made out of the basic objects of chaos theory. I built a vibrating fluid machine to visualize vibrations in transparent media, because I felt on the basis of direct experience that the Hindu metaphor of vibrations was important and valuable.


I felt that we could learn more about consciousness, communication, resonance, and the emergence of form and pattern in the physical, biological, social and intellectual worlds, through actually watching vibrations in transparent media ordinarily invisible, and making them visible. I was inspired by Hans Jenny,1 an amateur scientist in Switzerland, a follower of Rudolf Steiner, who had built an ingenious gadget for rendering patterns in transparent fluids visible.

About this time we discovered computer graphics in Santa Cruz, when the first affordable computer graphic terminals had appeared on the market. I started a project of teaching mathematics with computer graphics, and eventually tried to simulate the mathematical models for neurophysiology and for vibrating fluids, in computer programs with computer graphic displays. In this way evolved a new class of mathematical models called CDs, cellular dynamata.


They are an especially appropriate mathematical object for modeling and trying to understand the brain, the mind, the visionary experience and so on. At the same time other mathematicians, some of whom may have been recipients of my gifts in the 1960s, began their own experiments with computer graphics in different places, and began to make films.

Eventually, we were able to construct machines in Santa Cruz which could simulate these mathematical models I call CDs at a reasonable speed, first slowly, and then faster and faster. And in 1989, I had a fantastic experience at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, where I was given access to, at that time, the world's fastest super computer, the MPP, the Massively Parallel Processor.


My CD model for the visual cortex had been programmed into this machine by the only person able to program it, and I was invited to come and view the result. Looking at the color screen of this super computer was like looking through the window at the future, and seeing an excellent memory of a DMT vision, not only proceeding apace on the screen, but also going about 100 times faster than a human experience.


Under the control of knobs which I could turn at the terminal, we immediately recorded a video, which lasts for 10 minutes. It was in 1989 that I took my first look through this window.

To sum up my story, there is first of all, a 20-year evolution from my first DMT vision in 1969, to my experience with the Massively Parallel Processor vision in 1989.


Following this 20-year evolution, and the recording of the video, came the story with GQ and the interviews at Siggraph in the San Francisco Examiner that essentially pose the question,

"Have psychedelics had an influence in the evolution of science, mathematics, the computer revolution, computer graphics, and so on?"

Another event, in 1990, followed the publication of a paper in the International Journal of Bifurcations and Chaos, when an interesting article appeared in the monthly notices of the American Mathematical Society, the largest union of research mathematicians in the world.


The article totally redefined mathematics, dropping numbers and geometrical spaces as relics of history, and adopting a new definition of mathematics as the study of space/time patterns. Mathematics has been reborn, and this rebirth is an outcome of both the computer revolution and the psychedelic revolution which took place concurrently, concomitantly, cooperatively, in the 1960s.

Redefining this material as an art medium, I gave a concert, played in real time with a genuine super computer, in October, 1992, in the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, in New York City

We come to our subject. I want to pose one or two questions, and read here one or two excerpts from some favorite books. We have to accept, I think, mathematics either in the new definition, or the old one. In the Renaissance cosmology of John Dee, mathematics is seen as the joint therapist of Father Sky and Mother Earth, or a kind of an intellectual, spiritual, elastic medium connecting up the heavenly realms and Gaia herself.


That puts mathematics on the same level as the logos, or the holy spirit. Let's consider that for the sake of discussion. Having seen mathematics as a language of space/time pattern, let me ask you this, Terence and Rupert: To what extent could the psychedelic vision of the logos be externalized, either by verbal descriptions or by computer simulations, or by drawings of inspired visionary artists?


On the other hand, in what ways could mathematical vision serve the spirit, and extend the mind? Is there a role, in other words, for this kind of thing in our main concerns? To give you a fast-forward toward the answer, let me read a couple of things from your writings.

First, from Terence's Food of the Gods 2:

"The archaic revival is a clarion call to recover our birthright, however uncomfortable that may make us. It is a call to realize that life lived in the absence of the psychedelic experience, upon which primordial shamanism is based, is life trivialized, life denied! Life enslaved to the ego and its fear of dissolution in the mysterious matrix of feeling that is all around us.


It is in the archaic revival that our transcendence of the historical dilemma actually lies.


There is something more. It is now clear that new developments in many areas, including mind machine interfacing, pharmacology of the synthetic variety, and data storage imaging and retrieval techniques; it is now clear that new developments in these areas are coalescing into the potential for a truly demonic, or an angelic self-imaging of our culture."

Our second passage is from Rupert's The Rebirth of Nature 3:

"As soon as we allow ourselves to think of the world as alive, we recognize that a part of us knew this all along. It is like emerging from winter into spring. We can begin to reconnect our mental life with our own direct, intuitive experiences of nature. We can participate in the spirits of sacred places and times.


We can see that we have much to learn from traditional societies who have never lost their sense of connection with the living world around them. We can acknowledge the animistic traditions of our ancestors, and we can begin to develop a richer understanding of human nature, shaped by a tradition and collective memory, linked to the earth and the heavens, related to all forms of life, and consciously open to the creative power expressed in all evolution.


We are reborn into a living world."

Terence: The nuts and bolts question posed in all of that, is,

"Can the psychedelic state be visualized with technologies ranging from paint and brush to super computers?"

I think it can. I think it is not, in principle, mysterious.


It may be fleeting, like the situation that follows upon the splitting of the atom. It may be remote. But it is in principle describable. It's a domain to be explored. It's simply a matter of paying attention, gaining inspiration, and gaining skill of technical execution.

Ralph: Any models that we can build, verbal, visual, or mathematical, are feeble compared to the experience itself. On the other hand, this experience is within all, and without all, and we are immersed in the spiritual world, so the tiniest resonance from the most feeble model may suffice to excite, as poetry excites emotion, spirit. The essence of communication is to have a compact representation of an experience that's infinitely complex. The representations have to be really simple.

Representation restricted to verbal mode alone, might be too feeble to excite by resonance, the similar state. Not every person is going to become a cephalopod.4 Not every person has the time to become a shaman. We need, however, a certain number of shamans in our culture to help to reconnect human society and the play in the sky. We need some kind of amplifying and communicating device between the few people who are our real shamans, let's say sacred artists of the future, and the mass society watching MTV.


The question is, can these means be of use to the clarion call that you've given in your book?

Terence: I think that what makes it confusing is when you go into these domains, the encounter is an emotionally powerful one. The situation is so novel that the experiencer tends to assume that this emotional power is coming from the input. It's not. It's coming from the encounter with the input. I mean it's like posing the question,

"Can you make a stirring record of the Grand Canyon?"

Yes, you can, with helicopter-mounted cameras and this sort of thing. But the emotion you have watching that, you bring to it. The psychedelic dimension is objective, but it's also so awesome and so different from what we know that it encourages and promotes and triggers awe in us. We bring something to it, which we can never image, or reduce to a verbal description or a piece of film.


The thing itself is just more of reality, like the heart of the cell, or radar maps of the Venustian surface, or the center of the atom.

Ralph: Do we need more reality? We've already got so much.

Terence: We need more of this mental logos world. It's the logos world that we've lost the connection with. These computer programs, psychedelic drugs, dynamic modeling schemes, are the equivalent of probes, like Voyager. They're sent not to an alien planet, but to an alien phase-space of some sort, one that we need connection to.

Rupert: I agree with Terence. The problem is that the emotional intensity of a psychedelic experience is totally different from seeing a computer graphic display. It's possible to get something a bit like that just by shaking a kaleidoscope and looking into it. In these expensive novelty shops that dot California, you can find fancy kaleidoscopes beautifully made. You look through them, and you can see a dazzling display of pattern and color, but within a few seconds you're just bored.


Nobody ever really looks at them for very long. Somehow they have no meaning, and don't engage one. I think the difference between representation of the state and being in the state itself is this sense of meaning, engagement and intensity. I for one, being a botanist, am very drawn to flowers. I love looking at flowers. Sometimes you can look at a whole garden full of flowers like here in Esalen, and it's quite meaningless. At other times you can look at a single flower for a long time, you can go into it, it's like a mandala.


You enter into that realm, and it takes on incredible meaning, beauty and significance. The same with butterflies and many other natural creations. It seems to me the problem is how to enter into that engagement, intensity and sense of meaning, rather than the representation of the pattern itself.


There are plenty of patterns around in the natural world.

Ralph: These are space/time patterns. Although we say the words "space/time pattern," we have no language for individual space/time patterns. As experienced by us, there is a kind of a resonance between patterns that somehow makes a resonance with different patterns of neurotransmitters in the visual cortex. Some aspects are perceived, and other aspects are not, remaining invisible to our perception.


You've been speaking of flowers in the garden, or the images in the kaleidoscope. These are static patterns, and we have an extensive verbal language for that. What I'm suggesting is an expansion of our visual/linguistic capability in the direction of a universal language for space/time pattern, such that we could truly speak of our experiences, giving them names.


At the mere drop of a word or a code, an I-75, Highway 1, Highway 0, we would transmit a clear image of space/time pattern along with whatever emotion we remember from the experience. If we can awaken these feelings in the mind of the listener, we can converse, intellectualize, understand and reconnect with the space/time pattern of the spiritual world. Let's face it, we have the most extensive experience of this world through visual metaphors of, well, movies. We experience the logos as movies.


We don't experience it as words, although there are sounds, and there is sometimes writing on the wall like graffiti. Basically reality is an infinite field of consciousness, of vibration, of waves moving, of intelligence.


When we travel in this realm, we go somewhere we've been before and we recognize it, and that excites in us memory, which is reinforced and extended, and upon this experience we base further experiment. We three have had our many experiences, which I have great faith, are similar, even universal experiences, and yet we are absolutely speechless in verbalizing them to each other.


Words fail me.

Terence: It seems to me that mind responds with an affinity for itself. If an expression is universal, then it has an affinity for the universal mind. What's interesting about the example of the kaleidoscope is that it's boring after a few minutes. If you analyze how it works, and take it apart, the base units in most kaleidoscopes are pieces of broken glass, pebbles, detritus, junk. Somehow splitting this into six sections with a mirror and putting it in heavy oil is supposed to bring you into the realm of something endlessly watchable and interesting. But it isn't.


The brain machines being produced in Germany are the same way. All pattern seems to quickly lose its charm unless it's pattern that has been put through the sieve of mind. We enjoy looking at the ruins and artifacts of vanished civilizations a lot more than random arrangements of natural objects.


It seems to me what we're looking for when we say the MPP [Massively Parallel Processor] data on chaos is like a DMT [Dimethyl tryptamine] trip, what we're saying is,

"Here in this pattern is the footprint of meaning."

It's as though an architect passed through. We're always looking for the betraying presence of an order that is more than an order of economy and pure function.

We look for an aesthetic order, and when we find that, then we have this reciprocal sense of recognition and transcendence, and this is what the psychedelic experience provides in spades.


A critic of the psychedelic experience would object,

"Of course it's made of mind. It's made of your mind."

For the psychedelic voyager, the intuition is, it's made of mind, but not made of my mind. Either there's an identity problem, or a real frontier of communication is being crossed.


When we look for living pattern, or aesthetically satisfying order, what we really look for is a sign that mind has somehow touched the stochastic processes of nature.

Rupert: The limiting factor seems to be neither the richness of display we find in nature, nor the language that we communicate with, but rather the ability to go into something with intensity of vision. I don't think language is a limiting problem.


For example, music can be written down in a language. I can read music, but for me it doesn't come to life from this language. I have to hear it for it to come to life.


Presumably mathematical notation is a way of notating things in the mathematical landscape, which comes alive for mathematicians. Take the realm of plants again. If you look at the incredible richness of botany, of flower forms, there is a language for this, used by botanists and florists, describing the species of plants in technical jargon. Even so, it doesn't mean that most botanists spend most of their time contemplating the beauty of flowers.


They're rushing to the next committee meeting or getting their next paper ready for publication in a technical journal. Somehow there isn't much time to actually enter into these realms, even for people whose profession it is to be concerned with them. We're neither short of images nor of languages in many realms, but rather of the time, the space, and the inclination to enter.

Ralph: Music is a good metaphor. Let's just think of this for a minute. I don't propose that a mathematical model of a brain or a plant would be as wonderful as a brain or a plant. Life will not be replaced by language. Nevertheless, the evolution of music has been greatly aided by musical notation. Because we wouldn't like music to simply end and simply be left with a library of musical scores.


Nevertheless, the evolution of music has been enormously facilitated by having a graphic language that to some extent recalls the actual musical experience. This is the role that I'm proposing for mathematics, not to replace the Earth or the heavenly realms, but to facilitate their understanding through an analog on the same level as musical staff notation, pertaining to the visual experience of space/time patterns.

Algorithmic information theory is a way of telling the difference between chaos and randomness. As Terence was saying, there is in verbal representation a kind of economy, where a simple formula calls forth a complex experience. What seems to us as random sometimes can be generated by a very small code, like a musical staff notation.


When data from a scientific experiment looks random, one can test it as to whether there is or isn't a compact economical model for it. A truly random process would provide data which could not be represented by any formula shorter than the data itself. It turns out that the weirdest, most random-looking data from the natural world, for example, earthquakes, sun spots, and so on, always seems to have a very compact mathematical model. Therefore it is not truly random, it only looks random.


This is what is called "deep data."

What I'm suggesting is an increase in our encyclopedia of models, extending language, so that we can name, store, retrieve, and recreate not the experience itself, but the data, for the sake of communication. This is exactly what musical staff notation did for music. It pertains not only to the spiritual experience, but also to fundamental questions on the future of human society.


Can we understand the space/time nature of the planet well enough, since it's so complex, to be sensitive enough to cooperate with it? If we can't even understand what we're seeing when we look, there's not much we can do to cooperate.


Biogeography, for example, is a botanical field that could be revolutionized by a staff notation for space/time pattern.

Rupert: Surely what we're looking for is meaning in terms of significance. In terms of information, even patterns, we've got libraries full. Go into any book shop, and you're overwhelmed by the quantity of stuff there. The idea of having even more models on the shelf, somehow doesn't seem very exciting to me.


What would be exciting would be to see some deep meaning in all of this. Maybe mathematics is one way to find the deep meaning in things. If so, I'm not quite sure how.

Ralph: The taxonomy of plants is not full of meaning, nevertheless a vocabulary has evolved so that when words like exfoliate are put on a page, another botanist can read it and actually tell what kind of plant this is.


A further development in the evolution of language is the generation of meaning. Meaning is not given in the data. We have to grok things. We have to struggle and evolve understanding by some hermeneutical process.


People said when printing began, that it would be the end of memory, and when writing began, it would be the end of history.

Terence: In both cases they were correct.

Ralph: Yes, when language began we lost our connection with the natural world.

Terence: Maybe it was the kind of language. Ralph: Spoken language.

Terence: Language processed acoustically. It's not in the generation of it that you want to put your attention, but in the reception/decoding of it. When language became something acoustically processed it became the willing servant of abstraction. Whereas language processed visually is here and now stuff of great density, acoustical language permits a level of abstraction that creates a higher inclusiveness, achieved by a necessary dropping out of detail.

Ralph: I'm glad to hear you say so, since it always sounds like you think the logos itself is speech.

Terence: Speech beheld.

Ralph: I'm astonished at the resistance I'm getting here to the idea of visual language. When I travel in France, I'm riding in the train or something, and I'm really bothered by all the gossip going around, because I understand French. I realize that this couple is having trouble, and the train is not stopping in the station that I expected, and so on.


When I travel in Japan, I don't understand anything, so it seems to me really very quiet there. I just don't hear anything. Where we have an oral language for certain phenomena, we then perceive it. It's like a moving van comes along and transports this stuff from the unconscious system to the conscious system, where we can deal with it. These space/time patterns for which we have no visual language, are essentially unconscious to us.


Therefore we can't interact with them, and this might be a fundamental reason that the planet is dying.


Either we shouldn't have verbal language, or we should have verbal language and visual language as well. Verbal language is poorly adapted to space/time patterns. For example, we describe music with staff notation, a visual rather than verbal language.


I think that our intellectual relationship to the sky and to the earth would be vastly improved by developing a larger closet of models for visual processing.

Terence: I think you're right. I regard language as some kind of project that's uncompleted as we sit here. The whole world is held together by small mouth noises, and it's only barely held together by small mouth noises. If we could have a tighter network of communication, we would in a sense be a less diffuse species. Communication, or the lack of it, is what's shoving us toward the brink of possible planetary catastrophe.

If we buy into the idea that psychedelics are somehow showing us an evolutionary path yet to be followed, then it seems obvious this entails a further completion of the project of language. Maybe what all this technology is about is a more explicit condensation of the word. Modernity is characterized by an ever-more explicit evocation of the image. We just have to go back 100 years, and the best anyone could do was an albumin tint photograph.


Now we have color lithography.

Ralph: High Definition TV.

Terence: HDTV. High-speed printing. Virtual reality. The world wide web. It's as though language is becoming flesh. Meaning condensing into the visual realm would be a kind of telepathy compared to the kind of linguistic reality we're living in now.

Ralph: Glad to hear it.

Rupert: What we may be doing is returning after a detour of centuries into the realm of literacy. In most of human history, and still today for more than half the people alive on this planet, literacy is not the big thing in languages. Most cultures are originally oral cultures. The majority of people still can't read and write.


If you can't read and write, it means that the visual cortex in the left hemisphere of your brain has not been hijacked by the speech centers. As soon as you learn to read and write, the visual part of the left-hand side of the brain gets taken over by the speech centers, which have to do with the processing of sound.


The brain gets into the habit of dealing with linear print, becoming adapted to reading and writing letters, and this knocks out a large part of the visual processing capacity.

Ralph: Now you're afraid I'm going to knock out the other half.

Rupert: As far as I know, there have been very few studies of the difference in thought patterns between people who can't read and write, and those who can. I'm not now talking about people in our society who can't read and write because they're dyslexic or dropped out of school, but whole cultures, like many traditional ones, where nobody, or very few, read and write.


Where language has a different role. When I lived in India, I found that for illiterate people language is an extremely powerful medium, conjuring up metaphors and images in a quite different way than it does for people who are literate. You yourself have complained that new generations of students at Santa Cruz can't read or write anymore.


It may be that the process of short-circuiting literacy is already well-advanced, and that a new kind of visual language is developing.

Terence: There's actually been a huge amount of discussion about this difference between so-called print/linear cultures and oral, aboriginal cultures. This is what Marshall McLuhan was saying,5 that somehow the symbolic signification of language, first through writing and then through printing, has had all kinds of effects on the evolution of the Western mind, that we, until McLuhan, were totally unaware of.


He believed, for example, that the linear, uniform quality of print created the intellectual preconditions for the acceptance of an idea like democracy, invented by the Greeks only after they had a phonetic alphabet. He felt that modern industrial methods of production based on interchangeable parts were inconceivable except by a print culture that had the notion of moveable type. The idea of citizen as a uniformitarian impulse laid over our individual biological diversity could never have occurred in a culture without print.


The bottom line in the McLuhanist analysis is that we tend to be incredibly naive about the information-processing technologies we put in place, because all we care about is input and output. What we don't understand is that the plumbing between input and the output gives a culture its tone, its values, its implicit political assumptions, as well as its attitude toward nature.


What we are is a print culture, both linear and hierarchical.

Ralph: What we are? Or what we were?

Terence: We're undergoing a transition in the 20th century. Unfortunately, the intellectuals at the top of the pyramid, are the last to get the news. They're still poring over Locke and Hegel, when what's really happening is trip hop trance dance and the Internet. Culture tends to be ruled by people who are last to get the news in terms of new technologies which are reshaping the culture.


All this beefing about the death of literacy. . .we might as well beef about the passing of the high-button shoe or the beaver hat. Literacy is finished. It was a phase. It's not to be preserved by anyone other than curators. The rest of us are going to live, obviously, in a culture shaped by new forms of media.

Ralph: The reason I complain that my students are illiterate is that history is unavailable to them. There's no way to tap into it. All these fantastic books on the Middle Ages, prehistory, archaeology and so on, are never going to be translated into documentary videos. It's not enough to have a few curators who are in touch with the Library of Congress and the British Museum.

Terence: Don't you think, Ralph, that's actually a kind of amnesia? It's not that your students are illiterate. Illiterate is when you don't know the difference between Melville and Hawthorne. Amnesia is when you don't know whether the 30-Years War came before or after the War of the Roses.

Ralph: If you're literate, and you forget, you can look it up in the Encyclopedia Britannica. You can dial it up in a hypercard. These historical media, let us say, don't lose their importance just because newer media are developed.

There's a further problem, which you touch on extensively in your book, which relates to television as a drug. We had botanical drugs, and we had chemical drugs, now we have electronic drugs. The fact is that my students have watched television, according to your book, six to nine hours a day, since birth.


They're unbelievably quick with images, and this is a fantastic advance in human intelligence.


Astonishing amounts of information can be communicated in 25 seconds by the best of television commercials. You can't show these commercials in the African bush and get a response. People have be trained up to it by doing their visual calisthenics six and a half hours a day since birth.


What's not so good is that the material that's available in the video store or on television is unbelievably poor.


If you make a PBS documentary on Food of the Gods, nobody will watch it, because they're busy watching Dynasty. Somehow the drug-abuse aspect of the new media has already dominated its future. This credo is already so deep that it's unlikely we can swerve the video technology into an effective cultural resource.

Rupert: That's my problem with your approach, actually. These computer graphics use basically television-style technologies.

Ralph: Super computers like the 200-megaflop Massive Parallel Processor, which cost $13 million three years ago, can be had today for $500,000. In five years there will be one in the kitchen keeping track of your recipes and running your microwave. I think that when these super computers are available in kitchens and kindergarten playrooms, and people are brought up with them, as an extension of life, it will mean a vast increase in the size of the playroom.


These machines become almost as interesting as psychedelics when you can interact with them. What's wrong with the passive medium of television is that it's dead; some idiot programmed it and made it available, and it's distributed like a drug.


People are actually addicted to the passive process of sitting there knocked out, and receiving somebody else's fantasy.

Terence: You can't underestimate the perversity of people, in terms of their tendency to prefer the passive. In 1977, when I bought my first home computer, it came bundeled with a manual called Basic Basic. The intent of this manual was to teach you how to program your computer. Six months of trying to peddle that to the American public, and the manufacturer realized they had to completely rethink the product, as only a vanishingly small number of people were ever going to program a computer. Once when you bought an automobile you got a toolbox with it.


That's not been true since the '20s. There's a certain responsibility on the part of the consumer not to demand the prepackaged stuff. The MPP, these super computers, are, to my mind, like the psychedelic drug state, but everybody's trip is the software they bring to it. Someone who goes to the MPP machine to keep track of their recipes is trivializing the tool, because they don't know what it can do.


This is probably the equivalent of taking a psychedelic drug to solve your relationship problems. The question you framed is stupid and mini-minded, and perhaps the psychedelic can help, but what a tremendous misappropriation of power.

Ralph: Every tool will be misused as well as used. The most popular books are cookbooks. Nevertheless we write books, and to some little extent, they participate in the evolution of history. The fact that most books are used for recipes doesn't destroy the value of books. So it is with the new media: whereas most people will use them to hypercard a stack of recipes, or sex postures, or something, there will still be a lot of arcane and important material available in this medium which can't be accessed any other way.


Nevertheless, I must say, I became very depressed this year when I realized that not only couldn't my students read or write, but their interest in computers was much less than the preceding class. For the last three or four years interest in computers has been on the decline, except for computer games.


The most brilliant kids in high school are doing nothing but playing Nintendo. I have colleagues, brilliant professors of mathematics, who do nothing after work but play Tetris and Gameboy.

Terence: Ten years ago it would have been heroin. Now it's just Gameboy.

Ralph: It's much more dangerous! It hasn't been made illegal yet.

Rupert: One final point I want to make. The model you are suggesting takes us further into the artificial manmade world of technology, and we've still got an incredible diversity in the natural world that hardly anyone's interested in anymore. There are herbaria collections, plants and butterfly collections, geological museums with rocks and crystals of every kind, and they're deserted.


There's an incredible diversity of form in the natural world, and we are becoming more and more plugged into the entirely human world of technologies and manmade patterns. How does this relate to giving us a greater sense of connection with the bigger world?

Ralph: I believe that our connection to the natural world will be enormously enhanced by the new media, in spite of the fact that most people will relate to it as a new form of drug. I think that planetaria, for example, which are artificial models of the sky, brighter and simpler and easier to understand, along with special programs that show only certain motions at one time, can have an enormous potential to turn people on to the real sky, which is after all the ultimate source of our mind, our intellect, our mathematics and language.


Although the construction of planetaria in big cities around the world is an expansion of the synthetic world at the expense of the natural one, the whole idea of it is to try to turn a switch in some few people, making them aware of what was there all the time.


I think a HyperCard stack with high-speed, high-quality color pictures and sound, giving all the beetles in the Amazon jungle, would enormously help me personally to understand what I'm seeing when I actually go there.

Terence: I'd like to defend Ralph. I don't think that it's really a journey deeper into artificiality. Science has been dependent on instrumentality for a long, long time. The natural world that Ralph's program would reveal is the natural world of syntax. In other words, language would become a much more accessible object for study if it were visually explicit.


And I expect that this is happening. It seems to me we have reached a new frontier in the natural history of this most complex and least understood of all behaviors; language. While the instrumentalities may be computers, high-speed imaging, and so forth, it's no different from using the Hubble telescope to tease data out of a very distant part of the universe, and then making it explicit. If we could understand language, we would understand something about our own place in nature that eludes us.


It's clearly the most complex thing we do, and we're the most complex thing we know. The feedback from language is culture, the most anomalous phenomenon in the natural world.

Ralph: I want to end by saying this: Mathematics is part of the natural world. It's a landscape which can be explored, simply and directly, and with incredible pleasure, delight and advancement, just like the psychedelic logos, or any other aspect of the world. The mathematical landscape does not belong to the human species. It belongs not even to the earth, but to the sky.


It's part of the infinite universe we live in. Whatever microscopes, telescopes, kaleidoscopes, or computer graphic tools we can devise to enhance our vision of the mathematical universe is definitely advantageous. How this will fit into society, however, is a problem. We are in an evolutionary challenge from which the human species may not survive. I feel that part of our difficulty is our culture's rejection of mathematics.


Mathematics is essentially the marriage of Father Sky and Mother Earth. I've given my life work to understand this relationship between the psychedelic and the mathematical vision.


So I'll leave it there.



1. Hans Jenny, Kymatik.

2. Terence McKenna, Food of the Gods.

3. Rupert Sheldrake, The Rebirth of Nature.

4. See Terence McKenna, The Archaic Revival
5. Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1962)

6. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (Toronto: McGraw Hill Book Co., 1965).

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