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– Reflections on Terence McKenna’s failed “prophecy” for 2012
Author’s note: Several years ago, I published an essay entitled “Terence on DMT” where I critiqued Terence McKenna’s descriptions and speculations on the nature of the DMT experience as being a reflection and construct of his ego and his own sense of alienation from his genuine nature. Since then, I have been asked about my views on Terence McKenna in interviews and have also elaborated to some extent on my podcast, “The Entheogenic Evolution.” Though the original essay was published over three years ago, I still receive angry comments from those who feel wounded or offended by my critique, or feel a personal need to vindicate Terence. I’ve been told that I shouldn’t say anything negative about Terence, since he is so loved and
isn’t here to defend himself. I’m told that he was a great entertainer and communicator and has inspired millions, so he should be off-‐limits to any kind of intellectual critique or honest assessment of his contribution to the public discourse on psychedelics. In return, I’ve been called a charlatan, a fraud, and a megalomaniac for daring to state that there’s a difference between reality and fantasy and that it can be reasonably determined by dedicated individuals who have done the work of seeing past the illusions of the ego. In many instances, it has been a case of “kill the messenger” rather than deal with the insights and critiques I’ve provided. In short, my critiques of Terence McKenna have been taken personally by a number of individuals and the backlash has been ongoing and sometimes severe. Such was to be expected, I suppose. My recent critiques of McKenna and his views on 2012 have received similar responses from certain aspects of the “psychedelic community,” such as with a recent interview of mine on the Gnostic Media podcast. Much to some folks’ dismay, rather than being humbled by the widespread negative reaction to my critiques, I’ve continued my critique and am even expanding it into other areas of Terence’s work and thought. I suspect that the following essay, which I’ll also make into a podcast episode, will be my last critique of Terence McKenna. I don’t have anything against Terence personally, but given that I routinely encounter the promulgation of Terence’s thoughts and ideas, largely unquestioningly, within the psychedelic community and pop culture, I do feel that someone has got to stand up for reality and reason, and it might as well be me, given that I’ve already opened that Pandora’s box of knee-‐jerk ego reactions and personal venom. What is the nature of the psychedelic experience and what does it reveal about the nature of the self and the nature of reality? These are questions that are too significant, too important, and too relevant for humanity to leave in the hands of a popular speculator whose views do not correlate with objective, confirmable reality. With the passing of the fated date of December, 2012, I feel that it is time to put the nail in the coffin, so to speak, and thus have constructed this short essay. Will it make a difference? To some, it no doubt will. For many others, it will just be more grist for the mill of getting angry with me and provide more reason to publically disparage my writings and views. It comes with the territory of being a critic and with expressing a provocative view of the nature of being, so I accept that. It is my hope, however, that the following might help at least some to see past the fantasy, projection, and attachment to illusion that is endemic not only within the modern psychedelic movement, but with metaphysical and spiritual communities/worldviews in general. With that in mind, I offer the following essay. The Essay: Is “True enough” good enough? In November of 1993, in writing the preface to the 1994 edition of The Invisible Landscape: Mind, Hallucinogens and the I Ching, Terence McKenna rhetorically asked about the truth of the ideas presented therein, and concluded that they were “true enough.” In writing the epilogue to his later book, True Hallucinations, McKenna reflects on the ideas he first communicated in The Invisible Landscape and comments that, “I am in the absurd position of being
either an unsung Newton or completely nuts. There is very little room to maneuver between these two positions.” There seems to be a deeply conflicting message here. On the one hand, McKenna wants the reader to appreciate his ideas as being “true enough,” yet on the other hand, recognizes that he’s either right in a very profound way, -‐ such that he is worthy of being recognized as a new “Newton” -‐ or he’s completely off the mark and not trafficking in reality at all. “True enough” would imply that there’s plenty of wiggle room. But if there is no wiggle room, then “true enough” is clearly not good enough. McKenna is either right, or he is wrong. Now that we’ve reached the far side of McKenna’s speculations about 2012 and the nature of reality, we are able to come to definitive conclusions about his claims and assess their validity in the face of what actually happened. Specifically, I’m referring to McKenna’s claims about Dec 21st/22nd, 2012 and his theory of “Timewave Zero” (though the date of Dec 21st, 2012 has been popularized in the public imagination, McKenna repeatedly wrote of Dec 22nd as being the key date, though he also wrote and spoke of Dec 21st, so there has been some inconsistency here in his work). Now that the fated date has passed, it is reasonable to ask: was Terence even remotely correct in his predictions? Does he deserve the credit of being an unsung Newton, or has reality proven his ideas to be pure speculation and delusional thinking? We are now in a position to definitively answer these questions, and it does not look favorable for McKenna. This is not a question that is open to personal interpretation or opinion. McKenna was either right about what he claimed for 2012, or he was wrong. He was specific enough that there is no real wiggle room. Before addressing McKenna specifically, let’s take a moment to reflect on the issue of 2012 in general. New Age beliefs, projections, and speculations about the date of Dec 21st, 2012 have been building and diversifying for at least the past generation of some 30 years or so, and though McKenna has been a key and dominant figure in promoting beliefs in 2012, he has not, by any means, been a lone actor. Literally hundreds of books have been written about the winter solstice of 2012 with countless individuals making careers out of hyping up the day with a wide variety of predictions, prophecies, and speculations about what would happen and what it would all mean. The date has been a mirror upon which virtually anyone and everyone could project their pet theories about reality, revelations, metaphysics, spiritual growth, pseudoscience, astrology, channeling, UFOs, crop circles, pole shifts, rogue planets, intergalactic communications, second comings, mysterious “Others,” enlightened ancients, occult technologies, an all other manner of New Age fare. The date has been popularized in books and films, on Facebook, Youtube, Evolver.net, in music, art, spirituality, religion, festivals, conferences, workshops, presentations, and just about anywhere else one might find New Age gurus, “light workers,” self-‐proclaimed shamans, psychedelic enthusiasts, and other like-‐minded individuals. In some circles, one might even have been considered delusional not to buy into the hype around 2012. For many in the New Age, the reality of 2012 as a point of major transformation was a given. It was simply reality. Everything was expected to change on Dec 21, 2012 (though what that means varied greatly) and anyone who said otherwise was ignorant, closed-‐minded, not spiritually awakened, intolerant, or un-‐evolved. While proponents might disagree
about precisely what 2012 was about, the assumption was that it was to be a time of profound, history and life-‐changing events that would forever impact humanity and its place in the cosmos. So 2012 had a lot to live up to in the minds of New Age believers, and there is no doubt that many have convinced themselves that the “prophecies” have come true and that their beliefs have been vindicated and legitimized. No doubt many will claim to have been “transformed” by the “energies” of the solstice and “galactic alignment”. For those who live in the reality-‐based community, such conclusions will be dismissed for the self-‐delusional artifacts that they are. Religious and spiritual thinkers/believers are rarely discouraged by reality and tend not to let a little thing like facts get in the way of their chosen beliefs and systems of self-‐ identification – such is the nature of the ego. However, when we look at specific claims about 2012, rather than at the confused morass of generalized beliefs about 2012, we can begin to make definitive conclusions about which claims have validity and which don’t. As should be clear, it is not my goal to address all claims about 2012 in this essay. My focus is much more limited; I’m interested in what Terence McKenna had to say about 2012. My reason for focusing on Terence McKenna is he continues to be a leading cultural figure in the “psychedelic community” whose thoughts and speculations have shaped a generation of “psychonauts” in a way that no other individual has. In some circles, his thoughts and speculations are taken as almost divine writ and holy scripture, and he is seen as the ultimate authority on many questions regarding psychedelics, their uses, and their effects. Additionally, he has been a major figure in promoting speculations about 2012, all of which tie in directly to his views on psychedelics and the psychedelic experience. He is also arguably more popular than ever, with his image, quotes, and stories being ubiquitous memes on the internet. As someone who is interested in psychedelics and their uses, effects, and what they help reveal about the nature of reality and the self, my concern is that McKenna’s take on “true enough” is simply not good enough. Psychedelics and the psychedelic experience, and what it reveals about reality, is far too important to be left in the hands of a failed prophet. In short, despite his widespread popularity and the influence McKenna has had on millions of people around the globe, it is time to recognize that reality has revealed that he was much closer to the “completely nuts” end of the spectrum than the “unsung Newton.” This isn’t to say that McKenna was, in fact, “crazy,” but it is to say that when it comes to 2012, psychedelics, reality, and the nature of being, he was wrong, and there just isn’t any wiggle room with this conclusion. One issue that I will deal with, though briefly, before addressing McKenna’s speculations, is that of the Mayan calendar and its supposed “prophecy” regarding Dec 21st, 2012. This is a rather easy issue to address: all “prophecies” regarding 2012 are completely modern-‐day phenomena. There is not a single “ancient” prophecy regarding Dec 21st, 2012. The Mayan calendar does not “end” on this date, and the Mayans themselves did not produce any ancient prophecies regarding this date, though due to the widespread hype about this issue, some contemporary Mayans have essentially played along and used it as an opportunity to assert their cultural worldview and claim some authority for themselves in public discourse.
The “prophecies,” however, are a complete fabrication by outsiders and non-‐Mayans who have projected their own fears, thoughts, and desires onto an exotic “other” with no factual basis in reality, history, or Mayan culture. While some Mayans have capitalized on widespread interest in their culture by outsiders, others have taken offense at the misrepresentations of their views, beliefs, and culture by non-‐Mayans. Scholars of Mayan culture and history are in uniform agreement that there is no actual Mayan prophecy regarding 2012 or any kind of “apocalypse.” Returning to Terence McKenna, he claimed that his focus on the date of Dec nd, 2012 and its (not quite accurate) coincidence with the “end” of the Mayan 22 calendar was unexpected and serendipitous. Given McKenna’s connections to other New Age 2012 thinkers, such as Jose Arguelles and his promotion of the Mayan “end date,” this claim is somewhat suspicious and it is more likely the case that there was mutual influence and cross-‐pollination of ideas regarding the date in question. McKenna supposedly arrived at his date of Dec 22, 2012 as a result of his manipulations of the I Ching and his development of a “fractal wave form” of time and the ingression of novelty into reality. However, in developing this wave form, McKenna did not have a specific reference point as to when the wave form began or when it was to “end” or reach a point of “maximum novelty,” so he had to arbitrarily line up the waveform with the calendar and historical events of his choosing. In other words, there was nothing objectively referenced in his choosing Dec 22nd, 2012 as the date of maximum novelty. There is nothing about the Timewave that necessitates its culmination on Dec. 22, 2012. Just what did McKenna claim to have discovered, and how did he develop his ideas? First, in The Invisible Landscape, and later in True Hallucinations, Terence shares his theory of “Timewave Zero” and the ultimate expression of novelty into reality that was to occur on Dec 22, 2012. Interestingly, when John Horgan asked McKenna if he really thought something was going to happen, McKenna reportedly replied that he did not, and said his own theory of Timewave Zero was “just a kind of fantasizing within a certain kind of vocabulary.” So is fantasy “true enough?” What are we to make of this? Especially when one considers what inspired McKenna and his musing on the nature of time and reality, it is a bit of a wonder that anyone would take him seriously and look at him as anything other than a wild yarn-‐spinning entertainer and psychedelic raconteur. It would appear that even Terence considered his claims of being an “unsung Newton” as being overly grandiose and self-‐delusional. However, it also seems clear that McKenna held out the possibility that he just might be right – though I think it would have surprised even him. Since it is now perfectly clear that he was profoundly wrong, it is worthwhile to look into what inspired him and how he developed such a strangely convoluted view of reality that is clearly not “true enough” by any standard. In order to understand McKenna’s claims about the Timewave and what he predicted it would mean for humanity, one has to look at McKenna’s use of psychedelics and how he chose to interpret his experiences; primarily those produced by psilocybin mushrooms and DMT. Though McKenna claimed that precisely what the Timewave revealed could not be known with certainty, he did present his thoughts on what it would be, and these are all based on his psychedelic experiences. According to Terence, the Timewave indicated that there would be a
“concrescence of novelty” into the universe at the “end of time/history,” which he calculated as Dec 22, 2012. This concrescence would be a “transcendental object” which he identified as a “UFO.” This UFO would be made of “translinguistic matter,” which would be produced by “the mind made external” and it would allow humans to join the intergalactic community where all things would be possible and humanity would no longer be bound by materiality, history, or anything else. It was to be the ultimate evolutionary leap into the unknown and unknowable that would forever render all human history prior to that point as quaint and effectively obsolete. As he saw it, we would effectively become post-‐human from that point on, forever transformed into the “Alien Other” that was calling us toward our evolutionary destiny as intergalactic beings, a development that was a “strange attractor” that was working backwards through time, bringing us to the point of ultimate liberation that was to culminate on Dec 22, 2012. It is important to note that McKenna clearly depicted this as a singular “event” and not as a transitional period as some are now claiming about 2012 (such as Daniel Pinchbeck, another influential psychedelic thinker, has recently taken to articulating). As he states on page 225 of True Hallucinations, his theory predicts “a major transformational event in 2012.” Given the absence of any defining major transformational event, McKenna has unarguably been proven wrong by reality. This is not something that is open to argument or interpretation: the predicted event did not happen. Lots of stuff happened in 2012, and there were some big parties focusing on the “Galactic Alignment” and “Great Shift” around the time of the solstice, but the “big event” clearly failed to materialize. The ultimate concrescence of novelty into reality did not take place. If it had, we would all know it and it would be obvious. If one has to argue that it in fact did take place, then it clearly didn’t. Time, reality, and history continue on, much as they have before, and no translinguistic matter-‐made UFOs have appeared or whisked humanity away into the welcoming cosmos. McKenna’s “prophecy” has clearly failed. No unsung Newton here! McKenna’s metaphysics and speculations derive directly and immediately from his psychedelic experiences and cannot be adequately understood without this point of reference. Given that he was so utterly wrong with his theories and speculations, it stands to reason that he was mostly likely equally confused about his psychedelic experiences and their relationship to the nature of reality. It is by examining these details that we can start to understand how and why McKenna went so profoundly wrong. First, let’s consider McKenna’s take on psilocybin mushrooms. McKenna was a huge proponent of the use of psilocybin mushrooms, repeatedly encouraging others to take “heroic doses” of the mushrooms, despite his own apparent personal resistance to doing so himself – a bit of a case of “practice what I preach, not what I do.” It has recently been revealed by Terence’s brother, Dennis, that, despite his claims, Terence was largely terrified of large doses and spent the last years of his life avoiding serious psychedelic trips at the same time he was busy telling everyone to trip on heroic doses of mushrooms, take large quantities of DMT, and promoting his ideas about 2012. There was a profound disconnect between Terence’s public persona as a psychedelic guru and sage and his personal life and use of psychedelics.
Be that as it may, Terence certainly had plenty of experiences to build his reputation as a psychedelic guru upon. Terence seems to have been fascinated by what he identified as the “Alien Other” that, from his perspective, was revealed in the psilocybin mushroom experience. At times, he identified this “Alien Other” as “The Logos.” According to Terence, the Logos and Alien Other would speak to him and reveal truths about reality to him during his psilocybin experiences. In True Hallucinations, he writes of how the mushrooms revealed to him that they were sent to Earth in the form of intergalactic spores with the purpose of helping human beings evolve into their hyperspace/galactic forms, and that they served as something as a form of communication technology between widely disparate galactic communities of beings on far distant planets. This tied in nicely with Terence’s speculations that psychedelics were instrumental in the evolution of human language, consciousness, and culture, bringing us out of the evolutionary murk of planet-‐bound animals to our true birthright as intergalactic beings. As such, the UFO was presented to Terence by the mushrooms as the “transcendental object” at the “end of history” as both psychological archetype and as evolutionary potential. This stemmed from Terence’s own fascination with UFOs as well as his propensity to “see” UFOs while tripping on psilocybin. Terence took this as a form of direct communication from the mushrooms, and he often spoke and wrote about what “the mushrooms told me” – even going so far as to claim that the mushrooms told him that humanity would be better off if we were to limit the birth of males as it was men who were producing the “dominator” culture that was “destroying” the Earth and its biosystems. In order to enter into the evolutionary stage of intergalactic being, humanity would have to abandon the dominator matrix. According to Terence, this is how the mushrooms help life to flourish throughout the galaxy (and perhaps universe); a synergistic relationship between “higher intelligence” and the mycelium network of psychedelic mushroom spores scattered about the galaxy – something of a psychedelic/psychic internet and trans-‐ dimensional communication system. There isn’t any reason to think that Terence was making any of this up as a conscious and intentional deception or fabrication. He sincerely believed himself to be receiving communications from the “Alien Other” that he experienced as somehow inhabiting the mushrooms, or the mushroom experience. When he tells us that this is what they told him, he appears to be completely genuine and sincere. The real question is this: why did he believe it? Why did he take these experiences at such a literal, face-‐value? What made him believe what he was experiencing? Clearly, these really were his experiences, but what made him take the leap to conclude that he was experiencing something real with humanity-‐wide implications and not just a personal projection? The answer clearly lies in Terence’s ego sense of self-‐identity. Terence fancied himself as an explorer of uncharted and unknown territory and the self-‐ referential narrative he was able to produce for himself about himself through the foundation of his mushroom experiences undeniably played into his own fabricated self-‐image. As I have argued repeatedly in other publications, the psychedelic experience is self-‐referential and is a reflection of an individual’s ego, especially when the experience is highly dualistic in nature (containing a clearly identified
divide between what is taken as “self” in opposition to what is perceived as “other”). As I have argued, there is no “other” in the psychedelic experience as it is all a reflection of the self. In Terence’s case, he is unable, or unwilling, to recognize the “Alien Other” of the mushrooms as being a direct expression of his own thoughts, concerns, ideas, and systems of self-‐identification. Terence is the author of this ongoing narrative – not the mushrooms or some undefined “intelligence” that inhabits or communicates through the mushrooms. There is a profound failure of self-‐recognition taking place here, and is one that produces complex and confusing narratives, beliefs, and ultimately, a muddled metaphysics of evolution, life, and existence in general. McKenna found “confirmation” of his views of reality through his experiences with DMT. Here, the “Alien Other” takes on the definitive form of the notorious “machine elves.” According to Terence, whenever he took DMT, he would encounter entities that he took to calling “machine elves,” which he described as self-‐dribbling and transforming basketballs. The main activity of these machine elves was making fantastic objects out of sound and language. In his experiences, the elves gave Terence instructions to do as they were doing and try his hand at constructing reality out of sound and language, thereby revealing the “syntactical nature of reality” as being a manifestation of “The Logos,” or the reality-‐forming power of language. These experiences led McKenna to decisively claim that DMT is unquestionably “translinguistic” in nature, and therefore, by extension, directly related to his expectations of the UFO made of language that is calling us to the “end of history” in late Dec, 2012. (On a side note, presumably Terence was also inspired to proclaim DMT as “translinguistic” due to the fact that individuals under the influence of DMT often express themselves vocally with toning and glossolalia. McKenna seemed eager to give these effects of the DMT experience a metaphysical interpretation. However, these effects can easily be understood energetically: the DMT experience is primarily one of energy, and during these intense experiences, individuals tend to move, release, and express energy, and one of the most prominent ways this is accomplished is through vocal expression. There is no need to put a metaphysical spin on this effect and it is no more mysterious than vocally expressing when happy, sad, or experiencing the intense pleasure of sex. These effects also tend to lessen with experience with DMT and tend to show up in their most intense forms in early DMT experiences. As individuals become more accustomed and open to the energetic influx produced by DMT, glossolalia can shift to normal speech. This is not metaphysical: it is energetic.) These speculations have inspired many in the psychedelic community to believe that DMT is itself directly related to 2012 and the evolution of humanity into a transcendent state of being. The result is that many believe DMT to provide access to “hyperspace,” other realms, transcendent entities, and the intergalactic community of which Terence so fondly spoke. For such enthusiasts, it could be argued that DMT is the UFO at the “end of history,” coupled with speculations that some kind of shift in the Earth’s magnetic field would produce a mass endogenous release of DMT in humans at the time of the winter solstice of 2012, thereby transitioning us into a new, transcendent and galactic age.
In the conclusion of True Hallucinations, Terence wrote that he had received a “whispered promise of a special destiny made to me by the elves of hyperspace, that I am going to be big, have influence, and change the way people think.” Indeed, such appears to have come to pass. However, has he changed anything for the better? Have Terence’s ideas enlightened and transformed society for the better? Has he managed to “save the world from the more dangerous and vulgar parts of itself”? Or has he contributed to the mass delusion and ego-‐projection that has manifested itself as the counter-‐cultural obsession that has been 2012? Can delusion “save” anyone from anything? Is “true enough” good enough when we face unprecedented challenges and opportunities? Or is more self-‐generated delusion just more delusion, more wishful thinking that pulls individuals, communities, and cultures further away from the real world with real problems and real potential solutions? Is wishing for the big humanity-‐saving UFO in the sky (or DMT) any different than waiting for God, or Jesus, or Krishna, or any other deity to deliver us from our self-‐created struggles, illusions, and problems? It remains to be seen what the fallout of the failure of 2012 will be. Any honest assessment will have to take into account the many failed prophecies and predictions that have been thrown about with increasing intensity over the past generation. While humans clearly want some kind of transcendent solution to life’s problems, reality keeps insisting that it’s all simply up to us to solve our own problems. There’s no grand “end of the world,” there’s no big UFO to whisk us off into the cosmos, there’s no great Feathered Serpent to redeem us all. 2012 has taught the hard lesson that no amount of wishing or projecting really changes anything for anyone. None of the specific “prophecies” have come to pass – and Terence McKenna and his UFO at the End of Time is just one glaring and obvious example. One of my concerns in addressing these issues is my hope that the failure of McKenna’s fantasy will not obscure and discredit the potential of psychedelics as catalysts for personal discovery and awakening. McKenna presents us with an example of just how far one can get from confirmable reality with the use of psychedelics, indulging in fantasies of UFOs, machine elves, special revelations, special destinies, and the end of history. Despite the fact that McKenna is loved and revered by counter-‐culturalists the world over, he does not provide us with a constructive example of the use or potential of psychedelics. He, in contrast, shows us just how easy it is for one to be caught in pure fantasy and speculation when the individual ego dominates the psychedelic experience. He shows us just how deeply the ego goes, and how profoundly if affects the psychedelic experience, how one chooses to interpret it, and how one applies what one supposedly learns in psychedelic states to “normal” reality. In his interview with John Horgan, when confronted with the absurdity of his ideas, Terence said that he was “trying to teach people, first of all, that the world is a weird, weird place.” Is it really, or is this just Terence, trying to get us to think like him? It certainly would be weird if the things Terence was sharing were true, but reality has proven decisively that they weren’t, so maybe reality isn’t nearly as weird as Terence would like us to believe. Terence saw himself as “serving a pedagogical function,” but arguably it would be the pedagogy of nonsense, fantasy, wishful thinking, and self-‐delusion. In
that, we can thank him for the lesson and use him as an example of just what kind of thinking to avoid. He was clearly intelligent, insightful, and curious. He lacked clarity and a grounded sense of reality, however, and while entertaining, he was not illuminating us about anything of any practical relevance. The UFO at the end of history has not appeared. Timewave Zero was a bust. Galactic citizenship hasn’t been achieved. When writing True Hallucinations, Terence wrote that these ideas were “dying in me only slowly.” The time has now come to put them to rest for good. Dec. 22, 2012 has come and gone, and Terence wasn’t even remotely correct about the day. Reality itself has put the final nail in the coffin that was Terence’s wild ride of metaphysical speculation. So enjoy Terence and his tales of inter-‐ dimensional discoveries, entities, and realms. Just don’t take anything he says too seriously. After all, reality, and history, has proven him incorrect. Terence McKenna’s psychedelic prophecies have failed. It remains to be seen if the psychedelic community will own up to the fact that their hero was profoundly off the mark. Is the psychedelic community ready for reality, or will the ego’s grip of illusion and projection reign supreme? If the latter, the true potential of psychedelics will continue to be obscured by metaphysical speculation, fantasy, and the ego’s need for invented meaning and narrative. If the former, the failure of McKenna’s prophecies may be just the dose of reality the psychedelic community needs to get real and do the genuine work of self-‐discovery and personal transformation that psychedelics make possible. Then, maybe, we can start to truly make the world a better place and live up to our genuine human potential. Let’s set the “Alien Other” aside, and learn about what being human is really all about. Then, perhaps, we can truly find our place on the planet, the cosmos, and in ourselves.
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