Bios and Logos
Delivered at MINSTATES
3 October 2002
I have been thinking about the Eschaton since I read Robert
Anton Wilson’s Cosmic
Trigger over 20 years ago. This means that my thinking has undergone
an evolution within a changing environment of ideas, maturing as I have matured.
Because of my familiarity with these ideas
I am occasionally asked to weak or write about these topics, and eventually
expressed them – albeit subtly – in book from. That’s what The Playful World is
What I want to do today is step back and
present a big frame, a “resonant” theory of history, which harmonizes very
nicely with McKenna’s idea of the timewave, that there is an ingressive force
through history that possesses a fractal dimension – the same process is
happening, on different timescales throughout time.
This idea has any number of names, depending
upon who is talking about it. Back
in 1973, McKenna called it the Eschaton,
and said, a few years later, that his theories were grounds for commitment
to an insane asylum.
I’m pretty sure that’s because very few
people actually grasped the subtlety of the concept of the timewave, chalking
it up to a very weird psychedelic experience.
But if we’re here talking about shamanism and the revealed information
of the shamanic state, why should we ascribe any less reality to the ideas
uncovered by the McKennas than we would to something learned by an aboriginal
shaman? That doesn’t seem reasonable.
In any case, I’ve been studying the
timewave for the last several years, and I want to actually do my best to add
some fuel to the fire – in part because the topic has entered the scientific
discourse through a back door.
In 1993, a writer named Vernor
Vinge gave a talk to NASA, in which he described the architecture of an
event he called the “Singularity”, which is identical in every feature to
Because of that talk, the concept of a
singularity in history (as opposed to physics, where the concept enters through
the Big Bang and Black Holes) has become a topic of much interest.
My main goal this afternoon is to reiterate
the argument made by Terence & Dennis McKenna in The
Invisible Landscape: Mind, Hallucinogens and the I Ching, that the historical
processes in which we are embedded have a physical dimension, and that this
process has its own internal resonances, which represent the ebb and flow
The McKennas went on to say that this
process was, by now mostly ebb and not flow, and would eventually culminate –
on 21 December 2012 – in a transcendent moment of resonance. In other words, history would end – as we
would understand it.
That sounded pretty nutty back then, but
over the last decade, a certain group of scientists have picked this same idea
up, and have begun moving it forward.
Most notable of these is Ray Kurzweil, who,
in his book The
Age of Spiritual Machines, looks forward to a day in the future –
no more than 30 years away – when machinic intelligences have so far advanced
beyond any human capabilities that they exceed our understanding.
At that time, Kurzweil says, we’ll no
longer be the dominant species on the planet, the world will belong to the
machines, our intellectual heirs.
I don’t buy this argument, for a number
of reasons based in science, but that doesn’t mean that I think the theory is
false – only the chain of logic by which he comes to the conclusion.
Let me present an alternative theory,
then, by which we can arrive in the same place that both the McKennas and
Kurzweil discovered, but let’s do it through a study of the physical reality of
In order to do this study, we’re going to
adopt a theory of history, for the sake of argument, which involves three cycles
of history, arcs of history, which begin at three different times: at the
creation of the world, 4 billion years ago; at the creation of Homo Sapiens,
150 thousand years ago, and at the dawn of the common era, about 5500 years
Dawn of Life
To have a discussion of the origins of
life on planet Earth, I need to discuss two fundamental texts, books that I
would encourage you to read.
The first of these is John McFadden’s Quantum Evolution, in which he takes a look at a hitherto unresearched field
– how quantum mechanics influences molecular biology, and, in particular,
the functioning of DNA.
DNA enters a superpositional state – that
is, it enters as many as ten-to-the-500th universes, in order to
find a situation where it can produce some situation where it will entangle
itself in the physical world – in other words, can sustain itself.
The improbability of life thus comes to
rest on a firm foundation of physics, the first time there’s been any hint that
our understanding of the world can help us understand one of the great
mysteries of the world – how life came to be.
The second book is the recently published
New Kind of Science, by Steven Wolfram. Wolfram may be the Issac Newton of our generation
(people are still debating this point, and will for the next hundred years).
Wolfram defines something called the Law
of Computational Equivalence. We
think of physics as being composed of formula, such as e=mc2, or
F=ma or pv=Nrt. While Wolfram doesn’t
call the validity of these formulae into question, he does insist that they’re
not enough to describe the reality of the physical world. In addition to these formulae, there are processes,
outcomes which can not be predicted in a simple, mathematical fashion, but
rather are more like computer programs which need to be executed before their
results can be known.
The difference between the world before
Wolfram and the world after is the difference between Newton and Darwin.
Newton saw the entire world as a giant
clocklike work of machinery and gears, together working seamlessly to create
the physical universe.
Darwin envisioned the world as a
collection of processes, working through time, to create the nearly infinite
variety of forms which populate the natural world. Without process, there is no model for
evolution; organisms do not evolve according to formulas, but rather because of
their continuous interactions within the environment.
In his book, Wolfram tells us that this
is the new model for physical reality, and we need to apply this model as
broadly as possible. Nearly all physical
processes of consequence in our world take place not in isolation, but as a
consequence of repeated interactions in their environments.
What does this mean about the history of
Earth? What we know is this: just about
as soon as the Earth had cooled enough to allow the formation of some
relatively complex chemical structures, life began. The Earth still had an average temperature of
160 degrees Fahrenheit (!) when life began.
Why could life begin? The quantum evolution hypothesis states that
these molecules could search the quantum multiverse of 10-to-the-500th
power worlds to find a world where they could sustain their interactions, where
they could continue to exist.
We’re talking about creating quantum
computers today, which can employ these same properties to crack encryption
codes or solve other sorts of mathematical puzzles far beyond us now, but it
turns out that nature has probably been exploiting this trick all along! And the latest scientific tests show that
these simple molecules can enter that weird quantum world, so, as far as it’s
been possible to prove the underlying assumptions of quantum biology, they’ve
Once life popped out of the multiverse,
it became subject to the new laws unearthed by Steven Wolfram. Within the environment, organisms interacted
in unpredictable ways, and every interaction of every organism on any other
organism changed both organisms. Some
organisms fought with each other, some combined with each other – for example,
the mitochondria which provide the power for your body’s cellular processes are
the by-product of such a fusion – and from a simple set of rules, endlessly
repeated throughout time, we can actually see the grand sweep of evolution
emerge out of the physical processes which undergird nature.
The next four billion years of life could
be characterized as a continuous set of interactions between different
organisms in the natural environment, and every interaction in every
environment leaves an impression – an information transfer – between these
organisms. Some or even most of these
interactions are nearly insignificant, but some of them concern the life or
death of an individual member of a species, and, in those rare instances, that
species either becomes extinct or a change is made in the species, recorded in
the natural memory of DNA.
DNA is the information – and it’s nothing
but information – which is the ultimate arbiter of the forms of the natural
world; it’s a form of very slow memory.
In each one of you, in nearly every one of your cells, is a memory of
all the interactions your ancestors have ever had, from the very first cell,
down to the present moment – that present moment being a rather long one –
about 150 thousand years.
Dawn of Man
It’s believed that homo sapiens emerged
in Southern Africa, just about 150,000 years ago, and although there are now
some contradictions to the “out
of Africa” argument about humanity’s origins, it seems that the humans
that we are all came from this same place, at around this time, slowly diffusing
northward across Africa, and reaching the Eurasian land bridge in the Middle
East, and fanning out from there toward both Asia and Europe.
Now although we call these first ancestors
homo sapiens – meaning they were genetically identical to ourselves
– we don’t think of them as human in the same sense we think of ourselves
as human. This is for one primary reason:
we don’t see the hallmarks of human culture in these earliest human beings.
What do I mean by culture? Well, until last year, we had though that humanity
as we know it began about 35,000 years ago, because we found the representative
elements of a human culture. However,
last year we found equally convincing proof that this actually extends back
at least 75,000 years. It could be
that, eventually, we’ll see that humanity-as-we-understand-it goes back as
far as homo sapiens itself. Who
We mean culture, in the sense of modern
humans, because of the existence of cultural artifacts.
Homo Neandertalis, the Neanderthal who preceded the modern human, had a
larger brain than ours, and was stronger and able to survive across a wider
range of climates. However, the kinds of
artifacts the Neanderthals left behind were extremely crude; very basic stone
tools, which did not show any significant evolution over the lifespan of the
In other words, while the Neanderthals
were completely situated within the natural environment, their adaptation to it
happened just once, and then stopped.
So now we come to what makes us human:
the history of homo sapiens begins, some 75,000 years ago, with some etchings
on a piece of rock, nothing more than a series of wavy lines. This may not seem like much, but it’s the
first example of decoration.
What is decoration? It’s something that
serves no functional purpose – for example, a coat of paint doesn’t change the
function of a house – but acts as a signifier of some reality that exists only
in the mind of the beholder. In other
words, a physical object has become a symbol, standing in for something other
The thing that separates us from the
Neanderthal isn’t brain size, or brute strength, but a symbolic manipulation
In order to have symbols, you need to
have a consciousness capable of symbolic manipulation, that is to say a
linguistic consciousness. While
paleoanthropologists believe that the Neanderthal had some very basic
linguistic capabilities, it is believed that these abilities were very limited –
perhaps similar in nature to those of a year-old child, capable of identifying
objects or actions, but little more.
What we see with homo sapiens is that this linguistic ability overflowed into the
entirety of consciousness. The first
benefit of this was the emergence of what we understand as language: nearly
every human being has an innate capability to take a few symbols and manipulate
For example, although few of us ever use
more than about 2000 English words, we can describe just about anything with
those words, because we can instantaneously recombine them in any sensible
order to create new forms of expression.
That’s what those 75,000 year-old
squiggly lines on a piece of stone imply: that our internal linguistic
capability, which gave us language, had overflowed onto the material world, and
that the material world had been consumed by our linguistic capability.
This is an important point, perhaps the
central point I’m trying to make today: everything
you look out upon from your eyes, exists less as a physical reality than as a
construction of linguistic form.
This is what Terence McKenna meant when
he said that the world is made of words, and that if you know the right words,
you can make of the world whatever you will.
But there’s another point we need to
understand about the consequences of our linguistic capability, because it’s
set us on a path toward the Singularity.
Raymond Kurzweil says that his machine
singularity is absolutely inevitable because machines can perform computations
about 10 million times faster than human neurons can. That’s as may be, but once again I think
Kurzweil missed the big story.
For 4 billion years, DNA was the
recording mechanism of history, the memory of biology. As soon as we developed language, we no
longer needed the slower form of DNA for memory; we could use the much faster
form of language, which produced with it a deep sense of memory within the
individual – since the linguistic symbols could be contained within the human
Since we became a symbol-manipulating
species, our forward evolution, in DNA terms, has come to a dead stop. (This has recently been proposed by reputable
scientists.) However, our linguistic
capabilities allow us to perform acts of memory much faster than DNA, probably
at least 10 million times faster!
So, suddenly, homo sapiens is not just a
biological entity working within the matrix of DNA and its slow historical
recording, but now bursts through and starts processing its interactions within
the environment 10 million times faster than ever before.
That’s a great thing. It’s made us the planetary force that we are
today. But there’s a big price we paid
for it, a price we’re not even vaguely aware of.
For all of evolutionary time, information
had to travel the slow route through biology – through the bios -
before it would be coded into our DNA.
Now we had this additional process – which we call the logos,
the Word – which was a completely new thing, and not something that the bios
had any time prepare for.
Because of that, homo sapiens can be identified by one specific characteristic; we are
controlled not by the dictates of the bios, but the are dictated by the
From its first recognizable moment,
humanity demonstrates an entirely new relationship between bios and logos. Information, freed from its need to be
embedded in the slow, dense vehicle of our DNA, speeds up 10-million-fold.
This renegotiation of power, between the
previously unchallenged bios and the brand-new logos was not something that the
bios was prepared for.
Most likely immediately, the bios was
overwhelmed by the logos. The natural
environment of the first humans was entirely and utterly replaced by a
The post-modern philosophers claim that
this is a new thing, that the Disneyification of the world has overloaded the
natural world with the mediasphere. But
this isn’t a new thing, even if our recognition of it is; as long as shaman and
storytellers have been spinning myths that tell us who and what we are, the
world ceased to exist as nature, and became a linguistic element in the story
of homo sapiens.
However – and this is the second most
important point I want to make today – the logos has its own teleology, its own
entelechy, its own drive to some final dwell-state.
We assume that we are masters of
language, of word and world.
The situation is exactly reversed. We
are not in control of words, they control us.
Evolutionary biologist Richard
Dawkins got it entirely right when he invented the concept of “memes,”
which can be thought of as the linguistic equivalent of genes.
Rather than being part of the bios, memes are the carriers of the logos.
OK, so we’ve covered the emergence of the
bios, some 4 billion years ago, and the emergence of the logos, perhaps as much
as 150 thousand years ago. Now let’s
bring ourselves forward into the world we can recognize.
Dawn of Modern Culture
I set the beginning of the common era to
about 500 BC, because of one particular cultural artifact; Lysistrata by
Aristophanes, a Greek comedy about how the women of Athens stop a war by denying
their husbands sexual favors. If you’ve
ever read the play, you know that the attitudes (and dirty jokes) of these
women are entirely modern – it’s as if all of the elements of the modern world
are entirely present in the work.
We, as a species, have been driven by
memes for the last hundred thousand years, and this has forced us further and
further away from any direct connection with the natural world.
It’s not as though modern man has had any
choice about his alienation from the natural world, and it’s a fallacy to
presume that “primitive” cultures are any more closely connected to the natural
world than we ourselves are. They too
have completely overloaded the natural world with their linguistic natures –
else how could the plants “talk” to them?
There may be many discrete forms of
alienation from the natural, but they are, in essence, all the same. And they all point toward the same general
We’re being hollowed-out by our memes. That is to say that our interiority, which is
an artifact of the slow, quiet progression of the bios, is rapidly
The modern conception of interiority is
really a creation of the Enlightenment in Western Europe, and was only noted by
philosophers as it was beginning to vanish utterly.
So here’s the central point of what I
wanted to come to Jamaica to say: the
singularity is absolutely inevitable, and absolutely meaningless.
The closest analogy we could make would be the whine of feedback you get
when you place a microphone too close to an amplifier. The screech drowns everything else out, just
as what we are – as individuals and culture – are being replaced by a rising
form of activity dedicated to a single goal: making
a clear path for the transmission of the logos. We’re
improving the fidelity of meme swapping until it asymptotically approaches its
And the truth is, we’re so far down that
path that we have only a little bit more to go.
Hierarchy, Resonance, and Technology
How do these ideas have any connection to
the McKennas’ work as expressed in The
Invisible Landscape? In that work, the McKennas advanced a theory
of time and of becoming which had grown from Terence’s encounter with the
process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead.
Whitehead argued for the idea of concrescence; this is the idea that creation was the product of the intersection
of distinct forces, which could, synergistically, create something new.
Terence McKenna took this idea and ran
with it, envisioning all of history, from the birth of the universe through the
end of time, as fractal function where waves of concrescence – which Whitehead
termed “ingression into novelty” interacted with each other on different time
scales, producing the visible results of history.
In their words, they went all the way
back to 75 billion years ago – perhaps 60 billion years before the birth of the
universe – through to the present day.
Using the I Ching, McKenna
examined the internal resonance of the different time scales as a hierarchy,
where each time scale was 64 times greater than the time scale underneath
Much as the hour can be divided into
minutes, and minutes into seconds, Terence McKenna divided the whole of time
into similar divisions. He presumed that
the overall shape of time was the same within any of these divisions – large or
small – because the same physical processes were in play.
However, because they were happening
simultaneously on different levels of scale, the quality of each moment of time
could be the combination of all of these time scales, interacting with each
From this calculation, the McKenna’s
produced a formula which could provide a mathematical value for novelty – the
degree of concrescence – associated with any moment of time.
While it is possible to argue whether
this formula is in any sense real, the McKennas took the model as a guide, and
then tried to fit it to the historical processes they best understood, and
determined that the various fractal
processes would reach a resonance point – in which they’d be within
perfect alignment – on 21 December 2012 (a date I suspect you’ve heard before).
It’s not my job here to discuss whether
the date is particularly correct (though I suspect it is), but to provide an
alternative model of arriving at the same facts, without using the I Ching, or
any other divinatory methods. Instead, I
want to use science, history and anthropology.
There are three cycles that I’ve been
able to identify for you over the course of this talk:
The emergence of life,
4 billion years ago
The emergence of a
linguistic species, 100,000 years ago
The emergence of a
technological species, 5500 years ago.
Let’s take these one at a time, and see
how they’re convergent.
First, the emergence of life, 4 billion
years ago, was propagated through the medium of DNA, which acts as the
informational carrier for life. This
medium was very gradual, but within the last twenty years, the medium of DNA
has been translated into linguistic form.
Think of the human genome, and the images
you may have seen of it, not in the twisting double-helix of the molecule, but
in the endless series of A, T, G, and C which make up the base-pairs.
We have recently come to treat DNA as a
code, a linguistic artifact, and, because of that, our ability to understand
and manipulate DNA is now undergoing the same 10-million-times acceleration
that happened when we became linguistic entities.
Second, the emergence of a linguistic
species caused us to be taken out of nature entirely, and the world became a
description of things, rather than things-as-they are.
Although language sped the pace of
novelty substantially, it was still bounded by proximity, and the speed of
sound. When, around 1840, the telegraph
was developed, the speed of information transfer increased well over a
Marshal McLuhan, the great Canadian media
theorist, considered this made the entire human species the equivalent of a
single nervous system, but even the nervous system is very slow when compared
to electric communication.
The transmission of facts and ideas
became instantaneous, and the speed of the development of novelty
followed. When ideas move faster,
there’s a greater capacity for them to interact, to produce concrescence.
The history of the 20th century
could accurately be described as a series of advancements in communication,
beginning with radio and ending with the Internet, each technology successively
colonizing the world, and each more rapidly than the technology before it.
Third, the emergence of a technological
species. Let’s take a good look at that.
Technological artifacts are concretized
language; that is, any technology is a bit of language that has been turned
into a physical object.
The first technology that was turned into
a physical object was the linguistic technology itself. Writing is the first real technology of
importance, because it freed linguistics from their oral substrate, and made
the carrier medium much more durable. We
have an idea of history from 3500 BCE forward because of the invention of
writing, which has created a continuity in humanity.
All other technologies, are, each in
their way, the descendants of writing.
Writing was the exteriorization of our drive to communicate.
We’ve seen the linguistic acceleration of
DNA as codes, and the linguistic acceleration of communication as
telecommunication, but we’re only now on the threshold of the acceleration of
Things may look as though they’re going
fast now, but this is nothing – literally,
absolutely nothing – next to
what’s about to happen, because (and now we have precedent for it) we’re about
to see a technological acceleration on a similar order to the acceleration we
saw when the logos separated from the bios.
In this case, techne, our ability, is about to be freed from
logos, our ability to describe it.
What do I mean when I say this?
There’s an emerging science, known as nanotechnology, which will, before the next few years have passed by, give
us a very fine-grained control over the material world.
For example, Sasha Shulgin has to use
time-tested techniques (or invent his own) when he’s brewing new molecules,
using fairly large-scale processes when he wants to add a methyl group to a
molecule, or take a methyl group off.
It’s amazing we can do this at all, and it’s taken a hundred and fifty
years of organic chemistry and a fair bit of genius to get to this point.
Still, Sasha just stood up here in front
of you and dreamed of a time when he could snap molecules together as easily as
if he were working on a chalkboard.
But the next step forward is going to be
as big as the difference between building sand castles and working with LEGO
bricks. You can build with either
substance, but you have a lot more fine control over LEGO bricks than you do over
a fine powder of sand.
With nanotechnology we should be able to
precisely design molecules to order, for whatever purpose we might desire.
This is the coming linguistic revolution
in technology, because, at this point, the entire fabric of the material world
becomes linguistically pliable.
Anything you see, anywhere, animate, or
inanimate, will have within it the capacity to be entirely transformed by a
rearrangement of its atoms into another form, a form which obeys the dictates
of linguistic intent.
It’s very hard for us to conceptualize
such a world, and I have continuously been forced to draw on the metaphors of
world of magic for any near analogies.
It will be as if we have acquired the
ability to cast spells upon the material world to achieve particular
effects. Let me quote Terence McKenna
“This downloading of language into
objectified intentionality replaces the electrons that blindly run, and
replaces it instead with a magical, literarily-controlled phase space of some
sort, where wishes come true, curses work, fates unfold, and everything has the
quality of drama, denying entropic mechanical existence.”
This isn’t to say that we’re about to
acquire the omnipotence we normally ascribe to God, but that our abilities will
be so far beyond anything we’re familiar with today that we have no language to
conceptualize them. No language at all.
And that search for a language to
describe the world we’re entering is, I think, the grand project of the present
civilization. We know that something new
Some people are filled with horror when
they start to sense the shape of this new world, and retreat into the various
forms of fundamentalism. We’re only too
familiar with that.
Other people are blindly optimistic,
willing to accept any form that this world might offer them, even if it’s only
in some sort of symbiosis with a machine intelligence that little knows or
cares of their human existence.
These are the Scylla and Charybdis of the
It’s my belief that the psychedelic
community represents a search for a middle path, that the activity of
stretching of being which is the natural consequence of an intersection of the
unspeakable world of the psychedelic experience is a search for a language
which encompasses this third revolution, the one which threatens to redefine
humanity so utterly that there’s no room left for the human at all.
So we have three waves, biological,
linguistic, and technological, which are rapidly moving to concrescence, and on
their way, as they interact, produce such a tsunami of novelty as has never
before been experienced in the history of this planet.
And here we are.
In the end, the specific mechanisms of
McKenna’s Invisible Landscape don’t much matter, what does matter is
his vision of the architecture of time, and the question it poses to us.
For we find ourselves in an increasingly
narrow space, and our freedom of movement is more and more confined by both
linguistic constructions and technological mechanisms; and even our DNA is
coming to be controlled.
But there is a new birth coming, a new
form erupting into being. And we, as the
folks focused on the future, who broaden our minds in every conceivable way –
by reading about the future and doing the work of creating new culture, with everything
that entails, be it esoteric spiritual practices or taking psychedelics - we
may be among the few who can take stock of the entirety of the transformation,
because we have occasionally been thrust into spaces where what is to be
permanently true for everyone else has become temporarily true for us.
Because we have been there, we know we
need not be afraid, or give in to amazement, and can avoid being hypnotized by
speed or pretty blinking lights. Talking to aliens?
Been there. The end of history? Been there, too. Maybe all the bizarre trips that we’ve all had are just what
we need, even as humanity enters its last, strange trip.
Just a few months before he died, I went
to visit Terence in Hawai’i. I asked him
to sign my copy of The Invisible Landscape, which he did. He wrote: “Properly understood, this book is
a map to the stone. As above, so
The stone he referred to is the
Philosopher’s Stone, which could raise base materials to their highest,
transcendent state. He knew that at best
he’d constructed a metaphor, a way to conceive something inconceivable.
But he got it right in those last words,
“As above, so below,”
because in saying that, recognized that the stuff within us, the stuff we
have experienced, is the ultimate guide to the incredible journey that lies
before us, as these waves come together and crash down on the shores of our
3 Lamat (3 October 2002)