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WORTH REPEATING: The Desert Of The Real


SAM HARRIS: I should say, however, that there are psychedelic experiences that I have not had, which appear to deliver a different message. Rather than being states in which the boundaries of the self are dissolved, some people have experiences in which the self (in some form) appears to be transported elsewhere. This phenomenon is very common with the drug DMT, and it can lead its initiates to some very startling conclusions about the nature of reality. More than anyone else, Terence McKenna was influential in bringing the phenomenology of DMT into prominence.

DMT is unique among psychedelics for a several reasons. Everyone who has tried it seems to agree that it is the most potent hallucinogen available (not in terms of the quantity needed for an effective dose, but in terms of its effects). It is also, paradoxically, the shortest acting. While the effects of LSD can last ten hours, the DMT trance dawns in less than a minute and subsides in ten. One reason for such steep pharmacokinetics seems to be that this compound already exists inside the human brain, and it is readily metabolized by monoaminoxidase. DMT is in the same chemical class as psilocybin and the neurotransmitter serotonin (but, in addition to having an affinity for 5-HT2A receptors, it has been shown to bind to the sigma-1 receptor and modulate Na+ channels). Its function in the human body remains mysterious. Among the many mysteries and insults presented by DMT, it offers a final mockery of our drug laws: Not only have we criminalized naturally occurring substances, like cannabis; we have criminalized one of our own neurotransmitters.

Many users of DMT report being thrust under its influence into an adjacent reality where they are met by alien beings who appear DMT_the_spirit_molecule_by_nathancolella.jpgintent upon sharing information and demonstrating the use of inscrutable technologies. The convergence of hundreds of such reports, many from first-time users of the drug who have not been told what to expect, is certainly interesting. It is also worth noting these accounts are almost entirely free of religious imagery. One appears far more likely to meet extraterrestrials or elves on DMT than traditional saints or angels. As I have not tried DMT, and have not had an experience of the sort that its users describe, I don’t know what to make of any of this. MORE

RELATED: The phrase the “desert of the real,” popularized in the movie “The Matrix,” comes from the work Simulacra and Simulation, by Jean Baudrillard. The Wikipedia article on Simulacra and Simulation states that:

Baudrillard claims that our current society has replaced all reality and meaning with symbols and signs, and that human experience is of a simulation of reality. Moreover, these simulacra are not merely mediations of reality, nor even deceptive mediations of reality; they are not based in a reality nor do they hide a reality, they simply hide that anything like reality is irrelevant to our current understanding of our lives. The simulacra that Baudrillard refers to are the significations and symbolism of culture and media that construct perceived reality, the acquired understanding by which our lives and shared existence is rendered legible; Baudrillard believed that society has become so saturated with these simulacra and our lives so saturated with the constructs of society that all meaning was being rendered meaningless by being infinitely mutable. Baudrillard called this phenomenon the “precession of simulacra”. MORE

ayahuasca.jpgRELATED: The taking of ayahuasca has been associated with a long list of documented cures: the disappearance of everything from metastasized colorectal cancer to cocaine addiction, even after just a ceremony or two. It’s thought to be nonaddictive and safe to ingest. Yet Western scientists have all but ignored it for decades, reluctant to risk their careers by researching a substance containing the outlawed DMT. Only in the past decade, and then only by a handful of researchers, has ayahuasca begun to be studied. At the vanguard of this research is Charles Grob, M.D., a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at UCLA’s School of Medicine. In 1993 Dr. Grob launched the Hoasca Project, the first in-depth study of the physical and psychological effects of ayahuasca on humans. His team went to Brazil, where the plant mixture can be taken legally, to study members of a native church, the União do Vegetal (UDV), who use ayahuasca as a sacrament, and compared them to a control group that had never ingested the substance. The studies found that all the ayahuasca-using UDV members had experienced remission without recurrence of their addictions, depression, or anxiety disorders. In addition, blood samples revealed a startling discovery: Ayahuasca seems to give users a greater sensitivity to serotonin—one of the mood-regulating chemicals produced by the body—by increasing the number of serotonin receptors on nerve cells. Unlike most common antidepressants, which Grob says can create such high levels of serotonin that cells may actually compensate by losing many of their serotonin receptors, the Hoasca Project showed that ayahuasca strongly enhances the body’s ability to absorb the serotonin that’s naturally there. “Ayahuasca is perhaps a far more sophisticated and effective way to treat depression than SSRIs [antidepressant drugs],” Grob concludes, adding that the use of SSRIs is “a rather crude way” of doing it. And ayahuasca, he insists, has great potential as a long-term solution. MORE

TERRENCE MCKENNA: We’re playing with half a deck as long as we tolerate that the cardinals of government and science should Terrence_McKenna.jpgdictate where human curiousity can legitimately send its attention and where it can not. It’s an essentially preposterous situation. It is essentially a civil rights issue, because what we’re talking about here is the repression of a religious sensibility. In fact, not a religious sensibility, the religious sensibility. Not built on some con game spun out by eunichs, but based on the symbiotic relationship that was in place for our species for fifty thousand years before the advent of history, writing, priestcraft and propaganda. So it’s a clarion call to recover a birthright. MORE

TERRENCE MCKENNA: It is now very clear that techniques of machine-human interfacing, pharmacology of the synthetic variety, all kinds of manipulative techniques, all kinds of data storage, imaging and retrieval techniques– all of this is coalescing toward the potential of a truly demonic or angelic kind of self-imaging of our culture… And the people who are on the demonic side are fully aware of this and hurrying full-tilt forward with their plans to capture everyone as a 100% believing consumer inside some kind of a beige furnished fascism that won’t even raise a ripple. MORE

TERRENCE MCKENNA: I remember the very, very first time that I smoked DMT. It was sort of a benchmark, you might say, and I remember that this friend of mine that always got there first visited me with this little glass pipe and this stuff which looked like orange mothballs. And since I was a graduate of Dr. Hofmann’s, I figured there were no surprises. So the only question I asked is, ‘How long does it last?’ and he said, ‘About five minutes.’ So I did it and… [long pause, audience cheers] there was a something, like a flower, like a chrysanthemum in orange and yellow that was sort of spinning, spinning, and then it was like I was pushed from behind and I fell through the chrysanthemum into another place that didn’t seem like a state of mind, it seemed like another place. And what was going on in this place aside from the tastefully soffited indirect lighting, and the crawling geometric hallucinations along the domed walls, what was happening was that there were a lot of ahh.. beings in there, what I call self-transforming machine elves. Sort of like jewelled basketballs all dribbling their way toward me. And if they’d had faces they would have been grinning, but they didn’t have faces. And they assured me that they loved me and they told me not to be amazed; not to give way to astonishment. And so I watched them, even though I wondered if maybe I hadn’t really done it this time, and what they were doing was they were making objects come into Terrence_McKenna.jpgexistence by singing them into existence. Objects which looked like Fabergé eggs from Mars morphing themselves with Mandaean alphabetical structures. They looked like the concrescence of linguistic intentionality put through a kind of hyper-dimensional transform into three-dimensional space. And these little machines offered themselves to me. And I realized when I looked at them that if I could bring just one of these little trinkets back, nothing would ever be quite the same again. MORE

TERRENCE MCKENNA: We have to stop CONSUMING our culture. We have to CREATE culture. DON’T watch TV, DON’T read magazines, don’t even listen to NPR. Create your OWN roadshow. The nexus of space and time where you are — NOW — is the most immediate sector of your universe. And if you’re worrying about Michael Jackson or Bill Clinton or somebody else, then you are disempowered. You’re giving it all away to ICONS. Icons which are maintained by an electronic media so that, you want to dress like X or have lips like Y… This is shit-brained, this kind of thinking. That is all cultural diversion. What is real is you, and your friends, your associations, your highs, your orgasms, your hopes, your plans, your fears. And, we are told No, you’re unimportant, you’re peripheral — get a degree, get a job, get a this, get that, and then you’re a player. You don’t even want to play that game. You want to reclaim your mind and get it out of the hands of the cultural engineers who want to turn you into a half-baked moron consuming all this trash that’s being manufactured out of the bones of a dying world. MORE

TERRENCE MCKENNA: Somewhere around 1945 we began to loot the future as a strategy for survival, some ethical norm was shattered. […] What’s happening is that 8% of the world’s people use 35% of the world’s petroleum, and are ready to blow everybody off the map to keep it that way. This is nothing more than a manifestation of junkie psychology on a mass scale. We’re addicted, they got it, we’re happy to pay for it, but if they won’t sell it we’ll break into their house and take it, because by god it will go into our right arm. that’s the plan. MORE

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