Interview: Dennis McKenna

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26 Responses to “Interview: Dennis McKenna”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I think it comes down to navigating through chaos, non-reality, other dimensions. The only way to understand is within your self. Can’t explain the unexplainable in words. It boils down to, is there magic? The supernatural? That which can not be explained? Except by experience.

  2. Ambiguity says:

    Thanks for this!

    I met Dennis in Peru in 2005, and he’s good people.

    I’m always been rather puzzled why people who are into psychedelics believe that they provide access to some different kind of perception.

    Well, because they do provide access to a different kind of perception. That much is pretty much tautological.

    Now, as to the “faith” placed in these perceptions (vs. normal perception), that’s a different issue. To an extent, it is — I think — a reaction to the commonly-held but opposite position that there is only one state of consciousness that should be taken seriously (i.e., normal, waking, relatively unperturbed consciousness). Consciousness really exists on a continuum, and I think the wisest course of action is to treat it as such. As opposed to adopting some ideological disposition for interpretation — and in this regard “it’s all just a hallucination!” and “these are true visions!” are equally ideological — it is much more reasonable to treat our experiences on a case-by-case basis, and act according to their own strengths and weaknesses.

    What’s more, the line between rationality and visionary experience isn’t nearly so hard as is commonly thought. Much of our scientific and technical achievements have been inspired by visionary experiences (at least two Nobel Prizes have been awarded for work that was inspired by psychedelics; Descartes’s vision of the Angel; etc. etc.). I think life is deepest when you integrate both sides of the human condition.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I worked with Dennis almost twenty years ago at Shaman Pharmaceuticals. He’s modest, quiet and pretty sane; a lot more than I was at the time.

    He’s also a lot smarter than most of the people I know, and I pretty much only hang around with scientists and engineers…I think he deserves a good hearing.

  4. entheo says:

    I have a photo here of when we took Dennis off to our local Cthulhu temple (ok, it was more of a Deep Ones Temple), since the McKenna’s are such fans of Lovecraft
    https://picasaweb.google.com/acaciahuasca/DennisVisit#5140462123110557906

    and keeping in the shark theme of a slightly later posting, here’s Dennis eating some shark (although with a red wine)
    https://picasaweb.google.com/acaciahuasca/DennisVisit#5140463918406887954

  5. Anonymous says:

    It’s not that psychedelics provide access to a different kind of perception so much as they disrupt the normal priorities or filters you place upon your own perception. Consider your normal awareness as a filter of priorities – objects and people have place, function, and relevance. Under the influence of psychedelics, your normal realm of priorities becomes obliterated, allowing you to view experiences in a non-prioritized manner. In a simple sense, you see things as they “are”; however, you still carry some baggage with you, which will affect how you interpret the various color perceptions, geometric extrapolations, and ascriptions of life/movement to the inanimate. After significant experience with psychedelics, you should come to recognize your own resident filters which survive the dynamite blast a good hallucinogen provides.

  6. ahmacrom says:

    I will never forget the time at the family cottage where I took mushrooms and I had an incredible journey. Still awake the next day I stumbled into a Mom and Pop book store where Mckenna’s Archaic revival was poking out of a stack of books. I asked how much, and the owner said that it had been here forever and to just take it. My life has not been the same since. For the better.

  7. Tau'ma says:

    Clapton Love Minus Zero Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert

  8. pauldavis says:

    I don’t mean to call you out in particular, but this sort of illustrates the kind of thing I mean. On the one hand, you say

    Consciousness really exists on a continuum

    but then you say

    I think life is deepest when you integrate both sides of the human condition.

    I don’t think that either of these perspectives really makes sense. The second one is particularly wrong because as you said, its more of a continuum than a dualistic this-or-that. But its not really a continuum either, at least not in the traditional sense of the word. We can go back to Dickens to see why:

    “Because,” said Scrooge, “a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!” (from A Christmas Carol)

    The notion that there are “degrees” of clear (or muddied) perception is just wrong. Our sensory systems, as well as the intrepretation engines that they attach to, are, amongst other things, chemical soups in which tiny amounts of various compounds can cause notable changes in function.

    I think that rather than a continuum, its more accurate to think about perception as always using 1 or more sets of filters (they could be color based, or more creative than that). You might be seeing the world through a “yellow” filter, or a “red” filter depending on what is floating around in your synapses and elsewhere, but neither the yellow nor the red filter are any more authoritative or insightful than the other. its also not always the case that trying out more filters (blue! green!) will actually give you any more insight into the world, though depending on the person and the filter, this could be true.

    What does seem indisputable is that people who have strong experiences on psychedelics have strong experiences which often leave them altered for good. They experienced the world in a way that they never done before, and it was a profound thing for them.

    What I simply don’t get is why people would so much energy into the notion that the nature of the perception is important. It seems (to me) obvious that, as with fire-walking, its the nature of the (assumption-destroying) experience that matters, and the perception itself is neither more nor less “true” than what is available without that particular psychedelic.

    • Ambiguity says:

      The notion that there are “degrees” of clear (or muddied) perception is just wrong.

      I think we’re just going to have to agree to disagree on this one. I know from my own experience (as well as the literature) that consciousness doesn’t really manifest in well-defined, quantum-like states. All of the qualities and quantities that we associate with consciousness vary from moment to moment.

      We can look, for example, at a division which is normally considers quite distinct: waking and sleeping.

      Clinical evidence (for a summary, see Austin’s excellent book Zen and the Brain) shows that the “90 minute cycles” that we normally associate with REM/Non-REM sleep continues well after we wake up, with awareness and attention waxing and waning.

      On a more personal note, the boundary between sleep and wakefulness seems a little murky to me. I often experience a melding of the the two as I fall asleep or wake up: sleep paralysis, seeing dream figure through open eyes in a more-or-less lucid state; hypnogogic and hypnopompic visions, etc.

      Yes, it makes sense to draw a distinction between sleep and wakefulness. But it doesn’t make sense to ignore the liminal states between and to think of these things as not existing on a continuum. IMO, of course.

      Our sensory systems, as well as the intrepretation engines that they attach to, are, amongst other things, chemical soups in which tiny amounts of various compounds can cause notable changes in function.

      On this we agree. In fact, I think that’s kind of the whole point!

      You can use the metaphor of filters if you want — Huxley was fond of it in the early writings on psychedelics. Personally I think the continuum is a better metaphor. Filters work well in thinking about stable or metastable phase changes in consciousness (and these undoubtedly take place), but again, they tend to cast things into discreet states, and I think we’re agreeing to disagree on that one.

      What I simply don’t get is why people would so much energy into the notion that the nature of the perception is important. It seems (to me) obvious that, as with fire-walking, its the nature of the (assumption-destroying) experience that matters, and the perception itself is neither more nor less “true” than what is available without that particular psychedelic.

      Well, I can’t speak for the people who put a lot of energy into it, but I know a lot of people “into” psychedelics who see things largely the same way you do. Heck, even I do (ignoring the disagreement on the continuum of consciousness). I view them as the enabler of a type of experience, which must be integrated into our larger life like any other experience.

    • Tau'ma says:

      “total consciousness”

      “I won’t go schizo will I? There’s a distinct possibility.”

  9. Tau'ma says:

    This sense that in spite of everything which of course is the ultimate, I suppose, the ultimate mystical conviction in spite of pain, in spite of death, in spite of horror, the universe is in some mysterious sense is all right, capital A capital R.
    [mp3] (5:38 – 8MB)

    An Interview with Aldous Huxley

    • Anonymous says:

      Very nice, poetic quote from Huxley. Reminded me of this one from Hunter S Thompson, who greatly admired Huxley’s prose, and could have been channelling it, through a quite different perspective, here: “We are all wired into a survival trip now. No more of the speed that fueled that 60′s. That was the fatal flaw in Tim Leary’s trip. He crashed around America selling “consciousness expansion” without ever giving a thought to the grim meat-hook realities that were lying in wait for all the people who took him seriously… All those pathetically eager acid freaks who thought they could buy Peace and Understanding for three bucks a hit. But their loss and failure is ours too. What Leary took down with him was the central illusion of a whole life-style that he helped create… a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who never understood the essential old-mystic fallacy of the Acid Culture: the desperate assumption that somebody… or at least some force – is tending the light at the end of the tunnel.”

  10. Anonymous says:

    I have a theory: if we change the way we look at the world, the world changes.

  11. Tau'ma says:

    “The sands of the sea, the drops of rain, the days of eternity — who can count them? The height of the sky, the breadth of the earth, the depth of the abyss — who can explore them?”

  12. Anonymous says:

    Us unfortunate folk who are ‘into’ psychedelics don’t need to ‘put more excitement into the perception’. The perception puts more excitement into us. It feels ‘deeper’ because it ‘feels’ deeper.

    The unusually vivid emotions induced by the chemicals mark the experience — and our perception of it — as highly significant.

    Most folk are inclined to place mystical, faith-based dimensions on the experience because: ‎’belief comes quickly and naturally, skepticism is slow and unnatural, and most people have a low tolerance for ambiguity.’

    But even the more science-minded of us (and this can be learned) see such experiences as highly significant — we’re only human after all, with the same reptilian remnants in our primitive brains — it’s hard to ignore such strong emotion…

    It’s just that, unlike the faith-bound, we’re also intrigued by the mechanical, evidence-based explanations for the experience — not just the explanations which ‘feel’ right.

    This is a good illustration of what I mean: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8T_jwq9ph8k

    • Ambiguity says:

      …belief comes quickly and naturally, skepticism is slow and unnatural, and most people have a low tolerance for ambiguity.

      I don’t!

  13. Anonymous says:

    Intriguing interview. Thanks for posting it, Boing Boing!

  14. pauldavis says:

    I’m always been rather puzzled why people who are into psychedelics believe that they provide access to some different kind of perception. I can go with the notion that having your perception of the world so drastically altered by something you can barely see goes a long way to shaking up your faith in what you do ordinarily perceive, but I never get why there is a tendency to put more faith, or excitement, or something into the perception you have on DMT or LSD than the perception you have when not on DMT or LSD. Being suspicious about our ability to “see” the world seems like a good idea, but believing that the perception you have in one state versus another is “deeper” just seems like a lack of perspective to me.

    • Tau'ma says:

      “Blessed are the pure in heart: they shall see God.”

    • Anonymous says:

      Perhaps you ought to try psychedelics yourself. Seriously.

      Psilocybin mushrooms aren’t that hard to find, are not too prone to bad trips, and will definitely give you a taste of where people are coming from.

      Always a good idea to do it the first time with someone you trust who’s done it before – sounds like you know a few.

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