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Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 7 months ago

One More Time With Feeling?! Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out Revisited



This problem of attention tuning is an old one, hacked with practices of mantra in the Buddhist tradition, the eloquence and song of Mazatec curandera Maria Sabina, and the icaros of Upper Amazonian ayhuascera well before anybody thought to synch "The Wizard of Oz" with "Dark Side of the Moon." Why did modern psychonauts, in the thick of the Cold War and, evolutionarily speaking, barely out of the trees, so favor this language of the "turn on" for all things psychedelic? The favorite analogy for the novelty and seemingly infinite potential of psychedelic experience was a machinic one: if psychedelic experience revealed itself to be extremely programmable, some psychonauts scripted themselves as informational machines both digital and analog open to yet further prorgamming, what Leary compared to the practically infinite "glass bead game" found in Herman Hesse's novel of the same name. For John Lilly this "turning on" meant "turning off" the sensory world in a flotation tank in order to "turn on", program and metaprogram the human biocomputer. "Turn on" was digital, announcing a discrete state of "on" or "off." So Timothy Leary's oft quoted but perhaps misunderstood mantra begins with an experimental mapping of ourselves as Boolean machines with two states: on and off. Which one would you choose?



Clearly, though, what was "turned on" was more than a machine."Set and Setting" was a mantra, too, and "Set" includes our glorious status as embodied beings meshed with a pharmacopiea dynamically connected to our own minds, and "setting" includes the entire (cosmic) context of psychdelic experience. For many this meant investigating what scholar Jeffrey Kripal has dubbed "the enlightenment of the body", an investigation of "the body and its pleasures."(Foucault) As the ethnobotanist Giorgio Samorini points out, animal use of psychedelics abounds, particularly in the context of courtship display, where techniques of ecstasy (such as birdsong) can be as important to evolutionary success as fitness for survival. And humans are indeed (in part) animals using psychedelics, with big brains that likely evolved, biologist Geoffrey Miller argues, as a "courtship device." Miller's analysis echoes Leary's claim that \"intelligence is the ultimate aphrodisiac\", especially when it was deployed in "the programming of psychedelic experience." "Tune in" resounds with the suddenly enormous freedom to metaprogram in pleasure and joy this obviously interactive "wetware" ( Leary) aspect of human embodiement that LSD seemed to reveal to many. Microsoft's old slogan "Where do you want to go today?" was perhaps but a simulacrum of this older exploratory hedonic - and, Kripal argues, tantric - zeal of collective psychedelic exploration. 'Heads", exploring the capacities of these seemingly new technologies which turned on the "13 billion cell computer", saw and felt the illusion of the officially scientific body/mind separation dissolve blissfully into its tantric, sexually selected evolutionary interface. According to Leary, it was Richard Alpert (now Ram Dass) who told him to "face the facts" of life:

It’s true you can access any circuit in your brain and change your mind. But it’s time you faced the facts, Timothy. We’re turning on the most powerful sexual organ the universe! The brain. ( Leary, p. 131)

Properly tuned, "turn on" reminded psychonauts of the remarkable sexual aspects of LSD experience, which was now, like the Turing Machine with which it was being compared, a place for exploring not only the space of all possible computations and states of mind, but the space of all possible ecstasies. Albert Hofmann writes that with LSD "the sensual orgy of sexual intercourse can undergo unimaginable enhancemments" ( problem child, p. 116). Yet so too, Hofmann writes, could LSD lead to " a purgatory or even to the hell of frightful extinction..." In short, like the engineers with which we begin, LSD needed a script to focus the attention and tune the experience towards the best of all of the (practically infinite) set of possiblities for any given "set and setting." So too can the very name of these plants and compounds script our experiences of them, as the coinage of "entheogen" by Jonathon Ott, Gordon Wasson, Carl Ruck and Albert Hofmann makes clear. In the veritgo of this "internal freedom", Leary offered a programming script toward the highest Bliss of Ananda: Emptiness.



Complete dedication to the life of worship is our aim, exemplified in the motto "Turn on, Tune In, Drop Out." ( Legal Papers, "League of Spiritual Discovery")


As a third order cybernetic operation, (a script of a script of a script of psychedelic experience) "Drop Out" tunes the program toward the most proximate bit of order available to any psychonaut: a "sample" of the self is examined and then subsequently dropped, released, remixed. Drop Out asked psychedelic experimentalists ( "renunciants") to query any aspect of themselves for any game other than the divine one. This penchant for letting go of accrued habit structure (Gelassenheit as Eckhart dubbed it) resonated with past seekers in what Aldous Huxley entitled ( mistakenly after Leibniz) "the Perennial Philosophy", and seemed to initiate a practice of re-imagining self in the Light of Self, embedding the part (ego) within a whole (Self) which it repeated on a different scale. In this sense psychedelic investigation repeated a long strand of heterodox science and alchemy which treated the refrain of the Corpus Hermeticum "As Above, So Below" as the achievement of alchemical practice as well as a principle fundamental to it. (Terrence McKenna's rightous love and enthusiasm for all things fractaled is perhaps another case in point.) Drop Out was above all a disciplining and focusing of the attention at any given moment: Was it divine? So according to Leary's script, "dropping out" was anything but a "giving up", but was instead an intensification of personal, yes spiritual informational rhetorical evolution necessary to the next scale of the human and transhuman adventure, the discovery of what Albert Hoffman called "The most worthwhile spiritual benefit from LSD Experiments...the inextricable intertwining of the physical and spiritual. "Christ in matter" ( Teilhard De Chardin)". ( Problem child, 188) Teilhard, of course was the theologian and anthropologist most associated wtih the next scalar jump for human consciousness: The noosphere.


Turn in, Turn in, I Beseech you


As a rhetorical practice, dwindling any non divine aspect of self almost by definition brings out larger scale structures within which we are embedded, and suddenly, the scale shifts to the ecosystem and our awareness of it - the noosphere. Working with mantra as algorithms, "Programming the Psychedelic Experience" offered a linguistic, visual and sonic re-orientation of the self through inquiry that let go of linguistic phenomena as anything but labels for our benefit and conscious evolution, echoing that other influential mantra from Count Korzybski, "The Map is not the territory!" Letting go of any particular formulation about the self, the incessant inner speech of Who I Really Am, something larger scale came into relief, teh Upanioshad's "Tat Tvam Asi", rendered in Victorian English as "Thou Art That" but perhaps equally well rendered for the 21st century as "Thou art that Fractal!" For Leary it was an "inner light" fusing the individual with that multiplicity, "internal life processes":


"In the introverted state, the self is ecstatically fused with internal life processes (lights, energy waves, bodily events, biological forms, etc.)."


This unification with "life processes" could not have come at a better time, arriving at the same moment when scientific models of living systems were overwhelmingly focused on the molecular scale of life. Understandably entranced by the discovery of the genetic code and its protein messages, researchers sometimes seemed to forget the embodied, ecological and often symbiotic scalar contexts for the evolution and expression of DNA. So too did LSD itself both strengthen the reductionist biochemical model of mind - you can hack your "13 billion cell computer" with a molecule - and focus psychonautical attention on the larger scale structures - "your" body, the ecosystem, the cosmos - discovered through the withering of the ego and scripting the daily erasure of the ego's incessant news broadcasts about - itself. DROP OUT


"Liberation is the nervous system devoid of mental-conceptual redundancy. The mind in its conditioned state, limited to words and ego games, is continuously in thought-formation activity. The nervous system in a state of quiescence, alert, awake but not active, is comparable to what Buddhists call the highest state of dhyana (deep meditation). The conscious recognition of the Clear Light induces an ecstatic condition of consciousness such as saints and mystics of the West have called illumination...The first sign is the glimpsing of the "Clear Light of Reality, the infallible mind of the pure mystic state" - an awareness of energy transformations with no imposition of mental categories."


"Inner" and "outer" were some of the mental categories that were no longer imposed, and this language and visualization of "light" echoes with many earlier practicioners of the Perrenial Philosophy such as the Quaker William Penn. In his youth, the founder of Pennsylvania discovered an inner light revealed through silence - the active removal and erasure of information "informing" the mind in "mental-conceptual redundancy." Like many psychonauts, Penn tried hard to describe this light:


That blessed principle, the Eternal Word... is Pythagoras's real light and salt of ages; Anaxagoras's divine mind; Socrates's good spirit; Timaeus's unbegotten principle and author of all light; Hieron's God in man; Plato's eternal, ineffable and perfect principle of truth; Zeno's maker and father of all; and Plotin's root of the soul....



In this context, Penn urges us, like Leary, to drop out from the ego chatter of self and media, and to behold the inner light common also to meditative and, yes, psychedelic conditions. In an uncanny resonance with Leary's phrasing, the Pre-Cybernetic Penn asks us to "Turn in" rather than "on":


"Therefore, O friends, turn in, turn in, I beseech you...."


Turn on, Tune in, Get Epic


But it was not only Perrenial Philosophes who were investigating this "inner" realm that gave way to the scale of the divine, "Hieron's God in man; Plato's eternal, ineffable and perfect principle of truth; Zeno's maker and father of all..." Researchers Jay Stevens and Steven Marks have helped remind us of the important roles played by the intelligence community in the emerging science of psychedelics. Initial CIA interest in psilocybe mexicana, for example, focused on the possibility that "magic mushrooms" could be a potent "truth drug." In other words, psychedelics were seen as aids to rhetorical practice - in this case, interrogation. This history repeats the horror of Dachau, where mescaline was investigated as an interogation drug. But in their indigenous context, mushrooms were a kind of information technology of healing and divination. Maria Sabina, the curandera made famous by (sometime CIA funded) mycologist Gordon Wasson offered her own refrains, rhythmic chants with that hallmark of information: redundancy


You are a green Father, a Father of clarity

You are a green Mother, a Mother of clarity

You are a budding Mother, a Mother of offshoots

You are a green Mother, a Mother of clarity


Maria Sabina's eloquence, as poet and theorist Jerome Rothenberg points out, was not simply a result of the mushrooms; an entire shamanic and poetic tradition was referenced and re-worked by Maria Sabina in her healing chants. But nor can her eloquence be rigorously separated from psilocybe mexicana: "The sacred mushrooms are considered the source of Language itself — are, in Henry Munn’s good phrase, "the mushrooms of language." So despite our sense that "information technology" is a modern invention and catalyst of the globalizing economy, Maria Sabina and Stolaroff remind us that human speech and the attention minding it, and its poetic, rhetorical and healing effects, can be amplified and modulated by plants and fungi. In the case of Maria Sabina, her use of the classical rhetorical form of repetitio - a form certainly older than the Greek tradition that named it - helps to paradoxically empty our minds by crowding it out in repetition.


Munn, a translator of Maria Sabina's, called the rhetorical state achieved by Maria Sabina 'ecstatic signification", implying a simultaneous detachment and participation: "ecstasis" means literally a "being-besides-oneself" (Rotman) Psychologist Roland Fischer, in collaboration with the literary critic Colin Martindale, mapped the effects of this "ecstatic signification" induced by psilocybin on writers, and found that writing influenced by psilocybin contained more "primary process content" - content associated with the unconscious - than writing without. Perhaps most intriguing, Martindale and Fischer found that the pattern of primary process content produced by psilocybin induced writing was isomorphic to the primary process content of epic literature. By 1973, Fischer was ready to argue that this epic structure of psilocybin discourse bore the hallmarks of an information compression or omptimization technology:


“Thus far, our studies suggest that certain hallucinogenic drug induced transformations in visual space may be regarded as an optimization of information.” Roland Fischer, 1973


"Just Say Yes to the Noosphere


The noosphere is the feedback effect of collective attention on our environment - Writing in 1943 Vernadksy was amazed at the sudden circulation of "cultural minerals", compounds and alloys made possible only by the transduction of human consciousness, such as Aluminum ( which is very rare in its native state), and, we might add, LSD-25, first intentionally synthesized that same year in Switzerland by Albert Hoffmann.

The attention focused on Maria Sabina and her healing mushrooms and chants by Wasson's 1957 Life magazine article indeed had a feedback effect on the Sierra Mazateca. With the news of psilocybe mexicana , thousands of travelers headed in search of Maria Sabina, and the result was the (partial) destruction of the very context that sustained the mushrooms and the healing poetics associated with them. So too did media attention intentionally and unintentionally garnered by Wasson, Hoffman, Leary and others seem to amplify the difficulties always inherent in any attempt to communicate about psychedelic experience, let alone any attempt to communicate psychedelic experience to millions of people at a distance, reading Life Magazine or a MAPS Bulletin.... Vernadksy conceived the noosphere, after all, in the midst of war, and was amazed at the mass mobilization and transformations of the planet induced by a war consciousness with which we are all too familiar. Might the Noosphere harbor that "purgatory or even to the hell of frightful extinction..."? Or, listening to Maria Sabina's chants, was this perhaps yet another prophecy of the mushroom, an early symptom of a globalization which, if not meshed with awareness, extinguishes more than it enlivens? Maria Sabina wrote:

Before Wasson, I felt that the saint children elevated me. I don't feel like that anymore. The force has diminished. If Cayetano hadn't brought the foreigners. ... the saint children would have kept their power...From the moment the foreigners arrived, the saint children lost their purity. They lost their force; the foreigners spoiled them. From now on they won't be any good. There's no remedy for it.


Wasson struggled with the effects of this story on his conscience and the Sierra Mazateca. Wasson wrote that he shared news of the magic mushrooms because of it's certain "extinction":

If I did not do this, "consulting the mushroom" would go on for a few years longer, but its extinction was and is inevitable.


Yet, happily, Wasson was wrong about this extinction. Years later, the noosphere brought Maria Sabina's little children to the labs of John Hopkins University, where they were declared the proximate cause for religious experience. Global warming, fossil fuel depletion, colonialism and post colonialism continue transforming the planet in globalized war, and by all accounts our attention must finally become focused on global survival of biodiversity in response to climate change and extinction events. So too did the noosphere bring an awareness, like Wasson's, of our responsibility to and for these extinctions'' through Life Magazine, eventually bringing psilocybin and its effects to mycologist and bioremediator Paul Stamets. Stamets compares the mycelial network covering the planet to that avatar of the noosphere, the Web:


“I believe the earth’s natural Internet is the mycelial network,” he says. “That is the way of nature. If there is any destruction of the neurological landscape, the mycelial network does not die; it’s able to adapt, recover and change. That’s the whole basis of the computer Internet. The whole design patterns something that has been reproduced through nature and has been evolutionarily successful over millions of years.” http://www.new-chapter.com/media/article/stamets_saloncom.html


Perhaps this is our epic, to open to and accept the tragedy of that nightmare from which we, like visionaries from James Joyce to Terrence McKenna, are trying to awaken and, yes, evolve. Biologist Theodor Dobzhanksy ended his epic of human evolution, __Mankind Evolving__(sic) with what we called the "poetry" of Teilhard De Chardin:


a harmonized collectivity of consciousnesses, equivalent to a kind of superconsciousness. The Earth is covering itself not merely by myriads of thinking units, but by a single continuum of thought, and finally forming a functionally single Unit of Thought of planetary dimensions. ( Mankind Evolving, 347-348)


Imagining such a "superconsciousness" or what philosopher Gilles Deleuze described as the "super fold" is no simple feat, tending as it does toward the idea of "homogeneity" and de-individuation for many, as in "hive mind" ( Leary) or the Borg. Yet imagining the noosphere,as Vernadksy did, as a scalar level of living systems not unlike Gaia, requires that we wither the ego and discover not our homogenity, but our unique, finite role in the emergent ecology capable of focusing collective attention on the planet as a whole. For our engineers, who did so well on the Witkin Embedded Figure Test, did well indeed when it came to remembering both part and whole, "Finding common geometric shapes in a larger design...", and at our lab at Penn State we are testing Harman et. al's claim that response to the Witkin Embedded Figure test is indeed, as they claim, immune to alteration through the use of a flotation tank. That's one of our roles. What's yours? For the epic is now planetary in scale:


For we are the local embodiment of a Cosmos grown to self-awareness. We have begun to contemplate our origins: starstuff pondering the stars, organized assemblages of ten billion billion billion atoms considering the evolution of atoms; tracing the long journey by which, here at least, consciousness arose. ( Sagan, Cosmos, p. 345)

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