McKenna and PKD, Pronoia and Paranoia

I’ve mentioned Terrence McKenna before, but maybe its been a while.  I just came across him again in my web searches in two different contexts.  Someone in the God pod started a thread about pronoia which was an attitude that McKenna valued (here).  McKenna also valued the insights of Philip K. Dick and he wrote about why he felt a connection (here).


I like McKenna because he is a nexus between many of the subjects I’m attracted to: PKD, Jung, spirituality, psychedelics, imagination, consensus reality, pop culture, etc.  Although, he was maybe a bit too pronoia for my taste.  He was like PKD in that he had such a strong desire to believe that his ideas at times seemed a bit simple and naive.

Personally, I feel there needs to be a balance between paranoia and pronoia… which PKD probably came closer to a balance I’d prefer.  However, I will give McKenna one thing.  He took weird to a new level beyond even PKD.  Its hard to get more far out than McKenna and not become lost to the world.  From what I hear, Leary became a bit spacey in his latter life.  McKenna, on the other hand, kept a sharp mind right until the end.

I must add that McKenna was far less naive than your average New Ager.  He did have some very complex theories and seemed openminded about questioning even his own cherished beliefs.  He didn’t seem afraid of facing the darker side of life.

Nicole said

he sounds a lot like you!

Marmalade said

I guess so. I too have a naive side of me that just wants to believe. I shouldn’t judge anyone else for that.

McKenna isn’t known that well outside of a certain sector of society. If you’re interested in psychedelics or appreciate authors like Robert Anton Wilson, Timothy Leary, and Philip K. Dick or if you used to listen to Coast to Coast AM when Art Bell was the main host, then you’d probably know of him. But that is probably a small percentage of the population.

Known or not, he is one of the most influential thinkers in recent times. He was probably the first psychedelics advocate that made psychedelics close to respectable, but his ideas went far beyond psychedelics.I should add that a large partof that credit goes to the popularity of Art Bell who had the the largest worldwide audience of any night time radio talk show. McKenna was one of the main people to be repeatedly interviewed on Coast to Coast.

I do get the sense that McKenna and PKD had similar personalities. The similarity was two-fold. Both seemed to love people, and both were great storytellers. Listening to McKenna on the radio, he was riveting in that he wore his enthusiasm on his sleeve. He was just excited about life and the possibilities of humanity.

Nicole said

wow, who knew? this is fascinating, Ben.

Marmalade said

I should add that McKenna, of course, was also interested in Burroughs. He owned some of Burroughs original work which was lost in a fire… very tragic… but McKenna took it in stride losing his entire life collection. McKenna shared Burroughs’ notion that language is something like a virus. However, McKenna put a more positive spin on this view.


Nicole said

ok, I’m game. Language as a virus in a positive way? How so?

Marmalade said

McKenna’s theory is about consciousness in general and not just language.

The idea relates to the human relationship to psychedelic mushrooms. Psychedelic plants traditionally have gods or other entities associated with them. Anyone at any time will have similar experiences when taking the same psychedelic. This connects to the idea of imbibing God which vaguely survives in the Catholic ritual.

My understanding is that both Burroughs and McKenna thought of language as being external to and prior to the human species. In fact, they saw it as a space artifact, a virus that infected this planet. For McKenna, this is where mushrooms come in because mycelium can survive in a vacuum and at extreme temperature variances.

Here is a McKenna quote I came across:

“And I felt language rise up in me that was unhooked from English and I began to speak like this:

Eeeoo ded hwauopsy mectoph, mectagin dupwoxin, moi phoi wops eppepepekin gitto phepsy demego doi aga din a doich demoi aga donc heedey obectdee doohueana.

(Or words to that effect). And I wondered then what it all meant, and why it felt so good (if it didnt mean anything). And I thought about it a few years, actually, and I decided, you know, that meaning and language are two different things. And that what the alien voice in the psychedelic experience wants to reveal is the syntactical nature of reality. That the real secret of magic, is that the world is made of words, and that if you know the words that the world is made of, you make of it, whatever you wish!”


Marmalade said

I’d relate all of this to astrotheology as well. The solar year and the stellar objects are the origins of the probably first systematized religious language. That systematization is what all of civilization was built upon. Also, various people have theorized that psychedelic mushrooms were the origin of all religion.

I know its all far out there, but its fun to think about.


Nicole said

it’s all very interesting. Does McKenna speak about glossolalia, is that alien language too?


Marmalade said

McKenna speaks about glossolalia in the following article where he distinguishes it from what is experienced with psychedelics (and he also makes some comments about PKD):

Tryptamine Hallucinogens and Consciousness


Nicole said

He’s so funny, isn’t he? I like how he ends the article:

The mushroom states its own position very clearly. It says, “I require
the nervous system of a mammal. Do you have one handy?”


Marmalade said

Yep. Whether or not you take his theories seriously, he is at least amusing.


80m said

Nice discussion!

One of Mckenna’s funniest moments, for me, was when he was giving a lecture and refered to an earlier interaction where someone called him “too narrow-minded”.


Marmalade said

Hello 80m

I’m not familiar with that lecture, but its hard to imagine anyone accusing him of being “too narrow-minded”.

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