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”.

Type of Person I Admire

Type of Person I Admire

Posted on Mar 13th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade
I was thinking the other day about the type of person I admire. The two that stand out as the most clear examples are Terrence McKenna and Philip K. Dick… but I could name several others that might fit the same categorization. I probably also should throw in Jung to the mix. So, what exactly do these people have in common?

The most obvious similarity is that they’re all writers whether of fiction or non-fiction or both, but that definitely isn’t the defining characteristic and says nothing directly about why I like them as people. More importantly, they’re all simultaneously very intellectual and very imaginative. And they had intellects and imaginations that were closely linked. This relates to an article I came across when doing a search about these authors.

The New Religious Consciousness, by Joseph M. Felser, Ph.D.

“What all of these investigators share is a profound commitment, first and foremost, to what I have been calling ‘inquiry’. They possess a firm conviction, based on personal experience, of what James termed ‘the reality of the unseen’, coupled with an equally firm refusal to insult this mysterious reality by giving it a final name or definition, or even by providing a ‘one size fits all’ set of directions for relating to it. For each of them, the individual search itself is the essential form of religious practice, and the continuing process of inquiry is more important than any particular answer obtained, or experience enjoyed, along the (infinite) way. What each demonstrates by his or her example-James, for instance, had openly wondered about his own mental and physical health following a mysterious but intriguing episode in which he seemed to be having three different dreams simultaneously- is that rigorous self-questioning is the mark of a strong and clear mind, not a weak and murky one; and that it is possible to take religious experiences extremely seriously and to accept the reality of phenomena which orthodox science dismisses without at the same time becoming dogmatically attached to any particular theory of said phenomena. And this shows that it is neither necessary nor advisable to jettison the critical faculties or curb one’s inquisitiveness in order to fully participate in the religious quest.”

“In line with this self-consciously evolutionary perspective, these explorers typically view the act of self-questioning, not as an abstract intellectual exercise, or as a temporary means to an end, but as an inherently sacred space: a carefully fashioned receptacle for the divine mystery; an opening into which the Transcendent can flow.”

That definitely gets at an important aspect, but there is something else that makes these writers stand out to me. I find they’re writing style, they’re attitude toward’s life to be refreshing. They are seekers and questioners, but they do so in a specific way.

As I was writing this, my friend(known as BrightAbyss on his forum OpenSourceIntegral) messenged me. I told him about this blog and what I was thinking about. He gave me this link and its perfect:

To quote from this blog:
“Ideas are Toys. The Search for Truth is a Game.
Believe Nothing. Explore Everything”

Now, that gets to the essence of this kind of person. This is what I strive for. I wish I had this attitude much more often.

I heard many interviews with Terrence McKenna before he died. He was very lively, bubbling with ideas, curiosity and excitement… very playful and humorous. It doesn’t matter if I agreed with him. I simply liked him as a person. He was a celebrity of sorts, but he never talked down to people. I’m not an Extravert and his lighthearted gregariousness is something that doesn’t come natural to me. Maybe that is why I idealize it a bit. I also get the same vibe from reading biographies about Philip K. Dick. Both McKenna and PKD seemed to genuinely like people. I like people who like people. I’m strange like that.

Another minor similarity between McKenna and PKD is that they did drugs, but PKD said he never did psychedelics. I’d say this drug-use is significant in at least one way. It implies a hunger for experience, a desire to know directly, a longing for gnosis. Both of these guys I would define as being spiritual. I know that both McKenna and PKD had intense life-transforming experiences. In PKD’s case, he spent the last decade of his life obsessed with his encounter with the divine.

Neither of these writers are ones that I read all of the time, but I do keep returning to them. There are other writers whose ideas I’m more focused on. I can be an overly serious person and I’m always reading about over-arching theories. I guess my motivation for writing this blog entry is to remind myself of something I too often forget.

Access_public Access: Public 4 Comments Print // Post this!views (472)  
1Vector3 : "Relentless Wisdom"
3 days later

1Vector3 said

Boy do I resonate with all of this. Twaaaannnnngggg !!!!
And let’s hear it for “over-arching theories.” That’s the only kind I like to spend time with. The Biggest Picture. The greatest zoom-out.
But of course, the leaves and twigs and flowers and smells are great, too.

Thanks for your perspectives and your values.

Blessings, Rev. O.M.. Bastet

Marmalade : Gaia Child
3 days later

Marmalade said

One of my favorite activities is to contemplate over-arching theories while going for a walk amidst “the leaves and twigs and flowers and smells.”  There is a great little park nearby that is perfect for this.  Let spring begin!

1Vector3 : "Relentless Wisdom"
3 days later

1Vector3 said

That puts me in mind of a criterion I use to evaluate those over-arching theories: If I can’t SENSE/FEEL their connection to the leaves and twigs under my feet, then I rate them lower…..

In Portland, spring would begin a lot earlier for you……..

Blessings, OM Bastet

Marmalade : Gaia Child
3 days later

Marmalade said

Ahhh… Portland.  I visited there a couple of years ago.  I have a friend who lives there and my brother used to live there.  Arnold Mindell has his school there which I didn’t get to see… and I do believe there is a nice thriving community of SF writers there… and, oh yeah, a kick ass humungoid bookstore.

My friend has tried to get me to move there for years.  If I had to move, I’d consider it.  But IC is my hometown.  Spring actually is starting here, but just barely.  I’m sure I could find some flowers budding if I looked hard enough.

BTW, nice criterion.  I must say that I couldn’t disagree.  Twaaaannnnngggg !!!!

Synesthesia, and Psychedelics, and Civilization! Oh My!

The Coast to Coast AM radio host George Noory just interviewed David Eagleman.  I only heard part of the interview, but what little I gleaned seemed quite interesting.

Dr. Eagleman spoke of synesthesia.  He said that around four percent of the population has synesthesia which is a fairly high number (more common than scientists used to think).  He pointed out that it isn’t considered a neurological disorder because there is no negative consequences for those who have it and in fact there are benefits.  Those with this condition (who are called synesthetes) actually have improved memories because abstract information is grounded in sensory experience (this relates to localized memory which is an ancient mnemonic device).  There are many ways senses and concepts can link together and almost everyone experiences this in mild forms.

I wondered if it might’ve been more common in the past.  Maybe our modern rational ego has helped to compartmentalize the mind and thus created more clear demarcations separating perception and thought.  This possibly could relate to Julian Jaynes theory about the bicameral mind.  Jaynes theorized that a natural function of the human brain was hearing other voices, and that a shift in early civilization changed something fundamental in how our brain operates (or rather how we operate our brain).  The theory is that primitives used to hear voices outside of them and the world was experienced animistically.  As such, there was no clearly defined separate sense of self, no inidividual ego with a sense of being in absolute control.  Everyone still hears other voices in their head such as the words of advice from your parents, but we’ve learned to compartmentalize our sense of self and disidentify with these other voices.  Schizophrenics don’t have this ability.

This relates to psychedelics as well.  Psychedelics loosen the constraints that civilization has placed on our brains.  Any normal person under the influence of psychedelics will experience such things as synesthesia, animistic perception, external voices, etc.  Psychedelics are able to to do this because they are processed in our brains like any other neurochemical.  In fact, the most common psychedelic in nature  is DMT and the human brain produces it in small quantities.  Terrence McKenna theorized that psychedelics helped to develop human consciousness.  McKenna’s theory might find support in other theories that synesthesia is common to all humans early in their individual development (which might be a carryover from when humans permanently lived in such a state of mind).  Other theories claim that language itself originated in synesthesia as language began with concrete experiences and vocalizations that then became abstracted.

Further related to all of this are Ernest Hartmann’s boundary types.  People tend towards either thin or thick boundaries which correlate to personality factors, but certain substances can influence our boundaries.  Psychedelics create thinner boundaries and amphetamines create thicker boundaries.  Besides perceptual alterations, thin boundaries also are necessary for the simple ability to sympathize with others.  Interestingly, creative types tend to have thinner boundaries and have an extremely higher rate of synesthesia.

If you want to check out some of my previous analysis of the topic of human experience of the world, then here is a blog post of mine from


And here is some interesting info I found around the web:

A developmental theory of synaesthesia, with long historical roots
by A.O. Halcombe, E.L. Altschuler, & H.J. Over (full paper)

The recent surge of scientific investigation into synaesthesia, ably reviewed by Hochel and Milan (2008), is representative of an increasing recognition that our various sensory modalities are intimately interconnected rather than separate. The origin of these interconnections is the subject of an intriguing theory by Maurer and Maurer (1988). They suggest that all of us begin life as synaesthetes, with subsequent neural development reducing the connections among the senses. We present some historical roots of the idea that human life begins with the senses intertwined. The influential 18th-century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau described an early theory of child development in his book Emile (1762), hypothesizing that if “a child had at its birth the stature and strength of a man . . . all his sensations would be united in one place, they would exist only in the common ‘sensorium’.” A half-century later, a young Mary Shelley (1818) brought this idea into popular culture with the Frankenstein creature’s recollection of his early experience: “A strange multiplicity of sensations seized me, and I saw, felt, heard, and smelt, at the same time; and it was, indeed, a long time before I learned to distinguish between the operations of my various senses.” William James in The Principles of Psychology (1890) expressed a similar idea. In this context, the assumption of many 20th-century scientists that the senses were largely separate appears to be an historical aberration.

Terence McKenna’s “Stoned Ape” Theory of Human Evolution (or here)

Perhaps the most intriguing of Terence McKenna’s fascinating theories and observations is his explanation for the origin of the human mind and human culture.

To summarize: McKenna theorizes that as the North African jungles receded toward the end of the most recent ice age, giving way to grasslands, a branch of our tree-dwelling primate ancestors left the branches and took up a life out in the open — following around herds of ungulates, nibbling what they could along the way.

Among the new items in their diet were psilocybin-containing mushrooms growing in the dung of these ungulate herds. The changes caused by the introduction of this drug to the primate diet were many — McKenna theorizes, for instance, that synesthesia (the blurring of boundaries between the senses) caused by psilocybin led to the development of spoken language: the ability to form pictures in another person’s mind through the use of vocal sounds.

About 12,000 years ago, further climate changes removed the mushroom from the human diet, resulting in a new set of profound changes in our species as we reverted to pre-mushroomed and frankly brutal primate social structures that had been modified and/or repressed by frequent consumption of psilocybin.

Graveyard of the Gods

Metaphor is based in the relationship between metaphier and metaphrand, strengthened by paraphier and paraphrand. A metaphor’s effectiveness in conveying meaning is not inherent to the structure of language or the words themselves, but the range of associations and connections between all elements (some of which are mostly unconscious) – the most receptive and accustomed to these elements will be most affected by metaphor. Cross modal abstraction increases the power of metaphor by bolstering the connective elements of the words we choose (the metaphiers and paraphiers) when attempting to express something – this probably why such as high percentage of artists display synesthesia (1 in 7 artists as opposed to 1 in 200 normal population).

Globalization, Romanticism, and Owen Barfield
by Jim Davis

Abram (1996), McLuhan (1964), et al argue that the phonetic alphabet led to a kind of synesthesia, wherethe visual was transformed into written symbols experienced as sounds. Early cultures were auditory cultures, wherelanguage was only spoken. The phonetic alphabet enabled an efficient writing system. It also resulted in thediminution of memory as the sole repository of tradition, and the fixing of standardized and “official” versions inauthoritative text. Following this line of thinking, the spread of the corresponding consciousness tracks the spread ofliteracy and the technology of writing reproduction.