May 2015

Terence McKenna, Rupert Sheldrake, and Ralph Abraham, first roundtable on “The Evolutionary Mind” (1998)


The counterculture, that configuration of students, activists, thinkers, self-experimenters, and pleasure-seekers who emerged over the course of the late ’60s in the United States, specifically in California, in many ways initiated a set of sociocultural transformations that would serve as the catalyst for a systemic shift in political economy. The decline of the political and the rise of the self, as documentarist Adam Curtis has examined in his film The Century of the Self, ironically comes about in large part due to the originally revolutionary aspirations of the counterculture, necessitating a critical revisitation of its intellectual output. A number of notable figures came to be seen as the voice of this “hippie” generation, esoteric thinkers whose good intentions have long been subsumed into the neoliberal capitalization of the self as an open market of affective possibilities. Notable amongst them are Terrence McKenna, best known for his writings on psychedelics and “entheogenic” substances within human history; Rupert Sheldrake, a biologist who developed an evolutionary approach to consciousness studies through his work on “morphic resonance” and cosmic memory; and Ralph Abraham, a mathematician who contributed to the development of dynamic systems theory and chaos theory. All three gather together at the end of the millennium to address the problem of evolution. The basis for this lively conversation is an agreed-upon proposition: around 50,000 years ago, the human species underwent a massive civilizational transition, a leap in consciousness that reassembled social, technical, and spiritual intelligences. What are the elements of this transition, its causes and effects? All three agree: all the characteristics of our present day and age exhibit the qualities of a second transition, an acceleration of forces that respond to changes in mind, as well as causing shifts in consciousness. Throughout the various arguments, ranging from mystical to scientific, it is suggested that imagination is the realm within which “our future transhuman metamorphosis” will occur. Neurophysiological changes in the brain certainly belong to the evolutionary record of homo sapiens, stresses Abraham, whilst McKenna emphasizes the important experience of hallucinogenic substances at the dawn of civilization that stimulated the brain and expanded its neuro-perceptive capacities. To approach any discussion of evolution, one must develop an altogether cosmological hypothesis. A reconceptualization of nature is articulated over the course of the debate, a displacement of the human, of matter, in favor of information: “information is running itself on a primate platform but evolving to its own agenda—a symbiotic relationship to a non-material being called language that we think is ours and we think we control, but it is running itself, it is timesharing a primate nervous system and evolving towards its own conclusions.” Is it? Or does it risk being put to work, in the service of capital, to recode the species altogether?

Terence Kemp McKenna was an American esoteric philosopher, psychonaut, ethnobotanist, lecturer, and author

Ralph H. Abraham is an American mathematician. He has been a member of the mathematics department at the University of California, Santa Cruz since 1968

Alfred Rupert Sheldrake is an English author, public speaker, and researcher in the field of parapsychology

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