Even More UFOs
Welcome back to the Trenchant Edges, the newsletter where we explore and learn from high weirdness.
I’m Stephen, host and research junkie.
Today we’re doing another round of UFOs & Terence McKenna. If you missed yesterday’s email, check it out here. It includes maybe my favorite piece of Terence’s writing.
But since that’s 2000 words and we kinda need the context from it for today, let’s get a quick summary:
What Terence Said Before
The big takeaways from yesterday are:
Terence understood there to be some intelligent other one could communicate with by ingesting psilocybin Mushrooms
Terence saw UFOs as a kind of immune response by the Gaian mind against rationalist high modernism. A weird thing that won’t go away or make sense no matter how many times rationalists wave their magic formulas to dismiss it.
He contextualized this as part of the process of re-awakening Feminine/intuitive values and the kind of archaic revival project he saw postmodernity collapsing into.
One thing I’ll say about #1 is that with many psychedelics there’s a sense of meeting another mind, even setting aside the rare but consistent stories of telepathy on these substances.
Whether there’s anyone on the other end is less important to me than the consistency of such perceptions.
Someone might rightly wonder if this sense appears because of the psychedelic community being primed for it by Terence himself. Well, there’s some evidence from the 1950s otherwise.
This passage starts with Terence’s then-wife Kat Harrison asking him why he avoided mentioning UFOs in the invisible landscape and talking much more about them in True Hallucinations. From a talk he gave in 1983:
Yes, well actually in the, in the first book the ufo reference is few and far between, I think it's only touched on once. I deliberately suppressed it from The Invisible Landscape because It was already lit up like a Christmas tree with bizarre ideas. And I would save that particular ornament for its own treatment later.
But in the second work, uh, down to earth: psilocybin and the ufos I deal with that directly because, uh, it seems to me that, uh, in psilocybin and the tryptamine hallucinogens generally we actually have a, uh, state of mind that is very similar to the state of mind reported to accompany the, uh, the ufo contact, and that these things could somehow be co-mapped one onto the other. That at, uh, at active, uh, levels of psilocybin there is, uh, visionary ideation of spaceships, alien creatures, alien information, a general futuristic saucerian kind of quality to the place it conveys you to that, uh, seem to be coming from the same place, uh, as the modern myth of the ufo, if it is a myth. And, uh, we discovered in our exploration to the Amazon in 1971 that this was quite true, that, uh, involvement with these tryptamines as they accumulated in your system, you seem to acquire the ability to, uh, eh, inhabit more than one world at once, as though superimposed over reality there was, uh, a super-reality, a hyper-dimensional world where information was, uh, accessible in magical ways. And, uh, in the wake of that experience I just, uh, went through the literature of the mystical experience and the saucer experience and, uh, ideas like alchemy and that sort of thing, and, uh, eventually saw that these w- they were all talking about the same thing, that there is an experience which is gaining ascendancy from modern man which is called contact with the ufo, but it is not, uh, reducible to any of the things that the, uh, main people who've written about it have said it can be reduced to. It is not, strictly speaking, a contact from a space-faring race that has come from the stars. It is not, uh, mass-hysteria. It is not delusion either. There is, in fact, something very odd going on, something which is as challenging to modern epistemological notions as, uh, you know, a uh, US air force jet transport landing on some field outside a village in New Guinea.
In other words, uh, here is an area that is close to the experience of people in that a very large percentage of people claim to have seen flying saucers, an area close to the experience of people where science is totally helpless. Is seems as though reality is haunted by a spinning vortex that renders science helpless. And the spinning vortex is the ufo, and it comes and goes, uh, on a mass scale, haunting history like ghost. Umm...
We’re getting a little ahead of ourselves here, but yes, this is the core idea of The invisible landscape and the very landscape it mentions. A kind of informational otherworld of mind accessible through magical practice.
Put a pin in it.
Moving ahead in time, we’ve got a 1996 talk:
Questioner: Well you used to say, you know, ufos were like (in a 1983 tape I guess) sparks from the unconscious flying back from the end of time and all that. And it just seemed to be completely missing from the picture -- it's a curiosity as to why it's missing.
TM: Okay, well here's why. First of all, I stand by everything I said. Something strange haunts the skies of Earth. I have seen it, other people have seen it, but there are two parallel phenomenon. There are the ufos, and there are those who believe in the ufos. And as emphasis moves from one to the other, the discussion becomes so hopelessly squirrelly, that I just can't participate in it. I have encountered DMT creatures, I have encountered aliens; I have never had an unscheduled proctological examination in my home at 3 in the morning by people who hail from Zeta Reticuli!
Here we’ve got Terence talking about why he eased up on his comments about UFOs.
Put a pin in it.
TM: "To call it foolishness is to judge it." Well I didn't say don't judge. I thought what I was saying is, make distinctions. You have to judge. You're going to be presented with and endless smorgasbord of ideological options. Where do you go -- Mormonism, Scientology, the Hassids, the Zennies, the Buddhas? Where do you put your faith? You're going to be constantly called upon to make this call. Now you don't have to make sense to me; you don't have to use my criteria. But you should use some criteria which you can rationally defend. The problem with the ufo community, I think, is that they are too credulous, and consequently there is too large a body of evidence left claiming that it should be taken seriously. There is something bizarre going on -- at the edge of language, at the edge of collective attention -- unusual anomalies haunt the epistemic enterprise like ghosts. But people who come forth to proclaim what this is haven't taken the depth of the mystery. I mean what it is is the Cosmic Giggle, and they're not going to nail that to the barn door; that's its nature, that it's mercurial, shifting beyond your reach. It changes as you behold it.
Here we have the crux of why I find Terence worth examining even though I only came to appreciate him after his grand theory fell apart, clearing the field of eager anticipation that distracts from what I think are the more important issues in play.
Normal science works by extending the already understood notions that have developed in a field over new territory. It’s slow, tedious, and painstaking work.
And worthy of respect.
What autodidact and other disreputable types like myself do is, “Hey, what if we screw with the assumptions here and get straight to the fun ideation stuff and skip over the hard work of seeing if any of those ideas are worth more than a handful of shit?”
That so little of our effort produces consistent results is why we’re so disreputable.
Terence here makes a case for needing to build a framework that can take extreme weirdness and sift it from, say, stoner rambling.
Contrast this with the Pentagon report from last week. That whole thing was kinda, “Hey, yeah our categories don’t really make sense for any of this but if we through enough sensors at the problem maybe we’ll get enough good data to say learn something.”
Or, “Just cut us the damn check.”
Let’s hop back to 1984 for a moment:
But the fact of the matter is that, uh, no matter how much it may discomfort drug researchers and ufo people, because each is struggling to gain respectability in an inherently dubious field [audience laughter]. But, actually, you know, there would be a...I think there would be a fertile advance made if these two groups could talk to each other. Uh....some people hearing me say that must wonder what in the world I'm talking about. How can a problem of unidentified aircraft be related to the phenomenology of the psychedelic experience. But, you see, it isn't so much a problem of unidentified aircraft. It's a problem of not recognizing that the entire...uh, spectrum of existence is embedded in a linguistic model that is created by, uh, the workings of minds. And that mind is an imponderable, and yet it's set at the beginning of the equation.
Uh, in 1978, a very...uh, a spectacular daylight meteorite crossed the United States from east to west...required about 35 seconds for it to go from one side of the country to the other. There was no warning that this thing would occur, and, uh, in the 35 seconds that it was over the continental United States, thousands and thousands of people saw it, but we got 32 very good photographs of it from different points along the ground, two movies of it from two different points along its pathway and, uh, it was very well documented. Uh...ufos have been visiting people and appearing all over the world for thirty years and the hardware faction..can't come up with anything. So, it seems clear to me that what we're dealing with is a kind of mass psychic phenomenon of some sort. And, it's very interesting that, uh, one of the...anecdotal things in circulation about psychedelics is that they are actually, uh, catalysts for this kind of thing. And, h-what this means is not clear, but it should certainly be investigated. I mean, if there's a chemical agent which can repeatedly trigger a phenomenon that bizarre, it should be looked at.
First, I love it when a transcriber decides to keep the Uhs in for Terence. It’s more fun that way.
Let’s bring all this together:
Terence views the UFO phenomenon as a kind of breach in normality, in the sense that everything can be ordered and counted.
Because that kind of normality is the machinery the whole world now works on, it’s kind of a threat to the system. But the system is very good at adapting to most of these kinds of threats and UFOs are no different.
Let’s take a look at a map of UFO citings over the last century or so:
Some of this is surely survivorship bias for reporting and an English language bias.
But this is almost a kind of map of the world according to Americans.
You can view the video over time here.
Anyway, I feel like I’ve lost the thread a bit. And maybe that’s the real lesson of UFOs. :-P
We’ll try and pick this up in a bit, perhaps with some greater context later.