Time, Freedom, and Transcendence: Aiming Your Eros For the Heart of the World
I first encountered the idea that time has qualitative properties via the late Terence McKenna, who has got to be the most mesmerizing speaker I've ever heard. I've mentioned before that back when I used to work the graveyard shift in the supermarket, the local Pacifica radio station ran a sort of new age program from midnight to 5:00 AM called Something's Happening that would play McKenna's lectures. A lot of stuff that doesn't make sense by the light of day makes perfect sense when you are in a fatigue-induced altered state at 3:00 AM. Importantly, it's not just the fatigue, but the night that alters things. Night is the perfect example of time conditioning the events within it. As they pertain to consciousness, nighttime and daytime couldn't be more different. In fact, they're as different as night and day.
When I wrote my book, I wanted it to be sort of the equivalent of one of McKenna'a lectures. I wanted it to be a trip -- to somehow trigger an alteration in consciousness similar to what McKenna did for me at 3:00AM in 1984. As I mentioned, I basically wrote the book in the late 1990s, but did a lot of editing between then and when it finally came out in early '05, always asking myself the questions 1) is this weird enough?, and 2) is this funny enough? Of course, I was still searching for my vision at the time, and hadn't perfected the formula. If I could write it today, it would be much weirder and funnier. In fact, that's another example of what we're talking about here -- the idea that our future self is here, just over the horizon of the now, luring us toward it.
McKenna's first book was entitled The Invisible Landscape: Mind, Hallucinogens, and the I Ching (I guess he published the Magic Mushroom Growers Guide before this, but anonymously). Yes, the book is often completely crazy, but in the best sense of the word. If you are going to speculate, I suppose you might as well pull out all the stops. But in my book, I definitely tried to hug closer to the shoreline of the known, so to speak. Whenever I speculate, you can at least see the dry land of science off in the distance.
I'm reading the forward of the new edition by Jay Stevens, who writes that he had heard about this strange book through word of mouth, and eventually tracked down a copy (this was, of course, in the days before Amazon, when this wasn't so easy):
"The bibliophiles among you will appreciate the keen anticipation I felt as I carried it to a nearby cafe and cracked it open and discovered that, indeed, this was a truly heavy book.
"Dense. Technical. Fascinating. Infuriating. Marvelously weird.
"Mixed in with theories drawn from the study of schizophrenia, molecular biology, and ethnobotany were pungent disquisitions on shamanism and psychedelic philosophy. Plus what seemed to be a story about an encounter with an insectoid intelligence who had curious things to say about the nature of time. The closest thing I could compare it to was an alchemical text published in the classic period -- the seventeenth century -- before the bonds linking science and magic were severed, when it was still possible to have a scientist magician on the order of Isaac Newton."
That's another critical point, because it cannot be overemphasized that our modern scientific and materialistic worldview is largely artificial and superimposed on a human template that is more poetic, holistic, magical, and visionary. To the extent that we lose contact with these latter faculties, we become alienated from the core of our humanness. If you think about it deeply, you can almost feel this philosophy of materialism as a kind of dead weight we all carry around -- sort of like a mute twin that lives inside of us and is always overriding us and interpreting things in its own coldly abstract way.
I am quite sure that the whole phenomenon of the "1960s" (if you know what I mean) was an attempt to throw off this "dead twin" and live more in direct contact with our human ways of knowing and being. As such, it was hardly progressive, but nostalgic and romantic to the core. As I (and Will) have mentioned in the past, there were many positive aspects to this unleashing of spiritual energy, and to a certain extent, I have taken it upon myself to try to rehabilitate this movement and weed out all of the pathological elements that inevitably crept in due to the very nature of our humanness (I should add that I throroughy reject perhaps most of McKenna's ideas, their entertainment and inspiration value notwithstanding).
For the trick is to integrate the scientific and "magical," not choose one over the other. Furthermore, "progressivism" is only progressive to the extent that it converges upon permanent and transcendent values that lay outside space and time. Otherwise it is either random -- i.e., in an arbitrary material direction -- or a direction imposed by elites from on high.
In the introduction to the book, McKenna writes that "The search for liberation, a paradisiacal state of freedom that mythology insists is the ahistorical root of the historical process, has always been the raison d'être of the human species' conscious pilgrimage through time." Through the course of history, various human groups "have all claimed possession of a set of concepts that would in some sense 'free' their practitioners. The entire human experience, individual and collective, can be described as the pursuit of that which frees."
As I attempted to do in my book, McKenna takes the widest possible historical view, noting, for example, how monotheism, as it developed in the West, "freed early humans from the nearly complete domination of consciousness by the pan-vitalistic animism seen everywhere resident in Nature," and how "the coming of Christianity freed its adherents form the fear of a wrathful and paternalistic God." Likewise, modernity offered freedom from what had become "the dogmatic stasis of late medieval Catholicism."
One could add the huge vein of freedom opened up by America's founders, along with the liberty inherent to the free market system. But to what end? Obviously freedom cannot be an end in itself. There is not just freedom from, but freedom to. To what? What is our freedom for?
Paradoxically, freedom is only meaningful if it is limited -- i.e., if it is converging upon something. For example, let us say that we are free to discover the truth. But the truth is fixed. Therefore, in a certain way, only the person who lives in illusion is radically free. In fact, I believe this explains the irrational freedom that is pursued by the left, which is a meaningless, solipsistic freedom. Since the truth constrains us, they imagine that if we only abolish truth, then we will be radically free. It sounds crazy, but this is the explicit strategy of all postmodern philosophies that undermine the existence of objective truth.
For example, if a radical feminist abolishes the idea of archetypal sexual differences, she imagines that this "frees" her -- which it does, in the same sense that you are free if I drop you on the moon.
This is why it needs to be said that the truth will set you free. Oh, really? How can that be? You don't say "2 and 2 are free to be four." Rather, they must be four. How can we reconcile truth and freedom?
At the conclusion of the book, McKenna includes an extended quote from one of my favorite philosophers, Hans Jonas, who outlines a sort of cosmic creation myth that might help to explain the conundrum:
"In the beginning, for unknowable reasons, the ground of being, or the Divine, chose to give itself over to the chance and risk and endless variety of becoming. And wholly so; entering into the adventure of space and time, the deity held back nothing of itself."
But "if the world and God are simply the same, the world at each moment and in each state represents his fullness, and God can neither lose nor gain. Rather, in order that the world might be, and be for itself, God renounced his own being, divesting himself of his deity -- to receive it back from the Odyssey of time weighted with the chance harvest of unforeseeable temporal experience....
"And for aeons his cause is safe in the slow hands of cosmic chance and probability -- while all the time we may surmise a patient memory of the gyrations of matter to accumulate into an ever more expectant accompaniment of eternity to the labors of time -- a hesitant emergence of transcendence from the opaqueness of immanence."
But the advent of man means the advent of the double-edged gift of knowledge and freedom:
"The image of God, haltingly begun by the universe, for so long worked upon -- and left undecided -- in the wide and then narrowing spirals of prehuman time, passes with this last twist, and with a dynamic quickening of movement, into man's precarious trust, to be completed, saved, or spoiled by what he will do to himself and the world. And in this awesome impact of his deeds on God's destiny, on the very complexion of eternal being, lies the immortality of man."
That's a pretty heavy cosmic responsibility. No wonder secularists reject it.
"With the appearance of man, transcendence awakened to itself and henceforth accompanies his doings with the bated breath of suspense, hoping and beckoning, rejoicing and grieving, approving and frowning.... For can it not be that by reflection of its own state as it wavers with the record of man, the transcendent casts light and shadow over the human landscsape?"
Well? What can freedom be for if not for truth, liberty if not for virtue, time if not for timelessness?