Friday, December 31, 2010

Enter the Mindscape

Alan Moore needs no introduction around these parts. He's the creator of Watchmen, V for Vendetta, the Jack the Ripper drama From Hell as well as League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which I believe is the finest superhero fiction ever written. For those of you who haven't read his work maybe this documentary will change your mind. I find it both intimidating and inspiring, maybe even a bit irritating given Moore's diehard hippie solipsism. But it's never boring, and if any of you out there are looking for a reason to continue in what creative pursuits you might have been putting off, Moore's views on the nature of creativity will surely help provide one.

I've been glimpsing a light in the distance which is signaling that the time is coming where rehashing old dreams- even if in the context of Synchromystic analysis- will no longer be enough. New dreams will be needed soon and on a massive scale. I've realized the past few years that my own creative impulses- that is to say "dreams"- had been held hostage by the lingering power of old nightmares. But the same tools that help us decode some of the collective dreams that we've looked at here can also help tidy up your own mindscapes, even if the application stage is quite a bit different.

Maybe the same process will apply to others out there- it's important to decontaminate and decolonize our own imaginations so we can dream more honestly. The mechanized dream machines are in crisis, and maybe their crisis is the honest dreamer's opportunity. I hope everyone reading this will learn to apply the lessons you might have gotten here to your own lives and your own imaginations. Just like the brain needs REM sleep to maintain its equilibrium so it is with a culture's dreaming. The first step to lifting our culture out of the sinkhole it's stuck in is to dream about it first.

So the next time someone tells you're a dreamer, say "thank you."

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


The topic of this interview is The Secret History of Rock 'n' Roll, but Scott and I went a lot deeper looking around at the cultural quagmire we find ourselves in today. How did the record industry squeeze the artist out of the equation and take total control? What is the role of ritual and rite in a healthy society? What role did the connection to the natural world play in the art and culture of the ancient world? Is materialism the cancer that is killing our culture? We really get down to it, struggling to diagnose the stultifying malaise we're trapped in. Do you feel it too?

Given the crippling space limitations I faced in writing this book I resolved myself to dig deeper into the issues raised when promoting it. I imagined the book as a piece of hardware and various interviews and podcasts as apps, or plug-ins. I want the book and these interviews to be part of a kind of meta- or hypertext, a multimedia conversation. I had no intention of going on the air and reciting the talking points like a zombie. I want every conversation to be a unique experience and chapter of the metatext.

I hope this interview does you good- it was a very positive experience for myself, and Scott as well, apparently. Check out more of Scott's shows here.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

AstroGnostic: Apotheosis Comes Before the Fall

Non-US readers click here

You might think being a geek should prime you for the Transhumanism Revolution, but in reality it should also prime you against it. For every Six Million Dollar Man there's a race of Cybermen or Borg or take your pick. William Gibson's Sprawl novels presented Transhuman modification as a ubiquitous consumer product, but what part of "dystopian" do you not understand? Warnings about Transhumanism are nothing new in sci-fi, as we can see in yet another must-see episode of The Outer Limits.

The more I watch the original Outer Limits series, the less I see it as sci-fi and the more I see it as subversion. Children of powerful men often take pleasure in undoing their father's work, and I can't help but think Leslie Stevens was taking pleasure in collating all of the loose talk and dark whispers he gathered from dinner parties and golf tournaments that his Admiral father threw into a stick that could poke the eye of the paranoid National Security State. You know, the same exact people that made his life so comfortable.

Outer Limits creator Leslie Stevens

The story goes that Stevens was disengaged and Stefano was gone by the shortened second season of the show, but first year showrunners are usually responsible for picking scripts for the second season as part of their first season duties. Which explains the weird, disjointed flavor of season two; dark and heavy scripts, filled with thorny subject matter that's much deeper and much, much weirder than the usual sci-fi of the time, often foiled by low-rent production values and corny-ass direction (the second season also lacks that weird Stockhausen-on-mushrooms sound design that made the first so magical).

But the script of "The Brain of Colonel Barham" still very much has that telling tales out of school flavor that we've seen so much of in the first season of Outer Limits. Given the wacked-out pipe dream mentality we regularly see in DARPA press releases, it's not hard to imagine that Pentagon dreamweavers were trying to figure a way to implant human consciousness into computers, even into the glorified abacuses of the early 60s.

After all, these are the same geniuses that thought you could use LSD to create an army of mind-controlled zombies. Given that Ken Kesey and Ted Kaczynski are the two most well-known guinea pigs for that operation, it's a lead-pipe cinch that "blowback" wasn't in the MIC lexicon at the time.

That same kind of Space Age hubris is very much in evidence in "Colonel Barham." As are the well-publicized anxieties about the Van Allen Belt, which Stan Lee and Jack Kirby wove into the Fantastic Four's origin. There's a much deeper archetypal stream running through the story- it's kind of a fable about the rise and fall of modern America, a powerful, nearly godlike entity that decided that the "rules didn't apply" and that its allies were no more than its puppets.

There's a hell of a lot of subtext going on here, warranting repeating viewings. Of course that's par for the course for The Outer Limits. In this case it's political, and not sexual as we see so much of in the first season. But there's some of that as well, given the discussions of infidelity which are pretty frank for 60s prime time TV.

Other researchers have commented on the interesting behind the scenes connections between The Outer Limits and Star Trek, which in the overall exegesis we're exploring here might go a lot deeper than sharing props and actors.

Colonel Barham gets a cosmic makeover in the second Trek pilot, "Where No Man Has Gone Before" as crewman-turned-space god Gary Mitchell. Here we see mind and machine melding, with apotheosis-as-apocalypse arising from psychic powers run amok (the link between psi and eschatology is something we saw in the Ten Thirteen Universe, vis a vis remote viewing). After all there's no place to hide from a psychic, right? Psi would make politics obsolete, since the art of politics is so dependent on the art of lying.

We also see the inevitable result of apotheosis in both 'Colonel Barham' and 'Where No Man'- a casual disregard for the un-ascended. This isn't a sci-fi revelation, it's basic human nature, backed up by thousands of years of raw experience. The first thing the guy at the top of the hill always seems to do is take a long and hearty piss on everyone beneath him. It doesn't take a psychic to predict that's exactly what we've got in store for us on the other side of the Transhuman Revolution.


• "Gary Mitchell" is played by Gary Lockwood, who ran into a kind of Colonel Barham in reverse in
2001: A Space Odyssey. HAL thought that he was more qualified to complete the Jupiter Mission, just as Barham was more qualified than General Barton, the astronaut played by William Shatner in The Outer Limits episode, "Cold Hands, Warm Heart."

• "Cold Hands" also featured Malachi Throne, who guest-starred in the
Star Trek episodes, "The Menagerie, Parts One and Two." That in turn was based on the original pilot which combines alien abduction and pure AstroGnosis. Given Roddenberry's own connections, you can't help but wonder if something was being put across that could only be written between the lines. All the more so since he was obviously writing scripts drawing on ancient Gnostic texts that hadn't even been released to the general public yet.

• Sally Kellerman appears in "Where No Man" as Mitchell's chosen mate. Well, chosen post-apotheosis, that is. In an earlier scene her character resists Mitchell's flirting and is then dismissed as a "walking freezer unit." For anyone unfamiliar with the arcane codes of Old Hollywood, we're being told here that she's a lesbian. The more daring
Outer Limits also cast Kellerman as a lesbian in a marriage of convenience with Martin Landau in its MacBeth rewrite "The Bellero Shield." Her father-in-law is played by Neil Hamilton, better known as Commissioner Gordon from the old Batman series. Hamilton had his own marriage of convenience in the Outer Limits episode "The Invisibles," a sci-fi allegory of the Cambridge Spy Ring. Joseph Stefano's scripts are filled with that kind of embedded double entendre.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

They Asked Me to Describe my Visions

Non-US viewers click here for YouTube video

Perception has been a major part of what I puzzle over on this blog. Specifically, how perception determines reality or at least how we describe reality. Perception is a very dangerous topic in some quarters, since defining reality according to a very limited sphere of perception is very much part of the social control apparatus. The All-Seeing Eye can't stand to think that something might lie just outside its field of vision.

At the same time we do need some kind of consensus (meaning "to sense together") as to how we define reality, if for no other reason than we need to be able to communicate with one another. This is why talking about dreams can be such a thorny issue- what we experience in our dreams is subject to a whole host of neural and emotional triggers which well up from the unconscious mind and may not be shared by your audience.

Perception and how it can be changed is a very important part of the Alien Dreaming narrative. Rick Strassman had patients who swore they were seeing all kinds of horrible aliens- reptilian, android, etc- that he couldn't. They were inconsolable- he couldn't convince them that they weren't there. We start to tread a very fine line between visionary experience and psychosis here, but we also find ourselves in the realm of speculative physics, in which there may very well be entities living in different frequencies or dimensions, that we may have access to in certain extreme states of consciousness.

Again- where do we draw the line?

"I've come to tell you what I see.
There are great darknesses, farther than time itself..."

As usual lately, this brings me back to The Outer Limits. The second season saw a different producer at the helm, and you need to watch those episodes between the lines. You need to watch the story and the issues raised and project Joseph Stefano's vision on it all- his keen eye for noirish cinematography and musique concrete sound design. But the script here takes us back to an episode from the second series called "Beholder," in which a blind man has his vision restored only to be tormented by visions of an alien trapped in between dimensions. "Behold Eck!" (very strong shades of Eckankar, oddly enough) is essentially crippled by its production and directorial standards but the story that's buried under it all tells us a very important and strangely timeless message.

As with many episodes of this series, it tells us that while most of humanity sits back and waits for revelation to come to it, there have been those among us throughout the ages who took it upon themselves to seek revelation out on its own terms. And that more often than not required a profound change in perception. Which is why seekers (which means "to look for") would starve themselves or subject themselves to extreme conditions or even explore the botanical realms- to change how they see the world. After all, if we can't be bothered to make that effort, why would entities from higher planes want anything to do with us at all?

Something to mull over. 'Tis the season, after all...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

I'm Only Sleeping

So I woke up in the middle of the night and realized I was dying of a heart attack. Or at least that's what I told myself was happening. I was paralyzed and my entire body felt like it was charged with electricity. It wasn't unpleasant, it fact it was rather psychedelic; my eyes were closed and I was watching an interesting kind of internal light show. I wasn't afraid that I was dying, but I was upset I couldn't wake up my wife and say goodbye to her. And then I woke up and sat up. Still very much alive and well.

I was processing the experience throughout the day. If it was a dream, I know what it was about. But at the same time the visuals and the electric feeling made me feel as if I was on the receiving end of some strange kind of energy download. It hasn't happened in a while but I used to get this bizarre kind of vibrating feeling in the center of my forehead (yes, right around the pineal gland). I used to tell my wife I was "downloading" when it would happen.

Contrary to urban legend, I've died plenty of times in my dreams and I'm here blathering on about it right now. I don't try to interpret these dreams, since they're based (ultimately) in an actual event from my early childhood. I don't know if I was dreaming or what last night, but I find it interesting my reaction was regret and not fear.

The point of this all is that talk about the unconscious or the dreaming mind tends to get very vague and nebulous in some circles. Which is kind of irritating to me since I've had some pretty memorable adventures inside my head. Maybe it's because those adventures are hard to share.

But one thing that did strike me today was last night's experience reminded me of a lot of accounts of alien abduction that I've read. Go figure.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Timothy Leary Addenda: The Expanding Human

It's mind-boggling how many syncs and connections erupt when you deal with issues of consciousness. This episode of The Outer Limits is obviously drawing on the then-contemporary controversy over the Harvard Psychedelic Club, yet it also prefigures many of the plot strands in Altered States (which itself took place at Harvard). Did Chayefsky see this episode and store it in his unconscious or did he deliberately yank ideas from it, perhaps thinking no one would remember the original?

Or is there something else entirely at work? We recently discussed the interesting parapolitical connections that Outer Limits creator Leslie Stevens had- was this more of the same? It certainly jibes with the idea of radical evolution and alien identity that we see in the original series. And again the connections here deal with psychedelic awareness and its potential as evolutionary agent. I guess there's a very good reason that this show embedded itself into my unconscious mind from a very early age.

Either way, this is just more grist for those of us that believe that the real evolutionary agent is within the unexplored recesses of the mind, not in some Transhuman chimera.

This is an absolute must-watch. Note James Doohan, aka Mr. Scott as the lead detective, just to add some even greater synchronistic resonance.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Astronaut Theology: Liverpool, Egypt

Snazzy flying disc on entrance to the Egyptian wing in Liverpool

Some things don't make sense until such time that they suddenly do. For instance, here's way too much sun-drenched Egypt in the ancient rain-soaked British isles, from the Druids to Queen Scota to the Celtic Church to Egyptology craze of the 18th and 19th Centuries. Then there are all of those redhaired mummies, and of course the British Isles are ground zero for gingers. There's also the inconvenient fact that King Tut's DNA is Western European as well as Lorraine Evans' argument that the British Isles were colonized by members of Akhenaten's family and court, which is the furthest place in the known world where they could have fled at the time.

Chantress scene 1 - from the Ancient Egypt gallery
from National Museums Liverpool on Vimeo.

Then there's Liverpool, which gave us The Scarabs Beatles. Turns out that this Northern city has quite a storied obsession with the Land of the Pyramids, and has one of the finest collections of Egyptian artifacts in the world:
In our Ancient Egypt gallery you can journey back to the incredible world of the pharaohs and discover the remarkable civilisation that built the pyramids and the sphinx. There are over 1300 objects from our world-class collections on display, including animal mummies, ancient musical instruments and a tomb reconstruction based on a 4000-year-old burial place.

There are five complete human mummies on display and you can even 'unwrap' a mummy without touching it, using a fascinating computer interactive. A must-see object is the vividly-coloured belt of the last great pharaoh, Rameses III, on permanent display for the first time since before the Second World War.

Sphinx watches over the University of Liverpool campus
Well, we have a saying here on the Secret Sun- wherever Egypt goes, NASA is sure to follow. And wouldn't you just know it- Liverpool is also the UK center for space research, and their universities are involved in developing robotics for NAZCA NASA:

Scientists from the Research Institute for Advanced Computer Science (RIACS) at NASA and the University of Liverpool are working together to develop robotic systems used in space that will reduce the need for human space travel.

Scientists from RIACS and computer specialists from the University of Liverpool are investigating ways of improving technology in order to reduce the reliance on humans for space travel and develop the potential for robotic space missions.

University scientists are developing technology that will enable robots to ‘think’ autonomously, so that they might conduct entire space missions without human supervision.

Professor Michael Fisher, Director of the University’s Verification Laboratory, explained: “Autonomy is a major cost driver for space exploration since human missions require large earth-based teams for support. There are also significant risks posed to humans sent into space.

Which is the ancient Mithraeum and which is the Cavern Club?
click to enlarge

It isn't just the university, it's also the grade schools:
Earth-to-Orbit Field Testing- The Liverpool Central School District is one of only eighteen school districts across the U.S. chosen to pilot NASA's 2004 "Earth
-to-Orbit Engineering Design Challenge." Participating teachers partnered with NASA to help students achieve national goals in math, science and technology.
And just to bring it all full circle there's the Metropolitan Cathedral in Liverpool, which seems to have been inspired by a space capsule. Hiding in plain sight and all that jolly rot....

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Timothy Leary's Dead

Longtime readers know that one of my biggest influences in my late teens and early 20s was Carlos Castaneda. Whether or not those stories are factual or not (and the general consensus seems to be on the "not"), to me they were genuinely magical in and of themselves. I learned a more important lesson in Castaneda's storytelling techniques than in anything Don Juan did or did not say. The books cast their own spells regardless of whether or not they were true accounts.

Though it was most certainly Jack Kirby where I first encountered the numinous power of the psychedelic storytelling mind - and its ability to insinuate itself in a young and impressionable reader's consciousness - it was Castaneda who first showed me how it could be done simply with the power of the written word. Maybe that's the power that every good writer wields, but it was Castaneda who really put me smack dab in the middle of the magical environment he was constructing. Not only did I believe every word, I experienced it.

Maybe the magic wore thin as the stories dragged out (well, more than maybe) but Tales of Power, The Eagle's Gift, A Separate Reality and The Teachings (of course) are still major touchstones for me.

Another life-changing book for me was Altered States by Paddy Chayefsky (the film of which Steve Willner gives us a taste in this video). It was so life-changing I even booked some time in an floatation tank. But in typical idiot fashion, I kept getting the god-damned salt water in my eyes (it stings like hell). But building or buying a decent isolation tank is still on my "things to do before I die" list. And the book also turned me onto the work of John Lilly, who we've discussed a lot around these parts as well.

Another huge influence on my younger brain was Timothy Leary. Not his 60s psychedelic preaching, ironically, but his evangelizing on behalf of the potentials of the Internet and virtual reality. Of course, virtual reality has yet to truly materialize, at least in the William Gibson sense. But it was an interview with Leary in the 20th Anniversary issue of Rolling Stone that turned me onto Gibson and the nascent cyberpunk movement.

Being primed for the experience by Cyberpunk novels and Leary lectures I can say first year on the Internet was itself a psychedelic experience. We're talking a lopey 2400 bps hayride straight to America Online (the Facebook of the 90s), but it was like a shot of liquid sky straight into my cerebral cortex. Maybe it was just the potential of it all I was buzzing on. But the first time I went online (sometime in September of '93, a pivotal month in my personal timeline) I saw my future.

Watch the Cyberpunk movement die before your eyes.

I basically figured out early on that VR was basically a way for a bunch of rich hippies to relieve some gullible investors out of boatloads of cash, using some ultra-basic CGI as a lure. Of course, the basic ideas behind VR fuel online gaming, but anyone who's read Mona Lisa Overdrive back in the 80s is surely gravely disappointed with what's on offer in 2008. I was also very excited about the Cyberpunk movement and was a huge fan of Mondo 2000, but if your subculture is accessible enough for Billy Idol to hitch his wagon to it, you know your basic operating philosophy is fundamentally flawed.

I went to see Leary chat up virtual reality a couple of times. At one talk at NYU, Robert Anton Wilson was his warmup act. I think RAW was very much on my wavelength here when he bemoaned serious work with hallucinogens giving way to what he called "the idiot drug revolution in the streets."

One thing a lot of do-it-yourself shamans -including Leary- didn't seem to understand is how rigorous and structured the ancient psychedelic traditions are, and how much sacrifice and suffering was called for. To Leary and his compadres, acid seemed to offer an instant shortcut around all of that. Instant shortcuts were very much part of that Space Age zeitgeist, something we've all learned to be more skeptical of today. Because without these tests and trials that we saw in the Mystery traditions, the psyche is ill-prepared to deal with the experiences and revelations that await (you know, like the bits that are implied but excised from the Dagobah scenes in The Empire Strikes Back). Once the Summer of Love ended, a lot of shattered psyches faced a long, cold winter.

I also blame Leary for being the man who popularized LSD, a drug most people aren't really equipped to deal with, and a drug that did as much- if not more- harm than good when it hit the street, cut with speed and strychnine and God knows what else. One of the healthiest trends in Entheogenic culture has been the move away from synthetic hallucinogens. Who the hell knows what the black magicians out there can sneak into those compounds today?

Alan Watts never singled out Leary in his lectures on the psychedelic experience, but it's clear he didn't approve of mainstreaming LSD or psychedelics in general. And -of course- the hidden hand of the Company is all over Leary's bio, a fact that a lot of his friends had a very hard time coming to terms with, including RAW. I want to think Leary was compromised and was cornered into a situation that forced his hand, but there's the problem of MK-Ultra lurking in the shadows here, no matter how ridiculously the program has been mythologized by Conspiranoids.

There is very good evidence that the original impetus behind the program was the belief- fostered mainly by Andrija Puharich- that psychedelics could create psychic spies and maybe even psychic assassins. As crazy as it might sound to some people today, that was the origin point of these programs. (Bruce Rux has put forward a fascinating argument that the Manchurian Candidate type of programs weren't based on Chinese techniques but the memory erasing reports put forward by alien abductees, reports that were above top secret at one point in time).

I don't think the Gottlieb boys knew from psychedelia - they were more concerned with developing neural weaponry. They saw themselves as heroes in a cosmic struggle with Communism, something we are far too easy to forget the overwhelming urgency of these days. When they eventually discovered that the effects of LSD are nearly impossible to predict, they moved on. Since then we've seen a parade of more demonically effective psychotropic pharmaceuticals, and no one is talking much about creating psychic spies anymore.

"Dream Machine" by Jack Kirby (click to enlarge)

Hallucinogens have been in the news a lot lately. There are serious efforts afoot to legalize medical (and non-medical) marijuana, and most importantly, doctors are rediscovering that hallucinogens are highly effective tools for therapy:
Hallucinogens may have gotten a bad rap since the 1960s as anything other than a source of amusement and cheap dream sequences, but according to The New York Times, a number of doctors around the country are seriously reconsidering psylocibin — the ‘magic mushroom’ hallucinogen — and other psychedelic drugs as a means of treating depression and addictive behavior, with a particular focus on the treatment of terminally ill patients.
A whole host of powerful neural tools were suppressed largely out of tangential political and cultural concerns, meaning that a bitter and destructive generational split in in the 1960s created a backlash against useful compounds that doctors and therapists should have had access to, as well as individuals and groups involved in serious research and exploration. That's the way it was in the early 60s, but something screwed it all up.

Unfortunately, Timothy Leary played a major part in the screwing.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Transhuman Apotheosis/Transhuman Apocalypse

Note: This post is a companion to "The Psychedelic Solution," posted here.

It doesn't bother me that Transhumanism meddles with the forces of nature - bending nature to our will has been the human story since the first tool was made or the first potion was brewed. And it doesn't bother me that Transhumanism will inevitably primarily benefit the rich, despite all of the protests to the contrary from its apologists - I'm used to that kind of thing by now.

What really bothers me is that Transhumanism is a religion.
A religion every bit as totalizing and apocalyptic as the ones it seeks to replace. It preaches apotheosis and deliverance from death and it makes universal claims of salvation. It even has its own rapture in the form of the Singularity. And that makes debate nearly impossible.

We've already seen some fairly intemperate language from the Transies when it comes to dealing with opposition- how could we not? They believe that Transhumanism is going to turn us- and by us, I mean the super-rich and a handful of their lackies - into gods, who will live forever, out-think supercomputers, and generally make Nietzsche's Overman look like Beavis and Butthead. Anyone who would stand in the way of that is a fool, right?

I'm not opposed to rejiggering the human machine in principle- it's done on a daily basis for both better and worse. Nothing's going to change the fact that very few of us wouldn't like to be stronger, smarter and sexier. If someone could offer me a way out of the daily obstacle course of pain I have to run, there's not much I wouldn't do. But my experience with the latest wonder drugs for my condition has been anything but wonderful, so forgive my cynicism about the latest and the greatest.

But again, my main concern is this: what I'm reading in Transhumanist literature is religion, of the old-fashioned variety. And the problem with religion is that once it establishes itself you can't argue with it.

To be perfectly frank, I'm also old enough to have seen a lot of these techno-Utopias be hyped as the next big thing fail to change everything. Virtual Reality is still more concept than reality, simply because it's extremely difficult and time consuming to animate even simple virtual environments. I remember watching a lecture on CSPAN in which Tom Wolfe darkly warned that we were entering the decade of neuroscience and everything was going to radically and suddenly change. That was 15 years ago. Nanotechnology was another promise/threat that's still more theory than reality. And let's not forget all of the DARPA wonder weapons that never seem to make it to the field.

The problem is that Scientism is every bit as evangelistic as the supernatural religion it claims to despise. It's usually overly eager to proclaim the good word once the numbers are all worked out. But the problem is that these things take time, they cost money, they use up a devilish amount of energy, manpower and resources. Things rarely go according to plan. And when you're talking about screwing around with biology you have to deal with the immune system, which is kind of like Nature's version of black magic. The Transhumanists should ask the pharmaceutical companies how easy it is to get the immune system to behave itself. It could also ask the transplant industry how well artificial organs are tolerated.

Or is this all too obvious?

Even so, I haven't seen much of that on sites like IEET and H+. Because a religion is self-evident: Transhumanism has to work because the Transhumanists believe that it will. If you question that, you're an enemy, an infidel. And if this Transhumanist apotheosis is in fact ever achieved, it's a pretty sure bet that the first order of business will be to do something about the goddamn humans, who are screwing everything up and need to be dealt with.

Religion also tends to inspire backlash.
Transhumanism could all go very badly and inspire a new purtianical Luddism and a vogue for human devolution (well, one even worse than the present variety). Thanks to digital technology, the cognitive elite's power is pretty awesome as of this writing, but things have a nasty habit of changing suddenly and returning to the laws of the jungle. Romans thought their civilization was eternal, too. It took more than five centuries of disease, squalor and carnage to rebuild Europe once it fell.

Now, you'd think a lifetime of sci-fi fandom would soften me up for the Transhuman pitch, but it's just the opposite. Which brings me to my next topic.

I already recommended the work of Mike Mignola as my favorite example of the interface between magic and art, so let me just make a recommendation for your wishlist that deals with all of the topics explored today.

BPRD: Garden of Souls introduces a gaggle of Steampunk transhumans. They're members of a 19th Century scientific secret society called the Heliopic Brotherhood who've survived by transferring their consciousness into robot bodies. But they have bigger plans- they are engineering super-Golems that will play host to millions of souls. To free up all of this conscious energy they plan to engineer earthquakes and tsunamis in the south Pacific which will transhumanize the local population. For their own good, you understand.

That's a pretty good allegory of religious Transhumanism run amok. The Borg and their Doctor Who predecessors the Cybermen are another. And that's what concerns me. Whether or not any of this will come to pass is by no means the sure bet the Transies claim it to be. As I've said before we live in a very dangerous neighborhood and one of the dangers is waking up one morning and finding out none of our electrical equipment works anymore for whatever reason. And so on.

I love technology, and I love the idea of using it to solve seemingly intractable human problems.
Any art, philosophy or science should be dedicated to the alleviation of human suffering. But I don't love religion - meaning a reductive binding principle- and don't think that grafting its worst impulses onto what I see as very speculative science will help matters any. Just one man's opinion, but maybe one informed by a sense of history.

Monday, December 06, 2010

TVOD: Fringe, or Never Surrender

Fringe wrapped up its alt.universe mytharc this past Thursday with an absolute stormer of a conclusion. Cyberspace was glowing with recaps and round tables and hardcore Fringers were left gasping. Since its move to Vancouver last season the show has become the true inheritor of the throne left vacant when the mighty X left Sci-Fi City. But do Joe and Jane Q Couchepotateau care?

Probably not.

Although it absolutely stumps me that Fringe isn't a top 20 show, the real problem is the future of narrative. I don't know how many people pay any attention to the plotlines of these 40 minute police procedurals or whether the predictable rhythms they induce are simply a kind of comforting electronic narcosis. I don't know a single person that feels we're in a golden age of cinema and book publishing continues to wilt along with attention spans. I've long hoped that comics would ride in and be the savior of fictional narrative, and there are some hopeful signs that the long-held stigma against the form is finally melting. But the economics just aren't there yet.

And economics are the crux of the matter. In the past we had independent film and cable TV to ride to the rescue when the rot set in, but I see a supply and demand problem. Feed people nothing but McDonalds and that's all they'll have a taste for. Large swathes of the supply and demand ends of the chain are like monkeys in cages flinging poo back and forth; they make crap, someone buys it for a cheap thrill and pretty soon no one knows the difference. Caprica is a depressing example of this- the audience failed, not the show as far as I'm concerned.

I know some people will say I shouldn't bother with it in the first place but why cede the airwaves to comformist ennui and celebrations of authority? I think film and TV are far too powerful as persuasive mediums to surrender, which is essentially what some are suggesting. Why shouldn't there be something fighting for an audience that isn't Jersey Shore or Real Housewives?

The next couple of years will be key. I doubt we'll see another new wave of independent film like we did in the 90s- it's just too difficult to compete with the studios, no matter how cheap the technology is. Comics publishers are finally taking electronic media seriously and there all sorts of interesting comics/animation mutations that could signal a new age of storytelling. After all, evolution doesn't always mean bigger and bolder. A lot of times it means smaller, cheaper and faster.

Talk about Alchemy- look at what Magic
simple black ink on white paper can achieve

If Fringe does fall in the death slot I hope there's a serious effort to do it as a comic. Meaning not just the slapdash stuff we often see with TV tie-ins. Buffy and Angel are going strong as comics which might tell you where the future lies for that kind of storytelling once the inevitable network axe falls. It won't be the same without those great actors but it beats nothing at all.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

The Exegesis: The Psychedelic Solution

Silence by Max Ernst

When it comes to the question of transcending ordinary consensus reality, there are three basic solutions...

There is the Religious solution (the creator will suspend all of the complex and interlocking laws that govern the Universe in order to reveal himself to the world), the Scientistic solution (the laws of the Universe will be re-engineered in order to facilitate the apotheosis of the cognitive elites) and the Psychedelic solution, which argues that consensus reality is a fictional construct based on faulty and/or incomplete sensory information.

I think most of you know which solution I gravitate towards.

Both the Religious and the Scientistic paradigms are linear, hierarchical, anthropocentric and profoundly narcissistic. The more I read about Transhumanism and the Singularity the more it reminds me of Sunday School, only with Kurzweil and his minions on the Creator's throne.

But those lessons I learned in Sunday School weren't exactly the ones being taught in churches today. The only thriving churches in the world today preach the Prosperity Gospel, which teaches that God- the creator of the Infinite Universe- is a magic genie who wants you to win that football game, buy that Escalade, and generally bask in his endless bounty until the time he calls you up to come sit by his throne so he might spend the rest of Eternity indulging your each and every whim. Wesleyean theology didn't really pan out that way. Which is why no one teaches it- or any other conservative Christian theology- anymore.

I wonder how many of these people have come to know the Ocean, something I recommend to each and every one of you reading this. The Ocean is my Psychedelic touchstone- my metaphor for reality. It's the nursery of all life on Earth, it is the counterpart of the Sun, which is the source of all life. It can provide food and entertainment. It can moderate our weather and provide means of travel, but it can also wipe us off the face of the earth- it's possible that one day it will.

A Psychedelic worldview would teach us that we need to learn how to co-exist with the Ocean. We need to stop dumping our shit in it, stop overfishing it and learn how to get the hell of its way when its on the rag. A decent tropical storm can make our most powerful nuclear weapons look like a wet fart. The Scientistic mind might dream of taming the Ocean but only because they only know it on paper (the Religious mind doesn't care- the oceans in Heaven are tame as kittens and the temperature of bathwater, since that's what suits the believer's temporal needs).

But the Psychedelic mind looks at the Ocean and sees both creator and destroyer.
Or feels it, since a higher perception unfettered by reductionist rationalism is the (or a) definition of the Psychedelic mind. Rationalism apotheosizes itself as Scientism, which in turn leads to Transhumanism and the rest of it. Digitizing our life processes seems like a nifty idea- until a massive sunspot wipes out the grid, or something travels too close and screws up the magnetosphere. Then there are earthquakes, ice ages, asteroids and all of the other unforseen events that laugh at our efforts. Didn't we just hear about a tsunami early warning system that didn't work?

But being humbled can often tear away the blinders that prevent you from seeing the world as it really is. Having the certainties of life - an oxymoron if ever there was one - torn away can open your eyes to a deeper panorama. It doesn't come without a price- look at Charlotte King, who senses earthquakes and volcano eruptions better than any machine. But it often comes with incredible rewards as well; a profound sense of wonder and connection not the least among them.

Scientism-leading-to-Transhumanism (which all secular thinking must necessarily lead to) and Evangelicalism are the only socially-acceptable viewpoints on offer in the media. You might have smatterings of watered-down Psychedelicism at the fringes (usually in the form of corporate New Age gurus), but that might in fact be a function of physiology, not censorship.

Those cursed/blessed with a Psychedelic view of the world have some condition or have some extraordinary experience in their history that changed their basic perceptions of the world.
Which is why a lot of them gravitate towards the arts, it's the only way they can express the ineffable.

Even so, there needs to be a renewed effort to communicate the Psychedelic/Sensitive worldview since both the Scientistic and Religious ones are materialistic, reductionist and linear. Both need to impose themselves on the rest of us in order to facilitate their own apotheosis. Both of them are profoundly dangerous in a world pie increasingly being carved up by more and more of us.

The Psychedelic worldview argues that we don't need more, we need to look at what we already have in a new way. Nothing is linear, not even history. Everything is cyclical, everything is revolving. Everything comes, goes and then comes again. The problem isn't what we have, the problem is that we haven't figured out how to use it yet. The aliens and the angels are all around us, waiting for us to scrape the illusions from our eyes and finally seem them as they are, not who we think they should be.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Alien Dreaming and the Widening Gyre: Break on Through

Have you heard about Dark Jupiter? It seems that we're closer to isolating the Sun's "companion," a giant planet that is hurling comets toward the Sun, like some great mythic war in Heaven. Scientists seem to believe there's something out there- something huge- but there's no agreement on what it may be.
Our sun may have a companion that disturbs comets from the edge of the solar system — a giant planet with up to four times the mass of Jupiter, researchers suggest. A NASA space telescope launched last year may soon detect such a stealth companion to our sun, if it actually exists, in the distant icy realm of the comet-birthing Oort cloud, which surrounds our solar system with billions of icy objects.

The potential jumbo Jupiter would likely be a world so frigid it is difficult to spot, researchers said. It could be found up to 30,000 astronomical units from the sun. One AU is the distance between the Earth and the sun, about 93 million miles (150 million km).

The distances here are staggering- the Solar System is said to be two light years in diameter- that's something like 20 trillion kilometers, or almost 10 trillion miles. And the closest system to ours in something like four and a half light years away. Remember this is in a galaxy composed of billions of stars and an infinite universe filled with trillions of galaxies.

I know these numbers can make some people feel insignificant but they make me feel grateful- grateful to be alive at a time when we're beginning to appreciate the enormity of temporal reality. Maybe I'll live long enough to be able to see some live footage of alien planets and distant suns.

But there's a larger point here. We are stuck in these extremely fragile and short-lived shells, and what little time we've spent outside the atmosphere has shown us how poorly-suited we are to living in zero gravity. I'm sure we'll eventually find our way to Mars, which we'll probably figure out how to terraform along with Venus and maybe even camp out on a Jovian moon or two. But will these shells make it outside the Oort Cloud, even in the event we can create a warp drive or a stargate?

I think these units we're operating are meant to serve old Sol alone. Like Jack Kirby I think any extrasolar exploration will be done by robots, with relays and remote control. As I've said before the more I think about it the more I think that if there are aliens zipping around currently, they are extraterrestrial but not extrasolar (that's a whole other post). Call it a vibe but I just feel quiet and darkness once you pass Saturn or Neptune, at least as far as we're concerned.

But those robots will probably be controlled by something a little more exotic than radio waves, maybe neutrinos or lasers or something crazy like that. I lose radio signals in the Holland Tunnel, Seth - I can only imagine what all that radioactive violence out there does. But we may also transcend even our current genetic obsessions and discover that consciousness is an electrical or an atomic process and that we can be perfectly comfortable on Earth or Mars and send our consciousness out into Galactic Center via whatever bizarre and exotic means we will surely discover one day if humanity doesn't fall apart to shit like it's trying its damndest to do now.

Now we're talking about transmission- until there's a receiver it's just a signal. We'd have to send probes out to wherever we want to virtually travel, at least by my reckoning, probes which would have to be able to transmit a signal back as well. But what if brains come equipped with that capacity? The Monoliths in 2001 were transmitter/receivers that were able to interface with the primate brain, just like the probes in question here. Terence McKenna speculated that psychotropic fungi could possibly be transmitters as well - a real-life Monolith, in other words- but that's all highly subjective. Not every brain has been turned on and tuned in by hallucinogens. In my experience, a lot aren't at all. They just pretend to be.

Now, if we are to make scientific conjectures about other solar systems based on our own, it's fair to say that can also apply this principle to higher intelligence. If an alien race were to bother to make contact with our own (and spend an enormous amount of time and energy to do so), there'd probably be two motivations- either scientific curiosity (coupled with a possible desire to show off their superior knowledge) or colonization. The former (as well as light-body travel) is a theme in the very first episode of The Outer Limits, and in other episodes such as the drop-dead classic, "The Bellero Shield." In other words, the transfer of consciousness through energy, all at a time when most other scifi was still concerned with flying saucers and bug-eyed monsters.

Colonization would come if a race had depleted its own biosphere, decided our own would make a dandy replacement and came in force to evict us and take it for themselves. So unless we see a fleet of motherships hovering over our cities, we're probably safe for the time being.

Or are we? Outer Limits creator Leslie Stevens wrote and directed a powerful and extremely resonant episode entitled "The Production and Decay of Strange Particles," in which an alien race takes over human bodies through some kind of interdimensional energetic transfer. Who and what this race is never explained but they use the splitting of atoms to invade our own dimension. The fact that Stevens was the son of a powerful Naval Admiral (Philadelphia Experiment, anyone?) and was himself involved in intelligence during the war adds an extra kick to the proceedings. I can only imagine the impact this episode had during the height of the Cold War. It's pretty scary as it is today.

This episode also reminds me of the debate over the theofascist Collins Elite, who wasted untold taxpayer dollars trying to prove that Jack Parsons summoned "demons" with his ridiculous masturbation rituals. I believe a reader noted that if something did break through, more likely it was the doing of the armies of scientists all over the world who've been tearing apart the very fabric of reality from the Manhattan Project all the way up to CERN. In an infinite universe of eternal provenance, who knows what kind of sentient energies are floating around out there looking for new homes to implant themselves in? Scientists are warning us about sending signals off into the cosmos, but are they being equally careful about their meddling with the microcosmos?


Researcher Bruce Rux is a huge fan of The Outer Limits and is convinced that Stevens was taking classified material from military UFO research and incorporating it in the series. Were analysts concerned about these transmission scenarios?

Trapped between dimensions in Stevens' "The Borderland"

In addition to the possibility they were leaking UFO reports in their stories, I'm certain that Stevens and his partner Joseph Stefano had some kind of experience with hallucinogens, and might have also undergone a particularly effective kind of psychoanalysis, because their stories are absolutely drenched in the power of the Unconscious mind even when they don't make literal sense. Maybe especially when they don't. Either way, I get the feeling that these guys had extraordinary experiences of some kind.

There's also a very, very powerful resonance kicking around the entire first season of the show, a resonance that borders on the numinous even with the bargain basement effects. I also realize that this show insinuated itself into my own subconscious around the time I was hallucinating leprechauns and giant chevrons and all of the rest of it on a regular basis thanks to 105ºF fevers.

This shit vibrates inside my head on levels I can't explain, especially if you're younger and have no patience for the low-rent production values. Whether those other worlds are inside our heads or out, I have a feeling Leslie Stevens spent some time there.