November 16, 1946|
Paonia, Colorado, United States
|Died||April 3, 2000
San Rafael, California, United States
|Era||20th century philosophy|
|Main interests||Shamanism, ethnobotany, metaphysics, psychedelic drugs, futurism, primitivism, environmentalism, consciousness, evolution, transhumanism, technological singularity, historical revisionism, Mind at Large, virtual reality, dominator culture, criticizing science, the Logos|
|Notable ideas||Novelty theory, the "Stoned Ape" theory of human evolution, machine elves|
Terence Kemp McKenna (November 16, 1946 – April 3, 2000) was an American ethnobotanist, philosopher, psychonaut, researcher, teacher, lecturer, and writer. He was noted for his knowledge, and the ability to articulate his knowledge, of the use of psychedelics, metaphysics, plant-based entheogens, and subjects ranging from shamanism, language, historical and civilizational timelines, the theoretical origins of human consciousness, and his concept of novelty theory.
Terence McKenna was born and raised in Paonia, Colorado. McKenna's father was of Irish ancestry and his mother was of Welsh descent. He was introduced to geology through his uncle and developed a hobby of solitary fossil hunting in the arroyos near his home. From this he developed a deep artistic and scientific appreciation of nature.
At age 16, McKenna moved to Los Altos, California to live with family friends for a year. He finished high school in Lancaster, CA. In 1963, McKenna was introduced to the literary world of psychedelics through The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell by Aldous Huxley and certain issues of The Village Voice that talked about psychedelics.
McKenna claimed that one of his early psychedelic experiences with morning glory seeds showed him "that there was something there worth pursuing." In an audio interview Terence Mckenna claims to have started smoking cannabis regularly during the summer following his 17th birthday.
Studying and traveling
In 1965, McKenna enrolled in the University of California, Berkeley to study art history. In 1967, while in college, he discovered and began studying shamanism through the study of Tibetan folk religion. That year, which he called his "opium and kabbala phase" he also traveled to Jerusalem, where he met Kathleen Harrison, who would later become his wife.
In 1969, McKenna traveled to Nepal led by his "interest in Tibetan painting and hallucinogenic shamanism." During his time there, he studied the Tibetan language and worked as a hashish smuggler, until "one of his Bombay-to-Aspen shipments fell into the hands of U. S. Customs." He was forced to move to avoid capture by Interpol. He wandered through Southeast Asia viewing ruins, collected butterflies in Indonesia, and worked as an English teacher in Tokyo. He then went back to Berkeley to continue studying biology, which he called "his first love".
After the partial completion of his studies, and his mother's death from cancer in 1971, McKenna, his brother Dennis, and three friends traveled to the Colombian Amazon in search of oo-koo-hé, a plant preparation containing dimethyltryptamine (DMT). Instead of oo-koo-hé they found various forms of ayahuasca, or yagé, and gigantic Psilocybe cubensis which became the new focus of the expedition. In La Chorrera, at the urging of his brother, he was the subject of a psychedelic experiment which he claimed put him in contact with "Logos": an informative, divine voice he believed was universal to visionary religious experience. The voice's reputed revelations and his brother's simultaneous peculiar experience prompted him to explore the structure of an early form of the I Ching, which led to his "Novelty Theory". During their stay in the Amazon, McKenna also became romantically involved with his interpreter, Ev.
In 1972, McKenna returned to Berkeley to finish his studies. There he decided to switch majors to a Bachelor of Science in ecology and conservation, in a then new experimental section of the same university called the Tussman Experimental College. During his studies, he would also develop techniques for cultivating psilocybin mushrooms with Dennis.
In 1975, he parted with his girlfriend, Ev, when she left him for one of his friends from Berkeley. Their parting left him "tormented with migraines and living alone". He graduated in 1975. That same year, he began a relationship with Kathleen Harrison, whom he had met in Jerusalem.
Soon after graduating, McKenna and Dennis published a book inspired by their Amazon experiences, The Invisible Landscape: Mind, Hallucinogens and the I Ching. He also began lecturing. The brothers' experiences in the Amazon would later play a major role in McKenna's book True Hallucinations, published in 1993. In 1976, the brothers published what they had learned about the cultivation of mushrooms in a book entitled Psilocybin - Magic Mushroom Grower's Guide under the pseudonyms "OT Oss" and "ON Oeric".
||This section of a biographical article needs additional citations for verification. (December 2012)|
In the early 1980s, McKenna began to speak publicly on the topic of psychedelic drugs, lecturing extensively and conducting weekend workshops. Though associated with the New Age and human potential movements, McKenna himself had little patience for New Age sensibilities. He repeatedly stressed the importance and primacy of felt experience, as opposed to dogma. Timothy Leary once introduced him as "one of the five or six most important people on the planet."
|“||It's clearly a crisis of two things: of consciousness and conditioning. These are the two things that the psychedelics attack. We have the technological power, the engineering skills to save our planet, to cure disease, to feed the hungry, to end war; But we lack the intellectual vision, the ability to change our minds. We must decondition ourselves from 10,000 years of bad behavior. And, it's not easy.||”|
—Terence McKenna, "This World...and Its Double", 
He soon became a fixture of popular counterculture. His growing popularity culminated in the early-to-mid-1990s with the publication of several books: True Hallucinations, relating the tale of his 1971 La Chorrera experience; Food of the Gods; and The Archaic Revival. He became a popular personality in the psychedelic rave/dance scene of the early 1990s, with frequent spoken word performances at raves and contributions to psychedelic and goa trance albums by The Shamen, Spacetime Continuum, Alien Project, Capsula, Entheogenic, Zuvuya, Shpongle, and Shakti Twins. His speeches were, and are, sampled by many. In 1994 he appeared as a speaker at the Starwood Festival, documented in the book Tripping by Charles Hayes. His lectures were produced on both cassette tape and CD.
McKenna was a colleague of chaos mathematician Ralph Abraham, and biologist Rupert Sheldrake, creator of the theory of "morphogenetic fields", not to be confused with the mainstream usage of the same term. He conducted several public debates known as trialogues with them from the late 1980s until his death. Books containing transcriptions of some of these events were published. He was also a friend and associate of Ralph Metzner, Nicole Maxwell, and Riane Eisler, participating in joint workshops and symposia with them. He was a personal friend of Tom Robbins, and influenced the thought of many scientists, writers, artists, and entertainers. Comedian Bill Hicks' routines about psychedelic drugs drew heavily from McKenna's works. He also may have been the inspiration for the Twin Peaks character Dr. Jacoby.
In addition to psychedelic drugs, McKenna spoke on the subjects of virtual reality, which he saw as a way to artistically communicate the experience of psychedelics; techno-paganism; artificial intelligence; evolution; extraterrestrials; and aesthetic theory, specifically about art/visual experience as information representing the significance of hallucinatory visions experienced under the influence of psychedelics.
In 1985, McKenna co-founded Botanical Dimensions with his then-wife Kathleen, a nonprofit ethnobotanical preserve in Hawaii, where he lived for many years before he died. In 1992 he and Kathleen divorced. Before moving to Hawaii permanently, McKenna split his time between Hawaii and Occidental, located in the redwood-studded hills of Sonoma County, California.
A longtime sufferer of migraines, in mid-1999 McKenna returned to his home on the big island of Hawaii after a long lecturing tour. He began to suffer from increasingly painful headaches. This culminated in three brain seizures in one night, which he claimed were the most powerful psychedelic experiences he had ever known. Upon his emergency trip to the hospital on Oahu, Terence was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, a highly aggressive form of brain cancer. For the next several months he underwent various treatments, including experimental gamma knife radiation treatment. According to Wired magazine, McKenna was worried that his tumour was caused by his 35-years of smoking cannabis; though his doctors assured him there was no causal relation.
I always thought death would come on the freeway in a few horrifying moments, so you'd have no time to sort it out. Having months and months to look at it and think about it and talk to people and hear what they have to say, it's a kind of blessing. It's certainly an opportunity to grow up and get a grip and sort it all out. Just being told by an unsmiling guy in a white coat that you're going to be dead in four months definitely turns on the lights. ... It makes life rich and poignant. When it first happened, and I got these diagnoses, I could see the light of eternity, a la William Blake, shining through every leaf. I mean, a bug walking across the ground moved me to tears.
McKenna died on April 3, 2000, at the age of 53, with his loved ones at his bedside. He is survived by his brother Dennis, his son Finn, and his daughter Klea.
On February 7, 2007, McKenna's library of rare books and personal notes was destroyed in a fire that burned offices belonging to Big Sur's Esalen Institute, which was storing the collection. An index maintained by his brother Dennis survives, though little else.
|“||There are these things, which I call "self transforming machine elves," I also call them self-dribbling basketballs. They are, but they are none of these things. I mean you have to understand: these are metaphors in the truest sense, meaning that they're lies! [...] I name them 'Tykes' because tyke is a word that means to me a small child, ... and when you burst into the DMT space this is the Aeon - it's a child, and it's at play with colored balls, and I am in eternity, apparently, in the presence of this thing.||”|
—Terence McKenna, "Time and Mind", 
Terence McKenna advocated the exploration of altered states of mind via the ingestion of naturally occurring psychedelic substances. For example, and in particular, as facilitated by the ingestion of high doses of psychedelic mushrooms, and DMT, which he believed was the apotheosis of the psychedelic experience. He spoke of the "jeweled, self-dribbling basketballs" or "self-transforming machine elves" that one encounters in that state.
Although he avoided giving his allegiance to any one interpretation (part of his rejection of monotheism), he was open to the idea of psychedelics as being "trans-dimensional travel"; literally, enabling an individual to encounter what could be ancestors, or spirits of earth. He remained opposed to most forms of organized religion or guru-based forms of spiritual awakening.
Either philosophically or religiously, he expressed admiration for Marshall McLuhan, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Gnostic Christianity, Alfred North Whitehead, and Alchemy. McKenna always regarded the Greek philosopher Heraclitus as his favorite philosopher.
He also expressed admiration for the works of James Joyce (calling Finnegans Wake "the quintessential work of art, or at least work of literature of the 20th century") and Vladimir Nabokov: McKenna once said that he would have become a Nabokov lecturer if he had never encountered psychedelics.
During the final years of his life and career, McKenna became very engaged in the theoretical realm of technology. He has advocated the idea of a technological singularity. In his last recorded public talk, Psychedelics in The Age of Intelligent Machines, he outlined strong ties between psychedelics, computation technology, and humans.
"Stoned Ape" theory of human evolution
In his book Food of the Gods, McKenna proposed that the transformation from humans' early ancestors Homo erectus to the species Homo sapiens mainly had to do with the addition of the mushroom Psilocybe cubensis in its diet - an event which according to his theory took place in about 100,000 BC (this is when he believed that the species diverged from the Homo genus). He based his theory on the main effects, or alleged effects, produced by the mushroom. One of the effects that comes about from the ingestion of low doses, which agrees with one of scientist Roland Fischer's findings from the late 1960s-early 1970s, is it significantly improves the visual acuity of humans - so, theoretically, of other human-like mammals too. According to McKenna, this effect would have definitely proven to be of evolutionary advantage to humans' omnivorous hunter-gatherer ancestors that would have stumbled upon it "accidentally"; as it would make it easier for them to hunt.
In higher doses, McKenna claims, the mushroom acts as a sexual stimulator, which would make it even more beneficial evolutionarily, as it would result in more offspring. At even higher doses, the mushroom would have acted to "dissolve boundaries", which would have promoted community-bonding and group sexual activities that would result in a mixing of genes and therefore greater genetic diversity. Generally McKenna believed that the periodic ingestion of the mushroom would have acted to dissolve the ego in humans before it ever got the chance to grow to destructive proportions. In this context, he likened the ego to a cancerous tumor that can grow uncontrollable and become destructive to its host. In his own words:
Wherever and whenever the ego function began to form, it was akin to a cancerous tumor or a blockage in the energy of the psyche. The use of psychedelic plants in a context of shamanic initiation dissolved - as it dissolves today - the knotted structure of the ego into undifferentiated feeling, what Eastern philosophy calls the Tao.—Terence McKenna, Food of the Gods
The mushroom, according to McKenna, also gave humans their first truly religious experiences and, as he believed, were the basis for the foundation of all subsequent religions to date. For example, he proposed that the biblical Fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was actually an entheogenic mushroom. Another factor that McKenna talked about was the mushroom's potency to promote linguistic thinking. This would have promoted vocalisation, which in turn would have acted in cleansing the brain (based on a scientific theory that vibrations from speaking cause the precipitation of impurities from the brain to the cerebrospinal fluid), which would further mutate the brain. All these factors according to McKenna were the most important factors that promoted evolution towards the Homo sapiens species. After this transformation took place, the species would have begun moving out of Africa to populate the rest of the planet Later on, this theory by McKenna was given the name "The 'Stoned Ape' Theory of Human Evolution".
According to McKenna the universe has a teleological attractor at the end of time that increases interconnectedness. He predicted that a singularity of infinite complexity would be reached in 2012 at which point anything and everything imaginable would occur simultaneously. He referred to this as the Eschaton. He conceived this idea over several years in the early to mid-1970s while using psilocybin mushrooms and DMT.
McKenna viewed the universe as a swarm of matter waves, spiralling down the gradient of their synergetic (energetically favourable) constructive interference. He saw the universe as being "pulled from the future toward a goal that is as inevitable as a marble reaching the bottom of a bowl when you release it up near the rim...it comes to rest at the lowest energy state, which is the bottom of the bowl. That’s precisely my model of human history."
In novelty theory, when two matter waves become connected by mutual constructive interference (quantum entanglement, rapport), they imagine or grok each other. Mc Kenna believed that imagination was capable of interconnecting matter waves instantaneously, stating that "the imagination is a dimension of nonlocal information," and "novelty is density of connection." 
"What is happening to our world is ingression of novelty toward what Whitehead called "concrescence", a tightening gyre. Everything is flowing together. The "autopoietic lapis", the alchemical stone at the end of time, coalesces when everything flows together. When the laws of physics are obviated, the universe disappears, and what is left is the tightly bound plenum, the monad, able to express itself for itself, rather than only able to cast a shadow into physis as its reflection. I come very close here to classical millenarian and apocalyptic thought in my view of the rate at which change is accelerating. From the way the gyre is tightening, I predict that the concrescence will occur soon—around 2012 AD. It will be the entry of our species into hyperspace, but it will appear to be the end of physical laws accompanied by the release of the mind into the imagination."
McKenna often illustrated his theory by reference to a computer program written by his collaborator Peter Meyer, which produces a waveform known as "timewave zero" or the "timewave". "Timewave zero" is a numerological formula that purports to calculate the ebb and flow of "novelty", defined as increase over time in the universe's interconnectedness, or organized complexity. Based on McKenna's interpretation of the King Wen sequence of the I Ching, the graph appears to show great periods of novelty corresponding with major shifts in humanity's biological and sociocultural evolution. He believed that the events of any given time are recursively related to the events of other times, and chose the atomic bombing of Hiroshima as the basis for calculating his end date of 16 November 2012. When he later discovered that the end of the 13th baktun in the Maya Calendar had been correlated by Western Maya scholars with December 21, not far from his own hypothesized end date, he decided that the Maya were more likely to be right on this subject and he adopted their end date. The 1975 first edition of Mc Kenna's The Invisible Landscape refers to 2012 (but no specific day during the year) only twice. In the 1993 second edition, McKenna employed the 21st of December 2012 throughout, the date arrived at by the Mayanist researcher Robert J. Sharer[Note d].
- 1975 - The Invisible Landscape: Mind, Hallucinogens, and the I Ching (with Dennis McKenna) (Seabury; 1st Ed) ISBN 0-8164-9249-2.
- 1976 - The Invisible Landscape (with Dennis McKenna, and Quinn Taylor) (Scribner) ISBN 0-8264-0122-8
- 1976 - Psilocybin - Magic Mushroom Grower's Guide (with Dennis McKenna: credited under the pseudonyms OT Oss and ON Oeric) (2nd edition 1986) (And/Or Press) ISBN 0-915904-13-6
- 1992 - Psilocybin - Magic Mushroom Grower's Guide (with Dennis McKenna: (credited under the pseudonyms OT Oss and ON Oeric) (Quick American Publishing Company; Revised edition) ISBN 0-932551-06-8
- 1992 - The Archaic Revival (HarperSanFrancisco; 1st edition) ISBN 0-06-250613-7
- 1992 - Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge - A Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution (Bantam) ISBN 0-553-37130-4
- 1992 - Synesthesia (with Timothy C. Ely) (Granary Books 1st Ed) ISBN 1-887123-04-0
- 1992 - Trialogues at the Edge of the West: Chaos, Creativity, and the Resacralization of the World (with Ralph H. Abraham, Rupert Sheldrake and Jean Houston) (Bear & Company Publishing 1st Ed) ISBN 0-939680-97-1
- 1993 - True Hallucinations: Being an Account of the Author’s Extraordinary Adventures in the Devil’s Paradise (HarperSanFrancisco 1st Ed) ISBN 0-06-250545-9
- 1994 - The Invisible Landscape (HarperSanFrancisco; Reprint edition) ISBN 0-06-250635-8
- 1998 - True Hallucinations & the Archaic Revival: Tales and Speculations About the Mysteries of the Psychedelic Experience (Fine Communications/MJF Books) (Hardbound) ISBN 1-56731-289-6
- 1998 - The Evolutionary Mind : Trialogues at the Edge of the Unthinkable (with Rupert Sheldrake and Ralph H. Abraham) (Trialogue Press; 1st Ed) ISBN 0-942344-13-8
- 1999 - Food of the Gods: A Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution (Rider & Co; New edition) ISBN 0-7126-7038-6
- 1999 - Robert Venosa: Illuminatus (with Robert Venosa, Ernst Fuchs, H. R. Giger, and Mati Klarwein) (Craftsman House) ISBN 90-5703-272-4
- 2001 - Chaos, Creativity, and Cosmic Consciousness (with Rupert Sheldrake and Ralph H. Abraham) (Park Street Press; revised ed) ISBN 0-89281-977-4 (Revised edition of Trialogues at the Edge of the West)
- 2005 - The Evolutionary Mind: Trialogues on Science, Spirit & Psychedelics (Monkfish Book Publishing; Revised Ed) ISBN 0-9749359-7-2
- History Ends In Green: Gaia, Psychedelics and the Archaic Revival, 6 audiocassette set, Mystic Fire audio, 1993, ISBN 1-56176-907-X (recorded at the Esalen Institute, 1989)
- TechnoPagans at the End of History (transcription of rap with Mark Pesce from 1998)
- Psychedelics in the Age of Intelligent Machines (1999) 90 minutes video[dead link]
- Alien Dreamtime with Spacetime Continuum & Stephen Kent (Magic Carpet Media) (CD)
- Conversations on the Edge of Magic (1994) (CD & Cassette) ACE
- Rap-Dancing Into the Third Millennium (1994) (Cassette) (Re-issued on CD as The Quintessential Hallucinogen) ACE
- Packing For the Long Strange Trip (1994) (Cassette) ACE
- Coast to Coast AM with Art Bell, broadcast on May 22, 1997, Five hour interview covering various topics
- Global Perspectives and Psychedelic Poetics (1994) (Cassette) Sound Horizons Audio-Video, Inc.
- The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge (1992) (Cassette) Sounds True
- Re : Evolution with The Shamen (1992)
- Terence McKenna & Zuvuya - Dream Matrix Telemetry (1993)
- Alien Dreamtime with Spacetime Continuum & Stephen Kent (Magic Carpet Media) (DVD)
- 2009 - Cognition Factor (2009)
- 2012 - The Terence Mckenna OmniBus 2012
- d Coe's initial date was "24 December 2011." He revised it to "11 January AD 2013" in the 1980 2nd edition of his book, not settling on 23 December 2012 until the 1984 3rd edition. The correlation of b'ak'tun 13 as 21 December 2012 first appeared in Table B.2 of Robert J. Sharer's 1983 revision of the 4th edition of Sylvanus Morley's book The Ancient Maya.
- Watkins, Matthew. "Autopsy for a Mathematical Hallucination?".
- Terence McKenna Interview, Part 1. Tripzine.com. Accessed on June 29, 2011.
- Gehr, Richard (April 5, 1992). "Omega Man: A Profile of Terence McKenna". The Village Voice.
- McKenna, Terence (Unknown (1985)). Under The Teaching Tree (Speech). Ojai Foundation, Upper Ojai, California.
- Erowid Terence McKenna Vault: The High Times Interview. Accessed on June 29, 2011.
- Martin, Douglas (April 9, 2000). "Terence McKenna, 53, Dies; Patron of Psychedelic Drugs". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-09-12.
- Erowid Terence McKenna Vault: The High Times Interview.
- True Hallucinations: Being an Account of the Author's Extraordinary Adventures in the Devil's Paradise. Terence McKenna, 1993.
- Moler, Daniel (July 30, 2010). "Machine Elves 101, or Why Terence McKenna Matters". Reality Sandwich.
- "Terence McKenna Vault". Erowid. Retrieved 2012-09-12.
- Psilocybin - Magic Mushroom Grower's Guide, OT Oss and ON Oeric, 1976.
- "The Invisible Landscape (lecture)". Terence Mckenna.
- Introduction by Timothy Leary to "Unfolding the Stone" lecture by Terence McKenna, c. 1992
- Terence McKenna (1993-09-11). This World...and Its Double. Mill Valley, California: Sound Photosynthesis.
- Tripping: An Anthology of True-Life Psychedelic Adventures by Charles Hayes. Accessed on April 26, 2007.
- "Twin Peaks (1990) - Trivia". IMDB.
- "Wired 8.05: Terence McKenna's Last Trip". Wired.
- "Terence McKenna Vs. the Black Hole: by Erik Davis". Techgnosis.com. 2005-01-13. Retrieved 2012-09-12.
- Frauenfelder, Mark (February 22, 2007). "Terence McKenna's library destroyed in fire". Boing Boing. Retrieved 2012-09-12.
- McKenna, Terence (May 1990). "Time and Mind". - Partial transcription of a taped workshop held in New Mexico. The Deoxyribonucleic Hyperdimension (deoxy.org).
- "Surfing Finnegans Wake". Terence Mckenna.
- "Psychadelics in The Age of Intelligent Machines". Terence McKenna.
- McKenna, Terence (1992) . Food of the Gods: the Search for the original Tree of Knowledge. Bantam. ISBN 0-553-37130-4.
- Fischer, Roland; Hill, Richard (1970). "Psilocybin-Induced Contraction of Nearby Visual Space". Agents and Actions 1 (4): 190–197. PMID 5520365.
- Art Bell (22 May 1997). "Terence McKenna with Art Bell". archive.org. Retrieved 22 September 2009.
- Approaching Timewave Zero Magical Blend, No. 44, November 1994
- McKenna, Terence A Few Conclusions about Life 1996
- Terence McKenna at St. John the Divine's Cathedral April 25, 1996
- McKenna, Terence ♦ New Maps of Hyperspace 1989
- Ralph Abraham and Terence McKenna (June 1983). "Dynamics of Hyperspace". Santa Cruz, California: Ralph Abraham. Retrieved 14 October 2009.
- Sacha Defesche (2007). "'The 2012 Phenomenon': A historical and typological approach to a modern apocalyptic mythology.". skepsis. Retrieved 29 April 2011.
- Coe, Michael D. (1980). The Maya. Ancient peoples and places series, no. 10 (2nd ed.). London: Thames and Hudson, p. 151.
- Coe, Michael D. (1984). The Maya. Ancient peoples and places series (3rd ed.). London: Thames and Hudson.
- Morley, Sylvanus (1983). The Ancient Maya (4th ed.). Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, p. 603, Table B2.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Terence McKenna|
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Audio and video resources
- Terence McKenna's interview taken by John Hazard in October 1998
- Terence McKenna media archive at deoxy.org
- Terence McKenna media archive at erocx1.com
- McKenna at the 1999 Entheobotany Seminar audio podcast
- Psychedelics in the Age of Intelligent Machines video samples from the 1999 DVD
- Terence McKenna videos on FloatingWorldWeb
- Over 100 podcasts of Terence McKenna talks