I’ve been exploring the work of Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, and Terrence McKenna, and I’ve been considering the legacy of the 20th century’s flirtation with counter cultures, psychedelic drugs, and mysticism.
Those tropes helped to shape the narrative of the preceding century, and the people who bought into those stories felt strongly that there was more meaning in the world than we could perceive at face value. Of course their work is often discounted due to their research ‘tools’, but there’s some truth to what they suggested, there are religious symbols, and spiritual concepts that are more widely accepted thanks to their philosophies.
Russell Brand and his YouTube channel The Trews played into that narrative, and his episodes have explored mysticism, spirituality, and the importance of community. Concepts that have become more easily disseminated, and more readily available, thanks to the internet.
Terrence McKenna’s Novelty Theory
Most scientific arguments suggest that the world is running down, that it will always revert to chaos (entropy, the second law of thermodynamics), but for Terrence McKenna those are symptoms of complexity that reflect his Novelty Theory. The universe is building on what has come before and each time something new is added the process speeds up. In essence McKenna considers the idea of singularity.
Human migration, language, and technological advances are mirrored in the movement of continents, animal life, and natural occurrences. Humans aren’t separate to the environment – we’re part of it. Events happen with greater speed, and McKenna argued that this was all leading up to a transcendental moment, a point in time where everything happens at once.
We often feel that time is speeding up, and our collective narratives reflect this idea. The stories that we tell, especially about our civilisations and their histories, share some marked similarities across the globe. Jung argued for a collective unconscious, for shared narratives and perspectives that exist innately in all of us. His idea of a hive mind, a place of archetypes, has marked similarities to the way that the internet functions.
What interests me is the fact that religion, science, and new age mythology all share the idea that we’re moving towards something, that we’re evolving into something better, something new. There seems to be a collective story in the disparate answers we have to being alive. We’re incomplete, we’re not finished, but there will be a point in the future where an event occurs, where something comes to define our existence.
Did science, religion, and mysticism lead to the internet? Is technology a contemporary religious form? And does the internet hold the answer to thousands of years of questioning, of searching, and of seeking out answers to the complexities on the planet?
The Internet, Spirituality, and Truth
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
– Arthur C. Clarke
The internet seemingly orders chaos, it provides information on tap, and in many ways it has replaced the need for psychedelic drugs. Our reality is one of constant connectivity and of overwhelming information, and it seems that the internet can be used as a spiritual medium. We can take truths from every religion, we can discover the common thoughts that link every subsection of the planet, and we can see the commonality that exists between people.
Jung’s collective unconscious can be seen through the internet, through the billions of people who use it everyday, and the communications of an entire species are available for perusal. But what do we use it for? Should we reassess, reconsider, and attempt to unearth the potential of the internet, and mass communication?
Perhaps cat videos, selfies, and narcissism should be replaced by community, sharing, and learning. The internet allows us to tap into worlds of knowledge that were unavailable even twenty years ago, it’s a technology that allows us to peer into bits and zones of chaos.
There is more to life than we can perceive, and there is certainly more than we’ve been taught. Our teachers, our spiritual leaders, and our parents talk from perspectives, theories, and philosophies that they’ve found meaning in. But the internet allows us to consider the thoughts of a man living in the middle of China, and compare them to the musings of a child posting videos on Youtube from the heart of Russia.
Speeding Towards the Singularity
The scope of time, of travel, and movement has shrunk. We don’t have to physically move, and a contemporary moment on the internet is worth far more in terms of learning potential, than an hour of school time in the past. We don’t have to kill dead time anymore, we can fill it.
Psychedelic drugs were used as a tool to explore thoughts, and visualise mathematics that we couldn’t perceive without their influence. In the ‘dark’ ages of the ’60s they were the best solution for thinkers, mystics, and explorers like Alpert, Leary, and Hunter S. Thompson.
Now we have the potential to research their work, and compare and contrast it with other thinkers and we can do so with speed. We shouldn’t squander this awe inspiring invention, we should use it to better ourselves and the planet, and we should consider the stories we tell, and what they say about humanity.
The world is changing, and that change is occurring with greater speed. If we step back and deconstruct the idea of time we can see how it has been codified to create meaning. But that meaning is shifting, it’s transient, and the future will come around before we know it.
“Everybody carries a piece of the puzzle. Nobody comes into your life by mere coincidence. Trust your instincts. Do the unexpected. Find the others.”
— Timothy Leary
If everyone carries a part of the puzzle then there has never been a better time to piece it together. Use the internet, communicate with strangers, and bring what’s moving you to the table. Don’t denigrate human expression by trolling, or putting people down. Add what you’ve got to the bigger picture.