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Terence Kemp McKenna (November 16 1946 – April 3 2000) was a writer, philosopher, and ethnobotanist. He is noted for his many speculations on the use of psychedelic, plant-based hallucinogens, and subjects ranging from shamanism, the development of human consciousness, and the novelty theory.
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Terence McKenna grew up in Paonia, Colorado. 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, and attended high school in, Los Altos, California. He was introduced to psychedelics through The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley and Village Voice. One of his early experiences with them came through morning glory seeds (containing LSA), which he claimed showed him "that there was something there worth pursuing."
After graduating from high school, McKenna enrolled in U.C. Berkeley. He moved to San Francisco during the Summer Of Love before his classes began, and was introduced to cannabis by Barry Melton in 1965  and tried LSD soon after.
As a freshman at U.C. Berkeley McKenna participated in the Tussman Experimental College, a short-lived two-year program on the Berkeley campus. He graduated in 1969 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Ecology and Conservation.
He spent the years after his graduation teaching English in Japan, traveling through India and South Asia collecting butterflies for biological supply companies, and smuggling hashish into the United States.
Following the death of his mother in 1971, Terence, his brother Dennis, and three friends traveled to the Colombian Amazon in search of oo-koo-hé, a plant preparation containing DMT. In La Chorrera, at the urging of his brother, he allowed himself to be the subject of a psychedelic experiment which he claimed put him in contact with Logos: an informative, hallucinatory voice he believed was universal to visionary religious experience. The revelations of this voice, and his brother's peculiar experience during the experiment, prompted him to explore the structure of an early form of the I Ching, which led to his "Novelty Theory". These ideas were explored extensively by Terence and Dennis in their 1975 book The Invisible Landscape - Mind Hallucinogens and The I Ching.
In the early 1980s, McKenna began to speak publicly on the topic of psychedelic drugs, lecturing extensively and conducting weekend workshops. Though somewhat associated with the New Age or human potential movement, McKenna himself had little patience for New Age sensibilities, repeatedly stressing the importance of the primacy of felt experience as opposed to dogmatic ideologies. Timothy Leary once introduced him as "one of the five or six most important people on the planet".
McKenna was a contemporary and colleague of chaos mathematician Ralph Abraham and biologist Rupert Sheldrake (creator of the fringe theory of "morphogenetic fields", not to be confused with the mainstream usage of the same term), and conducted several public debates known as trialogues with them, from the late 1980s up until his death. Books which contained transcriptions of some of these events were published. He was also a friend and associate of Ralph Metzner, Nicole Maxwell, and Riane Eisler. and participated in joint workshops and symposia with them. He was a personal friend of Tom Robbins, and influenced the thought of numerous scientists, writers, artists, and entertainers, including comedian Bill Hicks, whose routines concerning psychedelic drugs drew heavily from McKenna's works. He is also 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 (art/visual experience as information-- representing the significance of hallucinatory visions experienced under the influence of psychedelics). He advised the taking of psychedelic mushrooms, in both low and high doses, alone and with others. Philosophically and religiously, he expressed admiration for Marshall McLuhan, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Gnostic Christianity, Alfred North Whitehead, Alchemy, and James Joyce (calling Finnegans Wake "the quintessential work of art, or at least work of literature of the 20th century"). He remained opposed to most forms of organized religion or guru-based forms of spiritual awakening. He believed DMT was the apotheosis of the psychedelic experience and 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 aliens, ancestors, or spirits of earth.
McKenna also co-founded Botanical Dimensions with Kathleen Harrison (his colleague and wife of 17 years), a non-profit ethnobotanical preserve on the island of Hawaii, where he lived for many years before he died. Before moving to Hawaii permanently, McKenna split his time between Hawaii and a town called Occidental, located in the redwood-studded hills of Sonoma County, California, a town unique for its high concentration of artistic notables, including Tom Waits and Mickey Hart.
A longtime sufferer of migraines, in mid-1999 McKenna returned to his home in Hawaii after a long and tiring lecturing tour. He began to suffer from increasingly painful headaches. This culminated in a brain seizure, which led to McKenna being 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. He died on April 3, 2000, alongside his loved ones. He was 53 years old. He is survived by his brother Dennis, his son Finn, and his daughter Klea.
Erik Davis, author of the book TechGnosis, conducted what would be the last interview with McKenna in October and early November 1999. This interview was held in preparation for a profile featured in Wired Magazine in 2000, entitled "Terence McKenna's Last Trip." Erik Davis later published excerpts from this interview at his site, , and the interview has also been released on CD. Commenting on the reality of his own death, McKenna said during the interview:
"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, its 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."
The "Stoned Ape" theory of human evolution
Perhaps the most famous of Terence McKenna's theories and observations is his explanation for the origin of the human mind and culture. McKenna theorized that as the North African jungles receded toward the end of the most recent ice age, giving way to grasslands, a branch of our tree-dwelling primate ancestors left the branches and took up a life out in the open — following around herds of ungulates, nibbling what they could along the way.
Among the new items in their diet were psilocybin-containing mushrooms growing in the dung of these ungulate herds. McKenna, referencing the research of Roland L. Fisher Ph.D. (College of Optometry and Departments of Psychiatry and Pharmacology, College of Medicine, The Ohio State University)   , claimed enhancement of visual acuity as an effect of psilocybin at low doses, and supposed that this would have conferred an adaptive advantage. He also argued that the effects of slightly larger doses, including a physical sexual arousal (again, not reported as a typical effect in scientific studies) — and in still larger doses, ecstatic hallucinations and glossolalia — gave evolutionary advantages to those tribes who partook of it. There were many changes caused by the introduction of this drug to the primate diet. McKenna theorizes, for instance, that synesthesia (the blurring of boundaries between the senses) caused by psilocybin led to the development of spoken language: the ability to form pictures in another person's mind through the use of vocal sounds.
About 12,000 years ago, further climate changes removed the mushroom from the human diet, which McKenna argued to result in a new set of profound changes in our species as we reverted to pre-mushroomed and brutal primate social structures that had been modified and/or repressed by frequent consumption of psilocybin.
McKenna did not attempt to defend his hypotheses through rigorous scientific evidence; he consciously self-identified as a type of shaman, or ethnobotanist. McKenna and his followers view his theories as speculation that is at a minimum scientifically feasible and arguably gifted by special knowledge due to psychedelic plants. His hypothesis that psilocybin induced a phase change in human evolution is necessarily based on a great deal of supposition interpolating between the few fragmentary facts we know about hominid and early human history. But perhaps its most significant problem is its inconsistency with natural selection (the central concept of evolutionary theory) which cannot favor any variations, no matter how adaptive, unless they result from an allele or genetic factor. A live recording of his "Stoned Ape" theory can be found on the CD Conversations on the Edge of Magic (recorded live at the Starwood Festival).
Novelty theory and "Time Wave: Zero Point"
One of McKenna's most widely-promulgated ideas is known as Novelty theory. It predicts the ebb and flow of novelty in the universe as an inherent quality of time. McKenna developed the theory in the mid-1970s after his experiences in the Amazon at La Chorrera led him to closely study the King Wen sequence of the I-Ching. Novelty theory involves ontology, extropy, and eschatology.
The theory proposes that the universe is an engine designed for the production and conservation of novelty. Novelty, in this context, can be thought of as newness, or extropy (a term coined by Max More meaning the opposite of entropy). According to McKenna, when novelty is graphed over time, a fractal waveform known as "timewave zero" or simply the "timewave" results. The graph shows at what time periods, but never at what locations, novelty increases or decreases.
Considered by some to represent a model of history's most important events, the universal algorithm has also been extrapolated to be a model for future events. McKenna admitted to the expectation of a "singularity of novelty", and that he and his colleagues projected many hundreds of years into the future to find when this singularity (runaway "newness" or extropy) could occur. The graph of extropy had many enormous fluctuations over the last 25,000 years, but amazingly, it hit an asymptote at exactly December 22, 2012. In other words, entropy (or habituation) no longer exists after that date. It is impossible to define that state. The technological singularity concept parallels this, only at a date roughly three decades later. According to leading expert Ray Kurzweil), another concept called cultural singularity (essentially cultural dissolution, or language dissolution), parallels this as well. Terrence claimed to have no knowledge of the Mayan calendar, which ends one day before the Timewave graph does: December 21, 2012, this is likely to be true as Mckennas timewave theory was published in The Invisible Landscape 12 years before the book which brought the Mayan calendar into public consciousness; José Argüelles's The Mayan Factor
The library fire
On February 7, 2007, Terence McKenna's library of rare books and personal notes was destroyed in a fire started in an Alvarado Street Quizno's sandwich shop in Monterey, California. The fire moved on to include Goomba’s Italian Restaurant, a Starbucks, and some storage offices belonging to Big Sur’s Esalen Institute, a human potential movement and upscale New Age resort.
Esalen lost little of their own archives, the vast bulk of which were residing elsewhere, but the offices did store the library of Terence McKenna, awaiting plans for their installation and integration to McKenna's favored Esalen. An index of McKenna’s collection (maintained by his brother Dennis) survives, though little else.
In the words of Erik Davis: "But even this valuable document will not replace the body of knowledge itself — a body that had become, in the weird ways of the memetic world, a kind of second body for Terence’s fabulous and fascinating mind. No budding head will ever be able to poke through this collection again, with its faintly perfumed volumes on Chinese alchemy and butterflies and hash."
Also among the lost library were:
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|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Terence_McKenna". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|