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Terence McKenna

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.



Early life

Terence McKenna grew up in Paonia, Colorado.[1] He was introduced to geology through his uncle and developed a hobby of solitary fossil hunting in the arroyos near his home.[2] 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.[1] He was introduced to psychedelics through The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley[1] and Village Voice.[3] 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."[1]

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 [4] 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.

After college

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.[5]

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.[5] 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.[5] 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".[5] 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.[6] Timothy Leary once introduced him as "one of the five or six most important people on the planet".[7]

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", [8]

He soon became a fixture of popular counterculture, and his popularity continued to grow, culminating in the early to mid 1990's with the publication of several books such as True Hallucinations (which relates the tale of his 1971 experience at La Chorrera), 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, Zuvuya, Shpongle, and Shakti Twins. His speeches were (and continue to be) sampled by many others. In 1994 he appeared as a speaker at the Starwood Festival, which was documented in the book Tripping by Charles Hayes (his lectures were produced on both cassette tape and CD).[9]

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.[10]

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").[11] 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.[6]

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.

Last interview

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."[12] Erik Davis later published excerpts from this interview at his site, [1], 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."[13]


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)[14] [15] [16] [17], 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.[citation needed] 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"

Main article: Novelty theory

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.[18] 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[18]

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:

  • A 1659 folio of Isaac Casaubon’s A True and Faithful Relation of what passed between Dr. John Dee and some spirits;
  • A copy of Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa’s Libri tres de occulta philosophia, (Eng.: Third Book of Occult Philosophy);
  • Ralph Horatio Woolnough Empson’s Cult of the Peacock Angel, a rare book on the Yazidi;
  • A red leather-bound theosophy library purchased in the Republic of Seychelles.
  • A black box containing original William S. Burroughs cut-ups.
  • Several first-edition volumes of Ernst Haeckel's Kunstformen der Natur, purchased in Heidelberg.


  • 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

Spoken Word

  • TechnoPagans at the End of History (transcription of rap with Mark Pesce from 1998)
  • Psychedelics in the Age of Intelligent Machines (1999)
  • Alien Dreamtime with Spacetime Continuum & Stephen Kent (Magic Carpet Media) (CD & DVD)
  • 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

See also

  • Dominator culture
  • List of notable brain tumor patients
  • Ethnomycology
  • Exopheromone
  • Wade Davis
  • John Steele
Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
Terence McKenna


  1. ^ a b c d Terence McKenna Interview, Part 1. Accessed on April 26, 2007.
  2. ^ McKenna, Terence. "Under The Teaching Tree" Ojai Foundation, Upper Ojai, California (Unknown (1988?)).
  3. ^ Erowid Terence McKenna Vault: The High Times Interview. Accessed on April 26, 2007.
  4. ^ Terence McKenna, 53, Dies; Patron of Psychedelics. Cannabis News (2000-04-09).
  5. ^ a b c d True Hallucinations: Being an Account of the Author's Extraordinary Adventures in the Devil's Paradise. Terence McKenna, 1993.
  6. ^ a b The Invisible Landscape (lecture). Terence Mckenna.
  7. ^ Introduction by Timothy Leary to "Unfolding the Stone" lecture by Terence McKenna
  8. ^ Terence McKenna. This World...and Its Double. Mill Valley, California: Sound Photosynthesis.
  9. ^ Tripping: An Anthology of True-Life Psychedelic Adventures by Charles Hayes. Accessed on April 26, 2007.
  10. ^ Twin Peaks (1990) - Trivia. IMDB.
  11. ^ Surfing Finnegans Wake. Terence Mckenna.
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ Fischer, Roland & Richard M. Hill - "Interpretation of visual space under drug-induced ergotropic and trophotropic arousal" - Journal: Inflammation Research Issue Volume 2, Number 3 / November, 1971 (Publisher Birkhäuser Basel) ISSN 1023-3830 (Print) 1420-908X (Online)
  15. ^ Fischer, Roland & R. Hill, K. Thatcher & J. Scheib - "Psilocybin-induced contraction of nearby visual space" - Journal Inflammation Research Issue, Volume 1, Number 4 / August, 1970 (Publisher Birkhäuser Basel) ISSN 1023-3830 (Print) 1420-908X (Online)
  16. ^ Fischer, Roland L. (Ph.D.) "The Realities of Hallucinogenic Drugs: A Compendium" - Criminology, Volume 4 Issue 3 Page 2-15, November 1966 (Blackwell Publishing Ltd)
  17. ^ Fischer, Roland L. (Ph.D.) - "A Cartography of the Ecstatic and Meditative States" - Science, November 26th, 1971
  18. ^ a b Lawrence E Joseph "Apocalypse 2012: An Optimist Investigates the end of Civilisation" Morgan Road Books, New York, 2007. p. 204

Writings Available Online

  • DataChurch Library of McKenna Media (click on People >Terence McKenna)
  • Food of the Gods (PDF)

Audio and Video Resources

  • Audio and video archive at
  • Terence McKenna Audio Archive - Lectures and Public Talks
  • MP3 Downloads - Terence McKenna, Albert Hoffman, Robert Anton Wilson, and more
  • McKenna at the 1999 Entheobotany Seminar - Audio Podcast
  • Psychedelics in the Age of Intelligent Machines - Video samples from the 1999 DVD
  • McKenna Video on FloatingWorldWeb -McKenna Video Portal
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.
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