File spoon-archives/surrealist.archive/surrealist_1998/surrealist.9808, message 32

Date: Mon, 31 Aug 1998 11:49:13 -0500
Subject: Re: More un-touchable ghosts to go on

Greetings Moore,and all... 

Check this out:

Ordinary Language, Visible Language and Virtual Reality 
by Terence McKenna

Shall we talk about language?  First of all lets talk about ordinary
language which is probably the closest thing to a miracle in the natural
world. Its the major neurological manifestation of difference between
ourselves and other animals and primates and its not a physiological
difference its a difference in behavior. Language represents the most
complex behavior ever observed in any animal and certainly its the most
complex thing any of us ever learns to do. We're born into what William
James calls a blooming buzzing confusion, but by the aquisition of words we
mosaic over various sectors of this blooming buzzing confusion with words.
We replace the unknown with the known through the substitution of words and
by the time a child is two or three they have completely created a cultural
mosaic of words that is interposed between them and reality. Reality from
that point on is only an unconfirmed rumor brought through the medium of
language and every culture accentuates different parts of reality so that in
a sense every culture is a different reality. Language is the stuff of the
world, not quarks or wave-packets or neutrinos, but language. Everything is
made of language. All the constructs of science are actually interlocking
constructs of syntax. So that's ordinary language which seems to define
reality through a kind of process of lying about it. For instance by
creating subject-object distinctions which are, in fact, not true to the
matter, but somehow operationally necessary for us to navigate in the kind
of lower dimensional space that we inhabit. 
Then there is the phenomenon of non-ordinary, or what I call visible
language and this is very interesting to me. This is where technology,
virtual-reality, cybernetics, human-machine interfacing can actually make an
impact and explore a frontier. Visual language is a transormation of the
physiological impulse towards syntax into a final product, speech, which is
not heard with the ears, but beheld with the eyes. It's very interesting
that all our metaphors of clarity of speech are visual metaphors. We say, 'I
see what you mean, he spoke clearly.' This means that at the organismic
level we associate a higher signal clarity with visual input, and on DMT and
other tryptamine psychedelics you actually experience the field of language
both heard and self generated as something that is visibly beheld. Its
almost as though the project of communication becomes high-speed sculpture
in a conceptual dimension made of light and intentionality. This would
remain a kind of esoteric performance on the part of shamans at the height
of intoxication if it were not for the fact that electronics and electronic
cultural media, computers, make it possible for us to actually create
records of these higher linguistic modalities. In other words its possible
to imagine a virtual reality that was driven by a speech operated
synthesizer where the various parts of ordinary speech adjectives,
modifiers, subjects and objects were interpreted by the cybernetic
environment as topological manifolds of various shapes so that speech would
then generate a visibly beheld topology and its possible to imagine a future
world where in setting up marriage contracts or in negotiating corporate
takeovers, in areas where clear communication, clear expression of
intentionality was very important, that people would actually go into the
virtual reality to use the visible language because its capacity for
conveying intent would be much greater than ordinary spoken language. It's
not for nothing that Plato connected up the notion of the Good, the True,
and ultimately, the Beautiful. The beautiful of those three concepts is the
primary concept because it is visibly beheld, because it is seen. This is
the great convincing power of the psychedelic experience. That it ultimately
appeals to us through the sense that we value most. That we existentially
relate to as the most authentic and that is the visual. Visible language is
a kind of telepathy because if i make a statement in visual language and
then you and I regard my statement, we are somehow, in the act of regarding,
made one. Because meaning is not being created out of interiorized
dictionaries which we each consult in the privacy of our own  mind but
rather meaning is a visible manifold in the public domain. Meaning goes
public and the differences between people then decline toward being
insignificant. Its a kind of final confirmation of the McLuhan apotheosis
and i think visible language is coming. Life in the imagination is to be the
life of creativity carried on through these virtual environments driven by
linguistic engines. 
The starships of the future, in other words the vehicles of the future,
which will explore the high frontier of the unknown will be syntactical. The
engineers of the future will be poets. This is what virtual reality holds
out to us - the possibility of walking in to the constructs of the
imagination. In a way culture is that. I mean our cities, bridges, highways,
airliners and art galleries are condensations out of the imagination, but at
tremendous cost because we must make them out of matter. Once we can make
them out of light, out of electrons, then we won't build skyscrapers a
hundred and twenty stories high, we'll build them as high as we want. Roof
height will no longer be a factor ruled by cost effectiveness and gravity,
it will be a parameter ruled by the imagination as will all other parameters
and then we will discover what man truly is - when we are able to erect,
stabilize. share and explore our dreams in a kind of virtual hyperspace
that, carefully analyzed, is seen to be linguistic. That's what its
connectors are made out of, that's what its ferro-concrete and steel is, is
the edifice of language. This is what the stuff of the imagination is made
of and I think this is what we're moving toward. The psychedelic shamans
have always known this. Now the psychedelic underground art community points
toward this goal and leads the way. 
This is a segue from yesterday's discussion about visible language. The
notion being that, well let me review what yesterday was about. It was about
the idea that if we could see language, if language were a project of
understanding that used the eyes for the extraction of meaning rather than
the ears, that it would be a kind of telepathy. There would be both a fusion
of the observer with the object observed, and with the person communicated
with. The place in nature where something like this has actually evolved and
occurred is in the cephalopods; the squid and the circoliveral (sp) octopii.
These are animals that divided from the line of development that leads to
human beings over six hundred million years ago. They're mollusks, they're
related to escargo, it's an organism very different from ourselves.
Nevertheless, one of the things that evolutionary biologists always talk
about is the convergent evolution between the eyes of cephalopods and the
eyes of higher mammals. This is because the cephalopods live in an extremely
complex visual environment and in fact, they have evolved a form of
communication that approximates this visible language that i'm talking about
because these octopii have chromataphores all over the exterior of their
bodies. Chromataphores are cells that can change color. Now many people know
that octopii can change color but they think its for camoflage, for blending
in with the environment, this is not at all the case. The reason octopii
change colors in a very large repatoire of stripes, dots, blushes,
travelling shades and tonal shifts is because this is for them a channel of
linguistic communication. In other words they don't transduce their
linguistic intentionality into small mouth noises like we do. Small mouth
noises which then move as sound across space in the form of vibrations of
the air. Rather, they actually change their appearance in accordance with
their linguistic intent. What this boils down to is they physically become
their meaning, and one octopus observing another is watching the unfolding
of internalized neurological states within the organism being reflected in
color changes on the surface of the skin. Now these octopii not only can
change their color because their soft-bodied creatures. They can also change
the texture of their surface from smooth to rugose and folded. They can
also, because they're soft-bodied, fold and unfold and reveal and conceal,
very rapidly, different parts of their body. So they're capable of a visual
dance of communication that is an extremely dense kind of visual signal and
in the so-called benthic (sp) octopii, the species that have evolved in very
deep water where very little light reaches, they have evolved light-emitting
phosphorescent organs, some of them with membranes like eyelids over them,
so that even in the darkness of the abyssal depth of the ocean they can
carry out this dance of light, self-enfoldment, color change and surface
texture which is their linguistic style. In fact the only way an octopus can
experience a private thought is to release a cloud of ink into the water
into which it can retreat briefly and hide its mental nakedness from its
followers. This kind of biologically intrinsic wiring into the potential of
language is something that we may be able to mimic and achieve using
psychedelic drugs as the inspiration for the direction given to a virtual
reality development program. In other words we might be able to create kinds
of visibly beheld syntax that would be the human equivalent of the dance of
light, texture and positioning that constitutes the grammer and syntax of
squids and octopii. 
Operationally what these psychedelics do is they dissolve cultural
conditioning. Cultural conditioning is like software, but beneath the
software is the hardware of brain and organism and by dissolving the
cultural conditioning to speak English, German, Swahili or whatever, then
one returns to this ur-sprach, this primal language of the animal body and
can explore the real dimension of feeling that culture has a tendency to cut
us off from. Culture replaces authentic feeling with words. As an example of
this, imagine an infant lying in its cradle, and the window is open, and
into the room comes something, marvelous, mysterious, glittering, shedding
light of many colors, movement, sound, a tranformative hierophany of
integrated perception and the child is enthralled and then the mother comes
into the room and she says to the child, 'that's a bird, baby, that's a
bird,' instantly the complex wave of the angel peacock irridescent
transformative mystery is collapsed, into the word. All mystery is gone, the
child learns this is a bird, this is a bird, and by the time we're five or
six years old all the mystery of reality has been carefully tiled over with
words. This is a bird, this is a house, this is the sky, and we seal
ourselves in within a linguistic shell of disempowered perception, and what
the psychedelics do is they burst apart this cultural envelope of
confinement and return us really to the legacy and birthright if the


Bosch, Breughel and Bogartte...
Only Bogartte is still alive,
and you can find him at:

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