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Jeff McBride

 Jeff McBride

by David Jay Brown

Jeff McBride is recognized as one of the most talented and respected stage magicians in the world, as well as a foremost innovator in contemporary magic. He was awarded the title “Magician of the Year” by Hollywood’s famed Magic Castle for his remarkable sleight-of-hand abilities, and he was voted critics’ choice as “Best Magician in Las Vegas” in the Review-Journal annual poll at Caesars Magical Empire in Las Vegas. McBride performs regularly to standing ovations at some of the world’s most spectacular theaters–including Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, Radio City Music Hall in New York, and Her Majesty’s Theater in London. 

Before starting his solo career, McBride was the opening act of choice for Tina Turner, Diana Ross, and other top stars. His show “McBride-Magic!” was the featured attraction at the Monte Carlo Festival of Magic, and his show “Mask, Myth & Magic” won acclaim Off-Broadway and on national tour, as well as at arts festivals in Barcelona (for the 1992 Olympics), London, Hong Kong, China, and Bangkok. 

McBride has appeared in numerous television specials. His spectacular “Burned Alive!” escape was highlighted the ABC TV special “Champions of Magic.” He was featured on NBC’s “World’s Greatest Magic”, the PBS documentary, “The Art of Magic,” The Learning Channel’s “The Mysteries of Magic”, and the PAX series, “Masters of Illusion.” McBride also worked on the Discovery Channel’s “Mysteries of Magic”, where he served as a consultant on shamanism and ritual magic. The Fox television network even devoted a Star Trek Deep Space 9 episode to McBride’s mind-bending illusions, by having him guest star on the show as “Joran”, a role created especially for him.

McBride draws upon many traditions in his magic shows. He has traveled the world extensively, studying different magical traditions, which he incorporates into his performances. He is well-known for his use of masks, and he weaves myth, mime and dance together with comedy and theater, blending a myriad of cultural influences into his performance. His background in psychology, hermetic philosophy and alchemy, are also integrated into his acts. McBride has created a wizardly blend of multicultural entertainment spectacles that echo down the corridors of time to the shamanic origins of  performance magic. New York Times columnist Glenn Collins writes, “What Mr. McBride gives his audiences is a mesmerizing performance…a magic show that is at once a celebration of mystery and a struggle to understand powerful forces.”

In addition to his conventional magic shows, McBride also regularly leads ceremonial rituals at large outdoor gatherings, where he blends performance magic with alchemical “magick” and traditional shamanic rituals, sometimes for several consecutive days and nights. Each year, amongst the ancient redwood trees in the Santa Cruz mountains of California, he leads a five day ritual theater festival called Fire Dance, which combines magic with midnight fires, nonstop drumming, chanting, prayers and performances from many different traditions. The Fire circle festivals are now being done all over world–across the U.S., Hawaii, Amsterdam and Bali.

In addition to his work as a performer, McBride also lectures and runs workshops for such diverse groups as The Smithsonian, The Disney Institute, the International Brotherhood of Magicians, and the Center for Symbolic Studies. McBride also founded The Mystery School, an organization of magicians who are interested in exploring “the deeper sides of the art of magic”. This unique experiential retreat for magicians was the subject of an acclaimed 1994 CBC-TV documentary hosted by Arthur Kent. McBride is also the cofounder of the WorldMagicsTM Festivals–multi-cultural celebrations of the environment, or “enviro-magic”–and with Eugene Burger he teaches regular sessions of “McBride’s Master Class” at his home studio in Las Vegas, as well as semiannual retreats for the further exploration of the magical arts. 

McBride coauthored the book Mystery School: An Adventure into the Deeper Meaning of Magic. Although the book is written primarily for practicing magicians, I think that it would be of interest to anyone intrigued by alchemy, mysticism, and the transformation of consciousness.  His videotaped series teaching “The Art of Card Manipulation” is among the best selling magic teaching videos of all time. To find out more about McBride’s work his web site is: www.mcbridemagic.com

I met Jeff at a large pagan gathering in upstate New York called the Starwood Festival, where he was performing and I was lecturing. Before returning to California, I had lunch at he airport with him, writer R.U. Sirius and his fiancé graphic artist Eve Berni. When the checks arrived at the end of our meal, I quickly snatched up the four leather pouches that hid our checks, and without looking inside them, held them out like I was fanning a deck of cards. I asked everyone to pick a pouch, any pouch. Everyone took a pouch, and when each was opened–miraculously–we all had our own bill. “How did you do that?” Jeff asked. I just smiled.

Jeff currently lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he performs regularly with his wife Abbi Spinner. Earlier this year, McBride previewed his new theatrical show “The Forbidden Secret of Magic” with Abbi and Eugene Burger at Magicopolis magic theatre in Los Angeles, and presented his new grand illusion spectacular “Jeff McBride-Abracadazzle!” to standing ovations at the Claridge in Atlantic City. I interviewed Jeff on September 15, 2002, and again on February 18, 2004. Jeff speaks slowly and precisely. He puts a lot of thought into his words. Jeff has a strong sense of intuition, and a strange synchronicity seemed to guide our conversations. It was as each of his answers seemed to anticipate my next question. Among the many subjects touched upon in this interview, we discussed his background as a magician, the relationship between shamanism and stage magic, and how the placebo effect influences healing.

 

David: What were you like as a child?

Jeff: I was very hyperactive, always looking for a place to store my energy. I was into masks, horror movies, and drumming. I had a lot of energy that I needed to find a creative outlet for. I initially found it through drumming and martial arts. Then I eventually discovered dance and performance magic. These became ways for me to channel all of this energy. I’m still very blessed with this energy, and I found a way to channel the energy at a very early age. 

David: How did you become interested in stage magic?

Jeff: I grew up in upstate New York, and I was very isolated from other kids. There were no magicians in the area. I found a magic book next to the music book that I was studying in school, and that opened up a whole new world for me. I was taking books out from the library on music, and there was a book on magic next to them. I had never really seen magic performed anywhere, but I started reading about it.

David: How old were you at the time?

Jeff: Eight years old. I think every kid, when they’re about seven, eight years old is looking for sense of personal power, something to make them different or stand out. And I was the only magician, and that felt really good to me. There was nobody they could compare me to, as bad as I was.

David: How have your travels influenced your stage performance?

Jeff: My performance is drawn from the roots of many different world theater disciplines. When I was in Japan I studied Kabuki theater. When I was in Europe I studied classical mime at Comedia delle Arte. Wherever I go, I try to pick up some of the influence of the culture–especially by meeting magicians in the many different places that I travel, finding out the way people experience magic differently in the world, and by the way the performers create their magic and rituals.

David: Are there other people who have been integrating mime, dance, comedy, and theater into their magic performance, or is this combination pretty unique to you?

Jeff: I think the blend that I have is quite unique. However, comedy and magic–that’s been done since the very

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Valerie Corral – 2

Valerie Corral

David Jay Brown
Interviews

Valerie Leveroni Corral is the cofounder and director of the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM), the most highly praised medical marijuana collective in California. Corral was the first person in California to challenge the marijuana laws in court, based on the necessity defense, common law doctrine dating to the Magna Carta, and win. She also helped lead the 1996 battle to pass Proposition 215, the state’s medical marijuana law. An article in The New York Times referred to Corral as “the Florence Nightingale and Johnny Appleseed of medical marijuana rolled into one.” And according to High Times magazine, “Valerie’s leadership role in the battle for medical marijuana is unquestioned.”

Corral was in a serious automobile accident in 1973 that left her so severely epileptic that she often suffered from five grand mal seizures a day. With “deliberate application and mindful monitoring”, Corral began using marijuana as an adjunct medicine to help control her seizures in 1974. This treatment soon replaced her rigorous pharmaceutical regimen, and it

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Ram Dass – 3

Ram Dass

David Jay Brown
Interviews 

Ram Dass is one of the most respected and best loved spiritual teachers in the world. His books and lectures are responsible for exposing many Westerners to Eastern philosophy, and he has been an inspiration to many people. He is the author of twelve books about topics such as personal transformation and compassionate social action–including the classic book on Hindu Philosophy Be Here Now

Ram Dass was born with the name Richard Alpert in 1931. He earned an M.A. from Wesleyan University, and a Ph.D. from Stanford University, both in psychology. After earning his Ph.D., he served on the psychology faculties at Stanford and the University of California. From 1958 to 1963 he taught and conducted research at the Department of Social Relations and the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University. In collaboration with Timothy Leary and others, Alpert began researching the psychological effects of psychedelic drugs. This research lead to a storm of controversy, and eventually to their dismissal from the Harvard faculty in 1963.

However, Alpert, Leary, and others continued their pioneering research into the effects of psychedelics at the Millbrook Estate in Dutchess County, New York, which members of the Mellon family had made available to them as a center for their psychedelic research. Here artists, writers, scholars, scientific researchers, spiritual teachers and seekers, celebrities and socialites, came to this grand and beautiful estate to explore the mind-expanding effects of LSD, psilocybin, and other psychedelic plants and potions. Millbrook was where the cultural origins of the Sixties counterculture and the consciousness transformation movement began, and it flourished until the estate was raided in 1966 by G. Gordon Liddy, who was then the District Attorney of Dutchess County.

In 1967 Alpert made his first trip to India, where he met the spiritual teacher, Neem Karoli Baba, who gave him the name Ram Dass, which means “Servant of God”. Under his guru’s guidance, he began to study yoga and meditation, and this profoundly affected his life. Since 1968 Ram Dass has pursued a variety of spiritual practices–including Hinduism and Sufism. His bestselling book Be Here Now was first published in 1971.

Ram Dass created the Hanuman Foundation in 1974 to spread “spiritually-directed social action” in the West. The foundation has developed many projects, including the Prison Ashram Project, designed to help inmates grow spiritually during incarceration, and the Living-Dying Project, which provides support for conscious dying. Both projects still operate today. In 1978 Ram Dass co-founded the Seva Foundation  (Seva means “service” in Sanskrit), an international service organization dedicated to relieving suffering in the world. The Seva Foundation works in public health and social justice issues, and has made major progress in combating blindness in India and Nepal.

Ram Dass is the author or coauthor of twelve hooks. In addition to Be Here Now, his books include Identification and Child RearingThe Psychedelic ExperienceLSDGrist for the MillJourney of AwakeningMiracle of LoveHow Can I Help?, and Compassion in Action. His most recent books are Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing, and Dying, and One-Liners : A Mini-Manual for a Spiritual Life. Ram Dass has lectured in over 230 cities throughout the world, and a documentary about his life and work entitled Ram Dass: Fierce Grace was released in 2002. To find out more about Ram Dass visit: www.ramdasstapes.org

Ram Dass had a stroke in February of 1997, which paralyzed the right side of his body. Despite the difficulty that he has speaking and walking, Ram Dass continues to teach, write and lecture. To help with the symptoms from his stroke, Ram Dass uses medical marijuana, and is a member of the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM), which was started by Valerie Corral, who is also interviewed in this volume. On Nov. 7 2002 WAMM had a fundraising benefit featuring Ram Dass in Santa Cruz, California. At the benefit the Mayor of Santa Cruz, Christopher Krohn, officially proclaimed November 7th as Ram Dass day in Santa Cruz. 

I’ve interviewed Ram Dass on three occasions, and have spent some time hanging out with him at various social events over the years. It’s been a real pleasure spending time with Ram Dass, as he had a big influence on the development of my spiritual perspective. I carried his book Be Here Now around with me everywhere that I went when I was a junior in High School, and, to this day, I still turn to it for inspiration. It feels good to be around Ram Dass, as he seems to simply radiate ‘positive vibes’. He has an uncanny ability to make other people feel good about themselves. Ram Dass is a funny, lovable guy, and he has a lot of charisma, but I think that it’s his profound honesty, and openness about his own spiritual evolution, that makes his teachings so powerful.

I first interviewed Ram Dass in 1994 for my book Voices from the Edge, and then in the Spring of 1997 for Tricycle magazine, several months after his stroke. I interviewed Ram Dass again for this book on May 13, 2004. What follows is a composite of these three conversations. During the post-stroke interviews, Ram Dass had trouble finding words. There were a lot of long pauses, but I could tell that his mind and spirit were essentially unchanged, and I found him more inspirational than ever. I spoke with Ram Dass about how Hinduism and psychedelics helped shape his philosophy, what he thought about such timeless topics as God and death, and how the stroke affected his outlook on life.

 

David: What were you like as a child?

Ram Dass: Cute. I was the littlest member of the family. When I was ten or eleven I played the cello. I was a good kid, except I smoked with my friends. We’d go on our bicycles, in the back of the garage, and we’d smoke. (laughter)

David: How old were you at the time? You mean like early adolescence?

Ram Dass: No, before that. I must have been eleven, or something like that.

David: What originally inspired your interest in the evolution of human consciousness?

Ram Dass: I’m inclined to immediately respond “mushrooms”, which I took in March of 1961, but that was just the beginning feed-in to a series of nets. Once my consciousness started to go all over the place, I had to start thinking it through in order to understand what was happening to me. It wasn’t until after I’d been around Tim Leary, Aldous Huxley and Alan Watts, that I started to reflect about issues like the evolution of consciousness.

David: What drew you to study psychology?

Ram Dass: I’m embarrassed to admit what drew me to psychology. I didn’t want to go to medical school. I was getting good grades in psychology. I was charismatic and people in the psychology department liked me. It was as low a level as that. My whole academic career was totally out of Jewish anxiety, and issues surrounding achievement and adequacy. It was totally sociopolitical. It had nothing to do with intellectual content at all. I taught Freudian theory. Human motivation was my specialty, so I thought a lot about all that stuff. That served me in very good stead because it’s an exquisitely articulated subsystem. If you stay in that subsystem, it’s very finite and not very nourishing. But when you have a meta-system, and then there’s the subsystem within it, then it’s beautiful. It’s like a jewel, just like with chemistry or physics. But when I was in it, it was real. When I was a Freudian, all I saw were psycho-sexual stages of development. And as a behaviorist all I saw were people as empty boxes.

David: How has your experience with psychedelics effected your view of life?

Ram Dass: It had no effect on me whatsoever and nobody should use it! (laughter) The predicament about history is that you keep rewriting the history. I’m not sure, as I look back, whether what appeared to be critical events are really as critical as I thought they were, because a lot of people took psychedelics and didn’t have the reaction I had. That had something to do with everything that went before that moment. In a way I just see it as another event, but I can say that

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Deepak Chopra

David Jay Brown 

Interviews Deepak Chopra

Deepak Chopra, M.D. is a physician, inspirational speaker, and a prolific writer. Dr. Chopra combines conventional Western medical approaches with traditional Ayurvedic medicine from India, and has been one of the leading figures in mind/body medicine for around twenty years. His work has had a significant influence on many Western physicians, and he helped to bring the notion of holistic medicine to many people’s attention with his innovative combination of Eastern and Western healing. Dr. Chopra  has written over thirty books (both fiction and nonfiction) on the topics of alternative medicine, self-improvement, and spirituality–including the New York Times bestsellers Timeless Body, Ageless Mind, How to Know God, and Quantum Healing. He is especially well known for integrating modern theories of quantum physics with the timeless wisdom of ancient cultures.

Dr. Chopra attended medical school at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, where he was trained as an endocrinologist, and graduated in 1969. Formerly the Chief of Staff at Boston Regional Medical Center, Dr. Chopra built a successful endocrinology practice in Boston in the 1980’s. His teaching affiliations included Tufts University and Boston University Schools of Medicine. In 1985 Dr. Chopra  left a successful and highly regarded position as chief of staff at The New England Memorial Hospital in Stoneham, Massachusetts, in order to dedicate his life to expanding the impact and effectiveness of conventional medicine. 

Dr. Chopra lectures around the world, and has made presentations to such organizations as the United Nations, the World Health Organization in Geneva, and London’s Royal Society of Medicine. As the keynote speaker, he appeared at the inauguration of the State of the World Forum, hosted by Mikhail Gorbachev and the Peace and Human Progress Foundation, founded by the former president of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace prize winner Oscar Arias. Esquire Magazine designated Dr. Chopra as one of the top ten motivational speakers in the country; and in 1995, he was a recipient of the Toastmasters International Top Five Outstanding Speakers award. He participates annually as a lecturer at the Update in Internal Medicine event sponsored by Harvard Medical School, Department of Continuing Education and the Department of Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in 1997. In 1999 Time magazine selected Dr. Chopra as one of the “Top 100 Icons and Heroes of the century”, describing him as “the poet-prophet of alternative medicine.”

Dr. Chopra’s  books explore many spiritual and health-related topics. His book How to Know God: The Soul’s Journey into the Mystery of Mysteries presents a seven stage theory of how people perceive religious experiences. Some of his other bestselling books include The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, Unconditional Life, Perfect Health, The Return of Merlin, The Path to Love, and Return of the Rishi. He has also produced more than a hundred audio, video and CD-ROM titles, and his books has been published on every continent, and in dozens of languages. In 1992, he served on the National Institutes of Health Ad Hoc Panel on Alternative Medicine. Dr. Chopra is also the founder of the Chopra Center for Well Being in Carlsbad, California.To find out more visit about Dr. Chopra’s work visit: www.chopra.com

Deepak’s books have been an inspiration to me over the years. He has a real talent for being able to integrate timeless spiritual teachings with the insights of modern science, and to then apply this understanding to finding practical solutions to many of life’s basic problems. I interviewed Deepak on September 4, 2003. I found him to be a very eloquent speaker. He expresses his ideas with clarity, simplicity, and charm. We spoke about the relationship between the mind and body, whether or not one can be certain of spiritual beliefs, psychic phenomena, mystical experiences, and the nature of God and consciousness.

David: What were you like as a child?

Deepak: I grew up in India. I went to a Catholic missionary school, and I was very interested in Shakespeare, the dramatic arts, debating, and cricket. I had a wonderful childhood. My parents were extremely caring and loving. My father was a cardiologist, and he really flooded the house with books of knowledge and literature.

David: How did you become interested in medicine, health and longevity?

Deepak: I wanted to actually be a writer, and I wanted to do fiction, but my father was very keen that I go into medicine. On my fourteenth birthday he gave me several books, which were all fiction, but included physicians as the protagonist. So I switched  to medicine at the last moment, went to pre-med, and went on to become a physician.

David: How important do you think our beliefs about aging are, with regard to how our health is effected by age, and what role do you see the mind playing in physical health?

Deepak: Well, there’s physical age, psychological age, and chronological age. The research data shows that your psychological age influences your biological age more than your chronological age. So your expectations, your beliefs, your anticipation of how you will be at a certain age, certainly influences the biochemistry and biology of aging.

David: How has your understanding of quantum physics and Hinduism influenced your perspective on the nature of consciousness?

Deepak: I’ll give you my perspective on Vedanta. I think Hinduism is a corruption of Vedanta, and I’m not very keen on the Hindu rituals. But Vedantic understanding of consciousness, as the ground of existence, has really influenced my understanding of how the universe works. I am convinced by everything I know scientifically that consciousness is not an epiphenomenon– that it’s the other way around. Matter is the epiphenomenon.  Consciousness conceives, governs, constructs, and ultimately becomes the physical reality.

I believe that consciousness is the ground of being, and it differentiates into both observer and observed. Today from the perspective of quantum physics we also know that matter is energy and information. But energy and information are a potential, unless there’s an observer to collapse the potential into a space-time event. So I think quantum physics, in many ways, validates the original insights of Vedanta.

David: What are your thoughts on telepathy and psychic phenomena, and why do you think so many scientists have such difficulty accepting the possibility that these phenomena actually exist?

Deepak: I think scientists who do not understand non-locality will have difficulty in understanding, or accepting, these phenomena, because the phenomena can’t be explained by conventional science, or even by information technology. The only way these phenomena can be understood is the actualization, simultaneously, in information and nervous systems, that are separated from each other in space-time, from a common non-local domain.

As we understand more about the physics of non-locality–which is really an elaboration of the Einstein-Padolski-Rosen equation and Bell’s Theorem–we will have a better way to explain these phenomena. So-called telepathy, precognition, remembrance of other lifetimes, prophecy, are all examples of simultaneous actualization of information in different nervous systems from a single underlying non-dual, non-local consciousness.

David: One of the themes of your spiritual books is that we create our own realities through the choices that we make in life. However, it seems that much of what happens in life is beyond our personal control. I’m wondering if you think that our personal choices explain everything that happens to us. If we are 100% responsible for the creation of our own realities, how do you explain the atrocities and abuse that small children sometimes face in this world?

Deepak: I think you’re asking a question that has been asked forever– and that is, is there free-will, or is it a deterministic universe? In the enlightened mind, it’s a completely free world and universe. In the conditioned mind, it’s a determined world. We can not squeeze the soul into the volume of a single body, or even the span of a lifetime. So the atrocities and abuse that happens are an interdependent co-rising of a turbulence in the collective ground of consciousness. And it can be very easily understood, if you put it in that context. If you think of a person as an individual, then, of course, there is a great difficulty in explaining these phenomena. From the Vedantic perspective,  the person is an illusion. There is no such thing as a person. A person is in the interwoveness of interbeingness, and  does not have a separate identity. So whatever happens is a result of an interdependent co-arising of space-time events from the virtual or non-local domain.

David: What is your perspective on God, and do you see any teleology in evolution?

Deepak: God is the source of all the information, energy, space-time, and matter that structure the

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Paul Krassner

Paul Krassner

by David Jay Brown

Paul Krassner is a rare blend of satirist, comedian, prankster and political activist. Many comedians and writers–such as George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, Matt Groening, Robert Anton Wilson, and Kurt Vonnegut–have attributed some of their comedic inspiration to Krassner. 

Krassner is perhaps most well-known for publishing the satirical political magazine The Realist, which was the first adult satire magazine.The Realist blurred the distinction between actual news and fictitious humor, and it was often very difficult to tell the difference–which was precisely why the magazine was so much fun. The magazine ran between 1958 and 2001 (with a break between 1974 and 1985). With its irreverent mockery of authority, and its radical politics,The Realist not only paved the way for mainstream adult parody magazines, such asNational Lampoon and Spy, but it was also a large part of the inspiration for the underground press in the Sixties. 

Krassner was a child prodigy violinist. At the age of six, he was the youngest person to ever perform at Carnegie Hall. But his real passion was making people laugh. He wrote for Mad magazine in the Fifties, and he co-founded the Yippies (Youth International Party), with Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman in the Sixties. In fact, Krassner coined the term “Yippie”. The Yippies were a radical, left-wing, largely student-based political organization, that staged public pranks–such as running a pig for president and dropping money from the balcony of the New York Stock Exchange–in order to attract media attention, which they used to spread their political messages. They were pioneers in learning how to launch what Douglas Rushkoff would later call “media viruses”–a media story that carries a cultural message beyond the actual story.

Krassner edited Lenny Bruce’s autobiography, How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, and with Lenny’s encouragement, became a standup comedian himself, opening at the Village Gate in New York in 1961. During the Sixties Krassner often performed on college campuses and at antiwar rallies. When ABC newscaster Harry Reasoner wrote in his memoirs, “Krassner not only attacks establishment values; he attacks decency in general”, Krassner named his one-person show “Attacking Decency in General”, receiving awards from the L.A. Weekly andDramaLogue. Krassner has appeared on numerous television shows–including “Late Night” with Conan O’Brien, and “Politically Incorrect” with Bill Maher–and has written for HBO and Fox television shows, such as Ron Reagan’s late-night TV talk show.

Krassner’s comedy albums include, We Have Ways of Making You LaughBrain Damage ControlSex, Drugs and the AntichristCampaign in the Ass and Irony Lives!  He is also the author and co-author of numerous books, including The Winner of the Slow Bicycle RaceConfessions of a Raving Unconfined NutSex, Drugs and the Twinkie MurdersImpolite Interviews, Pot Stories For the Soul, Magic Mushrooms and Other Highs, and Murder At the Conspiracy Convention & Other American Absurdities.

I interviewed Paul on November 21, 2003. Paul and I have corresponded by email for years, and I was happy to be able to have this opportunity to talk with him at length. Paul has a thoughtful and generous manner about him. He’s very polite, and he can be hilariously funny without even trying, it seems–often taking you by surprise with his unique perspectives. He had me laughing out loud many times during the interview. We talked about how comedy can be used as a tool to help educate people and increase political awareness, why satire often becomes prophetic, what it was like to accompany Groucho Marx on his first acid trip, and why he thinks that the labels of fiction and nonfiction may no longer be permitted in the libraries of the future.

 

David: What were you like as a child?

Paul: I was mischievous. I was also a child-prodigy violinist, and turned out to be the youngest person ever to perform at Carnegie Hall.

David: How old were you?

Paul: I was six years old. But even as a kid violinist I was still mischievous. Somebody would be playing the piano on stage, and I would pull the curtain down on them. Or I would play the violin, and then bow to the audience with my rear end facing them. I just had this predilection for breaking frames.

David: How did you first become interested in politics and satire?

Paul: A year later, when I was seven, I was in elementary school, and one of the kids got in front of the class, pulled down his zipper and exposed himself. He got sent to reform school, and somehow, without having the vocabulary to express it, I felt that the punishment did not fit the crime. So the next day , after having done my self-imposed homework, I got in front of the class, pulled down my zipper, and exposed a drawing that I had made of my penis. And this was intuitive mischief, and even subversion. But the rules seemed to me to be arbitrary. So I did that, and the class laughed. In retrospect, I realize that it was an optimistic move. I thought that because I hadn’t shown my actual penis I wouldn’t be sent to reform school, and I was right about that.

Even before that, on the stage of Carnegie Hall, I woke up while I was playing Vivaldi Concerto in A Minor. I had practiced myself right out of my childhood. What started to wake me up was an itch in my left leg. I knew that I wasn’t supposed to follow the impulse of stopping playing the Volde Concerto, and scratching my leg with my bow, so I simply deferred to my underground laboratory of alternative solutions to a problem. What occurred to me–and I followed the impulse–was to just stand on my left leg, and scratch it with my right foot, without missing a note of the Volde. I did this and the audience laughed. And I woke up to that sound of laughter. I mean, that was my relation to the ultimate mystery of existence, without having any dogma to impose a metphor for the mystery.

But the thing is that I was not trying to make the audience laugh. I was just trying to solve my own problem. So thinking about that I realized–and I understood a lot of this in retrospect–that one person’s logic is another person’s humor. And that perception has served as my process for turning political logic into satire–because they all try to be logical up there. With every lie they tell, they think they’re being logical, and the American population has been dumbed down enough to accept a lot of that logic. So then, as I, as I got older it could apply specifically to social and political contradictions and injustices.

David: Why do you think it’s important to question authority?

Paul: Because authorities don’t necessarily have your interests at heart. They may rationalize–or even genuinely believe–that they have compassion and justice in mind, but too often their real goal is to perpetuate their own power.

David: What inspired you to start The Realist?

Paul: I had been working for a monthly anticensorship paper called The Independent. Lyle Stuart was the editor. I had also been doing some freelance stuff for Mad magazine. But Mad was only for teenagers, essentially, preteens even, and if I would give them a subject that seemed too adult, it would be turned down. I remember talking to the publisher, Bill Gaines about this. They had like a million and a quarter circulation, which was pretty big at the time, and still is. I said, I guess you don’t want to change horses when you’re in midstream. And his answer, which became like a mantra to me, was, “not when the horse has a rocket up it’s ass”. At that moment I understood the bottom line . 

There was no satirical magazine for grown-ups at the time. This was before SpyNational LampoonSaturday Night Live, and Doonsberry. So there was no humor in the things that I was concerned about–which was everything from anti-circumcision to antinuclear testing–because of all the taboos. So if  an anthropologist of the future watched the situation comedies on TV, they wouldn’t be able tell what was festering under the culture of piety. So the motivation for The Realist came from combining the First Amendment

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Bruce Sterling

Bruce Sterling

by David Jay Brown

Bruce Sterling is a science fiction writer and social satirist who helped to create the “cyberpunk” genre, and has had a large influence on computer culture in general. He has written more than ten bestselling science fiction novels, and three short story collections, but, more importantly, he helped to establish a cultural movement that has a deep and lasting effect on how people interact with technology. Sterling appeared on the cover of the very first issue of Wired magazine–an indication of the essential role that he has played in the development of digital culture–and he continues to write a monthly column for the publication.

Sterling grew up in Texas, and, as a teenager, he lived in India, where his father worked on a fertilizer plant project. He began writing at the age of twelve, and he graduated with a degree in journalism from the University of Texas in 1976. The same year he also sold his first science fiction story “Man-Made Self”. A year later his first novel, Involution Ocean, was published. The Artificial Kid was published in 1980 andSchismatrix in 1985.

During the mid-Eighties, under the pseudonym Vincent Omniaveritas, Sterling also began writing and editing a small ”zine” called Cheap Truth, in which he and several other writers mocked the science fiction establishment, and called for a more culturally relevant approach to the genre. This viewpoint, and the fiction associated with it, eventually grew into the cultural phenomenon known as “cyberpunk”–and Sterling became one of its most prominent voices.

The cyberpunk culture produced the first wave of computer users–who were not part of the scientific community or the military establishment–that set out and explore the cultural potential of the internet. They created the first digital subcultures, an explosion of online communities, that shared an interest in cutting-edge technology, chemically-enhanced intelligence, and personal freedom. This cultural impact of the movement–particularly on the development of the World Wide Web, and as the inspiration behind such films as The Matrix–can barely be understated.

Sterling edited the book Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology in 1986, which is considered to be the classic collection of the cyberpunk genre. Some of Sterling’s other science fiction novels include Islands in the Net, Distraction, Zeitgeist, Schismatrix Plus, The Zenith Angle, and his dark tale of a global-warming future, Heavy Weather. Some of his short story collections include Globalhead, Crystal Express, and A Good Old Fashioned Future. Sterling has also collaborated with a number of other writers, such as Rudy Rucker and John Kessel, on a variety of short stories, and he co-authored The Difference Engine with William Gibson.

Sterling is also the author of two nonfiction books, including The Hacker Crackdown: Law And Disorder On The Electronic Frontier, which explores issues in computer crime and civil liberties. The book was inspired in 1990 after the U.S. Secret Service began raiding people’s homes and offices as part of a nationwide “hacker crackdown”. After publishing the book in a conventional format in 1992, Sterling released the work in free electronic form on the internet–as “an act of citizenship”–where it was widely disseminated, and can be found on hundreds of web sites around the world today. Sterling’s most recent nonfiction book is Tomorrow Now: Envisioning the Next 50 Years, which contains his thoughts and speculations about the future.

In 1996 Sterling published a novel about life-extension technology and outlaw anarchists called Holy Fire. His research for the novel sparked an interest in industrial design, and as this interest grew, in the late 90’s, it merged with Sterling’s growing concern about global climate change. This inspired Sterling to start the Viridian Design Movement (www.viridiandesign.org), whose goal is to advance environmental awareness through revolutionary art and design. The movement’s most recent accomplishment is that Austin, Texas–Sterling’s home base–has officially declared itself to be the Clean Energy Capital of the World.

Although Sterling travels around doing public speaking quite a bit, he spends most of his time in Austin, where he continues to write fiction and magazine articles, and he regularly updates his web log “Beyond the Beyond” (blog.wired.com/sterling). I interviewed Bruce on December 15, 2003. Bruce has a sharp mind and a quick wit. He’s got an imagination that certainly goes over the edge, but he’s also very practical, and very funny. I got the impression that any concept that was more than a few years old seemed like ancient history to him. We talked about the difficulty distinguishing between satire and reality, corporations of the future, the Dairy Product Theory of Dead Media, and how a permanent state of disequilibrium can be a very creative place.

 

David:  What were you like as a child?

Bruce: My father always told me I was quite solemn and silent as a small child. I didn’t speak until I was three. I was quiet and observant, not very boisterous–an unsmiling, round-eyed child. I spent a lot time staring at ant hills, apparently.

David:  What inspired you to start writing science fiction, and what inspires you to write it today?

Bruce: Well, I read a lot of it. It was my favorite reading matter. I was very influenced by it as a youngster. Then, in my college days, I actually fell into bad company–people who were ambitious to write science fiction–and I learned something about the industry that way. I just taught myself how to do it, and hung out with people who were doing it. I was always very interested in the subculture. I’m interested in all forms of subculture really. It just turned out that I had a knack for it, and I couldn’t find anything else better to do. And that’s still the case.

David:  How has your interest in science and technology influenced your fiction?

Bruce: My father was an engineer, and there are a lot of oil and gas people in my family. An uncle of mine is an entomologist. So there was science and engineering in my family background. It was not some kind of alien thing. It was how we ate, really. I mean, that was our industrial base there. So I never felt alienated by it. Or surprised by it. It was just a normal thing for me. I’m still very interested in the oil and gas industry, although I rarely write about it. People like to call science fiction “science” fiction, but the more time I spend with it, the more I realize that it’s not primarily concerned with science. You get your best effects out of areas that are better described as engineering or industrial design.

David:  How has satire played a role in your work, and why do you like to mix real facts with your fiction?

Bruce: Well, people call that stuff satire, but I like to think of it in the terms that H.G. Wells did. He said that if you want to write about the future, you need to the triple the phenomena that you’re writing about–not because things always triple, but because if you double it, people think you’re merely exaggerating. And if you quadruple it, nobody can tell what the hell you’re talking about. So if you take some small phenomenon, that looks like it’s going to become a great common place someday, you start extrapolating it. You could blow it up to three times normal size, and point out that it may have a much stronger effect than it seems to be having at the moment–and that effect looks satirical.

It looks and smells like satire, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be humorous. It may well be a rather accurate description of what’s likely to happen. If you live in a growing town and the traffic triples, you will have big traffic jams. If you anticipate this in print, it may sound quite funny, but it’s not very funny when you’re actually in one. (laughter) It’s not at all uncommon for traffic to triple in some places.

David:  You’ve collaborated with several other writers–such as Rudy Rucker and William Gibson–on short stories and novels. Can you talk a little about this process of collaboration, and how you go about writing something with another writer?

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Clifford Pickover

Clifford Pickover
 
David Jay brown

 

Clifford Pickover is one of the most popular and prolific science writers in America. He is the author of over thirty popular science books, and science fiction novels, which investigate a diverse range of mind-expanding topics–such as time travel, black holes, extraterrestrial biology, mathematics, creativity and computers. Some of Dr. Pickover’s more popular books include Chaos in Wonderland, Surfing Through Hyperspace, Time: A Traveler’s Guide, The Science of Aliens, and The Paradox of God. What all of his books share in common is a transcendence of the ordinary world, and a fascination with the beyond. “My primary interest,” said Dr. Pickover, “is in finding new ways to continually expand creativity by melding art, science, mathematics and seemingly-disparate areas of human endeavor. I seek not only to expand the mind but to shatter it.”

Dr. Pickover received his Ph.D. from Yale University’s Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry. He is currently a Research Staff Member at the IBM T. J. Watson Research Center, where he has received over 35 invention achievement awards, and three research division awards. Dr. Pickover is also the associate editor of Computers and Graphics magazine, and he holds over 30 U.S. patents for unusually innovative inventions, mostly in the field of computer hardware, software, and novel ways of interacting with computers. According to Omni magazine, “Pickover is van Leeuwenhoek’s 20th century equivalent.” Wired magazine said, “Bucky Fuller thought big, Arthur C. Clarke thinks big, but Cliff Pickover outdoes them both.”

Dr. Pickover published his first book in 1990, Computers, Pattern, Chaos and Beauty, an introduction to mathematics, filled with dazzling computer graphics and mind-challenging puzzles. “No human being should pass up the experience of stepping through the portals of this beautiful book,” said Martin Gardner in Scientific American. This was the first of a series of educational books designed by Dr. Pickover to make science and mathematics more fun and exciting. The latest book in this series, Calculus and Pizza, may be the easiest route there is to learning calculus. 

Dr. Pickover has a strong passion for mathematical puzzles, as evidenced by his books Wonders of Numbers, Mazes for the Mind,The Mathematics of Oz, and The Zen of Magic Squares. He is also the “Brain-Strain” columnist forOdyssey magazine, the puzzle writer for Studyworks, and, for many years, he was the “Brain-Boggler” columnist for Discover magazine. He even produces an annual puzzle calender, so that puzzle lovers can test their wits against a different logic, word, math, or mazelike puzzle each day of the week. Dr. Pickover enjoys tinkering with complex mathematical brainteasers the way most people play with jigsaw puzzles. “Pickover just seems to exist in more dimensions than the rest of us,” said Ian Stewart in Scientific American.  Some of Dr. Pickover’s other books which explore mathematics and physics include Computers and the Imagination, Keys to Infinity, Black Holes: A Traveler’s Guide, Circles and Stars, The Girl Who Gave Birth to Rabbits, The Alien IQ Test, and Dreaming the Future: The Fantastic Story of Prediction. 

Dr. Pickover is drawn to enigmas of all sorts it seems, and one of the more puzzling associations that he has explored in depth is the peculiar relationship between psychopathology and creativity. He is the author of the classic book on the topic of how brain pathologies play a role in scientific and artistic creativity–Strange Brains and Genius: The Secret Lives of Eccentric Scientists and Madmen. On the surface, an association between genius and insanity seems paradoxical, yet Dr. Pickover uncovers quite a large and convincing pool of evidence for such a connection.

Some of Dr. Pickover’s more theological or philosophical books include The Loom of GodThe Paradox of God and the Science of Omniscience, and The Stars of Heaven. Dr. Pickover is also the author of several science fiction novels. There are four books in his NeoReality series: The Lobotomy Club, Liquid Earth, Sushi Never Sleeps, and Egg Drop Soup. He is also the co-author of Spider Legs, which he wrote with the eminent science fiction and fantasy writer Piers Anthony. 

Dr. Pickover lives in Yorktown Heights, New York. I met Cliff over the internet, where he has a very active presence, and we communicate regularly by email. His personal web site is www.pickover.com, where you can find his exceedingly popular Reality Carnival web log (RealityCarnival.Com), which “explores the edges of science, altered realities, near-death experiences, and unsolved mysteries, from parallel universes and exotic sushi to religion, science, and psychedelics.” 

I interviewed Cliff in February of 2003, and then again in January of 2004. Cliff’s mind is a rare blend of intelligence and imagination, and the breadth of thought that he explores is simply brain-boggling. He’s unusually focused and curious–like a laser beam and a search light–and he balances his eyebrow-furling skepticism with a radical kind of open-mindedness. We talked about the possibilities of artificial and alien intelligence, extraterrestrial zoology, and about setting up a DMT machine-elf research center. We also discussed the role that the creative imagination plays in science, the relationship between scientific creativity and mental illness, and how religious experiences can be the consequence of unusual brain states.

 

David: What were you like as a child, and how did you become interested in science, mathematics, and writing?  

Clifford: I’ve been interested in science and math since childhood. While growing up in New Jersey, my bedroom featured anatomical models of the heart, brain, and eye; posters of the human circulatory system; trilobite fossils, science-fiction books, and Ugly Stickers displaying those funny, alienlike creatures with names like ‘Bob’, ‘Sandy’, and ‘Iris’. My father would continually make mazes for me to solve with pencil and paper. Martin Gardner’s books were influential. 

My childhood fascination with science and mathematics arose from my interest in knowing more about how the world works and also from my passion for science fiction. I remember that one of my favorite science-fiction tales was Henry Hasse’s “He Who Shrank,” originally published in 1936, which describes the exploration of subatomic universes filled with machine civilizations. I think that many scientists and science popularizers got kick-started by reading science fiction. Additionally, my parents encouraged scientific pursuits. 

I should note that I have also been very interested in words and writing from an early age. In high school, whenever I came across an exceptionally colorful phrase or quotation in a book, I’d write it down in a notebook.  I still have that notebook today and refer to it. Obviously, language is the primary medium with which we think and communicate ideas to others. When one reads language in written form, one is really decoding symbols. It is through the interactions of such symbols that we create new worlds, new images, new thoughts. For a long time, I have held a fascination with colorful symbols and words. Words are meant to be petted and stroked. They are meant to allow us to transcend space and time, and to inspire visions.

David: What kind of an effect do you think science fiction has had on the evolution of scientific research and the development of scientific theory?   

Clifford:  I like to think of science fiction as the ‘literature of edges’ because the topics are poised on the edge of what is and what might be. Certainly, science fiction is a literature of change. Moreover, our universe is a science-fiction universe, filled with mystery–constantly fluctuating and evolving. Isaac Asimov said that “science fiction is the only form of literature that consistently considers the nature of the changes that face us, the possible consequences, and the possible solutions.” Most scientists grew up reading science fiction, so how could science fiction not affect scientific research and theories?  Note that many of my science books included science-fiction story lines to stimulate readers’ interest in the science. These science books with science-fiction plots include Black Holes: A Traveler’s Guide, Time: A Traveler’s Guide, The Stars of Heaven, Surfing through Hyperspace,

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Peter Russell

David Jay Brown
Interviews
Peter Russell

Peter Russell is a bestselling author, filmmaker, and management consultant. He is considered one of the leading thinkers on the nature and evolution of consciousness. Russell is probably best known for his pioneering book The Global Brain, which builds upon James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis, by exploring the notion that the human species might be playing the role of a giant evolving brain in our planetary biosphere. Some of Russell’s other popular books include Waking Up in Time, The Consciousness Revolution, and From Science to God. Common themes in Russell’s books include the integration of science and mysticism, avoiding ecological catastrophe, the relationship between personal transformation and global change, and the future evolution of the human species. Russell believes that is that only way humanity is going to survive the current global crisis is through a shift in consciousness.

Russell earned an honors degree in theoretical physics and experimental psychology– as well as a master’s degree in computer science–at the University of Cambridge, England, where he studied under Stephen Hawking. For his postgraduate degree in computer science he conducted some of the early work on 3-dimensional displays, which later became part of the foundation for the computer-simulated worlds of Virtual Reality. He subsequently went to India where he explored meditation and Eastern philosophy. On his return to the U.K. he took up the first research post ever offered in Britain on the psychology of meditation, and conducted research into the neurophysiology of meditation at the University of Bristol.

Russell is a fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, The World Business Academy, The Findhorn Foundation, and he is an Honorary Member of The Club of Budapest. He was also one of the first people to introduce personal development programs to corporations in the 1970s. In the mid-Seventies Russell teamed up with Tony Buzan, and helped teach “Mind Maps” and learning methods to a variety of international organizations and educational institutions. Since then his corporate programs have focused increasingly on self-development, creativity, stress management, and sustainable environmental practices. His clients have included IBM, Apple, Digital, American Express, Barclays Bank, Swedish Telecom, ICI, Volvo, Shell Oil, British Petroleum, and other major international corporations.

Russell’s books are used as required reading at a number of universities, and have been translated into numerous languages. Ted Turner described The Global Brain Awakens as “A fascinating vision of how the information revolution is shifting consciousness. A much needed optimistic perspective on humanity’s future.” Robert Anton Wilson called Waking Up in Time “Absolutely brilliant.”

Russell has also created award-winning films based on The Global Brain and The White Hole in Time, and he was working on a new film project at the time of this interview. Russell has been a keynote speaker at many conferences in Europe, Japan and the USA. In 1993 the environmental magazine Buzzworm voted him “Eco-Philosopher Extraordinaire” of the year. Further information about Russell’s work may be found on his Web site: www.peterussell.com

I interviewed Peter on March 15, 2004. Peter’s book The Global Brain was an important book for me in my personal development, so I was happy to be able to have the opportunity to chat with him. I had met Peter only once before, around ten years earlier, at a social gathering at the home of Robert Anton Wilson. Peter is holistic and interdisciplinary in his thinking. He sees the Big Picture, and he has a gift for being able to communicate his insights. There’s an elegance, and a simplicity, to the way Peter can make so many diverse areas of thought come together. We spoke about the ecological dangers facing our species, why change is accelerating in evolution, the relationship between light and consciousness, and the possibility of a spiritual renaissance in humanity’s future.

David: What were you like as a child?

Peter: I was always a practical scientist at heart. I loved building things and doing experiments. I loved mathematics and working things out. I was always constructing stuff and solving problems.

David: What inspired your interest in the evolution of consciousness?

Peter: I think that was always there in the background. Many people ask me if I had a transformational moment, and I didn’t really. As a teenager I was fascinated by the mind. I read stories about yogis, started exploring hypnosis, and I built equipment that modified brain wave patterns. Although I was studying mathematics and physics then, and getting more and more fixed in that direction, I was always interested in the mind. So I knew there was something there, and my interest gradually evolved. 

At the time I wasn’t interested in spirituality at all. I rejected religion when I was about thirteen. I thought it was a load of mumbo-jumbo that didn’t make sense at all, and didn’t agree with the scientific worldview. Although I wasn’t interested in the spiritual aspects of consciousness, I was interested in the untapped potentials of the mind. I think that’s what eventually lead me to explore mediation when I was in my early twenties. That’s when I started getting really interested.

David: What sort of paradigm shift do you think is necessary for Western science to begin to get a grasp on consciousness?

Peter: I think the essence of the paradigm shift is to let go of the idea that the material world–the world of space, time, and matter–is the fundamental reality. In some sense that’s already happening in modern physics. We’re realizing that space, time, and matter don’t really exist in an absolute way. That came out Einstein’s revolution. But, at the moment, we still think that consciousness emerges from the material world–and that, I think, is the fundamental problem with the current paradigm. Consciousness is so fundamentally different from material things.

We assume matter is unconscious, and then somehow this magical thing happens–when you put matter together in the form of a complex human brain consciousness somehow emerges out of it. The huge problem there for the current paradigm is how does matter, which we assume to be unconscious, ever lead to something so different as subjective experience? So I think the essence of the paradigm shift is challenging that assumption. That’s the assumption that science won’t let go of, and challenging that assumption means saying, maybe consciousness does not come out of the material world. It does not emerge from matter. Rather, consciousness is fundamental to the cosmos.

What I find fascinating is that when we make that shift, it doesn’t change anything at all in modern science. Physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics–they all stay exactly the same. But it adds a whole new understanding of human experience and spirituality. That’s common in paradigm shifts: the old model is still valid, but as a special case. So  the materialist worldview still has its place, but it’s a special case of considering only physical reality. 

David: You’ve pointed out in your writings that both science and religion agree that the universe started with light. Could you talk a little bit about the relationship that you see between consciousness and light?

Peter: Yes. First of all, I’m fascinated by the fact we use the same language. We talk about “the light of consciousness”, “the inner light”. We say “someone is alight”. I had this “flash” of inspiration. We talk about” enlightenment”. Or when someone’s unconscious we say, “the lights went out”. The word light is associated with consciousness in many ways, and I always found that. Then as I got more and more into physics I specialized in the nature of light, from the perspectives of quantum physics and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. What I found fascinating was that modern physics says that, from light’s point of view, light itself doesn’t know time or space, and doesn’t have any mass. 

So light seems to be beyond the framework of space, time and matter. I think a lot of the problems that science has had in trying to understand light is because it’s trying to explain light as a material phenomena. That’s why you get things like the wave-particle paradox. We insist that light somehow fits into space, time, and matter. But ultimately it’s beyond them. 

Now when you start looking at what the mystics say about when they get down to really looking at the true, fundamental nature of consciousness, they say consciousness in itself doesn’t actually exist in space or time, and consciousness has no mass. And a lot of the problems that we have with consciousness also come from trying to force it into a space-time-matter understanding. Consciousness seems to lie beyond space, time, and matter in the same way that light does. 

When we consider mystical experience,

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Douglas Rushkoff

David Jay Brown 

Interviews Douglas Rushkoff

Douglas Rushkhoff

Douglas Rushkoff is a media theorist and social commentator. His books, articles, newspaper columns, talks, and NPR commentaries thoughtfully explore the psychological and sociological consequences of technology, mass media, advertising and youth culture. He is one of the most widely-read media critics in America, and although he is considered one of the world’s experts on youth culture and advertising, his ideas are not without controversy. 

When Ruskkoff’s first book on media theory, Media Virus, was published in 1994, critics initially viewed his upbeat assessments of how teenagers were playfully deconstructing mass media as too idealistic. His ideas–which quickly became popular with younger generations–went against the conventional assumption that computer games and MTV videos were necessarily bad for kids. Rushkoff contended that the new interactive information technologies had the power to accelerate thought and increase intelligence. 

Rushkoff’s enthusiasm for youth culture and new technology seemed reminiscent of Timothy Leary’s optimism, and, in fact, Rushkoff’s theories about media built upon Leary’s idea that each generation is a new breed of human–almost a new species–and that kids nowadays have nervous systems that process information in ways that are faster and less linear than previous generations. Rushkoff also expanded upon British biologist Richard Dawkins’s concept of “memes”–units of culture, which replicate like genes–to create the idea of a “media virus”, an idea that spreads through populations due to the media shell that surrounds it.

Ironically, after mainstream businesses and respected academics did start to take Rushkoff’s ideas and observations about media and youth culture seriously (simply because his theories had true predictive value), some people in the digital counterculture saw Rushkoff as something of a “sellout”, largely because he began consulting for Fortune 500 companies. But Rushkoff defends his actions by saying that he has always stayed true to his ideals. Whether he’s addressing a “corporate-culture” or a “counterculture” audience, Rushkoff has always aimed to be a cheerleader for change, growth, cooperation and creativity–what Timothy Leary would have called an “evolutionary agent”. He is trying to help the human race evolve, and one of the ways to do that, he believes, is to break down the artificial distinction between “us” and “them”.

Although Rushkoff is media theorist by trade, this hasn’t stopped him from writing books about everything from altered states of consciousness to Judaism. In addition to Media Virus, Rushkoff’s other popular nonfiction books–which include CyberiaPlaying the Future, and Coercion–explore such themes as the hidden agendas in popular culture, the relationship between computer culture and psychedelic drugs, social values and corporate coercion. He is also the author of two novels, Ecstasy Club and Exit Strategy, as well as the graphic novelClub Zero-G, which explore such diverse topics as rave culture, computer hacking, and the nature of consciousness. In addition, he co-authored the book Stoned Free (with Patrick Wells) about methods for getting high without drugs, and he edited The Gen X Reader, a collection of essays about new trends in thought and culture. His latest book, Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism, moves away from these cyberculture themes and explores Rushkoff’s quest to find meaning in Judaism.

Rushkoff was the correspondent for PBS’s award-winning Frontline documentary on teenage culture, The Merchants of Cool. His weekly commentaries air on CBS Sunday Morning, National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, and they appear on the back page of Timemagazine. Rushkoff also writes for many popular magazines, and his monthly column on cyberculture is distributed through the New York Times Syndicate. He lectures regularly at conferences and universities around the world, and has served as an adjunct professor of communication at New York University. He also served as an Advisor to the United Nations Commission on World Culture, and on the advisory boards of the Media Ecology Association and the Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics. 

Rushkoff lives in New York City’s East Village. I interviewed him on October 17, 2003. I’ve corresponded with Doug for several years, and was glad to finally have this opportunity to talk at length with him. Doug strikes me as being unusually sincere; he seems genuinely and deeply devoted to the process of discovery and education. There’s a childlike playfulness in the way that he explores sophisticated ideas. I spoke with Doug about the interplay between youth culture, corporate culture, and the counterculture. We discussed theories of media and media viruses, and the sociological implications of having a generation of reality hackers with their hands on the dashboard of creation.

David: What were you like as a child?

Douglas: I guess it would depend on who you talk to. Or, more importantly, on when you think the childhood ends. I mean, I’m still a child, right? 

I think I was a recontextualizer as a kid. I think I looked at situations, and then tried to keep reframing them. In other words, I would look at, say, the classroom I was sitting in and think, well, what’s really going on here? Is this one older person talking to lots of younger people? Or is this some sort of imitation of a factory floor? And then the teacher’s like the foreman, and we’re the workers. Or is it a family? And the teacher’s like the mommy, and we’re the children. So I just spent a lot of time as a kid, not really imagining things or imagining new scenarios, as much as seeing whatever situation I was in in different ways–and spending a lot of effort to keep my sense of things fluid rather than really fixed. 

David: Are you saying that you didn’t really have any firm belief systems as a child?

Douglas: I don’t know if I thought of it that way. But, I think, for various reasons, probably out of fear, or getting picked on, or being isolated, or being in situations that didn’t really work well for me, I developed a tactic of being able to reimagine the situations I was in as something else. 

Gosh, if you were a slave in ancient Rome, or a victim in some truly catastrophic situation, it would behoove you to be able to re-imagine all this as a scenario in which this is all actually okay–the way a starving Hindu might imagine what he’s doing is paying penitence, so that he can come back in a better life. Most simply, you come up with a story that suits the circumstances around you, but is more pleasing than the story that you seem to be in. Like anyone I developed this technique out of necessity, but then I managed to turn it into something fun, even artistic, and it ended up serving me as a philosophy later on. 
But the simplest way of answering the question would just be to say that, as a kid, I was naughty. I was not naughty in the big sense. I didn’t shoot people, or hurt anybody, but I was kind of devilish, more of a trickster child. I was class clown, but with purpose.

David: How did you become interested in writing about the media and youth culture?

Douglas: I don’t know if it speaks well of me, but I became interested in writing because it was something I could do without sponsorship, and without collaborating. It seemed that everything else that I was interested in involved working with and for other people–some of whom seemed dedicated to interests other than the project at hand. I was very interested in theater and film, but they always required collaboration, and they required someone else’s money to actually do the thing. I got interested in writing because it was something I could do without anybody’s help, without any sponsorship. You had to get it published, and to get it out there in the world you had to collaborate. But just to write, no. It’s just you.

I started by writing about all the weirdness that was going on in the late 80’s–the beginning of internet culture, the psychedelic revival, rave culture, chaos math and new physics, and fantasy role-playing games–all the stuff that ended up coalescing as the book Cyberia. It all seemed to me to be part of a single kind of mass cultural phenomenon–where people felt that they were getting their hands on the dashboard of creation, that people could now design reality in one way or another. And that seemed like a real, almost a categorical shift to me, and something worth telling people about. Although I wrote a couple of cyberdelic screenplays back then, it’s really hard to get whatever millions you need to get a movie made. But writing articles about that was a no-brainer. Even mainstream publications were willing to let me write about this stuff because no one else knew about it at the time. 

So I ended up getting a writing career, less because my writing was particularly good, than because I had access to a story, and a perspective on a story that wasn’t really being covered by anybody else. Then the more I wrote, the more I liked the actual writing and wordsmithing, and then realized that it was a better fit for me. At least for the last twenty years it’s been a better fit for my personality and my way of working than theater was.

David: What do you think adults can learn from youth culture?

Douglas: Why they can learn about the future. Everybody tries to forecast the future using all sorts of strange methodologies about what’s going to happen. So much effort has been expended exploring the question, where’s the human race going? When all that you have to do is look at kid. A kid is basically the next model of human being. So, if you want to know, where’s evolution taking us–whether it’s physical evolution or cultural evolution–you look at kids, because they are quite literally the future.

The other thing we can learn from kids is the trending of our cognitive and neural habits. You can see most readily the different ways that kids draw connections between things than we do, the different ways of processing information. If you can hold back from being judgmental about it, for just a moment, to look at what it is that’s going on for them and inside them. I mean, yeah, there are many tendencies that are very upsetting–a shortened attention span, less memory, less reading, and less consideration, okay, okay, okay. But if you look beyond those surface observations and focus instead on children’s cognitive functioning and pattern recognition, it becomes a lot more interesting. 

You can start to see the differences between the way kids process information and the way we do as being almost as profound as the differences between the way  literate culture looked at things from the way oral culture did before it. There are some extraordinary shifts taking place. Cerrtain things were lost when we learned to write things down. Memory, for one. But other things were gained.

David: I really enjoyed your book Media Virus. You wrote that quite a while ago now.

Douglas: Yeah, that’s still one of my favorites actually. I wrote that in, I guess, 93. It came out 94. It’s funny. That book was basically about the Web–only before the Web came out, you know what I mean? The web wasn’t really around yet, but it’s kind of–it’s not premonitory, that’s too strong a word. But I was already intimating that there were a whole bunch of new pathways about to be opened through which media messages could move from person to person–sideways, down and up, and in all these other ways. 

In Media Virus I’m talking about faxes, usenet groups, and the very beginnings of email, and trying to tell people that, someday, you’ll be using email too, and there will be all sorts of viral communications going on. I remember literally getting laughed out of cocktail parties in New York in 94 and 95 when that book came out, because I was claiming that people would actually have computers on their desks, and internet connections in their homes.

David: They wouldn’t have laughed at you here in California.

Douglas: Exactly. That’s why I spent so much time there, then.

David: Could you define what you mean by a media virus? How the concept related to Richard Dawkin’s concept of memes, and how can media viruses be used to help prevent what Noam Chomsky calls “the manufacture of consent”?

Douglas: Yeah, well, in the hopeful vision I guess it could prevent that. A media virus is really just an idea that’s wrapped in a shell of media. If a real virus, a biological virus, is DNA’s code wrapped in protein, a media virus is ideological or conceptual code–what Richard Dawkins calls memes–wrapped in a media shell. And the point of a viral shell is to allow it to pass unrecognized through the body, or from body to body. So it’s got to really have a way of transmitting, a reason for it to move from person to person.

So a media virus, say the Rodney King tape, is first and foremost a media story, not about Rodney King, but about the tape itself. The reason why that homemade, camcorder video of a black guy getting beaten by white cops spread around the world overnight was not really so much because a black guy was getting by white cops. That happened all the time. The reason that it spread around the country was because the real story was someone caught this on camcorder. So this was a story about media. The shell of the Rodney King media virus is the tape itself. It’s not the carrier, that it’s on videotape. But rather, it’s the story of media being used in a new way. 

Media wants to grow. Media is a living thing. So media passes stories about media more than it passes anything else. But once that virus is spread, it releases it’s code, and that decides whether or not it’s going to replicate and survive. And the code of this virus really did challenge our cultural code. Just as a biological virus, the genes inside it, the DNA inside it, literally interperlates itself into our own genetic code. It turns our cells into virus factories. The media virus uses it’s ideological code, it’s memes, to interperlate itself into our cultural code. So if we have cultural weaknesses, if there are gaps, conflicts, or contradictions in our cultural code, then the meme will find a place to nest, and the virus will end up replicating. 

So, whether it’s Madonna talking about sex, or Howard Dean exploiting Friendster, or meetup.com, media viruses are launched when people use a medium in a new way. Then, once they have your attention, if the viruses can release ideas, code, or concepts even, that challenge the weaknesses of the culture at any given moment, then they’ll succeed and they’ll move on. Unfortunately, the main group that took up the notion of media viruses were marketers, and it quickly became what they’re calling “viral marketing”. It’s all based on Media Virus. So, on the one hand, I launched a terrific virus. But, on the other hand, it mutated into something that I didn’t expect.

I did see media viruses as way to break down the predictability of the media space, and to challenge a lot of the authorities that people like Chomsky are talking about, by creating a bottom-up media, a way for ideas to spread, and a new channel for activists to get their ideas spread faster and better than anyone else. And sometimes it works. There are thousands of terrific blogs out there, and uppity web sites, from Smoking Gun to Matt Drudge, and they are all sorts of great stories about ideas that have trickled up. But the powers that be tend to imitate the properties of media viruses, the same way that Miller or Budweiser can create a fake microbrewery to make people think that they’re drinking a local beer. Or Starbucks creates fake local coffee houses, that don’t have the Starbucks name on them, just to look like their own competition.

David: What are some of the other ways that major corporations have used media viruses? 

Douglas: One campaign, which was based on Media Virus, that I was told about by the creative people responsible for it was a Calvin Klein campaign, where, apparently, they had all these photos of underage kids in their underwear, and it was reminiscent somehow of child porn. All the Christian groups and child protection groups complained, and Calvin Klein took it off the billboards, or out of magazines. But it had been their intent the whole time to a do a campaign that they would be forced to take down, because they knew they would get far more secondary media attention than they could ever pay for. So for two or three days every newscaster is carrying the Calvin Klein story. So they get name out there. And they get their name out there as a dangerous company that’s doing cool, weird, sexy, rule-breaking stuff, which then, I suppose, makes their underwear seem sexy and naughty, and cool for people to use. 

David: At least to their pedophilic clientele.

Douglas: So that would be a more commercial use of a media virus. I guess the thing that bothers me most about it is not just that it was for commercial culture, or corporate culture, but that it was kind of disingenuous to begin with. It wasn’t really an advertising campaign. It was an advertising campaign created to get taken off the air. In other words, because it was so thought-out in a certain way, it just doesn’t feel genuine to me.

David: What do you mean when you refer to corporations as being an empty set of operating commands, or as dead things, with nobody really in charge?

Douglas: When I’m talking about corporations being mindless usually what I’m trying to do is empower the people that are working for them. It’s funny, a lot of times I’ll be invited to speak at a conference, or even at a corporation, to all the workers and people there, and people in the counterculture get all upset. They think, oh it’s this horrible sellout thing I’m doing to take money to talk to their employees. But what I’m trying to demonstrate to the employees, what I’m trying to explain to them, is that the corporation doesn’t really exist. The corporation is paperwork. It’s a list of rules, through which people are supposed to interact, or priorities that they’re supposed to follow, but there’s nobody home. 

I mean, the worker is listening to the executive, who’s listening to the CEO, who’s listening to the shareholder, who’s just Joe Public finally. It’s the same person walking into the store. So it’s very easy to say, oh corporations are to blame, these horrible entities, but corporations are not conscious. Corporations are groups of people acting in concert, following a set of rules. And what people forget is that those rules can be changed. We’re not here to be at the mercy of a piece of paper. A corporation is like a computer program. What I’m saying, most simply, is that this means the people who think that they are the victims of the corporations they are working for–or that they have shares of, or that are in their communities–have access to the codes through which those corporations exist.

David: How does this type of corporate structure allow for underground artists, psychedelic tricksters, and political activists to “sneak” their unconventional ideas into the public domain? 

Douglas: There’s a lot of different ways that activists, and wonderful strange people, can get involved in changing the reality in which they live. Sometimes I think the most valuable thing is just to do things that change people’s conception of stuff. In other words, rather than actually taking down a corporation, just demonstrating to everyone in a community that they don’t have to buy their stuff at Walmart. I mean, that, in and of itself, is kind of an eye-opener. Or that there are maybe laws protecting them. Or just that they have a say in what goes on. That they can chose how they think. That they don’t have to work seven days a week. That they might have enough stuff. That there are ways to have fun without buying products. That they can get laid without having those jeans. Those are the things. That’s the area that’s most interesting to me. 

As far as weird people being able to get their messages disseminated by media companies, yeah, that happens too. I mean, because some of them are so big, one right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing–so that Warner Music ends up publishing Cop Killer. Or Paramount-Viacom ends up creating Beavis and Butthead, which ends up really killing the rock video as a revenue stream and as a marketing tool. Because now you’ve got Beavis and Butthead, the creation of a wonderful crazy animator down in Texas, Mike Judge, where they’re deconstructing MTV on television. And fourteen year olds are watching that, realizing, oh, that’s how rock videos are put together. And that’s the way they’re supposed work on my head. So people wonder why they don’t show rock videos on MTV anymore, and that’s really the reason. It’s because those two little animated creatures deconstructed it, and were there someone in charge, they probably wouldn’t have let that happen.      

David: Who are the different audiences that you address in your books, and why do you think it’s important to break down the concept of “us” and “them”.
Douglas: When I wrote Coercion, which was my sixth or seventh book, I wrote that because, I realized my other books were too advanced in some ways. Books like CyberiaMedia Virus, and Playing the Future are celebrating interactivity, and our ability to become the authors in our own media space–the people who hack through the systems one way or another, spread their messages, and build their own reality. That was exciting to me. And there were thousands, or maybe hundreds of thousands, of people out there who were excited about this opportunity. But what I realized was that the majority of people in America not only didn’t only know that opportunity existed, but didn’t even know why they should. Or that they were not conscious people looking to make a change in the world, but were, pretty much, unconscious people, at the mercy of the media messaging they were receiving. 

I realized not everyone had gone through all the stages that my friends and I had gone through, that most people were still in the thrall of the mainstream media and the marketing universe. So what I needed to do was take a few steps back and say, okay everybody, you know there’s this media space that we all live in, and certain people tend to dominate the messages that you get. And many of the places where you walk are owned by corporations who have a very vested interest in you buying things, and that you are constantly under some level of assault, of manipulation, by all these various forces. 

While you can’t walk around paranoid, constantly deconstructing everything coming at you, or you won’t have a very fun existence, you should at least be able to live on a more level playing field. When you go into a retail or a corporate environment you have to understand that there are a lot of tools being used–from architecture to language and tone of voice, to lighting, to the very paths and surfaces you walk on, that are designed to either intimidate you, or lead you to make certain choices and have certain behaviors.

David: What do you mean when you say that your not counterculture, you’re “pro-culture”?

Douglas: What I’m trying to do in most of my work is break open the rhetoric that has allowed us to stagnate. There are certain patterns of language that reinforce notions about ourselves, and our relationship to the world, that may be more destructive than we realize. And that by keeping our language alive, by understanding what we’re saying when we say it, we become a lot more aware of our conditioning. So if we who care about the future, we who care about the environment, if we accept that we are the counterculture, what have we accepted? We have accepted that we are literally against culture. So now we’ve cast ourselves as kind of the bad guys, the underdogs, the ones who are fighting against something. Well, what if we decided no. We are not the counterculture minority fighting against this great over-culture. No, we are real people. We are culture. George Bush is the counterculture.  I am the culture. 

What is a culture? A culture is like yogurt. A culture is a living thing. This is not just a pun, or a metaphor. The culture is the life. It’s the fertilization. It’s the thing that actually propels us into a future. It’s great. It’s fecund, moist, real, growing and diverse. It’s in constant communication with itself and with other ones. It’s wet, sexy and real. That is what culture is. That’s the petri dish. That’s the yogurt. That’s the moss on the side of the tree. That’s the culture. Counterculture, to me, would mean, dry and sterile, unloving and unsexy. The counterculture are the people who want to kill culture. They’re the people who want to prevent fertility and diversity, the exchange of ideas, fluids, psyches and everything else. 

So, by looking at words, and being willing to reclaim certain language, we can end up shifting our perspective on things tremendously. If you walk outside thinking of yourself as part of culture, then you start saying, well, what are the obstacles to culture? And you realize marketing is an obstacle to culture–because what do marketers do? Marketers try to make people feel unsexy and uncreative, so that they’re dependent on a product to bestow some kind of sexiness or creativity upon them. Wow, so that’s interesting. So what is Nike? What is Jordache? What are Levis? Is that culture, or is that counterculture? Oh, now I’m arguing they’re counter, they’re against culture. So what’s pro-culture? Is pro-culture the thrift store? Is pro-culture the Dead show? Is pro-culture sex with your girlfriend or wife? That’s where culture lives. Pro-culture is nursery school. That’s culture.

David: How has Marshall McLuhan, Noam Chomsky, and Timothy Leary influenced your perspective about the media?

Douglas: I guess Leary has the most. I didn’t really study any Marshall McLuhan until after I’d written a couple of media books. Then, after having gotten compared with him, I figured, okay, I’ll go read one of these things. I just wasn’t that well read then, although now I am. But I wasn’t when I started writing. I was really just a TV head who could write–not a reader who could write, which was interesting in itself. It made my writing into outsider art of a certain kind.

But Leary influenced me in a few ways. First as a writer and thinker when I was in college, and I read his stuff. Then later as a friend. And those were two very different kinds of influence he had. The important thing that I got from him in college was that he affirmed the validity of psychedelic and mystical experiences. As one of three, or maybe ten kids, who were going through those sorts of experiences at Princeton University  in the early Eighties, it was very reassuring to have someone who had visited these many terrains, and had written about them effectively, and come up with some real, very compelling models for consciousness. So it provided me with maps to a landscape that I would have otherwise assumed was uncharted turf. It really created resonances and guideposts, and ways of recognizing certain phenomenon. 
I guess Chomsky influenced me in the sense that he certainly seemed to have a very clear vision on the interplay between money, power, media, messaging, and consciousness–and how tightly controlled this public relations-run spectator democracy is, and how that works. But I generally accept his work as a challenge to prove him wrong, to accept it as a gauntlet. In other words, here’s how things are, or here’s how things could be. Or here’s one way of understanding this. So what I think is, well, what am going to do about that? How am I going to arrest that? How am I going to help people recontextualize that? Where are the unseen triggers? Where are the unknown access points to power that Chomsky doesn’t see?–but I, as I younger and more optimistic soul, can find and then share with others. So that’s really the way he has impacted me most. It’s like, okay, it’s a really bad trip–but what I can I do to flip it? 

McLuhan influenced me in that he helped me see that I come from a tradition. The tradition is not really one of media theory as much as a trickster tradition. There are some people around who, in their work, either tickle, cajole, or trick people into seeing things in new ways. The object of the game, for me, is to exist in this kind of liminal space between the way things are, and the infinity of the way things could be, and help people open their minds to other possibilities. To help people across this chasm of uncertainty, so that they can live in a space of possibility. 

Most people are afraid of possibility because they can’t deal with a shifting reality, and they can’t accept their own responsibility for the way things are. Most people can not cope with a reality that works like a lucid dream, even though they happen to be living in one. So they would rather shut down, and they would rather agree to the consensus reality where they are victimized and unhappy, than accept a more plastic, open-source conception of reality where anything and everything is possible.

David: Speaking of opening minds and shifting realities, how has your experience with psychedelics influenced your writing, and your perspective on life?

Douglas: I think it’s very hard for anyone who has had psychedelic experiences to ever know how many of the insights that they might credit to psychedelia might have happened anyway. In other words, sometimes I think, okay, it’s all the acid. That you have one acid trip and, basically, you never come down from it–just the rest of life kind of comes up to it. (laughter) That there’s a full categorical shift in the way you understand the world, that your perspective is forever changed, and that’s it. 
But I talk to a lot of people who’ve never had psychedelic experiences–at least chemical or plant-induced ones, or who have never even smoked pot–and they still seem just as aware of the fact that we’re all living in reality tunnels, and that we chose different tunnels. And they can have moments of a broader perspective, where they see the way all these things are arbitrarily chosen, and that we’ve been living in a certain picture frame, and how you can pull out of that frame, and see all these other possibilities. So the only thing I know for sure is that psychedelics provide a very tangible and experiential metaphor for the interchangeable contextual frames that we use to understand the world we live in. 
For me, certainly, psychedelics were a valuable medicine–for a kid, who at 19, was really trapped in doing premed, and becoming a doctor. I was going to do all this stuff I didn’t really want to do. I actually made the decision to go be a theater person before I’d had any kind of drug experience, but it definitely helped. Afterwards it helped me see the validity of that decision, and it helped me understand that all this recontextualizing I had been doing, all of the frames within frames. All of the theater that I was so interested in was not for the play, but for the proscenium arch itself, and for the ritual that was going on in the room. All of that had a shamanic history, and it was a bit more universally applicable than I had realized. It wasn’t just something that happened in a theater; it’s something that happens in the world at every moment. We are contextualizing and recontextualizing things based on assumptions.

David: What do you think happens to consciousness after death?

Douglas: I really have no idea. I would guess it goes on for a few minutes. You get to Heaven, and you have those great life-after-life experiences, and then… (laughter) nothing! (laughter

I would think the only way for a person to have anything approaching consciousness after death–real death, when the body actually stops metabolizing, or there’s just no metabolic processes and the brain is really dead dead–would be, while that person is alive, to learn to identify so profoundly with something other than his or her own ego, so that when the self dies, the identification goes on. But most of us really believe in the illusion of individuality. We believe who we are is us. 

So, in a sense, it blows the question out of the water, finally, because you say, well, what happens to consciousness after death? Well, what happens to your consciousness after someone else’s death?  Not a hell of a lot. I mean, you might feel bad that they died, but their consciousness is gone, except for the part of it that’s now in everybody else. 

It certainly shouldn’t be anybody’s goal to extend consciousness after death, because that’s still just a person trying to project their ego. But I would think a fringe benefit of developing true compassion for other people is that if you do identify with other people, other things, and other systems–things that are beyond the four walls of your own limited personal consciousness. Then the death of you or me is inconsequential. But I think that for 99.9999% of people the chances are that they just die.

David: So you think death may be different for some people than other people?

Douglas: Possibly. I would think that the only way out would be to get out while you’re here. I don’t think you can get out after you’re dead.

David: What is your perspective on the concept of God? Do you see any kind of teleology in evolution, and how has Judaism effected your views on spirituality?

Douglas: I think we are no better than fungus, on a rock hurling through cold and meaningless space, and that we were not put here with purpose by a supreme being. But I do believe that God is something that can evolve. I think of God as an emergent phenomenon, rather than a preexisting condition. So I think we can make God. I think we can conceive God. I think we can start to behave in Godly ways. But I think God is something we build together. God is something we make. God is the result of love and ethical action, higher states of consciousness and coordinated action–things like that. 

Not for many people, but for me, this teleology is absolutely consistent with the intention of Judaism–which was to get people to stop worrying about God, particularly idolatry, and start worrying about one another. What the Jews keep doing is smashing idols. They took idols off the arc and left empty spaces there–literally empty spaces. And the empty spaces were protected, sometimes protected by cherubs–like on the top of the Arc of the Covenant. These are all empty places. That’s why I wrote this book called Nothing Sacred. The idea is that this “nothing” is sacred, because only when you have an empty space can you create a dynamic or a voltage between people, and that’s what makes God happen–this communing or community between people. These resonant living fields of interaction between loving human beings is what makes God possible. But I don’t believe in God as a separate thing. I guess I’m a bit like Teilhard de Chardin with this idea of evolution groping towards complexity, rather than us being set in motion by a supreme being who wants us to return to him.

David: How do you integrate your psychedelic experiences with your interest in Judaism? I think for a lot of people it’s hard to understand how organized religion could be compatible with a psychedelic experience.

Douglas: Organized religion isn’t really compatible with any experience. I don’t even see it as compatible with Judaism. Organized religion is not something I’m interested in, and it may not be compatible with a psychedelic experience, or with the genuine expansion and development of consciousness. I don’t look at Judaism as a religion. I look at Judaism as the process by which we get over religion. Most religions were born that way. Most religions were born as fresh breezes, as ways to lift people from the self-protective crouch of religion–whether it was Taoism lifting people out of Confucius, Judaism lifting people out of child-sacrifice to the god Molech, or Christianity trying to lift people out of the restricting rule-sets of Jewish law into a more, all-encompassing spontaneous experience of love. Each one of these new religions starts as way to break the attachment to religion, to just live a good life, and they end up eventually turning into religions themselves. So it’s that moment of liberation, that you want to preserve, and that you want to keep reliving every time you get attached to something. 

That’s why the Jewish mythology is still very effective for me, because it’s all about breaking out of slavery, the leaving Egypt, which in Hebrew is Mitzrayim. It’s leaving the narrow place, the idolatrist place, by smashing the idols–which is what the plagues really are, the desecration of the Egyptian Gods that we used to worship–and moving into a society that cherishes life. That’s why they say, “l ‘chaim!,  l ‘chaim”, or “to life”, and this is the central Jewish belief. That was an illegal sentiment in ancient Egypt, because that was a culture that worshiped death. You asked me what I thought happens after you die. Well, in Judaism it doesn’t really matter what happens after you die, because you’re here. What matters is what you do here, and if something happens after die you’ll worry about it then. The reason to do great things here and now is not because you want to be rewarded after you die. The reason to great things here and now is because that is actually the most fun and meaningful way to live.

David: Your books CyberiaMedia Virus, and Playing the Future present a very upbeat and optimistic perspective on youth culture, while your book Coercion was more of a warning signal about sociological manipulation. Would you say that you’re as optimistic about the cultural direction of the human species now, as you were when you wrote your earlier books, and do you think that the human species is going to survive the next hundred years?

Douglas: I never saw CyberiaMedia Virus, and Playing the Future as particularly optimistic. I saw them as realistic, because it seemed to me that the world, or at least the American world, was bemoaning the invention of things that were actually quite cool and progressive. So the standard media theorists of the day–people like Neil Postman, educators and all–were saying the computer’s a bad thing, or kids who go online are going to get stupid. And someone had to say no, wait a minute, kids who watch old fashioned TV are going to stupid. Kids who go online are typing. They’re writing. They’re posting ideas. So what was interpreted by some as optimism was actually just me saying, no, these are actually really cool inventions. Beavis and Butthead isn’t just crap; Beavis and Butthead are deconstructing media. Or Mystery Science Theater is actually a very advanced cultural product.
So I had enthusiasm for some of things that were happening, and in Media Virus I certainly saw the development of an interactive media space as a tool ripe for the taking. I understood that the landscape had shifted, but I always–even in Cyberia–talked about this as a window of opportunity, that the sands are shifting. Our relationship to media is changing, and if we’re going to be smart, we can use this opportunity to change the balance of power in an interesting way, and take charge of our reality much more than we have before, rather than acquiescing our authority to these false parent figures. But even in Playing the Future, which is thought of as the most Pollyannaish of the books, I say it’s a difficult moment when a child realizes his parents aren’t gods. And it’s a difficult moment for civilization to realize that it’s gods aren’t parents.

But that’s the moment we’re in, and this is the insight and sensibility we’re going to have to seize if we want to become adults, if we want to grow up. And if we don’t want to grow up, then we’ll let this opportunity pass. The powers that be will retake the reigns of this coach, and we’ll go back into a kind of cultural dormancy again. So, rather than seeing the early work as optimistic, I see it more as propagandistic. I see it more as creating arguments why it’s okay for people to take charge of the world we’re living in. So, yeah, I painted happy pictures because I thought that if I can paint scenarios by which everything could work out, then maybe we’ll be able to get to one of them. If we can’t even imagine a scenario where human beings will survive another hundred years, then how are we going to do it? 

So, at least, I was trying to make people think it’s possible, so that they would engage with life in a more fulfilling and direct way–in a way that gave them hope and possibility. Although Coercion looks darker–and it is a darker, sadder read in a lot of ways–in a way it’s a more optimistic act to think that giving people this warning would actually do any good. If we live in a marketing universe like that, and if people are that hypnotized, then it’s still an extremely hopeful thing. All I was really doing in that case was going to a less educated group, and giving them the kind of the education that they needed to participate the way that some of us were. 

It just seemed like there weren’t enough of us involved in–whatever you want to call it–the cyber movement, or the consciousness movement. There weren’t enough of us really involved in it to make a difference, and too many of us in the movements became the victims of New Age pyramid schemes, and selling KM, Herbal Life, or one or the other many products, and really getting derailed. Rather than following our bliss we sell our bliss at the top of another pyramid scheme, and that was a shame. But those people really did need to back-fill their education a bit. So that’s what I was trying to do there. 

In terms of now, yeah, I would have to say I’m less hopeful than I was. I mean, I no longer think that we are going to seize this opportunity that we had. I think the window is closing–the window of opportunity to actually make this as profound a renaissance in human consciousness as it could have been. So, what I’m working on instead is trying to lay as many clues as I can in the culture of the future for people who live through the next Dark Age. I want them to see signs of hope and to give them enough clues so they can at least, as best they can, access the back doors. It feels like what we’re doing now is laying down the cultural program for the next hundred or so years. But I think as long as we participating in the writing of that program, we can leave a few back doors, as hackers would put it, through which people can get in again. 

That might be the best we can do. On the other hand, what I’m working on is smaller interactions, with smaller numbers of people. If I can do a talk for five hundred people that turns on three or four hundred of them to the idea that the tiniest actions that they do in each day of their lives actually make a difference, then I feel I’ve really accomplished something. And that’s really what I’m doing. I’m going from place to place, writing books, and doing things even more subtlely. I have a graphic novel– a comic book–coming out next year. So I’m doing things on a less polemic and a, slightly more practical, hand-to-hand or mouth-to-mouth way. To really model behaviors for people. That’s really all I can do in the end, is model a form of behavior that I think is constructive rather than destructive.

As far as will we be here in a hundred years? Yeah, a hundred years isn’t so long. It really isn’t. A hundred years is really just like three generations. Yeah, they’ll still be people here. In a thousand years? Who knows? I don’t think it’s a matter of whether or not there’s any people around. I think it’s a matter of whether the civilizations that we built will be around. I think it’s a matter of whether we can sustain a level of consciousness and complexity. I think they’ll be people for a long time, even if they go back and live in tribes, and live off the old warehouses of Coke or whatever until they learn to make food again. I think there will be people for a long time, even after the environment gets bad. I mean, humans are fucking up the environment for sure, but Nature fucks up the environment even more sometimes, at least as far as people are concerned.
If Nature threw one good ice age, or one good drought on us, we might be finished. We’ve been so lucky over the last few thousand years to have had this very temperate mild environment in which to live. That’s why all us little mammals have been able to run around and do all this. Nature could whack us way harder than fluorocarbons are going to whack us. And, in that sense, it’s almost important that we have a certain amount of AmGem, and Genentech, and other bizarre genetic science going on–where people are figuring out how to grow wheat on rocks, or soy on the ocean, because we just may have to. And we have to, not just because we are fucking things up so badly, but because Nature really can turn on a dime, and the environment can change profoundly in a half century. We’ve seen it happen before. The Sahara Desert was fertile at one time. The deserts of Iraq were the most fertile part of the world that we even knew about. So things shift. Things move around.

David: How do you envision the future evolution of the human race?

Douglas: I don’t know. I hope people become more conscious and aware of each other. If there’s any real plot to be followed, then I’d hope for the human race to become a more coordinated being. Right now people don’t want to coordinate because they think it would mean the loss of individuality. But what they don’t realize is that the only way they’re ever going to find their individuality is by coordinating. So it’s not a matter of becoming the super-organism, as defined by the pre-fascist philosophers, or Hegel or those guys.

It’s not a super-organism. But there is an organizational level that we’re capable of. Rather than a collective unconscious, there’s a way to have a collective consciousness. I think the only reason why people don’t have it is because they are afraid of it. They’re afraid of the loss of privacy. They’re afraid of losing what they think of as their self. But what people are going to have to slowly learn–and it make take thousands of years to do this–is that the self separated from human community doesn’t even exist. 

The self only only exists in relationship to other people–just like a Web site only exists in it’s links to other places, or from other places really. So eventually people will see their way through what looks like a paradox to them now, and, instead, see it as the crucial dynamic through which people can evolve into something greater than the little, isolated, lonely, puny intelligences they are today.

David: What are you currently working on?

Douglas: I’m working on a book that actually has a tentative title, Follow the Fun. It’s really about that. It’s about how people need to move up Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs”, out of this illusion that they are fighting for their survival, and realize that pursuing the deepest fun–and I don’t mean diversion, but real meaningful fun–will lead to levels of success unimaginable by someone who pursuing gain in order to promote their own survival.

David: What gives you hope?

Douglas: Interactions with happy people. As long as I can have a meaningful interaction with another person, and experience the creation of joy from what wasn’t there before, I have hope–because it means that humans are still capable of manufacturing love and joy where there wasn’t any before. Not finding light, but doing light. As long people can do that, then I still have some faith in the relatively infinite capability of people to recreate reality on their own terms.

Edgar Dean Mitchell

David Jay Brown

Interviews
Edgar Dean Mitchell

Edgar Dean Mitchell–the lunar module pilot for NASA’s Apollo 14 space mission in 1971–was the sixth man to walk on the moon. In addition to his historical achievements as an astronaut, naval officer, and test pilot, Dr. Mitchell has also made important contributions as a research scientist, author and lecturer. After retiring from the U.S. Navy and the Astronaut Program in 1972, Dr. Mitchell’s research interests shifted from exploring the far reaches of outer space to the frontiers of inner space. He has spent the last 30 years studying human consciousness in search of a common ground between science and spirit. Dr. Mitchell founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences in 1973 to sponsor systematic research into of the nature of consciousness, especially in regard to how it relates to psychic phenomena and alternative healing techniques. The institute has since grown into one of the world’s largest research groups studying the unexplained powers of the mind. 

Dr. Mitchell attended primary schools in Roswell, New Mexico, and is a graduate of Artesia High School in New Mexico. (As a child, there were strangely synchronistic foreshadowings of Mitchell’s career as a space traveler. As he walked to a country school near Roswell, Mitchell sometimes saw the little farmhouse where Robert Goddard, the godfather of modern rocketry, lived. Then, around the time that Mitchell was a senior in high school, Roswell became a household word as the site of an alleged crash of an alien spacecraft.) In 1952 Mitchell received a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Management from the Carnegie Institute of Technology, and he entered the Navy that same year, completing his basic training in San Diego. In 1953 he completed his instruction at the Officers’ Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island, and a year later he completed his flight training in Hutchinson, Kansas. From 1954 to 1958 he flew a P2V aircraft in Korean war, then a A-3 aircraft from the aircraft carriers Bon Homme Richard and the Ticonderoga while assigned to “Heavy Attack Squadron Two” at the end of the war. He was a research project pilot with “Air Development Squadron Five” until 1959.

Dr. Mitchell received another Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in 1961, and he took his Sc. D. in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1964. In addition, he has received honorary doctorates in engineering from New Mexico State University, the University of Akron, Carnegie-Mellon University, and a Sc.D. from Embry-Riddle University. From 1964 to 1965 he was in charge of the Project Management Division of the Navy Field Office for Manned Orbiting Laboratory. Dr. Mitchell was in a group selected for astronaut training in April 1966. He served as a member of the astronaut support crew for Apollo 9 and as backup lunar module pilot for Apollo 10. 

Dr. Mitchell was originally scheduled for the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, where an explosion exposed most of the inside of the service module to space, and had to be guided, using the power of the Lunar Module, back to Earth, forcing NASA to abort that mission to the moon. Dr. Mitchell completed his first space flight as lunar module pilot on Apollo 14, which was NASA’s third manned lunar landing. This historic journey began on January 31, 1971 and ended nine days later on February 9.

After landing the lunar module “Antares” on a hilly upland region of the moon, Dr. Mitchell and Commander Alan Shepard subsequently deployed and activated various scientific equipment and performed a number of experiments. In addition to collecting almost 100 pounds of lunar samples for return to Earth, they made a number of first-time achievements on the mission. They were the first to use a unpowered wheeled lunar vehicle called the Mobile Equipment Transporter. They carried the largest payload placed in lunar orbit, and the largest payload returned from the lunar surface at that time (later missions did more). They transversed the longest distance  on foot (ever) on the lunar surface, and stayed on the lunar surface for the longest amount of time–33 hours. 

After successfully completing his mission on the Moon, Dr. Mitchell had an experience on his journey home that was to forever change the course of his life. As he was hurtled through the abyss of space, back toward our tiny blue and white world, Dr. Mitchell became engulfed by a profound and overwhelming sensation that he describes as “a sense of universal connectedness…” where he “…suddenly experienced the universe as intelligent, loving, harmonious.” In other words, Dr. Mitchell had a classic mystical experience. As a result of this transcendental experience in space, when Dr. Mitchell returned to Earth he began devoting his life to the study of consciousness. This was one of the reasons that he founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences in 1973. (However, Dr. Mitchell had been interested in psychic phenomena prior to his mystical experience in space. Prior to the Apollo 14 mission, he had privately arranged to conduct secret ESP experiments with several colleagues on Earth during the space flight, with intriguing results.)

In completing his first space flight, Mitchell logged a total of 216 hours and 42 minutes in space, and he was subsequently designated to serve as backup lunar module pilot for Apollo 16. In his career as an astronaut, Dr. Mitchell has received many distinguished awards and honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1970), the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, the MSC Superior Achievement Award (1970), the Navy Astronaut Wings, the navy Distinguished Service medal, the City of New York Gold Medal (1971), the Arnold Air Society’s John F. Kennedy Award (1971), the USN Distinguished Medal and three NASA Group Achievement Awards. He was inducted to the Space Hall of Fame in Las Cruces NM in 1979, and the Astronaut Hall of Fame in Titusville, FL in 1997. In 1984, he was a cofounder of the Association of Space Explorers, an international organization of those who have experienced space travel.

Dr. Mitchell is the co-author of Psychic Exploration: A Challenge for Science (1974) and The Way of the Explorer (1996, revised 2001) as well as dozens of articles in both professional and popular publications. He delivers between 25 and 50 lectures a year on cosmology, human potential, and the future evolution of life on Earth. He is a frequent guest on radio and television talk shows, and has been featured in several documentary films. To find out more about his work with the Institute of Noetic Sciences visit: www.noetic.org, or his own website at:www.edmitchellapollo14.com

I interviewed Edgar on March 23, 2004. He was 73 at the time of this interview. I watched Edgar walk on the moon when I was a child with excitement and awe, so it was an incredible thrill for me to be able to spend this time talking with him. I found him to be thoughtful, generous, and regal in spirit. I greatly appreciated Edgar’s patience in answering questions that I’m sure he’s answered a thousand times before. His stories held me spellbound, and I sat in rapt astonishment, hanging on every word, as he poetically described his mystical experience in space to me. We spoke about the possible relationship between gravity and consciousness, how different altered states of consciousness compare with his mystical experience in space, and the frontiers of quantum physics, Chaos Theory, and research into psychic phenomena.

 

David: What were you like as a child, and what inspired you to become an astronaut?

Edgar: As I child I was rather precocious. I was raised on my family farms and ranches, working like any other kid with his dad. Growing up on a farm I did all the things that farm kids do. I don’t really think that I realized it at the time–although perhaps my parents did–but I would be able to be at the top of my class. And I continually was, once I started going to school, but it didn’t seem like anything different to me. I was just being a kid.

Now, as far as getting interested in the space program, that really didn’t happen until I was in the Navy during the Korean war. I went into military service for the Korean war. I also would have been drafted, and was serving my tour. I was a pilot aboard a carrier headed back for shore duty, as a test pilot, when Sputnik went up in October, 1957. And although I hadn’t planned a military career, that sounded like a pretty interesting thing to do. So, even though there weren’t astronauts at that time, I set my cap at that

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