Introduction to Voices from the Edge
We are currently witnessing an extraordinary shift in the evolutionary winds of history. Poised on a bridge between worlds, our species swings between crisis and renaissance. Never before in the human adventure have there been so many reasons to rejoice and celebrate, yet also, paradoxically, so many reasons to re-evaluate and re-navigate. Wonderful advances in science and the interface between high technology and the creative imagination have spawned forms of artistic expression with a sensory richness inconceivable to previous generations. The imagination has never been more tangible. And yet, sad to say, never before has our own extinction via our own ignorance–hovered so close.
Within the pages of this book, through conversations with some of the most far-reaching cultural innovators of our day, we explore a variety of exciting new options made available by the cultural renaissance that is upon us and examine some possible solutions to our impending global crisis. When Rebecca McClen Novick and I finished the first volume of Mavericks of the Mind, there still remained many extraordinary individuals whom we had wished to include. In addition, friends flooded us with recommendations for potential interviewees. If that were not enough, every time we did a lecture or book-signing, we would meet people who had yet more recommendations. A number of individuals whom I did not even know called me and recommended themselves as candidates. Upon consideration of all this, we decided to do an additional collection, which you now hold in your hands. And a third volume is in the works.
In 1988, Christian theologian Matthew Fox, the Dominican priest we interviewed for this volume, was silenced for a year by the Vatican. Instead of preaching about our Original Sin, he was doing this rap on our “Original Blessing.” After a full revolution around the sun, during which he supposedly contemplated his sins in silence, the very first words that he uttered were, “As I was saying … ” It is in that spirit that this book begins. As with our first volume, the people we chose to interview represent the mavericks of their fields, the engineers of evolution, the messengers of our future those remarkable and brave individuals who stand at the front-line of the cultural frontier, taking the storms of change full in the face. However overlooked, misunderstood, ridiculed, or punished they may have been by society at large, these men and women have persevered to the point where they are now viewed as revolutionary leaders in their fields.
When putting this book together, we operated under the premise that most cultural advance is accomplished by a certain type of individual: those who resist adherence to any particular group or belief system and have an interdisciplinary approach to their work. These were the people we sought out to discuss the basic philosophical issues of life, to ponder the Big Questions: How did we get here? Why are we here? Where are we going? But while our previous collection approached these questions primarily from a decidedly scientific viewpoint (with several notable exceptions), our new collection gathers a perspective from a wider cultural arena. And though our pool of interviewees has broadened, the theme of the new volume remains the same: exploring the evolution of consciousness. Also, our approach matured. Rebecca and I became bolder in our interviewing style, and we are perhaps a little less naive than when we set out to do the original collection.
Although the collection spans a diverse spectrum, there are many areas where boundaries overlap. From the emerging gestalt, a vision of our future begins to take form, perhaps providing us with a glimpse into the twenty-first century. We discuss possible solutions to the hunger and ecological crises gripping our planet, new computer and multimedia technologies as vehicles for enhanced communication and artistic expression, future directions of psychedelic drug research, the reclamation of our bodies and our connection to the divine through more expansive forms of sexual expression, the revival of the Goddess, and the reformation of religion. These and other spiritual issues are pondered in depth, always with thoughtfulness, often with humor.
After the publication of the first volume of Mavericks, when Rebecca and I hosted a series of events at UC Santa Cruz and UCLA, we brought together individuals from the book and encouraged them to discuss and debate various controversial issues, such as the relationship between technology and the mind. As we sat there on stage, surrounded by all these great minds and their often conflicting perspectives, we realized repeatedly just how relative truth really is. No one has the answer, yet everyone makes a point and contributes a perspective to help create a more encompassing whole.
One of the topics we explore in this book is the mystery of what happens to consciousness after the death of the body. When I posed the question to environmentalist John Robbins, he replied without pause, “I think it celebrates.” Ironically, Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead told us he thinks it probably dies with the body.” Cultural historian William Irwin Thompson said he thinks we move into “subtle bodies,” which “are woven into this larger angelic formation.” There is perhaps no greater mystery than death, and infinite mystery will spawn infinite theories.
This is not the first time that crisis and opportunity have danced together arm in arm, and as we evolve through time, this dynamic will most likely be encountered again and again. This is part of the Great Mystery at the center of existence, which inspires art, science, philosophy, and the spiritual quest. Stating the obvious here is powerful. There is simply no escape. Life is mostly mystery, and the mystery only deepens with time and “understanding.” A moment’s reflection will confront us with the fact that the foundation of every belief rests upon an assumption made in faith. Life is a journey through our own dream fabric.
When I was in graduate school I was amazed to discover that the majority of my professors thought that science had solved about 99 percent of the fundamental mysteries of the universe and that it would not be long before we would have the other one percent figured out. I was completely dumbfounded by this, and by the fact that much of the world appeared to follow suit with my professors. As a consequence of my commitment to the exploration of consciousness, my world view was the reverse: 99 percent mystery, one percent (or less) figured out.
The universe is an infinitely mysterious place, where consciousness and physical phenomena interact in largely unknown ways to form the adventure of our existence. Because of this fundamental truth, Matthew Fox suggested that we adopt the perspective that “mystery is not something you’re ever going to solve, it’s something you live!” John Alien poetically reminded us that “beauty attracts, but mystery … lures.” After contemplating the nature of God and other timeless philosophical questions with us, Ram Dass asked about our “relationship with the mystery? Are you defending yourself from it? Are you making love to it? Are you living in it?” How we respond to these questions is significant. One of the few things we can state with any certainty about this grand and ambiguous universe we inhabit is that although the phenomena of the physical world will come and go, the mystery lurking at the heart of existence is forever here to stay.
David Jay Brown
Ben Lomond, California
Preface - Voices From the Edge
“You’re going to have to explain what these people are doing in a book together,” said a close friend, looking at me with loving sternness. “What do they have in common, anyway?” On the surface, there does seem to be the need to justify why an ex-porn star and a Catholic priest are rubbing shoulders (or anything else, for that matter) in a collection of interviews, not to mention a chemist, a musician, and an archaeologist. But it seems to me that in this world of on-going cultural meiosis, it is far more necessary to justify similarity than to justify diversity. Loving the alien– or, at the very least, accepting the alien– is not just an amusing psychological pastime anymore; it’s a survival imperative.
Exclusivity breaks down communication– between neighbors, between cultures, between races, between countries– so that the farmer pollutes the upstream river, giving no thought to the farmer downstream. When we define ourselves as something more than merely a product of a culture, race, sex, or religious group, we realize how our separateness has limited us, and we begin to work on what Jean Houston refers to as the “orchestration of our many selves.” Appreciation of diversity keeps us supple, stops our minds from crusting over, and allows us to keep reinventing ourselves.
Everyone in this book is used to being judged. Snobbery lurks in the most unlikely places, even in the most decent and open of minds. If you look down your nose you will see only your feet. But to look out and across the apparent barriers that separate you from the Other (a homeless drunk gives you directions to your hotel; a toddler corrects you about the number of Jupiter’s moons) is like coming up for air and taking a gulp of the mystery once more. You take a second look– except this time, you look a little harder.
Step into a virtual reality scenario and imagine that this book is actually the stage for an exotic and eclectic cocktail party. The interior decoration is an odd mix of the titilating bizarre, the no-hold-barred holy, and the tongue-in-cheek academic. Nothing seems to match, but nothing clashes. The guests are an animated and effervescent bunch, their eyes twinkling with inner stars. Laughter of all shapes and sizes fills the room. You feel curiously at home.
Over in the corner, spiritual teacher Ram Dass and VR pioneer Jaron Lanier seem to be having a heated but friendly discussion on the virtues and dangers of technological highs. Fakir Musafar, decorated in nipple-rings, tattoos and nose-quills, is at the snack table with archeologist Marija Gimbutas, exchanging insights into the Western mortification of the body. In the kitchen, musician Jerry Garcia and radio host Elizabeth Gips are involved in a conversation ostensibly about rye bread, but stick a Babel-fish in your ear and you hear they’re really discussing the ever-expanding mystery of the universe. And out on the porch, chemist Alexander Shulgin and ecologist John Robbin s are pondering the alchemical potentials of the human body. Is this a great party or what?
We chose to interview the people who move us– move us to wonder, to contemplation, to inspiration, to action. They are all works in progress, receiving at least as much as they transmit, their commentaries barometer readings of the weather changes at large in this wild and woolly world of ours. Ritual love-making, sticking spears in your skin, listening to music, sitting with your eyes closed, taking drugs, hooking your brain up to a machine– the methods of raising the curtains of consciousness vary, but to get hung up on the validity (or invalidity) of any one is to miss the boat to spiritual independence. There are so many ways to get high, but once you’re up there, everyone gets to share the view– the view of a dynamic universe within which we are all engaged in the most interactive process imaginable.
As you meander through the pages of this book, you begin to sense an ambiance, a link between these seemingly disparate individuals: a common ground of unfettered creativity, deep compassion, personal courage, childlike curiosity and more than a standard dose of chutzpah. It is that common ground from which these interviews grew, and upon which we hope, a few forbidden fruits will fall.
Rebecca McClen Novick
Acknowledgments - Voices from the Edge
Putting this collection together was a great deal of fun and a wonderful learning experience, with more than a few epiphanies along the way. It was also a lot of work, taking about two years to complete. Many people helped make it possible. We would like to extend extra special thanks to Nina Graboi and Carolyn Mary Kleefeld for their endless support and belief in our work over the years. For their essential help with the book, we are also extremely grateful to Randy Baker, Marie Devlin, Denise Dufault, Patricia Gaul, Alex Grey, Laura Huxley, Oscar Janiger, Fonda Joyce, Dennis McNally, Marlene Rhoeder, Dale Robbins, Tango Pariah Snyder, Rasa Julie Thies, and Jonathan Young and Carolyn Radio at the Pacifica Graduate Institute.
In addition, we would like to express our sincere appreciation to Gabrielle Alberici, Phil Baily, Peter Bartczak, Debra Berger, Faustin Bray, Brummbaer, Kutira Decosterd and Raphael, Sue Espanosa, Robert Forte, Lauran Freebody, Liane Gabora, Peter German, Dieter Hagenbach, Deborah Harlow, Krystle James, Robin Ray, Barbara Clarke-Lilly, Jeff Mandel and Steen, Arleen Margulis, Jimmy Mastalski, Fumiko Takagi, Jerry Snider, Victoria Sulski, S. Mark Taper, Silvia Utiger, Brian Wallace, and Nur Wesley for their help and contributions.
We would also like to thank our farsighted publishers, John and Elaine Gill, as well as our publicist, Dena Taylor.
Most of all, we would like to express our deepest appreciation to all the remarkable men and women we interviewed for sharing their extraordinary lives with us.
Plugging into ElfNet
“…we are separate entities with boundaries that collide…we are entities with boundaries that overlap.”
with Francis Jeffrey
Francis Jeffrey is a pioneer and forecaster on the frontier interface between communication technologies and neuroscience. He is a consultant on ethical applications of science and technology co-founder of civic and environmental organizations, and CEO of Alive Systems Inc., which is devoted to the application of biological principles in computer software design.
Francis devised the “Linguini code, ” an intercultural and human-computer communications “language. ” He originated the concept of “communications co-pilot, ” an electronic co-personality that works along with you while it learns to emulate and support your communication and computing activities. His magnum opus is a project-in-progress called ElfNet, an interactive network that will use telephones or interactive television to access global information resources in a personalized way, while building meaningful relationships and perfecting programs of action. A psychological theorist, his theory on the nature of consciousness in isolation was published in Woman & Ullman ‘s Handbook of States of Consciousness.
In 1973, after studying computational neurophysiology at the Berkeley and San Diego campuses of the University of California, Francis began studies with John C. Lilly, M.D. (interviewed in our first volume) on sensory isolation and on human-dolphin communication research, studies which continued over the years. Recently Francis helped dolphins gain civil rights, at feast in Malibu. His concept was first enacted as public policy by the Malibu city council on January 7, 1992–apparently the first legal recognition in the human world of dolphins as individuals. In 1986 Francis co-founded, with Richard B. Robertson, the Great Whales Foundation, an organization that has called upon the international community to recognize whales as “living cultural resources ” rather than consumables.
Francis is the author of the well-known biography John Lilly, So Far. His thinking has been provoked over the years by interactions with the twentieth century ‘s best and brightest innovators and nonconformist thinkers, including Timothy Leary, Carolyn Mary Kleefeld (both of whom are in our first volume), Herbert Marcuse, Gregory Bateson, Lawrence Stark, M.D., Heniz von Foerster, Roland Fischer, and Ted Turner.
In interview mode, Francis demonstrates an extremely quick mind that is knowledgeable about an extraordinary scope of interests, free-associating surprising connections among conventional topics. Keenly perceptive of the hidden structure of ideas and systems, he possesses a special gift for making complex scientific concepts easy to understand in essential terms. He is also very unny, in an off-beat sort of way. Dark, piercing eyes dart amid birdlike features in a combination that seems to personify the archetype of the alchemist-wizard. I conducted this interview with Francis at his Malibu Beach home on June 29, 1994, at sunset. As we began, just off the deck, dolphins slid through the waves of the Pacific.
David What inspired your interest in computational neuroscience? How did you become interested in the interface between the computer and brain science?
Francis: I started reading Carl Jung as a teenager and found him fascinating. By the time I was about fifteen, I had read just about everything he wrote. But it seemed to really lack any explanatory power, so I started looking for something that would help to better explain the mind. After reading Jung, I thought, “Well sure, maybe the mind does this, but how and why does the mind do this?” It became apparent that this had something to do with the brain, and I began looking into that in college.
When I was in college studying psychology, computers were just coming online in a big way. So you had the first transition from these very elite mainframe institutions that everyone had to schedule their time on and share. They were originally installed with money from the Defense Department and the Atomic Energy Commission to encourage research in physics, and virtually every university had one. Then minicomputers be-
came available, and we had laboratories that had some of the first minicomputers in them. So your lab actually had a computer, and it was obvious that the way to do experiments in psychology was to program them, because this was much more flexible than the old fashioned way of doing experiments.
I was fascinated with what cognitive science now calls the binding problem. What is it that holds a perception together as a unit? Behaviorism, which is the psychology that was widely being taught at that time, contributed absolutely nothing to this question. The stimulus-response perspective didn’t give you a clue as to what made a perception. A more universal spin on the question would be “What is consciousness?” There is somebody who is having an experience, and that experience seems to hold together. You’re not just little bits of a picture, like an insect eye, but there’s a whole thing going on that you’re involved in.
David That’s the Big Mystery.
Francis: You can analyze it in different ways, and it’s kind of like a quantum phenomenon. Depending on how you analyze it, what experiments you do, you conclude that perception is broken down into different units in different ways. Recently reputable academic scientists started saying that the binding problem–what holds a perception together–is something that they’re going to start looking at. But that’s just a way of getting the large question–”What creates a mind?”–in the door.
Well, there are a lot of ancient answers to that question from people who, without the benefit of any external technologies, just experimented on themselves. I think one of the best traditions of that would be The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. A contemporary roughly of Plate and Buddha, back more than 2,000 years ago, Patanjali is the legendary and perhaps actual author of The Yoga Sutras, which is a very concise presentation of the basic ideas of yoga. Of course, that is tied to all the Hindu philosophy, and on and on. But there’s something very crisp and concise about The Yoga Sutras, and a lot of scientifically minded people, including John Lilly, have gotten way into it.
There are a lot of scientists, such as Deepak Chopra, who have benefited from association with this yoga tradition. Now, Patanjali said–among a great many other interesting things–that artificial minds can be created by … how to translate it is difficult … “egotism.” Artificial minds can be created by the drive to selfhood. Okay, so I translate this as follows. “If you want to create an artificial mind”-which sounds very modern and technological, almost like artificial intelligence [AI], but he’s talking about how a yogi can project his mind into form and clone himself–”what makes it possible is that there is a universal tendency to create coherent consciousness.”
David To individuate?
Francis: To individuate, exactly. That’s the basis of the phenomenon. So I applied this in my recent thinking, and this insight guides the communication-software development I’m currently into. What you need if you want to create an artificial mind–now in the modem technological sense–is you must somehow capture that drive toward individuation, toward consciousness. But it’s not a matter of building up a bunch of rules on how some expert does things, which is how AI has turned out to be.
David How does your understanding of computer science give you insight into how the brain works?
Francis: It gives an insight in a negative sense, because computer science is a completely vapid subject. As far as I can tell, there isn’t any. There are departments of computer science at universities, but is it science? It’s like they’re studying the history of the evolution of computers or something.
David Well, it’s a systems approach to a certain type of technology.
Francis: That’s the problem. You see, a system is like an artificial framework that you build, and then you try to fit stuff into it. To again use the quantum theory paradigm, you know what you observe depends on the kind of experiments and measurements you make. There’s a certain complementarity there. You make certain measurements and observations, and you exclude others. So I think the hierarchical-systems approach is the
ultimate extension and reductio ad absurdum of that approach, because you end up with a created system that has no subject matter but its own constructs. It’s like what Wittgenstein said, “Can it be that in mathematics what I am studying and seeking … is to know that which makes it possible for me to create these things.”
David So then, the study of computer science can also be the study of the brain’s ability to model things in a way that creates powerful computational tools and digital technology. Francis: Well, in kind of a backdoor way. But that’s just psychology. The tool building is
“Your body belongs to you. Play with it.”
with Fakir Musafar
By the age of four; Poland Laomis was regularly dreaming about his past lives; by six he was experiencing psychedelic visions while riding his bicycle; by twelve he was poking his mother’s sewing needles through his skin. By the age of thirteen he had pierced his foreskin in the coal cellar, by fourteen he was experimenting with his newly found psychokinetic powers; and by seventeen he had a full-blown mystical shake-up of the kind recounted by saints, sages, and madmen.
Gradually, the puzzling elements of Roland’s childhood began to slip into place, like the ribs beneath a whalebone corset. This odd and awkward boy from a strict Lutheran family in whitest South Dakota had been born again in the regal personage of Fakir Musafar: Fakir Musafar was a misunderstood shaman in thirteenth-century Persia who entered mystical states through manipulating his body and died of a broken heart after a lifetime of ridicule.
This could also have been the fate of Roland had he remained within the walls of his family cellar; where his experiments began. Instead, Fakir came out, and now, at sixty-three, he has not only been accepted by the tribe but has been granted something of the status of an elder statesman. He is undoubtedly America ‘s master guru of body ritual, offering wisdom and experience in a movement with more than its share of neophytes searching for identity.
Fakir’s role models are Hindu sadhus who sleep on beds of nails, African women with necks elongated by metal rings, and New Guinea tribesmen with belts that reduce their waists to a whisper. It was he who coined the terms “modern primitive, ” and “body play, ” terms that now, thanks to the information revolution, have become almost as familiar as “cyberpunk” or “generation X. ” The modern primitive movement is a tribal concoction of neopagans, lesbians, gays, artists, punks-creative misfits who have taken the term “queer” from the exclusive domain of homosexuality and applied it to all who find themselves trying to squeeze their round pegs into the square nipples of society.
His twenty-seven years as an advertising executive allowed Fakir piercing insight into the power of symbolism, a knowledge he exploits beautifully in his quarterly magazine, BodyPlay. He is also the founder and director of the School for Professional Body Piercing, the first in America.
I interviewed Fakir on October 17, 1992. Sitting in the garden of his suburban bungalow in Menlo Park, California, bespectacled with a button-down haircut, in sports shirt and slacks, Fakir could still be that executive. There is little to suggest what lies beneath, except that poking through his nose is a five-inch porcupine quill. Fakir is a misfit who, unable to find a mold to fit into, simply fashioned one for himself
Rebecca:. What first inspired you to start changing your body state?
Fakir: I always seemed to have that inclination. When I was growing up all the people around me lived under Judeo-Christian principles and rules, and the whole thing was operating under a very hard, patriarchal society. My biggest problem as a child was spacing out and I would literally go into trance states at the drop of a hat. It was very difficult for me because I thought I was going nuts. I would try and stay there but I couldn’t help it, I’d fade away. Bells would ring, I’d have audio and visual hallucinations. I remember riding a tricycle and having wonderful hallucinations like on acid.
I had a particular problem in social situations which still bothers me today. I guess it’s an escape, a coping mechanism. This family was so repressive and dysfunctional that it was natural for me to use this ability to space out, to cope with the boredom and abandonment.
Rebecca: What were you like as a child – apart from spacy? (laughter)
Fakir: I was very much alone, I was very thin, I didn’t do too well with other kids, I didn’t do too well in sports. I couldn’t catch a baseball because I was blind as a bat. But I was also very bright. I devoured books because that was my only escape from this very limited society. I started on Volume A of the best looking encyclopedia. I read the whole thing from cover to cover and then I started on Volume B and so on. When I got through that set of encyclopedias I went to another set and read that one. And I found out that I was really interested in how other cultures lived.
Rebecca: And when you first saw pictures of people with scarification, tattoos and piercings, did you suddenly go, aha! this is it?
Fakir: Oh yeah – instantly the light went on. Very often I could recognize that whatever they said about these people in the photo caption was not what was going on. I could look at them and feel how that person felt at the moment the photograph was taken. It was a mixture of fear, pain, intense sensation, awe, and I thought my God! they’ve got something! And I would secretly try to do these things, the Ibitoe of New Guinea which is the waist reducing belt.
One of the abilities I had when I was young was psychometry. We lived in an area that was heartland for Indians’ last stands and the last survival of Indian culture, so there was a lot of Indian atmosphere. The towny’s would just plow over Indian graves, but I would go out on my bicycle and find Indian campgrounds, burial spaces, places that were blessed and had a charge in them. At a very early age I could touch a tree and get a whole vision of what had happened there. I could take a stone from an Indian burial ground and it would speak to me. I still do this.
Rebecca: And you used to visit the Indians and hang out with them.
Fakir: Yes. They were treated very badly, worse than dogs. I found a kinship because I was a loner. I always felt I was on the edge, on the fringes of society. My search through life has always been to find the disenfranchised, I always had more in common with them. I had a very hard time with the establishment.
Rebecca: What kind of reactions do you get from Native American people to the things you do?
Fakir: I have a lot of friends who are Native Americans. I did some rituals at a place called Rancho Cicada and Hawk (could you describe briefly who Hawk is?) was one of them. He was quite taken with it, we exchanged presents and energies and he participated in some of the ceremony. In general I’ve had nothing but respect and awe from Indians.
Rebecca: You don’t ever come across people who think it’s just another example of the white man encroaching on Indian terrain?
Fakir: In Boston I was on a television program and they had Native Americans on there who were very un-native compared to the ones I grew up with on the Lakota reservations. They had always lived in cities and they were very Catholic or Lutheran. They didn’t seem to have much connection with Indian culture, but I had objections from them that I was ripping off Indian culture and exploiting it.
Rebecca: Going back to your childhood….
Fakir: I was the head of the class in the Lutheran confirmation. I knew all the dogma and all the theories and the doctrine of transubstantiation. We had a very aristocratic pastor who came from New York. He was quite a maverick because he didn’t preach hell and brimstone as much as he did love. He used to think the world of me.
One of my favorite meditation spots was church. I was in the choir and we sat in this separate space in front of the organ which had all of these beautiful vibrations coming out of it. And I had some of the most beautiful fantasies including erotic fantasies in that choir loft.
Rebecca: Was there anyone you could share your true urges and visions with?
Fakir: I couldn’t share what I was doing with anybody at all. It was so way out and bizarre compared to how everything was. In school I was an avid lucid daydreamer. I was near-sighted so I couldn’t see the board, it was so boring and the way they did everything was so rigid. They’d explain something and I’d jump twenty-eight steps before they’d even got to step three with the rest of the kids.
So I’d look out of the window, I’d look at a tree and I’d become sunlight falling on a leaf – I learned how to have visions. Some of them were alarming.
Rebecca: If your environment had been more interesting perhaps you wouldn’t have been encouraged to develop your inner world so much.
Fakir: Yes, that’s true. At home on Sunday afternoons you had to wear your Sunday best which was always very uncomfortable and you had to sit in an upright chair for hours while the family droned on and on about the crops and Aunt Tilly’s tumor – all this neat stuff. (laughter) I would sit in this room and stare at my Uncle Milton and all of a sudden I would start going into a trance state.
All the voices would go vzzzzzzzzz, like turning down the volume control, and everything would start to get dark except for Uncle Milton who’s head would get brighter and brighter. Then it would start to recede until it was a pinhead and then it would come back, but instead of Uncle Milton it would be an old Chinese man and he would be speaking Chinese! I was totally fascinated by this.
Up until I reached puberty I had some