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William Irwin Thompson

taken by someone working on an oil-rig in the North Sea during a tough winter. At the same time, I love that I can walk down the street and nobody is going to recognize me. I feel sorry for Jane Fonda and those people who don’t own their own face.

David: I’d like to hear about what myth means to you and the four different levels of mythic interpretation.

Bill: Oh no, I don’t want to do that. It’s all written up on page 5 in The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light. The meta-level of this question is more interesting than the content if we actually attend to what’s really going on here rather than to your agenda. This is precisely the difficulty of the media.

If a writer is to stay alive, you don’t want to just continually repeat yourself. What America demands in the media is sound-bites and having a certain trip. Joseph Campbell says, “follow your bliss,” and then everybody memorizes it and it goes out into the culture and becomes an icon. That is the kind of fossilization that I resist.

Bucky fuller became a holographic recording of himself. The time I introduced him to the audience in Toronto he said, “Well I don’t know what I’m going to say, and I would just like to make it up on the spot.” He went into this rap and it was practically word for word the rap he gave in Utopia or Oblivion. There’s something disingenuous and not really sincere about what he was presenting.

David: I completely understand and I admire your integrity but I would just like to learn more about what your perspective is on the subject of myth. You define mythology as being the `history of the soul’. I’m curious about when you say that, whether you see mythology as being history from the genetic code’s point of view?

Bill: No, that’s too concretized. Myth is much larger than just crystallized DNA.

David: No, not crystallized DNA, but could myth be the story of evolution from the point of view of DNA - that physical part of us that is passed on from generation to generation?

Bill: The whole metaphor is wrong. If you read The Ontogeny of Information by Susan Oyama, she says, DNA doesn’t carry a message or a unit. DNA is a topological crystal and the shape of it has a lot to do with the sequencing. It’s also influenced by thousands of enzymes in the cytoplasm, so it isn’t even just in the nucleus. The whole cell is such an incredibly complex ecology of consciousness that it’s inaccurate to say that information is just being carried in DNA like it’s a Chevy pickup.

What I said in those lectures back in 1976, is that history is written by elites which are the ego of a civilization. If it’s written by men in England, it’s not about women and slaves in Athens or Semites with hooked noses who created the alphabet and the Mediterranean trading culture. The kind of history you learned in classics was a white, male, patriarchal narrative. That’s the history of the ego. The history of the soul is always the history of the voiceless, the oppressed, the repressed: the marginal people, the artists, the women, the African.

To reconstruct the larger evolution involves the study of fairy tales. Grimm called his stories `housetales.’ It’s the story that the maid with the wrong accent would tell the upper-middle class children. It’s information being smuggled in by marginal people who connect with the oral peasant culture. It’s not what the Reverend would be teaching the children in schools.

Myth also records the events that happened before we were even around. The Christian metaphor of the Eucharist - `take and eat for this is my body and my blood,’ is a way of describing the supernova that exploded and scattered information throughout the solar system, inseminated our earth with heavy metals and made life here possible.

The myth of St Michael the archangel, forcing the demons down into the underworld, is a description of the anaerobic catastrophe, where the new cyanobacteria who were breathing oxygen and creating the new atmosphere, forced the anaerobic bacteria down into the slime at the bottom of lakes. I’m a Celtic animist so I think that we were the anaerobic bacteria and the dinosaurs. I believe that Gaia, the whole biosphere, is really our collective body politic.

Rebecca: What does that suggest about the nature of mind?

Bill: That it’s more immanent and diffused throughout the system than commonly thought, and that the mind isn’t just epiphenomenal and located in the brain. Varella andMaturana have this biology which says that when you really study the whole dynamics of life, you find that the mind is “the realization of the living.”

That’s the opposite of the American cognitive model that says consciousness is just in the brain and that information is just encoded in your DNA. In 1972 Varella and Maturana talked about mind as the realization of the living and took it down to the level of the cell. That was really far out then but now people are beginning to wonder if that actually makes a lot of sense. But there are other people who are really hard reductionists and would just find that too European and fancy.

Rebecca: So let me just clarify. You think that myth is the memory of the whole history of the universe?

Bill: Yes. For example when you begin to unpack the cosmology in the Rapunzel fairytale, you can show just how much information is in that.

David: You say that this universal memory is not stored in the DNA. So where is it stored?

Bill: It’s non-locality. Everything in quantum physics now is rejecting the notion of storage and locality.

David: But wouldn’t it be stored in the nucleus of the atom? Without localization points how can information be distributed?

Bill: Well, wave functions aren’t localized. Bell’s theorem is all about non-locality and when you’re dealing with ten dimensions then where’s the location? Brian Swimme who is a colleague of mine talks about how if you draw a circle and you move to a second dimension of a sphere, it’s possible to move out of that circle without crossing a boundary. If you have a sphere and you go from the three-dimensional to the four-dimensional you can also do that without crossing a boundary. So at three dimensions you can say I’m Euclideanly located here, but in the multi-dimensionality of my subtle bodies I’m involved with Andromeda.

Part of the yogic thing is to shift from what’s called the fu chi. There’s the anamayacosa and then there’s the pranamayacosa, which is the energy body that you use in T’ai Chi. The anamayacosa is sometimes called the astral body, but it keeps shifting to the pranamayacosa and back again, and at each one of those you’re adding dimensionality. It’s getting vaster and vaster and at the same time it’s recursive and enfolded so that each point prehends a larger point.

The whole notion of what is location and what is the body gets really dicey. What I break with in American culture is the notion that things are located in elementary particles, or in genes or in brains, and that by manipulating them through elite minds at Harvard or MIT, you can control everything.

I’m much more involved in a diversity and an ecology of consciousness where an individual flame can’t exist if there’s not an atmosphere, that we can’t exist if there weren’t bacteria in our guts taking care of the poisons. The new theory about bacteria is that they’re actually a planetary bioplasm and that we’re inside them, they’re not inside us - it’s like a sheath around the earth. So the whole notion of location is becoming much more complicated - and much more interesting.

David: So the problem you have with location is similar to the problem you have with the idea of representation?

Bill: Yes, that’s a good connection. That’s why Varella has rejected the whole representational theory of the nervous system and wants to deal with concepts like participation instead.

Rebecca: Can you describe the connections that you see between science and myth?

Bill: If you ask three questions: Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? Any answer to those will give you a myth. You can give a Marxist answer, you can give a sociobiological answer, you can give a Christian fundamentalist or Moslem answer. So myth is basically macro thinking. Technical thinking is micro. It’s saying, I’m a neuroscientist, I’m a geneticist and I’m not interested in answering the big questions. That was originally why I left M.I.T, because if kids asked questions the professors would say, forget it and do your problem sets.

If you step back and ask the big questions then you’re beginning to think mythopoeically. If you look at the narratives of Darwin or

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