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William Irwin Thompson

catastrophe bifurcation where a billion people die at once then they all share an imagination and they all share a definition of an event. Look at what the holocaust did to the Jews, for example; that shared event formed their identity, their whole experience of history and time. So, if human beings experience a collective catastrophe they will share an imagination in the collective subtle body.

Rebecca: What is your intuition of how this catastrophe might manifest?

Bill: I think it’s actually a change in the position of the solar system relative to the galaxy that happens periodically and that mystical elites have kept records of these over long periods of time. When the earth comes into a new position, it exposes it to more comets like the one hitting Jupiter on my birthday July 16th.

So, I think that we’ll get swept into some kind of asteroid belt and that there’ll be a subsequent variation in the geological stress on the planet. That will effect the reversal of the earth’s magnetic field and it’s orientation and rotation creating stress on the tectonic plates. We might get a lot of volcanoes going off which will begin to affect the albedo. With our high population, if we get one dark summer then there will be massive shortages in the food supply. Also socially, when pension funds get to be bankrupt with hurricanes and earthquakes and floods and AIDS, every single year, then pretty soon the economy of capitalism won’t be able to sustain all the demands being made on it. It implosively forces a redefinition of healthcare much larger than the one that Clinton has in mind.

That’s going to force capitalism to change, because you can’t deal with such a collectively shared catastrophe with the concept of private property. Even if you have an AK47, you’re not going to be able to defend yourself. It forces people to share an historical space.

If they go into this catastrophe space of bardo and the angels are kneading their consciousness - like making bread and throwing it back into the oven in the next incarnation to bake again - then I think it can accelerate evolution. I think it might be quite possible to come up with something where the biosphere generates a new evolutionary form as different from us as say the mammals were from the dinosaurs.

Rebecca: So you think that humans are the end of the line on this particular evolutionary track?

Bill: That’s what Auribindo and the Mother said - that man is a transitional animal and we’ve reached the end of the road. But ultimately, as the story and the cosmos is so vast, it’s not really the end, it’s just the closing of a chapter. And it’s really far-out, as far as any sci-fi imagination can take you. What’s the next step going to be I wonder? But, I’m not a prophet.

Rebecca: You’re not a prophet?

Bill: No, I’m not.

Rebecca: Damn!(laughter)

Bill: (laughter) By definition an open-ended system is not predictable and to think that it is, is an ego trip.

David: But from your study of cultural history, do you see certain patterns of transitions in the past from which you could extrapolate to where we might be going now?

Bill: All the metaphors of different changes are relevant in a sense because you can say it’s a paradigm shift, but it’s larger than that because you’re dealing with evolution. It seems to be larger than something like the neolithic revolution because it’s not just a change in technology - it’s a speciation.

So, it seems that when we look at the myths of hominization and the emergence of humanity, there are some biological lessons about what happens when a species enters a new ecological niche like when our ancestors went from forests to savannah. Generally, when there’s one of these evolutionary changes, the dominant institutions don’t carry the explanation. The church is not going to imagine a Renaissance - they couldn’t imagine that it would be the end of their trip. So what you get are small groups arising and reimagining the world and coming up with a more effective explanation. That’s why Lindisfarne was more attractive to me than staying at M.I.T.

But with these small groups, I think it’s possible to expand imagination and release one’s control so that you don’t concretize into a premature interpretation fundamentalists do and try to clamp down violently. You learn to have more faith in the transformational quality. So, I tend to be more attracted to people who have the biggest possible picture imaginable, like Rudolph Steiner, rather than technological predictors.

In Science magazine in the 80’s they dragged out all the predictions of the `70’s and they were all wrong. All the smart guys had said that we would be taking helicopters to work in 1984. I think that futurism tends to be just a description of the present and it’s never prophetic. Artists tend to be much more sensitive to it.

David: Have psychedelics had any influence on your philosophical outlook?

Bill: No, none whatsoever. It’s totally yogic. Again, I have an aesthetic orientation. Psychedelics are too much American consumerism - it’s fast food. Also, a couple of my friends went psychotic, so I’ve seen some casualties. In my particular case, I had a mystical vision that said I shouldn’t go that way, that I should become a yogi.

I’ve always been naturally psychedelic since a child. Gregory Bateson‘s grandfather who created the science of genetics had a theory that the reason the Celts were more psychic was that the witch trials that selectively killed all the people with second sight never penetrated to the Celtic hinterland of Ireland and Scotland. It’s certainly true that second sight and visions of elementals is still alive in the Celtic tradition. If you combine that with drugs you run a really good risk of becoming psychotic - you just get overloaded.

I’ve been with many who have been influenced by psychedelics such as John Lilly, Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Terence McKenna, Ralph Abraham and Joan Halifax. I think it tends to create a hole in your aura like the ozone hole and yeah, that can open you up to stuff, but the intermediate realms are full of noise and things that are traditionally called demons. In the Ramayana there’s this wonderful story about how the demons would go out to yogis who were meditating on their own and eat them alive. People go out into the astral, but not really prepared for dealing with it, open themselves up to psychic inflation - or worse.

There’s a certain kind of autism in my psychedelic friends where they’ve gotten into their own private Idaho and their eyeballs gleam with a personal ecstasy and they lose the compassionate sensitivity to the Other. I’ve never really found anyone in the psychedelic movement who is as translucent or radiant or as charming as the Dalai Lama or the yogis I’ve met. There’s a good friend of mine who’s a neuroscientist here at UCSF and he said, “man, if it wasn’t for acid I just wouldn’t be open to any of this stuff.” But that wasn’t my case.

I’ve also noticed that sometimes there’s a seductive self-delusion where people get stoned and write crappy poetry. There’s a certain level of psychedelic kitsch that I’m aesthetically repelled by.

David: It seems that you really are naturally psychedelic. In reading your books my first thought was, these are all LSD insights!

Bill: But they’re all literal descriptions of experiences I’ve had. I’ve noticed that there’s a certain loss of discrimination among the psychedelic crowd. Can we point to psychedelic art that’s really as great as Bach or Goethe or Yeats? When I come to San Fransisco I find this strong commitment to the psychedelic sub-culture and I feel that if I stayed here all the time there would be a real loss of complexity and excellence.

David: Isn’t that the case if you stay anywhere too long?

Bill: Yes, absolutely. The Parisians can get enfolded into themselves and can become anaerobic intellectuals. I don’t belong anywhere. I’m here on the edge of the Haight Ashbury, but I’m about the most un-Haight Ashbury person you’ll ever find or probably ever interview. I’m the real freak in your collection.

Rebecca: Tell us about your work with the solar village.

Bill: In Colorado there is a hands-on attempt to create a solar village. We brought people together to develop appropriate technology that would lead to the rediscovery of planetary villages and decentralization. It was an attempt to do something political at the ecological level. Maybe in the long-run it’s beginning to work but we’ve run across a lot of setbacks. I wonder if perhaps we were too purist in our strategies. In going to Crestone we encountered fundamentalists who tried to burn us out.

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