Trepidation / John Lang
(For Walt. You were the best in the world! John)
“If we recognize the plant as an autonomous power which enters in order to put roots and flowers in us, then we distance ourselves by several degrees from the skewed perspective which imagines that spirit (Geist) is the monopoly of human beings and doesn’t exist outside of them. A new world-picture has to follow the planetary leveling; that is the task which the next century will take up.” – Ernst Jünger, “The Plant as Autonomous Power”
It is always wonderful to get an email out of nowhere from a reader of one of your past blogs. Since 2016, I’ve created 660 of them. (As of tonight, October 29, 2023). One of the blogs was titled The Psychedelics of Electricity about the relationship of Marshall McLuhan to Tim Leary and the beginnings of the psychedelic movement. Written a few years ago, it found publication in the Canadian media ecology journal founded originally by McLuhan, New Explorers. Before it was published in the journal, I published it on my site Midnight Oil.
And, there it sat on the Midnight Oil site, praised and commented on by a number of people, but not really going anywhere. It became another blog to my website but a blog I always knew was different from the rest. Knew this as I continued on with other blogs over the next few years.
But in the background of things, I was very proud of this piece and knew it was the best things I had written. So I was very pleased to hear from someone who enjoyed this blog and wrote me a wonderful note on it. Actually, it was an amazing letter in many respects. A reaching out from someone who understood what I was trying to say in this post. It was a wonderful confirmation in life from a fellow traveler it clearly seemed to me. I didn’t receive a lot of these in life. A rarity and probably one of those few people it might be worthwhile to spend your time these days. More than all the ads and messages beckoning to you. Like the ancient Sirens you might have seen in the Seventh Voyage of Sinbad.
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But here was a person responding to one of my posts and actually “getting” what I was trying to communicate. Such a rare occurrence when it came down to things these days. He immediately understood how I felt about this piece. What it really showed. It was good to have any confirmation of one’s writing and ideas. Especially, a confirmation of something written a few years ago. It seemed to be evidence that my writing and research was on the right path.
But here was a confirmation from a person – I learned – was well-known in areas of interest to me.
The author – I later found out – was a well-known author and professor. And perhaps one of the few people involved in the understanding of plants relationship to humanity and civilization.
His name is Richard Doyle, a professor at Penn State. (https://english.la.psu.edu/directory/rmd12/). As he likes to remind, he is the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English Affiliate Faculty, Information Science and Technology, Digital Director, Zebrapedia.org (Zebrapedia.psu.edu).
Read the Bio on his Penn State page and you’il get a feel for the type of person Richard Doyle is. His blog is titled Mobiused at http://mobiused.wordpress.com. The word Mobi relates to a physical object having a surface and bottom in the same piece. A twisting 8 pattern of paper. The word Mobiused seemed a good stand in for the modern version of the old Checkmated or stopped in one’s tracks by forces in the world. Perhaps the word itself, I thought, really represented the 3D version of Checkmated?
Richard and I established a good communication. It wasn’t hard to do. After looking and reading a little about him, I realized that we had both been pursuing much the similar in life. He had an impressive background and was a well known author and expert on certain things. Somewhat on the outskirts of current culture.
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Like his feeling for the connection between humans and nature. Especially in the plants of nature. That part of nature consumed my humans.
In the last email, Richard sent me seven PDFs of his various books and articles. The first one I opened was the last book in a trilogy he wrote. It is called
Darwin’s Pharmacy: Sex, Plants, and the Evolution of the Noosphere. I’ve heard of the book. Somewhat of a classic in its area of plant life materials. I opened the file Richard sent me.
The Preface to his book started with the below. I started reading and couldn’t stop.
Twenty minutes in, like clockwork, the visions begin. They are strong, an admixture of force and light, a flickering current of rhythm that passes through me like electricity. I was expecting them this time and found myself less shocked than prepared for the plant gnosis no doubt in my near future as I let go…
Norma, the vegetalista who so astonished me with her care, skill, and knowledge during my first ceremony two nights before, had packed a big bowl with a knot of the local Nicotina rustica and blown curling, whistling smoke over a plastic liter bottle filled with an opaque orangish liquid I knew to be ayahuasca, the potent brew of tryptamines and MAO inhibitors that has been prepared in the upper Amazon for perhaps sixteen thousand years. I knew it to be ayahuasca since I had, after all, helped mix it the day before, pounding a kilo of the soft but woody vine of fresh B. caapi and tossing about fifty green glossy leaves of P. viridis, a DMT containing a relative of coffee, into the black cauldron simmering over a wood fire on the shores of the Yanayacu River, one of the eleven hundred tributaries “of the Amazon. Back home this could be a felony. Here, I now understood, it is a medicine.
The smoke whistle is a trope, a refrain that often begins or ends an icaro, the beautiful songs sung and whistled during the entire four-hour ceremony. Smoke and its whistling inflection act as protocols to open up a spirit portal while keeping unwelcome entities—what I think of as affect—at bay. After my first session, I had also learned that the songs serve to orient the ayahuasca drinker. The songs seem to mime and sample the birdsong of the region, an ecosystem with over two thousand species of birds and polyrhythms of insect chatter. I held on to, and was held by, the icaros, giving intense thanks for the whistled orientation.
I took the coffee mug and fearfully eyed its contents. My first contact with ayahuasca had been perhaps the most difficult experience of my life that didn’t involve someone (else) dying. For I had indeed palpably, and unmistakably, died during that experience. To remix Mark Twain: the accounts of ego death were not at all greatly exaggerated.”
“Nonetheless, here I was, two days later, again looking into the flickering, refracted, and reversed image of myself I think I spied in the mug, lit only by candlelight in the Amazonian night. The liquid was dark and iridescent, but I now knew that tales of its horrid flavor were something like an urban legend from the rain forest. My first gulp of ayahuasca tasted like nothing so much as my first pint of draft stout slurped in Ireland at the age of seventeen with my now departed brother. And it was equally shamanic.
Still, I was fearful and full of respect for this plant intelligence with which I had seemingly interacted. The mug appeared nearly two-thirds full, easily as large a dose as the first, most difficult, night. I had secretly hoped for a tinier tourist dose, but now I really had no choice but to drink down the cup I was offered.
As a result of my extensive research into the ceremony (as well my inquiries into scientist John C. Lilly’s “science of belief”), I carefully addressed the ayahuasca to orient my journey. Having played with the I Ching as a writing tool, I was comfortable “posing questions to nonhuman entities as a rhetorical experiment, a practice of rhetorical invention that seeks interaction with other forms of order and its disruption. Among other things, I asked how I could possibly integrate the knowledge from my first journey into my life back in North America. Then I threw it back like a fat shot of tequila, opening my throat to the entirety of the viscous flow.
Like I said, twenty minutes of meditation later and the visions began; the same as the first night. A pixelated doorway appeared in my closed-eye visuals and I went through it. “Here goes,” I thought to myself, “What have I done?”
What has he done?
Just in the Preface of his book?
He’s shown me that he is much more of an explorer than anything else. This is so important to me as there are only a few true explorers in the world today.
One might define Dawkins as another psychedelics researcher. In a long line of these in the family.
But there was something else in Richard’s background. I consider him someone trying to make contact with the plant world. Through its most important method for this communication today in the Brazilian plant.
The battle was/is between nature and humanity.
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In the area of humanity, civilization and culture’s connection to the plant kingdom on earth. At least some acknowledgement which has never been given.
Perhaps more than anything, this might be what the modern psychedelic movement is about. The connection between civilizations of the world to plants. None of this has ever been really measured or studied. I remember reading the Teachings of Don Juan while a student at UCLA. It was fascinating how the plants of the world came alive for me for the first time in book form by reading this book. A whole new world was presented to me at this time. Not necessarily the world of Don Juan but the idea of the possible consciousness of another part of the world. So much greater than almost any science fiction story I can think of. It was an idea of contacting another form of life on earth other than other animals. Here, contacting plants.
More than anything, I think that the experience Richard goes through above much involves what plants have to communicate to humans at this time in the world. As the plants in south American have always been willing to communicate to civilization.
The plant world.
Why isn’t it at least as big as AI to everyone these days?
It is seen as someone in culture dropping out. But what if it is more of a dropping in rather than a dropping out. A dropping in on another species of life.
Perhaps what plants have to tell us is the most important things waiting to be told us in the future. After all, there is not much intelligence about our planet coming from the civilizations of the world.
Might there be any intelligence to be gained from plants?
Might there be much intelligence?
More than human intelligence?