Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Futurama

Just finished reading The Invisible Landscape by Dennis and Terence McKenna, an account of the brothers' experiments with hallucinogenic plants in 1971. The book contains a weird mixture of philosophy and mid-70s science- particularly physics and psychpharmacology. It's also very entertaining, if taken with a grain of salt.

Late in the book, the brothers subject the King Wen sequence of the I Ching to a thorough mathematical analysis and conclude that its 64 hexagrams work as a calendar- nothing new there- suggest that it corresponds to the 64 codons in DNA, and that it mathematically encodes the time wave system underlying change in the universe. They claim to have found a complex fractal wave in which each level is 64 times greater than the one below, which they correspond to epochs in history.

The Invisible Landscape: "The universe is subject to cycles of temporal variables, occurring on many levels and generating appropriate forms of novelty on each such level. Life's epoch began one to two billion years ago- 1.3 billion years on our scale. Eighteen million years brings one to the closure of the next smallest level. This occurred at the height of the age of mammals. 1/64th of this 18 million year cycle is a cycle whose inception was 275,000 years ago, a time which corresponds well with the emergence of homo sapiens. 1/64th of this cycle brings us to the cycle which epitomizes what might be called historical time, that cycle which began 4,300 years ago, around 2,300 BC. The duration of the cycle next encountered is 67+ years, and we have assumed the most recent such epoch to have begun in 1945. The end of World War II and the development of atomic weapons and their use in war are forms of novelty whose appearance attend the shift of epochs that created the post-modern world. If our understanding is correct, then this same 67+- year cycle at, or near, the end of a 4,300 year cycle will terminate around the year 2012."

I don't know if I'd make too much out of the similarity to the Mayan calendar, which also ends in 2012; although, it is worth noting that the McKennas didn't note the Mayan calendar because they didn't know about it- it wasn't widely known about at the time. Coincidentally, they put ''timewave zero'' at 2012, like the Mayans did, probably after ingesting the same plants. Other people have written much more than me about this topic. And, for the record, I'm not a big believer in teleologies- underlying forces moving history towards any particular endpoint. I'm not a believer in the immanent "end of the world". To be pedantic, I also wouldn't put the start of historical time at 2,300 BC.

But, I do understand the desire some people have to see 2012, or any future date, as a time of either epochal change or annihilation. I often have the sense, especially of late, that the systems that we have created to handle our basic needs are deeply flawed and falling apart. From the economy to energy, from the environment to education, there seems to be a situation in which: 1. Things are falling apart, 2. They might never have been sustainable, but 3. We all want them to run the way they used to, back when the flaws were less apparent. For all the talk in public about the economy, it's striking to me that the debate seems to be between A. people who want to take serious action to return to an unsustainable past, and B. those who think we will return to that unsustainable past when things run their natural course. But, nowhere do I hear anyone willing to suggest that an epoch might have simply ended, a rather common occurrence in history. Cultural systems are all subject to their own sort of entropy. It's always a safe bet that the future will be stranger.

Our brains don't seem to be equipped for the scale of change that we're encountering all of a sudden. I don't get the idea that anyone has mapped out a future which is radically different from the world in which we live now, while constituting a significant improvement. Yet change and novelty are inescapable for those of us who live in the temporal dimension. Change will come, whether we like it or not.

So, if we're approaching an epochal shift, let it first involve a mental revolution.

8 comments:

Holly said...

Eh, every species has a life-sustaining range of conditions. Life is amazingly adaptable within that range, and amazingly perishable outside it.

Calculating all the factors in a life-sustaining environment is considered overwhelming at best, and probably impossible at worst. Generalizations are of course possible, but there have always been folks who don't have to do any math to work it out. Rats abandoning a sinking ship, to borrow a probably inappropriate cliche.

Although it seems very mystical and hand-wavy (uh, because it IS), there is no real reason to rule out the possibility of species collapse around 2012. Scientists are currently doing these kinds of calculations now, and every year the predictions move a little closer to current events.

Why 2012, and not some other time? Who knows. Who cares. All species are subject to their range of sustainability, not just those who think they can outwit their biological imperatives.

Rufus said...

Ah, I don't know that I'd really give us much more than three years... I'm just not a big believer in exact predictions about the future. There are indeed a good number of scientists who see the idea that the species could live for another hundred years as ridiculously optimistic. But they have enough good reasons without bringing the I Ching into it.

On the other hand, it's not like the Mayan calendar people are saying something that the scientists are opposed to actually happening. And part of the point the McKennas were making was that they think the I Ching calendar is based on solar flares, which seems to be a bit concern among scientists as well.

So, maybe it's a good idea to do that last minute shopping now.

gregvw said...

Methinks the Mayans were almost certainly also gooned on mushrooms while prognosticating.

Rufus said...

Oh, absolutely. They were probably zonked on the same substances as the McKennas. I think they eventually came to the conclusion that the plants were communicating the same things to them as to the Mayans!

Holly said...

Maybe it's time to get the scientists thoroughly shroom-gooned and get some hard facts to work with here.

clairev said...

I actually proposed a foundation to get the world's best thinkers on hallucinogens a while ago. Nobody was very interested though.

Holly said...

I'm interested, but I wouldn't even get any hallucinogens. I'm not that good of a thinker.

The Pagan Temple said...

I have this strange idea that if you traced back to the origins of Mayan history as they understood history, including where they calculated the time of certain mythological tales, you would find that the general creation of the Mayan calendar took place sometime between that time and 2012. Just a thought, not going on any specific knowledge, but I do know it was based on certain astrological aspects, with a heavy emphasis I think on Venus.