John Perry Barlow Interview
New York City
B: It's certainly not up to me to digest the entire body of his work and regurgitate it when the essential point is something that you can say in about 15 words.
JK: What do you think it is?
B: That the point of all evolution to this stage is to create the collective organism of mind. That's what Teilhard would say. I have some other things to say in addition to that. But that's the best way I can sum up his work. It's about creating a consciousness so profound that it will make good company for God himself. Or itself.
JK: Or an extension of God itself.
B: Right. That's how I would see it. I don't think that's how Teilhard would see it. He was still, with all, a monotheist and a dualist and a Catholic. I don't have any illusions about that. It doesn't make a bad fellow out of him.
JK: He had some real questionable aspects. I don't buy him whole hog. But he put his finger on some very central truths that we have to listen to.
B: It's often the case. It's like Newton said, "If I've seen far, I've stood on the shoulders of giants." It's often the case that the giants cannot see. I had a classic case of that the other night. Do you know who Richard Dawkins is? Do you know the idea of the meme?
B: Well, this is an idea that Dawkins threw out rather casually in a essay he wrote ten years ago which was that ideas have many of the characteristics of life forms, in their self-reproductive capacity and the way they spread. They are rather like genetic patterns and they have a self-replicating independence in the world. This idea was one of the most powerful things I ever heard. It made a whole lot of things make sense about the ecology of mind. And it developed and blossomed and transmuted itself until I now look at carbon-based life as a thin film that develops on top of the real thing.
B: Invisible life. Information. The self-duplicating patterns of relationship. The life forms that form in the space between things. The non carbon-based life. The real thing. So I thought it is going to be great to talk to Dawkins about this. It turns out the man was a resolute reductionist who thought I was talking complete horseshit. Not only was it just poetry, it was bad poetry. It was a pretty frustrating experience. But it was appropriate too.
JK: Right. It's your job to take his idea the next step.
B: Exactly. It was precisely in keeping with the evolutionary model.
JK: Right. You get the ah-hah.
B: And presumably somebody else will be getting their ah-hahs off of me. And I'll find them to be full of shit. "What are you taking about? That's nonsense."
JK: I like the idea of memes.
B: It's helpful to me because I've been trying to think about the politics of cyberspace. The enfranchisement, what does the enfranchization do? And I increasingly think that it's not the expressor, but the idea itself. That the enfranchized entity is the idea and not the person who says it or has it.
JK: You mean, it has a life of its own once it leaves my lips.
B: Yes. And it's the right of that thing to go on existing and not be suppressed and not be killed and not be imprisoned.
JK: That's a great idea. Because then we get away from the whole anthropocentric issue which is the big problem. And that is much closer to Omega or God, a much closer reflection of the divine, in getting it away from the ego and the self.
B: Right. From the flesh. From the meat. Which is something that the soul is wrapped in for pedagogical purposes only.
JK: Or a stage in evolution.
B: An important stage. Until recently I didn't fully believe in the separability of the soul from the flesh.
JK: In terms of life after death?
B: Or life before life. I was forced into this position. I was living with somebody. She was the first great love of my life. And after a relatively short time of being together -- we only had a year together -- she suddenly dropped dead in April. And I was forced to see things differently than I had before out of emotional necessity.
JK: Do you still feel her now?
B: Oh, absolutely. And that opened up the conditions for a lot of things.
JK: It's interesting, I just confronted this issue on a more philosophical level. I just finished Frank Tipler's book. There are some interesting ideas in there but I think most of it is hog wash. But what he forced me to confront is the question of whether life will continue forever. At first I thought, how can we know? Who are we to say? Then I thought, can I imagine a universe without life? It's like imagining a universe without God and that is inconceivable.
B: My sense of what life is now, I can't imagine there being anything without life in it.
B: For me, life is simply relationship. If there is a thing, and another thing, then there's a relationship between those two things and there is life.
JK: My favorite theologian at the moment is someone called John Cobb who I highly recommend to you. He comes from the process school.
B: Which is making a major ascendancy right now.
JK: Right. After spending two years going through everything I could find, I ended up with Cobb. He calls God "Life. " Which I think is a much fuller and richer term. That is simply what God is. It's the force of Life continuing to grow and change and push its way through the Universe. Cobb has a wonderful way of expressing both the transcendent and immanent faces of God. The transcendent is of course way beyond us. But the immanent is actually in process with us. We change God as we change. The immanent face of God is highly mutable, while the transcendent face remains beyond.
B: I think the transcendent face -- there are many, many spheres of the transcendent face. One of the things that's happening now is the next sphere is becoming visible to us. I think there are spheres all the way up.
JK: Right. Infinite spheres. Teilhard calls this phase we are entering the third phase which I really love about his work. The second phase is consciousness becoming aware of itself and the third phase is evolution becoming aware of itself. So it's a collective idea of consciousness.
B: Do you know about the work of Tom Ray, for example?
B: You should check out Tom Ray. He is an electronic lifeist. And he has created ecologies in computer RAM space where evolution is dramatically excellerated and he's getting all these little code life forms which are, for example, much more adept at certain programming issues than any human being could ever write. They simply develop in RAM. And he is currently pushing a program to get a virtual bioreserve put on the internet for these creatures to develop in.
JK: Is he with Santa Fe institute, with the A-life people?
B: He is associated with Santa Fe institute. He is currently in Japan. I just had the Grateful Dead drop 10 grand on him out of the sky to help him with his internet project.
JK: He wants to just set up a . . . .
B: Well, he wants a partioned area for these things to generate.
(Brings Ralph Abraham's book over -- tape pause.)
JK: I have two copies. Ralph sent me one and his publisher sent me one as well. It's terrific, I really like it. I just got his Web book too. It's great.
B: Yes. It's a little odd that the great Ralph Abraham would be writing a Web guide.
JK: A primer. I know. He is the most wonderful person.
B: He is a true angel.
JK: Yes. He has a very angelic energy. OK, let's talk a little about Teilhard, even though I can tell that we want to talk about a lot of things, this stuff being my obsession as well as yours.
B: There's a group of us who went up the same saucer. That's the only explanation I have for it. I mean, I run into these people once in a while, not often, and you are obviously one of them, who have the same odd religion I do. And it's quite granular, quite particular. It has all these odd little elements that one could never have gotten from the culture. And it's like we're all down in the basement making replicas of Devil's Tower and not knowing why we want to do that.
JK: I know.
B: But Teilhard is certainly an element. I haven't run across many people who have this religion who haven't read Teilhard. But it's not a causal element. It's just another one of the elements.
JK: It's a piece you come across. It's, "Oh, this fits in." But it's not everything. There are some pieces here, but, oh, there are some pieces over here. . . .
B: Right. You know about the Noetics people, the Noetics Institute.
JK: In Marin.
JK: My first step in trying to articulate this odd vision is to write a piece for WIRED about Teilhard. And my challenge there is to make Teilhard relevant to the readers of WIRED.
B: I've been meaning to do this, so I'm glad you are.
JK: I knew had to talk to you about this. That was obvious from the beginning.
B: Did I send you that thing that I wrote for ACM about Teilhard and The Great Work?
JK: Yes. What I've read is the piece in the Journal. Were you pleased with that? I though it was a nice piece.
B: It was OK. I liked the picture better. I had a good time doing the picture.
JK: I bet. The part I liked best was your quote about fire and the picture mirrored that. And then I read the piece in the Wesleyan magazine, which arrived in our house because my husband went to Wesleyan.
B: When did he go to Wesleyan?
JK: Oh, he graduated in '81. But that's what made me realize I should get in touch with you. But in all the pieces, the idea of the Great Work emerged. So why don't you talk a little about what you mean be that.
B: Well, there's something a little misleading about the phrase. Because the original use of the phrase that I was thinking of was the Gothic cathedrals which were referred to in their time as being the Great Work. And I looked at the net as being the Great Work of the present. You know, the highest expression of the culture of this era. And that was before I really started to think about invisible life in the way that I do now. Starting to re-relate Teilhard to this. At a certain point is suddenly dawned on me, I had a very crystalline perception, that this was precisely what he had been talking about.
JK: Invisible life?
B: No, the net. The net was precisely what he had been talking about. Which was pretty prescient, when you consider what he had to look at the time. But he was an evolutionist , which helped, so he was little better able to see what the next several layers were liable to look like. Ontogony recapitulates philogony, in both directions. So he had an advantage. But it is a little uncanny that he says it so clearly. But I hadn't thought about Teilhard much since college when some aspect of the psychedelic experience illuminated the continuity of mind. And I had also read Bateson and had a similar resonance. As had a number of other people. Ralph Abraham had the same thing. These was some combination of the right literature and the right antecedent experiences and LSD that became like the crystal that got dropped in the supersaturated solution. But then I went off to Wyoming and spent 17 years pushing cows around and thinking about it. I was pretty abstracted from what it going on out here in the world. I was trying to make myself as much a part of the 19th century as I could make myself. The 20th seemed to be unremittingly beastly. But suddenly I realized I could switch seamlessly to the 21st and skip the whole thing. Suddenly it just came back to me. I think it was the first time I telnetted someplace and realized it was all one thing. It was all continuous, it was all simultaneously present. And that blew my mind. I mean, telnetting for the first time was a genuinely religious experience.
JK: You mean, you had a mystical vision. . . .
B: Right. Wow, I'm over here.
JK: Yes. I, I am over here.
B: Exactly. And then of course, one falls back from all ones epiphanies to more conventional experience.
JK: Damn, back here again.
B: Right. On the other hand, we're just telnetting and furthermore, I can't get into the damn computer. I think Teilhard would agree with this, that human beings are divinely endowed with something which is a kind of holy disatisfaction which sets us apart from all other beings on the planet. There is no satisfying a human. There is always in itch that cannot be scratched. Everything else adapts to its surroundings. We adapt our surroundings to us and we still aren't happy. And that unhappiness is our most singular characteristic as a species and also our glory. They ought to call us homo-disatisfactus. And it fuels a lot of our creative endeavor. And I'm now starting to think that what that unhappiness really is is the internal surge of invisible life within us trying to break free of the flesh altogether. And be out there so it can really live.
JK: And is that related to Omega?
B: Oh, I think it's on the road to Omega. It's along the line. I have this funny kind of paradoxical teleology that says that as long as you are in the physical world, teleology makes sense because you have entropy and the apparent directional flow of time. But I'm increasingly aware of how irrelevant those things are on the fairly thin membrane that separates us from eternity. And, you know, on the other side of that membrane, Omega is continuous.
JK: Right. But there's an issue here because clearly technology is leading us away from our bodies. It's a disembodied state, it's a state of consciousness. But how does that affect our sacred relationship to the sacred earth. That's the conundrum I keep coming back to.
B: Well, mine is actually enhanced in a peculiar way. I am more devotedly attached to the physical world than I even have been. I am more tactile, more passionately so. I am much more interested in experience than information. And the best thing about this is that in enables me to have much more experience all around the world than I had before. Here's another paradox. My original thought was that because of cyberspace I was going to be able to plunk myself down in Pinedale, Wyoming and my mind could roam the plant. Precisely the opposite has happened. My body is roaming the planet and my mind is plunked down at email@example.com where people can find me all the time.
JK: I love paradox.
B: Well, it's a good thing you do because it's another piece of this funny religion.
JK: Yes. Paradox is the key to all truth.
B: Absolutely. If I'm not in the presence of paradox, I assume I'm in the presence of something that somebody made up.
JK: Yes. Ken Wilber said it beautifully.
B: Wilber is important.
JK: Right. He said paradox is the way God looks to the intellect. And that's all it is.
B: Neils Bohr had another way of saying it that I always liked. "The opposite of a trivial truth is false, the opposite of a great truth is also true."
JK: That's great. I like that a lot. Maybe that's why I keep coming back to this body issue, because it is paradoxical but it gets synthesized in our own personal experience.
B: And it's also, at which level are you observing this? What slice are you taking here? Another one of my experiences that really led me here was I was giving a talk on VR at NYU about a year ago. And, inevitably you always get a question about sex, right away. Which I always thought was just a bothersome reality as I said in response to this question. This is so bizaare, because nothing could be less sexy than VR. It's like having had your body amputated.
JK: Right, images of full body gloves and everything.
B: Right. You want to take that shit off. But this fairly corporeal woman in the front row suddenly said, "But don't you think with regard to sex, your body is just a prosthesis anyway?" And I said, "For what?" And she said, "Well, that's the question isn't it?" And I just has a shiver. I thought, whoa! I don't know who you are but you are absolutely right about this.
JK: That's a very feminine perspective, by the way. The woman's experience tends to be much more transcendent.
B: It actually changed my experience. It became a much more spiritual thing to me after that.
JK: I like that. Part of me, I don't know.
B: She's right though. But not. But it enabled me to suddenly understand why there was this fascination with sex and VR because sex is involved in bringing invisible life into materiality. And so you'd assume that as the flesh becomes word again, that sex would be involved.
JK: And sex is the passion, the Eros.
B: Right. And you'd expect to see some on the other side. So suddenly it made sense.
JK: So, when you say invisible life is trying to break free -- I really like that idea a lot. That invisible life that is happening, that is beginning to form now, is that the same life?
B: I don't see that there is much difference. It's a matter of medium. And there are many media. For example, there is the medium of mathematics where you find something like the Mandlebrot set, which is a feature of the universe which is as real as Mt. Everest but that was previously invisible to us. Until we had something with which to essentially photograph that reality. And there are many other media that we will never know because we are too bound up, our perceptions are physically contained. But if you think about the RNA/DNA interchange. The arrangement of nucleotides along the DNA molecule, what's important there is the agency that stacks those proteins in the order they are. The proteins are kind of irrelevant, it's the pattern of information that's relevant. You see what I mean.
JK: Yes, it's not the 0s and the 1s. It's the pattern . . .
B: It's the space between the 0s and the 1s. This is what Leibniz knew. He wrote a letter to the Emperor of China proving in his view the necessity of dualism based on the fact that he invented binary math. He said I have proven that all you need is a 0 and a 1 and you can create the entire universe, so obviously the universe is dualistic. And the Emperor of China wrote back and said, what you tell me is like the Tao which is all one.
JK: That's great. That's why I had a hard time with Tipler. What he does is he takes quantum cosmology and extends it to the transpersonal realm. He does what Wilber would call a pre/trans fallacy. He uses prepersonal experience to describe transpersonal reality. And it falls apart for that reason.
B: I think that the internal workings of quantum mechanics are literally inaccessible to mind. It's one of those portholes that you can't see very much through. I find chaos theory a lot more fruitful because it involves things of the phenomenal world that I can experience. The pattern of unseen order which manifests itself in seen order.
JK: With quantum, if you have a mystical sensibility it's utterly seductive because it has the many worlds theorem, has things coming in and out of material reality . . . .
B: Yes, I started out as a physics major for this very reason. I went to Wesleyan with the idea that I was going to study physics, with a religious objective. And decided that it wasn't going to get me far enough.
JK: Right. It's the seduction that doesn't have the pay off.
B: It didn't for me anyway. Maybe it did for Neils Bohr, and Schroedinger.
JK: You have to be careful, because it's not a mirror. It's using the first level to see the 100th level, all you see is the first level of the 100th level. It's not the whole 100th level.
(END OF SIDE 1)
B: I really want to find a way to get this stuff out there, because I have a feeling that there are a lot of us who don't know that they are.
JK: I agree. And it would be one of those things like when the Goddess literature started coming out in the 80s and all these people said, "That's it." I see it as a very similar kind of evolutionary moment.
B: It's actually related. Strongly related.
JK: Yes. I've been practicing Wicca for 15 years, so I see that as part of it, definitely.
B: Part of what happened to me, maybe it's partly from having three daughters, but I became a pretty devout feminist, which, coming from a cattl e ranch in Wyoming, it was a little latent.
JK: I'm one of three girls too, so I can relate to that.
JK: I want to get some good juicy quotes out of you about Teilhard. In terms of the role of orthogenesis, which I love, to me it's one of those simple and clear truths that as things become more complex, consciousness grows. What is cyberspace doing to further that?
B: Well, you are getting past the mechanical barrier. The problem with the Age of Reason, which was not a problem for a long time. Reason and science are incredibly useful tools, they endow you with the ability to create very basic systems and structures. Both understanding it and so on. And we have now reached a level of complexity in the mechanical structures we have built using the tools of analysis and reason that is up against the limit of what those tools can continue to provide. In fact, it has exceeded it.
JK: Philosophical tools?
B: Philosophical and literal.
B: Yes. (Tape garble) to develop creatures instead of tools. Because we now have software problems that are beyond the ability of any software designer to figure out. On the other hand, we can now think about growing code. There is a fellow who is selling an optical character reader where he is training his little programlette objects to eat Rs or eat Ss or eat Ts and they're voracious.
JK: They never get full or tired.
B: Exactly. It appeals to me because it has a kind of agricultural quality to it. The notion of stewardship. Taking care of life forms and they are taking care of you. You are not looking at it as this is my hammer and this is my nail.
JK: So, they're not over and against us. They're with us and an extension of. This is an important distinction because people get flipped out, they get scared. It's HAL.
B: Well, they could be threatening but not for the reasons they think. The reason they should be scared is that their grandchildren will probably be unrecognizable to them as even human.
JK: What do you mean by that? What is your vision.
B: I think that very rapidly human consciousness is going to change to a much more explicit awareness of the continuity of mind. They are going to see that the apparent idea that you've got your mind and I've got mine is nonsense. That you have your thoughts and I have mine is ridiculous. It absolutely is. Mind is absolutely continuous. It's bodies that aren't continuous. And if you actually start thinking about all the invisible life between bodies than you can see how continuous they are as well. It's just that it's not visible to you. So I think that after a couple of generations on the net what one thinks will not be what one thinks. There will not be "one thinking. "
JK: If you start imagining what that next phase of evolution actually looks like, what it feels like, with evolution being aware of itself, with the noosphere being a palpable force. . .
B: There are also other feedback loops that are going to be brought into play. We are now very close to this point. You can give somebody a virus which recodes their entire genetic code and reforms their bodies. This is now primarily being thought of in terms of genetic disorders like sickle cell anemia. But, you know, given the fact that people are willing to pay $20,000 for a set of breasts that they like, what are they going to do for 20 IQ points? So information technology is going to come back into the body and I don't think it will take very long to start changing the physical human pretty dramatically. You know, and there's also this accelerating projectile of history that you can feel at the moment, that it is logarithmically increasing like processor speed, or net population.
JK: It feels way out of our control.
B: Way out of our control. Totally. It's to the point where I'm just patiently amused by these people who think that we have to do something about technology.
JK: Right, like what do you propose . . . ?
B: Yeah, let's talk to the person who's in charge. Give me his phone number, I'll call him.
JK: But that whole knowledge set is still there. That's why I think a book has to get out there that talks about technology as a central part of the Goddess culture and the environmental culture and all the rest because they all tend to think of technology as the bad guy. It's a pretty serious problem.
B: It's just another layer of immune response. Much of what the universe is about is defining self against the other. And that's true all over the material plane and equally true on the invisible.
JK: Yes. All these global outbreaks of nationalism seem to me to be such a clear response to technology. Once you see it this way, these things are so simple.
B: And irrelevant. Oh, that's part of that.
JK: Yes. And politics. People ask are you a democrat or a republican? I agree with conservative republicans on some issues and liberal democrats on others.
B: The only dichotomy that makes sense there is authoritarianism versus libertarianism. And they're evenly distributed across what appears to be the political spectrum. There are all these liberal democrats in the White House who are as authoritarian as they can possibly be.
JK: That's why they are having such a hard time right now.
B: Authoritarianism is about to get a long overdue payoff. They are about to get hammered. Unfortunately, they are going to hammer us in the process. As the last election had proven, they are going to take this in a dyspeptic way.
JK: There will be some fallout.
B: And I would expect there to be some. Because what we are really talking about here is a paradigm shift from monotheism to pantheism.
JK: The shift from the atomic metaphor to the neural net metaphor.
B: It's the hierarchy with God in his heaven and depravity on earth getting completely squished.
JK: The technical term is panentheism. Which is what Teilhard is. Which is the holographic model.
B: The evenly distributed God.
JK: Right. It's the immanent and the transcendent together. Process theologians are panentheists. Teilhard is. It means anyone who sees both the immanent and the transcendent face of God. Pantheists tend to only see the immanent side of God, while the monotheists tend to only see the transcendent side. The panentheists see both.
B: God is a verb is the way I see it.
JK: Yes. That's why "Life" is such a wonderful word for God.
B: In fact, not only is God a verb. So is everything else.
JK: I'm interested in what you were saying a few thoughts ago about the breakdown of the individual and the coming into oneness because I think that's one of the other ideas that I really like. He calls Omega the Hyper-personal. So it's in the greatest unity that we find our greatest individuality. It's not that we leave our individualism behind, we have it right alongside absolute unity. It's the full expression of the paradox.
B: Right. It's not going to be like "We". Did you read that? About a society that it utterly collectivized. It's an interesting book, I recommend it. Zamyatin.
JK: I think the idea of the Hyper-personal as something that we are moving towards is important. I find that on the net. It's when people are most themselves that we find the greatest community.
B: Which is precisely what you would expect because in ecology the greatest source of strength is diversity. Monocultures are not robust at all. So you would expect that to be true in other ecologies as well, which is what this is. Culturally I find this to be the case as well. As I travel more and more and I'm not spending so much time in Pinedale, Wyoming I have a much greater appreciation for what the total globe is, the entire human experience, which endows me with a much greater appreciation of my own little Wyoming version of it. Or the New York version of it.
JK: You are more who you were when you start with after going everywhere.
B: That's an old story..
JK: The Aeneid.
B: Right. That's the first question Odysseus asks is what man knows his father? Well, the paradoxical answer is that you are looking at him in the mirror. Your father is the sum of you and all you experience. But to get back to Teilhard.
JK: This is another Omega question. For Teilhard the essential energy of Omega is love. That's the glue. And I think that's true.
B: Indisputably. If you strip away all the illusory stuff and get down to it, that's what it is. Or some combination of what we would call love and faith.
JK: What about reason?
B: Reason is the enemy of both faith and love. Faith is the groundless hope that any organism has to try and eject itself into the possibility space. It's the thing that accounts for the distribution of life. Why are there species on islands 1,000 miles from the nearest land. What drove their antecedents to come there? It was an act of faith. Involuntary in some cases.
JK: So how do you see that manifesting in cyberspace now? It's a very intellectual place.
B: Yes, but it isn't. It's constantly wishing to be something else. When my lover died, I got probably a megabyte of email from all over the planet from people I didn't know saying extraordinary things, truly extraordinary. Very helpful. And demonstrating a lot of love of a very pure sort. We didn't even know each other, we are never going to meet, but there was just something about the story that touched them.
JK: So that helps to build the love balance in the universe. There is the ability to communicate more of it.
B: Right. Well, what is love? Love is that which connects. That which desires to connect for reasons not know to itself. Just as sin, in Neitsche's view, is that which separates. It's very simple.
JK: So cyberspace offers an architecture for love.
B: Ultimately. But of course, there is as much separation being bred as connection. You would expect that. It's necessary I think.
JK: Well, that's part of it too.
B: Yes. I feel these disturbing manifestations, such as people spending 70 hours a week staring into glass tubes, trying to contact other human beings. When all they have to do is walk out in the street. But it's a major step past sitting there and watching another kind of glass tube which comes at you and offers no communication or connection whatsoever. We have to have this glass tube phase.
JK: Yes. But I was very gratified when I contacted you and you said "highest bandwidth please." I thought, Yes. That is the key. To have this supplement to enable meeting people.
B: It enabled us to get together without having a whole lot of difficulty attached to it. Given the way I move around, if I hadn't gotten this it wouldn't have been possible.
JK: Right. But this is still in interim phase. Where do you see it going?
B: Well, I think bandwidth is going to increase in ways that we can't begin to imagine. And the penetration of bandwidth into human neurology is going to increase in ways we cannot being to conceive.
JK: So we will get direct plugged in?
B: Not necessarily physically, but it will become increasingly easy to understand, for example, what is the neurological firing pattern of an emotion? And we can begin to get that pattern to fire directly without the intermediary steps. So if I think Mozart, you hear it.
JK: Which is a potential we have had all along.
B: And this is not a far-fetched notion. I can see the line from here to there pretty clearly.
JK: We already receive a huge amount of invisible information.
B: Oh, yeah. Huge.
JK: It's just learning how to do that in a more direct way.
B: So that's a big part of it, I think. I'm sure we're going to have some very clumsy stuff in the middle. And I'm not positive if bandwidth is the answer because there is another holy question that hasn't been properly dealt with and it is one of my side obsessions. I'll tell you the experience where this happened. I was at XeroxParc with a guy named Ronjit Macooney (?) who is a diminutive Hindu fellow who did something a few years ago which was just brilliant called the electric thanka. He knew that one of the important dimensions of Tibetan thanka is the time element. They are not static, they are something that moves over time, but that isn't an aspect that Westerners see very well and he knew that multimedia made it possible to show a Westerner as it was and adapt it. But he was working on a room at XeroxParc and another room at ParcPortland which was supposed to be a virtual conferencing area where, really good video and great sound reproduction and lots of screens and lots of cameras and in essence you could kind of get a sense of the other person's presence in the room, where they were in relation to the other person, what their body language was, what their tonality was. Pretty damn close to being there. But I said, "Well Ranjit, does this thing work?" And he said, "Oh, no."And I said, "Well, what's missing?" And he said, "The prana." So that's the central question. Can the prana get through the wire?
JK: The way I phrase that question is can information be transpersonal? Is information transpersonal? [I think this is a slightly different question. This whole issue about information and its levels has to be much more carefully worked out.]
B: You know, there are two levels of information. There is the information which is ultimately God or Life. And then there's this other stuff which is about something and is really just alienated experience, and very thin, highly compressed form of experience. So you say, "chair" and type it in there and I read it on my screen and I think I know "chair" but I don't really know beans about the chair. Because the experience of the chair which you have taken and compressed down into a portable format to get into my head is such a lossy compression scheme that all the important stuff has been stripped away from it.
JK: And that's about 90% of what goes on.
B: And if you think about it, the history of humanity, most of our history was spent recognizing the futility of trying to communicate this way. I mean, we use language for discussing that which was present that we were experiencing, or discussing that which was never present and would never be experienced in this sense. It was about, you know, religious stuff. After Gutenberg, something happened. Ship it over here and tell you about this chair that you never will see. So that you think you know. And this is like the great lie of the last thousand years which is about to come to an end I think. And the point is to re-experientialize information. To give you the ability that you have in an experience even though you are not there. And that ability is for every cell in your body to ask questions about the environment.
JK: And that's where VR comes in.
JK: Back to Wilber. I always find Wilber so useful when you get confused about terms and where they are falling. Because information also has its levels of experience. It's prepersonal and its personal and it has its transpersonal aspects. And what is happening mostly on the net right now is intellectual and emotional information. And the transpersonal is still kind of beyond. And what we are talking about it helping the net to evolve further so that it is bigger and has room for transpersonal experience. And that has to do with bandwidth. It has to do with experience. It has to do with intentionality of the people on the net.
B: Well, there are all these secret traps. I had this love affair on the net which was almost entirely virtual due to the fact that it was illicit. She and I could not communicate at all, we couldn't even talk on the phone because she was working with her husband and was never more than about 8 feet away from him. It was incredibly intense. 150,000 words of email in close to 6 months. What I started to realize is that every time I would see her she would be even further away. What I realized is that we were each taking the spaces between the words and filling them with our own narcissistic projections of ourselves.
JK: Which is what we do in most romances anyway.
B: But this was worse. Much worse. And far more separating than anything like that than I've ever done before. And now I know. I am aware of that pitfall. And there are millions in there not to know yet.
JK: Damn it takes so much consciousness to figure this stuff out.
B: Well, you're always at your own part of the course of study. That's what I believe a lot of physical manifestation is.
JK: We all have our own baggage of karma that we carry with us.
B: We have this western notion of karma which is really just Calvinism.
JK: You were bad, so you will suffer.
B: Wrong. It's exactly opposite. If you see someone who is really suffering you should do homage to them. They are learning. I had this experience years ago with this guy I picked up outside Fallen, Nevada. Terrible place. Nothing between there and Salt Lake City except two-lane blacktop. The guy was sitting on the edge of town with a sign that said, "Anywhere but here."
JK: How could you resist?
B: I was hoping he wasn't too bad because we were going to spend most of the night together. And he got in the car and he was a wreck, but I immediately felt this incredible sense of peace and goodwill emanating from this fellow. And it turned out that among other things he was born, literally, a day after I was. And he had had a very different kind of life -- he'd gone to Vietnam and got shot up and come back kindof twisted up in the head, had been living in NY on a VA disability payment, but he also had a job, and was driving a cab and he had a musical gig and a girlfriend -- he had a life. He got into a dispute with his landlord and said he wasn't going to pay the rent until his landlord did something. Well, he didn't pay the rent and landlord locked up all his stuff and wouldn't let him into his apartment and informed the VA that he'd died. The VA believed it. This guy had no identification whatsoever and blam, he'd down beneath the cracks. Just like that. With no way to get back up. And he had a very literal kind of religious faith. At one point I said, "I don't get it. You've got this very strong sense of faith and yet if things are set up the way you think they are then God is mistreating you. And I don't believe in God, not the way you do anyway and, I'm doing fine."He said, "The way I see it you are taking basket-weaving and I'm taking Astrophysics 406. And I would expect it to be easier for you." He had this lovely way of preaching, about the most modest form of it that I've ever heard. He would write these little things about love and put them in the coin return slots in phone booths.
JK: But it's true. I know in my own life that it's the hardest times that make the most difference.
(END OF TAPE 1)
B: EFF is something that is kindof co-evolutionary between me and Mitch and the other people that are attached to it. It's constantly fluid and changing. There was a period when what we thought was important was to make sure that the information superhighway, which was roaring into cyberspace from the right, would be able to be an interoperable and useful part for the gathering of the Great Work. And we spent a bunch of time in Congress trying to develop set-top box standards and all that kind of stuff. Actually, over the last six months Mitch and I have realized that it is all based on a paradigm that is so clumsy and slow -- regulatory, monopolistic, big science, big industry, big every goddamned thing. Basically, this is precisely the wrong way to approach the construction of cyberspace. The net is doing a fine job in a completely unregulated fast, loose and out of control way. It has a participating link with the existing structure. Somebody has to string all that fiber optic cable. I'm supposed to go out and debate John Malone on Monday and the big question I have is whether I am going to try and convince him that he is on a fool's errand.
JK: Building this infrastructure?
B: Which he thinks he's going to make a lot of money on. I think he's going eventually go belly up.
JK: Yes, but someone has to lay the wires so maybe you shouldn't let him in on the secret.
B: That's exactly right. I doubt that I'm going to have much of an effect on him anyway, but you never know.
JK: But it's true that once it gets laid it's going to be a free for all.
B: It's like Gibson (?) said, the street finds its own uses for things.
JK: I believe that. One interesting aspect of this cosmology is that it also gives you a window into business patterns. You begin with the perspective that the forces of life and evolution tend to go in a certain direction and from there you can make an excellent educated guess.
B: Probably. But sometimes you can get off too, because your timescale isn't right. For example, I wouldn't have predicted Microsoft, but I wasn't looking at the size of the system. Microsoft is analogous to the great red spot on Jupiter -- it's one of these cyclonic disturbances that is participating in such a large system that it can stay in tact for a long time. I think Microsoft is going to look ridiculous in five years.
JK: It's going to do what IBM did?
B: That's right.
JK: You're right. The evolutionary path is so complex, you never know when the antitheses are coming in.
B: You get into connection crash. Too much information. That's what is happening to the government of the Unites States. Government at that level is collapsing, whereas at another higher up, its still removed enough from the ground that it can operate at a metaphorical plane and not go into connection crash. And down at the tribal level, it can do fine.
JK: What do you think about educating the next generation. Do your daughters have computers?
B: Yes. I've tried to make computers part of the furniture the same way guns were for me growing up. The more important part of their education for me is. . . . Well, let me give you an example. We were in Hawaii for a while and in Hawaii there were big bugs, big, scary bugs. Centipedes and stuff. I managed to convince them that they were vertabratists. They would find racism to be a pretty untenable position. Well, vertabratism wasn't much better. And now I'm trying to convince them that they are meatists, that they are probably intolerant of invisible life. That's the kind of education I'm trying to give them. It's more of an awareness of the wholeness of things. And I'm not putting too much emphasis on computers.
JK: Do you find that the next generation is interested in technology. Or are we just a weird blip?
B: No, no. The seventh cavalry has arrived just in time.
JK: Which is?
B: Kids raised by hippies. I worried about it. In the middle of the social experiment, I worried. I thought, these kids could grow up like our dogs and our dogs where nothing to be proud of. Go to a place like Breckenridge in 1973 and they were running around like wolf packs. But in fact, there's a whole group of people who are 24 and under now who are just wonderful. They are so sweet and so affectionate to one another and so tolerant and open and have such a wonderful sense of humor. I am endlessly encouraged by them. I spend a lot of time with them. I am fortunate in that I am a mildly heroic figure in that culture.
JK: And they are not Technophobes?
B: Not at all. They are into it. They are websters.
JK: So, it's going to happen naturally. We don't have to worry about getting computers in schools and access and all that.
B: That is the old way of thinking. It's control thinking. All you really have to do is worry about how you are. That's really the only constructive thing you can do, I think, is to manifest yourself in as resonative a way as you can. And that's why when I go out and talk, I don't feel like I'm saying things that people have to write down on paper. I'm being somebody that has an effect on them that they are not even aware of.
JK: That's how I feel about books too. I know that when I read a book, if I get one good idea out of it, it's worth it. That one good idea kicks off another 100.
B: That's what Borges said. Some people write novels and I write short stories. And in fact, people read those novels and they get short stories out of them, so why bother with all the other stuff?
JK: Most novels should be short stories. OK. So, you're not disturbed by the fact that we're going to leave our bodies? I always come back to that.
B: Well, I think we are going to rediscover our bodies as they really are.
JK: Which is part of a holographic system. So the cells start to transmit consciouness in a way. They become wholly alive, like Jesus's resurrection body.
B: Right. Like the mystical body.
JK: Which is flesh. St. Paul said, that is flesh.
B: Exactly, so this mystical body, in addition to being flesh, is fiber optic, electricity, airline fuselages. . . .
JK: That's a great image. On one of my on-line groups, we were having a discussion about duality, about bodies. And one of the participants, who is a hermeticist, was dealing with the question very elementally -- earth, air, water, fire. And he talked about the idea of a transposed earth. Thinking about it not as clods of dirt earth, but as the earth element present in all layers of reality. The elemental quality comes with us as we mutate.
B: The other great binary process besides self versus other is what Hereclitus referred to an an antiodroma. The inevitability of things becoming their opposite.
JK: Yes. I've used that idea quite a bit. That's one of the important ideas about technology which is the ultimate linear medium. But it ultimately gets pushed so far that it becomes the hologram.
B: It's a difference in degree which becomes a difference in kind. And that's a lot of what Ralph is hip to. The dynamic shift point, when turbulence becomes order. When the linear flow becomes chaotic.
JK: But these others folks are seeing that order becomes turbulence but also that turbulence also becomes order again. So it's a constant movement through all the cycles.
B: Which is just what you or I would expect. But not what the government would expect.
JK: But Clinton is a smart guy. He just doesn't get it?
B: In August, just after the election, Mitch and I went down there. We were all excited, we were going to go to the White House. And they said, "What do you want to do?" And we said, "Well, we want to help out with whatever you want to do." And they said, "We don't know what we want to do." And I looked at Mitch and I said, "Where's Dad?" And he said, "I guess we're Dad." But the comforting realization was that no one had ever really known what to do. And it had been going on in this emergent way anyway. We had had this Prussian model and Italian method all along. It wasn't that there was some hard mechanical relationship between the lighthouse and the rudder. And the Republicans are about to have a hard lesson. Short of doing something brutal, which they may try, they don't have any way of bringing across any of the things they want to get done.
JK: The issue here is that everything is so complex, that you can't understand it.
B: But if you are still part of that control mania, if you are part of the psychotic dregs of monotheism, then the solution to everything is a bigger hammer. So the war on drugs has failed. What's the answer? Don't abandon it. No, even though that works everywhere that it's been tried. No. Just put more people in jail. OK, you got any more questions?
JK: No. I think I have enough for now. Thanks a lot.