The following is part of an interview with Dennis McKenna from the ebook Machine Elves 101 by Daniel Moler, published by Reality Sandwich Singles. You can receive this or other Reality Sandwich/Evolver ebook titles for free by signing up to receive Evolver email updates. Offer ends June 6.
Even though Terence McKenna is notable as the public voice of the DMT experience, he wasn’t alone in the birthing of the psilocybin resurgence. I had a chat with Terence’s brother, Dennis McKenna, to get his perspective on the Terence McKenna phenomenon. We talked about the experiment at La Chorrera, his contributions toward scientific research of hallucinogens, and his upcoming book about him and his brother called The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss.
So, you have a book about you and Terence coming out this fall, called The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss. How is it coming along?
Well, I’ve actually finished the first draft. Now the real work begins in the sense that there’s a lot of revisions. But, I’m feeling pretty good about it. My editor and I are in the process of getting everything into shape to send to the publisher before a trip I’m taking to Peru this summer. So, we’re still hoping for a September, 2012 launch. I’m happy with the work.
Can you tell us a little bit about what you will be covering in the book?
I will be talking a lot about La Chorrera, of course, and going over what happened down there from my perspective. Trying to reconstruct those events and thinking about it years later. Are we just two brothers going crazy and reinforcing each other’s psychosis, or was there really more than that going on? So, if we were just crazy, then that’s okay, but if there was more going on, then what was going on? I try to unpack that a little bit and give some of my speculations. What it all meant, if anything.
I also go into the 2012 scenario, the Timewave. For instance, what does the Timewave mean and what are the implications of that? I’m kind of a skeptic on the Timewave, actually, and have been for a long time. So, I kind of look at the pros and cons of that idea. There’s a lot of personal stuff, about Terence and I growing up together in Paonia, Colorado, our childhood, and those formative influences. I go into great detail about my second trip to South America, when I went there as a graduate student in 1981. Terence was there for part of that.
Out of the work you and Terence did in The Invisible Landscape, what do you think has had the most impact on ethnopharmacological research?
Ethnopharmacology research specifically? Well, not much. [chuckles] You know, there are the two halves of Invisible Landscape and the second half is about the Timewave, and that’s really more Terence’s theory. The first half talks a lot about speculation of drug interaction with neural receptors and DNA, and all that . . . well, all of that is bunk. There is progress in those areas and what the hallucinogen receptors look like, we understand their complete tertiary structure. So, that work has been replaced by reality and scientific progress.
Honestly I think the most impact ethnopharmacologically is Psilocybin: Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide that came out a few years later. If anything significant came out of La Chorrera it’s the fact that we became obsessed with the idea of learning how to grow mushrooms. So, when we got back we worked on it assiduously. There are better techniques now, but at the time it was a breakthrough because it made mushrooms suddenly available to a lot of people. Part of our motivation for that was a genuine interest to see if other people were having the same experiences. Are we nuts? Or is there a consensus here? The way to do that was to get them out into the world. And now that we have succeeded beyond our wildest dreams and they are out in the world, it turns out many of people have had these experiences. So, as far as long-lasting or cultural impact I think the Mushroom Grower’s Guide is more significant than the Invisible Landscape. It gave people a way to evaluate these experiences for themselves. You know, we always said to each other that basically we’re scientists, we wanted people to debunk this or not, but they had to have the tools to do it. So that gave people a way to experience it and make their own judgments about what all of this was about.
It was catalytic, I guess you could say. It was part of what catalyzed wide-spread knowledge of these things. And mushrooms certainly have changed society in what I think is a good way.
Absolutely. So, after the two of you did this work, your paths diverged. Terence went down the path of DMT proselytizer and you focused more on becoming a scientist and engaging the scientific method. Do you have any insights on that particular divergence?
Right. Well, that is complex matter and I will get into that in the book. But, when we came back from La Chorrera we came back with a lot of questions. Such as, what the hell was that all about? Terence was kind of like, ‘This shows that science is invalid.’ That maybe science couldn’t address these questions. So, he thought we should just reject science. As he became a spokesman, you know, science sort of became an impediment to these wild and crazy ideas. But, I was a little more conservative. I said, ‘Wait a minute, we can’t throw science out yet’ because, number one, what we did down there wasn’t science. We may have thought it was science, but we weren’t scientists. My argument was we have to learn how to do science; we have to understand what science is, before we can reject it. That’s the path I took.
So, I became a scientist. And now I work within research of hallucinogens in that way, in the sort of mainstream arena of that field. Well, hallucinogenic research by definition is not mainstream, but mainstream in that field. Hallucinogenic research is becoming respectable again after forty years. I came to the place where I figured I couldn’t validate anything that happened at La Chorrera. I would have had to become a biophysicist or something like that. I chose to become an ethnobotanist instead.
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