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Chapter 2: The Internet and the Noosphere (continued)

Is "Noosphere" Another Name for "Gaian Mind?"

     In late 1969, British scientist James Lovelock and American microbiologist Lynn Margulisis put forward a theory postulating that:

The entire range of living matter on the earth collectively defines and regulates the material conditions necessary for the continuance of life. The earth is thus likened to a vast self-regulating organism, modifying the biosphere to suit its needs. (13) [Emphasis added]

     Lovelock named this vast organism Gaia, after the Greek goddess who drew the living world forth from chaos. The theory of a living Earth is now called the Gaia Hypothesis.

     There does not seem to be a universally agreed upon belief as to what constitutes the mind of Gaia. In fact, there are probably more people who have never even heard of Gaian mind than there are who see it as some form of overreaching intelligence that is regulating life on this planet. Some people believe the human species itself is, or will become, the mind of Gaia; but if we do not yet fully understand the intricate mechanisms our own minds use to regulate our bodies, it seems egotistical to think we will soon understand, let alone regulate, all of the processes of life on this planet. As technologically advanced as our species has become, we still are not able to accurately predict the weather, let alone regulate it.

     Others have speculated on the possibility that at some point in the future the noosphere will fuse with the denser spheres, the biosphere and the geosphere, and the three will be transformed into a super-consciousness that will then become the mind of Gaia. There appears to be a higher degree of probability of this happening than the previous speculation, but it presumes that the mind of Gaia has not yet come into existence. My personal belief is that Gaian mind already exists; therefore, I reject this hypothesis as well.

     A view close to my own is the one suggested by Terence McKenna during a telephone interview:

[Interviewer]: Gaian mind?

[McKenna]: Yes, the planet is some kind of organized intelligence. It's very different from us. It's had 5- or 6-billion years to create a slow moving mind that is made of oceans, and rivers, and rainforests, and glaciers. It's becoming aware of us, as we are becoming aware of it, strangely enough. Two less likely members of a relationship can hardly be imagined-the technological apes and the dreaming planet. And yet, because the life of each depends on the other, [we have] a feeling towards this immense, strange, wise, old, neutral, weird thing, and it is trying to figure out why its dreams are so tormented and why everything is out of balance. (14)

     In this stream-of-consciousness answer by McKenna, he incorporates a number of interesting concepts about Gaia:

  • The Earth is intelligent.
  • This intelligence is extremely old.
  • This intelligence is slow moving.
  • The human species and the intelligence of Earth, which we call Gaia, are becoming aware of each other.

     While the existence of Gaian mind may be open for debate, it is hard to deny the fact that often we have very personal encounters with Gaia, or, if you prefer, with Mother Nature. One thing I do know is how I feel about the Earth when I walk on a beach. As I watch a wave break into foaming surf, I think of how far that wave traveled to reach the shore on which I am standing, and I think of the energy that entered the water to create that wave; a wave of energy flowing across miles and miles of ocean, eventually being released on the western shores of North America. The sound of the surf, as it breaks at the shoreline, calls to mind the purr of some gigantic, symbiotic creature composed of all the life in the ocean. While walking along the shoreline, I sense the presence of some wise old being as it whispers into my ear. That is when I feel the essence of Gaia. Try this yourself sometime. The next time you are in a forest, on a mountain, near a river, or at any other place far from the noise and congestion of a city, listen, and feel, carefully. I believe that if you approach nature with a spiritual intent, you will experience the feeling that you are in the presence of some great, mysterious, and very old, being.

     McKenna's final point is the one I find most intriguing. Are Gaia and the human species becoming aware of each other? The fact that humans are becoming aware of Gaia can hardly be contested. Ever since James Lovelock first published his Gaian Hypothesis, there has been an ever-increasing flurry of books, tapes, lectures, and discussions on the subject. A quick search on the Internet for occurrences of the word "Gaia" returns tens of thousands of hits. It is obvious that the human species has begun to learn about Gaia, but questions remain: Is Gaia aware of us? Does she want to communicate with us? And if so, how will our communications take place?

     My personal metaphor for the mind of Gaia is that it is a meta-collective consciousness composed of the collective consciousnesses of everything on this planet. Also, I envision our species-consciousness, in other words the noosphere, as having two parts, the collective unconsciousness and the collective consciousness.

     Accordingly, in my view, the noosphere is not the only component of Gaian mind. It is rather the entirety of human collective consciousness, and it includes every present and past member of our species. If this is too big of a hypothetical step for you to take, remove the reference to past members of our species from the metaphor. It works either way. The point is, the consciousness of every member of the human species is already a part of the noosphere. One does not have to be connected to the Internet to participate. We are, every one of us, already an indivisible part of the planet Earth's noosphere.

     Consider again for a moment, the concept of Gaian mind as a "meta-" collective consciousness. Viewed from a solar perspective, this collective consciousness can be regarded as a single mind. But viewed from afar like this, our little planet may also appear to be out of its mind. What else would cause a planet to destroy its own biosphere? Is it conceivable that Gaia has gone mad? While I do not believe this to be the case, I have come to think that Mother Nature, of which the human species is an integral part, has seen a small part of her mind slip away. If we view the Earth-mind (Gaia, Mother Nature, or whatever other term most resonates with you), as encompassing all of the collective consciousnesses that exist on the planet, the way I picture it is like this:

     It is my belief that our species-consciousness, the noosphere, has not yet been fully integrated into Gaian consciousness, the mind of Gaia. By this I do not mean to imply that one day there will be some sort of mind meld where the noosphere becomes indistinguishable from Gaian mind. Rather, I am suggesting that such a unifying of consciousness would be experienced more in the context of being of the same mind.

     Many readers of this book, no doubt, have already attained a degree of Gaian awareness, as is illustrated by showing the noosphere partially incorporated into Gaian mind. As you will soon see, I believe the Internet has evolved as another tool for us to use to accelerate the transformation of the entirety of human consciousness into the larger sea of Gaian awareness.

Is it Possible for the Noosphere and Gaian Consciousness to Harmonize?

     Like all living organisms, the Earth's first imperative is survival, and like other intelligent beings, it uses whatever natural resources are at hand to create the tools required to help it survive. Regrettably, the most complex tool the Earth has yet created, a tool we call the human species, has begun to run amok, and is destroying the vital organs of the planet. Let us hope that Gaia still believes we can grow into the role of symbiotic helper and not remain deadly parasites. (Perhaps it would be a good thing if the Gaian mind is slow moving, as Terence McKenna postulates, for evidence of the parasitic behavior of the human species abounds. A quicker mind may have already eliminated the problem.) The question remains, of course, whether there is enough time left for the human species to change its course of planetary rape and environmental destruction and then let Gaia know we have mended our ways.

     The challenges we face in learning how to more closely couple our species-mind, the noosphere, with the Earth-mind are not only ones of how to establish this relationship, but how to do so quickly. How can we come into unity with Gaian mind today? How are we going to let the Earth know that there are some people who are already awake and are trying very hard to awaken the rest of our species to the fact that our life support systems may soon fail? One of the best places to begin such an inquiry is to look into some of the technology cultures have used to achieve intimacy with Gaia for tens of thousands of years. I am speaking here of shamanic practices.

     Most people credit Mircea Eliade with first describing shamanism as a "technique of ecstasy." I point this out for those readers who may mistakenly equate shamans with priests of one form or another. Such a comparison is far off the mark. Readers who have taken the time to investigate the techniques and practices of shamans know that there is far more depth to these men and women than first meets the untrained eye. If you have not yet discovered the multiple worlds of shamans, I recommend that you take the time to investigate some of the very substantial practices they have established for communicating with entities in non-earthly domains. These technologies include drumming, trance dancing, fasting, and the use of entheogens. According to Dr. Richard Yensen: (15)

Among many native groups in the Americas, shamans employ plants that are regarded as having spiritual power or as being sacred. Most of these plants fall into the pharmacological category of hallucinogenic, psychedelic or mind-manifesting substances. The shamans, however, prefer to conceive of these unusual plants as powerful in a spiritual sense. (16)

Elsewhere he says:

The attitudes or perceptual paradigms of cultures using psychedelic plants include the following elements: 1) The plants are held to be sacred. 2) They are used in specific ceremonies or rituals that support and renew the world view of the culture. 3) There exists a world apart from this one to which the plants give access. Useful experiences take place in this hidden realm of existence and valuable knowledge may be gained there. 4) The use of these substances is an acknowledged part of membership in the group or some significant sub-group, for instance shamans. 5) These plants can be used by those adept in their application to heal and to effect other changes in the ordinary world. (17) [Emphasis added]

     Readers who have no personal experience with entheogens may find it difficult to imagine anything other than hallucinations taking place under the influence of what shamans call their plant teachers, yet a careful reading of the vast literature on the subject tells quite a different story. (18)

     From time immemorial, descriptions of the state of consciousness entered into while under the influence of sacred plants, such as ayahuasca or peyote, are hauntingly similar, independent of the culture in which they are used. Before jumping to the conclusion that people who use sacred plants are just getting high, take the time to read some of the voluminous detail on this subject that is available on the Internet. (19) If you do, you will come away with an entirely new understanding of what takes place after ingesting an entheogen.

     An unbiased review of prehistoric, early historic, and what we have misnamed primitive cultures, clearly shows that one of the ways in which they communicated with non-human entities is through the use of entheogens. In Vedic India, it was Soma. The Greeks observed the mystery rites of Eleusis, which were informed by the use of the kykeon. Some scholars believe kykeon to have been an aqueous extract of ergot-infested barley, which produces a visionary experience like its synthetic counterpart, LSD. Today, native people in the rainforests of the Amazon use ayahuasca and other natural substances in their spiritual practices, while the shamans of Siberia, Mexico, and elsewhere continue to use sacred mushrooms to communicate with Gaia and other non-physical entities. Additionally, there is extensive literature concerning other ways used to enter shamanic states of ecstasy, such as deep meditation, chanting, yoga techniques, and so on.

     While you might at first wonder what a discussion about ancient communications technologies has to do with the Internet, you will soon see the connection. We are looking here for a medium through which two dissimilar forms of consciousness, the noosphere and Gaia, can communicate, all the while keeping the fact in mind that these awarenesses are quite different in nature from what we consider to be the regular state of human consciousness.

     Since before the dawn of recorded history, humans have been using certain practices, such as drumming and trance dancing, as well as sacred plants to induce shamanic states of ecstasy. The generic name for these sacred plants, mentioned earlier, is "entheogen." This word was coined in 1978 by an informal committee of researchers convened by R. Gordon Wasson, which included Carl A.P. Ruck, Danny Staples, Jeremy Bigwood, and Jonathan Ott. Here is Ott's account of how they arrived at the word "entheogenic:"

We finally settled on the neologism entheogen[ic], from the Greek entheos, a term used in the classical world to describe prophetic or poetic inspiration. The term means literally 'becoming divine within', and can be seen as the user realizing that the divine infuses all of the creation, or specifically that the entheogenic plant is itself infused with the divine. It is not a theological term, makes no reference to any deity, and is not meant to be a pharmacological term for designating a specific chemical class of drugs (psychedelic, for example, has come to be seen by some sensu strictu as a term to designate mescaline-like -phenethylamines or DMT-like tryptamines). Rather, it is a cultural term to include all of the shamanic inebriants-sacraments, plant-teachers, the stock-in-trade of shamans the world over. (20)

     It is important to understand that the space (if one can even use such a concept as space in discussing this subject) in which entheogens operate is not precisely the same as what some call psychedelic space. While entheogenic space and psychedelic space may be partially congruent, the word "psychedelic" has lost most of its usefulness because of its corruption by the popular press.

     Coined in 1957 by Dr. Humphry Osmond to mean "mind manifesting," (21) the word "psychedelic" is generally misused by the popular media to denote altered states of consciousness that always involve hallucinations. By definition, a hallucination involves an illusion. Reports from psychonauts, many of which may be found on the Internet, indicate that their experiences are not illusions at all. Rather, they involve an expansion of consciousness into a much larger realm than our minds encounter in the world of consensual reality. Not only are these brave explorers aware of what you and I call reality when they ingest psychoactive substances, their minds also seem to encompass a much larger, all-inclusive reality, in which the human species, for the most part unknowingly, plays a significant part.

     While a detailed discussion of the use of entheogens and other techniques used to enter shamanic ecstasy states is beyond the scope of this book, it is important to have a metaphorical understanding of these concepts. A comparable "space" in the world of computing would be the concept of an operating environment. This is a concept programmers use to describe the variable conditions in which a computer program executes, or runs. Much like the environment in which human biological activity takes place, a computer operating environment is a place where computer programs live, and most programs require certain environmental variables to be in place so they can run (live) properly. I find it helpful to think of communications with non-human entities as requiring such an operating environment, and this is how I think of entheospace. Although there is debate in the psychedelic community as to whether or not using entheogens is the only way in which to enter into such a state, I use the concept of entheospace here to more broadly describe the deeply seated sense of being infused with, and a part of, divine mind.

     To better understand pure mind-to-mind interactions, it helps to think of these communications as taking place in various environments, or operating spaces. In metaphysics, this concept is sometimes referred to as a "plane," e.g., the astral plane. Unlike the physical environment on planet Earth, which facilitates face-to-face communications between humans, e-mail requires the environment of cyberspace in which to operate. When we move beyond the area of pure human-to-human communications, such as human-to-Gaia communication, yet other environments, common to the different consciousnesses that want to communicate with each other, are required. One of these environments, or planes, is what I call entheospace.

     Metaphorically, one can think of entheospace as an environment in which many disparate types of consciousness share a common language with which they may communicate. Shamans enter entheospace by ingesting entheogens, fasting, dancing or other such methods. Many psychonauts believe entheospace may also be entered by ingesting certain laboratory-produced chemicals, such as LSD.

     Keep in mind that this is a discussion about communication with an alien intelligence. People sometimes mistakenly think that the only type of alien contact possible is with mindful organisms from other planets. It is important to remember that there are many mentally and spiritually alien organisms, such as plants, animals, fungi, etc., all around us. Furthermore, contact with an alien intelligence does not necessarily imply contact through verbal exchanges. Just because the species of primate we call human uses sounds made by complex tongue wagging to communicate with other members of its species does not mean other intelligent beings have evolved their system of communications along similar lines.

     A few intellectuals who remain rootbound in what has become the stagnant pot of 19th century scientific thinking, will no doubt scoff at any suggestion that supposedly primitive cultures are able to communicate with the mind of our planet by expanding their consciousness into a larger mind-space. If, however, one does accept that human awareness flows into the sea of Gaian consciousness in an altered mind-space, where does this lead us in our search for a means to unite that membrane of thinking substance, the noosphere, with Gaian consciousness? Must our entire species simultaneously practice shamanic techniques and expand each individual's consciousness before our species-consciousness, as a cohesive entity in its own right, gains entry into the space where Gaian consciousness operates? Or is there a new technology for the noosphere to use? Has a new sacred plant, or sacred medium, evolved?

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