The strange attractor at the end of time

A Tibetan gong declares the conference open.

MC Paul Klite fiddled to test the acoustics. He then instructed everybody to hum the lowest note they could, and then the highest note. Humming filled the hall, and a strange vibration it was.

And then, said Klite, for those who don't know mushrooms, "visualize a thread, that thread sits there in the spring and over the course of the spring and summer it grows, and is nurtured. When the end of August comes, it thinks 'Hey! I gotta reproduce.'" So he asks the crowd, "let's hear the sound." And the audience starts making wet popping and plopping noises.

Conference founder Manny Salzman tells the audience he and some of the others are bringing amanita muscaria to Siberia in the fall - "we want them to try ours and tell us how they compare to theirs." So he asks anyone who finds extra this week to make a donation.

Klite has the audience provide bass and rhythm for a gypsy orchestra as he plays a little more fiddle. Then Jason Salzman, Manny's son, tells how he found keynote speaker Gary Lincoff leading tours of Central Park gathering natural food including mushrooms and serving them for dinner. "Gary has no formal training...spent years creating the taxonomy of mushrooms that everyone uses he's here to tell us that taxonomy is no good after all."

Gary Lincoff - Keynote Address

"Mushrooms, Through the Looking Glass"

He introduced son Noah, to whom he has read Alice in Wonderland until the kid is sick of it. Lincoff's presentation style is deadpan and full of funny non-sequiturs, hard to reproduce in writing.

Lincoff begins, "there are only five mushrooms; everything else is other things.....That's my new system." The dominant paradigm of science, he argues, of individualism and competition, are the way nature works; macroscopic fruiting bodies of microorganisms. But cooperation is actually the way mushrooms work, and the way nature works. The classic scientific method of binomialism (assigning genus and species) is an oppressive way of reducing complexity.

Mycological fundamentalism imposed a belief system that when two people use the same name they mean the same thing, but they may be describing different things. Taxonomy is to science as science fiction is to fiction. A fallacy of taxonomy is that by looking at something you can identify it; but some things that look alike act differently. Some mosquitoes carried malaria, others didn't; these came to be known as sibling species - sibling species cannot mate. And some things that look different all interfertile - if they interbreed, then that's part of the definition of species, so physical descriptions aren't enough.

All trees are mycorrhyzial - they use fungus to interact with their environment. Fungi in their root structures allow them to thrive in places that are hard. The mushrooms give them nutrients. You won't see amanita growing separate from trees, same with boletes and chanterelles. Mycorrhyzial seedlings are planted for soil erosion; also makes them more resistant to disease. We should all inoculate ourselves with them.

Mushrooms live on other fungi, and you get layers and layers, it gets into chaos theory. So there is no tree of classification of mushrooms; it looks more like heavily veined and crossveined mushroom gills.

Lincoff showed some slides of his visit to Kamchatka last year, a picture of a woman shaman who dressed like an amanita, along with other costumes, just like in the Telluride parade. Someone from the back of the hall yelled to him to use the laser pointer. He said, "laser pointer? I don't even have email. I'm just barely getting into the twentieth century and I hear there's another on the way."

Lincoff then launched into mushroom identification 101, beginning with a quote from Krishnamurtri, "he who has identified himself can never know freedom." It's natural to want to name things but we don't know when to stop. Lost Eden is within us and we are not Adam and Eve, we are the vehicles for Adam and Eve, who are the bacteria and fungi.

One slide showed huitlcoche being cooked. "Some people like corn, some prefer corn smut; some prefer literature, some prefer smutted literature.

Lincoff concluded, "we can work with these convenient fictions and communicate. You can leave today's foray with a hundred different types of mushroom, or you can leave with a copy of Through the Looking Glass as your field guide. Thank you."

Andrew Weil

Next up is perennial guest faculty Dr. Andrew Weil, who has found himself the author of an unexpected best seller, "Spontaneous Healing." So instead of talking about mushrooms, he talked about health care. Some quotes:

"I'm a big fan of the health care crisis - it's creating opportunities for alternatives as a way to attack part of the cultural logjam we find ourselves in."

"Indians use the word medicine to include religion and magic; our society needs that kind of medicine."

Weil has begun a program in integrative medicine -training for doctors at the University of Arizona. It will include training for when to use crisis medicine (hospitals) and when to use other stuff. It's gotten to a point where the high tech intervention approach is the one doctors take to _all_ cases, when it should be appropriate to 15-20% of cases. If it was just used for that percent there would be no health care crisis. "Stress is implicated in so many diseases that it boggles the mind that mind- body considerations are omitted from medical training. His new program will include guided imagery; homeopathy; acupuncture, and spiritual teaching. University teaching hospitals are losing market share to managed care, and so are receptive to new approaches these days.

Weil brought a friend, Lynn Payer, author of Medicine and Culture; and Disease Mongers. She says, "diseases are how doctors organize symptoms." It's uncanny how her discussion of health care maps onto Lincoff's taxonomy presentation.

Featured Lecturer: Ralph Abraham

Dynamical Systems and Altered States

Ralph Abraham is Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. In the early 1970's, he lived in a cave in India that was frequented by jungle yogis, and came to understand the vibrations of the universe. Ever since, he's been trying to convert that understanding into the language of mathematics.

Abraham was invited to discuss "Dynamical Systems and Altered States." As he said, "this is impossible, so rather than fail I thought I'd change the topic. But then I thought that, if I could talk about it, it would be the deepest sharing i could do."

There are three reasons why this topic is impossible:

we don't know what altered states are

we don't know what dynamical systems are

we don't have any way to put them together, all apart from the fact that they are my life's work.

One reason for attempting altered states is to get out of the "death track" this society and this world is stuck in.

The biggest paradigm shift in centuries or millenia is needed, but there's no reason we can't be optimistic in the midst of the meltdown. As individuals, one of the core lessons of chaos theory of course is that individual actions can have influence - the so- called butterfly effect.

The reason we're interested in altered states is that they are a way out of the Death Track; everyone doesn't need to experience such states, but like shamanic cultures, some people need to do it. You normally can't heal from a profound experience of altered states. They prove that adults have the capability of catastrophic bifurcation, like children in their stages of development. With the aid of botanical guides, or spirit guides, "however you understand this", adults can experience the initiation of a new stage of development.

So what are dynamical systems? They are the study of spacetime pattern, patterns that move. We can look at conditions at a series of times, like a storm approaching, and our perceptual equipment allows us to predict a storm. There's math underlying that perception, and we as a society must attain dynamical literacy. We need these tools to understand the patterns we as a society, are in.

For any given pattern, there's a compact law that describes the pattern, a dynamical system. As the pattern continues, it approaches a certain thing which is its "attractor." With the aid of computer graphics you learn to recognize these states. Different states have different attractors - an economy, a nation, these can be attractors.

Now how do you combine dynamical systems and altered states?

First we accept that brain and mind are different. Think of the brain as the mediator between mind and body. The data that would describe the mind are ideas, emotions and other stuff. Currently the task of making a physiological map of the brain is pretty advanced. If the brain is mediator between mind and body, then its worth making a model of that.

In an altered state, you can observe the correspondences between mind and brain; this is how yogis learn to control heart rates and other presumably autonomic functions. What we want is to build a model of altered states that builds upon existing stages of development, so there's a dynamical system that describes someone about to eat an Amanita muscaria - things happen in the brain under the influence of these substances that neurophysiologists are close to understanding. There is a possibility of modeling the braekthrough that persists after the mushroom is digested.

Abraham finished his remarks there, and it all seemed vary vague. Then someone asked, "does chaos theory mean you have to give up prediction?" And that led him to say, "oh yes, I almost forgot to tell you the whole point of this talk.

We use the same chaos mathematical strategy to model economics, physiology, etc. We are now putting them together in a supercomputer into one comprehensive model, and hopefully we will overcome the specialization and disintegration of knowledge. What has emerged from this effort is idea of a neural net. We have a society of models, connected up in a network, and we found that the connections had more intelligence than the nodes - this is called Connectionism.

Now all we humans are connected, some more strongly connected than others by virtue of knowing their phone numbers or whatever, and we can see that if we connected all five billion minds on this planet, then we'd have a model for collective consiousness, or the whole enchilada. Altered states is when we see those connections most clearly - in altered states we have our own experience of connectionism. And because the most information is in the connections, the whole thing is advanced by the efforts of the few shamans that do the stronger connections.

Chaos theory is attacking all the sciences, and the sciences are resisting. One measure of this is that all the good chaos theorists in physics are unemployed.

His new passion is working as a consultant for K-12 education. He's decided that curriculum should be based on content rather than method. World cultural history is mapped onto grades - so grade one teaches paleolithic history, fifth grade covers Greece, eleventh grade hits current events, and twelfth grade is the future.

My brain still hurts from Abraham's presentation.

Paul Stamets

Psilocybin Mushrooms: Sacraments Leading to an Ecology of Consciousness

Stamets is an author and president of Fungi Perfecti, selling gourmet and medicinal mushrooms and growing supplies. "All of my work is watched by the DEA; my books are covered by the first amendment, but in mail order, now ninety nine percent of our business is medicinal and gourmet; it's only at a conference like this where things become apparent." Big smile.

Stamets taught at Evergreen State College in Washington along with mycologists Jose Guzman, Jeremy Bigwood, and Jonathan Ott. (He characterized the school as a strange attractor.) Stamets had a great slide show: French cave art of a shaman's body with mushrooms grwoing out of it; the cover of Life magazine with Gordon Wasson's article on mushrooms;

Stamets then talked sacraments. Marijuana and alcohol are good recreation, but psilocybin should NOT be used for that. It's for sacramental use. He lamented "the High Times crowd." Ritual needs to be restablished in our culture; so the formula for a good trip:

- physical and psychological health

- join with a veteran, into woods

- pack a lot of water

- eat mushroom at sunset

- a fire is good for focusing attention - "you can go through wormholes, go through universes, but you have to come back, and the fire is there to get you back

- fruit is OK, vitamin B and C is good.

A tangible benefit is that mushrooms cause environmental awareness; they made a large contribution to the environmental movement.

Stamets told a funny story about a recent bust of a hundred students at Evergreen State, busted for possession after a big hunt; with spores all over their hands and clothes, they were marched into the courthouse, landscaped all around with wood chips and rhododendrons, perfect habitats for growing mushrooms, and indeed the best hunting now for psilocybin mushrooms is the grounds of the courthouse.

A new Field Guide to Psilocybin by Stamets is due out in 1996.

I noted that although last year's Jonathan Ott presentations were more concerned with mushrooms and consciousness, this year had a much more evangelical feel from the regulars.

Ralph Abraham

The Mycelial Mat and The Worldwide Web

"Each is well known and the connection is obvious."

Mushrooms that he was growing in separate jars all fruited overnight at the same time in each jar. Abraham really believes it's an intelligent plant, the mycelial mat has distributed intelligence. If you think we have a mind as well as a brain, then if a mushroom has that it's not in the mat, but a connection of mind across all of them.

The World Wide Web is a new obsession of his, he never realized how like the mycelial mat it was. His first experience with WWW for getting software was sort of like his first acid trip - one click and you're there. You can have recreational use of the Net, like at cafes, but he thinks it's more than that. It's happening now, to save us from the Death Track. Like the "connectionist" paradigm mentioned previously,. telecommunications has increased the bandwidth of the connections, and so increased the intelligence of the species. Teilhard de Chardin of course anticipated this very development - noogenesis. He saw this as the resacralization of the world, culmination of evolution. The WWW is the material foundation of his vision.

Miscellaneous Mycelial Events

As for me, on Friday's foray, I had miserable luck for the most part, finding only the ubiquitous plain brown small mushroom. Until, slapping a mosquito, I looked around the back of a stand of fir trees and beheld a lone, magnificent red capped Amanita Muscaria. Many other, more experienced hunters had combed this area, but this mushroom revealed itself only to me.

I saved it for Saturday night, and brewed a little tea. It greatly enhanced my enjoyment of the Festival finale, with Stamets Weil and Abraham each delivering a short poetic address accompanied by a light show and atmospheric music by the New Alchemy Rhythm Band.

And as always, the Mushroom parade down main street (I brought claves; Carolyn wore a special decorative mushroom cap) and the tasting party were rousing successes. The mushroom strudel was to die for.