Q + A – Daniel Pinchbeck

What does the future look like to you?

Due to unplanned consequences of industrialization, we’re destroying the biosphere at an alarming rate. As global warming accelerates, something like 25 percent of all species could be extinct in the next 30 years. So the future looks two ways. We can either continue on our current path and suffer imminent and irreparable collapse, or we can apply an intensified design consciousness in many areas, from technology to economic systems to personal relationships, and create a more harmonious, generous, and equitable world.

Your book presents that world as the possible fulfillment of an ancient Mesoamerican prophecy in which the year 2012 marks the end of a 5,000-year cycle and the beginning of a new epoch of awareness. The changes may involve not just sensitivity to the biosphere, but also a new understanding of time. What’s wrong with the old understanding?

We’re trapped in an anxiety of time because we have misconceived its essential nature. We perceive time as something linear and quantifiable. We talk about having “enough” time, “wasting” time, or “running out of” time, or equate time with money. Actually, time has nothing to do with spatial quantities. According to quantum physics, there’s another level, a transcendent domain where everything’s already taken place, which exists as an all-at-onceness. Our misunderstanding has huge personal and political consequences. Most people live for a future that will never arrive. At the same time, they accept current situations as solid and somehow permanent rather than realizing the fluid patterns of evolutionary processes.

You also discuss the calendar as a time problem, not to mention a design problem.

Until 5,000 years ago, we used a lunar calendar matched precisely to the moon’s cycles. With the rise of patriarchal civilization, we made a solar version‹ending up with an artificial, abstract division of the year into 12 unequal parts. So although the word month is derived from moon, the connection between the two is arbitrary. I write about Jose Arguelles, a Mayan scholar and self-proclaimed prophet, who believes that being out of harmony with natural cycles will eventually drive everybody in a culture insane. It’s like building a tower from a wrong foundation: The bigger the tower grows, the more wobbly it gets. Arguelles’s design solution is an approximate lunar calendar with 13 “moon-ths” of 28 days and one “day out of time.” In 2012, I argue that he has some brilliant concepts, but ended up swapping a solar abstraction for a lunar abstraction when we need a true integration that is scientifically precise. Earlier cultures thought about this problem very deeply. Stonehenge actually represents a monumental effort to resolve solar and lunar cycles.

You write approvingly of cultures, past and present, that from a modern, Western point of view might be considered primitive. Would you say that consciousness of one’s place in the cosmos requires renouncing one’s faith in technology?

No. I believe that both the accelerated evolution of technology and the destruction of the biosphere are aspects of humanity’s psycho-spiritual evolution. As technology reaches its final stage, it may become indistinguishable from natural processes; you could think of photosynthesis as a perfect technology that creates no waste. I also feel that what’s happening with the Internet right now is spectacular. Just as the printing press engendered mass democracy, the Internet allows for new possibilities for social networking. We may find that it will help us supersede current forms of government just as democracy supplanted the monarchies of the past.

If technology’s approaching a final stage, what comes after it?

There are people who have telepathic experiences without using a cell phone. Psychic phenomenon is something we haven’t been able to access reliably, but there’s plenty of statistical evidence for measurable psychic effects. In my book, I talk about the Global Consciousness Project at Princeton University, which registered a massive disturbance hours before the first plane hit the World Trade Tower. Maybe psychic energy is a new transformative power that we’ll be able to bring down into the world, just as electricity was beyond our grasp until a few centuries ago.

I was impressed by the diversity of your references. Is it silly to ask what Nietzsche, the Book of Revelations, and alien abductions have in common for you?

Nietzsche basically saved my ass while I was writing the book. He was an extraordinary thinker with a tremendous wit who pointed out that our idea that the truth is just one thing could itself be a mistake. Scientists are always trying to determine the final theory of everything, but in Nietzsche’s view, truth could be a system of values, much like the values a painter uses in his art. Applied to something like alien abductions, crop circles, or the Apocalypse, this idea allows you to look beyond the dualism of real or fake. If there is no final or absolute truth, what theory holds all of the evidence together in the most aesthetically satisfying way? There seems to be two sides to the testimony of people who claim to have been abducted by aliens. They recount many of the same experiences, which would seem to validate their stories. Yet the tales are so much like B movies one wonders how much they’ve been influenced by the same pool of science fiction. Or maybe nonhuman intelligences have helped create the science fiction.

Touche. Still, do you see a problem in gaining access to, let alone reporting on, an extrasensory dimension when we humans are so limited in our perceptions?

Supersensible perceptions can present themselves as archetypal images or dream symbols. Rudolf Steiner talks about how you begin to access these states of consciousness as a natural process of spiritual development. I believe that Steiner could become for the 21st century what Nietzsche was for the 20th century, a foundational thinker who allows for a new relationship to reality. His design was also interesting. He was an architect and a sculptor. He created the Waldorf schools, the largest, most successful independent educational movement in the West. And he invented biodynamic agriculture, a forerunner of organic farming. He had an incredible vision yet basically said that all of his knowledge came from supersensible investigations.

You’re open about your use of psychoactive drugs to gain access to a more acute state of consciousness. How political are you in your endorsement of these substances?

I think they should be available to those who want them. For the most part, psychedelic substances aren’t bad for you, they aren’t addictive, they’re considered healing by indigenous cultures, and they can be visionary catalysts. I think it’s a peculiar sign that we banish these shamanic sacraments beyond the margins while we hand out a lot of unhealthy substances, such as antidepressants that lead to suicide.

In much of the book, you set forth ideas, such as the extraterrestrial origins of crop circles, only to doubt them. Which concept do you find most challenging?

What the year 2012 actually signifies still eludes me. Are we going to attain some form of unified global consciousness, and if so, what will that feel like? There’s this whole fable about how, when the Spaniards arrived in South America, the indigenous tribes were unable to see the big ships floating off the shore though they understood that something was in the water. The shamans went out to the shore and stood there for days and kept looking and finally saw them. I feel that’s what I’m trying to do for our culture, just pull into articulation the stuff that’s hovering outside our grasp. It’s quite a challenge.

What are you personally doing to prepare for the future?

I’m starting a media and membership organization called Evolver (www.evolverproject.com) loosely modeled on National Geographic, but based on self-transformation rather than exotic exploration. Our media will be positive and proactive. We will help people to absorb critical aspects of our world situation that they have avoided because it seems overwhelming. We’re not just going to publish articles about species extinction. We’re going to look at initiatives around the world that will tackle the problem and help our members get involved. A lot of people say, run for the hills. Go into survivalist mode. That doesn’t appeal to me. We have to ride this tiger!

Julie Lasky is editor-in-chief of I.D.