In 1998 Jeremy Narby published The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge. In it he proposed that shamans may be able to access information at the molecular level through the ingestion of entheogens, specifically ayahuasca. He believed that the twin-headed serpent from ancient mythology was a symbol for DNA, and the limitless information it contains. Many report seeing giant serpents, including Narby, after ingesting Ayahuasca. These serpents then proceed to disseminate information in a very etheric and intuitive form. This, Narby believes, is the act of accessing your own DNA, and extracting bits of encoded information for use in your conscious mind.
“There is a transcendental dimension beyond language… It’s just hard as hell to talk about!”
― Terence McKenna
The disseminated information appears to be blatantly abstract. Perhaps this is due to a translation error between the substance and the person. DNA is encoded using a four letter language that combine into 3 letter words in much the same way the English language uses letter combinations to form words. Our written language works based on agreed upon associations, and not natural molecular encoding however. So when shamans, or Narby, see snakes instead of the common computer generated representation of DNA, and this DNA then proceeds to use metaphorical imagery to present concepts, perhaps it is a result of our unconscious mind (working on the language of ATGC) translating the information into our conscious mind (written/spoken language).
“What if it were true that nature speaks in signs and that the secret to understanding its language consists in noticing similarities in shape or in form?”
– Jeremy Narby
“All the peoples in the world who talk of a cosmic serpent have been saying as much for millennia. He had not seen it because the rational gaze is forever focalized and can examine only one thing at a time. It separates things to understand them, including the truly complementary. It is the gaze of the specialist, who sees the fine grain of a necessarily restricted field of vision. ”
– Jeremy Narby
If this is true, we can then conclude that the unconscious mind is not limited to our body. The genetic coding our body is a subject to is the same all throughout nature, and in the act of interacting with it through the use of psychoactive substances, one can enter communion with it. Limited, of course, to the metaphors you muster. Narby even hypothesized the large segments of “junk DNA” are in fact bioluminescent transmitters and receivers, implying possible communication at a distance, much like the modern radio. Like that radio, one can defocalize, or tune, to frequencies that your conscious mind usually is not aware of.
“The syntactical nature of reality, the real secret of magic, is that the world is made of words. And if you know the words that the world is made of, you can make of it whatever you wish.”
― Terence McKenna
Since we do not speak the language of the subconscious, we are limited to use of our modern languages. In modern western civilization the predominate form of sensory analysis is rationalization. This is in its self, not reality, but a model for explaining reality. It is merely a map of the “desert of the real”, much like the Matrix was for its inhabitants.
Rationalization is an agreed upon cultural filter that acts exactly like an operating system for the masses. With this filter comes dogma, and with dogma comes exclusion. Valid information will either subconsciously, or consciously, be discarded if it does not meet the standards of the prefabricated manmade mold.
“I became familiar with certain limits of the rational gaze. It tends to fragment reality and to exclude complementarity and the association of contraries from it’s field of vision…The rational approach starts from the idea that everything is explainable and that mystery is in some sense the enemy. This means that it prefers pejorative, and even wrong, answers to admitting its own lack of understanding.”
– Jeremy Narby
“My technique is don’t believe anything. If you believe in something, you are automatically precluded from believing its opposite.”
― Terence McKenna
Alright, interesting hypothesis and statements, but what is the context? What you wrote (I suppose at least) and what you quote comes a bit across to me as loose sand; whether or not this cosmic serpent is a representation of DNA, the possibility of communication through what is considered ´junk DNA´ and the issue of rationalization seem to me three different issues. Did you just want to share this (which makes me interested to why you wanted to, therefore…) or discuss it? Besides that what you wrote about rationalization and especially the phrase ´desert of the real´ strongly reminds me of Lacan (Real, Symbolic, Imaginary). Enlighten me!
In short, this is a writeup/possible explanation to the meaning behind the song in the video “Rational Gaze” by Meshuggah. They are indeed separate issues that are brought into relation within the book “The Cosmic Serpent”. I shared it, as I just began listening to the band the same time I was reading the book, and found it odd that the song was almost a word for word extract from the book. So I just wanted to get a brief description of what they may mean in the lyrics out, as well as share the concepts presented in the book. It such a complex discussion that can delve into all sorts of esoteric, scientific, and shamanic topics. I’d love to make it a full on discussion.
Well I´m off to bed soon but I´ll drop a few thoughts before I do. The problem of rationalization and reality is that it is in the domain of language, which in this particular case has little to do with culture, but with its very nature as its manifestation in humans. Not just our realities are defined by it, but our very concept of ´I´. Once acquired it is very difficult to cast aside. To perceive reality in a non-rational way is to perceive without language, and with language I mean a system of ´signifiers´. And signifiers are meaning. To perceive without the meaning is to see the world ´as is´ (as far as our other senses go, of course). As I said this is nearly impossible because our very existence as ´subjects´ (´I´) is based on it. If we are in a state to perceive the world as is we can draw no conclusions from it because conclusions only exist in a world of meaning.
The universe is inherently meaningless, therefore -everything- is equal. This is true. Although from an ethical position, this leads to interesting problems. Discrimination (I mean this as neutrally as possible; making distinctions) is vital for personal and societal survival. Of course the universe doesn´t care about that, but we do (and perhaps should). There are tons of examples for this, but I´ll try not to diverge too much. The most obvious example is that it leads to nihilism. This stance is perhaps sufficient for some people (although I hardly believe there is -anyone- who has no values at all) but for most it lacks and it definitely doesn´t sustain a society (think of norms, values, laws, etc.) I mention this because both the song and what you wrote have a bit of this ´critical of society´ touch, though I could be wrong. While there is definitely a lot about society that we should be critical about I don´t think that our ´rationalization filter´ is a key problem.
Nonetheless, I think that breaking out of our language-reality every now and then can be a healthy habit for relativation.
I´ll leave it for now, I might write some more tomorrow. But I´m interested in what your thoughts are, feel free to write anything.
(If it is a bit incoherent or if there are some awkward formulations, I am tired, excuse me for this)
I agree with you about the power of language, but I believe it has everything to do with culture. As you can see today, our language is showing a new face as those embracing the digital age are communicating in the form of abbreviations and emojis. This change in language is a direct response to cultural tides. The actions of some (I luv u, ;), OMW!, ect..) changes the language, which in turn change cultural standards. This is a trivial example, as I’m not sure an emoji saturated language will pave the way for some sort of genocide against full sentence structure users, but these subtle changes over time, whatever survives of them, change and manipulate the predominant philosophies of the people that adopt them. The definitions of the language may stay the same for a long time, but the agreed upon associations, metaphors, and “proper use” vary constantly.
A perfect example of this is the response of a Japanese publication about slime molds completing complex tasks in Nature magazine. Narby himself spoke about how both the Japanese and American media responded. The predominantly “animist” Japanese culture had no problem with the article applying the word “intelligence” to the mold. To the animist, all nature is intelligent and alive, even rocks. However, the american media had great trouble with the use of the world. As our predominant dogma is that nature is separate from man, and is inherently unintelligent. Both reactions to the use of the word are equally valid, as it only depends on the associations you link with the definition of intelligence. The culture shaped the way the language was used, in turn, shaping the way both groups of people actually saw the world. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uGMV6IJy1Oc
Skip to 14:45
I’m not too sure the conclusion that the nihilist view is inherently true as you imply (if you are implying that). The way I read it, you believe nihilism to be the most accurate view of nature, however it is just too impractical to work with any societal or cultural model. Perhaps you are also just saying this as a response to what you believe Narby and Meshuggah were implying. I am not sure this is the case either. As they did not say “blur reality to make it nothing”, but “blur reality to make it real”. I think the current interpretation of Nihilism gets stained with the predominant western idea that nature in inherently unintelligent. Resulting in there being nothing behind the veil of perception. A desert is teeming with activity, the metaphor applies simply because it is believed to be empty of a true human interpretation. A cat does not know there is an internet, but from what we know it does not deny it.
I think the advocacy from Narby and the song is that embracing one form of cognition is limiting our very potential for acquisition of knowledge, however you wish to define it, not that one should throw away cognitive associations altogether.
The coiled serpent means a lot to different religions. You could interpret it as plainly symbolic such as our spine, the kundalini, the guardian/bringer of wisdom, the ouroboros pertaining to a quantum torus or simply just the observation of the golden spiral found in everything.
Much like a DNA strand:
The language talk reminds me of this:
Memes are a good example of dilution. They are prepackaged, automatic gestures. It just so happens that I’m reading Wittgenstein and this caught me:
“The possibility of all imagery, of all our pictorial modes of expression, is contained in the logic of depiction.
4.016 In order to understand the essential nature of a proposition, we should consider hieroglyphic script, which depicts the facts that it describes. And alphabetic script developed out of it without losing what was essential to depiction.
4.02 We can see this from the fact that we understand the sense of a propositional sign without its having been explained to us.
4.021 A proposition is a picture of reality: for if I understand a proposition, I know the situation that it represents. And I understand the proposition without having had its sense explained to me.”
Language has everything to do with culture, I agree, and I think that language shifts imply perception shifts. But ´rationalization´ is inescapable, whatever system (or flavour, system in the broadest sense possible) of language, because it is tied to the very phenomenon of language. That´s what I meant with that it has little to do with culture.
With nihilism I mean ´devoid of meaning´. Things are definitely ´out there´, I do believe that. I wouldn´t describe nature as unintelligent, but I do think that calling it intelligent would be an anthropomorphism. For me ´meaning´ is something that exists within language, and language is a system of signifiers, and my perception is that nature doesn´t signify anything, it just is. That´s what I mean with ´the universe is inherently meaningless´.
But that doesn´t mean anything really. What you wrote about animist and Western perception and their contrast is a good example. For me personally, both are right (beside the different interpretations of ´intelligence´). This initially may seem strange as humans like to juxtapose life and death, but I think those are anthropomorphisms as well. They´re not even two sides of the same coin. Life is just a variety of ´death´. And that´s just a metaphor. I find it difficult to explain so I hope you will understand what I mean but it is as I wrote: Nature just is.
I wrote with the phrase ´rational gaze´ in the back of my mind. I interpret this as any kind of rational gaze, with for example the animist rational gaze equal to Western rational gaze. Because rationality is as far as I know mostly confined to language. But on the other hand I suppose I took it too strictly, because I do believe other forms of cognitions are possible and should be encouraged, although I fear they will always be ´rationalized´, in one system or another. We cannot talk about it without ´mutilating´ it, so to speak. It is a difficult subject.
I hope I will elaborate another day.
I feel like we are on the same page, because I totally agree on the parameters of nature are only what we define. I think we naturally return to rationalism because its the predominant archetype of the age though, opposed to being a natural state of perception. The shamanic cultures of the amazon have avoided a “rationalized” perspective for ages. Thats why anthropologists have such a hard time defining and explaining their way of life.
“And it was said that the protector of the earth appeared in the shape of a mighty serpent. He rests coiled around the earth, and so we call him, Jörmungandr. His presence is undeniable to those who see, unbelievable to those who wish not to see. Some see him and fear, but one of true heart will be calmed by the presence of the great one. For he protects the good and feeds only upon the corrupt. All that is wrong for this world, master Jörmungandr shall return to the ether. Through Hel, and through us, the faulty becomes pure.”
-Serpent DNA theory, as explained in ancient Norse sagacity.