Graham Hancock – The War on Consciousness BANNED TED TALK


After six million years of boredom, the evolutionary
ascent of our species from the last common ancestor with the chimpanzee, something extraordinary
happened to us less than a hundred thousand years ago, which, by the way, is long after
we’d become anatomically modern. It was a kind of emergence into consciousness less
than a hundred thousand years ago; really less than forty thousand years ago, when we
became fully symbolic creatures. And this great change has been defined as the single
most important step forward in the evolution of human behaviour; is intimately associated
with the emergence of the great and transcendent rock and cave art all around the world. Over
the last thirty years, research has been lead by the professors at David Lewis Williams
at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa, and many others, have suggested an
intriguing and radical possibility, which is that this emergence into consciousness
was triggered by our ancestor’s encounters with visionary plants and the beginning of
shamanism. If you analyse the cave art – there’s not
time to go into the details here – but there are so many details that make it clear that
this was an art of altered states of consciousness, of visions. Plants like the amanita muscaria
mushroom and psilocybin mushrooms appear to have been directly connected with this sudden
and radical change. So to investigate this possibility when I got interested in this
mystery, I went down to the Amazon where there are still surviving shamanistic cultures today;
and where they drink the powerful visionary brew: ayahuasca – of which the active ingredient
is Dimethyl Tryptomine (DMT) which is actually closely related at the molecular level to
psilocybin. Now, normally DMT cannot be activated orally – when we encounter it in the west
it’s generally smoked. There’s an enzyme in our stomachs called Monoaminoxydase which
switches off DMT on contact. But in the Amazon they’ve gotten around this problem, they say
it was the spirits that taught them how to do it. The DMT in the ayahuasca brew is contained
in these leaves from a plant that they call {{chakruna}} in the Amazon, and there they
mix it together with this vine. And out of the 150,000 species of plants and trees in
the Amazon, this is the one that contains a Monoaminoxydase inhibitor, which switches
off that enzyme in our stomachs, and allows the DMT in the leaves – when the two are married
together and cooked in water – to be absorbed orally and takes us on a four hour journey
into extraordinary realms. Now, it’s no joke to drink ayahuasca. The ayahuasca brew has
a foul, foul taste – really, really hideous – and a dreadful, dreadful smell, and after
you’ve drunk your cup you’ll find within 45 minutes or so that you’re sweating, that you’re
feeling nauseous. Pretty soon you may well be vomiting, you may have diarrhoea, so, you
know, nobody’s doing this for recreation. And, I’d like to add that I don’t think any
of the psychedelics should be used for recreation. They have a much more serious and important
mission with humanity. So, we’re not doing this for fun, but what draws people to ayahuasca
again and again to brace themselves for this experience? (and you do have to brace yourself)
is it’s extraordinary effects at the level of consciousness. One of those effects
has to do with creativity, and we can see the creative cosmogenic impulse of Ayahuasca
in the paintings of Ayahuasca Shamans from Peru – like the paintings of {{Pablo Amaringo}}
here those richly saturated colours, they’re amazing visions that they reproduce. This
creative impulse has also spread to western artists – many western artists now have been
deeply influenced by ayahuasca and are also painting their visions. As these paintings
show, another universal experience of ayahuasca is the encounter with seemingly intelligent
entities which communicate with us telepathically. Now, I’m making no claim one way or another
as to the reality state of these entities we encounter, simply that phenomenologically,
in the ayahuasca experience they are encountered by people all over the world. And most frequently
of all, the spirit of ayahuasca herself, mother ayahuasca, who is a healer – and although
she’s kind of the mother goddess of the planet she seems to take a direct personal interest
in us as individuals – to heal our ills, to want us to be the best that we can possibly
be, to correct errors and mistakes in our behavior that may be leading us down the wrong
path. And this is perhaps why – and it’s an untold story really – ayahuasca has been fantastically
successful in getting people off harmful addictions to hard drugs such as heroine and cocaine.
{{Jacques Mobbit}} of the {{takiwasi clinic}} in Peru brings heroine and cocaine addicts
out there for a month, gives them twelve ayahuasca sessions, and they have encounters with mother
ayahuasca during those sessions that lead them, not to wish to take heroine and cocaine
anymore, and more than half leave completely free of their addiction and never return to
it and don’t even have withdrawal symptoms. The same incredible healing work was being
done by a doctor in Canada by Dr. {{Gabor Matte}} until the Canadian Government intervened
and stopped his healing practice on the grounds that ayahuasca itself was an illegal drug.
Now, I have some personal experience of this – I’ve not been addicted to heroine or cocaine,
but I had a 24-year nonstop cannabis habit. This started off smoking the herb, and naturally
vaporising it, but the basic truth is that for 24 years I was pretty much permanently
stoned – and I enjoyed being stoned, and I felt that it helped me with my work as a writer,
and perhaps at some point it did, but when I first encountered ayahuasca, I had already
been smoking cannabis for 16 years. Almost immediately, ayahuasca started giving me messages
that this was no longer serving me, that it was leading me to behave in negative and unhealthful
ways towards others. Of course, I ignored those messages for years and years and went
back to being stoned 16 hours a day. But that negative behaviour that ayahuasca was pointing
out did actually get worse and worse – I don’t want to put down cannabis and I believe it’s
the sovereign right of every adult to choose to smoke cannabis if they wish to do so, but
I think I was overusing it, I think I was abusing it, not using it responsibly. I became
more and more paranoid, jealous, possessive, suspicious, I was subject to irrational rages,
I often made the life of my beloved partner {{Santher}} a misery. When I went down for
my regular encounter with ayahuasca in October 2011, I was given the most unbelievable kicking
by mother ayahuasca. I was put through an ordeal, it was a kind of life-review. It’s
not an accident that ayahuasca is “the vine of the dead”. I was shown my death, and I
was shown that if I came to death – and what awaits us after death – without having corrected
the mistakes that I was making in my life, that it would be a very bad thing for me – and
actually, mother ayahuasca literally took me to hell, and that hell was a little like
this “Hell” painted by {{Heronimus Boncture}} – a truly terrible place and a little like
the place that the ancient Egyptians called the judgement Hall of Osiris, where our souls
are weighed on the scales in the presence of the Gods against the feather of Truth and
Justice of Cosmic Harmony. And I was shown that the path I was walking – my abuse of
cannabis and the behaviour associated with it – was going to lead me to be found wanting
in the judgement, and that I might face annihilation in the world beyond death. So, perhaps not
surprisingly, when I came back to England later in October 2011 I gave up cannabis and
I’ve never smoked it again since then. Actually, again I’m speaking only personally with no
comment on others’ use of cannabis, it’s as though a monkey has been lifted off my back.
I’m liberated in incredible ways, far from my creativity being inhibited, I find myself
writing much more productively, much more creatively, much more focused, and much more
efficiently as well. I’ve begun to be able to address those negative aspects of my behaviour
which cannabis had revealed, and hopefully to make myself slowly – it’s a long progress
– into a more nurturing, more loving, more positive person. This whole transformation
– it really has been a personal transformation for me – was made possible by this encounter
with death that mother ayahuasca gave me. That leads me to ask, what is death? Our materialist
science reduces everything to matter, the material science in the west says that
we are just meat – we’re just our bodies – so when the brain is dead, that’s the end
of consciousness, there is no life after death, there is no soul; we just rot and are gone.
Actually, many honest scientists should admit that consciousness is the greatest mystery
of science and that we don’t know exactly how it works. The brain is involved in it
some way but we’re no sure how. It could be that the brain generates consciousness the
way a generator makes electricity, if you hold to that paradigm then of course you can’t
believe in life after death – when the generator’s broken, consciousness is gone. It’s equally
possible that the relationship – and nothing in neuroscience rules it out – the relationship
is more like the relationship of the TV signal to the TV set, and in that case, when the
TV set is broken, of course the TV signal continues. This is the paradigm of all spiritual
traditions; that we are immortal souls temporarily incarnated in these physical forms, to learn
and to grow and to develop. Really, if we want to know about this mystery, the last
people we should ask are materialist reductionist scientists; they have nothing to say on the
matter at all. Let’s go rather to the ancient Egyptians, who put their best minds to work
for 3,000 years on the problem of death… and on the problem of how we should live our
lives to prepare for what we will confront after death. The ancient Egyptians expressed
their ideas in transcendent art, which still touches us emotionally today. They came to
certain very specific conclusions: that the soul does survive death and that we will be
held accountable for every thought, every action, every deed that we have lived through
in our lives, so we’d better take this precious opportunity to be born in a human body seriously,
and make the most of it. And in these inquiries into the mystery of death, the ancient Egyptians
weren’t just exercising their imaginations; they highly valued dream states, and it’s
now known that they used visionary plants like the hallucinogenic blue water lily. It’s
interesting that the ancient Egyptian ‘tree of life’ has recently been identified as the
{{acacia mellotica}} which contains high quantities of DMT, Dimethyl Tryptomine, the same active
ingredient that we find in ayahuasca. Now, it’s difficult to imagine a society more different
from the society of ancient Egypt than our society today. We hate visionary states in
this society. In our society, if we want to insult somebody, we call them a dreamer. In
ancient societies that was praise. And we have erected huge apparatuses of armed bureaucracies
who will invade our privacy, who will break down our doors, who will arrest us, who will
send us to prison – sometimes for years – for possessing even small quantities of psilocybin,
or substances like DMT, whether in it’s smokable form or in the ayahuasca brew. And yet, ironically,
DMT is, we now know, a natural brain hormone – we all have it in our bodies and it’s just
that it’s function remains unknown for lack of research. It’s not as though our society
is opposed in principle to altered states of consciousness, I mean, billions are being
made by the unholy alliance of psychiatrists and “big pharma” in overprescribing drugs
to control so-called syndromes like depression or attention deficit disorder in teenagers.
We have a love-affair in our society with alcohol; we glorify this most boring of drugs
despite the terrible consequences that it often has. And of course we love our stimulants,
our tea, our coffee, our energy drinks, our sugar, and huge industries are built around
these substances which are valued because of the way they alter consciousness. But what
all these approved altered states of consciousness have in common is that none of them contradict
or conflict with the basic state of consciousness valued by our society, which I would call
the alert, problem-solving state of consciousness, which is good for the more mundane aspects
of science. It’s good for the prosecution of warfare, it’s good for commerce, it’s good
for politics, but I think everybody realises that the promise of a society over-monopolistically
based on this state of consciousness has proved hollow. And that this model is no longer working
– that it’s broken in every possible sense that a model can be broken. And urgently we
need to find something which can replace it – the vast problems of global pollution that
resulted from the single-minded pursuit of profit, the horrors of the nuclear proliferation,
the spectre of hunger that millions every night go to bed starving – that we can’t even
solve this problem, despite our alert, problem-solving state of consciousness. And look what’s happening
in the Amazon, the lungs of our planet, this precious home of bio-diversity. The old growth
rainforest being cut down and replaced with soya bean farms so we can feed cattle so that
we can all eat hamburgers. Only a truly insane global state of consciousness could allow
such an abomination to occur. I did a back-of-an-envelope calculation during the Iraq War, it seems
to me that six months expenditure on the Iraq War would have solved the problem of the Amazon
forever; would be sufficient to compensate the people of the Amazon so that no single
tree ever needed to be cut down again, to garden and to look after that amazing resource.
But we can’t make that decision as a global community. We can spend countless billions
on warfare, on hatred, on fear, on suspicion, on division, but we can’t get together the
collective effort to save the lungs of our planet. And this is perhaps why shamans from
the Amazon are now mounting a kind of reverse missionary activity. When I’ve asked shamans
about the sickness of the west, they say it’s quite simple: “You guys have severed your
connection with spirit. Unless you reconnect with spirit and do so soon, you’re gonna bring
the whole house of cards down around your heads, and ours.” And rightly or wrongly,
they believe that ayahuasca is the remedy for that sickness. And many now are being
called to the Amazon to drink ayahuasca, and ayahuasca shamans are traveling throughout
the West offering the brew – often under the radar, often at personal risk – to bring about
consciousness change. It’s true that the message of ayahuasca, the universal message, is about
the sacred, magical, enchanted, infinitely precious nature of life on Earth. And the
interdependence of material and spiritual realms, and it’s impossible to work with ayahuasca
for long without being deeply and profoundly affected by this message. And let’s not forget
that ayahuasca is not alone, that it’s part of an ancient worldwide system of the targeted,
careful, responsible alteration of consciousness. It’s recently been shown by scholars that
the {{kykion}} used in the Eleusinian mysteries in ancient Greece was almost certainly a psychedelic
brew. That the soma of the vedas may well have been a brew based on the amanita muscaria
mushroom. [more rapidly now, more fervently -CD] We have the DMT in the ancient Egyptian
‘Tree of Life’. We have the whole global cultures of surviving shamanism and what it’s all about
is a state of consciousness that’s designed to help us find balance, harmony – the ancient
Egyptians would’ve called it “ma’at with the universe” – and to remain mindful that what
we’re here to undertake on Earth while we’re immersed in matter is fundamentally a spiritual
journey, aimed at the growth and perfection of the soul – a journey that may go back to
the very origins of what made us human in the first place. I stand here invoking the
hard-won right of freedom of speech to call for and demand another right to be recognised;
and that is the right of adult sovereignty over the consciousness. There’s a war on consciousness
in our society and if we as adults are not allowed to make sovereign decisions about
what to experience with our own consciousness while doing no harm to others, including the
decisions to use responsibly ancient and sacred visionary plants, then we cannot claim to
be free in any way, and it’s useless for our society to go around the world imposing our
form of democracy on others while we nourish this rot at the heart of society, and we do
not allow individual freedom over consciousness. It may even be that we’re denying ourselves
the next vital step in our own evolution by allowing this state of affairs to continue,
and who knows, perhaps our immortal destiny as well.

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