15. Being Boiled

May 17th, 2011 | spirit tracks

I’ve cited McKenna a lot over the years. The last of the great American magical thinkers, at least for a while – no-one’s followed him with any success, although many, both genuine apostles and creepy chancers, have tried. The last half of his life was pretty much a public exegesis, trying to quantify and contextualise his drug experiences in the same way that Philip K Dick obsessively wrote his own self-interrogative Exegesis document. He sometimes conflated his UFO experience with his fascination with psylocibin, conflating it with the neurochemical payload of the mushroom. Even his visualisation of the UFO, as a classic George Adamski vehicle, has something of the bemushroomed about it.

Two things to note about McKenna’s experience. One, he sat in a very particular place, on the advice of a local contact, and told to watch a very specific portion of the sky. UFO appearances were apparently semi-regular in this area. I don’t know exactly where McKenna was, but neighbouring Chile and Peru sit on the join between the Nazca and South American tectonic plates… and while central Brazilian "mid-plate events" are supposedly fairly rare, they do happen, and they can happen deep in the remote Amazon forest. I like to imagine the young McKenna sitting in the Amazon basin without a clue that he was actually in some vast electromagnetic well, the South American plate beneath his feet flexing and cracking under weird torsion… and then there is strange weather, there are earthlights, and Terence McKenna’s magnetically-boiled temporal lobe sees whatever’s throwing itself out of the ground as burning hauntology, as a ghost of space, as memories of the future…

(Nazca, of course, bears on its plains huge geoglyphs that Erich von Daniken claimed, in his book CHARIOTS OF THE GODS, could be nothing less than airfield markings for alien spacecraft.)

14. Stress Imagery

May 17th, 2011 | spirit tracks

UFOs leaking out of the earth. UFOs as stress imagery: the stress of living, the stress of the event, turning electromagnetic noise into pictures of something ghostly and alien. The future oozing up through cracks in the ground like a ghost from its grave.

In the book FOOD OF THE GODS, ethnobotanist and psychedelic evangelist Terence McKenna describes his own UFO experience, seeing a glowing machine rising out of the Brazilian rain forest. He says of UFOs that, in his conception, they might be (and I’m transcribing from, badly, McKenna’s own reading of the relevant section at a talk) "mirages in time, reflections of distant technologies that haunt space…. the UFO is a reflection of a future event that promises humanity’s eventual mastery of time and space and matter… coaxed nature into throwing out great burning scintilla of pure contradiction."

He was a hippie and he took a shitload of drugs. Died of a brain tumour. His doctor said to him, I’ve heard that smoking cannabis can shrink brain tumours. McKenna said, if that were true, believe me, I wouldn’t be sitting in your office today.

13. Earthlights

May 17th, 2011 | spirit tracks

Paul Devereux associates the Persinger tests with geotectonic stress that throw off EM, in an attempt to explain the Earthlights phenomena as well as the reason why some UFO activity seems entirely location-bound. At stresspoints like the San Andreas Fault, so much EM is being thrown off that our magnetically freaked-out brains are seeing things. Being haunted by lights from space.

It was through the writing and public speaking of Paul Devereux that I learned, first, of archaeo-acoustics, and of spirit tracks.

Archaeo-acoustics I’ve spoken and written of before: the process of flooding an ancient site with pink noise, identifying the resonant points and therefore determining how the site was used acoustically. Natural spaces can have weird acoustic properties: I’m always reminded of the great black cliff at Thingvellir, the ancient Icelandic parliament field, held there in part because, I was told by a local historian, the rippling rock was a natural vocal amplifier. Devereux spoke of finding an ancient cave site in India where natural stone formations resonated with the seven basic tones of Indian classical music.

Ah, but spirit tracks…

12. An Ethereal Presence

May 17th, 2011 | spirit tracks

A scientist called Michael Persinger freaked out human temporal lobes with weak magnetic fields, discovering that such induced the feeling of “an ethereal presence in the room.” A haunting.

(An ethereal presence in the room: half of Burial’s record UNTRUE, adopted by the new hauntologists as a keystone, sounds somewhere between EVP and ghosts trapped in the walls. Alvin Lucier’s “I Am Sitting In A Room” is the recording of playing a short piece of spoken-word into a room, replaying the new recording, re-recording that, and repeating the process dozens of times. Some sound frequencies resonate and are re-captured in the recording. Others are buried in the walls. The middle section of the process sounds like EVP. And then it turns into music.)

Swedish “double-blind” experiments have suggested that the haunting effect only happens when the subject knows they’re being exposed to the process, though Persinger insists the Swedish approach didn’t replicate his experimental conditions. It does, however, throw some light on a bunch of people wandering around old houses at night expecting to see ghosts.

11. Haunted Beef

May 17th, 2011 | spirit tracks

I grew out of that young fascination with the paranormal and UFOs (I thought) in my early teens, and instead started buying cheap William Burroughs paperbacks from the local charity shop. Which were, it turned out, mostly about ghosts, UFOs, paranormal phenomena and weird magnetic fields.

Ghost hunters, like the people of this digital-cities conference I am currently giving this talk to, are very technical people. Back home, they roam the abandoned houses and haunted places of Britain with electromagnetic field readers, convinced that ghosts produce an electromagnetic field.

Of course, twenty years before they started doing that, William Burroughs was asserting in science fiction that the human soul is an electromagnetic field. Thereby haunting the future of haunting.

(I have stolen this notion many times in my work as a science fiction writer.)

There are pages and pages of guides on the net to buying and calibrating such devices, ensuring a clean baseline so that ghost fields can be differentiated from geomagnetic activity or the presence of human-generated fields such as those from rusting pylons or other electrical equipment.

The reason the ghost hunters are so careful to calibrate their scanners against geomagnetic fields is that they want to ensure they see the right ghosts.

The science fiction writer Steve Aylett once wrote: “we’re all just haunted beef, really.”