99 - Erik Davis on How to Navigate High Weirdness

Ep. 99

This week’s guest is Erik Davis – one of my great inspirations, someone who has influenced me and this podcast in immeasurable ways since I first encountered his amazing criticism, histories, and “seen it all” visionary cool – I still recommend his first nonfiction book (Techgnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information) on a near-daily basis, and his show Expanding Mind has got to be my number one most-listened podcast of all time.

Erik is a native Californian Gen X mystic who played no small part in the explosive West Coast visionary cyperpunk scene in the 1990s alongside folks like Terence McKenna, Timothy Leary, RU Sirius, Doug Rushkoff, and Jaron Lanier. But he’s taking a profoundly different stance these days, with a Religious Studies PhD in hand and a new book at the printers, drawing on his thirty-plus years experience investigating modern life’s weird marginalia to help us navigate a world in which the weird’s no longer marginal.



High Weirdness Drugs, Visions, and Esoterica in the Seventies by Erik Davis

"A study of the spiritual provocations to be found in the work of Philip K. Dick, Terrence McKenna, and Robert Anton Wilson, High Weirdness charts the emergence of a new psychedelic spirituality that arose from the American counterculture of the 1970s. These three authors changed the way millions of readers thought, dreamed, and experienced reality— but how did their writings reflect, as well as shape, the seismic cultural shifts taking place in America? In High Weirdness, Erik Davis—America’s leading scholar of high strangeness—examines the published and unpublished writings of these vital, iconoclastic thinkers, as well as their own life-changing mystical experiences. Davis explores the complex lattice of the strange that flowed through America’s West Coast at a time of radical technological, political, and social upheaval to present a new theory of the weird as a viable mode for a renewed engagement with reality."

"Erik Davis is an American journalist, critic, podcaster, and counter-public intellectual whose writings have run the gamut from rock criticism to cultural analysis to creative explorations of esoteric mysticism. He is the author of Techgnosis: Myth, Magic and Mysticism in the Age of Information, The Visionary State: A Journey through California’s Spiritual Landscape, and Nomad Codes: Adventures in Modern Esoterica."

We Discuss:

Enacting the weird through media

The 1970s understood as the sort of beginning of our darker, weirder time - capitalism, consumer credit, surveillance, paranoia, density, historical dread…

“The occult, conspiracy theory, a dark dreamlike character…is now central…the way fictions become operational as quasi-truths to navigate the post-truth environment…the popularity of psychedelics…”

Key literacies for navigating Our Weird Future

Slender Man as operationalized fiction, as a kind of “tulpa” or thought-form activated into quasi-life

The intermarriage of reality and the hoax

HP Lovecraft’s modern distance from his horrors vs. Phil Dick’s postmodern intimacy with his horrors

The Coming Age of DNA Monsters and Routinized Weirdness

“We are called upon to analyze our resistances to all variety of shifts, mutations, couplings – and unless we want to go reactionary and hold onto certain ideas we have about how humans should be, or how the world should be, we’re in a situation of a strange kind of embrace with the other.”

Distrusting the Apocalypse

Figure-ground collapse in the impression of planetary hyperobjects into our immediate awareness

Neuroplasticity and neoteny – becoming childlike in order to surf accelerating change

Future shock and getting drawn into (right-wing, fundamentalist, fear-based, racist, boundary-defending) stories as a bid for solid ground

“Not knowing who we really are is part of the game. In fact, it’s one of the great opportunities of our moment.”

Plasticity vs. Flexibility ~ Will or Flexibility 

The discipline of transforming subjectivity - religions as practical algorithms for self-transformation, not as collections of beliefs

Everything you do is a self-engendering practice

“I look at the 20th Century, and the most important thing that happened in the 20th Century is cybernetics – both the concept and the operationalism of creating communication feedback loops that begin to generate their own processes.”

“The further I go into a cybernetic model, at least for me, it needs to be ground out in a deepening relationship with animals, with weather, with food, with plants, with plant wisdom, and definitely with those peoples – in whatever traces, in whatever mutations we can encounter them now – those groups, those societies, that had a very different relationship that’s not really mediated by the machine.”

The return of the nonhuman, cultural retrieval, the archaic revival, “reanimism”

Intelligence is Everywhere

Present Shock & the collapse of history & Jurassic Park

The future of time - metaperspectival time

Zizek’s critique of Buddhism and how mindfulness has been coopted by neoliberal surveillance capitalism

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139 - On Coronavirus, Complex Adaptive Systems, & Creative Opportunity

Ep. 139
This week I take a pause on interviews to share my thoughts on the Coronavirus pandemic from the perspective of complex systems and network collapse—and talk about the possible silver lining we might find in a time of crisis and enforced social isolation. I hope it helps! Feel free to email me with your thoughts, questions, feedback.Support this show on Patreon for secret episodes, the Future Fossils book club, and more awesome stuff than you probably have time for.Grab the books I mention on Future Fossils at my Amazon Shop and I get a small-but-helpful kickback from the retail leviathan.Intro Theme Music: “God Detector” by Evan “Skytree” Snyder (feat. Michael Garfield) •Here are all of the other podcasts and reading I mentioned in this episode, followed by some useful info about the COVID19 pandemic specifically:David Weinberger on Future Fossils about how we’ve always relied on black box explanationsW. Brian Arthur on on Complexity Podcast about the economy as a complex adaptive systemDr. Mike Ryan of the WHO on decision-making under conditions of uncertaintyJamie Stantonian on the disruptive impact caused by the Gutenberg printing press“An Oral History of The End of ‘Reality’”, my sci-fi short about the philosophical challenges wrought by technological changeSamo Burja on how crisis requires a more fluid social response than institutional expertise“I did ‘The Mindscape’ thing, which was basically me sitting there in a chair, with an enormously long cigarette, sort of talking in real East-Midlands monotone – so no change there – but the essential thing about culture turning to steam, the fact that everything was speeding up so much that we seem to be heading for, what I refer to as a ‘phase transition period’, which is where one state suddenly and chaotically changes from one state to another state; like the boiling point of water.I said that I felt that we were approaching a kind of cultural boiling point, but as you know with the emergence of the cloud – I mean back then it did perhaps sound a bit extreme and a bit weird and the sort of thing that you might expect an Occultist, who clearly does a lot of drugs to say. But I think that events since then have made it look a lot more conservative as a guess at the future.”– Alan MooreWatch The Mindscape of Alan Moore on Archive.org or YoutubeHunter Maats on Future Fossils about the challenges of education and knowledge infrastructure in the Information AgeDouglas Rushkoff on Future Fossils about “present shock” and new modes of social organization for adapting to technological changeRaissa D’Souza on the collapse of complex networksMe at the Australian Psychedelic Society (Melbourne) on “May you live in interesting times”Nicole Creanza on the interplay of cultural and biological evolutionBruce Damer on Future Fossils about his origins of life researchWashington Post on Isaac Newton’s “Year of Wonders”Charles Eisenstein’s superb big-picture book, The Ascent of HumanityDr. Richard Hobday on the value of sunlight in fighting viruses and maintaining good health12 Museums Offering Virtual Tours, courtesy of Travel & Leisure•Useful info pages about the pandemic:Sam Scarpino, complex systems scientist, on solid mental and physical health advice for dealing with COVID19Worldometers real-time tracking of the pandemicARCGIS real-time tracking of the pandemic on a global mapTimeline of pandemics and their relative severityFast Company on how to lead in times of crisisThe Cut on how not to go stir crazy (mostly good exercise advice)

138 - Tanya Harrison on Space Exploration 50 Years After Apollo

Ep. 138
This week’s guest is Tanya Harrison, a Mars geologist, author, and infectious banner-waving space enthusiast. We talk about For All Humankind, her new book with Danny Bednar on the legacy of the Apollo missionsm, as both a planetwide accomplishment and also a high bar against which we have since not seemed to measure up...as well as:What it’s like to drive a mars rover and extend yourself technologically through space.What will have to change for us to attune to the plural temporalities of life on multiple worlds.How the tone of science fiction and space fantasy has changed over the course of our lives, for better or worse.The cultural differences between national space programs and commercial “jobs in space” exploration.The tragedy of how light pollution cuts us off from crucial perspective and our tangible belongingness in the starry cosmos.Using space-based imagining to understand our own planet as the unique and wonderful place it is.Tanya's Website & Twitter.Tanya Works for Planet Labs.Here’s another great (short) conversation with her about Martian geology.Grab the books we mention in this episode and I get a tiny kickback.Support this show on Patreon for secret episodes, the Future Fossils book club, and more awesome stuff than you probably have time for.People Mentioned:Jessa Gamble, Barry Vacker, Divya Persaud, Stewart Brand, Carl Sagan, Sara Imari Walker, Rusty Schweickert, Biosphere IIMedia Mentioned:For All Humankind, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy, Ad Astra, The ExpanseTheme Music: “God Detector” by Evan “Skytree” Snyder (feat. Michael Garfield) Additional Intro Music: “Lambent” by Michael Garfield

137 - Rolf Potts on Twenty-Five Years of World Travel

Ep. 137
Rolf Potts is one of the world’s most notable travel writers, author of five books on his adventures, pioneer “digital nomad” before that was even a thing, a totally inspiring person who has carved his own path through life and now helps others do the same through writing workshops and his excellent podcast, Deviate. (Worth noting that as of the time of this episode’s publication, his latest podcast episode is about dinosaurs!) For me personally, Rolf’s one of the most influential writers I’ve ever read, for his book, Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel, a slim but profound volume that utterly changed my life forever.In this episode we look back on Rolf’s twenty-five years of world travel and travel writing, and how the digital transformations of the 21st Century have changed the way we move around on and experience this planet.We talk #vanlife, citizen diplomacy, psychogeography, the Instagram effect, getting lost with Google Maps, writing as a way of paying attention, and seeing your own home with fresh eyes. It’s a powerful discussion that ignited in me that old call to journey past the far horizon —which, it’s key to note, can also mean the inner boundaries of normalcy we raise around our lives, an invitation to encounter the familiar anew…Rolf’s Website, Writing, & Podcast:https://rolfpotts.comGrab the books we mention in this episode:https://amazon.com/shop/michaelgarfieldSupport this show on Patreon for secret episodes, the Future Fossils book club, and more awesome stuff than you probably have time for:https://patreon.com/michaelgarfieldMentioned:Marco Polo Didn’t Go There by Rolf Potts, Storming The Beach, Vagabonding by Rolf Potts, Kevin Kelly, Google Maps, Lonely Planet Guide to Thailand’s Islands & Beaches, The Beach by Alex Garland, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jim Benning, World Hum, Present Shock by Douglas Rushkoff, Burning Man, Matt Kepnes, The Glass Cage by Nicholas Carr, Temporary Autonomous Zone by Hakim Bey, The Pessimists Archive, The Tao Te Ching translated by Brian Browne Walker, Ari Shaffir, Livinia SpaldingRelated Reading:“Giving Into Astonishment: Scenes from Burning Man’s American Dream" by Michael Garfield (2008)Theme Music: “God Detector” by Evan “Skytree” Snyder (feat. Michael Garfield)https://skytree.bandcamp.com/track/god-detector-ft-michael-garfieldAdditional Intro Music: “Lambent” by Michael Garfieldhttps://michaelgarfield.bandcamp.com/album/little-bird-the-eschaton