"The Doctor Dolittle Talk” Symbiosis of the post human identity in the biosphere
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originally published for the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies April 1st, 2009.
Bulletin Edited by David Jay Brown
Biomorphic empathy is an idea I started playing around with many years ago, and I've been honored to present it in the past at Burning Man, at Shift camp, as well as Palenque Norte, and Fractal Nation.
This talk has taken essentially a lifetime to reflect on and transmit.
In a way it will never quite be done, but I feel as it ripens it is time to revisit it and flesh out more of the insights I’ve gleaned from exploring it.
Biomorphic empathy is a strange theory of thought that I have developed through my life as a means of communicating more effectively with humans, animals, and identifying with nature.
First let's explore the concepts I shared in the first edition of this article: and then we will move on to some of the personal anecdotes that informed my understanding of this theory in practice.
A sense of “other” is a pervading aspect of human cultures. It marks the border of the self–carving out our individuality from the collective–and it haunts us with a feeling of alienation from the world around us. Throughout history, the notion of “other” has caused much suffering in the world. Our separation from nature and other species–not to mention the human distinctions of class, race, and gender–have fragmented our sense of self and our ability to empathize with one another. Our current attitude toward animal and plant life–as well as the Earth itself–is radically anthropocentric.
Humanity acts as if it owns the Earth, justifying this because it is “other,” and the intelligence of other sentient beings has been subjugated, negated, and diminished. A whole dynamic construct of nature has been alienated from humanity as a result of this notion. However, for millennia, plant-induced psychedelic experiences–which break down cultural conditioning–have informed humanity about our relationship to the environment, allowing shamans to communicate with other species.
One of the many ways that animals communicate with one another is through chemical signals, such as pheromones. I sometimes wonder, what if psychedelic plants are having some kind of dialogue with the human psyche through our brain chemistry? It appears as if our sense of identity becomes connected with the mind of the “plant teacher,” whose flesh we have consumed. What if our archetypal experience of the “other” is an artifact of our ancient merging with these different forms of consciousness? What if there is a deeper kind of biological intelligence that psychedelics have the capacity to bring us into communication with?
There have been some remarkable instances in which scientifically-trained minds have utilized the cognitive effects of psychedelic compounds to reach creative new insights within their fields of expertise. The case of Francis Crick, and his discovery (with the aid of LSD) of the DNA double-helix structure, comes to mind, as does the work of Kary Mullis. Mullis is the biochemist who won the 1993 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his development of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which revolutionized the study of genetics. Mullis has stated that LSD helped him to develop PCR. I find it fascinating that both of these LSD-inspired scientific developments were in the area of genetics, which is fueling our species’ budding ability to manipulate biology--and we continue to make stunning new leaps in our understanding of the genetic language of the biosphere every day. In some sense, we are incredible organic chemical computers, and it has become evident in the past few years that our aspirations on the technological level are on a collision course with our current biological identity.
As medical science advances, it’s becoming clear that we will soon be able to manipulate our own biology. It won’t be long before we cross over a boundary that will redefine us as a species. Our emerging biotechnologies will help us to evolve beyond the purely biological entities that we were born as, into augmented beings, incorporating newly-grown organs and nanotechnological enhancements.
In modern culture it seems that whenever humanity enters a new biological or technological terrain it is feared, and portrayed as monstrous and evil. Mutants and cyborgs are seen as abominations of nature and something that erodes human identity. The characters on Star Trek known as “the Borg '' are one of the first and most prominent examples that come to mind.
The Borg are a cybernetic alien race with a hive mind, who assimilate other species and cultures, and they are portrayed as being utterly void of individuality. The concept of losing one’s self to their collective mind is portrayed as terrifying. Although this is an extreme example, it demonstrates the fear humanity has of the archetypal “other.” However, in more recent popular culture we have seen the exploration of the “other” in technological terms become more neutral. Though fictionalized, our culture appears to be slowly warming up to the idea of relating to artificial beings. The dynamic between ourselves, the biosphere, and our technology are inescapably intertwined, and we have to reevaluate, redefine, expand upon, and augment our perceptual constraints in order to relate to the “other.” This means putting yourself in someone else’s paws, seeing the world from the micro-perspective of an amoeba, or empathizing with an artificial intelligence (A.I.) software program. Sophisticated A.I. software and extremely realistic virtual realms will soon be in steep competition with external reality.
The time has essentially arrived, along with Chat GPT, that you will no longer easily tell if the voice on the other end of the phone is human or not, and your average customer service call might become a Turing test of sorts.. Because this super technologically-advanced future is happening whether we are ready for it or not, it would probably be wise for us to use our fear of the unknown as auxiliary energy to cope with our new evolutionary challenges. Although our fear is meant to protect us from the unknown, it would probably be a good idea to try and overcome our limitations, so that we can see outside the narrow confines of our anthropocentric perspective. When we integrate our sense of identity with the “other”-- whether it’s other races, species or our environment--we foster empathy, and help to forge a conduit of understanding and mediation. Once we start broadening our understanding of the varieties of consciousness and intelligence, we will begin a dialogue with previously alien intelligences. Alien intelligences could be as close to us as our house pets.
Making this first contact starts right here, naturally, not out in the stars.
Just imagine how much more there is to learn from other organisms and the greater biosphere. Shamans have been identifying with the spirits of various animals for millennia in their mythologies, medicine, and folklore. They call upon these spirits in times of need. This is a moment in our planet’s history when we urgently need to listen and learn from our global family of organisms. In this new age, information will be just as valuable as material resources, and the only way to understand an ecosystem, and distill information about it, is to preserve it in its natural state. Conservation is a multidisciplinary activity, a situation where passionate opinions will have to force compromise. There will be good and bad ideas, so let us not forget that evolution, by its nature, weeds out the bad ideas.
In a quickly changing world, we need to remain flexible and adaptable. To do this we have to help foster diversity among ourselves and the ecosystems that we try to steward. If we are moving into a post-human era, we will need a post-human culture to support it.
This does not mean Transhumanism, or abandoning our humanity, quite the contrary, it means expanding our previous idea of what it means to be human. This is not necessarily a technological modification, it is a psychological reframing of what consciousness is.
Psychedelics offer us a new perspective from which to view our own culture, outside of the limiting constraints imposed by the meta-program “other.” I think that psychedelics have the potential to help us integrate our pre-existing qualities with our expansive human identities. I also think that they can help us relate to other species, the intelligence residing within nature, and even artificial minds of our own creation. Unless humanity becomes more symbiotic with the rest of the biosphere, this new future won’t be possible and our very existence is threatened. Our current paradigm has proven unsustainable, and this rift between humanity and the biosphere demands our attention and our respect. There is much healing that we are obligated to take a part in, as we cannot force ecological systems to abide by our will. We must adapt our technologies, and learn to work in harmony with nature to survive.
If empathy is sympathy with identification, biomorphic empathy is identifying with the specific morphologies of organisms to better communicate with their frames of consciousness.
It is different from biomimicry, as biomimicry is the design and production of materials, structures, and systems that are modeled on biological entities and processes.
Many of the lessons that came from it were from direct experiences with animal friends.
Our orientation in this dimension is biological,
We are evolved beings of flesh and blood.
Our animal and plant friends are often also blooded, but our friends sometimes are plants and fungi. Especially in the psychedelic fields.
Biomorphic empathy is essentially, looking at the morphology of the entity you wish to communicate with, understanding their orientation in dimensional space, their evolutionary circuitry, and tailoring your communication modalities to match.
My first teacher was my beloved cat Luna. I used to say, Luna taught me to talk to animals, because she was such a bitch, if you could talk to Luna, you could talk to anyone.
Stoic, regal, beautiful, illusive, dignified, mysterious, logical, pertinent, and just. Luna was my mentor in this modality. She taught me to talk to animals.
Human beings are upright walking, bipedal, and 5 digit primates. We have forward facing eyes, are diurnal, and live on average in modern times in first world countries 70 years old. We are warm blooded mammals, we communicate primarily verbally, through body language, and through symbolic visual means. We operate in familial, tribal, and nation state social groups. All of these qualities orient the things that motivate us, and how we prioritize the circuits of consciousness.
Just as how we are operating within these biomorphic and social parameters, various species are operating in their own parameters,
For example, Cats are neither Nocturnal or Diurnal..cats are something called “crepuscular”, this means that they are evolved to be most active at dusk and dawn.
This explains the early morning zoomies. If one is to be up early enough to catch the bird, they must be up before the birds, who are up early to catch the worm. Cats vision is keyed into motion and edge detection, this helps them hunt. They are also solitary hunters. Even though they socialize in colonies as ferals, they are single hunters, much like a tiger and not like a lion. This explains some of their domestic play behaviors, not easily being a two player game with other cats when it comes to hunting games (socially oriented wrestling games are another story!)
We can look to the ways in which animals evolved individually as well as in their grouping structures to better understand the ways in which their body languages developed, and how their emotions are framed, and what modes of information exchange come most naturally to them.
There was once a phase in my life when I realized that my beloved cat was depressed because there was a large dance mirror in my small home, and she was starting to understand the limitations of her form, and that the human world built around her was not as accessible as it was to me, for whom it was designed. I emotionally understood her lament, and could tell from her body language, eye gaze, thoughtful meditation, that she was wondering deep existential shit. Like. Why am I not tall? Why do I not have thumbs? Why can't I get my own treats from the cupboard?
She would watch me draw in my sketchbooks and know I was fascinated with the activity. She would lay in my sketchbooks, eager to be a part of whatever energetic current was swirling through the consciousness. Once I realized how and why she had become melancholy after I acquired a full length dance mirror, I blocked off the dance mirror up to her height, so she couldn't see herself regularly. This way she couldn't compare herself to my form, and I simultaneously praised her for the things I admired about her cat form, her sharp senses, her grace, her beauty, her softness, and fierceness, her perfect boundaries.
In this way Luna taught me that in the ways that each being experiences its own existence through its body, we can empathize with its consciousness and ways more effectively by understanding the vehicle of its consciousness.
One time I was playing with her, while carrying on a conversation with a friend. She became very upset that I was managing to beat her at the game while still engaged in what she could tell was a fairly sophisticated conversation with my friend. She suddenly stopped the game, (which was a slappy hands/paw quickdraw game.) she stared into my eyes with anger, and meowed. As if to say, “WE ARE NOT THE SAME. YOU ARE NOT A CAT. NOT CAT.” as if to say, a cat would not be able to multitask like that with the weird monkey talking sounds, AND punk her at her own quick reflexes game.
She was being a sore loser, but I was devastated. I spoke with her in pleading little words, oh baby, but we ARE the same! We are the same on the inside. We are both souls, I love you. We are the same. It took several minutes of me reaching out to her emotionally to explain energetically that we were the same, despite my cajoling. I like to think she eventually forgave me, probably because of my pathetic groveling, Luna was a hard ass, my lptough girl.
This is the part where the lines between being and body blur, because it’s not just the map of our anatomies that shapes our sensations, our thoughts are shaped by evolutionary biology.
Whether or not we are predator or prey species, or if we are both.
Human beings are in a unique position of being both. I have noticed through my own personal observation that animals that are both, tend to have a particularly high intelligence factor.
Think: dolphins, octopi, birds, cats just to name a few. They have to play multiple roles and embody both strategies in the ecosystem, which demands a more complex understanding of their environment.
The documentary My octopus teacher is a phenomenal example of this mixed evolutionary intelligence of the predator and prey in action, as the wildlife photographer gets to experience the lifetime of a beautiful little red octopus through her journey of the coast of south africa for her vibrant and dramatic, but brief and beautiful life cycle. I can't recommend this film highly enough.
Biomorphic empathy is like a lived philosophical technique, it's not a science, but it can be observed, utilized, implemented to create greater communication and harmony.
It’s that Dr. Doolittle magic.
Understanding how a mind would navigate using suction cups, or claws instead of fingers, flippers or tentacles instead of arms, how a solitary predator might struggle to socialize compared to pack predator, how a small dog might be more insecure and aggressive compared to a big dog who knows he's safe because he is larger. There are tiny portals everywhere all around us to alien worlds, alien friends, new ways of understanding how life weaves itself on our precious jeweled home planet.
Understanding the orientation and perspective of other morphologies enhances your ability to communicate with them.
This extends into temporal ness as well,
Every animal and species is in its own signature of time harmonic, denoted by their heartbeat, metabolism, and greater life cycles. Here is a wonderful youtube video that seems to be about how the world *sounds* to animals, but ends up giving us deeper insight into how they experience the passage of time as a relative construct in space time relating to the speeds of their metabolism and lives.
As this talk is aided well by anecdotal accounts, here is another cherished memory I want to share with you.
As a preface, when I was a child I would go for long walks in the rain, walking as slowly as I could, feeling time in different increments to stretch and pull on the fabric of temporality.
(my own little organically derived version of what i later learned was a Buddhist slow walking meditation)
With this in mind, lets fast forward many years later:
I once had a lovely conversation with a snail I will never forget, resting on the leaf of a plant in the beautiful garden where I lived when I went to college in Santa Cruz.
At that moment, walking through the garden, I saw a potential new friend. The snail.
I’ve always found snails particularly charming, the racing snail was my favorite from The Never Ending Story, so I decided to try and experience a slice of life a little bit closer to the reality of this cute little garden snail that was my neighbor in the garden.
As I approached it… quietly and calmly, it noticed it was not alone anymore. When it became aware of my presence, it was startled initially, its little eye stalks recoiled protectively, but as I stayed, gently just being there, observing, I slowed down time, with my breaths, I could see the little eye stalks ebb in time with my own breath... Its eye stalks came back out slowly. It even reached out in further curiosity after a moment, realizing I was not going to eat or harm it. Little eye stalks wavering in the air with a sense of wonder at something different than the usual interactions it was accustomed to, I could sense there was someone “home”, this wasn't just a reactive being, this was a contemplative being. This snail was thinking thoughts, and one of those thoughts was, curious, friend, explore.
Can you imagine having your eyeballs, or in this case more primitive photosensitive cells, at the end of long stalks? You’d be able in theory to turn them back and look down at your own brain! Isn't that a trip and a half?
I have used these techniques to befriend a wide variety of animals from various kingdoms with a natural sense of ease and uncanny connection I would have never thought possible.
once befriended an iguana, who’s owners had never seen them just ran across a room to greet an unknown stranger, simply because I paused at the doorway when I realized she was present, and I respected that I was entering her territory energetically. (should out to Jenna W and her iguana Keshy you are so cool, my dad loved Keshy and her baby dragon magic)
As mentioned before, Ancients have known forever that the natural kingdoms have endless hidden languages and modalities to communicate and harmonize with.
We see this in the emulating of animal movements in martial arts like Kung Fu,
Utilizing their strategies, perspectives, and wisdom to deepen their connection with nature, as well as enrich their understanding of the spirit world.
Indigenous peoples, Shamans of various cultures and modern visionaries still channel animal spirits in their explorations of the spirit realms.
Once we open our channels to be sensitive and tune ourselves to the minute or massive waves and details in the cosmos there’s no end to how this weird philosophy can aid us in understanding other bodied entities. The multiverse is truly our oyster.
I have tapped into the insights of these experiences in my metaphysical and mystic explorations..
Learning to slow down, and how to talk to cats, how to talk to snails, translating these seemingly casual terrestrial experiences into skills aiding me in how to talk to aliens, machine elves, hyperdimensional cosmic elementals, and things I might call angelic intelligences for lack of a better linguistic handle.
Aldous huxley said of language:
“For in spite of language, in spite of intelligence and intuition and sympathy, one can never really communicate anything to anybody.” – Aldous Huxley
Regarding this insight of Aldous’.. I would have to disagree. What he is referring to is the impossibility of transmitting direct experience, and in that regard, what he said would be true.
But communication is always an approximation, aside from the harmonic resonance of a truly shared experience, possibly on a telepathic level. (Which some harmine (formerly telepathine) and ketamine reports sometimes allude to the possibility of.)
We each embody our own side of a shared experience, and while our personal facets are of a differing quality, they are part of a greater whole. And the higher the shared overlap, the more effective the level of communication has occurred.
Between human beings, symbolic language has acted as an occluding principle in effective communication. When I use the word tree, it will always be a different mental construct of what constitutes a “tree”, for me it may be a redwood, or a santa cruz cypress, (my favorites from college) or it might be a weeping willow, or douglas fir, my favorites from childhood. It might be a birch for you, or it may be a palm tree for my father. This principle extends to every mental construct symbolized in nature.
Aldous also was once famously quoted as saying something to the effect of, language is the tiny trickling sieve of greater consciousness.
Quoting the online definition of semantics, to use it in a sentence, ironically enough it reads:
"such quibbling over semantics may seem petty stuff"
But when it comes to the fundamental nature of what mental stuff we are capable of sharing through this thing we call communication, is the core of what sharing consciousness means.
Even the way we use a keyboard affects our state of consciousness. Think of how texting has shaped our conversational structures and thought organization over the past 15 years or so of cell phone culture.
Moving from numerical buttons tapped sequentially to "keyboards" superimposed on smartphone screens.
Turning our attention to a sci fi cultural example or an abstraction of this, If you look at the movie ghost in the shell, there is a scene in which police dispatch androids who have hands that splinter into several different fingers typing an incredible amount of data at an insane pace far outstripping what a human hand would be capable of. Granted in the years since this film was released in 1999, In modern science fiction This is would be seen as abstraction and arbitrary. If no human hands can type the keys fast enough then why even bother with manual data entry? It can be done wirelessly and without mangual interfaces now. It would seem such imagery is a metaphor in and of itself, of the origin point of human biological limitations being the fundamental cell unit of its fractaline expansion beyond the limitations of anatomy, even if in the “evolution” androids and cybernetic beings embodied with artificial intelligences.
We stand at a unique precipice, there have been scholars who have postulated understandings of our trajectory. And while I admire many aspects of them, I still feel they fall short of the reverence of the karmic poetry of morphology. If I am a human in this lifetime, should I not be a pet cat to my former cat as a cyborg in the next? What aspirations of consciousness take flight in thinking of a body, laguage, how what it is to be human shape reality, and the shape reality beyond humans, and animals, and beyond, so on and so forth.. As we explore these frontiers, the more thorough our understanding of ourselves, how we are shaped and evolved informs our dimensional orientation in this world, leads us to better understanding others.
Donna Haraway offers some interesting work in this field. In all honesty i have been compared often to her in my interest in animal communication and cybernetics, but her and I greatly diverge in our political orientations, so I tend to take that assessment from others with a grain of salt with all due respect professionally, as for me politics are personal and not my place to put on a public platform. I admire her in-depth synthesis of thought, but I deeply disagree with many of her framings of social constructs and how to alter them going forward into the future.
I DO highly recommend those interested in these topics check out her work in particular, even if you agree, or disagree with her views, her work is amazing and of great value in the field.
This body of work is an ever expanding relationship with self reflection, but also reflection on how we are PART of the universe, part of a web of genetic and spiritual intelligence interfacing with one another, exchanging experiences and information, chemical signals, body language, emotional bonding, metabolic processes as we consume one another and cycle energy in ecosystems. The story evolves on through all of us. Getting sappy here but its a reflection of the passion I have for the ideas expressed here. Thanks for listening. See you next time!
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