Sep 28 2012

Your Friday MONDO: William S. Burroughs in High Frontiers 1987 About Mind Technologies (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #31)



In 1987, Faustin Bray conducted an interview with William S. Burroughs by phone, mostly using questions suggested by Terence McKenna and R.U. Sirius.  Below is the opening exchange, about mind technologies.

HIGH FRONTIERS: What do you think is the direction of mind technologies in terms of drugs and surgical implants, external technologies and techniques? 

WILLIAM BURROUGHS: There is no limit to control of thought, feeling and apparent sensory perceptions. Professor Delgado stopped a charging bull. He had an electrode implanted in the bull’s brain, just pressed a little button and the bull stopped. They can do the same thing with people. They can elicit rage, fear, joy, sexual excitement, just pushing buttons.

HF: Could some of these techniques be used positively, to help humanity get to a higher level of functioning and self-government, self-control? 

WB: Humanity is a meaningless abstraction. As Korzybski always says, “Who is doing what, where and when.” Are you talking about Columbians in an earthquake, Ethiopians in a famine, Americans in a country club, ethnic minorities in a ghetto? The punctuationalist theory of evolution seems to point to the fact that changes occur in small isolated groups and the tendency is towards standardization. In any case, take a species, probably only a very small fraction would be involved in evolutionary alterations. Maybe about one in a million and that’s, biologically speaking, very good odds.

Faustin Bray’s Sound Photosynthesis offers audio and video  of  Richard Feynman, John Lilly, Terence McKenna, Robert Anton Wilson and many others here. 

Sep 25 2012

Caricatures Of The Satirists: A Review Of “Rapture Of The Nerds” By Cory Doctorow & Charlie Stross


I’m not a singularitarian, but I am a transhumanist which is close enough for… well, probably for Charlie Stross, who, on occasion, seems to rise up to smite the (defunct) extropians on his blog.  But more than anything else, I’m a man who loves satire.  Satire… ridicule… mockery.  Humans  incite it; every last one of us.  And the closer to home the better.  So, you see, I really wanted Rapture of the Nerds to slap me upside the head and then slap those other guys — those silly singularitarians — even twice as hard.

There’s this thing that happens to me when I read Cory Doctorow’s novels, of which I’ve read a handful.  At the beginning, I find myself thinking, “this is clever, and there are more au courant nerd tropes being dropped than panties at a campus kegger, but is it merely clever?”  And then, somewhere towards the middle of the book, I’m feeling more like,  “Wow. This is really clever and amusing!”… and I stop worrying about whether it’s going deep or not.  And then, by the end, it’s either surprised me by really getting under my skin; or it hasn’t, and it was just pretty damn amusing.  Which is OK. (I’ve only read two Stross novels, so I’ll resist the urge to characterize.)

Rapture of the Nerds is an entertaining romp that ends up in the mere “pretty damn amusing” category.   Its high concept has already been expertly condensed by Mike Godwin in a review for Reason’s Hit and Run, so I’ll spare myself some needless labor and quote from that:

Rapture…is premised on the notion that somewhere around the middle of this century, a “technological singularity” will have occurred, enabling most people on earth to upload themselves to “the cloud,” which at this point is a space-based fog of interconnected molecular computing machines built out of the disassembled inner planets (except Earth) and optimized to capture solar energy. This uploading, which gives the novel its title, leaves roughly a billion people on Earth: the ones who choose not to upload (or at least not yet), and who are taking their time figuring out how to handle all the post-singularity technological advances in their terrestrial, body-bound world.

Some of that technology comes from uploaded minds in the cloud, which occasionally “spams Earth’s RF spectrum with cataclysmically disruptive technologies that emulsify whole industries, cultures, and spiritual systems.” To manage this problem of “godvomit,” the world government of the unraptured, unuploaded human beings forms “tech juries” to act as gatekeepers—in effect, to hold a trial for any given technology to decide whether the left-behind embodied humans can handle it.

Pretty amusing, huh?  But selfish me — I wanted more.  I wanted to be ravaged.  I wanted to find myself begging for mercy.  I wanted the greatest nerd satire ever. I wanted to LOL!   And all I got was an amused mind and the occasional sideways smirk.

Nonetheless, I commend you to get with this book.  It goes down easy. You won’t be bored and you’ll be wanting more.  Well, actually, you’ll be wishing Terry Southern was still around, but then, that’s life (and death) in pre-singularity times.   Meanwhile, there’s still an opening for the singularity satire that really puts the boot in.

Sep 23 2012

The Radicalness Of 3d Printing


Way back in February of 2011, I wrote an extensive article for H+ on 3D printing and how it would allow a transition between an economy based on material “value” and scarcity to one based on nonmaterial “value” and abundance. Also, in a later article published here, I expanded on why this is inevitable and wrote, “it should be obvious that 3d printers allow for goods to behave as if they were nonmaterial. All you need is a single item and you can make an infinite number of copies.” Basically, once 3d printing is refined to a point in the not very distant future to where it can manufacture almost any arbitrary product, the value of that product will reside in the computer file, not the actual physical object.

So now, “The Motley Fool” is repeating my logic to sell investors on 3d printing: “If a physical object is a software code, then… there are no longer economies of scale in manufacturing.”

In other words, it won’t make sense any more to pay Chinese factory workers to make 100 million duplicates of the same product. Better to pay American designers to make 10,000 different products specially tailored to individual customers — in the exact size and style they want to buy. Products they can receive in the mail, or print out at Home Depot, FedEx Office, Wal-Mart, or whichever retailers are smart enough to embrace this technology first.

If a physical object is a software code, then… everyone from an aerospace engineer to an ice sculptor is really a computer programmer creating digital designs. And the market for those designs will be just like today’s market for music, movies, and books. You’ll have the iTunes store,, and other legitimate download vendors on one side of the law, and a thousand fugitive “pirate bays” on the other.

Now, I would change the language of “legitimate download vendors” for “corporate gatekeepers trying to lock people into proprietary designs intended to prevent competition” and “pirate bays” with “the open source free market”.. but you get the idea. Big Business is starting to realize, as predicted, the vast potential for profits that can be generated right up to the final stages, when home printers become as common as smartphones.  As I stated previously:

“Look at this from the manufacturer’s side. The only cost they have incurred is the R&D cost of designing an item, and the cost of running a website. They don’t even have to concern themselves with obtaining the raw materials to make an item from, nor do they have to pay a staff to run the printers, pay the electric bills to run the printers, rent a building to house the printers, pay a transporter to haul the products to market, have a warehouse to store extra products. In fact, they will have put ALL of these issues off on the customer. All that they will have to be concerned about is designing a product, testing a few dozen prototypes to fix the rough edges, and viola, a market ready product at minimal cost that need only sell a few thousand copies to pay off design fees, at which point everything else is pure profit.

If I have faith in anything, it’s in corporate greed. Once it’s cheap and easy to put a 3D printer in every home, and eliminate every cost of manufacturing to the “manufacturer” by passing it on to the customer, major corporations will get it done in a heartbeat. And they won’t give a damn about the consequences, because the only concern will be the profit of the moment.  CEOs will be all too happy about the billions they will save by making their companies cost nearly nothing to run, while still selling the same number of products at the same price they used too.  It’s all too predictable.

But the fact will still remain that by doing so, those very same corporations will be destroying themselves. They will be counting on their brands to continue carrying the same weight they did in the industrial era, and they will assume that by eliminating costs, they will be able to keep on charging the same price while making almost pure profit. And they will be right, at first.”

The Motley Fool is making the same case, telling individual investors that 3d printing is going to be a massive money maker, using the same logical points I made almost 2 years ago. And this will drive investment in further research and improvements in 3D printers. In fact, Makerbot just released its next generation printer.

But to be honest, there is still much work to be done before 3D printing on the scale that I’m talking about can occur. One of the much needed improvements is in the “resolution” of the finest details that can be printed. Fortunately, this is being worked on. The Vienna University of technology is working on printers able to work on the micrometer scale, which is a major needed step for printing electronics and biological tissue. When this hits industrial scale in about five to six years, we will probably have advanced the precision even further to the Nanoscale, though I would qualify that by saying that Nanoscale precision is likely to only be able to use specific materials, namely graphene and other single atom thick materials. True “nanofactories” able to use every element will take longer. However, even micrometer scale manufacturing is going to enable some very radical technological upheavals, as they will enable the first stages of bioprinting and electronics printing. This makes In-vitro food manufacturing and the kind of body modifications I discussed in my article on Gender Change well within the realm of feasibility, as well as the majority of the products I’ve discussed in the past such as QLed displays,  Skin tight exoskeletons, film electronics,  and active cloth.

And yet another field in which 3D printers need improving is the “ease of use” factor. This is also being addressed by software that can analyze the 3D model and apply engineering “artificial expertise” to modify the object in a manner that provides greater strength to the finished project. This is an example of a high level interface to a low level process. The end user doesn’t need to know engineering, because the software provides the engineering knowledge. This is one of the vital steps towards making 3D printing so easy to use that anyone can design a product that can compete in the open market. Another example is software that makes custom DNA design as simple as drag and drop. Once you can use 3d printers to “print DNA”, such software could enable radical technologies as custom designing your own DNA to, oh, say, change your “species” to succubus? Or create “mythological” animals such as griffins and unicorns?

Needless to say, as radical as those concepts might seem now, as time goes by, it’s going to start seeming more and more mainstream. As more and more people begin realizing the possibilities, and begin exploring them, it’s going to lead to even greater radicalness than this.

Sep 21 2012

Use Your Hallucinations: MONDO 2000 In Late 20th Century Cyberculture (Preface) (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #30)


Here then, for your Friday MONDO, is the preface for the book in progress, Use Your Hallucinations:  MONDO 2000 in the Late 20th Century Cyberculture; 


Listen up, youngsters, and citizens of any territory located anywhere within reach of normalcy, and I’ll tell you a story that’ll blow your little minds.

Way back in time; as the decade of the 1980s was turning into the 1990s; way back before the days of Facebook and iPhones and Sexting and Siri and Twitter  — before even the Web and WiFi and the dominance of electronic dance music; way back when the fax machine was considered revolutionary, the Cold War was just winding down and your typical New York Times reporter had never even heard of the internet — there appeared the strangest magazine ever to make its way onto mainstream newsstands all across America and the world.

Called MONDO 2000 — the magazine took the just-then-emerging future of digital culture, dangerous hacking and new media; tossed them in the blender along with overdoses of hallucinogenic drugs, hypersex and the more outrageous edges of rock and roll; added irreverent attitudes stolen from 20th Century countercultures from the beats to the punks, the literary and art avant gardes, anarchism, surrealism, and the new electronic dance culture— and then, it deceptively spilled that crazy Frappe all out across really slick, vaguely commercial looking multicolored printed pages with content that was Gonzo meets Glam meets Cyberpunk meets something else that has never been seen before or since… but which those of us who were there simply called MONDO — as in, “Yes, the article you submitted is definitely MONDO.” Or, “No. This isn’t MONDO.  Why don’t you try Atlantic Monthly?”

We called it “a beribboned letterbomb to the core address of consensus reality.”  Briefly, and, in retrospect, unbelievably, it became the flagship of the new culture; the new world that was being created by the onrush of the new technologies.

What sort of perverse imps could generate such madness on the printed page and carry it all the way to the cover of Time magazine in three short years?  Well, back in the day, in those cultural places where the hippest and sexiest and most revolutionary insiders and outsiders whispered to one another of escapades out on Shasta Road in Berkeley (where else?), California, the home of the MONDO 2000 Queendom; the antic and, most likely, certifiably insane culture around MONDO was almost as legendary as the magazine itself.

Here then, is the story of that magazine and the people who lived it.  It’s the story of the early days of the new digital culture — and so you’ll bump into the likes of Craigslist Craig Newmark, Virtual Reality legend Jaron Lanier, the Beats’ only futurist — William S. Burroughs, and industrial music’s only major pop star, Trent Reznor (just to drop a few, among many, tantalizing boldface names).

And, deeper inside the MONDO world, you’ll marvel at the stories of magical and/or tragical and/or laughable extravagances — drugged excesses, boundless cosmic ambitions, dangerously illicit activities, inexcusable amoral strategies, ultraprovocative artifacts, extreme paranoia, swelled (acid)heads experiencing borderline celebrity, and a grand Fuehrer Bunkeresque denouement.

And, just to bring it all back home and make it a wee bit relatable, you will also find herein stories of those things that happen in ordinary lives; fatal and near fatal car crashes, financial losses, fistfights, love affairs and breakups, unwanted and unexpected competition, accusations, work done or not done, careers made or lost; friendships that lasted or didn’t — and people who want to remember it all and several who wish to forget.

I’m the person who got the whole thing started by first publishing a small psychedelic periodical called High Frontiers in 1984.  This, then, is partly my memoir.  But in true MONDO style, I’ve thrown it into that blender with comments from other participants who were interviewed either by myself or by Simone Lackerbauer, Morgan Russell or Tristan Gulliford; and outtakes from the magazine itself along with some of its printable memorabilia.

Finally, while the telling of the story is mine; the story, in some sense, belongs to Alison Kennedy aka Queen Mu. Although she didn’t join the effort until about a year into the High Frontiers experience — she was the Publisher, Queen and Domineditrix of MONDO 2000 and the only one who remained throughout and to the bitter (and it was bitter) end.

So take off your google goggles; drink your goddamn second-rate store-bought energy drink, roll up some of that medicinal weed and set your twitter feed to Shock and Awe.

Sep 18 2012

Cellulose Nanocrystals: Imagine Skyscrapers Able To Shrug Off The Worst Earthquakes


Early this year I wrote an article about where I saw the future heading.  I suggested that one major change in our present reality would be the moving away from the use of “bulk” materials and towards materials that were cheap, plentiful, and had properties far superior to the majority of materials used for making nearly any product today.

One of those materials will, in all likelihood, be Cellulose Nanocrystals, a naturally occurring substance that can be produced from nearly any source of cellulose. CNCs are a form of glucose molecule, and in their natural form provide the strength and stiffness in nearly any form of plant, from grass stalks to Redwoods. It can be pretty easily processed out of nearly any plant material, though present efforts are concentrated on wood pulp. Essentially, when you break down the cell walls of any given plant, and extract the cellulose fibers, those fibers can then be further broken down into nanofibrils, microscopic fibers about an order of magnitude smaller, which are composed of highly organized regions of CNCs and amorphous chains of cellulose which can be removed by an acid bath. The resulting material is stronger than any other manmade material but carbon nanotubes, and far cheaper to make than CNTs or Kevlar. Potentially, such CNCs could be made in such large bulk quantities that they could be competitive with other metals and plastics, and even glass.

And that’s exactly where you will see them begin to make a huge impact. Think logically about it. If you were designing a new product, and you could use a substance with a fraction the weight, many times the strength, and the same costs, which would you use? As CNC’s are essentially another form of plastic (and much less explosive than their ancestor, celluloid, one of the very first “plastics” ever discovered) with properties similar to glass (transparency) steel (strength) and plastic (can be made in any shape); it could easily be used to replace multiple materials at once in a single product. And since it’s made from bio-organic materials, it’s a renewable resource. The waste materials from agriculture, biofuels, wood manufacturing, papermaking, and nearly all other industrial processes that use plant products could be used to make CNCs.

Imagine the possibilities. A house with walls less than an inch thick that could withstand a hurricane. A car with almost no metal parts. Skyscrapers able to shrug off the worst earthquakes. While many issues still need to be worked out, such as finding ways to seal the CNCs surface to ensure it’s waterproof, there are numerous ways that this sole disadvantage can be worked around without compromising its desirable properties. From clothes to cars to skyscrapers, CNC could potentially replace thousands of different materials we use daily that are either limited in supply; expensive to refine from raw materials; or just plain hazardous to the environment. Properly exploited, it could become a “one size fits all” solution to producing nearly any physical object in a manner that is both extremely economical, biosphere friendly, and infinitely renewable.

CNCs. It’s just one of many new materials that we will see replace our current bulk materials technology, and it brings us one more step closer to a future in which everything of a material nature is so abundant that it ceases to have any real monetary value.

Sep 16 2012

Nanorelays: Moving Back To Move Forward


A while back I wrote an article for H+ on the five most common errors I saw being made in many future predictions, one of which I called linearism, i.e. the assumption that any given technological development requires a linear path to development, proceeding from step A to step B to step C and so on. It’s an easy assumption to make because despite the parallel processing our brain uses, we tend to view things linearly because of our perceptions of time. But this is a bad assumption because technology doesn’t actually get developed in a linear fashion. While Technology B does often follow from Technology A, it also quite frequently takes paths that might seem completely random, and sometimes even seems to proceed backwards before leaping forwards again.

And right now, one of those “leaps backwards” could be an answer to making highly energy efficient nanoscale processors. As a recent EETimes article points out, some researchers are investigating the use of nanoscale relays — mechanical switches of a kind rarely used since the development of transistors — as a means to overcome the problem of “leakage current” i.e. electrical power wasted in an electronic circuit when a transistor is “off” but still transmitting considerable electrical currents due to various “breakdowns” in the materials used to “insulate” the circuit. As transistors grow smaller, this problem has grown to a point where “leakage current” can amount to nearly half of a circuits’ overall energy usage.  It’s also one of the current “hurdles” to making fully functional graphene electronics. While there have been massive improvements in the “on/off” modes of electrical flow in graphene, and it has reached a stage where it can potentially be used for making processors, the ultimate goal of any nanoscale logic circuit is to have zero leakage when a switch is “off”. Nanoscale relays could make that  possible.

How? By making an actual physical connection necessary for current to flow. Nanoscale relays use an “arm” that can be bent a tiny amount. This arm passes over a “gate” which can use an electrostatic charge to draw the arm down to touch a “drain” in order to make an electrical connection. When no charge is on the gate, the arm straightens back out, and breaks the connection. In essence, this is exactly identical to the electrical forces in a transistor, but because of the actual physical “break”, it has much higher resistance to any form of electrical current flow, and therefore almost no “leakage current.”

Another advantage to such a system is that it can likely be incorporated very easily into current efforts to make graphene and other “film electronics”, and accelerate their development. I could easily see such “relays” being used between two sheets of graphene separated by a layer of boron nitride, or even between who knows how many thousands of layers to make a highly efficient 3d circuit. Additionally, such physical relays are far more resilient to radiation and heat, making them far less vulnerable to EMP or overheating.

There are still many issues that need to be overcome, such as verifying the ability of the arms to remain functional after many billions of “bends” and, of course, proving that such NEMs can integrated into “film” electronics. But it’s looking likely that by stepping back to the dawn of computing, and the enormous computers built entirely of relays like the Harvard Mark 1, we might just be able to make a giant leap forward.

Sep 14 2012

An Interview With God (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #29)


NEWS ITEM:   “Ms. Rosalie Blue, a candy store owner in Petaluma, California, is fighting to prevent her two children from being made wards of the court. Ms. Blue claims that she is God.” Intrigued by this article, I resolved that the next time I found myself in the vicinity of Petaluma, I would take along a tape recorder and look up Ms. Blue.   

HIGH FRONTIERS: Ms. Blue, what’s it like to be God?   
ROSALIE BLUE: There’s no other way to be.

HF: You mean you prefer it to being Rosalie Blue? 
RB: No.

HF: I’m afraid I don’t follow you.
RB: Well, it’s like Doonesbury suddenly getting up off the paper and seeing that he’s always been flat.

HF: So being God is going into another dimension?
RB: Well, it means stepping outside the little house you’ve been decorating all your life and getting a glimpse of the Big City.

HF: So, expanding your horizons?  
RB: No, junking your imprint.

HF: I see. Uh, how did you discover that you were God?  
RB: I didn’t discover it; I set it up.

HF: How…? 
RB: Of the various possibilities, that seemed the most inviting. So I began redecorating. Later I found out that this inviting feeling could develop into a real yearning… one of the most powerful tools you can acquire, tho’ I must admit, a bit too earnest for my taste. Anyhow, I simply immersed myself in new models. Sorta like before you visit a new country you try to fill yourself with the language, maps, history, etc.

HF: So you deceived yourself into thinking…
RB: No more than I deceived myself into thinking that I’m Rosalie Blue.

HF: But you didn’t decide to be Rosalie Blue.  
RB: Precisely.  

HF: If you are indeed God, why is it that throughout history people have usually thought of you as masculine?  
RB: When you’re knocking about the Mesopotamian desert and you catch a glimpse of the infinite, about the grandest picture you can come up with for it is your tribal chieftain.

HF: Are you a feminist?   
RB: What the hell are you talking about? Does Jerry Falwell piss Diet Pepsi?

HF: What do you think of the creationists?  
RB: They are an excellent illustration of the Darwinian principle of atavism.

HF: But people who believe in The Bible, the word of God, come to quite different conclusions than you.  
RB: Sheer idolatry. That’s what Moses smote the tablets for, confusing the image with what it represents. What’s a meta for anyway?

HF: Why do you think that the courts want to take your kids away?   
RB: They try to imagine how these kids were conceived and they can’t handle it.

HF: Well, I guess we’ve gone on about as far as we can this way. Is there any message you’d like to leave our readers?  
RB: Yes: Nothing matters

Sep 11 2012

Greatest Hits Of The New Age From High Frontiers Issue #2, 1985 (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #28)


strange things goin’ on, down in peru / people flyin’ through the sky / they might come down in a year or two  / then we all shall know the reason why . . .  

from “everybody’s movin’ to the andes” 

somerset mau mau, live larynx album        

just what the hell is going on, anyway? what gives, with the sudden emergence on the scene of so many emergency insurgents? from the psychedelic shamans to the lifespringers, from silva mind control psychics to the rainbow tribe, werner erhard to jane roberts, scientific occultists, pyramid seers, neopagans and subgenii; they all vie for a slice of the consciousness pie. men’s empowerment workshops are proliferating at a phenomenal rate (a sticky mess, for sure!) while the pop culture celebrates the age of the androgynous idol on screen and vinyl.

everyday life in the new age can be kind of spooky, with friends sitting closer to the door and such. in that spirit, i present a primer for operating the biocomputer in some of the tweakier manifestations of our popular brain, in this, the golden age of human potential.

best training — take control of your life by taking control of your bladder. pee freely, but only if you must.

neuro-linguinni programming — students are taught to make their own fresh pasta with tasty clam sauce, all under the watchful eye of a facilitator trained to interpret in storybook fashion, each student’s private psychodrama enacted in the noodle therapy, each student must share their noodles.

shamans without shame — is a support group for frustrated medicine men and women. through methods similar to those used successfully on agoraphobics, city-shamans are taught to shake their rattles and beat their drums, without feeling like assholes.

common groins — is a men’s group that strives for a “crotch consciousness,” achieved through regular empowering exercises such as chest-beating, heavy drinking, swearing and grab-ass. weekend seminars are held in wooded areas, where the students can shoot things and do more heavy drinking.

windspring lovecreek heartfelt bucksnort school — learn how to massage your toaster; find edible and downright tasty treats in a public john; train your kundalini to fetch the paper. fasting, slowing and nibbling programs are available.

a course in amazing — “everyday, in every way, i’ll do what someone else tells me to.” this powerful mantra contains the crux of the amazing teachings; a collection of 365 different things to think about; one for each day of the year. after a couple hundred days of amazing, you won’t want to think about anything else. good for you!

the nietzschshi’ites of north america — this group combines the philosophy of nietzsche with the wisdom of the Shiite muslims. one can consider the will to power while cleaning one’s sphincter with a small pebble.

the alexander the great technique — this is not an exercise system. students become aware of how they can learn to run, walk, talk and solve problems, just like alexander the great. successful graduates express feelings of “total power, “genuine impulses to “conquer the world,” some vague “sexual tweaks” and sudden proclivities to “ride horses with sweaty men. ” this one is hot!

ralphian massage — a big, muscular diesel mechanic comes to your home and rips your lips off.

church of the glowing swiss account — trade your luxury car for peace of mind and a grass mat in kildeer, north dakota. sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? the reverend jack dinero, ascended master and former cpa, has organized a permanent retreat for those ready to take the big step toward total self-immolation. act soon; jack says he has a big surprise in store for his next 1,500 devotees. don’t be left out on all the fun.

these are just a few of the opportunities awaiting the true seeker in the new age. save your money and choose carefully, if none of the above strikes your fancy, consider sending a donation (be generous) to the   somerset mau mau institute of meta-flux programming and tweak crisis center, we will do the rest.

For real, today, 2012!!!    Check Out Mau Mau’s Golden Tweek sale! RIGHT HERE! 

Sep 09 2012

Brion Gysin’s Dream Machine: Build Your Own Portal to Inner Visions


photo by Charles Gatewood

The Dream Machine is a device for altering the brainwave frequency of the user and putting it into an alpha state, at which point it begins generating waking, sober hallucinations and internal “movies,” on demand.

The machine is simple: it’s a rotating cylinder with slats in the sides and a light placed inside, that creates a flicker pattern as it spins. The user of the Dream Machine sits in front of it with eyes closed, and allows the precisely-calibrated flicker pattern to play over their face, creating a strobe effect in the darkness behind their eyelids. After a short period of adjustment, the user begins to experience eidetic imagery, in the same way that one does just as passing over the threshold between wakefulness and sleep. (Due to its cylindrical nature and ability to generate internal movies, one might call it the original YouTube.)

This remarkable and overlooked object was invented in the late 1950s by artistic Renaissance man Brion Gysin and the electronics technician Ian Sommerville. Gysin was expelled from the Surrealist Group by André Breton at the age of 19; with the Dream Machine, he surpassed their previous techniques for image generation. (An example of a prior method is Salvador Dalí’s Paranoiac-Critical exercise, in which the artist would fall asleep in an armchair while holding a rock in his hand and, upon his fingers relaxing and the rock crashing to the ground and waking him, would immediately record what he had just seen.) The Dream Machine allowed for a convenient and immediate way to get at eidetic imagery without having to go to sleep or take chemicals.

Gysin had been inspired by both childhood and adult experiences with the effects of flicker, by historical accounts of its use (Nostradamus was alleged to have received his visions by closing his eyes, facing towards the sun and flickering his fingers in front of his eyes) as well as by research into medical reports of its effects. At the infamous Beat Hotel in Paris where he lived with Sommerville and Burroughs (along with Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, Gregory Corso, the vicious crime writer Derek Raymond and others) he constructed the first prototype. (The same 78rpm record player version for which DIY instructions are freely available on the net)  It quickly became a source of fascination for the Beats.

Burroughs wrote about Dream Machines extensively in his novels, where he depicted them as a weapon for the freedom of consciousness in the eternal war against Control. The author spoke highly of his friends’ invention, saying: “Subjects report dazzling lights of unearthly brilliance and color… Elaborate geometric constructions of incredible intricacy build up from multidimensional mosaic into living fireballs like the mandalas of Eastern mysticism or resolve momentarily into apparently individual images and powerfully dramatic scenes like brightly colored dreams.”

The machine was officially unveiled in 1962, at the Louvre’s Museé des Arts Decoratifs, to a fascinated public and press—but Gysin, unsatisfied with a small art audience, dreamed of mass production. Along with the cut-up method of text composition he had honed with Burroughs, Gysin considered the Dream Machine his magical message to the world.

He turned first to business magnate Helena Rubinstein, who was taken with the device and exhibited it in her shop windows, but then refused to pay for it. Next Gysin tried the Philips Corporation—a representative of the company, while visiting Gysin at the Beat Hotel, slipped on dogshit in the hall; the deal was cancelled. Later, Colombia Records wanted to market the Dream Machine as a lamp. Meeting with Colombia executives in 1965, Gysin (ever the magician) told them that vinyl records would soon be obsolete, replaced with optical discs that were read with a ray of light. He was not well received.

Gysin died in 1986, the cause of the Dream Machine having been taken up by his protégé Genesis P-Orridge and the loose occult and media subversion network the Temple ov Psychick Youth. TOPY both propagandized the Dream Machine and distributed information on how to make your own, using Gysin’s original plans.  Creating your own is not hard: All one needs is a large sheet of cardboard, an X-Acto blade to cut the slats out, a light bulb on a cord and a spare turntable. There are also web pages and programs that generate the same flicker effect . You can even get a free Dream Machine iPhone app.  (Your mileage may vary.)

Since the 90s, the Dream Machine has become a kind of elitist status symbol, often found in the possession of West Coast media types and young celebrities. Kurt Cobain bought one shortly before his death. David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Paul McCartney all used it. Other aficionados include Marilyn Manson, Floria Sigismondi, Bruce Labruce, Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Beck and DJ Spooky. You get your own fully crafted machine for $500 + $50 shipping . Of course, you can also build your own or download the app; with so many ways to experience it, perhaps now the Dream Machine will finally get the mass attention Gysin always believed it deserved as a simple, drug-free path to altered states of consciousness.

Jason Louv is the author of Queen Valentine and editor of Thee Psychick Bible, Ultraculture Journal and Generation Hex. He currently helms the group futurist blog Ultraculture. @jasonlouv


More resources:

John Geiger: Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted: The Life of Brion Gysin

Flicker: A Film by Nik Sheehan (A documentary about the Dream Machine.)

Sep 07 2012

Excerpts From High Frontiers Issue #2 Interview with Robert Anton Wilson, 1985 – MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #27


Charles Faris went to interview Robert Anton Wilson for the second issue of High Frontiers.  He was the first among us to meet Bob.  Here, excerpted from the rough draft in progress of Use Your Hallucinations: MONDO 2000 in the Late 20th Century Cyberculture, are a few brief comments on that event, first from myself and then from Charles.


R.U. Sirius: We had an interview with Robert Anton Wilson that had been done by Charles Faris for the second issue.  I was so excited to hear what Bob was like.  He came back and described Bob and his wife Arlen as being, superficially at least, like an old middle class married couple, very gracious and polite, bringing out snacks in little bowls and drinks.  This seems like normal civility to me now but I was still in that place where you would probably only offer someone a beer or a joint… maybe a line if you were in a mood.  It struck us both as funny, but not in a sneering sort of way.  Just outside of our expectations.

Charles Faris: I had read everything Bob Wilson had written. So I had this whole idea about Bob based on his purposeful deliver. And then I get to his apartment and the first thing he does is offer me this bowl of Cheetos. And it was just like, “Wow, here’s Bob. He’s got Cheetos.” It was so normal.  It wasn’t like descriptions I’d read of him in Berkeley with the salons and all that. 


And here are some excerpts from the RAW interview. And, yes, we did that whole e.e. cummings thing, with no capital letters and as a result, my spell checker practically reached out and punched me.  I predict that after The Singularity, intentional errors will be impossible (and the only eccentricities allowed will be the ones that are pre-embedded.)


Changing Reality Tunnels

Interview by Elizabeth Gips and Charles Faris

my cosmology is the multiple universe model first suggested by irwin schroedinger, the nobel physicist, back in the ’40s, and more recently developed by John archibald wheeler at princeton and bryce dewitt and jack sarfatti and various other physicists. according to this cosmology, everything that can happen does happen.

sirius is to occultists what ufos are to the population at large. contact has been established, of course, everybody knows that. contact has been established with the human collective unconscious. most people have this idea that contact is something that’s going to happen in the future, a flying saucer or a flying pie plate or something will land on the white house lawn and somebody will get out. and the president, because he knows the mason word, will be able to greet them correctly, the president is always a 33° mason, you know, they’ve passed on this word since the first contact 4,500 years ago and as soon as they come out, he’ll say the secret masonic formula, “klaatu baranda nikto” and they’ll know they’ve contacted the right guy and it’ll all be fine. that’s a lot of nonsense. the contact was never intended to be of that form and they’re not interested in primate politics at all. the alpha male in the baboon herd is precisely as important and unimportant to them as the president of the united states or the supreme servant of the people in red china. primate politics is all pretty much the same; chimpanzees, orangutans, baboons, people… higher intelligence isn’t interested in that at all. the contact has been established with the collective unconscious of humanity and everybody knows it. you’ve just got to look at comic books, the covers of rock albums, everywhere you look, it’s all over our culture, we are not alone, as the ads for close encounters say. everybody knows it. it’s the most open  secret of the twentieth century.

i was contacted by higher intelligences from sirius with a lot of urgent messages about things i had to get done in the next 25 years which were very important for the evolution of the human species, or that’s the way it seemed to me at the time. later on, i decided it was probably just “the little people,” as the Irish called them, playing a joke on me. then later on I decided it was probably the right hemisphere of my own brain giving me vistas of the future, then later on, I decided it was actually my holy guardian angel, as the cabalists say. then later, i decided that i was just having a schizophrenic breakdown at the time. i haven’t decided yet which one i believe, except that i know a lot of intelligent people who have the experiences and they don’t seem crazy to me. i can’t judge if i’m crazy, ’cause who can judge himself? the one physicist i know who believes it’s all time-travel, and not extraterrestrial, has had contact with time travelers. higher intelligence always fits into your belief system, so that contact will be with something you will believe is real. you can’t be contacted by something you don’t believe is real.

if people can’t change their reality constructs — their imprinted models, their maps and models of reality, they’re going to be increasingly uncomfortable, and Exo-Psychology is the only do-it-yourself manual, so far, that tells you how to rewire your nervous system from the inside out to keep up with incoming signals so you don’t have to screen out new signals and you don’t have to be afraid of them and you can make a new reality map as often as necessary.

discouragement is bad for the nervous system, bad for the glands; it does all kinds of things to the stomach acids…  it’s to be avoided at all costs. it lowers the energy level in general. the first thing you got to learn in practical neuropolitics is to stay high all the time. negative energy is just wasted energy.

an energy slave is a machine that’s the equivalent of a human being working for you eight hours a day. that’s a unit that [buckyj fuller worked out based on aristotle’s idea that the moral equivalent of slavery was machinery. aristotle said that we could abolish slavery when we had machines to do those jobs. well, of course, first we abolished chattel slavery and started wage slavery. the next step is to abolish wage slavery. eventually, we’ll be able to turn the work all over to the machines. as a matter of fact, muscle labor is becoming increasingly obsolete and most of the routine forms of mental labor are becoming increasingly obsolete too.

communication is only truly possible between equals. you know you’re unequal when you’re in a situation where you can’t communicate. did you ever try to communicate with a government official? you can’t! because you’re not equal, they have power over you. if you’ve ever been in a marriage where you couldn’t communicate with your mate, that meant that there wasn’t any equality in the relationship.  it was authoritarian, so any authoritarian structure — in the family, in corporations, in armies and so on leads to communication jamming and what i call progressive disorientation.

learn how to control your own nervous system and the whole universe is yours. this is the goal of the philosophers, in alchemical terms, when you learn to turn all incoming impressions to your advantage, then you’re the richest person on the planet, everything turns to gold. that’s the transmutation the alchemists were working for.