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Michael Cremo Interview
A fascinating conversation about the origins of humans, consciousness and life in the universe.
EA: I'm here with Michael Cremo, he's the author, researcher and investigative writer. He wrote the book Forbidden Archeology: The Hidden History of the Human Race. You co-authored the book?
MC: Yea, I had a co-author, Richard Thompson.
EA: So I guess it's kind of hard to talk about this subject because it's millions of years, and it's hard to imagine such long time periods. Is that something that you've run into?
MC: Well, yes. I ran into it myself, in this sense. You know, my work is inspired by my encounter with the spiritual wisdom tradition of ancient India, the Vedic system of knowledge. And I encountered works from the Vedic literature when I was in my 20s, and I found in them accounts of human civilizations that have existed on this planet going back much further in time than modern scientific theories would allow. So that got me thinking, are these accounts and these ancient wisdom traditions are they simply some kind of mythology invented by the authors of these works? Or was there perhaps some factual basis for it? Today most scientists would say humans like us first came into existence less than 300,000 years ago. And so, like you said, accounts of humans existing many millions of years ago is quite a stretch. It's a little difficult to wrap one's mind around it, but I thought, well let me just look at what the actual evidence says. So the first place I turned to, to look at the evidence, was the current textbooks of anthropology and archaeology, human origins. And when I looked in those texts I didn't find any evidence for the kind of extreme human antiquity that's described in the Vedic literature, especially the Puranas, which are the historical and cosmological writings of the Vedic culture.
And I decided well I'm going to look beyond the textbooks, I'm going to look into the original scientific reports and see what I might find. And when I did that, when I started looking into original reports published in the scientific literature by archaeologists, geologists, paleontologists, other scientists digging into the Earth, I found that there were many reports of human bones, human artifacts, human footprints going much further back in time than a few hundred thousand years or so. So I began to wonder. At first I thought I would do a few days or a couple of weeks of research, maybe find one or two interesting reports and write them up in a short article and go on to some other topic. But as I got into my research I found that one report led to another, and there would be a little footnote in a paper saying similar discoveries were made by some European scientists in the early 20th century, or late 19th century. And I would be led to that report which would lead me to another one so, it wound up being eight years of research, because there are so many of these cases. So that made me start thinking, well there might be something to this.
EA: And I noticed in the foreword to your book it mentions Thomas Kuhn, who wrote the book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Are you familiar with that book?
MC: Yes I am, and it does relate to the work I did. Because when I noticed all of these reports of evidence for extreme human antiquity in what I call the primary scientific literature, I mean the original reports by scientists about their discoveries. Then there's the secondary literature, textbooks, survey studies, things like that, that are based on the primary scientific literature. So a question arose, why is it that these reports which seem quite credible are there in the primary scientific literature but they're not in the secondary literature? The textbooks and survey studies and things like that. And Kuhn provides an answer to that question, similar to the one that I came up with. I spoke about it in terms of a knowledge filter whereby evidence is looked at by scientists in different ways according to how it matches up with their expectations according to their current theories.
And Thomas Kuhn proposed something similar to that, so that science is, we can't talk about just science in general, but each individual science: physics, chemistry, biology, archaeology, cosmology, is governed by a paradigm. And a paradigm is a set of conclusions that scientists in a particular discipline have reached. It includes conclusions about what is evidence in this field of science, and how is it to be evaluated, by what standards, and what are the general understandings that we've come to in a particular discipline. And then based on that paradigm, evidence is treated in a different way. Evidence that fits within the paradigm, within the methodologies and theories that the scientists in that discipline have developed, it remains part of active discourse in that discipline.
But if there are cases of evidence that radically contradict the accepted paradigm...then it gets either set aside, we can't figure this out right now, we'll get to it later, we've got more important things to do. Or it's simply forgotten. It comes to their attention, it doesn't fit their paradigm so it gets forgotten, not just set aside and postponed for later study. And in some cases if it's really threatening in some way, there's some effort to debunk it and make sure everybody knows that this particular piece of evidence isn't to be taken very seriously. So these things that don't fit the dominant paradigm he called them "anomalies" and he pointed out that the study of anomalies can be the basis of advancements in science if enough anomalies accumulate that the supporters of the current dominant paradigm can't explain, and then someone begins to look at that anomalous evidence and come up with ways that it can be accommodated in the scientific world, this may provoke a change in the dominant paradigm, in the world of science. So, yes Kuhn's work is something I am familiar with and it makes sense in a lot of ways.
EA: Right, the other thing that he talked about was that science advances through paradigm shifts and that sometimes scientific discoveries can't be made because of cultural reasons.
MC: There are all kinds of influences on science. One picture of science is that it's independent of all of those things, but in many disciplines it's become apparent that there are social and political and cultural factors that influence the way people within those disciplines look at evidence. And which help define what questions they think should be investigated and what questions they think shouldn't be investigated. For example, at one point in time archaeology and anthropology had a strong racial context that influenced some of the way they looked at certain research questions related to human intelligence and things like that. Today that's not the case. If somebody proposed a study like that they would probably find they wouldn't be able to do it. So yea there are cultural factors that enter into things, especially in disciplines that are, I guess more in the social sciences realm, like archaeology was initially very supportive of the colonial regimes established in various parts of the world by the European powers.
They were used to suppress alternative world views and cultures and things like that. Kind of as a reaction to that, modern archaeologists, many of them have taken the position that there's not one hegemonic western scientific reductionist physicalist archaeology. There can be many archaeologies. There can be a Native American Indian archaeology based on a different epistemology and ontology. In other words, a different way of receiving knowledge. For example many North American tribal peoples who've become involved with archaeology accept traditional wisdom passed down by their elders as a valid source of knowledge to be considered when they're evaluating archaeological evidence. So that's a different epistemology than the modern scientific objective physicalist viewpoint.
Or they say there could be an Australian aboriginal archaeology informed by their culture and they would say our so-called objective western scientific archaeology is itself influenced by many social, political and economic factors. So that has given me the opportunity to present a Vedic archaeology based on that epistemology and ontology. Ontology has to do with what actually exists, and many scientists and many archaeologists would say matter, the chemical elements is the only thing that really exists, and there's nothing beyond that. But in some of these other ontologies from different cultural sources there's the idea that well there may be some non-material substances that have to be taken into account. There may be a conscious self that is completely non-material. It's not produced by chemicals interacting in the brain and things of that sort.
EA: There's definitely more than just cultural reasons and I'm reminded of the early 1900s when people didn't think that rockets were possible. So I guess what I was trying to say was that sometimes it's hard for scientific discoveries to be accepted for whatever reason.
MC: Yea, like there was a German geologist, Dr. Wegener in the early 20th century, he proposed that continents shift their positions, there's something called continental drift, and he proposed that initially there was just one continent on Earth and then it broke up and the different pieces moved apart and that's where we get our continents. But you know that idea when he presented it, although today it's the current mainstream dominant idea in the history of the Earth's geology, at the time he presented it, it was completely rejected by his scientific colleagues because they didn't see any mechanism that could explain the breaking apart and moving apart of huge land masses like continents. And they had all kinds of arguments against it, but 50 to 60 years later, after he died unfortunately, his idea has now become the dominant one in the world of science today.
So that often happens. Charles Darwin when he started his work On the Origin of Species, his view was in the minority. And actually it's kind of interesting as far as my own work goes, there was an historian of science who wrote a book in which he mentioned me and my work, it was called Minority Report. That's named after a story by Philip K. Dick...So in a similar way, at any particular point in time, this author pointed out there's a majority consensus view, a dominant paradigm in the world of science, but there may be minorities who disagree with the majority opinion, and the question becomes how does one tell which of the minorities has the ability to become the new dominant paradigm? And this has happened many times in the history of science, where at one point in time a particular idea is dominant, there's some researchers who are proposing alternative ideas, they're not initially accepted. How do you tell which one has the potential to become the new paradigm?
And this author suggested that it's the one that is able to best explain the anomalies, the things that don't fit the current paradigm in a way that solves some problem that the current paradigm is not able to account for. So I think one thing, well there are many things, but there's one major thing that the supporters of the current paradigm of the origin of life and the origin of humanity haven't been able to explain, and that is the origin of consciousness. How consciousness could arise from matter...And their approach is to say well somehow or other if you organize the neurons in the brain in a sufficiently complex way it generates what we call consciousness, but as soon as the chemicals in the brain become disorganized at the time of death then no more consciousness. So that remains I think the biggest obstacle to a purely physicalist, naturalistic explanation of the world we live in, one big feature of which is consciousness.
EA: Right, right. Yea, I have a lot of questions about consciousness. And what you were saying also reminded me of this book that I was reading from Dr. Michio Kaku called Physics of the Future, in one part of the book he said, "it's dangerous to bet against the future." I guess it's hard for humans to, on the one hand it's hard for us to imagine the future, and then at the same time we also have such a complex imagination, so it's kind of like a little bit contradictory.
MC: Yea. Well, I think it's hard to understand the future, it's also not easy to understand the present, or the past. I find it interesting that, say today most scientists, astrophysicists, they accept the idea that's now dominant among astrophysicists that the universe is about 13.7 billion years old, and they speak very confidently about that, but according to them there was nobody, there was no conscious intelligent beings until maybe 500 million years ago where you have the first advanced plants and animals that have some awareness of their environment. So it's kind of interesting to me that they can speak so confidently about what was allegedly going on 13 billion years ago when there was no one to observe it.
EA: And there's also so much that we think we know about things that are so far away from us in the universe like black holes and stuff, and at the same time there's some things about ourselves that we don't understand. So basically one of the main ideas that you've had throughout your life is that humans have existed on Earth for longer than science accepts. So you're saying that we've been potentially on Earth for maybe four million years or so? Based on the Laetoli footprints?
MC: Well at least that far. I would say that the evidence goes back further in time than that. I could discuss some of the cases but my conviction is that humans have always existed, and this again grows out of my encounter with the Vedic tradition, which is based on a consciousness-based universe. Now in the world of science they want to base everything on matter. Matter is considered primary, and as far as consciousness is concerned they would say it comes out of matter. If you organize the matter in the brain in a sufficiently complex way it'll generate consciousness, but I would say as conscious beings we don't emerge from matter, rather we have an independent existence but we can become covered by matter, and ultimately that means we have an existence apart from matter, which leads to the question, well why are we then now entangled as conscious beings, why are we entangled with matter which limits us in so many ways?
You know, for example I now have a body made of material elements, it came into existence at a certain point in time and at another point in time it's going to disintegrate, it won't be there anymore, but where will the conscious self be? Will it disappear at the same time? Will it disintegrate? I think not. I think consciousness has an existence completely independent of matter and its purpose is to understand and realize that. So I think that's why the universe exists, it exists to give certain conscious selves the ability to try to control and dominate and prosper from contact with the material elements, and there's also an opportunity for those conscious selves in the world of matter to understand their existence beyond matter. So that kind of understanding comes when a conscious self has a human vehicle, any body, a plant body, an animal body, an insect body, a fish body, a dinosaur body, a human body, is a vehicle for a conscious self, that's my understanding.
And in the human vehicle we have the ability to talk about these things, understand them and act upon them. So if the universe has a purpose, which I think it does. It's a consciousness-based universe, there is some kind of cosmic or supreme or conscious intelligent being that has manifested this universe, and I think it's to give conscious selves the opportunity to elevate their consciousness to the level that will take it beyond the limitations of material existence. So the human form is always available. It's like if we make a space station and send it into outer space, we don't wait for somehow or other some chemicals in the space station to self-organize themselves into astronauts. We make the space station because we have astronauts that we want to send into orbit around the Earth, and therefore as soon as the space station is ready, there they go, and go into it and begin to do their work. So I think our universe is something like that, it's like an educational facility to educate conscious selves about what their real nature is and where they should be.
EA: I think I understand that. I am familiar with some of the Vedic literature. I haven't studied it really intensely but I know some things about it. I have read the Bhagavad Gita. I read two translations of it, one from Eknath Easwaran and then the other was from Prabhupada. Is there anything in the Bhagavad Gita about these ideas?
MC: Well particularly about consciousness there are. The first step in understanding the Bhagavad Gita, according to the text itself, the first ideas that are presented are that the conscious self, the conscious individual personal self is different than the material bodily vehicle. The conscious self is to be seen as eternal. I could quote Sanskrit texts from the Bhagavad Gita...that means the individual conscious self is part of the supreme conscious self, and they're eternal, but that text goes on to say, but at the present moment the conscious self has forgotten that, and is encased in a vehicle made of matter and is struggling. So that concept is there in Bhagavad Gita and there's a description of how there's a process of transmigration of that conscious self from one material bodily vehicle to another. And that means there's reincarnation of the conscious self.
The body made of matter is temporary, the conscious self is eternal, that's described also. So yes these things are described in the Bhagavad Gita. Another text from Bhagavad Gita says, in the beginning I sent forth generations of humans and demigods. So that means at the very beginning of the manifestation of the material universe and the planets within it, human beings were there. And it says, I provided them with the means to realize their real nature. So that purpose of human life is also described in that ancient text. Oh I would just like to point out that on my website mcremo.com we have a special offer now. If anyone goes to that website and purchase there a copy of my latest book My science, My Religion they will have the opportunity to receive if they want it a free copy of the Bhagavad Gita translated into English along with the original Sanskrit. Just wanted to mention that since the topic of the Bhagavad Gita came up.
EA: Actually I guess since we're on the topic, was Prabhupada a person that..
MC: He was my guru.
EA: Oh okay, you met him?
MC: Yes, I attended lectures by him. I received initiation from him in 1976.
EA: Oh that's interesting. So he reached enlightenment basically?
MC: Well there are different souls. Yes, you could say he was enlightened. He was a practitioner of Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of devotion. And the practitioners are called devotees. I mean Bhaktas basically, but the English word that's closest to it is devotee. And some devotees are considered to be pure devotees, in other words they're totally enlightened about their relationship with the supreme conscious self and with their own eternal spiritual nature. So he was in that category and then other categories are those who are practicing what's called Vaidhi Bhakti, the rules and regulations that are meant to bring one towards that higher state of awareness. So I'm in the second category, I'm a practitioner striving for complete enlightenment.
EA: Yea, he was constantly chanting the Hare Krishna mantra and there was a really neat book where I guess he met John Lennon and George Harrison and he was an inspiration to them. So let's talk about consciousness, that's the unanswered question in evolution.
MC: Yea...Well that's a question that my readers have also raised. In my book Forbidden Archeology I just present evidence for extreme human antiquity that's older than what most scientists now accept. So what's the significance of that? The significance is that it goes so far back in time that, according to scientists who've looked at my work say, well this would completely rule out our theories about human origins because you've got a human presence going as far back as the earliest apes and monkeys even. So what are you going to suggest as an alternative? So I also got that question from many of my readers. So to answer that question, what alternative I'm presenting. I wrote a book called Human Devolution: A Vedic Alternative to Darwin's Theory, and in that book I proposed that before we even ask the question where do human beings come from, we should first of all ask the question what is a human being?
Now many scientists today, most I would say, would consider us to be purely material beings- machines made of molecules in competition with each other for survival. But I think if we look at all the evidence we'll see that we're not just composed of ordinary matter, were composed of three things: matter, mind and consciousness. And what I mean by mind is a subtle material element that cannot be seen but which has visible observable effects on ordinary matter that can't be explained by the current laws of physics. And that takes us into some unusual topics like remote viewing, psychokinesis, and things like that. And then beyond that, beyond the subtle mind element, which is real, but we can't observe it through a microscope. Just like the wind, we can't see the wind but we can observe the effects of wind when it moves over another element like water, you can see waves forming.
But beyond that there is the conscious self who's observing the activities of the mind and the activities of the body made of the physical elements. Like you say my body, my mind, we can observe the state of our mind, the state of our body. So that conscious self is what we really are, and any science that's going to explain human origins is going to have to explain not only how the chemical elements combine to form the gross physical body, they're going to have to account for the mental body and the conscious self, the individual personal conscious self. So in Human Devolution I offer evidence, scientific evidence that's consistent with this view that we're made of three things: ordinary matter, subtle mental body and a conscious self that is totally non-material, beyond the brain, beyond the mind, it has its own independent existence. And it hasn't come up from matter, it hasn't evolved from combinations of matter, rather it's come down from some higher level of reality, it's devolved from that higher state to a position where it's now covered by the subtle mental energies and the grosser physical elements.
EA: I was wondering if I could ask you what you think about some lyrics from Jimi Hendrix. He wrote a song called “Up From The Skies” and I wonder if maybe you might have some insight into it. It says, "I've lived here before the days of ice, and of course this is why I'm so concerned, and I come back to find the stars misplaced, and the smell of a world that has burned." Does that mean anything to you?
MC: Well it seems like he's talking about reincarnation and he's noticed that the stars are in different locations. So yea that's kind of interesting. My colleague Richard Thompson had once written a paper on ancient star coordinates, and if you look at the sky at night or you look at the sky in the daytime, you see the sun rises in the east and then sets in the west. Same with the moon, it goes like that and then the stars at night, if you look at the constellations, they also rise and go around and then set. So that's the regular motion of stars but then there's something called the proper motion of stars, because the other movement that the stars make is in relationship to each other, they actually move a little bit. It's not noticeable over a year or two, but over the course of many years the stars actually change positions relative to each other.
It's not like you have the constellation Orion just moving in an unchanging way across the celestial sphere, the stars in that constellation are shifting in relationship to each other. So it sounds like Jimi Hendrix might have been referring to something like that, that the positions of the stars have changed, that happens over long periods of time. But there's other popular songs that say things I would agree with. There was a band in the 1980s called The Police, I think Sting was still around doing his independent career but he was part of that band The Police, and they had a song called “Spirits in the Material World.” Which is more or less what I accept, not more or less, exactly. So I like that song as well, the Jimi Hendrix one is nice.
EA: Do you think dreams are a feature of consciousness?
MC: Yes they are. And I think they help explain the position of the conscious self in the material world, where we identify with a temporary bodily vehicle made of the gross physical elements and we identify with the temporary material surroundings. And a dream is something like that, we have our waking identity and in a dream, we dream we're something else. We identify with our dream body, and we identify the dream body with its environment, whatever it happens to be. But then at a certain point we wake up and we realize, well that was just a temporary manifestation, and my real identity is I've got to get up now and go to school, or go to work, or whatever, and we have our real identity and real world that we exist in. So our present existence is something like that, it's like a dream or a virtual reality system, or a simulated world.
There are many scientists today and philosophers like David Chalmers, the New York University Philosophy department, who are saying how do we know we're not in a simulated world right now, or we're not dreaming right at this moment? So that whole concept of a dream world, or a simulated world, or a virtual world has implications regarding consciousness, because that would mean, just as the dreamer is lying on a bed or a couch, sleeping and dreaming in a room somewhere, and is in the dream in a different situation in a different body, and then when the dream is over it's back to the real self. Same with entering a simulated world, the simulated digital world is manifested in its own digital space, whereas the consciousness is apart from that system and is being connected with it by some sort of device, iPhones or you know VR helmet or something. So it's a really interesting concept, you know the dream concept, or more contemporary the virtual, or simulated world context.
EA: Right, yea it's interesting science doesn't still know what dreaming is. I mean, there were some psychologists decades ago that said it was just residue from experiences in the day, but I guess science still doesn't technically know what dreams are.
MC: Yea it's kind of interesting, there may be something in the Vedic system of knowledge that helps understand such things, because according to the Vedic account of the origin of the universe, the first thing that's produced is space. They called it Akash or kham, it means basically ether, but basically it means space. And then comes the element air, and then comes the element fire, and then water, and then earth, and that kind of corresponds to what actually modern science says. They say the first thing that happens in the origin of the universe is the expansion of time and space from a singularity, and then the first thing that is produced when it goes on for a little while is gases, in other words air, the simple gas hydrogen and then helium, and then those gases kind of coalesce and contract and condense to the point that they ignite into thermonuclear reactions and produce the stars.
I was reading a scientific report recently about how stars actually shoot out water. The first generation of stars is composed of just helium and hydrogen, and then within them when they go nova and stuff like that they produce heavier gases like Oxygen, which has more protons and neutrons and things and it has a heavier atomic weight, and from the combination of those gases again, and within the stars, within their thermonuclear furnaces, high pressure furnaces, heavier elements like water, H2O two hydrogen and one oxygen atom combine into the heavier element of water, which is ejected into outer space. And many scientists say that's where the water in the earth's oceans ultimately came from. And then so from fire you can get water, and then from water, those heavy elements the next generation of stars produces even heavier elements that result in the solids, and the metals and the earths. So it's kind of interesting how there are these parallels there, but in the Vedic idea it's not just that the elements are there, each element is associated with a sense object.
For example, ether is associated with sound, the sound element. And the sound element is associated with a sense, hearing. And along with the element, the sense object and the sense, is a demigod who is controlling them. With each element it's the same, with fire that's identified with light and seeing. Water is identified with taste. And the sense object taste, and the sense that can detect taste. And so on, so it's all related to consciousness and perception. And I think it's kind of interesting that according to modern science, somehow or other in the early history of the universe when there was no consciousness, there was no intelligence, matter organized itself in such a way that it produced eventually signals that could be perceived by beings that accidentally evolved billions of years later, could perceive with five senses...So it's kind of interesting, like if you were trying to program that, you know program matter in the very beginning so that it would yield certain perceptions that are pretty much the same across the whole spectrum of sensory possibilities, that's kind of amazing...So I would say what we have going on in dreams is that the mind is taking subtle sense objects that aren't coming in through the sensory organs.
Like according to the Vedic system, we have subtle knowledge acquiring and working senses. For example, the mind has a visual sense that detects sight objects in a subtle form, and normally those sight objects come in through the round balls in our head that we call eyeballs, and by the optic nerve they're transmitted to the brain, and so on and so forth, and that's how we get vision. And then according to one account, dreams would just be the brain sorting through memories of those things that had been seen, and then they come together in the form of a dream, which is, still you don't have an explanation of where consciousness came from. But what I would say is there's a conscious self there that's identifying with the material mind and in the waking state it's getting inputs from the physical organs of sensation, but at other times it can be directly acquiring the sense objects and putting them together in dreams completely apart from any so-called memory, or sensory input through the ordinary sense organs. I mean, that's a little complex I know, but it's something that I think about. I'm in touch with scientists who are exploring these kinds of issues. Like dreams, I'd be very interested to see studies of, like MRI studies and things like that, that deal with the differences in brain imaging between ordinary sense perception and perceiving something in a dream.
EA: Well there's different theories about dreams also. There was one scientist who said that dreaming comes from a chemical that gets produced by the pineal gland, which was traditionally the third eye. I don't know if that's something that you, but there's all sorts of theories. Anyway I was going to ask you, do you think it's possible that pre-historic rock art might be older than we think it is?
MC: That's a possibility. Rock art is interesting, it's not easy to date. They have some methods for dating rock art, because there's a kind of varnish that accumulates on rock that is exposed to the elements, and I mean there are different types of rock art, there's carved rock art and then there's painted rock art. If it's carved, one method is to measure the accumulation of this film of minerals that accumulates over rock and certain climates over time, but I have to confess I haven't deeply studied rock art. Mostly I'm looking at in my work: human bones, human artifacts, and human footprints. But yea there are some kinds of portable rock art that are kind of interesting, one of them is the Ica stones from Peru and South America. Where a researcher there, a Dr. Cabrera found or was given stones, oval stones that had engravings of human beings and dinosaurs on them, or evidence of engravings of human beings performing advanced types of surgery on patients, and things like that. And he claimed these were from sources, geological sources that date back to the Cretaceous period, which is the time of the dinosaurs really. But he would never reveal the exact places they came from, so it hasn't really been possible to have a third party verify that yes these kinds of things are indeed found in formations of that age...
EA: Are you familiar with Desmond Morris? He's a zoologist.
MC: He wrote about the naked ape? Yea, I recall reading that book many years ago.
EA: Well he was saying that 192 species of monkeys are covered with hair and we're the only one, well if you take the evolutionary interpretation, but so I guess basically if your ideas are true is that the whole anthropological, zoological knowledge has to be rewritten on some level?
MC: If people agree with me, yes. I think there are reasons to do that, but it depends who I'm trying to persuade. What I would expect from them, from some people I would expect just being willing to listen to a new idea or a different idea. I wouldn't say it's new, it may be new to them, but it's not a new idea, and to be honest about what the current level of certainty is. Because if scientists are really honest about themselves they would, and they often do speak in this way, that we’re playing the game of science by certain rules, and one of the rules is you can't bring in any non-material substance. They're physicalists in other words, or naturalists sometimes they say. And the other rule is that you can't bring in the idea of higher intelligence having something to do with order and complexity that we observe.
And you know they'll say we're just trying to see how far we can go in that direction, sometimes they call it methodological naturalism, where they say they're not taking any position on the existence of non-material things or higher intelligence or God having something to do with what we observe in the world of matter. So they will say something like that. That following these rules, just confining ourselves to a naturalist physical view of the world, this is what our best experts have concluded using our best theoretical understandings and accepting whatever evidence we now have in our possession, but it could change in the future as ideas change, as evidence accumulates. You know, they'll say we're not giving some absolute picture of something.
I mean especially things that are beyond the ordinary range of perception, like what was happening 13 billion years ago when nothing was around to observe it, or what is happening, as you said, at distant regions of the universe, because it's not that scientists can take a picture, a snapshot of what the state of the universe is at that moment. You can send a space telescope up and again pick up imagery of distant galaxies but you're not seeing them in real time, you're seeing light that has been traveling for billions of years, I mean nobody can see the whole universe. You can say well we've got light coming in from galaxies that existed 13 billion years ago, but there's no way you can take a picture of the universe as it actually exists at the present moment...
EA: Thinking about your work reminds me of this quote from Sir William Osler that says, "The philosophies of one age have become the absurdities of the next, and the foolishness of yesterday has become the wisdom of tomorrow."
MC: Yes. Well, these are decisions each individual has to make. I mean, it would be nice, I admit, to live in a time and place where one's personal convictions and conclusions are shared by all the elites of one's society and sometimes we don't have that luxury. So then it becomes a case of well what is one going to do if one is living in a time and place where the conclusions and convictions that one has come to are not shared by the elites in the society in which one lives. That's always a dilemma, and as far as I'm concerned I would just say, well, it means I have a lot of work to do in persuading other people that this is a reasonable point of view. One that they can consider as an option and maybe at some point some will take that option.
EA: So the next question that I wanted to ask you is, how do you deal with people who are dismissive of your ideas? Or just like how do you handle having a different interpretation than other people?
MC: Well, fortunately the world of science is not monolithic. Basically I've found three reactions to my work coming from different groups of scientists. Mostly I deal with archaeologists, but I've dealt with other groups of scientists as well. One group I call the fundamentalist materialist, and they're very much committed to the current theories for reasons that I think aren't really necessarily purely scientific, mostly because of a prior commitment to physicalism or materialism or even atheism of various stripes, and they tend to be very much opposed to what I'm saying, they don't want to hear it and they don't want others to hear it. So basically there's not too much that I can do with groups like that or individuals either, but then there's another group which may even be bigger and more influential that accept the current dominant theories but they're willing to listen to alternatives if they're presented in a way that seems reasonable to them.
Doesn't mean that they're going to agree with it, but they think, yes this should be heard, this should be part of the discourse, we should consider it. And it's scientists and scholars in that group who have said some favorable things about my work and their reviews of my books in their professional literature who have allowed me to present papers at major international scientific conferences. You know you have to submit abstracts, and they have to be approved by academic committees, and things like that, and they approve the papers I present them. Sometimes they're published. Not saying that these individuals or groups agree with me about everything I say, but they're at least honest enough or kind enough to say yes this should be heard, this should be considered, this is part of our discourse.
It's a minority voice but it should be heard. So then among those that are actually willing to listen, which is a big step because if ideas are going to change in the future, however distant in the future it might be, the first thing is that people have to be willing to listen to a different idea. And fortunately many are, I've been able to present papers, dozens of papers at meetings of the World Archaeological Congress, the European Association of Archaeologists. Sometimes these papers are published in academic journals or books that come out from scientific or academic presses, and so that's positive. Among that group there are some who actually agree with me and they are very few in number as one would expect, but there are a few. So that's basically how I deal with those reactions from the various groups.
EA: I understand. Have you ever heard of Terence McKenna?
MC: I believe I have, but I can't recall the name of his work.
EA: Oh okay, he was a philosopher and he was interested in ethnobotany. And then he had this idea that "the missing link" in evolution was that we supposedly acquired the habit of ingesting mushrooms which supposedly increased the human brain size.
MC: You mean psychedelic mushrooms?
EA: Right, yea, I guess so.
MC: Yea, I think I do recall that work now. I can look at my own life and I can say very, very early in my life when I was in my early 20s I did sample a few of the psychedelics, including mushrooms, and I think they do kind of, for some people at least, open the door to a wider experience. I think Aldous Huxley wrote of some work called The Doors of Perception or something of that sort, where he explored ideas like that, but very quickly I found that real expansion of human awareness and knowledge depends on a different kind of work, it's not something that can be accomplished by taking a pill or eating a mushroom.
EA: Right, yea, but the way that he articulated it in his book was, and when he spoke about it, was really eloquently, he said, I'll just mention it really quickly, he thought that it would have added an advantage for people that were hunting because it made it easier for supposedly humans to see in the dark. So I guess it's just a theory but it's interesting that you're kind of familiar with it.
MC: Well as soon as you mentioned it I could recall hearing talks about such things, and perhaps I'm not doing justice to the eloquence of the manner in which he expressed the idea, and his reasoning and evidences for what he proposed, perhaps I'm not doing it proper justice.
EA: It's all right. I think that maybe what you're saying is that it's probably better for humans not to have to rely on anything.
MC: Well I'm not saying rely on anything, but there are wisdom traditions that give detailed methodologies for elevating consciousness, and expanding human awareness, and fulfilling the actual purpose of human life. So there are various disciplines that people have followed: yoga, meditation, things of that sort, contemplation, prayer, you know there are different monastic and shamanic and spiritual and other types of disciplines. And some of them may involve the ingestion of substances like mushrooms and things like that, but having tried these things, and of course the kind of effects that Terence McKenna was pointing out might not be active on the level of one person's life experience over a few years. He was probably talking about something that accumulated over vaster periods of time, not just in an individual but among whole groups of people.
EA: I forgot to ask if you’ve heard of the book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind?
MC: I have heard of that, the author's name escapes me at the moment. Who was the author of that?
EA: Julian Jaynes...
MC: Yea, in my reading habits I have to confess I haven't been so much into contemporary western speculation about these things. I have been more attracted to familiarizing myself with the literatures of ancient wisdom traditions, looking at things from a different perspective.
EA: Right, right...I understand what you're saying. Have you heard of the Serapeum of Saqqara? It's a site in Egypt.
MC: The Saqqara pyramid?
EA: It's supposed to be a funeral monument supposedly for an animal, but it was full of monumentally large tombs.
MC: Yea, you know it's kind of strange for someone interested in archaeology I've never been to Egypt.
EA: Well I was just going to ask in general, do you think it's possible that there were civilizations that are older than we think that they are?
MC: Well the ancient Egyptians certainly thought that. They had pharaoh lists that go much further back in time than historians currently think possible. They give years for the reigns of different pharaohs and different dynasties, and some of them were quite far distant in the past. And the tendency among modern historians has been to say, well those early ones are mythological and the ones that fit the current timeline are historical. But there was also an incident that's recorded in the Greek literature, by a Greek intellectual, I think it was either Solon or Democritus, somebody like that, had come from Greece to Egypt and went to Thebes and had a conversation with Egyptian priests at this temple and they asked him to give the history of the Greek people as he understood it.
And he talked about how there was some devastating flood and then afterwards there was a first couple, Duecalian was the first man's name and had a consort, a wife, I don't remember her name and then he said, and then from them the Greek culture came. And the Egyptian priest said, well you've only got the most recent part, you've got what happened after the most recent devastation, before that there were other Greek civilizations and other devastations going very far back in time, and said, you've only got the most recent history but in our records we have your history going back through all those different periods. And then in the writings of Plato, Aristotle, other great Greek philosophers, historians and others, they have accounts of cyclical times, and civilizations rising and falling many times, not detailed descriptions but they just say that, they say it briefly, there were other devastations, other civilizations, they've come and gone many times. So yea, of course that's something I accept from other sources like the Vedic sources, but it's also there in other cultures as well.
EA: I understand. So basically why I mentioned that tomb in Egypt was because there were these giant stone boxes that weighed like 75 tons, and they were at the bottom of these shafts underground. And supposedly it would be impossible to move that much weight underground, because it would be difficult for humans to lift 75 tons.
MC: Yea, well I think there are lots of unexplained features of Egypt, Egyptian architecture from those periods, and also other parts of the world as well. Like in India once I visited the Ellora Cave temples which are near the town of Aurangabad in north eastern India, north central India. There you have kind of a low mountain made of solid stone, and in the solid stone, people carved out huge temples, couple hundred feet high, with rooms that you can walk through, stairways, windows, columns all carved out of the solid stone. And they started at the top and they just worked their way down, it's a pretty amazing site. Especially there's one huge temple carved out of the solid block of that stone in that mountain, it's called the Kailash temple, pretty amazing place. And there's another place called Petra in the country of Jordan where they have, not complete buildings, but the facades of buildings carved in the walls of stone canyons. But the ones at Ellora are complete, it's like a complete temple building, elaborate temple building carved out of solid stone. And how people did that, I'm not really sure.
EA: Yea, it's definitely interesting to think about. It's really interesting the stuff about the temples, and I guess one of your ideas has always been that humans are spiritual in their origins.
MC: Yes. As I was explaining a little earlier in our talk in relation to my book Human Devolution, I proposed that a human being is made of three things: matter, mind and a conscious self that is totally non-material. So that conscious self, or spirit, if you want to use a theological term, or soul. I prefer conscious self, because you mention the word soul or spirit people think well that's religion and it requires faith and belief and I'm not into that. But if I say conscious self, nobody can deny that they're conscious. It's the most real thing we experience, and that they're an individual, that they're a person, they're a self. Consciousness is individual, personal, it indicates there's a self there. So hardly anyone I know can deny that, it's not something that requires belief or faith, it just requires you to admit what you're actually aware of and actually experiencing, so it's not a matter of faith. And that conscious self is not from the terrestrial level of reality from the world of matter, it's from some other dimension where everything is conscious.
And in that sense we could say we're all extraterrestrials. As beings of pure consciousness our origin is not here, it's on some other level of reality, which is where we really belong, and where we'll feel most comfortable and natural. We're now in an unnatural position where although consciousness is by nature eternal, full of knowledge and full of pleasure, we're in a position now where we identify falsely with a bodily vehicle made of matter which is not eternal, it's temporary and we don't like that. And we have to struggle for knowledge, it's not something that we're naturally expressing, it's something that we have to acquire from outside, from books, from colleges, educational institutions of all kinds, authorities of all kinds, and we're not at every second experiencing ever increasing Ānanda or pleasure. So it's an unnatural situation and we know it, we resist it, but there is a level of reality where these things, the natural qualities of the conscious self, namely eternality, knowledge and pleasure are constantly experienced and are never interrupted or mixed with anything else.
EA: That leads me into the next thing that I was going to ask you, there was something that you mentioned on one of your TV appearances, a quote about something that you were talking about said, "All the evidence suggests that human beings as we know them did not originate on this planet but have come to this Earth from other dimensions." And that kind of reminded me of the stuff I was reading from Francis Crick about directed panspermia, this whole theory that he had, that maybe life on this planet originated from somewhere else.
MC: Yea, well that just pushes the problem back. Then from wherever life came from, how did it arise there? Because scientists have done calculations, what is the likelihood that atoms could combine to form complex organic molecules like proteins? Proteins are made up of amino acid subunits and how you get those amino acids to organize themselves in these complex forms of proteins is not totally understood how it could happen, and how you get all the different elements that make up even the simplest micro-organism to self-organize in the amount of time that's available, and the chemical resources that are available on this planet, it's almost impossible, the odds against it happening are literally astronomical. So that led people like Crick to propose, well it must have happened somewhere else, not just here with the limitations on the resources and time availability. It must have happened somewhere else and kind of been in some meteor, or some other fashion, the seeds of life came here and flourished in this environment.
But I believe that that just sort of pushes the problem back a step, and I would argue that just chemicals really do not account for life, the chemicals aren't really alive, chemicals are just material elements. The actual living being is the conscious self, and that conscious self can inhabit all different kinds of vehicles whether it's a micro-organism, or a plant, or an animal, or a human being, or something else. A soul has to be there for it to be alive. In other words, life can only come from life. And if the life is there then the material elements will gather around it and organize themselves under the influence of the consciousness, the state of consciousness of that particular soul, or conscious self. So it's a different view, as I said it's based on understanding that the real symptom of life is consciousness, and that consciousness is the actual living thing, not the bodily vehicle that occupies in the world of matter.
EA: Yea it's really interesting and it's so fascinating to think about. I'll just tell you what it reminds me of. I was thinking of this whole idea from what we were talking about earlier about dreaming, was that sometimes it's easy to forget your dream afterwards, sometimes it's easy to forget that you are in a dream sometimes. So reincarnation is an idea that you think is potentially it's possible?
MC: Well yes, because we observe even in our own lives that our gross physical body changes. We start out as a little infant and gradually grow up to be a child, and then an adolescent, then an adult, young adult, middle-aged person, elderly person, the body is changing, but the conscious self recalls I'm that same person. I can recollect when I was a child, when I was a teenager, an adolescent, when I became an adult, became middle aged, and so on and so forth. Same personality, same conscious self, but the material embodiment is changing. And when this material body ceases to function it's entirely natural for me to suppose that just as it's gone through so many changes now it's going to go through another change. In that sense you could even say our waking life is something like a dream.
In other words it's something that's temporary and could be forgotten, because it's not everyone that can remember past existence. Doesn't mean it didn't exist, just means we can't remember. Like you were pointing out, if you have a dream at night, seems very real when you're in it, but then when you wake up and enter waking life, which again, as I was pointing out is actually another kind of dream, because just like we forget dreams that we have at night that seem very real when we're in them, we can forget the whole life that we've lived when we move to another body in reincarnation. Of course some people they can remember past lives, and it's become a topic of study of some scientists, they studied past life memories and they try to verify them. There's a whole group at the University of Virginia in the Monroe Institute that have done a lot of study of past life memories, and also out of body experiences, which are two categories of evidence that are consistent with the idea that the conscious self is something different than the brain and gross physical body that it now inhabits.
EA: Yea, that's so fascinating...So just in general the idea of, let's say energy is eternal, and so on that note it would be possible that consciousness is a form of energy. So would it be possible for consciousness to travel to other places? And the other thing is that Prabhupada wrote a book called Easy Journey to Other Planets, if you've heard of it.
MC: Yes, so it is possible for a conscious self, a soul, to travel to other planets. Actually according to the Vedic cosmology, all the celestial bodies, all the planets and celestial bodies within the universe are inhabited. According to the Puranas, there are four hundred thousand different kinds of human-like forms that spread throughout the entire universe. Now, according to the Vedic cosmology, the material universe, I should say material universes in the plural, because there are many millions of universes existing at the same time, that whole material manifestation is only a small fraction of the total cosmic reality. Most of the conscious selves are now on the level of pure consciousness, in other words they're in the spiritual world where they're existing eternally as associates of the source of all conscious beings, which is also personal and individual. So most of the conscious selves are on that level. The ruling principle of that level is harmonious loving cooperation and service with the source of all conscious individual personal beings.
Now if a conscious self becomes egotistical, exploitive, domineering, trying to control others for its own personal purposes, then such a conscious self needs some other place to carry out those activities, and that's the material world. And in the material world, according to one's level of consciousness one gets a certain type of body on a certain planet within a universe, one of many universes. And in that universe, in the cycle of reincarnation, one can go from lower planets to higher planets, one can go from one type of material body to another, because there have to be two things: you have to have some kind of body to function in the world of matter, and you have to be located in a particular habitable place. So there's an arrangement whereby souls, conscious selves that are trying to re-awaken their original spiritual nature and are behaving in a manner consistent with that…
In other words they're not trying to dominate and control and exploit others, they're in the mood of trying to respect all forms of life...And they're behaving in a way that's simple, spiritual, they can elevate to higher planets where the conditions are better and more conducive for that kind of activity, and if they fully succeed then they're qualified to go to the spiritual world, the spiritual planets which are beyond the cycle of birth and death, beyond birth, death, old age and disease, and all kinds of other unpleasant experiences that the souls within the world, even the material world, even at the highest material level. So there are methods for preparing consciousness to move to higher types of bodies, to higher types of planets, and the goal would be to get out of the whole material world and go to the spiritual planets where everything is Satcitananda, eternally existing, full of knowledge, full of spiritual pleasure.
EA: Okay, so that kind of puts another perspective on that book. Well I just remember the cover of it and it can be a hard book to find. So the Puranas, somebody was telling me to read Srimad Bhagavatam, who I kept thinking was the name of a sage.
MC: Well it's one of the Puranas. It's also called the Bhagavat Purana, and it's called popularly the Srimad Bhagavatam, and that's a Sanskrit word, it means the beautiful account of the supreme conscious being and everything connected with him. I shouldn't say him because the supreme conscious being according to the Bhagavat Purana or Srimad Bhagavatam exists in a dual form: Radha and Krishna. Radha being a feminine-like form that is the personification of love of God, and Krishna being the personification of the supreme conscious being. So it's a very esoteric work, but it begins with a gathering of sages five thousand years ago in the Naimiṣāraṇya forest in northern India, and these sages are gathered together because they can see that there's going to be a change in the ages. According to the Vedic cosmology, time goes in cycles called yugas, there's a cycle of four yugas, they begin with a golden age called the Satya Yuga where everything is very conducive for spiritual life, simple natural living, putting the human energy into developing one's consciousness.
The next stage is things become a little more materialistic, the next stage things become more materialistic. And then the last stage, the age of Kali which we're entering now, is a time of ever increasing environmental and social disturbance. So just before the beginning of the age of Kali, these sages are gathered and they're thinking, what from our vast store of Vedic knowledge are the essential truths that we should try to communicate to the people of the Kali Yuga? Which is us basically, and they decide which truths are most important, and that's what the Srimad Bhagavatam or Bhagavat Purana is. It's the essence of the fruits of the tree of Vedic knowledge, the most essential truths for people of this age to understand and act upon. And this involves many of the concepts that we've been talking about, the primacy of consciousness. Consciousness doesn't come from matter, matter comes from consciousness. Ultimately everything is spiritual energy, we are part of that spiritual energy and we belong in a spiritual world.
Now we find ourselves in the world of matter, taking on one temporary material body after another. So somehow we have to understand who we are, we are spirits in the material world, where are we, we're meant to be in the spiritual world but now we're in the material world, and what we should be doing, trying to get to the spiritual world. And it gives systems for doing that, instructions about how to do that. So that's what the Srimad Bhagavatam is about. And ultimately in the spiritual world each conscious self has an eternal spiritual relationship with the supreme conscious self, that is the ultimate goal of understanding. People try to find happiness in different kinds of relationships, the parents with children, friend with friend, lover with beloved, husband with wife, whatever relationships that we try to cultivate in this world are reflections of the permanent eternal relationship each soul has with the supreme soul, Krishna. Some relate as friend, well Krishna will be the perfect friend, some relate as parents, Krishna will be for them the most beloved child, or the most perfect husband or wife, or the most perfect lover. So discovering that, attaining that, is the ultimate goal of the teachings of the Srimad Bhagavatam.
EA: I understand, so it doesn't actually refer to the name of a person, it's just like a collection of writings.
MC: Bhagavatam means the beautiful story of the supreme lord and his devotees, so it's not the name of a person. The name of the author is Vyasa dev. Vyasa is the author of the Vedic texts including the Srimad Bhagavatam which was the last text that he wrote, and the most perfect, according to the tradition. So yea, the author of the Vedic literature and the author of the Srimad Bhagavatam is the sage Vyasa dev.
EA: Oh okay. I was going to ask you, do you have an opinion on the Nazca Lines?
MC: I think they're fascinating. They're engravings in the floor of what's now desert, and the patterns of the marks, the lines that are engraved into this hard surface of this desert floor in Peru are in the shape of the forms of insects, birds, humans. They're huge geometrical patterns on the surface of this land, and from the ground you really can't see them, it's only when you go up very high, either on some mountain or in some aircraft or balloon or something that you can look down and see these wonderful patterns. So that led many people to surmise that they were made for that purpose to be seen by visitors to this planet from other parts of the cosmos.
EA: Yea, I understand. So on that note...do you think that people just need to understand the possibility that there is life in the universe?
MC: Well, according to my understanding, the only reason there is a universe is to accommodate living things. There's a purpose to it, and it has to do with the consciousness of different personalities. So all parts of it are meant for life. In other words, we're not accidental creatures in an accidental universe. As conscious beings we're here for a purpose, and there are lots of places we could be and they're all inhabited by conscious intelligent beings. So it's not surprising that people report contacts with these beings from different parts of the cosmos. Even some members of the so-called establishment scientific community are proposing such things, like there's Dr. Avi Loeb, who was recently the head of the Astronomy department at Harvard University. He looked at evidence for an object coming from outside our solar system, it kind of came in, went around the sun and then went back out. And he has suggested that it was an alien probe from a civilization from another solar system in our galaxy that sent a probe to investigate what's going on in our solar system.
And he proposed, his study of it showed that it was probably propelled by solar winds, it had panels or a shape consistent with it having panels that would make use of the solar wind to take it out of our solar system and back to where it came from. So you have people even within the establishment reporting these things. And the government, the military has recently released videos and photographs of what they call Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, UAPs I think they're called now rather than UFOs, and they haven't ruled out the possibility that they may be of extraterrestrial origin. Even professional archaeologists are starting to talk about such things. I'm a member of the World Archaeological Congress, and at some of the meetings of the World Archaeological Congress, one of the world's largest international organizations of archaeologists, they're talking about extraterrestrial archaeology, they hold sessions about this topic.
I found it pretty surprising, but one thing they're discussing is what archaeologists are going to do when they go to the moon and Mars, what are they going to do with stuff that we've sent there? Whose museum does it go into? Who owns it? They're making treaties on the level of the United Nations about these things. And then they're also asking, what are we going to do if we find something up there that we didn't send? Somebody else sent from some other planet, or other solar system, or other galaxy even, what are we going to do with that? So I think it's interesting that in their professional gatherings scientists are talking about these things, they're talking about intelligent life on other solar systems. They've done studies with the space telescopes, including the most recent one they sent up there, they've discovered planets circling stars and other solar systems, and they say there's a lot of them, that in the whole galaxy there must be millions of habitable planets...And they've got the Drake equation I guess it is, calculating how many of them would have had civilizations capable of space travel and it's quite a big number.
EA: It's something that I'm so interested in as a subject, and ironically the first interview that I did was with John Greenewald, he's like an expert on the subject. I think he appeared on the History channel, I forget what show he was on, but anyway I feel like I could talk about that entire subject all day. And there was a really interesting letter I told him about, that someone wrote a letter to Einstein asking him what his opinion was about all this, the possibility of life in the universe, at the time it was like flying saucers and stuff. And he wrote back, he said, I'm sure these people have seen something but what they saw I don't care about and I have no wish to know, or something like that. This got reported in a newspaper in the 1950s, and I asked John that that seemed like such a strange, because if you're the greatest scientist in the world then you would be interested to know about something, you know, some anomaly or whatever.
MC: Yea, well there was a scientist Edward Teller who was originally from Hungary, he was one of the European scientists that came to the United States during World War II to work on the atomic bomb project, and later he continued that work. He was once asked, are there intelligent life forms from other planets that have come to Earth? He said yes and they're called Hungarians...
EA: ...So anyway your San Diego conference is called Ascension?
MC: Portal to Ascension.
EA: So that's April 21st to the 23rd?
MC: That's right.
EA: And that's a panel of speakers?
MC: Well I'm giving actually three presentations. I'll be talking about the Vedic cosmology in terms of a project that I'm involved in, in India as a consultant for exhibits for the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium, which is a project to present the Vedic cosmology to people using the latest museum and exhibit technologies. So it's really a fascinating project. It's going to be presenting in the museum exhibition format all of the kinds of things we've been talking about today, and also I'll be taking part in a panel discussion among the speakers at this conference in San Diego, and then after the conference I'm putting on a post-conference workshop at the same venue with the topic Science Meets The Vedas. So I'll be exploring the links between modern science and the Vedic teachings about questions such as, the origin of the universe, the origin of life, the origin of consciousness, and related topics. And information about this can be found on my website on the schedule link, there they can find out how to register for the conference and for the post-conference workshop. I'm kind of really looking forward to the workshop because it's a longer period of time, more time to meet people, have discussions and conversations with them personally, so I'm really looking forward to that.
EA: Well I think we had a good conversation, and I really appreciate the time that you took to talk to me.
MC: Oh well thank you.