By Chet Yarbrough
The Cosmic Serpent
Written by: Jeremy Narby
Narration by: James Patrick Cronin
Psychological unease accompanies Jeremy Narby’s erudite speculation about the meaning and origin of life in “The Cosmic Serpent”. The unease comes in two forms. One, is Narby’s seduction by hallucinatory experience. Young people in America are choosing to overdose rather than face today’s perceived reality. The other is Narby’s patterning of observations to create either a true or false belief. It reminds one of the potential of Einstein’s discovery of matter and energy equivalence. Einstein discovered falsifiable evidence of nuclear fission that holds a key to sustainable energy. He also opened the door to Armageddon.
Narby, like Timothy Leary, is educated at some of the best universities in the world (Leary at Harvard; Narby at Yale). Both have PhDs. Narby has a PhD in anthropology; Leary in Psychology. Few, if any, believe LSD (Leary’s hallucinatory drug of choice) offers insight to the origin and meaning of life. However, like Leary, Narby suggests hallucinatory drugs may be a pathway to understanding.
Regarding hallucinatory experience, Narby does not appear to have slipped into the bizarre behavior of a Timothy Leary; at least not yet. Narby is 59 years old. When Narby did his research, he was in his late 20s and early 30s. “The Cosmic Serpent is published when Narby is still in his 30s. Leary lived to be 76. Each passing year exaggerated Leary’s belief in the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs.
Patterning is the human ability to see structure in disparate facts and events. Some say this is the sign of genius. Einstein is said to have formulated a theory of time by riding a train. Einstein’s insight came from thinking (patterning) how time is relative based on a person riding a train and a stationary observer watching the train pass. However, patterning also leads to incorrect conclusions like a person’s recollection of a crime. Human brains are shown to manufacture events and facts to make stories complete rather than necessarily accurate.
Narby’s articulate presentation of Peruvian shamanism tempts seekers of knowledge and experience to try something new. The temptation comes from different sources. One is genuine interest in understanding more about the world and our place and purpose in it. Another is the desire to believe that there is something more important in life than wealth, power, or position.
“The Cosmic Serpent” suggests that native cultures around the world offer insight to the origin and meaning of life because of common hallucinatory experiences. Narby suggests the hallucinatory symbol of a winding serpent is evidence of the configuration and importance of DNA; long before Watson’s and Crick’s discovery. The inference is that shamanistic hallucinations are not mere symbols but a truth of life. Narby’s inference is that seekers of life’s truth should listen to the experience of shamans and pursue shamanistic experience through the studied use of their methods.
Narby argues that the scientific community needs to widen its view of the world. He believes DNA holds the secrets of nature’s existence. The question is whether youth and science should accept the risk of Narby’s patterned belief?
At the least, Narby makes one appreciate the importance of native culture. He may be opening a worthy field of scientific research. On the other hand, Narby may be creating false expectations that offer ignorance and escapism, rather than research and science.