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A Miraculous Conversation: John Allen and Hans Ulrich Obrist

Let’s begin with the beginning… that’s how this captivating conversation between two remarkable minds begins. As part of the Serpentine Gallery’s 2016 Miracle Marathon, Hans Ulrich Obrist speaks with John Allen and goes directly to the source of his life-changing epiphany about the biosphere.

For a fifteen minute conversation, these two cover a lot of ground. From discussing Benoit Mandelbrot’s epiphany about fractals to Albert Hoffman’s discovery of LSD, John tells Hans about how he began understanding the biosphere through his discovery of humanity. When we understand that humanity is part of the biosphere, we understand that we are part of the overall unity of all the kingdoms of life.

According to Allen, the study of biospherics forms a separate line of planetary evolution. Biospherics studies the systems of the earth that support and include life. Buckminster Fuller influenced John to consider life from the perspective of total systems. Allen was inspired by Fuller to use synergy in bringing together technics, or advanced technology, with biospherics. The result was Biosphere 2, which made a model of the Earth’s biosphere (or Biosphere 1).

Sailing the Amazon River on RV Heraclitus, a ship that Allen helped to design and build

Sailing the Amazon River on RV Heraclitus, a ship that Allen helped to design and build. Photo from Me and the Biospheres: A Memoir from the Inventor of Biosphere 2.

John also discusses how he was influenced by Amazonian explorer and ethnobotanist, Richard Evans Schultes. Inspired by Schultes, Allen traveled the Amazon River by boat and drank ayahuasca with a traditional shaman. The experience changed his level of consciousness and communicated to him the objective truth of the biosphere.

One of the most poignant moments in the conversation is when Hans asks about miracles:

Hans Ulrich Obrist: What is a miracle to you?

John Allen: A unique, non-repeatable experience.

Our entire lives are made up of unique, non-repeatable experiences. Understanding our lives like this adds a miraculous quality to each moment. John goes on to say that all of modern life is based on miracles, but in modern life we have separated ourselves from the larger system of the biosphere. Instead of thinking about the environment, as something external that is around us, we can shift our thinking to a biospheric perspective, to seeing ourselves as part of the miraculous system of life.

In its eleventh year, the Serpentine Marathon series continued on its exploration of activism, art, anthropology, architecture, literature, music, philosophy, theology and science through a specific theme or topic of particular relevance in artists’ practice and in the wider contemporary context… the 2016 Miracle Marathon focused in on ritual, repetition and magical thinking to consider ways in which the imaginary can not only predict, but also play a part in affecting long-term futures.

You can hear more from John Allen in person at the Synergetic Symposium and Salon at the October Galley on 5 November. This Symposium and Salon on Understanding Ayahuasca brings together diverse perspectives on this sacred plant medicine from the Amazon. The event is celebrating the release of the new edition of Ayahuasca Reader: Encounters with the Amazon’s Sacred Vine, a collection of  shamanic stories, myths, research, songs, poems, and art that share the wisdom of ayahuasca.

You can get your tickets to the Symposium and Salon here, and you can get your copy of Ayahuasca Reader here.

  • John Allen, conceiver and co-founder of major projects bringing together ecology and technics around the planet
  • Jeremy Narby, an anthropologist who studies the worldwide revival of shamanic cultures
  • Martina Hoffmann, a visionary artist inspired by expanded states of consciousness
  • Françoise Barbira Freedman, a medical anthropologist promoting women’s health through shamanic plants
  • David Luke, a psychology professor focusing on transpersonal experiences and altered states of consciousness
  • Terry Wilson, who apprenticed under the accomplished shaman of the avant garde, Brion Gysin
  • Peter Moore, a mystical poet who brings together inner and outer worlds
  • with music by ELSTIR, blending Amazonian field recordings with ambient electronic sounds

What’s Really Happening To Our Planet?

Tony Juniper, well-known British environmentalist and adviser to Prince Charles, understands what’s happening on our planet. While he’s been fighting for a more sustainable society, Tony has also been sharing information about the dramatic changes that have been happening on earth. In the following video, you can hear some of the numbers that can help you understand the changes that are going on today.

10 Quick Facts About Climate Change from Tony Juniper

  1. Since 1950, the world’s population has tripled
  2. The number of cities with a population of over 10 million people was: one in 1950, ten in 1990, and is twenty-eight today
  3. Global energy demand is expected to double by 2030 compared to 1990 (with most new capacity coming from renewable sources)
  4. Only about 1/4 of the planet’s agricultural land is being used to grow crops, the rest is being used to raise animals
  5. About 97.5% of the planet’s total water resources is salt water, about 0.3% is liquid water at the surface, the rest is locked in groundwater and ice caps
  6. Since 1900, the consumption of construction materials, metals, ores, fossil fuels and biomass has increased tenfold
  7. Carbon dioxide concentrations in the planet’s atmosphere are higher now than at any point in at least the last 800,000 years
  8. Ten thousand years ago, 99.9% of vertebrate biomass was composed of wild animals; today, 96% of vertebrate biomass is made up of people and their domesticated animals
  9. The rate of animal and plant extinction taking place on the planet today is approaching a rate not seen on earth for 65 million years
  10. Since 1962, the area of protected habitat on the planet, in the form of national parks and nature reserves, has increased fourteen fold, to reach more than 33 million square kilometers

Understanding What the Planet Does for Us

Tony Juniper | What Has Nature Ever Done For Us?

As we try to understand what’s happening to the planet, we can also learn what the planet does for us. Take a more in depth look at the services that nature freely provides to humanity, many of which we don’t even realize.

In What Has Nature Ever Done for Us? British environmentalist Tony Juniper points out that we think everything nature does for us—providing water, pollinating plants, generating oxygen, recycling miracles in the soil and much more—is free, but it isn’t. Its economic value can, and has been, measured. And upon realizing what that value truly is we would stop treating our natural systems in a destructive manner. For example, in 2005 Hurricane Katrina cost the US $81 billion and the damage still remains. If the land around the levees hadn’t been redeveloped for shipping and aquaculture, at an estimated value of $100,000 to $450,000 per square mile of natural mangroves, then it is believed, much of the damage caused to the city would not have occurred.

During recent years, environmental debate worldwide has been dominated by climate change, carbon emissions and the greenhouse effect. But a number of academic, technical, political, business and NGO initiatives indicate the emergence of a new wave of environmental attention focused on “natural capital,” “ecosystem services” and “biodiversity,” things nature does for us.

What Has Nature Ever Done for Us? contains impactful stories imparting warnings about unfortunate occurrences such as a rabies epidemic that followed the disappearance of India’s vultures (drugs administered to cattle killed the birds, leaving uneaten carcasses that led to an explosion of wild dogs), as well as promising and enlightening tales of how birds protect fruit harvests, coral reefs shield coasts from storms, and rainforests absorb billions of tons of carbon released from automobiles and power stations. As a result of its immediacy, Tony Juniper’s book will entirely change the way you think about life, the planet and the economy.

Learning about the Biosphere: Inside of Biosphere 2

We’re celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Biosphere 2’s first mission! Hear more about it in this interview with NBC News, as Biospherian Mark Nelson describes what life was like inside of Biosphere 2 and how those lessons have shaped our thinking about future space colonization.

Mark Nelson

Mark Nelson, photo © Peter Menzel

For a closer look at life inside of Biosphere 2, you can read more from Mark Nelson, who spent two years enclosed inside the biospheric bubble as part of the innovative experiment and discover how he developed a passion for natural solutions to wastewater recycling. As the manager of these essential systems he realized how essential the proper re-use of human waste is to the health of the planet. Join him in The Wastewater Gardener: Preserving the Planet One Flush at a Time on a global expedition of discovery, which he recounts with his characteristic humor and humility.


USA_SCI_BIOSPH_86_xs Biosphere 2 Project founder John Allen inside Biosphere 2 teat greenhouses and livestock areas. Biosphere 2 was a privately funded experiment, designed to investigate the way in which humans interact with a small self-sufficient ecological environment, and to look at possibilities for future planetary colonization. The $30 million Biosphere covers 2.5 acres near Tucson, Arizona, and was entirely self- contained. The eight ‘Biospherian’s’ shared their air- and water-tight world with 3,800 species of plant and animal life. The project had problems with oxygen levels and food supply, and has been criticized over its scientific validity. 1990

John Allen, photo © Peter Menzel

And for another perspective on the epic tale of Biosphere 2, turn to the legendary John Allen, who was the conceiver and inventor of Biosphere 2. Allen was first inspired when he began to learn of the sphere that supports all life on earth⸺the biosphere⸺ through study of Vernadsky at the Colorado School of Mines. Through his travels around the planet to study the many biomes that cooperate to keep earth in balance and his journeys inward through shamanic ceremonies to explore the nature of consciousness, Allen expresses the wisdom gained through a lifetime of adventure and inquiry in Me and the Biospheres: A Memoir by the Inventor of Biosphere 2.




Silver Winner in the category of Home & Garden in the 2015 Benjamin Franklin Award, 2014 Living Now Book Award—Gold Winner in the category of Gardening / Farming / Landscaping, Foreword Reviews’ 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award—Silver Winner in the category of Ecology & Environment, Finalist for the 2015 Next Generation Indie Book Awards in the category of Science/Nature/Environment, and Winner of the 2015 Southwest Book Design and Production Award for Best Cover and Jacket Design

Me and the Biospheres

Winner of the 2009 Benjamin Franklin Award for Best Biography/Memoir


The Whole Schmeer: Biospherics and Systems Thinking

In the following video, John Allen, inventor, conceiver and co-founder of the Biosphere 2 project, describes the interconnection among all of the systems of life on Earth, how humans have been altering these processes, and how exploring and studying these systems with a few friends can change the world.

“Everything connected with life, including the supporting cast: soils and air and waters, is the Biosphere.


Las Casas de la Selva, a protected habitat for Puerto Rican native flora and fauna

Biomes can be looked at as the organs of the Biosphere, equivalent to the heart or the liver, and the key ones are the forests, the grasslands, the marshes, the deserts and the oceans.

Even the human tribes have clans which basically adjusted their lives to the biome they were in. But with the Industrial Revolution, the savannas by and large, tropical and temperate, were plowed up for farmlands. And the farms have now become a new biome.

The most important element to deal with is other human beings. That’s the most dynamic aspect of the biosphere today. The population growth is the driver of the problems that we’re having, and then the other thing is the creation of megacities.

So the big changes are the introductions of these two new planetary biomes: the world city and the agriculture system. So it was modeled to demonstrate that these could all live in harmony. But under the present system people at the ruling helm of society have for the first time in history abdicated; whether it’s a communist-type system or the capitalist system of taking any responsibility of looking at the total system.


The R/V Heraclitus has sailed over 250,000 nautical miles studying oceans, coral reefs, rivers, lakes, estuaries and exploring the origins and futures of human cultures since it was built in 1975.

If you follow the leader, you’re very likely to follow him over a cliff, but if you follow a project… “-ject” is throw and if you throw something out, a path is going to emerge. For instance a group of fourteen of us we wanted to see what marshes and sea currents and coral reefs did, so we built a ship. And we went out and actually explored all these different biomes. There’s actually a project dealing with these realities.

For example, biospherics is the study of the total life system of planet earth, not hacked into little pieces to study here and study here, but it looks at the whole schmeer. We need to change the education system back to where you study total systems—what are all of the vectors that are involved?

So to save the evolutionary possibilities of the Biosphere, get together with some friends, form a group, and start studying some aspects of the biome—study the total system you’re in.”

For more by John Allen, check out Me and the Biospheres: A Memoir by the Inventor of Biosphere 2, his definitive autobiography, describing Allen’s extensive travels around the planet and how his experiences inspired him to invent the largest laboratory for global ecology ever built.

True Synergy Achieved at Bioeconomics Colloquim


Synergia Ranch is still warm with the glow of fellowship following the Frontiers of the Future colloquium last Tuesday night where over 70 guests filled the 40+ year-old geodesic dome. Some were old friends and colleagues, while others had simply read about this discussion of the ‘New Bioeconomics’ in the Santa Fe paper earlier that morning.


Prompted by the presence of British author and adviser to HRH The Prince of Wales Tony Juniper, who is here in New Mexico to support the release of Synergetic Press’s newest title What Has Nature Ever Done For Us? and kick-off his West coast tour of book signings and speaking engagements, the bill of speakers at the colloquium was a real “who’s who” of ecological, economic and biospheric thinking and experience.


Once the rows of benches and folding-chairs became filled, and the overflow of guests strewn about the large pillows that formed an intimate circle around the stage-space within the dome,  the elegant host Gay Dillingham, cofounder and principal director at Earth International, introduced the first speaker. Mark NelsonMark Nelson holds a PhD in Philosophy, chairs the board of Ecotechnics, runs Wastewater Gardens International, lived in Biosphere II during the two-year closed ecological systems experiment, and manages the farm at Synergia Ranch, mentoring the array of young volunteer farmers that come traveling through on a weekly basis. Mark’s ability to communicate and teach, as well as his humor, shined through as his talk ‘Living Under Glass’ brought the audience through a round of Synergetic initiatives spanning decades and climaxing  through the grandiose Biosphere II experiment, an experience which then lead to Mark’s work with Wastewater Gardens International.

It became clear that with all the accelerated life-rhythms and instantaneous feedback of a closed ecological system, living in Biosphere II, like seeing the Earth from space, was for Nelson an ecological gnosis of sorts, through which human-kind’s immersion within a web of life was an inescapable certainty, leading to its own ethical imperative. Mark explained, “One of the big things in Biosphere II was… in a small world, there really weren’t any small actions. Everything has an impact.” bioeconomics The next speaker Randy Hayes flew in from Washington D.C., where he works at Foundation Earth. Hayes, who also founded the Rainforest Action Network and who has been described by the Wall Street Journal as an “environmental pit-bull,” brought a lifetime of experience on the front lines of that tumultuous chasm between ecology and capitalism.  His talk, centering around “The Great U-Turn From Cheater Economics to True-Cost Economics” revealed a long-term vision of change, through which ‘ecologizing capitalism’ is merely a short-term intermediary step.

Randy showed us how the myopic corporate view of cost-benefit analysis externalizes so many of the actual costs of industry that are often invisibly passed on to some other individual or entity, and revealed how we need a new way of accounting for this convenient and absurd discrepancy.

Following Randy, host and moderator Gay Dillingham gave a deeply personal introduction to the playwright, inventor, and polymath genius behind the Biosphere II experiment himself, John P. Allen. Attention on Allen immediately filled the room with the aura of a living legend as he explained the ‘Harmony of the Spheres,’ a reading that was simultaneously the most technical and yet heartfelt performance of the night. Allen’s incomparable experience and pivotal role in developing the science of biospherics gives him a unique basis for illuminating the esoteric subtleties in truly understanding the relation between the biosphere, ethnosphere, noosphere and technosphere. The controversial Biosphere II experiment demonstrated that humans culture and technics can thrive within a healthy biosphere should we act with appropriate values in the world. The 83-year-old Allen summed up: “I don’t give up hope in the future; wish I could have more faith in the present, more charity toward the past. I happily see here, embodied in different ratios by each of us, allegiance to those values, which we need to challenge this disastrous era.” Read Harmony of the Spheres here.bioeconomics And with this, the entire room swelled with a standing ovation before the audience dissipated into the ranch kitchen for refreshments, hors d’ouevers and stimulating ecological conversations. bioeconomics Finally, special guest Tony Juniper, a former Green Party candidate in England, exec at Friends of the Earth, and Ecological Adviser to HRH The Prince of Wales, had each audience member focused whole-heartedly upon the concrete examples drawn from his new book and demonstrating exactly what Nature does for us. Tony provided rich detail of how disappearing vultures led to a deadly and expensive outbreak of rabies, how the loss of bees has led, in one culture, to the necessity of hand pollination that diverts human labor resources, and how, in the absence of a particular species of frog, a potential wonder-drug for stomach ailments was lost to evolutionary history.

But the examples only illustrated the point that we can learn to see what is in Nature now, and how to value those ‘services’ appropriately. Juniper cleverly develops a language that speaks to the bottom-line of big capitalism and inspired us all to realize, in a constructive manner, that intersection between economics and ecology that is so crucial to understanding and transforming unhealthy entrepreneurial and organizational practices. bioeconomics Following this, the colloquium arrived at its full-form with an interactive, audience-led discussion with each speaker sitting side by side as a panel. Questions centered around how to utilize the paradigm shift described through the talks in a practical manner. Randy Hayes shared stories of going head to head in corporate board rooms, Mark Nelson gave more insight from living in Biosphere II, John Allen displayed wise and sometimes counter-intuitive warnings and images, and Tony Juniper drew even more illustrative examples from his research and lifetime work with dedicated ecological thinkers and do-ers. In the end, the colloquium became truly synergistic as new and deep alliances between the speakers, and audience members, emerged that could not have been predicted by summing the parts. The conversation has begun in the emerging discipline of bioeconomics — establishing a means to truly value what Nature does for us. bioeconomics The excitement of this fellowship has sustained and remains a hot topic during dinners at Synergia Ranch. Meanwhile, publisher Deborah Snyder and the Junipers are on the road in San Francisco and Seattle continuing to spread the word about Tony’s groundbreaking work and Synergetic Press’s newest title, What has Nature Ever Done for Us? How Money Really Does grow on Trees.


New release, digitally restored classic documentary on Ornette Coleman, “Made in America,” premiered in New York

Synergetic Press, previous distributor of the Ornette Coleman classic film is pleased to announce the new release through Milestone Films of “Ornette: Made in America.” 

Ornette: Made In America captures Ornette’s evolution over three decades. Returning home to Fort Worth, Texas in 1983 as a famed performer and composer, documentary footage, dramatic scenes, and some of the first music video-style segments ever made, chronicle his boyhood in segregated Texas and his subsequent emergence as an American cultural pioneer and world-class icon. Among those who contribute to the film include William Burroughs, Brion Gysin, Buckminster Fuller, Don Cherry, Yoko Ono, Charlie Haden, Robert Palmer, Jayne Cortez and John Rockwell.

The film was recently featured in the New York Times:

“Ornette: Made in America,” which was released theatrically in 1985 and opens again, in a print restored by Milestone Films, at the IFC Center in Manhattan on Friday, is full of such tantalizing stuff: formal juxtapositions, half-sketched implications, parallel experiments of image and sound. By virtue of the footage alone, it’s a valuable time capsule for anyone drawn to Mr. Coleman’s work, particularly in the two decades following the cusp of the 1960s, when his dauntless, affirming vision of free improvisation famously created a crisis of faith in jazz.

-By  from the New York Times


Read the full NYT ReviewWatch a clip from the film

Oprah and Ram Dass

On April 22, Ram Dass appeared on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) for the premier of Oprah and Ram Dass: Fierce Grace. If you missed it, don’t forget to listen to Oprah’s interview with Ram Dass airing on SiriusXM through the end of April!

Also check out this blog to learn more about Ram Dass’ spiritual evolution and his relationship with Timothy Leary. Learn More. Or get a copy of his book, Birth of a Psychedelic Culture: Conversations about Leary, the Harvard Experiments, Millbrook and the Sixties, coauthored with Ralph Metzner and Gary Bravo, available from Synergetic Press or your local bookstore.

Oprah and Ram Dass




Psychedelics, Healing and the Expansion of Consciousness

Michael Bogenschutz, Dr. Ralph Metzner & Dr. George Greer Presented at the Colloquium


On March 20th, Synergetic Press hosted “Frontiers of the Future,” a colloquium on Psychedelics, Healing and Expansion of Consciousness featuring presentations and discussions with pioneers in these fields.

Dr. Ralph Metzner

The evening began with a presentation from George Greer, Co-founder and Medical Director of the Heffter Research Institute. He spoke about psilocybin research that Heffter is supporting and how psilocybin can be used for cancer anxiety treatment.

Michael Bogenschutz, Professor of Psychiatry at UNM followed Greer talking about current psilocybin-alcoholism research happening at UNM.

The program was moderated by Dr. Robert Weisz, a clinical psychologist, consultant, and life coach in private practice. 

Tonight we were looking at the mysterious phenomenon of healing and change and the administration of certain substances that can expand awareness and induce deep experiences,” Weisz said.

Dr. Paulo Barbosa, Professor of Scientific Methods and Mental Health, Universidade Estadual de Santa Cruz, Bahia, Brazil gave a presentation on the effects of Ayahuasca on health. He spoke about the health benefits of ayahuasca for people experiencing alcohol/drug-related problems.

Dr. Ralph Metzner culminated the presentations with a talk on the expansion of consciousness and the use of psychedelics for the purpose of healing.

Metzner spoke about consciousness expansion that occurs in our everyday lives. Each morning when you wake up, your consciousness expands as you come out of your dream state and back into reality, he said.

Dinner and a Discussion with the Speakers

He spoke about the need to find terminology, other than “psychedelics” to describe these substances and the experience of consciousness expansion.”These changes in consciousness that happen call into question your entire worldview,” Metzner said. It’s difficult to find a word to describe that experience.

“Psychedelics” is a term that has been identified in popular culture with one specific purpose, but Metzner says there are many different experiences one can have with these substances. “The therapeutic possibilities of consciousness expansion cannot be overestimated,” Metzner said in his talk.

Following the presentations, a dinner and panel discussion was held where the speakers responded to questions from the audience. Food was prepared by Joe’s Diner in Santa Fe.

It’s one of the ingredients in a rather huge and mysterious process of healing and change. We want to keep in mind that there are no absolute answers to these questions but there are a lot of interesting questions to be asked,” Weisz said.

(Photos and Video courtesy of Gay Dillingham)