“The Search for a Unique, Non-repeatable Experience”
Interview with John P. Allen, Kathelin Gray & Hans-Ulrich Obrist featured in Mousse
John P. Allen, author, poet, and visionary inventor of the Biosphere 2 project talks with director, writer and curator, Hans-Ulrich Obrist in an interview featured in the Italian contemporary art magazine Mousse. The full interview can be read in Mousse 57, February-March 2017.
Within the interview, Obrist sets out to unravel the foundational epiphanies that served as the springboard for the conceptualisation of Biosphere 2. Further discussing the major ideas, philosophies and great thinkers that filled Allen with the inspiration that fed into this milestone project. The primary epiphany being Allen’s realisation “that humanity is part of the biosphere and the biosphere is the dominant overall unity that comprises everything.”
In today’s world, where the problems of climate change, pollution and ecological destruction become ever more pressing, we often tend to forget about the things which have already and are still being done for the environment, in attempts to align man with the natural world.
For those wishing to learn more about John Allen, his singular life, and the field of Biospherics, we recommend checking his definitive autobiography and memoir: Me and the Biospheres; A Memoir by the Inventor of Biosphere 2. Me and the Biospheres is a fervent call to reawaken to the blessing of our beautiful home, Biosphere 1, the Earth.
More About John P. Allen (nom de plume Johnny Dolphin)
John ‘Dolphin’ Allen is an Oklahoma-born author, poet, playwright, engineer and metallurgist who invented, envisioned, and co-founded the Biosphere 2 project. Biosphere 2 was the world’s largest laboratory for global ecology, comprising of a series of airtight chambers making up a closed life systems ecological unit where eight people took up an experimental residence for 2 years in order to better understand how to live sustainably within a closed system.
Allen also conceived and co-founded nine other projects around the world, pioneering in sustainable co-evolutionary development. He is currently Chairman of the Institute of Ecotechnics (IE) Corporation. IE is an International Non-Governmental Organisation which owns and operates innovative sustainable ecological projects in different biomes worldwide such as the R.V. Heraclitus, or Las Casas de la Selva, among many others.
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. 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 Readerhere.
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
Tony Juniper is a man on a mission to share how the world can enjoy economic growth without sacrificing the environment. His work has led to high profile positions, including advisory and teaching posts at Cambridge University and with the Prince of Wales, better known as Prince Charles. Tony also co-wrote Prince Charles’ environmental book “Harmony”. His royal highness wrote the foreword for Tony’s latest book, “What Has Nature Ever Done for Us?” that is already a bestseller in the U.K. and is just now being released in the U.S. Tony joined Margaret to talk about the book and what has fueled his mission for more than three decades. Read Full Article
Synergia Ranch is still warm with the glow of fellowship following the Frontiers of the Futurecolloquium 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 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.” 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. 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. 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.
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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. 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. 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.
Ralph Metzner who has a B.A. in philosophy and psychology from Oxford University and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Harvard University, has been involved in the study of transformations of consciousness ever since, as a graduate student, he worked with Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (later Ram Dass) on the Harvard Psilocybin Projects. His latest book, written with Ram Das and Gary Bravo is entitled, “Birthof a Psychedelic Culture – Conversations about Leary, The Harvard Experiments, Millbrook and the Sixties” He co-wrote The Psychedelic Experience, and was editor of The Psychedelic Review.
During the 1970s, Ralph spent 10 years in the intensive study and practice of Agni Yoga, a meditative system of working with light-fire life-energies. He wrote Maps of Consciousness, one of the earliest attempts at a comparative cartography of consciousness; and Know Your Type, a comparative survey of personality typologies, ancient and modern. He was the Academic Dean for ten years, during the 1980s, at the California Institute of Integral Studies, where he taught courses there on “Altered States of Consciousness” and “Developing Ecological Consciousness.”
He is now Professor Emeritus. He maintains a part-time psychotherapy practice, and conducts numerous workshops on consciousness transformation, both nationally and internationally. His books include The Well of Remembrance, The Unfolding Self, Green Psychology, and two edited collections on the science and the phenomenology of Ayahuasca and Teonanácatl.
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.