As author of The Brain Revolution and the influential
bestseller The Aquarian Conspiracy, and publisher of Brain/Mind
Bulletin, Marilyn Ferguson has for the past two decades been one of
the foremost philosophers and chroniclers of the holistic movement, during
a period when holism has risen like a bright shining star in the early evening
In this interview with Dr. Daniel Redwood, Ferguson’s deeply-ingrained sense
of hope is tempered by great concern for the fate of our civilization. A
long-time resident of Los Angeles, she has seen the optimism of the California
Dream bend under the myriad pressures of the past two decades. A statewide
economic depression, and the Los Angeles riots which it helped to spawn,
have left their mark on her vision of the present and the future.
But the positive valence of her personality still imbues her conversation
with its charge. Her perspective on recent events, from the founding of
the NIH Office of Alternative Medicine to the aftermath of the L.A. riots,
is well worth hearing. Though a bit young for the role, she is becoming
a kind of global village elder, assimilating a wide range of knowledge on
many subjects, and then using it to help us decipher our times.
Brain/Mind Bulletin, which has for the past 18 years translated breakthroughs
on the vanguard edge of science into language the general public can understand,
is available by subscription from Brain/Mind, P.O. Box 42211, Los
Angeles CA 90042.
Marilyn Ferguson Interview
DR: The last time we spoke at length, in 1989, you said our country
“has no vision of where we want science to take us.” Do you feel
that we have more of a vision now, or are we still possessed of too much
‘know-how’ and too little ‘know-what’?
MARILYN FERGUSON: I don’t think it’s changed much. I think we’re
at the place where we’re going to have to begin to change. The Office of
Alternative Medicine was mandated by the Congress, and at first it was thought
that they could hire some fellows to go out into the field and investigate
the alternatives. But it can’t really be done in such a simple way. The
alternative therapies can’t be shoe-horned into the scientific model.
If we want to find out what the scientific evidence is for the efficacy
of these therapies, we have to look again at the questions that we ask.
You can’t, for example, take someone who’s meditating for their health,
and give them a placebo meditation. We have to be more imaginative, and
use science in a way that is broader and more original.
I think it’s still true that there is no master plan at the National Institutes
of Health in terms of what they do and what they fund. There’s no master
plan in terms of education, on we want to know and need to know. All of
this, I think, refers back to the need for people of vision at the highest
levels, and I don’t mean just the president. Everybody who is in a position
of leadership in the country should be thinking about, talking about–what
do we want to know?
DR: Joseph Jacobs, the former director of the NIH Office of Alternative
Medicine, has said that it’s important to evaluate the various alternative
therapies in a manner consistent with their own paradigms. That sounds very
good to me in theory. I am very unclear, however, as to how we begin to
actually do that. Do you have thoughts on this?
MARILYN FERGUSON: We can look at the evolution of research designs,
in a way that has more to do with subtle means. For example, they have found
that the health effects of having a “Type A” personality don’t
relate to the workaholic syndrome so much as to hostility. People who are
hostile get sick, but you can be very hard-working and not have that happen.
… You have to sometimes get a little imaginative, because we’re talking
body-mind. It may be that an herbalist is going to use a combination of
herbs, so you can’t isolate the effects of just one part of that. And that
may be okay, because it may be that the effects are synergistic. Normally
in the scientific method, they try to look at just one factor at a time.
But in alternative therapies, frequently a combination of methods are used.
When someone uses a combination of diet, acupuncture and imagery, it may
not be possible to separate out the various aspects. We’re talking about
using common sense.
DR: In your keynote address at the May 1993 alternative medicine
conference at the National Museum of Health and Medicine, you said that
the chances for integrating holistic health methods into the mainstream
are greater now than they were in the past. What leads you to this conclusion?
MARILYN FERGUSON: The need, the desperation. We can’t afford our
patterns, we can’t afford our habits. Most people who use alternative therapies
do this when all else has failed. And when budgets spin out of control,
putting some conventional therapies out of reach, then people reach for
the less invasive, less intrusive methods.
I remember, in terms of my own experience, that about 20 years ago I was
feeling a painful pressure behind one of my eyes. I was afraid I had glaucoma,
and I went to an ophthalmologist. He said it wasn’t glaucoma, but that I
had an ear infection. So I went to an internist who prescribed an antibiotic,
which didn’t work. Then I tried a second one, which also didn’t work. Then
I had to wait for an appointment … this had taken months by now … I
finally got an appointment with an ear, nose and throat doctor, who ended
up telling me that it was an ear infection, but it was an ear infection
in a place where antibiotics couldn’t go.
So I went home and I meditated (I did TM at that time), and while I was
meditating I pictured my ears draining, and when I did that they went “crack”
and started to drain. And over the next few days, whenever I thought about
it, they would go “crack” again and drain some more. That was
the last time I went to a doctor for seven years. I discovered that there
are so many things you can do for yourself, or that can be done by alternative
practitioners. It’s great to have antibiotics available for emergencies,
but I do think that the people who are involved in chiropractic, acupuncture,
herbs and other alternative methods are people who discovered it while they
were searching, and found that it was not only helpful but preventive.
DR: If you were advising the president, what would you say should
be the highest priorities on the health reform agenda?
MARILYN FERGUSON: I would advise him to strongly support the Office
of Alternative Medicine, which has a very tiny budget. This would probably
have to be done through Congress, but they’re ready. They’re doing it without
him anyway. But if he could really get behind that, health reform would
benefit greatly from the study of alternative therapies. Recently Mutual
of Omaha, among the oldest and largest health insurance companies, announced
that it is going to start reimbursing the cost of Dean Ornish’s heart program.
They’re going to pay $3500. I think the insurance companies may be among
the first to wake up, to save money.
I would advise the President to hang in there as he has been doing, in spite
of the opposition, because basically the people are behind this. The non-invasive
technology is more cost-effective. And if we institutionalize medical care
as we have it now, we will be buying into disaster. I remember in 1975,
just before I started Brain/Mind Bulletin, there was a meeting of
top medical people including the outgoing president of the AMA, along with
a lot of alternative therapists and doctors. What all the people were saying
was that if government-sponsored health care were to be instituted at that
time, they would just be locking the old system into place. Unfortunately,
that hasn’t changed much. The only thing is, people are now much more awake
to the choices.
DR: What do you think a sustainable health care system would look
MARILYN FERGUSON: I think it would look more like the Canadian system,
which I don’t think we have much chance of getting. A single-payer system.
All the Canadians I know are very strongly in favor of it.
DR: How have they dealt with the issue of high-tech medicine?
MARILYN FERGUSON: I think it’s probably pretty conventional, but
you could, with a single-payer system, incorporate other methodologies.
The main thing is that you can’t have these programs dictated by the industry.
DR: My concern with single-payer is that if everything is coming
from one source, and bad decisions are made (in terms of what methods and
practitioners are included, for example), the consequences of these errors
can be immense. Whereas if it’s spread out more and there are different
choices, an across-the-board disaster is less likely. It offers the opportunity
for the creation of smaller pilot projects where alternatives are able to
demonstrate that they work.
MARILYN FERGUSON: I know what you’re saying, and that is a concern.
Anytime the government’s doing anything, you’ve got a problem. It could
go either way. It could be much more intelligent, all in one stroke. It’s
like Gorbachev was able, when he was in a more dictatorial position in the
government his country then had, to make sweeping changes. We can see how
gridlocked our president is. But you have a good point, Daniel. I guess
we have to say, how can that be countered? Maybe you can have a single-payer
system, but with decisions made more democratically. With a rotating body
of decision makers, and with some kind of recourse, some kind of checks
DR: I heard Ramsey Clark say a long time ago that he was less concerned
with the actual structure of organizations or governments than he was with
the way people behaved within whatever structure they had. And I guess that
anytime I start thinking about which policy to endorse or not endorse, I
come back to that. It comes down to how people are going to behave within
MARILYN FERGUSON: We’re not going to get the single-payer system
anyway. So we need to look at what we’re likely to get, and try to figure
out how to keep it creative.
DR: Do you feel encouraged by the public debate on health care?
MARILYN FERGUSON: I think that Mrs. Clinton has done a good job of
exposing the issue to a wide range of people. She has let people speak for
themselves about their pain, in a way that’s gotten a lot of publicity.
I think that’s the only way to counter the forces that are trying to throw
a monkey wrench into it.
DR: Do you feel an increased or decreased sense of urgency about
the need for social change as you get older?
MARILYN FERGUSON: My sense that change has to happen is more urgent,
because we’re facing more and more dire problems. On the one hand homelessness,
on the other the hole in the ozone layer. As you look about, you can see
the system falling apart. On the other hand, it’s falling apart so rapidly
that there’s a good possibility for major change. You know, out of this
chaos comes a window.
DR: As a resident of Los Angeles, what lessons do you feel the LA
riots have for the nation as a whole. Has any healing taken place?
MARILYN FERGUSON: I written a book about it, actually, a photo-essay
which I’ve just completed. It’s called The Fire and the Rose: Los Angeles
in Parable and Prophecy.I think that on a mythic level what’s happened
in Los Angeles is immensely exciting. I think that in a way it was prophesied
by the poem “The Second Coming” by W. B. Yeats. It was prophesied
by a lot of people–it was painted on the walls, it was written in songs,
people were having dreams and visions–it had to happen.
You know, it happened on the Feast of Beltane, the Celtic fire festival,
which is also Walpurgis Night. There were a lot of interesting coincidences.
There were earthquakes that led up to it, one on April 22, which was Earth
Day. I believe that if you look at things in a mythic way, it gives you
something more interesting to interpret and remember it by. That
is what we have to do with our own lives, make it a creative interpretation.
You can look at your life in so many ways. It’s important to look at it
in the way that is most creative and helpful to you.
DR: Seeing day-to-day actions in mythic terms seems to me to be an
inspiring way to live.
MARILYN FERGUSON: The intersection where the riots started (in South
Central they call it “the uprising”) was Florence and Normandy.
If you look at the symbolic significance, Florence is the cradle of the
Renaissance, and Normandy is the site of the great D-Day invasion in World
War II. It’s as if our civilization itself is standing at the corner of
Florence and Normandy. L.A. is the most international city–it’s a world
city. People all over the world–Tokyo, London– look to L.A. to be the
vision maker, but also because it is so international. The neighborhood
that I live in, the mountain that I live on, is in the middle of L.A. It’s
called Mt. Washington, and in the Fifties it was the most ethnically representative
community in the United States. In Highland Park and Mt. Washington, when
you go into a store, you never know what the nationality of the storeowner
will be, and typically the staff is racially mixed.
L.A. was founded by eleven families, and it was multiracial. It was founded
to serve the Mission San Gabriel–its mission was to serve the Mission.
There’s always been a very intense spiritual vision, and particularly after
the Americans took over, a lot of violence. There was the massacre of Chinese
people in 1871, riots in the Forties, the Watts riots in the Sixties. At
the same time, the city is named after a religious holiday. It’s Florence
and Normandy all the way.
I think one of the lessons of the riots is that the business people can’t
go in alone and solve the problems. The politicians are not great at it
either. People are looking to people like Edward James Olmos, the actor,
and Arsenio Hall, and mainly to the church leaders. So one of the positive
results is that the spiritual leaders, the church leaders, have gotten very
active, very ecumenical. They’ve sponsored and organized most of the social
One of the lessons is that you cannot count on the government to solve any
problems. Because of bureaucratic entanglements, the people who need the
help most never got any of it. Storeowners who got burned out. [Recovery
is] a long, slow process. It’s work at the grassroots. Right now, there’s
no support from the federal government, and the state is too broke to help
out. So things have to be done by people working creatively in cross-cultural
To me one of the most inspiring things is that the graffiti art, with its
social and religious themes, has the recipe for recovery. Which is creativity,
art, writing, communications. The lion lying down with the lamb. This was
true even before the riots. It’s really important for people to watch what
happens in L.A., because it’s a model for all the other cities. As one person
who lives 90 miles away said, “Everyone who lives in Southern California
is an Angeleno.” You can’t run away from the cities, because the health
of a region depends on the health of its cities.
DR: Sometimes it seems to us in the rest of the country, from the
media reports we hear, that much of California is in an economic depression.
MARILYN FERGUSON: Oh, it’s in a severe economic depression, especially
L.A. They’ve estimated that the impact of the defense cuts is six times
as severe here as elsewhere…plus we were hit very hard by the impact of
the savings and loan debacle on real estate…I think there are going to
be a lot of people leaving, because they can’t get work. People who were
working at defense. But in a way, Los Angeles could use the breathing space,
in terms of population. Anyway, I have this fantasy that we just grow fruits
and vegetables on the vacant lots, and go back to being a farming community.
DR: I guess that’s one possible future, if the economy as we knew
it doesn’t recover.
MARILYN FERGUSON: Yes. And there are no quick turnarounds.
Daniel Redwood is a chiropractor and writer who lives in Virginia Beach,
Virginia. He is the author of A Time to Heal:
How to Reap the Benefits of Holistic Health, and is a member of
the editorial board of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.
He can be reached by e-mail at Redwoods@infi.net.
A collection of his writing is available on the World Wide Web at http://www.doubleclickd.com,
and also on the New Age Forum of the Microsoft Network.
©1995 Daniel Redwood, D.C.