In Marin / CONVERSATION
44 years, live in Mill Valley’s bucolic Cascade
Canyon. Their son Mac also lives in Mill Valley.
In addition to cofounding the Esalen Institute,
you are an author in your own right. Norman
Mailer once said, “Every aspiring writer gets
one free one.” Well, Golf in the Kingdom was
my free one. As a young man, I was a pretty
fair golfer and this book surprised everyone.
It was the first book I tried to write, let alone
wrote. It was all in my head; it took only seven
months to complete; it was never edited; and
now, 43 years later, it has sold over a million
copies and been published in 13 languages.
Author John Updike called it “the best book
written on the sport in the 20th century.” I’ve
also written nonfiction books relating to the
work being done at Esalen. I guess you’d call
The Future of the Body: Explorations Into the
Further Evolution of Human Nature my opus.
It was a 15-year project. Laurance Rockefeller,
a great human being, supported much of the
work that went into it. Published in 1992, it’s
a nearly 800-page description of supernormal
human functioning triggered by activities
ranging from spiritual healing to sport to
yogic and contemplative practice.
The evolution of humans is a very current topic
— and much has changed since you wrote The
Future of the Body. I imagine you’re referring
to Silicon Valley’s Ray Kurzweil and his singularity theory, which maintains that by 2045,
artificial intelligence will surpass human intelligence and humans and machines will merge.
Let me say this: Life has been evolving for,
what, 3. 5 billion years, humankind for maybe
50,000, maybe 100,00 years. But evolution
can be regressive, static or progressive. The
future that I write about — and Esalen people
are now exploring — is seen to be wide-open,
undiscovered country. And indeed, there are
various scenarios of this future, among them
Kurz weil’s singularity concept. However,
many, including me, consider that view to be
extreme. Personally, I think it’s a dead end.
Artificial intelligence can give us certain
things, amazing things. But I’m all in on the
other side, the evolution of humankind within
its core essence — which is body, mind, heart
and soul. That is a different way for ward than
this whole machine fantasy.
How does it differ? Obviously, some of these
machines are helpful. But there’s an argument to be made that we now have too much
communication. For example, the email I
use is very helpful, but at times you can’t get
through dinner without someone texting
their friends several times. This immense
extroversion and obsessiveness, caused by
this constant communicating, is something
we have to watch and many people are getting concerned about it. Nevertheless, while
some new machines are helpful, this idea that
we’re someday going to become machines —
the current movie Transcendence explores
this concept — I think is a dead end.
But who decides which machines are helpful,
and which are detrimental? We’re learning
as we go; I’m not going to give rules. But here
in Marin, I think it will be family by family.
Yes, things have changed, and these machines
are incredible distractions, but there are still
strong young families — I see them all around
me. And they will, eventually, decide how
much time their children can spend looking
at a machine, a screen, be it television, a video
game or a smartphone. In Marin, I see signs of
a counter movement: Buddhism is all around
us. There’s Spirit Rock, and yoga, and the
Tibetan groups advancing the mind-body con-
nection. They just operate under the radar;
they don’t get the media’s attention. Marin
has both high tech and high touch. I know
right now technology has a full head of steam
worldwide, but humans have always explored
extremes. And humans are adaptable; many
young people are learning how to deal with
humankind’s ever-increasing technology.
After all, we’ve been reading, seeing and hear-
ing dystopian themes for decades — Blade
Runner is an example. And yes, it is something
to fear; but I think that at some point this
obsession with technology will seem ridicu-
lous. I really think that. I believe Kurzweil’s
theory about man and machines merging is
hilarious. I can’t take it seriously.
Let’s switch from the future to the past. In the
1980s, during the Cold War, Esalen organized
a Soviet-American exchange program that
didn’t get the coverage it possibly deserved.
Can you talk about that now? Here’s what
happened: Esalen and the human potential
idea led me to the USSR in 1971 to explore
work being done there in what Russians
were calling “hidden human reserves.” But
our project really took off in 1980 when we
decided to mount a major project to pro-
mote Soviet-American friendship. That we
In 1950, while a premed
student at Stanford, Murphy
wandered into a class discussing
Eastern and Western
philosophies and religions. The
miscue changed his life.
Esalen Folk Festivals attracted musicians
like Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Mimi Fariña,
Joni Mitchell and Mama Cass.