Comic clip on the “stoned ape theory” of human evolution

My friend, the late evolutionary philosopher Terence McKenna, was celebrated for his elegantly humorous discourses on the consciousness-expanding virtues of psychedelic mushrooms. Audio and video recordings of his talks are pervasive on the internet. He also made a serious contribution to the theory of human evolution by postulating that the accidental ingestion of hallucinogenic, consciousness-expanding mushrooms by our hominid ancestors may have contributed to the accelerated development of language and brain function. He expands on this view in his 1992 book Food of the Gods – The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge.

In the introduction to my edited book of essays and experiences Sacred Mushroom of Visions – Teonanácatl, I wrote of four lines of empirical evidence supporting the theory that mind-expanding plants or fungi may have played a role in the evolution of language: (1) psilocybin and other psychedelics heighten acuity of sense perception, which confers adaptive advantage; (2) psilocybe mushrooms heighten cognitive awareness and linguistic fluidity; (3) they also enhance problem-solving ability as shown in their successful use in psychotherapy and shamanic divination; and (4) studies of brain areas activated during psilocybin states show major activity in the frontal cortex, the area most involved in processing complex perceptions and thoughts.

I quoted the following passage also from McKenna’s Food of the Gods, where he is discussing the significance of the discovery of cave paintings in North Africa pointing to a pre-historic mushroom cult in the 7th millenium BCE:

“The contention here is that the rise of language, partnership society, and complex religious ideas may have occurred not far from the area where humans emerged – the game-filled, mushroom-dotted grasslands and savannahs of tropical and subtropical Africa. There the partnership society arose and flourished; there hunter-gatherer culture slowly gave way to domestication of animals and plants. In this milieu the psilocybin-containing mushrooms were encountered, consumed and deified. Language, poetry, ritual, and thought emerged from the darkness of the hominid mind.” (McKenna 1992).

While McKenna’s theory on the role of psychoactive mushrooms in the human evolution of language has not gained much traction in the scholarly community (understandedly, since the great majority of scholars and evolutionary scientists are ignorant of the profound effect of such substances on the human mind), it has attracted a following in the underground entheogenic culture of scientists, artists, philosophers and cyber-geeks, as shown in the following two minute YouTube clip from Duncan Trussell’s Comedy Central Pilot “Thunderbrain.”

3 Responses

  1. The end is not yet complete, the human will is arranged on an individual, not collective, it derives the different consciousness of every individual, every group, ethnicity and so on. Great work molding this good clip congratulations and critical education.

    El final aun no ha concluido, la voluntad humana esta dispuesta de forma individual, no es colectiva, de esto deriva la conciencia diferente e individual de cada ser, cada grupo, etnia etc. Gran trabajo plastico ,felicidades por este buen clip educativo y critico.

  2. I think Terence was/is absolutely right about this, although i could also make an arguement that the technocratic society of this era is also the result of early ingenstion of mushrooms.

  3. “… McKenna’s theory on the role of psychoactive mushrooms in the human evolution of language has not gained much traction in the scholarly community (understandedly, since the great majority of scholars and evolutionary scientists are ignorant of the profound effect of such substances on the human mind).”

    I’m sure at one time the great majority were ignorant in that way. Is it still true? I don’t think it necessarily is, in fact I doubt it. I wouldn’t know how to prove it or persuade anyone, if they disagree.

    But I suggest its beside the point, by a wide margin. There’s no ‘traction’ for stoned apes to gain, no matter what. Checking it out reveals a dismal perspective — there’s no ground under it that could allow traction. There’s no data, no evidence, nor any theoretical basis.

    Especially in terms of enhanced ‘visual acuity’ claims which, if one reads the Fischer et alia research, prove miserably false and misleading.

    I would plead for an ounce of respect to knowledge and informed understanding, in the cross hairs from so many ideological designs drawn thereupon. May I please — please! – respectfully suggest “ignorance” (as its cited) has nothing to do with any failure of stoned apes — this so-called ‘theory’ to gain “traction.”

    By necessity (context): please note I’m using the word theory by its scientific (not science fiction) meaning: i.e., a comprehensive explanation that holds up — after having been tested against evidence and analyses, repeatedly — and includes all pertinent evidence (not selectively leaving out any ‘inconvenient’ data)

    The ‘theories’ of ‘scientific creationism’ — “I believe in evolution but I also believe in Adam and Eve; I think they were amoebas!” — likewise. That they’ve gained no traction in biology or any disciplinary field is not a function of anybody’s ignorance. Or is that too shocking? If there’s any ignorance involved in scientific creationism, or stoned apes horn blowing — its not on the part of scientists, or due to anyone not knowing the effects of psychedelics, personally and directly or otherwise.

    A strange vista meets the eye culturally, not without conscientious concerns. Its one thing when corn-fed popular readers enthused by their tripping experience, and lacking significant college education — don’t understand strong currents of oppositional ideology in science and religion, and get swept away by. Happens all the time, very normal. But I don’t know what to think when more educated people who (if I may suggest) ought to know better fail to realize the issues inherent.

    The worst thing about stoned apes I find isn’t its “Sci Crea” -like fabrications and manipulation. Its the anti-social impulses toward reasonable disagreement that i find more troubling. Stoned apes masks a culturally patterned hostility toward science and educated perspectives that aren’t going to by any more impressed by its theater, than by “Sci Crea” and etc. The hostility has a seething quality, very reminiscent to me of infuriated fanaticism. Seems its ends justify almost any means, from what I’ve noticed. It is easily demonstrated by simple application of informed, balanced critical tests.

    As J. Vallee noted (of UFO contact cults) so with stoned apes: “Theirs is a case of science gone wrong, and mysticism gone wrong” (MESSENGERS OF DECEPTION: UFO CULTS AND CONTACTS). Looking in the crystal ball at psychedelia’s future: it needs to either recover its moral health and find its sense of conscience, or it faces its own demise against values of liberty. Free thought and free speech, fully exercising its critical reason on informed grounds is a threat to mind-control and speech-restriction — the nourishments not of liberty but of fascism. Storm warnings:

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