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.”
Filed under: Consciousness, Ecology, Psychedelics, Science, Shamanism | Tagged: Duncan Trussell, Food of the Gods, origin of language, psilocybin-containing mushrooms, Sacred Mushroom of Visions – Teonanácatl, Terence McKenna, Thunderbrain |