The modern skeptic needs to be well armed to deal with the array of woo being spewed these days.  Biblical criticism is pretty much a solved game but the new-agers can toss out faux-facts faster than you can say, “Bullshit!”

One flavour making the rounds here recently has been the junk science of Terrence McKenna.  An incredibly articulate ethnobotanist of the late 20th century, he was able to public several books that garnered the attention of aging hippies and which seem to have renewed their popularity with contemporary new agers.  As a self-described psychonaut, his writing mostly revolved around his ever more desperate attempts to instill perceived empirical value to the observations he made of his own consciousness while higher than a kite.

His timewave zero and novelty theories tied into eschatological prognostications for 2012 – a prophecy failure that his devotees overlook as quickly as the adherents of Benny Hinn overlook his.  Perhaps the most entertaining of his drug-addled ramblings was his ‘Stoned Ape’ conjecture.

In his Stoned Ape conjecture, McKenna tried to convince himself that use of magic mushrooms was the catalyst that sprung homo-sapiens into existence from homo-erectus.  He starts by assuming that the magnificent shrooms appeared on the African savanna 100,000 years ago and made their way into the homo-erectus diet – both assumptions being supported by zero evidence.  He then misrepresents a scientific study about visual perception to suggest that use of these mushrooms increased visual acuity in our early ancestors – thereby making them better hunters.

Based on his first two unfounded assumptions and an outright fabrication he then jumps to the conclusion that the results performed a miraculous one-time instance of Lamarckian inheritance, altering the offspring of psilocybin-gobbling hominids enough to speciate them from surrounding populations of homo-erectus.  It just goes on and on, and he actually managed get published for it in 1992 - Food of the Gods.

I feel this load of malarkey is worth our attention, as skeptics, so we can be better prepared to counter the ridiculous claims of McKennites that we may encounter.  I know there is one with us lately and felt he might like to put his thoughts on display here for all of us to observe the workings of such a mind.

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@ Angela

Lester Grinspoon, according to the link you posted, was interested in marijuana, not psilocybin.  The effects of marijuana are not being debated here.

That psilocybin has long term effect potential on the human brain is not being challenged.  The deductions of McKenna's subjective experience are being challenged based on a lack of empirical evidence, since these deductions are being used by him to propose that the development of the human race relied on such experiences. There is no empirical evidence for this.

Empirical evidence is the basis of scientific enquiry.  Here is a wiki summary to explain this.

"Why are you so interested in this stuff anyway if you've never tried it? Why do you care?

You would appear to be indicating that we should only have opinions based on personal experiences.  That would be a rather sad and stultifying attitude to adopt, don't you think?

 

 "The effects of marijuana are not being debated here".

Yeah thanks Strega but cannabis IS a psychotropic drug ....

Technically so is alcohol.

I don't think that was being contested.

 

You would appear to be indicating that we should only have opinions based on personal experiences.  That would be a rather sad and stultifying attitude to adopt, don't you think?

Yes Strega thats right - either that or show some genuine enquiry about the topic rather than this ridiculous lampooning.

 

 

Strega - Yes or No

Is Carl Sagan a liar?

Just a Yes or No will do.

Chuckles.  Do you know the famous question, "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?"   It's called a logical fallacy.

Crick on LSD when he discovered LSD? I think you meant to say the "double-helix form of DNA," not LSD. Albert Hofmann discovered LSD.

Steve Jobs once said, 

“Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life. LSD shows you that there’s another side to the coin, and you can’t remember it when it wears off, but you know it. It reinforced my sense of what was important—creating great things instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and of human consciousness as much as I could.”

Steve Jobs. The guy who probably killed himself by eschewing traditional medicine and trying "other side of the coin" alternatives. I believe he admitted as much in his final days. 

I think you meant to say the "double-helix form of DNA," not LSD.

The transposition of the three letters DNA and LSD seemed obvious to me as well, Jimmy. 

If you're here to make a case for McKenna's work I'm prepared to listen, but if that includes crowing about typographical errors, you're already taking the subject too personally. I suppose the poignancy is about your conversion to Buddhism after having a psychedelic experience. 

Steve Jobs once said, “Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life. LSD shows you that there’s another side to the coin, and you can’t remember it when it wears off, but you know it. It reinforced my sense of what was important—creating great things instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and of human consciousness as much as I could.”

And this means what toward showing the science behind McKenna's work is sound? That's what Heather is examining here. 

And by the way: I'm not glad Steve Jobs is dead, but I'm glad he's gone. He didn't create a lot of things, but he sure stole a lot of ideas. And what a load of crap that making money wasn't important to him. 

More than anything, Jobs was a marketing genius who created a legion of blind followers. He also had good design sense. His stuff looks cool even if it isn't any better than stuff costing half the price. He made it easy for people don't know diddley squat about how computers work to feel cool buy simply owning one. They are the same sheep who have to have the latest whatever-it-is in order to validate themselves.

Well, Steve Jobs is just one example of many people who have taken "heroic doses" of a psychedelic compound and had their lives completely changed. You spoke about Buddhistic conversion. Well, there have been famous atheists who've taken psychedelics and had powerful experiences with them and have converted to Buddhism, in fact. To name a few examples, I'd say Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Richard Alpert.

It wasn't a simple typo, by the way, I replaced it with an entire phrase not to "crow over a typographical error," but to not confuse people who were reading that post. I replaced LSD with "double-helix form of DNA."

The so-called Francis Crick LSD claim

And if it sounds like I'm taking this personally, that's because I've had this experience, and it was something that to this day... I still ponder about, and probably will ponder unto death. It's just disheartening to hear people who've never taken these substances feel that their opinion on it is somehow valid. The modern approach which is "How little can you get away with taking, and still be one of the gang?" is even more insidious, because then feel capable of talking about these things. You know, there are people who feel that their opinions on the psychedelic experience should be weighed very carefully who have only taken MDMA or some piddling dose of psilocybin. Well, listen I've got news for you. I mean, that is to the domain Terence was talking about like a broken tricycle is to a Tessa Rosa Ferrari.

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