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.
Nowadays you run into shows like Ancient Aliens promoting crackpot, baseless theories, usually about ancient cultures like the Mayans or Egyptians, and they can be traced back to von Daeniken's technique of asking but not answering questions like "Could this Mayan bas relief depict an alien astronaut?"
That asshat gives me a headache.
I was talking to someone who was pretty amped up on McKenna. Then another guy walked in and was all about ancient aliens must have cut rocks up with lasers (like the ancients didn't have like 100 slaves polishing these stones). It's like if your car doesn't start it must be a government issued electromagnetic pulse (not your dead battery). What the hell? I looked up some of McKenna's stuff, saw a vid of him speaking, blah, blah, blah, sensory deprivation, yada, yada..., shrooms man, blah. blah
I'm amazed these crackpots get followers. I mean I realize the followers are also crackpots but I just don't understand what entices them to follow another crackpot when they could equally well make up their own malarkey.
Overheard at a Phish concert back in '94:
Q: What did one deadhead say to the other after they ran out of shrooms?
A: Man, this music suuuucks!
That's the common experience of people under the influence of psychedelic drugs: the earthly platitudinous seems profoundly cosmic. Drop acid and you might find yourself staring at a dollar bill in transfixed awe for the next twelve hours. (I kid you not.)
It's not hard to imagine McKenna achieving the status of a Deepak Chopra with the stoner crowd, or even with non-stoners who are all too eager to gobble up the same sort of woo-woo.
Consciousness first arose in the mind of a stoned pre-human monkey? Sure, why not. And a tribe of invisible non-corporeal stoned pre-human monkeys lives inside of Deepak Chopra's colon. One "theory" is just about as testable and scientific as the other.
There is a story about a novelist who, upon hearing of the creative benefits of shrooms gave it a try. In the midst of the high, he had an incredible idea for his next novel. He wrote it down and then lay down to sleep. When he woke up he ran over to the pad to read "boy meets girl."
That's funny - I've had similar experiences with alcohol and writing that have led me to greatly limit my alcohol intake when writing seriously. When I began getting serious about writing, I thought of Hemingway and figured that a few extra drinks might unleash my creative processes. When I reviewed my writing the next day, it was pure shit.
My solution: write first, drink later.
I went through a similar process of experimentation during my college years. Nothing that I ever ingested, licked, or inhaled made me any better or worse of an artist, writer, or (here I cringe) dancer.
At the time a few of my fellow young artists, authors, and party-goers did not reach the same conclusions and carried on accordingly, which had some entertainment (if not creative) value.
I think it was worth looking at psychedelic drugs from a scientific standpoint. What if they really did make people more intelligent and creative? But now that it's clear they do not, I don't see much point to using them.
These days I'm strictly into coffee and nothing else. Ah. Coffee.
Had forgotten how grating her voice is.