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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Wow - of course this discussion has to take off when I'm in the middle of working 12 hour shifts.  To that end, I'm just going to make a general reply to a trend I'm seeing in some answers.

Why wouldn't I believe someone who said LSD gave them the insight the needed to formulate some wonderful, creative idea?  The same reason that I don't believe drunks who claim their drinking improves their driving.  The same reason I don't believe cocaine users who claim cocaine increases their sex appeal.  Not only are the 'observers' biased by being the subject of their own observations - they are intoxicated and every study I've ever seen on intoxication shows perceptions being distorted rather than improved.

Personally I think drug use can offer some great recreational experiences.  I also think it can lead to life destroying addictions if one follows the wrong path.  Experiments have been done on the effects of various recreational drugs and I have yet to see such an experiment that observed sharpened perceptions or increased skills of any kind.

Link me up then - or is this another case of not being able to understand unless I'm a member of your cult?

Oops, double post. See a few posts down for the full reply.

Reporting personal experiences that only you can have but cannot share with others isn't science. This is different from, say a chemistry experiment where if you mix liquid A with liquid B it instantly turn into a solid. 

People who don't understand science may think it's the same thing if two people take a drug and have similar reports of strange perceptions or feeling more capable in some way, but reporting a private sensation that only an individual can have isn't the same thing as two people performing the same experiment with anyone who cares to watch observing and sharing in the result. It's entertainment, not knowledge.

Even if I grant that someone might have done some of their best work "under the influence" of psilocybin, that doesn't recommend the drug any more than saying that Hemingway wrote a lot of his best stories with a glass of bourbon by his typewriter recommends using alcohol to facilitate writing fiction.



I'm opting out - I'll agree to disagree on the subject.

So once again I ask you for evidence and you have nothing.  I'll just assume so from now on.


Who - me?

Ive said heaps and I've given you heaps and so have others.

I've not just given you my personal opinion and experience but I've backed it up with the opinions of  what some of our most trusted academics have to say about it.

You changed the goal posts to drugs and driving. You said that Cocaine doesnt enhace sex appeal - I think you meant sex drive. I believe that it does. 

What more do you want? I dont have the time to provide you with endless information that you wont look at.

and I dont think you really want to know because you don't show any genuine enquiry about it.

You could go try some for yourself and then maybe come here and critique it - that would be fun because then you would have to admit how good it was and how much you loved it :)))


I'll just quote directly, so this post comes at the end of the thread.

Heather Spoonheim:
"Crick on LSD when he discovered LSD = BULLSHIT"

OK, the Crick-LSD thing does indeed seem to be false. That, however, does not dismiss any and all scientific discoveries that are made or even yet to made with help from psychedelics.

Heather Spoonheim:
"Where are the empirical studies of increased problem solving skills or increased 'creativity' while under the influence of hallucinogens?  Psychonauts try to objectively document their highs - but how objective can their observations be when they are also the subject?  Give me a break."

Way to put a strawman, eh? Did it ever occur to you that psychedelic research might have other methods than subjects simply documenting their own experiences? If subjects are working on scientific problems that they've been unable to solve, but are able to solve after/during a psychedelic experience, would you agree that there's something more than just a documented trip happening?

I did provide a link for you, but I guess you did not bother to read it. And to be honest, it's not surprising, as it seems you're set out to dismiss anything that might of scientific value if it comes from psychedelic research. Going from dismissing Terence McKenna to dismissing the whole field of psychedelic research is a huge overgeneralization. Here's one story on psychedelic research in the 60s. It's a bit long, but a good read. Have at it.

And here's a very interesting online book on LSD and problem-solving, aptly named LSD — The Problem-Solving Psychedelic. I don't expect anyone to read the whole thing, but having a look at the chapter for creative problem solving could be interesting as far as this debate goes. Well worth a read (and a bookmark).

There's a lot of psychedelic research going on on MAPS, though much of it is not necessarily related to using psychedelics as a tool for scientific discovery. Here's one example:

"Show me that LSD or shrooms turn a person of rather pedestrian intellectual skills into a genius with incredibe insights, and we'd be talking. Until then, I'm not buying."

That's on helluva expectation for any drug. I think you'd be hard pressed to find any drug that would transform an inbred redneck to a brilliant scholar due to some impossible drug. Come on now, that doesn't even make sense. But what if you gave a psychedelic to a person that's already a scholar and at the forefront in his scientific field? That's a whole other ball game, and frankly, much more realistic and likely to have any wortwhile results.

"The truth is, science got by very well without drug intoxication for a very long time and can continue to do so."

Indeed, but no one never said that this is a black or white thing. No one's suggesting that all scientific research should be done under the influence of LSD. What is suggested is that LSD can be used as A tool, not THE tool, for further scientific discovery. Come on now, let's stop with the strawmen and other logical fallacies, this is not a personal discussion.

The "direct" effects of psychedelics on scientific discovery is interesting in and of itself, but another interesting fact is that psychedelic experiences can have a profound positive effect on a person. If that person is a scientist it can indeed have an effect on him as a person and also his research due to the lingering effects of the psychedelic experience. It seems to me to be very narrow minded to dismiss any positive effects psychedelics can have on scientific research and the researchers themselv.

 It seems to me to be very narrow minded to dismiss any positive effects psychedelics can have on scientific research and the researchers themselv.

It's not narrow-minded to reject a hypothesis that doesn't make sense to start with. The burden is the same whether you are saying that a drug enhances one's scientific acumen or that macaroni and cheese does the same thing. 

To turn it into science, one needs experiments, and not in the sense of "Johnny was caught experimenting with drugs." 

What would you see as a real scientific test of psychedelic drugs making for better science?

Who's to say that the hypothesis doesn't make sense? Comparing mac and cheese to compounds known to expand and alter consciousness is comparing apples and oranges.

I would say that the research done by James Fadiman would fit the bill. I've already linked to it twice, but since it keeps coming up, here it is: The Heretic

And here's a fitting outtake: After their 5HT2A neural receptors simmered down, they remained firm: LSD absolutely had helped them solve their complex, seemingly intractable problems. And the establishment agreed. The 26 men unleashed a slew of widely embraced innovations shortly after their LSD experiences, including a mathematical theorem for NOR gate circuits, a conceptual model of a photon, a linear electron accelerator beam-steering device, a new design for the vibratory microtome, a technical improvement of the magnetic tape recorder, blueprints for a private residency and an arts-and-crafts shopping plaza, and a space probe experiment designed to measure solar properties. Fadiman and his colleagues published these jaw-dropping results and closed shop.

Is this not indicative, to say the least, that psychedelics can have a positive effect on scientific research and problem solving? How's that hypothesis looking now?

James Fadiman is in the National Geography documentary Inside LSD (youtube full documentary), where he talks about these experiments.

Also, this: Wikipedia: Psychedelics in problem solving experiment:

From the subjective reports, 11 categories of enhanced functioning were defined: low inhibition and anxiety, capacity to restructure problem in larger context, enhanced fluency and flexibility of ideation, heightened capacity for visual imagery and fantasy, increased ability to concentrate, heightened empathy with external processes and objects, heightened empathy with people, subconscious data more accessible, association of dissimilar ideas, heightened motivation to obtain closure, visualizing the completed solution.

The results also suggest that various degrees of increased creative ability may continue for at least some weeks subsequent to a psychedelic problem-solving session.

What more do you want? I dont have the time to provide you with endless information that you wont look at.

Let us know when you have actual information to present. Peer reviewed studies supporting your view, for example. 

Yes, drugs can alter the mind. More specifically, YOURS!

What some person with no particular expertise as a researcher in the field opines about something is irrelevant, except perhaps as a conjecture that might be formulated into a hypothesis to be tested. But how do you test the idea that drugs make one more perceptive?

I have an idea in that regard. Let's train Dawkins and Harris and a bunch of other people who want to experiment with drugs to fly fighter jets. Then we'll pit them against a team of pilots flying sober and have them all perform difficult maneuvers. Now THAT would be a test of whether the drug enhances perceptions. Shall we get going on that one?

It seems that you're conflating perception with perceptual psychology. I'll quote wikipedia for clarity: Any time you problems-solve, make a decision, make a memory or reflect on one you are using a example of perceptual psychology.

With this example, it seems obvious that psychedelics can have an effect here. This is what is meant when psychedelics alters perception.

It's already known that psychedelics can impair motor skills and alter sensory input, this is not the point. Your experiment with fighter pilots makes no sense.


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