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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There's no law saying scientific studies have to be done in the United States under illegal circumstances. Science is done all over the world.


Hi Jimmy

I really havent read much about Terence McKenna but I definantly will be now. 

On the full understand that very few people here are at all interested in personal experience with psychoactive substances, I will, nevertheless, poke in as I've done a LOT of them.

1. I agree with those who shout "bullshit". These drug are recreational and as such a worthwhile experience. As far as I'm concerned, they trigger a chemical "Oh-Wow-Man" response. It definitely seems/feels like you're having revelations. That, again, is a worthwhile experience - as long as you don't believe it is something more than recreational.

2. I agree with those who claim that it is more than something recreational. BECAUSE of the way it short-circuits, it can reveal to users perhaps what Strega called "External existentialism" although I don't get the word "external" because the whole point is that the external/internal division is removed.

This is an important revelation but not one that Requires chemicals.

Terence McKenna isn't talking about "recreational use." He feels that recreational use only trivializes what psychedelics are fully capable of. And I assure you, the experience of "Oh-Wow-Man" is only said because this experience is so profound that it's often described as "ineffable," so instead of attempting to articulate, which I feel Terence McKenna was at great pains to express, the only thing people can come back with is "Oh-Wow-Man," and of course, this is no help to the person who wants a description to this experience. "Oh-Wow-Man" doesn't cut the mustard. That's why I posted those Terence McKenna talk, because at least he tries to be a little more articulate than simply saying "far out, man."

@Unseen As I mentioned before, the only people who are drawn to psychedelics are those who wish to explore the very depths of consciousness. Of course, if you're not interested in that, then psychedelics are irrelevant to you, and most people would rather not travel the dark sea of mind.

I wish I had a memory/ I'm quite sure I've seen studies on the chemical phenomenon. They didn't refer to it as the "Oh-Wow-Man" effect - those are my words. But I believe that such a reaction to certain chemicals is scientifically provable. 

If it's so profound as to be ineffable, what's the point? That's not a rhetorical question. Discussion and inquiry require effibility (probably not a word, but I'm sure you get the idea).

"[Oh-Wow-Man is] no help to the person who wants a description to this experience"

Neither is it of any help to those wishing to gain objective knowledge about the subject.

@Unseen As I mentioned before, the only people who are drawn to psychedelics are those who wish to explore the very depths of consciousness. Of course, if you're not interested in that, then psychedelics are irrelevant to you, and most people would rather not travel the dark sea of mind.

So, you don't want to discuss it, I guess.

And perhaps if you stopped using flowery poetic language to discuss the drug experience you might be able to look at it more objectively. I mean, "the very depths of consciousness," "the dark sea of mind." Give me a break.


I need to add a caveat. I have NOT tried  "heroic doses" partly because of the real dangers associated with these drugs. I can't really see how such doses would make the effect fundamentally different - just stronger.

Perhaps I'll try again with the 8-hour talk (it's not a video so I CAN do other things while listening). But he's not what I would call an exciting speaker. I only got about ten minutes in before giving up.

Oh, it is different. It's like night and day. Raising the dose range makes the drug seem like an entirely different drug altogether. That's why I recommend to atheists DMT, because DMT only lasts about 5 minutes. Surely, you've got 5 minutes to invest in an experience that would alter your entire ontological foundation.

Well I guess I'll have to take your word for it. Here in New Zealand we don't have illicit drugs. ;-)

You've asked why others are unwilling to admit that there might be some positive effects. Are you willing to admit that there are potential negative effects? Some of the links I've followed claim ZERO ill effects on subjects. Isn't it true that a percentage of "subjects" can suffer quite profound ill effects - some permanent? I have no figures on this but this does not strike me as unlikely knowing, as I do, the power of even small amounts.

(Let me preemptively acknowledge that the possible ill effects of alcohol may dwarf those of LSD.)

I don't think anyone would claim that there are no potential negative effects. However, I've not heard any verified stories of permanent damage from one psychedelic experience, and I believe the positive far out-weighs the negative.

The main thing is mind-set. I have seen people have bad trips (thankfully have never had one myself), but they are usually people who went in with a level of apprehension and uncertainty, and these drugs tend to amplify senses and emotions.


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