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.
LOL! At the last two posts.
Another caveat would be the fact that these things contain psilocybin, a substance that occurs nowhere else in nature but in these mushrooms.
Well, I'm glad you mentioned that, it's also been speculated that water itself may have also derived from asteroidal impacts.
There is a serious scientific hypothesis that bacterial spores left over from the previous solar system survived to drift onto our planet 3.5 billion years ago. This is because of the apparent suddenness with which bacteria appeared. It doesn't sound so far-fetched to me, considering we've had prions and mad-cow disease in the past 20 years. Prions can survive being autoclaved, and come back to give you mad-cow disease.
Unseen is right when he points out that M-theory is controversial among scientists and it's for exactly the same reason: it cannot be tested. So you'll find a sizable crop of scientists that don't consider it to be science, either. The controversial aspect is that different models of M-theory actually can be tested, but only by using mathematical equations.
Basically, while there are such things as proofs in math, they just prove the math and have no implication for science without some actual measurements or quantities to use in place of the terms of the formula.
How about this then....
You state the key points of 'Stoned Ape' as you understand it so we can analyze it, ok?
Still waiting for you to state the key points of 'Stoned Ape' as you understand it so we can analyze it. Don't you want to clearly convey that idea to us?
@Heather Sure, I mean, maybe I could do better than the gross simplification of, "Oh, I like mushrooms, therefore they explain everything." This stuff is not analogous to "Oh, God did it," and one fact backing that is due to something I pointed out earlier which is that it's not like this type of fungi is extinct, it's not like they're seemingly non-existent such as, I don't know, the Christian deity. Quite the opposite, psilocybin-mushrooms are still quite extant and here with us right now.
@All that follow this thread -- While it's true that this is something you cannot prove, it is still something that one can extrapolate using what we know now about these things. I took the time to find an audio piece of Terence distilling this in concise form, and I found one towards the end of "Psychedelics in the Age of Intelligent Machines."
@Heather - I know you don't agree with the "visual acuity" portion, so feel free to skip over that part.
"I think that the answer lies in diet, generally, and in psychedelic chemistry in particular. I think that as the African continent grew drier, we were forced out of the ecological niche we had evolved into. We were canopy-dwelling primates, insectivores, complex signaling repertoire, evolutionary dead end. But when we came under nutritional pressure, we were flexible enough, and this is the key to humanness at every stage of its development, our maddening flexibility. Other animal and plant species can't react. We can. Our flexibility. We began to experiment with a new kind of diet, and to leave the trees and explore the new environment of the grassland, and evolving concomitantly in the grassland were various forms of ungulate animals, double stomached animals whose manure is the ideal medium for mushrooms, coprophilic mushrooms, dung-loving mushrooms, many of whom produce psilocybin.
Well, I myself in Kenya, have seen baboons spreading out over a grassland and noticed that their behavior is, they flick over old cow pies. Why? Because there are beetlegrubs there. So they already had a behavioral vector for nutrition, for protein that would lead them to investigate the cow pies. In the amazon, after a couple of days of fog and rain, these psilocybin mushrooms, Psilocybe Cubensis can be the size of dinner plates. In other words, you can't miss it if you're a foraging primate, you can't miss it. The taste is pleasant and psilocybin has unique characteristics, both as a hallucinogen and other properties that make it the obvious chemical trigger for higher processes, and I'll run through this quickly for you, but here it is:
In very low doses, doses where you wouldn't say you were stoned or loaded or anything like that, but just in doses you might obtain by nibbling as you foraged, it increases visual acuity. In other words, it's like a technological improvement on your vision. Chemical binoculars lying there in the grass. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out if an animal is a carnivorous forager and there's a food which improves its vision, those that avail themselves of that food will have greater success in obtaining food and rearing their children to sexual maturity, which is the name of the game in evolution.
So step one: Small doses of psilocybin increase visual acuity and food getting success. Step two: Slightly larger doses of psilocybin in primates create what's called arousal. This is what you have after a double cappuccino in highly sexed animals like primates, you get male erection. So what do you have here? You have a factor which increases what anthropologists without a trace of humor refer to as increased instances of successful copulation.
In other words, the animals eating the psilocybin are more sexually active, therefore more pregnancies are occurring, therefore more infants are being born, therefore there's a process which would tend to automatically outbreed the non-psilocybin using members of the population. Step two toward higher consciousness. Step three: You eat still more mushrooms. Now you're not foraging with sharpened fangs nor are you horsing around with your opposed gender acquaintances. Instead you're nailed to the ground in hallucinogenic ecstasy, and one of the amazing things about psilocybin above, say, five or six grams dried material, is it causes glossolalia - spontaneous spurts of language-like behavior under the obvious control of internal syntax. I believe syntax existed before spoken language, that syntax controls spatial behaviors and body languages and is not necessarily restricted to the production of vocal speech.
So there it is in a nutshell. We ate our way to higher consciousness. The mushroom made us better hunters, better survivors, among those in the population who used it, their sexual drive was increased, hence they outbred the more reluctant members of the tribe to get loaded, and finally, it created a kind neuroleptic seizure which led to downloading of these syntactically controlled vocalizations which became the raw material for the evolution of language and it's amazing to me that the straight people, the academics believe language is no more than 35,000 years old. That means it's as basic to human beings as the bicycle pump. It's something somebody invented 35,000 years ago. It's got nothing to do with primate evolution and the long march of the hominid and all that malarkey. No - it's just an ability, a use to which syntax can be put that previously had not been put, and before spoken language, things were very touchy-feely, and the wink and the nod carried you a great distance and gestural communication was very high.
That's why, and I should say this and then end, to me it begins and ends with these psychedelic substances. The synergy of the psilocybin in the hominid died brought us out of the animal mind and into the world of articulated speech and imagination. And technology developed and developed and mushrooms were in vade against faded, there was migrations, cultural change, but now, having split the atom, having sequenced our genome, having taken the temperature of Betelgeuse and all the rest of it, we're now back where we started.
And like the shaman who makes the journey into the well of darkness and returns with the pearl of immortality, you don't dwell in the well of darkness which was human history. You capture the essence of the thing, which is the god-like power of the shaman's myth, the technologist, the demon artificer, the worker of metals, the conjurer of spirits, and you carry that power back out of history, and it's in that dimension, outside of history, that you create true humanness and true community, and that's the adventure that we're in the act of undertaking."
If we, instead of arguing this, posited for a moment that this is how it happened, this is how we developed our "humanness," then imagine we'd have a totally different attitude towards these things. Millions and millions of people are being victimized,third-world poverty is being exacerbated, criminal syndicalism is flourishing, ordinary law-abiding people are being criminalized, people are being made to feel guilty about simply trying to understand their own spiritual yearnings and their own place in the cosmos. It's a tragic situation and it's retarding cultural transformation because these things are illegal.
Well, I think anyone who deals with this is always going to have skepticism. I believe as rationalists, I think we have no right to expect that this phenomenon exists. Most people don't know that it exists. So, it doesn't matter if you're a respected physicist or a professor of philosophy, if you do not have direct experience, you're always going to have this kind of skepticism toward it because nothing can convince you short of having the experience for yourself. I know if I hadn't had it for myself, I would probably have the same attitude and biases as Dawkins or Victor Stenger or any other doubter.
Now, I'm not saying that Terence's shtick IS how it happened, but just because we cannot go back and prove this, doesn't mean that it's not a plausible idea. I truly believe it's a reasonable thing to suppose and I believe that this phenomenon in consciousness elicited by psychedelics that Terence spoke so eloquently about should be more carefully looked at. You see, here's the legal history of how this all went down. In the middle '60s, somebody jumped out of a window and killed themself. Every newspaper in the country, if not the planet, did in-depth detailed maps, how this person walked to the balcony, the arrow showing the trajectory of his fall, the whole thing, etc. and LSD was legal at this time. So, there was a huge hue and cry of how it should be made illegal, this was in California. The California sate legislature with almost no debate, with no professional witnesses, with no scientific evidence placed before them, not only made LSD illegal, they made psilocybin, DMT, and anything that was described as a "hallucinogen" or even suspected to to have hallucinogenic effects was poured into this California drug bill. Well, then somebody 6 weeks later jumps out of a window somewhere else, this time it's not even clear that drugs were involved, but the mere suggestion that they might have been involved was enough to create a national debate. And the congress, rather than hold hearings and induce scientific evidence, said "just take the California statute and federalize it." So, what the consequences of this are is in the case of a substance such as psilocybin, no scientific evidence has ever been offered to any legislative body saying that there was anything wrong with it. It was specifically made illegal simply because it causes hallucination. No health risks were involved, nothing was known about psilocybin at that time. By the way, psilocybin had only been known to the western world when Gordon Wasson came across it in his trip to Mexico and published his findings in Time magazine in 1957. Only a ten year window was psilocybin decided to be made illegal and "unfit for society" without any scientific investigation into the compound. So, that's the first attack on these laws, they were not properly formulated in the first place. They were not based on reality or social need.
Second of all, DMT, it is now subsequently become known as an ordinary constituent of human metabolism. How can you make possession of this substance illegal when every man, woman, child on earth is holding? It's like the ultimate catch-22. We are all criminals all the time. They don't have to throw pot around your apartment, they could just draw blood from your good right arm and there's the damning evidence right there.
So, in the light of all this silliness, it would be seem logical, I think, to go back and have a scientific review and the complete revision of the scheduling of these drugs. Look at the scheduling, anyway! Schedule I. What is it? Compounds with absolutely no medical use whatsoever. Cannabis is in there, even though it's the preferred treatment for glaucoma and to suppress nausea in chemotherapy. Heroin is in there and then all psychedelics. You move to schedule II, and the first thing that jumps out at you is cocaine. Cocaine is schedule II. Marijuana is considered to be a more dangerous and more devastating drug than cocaine. Why? Because by the rules of the game, cocaine is used in certain medical procedures to anesthetize the optic nerves sometimes and to anesthetize certain nerves in the throat for certain forms of surgery, so because it has this obscure medical use, it's schedule II, and this doesn't make any sense at all.
These drug laws have never been rationally put in place. The original stigmatization of cannabis was carried on by the Hearst newspapers, because they spent a huge amount of money buying Canadian forest for news print just as the hemp industry was beginning to develop as a supplier for paper. And when they realized that they had badly invested in Canadian timber, they decided that they would put the hemp industry out of business. So, they discovered that it's "marijuana" among those "wily, dark-skinned folks south of the border who are so unclean and peculiar" and so they managed to attach it to a stigmatized racial group and managed to hound it out of existence.
This game has never been played fairly. It has always been played to benefit markets, capitalists, and producers, it has never been handled in a rational and scientific manner. But as George Carlin once said, "There's a reason." These substances which open up your mind and expand your consciousness and wake you up to realize how we're all being screwed by the big "red, white, and blue dick" as George Carlin called it are illegal because it plays against those powers put in place. The managerial class doesn't want critical thinkers because that makes people intractable, they want people who will accept without question whatever they're told. I think Carlin said it best, "It's called the American Dream, because you've got to be asleep to believe it."
Again, this is not about whether or not shrooms exist, or whether or not the offer an experience that seems like 'heightened consciousness'. It's about whether or not they could have driven the evolution of consciousness. Not only is there no basis for that claim - there is no mechanism to support it.
And again, I ask you - what is it that you are claiming that psilocibyn can offer society? Why do you insist it drove our evolution contrary to every known mechanism of selective pressure?
Your dogmatic assertions of McKenna's drivel are EXACTLY akin to religion. Even though his explanation for origins of consciousness are based on false claims and misunderstanding - you simply point to your own ignorance of evolution and say, "therefore mushrooms did it."
NO, it's just that you just choose to close-mindedly ignore everything I've laid out here. Did you pay attention to the third step involved? Apparently not. Your intractable attitude is quite parallel to religious people when they shut their ears and only hear what they want to hear. So, you see, I could say the same for you.
If you truly want to criticize this concept, maybe you should listen to "Plants, Consciousness, and Transformation," because you're not grasping it at all.
Please concisely layout step three then - because all I'm seeing is more drivel about how mushrooms made us better hunters (based on a false visual acuity claim, disregarding perceptual distortions unconducive to hunting), who had more children because of being more horny (doesn't work that way), and ultimately caused some genetic change that gave us higher consciousness (lamarckian fallacy).
It's not a Lamarckian fallacy, and the only reason you think it is, is because you don't understand it. I mean, I've typed out enough explanations, I've left dozens of links. I mean, I don't know what else is there to do... Should I send you 5 dried grams in the mail or something? Because you're clearly not getting it.
It's not simply a genetic change, the third step gives way as a catalyst for the imagination. They are catalysts for the imagination, they catalyze thought. Thought becomes more baroque, it reaches deeper into reality for data, and so what it does is by some degree transferring chaos into the mental world, it creates a much richer dynamic.
So thought processes become more complicated, and in a sense language becomes the behavior which expresses the imagination. Recall the glossolalia portion of Terence's shtick that I typed in the previous post. It can be expressed in a limited form, through dance, through gesture, and of course it can be expressed very well through painting.
If you’ve reached the stage where you have painting and are not chipping rock, or are not drawing in blood in the sand, and stuff like that, if you have a really rich technology behind your artistic intent, but that rich technology would have never arisen without the intercession of language.
And so, these two things which make us unique among nature's productions on this planet, imagination and language seem to be almost like the exterior and interior manifestation of the same thing, the same phenomenon. What it is, is it’s a facility with data, an ability to connect it in novel ways, and so Terence believed that psilocybin is catalyst for the imagination, but the third step is actually something that cannot be described, it is a boundary-dissolving, colossal, God-like experience and it was was probably the presence of the hallucinogenic experience in the life of early man that laid the very basis for the idea of spirit.
However, that is only a portion of it, if I can find some time, I'll try and find the links that elaborate on this third step, because it is definitely the most important of the three, the other are actually trivial in comparison.