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.
"that the results performed a miraculous one-time instance of Lamarckian inheritance,"
I am not deffending McKenna , but epigenetic changes can be inheritable. So the basic idea behind Lamarckian inheritance has been proven to occur.
We used to think that a new embryo's epigenome was completely erased and rebuilt from scratch. But this isn't completely true. Some epigenetic tags remain in place as genetic information passes from generation to generation, a process called epigenetic inheritance.
Epigenetic inheritance is an unconventional finding. It goes against the idea that inheritance happens only through the DNA code that passes from parent to offspring. It means that a parent's experiences, in the form of epigenetic tags, can be passed down to future generations.
As unconventional as it may be, there is little doubt that epigenetic inheritance is real. In fact, it explains some strange patterns of inheritance geneticists have been puzzling over for decades"
An author named A. Bird?!!!
So there exist actual people who can claim "A. Bird told me."
Sorry, couldn't resist.
Can't even imagine the ribbing he must get from time to time.
One can only hope he was 6'4"
Thanks for putting that out here so clearly, Brian. Absolutely fascinating, when our members decant complex concepts into readable paragraphs.
Yes, epigenetics may not persist over the long term, especially when the selection pressure behind epigenetic changes dont persist. But they may persist just long enough for ,the normally slow , genetic changes to catch up to changing selection pressures.
That is also why i said "So the basic idea behind Lamarckian inheritance has been proven to occur." and not "so lamarckian inheritence has been proven to occur".
Let me try to better clarify what i mean.
Firstly i am not defending any ape theory and i know little more about Mckenna than that he took a lot of drugs, and often said things you would expect someone extremely high to say. I also doubt that what i am talking about plays any real major role in any organism much more intricate than yeast.
Now unless i completely misunderstood this ,a very real possibility, it seems to show that it is possible for an inheritable epigenetic change to increase the fitness of the yeast line long enough for mutations in the actual dna to catch up with the changing environmental pressures.
I'm not sure if you're the same Akers as the Brian P. Akers that posted on Reality Sandwich, but I noticed you typed (if it was you), and I'll quote it below...
As some know, I can affirm, profound phenomena of consciousness elicited by psilocybin (such as recently verified by Griffiths et al.) are of great interest and importance.
I went on to read the rest of the article, and even the comments below it, and I found that your criticism seems to focus on the first two steps, which if you had read the backlog posts here, I maintain are trivial. So trivial, in fact, that they could even be cast aside, because the crux of Terence's 'theory' resides in the third step, of which, I'm sure you're familiar with if you're the same Akers that wrote that article. Although, throughout the entire article, it's not even mentioned!
Okay, Mr. Akers, you seem to have a very strong bias against psychedelics based on a lot of comments you typed on YouTube, yet you still have a YouTube handle like "FungusWhisperer." Seems peculiar enough, I guess...
Well, I've got one more video for you, FungusWhisperer, for your entertainment. Maybe you could comment on this one, too.
I was the impression that 'mushrooms' as a living structure/life form goes back to atleast 130 million years. There have been fossil structures very similar to your standard 'mushroom' , called 'Prototaxis', which stood up to 9 meters tall, if memory serves.
There is no reason to not assume that fungi were atleast part of the early human diet. Anyone know of any fossil or cultural remains to support this?
If fungi were consumed, I expect that there were a few bad or interesting experiences. What would have been the cultural effect?
The rest, seems to be just more wuwu, with a few of our fellow travelors trying to 'make sense out of non-sense'...
I could easily bypass, perhaps even nod in agreement, with the supposition that hallucinogenic mushrooms (amongst other exotic substances) shaped the development of civilization - giving power to Shamans, currency to merchants, and stereoscopic, colour animations to the first couch potatoes. It all makes for great conversation.
McKenna completely bypasses the opportunity for such compelling discourse, however. He makes bold claims about selective pressures, citing works that state the opposite of what he claims they state, all the while ignoring the complete absence in the modern era of this chemical upon which he claims that human sanity and civilization are dependent. The intellectual dishonestly of it all would be laughable if it weren't for the number of devotees that seem to be attracted to exactly that: intellectual dishonesty.
I am responding again in order to more directly address your post in the context of McKenna's assertions. The type of evidence that McKenna could have furnished which would have satisfied me that his conjectures were real scientific postulations would be any type of evidence that might lead to his conjectures. That is to say, if I were to strip away all of his rhetoric and rambling and present only his evidence to a number of educated, intelligent people - a few of them might arrive at the same ideas that spawned his 'theory'.
To give a more concrete, although hypothetical, example - consider the following. Scientists discover that the vast majority of mammals, when exposed to considerably high doses of magic mushrooms, experience either lethal toxicity or significant psychological damage from the dose. Further examination reveals that humans have a rather unique neural receptor that allows us to process much higher levels of psilocybin - greatly reducing the possibility of such negative side-effects. Yet another study identifies the protein in our DNA that codes for this neural ability as well as its placement - a genetic signature that shows an amount of variation across our population that suggests it first occurred (or began being selected for) about 750,000 years ago. Given this evidence, I believe that any reasonable person could find it reasonable to at least suspect high levels of human/psilocybin contact at about that time. Furthermore, I feel it would be reasonable to suspect that magic mushrooms might have been the source of the psilocybin.
At this point, one could test the idea. Do all our ancestors stem from a common lineage leading from that point in history? Did that line of ancestors ever inhabit a land/climate that could have at least supported the wide propagation of such mushrooms? Could there have been other, more readily available sources?
That, to me, would be scientific.
Thank you Heather.