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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Damn, come to think of it, I want to go hunting, on mushrooms, with a nerf gun!

Guns that don't kill and lots of colors? Isn't that just paintball?

No - this way I get Elk and colours that hum.

First of all, it's "Terence McKenna," spelled with one "r" in the first name.

@Ed The increase intensity of colour actually occurs on an active dose to mid-range dose. What Terence was referring to when he was talking about the "visual acuity" caused by psilocybin, were doses so light that one could conceivably forget that they had taken it. You wouldn't necessarily get visual distortions on very light doses, but you'd get sharpened edges, a suspension of astigmatism, etc. 

@Kris Feenstra A lot of people misrepresent Terence McKenna's work. For instance, if Heather was more familiar with Terence's work, she'd realize he didn't take the Timewave zero theory too seriously. Furthermore, McKenna advocated what he called a "heroic dose," which I'd wager most people have not have, especially theists or atheists. If you're interested in a further distillation of the "Stoned Ape hypothesis," I'd recommend the talk which I'll post below:

Plants, Consciousness, and Transformation

Definition of astigmatism

1. cause of blurred vision: an unequal curving of one or more of the refractive surfaces of the eye, usually the cornea.
2. optical lens defect: a defect in a lens or mirror that prevents light rays from meeting at a single point, producing an imperfect image

Question: According to definition 1., which is the one which is most applicable, it would seem that astigmatism is a physical defect which a drug could no more fix than having one leg shorter than the other.

Thus all these changes and improvements supposedly due to the drug are much more likely changes in belief about their perceptions rather than actual changes in the perceptions themselves.

In other words, they're fooling themselves.

Ed, I am sorry to say that hunger can be far more of a distraction than a measure of incentive and stealth. It tends to cause an anxiety, not a calm and resourceful mental status..  

I have done my share of mushrooms and LSD too. While most of the trips were “fun” there was always an introspective element to them where I would be aware of being “far out man”. At the time I would often note that I was experiencing something from an enhanced perspective or with special insight that was only available on that plane of consciousness. Looking back I would say that the experience was not really enhanced even if my senses felt heightened. I would say that while they were definite altered they were performing at a lower level than normal. It is just that everything has an intensity and gloss to it that might convince some that they are gaining a kind of arcane knowledge from it.  I think many of those insights or creative ideas people get would happen anyway if they just went into the forest for an afternoon or watched the waves for a few hours instead. Still walking around Stonehenge with Hawkwind playing in the woods on mid summers eve can have other rewards if you dig what I am sayin’ man!

Yes, a great sense of deep insight is common enough - yet with all the research that has been done (serious scientific research), we've never found that people high on acid or psilocybin have anything particularly valuable to contribute to problem solving or even dialog (beyond some good laughs).

Yet there are those who continue to profess that great insight can be gained and much can be learned from the adventures of the psychonaut - although they never seem to be able to document anything of merit.


Hello - Interesting discussion

I wish I had more time to be involved but you might be interested in this.

I do not consider myself a religious person in the usual sense, but there is a religious aspect to some highs. The heightened sensitivity in all areas gives me a feeling of communion with my surroundings, both animate and inanimate. Sometimes a kind of existential perception of the absurd comes over me and I see with awful certainty the hypocrisies and posturing of myself and my fellow men. And at other times, there is a different sense of the absurd, a playful and whimsical awareness. Both of these senses of the absurd can be communicated, and some of the most rewarding highs I’ve had have been in sharing talk and perceptions and humor. Cannabis brings us an awareness that we spend a lifetime being trained to overlook and forget and put out of our minds. A sense of what the world is really like can be maddening; cannabis has brought me some feelings for what it is like to be crazy, and how we use that word ‘crazy’ to avoid thinking about things that are too painful for us. In the Soviet Union political dissidents are routinely placed in insane asylums. The same kind of thing, a little more subtle perhaps, occurs here: ‘did you hear what Lenny Bruce said yesterday? He must be crazy.’ When high on cannabis I discovered that there’s somebody inside in those people we call mad.

Mr X by Carl Sagan


“Rational thought places a limit to a person’s relation to the cosmos”.

John Nash described his normal states of mind as: “Interludes of enforced rationality”

“To some extent, sanity is a form of conformity. People are selling the idea that mental illness is a form of suffering, but it’s really not so simple.”

John Forbes Nash - A Brilliant Madness

I agree with him.

and so do I.

Sagan was a cosmologist. His thoughts on drugs are no more relevant than William S. Burroughs'. Actually, I'd probably lean more toward Burroughs,

That passage sounds like an amalgam of all the college-age potheads that were around me in that stage of my life. 

One of the tricks drugs can play on one is in terms of making one imagine that one's perceptions are more than merely perceptions. That they are in some way deep or profound.

So we see an otherwise rational man saying nonsense like "The heightened sensitivity in all areas gives me a feeling of communion with my surroundings, both animate and inanimate." Communicating with inanimate objects sounds like exactly the thing a pothead might think is profound. "Man, I'm communing with my surroundings. I'm at one with my lawn jockey."

Anyway, there's nothing there that's verifiable in any way, and if it's not verifiable it's just something someone said.


Hi @Unseen - "One of the tricks drugs can play on one is in terms of making one imagine that one's perceptions are more than merely perceptions. That they are in some way deep or profound."

This is exactly why its not a drug for the already deluded. It IS an extreme mind altering drug.

So if your already someone prone to paranoia or very gullible then best leave it alone. I agree it can make some people feel very special,

But if youve got yourself together and are well informed and know a little bit then its brilliant. There is no trick.

and with Carl Sagan - he is a product of his time and his language demonstrates that but thats no reason to run down what he means or to make him appear naive.





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