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.
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...
I'm a bit fuzzy here. He's suggesting that a single generation adapted to consumption of psilocybin which was transmitted to subsequent generations, or that consumption of psilocybin magically rewired the dna of homo erectus into new and improved homo sapiens?
The second. Sorry for glossing over it so quickly but I didn't want to write a full report just to start a discussion. His claim is that consumption of magic mushrooms triggered speciation through increased visual acuity which improved hunting skills, and increased horniness which increased reproduction. The trouble being that the visual acuity/horniness wouldn't have been passed on, and we have yet to locate a 'find magic mushrooms' gene.
I see, I see. Although, I would see better if I was high as fuck on mushrooms.
Going on the gist, it basically boils down to either genetic changes through some inexplicable phenomenon, or behavioural changes which may facilitate survival and breeding, but with no demonstrable (or even hypothetical) impact on hominid genetics. Given the number of people who seem to hold genetics and magic as more or less the same thing, it is disconcerting.
Granted, I'd have to read up to better understand the position, but at this point I suspect it would be more for amusement than enlightenment.
I found his stuff fascinating at the time I was reading it - which was about the time some of the early search engines allowed me to look up some of the facts. I couldn't find anything about shrooms appearing on the African savanna 100,000 years ago or disappearing from that locale 12,000 years ago as he had stated rather matter-of-factly.
The claim of visual acuity referenced a paper by Robert Fischer which I actually had to go to the U of S to read - and it didn't talk about visual acuity. Rereading his statement I recall realizing he didn't directly state that Fischer made that claim but only suggested that it was a given considering the 'contraction of near spacial perception' (the reason people write so big while on shrooms).
Piece by piece it all fell apart, so I turned my attention to The Orion Mystery and Mayan Prophecies - two books that resulted in me learning to be far more skeptical of anything in print (let alone the internet).
Anyway, if McKenna were still alive, I am certain he would be on history channel's documentaries alongside Erich Von Daniken and that crazy haired mother fucker that explains all of his ignorance by inserting 'Aliens!'.
I thought we were done with psychotropic mushrooms when Carlos Castaneda finally admitted to being a fraud.
Don Juan Castenada was a fraud!?
You're kidding, right?
Well I didn't know he ever actually admitted to it. I only ever read one of those books.
I have to correct that. I thought he admitted to it, but he didn't. However, he was pretty thoroughly debunked in a famous Time Magazine cover article. My brother was really iinto him. All I could do was roll my eyes.
It's funny that I was reading Castenada about the same time as McKenna and then graduated to Robert Bauval and Maurice Cotterell. I swear that if Giorgio Tsoukalos were published back then I would have jumped all over his books as well. For a few years I really thought there might be something to some of that bullshit. No idea how I managed to over look Von Daniken.
My now ex, a German girl, was into von Daeniken when I met her. She eventually saw through him. His crackpot ideas are still being kept alive on the Ancient Aliens TV series which is on, of all things, the History channel. The History channel hardly has any actual history on it anymore, what with shows like "Ax Men," "Big Rig Bounty Hunters," "Pawn Stars," "Stan Lee's Superhumans," and "Top Gear." Every now and then they flog ancient Egypt one more time, but don't hold your breath waiting for a show about the Hohenzollerns, President Garfield, or the Ming Dynasty.
My dad bought a von Daeniken book and I so mercilessly ridiculed it that he tossed it out in shame. It took 8 months to banish that book.