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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"evolutionary theory attributes to this "dramatic emergence"?"

I hypothesize: Language

The ability to form abstract concepts, to form, say the concept of "rock" and realize which objects it applies to and recognize new instances of rocks as being "rocks". 

Very closely related to language.

Curiously, animals seem to be born hard-wired with some concepts (the ability to classify some objects as a certain type despiite wide disparities in appearance). My cat can recognize that a dog is a dog, be it a chihuahua or a doberman. Arched back, ears laid back, hissing. That is rather remarkable if you think about it.

You may say that perhaps that is just her response to an unfamiliar animal, but I doubt she'd respond that way to a sheep and she certainly wouldn't respond that way to a squirrel. She'd respond as a predator would. She can somehow recognize other predators.

Disagree. You can form all the abstract concepts you want while gazing at your belly button. Actually being able to communicate those concepts is what counts from an evolutionary perspective. To me the first people who were able understand that "Uh Uh" means, "don't go down that path - a tiger lives there" and that "uh huh" means, "yes,  there's a grove of berries and scantily-clad females that way", would be more likely to propagate their bigger brain power.

Nevertheless, the great embarrassment to evolutionary theory, is the human neocortex. Well, why is this an embarrassment? Because it's the organ that thought up the theory of evolution. So you know, can you say tautology? 

Now he's trotting out the tired, old tautology argument, only he's not paraphrasing it well enough to hold together coherently. Ann Coulter put it like this:

"The second prong of Darwin's "theory" is generally nothing but a circular statement: Through the process of natural selection, the "fittest" survive. Who are the "fittest"? The ones who survive! Why look – it happens every time! The "survival of the fittest" would be a joke if it weren't part of the belief system of a fanatical cult infesting the Scientific Community. The beauty of having a scientific theory that's a tautology is that it can't be disproved".

The tautology argument is ridiculous because it's directed against the wording of the phrase "survival of the fittest" and not the substance of the theory it describes: natural selection. (It's so fatuous I'm more inclined to think Coulter is being cynical to prop up her book sales rather than genuinely being that stupid.)

And even if we do not yet understand exactly how consciousness works, we do understand that natural selection was ultimately responsible for the formation of every biological structure known to exist in nature, including the neocortex.

The citation is there, but even if you want to dismiss it, Heather, like I pointed out, this is just one causal effect in a series of factors that work into McKenna's hypothesis, and as I mentioned, the "visual acuity" portion isn't central to his hypothesis.

Even if you were to disregard "visual acuity," you'd still have a slew of other factors involved, most important of these is the "full-spectrum dose" which McKenna felt was the catalyst that prompted us into human consciousness, the so-called "mystical experience," the boundary-dissolving "ego death" experience. I'm not sure what you're attempting to do here, because the hypothesis isn't as simple as, "Oh, early apes ate low doses of mushrooms, acquired visual acuity, and so therefore this allowed them to flourish and have better adaptive/survival chances, etc. etc., which eventually led somehow to evolve to human consciousness, etc." It's not that simple, but you don't seem to grasp that.

I've re-posted this from another location in this thread.

Jimmy, do you know the difference between a hypotheses and a scientific hypothesis? I mean this as a sincere question.

1. Marshall Applewhite put forth the hypothesis that a space vessel was trailing the Hale-Bopp comet, which had arrived to transport him to an empyrean destination. His followers claimed the government was suppressing the truth of his claims. 

2. L. Ron Hubbard put forth the hypothesis that the emperor of the galaxy visited the earth in ancient times, committed mass murder here, and the disembodied thought patterns of these ancient dead victims still cling to the living today, and are the source of unhappiness.

3. Terence McKenna put forth the hypothesis that magic mushrooms were the product of an extraterrestrial civilization that had engineered them to survive the journey through interstellar space.

4. Terrence McKenna put forth the hypothesis in 1989 that "concrescence will occur soon - around 2012 A.D. It will be the entry of our species into hyperspace, but it will appear to be the end of physical laws accompanied by the release of the mind into the imagination." (Can anyone read that with a straight face, let alone explain what actually means?)

Which of these is a scientific hypothesis? If you don't know the answer immediately, then you don't know enough about science to be discussing the subject intelligently.

Some of McKenna's work is interesting in the same sense that Philip K. Dick's work is interesting. But from what I have seen of McKenna's work, very little is scientific. Sometimes this is because his writing is woo-woo, but it's also because what McKenna proposes is untestable. And in one rare "testable" example-- his prediction that physical laws would end in 2012-- his work didn't exactly pass the test given that it's now 2013.

Hypothesize all you want, but if the hypothesis did not arise from observation (meaning the hypothesis itself contains no data) and the hypothesis is untestable, then it's essentially useless in a scientific sense. That is what Heather means by junk science.

Well, Terence didn't take Timewave zero as seriously as you guys are panning out, and it was never considered hypothesis, it was a theory of McKenna's.

The only hypothesis that Terence ever made was the "Stoned Ape" concept of his.

And the only reason she's calling it junk science is because she's under the impression she has found a fault in it, and is attacking probably the meekest portion of the hypothesis, there are other factors involved in it, you do realize? Well, I'd also point out Dr. Rick Strassman's work that he publicized in a little book entitled "DMT: The Spirit Molecule," which I think supports the other factor which I mentioned of the "heroic dose," which McKenna spent a lifetime emphasizing, but which is obviously overlooked in this thread.

And furthermore, the reason you cannot find archaeological evidence of mushroom use over 40,000 years ago is simply because mushrooms are soft-bodied and dissolve quite easily. However, I say 40,000 years, because there has been evidence at least that far of mushrooms being preserved in honey.

Well, Terence didn't take Timewave zero as seriously as you guys are panning out, 

Crackpot: Time will end in 2012.
Me: How do we know that?
Crackpot: I calculated it using a computer model. I call it Timewave Zero.
Me: I see. Well, 2012 came and went. Time didn't end.
Crackpot: Uh, well. About that. I wasn't being as serious as you made me out to be.

Priceless, Jimmy.

...and it was never considered hypothesis, it was a theory of McKenna's.

In science, a scientific theory refers to the most comprehensive, verified, reliable, rigorously-tested body of empirical knowledge there is, in contrast to a scientific hypothesis, which is a testable speculation based on observable evidence.

So in an effort to make McKenna's "Timewave Woo-Woo" look more speculative, you actually chose language that did the opposite, taking T0 from the conjecture of a hypothesis to the solidity of a theory. But by your own admission, T0 was neither a scientific hypothesis nor a scientific theory, or even something ever to take seriously at all. So how is that not junk science?

And furthermore, the reason you cannot find archaeological evidence of mushroom use over 40,000 years ago is simply because mushrooms are soft-bodied and dissolve quite easily. However, I say 40,000 years, because there has been evidence at least that far of mushrooms being preserved in honey.

Likewise for Stoned Ape. By your own admission there is no data. It cannot be tested. So it is not a scientific hypothesis either. More junk science.

As a result there is nothing to research and nothing to discuss. Stoned Ape might be a hypothesis and it might be interesting to contemplate while you drool on your shoes, but it is not science.

There is nothing to research and nothing to discuss? Folks, folks, science doesn't stop just because we have nothing to measure. This, to me, just seems like the hypercorrection of atheists being caught up with what they may believe to be the "formality" of science.

@Gallup's Mirror You know, there is a form of science that lies at the very frontier of science which doesn't require measure, but instead relies on extrapolation and huge leaps of logic, and that is string theory or M-theory. Perhaps you're one of those atheists that doesn't consider something like M-Theory "science" or maybe you believe it's more "junk science." I'm not sure.

"Disbelief in The Scientific Method"

Many top theoretical physicists regard string- and M-theory as pseudoscience. Unfortunately for them, doing standard science is boring compared to conjuring up unproveable "huge leaps of logic." This is why Michio Kaku, Brian Greene and others get TV time. 

It's easy to stir up interest with wild theories. You'll get people's attention. The lay public's attention isn't held for long by boring discussions critiquing exciting speculation. It's not good TV.

This may be why the supposed benefits of psychedelics can get people interested enough to buy books and watch videos: it's a lot more exciting than work that might be true and it gives their personal interest in recreational drugs a kind of fig leaf.

You see, a lot of of what's asserted about the benefits of psychedelic drugs and string theory isn't true. It's not even false. This is because the relevant assertions are basically unfalsifiable. The logical basis of scientific investigation has a requirement that must be met before an assertion even makes sense: it must, at least in principle if not fact, be disprovable. If you're asserting something that isn't falsifiable, you're really not saying anything at all. 

String- and M-theory are just speculation for now, and may remain so forever. They are not quite on a par with assertions having no connection with science, like a belief in God, but for now they are just things to talk about until/unless some way is discovered to test them.

I don't think these are simply "wild theories." Michio Kaku's initial interest in physics was to seek Einstein's "unfinished work." Which, of course, I suppose you could define many ways, but a complete understanding of how reality works simplified down to a one-inch equation or in Einstein's words, he wanted to "read the mind of God." And so, to regard something like M-Theory as "pseudo-science" seems a little specious, because it's really the only best shot science has at describing how reality works on all levels, how it works in our every day experience, on a quantum level, what goes on in a black hole, etc.

Einstein used the word God in reference to the laws of nature, not the Hebrew God, or the Christian God, which he did not believe in. (See the letter below, which is one of a great many similar statements Einstein made throughout the course of his life.)

And so, to regard something like M-Theory as "pseudo-science" seems a little specious, because it's really the only best shot science has at describing how reality works on all levels, how it works in our every day experience, on a quantum level, what goes on in a black hole, etc.

That statement does not follow, Jimmy. It also demonstrates, as you have done repeatedly throughout this thread, that you are appallingly ignorant of what the scientific method does. If it cannot be tested then we cannot know if it is really true. Ultimately that is what science does: it requires a standard of proof which is used to separate what is true from what is not true.

High stakes-- the explanation for reality itself-- does not grant science a 'get out of jail free' card in this regard. Because absent the ability to test it, we cannot know if it is true or not. That is not science.


Saranac Lake N.Y.
July 2nd, 1945
Ensign Guy H. Raner, Jr. (C) USNR
USS Bougainville (CVE 109)
c.o. Fleet Post Office
San Francisco, Cal.
Dear Mr. Raner:
I received your letter of June 10th. I have never talked to a Jesuit priest in my life and I am astonished by the audacity to tell such lies about me.
From the viewpoint of a Jesuit priest I am, of course, and have always been an atheist. Your counter-arguments seem to me very correct and could hardly be better formulated. It is always misleading to use anthropomorphical concepts in dealing with things outside the human sphere – childish analogies. We have to admire in humility the beautiful harmony of the structure of this world – as far as we can grasp it. And that is all.
With best wishes,
Yours sincerely,

Albert Einstein


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