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[top]Terence McKenna's "Stoned Ape" Theory of Human Evolution

Terence McKenna was the first proponent of this theory, which theorizes that as the North African jungles receded toward the end of the most recent ice age, giving way to grasslands, a branch of our tree-dwelling primate ancestors left the branches and took up a life out in the open - following around herds of ungulates, nibbling what they could along the way.

Among the new items in their diet were psilocybin-containing mushrooms growing in the dung of these ungulate herds. The changes caused by the introduction of this drug to the primate diet were many -- McKenna theorizes, for instance, that synesthesia (the blurring of boundaries between the senses) caused by psilocybin led to the development of spoken language: the ability to form pictures in another person's mind through the use of vocal sounds. About 12,000 years ago, further climate changes removed the mushroom from the human diet, resulting in a new set of profound changes in our species as we reverted to pre-mushroomed and frankly brutal primate social structures that had been modified and/or repressed by less frequent consumption of psilocybin.

McKenna's theory is necessarily based on a great deal of supposition interpolating between the few fragmentary facts we know about hominid and early human history. In addition, because McKenna (who describes himself as "an explorer, not a scientist") is also a proponent of much wilder suppositions, his more reasonable theories are usually disregarded by the very scientists whose informed criticism is crucial for their development. In a review of his book Food of the gods, Village Voice stated 'if only a fraction of Mckenna thoughts are true, he will someday be regarded as the Copernican for consciousness'

This page links to resources that should help to fill in some of the gaps with the theory with data from various sciences and will try to address other cultural myths about Apes unprecedentedly quick brain and minds evolution from Ape to Human.

"The 20th century mind is nostalgic for the paradise that once existed on the mushroom-dotted plains of Africa, where the plant-human symbiosis occurred that pulled us out of the animal body and into the tool-using, culture-making, imagination-exploring creature that we are." - Mckenna

[top]Human Plant Symbiosis

Mutualistic symbiosis in biology means two distinct types of life form that have mutual benefit from their company. A example would be a sucker fish that lives off of plankton on a whale's back; by this the relationship both partners gain an evolutionary, survival and biological advantage; the whale gets cleaned and seems to enjoy the sensory contact aspect, and the fish gets food and protection by the huge whale. Likewise, as plants have come to depend on humans for the dispersal of seeds and other benefits, Mckenna posited that it was very likely that we in turn benefited from forest vegetation, including the psychedelic mushrooms.

It was later determined that some mushrooms do rely symbiotically on mammals to aid in spore dissemination. Some fungi and mushrooms can survive through our digestive system and germinate after being excreted, sometimes referred to as coprophilic mushrooms.

[top]Apes use of plants as medicine


At Gombe Steam National Park was one of the fist institutions that noticed Apes would tend to even eat food that they did not appear to like the taste of, or were not able to digest very well. Despite previously not enjoying this food, the Apes would still selectively go looking for it [1] Eventually a redish oil was found called Rhiarubrine-A. Neil Towers of British Columbia University soon found out that this oil kills bacteria in their dozens, but just below the significant 10 in a million to make it clinically dangerous. [2]

Thus it seemed that even if the food they learn to eat was unpleasant, if it has a positive effect on it's well being, health or mind in some way, they would tend to continue eating it by self medicating themselves through their choice of food selection from their surrounding natural pharmacy [3][4][5]

Since other animals enjoy psychoactive drugs, like cats love catnip, or monkeys enjoy alcohol they scrounge from humans, it is only natural to expect chimps to also; and numerous studies have found this if they enjoy the medicinal effects they continue to ingest it despite of the taste [5][6] This is sometimes referred to zoopharmacognosy [7][8][9] The basic premise of zoo- pharmacognosy is that animals utilize plant secondary compounds or other non-nutritional substances to medicate themselves. Among primatologists a major focus of concern about plant secondary compounds in the diet has been on how and why pri- mates can cope with their presence

[top]You are what you think, as well as what you eat

Rather than theorizing our sudden evolution was merely due to an expanded diet as our ancestors moved around, Mckenna argues there is a a primary factor often overlooked, and he made the argument for a select few psychedelic foods we found, that centuries of ingesting and experimenting with set us down the road of evolving into the true Humans we are today. Back then each encounter with a new food would have been thought of the same, whether it was a fruit, a drug or an insect a lot of care would at first have to be taken.

As our diets increased so did our perception of varieties of new foods and tastes, Gastronomy was born shortly after our taste for novel pharmacology, which must have preceded it, as maintenance of health and thought is a regulation of diet seen in most animals.[10]

Mckenna explains how the mental changes elicited from psychedelics may have played an even bigger role than the nutritional diet in how we evolved socially and culturally here:

"The primate tendency to form dominance heirarchies was temporarily interrupted for about 100,000 years by the psilocybin in the paleolithic diet. This behavioral style of male dominance was chemically interrupted by psilocybin in the diet, so it allowed the style of socialorganization called partnership to emerge, and that that occurred during the period when language, altruism, planning, moral values, esthetics, music and so forth -- everything associated with humanness -- emerged during that period. About 12,000 years ago, the mushrooms left the human diet because they were no longer available, due to climatological change and the previous tendency to form dominance hierarchies re-emerged. So, this is what the historic dilemma is: we have all these qualities that were evolved during the suppression of male dominance that are now somewhat at loggerheads with the tendency of society in a situation of re-established male dominance.

The paleolithic situation was orgiastic and this made it impossible for men to trace lines of male paternity, consequently there was no concept of 'my children' for men. It was 'our children' meaning 'we, the group.' This orgiastic style worked into the effects of higher doses of psilocybin to create a situation of frequent boundary dissolution. That's what sexuality is, on one level, about and it's what psychedelics, on another level, are about. With the termination of this orgiastic, mushroom using style of existence, a very neurotic and repressive social style emerged which is now worldwide and typical of western civilization." (Terence McKenna: Mushrooms Sex and Society Interview by Philip H. Farber)

[top]The evolutionary benefits of novel psychedelics

Mckenna comments that although his theory focuses mainly on mushrooms there is far more broader scope for a vast array of other psychoactives[10].

The mutation-inducing influence of diet on early humans and the effect of exotic metabolites on the evolution of their neurochemistry and culture is still unstudied territory. The early hom- inids' adoption of an omnivorous diet and their discovery of the power of certain plants were decisive factors in moving early humans out of the stream of animal evolution and into the fast-rising tide of language and culture. Our remote ancestors discovered that certain plants, when self-administered, suppress appetite, diminish pain, supply bursts of sudden energy, confer immunity against pathogens, and synergize cognitive activities. These discoveries set us on the long journey to self-reflection. Once we became tool-using omnivores, evolution itself changed from a process of slow modification of our physical form to a rapid definition of cultural forms by the elaboration of rituals, languages, writing, mnemonic skills, and technology.

[top]From lower consciousness to higher consciousness


Mckennas contention was that is was just not variety in physical food alone that aided the expansion and sudden power of the human mind to evolve, that means various plant alkaloids would have to be involved, and some of these would be DMT, Psilocybin and Harmalin.

In research done back in the 1960's by Roland Fisher, which has been left unchallenged since, experimented by giving students small doses of psilocybin and then testing their visual acuity by moving lines around on a piece of paper. He found that their visual accuracy and awareness of surrounding visual stimuli was greatly improved [11] Unfortunately due it's legality only limited further tests have been done, but many subjective reports report the same at threshold dosages. If this is the case, for a species of tree dwelling primates and hunter gatherers this would provide a tremendous advantage in hunting for food and climbing trees. And they would have to come down out of the trees out of their comfort zone to do this, as the only place this miracle hunting food grew was on the floor of the forest, thus starting the human evolutionary process.

[top]The next major steps for the full evolution of humankind

The main three advantages McKenna identified as being of critical importance to the survival of Apes are that in higher doses, McKenna claims, the mushroom acts as a sexual stimulator, which would make it even more beneficial evolutionary (it would result to more offspring), and at even higher doses the mushroom would have given humans the ability for self-reflection, which McKenna believed was unique to humans, and the first truly religious experiences (which, as he believed, were the basis for the foundation of all subsequent religions to date). Another factor that McKenna talked about was the mushroom's potency to promote linguistic thinking. This would have promoted vocalization, which in turn would have acted in cleansing the brain (based on a scientific theory that vibrations from speaking cause the precipitation of impurities from the brain to the cerebrospinal fluid), which would further mutate our brain.

All these factors according to McKenna were the most important factors that promoted our evolution towards the Homo sapiens species. After this transformation took place, our species would have begun moving out of Africa to populate the rest of the planet Later on[10].

Mckenna points out many consciousness catalyzing effects on human development when we realized that there were opiate plants that made us not feel pain, stimulants that enabled us boundless energy, psychoactives that enabled deep states of introspection and changes to sensory acuity, tranquilizing agents to aid sleep and rest and other consciousness catalyzing efffects. The question becomes not did ancient man use such agents, that would be unavoidable, but how much various cultures did[10].

[top]Sensory

Noticeable changes to the audio, visual, and tactile senses may become apparent around an hour after ingestion. These shifts in perception visually include enhancement and contrasting of colors, strange light phenomena (such as auras or "halos" around light sources), increased visual acuity, surfaces that seem to ripple, shimmer, or breathe; complex open and closed eye visuals of form constants or images, objects that warp, morph, or change solid colors; a sense of melting into the environment, and trails behind moving objects. Sounds seem to be heard with increased clarity; music, for example, can often take on a profound sense of cadence and depth. Some users experience synesthesia, wherein they perceive, for example, a visualization of color upon hearing a particular sound [13] Similar psychedelics such as marijuana are used to increase visual acuity for conditions like glaucoma as well as for therapeutic use in numerous conditions, including pain, stroke, cancer, obesity, osteoporosis, fertility, neurodegenerative diseases, multiple sclerosis, and inflammatory diseases, among others[26], and further studies have been done on it's enhancement of visual accuracy and general benefits to the retina at nighttime as well as in the day time.[27][28] These seem especially true when the subject is moving and not in a stationary position[29].

[top]Increased spirituality


In 2006, the United States government funded a randomized and double-blinded study by Johns Hopkins University, which studied the spiritual effects of psilocybin in particular. That is, they did not use mushrooms specifically (in fact, each individual mushroom piece can vary wildly in psilocybin and psilocin content[14] ). The study involved 36 college-educated adults (average age of 46) who had never tried psilocybin nor had a history of drug use, and who had religious or spiritual interests. The participants were closely observed for eight-hour intervals in a laboratory while under the influence of psilocybin mushrooms[15] .

One-third of the participants reported that the experience was the single most spiritually significant moment of their lives and more than two-thirds reported it was among the top five most spiritually significant experiences. Two months after the study, 79% of the participants reported increased well-being or satisfaction; friends, relatives, and associates confirmed this. They also reported anxiety and depression symptoms to be decreased or completely gone. Despite highly controlled conditions to minimize adverse effects, 22% of subjects (8 of 36) had notable experiences of fear, some with paranoia. The authors, however, reported that all these instances were "readily managed with reassurance."[15]

[top]As Medicine

There have been calls for medical investigation of the use of synthetic and mushroom-derived psilocybin for the development of improved treatments of various mental conditions, including chronic cluster headaches,[16] following numerous anecdotal reports of benefits. There are also several accounts of psilocybin mushrooms sending both obsessive-compulsive disorders ("OCD") and OCD-related clinical depression (both being widespread and debilitating mental health conditions) into complete remission immediately and for up to months at a time, compared to current medications which often have both limited efficacy[17] and frequent undesirable side-effects.[18] The effect of mushrooms to break OCD habits when applied to primates would be a lot more apparent, as animals operate on habits and instincts with less conscious introspection than humans do.
"Developing drugs that are more effective and faster acting for the treatment of OCD is of utmost importance and until recently, little hope was in hand. A new potential avenue of treatment may exist. There are several reported cases concerning the beneficial effects of hallucinogenic drugs (psilocybin and LSD), potent stimulators of 5-HT2A and 5-HT2C receptors, in patients with OCD (Brandrup and Vanggaard, 1977, Rapoport, 1987, Moreno and Delgado, 1997) and related disorders such as body dysmorphic disorder (Hanes, 1996)."[19]


[top]Emotional evolution


As with other psychedelics such as LSD, the experience, or "trip," is strongly dependent upon set and setting. A negative environment could likely induce a bad trip, whereas a comfortable and familiar environment would allow for a pleasant experience. Many users find it preferable to ingest the mushrooms with friends, people they're familiar with, or people that are also 'tripping', although neither side of this binary is without exception.[18][19] This would make users more socially aware of who they are emotionally close to, and give an amount of introspection into their emotions they would not have without the use of the psychedelics.

[top]Archeological evidence



There is some archaeological evidence for their use in ancient times. Several mesolithic rock paintings from Tassili n'Ajjer (a prehistoric North African site identified with the Capsian culture) have been identified by author Giorgio Samorini as possibly depicting the shamanic use of mushrooms, possibly Psilocybe.[20] Hallucinogenic species of Psilocybe have a history of use among the native peoples of Mesoamerica for religious communion, divination, and healing, from pre-Columbian times up to the present day.

Mushroom-shaped statuettes found at archaeological sites seem to indicate that ritual use of hallucinogenic mushrooms is quite ancient.[21] Mushroom stones and motifs have been found in Mayan temple ruins in Guatemala,[22] though there is considerable controversy as to whether these objects indicate the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms or whether they had some other significance with the mushroom shape being simply a coincidence. More concretely, a statuette dating from ca. 200 AD and depicting a mushroom strongly resembling Psilocybe mexicana was found in a west Mexican shaft and chamber tomb in the state of Colima. Hallucinogenic Psilocybe were known to the Aztecs as teonanácatl (literally "divine mushroom" - agglutinative form of teó (god, sacred) and nanácatl (mushroom) in Náhuatl) and were reportedly served at the coronation of the Aztec ruler Moctezuma II in 1502. Aztecs and Mazatecs referred to psilocybin mushrooms as genius mushrooms, divinatory mushrooms, and wondrous mushrooms, when translated into English.[22] Bernardino de Sahagún reported ritualistic use of teonanácatl by the Aztecs, when he traveled to Central America after the expedition of Hernán Cortés.

At present, hallucinogenic mushroom use has been reported among a number of groups spanning from central [23] Mexico to Oaxaca, including groups of Nahua, Mixtecs, Mixe, Mazatecs,[24] Zapotecs, and others.

[top]Current research


Although not often framed in the psycho-pharmacological context of psychedelic consuming humans in prehistory, the ever evolving field of epigenetic inheritance of behavioral traits seems to add some plausibility to the stoned ape theory previously not allowed by genetic determinism based ideologies. The extent to which behavioral traits based on changes to gene expression, from states of mind and perception, is still a matter of scientific contention.

[top]Criticism


Many people have accused the theory of only focusing on psilocybin, when there are numerous other psychedelic candidates that could satisfy the same criterion.

Andy Letcher, Author of Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom, comments on his blog:

There’s a danger here that if we don’t question ourselves we’ll end up ossifying into a kind of entheogism, replete with its own mythology, founding fathers, saints, orthodoxies and cherished truths. I’m with the brothers McKenna: it behoves us to question.

So, to restate my position: that these strange, daubed figures might indeed depict psilocybin mushrooms, used within a shamanistic context, remains a possibility but one that is far from proven and which rests on several unsupported assertions.
[30]
[top]References

[1] Huffman, Michael (2007) Current evidence for self-medication in primates: A multidisciplinary perspective - YEARBOOK OF PHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGY 40:171–200 

[2] G. H. Neil Towers (1996) 'Leaf-swallowing by chimpanzees: A behavioral adaptation for the control of strongyle nematode infections' - International Journal of Primatology August 1996, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 475-503

[3] Dale H. Clayton Nathan D. Wolfe (1998) The adaptive significance of self-medication Volume 8, Issue 2, February 1993, Pages 60–63

[4] Andrew Fowler, Yianna Koutsioni, Volker Sommer (2007) Leaf-swallowing in Nigerian chimpanzees: evidence for assumed self-medication January 2007, Volume 48, Issue 1, pp 73-76

[5] Harold Altshuler (1975) 'Intragastric self-administration of psychoactive drugs by the rhesus monkey' Volume 17, Issue 6, 15 September, Life Sciences Pages 883–890

[6] Glander KE (1994) Nonhuman primate self-medication with wild plant foods - University of Arizona Press, pp. 239–256.

[7] Huffman, A (2001) 'Self-Medicative Behavior in the African Great Apes: An Evolutionary Perspective into the Origins of Human Traditional Medicine 'BioScience 51(8):651-661. 2001

[8] Huffman MA et al (1994) 'The diversity of medicinal plant use by chimpanzees in the wild.' Chimpanzee Cultures. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, pp. 129–148.

[9] Rodriguez E et al (1993) Zoopharmacog 'The use of medicinal plants by animals. In KR Downum, JT Romeo, and H Stafford' Recent Advances in Phytochemistry, vol. 27: Phytochemical Potential of Tropic Plants. New York: Plenum, pp. 89–105.

[10] Terence McKenna (1999) 'Food of the gods: the search for the original tree of knowledge: a radical history of plants, drugs, and human evolution - Medical Book Publication

[11] Fischer, Roland; Hill, Richard (1970). "Psilocybin-Induced Contraction of Nearby Visual Space". Agents and Actions 1 (4): 190–197.

[13] D.M. Turner Psilocybin Mushrooms: The Extraterrestrial Invasion Of Earth? The Essential Psychedelic Guide - By D. M. Turner, First Printing - September 1994 Copyright ©1994 by Panther Press ISBN 0-9642636-1-0

[14] Stafford PJ. (1992). Psychedelics Encyclopedia. Berkeley, California: Ronin Publishing. ISBN 0-914171-51-8

[15] Griffins et al Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance Psychopharmacology187(3):268-83. August 2006.

[16] Arran Frood (2007) Cluster Busters NATURE MEDICINE VOLUME 13 | NUMBER 1 | JANUARY 2007, Paper endorsed and made public by MAPS.

[17] Christopher Wiegand, M.D (2060) Safety, Tolerability, and Efficacy of Psilocybin in 9 Patients With Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder J Clin Psychiatry. 2006 Nov;67(11):1735-40.

[18] Stamets, Paul (1996) Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World. Ten Speed Press. ISBN 0898158397.

[19] Simon G.Powell The Psilocybin Solution:Prelude To A Paradigm Shift

[20] Giorgio Samorini (1992) The oldest Representations of Hallucinogenic Mushrooms in the World. Integration, vol. 2/3, pp. 69-78,

[21] John M. Allegro The Sacred Mushroom And The Cross Gnostic Media Research & Publishing; 40 Anv edition (12 Nov 2009)

[22] Stamets, Paul (1996) [1996]. Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World. Ten Speed Press. p. 11. ISBN 0898158397.

[23] Stamets, Paul (1996) [1996]. Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World. Ten Speed Press. p. 7. ISBN 0898158397

[24] Johnson, Jean Bassett (1939). "The Elements of Mazatec Witchcraft". Gothenburg, Sweden: Ethnological Studies, No. 9.

[26] Ben Amar M (2006) Cannabinoids in medicine: A review of their therapeutic potential (2006) Journal of Ethno-Pharmacology 2006 Apr 21;105(1-2):1-25

[27]Stephen Yazull (2009) Endocannabinoids in the retina: From marijuana to neuroprotection Progress in Retinal and Eye Research 27 (2008) 501–526

[28]Stephen Yazulla (2006) Cannabis improves night vision: a case study of dark adaptometry and scotopic sensitivity in kif smokers of the Rif mountains of northern Morocco Survey of Ophthalmology Volume 46, Issue 1, July–August 2001, Pages 43–5

[29] MICHAEL SIVAK HUMAN FACTORS AND HIGHWAY-ACCIDENT CAUSATION: SOME THEORETICAL CONSIDERATIONS Acrid Anal & Prw.. Vol 13. pp 614, MICHAEL SIVAK

"Adams et al. [ 19751 have found that static visual acuity is unaffected by alcohol or marijuana intoxication. On the other hand, the results of Brown et al.[1975] indicate a significant effect of alcohol and marijuana on dynamic visual acuity. Thus, dynamic visual acuity has been shown to be more affected by frequently present transient human states (i.e. alcohol and marijuana intoxication) than static visual acuity. Therefore, according to the present rationale, dynamic visual acuity would be rated as more critical to safe driving than static visual acuity. (Obviously, before reaching any firm conclusions, effects of other transient states on both of the skills in question would have to be ascertained.)"

[30] http://andy-letcher.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/selva-pascuala-mushroom-mural-or-not.html

.


[top]Bibliography


The origin and development of the human mind
Psilocybin-containing mushrooms
[O]n one level, at the lowest dose, psilocybin increases visual acuity, which means better success at hunting. Then, at the middle dose level, it creates this hypersexual activity. Then, at still higher doses it creates the full-blown psychedelic experience, about which we are as uninformed and as easily amazed as our remote ancestors were. So, it was a 3 step process. It was basically a chemical that had been allowed into the diet that boosted us toward boundary dissolution, language acquisition, sexuality without boundaries, and so on. - Mckenna

Ethnobotany and Ethnomycology
The origins of language
Synesthesia


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Created by Synesthesiac, 03-12-2012 at 20:35
Last edited by Synesthesiac, 15-04-2013 at 21:39
Last comment by Synesthesiac on 28-02-2013 at 10:48
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