Re: Terence McKenna

Anders Sandberg (
Thu, 17 Jul 1997 11:20:10 +0200 (MET DST)

On Wed, 16 Jul 1997, Bobby Whalen wrote:

> >>Does McKenna actually have some evidence for this, or is he also
> >>basing his claim on that it "feels right"? It goes against most
> >>paleontology and what I understand of evolutionary theory.
> I have read this book and it is quite a scholarly piece, with
> extensive references and experimentation. His basic premise is that of
> neurological darwinism. Those primitive tribes who imbibed psilocybin
> from time to time, were more likely to experience novel perceptions of
> themselves and their environment. As to weather any one of these new
> perceptions provided evolutionary advantage is irrelevant in the face of
> brute-force statistical iteration. In time, those tribes who were
> increasing the number of ways of perceiving their environment, were more
> likely to stumble (even blindly) onto an evolutionary advantageous
> pathway.

OK, that explanation actually makes some sense. I must admit I
thought he subscribed to deterministic psychedelic evolution a la
Leary (and he seems to do that in his later works, like timewave zero
and his monologue on the Shamen album).

The basic idea seems to be that psychotropic substances led to faster
memetic evolution, which in turn led to exploration of different ways
of interacting and seeing the world. His problem is to show
that this actually took place.

It is interesting to note that in societies where psychotropic
substances are used for "mind expansion" (as opposed to
entertainment, rest or social facilitation) they are seldom used by
everybody, traditionally it has been the shamans or medicine men who
used them (in fact, the slightly outsider medicine man seems to be an
almost archetypal social figure, just as the alpha male-leader;
today he exists in the form of the scientist-nerd and other forms)
and then explained the visions to the tribe. This could act as a
defense against dangerous exploration, it is better to loose one
shaman than the whole tribe.

I'm not sure I buy McKenna's theory, but it is interesting to look at
memetic mutation rates across history and see how they have changed.
If his theory is right then we should see the fastest memetic
evolution in societies where psychotropic substances were in use and
less in societies where they weren't. Is there any evidence for this?

Anders Sandberg Towards Ascension!
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y