Terence McKenna hypothesizes that as the North African jungles receded, giving way to savannas and grasslands near the end of the most recent ice age, a branch of our arboreal primate ancestors left the forest canopy and began living in the open areas beyond. There they experimented with new varieties of foods as they adapted, physically and mentally, to the environment. Among the new foods found in this environment were psilocybin-containing mushrooms growing near dung of ungulate herds occupying the savannas and grasslands.
Referencing the research of Roland L. Fisher, McKenna claims the enhancement of visual acuity was an effect of psilocybin at low doses and suggests this would confer adaptive advantage. He argues that the effects of slightly larger doses, including sexual arousal, and in larger doses, ecstatic hallucinations & glossolalia - gave selective evolutionary advantages to members of those tribes who partook of it. There were many changes caused by the introduction of this psychoactive to primate diets. He hypothesizes, for instance, that synesthesia (the blurring of sensory boundaries) 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 psilocybin-containing mushrooms from human diets. He argues that this event resulted in a new set of profound changes in our species as we reverted to the previous brutal primate social structures that had been modified and/or repressed by frequent consumption of psilocybin.
"Deserves to be a modern classic on mind-altering drugs and hallucinogens." (The Washington Post)
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A paradigm shifting experience
This was my first time using an audio edition for non-fiction. I cannot say that it is better than the print version, because I'm one who likes to go back over pithy contents again and again, and that's a bit tough to do with an audio recording. I did learn how to use the bookmarks to mark the places I wanted to return to, but it's still not as easy as marking a print copy and thumbing back to it. I love audio for fiction, but this book introduced a lot of new concepts to me, so it was slow going. Early on I reduced the rate of play to 50%, which had the curious effect of sounding like McKenna himself reading it. Which tells me a lot about McKenna and the effects of his personal explorations: he knew a slower, unhurried and less stressful existence, one that plants themselves might teach.
McKenna's statement that, "If the ego is not regularly and repeatedly dissolved in the unbounded hyperspace of the Transcendent Other, there will always be slow drift away from the sense of self as part of nature's larger whole. The ultimate consequence of this is the fatal ennui that now permeates Western civilization."
There aren't exactly "scenes" in a non-fiction book, but McKenna does begin some chapters with vignettes of daily life in the tribes he is exploring. Each one builds on the last and provides new eye-opening information.
Brilliant, paradigm-shifting, research and reflection on a very important subject.
The best part of audio books is that I can use them when exercising, driving, etc. but I will likely purchase the print or Kindle version of the book as well.
- Denise Greene
Not my type of book
Disapointment: what I was looking for was a well-researched, anthropological take on the use of psychoactive substances throughout human history; what I got was more like an episode of Ancient Aliens, but with psilocybin as the subject matter. This guy makes some pretty questionable assertions early in the book and then things get worse. I just have one rule: if you're going to say crazy things, back it up with relevant evidence. The crazier you get, the more evidence you need. This book does not follow that rule. The author is in left field and thinks he's playing first. When he brought up the vibrating skull theory I knew I had stumbled on some real cow shit. No shrooms, just shit.