| Drugs will not be brought under control until society
enabling men to use them as primitive man did;
welcoming the visions they provided not as fantasies,
but as intimations of a different, and important, level of reality.
|Brian Inglis (1)|
EARLY MAN'S RELATIONSHIP with the psychedelic plants he discovered was a symbiotic one. These plants, which had long before evolved biochemical mechanisms to produce substances whose ultimate, if incidental function was not to be realized for millions of years, suddenly provided the key whereby the very process of evolution might overcome a most formidable barrier. Homo sapiens, the (potentially) Wise Man was born, and dozens of obscure species of fungi, flowering vines, roots, seeds, trees and cacti, became revered partners with him to produce an experiment in evolution which would truly be a final experiment: Either it would eventually succeed in producing an enlightened world society in which the rule of the Perennial Philosophy occurred not through force of authority but simple good sense, enabling humankind to undertake a conscious and deliberately ecological stewardship of his small corner of the universe, or it would end in the probable destruction of all advanced life on the planet. There would be no turning back once the barrier of the sophiolytic instinct had been breached.
The symbiotic partnership at first enabled a relatively small population of Early Man to prosper, to migrate rapidly from his birthplace to all the corners of the earth, to initiate a veritable explosion of culture wherever he went, and to displace all more primitive species and races of archaic man, the descendants of Homo erectus which had migrated out of Africa eons before. But as the experiment progressed and culture, technology, and thus power accumulated, repudiation of the beneficial symbiosis sometimes occurred in the various regions of early civilization. Unfortunately it is a simple fact that accumulated power and technology may, with the greatest of ease, be used with malign intent, and thus be used by the ignorant to enforce their folly on the wise. Wisdom is by definition incapable of using force, technological force at least, to assuage ignorance. Advantageous Ends are simply not obtainable by Deplorable Means. As the first organized societies grew and accumulated technology, some inevitably succumbed to the temptations which occur all too easily to the ignorant, including the subjugation and eradication of neighbors whose continuing wisdom threatened their power structures. The catalytic factor which had made culture and technology possible in the first place was, again and again, ignored, and one by one, such societies declined and were extinguished, their achievements to be forgotten along with their perversions. And so the story continues.
In the early years of my work, and with the spirit of the 1960's still fresh, it seemed that it was yet possible to ameliorate by stages and eventually reverse the destructive momentum that had been building for centuries in the most modern and recent, and world-encompassing of civilizations, Western Civilization (for want of a better term). The Twentieth Century had provided horrors which were the logical extrapolation and epitome of many centuries of psychedelic ignorance, and there was something new: the horrors of the Twentieth Century were in essence terminal ones for they could no longer be exceeded without a resulting collapse of the civilization which had brought them about, and the novelty was that this time, the collapse would preclude the possibility of picking up the pieces once the ignorance and stupidity of the powerful had run its course. But having been born into, and grown up within the best and the worst that civilization had ever offered, it was natural to hope that the good could be preserved, the bad at least slowly corrected, a small group of wise persons begin to re-establish the ancient symbiosis at first stealthily and cautiously, the resulting new vision becoming eventually an irresistible ground-swell. Today I am not so sure.
The scenes of my several attempts to be a modern shaman for the tribe of Western Man provided contradictory and paradoxical results. In one sense, I was attempting for the first time a "scientific" rather than ritual and intuitive approach to shamanism. The teaching and experience of the psychedelic state was not to be interpreted, as in previous societies, in terms of myth and ritual, but in terms of a truly scientific understanding of the eternal religious questions concerning origins, destinies, and meanings of the life-process. This understanding would extend even to the biological processes of the human nervous system which corresponded to the psychedelic state of awareness. It seemed possible for the first time to answer many of the questions for which Early Man could only compose tales and enact symbolic ritual, it seemed that we might finally grasp where the Essential Mystery of life lay. We would be able to see how all the religions, all the ancient philosophies, were describing a truth with means inadequate to the task, so that their result was not wrong but merely incomplete, each description like that of one of the blind men exploring some local region of that famous elephant. Now for the first time we seemed to have all the tools necessary to step back and view the beast all-at-once, and use the former limited techniques to confirm what we now could take in at a glance.
Another important difference in what modern "scientific" shamanism was attempting was that the psychedelic experience had in the past been a factor in human evolution, whereas now we were attempting to make it an essential part of our technology, a guide enabling the wise use of that technology. It was obvious that we could not achieve an evolutionary effect on such a rapid timescale, we could not expect to recapitulate the phylogeny of the effects of psychedelic experience on Early Man with the ontogeny of modern psychedelic research. The new function of psychedelic experience, although helping the individual to overcome the disadvantages and limitations of habit-routine governed existence, just like it had done for Early Man, was not this time a causative factor in the establishment of culture and civilization, but would instead have to correct a psychedelically long-ignorant civilization from the path of self-destruction. Such an accomplishment had never before been realized, at least not on the global scale required today.
The intent of this approach was therefore to be directed not just to the benefit of a local tribe as in former ages, or even the now global tribe of psychedelic seekers, but at a corrective experience for the evolutionary life process itself. It seemed therefore that we were involved with an evolution of the function of psychedelic experience. If at first the symbiosis had made possible the great experiment, its role was now to help confirm the inevitable showdown implicit in such an experiment: given the awakening of mankind from the slumber of animal existence, an awakening in which man acquires the creative ability, the sense of right and wrong, and all the other God-like attributes, it is inevitable that such a gift will be repudiated, and man assume for whatever reason that he is self-made, not born of the primitive elements of the earth nor of his animal ancestors, a pretense of omnipotence. The result of this great experiment would thus usher in an age in which humankind in its entirety would finally live up to its potential, or perish. If psychedelic ignorance had in the past contributed to the demise of localized civilizations, this time the fate of the entire planet, and all life thereupon, was at stake.
Although the energies which I set in motion in this project I know have reached a great many people, and provided a catalyst to the more positive of these possibilities, the scenarios within which I have had to operate never seemed to take on a continuing spirit of the cooperativeness and enlightened action that might be expected from a knowledge of the intent of such a project. The chocolate-covered placebo fiasco was neither the first nor last of the scenes filled with trivial disputes, cross-purposes, deceptions and dishonesty, scenes certain to detract from the business of effective shamanism. Business was, of course, one of the problems.
Ideally, the enlightening medicine should be free; to attach an earthly value to a sacrament can only devalue the meaning of the situation in which it is given. But we co-conspirators could neither afford to work "for free" in our society of institutionalized greed euphemistically called competition, nor could we expect others to do so. And the prohibitionary restrictions of the late 1960's ensured that people who wished to spread the knowledge of psychedelic wisdom would often have to deal with unscrupulous intermediaries who would as soon deal cocaine or other contraband. Cash flow was the sacred element for such as these. And paradoxically, the prospective psychedelic initiate also required that a price be paid for the potion, so paradigmatic was the principle of all things having their price in this "capitalistic" society. The power of shamanism in this mundane world had become in one way like that of the psychiatrist, the effectiveness of his treatment having been shown by statistical analysis to be proportional to the size of his fee!
In attempting a modern shamanism I was also at a great disadvantage not having the direct contact with tribal members which had always been an essential feature of the shamanic art in former societies. Rather than direct guidance, the instructions that went with the potion had to traverse the several hand-to-hand transactions between myself and the final recipient. I also had to assume that public information such as that in the published works of Huxley, Watts, and the many other gurus of our time would be studied and employed. In the modern situation, it was also obvious that there could be no public pronouncement of the intent of such a project in guiding societies to a new and ecological direction, although many authors had suggested as much, at least obliquely. Personally, it would have been absurd to proclaim that this was my intention, not least for the danger of intervention by the enforcers of the unenforceable. Today, having years ago retired from any active continuation of my former activities, it has become possible to publish an analysis of the intentions and particulars of that handful of persons, the modern-day shamans who were instrumental to the early years of the psychedelic movement.
It is not hard to understand why, with these retrospective views now available, that of the various scenes and collaborations of partners involved in the project, the smaller and more improvisational efforts were the more successful. The same seemed to be true of other groups doing similar projects. Bigness was a certain harbinger of disaster. When big plans were made, large quantities of psychedelics produced, and sizable sums changed hands, scenes collapsed, friends became enemies, or at least no longer friends, and those who, like myself, seemed to have an inner vision of the overall purpose of the project encountered the most unlikely coincidences which set in motion the beginnings of a new collaboration to attempt again that which had just failed. Many times the coincidences which arrived, in the course of my own shamanic journey, were so unusual and unbelievable that I just ignored them; it would have been pointless to speculate as to the origin or cause of such unlikely events.
The overall lesson that was illustrated by my experiences with several groups of collaborators was that a modern technological and scientific approach to shamanism, although rewarding for individuals and small groups able to exist on the periphery of modern "bigness", was not going to restore the equilibrium between man and nature within the confines of the present social reality of Western Civilization. The modern and artificial distinction of man being apart from nature seemed to be a direct result of psychedelic ignorance, and the "bigness" of the modern system of life exaggerated the distinction so much so that the ecology of the life of early psychedelic man simply could not be re-created within our modern system. Hence every attempt to produce sizable quantities of psychedelics inevitably met a swift retribution; and each time there occurred a new wave of popularity of psychedelic use which attracted public attention, that use seemed to degenerate quickly into misuse, and the majority of those seekers lose sight of the spirit of their original awakening, just as had entire civilizations before them.
The tribal nature of the societies of early man had provided the ideal milieu for beneficial psychedelic use, and the nature of our own society now prevented its own conversion to a more ecological, satisfying, and psychedelically-educated way of life. The only project that made sense therefore, was to attempt to influence only small groups of people, individuals who would themselves integrate their psychedelic experience by blending in discreetly with our modern insanity to influence again only a small circle of friends, keeping a spark alive and teaching valuable activities that would be necessary for a future in which the inevitable if slow collapse of modern civilization into chaos would eventually restore regional and small, "tribal" societies to their former importance. Whether that future was to be a time of great pain and destruction, or relatively benign, no-one could hope to predict. Certainly, psychedelic education would help to promote a beneficial transition and prepare those so educated for the inevitable changes that lay ahead. The psychedelically-educated would hopefully be able to provide the wisdom necessary to guide others through a transition that will certainly be difficult, yet perhaps not cataclysmic if the goal of modern shamanism were to be adequately realized in time.
It has long been the accepted wisdom among most scientists, as well as the common mythology of public perception, that the rise of tool-making, i.e., technology, was an important, if not defining characteristic of the evolutionary process connecting advanced apes to Early Man. Specifically, it has long been hypothesized that Darwinian selection for increasingly intelligent hominids came about through selection for the best abilities to make and use tools. In the extreme, at least before recent studies of tool use and especially tool-making in some animal species, the technology of tools was thought to be a primary defining characteristic separating Homo sapiens from the animal kingdom. Also among extremities of interpretation has been the idea that tool-making and early technology might even have been the force driving the extraordinarily rapid increase in the size of the primate brain, from the first hominids of two or three million years ago with a brain volume of about 400 cubic centimeters, to modern man with a brain volume more than three times this figure.
It is understandably important to science to explain this evolution in brain size, for it has often been noted that, on an evolutionary timescale, the rapidity of the change was practically unprecedented. Since the middle Pleistocene, about a half-million years ago, the rate of increase was particularly rapid, so much so that it has even been suggested that the enlargement might actually have been somewhat pathological, leading to a being whose irrationality and capability for wanton destructiveness equals or excels his creativity. Certainly, the history of the Twentieth Century has been a pinnacle of both tendencies, and also requires an explanation, and a resulting solution, if we wish to ensure our future survival. But even though we may have vestigial organs such as the appendix, and "skeuomorphic instincts" as I have discussed, blaming our present situation on purported faults of evolution is neither productive nor scientifically logical. The mere proposal of a hypothesis that we have too much brain power for our own good goes a long way to suggest that we must therefore have the brain power to correct any such tendency to let foolishness dominate our lives; scapegoating is seldom a productive hypothesis.
It now appears that the tool-making hypotheses also have resulted less from a careful analysis of the data than from superficial concurrence of two tendencies. We have complex technology, we have large brains, animals have neither. Seeing that there are facilitations and parallels between technology and brain power does not, however, provide more than circumstantial evidence for causation. And recent work now makes it extremely likely that the ability to produce technology, it has been called object-intelligence for want of a better term, has been a development that has "piggy-backed" upon a much more important development in intelligence, that which is required for social transaction. A recent collection of the important papers providing the foundation for the theory of Machiavellian Intelligence has been published as a book (2), and I will not present an extensive argument here for its well-founded conclusions. One quotation should suffice to illustrate that even anthropologists such as Thomas Wynn, who might be surmised to have a "vested interest" in the importance of tool-use and making in the development of early hominids, has whole-heartedly agreed with the new view:
Given the evidence of brain evolution and the archaeological evidence of technological evolution, I think it fair to eliminate from consideration the simple scenario in which ability to make better and better tools selected for human intelligence. At almost no point in hominid evolution was there even a provocative correlation. The earliest known hominids, Australopithecus afarensis, had a brain larger than an ape's of equivalent size, but as far as we know, no greater reliance on tools. Early Homo at 2 Ma [million years ago] had a much more 'encephalized' brain, but the tools and even the context of use were not beyond the capacity of modern apes. Homo erectus did possess technology that was outside the range of ape behaviour, but by this time, 1.5 Ma, much of the encephalization of the Homo line had already occurred. In sum, most of the evolution of the human brain, the presumed anatomy of intelligence, had occurred prior to any evidence for technological sophistication and, as a consequence, it appears unlikely that technology itself played a central role in the evolution of this impressive human ability. (3)
As one of the contributors to the book remarked, Wynn's paper "is a bombshell to the older 'Tools makyth Man' view... Wynn throws the question of the cause of human brain size back into the realm of the invisible: either the social relationships or the lifestyle which produced technology, not the technology itself." (4)
The conclusions of the Machiavellian Intelligence hypothesis fit well with my own theory, and lead to the most probable evolutionary scenario for the influence of psychedelic plants in the emergence of modern humans. The arguments of the hypothesis show that the complexity of logical operations required for social interaction in large groups of individuals is far greater than that required for tool use or making, or for that matter any other activity of primate species. (5) Studies of societies of monkeys and apes in both natural and controlled environments strongly support the theoretical arguments. The brain size of various species of modern primates, for example, has been closely correlated with the size and complexity of the social groups of the various species studied. The complexity of social interaction would increase geometrically with the number of possible interrelations between animals in a group consisting of three or more generations of relatively long-lived animals. Complex dominance relationships, alliances, group undertakings such as efficient foraging and hunting, lengthy childhood, and relatively constant possibility of mating activity add to the complexity. The demands of increasing social complexity was a development requiring far faster biological evolution of the equipment which facilitated it than any previous set of demands such as tool use and manufacture, climate change, interactions with other species, or other hypothesized evolutionary pressures. Thus it is reasonable that the rapid increase in brain size among primates requires no other explanation, despite its unprecedented speed.
The proposal of early influence of psychedelic plants on hominid evolution as a factor in brain enlargement (between one and five million years ago), as suggested by Terence McKenna, is therefore difficult to support. Criticism of McKenna's theory as presented in his Food of the Gods has been sometimes dismissive, (6) and although I find much of value in the book, I would have to agree that his proposals that psychedelics were "mutation-causing" agents that "directly influenced the rapid reorganization of the brain's information-processing capacities" are unsupported by evidence, and unnecessary in light of the much more reasonable Machiavellian Intelligence hypothesis. The temptation to explain the rapid evolution of the primate brain has led more than one author to error, however. What McKenna overlooked was a much more recent period of prehistory in which a proposed psychedelic influence fits a wide range of facts like a glove. In the preceding chapters I have outlined many of these facts, and it remains now to show at what period an intervention of psychedelic influence is most likely in consideration of several areas of knowledge about fossils, human genetics, climate changes and catastrophic events, and other sources of information. The necessity for psychedelic intervention has already been established in previous chapters, the question of when such intervention occurred is the present concern.
Before presenting possible evolutionary scenarios however, let me explore further the idea of social complexity and its relation to the habit routine model of cognitive operation I have proposed earlier. I stated that the power of the habit routine cognitive system would have increased with the increasing complexity of animal species, and would have reached its summit in proto-man. The Machiavellian Intelligence hypothesis and its proposed increasing social complexity fits perfectly with my surmise. Increased social complexity and the evolution of a large, expensive to support nervous system go hand in hand with extreme reliance on habit routine generation as the primary cognitive mechanism. One major consideration is that a large brain requires an excellent and copious diet, a requirement that would be fulfilled best in a social group able to cooperate on the highest levels to procure and share a wide variety of nutritious foods. An ability to avoid toxic plants as well would depend on complex social relationships as I will show in a moment.
It might be said that all these requirements would be an argument against the use of psychedelic agents in such social groups, an argument with which I entirely agree! The increasing social complexity and food requirements are arguments for the increasing power of sophiolytic tendencies and habits that would prevent any cognitive breakthrough to using the new brain for purposes other than the maintenance of social order and survival, a significant strengthening of the habit routine system. Experimentation with new foods, such as psychedelic plants, would not in normal circumstances have been a common, or even likely occurrence. Two quotations concerning the diet and food sources for primates will illustrate the point, the first quotation concerning the necessity for a rich and complex diet, the second on the ways this is fulfilled while yet preventing exposure to toxic (or presumably psychedelic) items:
Monkeys and apes have to balance their diet, which they do by wide ranging and yet selective eating; this is nicely illustrated by a study of Sri Lankan monkeys, Macaca sinica, by Marcel Hladik. By careful observation and quantification of their feeding, and phytochemical analysis of their food plants, he was able to show that for these 'frugivorous' monkeys, fruit was always more abundant than they could ever need. However, the monkeys had large day ranges and occupied a home range too large for efficient defense as a territory. Why? Their ranging was apparently a consequence of a need to eat fungi, rotten wood, insects, bark, shoots-a whole range of items that allowed them to make up the protein, vitamin, and mineral deficiencies of the energy-rich ripe fruit (Hladik 1975). The need for a balanced diet forces many primates to eat items that are hard to find. In studying baboon ecology, I was continually amazed at the subtle cues that they must use to identify some of their plant foods; at the most harsh time of year, the main survival foods were all either underground, or tiny and inconspicuous. (7)
Mother primates of several species pull their infants away from novel objects (two species of macaque), or remove foods from infants if the food is not part of the diet (chimpanzee). Caro and Hauser suggest that the latter might be 'accidental', but having seen it happen in gorillas, I doubt this (Anne Russon, who has noted the same in orang-utans, shares my scepticism). An infant gorilla was fiddling with and chewing at a leaf (of a species not normally eaten), facing away from the mother who was eating herself, when the mother broke off her feeding, reached over the infant's head and took the leaf, dropping it well out of the infant's reach. In the case of a chimpanzee watched by Mariko Hiraiwa-Hasegawa (1986), the mother not only did the same, but systematically picked every other leaf of the same species in the infant's reach and placed her foot firmly on the pile of leaves! But in any of these cases, the function is unclear: does the behaviour serve to teach, or simply to remove infants from danger? (8)
It has been proposed (9) that the dietary requirements of animals with complex nervous systems was itself a factor in the evolution of hominid intelligence, the increasing need for a high-quality diet selecting for advances in intelligence and larger brains, which itself would demand further dietary improvements. This must certainly be the case, but I think that the methods used by advancing species to procure better and better diets are themselves aspects of social behavior, and thus fall under the hypotheses of Machiavellian Intelligence. It was only through the advancing complexity of social life that the dietary requirements could be met, either for the actual procurement and sharing of foodstuffs or for the transmission of the knowledge of how to obtain them, and how to avoid serious errors such as ingesting toxic items.
As I have just suggested, if increased social complexity and the need for a correspondingly complex diet to satisfy the needs of a large brain indicate anything, they would seem to argue against much use of psychedelic plants in advanced apes and proto-man. Indeed, an individual who accidentally ingested a plant which disrupted his function and place in such a social system would most likely lose that place, and possibly be ostracized and excluded from the group. This is the substance of Andrew Weil's comments on McKenna's hypothesis (footnote 6). Psychedelic influence on H. erectus and even more remote human predecessors is of course possible, as McKenna's model suggests, but I believe it was unlikely, and if so, unimportant to either social or neurological evolution. Certainly, evidence is very sparse indeed, and there are important counter-arguments to be considered: For example, H. erectus lived on 3 continents in various habitats and through several periods of disruptive climatic change for a period of 1 or 2 million years, yet remained in a relatively unchanging state, with few signs of significant cultural or technological innovation. This is certainly a sign of normal, slow evolution, not psychedelic evolution. By contrast, the culture of early Greece, with psychedelic influence, advanced dramatically from a quite primitive state to an advanced civilization in the space of a thousand years or so. In addition, the progression from Australopithecus to erectus to sapiens involved many different anatomical developments, not only brain size and reorganizations, but speech-enabling changes to the larynx, (10) even an enlargement of nerve canals in the spine suggested as facilitating the precise diaphragm control needed for speech, (11) and many other anatomical changes. This is certainly an argument for slow gradual evolution, not psychedelically-enabled or "psychedelic-mutagenic" evolution as suggested by McKenna.
From the preceding arguments concerning social stability, we may thus surmise that the influence of psychedelics on our immediate ancestors must have also involved some other simultaneous and important changes or events which helped to suppress the described tendencies to greater and greater dependence on habit routine and the sophiolytic mode. Some unusual change must have occurred to allow and ensure that psychedelic use would occur on a significant scale and would rapidly and irreversibly transform the habits of the hominid group that was the precursor of modern humans.
It is necessary to point out, however, that the very brain changes which facilitated social evolution and a powerful habit routine cognitive system would be the same changes that would make an eventual psychedelic intervention most effective: A greatly expanded cortex to allow the storage of long-lasting and complex memory data used for habit routine search, would also implement creativity that was far more than random trial and error, creativity that could intentionally produce wide-ranging positive results: we would not expect attempts at creativity by a small-brained animal to result in much more than increased risk for that animal. A greatly expanded portion of the cortex involved with "association processing" allowing the assembly of habit routines of a multisensory and intentional complexity, would also facilitate highly effective creativity. And a greatly expanded frontal cortex, the seat of working memory and other advanced cognitive abilities, facilitating habit routine based upon simultaneous nested levels of intentionality, would likewise be instrumental to a being requiring the frequent use of improvisation in situations which involved simultaneous trains of logical operations. The same nervous system improvements that enable advanced habit routine generation and use also provide for psychedelically-enlightened operation that is productive and creative, and not just hazardous to an animal. Here we have an additional argument against the influence of psychedelic agents at an early, small-brained stage of hominid evolution: psychedelics would not have "worked" on animals with limited brain capabilities. We might say that psychedelics haven't really "worked" on humans either, considering our backsliding tendencies to ignore (and eradicate) psychedelic tribal wisdom that has accumulated for millennia. The present state of Western Civilization in this "century of holocaust" is a direct result of that ignorance, and if it should lead to the scenarios of devastation and collapse which have all too often been predicted by some, we will have to conclude that the great experiment, the psychedelic intervention, will indeed have been a failure.
One further argument will suffice to eliminate from consideration an early psychedelic influence on hominid evolution. The role of language in hominid development has been another hotly-debated topic of late. It is my contention that the psychedelic state of consciousness would have been of little or no value for an individual, and would have provided no evolutionary breakthrough for a social group which did not already have the benefit of complex language abilities. Psychedelic use and its effects are most valuable as a cumulative phenomenon. The psychedelic experience must not only be individually integrated but socially integrated as well, if it is to provide a key to rapid cultural advance. There must arise a "psychedelic culture" which is transmitted and developed from one generation to the next, and through which the beginnings of shamanism can arise. Without symbolic language, it is difficult to see how such a process might happen. Once a fairly complex language ability had evolved, however, we may imagine that psychedelic experience would have provided an impetus for further important language development into abilities concerned with the expression of the abstract, the mythical, the artistic, language capable of elaborating and transmitting tradition, the hallmark of culture.
Whereas written language is a cultural phenomenon which must be taught, (a child who is not taught to read and write will certainly not pick up the ability spontaneously), spoken language is assimilated spontaneously. Spoken language is a biologically-inherent feature of the human brain, a realization that became apparent to the linguist Noam Chomsky several decades ago. Steven Pinker, a former student of Chomsky, has made several conclusions concerning language and its evolution which are pertinent to a hypothesis of the time period in which psychedelic influence might have played a role in human evolution. (12) On the strength of much recent research, Pinker concludes that the first anatomically modern humans already spoke the equivalent of modern human language. Since language is intrinsic to the brain structures which produce and interpret it, language must have co-evolved with those structures, and have been fully realized with the advent of the brain with which it co-evolved. Spoken language was therefore not "invented" at a late stage of that evolution, (although reading and writing most certainly were). Since language is inherently a social phenomenon, this proposed co-evolution of brain and language fits nicely with the Machiavellian Intelligence hypothesis of brain advances being driven by social requirements, including the advancement of language capability.
Pinker notes therefore that "language did not first appear in the Upper Paleolithic beginning about 30,000 years ago, contrary to claims frequently seen in archaeological...and popular science treatments." (13) The idea that psychedelics would not have "worked" on our small-brained forbears such as Australopithecus is supported by the proposed necessity of the existence of complex language as a precursor for the beneficial influence of psychedelics, and considerably narrows the time frame in which such influence must have played its role. Using conclusions from linguistics and brain evolution, we see that such a time frame should extend from about 150Ka to 50Ka (thousand years ago). I shall further narrow this window of opportunity for psychedelic influence in my arguments to follow. The important conclusion which has just been developed is that psychedelic plants in the environment cannot have played any significant role in either the early development of language, nor in the parallel development and tripling in size of the hominid brain during the period from about 3Ma to the appearance of anatomically modern humans about 150Ka.
Considering the importance of language in evolution, and the importance of language for various modern arguments as to how the process of man's evolution took place, some further comments are appropriate which will tie together some ideas expressed in previous chapters with the task at hand. It is widely hypothesized, quite correctly I believe, that major enhancements to spoken language occurred during the Upper Paleolithic with the appearance of anatomically modern hominids. As Pinker has noted, certain observers thus wish to believe that language itself was practically non-existent before this period. The argument of language being inherent to the brain structures which produce it, and therefore of the necessity that language co-evolved with those brain structures is a powerful rebuttal of such ideas, but additional evidence also favors the co-evolution claim. As noted in the last chapter, rudimentary language abilities have now been definitively shown to exist in our closest relative, the chimpanzee. It was also noted that language abilities are not used by chimpanzees in the wild, but the fact that these primitive language capabilities exist at all must indicate that rudimentary brain circuitry for producing language nevertheless exists. If such circuitry was present, albeit in very primitive form, at the period of divergence between the Panidae and early hominids, it is unreasonable to assume that such circuitry might continue to evolve for the next several million years, to be used suddenly at the Upper Paleolithic to produce complex language which had no precedent whatsoever. The only argument here could be that these brain areas which later permitted spoken language were all along used for another function altogether.
Although I feel that chimpanzee language ability, and certainly the arguments of Pinker and other linguists, strongly favor the continuous existence and development of language throughout hominid development, the alternative use argument just cited brings us to another consideration which is important to my theory. Referring back to figure 1 in chapter 3 and the associated text, it will be seen that according to my cognitive hypothesis, language is but one, if the most obvious and important, of the symbolizing functions of the thinking1-thinking2 conglomerate. In other words, language, the serial realization of thinking in abstract symbolic form, is not itself the material or medium of the thought process until a late stage, and is not necessarily a part of the thinking process at all. My model is, of course, in contention with the majority of recently proposed cognitive models of the function and construction of language, and I do not expect its easy acceptance: only the evidence of the many-sided picture that my theory of psychedelic experience presents might have the power to convince scientists today that the cognitive model of thinking1-thinking2 processes might have some general applicability. The neurologist Harry Jerison, for example, proposes that language itself is the medium of reflective thought and imagery:
"The role of language in communication first evolved as a side effect in the construction of reality," proposes Harry Jerison, a neurologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who has made a special study of brain evolution. "We can think of language as being merely an expression of another neural contribution to the construction of mental imagery." Brains throughout evolutionary history have been shaped to construct an inner world appropriate to a species' daily life. In amphibians, vision provides the principal element of that world; for reptiles, an acute sense of smell. For the earliest mammals, hearing was additionally important; and in primates, a melange of sensory input creates a complete mental model of external reality. Humans, says Jerison, have added a further component: language, or more precisely, reflective thought and imagery. Thus equipped, the human mind creates an internal model of the world that is uniquely capable of representing and coping with complex practical and social challenges. Inner reflection, not outer communication, was the facility upon which natural selection worked, argues Jerison. Language was its medium-and, at the same time, an efficient tool for communication. This hypothesis now has wide support. (14)
Too bad. I believe the hypothesis that language is the medium of the construction of mental models of reality, is misguided. But it wouldn't be the first instance in the history of science where the experts were wrong. Firstly, as stated here, the model implies that without language, the construction of mental models of the world, by animals for instance, is minimal. Yet the habit routine cognitive model shows that the habit routine, constructed by thinking1 processes and analyzed by thinking2 processes, is the mental model of reality we are concerned with, and that the transformation into language or other forms of symbolization is a subsidiary, secondary, and non-essential process occurring in thinking2. As I have argued previously, the habit routine system has been the constant companion of animal life from the beginning, it is the primary function of all animal nervous systems, not just advanced ones such as our own. It is interesting how close the above quotation comes to the idea of the habit routine model as the mechanism of construction of the "mental model of external reality," ("a melange of sensory input creates a complete mental model of external reality") but then misses the necessary conclusion. Jerison's model would have the symbolization function as the primary cognitive operation, but that would require that the "raw material" of symbolization be the primary sensory information rather than the generated habit routine, and a great deal of evidence, summarized in previous chapters, argues against this model.
Language is not at all the medium of the thinking processes which precedes symbolization, which is a resonance to the habit routine and its analysis. Language as it is realized, or other forms of symbolization such as the production of gesture or music, perhaps also the expression of emotion via facial expression and general posture, are serial processes, yet the habit routine, the internal model of the world, is iconic. It is a Gestalt, a constantly changing and updated holistic entity not requiring elaboration through a serial process of point for point representation with abstract symbols as does language. Our basic thinking process is in terms of icons or Gestalts, holoprojections, which later, and sometimes very laboriously, may find only incomplete and unsatisfactory expression through the symbolization processes. Consider this statement by Albert Einstein, describing the way he considered his creative thinking to occur:
"The words of the language, as they are written or spoken, do not seem to play any role in my mechanism of thought. The psychical entities in my case are . . . visual and some of muscular type. Conventional words and other signs have to be sought for laboriously only in a secondary stage."
Thus many recent views of language and thinking miss the essential fact that the great part of what constitutes thinking, both conscious and pre-conscious as with the construction of the habit routine, has nothing to do with the serial process of spoken language at all. The creation of the mental model of reality is not "linguistic" except in the sense that we might define a new type of "language" constituted not of words and the rules for serially connecting them, but of the very iconic Gestalts that are created by habit routine search. The evolution of the ability to produce the habit routine Gestalt started probably with the very first animals, as I have discussed, but the evolution of spoken language only began much later. The two evolutionary processes are very far apart indeed, as are the brain processes which produce them.
The problem of the modern understanding of these facts probably arises from the nature of the methods of modern Western science itself. It is, above all, a descriptive undertaking, and therefore a serial process rather than an experiential, iconic one. So in attempting to "scientifically explain" many of our cognitive abilities using descriptive language, we must necessarily let serial symbolization rule our paradigm to such an extent that we ignore certain aspects of the ongoing iconic thinking process which is the seed of our explanations. Thus the possible Gestalts which would themselves, if we became aware of them, allow us an experience of the nature of the iconic thinking processes which precede symbolization, of how they provide the basis for symbolization, are ignored by the requirements of our paradigm to provide only serial explanation: these ignored Gestalts, the iconic habit routines which would give a view of the nearly invisible underlying thinking processes, do not activate the significance detection system piloted by the locus coeruleus, because we have ruled them out from consideration by the programming of working memory with the specifics of our paradigm, this is the conscious feedback process which is an input, along with sensory information, to the habit routine generation process in thinking1 (see again figure 1). Except in the reflection of those unusually perceptive and gifted individuals such as Einstein who have developed life-long habits of looking for the significant in what everyone else deems the routine, the iconic nature of basic thinking processes is therefore rendered invisible. As I have shown, of course, the psychedelic experience can produce this very same result reliably and safely, although it requires considerable experience with the drugs to understand that this is what is happening, and to use the effect to its potential. I might say, perhaps not too ponderously I hope, that this entire book is the symbolization in language of an iconic entity or Gestalt, a "mental model" of my theory that I have been slowly constructing over the years. I "know" full well its entire content and form, and yes, it seems to be visual and even "muscular" in a certain sense, but its translation into serial language is another affair altogether, requiring entirely different types of effort than the construction of the informational entity which I am describing. Interestingly, the symbolization in language does have a feedback to the characteristics of the iconic Gestalt: the fine points of its significance, the small details of the interrelations of its parts seem to be refined as the experimental process of symbolization attempts to capture its essence in words.
Other parts of my theory, such as the neuromechanics of HRS, the cognitive operations mapped in figure 1, and other "pieces of the puzzle," are models, useful aids, heuristic devices useful until better models come along, a development which must surely come to pass considering the speculative methods which led to their proposal. But the suggestion of an evolutionary scenario for human development attempts to establish an actual series of events in history, if pre-history. Considering the very fragmentary evidence in the fossil record, and the indirect nature of other modern evidence to be described below, the chance for error in proposing the story of how Early Man made his way out of Eden is humbling. As we have seen above, the first theory of psychedelic evolution, that of McKenna, has suffered, perhaps terminally, from a dose of counterargument all too easily supplied by the critics.
Much of McKenna's book remains admirable however, for instance his presentation of evidence indicating the probable importance of psychedelic plants for the very early tribal societies which lived on the Tassili Plateau of southern Algeria, or Çatal Hüyük in central Anatolia. These are examples, along with ancient Greece and the Eleusinian Mysteries, which illustrate the rapid flowering of culture possible in societies in which there is strong, if not incontrovertible evidence of psychedelic use. The importance of psychedelics for early man certainly suggests an important evolutionary influence as well: the trick is to deduce, using a wide variety of ancient and modern evidence, when and where, and why that evolutionary influence might have taken place. Let me start by considering some modern reinterpretations of the fossil evidence which have recently received overwhelming support from one of science's most recent and fascinating developments, molecular genetics.
Chris Stringer, who is today the head of the Human Origins Group of the Natural History Museum in London, recounts a most interesting tale of scientific discovery in his recent book, African Exodus, co-authored by the science writer Robin McKie. It is the kind of story which has epitomized the romance and excitement of scientific discovery and revolution as perceived by the lay public, stories such as the Curies' discovery of radium or Galileo's road to revolutionary views of the heavens. The important periods of these scientists' work were, of course, marked far more by hard work than by romance! But not only is the story of these recent discoveries concerning human origins of interest to the general public, it represents a scientific revolution of important scope, comparable to the recent revolution in geology with the advent of the discovery of plate tectonics, or even the revolution in physics earlier in the century.
The first chapters of African Exodus are concerned with a close examination of the "bones and stones," in which Dr. Stringer shows how the Multiregional Hypothesis (15) of human evolution, the predominant model for most of this century, has just recently been discredited in favor of an Out-of-Africa (actually an Out-of-Africa II) (16) model. A new mathematical technique, multivariate analysis, used by Dr. Stringer during his several years of work on the fossils, led him to doubt the validity of the multiregional theory early on in his career. But only a small minority of paleoanthropologists were ready to listen to new analyses of fossil characteristics which called into question the status quo of their profession, for many great scientists of the past decades had analyzed these same fossils and there was wide consensus that a multiregional scenario was the correct one. The upheavals and conflicts typical of a newly-born scientific revolution ensued. A revolutionary new idea proposed by a small group of scientists, at first rejected as absurd by the establishment, soon began to topple that establishment. Chris Stringer and Robin McKie introduce the book:
For the past few years, a small group of scientists has been accumulating evidence that has revolutionised our awareness of ourselves, and our animal origins. They have shown that we belong to a young species, which rose like a phoenix from a crisis which threatened its very survival, and then conquered the world in a few millennia. The story is an intriguing and mysterious one, and it challenges many basic assumptions we have about ourselves... It is a remarkable, and highly controversial narrative that has generated headlines round the world and which has been the subject of a sustained programme of vilification by scientists who have spent their lives committed to the opposing view that we have an ancient, million-year-old ancestry. The debate, which reverberates in museums, universities and learned institutions across the world, is one of the most bitter in the history of science. (17)
What finally broke the dam of resistance to the new ideas was the entry upon the scene of revolutionary new techniques from a field which had previously played no role whatever in paleoanthropology, molecular genetics. Until very recently, the possibility that we might learn something about the evolution of our distant ancestors by studying the genetic makeup of living humans was hardly even suspected, and of course the techniques for doing so completely unknown. But all this changed rapidly as the science of molecular genetics grew from its infancy in the 1960's to the powerful tool it is today. The use of genetic analysis for understanding evolution, the science of molecular anthropology, also had its beginning the 1960's, with the pioneering work of Allan Wilson (later to be a key player in the confirmation of the Out-of-Africa scenario) and Vincent Sarich. It was their early work that began to topple many sacred cows of paleoanthropology, the first to fall being the idea that apes and humans had diverged very early, between fifteen and thirty Ma. By comparing protein structures of modern apes and man, Wilson and Sarich concluded that the separation could have been no earlier than 5Ma. "We were variously ignored, abused and scorned," recalls Sarich. But it was the first of many venerable precepts of paleoanthropology that was to fall to the new techniques of genetic analysis. The research of Wilson and the many others who followed came along at precisely the right time to resoundingly confirm the early work of Stringer.
Stringer and McKie mention in their introduction above that our species "rose like a phoenix from a crisis which threatened its very survival," and propose later on in the book the occurrence of a population bottleneck sometime about 100 to 150Ka. The possibility of such a bottleneck has also drawn criticism from defenders of the orthodoxy, yet again the genetic evidence is what has come to the forefront to support the proposal.
The genetic evidence in question was not at first concerned with the DNA of the cell nuclei, found in every cell of the body and which is responsible for control of the growing embryo and inheritance of physical traits, but DNA contained the mitochondria of these same cells. These small structures within animal cells act like metabolic power-packs, enabling the biochemical reactions which provide the cell with energy. That these structures contain their own DNA, entirely different from nuclear DNA, is something of a curiosity, and has led to speculation that very early on in evolution, mitochondria might have been a separate organism which developed a symbiotic relationship with primitive single-celled life forms to enable the evolution of the first true single-celled animals. Whatever their evolutionary story, the mitochondria and their independently organized DNA strands have provided an important key for the understanding of hominid evolution. Two specific characteristics of mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) figure importantly: firstly, mtDNA is transmitted only through the female lineage, since the mitochondria of sperm reside in the cell's extranuclear protoplasm, and do not enter the egg at fertilization. Thus mtDNA provides a powerful tool for tracing genealogies in animals, and reconstructing recent evolutionary trees. Secondly, mtDNA has a relatively high and constant rate of random mutation which is conveniently analyzed, thus constituting a "molecular clock" providing genetic markers for accurately tracing migration and fissioning in human societies. A recent paper by Rebecca L. Cann, an early associate of Allan C. Wilson, explains more fully the peculiarities of mtDNA which result in its being such a powerful tool for the study of evolution. Concerning the bottleneck hypothesis resulting from mtDNA studies she recounts:
When I began my study of mtDNA in the late 1970s with Dr. Allan C. Wilson, one of his postdoctoral fellows, Dr. Wesley Brown, was writing up his work on a study of 21 human mtDNAs. Dr. Brown had discovered that using restriction fragment length polymorphisms (RFLPs), humans as a species looked 'different' to other mammals. He found that in comparison to two chimpanzees, or two gorillas, or two orang-utans, or two gibbons, or even two pocket gophers, humans had only one-half to one-fifth of the intraspecific variability seen in our closest primate relatives and other genetically well-characterized mammals. In 1980, Brown proposed that the level of variability sampled in his study was consistent with the derivation of the human mitochondrial sequence from a single female about 200,000 years ago. This was the origin of the bottle-neck hypothesis and mitochondrial 'Eve'. (18)
The mitochondrial "Eve" hypothesis naturally made big headlines, was featured on the cover of such magazines as Time and Newsweek, and also quite naturally was journalistically exaggerated out of all proportion to the original claims. A concerted attack by the multiregionalist "old guard" also helped to make the new idea sound a bit absurd, both to the public, and to scientists in other fields not yet acquainted with the genetic evidence. All the criticisms have been adequately countered however, and the findings confirmed by newer and more complete studies, including studies on the nuclear DNA. Rebecca Cann was careful to explain, in the above quoted paper, the intended interpretation of the hypothesis concerning the possible number of individuals existing at the time of the proposed bottleneck. Since mtDNA is passed on only through the female lineage, the existence of a mitochondrial "Eve" does not imply that our nuclear DNA is also descended from a single individual, nor that at one point the human lineage was reduced to a single, or mere handful of individuals (the "Biblical Eve" scenario!) Recent estimates of the number of individuals existing at the time of the bottleneck, including that of Chris Stringer, puts the number at perhaps ten thousand. (19) It may be argued that a population of ten thousand individuals is not what one could call a genetic bottleneck, yet the sum of the genetic evidence indicates that "there were at least 100,000 adult archaic forebears of our Africa ancestors about 200,000 years ago." (20) Thus a decrease to 10,000 individuals is certainly a "population crash" indicative of important events in the early evolution of modern man.
As for the date of the lifetime of "mitochondrial Eve," there have been various estimates between the extremes of about 60 to 400Ka based on several different methods of mtDNA analysis. Some best estimates put the life of "mitochondrial Eve" at about 130 to 140Ka, "the date of origin of modern humans." (21) The uncertainties in these several estimates may be narrowed by considering data from other fields of study, and from a view of the overall evolutionary scenario which emerges upon consideration of all the information at our disposal, including my own hypotheses of the influence of psychedelics on the overall process. Using all these sources, a reasonably constrained sequence of events with fairly accurate dates becomes possible.
In looking at the combined evidence from new interpretations of the "stones and bones," (Chris Stringer's findings), the genetic evidence, (now far more convincing than just a few years ago), and other pieces of the puzzle, Stringer and other workers have come to the conclusion that there must have been some kind of unusual event, some catalyst, some kind of "trigger" which set in motion the very rapid rise of human culture and civilization which began a mere few moments ago on an evolutionary scale. The strong evidence for a population bottleneck, during which time individuals existed who were our sole ancestors, and the ensuing rapid migration and rapid rise of human culture in every corner of the earth, has led these workers to ask a central and important question for which they have not yet formulated an answer. Stringer and McKie write:
It was one of the critical events in mankind's convoluted route to evolutionary success. The nature of the trigger of this great social upheaval is still hotly debated, but remains a mystery at the heart of our 'progress' as a species. Was it a biological, mental or social event that sent our species rushing pell-mell towards world domination? Was it the advent of symbolic language, the appearance of the nuclear family as the basic element of human social structure, or a fundamental change in the workings of the brain? Whatever the nature of the change, it has a lot to answer for. It transformed us from minor bit players in a zoological soap opera into evolutionary superstars, with all the attendant dangers of vanity, hubris and indifference to the fate of others that such an analogy carries with lt. (22)
Reading this paragraph in African Exodus, I realized I had been for several years working on ideas which constituted the very answer sought by this recent revolution in thinking about human evolution. It was, as I have said in chapter 2, "Models and Theories," a falling into place of pieces of a puzzle which justified so much earlier "wild speculation," a realization that practically by accident I had found a key that many others were actively searching for which would enable the opening of a door to an important future in understanding.
Rebecca Cann asks,
We often wonder if language played a part of the process, and that our ancestors all had some new mutations which allowed them to spread, at the expense of the other indigenous peoples. [Results of genetic research] suggest the spread of our ancestors was rapid, with little mixing. (23)
Although language certainly played a part in the process, as I have already discussed, the identity of the trigger, the origin of the population bottleneck, the reason behind man's migration to the ends of the earth, the factor enabling the rapid rise of culture independently in all these regions, the factor behind the ability of the new hominids to out-compete all former races of archaic man, the secret of the birth of the human race, may all be intimately related to one and the same phenomenon: the advent of psychedelic use by a regionally isolated group of proto-humans somewhere in Africa. Such use might then have spread with the spread of the descendants of this core group of individuals, mimicking a population bottleneck in that psychedelic use and the advantages it provided were closely guarded secrets not evident or available to competing "tribes." As I stated previously, if a member of a competing "tribe" were to use the new medicine, it would only serve to isolate him from his own group. Psychedelic use could then have been at once the reason for an apparent but not necessarily absolute bottleneck, and also the trigger, the key which enabled this original group to expand and prosper by virtue of the cognitive advantages provided by the cumulative effects of psychedelic use. These advantages, I remind the reader, concern a new and powerful ability to suspend a mode of existence entirely governed by habit routine. The advanced ape that was our predecessor necessarily had, as I have shown, the most complete, one might say irrevocable dependence on habit routine of any animal yet evolved, a dependence entirely precluding the use of the most advanced nervous system ever evolved for creative purposes.
But what of that other facilitating factor I mentioned before, the one that would allow psychedelic use to become important and not just an infrequent and disorienting event for single individuals who might then expulsed from their group? Some environmental or social situation must have resulted in the frequent use of psychedelics by a significant proportion of the core group, and psychedelic use must then have become part and parcel of the social structure of the group. There are several possibilities. Here another body of research information on climate change becomes important, for during the proposed period between 100Ka and 200Ka, drastic climatic changes were occurring on a time scale certain to disrupt all life on the planet, especially those advanced forms of life so dependent on social complexity and a diversified diet.
In view of the best estimates for the time slot for the population bottleneck and mitochondrial Eve (about 133Ka), (24) a particular period of climatic history stands out: the Eemian interglacial period. During the Eemain, warm, wet, and tropical conditions extended much further north than at present. The fossil evidence shows that hippopotamuses browsed along the banks of the Thames and the Rhine, while lions and elephants roamed the forests of southern England. Until recently, the Eemian interglacial period was thought to have been a stable climatic period lasting from about 130Ka to 114Ka, when the beginning of the last ice age commenced. Climatic information has been obtained from such methods as analysis of ocean sediment cores, pollen cores from terrestrial sources, and ice cores drilled in such locations as Antarctica and Greenland. A recent ice core analysis from Greenland however, has given us a radically new view of the Eemain climatic era, indicating that it was not a period of stability but rather one of wild climatic oscillations: (25)
The early part of the Eemian was dominated by several oscillations between warm and cool stages. The temperature dropped by as much as 10 degrees, sometimes within as short a time as ten to thirty years. Some cold spells lasted a few decades, while others lasted several hundred years. After 8000 years of fluctuating conditions, the climate settled into a period of stable warmth lasting some 2000 years. This warm period ended abruptly...when the temperature in Greenland dropped about 14 °C within ten years. (26)
Such a period as the early Eemain seems to provide exactly the kind of opportunities for the disruption and crisis conditions for groups of human predecessors that would lead to the discovery of psychedelic use. Several times there must have been abrupt changes in habitability of various regions, with changes in flora and fauna and resulting dietary pressures, food shortages, the encroachment of and conflict with neighboring tribes, the possible occurrence of new diseases and a resulting search for medicinal remedies promoting population movements, in essence, frequent turmoil. If modern chimpanzees have the need to roam far and wide to procure their necessary diet including "fungi, rotten wood, insects, bark, shoots," we may safely assume that proto-man had similar if not even greater exigencies. If uprooted from a home ground, or if rapid climate change forced him to experiment with new foods, an opportunity for the discovery of psychedelic plants becomes important.
In the case of edible fungi today for example, it is well known that many, if not the majority of cases of poisoning result when individuals or groups, newly arrived in an area, see and consume a mushroom which they had always safely consumed in their previous home region. Many mushrooms look nearly identical, and some fungi species are known to be safe in one region, yet toxic in another. A changing climate might well alter a fungal species, changing its visible characteristics or production of metabolites. Some recent work has shown that fungi tend to proliferate at far greater rates in a tropical, CO2 rich climate, as must have existed during the Eemian. (27) In these facts we see a possible, if not probable mechanism whereby a group of our ancestors might have discovered the use of a psychedelic mushroom or other plant, in which the discovery involved the use of that plant by the entire group, and for an extended period of time. The likelihood of widespread existence of unfamiliar and unusual species of alkaloid-containing plants is, of course, much higher in the tropical and humid, and fluctuating conditions of the Eemian, rather than during the dry, cold, and barren ice age conditions which preceded it. And the dates of the climatic disruptions of the early Eemian that might have led to such a discovery match nicely the mtDNA evidence of a population bottleneck.
The Eemian might well have been the period of mankind's first important exposure to psychedelic drugs, for by 90Ka we see the appearance of sophisticated bone harpoons and knives in what is now Zaire, a level of technology that was not seen in Europe until 50 thousand years later. (28) But we should not expect that the initial psychedelic exposure would have led to rapid cultural change as we would today define it. Evidence from studies of "primitive" yet ecologically stable and wise tribal societies indicates that psychedelic use and the associated rise of shamanism does not automatically propel a society towards building automobiles and atom bombs, but rather, preferentially enables another kind of creativity involving stability and equilibrium. Some of the oldest of tribal societies, those that have been discovered in New Guinea, or in the backwaters of the Amazon basin, or the vast tundra of the Siberian wilderness, all have a long tradition of psychedelically influenced shamanism, and have remained stable for many thousands of years. If we should look at such a society and call it "primitive," their practices being seen as "backward" and "ignorant," how much more so may such a stable and ecological society view the all-too-obvious happenings and extrapolations of Twentieth Century "Civilization"? Our view today of what constitutes "progress" and "civilized living" has practically nothing in common with the views of hundreds, even thousands of societies that have come before, and lasted far longer than our recent experiment in "progress". With a little luck, the remnants of an isolated tribe or two may well survive us.
A psychedelically-enlightened society does not at all produce rampant technological change, just for the sake of change. They do not fly to the moon just because it is there, or to impressand propagandize tribal members with their supposed superiority over a rival tribe in some cold war scenario. A psychedelically-enabled society does, however, make rapid advances of a creative nature in response to real challenges such as climate change, the necessity to emigrate to new regions, the avoidance of disease and a search for new medicines (chimpanzees and even elephants have been shown to intentionally search out and consume effective medicinals as required). But in periods of climatic and resource-stability the psychedelically-enabled society also exhibits an ecological stability: it has the power and intelligence to make creative changes as it pleases, and chooses consciously to remain in equilibrium with nature. What could be more illustrative of wisdom than this? In times of stability, psychedelically-enabled tribes produce myth, art, they use their creative powers to elaborate tradition, the hallmark of culture; they do not spend their time in petty schemes to conquer nature, or exploit reality, or develop "backward" regions. Perhaps the long term lesson that is taught by the psychedelic experience is that the human animal, having evolved slowly over millions of years, is ill-equipped to handle sudden large advances in technology, which have historically resulted very reliably in mass production of weapons, ecological destruction, genocide, waste, and the collapse of civilizations. Surely there is a better use for creativity than this.
The point here is to give a better view of what a psychedelically enabled tribe, at the advent of the human race, might do with its powers of creativity. If our original African ancestors began the use of psychedelic agents as the first step toward an organized shamanism, only our modern illusions of what constitutes "progress" would predict that such a society, if truly a society of man, would rapidly invent and amass technology. A broader view would predict that what would be amassed by the true Homo sapiens would be techniques of living exhibiting a consciously designed harmony and ecology, leading to long-lasting modes of tribal life changing only slowly with time. Psychedelically enlightened tribes would optimally remain stable for millennia. To restate: Creativity in such a group would involve the creation and preservation of myth and ritual, the gradual perfection of a style of living, the elaboration of tradition, not a headlong rush into exploitation of "resources" and a supposed domination of nature.
Thus our originally psychedelically-enlightened ancestors, the first humans, would have spread slowly and surely from their original home, perhaps in East Africa, and carried with them such traditions of stability and longevity. Only severe challenges to their survival and continuation would result in their use of the creative power to make radical changes in their technology and lifestyle. Before long even a slow migration would have brought descendants of the original core group into the Middle East, as evidenced by fossils of modern humans in Israel dated at 100Ka. (29) We must remember that climatic changes after the end of the Eemian, although following a general tendency toward the next ice age, continued to include occasional but abrupt reversals as is shown by the recent Greenland ice core studies. Migration was likely therefore to have been a sporadic happening, as certain habitats and food sources changed. Considering these tribes' penchant for stability, intentional migration, just for the sake of migration, was unlikely. The spread of our ancestors would therefore have been slow and occasional, initiated by the occasional climatic upheavals and other environmental challenges such as volcanic eruption, changing food supplies, occurrence and avoidance of diseases, and perhaps the search for new medicines and psychedelic plants. We know from anthropological studies how important are the recommendations of the shamans for decisions taken by tribal elders, and it is thus possible that shamans also greatly influenced decisions of our early ancestors concerning their movements. The shamans' use and search for psychedelic plants may well have initiated some early migrations.
It is necessary to understand the above described tendencies that would naturally follow our original psychedelic enlightenment to see why modern culture as we know it did not get underway for over 60 thousand years. Tradition and stability reigned for many thousands of years while a slow migration brought human ancestors to Europe, Asia, and finally the Americas. But the flowering of modern culture did not really get underway until 40 thousand years ago, when art and body ornamentation, sophisticated bone tools, built hearths and structured living spaces, open site "religious" burials, storage pits and social storage, quarries, the long distance exchange of raw materials, long term occupation of harsh environments, and signs of complex forward planning made a wide appearance as evidenced in the archaeological record. (30) This apparently sudden appearance of the roots of the modern age, in which the beginnings of modern technology can be seen, is the phenomenon that has challenged anthropologists the most. If anatomically and cognitively modern humans began their specieshood in Africa 130Ka, why did it take so long for the modern trend to get underway? And importantly, what was the catalyst which precipitated this event so suddenly? Like all history, the answers to such questions, even if they could be known, must necessarily be very complex, a story that can be told in a multitude of ways that might seem contradictory. Consider the myriad ways the story of the eradication of Native American populations can be told.
But some scholars have proposed that the sudden flowering of the modern age beginning about 40Ka might actually have been more gradual, and sporadic. Such ideas fit in with the above observations on the likely characteristics of psychedelically-enlightened societies. The appearance of the previously-mentioned bone harpoons in Zaire, and other scattered evidence may well indicate that local tribes made advances in technology in fits and starts, in response to novel challenges, and then returned to long periods of stability. The appearance of cave art seems today from modern discoveries to be rather abrupt, yet the quality of such art would indicate a long tradition of artistic endeavor, certainly the artists of the Lascaux and Cosquer caves were no amateurs, thousands of years of tradition no doubt led up to their remarkable artistic abilities. New discoveries of even more ancient sites are bound to indicate that the first "artists" did not suddenly appear around 40 thousand years ago, but that artistic expression was a slowly maturing phenomenon of very long duration indeed, going back to the Eemian perhaps.
The psychedelic model of evolution of culture therefore agrees that some recent interpretations of evidence indicating a "sudden flowering" of culture beginning about 40Ka is too drastic. Alison Brooks, an archeologist who with John Yellen made the important finds in Zaire, states:
A closer scrutiny of the archeological record leads one to inquire, Just how abrupt was the behavioral transition in Europe? I believe that the gulf between the Middle Paleolithic and the Upper Paleolithic has been artificially widened by de-emphasizing the very real evidence of cultural complexity in the former and overstressing the achievement of early modern humans, who, in Europe, did not achieve all of the behaviors usually cited as part of the Upper Paleolithic "revolution" until the very end of the Pleistocene [near 10,000 years ago]. (31)
One final surmise about the trigger events that may have continued to push Early Man along the road to modern civilization will bring this chapter to a close. If, according to my theory, there was a gradual evolution of culture during the 70 thousand years between the Eemian and the period in which the beginnings of modern culture are deemed to have begun 40 thousand years ago, then we might look for the rapid, yet sporadic and geographically independent advances in culture and technology to coincide with known instances of rapid climatic change, with instances of severe volcanic activity or other known or to-be-discovered radical environmental influences during the period. It will certainly be interesting to compare further detailed analyses of the new Greenland ice cores to known and future archeological discoveries in an attempt to correlate cultural change with environmental disruption. Perhaps there will never be enough evidence to write history about such pre-historic times, but intriguing clues and parallel developments may well appear that will at least allow the writing of a probable scenario.
The question of how geographically isolated groups of modern men all developed astounding cultural and technological advances, and how at least two dozen different regional societies of men experienced along with such changes a dramatic increase in population, has been a puzzle for many archaeologists, linguists, anthropologists, and other workers. In the words of Chris Stringer and Robin McKie,
It is an extraordinary catalogue of achievements that seem to have come about virtually from nowhere - though obviously they did have a source. The question is: what was it? Did we bring the seeds of this mental revolution with us when we began our African Exodus, though its effects were so subtle they took another 50,000 years to accumulate before snowballing into a cultural and technological avalanche that now threatens to engulf Homo sapiens? Or did that final change occur later, and was it therefore more profound, and much speedier in its effects? (32)
I believe the answer is neither of these, or rather a combination of the two: The seeds of the revolution were indeed carried by Homo sapiens from his birthplace in Africa, but they were seeds which needed periodic stimulation to grow vigorously. As I have argued, psychedelic wisdom does not of itself propel societies to produce a "technological avalanche" nor should we believe that "technological avalanches" are inherently good. Psychedelic wisdom rather leads to ecology, stability, and longevity. But when novel and severe challenges present themselves to psychedelically-enabled societies, they are able to react intelligently and with foresight and complex long-range planning. This is perhaps the most important difference between the true Homo sapiens his animal forebears.
Thus the periodic and now well-established abrupt climatic upheavals of the post-Eemian world became the catalyst which successively and cumulatively forced tribes of men living in many isolated areas of the globe to use their God-like powers of creativity to advance technology in the interests of survival. An ice age was approaching, with fits and starts, and global climatic change was frequent and severe. If the cognitive seeds existed, dormant in the sense of not automatically producing technological change at a rate which we moderns believe essential to our species, and these seeds existed in all the societies of men around the globe, the fact of climatic change being a global phenomenon would explain how these seeds flowered, or were forced to grow independently in all these regions.
During the post-Eemian period, changes in the earth's orbit were responsible for the climatic disruption and slow onset of a new ice age. But such orbital changes have sometimes been hypothesized as the catalyst for increased volcanic activity as well. Whatever the cause, at least one extremely severe volcanic eruption occurred during the period leading up to that famous starting date for the beginning of modern technology, and in line with my proposals, may have been a major event pushing tribal societies around the world toward radical changes in the effort to survive. Stringer and McKie tell of the eruption:
The Earth was gripped by continuing climatic mayhem as changes in its orbit began inexorably to push down the world's thermostat. Then to add to these woes, about 74,000 years ago, Mount Toba on the island of Sumatra exploded in the largest volcanic eruption of the past 450 million years. The blast was 4,000 times more powerful than that of Mount St Helens and would have sent more than 1,000 cubic kilometres of dust and ash into the atmosphere, plunging the earth into years-long volcanic winters. Summer temperatures could have dropped by as much as twelve degrees centigrade, while forests shrank, deserts spread, and in eastern Asia, a prolonged winter monsoon would have swept clouds of dust from inland deserts round the globe... Having evolved in warm Savannah sun we nearly perished, huddled in cold dismal misery as volcanic plumes straddled the earth. (33)
Examination of some recent charts of sea-levels and estimated prevailing temperatures reveals that this event seems to have brought on the most severe period of the last ice age. The post-Eemian climate between 115Ka to 75Ka is now known to be more changeable, the Greenland ice core data showing several abrupt reversals, yet the same data show that after a significant warming period peaking about 75Ka to 80Ka, a severe decline then led into the very coldest period of the ice age. The whole of the post-Eemian climatic turmoil may well have been the partner to those original African seeds of modern culture which required such periodic stimulation to grow. The volcanic eruption might have been one of the most important instances driving societies to improvise and find technological solutions in order to survive, the aftermath of the Mount Toba event would have disrupted flora and fauna world-wide, it would have caused food shortages, driven intentional and planned migration in search of resources, brought about wide experimentation with new foods and medicinal plants, and perhaps even led to the appearance of new or altered species of psychedelic plants such as the fungi which might have proliferated in the wake of widespread forest death and an abundance of decaying vegetation. Psilocybe cyanescens for example, usually a fairly rare species, thrives in decaying woody debris and in colder climes. It is also one of the more powerful Psilocybe species.
It is certainly a difficult task to sift and weigh all these factors in the attempt to propose a concise scenario for psychedelic influence on early man. Two or more seemingly contradictory scenarios might well have happened simultaneously in different regions, or consecutively. The idea of psychedelic evolution is still too new, and much more work will have to take place with these new hypotheses in mind, trying to prove and disprove the many resulting implications before we can decide on a likely scenario. As I have said, this task is more than just the construction of a temporary model, it is an attempt to discover actual history and subject to real error.
References1. The Forbidden Game, A Social History of Drugs, 1975, Hodder and Stoughton Limited, U.K. p230. (back)
2. Machiavellian Intelligence, Richard W. Byrne and Andrew Whiten, editors, Clarendon Press, Oxford University Press, 1988. (back)
3. ibid., chapter 20, "Tools and the evolution of human intelligence," Thomas Wynn, p 283. (back)
4. ibid., Alison Jolly, pp373-4. (back)
5. See for example the paper by Daniel C. Dennett, "The intentional stance in theory and practice" for an appreciation of the "levels of intentionality" necessary and implicit in social interaction, ibid., chapter 14, pp180-202. (back)
6. See for example a question responded to by Andrew Weil at the first Tucson conference on consciousness: Toward a Science of Consciousness, Hameroff, Kaszniak, and Scott, editors, The M.I.T. Press, 1996, p687. (back)
7. The Thinking Ape, Richard Byrne, Oxford University Press 1995, p178. (back)
8. ibid., p142. (back)
9. Katherine Milton, "Foraging behavior and the evolution of primate intelligence", in Machiavellian Intelligence, ibid., pp285-305. (back)
10. See for example African Exodus, Chris Stringer & Robin McKie, Jonathan Cape, London 1996, p92-93 (back)
11. Self-Made Man, Jonathan Kingdon, John Wiley & Sons 1993, p97. (back)
12. Steven Pinker, "Facts about human language relevant to its evolution" in Origins of the Human Brain, Jean-Pierre Changeux and Jean Chavaillon, editors, A Fyssen Foundation Symposium, Clarendon Press, Oxford, ch17. (back)
13. ibid., p271. (back)
14. The Origin of Modern Humans, op. cit., p173. (back)
15. The Multiregional Hypothesis posits that an early migration by Homo erectus from the African heartland to the Near East, Europe, Asia, Australia, was followed by a long period of regional and parallel development, with some intermixing between regions, to produce Homo sapiens quasi-independently in the various regions. Under this scenario, racial differences, long thought to be far more significant than has recently been shown to be the case by genetic analyisis, were supposedly evolved during this at least million-year period. (back)
16. The first "Out-of-Africa" migration being that of H. erectus 1.5 to 2 Ma. (back)
17. African Exodus, Chris Stringer and Robin McKie, Jonathan Cape, London 1996, from the Preface. (back)
18. "Mitochondrial DNA and Human Evolution" in Origins of the Human Brain, Jean-Pierre Changeux and Jean Chavillon, editors, Fyssen Foundation Symposium, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1995, p 128. (back)
19. African Exodus, op. cit., p150 (back)
20. Ibid., p 150 (back)
21. The Origin of Modern Humans, Roger Lewin, Scientific American Library 1993, p99. (back)
22. African Exodus, op. cit., pp 5-6 (back)
23. Ibid., p134. (back)
24. see The Origin of Modern Humans, op. cit., p99. (back)
25. "Chill Warnings from Greenland," New Scientist, 28 August, 1993, pp29-33. (back)
26. Ibid., p31. (back)
27. "Sneezing while the Earth warms," New Scientist, 24 August, 1996, p5. (back)
28. African Exodus, op. cit, p5. (back)
29. see African Exodus, op. cit, various index entries under "Qafzeh, Israel." (back)
30. see the chart in In Search of the Neanderthals, Christopher Stringer and Clive Gamble, Thames and Hudson, 1993, p198. (back)
31. Quoted in Lewin, The Origin of Modern Humans, op. cit., p128 (back)
32. African Exodus, op. cit., p186-187 (back)
33. African Exodus, op. cit., p153. Stringer and McKie give the reference for the eruption as M. Rampino and S. Self, 1993, "Climate-volcanism feedback and the Toba eruption of ca. 74,000 years ago", Quatenary Research, 40: 269-80. (back)
Chapter 8 | Table of Contents