Tuesday, April 19, 2005

PLANTS AND HUMAN EVOLUTION

The late Terrance McKenna
made the observation that psychedelic plants may have had a profound impact upon human evolution. I would like to explore that thought.

Humans have had the same physical brain for at least 200,000 years. But having 1400 cc of grey matter doesn't mean you know how to use it. There are millions of people, who, either from cruel child rearing practices, or a poor social environment never rise above corporate junk culture and thus never really exercise their imaginations and creative powers. While early humans were undoubtedly stimulated by their broader environment, following McKenna, I suggest that they also received a significant boost from certain plants.

Our ancestors would have carefully observed animals to see which plants were edible. They also would have experimented by ingesting small quantities of substances to ascertain their effects. They would have soon been aware of which of these were edible, which were poisonous and which had "interesting" effects. These latter plants would have effectively kick-started the imagination.


These interesting effects include a very heightened awareness of the senses, most particularly color and sound, a feeling of at-one-ness or unity with the world, a pulsing energy running thru everything (The world is alive.) and a dream-like or magical quality to existence. It is not difficult to conceive how art, music, poetry, spirituality and philosophy would be stimulated into existence by such visions.


The stimulation of the imagination gives rise to creativity. Some of this creativity will be technical in nature, such as how to manufacture better spear points. These technical improvements would be an obvious aid in human evolution, but so to would be the social improvements.

Rituals would evolve out of the ingestion of psychedelic plants. Not everyone could take them at the same time, since the band would be vulnerable to attack by predators such as lions and saber tooth tigers. Music and dance might arise spontaneously in such a setting, initiated by the "high" minority and then taken up by the rest. Rituals, are of course, a form of social bonding, as are art and poetry.

Their imaginations stimulated, people wish to communicate the marvelous experience of their "trips". This would further develop language, which here-to-fore may have only dealt with relatively mundane matters, such as "The fruit is now ripe" or "Watch out ! A poisonous snake!". A more articulate populace, would in turn develop a philosophy or coherent (and therefore bonding) world-view based largely upon the effects of the plant chemicals.

A society with closer social bonds and a better communication system (language) would have an edge on societies that lacked these. (*) I suggest that mutual aid was further advanced thru bonding and language, and thus was partially a result of the ingestion of these plants. Mutual aid, in turn, furthers bonding and also cultural and technological development.

A thought that I would like to return to at another time has to do with the hostility of authoritarian systems toward psychedelic plants. Authoritarianism destroys mutual aid and the social, replacing these with bullying, exploiting hierarchies of power. In essence the authoritarian system is a form of de-evolution, stripping us of what made us human to begin with. Thus it is natural the authoritarian (the sub-human) would wish to prevent the use of plants which stimulate the imagination and the social.

(*) Which is not to say that I believe in a brute "survival of the fittest". I suspect that bands of homo sapiens communicated their new-found knowledge to each other, giving them an advantage over the less evolved homo erectus.

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