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Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge A Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution

Terence McKenna · 3 HN comments
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Amazon Summary
An exploration of humans' symbiotic relationships with plants and chemicals presents information on prehistoric partnership societies, the roles of spices and spirits in the rise of dominator societies; and the politics of tobacco, tea, coffee, opium, and alcohol. Why, as a species, are humans so fascinated by altered states of consciousness? Can altered states reveal something to us about our origins and our place in nature? In Food of the Gods, ethnobotanist Terence McKenna’s research on man’s ancient relationship with chemicals opens a doorway to the divine, and perhaps a solution for saving our troubled world. McKenna provides a revisionist look at the historical role of drugs in the East and the West, from ancient spice, sugar, and rum trades to marijuana, cocaine, synthetics, and even television—illustrating the human desire for the “food of the gods” and the powerful potential to replace abuse of illegal drugs with a shamanic understanding, insistence on community, reverence for nature, and increased self-awareness. Praise for Food of the Gods “Deserves to be the modern classic on mind-altering drugs and hallucinogens.” — The Washington Post “Terence McKenna is the most important—and most entertaining—visionary scholar in America.” —Tom Robbins “The culture’s foremost spokesperson for the psychedelic experience . . . Those who know and enjoy Joseph Campbell’s work will almost certainly appreciate McKenna.” — L.A. Weekly “An eloquent proposal for recovering something vital—a sense of the sacred, the transcendent, the Absolute—before it’s too late.” —Larry Dossey, M.D., author of Meaning & Medicine, Recovering the Soul, and Space, Time & Machine
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If you're curious about the ties between religion, shamanism and psychedelics theres a great book by Terrence McKenna on this subject called Food of the Gods: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0553371304?psc=1&ref=ppx_yo2_dt_b_...
anthk
https://www.uh.edu/engines/epi1037.htm
Terrance McKenna entertained us with the theory that psilocybin catalyzed human language "on the mushroom dotted plains of Africa".

https://www.amazon.com/Food-Gods-Original-Knowledge-Evolutio...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terence_McKenna

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FdaMVuswNrg

Trasmatta
The Stoned Ape theory is a prime example of a phenomenon I've noticed where frequent users of psilocybin begin attributing all sorts of miracles to mushrooms. Everything becomes explained by mushrooms. I've seen it happen in person and online. It's a bit bizarre.
wskish
I've seen that too but I think from the evolutionary perspective all that is needed is some material adjustment to mental performance e.g. incremental creativity or even just escaping some local minima.
01100011
It's almost as if they were ingesting a substance which altered their thinking...

Look, I seriously love shrooms. I stopped everything else, especially weed with all of its subtly negative effects which creep up over time, and do frequent mushroom trips and occasional light dose of alcohol. That said, I find it funny when people do a drug that alters their thinking and perceptions on such a deep level but draw a line at where they think those effects begin and end as if the brain/mind was ever that clearly compartmentalized.

rantwasp
yup. The Stoned Ape theory.
__blockcipher__
The “stoned ape” theory is one of the dumbest theories ever invented. I say that as a big McKenna fan - he’s a great orator and very insightful, but his theory is very transparently a way to elevate the perceived importance of shrooms. There’s a common trip motif that shrooms make one “more human” and the “theory” is just a projection of that.

Mechanistically it just doesn’t make any sense. The reason mushrooms make us trip is because there’s already a network there that they “talk” to (the 5ht_2a receptor system)

And how exactly would non-linguistic animals suddenly gain linguistic ability? They better hope everyone around them is tripping on the perfect dose too otherwise they’re just gonna perceive it as meaningless babblimg

pmoriarty
"The reason mushrooms make us trip is because there’s already a network there that they “talk” to (the 5ht_2a receptor system)"

But how does binding to the 5-HT[2A] receptor lead to, say, communing with one's dead mother, or to forgiveness of oneself or one's abusive father, or to a creative breakthrough on a problem you've been struggling with for months or years, or to an encounter with one's god, or to the realization that you/we are god, or to curing/treating depression or addiction, etc?

These are open questions that science doesn't have very satisfying answers to yet.

rantwasp
they sort of are open. your brain is basically a interpreting and predicting the world 24/7. it work by making meaning of what it perceives. a flood of a neurotransmitter basically alters the way the brain works and whatever experience you have is your brain trying to make senses of the new and unexpected electrochemical activity.

you are not communicating with your dead mother or you are not being a god.

it works for depression because it allows the brain to exercise and form neural pathways that are not normally allowed. even if we think about the brain as one organ, in reality there are a lot of interconnected neural nets that are regulated by a central supervisory net called the DMN. Under psychedelics, the DMN shuts down while the other networks increase activity.

__blockcipher__
> These are open questions that science doesn't have very satisfying answers to yet.

Agreed.

It’s nowhere near complete but one place to start is psychedelic (a) increase communication across/between disparate brain regions, (b) synchronize the various waves of brain activity into a single vibration, and (c) reduces the threshold at which pattern matching / classifier networks will fire (thus the increased visual acuity at small doses and pareidolia and other visual effects at high doses)

I remember a study that explained (b), can’t remember anything else about it though :/

EDIT: https://ai.googleblog.com/2015/06/inceptionism-going-deeper-... is also great to think about. DeepDream produces very psychedelic images and the bit about reversing the network and having it recurse on pattern matching its on output to “massage” the raw input into alignment with a schema (akin to feeding output back into input) is very relevant

wskish
It seems plausible that something that does (a) and (b) could begin to manifest as some increased language capability.
wskish
I was careful to say "entertained", so I don't disagree with you, But just to engage further, what other satisfying models are there for non-linguistic animals suddenly gaining linguistic ability?
tinco
Evolution. Animals suddenly gain all sorts of competencies when the competitive pressure is on. Most animals already have linguistic ability, I don't think human language is all that special. We can do all sorts of fancy things with our brains that seem to defy explanation through the simple mechanics of evolution, but communicating the state of your brain to another of your species, that feels like basic stuff to me.
murm
> And how exactly would non-linguistic animals suddenly gain linguistic ability? They better hope everyone around them is tripping on the perfect dose too otherwise they’re just gonna perceive it as meaningless babblimg

I don't think this has to be an sudden event? Apes are already communicating with each other and have the relevant structures for communication in place. It isn't impossible for me to imagine that mushrooms with their creativity-heightening effects might offer insights to an ape on how to improve the utilization of that which is already there, making their communication more refined, precise and expressive. It also isn't impossible to imagine that in a group of social animals better communication would likely increase the probability of survival and leaving offspring, thus influencing evolution.

I recommend “Food of the Gods” https://www.amazon.com/Food-Gods-Original-Knowledge-Evolutio... to anyone that’s interested in what role magic mushrooms may have played in the evolution of humans. It also does an interesting job in talking about what drugs are legal and what drugs are illegal (and the somewhat arbitrary demarcation line between what’s socially acceptable (alcohol, caffeine, sugar, tobacco) and what is not and will put you behind bars).

Take it w/ a grain of salt but it’s definitely thought provoking.

Also keep in mind that it was written in 1993 but does a pretty good job of anticipating the legalization of marijuana and the eventual decriminalization of moslty all drugs on Schedule I that were put there without any kind of research or backing data (psilocybin, DMT and friends)

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