The Stoned Ape Theory of Human Evolution
If you are European, there is a good chance that you know about Darwin and the theory of evolution. What is less likely though, is that you heard of Terence McKenna's “Stoned Ape” theory. Fortunately, we are here to fill in the blanks.
Terence McKenna was an American philosopher who focused his life’s work on the nature of consciousness and pioneered the use of high dosed psychedelics. In his many books, he came up many far-out theories, a particularly intriguing one is about how psychedelics have shaped human evolution, how they helped Homo erectus to eventually become Homo sapiens. This is what is now known as “The Stoned Ape Theory of Human Evolution”
According to McKenna's theory, which is outlined in his book “Food of the Gods”, as the North African jungles receded towards the end of the most recent ice age, it gave way to large swathes of open grassland. Our ancestors, who had previously been branch dwelling, were now faced with a new challenge of adaptability in order to thrive. He argues that our ancestors would follow around herds of animals, hunting them, but also living off the land as they went. As they followed herds around, it is highly likely that they found magic mushrooms growing in the dung that was left behind. It is the introduction of these mushrooms into the diet of early humans that is thought to have boosted us into the top of the food chain.
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What?!? How did these magic mushrooms help us evolve?
Well firstly, according to McKenna, the visual acuity gained from a small dosage of psilocybin would have given them a huge evolutionary advantage when it comes to hunting, especially over those who did eat mushrooms. It would have been much easier for them to find and track prey. This means the community would have more food, which results in a healthier group and higher rates of reproduction – which is pretty much what evolution is all about.
At slightly higher doses the psilocybin acts as a sexual stimulant, another evolutionary benefit, as it would quite understandably result in more offspring being produced. Even higher doses can start to alter the way we think and bring down boundaries. If this was the case with our forefathers, then high doses would have promoted community bonding, making them more empathetic towards each other and strengthening the group as a whole.
What is also quite interesting in this theory, is that McKenna puts forth that psychoactive stimulation of magic mushrooms would have encouraged vocal communication. That‘s a revolutionary thought by itself right there. Essentially, he argues, mushrooms promote linguistic thinking and promoted the development of words, and ultimately complex language.
As you can see, this is quite an interesting theory. It may sound quite outlandish to some, but it is not exactly implausible. This is not a theory saying others are wrong, and that this is exactly how we evolved into what we are today; but rather, it seems to says that magic mushrooms were a guiding hand, working in conjunction with the bigger picture.