Psychedelics (mescaline, LSD, psilocybin, DMT…) are compounds that act on the serotonin receptors in the nervous system (they resemble serotonin, the brain’s own neurotransmitter in chemical structure) and shape sensory perceptions and thinking. They also produce a so-called altered state of consciousness. An altered State of Consciousness (ASC) means a state of mind that is different from the waking state, which can be created artificially (chemically) or it can also occur naturally without human intervention.
The enigmatic human mind
Mystical experiences are one designation for transformed states of consciousness. Research is conducted mainly at the practical level in medicine, psychology and neurobiology, usually in support of nursing. Humanists avoid visually confusing them with their theories (there are exceptions, of course). However, psychedelics and mystical experiences also have explanatory value in the humanities. Their research has met with resistance, especially because of the massive “entertainment use” and the subsequent international ban. Second, they seem to be beyond the reach of rational research in nature: their research has some sort of encounter problem.
Psychedelics tell a story of a human growth disorder. Human growth disorder explains human evolution, mystical experiences, and human interest in psychedelic experiences. Here, I try to offer mystical experiences and psychedelics a key role in the study of modern human evolution and the psyche. I understand this may sound like I would invite people to use dangerous weapons. That is not my intention. It’s worth thinking about why these things are so frowned upon, taboo, or defined as illegal. Most know that the reason for such is to keep the truth hidden.
Attempts to solve human evolution, one of the most controversial fields of research, have been made for centuries. One of the amazing facts about human evolution is its history. In short, it is rude: extinction has befallen almost the entire family, only homo sapiens has been spared from it. It is therefore quite appropriate to ask why we humans today are alive and why evolution has favoured us more than other gay species? The very first thing that comes to mind is to look for an explanation of psychedelics and mystical experiences. However, it has been tried.
The starting point of one of the most influential people conducting personal research on psychedelics, the American ethnologist and author Terence McKenna was the human brain. He saw a lot of unusual features in brain development. He said science had no explanation for people’s leap-like mental development. But he had one: hominids had found mushrooms containing psilocybin in the manure of the migratory cattle they followed 40-50,000 years ago. That was the beginning of the rapid development of modern humans, he said. Fungal psilocybin had improved the visual alertness of these human populations, sexual activity at higher doses, and hallucinatory conditions at even higher doses. Fungi were also the explanation for the rapid development of the brain. He called this the stoned ape theory. The scientific community did not take the idea of psychedelics as a trigger for human evolution seriously, and the theory probably did not contribute much to the study of psychedelics either.
Terence McKenna (1946 – 2000) was an American ethnobotanist, lecturer, author, and advocate for the responsible use of naturally occurring psychedelic plants.
Evolution and psychedelics
I think Terence McKenna’s attempt is basically good, at least it questioned the prevailing perceptions, but there is something wrong with it. First, it is difficult to explain how psychoactive substances would have permanently altered the human genome — even at the time McKenna proposed. Permanent changes in species are estimated by researchers to take up to a million years. Homo sapiens simply did not have that much time at their disposal. This was also a challenge for other theories of human development: there was not enough time for evolutionary change. The change must have another kind of roots. Species are man-made abstractions of adapted populations, yet they truly reflect their habitats. The human species was a chameleon-like population seeming to adapt everywhere. That is strange. The longer people live somewhere, the more clearly habitats have begun to reflect people and not the other way around. The definition of a human species is also a bit lame. Second, according to McKenna, the use of mushrooms ceased about 12,000 years ago and led to some kind of decline. If the change was not permanent, the theory simply does not simply hold water.
I also drew my attention to the fact that McKenna thought psychedelics were evolutionarily developing human consciousness. My own view is different. The reason for using psychedelics is not that they develop human consciousness or elevate us apart from the animal kingdom. On the contrary, I believe they are used because they are able to bring us back down. I do not disagree with McKenna about the effects of psychedelics, only about their interpretation. I also believe it is just a coincidence that certain plants and fungi contain serotonin-like compounds. It is a mere coincidence that man has come to find them. I think plants have no message or plan for us and we are not any mystical messengers of the mushroom. I do not underestimate these feelings at all, I respect them. But in terms of understanding our evolution, it is good to know where these feelings come from and whether they have an organic function. Psychedelics alone do not help to understand the peculiar world of the mind. It also requires current scientific knowledge, a lot of questioning, and good luck. Despite this, Terence McKenna is my hero.