This is Chapter 2 of a 6 part series covering the Stoned Ape Theory as presented by Terence McKenna in his lecture, “Mushrooms, Evolution, and the Millennium.”
In Chapter 1, Terence talked about how we as human beings are extremely unique on this planet because of our intelligence and propensity to imagine. He then asks what could possibly have been the cause that the great apes in the African Basin so many eons ago to undergo this evolution which led them out of the jungles and into modern humanity.
Part 2 of this lecture is a little long, because we get into the actual meat of the STONED APE THEORY itself. I promise there rest of them will be smaller.
It covers the reasons that monkeys would have eaten the mushroom, the effects the mushroom would have had on those monkeys, and why it was so paradigm upheaving.
I suggest you listen to the whole thing because he goes into great detail. But anyway, to summarize very briefly, it goes something like this:
- The Earth goes through cycles of desertification. For those of you who don’t know, the Sahara was once a climaxed rainforest some million (or so) years ago.
- One such cycle that was occurring at that time forced animals to find new strategies for survival, including in some cases a new diet.
- The monkeys left the trees and came down to the grassland. They adapted their diet from fruitarian to omnivorous hunter-gatherers.
- Simultaneously, certain ungulate (hoofed) mammals were also evolving on the African grasslands (you can imagine that these were the ancestors of modern wildebeest, etc.).
- These herds of ungulates left behind a lot of cowpies. Dung heaps. Manure.
- Manure is the preferred substrate for certain mushrooms. This means that these mushrooms derive take root in manure and derive nutrition from it.
- The monkeys were interested in the ungulates as a source of meat, and followed them around. Inevitably they came across the mushroom growing on the manure, and obviously tried them out for food. (It is interesting to note that Stropharia cubensis is pandemic, meaning it can be found all over the world).
- The mushroom has certain effects. These effects would have had immense influence on evolution in the following ways:
- In low doses, it gives better eyesight. So a hunter-gatherer animal that can see better will get more food.
- In slightly higher doses, it causes arousal. So monkeys that are getting aroused more are getting laid more, which leads to more offspring. These tribes will eventually out-populate the more mellow, uninterested monkey tribes that weren’t getting this arousal effect.
- And in higher doses, the gloves come off. It has an effect on the language center of the brain, which is a part of the accompanying consciousness-expanding psychedelic trip.
- The consciousness expansion and language formation was incredibly important. Language conveys meaning and recreates imagination (or attempts to). Through language- and this means speaking, dance, art, and so on- someone can try and show you what is in their head. In fact, culture itself is an attempt to coax into reality the structures of the human imagination through language- and now we have cities, and Pokemon, and freight trains.
Now give the lecture a listen. I know, it’s 26 minutes, you’re thinking it’s going to take forever. But it is very interesting, and he tells it better than probably anyone can. I promise I’ll never ask you to listen to 26 minutes of McKenna again. Probably.
And for those of you who manage to sit through the whole thing, as a bonus here is an abridged version of the STONED APE THEORY by Comedy Central’s TripTank. It may not be perfectly true to the theory, but it’s funny as hell.