The ‘Stoned Ape’ Theory

Terence Kemp McKenna (November 16, 1946 – April 3, 2000) was an American philosopher, psychonaut, ethnobotanist, lecturer, and author. He spoke and wrote about a variety of subjects, including psychedelic drugs, plant-based entheogens, shamanism, metaphysics, alchemy, language, culture, technology, and the theoretical origins of human consciousness. Even though he hasn’t gained a lot of support among the scientific community, he is a important personality on the history of psychedelic philosophy, and we can find many spiritual teachings on his works.

McKenna’s basic proposal was that human beings should explore the limits of their own minds, thus getting closer to the secrets of the Universe, and the best tool for doing this were plants, guardians of cosmic intelligence, which, according to some shamanic traditions, can not only communicate with humans and teach them, but can also serve as communication links to ancestral spirits and alternate realities through ritualistic protocols.

Perhaps the most intriguing of Terence McKenna’s fascinating theories and observations is his explanation for the origin of the human mind and human culture.

Food of the Gods

In his book Food of the Gods, he hypothesizes that as the North African jungles receded, giving way to savannas and grasslands near the end of the most recent ice age, a branch of our arboreal primate ancestors left the forest canopy and began living in the open areas beyond. There they experimented with new varieties of foods as they adapted, physically and mentally, to the environment. Among the new foods found in this environment were psilocybin-containing mushrooms growing near dung of ungulate herds occupying the savannas and grasslands.

This is Terence McKenna’s “Stoned Ape” Theory of Human Evolution, which can be as plausible, or more, as other theories of evolution. Especially when we think about it from a higher level of consciousness. Here is a talk on this Theory:

Conversations At The Edge Of Magic (1994) ~ Starwood Festival

McKenna’s theory is necessarily based on a great deal of supposition interpolating between the few fragmentary facts we know about hominid and early human history. In addition, because McKenna (who describes himself as “an explorer, not a scientist”) is also a proponent of much wilder suppositions, his more reasonable theories are usually disregarded by the very scientists whose informed criticism is crucial for their development. In a review of his book Food of the gods, Village Voice stated ‘if only a fraction of Mckenna thoughts are true, he will someday be regarded as the Copernican for consciousness‘.

The trippy ‘Stoned Ape Theory’ animation by Will Carsola


People have attempted — unsuccessfully — to answer the question of how our minds and consciousness evolved from the ape. They’ve tried all kinds of things to account for this evolution, but to my mind, the key unlocking this great mystery is the presence of psychoactive plants in the diet of early man.

 – Terence McKenna

More information: Collected works by and about Terence McKenna

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5 responses to “The ‘Stoned Ape’ Theory

  1. Pingback: Younger Brother – Psychic Gibbon | 3rdeyevision·

  2. Joe Rogan podcast CHECK IT OUT! Just a little joke. I heard about this theory through said podcast and Rogan has gotten me into psychedelics. Very nice article, when I have more time, I shall watch the video.

  3. “McKenna’s basic proposal was that human beings should explore the limits of their own minds,”

    I think reflects truly.

    No doubt. Guy was way up into his preoccupation with what other people should do with their own minds (none of his own, theirs).

    And mot just folks he knew personally, not just friends and family – his own peeps, in whose lives he perhaps have had some legitimate interest – but humanity as a whole.

    His ‘basic proposal’ was about what all and sundry – should do with their minds, and how. As if – not only is ‘Terence’ wise knowing light of the world, awaiting humanity’s recognition and acclaim. But also – as if what others should do with their minds is some issue he’s got with them – or any business of his. And likewise, as if anyone but his followers – would could or should care whatever the heck he thinks – no, claims to think – everyone else oughta do with their minds.

    About like any self-glorifying world mission I guess. Switch out a few lyrics – familiar song remains the same. Same old same old, as any Chicken Little urgent ‘sky falling down’ warning – or “Listen To Me” message of big cosmic drama.

    On one side – its all up into the Big Hope, whether of making it to heaven, or some dawning of a glorious new golden age of aquarius (“full of surreal transformative promise” etc). On the other, a song of fear – all scared of going to hell, or the ‘end of the world.’ Or ‘end of history’ – as Mr “What People Should Do With Their Minds” liked calling his ‘eschaton.’

    At least Terence & Philip ape ‘theory’ – doesn’t have an expiration date like that Timedaze thing they excreted. Unlike Y2K12, at least ‘apes’ doesn’t turn into a pumpkin of Dec 21 of some year, self-destruct in some lame come-and-go fizzle. The better to get a Never Ending Story out of it. Like Jesus’ second coming, as New Testament sets it out – its in no danger of any date coming and going. But if any low-rent wannabee prophets like, they can “help develop the theory.” So its a come one, com all crap shoot. And you don’t have to be an expert, anyone can get in on. Can set their own prophecy date for Jesus return, like so many have. And start blowing that horn, see who they can get drawn into their little cult – like moths to their feeble flame … see how it works.

    If ‘apes’ were the ghost of not ‘Terence’ but Jacob Marley (considering the season) – how might one address it? Might one find “more of theology than theory’ in such a ludicrous imitation – such lame ‘aping’ of – what, a thought, or idea, or – whatever? I wonder …

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