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.
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