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Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge A Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution Paperback – January 1, 1993
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“Deserves to be the modern classic on mind-altering drugs and hallucinogens.”—The Washington Post
“Terence McKenna is the most important—and most entertaining—visionary scholar in America.”—Tom Robbins
“The culture’s foremost spokesperson for the psychedelic experience . . . Those who know and enjoy Joseph Campbell’s work will almost certainly appreciate McKenna.”—L.A. Weekly
“An eloquent proposal for recovering something vital—a sense of the sacred, the transcendent, the Absolute—before it’s too late.”—Larry Dossey, M.D., author of Meaning & Medicine, Recovering the Soul, and Space, Time & Machine
About the Author
Terence McKenna, author and explorer, has traveled the world to work and live with shamans. He has added to their shared knowledge of rituals his own efforts to preserve the plants used in these ceremonies. Coauthor of The Invisible Landscape and Psilocybin: The Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide, Terence mesmerizes his many lecture audiences with tales of science and shamanism. He lives in Occidental, California, and is co-manager of a botanical garden in Hawaii for endangered tropical plants.
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The book definitely requires that you have a broad vocabulary, and either a dictionary, google, or smart person (lol) by your side. I could randomly open the book up, and go to any page, and that single page alone provides new and very interesting information or Mckenna's personal take on particulars. I highly recommend this book to actually anyone who wants to try to figure this world out, wants to solve problems, or even is just interested in how humans do things or why the world is how it is today. !
One of his basic theories is that the consumption of psilocybin-containing mushrooms accelerated the evolution of the human mind. First of all, doesn't that sound a bit like Lamarkism? Well, on the surface it does, but there are serious academic biologists who have recently suggested that biological and cultural evolution (such as taking up the use of psychedelic mushrooms) can interact in interesting ways. The "Baldwin Effect" is what is potentially at play here, the phenomenon that phenotypical modifications (psilocybin induced brain states), while not directly affecting genes, can lead the evolutionary pathway in a certain direction. Acquired phenotypic modifications of the brain come first, and the genotype can catch up later. An excellent outline of these extensions of classic evolutionary theory can be found in Jablonka and Lamb's "Evolution in Four Dimensions". Is this to say that I am convinced that things happened how Mckenna describes them? No, but it is an interesting suggestion, and not at all scientifically ridiculous.
Mckenna then goes on to describe how, in his opinion, the shamanic, hallucinogen-literate societies of the late paleolithic were transformed into the current consumerist, hallucinogen-illiterate, drug consuming, but at the same time drug prosecuting and demonizing societies. And, he argues that the change went hand in hand with a change from friendly partnership societies to ego and power driven dominator societies. Unfortunately, in this part of the book, Mckenna is often too sloppy, even for a book which is obviously meant to be leaning out of the window with speculation. While there is ancient art clearly depicting mushrooms, he sees them almost everywhere, like in an ancient god's round hat and in an upward expanding palace column.
The later chapters are again a strength of "Food of the Gods", where Mckenna gives an outline of the drug policies of the last several hundred years. Of course the historical sources are much more abundant about this period as opposed to pre-history, and Mckenna knows them well. He rightfully angrily describes the incredible hypocrisy which has harmed the lives of so many people. And, again, he asks: what does it say about a society if mind-numbing drugs like alcohol and television are encouraged, but mind-expanding drugs like psilocybin and LSD are criminalized? Why is coffee, which makes you nervous and work harder, found in every office, but cannabis, which makes you contemplative and relaxed, officially banned? Wouldn't a mushroom-using society make very different decisions as opposed to our current tabako-smoking, alcohol drinking society? And, don't our society's alcohol and nicotine inspired decisions often involve wife-beating and drunk driving on a small scale, and war, social injustice and environmental destruction on a large scale? These are viable questions, and Mckenna deserves credit for asking them in an eloquent and readable manner.