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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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From Kirkus Reviews
The ethnobotanist co-author of Psilocybin: The Magic Mushroom Grower's Guide (not reviewed) puts forth the theory that magic mushrooms are the original ``tree of knowledge'' and that the general lack of psychedelic exploration is leading Western society toward eventual collapse or destruction--controversial statements, to say the least, though the argument's details often prove fascinating. In the beginning, McKenna tells us, there were protohumans with small brains and plenty of genetic competition, and what eventually separated the men from the apes was an enthusiasm for the hallucinogenic mushrooms that grew on the feces of local cattle. Claiming that psilocybin in the hominid diet would have enhanced eyesight, sexual enjoyment, and language ability and would have thereby placed the mushroom-eaters in the front lines of genetic evolution--eventually leading to hallucinogen-ingesting shamanistic societies, the ancient Minoan culture, and some Amazonian tribes today--McKenna also asserts that the same drugs are now outlawed in the US because of their corrosive effect on our male-dominated, antispiritual society. Unconsciously craving the vehicles by which our ancestors expanded their imaginations and found meaning in their lives, he says, we feast on feeble substitutes: coffee, sugar, and chocolate, which reinforce competition and aggressiveness; tobacco, which destroys our bodies; alcohol, whose abuse leads to male violence and female degradation; TV, which deadens our senses; and the synthetics--heroin, cocaine and their variations--which leave us victimized by our own addiction. On the other hand, argues McKenna, magic mushrooms, used in a spiritually enlightened, ritual manner, can open the door to greater consciousness and further the course of human evolution- -legalization of all drugs therefore is, he says, an urgent necessity. Provocative words--often captivating, but not often convincing. -- Copyright ©1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“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
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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.