Terence McKenna

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Terence McKenna (November 16 1946 - April 3 2000) was a writer and philosopher. He was notable for his many speculations on subjects ranging from the Voynich Manuscript to the origins of the human species to Novelty Theory, which claims time to be a fractal wave of increasing novelty, which ends abruptly in 2012. (see Eschaton). McKenna's theory is related to the theory of the technological singularity, except that McKenna advocated what he called an Archaic Revival as the antidote to what he saw as the self-destructive nature of unchecked, technological development. This concept appeared to involve a combination of hallucinogenic drugs, Gaianism, and shamanism.



Terence McKenna received a B.S. in Ecology and Conservation from the Tussman Experimental College, a short-lived outgrowth of UC Berkeley, in 1969. He spent the months after his graduation traveling through India and other Asian countries, alternately smuggling hashish and collecting butterflies for biological supply companies.

In 1971 Terence McKenna, his brother Dennis, and three others traveled to the Colombian amazon in search of oo-koo-hé, a plant preparation containing DMT. At La Chorrera, at the urging of his brother, he allowed himself to be the subject of a psychedelic experiment which he claimed put him in contact with The Logos: an informative, hallucinatory voice nearly universal to the visionary experience. The revelations of this voice prompted him to undertake his investigations into the structure of the I Ching, which eventually led him to his Novelty Theory.

For most of the 1970s McKenna maintained a low profile, living in a nondescript suburban home, supporting his lifestyle with the royalties from the Magic Mushroom Growers Guide, and the cultivation and sale of psilocybin mushrooms. He said that he was frightened out of this line of work, and into public speaking by the harsh penalties the war on drugs exacted from his colleagues. He himself was once wanted by Interpol for drug trafficking.

McKenna was a contemporary and colleague of Ralph Abraham, Rupert Sheldrake, and Riane Eisler and participated in joint workshops and symposiums with them. He was a personal friend of Tom Robbins, and influenced the thought of numerous scientists, writers, artists, and entertainers.

He became a fixture of popular counterculture in his later years. Timothy Leary once introduced him as “the real Tim Leary”. He contributed to psychedelic and goa trance albums by The Shamen, Spacetime Continuum, Zuvuya and Shpongle, and his speeches were sampled by many others. He was a skilled orator, and admired by his fans for his eloquence. While many of his presentations tended to be verbatim repetitions of the same catch phrases, his gift for extemporaneous speech allowed him to weave them into seamless performances that varied audience to audience. His responses to novel questions were often as sophisticated as his prepared material.

McKenna also co-founded Botanical Dimensions, a non-profit ethnobotanical preserve on the Island of Hawaii, where he lived for several years prior to his death. He died of glioblastoma multiforme, a rare type of brain cancer. He was 54 years old. He is survived by his brother Dennis, his son Finn, and his daughter Klea.

The "Stoned Ape" theory of human evolution

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.

To summarize: McKenna theorizes that as the North African jungles receded toward the end of the most recent ice age, giving way to grasslands, a branch of our tree-dwelling primate ancestors left the branches and took up a life out in the open — following around herds of ungulates, nibbling what they could along the way.

Among the new items in their diet were psilocybin-containing mushrooms growing in the dung of these ungulate herds. The changes caused by the introduction of this drug to the primate diet were many — McKenna theorizes, for instance, that synesthesia (the blurring of boundaries between the senses) caused by psilocybin led to the development of spoken language: the ability to form pictures in another person's mind through the use of vocal sounds.

About 12,000 years ago, further climate changes removed the mushroom from the human diet, resulting in a new set of profound changes in our species as we reverted to pre-mushroomed and frankly brutal primate social structures that had been modified and/or repressed by frequent consumption of psilocybin.

McKenna's theory has great appeal and intuitive strength, but it 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, such as his "Timewave Zero" theory, his more reasonable theories are usually disregarded by the very scientists whose informed criticism is crucial for their development.


Spoken word

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