Don Bastardo: ”You want to see the work? Fine, but you won’t understand it, and you won’t replicate it at home. You want to speak with the dead? What do you think you’re going to learn?”
John Reinhardt: “How to permanently change my mind. Because the one I’ve got isn’t big enough.”
Evolutionary Psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa has recently been publishing a version of his Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis over at Psychology Today. His theory, amongst many other things, establishes a connection between intelligence, novelity seeking and the consumption of psychoactive drugs. Or, as the Atlantic Wire put it: “Smart People Do More Drugs — Because of Evolution.” The quick version, hopefully without boiling it down too far, is that Kanazawa believes that more intelligent individuals are better equipped to deal with novel situations – and in fact seek those situations out. Thus, highly intelligent individuals are more likely to seek out experiences with psychoactive drugs, which are essentially novelty sinks. He’s not claiming that this behavior has a traditionally positive effect – in fact his wording shows a pretty strong bias against psychoactive experimentation but simply that people with high IQs are more likely to seek these experiences out. Or in his words:
People–scientists and civilians alike–often associate intelligence with positive life outcomes. The fact that more intelligent individuals are more likely to consume alcohol, tobacco, and psychoactive drugs tampers this universally positive view of intelligence and intelligent individuals. Intelligent people don’t always do the right thing, only the evolutionarily novel thing.
What struck me, is not that he found proof of this tendency – eyeballing the amount of Ph.D’s in the room the last time I tripped has me anecdotally primed for such a conclusion – but how interestingly it matches Terence McKenna’s “Stoned Ape” theory of human cognitive development. While history and the fields of Anthropology or Evolutionary Biology haven’t been too kind to many of McKenna’s theories over the years since he passed away, one that continually strikes me as relevant – perhaps because of my own theories of hybridization and technological development – is the Stoned Ape.
Here’s the Stoned Ape on the back of a napkin: A series of studies in the 1950s revealed that sub-threshold (i.e. not tripping balls) doses of psilocybin resulted in heightened visual acuity and movement perception. So, hunters would have had the ability to consume psilocybin and have an instant upgrade to their hunting abilities.
Let’s resurrect my favourite caveman, Grok Kurzweil as an example:
Grok is a hunter, with his primitive tools and lack of developed linguistic technologies. His chief rival from some other tribe is Throgg. Grok, one day due to conditions or timing, adds the nice tasting mushroom he found under a pile of feces to his diet. Soon, Grok Kurzweil and the Kurzweil tribe is outperforming Throgg’s tribe and developing better living conditions, which as anyone not on the Texas Board of Education can tell you, theoretically resulted in more Smart-Drug using Grok Kurzweils and less Throggs. There also would have been a non-incidental amount of tripping balls. If the Stoned Ape theory is at all true, the times after hunting expeditions probably looked a lot like a shorter, hairier version of Burning Man. This resulted in linguistics skills, which in turn may have been tied to tool-making skills, which may have been tied to the proto-imagination as a targeting adaptation for throwing, which led to better conditions which led, eventually, and more recently to LOLCATS.
There’s a not-inconsiderable connection between the idea that cognition evolved hand-in-hand with exposure to psychoactively generated states of novelty and the idea that intelligence itself can be linked to an ability to “withstand” and seek out novelty. And while Kanazawa himself doesn’t theorize on the outcomes of exposure to psychoactive drugs – and also puts forth that the use of psychoactive substances is an evolutionarily recent event – I’ve got to wonder if this avenue of research isn’t on the cusp of validating at least some of McKenna’s theories on cognitive evolution.