|2001: A Space Odyssey|
One of the questions that I find most fascinating with evolutionary theory is the following assumption: At some point there must have been a significant break or invention that influenced not only the following generation but rather all of humanity. For example, tools began to be used as weapons, a point that is visually best exemplified and underscored by the opening sequence of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Moreover, other tools were later used for farming on the fields and for painting illustrations on cave walls. Finally, what is considered the milestone of inventions must have been the realization that round wheels were best suited as means of transportation.
In most, if not all of the cases, there must have been the realization first, a flash of insight or inspiration, which may have come from a person or a group of individuals. Of course, the often tried and tested trial-and-error method produced a line of inventions more often erring on the error side until one “hit the spot” and became the most useful tool or prototype of its kind. For instance, they may have tried squared and rectangle wheels until they came up with its most practical round-shaped form.
This inspiration, this significant moment of consciousness (and even of history) might have been sheer luck, the fortuitous but necessary outcome of probability or perhaps due not to luck at all, but through the use of mind-altering drugs.
There are other potential alternatives, such as a visit from another planet or time dimension, the appearance of a god-sent angel or spiritual entity or the divine manifestation of a bodiless voice. These options seem rather far-fetched compared to the simple answer that it may have been an expansion of consciousness through mind-expanding substances.
I can easily imagine the hunter-gathering tribes stumbling upon a strange or rather magical type of mushroom. Since food for survival must have followed the trial-and-error system described above, it is quite likely that someone somewhere must have ingested and digested this naturally occurring psychedelic drug.
And suddenly, we have this simple and brute individual not much different from the rest in any discerning way and who comes into contact with a new kind of reality that opens his or her doors of perception, so-to-speak. Hence, the creative urge and need to paint some of these experiences on the cave walls, for instance.
The relationship between drugs and art or music is nothing new to us. It was in the 19th century that the Impressionists experimented with visual stimuli most likely due to the hallucinatory effects of absinthe. Consider also the intimate link between music and drugs, of how marijuana and LSD changed the face of music, particularly in the 60s.
Without the introduction of marijuana, the Beatles would have been nothing but an early version or precursor of the “boy band” phenomenon, such as the Liverpool Backstreet Boys. The question might arise whether drugs (opium and marijuana perhaps since LSD did not exist yet) may have also had an impact on the great classical composer as well, such as Mozart and Beethoven, but that is possible fodder for another discussion or post perhaps.
My question is this: Why could natural mind-altering drugs not have played a role in evolution theory? It may have been that it was not merely survival of the strongest but of those that were able to utilize their creative potential. Back to our opening scene of 2001, it was not the physically strongest ape that won the battle, but the most inventive one that used the bone as a bone-crushing (pun intended) weapon.
This idea may not be as outlandish as it seems at first sight. It may explain the riddle of why one of our ancestors suddenly stood up and started walking on their two feet, a single step for an ape, a leap for mankind.
What prompted these ancestors to change their regular habits, to use unprecedented methods to achieve far better outcomes and results? The mind, according to some evolutionary scientists is like a Swiss Army knife where given a certain situation we may use a certain kind of tool, but I believe that to be able to use the best option available we might have had a little - but rather significant - help of our psychedelic friend.