Ayahuasca and the evolution of consciousness
- Author Davi Ribeiro
- Published April 6, 2019
- Word count 445
Could the human evolutionary jump to consciousness have been catalyzed by hallucinogenic plants (such as psilocybin and ayahuasca) consumed by our ancestors? This hypothesis has been explored by Graham Hancock and others including David Lewis-Williams at the University of the Witwatersrand. The idea came as somewhat of a surprise to me when I first encountered it. I read a book by Ken Wilber, Up From Eden, many years ago that cemented an idea of the evolution of consciousness for me. The basic premise laid out by Wilber in this book is that at periodic times in human history the majority of people in a civilization experience a shift in consciousness, which makes them more self-aware and capable of manipulating their environment and their fellow humans. These jumps in consciousness also moved humans forward from hunter-gatherer societies to agricultural societies with kings and hierarchical power structures and led ultimately to the modern world in which we live. The evolution of consciousness is a continual process and many believe that we may be at the cusp of another jump. During any given time in human history, most people within a particular civilization were operating at the same level of consciousness, but there have always been some people that were "ahead of the curve". According to Wilber, these may have included shamans and visionaries that pushed the limits of consciousness. This idea also suggests that people living hunter-gatherer lifestyles are not as evolved as those that have already gone through the stages of evolution in consciousness. This was the particular part of Wilber’s theory that troubled me.
If the hypothesis on hallucinogenic plants is correct, then many people living as hunter-gatherers may have been the FIRST people to experience jumps in consciousness and these jumps could have occurred in many different parts of the world independent of each other. Wilbur’s theory is also confounded by the fact that many tribes of the Amazon live very simply, as subsistence farmers and hunter-gatherers, yet they have been using plants such as ayahuasca that alter their consciousness for thousands of years. They are as self-aware as anyone living in a modern city even though they may not have access to the technology that many city dwellers do. Our ancestors in many parts of the word had access to mind-altering plants and often employed them for religious/ceremonial and healing purposes. It is common to have drastic shifts in perception that are permanent when consuming hallucinogenic plants. Perhaps this, more than any archaeological evidence attests to the ability of these plants to spur such jumps in consciousness. A jump in consciousness can be both an individual and a collective experience.
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