In an article published this week in the philsophy journal Time and Mind, Benny Shannon, a professor of cognitive psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, advances the theory that the biblical prophet Moses was high on hallucinatory drugs when he heard God speaking to him on Mt. Sinai:
“And all the people perceived the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the voice of the horn, and the mountain smoking.” Thus the book of Exodus describes the impressive moment of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. The “perceiving of the voices” has been interpreted endlessly since these words were first written. When Shanon reads the verse, he recalls a powerful hallucinatory experience he had when he visited the Amazon and drank a potion made from a plant called ayahuasca. “One of the things that happens when you drink the potion is a visual experience created via sounds,” he says.
Shanon, former head of the Hebrew University psychology department, said his first experience with ayahuasca was in 1991 when he was invited to a religious ceremony in the northern Amazon in 1991 in Brazil. “I experienced visions that had spiritual-religious connotations,” he says. Since that time, he has used it hundreds of times, and has published a book about the plant.
Of course, theories like this are nothing new. The late-ethnobotanist Terrence McKenna famously hypothesized that psychedelic plants were the catalyst for human evolution with his “Stoned Ape” Theory:
McKenna theorized 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 â€” 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. McKenna, referencing the research of Roland L. Fisher, claimed enhancement of visual acuity as an effect of psilocybin at low doses, and supposed that this would have conferred an adaptive advantage. He also argued that the effects of slightly larger doses, including a physical sexual arousal (again, not reported as a typical effect in scientific studies) â€” and in still larger doses, ecstatic hallucinations and glossolalia â€” gave evolutionary advantages to those tribes who partook of it. There were many changes caused by the introduction of this drug to the primate diet. 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, which McKenna argued to result in a new set of profound changes in our species as we reverted to pre-mushroomed and brutal primate social structures that had been modified and/or repressed by frequent consumption of psilocybin.
Is god really a mushroom? Who knows? Certainly not me.