Terence McKenna

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If the words 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness' don't include the right to experiment with your own consciousness, then the Declaration of Independence isn't worth the hemp it was written on.
—Terence McKenna[1]

Terence Kemp McKenna (1946–2000) was an American 'psychonaut', ethnobotanist, metaphysical philosopher, and advocate for the informed use of entheogenic psychedelics — known for his lectures and theories on such topics. McKenna's meetings with "entities from other dimensions" led him to believe in ideas like collective consciousness and consciousness being the fundamental substance of reality (idealism), unlike physicality being fundamental (materialism). Because of this, McKenna flirted with or believed in non-materialist neuroscience. Although he was seen as a culmination of the New Age movement, he did not find himself in agreement with such a community, additionally saying, "These things are like intellectual viruses loose in the theater of discourse … the howling tide of unreason beats against pure fact with incredible fury."[2] Even so, expect pseudoscience to be churned into his works. In terms of schooling, McKenna received a bachelor's degree in "ecology, shamanism, and conservation of natural resources" from the University of California Berkeley,[3] although he would most likely appreciate the education of plant teachers and jungle exploration over the schooling of human civilization. Thankfully, he was joking when he said humans evolved from monkeys.

DMT entities[edit]

The archetype of the little people: the leprechaun, the fae. And being Irish and being Jungian, I'm willing to entertain, you know, maybe I have a special relationship to this stuff, but then in the Amazon, the people using DMT that I studied in the early '70s — the reason they did it, they said, was to speak to the little people.
—On the topic of "Self-Transforming Elf Machines"[4]

McKenna had extensive experience with psychedelics: psilocybin, ayahuasca, peyote, ketamine, etc. Like many other people, his DMT trips specifically often contained interactions with perceived entities.[5] He, like many others before and after him, had made a variety of attempts at explicating the ineffability as to what these could be, ranging from Jungian archetypes hidden in the subconscious to the apple from the Flatland segment in Cosmos or even soul substance in the Buddhist Bardo.[6][7] More in line with an immaterialistic interpretation of McKenna's description of these entities as higher levels of conscious reality, one could visualize a single human mind as a point/node in consciousness and a DMT entity as a square or cube of consciousness, perhaps even an infinity expanding throughout uncountable dimensions. Observations and interpretations like these are not too outlandish for DMT trips, as DMT can sometimes allow for the perception of never-before-seen colors, new senses, and dimensions outside length, width, height, and linear time.[8][9]

His description of these entities as fractal and loving match with the encounters of most other people, but the "machine elves" label leaves more questions than answers. He has also referred to a collective conscious entity as "Logos" or "the Mushroom" or “the Teaching Voice.” The first time he interacted with this entity was in 1971 when he and his brother Dennis McKennaWikipedia performed an experiment in Columbia which involved binding harmine, a psychedelic compound, to Terence’s neural DNA in order to merge matter and spirit, gain conscious access to possible genetic memories of the human species, as well as to gain access to the Philosopher’s Stone.[10] It seems "Philosopher’s Stone" is being used to poetically describe a state of pure substrate consciousness from which anything in the physical world can be imagined.

McKenna was a Ufologist of sorts, not being able to differentiate Ufology/extraterrestrials from psychedelic drug experiences.[11]:58-88

Shamanic states of mind and UFO contact can, somehow, be mapped onto each other. At active levels, psilocybin induces visionary ideation of spacecraft, alien creatures, and alien information. There is a general futuristic, science fiction quality to the psilocybin experience that seems to originate from the same place as the modern myth of the UFO. My brother and I discovered during our expedition to the Amazon in 1971 that accumulation of the tryptamines in one's system seems to confer the ability to inhabit more than one world at once, as though another world were superimposed over reality. This is a super-reality, a hyperdimensional world where information is accessible in magical ways.

Crackpot hypotheses[edit]

At this point, it should not surprise that Terence McKenna was known for his crackpot hypotheses.

Stoned Ape Theory[edit]

What McKenna called his "theory of evolution" is what came to be known as the Stoned Ape Theory: the idea that consumption of wild mushrooms by early hominids had a drastic impact on the evolutionary development of the brain.[12] The basic idea is that humans migrating due to the desertification of Africa from the forests to the fields must have been exposed to mushrooms in the dung of cows upon stumbling into the new clearings and oases, where they would eventually begin the neolithic agricultural revolution.[13] He postulated that this exposure could be responsible for which all human art, culture, spirituality, and science stand upon. While this is certainly a possibility, one could just look at psilocybin-using societies like the Aztecs that performed human sacrifice. Clearly, it doesn't always mitigate the bad side of humans if not contextualized properly. McKenna has even said something to this effect, saying, "Psychedelics don't work on stupid people" — never mind that some people considered some parts of the theory stupid.[14] The hypothesis is also less convenient when taking into account that the Oasis Theory of human development isn't exactly credible due to the fact Africa was actually getting wetter leading up to the agricultural revolution.[15] Richard Dawkins had a humorous reaction to the theory.[16]

Student: A while back I stumbled across the work of a gentleman named Terence McKenna. I don’t know if you’re familiar with him. He was a strong – he was actually more known for his, um, promoting, uh – psychedelic drug use? – or, I guess - recreational, in that sense – drug use, so um. But he made an interesting, and this is what stood out to me: he made an interesting point on evolution, by mentioning the . . . the role that dieting played in – in how we evolved. And specifically-

Dawkins: The role what played?

Student: Diets? Diet.

Dawkins: Oh . . . diet. Yes. Okay.

Student: He was also known for saying that, for the – it’s on Wikipedia! – the Stone Ape, Stoned Ape Theory? Which was basically that our level of consciousness came from, uh, psychedelic material within, like, the dung of other animals or - I guess, when we came down from the trees as a species, we started indulging in their diet, the diet consisting of feces and so forth. So I just wanted to get your opinion on that. How, to what extent do you agree or disagree?

Dawkins: What was the name again?

Student: He promoted the Stoned Ape Theory.

Dawkins: No what was his name?

Student: Terence McKenna.

Dawkins: Yes, I know nothing about him. And I know nothing about his theory. I’m interested that you should tell us about it, thank you. But I’ve got no knowledge of it. So, thank you.

Timewave Theory[edit]

See the main article on this topic: 2012 apocalypse

Novelty theory or timewave theory was McKenna's idea that entropy is wrong and that the Universe will continue to get more and more complex until it reaches infinite complexity, destroying reality as we know it. This was concluded from the entities' messages and nonsense in the I Ching. This pseudoscientific conundrum was backed up with some pseudomathematics. Leading up to McKenna's death, he said the date of this would be 2012. It is still unknown whether or not this was a joke or a trolling operation by the mischievous elves directed at him or by him directed at us, but it could be interesting as a thought experiment. This seems to be cleared up in a recording where he says he doesn't believe it as a fact but entertains it as an idea.[17]


A man found McKenna passed out due to cancer complication and assumed he had overdosed on some sort of drug somehow. Months later, McKenna died from a brain tumor, which prudes assumed was caused by his habitual marijuana usage. The doctors stated there was no connection.[18]


Being the posthumous leader of the psychedelic community, he has inspired a number of figures.

  • Bill Hicks, who has referred to McKenna and discussed some similar themes such as a fundamental and loving nature of consciousness.[19][20]
  • Graham Hancock, who described McKenna as “late and great” on Twitter.[21]
  • Joe Rogan, whose DMT fixation correlates to mentions of McKenna and the appearance of Terence McKenna’s brother, Dennis, on the podcast.[22]
  • Jordan Pearce, who posted a McKenna quote on Twitter[23]
  • Leo Gura, who quoted McKenna at the beginning of his video “Correcting The Stigma of Psychedelics - Part 1.”[24]
  • Rupert Sheldrake, a madman McKenna introduced to DMT[25]
  • Michael Pollan, who is skeptical when it comes to the Stoned Ape Theory.[26]
  • Sam Harris, who quotes and recommends McKenna as a spiritual source and understander of psychedelics and is open to the possibility of fundamental/irreducible consciousness.[27][28][29]

See Also[edit]


  1. McKenna, Terence K. True Hallucinations Being an Account of the Author's Extraordinary Adventures in the Devil's Paradise. Harper San Francisco, 1994.
  2. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/was-psychedelic-guru-terence-mckenna-goofing-about-2012-prophecy/
  3. McKenna, Terence K. (Terence Kemp) Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University.
  4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJjR3aUhsOk
  5. Pinchbeck, Daniel. Breaking Open the Head: a Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism. Broadway Books, 2003.
  6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJjR3aUhsOk
  7. https://erowid.org/chemicals/dmt/dmt_writings3.shtml
  8. Luke, David (28 November 2013). "Rock Art or Rorschach: Is there More to Entoptics than Meets the Eye?". Time and Mind. 3 (1): 9–28
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6107838/
  10. Gyus. "The End of the River: A critical view of Linear Apocalyptic Thought, and how Linearity makes a sneak appearance in Timewave Theory's fractal view of Time…". dreamflesh. The Unlimited Dream Company. Retrieved July 19, 2015.
  11. 11.0 11.1 The Archaic Revival: Speculations on Psychedelic Mushrooms, the Amazon, Virtual Reality, UFOs, Evolution, Shamanism, the Rebirth of the Goddess, and the End of History by Terence McKenna (1992) HarperCollins. ISBN 0062506137.
  12. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mfye6cmCOVA&t=3017s
  13. Did magic mushrooms play a role in the expansion of human consciousness? by Finighan, Bethan (Febuary 9, 2022).
  14. A Critique of Terence McKenna’s ‘Stoned Ape Theory’ by Sam Woolfe (May 28, 2013).
  15. Scarre, Christopher. The Human Past: World Prehistory and the Development of Human Societies. Thames and Hudson, 2005.
  16. Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science Richard Dawkins at the University of Maryland https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8gLWJWoxiBU&t=4770s
  17. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rLHLhO1lCk
  18. https://www.wired.com/2000/05/mckenna/
  19. Herioc doses of magic mushrooms (Bill Hicks, Terence McKenna) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qK-oiioAJT4
  20. Bill Hicks Positive drug story https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VnwFmaLiKl4&t=0s
  21. The late, great Terence McKenna. As always, exactly the right words. by Graham Hancock (Dec 13, 2017) Twitter (archived from 30 Jun 2020 04:13:13 UTC).
  22. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oKiKfAmysrI
  23. Jordan Pearce on Twitter: https://twitter.com/spiritsciences/status/927234263891800064
  24. Correcting The Stigma of Psychedelics - Part 1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TazyFTavMyA&t=32s
  25. THE DAY TERENCE MCKENNA OFFERED ME DMT - Rupert Sheldrake | London Real https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rLXj3mPJ-l8
  26. Pollan’s website: https://michaelpollan.com/reviews/might-lsd-be-good-for-you/
  27. Can psychedelic substances offer a glimpse into another mode of consciousness? On Big Think https://mapsofthemind.com/2017/01/05/spiritual-atheist-sam-harris-talks-mind-expanding-power-psychedelics/
  28. ”While Sam Harris doesn't necessarily condone their use, his experimentations with psychedelic” Big Think https://bigthink.com/think-tank/sam-harris-discusses-mdma-and-psychedelics
  29. Drugs and the meaning of life on samharris.org https://samharris.org/podcasts/drugs-and-the-meaning-of-life/