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  The Center of the Universe

    William S. Moxley

        6.   Instinct

THE IDEAS EXPRESSED SO FAR, particularly those in the last two chapters, were not the starting point for the present theory of psychedelic experience. They were, on the contrary, only recently developed along with my also recent interest in cognitive neuroscience and the organization of the human brain. But rather than present the components of my theory in the chronological order of their development, for the purposes of this book it was desirable to construct a theoretical framework within which my principle hypothesis would, when revealed, already have a persuasive foundation. The actual starting point of the theory began with an idea which occurred to me several years ago during my tenure at an institution of "enforced languishing". I had plenty of time to consider at length my experiences, and to re-read the many volumes I had collected along the way (volumes which, somewhat unbelievably, due to their titles and subject matter, I was nevertheless permitted to possess). A part-time library engagement (and a friendly library "director") also allowed me to order in on loan any book I might desire. The entire situation, despite the shabby surroundings and lack of intellectual companionship, was not unlike a very productive sabbatical from my former routines.
    Thus I began early on in my study to think again about things that I had experienced in Mexico, to consider mankind's early and ubiquitous use of psychedelic medicines especially with regard to the aboriginal practices of shamanism, early religion, the curing arts. And given the universal importance of psychedelic plants and preparations for early man it was not a great extrapolation (but a surprising one nonetheless) to begin to suspect that the use of these sacred drugs must go right back to the very origins of man; they must have played a role in his evolution from proto-humans, from whatever species it was that was definitely advanced animal, but definitely not-yet-mankind.
    Whatever the characteristics of this proto-human species were, (1) it is generally agreed that they were hunter-gatherers who explored widely for food from many diverse sources. Evidence also indicates that climatic changes and other factors had provided a strong impetus for proto-man to migrate from his African home to the most distant regions of the earth, thus bringing him into contact with the diverse psychedelic flora of many new habitats. The period of this migration, the middle to late Paleolithic, coincides precisely with evidence of the birth of human culture illustrated by the recovery of artifacts such as complex tools, body adornments, artwork, evidence of music, etc. McKenna (2) has presented several persuasive arguments indicating that such generally agreed characteristics which typified the proto-human species would have ensured that its members frequently came into contact with a range of psychedelic plants. But to hypothesize a role for psychedelic plants in the evolution of man was easy, to discover what kind of psychological and cognitive leap was entailed in that miracle of evolution, and what function psychedelic plants played therein, especially whether their influence was a necessary, merely facilitating, or just coincidental factor, that would require some diligent study and inventive thought.
    Although I had studied chemistry and physics in a top university, my knowledge of the biological sciences was quite limited. In trying to get some ideas about what might have been the psychological condition of proto-man, and how psychedelics might have affected that condition to bring about major change, I naturally started with only the most elementary of conceptual tools, the first of which being that somewhat discredited concept called instinct. To the psychologists of the last century the existence of instinct was self-evident. William James, introducing an extensive chapter on the subject in his famous opus The Principles of Psychology wrote,

Instinct is usually defined as the faculty of acting in such a way as to produce certain ends, without foresight of the ends, and without previous education in the performance. That instincts, as thus defined, exist on an enormous scale in the animal kingdom needs no proof. (3)

    Yet soon the Behaviorists, in a half-century crusade to objectify the science of psychology, would first dispense with the terms, and later with the very concepts of many such self-evident entities for lack of simple experimental techniques capable of isolating, measuring, and controlling them. The difficulty or inability to accurately measure the predictions of a model is, of course, a serious flaw, for the purpose of a model is precisely to suggest experiments that will yield meaningful measurement. The Behaviorist stratagem is thus understandable, and would probably have been better justified had the science of psychology already attained a level of perfection comparable to that of early 20th Century physics or chemistry. In retrospect, and in consideration of the still very rudimentary state of the discipline, the strategy must now be judged as one of desperation, for despite the Behaviorists' long and powerful onslaught, concepts such as instinct and consciousness remain far too vital to justify the elimination of the terms from the lexicon of psychology. As I have already pointed out, the study of consciousness is now enjoying a major and fruitful revival, and I think that I can show how at least one aspect of what has been called instinct is now describable, and perhaps even measurable, in physiological terms.
    At the start of my quest therefore, before I had worked out some of the cognitive and neurological mechanisms for the Habit Routine Model, I necessarily found myself toying with the concept of instinct. Believing that the influence of psychedelic drugs on proto-humans might have been a necessary catalyst for the rapid (4) transformation to culturally modern Homo sapiens, there seemed two possibilities to explore. Either the psychedelics might have added something to the psychological abilities of proto-man (which turned out to be the conclusion of McKenna's views), or conversely, perhaps the repeated and cumulative effects of psychedelic drugs had eliminated an impediment to further psychological evolution, an impediment which, up until that point in evolution, had been not an impediment but a characteristic favorable or essential for the reproduction and survival of the species. And that characteristic, it seemed, should be something very much like an instinct, an innate psychological tendency governing the normal behavior of the species. I am assuming that, in the ultimate stages, the change from proto-man to humankind was preponderantly if not entirely a psychological change, the facilitating physiological changes such as greatly enlarged brain capacity having already been present.
    The latter hypothesis seemed the more powerful, for if it had been necessary to add to the abilities of proto-man, the normal processes of evolution are always willing and able to provide such addition. This is the whole idea of evolution. Additions to the abilities and design features of a species follow necessarily from the essentials of the process. Thus the hypothesis that psychedelic drugs might have added to the abilities of proto-man would have carried with it the probability that such addition would not, in the long run, have been necessary. The mere passage of time, and further selection pressures, would have surely led to the same result. Under this hypothesis, the psychedelics would only have provided a facilitation to an ongoing process, or perhaps been merely incidental to it. It didn't seem that the ubiquitous use of psychedelics by early man would have resulted from a merely coincidental influence; the great importance of these sacred plants for early man in every corner of the earth indicated to me that they had been essential and necessary for the evolution of humankind. If this were the case, their prevalence of use and central importance for early man would naturally follow.
    But if evolution relentlessly provides any required new feature, we also see the strange result that occurs sometimes when a feature becomes obsolete, the case of the vestigial vermiform appendix on the large intestine being the example known to all. Evolution is remarkably efficient at slowly bringing about any design feature that is required for the production of new abilities and new species, but does not pay much attention to the intentional removal of design features that have become obsolete, even if they become mildly unfavorable as in the case of the appendix. Design features may persist through sheer conservatism or "force of habit", as for example the persistence of a full range of digital bones in the fins of whales and other once-terrestrial species; and if the feature has been an important one at some stage of development, it will be very difficult to eliminate. One would suspect that such a feature would have to become a significant disadvantage before selection pressures and the normal course of evolution would bring about its gradual removal.
    Now if evolution could produce physiological "skeuomorphs" (design features which have persisted despite becoming disused or non-functioning (5)), then it seemed that the same process might have occurred in the realm of psychology. Perhaps instincts, once valuable to a species or range of species (perhaps even the entire animal kingdom), might have become not only skeuomorphic, but a factor which would impede further psychological development in a given species. Although such a skeuomorphic instinct would present no disadvantage to the species in its given form, it might well tend to prevent a radical evolutionary jump such as that between animal and humankind. The existence of evolutionary dead-ends in the physiological sense (6) might illustrate the parallel concept of the case of the advanced ape who had every physiological capacity necessary to be a philosopher, a mathematician, yet...
    My hypothesis began to take shape: an instinctual or innate psychological drive or tendency that had been an essential and defining feature of advanced animal life had become the barrier which prevented proto-man from achieving the most important of all evolutionary quantum leaps. And it was this barrier, this very powerful and efficient psychological trait or instinct which had been eroded and then (at least temporarily) suspended by proto-man's exposure to psychedelic drugs.

    It would be valuable at this point to provide a definition and examples of the concept of instinct as it applies to my theory. As I hinted above, I intend to show how the instinct in question is actually something describable in physiological terms, but a clearer understanding results, I think, from treading the same conceptual path from instinct to brain systems that I myself took in constructing the theory. A few general suggestions concerning the various possible mechanisms of instinct, and what kind of information constitutes an instinct might help to alleviate some objections to the concept by the more demanding adherents of hard science. Perhaps we might also find that what was once piled together under the label "instinct" is actually a range of quite different and independently organized processes.
    It is quite true, for example, that we have not the foggiest notion of how fledgling cuckoos, at the end of their fall migration, find their way to the same trees in Africa where their parents are nesting, despite the fact that the parents leave Europe a week or more in advance of their progeny. Saying that the young cuckoos have an instinct to do so tells us very little, and it is far-fetched to suppose that the parent birds "teach" their progeny how to make the voyage before their early depart. Equally improbable, despite "nothing-but" arguments of "what-else-could-it-be?", is the proposal that cuckoo genes or nervous systems come equipped with maps of Africa. The use of "instinct" as a mere label that only pretends to impart an understanding of how such a phenomenon might arise has justifiably drawn criticism. Thus the distinguished anthropologist Gregory Bateson has commented, (in a "Metalogue", between Father and Daughter),

Daughter: Daddy, what is an instinct?
Father: An instinct, my dear, is a explanatory principle.
D: But what does it explain?
F: Anything—almost anything at all. Anything you want it to explain.
D: Don't be silly. It doesn't explain gravity.
F: No. But that is because nobody wants "instinct" to explain gravity. If they did, it would explain it. We could simply say that the moon has an instinct whose strength varies inversely as the square of the distance…
D: But that's nonsense, Daddy.
F: Yes, surely. But it was you who mentioned "instinct," not I.
D: All right-but then what does explain gravity?
F: Nothing, my dear, because gravity is an explanatory principle.
D: Oh... (7)

    Such an instinct as cuckoos have still evades description in terms of brain systems or genetic codes, and thus to call it an instinct is about as far as we can go. In the last century, due to a very primitive understanding of the nervous system, practically all habitual behavior of animals had to be labeled instinct. "Early psychologists sought to identify a drive for every aspect of behavior: a hunger drive responsible for feeding, a thirst drive, a sex drive, etc. It proved impossible to classify animal behavior in this way without resorting to a reductio ad absurdum involving drives for thumb-sucking, nail-biting, and other minutiae of behavior." (8) The examples of proposed instincts for thirst and hunger illustrate how an inability to explain a trait of behavior and the resulting retreat into mere labeling, can later be resolved with further knowledge. Science has today discovered a great deal about the physiological systems which control and produce hunger, thirst, and more. With more advanced knowledge of the brain, some phenomena which were once called instincts, and which were indistinguishable from other phenomena like the cuckoo's navigational abilities, can be shown to result from elementary brain-systems operation. Such will be the case with the "instinct" I have in mind as a candidate for proto-man's impediment. (9)
    The perceptive reader will certainly, remembering my cognitive and neurological models of earlier on, see where this argument is going. But the pathway that was followed, I believe, is not only an interesting view of how one model leads to the next in theory building, but also of how the pieces of this large puzzle were manipulated to form an overall and convincing picture.
    At first, and very crudely, it seemed to me that proto-man might have had some kind of instinct that could be viewed as a "narrow-mindedness", a strong repression of, or inability to use the obvious and recently expanded theoretical capacity of his brain. I soon coined a nice term for the effect, the sophiolytic instinct, a behavioral drive that prevented the ape from becoming wise, that actually "cured" him of any tendency to become wise, for an ape who suddenly decided to ape not an ape, but a Socrates, would not be very popular with his mates! He would be excluded from the group, become solitary with no chance of reproducing either his weird psychological abilities (through teaching perhaps) nor any physiological "adaptions" that had suddenly enabled him to use his tremendous brain capacity more fully than his contemporaries.
    The model began to improve as I realized that such a sophiolytic instinct should be part of a pair of characteristics which would be precisely what all advanced animal life would profit greatly from. An animal should have a much greater mental and psychological capacity than it needs in normal everyday life, for that capacity would be of enormous value in crisis situations, or other infrequently encountered situations where the animal is called upon to be creative in some sense. Obtaining food from a new source, coping with unusual threats to life or habitat, and many other imaginable situations would demand a level of "creativity" in an animal. If extra brain capacity could provide for overcoming merely habitual and stereotyped behavior in times of need, this should obviously be a favorable evolutionary development in the animal kingdom.
    But likewise, it seemed that there would have to be a strong tendency for an animal not to use his creative abilities on a daily basis. Any creative potentials of an animal would have to be dormant or actively inhibited in the normal routines of existence, and this would also favor survival and reproduction because it would lend great stability and coherence of behavior between the members of a group, and within species as well; individuality would be suppressed during routine existence in favor of group and species stability. Indeed many species have mechanisms for isolating and expelling members of a reproductive group who exhibit unusual or disruptive behaviors. Such behavior would often have indicated that a given individual might be diseased, or afflicted with some genetic defect, so a species' ability to isolate such individuals would be a favorable characteristic for maintaining species integrity. These mechanisms and the sophiolytic instinct would therefore ensure that members of a group all "toe the line" and do not become too much the individual, in spite of the possession of cognitive capacities going sometimes far beyond those required for routine existence.
    The evolution of animal life is not at all a matter of one exceptional individual providing genetic material for the future, but of the slow selection of many slightly better adapted individuals providing for future inheritance. The hypothesis of excess cognitive capability coupled with a mechanism for the normal suppression of this capability seemed to fit these requirements quite well. (10) And what was more, the dual characteristic should become more and more important with the complexity of the species considered: the most advanced animals in terms of social situation, reproductive requirements, nourishment-obtaining abilities, protection strategies, etc., should be the very animals which would profit most from excess and reserve cognitive abilities, and it would be in these very species that the most efficient, powerful and precisely applied suppression of these abilities in everyday routine would be required. The maximums here would have attained their summit in the proto-human species, the recent and sudden increase in cranial capacity indicating a vastly increased cognitive reserve, and my speculations indicating that the restraining mechanism, the proposed sophiolytic instinct, must also have attained a corresponding power and efficiency.
    This scenario seemed to provide a paradox for evolution. On the one hand, in order for evolution to produce modern man, it would have had to proceed through stages in which animals gained more and more neurological and cognitive ability, and especially a reserve of such ability, yet an essential requirement of this gain would be that it needed to be increasingly suppressed for normal routines of daily existence. It would therefore become impossible for an advanced animal to use this cognitive power at will, to enter a mode of life, by conscious choice, in which the creative ability might be used routinely rather than only in extremis. To break through this evolutionary barrier between proto-human and Homo sapiens would require an extraordinary and external influence capable of dissolving this barrier. All the neurological equipment would be in place, thanks to the normal evolutionary processes, but the final breakthrough would have to be something that the normal processes of evolution could not provide. And the drugs which enabled that cognitive breakthrough were conveniently scattered about the planet in plenitude...

    If these hypotheses are at all valuable, it should be possible to see evidence in animal behavior of the processes they describe. The idea that animals, even lowly insects, have quite amazing abilities available for use in case of novel challenges has been experimentally demonstrated for many different species. Greater cognitive abilities are likewise reflected by correspondingly larger nervous system capacity compared with similar species exhibiting less versatile behavior. A lengthy review of recent work on "intelligence" in animals is not necessary here, a few examples will suffice to show convincingly that not only our recent evolutionary neighbors, apes and chimpanzees, have significant cognitive reserves, but that the hypothesis of excess cognitive capacity describes a universal trait of animal life.
    Although recent presentations by Gould & Gould (11), Griffin (12), Byrne (13), and others show many examples of rudimentary insight, context-switching intelligence, and conceptual thinking in animals as diverse as beavers, honeyguides, and even insects such as wasps and bees, certain hard-science advocates have done their best to raise objections against such evidence. Donald Griffin has reviewed such argument and presented an admirable rebuttal to what he considers to be a taboo against considering that non-human animals might have subjective mental experiences or an ability to "think", albeit in very primitive ways.

The taboo...has become a serious impediment to scientific investigation. Effective indoctrination—often accomplished by nonverbal signals of disapproval—inhibits students and young scientists from venturing into this forbidden territory, and those that do so encounter criticism and ridicule. One result is that students of animal behavior are inhibited from reporting versatile behavior that suggests conscious thinking; and scientific journals sometimes refuse to publish data or interpretations that support the inference of animal consciousness. (14)

    I will mention only examples of intelligence in apes and chimpanzees, because here the weight of evidence is exceptional. In suggesting some ideas about the importance of young animals' play for cognitive development, Richard Byrne (15) mentions a seeming paradox: Gorillas in captivity regularly show extensive skills in the use of tools, yet in the wild, tool use in gorillas is practically non-existent. He notes that only young chimpanzees and humans "invest much time in play with detached objects. But under the artificial conditions of captivity, young gorillas also play with objects". Byrne's proposal that infant play with objects might be a causal explanation of the paradox may have some validity for gorillas, but apparently ignores that many other tool-using species also do not exhibit play with detached objects in juveniles. But he also notes that "gorillas evidently have the latent potential to play with objects in childhood, and to use tools to solve problems in adulthood, yet they do neither in the wild-why?" [my emphasis].
    The question is answered with the hypothesis of a sophiolytic instinct being the factor which all but guarantees that much advanced behavior capability in animals will remain as "latent potentials" under normal conditions, especially if we understand that the sophiolytic instinct must be a powerful and primary one, surpassed only perhaps by instincts for sexual behavior without which, of course, there would be no animals around to study. Without the sophiolytic instinct, the force ensuring group stability, survival, and reproduction, individuals would have constantly been far more subject to the vicissitudes of the environment, to dispersal and separation from potential mates, to dangers resulting from their constant "inventiveness" and individuality in dealing with everyday situations better handled with habit than innovation. The latent potential which Byrne concedes is evident for apes, is a simple and elegant illustration for the concept of the dual characteristic of excess cognitive capacity and the sophiolytic instinct. Byrne asks practically the same question later on, (p158):

Ape mentality: why not more? ...But we are still confronted with a paradox: if cognitive abilities are so useful in social and other spheres, as we like to imagine they are, why aren't these demonstrations much, much more common and obvious in these animals which apparently can show the cognitive skills occasionally?

    Nicholas Humphrey, in his paper "The Social Function of the Intellect" asks the same question:

We are thus faced with a conundrum. It has been repeatedly demonstrated in the artificial situations of the psychological laboratory that anthropoid apes possess impressive powers of creative reasoning, yet these feats of intelligence seem simply to not have any parallels in the behaviour of the same animals in their natural environment. I have yet to hear of any example from the field of a chimpanzee (or for that matter a Bushman) using his full capacity for inferential reasoning in the solution of a biologically relevant practical problem. Someone may retort that if an ethologist had kept watch on Einstein through a pair of field glasses he might well have come to the conclusion that Einstein too had a hum-drum mind. However, that is just the point: Einstein, like the chimpanzees, displayed his genius at rare times in 'artificial' situations—he did not use it, for he did not need to use it, in the common world of practical affairs. (16)

    For apes especially, the answer is that the sophiolytic instinct, in these advanced animals, has attained the height of its development and effectiveness, for it needs to restrain a nervous system with tremendous inherent capability. And in light of Humphrey's comments I might add something obvious, perhaps painfully so, to which I shall return later: the sophiolytic instinct is certainly not something that miraculously disappeared once humankind was on the scene, and its power (like the power of other important instincts) is negligibly reduced by awareness of its effect, or of its skeuomorphic nature for man.
    Let us consider another example of excess cognitive capacity, in the chimpanzee. No-one would disagree with the proposal that the use of language is one of the most advanced cognitive abilities that has developed. Thus, in the exploration of potential cognitive abilities of our closest evolutionary neighbors, the attempt to teach some form of language to chimpanzees has been going on for a long time. As usual, any apparent success in this project has been immediately met with objections, mostly from the lingering remnants of the Behaviorist School of Thought (at least they readily admit that they themselves think!). A difficulty has been that chimpanzees simply do not have the physiology for speech (as opposed to neurophysiology), hence spoken language of any complexity is physically, but not necessarily cognitively impossible for them. Thus attempts have been made to teach chimps various types of sign language as used by the deaf, and quite good results have been obtained.
    The work of B.T. and R.A. Gardner with a chimp named Washoe constituted a breakthrough, in which the animal was taught to use correctly about 130 words of the American Sign Language over a period of four years. Of particular note was: the achievement of this and other chimpanzees to invent novel word combinations for new objects and concepts; the fact that chimps in some of these projects began to communicate between themselves using the language; and evidence that there began a cultural transmission of the newly acquired ability. For example, Washoe's adopted son, even though the experimenters never used the sign language in his presence, nevertheless learned over fifty signs directly from Washoe. (17)
    Perhaps the most striking example of language ability in chimpanzees has come from the work of David Premack and of Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and Duane Rumbaugh. These workers succeeded in teaching chimpanzees a symbol-based language, using either colored plastic shapes to denote words ("lexigrams"), or in another approach the use of a keyboard-based language in which keys are marked with arbitrary, not iconic or representational symbols:

The most ambitious project to teach language to chimpanzees was initiated by Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and Duane Rumbaugh. With their colleagues they developed a keyboard-based language. Each key is marked with an arbitrary symbol. When pressed, a key lights up and its symbol appears in sequence on a screen, so the chimpanzees can keep track of their lexigram sequences. The researchers used a word-order grammar with a generic interrogative symbol to initiate question sentences. The chimpanzees in these experiments are typically taught a vocabulary of 75 to 90 words.
    The computer-mediated keyboard approach allows unprecedented accuracy in recording the linguistic progress of chimpanzees. Analysis of the painful transition from the one-word stage of using a lexigram to identify an object to a two-word level that permits interrogation (by both humans and the chimps) shows that in these experiments the symbols initially are learned as operants for obtaining things (usually food). But once the two-word concept is mastered for, say, asking the name of a particular food, the chimp realizes how it applies to all other objects. This kind of mental breakthrough opens new horizons for the chimp and at the same time demonstrates that they understand concepts like "food" and "tool."
    In a further extension of language use, the keyboard-based approach has allowed two chimpanzees to communicate with each other. The chimps had to learn that the keyboard and screen could be used for two-way exchanges; just mastering the techniques for answering researchers' questions or making requests was not enough. But once the chimpanzees grasped the idea of exchanging information, they were able to cooperate to solve problems. To take a typical example, one chimp would figure out what sort of tool it needed to get at food left by a researcher, and then use the keyboard to ask the other animal (in an adjoining room) for that implement; the second chimp, who was unaware of the particular problem, would pass the requested tool through a small opening. Again, there was every evidence of a conceptual threshold having suddenly been reached: training accelerated and error rates plummeted. Moreover, the chimps began to engage in what seems to be interactive play via the keyboard link. (18)

    The idea of "a conceptual threshold having been reached," is precisely what would be expected from my hypotheses: the excess inherent cognitive capacity of the chimps is sufficient for significant language abilities, but chimps in the wild have never achieved these abilities because there is a powerful, if not almost unbreachable barrier which needs to be overcome to allow a specific manifestation of excess cognitive capacity to be used routinely. Thus it requires great and careful effort to teach chimps the rudiments of language in experiments like these, but once a certain stage is reached, once the significance of the new situation and ability has temporarily nullified the sophiolytic instinct, the new abilities themselves become part of the normal routine of the chimps, and are even taught to youngsters independent from further human training.
    I should mention one further example in which even greater abstract reasoning ability in chimpanzees has been demonstrated. This is a particularly valuable body of evidence for my hypotheses since it illustrates that a particular cognitive ability, once liberated from control by the sophiolytic instinct, may then facilitate the liberation of further cognitive abilities which would not have been possible for the animal to learn or employ without having achieved the first ability. I will use another extended quote from Gould & Gould to describe the work, the title of this section is "Chimpanzee Logic":

Though the reasoning abilities of keyboard-trained chimpanzees have not yet been explored in any systematic way, Premack has tried teaching a variety of logical operations to both language-trained and untrained chimpanzees. In the simplest tests, the chimps were faced with the task of' labeling pairs of objects as either "same" or "different." This problem is unlike the same-different concept tests described earlier. In the usual form of the task the experimenter shows an example and then a pair of objects, one of which is the same as the example and the other different; the animal is rewarded for choosing the member of the pair that is different. In the Premack study, however, the two objects to be categorized were presented simultaneously. Language-trained chimps learned this discrimination, whereas untrained chimps did not.
    Premack also attempted to teach the concept of analogies: A is to B as C is to D-lock is to key as can is to can opener, to choose one of the most abstract examples he used. The usual format of the test was to present an incomplete analogy and offer a choice of three different objects to finish the verbal equation. Language-trained chimpanzees eventually handled these tasks with nearly an 80 percent accuracy rate; chimps without language training, on the other hand, never mastered even the simplest analogy: "apple is to apple as banana is to...."
    Another task familiar to students of child development is proportionality. Language- trained chimps could choose an object—a half circle rather than a full or three-quarter circle—that corresponded to the proportion visible in the test object (a half-filled glass of water, for instance). Chimps without language training could master this task only so long as the choice objects they had to select from were similar to the test object. Interestingly, Premack found that his language-trained chimp had no difficulty with a related concept that proves very difficult for children: conservation of volume. Young children judge the amount of liquid in a glass or the mass of clay in a lump by its height or length; thus they behave as though there is more water in a tall, thin glass than in a short, squat tumbler, even if they have seen each filled from identical containers of liquid. The language-trained chimp tested on this task required no instruction: from the outset she recognized the two amounts as being the same. To be fair, though, this chimp was nearly 20 years old at the time, and she had had plenty of opportunity to learn the basic facts of fluid physics before testing ever began.
    Finally, Premack has taught language-trained chimps to complete cause-and-effect sentences of the form "whole apple plus X produces cut apple," offering three objects (a bowl of water, a knife, and a pencil, for instance) as possibilities for X; in other tests, the goal was to supply the final item, as in "dry sponge plus bowl of water produces Y." The language-trained chimp mastered these tasks with a minimum of training; untrained chimps failed. (19)

    Clearly, advanced apes have extensive latent language capabilities, and even what would have to be called a capability for logical reasoning, and one wonders what might be developed by these animals by the training of a hundred generations of chimps, first by human instructors but later by cultural transmission. Unfortunately such experiments are difficult to carry out without access to a time machine, and physicists seem loathe to provide us with either a theory or the technique for constructing one. But extensive experimentation attempting to use psychedelic drugs as facilitators for this process are called for, and might well reveal a facilitation, perhaps cumulative, for the animals' rapid overcoming of sophiolysis and resultant achievement of quantum leaps in their cognitive development. Again unfortunately, government restrictions on psychedelic research, and especially a strong reluctance for scientists to engage in research with such "discredited drugs of abuse" make it certain that such work will not soon be attempted. Perhaps the absurdity of my comment on time machines will call attention to the even greater absurdity of the impossibility of undertaking, in the present social, political, and scientific climate, even the most elementary of psychedelic research projects.
    Gould and Gould continue with a few careful comments about what the chimpanzee research might indicate, and certainly caution is necessary when research has barely begun in a field. But the evidence outlined above, if not yet sufficient for other conclusions, clearly demonstrates the validity of the concept of excess cognitive capacity and the sophiolytic instinct. Yet leaving the model at the stage of postulation of yet another mysterious instinct without physiological basis would not have amounted to much more than another instance of New-Age technobabble if the facilitating neurocognitive mechanisms for its operation could not be found or hypothesized.
    The next stage of my model-building toward the psychedelic theory therefore involved an attempt to see how the sophiolytic instinct might actually operate on a physiological level. The fact that it seemed to be such an important instinct hinted that a fundamental operation of the nervous system might produce what at first would be seen as an instinct, much as the discovery of fundamental neurological operations had elaborated the nature of such former "instincts" as those for hunger, thirst, or breathing. The idea that instincts were essentially habits, or exhibited themselves as such, and the realization that the implementation of a habit could only be using the contents of long-term memory in an unconscious way, led to the models described in chapters three and four. These models were then seen to have a wide explanatory power across a range of phenomena, as my examples in these chapters showed. Thus the sophiolytic instinct became the primary cognitive operation of the nervous system of all advanced animal life, the habit routine search function. Now it was no longer necessary to posit a skeuomorphic instinct, of mysterious origin and operation, to see how the result that such an entity would produce was instead brought about by a normal brain operation utilizing brain areas common to all mammals right back to the most primitive.
    The sophiolytic instinct thus turned out to be merely a descriptive artifact resulting from the way animal nervous systems have evolved to operate, the HRS system as the primary cognitive operation, and the requirement of activation of the SD (significance detection) system, dependent on unusual ENV (environmental) events, for overruling of the HRS patterns as templates for thinking2 and behavior. As to the question of why evolution produced a nervous system that detected, not reality directly, but a representation of current reality drawn from memory data through the process of HRS, I think that it can be seen that at each stage of animal evolution, the former type of nervous system would always lend a greater survival value than the latter. With the very first organisms that became capable of "taking a decision", it seems to me that such decision taking should be a far more efficient and dependable process if it were based on habit rather than fresh analysis of the entire environmental input which, at a minimum, would require far more time and "brain power". Thus we can see the normal and necessary parameters of evolution as the factor which has produced the "sophiolytic instinct" which is the "suppresser of creativity", the characteristic that we humans are still very much slaves to in lieu of active, strenuous and constant striving to free ourselves from our in-built "narrow-mindedness". Needless to say, it is my opinion that the judicious use of psychedelic drugs to aid in this effort is precisely the Rx that is called for, just as it has been for the ancient Greeks at Eleusis, for the Native Americans, for so many other tribes down through history.


(1) The term "proto-human" is intended to denote anatomically modern Homo sapiens, before any significant cultural attributes had yet appeared. Anatomically modern hominids probably go back 150,000 years or more, yet the initial stages of development of culturally modern man occupied a very brief period, between ca. 50,000 to 30,000 years ago, the Upper Paleolithic. (back)

(2) At roughly the same time of my own musings about early man, and unbeknown to me, Terence McKenna was writing about his own evolutionary hypothesis. It was first outlined in a paper Mushrooms and Evolution (personal communication 1988), and later developed in his popular books including Food of the Gods (Bantam 1992). (back)

(3) William James, The Principles of Psychology Vol. 2, authorized Dover edition of 1950 p383. (back)

(4) "Rapid" on an evolutionary scale, i.e., perhaps on the order of ten to fifty thousand years, whereas normal evolutionary changes, especially important ones, are in general thought to take far longer. (back)

(5) Nicholas Humphrey, in A History of the Mind (p196) introduces the use of the term in the present context, and adds that such features are "no longer subject to selection on utilitarian grounds". (back)

(6) Such as the case of the Koala Bear and other examples described by Arthur Koestler in The Ghost in the Machine, Chapter XII. (back)

(7) Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Random House, 1972, Part I, "Metalogues". (back)

(8) The Oxford Companion to the Mind, ibid., "Instinct" p374. (back)

(9) From the foregoing, instinct thus seems a mere label for phenomena which have not yet been explained on a more reductionist level. But perhaps there is a more hopeful future for the term, and phenomena of behavior and variations thereof which can profit from a new conception of the term. Recent advances in the science of chaos and complexity might suggest that at least some instincts, those not explainable in simple physiological terms for instance, might be something like state attractors for behavior patterns, analogous to the attractors seen in other complex adaptive systems. See for example Complexity, Life at the Edge of Chaos, Roger Lewin, MacMillan 1992, especially the example on page 176, and also The Origins of Order, Stuart Kauffman, Oxford University Press 1993. An instinct seen as a biological state attractor for behavior would be more like a mathematical function than some undefined "innate drive" supposedly hidden away in an organism's "genes", and this behavioral attractor would guide the formation of habit routines in an individual animal. Under the influence of such a function, habit routines in different animals of the same group or species would be very similar, but yet show the small variations commonly seen in instinctual behavior. The idea of instinct as a probabilistic state attractor for the formation of habit routine is perhaps only a more modern description of William James' idea that "most instincts are implanted for the sake of giving rise to habits, and that, this purpose accomplished, the instincts themselves...consequently fade away." (The Principles of Psychology, ibid., vol. 2, p402). Since my conception of the sophiolytic instinct is reducible to the operation of brain systems however, these speculations would not be of use to the present work, and I will leave their development for some future project. (back)

(10) The "dual characteristic" might at first seem to be tautological: a "reserve" capacity would necessarily imply the selective or only occasional use of that capacity, otherwise it would not be "in reserve". But if we concentrate first on the aspect of suppression, and then see that this is only an introductory and oblique way of understanding what an important cognitive system of the brain is naturally producing, and further, that other brain mechanisms allow the over-ruling of the first system, then we see that the tautology is merely the result of a rudimentary description of the overall phenomena. Here again is illustrated how an introductory model, primitive and not very useful in itself, can lead nevertheless to more advanced models overcoming the original limitations. (back)

(11) James L. & Carol Grant Gould, The Animal Mind, Scientific American Library 1994. (back)

(12) Donald R. Griffin, Animal Minds, The University of Chicago Press 1992. (back)

(13) Richard Byrne, The Thinking Ape, Evolutionary Origins of Intelligence, Oxford University Press 1995. (back)

(14) Griffin, ibid., p6-7 (back)

(15) Byrne, ibid., p86-87 (back)

(16) from: Growing Points in Ethology, (1976), P.P.G. Bateson and R.A. Hinde, eds., p307, Cambridge University Press. (back)

(17) See the account in Gould & Gould, ibid., pp183ff. (back)

(18) Gould & Gould ibid., pp186-187. (back)

(19) Gould & Gould ibid., pp189-190. (back)

Chapter 7 | Table of Contents

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