Michael Winkelman: Shamanism, Psychedelics, Social Behavior, Religion & Evolution of Human Culture
Full episode transcript below. Beware of typos!
Michael Winkelman 4:38
Right outside of a little town called [Brazilian town]
Nick Jikomes 4:43
And are you down there temporarily or is that where you live now?
Michael Winkelman 4:47
Well, for the last 13 years, it's been where I've lived, so it's not very temporary anymore.
Nick Jikomes 4:52
Oh, wow. And where did you move from?
Michael Winkelman 4:54
I lived in Phoenix at the time and I retired in 2000. wasn't in nine and what a house here in 2010. With the one year period there being a Fulbright that I did here studying the Ayahuasca religions [Portugese] and particularly [Portugese].
Nick Jikomes 5:16
Interesting. And so what were you doing before Brazil before you retired?
Michael Winkelman 5:22
Well, for 20, something years I was in the Department of Anthropology at Arizona State later became the school of human evolution and social change. So I've done a lot of teaching there, mostly medical anthropology, ethnic relations, Intro to Anthro ran a few programs, a field school program down in Mexico and in Sanada, for the summers and involved with administration of medical anthropology and public health programs. And doing some research there and publication. But since I've retired, it's been a little bit easier to stay on the publication side. So I don't know if I'll get a chance to tell your listeners elsewhere, but they want to find articles related to what I do what I publish on, they can go to ResearchGate, and surrender my name, Michael Winckelmann. And you'll find most of the articles that I've written there, plus, some of the books are also available there.
Nick Jikomes 6:20
Ya know, we'll definitely direct people that way. What would you say? If you had to summarize your overall sort of research interests throughout your career? How would you summarize that for people?
Michael Winkelman 6:32
Well, I guess I would say is understanding the intersection between psychedelics and shamanism over human evolution. So from you know, way before we were ever, you know, really modern human beings, Where did our roots of origins come from? How does psychedelics play a role in the evolution of those capacities? How that ended up being shamanism, and what happened to shamanism under the course of socio cultural evolution that led to its demise.
Nick Jikomes 7:03
And what, what is shamanism? How would you define it?
Michael Winkelman 7:07
Okay, well, I mean, unfortunately, shamanism is just about everything. Today, people use it for just about any ritualist any alteration of consciousness, any spiritual practice. I would start off by saying that rather than defining it, I provide a characterization of what were the ritual practices of foraging societies. And so my perspective is based upon cross cultural research that looked at rich list and all kinds of societies, and using empirical data discovered a pattern that was characteristic of foraging societies and, to some extent, simple agricultural societies, but quidi Pretty quickly disappeared after that. So what is it that I find in these foraging societies? Well, we can say that the shaman is the alpha male, sometimes it's a female, but mostly males. They're the leader of the group in many different ways. Because they're the spiritual leader. They're the person that has the most power. Their power comes from a series of experiences and training. Normally, they're thought to have been selected based upon unusual experiences, experiences of spirits, visions, hallucinations, various kinds of abnormal experiences, including illness disease, and that is interpreted by their group as a call from the ancestors for them to become Shaman. So they often experienced this call from their ancestors in visions and dreams and Amanda going arduous period of training involves being alone in the wilderness, undergoing prolonged fasting sexual abstinence, taking powerful natural substances and medics, some times obviously, psychedelics, and during that formation, they have a kind of death and rebirth experience at the hands of animals. They have the experience of being attacked and killed by animals. And subsequently, the animals put them back together, reform them incorporate themselves into the new shaman to give the shaman powers and the shaman then has these animal powers, including the ability to transform into an animal sort of experience that is the basis of what we would call their soul journey, a belief that during all three states the shaman gets to leave the body and travel in animal form. They do community rituals, everybody in the entire community participates it's like every two to four weeks or so everybody gets together at nighttime the entire community sings and claps and chants the shaman dances and sings and engages in. A struggle with the spirits enters into the spirit world eventually goes into a period of laying down he's covered cared for By assistance and enters into the spirit world to journey, to find that information to contact the animals for hunting, to find out why someone's sick to recover a lost soul to take retribution against the sorcerer from another group. But this sort of encompasses the range of things that I found in foraging societies around the world, this complex begins to quickly fall apart once we have agricultural societies, the relationship to nature starts to drop off some, although animals are still important as your powers, they're doing individual family based healing rather than community wide healing. And they started to lose some of their other features, for instance, related to their capacity to kill because Shawn was a thought to be able to kill people. They had this sort of attenuation of many of the features that eventually ends up being healers who heal through rituals that elicit placebo effects and don't have much to do with altered states and nothing to do with animals. So, in terms of you know, what is shamanism? Well, my sense is that there's this core set of characteristics of hunter gatherer societies that should be called shamanism. It persists to a certain degree in simple agricultural societies, but disappears by the time we have chiefdom level societies. And today, much of what is called shamanism doesn't embody the core features of what was characteristic of forging shamans, Michael Horner, an anthropologist is put forth a notion of core shamanism that he thinks they extract these core features, but they explicitly you know, disavow certain aspects of it. For instance, using psychedelic drugs, or kill people to use your power for harm
is not all of what was core shamanism is certainly not community based. And much of what is called shamanism today, I would say, is some kind of spiritual practice, it may be mediumship, it may just be straight out healing. I mean, there are people that learning these practices on Mongolia that have to do with sacrificing sheep, and passing the heart of the sheep around the group. So everybody gets some of the sheep's energy and they drink some of the sheep's blood and cook the sheep and eat it. And this is shamanism. And I'm going, I mean, you call it whatever you want, but it doesn't have anything really to do with what was the shamanism of forging societies. So that's kind of my view of what is shamanism now to try to give a looser view of it. Well, you know, shamans engaged in altered states of consciousness. They used rituals to do this. They were thought to enter into contact with the spirit world. And they were thought to be able to use these altered states encounters, to heal, to divine, if we want to say, you know that this was the core of shamanism. Well, you know, the pope may be a shaman, too. But there certainly are many different practitioners today that have these, what were essential features of shamanism and shamanism had so much more than just those aspects of altered states, ritual spirits and healing rituals.
Nick Jikomes 13:13
So, how would you, you know, in some ways, it sort of sounds like shamanism. Maybe we can think of as an evolutionary antecedent to some of the more traditional forms of religion that we associate with agricultural post agricultural civilizations. How is shamanism similar to in different from organized religion in the modern sense?
Michael Winkelman 13:37
Well, I mean, clearly, shamanism was a form of ritual and spiritual behavior before organized religions. Whether or not you want to call it a religion depends on your definition of religion, but I think anybody who tries to understand the origins of religion without going through shamanism, you know, hasn't gotten back to the roots. You know, these kinds of practices were prevalent in societies all around the world going back 10s of 1000s of years. In fact, I would argue that it goes back, you know, to a million years, I'd say, a million and a half years ago, we had a form of shamanism that had to do with communal rituals, involving singing and dancing and drumming and enactments. And they were done to enhance the well being of the group. Now, is that religion? To my notion is the police the precursor to religion, some people want to define religion in terms of what well, you have to have a doctrine and a scripture and you have to have an ecclesiastical organization. Well, you know, that's post agricultural post state forms of religion. I think that we have to understand what were these primordial forms of religious behavior that existed before we got these, you know, great, big, you know, traditions that span millions of people and have to do with no formal organizations of priests that have you know, 1000s and 1000s of members. So What was the big difference? Well, I think one of the big differences would have to do with the altered states of consciousness. I mean shamanism lived and function through altered states. monotheistic religions aren't too fond of altered states of consciousness. They're, they're rare, incidental, but not necessarily focused on unless you're in one of the mystical branches. You know, you're a saint, or, you know, a reclusive monk, but you're not an ordinary practitioner. Spirit relations, you know, the shaman went into the spirit world, had relations with animals that were the fundamental of this forms of spiritual power. You know, monotheistic religions have this High God, and they definitely don't emphasize going into the kingdom of heaven until you're ready to die. Okay, you know, we stay here in our world, and we hope that, you know, the spirits will do something for us shamans could force the spirits to do what was needed to be done. Religion has God and if God wants it, well, maybe God will do it for us. You know, the shamans engaged in this kind of, you know, healing process that was based upon notions of recovering lost souls, or removing sorcery. These kinds of concepts. This is not part of, you know, religion. Even in the early forms of religion, it was more about your soul ascending to God, that was sort of like the supernatural healing process. It wasn't anything about recovering salt. And then we could go on to the little details about you know, the sorcery, about the entire communal engagement. Even Even things like you know, the singing and dancing and drumming. I mean, religions keep some aspects of that, but they're normally you know, weak, diminished forms compared to shamanism.
Nick Jikomes 16:46
Interesting, Michael, do you think it'd be possible to just talk into the computer instead of using the headphones? This is gonna work. Okay. Yeah, that works. All right. Excellent. Yeah. Okay. So this is really interesting. So, you know, I have heard in the past, people characterize the shaman in traditional foraging societies, as someone who's sort of an eccentric part of the tribe that literally sort of lives on the periphery. But it sounds like what you're saying is that, in most traditional foraging cultures, with a shamanic tradition, the Shaman is the leader is actually a central part and not only part of the leadership of the tribe, but it sounds like these shamanic ritual practices weren't, you know, once a year, or once every lunar cycle or something they were actually every, every couple of weeks, perhaps? Is that what you're saying?
Michael Winkelman 17:40
Well, I mean, to start with your first comments about, you know, the shaman being at the origin of society, the peripheral society. I mean, that can also be true. And the shaman still be the leader. I mean, a lot of cultures like they were scared of their shamans, and they were happy if they would just sleep a little bit further away. And of course, the shamans were in touch with the animals. So they were, you know, going to be further away from the the group's sedentary location. They were all the intergroup media areas, they were going to be in touch with other groups. But the Shaman was also core to every aspect of the society, in a very real sense from hunting, someone was thought to be able to tell the hunters where to go and call the animals to the hunters. The Shaman was central to this cosmology, how they viewed the world, the shaman, engaged in active produce, created this dynamic relationship with the spirit world, including imitating the animals becoming these animal powers. The Shaman was, you know, a mediator of their cosmological system, how they understood the universe. So in that sense, yeah, I mean, shamanism, I think was core to, you know, the global dynamics of belief and healing of pre modern societies.
Nick Jikomes 18:55
And so in traditional foraging cultures, with a shamanic tradition and the set of ritual practices, what were the the sort of social problems that shamanism tended to be aimed at solving for the group?
Michael Winkelman 19:11
Well, I think I did think the shamans were called on to do was like, Okay, how come the hunters aren't successful? What are the hunters have to do in order to find game, you know, calling the game to the group, somebody, you know, left and didn't come back? You know, they're supposed to be here a couple days ago, where are they just something happened to them? How can we go find them? Why is this person feeling that? Well, what are they ill from what needs to be done to heal them? You know, it's looks like it's starting to become winter. Maybe we need to leave the mountains, you know, what time should we leave and where should we go this year? So making those big decisions about you know, how to deal with the unknown how to deal with group needs for movement and food. That was the core of which John was did for the
Nick Jikomes 19:53
group. I see. So it was problem solving tied to things with uncertainty or unfortunate outcomes for which the cause This is where maybe not not obvious to the group, certainly. And so is that tied to why shamanism wanes as as agricultural society comes up, because as people became sedentary and started having more regular crop cycles and things that were more strictly tied to, to the calendar, that, you know, as things got more predictable in that way, there was less of a need for this uncertainty, this mediation of uncertainty that shamanism was speaking to.
Michael Winkelman 20:33
Well, I mean, I might partially agree with that. I but I think that the other issue is, you know, the, the focus of control and the issues of uncertainty took on a different dimension, you know, and agricultural societies is the priest that now has to decide about when to plant the seeds, you know, it's the priests that sort of responsible for reading the cycle of the seasons and doing the necessary ceremonies, and maybe they have a different kind of uncertainty, that can't be resolved by the ways that shamans do. And I think that, you know, the, the uncertainty for priest level societies is rain. And I'm not sure that we can control the rain as well as we can control the behavior of hunters.
Nick Jikomes 21:17
And so what is where does this importance of of animals come into it, you seem to be emphasizing a lot, that the shamans were focused very much on animals, both in terms of, you know, hunting, you know, how to find them, and how to hunt game, but also connecting with animals at that spiritual level, where, you know, they, they have rituals, where they are apparently embodying animal spirits, and using this, to probably predict the movement of animals and things like this. So what does this tie in to the animal world that seems to be so central?
Michael Winkelman 21:49
Well, I mean, there were very important aspects of the environment. You know, day to day basis, you encountered animals, animals were important for food, they were important to be avoided, if they were predators. They were important indications of changes of weather. You know, there were long distance signaling systems and people that pay attention to animals, animals give off different kinds of sounds and behavior, depending on what's going on around them. I mean, the environment was all built up around the animal and, and responding to it and you know, your, your food, your clothing, your housing all came from animals in many respects. And beyond that, we haven't evolved intelligence for animals. It's part of our evolved psychology. And so these animals became sort of a natural system of expression of meaning of metaphor, of identifying dispositions of shaping personalities, the animals were central to the hunter gatherer society.
Nick Jikomes 22:52
And was it more the exception or the rule that a lot of these ritual practices that were used in shamanic cultures used psychoactive substances, either from fungi or plants in the environment?
Michael Winkelman 23:07
Well, you know, we don't know for certain, there was not a lot of, you know, careful ethnobotany done in the initial context with hunter gatherers. And the hunter gatherer societies for the most part quickly disappeared. Under the onslaught of Western colonization. Only agricultural societies in general survived. Hunter gatherers didn't have a chance they were too small scale their, their lifestyle depended upon a certain kind of freedom of movement, they couldn't live on reservations. So we don't know a lot about hunter gatherers. But it's clear from the records that we do have is that they took various substances, often they were just referred to as emetics, which meant that you puked, and pooped a lot when you took in a few cases, we have some good evidence regarding the use of psychedelic substances. From instance, the Kung Bushmen of the Kalahari, we have very good ethnographic evidence about them. And there's actually evidence that they used about seven or nine different kinds of psychoactive plants with their name calci, you know, the, the medicine men of their group, who had this special energy for healing. So when we get good ethnographic evidence, it appears that yes, these cultures knew how to use these substances, and did so deliberately.
Nick Jikomes 24:33
And so how many you know today in the world, how many traditional foraging societies are there approximately?
Michael Winkelman 24:42
I would say about zero.
Nick Jikomes 24:45
Okay, so it's basically it's basically absent now from from human culture.
Michael Winkelman 24:50
Yeah, I mean, you know, you might find some marginalized groups that, you know, have relatives that are more sedentary and they're a little more nomadic. I mean, you might I find some of that amongst some of the aborigine groups but I think most of them have settled on homelands. In Siberia, I mean, there may be still some nomadic you know, reindeer herders, but their forms of shamanism also underwent dramatic changes similar to that of agriculture when they adopted the reindeer, a lot of people, you know, it's shamanism when you have these rituals, to help the reindeer, you know, be protected and to have the reindeer reproduce, and that you know, you have a sacrifice of a reindeer for you to this is shamanism. Well, this is what something that once was shamanism became shamanism. But is it still deserve to be called shamanism today? I don't know, some among the most arty groups, I mean, you might find some remnant practices but pretty much all of the the Eskimo, Inuit all these illusion groups have all become sedentary. You know, they don't have that constant cycle. But I think if you're going to find anything that approaches shamanism, you're going to see that it's in the historical record, not in the modern record, when these people were colonized by the US government, by the Canadian government by the Soviet government. I mean, they made their rituals crimes they made practicing shamanism a crime punishable by death, they put Shamans in prison and kill them, the Soviets took them in, you know, burn them in bonfires, and threw them out of airplanes and see if they could really fly. I mean, literally, shamanism was killed off in the 19th and 20th century.
Nick Jikomes 26:35
Why do you think what why do you think that was? What was? What was the moat? What were the motivating factors for why that particular type of practice would be seen as so such as a threat,
Michael Winkelman 26:45
because it was the core of their culture, it was the core of their religion, it was the core of their spirituality, it was the central element of their subsistence lifestyle, it was the glue that held the whole life together, and they were the leaders. So you want to incorporate a group, you get rid of the leaders.
Nick Jikomes 27:03
I see. And so it sounds like based on what you've said, so far, that shamanism or something like it, you know, was basically probably the rule for for groups of hunter gatherers, from potentially over a million years ago, all the way up until we started becoming an agricultural. We started having agricultural societies, how, how old is shamanism? And how can you sort of talk about a little bit about like, what do we look for in the archaeological record to try and discern that when we don't have the ability to speak to people, and we have to figure it out indirectly from things that happened in the deep past?
Michael Winkelman 27:39
Yeah. But that's always been a challenge. That's always been a challenge to archaeology to try to identify evidence of ritual and religion in the past. Certain architectural forms are interpreted as, you know, having religious significance particularly when they allow large groups of people to be around a central place. Evidence of burial is often taken as evidence of a spiritual belief, but what that, you know, tells us about religious practice is often quite limited. They'll putting real practical items of life food and tools in Graves is often thought to be evidence of a belief in an afterlife. What do we you know, fine for shamanism? Well, I'll think I'll just sort of like, you know, go back I mean, first, you know, we see these patterns of behavior briefly reported, and the ancient historical records about you know, group activities that had to do with singing and dancing and drumming and the animal powers pretty good indication they were shamanism. When we get back into just strictly the physical record, well, you know, evidence of rituals inside of caves is often inferred to be some kind of Shamanic ritual. Paintings of human beings with mushrooms, is taken to be evidence of shamanic practices. Rock Art of humans fly, taken to be evidence of shamanic beliefs or abilities.
Various depictions of combined human and animal body parts Therianthropy Pope's, as they're called, when we see these mix of animals and humans and depictions, we assume it's shown as what did we have before that? Well, to me, what we have before we have any archaeological record, is we have some notion of human evolution and continuity with our primate cousins. So basic principle of evolution is that it's conservative, that it keeps what was there before and add something to it. So how can we find the origins of human ritual? Well, I say we have to look for the patterns of ritual, and what are called the hominids, our ape ancestors from which we diverge six to eight million years ago. So what are the common patterns of communal ritualization of chimpanzees? The chimpanzees have what is typically a every night reunification ritual, the tribe is dispersed during the day to optimize foraging, finding food, they come together at night for safety. So how do they come together, the alpha male picks a tree goes up in the tree starts making long distance calls, starts banging on the tree beating on the tree drumming on the free jumping up and down screaming. And as the members of the group hear him and come towards him, that he comes down to attack them runs that them bipedal ape, and they get down submissively. And he leaves them alone and lets them go up on the tree. So they have this nighttime ritual, then that everybody gets together up in the tree engages in what's called group chorusing, which basically is a way that you talk about primate singing, and they beat and drum on the trees. And it has a variety of integrative effects, adaptive effects in terms of protecting from predators, establishing intergroup, boundaries, etc. So to me, what we have to assume is that that was also the beginning of hominin ritual, our own unique human ancestors. And what was added to that, in the course of human evolution began with what's called the mimetic sweet. We evolved the capacity about a million and a half years ago, from Alesis, and accurate drama kind of show and tell thing, as well as music and singing, and drumming and toolmaking. But these all came together as a package, that was a consequence of our ability to exactly imitate others. And it appears that it was the evolution of the mirror neurons that gave us this uniquely human capacity. We say things like monkey see monkey do. But monkeys in primates do not have the mimetic mimetic and accurate capacity, the ability to learn by observation, not even chimpanzees effectively learn by observation. But we acquired that capacity over a million years ago, and it gave us this capacity for a whole wide range of mimetic abilities. And so to me, that's where the platform of shamanism must be seen as having begun. This is what we had beyond what the chimpanzees have in their every night, you know, re encounters the ritualized, we encounters, how that evolved, I think may have also been very deep. Some of the key aspects of shamanism would include things such as the out of body experience, and I've pointed out that this embodied experience is a mimetic experience is an experience of the Express body. So I think, once we had a mimetic capacity, then ritual and psychedelics would have enabled us to have out of body experiences like shamans have. So, right, a million and a half years ago, something clicked, we became, you know, a shamanic, like society and culture.
Nick Jikomes 33:22
So if you go back to, so I like how you use try to tie this back to our evolutionary roots with other apes. So if we diverged from chimps, something like 6 million years ago, what you just said is a nightly ritual that that many chimpanzee groups have is they come together called usually by by the Alpha chimp in the group. And that involves various social behaviors that bond the group together that reinforce you know, who's in charge and what the hierarchy is, and even things like drumming on the trees, as you mentioned, which, which is a really interesting thing. And I've heard that before that they they like to drum on certain trees, and they have a real affinity for some of these trees. And they really go out of their way to go to these types of places to come together as they're going about their movements in their lives. And so if that's if you have that kind of level of group ritual behavior 6 million years ago, and then somewhere after that, when you start seeing like cave paintings and things you mentioned, the things that we often see in these cave paintings like the the people with mushrooms, the people flying or the half animal, half human hybrids. What's What's the timeline there? When do some of those earliest cave paintings with those kinds of depictions start to come online? And when where do we first see those on the globe?
Michael Winkelman 34:40
Well, I think those kinds of rock art paintings around 50,000 years ago, I think the best examples are from Europe, but those likely occurring in this way around the world at about the same time. Actually, I have three chapters in here that look first at the evolution of ritual second, The evolution of spiritual concepts. And third, the evolution of shamanic altered states of consciousness. And all of these together sort of provide an overall model of how we got from our hominid base shared with the age to what became the basis of a pre modern religious system.
Nick Jikomes 35:20
And are you familiar at all with the work of Lee Berger looking at homophone miletti, in some of the early hominids like that?
Michael Winkelman 35:28
No, I'm not. What does he have to say?
Nick Jikomes 35:30
Well, I forget the exact timeline. But there's this recently discovered hominid species called Homo naledi, which they found the remains of in a cave in South Africa. But what's super fascinating, and I talked to him on episode 38 of the podcast, he's a paleo anthropologist, is, this was a very small species of hominid. It lived not that long ago. I don't want to quote the number because I don't remember exactly. But I had. Yeah, I think that sounds right. But it had a much smaller cranium than we do. So it's brain is very small. And yet, despite having the small brain and and what you might assume comes with that, what they found is a bunch of remains of many individuals deep inside of a cave system. And it doesn't appear that the bones were bought, brought there by bears, or cats or predators, it doesn't appear that a flood washed the bones in there, it appears for all intents and purposes that these bodies were brought there. And the implication, if that's true, is that this species with a relatively small brain compared to ours, you know, a million years ago, potentially, or more, was ritualistically, you know, burying the dead or placing the dead deep inside of these caves. And of course, that begs the question, how did they get into the cave? Well, they must have had fire. And I just wondered if you had followed that story at all, because it sort of speaks to how old some of these ritual practices could be.
Michael Winkelman 36:56
Now? Well, I mean, I think that burial may have been a practice that emerged long before other kinds of healing rituals, for instance, because burial is a very important practice for hygiene, and reducing, you know, predator presence. So but it sounds like, you know, deep inside of a cave, well, maybe they were trying to bury it. But we need to have good evidence that this wasn't just some kind of public health measure.
Nick Jikomes 37:24
I see. I see. So so it's, you know, at bare minimum, you want to be mindful of what you do with the bodies of the deceased, simply to prevent yourself from spreading disease or attracting predators who might want to come take advantage of that, really. And so when do we think, you know, based on these cave paintings in these other things, do we think it's very likely that humans were using things like psychedelic mushrooms and other forms of psychoactive is coming from the plant world or the fungal world, you know, fairly deep in human evolutionary history?
Michael Winkelman 38:01
Well, I think that we should presume that our exposure to psilocybin began, you know, five, 6 million years ago, when we left the arboreal environment and headed out to onto the savanna. I mean, we're we're very quickly scavenging from the carcasses of bovines. Mentally, we were hunting them, following them around trying to kill them. I mean, you know, mushrooms grow out of the feces of bovine and pretty much all the equatorial zone around the world and well up into the temperate climates, you find mushrooms that are psychedelic. You know, animals can't ignore mushrooms. And given their nature, I think that a very early evolutionary adaptation of food way of medicine way, began to distinguish among you know, what kind of mushrooms you can eat and feel good with and feel full. You know, what kind, you know, your brother ate and died, and you don't want to ever do again. And what time gave you these incredible visions, and all of these enhanced perceptual capacities and different social and emotional dynamics. So I think probably five to 6 million years ago, humans began to be affected by psilocybin. If for nothing else, incidentally, which is to say, we are eating it from time to time and figuring out, you know, what these things were, I think we would have been motivated to eat them because of the relationship between psilocybin and the serotonergic stress mechanisms in the body, we have a stress mechanism, that sort of endurance mechanism, putting up with bad stuff, and we have a stress mechanism. It's like, we're gonna change something about what's going on here. You know, I'm getting the hell out of here. This problem is going to be resolved. And it's that creative response to stress this emulated by serotonin five HT to a which is stimulated by psilocybin and the other, you know, similar psychedelics. So I think, you know, for millions of years, we were incidentally using these. And somewhere along the way, they became incorporated into ritual deliberately. Exactly when that happens. It's not clear yet. But I think eventually we'll be able to show that these kinds of selective effects upon the human genome and human evolution probably began about the same time long before the evolution of the mesas.
Nick Jikomes 40:34
I see. So do you think that you know the use of psychedelics or other psychoactive, it's just a piece of this sort of group bonding mechanism that was really important for maintaining the types of social cohesion that would have been necessary for hunter gatherer groups just to survive and compete in, you know, throughout evolutionary history?
Michael Winkelman 40:54
Well, I think that the psychedelics certainly enhance social relations, interpersonal relations, we know that from contemporary research on the clinical effects, I think they also went way beyond that, in terms of perhaps giving us our first understanding of symbols, we have this bad habit of referring to these experiences as hallucinations. But anybody who studies them is very clear that these are important sources of information. This is a visual thinking system. This is a mechanism that provides information that's often not easily available to the brain, except in dream states. And that this kind of perhaps, origin of symbolism through psychedelics has to be given serious consideration. This is could have been, you know, the original symbols, were these visual symbols that came about and are these experiences. And then we tried to figure out what is my brain telling me what did these visions and its information and these things I'm seeing mean? What should I be doing with this?
Nick Jikomes 41:59
And is that where it so when you go back to sort of the the, the social functions, of shamanism that you were speaking to before, a lot of it had to do with prediction and uncertainty? I know, you know, a concept that that I read in one of your papers is divination. So can you talk a little bit about divination and how this ties into sort of creative problem solving and what you're speaking to here about, about symbolic cognition,
Michael Winkelman 42:25
more than me, when the shaman wanted to get information, you know, they did the ritual in which they entered an altered state that overlapped with the dream periods. I mean, typically, the shamanic rituals are overnight. So by you know, drumming and dancing for three or four hours and then laying down to shaman to automatically is going to fall into a dream cycle. But a dreams like this going to be far more active in the sense of awareness. Because of all the physical activity the shaman does not know why go into the dreams. Well, dreams are a visual information system dreams are sort of a representational system of our emotions, our psychology, our interpersonal relations of our innate structures. And so these kinds of information capacities get stimulated, elicited elevated by shamanic ritual, and obviously, by the psychedelics. So what we know about the psychedelics effects on the brain makes it very clear why you'd want to use them in context of divination. Basically, what you get under the psychedelic brain is the brain that has two major shifts, and its global dynamics. The first global shift is that disability ation of the top down control network. So the prefrontal cortex that sort of sits between the frontal brain and the mammalian brain is disrupted, taken offline. And then the default mode network, which sort of connects to the prefrontal cortex, and to all these other areas of the brain, particularly personal memory, and our learning and things like that, this gets taken offline to, and these are the two parts of the brain that means that they run the show, for the most part, the frontal cortex when we're in control, and the default mode network when we're like not paying too much attention and sort of daydreaming. And what the altered states induced by psychedelics do is take these two parts of the brain offline, partially through habituation of the serotonergic mechanisms, the second phase emerges, which is a bottom up dynamic, in which the ascending serotonergic networks that come out of what we can call the reptilian brain, the ancient parts of our behavioral brain and project up into the mammalian brain in the frontal cortex. These are getting activated and they're getting activated in ways that are manifested in an ascending theta wave discharge, theta wave cycles that pump from The bottom of the brain to the top and bring up with it liberate all of this information that's our unconscious brain that's normally not allowed access to consciousness. And then under these conditions, what's happening among all these normally repressed aspects of the brain is we're getting an enhanced inter connectivity between these different parts of the brain. And so instead of just the frontal brain telling you what to look for, all these aspects of the brain that are normally unconscious, are one, given Ascendance and two being integrated with one another. And so this integration is like a synesthesia, we're putting different sensory cognitive capacities together. And I think this explains, for instance, why under the effects of psychedelics, seeing aliens and entities is so prevalent, because among our innate intelligence, or intelligence for social others, for inferring their thoughts called Mind reading, for assuming their roles, you know, called socialization, including these innate capacities for understanding animals. And what we see in shamanism is all of these social modules and the animal modular getting integrated together to produce these animal powers. In the modern world, the animal part gets dropped off, well, we still have these highly intelligent beings that has an important message as far as they're trying to tell us what to do. I think that reflects the liberation of our ancient brain systems.
Nick Jikomes 46:27
I see So so what you're saying is basically that the imagery people see today that involves things like entities or aliens, or whatever the imagery that people would have very potently seen historically, as hunter gatherers, things to do with, you know, animals and stuff. It has to do with their brain trying to understand how all of these players in their ecology are actually working. What are the animals actually doing out in the world? And what can I understand about them? What are the people in my group doing? And how can I understand how to interact with them? And so this, this involves not only, you know, sensing these things through direct perception, but using things like mummy says, and imagination to put yourself in someone's shoes, or try to imagine what you know which way the buffalo are gonna go, or what have you.
Michael Winkelman 47:12
Yeah, certainly the psychedelics enhance his capacity to elevate and integrate these unconscious modules. And I think the integration part is what's so important here, because what we see in the context of altered states of consciousness of shamanism, is this integration of capacities that are normally thought to function relatively independently. And so these anxious spiritual experiences really are a sense an elevation and expansion of our innate capacities to perceive social others and further thoughts. And we can extend that to nature. So as you were saying, to understand how all these things put together to provide explanations, and this leads to mythology, the creation of accounts, about why these things are connected, even if the accounts aren't true, they're given plausible meaning to people's life.
Nick Jikomes 48:03
I see so so even if you know, even if these narratives that emerge, these mythologies aren't literal, literal accounts of history, they reflect the kind of symbolic cognition that is necessarily involved in integrating all of these different information streams together about how the world around you is actually working the social world, and the natural and the physical world.
Michael Winkelman 48:24
I think it's important, why this is not just how they're working, but how they're interrelated that the author states in shamanism give.
Nick Jikomes 48:33
And you talk in some of your work about niche construction and how humans occupy what you refer to as the socio cognitive niche. So can you talk about that in the context of of shamanism and early human evolution? What what is that niche? And why is it so special for for humans in particular?
Michael Winkelman 48:52
Well, let's start off with the with the concept of the niche. You know, sometimes people ask, you know, well, do we live in a virtual reality? Well, yeah, we do. It's called culture. And we know humans that probably lived in a virtual reality for millions of years. And perhaps the most important part of that virtual reality is just understanding how it is that we relate to the environment. And this is the notion of the cognitive niche as a capacity to create a model, and then the cultural Nish the specific model that's created. What we know about human adaptation to the environment is that it tends to be relatively selected, which is to say, we have very specific things that are focused on and others that we don't, including some food things. Humans have a very specialized technological adaptation to the environment that goes back hundreds of 1000s perhaps millions of years. For instance, if One of the classic examples about just how complicated this knowledge is that one anthropologist analyzed the boots that Eskimos use in order to go hunting. And they're made from parts of like four or five different animals. There, there's one that you know is, is the waterproof exterior, like it a walrus skin. And there's one interior one that is like rabbit, that's more insulation, but it's put inside of a fish bladder that gives you no permit impermeability to water and just either use the sinew of another fish for the ties, I mean, this is very complicated, specific knowledge. And you can't just use any skin or any sinew or any bladder to make this work, you have to have a very specialized combination of resources to make this happen. So this is the example of a simple cognitive mission, the notion that how we relate to the environment is not directly with the environment. But it's mediated through the cultural models that we acquire, that tells us how to relate to the environment. And in this sense, lets you know, everything from our food, to our hunting, to our housing, to our clothing, to even our social relations, how do we conceptualize who is kin, we have to have a good model of who it is that we can, for instance, get married to and have children with any society that doesn't have a sense of kin that I can't have sex with his a short lived society because inbreeding or at least the recessive genes. And that's a dead end. So early on, humans had to have concepts of who they were versus who others were, that they can marry. And they had to be able to keep these ideas together across generations. And so this is another example of a sort of a cultural niche, a construction of who's can and who's not, and how you relate to them, and how you find them and how you identify them. All of this is very important knowledge for human survival. So for millions of years, human beings have had a deep necessity to learn culture from others in order to just survive. And this survival is the cultural niche.
Nick Jikomes 52:18
I see. So So you've almost you've conceptualized culture as a kind of virtual reality. It's sort of the the set of beliefs and practices that are scripting our behavior, literally how we conduct ourselves in the groups that we lived, that we live amongst, and an important component of cultural construction, of stitching together all of the symbols within a culture that create the narratives that that script our lives, has to do with what was going on. In some of these shamanic practices that were often that were often using things like psychedelics,
Michael Winkelman 52:56
whether shamanic practices helped, you know, put the whole picture together, but also to understand the pieces. For instance, in many cultures, you know, the shamans, and similar practitioners were responsible for deciding when you could hunt and what animals could be hunted with. And careful analyses of these suggests that there were often a lot of different taboos that we're designed to protect pregnant females and females shortly after birth, you know, those are the most vulnerable ones. And those are the ones that you gotta leave alone, to make sure that the group is going to be able to reproduce and survive. So controlling relationships with the natural world was part of which shamanism provided to as well as the whole psychosocial dynamic, of, you know, feeling that in spite of all the threats that you faced, things were going to come out, okay. Stress is a killer. And humans are uniquely primed to have stress, because our big brains allow us to see across temporal dimensions. So they say when when the lions chasing the antelope, the antelope is in total stress mode. When the antelope gets out of the lions range, two minutes later, the antelope is completely relaxed and back to eating grass and has forgotten about the lion. The human never quits thinking about the lion. We quit, can't quit thinking about these things. So shamanism gave us a set of cognitive tools that were powers protections against these kinds of, you know, entities or animals are possible accidents didn't mean that it protected us but it gave us the sense that we were protected, encountered the stress response.
Nick Jikomes 54:40
Yeah, I see. I recently talked to the neuroscientist Joseph Ledoux on the podcast about about neuroscience and consciousness related topics. And you know, one of the things he emphasized was basically that, you know, our big brains or big prefrontal cortex in particular, it gives us a lot of our power so to speak as humans it allows us to do a lot of the things that we associate as being uniquely human, you know, planning and doing complex problem solving and symbolic cognition and all of this stuff. And the flip side of that is that at the same time, it gives us those things, it predisposes us to things like anxiety and depression, for the reasons that you just you just summarized, right, we can think about large, long swathes of time, which is strategically advantageous if you're trying to plan a route or a hunting trip or something. But it also leaves you vulnerable to being stressed and anxious about all of the dangers the future might bring. And so I think what you're saying, correct me if I'm wrong, is that what was going on in some of these ritual practices in these shamanic cultures was that those practices were a kind of buffer against the anxiety and the negative effect of states that our big brains endow us with.
Michael Winkelman 55:50
I mean, I think they were more than just a buffer because the buffer sort of implies the state still there. But somehow it's not affecting us. I think that shamanism went beyond that. It, remedied it, resolved it removed these anxious states, and put you back, you know, into your mother's arms, so to speak, and took away the physiological conditions that fed forward into the stress process.
Nick Jikomes 56:18
Interesting. And as we you know, if we think back to what we're talking about, towards the beginning, where you mentioned that shamanism was ubiquitous in hunter gatherer societies, and it started to go away as we became sedentary and agricultural societies developed. Can you talk a little bit more about that transition? And maybe all the way up to the present day? Do you think that the lack of those practices has something to do with things like our tendency to develop certain mental health ailments today? are we lacking some of those cultural practices that helped remedy those things in ancient times? Or do we have new cultural practices that stand in for them today?
Michael Winkelman 57:02
Well, I think as the evolution of religion unfolded, new practices emerged, which may have addressed some of the new anxieties. But you know, on the other hand, didn't bring the complete package of healing that the shamanic context would have provided. So we know I think what we have today is impoverished in a set of healing practices that are very much just concerned with the biological mechanisms, and not as much concerned with the psychological, social and emotional, and even cosmological dimensions, that clearly psychotherapists differ in their orientations. But I think today, we're not living in a society that values the connection with nature. And I think that that was part of not only the context of shamanism, but the day to day life of shamanic society. So yeah, we're missing that balancing force of nature in our lives, we live in constructed environments. Today, we don't have the kinds of spiritual healing practices that are part of pre modern societies, you know, this, psychiatrists is not going to start asking questions about, you know, what your grandfather's life was like, and how that you know, transferred into energetic fields that formed your own conception. But you know, people who deal with spiritual dimensions might consider that to be one of the most relevant features of your current emotional or psychological dynamic. So today, we don't have the same tools that the shamans provided, we don't, you know, give people the same opportunities to enter into these profound alterations of consciousness where we have contact with these encoded aspects of ourselves or animal cells or animal being mean, I think the power of this notion of the triune brain is that you got a reptile inside of you, you know, you got a monkey inside of you, or, you know, you got basically the brains that they have in the same kinds of emotions and social reaction patterns that were part of our phylogenetic evolution. And I don't think we're effectively addressing this aspect of what may be both our anxious evolved physiological self, and our evolved spiritual nature, I don't see those two as necessarily being distinct from one another. In fact, I think, in many ways, what's reflected in in many aspects of spiritual belief, is an effort after understanding these encoded aspects of our being, these aspects that existed before language and that process beneath language networks, that are still a core part of who we are, how we behave, how we feel, how our bodies feel, etc. And the spiritual understandings in many cases, I think, are trying to get at these deeply embedded aspects of our self, of our being of our animal nature that are ignored, repressed in the context of modern society.
Nick Jikomes 59:57
Do you think? Do you think that's related? It's why so many people today that have like high dose psychedelic experiences with things like psilocybin and other drugs, they often describe it as being inexplicable beyond language beyond comprehension. And yet it feels more real than real is what's going on there basically, that, you know, the, in the drug state in that in that altered state, you have discombobulated all of the higher order linguistic circuits and systems in the brain, but there's still something underneath there. And that is, you know, the ape and the reptile inside of you, as you put it.
Michael Winkelman 1:00:33
I mean, I think that's, you know, why we have these spirit boxes of ineffability associated with psychedelics, as well as mystical experiences. I mean, the, you know, the mystical traditions are very clear, you know, you got to turn off the monkey brain, you got to shut off the chatterbox you got to go quit paying attention to the external sensory stimuli, you got to, you know, quit feeding into your emotional attachment, you gotta take all these systems offline, you know, to get down to something that's the level of the brain before the brain that we have, you know, as an evolved primate. So, yeah, I think today, we don't have, you know, access to those technologies that make us comfortable entering in those spaces. I mean, people don't have freakout experiences over ego dissolution, they should be happy, you know, there should be happy that they're having an ego death, you know, that they're getting to connect with some more, you know, embedded aspect of the total being that they are.
Nick Jikomes 1:01:31
Do you think, sort of, you know, because of the Ark of human evolution has had the shape that it's had. And because we no longer have, you know, things that we're doing with these old shamanic practice we're doing? Do you think that's why things like psychedelics are having a renaissance today? And why things like yoga and meditation have started to become more popular? Are people sort of trying to piece together some kind of cultural practice that will do actually what those practices were doing for our ancestors?
Michael Winkelman 1:02:03
Well, certainly to an extent, I mean, I think, you know, we have to put it in the broader context of you know, societies and cultures always are going through, you know, sways from one extreme to the other extreme, I mean, you know, this is happens globally, it almost seems like the shift from you know, right wing, conservative governments to left wing, liberal democratic governments seem to almost follow the same patterns around the globe, you know, it's like, we're all in these cycles. So that's got to be part of it. I mean, the other part has to do with, you know, this expose your availability. I mean, we lived in a world now in which we truly have, you know, access to global culture, and to traditions around the world, we have more information available to us. But yes, directly to your question. I think that, you know, this engagement with psychedelics, with yoga with meditation with shamanism, is all part of this cultural movement of a much bigger amplitude, you know, back towards an engagement with whatever is the spiritual aspect of our nature. It's clear that you know, capitalism and materialism you know, in the modern, you know, worldview have found ways to meet human needs, even for the economically well off rich and powerful, we need more than just the material side of life. And certainly, these things you refer to help bring in these other dimensions.
Nick Jikomes 1:03:29
So, how, how did you even get into studying in this field? What, what brought you in this direction?
Michael Winkelman 1:03:38
Well, I'm gonna have to write my autobiography someday, I guess. I keep starting it on podcasts like this. I really have to go back and say that I had, you know, a lot of very traumatic kinds of experiences during early childhood. That induced altered states of consciousness. I mean, ranging from the possibility that I was you know, a brief victim of the the paperclip Nazi experiments on a military base, I smothered accidentally at around the age one I was probably deliberately smothered around the age three, I drowned around age four. At a life review experience I fell in cut my head about age four and had four stitches 10 needle punctures put through my skin with no anesthesia. And you know, the four people holding me down on operating table and I went into severe you know, regression after that I didn't even want to get out of bed. I think I escaped into some other worlds. You know, this is all before five years old, you know, and this gets more interesting after that. So if you know you want to have a reason for you know, that can be a list time lifetime reason I've had a meditation teacher told me that I was a fallen avatar. are in a past lifetime, if you want to add that dimension to it, my natal chart says that I'm going to excel and, you know, bringing science to the study of spirituality. So you know, those are just, you know, layers of experience that call that my freshman year in college taking LSD and reading Carlos Castaneda and discovering shamanism. So, in some sense, it all makes sense. But usual trajectory, or maybe maybe not so unusual. I mean, you might have to get the kind of shit I went through to follow this kind of path.
Nick Jikomes 1:05:35
Well, I know that was just a cliff notes, but that's already quite a story. Who was that author that you just mentioned? I don't recognize that name.
Michael Winkelman 1:05:42
Carlos Castaneda. Yeah. Okay, well, he was a renegade anthropologists who wrote a series of books in the 60s and 70s and 80s. That was a considered to be a major force and the cultural shift towards, you know, an engagement with the reality of the supernatural. He wrote books that sold millions of copies and, you know, came to be seen as a kind of cultural icon of the supernatural and shamanism and, you know, psychic powers of psychedelics, even though I don't think what he did constituted shamanism. But you know, you, you show your age, but I don't know who Carlos Castaneda is.
Nick Jikomes 1:06:31
So, so then you were at Arizona State for many years as a professor, and you mentioned at the beginning, while you're chatting that you're in Brazil now. So what are you doing in Brazil? And what's that been, like, last few years?
Michael Winkelman 1:06:45
Well, I mean, you know, we're in Brazil, but we're not of Brazil, in a lot of senses. I mean, you know, when we got ready to move here, you know, 1314 years ago, my wife asked me, well, how are you going to deal with, you know, Brazilian government and society and bureaucracy, as little as possible? It began with when I had to get a driver's license, I paid someone to do everything for I never, ever presented myself at the driver's license bureau. So but, you know, being here, what am I doing here? I guess, you know, I'm continuing my academic career and Reading and Writing, Publishing. You know, I'm a gentleman farmer, you know, is one way of looking at it, I've got like, 1000 fruit trees, planted on a piece of property that I pay someone to take care of, more or less, you know, I'm trying to build a fruit orchard. But I guess the other part was that, you know, my, my drive came from many different levels, beginning with, you know, future of humanity future sociology class, as an undergraduate that said, you know, the shits gonna hit the fan, you know, before the end of my lifetime, you know, a half dozen spiritual experiences that set me on the path to go to Brazil. And, you know, the good fortune to figure out how to pull off an early retirement and be able to leave academia and come down here and live my own life without, you know, the kind of bullshit that I was having to put up with at Arizona State.
Nick Jikomes 1:08:18
Yeah, no, I mean, you're definitely not the first person to just to say something like that. And to want to sort of get out of the academic bubble. Why did you Why'd you pick Brazil of all places? Well,
Michael Winkelman 1:08:31
I'd say Brazil picked me. You know, people here asked me, Why did you come to Brazil as a God sent me here? There? Oh, okay. All right. You know, it was just a whole series of, you know, psychedelic experiences and psychic experiences, shamanic experiences, predictions, you know, I mean, they'll say, I gotta write my autobiography, you probably take me, you know, 1520 minutes to tell you the incredible stories that just set me on this path. And all along the way, you know, confirm that, you know, I was actually Brazil and not Chile and not Argentina, and not anyplace else that it was here in Brazil. You know, when I got here to Brazil, you know, exactly to 2009 before it actually finished retiring and had actually, you know, even bought a house I was doing a Fulbright, you know, somebody asked me what, well, why is it that you came to Brazil, you know, so I was like, Okay, well, I'll tell them the story. And they go, Oh, I see you one of the chosen ones. You know, and it was that day that I discovered that I had settled down at one of this points of the spiritual triangle of Brazil.
Nick Jikomes 1:09:40
Well, do you do you mind sharing the story that prompted that answer?
Michael Winkelman 1:09:45
Nick Jikomes 1:09:47
Yeah, we can do it. I got time.
Michael Winkelman 1:09:49
I don't know if I got the energy for today.
Nick Jikomes 1:09:51
All right. All right. That's fine. So I mean, you're down in Brazil. Have you ever done in Iowa Oscar ceremony in the Amazon?
Michael Winkelman 1:10:00
I wouldn't do a retreat in the Amazon once that was actually my first time in Brazil. And I'll tell you that that story, that one little piece of
Nick Jikomes 1:10:07
it. Yeah, no, I would love to hear about it and what you think about it in terms of like our traditional Ayahuasca ceremonies in the Amazon eye? Is that a modern form of shamanism? Or does it differ from the traditional forms that existed in prehistory?
Michael Winkelman 1:10:22
Okay, well, I guess first, I would say, you know, what I did in the Amazon was at a retreat center, you know, run by someone who's an anthropologist, you know, and there's nothing about traditional Amazonian shamanism and what he does, although he was in fact, trained by an iOS scatto, who practices you know, the indigenous traditions of Columbia, so he has some notions of what these are, what they involve. But, you know, today, I don't think that there's much of those practices left. If you look at the kind of traditions among the vegetal leases of Peru, you'll find something that's relatively close to shamanism in some respects, although in others it's not but it does have some of those elements. On the other hand, I mean, people will call, you know, some of the Ayahuasca churches Santo di May, they'll call that, you know, oh, this is, you know, Ayahuasca shamanism, but if you look at, you know, how the adrenals are formed, and how they practice I mean, you know, they don't go through a death and rebirth experiences by necessity, they don't go out in the wilderness seeking power from animals. You know, their power comes from praying to Jesus and Mary and God and the saints, you know, they don't engage in and soul recovery for the most part, you know, they're doing other kinds of healing. You know, they're not thought to be sorcerers are thought to be able to kill people. I mean, you know, what is involved in Ayahuasca healing today with these churches, though, maybe deserves a special term. But I don't think it you know, really reflects in any significant way, the dynamics of shamanism,
Nick Jikomes 1:12:02
I see, you emphasize a lot this this idea of really connecting with nature and connecting with animals. And you know, in the cave paintings, you can see all those human animal hybrids. By coincidence, I recently watched the movie, The northmen. Have you seen that? No. There's a lot of depictions of, basically shamanic practice in that movie, where people you know, are, are becoming wolves and acting out things, like animals. And I was just wondering if you saw it, and you thought that was a reasonably good depiction?
Michael Winkelman 1:12:37
No, I one of the things that I missed as a child, although I didn't really miss it was television. I didn't have a television as a child. I never learned to watch television and I, I can't even watch videos. They're just too slow for me compared to the written words. So and what are the cultural anomalies? Thanks to my mother, who thought it was just a bunch of garbage? And I'd be better off reading so.
Nick Jikomes 1:13:01
Well, I was I was intrigued by your notion. You said earlier that, you know, people often ask the question, you know, is it possible we're living in a simulation? And you said, Yes, it's called culture. And I would love if you could expand a little bit more on this notion of culture as a kind of virtual reality or culture as a scripting mechanism that effectively programs human behavior and, and where that comes from?
Michael Winkelman 1:13:27
Well, I mean, there's been, you know, a long standing tradition in anthropology, of sort of trying to weave our way between the concepts of, you know, linguistic relativism and linguistic determinism. But it begins with the idea that no language is the medium through which we know and experience the world. Trying to experience the world apart from words is one of these, you know, lifetime challenges of meditative traditions trying to get away from this network of signification that defines for us, not only what's out there, but you know, how it's related. And so language is the most fundamental way in which our reality is created, our understanding of what else is out there is formed. It's such a key aspect of modern consciousness, that there are philosophical traditions that debate whether or not you can even have consciousness without language. And that is how deeply embedded in the human psyche language is understood to be to many people. So, you know, can we perceive things outside of our language systems? Certainly, you know, we can come up with little examples of that. But it's far more easy to show examples of how fundamentally and powerfully language forms our basic conceptual conceptualization of what's out there in the world, to even be known by human beings. And so this is the beginning of this, you know, virtualization of the world, we understand the world through our language, I guess, you know, the next level would be, you know, we understand the world through our personal history, through our habits of conceptualization and labeling and, you know, attributing meaning and significance to what it is that we recognize in the language system. That's another level in which, you know, a virtual reality is created, you know, a woman's on an elevator feeling happy after lunch, and a black man gets on, and she's clutching her purse over in the corner, without even thinking about it. I mean, she's got this network of signification, that, you know, she can't even rationally think about the black man in the business suit with a diamond ring, all she sees is the black guy getting on the elevator, and it triggers a deep, you know, conceptual framework that was probably caused by some trauma or fear in the past, we go beyond that just to our you know, all unconscious, how our unconscious proceeds and processes the world. And we have this very complex brain that's constantly receiving all kinds of information and making decisions about it. And hardly any of this information ever makes it into consciousness. But it still will be driving our decision making process. And so modern cognitive neuroscience can monitor various aspects of our brain and tell us that, you know, the unconscious brain made the decision a couple seconds before the concert brain says, Okay, I know, instead, something. We don't get much information. And just to drive this point home was one of my favorite examples. You know, before I say, how does your butt feel right now, you probably had no idea about how your butt was feeling unless you're, you're sitting on attack, or you got hemorrhoids, okay, the blood sensations are always there. But they're not part of consciousness. But that's, you know, part of the levels of information processing, that shapes and forms consciousness. And then we get down to our sensory systems. I think that modern science will tell you that we probably as a human, you know, sensory Oregon, with all of our senses can only pick up about 5% of all the electromagnetic, vibrational light acoustic energy that's available out there, we only got a very slim slice of what reality is to work with, to start with. So all these are basically, you know, the limiting factors between you know, what's out there, and what's right here in consciousness Glatz, the virtual levels of virtual reality. And we actually spell this out in his book, supernatural as natural. I'll come back to it later, when you have another question. Well, we talked about, you know, how understanding reality really is these series of limitations that have been placed upon us. And in many cultures, religion was one of those today, people often, you know, use science in much the same way. But it's also, you know, a limiting system of beliefs, that confines what we're even willing to consider as possible explanations of what it is we're experiencing.
Nick Jikomes 1:18:10
So, you know, as with everything that you just said in mind, you know, as we think about again, the Ark of human evolution as we went from roaming bands of hunter gatherers, foraging out in the wilderness, deeply connected to nature with these shamanic ritual practices, as the kind of glue holding the social structure together, as we became sedentary, and we developed agriculture and civilization grew and grew into what it is today, as we developed science and technology. And as you know, the digital world continues to bloom in front of us and the way information flows changes. When you think about all of that arc of human evolution, going from shamanism to early religions, to the monotheistic religions and the present day religions that we have today, what do you see as like the future of religious and spiritual practice? Do you have a sense of how that might evolve, given how technology and society are changing? Or? Or do we just have to kind of hold on and, and wait and see?
Michael Winkelman 1:19:17
Well, it's, you know, I think very significant to recognize the role of religion and human evolution. There's a large cadre of evolutionary psychologists now that really feel like religion was a key element in terms of human evolution. And, you know, it took different forms in different places. Most of them don't push it back to shamanism. Most of them start with the notion of monotheistic gods. If we go back to what was the case before monotheistic gods, well, you know, every tribe every chieftain had their own God. And most of the cases and tribes and chiefdoms is that these were the ancestors the ancestors were the gods. So it's kind of hard to integrate A people if every group has its own gods. So having a single common monotheistic God was a powerful integrative mechanism for diverse peoples diverse cultures, diverse languages that, you know, was in a sense, an umbrella. So could a good question is, you know, how important as religion been in human evolution? Well, I think it was a core in the evolution of humans becoming humans through shamanism, I think it was, you know, a core aspect of the agricultural revolution, I think, you know, a significant part of ancestral traditions that gave us agriculture. So the ancestors became more gods and protected and guided us. At the next level, we're talking about, you know, mega kinship groups that are all descended from ancestors, and major forces of social evolution have been recognizing kinship, and as recognized through descendant from an ancestor, God, then we get to the monotheistic religions that are thought to be essential to moral systems in modern societies. But we can see today that, you know, the capacity of the monotheistic systems to integrate human beings has reached their limit. Okay, you know, Muslims are not going to become, you know, Catholics, Catholics are not going to become Baptists Baptists are not going to become Lutherans. The Buddhists makes up this all but you know, the Hindus aren't going to accept any of this. So we are in a system today in which you know, this level of, or the capacity for integration seems to have reached its limit.
How do we get beyond that? You know, I think is a important question, you know, we may have to ask first, whether or not religion in all of its forms has already exhausted its potential for integrating human beings, or whether there's an additional form of religion that will enable this, I'll just throw an off the cuff comment. You know, maybe it will take the extra terrestrials to get us all behind the same God, but I don't think that we're gonna go off and become Extra Terrestrial, you know, faithful and followers. But who knows, we probably were in the past, I think, I think, perhaps a number of religions in the past really were, you know, extra terrestrial inspired practices in order to more effectively organize and exploit human populations. And I take this back to, you know, the ancient Sumerians, and, you know, the gods of their of their era. But you know, for the future, what is their possibility that religious belief or practice will integrate us all? I only see one possibility here, Nick. And I think the possibility has to do with Anthea genic religion. And you know, what we know about the psychedelics, LSD, psilocybin in particular, is that they objectively induce mystical experiences, they can produce the kind of experiences that monks may spend several lifetimes trying to achieve. You know, I think that there's good reason to think that many of the Buddhist texts that talk about, you know, in one lifetime enlightenment, we're talking about the use of psychedelic mushrooms. So, this provides for me, you know, two possible avenues through which the future of religion may, in fact, provide evolutionary potentials for humanity. One would be through creating people who are more compassionate, open minded, who've had Eagle dissolution who've experienced, you know, unity, with Godhead, who had all of these different kinds of religious experiences. You know, the second path may be through being able to bring together people of different religions. For decades, I thought, man, we ought to take the leadership with a Palestinian Liberation Organization, and, you know, Israeli leadership and, you know, the rabbis and make them have a, you know, a series of two week long Ayahuasca retreats together, you know, have them experience this, have them, experience it together, have them try to begin to work out their differences, you know, maybe, you know, some kind of psychedelic you know, spirituality can help humanity overcome these differences. And then the third point I'd make about this is, you know, there's been a long standing tradition of the entheogenic origins of Christianity. I mean, Gianna, Legros book and other sacred mushroom and the cross postulated that there were in fact Amanita cults at the basis of Christianity, a coral rock, Mark Hoffman, their collaborators have made very, you know, elaborated and well detailed arguments about the entheogenic origins of early Christianity Makowski you know, immortality key sort of brings in a reinforcement of this in theory Unique origins of the Greek traditions and suggests that, you know, maybe wasn't just emanating muscaria but they eventually figured out and ayahuasca like combination or some way to detoxify ergot alkaloids. So from there, you know, we can see a continuing entheogenic tradition in Christianity, Jerry Brown's the psychedelic gospels, you know, points to all these different kinds of well established, you know, Christian iconography, architecture painting that clearly shows Amanita in psychedelic mushrooms.
There's some evidence that there's probably also in theologian use in Islamic traditions. Clearly, the Buddhist traditions have at least anxious in Theo genic origins. In fact, I think it's probably a well repressed secret in India that in Theo genic traditions are still being practice, the Hindu traditions related to the soma, were probably replaced by traditions related to philosophy kribensis, the purple blue throated Shiva, of you know, six 600 BCE. My, you know, research recently in India has found all these temples with mushrooms all over the temples, including on the thresholds. So your listeners can go to my ResearchGate site, and I've got two articles there that talked about in Thiele mycology of India. I mean, I think that, you know, when we look around the world, we're going to find that all of the major religions have in theory, genetic elements at their origins, perhaps even entheogenic origins. So if we get back to our own entheogenic roots as individual practitioners of various religious will this create a foundation from which we can see our commonality and similarity with people of other religious faiths. And Tom Roberts proposed is that, you know, we really haven't seen the major religious reformation yet, you know, the Protestant Reformation, he says, will be nothing compared to the entheogenic reformation of religions. And this is emerging, there are various groups out there now among contemporary religious groups and Li got a is ca.org Li G ar e.org is one group of rabbis, priests, ministers who have begun to engage antigenic use. So maybe there is a hope that intergenic religion will provide some basis by which humanity will see a commonality. Sounds like a long shot, but I can't see another path.
Nick Jikomes 1:27:43
Well, Michael, I mean, you've shared a lot of interesting stuff already. And I think there's a lot more we could talk about, do you want to just describe for people where they can read more about your work or any other books or resources that they that might get people down a path to learning more about some of these topics?
Michael Winkelman 1:27:59
Okay, well, you can start with my book shamanism, bio psychosocial paradigm of consciousness and healing, make sure you get the 2010 edition, I just totally rewrote the whole thing except 15 pages when I did it. So don't go read the 2000 version. I've laid out some of my ideas in this book I mentioned earlier supernatural as natural with John Baker. It's a broader view of the biological bases and origins of religion and how it is that our own evolution as human beings went through religion and raises the question of whether or not we've reached the limits by which religion will allow us to evolve, doesn't get into the psychedelic hypotheses there. 2019 I have two things. One is this book, the supernatural after the neural turn, in which we don't bring together an edited book a lot of different perspectives, to substantiate the notion that religion was part of our evolution, that it played an important role. And that probably because our innate psychology, our evolved, psychology, was created through ritual, through shamanism through spiritual practices, we have to understand that this is part of our human nature. Now, what you want to interpret about that part of our human nature is a different issue. A lot of people particularly with the kinds of things in this supernatural after the neural turn, say, well, you're just being you know, a simple materialist, you just reducing spirituality to a bunch of biological processes. Well, you know, there may be a extent to which that kind of accusation is true. I mean, if I say you know, you can get, you know, a spiritual experience and see God taking psilocybin mushrooms and it doesn't make any difference what ritual you do or don't use. While I'm pretty much talking about God in a pill. But at the same time, I think we can go beyond that. And I'm going to do this, by virtue of a metaphor, I think it's very useful to sort of compare the human brain to a television set and human experiences to different channels on the TV, different tunings of the TV. So we use this model for my materialist defense, if you will, what I'm really concerned with is, you know, what we got to do with the television set, to get the signal to understand the message, to see the program can we have to tune the set in a certain way, and shamanism and Drumming and singing and chanting and psychedelics are all technologies for tuning the television set. Are they also the technologies that produce the programming? Well, in the case of drumming, and dancing, and singing, probably not, in the case of psychedelics, and all there's a lot of speculation out there about just what it is that psychedelics do to our brains, and you know, what kind of information they make available to us? You know, a lot of times people will say, Well, you know, hallucinations are just things your brain made up, and other people say, Well, yeah, but you know, the material, there wasn't important, my prior experience, it was totally novel, you know, and then other people that I would respond and say, Yeah, but there's a lot of novels out there that, you know, display incredible worlds that have never been thought of before. And they were invented by human being, presumably, so just because we haven't seen it doesn't mean we can't invent it. But I would say that we have to at least, you know, keep open, the possibility that what we perceive in spiritual states, in psychedelic visions, and other kinds of visionary experiences are on one hand related to how we tend to television set our brain and ritual and altered states and psychedelics are part of the tuning. And then the other part is the signal, we should at least be agnostic about the nature, the signal, and where it comes from, until we've done, you know, more research to understand these kinds of experiences and in their phenomenal nature and in the information that they may make available. But to sort of go back to my materialist side, you know, people talk about well, you know, they had this DMT experience, and they saw, you know, the supernatural beings and God, these powerful entities and these extraterrestrials. And you know, they communicated all this important information. And my response to some of the leading figures in this area is okay, that's imposed the kind of controls that they use in Parapsychology research. And let's see if any interesting information.
But you know, you can just take people's stories as proof of what's external reality, we don't see reality as it is. And I'll just drive this point home with another example, a rainbow, you and I can stand on my deck and agree that there's a rainbow between us and the city. And we can tell you know, where it starts and where it ends, and how well you can see it. And we even tell sometimes it's a double rainbow. But guess what, it's not out there. There is no rainbow there. Okay, it doesn't exist out there. We can agree that we see it there. But it's not there. It's a experience produced by the properties of our visual system, and water droplets in the air and the refraction of light, it has to do with the physics of light and the physics of the art. So just because you see something and somebody else agrees with you that it's out there, doesn't mean it's there. And I think we should take that kind of healthy skepticism into trying to understand the nature of psychedelic entity experiences.
Nick Jikomes 1:33:50
All right, well, Michael Winckelmann thank you for your time. This has been fascinating and I hope to talk to you again at some point. Thank you