Symposium on Hallucinations and Perceptual Experience

I’ve been invited to give a talk at a Symposium on Hallucinations and Perceptual Experience, which Prof. Juan Gonzalez has organized in the context of the Second International Conference of Transdisciplinary Research in the Social Sciences and Humanities.

The event will start tomorrow at 10:00 in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

The line-up is as follows:

Prof. Juan Gonzalez (speaker)
Prof. Jose Luis Diaz (speaker)
Dr. Tom Froese (speaker)
Dr. Glenda Satne (discussant)

The title of my contribution is: “Hallucinations: internal fictions, external realities, or something in-between?” (Alucinaciones: ¿ficciones internas, realidades externas o algo intermedio?).

Publication in Economic Botany

Based on critical responses to my ritualized mind alteration hypothesis of the origins of symbolic cognition in early human evolution, I was led to consider the possible availability of psychoactive substances in African and European prehistory. This led to a fruitful collaboration with Guzmán and Guzmán-Dávalos, who are experts on the genus Psilocybe. The result of our work has just been released in Economic Botany (click on title below for a preprint PDF).

On the origin of the genus Psilocybe and its potential ritual use in ancient Africa and Europe

Tom Froese, Gastón Guzmán, and Laura Guzmán-Dávalos

The role of altered states of consciousness in the production of geometric and figurative art by prehistoric cultures in Africa and Europe has been hotly debated. Helvenston and Bahn have tried to refute the most famous hypothesis, Lewis-Williams’ neuropsychological model, by claiming that appropriate visual hallucinations required the ingestion of LSD, psilocybin, or mescaline, while arguing that none of these compounds were available to the cultures in question. We present here mycological arguments that tell another story. A prehistoric worldwide distribution of the mushroom genus Psilocybe, and therefore of psilocybin, is supported by the existence of endemic species in America, Africa, and Europe, the disjunct distribution of sister species, and the possibility of long-distance spore dispersal. It is more difficult to point to instances of actual prehistoric ritual use in Africa and Europe, but there are a growing number of suggestive findings.

Selva Pascuala mural

Selva Pascuala mural, Spain

First International Conference on Language and Enaction

I have been invited as a keynote speaker to the First International Conference on Language and Enaction, which will take place June 1-3 in Clermont-Ferrand, France.

The title and abstract of my talk are as follows:

From lower to higher, from self to other: Approaching the phenomenon of language from the bottom up

Tom Froese

The enactive approach to cognitive science is currently faced by the challenge of overcoming the cognitive gap between its theories of the basic organismic mind and specifically human capacities centered on symbolic cognition. At the same time there appears to be a tension between its self-related concepts, such as autopoiesis and adaptivity, and its other-related concepts, such as participatory sense-making and languaging. I argue that these tensions can be resolved in a complementary fashion by clarifying that enactive theory does not adhere to an internalist epistemology, which can be most clearly seen in terms of its rejection of methodological individualism. Once our thinking is freed from that isolating framework it becomes evident that the enactive approach has the potential to become a fruitful paradigm for linguistics. I finish by considering its implications for language evolution, in particular regarding claims of innateness based on the assumption of the poverty of the stimulus as well as gesture-first theories.

To kick off this trip to Europe I will also give two seminars:

On May 30 I will talk about “Ritualized mind alteration and the origins of the symbolic mind: Recent insights from cognitive science” at the Collegium Helveticum in Zurich.

And on May 31 I will give a talk with the title “Can we extend the sensorimotor approach to social perception?” at Kevin O’Regan’s FEEL project lab in Paris.

Seminar: The role of ritualized mind alteration in the origins of the symbolic mind

I have been invited to give a seminar as part of the Biweekly Colloquium of the Graduate School “Human Development in Landscapes” at the University of Kiel, Germany. The seminar will take place this afternoon, 16:00 – 18:00 Uhr; Building and room LS1 – R.204, Leibnizstrasse 1.

The role of ritualized mind alteration in the origins of the symbolic mind: A new perspective from cognitive science

Tom Froese

The potential roles of altered states of consciousness and hallucinations for the early stages of human prehistory have been hotly debated. Recently, this debate has become caught up in disputes about how such altered states could have been induced and what kind of hallucinations might have been experienced. In this article I first sidestep these issues in order to return to the big question of why we might expect such states and experiences to have been important in the first place. I draw on ongoing developments in the cognitive sciences to provide several interdependent reasons for hypothesizing that they played an essential role in the origins and evolution of the symbolic human mind. Finally, I show that this hypothesis is unaffected by current disputes about the potential availability of certain psychoactive substances in prehistoric Africa and Europe.

Selected reading material:

Froese, T. (2013). Altered states and the prehistoric ritualization of the modern human mind. In C. Adams et al. (Eds.), Breaking Convention: Essays on Psychedelic Consciousness (pp. 10-21). London: Strange Attractor Press

Froese, T. (2015). The ritualised mind alteration hypothesis of the origins and evolution of the symbolic human mind. Rock Art Research, 32(1), 90-97

Froese, T., Woodward, A., & Ikegami, T. (2013). Turing instabilities in biology, culture, and consciousness? On the enactive origins of symbolic material culture. Adaptive Behavior, 21(3), 199-214

Talk at event on Mazatec culture

Carte - Final, Jornada MazatecaOn the 5th of June there will be an event on “Mazatec culture, shamanism and sacred plants” at the Autonomous University of the State of Morelos, Mexico.

I have been invited as one of the speakers and my presentation will be about the latest research on the psychological effects of the use of sacred mushrooms.

The title is: “Nuevos estudios sobre los efectos psicológicos de los hongos sagrados: Neurociencia y modelación”.

I propose that we can better understand the latest neuroscientific results about altered brain function, especially related to increased levels of entropy, from the perspective of complex systems theory.

New commentary on the origins of the symbolic mind

Since the publication of the Turing patterns paper in 2013 I have been involved in several exchanges in order to clarify and expand my ideas. The latest exchange of commentaries has just been published in the Rock Art Research, the official organ of the Australian Rock Art Research Association and the International Federation of Rock Art Organisations.

Helvenston, P. A. (2015a). Psilocybin-containing mushrooms, Upper Palaeolithic rock art and the neuropsychological model. Rock Art Research, 32(1): 84-89

Froese, T. (2015). The ritualised mind alteration hypothesis of the origins and evolution of the symbolic human mind. Rock Art Research, 32(1): 90-97

Helvenston, P. A. (2015b). Suppositions of psilocybin-mushroom incorporation as the main driver of human cognitive and symbolic evolution. Rock Art Research, 32(1): 98-109

At the core of this debate is the question over whether rituals involving altered states of consciousness could have played a role in human prehistory, and whether these states necessarily would have required the presence of certain psychoactive substances, and if these substances would have even been available at the time. In essence, my answers are yes, no, but yes.

In this post I previously remarked about my disagreements with the way in which the commentaries about my work had been presented. But I prefer to advance the scientific debate itself, so I will highlight one aspect of Helvenston’s last response that I find intriguing. She notes how it is difficult to explain the presence of extreme rituals, especially those involving partially disabling substances, from an evolutionary perspective.

This ties in with current debates in the science of religion, which tries to explain costly rituals in a variety of ways such as honest signaling and pro-social psychological effects. I’ve been thinking for a while that it is likely that such rituals would have had to have biologically adaptive advantages from the start, perhaps related to a form of neural self-optimization similar to the model presented in Woodward, Froese and Ikegami (in press). This could be a topic of future work.

Two presentations on the role of destabilization

Last week I gave a poster presentation during the conference Complejidad y multidisciplina: El Centro de Ciencias de la Complejidad de la UNAM, which took place November 4-6, 2013 at Ciudad Universitaria, Mexico City.

“What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” A dynamical systems account by Tom Froese, Carlos Gershenson, and David A. Rosenblueth

I also gave the opening talk of the Segundo Coloquio Internacional de Ciencias Cognitivas, which took place November 7-8, 2013 in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

Can altered states of consciousness be adaptive? Two proofs of concept by Tom Froese

Click on the titles of the presentations for PDFs of the poster and the technical report of the talk.

Free access to altered states of consciousness

Due to the publicity that was generated by the article on Turing patters and altered states of consciousness, the publisher of Adaptive Behavior has made it freely available online and has placed a special banner on the journal’s homepage.

Turing patters and altered states of consciousness

Click the image to access the article!