Imagine an early, small hominid, pushed to find new, untried foods due to famine. With nothing to lose, the handful of fungi stem his hunger for a while, and then...
...reacting to the first time a stimulant / psychedelic flooded his brain and changed the way he thought, or even could think, forever. Standing up and looking to the stars with a new, tremulous awe and burning curiosity, heart racing, sweating a little, breathless in the silent, night time forest clearing. The starlight glinting off of wildly dilated pupils.
Ignoring these signs he has been conditioned to recognise as poisoning, fear banished by the flood of the new. Suddenly complex ideas take shape and form allowing time for inspection and contemplation whereas before only their merest outline impinged mistily on a dim conciousness bound to more urgent, basic needs. Thoughts normally brief and fleeting and as tenuous as the mist that hangs between the trees at dawn could now be caught and savoured. Ideas that normally slipped through grasping mental fingers like dry, fine sand in clenched fist leaving behind a half memory and a feeling of something valuable lost forever now formed clearly with a new solidity.
The plant’s chemical defences altering the way his brain works. Changes that suppress hunger, improve learning, hijack the adrenaline pathways used for fight or flight and many others. These physical, chemical changes alter directly the very cells whose reactions, states and firings he is aware of as mind. The outside, physical world reaches inside and changes the very essence of him. The filters that normally protect him from the flood of sensation, the rush of data to be processed, sorted, collated, prioritised, now fall away. His world comes alive! The voice inside his head, the person he calls me, all his hopes, memories, desires, and ideas. These are all the product of these cells, neurons, that make up his brain and it’s these cells that are effected by the chemicals he has consumed. But along with these cognitive changes comes something else, pleasure.
A new pleasure this, as molecules produced by the plant to ward off and punish it’s predator work as evolution designed them and produce all the symptoms of possibly lethal poisoning along with hallucinations and wild synaesthesia carry on through his bloodstream. On to find the hominids limbic system. Stimulating it to flood the brain with pleasure producing chemicals in amounts never before experienced. The rewards of satiating long endured hunger, the pleasure of quenching a burning thirst with cool, clear water found at the end of a long, hot trek and even the rapture of orgasm produced by his limbic system as the highest reward attainable as payment and conditioning for passing on his genes and fulfilling his very reason for existence. All these pleasures now supplanted by the action of this new chemical in his brain.
A two fold wave of pleasure. One a result of the direct action of molecules stimulating his mesolimbic dopamine system and shoving it into overdrive. The other the pleasure of wonder. Of awe in the face of the universe above and the forest around him, now transformed. He had seen these things many times before, but never like this night. This silken, silent breathless night, he looks with eyes anew, and unknown to him, inside his brain, a new phase of diversity and struggle starts.
The birth of something as simple and immensely powerful as Darwin's dangerous idea, the age old story of birth, procreation, pain and death that had been his whole existence until this moment. His thoughts now with all the attributes needed to replicate, mutate, conjoin and spawn new thought. The birth of a new replicator, many orders of magnitude more variable and further reaching than mere amino acids and proteins. DNA supplanted, supplanted by thought given life by this chemical within him. Ways and paths now opening up the possibility that his descendants may call the very stars that fill his gaze home. The results of this struggle, this new replicant explosion, will not only open up the planet but possibly the universe to his progeny. And it’s still going on inside us now.