The evolutionary neuroanthropology of consciousness: Exploring the diversity of conscious states across cultures
Interviewed by Martin E. Fortier
altered states of consciousness, enculturation, evolutionary neuroanthropology, hallucinogens, shamanism
In this interview, Michael Winkelman and Martin Fortier discuss the extent to which consciousness is grounded in deep evolutionary mechanisms and can be enculturated. First, the main tenets of two neuroanthropological approaches to consciousness and culture are outlined. Next, the upsides and downsides of evolutionary psychology are examined; the fruitfulness of this approach in the study of cultural phenomena such as shamanism is debated. The authors then discuss the promises of the “big data” approach to the study of religion as well as evolutionary puzzles about religion. Turning to issues bearing on the taxonomy of consciousness, the interview explores how consciousness should be individuated and especially how many “modes” of consciousness should be identified based on what we know of the biology and phenomenology of altered consciousness. Winkelman’s concepts of the “integrative mode of consciousness” and “psychointegrators” are subsequently examined. Next, the interview addresses both how alterations of consciousness are universally similar (the perennialist view) and can also be enculturated (the constructivist view). Finally, the authors discuss issues around the cultural use of hallucinogens (a.k.a. visionary plants): what is the best method to study them? And for how long have humans used them?