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Darwin’s Pharmacy: Sex, Plants, and the Evolution of the Noösphere (In Vivo)

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Darwin’s Pharmacy: Sex, Plants, and the Evolution of the Noösphere (In Vivo) by Richard M. Doyle, University of Washington Press, 2011.

In his book ‘Darwin’s Pharmacy: Sex, Plants, and the Evolution of the Noösphere (In Vivo)’, Penn State English professor Richard Doyle weaves an intricate argument that challenges some of our scientific presuppositions, like intentionality, evolution and language. He carefully analyses the influence psychedelics can have on perception and suggests an almost Copernican revolution. If we find the spiritual peak experiences evoked by plants and fungi function as “eloquence adjuncts”, and in turn we help these “bringers of beauty” reproduce, then whose intelligence can be said to influence whom?

Writing about trip reports, shamanism and cannabis pornography, Doyle tries to find a language that, like a psychedelic experience, transcends the subject/object dichotomy. His goal is to break down our ordinary way of thinking, so we can form a new perspective. A perspective in which consciousness is always already embedded in an ecological context, which means that everything we experience is dependent on ‘set and setting.’ Doyle seems to be apt when he renames these psychoactives as ‘ecodelics’ because these plants and compounds help us to perceive our interconnection with the ecosystems of our planet.

The result is a rich and challenging book in which form and content are inseparable, and the lines between facts and interpretations get blurred. The blending of his myriad ideas can only be understood in its entirety, which runs the risks that some of his key insights will be overlooked. But for the philosophically inclined reader with an open mind, it’s a well-written book that challenges many assumptions and should be read for that reason alone.

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