What do visions tell us about human evolution?

Courtesy of Flickr member: Vincepal

Is the experience of visions, and our capacity to ascribe meaning to them, part of what makes us human?

In GLIMPSE‘s forthcoming Visions issue, we interview anthropologist Michael Winkelman, whose 30-year investigation into the cross-cultural commonalities of shamanism has shown him a thing or two about the biological and evolutionary bases of visions.  While he discusses traditional practices involving psychedelics, as well as more ancient evidence painted on Paleolithic cave walls, Winkelman also links the human capacity for altered states of consciousness to a much earlier hominid ability: long-distance running.

If we ran for our lives to the safety of our group, and collapsed into the protective environs of our clan cave or the boughs of a tree, I suspect that the exhaustion combined with extensive physical stimulation led to emergence of lucid dreaming and out-of-body experiences.

And these experiences, Winkelman postulates, played a critical role in the evolution of  human cognitive development.  Here we have what is quite possibly the dawn of introspection–the capacity for review and rehearsal, and “the ability to use the self-awareness decoupled from the body to explore the internal representations of our psychological states as well as the external world.”

But tapping into our cognitive origins is just the tip of the iceberg.  Stay tuned for Visions, where “seeing” goes beyond the eye…


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