Two more interesting snake-related bits of mythology:

* The notion of Kundalini ("coiled snake") [1] in Hinduism. It sits at the base of the spine, travels up the spine in a serpentine movement (energetic vibrations) and travels up to the head, leading to liberation/enlightenment/etc. Carl Jung also observed the kundalini phenomenon in his patients (e.g. a woman who claimed she felt a snake crawl up from her belly and out her mouth).

* The caduceus [2], an ancient symbol which today is mostly associated with medicine. It has two snakes crawling up a staff in sine-wave form.

Here's my take: the "snake" so worshipped is a sensory experience of sinusoidal energy moving up the spinal column. You can experience it yourself by practicing Kundalini yoga, and it's very easy to see how people would analogize its movement to the movement of a snake.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kundalini

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caduceus

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I neglected to mention in my other comment: I love this. This is really impacting my thinking. It's my new favorite possibility. It makes SO much sense. Jury is still out on specifically "snake venom as psychedelic" but the basic thrust of "We got how we are because ~15ky ago we stumbled across memetic psychotechnology that granted a conscious sense of self" seems impressively compelling. Thank you for writing all this up!

One bit you keep mentioning that I'm really interested in hearing more about:

> I’ll write more about the gender aspect in future posts. For a bit more see the Eve Theory of Consciousness (or read Genesis, the Epic of Gilgamesh, etc.).

I'd super duper love to hear more about your take on this gender thing. You mention women became sapient first. That fits the legends, and I can come up with some just-so stories about why that might have happened (e.g. women have always had more evolutionary & cultural pressure to practice social recursive thinking)… but my thoughts aren't as compelling as what you've written here. I feel like the explanation is going the other way: "Why would there be legends of female figures lifting men out of being animals and/or into being alive at all?"

But… gosh, that last framing seems like that's what being a mother is? Giving birth is creating new life. Go far enough back & people might not have noticed it had anything at all to do with sex! So ANY kind of (re)birth experience might be thought of as fundamentally from a feminine force.

But I get the sense that you have some kind of woven evidence to suggest that women were sapient (maybe for a while? like generations?) before men were and then figured out how to onboard men to sapience. That it's not just a metaphor.

I'd super duper love to hear you say more about this. If you'd be up for giving the one-paragraph version in comments here I'd very much enjoy it! But if not, just know that I'm looking forward to when you share the article about this.

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> In humans the concept of self was extended to an invisible agent with an impossible task. The self is defined by tension between id and superego. There is no rest for the wicked, nor the righteous. Such is life.

Would you mind saying more about why you see this as impossible? Never-ending, sure, because id and superego aren't static and might well adapt in response to the ego's solution at each stage. But why IMPOSSIBLE?

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Andrew, thanks for writing up such an interesting theory, and I especially enjoyed the selection of art used throughout.

Forgive me if this was linked elsewhere and I missed it, but this essay dovetails nicely: https://smoothbrains.net/posts/2022-08-24-planetary-scale-vibe-collapse.html. In this essay, the author discusses two models of consciousness, “liminal vs. supraliminal awareness, or preconquest vs. postconquest consciousness.”

It’s worth reading for anybody who enjoyed Andrew’s article here, and theorizes a mechanism for memetic transmission of “knowledge of good and evil” between groups of people.

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Apr 20, 2023Liked by Andrew Cutler

> religion produced agriculture, for without initiation abstract thought and the ability to plan would not have been present.

How do you reconcile that with ants practicing agriculture but not, apparently, religion?

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Mar 16, 2023Liked by Andrew Cutler

Fascinating read. Great pitch of a wild idea!

Best line: "Show me a culture and I’ll show you the snakes" <— in terms of how the story is built, that should have been the starting point, in my opinion.

But anyway, great writing. Thank you!

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Jan 18, 2023Liked by Andrew Cutler

+ There are a few snake species in Siberia.

+ The Khoisan separated from the main branch of Homo Sapiens around ~250k years ago, which suggests language is at least that old.

+ Existence of Williams Syndrome (look up kids with WS, they're quite dumb but perfectly capable of speech) suggests language is not that special.

+ Dating language, consciousness, self-awareness, or any cognitive affordance universal to all Homo Sapiens, to after the Out of Africa event [which is itself dubious (looks like there were multiple back and out migrations), but whatever] is not parsimonious. The simplest explanation is that the last common ancestor already had it.

+ In my opinion, the self-model is a quite elementary structure that any control model of the contents of current attention must quickly discover (or evolve to discover) in order to generate a world model that is sufficiently rich to allow effective regulation of the self and its actions in the world. It is true that language might be a prerequisite to achieve the expressive density necessary to represent concepts that rely on a tower of abstractions. E.g. I can't imagine a speechless mind capable of representing the following thought: "the current thought process that is representing its own action of thinking". But that kind of capability should hardly be the criterion for self-awareness; it's just a richer, higher resolution kind of self-awareness imo.

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Feb 7·edited Feb 7Liked by Andrew Cutler

As requested, the TBC episode where we discuss this post. ty again for the insightful write-up and many follow-ups :)

We have some chat and feedback about prior episode at the top, we get into this post at 13 minutes in.


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Feb 7Liked by Andrew Cutler

I enlist to the applauding crowd for the well thought research and presented understandings of so many interconnected esoteric themes.

From my simple POV as double decade practitioner of both meditations and shamanic rituals, the conclusions aligns.

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For those like me that read better with my ears, I've narrated this post with ElevenLabs. Let me know if you are OK with this or want me to remove it.


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Jan 9Liked by Andrew Cutler

I was intrigued by your mention of rutin as an anti-venom. Much like ayahuasca is a mixture of two ingredients, could we be talking about a psychedelic mixture of capers and snake venom? I say capers because it seems it has a much higher rutin concentration, and it grows in and around the Fertile Crescent.

Pure speculation of course. Love the article!

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Bravo sir. Fantastic article

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Oct 5, 2023Liked by Andrew Cutler

Wonderful read, thanks for sharing this content! I know I am a bit late to the game, but I would love to read your thoughts about what happens with mind during (and as a consequence of) insignt meditation events (good rationalist depiction here: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/Mf2MCkYgSZSJRz5nM/a-non-mystical-explanation-of-insight-meditation-and-the ) within the context of the meme theory of self-awareness. Any relevant resources recommendations would be much appreciated.

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Sep 12, 2023Liked by Andrew Cutler

This was fun to read.

I think the dormancy question deserves a better attempt to reject the null hypothesis (i.e. chance). Evolution is rich with examples of a trait that exists with one purpose before suddenly becoming useful for another purpose and adapting rapidly as a result. Indeed, evolution doesn't work without that idea.

We know that contemporary humans who grow up without exposure to language during formative years can never catch up later.

So it seems to me plausible that language and all the accompanying insights could have arisen by chance in a substrate of minds that were all perfectly capable of it but, till then, lacked the stimulus to conceive it. Just like it's easy to observe Pythagoras' theorem in hindsight but hard to invent it in the first place.

Finally, isn't it "homo sapiens" rather than "Homo Sapien"? And "Zeus" rather than "Zues"

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Aug 24, 2023Liked by Andrew Cutler

Creative and engaging piece. There's a lot to engage with, but I'd like to call attention to some known biology that may shed some light on the biological origins of language (an active and thorny domain of research as you mention).

I do think there's persuasive evidence to assert that the brain and morphology of modern humans are adapted for sophisticated verbal communication and along with it executive functions (strategic planning and the like). There are certainly precursors of spoken language (vocalizations) in ancient humans and other apes that are likely substrates for natural selection. Understanding the architecture of these traits is likely to illuminate more about the origins of language.

Whether the capacity for spoken language and a sophisticated consciousness occurred while modern humans emerged or later I think is secondary to the fact it must more or less be largely a product of evolved biology rather than a culturally or environmentally evolved technology (though the selection mechanisms themselves certainly involved these factors).

There are several lines of uncontroversial evidence to point to that suggest language is an innate human capacity (and with it an enriched subjective perspective and experience): autism as a genetic disease of neurodevelopment, natural lesion experiments to brain regions involved in language (Broca's, Wernicke's, and the arcuate fasciculus), and hyoid bone evolution.

For brevity, let's follow the autism thread.

Autism can be understood as a systematic disorder of brain development that results in specific social deficits. A key symptom is language problems. Language is often delayed, if not absent, in those with severe forms of the disorder. Autism, despite being a spectrum of disorders, is fundamentally a genetic disease. There are little to no environmental inputs on it (except extreme in utero exposures). This is shown by twin studies, family studies of rare gene mutations, GWAS, brain morphology, etc. If language is essential to normal social interaction and normal social interaction is so deeply woven into the genomic program of brain development, then it is probable that whenever modern humans obtained the our contemporary genome (~100k ya), a capacity for consciousness was there too. This doesn't exclude the cultivation and enrichment of consciousness via cultural technologies. I think we have some evidence for this (e.g. written language rewiring brain areas that were previously used for facial recognition). But I think it underscores the innateness of human consciousness. Some neuroscientists allege that consciousness itself was a phenotype that was selected for.

I am probably conflating language and consciousness too much, but I am not sure how separable they are.

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Excellent food for thought – thanks for sharing!

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