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Episode 561
The Doctor's Farmacy

What Ancients Cultures Have To Teach Us About Being Human And Happy with Wade Davis

Open the Podcasts app and search for The Doctor’s Farmacy. If you’re viewing this site on your phone, you can just tap on the

Tap the subscribe button and new shows will be added to your library.

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Many of us are feeling a crisis of meaning; feeling we’ve lost our way amongst the stressors and distractions of modern life. We are more isolated, divided, and sick than ever before. 

Personally, I always turn to nature when I’m feeling lost. And in traveling, talking to interesting people, and learning about the world, I’ve found that ancient cultures and their relationships to nature can teach us volumes when it comes to rediscovering connection, health, and meaning. 

Today, I’m excited to share a conversation I had with Wade Davis, all about culture, the depth of the natural world, belief systems, ethnobotany, psychedelics, and more. 

Wade has been to places most of us never even knew existed. On those adventures, he’s been lucky enough to learn about the ancient ways of so many different cultures, from their spiritual beliefs and relationships with plants and animals to psychedelic medicines, ceremonies, community values, and so much more. 

When we look at Western cultures, we see an overarching theme of disconnection from nature and a deamination of it, limiting the world to a backdrop for human drama. We’ve made nature into a resource to extract and consume when in fact we have so much to gain from living in harmony with it. Wade’s incredible stories highlight how ancient cultures all over the world have maintained this relationship and what we can learn from them.

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I hope you enjoyed this conversation as much as I did. Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD
Mark Hyman, MD

Here are more details from our interview (audio version / Apple Subscriber version):

  1. Wade’s early experiences that first got him interested in anthropology
    (5:56)
  2. Why western culture is actually an anomaly, not the norm
    (7:57)
  3. Our misguided understanding of the purpose of culture
    (18:00)
  4. Why ancient wisdom matters in the modern world
    (20:40)
  5. The nature of life
    (22:48)
  6. Human commonalities among all culture expressions
    (27:30)
  7. The value of language and storytelling
    (29:36)
  8. Biologically, the concept of race is utter fiction
    (31:27)
  9. Psychedelics and our relationship to nature and plant medicines
    (37:27)
  10. Communicating with plants
    (1:01:22)

Guest

 
Mark Hyman, MD

Mark Hyman, MD is the Founder and Director of The UltraWellness Center, the Head of Strategy and Innovation of Cleveland Clinic's Center for Functional Medicine, and a 13-time New York Times Bestselling author.

If you are looking for personalized medical support, we highly recommend contacting Dr. Hyman’s UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts today.

 
Wade Davis

Wade Davis is a writer, photographer, and filmmaker. Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society from 2000 to 2013, he is currently Professor of Anthropology and the BC Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk at the University of British Columbia. 

He is the author of 23 books, including One River, The Wayfinders, and Into the Silence, and he was the winner of the 2012 Samuel Johnson prize, the top nonfiction prize in the English language. His latest book is Magdalena: River of Dreams. Wade’s many film credits include Light at the Edge of the World, an eight-hour documentary series written and produced for the NGS. 

Wade holds degrees in anthropology and biology and received his Ph.D. in ethnobotany, all from Harvard University. His work has largely focused on worldwide indigenous cultures, and has taken him to East Africa, Borneo, Nepal, Peru, Polynesia, Tibet, Mali, Benin, Togo, New Guinea, Australia, Colombia, Vanuatu, Mongolia, and the high Arctic of Nunavut and Greenland.  He has published over 200 scientific and popular articles on subjects ranging from Haitian vodou and Amazonian myth and religion to the global biodiversity crisis, the traditional use of psychotropic drugs, and the ethnobotany of South American Indians.

Learn more about Wade Davis at daviswade.com.

Transcript Note: Please forgive any typos or errors in the following transcript. It was generated by a third party and has not been subsequently reviewed by our team.

Introduction:

Coming up on this episode of the Doctor’s Farmacy.

Wade Davis:

The old Victorian idea that we went from the savage to the barbarian, to the civilized of the strand of London, the European society-

Wade Davis:

… sat at the apex of the pyramid, going down to the so-called perimeters of the world has been absolutely debunked by modern science.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Welcome to the Doctor’s Farmacy. I’m Dr. Mark Hyman. That’s Farmacy with an F, a place for conversations that matter. And if you’ve ever wondered how we’ve lost our way in our modern world, we’re going to learn how today, because we have a really amazing guest, Wade Davis, who I first came across with his book, the Serpent and the Rainbow, many years ago, about how in Haiti, they use a compound from blowfish to actually create a zombie state in people. Our guest is a writer, photographer, filmmaker whose work is taken in from the Amazon to Tibet, Africa, to Australia, Polynesia, to Arctic. He wasn’t exploring residents at the National Geographic society from 2000-2013. He’s currently a professor of anthropology and the BC Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk, which sounds like all of us at the University of British Columbia. He’s authored of 23 books, including One River, the Wayfinders, Into the Silence, and the Serpent and the Rainbow, which is a really wonderful read.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

He holds degrees in anthropology and biology and received his PhD in ethnobotany. We’re going to talk a lot about that all from Harvard University. And he’s worked in indigenous cultures all over the world in East Africa, Borneo, Nepal, Peru, Polynesia, Tibet, Mali, Benin, Togo, New Guinea, Australia, Colombia, countries I can’t even pronounce, Mongolia, and the Arctic, and Greenland. He’s published over 200 scientific papers and popular articles on subjects from Haitian voodoo, and Amazonian myth, and religion to the global biodiversity crisis. The traditional use of psychotropic drugs, we’ll talk about that, and the ethnobotany of South American Indians.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

He’s made many films, he’s won many medals, and his latest book is Magdalena: the River of Dreams about Colombia, and what’s going on down there. So welcome, Wade.

Wade Davis:

Thank you, Mark.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

So again, I first came across your work years ago and it was just an incredible meandering through a culture and a window into how different indigenous cultures have used ritual ceremony and various kinds of compounds, whether plant compounds in Haiti, it was a little bit different, and how they brought meaning into their lives.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

It seems like we’re in a culture right now that has a crisis of meaning and purpose that we’ve lost our way. We see increasing divisions, separation, disconnection, isolation. We’re also seeing depression, mental illness. I mean, I could go on and on and on, chronic disease.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Your work is really taking you to places where most people have never been to the depths of jungles and to the inside of shamanic traditions and the use of plant medicines all around the world to help guide people through life transitions and spiritual awakenings. It’s such a foreign world for most of us who live in the Western world, connected to our devices and separated from what really matters. What first got you interested in this whole exploration of indigenous cultures, and ancient wisdom, and plant medicines, and the foundation of your work in life? Because back when you went to Harvard in the late ’60s, ’70s, this stuff wasn’t part of modern culture. This was really wacky stuff.

Wade Davis:

Yeah. I mean, I think like many of my generation, we grew up in a world that was problematic to us: the way women were treated, people of color were treated, gay people, and endless war in Vietnam. I think many of us who ended up in anthropology were looking for a world that was more authentic that radiated with some kind of vibrancy. I think we all shared Baudelaire’s maladie, which was horror from home. I personally saw an escape from a kind of a blandly amorphous generic world into what I hope to find is a polychromatic world of diversity. I think my first impulse curious… I mean, we’re all products of our upbringing. I was, by chance, raised in Quebec at a time when the French and English didn’t speak to each other.

Wade Davis:

And at the age of five, my mom would send me down to a little corner store. And I lived in an anglophone suburb that was [inaudible 00:04:37] on the back of an old francophone village that went back to the 17th century. There was literally a boulevard, a Cartier Boulevard that divided the two neighborhoods. And at that time, literally, French did not speak to English and vice versa. And I would go down to this corner store to get milk for the family or whatever, and I’d sit on the edge of that boulevard and think as a five year old, “Wow. Across the street, there’s another religion-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

… another language, another way of being.” And I was haunted by the fact that I wasn’t supposed to cross that street, not by my family who were very generous, but by the society at large. And in the sense, Mark, I’ve been crossing that street ever since.

Wade Davis:

Now, your first question is that you started talking about is really interesting because the ubiquity of the Western paradigm, it’s overall authority and power shouldn’t suggest to us that it’s the norm viewed through the anthropological of the ethnographic lenses. It’s very much the anomaly. And what I mean by that is we liberated the individual from the collective that was sociological equivalent of splitting the atom, but that also cast the individual adrift without the comfort of community. At the same time, as we tried sincerely to liberate ourselves from the tyranny of absolute faith, the gesture that birthed the enlightenment and the scientific medicine that gave us allopathic medicine, the genius of science.

Wade Davis:

When we did that, we swept away all notions of myth, metaphor, mysticism, and magic. When Descartes said that all that exists is mind and matter with a single phrase, he de-animated the world to the point where Saul Bellow would say science has made a house cleaning of belief and the world-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Wow, that’s a big one. Science has made a house cleaning of belief.

Wade Davis:

Right. And the world was deemed to be inanimate. The world was deemed to be just a stage set upon which the human drama alone unfolded. And that is very different the way most cultures around the world view their relationship with natural world. Theirs is not an extractive model, but rather a reciprocal model, some basic iteration of a fundamental and obvious notion that the Earth owes its bounty to humans, but humans in turn owe their fidelity to the Earth.

Wade Davis:

Now, these metaphors are important because they determine how we live. If you were raised, for example, in New York, to believe that a mountain was a pile of rock ready to be mined, you’re going to have a different relationship to that mountain that a godchild of mine in the mountains of Peru raised to believe that mountain is an apu deity that will direct their destiny. I was raised in the forest of British Columbia under the assumption they existed to be cut.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

That was a fundamental ideology of scientific forestry that I not only learned in school, but I personally practice as a logger in the woods of my country.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

You’re a logger?

Wade Davis:

Oh, I was a big time logger.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Hmm.

Wade Davis:

Yeah. Yeah, I spent a year in one of the toughest logging camps in British Columbia, because I wanted to know what it was all about. But anyway, but the point is that-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Was that an anthropological study or was it a job?

Wade Davis:

It was a little bit of both. I mean, I hated what industrial [loggering 00:07:51] represented, but I didn’t want anyone to be able to say, “I didn’t know what I was talking about.” And I also learned in that year, just as an aside, that the men and women fighting off hunger, the chainsaw weren’t my enemy. I came to believe that in resource conflicts, they were never enemies, just solutions.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

And that gave me a really tremendous authority when it came to time to really fight for the forest in the 1980s and 1990s. Just a complete aside and amusing story, I was once on a live television interview with the men with a formidable reputation called Jack Munro, who was the head of the IWA, the woodworkers’ union. He was probably the most powerful man in British Columbia, this mountain of a man.

Wade Davis:

He was furious that the producers had put this little whipper snapper green tree hugger on a live debate format interview with him unannounced.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

He was dripping sweat of indignation.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Oh, no.

Wade Davis:

And before we went to air, I leaned over and I said, “Excuse me, Mr. Munro, I just wanted to have this chance to tell you that I’m really grateful because your union put me through university.” And he looked at me and said, “What are you talking about?”

Wade Davis:

“Your union put me through university.”

Wade Davis:

“Where’d you log?”

Wade Davis:

“Dean Bay.”

Wade Davis:

“What was the local?” I named a local.

Wade Davis:

“What was a TFL?” I named a tree farm license. And then we went to air and I said, exactly what I was going to say about the corruption in the woods. All of which was true and all of which he knew, but couldn’t say.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Right.

Wade Davis:

And before that live interview was over, Mr. Munro had his arm around my 27-year-old shoulder and was saying, “I don’t talk as good as this kid, because I didn’t get to go to college, but I’m telling you, this is a kind of young man my union makes for the problems of British Columbia.” And I turned the whole thing. It’s like killing people with kindness-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

… in a way. But the point is, I always do believe that one must know before one judges.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Wade Davis:

So that’s why I took that chance to actually lied about my credentials and signed on as a forestry engineer, so I could really get to the heart of the reactor.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

Back to what I was saying though, my attitude towards the forest at that time, would’ve been very different than the Kwakwaka’wakw who believed that the forest, the [inaudible 00:10:05] heaven and the cannibal spirits that we embraced during the Hamat´sa initiation. Again, the interesting thing is not who’s right and who’s wrong, it’s how the belief system mediates the interaction between the culture and the natural landmark or habitat with profoundly different consequences for the ecological footprint of the people. And so, for example-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

So you’re saying basically, we’ve separated the individual from the collective and we’ve separated the humans from nature-

Wade Davis:

That’s psychological, but we’ve also separated-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Separates from nature.

Wade Davis:

… ourselves from nature.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

… and nature is but an inner resource to be extracted, manipulated, consumed, and that’s very different in way most human beings think about the natural world. I mean, if you go to the Northwest Amazon, the most profound cultural intuition of the Barasana and the Makuna, peoples of the anaconda, who believe they came up the Milk River from the east and the belly of the sacred serpent, are people who incidentally, cognitively do not distinguish the color blue from the color green because it can be the heavens as equated in the canopy of the rainforest.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Wow.

Wade Davis:

They believe that plants and animals are just people in another dimension of reality. The role of the shaman is not a priestly role or a medicinal role, it’s much more analogous to a diplomat who must maintain a constant dialogue with the spirit realm-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

… with the skills of a nuclear engineer who periodically has to go to the heart of the reactor to reprogram the world. That’s the shamanic people.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Wow, reprogram the world.

Wade Davis:

And you can find these sorts of beliefs on all around the world. The sun priest of the Arhuaco and the Kogi, the direct descendants of the ancient Tairona civilization, who today live in the isolated volcanic [inaudible 00:11:50] in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta that soars to 20,000 feet above the Caribbean coastal plain. They are still ruled 500 years after Columbus by a ritual priesthood. They still believe that their prayers literally maintain the cosmic balance of the world. The training for the priesthood involves 18 years of initiation in a shadowy world of darkness where they’re taught the values of the society, which include the absolute proposition that their prayers and rituals maintain the balance of life.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

And at the end of that initiation, the acolyte has taken on a journey to the heart of the world. So he has never seen sunrise, never seen the horizon, he’s taken out of the sacred temple, and he’s taken on a journey from the hot to the ice, from the ice to the sea, from the sea back to the sacred temple. And during that whole journey, the priest who has trained him for 18 years is saying, “You see, it’s like I’ve told you all these years. The world is really this beautiful.”

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Hmm.

Wade Davis:

And those beliefs are still held, still practiced. I was with the Mamos two weeks ago in Colombia.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

In Colombia?

Wade Davis:

Yeah. And they’re still there peering down on the beaches where Columbus’s men landed on the third voyage. Two hours by air from Miami beach, an ancient priesthood still praying every day for our collective wellbeing and survival. And you find these beliefs all around the world. I mean, if we slip, for example, into the deserts of Australia, it’s a really, I think, powerful example historically. When the British first arrived in Australia, they saw people that looked weird, had a simple material technology, but what really offended the British in the late 18th century was that the Aboriginal civilization, all 10,000 clan territories spread like a blanket across the most parsimonious of all continents-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

… had no interest in progress in changing a lot. And because progress and optimism changed through time was very ethos of Europe at the time, the British in their imitable way concluded that the aboriginals weren’t people and they began to shoot them. As recently as 1902-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

That they weren’t people.

Wade Davis:

In 1902 in parliament, in Melbourne Australia, it was debated as to whether or not Aboriginal people were human or not. As recently as the 1950s, ranches had quotas as how many Abos could be shot with impunity, who trespassed upon the land. In the 1960s, a school book used in schools across Australia, a treasury of fauna of Australia included the Aboriginal people as amongst the interesting forms of wild life.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

They were considered fauna?

Wade Davis:

And what was missing was appreciation by the British of the subtlety of the devotional philosophy, which is a dreaming. The purpose of life in Australia was the antithesis of progress, it was status. You were simply expected to do the ritual gestures deemed to be necessary along the song lines, which are the trajectories-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

… walked at the dawn of time by the ancestral beings as they sang the world into existence. As that songline comes through your clan territory, you do the ritual gestures deemed necessary to keep the world exactly as it was. At the time, it would be like all of science in the West had gone into pruning the shrubs in the garden of Eden to keep it just as it was. And the interesting thing about that, of course, is if we had followed that philosophical and devotional trajectory, we wouldn’t have put a man in the moon, but we wouldn’t be talking about climate change.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

We wouldn’t be sitting here with cameras and microphones and anything else. I mean, it’s such a mixed world. Because in some ways, progress has helped so many of us rise out of poverty and ignorance and disease.

Wade Davis:

But everybody thinks it’s either/or, like-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

… a pre-industrial past or this sort of world we find ourselves living in. The issue isn’t the traditional versus a modern, so rights of free people to choose components of their lives. The goal isn’t to freeze anybody in time. People always talk about preserving culture. You preserve jam, not culture. Culture is always changing. People are always dancing for the possibilities for life. The real question is how do we find a waymark that all peoples of the world, whatever their cultural background, can benefit from the very best of modernity, if you will.

Wade Davis:

But critically without that engagement, demanding a death of who they are as a people. And the reason for that is very simple: Culture is not trivial. It’s not decorative, it’s not the songs we sing, the costumes we put on. Ultimately, culture is a body of moral and ethical values that we wrap around every individual human to keep at bay. The barbaric heart that history teaches us, sadly, lies within all of us. It’s culture that allows us to make sense out of sensation, to find order, I mean, in the universe, to do what Lincoln asks us to do: Seek the better angels of our nature.

Wade Davis:

And if you want to know what happens when the constraints of culture are lost, you just have to look at the points of kind of chaos. And-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

We’re seeing that, right? We’re seeing the degradation of human discourse and interaction. It reminds me of that saying that good and evil lurk in the heart of all men. And I think what you’re saying is these cultural structures, these meanings that were created around their life created a set of ways for them to actually not get co-opted by the-

Wade Davis:

Precisely.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

… things that we are now.

Wade Davis:

We have this thing in Christianity that a kind of a lingering hope that one day, good will vanquish evil, that fallen archangel, the devil will be vanquished by the Christ child. It ain’t going to happen. When you ask the obvious question, if God’s all powerful, why does He allow evil in the universe? Well, if you ask that question in medieval Europe, you’re burned at the stake for heresy.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

But when Lord Christian was asked that same question by a disciple: If God’s all powerful, why does He tolerate evil in the universe? Lord Christian said, “To thicken the plot.”

Dr. Mark Hyman:

To thicken that plot.

Wade Davis:

Because good and evil march side by side and our job is to put our shoulder into the right side of history, knowing full well that as Martin Luther King said, “The arc of history ultimately does bend towards a righteous, towards the good.” One can only hope that’s true.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah. I mean, You’ve got the chance to see these indigenous cultures, to live among them, to learn their ways. I think that the question I have is how does that inform what we need to be doing now, because it seems so disconnected from most people’s reality and we’re so confused about the meaning now? We’ve sort of lost-

Wade Davis:

Well, I think, when I wrote a book called The Wayfinders, an editor put a snappy title why ancient wisdom matters in the modern world, that kind of had answered that question.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah, exactly. Why does ancient-

Wade Davis:

I did so with two words: climate change. Not to suggest that we go back to a pre-industrial past, but rather to suggest the very existence of all these multiple ways of thinking, multiple ways of being, different ways of imagining yourself as a culture in spiritual, ecological, social space. The very existence of all these alternatives puts a lie to those of us in our own culture who say that we cannot change, as we all know, we must change the fundamental way in which we interact with the planet.

Wade Davis:

I think we’re very impatient with the pace of change, but it’s rather extraordinary. You’ll remember, Mark, Christmas Eve, 1968, when Apollo went around the dark side of the moon and we saw it for the first time in human history. Not a sunrise or moon rise, but the Earth-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

That’s right.

Wade Davis:

… itself ascendant. Well, that changed everything like a great wave of illumination. If you remember, Mark, when we were kids, just getting people to stop throwing garbage out of a car window was-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah, yeah.

Wade Davis:

… a big form of a great victory. No one spoke about the biosphere or biodiversity. Now, those terms are part of the language of school children. In my lifetime, women have gone from the kitchen to the boardroom, people of color from the woodshed to the White House, gay people from the closet to the altar. I mean, the world is capable of extraordinary, not just technical changes, but also cultural changes.

Wade Davis:

I think that is our great hope. And so we are moving in the direction we need to go.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

But I think most of us have an ascendancy of darkness now, as well as a rise of consciousness. You’ve got fundamentalism, nihilism, autocracy.

Wade Davis:

But what generation has ever been born into a world free of troubles? I mean-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

… your parents had to deal with two world wars, the Holocaust, and the Great Depression. You and I were born into a decade marked by assassinations, haunted by the prospect of nuclear war with riots in the cities, and a distant war in Vietnam. I think the point is that this is the nature of life. I think the Buddhist have that really down where they don’t speak of good and evil. That doesn’t really exist in the Dharma. All life is suffering. That doesn’t mean that all life is negation. It’s just that the negative or more politely put happens, you know?

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

The cause of suffering is ignorance that the Buddha didn’t mean stupidity, meant the tendency of human beings to cling to the cruel illusion of our own centrality in the stream-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

… of divine existence, the revelation that ignorance can be overcome. And then of course, the fourth noble truth being the delineation of the contemplative practice that actually can and will empirically create a transformation of human heart. So I think that’s one of the reasons that you and I, and so many in our generation are drawn to the Buddhist Dharma, not because in a way it exists outside of religious ideology.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

It’s a way of being, a way of thinking, a way of living that makes sense to us.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah. It’s just a way of freeing our minds from the prisons of our own illusions and our misperceptions of reality that cause us to suffer.

Wade Davis:

I mean, one of the things that people… I’m almost 70 and I still have the kind of enthusiasm, even idealism that I had when I was in my 20s, not in a naive sense, but the reason I’m able to do that is I never expect to win. I think I’ve adopted that kind of sense of the pilgrim. The pilgrim is not going to a destination, but aiming for a state of mind. And by the same token, if you act in life with no certainty, no expectation of, say, winning, whether it’s a winning an environmental battle, winning an election, winning whatever it is. It’s the act that counts. And if you win some, you lose some, and then you move on to the next one. I think bitterness comes to those who indulge disappointment and allow of that to morph into something much more corrosive.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

So in all your travels, Wade, around the world and these indigenous cultures, what are the lessons that you’ve found are the most salient for us today? Because I read Sapiens and it was a bit of a wake up for me and I don’t know what you think of this. But in that book, you talked about how humans, throughout history, actually have been pretty destructive, that we have this idealized view of ancient cultures, but maybe it’s not so much like that. Like in Australia, when humans first showed up, they basically destroyed all the large mammals. They had all this destructive thing and they-

Wade Davis:

The fascinating thing about culture is that we all face the same adaptive imperatives. We all have to give birth to children, find ways to couple that are consistent, deal with the agony of growing old and the unactionable separation of death, and the mystery of the death implies. And given that, I just find it inherently fascinating how many cultural expressions have developed over the course of human evolution. And I find in that diversity, great strength, and great wonder, and great poetry. Nobody indulges the myth of the ecological native or the idea that indigenous people are somehow inherently benign.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

I mean, this is something that no one in anthropology would be thinking about. I mean, the glory is to just pay attention. I mean, one of the things that sparked my work at the National Geographic was a disturbing statistic that I first started to speak about a great deal in the 1990s, and that was the fact that there was a complete consensus amongst linguists that half the language of the world weren’t being spoken to children.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

And a language, of course, is not just vocabulary and grammar-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

It’s culture.

Wade Davis:

… that’s got flashed to the human spirit. Every language is the way, the essence of culture comes into the world. I wrote once that every language was an all growth force to the mind or a watershed of thought-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Wow.

Wade Davis:

… of ecosystem and-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Wow, an all growth force the mind. Wow, that’s a beautiful-

Wade Davis:

… ecosystem of social and spiritual possibilities. To lose half those languages is to loop, by definition, half of humanity’s knowledge. That, I found to be shocking because no biologist would dare suggest that 50% of all forms of life are morbid or in the brink of extinction. That, the most apocalyptic scenario in the realm of biological diversity scarcely approaches what we know to be the most optimistic scenario in the realm of cultural diversity.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

So the question became: What do you do about it? If you identify an area of high species endemism, you can create a protected area, but you can’t make a rainforest park of the mind. You can’t freeze culture like some kind of zoological specimen.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

So when I was given the mission at the Geographic, that changed the way the world viewed and valued culture in a decade, which was my mandate-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Wow.

Wade Davis:

… we thought hard about that and we settled really on storytelling, because-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Storytelling.

Wade Davis:

… polemics are never persuasive, politicians follow, they never lead, but storytellers can change the world. And so we set out into what I was calling the ethnosphere, this social web of life around the planet to find stories that wouldn’t be just further examples of ethnographers celebrating the exoticism of the other-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

… but rather really going to this fundamental fact, which is in fact, in addition to the vision of the Earth from space, which we spoke about a moment ago, that’s going to be spoken 10,000 years from now. And that vision has already infected the world in the best sense of the word.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Wade Davis:

The other great discovery of our lifetime that we’ve spoken 10,000 years from now has yet to take hold, but it will in the lifetime of our children. It’s even more important. Nothing that has happened from science has done more to liberate ourselves from the petty hatreds and tyrannies that have haunted us since the dawn of awareness. It also came about at the end of a long journey, but not in the space into the very fiber of our beings.

Wade Davis:

In our lifetimes, science has proven the philosophers to be correct. We are all one interconnected whole as a species.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Is that the vision that-

Wade Davis:

The genetic-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

… will come-

Wade Davis:

The genetic endowment of humanity is a continuum. Biologically race is an utter fiction. We are all cut from the same genetic cloth. We’re all children of Africa, including those of us who walked out of the ancient continent 65,000 years ago, and embarked on this incredible journey over 40,000 years, 2,500 generations that carried the human spirit to every corner of the world.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

But here’s the important point: If we accept what science has proven to be true, that we are all cut from the same genetic cloth, it means by definition, every culture shares the same genius, the same mental acuity, the same raw human potential. And critically, whether that genius is placed into technological wizardry, which has been the great achievement of the West, or by contrast placed into the task of unraveling the mystic threads of memory inherent in a myth, a priority of the Australian Aborigines, for example, is just a matter of cultural adaptation and choice.

Wade Davis:

There is no hierarchy in the realm of culture. The old Victorian idea that we went from the savage to the barbarian, to the civilized of the strand of London, that European society-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

… sat at the apex of the pyramid, going down to the so-called perimeters of the world has been absolutely debunked by modern science shown to be an artifact of the 19th century, no more relevant to our lives today than the notion that clergymen had then that the Earth was just 6,000 years old.

Wade Davis:

And this stunning affirmation of the human spirit, we have seen to be what we are. And what this means is that the other peoples of the world aren’t failed attempts to be modern. They’re not failed attempts to be you.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

No.

Wade Davis:

Every culture is a unique answer to a fundamental question. What does it mean to be human and alive? And when the peoples of the world answer that question, they do so in 7,000 different voices-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

…. the 7,000 voices of humanity. And what this fundamentally means is that every culture is something to say, each deserves to be heard just as none has monopoly in the roots to the divine. Well, that’s an amazing shift in thinking-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

… if we actually embrace that. And so to encourage people to begin to think in those terms, we set out into the ethnosphere on a series of journeys where we went to societies that we could show that. I mean, we sailed with the Polynesian Voyaging Society, for example, using the ancient way, finding techniques that allowed the Polynesian ancestors to settle the biggest ocean on the Earth.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Oh yeah.

Wade Davis:

These are sailors who can sense distant atolls beyond the visible horizon just by watching the waves across the hull of the vessel.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

That’s incredible.

Wade Davis:

They can distinguish six or seven sea swells, distinguishing those caused by local weather disturbance in the darkness as they move through the hull of the vessel, distinguishing those caused from local weather or from the deep currents that pulsate across the ocean that can be followed like a terrestrial explorer would follow a river to the sea. And the amazing thing about that, that wayfinding technology, it was all based on dead reckoning. Dead reckoning means you only know where you are by remembering how you got there.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

So in a civilization that lacked the written word, it meant the wayfinder on the back of the vessel, never sleeping for three and four weeks would have to remember every sign of the sun, the moon, the stars, the wind, the salinity in the sea, the flotsam on the surface of the sea, the currents, not just remembering the data, but the order of its acquisition.

Wade Davis:

Because if that stream of knowledge broke, the voyage could end in a disaster and that’s-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

They couldn’t take notes on their iPhone.

Wade Davis:

They could not take notes on their iPhone. I mean, you’re a Buddhist. We went to make a film called the Buddhist Science of the Mind. Every film, I came up with a one line to try to distill the essence of it. I mean, Polynesia, if you took all of the geniuses that allowed us to put a man on the moon and applied it to an understanding of the ocean, what you would get is Polynesia. Or in-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Hmm. Wow.

Wade Davis:

… Tibet, we made a film with Matthieu Ricard, which we call The Buddhist: Science of the Mind.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

And I remember when we interviewed and saw, met, spent time with a woman who had been a lifelong retreating for 45 years, the sun hadn’t fallen on her face until the door opened when we visited her. And by our terms of reference, she should have been mad. She had devoted 45 years to the recitation of a single mantra. And yet, the woman’s face who greeted us radiated love and compassion. And Matthieu said to me-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Whoa, whoa, wait. What was she doing? Hiding in her 40s?

Wade Davis:

She wasn’t hiding. She was a [inaudible 00:32:27]. She had gone deliberately into lifelong retreat 45 years ago.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Wow.

Wade Davis:

And what Matthieu said to me, this is the proof of the efficacy of the science of the mind that is Tibetan Buddhism, the serenity achieved by the practitioner. She was a Buddhist [inaudible 00:32:43]. A Lama-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

I mean, it’s almost like we’ve focused on the outer world. And a lot of these cultures focus on the inner world-

Wade Davis:

Well, for certain in-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

… and the exploration of that-

Wade Davis:

… Buddhism, yeah.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

… an advance in technology of the mind as we have been in the technology of the world.

Wade Davis:

Well, that’s why Matthieu always uses the term science of the mind, because what is science, but the empirical pursuit of the truth. What is a Buddhist Dharma, but 2,500 years of direct, empirical observation? That’s the nature of mind. That night, the Lama said to me something really wonderful. He said, “We in Tibet, we don’t believe you went to the moon, but you did. You may not believe that we achieved enlightenment in one lifetime, but we do.”

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah. Powerful. So what are some of those stories that matter now for us to help us emerge from the loss of meaning, and loss of connection, and loss of relationship with nature? I mean, we’re all so disconnected.

Wade Davis:

Well, I think there’s so much talk, Mark, about the psychedelic revitalization, right?

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Hmm.

Wade Davis:

And someone who, not only did I inhale, I liked it. In fact, I always say that it’s interesting when we talk about these social transformations of our lifetimes. The one ingredient that’s always expunged from the record is the fact that millions of us lay prostrate before the gates of all have been taking a psychedelic. I mean, I wouldn’t write the way I write. I wouldn’t think the way I think. I wouldn’t treat women the way I treat women. I wouldn’t treat gay people or people of color the way I treat them or interact with them.

Wade Davis:

I certainly wouldn’t see the natural world as I do and I wouldn’t understand the nuances of cultural relativism and the real gifts of anthropology-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

… I think, had I not taken psychedelics.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

And this is way before they were now, like in [inaudible 00:34:30] this is-

Wade Davis:

Oh, no. I mean-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

… 50 years ago.

Wade Davis:

Yeah, 50 years ago. And when I first went to see Schultes in 1974, I knocked on his door. He was the great Amazon explorer, mentor of Andy Wild and-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

… Tim Plowman, who were like my big brothers at the time. I just knocked on his door and I said, “I’ve saved up money in a logging camp. I want to go to South America like you did and collect plants.” And at the time, people didn’t even know where the Amazon was, right?

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Wade Davis:

And rather than asking me for my credentials, he just said, “Well, son, when do you want to go?” And two weeks later I was on my way. But before leaving, I remember he had one critical piece of advice. First of all, he said, “Don’t bother with leather boots, because all the snakes bite at the neck.”

Wade Davis:

And then he said-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

At the neck?

Wade Davis:

At the neck. And he said, don’t come back without trying ayahuasca. So this was back in 1974. So of course, I tried ayahuasca amongst other things. But my point is that, as much as I revere the role that psychedelics have played it in the social transformations of our lifetime, and I probably come down on the side of [Ron Dust 00:35:38] and as opposed to Tim Leary or George Harrison with Ron Dust, get the message hang up. I mean, I’m in the school. I’m not sure how much psychedelics can teach us if you use them again and again and again. I’m not sure how much more there’s to be learned.

Wade Davis:

I tended to be somebody-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

They opened the door-

Wade Davis:

Open the door-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

… you can see.

Wade Davis:

… you walk through.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

But that’s just a matter of personal orientation and choice. I don’t have any judgment on that, but I think that some of the expectations are a little inflated. I mean, I think that psilocybin can be very useful for end-of-life care, not to eliminate the fear of death, but to make it perhaps manageable or understandable or-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

… whatever. I think that ecstasy can be terrific in couples’ therapy and post traumatic stress and everything. But I think the most important of all these plants and the most important role they can play is the most important healing journey of all, which is our relationship with the natural world.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

And certainly, you cannot take San Pedro cactus, the Cactus of the Four Winds, a plant that’s been used by human society since it sparked the first civilization in the Andes, Chavin at 2,500 before the Christian era. You cannot take that mescaline containing denizen of the Northern Andes without having a more visceral, almost sensual connection to the natural world.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

So I think, in that way, psychedelics continued to be very, very powerful and potent medicines.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

So not just for trauma, not just for healing.

Wade Davis:

I mean, they create a template upon which anything can happen. I mean, this is one of the… I think Andy Weil said, “There’s no such thing as good and bad drugs. There’s good and bad ways of using drugs.”

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Wade Davis:

I think he also said, “These psychedelics just create a template upon which cultural forces and beliefs can go to work.” And of course, all of the early pioneers spoke in those terms set in the setting, the set you bring the experience, the setting in which you take the substance, but I’m definitely of the school that believes that these are true medicines.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah, yeah. No, I’ve definitely had a similar experience to you. It really shaped as a young man: my view of my relationship to myself, to the natural world, to human culture that I lived in. And once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

Wade Davis:

Yeah. Well, I mean, I think it’s like I didn’t take a course in biology until third year of university. And then I found Schultes and I found the Amazon and I-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

… often look back and think how lucky I was that I found that because it’s kind of astonishing. You would never think that you could go through university and graduate if you didn’t know the difference of a photograph and a painting. And yet we, graduate students, all the time, who don’t know the formula of photosynthesis, right? The fundamental formula of life. I mean, I don’t think you should be able to run for political office if you don’t know that formula.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

I mean, the very fact that carbon dioxide and water sparked by photons of light gives us carbohydrates, our food, and oxygen, our air.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

I mean, this is biblical verse, if you will.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

It is. I mean, we are so intertwined and we think we’re so separate.

Wade Davis:

Yeah.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

And if all the plants died on the planet, we’d be dead pretty quick.

Wade Davis:

When I was at Harvard, the night that I actually figured out the Krebs cycle and photosynthesis and all of the pathways, I just went berserk.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

I was so ecstatic. I actually was rushing from student to student and screaming at them in the library, “Do you know how this work?” And I actually got escorted out by security. I think I-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

It was this mad man.

Wade Davis:

… was the only student ever kicked out of a library at Harvard for pure kind of intellectual ecstasy.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

It’s amazing. I think what reminds me of what Einstein said, he said, “I’m not interested in the spectrum of this or that element. I’m interested in the thoughts of God, the rest of your details.” And when you talk about photosynthesis and the Krebs cycle, how our mitochondria create energy from oxygen and food, there isn’t one intertwined cycle.

Wade Davis:

Well, it’s so funny because Suzanne Simard’s wonderful, she’s at UBC, and I remember when she first presented her work on mycelia, it was at a very obscure little gathering and no one seemed in the audience to grok how significant it was, but I went right up to her and I said, “Suzanne, you’re going to change the world.” And she has-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Around?

Wade Davis:

Mycelia.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Mycelia in general, not psilocybin?

Wade Davis:

No, no, just her work in-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Understanding the underground network of mycelia.

Wade Davis:

… mycelia. So we’re understanding how plants work in very sophisticated ways. But I only say that because back in the ’70s, when we didn’t know some of these things, a book came out called the Secret Life of Plants that made a big deal about plants, responding to Mozart and everything.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah. I mean they have 20 different senses. They have more senses than we do.

Wade Davis:

Well, at the time, Tim Plowman, who was a great musician, great poet, and certainly a great botanist, he hated that book. He just hated it.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Wow.

Wade Davis:

And he used to say, “Why would a plant give a shit about Mozart? And even if it did, why should that impress us? They can eat light. Isn’t that enough?”

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Uh-huh (affirmative). They can eat light. Yeah, that’s true. That’s amazing. They transmute light into energy.

Wade Davis:

In other words, yeah. I mean, I think biology is just so extraordinary. And certainly, I think how close I came to not studying it. I find it haunting.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

And ethnobotany was your PhD thesis which is-

Wade Davis:

Well, ethnobotany is more of a description than an academic discipline. It’s looking at the world through the lens of plants and particularly how people use plants and how plants are important to people. And basically, what happened to me, these things are so accidental. I mean, how life unfolds.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

It’s true. Well, I call it [inaudible 00:41:27] god, not necessarily accidental, a coincidence.

Wade Davis:

Well, people say, “How did you end up going to Harvard?” Well, the truth is I used to fight forest fires during Vietnam in our fire camps. I was 15 and our fire camps were full of draft dodgers. And we are these obedient Canadian lads. And one these American draft dodgers would tell our bosses to piss off. It was irresistibly charismatic. And one of them had the Life Magazine with the Harvard student strike of 1969 on the cover. I thought, “Well, that’s got to be the college to go to become cool like these Americans.” So I applied, not really even knowing anything about it.

Wade Davis:

I got in and my parents didn’t have the money to go to Boston from Vancouver. So I got to Boston and I realized I’m at Logan Airport with a big trunk. I don’t know where Harvard is. And I saw this character with a Harvard T-shirt on. I thought, “He’s got to know where it is.” He didn’t know either-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

That was before GPS and-

Wade Davis:

… that he didn’t-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

… Google Maps.

Wade Davis:

So I dragged my trunk through the subway, got to Harvard Square. It was crazy. And then I realized my mother had made a mistake and the dorms weren’t open for a week. So I had no money and I dragged my trunk until I hit a church, knocked on the door and a pastor opened it up. He kindly welcomed me and I fell in love with America, but he was also a war resistor and his basement was full of kids about to flee to Canada. So I got completely-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Wow, like the underground railroad almost.

Wade Davis:

… radicalized, totally radicalized, spent my first year at Harvard making trouble, including the last university-wide student strike. And then the day to declare your major was the next day. And I hadn’t given it a thought. I just by chance walked through the Peabody Museum of Ethnology for the first time. I came out of the light of spring, saw an acquaintance. I said, “Stewart, what are you going to major in?” He said, “Anthropology.” And I said, “What’s that?” And he said, “Well, you read about Indians and like Forest Gump.” I said, “That’ll do.” And that’s how I signed on as a student there. And then after two years of just reading about Indians and books, my roommate and I wanted to live with native people and we were in a cafe in Harvard Square. It’s a true story. There was a National Geographic map on the wall right beside us.

Wade Davis:

And David looked at the map, looked at me, looked at the map, looked at me and he pointed to the higher Arctic. Well, I had to go somewhere and I watched my left arm lift and it hit the Northwest Amazon of Colombia. Had it landed in Italy, I might have become a Renaissance scholar.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

But instead having decided to go to the Amazon just on a whim, there was only one man to see, Richard Evans Schultes, the legendary botanical explorer-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

… who had sparked the psychedelic era with his discovery of the so-called magic mushrooms in Mexico in 1938.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

1938?

Wade Davis:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Wow. So that had really been unknown to Western society before that?

Wade Davis:

Yeah, it was, well, Schultes. I mean, that’s another great story. I mean, Schultes was a young pre-med student from East Boston. His family didn’t have the money to attend the dorms at Harvard. And he took the course that had been taught for over a hundred years at Harvard Plants and Human Affairs.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Actually, I took that at Cornell. It was plants and humans. It was my favorite class.

Wade Davis:

Well, but in this class, they used to get drunk all through prohibition because the professor disliked the government. But when it came to the plants that were then known as a fantastica, they had to do a term paper or a book report. So Schultes races to the back of the hall to get the thinnest book possible. He’s got so much other homework and puts it in satchel and goes back to East Boston. And that night, botanical history was made because that book turned out to be the only monograph available in the English language that described the stunning pharmacological effects of peyote, Heinrich Klüver, and Schultes read throughout the night of these visions of orb-like brilliance.

Wade Davis:

And he went to his professor the next day and said, “I have to know this plant,” and that was the beginning of Schultes’ quest. And that summer, he goes out to Oklahoma territory in four to five nights a week, takes peyote, and he comes back to Boston a new man. And then he sets off on this mystery of teonanácatl and [inaudible 00:45:34] and that’s the story right out of Indiana Jones.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

So he didn’t know there was psilocybin in Mexico. He went to Mexico?

Wade Davis:

No, what happened is he was studying peyote. And at the time, there was a prominent anthropologist at Smithsonian called Safford, who said that this legendary teonanácatl, which in Nahuatl means the flesh of the gods. It was reported as a drug by the early Spanish chroniclers, but no one knew what the botanical source was.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

So the early Spanish chronicle actually experienced the-

Wade Davis:

Well, we-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

… [crosstalk 00:46:07].

Wade Davis:

… don’t know if they experienced it, but they chronicled almost everything. They were very good observers, very good scientists. And they reported teonanácatl as a sacred plant, right? And obviously, the church was drawn to anything like that in order to destroy it, right? And Safford had maintained that teonanácatl was in fact peyote. Schultes didn’t believe it, but he had no evidence until he was in the National Herbarium found a plant specimen, which had a note attached to it by an obscure German engineer called BP Reko addressed to the former director of the National Herbarium, a man called Dr. Rose. And the note said: “Dear Dr. Rose, I understand your man, Safford says teonanácatl is peyote. It’s not, he’s an idiot. It’s a mushroom. I’ve seen it. Yours sincerely.” And so Schultes having just jumped off a Greyhound bus from Tulsa, lept on another one from Mexico City and hooked up with Reko who turned out to be an ardent Nazi.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Oh wow.

Wade Davis:

This is 1938. And together, they move into the mountains of Oaxaca to [inaudible 00:47:12] to the Mazatec community and begin the search for teonanácatl. Meanwhile, there was another team led by Bernard Bevin who is British secret service, also looking forward. So in this kind of scenario, right out of Indiana Jones, you had these two sides looking for the origin of this ancient Aztec hallucinogen, and Schultes was the first to collect specimens.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

It seems like these cultures all around the world have used these plants, whether-

Wade Davis:

No. Actually, what’s fascinating is that they don’t use all these plants. What’s really interesting is that of the 120 or more hallucinogens identified from nature, 95% of them are from the new world. Not because the forest of Ecuador or West Africa or Southeast Asia are de-propriate, but people there had other roots to the divine. For example, in Ecuador, West Africa, the manipulation of plant poisons, including using them in judicial tribunals as punishment is one of the most ubiquitous traits of material culture. But with the exception of iboga, ibogain-containing plant in the Apocynaceae family, there are not many hallucinogens in Africa or in Southeast Asia. Most are found in the Americas because-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Interesting.

Wade Davis:

… in the Americas, that’s the vehicle to the divine. I mean, it’s like the Haitians used to say to me, “In Haiti, you white people go to church and speak about God, Indians eat their magic plants and speak to God.”

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

“We dance in the temple and become God.”

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Wow.

Wade Davis:

The use of these plants is firmly rooted in culture. So in fact, that anomaly is really marked. Siberia and the new world are basically where you find the vast majority of hallucinogens.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Well, it seems that somehow, the cultures who have used these in a way that help them actually stay connected to the world, to make meaning out of life, to do things which seemed to be really foreign to most Westerners. And what really struck me, I mean, and as a doctor who focused on the role of food and plant compounds that regulate our biology for health, the medicine in plants is very diverse. And when you’re talking about are these just sort of compounds that somehow we’ve been able to use to open our mindset, to change the way we think, to see our relationship to the world differently, to feel our place in nature. I always wonder, how did that get discovered? Or more importantly, how do we make sense of the fact that these molecules work in our brains, on these receptors that change the way we feel, and think, and see, is it just an accident? Did we coevolve with these things? Do we need them to wake up? Are they part of the things we need to actually thrive? Like we need broccoli or we need these basic [crosstalk 00:50:18]

Wade Davis:

Well, I think, humans are innately curious. We’re all natural philosophers. And I mean, one of the things that I find so fascinating is a question of how were these plants discovered, particularly in something like ayahuasca which is, of course, not a plant as much as a preparation. And so if you think of ayahuasca, it’s a combination of sort of the leaves of the nondescript shrub in the coffee family, Psychotria viridis, which are chock-full of these powerful tryptamines: 5-methoxy-dimethyltryptamine, dimethyltryptamine, and these tryptamines are orally inactive, right?

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

Because they’re denatured by an enzyme found in the human stomach called monoamine oxidase. That’s why tryptamines traditionally are snuffed, or smoked, or injected, I suppose.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

And if you think ethnographically, the Yanomami, for example, blowing up their noses, the powder they call ebene, the semen of the sun, they call it, derived from the blood red resin of several species in the genus Virola. Those powders are chock-full of tryptamines but they blow them up their nose specifically because tryptamines are orally inactive.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

And they’re very powerful. I think it was Dennis McKenna who said having that stuff blown up your nose, or maybe it was Terrence who said it, or maybe I said it, I can’t even remember. But anyway, it’s like being shot out of a rifle barrel lined with broke paintings and landing on a sea of electricity. I mean, it just creates a total… in fact, I did argue with Schultes that you couldn’t really classify ebene as hallucinogenic. Because by the time you’re under the influence, there’s no one’s home anymore to experience hallucinations, right?

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah, the death of the ego.

Wade Davis:

But the interesting thing is that the only way for these tryptamines to be taken orally is if they’re taken in conjunction with some other compound that denature is the MA on the human gut, which of course, the beta-Carbolines found in the woody liana, Banisteriopsis caapi, and they are inhibitors of precisely sort of necessary to potentiate the tryptamines.

Wade Davis:

Well, the really interesting question is not just how that combines to create this powerful psychoactive substance, but where did that knowledge come from?

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

In a flora of 80,000 species of vascular plants-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

… because how did the indigenous people learn to combine these morphologically distinct denizens of the rainforest to-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

… create this biochemical-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

… version of the whole [inaudible 00:52:46] and some of parts and-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

It’s ayahuasca.

Wade Davis:

Ayahuasca or yage for the north. And of course, the only scientific explanation is trial and error, which statistically is quickly exposed as being a meaningless euphemism.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Oh, it’ll kill you before you figure it out.

Wade Davis:

Was saying going to kill you. I mean 80,000 species, you’re going one by… no. And if you ask the indigenous people, as Schultes did in 1941, when he was with the [Seona 00:53:12] Sequoia and he documented 17 folk varieties of the woody liana, all of which were referable to his Harvard trained taxonomic eye as being the same species. And when he asked them about the nature of their classification, they looked at him as if he was a fool because-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

… any real botanist knew that you took each one of the 17 on the night of a full moon and each of the 17 sent you in a different key.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

Well, that’s not going to get you a PhD at Harvard and plant systematics-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

No.

Wade Davis:

… but it’s a lot more interesting counting flower parts-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

… but it also speaks about a different way of knowing.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

A different way of knowing, yeah.

Wade Davis:

When I was doing the work in Haiti, this was a really important thing for me to try to understand. I was sent to Haiti, “to find the drugs used to make zombies.” Well, no drug can make a social phenomena.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Wade Davis:

We did believe that a drug could bring on a state of apparent death so profound that it could fool a physician, and in which case that drug could have some medical potential possibly.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

But when it came time to really understanding what a zombie was, it was a cultural phenomenon. You had to distinguish the reaction, for example, hypothetically to a dose of tetrodotoxin, this very powerful neurotoxin-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

… that brings on peripheral paralysis, dramatically low metabolic rates, consciousness is retained to the moment of death, and so on. And one of the things that allowed me to take the zombie thing from the Fantasmagorie to the plausible was the identification in Haiti of… in the folk preparations that were known as the zombies… not the zombies, the put zombie rather, zombies’ cucumber is the antidote. The consistent ingredient was a marine fish in this order of fish that tetraodontiformes, which does have the tetrodotoxin-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

And so the blowfish and it’s a fugu. It’s a fugu toxin.

Wade Davis:

It’s a fugu, the same as fugu [inaudible 00:55:20]. There was this huge literature because of the use of the fish in Japanese cuisine and-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

… also people dying in survival conditions and so on, we knew exactly what tetrodotoxin did to someone. And in Japan, there were actually-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

[crosstalk 00:55:33] blowfish.

Wade Davis:

… many case of people nailed into their coffins by mistake. In Hokkaido, you’re actually laid by your grave to make sure you’re really dead.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Because if you don’t prepare the blowfish properly in a restaurant or at home, you could end up dying, right?

Wade Davis:

Well, no. That’s a bit of a Calvinist interpretation of what’s going on in Japan. If it was simply a matter of these specialty licensed chefs eliminating all of the toxin, why would anyone bother? There’s lots of fish in the seas of Japan that you don’t have to go through that effort to-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

… eat.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

I’ve had blowfish and you can feel it on your tongue.

Wade Davis:

Well, but the real role of those especially trained chefs is not to eliminate the toxin, it’s to reduce the amount of toxin, so the connoisseur still enjoys a pleasant after effects of a mild intoxication, which can be euphoria, flushing, sensations up and down the body. It’s really one of a substance that walks the line between food and drug. But the point is that a victim of to try to toxication in Japan, nailed in their coffin. If they’re lucky enough to survive, they say, “Oh, that was really terrible. I ate the fish. It was too badly prepared. I’m glad to be alive,” end of story. But someone raised within the worldview of the Haitian zombie knows what a zombie is, why a zombie is created.

Wade Davis:

When he or she suffers that same condition, it becomes a template for all these belief systems to go to work. So you really had to understand the psychology of what a zombie was-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

… and the sociology of what implied to realize how it was in fact, a faith deemed by the people to be worse than death.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah. Well, I just want to loop back because the zombie story is very interesting and I read the book, Serpent and the Rainbow. It’s a great read for people who want to understand how this all works. But you mentioned about the variety of plants in the rainforest and how these ancient shamans were able to figure out how to combine the plants to activate the ingredients and make them absorbable, and actually, create the visions and the transformations that people experience with ayahuasca. I was down in Peru, on the border Bolivia, we were in the Amazon jungle on the beach, and it was way up some tributary. No electricity, nothing. And there was an [ayahuascara 00:58:00] or a shaman who was named [Pandoro 00:58:04] who’s now died. I asked him, “How did he figure out that these plants could go together?” It’s not trial and error, there was something else. He says, “Well, the plants told us. The plants spoke to us.” And so, my question too is: Are human beings capable of this kind of communication with nature? Is it really true story or is he just sort of really-

Wade Davis:

It’s very difficult to know what is… I mean, it’s obviously at one level, it’s a metaphor because plants literally don’t speak. We know that. On the other hand, if we go back to this fundamental revelation that all human beings share the same genius, right? Okay. Imagine if every scientist you’ve ever heard of in the West had spent their entire lifetime, all of them trying to understand Central Park: the plants, the birds, the soils, the relationships, all of that human genius had come together just for that purpose, I think we know Central Park pretty well, don’t you?

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah, you bet. Yeah.

Wade Davis:

Well, these people of the forest are exactly that.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

They’re true natural philosophers who are using all of our human genius to understand a world upon which their lives depend. So they have that same adaptive imperative that we do.

Wade Davis:

And once you can truly understand that and accept that, then in a way, it doesn’t come as that much of a surprise that with all of the human genius that they share together with the kind of the perspicacity of their attention to the world around them, that you would have these kinds of observations, experimentation, deductions, and results. I think also informed by some of these experiences that take them outside of the rational, in a sense, in the best sense of the word. I mean, the psychedelic experience, I think, is its own teacher to societies. Now, a lot of what’s going on is-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

We need to just basically doze everybody up at least one just try some of plant to-

Wade Davis:

No, I think that-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

… solve our global crises.

Wade Davis:

There’s an awful lot of people I’ve encountered that I would not want to see dozed up. No, but I mean, part of what anthropology tries to do, at least in the classic form of anthropology, is I try to practice. It’s to try to make sense out of sensation. What is it about [inaudible 01:00:50] are really thinking? What is it that motivates them? And in that case, there are very clear notions of a world that was in chaos and order was given to it by the culture heroes who created a world of reason, and form, and decency, and honor, and that people have the obligation to maintain that. And so, for example, in the case of the Barasana, their long houses are an absolute model of the universe, right?

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

Every single feature of the long house-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

These are the Northwest-

Wade Davis:

Northwest Amazons.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

… Native Americans.

Wade Davis:

These are long-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Were those Amazon?

Wade Davis:

Yeah. These long houses are almost half the size of a football field.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Wow.

Wade Davis:

And the whole community lives within it and dangling from the heart of the maloca is a woven basket in which all the ritual paraphernalia is. That’s the living heart of the community. And the people, the dead are buried beneath the river, beneath the maloca so that the living literally walk over the bodies of the ancestors with every footstep of every life. The top, the ridge pole is seen as the arc of the Milky Way. Every single element of the maloca has its symbolic resonance-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

… in terms of the spatial distribution of families, men’s area, women’s area, but critically, over the whole universe is a universal maloca also anchored by the sacred sites.

Wade Davis:

And when the men take ayahuasca in four and five-day ceremonies, they literally become the ancestors. Not the image of the answer, they become the ancestors and they move to all the sacred sites, a lighting upon them as they regenerate the world. And they even, at that point, will recite the 1,600 or more toponyms of all points that we know to exist going down the Amazon 2,000 miles to the mouth-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Wow.

Wade Davis:

… remembering the primordial journey of the ancestors. And these were the great civilizations that [inaudible 01:03:08] saw when he first went down the Amazon. So part of what motivates me-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

… is just a pure poetics it all.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

You can say, “Why do you do this?”

Dr. Mark Hyman:

[crosstalk 01:03:18]

Wade Davis:

I mean, why do what I do? Well, because I get to stand at the tip of Cape Crawford on the solstice with the light of dusk, 24 hours a day and watch 17 million marine mammals come across the mouth of [inaudible 01:03:37]. Even as I’m with the Inuit, as we go to hunt, or being with, I don’t know, the Wayfinders in the open ocean sailing north of Molokai on the Hokulea, we’re creating the path of the ancestors. Or the months that I’ve spent in the Amazon or in the Andes with the Mamos, I mean, the Mamos now calling me the Mamo Occidental, and I’ve been 48 years now, 48 years. I mean, I don’t even feel like I know what 48 years of age, but I was just down in Colombia.

Wade Davis:

I mean, this how the magic of it, man. So I’ve known this Mamo [Camillo 01:04:20] for one of the sun priests for a long, long time.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

This extraordinary, incredible individual. And in all the years I’ve known him, and it’s four generations of that family I’ve known, he’s never spoken to me in his language, in Spanish, always in his language, right?

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Wait. Do you speak that language?

Wade Davis:

No, but that’s the formality of the Mamo, right? So he will be translated to me into Spanish. And then this last visit only three weeks ago, I was at [Katasama 01:04:54], one of the sacred sites. And I got up in the hut in my hammock about 5:00 in the morning. I was just going to go bathe in the ocean. And I just noticed Mamo Camillo and three other Arhuacos and another Mamo sitting in a little circle at 5:00 the morning chewing coca, right?

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

[Foreign language 01:05:15] And I thought, “I’m just going to go and have some a morning with them.” So I go over there and I sat and began [foreign language 01:05:25].

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Which is?

Wade Davis:

Chewing coca.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Chewing coca.

Wade Davis:

Hayo, which is their sacred plant. They use more hayo than any other human society. Each man chews about a pound of leaves a day.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

A pound of leaf a day, wow.

Wade Davis:

A pound, yeah. Uh-huh (affirmative). And they chew from morning ’til midnight and it’s completely benign. Anyway, they were talking in Ika, their language, and something broke through because I just was sitting there. And after about an hour-and-a-half, I just entered the conversation in Spanish. I don’t speak Ika, but where I enter was exactly where they were in their language.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Oh.

Wade Davis:

And they didn’t say anything, but it made some big imprint on Mamo Camillo. Because later that evening, for the first time since… and I’ve known, like I’ve been working with him 48 years, he comes into the little hut and just lies in the hammock beside me and starts blabbering away in Spanish-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Wow.

Wade Davis:

… unveiling his entire life. So to me, these are the points of wonder that allow you to-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

I mean, it clearly inspired you. How do we take all the-

Wade Davis:

I’ll tell you a story. After 9-11, I want to tell a story of Islam, so I went to Timbuktu and I wanted to remind people in the West that the knowledge of the ancient Greeks only survived to inspire the Renaissance, because it was held in repository, the great Islamic scholars in places like Timbuktu.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Wow.

Wade Davis:

And you can hold in your hand in Timbuktu ancient manuscripts in Boston Gold in the 10th and 11th century of geometry, and mathematics, and cosmology, and botany, and chemistry, et cetera. And then I went a thousand miles north of Timbuktu to an ancient salt mine called Taoudenni where the salt of that mine wasn’t like a condiment. It was sacred. And it traded, at one point, an ounce for an ounce with gold, with the gold of Equatorial West Africa.

Wade Davis:

And on the way back from the mine, well, two things happened. At the mine, we met an old man. He wasn’t old. He was younger than me, but his body was broken and he’d been caught in debt, peonage. I mean, lent some money to save the life of his child, and he could never escape that debt. So he was staying out in this mine, a medieval kind of place.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

Even in the middle of the summer, when the sun’s so hot, they say it can melt the sand, which I think is just a poetic expression. But at any rate, it turned out his debt was less than the cost of a dinner in New York for two. So I gave him the money.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Wow.

Wade Davis:

And then I never figured out whether he was telling me the truth or because a sandstorm swept through the mine. And it just enveloped him in as sort of a haze of yellow smoke. The last thing I heard from him, he was blessing Allah as this sort of swirling sand was all around us. And then we headed south back to Timbuktu and we came upon a caravan of salt traders that had got hit by a rainstorm of all things. And the salt gets wet, then it breaks, loses value. So they were stuck in the desert, 250 miles from the nearest well, and they were down to a liter of water.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Hmm.

Wade Davis:

And as we came upon them, one of them was walking away with his camel to try to dig 25 miles away, a spot they thought they might find some water.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah.

Wade Davis:

And what did they do with their last liter of water? They instantly kindled a twig fire and brewed us tea, honoring the Bedouin adage that you will always kill the goat that keeps your children alive with its milk, to feed a wandering stranger who comes in out of the night because you never know when you may be that stranger: cold, hungry, in need of shelter. And as I watched this kid called [Mohamed 01:09:16] pour me that first cup of tea, I thought these are the moments that allow us all to hope.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah. It’s so beautiful. You live such a incredible life. You’ve been to places most of us had never even knew of or dreamed of. And you brought back the lessons that I think can help us navigate this modern world that’s disconnected us from each other, from nature, from ourselves. I wish we had weeks and weeks to unpack all of it. I think for everybody listening, if you want to learn more about Wade’s work, go to daviswade.com. There’s just endless books, endless movies, endless documentaries.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

I think, for me, I just would say that tapping into the wisdom of these ancient cultures, while it may seem sort of esoteric, and strange, and weird actually has helped me navigate the modern world and have a sense of meaning and purpose and connection to things that I think otherwise I wouldn’t have.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

And I really resonate with your work. It’s inspired me and I think the idea of what we can learn from these ancient cultures is really an important piece of understanding what means to be human in the modern world. I just really want to thank you for your life. Thank you for your inspiration. Thank you for going so deep in all these places and bringing back the nuggets that actually help us navigate our world. And it’s really been a joy and pleasure having you on the podcast.

Wade Davis:

Thanks, Mark.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Thank you all for listening to the Doctor’s Farmacy. If you love this podcast and you want to share the inspiration and wisdom that you heard today, please share with your friends and family or maybe share a comment or story about what you’ve learned in your travels, or maybe you visited these ancient cultures like I have and what they’ve infused in you that you might want to share with all of us. And we’ll see you next week on the Doctor’s Farmacy.

Closing:

Hi, everyone. I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. Just a reminder that this podcast is for educational purposes only. This podcast is not a substitute for professional care by a doctor or other qualified medical professional. This podcast is provided on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services. If you’re looking for help in your journey, seek out a qualified medical practitioner. If you’re looking for a functional medicine practitioner, you can visit ifm.org and search their find-a-practitioner database. It’s important that you have someone in your corner who’s trained, who’s a licensed healthcare practitioner, and can help you make changes especially when it comes to your health.

If you are looking for personalized medical support, we highly recommend contacting Dr. Hyman’s UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts today.

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