[Note: I wrote this in 2010 after seeing Wade Davis speak, and was reminded of it as I wrote Curriculum as a Compass?. I still love these stories – the ayahuasca one blows my mind. Stephen.]
I saw Wade Davis speak at the 2008 IB Regional conference, and he was brilliant. He gave an extended version of this talk from TED, and the focus on disappearing languages and cultures was brilliant. He really ventured into TOK, especially with the different ways of knowing demonstrated by various cultures.
There is a great example in the talk below of an amazonian shaman who makes a powerful psychoactive preparation of Ayahuasca, from a vine. Tryptamines are the active component and are similar to tryptophan (our famous amino acid/ end product inhibition example – animation). They act as neurotransmitters and include serotonin, which regulates mood. It is broken down by enzymes bound to the plasma membrane of cells in the digestive tract called monoamine oxidase (MAO), so can’t be taken orally. The amazing thing is the shaman uses a preparation from another plant that inhibits this enzyme, so that the potion can be ingested and is effective. This is amazing knowledge, gleaned from a totally alternative scientific method to the one we are used to, and demonstrates an advanced naturalistic intelligence.
When he asked how they knew this and were able to combine these two extracts from the thousands available, they answered “The plants talk to us.”
Discussion and questions:
1. In what ways can this specific example link the elements of the IB Biology course together?
Think about cells, membranes, amino acids, neurotransmitters, innate vs learned behaviour, reward pathways, evolution, enzymes and inhibition, genetics and the universality of the genetic code, ecology and conservation.
2. Think about the statement “other people, with their differences, can also be right” (from the IBO’s mission statement). To what extent is the ancient knowledge of indigenous cultures an example of this? What further questions does this inspire?
3. To what extent are these ways of knowing demonstrated in the contrast between modern scientific understanding of the effects of the active ingredients and the ancient wisdom of the shaman: sense perception, reason and emotion.
4. Discuss the impacts of disappearing cultures on scientific knowledge and understanding. How could modern science & technology be used to help preserve cultures and wisdom?
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