Wade Davis – “The Plants Talk To Us”

MrT saw Wade Davis speak at an IB Regional conference, and he was brilliant. He gave an extended version of this talk from TED, with a focus on disappearing languages and cultures. He really ventured into TOK, especially with the different ways of knowing demonstrated by various cultures.

The Wayfinders, by Wade Davis. Click to view on GoodReads.

The Wayfinders, by Wade Davis. Click to view on GoodReads.

This talk outline the connections between the ways of knowing of sense perception, reason, and intuition and also shows the convergence (or should we say divergence?) between the natural sciences and indigenous knowledge systems as areas of knowledge.

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). They act as neurotransmitters and include serotonin, which regulated 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?

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. Could modern science be used to help preserve cultures and wisdom?

If you liked this, do something useful and go study to be an ethnobotanist!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: