Famed Explorer Wade Davis — How to Become the Architect of Your Life, The Divine Leaf of Immortality, Rites of Passage, Voodoo Demystified, Optimism as the Purpose of Life, How to Be a Prolific Writer, Psychedelics, Monetizing the Creativity of Your Life, and More (#652)

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“The purpose of life is not to triumph over evil but to keep pushing the wheel of justice forward. And when you realize that that is the end point, you then never expect to win. And if you never expect to win, you’re not disappointed when you lose. And because of that, you can keep fighting with the same idealism, the same energy when you’re 69 years old, as I am today, that I had when I was 20 years old and marching against the war in Vietnam.”

— Wade Davis

Wade Davis (@wadedavisofficialdaviswade.com) is Professor of Anthropology and the BC Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk at the University of British Columbia. Between 2000 and 2013, he served as Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society. Named by the NGS as one of the Explorers for the Millennium, he has been described as “a rare combination of scientist, scholar, poet, and passionate defender of all of life’s diversity.” 

An ethnographer, writer, photographer, and filmmaker, Wade holds degrees in anthropology and biology and a PhD in ethnobotany, all from Harvard University. Mostly through the Harvard Botanical Museum, he spent over three years in the Amazon and Andes as a plant explorer, living among 15 indigenous groups while making some 6000 botanical collections. His work later took him to Haiti to investigate folk preparations implicated in the creation of zombies, an assignment that led to his writing The Serpent and the Rainbow, an international bestseller, later released by Universal as a motion picture. In recent years, his work 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. 

Wade is the author of 375 scientific and popular articles and 23 books, including One RiverThe WayfindersInto the Silence, and Magdalena. His photographs have been widely exhibited and have appeared in 37 books and 130 magazines, including National GeographicTimeGeoPeopleMen’s Journal, and Outside. He was curator of “The Lost Amazon: The Photographic Journey of Richard Evans Schultes,” first exhibited at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. In 2012 he served as guest curator of “No Strangers: Ancient Wisdom in the Modern World,” at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles. He was curator of “Everest: Ascent to Glory,” Bowers Museum, February 12–August 28, 2022. National Geographic has published two collections of his photography: Light at the Edge of the World (2001) and Wade Davis: Photographs (2018).

His 40 film credits include Light at the Edge of the World, an eight-hour documentary series written and produced for National Geographic. His most recent film, El Sendero de la Anaconda, a 90-minute feature documentary shot in the Northwest Amazon, is available on Netflix.

A professional speaker for 30 years, Wade has lectured at over 200 universities and 250 corporations and professional associations. In 2009 he delivered the CBC Massey Lectures. He has spoken from the main stage at TED five times, and his three posted talks have been viewed by 8 million. His books have appeared in 22 languages and sold approximately one million copies.

Wade, one of 20 Honorary Members of the Explorers Club, is Honorary Vice President of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and recipient of 12 honorary degrees. He has been awarded the 2009 Gold Medal from the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, the 2011 Explorers Medal, the 2012 David Fairchild Medal for botanical exploration, the 2015 Centennial Medal of Harvard University, the 2017 Roy Chapman Andrews Society’s Distinguished Explorer Award, the 2017 Sir Christopher Ondaatje Medal for Exploration, and the 2018 Mungo Park Medal from the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. In 2016, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada. In 2018 he became an Honorary Citizen of Colombia.

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#652: Famed Explorer Wade Davis — How to Become the Architect of Your Life, The Divine Leaf of Immortality, Rites of Passage, Voodoo Demystified, Optimism as the Purpose of Life, How to Be a Prolific Writer, Psychedelics, Monetizing the Creativity of Your Life, and More

This episode is brought to you by FreshBooks. I’ve been talking about FreshBooks—an all-in-one invoicing + payments + accounting solution—for years now. Many entrepreneurs, as well as the contractors and freelancers that I work with, use it all the time.

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Want to hear another episode featuring someone committed to exploring and expanding the boundaries of human knowledge? Have a listen to my conversation with Dr. Andrew Weil, in which we discussed the 4-7-8 breath for instant anxiety relief, overcoming the stigma of coca leaves to realize their medical benefits, kava and its effect on sleep quality, the first wave of psychedelic research at Harvard, the positives and negatives of psychedelics going mainstream, and much more.

#615: Dr. Andrew Weil — The 4-7-8 Breath Method, Cannabis, The Uses of Coca Leaf, Rehabilitating Demonized Plants, Kava for Anxiety, Lessons from Wade Davis, The Psychedelic Renaissance, How to Emerge from Depression, Tales from 50+ Visits to Japan, Matcha Benefits, and More

What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.



  • Connect with Wade Davis:

Website | Instagram


  • [06:34] The Wayfinders.
  • [17:01] The Earth’s caretakers of Northern Colombia.
  • [25:31] Coca and mambe.
  • [34:17] Zombies, mysterious elixirs, and a sorcerer pimp.
  • [49:35] The social implications of zombification and dangers of datura.
  • [57:57] David Maybury-Lewis, Richard Evans Schultes, and living exploration.
  • [1:02:13] Why helping young people is a top priority for Wade.
  • [1:07:43] Pessimism is an indulgence. Choose optimism.
  • [1:13:10] Rites of passage.
  • [1:17:26] The night Wade had to light himself on fire.
  • [1:20:37] The scar Wade doesn’t regret.
  • [1:23:41] Raising kids to be better citizens of the world.
  • [1:31:02] Wade’s own hero’s journey.
  • [1:34:19] Ayahuasca origin stories and uses alternative to healing.
  • [1:47:34] The real tragedy of coca.
  • [1:50:29] Dosed dogs, provocative gardens, and the cosmology of bitter manioc.
  • [1:53:41] What psychedelics gave Wade earlier in life vs. later on.
  • [2:06:34] How did Wade teach himself to write well?
  • [2:18:50] Work points and outlining the course of a book.
  • [2:28:26] Parting thoughts.


“Storytellers change the world.”
— 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, they do so in the 7,000 different voices of humanity. And all those answers kind of collectively become our human repertoire.”
— Wade Davis

“We’re living through an era where half of humanity’s intellectual, social, spiritual, even ecological knowledge is at risk. And at the same time, we’re living through an era where geneticists have finally proven it to be true what philosophers and poets have always dreamt to be true, that we really are all brothers and sisters. “
— Wade Davis

“There is no hierarchy in culture.”
— Wade Davis

“If you took all of the genius 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.”
— Wade Davis

“Coca is to cocaine what potatoes are to vodka.”
— Wade Davis

“I’ve always believed that nothing is beneath you. Nothing is a waste of time unless you make it so. A cab driver can have as much to teach you as a professor at university if you’re open to the possibility.”
— Wade Davis

“Be patient, never compromise, give your destiny time to find you. Bitterness always comes to those who look back on a life of choices imposed upon them from the outside. You may not make all the right decisions, but if you own those decisions, they all become the right ones because, together, they become the path of your own creation and you become the architect of your own life.”
— Wade Davis

“How can you not be optimistic? I mean, that’s the purpose of life itself.”
— Wade Davis

“What generation has ever come of age in a world at peace, a world without troubles?”
— Wade Davis

“The purpose of life is not to triumph over evil, but to keep pushing the wheel of justice forward. And when you realize that that is the end point, you then never expect to win. And if you never expect to win, you’re not disappointed when you lose. And because of that, you can keep fighting with the same idealism, the same energy when you’re 69 years old, as I am today, that I had when I was 20 years old and marching against the war in Vietnam.”
— Wade Davis

“It’s empathy and love; it’s not bravado.”
— Wade Davis

“If you’re being given food almost anywhere in the world, it means some child is probably not eating that day. And even if you know, and there’s been many times when I’ve known because of the circumstances, that if I eat a plate offered to me, without doubt, I’ll contract giardia or amoebic dysentery, I always eat the food. Because you can always treat the illness; you can never rekindle the trust that you’ve shattered, not just between you and the person, but between that person and the next outsider who will come along.”
— Wade Davis

“There’s no reason whatsoever that our government in the United States shouldn’t be able to mobilize resources that would make available to every young American boy and girl the opportunity to travel within America, to know another face of America, another section of the country. Californians to Iowa, Kansans to Miami, and so on. And give them work to help make us a better country, whether it’s picking up plastic or caring for the elderly, whatever it is. Again, giving young people a sense that they’re not the center of the universe. That they live to help others. That we do exist as a community. That you have to be humble. And just because you believe it doesn’t mean it’s true.”
— Wade Davis

“Young people have to learn that there’s something bigger than themselves that they need to be loyal to. And that’s not necessarily a country, it’s a concept. It’s the idea of community.”
— Wade Davis

“When the people say, ‘The plants teach us,’ I’m quite prepared at this point in my life to take them at their word.”
— Wade Davis

“Our parents said, ‘Don’t take these things, you’ll never come back the same.’ And they didn’t understand that was the entire point of the exercise. We didn’t want to come back the same. We wanted to come back transformed.”
— Wade Davis


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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9 Replies to “Famed Explorer Wade Davis — How to Become the Architect of Your Life, The Divine Leaf of Immortality, Rites of Passage, Voodoo Demystified, Optimism as the Purpose of Life, How to Be a Prolific Writer, Psychedelics, Monetizing the Creativity of Your Life, and More (#652)”

  1. Thank you for introducing Wade Davis to me, and to anyone else, who was not aware of him. What a grand life he has lived! What valuable and fascinating insights, lessons and ideas he has to convey! I’m left pondering how it was possible that I’d not previously been made aware of his books & misadventures?! I’m so grateful to you Tim, for seeking out knowledge in others and sharing it with us!

  2. I really want to follow this eating plan, but beans and lentils give me migraines. Chickpeas are ok. Any other slow carbs you recommend as a substitute? Thanks!

  3. Hi Tim & Co. – I listen to about a dozen podcasts many belonging to guests you’ve had on The Tim Ferrris Show but, these last two episodes Bill Gurley & Wade Davis back to back are the reason your Pod lives in it’s own category “Bravo” Sir! The best case of mental whiplash I could wish for…

  4. Hey Tim,
    This guy is way above my pay grade. You will need to interview a black hole, the galactic repository of all knowledge, to top this one. Idea. Shut down the podcast for a year, just interview this guy every episode, and maybe,just maybe, we can get to finish all of the material presented here. Holy cow.

  5. Difficult to put it in words, because I still can find the word or maybe there is no words that could describe the feeling. The only word I can find is thank you. Thank you for sharing these knowledge so profoundly needed. I think I’m missing the “How to become a prolific writer” part…haha

  6. Simply remarkable conversation. What an incredible life and stories. This one tops the charts. Thanks so much Tim for bringing Wade Davis into your podcast.

  7. Hi Tim- I have a question! I haven’t gotten through all the Matthew Walker interview so forgive me if the answer to this question is in that interview some where. Do you know if ingesting coca leaves, either by chewing them or through tea, interferes with sleep in any way? I just gave up caffeine because I want to sleep better but I am certainly missing the energizing aspect, especially in the morning. But I don’t want to turn to another plant that interferes with sleep. A quick google search did not answer my question.

    My favorite quote from this interview was, “Do what needs to be done and only then ask if it’s permissible or possible.” It’s really empowering when thinking about shrugging off social conventions and conditioning that hold you back from your life’s true purpose. Thank you. Meredith

  8. Truly incredible interview. This one was skipped over by many but the density of insights, thoughtfulness, and utter range of everything covered was spectacular. Articulate and thought-provoking, he should definitely return to the podcast at some point.