“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 (@wadedavisofficial, daviswade.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 River, The Wayfinders, Into the Silence, and Magdalena. His photographs have been widely exhibited and have appeared in 37 books and 130 magazines, including National Geographic, Time, Geo, People, Men’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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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.
What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.
SCROLL BELOW FOR LINKS AND SHOW NOTES…
SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE
- Connect with Wade Davis:
- The Serpent and the Rainbow: A Harvard Scientist’s Astonishing Journey into the Secret Societies of Haitian Voodoo, Zombis, and Magic by Wade Davis | Amazon
- The Serpent and the Rainbow | Prime Video
- One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rain Forest by Wade Davis | Amazon
- The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World by Wade Davis | Amazon
- Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest by Wade Davis | Amazon
- Magdalena: River of Dreams: A Story of Colombia by Wade Davis | Amazon
- Light at the Edge of the World: A Journey Through the Realm of Vanishing Cultures by Wade Davis | Amazon
- Wade Davis: Photographs by Wade Davis | Amazon
- Light at the Edge of the World | YouTube
- El Sendero De La Anaconda | Netflix
- Wade Davis TED Talks | YouTube
- Archives: CBC Massey Lectures | CBC Radio
- The Ice Maiden | NEH Essentials
- Humans Are All More Closely Related Than We Commonly Think | Scientific American
- Hōkūleʻa | Polynesian Voyaging Society
- Marine Chronometers: Clocks Which Changed the Course of Globalization | My Modern Met
- The Lapita People | Amura World
- Dead Reckoning | Wikipedia
- Kogi People of Colombia | Atlas of Humanity
- The Culture of the Wiwa, an Indigenous Colombian Tribe in the Sierra Nevada | Culture Trip
- Arhuaco | Minority Rights Group
- Kankuamo | Minority Rights Group
- Tairona Heritage Trust
- Aluna: An Ecological Warning from the Kogi People
- Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) | FSI
- The Arhuacos: A Message from the Mamos, the Prophets of the Sierra Nevada | Pulitzer Center
- Erythroxylum Novogranatense | Wikipedia
- Erythroxylum Coca | Wikipedia
- Mambe Medicine Coca | Alma Healing Center
- Ypadu | Wikipedia
- Origins of Coca: Museum Genomics Reveals Multiple Independent Domestications from Progenitor Erythroxylum Gracilipes | Systematic Biology
- Coca Leaf: Myths and Reality | Transnational Institute
- A Review of How Prohibition Conditioned the Course of Colombia’s History | MamaCoca
- Weed of the Month: Jimson Weed | Brooklyn Botanic Garden
- Tetrodotoxin (TTX) | Encyclopedia MDPI
- Medicine: Zombies: Do They Exist? | Time
- Does the Haitian Criminal Code Outlaw Making Zombies? | In Custodia Legis: Law Librarians of Congress
- How to Make a Zombie (Seriously) | Live Science
- The Tonton Macoutes: The Central Nervous System of Haiti’s Reign of Terror | COHA
- West African Vodun | Wikipedia
- Haitian Vodou | Wikipedia
- African Diaspora Religions | Wikipedia
- Jan. 1, 1804: Haitian Independence | Zinn Education Project
- Toxic Toad, Known as Bufo, Cane, Marine, or Giant Toad | ENNDS
- Museum of Comparative Zoology | Harvard University
- From Russia, with Love by Ian Fleming | Amazon
- Dr. No: A Novel by Ian Fleming | Amazon
- D-Tubocurarine | American Chemical Society
- The Appealing and Potentially Lethal Delicacy That Is Fugu | The New York Times
- Masonic Symbolism in Haitian Vodou | Argentvive
- Acute Poisoning Due to Ingestion of Datura Stramonium – A Case Report | Romanian Journal of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care
- Scopolamine: World’s Scariest Drug (Documentary Exclusive) | Vice
- Aguaruna | Atlas of Humanity
- Xavante | Indigenous Peoples in Brazil
- Xerente | Indigenous Peoples in Brazil
- Advancing Indigenous Peoples’ Rights & Cultures Worldwide Since 1972 | Cultural Survival
- Boasian Anthropology | Wikipedia
- The 8 Most Important Voodoo Gods | Learn Religions
- Maloca | Wikipedia
- Gitxsan Nation | American Museum of Natural History
- Wade Davis ’71 | Brentwood College School
- Courage Is the Most Important Virtue, Says Writer and Civil Rights Activist Maya Angelou at Convocation | Cornell Chronicle
- Apollo 8: Earthrise | NASA
- The Problem of Evil | Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Rite of Passage | Wikipedia
- Brutal Rite of Passage: Why Do They Endure ‘Sucking Up Pain’ and Mind Games? The Lure of Being in the Military’s Most Elite Commando Force | Los Angeles Times
- The Power of Myth — The Hero’s Adventure with Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers | The Tim Ferriss Show #456
- Spatsizi Plateau Wilderness Provincial Park | BC Parks
- Go Haida Gwaii
- About Clearcutting | Sierra Club
- Tap-Taps | Travel Adventures
- Our Territory | Tahltan Central Government
- Smithsonian Folklife Festival
- Opinion: Should Young Americans Be Required to Give a Year of Service? | The New York Times
- Inside the Darién Gap, One of the World’s Most Dangerous Jungles | The Manual
- Wade Davis on the Art of Exploring | Financial Times
- Looking into Black Jaguar’s Eyes | Polish Dr. Dolittle
- What’s the Difference Between Ayahuasca and Yagé? | Psychable
- Ayahuasca Ceremonies in Peru | Ayahuasca Foundation
- The Yagé Letters by William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg | Amazon
- Colombia’s Countercultures: The Beat Generation’s Bad Trip | Colombia Reports
- Keynote Speech: The Ethnosphere and the Academy by Wade Davis | Where There Be Dragons
- Myth and Metaphor: Managing Nature in the Colombian Amazon by Wade Davis | ReVista
- Diplopterys Cabrerana | Wikipedia
- Curare – A Curative Poison: A Scientometric Analysis | PLoS One
- Useful Plants of the Siona and Secoya Indians of Eastern Ecuador by William T. Vickers and Timothy Plowman
- What is Aboriginal Dreamtime? | Artlandish
- Echinopsis Pachanoi (San Pedro Cactus) | Wikipedia
- Lines and Geoglyphs of Nasca and Palpa | UNESCO World Heritage Centre
- ‘What Does It Mean to Be Human?’: Wade Davis and the Spirit of Diversity | The Leader
- Tobacco and Shamanism in South America by Johannes Wilbert | Amazon
- Giving Dogs Psychedelics: Practices in Indigenous Tribes | Reality Sandwich
- The Palm and the Pleiades: Initiation and Cosmology in Northwest Amazonia by Stephen Hugh-Jones | Amazon
- From the Milk River: Spatial and Temporal Processes in Northwest Amazonia by Christine Hugh-Jones | Amazon
- A Staple Starch: Cassava, Manioc & Yuca | Kitchn
- Psychedelics 101: Books, Documentaries, Podcasts, Science, and More | Tim Ferriss
- Set and Setting: Why Preparation Matters | DoubleBlind
- Q&A: What Is the Vedic Tradition? | Yoga International
- Ranking the Beatles’ Albums in Order of Greatness | Far Out
- The Complete I Ching | Amazon
- Psychedelics May Lessen Fear of Death and Dying, Similar to Feelings Reported by Those Who’ve Had Near Death Experiences | Johns Hopkins Medicine
- 42nd Street (Original Cast Recording) | Amazon
- The Rucksack Man by Sebastian Snow | Amazon
- The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell | Amazon
- The Swooper/Basher Dichotomy | Steven R. Southard
- Rongbuk Monastery | Wikipedia
- The Synthetic Rubber Project | The Library of Congress
- Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45 by Max Hastings | Amazon
- [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.
MORE WADE DAVIS QUOTES FROM THE INTERVIEW
“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
- Martin Luther King Jr.
- Claude Lévi-Strauss
- Dr. Jane Goodall
- Robert D. Ballard
- Sylvia A. Earle
- Johan Reinhard
- Dr. Mark Plotkin
- Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff
- Juan Manuel Santos
- Carolina Barco
- Danilo Villafañe
- René Descartes
- Mamo Camilo Izquierdo
- Timothy Plowman
- Richard Evans Schultes
- Andrew Weil
- James A. Duke
- Nathan S. Kline
- Heinz Lehmann
- Lamarque Douyon
- Clairvius Narcisse
- Albert Schweitzer
- Marcel Pierre
- François Duvalier
- Baron Samedi
- Max Beauvoir
- Ian Fleming
- Herard Simon
- William Vargas
- David Maybury-Lewis
- Pia Maybury-Lewis
- Franz Boas
- Terence McKenna
- Jim Whittaker
- Isidoro Cabrera
- Maya Angelou
- Joseph Campbell
- Papa Legba
- Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez
- Sebastian Snow
- William S. Burroughs
- Allen Ginsberg
- Romi Kumu
- Johannes Wilbert
- Stephen Hugh-Jone
- Christine Hugh-Jones
- Charles Baudelaire
- Richard M. Nixon
- Timothy Leary
- Richard Alpert / Ram Dass
- The Beatles
- John Lennon
- George Harrison
- Randy Borman
- Gary Snyder
- Peter Matthiessen
- David Merrick
- E.O. Wilson
- Ernest Hemingway
- Karen Blixen / Isak Dinesen
- Lawrence Durrell
- Alejo Carpentier
- Barbara W. Tuchman
- Leonard Bernstein
- Jimmy Page
- Jeff Beck
- Jerry Garcia
- Jimi Hendrix
- Dennis McKenna
- Kurt Vonnegut
- Samuel Johnson
- Dzatrul Rinpoche
- David McCullough
- Diana Manners
- Max Hastings
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