Reality at the far reaches of the world

Anthropologist and explorer Wade Davis gave a couple of inspiring talks to the TED conference on how the beliefs and traditions of different cultures fundamentally alter not only views about the world, but the experience of reality itself.

Both are fantastic, not only because Davis is a gripping speaker, but also because he highlights the sheer beauty and diversity of the world’s peoples and cultural practices – from Voodoo rituals in Haiti to the Inuit of Northern Canada.

The first explores cultures in some of the world’s harder to reach areas, while the second focuses on the diversity of belief and ritual across the planet.

Davis is perhaps best known for his early work on Voodoo, the process of zombification, and his discovery that the neurotoxin tetrodotoxin may be an essential part of the process.

This work was published in the scientific literature, but also in two well-known books, The Serpent and the Rainbow and Passage of Darkness.

Administration of tetrodotoxin is unlikely to be the sole explanation for zombification, however.

A 1997 paper in the medical journal Lancet reported on three cases, where what Western medicine would call mental illness and neurological impairment seemed to be present in three cases of people labelled zombies by locals in Haiti.

Anthropology is perhaps one of the smallest schools of human study, but, I think, one of the most important. It constantly reminds us that our way of seeing the world is firmly located in the culture that we live in, and that everything we understand is filtered through our own perspective.

Link to video of ‘Cultures at the far edge of the world’.
Link to video of ‘The worldwide web of belief and ritual’.
pdf of ‘Clinical findings in three cases of zombification’.

2 thoughts on “Reality at the far reaches of the world”

  1. Davis’ new TED talk is good but I think his earlier one is much better, some of the phrases he uses are simply great, he’s a gifted speaker. I actually just found out that he came to speak at my uni a few years ago and I completely missed it. 😦

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