This is a draft of an essay I was working on a couple of years ago and never did anything with.
Here. It’s yours now.
Scientists are just now figuring out the medicinal properties of Ayahuasca. They are dissecting in a lab what shaman have known since before science. When asked how they came up with the brew, the shaman say plants told them how to make it. Five bucks says the scientists won’t believe that until a dedicated bunch of ethnobotanists come to an agreement that plants communicate through root systems in the dirt with people via nerve receptors in their feet. I’m just making that explanation up, but you get the point.
It’s the height of arrogance for you, the student, to pick and choose what to believe about the advanced knowledge you’re given of the thing you’re studying. Perhaps the shaman, who has been around longer than the scientist, knows a thing or two missing from science: namely that you cannot divorce the subject from the object. There is communication; there is meaning. These are as much a part of the universe as mathematical laws.
The White-guy version of history tells us we’re rising up out of the muck of ignorance. These forest savages are a relic of what we used to be before we killed the forests and turned their carcasses into houses and furniture. You know… before we became civilized? Why should we listen to them about the origins of Ayahuasca simply because they invented it? They are, after all, anthropomorphizing future tables and chairs and sofa beds.
I think if you’re going to the noble savage as a student you might want to rethink both of your places in the world.
Two-year-olds think they rule everything. And when they get mad at their parents, they blurt out the worst thing they can imagine: “I hate you!” And the parent, if not abusive, takes the abuse and teaches them, grows them out of being selfish, cruel toddlers because they have wisdom. Wisdom enough to know who the adult in the room is. Wisdom to see the aliveness of all beings, not just the ones who are convenient to what they desire at the moment because they falsely believe the world revolves around them and the biblical-adjacent story of their society’s destiny.
In order to grow into an adult, you need to talk to the plants, not just study their properties. Not just stamp your name on a “discovery” about them and tour the world on a lecture circuit where other closed-off toddlers listen to you and internalize the cold deadness of your autopsies. You need to talk to the plants. You need to internalize them, perhaps literally through Ayahuasca.
You, I, we need to understand all life as the sole universal mathematical symbol: equals.