In this beautiful TED talk, Wade Davis, anthropologist, ethnobotanist, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, author, documentarian, and photographer takes us on a tour through the wild ranges of the human imagination as manifested in the breadth of human mythology and cultural life. As members of the same human family we all share the same raw human genius and imagination, he reminds us, and while some have chosen to apply that to developing technologies, others have applied it to other mysteries of existence. Different ways of life and mythological systems are not failed attempts at being modern—at being us—but merely different human responses to the essential human questions: what does it mean to be human and alive.
"All peoples are simply cultural options, different visions of life, itself.... making for completely different possibilities of existence," he says. And as such, the breadth of human cultural variation is a treasure trove of imaginative insights and knowledge. If we discard our human diversity, we lose a hundred thousand years of accumulated knowledge and wisdom about ourselves and our planet. Modern western culture is hardly 300 years old, he cautions, and it's folly to imagine that in those 300 years we've learned as much as we need to face the challenges of living.
By way of example, he tells us about—and treats us to some stunning photography of—several completely different indigenous cultures from around the globe, including the following:
Polynesians, who can read wave patterns the way a forensic scientist reads fingerprints, enabling them to identify land that's far beyond the horizon. Wade suggests, "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."
Buddhists, who have spent 2500 years engaged in empirical discovery of the nature of mind.
Andean peoples, whose engineering prowess and intimate familiarity with their sacred mountainscapes guided the building of their great cities. Their ancient lore is alive today, enacted in ritual, including, for one tribal group, the annual performance of a breathtaking, high-altitude marathon—undertaken by boys who are pumped up on coca—that affirms the strength of their community.
(video 19 minutes) Here's more on Wade Davis at TED. Wade Davis is actively involved in educating people about the richness and value of human cultural diversity. To this end he maintains a website, Cultures on the Edge.