in Ethnobotany, all from Harvard University. Mostly through the Harvard Botanical Museum, he spent more than three years in the Amazon Basin and Andes as a plant explorer, living among 15 indigenous groups in eight Latin American nations while making some 6,000 botanical collections. Davis's 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 (1985), and Passage of Darkness (1988). The first was an international best-seller, which appeared in 10 languages and was later adapted by Universal Studios into a 1988 horror film that Davis despises.
The second reprints material from the first, and is primarily about the theories of how zombies are made, while the first is the story of the investigation. He is author of eight other books, including One River, in which he follows in the footsteps of his mentor, Harvard ethnobotanist Dr. Richard Evans Schultes. Davis is a citizen of Canada, Ireland and the United States. He has worked as a guide, park ranger and forestry engineer. He has conducted ethnographic fieldwork among several indigenous societies of northern Canada.
He has published scientific and popular articles on subjects ranging from Haitian Vodou and Amazonian myth and religion to the global biodiversity crisis, the traditional use of psychoactive drugs, and the ethnobotany of South American indigenous peoples. His discussions of drugs such as the Amazonian entheogenic brew ayahuasca reveal how some human uses of psychoactive substances can be profound and culturally enriching. A research associate of the Institute of Economic Botany of the New York Botanical Garden, Davis is also a board member of the David Suzuki Foundation, Ecotrust, Future Generations, and Cultural Survival—-all NGOs dedicated to conservation-based development and the protection of cultural and biological diversity. Recently his work has taken him to Peru, Borneo, Tibet, the high Arctic, the Orinoco Delta of Venezuela and northern Kenya. Davis's television credits include Earthguide, a 13-part television series on the environment, which he hosted and co-wrote.
He hosted the National Geographic Channel and History Television series Light at the Edge of The World. He also wrote for the documentaries Spirit of the Mask, Cry of the Forgotten People, and Forests Forever. Davis is an outspoken conservationist and belongs to many non-governmental organizations that work to preserve biological and cultural diversity. He appeared in the IMAX documentary film Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk, promoting water conservation. In 2009 Davis delivered a series of talks for the CBC Massey Lectures entitled The Wayfinders, which has also been published as a book under the same name. Davis contributed to the book, We Are One: A Celebration of Tribal Peoples, which explores cultures around the world, and the threats they face. The book includes writings from Laurens van der Post, Noam Chomsky, and Claude Lévi-Strauss, as well as indigenous peoples, such as Davi Kopenawa Yanomami and Roy Sesana.
In January 2010, Davis was the Schwartz Visiting Fellow of the Pomfret School in Connecticut In 1983, Davis first advanced his hypothesis that tetrodotoxin (TTX) poisoning could explain the existence of Haitian zombies.This idea has been controversial and his popular 1985 follow up book (The Serpent and the Rainbow) elaborating upon this claim has been criticized for a number of scientific inaccuracies. One of these is the suggestion that Haitian witchdoctors can keep “zombies” in a state of pharmacologically induced trance for many years. As part of his Haitian investigations, Davis commissioned a grave robbery of a recently buried child. (Dead human tissue is supposed to be a part of the “zombie powder” used by witchdoctors to produce zombies.) This has been criticized in the professional literature as a breach of ethics. The strictly scientific criticism of Davis’ zombie project has focused on the claims about the chemical composition of the “zombie powder”.
Several samples of the powder were analyzed for TTX levels by experts in 1986. They reported that only “insignificant traces of tetrodotoxin [were found] in the samples of ‘zombie powder’ which were supplied for analysis by Davis” and that “it can be concluded that the widely circulated claim in the lay press to the effect that tetrodotoxin is the causal agent in the initial zombification process is without factual foundation”. Davis’ claims were subsequently defended by other scientists doing further analyses and these findings were criticized in turn for poor methodology and technique by the original skeptics. Aside from the question of whether or not “zombie powder” contains significant amounts of TTX, the underlying concept of “tetrodotoxin zombification” has also been questioned more directly on a physiological basis.
TTX, which blocks sodium channels on the neural membrane, produces numbness, slurred speech, and possibly paralysis or even respiratory failure and death in severe cases. It is not known to produce the trance-like or “mental slave” state typical of zombies in Haitian mythology, or Davis’ descriptions. Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..
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