Why should we care about the Yawanawa?
The nature of the human mind is one of mankind's enduring riddles. While we have increasingly refined theories how certain tasks such as recognizing an object may be accomplished by the nervous system we are still very much in the dark when it comes to phenomenon of conscious experience. Our first person view of the world is difficult to investigate by experimental scientific methods. The simple reason is that we can only be assured of our own conscious awareness.
Whether anything else be it a fellow human, a stone or a molecule is aware can only be assessed by communicating with this system and inquiring about its perception of the world. This may not be possible in the first place when it comes to objects such as a stone and limits us essentially to find out how other humans see the world. But even in this case as philosophers have known since long the necessary communication may not provide the faithful transmission of the first person view required. So while it may be very well be the case that all physical matter is experiential we may have no direct way of assessing whether this is true.
But there is at least one sound way how we can study a broader range of phenomena involving conscious experience. This is by altering our own perceptual apparatus via neuropharmacological substances. This is where the expertise of the Yawanawa comes in. Their culture has always revered altered states of consciousness brought about by the multitude of sacramental plants their shamans have studied. Living right inside the world's largest pharmacy they possess comprehensive knowledge of how to safely journey into worlds few westerners have experienced.
Almost anyone who had the opportunity to experience the sacred spaces opened by medicines such as Ayahuasca will be in awe of the experience and it is likely to profoundly affect their world view. The knowledge of how to safely use the entheogenic plants of the Amazonian rainforest should be regarded as a world cultural heritage and it deserves to be protected. It may take another generation before we may be able to integrate first hand experiences made in psychedelic states with a more scientific worldview. But we are in danger of losing many of these tools to explore consciousness long before we fully appreciate their value.
Helping the Yawanawa preserve their heritage that is the knowledge of the medicinal plants as well the biotopes they depend on will help mankind preserve an invaluable set of methods to study the phenomenon of consciousness.
For more information on the Yawanawa Project, click here.