Danny Nemu, M.Sc Life Sciences with History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine, Santo Daime UK, Interfaith Alliance UK
Introduction: Fertile areas for the scientific study of ayahuasca have opened up recently due to advances in neuroimaging, psychological models and methodologies, and new perspectives from the growing field of mindfulness studies. Traditional taboos and recommendations which have guided indigenous ayahuasca use for centuries are studied in detail by anthropologists; but their effect (or otherwise) have not been tested in the vast majority of biomedical research projects. Why, for example, when many shamans consider moon phase and menstrual cycle to be important, have none of the neuroimaging and EEG studies to date attempted to correlate these factors with amplitude or site of action in the brain, or standardized methodologies with respect to them? Why, when sexual dietas and other dietas are almost ubiquitous in the indigenous world, do psychological researchers not investigate whether there is any therapeutic advantage in observing dietas, or collect data on sexual activity in the days before ayahuasca ingestion? Methods: By studying the scientific investigation of novel and exotic therapies in the 19th century, and drawing parallels with current lab and clinical practice, we can begin to make sense of some of the blind spots in todayʼs scientific methods of inquiry. This presentation considers the tools of analysis employed by doctors studying traditional Chinese herbalism in Australia, and the framework of understanding with which the members of the Royal Society investigated Mesmeric amputation in Europe. Conclusions:
There are taboos in the jungle, which may or may not be mere superstitions, and taboos in the academy around legitimizing superstition. There are also technical difficulties involved in studying complex sets of factors. Researchers might profit from giving serious consideration to taboos and limitations, both of the cultural matrix of the target of their studies, and also of their own methods of investigation. We also might learn from traditional lore in devising therapies for disorders such as PTSD and depression which clinical medicine treats with limited success.