Laura's Reviews > The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge

The Cosmic Serpent by Jeremy Narby
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's review
Aug 15, 11

Read in August, 2011

This was a winner. Exactly the right balance between scholarship and accessibility. Almost half the book is made up of end notes and bibliography, and Dr. Narby is brave, cautious, and eloquent stating his thesis: that it is possible, and even likely, that DNA is sentient. Since he's a vetted scientist, this is no easy claim to make. Nor does he rely except but for a fraction of the book on his own experience with Ayahuasca, which is very limited, and one of the few things that I would have liked to see differently in the book. He comes by his thesis combining studies in a number of disciplines, from biochemistry to comparative mythology to his own field of anthropology, etc. I especially liked his criticism of the fact that scientist termed that part of DNA that we do not understand with the pejorative term "junk DNA." He said, "This is cowboy science." We shoot first, then ask questions. He would have liked to see that aspect of it termed "mystery DNA" as that would admit the truth of it: which is that scientists really do not understand how the brain works, nor certainly even less do they understand DNA.

I loved how he talked about the 250,000 species of plants in the Western Amazon and how the fact that native Amazonians were able to put together the right three plants out of these 250,000 to create a substance now called in pharmacology curare. Scientists chalk this up to "random" luck, even though in the particular case of curare, not only is the combination of plants exactly the right kind to create a drug that will kill the prey, but not poison its meat, and also relax the muscles so that, say, if a money is shot it will wrap its tail around a tree branch and the hunter will have to climb the tree to get it. To make this drug one must cook it for a period of 72 hours exactly, and also not be anywhere near the boiling pot, as its fumes are extremely toxic and will kill if inhaled. But according to scientists, the fact that Amazonians have taught themselves how to do this is pure luck. Some luck! But examples of such random luck abound in the Amazon and the pharmaceutical industry, though quick to disparage its source, is also quick to capitalize on these drugs and their multiple uses in Western medicine.

Too much to list here, but I annotated about half of it: there just was so much in it to make one think.
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