Joseph Mays
MSc student

Visionary Plants and Thinking Forests in Biocultural Conservation (Exploring ontology in human-environment relationships in the Amazon)

Amazonian shamanic traditions involving ingestion of psychedelic plants often produce effective biomedical remedies, among a host of other valuable resources. Despite ontological disjunction, Western science benefits from ethnopharmacological discoveries generated by the very societies whose subjective experiences are dismissed and whose environment is degraded. The resulting interplay between ontology, conservation, and visionary plant-use has implications for adaptations to cultural-environmental change. A proper exploration beyond the nature-culture dichotomy, viewing forests as living networks, and a better understanding of indigenous traditions ensures the protection of valuable in situ resources of biocultural diversity and ecological knowledge.

Joseph Mays is an MSc Ethnobotany student at the University of Kent, writing a dissertation on the influences of scientific research on the indigenous inhabitants of the Biosphere Reserve “Oxapampa-Ashaninka-Yanesha” in Peru's Selva Central. He earned bachelor's degrees in Biology and Anthropology at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he conducted ethnographic work with the Highland Maya in Guatemala. After he interned at an ecological reserve in the Ecuadorian cloud forest where he completed an ethnobotanical survey and wrote a medicinal plant identification guide, he worked as a teaching assistant in anthropology as well as vertebrate natural history at his alma mater.

Joseph enjoys studying the multiplicity of unique symbiotic relationships in nature’s various ecosystems, learning about the interconnected lives of all creatures—from the smallest microbe to the tallest tree. His work seeks to communicate different perspectives and illustrate the potential of Anthropology as a psychedelic science to cross boundaries and deepen understandings between differing ontologies and disciplines, thereby strengthening efforts at biocultural conservation and improving human-environment relationships.

He spent several years working in commercial horticulture, practicing permaculture and tropical food production, and continues to be an active musician and visual artist while pursuing his Master's degree.