Charles Foster is an English writer, a traveler, a veterinarian, a taxidermist, a barrister, and a philosopher. Like my previous guest Steven Kotler, he believes in getting deep into subjects in a very immersive and experiential way. In his earlier book called Being a Beast, Charles shares his experiences of trying to live as an otter, a badger, a stagg, a fox and other animals and birds, all in order to better understand what being a wild animal is really like. His latest book is called Being a Human, where he and his 13-year-old son live in the wilderness as Paleolithic hunter gatherers to really understand what it means to be human.
Charles rolls up his sleeves and puts himself into the shoes of our ancestors going back many thousands of years. And when asked why he bothers to drag himself and his children off into caves, he answers as follows: because I don’t trust books, and you get a wholly different kind of knowledge by doing and feeling things. So this is a man trying to be a better human, a better father, a better son, a better husband, a man who dives deep into a subject in order to enhance his understanding of arguably the most important topic that faces us all. He’s a traveler through time and space. Being a Human is a travel book, essentially, about traveling across generations, and Charles’s curiosity is infectious.
What We Cover:
- [5:09] – How Charles landed on such a diverse range of professional activities
- [10:00] – Why writing Being a Human was much harder than writing Being a Beast
- [19:06] – What Charles Foster learned by experiencing the hunter-gatherers’ way of life
- [25:00] – Desouling and the big changes humanity experienced in the Neolithic period
- [38:23] – Shamanism and why we lost the ability to perceive the world in a “mystical” way
- [45:13] – What it means to be a proper father and a proper son
Key Takeaways and Quotes from Charles Foster:
- Trying to get into the heads of ancient humans is very difficult. Even ancient humans can lie to us, it’s part of their complexity. The cave paintings are not always telling a straightforward story.
- It’s a shame that an almost mystical way of looking at the world, given to us by physics, is not imported into the biological world which we inhabit.
- The desperate quest for a right story is behind all this political, economical, and ecological mess we live in today.
Resources and Links Mentioned:
- Being a Human: Adventures in Forty Thousand Years of Consciousness by Charles Foster
- Being a Beast: Adventures Across the Species Divide by Charles Foster
- Connect with Charles Foster
- The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen
- The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art by David Lewis-Williams
Other Popular Interviews on OutsideVoices:
- Steven Kotler: Getting Younger with Age – Mindsets for Boosting Learning and Flow
- Kevin Kelly: Raising the Bar – Excellent Advice, AI’s for Better Living
- Wade Davis: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in Today’s World
- Benedict Allen – Exploring Cultures