Saturday, April 5, 2014

Science can't save us

Enveloping Patterns of Nature
Along the edge of Jenness Pond 4/2/14
CC Jean Stimmell
I recently wrote about the movie Melancholia,1 pointing out  how science has no magic answers when natural catastrophe strikes. Mark Bittman recently made the same point in the aftermath of the new, alarming UN report2 about the calamitous  reality of climate change, saying:

Science “will not build a big umbrella that will reflect all that excess sun back into space; “they” will not compress and suck all that carbon underground; “they” will not release the secret plans for nuclear fusion “they’ve” been hiding.”3

It’s magical thinking to believe otherwise.

This idea that science will save us is a mindset that began with the scientific revolution after Galileo “discovered” that the earth is not the center of the universe, challenging our old religious sensibilities. The transformation is now complete: although we give lip service to religion, it is now science who is our god, the go-to one who provides meaning to our life by mesmerizing us with an endless stream of new technology and toys, fooling us into believing that with the help of science we can control our destiny.

Fritjof Capra,4 influential physicist and systems theorist, is quick to challenge that assumption, pointing out that while empirical science has produced great triumphs, the most fundamental questions of life still remain unexplored and unanswered. In the field of molecular biology, for instance, “biologists still know very little about how we breathe or how a wound heals or how an embryo develops into an organism.”

Capra says science today is looking for ‘the essence of life’ in the wrong places by focusing on breaking things into smaller and smaller parts. Sure, this approach has lead to miraculous gadgets and stupendous technology, but the true essence of life keeps receding into the distance like a mirage in the desert; scientists are losing their way in an attempt to count how many quacks can dance on a electron accelerator – as fruitless as a monolithic, one-god religion, attempting to count how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Instead, Capra says, we need to shift to a different kind of science that, up until now, has been given short shrift: a holistic science which finds meaning not by tearing things apart but by, instead in how they fit together:

 “As I said, when you study pattern, you need to map the pattern, whereas the study of substance is the study of quantities that can be measured. The study of pattern, or of form, is the study of quality, which requires visualizing and mapping…This is a very important aspect of studying patterns, and it is the reason why, every time the study of pattern was in the forefront, artists contributed significantly to the advancement of science. Perhaps the two most famous examples are Leonardo da Vinci, whose scientific life was a study of pattern, and the German poet Goethe in the eighteenth century, who made significant contributions to biology through his study of pattern. This is very important to us as parents and educators, because the study of pattern comes naturally to children; to visualize pattern, to draw pattern, is natural.”

This attention to pattern, this study of quality, which requires visualizing and mapping, is essential to our survival in the age of climate change.

It is through the study of patterns that we discover the whole: we discover what our bodies and unconscious self have always known: the ecosystems within our body interrelate with a myriad of surrounding ecosystems, human and more than human, all together forming an indivisible whole.

That’s the true essence of things: Not tearing things apart but learning to interconnect seamlessly as part of the whole. As Capra says, “All of the coordinating activities of life can only be grasped when life is understood as a self-organizing network…[These] systems working together, all parts of an indivisible whole, that is the very essence of life.”

What we need to do is go back to the future!

 The type of science Capra is talking has been a part of us since the first human being strode forth on the earth: our innate ability to live seamlessly within the rhythms of nature and our living, breathing mother earth. It’s in our genes. And it has a name: Sustainability.

“The law of gravity, as you know, was formalized by Galileo and Newton, but people knew about stepping off cliffs long before Galileo and Newton. Similarly, people knew about the laws of sustainability long before ecologists in the twentieth century began to discover them. In fact, what I’m going to talk about today is nothing that a ten-year-old Navajo boy or Hopi girl who grew up in a traditional Native American community would not understand and know.”
The choice is ours: to perish in a world we view as inanimate, a commodity to be exploited and picked apart for profit – or to come together as one to celebrate the sacredness of our living-breathing Mother Earth and to work heroically to save Her – and us.

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