Thursday, January 16, 2014

Nature as Other asks experts an annual question and publishes the responses.  This year's question -- "What scientific idea is ready for retirement?"-- makes for a great read (see link here ). Scott Sampson of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science responded with "Nature = Objects", hitting on a point that I tried to discuss in a recent blog post: the problem of detachment from nature.  Science, he says, is a culprit:

"One of the most prevalent ideas in science is that nature consists of objects. Of course the very practice of science is grounded in objectivity. We objectify nature so that we can measure it, test it, and study it, with the ultimate goal of unraveling its secrets. Doing so typically requires reducing natural phenomena to their component parts. Most zoologists, for example, think of animals in terms of genes, physiologies, species, and the like."

This process of reductionism is an essential component of scientific inquiry.  However, according to Sampson, this reinforces the Western sense that nature is other, that we are removed from it and unrelated to it.   Our detachment from nature, reinforced by scientific reductionist study, is to blame for a very tangible problem, according to Sampson: our unsustainable relationship with nature.

"...More so than at any point in the history of science, it's time to extend this subject-object duality to at least the nonhuman life forms with which we share this world...Why? Because much of our unsustainable behavior can be traced to a broken relationship with nature, a perspective that treats the nonhuman world as a realm of mindless, unfeeling objects. Sustainability will almost certainly depend upon developing mutually enhancing relations between humans and nonhuman nature. Yet why would we foster such sustainable relations unless we care about the natural world?"

What does this have to do with evolution?  Well, a worldview that objectifies nature is also likely to place humanity outside of nature, detached from it. "Other". Perhaps "better". America's near-majority rejection of human evolution-- another symptom of seeing nature as "other"-- is a wholly preventable ignorance, and it betrays our "broken relationship with nature".  Buy the ticket, take the ride-- considering our place in the natural world can color and enrich everything we do.  Perhaps this is what Buddhism is on about with Interconnectedness.  
Or, perhaps the Germans have a word for this overwhelming sense of oneness with nature, but it's 24 letters long and defies translation. 
You can read the rest of Sampson's post at, about 10-15% down the page.  

No comments:

Post a Comment