from Boulder Camera - February 13, 2000
"Back off man, I'm a scientist." This bumper sticker has
been percolating in my brain for many years. Here's why.
Science supposedly tells us why things are the way they
are. However, science isn't value-free. Numerous prejudices are embedded
in scientific training and thinking. Scientists, as humans, have
individual agendas -- personal, social, economical, and political.
I'm a scientist. I study animal behavior and am
interested in the health and integrity of individuals, populations,
species, and ecosystems. I love what I do; it's fun. Because I have a
utopian dream of reconnecting humans with the souls, spirits and hearts
of other humans, other animals (anima = soul), and with inanimate
landscapes, and because I'm a sentimentalist, some think my science is
flawed -- too "soft," too subjective, not impersonal. I believe science
should be more open to individual's world views. There's so many diverse
problems it's unlikely there's only one sound scientific method.
Historically, scientists have been placed on pedestals
by non-scientists and scientists themselves. Scientists were trusted,
their autonomy and authority unquestioned. Most worked in a safe,
insulated microcosm. Those who questioned science were considered
anti-intellectual, perhaps Luddites. After all, scientists busily
discover cures for countless diseases, the structure of the human
genome, how to make weapons for global destruction, ways to get to the
moon and elsewhere, how to generate and process information faster, how
to engineer better food, how animals behave, and how nature works. Alas,
how to make our lives longer and presumably better. And indeed science
has chalked up innumerable successes. But it can do better.
Nowadays more people, including some scientists,
question science. Non-scientists are more aware and inquisitive, but
aren't anti-intellectual. Rather, many feel science hasn't delivered.
They're also concerned with the politics, economics (rush for patents,
financial gains), and arrogance of science. Indeed, scientists make
errors, and it's our fallibility that keeps science afloat. Increasingly
science isn't seen as a self-justifying activity, but as another
institution whose claims on the public treasury must be defended.
What about science and nature? While we've learned much
about nature, one reason traditional science often falls short is that
it fragments the world. Reductionistic science dissects, disembodies,
and splits wholes into parts. It produces linear, mechanistic views of
the universe and objectifies and devalues animals and nature. Science
reduces the dynamic multidimensionality of our interactions with nature
into static, dimensionless flatlands, rather than stimulating the
understanding and appreciation of variegated landscapes. However, we
aren't very good at reassembling wholes -- reconstructing Humpty Dumpty.
We often discover wholes are greater than the sum of their parts and
we're unable to understand how whole systems emerge from complex
interdependent interactions among their constituents. Laudably, the
National Science Foundation now supports a program in biocomplexity.
Macroecology and the Biosphere project are good examples of large scale
Reductionist science also misrepresents the world. This
has serious consequences for the quality of knowledge we gather and for
how we interact in and with nature. Reductionism promotes alienation,
isolation, and disconnection. It forces a separation between the seer
and the seen -- a false dualism. Science often makes nature less magical
and impedes our truly sensing, feeling, and understanding the scope of
the amazing world within which we live.
Holistic and more heart-driven science is needed, deep
science that's infused with spirit and compassion. Holistic heart-felt
science reinforces a sense of togetherness and relationship, family and
community, and awe. It fosters the development of deep and reciprocal
friendships among humans, animals, and other nature. It helps us
resonate with nature's radiance and lessens our tendency to think,
egocentrically, that we're at the center of everything. Geologian (the
term means student of earths processes) Thomas Berry, author of "The
Dream of the Earth," stresses we should strive for a benign presence in
nature. Native Americans are proud to claim that "animals are all our
relations." Animals and inanimate landscapes need to speak for
themselves. Trees need love too.
I often wonder what science might have become had its
history not distanced and elevated humans from nature. My own idealistic
dream is to live in a world in which humans perceive themselves as a
part of nature and not apart from her, a world in which humans whose
spirits have been robbed or squelched by living amongst steel, concrete,
asphalt, noise, and a multitude of invasions of their private space
reconnect with other humans and raw nature - with the fragrances of wild
flowers, and the sounds, sights, odors, and touch of other animals and
inanimate environs; a world in which sensing is feeling. We're an
integral part of nature, one with nature, and have unique
responsibilities to her. We must take care when we try to redecorate
nature. Nature has much to offer when we open our hearts to her
boundless and breathtaking splendor. She's our unconditional friend and
reconnecting can help overcome alienation and loneliness.
We need to reinforce creative, passionate, and bold
dreaming, and resist narrow thinking that claims there's only one way to
do "good" science. Allowing individual idiosyncrasies, interdisciplinary
collaborations, holism, and heart to inspire science will make it more
exciting, creative, attractive to students. All scientists should be
open to this. But some still resist the notion that science is
value-laden and some don't want to impregnate science with feeling.
Nonetheless, the Nobel prize winning geneticist, Barbara McClintock,
stressed that scientists should have a feeling for the organism with
which they worked, and she worked on corn!
Questioning science will help insure that we won't
repeat past mistakes, that we'll move towards a world in which humans
and other animals share peaceably the beneficence of nature. Magnificent
nature -- the cacophony of her deep and rich sensuality -- will be
respected, cherished, and loved.
Marc Bekoff teaches in Environmental, Population, and
Organismic Biology at CU-Boulder.
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