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How science ‘just’ killed nature

January 30, 2012

The problem is in the interpretation. Science explains the way the world works and we haven’t responded very creatively. There’s this idea built in to the demystification that the universe isn’t magic anymore. That’s where the story went wrong. It’s not ‘just’ carbon-based life-forms, that ‘just’ evolved out of the amoebic oceans, that ‘just’ responded to their environments, that ‘just’ evolved to fill ecological niches, that ‘just’ inhabit a planet filled with water, air, land and life in a small solar system on the edges of an average galaxy that is a miniscule dot in an everexpanding, impossibly ginormous universe that is mostly void. It’s not ‘just’ that.

This way of interpreting scientific thinking demeans the miraculous mysterious impossible to imagine if it wasn’t already happening existence of life, beauty, and consciousness. The warm bodied, breathing mammals, making homes in the forest and grasslands of a haven of life wrapped in a delicate embrace of atmosphere, flying through space and holding together, jungles and butterflies and grass and those annoying little bugs that bite and scratch and dirt under the fingernails and … all that stuff.

In a lot of ways it is what we have done with science that forms the kernel of the problem. It’s no coincidence that the Industrial Revolution follows on directly from the Enlightenment; as soon as a whole lot of scientists and philosophers (sometimes the same people) proclaimed that we could figure out how the world worked on our terms, without recourse to religious traditions and superstitions, captains of industry stepped in and said “Cool! That’ll be for profit then.” When demystification is accompanied by a motive to carve up and exchange the earth for coin, any chance for a widespread conception of a sacred earth is instantly diminished, to everyone’s detriment (including the profiteers, in the long run).

It is the instrumentalisation of science that kills nature and our chance of thinking about it as a living thing with its own rights. The scientific story of the universe is filled with just as much miracle, beauty, and awe-inspiring wonder as any religious story ever was. It’s just about interpretation. My first tactic is to replace the word ‘just’ in any scientific story about life, the universe or anything in it with ‘mysteriously and miraculously,’ and to shift descriptive words from the ‘average’ to the unique. Hence, something like this:

It’s ‘mysteriously and miraculously’ carbon-based life-forms, that mysteriously and incredibly evolved out of the amoebic oceans, that intelligently responded to their environments, that transformed and evolved to fill ecological niches, that – with incredible fortune – inhabit a planet filled with water, air, land and life in a small solar system on the edges of a unique galaxy that is a haven of life in an everexpanding, impossibly ginormous universe that is mostly void. Life is a beautiful and rare opportunity. And it’s not just that.

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4 comments

  1. Nice one Geoff. Though, you know I’m not sure if it’s science per se or ‘just’ the culture that tends to be created around it. My grandmother was a scientist and she always approached nature with a genuine sense of wonder. I see this in other leading scientists as well who still have a sense of the magnificence of nature and the mind-boggling awesomeness of the universe.


    • Yup, it’s certainly the way the scientific findings have been framed, not the scientists themselves, many of whom are clearly inspired by wonder at nature. Also there is some awesome stuff coming out nowadays. I’m keen to get my hands on The Journey of the Universe, the newest project (book and DVD) by Brian Swimme and others, on the awesomeness of the cosmos and life on earth.


  2. “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed.” – Albert Einstein

    Einstein has been considered both an agnostic and an atheist, but if we reflect upon some of the quotes attributed to him, it seems more accurate to say that he simply was not “religious.” Einstein seemed to hold a great respect and awe for the beauty of creation. For this reason, I must agree with the idea that it is a “culture that tends to be created around it.”


    • Nice addition, thanks Steve. Einstein certainly was a fun scientist!



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