I feel uncomfortable uttering this statement. And for good reasons. In the eyes of the masses, criticizing modern science is often terrain of the unemployed or uneducated.
Besides, history teaches that being different is risky business. I’m not surprised that the need to ‘fit in’ is deeply ingrained in the human psyche. Recently one would be burned, impaled or stoned to death for being revolutionary. Thanks to scientific advances such as printed and digital media, today most of us can express ourselves relatively freely throughout most parts of the world.
A vintage calculator
Humanity has made vast technological leaps in recent decades. I remember the evening in 1985 when my dad came home with a calculator the size of a bedside cabinet, from his daytime job at Philips. Around that same time my mother gave me a beautifully illustrated book on deep ocean creatures. Night after night I was tucked away under my blanket wearing goggles and a head torch, diving 13 kilometers deep into the world of deep ocean exploration. In my mind I was a scientist.
Science at its core is man’s quest to understand the natural world. A noble journey that pushed brave individuals to the very edges of our planet which turned out to be round after all. Sheer determination and unsurmountable brainpower gave us greater understanding of plant chemistry, disease, interstellar relations and the mechanics of perfect ice cream.
Modern science is an integral part of human evolution. Its delicious fruits, such as faster travel, easier access to food and instant communication with our peers are gratefully gobbled up by most of us. The way we juggle deeply entrenched reptile brain emotions and outdated believes in a modern world fueled by god like technology is downright miraculous.
In my opinion, sheer rational knowledge, ungrounded by greater wisdom of our place in the universe has become a dangerous doctrine. We’ve seen agricultural advances that lack a birds-eye view of the biosphere, resulting in the destruction of our precious natural environment. The genetic modification of organisms is likened to changing random pages without understanding the book of life and may be one of the great threats to the survival of our species.
We now know that over the last half a billion years there have been five mass extinctions on Earth, times in which the diversity of life suddenly and dramatically contracted. Today, science is monitoring a 6th mass extinction happening right under our feet, and it’s predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs. But for the first time around, the force behind this event is us.
Or more precisely, the force behind it is the science that failed my world. It’s the dogmatic science which is fuelling the egocentric quest for material advances whilst ridiculing both ancient and modern modalities on the basis of them not (yet) being understood. This science has swapped the desire to understand the natural world with a quest to dominate and ultimately destroy it. It favours chemical warfare to eradicate symptoms over true understanding of the cause of modern challenges, cancer and chronic disease being classic examples of these.
Evidence of destructive agro chemical science floats around the river outside my rural Bali home every morning, in the form of potato crisp packets and bottles of pesticides.
What failed me is the way we ignore the spread of refined sugar, yet praise our heroic missions of teaching tooth brushing to African kids with pearly white teeth. It’s taking away a countries greatest treasures, clean water and healthy soil, then classifying them underdeveloped because of their lack of infrastructure. Colonial ignorance destroyed indigenous and shamanic wisdom whilst spreading the gospel of short term prosperity.
Indigenous Australians, the oldest living culture in the world
A perfect example is the recent history of the land now called Australia. Instead of embracing the wisdom of the inhabitants when stepping foot on their land, the Europeans chose to ignore the brilliance of a race which managed to thrive in one the planet’s harshest landscapes. Instead, they answered their craving for cheese sandwiches. Vast amounts of forest were cleared, cattle and other feral animals were introduced and hybrid wheat varieties were developed which could withstand the hot climate.
Through the lens of modern science, these are significant agricultural advances which have brought great prosperity to this land. Economically speaking this is true, Australia being Asia’s major wheat supplier. The irreversible damage that was done to this fragile ecosystem that went along with headstrong Western approach is often left unspoken. Indigenous wisdom on earth care and ancestral responsibilities are considered interesting (but highly unscientific) at best. Australian indigenous heritage may be proudly represented throughout art galleries and even National Park management, it’s rarely taken seriously enough to be part of a long term food security strategy.
Earth, as seen from space
Moving forward. Not until NASA gave us images of earth seen from space could we possibly understand that earth resources are finite. In other words, we are going to rely heavily on science to reverse the damage where possible and create a radical new system for sustainable living. Einstein proved himself not to be just extremely smart but wise when saying “We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them”
People of that level of thinking are not afraid to admit mistakes from the past. Or admit that the old way of thinking is ‘kaput’. Scientists as part of this new paradigm recognize their place in the totality and the limitations of the human mind. In this new way of being, we embrace but don’t require ‘scientific’ validation of modalities that we know to be effective. Personally, I’m glad that meditation enriched people’s lives before Harvard research agreed. Nor so I share the naïve new age desire to cure every disease with Apple cider vinegar.
Ultimately this is a call for the collaboration of humanity. A call for the headstrong, the open-hearted and the muddy feet to embrace each other’s differences and be united by the love for our natural environment.
I’m off to the bathroom, I’m going to scrub my skin with an ancient Balinese spice mixture aimed to rid my biggest organ of toxic traffic pollution which by the way is at levels still deemed ‘safe’ by the Indonesian government.
Will I wait for the government to step in and tackle pollution? Will I wait for science to back up my detox strategies? Or is that radiant glow I experience after a good scrub and shower all just in my head? If so, modern science is invited to get their teeth stuck in the mechanics of the placebo effect, a mystery yet to be understood. I truly hope I will live to hear their findings.