Thursday, January 27, 2011

We have everything we need

One of my messages so far has been the following - (related to physical objects) let us appreciate of all what we have before we think about investing ourselves in more. I believe that when this thought is adequately applied to our lives, we may move from being a forward-looking society to one that observes and learns from the present, and hopefully, learns from the past. We will start noticing the vast amounts of human effort that have gone into building what we have today, as well as the vast tolls that this effort has inflicted on other humans, our environment, our Earth. What this may also mean is that instead of trying to "answer" questions, through research, of complicated systems, let us take a step back and fully internalise and understand what we've learned so far. Many arguments can be made for the continued investment of vast sums of money for more research, but I truly believe that we know all that we need to know to make huge strides towards "treading lightly" on this planet (thank you Jackie for that phrase), and leading less impactful, yet completely meaningful and happy lives. Not only can we be happy, but we can also reduce the huge stresses that we put on our ecosystems. For example, we've known about climate change since the 1960s, and developed a very mature understanding of it since the 1980s. In fact, Arrhenius, in the late 19th century, calculated the rise in global temperatures from a doubling of carbon dioxide emissions, and his estimate falls squarely within the bounds of what sophisticated climate models today predict.

I went to a talk today from a prominent scientist. She has been all over the world, and spent her life immersed in the learning of oceans. She gave a very thoughtful and eloquent talk about our impact on water systems of the world, but one message of hers bugged me - she said that humans need to further explore the depths of oceans and find new forms of life, so that we can know fully what our impacts on them are. She said, "How can we know what the solution is if we don't know what the problem is?" This thought gave me a strange feeling. To a certain extent, I understand why she would make a statement like that. Maybe knowing the plight of a species allows us to develop sympathy towards it, and maybe that will help us come together and stop what we are doing. But there are very few examples, if any, of humans doing something like this. On the other hand, as Wendell Berry points out in Life is a Miracle, learning about a new form of life will only drive us to find ways to use it, and therefore it will consequently lose its freedom. Interrogating it, rather than allowing us to be more mindful, in fact leads to its degradation and decimation. I struggle with this, being a "graduate student" myself, doing "research." How much more do we really need to know? How much will we continue to invest in things we may never know?

Rather than continuously looking for a new answer, why don't we raise what we know into consciousness, and actually let that act affect our decisions and choices?

1 comment:

  1. I have wondered a very similar question. Why do we need to know everything about the natural world? How will knowing the structure of each protein in the body benefit humanity? In my mind, humans have a problem with "not knowing" because the mystery of things creates an inability to control them.

    Why can't we just bask in the beauty and mystery of the natural world?