Why Science Will Never Know Everything

By Madronna Holden

“Some people will be very disappointed if there is not an ultimate theory. I used to belong to that camp, but I have changed my mind. I’m now glad that our search for understanding will never come to an end, and that we will always have the challenge of new discovery.”

— Stephen Hawking (courtesy of M. Goldstein’s Physics Foibles)


James Watson, co-discoverer of the code of DNA famously declared,“If we (scientists) don’t play God, who will?”

It is comparable arrogance that has brought us so many environmental crises today.  We have been going full steam ahead with the idea that whatever we can do we should do, evidenced by the 84,000 human-made chemicals released into the environment without testing. I would argue that nothing better supports our need for the precautionary principle.

Watson’s statement licensing scientists to play God indicates the disjunction between scientific achievement and self-knowledge—a hazardous disjunction indeed. When our power outdistances our knowledge, there is trouble ahead.  This dangerous attitude is summed up by a Bulletin of Atomic Scientists Report assessing geo-engineering plans that include placing mirrors in space to deflect sunlight in order to compensate for global warming.

The report noted that such a plan assumes that though we are not smart enough to manage our own behavior, we are somehow smart enough to manage the behavior of the entire planet’s climate system.

Unforeseen consequences have already arisen with the idea of seeding oceans with nutrients to encourage the growth of tiny creatures to lock up carbon.   Larger creatures ate the smaller ones before they had a chance to do their carbon-sequestering duties.

This reminds me of Chickasaw writer Linda Hogan’s essay (in her book, Dwellings)  featuring a wizened grandmother’s tongue in cheek response to grandiose experiments to prove something that careful and respectful observation of the natural world would just as well tell us:  “We knew that probably would be true”.

As to the mirrors in space proposition, there is already a drawback to this plan on grounds of justice—since it is predicted to change weather patterns for the worse in certain poorer countries.  Seems like we have enough of that result already, as a film on the effects of climate change on indigenous peoples in Banglades documents.

Still, there is something in us that wants to believe that any unforeseen consequences to our actions can all  be handled by some magic bullet.  I don’t find this vein of thinking comforting.  To the contrary, I find it troubling when anyone offhandedly asserts that science will one day know everything–as now and again one of my students asserts.

They might easily get this assumption from the “magic bullet” instant-fix attitude in our culture.  But I will give them more credit than that and assume that science majors are getting this idea from the scientific search for a unified field theory:  a  “theory of everything” with which scientific laws might predict the consequences of all actions in the natural  world. Currently, physics is grappling with the fact that the laws by which it describes the operations of large bodies do not match the laws that describe the operations of very small bodies– such as those on the quantum level.  A “unified field theory” would purportedly solve this dilemma.

I second the attempt to discover the interconnections in our cosmos, but this is a far cry from knowing—or being able to predict– everything. Indeed, I would argue that our own connections with the living world must honor its ability to surprise us.  If we think we are simply “managing” that world, we are obviously missing its own living essence.

At the very least a theory of everything should include a theory of ourselves that entails responsibility for our choices. Whereas I hold out hope for better ways of understanding ourselves, the most sophisticated scientific theory counters the idea that science might yield the knowledge to allow us to act as God of nature.

I am thinking of the work of mathematician Kurt Gödel and his “incompleteness theorem”.  What he proved with this theorem for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize is that no conceptual system can prove more than it originally assumes. That is, the proofs that derive from within any conceptual endeavour are only elaborations of what we already know– or assume we know– to begin with.

Thus we will never have a “theory of everything” that applies to our universe unless we are standing outside of it. And even if there are multiple and parallel universes, one could only understand the “everything” they are part  of by standing outside of them. I think even those engineers designing mirrors to deflect sunlight in outer space will find moving outside everything that exists a daunting task.

This perspective necessary for understanding our assumptions is why standing outside our own worldview gives us such important material for self-reflection.

As observers, we are intimately caught in the net of our observations, like the Hindu “net of jewels” that weaves the lives of  the world together– an analogy that coincides with Nobel Prize winner Werner Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. This principle states that  on the quantum level, wave-particles can only be observed as waves or particles but not both.

And why should that be?  Because, Heisenberg postulates, the dynamic relationship between observer and observed is such that the very way we observe a quantum particle changes its essential nature.

There is more:  some modern physicists have documented how the very laws of physics may be changing over time.

This coincides nicely with the indigenous view that the world is alive- since change is a characteristic of life.

Two linguists, Benjamin Whorf and  Edward Sapir, speculatethat modern science might have come to quantum theory more quickly had we been speaking Hopi rather than Indo-European languages.The latter’s dualistic subject-object configuration more nearly coincides with the Newtonian worldview than does the space-time quanta that characterize Hopi languages.

In the traditional vision quests of the Coast Salish people, finding your spirit-power was linked to humbling yourself before the spirits of the natural world—who might thus find favor with you and speak to you in a language a mere human could understand.  The spirit power-knowledge found on such a quest was exercised throughout one’s lifetime as a joint affair, rather than as a manner of controlling the world.  One should always “ask permission” to use it—as a Snoqualmie traditionalist once told me.

According to such belief systems, children become mature adults who understand how to act in the world by humbling themselves to the more than human world.

My own belief is that the universe will always be  mysterious to us —for which I am grateful.  I find considerable hope in our human limits—perhaps this will someday motivate us to partner with nature rather than attempting to rule it as a god.

Sophisticated scientific theory and indigenous views of the world both indicate we can only get perspective on our culture by seeing it through the eyes of an alternative–and perspective on our humanness though the more than human world.

This is humbling.

It replicates the insight of Paula Gunn Allen’s Laguna Pueblo people who asserted that we need our enemies to show us who we are .  And thus if we outcast “others” from our world, we only diminish ourselves.

On the bridge between modern science and indigenous philosophy, there is this insight:  knowing the world is a matter of relating to it–and such knowing is bound up in the self-reflection we can only gain by suspending our egoism.

The discussion of the scientific certainty continues. here.

This essay is copyright 2010 by Madronna Holden.  However, feel free to link to it or reproduce it with attribution.

271 Responses

  1. Scientists’ trying to play God was demonstrated in the cloned sheep named Dolly. Fortunately many people rose to the occasion and cited ethics as a potential problem to this scenario. But nevertheless, if this type of science builds into a future solution, what will keep people from applying it to humans and who knows what else! This is definitely a chilling thought for our future.

    Precautionary principle and doing research before we gullibly assume that because it is on the market it is a safe product to consume, or put on our body. Anytime I hear of governments trying to alter the earth in some fashion, I get worried; such as the mirrors being placed to deflect the sunlight, supposedly mitigating global warming. How do these scientists know a more devastating result will not happen to our earth? Interfering with the natural processes of our environment may result in a short term fix, but long term a heavier price may be the larger consequence! As the article states, are we not smart enough to repair our own issues without putting an artificial fix into the mix? Also noted, a careful and respectful observation of what is happening can give as much, if not more information needed to help make the right choices for our environment.

    Climate change is already a major problem in our world. Potentially altering weather patterns by inserting artificial means to correct a problem, which can be corrected by common sense, is a perfect example. Our world is too complicated for science to know everything. If we continue on a disrespectful path, and put forth self-absorbed solutions, the earth may not be here long enough to learn what science has ultimately brought forth. And if we do uncover theories, they are not facts, only theories that can be argued.

    An interesting point in this article is from modern physicists that profess physics are changing over time. And as it is stated, this coincides with the viewpoints of the indigenous people that the earth is alive. Only living things are in a state of growth and change. As we view from our local areas watching the seasons change each year. Balancing the viewpoints of the indigenous people and applying those thoughts to our world will enhance our ability to see science as a focused entity, not an overall answer.

    • Hi Marla. Thanks for another thoughtful comment! As you point out, attempting to change weather patterns when our changing weather patterns has created the problem in the first place is absurd–and potentially dangerous. If we aren’t smart enough to change our own behavior, as the federal report states, how can we be smart enough to regulate the world?

  2. I want to always know that there is more to know, but understanding some things do not have to be known. Faith works that way as well, not knowing the how’s or why’s but simply knowing something exists and is. Man has not learned from pushing the limits and I can’t imagine he will learn any time soon that dissecting every level of existence removes the wonderful quality of enjoying that it exists. Like Marla mentioned above with Dolly and genetics we continue to push the limits for reasons beyond the need. Sheep are repopulating just fine, we didn’t need a way to manufacture them. To quote Jeff Goldblum – we were so preoccupied with whether not we could, we didn’t stop to think if we should.

    • Great points, Bernadette. As you noted, “sheep are repopulating just fine, we didn’t need a way to manufacture them”. I think we truly need to discern between what we can and what we should do– tinkering with the natural world just because we can has caused enough trouble.

  3. The idea of putting mirrors in space to redirect the sun’s energy immediately reminded me of that scene in Superman when the evil villains were trapped in the mirrors for eternity, but they were somehow set free by a collision with space junk or something of that nature. As silly as that sounds, I’m afraid “quick-fixes” like this one are simply going to make someone a lot of money and make a bigger mess of things…like the idea of carbon sequestration in the oceans. The fact is, though, if this is a route we decide to take, the end result could be the release of villains far more deadly than the ones on Superman. If it doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to, I can only imagine the damage that can be caused. It’s like we take pride in playing around with things to see how they work, but figure if it doesn’t then it’s not a big deal, we’ll just start over. Now this is ok with respect to some things, like planting something you aren’t sure you can grow, or trying a new outfit, but when you play around with something that is intended to effect the climate of the entire earth – at best it might not do anything, but at worst, if it really does make the climate problem even worse for countries that are already struggling…how can that decision be made so lightly without gaining permission from everyone involved? And how does one come to a place where they can so easily take that risk? Mirrors in space…the fact that they are intended to affect the climate is frightening – one change will effect other changes and how can they even begin to predict what those changes might be decades, or even centuries down the road? I really hope this is simply someone entertaining an interesting theory…while I can’t even begin to assume that I have any idea of how all of this would work, I really don’t see how attempting to fix a climate problem by redirecting the sun’s energy can possbily be preferable to changing our behavior rather than trying to dim the sun’s rays.
    We are clearly an egotistic group of beings. There’s quite a bit of narrow-mindedness going on. We get so wrapped up in our own needs and apparently panic at the thought of modifying our behavior that we can come up with such things. I wonder how the cost of implementing such a thing would compare to the cost of modifying our energy consumption. If we were to listen to the needs of the earth rather than trying to accomodate the earth to our needs, perhaps we could actually “have it all”. We just don’t seem to realize what “it all” actually is. We pay thousands of dollars to visit places that have always been a free part of nature, but because we chose to claim ownership, only a select few now have access. We’ve moved so far away from where we were when we were part of nature that most of us have forgotten what it’s like.

    • I think you have an essential question to ponder here, Maria–how does one come to the idea that one has the license to take such a risk? And the pointed part of this choice (“superman” technology or changing our behavior) is that our own behavior is the thing that we actually have the power and responsibility to change. I think cost comparisons are certainly an issue: though gas and coal industries might suffer in cutting back our carbon output, other industries would prosper. And I saw a study done last year that found it would take several times less money to fix the problem now than to wait ten years and try to pick up the pieces…I simply don’t think that certain industries have a right to prosper no matter how they effect the future of life on earth.

  4. Isn’t it true that each individual has the capability to make a major impact on the world? If so, then why do we need scientists, Hollywood actors, and/or the U.S. government to tell us that we need to make changes?

    While I hope to not offend anyones political beliefs it makes me quite upset to think that we as a society are going to be spending millions of dollars on research and technology to create a “greener world”. Our country is facing the second largest economic downfall ever and our government is planning on spending more money?

    Instead of spending more money that obviously none of us have why don’t we each step up to the plate and take personal steps to make the world a “greener place”. Use less plastic bottles, recycle more, smoke less, drive less, carpool more. There are so many ways that we as a society could make this world better but we give those in powerful positions the ability to tell us what to do and how to spend our money. We will never know everything but no matter how educated one is I’m sure most people understand that without nature and the environment we cannot survive. So lets stand up and start doing for nature and the environment without the government or powerful bullies we can make a difference, maybe a larger difference than the government itself.

    • Hi Kerri, I certainly appreciate your call to action (and responsibility) on the part of individuals. I also think that we need some community action given the climate crises we are currently facing. We need regulatory leadership to help educate and guide our actions. By such leadership I am thinking of the opposite of lobbyists (which cost US citizens untold dollars every year) or of corporate bailouts. Instead I am thinking of funding wise programs like those recently assessed to cost us far less by heaing off climate change as opposed to trying to fix it after our unstable weather (and drought and flooding and sea rise) gets to a critical stage.
      What I was getting at in this essay is the fact that (precisely as you say) we need citizen and community (and corporate) responsibilty rather than some huge, untried (and yes, as you point out) expensive magic bullet. Thanks for your comment.
      And you might be very interested in the latest issue of ONEARTH, which has some articles on the important of “citizen science”.

  5. I would love to see the precautionary principle begin to be protocol in this crazy world of ours. I am so disheartened by the type of thinking that has gotten us to where we are today and that continues to destroy our planet. It is the type of thinking that truly believes that “whatever we can do, we should do.” Unfortunately, we are even seeing this with the Obama administration in his support for nuclear energy. I am outraged (and hope that others are too) about this. Nobody has even figured out what to do with the nuclear waste that we’ve already created (that has a half life of millions of years!) How can they possibly want to continue to make the most toxic substance known to man (and the planet)? It’s another case for science’s magic bullet, I suppose.

  6. It make sense to me that if you look for something long enough, you will find it. Science has been proving this right for some time. What is out of balance about this equation is that we’ve been looking for the wrong things. Science and research has to be funded, so this valuable thought power is used on matters of concern to those who can pay. I think that if the scientific mind were driven by something other than the bottom line and the patron’s wishes, science could do a ton of good. Mirrors in space? Someone somewhere has the short-term profits of such a venture gleaming in their eyes.

    • I agree with you about the bottom line (economic bottom line, that is– I would like to see a quality of life bottom line). And I also think that those who are looking for something and nothing else find only what they are looking for (that is, their own projections) rather than what is really there. Certainly, they don’t open themselves to understanding the world outside themselves. Thanks for your comment, Kellie.

  7. It sounds more like a “God complex” rather than a duty of scientists. Perhaps the reason they don’t see it from the population’s stand point is because they never have to live with the destruction.
    Anyone with the “duty” to play God would also have the ability to “foresee” the consequences of their actions.

  8. The reason that I decided to major in Science is because I felt like understanding the world (which involves physics, biology, chemistry, geology, astrology…..just to name a few)scientifically, as we know it, would be the closest that I could ever come to understanding “God.” To me “God” is the perpetual, collective force of everything that is, has been, and will be. And I share the thinking of our Professor who profoundly shares her own beliefs with us, “My own belief is that the universe will always be mysterious to us —for which I am grateful. I find considerable hope in our human limits—perhaps this will someday motivate us to partner with nature rather than attempting to rule it as a god.” We aren’t supposed to “know” everything – or understand it. We have come to understand some things about how our existence works – or at least our perception of how it all works. This perception is science – as we know it today. However, all good scientists understand that just because we deem something true (even if this observation reveals itself 1,000,000,000 times – that doesn’t mean that it is |absolute| truth. The first and probably most important thing that I learned in my first year of college sciences is that any theory must be falsifyable – it must be able to be “proved” right or wrong. If I said that there was a possibility that the sun won’t come up tomorrow – most people would argue because this event has occurred everyday “forever” and will continue to occur “forever.” While the probability of the sun not coming up tomorrow is very unlikely – it actually is within the realm of possibility. A large stellar object could strike the earth knocking off course and out of the realm of gravitational pull from the sun – we would all be dead from the force of such and impact; nevertheless, it could happen. It really wasn’t that long ago that people inherently believed the world to be flat. It seems so ridiculous to us today – but back then it was just as true for them as the earth being round is for us today. My point is that science is not the bottom line – the theory of everything will always be just a theory – and we won’t ever “know” everything. We were not meant to. I think that the purpose of life is to question, wonder, hope, and dream about why we are here or how we got here. It is an individual journey that everyone must experience to find their belief’s in all this madness – and when you do find your truth (everyone’s is a little different) then it is the |absolute| truth for you. Humans have a very hard time letting go of this control – and being content with not knowing. But I have to admit, as passionate as I am about my own spiritual journey through this life and understanding reality, I am also so content with not knowing. For so long I felt uncomfortable and unnerved that I didn’t know (and neither did anyone else) what this is all about. However, over time, I came to the realization that its ok to not know – and it is the most liberating feeling/experience of my life. I feel more at ease than ever about existence, reality, the universe, and the “force” of everything. Life is truly an amazing gift – and the scientific community is lucky enough to come so close to the sublimely wondrous parts of existence. But that doesn’t make us “Gods” and it certainly does not give us the right to play the part.

  9. I am very grateful that nobody on this planet will ever know “everything.” There will always be something new to explore, and there will never be a unified theory that explains our universe. That’s a good thing. Human beings seem to thrive on finding out answers to all of the questions posed about the world around us. If we figured out “everything,” that would take so much away from us that we probably wouldn’t recover.

    Can you imagine how boring life would be if we knew “everything?”

    We tend to be pretty arrogant about our place in the universe, but it would take one contact with an alien civilization to bring us to our knees. Even if all they did was say hello, our world’s entire paradigm would shift so dramatically that I’m not sure we could survive it intact. How would we feel if it turned out that aliens actually were experimenting on humans? How would we react if we learned that all of those wacky stories people have told about scary alien abductions were actually real?

    Scary, isn’t it? Well, that probably summarizes how the other species on our planet feel about us, whether or not they have the power to express their fear and loathing about what we humans have done. Sure, I support genetics research to help find cures for cancer and AIDS and all sorts of human afflictions, but I see absolutely no point in creating a glow-in-the-dark rabbit by adding jellyfish genes to a rabbit’s DNA.

    In a similar vein to Kurt Gödel’s work, we would have to imagine something before we could prove or disprove it’s existence. My oldest son found a website called 365 Tomorrows, and after reading every single one of those science fiction short stories, I can honestly say that there are many, many things that I’ve never imagined could exist. Quite a few of those stories remind us that we really are a fragile species, and while we are the dominant life form on earth right now, we could be defeated fairly easily by a stray asteroid or even an accidental (or not so accidental) release of a biological weapon.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have high hopes for us humans. We aren’t living in any sort of balanced way, nor are we taking care of our planet the way that we should. If we as a species can start living in harmony with nature, instead of fighting it at every turn, we might have a chance at long term survival.

    I can only hope for the best and do what I can to help things along the way.

  10. I think this is a great piece. Scientists need to stop trying to play god and let the natural world run its course. I am sure they spent a great deal of money making the carbon eating animals to be placed in the oceans to just be eaten before they could fully mature and do “there job.” I also think that putting mirrors in space is a fantasy idea that they thought of to make everything better over night but when studies showed it will do more harm then foul they are right back to square one. I don’t think there is anything that science can do to reverse the natural cycle of our great earth. Instead of thinking of things to do to fix everything right now, they need to think to the future and think of little things we can do now to help us in the future.

    • Thanks, Jayne. I think you are write that much of these flashy “scientific” fixes are avoiding what we really need to do (and are capable of doing): changing our own actions to comply with natural cycles and the consequences of our actions on these.

  11. The first part of this article reminded me of the HAARP Project that I heard so much about lately. It is scarey. A bunch of scientists trying to play God by manipulating weather patterns. I’ve ev en heard as much as HAARP causing Hurrican Katrina. To think that there are people out there developing these “natural” weapons of mass destruction is far too scarey to really think about most times. The sad part is these scientists are trying to control mother nature and purposefully manipulate her to cause extreme damage and mass deaths. This HAARP stuff is relatively new to me, but it is definitely enough to make me question the motives our defense system.

    • I agree that it is frightening that some humans think to use our intelligence to use nature’s life-giving cycles into a weapon, Amber. Thanks for sharing this response.

  12. I absolutely agree with your belief that the universe will always remain a mystery to us. I can’t help but wonder, however, what would happen if we suddenly understood all of nature’s secrets. Would we be humbled by understanding what was previously indecipherable? Would we realize the great and true depth of nature and its intricacies and find ways to partner with it? Or, conversely, would we use this knowledge to dominate nature? Would we feel arrogant at discovering its secrets and use what we have learned to attempt to further suppress and ravage nature? I don’t know. The idealist in me wants to believe that anyone who really looked at nature would be awed and want to work with it, not try to manipulate it for monetary gain and other greedy reasons. However, I simply have no faith in the system as it is, and that makes me horribly sad.

    I am pulled in two directions by the idea of scientists playing God. One part of me sees the potential to help people through science. The other, bigger part, however, sees the drawbacks that come with messing with things that we cannot possibly understand. Maybe we should think about getting back to nature, adopting a partnership mentality and the like. Maybe then, solutions would come naturally. After all, if we decrease the body burden of chemicals, we certainly won’t need as many pills. In my mind, many, if not most, of our problems are just waiting to solve themselves. Let’s do what we can to solve them naturally, and deal with the rest as it comes.

  13. Standing outside our own egoism, what an important yet profoundly difficult thing to do. I know that many try to teach it, but how does one actually achieve it. For me I believe it is something that is like the ocean, it ebbs and flows. There are times when I feel I can achieve it, if for only for a moment but our ego is a very powerful thing. I find when I am standing before something, like a giant redwood tree, the ocean or staring into the vast cosmos I am there. This theory of everything is quite frankly the ego at its finest. Science can be a wonderful tool. I believe many great things have been accomplished in the name of science. Unfortunately, many horrible things have as well, but the idea that something must be proven in order to be regarded……is close minded at best. It is impossible to understand everything, it can’t happen and I just hope in our quest to do so we don’t destroy everything in the process.

    • It is especially hard to “stand outside one’s ego”, as you say, in the context of a worldview such as ours, Stacie. Science can be wonderful, as you also note– if and only if we reign in our own egos in producing and using it.

  14. I agree that arrogance is what brought us to the environmental crisis we are in today. However, I also think that if scientists did not play God we wouldn’t be able to even know we are in the environmental crisis we are in. It is important for our society to develop in a technological sense and to do that we must strive for something. Hoping to be like God is a great motivation for man to strive for. As a child we have always been told, “Shot for the moon and you will land among the stars”. If each person strives to be an omnipotent, loving, caring being then the world will be a much better place.

    • Do you really think we must play God in order to develop (or be motivated to develop) knowledge of the natural world? If arrogance, as you say, has brought us to this crisis, then I am not at all sure that thinking oneself all powerful goes with being loving and caring. I do think that we must use our authority with care and responsibility. Do you think “playing God” is the only way to challenge ourselves?

  15. My answer to James Watson’s question is that if no one plays God, perhaps the universe might function as it’s intended to. It seems that the need of science to step in and control things is one reason for some of the turmoil in our current world. Learn that humans can control one thing and we want to control another– because certainly our way must be better than nature’s way. To me it is a bit ridiculous and arrogant of humans to think that a synthesized way of life can surmount any course of nature that has been in existence for centuries and beyond. Yes, we learn new skills and want to apply them, but we are the children and nature the wizened parent, chuckling to herself at our naivete. We will soon learn that trouncing nature and defying our “parents” doesn’t lead to freedom and opportunity as we thought, but confusion and dilemma. The question is, by the time WE wise up, will it be to late to re-establish a relationship with our mother earth, or will she be too far gone? While there are many merits to the capabilities of science, the successes have lead to an assumption that science is the standard and only answer– that nature is an archaic solution to problem-solving. I only hope that the young arrogance of this relatively new field (in the scheme of Earth’s history) will dissipate enough in time to save whatever nature still does exist.

    • I like your perspective, Ellie. I think the “know it all” type of science has, as you indicate, a central problem with arrogance. And if we think we know it all now (and soon think we will) we have nothing to learn. I much prefer the stance of ethologists (mostly women scientists) who choose to live among other species in order to know their ways — rather than attempting to dissect or cage them to do experiments that supposedly bring us knowledge. My sense is that what we learn of the species we have caged will only ever be how that part of the world behaves when it is separate from all else and behind bars. How the universe is intended to function is not based on our ability to assume momentary power to manipulate it (as we ignore the side effects)– but the way it has grown up into reciprocating systems over millions of years. Natural elders are our true teachers, indeed.

  16. I am under the belief that humans will never know everything because the universe is bigger than us. Science is only tool for humans to use to try to understand it, but only the universe holds its own secrets and the unknown is present within it. Humans are only a small part of this world, and there is no putting it in a perfectly shaped package and explaining it away.

  17. Wow. This essay says A LOT. I would without hesitation agree that humans will NEVER know everything. Simply looking at the wealth of information already in existence, and how much of it has changed over the years is proof enough to me that knowing everything is not only impossible to prove, but impossible to attain. I don’t think that most scientists have the perspective that they can fix everything no matter what. I think as humans, we try to do things we can’t already, the tiny organisms released into the ocean was an attempt to solve a problem. This is the essence of experimentation, attempting to solve a problem or achieve a goal. Yes, we fail often. But repeated experimentation and perseverance is what has resulted in all of what we have today as humanity. Bridges, hybrid cars, biodegradable plastics, ipods, power grids, computers, the internet. All of these and countless more are the results of many more failures than successes, but this is what I believe motivates experimentation – the need or desire for a solution. There are always different ways to tackle the same problem, perhaps scientists have become too focused on science. The tunnel-vision has prevented us from realizing the simple solution – we can reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere by reevaluating our relationship with nature, rather than trying to control nature and design nature (tiny organisms) to reduce the amount of carbon. String theories and quantum mechanics are incredibly complex theories. My feeble (by comparison to Heisenberg and others) understanding of physics, and its complexity is why I don’t take fragments of super-complex theories and try to interpret its meaning, and then attach that meaning to my own theories. Maybe someday humans will think they know everything, but they never actually will, there are always unanswered questions. If anyone actually did ever know anything – I bet it would be a philosopher, they are the smartest people I’ve ever known 🙂

  18. I had never heard of the idea of putting mirrors in space to deflect sunlight and offset the effects of global warming. It is bothersome that people put so much time, money, and research into projects to fix what we have broken via new scientific advances – shouldn’t these resources be put to use in a more natural form as opposed to applying yet another technological band-aid? We are too busy inventing new ideas to solve our problems than reverting to what we already know. This is a great sentence from the article: “…though we are not smart enough to manage our own behavior, we are somehow smart enough to manage the behavior of the entire planet’s climate system.” I don’t know that it comes down to intelligence at all, but willingness (and this makes me sad) – it is probably EASIER to put giant mirrors in space than it is to connect with the environmentally in-touch side of the human population.

    • Wouldn’t you think that we have concrete problems to deal with rather than coming up with these phantasmagorical
      ones, Kate? But hey, look at the ego (not to mention, escapism) involved in such grand schemes. How much more exciting than facing the fact that when our actions are the problem, we should change our actions.
      I do think you are right about the difficulties in doing this in a system that gives corporations the same rights as human beings–and puts profit (as in the WTO) over human rights and environmental standards. Perhaps when we understand that our future is hinged on making sounder environmental choices, we will finally change the system that prevents us from doing this.

  19. The point made about not being wise enough to manage our own behavior, yet feelings like we are wise and powerful enough to regulate the climate on Earth is very true and beautifully ironic at the same time. The universe and vast, unknown expanse beyond are so complex that I don’t think we could ever hope to fully understand it, at least not in our lifetimes. I especially appreciated the way that accepting the fact that we humans are just a tiny part of a system that is so immense that we lack the ability to truly comprehend it. I also though the parts about being able to step back from the situation providing increased perception was a really good point. How could we expect to understand a system in which we can not even perceive all the components? It really is humbling.

    • Such awareness is humbling, Molly, and as you point out in another comment you made today, such awareness also gives us a larger purpose to our lives as it sets us in the larger universe of life. And think how exciting it is to be part of a world which can always surprise us with more to learn about it and about ourselves!

  20. My first thought when getting into this article is “if we are so smart and advanced, why then are we not better because of it?” my second thought is the answer to this; “power”. While we have made advancements, created the technology, solved conundrums, we, as in Western culture will continue to dig our graves as well as one for the natural world. I think a major factor that this article made me understand is that we are focusing our attention outwards; how to fix global warming, how to save endangered species instead of looking at ourselves and trying to fix our habit of destruction. I think it is easier for us to downplay our blame by trying to fix it instead of preventing it. This pattern can be seen in so many examples throughout life yet we still cannot face it.
    Knowing everything is a scary thought. The ‘theory of everything’ is an intriguing concept I have never heard of before and I am unsure of my position in relation to this idea. History, life and even science itself has taught us to be skeptical and ask questions, so why not do the same of science? As for the note on believing in human limits, I hope this to be true. The manifest destiny, scientific revolutions, technological advances seem to have gotten to our heads, and while there is something to be said for ambition, the obvious drawbacks make me hope for some sort of humbling epiphany to strike mankind sometime in the future.
    Thank you for sharing this article.

    • You are welcome, Cheyanne. Thank you for your thoughtful response. I like the balance in your words.
      And on the point of humbling ourselves, I think there is some irony here. If we consider ourselves masters of the universe (in our thinking power if in no other way), we became disconnected from the world around us, whereas our humility can make our lives larger in our connections to others.

  21. Science doesn’t really help us commune with nature. Science tends to focus on the small bits of reality, rather than the overall design and meaning of the whole. There can also be a tendency toward a mechanical model of nature in scientific inquiry, that leaves out the fundamental quality of the natural world- energy and life force. Science and technology can also narrow human sympathy for the natural world. As Hogan states, “This far-hearted kind of thinking is one we are especially prone to now, with our lives moving so quickly ahead, and it is one that sees life, other lives, as containers of our own uses and not in a greater, holier sense.” Nature should be approached as a mystery, awesome, beautiful and grand in design, rather than as an object of curiosity.

    • I absolutely agree with you about the failings in approaching nature as an “object of curiosity”– we can no more learn about our place in natural partnerships that way that we can sustain a relationship with a human friend we see in this way!
      I also have some hope that there are some scientists who seek this kind of intimacy with nature–and whose knowledge helps us in establishing such intimacy– but they are not the ones whose work is guided by money from corporate interests who seek to manipulate the world.
      Thanks for your comment, Kim.

  22. I am totally on board with the author that we there might be hope when we acknowledge our limits. For example, if the societies of the world altogether agreed that we cannot continue to create energy at the cost of emitting immense carbon, then funding for R&D projects for renewable energy on a world scale may be possible.
    The idea that climate might be able to be manipulated by giant mirrors in space does seem a little far fetch to me (especially since we can’t even keep a telescope in perfect working order for very long in space), but I want to be careful about shunning any ideas, no matter how non-traditional they might be. After all, isn’t that the same kind of treatment many of the early global climate change believers received?
    When the author explains how we need to be fully outside the system to fully understand it, it makes me wonder if there are a lot of scientists out there who truly believe we are or will be all knowing about any system of order that man has not made himself. I personally doubt it because that goes against the scientific method, a core process all good scientist use. This particularly goes towards environmental science because it does not take long for any student to realize the immensity of the science.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful response, Zachary. I would say that there is much to commend science– but its tendency toward arrogance is not part of that. On the point of mirrors in space, I have problems with this on two points: firstly, if we can’t change our own behavior (first things first), how can we think to control the planet’s weather system? Secondly, the precautionary principle needs to be applied here. The engineers who are looking into this note that it is likely to change the weather patterns for the worse in places around the globe that can afford it least– so there is an issue of justice raised here– not to mention, the lack of knowledge of side effects of this process.

  23. Too many times science thinks it is in control of everything. The manipulation of the climate, oceans, and terrestrial ecosystems has not been the answer. If God wanted these ecosystems manipulated, I think he would have done so. Many ways of thinking need to go into what we do to ecosystems. Scientists think that they could hold all of the answers. It has been show that they don’t. Just look at the salmon issue. Science thought that to increase the populations of salmon, they would raise them on salmon farms, and then release them into the wild. This caused the wild populations of salmon to decrease further. I think that incorporating science, Indigenous practices, and other studies and traditions would greatly increase the success rate of programs as this. Science and its thoughts and studies will not alone increase the health of these ecosystems. We need to look at what the consequences to our actions may be before we establish a program. There are no instant fixes. If there were, none of us would need to take this class. All perspectives need to be looked at. If not, we will be still be stuck in the rut of trying things, only to have them fail and further disturbing the ecosystem we are looking at. We have to be responsible for our choices in dealing with our ecosystem. Neither manipulation, nor scientific studies have been the answer. Our ecosystems are changing all the time. It is everyone’s job to understand that change. That understanding will be the key to our future. Some things need to stay mysterious to us. That is the way it is meant to be.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Scott. I think the key point you bring up is that there are no instant fixes–and to assume there are–and we are in charge of them– ushers in some very dangerous ways of acting. It is also a kind of magical thinking removed from the real world. For instance, for ninety million years the bees and flowers have been interacting in the process of pollination. In fact, the presence of bees even triggers the production of pollen in some plants. There are those farmers who work with this natural given like those who grow out wild hedge rows to pick new seed stock from them and even those who follow the model of the bees to breed and pollinate hybrid seeds. But genetic engineering spreads genes in ways we do not understand, much less control– looks for instant fixes and is entirely outside of nature’s model. And it assumes that in our “instant fix” to get what we want can ignore a process ninety million years in the making.

  24. Such a powerful article, as usual! Everything in this article is particularly relevant right now as the Gulf Coast fills with oil! This is exactly what I think Linda Hogan was talking about when she said “What a strange alchemy we have worked, turning earth around to destroy itself, using earth’s own elements to wound it.” Insights like this use the ability to stand back and see the whole picture. I think she and you both put it explicitly and boldly when talking about the disjunction between scientific achievement and self-knowledge. I think this ties into our linear thinking and how we recklessly use science in many ways to try to get us out of the jams we created using science! If that sentence didn’t make sense neither does the logic of using the same methods to get out of the problems those methods created! I refer specifically here to the mirrors in space! Doesn’t this seem more like putting a bandaid on a cancer?
    There is such beauty in seeing the mystery of the universe. It’s exciting to learn more about it but to assume we have the whole picture is fool hardy. I found the “incompletness theorem” very interesting. This puts scientific gains into perspective and helps to curb the “God complex”. Even in my small little life, I can see that I can only see life through limited lenses until my eyes are opened to something more. I would think that scientists would think of this theorem as exciting rather than limiting. I find beauty in knowing that we can’t possibly know everything but that there are surprises everywhere to learn about. For me, what this thinking does is prompts me to amend my beliefs and actions to become more reverent to all around me. So if science did start thinking in more of a holistic way we wouldn’t have to be putting mirrors in space in the first place! Nor would actions like that (mirrors) and the harm they do to poorer countries be acceptable. Hierarchical thinking is so awful! No one or thing is more important than another. We HAVE to move away from thinking that one country is better or more deserving than another, or that humans are more deserving than animals, or that rich are better than the poor, etc. This thinking is cruel and so destructive. I am having a hard time moving beyond the people putting poison out for wolves in a wilderness area near here. What makes them feel that humans have the right to decide who gets to live and who has to die? It’s hierarchical thinking.

    • There are some profound points here, Sue–and Hogan’s words you quote are particularly apt in the case of the tragic Gulf oil spill. We have the ability to observe nature’s wonders and make creative decisions to benefit others with whom we share our lives–we have such potential for ingenuity and care. We also have the hubris to think we have a right to decide who lives and dies in the cycle of life so much older than ourselves–and for our own convenience, as the example of the wolf poisonings sadly illustrates. Thank you for your compassion and I hope that many of us will continue to keep in our hearts and visions the beauty of these creatures — and what they can teach us about ourselves, as a counter to this aspect of humanity I would rather not claim.

  25. It only makes sense that the laws of physics will change over time as things are always changing. As long as things continue to change, including the earth itself, it is understandable that scientist will never know everything. To know everything, things would have to remain constant. For example if you asked scientist what the average height of a male human being is the answer now would be different from the answer he or she would have given twenty years ago. This is due to the fact that children are growing taller now. Hopefully this increased height doesn’t have anything to do with the chemicals they ingest in their food, but of course we can assume it probably does.

    • The sign of life is change, Mildred–and thus I see the fact that things are always change as a good thing. If we are ever able to truly hold the world steady in order to know it completely, it will only be because we have done away with life itself.

  26. Time and time again the earth has shown us the folly in assuming that humans have or will have all the answers. Somehow we believe that there is a way that we can go on existing the way that we do. I know Sue brought up the current oil spill in the Atlantic, but this essay also made me think of this. From what I have read, BP had no technology to address the risk of an explosion such as this but only stated that it was “highly unlikely”. The well was simply too far down to control such a spill and the only line of defense that far down is remote controlled robots! It would seem that the newest technology would be applied to deep sea drilling, yet once again, we have been shown that assuming we have everything under control has resulted in catastrophe.

    Science and technology are incredible and powerful tools, but until we shift our concepts of our place in this world and what happiness and progress are, we will continue to use these tools as weapons against the earth.

    • And the best thing about this spill, Laida, is what we might learn about it from the future. The Secretary of the Interior is currently looking into the fact that BP was exempted from filing a plan as to what it would do if this type of spilled occurred–and a number of those in the regulatory agency that exempted them were wined, dined–and sexed–by BP lobbyists. After this was discovered, the offending officials were given a short “ethics seminar”– but it seems like we ought to set up our regulatory systems so that such graft is unthinkable.

  27. “Why did you do that?” “Because I can.” This exchange is not an uncommon occurrence, in some form or another. Because we can, we should. Where does this idea come from? It seems to be connected to the idea that any new development or technology is progress, or a step forward, and thus it is good and should be carried out. This idea does not take into account that such things could actually be harmful to our growth as a people and a world. It assumes that the power to do is joined equally and deservingly by the power of knowledge; but there are more cases than we can probably know in which the former “outdistances” the latter and the result is indeed dangerous. Does this mean that we need to stop technological advancement and/or get rid of current technology? No, I do not believe so. I believe it means, as this essay points out, that we need the precautionary principle to guide our developments. We need to first do no harm. And, we cannot stop evaluating our actions and exist in mere complacency, for the world is certainly alive and changing over time and we must thus grow with it. Finally, the insight that “we need our enemies to show us who we are” sent shivers down my back. Never have I read about the concept where it was more eloquent and well stated. We need diversity in our world in order to be fully ourselves. When we celebrate others—human and non human—we celebrate our own selves as well. And when we decide to go forth with an action, we need to do so out of humility in knowing that we will never understand everything.

    • I agree that honoring diversity and the use of the precautionary principle are key values in our treatment of the nature– and of one another (“do no harm”, is, after all, an ancient ethical dictum).
      I am heartened by the recent introduction of the Safe Chemicals for Kids bill–which seeks to (at last!) substitute precaution for our current “reactionary” chemical usage position as the important President’s Panel on Cancer stresses in their recent report.
      Thanks for another thoughtful comment, Kirsten.

  28. I have to start by saying that I believe in science whole heartedly and will always defend all its positive points. That being said, I agree that we tend to forget that people are a part of the system, and therefore an influence upon it. This is an important debate in many classes about the importance of nature – are humans part of or separate from the rest of the world? Either way, we have an influence on it, and should not be discounted in what we do. Instead of changing the world, aren’t we more familiar with ourselves, enough that we should be the easiest thing to change?
    The most interesting part of this article for me was your examples of the extreme measures that have been proposed to battle global warming. If only the sun didn’t shed so much energy on us, and the creatures in the ocean would hold more carbon for longer periods, we could continue to increase our pollution rates. We, of course, are only using the earth, and should not have to alter our behavior… (is there a font for sarcasm yet?)

  29. I have yet to hear of the mirrors that they plan to use to deflect sunlight until now. Are they serious? People who obviously must be “smart” and get compensated very well have came up with this. I am uneducated on this subject beyond what I have read here, but it does not sound like the solution that will solve our problem. How about restrictions on carbon emissions that are tough than the ones we currently have. How about finding ways to better use our resources. How about starting with the problems inside the ozone layer first. Typical though that we would look for the easy solution. It’s frustrating…

    • Yep, they are serious. Although some just thing if they release a lot of SO2 up there, that might do the job instead. Of course, controlling our own actions hasn’t hit their radar of priorities.

  30. I’ve subconsciously lived by the fact that “whatever we can do we should do.” And that science will know everything. If science means playing god then we’re in deep trouble. According to the health of our world presently, we obviously don’t know how to play god. I agree that we’re simply not smart enough yet. The changing laws of nature isn’t helping us understand. Science is constantly figuring things out; it’s a never ending story. I’ve optimistic that we’re getting wiser as time goes on and that science will be greater. Partnering with nature will help in ways we don’t think of. It will bring a better state to the natural world and us as humans; we’re not in the best shape these days. Maybe then will science take a greater leap towards knowing everything?

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment. It is my sense that pride–and assumptions about our own intelligence– get in the way of actually developing the knowledge we need to communicate with the world rather than to attempt to “know everything”.

  31. This article points out some major flaws in the American culture. Placing oneself as most important makes it difficult to see another’s perspective. Unless we are educating ourselves about other perspectives and situations, we are more able to continue thinking in terms of our own perspective. I know I am guilty of this. There are so many distractions in our culture. I’m very glad to have had the opportunity to take this class and learn more, so maybe I can be a bit less self-centered and more earth centered, or at least take the time to research things for myself before actng or forming an opinion.
    I watched a video on the indigenous peoples of Africa and how global warming has affected them. It is devistating to their lives. The land that has sustained them has changed in such ways that they cannot adapt to. They know the urgency for change, change in the indulstrialized nations. What we are doing to the natural world will come full circle and the earth will no longer sustain us.
    My son, who’s pretty knowledgeable about global warming, did not uderstand the problem that the Indegenous people in Africa are facing, because the lifestyle is so unlike ours. It was hard to imagine not being able to get food from a store, or borrow money when its needed. These are from American life styles–we live with excess and have more than we need, and we have endless supplies. It is hard to imagine a culture that depends on the land for its survival. At some point, we too will no longer have neccessary supplies and resources.
    I am glad to have this knowledge; although I understand that I have been part of the problem, I can share what I know with others. I can make different choices now.

    • Indeed, self-importance pretty much inhibits really hearing another, Erin. What is happening in Africa or with the rising waters in Bangladesh is like the proverbial “canary in the coal mine”– I do not know how we can believe such things will not eventually effect us in a world of interconnection natural systems.
      I think that one of the most important things you can do is think for yourself– thanks for taking on this task, which is important at all times, most of all at a time of crises.

  32. I agree that we must accept and admit that we as human beings do have limits. It seems that we have slowly begun to change the way that corporate America relates to nature. We have let our egos and arrogance get us into quite a predicament; however, the Green Revolution seems to be gaining firm momentum. I fear, however, that we may never be able to fully humble ourselves and stop attempting to rule nature as a god. I fear this may be a downfall that is very close to the human condition, that we think we know the difference between right and wrong.

    • I don’t think you mean by the Green Revolution what many meant in the 1970s– as in the essay here, “The Green Revolution– Whoops”– at that time it meant the use of chemicals and machinery to boost ag output.
      Thoughtful point about the need for humility. Do you really think that our failure to know everything does not mean we cannot discern the difference between right and wrong?

  33. I think I would like to have certain CEOs live downwind of their own factories– including factory farms– or maybe spend a day or two in the chicken houses so crowded that chickens attack one another-and without windows. One woman interviewed on Food, Inc, was dropped from her corporate supply contract, since she insisted on keeping windows in her chicken coops.

  34. The fact that scientists are considering building mirrors to deflect the sunlight to decrease the symptoms of global warming is ridiculous, i don’t know whether to laugh, or feel disturbed by this notion. Since the industrial revolution, humans have ignored the consequences of their actions, and this is another great example of it.
    I enjoyed the line talking about the theory of everything. How in search of this theory we should include ourselves, and our responsibilities. I completely agree with this statement. It might help us avoid things in the future like having to build mirrors to deflect sunlight.

    • Maybe we should both laugh and feel distressed toward this notion– which, incidentally, is gaining some support. Anything to help avoid looking at the consequences of our actions–and perhaps changing our behavior in response. Perceptive points about our own responsibility– which might impel up to avoid as well as undertake certain things. Thanks for your comment, Brandon.

  35. It could be that it was the invention of the atomic bomb that the moment was reached where our power definitively outdistanced our knowledge. It is a shame our ability to conjure up the math and materials to make an atomic bomb came so much easier than the ethics of using it.

    I think we have been incredibly lucky so far that we’ve avoided a nuclear war, but with things such as the current verbiage being thrown around between the US/South Korea and North Korea, it may just be a matter of time.

    PS: Another idea to “solve” global warming that has been floated by so called legitimate scientists is the notion of exploding a nuclear device in the desert to kick up enough dust to block sunlight for a long enough period of time to cool the earth – you really do have to wonder (who put us in charge) sometimes!

  36. I actually thought this article was quite interesting. It reminded me of how when I read books I typically balance what I take in between fiction and non-fiction. To me this balance, scientists completely forget about at times. While yes, I applaud them for some of their efforts things do change, like physicists have seen over time. Some of the plans the scientists had to reverse the effects humans have had on the environment were ridiculous to say the least.

    I honestly was thinking while reading the article, it’s not all about science but how capitalism and globalization has made so many things available instantly. This in return has had an effect on how scientists view some things. They want that instant gratification even if they haven’t looked into the consequences of these actions. Scientists ultimately need to think they are humans first if they want to survive.

    • You are absolutely right that it is not “all about science” here, Christopher, but about the worldview and its economic and political system that provides the context in which science operates. There are some very progressive scientists and some of these (see the site of the Union of Concerned Scientists) have a difficult time getting the word about their research out when it contradicts someone’s profit. We need all the knowledge we can get– and that knowledge starts with, as you indicate, remembering that we are human first–and as humans, we grew up in a ecological context millions of years old.

  37. This is by far my favorite essay I’ve read yet. I completely agree that there is bliss in ignorance and we will never understand everything about nature and our world. I also believe we should continue to strive to do so. As we attempt to understand nature, we learn her mysterious works and may one day understand that nature is more powerful than ourselves or anything we can create in a lab. Partnering science with nature is something I hope to achieve in my life. Thank you for the wonderful essay.

    • Thanks for your kind feedback, Megan–and I hope you will see a partnering of science and nature that your career will help support!

    • I completely agree with your response. We will never be able to understand everything about nature and our earth, but are we meant too? I think that we do need to learn things about our earth and how she functions, but there has to be a limit about how far we need to dig. Science and nature can go far to solve alot of earths mysteries!

    • I really like how you are striving to partner science and nature in your own life. This is something that everyone of us should attempt to do because otherwise science will try and over take nature. It is important for science to realize its own niche within the greater working web of the natural world.

  38. I feel that this essay is a good example of the types of people who take complete charge and then the rest of the populace follows blindly. As much as I have always loved and admired most scientists I can definitely see where their faults may lie. I completely agree with this statement “when our power outdistances our knowledge, there is trouble ahead”. The world is so larger and the interconnectivity of all life can be so small I really do not think that people are capable of foreseeing the consequences that our actions can have. I do not believe that there is an easy fix to the problems that we have created over time. I feel that we believe that since it took no time at all to get ourselves into a mess then it must be just as quick to get everything cleaned up. History has shown us time and time again that this is never the case. I love the idea that it is necessary to step outside of our current world view in order to get a better grasp upon the world. Although I find it very hard to believe that people will let go of their egos and their comfort in order to do so.

    • We cannot foresee the consequences of our actions, but we do have some historical cues–and when we haven’t any of these, it is best to use the precautionary principle. I think the best wisdom (and science as well) comes from those who “step outside their egos”, as you put it-and also step outside a focus on monetary gain. Thanks for your comment, Ashley.

  39. Science can be an extremely powerful and helpful tool, but it may also be our downfall. As you have mentioned before Dr.Holden, humans have the power to be the world’s best creatures because we can be the worst. If we have knowledge to do something, it does not mean we should do it. Let’s use nuclear weapons for example. We have the advanced weapons technology to blow up our world many times over, but we should not just because we have the power. I don’t think science sees these limits in other fields of science which it turn makes us do things that we shouldn’t. This is because you meantion science can never know everything. We will never be certain what actions now will harm us or the planet down the road, or which ethical issues environmental problems or new technologies will bring into our society. This is why, I believe, we need to use the precautionary principle to try to move into a mindset of preventing negative consequences from our actions instead of simply deflecting the problem until later, much like the mirrors in space would do. The most important action for science should be to take a step back and look at the big picture, and how we can end up harming the big picture if we don’t start being proactive towards nature and ourselves.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Kyle. As you indicate, if science is knowledge, it must be knowledge of the “big picture”– and since that picture includes so much other life, we need the precautionary principle to make sure our actions are not only wisely carried out, but ethically so. As you remind us, there is a big gulf between knowing how to do something and the ethics and wisdom in doing it. I agree with you that this is why we need to precautionary principle: the “big picture” tells us what we don’t know as well as what we don’t– so as to avoid the dangerous mix of arrogance and ignorance.

  40. This is a very good essay. I really enjoyed the idea that the earth and science will always be a mystery to us. We will always be learning more and more things about the planet we live on, and science will still be learning news things, and discovering they were wrong about many things. I think the fact that we are trying to hard to figure our world out is discouraging. I do not think that we were put on our planet to question every little thing that it does, but to appreciate them. I think if we continue to probe and dig, it will only lead us to the fact that maybe we were not meant to know everything.

    • Jessica,

      I am in agreement with you that we are most likely not meant to know everything. It is human nature, however, to question everything around us. I hope that our fundamental inquisitive nature and ability to reason ways to adapt the environment don’t lead us into completely destroying the earth.

    • Thoughtful point, Jessica. I am not sure what we are meant to know, but I think humility goes with wisdom. Thanks for your comment.

  41. Professor Holdren,

    I certainly consider myself a scientist and feel that I typically take a logical path to solving problems. I in no way think that we will know everything though! That is what the world is all about, really. There is randomness everywhere and as many people say, “nature always finds a way.” so to think that we can fully understand and control EVERYTHING is not very realistic.

    • I’m glad you are a realistic thinker, Kurt– isn’t that what logic should be about? I think there is more ego than wisdom in the idea that humans can know (and control) all of nature. Thanks for your comment.

  42. I think the most telling and important insight in this article is the notion that the universe can only be described self-referentially. That is to say that humans are a part of the very system we are trying to describe. Like Heisenberg’s quantum insights, it may be impossible to remove or account for our disruptions in a system with an infinite set of data.

    I have a buddy who is a math Ph. D. candidate here at OSU and I have talked to him about the nature of fractals in particular. Fractals, as I am sure you are aware, are functions where one or more of the variables in a function is also the solution. This creates a feedback loop. I believe that consideration for and understanding of this sort of relationship is integral to a better understanding of the universe.

    … and that’s without looking too hard at the possible consequences of choice or chance that quantum mechanics seems to point to.

    • This idea of necessary self-reference is both a characterization of human consciousness (in that recognize our own consciousness) and the point that makes supposed “objectivity” impossible, since we are always a part of the system we are describing. Fractals are fascinating.
      Thanks for your comment, Thomas.

  43. In the description of the need to humble oneself during the vision quests of the Coast Salish people, in order to find your spirit-power, I can’t help but think how we need to do this just in trying to learn about each other. As discussed in this essay, we really only see what we expect to see (“what we already know–or assume we know–to begin with”), whether in science or in people. If we would just shut up (our mouths, or our mind’s pre-existing notions) and listen, we would gain a more expansive view of the world, and realize just how little we know–along with finding much to intrigue and engage us. It’s also the only way we can even attempt to step outside ourselves, or “walk in another’s shoes”–as much as that can be done, at any rate.

    I, too, am grateful that we can never know all the secrets of the universe–how boring would it be if we already knew everything there was to know?

    • I very much like your point about humbling ourselves in trying to learn about one another, Crystal. As you indicate, that takes listening–and listening deeply enough to receive unexpected information. Thanks for your thoughtful response.

    • I agree, Crystal, that we our often too busy going about our own way to observe the world around us. Self-reflection only gives minimal insight (and is actually somewhat selfish sounding). What we should instead do is an outer-reflection, recognizing that we are only one tiny part of a much larger world.

      • I do think there is a kind of self-reflection that is about personal authenticity– and responsibility– rather than selfishness, Breannon. I think it depends on your sense of self. If, as I argued in my analysis of traditional Chehalis socialization, the sense of self is one that is connected to others, self-reflection is a different kind of thinking from that of the isolated individual who has competition with others in mind. There is a way in which our individuation (if not our individualism) is a boon to the world we share.
        Thoughtful point for discussion.

  44. Rather than taking accountability and adjusting our actions accordingly, we instead try to fix the problem through other means. With regard to environmental matters, carbon offset programs simply pass the buck rather than forcing companies to alter their actions. Gastric bypass is an example of this in health. Rather than altering one’s action with regards to eating and exercise, the stomach is physically stapled to force the individual to eat less. However, without behavioral modification, the individual’s stomach begins to expand as they try and consume like they used, causing even more medical problems than before. There is no gastric bypass procedure for environmental degradation. It is not the environment that must change, but rather ourselves and our actions that must change as we learn to “partner with nature”.

    • “No gastric bypass operation for environmental degradation” indeed, Breannon. And of course the irony is that our own actions are precisely what we have the power to change.

  45. I am going out on a political limb here but from my perspective, the eight years of the Bush administration certainly set us back many years regarding climate change and environmental degradation and corporate accountability in all areas of our life. We are so far behind the rest of the world, even China, in renewable energies. The subverting the data of the world scientists around the real state of our environments was unconscionable.
    Even the statement that James Watson “discovered” the code of DNA is akin to declaring that Columbus “discovered” America. That very arrogance is insulting to Creation and usurping creation does not ‘act’ as creation but is simply the process of uncovering layers of discovery of the unfathomable.
    I found the information that the two linguists discovered that the Hopi language spoke more clearly and astutely to quantum physics and space time quanta not surprising at all. As anthropologist and other social scientists are looking at Traditional Environmental Knowledge (TEK) with more respect and honor maybe there is a possibility that modern science can humbly partner with indigenous peoples worldwide.
    I recently heard a report on NPR, on one of my drives home, that there is a concerted effort now by NASA to find planets like Earth, not so we can explore the possibility of other life in the Universe but as possibilities for evacuation when we have “used up” our beloved Earth. Yikes! Is that the ultimate “use it, abuse it and leave it” attitude!

    • I would go out on that limb with you, Maureen. For instance, there is the Union of Concerned Scientists’ detailing of the ways in which the administration’s EPA appointees asked the agency scientists to repress any of their research that reflected badly on corporate goals. I think Lisa Jackson is seriously dedicated to things like setting up the precautionary principle in our chemical use (and supporting the Kid Safe Chemicals Act– see our “action list” here) that goes along with this. This give me great hope– though undercutting such moves with corporate campaign financing also worries me. When the majority of the US population see environmental concerns in serious need of addressing, we do an injustice to our democracy — not to mention to our children’s world– to repress scientific information that is essential to caring for our world.
      This runaway attitude is obviously nothing new; I think it is important to understand that we need to learn to live on the earth we have! Thanks for your comment.

    • I am right there with you too Maureen.

      After listening to scientists discount evidence and scientific theory peer reviewed objectively during the heyday of the Bush administration, I walked around with my jaw scraping the floor for a good long while.

      Then the conspiracy, people were directed to not use the words “climate” and “change” in the same written or spoken sentence, in a paper, in a week, year, ever- geese!

      From what I understand about China’s practices, although they may be more advanced than we are in some instances, the fact remains that there is significant levels of pollution in our atmosphere, waters and soils thanks to the methods modern China has employed. Numerous endangered species no longer exist in China because of the results of the human footprint, and this number is driven lower in multiples daily.

      My point is that we can’t all just do some things and not others, and we all must participate to make a positive change for the world’s populations including the human population. We can’t practice green building while ignoring water quality ( this may not be the best example given these go hand in hand in most instances with landscaped based stormwater measures being part of many green construction activities) and we can’t pollute the air while bringing our own reusable bags to the grocery store for shopping. One single act does not offset the results of our compounded acts. It must be our compounded acts that offset the results of our existing long term impacts.

      The problem is that we do not have total or even partial control of the choices being made on our behalf and in our best interest. Although we have the perspective that through the democratic process we are selecting what our future will be, when it comes to the influence of Corporate America and big industry on our government and on other world governments, we are up against something larger than all the earth like planets in our universe combined.


      • Time for a holistic view, yes? Including a holistic assessment of our own actions; you are right, as you said in your last comment, that you can only control your own actions. The good think about this is that it means taking things one step at a time. Never doubt that those steps have immeasurable importance.

  46. Science is a great source of knowledge and I respect all the mathmeticians and scientists because they can understand the small details that encompasses this world. If I would of picked one of the science fields it would of been biology for I love the study of life and all that it entails. I think that the world is magnificent and like what you state in the article, there is much that we don’t know and many mysteries that may never be uncovered, for it is mysterious. Science is humanity’s way of explaining the beginning and how life as we know began and they continue to expand on this knowledge. However, I think it is dangerous to put mirror’s in space so as to reshape the global climate because it seems that when something is changed, then it changes something else. There is consequences that could ensue that it could be more detrimental to humanity. Science cannot foresee everything. So I think as in this article that as humans, we combined the knowledge of science and indigenous views of the land, then there may be hope for the planet to thrive and replenish.

    • Thoughtful points, Tina. A scientist who views the world with humility and wonder– looking for what it can teach one about how to be fully human, can make essential contributions to our society today. Especially if that scientist’s work is not subject to manipulation in the political process (see the sidebar “quote of the week here”). But this putting mirrors in space thing shows us the problems with human hubris– and misplaced remedies. Why direct ourselves to flashy (and potentially dangerous) technology when we might repair our way of life instead.?

  47. I personally, believe that science has benefits, but there should not be this arrogance that allows them to play God. Scientists are making all sorts of discoveries that could save human live. On the other hand, scientists are also coming up with ideas that have the potential to destroy life on this planet. They have come up with chemically engineered food that can prevent us from being able to replenish our natural food source. Also yes, we are spraying harmful chemicals and dumping toxic waste into our atmosphere that is interferring with our weather patterns and creating global warming. We as human being need to be more mindful of our behavior and how it affects the lives of all living things on this planet.

    • I wonder what you think of this idea communicated by Chehalis elders to Thelma Adamson in 1926: “human power great enough to heal is also power great enough to kill.” The more technological power we have, the more we need to assess our actions to make sure that we are getting the power to heal and the power to kill mixed up with another. Playing God is a certain way to do that, I think. Thanks for your comment, Elizabeth.

  48. If the world is changing because of our impact in the first place, how we think that we can introduce a manipulated response to our earth changing that will somehow be the answer that we are looking to find.

    How can science which caused the problem also fix the problem?

    There are benefits to science, but we cannot allow successes in science to result in taking over the balance between science and nature so that science displaces the other entirely. Because science is not objective, it cannot understand and explain nature.

    • Great point about the problems of changing the world being unable to be fixed by changing it more, Lizzy. It was Einstein who observed that you can’t fix a problem with the same mentality that created it.
      I appreciate your perspective here.

  49. It is funny to me that there are so many of us that seem outraged by the abuses on our mother earth, but yet most if not all of us at some point or another consume the bounty of these abuses but yet we rant and rave at our government when they continue to explore for, drill for or buy from dictatorial countries (oil for example or Chinese products where human rights abuses are well documented). How many of us fly, ride in cars, ride busses, buy groceries from the market where products are trucked in, then get annoyed when what we want is not readily available. I was in a conversation with a friend who said that America was in a war with Iraq because of wanting to control the worlds oil supplies and how awful it was, but yet she drives a 3/4 ton gas guzzler to tow her horse trailer so she can recreate. The idea that China is greener than the US is interesting to me since those attending the recent olympics had to wear masks to protect themselves from the pollution there . Until we all wake up (globally and individually) our mother earth’s troubles will only worsen.

    • Thoughtful point about the need to assess our own actions, Deborah. At the very least, we can’t hope to motivate pollution-free and carbon-neutral development in other countries unless we lead the way ourselves.
      And we might note that the remark quoted in this article was made by Chinese visitors in the 1970s– there is much that has gone on in China since. But we do need to credit China for whole-system medicine in examples like accupuncture and herbal use.

    • I believe it is a one way street downward for the health of the Earth. The damage done seems so deep that it will take centuries to reverse it. The industrial revolution era really left its mark for our and future generations with the damage that was done. We can start to make changes, but like all habits, they are going to be hard to change. Especially if we are going to do it globally, it is going to take much persuasion and fight to get it going. Lobbyist have such an impact on our government that it will be hard for our own government to do much changes.

  50. I work as a scientist in a large company and many of my coworkers and managers recently took personality tests as a team building exercise. What we found was that the majority of managers and people in upper management were more inclined to make decisive decisions without much data or research. It was interesting that most of the people in charge of making the big decisions about whether to make a product or if a product should be released to the public had risk taking personalities, while many more of the “ground level” scientists valued thorough research and investigation prior to making decisions.

    It would be interesting to do a large study of scientists to find out if the problems using and releasing technology without fully understanding it is really a result of the types of scientists who are promoted to leadership positions, rather than an intrinsic quality of scientists altogether. In other words, if our culture values risk taking behavior in our leaders more than thoughtfulness, measured decisions, and insight, then it is no wonder that we have created a lot of short-sighted problems for ourselves. On the other hand many of the essays in this blog and in our class readings show that most indigenous peoples chose leaders who were wary of sudden change without full investigation of the consequences.

    • This is a fascinating dynamic you cite here, Darcy. We might also speculate that risk takers are promoted because new products are rewarded by our economic system– one of the reasons that there is resistance to the institution of the precautionary principle on a wider basis.
      Two other points your comment brought to mind. One is the separation of authority from responsibility in contemporary culture– such that authority gives one license rather than responsibility for enacting and modeling ethics or even basic care. The other part of this dynamic is that there is a necessity for the kind of thoroughness and care on the part of those working on the ground in order to actually produce something.
      And this: do we have a dangerous confusion between risk taking and creativity?
      Thanks for presenting this very interesting point.

    • That truly is a fascinating result! It makes sense once I think about it, but I never would have come to that conclusion on my own. It looks like we really need to reevaluate the situation and the people that have power in our countries and corporations.

  51. This article hits on many good points as to why science should never take over the world, and I agree with it. Science should be used to understand nature and the ever changing ways that occur. Science can not keep up with the changes that occur and nor should they create changes. Things happen for a reason and if we messed with it, things can get out of place very quickly. Its like equilibrium in chemistry. If one side of the equation is tipped more in favor, the other side will work to compensate it throwing this our of proportion for a period of time. We should all use and learn from science from a curiosity stand point. Playing the role of God or creator is dangerous, and so far it has been dangerous. Science has created new chemicals which harm the Earth badly. Among other things created, like test tube animals and babies. I believe that stem cell research is a hot topic, but if we really think about, I believe it is one of those spots where Science can make a difference. In these circumstances I feel science has a place in our society. But to create things that should not be created or to be an enforcer of the world do not have a place in society.

    • Thoughtful balance here, Will. I have just been studying the case of the Newfoundland cod fishery, where science completely failed in an attempt at management– or taking this over in some rational way– so much so that it was implicated in the total collapse of cod populations.
      A local science historian, Dean Bavington, believes that science failed because ocean fisheries are in fact incapable of such “management”– I am including some of this story in an upcoming post here.

    • Unfortunately, scientific discoveries are not always used wisely. I think one of the biggest problems is a lack of scientific education for the general populace. When we have government officials making decisions with no scientific knowledge, that’s when we find ourselves is bad situations. I don’t think many scientists are trying to play the role of “creator,” I think this is a misconceived notion by people who do not understand molecular biology and the research that is actually taking place.

      • This quote about scientist’s playing God is from a modern Nobel Prize wining geneticist– so in this case, it was a scientist, not a misinformed member of the populace who said it. Francis Bacon, purported father of modern science, said it was up to science to “torture” nature’s “secrets” from her; his book, New Atlantis, depicted a Utopian society which was ruled by scientists who manipulated technology to control nature (in this book he puts forth the theory that all new technology is good simply because it is new technology.
        Whereas it may be that some (or a good many) of our citizens misunderstand molecular biology, I don’t think we can say there is no complicity by scientists– if only inadvertently– in the notion of scientists “managing” the natural world from above in a position of total rational control
        And thanks for your comments, Allison and Will.

  52. As a biology major, I have never once been arrogant enough to assume that we will ever completely understand the utter complexity of living organisms. In fact, the more advances in understanding we make, the more questions arise. Scientific knowledge is fluid; a good scientist knows that theories change overtime, and can never be proved, only disproved. I think there are some members of the scientific community that ARE indeed arrogant and can’t see the big picture of things. However, the best scientists I have ever met were the ones that were most humbled by natures mysteriousness.

    As to the “plans” to place mirrors in space to deflect sunlight, most credible scientists I know are opposed to the idea. For the very reason that the Earth’s climate is MUCH too complicated to predict what would happen. In all honesty, such a foolish action scares me. If someone takes this action, it won’t be a well informed scientist.

    • Thanks for sharing this balanced perspective of your chosen field, Allison. I think biology, being a “life” science, is especially poised to have this kind of perspective on the natural world.
      You are right that many “big ideas” of the mirrors in space sort are designed and carried out by political and economic interests rather than scientists, which is why I think we very much need organizations like the Union of Concerned Scientists–and new scientists that have values like your own!

  53. A lot more can be learned about/from our world through deep and sincere reflection. Examples of men and women sufis and gnostics throughout our history show the wealth of insights they came up with, readily available in written and verbal form.

    As the poet, Saadi says: “A lamp has no rays at all in the face of the sun; and a high minaret even in the foothills of a mountain looks low.”
    Everything the earthbound scientist describles/delves into is not the whole picture and is relative to his/her outlook and expectations from nature around us. These theories are of course not set in stone. They are subject to change without notice, as is often the case. Just one example is the age of our planet earth, which has been changed numerous times.

    Would that scientific thought stopped at theory. Unfortunately, examples of research and meddling with live organisms, for the supposed benefit of mankind, echo more harmsthan benefits, case in point the disastrous Australian lab research on fish which went of control.

    Instead of playing God with living creatures, which does not really help the majority of the world’s poorer humans, it would have been better they spend all that money and effort in uprooting poverty, making peace between nations, and stabilizing the world economy through existent technology.
    “Experience the beauties of nature, and in doing so, learn about yourself.”–Japanes proverb

  54. Dr. Holden, I think you summed-up this essay when you commented on the concern regarding how we believe we possess the intelligence to direct our planet’s actions while we still can’t simply manage our own.

    Modern sciences, objective and dualistic approach toward understanding natural processes seems to be the greatest culprit when relating to this perception that we can achieve a so-called “theory of everything”. I feel like our lack of knowledge to understand our link with nature will continue to suppress our own essence and distort our development. Kurt Gödel’s “incompleteness theorem” supports our lack of ability to achieve this “theory of everything”, especially since we can’t conceptualize our own being. I believe that indigenous people’s stance regarding their relationship to the world is the first step to enlightenment. And, I also agree that our inability to completely understand the universes many mysteries is humbling and comforting.

  55. This article really confused me. I agree with some concepts in it, that we should not toy with nature as much as we do because we are not divine. I agree that as humans we have limits, and that nature is on this planet with us so we should respect it and not take power over it.
    However, the part that I found to be interesting was that it takes the perspective that one does believe in the divine or a higher power. What about those who do not believe in “god”? Where would they be left on this issue? In some ways I feel this article renders science almost to be useless, and I just cannot agree with that.

    • Hi Sarah, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I certainly did not mean to even imply that one has to believe in a higher power as an alternative to science. My point was to illustrate the hubris of those who would make science our new “god”. And I don’t blame you if that particular stance (which is not mine) is confusing. Notably, several modern historians of science have observed that popular cultures has replaced prior theology with the dogma of science as a kind of new “religion”.
      Why do you think it renders science useless simply because it cannot know anything? In the CBC interviews with the theme, “How to think about Science”, several theoretical scientists who have written works that place their fields in social or historical context have commented on the fact that they are rather astonished when they are accused of being anti-science just because they offered another perspective on it.
      This essay only renders science useless if we believe that science must have the ability to know everything in order to be useful. Take certain indigenous cultures who knew a great deal of real science about how to interact with their environments, but still honored the “great mystery” of the natural world.

  56. As soon as I read the section on the geo-engineering plans to put mirrors in space to reflect sunlight in order to deal with global warming, I was floored. Is such drastic measure really called for? It sounds absolutely insane to me that this is even a consideration. There is no way to know the side effects, consequences, or otherwise of what the mirrors would do to our planet. There is speculation that it will change weather patterns, but what else could happen? This connects to our societies view of a quick fix to the world’s problems, without thought of other problems that are likely to arise in the future.

  57. I think the beginning statement by James Watson sets the tone of the article, and shows us what is wrong with some scientists today. If people going around doing all they can do, our earth will continue to deplete. It is important for us to explore, but we must learn to preserve first before we do anything. Even if you do not believe in God, you still must have the common sense to not abuse science which many scientists do. No one should be able to play the role of “Creator” and our society must be able to balance preservation an exploration in science. Until we do that, our country will continue to face the same problems.

    • Very thoughtful sense of balance here in your comment once again, Kyle. As you note, we don’t have to believe in God to realize that scientists should not assume the role of a god.

    • I agree, and it gets back to the precautionary principle, that if we do not know, we should not take action, but gather the information necessary first to choose the right course. It seems like just doing something rather than taking the time to make an informed and cautious decision, with restoration, repairs, and mitigations that follow to rectify damage done, all become normalized in this approach.

  58. Numbers are the Supreme Court of science. However Godel proved that we may not prove everything. There are Physics Foibles!!

  59. I very much appreciate the idea expressed in this essay, that there is nothing wrong with the world remaining mysterious. Had I not thought about in the context of a class such as this one, I may not have critically examined the fallacies of ‘science will one day know everything,’ especially as that is the cultural attitude that I was raised with. However, given this context – of knowing other environmental worldviews and appreciating the life-affirming ethics of Indigenous cultures – it’s difficult to see an assertion such as that as anything but arrogantly spawned from a society-wide belief system that we can and Should figure out every aspect of the natural world, and once we do, we will then have the power to control it. Not to mention the misguided notion that with our current knowledge of ‘how things work’ we can create new human-made properties which we falsely believe we can completely control and harness from their birth. As other Our Earth/Ourselves articles have presented with the criticism of genetically engineered crops, this is simply not possible.

    • Not only is this not possible, but such arrogance leads us to so many wrong turns in our excuses that abdicate our responsibility for our choices. Thank you for another thoughtful comment, Lauren.
      I for one take heart in the fact that the world is not all figured out– it is the basis of much joy as well as hope in a world that is troubled in so many ways. Our stories are both important–and unfolding in ways we cannot predict. We can only take the steps to follow and enact our visions, one by one.

  60. Thanks for taking the time to share this, I feel strongly about it and love reading more on this topic. If possible, as you gain knowledge, would you mind updating your blog with more information? It is extremely helpful for me.

  61. See Godel incompleteness – it may be a Physics Foible

    • Thanks for the informative comment.
      Students may be interested in looking at this book and website that opens more critical thinking on this issue. You might be especially interested in taking a look if you are a physics or science major.

  62. I very much liked this essay. The world is mysterious and always will be. A person cannot know and learn everything there is out there. There will always be something new popping up and something new to discover. Science is infinite, I believe.

    • To me as well this perception also makes for a more interesting life, Jen. Thanks for your comment.

    • Honoring and upholding the value of mystery is more important then ever given how increasingly more explicit and explained things become everyday. Becoming comfortable with uncertainty, not knowing, and even not understanding, can be difficult, but is so important in overcoming the dependence on the need for explanation that leads to explanation, with some Hegelian absolute knowledge waiting at the end of the chain.

      • Important point: especially since the idea of pure or absolute knowledge has been linked with the distancing of mind from body and the material world in the history of Western philosophy. But I am also not sure that this is quite expressed by Hegel, who attempting a dialectic view which was historical rather than finished; I cannot forget his ironic jab at absolutes when he said that “absolute being and absolute nothing are one and the same thing”– that is, once you have reached this level of absolutes, you have lost all meaning.

  63. It is interesting how humans always seek answers. It reminds me of the way that many civilizations attempt to reveal answers to everyday mysteries by connecting a story of gods or mythology to explain why things happen. I believe that in Greek mythology, during a thunderstorm, it was said that the gods were fighting up on Mt. Olympus. Soon enough we used our scientific knowledge and abilities to go deeper. It is pretty safe to say that we will never know everything, there are just some mysteries that as mortals, are not meant to know. I agree that there should be a point in science that takes into consideration how the experiments of today will effect the world tomorrow.

    • It is true that we are curious creatures–and not the only animals with this trait. And we shouldn’t forget that much myth is full of metaphor. (that is, they did not literally mean the gods were fighting).

  64. Even though I am charmed by science and all it has to offer, and am often informed much more fully because of it in what I do, I also think that it is more often than not less important than human values in the end. The onslaught of scientific information about how to manage land, often seems like too much given how well things seemed to function in North America before being managed with science-based apporaches. It is just terrifying to realize how much development, biochemical engineering, and other forms of intentional science-based alteration of natural phenomenon are becoming standards of normalcy. I am still grappling with how these theories shake down. It is still foolish to admonish science in favor of a romanticized notion of indigenous knowledge originating from cultures I have no inheritance from as a white American, given science’s relative cultural imprints upon me. Yet the same indigenous knowledge which informed land management before I arrived seemed to contribute toward a balance that science has far from reached in its applications.

    • Thoughtful perspective, Amanda.
      I agree that authenticity is a very important goal–and not gained by substituting the views of others for our own. On the other land, I think there is something to be said (as you also indicate) for creating a bridge between views: what brings me hope that this is possible is the ways in which certain values seem to resonate with all of us–as I have found in teaching over the decades among people of very different ages, as well as economic and cultural backgrounds– as well as political beliefs. It is not that we must or even can give up our world– but that there is something more we need to account for in terms of values, I think– something in our embodied selves that have arrived here in this place in natural time and evolution with so many other natural creatures in ecological systems that are far older–and often far more resonant and fulfilling to us than our industrial gloss-overs.
      I also think we must separate out notions of conquest and its colonial legacies toward both other humans and the natural world as we begin to look at what science might really learn. The best scientists I have known work with a love toward the natural world that is not so very different from that which I have had the gift to experience among certain native elders.

    • I’ve taken a lot of Natural Resource courses and it was really interesting how much technology is used: GIS, GPS, tracking, counting, etc. to figure out what is going on with animals, fish, the forest, and the sea. And yet Native Americans already can tell them (and many federal scientists are working with local tribes on salmon issues) why salmon are disappearing or why forests aren’t growing back like they thought they should. It is an amazing lack of common sense and stubborn arrogance that permeates and destroys the world, science is only a tool used by those who wish to make money or keep their jobs.

      • Hi Stephanie, I am not sure how this jives with your previous comment here on the curiosity that drives science– it is an important issue where funding coming from as well. Though my sense is that the best scientists care deeply about the natural world. And those who express arrogance about their work are not among these.

  65. I very much agree with your points about how science is somehow now trying to play god by manipulating and owning nature. However, I don’t think that it was the intention of science in the beginning. It seems that science came about simply just to better understand our earth, and our own lives. Although religions can be comforting for some, I believe others wanted to see what life was about rather than believe. Science just arose from such thoughts. But I love your point about “knowing the world is a matter of relating to it”. This is very true.

    • I think your point might better be argued that not all scientists take this approach, since the founder of modern science, Francis Bacon, was not shy about expressing this kind of arrogance.
      i would agree with you that this is not what science should be about–and it is ironic that modern science did (as you note) arise to counter blind faith during the Renaissance, only to put itself in a position of equal arrogance. You might be interested in checking out the “How to think about science” interviews with philosophers of science in the CBC radio series.

  66. The absolute best part of this entire article is the quote: “My own belief is that the universe will always be mysterious to us —for which I am grateful. I find considerable hope in our human limits—perhaps this will someday motivate us to partner with nature rather than attempting to rule it as a god.”

    Sure, scientific discovery and technology have reached a status we never even thought possible, yet we still try to exceed that and essentially “rule” the world with it. Science should be valued, but should never become arrogant. It’s important for all of us to understand our actions on this earth impact our planet’s future just as much as science’s act of fixation.

    • Good point about avoiding science’s arrogance and “fixation”– can you see any other reasons why we might both honor scientific info and maintain a critical perspective about scientific finding financed by, say, the pharmaceutical industry?
      Thanks for your comment.

  67. Arrogance is the perfect word for what the comment in regards to science and God.
    Anyone who is cognecent of possible reprecussions should understand that the mentality that if you can do something you should isn’t a good one. Even as a child my mother told me that just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.
    A perfect example of that are the mirrors that will change the weather. The downfall is that if it doesn’t directly effect the people who design them, it will be a non-issue. The poor countries can figure out how to survive with bad weather.
    I don’t think we’ll ever know everything but I don’t think we’re ment to either. My question is does it have to matter? If it absolutely has to matter, is it necessary to destroy things and cause harm to get answers. What good are those answers going to do?
    Change is an ongoing thing so as soon as we “figure something out” it very possibly could change again.

    • It is ironic when the things we would never allow our children to do, we allow some of our scientists (not to mention, large corporations) to do with impunity, Loni. Time to stop looking for BIG projects and fixes that will boost our ego but be dangerous to life and learn something about our place in natural cycles.
      Good point about change being continual: I would hope that we never run out of things to learn.

  68. Being a former science major (still getting my BS but in Liberal Arts), and knowing many scientists from PhD chemists to fishery biologists at NOAA, I find that it’s more about blind curiosity versus the scientific method or blind arrogance that drives scientists. I also think the real problem is not the scientists, its the politicians and businesses that choose to use scientific discovery a certain way. That is also who funds scientists and while most scientists just want to KNOW, there will always be people will abuse knowledge, whether the source comes from scientists or from native people’s who share the details about the natural systems where they live.

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective, Stephanie. It is not only about knowing, but about how one feels the license to grasp knowledge 9such as it is) even if it is destructive to other lives.
      There are many different types of scientists– so you would think James Watson (quoted in this article) is an atypical scientists?

      • Ha, ha! Watson…I think times have changed is all. I think that being a scientist used to hold a lot more prestige than it does now. Most scientists are not ego maniacal obsessive compulsive people who crave notoriety and success. We’ve given that job to reality TV stars. I think there are always going to be people who have dominating worldviews in every field. Take Steve Jobs for instance who is completely obsessive and controlling, but who many think is a genius in his marketing, designing, and branding of Apple. However, he can be pretty nasty to those who disagree with him and not great with customer satisfaction and I don’t hear him giving away his fortune like Bill Gates. So, I think the scientists that are famous, might also be the personality type that might be dominating and controlling because often that is what it takes to be at the top of ones field. I have unfortunately come to the conclusion that most people don’t REALLY care about the consequences of what they do, not just scientists, because most people just focus on their seemingly good intentions, not what could happen due to their actions…

        • I hope that the idea that most people don’t care about the consequences of what they do might be changing, Stephanie.
          For me, the central point is that we approach our actions with such responsibility. It would be a sad statement about our society if those “on top” are the ones most likely to abuse their power. Thanks for your comment.

    • I agree that scientist often blindly want to KNOW things without necessarily falling to the level of hubris described in the article above, but I think blind curiosity contributes to the delusion of control and power.

      The blindness of curiosity often extends to trivial meddling – if it works this way, what would happen if I did that? This curiosity of “what can I make it do” often fails to step back and consider what might happen. The disasters that happen from science are usually unintended, but a little more caution and holistic thinking would prevent many terrible things. Unfortunately, the working scientist is rewarded not for broad thinking for for highly specialized, narrow thinking.

  69. As science “progresses”, in particular in the field of quantum physics, it reveals that matter cannot be defined in a concrete way. All things are fluid, changing and interconnected – as has been known by many cultures for thousands of years. Regardless of why and how, this flow of energy has sustained itself since time unknown. In the name of science and progress, Western culture has attempted to hinder and disrupt this. The damaging affects of our actions upon the natural world are now clear. I do feel humbled that this knowledge has been available all this time, yet we didn’t acknowledge it. Yet I also feel hopeful. The quest of Western science to understand the workings of the Universe has come full circle – from one of not knowing, to a belief that it could control and dominate nature, and now back to an acceptance of unknowing.

    • Thoughtful perspective, Val. I would same some science has come full circle, since there are a number of different perspectives on how much science can really know.
      Your comment points how that we need to redefine scientific “progress”.

      • I think that your (Professor Holden) point that we need to redefine scientific progress is really intelligent. I feel like this essay is talking about how the ever changing world cannot be defined by science completely ever. I find it interesting to think that we could ever completely understand the universe through science when I believe that what one of the corner stones of science is change through mutations or selection. I think that science has the capacity for good but, as you said, needs to redefine its goals.

        • Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Caroline. I think we are in dangerous territory when we make assumptions that change is good for change’s sake (“progress”) without ever assessing–and then caring choosing– what progress would actually look like to us.

    • I think that your (Professor Holden) point that we need to redefine scientific progress is really intelligent. I feel like this essay is talking about how the ever changing world cannot be defined by science completely ever. I find it interesting to think that we could ever completely understand the universe through science when I believe that what one of the corner stones of science is change through mutations or selection. I think that science has the capacity for good but, as you said, needs to redefine its goals..

      • Perhaps we needn’t entirely redefine the goals of all science and scientists (I think some of them are doing a great job), but we certainly need to define them so that we have a standard to critically assess them.

  70. I am a firm believer that we and science will never know everything. The extent of life just goes back too far for any of us to comprehend or measure and I still don’t think they can fully explain how the existence of life actually came to be. Sure they have all sorts of evidence indicating one way or another, but again, the age of the evidence is mind-boggling. And can it really be that accurate? Or has some of it been shaped into molds of how we think it should have gone? There really is no way to ascertain the absolute truth and that is difficult for some to accept. Life is a great mystery and it will never be fully understood.
    Obviously there would be a benefit to knowing everything because then we would have the answers to problems like overcrowding and limited resources. But maybe the quest for the knowledge is what is driving us down. Over time, if we are meant to know, we will get there. But like in one of the other essays, we cannot run ourselves out of resources because then we’re next.

    • Thoughtful query as to whether the quest of knowledge itself is “driving us down”, Morgan. I think whether the way in which we are going about getting that knowledge– and our defining it as being able to control and manipulate is the problem. Seems like we can always do with more wisdom– if not more ways to manipulate our world for our convenience. As you indicate, the advent of life on this planet is complex and ancient compared to our own presence here– and as you also intimate, we need to work on fitting in with rather disrupting those ancient and complex systems that lives have built together.
      Thanks for your comment.

    • I’m glad you mentioned the “extent of life.” This is one thing that I also considered. I think it is most important to make an attempt at understanding rather than knowing. The difference is that with understanding, we accept our own limits. I can definitely benefit from trying to make positive changes based on what I understand about nature, and I’m sure there are many others like me out there. The phrase “knowledge is power” comes to mind. In this case, I think “knowledge” is actually attributing to naivety and arrogance.

  71. I thought that this was a very interesting essay. It intriguing to me that anybody could believe that humans can understand everything through any method. Not least of my reasons for my surprise is the fact that our brains, while quite complex, seem to have a limited capacity of things it can learn and things it can remember. This empirical thinking means that while we are gaining information we are also losing and forgetting knowledge. Also i think it takes quite a lot of hubris to believe that we will know what it is like to have abilities, like sonar, that are foreign to humans. In a world that is constantly changing I think we need to keep the world as diverse as possible not only because of my belief that all life has worth and a right to exist but because a varied world means more tools to search through and find solutions for human survival when faced with the challenges of the changing universe.

    • Great reminder about our need for humility in assessing the brains (and experiences) of other humans, not to mention, other species, Caroline. Our communication with others wouldn’t be worth much if they thought exactly as we did– would be pretty lonely talking to ourselves all the time.

  72. I feel like somehow humans have embraced this idea that we are invincible to the world around us. That everything we do or say won’t actually have any consequences. We’ve successfully created thousands of problems for our environment, but the majority of society is blissfully happy in this mess we’ve quietly created. Now that we realize the magnitude of our problems, we try to solve those same problems by creating another man-man device and throwing in out into our world. Trying to solve our problems with another one is just going to lead us further away from our goal.
    I agree that we will never fully understand the universe we live in, and I don’t think we will ever completely understand life for that matter. Not having an answer we seek is an uncomfortable feeling for society, yet it’s a feeling that we all need to accept. Of course we want to know more and continue ourknowledge , but at some point you have to be satisfied going down a road that might never reach an end. Just enjoy what you see on the way, and realize that we don’t have to know everything.

    • Our dangerous sense of invincibility is something to ponder, Melinda. I feel that even more than feeling that our actions won’t have any consequences, we feel that they will only have the consequences we want them to have. That assumption would only work if we were the only living creatures on earth-and the only ones who had desires or motives.
      As Einstein noted, we cannot solve a problem with the same mentality that created it.
      Given all the weight of the bad news that is coming to us about our environment by way of science, I actually find some solace in the fact that we don’t know everything. Perhaps, just perhaps, if we approach our choices with the right knowledge and ethics, we might get some positive surprises (as in the restoration of the rainforest by Gaviotas) rather than all the unpleasant surprises that predominate today.

  73. It is very true that science will never be all knowing. For we can only know things we observe and since it is impossible to observe all things all the time to know everything would be impossible. Also playing God is very dangerous since we are created also. We are therefore a part of creation which I believe God has given us to steward. Not to “manage” which brings about connotations of being outside instead of stewardship which I think provides the picture of working with what God has already made to better glorify Him.

    • Thoughtful point about the limits of our observational power: this is the point Heisenberg also made–and about the difference between stewardship and “management” that attempts to give the honor of creation to ourselves– rather than its actual Creator.

    • I like your point about not “managing” the earth. I don’t know that I would agree that the purpose is to work toward glorying God, but I do think that we have a responsibility to maintaining the earth. It reminds me of what I was taught as a young babysitter–try to leave the house in better condition than what it was left to you. Maybe if we all took that mindset, nature wouldn’t be in such shambles today.

      • It is a telling point that the standards we exact of young people (like yourself as a babysitter) we do not exact on certain corporations. Seems to say something about the maturity of our society as a whole–and perhaps we can only go up from here!

  74. After reading quite a few of the essays for this week, I am beginning to really appreciate the idea of the precautionary principle. For years I have felt that the rapid development of technology is scary and unnecessary. I just wish there were more people that agree!
    The problem here is how naive, arrogant, and irresponsible human beings can be. While not everyone fits in that boat, too many people fail to see the harm of their actions on the environments. One such example are those who believe that we should develop for the sake of developing. By all means, continue researching and finding new technologies, but don’t implement unless you know the consequences, negative and positive!
    As far as science knowing everything, the nature of science makes that impossible. Nothing is ever “proven.” Even the “laws” that have been discovered in science can change. We must try to stop convincing ourselves that progress and innovation require new technology, and start working toward using technology only for good.

    • I couldn’t agree with you more about the importance of the precautionary principle, Jenni. Nothing is ever “proven”– but we do need to make choices– which as communities and societies we simply haven’t been doing so far.
      I would not rule out the fact that progress might take new technology– but I would want to carefully define what we mean by “progress”–and what standards we want that new technology to follow.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  75. Science can never really know anything, by definition, they can never “prove” anything because of infinite possibilities. They also can never know anything about untestable material, supernatural, and if there is such existence, they cannot predict it. That’s another pit fall of science, especially in geology, they cannot predict really anything. Estimates of when events such as earthquakes, floods and volcanoes can be made, but never predicted exactly. Science is a great tool, but it’s just that, a tool, not a phsycic. Also, if knowing is relating, then truth will depend on current relations, and would be constantly changing. Which it apparently is!

    • Great point about knowing as relating, Anna– in this context, the intimacy with the land is the greatest source of knowledge– allowing us to truly observe it. If so, industrialized farming is not very far along on this path.
      Thanks for the reminders about the vastness and complexity of natural systems–and what we cannot predict.

  76. The continuing arrogance of science in our society is astounding. I was just talking about the sacrifices we will make to maintain our “standard of living” but the thought of changing our actions in order to require less energy or put less pollution into the atmosphere are looked upon as strange and radical. Take gasoline, for example. People will change their budgets to spend less on food so they can afford gas! How is that not more radical that riding your bike or taking the bus to work?

    I think a big problem is some of us already feel like we know everything. In one of my other courses, I was told that technology will always have a bigger impact on social change than the natural environment. I completely disagree. Sure, initially technology can make broad and sweeping changes to society, but ultimately it is going to be the natural world that sets the limits and changes our behavior.

    • Thoughtful considerations, Anna. The statement about technology trumping nature in terms of effect reflects a human-centered worldview. But it could create an interesting discussion about the current flooding in the Midwest: on the one hand, our technology is not working to hold back the waters that may well be the result of storms exaggerated by climate change. Perhaps you could take this reasoning to its logical conclusion and state that since technology (carbon-spewing technology) created these difficulties, if we stopped using these it would have a real effect on human society– but then again, the river is rising with or without our technology.
      Changing our habits when we feel we have a license to do what is easiest is a serious problem. As nature may be showing us, what is “easiest” is liable to get harder and harder until we get it.

  77. One thing I do not like about science is the need and want to know how everything works. This ‘theory of everything’ I think would work against us, why do we need to understand every bit of our existence? I believe it takes the magical-ness out of it. Everything works perfectly together for a reason and that reason is because God wants it too, enough said. I think the underlying factor in wanting to know how everything works is because we wish to rule nature as a God (what you said). This need for power by so many has engulfed us and become what and who we are that we can’t just get our fill from ruling one another, we must even govern nature. Competition between nations has gotten out of hand, everyone is trying to out-do the others and now because technology is kind of at a stant still (things are just improving, nothing really new) we must turn to our natural world because that is seen as esaily controlled. Bad news!

    • Thanks for your obvious support of human humility here, Cyria.

    • What you said here really makes me consider all of the information we have been reading on the Yale forum on religion and ecology. I do not practice an organized religion myself so please correct me if I am mistaken, but it seems to me that our actions and attempts to be God is rather contradictory of the fundamental idea of many religions that God is the supreme power of which no humanly being should try to be. As we act out in domineering ways toward nature, we are not acting in the way that God seems to have commanded – to love, respect, and honor. It seems to me that we are acting in ways that are completely opposite – harmful, disrespectful, and ungrateful. Why is this so? And how can we change it, especially if it is so integrally connected to religion?

      On the point of science seeking EVERY answer, I must agree. I believe that some things are unexplainable and thus majestic in their existence. We do not need to have an answer for everything because as we have seen through our readings, the scientific systems are often very limiting in their applicability. We want to classify everything when it is really unnecessary. Why can’t we just accept our existence as part of a very grandiose whole that is often unexplainable?

      Thanks for sharing Cyria 🙂

      • Gratefulness would be a nice response to the gift of life as well, Amber.
        I don’t know why there is so much dangerous arrogance in our species, but my sense is that this certainly runs contrary to the true sense of any religion I know of. I do think that when religion gets mixed up with domineering cultures, man assumes a place beside God and over creation. I can’t imagine that this is the plan of any true divinity– though it is an excuse for all manner of human ills.

      • The problem comes from Genesis 1:28 and god said “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” This is the King James version. Many Christian religions take this interpretation and decide that means they can do whatever they want to. The problem comes from the fact that in the original language from which the King James was translated the words subdue, revere, and watch-over are all the same word. King James decided that what was meant was subdue. So Christians decided they had free reign and permission from “God” to be as destructive as they wanted.

        • Good point, Tamara: “watch over” and “revere” is not the same as “subdue”–and it says something about capitalism and the culture of industrialism that “subdue” was the word chosen to depict the human relationship to creation!

  78. Science can never know everything for the world is constantly evolving and changing. Science can help us guess how things will evolve but we never know until it happens. That is one of the drawbacks of science. Often science has to go with what is the most likely to happen for we can not predict everything that will have an influence on occurrences. That is one reason that the precautionary principle is a good one to follow.

    • Good support for the precautionary principle–and it seems that it might be a good thing that our knowledge is limited– if only we had the humility this might teach us. Thanks for your comment, Tamara.

  79. Humans will NEVER know everything and perhaps there is an understanding of this but we would rather be in denial and that is where egoism is born. WE don’t want to admit that we don’t have the answers and that we can’t control the outcome of things. If we were actually playing the role of God, we would control every outcome and we would have answers for everything. We are so confident in ourselves and yet nature outsmarts us every time. Just like in the example given in the article where tiny creatures would be encouraged to grow so they might lock up carbon.

    • Of course, the “we” you refer to here are those who subscribe to the worldview of modern industrial society. It heartens me to see changes of values and worldviews in contemporary society– understanding the choices we have (and have historically had as humans) gives me substantial hope.

  80. I was touched by the respect that the Salish people have for the natural world. Their spirituality and interconnectedness with the universe is something so far removed than what we typically experience in western society, particularly in any place urban. They seem to recognize that we are smaller than the natural world and therefore less powerful. It is almost as though they look to nature and the universe as an authority, rather than something to rule over. I find this kind of belief to be very inspiring and respectful.

    I wonder if there will come a day that more people in Western society revere nature as more indigenous people typically do. How many times will we have to do something as absurd as putting mirrors into space until we realize that the same thing can and may be accomplished by simply respecting the Earth and changing our actions? I suppose sometimes it does not feel as though these things directly affect us, personally, but eventually people will feel the impact in their everyday lives and it will be impossible to ignore. Any “magic-bullet” is temporary and won’t sustain in the long run.

    As for science, I have never personally been attracted to the subject. There are some things I feel that I simply do not need to know, (plus my mind is not of the scientific variety). For example, the more I learn about the human body, the more neurotic I become about something going wrong with it – mine in particular. We cannot rely on science as knew discoveries are being made every day about so many things, that I cannot image us solving the world by the time the world ceases to exist. Our earth is alive – as you stated – and with life, there will always be growth, change, and mutation. Even in the last century the human body has changed immensely in size, bone structure, etc. Because of this we will never be able to manage the world in a scientific manner. I believe we can only hope to be A PART OF this world in a peaceful way; in a way that we benefit from it and it benefits from us, with reciprocity.

    • I think many Westerners revere nature today–even if they don’t have the long traditional connection to the local landscape, Amanda.
      “Magic bullets”, as you indicate, always have their problems.
      Learning to “be a part of this world in a peaceful way” is a priority of a goal to my mind, Amanda. It was Einstein who said that it was clear that our self-knowledge lagged behind our technical knowledge– which can only indicate tragedy in the making.
      And there are all kinds of science– some of which respect the mystery of the physical world, but you do capture a part of the larger scientific impulse to pry into everything when you indicate there are just things you feel you do not need to know.
      Thanks for your comment.

  81. I have always been one of those people who wants to know more about nature, the universe, and ourselves. I have always thought that through understanding the world around me I can better adapt and function in it. This is why I have always liked science. We as a society need to learn to better understand what science can and cannot do.

    I have felt that science is a machine that was created by man in order to understand the world. One of the problems with this machine is that it can only do what it was made to do, and therefore it cannot be an end all knowing being. Knowing that one of the factors to consider about science is that there are variables that one must consider when conducting an experiment. One variable that I thought was good was the observer. We as a being are present in the experiments as a variable. This point was something that I did not expect the article to use. I did think that it was insightful and presented a point that no matter how hard we try we cannot rule out our self’s as impacting our world around us. This is one of the drawbacks of using the science machine. That because we are in the experiment a true science research can never be met. I do feel that science is heading in the right direction. When science is acknowledging its limits and understanding that nature is connected then it is getting better knowledge.

    • I appreciate your thirst for knowledge, Javier. We certainly, as you indicate, need to know ourselves in order to know what science can and cannot do. As Einstein noted about the contemporary age, our technology has succeeded our humanity–and when our power to effect our world exceeds our self-knowledge, it is a recipe for problems.
      This relates directly to your idea that science is a tool that only works according to those who give its instructions how to run–and work that tool as well.
      Thanks for this thoughtful response.

    • I completely agree with your statement “One of the problems with this machine is that it can only do what it was made to do, and therefore it cannot be an end all knowing being.” We turn to science to give us all the answers, but since we created science and don’t have all the answers ourselves, how can we possibly expect science to have them all?

      The fact that we are variables is a valid point, too. Heisenberg’s perspective was “the dynamic relationship between observer and observed is such that the very way we observe a quantum particle changes its essential nature.” The way we observe the world around us changes the very nature of it. If we observe through narrow lenses, then we are only getting part of the picture, and the nature of the observed is made small. In order to understand nature, we have to look not just at the individual parts, but at the whole picture, so that what we observe becomes the whole.

      • I appreciate your thoughtful perspective here, Kim. It is essential to note, as you do, that if we see the world through a limited lens, we are certainly not “getting the whole picture.” As you also note, our machines can only be as good as their designers.

  82. I think the quote from John Watson, “If we don’t play God, who will?” is a perfect example of the arrogance of modern science (and its practitioners). We cannot possibly know everything (thank the gods), and it is fruitless to think that we can. In our quest to “know everything,” we have pushed the natural world to the brink of destruction. We dissect everything we come across, destroying it in the process. To me, this is not “progress.” The fact that, to scientists (and, indeed, those in power who fund them), the changing weather patterns for the worse in some countries would be considered acceptable collateral damage is very disheartening. If we want to make the world better, we need to think of *all* organisms in it as important and vital – not just those in our narrow field of vision.

    We cannot have dominion over the world. Rather, She has dominion over us, and we need to humble ourselves before Her in order to have some understanding of what She needs for nurturance.

    • Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” Genesis 1:26.

      What ethical responsibilities do we have when it comes to altering an already existing life form to create a new species or when it comes to creating life from scratch? We have been raised to believe that God instructed us to have dominion over everything on this planet. Science is taking this to a whole new level and creating life. This is something that the government should not be taking lightly.

  83. Why are humans accustomed to taking the easy way around everything? We are constantly looking for the easyest way to do things. The mirrors in space idea is ridiculous! Why do we feel the need to use these “quick fix” methods that are only temporary instead of fixing the problem from the source? For starters lets reduce our carbon emissions. Humans love incentives, the govenment needs to give more incentives for carpooling, or purchasing eco friendly cars and products. We need to ban the products that do the most damage. carbonfund.org gives us many ways in which we can make little changes that have huge impacts.

    • Thanks for sharing there reflections: I would change “humans” to certain individuals, since a native Chehalis elder told me that those who “sat lazy by the fire would shrink their own lives”– not everyone believes in taking the easiest way around things– even in a society whose media so readily sells “convenience”.

    • Hey Kiley,

      I agree with you but I would be more specific when talking about humans and say the people of modern society like to always pick the easiest and less expensive way to do things. The reason I feel its specifically the people of modern society is because of our track record. All natives take time and pleasure in the things they do, it seems like their society is willing to do whatever it takes to do something right the first time. In modern society we are conditioned to want everything done ASAP and at the cheapest possible monetary cost. Natives don’t have to worry about a monetary cost the only thing they take into consideration is the cost to nature. The more time they take accomplishing a task means they will appreciate the finished result more. This is another area where modern people should be taking notes from the natives.

      • It seems you have hit on a danger of capitalism, Chris– when it focuses on cutting monetary cost to ourselves rather than on the costs to the natural world– or to future generations.

    • It is that the majority of humans take the “quick fix” methods that give the rest of us a bad name. But agree with you on needing to start at the cause of the problem and not just cure the side affects. As for why the government do not give incentives of some sort would most like have to do with that most politicians are connected to oil companies in some form.

  84. One of the most interesting things that science has shown us irrefutably is that we will never know all of it, and the more we discover about our wonderful, mysterious universe the more we realize that compared to what there is to learn, we know almost nothing. And while the world wants to immediately take advantage of the latest gizmo and gadget, the wisest scientists are joining there voices with the wise elders of indigenous cultures to remind us to slow down and enjoy the discovery without trying to control it.
    I cannot imagine a more boring world than one that is completely controlled by humans. While our imaginations are amazing, they have never compared with the wonders of the untamed world.
    In the discussion of the observer changing the observed, I am reminded of my reaction of looking at the wonderful photographs sent from Mars by the Rovers. I was at once in awe of the desolate beauty of the Mars landscape and saddened by the track marks left by the Rovers themselves. Not to mention, the Rovers will never come back to us; they will be left on Mars to rust like an abandoned car in a field.

    • I certainly wouldn’t want to imagine–much less, inhabit– a world controlled entirely by humans, Neyssa. Interesting point about the physical way in which scientific observers change what they observe. I was making a more theoretical statement, but you have made it more solid with this example. Thanks for your comment.

  85. Again and again we see that western society that we try to treat the symptoms but we do not try to cure whats causing those symptoms. However I would agree that humans will never gain a theory of everything. Just like everyone thought the smallest building blocks of everything were atoms. But then we ask what are atoms made of? Protons, neutrons and electrons. What are they made of? quarks and gluons. But this is just another version of the “WHY” questions 4 year old’s always ask after having something explained to them. We probably will never know everything and that is alright with me as well.

    • Thanks for sharing this perspective, Nathan. Dealing with symptoms rather than causes is obviously not a course of action that will truly heal anything.

    • I like your reference to a four year old asking why over and over again. I remember being in that stage and not being fully satisfied until I could get an answer I could fully understand. I think that’s how we are now, we find out one answer and want to know more about the answer we just got. It will always be a never ending cycle of questions and answers, but I also find that kind of comforting.

  86. We live in a society where is you don’t like something you change it. Don’t like your hair color, nose, weight, well then ‘fix’ it. We are applying this to how we view environmental problems. We think that eventually some scientist will come up with some great idea and fix whatever problem it is we are facing. While I don’t believe this is how we should live I am also grateful that we will never fully understand how nature and the universe works. I find it fascinating to understand how things work, and to study something to find out more about its behaviors. I don’t think that our quest for understanding nature is necessarily an attempt to control it and rule it. We are a curious species and I think that we will always want to know more. I understand how the Salish people leaned from nature by being patient and listening to it, but that will only take you so far. I don’t think all the patients in the world could have taught me genetics in a life time instead of a semester. We need to have respect for the answers we are seeking and what it is we want to understand.

    • Hello, thanks for the comment and the thoughtful points. I wonder if your analogy about patience and the knowledge learned about genetics in a semester might be seem in a broader sense– do you really think IMpatience helped you learn so quickly? I don’t think hunger for knowledge is the same as hunger for control– or curiosity the same as impatience.
      In genetics, you learned something of what the current scientific paradigm has garnered over time. In listening to a story, traditional peoples might also hear the news of the dynamics of inheritance of several natural generations– though its emphasis might be different and it might be told in a different story (I think scientific paradigms are each their own type of story). The traditional story (as in your genetics) might also be passed on in a compact form and take a lifetime to unpack in terms of meaning– and pass on with the meaning you yourself will add to it in its re-telling.
      I wonder if you are really speaking of impatience here or rather the eagerness to be engaged with wonder in a story that has endured for generations and reflects something of the learning of those who have gone before. This parallels the eagerness that I heard again and again in children eager for a story, chanting, “sto-ry!, sto=ry!” when I came into a classroom.
      Perhaps true learning is about being captured by such wonder– indeed, one teacher said her students had never before been so attentive in their math lessons than when they had just had the experience of being totally caught up in the wonder of a story– a story that has endured because of its resonance and layers of meaning over generations.
      It is part of the mystery of life–and of the natural world that embraces and sustains us– that we each have the ability to add to such stories, be they the scientific story of genetics or a traditional indicating the ways in which humans and salmon are part of the same family.

  87. I am talking more about eagerness than impatience. I also don’t think that eagerness to learn the details about nature should be the same as wanting to control nature. I think that’s where I was getting confused in this article, what I think of as eagerness felt to me that it was being called controlling. There may be a fine line there. I guess I just felt that in the article when it was talking about letting nature speak to you sometimes you have to be the one to go out and look for the answers not wait for them. Genetics can be thought in two different ways, through examples in stories, or in the more raw fundamental sense. Not that one is really more right than the other, they’re just different.

    • These ways of the looking at the world are different, yes, but also alike in many ways to consider.
      And I do think that there is a modern propensity to go too far and try to “force” nature to yield up its “secrets”– as Francis Bacon, purported father of Western science, said it, following the words of the Inquisition, “torture nature’s secrets from her”. I think, however, that listening to the natural world yields better results, as Nobel Laureate geneticist (since you mentioned this field) Barbara McClintock’s work– which she says she accomplished by “listening to the corn”.

  88. There is much truth in this essay. Human beings feel they can control everything even nature. You would think that after all these years they would of figured out by now that no one can control nature. My biology teacher at LCC in Longview, WA, even said to me that science is ever evolving and ever changing because so is the world around us. Every time someone thinks they have figured something out, someone else proves them wrong, that is why it is no more than a hypothesis. An the reason the first person thought that what they found was right may have been only due to the way that their test was arranged. That is the thing with science if a scientist has already made up their mind that there is no way one thing could be the answer they don’t even bother testing it or testing for it then there is always the chance they can be proven wrong. We are only humans though we may try and play god and with being human comes with it our imperfections and biases.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful perspective, Adina. It sound like your science teacher got it right.

    • Even scientific concepts we consider fact are still labeled as a theory. I feel that science changes as we change. At one point, most people thought the Earth was flat. As we grow and are able to handle more extreme concepts (such as the theory of evolution when it was first proposed), science grows with us. I wish the scientific world had/would think more about the precautionary principle. We’ve put so many harmful chemicals into the environment because we had the mind set of “if we can do it, we should do it.” Even now, daily products that people use still have harmful chemicals in them because the products aren’t being sufficiently monitored.

  89. There was once a little girl who found god in nature. This led her to want to learn more, so she enrolled in university. She found she loved science, but got so entrapped in trying to find the “theory of everything” that she lost herself. One day she realized that there is a delicate balance in life. This includes the balance between ancient thought and current technology. Both are beneficial but to put one above the other because it is modern is the sure way to detriment. I am a firm believer in science, in honest and moral science. I also do not accept philosophy or psychology that I do not find honest either. It is odd to me that so often Newton is put above Plato and Galileo put above Gandhi. All have been a valuable influence in our world, in different veins, but the people who contribute to technology seem gain more recognition, and often, significance. It takes the views scientist, doctors, anthropologist, psychologists, philosophers, etc. in order to get an accurate view of reality. Limiting a worldview to that of only science is, just that, a limitation. Aren’t limitations what science is, so often, attempting to break?

    • Thank you for the important perspective in terms of balance here, Kelly–and reminding us that such balance is linked to inclusion. Certainly, we can’t learn about something we refuse to look at!
      I like your statement about “moral and honest science”. I don’t think there is anything as truly value free science: instead we must tease out the values that underlie all scientific research.
      And as your comment also indicates, all the knowledge in the world won’t do us any good if we don’t have the wisdom to use it properly.

  90. We keep coming up with new ways to save ourselves from destruction, but the magic bullet fixes keep us on the same path. If everyone keeps thinking, “oh, we’ll find something to fix it, so why worry about it,” we’re going to be digging ourselves a bigger grave. I know I’m guilty of saying that if we do run out of oil soon, scientists will come up with something to pull us out of it. This is the first I heard of the idea of mirrors in space, but it’s along the same lines. We need to change our behavior, not come up with these quick fixes. The human population just keeps growing, and science won’t be able to come up with something when we have overused the environment.

    On the thought that science can’t know everything, I completely agree. Over the years, our ideas of science and the theories have changed as we have changed. I think it is an enolving thing and at some point maybe it will evolve into trying to adapt to the environment instead of adapting it for our purposes.

    • Holly, we all seem to think that there is a solution for everything don’t we? As this article suggests, we often expect science to path up all the little problems in the world. Additionally, we live in a society where it is very rare for us to run out of any essential good, (other than paper money of course!) we often take for granted the idea that animals are being given growth hormones that negatively impact their health. We constantly abuse what we do have available to us and like oil if it runs out we expect someone to come out with a solution without careful consideration of whether it is going to have a negative on either ours or animals well-being.

    • Holly;
      You have a very important thought here of how a large number of humans think, “Oh, we’ll find something to fix it, so why worry about it?” And more so is how now we will hear people say “I do not need to stop driving my gas hog or recycle because they’re going to put mirrors in space to help my polluting the world.”
      I want to be in a garden looking up at a beautiful sky, not in a store buying GM packaged food and coming out to look up at a seeded sky blocking out the sun so it will not burn my skin.

      • And in the face of this kind of denial, I am thinking of the poignant speech of the child who raised the money to travel to the UN to give a talk about her concerns for our environment in the future. (the video of that speech is on our links page under “films”)
        You have supported here in creating your garden looking “up at a beautiful sky”, Colinda.

    • Holly, you are right we seem to be digging a bigger grave, but when do you say enough is enough when trying to fix our mistakes we have created with the environment. Trying to adapt to the environment is a hard decision no one wants to make, meaning we failed. I see more species being added to the endangered list and more noxious weeds taking over habitats each year. As much as we fight them, they seem to be one step ahead. How much money and time do we spend before we need to just adapt to what it is? Maybe if we stop playing God with the environment, all will just work itself out. But the key factor is stop being so destructive to the Earth and all work together for the good of life.

      • I think you have something to consider in the “enough is enough” category, Debbie. I have heard one definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over again, looking for different results.
        This is the kind of insanity that comes when we realize that one form of our technology is not working– indeed, it is causing serious problems– so what do we do? Try to apply more of it. Instead, we obviously need to change direction.

  91. Ecologists want science to be more certain, as unrealistic as that is, because then there would be a defense against unconstrained development and expansion of technology! Since government nor the courts recognize the precautionary principal, we really have nothing to use as a sword because ecology and the life sciences are so “soft” (in their view, not mine). Engineering and math, the “hard” sciences, were always considered more certain, more black & white. So the fact that physicists are finding that the rules of physics may be constantly changing, or that matter acts differently depending on size, is very welcome news to me!!

  92. Scientists playing god scares the living shit out of me. In fact, I looked up the leading causes of death in humans as I was curious to know if medical procedure was actually number three as another article on this website, “Burning down the house” suggests. Much to my dismay, it was confirmed that even in 2011, medical procedures are either number three on various sites or number 1. Out of the 5 websites that I looked at, not one had medical procedures as listed less than number 5. Doctors, and many other people in various professions try to make themselves out to be something better than they really are. In fact, they make enough money to ensure they even if they making a number of mistakes, money for some time at least will cover them up. The idea of discovering a worldview that leans upon outsiders for enhanced understanding is how Doctors should view themselves, so they do not get too cocky and self-absorbed into thinking, acting and playing god.

  93. Two years ago I’m freezing waiting for the bus to go to work and I’m reading my World News magazine which there is an article about geo-engineering and putting little mirrors in space to slow global warming, I look up and wonder is it possible this crazy idea. At work at HMSC I stop by and ask my friend Bill about this crazy idea. Bill says that we do not know enough in geo-engineering or any science areas to do such a thing for we do not know the outcome.
    Now two years later I’m surfing the web because of this web comment and wanting to know have scientist found the answers to what would happen if mirrors are put in to space. Are cautions being taken? What do I find but a smoking gun about to go off? This is about the Cancun climate change summit: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will not only look at the threat of rising temperatures but will also look at “geo-engineering” options that could actually reverse warming. The announcement implies that scientists are losing faith in a global deal to stop temperature rise by limiting emissions.
    The UN will also be looking at geo-engineering such as putting mirrors in space to reflect sunlight, or covering Greenland in a massive blanket so it does not melt. Sprinkling iron filings in the ocean “fertilizes” algae so that it sucks up CO2. Also there is seeding clouds so that less sunlight can get in. Other options include artificial “trees” that suck carbon dioxide out of the air, painting roofs white to reflect sunlight and man-made volcanoes that spray sulphate particles high in the atmosphere to scatter the sun’s rays back into space. All I can say is please tell me this scientific nightmare is not really my life is it?


    • A very important reason we need new scientists like the ones getting their education and weighing in on this site! Scientists with perspective, care, a bit of self-knowledge, and who cannot be bought!

    • Thanks for doing this follow up research here, Colinda. I think one of the worst repercussions of this idea is that it absolves us from thinking about effective, down to earth methods to treat climate change– which are readily available if just want to look at our actions. 350.org is one place that is doing the latter so that this “nightmare” never need materialize.

  94. Science will really never know everything, as there is no end to science and finding the meaning of life. Although if we do then what, move to another planet? That is where we are leading to, moving to the next planet and create a living habitat, giving it life as God. Why do we need to play God, just take things as they are. Seems to me the Earth is changing over time and everything equals out with cycles. Through cycles (nature, climate, environment, etc.) it balances out, but the amount of time might be 10,000 years. If we are patient we will see this, but that is something Americans don’t have, as we need to change it now. Changing the whole climate system with a mirror out in space really scares me as I think, Who are these people? And what are they thinking? As James Watson says, “If scientists don’t play God, who will?”, these to me are the same scientists that want to put up mirrors.

    • I agree with you on the wacky nature of the climate-changing mirrors, Debbie.
      I don’t think we should allot anyone power to “play God”–and I for one am not ready to trust them more than a natural system that arrived at its balance after millions of years of adjustments.
      In your 10,000 year example of achieving balance, it seems to tell us not only about patience, but about our real place in the scheme of things (which is hardly that of God).

  95. I am rather disturbed to learn about the prospect of putting mirrors up into space. If we do not stop and think about how things will change and how those changes will ripple into other changes, which I am certain no one could possibly be able to comprehend the full extent of something like that, there could be some catastrophic disasters. The other part that bothers me is that someone has this idea and so this could happen, but it will change things for everyone, does anyone else get a say as to whether or not this should happen?

    • You have an essential point to consider, Kim– that technology that affects everyone can be produced by (and made to profit) a few– but the democratic process would seem to demand that all though affected by the actions of another get some say in the matter.

  96. In this essay, the part that really struck me was the comment by Whorf and Sapir that scientists might have come to quantum theory more quickly if our language was less dualistic. I tend to think more about how we are limited by our own frames of reference, and forget to consider the powerful role that language would play in those frames. I have heard statements before such as “the Inuit have 14 words for snow” or how other languages have more words for “love” than English and how this can affect our ability to discriminate as much as other language groups, in these areas at least. I am sure English has more words for some things, but my cynical self assumes they are probably based more on capitalism or some such… Yet to think that language (or lack of) could limit a whole field of science is a fascinating thought! I guess it comes from the importance of “naming” things in understanding them. I also wonder if our brain structure is somehow shaped by whether our language/thinking is more dualistic or more holistic…

    • To my knowledge, Sapir and Whorf did not use the term “dualistic”– though they were speaking of the tendency of our grammar to separate space and time, to separate nouns from verbs, and to separate individuals from their personal stances (in some languages, one cannot make a statement which does not also indicate how the speaker stands in relationship to it). In such languages, there may also be no passive voice– that is, you cannot make a statement about an action without saying who did it- no NIMBY there!
      The complexity of Hopi is such that a single word gives a space-time dimension very similar to our quantum paradigm. The structure of language is very much tied into worldview. This brings to mind the quote of a Navajo child first encountering English in a federal boarding school who could make no sense of it until he saw a poem, to which he responded that “Everyone here [among the Navajo=] speaks in poetry”.

    • The indigenous scientific approach could teach Western science a great deal. Not just linguistically speaking, but also in terms of observation and interaction of our world. Heisenberg noted that by observing we inherently change what we observe. I think indigenous science has always been aware of this, but they have a better grasp on what these observations means for the whole. Relating observation to the whole and how it affects us, because we are a part of the system, is more valuable I think then reducing nature to statistics or logarithms. One of my texts from last semester outlined indigenous science beautifully. I recommend it as an enlightening read. (Native Science by Gregory Cajete).

      • We have some quotes from Native Science in an upcoming lesson. Good contrasts here–and I also think that the best modern scientists understand such things– as the holistic perspective of a system in which we are inherently embedded.

  97. This is a powerful article that made me think about my brother in-law. He is a young guy who just started college. He was telling me one night how everything in nature can be explained by laws and mathematics and that nothing is a mystery, we just haven’t figured out all the laws yet. I found this world view depressing and a little arrogant. I personally take solace in the thought that we cannot know everything. The indigenous way of approaching the world as living and ever changing to me is more exciting then “knowing” how everything works out on paper. Isn’t it better to be apart of something that is dynamic versus static? From a scientific point of view, I would say that a dynamic universe is more interesting and worth discovering then one that merely waits to be reduced to an equation. Also, the opening paragraph reminded me of one of my favorite movies. A character in Jurassic Park said something similar about how having knowledge doesn’t imply that it should be used. Ultimately, I think it takes a colossal amount of ego to think that the universe is just a set of man made laws waiting to be recorded. How infinitesimal we truly are probably frightens the people who hope to know all.

    • The attitude of young students like your brother-in-law who is just entering a scientific discipline is one of my motives for writing this essay– more mature scientists are much more sanguine. I like Einstein’s remark that yes, indeed, we could describe a Beethoven symphony entirely by mathematical laws– but what we would have totally missed the meaning of the music.
      Arrogance and power mixed with a dearth of self-knowledge makes for a dangerous brew.

  98. I love the words by Stephen Hawking, “our search for understanding will never end, we will always have the challenge of new discovery”. This gave me a much better feeling than the words, “if scientists don’t play God, who will?” In the quest for knowledge, science has mistakenly created things, tested things and done things that were never meant to be done to this Earth. The devastating reality of what science has done already is quite depressing. There have been so many chemicals produced, oceans polluted, and soils destructed by scientific theories and tests that we cannot remove or undo. I fear for what this overuse and abuse of natural resources will come to. We continue to repeat the cycle of destruction with no end in sight and I fear too many people are too busy enjoying the conveniences of science to stop and see what is happening to our future Earth.

  99. When I was in high school, I took a Field Ornithology class. This gave me a chance to study birds and band them. I remember that at the end of the school day, Field Ornithology was always on my mind because I felt a sense of mystery it left in me. When studying science, we are given knowledge of the universe. When we unlock that knowledge, we also become susceptible of abusing that knowledge. I like it when science is creating change for the better, especially when they are in the midst of finding a cure for cancer, researching for renewable energy that is more efficient, or finding ways to improve water quality. One of the things I began to wonder about as I learned about NASA’s last space mission this year is how far will be far enough? I think it’s abusive on the part of science when we put things in space in the hopes that it will make living more efficient when it’s not helping at all.

    • Thoughtful balance in your comment, Mary. On the point of a cure for cancer, it is tragic that so many are currently afflicted with this disease– especially when we may not have a cure, but we do have prevention. Given the recent findings of the environmental causes of cancer by the recent President Cancer’s Panel, we can forbid the release of known carcinogens into the environment.

  100. I just wanted to note that first off i LOVE the Stephen Hawking quote. The passion for curiosity and the search for knowledge is one of the many reasons why I feel like education is so important. If we can’t instill that in our children early, I feel like a little bit of hope is lost as well. It’s the challenge of new discovery that drives me to continue learning and I’m not disappointed if it doesn’t turn out to have a theory in the end.
    I also love the title of this piece because it’s so hauntingly true. Science will never know everything but that’s part of the spectacular mystery that makes me hunger even more in my curiosity of the world. Some things are completely unexplainable by science and it’s constantly changing, but that’s part of the fun of it for me and that’s why I love science so much. No matter what we do, it always seems like the world around us is baiting us and teasing us as it decides to change once again. But that’s the beautiful mystery that keeps me going.

    • Thanks for sharing your response to the Hawking quote. It seems to me that the sense of wonder is essential to the story of science as well as to all human knowledge as a driving force.
      I love your use of the word “fun” in regard to the intellectual challenge of discovery that leads you to more and more learning!

  101. I do think there are and will be times when science does not explain everything. I agree with you, when you say that “the universe will always be mysterious to us”. I think our “human limits” are what make us unique. We are an extremely curious species. We will always be asking questions no matter how advanced we become. Maybe someday our goals will change though. Instead of using science to advance us, one day I believe we will be using science more to help maintain the beauty of the world.

    One idea that has been researched is the idea of biospheres. Large, dome-like buildings housing a variety of plants and animals that meet each others needs creating a closed ecosystem. This idea shows that scientists are trying to understand how the nature works from a scientific level, in a controlled setting.

    • Our curiosity seems to me a wonderful thing. I would like to associate it with the wonder of our world rather than the arrogance that assumes we can control everything.
      I understand that the research on biospheres has a long way to go– the key point here is your mention of “controlling” the atmosphere. We just don’t know how to master this, though we can enlist allies from the natural world to help us…

      • I think the patriarchal ‘controlling’ train of thought hinders us more than we know. I believe it blinds us to other options and possibilities. When one is trying to control something and believes they have that right, they are blind to the possibility of working with it and giving it mutual respect. Domination is not a victory or a success; to me it is a failure, a failure to create a partnership and work together.

        • I would agree with you on the point of what the impulse of “control” blinds us to, Leah. To me domination is inherently self-destructive– the losses you point out here are support for this.

    • I agree with you that I don’t believe science will be able to explain everything. We are still trying to push and pull nature to turn it into what we think it should be. We are constantly forcing it to try to be something different, changing its shape and form. Instead of trying to conquer nature, we should be learning how to live together with it. We should be teaching others how to survive in it, not surpass it. Scientists manipulate nature by creating pesticides, humans mutilate nature by ripping out trees and paving cities, and society neglects nature by ushering in technology. These essays are teaching awareness and promoting change. And although I love how you mention biospheres and show how far science is coming along, I still think NIMBY is our biggest hurdle at local, state, and society level of thinking.

      • And perhaps we might even learn how to thrive in the natural world (which is, after all, the womb that birthed us and took thousands of years to do so), after we get it under our belt how to survive there?
        I agree with you on the NIMBY issue– until we stop breaking up the world into sections worthy of our care and attention and “aways” we can neglect and ravage, both we and our world will continue to face grave problems.

  102. I agree that science can be a wonderful thing that has benefited the human race in many ways. But I also believe that it is also our greatest fault. Society today runs mainly on science and is driven by it. We disregard nature, find that there are consequences that come with our actions and then try to solve it with more and different technological and scientific ways. We can blame companies for pollution and toxic dumping all we want and put the blame on them for the decline state of our earth, but in reality it is each and every person that is at fault as well. Its just that no one wants to be personally responsible for their own actions whether it be littering, dumping their own forms of toxins in their house or just making unfriendly eco choices.

    • Once again, I think we need some critical perspective here: is it really what all of us assume is “science” when it is science that is paid for by big Pharma, for instance?
      If we assume science is objective, it certainly is not.
      There is solid science that does not have to be put “above” health- how might these support one another?
      You have a good point about responsibility for one’s own actions– and I also think we are responsible for the actions of our economic system insofar as we can influence. And that is where we need some changes with respect to corporate influence.
      Thanks for your comment.

  103. Here I must put in a small defense for science. I am not sure that when the first of these 84,000 chemicals that were released into the atmosphere were created that anyone realized they would have had an effect on the environment. After there was a correlation more testing should have been done and the release of gas slowed or stopped, but I for one would like to believe in the innocence and goodness of human actions for the most part. Greed is what gets most in the way of this. for example we created a car that runs on water and emits only steam, but greed in oil industries has stifled this project. Similarly with electric cars, but these are now beginning to emerge as the public wants a change. Science may have gotten us into this mess, but I feel that it could also be a way to get us out without too much more damage, but with significant amounts of effort. Effort that humanity may not want to put in, but that it has no other option but to fix what it created. I also think that there will be mysteries in the world, but as we discover some answers we will better understand how to treat the nature world and how to coexist with it in an overall positive manner, while maintaining our technology. Science working with the natural world can be a powerful force in the years to come.

    • I would also like to believe in the goodness and innocence of human actions. And certainly there is much humans have done in innocence– not understanding the repercussions of our actions.
      But as we have been on earth–and in place–longer, we should pay attention to the historical repercussions of our choices–and uphold ethical stances with respect to what we do and do not do to the environment.
      Unfortunately, greed obliterates such perspective all too often, as Nobel Prize winner Devra Davis’ book, The Secret History of the War on Cancer,indicates, over and over again, particular corporations knew the hazards of their products and responded by hiding those from public view so as to protect their profits. She traces such actions back to the nineteenth century.
      Having said that, the fact that science will never know everything is not a negative judgement on science– only a cause for caution in assessing human knowledge– and the choices that flow from it.
      I have been looking into the issue of medical error–and one of the problems in remedying this its lack of reporting– for a variety of reasons. If you don’t acknowledge something, you can’t deal with it.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    • Excellent point on science creating a lot of good. Science is a part of the world just like nature, spirituality, the cosmos, and things we probably don’t even know about are all a part of one, greater whole. The problems is science has greedily been harnessed for profit as you mentioned

  104. In the search for the magic bullet we are unknowingly, searching for the magic bullet that will lead to our own destruction. We cannot make quick fixes, they will not aid us one bit. In due time the environment will return to it previous state. We need to stop the release of these greenhouse gases not put mirror up to deflect UV rays.
    knowing the world is a matter of relating to it–and such knowing is bound up in the self-reflection we can only gain by suspending our egoism. The thirteen gradmontheres live by this, they believe that they have to have self-reflection. As grandmother Rita realized with her cancer. She had to self-reflect and realize why she was being affected by this cancer. Grandmother Rita also stated that “When the trees fall we are dying” this comment shows the strong bond that is built with the earth. Building this bond will help us avoid further disaster.

    • A serious issue to ponder indeed in terms of our search for “magic bullets”, Laura. As you also point out, the best response–and the most effective one– is to modify our own actions. Though this takes responsibility–and sometimes some inconvenience in the changes it requires of us.
      Grandmother Rita observes her world in a way that all of us might do as we make our personal choices.

  105. It seems that everything has a “quick fix” these days. Duct tape for the environment? There is no band aid that we can just rip off quickly and magically be healed. In fact quick fixes could help accelerate the dangerous precariousness of the environment. Science will only give us clues. It is the job of the scientist to then take these clues and come to a conclusion, an educated guess, a hypothesis. We are overstepping the boundary of human knowledge when scientists begin to control and manipulate those clues.

    • Everything has a “quick fix”– or claims to have? Duct tape for the environment?
      I think we overstep these bounds when scientists begin to hide the clues you speak about — even from themselves.

  106. Ouattitude as modern humans to the environment reminds me of that of a spoiled child. We fee like we can do whatever we want and make any sort of mess as long as we’re having fun at the moment, and is we can just raise enough money, we’ll be able to fix it later. This way of thinking includes no sense of responsibility or respect.

    As for the sunlight deflecting mirrors, if this happens I’m moving to Mars. I love sunshine and warm weather. I’m always cold and not in the mood to put up with less sunlight.

    • I agree that we need to mature as individuals and as a culture and become responsible for our actions. You might be interested to know that human-caused climate change creates climate instability that may make things periodically colder in the Pacific Northwest (though we can’t predict the results of instability for certain for obvious reasons). As the polar ice caps melt into our seawater, however, it can change the sea winds that are responsible for our mild weather.
      One of the many problems with the mirrors in space problem is that it may well cause more climate instability in particular areas already more adversely effected. So there is an issue of environmental justice here– who gets to decide the weather we think we are able to create?

  107. Numbers are the Supreme Court of science. However Godel proved that we may not prove everything. Science needs numbers. There must be Science and Physics Foibles!!

    • And if numbers are the Supreme Court of science, they may reflect but never quite match reality– since they are formal abstractions. And thus the assumptions at their core.
      Thanks for your comment.

  108. Two linguists, Benjamin Whorf and Edward Sapir, speculatethat modern science might have come to quantum theory more quickly had we been speaking Hopi rather than Indo-European languages.The latter’s dualistic subject-object configuration more nearly coincides with the Newtonian worldview than does the space-time quanta that characterize Hopi languages.

    This is fascinating. I wonder if something similar holds true for other fields of knowledge?

    The report noted that such a plan assumes that though we are not smart enough to manage our own behavior, we are somehow smart enough to manage the behavior of the entire planet’s climate system.

    Ouch. Also, seems like there’d be some ethical issues with trying to manage the entire planet’s climate system. Not that there weren’t ethical issues with damaging it in the first place, but it seems like a planet-wide problem needs a planet-wide effort to solve it and to get everybody’s consent (or at least consent of a worldwide supermajority) for implementing the solution. Doctors don’t get to do even life-saving medical work if the patient refuses consent to its being done.

    • Physicist David Bohm brings up the same point about the limits of the English language in his book on his theory of the “implicate order”. He even proposes a new tense that expresses a dynamic relationship between subject and object.
      And Jerome Rothenberg (who has done numerous translations of world lit and is also initiated into the Seneca Medicine Society) proposes that modern poets, who change the noun or “object” heavy English usage to verbs, express a “neolithic subculture”, harkening back to the former dynamism of the world’s languages. Only a few examples: Clyde Kluckholm’s study with the Navajo stated that their grammar was so complex it would take a whole page of English to translate one Navajo sentence.
      You bring up an excellent point on the issue of consent with climate engineering– touching on the important point of climate justice, since this engineering proposal admits it will have a negative effect on the climates of certain small nations already suffering the most from climate change.

  109. I read Hofstadter when I was a young teen and I never really thought about Escher was so significant with Godel until I read this blog article. I am suddenly seeing our individual ways of thinking of becoming limited universes that reinforce themselves as their own proof. I am thinking specifically of the endless waterfall that seem to recharge themselves magically. Built into these insular loops is the ability to complete ignore the rest of the universe, only seeing their own world view.
    However I am not feeling like a mathematical proof is necessary to suggest that we can never predict the true out come of our actions on a global scale, Like the suggestion that the factors that influence the laws of physics are they themselves in motion, I see the world as a constantly reinventing itself. We might see some local repetitions ( in time and space, but ultimately the planet is itself on a journey, One only thing we need to be careful not to upset is a planetary function of change– a rhythm , a beat, that allows the biosphere to not lose the life it carries as it goes through its endlessly innovative iterations.–which of course is exact what we have been threatening since we appeared.

    Jim Conway’s Game of life (http://www.bitstorm.org/gameoflife/) from Prof Perry when the topic was discussing self organization. of ecosystems.

    • I very much like your parallel between Godel’s proof and the worldview that reinforces itself as its own proof and the idea that the planet itself is on a journey.
      The self-organization of ecosystems is related to the Gaia hypothesis that the earth is (or is made up of living) systems that regulate themselves–and sadly can be thrown out of their balance by inappropriate human actions. In the latter case, the corrections of life systems may not be friendly to humans (as in the increase of wind/storms over the ocean as a result of and compensation for warming due to increased carbon output).
      Thanks for your comment.

  110. We must remember that ideas come from our social conditions that are then transferred into behaviors. It is these behaviors that lay the foundation for change. If we want to change these current behaviors we must create ideas that bring about the transformation which we are seeking.

    • Can we then see the reserve as true as well– that is, that if we begin to behave differently, our ideas/ views of the world begin to change? That would seem to bode well for the possibility of change– even though it also means that certain entrenched ideas need to be rethought.
      Thanks for your comment.

      • We should also consider the courage that is needed to move past behaviors that are hurtful. We must have the courage to speak out even if it isn’t the popular opinion much like MLK speaking about civil rights or Gandhi’s civil rights movement in India. We may realize that should behave differently and should change bad habits but we need the willpower so a little bit of courage might also be needed.

        In some ways it is a delicate balance of desire for change, actual behavior changes and the willingness or courage to do so.

  111. “Watson’s statement licensing scientists to play God indicates the disjunction between scientific achievement and self-knowing—a hazardous disjunction indeed.” I loved this quote in the piece because it resonated with my own feelings on “playing God”. In our quest for knowledge we often forget about the consequences that our actions can contain. The idea of ‘Playing God’ reflects the patriarchal quest for power. As our lecture from this week stated, because patriarchy is an oppressive system—an imposed circumstance—it is a matter of choice. We can choose to replace it with other ideas that contain a more nature conscious perspective. I suggest one that encourages the idea of nature as something that isn’t weak and able to be dominated but, instead, something that is our own life giving force—something that needs protection and admiration from the wrongdoings of so many in our species. If we appreciate our natural systems and view our Earth as the dominant system (instead of patriarchy) that governs our actions and moral beliefs, then ideas of “Playing God” and manipulating life systems would surely dissipate.

    • Nice portrayal of a turnabout in terms of leadership here, Lara– so that we take our lead from the natural world instead of attempting to dominate it.
      I think it is a hopeful point you make — and also one that calls on our responsibility– when you state that patriarchy is an imposed social system, and so we can replace it with something that better meets both the needs of our planet and other humans.

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