In technical culture, science is a procedure. It’s a way of breaking the world down into tiny pieces, which can be interrogated with single questions that receive a yes-no answer. With enough of these answers, the system of logic on which science is based is able to create stories about the world and the universe, which can be duplicated by others and turned to technical ends. In the scientific world-view, this is called truth. This truth might look like this, for instance:
Photography is a technology that represents the same world view. That brings us, though, to the other definition of science, the popular culture one, in which science is, quite simply, the natural world AND technology. It’s not a method. It’s just everything that is “real”. It can look this:
Waste Concrete With Cheatgrass Chaser
The concrete is left over from pouring a sidewalk in a failed real estate development. In accordance with local cultural practice that values machinery over the earth, it is poured out onto living soil, to harden there, so that it doesn’t present a clean-up problem within the cement truck itself. Cheatgrass, however, has managed to colonize it, nonetheless. (Those stringy little red stalks in the centre of the image.)
In popular science, you see, there is only science. In that culture, this is not an image of an intellectual process of ordering the universe into a kind of map, like the periodic table of the elements, but, simply, an image of the way things are. An intellectual scientist would analyze the length of time it took for the cheatgrass to establish, the amount of soil and water required, what other species followed it, and so forth, to come up with an understanding of the chemistry of concrete, or of the processes of soil formation, or the ability of cheatgrass to handle drought, or something like that. Such scientists are very smart people, and can think of all kinds of really intriguing interrogations, which they call experiments. These experiments all require technical manipulations, out of which principles are logically derived, which, they trust will be recombined later into a picture of the world which can be used for technical and intellectual development. To a popular scientist, however, this is just an understandable pour of concrete onto a dead earth, to save a piece of valuable machinery. Such scientists have inherited not the intellectual tradition of pure science, but the machinery of the experiments. To them, the earth is machinery.
In Popular Science, This is a Flower, a Beetle, and Some Story of Missing Petals
In both Popular and Pure Science, this is beauty (which is not a part of science) and nature (which is wildness; that which is not yet part of science, but which science can move into, should it wish to.)
In the world before science, this moment did not have those parts. It was one complete thing. It wasn’t even in a photograph, which turns it into art of a particularly technical kind. It was just a moment of spirit. Before Science came along, alchemists tried to break that moment down into a language of symbols. If they could just isolate them, the language, they believed, that God spoke when he spoke the world, they could speak it as well and fix the dying Earth. That it was dying seemed obvious to them. Adam and Eve had been driven out of Eden, the world was full of disease and misery, that had once been a paradise, and there was war and pain everywhere you looked. It took a new breed of alchemists, such as Isaac Newton (and he was a deeply spiritual man and an alchemist) to turn this language from one of symbols to one of logical argument. What had previously been seen as the language of God, a very symbolic business involving the spirits of the earth and the air, and this kind of thing …
… became God’s Laws of Nature. It wasn’t a language. It was a mathematics. That was quite a breakthrough, but it did have a presupposition: it was possible to stand outside of the manipulations and put them back together again. Humans, though, are infinitely creative and malleable. They adapt. Back in the day when science was getting established, the dichotomy of scientific views between the-world-as-secret-language-or-laws and the-world-as-dead-ordinary was seen as a struggle between the people (practical) and the aristocracy (poetic and intellectual [hint, not a good thing]) or even the church (in the understanding of practical, individualistic men, dictatorial and dismissive of individuality). Why, the church might have said that something like this, for instance …
… was an angel from God and should be protected from steel mills. That kind of thing drove practical, intellectual men nuts. They couldn’t analyze that. They couldn’t make an experiment to prove it. They could argue a thousand different things in its place, none of which could be proved, either. They gave it to the artists and washed their hands of the affair. As a result, stuff like this …
Yes, it was alchemists who gave us our maps of the world.
… is now “art” and “new age” “spirituality”, and stuff like this, which is its spiritual and alchemical heir, like it or not …
Electrical Post Art Installation and Spiritual Communication Device, Vernon
… is called science and technology. Odd, eh. Today, popular culture uses the techniques of scientific method, without the intellectual, aristocratic and spiritual contexts in which they were developed and on which they relied. A couple observations on that: 1. Humans are a darned clever bunch and incredibly adaptive; 2. Nothing changes. The pre-scientific world, the world before an intellectual enlightenment, the world of practical men focussed on everyday practical affairs, is still here in spirit. It’s just that in terms of popular culture it has moved from a home within spiritual matters, to creating a method of science that replaced those spiritual matters with a practical analogy, to a home within the machinery of scientific method, but without its intellectual or spiritual context. In popular culture, this is called historical development, and it is, but it’s also a method that has lost important parts of itself, and so is always playing with half a deck. By dismantling the world as a place of completeness, it has created powerful tools, but has guaranteed that the completeness is not reachable. It always recedes somewhere into the future. This is a consequence of the method. You could say it is a tragic flaw: the thing that makes the method great, is the thing that prevents it from succeeding. There is, however, a way, and that is exciting. For instance, this …
Two years ago, this spot was dry dust. Now look at it. Not a lacewing, not the colour green, not russian sage in bloom, not the stalks of cheatgrass before I weeded them out, not a fairy, not an angel of God, not a mathematics, not a story of evolution of a species, not a photograph, not beauty, not art: all of them, together, at once, and not just that, but a moment, apprehended humanly, in a way that even this photograph reduces.
The poet Goethe pointed out 200 years ago that it was possible to have other forms of Enlightenment than Newton’s, that it was possible to create a science that included all of the world that came before science, that it was possible to do it in individual ways, that many such ways were possible, and that anyone could do it. The results of his scientific efforts were not provable using Newtonian physics, and so were scoffed at. Nonetheless, they led to the colour wheel used by artists and large pieces of the science of colour, the modern European art tradition and the German chemical industry, as well as to Waldorf schools. It’s not that one needs to adhere to Goethe’s developments to find value in what practical men scoffed at. One needs only draw a simple conclusion: the way is open for a reunion of art, spirit, and science; the technicians do not own the world; what science describes becomes the world and the methods it uses replace the world that was there before with themselves. Goethe warned that a science based upon technical experimentation would lead to a dead world without humans. Sadly, it appears to be becoming the case. The exciting thing is that it is reversible. Rather than, for example, a theory of evolution based upon the evolution of European individually-minded scientists, as was Darwin’s, a theory can be built based upon the evolution of complete moments and of social groups. Yes, it was shattered once.
A practically understood science is put to to its ultimately logical end: chemistry and mechanical logic are dedicated to removing humans from the earth. It was all fought on the rhetoric of Christian faith and artistic purity, in the sense that before these battles, art was considered to be a force that ennobled mankind and helped mankind evolve spiritually. When it led to this, civilization ended. We’re still picking up the pieces.
Well, let’s pick them up. The flaws in the method are plain to see. More of the method won’t ensure human safety or the survival of the planet. The method needs to change. In the late 20th century, the sciences of ecology and earth science made great leaps in this direction. In the early 21st century, the intellectual dominance of the social scientific method called deconstruction, which attempts to break down the normalization pattern which allows for intellectual understanding to become technical normalcy and leads to such things as the Battle of the Somme, has begun to be normalized itself. Its method has become reality. Meanwhile,
grasslands such as this, with all their ability to create food, energy and to move and store water in an atmosphere that attempts to remove it, continues to be deconstructed and to erode. Deconstruction, like science as a whole, is a powerful tool, but it is not the world. This grassland is where we should bring our children and young adults. It’s not deconstruction that is needed, or the reconstruction of conservative artistic disciplines, that hold that if the values of the past (art, literature, Tennyson, sestinas and so forth) can be maintained as classical models, culture will remain stable, or even the construction of worlds that leads to this …
What is needed is co-construction. In the Syilx world that preceded the disaster of that landscaping above, this was called respect. One doesn’t have to subscribe to any notion of noble savages and the sanctity of Syilx and other indigenous land relationships to recognize the power of the reciprocal notion of respect. It’s what Goethe was talking about. It’s possible to bring the world along with you. It’s possible to see this all at once …
Bella Vista, Okanagan Landing and the Commonage
This is a view, nature, history, ethics, tragedy, greed, devotion, work, agriculture, sport, society, individualism, ruin and none of them. It is all of them together.
… and to have that as a tool as well. In the aristocratic world that science helped dismantle, the most successful states were organized as poems; that’s why poetry was studied. That this was degraded into the Battle of the Somme (etc.) and other abuses, is a function of normalcy, not poetry, and not aristocratic thinking. The intellectual development of alternatives has been beneficial, but now that they have become normal and the material they left out is lacking in their world views, social and ethical opportunities are becoming narrower and narrower, at the same time that the physical world is becoming more and more compromised. That’s not an accident. We have to step up to the plate and come up with new concepts. Over the last 22 months I have set out on a journey to try to understand some of these things and to come up with practical proposals. If you’ve been following this conversation, even sporadically, you may have noticed some of these things cropping up:
1. new crops, that work within the context of the land,
Alfalfa Blossom Tea
2. new agricultural methods, that improve the health of the earth and society,
3. new visions of how water moves in the landscape, which can lead to increased social wealth, increased productivity of the land, new urban design, and decreased taxation,
4. new technologies for water and energy capture, based upon natural observations …
5. new integrations of soil communities and soil atmospheres with agricultural development,
6. new educational strategies,
7. new artistic strategies, connected to integration of social development and urban renewal,
8. a renewal of beauty as an important scientific and artistic tool,
9. an integration of science and art and literature, which uses the strength of all to a common goal,
10. integration of indigenous and settler cultures, with the social and land-based wealth that comes from that,
and many more. One could build an entire university around these ideas. Just as Goethe built the first botanical department at a university, and an important model that contributed greatly to the universities of today, around a garden …
Botanical Garden, Jena
… so is it possible today to provide new structures which enable new understandings, new solutions, and new opportunity for the young to truly create. I undertook this journey in order to write a book. It took me across the Pacific Northwest, deep into history, to Germany and Switzerland, to Iceland, and back home, here, in the grasslands between the mountains. I started as a poet, working in the tradition of literature. I stand now as that, of course, but in a literature that has been returned to a world that is whole. As for the university, well, in an ideal world I would be teaching this stuff there. The good fortune and good sense of devoting 22 years of my life to raising my children, and doing so on the edge of the last surviving grassland on temperate earth, a humanly created space that exists in the same form now as 4000 years ago, saved me from the fate of teaching only the literary tradition. What a walkabout this has been. What worlds poetry has taken me to. What science it has inspired. What a new form of literature, moving with images and words at the same time. Now it’s time, though, to pull the book together out of these nearly 500 posts. I’ve done much of that work, actually, but much remains to be done. I have six weeks in which to be done. I’m going to keep on at this blog, of course, but if you the posts meandering through the book now, don’t be surprised. I can only do so much at one time, but I do do it with delight.
The First Mock Oranges of the Season Are Now In Bloom
Now, that’s news! And what is in the news? Ah, this …
This is an image of what “Canada” looks like right now. It comes complete with a Put-the-Plastic-Picnic-Cooler-in-the-Sport-Utility-Vehicle Game. It is what that mock orange or this …