Scientists Are Not The Adults In The Room

photo taken in Pololu Valley by author

photo taken in Pololu Valley by author

On the last Paratopia Presents: Talk Story Tyler Kokjohn and I discussed what science is and is not. It seems fairly clear that at its core what science is––all it is––is the ability to make sense of things through repeated observation. (And just as a weird side note here, I’m not typing at the moment; I’m using the dictation function. What the dictation function did in that last sentence was spell my first name instead of the word “observation.” Then after a few seconds, it changed it to the word “observation” on its own. What? Pretending that didn’t happen and moving on.…)

You know it strikes me that one of the things indigenous people around the world do is meticulously observe their environment and build pieces of their culture and agriculture around their observations. What they do is science. So why do Western scientists not see it that way? How are people who are immersed in their environments considered less scientific, not more, than the men and women who have divorced themselves from nature?

Something Tiokasin Ghosthorse said on an episode of the old Paratopia podcast has stuck with me. He said, and I’m paraphrasing, that plants teach songs to those who know how to listen. These songs help foster the plants’ growth and are specific to the regions in which they are taught. If, for example, the Lakota play a song taught to them by the corn in North Dakota to a cornfield in another land, that corn might not understand the song and it might not help it grow.

ghosthorseHearing that, and seeing the robust crops Lakota produce, shouldn’t scientists be inclined to believe them? We know that different environments… well… are different, right? A lot of factors go into that involving earth, sun, influences of forces, and probably some factors we have yet to understand. Could music be one of these? Could communication? What if there’s a type of listening that involves the heart not ears? What if the heart is the Rosetta Stone of the plant and animal worlds? All worlds?

Since people like the Lakota say they come from the heart, not the brain, why can’t people who say they come from the brain, not the heart, take them at their word? Ironically, if aliens were to land and tell Western scientists that they grow crops through music, they’d be inclined to believe them!

Why? Because they’re not from here? What does this tell us not only about our own prejudice but about our arrogance that we are on the right track, the only track, no other “scientists” need apply.

Perhaps such a thing as plants talking to people sounds silly to a Western scientist; but is it any sillier than how the sun bakes us differently? How different environments produce different organisms? Gravity?

I don’t understand how we can blithely take what works for us and discard the rest as useless cultural overlay. We’ll say that such-and-such a people are masters of ______ but then not say how they came about that mastery. Or if we do, it’s not in a tone that suggests we need to adapt to their way of doing things. But the culture is intertwined with the result. It’s all of a tapestry, this mastery. A people born in the forest develop a culture of the forest because they are of the forest. Same with any terrain, right?

But now we live in an age where we destroy natural environments, which wrap their knowledge around and through us, for artificial ones that we (think we) can control. What does that culture look like? Take a look around. It’s not much deeper than a Miley Cirus tongue twirl–which won’t be funny in ten minutes when the reader is asking, “Miley who?”

What in our culture sustains? What in our culture do we sustain and sustains us? Who do we talk and listen to with our hearts?

Why does Western science get the first and final say in how reality works? If it is truly about observation, when does it observe itself, its environment, and the limits of its bubble? When will people who have cut off from natural environments and therefore from the heart–people who have migrated to the brain and built a shallow, temporary brain world–get that holy crap moment of truth when they realize that the flaw in their design is their design and the people who never lived this way aren’t superstitious or savage or uneducated or unscientific, but are actually the adults in the room?

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6 thoughts on “Scientists Are Not The Adults In The Room

  1. There actually has been ‘western science’ scientific study of the effect of music on plants – and of different types of music on plants.
    But western science definitely discounts the experience of people who are not in their club (e.g. Eastern medicine, homeopathic medicine, etc.) and often without scientifically studying the thing they have discounted.
    On the other hand there is also a problem with people who discount western science when it interferes with their own view of the world (e.g. creationists) then try to impose their religiously derived views on the whole society (via school systems).

    • True and true, Mary Vaeni, true and true. I just don’t get how Western science types continue to scoff at certain things they find preposterous until enough of their own kind have tinkered with them to “validate” them. Then, suddenly, it’s conventional wisdom. I get that this is just sorta what we do, but how many times do we keep doing it before we realize the old maxim about how to define crazy applies to us?

      Again, the alien analogy comes to mind: we would take aliens at their word on their science (observations), so why don’t we take other people living here at their word?

  2. During my stay in Peru, the indigenous shamans also insist that the plants teach them songs (in an ayahuasca ceremony they are called “icaros”), and these songs are a means of communing and entering into harmony with the plants.

    Thousands of miles away, different continent, same practice and belief. Doesn’t “prove” anything of course, but I thought you’d find this interesting.

    • I think it does prove it in as far as anything can be proven. Is that so different than American and French scientists coming to the same conclusions on an experiment independently?

      Again I ask (not you, but in general) – Why do we treat these so differently? If you had said “scientists in Peru” and “scientists thousands of miles away, on a different continent” discovered plants teach songs, this would be on the front page of every newspaper the world over. We always hear that alien contact would be the biggest story in human history… but what about sentient plants?!

      I think “human history” doesn’t include many humans who have been there/done that with the things we’re eager to “discover.”

      • I agree with you, the “doesn’t prove anything of course” is a caveat I tend to reflexively tack on the end, because people can be VERY fierce defenders of the western model of reality these days.

  3. as john mack was fond of saying (by necessity i will paraphrase here) western culture is the only culture in the history of man that doesn’t recognize the presence of alternate realities. while i certainly don’t do justice to dr. mack here, his point is well taken, we think a great deal of ourselves, which makes one of us.

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