Am I going crazy, or is it the world around me?

Back in July, I worte an article for the Scientists for Global Responsibility newsletter, which was published recently. It was yet another attempt to put into words why the focus on reducing carbon (not that we’re actually doing that!) is not the right one. Since then, I’ve read volume 1 of Derrick Jensen’s Endgame. You may remember I mentioned Derrick in a post back in September 2010. I got so much more from the book than from the clips on the internet.

Given that the book runs to 451 pages (and that’s just volume 1!), I have neither the time nor the mental resources to summarise it but suffice to say, industrial civilisation cannot, and has never been, sustainable. I think I’ve known that for some time but had never put it as such. Like most other environmentalists, I hoped that there was a way to have one’s cake and eat it too. Granted, I never really understood the term ‘sustainable development’ (‘sustainable growth’ is just bollocks!) but I really did believe that if only people understood energy better, then we’d all wake up and get ourselves on the right track. Wrong!

Now I know there will be some of you who just stop reading there. That’s cool, you’re not alone. But Derrick asks this, “Do you believe that our culture will undergo a voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of living?” Note the word ‘voluntary’. We’re not talking about people choosing a different car or to reuse carrier bags here. We’re talking about western culture choosing to stop exploiting natural resources at an unsustainable rate. We’re talking about oil and mining company executives saying, “OK guys, we’ve had it good but the party’s over. We’re going to stop wasting money exploring for more oil because it’s time to wake up to its finite nature and the falling energy returns. We’re going to leave it in the ground and look at how to feed 7 billion people without fossil fuels”. And the corporate bankers are going to choose to hang up their Armani suits, donate their obscene bonuses to the Transition Towns movement, put on a pair of overalls and start planting allotments on all their private grounds. You get my point. This will not happen.

Note also the words ‘our culture’. I’ve also been reading indigenous writings and a bit of anthropology. The problems we are creating are not a function of humans. Homo sapiens is quite able to live sustainably – indeed we did for hundreds of thousands of years but then something happened. Not settling down and planting a few crops to supplement the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, but owning land. Owning land for the first time usually involves killing, enslaving or ousting those who lived there before you arrived. If no people lived there, then you’re free to do what you want with all the other species who lived there – eat them, burn them, build houses out of them, or just get rid of them because you can’t eat, burn or build houses out of them. Western culture dominates the world and while it sounds paradoxical, western culture is global. It’s the culture which dominates industry and trade. No longer does it matter whether you are in Asia, America, Europe or Africa, the chances are you are dominated by western culture. You might be one of the few who does not live by it, but if you are living on resources required by western culture you’ll soon know all about it.

If you’ve got this far, well done. I’m not asking you to agree with me, just to think about these issues. Some might be saying, “well, I knew Meikle would lose the plot eventually”. Maybe I have. Maybe I’ve gone insane. But if sanity is to accept the culture imposed on me without question, to believe that the global industrial complex will choose to stop destroying the environment, that technology will save the day then all I can say is ‘wibble‘.

PS The Transition Initiative website has a series called ‘Stories from our social reporters’ and a good friend of mine wrote an excellent article there recently on this very topic of sanity.

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About The Cheery Pessimist

Waiting for some sign that we will change our ways before it all comes tumbling down...still, you've got to laugh
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21 Responses to Am I going crazy, or is it the world around me?

  1. Mystic Mox says:

    Hi Mandy!

    I’d like to think you’re off the mark on this one if only because to believe that we can never affect the changes we need is to give up hope and I don’t want to do that (even if it sometimes seems to fly in the face of all the evidence!).

    One of the key problems with western civilisation is that our culture disengages people from their communities. I have felt for years that TV rather religion is “the opium the masses” which encourages people to drowse on assuming everything will be OK, although perhaps more recently this has been replaced by the internet (being as more people use it to discuss celebs’n’sex than to post this sort of stuff!). Historically communities have been much smaller than most physical or virtual communities currently are. This made people less shy about taking part in discussions and also made cause and effect relationships more immediately obvious. So to be able to stand up to corporate culture we need to get out there and somehow encourage people to engage with communities and communities to engage with wider society. (Psychology needed again and I still can’t spell it!) This empowerment needs civilisation in terms of groups of people (civic society) who are close enough to discuss things although this doesn’t mean that all the material trapping of “civilisation” are a good thing! Without empowered communities the biggest interests are even more able to push their agenda. I’m not sure what the optimum community size is for this – I suspect a few thousand at most, but that’s still more than most hunter gatherer communities.

    Another benefit of having some sort of organised community is that it allows people to specialise. If all we are after is food then very small groups can work OK provided that they only want a limited variety. However once specialised tools need to be made and maintained then there is an advantage in civilisation. For example having a specialised blacksmith who stays in one place saves every family/farm etc from having to have the skills and facilities to repair metal tools. So less resources are used (only need one forge, one anvil etc) and a spades get repaired better jobs and quicker. People often end up buying gadgets (e.g decorating or car repair tools) they only need for one small job (even though they suspect someone nearby already has one they aren’t using at that moment) because their community is not communicating effectively within itself.

    I’m not saving everything about civilisation is good – there’s lots of scope for improvement, but I think it has some merits which it would be dangerous to ignore completely. Whether or if we can build effective communities in the timescale required is a very debatable matter though!

    • mandy meikle says:

      Thanks for that Janet – believe me, I’d also like to think I’m off the mark but it’s the evidence that makes me wonder. Maybe that’s all lies. Maybe there aren’t massive islands of minute plastic particles in the 5 major oceans, maybe species aren’t going extinct because we are destroying habitat and ecosystems at an insatiable rate, maybe replacing forests with monocrops is OK, maybe hoovering up every damn thing in the ocean and spitting out what we don’t want can be done sustainably, maybe climate change really does have nothing to do with burning fossil fuels and destroying carbon sinks at the same time. Actually, as I write this I realise that these things wouldn’t happen if it wasn’t the CHEAP option. So maybe we’ll start paying for all the environmental external costs we’ve had for free up til now. Oops, no, there’s a global recession on – no one could afford that. We need growth. Aaargh! See how hard it is to remain hopeful that industrial civilisation will choose to change at all, let alone quickly?

      As you can see, I’m feeling the need to write more provocative and controversial posts, just to see if it gets anyone replying (or even reading!). I’m sick of not saying what I really think. But I’m surprisingly chipper! If I have lost hope, it’s really not so bad! That said, I have no idea how I’d feel about all this if I had kids…but I’m sure I’d be teaching them how to make and grow stuff, which I’m sure you are.

      It’s worth pointing out that Jensen does define ‘civilisation’ as living in cities and ‘cities’ as collections of people so large that resources, such as food, have to be brought in from outside as there are too many people per unit of available land not to. I’m paraphrasing as I’m doing this via webmail (got away from work early – it’s just not the same now we’re a one-car family!). The definition is crucial. It’s not being polite or having specialist skills we’re talking about here. It’s the endless need to expand land use and consume resources, which you have to admit, is a mindset prevalent amongst our culture. How is it that more species are going extinct now than ever before (barring extinction-event asteroids!) and atmospheric CO2 is still rising, yet we’re all being told we need an iPad, iPhone, Play Station, electric car and so on? I don’t know if you read the article I referred to at the start of the post? It looks at the energy side of things.

      No, don’t worry, I won’t bang on about resource wars but suffice to say, I’m as sceptical as Rob Newman (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2DCwafIntj0) about American plans to bring democracy to the Middle East! Jensen also argues that hope itself can be part of the problem because we only hope for things over which we have no control (e.g. hoping that the weather is nice or that a job application is successful. We don’t tend to hope we eat food today – unless we’re homeless or live far, far away!) Anyway, what I found so interesting was that Jensen’s logic seemed to answer so many of my own questions.

      OK, you’ll be delighted to hear that it’s nearly 5.30pm – knocking off time for the other half! So I’ll bend your ear no more. But changing our culture begins by not being a willing part of it – we’re doing that already by not being mindless consumers of everything we’re told we need. There lots to do and building community is certainly one of them!

  2. Percy Mark says:

    I’m sorry to say that arithmetic was never my strong point and therefore I beg permission to ask for some help: This morning I read your article in the SGR Newsletter and got stuck over the calculation of percentages with regard to EROEIs, where 1: 100 makes 99%, 1:50 makes 98% and 1:20 makes 95%. You will think to yourself: this guy is nit-picking. But I assure you I would not have spent a good half hour pondering these figures, then looking at your website, then spending the whole afternoon – after my nap, that is – reading in your Blog and following your links to U-Tube etc, if I had not so thoroughly agreed and felt empathy with your sentiments and thoughts in your article. Goodness knows what we do about it all!?
    But this has been your day in my life and empathy is an invigorating feeling.
    I have put similar sentiments “on paper” – as we used to say, but perhaps we should say “into the ether” now – myself and you could check out whether I could return the complement by looking at our website at http://reverenceforlife.org.uk/projects/nest-the-next-evolutionary-step/ (sorry, I don’t seem to be able to turn this into a live link – its probably easier to just go to our Website click on Projects, then NESt and go to Appendix I where you will find what I call my “12 Dichotomies”) I’d be glad to know what you think?
    Anyway, I think you are right about putting the emphasis on “energy” rather than the CO2, where the horse has bolted anyway by now.
    As a Cheery Pessimist, which speaks to me of one who has reached a point of resignation from where, as E M Forster says, you can know how to “care, and not to care”, you may be ambivalent about whether homo-sapiens will manage to evolve sufficiently to spare itself pain by doing voluntarily, what it will otherwise be forced to suffer under duress.
    Be that as it may…….. thank you for an inspiring and stimulating day!

    • mandy meikle says:

      Hi Percy and thanks so much for your comment. Like you, I am not confident with maths/numbers but I think I can quickly address your EROEI question. EROEI is equivalent to net energy + 1. Or, vice versa, net energy is EROEI – 1. So if you put 1 unit of energy in for every 100 units of energy out, the EROEI is 100:1 (or 100) and the net energy is 99 out of 100 units (99%). Similarly, if EROEI is 50:1 (1 unit in for 50 out) then that’s the same as 2 units in for 100 out or 98%. 20:1 means 5 in for 100 out = 95% and so on. The sharp decline is because this is an exponential function – a concept I understand as I used to be a microbiologist but I’m not up on the maths of such things. Someone who is is a guy called Albert Bartlett and there’s an excellent talk here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-QA2rkpBSY) on exponentials and their relevance.

      It’s so good to hear that you found my ramblings of interest. I will look at your link (and don’t worry, WordPress automatically makes it a link in your reply) but in haste I just want to say that it’s western industrial culture (or whatever it’s called) that I have a problem with, not Homo sapiens. We are a wonderful species, capable of love, language, art, music, compassion and so on, but thanks to some quirk of nature, those running the show call those who actually understand sustainability uncivilised and force them off their land. Told you I was in a hurry – that’s quite a sweeping statement but we mustn’t confuse all people with some people!

      I’ll write more when I’ve had a look at your link. Cheers!

  3. admin says:

    See account of how I found you on our Indian website Mandy:
    http://www.chs-sachetan.org/?p=1694
    As the SGR article is not on their website [I’m a associate], I’d welcome the text to cover your message in http://localisewestmidlands.org.uk/blog/ – my posts are under Localise 2.

    • mandy meikle says:

      Hi & thanks for that. I started this blogging malarky with hopes of meeting others, sharing views etc but think there must be a slow lead in time when one posts as infrequently as I do!

      I’m not overly familiar with SGR website (or technology in general!) but you can read the full article here – http://www.sgr.org.uk/publications/sgr-newsletter-40 – just scroll down & click on “Why we must prepare for a low energy society”. I’m happy for it to be linked to (and can only assume SGR won’t mind) and my next post on Transition Network Social Reporter’s site (http://www.transitionnetwork.org/stories) is on supermarkets (a personal tale of hypocricy and being skint!)

  4. Riversong says:

    Mandy,

    Thanks for visiting my blog and “liking” my essay, “The Thermodynamics of an Intelligent Living Universe” (http://riversong.wordpress.com/intelligent-living-universe/).

    We certainly agree on the likelihood of an entire global culture living the wrong story simply leaving it all behind and starting over on a much lower energy-conversion level. And Derrick Jensen is one of the more perceptive critics of what we euphemistically call “civilization” (Gandhi was once asked by a reporter what he thought of Western civilization, and he answered “I think it would be a good idea.”)

    But I would caution you about putting too much stock in Jensen’s perceptions, because they lead him and a lot of acolytes into another dead end: the willful dismantling of civilization “by any means necessary”. Jensen goes to great lengths to deny that he advocates violence against the establishment though he viciously tears into the non-violent and pacifist movements, but it could hardly be more clear what he is suggesting. “By any means necessary” is the strategy of either the worshipers of power or the desperate.

    That kind of pessimism and Unabomber “solution” is exactly what we don’t need if we are to create a new story.

    • mandy meikle says:

      Hi Robert – great to be in touch! Despite his anti-pacifism, I love Jensen. He put so many of my feelings into words and I agree with so much of what he says (and he says a lot!) but then I also agree with your concern over ‘any way possible’. By that measure, it’s just the most powerful who win – same old story even if the powerful were hackers trying to save the planet. Then what? People won’t all just disappear. It’s how people will deal with a severe, rapid and non-voluntary reduction in complexity which scares me. Not just fear for myself & other people but for all species. Even if there was no longer any ability to burn fossil fuels, I’d guess those who had food would have to use a good chunk of what forest remained and those without would probably eat anything they could catch.

      Jensen is very good on what makes people agree that violence is a viable tactic – namely those who have suffered abuse or violence directly. Whether by the state or family members or neighbouring gangs or randomn strangers. I have never experienced violence directly and maybe that’s why I accepted pacifism unquestioningly before reading Jensen? I’m sure the Dalai Lama has said something along the lines of using pacifism wherever possible but violence may be the only way in extreme cases (I think he likened violence to really aggressive chemotherapy – it may cure the problem locally but at what cost?)

      It’s never easy trying to discuss best-ignored issues like population or at least per capita consumption. But I’m lucky because while I don’t get the ‘speak to the universe’ stuff (I don’t mean to offend – one of my best friends is a great believer in it!) I do believe that there is life elsewhere in the universe, probably in our galaxy. Maybe not intelligent, maybe not much more than a microbial mat, but life nonetheless. While watching documentaries on cosmology I have wondered why life exists when it’s so obviously “anti-entropic” and Homo sapiens sapiens is certainly a powerful force with reagrds to finding clever methods for accelerating the generation of chaos! But I can’t accept the idea of planets or any other inanimate structure having consciousness. If this amazing planet’s story has a bad ending because we as a species just couldn’t get our shit together, then so be it. Life will evolve where it can and it will be what it is. That’s how I feel but I don’t like feeling like that – it’s not a satisfactory position to be in!

      I’m not sure that’s coming over well!! Too little time to compose thoughts just now but really wanted to say hello. I get a lot out of those who write well about science as well as spiritual stuff. The two have to come back together but even though I think that, I find a lot of the spiritual terminology hard to grasp. But being a scientifically-trained atheist, I would say that! By the way, have you read David Quinn’s Ishmael?

      Hope we’ll speak more…

      • Riversong says:

        It’s Daniel Quinn, and I’ve read everything he’s written.

        As you’re coming from a scientific perspective, I would encourage you to explore the Gaia theory, which has become widely accepted among many disciplines, and demonstrates quite rationally that the Earth operates exactly like a single, living organism with its own intelligence. If you can’t extrapolate consciousness to the planet, then perhaps you can at least acknowledge an innate intelligence which is far greater than our own (since it has cleverly maintained a living homeostasis for 3.5 billion years).

        Also, the new field of Epigenetics posits that the expression of an organism’s DNA is triggered by its environment, such that there is only a conceptual distinction between individual and surroundings. If that “personal” boundary is a mental fiction, then it’s easy to believe that the biosphere is a single entity with only apparent discontinuities.

        As for Jensen, I say a man (or woman) is measured not by their words but by what they manifest in the world. Jensen has manifested (and actively nurtures) a fanatically-loyal cult-like following who viciously attack anyone who dares criticize their Pied Piper. I’ve had direct on-line conversation with Jensen and he refuses to temper such viciousness, allowing others to express the violence that he merely proposes.

        You’re right that Jensen appeals to others who, like him, have never recovered from their own victimhood and choose, instead, to engage in the generational continuity of violence disguised as a necessary response to unmitigated evil. These are the most dangerous people in the world – those who see what’s wrong and choose to rationalized perpetuating it in another guise, thereby becoming the evil they so blindly hate that they cannot see how they have put on the same toxic clothes.

        Jensen also perpetuates the same human arrogance that he despises. He perceives that we are destroying the world by the hubris which falsely believed that we could “manage” it for the good of all, and yet believes that nature needs us as protectors and defenders, when all it really wants is to be left alone (since it is far more intelligent and wise than are we).

      • mandy meikle says:

        Well, that’s annoying! Was spounting forth about how I didn’t believe that Jensen thought nature needed protecting per se, only from us at this destructive stage of our evolution, when I hit some unknown button which wiped my reply! Thankfully I had saved some of it to Notepad (we get our share of power outs here on the moor):

        Yes, I meant Daniel Quinn – more haste, less speed! I’ve only read Ishmael & Story of B – loved both. I am aware of James Lovelock & the Gaia theory tho’ have not explored it deeply. I totally agree that the Earth operates ‘exactly like a single, living organism with its own intelligence’. The word ‘like’ is crucial there. Being ‘like’ something doesn’t mean that you ‘are’ that something. Some Gaians express themselves in such a way as to suggest that the Earth is an intelligent being, like a big old human wondering how to respond to its unruly children. If deforestation leads to soil erosian, dust storms and landslides, that’s not an intelligent response but cause and effect, surely? I feel we should avoid anthropomorphising planetary functions – but then again maybe that’s the only way some people can understand & relate to the theory.

        As for epigenetics, yes I’m aware of that too. Despite its recent popularity, environmental regulation of genes has been known about for some time. I’m glad to see that previously reductionist areas are beginning to join the dots a bit. I do agree that science is far from perfect but that’s because it’s a tool which we humans use to understand the world around us. As the wonderful Ani diFranco put it, “every tool is a weapon if you hold it right”.

        As you know, cycles, feedback loops, flows of energy are all parts of life, of living systems – from microbes to planets – but how would anyone understand this if they hadn’t learned it, or at least thought about it? And is understanding all that’s required for intelligence? No. We know that whales are intelligent mammals, yet we bombard the oceans with sound waves blocking their communications, we fill their milleux with our toxins and we haul them out of their world, still living & breathing, with meat hooks – and with no apology. What chance do the ecologically-essential invertebrates have? Why do we destroy our support systems? Not so intelligent, is it? That said, and I think I said this previously, I do believe that life evolves where it can and the Universe is a big place. I cannot put into words how I feel about life on this planet, the wonder, the beauty, the mind-blowing complexity. If humanity is destined to wipe all of that out in the pursuit of fast cars and hamburgers, then so be it. I don’t know how to fight that, despite Jensen’s convincing (to me) words.

        I think we all make assumptions about what others know or believe and that’s part of being human. I like the honesty of Jensen’s writing and he is the first writer to refer to such things as ‘the trees giving answers to his questions’ who I have understood enough to continue reading. Yes, I’m sure he has some fanatical followers – so does Danial Quinn! It’s what I liked about your writing too. The science, which I understood, you wrote well and I then considered the mystical (as in logos & mythos). Those who just lambast science as the work of the devil, or even get it substantially wrong, well I don’t get too far into their works. I believe the logos and the mythos have more equal places in our world than western culture allows but one has to trust an author – there has to be some frame of reference and for me it’s science.

        We are such a young, yet powerful species and, if we survive this dangerous teenage rebellion against ‘Mother Earth’, we could be an amazing example of the Cosmos knowing itself (yes, I like Carl Sagan too). But we aren’t telepathic and I am well aware that some people may speak of truths in ways which I don’t get, therefore I miss their message. C’est la vie. To discuss ‘higher intelligence than our own’ would require a definition of intelligence. I await your reply…

  5. Riversong says:

    “Every tool is a weapon if you hold it right” is a vast generalization which actually applies to a very limited spectrum of tools, if we consider tools in the broader sense. Non-violent communication, for instance, is a “tool” that was deliberately designed by a few people in such a way that it could not be easily misused the way ordinary language could.

    Marshall McLuhan and others taught us that “the medium is the message” and that each technology has inherent qualities which express themselves independently of the way they’re used. Science, as a technology itself (with very strict rules for application) for interacting with and learning about the world, has a strongly determinative effect on both how we think about that “objective” world and what we can learn about it. We know now, from the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and Quantum Indeterminacy, that how we interrogate the physical universe determines what it “tells” us about itself. The Universe is, in a very real sense, reciprocal, and responds to the way we approach it.

    A agree that we must be careful not to anthropomorphize the world, but that means not thinking about sentience or intelligence or consciousness in strictly human (subjective) terms, but scientifically determining the minimum set of elements that constitute such “mythological” things as life, consciousness and intelligence.

    For instance, we know there is a fundamental difference between “inanimate” physical things that follow the universal path toward entropy and what we call “animate” things which seem to defy and locally reverse entropy. In the most basic terms, these are non-equlibrium thermodynamic (NET) systems that, for some period of time, remain far from thermodynamic equilibrium. By that standard, whirlpools, hurricanes, tornadoes and dust devils are “animate”. The one quality that we normally associate with life that they do not possess is (at least genetic) reproduction, though they contribute to a larger, global NET system which does seem to be self-perpetuating for billions of years. So it may be only because we’re so habituated to a narrow definition of life that we are loathe to include such NET phenomena (or the totality of NET events) under the rubric “animate”.

    You say we should be careful to differentiate between “acts like” and “being the same as”. But conventional wisdom tells us that “if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck then it is a duck”.

    You ask “how would anyone understand this if they hadn’t learned it, or at least thought about it?”, it appears that you’re really asking “how can such things be known without rigorous science?” Indigenous peoples have known about the myriad cycles of energy flow for millennia, and in a far more intimate way than do most scientists or rationalists. Did it make any real difference in their lives that they didn’t know about electrons and DNA? They seem to have lived far more responsibly without that specialized knowledge.

    You say that Jensen inspired you in part because he helped you understand such things as ‘the trees giving answers to his questions’. Of course, that is the everyday experience of indigenous peoples, is what I’ve taught many through Vision Quest and other rituals, and is being studiously rediscovered by plant spirit healers today (including such eminently rational and scientific people as Stephen Harrod Buhner – The Secret Teachings of Plants).

    I am convinced that we humans cannot survive as a species unless we get “out of our minds” and “come back to our senses” (a curiously common bit of wisdom that has real meaning). The rational mind is one of those very powerful tools that can easily be wielded as a weapon (as is evident by how we’ve so “cleverly” nearly destroyed the living planet). Native Americans understood that reason was but one arrow in the quiver and one that should be taken out only when really necessary. We have been operating for hundreds of years with a single arrow and consequently have missed a large part of our world.

    The author who best expresses this shift and the crucial importance of returning to our senses is David Abram, in his marvelous book The Spell of the Sensuous (and his subsequent book, Becoming Animal).

    One simple “tool” that can help people make that epistemological leap is the ancient and rediscovered labyrinth, which is being used at both churches and hospitals all over the US for spiritual and physical healing (it has been found very effective at recovery from stroke). A labyrinth is a unicursal maze. Because it has only a one path, from entry to center and back, it requires no thought or will beyond the single decision to enter. I have a wooden labyrinth gateway on which I’ve inscribed “Lose Your Mind – Find Your Way”. The healing power of the labyrinth comes from “checking your mind at the gate” and allowing our other forms of intelligence – the other arrows in our quiver – to guide us to our center and back into the world.

    The trees (which Native Americans believed to be our closest cousins) DO speak to us if we have ears to hear, as do the ancient rocks (the keepers of memory – silica, the stuff of memory chips – quartz, the timekeeper). But we cannot hear the voices of our animate, conscious and intelligent universe until we learn how to silence our rational minds.

    • mandy meikle says:

      Hi Robert – I obviously don’t communicate well as you’ve misunderstood a few of the points I was making. Firstly, I agree that non-violent communication is a tool so maybe we need to define “weapon”? If we consider it to mean “anything that serves to outwit or get the better of an opponent”, then non-violent communication can indeed be a ‘weapon’ albeit one which is used in conflict resolution, rather than conflict. A “weapon” doesn’t necessarily cause physical harm – it can also manipulate or in some way control an opponent. But it is used deliberately, with intent. Bursting into tears might stop an opponent from being abusive but I would only think of those tears as a weapon if the person crying had done so deliberately. So I guess a big part of a weapon is the intend behind its use – which is exactly the meaning I took from Ani diFranco’s verse. As always with communication, it’s so hard to a) say what you mean and then b) have the recipient of those words understand them in the way intended. Makes life more interesting, I suppose!

      You go on to talk about science having a strongly determinative effect on what the Universe tells us about itself – I couldn’t agree more. And as for things like the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, indeed the whole quantum world, well, electrons existing everywhere and nowhere makes as much sense to me as talking trees. But the point I was making there was that if the author of the words crafts them in such a way as to engage me, to make me want to continue reading, then I may learn something about an area I don’t understand. If the author annoys me by telling me nothing I can relate to, then I’ll probably not continue reading and who knows what I might miss. I’m not saying it’s a good strategy but I’m certainly not alone; everyone is selective in what they read or learn – we have to be in this Information Age. Information can become knowledge, which occasionally becomes wisdom.

      So while I don’t literally understand what Jensen meant, the way he put it did indeed make me think of indigenous peoples who refer to such things. Those who pray or meditate or enter drug-induced trances or rituals often refer to entities speaking to them. Having never had such an experience, I can only imagine that they experienced a thought so powerful that they couldn’t believe it came from within. I freely admit that I tend to dismiss ‘woo woo’, things which we are just supposed to believe with no shred of ‘evidence’ behind them (like quantitative easing solving the financial crisis!). However, I know that there is more to the universe than science can tell us – the hard bit is sorting the wheat from the chaff. What I’d love to see is science which devotes itself not to resource consumption and control of nature but to the restoration of the commons, say. “Anarchist science”, as Randall Amster put it in this week’s New Scientist (7 July 2012).

      Just briefly, you say “if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck then it is a duck”. For me, “if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck then it’s probably a duck” works better.

      Regarding how people can know things they haven’t thought about, I did not mean “how can such things be known without rigorous science?” I am well aware that indigenous peoples have known about the myriad cycles of energy flow for millennia, and I agree with you that they have a far more intimate way of ‘knowing’ than do most scientists or rationalists. I read somewhere about a Native American tribe who, without western scientific method, had worked out most of the fundamentals of the world around them except the occurrence of smooth pebbles at the top of a mountain. They knew that smooth pebbles came about by the action of flowing water over a long time and they knew that there was no such flowing water at the top of the mountain. So they deduced that the pebbles were a sign of god. That’s because they did not know about tectonic plate movements. They had never conceived that the Earth’s surface moved such that river pebbles could end up at the top of mountains. I’m sure there are many other stories, say with shells up mountains, or fossils etc. If we have never thought of something and the ‘evidence’ presents itself for the first time, then we have to deduce what’s going on. And we may get it wrong. Science should always know that and act accordingly, by updating theories and saying those dreaded words: “we don’t really know”. Science should always be humble, never arrogant.

      Finally, in Edinburgh there is a labyrinth, a maze with just one path through it used for meditation. I have walked it but don’t understand how it could be more powerful than, say, just meandering around a field. Again, I’m not saying that it has no healing properties – I just don’t know what ‘experiments’ have been done to show that it does. Again, I agree with the “Lose Your Mind – Find Your Way” sentiment but don’t believe that the labyrinth itself bestows inner peace on a person. Something else does that and I’m sure that having the ability to silence our rational minds is a vital part of understanding what that ‘something else’ is.

      Good grief, that was long! I want to thank you for taking the time to respond and for sharing your thoughts. I hope to hear from you again…

      • Riversong says:

        Walking a labyrinth on your own vs. engaging in a labyrinth walk with an initiated facilitator, is like the difference between entering a therapists office and being there under the guidance of a qualified therapist. And, even if entering the labyrinth with the proper frame of mind and with understanding of its power, doing it once may be as helpful (or not) as a single therapy session.

        There are more than 200 hospitals in the US alone that have incorporated a labyrinth into their facilities because of the widely-recognized calming, centering and healing effects. It’s very different from a meandering walk in a meadow, because – even without a ritual elder to contextualize the experience – the labyrinth itself is a guide.

        Finger labyrinths have been used successfully to restore hemispheric brain balance following a unilateral stroke. There is much that the ancients knew that science is just beginning to appreciate.

        The woman most responsible for the revival of interest in labyrinths in the US is Lauren Artress, who wrote Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Practice (labyrinth is a feminine modality). The Reverend Dr. Laura Artress is an Episcopal priest and Canon for Special Ministries at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral. She is also the founder of Quest: Grace Cathedral Center for Spiritual Wholeness and the creator of the Labyrinth Project. Dr. Artress earned her master’s degree in religious education fro Princeton Theological Seminary and her doctor of ministry degree in pastoral psychotherapy from Andover Newton Thoelogical School, and received training in psychodynamic psychotherapy at the Blanton-Peale Graduate Institute at the Institute of Religion and Health in New York City. She is a licensed psychotherapist and leads workshops at such venues as the Omega Institute, Institute of Noetic Sciences, and Chautauqua Institute.

        I would highly recommend her book.

  6. Percy Mark says:

    Hi Mandy,
    Thank you for your email and the nudge for me to say hello.
    I have been reading the above conversation with great interest and a very warm feeling of empathy with both of you. I looked up “entropy” in the dictionary and got nothing from that , but your conversation has finally given me an inkling of what it means. Thank you both for that.
    I have to explain that I am no scientist, but a retired architect and I never got very far in science at school. But that doesn’t mean I’m not interested, though my perspective has been coloured rather, by an experience some 40 years ago, which I have tried to describe for a book on which I am working and I quote it here below.
    I don’t know, Mandy, whether that’s allowed – to use your blog in this way – or whether it will make any sense to you in the context of the above conversation? Either way, I hope you’ll forgive me: here it is:
    “The Moment inside my Thumb:
    I am a partner in a medium sized architectural practice in a medium sized town in Buckinghamshire, (England). Vreni (my wife) and I had been to an “alternative community” in Findhorn, Scotland, where, standing in their shop looking at a meter length of beautifully blue coloured books by Alice A. Bailey, I took out one at random, a thin one, which turned out to be called “TheConsciousness Of The Atom” and I bought it. I had not read anything by this author before and knew little about her. I thought I had chosen the book from the hundreds in the shop, because of its attractive colour and its handy size. Back home I read it with interest, and added it to the stacks beside my bed. It contains the transcript of seven lectures given in New York in 1922 about the possibility of thinking that consciousness might be found in the atom as well as in the solar system as a whole.
    I cannot recall, whether it was days, weeks or even months later, when, one morning, I am parking my car under the huge cedar tree in our office car-park. I turn the key in the lock – you still had to do that then – and looking at my hand holding the key, I suddenly know that, at this moment, I am living on a neutron of an atom below the nail of my thumb and at the same time standing on a planet in an atom inside the thumb of an enormously larger being inside which our galaxy is the equivalent of a molecule within the equivalent of a cell of that creature.
    I am stunned, as you can imagine. This is not a case of a normal daydream – of which there are plenty – but I KNOW that it is so!
    Well, this is not something you casually talk about to your office colleagues, not then at least. I didn’t mention it to anyone and tried to forget about it. But as the years went by, it seemed to come up again and again with increasing frequency and persistence. When I eventually told my mother – who was good about weird things – she looked at me with a blank expression and said: “Well, I can’t make anything much of that.” When, some 35 years later I got up courage and told the story at an Albert Schweitzer AGM (I’m chairman of a charity called “Reverence for Life UK), I was asked by one of our senior trustees – a medical man: “….And have you seen somebody about this?”.
    But now I have to face the fact that, as I was working my way through “Volume III” (I am translating Albert Schweitzer’s last and unfinished third volume of his Philosophy of Civilisation) and getting myself really deeply involved in the questions Schweitzer poses, there was no escaping it: What I then “knew” is for me undoubtedly – in some form or other – the truth!
    And the longer I live, the more obvious this is for me; – the more answers it opens up for me; – the more confirmation of this the discoveries of science provide for me; That it is my picture of the “world”.
    However hard it may be for me to explain this coherently to others – and for anyone to be able to follow this without having had the experience themselves – I have to accept, that this is now my “world-view”…….
    To recap:
    In line with the prophetic statement attributed to Hermes (Trismegistus):
    ”As above – so below”; – Our solar system is to the milky way as an atom is to a molecule, and a cell in the tip of my thumb is to my body, mind and spirit, as our observable universe is to some ‘celestial’ being, whose relationship to me is equivalent to my relationship to the inside of the tip of my thumb – which is quite a lot, when you think about it.
    Obviously, this affects all discussion about time-scales, size, purpose, will, intension, duty, etc. However, it does not fundamentally alter questions about eternity and infinity; it just moves the boundaries. They remain as incomprehensible and mysterious – and yet as certain and inescapable for me as ever.”

    But coming back down to ‘Mother Earth’ – the question that keeps tweeting away at the back of my mind is this: What does she have in mind for us? All this science and technology – what is it for? There must be some point to it? Or is it just a disease? Is she running a temperature because of over-excertion about one of her experiments which has got out of hand?
    Shouldn’t we ask ourselves whether this is not a preparation for something? What are we really supposed to learn in all these laboratories? As you said, is it not time for this teenage species to begin to grow up and get some understanding of what task it is being trained for and to take some responsibility for it? Surely, this teenager cannot just be on a suicide mission? – though fast cars and beef-burgers in the hands of a teenager….. and add all that alcohol – does seem a dangerous combination. But Hal does become a great king and quite suddenly too!
    Lets go beyond the “Big Bang Theory” though – please! Its surely time, now that CERN has had some success.

    • mandy meikle says:

      Hi Percy, great to hear from you! No problem with you quoting a piece from your book and I’m glad you’re enjoying the exchange with Robert Riversong. I’m enjoying it too and have just replied to him again. Also, we’re having internet connection speed problems and I fear I’m about to be disconnected so will reply more fully in due course!

    • Riversong says:

      Percy,

      Thanks so much for having the courage to share your story. You experienced what I call a moment of gnowing (in the Gnostic sense of direct, unmediated comprehension).

      Few people seem to understand when I say that I don’t bother with beliefs, but only with what can be directly known without the institutionalized skepticism that empirical science requires. Indigenous peoples understand this kind of knowing, however, and have often confused anthropologists with statements such as “I learned about that medicine from the plant” or “The plant told me” when asked how they figured out which parts of the plant are toxic and which parts healing. Almost invariably, the anthropologist would interpret the answer as a metaphor for trial and error – even though personal trials with potentially toxic plants would not serve well to pass on useful knowledge if one died before sharing.

      What Hermes said, in modern terms, is that the universe is holographic, with each tiny piece containing the organization of the whole; and that it is reciprocal, with each element responding to each other.

      A very similar experience of total immersion in the universe occurred many years ago for a particle physicist named Fritjof Capra, who was then led into a gnostic path of exploration which resulted in the seminal book The Tao of Physics – a book demonstrating the intersections between 20th century physics and the world’s mystical traditions. It was a book that helped launch me on my scientific/spiritual journey. If you haven’t read it I would recommend it to you (as well as his more recent books).

      And I would highly recommend to both you and Mandy, David Abrams’ magical book The Spell of the Sensuous, which details the process by which humanity abandoned the sensate world for the world of reason – the mythos for the logos – and the process by which we can – and must – “return to our senses” and rediscover the world in which we are immersed.

      • Percy Mark says:

        Thank you Riversong. That is a most helpful reply. ‘Gnowing’ – I like that word and its nice to have a word to put to the experience I had. I often wondered how the ancients gathered their medicinal knowledge – what you say makes perfect sense. I also got some idea about this from Jeremy Narby’s book describing his experiences in South America.
        I do have the book “The Tao of Physics” – have had it for years and tried to read it years ago but wasn’t able to follow all the maths and physics – or that’s my memory of it – I obviously must try again – perhaps I’m now ready for it. I have read articles by Fritjof Capra and know about him through my connection with the Schumacher Society.
        David Adam’s “The Spell of the Sensuous” I also have and have read with great fascination more recently. But its time to read it again.
        Charles Eisenstein and Jeremy Rifkin – both names I also know from reading Resurgence – are obviously “must reads” for me now that I have decided that the “dead-end” theory is indeed a dead end and that we must try and find the way around and beyond it. I do have some ideas of my own about it, but have not read other peoples’ on this approach as yet.

        But oh! so much to read – and me being such a (slightly dyslexic) slow reader. And there I am trying to add to the list for other people myself…….but I suppose we must try and express ourselves, if we are not to get constipated. ‘Gnowing’ is faster.
        Thank you so much again, for your helpful pointers. I hope to let you know how I get on.

    • Riversong says:

      [I wish there was a way to edit one’s comments after they are posted.]

      In response to your query about “whether this is not a preparation for something?”, I would recommend two further authors and books.

      Charles Eisenstein is one of the true prophets of our time, and his first major book – The Ascent of Humanity: The Age of Separation, the Age of Reunion, and the convergence of crises that is birthing the transition – is a brilliant explanation of the entire history of human cultural evolution and an insight into the mature phase which we are now entering.

      The most accessible writer on how the Second Law (the Entropy Law) impacts every facet of human experience and cultural evolution is Jeremy Rifkin, in his 1980 book Entropy, which is worth reading. But his most recent book, The Empathic Civilization, goes into great depth about the transition that humanity in undergoing into a more mature consciousness.

      Both authors, unlike the anarcho-primitivists, posit that the journey we’ve taken was not a mistake or a dead end, but the necessary pathway to where we need to go. Just as a butterfly cannot emerge into the world without first being an all-consuming caterpillar and undergoing a complete dissolution and metamorphosis.

      And, speaking of metamorphosis, another book along the same line is Spontaneous Evolution: Our Positive Future and a Way to Get There from Here, by biologist Bruce Lipton and spiritual activist and humorist Steve Bhaerman (a.k.a. Swami Beyondanama).

      • Percy Mark says:

        A word of thanks to Riversong for recommending Spontaneous Evolution to me. I have just finished reading it and have to say that I have not read a book for a very long time with so much interest and so many “absolutely!”, “quite so!”, “I thought so!”, “haven’t I said that for a long time…” etc etc. I have just ordered it for my grandson and also for an uncle of mine. It completely underscores what I have been trying to put across in a powerpoint-presentation during the last few years.
        Now comes “The Empathic Civilization” – but that is very thick indeed…….might take me a while!
        Many thanks again!

  7. Hey Meikle,

    As I read your brief commentary I thought it could easily have been spilled from my own thoughts. You may be interested in knowing that your article came up #2 on my google search ‘Homosapien Occurrence of Chaotic Sound Bytes in the Aether.”
    I believe that god will finally wake up and realize that heaven is earth. Still with me?

    Peace out,
    Scott

    • Yes, am interested in that. Always fascinating what Google pulls up for different people! But as for being ‘with you’, no, sorry you lost me with chaotic sound bytes but that’s alright. And as for ‘god waking up’, I believe it’s people who have to wake up. I’m reading Yuval Harari’s ‘Sapiens’ & loving it. The ‘heaven is earth’ made me think of it. We are the story-telling ape. For millennia our story was in balance with our environment. The ‘awakening’ will be when we remember that. Sadly I fear that serious change will be imposed by nature, rather than chosen by us.

      Many thanks for bothering to comment – I set this blog up as much for exchange of thoughts as for a place to write.

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