As we wind ever closer to the US elections – the choices do not seem promising in either direction. And that seems to be the problem; there are only two directions and neither of them are speaking about what I feel matters… acknowledging the sentience of Earth and Nature! And why does that matter, you might ask?
Because without that basic knowledge, decisions are rotating around principles of money and resources, not context or meaning, not on celebrating and supporting basic needs like health, somewhere to live and freedom of speech. So I wonder ‘how would we manage without human-friendly air, water, food or protection from the more aggressive sun rays?
Can money really buy certain people’s way out of that?’ Just wondering. I know oil has been important, but this is the past looking us in the face, while the future runs away from us, giggling at our seemingly apparent non-thinking (look, even pumpkin guy’s baffled).
And what does the above – politics towards the environment – have to do with how we think?
A step back.
Turns out, I had a bit of a fun adventure a few nights ago, somewhat unexpectedly… after a spontaneous change of plans, I got involved a conversation – about two different perspectives on reality, and how we each measure our versions of ‘reality’. I found myself in a bit of a crossfire… and wondered why do I so often seem to find myself here, defending my earth-based/sentient-based position rather than just presenting it; debate turned to debacle? I felt a bit frustrated, as if a friendly trap had been artfully laid out in front of me and whilst I danced around it with my own sense of earnest debate, the other person patiently dug the hole wider and wider until, suddenly, whoops, I fell in. Bollocks!
I took this thought (the ‘why do I always find myself here!?’ thought and, a bit of the ‘bollocks’ thought) away with me – along with the slightly bruised and prickly skin I bore – as an opportunity to revisit this same question of discussion that’s been bothering me for decades. And here it is: How do we make friends with there being two different factions, two very different mainstream (yes, both are mainstream) ways of being in the world, one based in empathic communion with sentience, the other in left-brained mechanistic science that seems to deny sentience in all but human form – and even then specifies that that same sentience is not influencing that which we ‘discover’. Is it possible for the two to collaborate? And what is the cost if we can’t?
When something doesn’t make sense to me, I tend to tease it, prod it, deconstruct it and question it in every way imaginable until I can understand what is going on. It doesn’t seem to be a choice, more just ‘how I work’. Ironically I use the scientific method, but in its totality (more on that later). For me, the prickly-skin syndrome is simply a sign that I have something to explore, something to better understand. And, being partial to building bridges rather than destroying them (as a general rule), I am easy prey for that part of consciousness that wants to know itself.
I think I’m lucky because I have the tools of an artist, an intuitive and an academic – it renders quite an involved perspective. Perhaps this is why I get frustrated with a use of knowledge through a singular, limited, lens and perhaps this is why I feel drawn to bridge that gap between ‘seeing with our eyes only’ and ‘seeing with our whole self’. One is information, the other is comprehension. And I feel like breaking it down, to really understand what is going on here, and see if we can all get on the same page, a universal page.
Did you learn french at school? If not, they have two verbs for ‘to know’. One is ‘savoir‘ and the other is ‘connaitre‘. And I love this distinction; the first, ‘savoir’, speaks to knowing ‘pieces of information‘ it is an objective relationship to knowledge as data. However – and this I love – ‘connaitre’ is about really knowing and understanding someone, not something, but someone [and, check it out – very important – they do not limit use of this verb to purely human relationships]… i.e. making acquaintance with who they actually are. Big difference. Scientific method says it uses ‘savoir’ (I wonder if that’s really possible, to be 100% separate? – aren’t we always projecting something onto that which we observe? Can numbers lie?) and I use ‘connaitre’ for really important topics, like our relationship to knowing both our Earth & its inhabitants, ourselves and each other.
So, back to the aforementioned debate of that Friday evening; the truth of reality – and here’s where the french comes in:
– ‘I know’ (‘because I can see reality in 4D reality and is therefore measurable empirically‘ – we’ll call him Steve Savoir) vs.
– ‘I know’ (‘because I can see/feel reality in 4D+ levels of reality, and is therefore measurable radically empirically‘… we’ll call her Connie Connaitre). Suggestion: think of savoir & connaitre as the difference between going to see a film in regular format vs. seeing the same film in 3D IMAX – same story, different experience.
Steve, in his objective empirical nature, is comfortable measuring things outside of himself, where he can see them, from their outside. Connie is comfortable measuring things inside herself where she can feel them and also entering inside that which she is experiencing. Bear in mind they are both capable of being naturally talented in either way, or of learning to use either talent, should they so wish. Also, it is probably worth noting that for Connie, seeing and feeling are often interchangeable… and sometimes there’s a third eye in the picture (let’s face it, on numbers alone, we can see Connie’s got the edge here!).
I posit that Steve’s reality does not contradict Connie’s but simply sits inside of it, as part of the nested heirarchies known as living systems theory (love that!) and therefore that Connie’s knowledge is not invalidating Steve’s – she merely has access to meta information, i.e. in addition to what Steve can see from his position (think ‘Russian Dolls – with Steve’s doll sitting inside Connie’s’).
This meta information can emerge in the form of mythology, dance, music, feeling, dreamtime, channeling, intuition, direct knowing, ancestral or nature consciousness, to name a few. Steve knows how to verify his data with numbers and Connie doesn’t necessarily know how to verify her information to Steve in quite the same way, because her data is based in not-easily-transferrable direct experience which, if he has no personal reference point for that, his ability to ‘know’ in the same way as Connie, is naturally disadvantaged.
Connie’s knowledge is creatively informed involving her own body and imagination in very disciplined and yet freeing ways. It is a knowledge acquired through adaptation of self over time, rather than through adaptation of equations, and uses its own symbolic language. It has a different temperature. Steve’s tools are often based in technology and served by highly skilled mental mathematical faculties intersecting his intellect with his imagination. However, when Steve wants you to prove that the rain-dance you are telling him about – that happened in the desert – is directly responsible for the rain that subsequently fell, Connie doesn’t know how to meet that kind of inquiry because it’s so far from what she relates to that to try to verbalize, or numericize it (yep, just made that word up), can cause alienation between the knower and the knowable. It is not logical for her to quantify it in those particular traditions and, worse, it might even be considered disrespectful to the deep and personal relationship between rain-dancer and rain. Interestingly, it is unlikely that Connie would feel compelled to ask Steve for the same kind of verification of his findings.
Both versions of logic act as if diametrically opposed. One values repetition and inspection, the other comes from deeper in the body, it is receptive listening; introspection. One person’s dreamtime is the other person’s mystery. For Steve to understand Connie’s truth, he would need to enter her dreamtime and that’s outside of his paradigm – it would mean a leap into the larger russian doll, which requires changing his shape – it becomes personal. For Connie to translate her learning down to fit into the smaller russian doll can only lose some of its essential information, rendering the myth a shell, whose hermit has long scuttled off back to the sea. I am reminded of TIFF files converting to JPEGs or WAV files to MP3’s…
This seems to be the crux of the problem… the western scientific method alienates the personal in order to be ‘objective’, and seems to be unfortunately (however unintentionally) disrespectful to this more personally involved, comprehensive, process of relational knowing, that has deep underbelly commitment in the body of the of the shaman, the channel, and the radical knower. And this alienation literally cuts into, and across, science, politics and environmental decisions and conversations about the meaning of reality.
In Steve’s world, truth is something you prove, not feel, and the methods for proving are very clear cut if they’re to be called ‘hard’ science as opposed to ‘soft’ science. In Connie’s world if you need to prove your reality to someone who has not experienced it, words and numbers just don’t cut it, it requires first person experience, which is why people who are interested in this kind of sympathetic knowledge will take a Guru or various classes that suit the acquisition of those kinds of skills, or simply spend time in nature, or sing with the sacred, as I do. These experiences are hard to explain with words to someone new to these fecund, immanent, dimensions of life… especially if they are adverse to taking a personal risk. And that part of it is BIG.
Now all of this wouldn’t matter, except for the part where Steve, in his inability and frustration to truly see Connie’s perspective, inherently invalidates her perspective in his perception and description of reality (as has happened to oh so many indigenous peoples, as well as so many feeling-oriented westerners and becomes – irrationally and unethically – an apparently viable reason to take illegal ownership of people’s land or the health of their land – it has something of a dominant flavour to it, the savoir), which she will find hard to refute because she is being asked to prove it to him in his style and on his terms, rather than the onus being on him try to understand an ‘other’ (Connie) well enough to get her permission to do something… or not get her permission… how often does that happen? And, let’s say that Steve works for EPA and has shares in Oil and a fellowship at an Ivy League university, which makes his need for Connie’s kind of knowledge rather inconvenient (hence the film ‘an inconvenient truth’) and un-necessary. For him, reality is blindingly comfortable. Blindingly.
Can you see why I keep feeling reminded of, in US politics, the often accusatory slice and dice narrative that seems to be so Republican in nature, vs. the Democratic narrative of a receptive/empathic sensibility? As I said earlier, I don’t find either party to be ideal or successful, I’m simply looking at behaviours in how we meet difference in perspective – and asking how to make room for both… both. Without it, politics seems too easily capable of bringing out the child-ego in many leadership systems; at least in the mainstream. And it’s always at the loss of empathy – this is a crucial cost. Knowledge isn’t always about ‘stuff’, sometimes it’s about ‘position’. Now, do I want someone who doesn’t ‘feel’ nature or ‘understand’ nature, hired to protect it? No, not really! I would say that, without the bigger picture within him; Steve’s just not qualified to lead or inform in a comprehensive way i.e. with a knowledgeable sense of listening to the sentient living system for solutions that comprehend its beautiful complexity and changing form.
So where does all this come from?… Well, back to Friday night, on the subject of my shenanigans…
The person I was talking to that night (we were both passionate which is good news… we both cared) was surprised to hear me refer to pre- and post- conquest frameworks. I think they evidence well the thread of competitive vs. cooperative engagement (this still shows up very strongly in political rhetoric – and business practices – today, dominion over rather than power through or with). In my understanding this is what is beneath the conflict between Steve and Connie’s perspectives (just think ‘Avatar’). Steve doesn’t listen holistically as he’s been trained to aggressively disseminate information to make sure it’s true in one particular way; that’s the post-conquest – (it seems historically tied to destroying a pre-existing order in its search for dominance to meet perceived basic needs) and Connie (pre-conquest) doesn’t move to dominate un-necessarily, against self-serving logic, her way of being has a different relationship to time i.e. she wouldn’t destroy the living system on which she depends for life, faced with someone like Steve, because he’s not listening with the right ears; he’s too busy looking for proof in, or auctioning off the proverbial, perceived-to-be, vacant house of a planet. And we’re too busy trying to help him understand something he hasn’t asked to hear. How do we bring someone into our world, if it requires skills and desire that just might not be there? And, conversely, how do we enter theirs if we have to change who we are to get there? And where are emotions in all this?
With the post-conquest approach, it is the combative energy that is the problem, not inherently the content it carries – that can be information that can serve us all very, very well. The combative energy seduces with its simplistic take on deep ecology, holding up a picture in the Senate of Alaska’s snowy wildes, stating ‘look there’s nothing here! Let’s drill!’ This lack of comprehension is what needs to be transmuted into something community-oriented and sustainable. Kay Griffiths (Wild: an elemental journey) believes that we have really lost our way in our relationship to indigenous knowledge and sacred earth worship – and she’s not alone. It’s basic respect for that which provides. And it’s missing from mainstream business. Why’s that a problem? Well, look at the planet… it’s changing, dramatically, as is our collective health and well-being.
Western mechanistic science expects its subject to conform to its study or it dismisses its subject as nonsense. Non-sense. Ironic. It’s a demanding and impatient energy, often aggressive and very meticulous. If I think of how the Democrats have been handling this election period, their approach, which I’d call pre-conquest (to a degree), attempts to adapt itself in order to better understand its subject and its environment, and will even consider the possibility that it is influencing the subject’s behaviour (enter quantum physics – and here we reach a cross-over point!).
A true academician, a true researcher or explorer, a true artist or philosopher, a true scientist, is open to learning, being informed, and transformed, by their listening. The desire to listen is a desire to understand, to cooperate. The difference is acquisition vs. comprehension. Being open to being changed is not naive – it is beginners mind (humility in knowledge), it is receptivity.
Bottom line is that for some people, life is sentient, feeling and deserves our respect. For people who relate to this more strongly, they more easily identify with animals, nature and the elements in ways that increase connection, because the desire is there and diverse community beckons. For some people, that is considered ridiculous and beyond logical (and here, of course, we have to acknowledge the various number of intelligences commonly written about and identified by scholars such as Howard Gardner e.g. intuitive, rational, basic pattern identification, associative, emotional, motivational, musical, ethical…).
Perhaps Steve uses rational intelligence as his primary measuring stick and Connie her intuitive. Or perhaps, if Steve is unable to let go of his identified framework, he’s actually being irrational and using his emotional intelligence to block paradigmatically challenging knowledge and Connie, who is oriented holistically, is being rational because holistic thinking is systems-based thinking, which takes into account the future impact of actions, and the fact that we don’t always know what they will be. Given our current ecological dilemma, I would say Connie’s desire to listen to the system through her knowing is rational and Steve’s desire to maintain systems as they are i.e. failing, is irrational. Kind of turns things around, doesn’t it?
People have to want to begin the journey out of the 4D paradox into something that makes sense in far vaster ways. If you don’t believe in something simply because you don’t know how to meet it, can you genuinely negate it? Likely it is revealing a learning edge for you. I guess the question is ‘how committed are you to finding truth… really?’ How actually scientific are you? And how committed to knowledge? And is learning different from knowledge?
I am reminded of a Philosophy, Cosmology and Consciousness class I took at CIIS (San Francisco, CA) one semester when a mechanisticly science-based peer said very matter of factly “well we all know rocks don’t have consciousness”. I was livid, 0-60 of internal combustion outrage in less than 2 seconds, and I thought to myself… if your great great grandmother was in this room, speaking her native language, and none of us spoke that language… would it be ok for us to negate her, saying ‘oh, she’s not making any sense! She must not be saying anything of value’? In other words, if you don’t speak ‘rock’ don’t make the mistake of assuming that the rock is not talking. Empirically, all you can be sure of is that you are not hearing it speak. That would be a scientific truth. So, let’s acknowledge that person’s impasse and consider trying something new to expand his/her horizons: Ask people that know (connaitre) how they know, and how they can help you to know more deeply the truths that might be waiting for you, beneath the surface of your current knowing. Humility and confusion are often precursors to discovery. This planet and our lives are depending on us learning how to listen and respond with humility and great learning.
Connaitre comes into play if you understand the earth and life as sentient. Savoir is for those with different access points of knowledge. And that’s fine. The concern I have is that there seems to be a loss of knowledge that comes to the collective when Steve’s perspective is holding decision-making parliamentary, environmental and political positions without being fully able to understand the complexity of the territory (even though the consequences seem to be fairly simple to understand). The unfortunate arrogance of knowledge limited to 4D is that it feels as precarious as being led around the side of a vertical mountain on a ledge half a foot wide by people who are both drunk and blind – all tied on one rope. It is not based on superior knowledge (as if often proclaimed), but is perhaps based on an inadequate knowledge. This has, for me, become un-nerving. We need to change our collective process.
A call to wisdom is in order. And, in the face of the bluntness of police brutality, how do we do that? When due process in the political forums becomes circumvented by violence and distrust – how do we approach our much-needed decision making, as an inter-dependent collective? How do I stop the British government from thinking it has the right to sell publicly-owned forests for development? How do we deal with NIMB villages in the British landscape who refuse to allow energy-generating wind turbines on non-productive fields because they think the design is ugly, or prevent the unethical massacre of hundreds of badgers, and millions of humans… how do we stop the proposed fracking that people know is a devastating practice for the environment, or give foreign company EDF the power to destroy acres of british fields on the off-chance that they get permission to build a highly opposed nuclear power plant – Hinkley 3? How do we stop voter injustice in the US electoral campaigns? How do we stop the massacre of dolphins and barrier reefs, if the perception is that nothing has sentience and nothing feels or thinks?? How do we explain that it’s NOT ok for radioactive waste to enter the oceans off of Fukushima (who doesn’t know that the oceans are the source of oxygen and life, biologically speaking?)? Where is our common sense? Surely that’s neither pre- nor post-conquest?
Change seems to be a requirement of our times, a change in how we engage our different voices, a change in political and social democracy. A change in our understanding of life.
It might not be that we must absolutely ‘get’ each other’s way of knowing, because loss looks pretty much the same in any culture. And this is to do with looking only as far as our own immediate future, often our own immediate wallet. You can’t eat money and you can’t buy air. You can’t remove the systems for shade, deep ecology and photosynthesis and expect to find water, food or oxygen at the end of it. You can’t dig up water from aquifers that are not yet ripe or ready for use and you can’t simply say ‘I have money therefore I have power’ – this is not logic. This is living on borrowed credit, just like so many countries are doing in the economic structure of international finance, and look at the results for Greece, Portugal, USA, all hovering on bending twigs…
We can’t just go shopping and replace Nature or our need for it. That’s not just illogical, it’s insane. Does this madness really come from our own minds? Because if it does, we can do something about it. Anything less, as said by Frank Borman – of Apollo 1 – is simply a tragic ‘failure of imagination’. And, I guess, wilful dis-intelligence just pisses me off. When entities rights are ignored, and here I’m referring to the planet and its sentient beings, I think that’s a fairly appropriate response.
Does the mystical really come in number form? The numbers are in service of describing, but not defining, the mystical – I think that’s the part that’s gotten lost here in the Age of Enlightenment. And just because it can’t be explained in a smaller way, doesn’t mean it isn’t huge.
This is a work in progress – there are many thoughts and it could take months to get this down to a succinct few paragraphs, so, if you made it this far… thank you for reading:)
*ADDENDUM 1 (11 Oct) : A friend, PhD Astrophysicist, commented on the idea of first order thinking,which feels like it absolutely belongs in this discussion in terms of its relationship to the western scientific method and to politics also. It might be the missing term that ‘mandorlas’ both elements… “first-order thinking, that is, considering immediate consequences of an action, but not the consequences of those consequences.” (see: https://replacingtextbooks.wordpress.com/2011/12/22/on-first-order-thinking-or-not-really-thinking-at-all/) the consequences, for me, are obviously the environment and our spiritual well-being.
*ADDENDUM 2 (11 Oct): Same friend also pointed out that the idea of of 4D and 4D+ dimensional thinking, being housed in nested hierarchies (as per the russian doll idea) suggests superior and inclusive skills for the radical empiricist, yet not all people who can see with their third eye or act consciously with their radical empirical senses can ‘do the math’ and not all scientists are limited to a perspective that does not include ‘elaborate thinking’ – but something about this idea still makes sense to me, even though I agree with him on the skill issue. Is it possible for the russian doll idea to work and yet not be perceived as superior individuals, but simply a description of the size, and expansion, of the potential view itself… the horizon line? Do the two points of view sit side by side or are they nestled within one another? What do you think the nature of the relationship of these ways of knowing is? (thanks, friend!)
William James is my reference for the term Radical Empirical and his work can be found easily in bookstores or online.
Fritjof Capra and Donella H Meadows have both written very accessible books on Systems Theory.
Photo Credit: This amazing featured photo is by Ray Villafane (Amazing Pumpkin Carvings).