Concept Of The Day: Scientism

Just came across this, from this engrossing story called “Zoo Animals And Their Discontents“:

The philosopher Thomas Nagel, who wrote the seminal essay “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” used a term for the tendency to deny the existence of phenomena that cannot be proved empirically. “Scientism,” he wrote in 1986, “puts one type of human understanding in charge of the universe and what can be said about it. At its most myopic, it assumes that everything there is must be understandable by the employment of scientific theories like those we have developed to date — physics and evolutionary biology are the current paradigms — as if the present age were not just another in the series.”

It is presented in the article as an argument against the tendency among animal scientists and animal keepers to go to extremes to avoid anthropomorphism. But scientism–the idea that if science hasn’t proved it yet it must not be true; ignoring the possibility that science may YET prove it–is a phenomenon that I see across many spheres, from animal intelligence to the connections between diet and health (for example in the gluten debate).

We should be open to anecdotal evidence, and what our instincts and experience tell us, about the world around us (pet owners, for a long time, knew more about the emotional lives of animals than researchers did). We may not KNOW the truth, or have proof, of why something is the way it is. But sometimes we might have a pretty good idea, good enough to act on, even if the science isn’t definitive one way or the other yet.

The Importance Of “Useless” Acts

Charles Eisenstein encounters a traditional boatbuilder, walks away with a sense of optimism, and ponders its meaning:

What reason had I to feel positive?

What good is a renaissance in traditional boat-building in the context of climate change, fracking, nuclear waste, forest death, neoliberalism, the security state, child hunger, human trafficking, sweatshop labor, juvenile incarceration, and all the other horrors sweeping our planet?…

…When any of us meet someone who rejects dominant norms and values, we feel a little less crazy for doing the same. Any act of rebellion or non-participation, even on a very small scale, is therefore a political act. Building boats by hand is a political act. That is not to say that the banking industry, Monsanto, the military-industrial complex, and so forth would magically change their ways if only more of us built boats. It is that boat-building and other kinds of change-making come from the same place.

It wasn’t because he thought it would change the world that the boatbuilder chose his path. If we condition our choices on what could practically change the world, we are often paralyzed, because the changes that must happen today are so enormous that we have no idea how to practically accomplish them. Every plan is impractical and every hope is naïve.

The cynic thinks that he is being practical and that the hopeful person is not. It is actually the other way around. Cynicism is paralyzing, while the naïve person tries what the cynic says is impossible and sometimes succeeds.

Paradoxically, it is through the totality of billions of useless acts that the world will change.

This is essentially where I come down. To find meaning and beauty in boatbuilding is to live according to values that have little to do with the the predominant values–of success, achievement, material gain–that are at the root of most global problems. Measuring personal action against the seemingly impossible goal of changing the world, and changing the predominant culture, leads you into a black hole. But making ethical choices and taking action according to your beliefs and values (even if, or especially if, those choices and actions are a radical rejection of the status quo), can inspire happiness and a sense of purpose and meaning.

Those qualities are infectious. No one can really calculate their impact over time.

Moment Of Zen: The Scale Of The Universe

How significant, or insignificant, are you? Well, it depends on your perspective (and the amount of zoom).

If you need help with humility (and even if you don’t), this is a very interesting and thought-provoking interactive experience (click on image to start):

Screen Shot 2013-03-26 at 4.46.28 PM

Moment Of Zen: Pale Blue Dot

Need some perspective?

Here’s a clever visual retelling of Carl Sagan’s epic “Pale Blue Dot” reflection–which was inspired by a photograph, taken by Voyager 1, that set the tiny earth against the vastness of the universe.

http://vimeo.com/51960515

Nightly Reader: Oct. 25, 2012

Calling All Thinkers: We could definitely use some big ideas, some counter-conventional arguments, some original thinking. One way to get inspired is to read some bold thinking from the past.


Marine Mammal Protection
: Sure, it could use an update. But the Marine Mammal Protection Act has achieved a lot. Here are 40 facts for its 40 years of existence (plus: a pretty great marine mammal photo gallery).

Polar Bear Possibilities: It looks grim, but can we save polar bears? Yes, says the world’s greatest polar bear researcher (and we need to if we want to save ourselves).

BONUS VIDEO: Watch Earthlings, a documentary about human dependence on–and abuse of–animals.

The Wisdom Of Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell was a very wise man. In this 1959 recording he talks about what truths he would like future generations to understand.

His two key points, if grasped and honored by humanity, would change everything:

1) What are the facts and what is the truth that the facts bear out?

2) Love is wise. Hatred is foolish. In this world, which is getting more and more inter-connected, we have to learn to tolerate each other.

As I say, a very wise man. With an accent and speaking style that makes him utterly convincing.

(via @Sam10K)