SCIENCE AND NATURE
Establishing a Deeper Connection
By Grady Hanrahan
“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability,
and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”
— Aldo Leopold
The subject of Ecology, in a scientific context, can be broadly defined as the study of the inter-relationship between species and their environment. The word “study,” as used in the above definition, is a central key to the scientific approach. It is a word that denotes the acquisition of knowledge by generation of numbers and figures based on the observable. All too often, individuals engaged in this conviction separate themselves from the object of study once completed. A deeper, more holistically-involved approach to this study is needed to complement the scientific aspect.
The term “Deep Ecology,” first introduced by the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess in the early 1970’s, emphasizes the movement from individualism to an interconnected relationship with the earth. Science often involves individualistic attitudes narrowly focused on results and sets of established theories. However, knowledge of the history of our own evolution places us in a position to question such practices by adopting new ideas, beliefs and ethical codes.
The Deep Ecology view provides a basis for such thought by stressing that nature is paramount, regardless of the field of study. This view is considered “ecocentric,” as it is centered on the entire Earth and sees human beings as being within the Earth, an integral part, rather than at the center.
Deep Ecology also seeks to develop individual awareness and responsibility by focusing on deep experience, deep questioning and deep commitment. In order to establish shared objectives, Naess and George Sessions proposed a set of eight principles to characterize the deep ecology movement as part an organized platform:
1) The flourishing of human and non-human life on Earth has intrinsic value. The value of non-human life forms is independent of the usefulness these may have for narrow human purposes.
2) Richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realization of these values and are also values in themselves.
3) Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs.
4) Present human interference with the nonhuman world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening.
5) The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of nonhuman life requires such a decrease.
6) Policies must therefore be changed. The changes in policies affect basic economic, technological structures. The resulting state of affairs will be deeply different from the present.
7) The ideological change is mainly that of appreciating life quality rather than adhering to an increasingly higher standard of living. There will be a profound awareness of the difference between big and great.
8) Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an obligation directly or indirectly to participate in the attempt to implement the necessary changes.
Man is an ethical being, and so is the scientist. Society fails to see that science is itself grounded in moral and ethical understanding. It can also be defined as a social activity that must be assessed within the common ethical unit of society. The basic principles of Deep Ecology can strengthen the relationship between scientific methods and ethics itself. It provides the means for a transition from a “closed” to an “open” institution allowing intimate feelings on areas outside academic interests.
We live in a highly technical society, but still hold primitive convictions. Human greed and arrogance dominate daily life exacerbating the destruction of the natural world. We can cure common ailments and discover the frontiers of space, but find it difficult to comprehend the immediate damage of nature before us. Development continues at an alarming rate by inefficient and destructive devices of the industrialized process. It would be detrimental to society to completely stop all industrial actions. However, followers of Deep Ecology believe that curbing such activities slowly would relieve some pressure off the environment. Science could help in this matter by providing new, more efficient methods of production.
Individual values run deep — they are a part of existence. Many mistakes are made during this life which impact society as well as global health. Scientists are not exempt from such mistakes as history has proven — weapons of destruction, environmental pollution and mass production were all created by the scientific method. Earnest attempts at improving the world have turned to harmful exercises in which modern man participates on a daily basis. It is all part of the modern realm of scientific rationality.
We must remember humanity is part of nature — our bodies and minds created from universal elements. Social awareness is equally related but often overlooked. Fortunately, the principles of Deep Ecology provide a means by which we can better relate to the earth. It brings together such areas as science, social change, economics and spirituality. It can increase our sense of belonging in society. Above all, it provides a deeper connection to the many components of nature.
Science is not a sealed institution, but rather an open forum for thought and criticism. If we accept everything science tells us uncritically, we risk serious puzzlement that may lead to undervaluing of life and the work of the scientific field. This, in turn, may play down to both individual and societal choices of ethical and moral behavior. Science is not perfect in any respect, but does provide a means of questioning and scrutinizing life as we know it. It also plays a major part in discovery, a unique aspect of humanity.
Pursuit of an adequate understanding of human endeavor in which feelings, power of thought and emotions are considered is critical. Deep Ecology provides a vehicle for this quest incorporating all modes of thought. It stresses the relationship of people and nature and strives to renew our spiritual connection with the earth. Science is no exception and should not be ignored. A strong balance of the two provides innovative ideas with strong environmental ethics.
Grady Hanrahan is currently an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at
California State University, Los Angeles and an avid traveler and nature lover.
He has written numerous fictional and non-fictional pieces in publications such
as The Healthy Planet, Eco-Florida, Transitions Aborad, and the short-story
anthology, “Unusual Circumstances.”
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