Best of Both Worlds
With all of the scientific accomplishments in the last 300 years, western education has proven itself to be a vehicle for unrelenting change. While indigenous cultures seemed to remain unchanged for centuries Europeans and Americans forged ahead with labor saving devices and other technological wonders at an ever increasing speed. As Jared Diamond explains in his book Guns, Germs and Steel, the reason for the difference between the two cultures was the lack of key resources available to the indigenous cultures and the availability of resources to rich western cultures to progress and facilitate change. In other words, certain populations had certain resources to ensure progress at a faster rate than other populations. These two cultures developed different ways of thinking and different ways of seeing the world.
Western civilization moved towards a narrowing or focusing in on a topic, while indigenous populations broadened their view, taking in the whole. The survival of the two cultures depended on honing their skills in developing these different ways of seeing the world. The indigenous peoples needed to see their world in a holistic way to notice where food could be found or grown. Knowing how to read weather and to react to the surrounding conditions could mean the difference between living and dying. This way of perceiving the world brought about a constant secure way of living for many generations. Western civilization traveled a different path. Specialization was paramount, and as time went on, became more and more important for the health of society. Each obstacle presented to society was addressed with a focus on the problem until a solution was found. With the whole society honing their focusing skills advancements could be made with accelerating speed.
This difference is evident in the physicality of using our eyes to see the world. During my college years I had the initial experience of gazing up at the night sky, specifically at the group of stars known as Pleiades, or Seven Sisters. I happened to notice that when I focused directly on the constellation it was not as bright as when I looked slightly away. Moving from focusing to using peripheral vision I realized that the more I relaxed my eyes and using a non-focusing way of seeing, the more the darkness of night decreased allowing me a greater ability to see in the dark. I kept thinking how strange this phenomenon was; the more I focused in on the very light I wanted to see the dimmer the light became. Of course, I thought, there must be some scientific explanation. I was at my college library almost daily so it was easy to find out the science of this phenomenon. The basic explanation is that the retina has two light sensitive photoreceptor cells, the rods and the cones. The cones which are located in the central portion of the retina are sensitive to color and require a greater amount of light to activate than the rods which are located at the outer regions of the retina. The rods are sensitive to movement and since they require less light they allow us to see in limited illuminated situations. Consequently, when using a focused vision colors become more vivid while using the rods allows us to see movement in limited light.
It is western scientific thinking that uncovered the magic or mechanism of the non-focusing of the eyes. Years after college I was living off grid with a very limited amount of electricity. Electricity was only used when reading or listening to the radio. I was able to use this form of seeing which allowed me to navigate the darkness without lights to conserve our electricity. While teaching movement at a Waldorf School I learned from a friend and colleague about Owl’s Eyes. ‘Wow, you mean Native Americans knew about this and used it to see in the dark?’ What would any good upstanding Western person do? Yes, I went to the library, actually the internet, and found that the indigenous populations spend a high percentage of their waking time using the non-focusing vision, in other words they utilize the light sensitive rods while Western cultures utilize more of their focusing abilities, their color sensitive cones. The two different cultures actually see the world differently.
From the early days of science itself there have been two polar ways to investigate phenomena, inductive and deductive. Aristotle’s thought and reasoning provided a good starting point in the history of science. Aristotle (384-322 BC), a disciple of Plato, continued the Greek way of seeking knowledge for its own sake with no intended goal. During his time period science and philosophy were joined into one and were formulated by deductive reasoning. In deductive reasoning a general principle is stated from observing phenomena through the senses. Touch, vision, smell, and sound play an important part in deriving a theory. Through a general theory one can then make statements about the separate particulars that make up the whole. Archimedes (287-212 BC) was the first to introduce inductive reasoning. A specific problem would be identified and solved. After solving several problems (particulars), a theory is formed (inductive). Archimedes applied mathematics and experimentation to specific problems; a hypothesis was proposed, then through logical consequences he would arrive at the proof of a theory. Using this method Archimedes developed a system of pulleys and levers that are still used today in changing the natural world.
As time has pressed on, science has moved towards focusing on the particulars and fitting them together like a puzzle to envision the whole. In the past most scientists that presented their holistic picture were ridiculed, or in Galileo’s case placed under house arrest. It is these scientists which could envision the whole that changed the perceptions and thinking of our global culture. Alfred Wegener, for instance, wondered why the continents appeared to fit together like a puzzle and he presented the theory of Continental Drift later known as plate tectonics. At the time of his presentation it was obvious that land masses were stationary and there was no possible way that they were moving around. Wegener died before the scientific community found the proof needed to accept his radical idea. In my lifetime James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis presented the holistic view of the Gaia Theory where the Earth acts a self-regulating organism, each part contributing to the wellbeing of the planet. When Lovelock presented the Gaia Theory to a group of scientist they laughed, however, time has passed and with new research this theory appears to be true.
Newton validated focusing in on the particulars and this has been accepted as real science. Observing the whole often lacks real proof, is often at odds with conventional thinking, and is referred to as pseudoscience. Newtonian science (maybe it should be called Archimedean science) is a way of thinking and as a biology and chemistry student I was trained in this way of thinking. Later on I was introduced to a holistic deductive way of thinking and observing as developed by Goethe. In Goethean science the observation period is longer before any hypothesis is presented and the hypothesis is more general allowing for the particulars to flesh out the whole picture. Newtonian science omits as much as possible any human influence (objective) whereas Goethian science includes human participation as part of the whole (subjective).
At first I thought Goethean observation, this alternative way of thinking and perceiving, was quite simple until I went to a week-long course on Goethian science at the Nature Institute in Ghent, NY. One assignment was to go out into nature and describe this experience later to the class. What did I do? I presented my hypothesis of the mechanism of what I had observed keeping my years of training intact. After a few years of studying and practicing Goethean observation I looked back at that moment and I can only imagine what the teachers were thinking! After that week I continued studying and practicing seeing the whole. My education throughout high school and college had trained me well and am I disappointed in my Newtonian training? Not at all. In my opinion we need a balance of both ways of scientific thought. Holistic pictures have to be backed up by experiments to make sure the particulars fit the holistic picture.
What a beautiful image of the world Lovelock and Margulis gave to us. This view is slowly sinking into the consciousness of humankind. This way of looking at the world is expressed in Chief Seattle’s speech. There is much controversy over what Seattle actually said, however in the first translation there is a wisdom, a knowing that cannot be developed by scientific experimentation. In this original translated speech Chief Seattle talks about how everything is connected, about how the white man’s great society (tribe) will experience a period of decay and that that the Native American knowledge is an inner knowledge relayed to them from the ancestors.
I wonder what kind of world we would have if we lived by Chief Seattle’s words. Chief Seattle expressed a way of life that was handed down through generations, not through experimentation but through internal wisdom. I find the men and women who could see beyond experimental proof, people of great wisdom, have three ingredients in common expressed more fully by the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner,’ Imagination, Intuition and Inspiration.’ Today’s educational training often dismisses imagination and intuition in the name of scientific proof. Our global educational systems are in peril as we work to train students to be specialists, focusing in on the particulars to usher in change at an accelerating speed. Can we also include a holistic education; one that balances out our present form in order to bring about a wisdom that would ensure that change is brought about through an internal understanding that is beneficial to all humankind and the Earth? We can never go back, however, can we go forward by including both ways of knowing? Both ways of knowing utilizing skills that are learned through education.
I have included the original translated speech of Chief Seattle. It is worth reading more than once to really see the wisdom of an inner voice. Version 1 (below) appeared in the Seattle Sunday Star on Oct. 29, 1887, in a column by Dr. Henry A. Smith.
"CHIEF SEATTLE'S 1854 ORATION" - ver . 1
AUTHENTIC TEXT OF CHIEF SEATTLE'S TREATY ORATION 1854
Yonder sky that has wept tears of compassion upon my people for centuries untold, and which to us appears changeless and eternal, may change. Today is fair. Tomorrow it may be overcast with clouds. My words are like the stars that never change. Whatever Seattle says, the great chief at Washington can rely upon with as much certainty as he can upon the return of the sun or the seasons. The white chief says that Big Chief at Washington sends us greetings of friendship and goodwill. This is kind of him for we know he has little need of our friendship in return. His people are many. They are like the grass that covers vast prairies. My people are few. They resemble the scattering trees of a storm-swept plain. The great, and I presume -- good, White Chief sends us word that he wishes to buy our land but is willing to allow us enough to live comfortably. This indeed appears just, even generous, for the Red Man no longer has rights that he need respect, and the offer may be wise, also, as we are no longer in need of an extensive country.
There was a time when our people covered the land as the waves of a wind-ruffled sea cover its shell-paved floor, but that time long since passed away with the greatness of tribes that are now but a mournful memory. I will not dwell on, nor mourn over, our untimely decay, nor reproach my paleface brothers with hastening it, as we too may have been somewhat to blame.
Youth is impulsive. When our young men grow angry at some real or imaginary wrong, and disfigure their faces with black paint, it denotes that their hearts are black, and that they are often cruel and relentless, and our old men and old women are unable to restrain them. Thus it has ever been. Thus it was when the white man began to push our forefathers ever westward. But let us hope that the hostilities between us may never return. We would have everything to lose and nothing to gain. Revenge by young men is considered gain, even at the cost of their own lives, but old men who stay at home in times of war, and mothers who have sons to lose, know better.
Our good father in Washington--for I presume he is now our father as well as yours, since King George has moved his boundaries further north--our great and good father, I say, sends us word that if we do as he desires he will protect us. His brave warriors will be to us a bristling wall of strength, and his wonderful ships of war will fill our harbors, so that our ancient enemies far to the northward -- the Haidas and Tsimshians -- will cease to frighten our women, children, and old men. Then in reality he will be our father and we his children. But can that ever be? Your God is not our God! Your God loves your people and hates mine! He folds his strong protecting arms lovingly about the paleface and leads him by the hand as a father leads an infant son. But, He has forsaken His Red children, if they really are His. Our God, the Great Spirit, seems also to have forsaken us. Your God makes your people wax stronger every day. Soon they will fill all the land. Our people are ebbing away like a rapidly receding tide that will never return. The white man's God cannot love our people or He would protect them. They seem to be orphans who can look nowhere for help. How then can we be brothers? How can your God become our God and renew our prosperity and awaken in us dreams of returning greatness? If we have a common Heavenly Father He must be partial, for He came to His paleface children. We never saw Him. He gave you laws but had no word for His red children whose teeming multitudes once filled this vast continent as stars fill the firmament. No; we are two distinct races with separate origins and separate destinies. There is little in common between us.
To us the ashes of our ancestors are sacred and their resting place is hallowed ground. You wander far from the graves of your ancestors and seemingly without regret. Your religion was written upon tablets of stone by the iron finger of your God so that you could not forget. The Red Man could never comprehend or remember it. Our religion is the traditions of our ancestors -- the dreams of our old men, given them in solemn hours of the night by the Great Spirit; and the visions of our sachems, and is written in the hearts of our people.
Your dead cease to love you and the land of their nativity as soon as they pass the portals of the tomb and wander away beyond the stars. They are soon forgotten and never return. Our dead never forget this beautiful world that gave them being. They still love its verdant valleys, its murmuring rivers, its magnificent mountains, sequestered vales and verdant lined lakes and bays, and ever yearn in tender fond affection over the lonely hearted living, and often return from the happy hunting ground to visit, guide, console, and comfort them.
Day and night cannot dwell together. The Red Man has ever fled the approach of the White Man, as the morning mist flees before the morning sun. However, your proposition seems fair and I think that my people will accept it and will retire to the reservation you offer them. Then we will dwell apart in peace, for the words of the Great White Chief seem to be the words of nature speaking to my people out of dense darkness.
It matters little where we pass the remnant of our days. They will not be many. The Indian's night promises to be dark. Not a single star of hope hovers above his horizon. Sad-voiced winds moan in the distance. Grim fate seems to be on the Red Man's trail, and wherever he will hear the approaching footsteps of his fell destroyer and prepare stolidly to meet his doom, as does the wounded doe that hears the approaching footsteps of the hunter.
A few more moons, a few more winters, and not one of the descendants of the mighty hosts that once moved over this broad land or lived in happy homes, protected by the Great Spirit, will remain to mourn over the graves of a people once more powerful and hopeful than yours. But why should I mourn at the untimely fate of my people? Tribe follows tribe, and nation follows nation, like the waves of the sea. It is the order of nature, and regret is useless. Your time of decay may be distant, but it will surely come, for even the White Man whose God walked and talked with him as friend to friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny. We may be brothers after all. We will see.
We will ponder your proposition and when we decide we will let you know. But should we accept it, I here and now make this condition that we will not be denied the privilege without molestation of visiting at any time the tombs of our ancestors, friends, and children. Every part of this soil is sacred in the estimation of my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove, has been hallowed by some sad or happy event in days long vanished. Even the rocks, which seem to be dumb and dead as the swelter in the sun along the silent shore, thrill with memories of stirring events connected with the lives of my people, and the very dust upon which you now stand responds more lovingly to their footsteps than yours, because it is rich with the blood of our ancestors, and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch. Our departed braves, fond mothers, glad, happy hearted maidens, and even the little children who lived here and rejoiced here for a brief season, will love these somber solitudes and at eventide they greet shadowy returning spirits. And when the last Red Man shall have perished, and the memory of my tribe shall have become a myth among the White Men, these shores will swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe, and when your children's children think themselves alone in the field, the store, the shop, upon the highway, or in the silence of the pathless woods, they will not be alone. In all the earth there is no place dedicated to solitude. At night when the streets of your cities and villages are silent and you think them deserted, they will throng with the returning hosts that once filled them and still love this beautiful land. The White Man will never be alone.
Let him be just and deal kindly with my people, for the dead are not powerless. Dead, did I say? There is no death, only a change of worlds.