Sunday, 27 November 2011
Science vs. the rest of the world
On Friday evening I was flying back from Amsterdam to Bristol and reading the New Scientist. There was an article in the magazine about the fact that in America there is a growing anti-scientific sentiment particularly in the Republican party but also among Democrats. The article explained that presenting people with arguments and facts had not been persuasive and the article writer's view was that anti-scientific feeling had increased. The article pondered what to do when faced with people who do not base their life on reason, rationality and evidence based policies. The author of the article put forward the idea that Science should learn from its opponents and started to use their tactics of persuasion to win the argument in favour of evidence based policies and rational thinking in fighting the forces of unreason and emotion.
In parallel, as I was reading this, I was engaged in my own private battle of unreason with the person in the seat in front of me on the plane. This man, immediately following take off, thrust back his seat, put his earphones in and his blindfold on and thumped back against his chair bashing my knees. I decided not to say anything but simply moved my legs to the side as far as I could. Whilst not overly tall at six feet one inch, my legs are long in proportion to my height which is a disadvantage on cramped planes like this one. On this plane the space between the seats was particularly narrow and the seat leaning back was a matter of inches from me. After trying to sleep, I decided to read my copy of the New Scientist and started reading this article. My only real option was to prop my New Scientist against the seat back of the man in front. In doing this it touched the back of his head. He kept feeling back with his hand to see what was touching his head and trying to push it away and I stubbornly pushed it back each time. Eventually he looked round a couple of times to try without saying anything to signal that I should move my magazine but when he sat back down again, I repositioned it and made sure it was pushing slightly against his head. Eventually he turned round and irritatedly asked me to move it. I snapped back that I had no space to read since he had inconsiderately pushed his chair so far back. After this exchange, we continued to fight a battle for the last 20 mins of the flight. He thought about moving his chair forward but decided against it and I continued to push my New Scientist against his head. Each of us made slight gestures – he moved his head forward slightly and I moved my New Scientist back marginally.
Where is the link between this mini war and the article in the New Scientist? The link is that I realised that the New Scientist article was busy turning this issue of Science and its acceptance or non-acceptance into a war with sides. The assumption was that Science was the only source of truth, knowledge or reason. It also made the assumption that scientists are a homogenous group of people all wedded to these things. Furthermore it made the assumption that those who do not classify themselves as scientists are wedded to ideology, emotion and irrationality. Whilst many of the points raised were valid, the theme reflected a polarisation into “us and them”. It is clearly disturbing for those who classify themselves as scientists that they do not feel that they are being listened to but there seemed to be nothing in the article to suggest that science or scientists should examine themselves in looking for where the problems might lie.
Back to my war with the man in front of me on the plane; what might the parallels be? I was well aware that my position was unreasonable and that I was being provocative. By the end of our small war, though, my heart was full of misgivings about my action and prompted by the article, I reflected on what my approach was contributing to division between people. When I looked at the man in front I could see that perhaps he felt some sadness at the situation. Certainly I saw a fellow human being and my heart was sad at the discomfort and it resonated with how his might be feeling. I realised I had a chance to change things: to apologise. My rational mind told me that he had been selfish and that he might think twice before being so again but my heart was having none of it and was not comfortable. My moment passed as people moved between us in the queue to get off the plane. As I got off the plane and began walking to passport control there was no sign of him, but, some spirited walking later, I saw him ahead of me and after some reluctance I caught up with him, clapped him on the shoulder affectionately (I hope he thought it was!) and apologised to him, saying that I was sorry that I had snapped at him and that the airplane seats were so small it was that I didn’t have much room. We chatted very aimiably all the way to Passport control. He explained that he had been working away for three days and was worn out and having been away from home for five days, I commiserated. The intriguing thing was that our hearts were more open to each other than if we had never talked or met. I felt my heart warm completely to this amiable and open hearted man.
What intrigued me with reference to the article was that my heart had been far better at reasoning than my “rational” mind and that he was an engineering consultant – a scientist! In this situation, I had not found a way through by trying to identify what was wrong with this man’s approach however unreasonable I might have found his actions to be, but by examining my own unreasonableness. In the hexagram conflict, the I-Ching says that we must come to meet others halfway, even if we are in the right. The rational mind, concerned with facts and logic, has trouble understanding emotional realities such as the dangers of pushing an argument to the bitter end and the destructive effect this might have on the relationship. In order to reason well we have to include the heart and the emotions. As Albert Einstein observed "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift."
Most astrologers would realise that Scientists identify very strongly with the empirical thinking mindset of earth (senses) and air (thinking) and project as their shadow fire (intuition) and water (feeling). On my friend Chrissy's pattern of the elements described in her book The Golden City she describes the opposition Truth which has intuitive-feeling Pisces at one end and empiric thinking Aquarius at the other end of this opposition. She labels this opposition Truth. Both the scientist and the mystic seek the truth and both are equally condemning of the other. Where science triumphs, there is the danger that there is no heart. Where the intuitive mystic triumphs there is the danger of delusion.
The writer of the article described the foundations of American science as lying in the influence of Locke, Bacon, Jefferson and the principles of egality and liberty. He quoted Jefferson's declaration of independence: "all men are born equal." I wonder if this notion might be at the heart of the issue, since there is a misconception based on this that all men are equal and all men must be equal. Perhaps if we rephrased it "all men are born unequal" we would have the inclusive and paradoxically wise notion that the way we are all the same is that we are all different, thus we could respect different viewpoints more easily. As Einstein also said "Science without religion is lame, Religion without Science is blind".
The American war of Independence was fought and won at the time that the planet Uranus was being discovered. When a planet is discovered, it’s properties shift from operating unconsciously in the collective to operating consciously. Uranus is the planet that rules Aquarius and its energy was that of revolution. It is also the planet that rules science, principles and independence or freedom. The French revolution which was happening contemporaneously was also based on very Aquarian principles of egalite, fraternite and liberte. There have been many experiments based on these principles over the years; communism was very much an expression of this. Yet each time, the effects have been deeply impersonal and oppressive of individuals as the French revolution was with the mob running rampant and as the Industrial revolution was with individuals organised in large masses to serve technical breakthroughs. The same themes persist in modern culture with global organisations whose call centres and activities ignore the individual hearts of those interacting with them. Yet unbridled intuitive/feeling, with religious wars over the truth (think of the crusades and the Spanish inquisition), has been no better. It is interesting to note that, as with all extremes, the two sides begin to resemble each other very closely. On Chrissy’s pattern which she correlates to the I-Ching, Aquarius is the top line of the hexagram the Creative: “Arrogant dragon will have cause to repent”. There was something of this in the tone of the article: science was the only route to the truth. It sounds somewhat religious in nature. On Chrissy’s model she posits the position in the middle as being key – that the truth, as the I-Ching so often advises us, lies in holding to the middle way. This is where the Tao lies.
My own experience in organisations was that the approach of leaving aside emotion and making decisions based on policies rationally decided was a disaster because it lacked any heart and so decisions which looked fine on paper ended up being put into practice in inhuman ways in the name of consistency and equality. Similarly, a chaotic approach based on individual whim was equally ineffective. The only way was to think and reason with the heart. Ie. to reason including all four elements of feeling, sensing, intuition and thinking. It was ironic that a later book review in the same New Scientist describing fifteen scientific breakthroughs suggested how effective the author had been in capturing the perseverance, the willingness to follow hunches and the overcoming of jealousies, personal ambition and rivalry of fellow scientists that had been necessary to achieve these breakthroughs. So, no irrational emotions at play among scientists there then!
Perhaps we are ready collectively in this age of Aquarius to step away from getting caught by polarities and instead to work constructively with these creative tensions, these polarities. Can we embrace all four modes of being; sensing, thinking, feeling and intuition without polarising into camps of "us" and "them"? Certainly it will require us to have the humility to put our own house in order rather than demanding others put theirs in order.