Casaubon's Book

The Weirdness of our Worldview

There’s an interesting article in the National Post emergent from a recent study in _Brain and Behavioral Sciences_

The article, titled “The weirdest people in the world?”, appears in the current issue of the journal Brain and Behavioral Sciences. Dr. Henrich and co-authors Steven Heine and Ara Norenzayan argue that life-long members of societies that are Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic — people who are WEIRD — see the world in ways that are alien from the rest of the human family. The UBC trio have come to the controversial conclusion that, say, the Machiguenga are not psychological outliers among humanity. We are.

“If you’re a Westerner, your intuitions about human psychology are probably wrong or at least there’s good reason to believe they’re wrong,” Dr. Henrich says…..

….Moreover, WEIRD people do not simply react to the world differently, according to the paper, they perceive it differently to begin with. Take the well-known Muller-Lyer optical illusion, which uses arrows to trick the viewer into thinking one line is longer than another, even if both are the same length. (See the diagram on this page.)

“No matter how many times you measure those lines, you can’t cause yourself to see them as the same length,” Dr. Henrich says. At least that’s true for a Westerner. For some hunter-gatherers, the Muller-Lyer lines do not cause an illusion. “You do this with foragers in the Kalahari [Desert] and they just see the lines as the same length.”

WEIRD people, the UBC researchers argue, have unusual ideas of fairness, are more individualistic and less conformist than other people. In many of these respects, Americans are the most “extreme” Westerners, especially young ones. And educated Americans are even more extremely WEIRD than uneducated ones.

“The fact that WEIRD people are the outliers in so many key domains of the behavioral sciences may render them one of the worst subpopulations one could study for generalizing about Homo sapiens,” the authors conclude. “If the goal of the research program is to shed light on the human condition, then this narrow, unrepresentative sample may lead to an uneven and incomplete understanding.”

In other words, we do not know what we thought we knew about the human mind. We only know about the mind of a particular, unusual slice of humanity.

The UBC researchers also found that 96% of behavioural science experiment subjects are from Western industrialized countries, which account for just 12% of the world’s population. Sixty-eight percent were Americans. The United States is dominant in the field of psychology, accounting for 70% of all journal citations, compared with 37% in chemistry. Undergraduate students are often used to stand in for the entire species.

“This is a serious problem because psychology varies across cultures and chemistry doesn’t,” says Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist at the University of Virginia.

The paper argues that either many studies’ conclusions have to be retested on non-WEIRD cultural groups — a daunting proposition in terms of resources — or they must be understood to offer insight only into the minds of rich, educated Westerners.

If WEIRD people are indeed weird, it is the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution that have made them so. In the example of the Muller-Lyer illusion, the UBC team hypothesizes that growing up in an industrial-era environment with plenty of 90-degree lines and carpentered edges led to WEIRD people’s sense of vision being susceptible to the deception.

“We live in this world with police and institutions and pre-packaged food, TV, the Internet, watches and clocks and calendars. Our heads are loaded with all this information for navigating those environments. So we should expect our brains to be distorted,” Dr. Henrich says.

This is one of those things I think most of us know and do not know simultaneously, or rather, know and do not adequately regard or consider. We see clearly the ways in which we have shaped our world, but less clearly how our world has shaped us.

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 mpatter
    September 6, 2010

    Hi Sharon, What’s the significance of this article to you? The authors of the study seem to just focus on the problems for psychology research, but I guess you are looking for more practical consequences to do with adjusting to a less-industrialised lifestyle. Do you think our altered psychology makes it difficult to abandon technology?

  2. #2 Amanda Kovattana
    September 6, 2010

    Oooh, thank-you for this, Sharon. Finally someone calls it, pulls the curtain away just a bit. Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain or in this case Pay No Attention to the World’s Most Delirious Weirdos controlling all that you see and perceive through their wonderful media machine. My British mother, the Psych major, was the outlier when she found herself in South East Asia pre-globalization. She was quite condescending at times about the “village mentality” that she felt characterized my father’s people. It took me years of study of this Western Think to feel assured that she got it wrong. I think of psychology now as a Western, particularly American, particularly Californian, particularly San Francisco Bay Area religion. And this is indeed where my mother has felt happiest. For me it is still a bit like being inside the monster.

  3. #3 dewey
    September 6, 2010

    You want to know about Western psychology, just look at the tantrums thrown in the first page or so of comments. :)

    I don’t have trouble believing most of this. People whom I know in non-Western cultures are group-oriented and – I don’t mean this as an insult, just a fact – conformist to a degree that often astonishes me.

  4. #4 Mike
    September 6, 2010

    Hmm, this might pose a bit of a conundrum for those who were hoping to use group therapy (an invention of Western psychologists) to make our minds non-Western — and even non-mammalian.

  5. #5 TheBrummell
    September 6, 2010

    “This is a serious problem because psychology varies across cultures and chemistry doesn’t,” says Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist at the University of Virginia.

    This little snippet struck me. I agree 100% with this statement (and I’m most certainly one of the WEIRDs discussed – white, early 30s, middle-class, Canadian, urban…). But, I wonder if agreement with this statement (particularly the second part, about chemistry) varies across cultures.

    If you think American-dominated Psychology is fundamentally flawed or completely wrong, what do you think of Western-dominated Chemistry, or Physics, or Biology? I’m not arguing here that modern Psychology is inherently correct and universally applicable, I’m arguing that modern sciences are universal and correct more often than not.

  6. #6 Art
    September 6, 2010

    It has been pointed out that the most studied group in the world are college freshman in the US. Psychology is often a requirement and most entry level classes require the student to participate in one or more studies. Given that these students are mostly white from upper-middle class or better SE background this skews the results a bit.

  7. #7 Jadehawk
    September 6, 2010

    It has been pointed out that the most studied group in the world are college freshman in the US.

    yeah, when I was doing some research for a blogpost, I actually noted that all the studies I managed to get my hands on were done on undergraduates, and that I doubted that this was really representative of the U.S. population as a whole… it’s even worse when these undergraduates are meant to stand in for all of humanity.

  8. #8 Claire
    September 6, 2010

    The bit about hard-edged environments affecting the way we perceive the world was well evidenced for me this week during my encounter with the county property code enforcers. I have a forest garden in progress in the front yard. It features violets as groundcover with mowed paths, fruit and nut trees and shrubs, native flowers, and so forth. I hadn’t gotten around to pruning the trees and shrubs yet this year so it is, admittedly, somewhat overgrown, but I know the plants well and am in the process of updating the design for it to remove a few overgrown shrubs, prune the trees, and add some more herbaceous plants to the understory. Everyone else on the street has typical mowed lawns with perhaps a token tree/shrub or two. The DH and I were home when the code cops arrived and they were insulting right from go, claiming my yard was weedy and out of control. They seemed especially incensed about the violets growing a few inches over the edge of the driveway. Somehow they seemed to perceive the lack of a hard edge as alien and threatening. We got cited. So now I’m doing the work I was going to do anyway but sooner than I would have otherwise. But it was the displeasure with the violets hiding the edge of the driveway that struck me as so odd and, in the context of this post, so WEIRD.

  9. #9 dewey
    September 7, 2010

    Mike, after two days you are still having snit fits ’cause someone said humans were mammals. Is it your intention to deny that we are related to other primates, or are you just incensed at the idea that we might consider trying to act wiser than they are?

    TheBrummell – I don’t know if you can say science is “correct more often than not.” Most current opinions probably are partly correct, partly not; they replaced a whole lot of properly Western and scientific ideas that we now think of as just plain wrong (or others, like Newton’s view of gravitation, that are technically “wrong” yet extremely useful). If science continues to progress, future generations will see our opinions the same way. Not every culture might choose to ask the same questions, but where there really is a “single right answer,” everyone who did ask the question would probably get to that answer sooner or later. For example, Avicenna came up with something virtually identical to “Newton’s” laws of motion nine hundred years or so ago.

  10. #10 darwinsdog
    September 7, 2010

    Civilizados are indeed weird. So weird, in fact, as to be completely out of touch with the reality of the world. So immersed in their own weirdness as to be completely oblivious to how out of touch they are. No ‘solutions’ to the myriad, non-additive, synergistically interacting problems facing the biosphere can be expected from such weirdos. The weirdness is the primary source of these problems and no solutions can be expected until the weirdness itself is resolved. I don’t expect to see any resolution to the weirdness come from within the weirdness. How could it? We are so immersed in weirdness that we can’t even perceive it; indeed, we perceive non-weirdness as being ‘weird.’ That’s how out of touch we are. Insane, as individuals, as a culture, as a force of destruction to the natural world, actually.

  11. #11 Mike
    September 7, 2010

    Dewey, I’m not having a snit fit at all. Actually, I’m really glad I got to read that remark about mammals. Honestly, I think it might just be the silliest thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life, and thus wonderful. People have various opinions about when “things started going wrong.” But rather than offer some cliché like, the world’s been going to hell since went off the gold standard, or the like, that guy went ALL THE WAY! The world went wrong when mammals appeared! Now, that is impressive. Literally awesome. I will always treasure having encountered the idea. (Have you ever heard it before? I haven’t.) I may just use it somehow. So no, no worries! No snit! It was comedy gold. :-) Have a great day.

  12. #12 darwinsdog
    September 7, 2010

    The world went wrong when mammals appeared,

    Mammals “appeared” (poof?!?) around 215 mya, during the late Triassic. For 70% of their time on Earth, mammals diversified modestly, causing little trouble to the environments they lived in. It wasn’t until the end-Cretaceous extinction event that mammals were freed from competitive exclusion by the non-avian dinosaurs (so the story goes) and radiated into specialized forms such as bats & cetaceans, including both terrestrial & marine forms of large body size. With this Cenozoic mammalian radiation still the world hadn’t “went wrong,” however. Selection was just sorting things out after a major mass extinction event.

    Shortly after (~5 mys) this mammalian radiation we get the first primate in the fossil record, and only 6.5 mya the first hominin. Now here is where the world may have begun to “went wrong.” Primates are nasty animals, most especially the Catarrhini (old world monkeys & apes) and hominins most especially of all. Spiteful, nasty, grudge holding, conniving animals these are. The very last group of animals one would want to have grow a brain big enough to figure out how to control fire. Controlling fire: a clever enough of a trick, perhaps, demonstrating a certain type of canny intelligence, but a certain recipe for ensuring a world that’s “went wrong.”

    All humans have accomplished since this time is to perfect this mastery of fire control: wood, coal, petroleum, nuclear fission & fusion. The result has been Hiroshima, the so-called “industrial” and “green revolutions” whereby Homo has inflated its population obscenely, Gulf oil wars and Gulf oil spills. Indeed, the world has “went wrong,” not with the evolution of mammals but with the ascendancy of a certain particularly nasty species of fire controlling ape.

    Dismiss this view as anthropomorphic or misanthropic as I’m sure you, as a techno-apologist, are inclined to do. I look at animals in an objective way and have no problem with identifying the ways & means by which their presence & activities contribute to, modify, and damage the integrity of the ecosystems they occupy and are components of. An invasive species often damages the ecosystems it usurps. Humans are the ultimate invasive species, the ultimate “weed,” and by controlling fire within the cylinder of a bulldozer or chainsaw, within a rifle cartridge, within the boiler of a power plant producing the electricity that powers chemical & industrial processes, the ecological damage this weed ape accomplishes is in a class by itself among animals. Not since cyanobacteria managed to poison Earth’s atmosphere with free O2 has a Terran life form managed to devastate its environment to the extent Homo has done.

    But I take it from your posts that you’re proud of this devastation, Mike. You seem to think that belonging to a species of ape “smart” enough to burn down the biosphere of its home world makes you, personally, smart by inclusion or association. Well, Homo in general, and you in particular, may be clever but people, including you and me, aren’t smart at all. In fact, the propensity for destroying the environment upon which the survival of myriad species, including our own, depends, represents the very quintessence of stupidity. When you crow about the “achievements” of Western technological civilization, to my ears all you’re doing is trumpeting your own and our collective stupidity. If you were capable of stepping outside your inculcated world-view you’d see how ridiculous being proud of being stupid appears.

  13. #13 Sesli
    September 7, 2010

    There’s even some great video of me acting in one of the presentations.

  14. #14 dewey
    September 8, 2010

    I’m with darwinsdog on this one. Chimps are freakin’ scary animals, and humans bear them considerable resemblance. Teach a chimp to use a machine gun and see what happens.

    If I’m less of a misanthrope, it’s because I’m impressed by the few people who really do manage to rise fully above the ape mentality, developing a broad, long-term worldview and behavior that is not driven by emotional reactions. The most conspicuous examples that I know of seem to get there through decades of mental discipline (Buddhists such as the Dalai Lama, certain Sufis) which raises the question of whether any normal person could get that way if they chose to put in the effort, or whether you have to be genetically the “right” sort of person to even consider doing so, much less sticking with it. (I sure haven’t tried putting it to the test, and frankly, with loved ones to think about, I’m happier having a certain capacity for violence. But maybe that just shows how unevolved I am.)

  15. #15 Shane
    September 8, 2010

    @dewey Superb. Spot on. There is almost a sense of panic, I am sure for most post-graduate students and alumni living in the hills, when they read this. Like confronting an addict. It’s almost as if you told them all the malls would be unavailable tomorrow. And to make things worse, the rest of the world wouldn’t even care.

    The Legacy of Western Society: making the world safe for the WEIRD distorted & feverish minds.

  16. #16 Shane
    September 8, 2010

    @TheBrunnel

    Science is faith-based, dependent on the same WEIRD viewpoint of the rest of the western culture, and if you don’t believe me, find me a zero in the universe.

  17. #17 dewey
    September 8, 2010

    Sarah Palin!!

    Oh, that wasn’t what you meant…sorry.

  18. #18 darwinsdog
    September 8, 2010

    I’m with darwinsdog on this one. Chimps are freakin’ scary animals, and humans bear them considerable resemblance. Teach a chimp to use a machine gun and see what happens.

    If there was any chance that chimps, bonobos, or gorillas would survive Anthropomorphic Mass Extinction, then it would be necessary to exterminate them by military means. Otherwise, once we are gone, the biosphere would risk a repeat of depredation by a fire ape. But they won’t survive AME; indeed, they are among the most threatened of taxa. Chimps, at least (unsure about bonobos & gorillas), understand fire and aren’t particularly afraid of it. They anticipate the behavior of wildfires and move out of its way in an orderly, leisurely way. Some captive chimps are addicted to nicotine and light their own cigarettes with a lighter. Only one step away from inventing the steam engine. I have little doubt but what a chimp could learn to operate a machinegun but I’m not sure they could be trusted to shoot only those who gave them the machinegun wanted them to kill. I can imagine a chimp gleefully mowing down every human in sight, until the clip was empty.

  19. #19 TheBrummell
    September 8, 2010

    dewey: I don’t know if you can say science is “correct more often than not.”

    Aha! Much to nobody’s surprise, agreement with “science is basically correct most of the time” is far from universal. Thanks!

    Shane: Science is faith-based, dependent on the same WEIRD viewpoint of the rest of the western culture, and if you don’t believe me, find me a zero in the universe.

    I don’t understand your challenge (admittedly this may because I am so deeply WEIRD). Find a zero in the universe? What?

    And “science is faith” is a really old and hoary argument. It cannot be adequately addressed by a comment on a blog or a similarly short sound-bite. There are a great many discussions of this issue. I’m not willing to debate this point at this time in this forum.

    It’s true that Homo sapiens is an extremely destructive organism. We’re also the only species I know of that recognizes this tendency in itself (at least, some of us do) and makes even token efforts to clean up after itself. All of those birds carrying their offspring’s waste out of the nest is not the same as SuperFund. I would argue that we’re not very good at this cleaning-up, certainly not as good at restoration and repair as we are at destruction, but to keep myself from crippling depression I like to think we’re getting better at it.

  20. #20 darwinsdog
    September 8, 2010

    I would argue that we’re … not as good at restoration and repair as we are at destruction, but to keep myself from crippling depression I like to think we’re getting better at it.

    Maybe some are getting better at environmental restoration and repair but consider this famous quote by Aldo Leopold:

    “The swoop of a hawk, for example, is perceived by one as a drama of evolution. To another it is only a threat to the full frying pan. The drama may thrill a hundred successive witnesses; the threat only one – for he responds with a shotgun.”

    So even if a hundred people are getting better at it, or refraining from being destructive in the first place, it only takes one to undo all such good deeds. But the fact is that for each one who may be getting better at treating the natural environment with care & consideration, there’s a hundred tearing around on ATVs with shotguns & rifles across the handlebars, out to shoot (or run over) anything that moves. Whether this reality is grounds for “crippling depression” or not is up to the individual.

  21. #21 Glenn
    September 8, 2010

    Darwinsdog:

    FWIW the ammunition supply for a firearm is called a “magazine” unless it is belt – fed. “Clips” are a storage mechanism used outside of the weapon. The most famous recent example being that of the M-1 Garand rifle, in which “clips” of cartridges were inserted into the _magazine_ of the rifle and ejected when empty. This is probably the origin of the confusion between clips and magazines. Now days most military firearms use removable magazines.

    And I agree, we’ve got people who don’t stop pulling the trigger until they run out of bullets, and that’s just against other people with different coloured skin or different clothing (uniforms). Regrettably, I see no reason to expect better from Chimps, given their current behaviour…

    Glenn

  22. #22 dewey
    September 9, 2010

    Although I would expect better of bonobos; they often solve interpersonal conflicts with sex rather than violence. (Imagining the application of this stratagem to human political conflicts gives rise to visions of some films we’d all pay good money NOT to see…) And gorillas (for darwinsdog) are on a very different evolutionary path; their social structure is by our standards AFU but they are vegetarians and highly specialized; I don’t see them ever developing a complex society.

  23. #23 This Scientist
    September 9, 2010

    This reminds me of the TED Talk by Sheena Iyengar, on how different cultures view the concept of choice.

    http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/sheena_iyengar_on_the_art_of_choosing.html

  24. #24 darwinsdog
    September 13, 2010

    Although I would expect better of bonobos; they often solve interpersonal conflicts with sex rather than violence.

    So the story goes. Wild bonobos are very little studied. There was no “Leakey’s Angel” assigned to them. As more is learned of their behavior in the wild the nastier they appear. Infanticide, organized meat hunts, and other typical chimp nastiness is being observed.

    (Imagining the application of this stratagem to human political conflicts gives rise to visions of some films we’d all pay good money NOT to see…)

    Hillary, Abbas & Netanyahu in a porn threesome? Yeah, I’d pay not to watch.. :)

    And gorillas.. their social structure is by our standards AFU but they are vegetarians and highly specialized; I don’t see them ever developing a complex society.

    Interesting observation. But gorillas have the brain for it, if released from competition by chimps & humans. Contrary to popular belief, trophic & behavioral specializations can be reversed. I can remember reading or being taught that highly specialized species virtually always become extinct when their environment or food source changes. Fact is, though, that selection for a more generalized trophic niche is as likely an outcome as extinction, under such circumstances.

  25. #25 dewey
    September 13, 2010

    Organized hunting isn’t nastiness; it’s being a successful omnivore. It’s organizing to hunt the neighbors that makes chimps nasty. Bonobos undoubtedly have some surprises left, but primatologists do seem to have made enough observations to know that their social structure is less male-dominated and less violent than typical of chimps.

  26. #26 darwinsdog
    September 13, 2010

    Organized hunting isn’t nastiness; it’s being a successful omnivore. It’s organizing to hunt the neighbors that makes chimps nasty.

    Ihobi (1992) reported successful predation on flying squirrels & dukiers by bonobos. Begging behaviors were observed but the possessor of the meat ignored it. No sharing.

    In 2008 Surbeck and Hohmann report bonobo predation on a mangabey monkey – a fellow primate – and in a second 2008 paper describe monkey hunting by bonobos as coordinated & common.

    Ihobi again, in 2006, describes inter-troop aggression involving dung & stick throwing, and bites that caused serious wounds. Bullying & bite wounds resulting in permanent debilitation have been observed both in the wild & in captivity. Although no lethal aggressive encounters have been observed in bonobos, in either the wild or in captivity, cannibalism on a captive dead infant has been documented.

    While bonobo troops are “matrilinear” in the sense that the status of young males is determined by the status of the mother, it’s evenso true that the troop is led by an “alpha” male, who can be a real bully. The egalitarian nature of bonobo society has been overemphasized to the point of mythologization. Even Frans de Waals, who is responsible for a good deal of this mythologizing, states: “All animals are competitive by nature and cooperative only under specific circumstances,” and “when first writing about their behavior, I spoke of ‘sex for peace’ precisely because bonobos had plenty of conflicts. There would obviously be no need for peacemaking if they lived in perfect harmony” (from Wikipedia). While the “make love not war” nature of bonobos has been emphasized, cunnilingus, fellatio and “penis fencing” are sexual behaviors held in common by all apes.

    My only point is that one romanticizes bonobo behavior at one’s own peril. They are little studied and as more observations are made of wild bonobos I would fully expect lethal aggression and organized cannibalistic predation to be documented. Unfortunately, such observations may never be made. Civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the bush meat trade, and the fact that only about 10K wild bonobos are estimated to occur, makes it likely that Pan paniscus will be extinct before they are ever adequately studied.

  27. #27 NM
    September 13, 2010

    Infanticide isn’t restricted to chimps.
    DD, I don’t really see the point of this incessant breast-beating. It doesn’t change the reality we’ve got.
    Everyone on this forum is deeply saddened by the damage we are collectively doing to our environment, and seeking ways to cause less damage, or mitigate where we can. And maybe we won’t succeed any more than a lone yeast cell or two in the over-risen bread dough can. But really, what other options are there, but to do what we can, try to keep honestly evaluating our efforts, to mourn what we can’t, and to celebrate what is good?
    Sure, it’s valid to point out that we could be doing more, and that our collective efforts so far aren’t making enough of a difference. But honestly, sometimes you seem affronted that anybody even bothers to try — despite your own efforts — or sees joy in the world. You appear more bitter than objective.

  28. #28 darwinsdog
    September 14, 2010

    Infanticide isn’t restricted to chimps.

    Of course not. In mice, the mere scent of a dominant male will trigger the spontaneous abortion of fetuses he didn’t father. In taxa ranging from cats to primates males will kill infants in order to stimulate their mothers to enter estrus. Across the mammalian class infanticide is an adaptation to increase Darwinian fitness. It is speculated that the menstrual cycle evolved from the estrus cycle in order to cloak ovulation. A male is less likely to kill an infant he may have fathered. When estrous is cloaked, as in humans and other apes, the male isn’t certain when the female may be ovulating and hence is less sure of paternity.

    DD, I don’t really see the point of this incessant breast-beating. It doesn’t change the reality we’ve got.

    I agree. I have often made the point – so often, in fact, that I fear I may risk giving offense – that words are useless and only actions count. All the graphorrhea on all the blogs by all the self-proclaimed pundits doesn’t change a thing. Perhaps so long as people are sitting at computers running off at the keyboard, though, they won’t be out messing anything up any worse than it’s already messed up. Of course, the electricity to power all the hectares of server farms likely comes from coal fired power plants and hence is a source of pollution. Better if we all just shut up and got to work. You first?

    Everyone on this forum is deeply saddened by the damage we are collectively doing to our environment,

    Don’t be too sure about this. I get the impression that many technocopians, or “techno-triumphalists” as dewey calls them, take great pride in Man’s Dominion over nature, in Homo‘s prowess at subduing the Earth. In every case this meddling in natural processes injures ecosystem integrity and contributes to the decline of biodiversity, but I get the feeling that many simply dismiss this carnage as collateral damage along the way to human technological conquest over nature the foe.

    and seeking ways to cause less damage, or mitigate where we can. And maybe we won’t succeed any more than a lone yeast cell or two in the over-risen bread dough can. But really, what other options are there, but to do what we can, try to keep honestly evaluating our efforts, to mourn what we can’t, and to celebrate what is good?

    Agreed. Keep up the good work. The fact that failure is a given shouldn’t keep people from attempting to do what’s right.

    Sure, it’s valid to point out that we could be doing more,

    I certainly hope that I don’t give the impression that we, individually or collectively, ought to be doing more. The more we do the more harm results. My message is that we should be doing less.

    and that our collective efforts so far aren’t making enough of a difference.

    Our collective efforts so far have been sufficient for taking a pristine biosphere and dysregulating it to the point of disrupting biogeochemical cycling dynamics and precipitating a major mass extinction episode. Quite a difference our efforts have made, I’d say.

    But honestly, sometimes you seem affronted that anybody even bothers to try — despite your own efforts — or sees joy in the world. You appear more bitter than objective.

    What does effrontery, bitterness or joy have to do with it? Sharon, in her “Nyah, Nyah!” post says that many on this forum have only become aware of resource depletion or environmental degradation issues in the past decade or so at most. I’ve been considering these issues, both professionally & personally, pretty much all my life and certainly since the 1970s. The title of this blog post is “The Weirdness of our Worldview.” You, as a well meaning and well socialized citizen, are so immersed in the weirdness that you can’t see beyond it. You take my position and message, which is well grounded in the physical, biological, and ecologically sciences, and see it as being weird. You can’t seem to see beyond the inculcated can-doism that powers & institutions that don’t have your own best interests at heart have instilled in you. You seem to think that human enterprise may really have some chance, however minute, to circumvent or forestall or mitigate the consequences of interference in natural processes. That you don’t find such hubris weird is the best illustration I can imagine of just how utterly weird the Western technocopian worldview truly is.

  29. #29 Sharon Astyk
    September 14, 2010

    DD, sorry we all haven’t been as enlightened as you as long – I was busy being born and mastering walking upright and such during the 1970s ;-). I actually didn’t say people hadn’t been aware of resource issues or environmental consequences from the 1970s – indeed, at least half the people I mentioned came to awareness in the 70s like you did – and some people came earlier than that. I do think that the present kind of awareness is somewhat different, in part because it is harder and harder to put off reality. Morning in America is unlikely to come around again, although it will be attempted, of course.

    If you and NM could both lay off the personal stuff, I’d be grateful. Even if we are all doomed, no reason to be nasty in the interim ;-).

    Sharon

  30. #30 NM
    September 14, 2010

    I apologize.

  31. #31 darwinsdog
    September 14, 2010

    I apologize.

    Nothing to apologize for, NM. I took no offense whatsoever at your post #27. In fact, I was rather flattered that you have taken the time to read my comments and to comment in turn on them.

    I agreed with several of your points and even described you as “well meaning.” If, by describing you as being “immersed in the weirdness,” I was being “nasty,” well.. that’s just the kind of ape I am. Weirdness was the subject of Sharon’s initial post, after all. At least I was by no means singling you out. All but a handful of hippies, Native Americans, ecologists, and perhaps musicians I know, along with the great minds who have addressed these issues: Thoreau, Muir, Leopold, et al., I regard as being “immersed in the weirdness.” The ecocidal weirdness of Western technocopian society & greed-based capitalism is pervasive. We are all immersed in it. The best we can hope for is to come up out of it for the overview once in awhile.

  32. #32 timberwoof
    September 17, 2010

    Dawinsdog, you write, “So immersed in their own weirdness as to be completely oblivious to how out of touch they are.” That’s foolish. Did you read TFA? It is all about how “they” (some of them, at any rate) are aware of how out of touch they are.

    Shane, you wrote, “Science is faith-based, dependent on the same WEIRD viewpoint of the rest of the western culture, and if you don’t believe me, find me a zero in the universe.” I’m not sure I agree with you. Science is evidence-based. Indeed, Dewey wrote that ‘Avicenna came up with something virtually identical to “Newton’s” laws of motion nine hundred years or so ago.’ If Western culture had it all wrong, then how could any other, presumably correct, culture have come up with the same thing? What is a non-Western culture supposed to make of the way objects behave in gravitational fields, if not the Laws we ascribe to Newton? What do the Daoists in China use when they send rockets into orbit? How about the Moslems in Iran when they make ballistic missiles and nuclear power plants? Do theirs work on different principles than outs? You imply that the need for “a zero in the universe” is based on Western thought. First, what is that supposed to mean, and second, how would some “non-western” science explain the same phenomena?

    Some of you sound like the French revolutionary extremists who gave Lavoisier the chop for his “non-democratic” law of conservation of matter, or the Russian Communists who promoted Lysenko’s hypotheses of inheritance over Darwin’s. The point made about chemistry in TFA is that it does not matter who does the chemistry (or the physics or the math); the results will be the same. Madame Guillotine was wrong; there is no “democratic” science.

    I could be mistaken, however. Show me an example of a physics or chemistry experiment where the result depends on the culture of the person doing it. Like a good Western scientific thinker, I’ll review the evidence and, if it warrants it, I’ll change my thinking.

  33. #33 dewey
    September 18, 2010

    I presume (if I can presume upon our hostess’ patience to keep this going a little longer) that Shane meant that “zero”, especially treated as a number, is a cultural concept, one that would not come automatically from accurate observations of the universe (where there is no such thing as a true “nothing”). It is, of course, an extremely important concept that enormously increases the possible range and utility of one’s mathematical system (that’s one reason why we use Arabic rather than Roman numerals), but some civilizations that did have basic mathematics and astronomy didn’t have the concept.

    I’m sure it is true that people from different cultures, assuming that they chose to ask the same questions in physics or chemistry and had equipment of the same quality, would get similar answers. But in medical science and psychology, different people can do similar studies and get different results, because culture affects the results directly and/or by biasing the way the study is performed.

    Also, there’s a lot of lip service about science being universal, but in my field, I can assure you there’s a tendency for Westerners to automatically prefer research performed in Western countries. “That’s from India, it can’t be very good.” (It doesn’t help that Indian literature tends to be really poorly printed, which subtly predisposes readers to believe that what’s on the paper is also inferior.) The effect is that non-Western scientists work their butts off to emulate Western science that has had a hundred times more funding, then watch Westerners ignore or actively sneer at what they manage to accomplish. Imagine telling the rest of the world: “Oh, music is universal, everyone can and should produce music – but to whatever extent yours doesn’t sound just like a Western symphony orchestra, that’s the extent to which you’re doing it wrong … and if you can’t [afford to] get it right, maybe you should just leave it to us.”

    That is, in fact, also the message we send to most Western citizens – that their only possible role is to be passive consumers of science, which essentially means “watch the toob and believe what the scientists tell you to.” No wonder there is hostility toward science. If the scientific method is going to survive long-term, it will have to be by (re-)establishing itself as a mental tool that, like logic, can be employed by any class of people. We need more citizen science, orders of magnitude more.