F. DAVID PEAT
F. DAVID PEAT
Western science and ‘European consciousness’ are contrasted with that of Indigenous and traditional peoples. The metaphysics of the Blackfoot of North America and this vision of an animate world is examined. It is argued that something similar existed in the Europe of the early Middle Ages but that the secularization of space, time and matter paved the way for the development of science. A new science may be possible which combines the current power of abstraction and analysis with an ‘impersonal subjectivity.’
European consciousness dominates the world. As we move towards the next millennium will this continue to be the case? In this article I explore a radically different worldview, that of the Blackfoot of North America, and ask if their approach to society and the natural world has anything of significance to teach us. Indeed, can the study of alternative ways of thinking give rise to a creative response within own consciousness?
The initial statement of this article requires amplification and qualification. By ‘European consciousness’ I do not mean something confined to a specific geographical location but, rather, a way of thinking and behaving that, while it did happen to develop within Europe, now has an influence across much of the globe. Its seeds were already present in the Middle Ages and its flowering resulted in the secularizing of time and of space, the rise of science and the proliferation of technology. It transformed a society that had previously existed on trade and barter into the major force for expansion and progress that now dominates the world.
One of the most dramatic products of the Western mind has been its particular approach to science, a discipline that, along with its associated technology, is by no means as objective, neutral and value free as we once believed. Western science expresses an entire metaphysics about the way we relate to the world, society and ourselves. Western science has its triumph, yet we are now aware of the hubris connected to its success. To take one example, our technology acts somewhat like a virus which, when it enters a society, transforms its entire structure. Export a sack of seed, a bag of fertilizer or a cannister of pesticide to the developing world and one transforms an entire way of life that may have survived, largely unchanged, for hundreds or even thousands of years.
In recent years I have often heard the boast that, for the first time in human history, we all share the same story of creation and that today children all over the world are being taught the same facts about nature. Western science has become the yardstick of truth and, measured against it, the stories and traditions that have sustained ancient cultures are dismissed as myths, superstitions and old wives tales.
But, measured on the scale of the world’s civilizations, this ‘European mind’ is comparatively young and its science a mere infant. Go back a millennium and time was experienced as a cycle of renewal. The seasons, the rhythms of daily life and the church’s calendar were all in harmony. Space was united with time and its interior was as rich as the yolk of an egg. Aristotle’s natural philosophy taught that each body has its natural place; medieval society was a world in which each person was in his or her proper place. Our modern notion of the rights of the individual was far less important than the wellbeing of society as a whole.
In such a world everything was alive; rocks, rivers and trees. Nature was constantly at work and it fell to human beings to act as her midwife. Metals grew in the womb of the earth and the sacred work of the miner and blacksmith brought this labour to completion. In many ways the reality of this world was far larger than the scientific reality we inhabit today.
For a variety of reasons European consciousness began to change. Time, the theologians had argued, belongs to God but now it became secularized though the practice of usury. Banking is about buying time and setting time aside. Inevitably a secularized time led to our modern obsession with growth and progress, prediction and control.
In the thirteenth century Aquinas denied that the artifex (miner, blacksmith, sculptor, etc) is the assistant to nature for, he claimed, while the form of matter may be altered, its essence is untouched. The crafts and arts of humankind had been reduced to the superficial transformation of mere appearance.
In 1438 another influence was added to the developing European mind. With Byzantium under threat from the expansion of the Ottoman empire its Emperor, John VIII Palaiologos, along with seven hundred advisors, traveled to Florence in an attempt to gain Pope Eugenius IV’s military support. In exchange he offered a resolution of the theological differences between the two churches. The result was that for a time Florence was filled with neo-Platonism and its influence, at the height of the Renaissance, cannot be underestimated.
In the thirteenth century William of Auvergne could write ‘When you consider the order and magnificence of the universe…you will find it like a most beautiful canticle…and the wonders and varieties of its creatures to be a symphony of joy and harmony to the very essence. …The goodness of a substance, and its beauty are the same thing.’ Likewise, Abbot Sugar supervised the rebuilding of the abbey church of St Denis in order to make the divine manifest within bronze, stone, stained glass, precious metals and jewels1. Now, in the Renaissance, artists were directing their gaze away from the natural world into one of ideal forms.
Within this melting pot of ideas matter and spirit became fragmented one from the other and a participatory reality was transformed into scientific objectivity. For me the exemplar of this change of consciousness is linear perspective which developed in the earlier part of the Renaissance. Siena is referred to by Italians as a feminine city. Within the paintings of its school, time and space are united. The various events of a saint’s life are presented in total, like a superimposed comic strip; and while depth in space is certainly indicated it is still possible to see an object from a multiplicity of viewpoints. But, as the Renaissance developed in the more masculine city of Florence, time was abstracted from space and painting was left with the single viewpoint, a frozen world seen through a window. With the device of perspective, one no longer enters into a painting but views it with an objective eye.
Mirroring the metaphysics of the period, nature has been projected away from us and the world is experienced as something external.
The mathematical basis of perspective is called Projective Geometry. This term says it all. One no longer engages directly with an object in its natural, essential form, as something that can be explored and touched, instead it becomes a surface that must be distorted to fit the global logic of mathematical perspective. The rich individualistic inscape of the natural world had given way to a uniform perspectival grid of logic and reason.
How well perspective parallels a science in which nature obeys laws that are, in some metaphysical sense, external to matter’s essence. As Bacon argued, these laws are to be discovered by placing nature on the rack, another sort of grid, and tormenting her to reveal her secrets. Descartes and Newton cannot be held responsible for our modern world, the seeds of its consciousness were sown long before.
It is only as we reach our own modern age that the perspectival vision of science has been shaken by, for example, quantum theory. Yet artists are always the antennae of society and the foreshocks could be felt when Cézanne restored touch to painting and, in the process, activated time and multiplicity of viewpoint. Never interested in projection, Cézanne entered directly into nature, and nature entered into him. ‘The Landscape becomes reflective, human and thinks itself through me,’ he wrote. ‘I make it an object, let it project itself and endure within my painting…I become the subjective consciousness of the landscape, and my painting becomes its objective consciousness2.’
The European mind, along with its material and conceptual products, exerts a powerful seductive force on all of us. It would be extremely difficult to live without the products of such a consciousness, nor would most of us wish to—at least not in an entirely radical fashion. Many have already written of the shadow side to this power; intensive farming, high technology medicine, rapid communications and so on. My own interest is somewhat different. It is to ask if an earlier richness together with a sense of harmony and a balance can be restored to the European mind. It is to ask if an ethical and moral dimension can be added to our science and technology and if supposed objectivity can be tempered through participation.
Is our world destined towards increasing uniformity or can we accommodate alternative viewpoints and metaphysics, each enriching the other? The arts have always been eager for such enrichment. Debussy drew upon Balinese music, Picasso on African masks, and a director such as Peter Brook has explored the world’s theatrical traditions. When used in a creative and respectful way these are not acts of cultural appropriation but of cultural renewal. Is something similar possible within our science?
At this point the argument could be made that, unlike the arts, science is objective and, from a cultural point of view, value-free. It is for this reason, it is said, that Indigenous and marginalized cultures cannot really co-exist beside industrialized nations and are doomed to extinction. I don’t believe this is true. Traditional cultures have enormous power and may, in the end, act to transform or renew our own technological society.
My test case is that of the Blackfoot people, a nation who once occupied an area of the North American plains east of the Rocky Mountains but now today live on reserves in Montana, US and reservations in Alberta, Canada. By tradition they were hunters of buffalo, traveling with their tipis in the summer and wintering along river banks. Their language is a member of the great Algonquian family which runs from the Cheyenne in the central US plains though the Blackfoot and up into northern Canada with Ojibwe and Cree finally into the Naskapi of Labrador.
My encounter, as a representative of Western science, with the Blackfoot was neither systematic nor anthropological3. It was more an ongoing friendship and a series of discussions about our respective worldviews. In turn this led to a number of circles in which Western scientists sat with Blackfoot and other Native American Elders.
The Blackfoot have weathered the extermination of the buffalo and the appropriation of their lands. Anyone past middle age would have experienced the residential schools in which children’s heads were shaved, clothing burned, and a prohibition placed upon speaking their mother tongue or praying according to their tradition—physical and sexual abuse was also far from uncommon. Today the Blackfoot have exchanged their horses for cars and pickup trucks. They live in houses instead of tipis and job hunting has replaced the buffalo jump and buffalo wallow. Surrounded by the pressures of North American society they are faced with drug and alcohol problems yet what struck me most during my visits, is the way that the old is able to coexist with the new so that, for many Blackfoot, their traditional vision and metaphysics survives untarnished. Clearly the Blackfoot have the extraordinary ability to coexist within two worlds. Yet they taught me that we all possess a similar capacity and buried deep within the European mind lies something that may be able to temper the momentum of our present path. We are all indigenous people, in the sense that each of us is the carrier of a sacred relationship to the natural world and has access to a wider vision of a reality long denied.
What is the nature of Blackfoot reality? Certainly it is far wider than our own, yet firmly based within the natural world of vibrant, living things. Once our European world saw nature in a similar way, a vision still present in poets like Blake, Wordsworth and Gerard Manley Hopkins who perceived the immanence and inscape of the world. Nevertheless our consciousness has narrowed to the extent that matter is separated from spirit and we seek our reality in an imagined elsewhere of abstractions, Platonic realms, mathematical elegance, and physical laws.
The Blackfoot know of no such fragmentation. Not only do they speak with rocks and trees, they are also able to converse with that which remains invisible to us, a world of what could be variously called spirits, or powers, or simply energies. But these forces are not the occupants of a mystical or abstract domain, they remain an essential aspect of the natural, material world. It is not so much that the Blackfoot live in an extended reality but that our own Western vision has become excessively myopic.
This wider reality embraces flux, movement, change and transformation. The Creator of the land, Napi (the Old Man), is also its trickster, one who is constantly changing form, traversing boundaries and upsetting preconceptions. For example, what the West takes as the aberration of multiple personality becomes the acceptance that an individual is not a fixed thing but fluid, a being whose multiplicity is reflected in the way a person’s name keeps transforming during their life.
How is one to maintain orientation in a universe in which everything is caught up in the river of transformation. How can anything be preserved from change? The answer lies in participation within the flux by means of acts of renewal. Renewal requires an act of sacrifice and it is these sacrifices, these actions of participation, performed each morning when the sun rises, each year at the Sun Dance, which help to maintain the great circle of renewal. Thanks to these acts of renewal, time, within the flux, turns on its axis. Seasons follow seasons. Circling time is always the same, yet always different, always renewed.
Acts of renewal reflect the compacts formed in ancient times; negotiated relationships between the ancestors and the energies, or spirits, or keepers of the land. No one believes that a pipe ceremony actually causes the sun to rise. Rather, by renewing their relationships to the dynamics of nature the Blackfoot maintain a harmonious role within the cosmos. Within a balanced cosmos the sun will rise and the seasons follow in their proper harmony. Personal sacrifice, responsibility, ceremonies and acts of renewal therefore have nothing to do with the world of mechanical causality but are more to do with a relationship to a living cosmos.
Although it does not come from the Blackfoot, the story of the rainmaker well illustrates this point: A rainmaker was called to a region experiencing drought. He arrived and immediately went into the hut provided for him only to emerge several days later as it began to rain. When he was asked how he had made the rain he replied that he had not caused the rain to fall. Rather, when he arrived in the village, he discovered everything to be in disharmony. He therefore retired to his hut in order to bring himself back into balance. Once balance had been restored then nature returned to harmony and the rain fell as it naturally should.
Carl Jung chose to term this synchronicity, his ‘acausal connecting principle4.’ It was present earlier in the West in the form of Alchemy in which external material workings and internal transformations mirror each other. This constant movement towards balance and harmony within the flux is the essence of the Blackfoot world.
An expression of the Blackfoot’s relationship to a reality of rocks, trees, animals and energies is expressed within what many Native Americans call ‘a map in the head.’ This map is a way of knowing where one is in relationship to the land, its history, society and all the living beings of nature. For the Blackfoot this map begins with Napi’s body, which is traced out in the landscape in the form of rivers, buttes, hills and valleys. It is also the track left by Napi as he walked across his land. The Map in the Head is songs sung and the stories told around the fire at night. It is the relationship of the Blackfoot people to their world.
The map in the head is a form of knowledge, but knowledge, for the Blackfoot, is no mere collection of facts but something that one grows towards. Knowledge, like a song, is a living being; a being with which one can come into relationship. Coming to knowing is an active dialogue with nature; with the rocks, plants and animals. As one Blackfoot put it, ‘the plants and animals are our microscopes and laboratories.’
Knowledge is relationship and relationship brings with it responsibilities and obligations. Thus it has been put to me that when Western science performs its experiments it is actually conversing with nature and, in this process, telling nature about ourselves. Are we willing to take responsibility for what we say? Each action in the laboratory must be balanced by its reaction somewhere else in the world. When we create order in one place, we give birth to disorder in another.
Such a point of view should not be entirely alien to our European minds. It was a European, the poet Goethe, who suggested an alternative to the Newtonian method which he saw as a way of gaining knowledge by placing nature in highly artificial situations. By contrast, Goethe sought ‘an instant worth a thousand, bearing all within itself5.’ His method involved, for example, coming into relationship with plants and contemplating their inner nature. In this fashion Goethe sought to understand the inner nature and meaning of plants6.
While Newtonian science studies particular instances in the hope of generalizing into a law of nature—unity within multiplicity—Goethe studied the multiplicity that arises out of unity. Goethe’s notion of the archetype of all plants resonates with the Indigenous concept of the Guardians or Keepers of plants and animals. By carrying a piece of bone, a Blackfoot comes into direct contact with the Guardian or Keeper of the buffalo.
Plants have the power to heal. For the Blackfoot the nature of their action cannot be reduced simply to chemical substances or molecules. Healing involves a relationship to the entire plant and this includes its power, energy, spirit, or in Goethe’s terms, its archetype. One can perhaps understand this by analogy to sacred sculpture of, for example, India. Within a ceremony these objects act as windows into the world of the sacred yet are at the same time no more than stone, clay and pigment. Their action is that of a diagram, or map, of the pattern of the sacred. One comes into relationship with the numinous through the catalytic action of the icon. In a similar way the plant and its associated chemicals open into a larger world of energies and healing powers.
There is a related metaphor in Western science. A molecule is not so much an object but a dynamical pattern. At the quantum level it is a pattern of energies which extend into the ground state of the entire cosmos. Absorbed into the body this dynamic energy pattern provokes a range of transformations of the body’s biochemical activities. Of course, the analogy can only continue so long as Western science continues to fragment matter from ethical values, consciousness and spirit.
It goes without saying that the relationship to the plant world extends into ecological practice, and here I am drawing not upon the Blackfoot but my conversations with the Mohawk. When one hunts for a medicine plant, or for that matter for an animal, one does not pick the first or second that one comes upon but always the third. A prayer is first offered that the plant will sacrifice itself and after it has been picked an offering is made to the earth. Returning home the plant is treated in a respectful manner for one is not only dealing with the particular but the universal, the Guardian of the plant, the archetype. In the action of healing with the plant energy may be exchanged but within such a metaphysics whatever is taken must, in some way, be paid back.
The Blackfoot I have met speak of their traditional ways as a science7. Of particular significance is the way this science is enfolded within their language. The language contains the map of the land, the relationships to the energies and spirits of all living things—the rocks, the trees, the plants, birds, fish and animals. The flux in which they live is perfectly expressed in what could be termed their ‘process language.’ European languages have a heavy reliance upon nouns and lend themselves so well to a type of thinking that deals in categories and Aristotelian logic8. Our physical reality is that of objects in interaction with one another—nouns linked by verbs. This thinking also extends into the abstract and psychological spheres when the world of our experiences, relationships and feelings becomes a collection of objects of thought to be manipulated, generalized, abstracted and acted upon.
How eagerly do we build categories and concepts, how literally do we take our ‘language games,’ how easily do we become trapped in empty philosophical argument.
While other problems may certainly arise, this sort of trap is not present within a language where the verb takes centre stage. Within Blackfoot all is movement, process and transformation. Nouns as objects emerge in a secondary way though the modification of verbs. To them the English language is a straitjacket which forces their minds into a world of objects, categories and restrictive logic.
Take, as an example, healing. To the Western mind this is a transitive business in which the doctor (noun) acts upon the patient (another noun) to bring about some change of state. For the Blackfoot healing is a process. This process is itself the primary reality, rather than that of patient and doctor. Healing often involves singing. In this case in speaking about healing the process of the singing is the focus of the linguistic act. Rather than singing being performed by someone, the pure act of singing is taking place—singing is singing itself. It is out of this singing that healing unfolds to reveal the previously sick person.
Again an analogy from contemporary science may help. According to classical physics nature consists of objects in interaction with one another. Observation is an objective business that reveals the world for what it is. Quantum theory, by contrast, stresses that observation is participation and within any act of observation the observer and observed are united in a holistic and unanalysable way. Observation is a process within which it is no longer possible to speak of the independent existence, or properties of, the observer and observed.
As Niels Bohr pointed out the paradoxes and difficulties of quantum theory arise out of our need to employ ordinary language in our discourse. But this language, be it English or Danish, historically developed in a particular way and within a world of classical objects. We are suspended in this language so that we do not know which way is up and which is down. By contrast, the Blackfoot live in a world that is much closer to that quantum domain, a world of flux, transformation and essential relationship far from that of absolute categories, fixed objects and rigid Aristotelian dualities. Their language perfectly reflects this world.
Knowledge is not partitioned in a holistic world and Blackfoot science is not confined simply to the material. It embraces society and good government. Its norm is balance and harmony. Society is not an artifact built by individuals with rights and freedoms, rather it is a process of renewal, a coherent whole out of which emerge persons with responsibilities and obligations. An individual exists in respect to his or her relationships with society and nature.
Take as an example; Blackfoot justice. What we would term a crime is, to many indigenous people, a disruption of the harmonious working of their society. Rather than approaching this disorder in terms of adversarial trial, proof, guilt and punishment, a circle of Elders meet with the aggrieved party and perpetrator. Discussion within this circle is not so much designed to establish the factuality of what has occurred but rather it seeks a way of restoring balance. Thus the perpetrator may be asked to suggest some action that would satisfy all parties. Finally, when everyone is again in a balanced relationship the decision is made public.
The Blackfoot speak of a science which includes a metaphysics of the reality in which they live, a set of relationships to the natural world, a deep understanding of their immediate environment, and a technology appropriate to their lifestyle. Such a science is common to many other indigenous peoples of the Americas and, indeed, to traditional peoples worldwide.
As the notion of a ‘Map in the Head’ suggests, such a science is not, like our own, of an exclusive objective and global nature but is specific to a people and a place. Perhaps an analogy with cooking may help. The world’s great cuisines are each associated with a particular country and region. After having lived in Italy for more than a year I am discovering that there is no such thing as ‘Italian’ cooking but rather a way of cooking that is specific to the meats, fish, vegetables and fruits of a particular region. Even the Tuscan cooking of my particular region is subdivided. Great cooking involves a deep understanding and empathy to the nature of the materials available. It is at the same time a science and a high art that is not easily exportable.
This metaphor applies to the indigenous sciences of North America. The Haida, living on the British Columbia seaboard developed masterpieces of marine engineering: coastal and ocean-going canoes, carved out of giant cedar trees. The particular shape and mass of these vessels enables the Haida to move at high speed across the ocean and to sustain long voyages without exhaustion. Another of their sciences, which is shared with other Pacific peoples such as the Maori and Hawaiians is a way of navigating over long distances using patterns of stars, and observing the pattern of waves and the direction of the wind.
The Algonkin of the Eastern Woodlands are hunters and gathers who must venture for many days from their homes. Their technology enables them to construct a birchbark canoe, using only a curved knife and the materials of the forest, in less than a day. The vessel is strong enough to support a heavy load as it travels though white-water rapids, yet light enough to be portaged from river to river.
South of the Algonkin the Mohawk nation of the Iroquois confederation are farmers. They employ a biological symbiosis by planting the Three Sisters (corn, beans and squash) together; corn supplying a mechanical support and beans fixing nitrogen to supply nutrients in the earth. Yet eventually land can be farmed out and wild plants over-picked. So, in traditional times, the Mohawk would, after two or three generations, abandon their villages and rebuild some distance away, allowing the forest to return to its pristine state. The complexity of their civilization and their negotiations with the energies of the earth is reflected in a language which employs a large number of names referring to relationship.
In so many cases a traditional people, before disruption by European civilization, possessed considerable knowledge of their territory and adapted technologies appropriate to the environment and way of life. For this reason, such people may appear conservative and slow to adapt. But one should remember a maxim employed by some of the indigenous people of North America. In taking a decision one does not so much consider its immediate impacts but the consequences it will have upon the seventh generation to come after. In this respect we should recall a, possibly apocryphal, story that has been related to be by a number of architects. It was found that, after many centuries, the great oak beams in an Oxford college needed replacing. Consultants considered substituting other materials until someone discovered in the college records that at the time of the founding of the college a stand of oaks had been donated with an eye of future replacement. According to the story these oaks were now well matured and could be used to renovate the roof.
It is not the intention of this essay to argue that we should abandon the Western worldview and become Blackfoot overnight. Rather it is to suggest that it would be useful for us to examine our metaphysics in the light of that of another society. In this way we may come to realize that much of what we take to be inevitable and self-evident is, to a great extent, a social conditioned perception which contains a variety of unexamined assumptions.
There is a great deal to be proud of in our science and technology yet our modern world exhibits much that we now desire to change. Radical change requires a shift in perception and a transformation of consciousness. Maybe there are lessons to be learned from Blackfoot physics as an alternative way of viewing the world.
But could ‘Blackfoot Physics’ be applied in Europe, for example? The essential issue is that, unlike in the West, there are no Blackfoot physicists, nor for that matter are there any Blackfoot artists. Rather each person is a generalist, who has come to know the wisdom of the group. This is not to say that there are not people with special healing abilities, or Keepers of Sacred Bundles, or Elders who know many of the Lodge tales, but rather that the traditional ways of the Blackfoot are available to all their people.
Blackfoot science has not fragmented as a particular system of knowledge from the other areas of life. It would be difficult, and probably impossible, to abstract something called Blackfoot Physics from the entire culture and then import in packaged form into a Western laboratory.
It is certainly true that Western science is already extracting certain knowledge from the Indigenous peoples of the world. Most of this involves information about the pharmaceutical powers of rare plants, fungi and the like. Indeed, one of the arguments for delaying the destruction of the world’s rain forests and other threatened ecologies is their potential for exploitation for wonder drugs and miracle cures. But, again, this is being done in a fragmentary way. Science removes the plant from its environment and analyses it to discover active ingredients. Once they have been synthesized there is no need to preserve that particular ecology or to attempt to understand the worldview in which that plant was respected and used.
As long as Indigenous science is only employed in this fragmented way it will make little impact on the Western mind. A genuine dialogue can only develop if Western science is willing to extend its horizons and, for example, temper its abstract objectivity with what could perhaps be called an impersonal subjectivity: Impersonal since it does not rely upon the accidents of personal biography and prejudice, yet subjective because it speaks to our deep relationship to the world, and our objective intuitions about nature.
That subjectivity is antithetical to science because it is believed to involve the distortions of highly personal biographical material is the legacy of Europe’s romantic movement. In an earlier age the subject, the artist or musician for example, sought to eliminate the purely personal in their work and become the servant or conduit of what lay beyond. Indeed, personal expression was considered to be in bad taste, a falling from the ideal.
Such art sought to express the numinous, the divine archetype, pure form, call it what you will, in a direct a way as possible by eliminating the idiosyncratically personal. It was a marriage of objectivity and subjectivity, the inner and outer response to archetypes and materials. I am suggesting that something similar may be possible within Western science. The power of its objectivity should be retained while, at the same time, opening the door to an impersonal subjectivity—a more direct connection to the material world, one that is felt, experienced and becomes the object of a trained intuition.
Within the framework of such a science it may be possible to open a dialogue to other traditions and ways of thinking. Such a science could be simultaneously global, in that it seeks universal laws of nature, and local, in that it responds to particular ecologies and social needs and, at the same time, choosing alternative metaphors for its expression.
The philosopher Wittgenstein pointed out that when philosophy believes it is speaking of great truths it is really involved in a variety of language games. This is equally true of science for, no matter how abstract the mathematics, its interpretation and meaning must always be expressed in everyday language. And such language carries with it a great deal of biological and cultural baggage. Language, in which all science must be expressed, is far from being value free.
It could be said that our current way of thinking, our ‘European minds,’ has not yet caught up with the deeper meaning of the scientific discoveries of this century. Quantum theory stresses the wholeness of nature and the inadequacy for what could be termed ‘the Cartesian Order.’ That is, an order based upon notions of continuous space and time. One of the most significant movements within contemporary science is the search for this new order. In a sense it is a desire to reanimate time, a way of bringing back a truly dynamical time into the heart of physics. But to do this implies an entirely new metaphysics and a change in the way we think about the world.
Such a change is also inherent in the discoveries of chaos theory and non-linear systems. A science seeking certainty, control, predictability and closure has ended up subverting itself. The world, we have learned is far more complex than our attempts to describe it. It contains regions of infinite sensitivity and absolute unpredictability.
As I have argued in this essay, one of the great changes in the European mind was the secularization of time and the projection of nature into some world external to the essence of a human being. It seems to me that within our modern world are the seeds of something entirely different. They are the seeds of a consciousness that, in some ways, may resonate with that of the Blackfoot. It is a consciousness that seeks a deeper and more compassionate relationship with the natural world—one which may replace prediction and control by something more intelligent, more subtle and more holistic, gentle in its action. Above all what is required is a creative response to the modern age. Such a change of consciousness requires an enormous energy, for we are being called upon to dismantle old perceptions and prejudices and leave ourselves open for the operation of the creative.
1 Eco, Umberto. (1986) Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages. Yale, CT: Yale University Press.
2 Medina, Joyce. (1995) Cezanne and Modernism: The Poetics of Painting. Albany NY: SUNY.
3 Peat, F. David. (1995) Blackfoot Physics. London: 4th Estate.
4 Peat F. David. (1987) Synchronicity: The Bridge between Matter and Mind, New York: Bantam Books.
5 Henri Bortoft. (1996) The Wholeness of Nature: Goethe’s Way towards a Science of Wholeness. Hudson, NY: Lindisfarne Press.
6 The biologist Brian Goodwin, in a private discussion, told me about a current revival in the Goethean approach. He is working with what could be called objective intuition, a way of inner knowing that, he believes, should coexist with conventional biology, each enriching the other.
7 In this respect I am reminded to a story from Ancient China. In a time of great political unrest, the country’s leaders sought the advice of the Confucius. What action should they take to restore harmony. The sage replied that they should first purify the Chinese language and restore it to its original pristine state. In our own times we have become aware of the extent to which the English language has become corrupted in the mouths of some politicians and the military. The language we use is irreducibly linked to our perception of the world.
8 Ford, Alan and Peat, F. David ‘The role of language in science,’ Foundations of Physics 8, 1233, (1988)