The main outstanding issue for science is its approach to the whole, to holistic, logos. Until now, the solution has been to believe that something is understood when it is named or when some properties are identified and, ultimately, when it is characterized by certain parameters. However, there are currently large volumes of information which can be analyzed from a wide and holistic perspective by using personal computers and networks. As such, science is able to understand the whole, e.g. the planet as an ecosystem (biosphere) or the Milky Way (Cosmos). Contrary to what is may seem, this would remove the role science has had since the industrial revolution and it would bridge the gap between science and wisdom.
The question of whether the mind captures information through the senses (Aristoteles, Locke) or whether there is knowledge that does not need the aid of the senses (Plato, Kant, Leibniz) has been posed for millennia. Given that the planet is facing major problems, the solution to this issue is not merely theoretical. It can play a decisive role in the future of Humankind. Some of the problems are inherent to how the scientific method has been applied (logic turned into method: observe-formulate-test), which turns experimentation into an absolute (there is no science if it is not observed, formulated or can be repeatedly tested). The Platonic question remains: what about what we can tell from our intuition? And what we are unable to test? Is there something that tells us that it’s not as we think? Or Confucius’ question: And what about what is cosmic? Neither Plato, Aristoteles nor Confucius was entirely right. The truth is a moving flame.
In the case of global warming, does it need to be completely evident for measures to be taken? As always, we must apply the Principle of Caution.
Another reason for environmental problems to be so common across the world lies with the relative economic and political inertia. Their motives may not be perverse but there is a short-sighted approach that only responds after a disaster happens which makes it clear that the previous position was wrong. Catastrophism, the word used to diminish the influence of whoever aims to prevent, is in fact a trait of short-sighted individuals that only change when some disastrous happens.
When there is evidence that the wrong path has been taken, the route is corrected by replacing the politician or conservative company with an alternative that has a more “realistic,” less hypocritical approach. For example, by taking visible and popular measures in favor of the environment, such as recycling certain products, hanging an environmental sign in a hotel room about changing the tools every day, or organizing garbage collection days on beaches once a year.
Trapped by science or the scientific method?
At a time when model scales have changed and virtual representations allow us to simulate situations, is it logical to keep applying this old-fashioned method of trial and error that has often taken us to the brink? The current circumstances point to the need for prospective and comprehensive thinking and acting. There is clearly the need to look at the situation with a synoptic mind and generalist intellect. We need to replace expert knowledge that has taken us very far but that is now stopping from observing the whole by trapping us in the parts. We are trapped in the myopic view of the experts in partial experimentations.
There are currently several ways of increasing the awareness of environmental issues. However, even this is not enough to reverse the effects of centuries of cultural dismemberment, persecution of generalist thinkers and wrong cultural evolution – something that has happened in the “North,” the “South,” the “West” and the “East.” Environmental or ecological issues must and have to be handled from the local point of view (community) and from the point of view of the nation (political) as well as the world (ideological-philosophical=scientific).
In the past, Human beings believed but they did not know. Nowadays, they know something but they don’t even believe in what they know. Perhaps the truth, the balance, resides in believing that you believe and knowing that you don’t know anything.
Andrés R. Rodríguez