54 / We're Wrong (But That's Okay)

For F*ture's Sake!

Hi, welcome to For F*ture’s Sake! A weekly newsletter exploring how to live sanely on planet earth.


Reading time: 4 minutes

Part 1 - Essay

We're Wrong (But That's Okay)

Strapped to our juggernaut of technology, we fancy ourselves as gods, very far from home indeed.” - Janine Benyus, biologist.

When my brother was a little boy, he believed you had to be a stuntman before you could become a detective. As his wiser, older brother, this delusion drove me crazy. But no matter how much I cajoled, teased or remonstrated with him, he couldn't be convinced otherwise.

Throughout life, at every step, paradigms — both big and small — get shifted. During many of these reality-reveal parties we learn hard truths — about ourselves, society, culture, the world and the universe.

We used to think the world was flat. Women once massaged dog urine into their skin as an anti-aging elixir, and more recently than I care to admit, I was certain the word nomenclature was pronounced gnome enclosure. Pathetic, I know.

So Sure Of Ourselves 

We exist in a haze of “casual certitude.” No matter how often certainty has failed us in the past, every generation unconsciously assumes what has already been defined and accepted, is (probably) fairly close to how it will be viewed in perpetuity.

Like Gravity. 

We believe the concept of gravity to be an absolute truth. Yet for 2,000 years, humans accepted without question, Aristotle's Natural Place Theory — that a rock falls to the ground because it belongs there. Furthermore, theoretical physicists say our understanding of gravity today, will be completely different in another few hundred years.

But do you know what? All of that's okay. Being wrong about stuff is how we grow — as individuals, as societies and as civilisations. It’s how we learn to make things better, bit by bit.

Are You Crazy?

But I think this iterative process is also bringing us closer to a difficult truth — that we’re deluded.

Unlike any other animal, we believe we have the potential to fully understand the natural world and bend it to our will. But we’ve been trying this for a while now, with mixed results.

After we broke free form the vicissitudes of a caveman lifestyle and learned to stock our own pantries, the Scientific Revolution allowed us — in Francis Bacon’s words — “torture nature for her secrets.” The Industrial Revolution stretched the rack taut as machines replaced muscles and plumes of smoke choked the air. But it wasn't until the Petrochemical and Genetic Engineering Revolutions that it seemed humans finally took full control of their own destiny.

Now we could synthesize whatever we needed, while jumbling up the genetic alphabet as we pleased.

And yet here we are today, still beholden to the same ecological laws as any other life-form.

So What’s Going On?

Having reached the limits of nature’s tolerance, we’re hungry for new instructions for how to live sanely on planet earth. 

And while we continue to believe we possess the power to remake the world through continued domination, slowly but surely, we’re coming to our senses.

Humans can only thrive if nature thrives.

“If we want to return to Gaia’s good graces, we need to think of ourselves as one vote in a parliament of 30 million - a species among species." - Janine Benyus

We must become nature’s protégés and adopt a humility that has never come easy. We must rephrase the question from, ‘what can we extract form the natural world?’ to ‘what can we learn from it?’ And after 3.8 billion years of research and development, the natural world is well placed to offer compelling answers. We're starting to see that now, even if it is through a cock-eyed squint.

Nietzsche once said ''power makes stupid.'' 

We've been powerful for over 75,000 years so, by my calculations, that makes us seem pretty dumb. Our Promethean pyrotechnics show at nature's expense, has brought us not just to the brink of collapse; it’s also brought us face to face with our own shortcomings.

So who knows, maybe my hint of optimism is unfounded. Perhaps I'm the deluded one.

What do you think?

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Part 2 - A Deeper Dive

Biomimicry: Innovation inspired by nature

Human ingenuity pales in comparison to the technologically superior feats of the natural world. So says biologist Janine Benyus in a book about nature’s genius.

When we stare this deeply into nature’s eyes, it takes our breath away, and in a good way, it bursts our bubble. We realise that all our inventions have already appeared in nature in a more elegant form and at a lot less cost to the planet.

How wolves change rivers

When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park, a remarkable thing happened called "trophic cascade." Check out this short video for a wonderful example of a rewilding success story.

Taoism

We find balance by following the laws of nature not the laws of humans. This is according to Te Tao Ching, a 2,500 year old book of Chinese wisdom. For a practical, everyday approach to understanding and applying this ancient philosophy, I love reading Te Tao Tuesday.

In harmony with the Tao,
the sky is clear and spacious,
the earth is solid and full,
all creatures flourish together,
content with the way they are,
endlessly repeating themselves,
endlessly renewed.

When man interferes with the Tao,
the sky becomes filthy,
the earth becomes depleted,
the equilibrium crumbles,
creatures become extinct.

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Part 3 - Random bits


I bought a new bed. I believe the model is called “I Give Up!”


Thanks so much for reading. You can follow me on Twitter if you like. Take care - Scott