As a child, I recall marveling at how everything seemed to work so well. The logistics blew my mind, although I didn’t know that was the word for it. How the authorities dealt with all the sewage and garbage my hometown produced baffled me.
I am still in awe that civilization works as well as it does, although I now know that Nature’s ‘logistics’ is in charge. I also notice how ‘it all’ just barely works, and that’s not surprising given that civilization is a manmade construct. Various chickens are always coming home to roost, as it were: climate change, depleted aquifers, new diseases, social dysfunctions of various forms, to name a few.
Yes, “Out of the mouths of babes” is no empty saying! The 10 year old me was ahead of the curve. It almost seems like we get more stupid in some ways as we become adults. That may be due in part to our ability as adults to willfully innovate while ignorant of the constant, as chapter 16 cautions. Such power is intoxicating — and blinding. Eventually as we age and approach death I suspect many folks finally overcome the hurdle chapter 71 warns of… Not to know yet to think that one knows will lead to difficulty. This does little to help matters because death ensures that few will be around to redirect younger fools from their ignorant free willed willful innovations. Fortunately, this is slowly changing as the mean age of the population keeps rising.
A recent Science News article, Lopped Off, highlights just how profoundly we, as a species, generally have no clue what we are doing. I guess young children and old people may have always had their intuitive doubts, but who listens to them? Fortunately, science is compelling more and more of us middle-aged know-it-alls to sober up and face our ignorance.
Chapter 16’s Woe to him who willfully innovates while ignorant of the constant, is very prescient on the unintended consequences of our clever and willful behavior. This is especially noteworthy as it was written long before our innovative abilities threatened the entire planet (~500bc). Is it ironic that science both leads to technological innovations that cause the destruction, and now impels us to realize the full range of consequences of our actions. We can only hope the lag time between innovation and realization is short enough.
Speaking of innovation,
Compared to all the other species inhabiting earth, it appears humans may be a particularly unique evolutionary innovation. Of course, it’s not a “willfully innovating while ignorant of the constant” kind of thing. Is it just Mother Nature experimenting or rolling the dice? Either way, ‘nothing ventured nothing gained’ appears to be nature’s rule of thumb. These are very interesting times. As that purported old Chinese curse says, “May you live in interesting times“.
Our belief in what we think we know blinds us from deeply appreciating what we don’t know. Knowledge is a two edged sword. It empowers us to overcome many obstacles, yet the arrogance of knowledge simultaneously blindsides us. Overcoming small obstacles actually creates what often turns out to be larger obstacles — the law of unintended consequences. Knowledge gives us a false sense of security. Despite being extremely limited, it gives us beholders the illusion that we truly know. This begs the question, “How do we know what we know is truly so?” That is what makes chapter 71 an effective test of self-honesty… To know yet to think that one does not know is best; Not to know yet to think that one knows will lead to difficulty. Of course, one has to take the test as rigorously as possible to make a passing grade.
We seem to assume we can find solutions that will finally result in a ‘happiness ever after’ land of milk and honey. That fantasy is certainly a hallmark in Western religion. Such wishful thinking doesn’t conform to nature’s reality; it is instead what nature intends for us to perceive — an emergent property of a bio-hoodwink. (See Tao As Emergent Property and How the Hoodwink Hooks.) Our species can’t afford to indulge in this species-centric fantasy much longer. No worries though… As chapter 51 says, Circumstances bring us to maturity!
Here now is a pithy excerpt from that article.
“We’re eliminating large predators very quickly around the world,” says wildlife biologist Michael Soulé of the Wildlands Network, who works out of Paonia, Colo. “It’s estimated that 90 percent are already gone.”
These end-of-the-line carnivores, known as “apex consumers,” can influence the lower rungs of their ecological ladders. By keeping the critters they dine on in check, the apex species affect the next rungs down, and so on. The system remains balanced as populations fluctuate in sync.
But sharks aren’t the only predators under siege. A host of carnivores perched atop food webs are being eliminated by humans, the real killing machines. Although marine species such as sharks are primarily caught for food, large terrestrial hunters (think lions, wolves and grizzlies) are often targeted for removal because they threaten humans moving into previously wild spaces.
Chapter 16 with its admonition about willfully innovating while ignorant of the constant fits this sorry situation so perfectly that I couldn’t resist submitting a comment (below) to Letters at Science News. Low and behold, they printed it. At last, science and religion find common ground. 😉
Predators inspire poetry and fear
Regarding “Lopped off” (SN: 11/5/11, p. 26): One of the Tao Te Ching’s chapters (excerpt below) is very prescient on the unintended consequences of human behavior. It was written around 500 B.C., long before our innovative abilities threatened the entire planet. It is ironic that science both leads to innovations that cause the destruction, and now allows us to realize the full range of consequences.
Woe to him who willfully innovates
While ignorant of the constant,
But should one act from knowledge of the constant
One’s action will lead to impartiality,
Impartiality to kingliness,
Kingliness to heaven,
Heaven to the way,
The way to perpetuity,
And to the end of one’s days one will meet with no danger.
Carl Abbott, Santa Cruz, Calif.