As a child, I recall marveling at how everything seemed to work so well. The logistics blew my mind—even though I didn’t know that was the word for it. I also worried how the powers-that-be dealt with all the sewage and garbage my hometown produced.
I am still awed that ‘it’ works, although I now know that Nature’s ‘logistics’ is in command. Even so, it also turns out to be a worrisome problem for civilizations’ powers-that-be… that would be all of us, really.
Yep, “Out of the mouths of babes” is no empty saying! It almost seems like we get more stupid in some ways as we age. I guess that has a lot to do with our ability as adults to willfully innovate while ignorant of the constant. Alas too, any adults that finally understand soon die, so there are few around to redirect younger fools from their ignorant ‘free will’ willful innovations. (Although thankfully, that is 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 dong. Although, I guess young children and old people may have always had their intuitive doubts. Now, science is forcing more and more of us middle-age know-it-alls to worry.
Chapter 16 of the Tao Te Ching is very prescient on the unintended consequences of our clever and willful behavior. It was writing 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 timely enough.
Speaking of innovation,
Isn’t our species also a daring evolutionary innovation on the part of Nature? Of course, I assume it’s not a “willful innovation while ignorant of the constant” kind of thing. So, is it just Nature rolling the dice? These are very interesting times; as that old Chinese (?) curse says, “May you live in interesting times“.
All this says to me how blind we become by what we think we know. Knowledge is a two edged sword; it empowers us to overcome many obstacles, yet the arrogance of knowledge simultaneously blind-sides us. Overcoming petty obstacles creates what often turn out to be greater obstacles. Knowledge gives us a false sense of security. Despite being extremely limited, it gives the beholder the illusion that he or she truly knows. This begs the question, “How do we know what we know is truly so?” That is why, 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.
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 (i.e., an emergent property of a bio-hoodwink). Our species can’t afford to indulge in this species-centric fantasy much longer. No worries though… “groan”… circumstance 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 submitting a comment (below) to Letters at Science News was irresistible. 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.