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TygrBright Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-10-06 03:55 PM
Original message
Marginalizing Science From Both Ends...
My husband manages a rural retreat (the Center) that provides residential treatment for people who are complex cases that is, they have several problems, conflicting ones that make it harder to help them recover. Most have survived traumas, some have personality disorders or mood disorders, many have substance abuse problems and there are numerous physical complications. These are patients no one else wants to treat. They need a staff of extraordinary dedication, compassion, and professionalism, and the Center is lucky to have many such staff.

Lately the Centers staff has been embroiled in a minor controversy over the fate of a couple of large (12-ft tall,) pole-like stacks of hand-painted wooden blocks. A past program for Center alumni encouraged them to celebrate emotional catharsis by painting the boxes and nailing them to the stacks; this program hasnt been part of the alumni celebrations at the Center for some time. The Center is in the process of re-landscaping, and the staff is heavily involved, designing (and placing) a labyrinth and a meditation garden with a medicine wheel, as well as more conventional re-planting, modifying walking paths, etc.

Some of the staff consider the poles unattractive, no longer reflective of the patients current therapy experience, and incompatible with the new landscaping; they want the poles removed or relegated to an inconspicuous area of the grounds. Some of the staff consider the poles a record of achievement, a form of folk-art-like decoration, a statement of positive action; they want the poles retained and/or prominently featured. My husband, who claims he has no aesthetic sense in addition to being color-blind, doesnt really have a dog in the hunt, other than to try and keep the low-key controversy from becoming a high-drama conflict.

The other day a staff member, (well call him Rick) during a meeting with my husband, pleaded a case for keeping the poles. It would attract bad karma to remove them. They mean a lot. People put their demons into those boxes, and it reflects their struggle. Destroying the poles could free that negative energy.

In telling me about this later, my husband looked both amused and rueful. I reminded Rick as gently as possible, he said that although I understood the symbolism he and other pro-polers valued, in twenty-first century behavioral medicine, we try to avoid references to demons. I got a mild chuckle from that, and contributed Just as we no longer burn witches, eh? And we left it there.

But that scrap of discussion has haunted me. It pops up at odd times, in seemingly unrelated contexts, until finally it crystallized, and I realized what has been disturbing me so profoundly, what that innocent exchange evoked for me. Bear with me while I describe a few more pieces of the puzzle.

Last week I was in one of many local gift/art/souvenir shops looking over an array of handmade candles labeled empowerment candles, each with a little card detailing what type of empowerment the candle was supposed to provoke: I remember there was one for tranquility, one for prosperity, one for love relationships, etc. Later that day, or perhaps the next day, I was waiting in line to pay for a bottle of water at a gas station/convenience store, and looking over a display of guardian angel lapel pins.

Recently Ive read several articles about the reception Al Gores film An Inconvenient Truth has received, focusing on the solid nature of the factual information presented and the overwhelming consensus of a very broad community of scientists on the relationship between human behavior and rising temperatures worldwide. Many of the articles authors pointed out that the information has been freely and abundantly available for decades. Yet how much energy and money has been spent trying to cast doubt, create controversy, or otherwise deny its implications?

I was both relieved by the loss of many of the more extreme creationism candidates in the Kansas local election primaries and deeply uneasy about the fact that not only had they been viable candidates, there remain many elected officials in Kansas who seriously wish to integrate creationism and other religious-based cosmology into the public education curriculum. And that Kansas is not the only state where strident popular sentiment is being successfully mobilized against science.

Politically, these very different slices of experience seem to reflect divergent ideologies, and yet with Ricks remark and my husbands response I realized that they are in fact merely ideologically different aspects of the same phenomenon, a phenomenon Ive come to think of as anti-science.

Scientists themselves are the first to admit that one of the major functions of science is to make clear to us how little we know, how little we understand, and how little we can explain of the universe we experience. Science as any scientist will tell you has no answers for a myriad of questions. Science and the technology that derives from it have created more questions than it answers, and revealed at least as many problems as solutions.

Once upon a time it seemed as though science would have solved all our problems by tomorrow. Or at least within our lifetimes, or maybe our childrens lifetimes. Science promised futures ranging from The Jetsons to Star Trek, utopias where environmental problems were solved, resources were never scarce, lifespans lengthened for everyone, and the babe-alicious women wore tinfoil bikinis and everyone drank futuristic purple cocktails that left no hangover and didnt impair driving (because, of course, no one drove anyway, we all took some futuristic mode of transport.) Is anti-science an oppositional reaction to our disillusionment?

Is anti-science a sinister conspiracy by the uberclass to prevent the masses from freeing themselves?

Is anti-science an escapist compensation for the dystopian problems resulting from rapid technological change and glacial sociological progress?

Is anti-science an expression of anxiety and fear of the unknown? Is it a wistful hope that the unknown has answers that can be accessed more easily than by decades of painstaking scientific experimentation and progress?

A bit of all of that, I expect. There are relatively harmless expressions of anti-science, indeed, we may need some aspects of anti-scientific expression. Science will never provide some answers, technology will never fill some voids. All the digitizing in the world cannot deliver the experience of a Beethovens Ninth in an open-air concert on a starry night, surrounded by twenty thousand music lovers. There is no drug we can synthesize that will heal the loss of a loved one, however effectively we can temporarily dull the pain.

Myths can convey profound truths in a way that facts cannot. Dry descriptions of the function of endocrinological phenomena in individuals, and their cumulative effects on sociological interactions, cant capture the essence of the story of Pandora and the box with hope at the bottom. And yet, the fact is that feelings are based in endocrinology, and that the Welbutrin I take to stave off the deep, overwhelming certainty that the best way to stop feeling pain is to stop living is as important to me as the loving arms of my husband reminding me of what I have to live for.

We all need hope, we all need to acknowledge the realities science will never be able to encompass as well as the realities science simply hasnt yet evolved the tools to describe. We need to acknowledge the benefits of a little frivolity, a little whimsy, a little unreason in our lives. Individually, we need it to add particular dimensions of fun and enjoyment in our lives that can keep us healthy. I confess, I bought one of those candles and heck, the laugh I get from the irony of spending six bucks for something utterly useless in a quest for material prosperity is probably worth it.

Collectively, however, anti-science is a deadly phenomenon. The rejection of science and the embrace of unreason, whatever its cause, could not possibly come at a worse time for the human race. Maybe there is no harm in pinning a goldtone angel to your lapel and half-wishing, half-hoping that Something will benevolently overlook you in consequence. Yet there is not a long leap from an individual belief/hope in Benevolent Somethings to a conviction that since science doesnt have all the answers, its a good idea to teach fantasy hypotheses to our children in school as explanations for physical phenomena.

Angels and demons, earth-spirits and Mother Gaeia, channeling past lives and waiting for the rapture arent necessarily harmful or helpful beliefs, until we act on them. Harmless actions include putting Goddess bumperstickers on our cars and wearing angel lapel pins. Helpful actions include feeding the hungry and reaching out to embrace enemies in the spirit of common humanity. But far too many harmful actions are rooted in anti-science. Perhaps even more harmful are the inactions. Science will never have all the answers or solve all the problems. But how many answers are denied us, how many problems fester unresolved, because we prefer the rainbow fogs of anti-science?

P.S. The poles are staying, but moving to a low-traffic area of the property.
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Burma Jones Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-10-06 04:01 PM
Response to Original message
1. People love technology and fear science.......
And folks seem to be reacting to the exponentially increasing amount of information to which we're exposed by putting their fingers in their ears and adhering to a well defined belief system. Or, as I've seen on the back of cars:

God Said it,
I believe it,
That settles it

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trotsky Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-10-06 04:20 PM
Response to Original message
2. The left and the right both have significant anti-science factions.
Sad, really. Good post though! :thumbsup:
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Odin2005 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-10-06 04:23 PM
Response to Original message
3. Both sides of the political spectrum has thier anti-science types.
Edited on Thu Aug-10-06 04:25 PM by Odin2005
On both sides Anti-Science is a reaction against modernity. Among the right it is disguised as a reaction against secularism, among the left it expresses itself a form of primitivism or ludditism, the denial of science as a force for good in the world. A Right-Wing anti-science person would be a creationist or anti-stem cell research activist. A Left-Wing anti-science person would be anti-nuclear energy activists and ant-genetic engineering people.
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Nikki Stone 1 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-10-06 04:42 PM
Response to Original message
4. Anti science is about dumbing down America
and I believe it's being deliberately stoked and funded by elements of our own government, especially among the educated middle class who would be most likely to be learning science.

The right has this steroid-laced Christianity which started being really pushed on college campuses in the late 1970's and early 80's, funded by William F. Buckley's "Young Americans for Freedom" (YAF) now called "Young America Foundation," which is the largest non-university contributer to campus activities. The left has this "New Age" thing, a melange of various Eastern religions, old pagan superstitions, and marketing of products, especially to females. Feminism has been co-opted by a lot of this garbage, especially at the university.

In the end, promoting and funding superstitions is about making people powerless, especially those who could be potentially powerful and change the status quo. Scientists are taught to think in a narrow way, making them good employees for pharmaceutical companies or good university lackies funded by government entities. Others who might be inclined to think are being pulled into the vortex of superstition which always exists under the surface in human beings and is a product of our fear. The poor and the uneducated are kept that way by superstitions. The middle class is being led that way on university campuses which should be the LAST place for this kind of garbage, but isn't. Why? your guess is as good as mine.

I'm figuring that like the unPATRIOTic Act and all the other oppressive legislation, it is a preparation for a nation of serfs.
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femrap Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Aug-11-06 09:32 AM
Response to Reply #4
18. I graduated from college in '77....and at my school, there
was but only one class (in the Poli Sci department) regarding Women. I spoke with a couple of women who were taking many Women's Studies classes two years ago, and I was told that they are teaching how the 2nd Wavers did everything wrong. (As if Women were ever commended for what they did.)

Many women today are taught that the 'sexee' is the way to go...of course, all the marketing, brainwashing, media are pushing that as well. In my day, make-up was frowned upon and spending lots of time on 'looks' was tres shallow. To fight the kind of brainwashing that feeds women today is one major job that blows....(not the other way around...stupid joke, but I couldn't help myself...need as many laughs as I can get these days.....sorry.)

I think the neocon government is not supporting public education (dumbing down) because they want stupid kids who have NO other choices in life except the military or flipping burgers (or go the criminal route and sell drugs or hook.) Pole Dancing has become a popular job choice of late...!

Could you explain more about 'superstitions?' All I can think of right now is not walking under a ladder. Do you mean superstitious as in 'organized religions?' Fear and Greed...the grand motivators of humankind....and maybe some guilt as icing.
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JitterbugPerfume Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-10-06 04:57 PM
Response to Original message
5. as usual
Edited on Thu Aug-10-06 04:58 PM by JitterbugPerfume
this is a very insightful post . Thanks for it TygrBright
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Nikki Stone 1 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-10-06 05:18 PM
Response to Original message
6. kicking
important post
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NMDemDist2 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-10-06 06:07 PM
Response to Original message
7. K&N
I think you said it all



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hunter Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-10-06 07:01 PM
Response to Original message
8. Science makes some feel small, rather than empowered,
Thus they reject it. Superstition is easy, science is sometimes difficult. It's very easy to say God created man and instills each of us with a soul, but it is difficult to explore all the complex evolutionary pathways and ecological relationships that have caused single cells to develop into humans, from many billions of years ago, or from the moment of conception.

"I can't do that" is hammered into people at an early age, and thus they become consumers rather than makers. If they allow themselves to be makers, it is only within a very limited framework, enough for example that they can get their jobs done. The natural curiosity of the child is killed.

Of course we can't know everything, and we have only a limited time to explore the universe, but we should never be afraid of the exploration. We should nurture the curiosity within ourselves, not deny it out of fear.

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canaar Donating Member (50 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-10-06 08:40 PM
Response to Original message
9. Where is the poetry?
Is a scientific truth somehow more valid than a poetic truth? What happens to the understanding that derives from emotional response? Is the imagery that some of the patients invested in these poles as a way of organizing, recognizing, validating their personal demons (regardless of the observable, predictable and repeatable, chemical, environmental, genetic origins of their illnesses and/or trauma) invalid? Likely not since the poles and/or their creation was deemed therapeutic. If destroying or moving these poles without appropriate ceremony to match the ceremonial investment of their creation destroys the historical continuity of their significance for the current group of patients, does that have an adverse impact on their confidence in the therapeutic skill of the counselors and/or physicians? If so, doesn't this metaphorically release the demons to plague the current group of patients?

I believe that we should recognize, celebrate and employ science for the tool that it is as we grope our collective way through our journey in the same way that we should recognize, celebrate and employ our ancient species ability to understand some of the world around us through metaphor and myth. My experiences have convinced me that it is possible to embrace many avenues to the truth without being compelled to reject one over the other.
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hunter Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-10-06 10:29 PM
Response to Reply #9
10. Ah, the poles need a poet to defend them...
That would be a positive thing. We make the meanings of so many things that are outside the realm of science, and one of the ways we make these meanings is by poetry, ceremony, religious symbolism, etc.

But some of these meanings do need to be rejected because they are negative and harmful.

I agree with you that some ceremony might have created by an artist here to maintain the "historical continuity" of the art. This would have been a positive thing.

But ceremonies based on fear -- fear of demons, bad karma, and negative energy -- would not be a positive thing.

We can kick the devil's ass when we are not afraid. (I'm saying this as a poetic metaphor, and not religious dogma, in case any skeptics are concerned about the language.)

Welcome to DU, canaar. :hi:

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hobbit709 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-10-06 10:52 PM
Response to Reply #9
13. To a mathematician
Einstein's equations are poetry
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femrap Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-10-06 10:33 PM
Response to Original message
11. The US used to be so pro-science...
remember JFK and the mission to land on the moon?

This anti-science movement, IMHO, has to do with the Fundies/Evangelicals entering the political world....and what made them enter was the scientific advancements made that set women free...birth control and safe, legal abortions. This set these authoritarian (insecure) conservative men on fire. And from then on, it has been STOP SCIENCE STOP SCIENCE......We must go backward!

I read a while back that the biggest change that has affected humankind was The Pill.

I actually think some of these Fundies would like to return to the days of witch burning!

Great post...glad you're keeping the boxes!
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Nikki Stone 1 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-10-06 10:41 PM
Response to Reply #11
12. Interesting idea
I think it's more inclusive that that, though. See my post above.
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bunyip Donating Member (180 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-10-06 11:18 PM
Response to Original message
14. Great post.
Great thread, really.

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Straight Shooter Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-10-06 11:24 PM
Response to Original message
15. I believe in science *and* I believe in the metaphysical.
Most of all I believe in the power of the mind to interpret reality according to the needs of the one who is perceiving that reality. Where those needs come from, whether they are positive or negative, ah, that's the rub.

Excellent post. It's great to hear that there are people willing to treat the true challenges and use all methods available.

As for the poles, you can assure Rick that their negative energy can be dispelled with the burning of sage, allowing the smoke to encircle the poles, while reciting thoughtful prayers for harmony. :)
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TalkingDog Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Aug-11-06 08:10 AM
Response to Original message
16. Science and Mythology (spirituality etc) are neither compatible
nor incompatible.

As I have said on this board a number of times, you are not comparing apples to oranges (both fruit) you are comparing apples to internal combustion engines. They aren't even in the same realms.

The only thing that science and "anti-science" (mythology, spirituality, etc.) have in common is that they are both frameworks; ways to view the world.

One framework does not describe reality more clearly than another. No more than the chemical formula for Wellbutrin describes it's effect on the taker. No more than boxes nail to a tree describe the release of personal demons. These are abstractions of experience. Experience simply is. Science and Mythology describe the genesis of that experience or the results of that experience.

Both ways of viewing the world are valid. Both ways of viewing the world are necessary.

As in any mythology or framework, evil occurs when taboo boundaries are crossed. Mythology and Science are equally valid, but equally incompatible frameworks. To force one into the other is the psychic equivalent of evil.

(p.s. I'm using psychic in the psychological sense, not the popular sense)

My favorite Future Famous Dead Artist: KarenParker

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DemExpat Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Aug-11-06 09:06 AM
Response to Original message
17. I very much enjoyed reading and thinking about your post.
But I value science with its gifts and promises as well as its inability to explain and fix all problems and challenges along with the metaphysical and the mind's incredible power of intention (focus, hope, meditation, prayer) - something which is symbolized in these empowering candles. I don't see them as useless at all, along with the scientific tech that you enjoy to keep your life worthwhile.

I really do embrace them both - science and my interpretation of the metaphyscial - see pitfalls and weaknesses in both, see incompleteness in both.

Yin and Yang keeping in balance. All parts make up the whole IMHO.

Thanks for sharing your take here.

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