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A Nasty Mother

FEATUREChallenging Nature © Bill Sanderson/Photo Researchers, Inc. Think only the religious right is anti-science? How about the spiritual left? BY LEE M. SILVER To be alive as an organic organism on earth, you must have access to water. On most land areas, water availability varies from month to month and year to year. As a result, the form and number of living things is greatly limited. In the Amazon rainforest, however, getting wate

By | July 1, 2006

FEATURE
Challenging Nature
© Bill Sanderson/Photo Researchers, Inc.
A Nasty Mother

Think only the religious right is anti-science? How about the spiritual left?

BY LEE M. SILVER

To be alive as an organic organism on earth, you must have access to water. On most land areas, water availability varies from month to month and year to year. As a result, the form and number of living things is greatly limited. In the Amazon rainforest, however, getting water is not a problem, and every surface is covered with layer upon layer of life forms living on top of each other. In this environment, sunlight rather than water is the most precious commodity, since 98% of the sun's rays never make it to the jungle floor.

Germinating in the ground and growing in utter darkness for a long span of time is a difficult task for a tree seed to pursue successfully, but I didn't think they had much choice based on my experience living in the northeastern part of the US. In the rainforest, however, many enormous centurial trees began their existence with a head start of 100 feet or more toward the sun. The life cycle of these strangler figs, as they are called, is startling to anyone who imagines Mother Nature to be a harmonious place, especially for greenery. The fruit of the strangler figs is a favorite of rainforest monkeys, who swallow the small watermelon-like seeds. Later, they defecate a pile of seed-containing dung that becomes trapped in a corner between two branches of another tree high up in the forest. The warm dung acts as potent fertilizer and the seed germinates into a rootless vine with appendages that slowly crawl up and down along the trunk and branches.

When the downward appendages hit the ground, their tips turn into roots which absorb larger amounts of water from the mud and distribute it to the rest of the fig organism. The appendages themselves now begin to expand sideways as they wrap themselves around the inner tree's trunk and major branches. Eventually, the original tree is engulfed and disappears. The fig tree, with its hidden hollow center, has killed and taken the place of the host that brought it to life. A walk through the Amazon or any other rainforest in Central America, Asia or Africa will provide you with abundant seemingly-static snapshots of each stage in this slow lethal process.

In contrast, everyone knows about Ice Ages of the past, which are no more dramatic than a green Sahara. The distinction seems to be that the Sahara's past reveals a truth modern people don't want to hear: Mother Nature can be a nasty bitch.

The strangler fig is not the exception but, rather, the rule of the jungle. Nearly every tree is weighed down by vines of different kinds that grow to enormous sizes. Old vines are themselves encrusted with other vines (which are themselves encrusted in moss and fungus). Leaves are eaten by caterpillars or destroyed by leaf-cutting ants. External termite nests, some larger than a person, hang from most older trees, themselves dotted with holes drilled by birds to eat insects living within. Heavily weighted and weakened branches struggle for survival, but eventually lose and break off.

It's not a good idea to wander off the trail into the thick undergrowth, our guide Ramiro tells us; if you're not bitten by a hidden venomous snake, your ankles will be attacked by marauding toxin-injecting ants, or your exposed hands could rub up against poison-covered plants. It's fine to go swimming in the river, he says, unless you're a menstruating woman or otherwise bleeding, in which case, hordes of piranhas will eat your flesh - down to the bone if you don't get out of the water while you can. Shallow lakes may be piranha-free, but they sprout leeches, which attach to your limbs and suck out your blood. And the air itself is thick with mosquitoes that stick a dirty needle-like proboscis through the exposed skin of any hot-blooded animal they can find. Sometimes they carry a hitchhiking protozoan killer that slides into blood cells to feed and reproduce wildly; the blood-borne offspring are picked up by other biting mosquitoes, leaving you behind to suffer from malaria and possible death. Everywhere you look, organisms suck the life out from organisms beneath them, just as they are consumed by organisms on their own backs. Ramiro sums it up in one of the many pithy aphorisms that cross his lips each day, "life in the jungle is fast and short."

A CAPRICIOUS MOTHER

It is not just other living things that can cause pain and suffering among human beings and other animals. Mother Earth herself can be entirely capricious and uncaring. Once upon a time, there was a forested paradise as big as the United States with an abundance of trees, including giant shade-providing acacias and hackberries, and verdant green shrubbery and grasses.1,2 The drenching rains were heavier in the summer, although the humidity was high all year long. Dotting the countryside were freshwater lakes and rivers with an abundance of fish. Along the shores, and in the shallows, antelopes, giraffes, elephants, and hippopotamuses lingered. Occasionally lions and tigers came out of the forests and made their presence known. Sophisticated civilizations of people were here too, raising cattle, hunting wild game, and planting crops. On the rock walls, they painted pictures of themselves engaged in these and other common activities. Throughout this vast homeland, for hundreds of generations, life was good.

Then, over the course of a few centuries, the unthinkable happened.1 The old men noticed that summers were now cooler and less rainy than in their childhood. The forests were becoming less dense, and the lake shorelines had receded drastically. By the time the grandchildren of the old men had grown up, the rains stopped completely, the lakes and rivers dried up, and the verdant forests dissolved into a vast desert of sand covering up all the villages. The gods must be angry, the people thought, because we did something wrong. Most perished, but a few escaped through migration to the northern coast, and others walked into an eastern river valley where water from a distant source continued to flow. But kept alive in the stories told by mother to daughter and father to son, from every subsequent generation to the next, even until our present day, is the legend of God's eviction of disobedient human ancestors from the ancient Garden of Eden.

The foundation for the story just told is not a fairytale, or a warning of the ecological devastation that will descend upon the earth if human beings don't mend their ways. In its broadest strokes, these events really did unfold - in the place we call the Sahara, now the largest and driest desert in the world. Between 13,000 BC and 3,500 BC (an era named the African Humid Period by earth scientists), the climate and ecology of the Sahara was radically different than it is today.3 Ironically, for those not spiritually inclined, the blame for the capricious climate can be put squarely on the shoulders of Jupiter - not the god of gods, but the planet.

JASON VARNEY | VARNEYPHOTO.COM
Lee M. Silver

The African Humid Period occurred when the Northern hemisphere was both maximally tilted and maximally close to the summer sun. Hotter air from the north forced sustained intense heat to cover the Sahara at ground level. Hot air is less dense and rose more quickly sucking heavy Atlantic rain clouds in its stead. Rain initiated the growth of green life, which absorbed the sun's heat more effectively than bare ground. As forests grew, they retained more heat and humidity, causing the rains to become more intense.

These Eden-like conditions lasted for almost 10,000 years. And then, as the earth continued to cycle through natural changes in orbit and spin, the entire system collapsed. Less midday summer sunlight in the North produced less heat, which led to weaker winds, which led to less rain, which led to a thinning of the forest, which led to a lower capacity for heat absorption, and so on.3 The Sahara forest may have spiraled into an arid abyss in less than a century and a half, a blink of the eye in geological terms, although long enough for some people to migrate elsewhere.4 Circumstantial speculation suggests that they could have brought their rich culture into the Nile Valley, setting the stage for the sophisticated and long-lasting classical Egyptian civilization. Whether the green Sahara was the inspirational source for the Biblical Garden of Eden, we'll never know.

What I find most remarkable about this fascinating story is that it is practically unknown outside specialized fields of climatology and anthropology, although scientists have been writing about it for over 40 years. In contrast, everyone knows about Ice Ages of the past, which are no more dramatic than a green Sahara. The distinction seems to be that the Sahara's past reveals a truth modern people don't want to hear: Mother Nature can be a nasty bitch.

Post-Christian western cultures, in particular, want to believe in a Mother Nature that is feminine and benevolent, always promoting her biosphere in positive ways. Life will thrive unless, according to Greenpeace International, foolish human beings persist in "... throwing the world's climate out of its natural balance and into chaos."[my emphasis]5 The assumption is that if we just left Mother Nature alone to follow her own path, everything would turn out for the better. The retreat of the glaciers, which led to the blossoming of human civilization, is consistent with this view. A once-upon-a-time green Sahara wiped out by natural - not human-induced - climate change doesn't fit the whole-earth spiritual picture, and does not become incorporated into the public consciousness.

What if biotechnology could be deployed to sustain and expand a self-regenerating Sahara forest that could benefit humankind in many ways? Ecological alterations of such large magnitude - whether natural or human-induced - always have effects on other regions of the globe. Computer modeling will help future societies determine whether a green Sahara would be better or not for humankind and the biosphere as a whole. The ultimate question, though, is who should we trust to make such future choices: global society or Mother Nature? Mother Nature, without our help, turned gigantic vibrant ecosystems into lifeless deserts. Mother Nature, without our help, "ruined ancient civilizations and socio-economic systems."6 Mother Nature, without our help, covered Canada in mile-deep glaciers, and she would certainly do it again if all human industry disappeared.

BUILDING THE METAPHOR IN OUR AGE

Who or what benefits from the massive and perpetual orgy of organic churning and decimation that is Mother Nature? Certainly not the individual victims; which includes the vast majority of plants and animals in the rainforest and everywhere else. Few survive long enough to die "naturally" from old age. Even many of the so-called "top-of-the-food chain" predators like the elusive Amazonian jaguar, that walked past our tent one night, are done-in by tiny parasites or same-species competitors. What most people in Western society believe today is that the benefit accrues to the "ecosystem as a whole."

You don't have to look far to discover how this concept is taught and reinforced from early childhood. The first page of the first chapter of the Prentice Hall Ecology textbook used by my son's 5th grade class focuses on a tender story of ants and aphids opposite a full-page picture of their peaceful lives together:

"Upon reaching the aphid, the ant begins to stroke the smaller insect with its feelers. The aphid responds by releasing a drop of a sugary substance called honeydew. The ant eagerly licks up the honeydew. Then the ant gently picks up the aphid in its jaws and carries it to another leaf. There the aphid is added to a 'herd' tended by ants. The ants take care of the aphids in exchange for meals of honeydew." 7

Educated adults are also bombarded with a holistic image of life on earth. In 1970, the scientist James Lovelock used an understanding of atmospheric chemistry to argue for the recognition of the biosphere as a "unified self-regulated organism," christened Gaia (from the earth-mother goddess of Greek mythology) with component parts that work together symbiotically for the good of the whole. If Gaia is used simply as a value-neutral metaphor to describe the entire complex network of symbiotic interactions over the history of our planet, no evolutionary biologist or ecologist would complain. But when Gaia moves from the science sphere to the public sphere, it becomes translated into something entirely different.

How does an emotional attachment to the spirit of Mother Nature color one's views concerning the morality of using biotechnology to genetically alter plants and animals for the benefit of humankind, or the biosphere itself?

The problem begins with the popular meaning of the word symbiosis. Scientists use the word broadly to describe any biological interaction between species that provides benefit to one or both. Parasitism - in which individuals from one species gain a benefit at the expense of another's life or longevity - is, by far, the most common form of symbiosis. To the public, however, symbiosis is considered to be a synonym for community and cooperation among individuals.8 And so when Lynn Margulis, the most important scientist-popularizer of Gaia, titles her book on the subject Symbiotic Planet, the take-home message seems clear: all of the organisms on earth cooperate unconsciously to keep alive a unified Gaia or Mother Nature, who is more conscious than her individual plant and animal parts.

To get a sense of how common this vision is at a university not known for attracting students with counter-culture beliefs, I placed the following question on an anonymous survey of Princeton undergraduates: Can a species, an ecosystem or another grouping of multiple organisms have a unified spiritual soul? The possible answers were: (a) No, it makes no sense to say that a system of multiple organisms has a spiritual soul; (b) Yes, some systems of multiple organisms (e.g. species, ecosystem, or biosphere) can have a unified spiritual soul; or (c) I am not sure whether systems of multiple organisms can have a spiritual soul.

Multi-organismal spirits are incompatible with both Christianity (the religion with which over 85% of Princeton students self-identify) as well as the science instruction these students received even before they were admitted to my university. And yet, only 48% of female students and 61% of men felt confident enough to reject the idea outright.9 Among female humanities majors, the proportion dropped to 36%. The results (surprising to me) imply that even in America, where traditional Christianity is still a powerful force, highly educated young people are attracted to the post-Christian worldview of a unified "Mother Nature" that is more than a metaphor.

Can we really determine - from our perspective as potential component parts - whether the whole biosphere, or even an isolated ecosystem, behaves like a single organism? Is it possible that each species in the rainforest really is analogous to a nerve cell or ant whose work and activities serve the goal of something that only comes into existence through the proper functioning of the much larger whole? One way to approach this question is by comparing the actual design of ecosystem networks with the design of other types of biological networks.

Three wholly different levels of biological organization are observed in nature. At the bottom, specific interactions among genes and protein molecules give rise to the emergent property of dynamic life within each single cell. In network language, each type of molecule can be viewed as a node and each type of molecular interaction as a connection. Animals are also made up of cells, but a higher level of organismal life emerges when multiple cells interact with each other to form a brain that produces a mind of some kind. In network language, brain cells are nodes, and synapses are connections. Finally, the highest level of biological organization occurs in an ecosystem where species can be viewed as nodes, and symbiotic relationships are represented as connections.

In 2002, the Israeli scientist Uri Alon and his colleagues at the Weizmann Institute performed a computer analysis of the architecture underlying 10 unrelated biological networks, including two species of cells (from different phylogenetic kingdoms), one completely described brain with 252 neurons, and seven very different ecosystems.10 Although the physical meanings of nodes and connections are entirely different in cells and brains, Alon found that cell networks and the brain network have the same architectural design which optimizes the flow of information among component parts. In other words, in all three organismal cases, components really are working for the good of the "whole" organism.

The architectures of all seven ecosystems are similar to each other, yet strikingly different from the biological networks found in cells and brains. In each eco-case, information flow among component parts (individuals of different species) is suppressed to a greater extent than expected from chance alone. This empirical result makes sense in theoretical terms because when every organism is a potential victim of a new parasite or predator species, it pays not to advertise yourself. There are exceptions, of course, in isolated instances of mutually beneficial symbiosis. But the clear implication is that different species do not work for the good of the whole community.

In fact, the natural world hews closer than any modern democracy to Adam Smith's laissez-faire model of human economic activity. Nature has no central authority of any kind to which species are beholden. Organisms don't abide by any rules of competition, and no safety net exists for losers. Through rational analysis alone, anyone able to accept the idea that a complex and "vibrant" economy can evolve in the absence of a unified spirit should also be willing to accept the idea that complex ecosystems can evolve in the absence of any overarching multi-organismal spirit of any kind. Yet, at an emotional rather than a rational level, non-scientists and scientists alike can sometimes be led astray by the holistic conceptualization of Mother Nature's creatures living primarily in peaceful harmony with each other.

If neither scientific theory nor scientific facts provide support for a coordinated Gaia super-organism, we are faced with two questions. First, whose interests are organisms working for if not Gaia? Second, how does an emotional attachment to the spirit of Mother Nature color one's views concerning the morality of using biotechnology to genetically alter plants and animals for the benefit of humankind, or the biosphere itself?

Visit Lee Silver's website at www.leemsilver.net

References
1. P. deMenocal et al., "Abrupt onset and termination of the African Humid Period: Rapid climate responses to gradual insolation forcing," Quaternary Sci Rev, 19:347-61, 2000;
2. R. Kunzig, "Memories of a lush Sahara," U.S. News & World Report, Oct. 13, 2003.
3. M. Claussen, "On multiple solutions of the atmosphere-vegetation system in present-day climate," Global Change Biol 4:549-59, 1998.
4. M. Claussen et al., "Simulation of an abrupt change in Saharan vegetation in the mid-holocene," Geophys Res Lett, 26: 2037-40, 1999.
5. Greenpeace, The Cause (accessed on July 12, 2004, www.greenpeace.org/international_en/campaigns/intro?campaign_id=3993).
6. C. Arthur, "Tilt of earth's axis turned Sahara into a desert," The Independent, Sept. 8, 1999.
7. A. Maton, Ecology: Earth's Living Resources, Annotated teacher's ed., Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1993.
8. The dictionary available with the 2001 Macintosh version of Microsoft Word provides two definitions of symbiosis: (1) a close association of animals or plants that is often, but not always, of mutual benefit; (2) a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship between two people or groups. The Oxford American dictionary defines symbiosis as an "interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association, typically to the advantage of both."
9. The 335 students included in the survey were classified by gender (152 males, 155 females), and by area of major (118 science, 83 humanities, 84 social science, and 50 other). In answer to this particular question on multi-organismal souls, 16% of both males and females responded yes (B), 23% of men and 35% of women responded "I am not sure" (C), and 61% of men responded no (A).
10. Detailed schematic diagrams of the molecules and interactions within two unrelated species of single cell organisms have been determined: yeast with 686 nodes and the human gut bacterium E. coli with 424 nodes. To date, the complete architecture of a brain has been determined in only one species: the one millimeter long soil worm with 252 neuron nodes. Network diagrams have been determined for seven distinct ecosystems including both land and water habitats. R. Milo et al., "Network motifs: Simple building blocks of complex networks," Science, 298:824-7, 2002.
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Comments

Avatar of: Claudine Torfs

Claudine Torfs

Posts: 1

July 10, 2006

Excellent article, but I wished you had defined what you mean by "soul". People have very different ideas about its definition. Same thing about God. When people ask me if I believe in God, I always ask them to define the concept. Then I can tell them, no I do not believe in what you just described.\n\nBut thanks for your excellent article.
Avatar of: Bill Crane

Bill Crane

Posts: 2

July 10, 2006

Wonderful article; a timely reminder that irrationality is bipartisan.\n\n\n
Avatar of: Philippe Anker

Philippe Anker

Posts: 1

July 10, 2006

I think the author mixes two different mothers. Physical mother nature, the mineral planet with it's volcanoes and earthquakes, the astronomic planet with it's capricious angles of rotation, without forgetting falling meteorites and the living mother nature that tries to survive to all these changes. In spite of the dreadful strangling fig tree, rain forests can and have maintained a remarkable equilibrium for many thousands of years which have been destroyed by mankind in less than a hundred. Symbiosis is a fact that has allowed the evolution to progress from archobacteria to the modern cell (see Lynn Margulis that the author seems to discard a bit too easily). Of course mother nature is a nasty mother but competition is not the only factor of evolution. The soul question can not be answered with certainty but why has an algae collaborated with a fungus and why do some birds have helpers at the nest?
Avatar of: Dan

Dan

Posts: 40

July 10, 2006

I've always wondered why some people assume that "Mother Nature" gives a flip about mankind's existence and that somehow MN will protect us from the effects of our actions. Reading other books by Dr. Margulis (sp?) I have some idea of her feeling that Gaia is self-regulating, but why should we assume that it is maintaining some sort of homeostatic state?
Avatar of: Steven King

Steven King

Posts: 1

July 10, 2006

Without using the term, Gaia, I nevertheless teach life-science and health-science students that the biosphere is a thermodynamic machine, which converts "high-energy" photons seen as visible light into "low-energy" photons felt as heat in our armpits. The difference in energy between these photons is essentially the driving force of the Gaia super-organism. Thus, from sunbeam to Gaia's armpit, each organism, niche, and symbiosis exists to "promote" the relentless down-hill, entropy-expanding flow of energy through the biosphere.
Avatar of: Tom O

Tom O'Connell

Posts: 1

July 11, 2006

Clearly; 'good' and 'bad' relate to the impact of the inevitable changes that charcterize 'nature,' which; so far as I can tell, is completely impersonal.\n\nAlthough we now know man isn't the only cognitive species, it's clear that human cognition allowed us to quadruple our numbers in the last century and our energy 'needs' now threaten cataclysmic climate change; even as population density and modern transportation make us uniquely vulnerable to new epidemics. \n\nWalt Kelly was right; we are our own worst enemy...\n
Avatar of: Apothecary_01

Apothecary_01

Posts: 1

July 11, 2006

Should stimulate some discussion and thought about our biosphere. The tendancy to anthropomorphize systems and organisms has almost always led to poor and inaccurate conceptions about them.\n\nExcellent source for classroom discussions.
Avatar of: David Bump

David Bump

Posts: 15

July 11, 2006

It is no surprise that when "Science" stepped outside of the Christian framework that produced it and took upon itself the role of discovering everything about the universe, even into the indefinite (now set at something like 13.7 billion years) past, that people (including many still claiming to be Christians) would abandon Christian ideas such as the existence of human souls, and at the same time reject unsatisfying "scientific conclusions" and teachings such as that there is nothing (in a meaningful sense) in or beyond the universe except matter and energy. \n\nOr, to put it another way, if there is indeed nothing but an evolutionary "struggle to survive" that is in turn nothing more than the existence of chance collections of matter which happen to survive or form approximate copies of themselves, then people are free to say either that some aspect of the process ("the ecosystem," "Mother Nature," "Humanity") is important, perhaps all-important or most important; while others are equally validated in saying that none of that matters, let's enjoy what we've got and forget about the future of humanity or the global eco-system. Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die -- along with all of our ideals of nobility, love, disgust at "selfish" philosophies and concern for future generations.\n\nThat's what the "scientific fact" of evolution really teaches us, and its no surprise if people who happily use it to bash Christianity still don't want to face up to that bleak conclusion, but prefer to dig up dead religions such as Gaia worship in either "New Age" form or under a thin veil of "science" -- or make up new ideas like "the Force."

July 11, 2006

i donot think Gaia adherents view Gaia as beneficial. Gaia is. (Lynn Margulis herself stated that She is a Bitch. Interestingly so are ancient pagan Goddesses like Isis and Ishtar, come to think of it or at least Gilgamesh thought so.) Mother Earth is the metaphor that implies the common origin and inter-connectivity of all life. Any one species that puts very high pressure on non-renewable resources puts itself in danger. Given the fact that our own technology is essentially an extended phenotype, it is also part of nature. The real problem the world faces is the unimaginative way in which we try to impose technological monocultures which threaten to change the strands of the web into drastically new pattern in which our species and related existence may not have a place. Thus Biogas rather than LPG cylinders may be preferred by scientifically tempered person. Yet vested interests (coupled with business lobby) may label him or her as Luddite. The important point is not to stereotype and approach issues with open-mind or as Buddha would have told and as H.H.Dalai Lama tells us -to tread the middle path. After all none wants our species to be the tumour cells of Gaia.
Avatar of: V Amalan Stanley

V Amalan Stanley

Posts: 1

July 11, 2006

It is really a discursive article, well written. The question is pertinent about Gaia. It could be extended or in other words understood by a simple analogy when somebody refers 'New York or Mumbai never sleeps' what constitutes New York or Mumbai? Similarly, it is with mankind that makes you question 'what man? from which part of the globe.
Avatar of: peakcrew

peakcrew

Posts: 1

July 11, 2006

Towards the end of the article, Silver states that "...no safety net exists for losers...". This is not correct - intelligence is the safety net. Human beings have been consciously fighting 'Mother Nature's' bitchiness for a long time now, and will continue so to do, despite the neo-Luddite attempts to "return to nature".

June 16, 2010

The "spiritual left" is merely asking scientists to use the precautionary principle - they are not anti-science. They are against the misuse of science and the containment of the egos of arrogant scientists who actually believe that we can have computer models that can help us determine whether a green Sahara is better for the biosphere! We can't even stop oil from gushing out of the Earth at a depth of 5000 ft and we're going to use biotechnology to change the biosphere?! Western technology/global society has devastated this planet in less than 2 centuries and that's who you want us to trust? You've got to be kidding!
Avatar of: Ellen Hunt

Ellen Hunt

Posts: 199

June 16, 2010

I don't think that Gaia is properly represented in this article. But the article does ok with a certain popularization of Gaia. Mythically, Kali is the most accurate description of nature. \n\nI am reminded of a zen teacher who asked a student to research who everyone around him (and the student) had been in past lives. The student gave a presentation, whereupon the zen teacher asked, "So. What is the difference between being deluded into thinking you were someone in a past life, and being deluded into thinking you are a someone in this one?"\n\nIn the end, what is, simply is. The great miracle is that anything exists at all, and that we seem to be here, all us "someones", that there are things we interact with, that atoms and light ARE.
Avatar of: Charles Campbell

Charles Campbell

Posts: 1

June 16, 2010

I'm not on the religious right and I've never gone with the idealistic left's view of humans. When I hear the left's perspective over the years, I have often half-jokingly said: in reality we humans are merely parasites on the skin of the earth.
Avatar of: Steve Summers

Steve Summers

Posts: 28

June 16, 2010

This is the second time round for this or a similar article. Apart from the details and descriptions this article gives which could be considered accurate, to make a condescending case `against' the `spiritual left' but which implicitly includes many who do not identify with either left or right and have no concept of this spectrum, is really just setting up a straw man and destroying it. Scorn in well dressed language seems a misuse of intellect and not a good justification for a treatment of the topic. One can make a case against scientists or anyone by illustrating limitations in any one person, group or era. To understand the "Mother" concept of Nature enough to be able to critique it one must probe deeper into the other side of the human psyche rather than depend solely on intellectual perceptions. Or if this proves too difficult without training one should go to the `experts' who best understand the concept. For the most part scientists of the conceptual West, including many Indians, Chinese, etc., have never interviewed, for example, a yogi who has eaten nothing for 40 or 60 or more years (and has thus proved his/her remove from scientific understanding). Yeah...they do exist and can be quickly found with a little internet searching. Try "Prahlad Jani" for example. It's OK...you don't have to wear oche clothes and carry a trident to expand your understanding or at least respect and reduce your contempt.\n
Avatar of: Alison McCook

Alison McCook

Posts: 68

June 16, 2010

This is a 2006 feature we're running again, part of a promotion of our archives, which are free to all for a limited-time-only. Enjoy!\n\nAlison McCook\nDeputy Editor
Avatar of: Daniel Dvorkin

Daniel Dvorkin

Posts: 20

June 16, 2010

... the way the religious right has taken over the Republicans, let us know. In the meantime, any attempt to claim that one is as bad as the other is an absurd false equivalence. Nature-worshippers may sometimes be personally irritating, but they don't get elected to major office and they're not setting policy. Meanwhile, people who believe that the earth is 6000 years old do and are.
Avatar of: vic norris

vic norris

Posts: 1

June 17, 2010

The idea that Nature is a dragon is common in popular culture (e.g. http://www.myspace.com/alaincarli ). Work on network analysis, whilst intensely interesting, does of course merit reading with both openness and scepticism (see Lima-Mendez G, van Helden J. 2009 The powerful law of the power law and other myths in network biology. Mol Biosyst. 5: 1482-93).
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

June 17, 2010

Say it ain't true!
Avatar of: Augustus White

Augustus White

Posts: 7

June 21, 2010

Response to Daniel Dvorkin: \n\nI've paid significant (although not huge) penalties to political spiritualists of both flavors. Based on those unenviable experiences, I encourage you to look, for example, at the political developments after the Asilomar Conference of 1975. Both sides jumped on that one, but it was primarily the Democrats. In post-Watergate America, they called the tune. Thirty years later, this kind of silliness looks like a Republican thing, but it isn't. \n\nThe lesson of the past few centuries is that any party with a controlling majority, anywhere, is very likely to attempt to trump science with politics. Usually, the more control, the more outrageous it becomes. \n\n--Toby White\n

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