Towards An Animistic Science Of The Earth by Stephan Harding
Coordinator and Senior Lecturer of Holistic Science at Schumacher College
At first sight, science and animism appear to be irreconcilable. Whereas over the last four centuries science has held sway with the view that nature is nothing more than a vast lifeless mechanism that can be understood and controlled by means of experiment and detached analytical reasoning, ‘animists’, in their various guises (including shamans, poets, priests and philosophers and psychologists), have for millennia professed an intuitive knowing of nature as a great soul, mind or psyche; as alive, redolent with purpose and meaning; as saturated with mysterious creativity.
Clearly, modern science and technology have brought us many benefits and are without doubt among humanity’s greatest intellectual achievements, but they have also unwittingly contributed to the massive global crisis we are now facing. In essence, science has made us clever, but it has not made us wise. If we are to have any chance of surviving the looming catastrophe that science and technology have inadvertently helped to create we will need more wisdom, not more analytical capacity, of which there is a plentiful supply. And so, along with a growing number of fellow scientists, philosophers and activists, I believe that we now urgently need to develop a new approach in science that integrates analysis with wisdom, fact with value and nature with culture (ref to Brian). We think that this can be done by replacing our demonstrably unwise (and until recently, unconscious) assumption that the world is an inert machine with the arguably wiser and more accurate metaphor that the world is a vast animate (and hence ‘sentient’) being. Thus, strange and trite as it may seem, the survival of civilisation itself could in part depend on a fusion of science with animism. Furthermore, given the very real dangers that seem set to befall us as a result of our impact on the earth’s climate, there is perhaps no better way to begin this work than with an animistic reformulation of our scientific understanding of the very earth itself.
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