Monday, December 04, 2006

Backyard science...human beings throughout thousands of years of evolution had been dependent on accurate observations of their natural environment for survival. Knowing where food could be found, knowing how and when to take shelter from dangerous circumstances, and knowing how to make the objects necessary for subsistence and safety, were crucial factors that no single individual could ignore. Today, we can live in the shelter of our homes and offices without a thought to the weather outside, and without regard for the external consequences of the choices we make in living our lives.

These circumstances allow us to live completely out of harmony with the natural environment without ever knowing that we do so, and without ever anticipating that we or future generations of our kind will pay a severe price for it. We might feel far superior to the men and women who walked the earth hundreds or thousands of years ago, but they lived in harmony with the natural environment in a sustained symbiotic relationship dependent on acute attention and observation. At this point, in comparison, we live thoughtlessly, with our minds wrapped in meaningless internal dialog which we escape only to enter the the unreal worlds of computer screens and television.

You don't need an expert to tell you the truth of this. You can know it from careful observation of your own life.

At one point, in the early age of science, British Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort developed a scale with which any common seaman could take useful measurements of wind velocity based on directly observable phenomena. The Beaufort Wind scale was an example of a framework for scientific investigation that had the potential of directly increasing the part played by the common man. For those not at sea, there is a land version that allows an observer to note the wind velocity based on the movement of leaves, branches and trees, or simple things like the way the smoke rises from a chimney.

In the same manner and for the same reasons, that we need a restoration of the arts in the lives of common men, women and children, we need a restoration of science and direct scientific observation as a major component in modern life.. Modern schooling and the mass media take investigation from our hands and from our control. We watch the weather channel to learn the temperature rather than taking the few necessary steps to learn and observe for ourselves. At the same time, we allow "experts" to deceive us and control our lives while stripping away our own motivation to learn and create. An interesting example is the "debate" about global warming. While all legitimate scientists have come to agreement about the causes and dangers of global warming, our American president and a conservative conspiracy have painted the view that it is controversial and subject to debate. The tragic circumstance is that so few Americans at this point have enough involvement in science to understand the truth of the matter.

If you would like to know more about Sir Francis Beaufort and the Beaufort Scale, I suggest reading "Defining the Wind" by Scott Huler (2004) Three Rivers Press, New York. Then take some time to be outdoors and begin some scientific investigation in your own back yard. You won't need to be an expert to begin. The Beaufort scale is a good place to start.

The photo above is of a sloyd knife and some basic sloyd models shown on a workbench at Nääs. There is a very clear connection between the kinds of attention learned in craft work, the kinds of observations required, and the principles of scientific observation. By not making things we become very stupid about the world.

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