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Friday, 1 October 2010

Omniscience -- and the need for human explanations

Just came across the extract below -- from a talk by Colin Tudge in 2007.  It struck me as having relevance for the  Stonehenge / bluestone transport debate.  As I have indicated several times in this Blog, it's intriguing that Herbert Thomas, and most archaeologists since then, have been intent upon looking for HUMAN explanations  as to how the bluestones got from A to B.  The very idea that nature could have had something to do with it seems to be outrageous to some people -- it's almost as if the natural / glacial explanation demeans mankind in some way, or questions man's ingenuity and capacity for innovation.  Hmmm.......

So that's why I have been trying to express my own sense of wonderment about the incredible, extraordinary, beautiful world of ice -- and why I have been trying to impress upon readers who might not be geomorphologists or glaciologists that glaciers have been, and are, capable of removing mountains, and redistributing them in ways that we still do not fully understand.

" ............ some scientists seem to think that if only they do enough research, they will understand it all one day. Omniscience is just over the next hill. Politicians and industrialists are happy to take them at their word, and continue to knock the world about, felling forests and draining marshes and re-directing rivers in the cause of economic growth, as if they knew what they were doing.

They should take note, first of all, of John Stuart Mill, who pointed out 150 years ago that however much we know, there might always be something around the next corner that we haven't thought of. All we can be sure of at any one time is that we don't know it all. Furthermore, we can never know how much we don't know. It's Catch 22. It would be logically impossible to gauge the extent of our own ignorance unless we were already omniscient.

They should also take note—we should all take note—of the core morality of all the great religions. All their great founders stressed that morality rests on attitude; and the attitudes that really matter, on which all else is founded, are those of personal humility, respect for other creatures, and reverence for nature as a whole.

Science is wonderful and it is necessary, but it has not brought us omniscience and it never can. In fact its greatest lesson has been that nature is beyond our ken. To approach nature with humility and to treat it with respect and reverence isn't just a matter of piety. It is the only sensible survival strategy."

Colin Tudge, 2007

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