The Drama of the Cosmos
clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to hange, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's
going to happen next.
Gilda Radner (1946 - 1989)
People used to know this.
Once we were, as a people, more aware and more connected to the natural idea of processes, more connected to the natural world and to nature where processes are obvious and visible everywhere, all the time. Morris Berman may have described it best in his book "The Reenchantment of the Earth." He said, "The cosmos, in short, was a place of belonging. A member of this cosmos was not an alienated observer of it but a direct participant in its drama."
It is worth exploring the concept of disconnection further, as it may help explain why it seems so easy for people to get impatient and want a quick fix to their challenges in life.
DISCONNECTION AND A VERY BRIEF HISTORY OF THE WORLD
Many scholars believe that we ceased being direct participants in the drama of nature a long time ago, as long as 7,000 to 10,000 years ago, when humans stopped their nomadic existence and began settling in large groups that eventually became cities. Many mindsets were formed during this period, and a new relationship with nature became firmly entrenched in our culture. Nature became the provider of resources, the wild land to be tamed, and the prize to be owned.
Chellis Glendinning, in her ground-breaking book “My Name is Chellis and I’m in Recovery from Western Civilization,” says that the domestication of animals 10,000 years ago may have been a turning point in our disconnection from the natural world.
A long time ago, when our connection to the natural world was more easily seen, people fed themselves mainly by subsistence farming, growing only enough to feed their families. The size of the population was kept down by high infant mortality and a natural spacing of births caused by the suppression of ovulation during the three to four years women would breastfeed their children. Today breast feeding, if done at all, is done for 3 to 4 months on average.
Around 5000 BC, the invention of the metal plow literally changed the face of the Earth for all time. Crop productivity increased, irrigation assisted agriculture began, and families began producing more food than they needed. The excess food had to be stored and sold.
The population began to increase because of the larger supply of food. Women began breastfeeding less, since they had to spend more time in food production. People cleared increasingly larger areas of land and began to control and shape the surface of the Earth to suit their needs.
The domestication of animals changed forever our relationship with the other life forms on this planet. Author Chellis Glendinning says that the relationship with the natural world changed from one of "respect for and participation in its elliptical wholeness to one of detachment, management, control, and finally domination." She feels that the domestication of animals and the transformation of our earthly neighbors into food resources created a condition where the human psyche maintains itself in a constant "state of chronic traumatic stress."
Urbanization began as people began to settle around the large farms they created. Specialized occupations and long distance trade developed. The trade in food and manufactured goods made possible by agricultural based urban societies created wealth and the need for a managerial class to regulate the distribution of goods, services and land. Separation of people by economic class was now firmly in place.
As ownership of land and water rights became a valuable economic resource, conflict increased. Armies and war leaders rose to power and took over large areas of land. A new class of powerless people, the slaves, minorities, and landless peasants, were forced to the hard, disagreeable work of producing food.
Forests were cut down and grasslands were plowed to provide vast areas of cropland and grazing land to feed the growing population of these emerging civilizations and to provide wood for fuel and for buildings.
The massive land clearing altered many habitats and hastened many species to their extinction. Machines that could harness energy by burning fossil fuels increased the average energy resource use per person. The number of people needed to produce food was decreased, so our connection to the land through the growing of food was steadily eliminated.
Our eating habits, our living habits, the way we treat animals, the way we let technology into our lives, and the way we take in our information about the world dramatically affects our connection to the planet and to ourselves.
Even the technological choices we have made are determined by cultural forces in play at the time. The steam engine is an interesting example of this. A working steam engine was created around the time of the birth of Christ by Hero of Alexandria 18 centuries before James Watt, the recognized inventor of the steam engine, built his. No one was very interested the first time it emmerged, though, since slaves were already doing the jobs. It wasn't until slavery was outlawed in England in the 18th century that the need for such a device attracted investors.
The most recent statistics from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey indicate that only 21 percent of infants are being exclusively breastfed for four months. This percentage drops to 16 percent by six months of age. More and more parents send their children to daycare, denying them the comfort, security, and connections that can only come from being with a parent.
Our disconnected ways are firmly entrenched in society and even our birthing and child rearing practices continue this tragedy. Unnecessary Caesarian births are at an all time high.
Few children are allowed to become comfortable with nature, and parents are quick to scold them for tracking dirt (precious earth) into the house. Bugs are killed on sight, and most children grow up fearing nature.
We have many obstacles to overcome if we are to reestablish ourselves as dynamic participants in the natural world and to restore an appreciation for the time it takes to realize a dream.
THINGS TAKE TIME
Many of today’s DVD prophets do us a great disservice by not being clear about how long it took them to realize their dreams. When you attend their costly workshops or buy their books, you get the idea that once they understood how to think or perceive their lives correctly, all of a sudden, in the blink of an eye, their dreams came true. However, that way of looking at the outcome doesn’t acknowledge the lengthy, often decades-long process that preceded the burst of insight or epiphany that was followed by their success. The fact that only a tiny percentage of participants from those workshops realize their dreams is a testament to this reality.
Scott Berkum, in his book “The Myths of Innovation,” reminds us that throughout history, we have often only been told of the end result, the epiphany, and not about the process that led there. Nearly all textbooks teach about end results and few consider the process. Teachers reinforce this omission by teaching to tests, to outcomes, and to course objectives. It’s not their fault, since their salaries and jobs depend on their students’ test scores which is often tied to whether or not a school will receive federal and state funding. There is no time for process, only answers to the test questions.
But the reality is that successes, discoveries, and bursts of insight are not isolated events that come on suddenly, but are the result of all the thinking and hard work that has come before. They are the final piece of a complex puzzle. All the days, months, and years of thinking, sorting, and occasional confusion that went before the answer was realized becomes a distant memory. I wonder if this tendency to forget the pain of the process is programmed into our species as an evolutionary survival trait. It is well-known that hormonal influences allow the memory of the intense pain of childbirth to fade in most women. If not, who would want to go through that again?
Today we have few opportunities to explore processes. Mass education emphasizes the result and the destination, not the journey. History is taught only in terms of what happened when, not how it happened, why it happened, and what forces of society and the individual were at play at the time to make it happen. Students are tested to give the right answer, and they are taught that there is only one answer when in reality there are usually many. Critical thinking and reasoning are rarely taught in school and our children often turn out to be one dimensional, unreflective thinkers, content to get their answers from the TV news, newspapers, or the latest television or DVD evangelist.
Our schools are bastions of homogeneity, stripped of creativity, dumbed down so that the 25 children in the room will act as expected. Any who don’t, any child who exhibits creative, out of the box thinking or a learning style that rejects the prepackaged pace of school curricula today is often deemed a “problem” who requires “special education.” They are usually removed from the class, sometimes medicated, and always ostracized for being different.
Have you ever wondered why there are so few big thinkers in the world? With the greatest number of people ever on this Earth, why don’t we seem to have more people like Galileo, Kepler, Helen Keller, Isaac Newton, Emilia Eherhart, Einstein, or other great philosophers, scientists, and theologians? Do you think it’s because all the big discoveries have already been made? That is unlikely.
Could it be because most of the big thinkers who discovered the way the Earth, our Solar System, and the universe works were somewhat nuts themselves? In fact, they not only thought outside the box, they lived outside it as well.
Some had mental illnesses, including depression and bi-polar disorder. Isaac Newton, the discoverer of gravity and the inventor of calculus, all before age 27, was a sickly, lonely and morose child. He would have been a “special ed” kid for sure. Would he have been able to make the discoveries he did if he has lived under today’s school system? I doubt it. He likely would have been ridiculed, isolated, and medicated.
Ferris tells us that this man, who through painstaking observation and research wrote the Three Laws of Planetary Motion that survive intact to this day, had no computers, no telescopes for the majority of his life, and no Internet.
Yet this brilliant thinker was a man of great social ineptitude, who, with his food-stained clothes, made a living casting horoscopes for European princes, but was rarely paid. Immanuel Kant would later describe Kepler as ''the most acute thinker ever born.''
But Kepler, the most acute thinker ever born, had a life plagued by sorrow. His six year old son, Friedrich, was killed by smallpox carried by soldiers fighting the Thirty Years War. His wife grew despondent and died soon after of typhus. His mother, accused of practicing witchcraft and barely acquitted (her son tried to defend her and did an awful job), died six months after her release. Shortly after, Kepler wrote about a dream he had of a trip to the Moon where he looked back and saw the continents of Earth. His descriptions are remarkably like what we later saw when Apollo astronauts photographed the Earth on their way to the Moon.
Kepler died on November 15, 1630 at the age of forty-eight after falling ill with a fever on a trip to collect some of the money an emperor owed him for horoscopes he had cast. On his deathbed, it is said he did not talk, but pointed his finger first at this head and then at the sky. His epitaph was of his own writing:
I measured the skies, now I measure the shadows
Skybound was the mind, the body rests in the Earth.
His grave was trampled under by war and has since vanished.
How many of the world’s potentially great thinkers, philosophers and theologians are locked away in mental institutions or hopelessly medicated by a culture who no longer understands – and in fact fears - process, creativity, and bursts of insight?
Tycho Brahe, a contemporary of Kepler whose precise observations, made just with his naked eye, enabled Kepler to make the discoveries he did, was described by Ferris as
". . . an expansive giant of a man who sported a belly of Jovian proportions and a gleaming metal alloy nose -- the bridge of his original nose had been cut off in a youthful duel. Heroically passionate and wildly eccentric, he dressed like a prince and ruled his domain like a king, tossing scraps to a dwarf named Jep who huddled beneath the dinner table."
Tycho died of a burst bladder at a formal dinner in his honor because it would have been impolite to excuse himself. But the accuracy of his naked-eye observations rival those made with future telescopes and computers.
These great thinkers, these men and women who observed and defined the laws of the universe and the movements of the planets, were disturbed individuals by our Western standards. Imagine them in a public school of today. How long would they last before they were removed as troubled children and classified as special education kids and medicated?
No new Keplers or Galileo’s or Tychos or Hildegards? No wonder.
There are educational models that address these issues and do their best to help children reach and honor their potential. Most are rejected and even ridiculed by mainstream public education, but the success of their graduates provides plenty of evidence of their effectiveness.