What does it mean, I wonder, to be a human living in harmony with the more than human world?

As scientific understanding has grown, so our world has become dehumanised.

Man feels himself isolated in the cosmos, because he is no longer involved with nature and has lost his emotional “unconscious identity” with natural phenomena. These have slowly lost their symbolic implications… no voices now speak to man from stones, plants and animals, nor does he speak to them believing they can hear. His contact with nature has gone, and with it has gone the profound emotional energy that this symbolic connection supplied.

C. G. Jung, Approaching the Unconscious

Our civilisation privileges a particular mode of perception over others, one which we can perhaps describe as rational, logical, intellectual, objective and detached. This mode is explicit in a scientific view of the world. Critical to a scientific ontology is belief in objective, material truth which can be determined through the application of a sufficiently rigorous scientific method. In order to obtain this truth, however, all things (including humans) must be reduced to an object so that they can be studied using this method. Humans perceived in this way become objectified and dehumanised. This scientific belief system has been accepted so universally in our culture that we are frequently unable to discern with any clarity the manner in which our thoughts and perceptions are influenced by it’s implicit view of the world because thinking that seeks to discern such a influence is itself subject to the very effect that it attempts to perceive1.

This website tells the story of my first tentative steps on a journey of exploration of a different way of seeing the world. On this voyage of discovery I hope to develop a deeper relationship with the the world of nature – the more-than-human world – perhaps like the one which Jung describes. In the process I hope to become more human – more in contact with my basic, primordial humanity. To my modern, western, rational brain it seems like a profoundly strange and “primitive” thing to talk to and believe it’s possible to hear the voices of animals, plants and stones. Therefore on this journey I must make the choice not to privilege this scientific mode of perception, though I can scarcely choose to ignore it entirely. So, what are my options?

If, like Heidegger, I adopt an ontological position of plural realism 2, one which posits that many different points of view can be simultaneously valid, then the act of accepting one view does not mean I have to reject the other. Heidegger did not reject the idea that the view of nature that objective science represents is valid, but was clear that this objective position is “only one way in which nature exhibits itself”3. By moving away from single track interpretations, I can move away from a belief in an ontology where there is a single truth and in so doing it may be possible to “bring into play a new emancipation of meaning in otherness rather than sameness”4.

I believe that the task I am undertaking here is important not only to my own personal development as a human being but to our continuing survival as a species. The scientific belief system which we take for granted contains some profoundly problematic assumptions and needs to be tempered with other perspectives lest we completely forget what our responsibilities are as humans living in a more than human world. Understanding the psychological and ecological dimensions of these problems is no easy feat – indeed it is something I am only just beginning to be able to grasp myself and so much of the work of this website is to begin to add some important details to what is still only a sketch. I hope critical readers will be able forgive the mistakes and wrong turns I make on this journey. I welcome lively discussion and constructive criticism so please comment on my blog posts or contact me directly with feedback.

How can I begin to describe the problem?

References

  1. Abram, D. (1997) The Spell of the Sensuous. New York: Vintage Books. p.115.
  2. Dreyfus, H. (1991). Being-in-the-world: A Commentary on Heidegger’s Being and Time, Division I. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. pp.262-263.
  3. Heidegger, M. (1977). The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. New York: Harper & Row. p.174.
  4. Van Deurzen-Smith, E. (1997) Everyday Mysteries: Existential Dimensions of Psychotherapy. London: Routledge. p.85.

Notes from a journey towards ecological consciousness