Towards Conscientific Research and Development
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Responsibility and care dimension
Contrasting epistemologies dimension
Science of consciousness dimension
Contemplative science dimension
Conscience-less science dimension
The principal handmaiden of the devastation of the planet over the past century
has been science and the technologies it has enabled. Immense resources have
been devoted to scientific research and development in ways that continue to
exacerbate this devastation --despite the minute proportion that may help to
alleviate it. Science has effectively done most to undermine sustainable development
-- whatever the claims for its role in remedial responses.
The action of science has been essentially irresponsible, primarily because
responsibility is not a phenomenon susceptible to scientific definition or consideration.
Movements for the social responsibility of science are necessarily social rather
than scientific. They are evoked and sustained by people of 'conscience'
-- again a phenomenon beyond the scope of science. Scientists, as scientists,
are completely unqualified (according to their own scientific criteria) to comment
on matters of conscience.
It is strange that science should have become institutionalized and professionalized,
with qualifications and career paths, and very large budgets (notably for mega
projects in fundamental physics or astronautics). It has become a social phenomenon
with scientists as a significant and reputable sector of the population. Why
is it ridiculous to even imagine suitably funded 'conscientific research'
by duly qualified 'conscientists'?
It is curious that 'science' should be embedded in 'conscience'.
This suggests several possibilities:
- that science, through its 'objectivity' and its historical struggle
against religion, has successfully marginalized conscience as 'subjective'
-- effectively as contra-science, or even anti-science
- that any consideration of conscience is a form of scientific quackery --
science by 'con artists' (or even science à la con)
- that science is a specialized branch of conscience, even though the latter
cannot be recognized by the former
The psychology of sustainable development points to the need for some form
of 'applied conscience' based on suitable 'conscientific research
and development'. This might encompass the following 9 complementary dimensions
or 'flavours'. Each is given with an indication of the strategic failure
to which its neglect has given rise.
Responsibility and care dimension
Here 'conscientific' is understood as 'science with a conscience'
(as suggested at the 2001 Children's Parliament [more]),
and reflected in the many movements towards social responsibility in science,
as exemplified by the Institute of Science in Society: science, society, sustainability
[more] or by the Union of Concerned Scientists
[more]. There is a need however
to distinguish between 'concerned scientists' (as a group of people)
and a 'science of concern' (as a discipline).
Caring science is perhaps exemplified by the work of bodies such as: Intermediate
Technology Group [more] founded by E F Schumacher;
Development Alternatives [more] founded
by Ashok Khosla; New Alchemy Institute [more];
or the ZERI Foundation [more].
This dimension is also reflected in a wide range of therapeutic approaches
that have been usefully contrasted with medical inspired primarily by pecuniary
advantage and distorted by commercial initiatives -- as admirably illustrated
by Medecins sans Frontières and the
work of Augusto Odone on adrenoleukodystrophy [more;
Lorenzo's Oil movie].
Strategic failure: Reluctant, minimal, token public investment in planetary
care at any level.
A con-figuration of sciences, as a new approach to inter- and trans-displinarity.
Something of this form is suggested by consilience as "a jumping together" of
knowledge by the linking of facts and fact-based theory across disciplines to
create a common groundwork of explanation. (see Consilience: the unity of
knowledge by Edward O Wilson. He believes that "a balanced perspective cannot
be acquired by studying disciplines in pieces, but through the pursuit of the
consilience among them." He advocates the pursuit of the unification of knowledge,
arguing that "to the extent that the gaps between the great branches of learning
can be narrowed, diversity and depth of knowledge will increase. Order, not
chaos, lies beyond the horizon." [more;
Strategic failure: Inability of scientific disciplines to enable effective
responses to the fragmentation of knowledge on which institutional funding and
professional careers depend.
Contrasting epistemologies dimension
This dimension recognizes that there are ways of knowing other than that associated
with science dominated by western mind-sets. But there are also epistemological
preferences within the western world. This variety has been articulated by various
authors [reviews], but
especially by Magoroh Maruyama [more].
Susantha Goonatilake (Toward a Global Science: mining civilizational knowledge,
1999) has argued that "the modern agenda has run out of steam" and it is through
the ways of knowing from non-western cultures that responses to the challenges
of the future will be found [more].
Linda Tuhiwai Smith argues that indigenous researchers need to transform research
methodologies (Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous People,
There is an increasing awareness of traditional ecological knowledge in relation
to the challenges of contemporary resource management [more].
Various institutes are now undertaking research into indigenous knowledge systems.
Missing perhaps, is any exploration of how to work with a variety of alternative
ways of knowing -- rather than simply to compare them. How can they be used
together in some way? This gives a special significance to 'con-science'.
Strategic failure: Arrogant inability to acknowledge, and honour, the
variety of knowledge systems vital to collective response to crises variously
perceived around the world.
Science of consciousness dimension
This is the application of scientific disciplines to the study of consciousness.
It is exemplified by the preoccupations of the: Scientific and Medical Network
[more], Institute of Noetic
Sciences [more], and various journals [more;
The attention given to potentially correlative "sciences" of consciousness
in Buddhist contemplative traditions by scholars adjacent to modern science
has introduced an entirely different conception of the metaphysical, which calls
to account not only the methodologies employed by contemporary neuroscience,
for example, but the entire metaphysical foundation on which it is grounded.
The philosophical collision of East and West signals the potential in modern
scientific discourse for relief from the current dogmatism and a heightened
awareness regarding those "physics" that stand "beside" or "beyond" objective
reality and ground our every thought. [more;
Strategic failure: Reinforcement of public denial of a vital new frontier
for humanity and young people -- consequently explored by default through pressures
in favour of substance abuse.
The extent to which there is some form of integrating resonance or isomorphism
between the structure of the reality scientifically perceived and of the conscious
perceiver of that reality; this has notably been a preoccupation of Francisco
Varela and others interested in 'enactivism' [more]
who seek 'to give an explicitly naturalized account of present nowness
based on two complementary approaches: phenomenological analysis and cognitive
neuroscience. " (The Specious Present: a neurophenomenology of time consciousness,
He provides a valuable review of Edmund Husserl's extensive philosophical studies
of "intimate temporarility", noting Merleau-Ponty's concern that "Time is not
a line but a network of intentionalities" (1945, p. 479). Varela's work on enactive
cognition presents a four-fold model of nowness based on flows and dynamical
trends. He concludes that neurobiological attributes and the phenomenology of
lived experience are interacting partners [more].
In a related vein, George Lakoff and Rafael E. Núñez (2000) have explored how
the embodied mind brings mathematics into being [reviews].
A website on Mind-ing Ecology focuses on making a strong connectivity between
ecological and psychological interests through constructive participation. Arising
out of the constructivist approach, the notion of participation is one which
underlines the freedoms of individuals to create their own ways of being constructively
constitutive of their own living environment.[more]
Strategic failure: Inability to give formal recognition to the self-reflexiveness
of knowledge intiatives, reinforcing the denial of personal implications that
distort many formal, 'objective', collective intiatives.
Contemplative science dimension
This is the approach associated with the contemplative disciplines of meditation
explored and practiced in different ways in many spiritual traditions in both
West (eg Catholic contemplative orders such as the Cistercians, Trappists and
Carthusians) and East (eg Zen and Raja yoga) . Its contemporary relevance, notably
with respect to sustainable development, is well articulated by the work of
the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society [more].
For the European medieval mind the appearances of things provided natural support
for the act of contemplation, the exploration of "inner space" by the development
not of material instruments but of faculties for spiritual perception in the
observer. The effect of nominalism was to eliminate the entire "vertical" or
"interior" dimension of reality -- the dimension of metaphysical form, final
causality, and divine providence -- and with that, virtually the last remaining
possibility of a contemplative science. With the loss of the sense of the world's
interiority, its rational coherence could only be maintained by supposing a
strict conformity with mathematical laws, imposed from without by the Creator
or else subsisting eternally without reason. The consciousness of the observer
was no longer recognized as an intrinsic part of reality, and was soon relegated
to the realm of the merely subjective, along with all those "secondary qualities"
that did not lend themselves to objective measurement. Science had been transformed
into a search for the mathematical models sufficient to account for the motion
and transformation of matter. Buddhism, for example, claims to offer a science
of the mind, a contemplative science more in tune with our times than ever,
since it deals with the most basic mechanisms of happiness and suffering. [more;
Strategic failure: Inability to establish the contemporary relevance
of subjective alternatives to dominant institutional logics, thus reinforcing
pressures towards substance abuse by default.
'Concupiscience' is used here to indicate a form of knowing conscious
engagement of the senses with one's environment in all its forms. In its dynamics
it echoes courtship and sexual congress -- themselves understood as mundane
or symbolic aspects of such knowing. Various disciplines explore this engagement
with the world, perhaps using other metaphors. Deep ecology is one example encompassing
both the effect the observer may have on the subject, and the effect of the
subject (especially the wilderness) on the observer, in an ongoing creative
relationship, which should be instructive and beneficial to both parties [more].
Tantra is another -- if the focus on energy [more]
can be meaningfully distinguished from the physical sexual practices (that are
the focus of most popular attention). Across cultures, the poetry of mystical
love is another [more],
as is the practice of natural magic [more].
In contrast, and in reaction to their perversions, for Christianity, 'concupiscence'
is closely associated with original sin; desire is concupiscence, therefore
sinful [more]. Augustine
taught that concupiscence was the essence of sin -- as the perverted desire
for lesser and temporal pleasures, especially the desire for the pleasures of
sex and marriage. Since concupiscence was associated with the conception of
every child, it was assumed to be the medium through which Adam's sin was passed
For Pope John Paul II (July 1980): Concupiscence 'limits interiorly and
reduces self-control, and for that reason, makes impossible, in a certain sense,
the interior freedom of giving. Together with that, also the beauty that the
human body possesses in its male and female aspect, as an expression of the
spirit, is obscured. There remains the body as an object of lust and therefore,
as a 'field of appropriation" of the other human being'. Curiously, the
'incorrect' spelling is frequently used on the web instead of 'concupiscence'
-- a term that has been deleted from newer versions of the Bible. The 'correct'
variant derives from cupiditas, a reference to Cupid, son of Venus (and
goddess of romantic love) and therefore is suggestive of a non-Christian, pagan,
Dionysian form of sensual love -- in contrast with a more insipid form obsessed
by human plumbing arrangements. This limited perspective has effectively provided
a conceptual contraceptive to science -- a kind of 'science-with-a-cup'.
Concupi-science should instead connote a conscious 'loving together',
'loving the whole', or a 'whole-body knowing of the world'
-- in contrast with a purely selfish love.
The orthographic confusion, even in translations of religious texts, is symptomatic
of the contrasting emphases. Without the 'i', 'concupiscence'
does indeed suggest an unconscious identification with the senses, whereas its
presence suggests a form of knowing unfortunately obscured and repressed by
Christian dogma supposedly designed to facilitate a subtler form of knowing
'beyond the senses'. 'Knowing' a partner, 'in the Biblical
sense' has thus come to imply the contrary of what might otherwise have
been the spiritual intention. It is the repression of this form of intimate
knowing of the world that has blighted human responses to sustainable development
-- as ecofeminists stress in sympathy with neo-pagans, who echo the insights
of indigenous peoples.
Unexamined habits of religious discourse lead to religious literalization and
death of symbolic sensibility, thus inhibiting the heightened consciousness
through which new opportunities might otherwise emerge (as argued by Sallie
McFague, Metaphoric Theology) [more;
Strategic failure: Exacerbation of confusionthat may be at the root
of the awareness that has ensured both misguided human reproduction and the
raping of a planet for which humanity's love has proven to be false.
Dialogue in its various forms has a long tradition of enabling the emergence
of new insight, notably in gatherings [resources].
'Socratic Dialogue' continues to be a theme of international events.
Plato's Symposium continues to stand as an archetype for what may be
The physicist David Bohm initiated an extensive exploration into dialogue to
In discussing the conditions for inter-paradigmatic dialogue, especially in
he social sciences, Kinhide Mushakoji (Global Issues and Interparadigmatic
Dialogue, 1988), argues for the need to move beyond the accepted limits
of formal logic: "Inter-paradigmatic dialogue - not only in natural but also
in social sciences - should be concerned not with the determination of who is
right or wrong in defining a concept one way or the other. It should rather
concern itself with the question of what part of the natural or social realities
are best approached by one or the other position. Two formally contradictory
definitions of the (natural or social) realities may be both relevant and complementary
in shedding light on different aspects of the same social realities. This is
why the logic of inter-paradigmatic dialogue cannot be bound by the laws of
Aristotelian formal logic: identity, contradiction, and excluded middle" [more].
Word-of-mouth remains a prime mode of transmission of knowledge, whether between
the generations, or in guru-disciple, and craftsman-apprentice relationships.
Its psychotherapeutic form is well-recognized in processes such as co-counselling.
A multitude of national and international events are held on the assumption
that knowledge can in some way be generated through such congress. Some of these
are deliberately designed as 'consultations' through which encounters
between different sectors of society aim to enhance insight into collective
Learning from doing or 'action research' is especially interesting
in this context. It can be described as a family of research methodologies which
pursue action (or change) and research (or understanding) at the same time.
In most of its forms it does this by using a cyclic or spiral process which
alternates between action and critical reflection and in the later cycles, continuously
refining methods, data and interpretation in the light of the understanding
developed in the earlier cycles. It is thus an emergent process which takes
shape as understanding increases; it is an iterative process which converges
towards a better understanding of what happens. In most of its forms it is also
participative (among other reasons, change is usually easier to achieve when
those affected by the change are involved) and qualitative [more].
'Appreciative inquiry' is a related approach [more].
Paulo Freire's pedagogy of 'conscientization' could also be usefully
associated with this dimension. It is the process of becoming aware of the extent
to which problems arise not so much from an individual's inadequacies, but rather
from the systematic discrimination against a social group which puts all members
of that group at a disadvantage. From that perspective our world, objects around
us, and facts as presented to us in their varied forms can be, and must be,
perceived in the entirety and complexity of their relationships. In doing this,
we can come to understand not only what they are and how they happen, but more
importantly, why they happen and who makes them happen for what reasons. In
conscientization, being, knowing, and doing are critically examined. Anything
and everything around us can be subject to critical investigation. Nothing can
be so hidden that it cannot eventually be exposed to the light of day, not even
oppression and injustice, which Freire struggled against throughout his life.
Conversations may also be seen as means of engendering the future [Judge,
1997]. A key issue regarding sustainability is whether the sustainability
of dialogue about it can itself be ensured [more].
Strategic failure: Inability to develop dialogue to a degree appropriate
to major territorial disputes, effectively justifying terrorism as an alternative.
Conscience-less science dimension
This is science seen, in Matthieu Calame's terms, 'as a ministration,
a preaching vocation, at the service of Science, and conceives the latter as
an irrepressible movement of man towards knowledge' that he describes as
'contemplative science'. It is to be contrasted with the predominant
mode of science 'as as a profession at the service of a range of aspirations
of social actors whose interests may well diverge' [more].
Ironically Aristotle originally distinguished three contemplative "sciences"
as mathematics, physics, and metaphysics (or ontology).
Strategic failure: Corruption of the inquiry process in the service
of vested interests insensitive to the need for new forms of knowledge potentially
responsive to the crises of the planet.
The experiential nature -- and lifestyle implications -- of these dimensions
emerges far more clearly and concretely in the range of studies assembled by
Darrell A. Posey (Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity: a complementary
contribution to Global Biodiversity Assessment, 1999) for the United Nations
Environment Programme -- as well as in the current work of Terralingua [more].
This multidimensionality of 'conscience' is a vital resource in response
to the interlocking strategic dilemmas of sustainable development [more].
It might be understood as a reflection of 'science' as now known into
a knowledge space of more dimensions. These intractable dilemmas do not lend
themselves to resolution using the conventional project logic by which they
are engendered. This has been well-demonstrated during the decade since the
Rio Earth Summit in 1992.
Paulo Freire and A. Faundez. Learning to Question. Continuum, 1989.