Thursday, October 14, 2010

you know

There are many discussions around the ether which show the inability of some to see that the unseen forces in our world exist in science as well as indigenous beliefs. At the quantum level traditional science breaks down and the rules that seem to govern us don't work. Unseen forces act on even more unseen forces, in fact it is pretty well all unseen forces. To delve into this area requires a belief in unseen forces that exert influence sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly, sometimes in proximity and sometimes over vast differences. Are those unseen forces really any different than indigenous unseen forces? Maybe it is the personification aspect which makes it hard to handle, my point is that there are more similarities than differences between science and indigenous knowledge than people would like to acknowledge or even accept.

Taniwha Scales


Mike said...

Hi Marty. I think you'd need to be clearer about what you mean by 'traditional belief' and 'traditional science'. Maybe it's my attitude speaking, but I have trouble seeing how to compare them. More than a century ago people started to notice that Newtonian physics didn't properly explain what was being seen, but all that meant for scientists was that they were able to develop a better understanding of how everything worked, and hence we got Special and (eventually) General Relativity that explained most of the problems quite nicely, and held up under lots of scrutiny. Any (normal) scientist would be happy to admit there are plenty of things not understood, and there's nothing wrong with saying so. Otherwise why bother with science?

People in a scientific mindset don't really believe in unseen forces, at least not when acting as scientists. They develop theories and ideas that'd explain what can be observed, then search for ways to gather more information to prove if the ideas are right or wrong. It's all going on in areas like String Theory right now. Maybe such an idea is similar in some ways to a traditional indigenous story that could be created to explain something not understood. I think maybe the big difference between science and traditional belief though, or at least the stereotypes of the people involved, is an active willingness by scientists to search for reasons to disprove theories and ideas, and accept they're wrong if and when it happens, thus strenghtening the ideas that can't be disproved no matter how much people try.

Marty Mars said...

kia ora Mike

Good points I did go off a bit half-cocked and was being loose and a bit provocative as a reaction to the various responses regarding the Te Papa issue. The beliefs are mocked and discarded immediately as mumbo jumbo, witchcraft and so on. The standard alternative offered is the rational, empirical scientific view where everything can, apparently, be measured and quantified. The term unseen is a bit funny but i was trying to view it from a different angle, in terms of the forces exist, but are known by their effects. And if we use the term unseen it is interesting because isn’t just about every force unseen? - from gravity to whatever, we see the effects of those forces.

It is a very good point about the contestability of science verses traditional beliefs. Can the experience, where maori beliefs have been continually tested, over many generations before colonisation and of course even more massively since, be discarded because they don’t fit the dominant world view? Isn’t science actually about knowledge and increasing our understanding of the world, based on the using methods and tools within an accepted system defined by standards? The essence of science is searching for meaning, the ‘accepted system’ changes, evolves and is influenced by everything in society. I don’t see science as the next evolutionary step up the ladder from traditional knowledge.

With the Te Papa issue we had an immediate knee-jerk reaction, by some people, of discarding and mocking a set of beliefs without knowing anything about them really. And often the rejoiner offered was that it was not scientific, it was magic. Our insatiable desire to know more is admirable, the tools we have developed to understand our world are amazing and the people working to further all our knowledge deserve praise. The challenge of understanding with imperfect instruments that somehow interpret waves while we hurtle through the cosmos is immense and exciting – I’d like us to accept the value of using many knowledge systems to form more complete pictures and interpretations of what is seen and what is unseen.

Thanks so much for your comments Mike I really enjoy them.

Evelyn Cook said...

Must belief and science necessarily be seen as conflicting? While it is common to hear western science challenge indigeneous knowledge because oral transmission is seen as less valid than written. It was always my understanding that much science is based on positing a theory then proving or disproving it by testing both in laboratories or in 'the wild'. Observation and recording is a key tool.

How then do you assess the observation of bird, weather, currents etc that allowed our Polynesian forebears to 'know' that there were other islands and to use celestial markers to navigate their way around the Pacific. Modern science wouldn't believe First Nations stories until people like Thor Heyerdahl and others proved it. Some Western scientists have made their reputations and a good living off such studies but where is the recognition that traditional knowledge was correct all the time.

A really good example is Te Īka a Māui. The old people knew that the North Island resembled, roughly speaking, a stingray. They had no cartography, they couldn't look down from the air or from outerspace, yet they 'knew' centuries before Europeans and their technology arrived. Was it merely belief as some would have it, or was their observational science and oral transmission every bit as valid?

I think that it is true that all belief systems have created stories and rules for life to explain what was to them, the inexplicable. A good example being the Jewish dietary laws. The fact that they lacked the 21st century knowledge to explain why the rules worked, doesn't invalidate their beneficial effect on the health of the people of that time. Now we know about trichamonosis, salmonella etc. Does that make those dietary laws merely belief or good, if primitive science.

Many of the cultural conflicts that occur between traditional iwi practices and those of non-iwi come from a lack of respect for differing world views. We still live in a country where there is an expectation that the only way to do things is that of the colonisor.The reality is that iwi have done a very good job of adjusting to the ways of the dominant culture. However, there is less respect and accommodation in reverse.

Cultural imperialism is still alive
and well in 2010. It is just dressed in the clothing of 'equal rights for women' rather than the 'Christian values' of the 19th century.

What I suppose that I am trying to say is that there is more than one path to knowledge just as there is more than one belief system that gives comfort to its adherants and we will truly have grown as a society when those differing world views are accepted as having equal validity.

(Any incoherance may be attributed to netball fever!)