I was looking at a picture that I had taken a few years back, of Thumb Butte, just outside of Prescott, Arizona, when the phrase “natural order” popped into my mind. What made this stand out (because words, phrases, and images are popping into my mind all of the time – it is like Tourette’s of the imagination) was the fact that it came to me flagged as ironic. What struck me as ironic, gazing with affection at one of my favorite places in the world, was how seriously disorderly nature really is. That’s what is so lovely about it – it shatters our boundaries with promiscuous abandon. And the only way we prevent such shattering is by murdering nature outright – which, of course, we are also working on with rather more energy and enthusiasm than we ought.
The natural sciences look to distill, while the engineering and technical enterprises look to impose, order from and upon Nature. And there are certainly good and thoroughly ethical reasons for all of these valuable activities. We live longer, healthier lives (certainly on average) than we ever did in the past. Further, the quest for knowledge is, at least arguably, one of the most singularly noble pursuits available to our imaginations. But I’d like to say a little about the negatives, from my version of a Whiteheadian perspective. Now, I am not anti-science; when I’ve criticized contemporary disciplines (see below) it is for their abandonment of real science. Nor am I any manner of luddite; I am composing this missive on a computer, I intend to post it on the internet; I’ve a library that would be the envy of even the wealthiest individuals from a century ago on my Kindle; even as an introvert, I have connections to the outside world far beyond the imaginations of all but the luckiest persons from previous centuries. But there are costs, and we ought to acknowledge that there might be such a thing as “too much.” I began wondering, looking at that picture of Thumb Butte, if that too much might be related to our simplistic notions of “natural order.” Continue reading