The nature of science is to question, so we must inevitably question science about its nature
The first definition that emerges for science, per Google anyway, reads as such:
The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.
Those last two words are rather operative in their respective (and combined) meaning, and they implore us to determine who the observer really is and/or what sort of motivation rests behind the experiment.
Science has done wonders for us — it dragged us out of the medieval barbarisms whereby we had been devoid of any true culture and any sophistication as a civilized species and it has proliferated our lifespans so much so they’re we’re currently birthing centenarians — for these and many other achievements, we can’t thank it enough.
However, there’s a line that science has not only stepped over but trampled beyond recognition, a fine line that can be considered the silver lining of our ever-materializing existence. Science has externalized everything; in its insatiable thirst for knowledge and efficiency, validation and assurance, it has bygone anything that can’t be measured twice and cut once. And while this seems a necessary staple in the side of any advanced and sophisticated society, it also creates a certain susceptibility of science to abuse by the corporate dollar.
Thousands of years worth of traditional scientific enterprises — from folk medicine to naturalistic and philosophical introspection — these hadn’t been fortified by science in the way that they could have been. Rather, they had been cast aside in favor of profits and are, fortunately, only now beginning to posture themselves as worthwhile after all.
As we look deeper into the motivations behind any scientific endeavor, it’s becoming all the more clear that science has possibly drifted too far from nature and the nature of the mind, of natural processes and the natural methods that human curiosities are carried upon — it is only now correcting its course to come back under the realization that they may be more imperative than first realized.
Coined by Australian sustainability professor, Glenn Albrecht, the term psychoterratica is meant to encapsulate the idea of a trauma caused by our mounting distance from nature. Over the last few decades, the world has experienced somewhat of a bounce back in its departure from the sanctum of the wilderness.
One need not look much farther beyond the steel and concrete jungles of cities and smog-laden skylines, disillusioned with cubicles and weary of chemical concoctions. Holistic living is all the rage as we begin to rage against corporate deception and artificiality.
Though, this isn’t just about nature — that physical sanctum we can resign ourselves to whenever need be. This is also about the natural workings of the mind, of self-discovery as a form of science in itself. Philosophers, mystics, theologists, monks — science has externalized any value away from traditional inner exploration.
With the luxuries and comforts of entertainment, with climbing obesity and depression rates, agoraphobia and anxiety, it should be so that people are becoming increasingly reclusive and unaware of themselves, with no need to step outside and no motivation to look inside. Except, we see the beginnings of something remarkable happening —the exact opposite.
People are yearning to get out more than ever, are developing a reverence for the natural world like never before and a keen interest in folk medicines, survivalism, off-griddery and, wander lustfully equipping themselves with an evergreen lifestyle. Simultaneously, they’re also waking up to the thought of self-actualization. The trends evidence this —meditation, nomadic minimalism, naturalistic holism, a fervent thirst for Eastern philosophy that’s been culminating since the 60s. Headspace, Mind Valley, TED, Skillshare. People are exploring the depths of their consciousness, thinking like they haven’t thought before and exercising their creative passions much more abundantly.
Moreover, people are shaking off the crumbling shackles of civil obligation as perceived by the traditional edifices of social expectation. We see the gradual eradication of cannabis prohibition and the slow acceptance of other natural remedies like Psilocybin-based therapy or CBD-assisted treatment, of looking to the natural powers of herbs and herbal supplements to improve psycho-physio states of being. We see a thirst for the rekindling of our reverence for the natural world and the increasing ugliness of reproduction and synthetics. We see also the vehement adoption of esoteric, metaphysical, spiritual or naturalistic modes of discovery, a gradual realization that fulfillment sprouts from within and that we can transcend the physical reality around us in one way or another.
The effect of these ebbing paradigms is two-fold — a backtrack towards most of that which science has too-soon dismissed and a reconsideration of the intangible and the immeasurable, if not just a temporally trendy appreciation for it.
Sure, it may be rooted in the 60’s psychedelic flower power movements or in the 80s with Japanese forest bathing and eastern introspection — that revitalized interest in spiritual sweat-lodge experiences or transcendentally ritualistic meditation, wholly holistic living. More than ever, hordes of sojourners are traveling to the jungles of the Amazon to let ayahuasca help them self-actualize; even more are practicing micro-dosing and exploring hallucinogenic forms of treatment, all the while keeping a close eye on the products they use and consume, of keeping their minds safe-guarded against the pollutants that form garbage-islands or devastate coral reefs.
Consumers are routinely betrayed by the corporations that grew up alongside them — finding that foods are becoming increasingly synthetic and household products, even the innocent ones like air fresheners and baby powders, are potentially filled with carcinogens. Weary of waking up atop a crane without any recollection of getting there because of a sleeping pill or facing a laundry list of side-effects from an anti-depressant, people are listening more closely to mental health advocates and exploring alternatives, often going back to the fundamentals of introspection, existentialism, meditation, soul-searching, exercise, nutrition counselling, etc.
After all, such is nature. To look within in order to adopt the interface through which we see reality. To adopt a healthy perspective and to maintain a constant effort to self-analyze rather than emulate an icon we see on TV screens or get caught up in matters that are wholly insignificant to our life purpose. In this way, science doesn’t account for the mind-magic at play in life. Sure, it can detect and observe the various neurotransmitters are that being blocked or activated, enhanced or diminished, but it can’t dissect epiphany or the euphoric waves of self-discovery, whether or not it’s based in psychoactive substances or introspective efforts.
Think of it this way: anxiety, stress, and depression — unless there’s a neurochemical imbalance at play, these are all natural human responses to our environment or to our circumstances. We’re meant to resolve these matters in a natural way — either by working on our perspective or on the circumstances around us or a multitude of other inconvenience ways. To subdue these emotions and to numb the mind and dull the sense is a questionable tactic that fringes the unnatural.
The human epoch is filled with trial and error and, ostensibly, we seem to be becoming weary of clinical side-effects, of over-indulging on artificiality or placing too much of an emphasis on distractions that don’t equal any fulfillment. Despite the fact that a science-backed initiative may seem to float atop good intentions, we’re now much more likely to critically assess any ulterior motive driving it forward.
We’re growing concerned over artificiality — and for good reason. With deceptively trademarked terms like ‘Natural Flavor’, scientific synthesis is opening itself up to closer scrutiny for the sole purpose of profit margins.
Take the white willow tree as an example. Cultures all over the world used the bark of this tree as a means of pain relief, revering it for its anti-inflammatory benefits. As modern science developed, it confirmed the pain-relieving effect of white willow bark, due in large part to the wide range of phenolic glycosides that are found within it, of which the most important is salicin — the precursor to its synthetic successor, aspirin. Here we see the white willow bark unifying old and new, modern and folk, supposed and actual.
Though, the dollar sign drove things further. Aspirin became trademarked, as did a number of synthetic variants. And so the natural ways by which we could resolve a problem — be it inflammation or pessimistic dejection — become covered by the dust of scientific zeal. This alone is not necessarily a problem; it’s until we begin to see that this zeal is wholly profit-driven that the dark picture emerges.
It’s this profit-driven thirst behind science, demanding efficiency, results, perpetual cost-reduction. In this kind of environment, corporations are able to leverage their influence and take the reins of control over human discovery away from those with genuine, uncontaminated curiosity. We know this but we don’t often consider the fact that it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Natural folk remedies, tried and tested for thousands of years across all parts of the world are reduced to laughable hokum; holistic and meditative approaches — a staple of Eastern philosophy and medicine, are considered pseudo-science at best and are only now slowly starting to be re-discovered.
Don’t get me wrong — some anti-depressants are absolutely necessary, some folk remedies are truly unreliable if not dangerous and we wouldn’t really be seeing a skyrocketing life expectancy rate if it wasn’t for the benefits of scientific endeavor. I’ll much rather buy aspirin than take hours to prepare willow tree bark. It’s not the accomplishments of science that are to be judged — it’s the increasingly questionable motivations that rest underneath.
Where would we be if science took the route of genuine curiosity, of pure motivation and uncorrupted ambition instead of the corporate meandering that led us to where we are today? Truthfully, we would possibly be decades back in terms of progress, but as mentioned above, trial and error are part of science itself.
Everything we’ve done so far falls under the definition of science. Changes are happening — across an entire spectrum of human existence. These changes are perhaps rooted in the increasingly fierce resentment towards corporate greed, or maybe in our slow realization that we don’t have much time left with nature as we know it, or maybe because we’re finding that fulfillment is something that we achieve naturally through our own inner modes of self-discovery.
Thus, we should amend the definition of science to realize that it’s long become weaponized to favor the interests of profit-seekers, not truth seekers. While a large portion of science remains rooted in genuine curiosity and innocuous intent, more and more of it is apportioned towards corporate interest. And while this is an effective way to propel the process of human discovery, it undoubtedly comes at a cost that may not be felt until we look upon the natural landscapes of our progress from the apex of our journey.