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Excerpt from Dreams

Hypersimplicity (p. 132)

From chapter "Science"

One of the problems with the scientific, materialist, instrumentalist, mechanistic perspective is that it is based on hypersimplifying complexity. This hypersimplification inheres in its reduction of infinitely complex beings into objects. This culture—and this is true whether we’re talking about Christianity or science—perceives itself as separate from and better than all others, and one of the ways it maintains this conceit is by labeling itself as having unique access to truth, and all others (whether it’s Christians, as in [Sam] Harris’s case, or more usually indigenous people, or nearly universally in this culture, nonhumans) as ignorant and/or static.

As I’ve been writing the last few paragraphs, I’ve been thinking about an indigenous language I read about that doesn’t have a way for speakers to declare what another being is. Members of this culture have no way of saying, “That is a tree,” but rather they say, “I call that a tree.” Their language implicitly reinforces (and causes speakers to recognize) their understanding of the roles of humility and faith in how they perceive the world, and discourages, even disallows, statements implying certain knowledge about the nature of reality, which they cannot know (and which [Richard] Dawkins, [Sam] Harris, et al., pretend they know).

As much as I love bashing CEOs, political leaders, vivisectors, rapists, pornographers, corporate journalists, scientific philosophers, and so on, and as much as I understand that in each case they must be stopped (from committing atrocities in the first four cases, and in providing the philosophical [sic] support for atrocities in the last three), none of this alters my understanding that CEOs, political leaders, vivisectors, rapists, pornographers, corporate journalists, and scientific philosophers are not cardboard cutouts, but rather are complex beings with complex motivations.

Tonight I watched several bears who live in the forest they and I share. They were outside my mother’s house. One bear is a mother my own mother has known for years, who through those years has consistently brought her babies to meet and get to know my mother. This year the mother bear had twins. These days when my mother goes outside, one of those twins routinely approaches to lick her hand. The other twin is skittish, and tonight decided to race up a tree, then stay there. Later in the evening the bear I mentioned earlier, who two years ago was shot in the leg, came up. The skittish twin stayed in her tree, and the mother and other twin retired to a tree nearby. The other bear seemed sick. She moved slowly, uncomfortably, even when she had no weight on her long-injured leg. Her eyes were dull. I do not know what is wrong with her. My mother did not walk outside when this bear was there. She never does. Why? As my mother says, “This bear is angry, and she has good reason to be.”

My point? These are not generic bears. These are not equation bears. They are simply bears, with all of the complexity that implies. These are individuals, who make choices, who have different forms of knowledge, who have different personalities. Unless we wish to show ourselves both arrogant and ignorant, we should not project a truncated hypersimplicity onto them.

What happens when complexity is hypersimplified? Well, what do you think is happening to the oceans? This culture is hypersimplifying oceans’ complexity. What happens when members of this culture cut down forests? They hypersimplify complexity. Compare the complexity of a prairie to that of a tilled monocrop. Compare the complexity of a living river to that of a series of reservoirs. Compare the complexity of a world with tens of thousands of cultures to one where I can watch a news program from across the world delivered by someone wearing a tie.

This culture destroys complexity. It does this not only because perception must simplify complexity (because our ability to perceive and to think is limited by our ability to perceive and to think, as opposed to reality, which is not limited by our ability to perceive and to think, but rather only by reality itself), but more importantly in great measure to facilitate exploitation; it is more difficult—morally, existentially, and physically—to exploit another when you respect that other’s complexity, that other’s beingness.