Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Book of Possibilities



Perhaps my favorite book on the state of our food system is Colin Tudge's Feeding People is Easy. Tudge a scientist and writer has been a regular contributor to the British publication, Resurgence, which I have written about recently. In that recent issue he has a short piece that introduces the reader to his newest book: Why Genes Are Not Selfish and People Are Nice: A Challenge to the dangerous Ideas that Dominate Our Lives

WHY GENES ARE NOT SELFISH AND PEOPLE ARE NICE Colin Tudge

From the Preface

     I have been writing this book in my head for more than sixty years. That is, I realized at the age of six that I wanted to be a biologist (although I don’t think I used words like ‘biologist’ at that time) for I was, as I think most budding biologists are, besotted by nature; by the feeling that life is endlessly absorbing but also that it is magical. It has the quality that the Lutheran theologian Rudolf Otto called ‘numinous’ – although I didn’t learn that word either, until very much later. I was lucky enough to be born at a time when excellent education was free, and went on to a school where science was excellently taught, and from there to ‘read’ zoology at a very old and cold university that had somehow managed to keep its spires above the encircling swamp, and there too the teaching was outstanding. But that was in the 1960s and we tended to pursue the ludicrous idea that all life could be reduced to physics, and physics to math, and that was the end of it.
     Yet, I never quite felt that that was the end of it. I always had an ill-informed but nonetheless powerful feeling that there is a great deal more to life and the universe than meets the eye – or can ever meet the eye, no matter how much science we may do.

From the Introduction

…I want to present a different view of life – compounded of ideas that in most important respects are completely opposed to the kinds of beliefs that now dominate the world as a whole. For we in the western world have misconstrued – well, just about everything: the nature of the universe, of life, and of our own human selves; the nature of truth; the nature of right and wrong. From these fundamentals the errors compound: we treat the world badly, we treat each other badly, we put tremendous store by ideas that are decidedly flimsy and afford the people who promote those ideas far too much respect. To be more specific, our politics is unjust, our economic system borders on the insane, our governments for the most part are not on our side, our science which should be our great liberator has become the handmaiden of big business, while religion is all over the place, fractious and narrow-minded where it should be all-embracing.
     …Part of the point of this book is to rummage through the basement: to explore the ideas of the modern Zeitgeist, and see if they really stand up. Most of them, I intend to show, do not. Many are just plain wrong, or at least need serious rethinking. But also, and much more importantly, I want to present the alternative views – which tend to be in complete opposition to what is now commonly believed, and yet are at least as likely to be true. I also want to show, as a not inconsiderable bonus, that the ideas that are actually true are not a jumble. Together they form a worldview that is perfectly coherent. furthermore – and this really is serendipitous – a worldview rooted in the ideas that are likely to be true could lead us to create a world that is truly convivial, which our descendants and our fellow creatures could enjoy for the next million years. They they could draw their breath and contemplate the following million.

Tudge is a terrific writer, whatever you think of his ideas. As the subtitle hints, the focus on ideas that dominate us fascinates me, as any frequent reader of this blog will  have observed. In the world of TEDx, "Ideas That Matter" Tudge's work here promises to take us into places where we have perhaps feared to tread. I'm raring to go after just a few pages this morning.

Minutes later as I was traversing the distance from home to office I heard the following report on the radio which reminded me of Tudge's work. perhaps there is hope that the 'dangerous ideas that dominate our lives' can be challenged... before it's too late.

This was from Michigan Radio, a State of Opportunity report on a school in Grand Rapids that emphasizes the environment and outdoor activity and the results of that on overall learning performance [Not available on website as of 7:00a.m. this morning but should be found here soon].