3.3. Approaching Mystery

Our refusal of the ecological conversation arises on two sides. We can, in the first place, abandon the conversation on the assumption that whatever speaks through the Other is wholly mysterious and beyond our ken. This all too easily becomes a positive embrace of ignorance.

I do not see how anyone can look with genuine openness at the surrounding world without a sense of mystery on every hand. Reverence toward this mystery is the prerequisite for all wise understanding. But "mysterious" does not mean "unapproachable." After thirty-two years of marriage my wife remains a mystery to me in some ways a deepening mystery. Yet she and I can still converse meaningfully, and every year we get to know each other better.

There is no such thing as absolute mystery. Nearly everything is unknown to us, but nothing is unknowable in principle. Nothing we could want to know refuses our conversational approach. A radically unknowable mystery would be completely invisible to us so silent that we couldn't recognize it as unknowable.

Moreover, the world itself is shouting the necessity of conversation at us. Our responsibility to avoid destroying the earth cannot be disentangled from our responsibility to sustain the earth. We cannot heal a landscape without a positive vision for what the landscape might become which can only be something it has never been before. There is no escaping the expressive consequences of our lives.

Our first conversational task may be to acknowledge mystery, but when you have prodded and provoked that mystery into threatening the whole planet with calamity, you had better hope you can muster a few meaningful words in response, if only words of apology. And you had better seek at least enough understanding of what you have prodded and provoked to begin redirecting your steps in a more positive direction.

But claiming incomprehension of the speech of the Other is not the only way to stifle the ecological conversation. We can, from the side of conventional science, deny the existence of any speech to be understood. We can say, "There is no one there, no coherent unity in nature and its creatures of the sort one could speak with. Nature has no interior."

But this will not do either. To begin with, we ourselves belong to nature, and we certainly communicate with one another. So already we can hardly claim that nature lacks a speaking interior. (How easy it is to ignore this most salient of all salient facts!) Then, too, we have always communicated in diverse ways with various higher animals. If we have construed this as a monologue rather than a conversation, it is not because these animals offer us no response, but only because we prefer to ignore it.

But beyond this, whenever we assume the organic unity of anything, we necessarily appeal to an immaterial "something" that informs its parts, which otherwise remain a mere disconnected aggregate. You may refer to this something as spirit, archetype, idea, essence, the nature of the thing, its being, the "cowness of the cow." (Some of these terms work much better than others.) But without an interior and generative aspect without something that speaks through the organism as a whole, something of which all the parts are a qualitative expression you have no organism and no governing unity to talk about. Yet we find such unities on every hand.

Remember: the science that denies an interior to nature is the same science that was finally driven by its own logic (for example, in behaviorism) to deny the interior in man a reductio ad absurdum if ever there was one. The same oversight accounts for both denials namely, the neglect of qualities, which are the bearers of expression in both the world and the human being. Where there is genuine qualitative expression, something is expressing itself.

In his study of the sloth, Holdrege remarks that "every detail of the animal speaks `sloth.'" Of course, you cannot force anyone to see the unity of the sloth to see what speaks with a single voice (against standard evolutionary logic) through all the details because you cannot force anyone to attend in a disciplined way to the qualitative substance of the world. But this much needs saying: a science that long ago decided to have nothing to do with qualities is not in a good position to tell those who do attend to qualities what they may or may not discover. (The stance of some churchmen toward Galileo's telescope comes to mind.)

What those who are receptive to the world's qualities consistently discover is a conversational partner.



Devices of the Soul. Battling for Our Selves in an Age of Machines
Devices of the Soul: Battling for Our Selves in an Age of Machines
ISBN: 0596526806
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2007
Pages: 122
Authors: Steve Talbott

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