Academic journal article Journal of Multidisciplinary Research

Pathologies of Knowing (Epistemology) and Practice (Pragmatics): How to Recognize and Avoid Them in Conservation and Education

Academic journal article Journal of Multidisciplinary Research

Pathologies of Knowing (Epistemology) and Practice (Pragmatics): How to Recognize and Avoid Them in Conservation and Education

Article excerpt

Introduction

"Thanks for opening my eyes to what I did not know they were closed to."

-Student

"This class has had an unprecedented impact on my thought processes, career intentions, and overall approach to many problems and situations."

-Student

"I can honestly say this course has been my most transforming one during my time here [at Yale]."

-Student

Gregory Bateson, a world-class scholar, invited me to dinner in downtown Osaka City, Japan, in the fall of 1971, and I readily accepted as I knew of his great accomplishments. I made my way to his hotel from my nearby research site on Mt. Arashiyama, the former Imperial Gardens, where I was observing the social behaviors of Japanese snow monkeys. We talked about his decades of work in anthropology, psychiatry, semiotics, systems dynamics, cybernetics, and philosophy, which were legendary. Importantly we talked about his upcoming book, Steps to an Ecology of the Mind (Bateson, 1972). We had a long pleasant evening.

At that time, I was not capable of fully grasping the significance of all we talked about. Since then I have accrued decades of experience, traveled widely, and visited with many people who also attend to the subjects we talked about. I went on to read his 1972 book, later his Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity (1979), and a great deal more by many diverse authors. Since my evening with Bateson, I have benefitted from my world travels, a lot of practical and intellectual work, and personal existential and cognitive development, and now have a much better understanding of what Bateson was educating and writing about - people's epistemological errors and how to correct them. I have gained from many thoughtful people who are deeply concerned about our current social and environmental dilemmas, which are symptoms of our epistemological crisis (e.g., Lasswell & McDougal, 1992). Our central task is to better understand ourselves, the natural world, and the relationship between these two (Orr, Lansing, & Dove, 2015). Our current epistemological pathology is our choosing the wrong units for knowing, understanding, and action, according to Bateson. The proper unit of our attention and survival should be ourselves (and other organisms) in our (and their) environment - contextually. Put most simply, we (our knowing, thinking, and practices) are out of sync with ourselves and the environment and are growing more unconnected and destructive over time. Our goal should be to sync us with ourselves existentially, each other socially in common endeavors, and with the environment, including all other life. This "syncing" is both a philosophic and pragmatic challenge.

As I see it, the problem that we all face is an epistemological problem and it is little understood by most individuals or our society. The implications of this claim are hugely significant to colleges and universities, society, and all people. This essay comes out of my working life as a field behavioral ecologist, university professor, and change agent. Decades ago, I came to see the epistemological error as described in this essay. This recognition led me to an intellectual puzzle that has become a subject of a personal quest - what kinds of knowledge are honored in academia and what kinds of competence are valued in the agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and professional practice? I address these matters and implications in five short sections in this essay.

The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) is one of my major conservation study areas, so I will use it as an example (Clark, 2008) of the intermixed environmental and educational challenge. The GYE is a globally-known 24-million-acre region that is an important ecosystem. Yellowstone National Park, established in 1872, is at the heart of the GYE (2.2 million acres) and is a rich laboratory for epistemological and pragmatic inquiry and learning. The GYE is a human construct and a working model, and an experiment that is slowly organizing for integrated management policy. …

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