Science Vs. Rewilding

I can personally remember feeling ill at the thought of libraries, full of books containing knowledge gained through science, burning down during the collapse of civilization. All that knowledge… lost forever… I used to believe that despite all the terrible things civilization has created, science still felt worth saving. For some reason I saw science as “pure,” something even civilizations mythology could not ruin. I don’t feel that way anymore. In fact, these days a wry smile forms on my face and my eyes begin to sparkle when I envision of a world without science.

Did science exist before civilization? Well, that depends on your definition of science. According to the American Heritage Science Dictionary, the word Science means:

The Investigation of natural phenomena through observation, theoretical explanation, and experimentation, or the knowledge produced by such investigations. Science makes use of the Scientific Method, which includes the careful observation of natural phenomena, the formulation of a hypothesis, the conducting of one or more experiments to test the hypothesis, and the drawing of a conclusion that confirms or modifies the hypothesis.

We know now that the modern human has not evolved substantially in at least 100,000 years. Our modern brains have no significant difference than our hunter-gatherer ancestors. But our lineage of hunting goes much further than that. Evolution occurs mostly through the methods animals use to acquire food; natural selection. Hunting and gathering has long had an impact on hominid evolution. Since animal tracking forms the critical aspect of hunting, the ability to track animals most likely shaped the modern mind.

According to Louis Liebenberg, Author of The Art of Tracking: the Origin of Science,

Speculative Tracking involves the creation of a working hypothesis on the basis of initial interpretation of signs, a knowledge of animal behavior and a knowledge of the terrain. Having built a hypothetical reconstruction of the animal’s activities in their mind, the trackers then look for signs where they expect to find them.

In contrast to simple and systematic tracking (following clear prints, such as in sand or snow), speculative tracking is based on hypothetico-deductive reasoning, and involves a fundamentally new way of thinking.

Liebenbergs description of tracking falls quite nicely into the definition of science we see above. The term “tracking” generally refers to following animal tracks. But to most indigenous peoples I have studied, the word tracking did not reach its limits in animal prints. According to Tom Brown Jr., the Apache did not differentiate between “tracking” and “awareness.” Martin Prechtel has said that in his indigenous Guatemalan village they referred to their shamans as “Trackers.” In the film The Great Dance; a Hunter’s Story, we learn the Kalahari Bushmen’s word for “tracking” means the same thing as “dancing.”

More Liebenberg:

I would argue that the differences between the art of tracking and modern science are mainly technological and sociological. Fundamentally they involve the same reasoning processes and require the same intellectual abilities. The modern scientist may know much more than the tracker, but he/she does not necessarily understand nature any better than the intelligent hunter-gatherer. What the expert tracker lacks in quantity of knowledge (compared to modern scientists), he/she may well make up for in subtlety and refinement. The intelligent hunter-gatherer may be just as rational in his/her understanding of nature as the intelligent modern scientist. Conversely, the intelligent modern scientist may be just as irrational as the intelligent Hunter-gatherer. One of the paradoxes of progress is that, contrary to expectation, the growth of our knowledge about nature has not made it easier to reach rational decisions.

Despite “progress” in science and technology, the people of civilization have never ceased their destruction the planet. I would say that looks like a very strange paradox indeed, for such a great culture of “rationalists” it seems extremely “irrational” to destroy the land you depend on for survival. Why have hunter-gatherers thrived for hundreds of thousands of years, while civilization has decimated the entire planet after only 10,000? It seems the “technological and sociological” differences might have a much more fundamental weight than Liebenberg presumes.

By looking at the sociological differences between agricultural subsistence versus hunter-gatherer subsistence we can see just how different science and tracking really appear.

Hunting and gathering by its nature demands participating in the ebb and flow of life. You have no more control over your food supply than any other animal. That doesn’t mean that you do not encourage the biodiversity of your area, it just means that you don’t spend all your time tilling a mono-cropped field. Sometimes the gods grace you with food and other times not. But rarely do you go hungry. A hunter gatherer does not have to work at having a deep relationship with nature; it simply shapes how you behave. Tracking shapes the hunter-gatherers reality, deepening their connection with every track.

“The first track is the end of a string. At the far end, a being is moving; a mystery, dropping a hint about itself every so many feet, telling you more about itself until you can almost see it, even before you com to it. The mystery reveals itself slowly, track by track, giving it’s genealogy early to coax you in. Further on, it will tell you the intimate details of its life and work, until you know the maker of the track like a lifelong friend.”
-Tom Brown Jr. in The Tracker

“Ultimately, tracking an animal makes us sensitive to it–a bond is formed, an intimacy develops. We begin to realize that what is happening to the animals and to the planet is actually happening to us. We are all one. Tracking and reading sign help us to learn not only about the animals that walk around in the forest–what they are doing and where they are going–but also about ourselves. For me, this interconnection is survival knowledge and the true value of tracking an animal.”
-Paul Rezendes in Tracking & the Art of Seeing

“When you track an animal – you must become the animal.
Tracking is like dancing, because your body is happy – you can feel it in the dance and then you know that the hunting will be good.
When you are doing these things you are talking with God.”
-!Nqate Xqamxebe from The Great Dance: a Hunters Story

Tracking requires empathy for that which you track. Many anthropologists like to use the word “anthropomorphize.” They say that trackers project their own feelings onto the animals, thereby identifying with them both psychologically and emotionally. This helps the tracker speculate the animals next moves. I disagree with the ideology that humans project their emotions onto animals and would say that they let in the animals feelings the same way you would let in music. When I hear different kinds of music, it makes me feel differently. You could hardly say that I have projected my feelings onto sounds. But rather, sounds enter me and teach me things about how I feel. When you step on a dogs foot and hear it whimper and than feel bad for the dog, you have not projected feelings of pain onto the dog. You have observed a dog in obvious pain and have opened your sense of empathy for the dogs feelings.

Tracking requires humility. Not just toward the animals you track, but to the gods who provide you with you food. Hunter-gatherers must have humility. The word humble comes from “humus” which means, “close to the earth.” Empathy helps you to realize we all live together in the same space (plants, animals, rocks, clouds, etc.) as a big family. The realization that we all live as a family gives us humility as part of a very large creation. You must have humility when your life rests in the hands of this natural community.

Liebenberg wrote something else I thought sounded interesting:

Religious belief is so fundamental to the hunters’ way of thinking that it cannot be separated from hunting itself. At the end of the day, if they have had no luck in tracking down an animal, !XO hunters will say that the greater god did not “give” them an animal that day. If, on the other hand, they have had a successful hunt, they will say that the greater god was good to them.

Agricultural Societies (civilizations), on the other hand, attempt to exert control over food supply by growing it yourself. While every other living creature leaves their food supply in the hands of fate, or the gods, or nature, agricultural people remove themselves from this web. A separation from the community of life must be made, so that biodiverse forests can be turned in mono-crop for human consumption. This breaks a fundamental law in nature that no living thing takes more than it needs to survive. In order to maintain this kind of controlling relationship to the land you must separate yourself from it, psychologically and emotionally. In his book Welcome to the Machine: Science, Surveillance and the Culture of Control, Derrick Jensen explores the values that drive science:

This might be a good time to examine the etymology of the word science. It comes from the Lating scientia, from sciens, which means having knowledge, from the present participle of scire, meaning to know, probably–and here’s where it gets exciting–akin to the Sanskrit Chyatis, meaning he cuts off, and Latin scindere, to split, cleave. The dictionary tells me there’s more at shed (presumably the verb, as in dog hair, not the noun, as in a shack).

So I look up shed, which derives from the Middle English for divide, separate, from Old English scaeden, akin to High German skeiden, to separate, which brings us back to our Latin friend scindere, and from there to the Greek schizein, to split.

We are all familiar of course with the root schizein because of it’s famous grandchild schizophrenia (literally split mind), which is a psychotic disorder characterized by a loss of contact with the enviornment, illogical patterns of thinking and acting, delusions and hallucinations, and a noticeable deterioration in the level of functioning in everyday life.

Science, scire, scindere, schizein, schizophrenia. A mind spit into pieces.

It should come as no surprise, at least to etymologists as well as regular people with too much time on their hands, that the words scientia, translated to mean knowledge, and science, the main means by which people in this culture are presumed to gain this knowledge, have at their core the notion of splitting off, separating from. After all, the word separate comes from the Latin for self, se, meaning on one’s own (which springs from the belief and promotes the fiction that a self is independent of family, community, landbase), and parare, “to prepare.” In this culture it is separation that prepares a person for selfhood. It is separation that defines us. Separation has become who we are. It is the illusion of separation, as we shall see, that keeps us enslaved.

Surveillance, and this is true for science as well–indeed, this is true for the entire culture, of which surveillance and science are just two holographic parts–is based on unequal relationships. Surveillance–and science–requires a watcher and a watched, a controller and a controlled, one who had the right to surveil or observe–with knowledge, truth, providence, and most of all might on his side–and one who is there for the other to gain knowledge–as power– about.

These unequal relationships require a split, a separation. There can be no real mixing of categories, of participants. The lines between watcher and watched, controller and controlled, must be sharp and invioble. Humans on one side, nonhumans on the other. Men on one side, women on the other. Those in power on one side, the rest of us on the other. Guards on one side, prisoners on the other. At Pelican Bay State Prison, where I taught creative writing for several years, I once received a chiding letter from my supervisor after I innocently answered one of my inmate’s friendly question as to what I was doing for Thanksgiving: to even let him know I was spending it with my mom was to make myself too known–too visible–to this other who must always be kept at a distance.

If this sound a lot like the pornographic relationship, that’s because it is. Pornography–cousin to surveillance, and bastard child of science–requires the same dynamic of watcher and watched, the same dyad of unchanged subject gazing at an object to be explored at an emotional distance, the same relationship of powerful viewer looking at powerless object. (This may explain at least some of the popularity of pornography: people who are powerless in every other aspect of their lives get to feel some power as they look at these pictures and read the attached text.) When I read that we must not “make scruple of entering and penetrating into these holes and corners,” I wonder whether I am reading a letter by the father of science Sir Francis Bacon to King James I (describing how the methods of interrogating witches–that is, restraint and torture–must be applied to the natural world), or whether I’m reading a description at When I read about using the “Mechanical arts” (that is, once again, restraint and torture) so that “she betrays her secrets more fully…than when in enjoyment of her natural liberty,” am I still reading Bacon’s words on science, or have I landed at

These unequal relationships–insofar as we can even call them relationships–must be oppositional. Predator and prey must not be working together for the benefit of both of their communities, and for the benefit of the land. Instead, from this perspective–this perspective based on selves being separate, and knowledge being gained through splitting off–predator and prey (and this applies to humans as well) must be locked in an eternal battle, good against evil, a battle that ends in Armageddon.

As civilization plays out it’s grim endgame, and as those in power move ever closer to their ultimately unattainable goal of absolute control (through absolute surveillance), converting in their efforts the wild both inside and out to devastated psyches and landscapes, it might well be past time to reconsider the premises that underline much of the destructive way of being (or not being) and perceiving (or not perceiving). For in many ways, perception shores up the whole bloody farce.

The College of Mythic Cartography also spoke of this in Vivisecting “the flesh”, and the cult of science:

Our Science has propelled an immense productivity in scientific knowledge precisely because it does not consider the universe alive; it proceeds at a meteoric pace, because it need never ask permission of a dead universe, it need never pause in its breakneck progress. Because of this, it will also never know certain things, and actually will perpetuate a blindness of other relationships. The Scientific process actually acts as a ceremony that further inculcates the worldview of a dead universe.

Control lies at the heart of civilization. Control over food supply means control over the earth. This culture, by its very nature, lacks humility towards the earth. You cannot show empathy towards those you dominate.

Lets play with Liebenbergs quote, and flip it around on itself:

Religious belief is so fundemantal to the scientists (civilizationists) way of thinking that it cannot be separated from science (civilization) itself.

At the end of the day, if the greater god did not “give” the civilizationists any food they will ignore the gods and “take” whatever they want. I think this shows us what Liebenberg meant when he said modern scientists could act irrational too. This means that information gathered by scientists has lacked empathy and humility. Two fundamental aspects of our very evolution as tracking, hunter-gatherers. It also means the information gathered by scientists will not be used with empathy and humility. How could it?

Tracking connects us to oneness and humility. Science separates us from that which gives us life. Although the mechanics of tracking and science seem similar, the cultural values behind the processes (humility vs. control) create very different results.

What does this mean for those who rewild? It means that most likely, the knowledge forcefully stolen from nature by civilizations scientists will be useless as a hunter-gatherer-horticulturalist. And further, that information taken (not received) without humility and empathy will in fact have deadly results in the real world. This may not hold true in every circumstance, obviously, but it certainly provides something to think about.

It also means that gaining knowledge through tracking may work as one of the most important adventures, if not the most important for rewilding.

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12 Comments on “Science Vs. Rewilding

  1. “Of the estimated 80,000,000,000 men who have ever lived out a life span on earth, over 90% have lived as hunter and gatherers, about 6% have lived by agriculture, and the remaining few percent have lived in industrial societies. To date, the hunting way of life has been the most successful and persistent adaptation man has ever achieved”
    – Lee and Devore (1968)

    and who says school ‘aint inspiring sometimes? oxo, a.

  2. I never got panicky like that when thinking about burning libraries. Other people certainly do though. You can really get yourself into trouble bashing like libraries, buddhists, indians, travel abroad, and your roommates as you watch them dig their way out of a snowstorm to drive a quarter mile to school and then you call them “poor fuckers, married to their cars” in the house journal. okay i guess that last one is kinda valid but i might mention that being fuckers is not the point they argued. they argued being married to their cars.
    “It’s not even my car I’m just borrowing it from my sister, and I need it to get to work,” Brandi said.
    “But because it is there you use it when you don’t need it to, like to drive to class or to City Market to pick up one roll of toilet paper. I don’t have a car so I always walk to class and to the store and it’s no problem,” I said.
    “That’s why we never have any toilet paper, you’re too lazy to go buy it.”
    At this point I realized she was totally right. That’s when I started stealing toilet paper from the college.

    p.s. Does your girlfriend proofread these entries for you? Seriously, you’ve been a good writer since I’ve known you, but these entries must take some time. I’m impressed by the quality and relative lack of typos.

  3. Haha. It’s amazing how the quality of my writing improves when I actually spend some time editing it.

    Nice toilet paper story.

  4. I gave you that foucalt book about the prisons right? Did you ever read it? Jenson is pracically plagerizing the book – nt that there is anything wrong with plagerizing (sp?). You should read it if you haven’t. Anyway, great entry. Well written.
    Although not completly on the topic, I was thinking about the fda’s decision to allow cloned meat to be consumed. Everyone is all up in arms about the “ethics” involved. But a lot of the time these aren’t the same people who are also into animal rights. It’s like we’re already factory farming animals, trapping them inside in a warehouse for their whole life, what difference does it make that we’re gonna start cloning them? I don’t feel like people have a lot perspective. The real danger is further mono-crop, mono-genetic strain etc. It’s like the more we try to control nature the further we set ourselves up for catastrophe. Instead of asking ourselves why we are putting all our eggs in one basket, we just keep trying to build a better basket and pile more and more eggs in it… okay. Not sure if that made any sense. But I hope you catch my drift.

  5. Hey man – not every book in a library is “science.” It’s fine that you personally won’t be troubled by a library burning down, but that’s you homie. Most of the people in the world would benefit greatly from visiting the library a lot more. Maybe they’d discover some books about “primitive skills” or things you’re into. Don’t tell me you never went to the library or bookstore once along your philosophical journey to becoming an “urban scout!” It’s cool that you feel you’ve found an infinitely more authentic method of understanding the world (tracking) instead of science, but give people a little room homie! Give folks the space and access to information that you had in your journey.
    I grew up in the suburbs of Utah. The library saved my ass from ignorance. Not everyone has access to a tracker or even knows there is such a thing.
    So what I’m saying is, I think the idea of a library burning down should trouble you, if not because it threatens your access to information and so survival, but because it threatens the access of your brothers and sisters to information that can be useful for their survival.
    It’s great that you’re an urban scout – but what’s the point without a tribe? without a planet? Encourage the people in their search homie!

    – Gabe

    I won’t argue that for you, tracking makes science irrelevant. But how many trackers do you know homes? or “Jesus” or “the Nazi Party” is better than books is called Fascism

  6. p.s. sorry about that blurb at the end that doesn’t make sense. it’s clipping from my 1st draft that I didn’t delete! Also I want to point out that leafcutter ants cultivate their own food by farming mold. They literally are farmers of mold.

  7. Pingback: Burn the Libraries « Penny Scout: Adventures in Feral Failure

  8. Hi,

    A couple comments :

    1. Your ideas about tracking are fascinating.

    2. Ridiculously anti-sex, anti-porn comments by neo-Calvinist and uber-moralist Derrick Jensen are most unconvincing of anything. It’s no wonder Jensen is against science ; it actually encourages critical thinking, which would be most destructive to his little self-congratulation society he’s got going based on his unscientific prophecies of what is to come. But, ok, I quibble over a small point on your page because of the reeking puritanism of Jensen’s irrational anti-porn position.

    3. Burning of the libraries would be an immensely destructive thing. There is no reason to do it. Our artists are in there. Stories are in there. People who were otherwise losers but dreamt and wanting that dreaming to be passed on to us worked hard so that we might have that legacy. Since there is absolutely no reason whatsoever under any conditions to ever burn a library, I fail to understand why people see the need to contemplate it. I like books. I like books better than I like most people. And until people change, become more interesting, become capable of entertaining and informing me better than books (I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you), then I’d rather be able to commune with great minds and great hearts from a distance when everyone around me is a stupid asshole.

    But those are just my thoughts. YMMV

  9. Obviously I strongly disagree with your take on Jensens writing, and on (capitol S) Science. Where you would get “anti-sex” from anything Jensen has written blows my mind. I have read all of his works and tapes and I have conversed with him many times. I don’t see how anyone could get that out of it. Please point to specific examples.

    And obviously I don’t give a shit about the art of civilization. I care about real relationships. How about that for an art? The art of living on this planet in way that meets everyones (human and other-than-human) needs. Things die. Art fades. Nothing is permanent. GET OVER IT.

  10. Why is he so rabid about porn, then? Why is he about guilting civilization? Why is he about how hard we have to work?

    You want pointing? “Pornography–cousin to surveillance, and bastard child of science–requires the same dynamic of watcher and watched, the same dyad of unchanged subject gazing at an object to be explored at an emotional distance, the same relationship of powerful viewer looking at powerless object.”

    Come on. Cousin to surveillance? That’s a little rabid and overboard. Photography or painting in itself is not evil. People have been painting for tens of thousands of years. Depicting sexuality, or enjoying depictions of sexuality, need not be problematic at all.

    And who said the art “of civilization”? The libraries are full of poetry, stories, music, and art of people like you and me, of indigenous peoples, of all kinds of important works that can enrich a life.

    The whole idea of burning libraries is just stupid. Why would anyone do it? I certainly would defend a library against anyone so misguided as to try to attack it. The REAL way to “attack” a library is to get that which is living and trapped within those pages out into the real world where it can dance, recite, and live again. But in the meantime, much of value DOES lie locked up in there, and only a fool would destroy wealth of that kind. Especially when we live amongst people so pathologically impoverished on all kinds of levels. Libraries are full of books on how to rewild, on indigenous traditions that allow indigenous peoples to recreate their damaged cultures. Why would anyone even start with a target of a library? It seems silly to me.

  11. “Pornography–cousin to surveillance, and bastard child of science–requires the same dynamic of watcher and watched, the same dyad of unchanged subject gazing at an object to be explored at an emotional distance, the same relationship of powerful viewer looking at powerless object.”

    I don’t think that the point Jensen was making was in any way “anti-sex”. It’s about relationships vs. forms of domination (regardless if that domination takes place in physical reality or in front of a monitor). It’s about this culture’s perversions of sexual connection and how they have become fundamentally abusive.

    I feel that this whole debate on libraries is pretty irrelevant and definitely not the biggest question we need to be asking ourselves. While libraries do hold very important information, they are unsustainable in their modern context. They are buildings, like any other, so why would they be any less destructive than the rest. I agree that the content is extremely useful and important but i wonder if you think it’s more important than the wild area entombed beneath it… Gathering information and sharing stories have been around far before civilization and can of course take place outside of the modern library. Similarly, books are very helpful yet the manufacturing of books is still destructive and unsustainable. But, of course, that’s not anywhere near the most vital issues we could be talking about.

    To Urban Scout: Great article! I love your critiques on all these artifacts and ideas of civilization. Very inspiring…
    Keep up the amazing work.

    Kid Cutbank

  12. WOW, i didn’t notice that the little discussion above was from 2007. Hmm, oh well. Can’t wait for your book scout.

    -Kid Cutbank