“We know science works because the evidence is all around us. But some of the supernatural stories have become so embedded in our society that we get confused between fact and fiction,” writes “The Gadfly” columnist ROBERT MACKLIN
THIS is the year when our chickens come home to roost… or should that be roast?
I guess that’s up to us since we’ve already turned on the oven from the inside and the temperature’s rising. Sounds simple, doesn’t it. We turned it on, so we can turn it off. Ah, if only…
Trouble is, it turns out that we have a kink in our mental make-up that complicates everything. It’s the reason we have risen from the status of prey in the great savannahs of Africa to the very top of the planetary food chain.
But it also contains the key to our undoing and perhaps even that of our earthly home. It’s this perpetual mental itch that demands we seek patterns from the phenomena that surrounds us.
All our fellow creatures have it in some degree. You only have to watch a bird building a nest, a line of ants exploiting a food source, or even a mob of cows gathering in the shade of a Coolabah tree at noon, to see it displayed in all its varied wonderments.
But ours, it seems, is of a more refined nature. In the last half million years it has led us on an amazing journey of discovery. By any measure our achievements have been astonishing, not least in the remarkable instrument I’m using to tell this story, first to our local readership, but potentially to billions around the world. And the speed of technological progress is itself increasing. Indeed, I understand that the computing power in our mobile phones is at least as great as that which supported the entire moon landing in 1969.
Advances in food production, medical care and globalisation have raised life expectancy to unheard of heights. All of this comes under the rubric of science. It flows from that wonderful quest for patterns, tempered only by what we call “the scientific method”, which requires every such advance to be accepted only when all other researchers in the field try and fail to prove it wrong.
This is the true genius of humanity.
However, there is another element at work in our cerebellum. This one looks to the most fearful element of our existence – death – and tries desperately to find a pattern that can calm our fears.
Since all the evidence of our personal knowledge refuses to yield such an outcome we tell ourselves stories of the “supernatural”. And instead of encouraging folk to prove them wrong, we make laws of “blasphemy” to punish those who dare to do so and laud those who believe the stories.
We call that “faith”.
This is where the problem arises. We know science works because the evidence is all around us. But some of the supernatural stories have become so embedded in our society that we get confused between fact and fiction.
And lots of us live in that in-between world of “faction”. So when we’re faced with a threat to our very existence – one we have manufactured ourselves – it’s very difficult to get everyone working together to fix it.
Even when, say, much of an entire continent is either burning or drying to dust, still we have those among us – in the oven, that is – who refuse to turn it off. But here’s the really sad part. We elected one of them to be our leader – good old “Scotty from Marketing” in his baseball cap.
Now there’s a man who could roast a chicken.