One often encounters in the climate change debate, those who carry on with what can be called the ‘ecologists’ mindset’. This is, perhaps a poor choice of words, to describe a certain phenomenon – of our repeated and fumbling efforts to do a so-called ‘systems thinking’. Why, after all, should I invoke a specific discipline’s name to criticize a oft-committed intellectual error to which we are susceptible, throughout ages?
Nevertheless, and the politics of nomenclature notwithstanding, the outcome of this mode of thinking is felt in the climate and environmental arenas all the time. Thus we find an enlightened cadre who presume to be capable of knowing everything, because they calculated everything in their computer models, because they took a ‘systems approach’. Thus do we find environmental scientists who presume to argue, not for our well-being (as humans), but for the well-being and health of ‘the system’ itself, for the well-being of other species, and in fact, of all species and of life itself.
Given that it were however, that our individual mental capacity to actually perform any valid ‘systems thinking’ is indeed very limited, the net result is amusing. As Lubos Motl notes here, Nature magazine, supposed epitome of staid scientific wisdom succumbs to the temptation—they title their editorial on climate science: “whole-system science”.
Let Christopher Hitchens remind us, at this juncture that ‘we’, as ‘a species’, are not even good at speaking for ourselves, and perhaps will never be and that there is a long way to go. When a bunch of us get together and presume to think for the rest of humanity and write the rules down in a book, that is called religion, in other words, ‘systems thinking’ for mankind. How far is that from what the ‘Intergovernmental Panel’ does?
Do I, who have read Freud and know what the future of an illusion really is and know that religious belief is ineradicable as long as we remain a stupid, poorly evolved mammalian species, think that some Canadian law is going to solve this problem?
No. Our problem is this: our prefrontal lobes are too small. And our adrenaline glands are too big. And our thumb/ finger opposition isn’t all that it might be. And we’re afraid of the dark, and we’re afraid to die, and we believe in the truths of holy books that are so stupid and so fabricated that a child can – and all children do, as you can tell by their questions – actually see through them. And I think it should be – written religion – treated with ridicule, and hatred and contempt. And I claim that right.
N.B. This is what Lubos had to say about systems-science:
The very concept of a “Whole-System Science” is an oxymoron. Science may study complicated systems but whenever it works, it always decomposes them into pieces that are studied separately. If a scientific disciplines remains a “whole-system science”, it’s just junk science. A “whole-system science” and “bad science” are pretty much synonymous.