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In Context #16 (Fall, 2006, pp. 18-23); copyright 2006 by The Nature Institute

Seeing with Fresh Eyes: Beyond a Culture of Abstraction
Craig Holdrege

This essay is based in part on a talk Craig gave at the Land Institute's Prairie Festival in September, 2005. The essay will also appear as a chapter in a forthcoming book, In Defense of Ignorance: Prospects for a New World View, edited by Bill Vitek and Wes Jackson.

The problem with biases is that we often don't know we have them or how strongly they inform the way we view and act in the world. I want to address one fundamental bias that infects modern Western culture: the strong propensity to take abstract conceptual frameworks more seriously than full-blooded experience. We all too naturally speak of the world in terms of genes, molecules, atoms, quarks, neural networks, black holes, survival strategies, or other abstract concepts. These are felt to be more "real" than the phenomena of nature we experience - the radiant, blue-shimmering Sirius in the winter sky or the deep blue chicory flower that opens at sunrise and fades away before noon.

I suggest that the more we place abstractions between ourselves and what we encounter in the world, the less firmly rooted we become in that world. The maize that feeds our cattle, pigs, and chickens - grown on immense fields of the Midwest, dowsed with fluid fertilizers that contaminate wells and contribute to oxygen deprivation and death in the lower water layers of the Gulf of Mexico - this maize is much more than a nutrient-generating genetic program modified by