My Philosophy

My effort to develop a philosophy of science and reason is in three parts: a three “E”s philosophy of embrace, expose and educate.

EMBRACE SCIENCE AND REASON.  This is important in light of the short-term thinking, faulty ideologue policies and egregious abuse of science and reason by the Bush administration.  Progress and U.S. leadership has been setback many years especially in the areas of global climate change, embryonic stem cell research, public health, conservation biology, and the Endangered Species Act.  Over 2000 years ago, the Greek physician Hippocrates pointed out this predicament:  “There are in fact two things, science and opinion; the former begets knowledge, the latter ignorance.” Our ancient hunter-gatherer ancestors most likely evolved a mind to do science by individuals in a tribe who were good at tracking animals.  Natural selection would favor individuals who could remember and evaluate facts—spoor (tracks, scat, and other trail sign).  Then their minds would have to imagine behavior of unseen animals, form hypotheses based on past experience and current evidence, communicate among individuals on the hunt, and predict a strategy for pursuit of the hunted animals. This evolution over tens of thousands of years would prepare the mind, for example, to do physics.  We see objects and then imagine the behavior of unseen atoms and molecules, and see tracks of subatomic particles that matter is made of (Liebenberg, L. The Art of Tracking:  the origin of science, 1990, Cape Town).  In reality, an object or particle in quantum field theory is a bundle of properties.  There is a close interconnection between science and art.  The evolution of the scientific mind can be linked to the artistic paleolithic paintings found in the Chauvet cave in France dated 32,000 years ago during the Stone Age.  I think art might have co-evolved as an emergent property with the evolution of the mind to do science.  All forms of art expression probably owe their existence to imagination originating from the evolution of human minds' capacity to do science.  This evolution, primarily by natural selection,  for science and art expression has given us a realistic view of life on Earth and the nature of the universe.  Science is the minds way of thinking that increases human understanding of how the real world works.  Nonfiction really is more remarkable and amazing than fiction.  Science and art provide a continual source of joy for exploration and discovery to make life truly exciting and interesting.

EXPOSE ILLUSIONS.  Observations are not always what common sense would seem to indicate.  For example, we say, “see the sunrise”.  If the sun actually rose, then the Earth would not go around the sun.  To accurately express the facts we should say, “see the Earth turn”. Separating reality from illusion is an ongoing activity of science.  A mirage is an illusion.  Walking in the desert, we see the same image of palm trees and water (an oasis) on the horizon.  We see a real image, but it is not where it appears to be.  The real objects are on the other side of the horizon and reflected in the sky.  There really are palm trees and we really see them.  The mistake is to think they are where they seem to be.  There is a similar example in biology by asking the question:  What is the real reason for the evolution of a fast herd of deer to escape predators?  George C. Williams in his 1966 book, Adaptation and Natural Selection, provides  an analytical interpretation of how the process of natural selection works.  The question is whether this is a herd of fast deer or a fast deer herd?  He explains that the fast deer herd as a group is a mirage.  It is a reflection of something real and that is the individual fast deer in the herd.   The illusion is that natural selection works for the good of the group rather than for the good of the individual. The correct cause—and—effect interpretation is that the unit of selection is the individual, not the group (Sober, Elliott.  The Nature of Selection, 1984).  Accurate interpretation of cause—and—effect is an intellectual ability to strive for.  Also, recent quantum physics studies tell us that in reality, objects and particles are illusions.  They are actually bundles of properties (see articles in ScientificAmerican.com).

EDUCATE AGAINST SUPERSTITION.  Belief in things without current science-based thinking and evidence is not reasonable.  The burden of proof should be on those who claim supernatural things, not on those who claim the supernatural almost certainly does not exist.  Teaching children that faith (belief without scientific evidence) is a virtue sends an undesirable, conflicting double standard for preparing kids to function in life (Dawkins, Richard.  The God Delusion, 2006).  Superstition in our historical past (and even still in the present) has caused much human misery and delayed improving the human condition.  Superstition causes much more harm than good.  The improvement of the human condition through science and reason has been and still is being inhibited by superstition.  I am cautiously optimistic that science and reason will eventually become a common effort pursued by the majority of people to preserve the Earth's entact healthy ecosystems, and to help in the recovery of degraded ecosystems.  Because most women are pretty skeptical (as well they should be) of what men do and say, I think women will take the leadership role in this effort, and the results will be a more sustainable, peaceful world for us all.


By Ron Marquart, an unpaid volunteer conservationist defending wildlands and wildlife

     A  brief past history of human interaction and impact on wilderness and wildlife should be helpful in understanding our present view of conservation. (In reviewing history, one should keep in mind the lament of an anthropologist: “Nothing learned, and everything forgotten?”, and an attorney: “History repeats itself, and that's one of the things that's wrong with history.”)  When Europeans first came to North America some 500 years ago, they brought with them the idea that wilderness must be conquered. Most people thought the vast, dark ancient forests of the eastern 1/3 of America were fearful and bad, and the best thing to do would be to cut it all down to make room for agriculture.  Today, only a few tiny patches of the great, old-growth deciduous forests remain, and the Passenger Pigeons that lived in these forests and flew overhead in flocks with 100's of millions of birds for hour after hour are gone.  They were slaughtered way below their original population of billions of birds to a population level well below what was needed for breeding success, and they became the “living dead”.  Their depleted condition and destroyed habitat eventually doomed them to extinction forever.  Then with westward migration, the immense expanse of grasslands were thought to be wasteland good for nothing.  Today, only less than one percent of original native tall grass prairie remains in small patches not plowed up, and the great Bison herds were nearly hunted to extinction by the end of the 19th Century.  The once abundant grassland bird, the Eskimo Curlew, was hunted by the wagon load to extinction forever.  All along the path of wilderness destruction in the East and on the way West through the U.S., a systematic racist genocide was inflicted on indigenous Native Americans living in the wilderness.  The Great Basin and desert regions were thought of as hellish, worthless lands.  Finally, reaching and settling the West Coast, they found more ancient old-growth forest wilderness with much of it growing the tallest and biggest trees on Earth.  Again, they thought the only worth of these forest would be to cut the trees down. They viewed this wilderness as something that must be exploited and its only real value was for lumber to build houses and cities.  Today, only less than 10 percent of the original old-growth coniferous forests remain in the Pacific Northwest, and they are much fragmented.  The Fisher is extirpated from most of its original range in these forests and scattered, tiny populations in the lower 48 states are most likely a few individuals of the “living dead”.  This mammal predator is being sent to extinction by habitat destruction, trapping, predator poisoning and poaching.  All along the way east to west, predators were persecuted, killed and hunted to extirpation.  Almost all cougars and nearly all wolves were eliminated before the middle of the 20th Century.  It was a religious-like philosophy of “be fruitful and multiply” and work to ”subdue” the Earth for ”human needs”.  Unfortunately, we have now over-multiplied and over-subdued most of the Earth.                                       
     We need to look even farther back in history, 10 to 20 thousand years ago, to see what the earliest human immigrants into North America encountered in their new unknown wilderness.  They would in a few thousand years become the indigenous first people of America, and they would think differently about wilderness and wildlife than European white folks.  These earliest immigrants saw a wild landscape abundant with large-sized quantities of food on foot for the taking.  They encountered mammoths, mastodons, giant ground sloths, giant short-face bears, giant beavers, giant armadillos, horses, camels, dire wolves, saber-tooth cats, jaguars, American lions and cheetahs that were flourishing for tens of millions of years before arrival of humans.  The Western Hemisphere wildlife was naively unafraid of these humans.  Unlike African wildlife, the New World megafauna had not co-evolved with hominid species over millions of years to develop a fear of their killing capacity.  Then suddenly in a short geological time period of less than 1,000 years, mammoths disappeared from North America, whereas in Eurasia they died out gradually over thousands of years.  And, around 13,000 years ago about half the genera of large mammals (over 100 lbs.) in North America were extinct forever.  This means that since about 13,000 years ago to the present time, about 30 genera and over 40 species of large mammals are no longer present ranging over their habitats in North America!  Even more became extinct forever in South America.  Most large mammals in the Western Hemisphere met a very rapid extinction than would normally be expected (an average extinction rate is about one species per million years).  It appears it is more than just a coincidence that all these animals disappeared after the arrival of humans.  The “overkill hypothesis” on continents is not supported by all scientists, but nearly all scientists agree that evidence of overkill by humans on islands in oceans over the past several thousand years is indisputable.  Overkill and extinction of animals, especially flightless birds, caused by human presence did occur on islands, and most likely did occur on continents too.  E.O. Wilson tells us:  “The noble savage never existed.” (I would also include the early European immigrants here.), “Eden occupied was a slaughterhouse.” and “Paradise found is paradise lost.”  Unfortunately, the impoverished biodiversity surviving the overkill—bison, moose, elk, caribou, musk ox, deer, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, beaver, otters and predators such as bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars, jaguars, lynx and bobcats—are the only remaining large wildlife present in North American today, compared to a zoo of giants that were here before humans arrived.  North America has in a geological “blink of an eye” lost its evolutionary assemblage of biodiversity that flourished for tens of millions of years before the megafauna extinctions.
     Many generations later, descendants of the earliest immigrants became the indigenous first people native to North and South America.  These Native Americans became tempered with the idea of thinking that they were dependent on everything in nature for their existence.  Their sense of tribal community developed the self-discipline to act more harmoniously in a proper relationship of people with all other creatures.  Their meaning of life came from observing how various living things meshed together in the landscape.  Unlike later European immigrants, they had a better functional philosophy of the value of wilderness and wildlife that was free from fear of the unknown and thus free from a zealous need to drastically control nature.  Unlike white folks, they did not impose a dogmatic perceived need to destroy landscapes or wildlife for control to bring order out of a “land without order”.  The indigenous people of the Americas developed a culture of submitting themselves to rhythms of the land without attempting to make radical changes to nature.  In light of this historical evidence, one must conclude that wilderness is not only a physical concept, but a concept of the mind in our attitude about its value.
     The human species is unique in evolving a large, complex brain resulting in an emergent property of a mind producing complex thinking, gestures and language.  Humans have inherited morality to decide good and bad conduct.  Modern studies of social mammals—great apes, monkeys, elephants, canines and marine mammals—indicate degrees of morality also evolved in these animals (The Bonobo and the Atheist, 2013, Frans De Waal).  Most other animals are amoral.  Our diverse cultures of people need to treat each other with tolerance and understanding for their intrinsic value.  All cultures show inherent, close attachment to plants and animals, but vary in the way they view domesticated and wild life.
     Today, a belief system that views wildlands and wildlife not to be left wild, but used for “human needs” (so-called resource management that ignores human overpopulation) might have more to do with over consumption and short-term profits than it does with the ultimate reality all around us all over the Earth.  Perhaps, again, fear of the unknown and greed for short-term profits of the present, rather than  long-term thinking benefiting future generations might be driving the need to control and tame wildlands for economic exploitation (so-called humanitarian, growth-based sustainable development that ignores human overpopulation).  Instead of dealing with the ultimate reality causing problems associated with an overpopulation of 7 billion people and rising, most people seem to be in denial or ignorant of this real problem.  Science and reason can help us solve it by reducing population and consumption to sustainable levels.  If the rest of the world consumes at the rate of the Western World, we'll need several more Earths to support us!  There is no rational technological fix for this problem.  But, of course, the first step is to be convinced there is a problem. It is still possible to have both wildlands and wildlife among the human population, but we must learn to coexist with wildlands—wilderness areas, national parks, national wildlife refuges, roadless areas, other public and private lands as buffer zones, and a network of wildlife corridors linking these lands for rewilding North America, especially with highly interactive species.  The concept in our minds must be more like the Native Americans who saw themselves as one of many species living equally in the intricate web of life woven within the fabric of all life in nature.  We must understand that when we harm or eliminate the fabrics of life, we harm ourselves.
     The fact that evolution has for tens of millions of years produced this wondrous array of wildlife biodiversity (genes, species and ecosystems) is reason for confidence that all wildlife (including humane treatment of individual animals) have intrinsic value in and of themselves as living things and do not deserve to be sent to early extinction forever.  Moreover, there is no reliable evidence that evolution proceeds progressively toward a specific end point. It just goes, and where it has gone in the past is discoverable, but where it will go in the future is for the most part unpredictable.  In light of this non-directional evolutionary process, it is just as (or more) likely than not that at some critical point along the hominid lines of evolution, we could have easily gone extinct along with the more than 90 percent of species that have ever lived on Earth.  We humans are actually lucky (probably just a quirk of nature?) to even be here.  Furthermore, the very long “deep time” of the past 3 billion years of evolution of life on Earth is huge compared to recently evolved human-like creatures of the last few million years.  We humans have been on Earth less than 1/1000 of one percent of the time of other forms of life!  We should in humble thankfulness celebrate being here and in gratitude share the Earth with all life. 
     We are now in a biodiversity crisis of accelerating rates of extinctions that began in “near time” of 50,000 years ago, and it is caused by us.  This is why the Endangered Species Act is more important than ever, not only to help prevent animal and plant wildlife extinction, but for our quality of life.  We are all part of the Tree of Life family on Earth.  Wilderness (least human-disturbed areas) along with wildlife must also be considered to have intrinsic value in and of itself and deserves to be preserved and protected for its own sake.  After all, wilderness and other suitable wildlands are essentially all that is left of natural self-regulating lands for self-regulating wildlife to exist and continue to evolve freely in ecosystems with the least human intervention.  This is why the Wilderness Act and National Wilderness Preservation System are more important than ever to preserve and protect our country's natural heritage.  At present, less than 5 percent of land in the United States is designated as wilderness; we can do better.  Interconnected large areas of wildlands are going to be the best place for functional, self-regulating ecosystems to work and support the well-being of wildlife on Earth.  For these reasons, I think both wildlife and wilderness have intrinsic value and must be of primary consideration.  Economic benefits of ecosystem services and wildlife are definitely of worth to people, but this must be considered secondary to wildlife and wilderness for their own sake.  Human overpopulation and over consumption are disrupting ecosystems all over our Earth and causing the present 6th major mass extinction in over 500 million years of multicellular life's evolution. Of all the mass extinctions that have occurred on Earth, the 6th is the only one caused by a single species—us.
     Our past history shows an ignorant, superstitious view of wilderness and wildlife as the feared enemy to be conquered, tamed and even destroyed.  We now have the benefit of science and reason to understand how the thin biofilm of ecosystems surrounding the Earth work together for all life's well-being.  Our ancient ancestors did not.  We now have no good excuse for not fostering good stewardship of our Mother Earth.  We all evolved together and are a part of this wondrous family of life in our home here on Earth.   We can and must now preserve and protect what wilderness is left and shield the native wildlife that is still here.  Wilderness must now be considered our friend.                                            

     *This conservationist's philosophy was composed by studying the well-documented works of Dave Foreman, Paul S. Martin, Ted Kerasote, Vine Deloria Jr., Jared Diamond and Richard Dawkins. Dave Foreman's book, Take Back Conservation, 2012; Paul S. Martin's book, Twilight of the Mammoths, 2005; Ted Kerasote's book, Return of the Wild, 2001 with Vine Deloria Jr.'s Chapter, “American Indians and the Wilderness”; Jared Diamond's book, The Third Chimpanzee, 1992, Chapter 12; and Richard Dawkins' book, The Greatest Show on Earth, 2009.