The Hierarchical Essence of Science…Returning to the Wisdom of Your Senses

From Louis Liebenberg’s Art of Tracking: the Origin of Science

A characteristic feature of an advanced science such as modern physics is the complex hierarchical structure of hypotheses and the fact that the chain of reasoning from observational “facts” to the most general hypotheses mya be very long (Holton, 1973). In contrast, the art of tracking does not have a complex hierarchical structure and the chain of reasoning from observation to the most basic hypotheses is fairly short.

But how does this impact the quality of science?

In contrast, the art of tracking does not have a complex hierachical structure and the chain of reasoning from observation to the most basic hypotheses is fairly short. Yet the lack of a formal hierarchical structure allows for a greater multitude of basic hypotheses.

Thus a culture of informed inquiry, what we now might call a culture of “citizen scientists”, though such a term sounds a bit condescending – not just “citizen scientists”, but citizen thinkers…more informed and insightful than most hierarchically-trained scientists. You can easily observe this in any extant indigenous tracking culture.

Furthermore, the hierarchical structure of an advanced science also makes it less accessible to people who do not have sufficient background knowledge. This situation gives rise to an authoritarian elitism in modern science.

The most influential and dominant tradition among modern scientists in the approach to scientific theories is elitism. According to this view, the layman or the outsider cannot understand and therefore cannot appraise scientific theories. Only a privileged scientific elite can judge their own work. Within the scientific elite there is an authority structure, which means that the scientific community is predominantly authoritarian in its appraisal of scientific theories (Lakatos, 1978b)….Scepticism, including Feyerabend’s (1975) “epistemelogical anarchism”, denies that scientists can have any authority to appraise theories. Scepticism regards scientific theories as just one belief-system which is epistemologically no more “right” than any other belief-system….In contrast to the relatively authoritarian nature of modern sicentists, trackers are much more egalitarian. Even young trackers may, for example, disagree with their elders and propose alternative interpretations of spoor.

Or in the words of the well known tracker, Tom Brown, Jr., “If you believe what I say, you are a fool…prove me right, or prove me wrong…and I bet you can’t prove me wrong!”.

[to buy Louis Liebenberg’s book, try visiting White Pine’s website]

Written by Willem