From: Dr. David Suzuki, an op/ed
Published December 8, 2004 12:00 AM

Putting the Pieces Back Together

Scientists think that our species, Homo sapiens, emerged about 100,000 years ago somewhere in Africa. Imagine that back at the time, scientists in another galaxy had been searching the cosmos for life and discovered our solar system and Earth. So they park their spaceship above the Rift Valley in Africa and gaze at the vast expanse of lush forests, plains teeming with wildebeest, zebras, elephants and gazelles and rivers filled with hippos, crocs and flamingoes.

Those extragalactic scientists would no doubt notice small family groups of a two--legged, upright, furless ape but I doubt that anyone would point to them and say, "Watch that one. That's the creature of destiny!" After all, we weren't that impressive in size, speed, sensory acuity, strength or beauty.

But if they watched our behaviour, they would realize that our advantage wasn't visible from the outside. We seemed to be acting deliberately ---- preparing shelter, seeking food, avoiding predators. We made up for our physical deficits with the two--kilogram organ locked in our skulls.


The human brain was the key to our survival. It endowed us with curiosity, inventiveness and a massive memory. The French Nobel laureate, Francois Jacob, says the human brain has an inbuilt need for order. We find chaos frightening and there is an innate tendency to try to organize our observations and speculations so it all makes sense. We recognized patterns, cycles and rhythms in nature ---- day and night, seasons, tides, lunar cycles, movement of stars, animal migration, plant succession -- and that knowledge gave us some predictive capacity that was useful.

The human brain invented an amazing concept -- a future. Because we had a notion of future, we (I believe uniquely among all animals) recognized that we could deliberately choose a path into the future. We understood causal relations ("If I do this, this will happen, if I don't do that, something else might occur.") and deliberately chose, from a number of options, the kind of future we were heading for. And it worked. It got us to where we are.

All people since the earliest times integrated their observations, speculations, insights, superstitions into worldviews, the sum total of their culture, in which nothing existed in isolation or apart -- everything was connected to everything else. In such a world, everything we do has repercussions and therefore, every act carries responsibilities lest order be disrupted.

Even today, traditional and aboriginal people constantly remind us who they are and where they belong on this earth. They tell their stories, sing their songs and offer their prayers to thank their Creator for nature's generosity and abundance, acknowledge they are part of nature and therefore have responsibilities, and promise to act properly to keep everything in order. That's just the way it has always been.

Until now. Today, most of us live in a shattered world. A world of disconnected bits and pieces, so it is no longer easy to recognize our place. And when we can't see the connections, we fail to recognize causal relationships and therefore feel no responsibility.

When we shop at GAP, NIKE or ROOTS, we don't usually ask where the cotton, wool, rubber or leather came from, the working conditions and pay of the workers who harvested the raw materials and whether pesticides and other pollutants were used. We just want a garment to wear.

Similarly, upon purchase of an IBM computer, SONY television or GM car, we don't wonder about the dozens of different metals in the components or the consequences of mining, manufacturing, transporting and using the product.

We just want to watch TV or get around. In Canada in the middle of winter, we seldom wonder as we buy fresh papayas, lettuce or bananas where they were grown or how they got here. Yet every purchase and every use of a purchase has consequences that reverberate around the world. We just aren't seeing them. And that's the problem.

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Source: David Suzuki Foundation

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