Re-examining the Scientific Revolution: The Advantages of Analysing the History of Modern Western Science in Contemporary Environmental Discourse
Nock, Kathryn M.
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Nock, Kathryn M.
Descartes’s famous declaration, “I think therefore I am,” is one of the most referenced statements from the Scientific Revolution in 16th-17th century Europe. His words mark a turning point in science by exposing a new foundation for examining the natural world. However, his words imply that those we do not perceive as having intelligence- the ability to think- are not and places humans in a role far superior to our surrounding environment. Fueled by the Scientific Revolution, this shift in perception deepened the rift between humans and nature. Despite having roots in natural theology, the Scientific Revolution also encouraged the divorce of science from religion that endures today. In this essay I show that the changes that occurred in the two relationships continue to contribute to the current environmental crisis by reflecting the patriarchal, hierarchical, and anthropocentric- “human-centered”- nature of the paradigm of modern western science constructed by the Scientific Revolution. Furthermore, the immense shift in the way the masses understood their reality that resulted from the Scientific Revolution exposes the dynamic nature of cultural thought and provides evidence of the potential for a dramatic transition within the Western worldview to occur again. While there is extensive scholarship around this time in history, including numerous critiques of Cartesian philosophy and mechanistic science, an interdisciplinary analysis of the role that the history of science plays within the current environmental discourse is lacking. In response to claims made in Dr. Carolyn Merchant’s The Death of Nature, contemporary scientific theories of ecology, plant intelligence, and mycological mutualism that directly combat Descartes’s statement provide an opportunity to deconstruct the scientific hierarchies and assumptions of the past, to begin constructing the framework for the next shift in environmental consciousness.