You are on page 1of 11

Futures, Vol. 29, No. 6, pp.

563-573, 1997
Pergamon 0 1997 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved
Printed in Great Britain
0016-3287/97 $17.00 + 0.00

PII: SO01 6-3287(97)00028-l



F David Peat

Western science and European consciousness is contrasted with that of

Indigenous and traditional peoples. The metaphysics of the Blackfoot of North
America and this vision of an animate world is examined. It is argued that some-
thing similar existed in Europe of the early middle ages but that the seculariz-
ation of space, time and matter paved the way for the development of science.
A new science may be possible which combines the current power of abstrac-
tion and analysis with an impersonal subjectivity. 0 1997 Elsevier Science Ltd

European consciousness dominates the world. As we move towards the next millennium
will this continue to be the case? In this article, I explore a radically different world-view,
that of the Blackfoot of North America, and ask if their approach to society and the natural
world has something of significance to teach us. Indeed, can the study of alternative ways
of thinking give rise to a creative response within own consciousness?
The initial statement of this article requires amplification and qualification. By Euro-
pean consciousness I do not mean something confined to a specific geographical
location but, rather, a way of thinking and behaving that, while it did happen to develop
within Europe, now has an influence across much of the globe. Its seeds were already
present in the middle ages and its flowering resulted in the secularizing of time and of
space, the rise of science and the proliferation of technology. It transformed a society
that had previously existed on trade and barter into the major force for expansion and
progress that now dominates the world.
One of the most dramatic products of the Western mind has been its particular
approach to science, a discipline that, along with its associated technology, is by no
means as objective, neutral and value free as we once believed. Western science

F. David Peat carried out research at Queens University and the National Research Council of Canada. A
collaborator and co-author with the physicist David Bohm, and author of fourteen books, he now lives in a
small village in Tuscany. He can be contacted at Via Confienzo 14, 58040 Pari, Grosseto, Italy (E-mail:

Blackfoot physics and European minds: F D Peat

expresses an entire metaphysics about the way we relate to the world, society and our-
selves. Western science has its triumphs, yet we are now aware of the hubris connected
to its success. To take one example, our technology acts somewhat like a virus which,
when it enters a society, transforms its entire structure. Export a sack of seed, a bag of
fertilizer or a canister of pesticide to the Third World and one transforms an entire way of
life that may have survived, largely unchanged, for hundreds or even thousands of years.

An animate world

In recent years I have often heard the boast that, for the first time in human history, we
all share the same story of creation and that, today, children all over the world are being
taught the same facts about nature. Western science has become the yardstick of truth
and, measured against it, the stories and traditions that have sustained ancient cultures
are dismissed as myths, superstitions and old wives tales.
However, measured on the scale of the worlds civilizations, this European mind
is comparatively young and its science a mere infant. Go back a millennium and time
was experienced as a cycle of renewal. The seasons, the rhythms of daily life and the
churchs calendar were all in harmony. Space was united with time and its interior was
as rich as the yoke of an egg. Aristotles natural philosophy taught that each body has
its natural place; medieval society was a world in which each person was in his or her
proper place. Our modern notions of the rights of the individual were far less important
than the well being of society as a whole.
In such a world, everything was alive; rocks, rivers and trees. Nature was constantly
at work and it fell to human beings to act as her midwife. Metals grew in the womb of
the earth and the sacred work of the miner and blacksmith brought this labour to com-
pletion. In many ways the reality of this world was far larger than the scientific reality
we inhabit today.
For a variety of reasons, European consciousness began to change. Time, the theo-
logians had argued, belongs to God but now it became secularized though the practice
of usury. Banking is about buying time and setting time aside. Inevitably a secularized
time led to our modern obsession with growth and progress, prediction and control.
In the twelfth century Aquinas denied that the artifex (miner, blacksmith, sculptor,
etc.) is the assistant to nature for, he claimed, while the form of matter may be altered,
its essence is untouched. The crafts and arts of humankind had been reduced to the
superficial transformation of mere appearance.
In 1438, another influence was added to the developing European mind. With
Byzantium under threat from the expansion of the Ottoman empire, its Emperor, John
Paleologus, along with seven hundred advisors, travelled to Florence in an attempt to
gain Pope Eugenius IVs military support. In exchange, he offered a resolution of the
theological differences between the two churches. The result was that, for a time, Flor-
ence was filled with neo-Platonism and its influence, at the height of the Renaissance,
cannot be underestimated.
In the thirteenth century, William of Auvergne could write

When you consider the order and magnificence of the universe... you will find it like a most
beautiful canticle.. and the wonders and varieties of its creatures to be a symphony of joy and
harmony to the very essence.... The goodness of a substance, and its beauty are the same thing.

Blackfoot physics and European minds: F D Peat

Likewise Abbot Sugar supervised the rebuilding of the abbey church of St Denis in order
to make the divine manifest within bronze, stone, stained glass, precious metals and
jewels. Now, in the Renaissance, artists were directing their gaze away from the natural
world into one of ideal forms.
Within this melting pot of ideas matter and spirit became fragmented one from the
other and a participatory reality was transformed into scientific objectivity. For me, the
exemplar of this change of consciousness is linear perspective which developed in the
earlier part of the Renaissance. Sienna is referred to by Italians as a feminine city. Within
the paintings of its school, time and space are united. The various events of a saints life
are presented in total, like a superimposed comic strip; and while depth in space is
certainly indicated, it is still possible to see an object from a multiplicity of viewpoints.
However, as the Renaissance developed in the more masculine city of Florence, time
was abstracted from space and painting was left with the single viewpoint, a frozen world
seen though a window. With the device of perspective, one longer enters into to painting
but views it with an objective eye. Mirroring the metaphysics of the period, nature has
been projected away from us and the world is experienced as something external.
The mathematical basis of perspective is called projective geometry. This term says
it all. One no longer engages directly with an object in its natural, essential form, as
something that can be explored and touched, instead it becomes projected outwards, a
surface that must be distorted to fit the global logic of mathematical perspective. The rich
individualistic inscape of the natural world had given way to a uniform perspectival grid
of logic and reason.
How well perspective parallels a science in which nature obeys laws that are, in
some metaphysical sense, external to matters essence. As Bacon argued, these laws are
to be discovered by placing nature on the rack, another sort of grid, and tormenting her
to reveal her secrets. Descartes and Newton cannot be held responsible for our modern
world, the seeds of its consciousness were sown long before.
It is only as we reach our own century that the perspectival vision of science has
been shaken by, for example, quantum theory. Yet artists are always the antennae of
society and the foreshocks could be felt when Cezanne restored touch to painting and, in
the process, activated time and multiplicity of viewpoint. Never interested in projection,
Cezanne entered directly into nature, and nature entered into him. The Landscape
becomes reflective, human and thinks itself though me. he wrote, I make it an object, let
it project itself and endure within my painting.... I become the subjective consciousness of
the landscape, and my painting becomes its objective consciousness.2

The modern mind

The European mind, along with its material and conceptual products, exerts a powerful
seductive force on all of us. It would be extremely difficult to live without the products
of such a consciousness, nor would most of us we wish to, at least not in an entirely
radical fashion. Many have already written of the shadow side to this power; intensive
farming, high technology medicine, rapid communications and so on. My own interest
is somewhat different. It is to ask if an earlier richness together with a sense of harmony
and a balance can be restored to the European mind. It is to ask if an ethical and moral
dimension can be added to our science and technology and if supposed objectivity can
be tempered through participation.

Blackfoot physics and European minds: F D Peat

Is our world destined towards increasing uniformity or can we accommodate alterna-

tive view points and metaphysics, each enriching the other? The arts have always been
eager for such enrichment, Debussy drew upon Balanese music, Picasso on African
masks, and a director like Peter Brooke has explored the worlds theatrical traditions.
When used in a creative and respectful way, these are not acts of cultural appropriation
but of cultural renewal. Is something similar possible within our science?
At this point, it could be objected that, unlike the arts, science is objective and, from
a cultural point of view, value-free. It is for this reason, it is said, that indigenous and
marginalized cultures cannot really co-exist beside industrialized nations and are doomed
to extinction. I do not believe this is true. Traditional cultures have enormous power and
may, in the end, act to transform or renew our own technological society.

An alternative vision

My test case is that of the Blackfoot people, a nation who once occupied an area of the
North American plains east of the Rocky Mountains but now today live in reserves in
Montana, US and reservations in Alberta, Canada. By tradition, they were hunters of
buffalo; travelling with their tepees in the summer and wintering along river banks. Their
language is a member of the great Algonquin family which runs from the Cheyenne in
the central US plains though the Blackfoot and up into northern Canada with Ojibwaj
and Cree finally into the Naskapi of Labrador.
My encounter, as a representative of Western science, with the Blackfoot was neither
systematic nor anthropological. 3 It was more an ongoing friendship and a series of dis-
cussions about our respective world-views. In turn, this led to a number of circles in
which Western scientists sat with Blackfoot and other Native American Elders.
The Blackfoot have weathered the extermination of the buffalo and the appropriation
of their lands. Anyone past middle age would have experienced the residential schools
in which childrens heads were shaved, clothing burned, and a prohibition placed upon
speaking their mother tongue or praying according to their tradition: physical and sexual
abuse was also far from uncommon. Today, the Blackfoot have exchanged their horses
for cars and pickup trucks. They live in houses instead of tepees and job hunting has
replaced the buffalo jump and buffalo wallow. Surrounded by the pressures of North
American society they are faced with drug and alcohol problems, yet what struck me
most during my visits is the way that the old is able to coexist with the new so that, for
many Blackfoot, their traditional vision and metaphysics survives untarnished. Clearly the
Blackfoot have the extraordinary ability to coexist within two worlds. Yet they taught me
that we all possess a similar capacity and buried deep within the European mind lies
something that may be able to temper the momentum of our present path. We are all
indigenous people, in the sense that each of us is the carrier of a sacred relationship to
the natural world and has access to a wider vision of a reality long denied.

Blackfoot reality

What is the nature of Blackfoot reality? Certainly it is far wider than our own, yet firmly
based within the natural world of vibrant, living things. Once our European world saw
nature in a similar way, a vision still present in poets like Blake, Wordsworth and Gerard
Manley Hopkins who perceived the immanence and inscape of the world. Nevertheless
Blackfoot physics and European minds: F D Peat

our consciousness has narrowed to the extent that matter is separated from spirit and we
seek our reality in an imagined elsewhere of abstractions, Platonic realms, mathematical
elegance, and physical laws.
The Blackfoot know of no such fragmentation. Not only do they speak with rocks
and trees, they are also able to converse with that which remains invisible to us, a world
of what could be variously called spirits, or powers, or simply energies. However, these
forces are not the occupants of a mystical or abstract domain, they remain an essential
aspect of the natural, material world. It is not so much that the Blackfoot live in an
extended reality but that our own Western vision had become excessively myopic.
This wider reality embraces flux, movement, change and transformation. The creator
of the land, Napi (the Old Man), is also its trickster, one who is constantly changing
form, traversing boundaries and upsetting preconceptions. For example, what the West
takes as the aberration of multiple personality becomes the acceptance that an individual
is not a fixed thing but fluid, a being whose multiplicity is reflected in the way a persons
name keeps transforming during their life.
How is one to maintain orientation in a universe in which everything is caught up
in the river of transformation. How can anything be preserved from change? The answer
lies in participation within the flux by means of acts of renewal. Renewal requires an act
of sacrifice and it is these sacrifices, these actions of participation, performed each morn-
ing when the sun rises, each year at the Sun Dance, which help to maintain the great
circle of renewal. Thanks to these acts of renewal, time, within the flux, turns on its axis.
Seasons follow seasons. Circling time is always the same, yet always different, always
Acts of renewal reflect the compacts formed in ancient times; negotiated relation-
ships between the ancestors and the energies, or spirits, or keepers of the land. No one
believes that a pipe ceremony actually causes the sun to rise. Rather, by renewing their
relationships to the dynamics of nature, the Blackfoot maintain a harmonious role within
the cosmos. Within a balanced cosmos the sun will rise and the seasons follow in their
proper harmony.
Personal sacrifice, responsibility, ceremonies and acts of renewal therefore have
nothing to do with the world of mechanical causality but are more to do with a relation-
ship to a living cosmos. Although it does not come from the Blackfoot, the story of the
rainmaker well illustrates this point. A rainmaker was called to a region experiencing
drought. He arrived and immediately went into the hut provided for him only to emerge
several days later as it began to rain. When he was asked how he had made the rain he
replied that he had not caused the rain to fall. Rather, when he arrived in the village he
discovered everything to be in disharmony. He therefore retired to his hut in order to
bring himself back into balance. Once balance had been restored then nature returned
to harmony and the rain fell as it naturally should.
Carl Jung chose to term this synchronicity, his acausal connecting principle.4 It was
present earlier in the West in the form of Alchemy in which external material workings
and internal transformations mirror each other. This constant movement towards balance
and harmony within the flux is the essence of the Blackfoot world.

The map in the head

An expression of the Blackfoots relationship to a reality of rocks, trees, animals and
energies is expressed within what many Native Americans call a map in the head. This

Blackfoot physics and European minds: F D Peat

map is a way of knowing where one is in relationship to the land, its history, society
and all the living beings of nature. For the Blackfoot, this map begins with Napis body,
which is traced out in the landscape in the form of rivers, buttes, hills and valleys. It is
also the track left by Napi as he walked across his land. The map in the head is songs
sung and the stories told around the fire at night. It is the relationship of the Blackfoot
people to their world.
The map in the head is a form of knowledge, but knowledge, for the Blackfoot, is
no mere collection of facts but something that one grows towards. Knowledge, like a
song, is a living being; a being with which one can come into relationship. Coming to
knowing is an active dialogue with nature; with the rocks, plants and animals. As one
Blackfoot put it, the plants and animals are our microscopes and laboratories. Knowl-
edge is relationship and relationship brings with it responsibilities and obligations. Thus
it has been put to me that when Western science performs its experiments it is actually
conversing with nature and, in this process, telling nature about ourselves. Are we willing
to take responsibility for what we say? Each action in the laboratory must be balanced
by its reaction somewhere else in the world. When we create order in one place we give
birth to disorder in another.
Such a point of view should not be entirely alien to our European minds. It was a
European, Goethe, who suggested an alternative to the Newtonian method which he saw
as a way of gaining knowledge by placing nature in highly artificial situations. By contrast,
Goethe sought an instant worth a thousand, bearing all within itself.5 His method
involved, for example, coming into relationship with plants and contemplating their inner
nature. In this fashion, Goethe sought to understand the inner nature and meaning of the
natural world.h
While Newtonian science studies particular instances in the hope of generalizing
into a law of nature, unity within multiplicity, Goethe studied the multiplicity that arises
out of unity. Goethes notion of the archetype of all plants resonates with indigenous
concepts of the guardians or keepers of plants and animals. By carrying a piece of
bone, a Blackfoot comes into direct contact with the guardian or keeper of the buffalo.


Plants have the power to heal. For the Blackfoot, the nature of their action cannot be
reduced simply to chemical substances or molecules. Healing involves a relationship to
the entire plant and this includes its power, energy, spirit, or in Goethes terms, its arche-
One can perhaps understand this by analogy to the sacred sculpture of, for example,
India. Within a ceremony, these objects act as windows into the world of the sacred yet
are, at the same time, no more than stone, clay and pigment. Their action is that of a
diagram, or map of the pattern of the sacred. One comes into relationship with the numi-
nous though the catalytic action of the icon. In a similar way, the plant and its associated
chemicals open into a larger world of energies and healing powers.
There is a related metaphor in Western science. A molecule is not so much an object
but a dynamical pattern. At the quantum, level it is a pattern of energies which extend
into the ground state of the entire cosmos. Absorbed into the body, this dynamic energy
pattern provokes a range of transformations of the bodys biochemical activities. Of

Blackfoot physics and European minds: F D Peat

course, the scientific analogy can only go so far since Western science continues to
fragment matter from ethical values, consciousness and spirit.
It goes without saying that the relationship to the plant world extends into ecological
practice, and here I am drawing not upon the Blackfoot but my conversations with the
Mohawk. When one hunts for a medicine plant, or for that matter for an animal, one
does not pick the first or second one comes upon but always the third. A prayer is first
offered that the plant will sacrifice itself and after it has been picked an offering is made
to the earth. Returning home the plant is treated in a respectful manner for one is not
only dealing with the particular but the universal, the guardian of the plant, the archetype.
In the action of healing with the plant, energy may be exchanged but within such a
metaphysics whatever is taken must, in some way, be paid back.


The Blackfoot I have met speak of their traditional ways as a science. Of particular
significance is the way this science is enfolded within their language. The language con-
tains the map of the land, the relationships to the energies and spirits of all living things:
the rocks, the trees, the plants, birds, fish and animals. The flux in which they live is
perfectly expressed in what could be termed their process language. European languages
have a heavy reliance upon nouns and lend themselves so well to a type of thinking that
deals in categories and Aristotelian logic.8 Our physical reality is that of objects in interac-
tion with one another: nouns linked by verbs. This thinking also extends into the abstract
and psychological spheres when the world of our experiences, relationships and feelings
becomes a collection of objects of thought to be manipulated, generalized, abstracted
and acted upon. How eagerly do we build categories and concepts, how literally do we
take our language games, how easily do we become trapped in empty philosophical
While other problems may certainly arise, this sort of trap is not present within a
language where the verb takes centre stage. Within Blackfoot all is movement, process
and transformation. Nouns as objects emerge in a secondary way though the modification
of verbs. To them the English language is a straight-jacket which forces their minds into
a world of objects, categories and restrictive logic.
Take, as an example, healing. To the Western mind this is a transitive business in
which the doctor (noun) acts upon the patient (another noun) to bring about some change
of state. For the Blackfoot, healing is a process. This process is itself the primary reality,
rather than that of patient and doctor. Healing often involves singing. In this case, in
speaking about healing, the process of the singing is the focus of the linguistic act. Rather
than singing being performed by someone, the pure act of singing is taking place, singing
is singing itself. It is out of this singing that healing unfolds to restore the previously
sick person.
Again an analogy from contemporary science may help. According to classical phys-
ics, nature consists of objects in interaction with one another. Observation is an objective
business that reveals the world for what it is. Quantum theory, by contrast, stresses that
observation is participation and within any act of observation the observer and observed
are united in a holistic and unanalyzable way. Observation is a process within which it
is no longer possible to speak of the independent existence, or properties of, the observer
and observed.

Blackfoot physics and European minds: F D Peat

As Neils Bohr pointed out, the paradoxes and difficulties of quantum theory arise
out of our need to employ ordinary language in our discourse.9 However, this language,
be it English or Danish, historically developed in a particular way and within a world of
classical objects. We are suspended in this language so that we do not know which way
is up and which is down. By contrast, the Blackfoot live in a world that is much closer
to that quantum domain, a world of flux, transformation and essential relationship far
from that of absolute categories, fixed objects and rigid Aristotelian dualities. Their langu-
age perfectly reflects this world.

Harmony and balance

Knowledge is not partitioned in a holistic world and Blackfoot science is not confined
simply to the material. It embraces society and good government. Its norm is balance
and harmony. Society is not an artifact built by individuals with rights and freedoms,
rather it is a process of renewal, a coherent whole out of which emerge persons with
responsibilities and obligations. An individual exists in respect to his or her relationships
with society and nature.
Take as an example, Blackfoot justice. What we would term a crime is, to many
indigenous people, a disruption of the harmonious working of their society. Rather than
approaching this disorder in terms of adversarial trial, proof, guilt and punishment, a
circle of elders meet with the aggrieved party and the perpetrator. Discussion within this
circle is not so much designed to establish the factuality of what has occurred but rather
it seeks a way of restoring balance. Thus the perpetrator may asked to suggest some
action that would satisfy all parties. Finally, when everyone is again in a balanced
relationship the decision is made public.

Indigenous science

The Blackfoot speak of a science which includes a metaphysics of the reality in which
they live, a set of relationships to the natural world, a deep understanding of their immedi-
ate environment, and a technology appropriate to their lifestyle. Such a science is com-
mon to many other indigenous peoples of the Americas and, indeed, to traditional
peoples world-wide.
As the notion of a map in the head suggests, such a science is not, like our own,
of an exclusive objective and global nature but is specific to a people and a place. Per-
haps an analogy with cooking may help. The worlds great cuisines are each associated
with a particular country and region. After having lived in Italy for more than a year, I
am discovering that there is no such thing as Italian cooking but rather a way of cooking
that is specific to the meats, fish, vegetables and fruits of a particular region. Even the
Tuscan cooking of my particular province is subdivided. Great cooking involves a deep
understanding of and empathy with the nature of the materials available. It is, at the same
time, a science and a high art that is not easily exportable.
This metaphor applies to the indigenous sciences of North America. The Haida,
living on the British Columbia seaboard developed masterpieces of marine engineering:
coastal and ocean-going canoes, carved out of giant cedar trees. The particular shape
and mass of these vessels enables the Haida to move at high speed across the ocean and
to sustain long voyages without exhaustion. Another of their sciences, which is shared

Blackfoot physics and European minds: F D Peat

with other Pacific peoples such as the Maori and Hawaiians is a way of navigating over
long distances using constellations of stars, and observing the pattern of waves and the
direction of the wind.
The Algonkin of the Eastern Woodlands are hunters and gathers who must venture
for many days from their homes. Their technology enables them to construct a birch-
bark canoe, using only a curved knife and the materials of the forest, in less than a day.
The vessel is strong enough to support a heavy load as it travels though white water
rapids, yet light enough to be portaged from river to river.
South of the Algonkin the Mohawk Nation of the Iroquois confederation are farmers.
They employ a biological symbiosis by planting the Three Sisters (corn, beans and squash)
together; corn supplying a mechanical support and beans fixing nitrogen to supply nutri-
ents in the earth. Yet eventually land can be farmed out and wild plants over picked. So,
in traditional times, the Mohawk would, after two or three generations, abandon their
villages and rebuild some distance away, allowing the forest to return to its pristine state.
The complexity of their civilization and their negotiations with the energies of the earth is
reflected in a language which employs a large number of names referring to relationship.
In so many cases, a traditional people, before disruption by European civilization,
possessed considerable knowledge of their territory and adapted technologies appropriate
to the environment and way of life. For these reasons, such people may appear conserva-
tive and slow to adapt. However, one should remember a maxim employed by some of
the indigenous people of North America. In taking a decision, one does not so much
consider its immediate impacts but the consequences it will have upon the seventh gener-
ation to come after. In this respect, we should recall a, possibly apocryphal, story that
has been related to me by a number of architects. It was found that, after many centuries,
the great oak beams in an Oxford college needed replacing. Consultants considered sub-
stituting other materials until someone discovered in the college records that, at the time
of the founding of the college, a stand of oaks had been donated with an eye of future
replacement. According to the story, these oaks were now well matured and could be
used to renovate the roof.


It is not the intention of this essay to argue that we should abandon the Western world-
view and become Blackfoot over night. Rather it is to suggest that it would be useful for
us to examine our metaphysics in the light of that of another society. In this way, we
may come to realize that much of what we take to be inevitable and self-evident is, to
a great extent, a socially conditioned perception which contains a variety of unexam-
ined assumptions.
There is a great deal to be proud of in our science and technology yet our modern
world exhibits much that we now desire to change. Radical change requires a shift in
perception and a transformation of consciousness. Maybe there are lessons to be learned
from Blackfoot physics as an alternative way of viewing the world.
However could Blackfoot physics be applied in Europe, for example? The essential
issue is that, unlike in the west, there are no Blackfoot physicists, nor for that matter are
their any Blackfoot artists. Rather each person is a generalist, who has come to know the
wisdom of the group. This is not to say that there are not people with special healing

Blackfoot physics and European minds: F D Peat

abilities, or Keepers of Sacred Bundles, or Elders who know many of the Lodge tales, but
rather that the traditional ways of the Blackfoot are available to all their people.
Blackfoot science has not fragmented as a particular system of knowledge from the
other areas of life. It would be difficult, and probably impossible, to abstract something
called Blackfoot physics from the entire culture and then import it in packaged form into
a Western laboratory.
It is certainly true that Western science is already extracting certain knowledge from
the indigenous peoples of the world. Most of this involves information about the pharma-
ceutical powers of rare plants, fungi and the like. Indeed, one of the arguments for delay-
ing the destruction of the worlds rain forests and other threatened ecologies is their
potential for exploitation for wonder drugs and miracle cures. However, again, this is
being done in a fragmentary way. Science removes the plant from its environment and
analyses it to discover active ingredients. Once these have been synthesized there is no
need to preserve that particular ecology or to attempt to understand the world-view in
which that plant was respected and used.
As long as indigenous science is only employed in this fragmented way it will make
little impact on the Western mind. A genuine dialogue can only develop if Western
science is willing to extend its horizons and, for example, temper its abstract objectivity
with what could perhaps be called an impersonal subjectivity: impersonal since it does
not rely upon the accidents of personal biography and prejudice, yet subjective because
it speaks to our deep relationship to the world, and our objective intuitions about nature.
That subjectivity is antithetical to science because it is believed to involve the distor-
tions of highly personal biographical material, is the legacy of Europes romantic move-
ment. In an earlier age the subject, the artist or musician for example, sought to eliminate
the purely personal in their work and become the servant or conduit of what lay beyond.
Indeed, personal expression was considered to be in bad taste: a falling from the ideal.
Such art sought to express the numinous, the divine archetype, pure form, call it
what you will, in as direct a way as possible by eliminating the idiosyncratically personal.
It was a marriage of objectivity and subjectivity, the inner and outer response to arche-
types and materials. I am suggesting that something similar may be possible within West-
ern science. The power of its objectivity should be retained while, at the same time,
opening the door to an impersonal subjectivity: a more direct connection to the material
world, one that is felt, experienced and becomes the object of a trained intuition.
Within the framework of such a science it may be possible to open a dialogue to
other traditions and ways of thinking. Such a science could be simultaneously global, in
that it seeks universal laws of nature, and local, in that it responds to particular ecologies
and social needs and, at the same time, choosing alternative metaphors for its expression.
The philosopher, Wittgenstein, pointed out that when philosophy believes it is speak-
ing of great truths it is really involved in a variety of language games. This is equally
true of science for, no matter how abstract the mathematics, its interpretation and mean-
ing must always be expressed in everyday language; and such language carries with it a
great deal of biological and cultural baggage. Language, in which all science must be
expressed, is far from being value free.
It could be said that our current way of thinking, our European minds, has not yet
caught up with the deeper meaning of the scientific discoveries of this century. Quantum
theory stresses the wholeness of nature and the inadequacy of what could be termed the
Cartesian Order. That is, an order based upon notions of continuous space and time.

Blackfoot physics and European minds: F D feaf

One of the most significant movements within contemporary science is the search for
this new order. In a sense, it is a desire to reanimate time, a way of bringing back a truly
dynamical time into the heart of physics. However, to do this implies an entirely new
metaphysics and a change in the way we think about the world.
Such a change is also inherent in the discoveries of chaos theory and non-linear
systems. A science seeking certainty, control, predictability and closure has ended up
subverting itself. The world, we have learned, is far more complex than our attempts to
describe it. It contains regions of infinite sensitivity and absolute unpredictability. As I
have argued in this essay, one of the great changes in the European mind was the secu-
larization of time and the projection of nature into some world external to the essence
of a human being. It seems to me that within our modern world, are the seeds of some-
thing entirely different. They are the seeds of a consciousness that, in some ways, may
resonate with that of the Blackfoot. It is a consciousness that seeks a deeper and more
compassionate relationship with the natural world. One which may replace prediction
and control with something more intelligent, more subtle and more and holistic and
gentle in its action. Above all, what is required is a creative response to the modern age.
Such a change of consciousness requires an enormous energy, for we are being called
upon to dismantle old perceptions and prejudices and leave ourselves open for the oper-
ation of the creative.

Notes and references

1. Eco, U., Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages. Yale University Press, 1986.
2. Medina, J., Cezanne and Modernism: The Poetics of Painting. SUNY, Albany 1995.
3. Peat, F. D., Blackfoot Physics. 4th Estate, London, 1995.
4. Peat, F.D., Synchronicity: The Bridge Between Matter and Mind. Bantam Books, NY, 1987.
5. Borthoft, H., The Wholeness of Nature: Goethes Way Towards a Science of Wholeness. Lindisfarne Press,
Hudson, NY, 1996.
6. The biologist Brian Goodwin, in a private discussion, told me about a current revival in the Coethean
approach. He is working with what could be called objective intuition, a way of inner knowing that, he
believes, should coexist with conventional biology, each enriching the other.
7. In this respect, I am reminded of a story from ancient China. In a time of great political unrest, the countrys
leaders sought the advice of Confucius. What action should they take to restore harmony? The sage replied
that they should first purify the Chinese language and restore it to its original pristine state. In our own
times we have become aware of the extent to which the English language has become corrupted in the
mouths of some politicians and the military. The language we use is irreducibly linked to our perception
of the world.
8. A. Ford and F. D. Peat, The role of language in science. Foundations of Physics, 1988, 8, 1233.
9. Bohr, N., Atomic Physics and the Description of Nature. Cambridge University Press, 1934.
10. Wittgenstein, L., Philosophical Investigation, (trans C. E. M. Anscombe). Macmilliam, 1968.