[NetBehaviour] Kalahari Bushmen and PDAs

mark cooley flawedart at yahoo.com
Sat Mar 21 17:41:47 CET 2009

...How did humans come to do science? One theory is that it began when
humans were hunter-gatherers, with the practice of tracking. The theory
is eloquently described by Louis Liebenberg in his book, The Art of Tracking, the Origin of Science.
To track an animal, you must observe the environment, form a hypothesis
about what is happening, and then look for clues that support or refute
your hypothesis. A good tracker can look at evidence and form a theory
about what an animal is doing and where the next evidence will be
found. The tracker tests the hypothesis by looking for that evidence;
if supported by repeatability, the hypothesis develops into a theory.  Liebenberg has taken the connection between tracking and science one step further,  turning Kalahari Bushmen
into citizen scientists by sending them into the field with PDAs and
software with a pictogram interface to collect data about the locations
of plants and animals. In a society where the art of tracking was being
lost, carrying a PDA has had the unintended consequence of re-elevating
the status of the tracking as a profession.
It’s not hard to see how other food gathering techniques use the
same kind of hypothesis testing. If you’re not able to reproduce the
successful test of your hypothesis, you might not eat! Indigenous
peoples are consumate naturalists; understanding the natural history of
the land is imperative for survival. And think of the science done by
early agriculturists!
The current crises of climate change and resource depletion are a
symptom, I believe, of us losing our connection to the natural world.
By trying to separate ourselves from nature, we’re literally on the
brink of destroying ourselves. Our modern food systems are especially
implicated. In his recent celebrated article Farmer in Chief,
Michael Pollan explains how our industrial food system contributes to
global climate change, fossil fuel depletion, pollution, health
problems, and other ills of our times. Part of the solution is to
reconnect with local food systems; by restoring local, biodiverse, and
ecologically sensitive agriculture, we can help solve many of our
problems. And that kind of agriculture requires people who are close to
the land, and deeply connected to nature....

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