NEW WORLD, NEW MIND

Robert Ornstein and Paul Ehrlich

London, 1989.


Given the pace of deterioration in the ecosphere, this book is hardly hot off the press, but one of its virtues is the treatment of the psychological aspects of social thinking about environmental problems. Ornstein is a psychologist; Ehrlich is an ecologist, and author of The Machinery of Nature.

They end the chapter called "Caricatures of Reality" with these words:

"the most important 'defaults' of the human mind are to look for discrepancies in the world, to ignore what is going on constantly, and to respond quickly to sudden shifts, to emergencies, to scarcity, to the immediate and personal, to 'news'. For millions of years, these 'defaults' of the mind have worked well." (p.93)

Some of the themes explored are those discussed in Sutherland, but here the authors take the angle of evolutionary psychology. The vexed questions of rationality and relativism crop up here and there, as in the case of the fatalism of the Aivilikmiut Eskimos. In the 1950s, the temporarily flush hunters bought motor-boats and high-powered rifles, with which they very effectively killed seals but lost 20 for every one retrieved.

"With the old method of hunting seals, using a harpoon equipped with a line affixed to a detachable point, virtually all animals killed were recovered. The pressure of Eskimos' hunting on the seals increased many-fold, but the Aivilikmiut did not connect the growing scarcity of seals with their own activities - because they believed the spirits controlled the supply of game." (p.60)

Finally, the author's concluding chapter, "Changing the World Around Us", argues that,

"The potential role of conscious evolution in overriding the defaults of the mind needs to be understood by everyone as easily as they now understand ordinary speech... The time has come for society to make an organized effort to train all minds to filter in, not filter out, the imperceptible but dangerous trends that now characterize the human environment." (p.260)

This may be linked to Fuller's promotion of the Design Science Revolution.



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Paul Taylor 2001