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March 28, 2013

Perception and Possibility

Hey Folks - 
We have a fantastic volunteer, Seth Commichaux, who is a great writer and has been diving into some interesting topics related to environmental education.  We feel that his posts are thought provoking and well researched.  We do, however, want to note that the Green Fork Utah blog does not necessarily reflect the views of USEE.  It is a venue to prompt discussion and critical thinking and the articles are created and posted by staff, interns and volunteers.  Please check out the blog below and tell us what you think in the comments!  We'd love to have an open and respectful discussion.
The USEE Staff

Perception and Possibility

Having a more accurate perception of reality often opens doors of possibility that otherwise escape even the most creative, productive minds.  Along with doors of possibility opening can also come the real potential to fix problems and increase quality of life. 

An example:  For many millennia, worldwide, up to this day, people who suffered and suffer from epileptic seizures were/are ignorantly persecuted by various groups who believed and still believe that epileptic seizures were/are a sign of demons possessing the body of the sufferer.  Many of the people with epilepsy were/are humiliated, stigmatized, tortured, cast out of societies, exorcised, institutionalized, and imprisoned based upon the erroneous judgments of others who have no real understanding of the condition.  In fact, the primary sponsor of the American’s with Disabilities Act (passed in 1990), which protects people with disabilities from discrimination, was former congressman Tony Coelho who was partially driven to write the bill because of his own experiences with being stigmatized and discriminated against over his epilepsy in the United States. 
Things are slowly progressing for people with epilepsy because of the work of many scientists, advocates and medical professionals who have discovered and defended the evidence that epileptic seizures have much to do with neural function irregularities and nothing to do with evil spirits.  Because of science’s better understanding of the real nature of epilepsy, medications and other therapies have been developed which have greatly improved the lives of many with epilepsy.  Improvements that could never have come of superstitious beliefs about the nature of the disease.  A benefit of more accurate understanding is that it is a catalyst for healing to occur.  For people with epilepsy, the stigma and discrimination levied against them can now be called for the prejudice that it is because their disease has been separated from their moral actions by scientific study. 

Another example that comes to mind with environmental connections has to do with the era just before Charles Darwin and evolution by natural selection.  Before the debate over the reality of evolution occurred another debate raged amongst scientists and religious minded individuals alike in the late 1700s and early 1800s; it was over the age of the Earth and over another related concept that had been introduced with intriguing evidence by Georges Cuvier………extinction.  Yes, extinction was an idea that someone had to formally propose and defend because it went against the beliefs of the day.  Others had proposed the idea that extinction of species might occur, but they weren’t living in the right time for it to be accepted.  Remember that even the idea that fossils were remnants of living things whose body parts had been replaced with minerals was a relatively new idea at the time (Nicholas Steno, around 1666, realized while dissecting a fresh caught shark, that the shark’s teeth looked a lot like certain triangular shaped stones—and the rest is history for paleontology).

Georges Cuvier was one of the leading experts on animal anatomy and fossils in his time.  It was this expertise that he called upon to provide the evidence required for a paradigm shift in intellectual thinking.  What Cuvier realized was that, amongst the fossils that had been collected, like those of mammoths, many of the fossilized bones did not match the bones of anything living.  The fossil evidence was clear—animals went extinct.

Okay, okay, animals go extinct….what’s the big deal?  No one, nowadays, even remembers the controversy.   Well, at the time, people of science influenced by religion and people of religion alike believed that God’s creation was perfect and unchanging.  Because the world was created perfect, whole and changeless it wasn’t acceptable that, at one time, different species lived that no longer existed.  Debunking these beliefs, the fossil record would also come back in defense of evolution because it showed that even species, Homo sapiens included, are not stable……they change over time i.e. they evolve.

To get to the point of understanding and being able to teach and learn that the Earth was more than a few thousand years old, that the world did, in fact, change, and that it wasn’t perfect—i.e. species went extinct, species evolved—was no small feat.  It took hundreds of years of evidence accumulation, but the evidence is there and provides a convincing affirmation of the individuals who stood by their findings.  The result is that we have a better understanding of ourselves as human beings, a species, subject to all the laws of nature that have shaped the world and continue to do so.

These examples bring us to a modern debate that rages with a strangely familiar crowd of debaters.  It is the debate over climate change.  Is the debate over climate change a modern day equivalent of the extinction and epilepsy debates?  If so, can we realistically wait hundreds of years for a verdict to determine a course of action?

works cited:
Epilepsy: Part of the Second Opinion Series, DVD, Aquarius Health Care Media, 2008.

-Seth Commichaux

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