On Other Ways of Knowing and Western Science

Coming up through the Western science tradition, one of the most frequent things I hear from scientists when the topic of intuition and other ways of knowing comes up is the perceived inability of others to verify it. Therefore, it is less than. I heard this again last week at the Global Council for the Environment Drawdown 2021 international conference when indigenous leaders spoke about their knowledge systems.

Because my personal experience defied what Western science was saying, including having others verify information that came to me in dreams and actually seeing what I saw in dreams, I began investigating this. As you might imagine, the first time I had someone recount to me a dream that I had blew to smithereens my worldview. A series of other similar experiences further shook that worldview. Since then, I have spent a great deal of time exploring and studying what have been classified as “mystery traditions”, and I have actually developed skills in many of these traditions, especially linking to those from my own Celtic heritage. I have been extremely careful in sharing this information for worry that it would compromise my credibility as a scientist, for the very reasons I heard voiced at the conference last week.

My exploration and study have shown that these approaches are actually externally verifiable. The ways in which they are verifiable are different than the scientific method, just as the ways in which we assess scholarly work other than science are different. The outcome is the same – externally verified information. The question of how we can know to have confidence in any information, including science, is a super important one. In fact, last year on the NCSE main stage the conversation I had with Martha McNutt, President of the National Academies of Science and well-known scientist Tom Lovejoy went right to this issue in Western science. While we have that conversation about Western science, perhaps we should also have it about other ways of knowing. What are the indicators that we can use to know to trust information?

While we are having that conversation, it is also important to recognize and respect that intuition and other ways of knowing, including dreams, have always been a part of science – the inspiration or breakthrough moment of many discoveries have been recounted to have come that way. We can read these stories, only AFTER the fact, and usually after someone who is now famous and successful recounts it. But we still do not even talk about how these aspects of self, beyond intellect, actually come into play in science already. I propose that were we to do so, that the questions we ask, the methods we use, the understandings of our results would be superior to those obtained through intellect alone.  I also propose that this conversation should be part of all university science education. Eventually I would like to see an infrastructure that intertwines science education and other ways of knowing education to bring the two together with equal respect and value, clearly understanding that both are needed to do our best.

Interested in this topic? Please feel free to comment and we’ll start the dialogue here.

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