Presentation by Valerie Luzadis at Humanity Rising: A Global Solutions Summit

Thank you, Jim. Hello everyone. What a pleasure it is to join you here today on Humanity Rising. Thanks to you and the team at Ubiquity University for this incredible, on-going gathering that is Humanity Rising. And thank you to all who are tuning in for this conversation about new mindsets for science in the effort to create a more sustainable and resilient post pandemic world.

As an ecological economist and social-ecological systems scientist, I have focused on sustainability throughout my career. Before the pandemic, we were facing  a dual crisis of tremendous social inequality, with the accumulation of wealth in a few hands, and tremendous ecological disruption with climate change, water issues, food security, and more, and now it has become a triple crisis with the global pandemic. We need solutions. We need new mindsets.

We need to be radical, creative, and innovative and I argue that we also need to be inspired and we need to inspire others.  Specific solutions need to come from the bottom up and the top down, the left, the right.  However, it might take a new mindset to do this. 

Science provides us with amazing knowledge that can be used to create a more sustainable, equitable, and resilient world. To achieve the transformation we seek, we need to create truly innovative institutional structures (or simply put – new ways to live on the planet).  The transformation is one in which story and science, imagination, innovation, intuition and data, all braid together toward understanding the unity of Earth’s systems and inhabitants and the beauty of its heterogeneity.  One day the children of this planet will learn about this transformation and wonder at what came before, stunned at how people could have stood for such inequity, disrespect, and dualism in everything around them.

How do we change mindsets? And what kind of change do we need?

We all know the challenge of changing our minds…once an idea is set; boy is it hard to shift.  Think about it.  How many of us know someone so set in their ways, you just can’t imagine them changing their minds….I know I can think of a few…maybe more than a few!

So how do we do this?  How do we change our minds?  Ask anyone who has ever kicked a habit, made a great personal or professional change, how they got started. They looked inside and asked themselves good questions.  And sometimes these questions or the possible answers are pretty frightening.  We all know the power of fear in our lives….sometimes we’re just afraid to look. We are all here at Humanity Rising because we KNOW we must look. 

So how DO we do this? Think about a moment when you saw someone change their mind or when they realized that their mind HAD changed.  What a powerful thing!  As a scientist, I admit that data can change my mind.  But when it comes to issues of values, it is not always data that does it or only data that does it.  Some of the most powerful shifts of mind I have experienced myself or observed in others were stimulated by stories. Personal stories. 

When I first embraced the idea of stories, I had a lot to learn – my education was all science all the time and that did not include stories, and so I did what we academics will do – I researched it.  But I also talked about it with others.  The ideas of creativity, imagination, and intuition kept coming up – and I thought, all that is okay in fiction, but in science?  At least we never hear about it in science.  We all know that science is fact-based – no place for imagination and intuition. But we also know that’s not exactly true.  Only we do not usually say that out loud.  I experience imagination and intuition not as creative in some childish way — “Oh, it’s only your imagination” — but as an important aspect of my greatest personal AND professional achievements.  I know many scientists for whom this is true, and it is time to talk about this. It is time to shift to a new mindset in science. It is time for radical collaborations.

Imagination and intuition are incredibly important parts of everything we do – in science and otherwise.  When we pay attention to them, we can learn to appropriately and usefully interpret them. 

Scientists rarely articulate when, where, and how imagination and intuition inform the scientific endeavor.  Often this subject is not addressed at all in the teaching of science or in scholarly research in any area. This leaves students with incomplete knowledge and likely an inaccurate impression that imagination and intuition have no value in science nor with the resolution of complex problems including achieving sustainability.

I’d like to share a bit about how I came to this – a bit of my story.

Very soon after I became an assistant professor in a forestry department of a research university, I had a profound experience of direct knowledge. I was high in the canopy of an old growth forest, doing my best to manage my fear of heights. As a tree lover and environmental scientist, I could not pass up the opportunity to experience the forest canopy. So I went up in the crane, and it was during this experience of being among the crowns of the trees in this old growth forest that I suddenly knew how energy flows within the forest, and between trees, including after disturbance like when we cut trees.  I had no idea how this could have happened, other than it seemed that the trees had somehow “told” me this. I mentioned this to no one! Upon return to my campus, I looked at the current understanding of energy flows within a forest and asked colleagues who study that. I learned that the information that had come to me from the trees was at the time unknown to science. I did not know what to do with the information I seemed to now have, both because of the means of its appearance and the fact that it was not the science I was trained to do with my newly minted PhD. So, I did nothing. I didn’t even dare tell anyone about it. Years went by, nearly 20 years, and I heard a TED talk on the radio about the very thing I had learned. It was a scientist talking about energy flows in a forest. I nearly fell off my chair. I looked up the research and saw scientists had completed studies that resulted in the very knowledge that had somehow come to me all those years ago in the forest. I was floored. I was struck deeply that it was time to start talking about this.

As my career advanced as an environmental scientist who studies social-ecological systems and ecological economics, both areas of study about relationships between people and nature, I realized that the ways in which we teach and learn science and research, possibly most scholarly pursuits, is largely limited to “rational”, analytical, intellectual approaches. We do not teach students to listen and learn from everything, or if we do it is at a level of simple observation that is then essentially reduced by the solely intellectual focus of research. What if we taught new scientists, new scholars, to listen to everything that came to them as they live their lives? Whether it seemed fanciful or not? Whether it was a dream they remembered or a “download” from old growth trees. What if imagination and intuition were valued equally to intellect in the pursuit of knowledge? Of course, we would also need to continue to teach about using intellect and analytical approaches at the same time.  Bringing all this together, we would be asking better questions, and getting to more useful knowledge sooner.

I have found that the way forward for science, scholarship, and knowledge is through the heart. We must learn to think through our hearts and feel through our minds to come to the new systems we need. The link for me is heart.  In order to engage my imagination, I must free myself from the tyranny of the mind. Sometimes I have to actually “unlearn” things. In order to hear my inner knowing, to have space for direct knowledge, whether in the form of an intuition, a download, or a conversation with a plant, I know that I must listen through my heart.

What would science, scholarship, and knowledge itself look like if we linked the heart and the mind in all that we do? I have come to call this Heart Forward Science and I started an organization with that name to address these issues. I know many scientists and scholars who are heart forward. They came to this through their own personal pursuits, not as sanctioned by nor the design of educational programs for scientists and scholars. Some had mentors within the academic world who helped them along this path, but most found their way by reaching outside the academy. I propose that we create the scaffolding between these two, currently separate, pursuits – development of the intellect and mind, and development of heart and spirit to bring us to more equitable and sustainable ways of living. Heart Forward Science was established to do just that.

It is time now for us to illuminate pathways to allow for heart to lead in science. One of the interesting aspects of this is not really knowing what that looks like, what all those pathways may be. But this is precisely part of the path – it is BECAUSE we do not know what it looks like, that we need to trust our hearts to keep us on a path of respect, dignity, mutuality, interconnectedness, reciprocity – a path of divine love. Whether it is science, scholarship, research, or other endeavors – art, dance, music – all on a path of heart, or led with heart, have the potential to transform the world in ways in which intellect alone does not.

We need to include in our education programs the skills to know when you are operating through heart and when you are not. There are many simple ways to do this, all easily taught and learned. We have heard many of them in talks here on Humanity Rising. I have used some of these techniques in the classroom and the students are amazed at the difference between intellect-only response and what comes out when they simply slow down and experience nature.

What if we taught science and research using techniques like this, bringing more of ourselves to the work? Allowing our body-minds, our hearts, into the process?

We need to teach this. We need to develop approaches to do so in ways that speak to scientists, and we need to ask scientists who have come to this balance themselves to speak up to help establish respect from the scientific world for other ways of knowing. We have made some progress, albeit little and spotty, with growing respect for Traditional Ecological Knowledge. We have yet to acknowledge other ways of knowing within all people.

If this is a topic that interests you, please consider connecting with us here at

This talk was followed by a panel discussion with Dr. Anna Stewart-Ibarra, Dr. Bradley Parrish, Ms. Elizabeth Erdmann, PhD candidate, and Dr. Daniela Manuschevich. A recording of the entire program will be found on the Humanity Rising website: It should be posted by August 11, 2020.

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