Friday, February 27, 2015

Culture Clash part 4: Are Worldviews like Hats (Switchable)? Is Science Morally Prescriptive?

A continuing conversation between Dr. John Robinson and Dr. Kai Chan

This is part 4.  If you missed it: part 1, part 2, part 3 ... part 5, part 6 (conclusion).

KC: How did two amicable colleagues get red in the face discussing sustainability and the imaginary? In part 1 of this exchange between Sustainability thinker John Robinson and myself (Kai Chan), John introduced a fascinating new exhibit on sustainability as an imaginary problem, and I responded with concerns that science was not parallel to religion. In parts two and three, we debated that point using the Dark Ages as an example, and I raised the point that people don't adopt a 'science' or 'religion' worldview whole-hog, but rather piecemeal.... Surely we can reach agreement now!?

From: <Robinson>, John
Date: Sunday, January 11, 2015 at 5:00 PM
To: Kai Chan
Cc: "RobinsonJohn"
Subject: RE: papers; and sustainability, science, and the imaginary

Kai,

I suspect that we will not agree on this, but let me have another try.

The values that are inextricably embedded in a scientific perspective, it seems to me, lie at a very deep epistemological level. They include positions such as the view that there exists an external world, independent of any views or ideas we may have of it, or that the stars are not alive or possessed of consciousness or intentionality, or that values are something that humans provide to the world. Of course there are lower level values that are in dispute or vary from individual to individual, but that is not the level I am interested in. I think it is well established that in many ways we do not pick our perspectives at these deep levels but they pick us. Put another way, we grow into a set of deep beliefs or understandings through some combination of experience, education and perhaps temperament.

So, at this deep level, it is not a matter of picking and choosing, or blithely combining. The religious view that the modern world is essentially dark because of its spiritual emptiness is not something that is equivalent to, or at the same level as, the recognition that medieval times had great poverty or high levels of starvation. These are qualitatively different judgements, and one is vastly (I used the word “cosmically” in my previous email) more important than the other. The great fear of a religiously minded person of the middle ages was that the world would come to an end spiritually, not physically; that the anti-Christ would come. I think it is plausible to believe that our modern world does in many ways represent those end-times. Indeed, I believe there are many who believe precisely this. This is indeed a major difference. One cannot combine this sensibility with a scientific one.

Note that, just like I am not speaking of specific (or all) scientists, when I talk about the scientific framework, I am not speaking of specific (or all) religious believers, when I talk about the religious framework. There are of course many scientists who are people of faith, and religious believers who are supporters of science. Rather, the claim I am making is that it is possible to postulate three incommensurable frameworks, which ultimately constitute the world at a deep level, and which may have very different implications for how we think about sustainability. If a person is utterly consistent in his or her beliefs, she or he will adhere to one of these positions. But in practice, most of us exhibit a high degree of cognitive dissonance, and can hold multiple inconsistent and even contradictory viewpoints. My argument does not depend on there being large number of people who hold precisely to these frameworks, simply that they exist, and as framework re incommensurable.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 
I think you are in a bit of trouble with your partial moral argument thesis, since it is hard to see why a complete moral argument (whatever that is) is required for science to be prescriptive. It seems to me that there is a lot of strongly prescriptive advocacy around that does not come close to having a complete moral argument. But in the end my view on this issue is not important here, because I think we are , again, arguing at different levels. Sure there is a lot of diversity and incompleteness in any given set of circumstances. Indeed, as suggested in the previous paragraph, I would argue there always is. But, again, at the level of underlying epistemological premises of the kind in described above, I think these frameworks are homogenous, even monolithic.

So the issue is not so much that science has been used for political ends. We agree that it has, and I think we agree that this is a misuse of science. But this does not detract from the circumstance that both science and  politics, in the modern secular world, are based on a set of deep-lying epistemological and ontological premises that they share. Science does indeed strive to limit the effects of individual values, such as material self-interest, or ideological positions. It is the most successful social enterprise we have in that regard. But it does indeed prescriptively impose a normative framework about, for example, what constitutes understanding, about the meaning and value of “objectivity”, and about the material nature of external reality.

As to speaking to a broader audience, I would be happy to discuss it. In the meantime, do you mind if I circulate this correspondence to the Imaginary World team and some of my grad students?

All the best,
John
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        
John Robinson 
Associate Provost, Sustainability | UBC Sustainability Initiative
Professor | Institute of Resources, Environment and Sustainability
Professor | Department of Geography
The University of British Columbia
2260 West Mall Vancouver, BC Canada V6T 1Z4
www.sustain.ubc.ca – UBC Sustainability Initiative (USI)
www.ires.ubc.ca – Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability (IRES)
www.cirs.ubc.ca – Centre for Interactive research on Sustainability (CIRS)



From: Chan, Kai
Sent: Sunday, January 11, 2015 5:35 PM
To: RobinsonJohn
Subject: Re: papers; and sustainability, science, and the imaginary

Hi John,

We agree that we still don’t fully agree! ;) Again, there are several points of agreement (e.g., that fundamentalist religious folks might feel as you suggest), but there are important remaining points of difference.

I can see that by one argument, it doesn’t matter that very few people adhere to only one of lenses/worlds. But I would argue that this represents a potential source of critical confusion in the exhibit.

I also don’t agree that science requires any of the value premises that you state below. E.g., it does not require that there is an external reality, only that we can probe our surroundings in such a way that there appears to be one. Similarly, it does not state what constitutes understanding, but rather a method for deriving one kind of understanding (a scientific understanding). Nowhere does ‘science’ state that this is the only kind of understanding.

Accordingly, I don’t agree that there are necessarily inconsistencies between science and religion. It all depends on how one interprets each of those. There might be inconsistencies between how you are articulating ‘science’ and ‘religion’, but if most people have understood these concepts in terms that mitigate or eliminate those inconsistencies, then you’re highly likely to talk past your audience (just as we have been talking past each other). The more folks that interpret ‘science’ and ‘religion’ differently than you intend, the fewer folks who will get from your exhibit what you intend. I think that the majority have starkly different views; perhaps you’d only be preaching to the choir and confusing the masses.

Furthermore, epistemological and moral premises are different. An epistemological premise does not provide the prescription needed for a moral argument.

Lastly, the point isn’t whether the complete moral argument is articulated. Sure, activists make moral prescriptions without stating their premises, etc. The point is that science does not contain moral premises, and so science cannot be prescriptive. That is, any moral premises that a scientist might have, or someone arguing ‘on a scientific basis’ might have, are not a sanctioned component of science. Thus, it is not science that is doing the prescribing.

I’d be happy for you to circulate this correspondence, John. Thanks so much for persisting—it’s been interesting!

Best,
Kai

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Interdisciplinary Culture Clash, part 3: If Not a Religion, Is Science an Ideology?

An ongoing conversation between Dr. John Robinson and Dr. Kai Chan

This is Part 3.  If you missed it:  Part 1, Part 2 ... Part 4. Part 5. Part 6 (conclusion).

KC: How did two amicable colleagues get red in the face discussing sustainability and the imaginary? In part 1 of this exchange between Sustainability thinker John Robinson and myself (Kai Chan), John introduced a fascinating new exhibit on sustainability as an imaginary problem, and I responded with concerns that science was not parallel to religion. In part two, we debated that point using the Dark Ages as an example. Here we start really talking past each other, even more than we initially realized (you may read a little exasperation between the lines)....

From: <Robinson>, John
Date: Saturday, January 10, 2015 at 8:04 PM
To: Kai Chan
Cc: "RobinsonJohn"
Subject: RE: papers; and sustainability, science, and the imaginary

Kai,

I think we are still talking past each other, which is perhaps to be expected since we are just beginning a discussion of very complex questions.

On the Dark Ages issue, your claim about the difference in material circumstances is quite correct, but simply serves to further illustrate my point, I think. The reason that medieval devout Christians might call our age “dark” relative to theirs has nothing to do with “the prevalence of disease, starvation, war, etc.” They would presumably care about those things, but also believe that such issues are far less important, indeed cosmically less important, than religious questions. And, from the point of view of unquestioning belief in a single, Catholic and apostolic Church, deeply integrated with all forms of governments and social life,  the idea of a mostly secular age like ours, not to mention the separation of Church and state, would presumably strike them as roughly equivalent to the reign of the anti-Christ. In other words, from the point of view of a deeply religious perspective (“religious” in this case meaning medieval Christianity), theological, spiritual  and religious issues are much more important than merely material ones. Of course, from the point of view of a modern secular culture, the opposite is the case. So the modern secularist can truly call the Dark Ages dark, in terms of the criteria that matter to him or her. But a medieval Christian could just as well call our time Dark Ages, with just as much justification, using a different set of criteria. That is of course the point, that the very criteria to be used to evaluate such a question are fundamentally different. (By the way, ignoring issues such as this in dealing with fundamentalist Islamicist movements in the world today is, I believe, a recipe for disaster.)

Turning to the question of the role of science in society, note that my claim isn’t about what scientists think but more generally what people in a modern secular culture, including scientists, think. In our case, that culture is deeply impregnated with a view of science as the fundamental epistemological arbiter. We thereby equate scientific understanding with our best approach to the truth about the nature of a reality which is independent of us. Those views, that there is a reality independent of us, and that science provides us with the best understanding of that reality, are characteristic of our culture. They were not the views of pre-modern Western world, not of most of the rest of the world for most of history. Yet they are so deeply embedded in our culture that most of us never even consider that they are historically contingent in this way. They are simply seen as descriptive viewpoints, not contested claims.

It is in this sense that I would disagree with you when you say that science is not a world-view (though in another way, which I think you will disagree with, I agree with that statement; see below.) The view that science is descriptive, not prescriptive, is, I believe, a contestable viewpoint. The distinction between facts and values, which underlies your claim that science is not about determining objectives but about interpreting process, has been strongly challenged (and of course also defended) in the history and philosophy of science, for many  decades. The huge debates sparked by the work of Thomas Kuhn were largely about this question. My reading of that work, and the half century or so of science studies (sociology of scientific knowledge, STS [science, technology and society], social studies of science, etc.), is that there is a very compelling critique of the view that science is essentially descriptive, that facts can be separated from values, and that observation can be theory independent. I myself subscribe to the view that observation is unavoidably deeply theory-laden, so facts and values are inextricably entangled at a deep level, and that science is, as Habermas argued, a “knowledge-constitutive interest”. I completely agree that if we want to describe “process” in terms of prediction, and potential control of physical behaviour, then science represents the most socially reliable process we know today for doing so (perhaps largely because of its essentially social processes of verification: peer review and replication). Yet such prediction is not a value-neutral goal at all, but reflects a set of deep assumptions about the way the world works and what we mean by understanding. In that sense, science, as a social enterprise is indeed rooted in a particular set of values and meanings. It is indeed literally a meaning-making process, not simply a neutral description of the world.

I accept that this value-ladeness and prescriptiveness exists at different levels, and I would agree that the way science is used by, say, the regenerative design scholars may represent a more egregious approach to being prescriptive than you or other scientists may agree with. But my experience with climate change issues, and lots of other sustainability questions, is that such an approach, which says that science tells us how to act, is very common. And in a curious kind of way, it is more (though unconsciously) consistent with the description of science that I am arguing for, than is your claim that science is purely descriptive. In other words, the view that ecological science, for example, is the “operating manual for planet earth” (to pick a famous claim) is common to more than regenerative design scholars, and at least acknowledges that science is indeed value-laden.

So while I myself don’t believe that modern science provides “redemptive truth”, to use Rorty’s phrase (i.e. knowledge that tells us how to live), I do believe that such a claim is inherent in the very fabric of modern science, and the claim that it is just value-free description is not defensible. I take you to be also arguing against science as redemptive, but for the opposite reason: you believe that science is, in principle (if not always in practice) value-free and morally neutral.

In other words, I think you are arguing that science is not redemptive because it is, or should be, value free and morally neutral. I agree that we should not look to science for redemptive truth, but, since it is unavoidably value laden, this cannot be by simply purifying our practice so that we exclude discussion of values from the scientific enterprise. Those values are too deeply embedded to be removable; they are inherent in the very practice of science. My approach is, rather, accepting what is sometimes called a post-modernist or social constructivist point of view, to challenge the intellectual monopoly of science as epistemological arbiter of our world. That is, let’s celebrate it for what it does well (predict phenomena), but recognize that that is just one set of values and descriptions. Science doesn’t tell us anything at all about objective reality, independent of humanity, since the idea that there is such a thing as objective reality is itself just one of the products of a scientific world-view.

It is in this sense that what Rorty calls the literary perspective exists as an alternative viewpoint. This viewpoint suggests that there is no reality independent of our various constructions of it. We only have each other, to use Rorty’s language. In this sense the literary perspective in indeed an alternative to both the religious and scientific perspectives, which of course are very different from each other, but share the belief that there exists an absolute truth, independent of us.

And from the point of view of the literary perspective, these three perspectives (religious, scientific and literary) are not simply world-views, but actually constitutive of the world itself (as suggested above, I suspect you would not be happy with this version of the argument that science is not a world-view). That is, the literary perspective claims that each of the three perspectives implies a completely different concept of the nature of the world and how we exist within it.  Of course from the point of view of either of the other two perspectives, this claim is false, since there is, from either of the other two viewpoints, a real world independent of our consciousness. This leads to an unavoidable meta-problem in that each description of the three perspectives is itself perspective-dependent: there can be no neutral way of describing them that is acceptable to all three.

It is this line of argument that gives rise to our choice of these three perspectives as the basis for the world-making process in the Sustainability in an Imaginary World project. In my view, lying behind the specific policy, behavioural and technological choices we need to make (important as they are) are more fundamental choices about which world we live in. This is a matter of decision, not description. The purpose of the SIW [Sustainability in an Imaginary World] project is to try and illustrate the link between such decisions and sustainability.

If you have waded through this email to this point, you may feel that my position leads to an unacceptable from of social constructivism and relativism, where anything goes, there is no real world, and there is no basis for deciding what views are legitimate in any circumstances. Astrology and astrophysics are simply collected sets of opinion, with no basis to choose between them. I would argue that, on the contrary, there are always very compelling reasons to choose among such frameworks, just that these reasons are essentially social, not matters of objective truth. But, even if we accept such a position, it seems to call into question the very idea of an external world, which in turn seems to be a rather odd position for someone in the sustainability field to adopt.  So let me end by saying that I think Latour has much to offer us here. If I am right in interpreting his arguments (always a question with respect to his work), he is calling for an approach that dissolves the artificial distinction between facts and values, and gives the material world real agency. So, the literary approach may be consistent with a view that is not just about the social construction of reality, but about an active collaboration between us and our world in a kind of mutual constitution of reality. That reality is not fixed in time or place; much less is it absolute or objectively true. But it is the most fruitful approach and position to take at our time and place in history, given all our current cultural resources and behaviours, including, of course, modern science itself. This is why I adopt what I call a procedural approach to sustainability, which sees sustainability as an essentially contested concept, and therefore local in time and place in the sense that it must be worked out for each time and place. Sustainability does not mean the same for us as it will for others in the future, any more than democracy or justice means the same for us in Canada today as they meant for the French in the 18th century, or the Romans in the 4th century. Sustainability is this an inherently local, ethical and normative concept.

Sorry for the long email. You inspired me to a lengthier response that I intended.

All the best,
John
                                                                               
John Robinson 
Associate Provost, Sustainability | UBC Sustainability Initiative
Professor | Institute of Resources, Environment and Sustainability
Professor | Department of Geography
The University of British Columbia
2260 West Mall Vancouver, BC Canada V6T 1Z4
www.sustain.ubc.ca – UBC Sustainability Initiative (USI)
www.ires.ubc.ca – Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability (IRES)
www.cirs.ubc.ca – Centre for Interactive research on Sustainability (CIRS)



From: Chan, Kai
Sent: Sunday, January 11, 2015 3:43 PM
To: RobinsonJohn
Subject: Re: papers; and sustainability, science, and the imaginary

Hi John,

Yes, we were talking past each other, and I think now I see how I might clarify my position so that we are more in line.

I completely agree with the Dark Ages; my point there was that many people who see themselves religious also agree that the material values mean that the Dark Ages were indeed dark. And the purpose of making that point was that people do not actually choose one of the three lenses, but multiple; the worlds that you would be forcing a choice between are not mutually exclusive. By forcing a false choice between the three, you may be sowing more confusion than enlightenment.

Re: the role of science in society, I agree with you almost completely on what you’ve written. I completely agree (and teach from the position) that science is not value neutral. But we differ on whether that means that science is prescriptive in the way that religion is. I argue strongly that it isn’t. I agree fully that there are no facts that untinged with values through science, which is not and could not be a neutral process. But the values of ‘science’ are neither a complete nor a 'particular' homogenous set as needed for science to be prescriptive.

What I mean by complete is that the values that are included in scientific results (conflated within) are not sufficient such that, combined with the results of a study, they make a complete moral argument. When an individual argues that ‘science says we should …’ they are in fact including implicit moral premises that can be distinguished from the science itself, where different premises would result in different conclusions. So, while I agree that there is no clear distinction between facts and values, I disagree that science itself is prescriptive.

The second point is that the values in ‘science’ are not a ‘particular’ (homogenous) set. There are some broadly shared values, certainly, but there are also many values included by individual researchers into their own studies that are often not broadly shared. Another reason why ‘science' is not prescriptive.

I know that science has been used to further political ends, and it may well be the case that many people in North America currently believe that such uses of science are part of science. But in my mind, that is not science, but a use of science. Science, although not value-free, is indeed a process that limits the influence of values and the vast majority of scientists strive very hard to ensure this. Sure, we have persistent and prevalent blind spots, but to suggest that science is parallel to religion in terms of value, meaning (in a metaphysical or spiritual sense), and prescription, strikes me as misleading and very dangerous. 

I hope this clarifies my position! I wonder if there’s something worth writing for a broader audience here….

Best,
Kai

Monday, February 23, 2015

Interdisciplinary Culture Clash, part 2: Is Science a Religion? Were the Dark Ages Dark?

A continuing conversation between Dr. John Robinson and Dr. Kai Chan

This is part 2, find part 1 here. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6 (conclusion).

KC: Last post, I introduced a provocative conversation between Dr. John Robinson and myself (Kai Chan) in which the surprisingly heated exchange retaught me lessons I thought I already knew about interdisciplinarity and CP Snow's two cultures (science and the humanities). I thought I was so 'over' that divide, until this first substantial response of John's about different interpretations of science, sustainability, and the Dark Ages....


From: <Robinson>, John 
Date: Friday, January 9, 2015 at 5:20 PM
To: Kai Chan 

Cc: "RobinsonJohn

Subject: RE: papers; and sustainability, science, and the imaginary

Kai,

I completely agree with you about the collective nature of the problem. We are in the middle of an intense discussion in the project on exactly this issue. That is why the choices made in the ‘world-making machine’ are by groups of four participants acting collectively.

I understand your view about science, and that is exactly what I would expect the character in the science category of our project to believe. But someone in the religious camp would have quite a different view, and so would someone in the literary camp. Note that this is not a matter only of world-view, but of the world itself. We call the Dark Ages dark, and that is a perfectly good judgement from within our own frame of reference. But any devout Christian from that time would be more likely to use that term to describe our world. From my point of view it is precisely the confident assertion in both the religious and scientific frames, that they are describing the real reality that underlies and informs all other frameworks of understanding (i.e. God or objective reality), that leads me to lump them together in terms of their epistemological stance. The literary stance differs fundamentally on that axis (though there are other axes of course).

Lots to discuss. I look forward to hearing any views you have on Rorty’s paper.

All the best,
John

John Robinson 
Associate Provost, Sustainability | UBC Sustainability Initiative
Professor | Institute of Resources, Environment and Sustainability
Professor | Department of Geography
The University of British Columbia
2260 West Mall Vancouver, BC Canada V6T 1Z4
www.sustain.ubc.ca – UBC Sustainability Initiative (USI)
www.ires.ubc.ca – Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability (IRES)
www.cirs.ubc.ca – Centre for Interactive research on Sustainability (CIRS)


From: Chan, Kai
Sent: Friday, January 09, 2015 8:58 PM
To: RobinsonJohn
Subject: Re: papers; and sustainability, science, and the imaginary

Hi John,

Thanks for this. Great re: the collective problem.

On the point below, I agree with you that different people might differ in their interpretation of what’s better, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make. [Digression: I don’t think that it’s only scientists (or people who primarily use science to help guide their actions) who call the Dark Ages dark. Many people consider the Dark Ages dark not because of the lack of science but because of the prevalence of disease, starvation, war, etc.]

My point is that science is not only or even primarily a worldview. You were critiquing the regenerative design folks who you felt were using science as a worldview, including as a moral compass. But, as I argued in your office, that is decidedly a minority view within the scientific community (and one that philosophers have rejected through logical argument, which I support). The majority of scientists that I know and read use science to interpret process, not meaning. And they use it to design solutions to meet given objectives, not to decide on appropriate objectives.

In my mind, the meaning (in a spiritual sense) must come from outside science, as must our goals and objectives. Accordingly, there is no necessary choice between religion or literature and science. They are not mutually exclusive, because science is not primarily a worldview. Many embrace both religion and science, and use religion to guide their spirituality and science to guide their understanding of process and consequence.

Some people say that science is a religion (implying, among other things, that people use it to interpret meaning and decide on objectives), but I dispute that. Some folks might mistakenly use science that way, as I think you’re critiquing the regenerative design folks, but your exhibit risks suggesting that such meaning-making and objective-setting are the, or a main, purpose of science. In my view, such a suggestion would demonize and misrepresent science and scientists.

Have a great weekend,
Kai


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Interdisciplinary Culture Clash, Part 1: Sustainability in an Imaginary World

A conversation between Dr. John Robinson and Dr. Kai Chan

This is part 1.  Find part 2 here. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6 (conclusion).

KC preamble: As an interdisciplinary scientist, I well remember first learning about C.P. Snow's famous argument that "the intellectual life of the whole of western society" was split into the titular two cultures — namely the sciences and the humanities — and that this was a major hindrance to solving the world's problems." (Wikipedia). But never did I think that I would so strongly embody just one of those perspectives in a clash between the two, as I did during a provocative week of exchanges with one of my most valued colleagues, IRES Professor and UBC Associate Provost John Robinson (leading sustainability thinker, interdisciplinary researcher rooted in the humanities and social sciences, former Canadian environmental scientist of the year, and mastermind behind the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability).

As a natural and social scientist who also studied ethics and has a penchant for writing fiction, I thought I could help bridge the gap between these 'two cultures'. But in this exchange, which we'll share with you in pieces, I came to realize that the roots of these cultures run deep, and are so buried as to be invisible, until they manifest in the rumpled pavement of an upended conversation. Or so it felt at the nadir of this exchange, a tense moment in the wide open lobby of the Earth Sciences Building, when John and I both struggled, red in the face, to contain our escalating voices.

I will leave the unfolding of the drama and its resolution for this series of blog posts that John and I jointly agreed would be fun to post publicly, but what I will say is that the exchange made me rethink a great deal I thought I knew about interdisciplinarity and sustainability after over a decade of research and teaching.

What follows is that exchange, which started with a meeting at CIRS, in which John described to me a fascinating upcoming event at UBC (envisioned by John and RMES PhD graduate David Maggs) that takes a novel approach to charting a sustainable future. The one-pager below summarizes most of what John explained to me in person.

Sustainability in an Imaginary World
Historically speaking, the challenge of sustainability has been viewed as one of proving the world real.  Solutions to environmental problems come from science, providing the indispensable factual basis for telling people what to do. Despite success with tractable, reducible environmental issues (e.g. acid rain) this approach is proving far less successful with complex challenges where multiple factors interact strongly with sociocultural and political systems. The gap between our efforts and their intended results is palpable.

This project proposes a different track. We begin with a view of sustainability as an essentially contested concept, like truth or justice, giving rise to the idea of sustainability as an emergent property of negotiations amongst interested parties about what kind of world we want to live in, what we refer to as procedural sustainability. This view places emphasis on the imagination, as sustainability can no longer rely on determining the right path to a single sustainable future. Rather it relies on how well we explore and imaginatively inhabit multiple possible futures. This implies a significant shift in worldview: instead of a world made of objects whose reality can be established in absolute terms, we must contend with dynamic and contingent cultural forms which shape the ways such facts are constituted, expressed and interpreted. This may be precisely why persistent efforts to prove the world real offer declining traction in pursuit of sustainability. Engaging with the world as an imaginary place may be an essential alternative.

Our hope is to develop approaches to sustainability engagement which shift away from efforts to make people face some brute reality of their worlds and towards enchanting them with the openness of the world as an imaginary place. We aim to do so by combining two fields of sustainability engagement: scenario analysis and the arts, both of which have much to offer-and gain-from such a transition.

Scenario analysis evolved as an alternative to predictive forecasting techniques, introducing us to the idea of multiple incommensurable baseline futures. Using narrative and visualization in an imaginary world, we propose to extend the inherent storytelling possibilities of the scenario form. While the arts have been courted by sustainability as a means to elevate environmental issues into public concern, this amounts to a pedantic task of converting facts into values. Shifting sustainability's concern from facts to possibilities returns an epistemic quality to the creative inquiry of artistic practices.

Freed of the urgency to prove the world real, both fields might take advantage of an explicitly fictional stance, their capacity to make things up, inviting audiences to relate to sustainability in a similar fashion, an enchanting, imaginative exercise characterized by possibility, potentiality, play, beauty and agency.

Our goal is to create an interactive experience that is aesthetically driven, that prioritizes the capacity of the arts to engage, provoke and destabilize through its expressive powers, yet at the same time, draws audiences into an interactive, collaborative engagement with elements of future-making and sustainability. Building on a rich history of participatory sustainability research and recent work in multi-channel participatory engagement, while drawing upon the capacity of the BC Hydro Theatre (UBC) along with the team's artistic and technical expertise, we will collaboratively design, implement and evaluate an immersive, multi-media experience. Combining the conceptual framework (the world as imaginary) with our prototypical efforts could lead to widely applicable approaches and methods for engaging citizens on sustainability issues in new and fruitful ways.

***

KC: Below, John followed up with the email below, and I responded with a few thoughts that fermented after our meeting, as I traversed dark rain-sodden streets on my ride home.


From: <Robinson>, John
Date: Thursday, January 8, 2015 at 4:59 PM
To: Kai Chan 

Cc: "RobinsonJohn

Subject: papers

Kai,

It is very exciting to think there may be some powerful convergence and hopefully synergy between your cultural ecosystems services work and some of our work on procedural sustainblity. As promised, I have attached the regenerative sustainability paper Ray and I have just had published, and also Rorty’s paper. I am very interested in any views you might have on either!

All the best,
John


From: Chan, Kai
Sent: Friday, January 09, 2015 2:24 PM
To: RobinsonJohn
Subject: Re: papers; and sustainability, science, and the imaginary

Hi John, thanks so much for this! I’m excited about this convergence also.

One thing that struck me yesterday is that the choice of worlds in the exhibit sounds very individual, when in reality a big part of the sustainability challenge is that it is a collective problem. What might work for one person, or for a whole world of people thinking in the same way as that person, will not necessarily work for the world collectively given the diversity of worldviews. If the primary goal is to show that an open negotiation/discussion about choices and trajectories is crucial, perhaps it would help to have some element of the exhibit demonstrate that any ‘solution' must play out also for people who are living in all three worlds, and that if a given person’s world vision is one that is hegemonic, it may collide badly with others’ worlds.

Second, I’ve kept thinking about my argument that the three characters are not at all parallel. (I am sure that there’s little new to you in what’s below already, but I’m going to keep going with this, because I can’t help feeling that the current design of the exhibit implicitly contradicts the view below, which I feel strongly about.) Science doesn’t provide direction, as I’ve said, and as you yourself said, science is the only one that truly allows prediction and anticipation of responses and other future change, and also the development of new technological tools to deal with new challenges. You said that you and David are not inimical to science, but I can’t understand why your stance isn't a stronger positive one. I would venture that science is essential to most people’s notions of sustainability, whether they know it or not. As you also said, there was a time when religion was by far the dominant world, and that was the Dark Ages. If science were removed from today’s world, I’d argue that’s effectively what we would return to.

The literary world is great for imagining where we might like to ‘go', individually and collectively. But if the imaginary future involves intergalactic transponders and teleportation machines, we’d better be enlisting science to tell us whether those are likely to be possible and to help build them. And if the imaginary world involves maintaining current standards of living for nine billion people while rejecting science and technology and resorting to wizardry and the Dark Arts, odds are that kind of world simply won’t happen no matter how fancifully and vigorously people imagine. Just like the apocalyptic cults that keep predicting the world will end, the belief doesn’t actually make it happen; cultists might never get persuaded of the error of their ways (and so shaken out of their 'world'), but they do not have the power to bring about the world they envision.

I asked you about your goals for your and David’s fascinating, innovative idea. I would hope that the main message is not that we truly get to choose which worldview, and what kind of physical, social, and technological world we want to create, with unlimited potential. Rather, I’d argue that we can make these choices only within limits (I’d argue best understood through science). And in this context of the current rise of anti-science sentiment, with people increasingly taking science for granted, personally I’d want to make sure that people realize that science is needed both for understanding the limits on what’s possible, and for achieving most of those possibilities for a planet inhabited by billions of people.

Does that make sense? Again, thanks so much for the thought-provoking meeting!

I’m attaching three papers about cultural ecosystem services, making the argument I mentioned yesterday. I look forward to reading the ones you sent.

Best,
Kai


Continue to part 2

Monday, February 9, 2015

Ecologically sustainable but unjust?


by Sarah Klain, CHANs lab PhD Candidate


Fisheries have supported people along the central coast of British Columbia for millennia. Currently, you need hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars to buy the right to participate in the commercial sea cucumber and geoduck fisheries. These fisheries could provide more jobs for First Nations who live near these fisheries, but entrenched management systems would have to change. 
The coastal waters of the Great Bear Rainforest support lucrative fisheries, including sea cucumber, a marine invertebrate with leathery skin, and geoduck, a gigantic salt-water clam. Both are invertebrates These two fisheries are managed in ways that are, arguably, ecologically sustainable, but they currently provide few opportunities and little income to First Nation communities. In our recent publication, we applied the ideas of Nobel-laureate Elinor Ostrom related to design principles for sustainable common pool resource systems with emphasis on the history of a place and equity considerations.

The “geo” in geoduck is pronounced as “gooey.”

Based on evidence from our literature review and interviews, we argue that providing Central Coast First Nations with greater commercial access to these fisheries as well as more say in their management could likely maintain the ecological integrity of these stocks. This could also contribute to partially righting some historical injustices, addressing power imbalances and a more equitable distribution of rights, responsibilities and benefits associated with these fisheries. 
Sea cucumber in BC.






See:
Klain, S. C., Beveridge, R., & Bennett, N. J. (2014). Ecologically sustainable but unjust? Negotiating equity and authority in common-pool marine resource management. Ecology and Society, 19(4), art52. doi:10.5751/ES-07123-190452