|Cherokee woman who became my honorary grandmother many many years ago. For most of those
years, her gem has seemed like pure nonsense. Not until I began writing about knowing bears from an
mislead someone, but straying from literal truth to better convey more fundamental truths. Scientists d
othat by modeling, using mathematics or computer simulations or statistics. Writers do it by
fictionalizing. In this book, I rely on fiction -- for 5 reasons.
during sacred ceremonies is not to be discussed, less it become distorted, corrupted and ultimately harm
the pure knowledge. However, I can fictionalize parallel events and ideas which convey a good sense of
what actually happened.
2) I am not an anthropologist. Although I take extensive notes and recordings on bears and their
habitat, I have taken few notes, much less recordings, during interactions with Native elders -- which
would have been considered intolerably impolite, presumptuous and invasive. (By analogy, imagine
making love to a partner who is recording every nuance for a doctoral dissertation.) Consequently, the
stories I tell are drawn mainly from my imperfect memory. No more how accurate I try to be, there is an
unavoidably fictional element.
3) None of the lessons provided by Native elders were taught systematically. They didn't lecture. They
didn't write it down. There were no long, reasoned discourses. Instead, they told stories. Or they and
younger individuals allowed me to share certain experiences with them, or directed me to places and
situations where I could learn on my own. Traditionally, education by Native Americans depends less on
telling you about something than on providing opportunities for you to experience it directly. Firsthand
experience was far more respected than secondhand or armchair knowledge -- an opinion not unknown
even in Western culture.
4) That method of education does not leave a clear trail of breadcrumbs marking each step of the
learning process, which I could backtrack to describe the whole journey. This journey didn't occur so
much through one step following another systematically, as through a series of jumps that take me in
many directions. It was less like trotting a horse towards each of a series of distant goals than like riding
a bucking bronco which may have gotten me to each of those goals eventually, but while riding, I never
know how the beast was going to twist and turn or where I'd land from one moment to the next.
Each time the metaphorical bronc landed, trying to jar me loose, I may have acquired a new piece of
information. But the information covered numerous topics, and it was received in such a seemly
haphazard sequence, that I understood few bits of information as they were received. Their significance
has not become obvious for years, and then only within the context of thousands of other bits of
Even if I had a perfect memory that could recall every step and leap, twist and turn of my own journey,
long blind narratives make poor, boring reading. A far more effective method of sharing what I learned
is to present insights in logical sequence, as though that is how I learned them. In this sense too, fiction
can reveal deeper truths better than a chronological account of superficial facts.
5) My life has had its fair share of adventure. Learning sometimes coincides with adventure. But all too
often, adventure occurs in brief spurts of high intensity, separated by long periods of boredom -- when
many of those bits and pieces of information are learned. By superimposing lessons on adventures, they
are a lot more fun to read; what you don't read can't inform you of anything.
To the degree that the eyes of a person (or animal) face forward and their visual fields overlap, they
produce binocular vision, which vastly improves our perception of spatial depth.
In an analogous way, bi-culture vision -- seeing through the eyes of markedly different cultures --
likewise allows us to perceive Nature in greater depths of other kinds.
So it was that, from my youth, I sought to see Nature through the eyes of both Western and Indigenous
sciences -- "sciences" in the sense of methods producing reliable, verifiable knowledge of ourselves and
Western science strives to "see" Nature objectively, such that observers exert no influence and thus no
distortion on what is being observed.
By contrast, the "intuitive sciences" of Zen and of various Indigenous peoples, including Native
Americans, strive to know Nature intimately, as though one is (re)discovering one's own fundamental
connectedness and unity with what is being observed. That process of (re)discovery is sometimes known
Thus, when I began studying bears more than 4 decades ago, I began with both "eyes" open -- striving to
see bears both objectively from the outside, and intuitively as if from the inside.
From the standpoint of some cultures or subcultures, "intuitive" knowledge arises supernaturally,
whether psychically or through divine inspiration. However, the kind of "intuitive" knowledge referred
to here may simply arise through the brain's ability to acquire more sensory information than we are
conscious of receiving, and then to process that information unconsciously, utilizing bio-computing
capabilities evolved over hundreds of thousands if not millions of years. Whether or not resulting
knowledge can be rigorously expressed in words or mathematics is less important than whether it is
pragmatically useful -- a prime consideration during encounters with animals that can kill you with a
single swat or bite, in a land that challenges even the abilities of a grizzly bear to survive.
In much of the world today, "science" or at least "Western science" is synonymous with the
hypothetico-deductive method, which focus almost entirely on generation of directly testable hypotheses,
and on dong those tests. From that perspective, intuition has no legitimate role.
Whereas I share the widespread enthusiasm for the triumphs of HD science, I decry any claim that it is
universally superior to other forms of scientific method. Indeed, for the study of behavior of animals --
especially large mammals -- in the wild, I favor a more classical version of scientific method which
separates science into two phases: Discovery and Verification. Discovery-phase science produces
hypotheses; verification tests them. Superficially, this is little different than HD science. But, looking
deeper, you find Discovery phase science recognizing that valid hypotheses can come from a wide range
of sources, including intuition. One of the most famous examples is Kekule ??? claim that he discovered
the ring structures of pentane and hexane by dreaming of a snake swallowing its tail and of sheep
jumping a fence, circling round, then jumping back over the fence, round and round, again and again.
Whereas some of my biologist colleagues will view discourse of about intuitive insights as a breakdown of
professional rigor, if not a detour into Fantasyland, my own experience is that combining intuition with
objectivity strengthens the objective results. Not only does it generate hypotheses, but it can generate
heuristic hypotheses more rapidly than more strictly logical methods.
Put differently, the time invested developing an intuitive understanding of bears or any other facet of
Nature may indeed slow down collection of objective data; but it helps insure that any data collected yield
meaningful, results. Otherwise, the data may prove useless, if only because they are answering the
wrong questions (those leading to blind alleys) or did not encompass enough driving variables to clarify
major causal relationships.
Well, enough philosophy. Time for Lights, Camera, Action.
|Science and Other
Ways of Knowing Nature
|Stephen F. Stringham, PhD
When Bears Whisper, Do You Listen?
|To Tell the Truth, Sometimes You Have to Lie
|Bear Viewing Association