Popular author Michael Crichton (October 23, 1942 – November 4, 2008) was a lover of nature and the great outdoors. It shows in nearly all of his works: the jungle – Congo; the ocean – Sphere; the world of bacteria/viruses – Andromeda Strain and later – Prey; the overall planet – State of Fear; and in his last work, published posthumously, the world of plants and insects – Micro.
The Lack of Nature
In recent times he joined those of us in lamenting the lack of real world experience that current generations of children have. There are a number of people who are trying to alert us of the probable challenges arising our of this growing lack. In the Introduction to Micro Mr. Crichton joins the ranks of those calling our attention to the many facets of this problem.
Micro (novel) released Nov 2011
Introduction: What Kind of World Do We Live In?
In 2008 the famous naturalist David Attenboroughn expressed concern that modern school children could not identify common plants and insects found in nature, although previous generations identified them without hesitation. Modern children, it seemed, were cut off from the experience of nature, and from play in the natural world. Many factors were held up to blame: urban living; loss of open space; computers and the internet; heavy homework schedules. But the upshot was that children were no longer being exposed to nature and no longer acquiring a direct experience with nature. It was ironic that this should be happening at a time when there was in the West an ever greater concern for the environment, and ever more ambitious steps proposed to protect it.
Indoctrinating children in proper environmental thought was a hallmark of the green movement, and so children were being instructed to protect something about which they knew nothing at all. It did not escape notice that this was exactly the formula that had led to well-intentioned environmental degradation in the past – the deterioration of American National Parks being a prime example, and the American policy of forest fire prevention, another. Such policies would never have been instituted if people really understood the environments they were trying to protect.
The problem was that they thought they did. One can argue that the new generation of school children will emerge even more certain. If nothing else, school teaches that there is an answer to every question; only in the real world do young people discover that many aspects of life are uncertain, mysterious, and even unknowable. If you have a chance to play in nature, if you are sprayed by a beetle, if the color of a butterfly wing comes off on your fingers, if you watch a caterpillar spin it’s cocoon – you come away with a sense of mystery and uncertainty. The more you watch, the more mysterious the natural world becomes, and the more you realize how little you know. Along with it’s beauty, you may also comes to experience fecundity, it’s wastefulness, aggressiveness, ruthlessness, parasitism, and it’s violence. These qualities are not well-conveyed in textbooks.
Perhaps the single most important lesson to be learned by direct experience is that the natural world, with all it’s elements and interconnections, represents a complex system and therefore we can not understand it and we cannot predict it’s behavior. It is delusion to behave as if we can, as it would be delusion to behave as if we could predict the stock market, another complex system. If someone claims to predict what a stock will do in the coming days, we know that person is either a crook or a charlatan. If an environmentalist makes similar claims about the environment, or an ecosystem, we have not yet learned to see him as a false prophet or a fool.
Human beings interact with complex systems very successfully. We do it all the time. But we do it by managing them, not by claiming to understand them. Managers interact with the system: they do something, watch for the response, and then do something else in an effort to get the result they want. there is an endless iterative interaction that acknowledges we don’t know for sure what the system will do – we have to wait and see. We may be right much of the time. But we are never certain.
Interacting with the natural world, we are denied certainty. And always will be.
How then can young people gain experience of the natural world? Ideally, by spending time in a rain forest – those vast, uncomfortable, alarming, and beautiful environments that so quickly knock our preconceptions aside.
Michael Crichton: August 28, 2008
Saving Our Children From Nature – Deficit Disorder
For a clearer understanding of the depth of the lacking experience and detailed examination of some of the trouble it may cause in people, and therefore our world, you should read Louv’s Last Child In The Woods.