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Sunday, 20 April 2014

Sustainability and Behavioural Change means Developing New Approaches to Science, Engineering and Technology

Scientists, engineers and technologists are trained to think in a certain way, a linear way … “they are not always encouraged to think outside the box, or to think in an open-minded, counter-intuitive way. They are programmed to think that rationality will always triumph.”
At the end of last weeks’ blog I said “most people in the world of science, engineering and technology have not got the vision, the imagination and the courage to walk this different path.” The different path I was referring to is sustainable agriculture based on behavioural change, in particular the behaviour of scientists, engineers and technologists. And the reason why they will not walk this new path is partly because humans are creatures of habit and they easily become like Prometheus, bound by invisible chains to the rock of the past. And, as a result, you will not find many scientists, engineers or technologists who asking the most fundamental of questions: Why is contemporary civilisation unsustainable? What is it about science, engineering and technology that contribute to this circumstance? What is it about scientists, engineers and technologists that make them blind to their contribution to the destruction of the natural world? How do we need to change in terms of values, thinking, and methods to enable, and be part of, a transition towards a sustainable civilisation?
The opening paragraph above is adapted from words that appeared in a (usually rather superficial) publication E&T Magazine, produced by a very traditional industrial era type organisation (The Institution of Engineering and Technology), representing a very conservative group of people (engineers), who are part of an orthodoxy that is based on collective beliefs and values (from the past) that blinds them to the damage that they have caused over many centuries. But of course, being blind, they do not see this, nor recognise that they are blind.
Scientists, engineers and technologists bear a heavy burden of responsibility for the unsustainable nature contemporary civilisation, although few realise this, so caught-up are they in their respective ideologies. An eminent applied mathematician and control engineer, the late Professor Howard Rosenbrock, FRS, was prepared to tackle this matter.
Howard Rosenbrock is well known in the fields of applied mathematics and engineering for his pioneering contributions to the development of control theory, control systems design, and the application of computers for the purpose of industrial control. However, there is an aspect of his work that many in science, engineering and technology would prefer to ignore, and this was his concern about the damaging consequences of the values underlying science, engineering, and technology. This life-long disquiet led him, in the latter stages of his career, to begin to lay the foundations for new approaches to science, engineering, and technology through the development of a method for developing skill enhancing or human-centred technologies, and an exploration of science based on purpose (be careful here – this does not mean what you think it means!).
Lest this work should go unnoticed and be relegated to obscurity, we will be saying some more about this in future blogs for it is fundamental to achieving sustainability. Also to be introduced is work that is developing a different approach to science, engineering and technology based on a human-centred philosophy, and the path to the development of this new approach begins in the most unusual of places. When I say unusual, I mean that it will be seen as unusual to the modern fragmented mind, caught-up in its scientific, engineering and technological delusions. It would not have been seen as unusual to the renaissance mind, to people like Leonardo. Have you ever wondered why there are no more people like this?

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