Posted by: atowhee | December 26, 2021


Loren Eiseley (1907-1977).

Our American fanaticism about individuality seems to have trumped (there’s that word again) any sense of social responsibility in a significant fraction of our population. Yet this half-century old wisdom is relevant…in 1970 Loren Eiseley wrote that evolution does not lead to Darwin’s survival of the fittest…it leads to the survival of the most co-operative…right now I can see our evolutionary failure playing out as human extinction,  leaving the ravens to control earth and turn it into one giant café.

A college classmate sent me this response after reading the original version of this blog: [Eiseley wrote] “my favorite book concerning ‘Science and the Sense of the Holy.’  And your recent blog about his insights jogged my memory of the eponymous essay included in The Star Thrower in which someone walks the beaches of Costabal, before the shellers arrive, and flings still-living starfish back into the ocean with the comment, ‘It may live.’
Yes, that pretty well sums up where we are at this point in the proceedings: some may live.
So, Harry, thanks for working tirelessly on the importance of birding as a harbinger of the fate of all living things, since, as Blake said, ‘Everything that is is holy.’
Some will live, but many will not.  In his essay, ‘The Winter of Man,’ Eiseley starts with this story: 
‘We fear,’ remarked an Eskimo shaman responding to a religious question from the explorer Knud Rasmussen some fifty years ago [Eiseley is writing in 1972].  ‘We fear the cold and the things we do not understand.  But most of all we fear the doings of the heedless ones among ourselves.’
Yes. So do I.
In appreciation,
[Reigel]” Carleton ’67
The Invisible Pyramid. By Loren Eiseley. 1970.

“Man would not be man if his dreams did not exceed his grasp… The green world is his sacred center.  In moments of sanity he must still seek refuge there.”

“I dream, and because I dream, I severally condemn, fear, and salute the future… Man himself is the solitary arbiter of his own defeats and victories.”

“Biological evolution could be defined as one long series of specializations—hoofs that prevented hands, wings that, while opening the wide reaches of the air, prevented the manipulation of tools. The list was endless.  Each creature was a tiny fraction of the life force.”

“The long, slow turn of world-time as the geologist has known it,  and the invisibly moving hour hand of evolution perceived only yesterday by the biologist, have given way in the human realm to a fantastically accelerated social evolution induced by industrial technology… I myself…was born in an age which has already perished.  At my death I will look my last upon a nation which, save for some linguistic continuity, will seem increasingly alien and remote…I will be a genuine fossil embedded in onrushing man-made time before my actual death.”

“In the first of the world’s cities man had begun to live against the enormous backdrop of the theatre…In such a life both evil and good come to cast long shadows into the future… If life is made easier it is also made more dependent. If artificial demands are stimulated, resources must be consumed at an ever-increasing rate.”

“The United States at present, representing some six percent of  the world’s population. Consumes over thirty-four percent of its energy and twenty-nine percent of its steel. Over a billion pounds of trash are spewed over the landscape in a single year.” [1970] C<a href=”http://&lt;!– wp:paragraph –> <p>[2021: US is 4.25% of world population.  USA consumed abut 17% of world energy in 2019. No longer a major manufacturer, the U.S. now uses less than 10% of the world’s steel. While larger nations generate more plastic waste, the US leads in per capita plastic by a wide margin.]<br>CliUS energy production/use by sector: <a href=””></a></p&gt; lick here for stats on US energy use and production.

“A rising world population requiring an improved standard of living clashes with the oncoming realization of a planet of impoverished resources.”

“If we must select one philosopher as the hero of the revolution in scientific method, beyond all doubt Francis Bacon occupies the place of honor.”              –William Whewell
“As the foundation we are not to imagine or suppose [take that, Atistotle], but to discover what nature does or be made to do.”                                               –Francis Bacon
“In Bacon’s time [late 16th Century] it was a novel, analytical, and unheard-of way to explore nature.”
[Click here for bio of Bacon.]

“Western man’s ethic is not directed toward the preservation of the earth that fathered him.  A devouring frenzy is mounting as his numbers mount.”

“Lonely though we may feel ourselves to be, we  must steel ourselves to the fact that man, even far future man, may pass from the scene without possessing either negative or positive evidence of the existence of other civilized beings in this or other galaxies.”

“Our remote half-human ancestors gave themselves and never expected, or got, an answer as to the destiny their descendants might serve or if, indeed, they would survive/  This is still the road we tread…”

“Never before have such large masses of people been so totally divorced from the land or the direct processing of their own foodstuffs.  The phenomenon has undoubtedly contributed to the alienation of man from nature, as more and more ac res go under cement for parking lots…”

“If inventions of power outrun understanding, as they now threaten to do, man may well sink into a night more abysmal than any he has yet experienced.  Understanding increasingly begets power, but…power in the wrong hands has a way of corrupting understanding.”

“From conservation to  hospitals, from defense to space, we are forced by circumstance to live more constantly in the future… the unexpected comes with increasing rapidity upon future-oriented societies such as ours. Psychological stresses appear. The current generation feels increasingly alienated from its predecessors.”

“Science has risen in a very brief interval into a giant social institution of enormous prestige And governmentally supported power.  To many, it replaces primitive magic as the solution for all human problems.”

“…instruments of power, which always spread faster than the inventions of calm understanding.  The tools of violence appeal to the fanatic, the illiterate, the blindly venomous. The inventions of power have grown monstrous in our time.”

“Even with the growth of teamwork and the attempted solution of future problem now coming to be known as systems analysis, man is our most recalcitrant material.”

“…the first man-ape could not have foreseen the book-lined room in which I write.  Yet something of that creature remains in me as he does in all men. I compose…with what were originally a tree dweller’s hands.  Fragments of his fears, his angers, his desires, still stream like midnight shadows through the circuits of my brain.”

Civilizations “In Ruth Benedict’s words, they resemble a human personality thrown large upon the screen, given gigantic features and a long time span.  Of these personalities the most intensely aggressive has been that of the West, particularly in the last three centuries which have seen the rise of modern science.”

“The scientist is now in the process of learning that the social world is stubbornly indifferent to the elegant solutions of the lecture hall, and that to guide a future-oriented world along the winding path to Utopia demands an omniscience that no human possesses.”

“It is one thing successfully to plan a moon voyage; it is quite another to solve the moral problems of a distraught, unenlightened, and confused humanity.”

“When man becomes greater than nature, nature, which gave him birth, will respond. She has dealt with the locust swarm and she has led lemmings down to the sea.  Even the world eaters will not be beyond her capacities.”

“Words are man’s domain, from his beginning to his fall.”

“In the mass, man now confronts a … magician in the shape if his own collective brain, that unique and spreading force which in its manipulations will precipitate the last miracle, or, like the sorcerer’s apprentice, wreak the last disaster.”

“Earth is an inexpressibly precious possession… Only on earth does life’s green engine fuel the oxygen-devouring brain.  For centuries we have dreamed of intelligent beings throughout this solar system.  We have been wrong; the earth we have taken for granted and treated so casually…is an incredibly precious planetary jewel.  We are all of us—man, beast, and growing plant—aboard a space ship of limited dimensions.”

“Today man’s mounting numbers and his technological power to pollute his environment reveal a single demanding necessity: the necessity for him to consciously to reenter and preserve, for his own safety, the old first world from which he originally emerged.”

[Keep in mind Eiseley was writing long before man-made climate change was recognized. He also described scientists and engineers in the 1960s who felt man had to flee the planet, forerunners of today’s billionaire space travelers who don’t wish to stay here while our grand-children broil and starve.]

Click here for Eiseley’s Wikipedia bio.

Click here for essay on Eiseley’s insights into evolution.

Click here for review of book about the politics and tactics around climate change.

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