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Indigenous Science by Paula Underwood

Writings and Quotes from Lovers of Mother Nature and Women’s Nature. As well as Video and music links about Nature.

Ordinary Sparrow’s Nature  Website

I Indigenous Science: Hawk and Eagle both are singing

As a pre-schooler  my Cherokee/Choctaw Grandfather began to share his ways of seeing and being.  He had an amazing ability to adapt the teaching in ways  my four year old mind could comprehend.  One of the teachings he showed was the teaching of the Hawk and the Eagle.  He had me  stand about 100 yards from a large cottonwood tree.  He said  fix the eyes on the tree and to see nothing else as i walked towards it.  As we walked closer to the tree he would say, ” Now notice how all the world dims and all you can see is the tree. Nothing but the tree.”   We did this exercise several times.  Then Grandfather said  to took the direction of the tree but now to widen the  eyes and not focus on the tree but everything except the tree.   We would once again walk towards the direction of the tree and he would ask me to tell him everything i was seeing.  Grandfather said to always remember i had two different ways to see everyone and everything and it is best to use both ways of seeing.

by Paula Underwood
As a part of the Native American training I received from my father, one of the aspects of perception that I was asked to understand was the distinction between Hawk and Eagle, between the way Hawk perceives and the way Eagle perceives. In this shamanic tradition, you gain the appreciation by what is considered to be direct experience. However, the distinction–once learned–is easily translated into Western logical sequential language structure.

Dictionary definition of “science:”
“Originally, state . . . of knowing”

When hunting, Hawk sees Mouse . . . and dives directly for it.
When hunting, Eagle sees the whole pattern . . . sees movement in the general pattern . . . and dives for the movement, learning only later that it is Mouse.
What we are talking about here is Specificity and Wholeness.
Western science deals from the specific to generalities about the whole.
Indigenous science begins with an apprehension of the Whole, only very carefully and on close inspection reaching tentative conclusions about any Specificity.
Indigenous science is based on a profound immersion in and awareness of the whole circumstance. Rather than mistrusting personal experience, Indigenous science has learned to thrive on it. The standards for personal honesty are excruciatingly exact and taught from earliest childhood. Educational structures like the Vision Quest have as one goal coming to terms with accuracy outside of or devoid of your own assumptions or the assumptions of your society. The idea is that you are always–if you are wise–moving toward enhanced accuracy. You will never entirely arrive at complete accuracy, but you are constantly trying to move in that direction.

As to the efficacy of Indigenous science, let me give you one example.
Since universe is Energy, part of the process of understanding, at least as I experienced it, is to learn to “see” flows of energy and specificities of energy. Both are necessary. Because, you see, Universe is both Whole and Specific. Western science is beginning to understand this through explorations of theories about particle and wave. Both the particle/particularity/specificity of Universe and the wave/flow of Universe were aspects I was encouraged as a child to apprehend and understand. I was asked to “see” the “dancing points of lights” and then to apprehend the shift from location to flow. Much of shamanic practice has to do with developing the ability to enter and use this shift.
So when I read that the Western science of physics was looking at particle/wave theories, I had no trouble with that at all. Instead of being startled or surprised, I was given a wonderful gift–the ability to communicate more easily some of the things I learned in the shamanic process of understanding Universe.

 II Indigenous Science

 the extent that Universe is Whole, location/time
is irrelevant. To the extent that it’s Specific,
relationship is a better construct than either time
or location for purposes of accurate understanding.

The process of Indigenous science allows you to learn about and to experience the flow of Energy through Universe. You quickly come to understand (well, maybe it takes a while) that Universe has a kind of binary on/off structure, which can certainly be stated as particle/wave. In the particle state, particles can be understood in terms of “location.” But “location” requires a point of reference which is more or less fixed in relation to that particle.
Tell me now, where is that point of reference? Are you not also moving?
The Indigenous scientific approach understands Universe–or All Things–as constantly in motion. Even the particles are “dancing,” already moving toward the flow state. Since everything is in motion all the time (oops, time is irrelevant!)–since everything is constantly in motion, any location is in constant flux in relation to everything else.
Ah . . . in relation to!
“All Things, All Things are Related” is not just a charming chant, designed to put you in touch with “all your relations,” it is a profound evaluation of the nature of Universe.

Paula Underwood

Part III Indigenous Science

Continuation of Western Science and Indigenous ways of seeing. . . .

by Paula Underwood

Language predicts the conclusions that we reach therein.

There is great contrast between Native American languages in general and that logical, sequential construct called English. In general, it can and has been explained that Indian languages are much more verbal–that is, verb oriented–than English. English uses an extensive noun/category structure which requires you to constantly decide which “category” whatever you are describing belongs in. Thus, in English, we constantly divide a whole Universe into semi-relevant parts. Indian languages generally don’t do this.
Language predicts the conclusions we reach therein. Understanding this, my ancestors consistently examined new words the way the commerce department examines applications for new patents, except that their usefulness was also explored, as was their impact on the culture as a whole. The Academie Francaise limits itself to examining the accuracy of French. My ancestors required a detailed cultural Environmental Impact Report!

That which enables, disables also.

From an Indian perspective, the “priesthood” nature of Western science is anathema. My own tradition disbelieves in “experts.” “That which enables, disables also” means that a physicist will fail in understanding in many other areas, precisely because of the amount of time she/he spends on physics and therefore not on other things. Such people are not considered “experts,” but “those extensively informed on part of the whole”. They are listened to not on a priesthood basis, but on the basis of their having information others may not yet have–just as vice versa.
The search for greater wholeness–which has no room for “expertise”–is unending!
Any highly trained person will of course have a particular view–and therefore has a special responsibility to listen before speaking in any discussion of what the people may choose to do. Any person in a group who gets out of touch with his, with her community, is separated therefrom. Although I don’t think there is the same negative connotation as there is in English, a shaman out of touch with her, with his community takes on aspects of the wizard–an isolated person who can inadvertently or on purpose do things that are harmful to the community. The process of Western “expertise” would be seen as a process of encouraging people to be isolated from the rest of their community in some way.

Part IV Indigenous Science

If Universe is Whole, what causes what?

As I have said, Universe in its particle state has the quality of relatedness. Universe in its wave state partakes of flow. The particle state can be said, then, to have the quality of location. The wave state can be said to have the quality of direction. It is this movingness of Energy that of its nature produces Change.
But look, if everything is in motion, what causes what? How can we say that this drop of ocean water pushes that drop of ocean – and that’s why it moves! Rather, direction, flow, the movingness of Energy of its nature produces Change.
And here we have a problem with English. “Produces” means “causes.” It doesn’t mean that in my tradition. There is more a sense of evolution, a sense of cooperative evolvingness, of the Universal Reality acting through you and with you and with everything else–all at once. Perhaps “engenders” is a better term. Perhaps a better term has yet to be invented. In any event, in any shift from one language to another, much is lost in translation.
It seems to me that there are two aspects here that make Western science’s preoccupation with causality sometimes counterproductive. (Remember, that which enables, disables also.) One is the probability of multiple causation. Laboratory experiments obsessively select out “causative” factors for experimental demonstration. This clarifies and obscures, both at once. It leads to situations in which, for example, a blood test run to determine “causation” of some dis-ease may not reveal the culprit, as “we weren’t screening for that condition.”
It also leads to situations in which the results of isolated experiments are applied to the broader community with disastrous or semi-disastrous results. Mistakes are not ruled out by any discipline. But this kind of mistake (Love Canal, nuclear waste disposal) would be less likely in any Indigenous, Whole way of understanding the Universe in which we exist.
The other aspect I see that seems to me to question the relevance of Western science’s preoccupation with causality, is: In a sea of constant movement/change–which the wave aspect of Universe certainly seems to imply–is causation really a viable way of understanding?
So Hawk–the tendency to look at the Specific–and Eagle–the tendency to look at the Whole–have something to say to one another. And if they both listen, what is engendered is what is called in my tradition an Interactive Circle. Like Yin-and-Yang, each encourages the other toward heightened acuity.
In cultural terms, this has been going on for a long time. Renaissance Europe was preceded by the Crusades, during which Europeans developed a taste for foreign knowledge/science and technology–and they just kept it up! Much of “Western” science is truly based on earlier exploration by other peoples–Chinese, Muslim, Native American. According to my own oral history, for instance, Benjamin Franklin’s famous key-and-kite experiment was his effort to try to demonstrate and understand better what he was hearing from some of his Iroquois friends–which was that Universe is energy . . . and so on.
To learn to demonstrate through replicable, quantitative experiments to those unwilling to spend the time to acquire shamanic skills–or whose culture has chosen to forego these skills–some of the thing that can be learned through this Whole approach to Life . . . is no small thing. It is an invaluable contribution to human understanding . . . a second eye opened on the Universe to help give us some greater depth perception.
For me, Western science is that second eye.
Perhaps Indigenous science can provide that second eye for the West, to the greater benefit of one and all.

Hawk and Eagle–both are singing.

Let us hope they are listening to one another.

Kind thoughts come . . . .

by Paul Underwood

Part V Indigenous Science, Rule of Six

The Rule of Six

One of the attitudes taught in my tradition is the Rule of Six. The Rule of Six says that for each apparent phenomenon, devise at least six plausible explanations, every one of which can indeed explain the phenomenon. There are probably sixty, but if you devise six, this will sensitize you to how many there may yet be and prevent you from locking in on the first thing that sounds right as The Truth.
But your task isn’t over yet. Because you can’t just float on a multiple option basis. Now your task is to apply your life experience, which is unique to yourself, and use it as a base to evaluate each of those options. Now you assign a probability factor. That probability factor can never be 100% . . . and absolutely never zero.

You keep a floating attitude toward life, but you constantly know where you are in that context.
When I was very young my father would stand me on my left foot and say, “Answer this question in the manner of the people.” Wholeness. And then he would stand me on my right foot and say, “Explain this in a way your mother would understand.” Sequence.

Then he would stand me on both feet and ask, “What do you see now?” Because it isn’t enough to do only one, only the other. The critical thing is to strike a balance between the two.

In my tradition you get mind puzzles a lot. One of the questions that my dad gave me as a mind puzzle was, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” When I discovered that is also a Zen question, I was delighted. I’m reasonably confident that they come from the same source. I spent months trying to come up with an answer, and I came up with all kinds of different things. My father would say, “No, that’s not really the sound of one hand clapping, that’s . . . ” Then, “No, that’s not really the sound either.” And finally , he suggested to me the kind of clue that you get under this pedagogic structure–”Maybe Eagle has the answer.” And I knew immediately he was right, because of course Eagle would understand the sound of one hand clapping.

As with all his suggestions, I taught myself. This process is called go-and-be-Eagle. You become Eagle in your mind and heart, and look at the world from Eagle’s perspective. As a result of that, you may come up with an entirely different concept of what the answer might be, which, limited to this body, you could not have come up with, because this body doesn’t work that way.

In this pedagogic tradition, nobody tells you what to think or how to process information. Instead, you discover it for yourself, you keep discovering it for yourself. And only at the other end of this long process of self-discovery would my father say, “That’s another generation that’s reached that conclusion.” In this case, however, he said that my answer was a whole new answer, that he knew of eight others, but that was a whole new answer to the question. He didn’t tell what the other eight were at the time, and I won’t tell you what mine is now, because if I did, that would prevent you from ever discovering it for yourself.
The basis of learning, the basis of the pedagogy, is to cease preventing people from learning things for themselves. This way of thinking, what goes on in here, can really be taught from the inside out. When it’s taught from the outside in, someone else comes between you and yourself, and that’s not considered a wise idea. That’s the tradition.

by  Paula Underwood

Part VI: Universe


is Space
which contains Energy

of its nature moves
as it moves
it produces Change

Change is
it was<>it is<>it will be

sometimes we call this past, present, future
and we say it is Time
it is not time
it is Change

you see how it is
how everything in Universe
is Energy
flowing from one place to another

what we call matter
is merely a relatively stable form
of Energy
which is also changing
also moving
only more slowly
like Earth and Ocean
each at its own pace

all things that contain Energy
are alive
as all things are formed of Energy
all things are alive
and all things are related
each to the other
*from the Strong Spirit Path a Native American Tradition and expressed in English by Paula Underwood Spencer