Our Intelligence, Our Nature

When someone handed me an article titled “Ecological Intelligence” I was immediately intrigued by the title and by the source. I would never have considered turning to Psychotherapy Networker for insightful reading about our ties to nature, but that turned out to be exactly the point: contributions to community knowledge can come from just about anywhere.

How author Daniel Goleman develops his lynch-pin definition is best left to the article itself and to his book, Ecological Intelligence: Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything. Some of what he writes, though, is ideal for further exploration in the spirit of the interplay of science and environmental literature.

Goleman stresses interconnectedness, using terms such as “all-encompassing sensibility,” “collective, distributed intelligence,” and “group memory” to describe how humans can cooperate to perceive their deeper interactions with nature, thus finding a long-lost “ecological intelligence” and acting appropriately. It’s a highly social construct with ample sharing among various groups and organizations.

And, it would follow, disciplines—such as engineering. There’s an ethic at work in Goleman’s call to action, and it would seem to be the basis for any reconnection with nature. But how to instill this ethic in minds adept at calculating order and control, often with nature in subjugation? Undergraduate engineers receive extensive technical training in their discipline, and that training is sometimes paired with leadership instruction or business programs, but what about ethics, or more specifically, an ethical regard for nature?

I’m biased by my years of teaching English in college classrooms, but I like this idea: There’s a composition course at the Colorado School of Mines titled Nature and Human Values. Its catalog description asks these questions: “How has Nature affected the quality of human life and the formulation of humans values and ethics? How have human actions, values, and ethics affected Nature?”

Such a course might not help every engineer discover his or her ecological intelligence, but—back to Goleman’s argument—it doesn’t need to. Each of us contributes to wider knowledge in our own ways. The key is to contribute. So his depiction of the role of “scouts” is especially intriguing, for they are the ones who contribute insights, providing the deeper vision and leading us to hidden “ecological truths.” Yes, some of these scouts may be the scientists and engineers themselves, although only a few of them are able to reach wide audiences with fathomable prose. But the scout role is especially well-suited to writers of environmental literature, who help build our shared intelligence by offering their deep perceptions of nature. In the quest for understanding of our ties to nature, there is truly a place for each of us.

About Eric Dieterle

A writer of environmental literature and a public affairs coordinator at Northern Arizona University.
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