27 October 2012

Incremental Change

The philosopher W. V. O. Quine wrote that human knowledge forms something like a vast spider web, rather than a hierarchical structure based on some first principle, and that new discoveries in the sciences or the humanities change the web at one small point, but from there, additional revisions ripple outward.

I read Quine's Web of Belief back in college, in the last millennium, and my copy of the book is at my office (closed up tight in anticipation of the impending storm), so my memory may be faulty and is certainly dim, but I've always imagined a web of human knowledge that's always rippling slightly at a variety of different points as artists and intellectuals and scientists cogitate and create away.

I also like the metaphor of a web as a way of thinking about our own indiviual beliefs.  We learn new things, and they cause slight shifts in our own thought-webs, with the potential to ripple outwards across our entire thought-webs, with time and the willingness to be open to new ideas.

When it comes to ecological thinking, small steps are an important beginning.  But changing our habits, ever so slightly, has to be a constantly evolving process, with change leading to change and shifting beliefs constantly challenging our webs.

Putting food scraps in the compost instead of in the trash might get you thinking about wasting less food in the first place.  Recycling paper for municipal pick-up might lead to the realization that batteries shouldn't go in the trash, either.

The old green mantra is "reduce, reuse, recycle."  Note that "reduce" comes first.  Recycling is important, reusing things even better, but for real impact to occur, everyone needs to reduce consumption in the first place.