Linear Thinking and Science 

I’ve been learning a lot more about Holistic Management from Ian lately. I’ve been asking him hundreds of questions and he hasn’t gotten tired of me yet! How come Jessica gets so annoyed of me when I repeat the same question 15 times while she’s trying to make dinner!? I guess I’ll never understand. :) Anyway, I’m grateful for the fact that Ian is sharing his knowledge and wisdom with me.

The other day we were talking about Science and how that relates to Holistic Management. The two have a lot in common but also differ significantly. Many University trained farmers/ranchers/scientists are linear thinkers. For example, scientists figured out how to create the atomic bomb but paid no attention to how it would effect the rest of humanity. Scientists also routinely reduce experiments to limit and study a single variable. What effect does X have on Y? From this observation they will likely produce a scientific theory.

Let’s take a closer look. I’d like to use the example Fukuoka uses in his book The One Straw Revolution. For some background he is a grain farmer. His primary crop is rice. He routinely produces more rice per acre than most people in Japan, or some staggeringly high number. In his book he talks about how many different specialists he has had out on his farm. One scientist/specialist studies spiders, the other insects and another one studies crop disease. The scientist that studies disease is curious why he sees no disease. The insect scientist doesn’t understand why there aren’t any plagues of insects. The spider scientist has never seen so many spiders in a field of rice (a good thing). All of the scientists go on to study their speciality more and more to figure out whats going on. Because, in their minds, the answer lies within their field of expertise. The scientist might be thinking, “I am a spider scientist and I’ve studied them for 15 years, the answer for why there are so many spiders in Mr. Fukuoka’s field lies within my speciality. I just haven’t figured out why yet.”

The thing that these scientists/specialists have failed to see is the whole. I’ve already talked about what the whole is, so I won’t go into it in this post. The reason there are so many spiders is because they have plenty to eat. They eat small insects and other things, I don’t know. An environment that is friendly to life has been created by Fukuoka. It all comes down to one thing. The soil is covered with litter (or straw). When the soil is covered it is cool in the summer, warm in the winter, moist and supports microbes. There is a tremendous amount of biodiversity! If these specialists would just step back for one minute and observe the whole, asking themselves in their own terminology: “what are all of the variables at work here?” If they did this they might realize that everything is connected. Allan Savory explains this in his book Holistic Management that you could think of the whole as a pond. Anything you do creates ripples in the pond. These ripples are felt throughout the entire pond. Maybe have no ripples in the pond is a bad thing. It depends.

The thing I’m getting at is simple. Humans are naturally linear thinkers, not just scientists. It’s very hard for us to think in wholes and patterns. This is why Allan Savory developed the Holistic Management framework for decision making.

Here is the meat and potatoes of my post. Just because someone has 12 degrees from every Ivy league school doesn’t mean shit. The most knowledge people in Agriculture are and always will be observant farmers. We make our living from farming/ranching (not grant writing) and we understand nature (well… some of us do). Over the past 60 years this has changed though, we now turn to extension agents or universities to make decisions for us. How do they know what is best for my farm or family? Our land is not some isolated test plot or controlled laboratory. Take experts advice into consideration and form your own opinion. I’m not saying all scientists are bad, stupid people. Quite the contrary. However, you need to be careful about other people making decisions about your family, business and land. It’s scary to think about how we can SEND ROCKETS TO THE MOON but fail to understand how to properly manage land or balance a budget.

This post was sort of a disorganized rant, I hope you can sympathize with me and understand that sometimes everyone needs to blow off some steam! I hope you are all doing well, Jessica and I sure are having fun in South Africa. Thanks for reading, I appreciate you all more than you know!

Chris Stelzer

Chris Stelzer is a published Author, founder of Agricultural Insights and creator of many resources that help family farmers and ranchers grow their businesses. His flagship courses are the Grazing Mastery Program and The Farm Marketing Mastery Program. 

Chris Stelzer

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