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A Field Guide to Thoughtstoppers

A Field Guide to Thoughtstoppers

It occurred to me a while back that one very simple issue is responsible for much of the crisis of our age. No question, that crisis has plenty of causes, some of them recent, some of them much less so; to get a clear understanding of the way that modern industrial civilization has backed itself into a corner from which the only exit leads straight down, it’s necessary to trace patterns of belief and action that go back to the early days of the industrial revolution, to the rise of mechanistic philosophy at the end of the Renaissance, or all the way back to the rejection of the Pagan gods and goddesses of Nature by newly minted prophetic religions obsessed by the glittering dream of a perfect otherworld on the far side of death.

All these are relevant, and indeed important. Yet it’s not always necessary to understand a problem in all its intricacies to come up with a viable solution. People were breeding plants and animals to get inheritable characteristics they wanted millennia before anybody had the least idea what DNA is, and Isaac Newton in his Principia Mathematica famously refused to discuss the reasons why gravity worked the way it did. “I frame no hypotheses,” he wrote, and that act of self-limitation was essential to his triumph, allowing him to focus entirely on the mathematics of how gravity functions without being distracted by the then-insoluble question of why.

In the same way, plenty of things that could have been done to head off the coming of our present planetary crisis required no particular grasp of the historical complexities that got us into the mess we’re in.

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