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6 'rIIE THREEFOLD WAY

duces new possibilities of* error. It is unfortunately true that


experts are generally better at seeing their particular kinds CHAPTER 2
of trees than the forest of all life. Thoughtful laymen can
become very good at seeing the forest, particularly if they
lose their timidity about challenging the experts. When 1 speak The Expert as Enemy
of laymen ("laypersons," if' you prefer) 1 am talking about
everyone, because the expert in one field is a layman in all
others. In the universal role of laymen we all have to learn
to filter the essential meaning out of the too verbose, too 1 well remember the summer my wife and 1 went to Alaska
aggressively technical statements of the experts. Fortunately to attend the annual meeting of the Pacific division of the
this is not as difficult a task as some experts would have us American Association for the Advancement of Science. The
believe. year was 1969. Because bids were being submitted at this time
What follows is one man's attempt to show that there is for oil leases on Prudhoe Bay, many of the sessions of the
more wisdom among the laity than is generally conceded, and AAAS were devoted to (lie possible economic, environmental,
that there are some rather simple methods of checking oil and social consequences of drilling oil at the rim of the Arctic
the validity of the statements of experts. Ocean and transporting it across the width of the state. A
pipeline would have to be built, so the feasibility of this was
also under discussion.
One of the delightful features of science meetings in this
American outpost is the wide variety of people who attend.
The usual assortment of professors and industry represen-
tatives is enriched with politicians, Indians, Aleuts, and Es-
kimos-groups seldom seen at science meetings in the "Lower
48." Discussion in Alaska frequently jumps out of the well-
worn ruts.
One of the sessions was concerned with the expected effects
of the proposed trans-Alaska pipeline. A lean, intense engi-
neer made a sales pitch for the conglomerate scheduled to
build the pipeline. His slide presentation was slick and con-
vincing. The audience was bombarded with turgid tables and
computer-generated graphs. The speaker gave the impres-
sion that every conceivable contingency had been dealt with.
Nevertheless, one layman was not convinced. This mail,
who had the rugged look of a modern sourdough, made his
points very deliberately. "Let me see if I've got thus straight.
You say this 800-mile-long pipe, four feet in diameter and
completely above ground for most of the distance, will be

Hardin: The Expert as Enemy from Filters gainer EojLy


(ISBN 0-14-007729-4), pp.7-14. 0 1986 Penguin USF
Used by permission of Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc.
THE THREEFOLD WAY THE EXPERT AS ENEMY

lillcd With oil which will beat 190 degrees when it enters tile making of which-as we learned after it had been put in
pipe at tile northern end, right? And that the oil will cool place-there had been cheating oft the quality controls).
continuously as it flows south, but it will still be 130 degrees, So what should a pipeline supervisor do when lie gets the
and fluid, when it reaches Valdez. Might?" word, one unhappy winter's clay, that the oil flow is going to
"Yes, that's right. Our computer model shows that tile oil be shut clown at Valdez lot- an indeterminate period?
at Valdez will still be hot enough to flow during tile coldest If the supervisor did nothing, and tile shutdowns lasted
winter Alaska has ever had." l onger than two weeks, tile pipe would become plugged with
"What il'there is some sort of traffic delay at Valdez and a viscous and immovable mass. Summer would not cure tile
the oil has to stay in tile Itilte for a while, cooling all that ill: tile Arctic summer is too Short, and the angle of the sun
tune?" too low to furnish the needed calories. There would be no
"No problem. If there is a shortage ol'ships the oil can be practical way, ever, to (teat the 800-mile pipe enough to make
held in the pipe for two weeks without solidifying. And re- its contents fluid again. To avoid having to build a completely
member, we have a tank farm at the South end to act as a new pipeline, the supervisor would have to open valves some-
buffer for tile oil stocks." where and release tile oil Itefore it congealed.
"Yes. But suppose all the storage tanks are Full, and then But release it where? The pipe holds more than nine mil-
there is a tankers' strike that lasts three weeks. What happens lion barrels of oil. Cast you picture tile devastation such a
theft? large quantity of oil would cause as it flowed out over tile
The engineer's reply was cool and prompt: "That's an in- tundra? Alternatively, picture what nine million barrels of oil
teresting question." would do poured out over tile ocean fishing grounds around
There is this to be said for tile expert's response: it was Valdez.
honest. A politician in the same situation would no doubt Such are tile pictures that were missing from the engineer's
have replied with some such words as these: "I'm so glad you computer curves. The expert's response, "That's all interest-
asked that question. It gives tile all opportunity to bring up i ng question," gave no hint of tile reality.
another matter ol'the utmost importance to patriotic Anier- Well, tile pipeline was built. fn more than a decade of
icans, namely . . ." and his well-lubricated tongue would have operation no serious accident has occurred. But some day we
generated a rhetorical smoke screen that would have elo- may learn tile answer to the citizen's question.
quently submerged the original question. In blessed contrast,
the engineer did not (tide the Fact that lie had no solution to
the difficulty. Tunnel Vision vs. the Panoramic View
I ndeed, there is no general solution. In trying to picture
the real situation, we must set aside the neat computer curves Belief its progress-technological progress-became some-
of the engineering analysis and picture a huge pipe that may, thing of a religion throughout the Western world in the nine-
some frigid winter's day, be filled with 1100 miles etf'something teenth century. Not until the latter part of the twentieth century
not too different fronn the tar of a blacktop road. No pumps was there any substantial questioning of this religion. Openly
in the world call move such a mass through so long a pipe. expressed doubts of techuology often evoke the emotional
Even il'we had the necessary punips, the pipe could not with- reaction accorded the public doubting of tile established church
stand the pressure (particularly not the Alaska pipe, in the in earlier centuries.
IU THE TIIREEFOLU WAY TIIE EXPERT AS ENEMY II

When commitment to a technology like the Alaska pipeline


is opposed, it is usually assumed that the opponents are at-
tacking the technology itself. This is seldom true. It may be
In Search of Filters

granted that the technology is excellent, but technology does How are we laymen to survive in a world increasingly domi-
not exist apart from human beings. It is human beings who nated by experts? It is all too easy for an expert minority to
calculate dimensions, turn blueprints into structures, monitor override the lay majority in the making of decisons.
the construction and operate the machinery, and report to First, we must get over the embarrassment of being called
the general public. Fallible human beings are involved at every laymen. The root "lay" comes from the Latin lacum, meaning
critical point in the system. Our questions should take account "lake" or "pool." Laymen, then, are all the people who belong
of this reality. to an undifferentiated pool of people, as opposed to the few
Should the computer be trusted? Who chose the program? who are specialized in some particular competence. Since
Who logged in the data? everybody is a layman in most areas let us accept the term
Do the equations give an answer we can trust? Who chose proudly and see what measures we can take to extract truth
the parameters? Why were these parameters selected and riot others? from the depositions of experts.
Are the machines reliable? Who put them together? Were the The greatest folly is to accept expert statements uncritically.
workers emotionally upset by marital squabbles? Were they fighting At the very least, we should always seek another opinion.
with the shop steward? Was the union ltying to undercut manage- Moreover, to the extent that time allows, we may become a
ment? little bit expert ourselves; but we don't have time enough to
Why should we doubt the inspection log? Quis custodiet ipsos go far in this direction. (if we went all the way we would
custodes? This is the old Roman way of asking, Who inspects become just one more expert, thus moving ourselves to the
the work of the inspector? And the work of the inspector of inspectors? other side of the debate and leaving the rest of the lay public
And the inspector of inspectors of inspectors? ... Thus is the yearn- with the same old problem.)
i ng for reliability thwarted by an infinite logical regress. We need lay defenses against expertise. Fortunately there
In the real world no regress is truly infinite. At some point are such. The most important defense measure is to make
the drive to reliability must be brought to a full stop. At that oneself sensitive to the biases introduced by the assumptions
point we face naked human nature in all its mystery and and methods of experts. The layman in the Alaska story showed
complexity. What appeared at first sight to have been a doubt- such a sensitivity: lie realized that the engineer's exclusive
i ng of technology turfs out to be a healthy appreciation of focus on quantitative data that could be plugged into his com-
the complexity and unpredictability of human nature. puter program led him to ignore less predictable elements,
You don't have to be an expert to have a healthy respect such as strikes and sabotage, which cannot be convincingly
for human nature. In fact, laymen often are better at eval- quantified and entered into engineering equations. The omis-
uating reliability than are the experts. The expert who looks sion undercut the credibility of the conclusions.
for "the light at the end of the tunnel" can all too easily end Layman or expert, each of us is forever trying to put to-
up with tunnel-vision. The layman whose attention is less gether a true picture of that indefinable something we call
narrowly focused may be better at taking in the whole pan- "reality." The world is too complex for our minds to encom-
orama. pass the whole. We must filter the data and arguments that
come in to us. Filtration clarifies: that's good. But the clari- An expositor who wants to convince should confess his
fication is achieved by filtering out-setting aside-part of vested interest at the outset. Let me do so. 1 am a card-carrying
reality. Different filters clarify-alter-the total picture in ecologist; as such, my view of reality is no doubt sometimes
different ways. We need to know the characteristics of our distorted by unconscious biases. 1 can hardly claim otherwise.
filters, their merits and their defects. Only by understanding Nor can I tell others where 1 am wrong: if I knew that, I
these will we be able to protect ourselves against the assump- would mend my ways noun. I can, however, point out some of
tions (conscious and unconscious), the biases and the preju- the errors of my ecological colleagues (though they won't
dices, of our experts. thank me for it). There's enough blame to go around for all
As for the poorest of the experts, his first failing is that he the specialists to share in the plenty.
uses just one kind of filter. His second failing is his un- In earlier days human beings often mistreated the world
awareness of his first failing. and "got away with it." People-some people-survived each
Nowhere is the need to understand our reality filters greater environmental disaster, though the world as a whole was im-
than in the vexed area of the environment. The word "en- poverished. The Tigris-Euphrates river system now supports
vironment" is as hard to define as the word "reality." In the only a fraction of the population that once flourished there.
present context "environment" refers to two sorts of rela- Bad managers "got away with" criminal mismanagement, be-
tionships. First, there are the relations of human beings to cause in those days there was a lot of world and not much
the nonhuman world, a world that makes no allowance for humanity (in both of two senses).
human desires or human needs. The discipline of ecology Now there is a surplus of demanding human flesh and
studies these relationships. Second, there is what might be daily less of the unspoiled environment needed for the nour-
called the internal environment in which human beings are ishment of that human mass. In the category of "nourish-
the environment for other human beings. This world is the ment," 1 include both physical nourishment and something
object of study of economics, political science, and ethics. The more subtle than the physical. If 1 weren't allergic to the word,
combined study of both kinds of relations is the province of 1 might call this kind of nourishment "spiritual." Whatever
human ecology. the best adjective, 1 have in mind, the inexpressible delight
A generation has passed since the environment became a that comes from being acutely aware that one is breathing
controversial issue. The most important differences of opin- clear mountain air, drinking from uncontaminated and un-
i on have developed between economists and ecologists. 1 am cltlorinated streams, swimming at isolated beaches, or con-
i nclined to echo Shakespeare in saying, "A plague on both templating great natural beauties that we hope to save for
their houses," though I live in one of them. our grandchildren. Awareness is an essential part of expe-
Many of the controversies can be resolved by looking closely rience.
at the reality filters used by the contending parties. Human Despite the thrust of the last paragraph, the discussions
beings are the instruments of scientific progress. Technical that follow will not often be directly concerned with such
results arc often difficult to understand, but the peculiarities standard environmental topics as pesticides, contaminated
of the instruments-fallible human beings-are both fasci- water, and smoggy air. The principal concern will be with the
nating and understandable by all. In what follows, concern very human impulses that make it so difficult for us to reach
with human nature takes precedence over the details of tech- agreement on the management of environmental amenities.
nology. Why is it so difficult to save something for our children?
_
Hardin: Three Filters of Reality from Filters gQain
^F st
14 THE 'rItHEEFtILU WAY USA. Used by Permission of Viking Penguin, a division of (ISBN 0-14-007729-4), pp. 15-25. 1986 Pengui
Penguin Books USA Inc.
What, if anything, can be done about poverty? How much
compassion can we afford? Why doles the noble dream of CHAPTER 3
"One World" so easily lead to disaster? Can the rules of'private
philanthropy be converted into public policy without gener-
ating tragedy? (:an the many contradictory meanings of "con- Three Filters of Reality
servative" be reconciled? Is there a scientifically defensible
form of conservatism?
The past three decades of controversy over environmental
matters have shown that ancient philosophical questions can Controversies have two sources: a struggle for power, and an
be profitably reexamined in the light of these scientific facts.
i mpulse to resolve puzzles. Some "realists" would reduce every
In the end, the principal benefit of the ecological analysis that dispute to a pure clash of animal ambitions. 1 think this is too
has come out of the environmental movement may be that it cynical. Despite all our ego-centeredness, in the end we are
makes us more aware of the boundaries set by human nature. at least somewhat amenable to logical arguments. Allowed
In the end, we can realistically (tope to use our reality filters sufficient ti me-often, admittedly, an unconscionable amount
with greater facility. of time-ego may yield to reason. It is when animal ambition
refuses to yield that the worst follies of humankind are per-
petrated.
On the grand scale, folly produces tragedy. In the fictional
realm there was Oedipus, who closed his ears to Jocasta's pleas
to give up the investigation into his past. In history so recent
that most Americans still remember it, there were the trag-
edies of Watergate and Vietnam. In her book The March of
Folly, historian Barbara W. Tuchman speaks of the invariable
"wooden- headed ness" of those headed for tragedy. As de-
scription the term is apt, but it is no explanation.
It would be naive to expect a unitary explanation of so
widespread a human characteristic as wooden-headedness.
Bull-headedness (to use another term) can in fact be adaptive
up to a point: in such case we may call it "steadfastness." It
is the excess that needs guarding against.
Explaining maladaptive behavior is not enough: we also
want to avoid it. We want prophylactics against folly. How do
we get trapped in foolish actions to begin with? It is my con-
tention that many of our mistakes can be both understood
and avoided if we are acutely aware of three intellectual filters
available to us in our dealings with reality. The iliree-filter
16 THE TIIREEFOLU WAY 'r"REE FILTERS OF REALITY 17
analysis presented here grew out of all earlier two-culture ence."The Latin precursor, scientia, meant simply knowledge,
analysis. any sort of knowledge. In the English language it was not
until the eighteenth century that the present meaning of "sci-
ence" became established. As late as the mid-nineteenth cen-
tury, science was quite often referred to as "natural philosophy."
Snow's Two Cultures (Since philosophy literally means the love of knowledge, natu-
What is the proper role of'science in the making of society's ral philosophers were those who pursued knowledge about
decisions? Should science be merely an errand-boy to human nature, about the things of the world.) English-speaking
ambition, or should its insights help shape our desires? More people had to wait until 1834 for the word "scientist" to be
succinctly, should science be "on tap or oil top"? In 1 956 an coined.
English novelist and hliysicist-turned-administrator, C.1'. Snow, During the first half of the nineteenth century most English
sharpened this question by distinguishing two cultures in Aca- scientists had to find their occupational niche outside the uni-
demia. His remark-in-passing was followed three years later versities. Science, still called "natural philosophy," was fight-
by the publication of a brief and beautifully written essay, i ng for a place in the curricula of Oxford and Cambridge. It
"The Two Cultures." Despite much criticism, the distinction was nearly 1860 before an Uxbridge student could major in
made by Snow has become part of the conventional wisdom. a science. The dons, who determined which students were
To those outside universities, Academia may seem a unity. given fellowships, were not favorably impressed by students
It appears far otherwise to those inside. Not only are scholars who excelled in science, referring (on one occasion) to a top
separated from each other by high departmental walls but score in exams in natural philosophy as "a dirty little first in
the disciplines are also aggregated into two regrettably an- Nat Phys, whatever that is." .
tagonistic groups. "these, Snow called "cultures," though an- The attitude that regards work with things-work carried
thropologists (night have preferred the tern) "subcultures." out with the (lands-as dirty is one that is reborn time after
Whatever the label, one of Snow's groups consists of mathe- ti me in societies prosperous enough to support a class that
matics and the natural sciences, the other of the humanities, uses its skill with words to belittle those who make things work.
i.e., history, literature, philosophy, and the like. (The dis- Each such birth sets in train the potential suicide of society.
junction fits the English Academia better than the American, Scholars' deprecation of working with the hands is still a se-
which has schools of business, physical education, industrial rious roadblock to scientific advancement in Latin America,
arts, et cetera, areas not considered proper academic subjects where entrenched upper classes honor poets more than sci-
in the British isles.) Ideas are the basic concern of both cul- entists. The style of the humanistic culture-no manual labor-
tures. Nevertheless an eavesdropper, listening to daily con- has i nfected the scientific culture in Latin America. Latino
versations in both cultures, hears more discussion of words in scientists commonly assign all the routine work of the
the humanities and more of things in the sciences. laboratory (of which there is much) to lowly untrained
Students of the humanities ruled the universities long be- helpers. Thus do they deprive themselves of the subtle but
fore the study of things became respectable for anyone but real benefits that only "hands on" experience can give. Na-
l owly artisans. Real science traces back at least to ancient Greece, tional leaders in Latin America wonder why their science is
but it was only rather recently that the many individual sci- so unproductive. To scientists in other countries the answer
ences were gathered together under the single umbrella "sci- is obvious.
18 THE THREEFOLD WAY THREE FILTERS OF REALITY 19
We are all inescapably immersed in anthropological cul-
ture. In contrast, the humanist's culture is a Sunday thing,
Two Meanings of "Culture"
an embellishment of life that may or may not be present. Part
The reciprocal isolation of the two cultures in the academic of the controversy that followed the publication of Snow's
world is apparent even in the history of the word "culture." essay arose because it did not occur to some of the Arnoldian
'File word grew out of the older agricultural term "cultiva- critics that the word "culture" might have another meaning.
tion." In the nineteenth century two new meanings devel- As evidence, note that the authoritative 12-volume Oxford
oped. 111 1871 E. B. Tylor gave "culture" the anthropological English Dictionary, published in 1933, gives space to Arnold's
meaning around which C. P. Snow later constructed his ar- kind of culture but not to Tylor's. That the anthropological
gument, namely (to quote the American Heritage Dictionary of meaning of culture could still be lacking in a dictionary 62
1969) "the totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, years after Tylor, gives some measure of the isolation of Snow's
arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human Two Cultures. Not until the publication in 1972 of the A-G
work and thought characteristic of a community or popula- Supplement to the OED--Ill I years after Tylor, and 1 6 years
tion." after Snow-was the word "culture" treated adequately from
In 1876 (five years after Tylor), the English poet, essayist, an anthropological point of view.
and educator Matthew Arnold defined culture as "the ac-
quainting ourselves with the best that has been known and
said in the world." In a number of essays he made it clear
that "the best that has been known and said" refers to con- What Is an "Intellectual"?
tributions from the humanistic side only. Clarity is praiseworthy, but it can intensify antagonisms. Cer-
The two definitions overlap but they are significantly dif- tainly the clarity of Snow's essay did. The irritation created
ferent. Arnold's culture is a value-laden term; Tylor's culture in some quarters by his basic thesis was exacerbated by his
is merely descriptive. Every identifiable group of people pos- suggestion that we should reexamine the customary meaning
sesses an anthropological culture, no matter how wretched of the word "intellectual." Wordsmiths journalists and those
its daily life. In contrast, Arnold's type of culture may be academics whose lives are built around words-long ago suc-
entirely lacking in a society that refuses to be concerned with ceeded in getting this eulogistic word accepted as a label for
what connoisseurs might call "the best that has been known people who often are no more than merely eloquent. By this
and said." definition, many great mathematicians and scientists would
Words play a more important role in Arnold's culture than have to be classified as nonintellectuals, for a significant pro-
in Tylor's, for the "acquainting" and "known and said" in portion of them (not all) are extemely poor at explaining their
Arnold's definition clearly imply the use of words. On the ideas in words. Snow attacked the traditional definition of
other hand, the anthropological definition merely presumes "intellectual" by pointing out that most so-called intellectuals
that ideas are transmitted from one generation to another. from the Arnoldian culture had no knowledge or apprecia-
This is quite a different matter, for the transmission of ideas, tion of the meaning and awe-inspiring implications of the
practices, assumptions and ideals may be carried out using Second Law of Thermodynamics, though this giant among
numerous techniques of "nonverbal language" as well as by concepts was already a century old.
writing and speaking. (Happily, in the two decades since Snow's essay, a number
20 THE'I*IIKEEFIILU WAY THREE FILTERs OF REALITY 21
and thermodynamics have refer. Our intellectual to ols are filters for reducing reality to
of popular treatments of entropy
diminished the ignorance. Perhaps Snow's essay was partly a manageable si mplicity. '1 'It assert that we have ever com-
responsible for this welcome and long overdue advance.) pletely captured reality in all equation or a string of words
Snow alienated many in the humanistic culture by claiming would be extremely arrogant. Each filter captures only part
that the professional's knowledge of the essentials of the other of reality. Most expertise is single-filter expertise. We come
culture was far greater aniong scientists than it was anionng closest to the truth when we compensate for the bias of one
literary and artistic people. I le was 111 all unusually favorable filter by using others (which have different biases).
position to make such a claim, since fie moved in both circles, I low many intellectual filters men and women now employ,
being a scientist by vocation and a successful novelist by avo- or may invent in the future, is probably beyond knowing. In
cation. my opinion, most of the major controversies of our time can
be well understood if we view them as the result of too much
reliance on any single one of the following three reality filters:

Focus on Filters the literate filter


Snow's approach can be legitimately criticized oil several the numerate filter
o
grounds.'l begin with, his skill with words may have enabled the ecolate filter
him to create a "self-fulfilling prophecy," thus furthering the
very polarization of the intellectual community that lie de- By focusing on these three filters, rather than on Snow's two
plored. Polarization and objectivity don't mix well; the search cultures, we have a better chance of keeping our attention
for truth becomes submerged by the implicit and demanding directed toward substantive issues rather than toward per-
question "Are you with us or ag'in us?" sonalities.
More important, Snow's categories are far from exhaustive.
Academic people are inclined to forget that most bright people
are neither physicists nor poets. I f "intellectual" refers to those Distinguishing the Filters
who possess and employ a high degree of intelligence, then
the inclusive class of true intellectuals must take in some busi- For centuries literacy has been regarded as the prime distin-
nessmen, clerks, laborers, artists, homemakers-in fact, people guishing mark of the educated person. The ability to read
from all occupations. An exact accounting might well show and write enabled the i ndividual to draw on the wisdom (and
that the majority of true intellectuals actually live outside the the foolishness) of human beings distant from him in space
so-called "intellectual community." and time. The intellectual life of the literate person was thus
What we need most is a categorization not of people, but more extended than that of people who were unable to de-
of the methods whereby people express and test statements. cipher those curious marks oil papyrus, clay tablets, or paper.
We need to be acutely aware of the virtues and shortcomings With the coming of radio and television the relative ad-
of the tools of the mind. lit the light of that awareness, many vantage of truly literate people diminished considerably. Like
public controversies can be resolved. it or not, many people who today are no more than nominally
Though some metaphysicians demur, scientists assume that literate have fairly accurate knowledge of what is happening
there is a reality "out there" to which scientific statements all over the world, and even some understanding of what
22 THE THREEFOLD WAY THREE FILTERS OF REALITY 23
happened in the past. Many effective politicians and captains level there is no reason to expect this evolution: by definition,
of industry don't read a book from one year's end to another. an "antibacterial" kills bacteria, so that should be that. At the
The documents they read do not at all correspond to what numerate level, the initial studies may show that all but 0.11001
the Arnoldian means by "literature." Many a mall of action percent of the bacteria are killed by the first application, so
receives most of his information through the ear. it looks like two applications should kill all but (0.0001) , =
For this reason 1 will hencelorth use an extended definition 0.00000001 percent, and surely that should be enough? But
of "literacy" to stand for skill in either written urspoken language. if two applications are not enough, how about three?
A person adept in either will here be considered literate. By Tile simple numerate analysis does not suggest the whole
virtue of modern technology the advantages and shortcom- truth, which is that continued application of the antibacterial
ings of the two forms of literacy are today much the same. A substance often results in the appearance of a new form of
literate person is competent in the fine scale analysis of words bacteria that is immune to the drug (as the original form was
and their meanings, and adept at finding the best word to not). Something else is going on.
express his ideas. Consciously or not, literate analysis begins That something else is natural selection operating against
with this question: "What are the words?" i.e., what are the a background of random genetic variation. The one bacte-
most appropriate words? rium in ten thousand that survives the first application is not
Scientists, focusing primarily on things and processes, often a random Sample of the total bacterial population: it is the
pay little attention to words. (If they pay too little attention rare variant that has a natural resistance to the drug. It sur-
they can easily muck things up.) Scientists are apt to pay more vives and breeds more of its own kind. Continued exposure
attention to quantities and rates than they are to rhetorical to the drug causes the bacterial population to evolve toward
niceties. (A rate is a quantity of change per unit time.) Num- drug resistance. Differential death accomplishes the un-
bers, in the broad sense, dominate scientific thinking. wanted miracle. The pessimistic generalization that comes out
Shortly after the end of World War 11 someone coined a of such experiences is this: "Every pesticide selects for its own
term to epitomize this orientation, this sort of ability: "nu- failure." This is an essentially ecolate doctrine: neither literacy
Ineracy." Most scientists are strongly nunlerate. They seek to nor numeracy would lead one to predict it.
understand the world by passing reality through a numerate The ecolate result may involve more than the target species.
filter. The implicit question of the strongly numerate person Insecticides often have a delayed effect of causing an un-
is this: "What are the numbers?" i.e., what are the exact quan- wanted increase of the targeted species because the existence
tities, the proportions, and the rates? and importance of other species have been overlooked. For
The relative emphasis on numeracy and literacy roughly instance, spraying for aphids may result in a delayed outburst
matches the distinction between Snow's two cultures. In 1970, of these pests, because the insecticide also kills ladybird bee-
looking deeper into the way that people analyze the world, tles, insects that feed on aphids. The natural world is orga-
it occurred to me that ecologists in particular use another nized into a web of life more complex than we know. We
filter, the filter of "ecolacy," to give it a name consonant with have only a limited ability to predict what will happen in time
the other two. as the result of any intervention, however well meant, in the
Consider for instance the theory behind the evolution of natural order of things. Caution and humility are the hall-
resistance to antibacterial drugs by bacteria. At the literate marks of the ecolate attitude toward the world.
24 THE THREEFOLD WAY THREE FILTERS OF REALIT 25

In summary, the three filters operate through these par-


ticular questions:
Eeolacy, the Time-Bound Insight
Time and its consequences are essential concerns of the eco- Literacy: Whist are the words?
Numeracy: What are the numbers?
late filter. The key question of ecolate analysis is this: "And
Ecolacy: And then what?
then what?" That is, what further changes occur when the
treatment or experience is repeated time after time?
No one filter by itself is adequate for understanding the
Time and the web of life thwart many attempts to remake
world and predicting the consequences of our actions. We
the natural world nearer to human desires. We thought we
must learn to use all three. This means we had first better
could wipe out malaria in Africa and Southeast Asia by spray-
understand the strengths and weaknesses of each.
ing mosquitoes with DDT. In fact, after an initial apparent
success, we found we were selecting for DDT-resistant mos-
quitoes. Malaria is now increasing in those areas.
The tunnel vision of enthusiasts seldom encompasses either
ti me or the reticulated web of organisms and causes. The
ecolate critic, with his irritating question "And then what?",
is not welcomed by enthusiasts, whether they be profit-minded
promoters or altruistic reformers. The commercial promoter
wants to make a fortune selling something, e.g., pesticides.
N
The reformer wants to diminish human suffering through
single-minded attention to only one of the factors involved:
for example, through increasing food production in a poor
country in which the environment is being ruinously ex-
ploited by an overfertile population. Such a reform increases
the number of people, which in turn has one of two effects:
either the amount of food per capita ultimately decreases, or
the population becomes increasingly dependent on donations
of food from the outside..
A cautious approach to innovation is the mark of a true
conservative. With respect to the things he understands best,
an ecologist is clearly a conservative (whatever may be his
attitude in other areas). But is this not the behavior of genuine
experts in every field? Anti-conservatism (under whatever
name) is more often associated with ignorance than with
knowledge. Prudence, an essentially ecolate virtue, is not
popular with enthusiasts.