Human Senses Versus Technology

Human Senses Versus Technology

Human Senses Verses Technology |By John Bickart, Ph.D. | Science Education and Spiritual Transformation

A while ago – nearly half a millennium ago, around the 1500s – people often spoke of qualities like color, smell, sound, taste, and feel. These qualities were given a place of high importance. Back then, scientific experimentation was largely concerned with observations of the world using the senses. Scientists (called philosophers at that time) watched nature’s wildlife, plants, and physical phenomena in their native environment more than interrogating nature with specific questions in mind. But since the influence of philosopher/scientists like Descartes, Galileo, and Bacon, human senses have become secondary in importance to qualities that can be measured. Now we often talk about measurable quantities.

Then, the role of experimentation after the 1500s started to change. We started to become a little less like friends with nature and a little more like owners. Some experiments began to ask nature to perform under circumstances that were designed by the interrogator to find out specific concepts. Increasingly, the experimenter was asking a pointed question and nature was limited to the answer to that question. In some ways, nature was treated a little like a pet that is made to sit and beg and do tricks on command. Experimentation became more head based and left brain oriented, rather than the ancient, heart based, right brain orientation. In other words, scientists looked more in a mechanical, analytical way, taking things apart and assuming that nature is made of machines. Of principal importance in this type of interrogation are measurable quantities that are usually assigned a number. Therefore, while the human sense qualities became secondary, qualities like magnitude or size became primary.

Integration is the Key

 We are now integrating the ancient abilities to observe in balance with parts analysis. In other words, we are combining heart and head. What is an example of an interrogation that is pointed, analytical, and mechanical? Consider investigating a flower. The analytical scientist from the recent past would remove the flower from its native environment, stop it from growing, cut it apart, then surmise how it operates by examining the parts. This aggressive form of interrogation reduces the flower to an object. Objectifying animals, plants, and people in this period from the 1500s until now was quite common. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like being asked questions about my parts, only. I am a whole person – more than my parts. So, the science course of today needs to stress to future scientists and science teachers that we are not objects.

During the left brain time, there was a movement toward measurement which, of course favored technology over the human senses. A thermometer measures temperature better than human touch, and a ruler measures length better. So, the role of experimentation became increasingly about numbers and parts, objects and measurements, and technology and machinery. On the one hand, as we shifted toward technology, away from the human senses, many aspects of science improved. But on the other hand, one might ask, “Has anything been lost? Have we thrown out the baby with the bathwater?” This essay seeks to alert us to this shift in the role of experimentation. It recommends that we embrace the incredible new ways to use technology, without throwing away some important benefits to using our human senses.

Re-Integrating Our Senses

 Our senses may not be accurate measurement devices, but they are the keys to personal growth and perhaps our greatest human power.

If you are using your senses to be an observer, you increase your presence. This form of personal growth always ends well. Are there any events in life that are not better if we give them more attention? And what do I mean by our greatest human power? Let me show you with an example. Have you ever been helped by a friend who just listened? They were there for you, wholly attending. Why does that work? Somehow, science will catch up with the mechanisms of this process, but meanwhile, we can recognize the power in such an exchange. Science is at the tip of an iceberg in finding that observation helps more than people. It helps flowers, animals, and even perhaps, according to quantum effects, all matter itself. We are just beginning to scientifically measure the effect we have on the world when we observe it – and this is a power.

A good science course, especially for future teachers, may want to note this historical shift toward technology – away from the human senses. Then, a good course would ask some questions such as the following.

  • Why did this shift take place?
  • What has become better since the shift?
  • What may have been lessened since the shift?



Thinking Too Much versus the Right Amount

 “The simple reason why the majority of scientists are not creative is not because they don’t know how to think;

but because they don’t know how to stop thinking.”
– Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now (2011)

How does one not think? Try this experiment right now. Pay attention to one of your senses – look, listen, smell, taste, or feel something. Do it for about half a minute. Did you notice that you suspended analytical thought as you observed what your senses reported? Did you think of tomorrow or yesterday – of somewhere other than here? If you did, that was not part of your sensing. Observing/sensing and thinking/analyzing are separate activities. They occur very closely in time, much like FMRI research has shown about electrical and visceral activity across the two lobes of the brain. The interplay is vitally important. But the act of purely observing preempts and precedes the act of thinking about what has been observed. And it happily blocks out the preoccupation with worries or anticipations about tomorrow and the laments or sentimentality about yesterday. That is why some people meditate.

Observation is the key to not thinking. And the human senses are the gateway to observation.

So, what have we learned so far? There are two things a student of science should do to move the Role of Experimentation forward while still moving our Friendship with Nature forward. One is to keep a balance between human senses and technology. A second is to use those human senses as a gateway to observation. Let’s look now at a third way – language – to establish a balance between head and heart.




Awakened Language


The role of language is a two-edged sword. If kept in balance, it is a powerful tool for society, but the two edges of this sword could end in a duality that takes us apart. We can use words to enlighten ourselves and become friends with nature, or we can get lost in a description as a representation of the genuine, then substitute that description for relationship.


The dawning of language was different from everyday use of language. At first, we were in relationship with the world. Words gave us a way to name that with which we had come to know – our new ‘friends’. But soon after that, we used words as representations of actual phenomena. We moved a primary relationship to a secondary one. The word took the place of the thing itself. Whereas the word “mother” was an all-encompassing experience of joy, it could be reduced to a cry when we get hurt or hungry.


This is very like the movement of the role of experimentation. We move from a primary relationship with nature through our human senses to a removed, representational language of names and numbers from our measurements. It is like the difference between being live and in person on a date versus having a correspondence through technology.


The trick is to continue measuring and speaking in our language, without losing actual contact – actual relationship – with the world around us.


Do you remember when you first learned language? Almost no one can. How about humankind’s first language? We can only make conjectures about the dawning of language for humankind. The first 32 symbols have been uncovered on 370 cave walls across the globe that were written roughly 30,000 years ago. Henri Bortoft investigates this conundrum by looking through Helen Keller’s eyes as she first experiences language.


“It is language which teaches us concepts as children, and hence it is language which first gives us the ability to see the world, so that the world can appear. But our first experience of language, the dawning of language, is different from our experience of language as adults. A vivid illustration of the original disclosive power of language—as distinct from the secondary representational function of language, as when it is used for conveying information—is given by the remarkable story of Helen Keller. As a very young girl, Helen Keller had a severe attack of measles, which left her deaf and blind. This happened to her before the dawning of language, and it was only due to the extraordinary work of her dedicated governess that these extreme difficulties were eventually overcome. The moment when this finally happened is described in her own words:


‘We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by the fragrance of the honeysuckle with which it was covered. Someone was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word “water” first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motion of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten—a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that “w-a-t-e-r” meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, joy, set it free!. . . I left the well-house eager to learn.


Everything had a name, and each name gave birth to a new thought. As we returned to the house each object that I touched seemed to quiver with life. That was because I saw everything with the strange new light that had come to me.’ (Helen Keller, The Story of My Life)


She is blind but describes herself as seeing with a new light. The word “water” does not represent or stand for water here; it is not a label to be attached to water for the purpose of communicating information. Helen Keller does not already know water, to which she then adds the word. No, in this case everything is reversed. The word “water” shows her water; it brings it to light so that she sees it.” (Bortoft, 1996)


Language sets humankind apart from the animals. Language is not just the skill of communicating information. It gives us the unique ability to be conscious of being in the world, but not of the world.


“Without language no things could be, and therefore there would be no world. So the dawning of language is the dawn of the world—as we can see so clearly here in the experience of Helen Keller. This sets her soul free because to be human is to live in the world. Only human beings have a “world”—which is entirely different from inhabiting an environment in the way that animals do. Until this experience of the dawning of language, Helen Keller had been unable to be in the world, which is proper to human beings, and had inhabited a wordless environment. A human being not able to be human—and now she is freed from the darkness of this condition to enter the light of the human world.” (Bortoft, 1996)


There are great advantages to the act of experimentation and discovery. The language of science can be like a light coming into a dark room, shining on all manner of treasures. The trick is to stay in that room and appreciate the treasures – not just visit it quickly, then use language to talk endlessly about it. Our goal for the future of science is to get back to this room of ours. This incredible world is a room full of riches. It is a garden of immeasurable variety. We must get back to the garden. We must learn to investigate her while simultaneously regaining friendship with her.




#92 The First Great Play




At first, there was a great play named “The Lila”. It was created by Gods and acted out the story of how the Earth grew for as long as their stories remembered. You might say that if you saw The Lila that you were privy to the story of stories. It portrayed how the rocks and plants and animals and of course, the peoples of the Earth came to be.


Finally, the great play was ready to be presented. It was decided it would be acted out in two cities, once on the near side of the mountain, and once on the far side. Audiences were invited with the proviso that they give The Lila their utmost respect and that they attend with particularly keen observation. You see, the actors in the great play were the actual elemental beings of earth, water, air and fire. So, if the audiences did not receive them well, the actors might retreat. Then, they would not be able to perform their role in running nature, herself.


In the near city, members of the audience were scientifically curious to learn how to control the elements. They asked many questions of the actors to try to understand just how the rocks and plants worked, so that they could have the power to master them. In their zeal, they tested the actors rigorously, taking every bit of the elements’ stories apart. They thought that their curiosity would be a compliment to the great play, but the actors left the near city feeling tortured and tired.


In the far city, the audience fell silent in awe of the beauty and majesty of The Lila. They marveled at the relationships between rocks and plants and animals. They let the natural elements speak for themselves. They felt profound gratitude for the role that people were given in the great play. So deep was their observation of the play, that they found themselves watching parts of it over and over in their minds.


The following years found the near city bringing storms and blight upon itself, while the far city dwelled in peace.


Learn to Return

Learn to Return

By John Bickart, Phd | 20 Opportunities to Transform Yourself While Teaching | “Revitalizing Your Ability to Lead”

“Time is always against us” (The Matrix)

In 1971, I tried to learn to return to the here and now. I went to India where I was meditating for 25 days in an ashram in Haridwar, India, right at the base of the Himalayas, on the Ganges River. It was a beautiful place. I would meditate every day for hours. You come to the here and now. Here is a space. Now is a time. Spacetime. This played on my mind for years and years. Now, I’m 70 years old and I’m just realizing that for the spiritual world – I’ve heard this and I’m just realizing it – time is space. If we give up our time, we go to the spiritual world to a place of here. And, for them (the spiritual beings) – they can’t have a meeting place unless we do that. So, I wrote a story about it. It’s fable #23 in my book, Bickart’s Just-in-Time Fables (2020), which carries a right to copy (which means that they may be copied as a whole or in part and shared in print or any electronic media as long as they are not sold or used to carry advertising).

The Fairy Gate

There was a fairy who lived in the water at the base of a cliff. She lived behind a gate. The gate was in the spiritual world, so if you went there and looked only with your physical eyes, you would not see it. On the gate, inscribed in lettering that had remained forever and ever was this poem.


Forever is a time
And also a place.
To be here now
Creates a space.

Everywhere is anywhere
Enter without fear.
Just find the door;
It’s always here.

When will I find Eternity?
When will I learn how?
When will I realize?
The time is now.

The fairy longed for the princess who lived in the castle on the cliff to let go of time, so that they could be together. Often, the princess would dream that she had a friend who was a fairy. But alas, day after day, the princess’s parents, the king and queen, insisted that she keep a schedule. Every day she rose, had a first meal, played in the nursery, had reading time, a second meal, play time in the yard, helped with dinner chores, dinner, helped with clean up, then story time and bed. If the princess was allowed to walk in the woods or swim in the lake, it was done so under supervision, for a designated amount of time. Her parents had inadvertently taught her to lose herself in her schedule. She always knew where she should be. And she always knew when. But in being so adept at WHERE AND WHEN – she had lost HERE AND NOW. Now, there was a further problem. Since the princess never forgot about time, she left no room for the fairy to approach her. To the fairy this was a literal fact. You see, for the fairy, a room or space – a meeting place – could only be created if the princess forgot to have a schedule. TIME for the princess was SPACE for the fairy.

One day, the princess woke from another dream about the fairy. The fairy was pleading with the princess, “Please bring me a present.” “Sure,” said the princess, “what would you like?” “I would love to have your free time,” replied the fairy. “How do I give you time?” asked the princess. “Ask your mother, the queen, for the afternoon, promising to be home for dinner,” explained the fairy. “Come to the weeping willow tree at the edge of the lake with no thought of your schedule. I will meet you there. And I will tell you when it is time to go home for dinner. This will form a place into which I can come to you and we can meet.” “Oh how lovely!”, cried the princess. “How will I know you are there?” The fairy simply replied, “You will feel like you are passing through a gate, and you will see me as if you are in a dream.”

The princess asked her mother for the afternoon and passed through the fairy gate to begin a most beautiful and lasting friendship with the fairy. And from that day forward, the princess knew how to leave the where and when, and pass through the gate to the here and now.




Bickart, J. (2020). Bickart’s Just-in-Time Fables (Vol. 1). Asheville, NC: Red Shirt Interactive Group.

Invisible Forces

Invisible Forces

By DEB SCHEIN | Growing Wonder

In late March of this year, March 28, 2023, I happened to read an article from The New York Times titled:  What Happens When an Artist Loses His Sight.  It was written by Roger Rosenblatt, a writer and contributor to both Time magazine, PBS “NewsHour”, and author of a new book titled, “Cataract Blues.”.  What caught my attention was Rosenblatt’s attention to the unseen forces in the universe and his implying, but never using, the word spirituality.

He writes that when he began to lose his eye sight, he started to reflect upon all “the invisible forces that govern our lives (such as) gravity, electric currents, magnetic fields and also love, grief, morality, faith and creativity.”  Rosenblatt goes on to include, “The presence and power of invisible things and of a secret music — of the spheres and of ourselves.”  Rosenblatt’s reflections reminded me of Lisa Miller’s book, “The Awakened Brain” (2021).  In her book, she shares that when we are healthy, when we flow with the universe, we also vibrate at the same frequency as the universe.

I thank Rosenblatt for highlighting these hidden, invisible qualities of life and earth.  Yet, it saddens me that he did not use the word spirituality.  Unfortunately, it appears that we are still unable to even talk about the word spirituality or use it even when it so applicably belongs.  Indirectly, Rosenblatt also captures how we are both naturally and innately spiritual; yet how we also require some external, connecting forces to continue our spiritual journeys.  He does this all without even mentioning the words that tie his thoughts to that missing, invisible word – spirituality.

I would therefore like to share some thoughts of my own work in spirituality.  I began looking at spiritual development of young children.  My lens has grown and changed.  I am currently writing about spiritual flourishing. Unlike development, flourishing requires connection, belonging, and relationships. Yes, spiritual flourishing is invisible and yet, it can be a very powerful force in helping us humans to be more optimistic, better able to make good choices for ourselves and the world.  Research is showing that spiritual flourishing can lead to resiliency and empathy so needed today (Miller, 2021).  The word spirituality, for me, reflects our human ability to wonder, to seek out moments of awe, and joy.  It appears that we need relationships, community, love, and nature in order to achieve this invisible accomplishment of spiritual flourishing.  I believe it should be integrated into our school curriculum, our child rearing practices, our ways of thinking of ourselves as spiritual humans.  It should no long be a hidden, unspeakable, invisible force but a desired concept that reflects who we are from a universal perspective.

Honoring Aristotle: A Science Lesson that Fosters Intellectual Humility

Honoring Aristotle: A Science Lesson that Fosters Intellectual Humility

By JOHN BICKART, Ph.D. | Science Education and Spiritual Transformation | Chapter 4: Thermodynamics

Intellectual Humility, Critical Thinking, and the Art of Making Mistakes

Is it your fervent hope that the study of modern science might cause a student to be proud of recent innovations, while maintaining intellectual humility? In a recent study done at the National University of Singapore, Ziqian Zhou ties intellectual humility to critical thinking, cautioning teachers not to promote the tendency to have a false sense of objectivity that fails to be sensitive to highly contextualized circumstances.

“the intellectual virtues in general or that of intellectual humility in particular is an integral character disposition of the critical thinker” (Zhou, 2022)

Our educational presentation of modern science can sometimes give one the feeling that we moderns know much more than the ancients and we therefore must be superior to them. Therefore, to instill a humble sense of respect in our students, while inspiring an interest in the subject matter, it sometimes helps to offset some mainstream views.

I often tell my students that the next discovery in science is constantly happening in real time. Scientific endeavors are rife with mistakes and guesses that lead us to the next uncovering of truth. And I stress that each truth we find is only true from the specific point of view of our time and our current state of consciousness – and that when you can view the same facts from another place, you can see another aspect of truth. In other words, there is not one right or wrong for all time. Humanity’s consciousness is constantly learning, forgetting, and learning again. One fun way I have done this, for over fifty years of science classes, is to stage a courtroom scene and put ancient science on trial.

Ancient Science on Trial

You are in a courtroom. You are in the jury. The trial is to decide how ancient science should be taught in public schools. The prosecuting attorney for the state is representing modern science. The defending attorney is representing ancient science. Take a seat in the courtroom as you watch the judge read some paperwork about the case. Quiet down now, he is about to begin.

Judge: “What seems to be the problem here? Am I to understand that modern science is questioning the use of ancient science? Ah yes, I see. Very well, the court will hear arguments on both sides. Prosecution, you will begin with your opening statement.”

Prosecution: “Your honor, members of the jury, we intend to argue that ancient science has outlived its original use and as such, should be downplayed in public schools. Our argument will rest on two charges.

First, that ancient science tends to provide outdated concepts.

Second, the ancient documents that have survived are primitive and simplistic.”

Judge: “Thank you counselor. The court will now hear an opening statement from the defense.”

Defense: “Your honor, members of the jury, we feel that to some extent, these allegations are warranted. The defense has great respect for modern science. It has made incredible progress through scientific investigation of the physical world in recent times. In one way, we concede that it has distanced the ancient scientific knowledge and methodology. We do have a problem, however. Perhaps we have convicted them without proper representation.”

Judge: “Of course, of course. Everyone shall be heard. Now, prosecution, call your first witness.”

Prosecution: “The prosecution calls STEM Education. STEM, thank you for coming. Is it true that STEM is an acronym that stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics?”

STEM: “Yes, that is correct.”

Prosecution: “You have heard the charges against ancient science. Let me read it to get the exact wording. They have been charged with ‘outdated conceptsand primitive and simplistic documents’. But STEM, isn’t it true that the modern curricula have downplayed the education of ancient science, focusing more on modern science? Aren’t you just following the times?”

STEM: “Yes, precisely. We are quite aware that we accent things like modern measurement, technology, mechanical invention, and mastery over the environment. The ancients had no such prowess in these areas of scientific investigation. We show students how the last two centuries represent almost all of the crowning achievements of humankind.”

Prosecution: “Would you please tell the court what you require of your teachers?”

STEM: “We instruct them to teach the skills and facts of science so that they can encourage the next generation of invention and innovation.”

Prosecution: “Why do you do this?”

STEM: “We want students to enter the highly competitive workplace in good stead. This requires a solid, practical knowledge of science.”

Prosecution: “I see, I see … invention, innovation, solid practical knowledge of science … And does ancient science help in this pursuit of a competitive workplace?”

STEM: “Not really. Ancient science is historically interesting, but you can’t build technology with stories from a pre-technological age.”

Prosecution: “Thank you.” Turning to the defense, “Your witness.”

Defense: “STEM, I have here a record of remarks your teachers actually made to students. I would like to know if you have heard these.

– ‘The ancient scientists were a simple people and their science was primitive.’

– ‘The ancients laid foundations for modern science, but their findings are outdated compared to the strides we have made.’

– ‘They often had superstitious beliefs that were not based on physical evidence.’”

STEM: “Yes these are actual statements. But, as I have already said, we respectfully mention the ancients as foundation builders – not unlike children. But, as with children, when the adults need to move forward, they need modern techniques, not juvenile stories.”

Defense: “I have no more questions, your honor.”

Judge: “STEM, you may step down. Prosecutor, you may call your next witness.”

Prosecution: “I call, Dr. Faraday. Dr. Faraday, you are an expert in the history of science are you not?”

Dr. Faraday: “That is so.”

Prosecution: “If you are a fan of the ancients, I apologize. But truly, sir, can you deny that the ancients were necessarily more primitive than we are – especially as regards science?”

Dr. Faraday: “Primitive? I question your indictments. The charges that ancient scientists gave us outdatedprimitivesimplistic ideas is itself a gross oversimplification.”

Prosecution: “Dr. Faraday, look at the modern scientific laws and principles that have successfully enabled us to build scientific theories and incredible technology.”

Dr. Faraday: “Quite right. But the very fact that they did not constantly use technology enabled them to see much of what we have lost.”

Prosecution: “I have no more questions. Your witness.”

Defense: “Welcome Dr. Faraday, it is my honor to speak with you today. So far we seem to be looking at what we moderns

have today … that the ancients did not. I would like to look instead at what they DID have … that WE have lost. You are an expert in the history of science. Can you fill in some blanks here?”

Dr. Faraday: “I would be most happy to do so. Modern science has new ideas and new inventions, but there is much we have lost. Let’s look at a case in point. Aristotle’s Four Elements and Four Qualities are mentioned lightly – if at all – because we have lost the ability to appreciate an ancient view from an ancient consciousness.

Aristotle is considered by many to be the Father of Science and one of the most prolific philosophers. He is the tip of a huge iceberg in that, although we have recovered a great many writings, we believe that there may be up to three times as many lost. He is a good example of ancient science and what is more, almost every subject that he wrote about transformed that particular field of knowledge.

I have seen great teachers model intellectual humility and resist the tendency to minimize early scientific ideas of Aristotle simply because we have modern ones that appear to supplant them. The same applies to many of the greats, such as: Cheng Heng and Bi Sheng of China, Banu Musa Brothers of Islam, metal tool makers of Sumeria, hydraulic systems of the African Kushites, Ptolemy of Egypt, al Gazer of the Turkish Artukid Dynasty, Archimedes, Eratosthenes, Euclid, and Pythagoras of Greece, the Kechuan Indians of Peru, the iron workers of Kashmir, or the Olmecs of Mexico.

So, how can we keep from speaking of them as outdated and simplistic? I’ll tell you how. Try listening to them as if they were speaking with a different consciousness. Do not project your own consciousness – your own way of thinking – onto them. Instead of reading their publications as

if someone next door said it yesterday, try to imagine a person who thinks in a very different way.

Isn’t it the responsibility of the scientific method to find the truth? When moderns look through a narrow lens of relevancewe seek to answer questions like, ‘What can this do for me?’ – or – ‘What innovation could use this?’ What if the ancient consciousness did not look at things that way – in fact – what if they would say that we moderns sometimes have an unscientific bias here.”

Defense: “I see. Do we have this bias in how we view Aristotle’s Four Elements and Four Qualities?”

Dr. Faraday: “Indubitably. Aristotle’s Four Elements spoke of four main divisions of the world, known as the four Elements: earth, water, air, and fire. We sometimes try to translate such ancient language into our own, comparing this to our periodic table. This makes the ancients seem simplistic. In this regard, we may be well shy of Aristotle’s full meaning. The consciousness of Aristotle’s time used language in a very different way than we do. The words often were inclusive of very large ideas, connected to passionate feelings that perhaps we moderns cannot even feel today. One thing we have lost here is the ability to love our world passionately.

It is the same with Aristotle’s Four Qualities: hot versus cold and wet versus dry. He paired these with the four elements as below.



Fire is Hot and Dry

Air is Hot and Wet.

Water is Cold and Wet.

Earth is Cold and Dry.


Yes, these are very simple, broad, sweeping concepts. Every child understands them. So, we sometimes (perhaps arrogantly) ask, ‘What is the big deal about learning Aristotle’s ideas – I understood them when I was in third grade?’ Then, we might dismiss them because they seem so naive.

And the relevance of them? Relevance in the modern consciousness can unfortunately get translated to asking, ‘What can nature do for me?’ or ‘What technology can I get out of this?’”

Defense: “I understand. By contrast, what do you see in Aristotle, Dr. Faraday?”

Dr. Faraday: “I see a consciousness that is in touch with the incredible ability to appreciate nature with the attention and wonder of a child. I believe that at least one thing he is saying is this: that a scientist should not lose touch with the inclusiveness and wonder of nature! As Goethe, who was a great fan of Aristotle’s science, says …

‘He should form to himself a method in accordance with observation, but he should take heed not to reduce observation to mere notion, to substitute words for this notion, and to use and deal with these words as if they were things.’ (Goethe, 1840/1970, p. 283)

But here is the irony. In the modern, headlong pursuit of technology and efficiency, I wonder if we have walked past the obvious. Perhaps instead, if we could peer through the lens of the ancient consciousness, we would reveal a view that is based upon, imitative of, and embedded in nature. Through this lens, I firmly believe that we could uncover at least two benefits.

  • For one, we would see that processes and mechanical contraptions that have fewer parts have fewer things to go wrong.
  • The other is perhaps an ironic epitaph to humankind’s recent love affair with the mechanical. We would start inventing new ways of living and new devices that work alongside of and even behave like nature. Perhaps such a future could be blessed by clean, friendly, harmonious technologies that sway like trees, flow like water, and grow like flames.

You know, the ancients could raise a stage hydraulically in an open-air amphitheater by diverting a stream to let the water in, then allow the entire stage to be lowered by letting the water return to the stream. The music and speaking in the amphitheater could be amplified by filtering out background noise with the limestone seats. Churches used beautiful chalices to resonate to various tonal frequencies and thereby carry sound.

It fills me with wonder to consider such natural simplicity that might be joined to the incredible strides modern science has made.”

Defense: “Thank you, Dr. Faraday.”

Judge: “The witness may step down.”

… [skip to the closing argument] …


Defense: The defense turns dramatically to address the jury with a passionate appeal, “Where is our HUMILITY? Let us honor in our schools that the ancients had valuable abilities – THAT WE HAVE ALMOST LOST! Our current version of civilization is not the epitome of humankind, passing everything that came before us! Imagine a fusion of our modern expertise with the nature-based approach of the ancients. Just think of the world we could make.”


[This lesson has been given many times to adults in a U.S. State prison, to middle and high schoolers September 1975 – March 2023.]


Goethe, J. W. v. (1840/1970). Theory of colours. Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press.

Zhou, Z. (2022). Critical Thinking: Two Theses from the Ground Up. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 22(1), 154-171.

Looking at Spiritual Development as a System

Looking at Spiritual Development as a System

By DEBORAH SCHEIN, Ph.D | Early Childhood Educator

Let me introduce myself, my name is Deb Schein and I am an early childhood educator who has done some research in the field of spiritual development.  The goal of my research was to produce a definition of spiritual development that could be used for all children.  In the United States that means no reference to God and religion.  (Yet, for those who want to interject a religious lens, there is certainly room to do so. We might explore this in another blog.)

Today, I would like to talk about the importance of seeing spirituality as a system, especially as we consider spirituality in education.  As in any system, we must consider all its parts.  This reminds me of an Indian folk talk – Seven Blind Mice (captured in a book by Young, 1992).  In this tale each seeing impaired mouse explores an object that stands in front of them.  Each mouse has a different experience as only a part of the object is explored.  The outcome for each individual mouse is an incomplete thus incorrect image.  Only the last mouse covers the entire body of the object and only this mouse is able to perceive the whole of the object—It is an elephant with a rope type tail, palm leaf shaped ears, etc.

The need for understanding the entirety of a system is applicable to our desire to look at spirituality in education.  We must also look at what happens at the beginning of life.  We must ask ourselves, “How can we maintain and grow the spiritual essence that is found at the birth of an infant?” To look at spirituality any other way compromises what we will find; what we actually see; and what we can do to strengthen a child’s spiritual development.

Please join me in this blog on spiritual development as I look at spiritual development in young children through reflections of my research and changing thoughts and experiences.  Here is a look at what I call the system of spiritual development.

(From Inspiring Wonder, Awe, and Empathy:  Spiritual Development in Young Children.  By Deb Schein, 2018, p. 138)



Beginning a career in Early Childhood Education in 1972, receiving her PhD in 2012, Deb now provides professional development for EC educators and teaches at Champlain College.  She is an editor for Soul to Soul – an online journal for practitioners and researchers interested in all aspects of children’s spirituality.  Deb has written two books on spirituality, and continues to research the relationship between spiritual development, nature, play, peace, and well-being. You can find out more about her at

How We’re Overcoming the Stigma of Mental Health Issues

How We’re Overcoming the Stigma of Mental Health Issues


Shame and shunning make mental illness worse. But new studies suggest that attitudes are changing for the better—and that’s largely due to young people.

Today, people in the United States know far more about mental illness than did previous generations. They might know what it looks like: changes in emotions, thinking, or behavior that make function in daily life difficult, if not impossible. They’re much more likely to understand that most of us will experience some form of mental illness in our lifetimes, like depression or anxiety. And they know that smaller numbers of people will experience more severe conditions like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or PTSD.

Despite this progress, for decades attitudes toward people with mental disorders have hardly budged. How do we know this? One of the crucial ways we measure prejudice is to ask about “social distance.” In this case, that involves asking: How close would you be willing live to someone with a mental illness? Would you live in the same state? Be in the same classroom or workplace? Participate together on a project? Ride next to them on public transportation? Go out with them? Let your offspring marry them?

When friends, family, and society shame people for their illness, and shun them, that’s stigma. This shaming can take many forms, from stereotypes (“they’re dangerous”) to moral judgments (“you’re just a coward”) to dismissive labeling (“you’re crazy”). There can be real consequences of stigma, such as lost job opportunities and social marginalization, as well as giving up on seeking treatment. Overt discrimination is a big part of stigma, too: People with mental disorders, in many states, cannot run for office, serve on a jury, keep a driver’s license, or retain child custody. Most perniciously, the stigma of mental illness can lead people to hide their troubles and refuse to get help—which is likely to worsen their condition and create a vicious cycle.

Until very recently, studies consistently showed that the desire for social distance from people with mental illness had not improved over the past 50 to 60 years. In fact, in some ways it had actually worsened, as more people than before automatically linked mental illness with aggression and violence.

At the same time, studies also showed that people had greater knowledge of ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and more—but just “knowing” more facts about mental illness can actually make things worse. For example, if you learn that people with schizophrenia may hear voices and become paranoid, you might consider that to be quite frightening, even threatening. Similarly, understanding that people with severe depression may come to feel that their lives are not worth living—and may therefore consider suicide—can trigger the belief that such individuals are utterly self-centered. What might not be understood is that severe depression can foster the belief, in people affected, that everyone else would be better off without them.

In other words, factual knowledge about mental disorders, alone, can actually fuel stereotypes. In addressing stigma, the missing piece isn’t knowledge—it’s contact, empathy, and humanization.

recent study published in December by the JAMA Network Open suggests that things may finally be starting to change. But the picture is complicated: Some kinds of illness are becoming less stigmatized, true, but people still want to keep distance from other forms. The good news is that young people are much less likely to stigmatize mental illness than older generations—and that there are specific steps we can take, as individuals and society, to keep making progress.

Generational shifts driving acceptance

In surveying a representative group of U.S. adults during a period of over two decades, sociologist Bernice A. Pescosolido and her colleagues found a significant and important decrease in desire for social distance related to depression over the past few years.

That is unprecedented, and of real importance. However, in the same paper, the researchers found that attitudes related to conditions like schizophrenia and substance-use disorders did not show signs of improvement—and had actually worsened.

Even though the participants in this study were many—over 4,000 adults—it would take even larger groups to understand how socioeconomic, ethnic, or racial characteristics affected changing attitudes toward mental illness. Still, from this study and a number of others, it does appear that improvements are driven mainly by younger people.

Stephen Hinshaw is the author of <a href=“”><em>Another Kind of Madness: A Journey through the Stigma and Hope of Mental Illness</em></a> (St. Martin’s Press, 2017, 288 pages)
Stephen Hinshaw is the author of Another Kind of Madness: A Journey through the Stigma and Hope of Mental Illness (St. Martin’s Press, 2017, 288 pages)

In fact, research hints at a massive generational shift in how mental illness is perceived and socially experienced. Multiple other surveys and studies besides the one by Pescosolido and her colleagues suggest that both millennials (those born from the early ’80s to the mid-’90s) and Generation Z (who were mostly born in the 21st century) are much more accepting and knowledgeable about mental illness than previous generations.

Why? Rates of diagnosed mental illness have been rising among young people. For example, one 2019 study found almost half experience depression, peaking at 60% for teens aged 14–17—considerably more than previous generations. More recent work conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic hints at a profound mental health crisis.

When the CDC surveyed almost 8,000 high school students in the first six months of 2021, researchers found that depression, anxiety, and other disorders permeated the lives of adolescents during the pandemic. All groups reported more persistent sadness since spring 2020, though the rate rose faster among white teens than others. Nearly half of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender teens reported seriously thinking about suicide, compared with 14% of heterosexual peers. One in four girls did so, twice the rate of boys.

Did that translate into higher suicide rates? Yes, and decidedly so, especially for girls. Some emergency departments have reported a significant increase in teens coming in for suicide attempts. (Note that these numbers are only provisional and could go up with time.)

What’s responsible for these negative trends? That’s a topic hotly debated by scholars, with most suggesting some combination of factors like the pandemic, climate change, political and economic instability, increased educational competition, and technological changes like phones and social media. Even more, for teenage girls in particular, a toxic “triple bind” of impossible expectations (be supportive and nurturing, be super competitive, and do both of the above effortlessly while looking “hot”) plays a key role.

However, as depression and anxiety spread among young people, it does seem as though these conditions are becoming normalized—and that youth are becoming more open and compassionate with one another. And high school clubs, as well as college programs, that focus on reducing stigma with respect to mental disorders have been shown to create real benefits.

All evidence to date suggests that many kinds of mental illness carry less stigma for younger generations. As these young people attain full maturity, the tide could eventually turn even for disorders like schizophrenia—the way it has, convincingly, for issues like same-sex marriage over the past 20 years. There are steps we can take to keep pushing this process forward.

What can create more positive change?

First, from a “top-down” perspective, enforcement of anti-discrimination policies, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, can help to drive acceptance. Title I of the ADA blocks employers from discriminating against people with disabilities, including mental illness, and requires them to make reasonable accommodations. Last week, a man in Kentucky won a half-a-million-dollar judgment against the employer who fired him for having a panic attack at work, which will surely discourage other companies from doing the same.

Beyond employment protection, we need enforcement of laws mandating “parity” for coverage of mental and physical disorders, and there’s much work to do with police and the courts to make a distinction between criminal activity and mental health crises.

Such steps can limit the consequences of stigma, but they can’t erase its existence. Though we’ve learned that information all by itself doesn’t reduce stigma, that doesn’t mean we should stop educating people from early ages about diagnosis and treatment—and there is evidence to suggest public health campaigns can reduce stigma if properly funded and executed.

For example, surveys conducted two years after Scotland’s multiyear, multiplatform “See Me” campaign—which aimed to normalize mental illness—showed a 17% drop in fear of people with serious mental illness, among other good outcomes. A much briefer social media campaign in Canada called “In One Voice” resulted in a “small but significant” decrease in a desire for social distance one year after it ended—though the same study also found that people didn’t feel more motivated to actually help someone in a mental health crisis.

The contrasting results of these two campaigns suggest that size and scope matter when it comes to changing attitudes. Scotland’s much more comprehensive approach made more of an impact than “In One Voice.” And it emphasized personal contact, not just factual knowledge, asking us to “see” real people in all their complexity.

The California Mental Health Services Act is a statewide prevention and early intervention program directly addressing stigma and discrimination, including “a major social marketing campaign; creation of websites, toolkits, and other informational resources; an effort to improve media portrayals of mental illness; and thousands of in-person educational trainings and presentations occurring in all regions of the state.” An independent evaluation found that it succeeded in reducing stigma in California, “with more people reporting a willingness to socialize with, live next door to, and work with people experiencing mental illness.” Participants also reported “providing greater social support to those with mental illness.”

Policies and education do work to reduce stigma, but they alone cannot change human hearts.

It has probably helped a lot for more and more people to talk about their experiences with mental illness, on social media and through popular media like magazines and television. In 2013, the New York City chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness teamed up with marketing company JWT New York to launch the “I Will Listen” campaign. They asked people to publicly pledge on social media to hear and support individuals struggling with mental illness.

That early effort encouraged others to later speak out about their experience with depression and addiction on platforms like TikTok and Facebook, making private struggles public in a way that previous generations only glimpsed with books like William Styron’s groundbreaking 1990 memoir Darkness Visible. Or, more recently, books like Kay Redfield Jamison’s memoir An Unquiet Mind (1996), Andrew Solomon’s The Noonday Demon (2001), and Brian Broome’s Punch Me Up to the Gods (2021).

It’s important to note that there is little solid evidence to date that talking about mental illness on social media reduces stigma—and, in fact, at least one study found that social media (if it promotes stereotypes) can actually increase stigma. That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t try. It could simply mean that it isn’t enough for people to talk about their own experiences with mental illness; we might also need concerted efforts to limit hate speech and misinformation on social media about people with mental illness. And that personal disclosures of mental disorder need to be grounded in rehearsal, support, and timing, as is the case with stigma expert Pat Corrigan’s program, Honest, Open, and Proud.

Beyond social media, news and entertainment media have a long way to go in representations of mental illness. Many studies through the years have shown that stigmatizing portrayals result in more social stigma and can make suffering much worse in people suffering from mental illnesses. Although more accurate and humanized accounts do appear, the predominant themes are ones of incompetence and violence. We simply need better, more accurate, and more humanized media portrayals—and perhaps that needs to start with targeting journalists and other content creators with specialized education in college, graduate school, and professional development courses.

As well, better access to evidence-based treatments is a huge priority for the entire mental health profession. We now understand that many forms of psychotherapy and family-based treatment, as well as medications when needed, can combat some of the most serious symptoms and impairments related to mental disorders. But distressingly low proportions of those in need of such care actually receive evidence-based treatments. For many, even just regular therapy is financially out of reach. At an overall per-capita level, funding for mental health research, via the National Institute of Mental Health, remains far lower than for conditions like cancer.

That is quite ironic. Several generations ago, cancer was highly stigmatized as a disease triggered by one’s loss of will to live. Indeed, if your relative died from cancer, you would instead put in the obituary that she passed away from an unknown illness. Today, though—given the huge spike in disclosure and acceptance—cancer has become a true cause, engendering support and large economic outlays in the battle against it. Understanding that treatment can be effective might help reduce stigma of mental illness, if we can grow to see it as just another human problem that medicine can address, given the time and tools.

Finally, as noted above, young people appear, in many surveys, to be the drivers of changed attitudes and behaviors. A devastating kind of stigma is self-stigma—and the evidence indicates that millennials and Gen Z are turning away from seeing themselves as broken for feeling depressed and anxious, toward seeing themselves as having common illnesses that can be managed and even overcome with treatment, group support, and solidarity.

Young people are the key. Not just because they are always the ones who will shape the future, but because today’s youth are facing formidable mental health challenges. If we can support their mental health through these waves of stressful social change, they might have the compassion and the wisdom to alleviate the suffering of those with mental illness, instead of making it worse with stigma.