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Number: 67
Year: 1999
Author: Eloísa Trellez Solís and Gustavo Wilches Chaux
Title: Education for a Sustainable Future in the Americas

Other Forms of Knowledge, Sensitivity, Rationality

Surely, the human faculty for reasoning is among the greatest known evolutionary achievements. Rational thought and its primary instrument, the scientific method, have not only provided humankind with accumulated knowledge, but also with the ability to change the world in unprecedented ways. Nevertheless, the scope of reason has become so all-encompassing (and at the same time the definition of what is “rational” has become so restrictive) that we have abandoned and forgotten other forms of knowledge, other capabilities and different sensitivities that are no less valid or human.

Much of our continent’s biodiversity is linked to long-term interaction and coexistence among human groups and their immediate environment. This cohabitation has produced not only the specific knowledge and technology required to address environmental transformation, but also holistic cosmovisions. In the context of these visions, the evolved knowledge and technology acquire meaning and importance. Yet these “bodies of knowledge” have been marginalized and forgotten, not because they have lost relevance but rather because their advocates have been subjected to domination and repression. As an aspect of that domination, these alternative visions have been neglected or dismissed because their logic does not conform to conventional rationality, or more specifically, to market rationality. Nor does it conform to the strict paradigms that frame the “official” scientific method.

The UNDP document asserts that:
rather than a set of conclusions, science is a method, a way to approach the world. This attitude requires careful and lengthy education, beginning as early as pre-school, in order to understand that, in principle at least, all things are susceptible to rational explanation; to understand that, according to these same laws, we, human beings, on an individual or collective basis, may influence nature and history. A scientific approach – that is profoundly humble and liberating at the same time – is formed at home and in the school.21
While this statement provides a perspective on science, we believe that we must go beyond it. In fact, the complexity of processes shaping Latin America and the Caribbean, and the meanings of sustainable development in this part of the world, cannot be understood if we remain unable to integrate into prevailing modes of knowledge those other dimensions of experience and knowing that contributed the key elements of sustainable life for hundreds of years. We do not deny either the value of reason or the importance of the scientific method, but we must acknowledge and validate the existence of other rationalities. The scientific method should incorporate other types of knowledge, other ways of approaching reality and interacting creatively with it, without automatically and contemptuously discarding them as “magic”.

Cultures that have evolved in close contact with their ecological environments identify themselves with nature, and teach us that the dialogue of knowledge must not be restricted to interaction only among human beings. We must construct dialogues between us and other forms of life that share their existence with us on this living planet. This exercise, which is already in practice around the world, reinforces rather than weakens scientific methods.

Challenge for the Future
  • To maximize the benefits of human abilities to communicate with each other and with the environment.
  • To develop those innate sensitivities which, for cultural or economic reasons, we have put aside or forgotten.
  • To adopt a gendered approach to knowledge, and thus to reassess forms of knowing and relating — such as intuition and empathy — which, as a result of the world’s predominantly male vision and discrimination, have been disparagingly considered female attributes and, as a result, depreciated.