Here's a strange bit of information I received from Rahima Baldwin's newsletter. I thought some of you might be interested in this and so asked her if I could re-print it here….

Along the theme of  "What is natural, and why is it important?" (or "You can't fool Mother Nature, but you can sure fool people"), I wanted to share one of the most interesting articles I've read in a while: "Scientists Set Out to Measure How We Perceive Naturalness" reported in ScienceDaily, July 5, 2008 (http://www.sciencedaily.com).

Apparently in the United Kingdom researchers at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) are conducting experiments to produce "the world's first model that will predict how we perceive naturalness.  The results could help make synthetic products so good that they are interpreted by our senses as being fully equivalent to the 'real thing', but with the benefits of reduced environmental impact and increased durability."

The research is part of a larger, EU-funded projected called the Measurement of Naturalness (MONAT).  The article states that the MONAT team will work over three years to examine how the perceived naturalness of materials is influenced by their physical properties.  It includes:

  • Neuroscientists who scan the brain activity which individuals examine different materials
  • Psychologists who measure the way people perceive different materials using their hands, eyes, or both
  • Experts in metrology, data analysis and software modeling from NPL, who  will be making accurate physical measurements of the properties of different materials and will build the model of perceived naturalness.

By linking what is happening in a person's brain when they see or touch a surface, "it should be possible to accurately predict what we will perceive as natural, and manufacturers will be able to design synthetic products to meet this expectation."

Comments on this could go in a lot of different directions.  For example, we've been tricking the body for decades with the use of synthetic pharmaceuticals.  On the other hand, it is possible to develop our sensitivity to the life force present in living things (what the Hindus would call prana and Steiner called the etheric forces).  Children are typically more sensitive than adults, and their relationship to the natural world is carefully nourished in Waldorf environments.

However, the importance of this sensitivity is far reaching.  As I mentioned in one of my talks on "The Wisdom of Waldorf: Educating for the Future":

"Our children will need to know the difference between human and artificial intelligence and will, as adults, almost certainly be confronted by technology where they will have to be able to determine if something before them is a clone or a robot or an individual human being.  If they have no relationship with nature, with the living world, and have no social skills because they have spent most of their school time in rote memorization and most of their free time with the media, then we're going to be in trouble." (the complete talk is available in CD format from www.waldorfinthehome.com)

There is also the advantage that "natural" is nourishing to both adults in children in ways that synthetics will never be, even if they manage to light up the same areas of the brain.  So on that note, I'd like to wish you and your children many happy hours out in nature this summer – just don't forget your sun hats!


Posted on August 15, 2008 in Health, Science

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