“Pseudoscience is easier to contrive than science … Naturally people try various belief systems on for size, to see if they help. And if we’re desperate enough, we become all too willing to abandon what may be perceived as the heavy burden of skepticism. Pseudoscience speaks to powerful emotional needs that science often leaves unfulfilled. … In some of its manifestations, it offers satisfaction of spiritual hungers, cures for disease, promises that death is not the end. It reassures us of our cosmic centrality and importance. It vouchsafes that we are hooked up with, tied to, the Universe.”
– Astrophysicist Carl Sagan, “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark”
The rationale of mysticism behind the idea that humans have access to a deep connection to the Earth through experiences within or exposure to natural spaces is similar to the rationale behind pseudoscience (Wikipedia is offers great simple explanations). As Sagan states in the quote above, pseudoscience speaks to unfulfilled emotional needs in humans (needs which arise from “cut-and-dry” objectivistic models of thought). Furthermore, humans rely on such rationale to reassure us of our cosmic place and value. In the context of a human connection to the Earth, I feel that humans have an unfulfilled need to be included in the ecological community and express that through mysticism, which resorts to romanticizing the Earth as an entity that one has an innate purpose in or sense of belonging to (“For creatures as small as we the vastness is bearable only through love.” – Sagan).
While mysticism can take the form of religious doctrine, the two are not necessarily mutually inclusive. In my experience, I have often found that mysticism is offered as an explanation for powerful experiences that are instead attributable to the depth and breadth of the human condition. Such experiences are not mystical in nature (that is, they can be quantified through biochemistry and/or neuroscience and transcend culture and time).*
Because science education offers a valid and sound premise from which to understand natural resources, it provides an avenue to increase one’s appreciation and wonder for our environment and the universe from which it originates. I like the idea of moving away from a merely geocentric model of thought as inspiration for wonder and awe.
* I would like to highlight that notions of mysticism are wholly unnecessary to provide spiritual fulfillment from natural spaces. Spiritual fulfillment, a term which is friendly to secular and theistic worldviews, is offered through the aesthetic and recreational value of the environment. Camus said, “In magnificentia naturae, resurgit spiritus.” (Off-the-cuff Latin translation: The spirit resurges in the magnificence of nature. Quoted from Camus’ essay “Death in the Soul”)
(As an aside from my strictly secular criticism, the idea of a connection with Earth as emotionally fulfilling seems uncreative. If one aims for comprehensive emotional or spiritual fulfillment through that concept, one should argue for a connectedness with the cosmos – not just Earth. I will resist quoting Sagan on “starstuff.”)