Pandoracene Pathfinders?

The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air —Treebeard

Preamble. Treebeard is quite right of course: the world has changed and, indeed, and thanks to the Climate Crisis, it will now go on changing, unremittingly, far into the indefinite future.

And yet how many of us have even begun to ponder the implications of all this change for our day-to-day going forward? Apart from its possible existential implications for human civilization itself, I mean.

First Approximation


ne good way to take the measure of a culture — its values and priorities — is to look at the people whose particular aptitudes it tends to celebrate on the one hand and to ignore on the other. And a good way to do that is to look at the kinds of employment it has on offer.

Apply this test to any of the world’s traditional Indigenous Peoples, and you’ll likely find that individuals endowed with high naturalistic intelligence – alias born naturalists – are well respected members of their cultures, with any number of first-tier and second-tier societal roles assigned to them including those of knowledge keepers and even shamans.

The Flower Meadows by Doris Laner 2012
©2012 Doris Laner

Yet apply the same test to western culture, and you’ll find that such people are often rather constrained in their choice of occupation. Yes, it’s true that many born naturalists gravitate to taxonomy or ecology (as I myself have done), but even there the fit is less than optimum for people more at home, as born naturalists tend to be, with holistic natural history than with reductionist science. Besides, science in current practice is fundamentally more about power over the Living World rather than knowledge for its own sake, which is what most born naturalists are naturally drawn to.

Among the various roles the born naturalist might be encouraged to play in these Pandoracenean times are two as yet largely unimagined societal functions that arise from, or soon will, the terrible environmental chaos now being unleashed by the Climate Crisis – functions I refer to in this website as those of the Neighbourhood Naturalist and the Pandoracene Pathfinder, for want of better. I elaborate on Neighbourhood Naturalists elsewhere; here I want to say a few words about the Pandoracene Pathfinder.

But first a small point of clarification. I do not believe that only born naturalists develop, or can develop a close bond with the Living World. My belief, rather, and likely the belief of Howard Gardner too, is that human intelligences, or aptitudes if you prefer, are rarely all or nothing. Many, perhaps most of us are born with a veritable bouquet of natural gifts; so that, for example, a person born with high naturalistic intelligence, like E.O. Wilson, can at the same time possess, as certainly he did, high verbal-linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence or, for that matter, as in other cases, David Attenborough for example, high interpersonal intelligence.

The only thing I would claim for the born naturalists, in whom high naturalistic intelligence is by definition pre-eminent, is that the ability to sustain a close bond with the Living World is in this case durable, life-long, and not, thinking back, merely hit-and-miss, a matter of convenience, a temporary love affair, as with some people I have known.

A pathfinder, says Merriam-Webster online, is “a person who goes ahead and discovers or shows others a path or way”. This works.

So by extension then, a Pandoracene Pathfinder is a person who, having long apprenticed to her home place, absorbing its overall shape and key internal functioning, and having then gone on to perform a Naturalist Neighbour role for her community, at length steps up to a much larger, more encompassing societal function, namely to help bring to public attention the emerging revolutionary holistic understandings now coming into focus in biology and, very soon I expect, philosophy – this as a means of calling into existence what might be called the Gaian Sacred. But of that, more another time.

Yes, that’s a mouthful; so let me shorten it thus: A Pandoracene Pathfinder is one who works toward enabling the Living World to sustain human civilization into the long term; a worthy calling, I think.

Unless I’m very much mistaken, such a Pandoracene Pathfinder function can really only be taken up wholeheartedly by the born naturalist who, once it uploads to a societally endorsed vocation, will certainly perform it with passion perhaps verging on missionary zeal.

For in sense not entirely without importance, the Pandoracene can arguably be understood as the Living World’s final and enduring answer to Christian evangelicalism spread around the world on behalf of empire. The only lasting empire, in other words, is the Living World itself; and the only true (= nontoxic) religious creeds are those whose teachings return to its its rightful dominion.

Finally, the question arises: How might born naturalists in our time train to fulfill some or all of these restorative societal functions? For these are functions that, to best of my knowledge, have yet to formulated, let alone codified. Yet for my part, I suggest that the following seven-fold path of apprenticeship to the Pandoracene Pathfinder role is a good place to start:

  • first to the names of things, as these constitute the basic naturalist vocabulary
  • second to the lived experience of living things, as this cultivates a sense of kinship
  • third to the interactions between and among living things, as this instructs on the overall shape of things
  • fourth to one or more heart-wrenching conservation initiatives, as this inculcates compassion and, at length, worldliness
  • fifth to the lives and thinking of canonical naturalists, as this promotes a sense of tradition
  • sixth to seasoned naturalists, as this helps to build a sense of community
  • seventh to Gaia herself, as this instills a necessary sense of the whole.

As springboard to all these forms of naturalist apprenticeship, I suggest that the reinstatement, at least here in British Columbia, of seasonal park naturalist programmes in key protected areas is a necessary first step – a theme I briefly explore elsewhere in the website.

Next up: Park Naturalists?