Science and indigenous knowledge

By Michael Corballis 06/05/2020 37

There is a call in many parts of the world for indigenous knowledge and values to be incorporated alongside more universal understandings. In New Zealand, this has come under the umbrella of Mātauranga Māori, a body of knowledge encompassing the traditional Māori way of viewing the world. This raises two important questions: How should Mātauranga Māori be integrated with “western” values, which some characterise as being associated with oppressive colonisation? How does Mātauranga Māori relate to science?
In 2007, the then Ministry of Research, Science and Technology issued a document entitled Vision Mātauranga, urging us “to unlock the innovation potential of Māori knowledge, resources and people to assist New Zealanders to create a better future.” In 2017, the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand published an article by University of Auckland academic Daniel Hikuroa, explaining the nature of Mātauranga Māori, and deploring the way the science community has neglected and disregarded it as “myth and legend, fantastic and implausible.” Both documents make a case for the creative potential of Māori knowledge and ways of thinking, and urge that it be integrated into the mainstream of science, education, and business. But both also note that science differs from Mātauranga Māori, which raise serious questions as to how such integration might be achieved.
First, science is objective, based on evidence that is public and accessible to the senses, and relatively free of values, whereas Mātauranga Māori is subjective and intuitive. Science aspires to be universal, while Mātauranga Māori relates to indigenous cultural values. It sees knowledge as “belonging,” so that knowledge is not distinguished from the knower. Unlike Mātauranga Māori, then, science is a universal language, well understood and exploited in industrial nations across Europe, Asia, and the Americas, and even in indigenous societies themselves.
Second, science is relentlessly progressive, seeking always to improve and refine our knowledge of the universe and its inhabitants. This leaves little room for tradition. Old ideas are discarded as better ones are introduced. We no longer believe that the earth is the centre of the universe, or even that the atom is the smallest indivisible part of matter. Newton’s theories on the nature of force and matter gave way to Einstein’s, and even these are progressively modified and refined. Mātauranga Māori, on the other hand, respects traditional knowledge, but in a scientific context such knowledge would soon be modified beyond recognition, just as religious ideas have largely disappeared from scientific discourse. This is not to say that traditional concepts, indigenous or otherwise, are not of cultural and emotional value. They are just not science—or are no longer so.
These distinctions are of course not absolute. Scientists often find it difficult to relinquish their theories, and industrialised, highly mechanised societies hang onto traditional values, in the form of religious thinking or folk ideas about the nature of the world. Māori also discovered general principles about the world that enabled them to adapt to a new environment, gaining extensive knowledge of the local habitat, and the journey to Aotearoa itself demonstrated remarkable understanding of navigation among Polynesian voyagers. These can rightly be regarded as science, but of a different time. In the modern world, science and Mātauranga Māori do seem to represent opposite pressures, the one focused on progress and the other on tradition, the one looking forward and the other back.
Those pressures are themselves universal, and historical. In the 18th century, following the dramatic scientific advances of the previous century, science was allied to the ideals humanism and rationality to form the trinity known as the Enlightenment, and those ideals persist in western democratic society; they are at the heart of law, medicine, education, and government. From early on, though, there was opposition. The Romantic movement, which peaked in the 19th century, offered emotion, creativity, and intuition in opposition to the rationality of the Enlightenment. In the 20th century, postmodernism was a similar reaction to the destruction created by the two world wars. Perhaps not surprisingly, postmodernism has more recently been linked to indigenous values, now as a reaction to Western colonization rather than to war—although this linkage is itself not without an element of colonization, since postmodernism itself began as a European movement.
The opposing values of reason and emotion, science and emotion, and war and peace, were also injected into the tumultuous racial, sexual, and political revolutions of the 1960s. The military-industrial establishment in the US was seen to epitomize the dominance of science and cold rationality, while eastern cultures such as Vietnam and India stood for love, peace, and intuitive wisdom. These events happened to coincide with experiments on splitting the human brain for the relief of intractable epilepsy—research that won Roger W. Sperry a Nobel Prize—and the left brain came to be endowed with logic and reason, the right with emotion and intuition. In the catch-phrase “Make love not war,” the right brain was love and the left brain war. These attributions are of dubious neurological foundation, but do bring out a longstanding dualistic way of interpreting human conduct that emerges in times of stress. They probably go back to the yin and yang of Chinese philosophy.
The division can also be understood in terms of the “two cultures” of the sciences and the humanities, described by the novelist and physicist C.P. Snow some 60 years ago. Snow lamented the lower status of the sciences and the disdain for science shown by the intellectual establishment. This imbalance has now reversed, with the humanities shrinking in the face of sustained investment in STEM and the growing (and in many ways damaging) application of science to business and financial gain. There is a need to restore the humanities as a counter to the scientific and technological juggernaut that dominates our society and our universities. Mātauranga Māori can be seen as part of that restoration.
Māori participation in science must certainly be encouraged. Māori scientists can surely offer creativity to science in general, as well as to special issues confronting Māori people, whether medical, agricultural, social, or economic. Science involves extensive training, typically to the level of PhD and beyond, including advanced mathematical techniques and the use of sophisticated equipment, and an understanding of logic. There can be no ducking these requirements, which are well entrenched in scientific curricula. Māori knowledge cannot be simply inserted, just as religious ideas no longer have direct relevance, although both might well provide some impetus for further scientific scrutiny. Early ideas are generally doomed to destruction in the march of science.
The Māori “worldview”, at least as captured by Mātauranga Māori, surely belongs in the humanities, because it has to do with culture, history, and tradition rather than with scientific progress. Indeed, a strong injection of Māori culture and scholarship may well save the humanities from further decline and neglect, at least in the universities. The inchoate postmodern blanket within which Mātauranga Māori seems to be shrouded, though, may also be more destructive than constructive with its air of condescension and European angst. We need positive affirmation of Māori art, culture, language, storytelling, values and, increasingly, literature—and not just for Māori themselves, but for all of us.
In spite of the pernicious influence of STEM, basic science also needs a boost, especially in an age permeated by false advertising, fake news, and hype. Problems like pollution, false medicine, or global warming need to be examined objectively, with empirical methods, and not clouded by subjectivity, emotional denial, or intuitive judgment. Postmodernism may be useful in deconstructing literary theory, or in creating new art forms, but it can only impede science itself. The same may be true of Mātauranga Māori.
In his rather Utopian book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, Steven Pinker documents profusely how the people of the world have grown steadily happier and wealthier since the 18th-century origins of the Enlightenment, and in spite of the horrific wars of the 20th century, have also become progressively less violent. These are long-term trends—there are of course dips, as in the epidemic of public assassinations in the US, or growing tension in the Middle East. Science has enormous power for the betterment of humankind. But to make it work for public good, we also need to reinforce the element of humanism, the second pillar of the Enlightenment. It verges on tautology to say that it is here that we need the humanities, including the rich cultures of indigenous peoples everywhere.
Hikuroa, D. 2017. Mātauranga Māori—the ūkaipō of knowledge in New Zealand. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand 47: 5-10.
Pinker, S. 2018. Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. New York: Viking Press.
Snow, C.P. 1959. The Two Cultures. London: Cambridge University Press.
Sperry RW. 1982. Some effects of disconnecting the cerebral hemispheres. Science 217: 1223-1227.
Vision Mātauranga: Unlocking the Innovation Potential of Mäori Knowledge, Resources and People, 2007. Wellington: Ministry of Research, Science and Technology

37 Responses to “Science and indigenous knowledge”

  • Tēnā koe Michael, you are not the first to think this way.
    The Treaty of Waitangi has been ratified and gives rights to both Māori and Pakeha. It is our constitution. I find it strange when educated New Zealanders say the Queen means nothing in a Monarchical society. All laws signed by the Queen or her representative the Governor General, doesn’t mean anything? The 1.32 billion dollars distributed by MBIE and their rules means nothing?

    Brian Gill claims science is being surrendered to cultural sensitivity. Has Biran Gill considered what it was like for Māori academics to be surrendered to the Tohunga Suppression Act 1907 (TSA 1907)? I would imagine that appearing before a cultural committee would be a walk in the park when compared with appearing before a judge for sentencing (under TSA1907). Imagine the impact this act had on Māori rongoa advancement and the Tohunga themselves.

    Anyone who suggests that Māori don’t have science or intellectual property has not read Wai 262 nor have they ever met a real Tohunga. Even with today’s medical advancements, there are but a few people willing to carve human flesh in the form of the traditional Māori moko (as performed last century).

    Bob Brockie’s Stuff article uses physics to denigrate and debunk Mātauranga Māori. Reading his article makes me think about the similarities between Te Kore and the God particle and hihiri. In the pursuit of excellence, Scientists always want to be the first. Coming first means everything in Science. You touched on Navigation methods developed in the Pacific. This enabled the discovery and colonisation of Aotearoa at least 600 years faster than Pakeha navigators (according to Western Scientific methodology). Tohunga ensured that people arrived safely and that food, culture and art flourished in a new country. The Māori language has words like ‘Papa tu a nuku’ which means “the Earth that stands upright and rotates”. Māori did not think the world was flat. Mauri o ra (among other things) means “the life-giving force of the sun”. Sound familiar? The Māori language is a bountiful repository of mātauranga.

    Some tikanga are shared between Māori and Pakeha cultures. For example, you do not defecate on your food. Yet there are examples where raw sewerage finds its way over pipi beds and into our lakes and water sources.

    Some tikanga are different between cultures. For example. Traditionally Māori did not take the largest fish. They took the middle to smaller sized fish. Larger pelagic fish have an exponentially higher fecundity rate (supporting of tikanga Māori). In western farming practice, you breed from the biggest and the best stock (again supporting of tikanga Maori with respect to modern fishing practices). The tikanga (for some Iwi) stipulates that you should not fish for pelagic fish stocks during their breeding season, however in western practice this makes great sense while considering Catch per unit effort (CPUE). Under tikanga you do not throw back the dead fish and you only catch what you can eat. Tons of frozen fish get thrown out in a western paradigm for various reasons. Making spawning grounds and spawning times a no-go area (tapu) also makes perfect sense scientifically. Fisheries stocks have collapsed in Europe under the watchful gaze of western scientific experts. Scientists still don’t have it right and claim Maori have no science.

    Whakapapa is very similar to Zoological classification or phylogeny. Even the stars have a whakapapa. Mataraki can be used to predict weather patterns, crops, fishing success and has a scientific basis. In a similar vein, Te maramataka is used to predict fishing and planting success and is fully explainable by science (not that it requires any justification – it just is).
    Best a renowned ethnographer once wrote that Māori philosophy and matauranga were difficult to ascertain for most researchers, stating “The white man does not want to learn, and the brown man has no desire to teach him”.
    Certain forests where tapu as where trees. The idea of the Tapu of trees, forest or rangatira was not enough to stop the rapid and extensive deforestation of the New Zealand bush. Māori recognised the intricate relationships and webs and reciprocal obligations of living with and within the environment. 6.5 million acres of lowland forest was cleared between 1860 and 1910 . It was considered the most rapid change in land scape of any nation. Climate change is caused by breaches in tikanga and Tapu which has resulted in the warming of the planet. I grew up with matauranga, fishing, hunting and planting food. Matauranga relies on environmental cues. Disruption to growing seasons, unclear weather patterns, not knowing whether to prepare for flood or drought, hurricane or land slide are all side effects of what we are doing to the planet. Matauranga Maori, tikanga and tapu ignored.

    Brian Gill and Bob Brockie’s recent articles openly criticise the roles of Māori and the Treaty in the Science space. A bit like most Science – debates can happen and there are always two sides.

    Bob and Brian claim New Zealand Science Is it full of political, commercial and cultural bias. Perhaps they are correct. Some of the scientists I have met don’t think it is necessary to engage with Māori and will do everything in their power to avoid it. In a process where scientists have to contest for research funding, Māori engagement is sometimes the poor relation and the fastest way to shave money from a research bid. Further, there is a blatant refusal by some Scientific staff to use Maori cultural protocols (even when its available to them). I have found myself in the firing line with discontent scientists who have a real issue with vision mātauranga and or Māori engagement. It is true that Vision mātauranga does not fit all science projects and like Bob and Brian, some turn this into a race and Treaty matter. The myths propagated by these two could be easily dispelled using statistical data collected by MBIE.

    How can Matauranga progress when it is suppressed and not funded? How favoured are Māori in the scientific biding process? I think you will be flabbergasted at the results. For example what percentage of the vote science bid (1.32 billion in 2015) is spent on research:

    1) with Māori or

    2) for Māori?

    3) How is Māori research expenditure proportional or comparable to the rest of the country?

    4) What proportion of the vote science bid is allocated to engaging with Māori?

    5) What proportion of the ethnic makeup of our Scientific and research organisations and MBIE are Māori?

    The Jurisprudence of the Supreme Court is found in the SOE Case, the principle is “wherever the Crown goes, so too does the Māori partner”. If the crown gets into Science so does Māori. Maori participation in Science needs to be resourced appropriately. Access to Māori property and resources needs to be negotiated. The scientists that think they can help themselves to Maori property, Māori sites of significance and to Māori resources without appropriate permission or consultation need to rethink their habits. Māori need to be at the table at the highest level inside of all of our research organisations. The fastest growing segment of the NZ economy has the right to access public good information including Scientific research. The deficit to engagement with Māori does not reside on the Māori side.

    Are our scientific institutions practicing what they preach or paying lip service? Are Māori at the table in our CRI’s, at MBIE, the Royal society? We espouse Vision Matauranga and Matauranga but how many tohunga are employed by our science institutions and communities? Does mātauranga Māori and or Te Reo have a place at the table of our premier scientific and educational institutions? Where is the evidence? What proportion of Research Science staff can speak Te Reo or grew up understanding mātauranga Māori, or have studied Matauranga Māori? Which scientific organisation is dedicated to advancing Mātauranga Maori? Does vision mātauranga corral Maori participation in science, to writing about mātauranga of old? Public expectation is that scientific resources, information and employment prospects belong equally to all New Zealand citizens irrespective of race.

    Science doesn’t look overly culturally sensitive to me. Certainly not in the Māori space.

    Nga mihi.

    Zoologist Brian Gill: Science is being surrendered to cultural sensitivity

    Treaty no place in Scientific endeavour

    Science of Nature without culture

    • I am happy to let Gill and Brockie speak for themselves. I made no reference to the Treaty or to the Queen. If Matauranga Maori includes useful scientific information, let’s have it scientifically verified and included in the scientific canon. There are of course forms of “knowledge” that are not scientific and are better classified as beliefs, and they are important to culture and everyday life. I am not suggesting that they should be stamped out, or not funded–we need art, music, stories, and magical tales. But they are not science. I think science is too important to our well-being and indeed our very survival to be compromised. It was to science that governments turned in response to the covid-19 pandemic–sometimes a bit too late.

      More Maori input into science itself would of course be welcome and perhaps overcome some of its limitations. Science is never perfect, but that is one of its strengths, because it allows for progress.

      • I don’t think science is ever final. Evolution and creation are surely mutually exclusive, but that doesn’t seem to stop people believing in both. I think some beliefs have to do with cultural identity and bonding, which is fine, but they have often little to do with objective truth. We do need objective truth, though, if we are to understand the world properly and deal with such matters as global warming and pandemics.

  • So science is the final arbiter of truth? And therefore that, that can be measured can be true? It is only useful for “culture and beliefs”? I prefer to triangulate, and draw on science and tradition, whether it be faith-based or whatever gives meaning for people. So for example creation and evolution are not mutually exclusive.

    Tomas Kuhn in “The Structre of Scientific Revolution” talked of science as being not a continuos evolution, but a series of paradigms, where the old understandings become authodoxy and resident to change until a new paradigm is established on the momentum of disconfirming evidence of the old paradigm. And the profit motive greatly distorts science.

  • The notion that Mātauranga Māori is forever fixed and immutable is a misreading or misunderstanding of something. This is not what my elders taught. “Mātauranga, like “tikanga” could change in relation to new discoveries and an embracing of new “realities”. Just as culture moves on and expands, so too does knowledge. Another issue I have is this: my elders never spoke of “Mātauranga Māori” – it was always in relation to “Mātauranga Ngāpuhi” – of itself, rather wide-ranging and, even more about a far more specific focus: “Mātauranga Te Pōpoto”, “Mātauranga Te Parawhau”, Mātauranga Ngāti Hao” and so on. So, “my Mātauranga” is not always “your Mātauranga”. This is the pathway taken inexorably by our tūpuna. There are of course certain truths, accepted by both western and indigenous: the effect of the Moon on tides, seasonality, disease impacts and gravity. One of the principles I was taught, sums it up perfectly: “I roto i ngā mea katoa, kimihia te mea ngaro!”

  • I wish to preface what I share here with an admission that I’m just an ordinary wahine Māori with no particular expertise in indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge (TK). Yet, I have sufficient insight to offer a few thoughts.

    Firstly, re “There is a call in many parts of the world…”: what does “universal” mean? There are similar environmental and social values shared among indigenous peoples all over the world, despite the absence of a networked international ‘peer review process’ to verify them. These values emerged over time by observing Natural law, and how human society could thrive by being obedient to those laws (or pay the price, if those laws were violated). Surely, that similarity is a strong indicator of “Universality”? All that’s required is for western science (WS) torecognise that TK has value in its own right.

    Re “In New Zealand, this has come under the umbrella of Mātauranga Māori…”: Mātauranga Māori might be described as a kind of native science. But even that is an inadequate description of its full value and uniqueness.

    Re “deploring the way the science community has neglected and disregarded it…”: I would agree. Except for the instances where WS has misappropriated TK for their own agendas, demonstrating how WS can have it’s cake and eat it too – on the one hand (when it’s convenient to do so) belittling TK while on the other appropriating TK when there’s some value to be extracted from it.

    Re “that it be integrated…”: I think before integration (which has a high risk of assimilating TK into the dominant WS framework) there has to be a transitional step of respectful, meaningful collaboration. You can’t just jump from TK fighting for recognition (and in some cases, it’s very survival in the face of active resistance and attempts to eradicate it – e.g. immoral patenting of indigenous genetic material, or the Tohunga Suppression Act 1907: see also the WAI262 Mātauranga Māori claim for more on the grievances associated with misappropriation and unauthorised control over TK) to suddenly being welcomed with open arms by WS. Relationships of trust must first be built.

    Re “science is objective…”: Not true. Scientific objectivity is a myth. The scientific research of the Quantum effect of the Observer on all reality, let alone scientific experiments, is well-known. But if you want more tangible examples, one need only look at how science has for some time now contaminated by corporate and political agendas, even among Peer Reviewed data there are biases and agendas aplenty.
    At least TK doesn’t hide the fact that it has a cultural value-based foundation to its observation of natural phenomena. But again, if we ground our observation in how Natural Law operates, and we seek through our world view / cultural values to orient our conduct so that it’s in harmony with Natural Law (not violating it), then I’d rather prefer TK subjectivity to WS which is bereft of any ethical foundation. Too often, WS goes down a track seemingly oblivious to the moral consequences. If that’s what objective science is, it sounds destructive to me, and something our world could do with less of.

    Re “Mātauranga Māori […]sees knowledge as “belonging,”…”: ‘Ref my comment above re quantum physics – which, really, is another way of saying metaphysics, because there’s some ‘spooky’ action which happens at the unified field level. Bottom line, when you go beyond the sub-atomic level of reality and arrive at the field of pure energy, you start to see that we’re all one. TK already knows this: “I Am the River and the River is Me”. WS is actually lagging behind and catching up to TK in many ways. I find it interesting how WS claims to be seeking an understanding of how the Universe works, while simultaneously resisting admitting some hard truths.

    I’m not sure if it’s useful to associate science with “exploitation” and “industrial” nations, as those concepts denote prejudice and destruction.

    Re “science is relentlessly progressive…”: “Key word “relentless” – including the idea of an absence of morality in many cases. Ref my earlier comment. Science is shaped by agendas. We should be critically analysing and where appropriate challenging those agendas, not blindly accepting them.

    Re: “Mātauranga Māori[…] in a scientific context […] would soon be modified beyond recognition…”: Are you sure it’s not WS that would be modified by a more sophisticated understanding of TK? Why assume TK would necessarily have to change? This comment seems to be rejecting the possibility that TK might have something of value to teach WS.

    Re TK‘s “cultural and emotional value…”: After all the value that’s been harvested from TK by just the pharmaceutical industrial complex alone (which I would bet adds up to billions in financial profits for corporations), how can you possibly stand by such a belief? Your claim flies in the face of the evidence!

    Appreciate you found some ‘scientific’ value with TK (despite contradictory implications above that TK is unscientific). However, you only reference TK pertaining to the physical, not the metaphysical, world. Clearly, there’s much you have still to understand about the depth of TK.

    Is it really “progress” and “looking forward” to create the nuclear bomb, I wonder? Look: I understand that indigenous peoples’ societies have been imperfect too. But the difference is in nature and degree of the impact on the planet. Do you really think that by actively enabling the 4th and 5th Industrialist eras – with all the destructive force it brings – science can still claim to be “progress”-focussed? Unless you believe that “progress” also means infinite growth on a finite planet (violating the laws of physics), or you believe science may be de-coupled from socio-economic effects (again: clearly untrue).
    As for TK “looking back”, the wisdom of this approach is to ensure one learns from one’s mistakes – brings forward the best of the past into the present, and does one’s utmost to ensure that knowledge will survive into the future. Having said that, you seem to be implying that TK is static and lacks the capacity to evolve, when that’s not what my kaumātua told me. If a more compelling theory emerges, irrespective of its origin, Māori will consider it and adapt accordingly. History is full of our adaptive capacity.

    Re “a need to restore the humanities as a counter to the scientific and technological juggernaut…”: The last two sentences above appeal to me, reinforcing what I mentioned above about science being contaminated by agendas and being too often without morality. But your journey getting to this point felt like a train wreck (apologies: I’m just being honest).

    I arrive at this point of your blog and appreciate you had some good intention in writing it – but ironic that I felt a twinge of “inchoate postmodern blanket”-esque feelings on reading the first half of your post.

    Please understand: I want constructive conversations to continue among researchers and academics, so I hope folks aren’t put off contributing to ongoing dialogue on these matters. My intention is to help build understanding between the two different cultures so that one day we might both work together in the spirit of true de-colonised mutual respect. Ngā mihi.

    • I agree with a lot of this. Science is extremely powerful and has been abused by military and commercial interests, but that’s the fault of society, not science itself. Science has also been used for immense good–improvements in health, longevity, and human happiness. When faced with a pandemic, such as covid-19, we turn to science, not to traditional knowledge.

  • Surely a creator can create an evolutionary process. I can bring together various plants and materials to plant garden. Over time the garden will evolve influenced by the design, inherent potential and the environment. Evolution by itself has led us to the story that “before the beginning, there was nothing and then it exploded”.

    True objectivity in science is very rare if indeed possible at all.

  • Hi Peter. You seem to have construed “truth” and “fact” as the same thing.

    They are not.

    Science is the search for facts, from which truth can be extracted. As more facts emerge, the truth can change in light of new evidence.

    In this context science is apolitical, gender-neutral, and culturally blind.

    However like any pursuit, science (and that’s a broad church ranging from economics to sub-atomic physics) benefits from a wide reach of views and opinions. Maori, Catholics, lesbians, 73-year olds, autistics (I think you get the picture) all should have opportunity to be involved in the process of science, and where the science directly impacts on a group they absolutely must be involved.

    BTW, creation and evolution as concepts ARE mutually exclusive – one is a belief that requires faith in the face of no evidence, the other is a fact based on repeated findings of evidence. This doesn’t mean that people can’t hold both as truths for themselves, but you can only do that by distorting one or other from its core concepts.

  • Finding no space to reconcile evolution and creation could come of a desire for exclusivity for one perspective or the other. In sharpening these dichotomies, fundamentalists of both sides of the argument, creationalists and materialists look similar.

  • It could.

    Or you could be noodling and playing academic games.

    There is of course space to “reconcile” the two – its the same space we use to reconcile the tales of Maui slowing the sun, or fishing up Te Ika a Maui. These legends are clearly metaphorical, not literal. There is knowledge and belief and value in them, but not in a literal interpretation of them.

    The same holds true for creationism. It was a valid historical attempt to explain the age-old mystery Why Are We Here, How Did We Get Here?

    Both the legends of Maui and the story(s) of creation have value in maintaining understandings as a part of a culture. But they are not science or valid observations of fact in geomorphology.

  • I agree, although I’m not sure about “reconcile.” Religious and cultural beliefs play a useful role in human affairs, but science aims for deeper and more universal understanding. They can work in parallel, but are often impossible to “reconcile” in any coherent way.

  • I need to caution commenters on this thread that all comments will be moderated and need to remain civil and racism will not be tolerated. I will close comments on this thread if there are further breaches of Sciblogs’ comment policy.
    – Sciblogs editor

  • Sarah-Jane why close the thread when you could simply decline to publish any racist or uncivil comments that are submitted? I think the discussion so far has been enlightening.

    • Chris, Sciblogs is moderated by SMC staff around our other work and we can’t trust that racist comments won’t be posted in the evenings or weekends when we are unable to moderate or block them.

  • Michael, In regards to COVID -19, we turn to science? Yes we do however, we are still waiting for a scientific fix, in the meantime, we revert to traditional knowledge practiced since the Middle Ages … isolate your village, lock down your population … seems to be working a treat… looking forward to science catching up.

    • Isn’t lock-down exactly what the science told us to do? And did traditional knowledge have any concept of viral infection? I think there’s lots of value in traditional cultures, but they’re not science.

  • Hi Mike. Mediaval lock down wasn’t based on scientific knowledge. It was based on fear. The plague for example continued to descimate populations in Europe despite villages isolating themselves because they did not have the science to build a knowledge of the vector of the disease.

    Indeed, the “knowledge” of the time attributed the disease to alignment of the planets, Jews (no surpirses there…) and the will of various deities amongst other things. The decision to “lock down” a village is obviously is not science in this environment.

    Just occasionally, traditional knowledge has been found to align with later scientific findings. However, this is in no way the norm. In european history, trepaning was popular, leaches were the prescribed cure for a wide range of illnesses, and “the vapours” were known causes of mental illness.

    It is bad scientific method to attribute (post-hoc) behaviour that turns out to be beneficial to the application of some special knowledge or understanding that is not evident. Your example may well be a situation of exactly that.

    In contrast, lock down in New Zealand had a well-informed scientific basis. The infection curve for the disease was reasonably well known allowing the governemnt to identify the point where only isolation would limit the spread of the disease. Numbers, not fear, drove the decision.

  • I would never truncate a person’s name or apply an affectation without their prior approval Mikey-Wykie! My earlier comment in reply to Mike Smith. Cheers!

  • Kia ora koutou,
    I want to apologise that after a site outage this afternoon we have lost content back to sometime last week – this means we’ve lost some of the comments on this post over the past few days. I can’t reinstate these, but Michael may have copies from email alerts and if so, please feel free to re-post them.
    Please accept my apologies, the site had a major malfunction resulting in loss of content which is incredibly disappointing and I’m sure will be frustrating for those who were participating in this discussion.
    Sarah-Jane, Sciblogs editor

  • I think we lost some of the exchange with Pewana Hunter, which I’m sorry about. I don’t have a copy, unfortunately, but I’m happy to pick up the conversation again if Pewana is interested.

  • Kia ora Sarah – Let me summarize the thread for you. The thread revealed some bias. Michael seemed dismissive of Mātauranga classing it alongside gremlins, cosmic consciousness, vodoo, dreamtime, and UFO’s. Further the thread revealed that Michael has yet to dip his toes into the field of Mātauranga and that he is commenting in a field where he has no prior experience, knowledge or empirical data to satisfy the requirements of reasoned enquiry (which is odd for a scientist). Michael did reconcile himself later. The themes in this article and blog are founded on uninformed opinion. Which oddly is what this article claims indigenous knowledge to be.

    Normally I wouldn’t waste my time commenting on blogs. However if the views in this blog and the article are not challenged they become fact. This thread is not the first piece of history to be erased. Observation is a critical component of scientific advance and Māori did plenty of it. I have given you a number or examples of Mātauranga as proof (and I will not repeat them).

    When someone gives assent to error, every soul is deprived of truth against its will. “What was false seemed to be the truth” Plato.
    The only absolute value is moral intention.

    Michael says he can speak for himself. Let Maori speak for Maori. If your reputation cant absorb a few blows, it wasn’t worth anything in the first place.
    I want to be very clear, I don’t want to cause anybody any harm in addressing this blog, article and whakaaro.

    Growing up using the Maramataka (to plant and fish), and using traditional agricultural practices, making traditional fertilizers and comparing matauranga with western science – I must defend Matauranga (as I know it) as true science. In same cases I have found Matauranga more advanced than western science. This shocked me as a qualified Applied Scientist (so I must be patient with others who have yet to make these same discoveries). Unfortunately matauranga Maori is not taught in schools (along with our national history). Not teaching these things deprives our nation – so not many people are exposed to it (resulting in uninformed or malformed opinions). I was fortunate to grow up on ancestral Māori land with a patient Māori grandfather who taught me a lot. I wasn’t always responsive. A bit like some of you reading now.

    I’m not saying you will not meet some charlatans along the way Michael (but there is a big difference between a charlatan and a tohunga). I don’t know what field of psychology you are in Michael but I remember when there was a time that your field was once considered a “pseudo science”. Perhaps there are some interesting questions in the field of psychology around Māori culture. Why were the Maori battalion so effective in World war two? Why did Rommel say give me one battalion of Maori and Germany will rule the world? Why were Māori so successful on the battlefield in the New Zealand wars given technological differences – see Belich. New Zealand was not taken on the battlefield (as most would have you believe) but with the pen through legislation. What is the psychology behind the haka? and or Māori leadership? I have no background in psychology but these questions would interest me if I was.

    if a Maori tells you we come from the stars – its laughed at. if a physicist tells you we come from the stars it becomes a youtube sensation that is celebrated.

    I am an advocate of the freedom of speech.

    Sarah – Apparently none of the other blogs suffered from the malfunction.
    Hopefully it wasnt a horoi mā.

    Heoi ano nga mihi.

  • “Kia ora Sarah – Let me summarize the thread for you. The thread revealed some bias.”

    Wow. Revisionism in action.

    I think it best the entire thread is reinstated, or the entire thread deleted.

  • Go Pewana! A couple of things: 1. When I mentioned UFOs and other things, I wasn’t singling out Matauranga Maori. I was listing a few things that people believe, but that don’t stand up to scientific scrutiny. 2. Believing something doesn’t make it true. It usually isn’t.
    I don’t give a damn about reputation.

  • Thanks for the encouragement Michael,
    as you can imagine – its difficult to have a conversation on a topic where the other person has zero skin in the game or experience in the field. But I will try …..

    I have some questions that relate to your whakaaro (- or the previous threat that was lost). So what happens to a man with no soul? in the sense of ancient philosophy, does a man/woman with no soul have to protect the soul by living with integruity? does a man with no soul; have a conscience or feel guilt? …. need to think about anyone but its self? …..plan ahead for the future? ……..protect the environment? Would having no soul lead to a greater incedence sociopathy? psychopathy? depression? Some say every psychologist needs a psychiatrist – why is that?

    is agricultre science? What about astronomy? …….. phylogeny (whakapapa), do these fields belong in the humanities? are these fields typically aligned with the humanities in our university institutions?

    For what its worth I dont belive in gremlins either. But I dont put matauranga Maori in the same class. I do believe in the possiblity of life on other planets (due to my experience with extremophiles and the vastness of the universe). I believe that I am a spiritual being having a physical experience because I have a soul, I am concious, and I have a conscience. I find myself more aligned with indigenous values – regardless of mixed heritage, despite a general lack of understanding from other people and cultures.

    Mauri ora.

  • Pewana, I have enjoyed our conversation, but we have veered far from science and Matauranga Maori. I will leave others to address your comment if they are interested.

  • Everything I have mentioned relates to matauranga maori. Im just expressing it in terms you might be familiar with. Given you have no idea what matauranga Maori is.
    Agriculture is matauranga
    Astronomy is matauranga
    Pshychology and philosophy is matauranga
    Whakapapa is matauranga

    gremlins are not. I am not suprised you are unable to answer. Quite frankly I expected more from the auther of this post. Simple bias is not enough.

  • Hi Pewana. I can’t speak for the science community but for me the many things you list are all technologies. For me, technologies are the result of scientific understanding applied through the lens of society’s desires and limitations.

    As an example, agriculture.

    This technology has been with us for thousands of years. Arguably, it was what separated us from the rest of the fauna as a species. For almost all that time, agriculture has been based on the trial and error process we discussed earlier. Over time, this led to traditional knowledge about agriculture – the knowledge you have described earlier.

    Wherever you go, cultures have developed agricultural techniques based on seasons, phases of the moon, natural fertilisers, cycling of the land as well as many other techniques.

    These are all perfectly valid techniques, but they are not the result of science as we understand it today. This doesn’t invalidate the value of them, just recognises that they have been come to by a different pathway.

    Going further, we now have the issue of GMOs. This technology IS based on scientific research. This is not science because of the highly technological methods used to make the discoveries. Its science because of the process of research, development of hypotheses, critical review, and validation.

    Trial and error, groping toward a result, lucky happenstance transferred into lore and tradition. These are the techniques that got our ancestors – yours and mine and every other culture on the planet – to the point of subsistence. But these are not science.

    It was agricultural science that has taken us beyond precarious subsistence to increasingly safe, clean, well fed, hygienic agricultural systems. The scientific method has no race basis (although I would certainly agree that the CULTURE of science sometimes has a problem with minorities of race, colour, gender etc). Is has no race basis because it is largely removed from and oblivious to cultures outside science.

    This is its strength. Its also its weakness.

    Science is done by people. People bring their own frames of reference. Those frames of reference can add value but only if they are recognised (conversely they may detract value, but I’ve gone on too long already). Maori must be included in the scientific processes that relate to them. In New Zealand, that means EVERY process. But it is not necessarily because we should search for scientific wisdom inherent in Maoritanga. Its a use of Maoritanga to inform the questioning and the decisionmaking, the art of doing science.

    I hope I’m clear – some of this is me thinking as I write and so thanks for prodding my braincells.

    Ka kite anō au i a koe.

  • I have no argument with this line of thought Ashton. you’ve got me. if Trump has the courage of conviction and chooses to test medicine on himself all power to him. But I suspect he is more of a “do as I say, not a do as I do” type of man.

    We must be mindful of the power of suggestion. and cautious not to confuse or mix Darwinism alongside master race theory. In the past the results did not end well for humanity. Maori were called on to help with this problem. Racism and undermining indigenous knowledge in science I believe has cost humanity the loss of vital Ancient Egyptian, and Inca knowledge. Because it didn’t fit with how Europe saw themselves. I believe that the world would have seen more from Nicola Tessler if it were not for racism. However “He kokona the whare e kitea, he kokona te ngakau e kore e kitea”.
    Maori are quite capable of the Maths required for scientific endeavor. One of the first Maori to a graduate with a conjoined maths and science degree was Rawhiti Ihaka. His German captors found him fascinating, so did his students at Tipene.

    There are a ton of examples of indigenous contributions to science medicine and food. Here is another blog.

    I don’t believe Humanities is a “one size fits all place” to house Matauranga. The body of knowledge is too large. Best says that Maori culture is a “live and let live culture”. I like that about Maori culture. I like that Maori culture has a place for people that hear voices and have visions. I like that indigenous cultures don’t separate religion and spirituality from science. But that is my preference. I don’t speak for Maori and I am not a tohunga or an academic in the field of matauranga. I simply grew up planting and fishing by the moon and observing nature in a particular way.

    Considering the English word “lunatic” you might find some correlations in behaviors are linked to the phase of the moon. if the moon can control the tides – why would it not influence the concentration of water in the soil or the fluids in our brain? Perhaps a psychology question for you Michael? Western Scientists are taking a new look at how important the lunar cycle is with crop growing, and its influence on climate change. There is a great book written by Wiremu Tawhai called Living by the moon (Te Whanau a Apanui Maramataka traditions). For those who would like to educate themselves more. Its a pity that matauranga is not taught in schools. Maori find themsleeves constantly in the (unpaid) education business. But I hope this is useful.

    I have a real concern about biopiracy and that Wai262 was presented in 1991 and has yet to be heard (hundreds of pages of matauranga). there are 2950 treaty claims with the Waitangi tribunal. all of them have matauranga. These are my references to support this post. Theft of indigenous knowledge is rife on one hand while on the other hand academics would undermine it, and discredit it. The patient of a certain type of milk in new Zealand recently resulted in a 14 billion dollar company. When corn, and aspirin was given to western cultures by first nation Americans. what sort of royalties do you think they received? Does this make sense Michael?

    A soldier once told me that when a man dies in war he cries for his mother and prays to God. This is common to all cultures. Atheists and Christians alike.
    Forgiveness is love. When you love, God shines his light on you. Not science I know – but it brings peace to the soul.
    Nga manaakitanga.

  • Of course indigenous societies have lots of useful and practical ideas, but many do not stand up to scientific scrutiny. If they do, then they become part of science. Some ideas do work, but science can take us to deeper understanding–aspirin is a case in point, because we now know its chemical structure and something of its mechanism.

    I don’t think the notion of God has any place in science, but there is some neuroscientific interest in how prayer might work. I don’t know any atheists who pray to God–it makes no sense to pray to something you don’t believe exists! I don’t know of any scientific evidence that phases of the moon influence brain fluids, but it could of course be tested.

    I’m not a fan of knowledge being “owned”, whether indigenous or scientific. I think it’s much more important to discover what it true and what it not, and in an ideal world knowledge should be free and open to all. But maybe that’s just hopelessly utopian.

  • “I’m not a fan of knowledge being “owned”, whether indigenous or scientific. I think it’s much more important to discover what it true and what it not, and in an ideal world knowledge should be free and open to all. But maybe that’s just hopelessly utopian.”

    Totally agree with this. In terms of Maoritanga, ownership tends not to mean what it means from a european pov (happy to be corrected here…) As an example, the ownership of some bodies of water, beaches etc in NZ has passed to particular iwi. In thier view, and I paraphrase heavily, the important part of ownership is not the right of singular use, but the right to determination of use.

    For me, this is a useful framework for understanding uses for and recognition of traditional knowledge of the type Pewana has outlined.

  • Any who puts copyright on their work is protective of knowledge. Intellectual property. With respect to your ownership The crown has taken more land than has been returned. Look at the conservation estate. Look at the wastelands act. You guys are getting away from the kaupapa which is indigenous knowledge.

  • Knowledge is not the same as land. I don’t much like the idea of knowledge being “owned” by anyone, whether Maori or pakeha, and it’s against the spirit of science. I dislike the notion of “intellectual property,” and I think copyright has more to do with words than with actual knowledge. I agree, Pewana, that we live in an imperfect society, but these are really different issues from the ones that I wanted to raise.

  • Hi Pewana

    “Any who puts copyright on their work is protective of knowledge. Intellectual property.”

    No, you can’t copyright knowledge – a copyright pertains to the art arising from the knowledge. For instance, a musician can protect the rights to music they write, publish, record or perform, but they can’t claim ownership of C# or a pentatonic scale.

    Thanks for the kōrerorero Pewana – it has been informative for me.