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What Exactly is Woo Woo Anyway ?  RSS feed

 
wayne stephen
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So , Many of us want to keep permaculture free of pseudoscience , mysticism , and religous agendas . We want to keep it pragmatic and within the boundries of horticultural and ecological sciences . Energy science and architecture . All well and good . For our purposes on permies though , where do we find more wisdom in raising animals , plants , and building arts ? From hard science or from folk arts and handed down wisdom ? Perhaps if ecology was as heavily funded as physics and genetics we would have more to draw from the world of science . Perhaps if agricultural sciences were not incestuosly wed to petrochemical funding we would have more handbooks and supply stores that guide us and stock our needs . I'd say we are still drawing from the milleniums of wisdom steeped in deep "woo woo" . I also believe that some of the current woo is producing more beneficial knowledge than science .
For example : The Large Hedron Collider - What a monumental input of resources and output of pollution this project has required just to satisfy some string theorists and those who stay awake at night trying to rectify Einsteinian and Quantum physics . I am sure it will produce some glorious data but what has it done to feed anyone , build soil fertility , or help to cool the atmosphere ?
Then , Biodynamics : I consider much of the spiritual talk and rituals counterproductive but this is leading to many garden and farm successes . Certainly feeding more people than string theory at this point . The cow horn thing really intrigues me . I rationalize that the animal tissue has produced a unique microbial culture missing when we only feed our soils plant and mineral matter . I know Salatin composts his chicken guts and feathers but in the forests large animals die and decompose . Why are we not burying bones , dead dogs and cats , etc. in our gardens ? Someone needs to analyze that cow horn thing scientifically . But the credit for that discovery { if worthwhile } would go to the purple people .
So I think WooWoo is going to be with us for a very long time . Look into it and find items of value if you wish . Choose to ignore it and you may find your resource base pretty sparse .
Signed " A Skeptic with Commitment Issues "
 
Judith Browning
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So well said, as usual, Wayne
 
John Elliott
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"Woo woo" is a hypothesis.

At one time, the hypothesis that Helicobacter pylorii could cause stomach cancer was "woo woo", and the herbal teas that contained substances that killed off the helicobacter and rebalanced the gut flora were more "woo woo". However, after painstaking research by scientists confirmed the hypothesis and some time before they were awarded the Nobel Prize for that discovery, it ceased to be "woo woo" and became accepted scientific fact.

So when someone calls what you do "woo woo", just smile and finish your cup of herbal tea.
 
John Polk
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As in any other facet of life, there are things that some will accept as 'true', while others will dismiss as 'woo woo'.

Common examples that come to mind:

* Biodynamics. While to most, this seems to be woo woo, but from my observations, the BD farms seem to be doing better than those of the naysayers. Science has failed to either prove or disprove it. Science has also failed to achieve anything better.

* Planting by the moon (and/or signs). Same arguments can be applied here. Sometimes, weather patterns prohibit strict adherence to following phases and cycles, but otherwise, I see no point in ignoring centuries of anecdotal evidence that these practices improve success.

If these practices actually help you achieve your goals, then they have merit. If they do not achieve improvements for you, what have you lost by trying them? Because a method does not have scientific evidence of its merits, does not mean that we can safely ignore the method.

Scientific evidence is based on controlled experimentation. If nobody experiments, then we have no science.

 
Johnny Niamert
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What's all this 'purple' stuff being thrown around in this and the other similar thread?? Am I missing something?


I'm a little put off by the term "woo-woo" anyways. It's just a petty, childish way to insult someone who you don't agree with, someone who you think you are smarter than, or someone who is talking about that which you are ignorant of. I'm pretty sure "purple" is in the same way being used to degrade others.
Simply because you don't understand something; or need 'science' to validate it for you; doesn't give you the right to insult or mock the way someone else thinks or does.
Science is just as much a religion to some people; the same as Christianity or Islam is to others. Once I get the "I know-it-all because of science" vibe from someone, I put them in the same, or lower, place as someone out on the corner talking about crystals or someone else knocking on my door ranting about salvation through this or that deity.


Who here wants to be the first to claim they know everything in the universe? Calling someone out as preaching "purple" or woo-woo is getting close to doing just that. If you don't agree, don't agree. Don't come up with grade school level insults to mock them.


To quote Dennis McKenna "Well, it sounds trivial but the insight is..... You don't know shit. We know very little about the way the world is put together, about how the universe really is, about our role in it, and whats really going on. You monkeys only think you're running this show. You don't...and not only are you not running the show...you don't even know what the show is. So, be humble. Remember that you don't know much."
 
wayne stephen
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I enjoy science alot . The Big Bag Theory and the Theory of Evolution are my creation story . They satisfy my soul and give me a nourishing sense of wonder . I do not however demand clinical proof for every aspect of my life . For instance , comfrey . The FDA says they have data that it will destroy my liver . Skeeter says it's OK to drink it every day . Skeeter says it , I believe it . I drink it almost every day .
 
Ann Torrence
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A passerby stops at the garden gate and says, "what a bountiful garden God has blessed upon you."
The gardener mutters "You should see it when God is the only one taking care of it."

I see plenty of woo-woo in looking for a shortcut to the real work of permaculture. I don't need to know why something works, but let's do the trials, experiments, demonstrations instead of gazing about for cosmic meaning in the patterns of tree branches and swirls in the mud.

Signed,

the little red hen
 
Peter Ellis
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There are some interesting issues revealed in this area of discussion. For one, where people draw the line and call a particular perspective or practice "woo woo". For another, how they characterize such things, once they have placed them not the woo woo side of the line.

It can be pretty disheartening to hear people putting down an approach because it does not meet some standard that they hold, and dismissing reports of good results because they do not like the approach. That is, among other things, closed minded.

As has been previously noted, there have been many discoveries where what was previously thought to be nonsense turns out to be the correct and provable answer. Ideas that are dismissed out of hand can turn out to be entirely valid. And, simply looking at history can show that our perspective on what is absurd, unreasonable, even impossible, can change radically. Consider the solar system and how our commonly accepted understanding of it has changed over time.

Does it make sense to dismiss data because of the manner in which it is presented? I would hope not.

There are many things we do not understand, and there may well be phenomena we do not yet know how to measure. An inability to quantify a thing does not necessarily mean the thing does not exist, it may only mean we have not yet learned to measure it.

To me, it makes sense to keep an open, yet skeptical, mind. It also makes sense not to arbitrarily divide our community when we are trying to travel in largely the same direction. We all need each other for support in making changes to the world, tiny bits at a time.
 
Charles Tarnard
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To me most of the 'woo' comes from forcefully applying causality to effects you observe without removing variables. We've all developed theories about what we've observed, and while they're usually pretty close, sometimes we are just WAY, WAY off. This happens without applying spirituality to our observations. When you start defending these conclusions without appropriate evidence, you can run into trouble. When you start TEACHING these conclusions, you can run into more troubles.

An instructor should teach the science, then express any beliefs beyond that science AS BELIEFS. 'I've done this, observed this, and believe this is the mechanism that caused the result' is so much easier to accept as a jaded skeptical bastard than having the mechanism stated as a fact. Everyone can follow the action and observation. It then is up to the recipient of information to judge (or test) the conclusion. Evidence to support the mechanism then becomes icing on the cake. If you pass information this way there is no reason to fight about the conclusions. The action and the result are the most immediately important parts of what we're looking at; the mechanism is only necessary if you want to exploit a smaller part of this process, and this can be tested by anyone with an action and observation.

I believe this way you can have your woo, but not have it get in the way of the woo haters.
 
William James
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My 2 cents:

1. For some reason things that are 'out there' are often accepted as true simply because they are reiterated enough or have enough mass backing in the populace. Corollary: a lie told often enough becomes truth. I have difficultly relating to people discussing Auras for this reason. There just isn't any margin for discussion. Aloe Vera is another. The only documented treatments including Aloe are as a laxative and as a burn/cut treatment. There is an industry behind the Aloe fashion that believes it will cure everything. While I also would like Aloe to cure 'everything' I have a hard time promoting it as such simply because the documented evidence just doesn't back it up at the moment.

2. Often, when proposing that certain 'woo woo' techniques be field tested, adherents cop out and say it can't be tested or doesn't need testing because it just works. I find this to be unparticipative in the least and even slightly intellectually dishonest. Asking for evidence is not bashing. If something works, no matter how crazy, I encourage people to figure out why. Asking why is what humans do, we're curious. And magic, while entertaining, is always based within the realm of the physical world.

3. The physical world is amazing and will blow your mind. I find it difficult to need anything else, since a deepened knowledge of the physical world is just as fulfilling. For me. If in time that deepened knowledge contains what is now considered 'woo woo', all the better. But for now there's a lot of spectacular 'researched' physical phenomena on my plate. It's not because of a deep-seated hatred for things that are 'out there'.

4. The task of doing permaculture is difficult enough. Building functioning ecosystems is difficult enough. Demonstrating that permaculture works is difficult enough. Winning people over to ecology-based land practices is difficult enough. When people come to associate permaculture with 'woo woo' and the metaphysical it just makes everything a thousand times more difficult. Also because the people who could be stirred by metaphysical 'out there' logic are in an incredible minority, or they are already won over by other metaphysical logic such as the church or other religious or spiritual movements. There's just no traction there, in my opinion, from a purely strategical point of view.

5. People tend to gravitate toward permaculture for their own reasons. One of which is a strong belief in the metaphysical and the spiritual. While I accept that, I feel there needs to be space for the nuts and bolts kind of people as well. I'm glad there are certain spokespeople for permaculture who are embracing this vision (thanks Paul). Rather than seek out the 'charlatans' and burn them at the stake i think a better strategy would be to get behind these clear thinkers and promote them in any way possible. Hopefully this will carve out a big enough niche in the ecology of permaculture so as to be a main current that people recognize as 'Permaculture' with a capital 'P'.

William
 
Peter Ellis
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Certainly where the goal is wider acceptance, supporting positions you adhere to is a much more productive approach than attacking those which you do not follow. What ever your perspective.
 
John Saltveit
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I see woo woo as being willing to look at gray situations. Some people are very upset at discussions of things that are not absolutely completely provable, such as whether my wife loves me or if I'm proud to be an American. They become hostile if people want to discuss UFO's, God, dreams, music, movies, art, sense of community, beauty, spirituality, or connections between animals and people. They will throw anxiety, tension and even anger into anyone discussing gray areas, and make it so unpleasant so that they will stop. Then the very cut and dried people say that it's all good now, back to the 1950's. No one is allowed to be discussing gray things anymore and that's how it should be.
John S
PDX OR
 
Dave Burton
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I think observation is the simplest solution to the "woo woo" business, and maybe we don't need as much funding as the other sciences to make discoveries. A lot of cool stuff has been funded through KickStarter. Observing interactions is simple enough; knowing what you're looking for is another issue, as well as the application of what was learned. Here is a sweet example of observation and application by TEDtalk speaker Deborah Gordon:
 
John Saltveit
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Your post made me think that maybe being woo woo is when you observe not only something externally, but also its effect upon you, including your feelings and intuition. In this way, woo woo encompasses modern physics as well as the old Newtonian physics.
John S
PDX OR
 
Dave Burton
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That's actually what I'm trying to get at, John. "Woo woo" is not a state of being, but just a willingness to be open to all the possibilities out there. Albeit, some sciences could try harder than others to be sustainable; there is huge potential and usefulness in every type of science. Each science just has to stop bashing other for one reason or another and start working together which is part of why I'm having trouble deciding on a major to list for my college applications. I see how so many types of science could work together, and I want to learn as much as possible in them all. Like we say in permaculture, "There is unity and strength in diversity". The same thing applies to science; physics, chemistry, biology, technology, and permaculture have soooo much more potential together than alone hurting each other.
 
Michael Cox
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Dave Burton wrote:That's actually what I'm trying to get at, John. "Woo woo" is not a state of being, but just a willingness to be open to all the possibilities out there. Albeit, some sciences could try harder than others to be sustainable; there is huge potential and usefulness in every type of science. Each science just has to stop bashing other for one reason or another and start working together which is part of why I'm having trouble deciding on a major to list for my college applications.


I would put that the other way round - a rational, scientific approach is open to new ideas, but sceptical in the sense that it requires a questioning and probing mindset. Usually you want to know why things work, or at the very least know that they do work. Dismissing ideas out of hand is not scientific, but that doesn't mean every idea has equal merit - some can be discredited using existing scientific understanding, and hence take a substantial burden of proof to over turn.

'Woo woo' - not a term I like or use - seems to be the opposite of receptive, yet questioning. Those who most vehemently promote ideas that are associated with 'woo woo' seem to speak from unsupported positions as a position of blind faith, or through circumstantial observations that do not justify the strength of their position. If we don't challenge positions promoted without evidence then the signal-noise ratio gets worse. The effective ideas get lost in the marginal/neutral.

Let's compare two concepts:
Holistically Planned Grazing - Allen Savory
Biodynamics

Savory has taken a probing and enquiring approach, testing and refining his ideas over decades and collecting case studies of restored land and increased yields.
Biodynamics espouses a theory that doesn't fit with existing understanding of plant or soil science and calls on 'things that are not understood by science'. Biodynamics has been extensively studied in academia and the only positive results have come from Research funded and conducted by the biodynamic institute (hardly non-biased).

As a community I would prefer we supported approaches that are demonstrated to work in widespread applications with measurable improvements in yeild, biodiversity etc... Savory's work meets that standard, biodynamics doesn't. If those who promote biodynamics got behind Savory's work instead we could make a bigger impact.

Note that these are just two examples of concepts that might at one point have been called 'woo woo'. One made the cut in that it is well supported and evidenced, one didn't. How much time should we permit to discredited theories? Would we be happy going back to the dark ages and promote ideas of 'sick soil' (nitrogen depletion) instead of promoting nitrogen fixing species, use of manure, compost etc...
 
Dave Burton
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I like how you defined "woo woo" and rational science because common sense and inquiry naturally help things that started as "woo woo" become filtered, sifted, revised, and tested until the ideas either become dismissed or evolve into a more meaningful and useful whole in the scientific community. Many scientific facts started as nonsense in their times, but over time, inquiry and logic evolved and solidified the concepts. "Woo woo" is not a final destination; it is just a starting point and play ground. Then, as things are refined through trial and error, the "woo woo" becomes less wooey, disappears, or evolves.
 
John Saltveit
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Very well stated, Dave. My viewpoint exactly. Sometimes you don't know why something works, but you feel it works. You do it because it seems to work for you. Only much later do you realize why it worked, or why it seemed to make things better. In the meantime, you had a better life. The other guy, who became angry with you for thinking you had something but couldn't precisely explain why, was angry and never found a solution. All that time you were pleasant and happy and found a solution , and now the angry guy is mad at you for finding a solution that he couldn't figure out. I think Mr. Woo woo had a more positive contribution.
John S
PDX OR
 
I've got no option but to sell you all for scientific experiments. Or a tiny ad:
FT Position Available: Affiliate Manager Who Loves Permaculture & Homesteading
https://permies.com/t/69742/FT-Position-Affiliate-Manager-Loves
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