The Role of Myth in Understanding Nature

Raymond Pierotti

Abstract


Use of metaphor embodies myth in Western science and Native American traditional knowledge traditions about understanding the “natural” world and the nonhuman “other.” Using personal history, I compare a myth/metaphor from each intellectual tradition that shaped my thinking. Cultural trains of thought and metaphors impacted these myths and shaped my way of thinking. From Western scientific tradition, I examine the “Balance of Nature,” which dominated ecology and conservation biology from the 1850s until the 1990s. Balance and stability underlie major models in contemporary ecology and population biology, especially in wildlife and fisheries management. Before I trained as a Western style evolutionary ecologist, the myth of Wolf as creator figure in the traditions of Numic peoples (Shoshone, Comanche, Ute, Paiute) was the Indigenous creation myth that shaped my thinking. In the Balance of Nature, hidden metaphors are rooted in Western economic thought, specifically Capitalism. Similar metaphors in Numic peoples assume that humans are related ecologically to wolves, who served as teachers and guides. Stories, rather than data, served to fix these concepts into each cultural tradition. Although Numic beliefs appear “irrational” to Western society, they are more attuned to twenty-first century ecological and evolutionary thought than balance in nature, which lay at the root of Western ecological ideas until the 1980s. I discuss how my experiences with changing environmental conditions combined with my work with Indigenous peoples. Exposure to philosophical and empirical approaches from ethnobiology led me to explore these themes.


Keywords


Shoshonean; Wolf; Balance of nature; Western science; Traditional knowledge; Myth

Full Text:

PDF HTML

References


Anderson, E. N. 1996. Ecologies of the Heart: Emotion, Belief, and the Environment. Oxford University Press, New York, NY.

Anderson, E. N. 2013. What shapes Cognition: Traditional Sciences and Modern International Science. In Explorations in Ethnobiology: The Legacy of Amadeo Rea, edited by M. Quinlan and D. Lepofsky, pp. 47-77. Society of Ethnobiology, Denton, TX.

Annett, C. A., and R. Pierotti. 1989. Chick Hatching as a Trigger for Dietary Switches in Western Gulls. Colonial Waterbirds 12:4–11.

Annett, C. A., and R. Pierotti. 1999. Longterm Reproductive Output and Recruitment in Western Gulls: Consequences of Alternate Foraging Tactics. Ecology 80:288–297.

Bright, W. 1993. A Coyote Reader. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

Bringhurst, R. 2008a. Everywhere Being is Dancing: 20 Pieces of Thinking. Counterpoint Press, Berkeley, CA.

Bruchac, J. 2003. Our Stories Remembered: American Indian History, Culture, and Values through Storytelling. Fulcrum Press, Golden, CO.

Buller, G. 1983. Comanche and Coyote, the Culture Maker, In Smoothing the Ground, edited by B. Swann, pp. 245–258. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

Peter U. Clark, Arthur S. Dyke, Jeremy D. Shakun, Anders E. Carlson, Jorie Clark, Barbara Wohlfarth, Jerry X. Mitrovica, Steven W. Hostetler, A. Marshall McCabe. 2009. The Last Glacial Maximum. Science 325:710–714.

Darwin, C. 1859. The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. Studio Editions, London.

Tom D. Dillehay , Carlos Ocampo, José Saavedra, Andre Oliveira Sawakuchi, Rodrigo M. Vega, Mario Pino, Michael B. Collins, Linda Scott Cummings, Iván Arregui, Ximena S. Villagran, Gelvam A. Hartmann, Mauricio Mella, Andrea González, George Dix. 2015. New Archaeological Evidence for an Early Human Presence at Monte Verde, Chile. PLoS ONE 10:e0141923. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0141923.

Elton, C. S. 1927. Animal Ecology, MacMillan, New York, NY.

Fawcett, E. 2015. Liberalism: The Life of an Idea. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

Finley, C. 2011. All the Fish in the Sea: Maximum Sustainable Yield and the Failure of Fisheries Management. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.

Fogg, B. R., N. Hernandez, and R. Pierotti. 2015. Relationships between Indigenous American Peoples and Wolves 1: Wolves as Teachers and Guides. Journal of Ethnobiology 35:262–285.

Gibbons, A. 2013. How a Fickle Climate Made Us Human. Science 341:474–479.

Gibbons, A. 2015. Humans May Have Reached Chile by 18,500 Years Ago. Science 350: 898.

Gilbert, S. F. and D. Epel. 2015. Ecological Developmental Biology: The Environmental Regulation of Development, Health, and Evolution. Sinauer Associates, Sunderland, MA.

Harney, C. 1995. The Way It Is: One Water—One Air—One Mother Earth. Blue Dolphin Publications, Nevada City, CA.

Hesse, M. 1974. The Structure of Scientific Inference. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

Holt, S. J. 1975. The Concept of Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) and Its Application to Whaling. FAO/UN Scientific Consultation on Marine Mammals. Document ACMRR/MM/SC/4.

Kingsland, S. E. 1985. Modeling Nature: Episodes in the History of Population Ecology. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.

Kricher, J. 2009. The Balance of Nature: Ecology’s Enduring Myth. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

Larkin, P. A. 1977. An Epitaph for the Concept of MSY. Transaction of the American Fisheries Society 106:1–11.

Lorenzen, E.D. D. Nogués-Bravo, L. Orlando, J. Weinstock, J. Binladen, K. A. Marske, A. Ugan, M. K. Borregaard, M. T. P. Gilbert, R. Nielsen, S. Y. W. Ho, T. Goebel, K. E. Graf, D. Byers, J. T. Stenderup, M. Rasmussen, P. F. Campos, J. A. Leonard, K. Koepfli, D. Froese, G. Zazula, T. W. Stafford, K. Aaris-Sørensen, P. Batra, A. M. Haywood, J. S. Singarayer, P. J. Valdes, G. Boeskorov, J. A. Burns, S. P. Davydov, J. Haile, D. L. Jenkins, P. Kosintsev, T. Kuznetsova, X. Lai, L. D. Martin, H. G. McDonald, D. Mol, M. Meldgaard, K. Munch, E. Stephan, M. Sablin, R. S. Sommer, T. Sipko, E. Scott, M. A. Suchard, A. Tikhonov, R. Willerslev, R. K. Wayne, A. Cooper, M. Hofreiter, A. Sher, B. Shapiro, C. Rahbek, E. Willerslev. 2011. Species-Specific Responses of Late Quaternary Megafauna to Climate and Humans. Nature 479:359–363.

Marshall, J. 1995. On Behalf of the Wolf and the First Peoples. Red Crane Books, Santa Fe, NM.

Pennisi, E. 2004. Ice Ages May Explain Ancient Bison’s Boom-Bust History. Science 306:1454.

Pierotti, R. 1981. Male and Female Parental Roles in the Western Gull under Different Environmental Conditions. Auk 98:532–549.

Pierotti, R. 2011a. Indigenous Knowledge, Ecology, and Evolutionary Biology. Routledge Press, New York, NY.

Pierotti, R. 2011b. The World According to Is’a: Combining Empiricism and Spiritual Understanding in Indigenous Ways of Knowing. In Ethnobiology, edited by E. N. Anderson, D. M. Pearsall, E. S. Hunn, and N. J. Turner, pp. 65–81. Wiley-Blackwell, Hoboken, NJ.

Pierotti, R., and C. A. Annett. 1987. Reproductive Consequences of Specialization and Switching in an Ecological Generalist. In Foraging Behavior, edited by A. C. Kamil, J. R. Krebs, and H. R. Pulliam, pp. 417–442. Plenum Press, New York, NY.

Pierotti, R., and C. A. Annett. 1990. Diet and Reproductive Performance in Seabirds. Bioscience 40:568–574.

Pierotti, R., and C. A. Annett. 1991. Diet Choice in the Herring Gull: Effects of Constraints Imposed by Reproduction and Ecology. Ecology 72:319–328.

Pierotti, R., and C. A. Annett. 1994. Patterns of Aggression in Gulls: Asymmetries and Tactics in Different Roles. Condor 96:590–599.

Pierotti, R., and B. Fogg. In press. The First Domestication: Co-evolution between Homo sapiens and Canis lupus. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT.

Ramsey, J. 1977. Coyote Was Going There: Indian Literature of the Oregon Country. University of Washington, Seattle, WA.

Schleidt, W. M., and M. D. Shalter. 2003. Co-evolution of Humans and Canids: An Alternative View of Dog Domestication: Homo Homini Lupus? Evolution and Cognition 9:57–72.

Schlesier, K. H. 1987. The Wolves of Heaven: Cheyenne Shamanism, Ceremonies, and Prehistoric Origins. Civilization of the American Indian Series, No. 183. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK.

Shapiro B, A. J. Drummond, A. Rambaut. M.C. Wilson, P.E. Matheus, A. V. Sher, O. G. Pybus, M. T. Gilbert, I. Barnes, J. Binladen, E. Willerslev, A. J. Hansen, G. F. Baryshnikov, J. A. Burns, S. Davydov, J. C. Driver, D. G. Froese, C. R. Harington, G. Keddie, P. Kosintsev , M. L. Kunz, L. D. Martin, R. O. Stephenson, J. Storer, R. Tedford, S. Zimov, A. Cooper. 2004. Rise and Fall of the Beringian Steppe Bison. Science 306:1561–1564.

Shipman, P. 2014. How Do You Kill 86 Mammoths? Taphonomic Investigations of Mammoth Megasites. Quaternary International 359–360:1–9.

Shipman, P. 2015. The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neandertals to Extinction. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

Smith, A. M., and A. C. Hayes. 1993. Shoshone Tales. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, UT

Stephens, D. W., and J. R. Krebs. 1986. Foraging Theory. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

Sultan, S. E. 2015. Organism and Environment: Ecological Development, Niche Construction and Adaptation. Oxford University Press, New York, NY.

Tinbergen, N. 1953. The Herring Gulls' World. Basic Books, London.

Vander, J. 1997. Shoshone Ghost Dance Religion: Poetry Songs and Great Basin Context. University of Illinois Press, Chicago.

Wallace, E., and E. A. Hoebel. 1948. Comanches: Lords of the South Plain. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK.

Worster, D. 1993. The Wealth of Nature. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Worster, D. 1994. Nature’s Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas, 2nd Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Zimmerman, C., and K. Cuddington. 2007. Ambiguous, Circular and Polysemous: Students' Definitions of the “Balance of Nature” Metaphor. Public Understanding of Science 16:393–406.




DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14237/ebl.7.2.2016.729

Copyright (c) 2016 Raymond Pierotti

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.