The nature of science

Is nature a coherent system, and can it be perceived by human reason? Or is nature just like a madman, disjointed, lunatic and irrational? Some scientists assert that the nature itself is full of chaos and madness. Thus the entire knowledge system of science, which was requested to pursue the ultimate truth of the universe, was and is filled with conflicts and debates.

In his paper, Origins and Development of Ecology, Arnold G. van der Valk devotes to explore the shaping process of ecology as a distinct science. Basically, the foundation of his investigation lies on two concepts proposed by Charles S. Peirce (1839-1914), namely, abduction and convergence. Abduction brings novel hypotheses; convergence develops the confirmed hypotheses and discards the unconfirmed hypotheses. Arnold examined five hypotheses and claimed three defining hypotheses continue to be influential during the later development of ecology. The three defining hypotheses are adaptation-distribution, community-equilibrium, succession/super-organism hypotheses. However, two of these hypotheses are ambiguous, and ecologists’ conceptions on some core terms in the discipline are divergent.

The debate between the holistic character of Frederic E. Clements and the individualistic hypothesis of H.A. Gleason, the debate over island biogeography, and the debate over biodiversity and community, make the reality that it is difficult for ecology to converge when it was supposed to. Besides, Arnold considers that in ecology, “problems with the formation of some defining hypotheses” and “the lack of a uniform community of ecologists” are responsible for the current inconsistent state of ecology.

Taking his analysis into account, I find that the formation of ecology is very interesting. The disciple appears to be going through the same struggling process when in astronomy the geocentric theory and the heliocentric theory were irreconcilable, and in optics the wave theory and the particle theory were colliding with each other. The history of science tells the nature of it. I would say science could not survive without debates.

Above all, Arnold makes a very impressive job when he analyses the structure and effectiveness of an analogy, through which Clements proposed the terms like climax formation, super organism, and climax community and these are just like an individual plant, grow and die. It is a problem because in his analysis the analogy Clements utilizes seems to be inappropriate.

Mimic nature, can we?

Many people might know that when Garret Hardin writes his theory of lifeboat ethics, he argues against the international food aids and green revolution. In his writing, he refutes the Chinese proverb “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach him how to fish and he will eat for the rest of his days ” and arbitrarily considers that teaching a man how to fish means unsustainable catch and the depletion of natural resources.

As we know, that any proverbs or saying has its background or cultural context. When setting the proverb in the context of Chinese culture, the real meaning to “teach people how to fish” is not only to teach fishing skills, but also to ensure the fish pond in a productive and sustainable state. For instance, among the records of hunting rules in the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC), the principle of the king’s hunting is documented in The Book of Rites. It only allows the king’s hunters chasing preys and besieging animals from three directions and leave one direction for the sturdy animals to escape. The rules are so detailed that they even prescribe that burning forest is prohibited before the insects hibernate dormant under the earth. Other rules such as no fishing before March, no hunting before the winter, no callow animals, no pregnant animals, and so on.

In western tradition, we know that in the beginning people only uses animals as sacrifices for God. Only after the flood, Noah was told that he could eat meat. Can we treat the records historically and regard this as the beginning point of unsustainable hunting? Thus, when human beings gave up this sustainable hunting behaviors is a problem. A research compares the patterns of hunters and fishers with the predatory behaviors of other species, and the researchers found that human beings “kill adult prey, the reproductive capital of populations” rather than as other species killing weak or aged preys. They then define human as extremely unsustainable “super predators” and suggest human beings should mimic nonhuman predators.  (Chris T. Darimont et. Al., 2015)

Some ancient teachings implicate the importance of mimicking nature. For instance, Taoism is eminent in propounding that nature is far wiser than human beings, as it is written, “it is the Way of Heaven to diminish superabundance, and to supplement deficiency. It is not so with the way of man. He takes away from those who have not enough to add to his own superabundance.”

As we can see, mimicking nature is valuable and it has implications for sustainability. Although sustainability is attacked because some people assert that it cannot preventing consumerism from becoming worse, sustainability might be the only choice we’ve got. Sustainability is not safe enough, but unsustainability is definitely a disaster.


Animal rights and human-bear conflicts

David Fraser is an outstanding professor professional at animal welfare and animal rights research. The main focus of a research published in 1999, titled Animal Ethics and Animal Welfare Science: Bridging the Two Cultures,  is to converge the two different approaches regarding animal rights, namely, the ethical approach and the scientific approach. The author believes that none of these two approaches can separately answer the questions about human relationship toward animals. However, the combination between these two distinct “cultures” might integrate both empirical knowledge and philosophical reflection into a system in which scientists and philosophers could learn from the other side to enhance the whole system. Thus, the author proposes that the scientists should consider more about the animals’ emotions, awareness and other subjective experiences which ethical philosophers have cared for several decades, while the philosophers need to think about the species differences rather than talking about animals without considering the species difference. Given his detailed argument and analytic content in this paper, I think this paper is very reliable. And this research ascertains the limitations of both approaches, and it actually points out the new possibility in this area.

Correspondingly, another research carried out by two scholars titled as Going into the 21st century: a perspective on trends and controversies in the management of the American black bear, demonstrates that practical decision concerning animal care should base on some fundamental facts about that species. The two authors are from Manitoba Conservation & US Fish and Wildlife Service with a specific concern on the management strategy of American black bear in North America. Their purpose in this research is to investigate the population estimates and targets, harvest objectives and hunting methods, hunter and harvest data, and trends in human–bear conflicts. They utilize the data from provincial bear biologists, state authority, and black bear managers to achieve the above goals. And they assume that the purpose of black bear management should balance the goals of maintaining viable black bear populations, safeguarding human welfare and property, and satisfying the needs of stakeholders in a cost-effective manner. They also recommend other pragmatic methods to control the density and distribution of black bears. Their positive research obviously is reliable. The future black bear management needs to consider the conclusions the research offers. And management strategy and wild animal ethics involving other large carnivores might also use this paper as a reference.

Combining these two studies, I strengthened my previous belief that environmental ethics and environmental science should work together. And crossing the boundary might bring unexpected hope for the future of human-nature relationship.


Scheduled Speaking at IUFRO-AO 2016

Forest and Culture in Ancient China

——Three Types of Forest in Chinese Ancient Landscape Painting

Oct. 24-27, Beijing, China

Abstract: The growth of a historical research on the relationship between forest and culture has become a new endeavor in recent years. Urban forest experts, environmental psychologists, planners and designers, and anthropologist are the primary strength to bring this field into a thriving and prolific stage. Forest, mountains, river, bridge, cloud, buildings and people, are regular elements in Chinese traditional landscape painting. In this presentation, I explore the relationship between forest and culture. I choose three traditional Chinese Landscape paintings to explore the mutual reinforcement. The forests in those paintings represent three types of forest in Chinese landscape painting, namely, the immortal forest, the aesthetic forest, and landscape Utopian. The immortal forest, described in the Painting of Goddess Luo Rhapsody《洛神赋图卷》, is a wonderland where a person might meet fairies and Gods. The aesthetic forest, depicted in the Painting Scroll of Spring Tour《游春图》, shows a beautiful natural scenery where people can indulge themselves in the forest to appreciate the beauty of nature. The landscape utopia, portrayed in the Painting Scroll of Snow-covered Fishing Village《渔村小雪图卷》and organized by elements in the real landscape but not exactly revealed any specific site or surrounding, is a forest in which a literati would take his spiritual journey and become himself. The three types of forest characterize three types of place attachment reflecting the mutual reinforcement between forest and culture.

Key words: immortal forest, aesthetic forest, landscape Utopia, Place Attachment

College Students Visit Ancient Trees at Xi’an

First wrote and published on November 30, 2015.

Xi’an is a popular destination for fans who are interested in Chinese history and culture. It was the capital city of thirteen dynasties in Chinese history. Nowadays most people come to this city visit the Terra-Cotta Warriors, which was created by the First Emperor of Qin in the 3 rd century B.C., roughly the same time as the Great Wall was built. The city also witnesses the prosperity of Han and Tang Dynasty. At that time, Buddhism was very accepted about 1300 years ago, and as a result, there were a lot of temples built in the city area at that time. Amazingly, some of the temples survived thousand years of war, turbulence, and other forms of damages from human activities and natural disasters. The same is true of ancient trees in those temples.

Recently, a group of college students from Zhongnan Cultural Academy of Xidian University visited two ancient trees in two temples at Xi’an. These students are organized to study and research environmental and forest aesthetics. The advisor directs them to read literature in this field and guides their field research.


This year the city has launched the 3rd general survey of ancient trees. It is reported that 18,000 trees have been identified and labeled a number for preservation. According to the Forestry Bureau of Xi’an, there are 58 Millennium trees in the city area. The two trees the students visit are two ginkgo trees. The ginkgo tree in Guanyin Temple is about 1400 years old, 29 meters tall, trunk perimeter 7.15 meters, crown area 415 square meters. The other ginkgo tree in Baita Temple is about 1700 years old, 22 meters tall, trunk perimeter 10.4 meters, crown area 600 square meters. Both of the ginkgo trees are growing very well.


(A plate shows the scientific name and the serial number of the old tree. Photographed by Danqiong ZHU)


(This photo shows the bottom trunk of one of the gingkos. Photographed by Danqiong ZHU)

Also, there is another ancient tree species in Guanyin Temple, Platycladus orientalis, which is native to northwestern China. The two oriental arborvitae trees are about 1000 years old, 13-15 meters tall. One oriental arborvitae tree is dying, and the current maintenance is not going well.

The students are enthusiastic about ancient trees. They want to know how the trees have remained alive all through these thousand years. They also want to know who had been lived in these temples during the thousand years, what kind of stories they had, and what poems they had written for the trees.

A local scientist says that ancient trees record climate change and should be protected as green relics, and he also mentions that their ecological and landscape values are beneficial to the urban environment. However, when I ask the students how they feel when they stand beside the trees, one of the students says, “I wish it can speak. If it speaks, I will sit uprightly under the tree, and I will spend all my lifetime to listen to the stories over 1400 years.” The students would like to treat ancient trees as old Chan masters, and believe trees might bring some inspiration to their lives.

What I am thinking is that, Xi’an is a city with thousand years of history, and the concentration of cultural relics in this area has attracted a great deal of attention. However, the natural heritage of ancient trees should also get the attention of the local government and the public. The students wish to participate in the preservation of ancient trees. They do fell they should make a certain contribution for protecting those old trees.

Paint Sustainability on the ground!

It was spring, April 1, 2016.


College students at Xidian University are painting on the ground to convey their hope for a sustainable planet.


The unfinished painting is going to put all national flags together in that way they hope all countries on the earth will join the fight against global ecosystem degradation, climate change and energy crisis regardless of political ideology, democracy system, strategy of economic development, and other forms of divergence.

The group is titled as “Environment and Forest”.