Biodynamics and the Limits of Rationalism, Clark Smith, Wines & Vines January 2011.
Clark and I have had some lively exchanges about Biodynamics and it’s clear that neither of us is convincing the other to change our views.
Clark is a “postmodernist” who seems to believe, like Steiner, that science is limiting and that there is more to this world than science can answer: At best, truth is soft and ephemeral and truth is what we wish it to be or what we can get away with — in fact, there may be no truths! This “beyond science” postmodernist approach also seems to accept that our current language is limiting and the new era should utilize a new language – something Clark clearly embraces with his writing style.
Herein lays the very essence of the Biodynamic debate. I reject virtually everything written in this article as utter nonsense because I reject the notion that science is limiting. We should not abandon our search for the truth because it is difficult. Clark’s article is an apologist’s love letter to Biodynamic farming. He believes that Biodynamics should be held to a different standard because we now live in a postmodern world where truth is not out there.
I seriously doubt Red Mountain, Hearty Burgundy and White Zinfandel consumers care one whit whether their wine is “soulful” or “transformative.” Many, maybe most of us in the premium wine side of our industry, forget that we are not the center of the universe. Let’s keep this subject in perspective – Sutter Home makes more White Zinfandel than the entire Napa Valley produces and their sales are up a whopping 25% or so.
Should Biodynamics, which requires a leap of faith, be acceptable to us? Should we also accept the idea that science can’t model complex systems, farming or not, or accept the “intractability (of B-d) to conventional scientific practices” (Clark’s term)? I answer with a resounding NO! Just because it may be difficult doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Start with definitions, develop theories, test those theories and repeat the process. Do Biodynamic wines taste better? Do buried cow horns work? Do tea sprays stop mildew? Is the carbon footprint larger, the same or smaller than organic or sustainable farming? What is the social cost-benefit from the various farming systems? I know that experiments can be designed to test these types of hypotheses – saying it can’t be done is just a cop-out.
Clark’s passage on Adam Smith gets it completely wrong. Adam Smith’s theories on Capitalism were not from “imagination” and “science fiction” (as were Steiner’s) but from careful study, travel and observation of world economies. Modern economics is based on formalizing the idea of the invisible hand. Game Theory and Neuro Economics are just two examples of scientific research bringing the light of day to Clark’s “fundamental mysteries.”
The brain and mind are no longer forbidden topics of research as Clark would have us believe. For research being done to unravel the mysteries of music appreciation – see Blood and Zatorre, 2001, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
I could hardly believe my eyes when I read “All Biodynamics needs to do in order to be valid is to survive and thrive.” Does this mean that fascism, communism, racism, homeopathic medicine, tarot card/palm reading and astrology are all now “valid?”
I don’t understand why Clark believes that Acupuncture can’t or shouldn’t be critically evaluated? Again, it may be messy and take effort and time to sort out the various studies and the cultural biases, but it is not impossible. In a recent article by Jonah Lehrer in The New Yorker (more on this in the next post) Lehrer points out that when the studies were conducted in Asia all 47 studies showed efficacy for Acupuncture, yet when studied in the West only 56 showed efficacy out of the 94 studies. Time will sort out what and who is correct – which is exactly what science is all about. Again, science is messy and slow and we should remain skeptics.
Clark goes on with Philip Armenier’s “poetic language” regarding preparations and energy forces and then drops the bomb “Word confusion is the common stamp of paradigm shifts.” A paradigm shift? It certainly appears that Clark is heralding that Biodynamics will triumph and be the new farming standard! I’ve re-read this section a dozen times and if Biodynamics sounds “nuts” to Clark, as he claims, then why would he write this?
The part on Alan York is typical of what I call “Biodynamic speak.” What’s not to like about what Alan says? A closed system, biodiversity, funny little preparations and a holistic approach: Clark left out motherhood and apple pie. It sounds lovely and says absolutely nothing! The devil is in the details and Clark and Alan York never address the details. If it’s a closed system then why is it OK to truck compost from up to 250 miles away from the farm? If Biodynamics employs a holistic approach than why is it OK to use the very nasty pesticide PyGanic which contains Prethrins? Why is it OK to use a nasty pesticide made from chrysanthemums than a more environmentally friendly one made from the petrochemical industry?
I take offense at Clark’s claim that I and/or others delighted in our Biodynamic neighbors getting Powdery Mildew. Once again Clark is wrong, because that is not true. It was my understanding that many growers got mildew this year and if we were to single out one group that got hurt the most it would be the organic growers, not the Biodynamic farmers. I don’t understand why that would be, but I’ve heard that from many of my associates who are vineyard managers. IMO, there is no excuse for getting mildew. It is absolutely preventable if you pay attention to your farming practices. I had mildew in the past and it was my fault – period. I swore I’d never get again and I haven’t.
Science, with all its faults, searching for the truth or Biodynamics supported by a postmodern view that goes “beyond science” and says truth is relative – your choice.