A thought experiment

I want to present you with a thought experiment I thought of as we were returning from the Tapajos River downstream to our next sampling location. We had a busy day of interviews and engaging with local peoples in the Amazon basin and were late in leaving to return to our scheduled destination. With a 12 hour drive ahead of us, the captain decided it was safe to travel overnight. From my vantage point, I noticed that the crew weren’t using charts or GPS for navigation, they were using their knowledge. I was conflicted over this, so I pose to you my thought experiment (there are no right answers to this).
Imagine you have a choice of two boats travelling back to your scheduled destination. They are travelling back in the dark with no aid of moon light, but they do have a spotlight to identify hazards in close range. Boat 1 is using a GPS to navigate back. Boat 2 is using local knowledge of the river. Both captains and crews are similarly trained, and the boats are identification in every way (e.g. speed, manoeuvrability). The only difference between the boats is that boat 1’s captain is using GPS, so looking down at the location on the GPS unit, and boat 2 is using his/her knowledge of the river. Which boat would you prefer to be in? Give yourself a few minutes to contemplate.
After my own contemplation, I chose boat 2, which put me at ease for my predictament. It turns out that the crew did have a handheld GPS unit, but they found it very inaccurate and they found they could read the river better using the spotlight and their memory. This thought experiment really highlighted my trade off between science/technology (i.e. GPS) versus local and traditional knowledge. If you chose boat 1, I want to you to think about circumstances when science (or your own GPS) failed. If you chose boat 2, I want you to think about when your own memory failed. I don’t see boat 1 and 2 as incompatible, again the captain was using both in my case. My conclusion after much thought was if I am okay with boat 2, why is it any different than accepting local and traditional knowledge similar to scientific observation. If I can trust the boat captain based on his local knowledge, why wouldn’t I trust local knowledge of other issues like fisheries or water a

 

About the Author

Mark Poesch

University of Alberta

My research focuses on freshwater fishes and biodiversity. My research focuses on three general areas: 1) understanding the mechanisms relating to species loss, especially in relation to anthropogenic disturbance like land-use change, hydrologic alteration, climate change, invasive species and their impacts to freshwater ecosystems; 2) developing better aquatic assessment methods, including how to measure global change; and, 3) developing methods to improve restoration and reclamation. As a member of Tracking change, I provide support for graduate students and community researchers in the project.

Website:http://poeschlab.ualberta.ca/

Email:poesch@ualberta.ca

Phone:780-492-4827

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