Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island and elsewhere have lived on the land long before the scientific revolution and the so-called enlightenment. As part of this land, the peoples developed intimate knowledge of the environment and natural world, including knowledges of the sky above. That understanding was arguably built by centuries of detailed observations that have been shared through stories and usage. I note, however, there are no pan-Indigenous methods of understanding the sky or science in general. I repeat – there are no pan-Indigenous science, every Nation, Culture, Community has its own perspective, methods and understanding of the Universe. But, there are many commonalities in how many Indigenous peoples developed knowledges.
Lipe (2019) presented a set of Indigenous axioms for understanding nature and compared those axioms to the axioms used in Western Sciences. Some of the differences that stand out most to me include:
1) Nature being sacred in Indigenous knowledges; nature being hierarchical in Western Systems;
2) Participants being an active part of nature and observations, while Western Science must be objective and outside of the natural phenomena;
3) Maintaining relationships with nature is part of Indigenous practice while in Western Science relationships with nature are considered admirable but not important;
4) Indigenous knowledge is comprehended and used in a practical manner and knowledge is meant to be applied, whereas in Western Science knowledge is explored for the sake of knowledge and everything is knowable through a set of natural laws;
5) Information began since time immemorial in Indigenous systems while in the Western System knowledge is constructed in the Enlightenment with its roots in early Greek philosophy;
6) Western Science seeks to explore knowledge by viewing phenomena in the fewest number of variables isolated from other variables, while Indigenous knowledges tend to consider the interactions of multiple variables in non-linear ways;
7) Indigenous knowledges tend to be (W)holistic and boundless yet grounded in observation, while Western Sciences tend to be fragmented and separated into isolated disciplines.
These differences are stark and both systems have applications in astronomy and knowledges of celestial phenomena. But, do these Indigenous axioms have place in the global study of astronomy and astrophysics.
Short answer yes.
Long answer, hell yes.
Western science and its understanding of astronomy has a number of examples of contradicting its own axioms. One such possibility has been the Drake Equation where scientists try to understand the number of “civilizations” in the Milky Way Galaxy. In that equation, scientists try to estimate how many planets might have life, how many of those life-supporting planets might have “intelligent life” and how many of those planets with intelligent life is capable of developing technology to communication with people on Earth. These variables are only understood by looking at the development of humanity through the western, industrial lens. That is, relies on the hierarchical view of humanity of nature and so on.
Another interesting example is the Cosmological Anthropic Principle. When astronomers measure the cosmological parameters, we find that the constants that relate phenomena like gravity and the electro-magnetic forces or the nuclear strong and nuclear weak forces are too perfect. If the relations change slightly, the Universe could not look like the way we see it and we could not exist in that Universe. This frustrates many professional astronomers because it could mean we cannot be objective. If we observe the Universe to be perfect then it is either a ridiculous coincidence or we live in a special place.
One way to get around this apparent problem is that instead of the Universe that we observe being it, we live in a multiverse where our Universe is just one of many. I note that this is not the only reason why scientists hypothesize the multiverse, the idea arises from String Theory, but this too perfect Universe has been cited as an argument for the multiverse. By being one of many, many Universes it becomes possible to that one of them would be just perfect for us to exist and if there are many many Universes then ours can be one random Universe instead of a special place. In this way, humans can maintain the sense of objectivity by burying the problem of our Universe being special.
On the other hand, Indigenous axioms as described by Lipe do not have this problem. If humans are active participants in observing the Universe then cosmological observations do not need to be objective and having a perfect Universe is a reasonable possibility. We do not need to invoke a multiverse that we have no real way to prove exists. We can instead accept the mystery of the perfect Universe and accept that there is a relational connection between the properties of the Universe (i.e., the relations between forces that allow elements to exist and eventually us). In this way Indigenous axioms can impact and inform our understanding of the Universe in ways that Western Science axioms can fail. This is just one example.
Lipe, D. “19 Indigenous Knowledge Systems as the Missing Link in Scientific Worldviews.” Indigenous Education: New Directions in Theory and Practice (2019): 453.