September 10 2011
By a country mile as the crow flies over a buried cow horn on the vernal equinox, Biodynamics is the subject I’m most interested in amongst a myriad of conversational issues that compete against each other in the wine business. Yet, I’ve never been able to square with Biodynamics – the benefits or the bunkum – until now.
When Stu Smith of Smith-Madrone winery and author of the blog Biodynamics is a Hoax said in a recent interview, “It’s a fight between religion and science. There’s no question about it. The people that are mostly Biodynamic supporters are post-modernist skeptics of science” I paused and took it in. Yet, I was also confused about the boundary lines that he drew.
We live in a complicated world. It seems too tidy to draw boxes and say that BioD detractors are pragmatic and progressive in matters of viticulture who resent the piety of Biodynamic practitioners whilst the BioD folks shrug their shoulders when asked how Biodynamics works, eschewing modern day viticultural practice, gazing at a moon chart.
Meanwhile, as we’re noodling on these neat assignments, let’s also throw in secondary dubiousness with Demeter as the arbiter of standards (and depositor of checks), mix in the Biodynamic father Rudolf Steiner as an alleged charlatan and add a dash of societal convention that relies on burden of proof for outcomes.
With this heady stew, we now have perfect assignments along with swirling sub-issues that force the interplay of capitalism, spirituality, philosophy and science that is nearly impossible to reconcile amongst even the most reasonable people.
The problem-solver in me needs to transcend partisan Biodynamic views. The facilitator in me wants to find common ground.
I want to know the truth about Biodynamics. Not necessarily THE TRUTH, but my own truth, a personal reconciliation even if it is: “There’s a lot in life we don’t understand and this is one of them.”
I’m okay with living in the space between so long as I’ve assigned value to the black of, “It’s a hoax” and the white of, “It’s religion.”
Why? Because unlike Smith’s assertion, there has to be more to Biodynamics than accepting the use of BioD practices as an article of faith.
Likewise, Biodynamics can’t be debunked as an article of faith, counter to science. If so, it presumes that the base of our collective human knowledge is at an end point. We know everything there is to know and so Biodynamics doesn’t fit because it’s not rooted with a base of empirical proof.
So, what if Biodynamics is neither religion nor science, but rather a hybrid of the two that isn’t fully understood?
After all, by its very definition, Biodynamics relates to: the study of the effects of dynamic processes, such as motion or acceleration, on living organisms.
That’s what I’ve been exploring. Undoubtedly, it’s not leading me to THE TRUTH, but it is leading me to a truth different than, “science” “hoax” and “religion.”
Katherine Cole’s new book Voodoo Vintners (see review) does an exceptional job of framing Biodynamics in a balanced manner, yet there’s one chapter that I found sticking with me long after finishing the book.
In Chapter Four titled, “Science … or Sci-Fi” Cole explores the emerging scientific realm of quantum mechanics – the idea that our bodies, minds and physical environment are a symbiotic elements of energy that interact and that our consciousness, our thoughts, can impact our world. Specifically, she cites a book called, The Field: The Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe by Lynne McTaggert.
The framework for Cole’s mention is the notion of “intention” in the vineyard. The idea that, as she notes and deftly discredits in the paragraph, “The belief is that the preparations aren’t merely herbal treatments for plants; they’re carriers of the farmers’ intentions, which have been swirled into them through the powerful act of stirring. While it isn’t a requirement for Demeter certification, intention is that little bit of witchcraft that separates the most committed practitioners from the unbelievers.”
Yet, what energy forces and “intention” distills down to is not a rejection of science, but an embrace of the most cutting edge of science.
Randall Grahm, the founder of Bonny Doon Vineyard, is quoted from his blog in the book noting, “The world of wine exists in a non-Euclidean space, and certainly partakes of the quantum universe; there are great discontinuities in what we know or imagine we know.”
With that, I made a mental note to pick-up, The Field.
Later, I read Ideal Wine by David Darlington, which covers some of the some topical area with more insight into the scientific quantum mechanics link and Biodynamics, including Steiner’s founding of the philosophical area of anthroposophy, a pre-cursor philosophy to the more scientifically-rooted, legitimized quantum mechanics.
After I purchased The Field, I noted that it had a cover blurb that said, “The author and science featured in The Lost Symbol.”
The Lost Symbol is author Dan Brown’s follow-up after the wildly successful book, The DaVinci Code.
By now I’m deep into the proverbial rabbit’s hole. The Lost Symbol is a mediocre story, but an incredible mix of historical insight, cutting edge new science in quantum mechanics and its relation to modern day man’s role in seeking spirituality. And, unlike the DaVinci Code that took some liberties with the line between fact and fiction, Brown is quick to point out in the preface of The Lost Symbol that, “All rituals, science, artwork, and monuments in this novel are real.”
And Brown does, in fact, lean on the ideas in The Field and McTaggert’s subsequent book called, The Intention Experiment whilst the cottage industry of “decoding” The Lost Symbol books gives validation to the basis for the ideas presented.
For the two people that have read this far, all of this is pretty heady stuff and not easily explainable, which might partly account for the obfuscation in Biodynamics and wine. You have to be really, really intellectually curious to spend the time, but here’s where I’m at and here’s my recommendation if you want to follow a similar path:
Biodynamics isn’t about science vs. religion or “post-modernist skeptics of science” as Smith put it. The entire conversation is wrong. It IS about science that isn’t fully understood – quantum mechanics. In fact, there’s a growing body of evidence that science and religion are one and the same. This may be pseudoscience to some, but, regardless, the wine and Biodynamics conversation needs to be about whether you believe in the cutting edge of science or whether you need empirical proof in the here and now. Talking about anything else is bloviating with half-truths from ideological positions.
Further, anybody interested in wine and trying to understand Biodynamics from a wine perspective is wasting their time by reading about Biodynamics through the lense of the agricultural practices. Don’t spend any time on Nicolas Joly, or Monty Waldin, or any of the leaders in the field. You’ll never get past the weird preparations and the attempt at the explanation thereof.
Instead, any attempt at understanding Biodynamics needs to come through a view of the emerging science side. Get a notebook to take notes. Read The Lost Symbol first. Then, read a decoding book about The Lost Symbol. This acts as an accessible introduction to a number of ideas. Again, the ideas and facts are real, the story is fiction. From there, read The Field and skim The Intention Experiment. Then read Voodoo Vintners and Ideal Wine.
Once this has been completed, fill in the gaps with internet research on Steiner and some of his history with Theosophy and later Anthroposophy and then wade into Google and Amazon.com searching for, “Quantum physics, God, Consciousness.” Balance all of this with some quick searching on metaphysics to understand the delta and overlap between science, religion and philosophy.
If, after having done this, you haven’t completely confused the shit out of yourself, you’ll have gained a new enlightenment the least of which will be akin to Oliver Wendall Holmes quote, “Once the mind has been stretched by a new idea, it will never again return to its original size.”
As I mentioned earlier, when seeking a truth, I’m okay with “There’s a lot in life we don’t understand and this is one of them” and that’s where I come down on Biodynamics, but the conversation must not be framed in black and white terms. Everybody around Biodynamics – the proponents and the detractors are operating in the gray and there is no one particular truth, but, and this is a big but, we might not be too far away from a deeper understanding.
A Partial Journey in Exploring Biodynamics:
Other stuff to read:
The science behind The Lost Symbol
Space photo credit: Wired.com