Tania is a Research Associate at the Materials Research Institute,and Assistant Professor in the Science, Technology and Society Program
in the College of Engineering
She is the former director of the
Center for Sustainability
Pennsylvania State University.
Planetary health and human health are linked - these are the two fields most important to me. My research at the MRL lends itself not only to a new understanding of who and what we are as human beings, but of new ways to heal ourselves and our environment. I try to balance this scientific exploratory work with "down to earth" living at home: my husband and I practice biointensive mini-farming and we are retrofitting our 1938-built home to be more eco-friendly and oil-free "eco-efficient". I try to balance time spent indoors in mental activity with time spent outdoors in useful manual labor to exercise my mind and body in a balanced fashion.
My schedule changes with the seasons rather than the semesters. By growing our food in an ecologically sustainable way, we are not only nurturing the soil for future generations, but we provide ourselves with ample exercise, the freshest food possible, daily fresh air and sunshine, and "food for the spirit"... nurturing the connection between ourselves and the living world on which we depend and whose vibrancy, beauty and vitality is lost to most of the population who purchase old food in the caves of massive supermarkets and who hurry in their metal shelled vehicles to get from place to place, one cave to another, stressing out over things that, ultimately, don't matter. Living in the NOW, taking the time TO BE,connecting with the Greater IS, and learning how to truly LOVE,appears to be what "living" is all about. It is a journey.
It is difficult to be a "professor" when, in spite of the vast knowledge base I can share, what we teach is merely a reflection of our current understanding of the world and the nature of the reality that surrounds us. To "profess" that I "know" would be a joke in the long run, for our understanding of the nature of reality is always evolving, and we must evolve and change with it. I am committed to that process of growth and change, as I feel it is vital to learn how to grow and change, to evolve in ways that will allow us to address the challenges that face us in our future.
It is helpful to receive feedback from others, and, over the years, I was told on more than one occasion that I was perceived as the "gloom and doom" professor. While I feel that it is important to - as author of "Good to Great", Jim Collins, says - "confront the brutal facts" about the mess we've made of our planet and the daunting challenges of our future, I embrace this understanding as a guide to help us steer a new course: one that helps us to avoid making the same mistakes; one that helps to cut through our delusion that this or that techno-fix will be our salvation; one that provides us with meaningful data to develop assessment tools or "sustainability metrics" to help us to evaluate a given technology or solution to a problem so that we can ascertain whether it is truly helping us or causing us to dig our hole deeper.
Nevertheless, I had to "confront the brutal fact" of this perception of myself, which ultimately required me to look inside rather than outside myself. Indeed, I saw no "out" to the mess we were in. All the best solutions were small bandaids on a mammoth festering wound. My pessimistic spirit was felt in spite of the uplifting solutions I shared through my teaching.
I feel especially fortunate in having the opportunity to work with Prof. Rustum Roy at the Materials Research Lab. At his request, I developed the STS297A: Integrative Medicine and Society course in 2001, which was co-taught with Rustum and my colleague, Dr. Catherine Augustine (College of Education). STS297A has now been re-named "The Science and Art of Healing", and its content has come a long way since our first years. We shared our concept and material with professors at other universities, and now similar courses are taught at Arizona State University and the University of Arizona.
What is most significant to share here is that, through learning how it is that we heal the human body, I gained insight into how we can heal our communities, our ecological environment, and, ultimately, our planet. I learned new avenues for energy production and transportation that I have not yet seen taught in any course. With my background in physics and materials science, I found myself exploding with innovative ideas - far too many for me to try or to do, so I teach about them, pass them on freely to students, hoping that others will build on this new foundation and help to shape a new reality. Indeed, at the core of my inner shift in spirit is a new understanding of Reality. The film, "What the *bleep* Do We Know", is the tip of the iceberg of what we presently know and are re-discovering today.
I think that emphasizing "re-discovery" is important, for all evidence points to this understanding as having been prevalent in ancient India and possibly other past civilizations prior to a global decline that took place some 10,000 years ago. The Yogis and spiritual "mystics" of almost every major religious persausion (Qigong Masters, Christian Saints, Sufi Mystics, Shamans, etc.) maintained and used a deep intuitive understanding of the true Nature of Reality, and understanding that we are slowly unveiling with our deepening grasp of quantum physics and its further evolutions.
We are at last on the cusp of demonstrating how the Nature of Reality supports and allows many seemingly "miraculous" events to occur. Through quantum physics, we begin to grasp our interconnectedness with one another and with all things - living and non-living - in the universe. And through quantum physics we begin to realize that ability that each of us has, an ability that we can nurture and use to evolve ourselves in mind and body so that we can, through consciousness and focused intention, influence our Reality in ways that will astound us. We are learning new ways of "communicating" with physical matter that will evolve the way we manufacture our materials and the way that we perceive ourselves.
This new perspective is exciting, allowing us to look at the world and ourselves in new ways: ways that help us evolve in many ways. As Qigong Master Jixing Li told us here at the MRL (via translator), we are entering a critical challenging time, and it is very important that our smartest, most capable people - professors, scientists, leaders - learn how to, in effect, "upgrade their software" (internal programming) to allow for "upgrades in their hardware" (capabilities of their physical body), to then allow for further "upgrading of their software"... and so on. We know that with discipline, practice, meditation, special breathing, certain body postures and focus, we can control all of our bodily functions to the point of living without food ("Bigu" state in Qigong, "living on prana" among Yogis, "living on God's spirit" in Christianity, "breatharian" in general), living without clothing in the cold (as demonstrated repeatably by the Tibetan Monks), even living without breath or heartbeat (condition of "samadhi" that is achieved by the yogis)!
While it may appear that you need to become a religious or spiritual extremist to achieve these extreme states of being, the point I am making is that these folks have merely tested and demonstrated several paths to achieving such states. If you follow those paths, you too can achieve these states. However, these states would not be possible in a universe whose laws and workings did not permit it. Therefore, as scientists, we must ask ourselves "what is the Nature of Reality that permits such phenomena to occur?" And when we begin to ask this with sincerity and an open mind, we find that quantum physics is largely commensurate with the observed phenomena - although I emphasize that it is not necessarily "complete".
The courses I teach are well-grounded in our present scientific understanding of health, alternative healing methods, healthier "green" design, and such, but I like to take them all a step further. The point of "higher education", after all, is to train young minds to "see beyond" our present understanding. Most of our education system teaches the status-quo or worse: old solutions and old technologies that continue to degrade our planet. While computers get faster and faster, and new technologies pop up every day, these advances rarely come from universities, but rather, from businesses and innovators who dare to "think outside of the box". To do that, they require perspective. If that perspective is going to lead us out of Ecological Doom, it must have realistic boundaries. While I believe we are limitless in capability, including our ability to avoid "doom", there is significant evidence (in terms of ecological degradation on a global scale) that unless we give ourselves realistic boundaries as we tap into our creative potential, we won't be around to learn how limitless we can be!
e-mail to: Tania M. Slawecki email@example.com