A ‘prescription’ is that which is laid down as a rule, an order, a precept. A ‘description’, on the other hand, is a statement that indicates and notes observations. Common to both words is ‘script’, which denotes a law or plan. And ‘law’, of course, is a set of principles and rules that govern relationships and realities.
Current society’s conceptions regard prescriptions and descriptions as separate. Are they? Should they be? What is, actually, the difference between them? Are they the same?
Perhaps the problem lies in that fact that society promotes an overly-simplistic, and often bi-polarized, understanding of the world around us. ‘Prescription’ is what ought to be, while ‘description’ is what we see. However, under an understanding that human beings strive to progressively create social reality that increasingly reflects the principles that govern reality, description and prescription are the same thing.
Let us look at a few examples. A farmer has certain prescribed actions and labors at certain times of the year – say, plowing in February, planting in March, fertilizing in May, and harvesting in July. This systemic pattern of behavior occurs because the farmer has learned to progressively refine his description of the natural cycle of the crop. In fact, one might say that the role of a farmer is to continuously learn to describe the laws that govern the life of the plant and prescribe a system to align his work with this description so as to most effectively yield crop. A doctor, similarly, prescribes medicine in order to treat disease. One who has diabetes might be prescribed 15 units of insulin at night to help lower blood glucose. This prescription, however, is actually simply a description of how much more insulin the body needs in order to maintain normal blood glucose levels. Through a systematic study of this particular disease, and learning to describe the pathophysiology of that human being, the doctor can prescribe a medicine that aligns itself with this description. In the same way, an engineer prescribes a limit to the maximum weight that a bridge can hold, or prescribes an optimal flow of electricity to power an appliance. However, these prescriptions are simply descriptions of the relationships and laws of physics that govern the materials of the bridge with gravity, or the flow of electrons with the circuits of the device – prescriptions are the application of description.
Society is similar to the examples of botany, physiology, and physics examined above. Social advance is propelled through the generation and application of learning within two broad systems of knowledge and practice called science and religion. Each serve to describe the world around us and its dynamics. Religion articulates the values that are unfolding progressively through divine revelation, defines the goals of our social and spiritual evolutionary process, and increasingly clarify the spiritual forces and processes at work in the humanity’s life. Science, of course, describes the laws that govern physical reality and is the instrumentality through which the human mind explores the phenomenal world. The brief periods of human history in which these two systems operated in harmony have witnessed marvelous social development; for the prescriptions that people and social systems create for social reality come from some descriptive conception.
In the same way that no one would label 9.8 meters-per-second-squared as an arbitrary prescription of the earth’s gravitational pull on objects near its surface, similarly, the ordinance to pray a number of times a day is actually a description of the needs and dynamics of a human soul, according to an understanding of its nature. Every prescribed law has an implied description. What assumptions underlie this description? Are those who act according to these prescriptions conscious that they are operating under descriptive assumptions, and therefore tacitly condoning a certain conception of human nature? How well-aligned are the descriptions upon which these prescriptions are created with true science and true religion? As an example, society prescribes laws within a competitive economic system; these laws, therefore, describe and assume human nature as competitive. Yet, that is just one assumption; one can easily set aside this assumption for the more likely premise that cooperation is true human nature, and, based on this description, is the prescribed method of human interaction. What can be done when one’s assumption of human nature differs from the description upon which social prescriptions are based? Simple. Operationalize these assumptions and give those around you a new pattern of behavior to describe; articulate these assumptions and give those around you a reconceptualization of human nature; build unity with others and put into place prescriptions based upon descriptions aligned with the harmony of science and religion.
Civilization advances through our descriptions. The reality of man is his thought. Social reality, on a certain level, is subjective and built through conceptions. Conceptions are formed through discourse with fellows and through observations of behavior of those around. Observe cooperation and speak about it with others, it will become one’s conception of human nature. And conceptions of human nature become social reality. This is why, whether or not you’ve read this prayer before, we all pray “confer upon me thoughts which may change this world into a rose garden”…it describes a longing of the human soul.