Interspecies Vision Design Lab at the California Academy of Sciences’ NightLife series

This Thursday, November 2, 2017, from 6-10pm, I’m very pleased to be presenting my work on interspecies seeing at the California Academy of Sciences. Their NightLife series, where the CAS becomes a 21+ venue for cocktail-fueled science, exhibits cutting-edge hands-on research to the public. Mingling scientists and community, the evening also offers access to their planetarium and living rainforest biosphere exhibit.

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My exhibit will be on Interspecies Vision–a look at how other critters see the world, and how we can make sense of their sensory experience through the confines of our human-specific senses.

We’ll also be presenting the 4th yellow experiment: a yellow that only 2-10% of women can distinguish as different, based on the fact that instead of being trichromates like the rest of us (3 different types of color cones in their eyes), they actually have a fourth cone, making them tetrachromates capable of seeing a wider range of the visible color spectrum.

This after-hours museum-going made fun experience seeks to thrill with inquiry, curiousity, and the bizarre wonder of nature.

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Bioneers 2016

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This is the first time since I moved back to California last November that I’ve been able to engage a world-class group of scholars and change-makers gathered together with the sole purpose of harmonizing human systems with natural ones.

Last weekend at the 27th annual Bioneers Conference, I had the pleasure to converse with an array of people implementing the ideas of ecology and symbiotic biology so crucial to this current phase of our planetary development.

In moving out of linear, industrial factory-based models of the world and the self, the cyclical, spiral, redundant, diverse, resilient, and networked models of living organisms and ecosystems emerge as the tenable schemas best suited to life–human and otherwise.

Biological Pioneers are those who despite resistance from business-as-usual forge ahead to dream up, pilot, and implement technologies and policies that nudge our consciousness and practices towards a more equitable, sustainable, diverse, and fruitful organization.

In coordination with the Biomimicry Institute, the Conference brought researchers and activists from the frontlines of science and society to discuss inter-kingdom signaling, decoding of sea mammal communication via sonogram mapping and computer-aided filtering, growing the future of food with sea vegetables through zero-input seaweed farming, and developing methods to help all people reconnect with their indigenous roots and knowledge to bring forth sustainable and stewarding practices of land cultivation based on place, season, and community.

As this work has profound resonance with my own projects, I was delighted to share company with Paul Hawken, Janine Benyus, Joanna Macy, Starhawk,  Bill McKibben, James Nestor, Mark Plotkin, Bren Smith, and Vien Truong, not to mention the numerous activist artists and performers. There were many other talks and conversations I would have loved to engage in, were it not for the limitations of time.

As filmmaker René Scheltema identifies in Normal is Over, just as there are keystone species for an ecosystem, so too are their keystone individuals for movements; and in the movement towards regenerating harms from planetary anthropogenic disruptions, Bioneers is definitely a hub for bringing together the keystone individuals and groups working for an ecologically just and beautiful future.

One of the takeaway messages from Bioneers that warrants further reflection is the connection between the Beautiful, the True, and the Good–Socrates’ classic koan that repeatedly becomes the foundation for further dialogs about the metaphysical nature of the universe as well as the practical question of how ought we to live. That ecological aesthetics, a certain harmony between species, however carnivorous, dangerous, agonistic, and harsh that harmony might be, can be a guiding thread for understanding nature at a deeper level, remains with me. Bioaesthetics, or the beauty of life, the harmony of composition, is not something that permits judgment from anthropocentric–or, let’s be frank, culturally-specific and often manipulatively propagandized–aesthetic standards. Rather, bioaesthetics knits with complex systems theory as a pattern we can recognize to intuit ecological milieus inhabiting a state of resilience. The slack (buffer room), diversity, flexibility, and redundancy of complex resilient systems, proffers poigniant lessons for a planet in crisis (Gallopín 2002, 390). These patterns lead us organize and compost existing material into pathways that enable rather than undermine the development and evolution of complexity, synergy, and symbiosis.

 

 


Gallopín, G., 2002. Planning for Resiliance: Scenarions, Surprises, and Branch Points, in: Gunderson, L.H., Holling, C.S. (Eds.), Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems. Island Press.

 

Ensemblist Identities and the Ecological Self

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I’ll be presenting October 5, 2016, 6:30-8:30pm at the California Institute of Integral Studies on the book I’m working on, Interspecies Politics.

The presentation, “Ensemblist Identities and the Ecological Self” is part of my larger project of decentering autonomy into situational cues (à la Kwame Appiah’s work), our biological contingency within and without, and the vulnerability and porosity of human and nonhuman life, borrowing from 4E cognitive science, autopoeisis, biosemiotics, and feminist and postcolonial critiques to democratic theory.

This talk is open to the public, and is a part of CIIS’s Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness Forum.

 

 

Colony Collapse and the Global Swarm to Save the Bees

Pollinator activists around the world have taken different tactics to address the problem of massive bee die-offs. The pesticides of modern agriculture, especially neonicotinoids, have been discovered as a prime factor in the complex web of human activities leading to dwindling bee populations. Many large-scale agricultural operations, such as almond farmers wholly dependent on bees for pollination, also express concern for the future of their crops. The costs of ecosystem services and technological work-arounds have been the dominant discourses of major conventional agricultural firms faced with business complications due to the bees’ fate. Many environmentalists, however, see bees as more than merely dollar signs with wings: the destiny of the bee has been coded as intimately connected with the fate of humans, a clear indicator of everything wrong with industrial agriculture, as well as industrial civilization. Massive bee die-off has been likened to a “genocide” because of the fact that deliberate or not, a large percentage of the extant bee population has been poisoned through the global use of industrial pesticides. And up until recently, this sacrifice has been deemed “acceptable.”

Framing colony collapse “disorder” (whose “disorder” is this? Ours? Or the bees?) as not merely an instrumental matter of agricultural inconvenience, but of multispecies solidarity and biocultural justice indicates the symbolic value and emotional attachment the deaths these crucial creatures have evoked for environmental activists. This battle indeed has taken on spiritual dimensions. Activists have mobilized an array of responses, attacking the problem at every facet with remarkable alacrity and success. Groups have sued the US EPA for insufficient oversight in allowing neonicotinoids; the EU voted in 2013 for a two-year restriction of the chemicals. Entire regions have responded by effectively banning neonicotinoids. Other activist organizations have pressured companies like Home Depot and Lowes – the intermediaries between the chemical manufactures and the farmers applying these deadly pesticides to their crops – to stop selling the chemicals. Countless individuals worldwide have taken up bee keeping as resistance, and innumerable businesses now make claims to bee-sensitivity. Neonicotinoids may go the way of CFCs (the chemicals most successfully banned internationally to date).

The seeming success of activist-citizens to galvanize (social) media, as well as those (politically) complicit in colony collapse, nonetheless must be cross-examined. Ingolfur Blühdorn’s pronouncement that we live in an age of “post-ecological politics” when environmental concerns only play a role in political decision-making as cover for other motives and are not taken as ends unto themselves, is evident in tech firms developing robot bee drones and methods of artificial pollination in addition to chemical firms defending their bee-killing products. Is bee-saving only on the political agenda until a sufficient ersatz is found? On the other hand, bee supporters have effectively caught public sentiment and corporate sympathy alike to achieve actual political results. It remains to be seen, however, if this movement has achieved success through overriding industrial agricultural interests, or if rallying around the death of our pollinators has brought unity and meaning to an otherwise diffused environmental struggle.