related material: Are Psychedelic Drugs the Next Medical Breakthrough?, The Sixth Extinction, Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene, The Weight of the World, Racing Extinction, The Architect and The Painter, First Bite, When Should Scientists Kill?, You’re Worrying About the Wrong Bees
The readings for this week paired nicely with a Tim Ferris podcast I was listening to about the use of psychedelics in addiction treatment (and the general reemergence and gradual acceptance of the benefits of psychedelics in a therapeutic setting). The guests on the show are stepping outside of the typical constraints of traditional medicine and exploring what it means to be human in the context of our society, and how that becomes accessible through plant medicines that have been used for millennia. Similarly, the readings tackled the relationship between art and science and how, when paired together, they can release us from our traditional modes of thinking. The articles covered: The development of model-dependent realism in contrast to the objective reality of classical science (The Elusive Theory of Everything), the power of a social process of diffusion (i.e. people talking) over “turnkey tech solutions” in creating new norms, how Whitman’s “discovery” of the mind-body connection exemplifies how our society mistakes scientific theory for nature rather than tools for understanding our experiences (Proust Was a Neuroscientist) and the need for science in everyday story telling (Cosmic Queries: Art and Science). A few topics got me thinking about the anthropocene, the sixth extinction and this week’s readings while I was listening:
Nature – we are part of, rather than separate from nature; science does not explain nature; how do we reintroduce this concept to humanity? how do we stop being a weed to the rest of nature?
Existential crisis – how do we face a world coming to an end when our individual demise is too cumbersome for us to grasp? how does this become a visible problem when no solution is presented that encourages seamless change?
Mind-body connection – accessing through psychedelics what Whitman describes as the poem (if “we” are the poem that emerges from the unity of body and mind)
Feelings – the body loop (William James), how does art impact “the body loop” – can you evoke compassion and behavioral change with design? how can you integrate the body loop and the seven touches rule (Slow Ideas) to do both?
Pluralverse, perspective and M-theory – is there a perspective that exists, wherein the sixth extinction and the anthropocene are not problems but realities? Is there an M-theory for how to approach the anthropocene?
My first plan is to dose the water mains with ibogaine, sending every citizen on a soul searching trip from which they will emerge reconnected with their inner essence and conscious of their place within nature rather than separate from nature, and awoken to their responsibility to, at the very least, give a shit. As British hip-hop star The Streets once said, “Yo, they could settle wars with this // if only they will // imagine the world’s leaders on pills // And imagine the morning after.”
If that does not work, then how do we make the invisible problem of the sixth extinction visible? There is an over-saturation of nature documentaries that explore the mysterious lives of owls, bears, big cats, whales, dolphins, hedgehogs, ants, bees, insects, and kangaroos. All of these end with a note from the narrator about the serious threat of extinction that each of these creatures face should we continue on the path we are going. But what is that path? And why is that a problem? So often, we talk about extinction and forget to mention the implications of extinction. Biodiversity is a foreign concept to the masses, yet everyone wants to save the pandas, even though they depend on air conditioned enclosures and have literally forgotten how to procreate. Campaigns have been focused on individual animals and have assumed that the public will put blind faith in conservation efforts without knowing the purpose of saving plants and animals from extinction. The ramifications of a mass extinction get buried in our efforts to save (/watch clips of) the fuzziest animals, and we fail to consider what the purpose of saving these animals is.
In the documentary, Racing Extinction, the filmmaker showcases a project done by Elon Musk and Obscura Digital. They use large scale projections and CO2 filter lenses to broadcast enormous images of invisible pollution in the air and footage of animals throughout New York City. In doing so, they made the invisible visible to New Yorkers – a population largely disconnected from wildlife, used to walking in a soup of fossil-fuel emissions on a daily basis. The project was undeniably cool. And yes, it garnered a lot of attention. But did it do anything? They made visible something we were all pretty aware of to begin with – car emissions are gross, whales are beautiful. Perhaps the scale of this project was too big. Too impersonal. Perhaps for the Vatican edition, “Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home,” projected onto the Vatican, it struck a cord with the Catholic community who will listen to anything Pope-approved. Maybe I am a skeptic, but how does this provoke anyone to change? The footage in the documentary depicted large crowds approaching the projections and taking photos on their phones – how can we do more than get people likes on their Instagram account? While I respect the artists behind the project and am a fan of Joel Sartore’s Photo Ark project, with the readings from this week in mind, I have to wonder how we can achieve the rule of seven touches when it comes to promoting awareness of the sixth extinction? How do we connect the loss of biodiversity to a loss for humanity? How do we advocate for saving the planet and humanity when we seem to be the weed in need of Roundup? I’ll think more on this and look to the absurdists for inspiration.
In the meantime, I have to wonder from the viewpoint of an ignorant skeptic. What is the point of saving plants and animals? Is it too late? Why are there so many situations where we have created safety nets for animals that have no environment left to be released into (i.e. Panamanian golden frogs)? What is wrong with our approach to combating the sixth extinction? What can really be done if we are already in the midst of a collapse in biodiversity? Can it be stopped?
- If campaigns promoting the glory of nature cannot get the message across and we cannot get people to think with the same compassion and understand of a conservationist, then perhaps it is time to celebrate the sixth extinction. The purpose would be to celebrate the ridiculous and archaic notion of mans’ dominance of nature and highlight our general ambivalence to extinction:
2. Create skeletons of species:
a) of wildlife that live in New York (squirrels, rats, birds, dogs) and place them around the city for people to encounter in place of the live animals.
b) create miniature skeletons of species that have gone extinct or are endangered by the production of specific food products and place them in the shelves of the grocery store next to said products.
c) prototypes of full-size skeletons of recently extinct animals in inconvenient places around the city.
3. Attempt to recapture the spectacle of extinction from when Cuvier discovered the phenomenon and recreate some of his demonstrations. The point would be to remove extinction from our consciousness as a fact of life and reintroduce it as a marvel of our world that is only supposed to occur in one species every 700 years.
4. Bring Steve Irwin back to life.
5. Extinction booths – booths around cities where you can play with animals and learn about the implications of the sixth extinction and what you can do to help. (re: purina (?) kitten experiences)
6. Virtual reality biodiversity booth, experience your role as a human as a part of biodiversity rather than separate from nature (re: skin cancer campaign)
7. Demonstrate how we have reconstructed pangea
8. Sixth Extinction board game – the rules of survival are suspended in the anthropocene, each player is human and you see how our actions impact biodiversity in each step.
9. dissolving animals candies – candies in the shape of extinct animals dissolve to create bitter-sweet fizzy drinks
10. Map of extinction