week 4



assigned reading: Theory of Concept Mapping, Constructing Good Concept Maps, Design Science

related material: The Sixth ExtinctionLearning How to Die in the AnthropoceneWhen Should Scientists Kill?, Scientists Revive 30,000-Year-Old Giant Virus, Worry That Climate Change Will Eventually Do The Same, My Wish: Build the Encyclopedia of Life (E.O. Wilson Ted Talk), Encyclopedia of Life (EOL), Three ways to think about the sixth mass extinction, A Species Apart: Ideology, Science, and The End of Life, Extinction is a moral wrong but conservation is complicated, Lessons from the Land Present and Past Signs of Ecological Decay and the Overture to Earth’s Sixth Mass Extinction, Why Is It So Hard To Care About Large Groups Of Animals?, How Will the Sixth Extinction Affect Evolution of Species?, What Does a Parrot Know About PTSD?, A Theory of Earth’s mass extinction (Peter Ward Ted Talk), Can we stop the sixth mass extinction?, The Death of Bees Explained, Message from Bees, Bill Nye’s Answer to the Fermi Paradox

roundup madagascar
Roundup for humans. The weeds fight back.

This week I have struggling with the fact that we don’t know what the implications of the
sixth mass extinction will be, and how I feel as a member of a cancerous, weed-like, patriarchal, exploitative species. Since the beginning of the current mass extinction can be traced back to 100,000 years ago when humans first started to populate the planet, and the lessons to be learned regarding the effect of mass extinction are told on a geologic timescale, you can see why we have sheltered ourselves from thinking about such a topic. It’s too big. Yet despite the significance of our actions, the global biostratigraphical signature we will leave behind as humans will be as thick as a cigarette rolling paper and reveal a biostratigraphical signal of redistribution and loss of species on an enormous scale (Kolbert, 189). But something enormous on a rolling paper in geologic time is hard to wrap your head around. Perhaps we should feel…special? If there is any form of complex life to study our actions in millions and billions of years (unlikely – the planet will go back to the bacteria eventually – we exist in a sweet spot between two phases of bacterial dominance) we’ll be…interesting? fascinating? remembered? Our great philosophers, warriors, artists, biologist, wizards, bards, languages, cultures  – even Beyoncé – cannot be preserved by the geologic record. So perhaps we are just doing as humans do and flying our flag in the stratigraphical record to let the universe know we are here. From a geologic perspective, the question shifts beyond saving life on earth to how obnoxious will our signature be?

Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 7.01.07 AM.png
From Peter Ward’s Ted Talk: sweetspot of humanity
Scale of time: Close up of Age of Animals from Peter Ward’s Slide (not from Peter Ward). The Archean appears to be smaller than the Paleozoic, but the Archaean covers 2 billion years vs 200 million years.

I have filled my notebooks with notes, questions and sketches about how to frame this idea and began to feel overwhelmed by the topic at hand. How do you communicate the significance of mass extinction? What do you want people to feel about this? How can anyone grasp this from a visual experience created by a food studies graduate student with limited formal design skills? Here is a copy of the email I sent to Stefani when I realized how frozen I was on what direction to go.

Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 8.06.55 AM

Said cat: Lee “Scratch” Perry

Just in writing this email, I was able to identify/realize what I had been thinking about most in my scribblings: a Civilization-esque game where the player is in the drivers seat and causing mass extinction through their quest to conquer the world. The quote that I referenced in my email (“Man is a goal-seeking animal. His life only has meaning if he is reaching out and striving for his goals.”) is from Aristotle and was a catalyst for realizing the importance of engaging a viewer/individual/player with a goal: create and survive the anthropocene. If we are to understand the sixth extinction, than we must experience on a large scale. This is possible in a game mode, and is a form of engagement we are culturally comfortable with. So much of what we experience is through a screen, and therefore a viable option for creating the type of design Buckminster Fuller talks about in his plan for Comprehensive Anticipatory Design. In this game, his theory is updated to consider our ability to exist in two realms: physical reality and virtual reality. Perhaps we can learn from playing a game to integrate ideas of how to live in/combat the sixth extinction from virtual reality and integrate them into our physical reality.

There is much to develop here, and if you read the above email, you can see that I am aware of my conflated sense of responsibility in conveying this message with a single project. The most important next step is to decide on the actual concept of the game. Currently I have lots of ideas about the game, but have no committed to a single concept. This alone is daunting, given my lack of experience in game making and the scope of the project I envision. But if the worst I can do is try, I’m okay with that.

The good news? I have an excuse to play Civilization and call it research.

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Original Concept Map/Brainstorm for 6th Extinction Game


Sample of Continued Thoughts/Notes for Game Features

  • oceans turn purple
  • enemies of humans: rats (Zalasiewicz in Kolbert, 104 – 107), bacteria (Peter Ward)
  • alternative narratives: what if the asteroid from the KT-impact missed earth?
  • Introduction to game: places you in geological timescale (didactic teaching moment)
  • Destroying species with ingenuity (E.O. Wilson)
  • What do we lose from sixth extinction? resources: pharmaceuticals, wealth, security, spirituality, knowledge (E.O. Wilson)
  • HIPPO juggxrnaught of human existence: Habitat Destruction, Invasive Species, Pollution, Population Expansion, Over-harvesting (E.O. Wilson)
  • Overcome 6th extinction: Increase health of ecosystems (grazing patterns, non-toxic farming methods, local goods, renewable energy; decrease consumerist culture), rewinding (re: Fiona Raby’s Microkingdoms, Constant’s New Babylonia), de-extinction (Robert Coburn)
  • Proposed ideas for reversing 6th extinction: rewinding, de-extinction (Robert Cobern)
  • Necessity: strong environmental leadership (Robert Coburn), paradigm shift
  • War vs Anthropogenic Extinction
  • Analogy: coral reefs and humans
  • What do we gain from living in sixth extinction? H2S events (prevent complex life from existing), cool body temperature in case of accident and can bring them to critical care (i.e. Steve Irwin gets stung by sting ray, can be saved) (Peter Ward)
  • Gaia theory vs human life will continue to try to do itself in (Peter Ward)
  • Space exploration – move to different planet, move to space, flee the anthropocene
  • psychedelic experience options
  • sand walls to combat desertification (Ted Talk: Magnus Larsson)
  • How homo sapiens will have to adapt in the sixth extinction
  • moby dick card game

Project Ideas


Potential Experts

Eric Zimmerman (NYU)
John Sharp (Parsons)
Russ Mittermeier (Conservation International)
E.O. Wilson


week 4

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