life – evolution – humanity

Christopher Alexander on living structure

“I realize that you probably think I’m nuts,” says architect Christopher Alexander near the end of his famous 1996 OOPSLA talk. A standing ovation and an audible “wow” indicate that, nuts or not, the audience of was with him. “What is the connection between: what I am doing in the field of architecture and what [...]

Stuart Kauffman on is/ought, knowing/acting

One cannot, David Hume wrote, logically deduce ought from is. Take this Humean example: The “is” that humans are changing the Earth’s climate cannot necessitate the “ought” of how to act. Simple (and devastating) as that? Consider this designerly reframing. Instead of the is/ought dichotomy, start with the knowing/acting duality. Here’s my version. We each [...]

Grappling with climate emotions

In recent media about climate change, a couple of voices and emotions linger with me. Here’s one, from a commenter on the June 3rd Diane Rehm show about new US policies on carbon dioxide emissions: “It’s frustrating that there is no answer on how much CO2 reduction is needed to halt global warming.” We don’t [...]

Heinz von Foerster on becoming human

By Heinz von Foerster — published as the preface to his Festschrift, which is hosted by Alexander Riegler’s Radical Constructivism site at the University of Vienna: I was always a little bit disturbed that English has no word for what in Latin would be “homo”, in French “l’homme”, or in German “Mensch”. The way English describes [...]

Dennis Martinez on kincentric relationships

Following my recent posts on relationships to nature, I’ve been looking again at Dennis Martinez’s writings on a “kincentric” perspective. Martinez is chair of the Indigenous Peoples’ Restoration Network, a working group of the Society for Ecologial Restoration International. From the book, Original Instructions: Indigenous Teachings for a Sustainable Future: In wilderness preservation, in land [...]

The strong case for biodiversity? They are us.

“For animals, as well as plants, there have never been individuals,” write Scott Gilbert, Jan Sapp and Alfred Tauber in The Quarterly Review of Biology — the 2012 paper, “A Symbiotic View of Life: We Have Never Been Individuals” (abstract, pdf): Our aims in this overview are to: outline the data demonstrating that animals are symbiotic [...]

Donna Haraway: a new-new transdisciplinary synthesis

I’m starting a new tradition: favorite talk of the year. Here’s mine for 2013 — Donna Haraway at Arizona State’s Institute for Humanities Research. What’s yours? By “favorite” I mean (based on the Sound Opinions guidelines) simply that: this talk (1) is a 2013 video or audio shared online, and (2) is the one that [...]

Paul Thagard: the self as a multilevel system

Numerous theorists have described complex systems — have described life — as comprised of levels of organization. Examples include Kenneth Boulding’s 1956 hierarchy of complexity (framework, clockwork, control system, cell, plant, animal, human, social organization, transcendental system), James Grier Miller’s 1978 living systems theory (cell, organ, organism, group, organization, community, society, supranational system), and Tim [...]

Climate, civilization and humanity

“The major problems in the world,” Gregory Bateson said, are in “the difference between how nature works and the way people think.” More and more, I’m seeing people that are grappling with the climate challenge pursue this kind of Batesonian inquiry. Roy Scranton on “Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene,” published a few days ago [...]

Herbert Simon: Design for understanding

“Everyone designs,” famously wrote Herbert Simon, recipient of the 1978 Nobel Memorial Prize in economics, who devised the terms “bounded rationality” and “satisficing,” and was born on this date in 1916. “Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.” From Simon’s The Sciences of the Artificial (Third Edition, [...]

Stuart Kauffman: Enablement and adaptation

“My deep hope,” writes biologist Stuart Kauffman “[is that] we can find our way Beyond Modernity, but do so as an evolutionary process, not a revolutionary process that disrupts our cultural and civilizational roots.” Key themes in Kauffman’s recent synthetic work include radical emergence, an end to the dominance of the physics worldview, and the [...]

Adaptive learning in animals

Biologist Frans de Waal in Science on new research on adaptive learning in animals (“Animal Conformists,” sub. req.): The early debate about animal culture focused on the mechanism of behavioral transmission. Do animals learn from each other in the same way as humans do? If they copy the behavior of others, does this reflect “true” [...]

To be is to feel

In Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative, educational reformer Ken Robinson quotes Robert Witkin’s twist on Descartes: “I feel therefore I am.” In conversation today with James Reed, he and I enjoyed another twist: “I feel therefore I may become.” Here’s the passage from Robinson: Descartes said, ‘I think therefore I am.’ As [...]

In conversation with Wes Jackson

The design of The Conversation podcast is brilliant. It’s framed around big questions: Are we in a time a crisis? How would you describe the challenges we face? What does a better future look like? Interviewee selections are eclectic, from Richard Saul Wurman to Frances Whitehead and Douglas Rushkoff. Plus, it’s a time capsule project, [...]

Prigogine: Rejecting the narrative of alienation

Nobel winner Ilya Prigogine, born on this date in 1917, from the 1987 paper, “Exploring Complexity”: Let us summarize our main findings. The universe has a history. This history includes the creation of complexity through mechanisms of bifurcation. These mechanisms act in far from equilibrium conditions as realised in the earth’s biosphere. They may also [...]

Stephen Talbott: Toward a biology worthy of life

Stephen Talbott of the Nature Institute, former senior editor at O’Reilly and author of The Future Does Not Compute, is organizing his NetFuture writings into a project called, “Toward a biology worthy of life”: After Crick and Watson unraveled the structure of DNA, molecular biologists were destined, so they thought, to understand organisms as physical [...]

Jonathan Zittrain: Remember your humanity

“My job as a law professor is to turn all the dials to 11,” said Jonathan Zittrain as he gleefully challenged participants at the Collective Intelligence 2012 conference. Quoting from the 1955 anti-nuclear weapon manifesto signed by Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein and others, he urged the developers of collective intelligence platforms to “respect the humanity [...]