Thursday, 28 February 2013

Scale in Buddhism

he truth is a big truth, very big. It is big like the sky. It is true. Fire burns—true. There is one truth, even on the relative level; it is just reflected in different ways. It is like the story of the ten blind men and the elephant. One blind man says the elephant is like a tree trunk, one says it is like a leaf, and so on, but really it is just one elephant. Likewise, truth is not relative truth, but it is one truth, which includes different discoveries.
--Trungpa Rinpoche

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Ohio Natural History Conference 2013

 Greg Smith offered opening remarks.

The 2013 Ohio Natural History Conference took place last Saturday and it was a blast! In case you missed it and want to read about what was discussed, check out my live tweeting of the event on Storify. I was joined in my live tweeting by Sam Evans and Rafael Maia and between the three of us, I think we covered the conference pretty well.

This year's theme was "Natural History in the 21st Century and Beyond," which encompassed the broad topic of how today's technology affects how we tackle the study of natural history. Presentations broached some far-ranging topics, from how museums are adapting, to how DNA barcoding is changing our concept of what a species actually is, to the use of smart phone apps for tracking invasive species. Each talk was apropos to what's happening in the field now and brought up good points to ponder, as well as success stories. I highly encourage you to check out the tweets from the conference to read some of the things the speakers said and to check out links to their projects--maybe you'll find something useful for your research or fun ways to get involved.

Scott Loarie's presentation.

This year's theme was a logical continuation from last year, when the theme was "Citizen Science." The development of the Internet and its data infrastructure, along with the rise of smart phones, has helped citizen science initiatives explode in recent years. This holds vast potential for popularizing natural history in a way that hasn't happened before, and apps/websites have already starting popping up to test the waters. Two of the biggest ones that utilize smart phone photos are Project Noah and iNaturalist. It just so happens that this year, the keynote speaker was the co-creator of iNaturalist, Scott Loarie. The Ohio Biological Survey worked with iNaturalist last year to start a project on the site to record Ohio's biota, the Ohio Bio Blitz.

Scott gave an enlightening presentation about iNaturalist and its accomplishments (including helping to identify some new species) and also covered what citizen science as a whole can accomplish and what it means for the future of natural history research. (Again, check out the tweets to read about specifics.) The main hurdle facing citizen science is being able to guarantee that data gleaned from such initiatives are valid, rigorous, and useful. Scott's presentation proved that this hurdle isn't insurmountable, and hinted at a bright future (and present) for citizen science data.

As always, there were interesting poster presentations prepared by scientists (and nervous university students) from all over Ohio, showcasing a sliver of the research being done throughout our great state. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to peruse many of them, but I was able to meet up with Sam and Rafael to interview Jim McCormac for his thoughts about the conference for a segment to be included in a future episode of the podcast Breaking Bio. We're planning to interview Scott Loarie as well--I'll post a link when the episode is finished.

All in all, it was a mighty fine conference. There seems to be two lines of thought on the debate about how current technology (especially smart phones and the Internet) is affecting natural history and public interest in natural history today. Essentially, all these screens will either destroy natural history or save it and propel it to new heights. There are valid points on each side, but I subscribe to the latter view. After being exposed to a healthy (or unhealthy, depending on your view) amount of technology in the form of video games, computers, and phones all my life, I've turned out fine and have a deep passion for natural history. 

The way I see it, without the technology I've been exposed to, I wouldn't enjoy natural history as much. I've learned how to identify bugs, better my photography skills, access resources hundreds of years old, and amass a huge portion of my natural history knowledge thanks to the Internet and the exposure into the field it's given me. I firmly believe that while technology can be a two-edged sword, it should be embraced by natural historians and used as a new connection to people, especially young scientists wanting to learn more.

I think Greg Smith summed it up best after Scott's keynote: 
"New technology is not meant to replace natural history techniques, but to enhance them."
And come on, for those of you who study bugs, who hasn't used Bug Guide to get an identification?

Nature writing as Postmodernism

Some of you have been getting a bit shirty about my post on that. Thanks for proving my point! To wit:

"Everyone knows that nature writers are self-reflexive" means:

(1) You have admitted my basic observation. (Yet Ecocriticism is predicated precisely on denying it, viz Jonathan Bate's struggle against Hartman, who made the same claim about Wordsworth.)
(2) You are claiming that I shouldn't mention that nature writers are reflexive.
(3) (2) has the force of an injunction to be silent.

"Of course everyone KNOWS that x" just is a perfect example of postmodern rhetoric, a symptom of cynical reason.

And I'd go on to say that Wordsworth is the only one in the bunch who truly gets the Romantic irony involved in being explicit about narration.

Yet Wordsworth like Abbey hide the fact that a female amanuensis is nearby to inspire and transcribe their wilderness narration...

And like I say, when I first pointed this stuff out in 2007, I was threatened with physical violence. At least y'all are past the anger phase of grief...

Just in Time for Dark Ecology

...this game where you play a virus. Very similar logic to the book's basic object of study!

Thanks to Ajay Kurian!

The Worst Signoff Ever Devised

“Best.” It means “Best wishes, but I can't be bothered to type six letters, so not really best wishes.” It is like ending your email with a splat of Vaseline or Marmite. Or a googly eyed face that turns out to be on a middle finger raised in insult.

As I learned at school and still practice, there is a sequence of signoffs. It goes:

Yours faithfully [which you keep if you are talking to Gandhi or other luminary who is truly cool]
Yours sincerely
With best wishes

“Best.” It's a sonic and social splat. No wonder we all hate one another.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Author Page

For some godawful reason I updated my author page at amazon.


Jayme Yeo just landed a job. I am totally not responsible for that but I did train her up a bit for the campus visit.

I Wonder

What's in it? Professor Wolfe gave it to me.

Good Guys with Guns

"Hey Salazar, you f--king fascist, you want to outlaw magazines? Come and f--king take them. Are you will to kill the f--king outlaw magazines, because you will f--king die."

A Colorado state rep heard this on his voicemail this week while preparing a law to restrict the amount of bullets you can have, mandatory background checks etc.

Which proves a point I keep making about Wayne La Pierre and his shouting potato performance: "The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

A bad guy with a gun is precisely a guy with a gun who thinks he's a good guy with a gun.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Rothko Death Anniversary

As someone who lives two blocks away from the Rothko Chapel I couldn't let today pass without acknowledging it's the anniversary of his death. Blimey if Jonathan Jones only figured out that Rothko's death gave his paintings gravity, he wasn't looking at the paintings.

You can see why the Catholic St. Thomas's University (round the corner too) opted not to use Rothko for their chapel (Philip Johnson instead). His paintings and the chapel space are the real thing.

And what is that?

Disturbingly intimate raw flesh, of course.

Anti-MOOC Death Ray

I just sent these links to a colleague of mine involved in the whole MOOC business (against it, in the colleague's case). Feel free to copy and paste. 

They are very well reasoned pieces by our Ian Bogost: 

Pith lines:
"We collectively "decided" not to fund education in America. Now we're living with the consequences. Lost on those who mount such defenses is the fact that running these online courses costs more rather than less money in the short term (Georgia Tech's Coursera faculty are taking on the task on top of their normal work), and doesn't produce any direct revenue for anyone, not even Coursera."

"Citing enormous enrollment numbers against very small numbers of instructors and instructional support personnel is a common way to justify the promise of MOOCs ("Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) with 100,000+ students" is the line in the Snowbird session description). Yet, we also know that these courses also exhibit very high attrition rates, possibly as high as 97%."

"If the lecture was such a bad format in the industrial age, why does it suddenly get celebrated once digitized and streamed into a web browser in the information age?"

"The fact that two of the major players in MOOCville are private, VC-funded silicon valley companies co-founded by Stanford professors who've quit their university jobs should offer plain and obvious evidence of what's really going on. Or, as I was recently quoted an article about MOOCs in Times Higher Education, 'The purpose of a for-profit that is venture-backed in Silicon Valley is to grow as quickly as possible and to exit providing a considerable financial benefit for its investors—and that goal may not be compatible with education.' "

"One night recently, it was raining hard as I drove to pick my son up from an evening class at the Atlanta Ballet. Like many cities, Atlanta's roads are in terrible condition after years of neglect. Lane divider paint is so worn as to become invisible in the wet darkness, potholes litter the pavement. But this time the danger was magnified: on large stretches of Interstates 75 and 85, two major freeways that intersect the city, the streetlights were completely extinguished.

"There are ways to fix such dangers. One option would involve allocating public funds to repair and revitalize the infrastructure in question. Of course, such services are difficult in an era of reduced tax revenues and massive public resistance to financial support of infrastructural projects in the first place. So another option might involve hiring private companies -- not to repair the broken roads and streetlamps, but to provide separate paved surfaces and illumination services to those who might choose to drive in conditions of wetness and/or darkness. After all, we're living in an age when traversable roads have become fiscally unviable. What choice do we have?

"Such is essentially the logic the state of California has adopted in its plan to offer online classes in the California State University System, a deal the state has struck with "massively open online course" (MOOC) provider Udacity."

Californian Wave Now Hitting DC

That's absolutely right Joe Palermo. I lived through that decade and it sucked. The UC system won't recover for another decade after that $1.6bn cut it sustained in 2009.

This is exacerbated by:

(1) Stupid fools who just want to win and think that they can get mileage from hating on a black president.

(2) A media "debate" about "bipartisanship." Compromise after compromise comes from the Democrats, while the GOP digs in its heels.

Spring Break

...a thing I haven't experienced since 2003. The quarter system gives you a long summer. And we structured our teaching so as to be able to have a quarter off each year. But that quarter always included graduate advising.

So say you had the fall off. You teach a ten week term starting in January. Then you grade a compulsory exam and final papers. This massively eats into your spring holiday. And you also have to prepare two more classes for the spring. This was a common scenario as most people wanted that space in the fall.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

A Comment from the British Government on Austerity

“Our policies have caused our credit downgrading. Therefore, we should continue with those policies.”

Nature Writing as Postmodernism

Here is an aspect of one part of Ecology without Nature:

Thoreau is about ponds and woods and fruits ... and Thoreau.

Leopold is about wolves and mountains and farms ... and Leopold.

Wordsworth is about fells and sheep and trees ... and Wordsworth.

Narrative is about events and people and plotting ... and narrators.

—The part after the ... is what nature writing is blind to. This blindness repeats the structure. Here I am writing about wolves and mountains. Here I am writing about a desert. Look, it's me, in a desert, writing. Did I tell you I was in a desert? I am in a desert.

It doesn't much matter if you upgrade Nature to Nature 2.0, all flowy and pantheist and squishy and embedded. The same structure happens. Because you have not yet seen the whole thing, the whole of your Nature writing thing.

When I was threatened (the only time I have been) with physical violence, for a stance I took (this stance), it was by a writer for an ecocriticism journal, who gave out his email address and said “Let's do it.” (I would have been cool if the paragraph had only been “Let's pour rancid animal fat over Morton's head at a conference.” And so would Oxford UP, just about, in whose contracts you have to sign that you will not incite violence. That was the press in charge of the journal.)

In defense of the paragraph, the editor said “But it's just metaphorical.”

Isn't that the quintessence of postmodern violence. “I'm not a racist, I'm just joking. Can't you take a joke?”

Nature writing is the ultimate postmodern performance art.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Bron Taylor: Dark Green Religion Liveblog 2

Q: isn’t this just like previous religions?
Weber: disenchantment of nature within religions
Enchantment of nature within science
science erodes long standing religious metaphysics
and it is easier or harder to incorporate it 
transcendent divine beings have a hard time vs Buddhism (not theistic)

Zammito: how does it evolve? 
organizational level?
Taylor: Where are the institutional expressions?
university as global environmental milieu
the sublime; how is it expressed today?
that kind of affective connection has all sorts of institutional expressions
some evidence that the world religions are coming around to this

Q: evolutionary time and apocalypticism
But part of what is interesting about so many world religions is that they are very developed views of eternity or the immortal or the completely permanent
what are the views of eternity native in this movement?

A: Ishmael by Quinn. He argues that the world’s religions are involved in some way in divine rescue from this world
Asia: rescuing people from cycles of suffering and of course the West
negative view of this world
overt pagans or overt animists: this is the one
well what about suffering and death? Lion King. Simba’s question on suffering to his father. “That’s the circle of life.” (Me: it is the favorite movie of the psychopath in Jekyll!)

Q: What is relationship of this feeling to environmental organizations?
Organizations exploit this feeling; try to promote it
A: a lot of environmentalists see it as perilous and divisive
but environmental scientists recognize how important it is
I was just asked to talk at WWF. They got interested in religion a generation ago. Meeting at Assisi. Religion as barrier. More secular people have now realized that we know enough about the science to be concerned, and we know enough tech to respond. But what’s with the human animal? 

Q: optimistic reading of the role of affect. It’s hard not to think that this is all very corporate. These are institutions that are experts in cashing in on affect. 
A: as a religion scholar we should be alert to how dangerous religion can be. I live on irony; it helps to get me through. Of course Disney is very corrupt and so on, wiped out an ecosystem in central Florida and so on. We are individually and collectively complicated. I was shamed when I suggested going to Disney at a recent meeting. But I went anyway. 

Q: Class not necessarily in the Marxist sense. Does this landscape of sacredness have a special meaning? 
A: I don’t think it’s just the property of the intelligensia. Patterns of beauty may be rooted in biology, in pristine biological systems that we flourish in. Biophilia. 
(Earlier Taylor had talked to me about the role of survival in assuming that something is alive.)
Our suspicion of grand narratives and emphasis on difference >> we forgot what unites us with the rest of the living world

Q: I have a complementary question. Have you come across a sort of negative ecological sense? Not based on empathy? But rather through hurricanes and so on, a religious sensibility of mother nature as pissed off? 
A: Blaming some kind of divine force is as old as religion. That doesn’t work with promoting reverence towards nature. It puts us in a place of opposition to the natural world. 
What about the subterranean evil animistic spirits? New forms of animism are developing. 

Q: animism is viewed as the system that orchestrated the slave trade. In African Studies we have a hard time with this term. 
A: there was a fashion that may have been short lived to not use the term (Tyler). There is a new animism. It is a serviceable term but people should know the history. I was at the People’s Earth Summit, focus of anti-globalization resistance. I got a different view of African spirituality there. 

Bron Taylor: Dark Green Religion Liveblog 1

Jeff Kripal introduces. 
“dark” = deep or profound and something ethically ambiguous and even ethically problematic
upgraded mysterium, sacred; alluring and terrifying; awesome and potentially deadly

1859 Darwin knew the disruptions to conventional faith that his work would have
he had left behind his belief in god
not wanting to leave readers with a loss of meaning
“It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank...” section at the end of the book
if you had been around at the axial age would you have recognized what would become the dominant religion
I think this is emerging today again--I call it Dark Green Religion
1985: Val Plumwood canoeing; crocodile rammed her canoe
she understood she was prey; broke past her sense of superiority 
the crocodile taught the philosopher a lesson
William C. Rogers, ELF, asphixiated himself << setting resort building in Vail on fire in 1998
learned he had been betrayed; charged for terrorism, facing life in prison
“I chose to fight on the side of the bears...I am just the most recent casualty in that war...but tonight I’m going to jailbreak: I’m returning home to the Earth”
Sanyo: “Think Gaia” campaign 
urge to symbiotic evolution and living with Gaia etc
Lanting, Eye to Eye (on animal eyes)
Mexico City, National Museum of Anthropology: first three panels on Earth, evolution, then assertion that we are part of the history of the world”
Australopithecus statue; earlier religions reinforced destructive misperception of humans as different
IONESCO Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve plan 2009
viewing stations set up in a ritual manner
Mashatu Game Reserve: Deep ecology viewing station
spiritual aura of surfing; Point Break movie (James Cameron, co-written)
surfing as a nature religion; Surfing Magazine “Nature = God” (Bron Taylor wrote an essay on it)
Avatar; struggle of Aboriginal peoples
on Pandora there are beautiful sacred forests, old growth trees, animistic spirits (bioluminescent sprites)
Cameron: cinema as technology of the sacred
Home Tree as the Axis Mundi (Ewa deity); Sigourney Weaver absorbed into it
science as wonder and love of the empirical world
experiencing nature oneself, first hand
indigenous people responded enthusiastically contra left, right and postmodern critics
and conflicts with western scientific understandings
can we deduce dark green religion from these examples?

religion: a difficult word
earliest roots: bound, tied, or connected to whatever one considers ultimate
logic square: spiritual animism / naturalistic animism // Gaian spirituality / Gaian Naturalism
Darwin: “we may all be netted together”
Spinoza, process philosophy
Aldo Leopold, “Thinking Like a Mountain”
epiphany in 1913 shooting a female wolf
sees “the fierce green fire die in her eyes”
Leopold and Plumwood both naturalistic animists

Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s Tree of Life
clearly this is the official religion of our day!
Oceans, Disney Nature documentary

this is about kitsch and products!
“we are teaching the intrinsic value of nature”

Sierra Club poster: “This is not about getting back to nature. It is about understanding we’ve never left.”
“You either feel it or you don’t” (hmm)

UN World Summit on Sustainable Development piece
redemptive possibility; children call world leaders to act aggressively
Kenyan Greenbelt Movement; Nanga Tiango attorney, mixture of indigenous and Christian traditions
he felt free to mix these because anthropologists began to say “you shouldn’t just accept all this colonial thought”
civil earth religion >> affective basis for aversion or mitigation of global catastrophe now unfolding

John Boswell, Symphony of Science, “We’re All Connected”
Sagan on patterns: what is beautiful is not what we are made of but how it’s put together

“An Unbroken Thread” with Sagan, Attenborough and Goodall

Is There Life on Stage Featuring Morton Things

In Zagreb, recently and soon.

Depression: The Reason Affect

I haven't read this entirely yet. Thanks Cliff! It looks most good.

I Have Discovered the Portal to the Future

Goth Aesthetics

...and here is a brief diagram of how Goth relates to Kant, black metal and constructivist art.

Goth Explained

In my Anthropocene Aesthetics class. I wrote this on the board and liked it. It's about "Pictures of You" (Cure) and Charlotte Smith, who invented Goth.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

What's out there? Compiling a biotic index.

Do you know the insect species that inhabit your backyard? What about a local park or nature preserve? How about your county? These are important questions to think about. If no one knows the animal diversity in their area, then why would they stop to think about protecting that diversity?  Some of the most interesting animals are very specialized and need certain habitats to thrive; without those habitats, they'll disappear. I think we can all agree that nature is important, and having a knowledge of your local species (of insects, mammals, birds, plants, fungi...) is empowering. You can see ecological connections and gain a new-found respect for your fellow organisms, just from being able to identify species and know what's around you.

 A Luna Moth (Actias luna) soon after emerging from the ground. Its wings aren't yet ready to fly--you can see how small they are.

With this topic in mind, I've been working for the past few months on gathering together pictures and information about arthropod species that occur at the Barbara A. Beiser Field Station (BBFS) near Marietta, Ohio. As I've written about before (here and here and in an article for the Marietta Natural History Society newsletter here [PDF]), I conducted a lot of my undergraduate research at the BBFS and found many species. I never quite had the time to identify and write down all the species I found while I was an undergraduate, so I put it off for a while.

Until now.

An Ichneumon wasp, Megarhyssa macrurus, drilling into a dead tree to parasitize a wasp larva.

After months of identification, I've completed the project! (I'm looking for a good way to put this list online.) This is the first biotic index (list) of species from the BBFS, and focuses only on arthropods (it will be expanded to plants and other groups in the future). All in all, I identified 181 species including insects, arachnids, and millipedes/centipedes. This is nowhere near a complete list, but it's a start. I only included arthropods whose identifications I was sure about, so I left out a few species I was unsure of, falling just short of my 200 species goal. But that's okay--the list isn't useful unless it's accurate, after all!

A pair of Euryurus leachii millipedes under UV light. Usually found in decaying logs, these millipedes fluoresce a pretty bluish-green color.

I gained a lot of experience with local insects while working on this project and feel pretty confident about being able to identify many of the insects in Washington County. I now have a much greater knowledge base about insect taxonomy and what a "species" really means. When it comes down to it, a species is someone's hypothesis, and sometimes the hypothesis isn't accepted by everyone. It can be based on tiny characteristics that are a real pain to hash out, especially when you're trying to identify an insect in a group that's not well-studied!

What did I learn after putting together this list? Most importantly, I learned that I still enjoy taxonomy after hours and hours of (sometimes frustrating) work. I also learned that we have some astounding arthropods at the BBFS, and in the county. Throughout this post I've included pictures of arthropods I found there that I never knew about before, with life histories that are seriously interesting and unfortunately too long to include in this post. There's a diversity of life in southeast Ohio I never would have known about before undertaking the research I've done and I'm lucky to have had that opportunity. It's taught me that you don't have to go to the rainforest to find beautiful and interesting animals; sometimes the forests of southeast Ohio can beat out the rainforest!

A male Marbled Orbweaver, Araneus marmoreus. This spider has many color forms, of which the black and yellow form is especially striking.

I hope to use my experience to encourage others to take a second look at the critters in the area and to truly take pride in them. Why not say "These things are astounding!" and put these animals on a pedestal? Arthropods like the Luna Moth, the Ichneumon Wasp, our UV-fluorescent millipedes, the Locust Borers, the Wheel Bugs: these "bugs" are crazy awesome and should be celebrated!

The Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar, Papilio troilus. This unique caterpillar changes throughout its life stages--young caterpillars look like bird poop, while older ones (like this one) mimic snakes!

In order to accomplish this goal, I'm working on completing another biotic index--this time for Washington County, with some input from surrounding counties. I want to adapt this larger biotic index into a field guide to arthropods in the area, with pictures and information about each species. It will introduce people to these bugs and save them some time in trying to identify them. Essentially, I want everyone to have the same pride in our many-legged fauna as I do.

Narceus americanus, the gentle giant. This is the largest millipede in our area and eats dead leaves. Interestingly, it sometimes scales trees.

It doesn't help anyone appreciate our arthropods if I keep my knowledge locked up in my head, so I need to spread it! I have no idea about how long this project will take, nor when it will be done, but it hopefully won't take more than a few years max. If you can help out in any way, please contact me!

Cathy from Wuthering Heights Resurrected, Starts Band is called Curve.

Concerning the Concept of Affect

Let Me Show You

Why are the Welsh so good at (dance) music?

Because they are on fire.

Bron Taylor at Rice

Attendance is compulsory:

Jeff Kripal at TEDx

My friend Jeff talking on things spiritual.

Marty Kaplan on Global Warming

Nice one. Deft Rumi deployment.

From Cynicism to Allergy Medicine

What is the post-modernity (as opposed to postmodern) philosophical style? The top way of being right since the late eighteenth century has been cynicism. I am smarter than you because I can see through you better than you can see through me.

After this, if there is an after, philosophy in post-modernity (I would say an ecological era) must be a kind of Benadryl: allowing me to tolerate greater levels of contradiction and ambiguity.

This is one of the merits of Derrida, notwithstanding the authoritarian argument that a divine authority is impossible (the “radical atheism” strain).


Cor Blimey Guvnor

Just had a long chat with one of the many astonishingly intelligent Rice undergraduates. He had questions about Realist Magic (already!): awesome, unbelievably good questions. Viz:

1)Would it be fair to say that the aesthetic nature of withdrawn objects is related to Derrida's notion of différance?

 2)When you describe a poem as located in the future, do you mean the written-poem-object or the performed-poem-object? (perhaps both?) For me it seems as if the word poem always waits (in the future) for you -the reader, so that when you arrive, you realize that you are waiting also -for something to arrive. Sometimes when a poem is read (by myself or another), it seems as if an impossible answer was given -materialized in the breath and vapor of the speaker, but immediately lost as soon as one awakes from the silence. All that remains is a memory of a memory of presence. I am hesitant to flatten these into equivalent aesthetics. Perhaps I am misunderstanding what you mean. I have been having difficulty with the temporality.

3)Do you believe that strategies are necessary for aesthetic sensitivity? I assume the development of an OOO is in some way a systemic response to rational-reductive-materialist-positivism. I don't know: I suppose the I just want to say that I'm not very happy with our current situation, materially and theoretically. Do systems matter? Is there a sense in desiring a rational system which encourages/allows the power and dynamism of the aesthetic realm? Or do you believe that these things are unfazed by scientism/reduction?

 One thing that comes to mind is an essay written by Novalis, "Christendom or Europe" in which he argues for a certain system which best allows the flourishing of beauty. Do you believe this is a sentiment of merit? Does Human participation matter? I also think of the different manifestations of infinity in William Blake's poetry. For there is an infinitude in each particular grain of sand, but the reductive abstract of infinity is a dead object which contains nothing in its generality. Is it not an imperative to produce systems which allow -if not encourage the former?

Monday, 18 February 2013

Macro Quantum Effects, Again Realist Magic I make quite a big deal out of Aaron O'Connell's discovery of coherence in a visible object. Now behold, Heisenbergian uncertainty in a visible object.

Remember folks--according to the Standard Model (correlationism) this shouldn't be happening.

Violence against Children

A disturbing BBC documentary shows that child murder (usually by very close relatives) is three times higher in the USA than in other countries such as Britain, Japan, Germany, France.

Why? Two possible explanations stand out:

--massive wealth discrepancies.
--culture of violence fomented by "foreign policy"

It was also notable that Britain had the lowest rate of the sampled countries. National Health? You get free nurse visits after a baby is born. Everyone gets them. At risk families can be spotted.

This is close to my heart because

--wife is CPA for the Children's Assessment Center which works with abused children (instead of having them sent to the police)
--mum used to be consultant for at risk kids' day care centers in the UK. Prevalence in UK and USA of social workers not seeing obvious signs.

Another Full Day

I like my job so much I put in another in a series of very full days. I'm being trained up as director of undergraduate studies. Last time I did this the job I was at had 1200 English majors. Rice has 77.

Nevertheless, my line so far has been--"I'm the new director of undergraduate studies. Run for your life."

Handy Hint 7

Your brain is not reality.

"Viruses are Sort of Tiny Nanomachines"

From the BBC. You can see them with x-rays, because their wavelength is so tiny.

On the Decks Today

An essay for Gerry Canavan and Kim Stanley Robinson, on Avatar. Gerry made some very helpful comments, which I'm incorporating. I like making bespoke things for people according to their specs.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

The Secret Life of Plants at Princeton

With Jane Bennett and a host of others!

The Secret Life of Plants ______________________________________________________________________________
Natania and Antonia:
We propose a joint presentation that explores the gradual passage of vegetal ontology
out of the domain of metaphysics and into that of imaginative fiction, both early modern (in literature) and modern (in film). We will investigate the animated plant—including such figures as the sentimental cabbage, the humanoid vegetable, and the sexy flower—as a character that comes to bear the weight of speculations on the position of being (human beings included) within a spatio-temporal framework subject to infinite, inhuman expansion. In other words, we will explore vegetal encounters, in fiction, as a way of thinking through the problems of interplanetary travel, on the one hand, and human extinction on the other. Our source texts will include one of the earliest of European science fiction narratives celebrating the plant as interlocutor, Cyrano de Bergerac’s mid-seventeenth-century _Les États et Empires de la Lune_ and _Les États et Empires du Soleil_, but will extend into the twentieth century (and beyond) with an examination of the early modern “roots” of plant horror films (including the Cold War version of The Thing). In boldly asserting the likeness between plants and humans—or at least the possibility of their having a relationship to one another—our work is not post- but prehumanist in emphasis: the plant is there at the origins of ontology, but also at the beginnings of fiction as a way of thinking through, about, and with that which is not human.

On Not Knowing About Plants: Poetry and its Dis/Contents

For it is vain and foolish to talk of knowing plants, since in my ignorance I should be at the bottom of any class of kindergarten naturalists, since I often do not know the word for the plant at hand, or I might have access to a bouquet of words but still have no mental image, no objective correlative, of the plant, and even after years of scrutiny I cannot distinguish a stalk of mustard from goldenrod, and it is only the generosity of capricious gods which has prevented me from suffering repeated cases of poison ivy.
But, you may well say, your entire lifeworld depends upon your interactions, overt and covert, with plants: you eat them, you wear them, you breathe them, you touch them, arrange them, pluck them, smell them, ingest them! You are indeed a plant co-dependent!
Pressed thus, I might have to think of my—of our—of the—plant unconscious. A phenomenon not so complex perhaps as Jameson’s Political Unconscious but not unrelated. Plants have always been “good to think with” and good to think through; I would further suggest that plants have been thinking poetry for a long while—and continue to. My talk will touch down on a few questions of plant poetics and conceptualization-through-plants: my specimens will likely
include English and Scottish ballads, Wordsworth, Shelley, H. D., Jamaica Kincaid, and some of my own poems. My presentation will be, then, a hybrid essay and reading, offered in the spirit of experimental testimony.

Vegetable Locomotion and Plant Communications: Secret Life of Plants initial questions

In the twenty minutes, I'd like to:
Think about the ways plants communicate plants communicate to other plants, to insects, and to animals, for various purposes, in light of Whitehead's theory of prehension.
Consider plants' attractive smells in light of Elizabeth Grosz's stimulating argument that sexual selection, rather than natural selection, is the origin of art.
Try to cultivate our plantlike qualities by perceiving some plant odors, first without identifying them. For this I will distribute olfactory items to the participants.
Time permitting, present some pictures from the history of traveling plants in art, beginning with the acanthus-vine scroll and moving on to Islamic variations that involve the plant in artificial life.

(And her previous abstract: Vegetable Locomotion: a Deleuzian Ethics/Aesthetics of Traveling Plants. Might humans learn from our evolutionary heritage by observing the travels of plants? I will ask this in light of the long history of traveling plants in art. Muybridge analyzed animal locomotion, but vegetable locomotion remains relatively little studied, as plants are commonly considered not to locomote. This fixity promotes in plants a discerning receptivity and a wily opportunism, both of which are themes in Bergson that inspired some of Deleuze’s work. Yet the movement of plants is also a significant theme on the underside of Deleuze and Guattari’s writings: not only the rhizome but also the foliated scroll analyzed by Riegl. “It’s just a weed,” Deleuze remarked of the acanthus; but in art and architecture the vinelike form becomes a transformative force as it twines from culture to culture. Further, we humans understand other creatures and plants because we have more in common with them than we differ from them; Deleuze and Guattari take up this argument from Bergson in Creative Evolution. But usually humans see, and make, plants in terms of our immediate needs. Much of plant migration is the reactive result of human agriculture, climate change, and genetic engineering. How might we expose ourselves to plant ways openly and creatively? I will turn to contemporary art in which plants are a living presence, as in the dancing trees and unpredictable mold farms of Gordon Matta-Clark, for examples of inspiring vegetable locomotion.)
_________ Jane:
Here are some preliminary thoughts about my contribution to our May conversations. Maybe begin with a prompt by Thoreau, who said in Walden that he was "determined to know beans":
What's contained in that complex claim, and in beans/pods/weeds/seeds themselves? More than Thoreau, I'm interested in plant life and plant-human assemblages in urban settings (see the two photos attached) and in thinking about other ways (besides "urban ruins") to think about such places (they are teeming with life). I will probably also bring Whitman into the conversation, in particular these lines from "Song of Myself" (which were influenced, I think, by Darwinism):
I find I incorporate gneiss, coal, long-threaded moss, fruits, grains, esculent roots, And am stucco'd with quadrupeds and birds all over,
And have distanced what is behind me for good reasons,
But call any thing back again when I desire it.

I also would like to engage some very specific Baltimore City plants (maybe bringing in a few samples?), by asking not what they are but what they can do (to us, with us, beside us, in us). __________
Experiments and investigations into critical pedagogy, student led-education, Permaculture, collaboration, mushrooms and group process.
Taking a variety of pedagogical ideas and themes from Anarchism, gardening, the writings of bel hooks, Augusto Boal, Paolo Freire and the School of Walls and Space in Copenhagen, Denmark. I will try to explain how a student-led learning process and the space in which it occurs can be developed and fermented through the collaborative and mutual exchange between fungi, plants, worms and students.
__________ Tim:
Schopenhauer argues that plants are manifestations of will—they just grow. In this sense, plants are just like algorithms, since algorithms don't know anything about number, they just execute computations. Thus algorithmic models of plants work just like plants, hence the success of the beautiful book The Algorithmic Beauty of Plants. A flower is a plot of an algorithm.
In this sense, a trope is an algorithm—a twist of language that emerges as meaning, by simply following a recipe (such as “jam two nouns together with the verb to be between them”). A trope is a flower of rhetoric, which is imagined as vegetative (anthos, hence anthology). Thus Milton's Satan curls around like a snake trying to turn into a vine.
That's what is disturbing about rhetoric and algorithms and plants and Satan—they exhibit a zero degree of intelligence, or not...we can't know in advance. Plants disturb us with what Lacan says “constitutes pretense”: “in the end, you don't know whether it's pretense or not.” They might be lying, which in a sense means that they are lying.
Just as an algorithm could pass a Turing Test—I could discern thinking and personhood in this “blind” execution—so plants are posing, and passing Turing Tests all the time. In looking at a flower, you are doing the flower's job. Bees complete the Test all the time, by following the flower's nectar lines. Or, as Schopenhauer puts it, plants want to be known, because they can't quite know themselves.
Indeed, a plant in this sense is the zero degree of personhood—as Nietzsche said, people are halfway between plants and ghosts. This zero degree is a weird, twisted loop that says something like “This is not just a plant.” Consider the zero degree of the Cartesian cogito: the paranoia that I might simply be a puppet of some demonic external force. Isn't this just the creeping sensation that I might just be a vegetable?
In this sense, T.S. Eliot's line about flowers is perfect, from the plant's own point of view: “The roses / Had the look of flowers that are looked at.” 

What a Nice Virus

The house remix of Robin Thicke's “My Life.” Its writer sent it to me just now. The bass line reminds me a little bit of Derrick May.

There are many interesting things about this tune. For starters, it's Robin Thicke, who is so channeling Michael Jackson. If you think about how the African American singing voice is the dominant mode, and that forms are like viruses, you can see that Thicke somehow was fantastically susceptible to it. I mean I grew up with Jay K from Jamiroquai (my brother was nearly his drummer, sad), who was channeling somewhat. But this is just extraordinary.

When I first heard the tune on the credits to Despicable Me, I assumed that it was indeed from the later 70s, so deft was the simulation. But "simulation" is an old postmodern concept for what this is. No. It's totally real: it's a strand of code and it's been reproduced.

And who can't like a song about meeting one's perfect mate on the dancefloor (I did), superimposed on imagery of the lovable villain falling for the little orphan girls? It is a beautiful computation of an impossible formula.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Whatever, Say Fish

...on the other hand, chimps aside...

Dark Chemistry Causality

Craig Hickman with another great post, this time on the thing I just published.

Chimps on Prozac

They realize that they are chimps. Not lab animals.

Rant for Rolf

Rolf Nowotny has an art show for which he asked me to write a piece. It's in NYC tba. It is called "Ecology, Dark, Weird."

Here is the opener:

Like a noir detective, humans have discovered that they are the culprits who ended the world. The philosophy that thinks this thought to the fullest extent possible is dark ecology. The darkness is not to do with ignorance, but precisely with its opposite: knowledge. Humans now know enough to encounter a reality stuffed full of entities that outscale them in every sense. Moreover, some of these entities are created by humans, such as Plutonium 239, whose half life is 24.1 thousand years, and global warming, whose amortization rate is 100 000 years. At that time scale, ethical and political theories based on self interest, however broadly defined—to include, for instance, the entirety of human beings on the planet and all their nonhuman agents, enemies and friends—begin to malfunction in a drastic way. For instance, it is better in the long run to allow all these beings to live in a state of bare life, as close as possible to death, than it is to give even slightly less of them a few of them total bliss for as long as they want. The same dilemma applies on the spatial scale at which global warming exists—that is, the whole biosphere. Thinking on a biospheric scale results in drastic problems for state based, and of course for individual based, political and ethical theories.

Biosynthesis: Same as It Ever Was

Just wrote this for Volume. Here is the basic argument:
This essay is a caution against the notion that we are indeed about to enter a “brave new world”—a thought that has defined the human as such for about five hundred years. The concept of “next nature” precisely (though unconsciously) states the paradox: what is being thought here is simply a “new and improved” version of the same old thing, a repetition. How well has that been working out for the last two hundred years, namely the inception of the Anthropocene? The Anthropocene, in case we need reminding, is the radical intersection of human and geological time that began with the inception of the steam engine in the later eighteenth century. Since then, humans have deposited a layer of carbon in Earth's crust that is now found in deep lakes and within Arctic ice. The term Anthropocene was recently ratified by an international consortium of geologists.

Before I suture gizmos to my flesh, I think a re-examination of what being human—qua this actual entity, called homo sapiens—is, is in order. Especially in light of the fact that knowledge now operates on a 100 000 year time scale (the amortization rate of global warming), well beyond the efficacy of a fluorescent tree. On the other hand, the knee-jerk reaction against the biosynthetic is just as problematic, though one can surely understand the impulse. It is the impulse of the Luddite, who quite realistically decides that the best first response to a machine that can take over her livelihood is to attempt to destroy it. The reaction is problematic, because I do not want to go down the rabbit hole we have already gone down—the rabbit hole called modernity, which is marked by industry on the one hand, and philosophies that swim in the wake of Hume and Kant on the other. This essay will all too briefly work out a map for a possibility space that includes more than simply accepting or bluntly denying biosynthesis, which just is the culmination of a certain trajectory of modernity.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Creating Enlightened Society (One Huge Tune at a Time)

We are trying to create a Buddhist world, an enlightened society, and one of the principal ways of doing that is for each one of us to become sane. Once you have understood, studied, and practiced, you might actually have to do something. Together we might need to wake up the whole world from its sleep and create an enlightened society in accordance with Great Eastern Sun vision. So we should appreciate one another. We should appreciate that we are going to create a wakeful world.
--Trungpa Rinpoche

Realist Magic Online

(Click to view)

Realist Magic Imminent

Probably later today.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013


Someone is wondering how anything can occur in an OOO universe. Really, the question should be the other way around: how come we have allowed models forever that find it incredibly difficult to explain why and how anything happens at all?

Realist Magic is about that. See the cover? See the cover?!

Fun Fun Fun

For my smalls, in particular the female small, Claire. 2.14.13.

Big Modernity Kaleidoscopes

By David Thomas Smith.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Coming Up! 2013 Ohio Natural History Conference

It's now February, and that means it's almost time for the Ohio Natural History Conference! I've attended the conference since 2009 (with the exception of 2011) and it's always an event I look forward to every year. Last year in particular was a great year, as the theme for the conference was citizen science. There were many great speakers talking about their projects, and I presented two posters. I wrote about my experience in a post last year and also live-tweeted all the talks (except for a few that I missed.)

The conference is a wonderful opportunity for anyone interested in natural history in Ohio to learn about research going on in the state and is great for networking. On top of that, there are booths set up where you can get great deals on books and other things. I won a silent auction last year and picked up a great book on weeds for $6!

You can register for the conference here for an early-bird rate of just $20 if you register by February 10. After that, registration increases by $5. It's a stellar deal no matter when you register. This year's theme is "Natural History in the 21st Century and Beyond" and the keynote speaker is Scott Loarie of Stanford University, the co-creator of iNaturalist. Other speakers will talk about the use of apps, natural history museums in the 21st century, using GIS for conservation, and other topics. In addition to the speakers, there will also be many poster presentations covering even more areas.

In summary, the conference is going to be a blast and you should try to be there. If you can't be there, you can follow me on Twitter as I live-tweet the event. I will be tweeting a lot, if last year is any indication.

If you do show up, come say hello! If you don't know what I look like, here's a picture for reference.

  Photo by Rachel Shoop.