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Posts tagged “Environment

[VIDEO] TRANSITING THROUGH LONDON, ENGLAND (WITH A SOUNDTRACK) YESTERDAY AND TODAY

above music:”Someday” by Hundred Little Reasons

above music:”Hello Bones” by Jeff Pianki


Postmodernism: what the heck is it and what does it have to do with cats and our perception of reality?

Having been taking photographs around Toronto lately using funky filters on my cheap indestructible smartphone camera (a knockoff Blackberry Motorola running Android)—no one else seems to own nor want to have—I have been enjoying the strange perceptions it’s given me, regarding light and how we view things–in my case the city, its architecture, its denizens and both its daytime and nighttime responses to light; or lack thereof.

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After posting some of these shots online, I’ve received feedback such as: “What a crappy filter!” “Stop, that’s not reality!” “Why do you do that?!” “Is your camera broken?”

I like the perspective they give, I am not trying to be a true photographer; nor even claiming any sort of artistic license–although I guess those are simply granted by others if they appreciate/are emotionally affected by, what I am trying to capture or show with what I take pictures of, and the manner in which I take them. A  ‘true photographer’ by my definition, is one able to replicate on demand, one who possesses the esoteric knowledge of depth of field, film speeds and what they alter, one who is capable of retaking the shot they took a year ago in almost any environmental condition, and the intelligence, education, skill and practice necessary for all of this. I possess none of these, and may never achieve this calibre of mastery, as I am one lazy sonofabitch.

Funnily though, I had been pondering how people online talk about cats–how stupid they are, or how nonsensical their behaviour be (or mystical or spiritual or…whatever). Living with a cat—one I consider pretty damn sharp—I’ve noticed similar behaviour; such as chasing things I can not see, or staring into the distance…

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But I understand that she has optical apparati completely different from mine.  Sometimes I’m able to catch a slight glimpse of something moving–perhaps a headlight on the wall, or a tiny flying insect, or someone a few blocks away opening a window and reflecting a quick flash of light from the sun through my apartment.  But at other times, I too am at a loss.  But this, to me at least, makes me aware of the limitations of my eyes, not the “stupidity of an animal”.  I’ve read in some places where people have spoken of folktales where cats were said to communicate with the dead–again, for the same reasons.  This of course just leads to my disappointment in humanity and people not using the gift of reason that we have evolved to possess.

Interestingly though, all of this has a lot to do with a metaphor I use regarding postmodern thinking and analysis.  Lenses.  Lenses provide us with a particular perspective, while limiting our vision at the same time.  This is true in most every human enterprise, but namely politics.  As I have grown older, I realize that I am accumulating more and more lenses of perception.  As I spontaneously meet and engage intellectually with more and more humans (something I love about living in downtown Toronto in 2013), I find myself able to identify with, if not agree with completely, many who hold very strong views about a multitude of issues.  Many though, seem to fail to understand that they may merely disagree with those towards whom they profess eternal hatred and enmity, due to a different lens or two..or ten.  Most every human endeavour, in my opinion, seeks excellence as well as the betterment of something someone (or some group) holds dear. Humans are not intrinsically evil, nor out to hurt others, without some sense of righteousness. Unless of course they are insane, but that is not to what I refer.

The video below too, (a small vignette of a great documentary series by Richard Hammond called ‘Invisible Worlds’ by the way) made me realize something about reality–so much of what we consider (perceive as) beautiful in this world (flowers for example), we are ONLY limited to perceive through a narrow band of the light spectrum.

This is also true for our sense of hearing.  This is a recording of cricket chirps slowed down so their lifespans match those of humans–they now sound like some sort of ethereal hymnal choir:

Our senses limit us in SO many ways, and yet we rarely, if ever, speak to this–we do not tell this to our children.  Human-conceived religions and gods and ponderances of our eternal purpose consistently have failed to mention, oh, by the way, most of this reality? —is not available with our software edition. This is actually one of the greatest reasons NOT to believe in God or Intelligent Design or whatever, but I guess the same explanation has been used throughout the world for the contrary argument.

Which all brings me to a vsauce segment. I am addicted to vsauce. It is such the intellectually pornographic injection of thought. He touches on so much, much of what I had been thinking and articulated above, and then some. I have actually made good friends with familiar strangers, just by saying ‘vsauce’ to them instead of hello, on a regular basis.

Postmodern thinking asks you to ‘think outside the box’ but it assumes that you have in fact perceived the existence of a box. This perception requires an awareness of lenses in order that one can become aware of all kinds of boxes, and bubbles and biases; outside of which may just be other realities and dimensions you are unable, or have yet, to perceive.

 

 


[VIDEO] MARKET 707 – TORONTO’S FIRST SHIPPING CONTAINER MARKET

“Housed in retrofitted shipping containers, Market 707 is Toronto’s most unique street food and retail market. This space brings together local entrepreneurs serving up more than 10 types of delicious international street food, along with unique goods and services to create an urban food and shopping environment unlike any other.”

Market 707 on Facebook

Market 707 official website


The Dalai Lama of Mountain Goats

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The above quote may or may not be authentic. It really does not matter.  Most feel-good kumbayaa (m’lawwwd) clap-trap does not really need to prove its provenance…as the masses nod along, hug and feel ‘inspired’ to another juicy apocryphal morsel.

…But, I used to wonder about Mountain Goats.

Do THEY know that life could be easier on flat ground?  Were they meant to just wander on 20 degree surfaces eternally; with 1 or 2 kids falling to their deaths every now and then?

I decided, on the latter; that was indeed just their experience, their reality, their ‘nature’…and then they die–perhaps never realizing life was easier grazing on a prairie–perhaps even only a few hundred metres away– as other ‘prairie’ goats.

So perhaps homo sapien sapiens are just supposed to live the way we always have lived–and evolved–for millennia?  Our worry and stress and lack of vision involving complex internal chemistry…our very own ‘nature’…and billions of us (in every corner of the world) are the same way about these things…most of which, only in hindsight do we realize to have been for nought.

But maybe that just IS life.

When death or illness comes close, we ponder things, but otherwise we go back to our perceptual myopism–very much as mountain goats…but there be no mountain goat dalai lama.

Our ‘not having lived’ IS life.

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[VIDEO] SAM HARRIS DOESN’T TALK ABOUT THE DALAI LAMA OF MOUNTAIN GOATS AT ALL


[AUDIO] CBC RADIO’S IDEAS: A 3-part series called “RETHINKING DEPRESSION” — After several decades of messing around, it may now be time to question the pharmacologicalization of melancholia and why the blues may indeed have an overlooked purpose in personal growth, self-development and brain-body communication

CBC IDEAS

“With the help of a number of local and world-renowned experts in the field, producer Mary O’Connell explores what we know – and what we think we know – about depression and the medications we use so often to treat it. The patient and interested listener (the entire series runs for three hours) will be rewarded with some really fascinating but often not well-publicized facts about the social, commercial and political factors that are conspiring to make psychotropic medications “a $20billion per year industry worldwide” and have led the World Health Organization to predict that depression will be the second leading caused of global disability by 2020.” Three Parts, 1 hour each.

what-is-depression

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PART ONE:

Depression. It has been called the mean reds. The blue devils. The black dog. And through history, treatments for depression have varied wildly. In the Middle Ages, depressives were caged in asylums. In Victorian England, wealthier patients were sent to seaside resorts for a change of air. In the 1930′s, procedures like lobotomies and electroconvulsive therapy were used. Psychiatry’s tools were crude and limited.  No wonder then, when the Age of the Antidepressant arrived, it was considered psychiatry’s triumph.  Prozac came onto the market in 1988, followed quickly by many similar drugs. But, since then, the number of people afflicted with depression has soared.  In this 3 part program, IDEAS producer Mary O’Connell explores the short and troubling history of the antidepressant. 
CLICK TO HEAR

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PART TWO:

Over the years, the descriptions have varied: melancholia, the Black Dog, down in the dumps. The term most used today is “depression”. The World Health Organization says depression is set to become second only to heart disease as the world’s leading disability by the year 2020. An alarming conclusion when you consider the history. One hundred years ago depression was thought to be extremely rare, with 1% of the population suffering. Today it’s often called the common cold of mental illness. But just how effective are antidepressants in treating depression?  
Unpublished clinical trials have come to light and they reveal that the antidepressant was never the triumphant treatment many psychiatrists hoped it would be.  And we’re also learning that the theory that antidepressants restore serotonin in the brain could be false. However, despite this news about serotonin and sadness, the number of depressed people continues to grow. Now some researchers wonder whether the modern antidepressant has increased rates of depression instead of lowering them. In episode two of Rethinking Depression, IDEAS producer Mary O’Connell examines the debate around antidepressants. 
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PART THREE:

The World Health Organization says depression is set to become second only to heart disease as the world’s leading disability by the year 2020. More recent research over the past decade tells us that antidepressants do not work very well, if at all, for mild or moderate depression. And in severe depression, antidepressants only work in a small number of cases. 

So how can those who suffer from depression receive effective treatment and even possibly recover? In the third hour of Rethinking Depression, IDEAS producer Mary O’Connell brings us the stories of the depressed who are on the path to wellness and the methods that can be used to get them there.
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The Medicated Me 

written by CHRIS NORRIS; Mens Journal
 

It’s just after dawn, and I’m sitting on someone’s sofa in someone’s apartment somewhere in New York City. An attractive young woman I used to know is sleeping 15 feet away. Books I read, photos I took, CDs I reviewed as a music critic — all sit like props from a play I half remember. The sunlight looks toxic, radioactive. The murmur of distant traffic sounds alien, hostile, a predator’s low growl. Everything is exactly as it was yesterday yet feels totally different — in a bad way and down to a subatomic level. I feel like a character in some lame sci-fi novel who wakes up in a parallel universe or as a head in a jar. I’d skimmed over this sensation in nightmares and during extreme jet lag but never felt it descend as a full-blown totality, never felt it suck me down into it. I’d compare it with a bad trip if not for one terrifying irony now sinking in. This is my brain off drugs.

Six months ago, after 10 emotionally uneventful years on antidepressants — years that somehow included getting married, losing my job, and watching two skyscrapers implode from 20 blocks away — I began tinkering with my prescription, casting about for just the right med while the sturdy old Effexor trickled out of my system, a few milligrams less each week, a long goodbye to my silent partner of a decade.

Now, having decided to go off everything, putting my years-long chemistry experiment on pause, I am drug-free at last. For the first time in a decade, I am experiencing life in all its rich tones and vivid hues, and I’m about to throw myself in front of the 6 train.

I wasn’t actually depressed when I started taking antidepressants.

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The DSM-V reviewed as if it was a dystopian novel…

“Great dystopia isn’t so much fantasy as a kind of estrangement or dislocation from the present; the ability to stand outside time and see the situation in its full hideousness. The dystopian novel doesn’t necessarily have to be a novel.”

A new dystopian novel in the classic mode takes the form of a dictionary of madness

“As you read, you slowly grow aware that the book’s real object of fascination isn’t the various sicknesses described in its pages, but the sickness inherent in their arrangement.

Who, after all, would want to compile an exhaustive list of mental illnesses? The opening passages of DSM-5 give us a long history of the purported previous editions of the book and the endless revisions and fine-tunings that have gone into the work. This mad project is clearly something that its authors are fixated on to a somewhat unreasonable extent. In a retrospectively predictable ironic twist, this precise tendency is outlined in the book itself. The entry for obsessive-compulsive disorder with poor insight describes this taxonomical obsession in deadpan tones: “repetitive behavior, the goal of which is […] to prevent some dreaded event or situation.” Our narrator seems to believe that by compiling an exhaustive list of everything that might go askew in the human mind, this wrong state might somehow be overcome or averted. References to compulsive behavior throughout the book repeatedly refer to the “fear of dirt in someone with an obsession about contamination.” The tragic clincher comes when we’re told, “the individual does not recognize that the obsessions or compulsions are excessive or unreasonable.” This mad project is so overwhelming that its originator can’t even tell that they’ve subsumed themselves within its matrix. We’re dealing with a truly unreliable narrator here, not one that misleads us about the course of events (the narrator is compulsive, they do have poor insight), but one whose entire conceptual framework is radically off-kilter. As such, the entire story is a portrait of the narrator’s own particular madness. With this realization, DSM-5 starts to enter the realm of the properly dystopian.”

Read the entire review by Sam Kriss in The New Inquiryepitomizing perhaps, the function of artful perspective

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The Dalai Lama of Mountain Goats


[FILM] “15 REASONS TO LIVE” – DIRECTED BY ALAN ZWEIG

Alan Zweig Q&A, Toronto October 2013

Alan Zweig Q&A, Toronto October 2013


[PHOTOGRAPHY] Making Love To Toronto — Part Five: THE ROUGE RIVER VALLEY; the only national park located within a city

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These photographs were taken in October 2013.

The title references  how Urban Planners are encouraged to “Make Love to your City”, an exhortation to observe and appreciate it from different perspectives; physically as well as emotionally, intellectually and historically-well at least that’s my own definition. (more…)


[BOOK] Michael Specter’s ‘Denialism’: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives

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Weekend Edition

First Broadcast: November 07, 2009

Refusing Flu Shots? Maybe You’re A ‘Denialist’

Nearly 20 percent of the families in Vashon Island, Wash., aren’t getting their children vaccinated against childhood diseases. At the Ocean Charter School near Marina del Rey, Calif., 40 percent of the 2008 kindergarten class received vaccination exemptions. Author Michael Specter says the parents in these upscale enclaves are prime examples of what he calls “denialism.”

That’s also the title of his new book, . “We can all believe irrational things,” the author of Denialism tells NPR’s Scott Simon. “The problem is that I think an increasing number of Americans are acting on those beliefs instead of acting on facts that are readily present.”

The Motives And Consequences of ‘Denialism’

But the Vashon Island and Marina del Rey communities aren’t places where religious or cultural traditions argue against vaccinations —- like the Amish or Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Instead, they believe vaccinations are harmful to their children, citing stories they’ve heard about mistakes by doctors or pharmaceutical fraud.

But, Specter says, when parents make that decision, they focus on the one-in-10-million chance that a vaccine could kill a child and ignore the one-in-1,000 chance that a disease will do so. “These people retreat into denialism,” he says. “It’s like denial, but writ large, [because] this has consequences.”

Those consequences don’t just affect the children who go unvaccinated, but everyone they interact with as well, Specter adds. He points out that diseases like measles, which had almost been eradicated in North America, are now coming back.

The Fetish Of Organic Food

“Denialism,” the author says, is evident in far more than vaccination rates. Take organic food. Specter considers himself a fan, but he draws the line at demonizing genetically engineered food.

“In other parts of the world,” he says, “a billion people go to bed hungry every night. Those people need science to help them. It isn’t about whether people want to go to Whole Foods or not … The thing that killed the most people in the history of the world — except maybe for insects —- was pure water and natural, untreated food.”

He argues that some people look at “natural” products, such as vitamins, and think that they’re automatically good. But, he argues, “it’s no different than anything else you swallow.”

“Someone told me they didn’t want to take a flu shot because they didn’t want to put a foreign substance into their body,” says Specter. “What do they think they do at dinner every night?”

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Excerpt: ‘Denialism’

by MICHAEL SPECTER

The most blatant forms of denialism are rarely malevolent; they combine decency, a fear of change, and the misguided desire to do good — for our health, our families, and the world. That is why so many physicians dismiss the idea that a patient’s race can, and often should, be used as a tool for better diagnoses and treatment. Similar motivations — in other words, wishful thinking — have helped drive the growing national obsession with organic food. We want our food to taste good, but also to be safe and healthy. That’s natural. Food is more than a meal, it’s about history, culture, and a common set of rituals. We put food in the mouths of our children; it is the glue that unites families and communities. And because we don’t see our food until we eat it, any fear attached to it takes on greater resonance.

The corrosive implications of this obsession barely register in America or Europe, where calories are cheap and food is plentiful. But in Africa, where arable land is scarce, science offers the only hope of providing a solution to the growing problem of hunger. To suggest that organic vegetables, which cost far more than conventional produce, can feed billions of people in parts of the world without roads or proper irrigation may be a fantasy based on the finest intentions. But it is a cruel fantasy nonetheless.

Denialist arguments are often bolstered by accurate information taken wildly out of context, wielded selectively, and supported by fake experts who often don’t seem fake at all. If vast factory farms inject hormones and antibiotics into animals, which is often true and always deplorable, then all industrial farming destroys the earth and all organic food helps sustain it. If a pricey drug like Nexium, the blockbuster “purple pill” sold so successfully to treat acid reflux disease, offers few additional benefits to justify its staggering cost, then all pharmaceutical companies always gouge their customers and “natural” alternatives — largely unregulated and rarely tested with rigor — offer the only acceptable solution.

We no longer trust authorities, in part because we used to trust them too much. Fortunately, they are easily replaced with experts of our own. All it takes is an Internet connection. Anyone can seem impressive with a good Web site and some decent graphics. Type the word “vaccination” into Google and one of the first of the fifteen million or so listings that pops up, after the Centers for Disease Control, is the National Vaccine Information Center, an organization that, based on its name, certainly sounds like a federal agency. Actually, it’s just the opposite: the NVIC is the most powerful anti-vaccine organization in America, and its relationship with the U.S. government consists almost entirely of opposing federal efforts aimed at vaccinating children.

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Fifty years ago, we venerated technology. At least until we placed our feet on lunar soil, our culture was largely one of uncritical reverence for the glories that science would soon deliver. The dominant image of popular American culture was progress. TV shows like Star Trek andThe Jetsons were based on a kind of utopian view of the scientific future. Even the Flintstones were described as a “modern” Stone Age family. We were entering an era without disease or hunger. If we ran out of water we would siphon salt from the seas and make more; if nature was broken we could fix it. If not, we could always move to another planet.

That vision no longer seems quite so enchanting. No doubt our expectations were unreasonable — for science and for ourselves. We also began to recognize the unintended consequences of our undeniable success. About a month before Neil Armstrong made his large step on the moon, the heavily polluted Cuyahoga River erupted in flames near Cleveland, creating an indelible image of industry at war with nature. A few years later, in 1976, Karen Ann Quinlan was removed from life support, igniting the first horrific battle of the modern era over how we live and die. The end of the decade was marked by the ghastly accident at Three Mile Island, which showed more clearly than ever that the effects of the Industrial Revolution were not all benign. The thalidomide disaster, mad cow disease, even the dramatic and sustained lies of Big Tobacco have all contributed to the sense that if the promise of science wasn’t a lie, it wasn’t exactly the truth either.

Today the image of a madman whipping up a batch of smallpox, or manufacturing an effective version of bird flu in his kitchen, while not exactly as easy as baking a cake, is no longer so far-fetched. Indeed, if there is anything more frightening than the threat of global nuclear war, it is the certainty that humans not only stand on the verge of producing new life forms but may soon be able to tinker with them as if they were vintage convertibles or bonsai trees.

Our technical and scientific capabilities have brought the world to a turning point, one in which accomplishments clash with expectations. The result often manifests itself as a kind of cultural schizophrenia. We expect miracles, but have little faith in those capable of producing them. Famine remains a serious blight on humanity, yet the leaders of more than one African nation, urged on by rich Europeans who have never missed a meal, have decided it would be better to let their citizens starve than to import genetically modified grains that could feed them.

Food is a compelling example of how fear has trumped science, but it is not the only evidence that we are waging a war against progress, rather than, as Peter Melchett would have it, against nature. The issues may be complex but the choices are not: we are either going to embrace new technologies, along with their limitations and threats, or slink into an era of magical thinking. Humanity has nearly suffocated the globe with carbon dioxide, yet nuclear power plants that produce no such emissions are so mired in objections and obstruction that, despite renewed interest on every continent, it is unlikely another will be built in the United States. Such is the opposition to any research involving experiments with animals that in scores of the best universities in the world, laboratories are anonymous, unmarked, and surrounded by platoons of security guards.

Excerpted from Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives, by Michael Specter.

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New York Times

Firing Bullets of Data at Cozy Anti-Science

Published: November 4, 2009
 

“I always say that electricity is a fantastic invention,” the British economist Michael Lipton once told Michael Specter, whose bristling new book, “Denialism,” explores the dangerous ways in which scientific progress can be misunderstood. “But if the first two products had been the electric chair and the cattle prod,” Mr. Lipton continued, “I doubt that most consumers would have seen the point.”

Here is what they would have done instead, if Mr. Specter, a staff writer for The New Yorker and former foreign correspondent for The New York Times, correctly captures the motifs that shape the stubbornly anti-scientific thinking for which his book is named: they would have denounced electricity as a force for evil, blamed its prevalence on venal utility companies, universalized the relatively rare horrific experiences of people who have been injured by electrical currents and called for a ban on electricity use.

The term “denialism,” used by Mr. Specter as an all-purpose, pop-sci buzzword, is defined by him as what happens “when an entire segment of society, often struggling with the trauma of change, turns away from reality in favor of a more comfortable lie.”

In this hotly argued yet data-filled diatribe, Mr. Specter skips past some of the easiest realms of science baiting (i.e., evolution) to address more current issues, from the ethical questions raised by genome research to the furiously fought debate over the safety of childhood vaccinations. (more…)


[AUDIO/VIDEO] Former Anti-GMO Activist Says Science Changed His Mind – NPR. Why Vilifying MONSANTO without perusing all the facts may not make much sense.

This post is not to claim that Monsanto is a force of good. I recognize the worry, the fear, the consternation of the many who profess antipathy for the actions of this corporation. I am not a supporter of Monsanto’s business practices nor am I on one side or the other on GMO. I remain agnostic. It does concern me however that so many are online today willing to help perpetuate ignorance and irrationality. A healthy debate and discussion in my opinion takes into account multiple perspectives and is not merely an opportunity to spread dogma. Monsanto, as with most human endeavour, possesses both positive as well as negative attributes. In the paranoid hysteria of the Internet today, it is portrayed as though Monsanto and GMO food technology is merely in existence to inflict pain and wreak havoc.  For these reasons, I sought to extract  some unbiased, neutral, perhaps surprising facts about this emotional issue.

–t.i.

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All Things Considered

First Broadcast: January 20, 2013

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“For years, British environmental activist Mark Lynas destroyed genetically modified food (GMO) crops in what he calls a successful campaign to force the business of agriculture to be more holistic and ecological in its practices.

His targets were companies like Monsanto and Syngenta — leaders in developing genetically modified crops.

Earlier this month he went in front of the world to reverse his position on GMOs.

At the Oxford Farming Conference in Britain, Lynas apologized for helping “to start the anti-GMO movement” and told his former allies to “get out of the way, and let the rest of us get on with feeding the world sustainably.”

He spoke to Jacki Lyden, host of weekends on All Things Considered, about his change of heart.”

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In defense of Monsanto

Written By HUDSON LOFCHIE
Science Editor
Published On January 16, 2013

I want to talk about something today, and I hope that it does not result in my office getting burned down. But I work in a basement, so I guess its not that much of an issue. Genetically modified crops — devil incarnate or world savior? Solution to the hunger problem, or a capitalist venture? Each of these holds a little bit of truth, and I want to explore a side of the debate that isn’t normally discussed in the press — GM crops as the good guys.

When talking about genetically modified crops, Monsanto is, for the most part, the centerpiece of conversation. Debates, if they can even be called that, are riddled with hearsay, rumors, myths, “I read this” or “I heard that.” It seems to me that most people simply have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. And those who do have some knowledge on the subject are focusing on all the wrong things.
As bad press and political heat goes, Monsanto is on the sharp end of it more often than not. The “liberal” media paints Monsanto as a mean, heartless company, set on destroying any and all competition.
So Monsanto has some rather shrewd business practices … all successful companies do. They have some of the most consistently stable stock prices on Wall Street, and have earned massive investments from both Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. So what is it about Monsanto that the public finds so appalling? Most of the arguments I have heard against this company are that Monsanto destroys the small farmer. While many small farmers are bankrupt by lawsuits with Monsanto, it is merely the result of Monsanto defending its intellectual property … to the death.

Monsanto makes a large percentage of its money from licensing patented genes to other companies. They have contracts with Dow Chemical, Syngenta, Novartis and many others. Monsanto is truly ruthless in its negotiations when licensing out its patents, and it should be. (more…)


[AUDIO] “Anxiety is an essential human emotion but it’s important to distinguish between normal day to day worry and an actual anxiety disorder. It can manifest in a range of forms including obsessive compulsive disorder, agoraphobia, social anxiety and panic attacks. New Yorker Daniel Smith has lived with chronic anxiety, or his ‘Monkey Mind’, for most of his life and says it’s the only mental disorder which can be both excruciatingly painful and funny at the same time. Hear about what eventually helped him manage his intense worrying.”

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Australian Broadcasting CorporationABC - All In The Mind

First Broadcast: Sunday 21 April 2013

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“Monkey Mind is a tragicomic memoir about anxiety — both the emotion, which is universal, and the clinical condition, which is rampant. Mostly it’s about the clinical condition. It’s about anxiety so acute and chronic that it permeates every waking moment, affecting your body and mind, your friendships and relationships, your work and your will.MonkeyMind_bookcover

Write what you know, they say.

I’ve known anxiety for most, maybe all, of my life. The condition is genetic. My father was anxious. My mother was anxious. My grandparents were anxious. Probably my ancestors were all anxious. My last name is Smith, but this is what’s known as an “Ellis Island name” — something the authorities gave my great-grandfather when he arrived in the early twentieth century. The original family name is Gomolski.

In other words, we’re Jewish. There is no race or ethnic group on Earth that does not suffer from anxiety. But Jews are particularly good at that kind of suffering.

I didn’t know I was anxious until I was a teenager. Before that, I was “sensitive” and “nervous.” I had phobias and tics and sudden fears. Then, when I was sixteen, I lost my virginity under odd, unfortunate circumstances (see the book; it’s a cool story), and my anxiety began to take over my life. Monkey Mind tells how that happened; the troubles and difficulties that followed over the coming years; and the many attempts, wise and unwise, I have made to alleviate my anxiety.

Notice: alleviate, not cure. Anxiety isn’t a condition like pneumonia or chicken pox. It isn’t something you can eradicate. It’s a state of being, a coloration in the way a person thinks, feels, and acts. It isn’t a disorder, necessarily, though it can be exquisitely painful and it does sometimes stem from trauma. What it is, is a state of mind. It can be reduced, in some cases radically, but it never totally goes away.

What I set out to do in Monkey Mind was to describe and explain the experience of anxiety. Anxiety is often spoken of in cultural and collective terms: we are living, it is said, in an “age of anxiety.” But what does anxiety feel like? How does it affect everyday life? Kierkegaard, who was maybe the most anxious person ever to live, described anxiety in this way:

And no Grand Inquisitor has in readiness such terrible tortures as has anxiety, and no spy knows how to attack more artfully the man he suspects, choosing the instant when he is weakest, nor knows how to lay traps where he will be caught and ensnared, as anxiety knows how, and no sharpwitted judge knows how to interrogate, to examine the accused, as anxiety does, which never lets him escape, neither by diversion nor by noise, neither at work nor at play, neither by day nor by night.

What does it mean for a person to have to deal — day after day, night after night — with that Grand Inquisitor in her head?

The short answer is: It isn’t fun. The long answer is this book.

So then why tragicomic? Because for all the pain, anxiety is an inherently comical disorder. It destroys lives, but it destroys them with absurdity. To witness a person in the throes of true anxiety is to witness a person actively tripping himself, a person whose sane faculties — the ability to reason and recognize threat, the capacity to apply logic — have grown to monstrous, B-movie proportions. Anxiety is the intellect gone feral. Also, to treat anxiety as an absurd state of mind is to declaw the experience and reveal its pettiness. Anxiety can indeed destroy relationships. It has destroyed some of mine. But it can do so only when the sufferer treats it with blind seriousness, when he treats it as applicable to meaningful bonds and meaningful decisions. Yet anxiety doesn’t care what its object is: it’s ecumenically corrosive. In the grip of anxiety, a sufferer is capable of reasoning himself not just out of marriage but out of lunch. On more than one occasion anxiety has paralyzed me over a salad, convincing me that a choice between blue cheese and vinaigrette is as dire a choice as that between life and death. Once this is recognized, anxiety loses some of its power.

This is what Monkey Mind is designed to accomplish. I have written with sheer honesty about the self-destructive absurdities, both major and minor, into which anxiety has led me. The goal is to expose anxiety as the pudgy, weak-willed wizard behind the curtain of dread. The goal is to tame what has always seemed to me, and to the tens of millions of others who suffer from anxiety, as a horrible, sharp-fanged beast.”

—FROM: http://monkeymindchronicles.com/about-the-book/

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[AUDIO] CBC RADIO’S QUIRKS AND QUARKS DISCUSSES THE CONCEPT OF TIME AND WHY IT ACTUALLY MAY NOT BE AN ILLUSION, AFTER ALL – WITH LEE SMOLIN OF THE PERIMETER INSTITUTE

CLICK TO HEAR

CBC RADIO QUIRKS & QUARKS

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time_reborn

“Dr. Lee Smolin thinks the trouble with physics is that we need more time.  Dr. Smolin has been contemplating a fundamental question: “Is Time Real?”  This is an important question because much of the physics we’ve generated for the last 400 years or so seems to suggest that time isn’t real, and that it’s a kind of illusion that disguises the real way the laws of physics work.  But in his new book, Time Reborn:  From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe, Dr. Smolin makes the case that time is real.  And he thinks that working out what time is will help us solve some of the deep problems of the universe, including the question of where it all really came from.  Dr. Smolin is a founding and senior faculty member at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo.

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Time Reborn - lecture by Dr. Smolin at the Perimeter Institute

“What is time?  Is our perception of time passing an illusion which hides a deeper, timeless reality?  Or is it real, indeed, the most real aspect of our experience of the world?  Einstein said that “the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion,”  and many contemporary theorists agree that time emerges from a more fundamental timeless quantum universe. But, in recent cosmological speculation, this timeless picture of nature seems to have reached a dead end, populated by infinite numbers of imagined unobservable universes.  

In his talk, Lee Smolin explains why he changed his mind about the nature of time. Like many fellow theorists, he used to believe time is an illusion, but he now embraces the view that time is real and everything else, including the laws of nature, evolves.  Drawing from his new book, Time Reborn, Smolin explains how the great unsolved problems in physics and cosmology may be solved by adopting the view of a real time.  then he will go beyond physics to explain how our view of time affects how we think of everything from our personal and family lives to how we face major problems such as climate change and economic crisis.  In a world in which time is real, the future is open and there is an essential role for human agency and imagination in envisioning and shaping a good future.”

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[AUDIO] A much better question than “Why are we here?” is “What is time?”

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[AUDIO] Ever wonder why TIME can not be conceived of as the concept of ‘God’? Did the dinosaurs perceive the passage of time the same way we do today? And how about our contemporary neighbours, like Whales, Squids, Dolphins, Elephants etc etc etc–do they perceive time as we do? What really is a billions years to …a human who lives only perhaps 75? Could it be that the lack of the ability to actually perceive or understand TIME itself, is a cause of great misapprehension of reality–both past and future, for humanoids?

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[VIDEO] RSA ANIMATE: Professor Philip Zimbardo lectures on how perspectives of time affect our work, health and well-being. Time influences who we are as a person, how we view relationships and how we act in the world. Present oriented, past oriented, future oriented perspectives.


[VIDEO] Normal Borlaug, Genetically Modified Foods, and how 1B+ humans were saved by one man

It’s easy to bash on Monsanto and other corporations. I’m not saying there isn’t some truth to the criticism, there is always grains of truth to most arguments, but nothing is black and white. Norman Borlaug’s research led to many of Monsanto’s products. Without his activity, India and China would not have been able to add their respective 1 billion people, since 1950…

“Normal Borlaug is an agricultural scientist and the father of the Green Revolution, directly responsible for saving over a billion lives from starvation in the third world through the spread and advance of genetically modified crops and technology. He’s spent his life saving people and improving the world. This clip is from the Penn and Teller: Bullshit! episode Eat This! from Season 1, on diets and world hunger. He’s truly a great, great person, and I wanted to share the word, as far too few people know about Borlaug and his work.”

As I’ve often said, with Global Warming….most injustice, and war….and with this gaining momentum via the internet of attacks on Monsanto and GMO technology….the problem must be acknowledged as actually being human overpopulation. A metaphorical mango tree which provides for, say, 3 people sufficiently…would be fought over were 50 people to find themselves surrounding it, depending upon its fruit.  Politics and power advantage/disadvantage arise from scarcity…observing injustice alone rarely solves the ultimate sources of problems. Should we not ask why and from where those extra 47 people came from? Rather than fear, malign, attack and protest attempts at trying to feed them?  In my opinion, reducing future populations would resolve, or make obsolete, many of these concerns.

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[AUDIO/VIDEO] Former Anti-GMO Activist Says Science Changed His Mind – NPR. Why Vilifying MONSANTO without understanding the facts may not make much sense.

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[BOOK] Michael Specter’s ‘Denialism’: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives


[PHOTO] MY FAVOURITE PHOTO OF TORONTO – CN TOWER + OCAD + AGO = CRAZY WIDE ANGLE LENS

AGO_gehry_pre-opening_night_wide_02

from the best photoblog in Toronto:

daily dose of imagery by Sam Javanrouh


What Canadian cities can learn from the German federal ministry of transport, building and urban development

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April 17, 2012

This paper evaluates the German National Public Transit Policy from a Canadian perspective. While Germany possesses a decades-long record of federal regulatory and fiscal support for public transit, Canada remains lacking in any such federal policy, and for this reason there may be much to learn from the German experience. Today, Canadian urban areas continue to suffer from vehicular congestion, high levels of GHG emissions, inadequate public transit options, dislocated urban life and woefully underfunded public transit agencies. Congestion in the Toronto area alone has been calculated to be costing the Canadian economy over $6 billion dollars every year (Toronto Board of Trade, 2010). Canada is overdue in finally developing a strong, long-term, well-funded national pubic transit strategy in order to reconstruct its urban areas as well as the way in which residents travel within them.

Canada and Germany are both democracies with federal systems of government, in which the interaction of national, state/provincial and local levels shapes transportation policy (Buehler, 2011a). Germany is comprised of 16 states and has a population of 82.1 million people. Canada is comprised of 10 provinces and 3 territories, with a population of 34.6 million people. Both nations are highly urbanized, with 80% of Canadians and 74% of Germans living in cities (Statscan, Worldbank).

The subject of public transit necessarily focuses on urban populations. Germany’s urban centres are more densely populated than Canada’s, as would be expected from most Western European municipalities. Nevertheless, it must be noted that in World War II many urban centres in Germany suffered enough damage to require the construction of vast areas anew. Such developments however, although not as dense as preserved historic centres, are still not as sparsely populated as post-war Canadian suburbs. Figure 1 displays the population densities of the top five most populous urban centres in both countries. (more…)


[VIDEO] Jim AI.Khalili – ORDER AND DISORDER BBC HORIZON – The Story of Energy & Information and the Advancement of Man

Professor Jim Al-Khalili investigates one of the most important concepts in the world today – information. He discovers how we harnessed the power of symbols, everything from the first alphabet to the electric telegraph through to the modern digital age. But on this journey he learns that information is not just about human communication, it is woven very profoundly into the fabric of reality.


[VIDEO] ALAIN DE BOTTON – THE ARCHITECTURE OF HAPPINESS: Lecture at Toronto’s Design Exchange, Wednesday October 11, 2006

“One of the great, but often unmentioned, causes of both happiness and misery is the quality of our environment: the kind of walls, chairs, buildings and streets we’re surrounded by.

And yet a concern for architecture and design is too often described as frivolous, even self-indulgent. The Architecture of Happiness starts from the idea that where we are heavily influences who we can be - and argues that it is architecture’s task to stand as an eloquent reminder of our full potential.

Whereas many architects are wary of openly discussing the word beauty, the book has at its centre the large and naïve question: ‘What is a beautiful building?’ It amounts to a tour through the philosophy and psychology of architecture, which aims to change the way we think about our homes, streets and ourselves.” - Alain de Botton


[MUSIC] [VIDEO] ARTISTIC PROFANITY: Immortal Technique’s ‘Dance With the Devil’ & the Canadian film ‘Incendies’

WARNING DISTURBING, FOR MATURE, ARTISTICALLY INCLINED AUDIENCES (who can handle the human condition)

raw hiphop with a narrative which punches you in the gut

raw Canadian film-making which punches you in the gut


[AUDIO] Cultural anthropologists assess the information/communication revolution thus far, in 2012; And how it is altering our behaviour and the way in which we relate to one another

Transcript from the radio program ‘Future Tense’ on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation

First Broadcast:Sunday 9 September 2012

[listen to audio version here]

Antony Funnell: Hello, this is Future Tense, I’m Antony Funnell, and welcome as always.

Today on the show we’ll hear from two prominent internet scholars, Ethan Zuckerman and Genevieve Bell.

Both were in Australia recently to deliver the inaugural James Tizard Memorial Lecture at the Science Exchange in Adelaide. The lecture was entitled ‘Many Internets, Many Lives’.

James Tizard died last year. He was the CEO of SABRENet, a collaboration between the South Australian state government, the Australian federal government and South Australia’s universities. SABRENet is a high speed broadband network connecting a variety of teaching institutions and research institutes.

Let’s hear first from Genevieve Bell. Regular listeners will know that we’ve had Dr Bell on the program before. She’s an Australian-born cultural anthropologist who now lives in the United States and heads the Intel Corporation’s Interaction and Experience Research Lab.

I’ve said this before, but what we like about Dr Bell’s work is that she’s interested in discovering how people are actually using and engaging with technology, not how she or her corporation think they should be.

Here’s Genevieve Bell:

Genevieve Bell: For me there is something wonderful about realising that even as we talk today about the fact that the internet is a global technology and it is a technology of huge potential, it’s still not everywhere and it’s still not everywhere in places we think of as already being hyper connected.

So thinking here about what it means to imagine a technology that is all-pervasive is in fact to deceive ourselves because the technology is also tied up with people. It’s tied up with the rhythms of our lives, it’s tied up with buildings, it’s tied up with structures and the fact that people take Sundays off. And what it means to imagine a technology that is all-pervasive is in some ways to imagine a world that is not populated by people.

And so what it means for me to think about the present of technology is to think about a technology that is always going to be uneven. Not that it won’t be present but that it will be a layering effect. In some places it’s going to be 3G on a cellphone, in some places it might be an iPad and a tablet, in some places it will be a cybercafe you will visit, and in other places it will be a really pretty boring Nokia feature phone where you connect to the internet and the internet is textbased and, by the way, it only works when you’re in town. So imagining that what it means to talk about the internet is never to talk about a system where everything is going to be evenly distributed but will always be unevenly distributed is for me as a researcher actually what makes it an interesting world, and it’s something I know Ethan will talk a lot more about momentarily.

It’s also the case I now spend my time in many strategic conversations in American industry, and everyone has been talking about the fact that the PC is dead, I’ve heard this phrase, that now we’re in the post-PC era, the PC is dead. I realise this is a bit like saying we’re in a post-paper period or the end of cash. It turns out that the PC is remarkably stubborn. People may not think it’s sexy anymore but it hasn’t gone anywhere. Much like some of the things we have called dead well ahead of time, like paper and cash, it turns out they persist in important ways. The tooth fairy doesn’t take credit cards, it’s really hard to leave post-it notes digitally because no one can see them, it turns out there are things that paper and cash and, one will argue, PCs are always going to do.

So as we think about the future and the present, I often think as a scholar we need to be careful about the stories we tell and about how real they really are, and about the kind of catchphrases that move across the boundaries between policy and marketing, to imagine what the realities really are. And as we think about what it means to imagine a world of connected people, again, it’s not all going to be…in a post-PC world there are still going to be these kind of huge infrastructures that are incredibly important, and all the other ways we know that people are going to connect to technology are part of both the present and the future of the internet and of broadband and of all the legacy of things that are interesting.

It also means that there is an increasing conversation going on both in Australia and I would say on the global stage about what we’re doing with all this technology. I spend a lot of time in people’s homes around the world and I hear a persistent and lingering anxiety about what it means for people to be constantly connected, and whether it’s an anxiety manifested in ‘my child has turned six, should I get them a mobile phone’, ‘I want to take the iPad away but then they scream in the back of the car’, ‘I’m really worried my child knows how to use the iPad and I don’t and she’s two’, ‘what will it mean for our language that everyone is now speaking in text messaging and emoticons’. We manifest this incredible anxiety about what the technology will bring forward.

We talk about what it means for people to be connected, to be hyper connected, we worry about what the nature of that connectivity is, what people are connecting to, and to whom and under what circumstances. In some ways those are remarkably persistent anxieties. We were worried about the same things when the telephone came along and when electricity came along and when television came along and when radio came along, and even when electricity came along.

And it turns out I think there is something about the moral anxiety that accompanies technology. And any technology that threatens to do three things always invokes that anxiety. If it threatens to rearrange our relationships to time, our relationships to space and our relationships to other people. And as soon as a technology has that potential we immediately imagine nothing good will come of it. And it is usually followed by phrases like ‘it will be the end of our society’, ‘it will be the death of our culture’, ‘have you seen what the young people are doing’. It’s never good.

What’s fascinating to me is the persistence of this anxiety and the fact that you can read the accounts of electricity and rock ‘n’ roll and the internet and hear exactly the same anxiety running through all of them. Because what they are is technologies that rearrange social relationships, and they rearranged our relationships to each other and to the places we were from. And of those are powerful forces and they are always accompanied by fear. So for me, playing through those anxieties is always an incredibly important part of the puzzle of both the present and the promised future.

It is also the case that I think the world is very different than it was when SABRENet was first imagined back in 2002. Starting in 2000 and really by 2002 about 70% of the world’s population that was online was in America. By today less than 15% of the world’s internet users are in America. The fastest growing languages online are Bengali and Arabic and Hindi and Spanish and Chinese. The biggest sites of internet production are happening in places far from here, about things that aren’t necessarily in the languages we read.

It is also the case that when SABRENet was first getting going, the most obvious way to connect to the internet was through a desktop or a laptop. Now there are a myriad of devices that connect us to the internet and the internet is different on each one of those. Whether it is as a delivery pipe on the Kindle or as a back-end in a smart electrical meter, whether it is what the internet looks like on your phone or a tablet or a computer or arguably in your car or in smart signage, the internet has become many things.

The technology industry, however, stubbornly clings to the notion there will be one device. It’s like the Tolkien fantasy; one device to rule them all. And if we can just find that one device, it will be great. And every time a new device turns up they go, ‘This is it, everyone is going to abandon everything else.’ And in my lab I sit there going, ‘Really? Have you unpacked anybody’s handbag recently?’ It turns out we didn’t abandon it, we just stuffed it in our bags along with everything else.

And the reality is when you unpack the handbags and backpacks and cars and houses of many places on this world, you find lots of technology, all of them being used to connect to the internet, all of them for different reasons and different experiences. And imagining that there’s one right away anymore gets really pretty complicated. And for most people there are lots of different choices people make about whether it’s a touch-based interface they like or something that doesn’t need certain kinds of virus protection, or if it’s a phone because you don’t have to share it with your parents. There are lots of different ways that we are connecting. And what that means for regulation, among other things, is incredibly complicated. This is no longer a single beast anymore, it is many.

And of course last but by no means least for me is the fact that we’re now talking about new models of engagement. About eight months ago a piece of video turned up on YouTube. This is a little 47-second video, really of great happiness as far as I’m concerned because what it is is a Furby, which is the large digital toy in the background. You may remember these are from the 1990s, they were hateful. They squeak a lot, they rolled their eyes, they fluttered their eyelashes and wiggled their ears and attempted to engage in some form of communication, most of it atonal.

In the foreground of this image is an Apple iPhone with Siri, a personal digital assistant, running on top of it. In this 47-second clip someone starts the Furby up and the Furby goes [squeaks], and Siri says, ‘Would you like me to call Shell Oil?’ And the Furby says [squeaks] and Siri says, I don’t think I understand.’ And the Furby goes [squeaks] and it says, ‘Would you like me to call Graham?’ And this goes on for 47 seconds of bliss and happiness of miscommunication.

Clearly the person who put this together thought this was quite funny and indeed it is, but for me it said something really interesting, which was here we were at this moment where something had really happened powerfully. When I saw this…and as an anthropologist I couldn’t help but see this as a genealogy of things that talk. So there’s the Furby as the first generation of talking digital stuff, and there’s the Siri, the most recent generation of talking digital stuff. And I’m sure the person who put it there was basically trying to say these were equally unhelpful talking digital things.

What I realised, however, was the really powerful thing about this was that what it was was that the Furby was making noise, and the Siri, it wasn’t that it was talking, it was that it was listening. And the listening is the really interesting thing, because however imperfect it is, what it promises is the prospect that you might be listened to by an object, not that it is talking at you but listening. And the listening is the promise of something quite different than we’ve had in our relationships with technology in the past. And I think the listening is the promise of a shift here from a moment where we’ve interacted with technology to a moment where we will have relationships with technology.

Whenever I say that to my American engineering colleagues, they immediately say to me, ‘When the machines are smart enough to have a relationship with us, they’ll kill us.’ Persistently. I’m like, ‘Really?’ They’re like, ‘Yes. The Terminator.’ I’m like, ‘That’s a movie. How?’ ‘Space Odyssey.’ I’m like, ‘Also a movie based on science fiction.’ They’re like, ‘Blade Runner.’ I’m like, ‘Based on a short story, also fiction.’ They’re like, ‘But that’s what will happen.’ And I’m like, ‘Really?’ And they’re like, ‘Yes.’

So I go to my colleagues in Japan and I’m like, ‘So, you have robots.’ They’re like, ‘Yes.’ I’m like, ‘Do you think they are going to kill you?’ They’re like, ‘Why would we think the robots were going to kill us?’ And I’m like, ‘Well, because they do in America.’ They’re like, ‘That’s just a movie.’ I’m like, ‘Okay, good.’

So my Japanese colleagues and I got into a conversation about what would it mean to imagine that objects might take care of you, and they looked at me and said, ‘But they already are. We have robots in our nursing homes, we have robots in our schools. We can fully imagine a world in which there is a relationship between people and technology. The future that you’re talking about is already here.’

And for me what I’m fascinated by is what comes next. And I’m fascinated by thinking about the world that James built, the broadband that he built and the promise that he was making about what comes next. And for me this notion that we are moving from a world of technology that we have to do all the work for, we have to plug in, we have to update them, we have to give them passwords and networks, and it’s just a lot of palaver looking at these machines. And imagine when they can start to look after themselves and start to look after us (and not kill us), is this promise of a remarkably different way of thinking about what we might be with technology as we move forward.

For me it’s about how we empower everyone, where that empowerment is going to look like different things for different people. In some places it’s about citizenship, in other places it’s going to be about consumption and consumerism, for some people it’s going to be about creativity, for other people it’s going to be about political resistance. But whatever it is going to take, it’s about how we build a system and sustain a system that makes those things possible. And for me that is not just about the technology, it’s about how we capacity-build in our citizens, it’s how we create the possibilities and the prospects and also the imagination to think about how it might be different. Thank you.

Antony Funnell: Dr Genevieve Bell, the head of the Interaction and Experience Research Lab at Intel Corporation. And out of interest, Dr Bell is a native of South Australia even though she now resides in the United States.

Now, as I indicated earlier, the inaugural James Tizard lecture was a double act; Genevieve Bell and Ethan Zuckerman. Ethan Zuckerman is the director of the centre for Civic Media at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT. He’s also a former researcher at the Berkman Centre for Internet and Society at Harvard and the co-founder of the website Global Voices.

Zuckerman has long focussed on our perceptions of the internet, exploring the reality between our idea of the digital world and our actual day to day usage of the web and social media.

Here’s Ethan Zuckerman:

Ethan Zuckerman: There was a lot of illusion very early on in the internet. When we go back into this past, when we go into, say, the late ’80s, the early 1990s, there’s this sort of naive belief that once we had networks then some fundamental changes to society would come about. The first change was that information would just be incredibly pervasive, we’d have access to whatever we wanted to know anywhere in the world at any moment in time. That suddenly, because everyone could be on these networks and it didn’t matter where you were, where you are coming from, what your background was, you could participate in the conversation, that we would have this incredible wealth of deliberation, and that we would be connected to everybody on the planet, that eventually we’d hit the point where you could reach out and have a conversation with any other person out there.

We’ve now hit a point where it’s very reasonable to look at these questions and ask ourselves; how are we doing? And I would argue on the first score we’re actually not doing badly. I think if you look at the combination of crowd sourced things, like Wikipedia, and you look at commercial solutions like Google, which in a very strange way is actually a crowd source thing, Google helps you find things, but what it’s actually helping you find is something that someone else has already written.

So in that sense of the internet putting out enormous amounts of human knowledge and making it accessible, we are growing up with a generation of people who never have that moment of saying, ‘Gee, I really wish I could know this.’ And if it’s a simple fact that we don’t have at hand, we always have it at hand. And that experience of that cocktail party conversation or the conversation over the beers of how big is this, how large is this, we’re never going to have it again. So as far as simple fact, we’re there. As far as complicated knowledge, still getting tricky, but I would say on this score we’ve done fairly well.

The liberation side of this we’ve done dismally. It turns out that being more connected to one another, more people having voices probably makes it worse rather than making it better. It may actually make it harder to come to consensus. You’re trying to listen to everybody, everyone wants a turn to speak, all sorts of dynamics, who’s ever loudest, who’s ever the most passionate ends up having more power. That turns out to be a deeply human problem, not a technological problem.

The third problem is the one that I am obsessed with, which is the question of who we are connected to and really who we’re not connected to. Even in a digital age we are much more connected to the people that we know, the people in our local communities, the people in our home countries than we are connected to people elsewhere, and that shouldn’t be a surprise. If you think about what happens when you join Facebook, the first thing it says is who do you go to school with, who have you worked with, who do you already know? Let me help you connect to those people that you already know. The internet becomes that the way to stay in touch with people that you know from the real world.

This is a crazy change in about 20 years. When I found myself getting online, the internet was never going to connect me to the people of the small college that I was at because none of them were on the internet. It was to connect me to the crazy people who were only online, who cared about these things that I cared about and that I had the chance to reach out to and encounter. But we’ve completely changed that assumption over the course of about 20 years, and now we assume that what this technology is really good for is connecting us to the people that we know and that we’re closest to and most familiar with.

There has always been the role of technologies in telling us about the rest of the world. Historically we get our knowledge about the rest of the world through curated media. So whether that is through newspaper, whether that’s through television broadcast, someone goes out and says here’s what’s out there and what is important in the world. And historically this has been a really difficult, expensive, dangerous thing to do. It has required physically putting people out there with cameras and shooting film and shipping it back and developing it and putting it on the airwaves, and all of that has changed.

And what’s funny about it is that despite the fact that reporting on the rest of the world has gotten so cheap and so easy that you can do it from a mobile phone, you can hold it up and be live to the internet immediately, we actually get much less international news in our media. And this is a trend that we’re seeing in a number of different countries. We’re seeing it in the UK where the four major newspapers have actually decreased the amount of international coverage that they’ve had, 45% over the last four years. In the US the amount of a newscast that’s international has gone from about 40% to about 12% over the last 30 years.

The internet makes it better a little bit. I can go and I can read Ghanaian newspapers and say, well, that’s great, if you’re not going to tell me about Ghana, at least I can go there directly. But I’m a rounding error. And if you actually look at what media people look at, even in a digital age, the vast majority is local. We might go online, we might look at the Times of India, we might look at the New York Times, we might look at the BBC. You don’t, and I have the numbers. You guys are actually better than the US and the UK. The US and the UK are about 95% domestic, it’s about 84% domestic in Australia, but it’s predominantly looking to the local.

So again, we have more and more connectivity, but we also have more and more interest in what is in our backyard. So fortunately now we start having search, we have the ability to pick exactly what we want, go out, find exactly whatever information you want to know. If you come out of this and you’re fascinated by Ghana, you want to know more, you can go out and do it. But then the responsibility is on you. How do you decide what you want to know about the rest of the world? You can go to the salad bar and put whatever you want on your salad, but it is your responsibility to choose, and that’s what search is. Search essentially says you know what you want to know, you know what you need to know about the rest of the world, go out and get it. And you get to select it, and you’ll be more free and you’ll be more happy because you have the choice. But you also now have the responsibility.

So when you see the rise of things like Facebook, it really has to do with many of us essentially saying I’m not sure this is working. I don’t necessarily want that responsibility all the time. Sometimes I don’t know what I want to know. And so what we do instead is that we ask our friends, hey, what do you know? Maybe if I knew what you knew I would discover something novel, I would discover something really interesting. And so we go on to these social networks and we say what is new, what’s fun, what can you tell me about the world. And we get some interesting information but we get some limits to that information. And the reason there are limits to that information is that the people that we’re finding on these networks tend to be a lot like us. They tend to be from the same country as us, they tend to speak the same language that we do, they tend to have the same religion, they tend to have the same ethnicity. We end up falling victim to what sociologists call homophily, which is basically a fancy way of saying that birds of a feather flock together.

So we’ve gone from this world where much of our information is coming through curators, through someone who is basically saying here is what you might need to know about the world. We’ve gone into search where we basically say you know best, go figure out what you want to know about the world. And now we’re going through this phase of social where we basically say, well, maybe my friends will help me figure out what’s going on in the rest of the world. And the problem is that none of these necessarily prepare us to live in a world that’s as connected as the one that we actually live in.

This matters. And the reason that I care about this is that at least three-fold. One is that it is potentially dangerous to live in a world where we are deeply connected and we don’t know what all those connections are. You suddenly find yourself worrying about things like avian flu, you find yourself asking questions about what do people eat in Singapore because it turns out that people in Singapore get on aeroplanes and suddenly you have the possibility of a disease that might have been incredibly localised and could have been really devastating for one particular population suddenly becomes a global crisis. If you don’t have a way of looking at pandemic, if you don’t have a way of looking at international terror networks, if you don’t have a way of looking at very complicated financial flows from a multinational perspective, very, very bad things can end up happening.

You also have the possibility that if what we’re mostly getting is information from people who are like us, that we end up getting highly polarised. There’s a pair of books that are very helpful. One is put together by a constitutional law scholar in the US named Cass Sunstein. He put forward this book that basically offers a theory called the echo chamber. He says that if you’re only getting information from people who agree with you, you tend to become more polarised in your views. And this is a phenomenon called confirmation bias. If everyone over and over and over says, well, this point of view is the right one, eventually it becomes very hard for you to think about the fact that there might be another point of view. You put people who are politically to one side of the spectrum together with other people in a room and they actually all gravitate further to the right or further to the left. When we hang out with people who think the way we do, we get more like them. And there’s an argument that in societies that are getting more politically polarised, this is part of what’s going on.

My friend Eli Pariser went ahead and wrote a book that argues that this is getting even worse because the technologies are making it easier to do it. So it’s not just that we can choose to hang out with people on the left, it’s not even just that Google News can suddenly say ‘let me only give you news from the left’, it’s that even if you go out and try to look for people who have another point of view, Facebook is going to fight you, and it’s mostly going to give you information from the people that you pay attention to and that you care the most about and you’re going to get even more polarised from it.

These guys are both right but they are missing the point in some ways. This isn’t just about left/right, the filter bubble is three-dimensional. We have bubbles in terms of where we are from, what we think, whether we are identifying as Australians or identifying as Americans, we end up getting trapped in that identity, and it’s very, very hard for us to see the perspective of someone who is from a different country, who speaks a different language, who views the world in a very, very different way. So we end up getting polarised in terms of how we see ourselves as a nation rather than how other people are seeing themselves as citizens of the world.

The third reason that I think we ought to care about this is that historically connecting to other cultures, other points of view has been one of the most amazing sources of inspiration. Before Picasso was Picasso he spent an enormous amount of time hanging out in African art museums in Paris. And if you read about his time there, he really didn’t like them, he actually writes about how scary and how smelly and how foreign they were and how he didn’t want to encounter them, but something ended up speaking to him and he became an incredible collector of masks, mostly from Benin.

And shortly after he starts collecting these masks, his style changes radically and you start seeing these faces in Picasso that have these flat surfaces. And it’s very clear where it’s coming from. It’s referred to as his African period, is basically where Cubism starts emerging. It turns out that creativity is basically an import/export business. Creativity has a lot to do with finding ideas in a different part of the world and bringing them into a different context. And so if we’re heading towards a world where we are not able to go out and find those other ideas, not because we can’t but because we don’t remember to, we have this incredible possibility of missed potential.

Antony Funnell: Ethan Zuckerman, the director of the Centre for Civic Media at MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. And you can find the full James Tizard Memorial Lecture on the Future Tense website.

Future Tense, new ideas, new approaches, new technologies, exploring the edge of change.

Guests

Ethan Zuckerman
Director of MIT’s Centre for Civic Media and co-founder of Global Voices.
Dr Genevieve Bell
Intel Fellow, Intel Labs Director, Interaction and Experience Research

Time & Sustainability – An appraisal of Douglas Coupland’s novel ‘Player One’ from an Urban Planning Perspective

-virginal commentary

Time & Sustainability

 “…what makes human beings different from everything else on the planet—or possibly in the universe, for that matter—is that they have the ability to experience the passage of time and they have the free will to make the most of that time…” (Player One – Douglas Coupland, 2010)

The concept of time may be said to be intrinsically linked to the notion of sustainability.  The 1983 World Commission on Environment and Development, convened by the United Nations, now colloquially referred to as the Bruntland Commission, in publishing their 1987 report, Our Common Future, included a now oft-cited definition of Sustainability:

“…development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (Our Common Future – United Nations, 1987)

To define the nebulous entity, ‘time’, really is however, not possible in a few lines of the English language.  Indeed art, at times, has a greater capacity to convey that which is difficult to know or explain.  Douglas Coupland, writing in 2010, weaves a dramatic, apocalyptic tale referencing concepts of sustainability and the future of mankind in a fictional piece entitled Player One.  An over-arching theme of this story is the concept of time—how it is perceived as a reality, how it is understood with regard to the way life is lived as well as its affect upon decisions made in future tense.

Coupland is well known to create and define new manners of conceptualizing socio-historical reality and does so with great flair within this story. Player One’s title refers to identities portrayed in cyberspace, while unable to process many subjective human apprehensions.  He labels these as Binary Subjective Qualities[1].  Those who experience life with neural pathologies, as with his character Rachel, or those who exhibit Autistic Spectral attributes, for example, may be said to lack the ability to apprehend these subjectivities—much as when one negotiates the world as a cyber-avatar. 

Ann Dale, writing in Sustainable Development in the 21st Century, articulates a concept which Coupland’s seudo-character Player One conjures, in describing the whole of humanity as a Holon—with a new sense of meaning being created from perceiving human interconnectedness in a very different way (Coupland, 2010). The concept of Holonism entails leaving behind subjective sensitivities to apprehend systems as a whole.  In Dale’s reference this implies the connectedness of humanity as a unitary system juxtaposed with the eco-system which supports it (Dale, 2001).  Cybernetically speaking, this is reinforced when our subjective personalities are diminished online, while simultaneously objective human connectedness is greatly enhanced.

  

Time Appreciation

Urban Planning necessarily entails an appreciation of the progression of time; with the concept of sustainability soliciting a consideration for the future.  At the level of analysis of Urban Planning, sustainable initiatives are concerned with, amongst other issues: “air quality, water quality and conservation, energy consumption, solid waste production, and levels of recycling, green buildings, open space, brownfield development and equity initiatives.” (Saha & Paterson, 2008)  To these may be added the preservation of both the natural as well as human environment.  The consequences of our relationship with time deems proceeding indefinitely without consideration for the future liable to eventually create in Coupland-speak the sadness of Chronocanine Envy[2]—the realization that life can not merely be lived in present tense—as with the life of a canine. Quoting Kierkegaard, Coupland states, “Life must be lived forward.” (Coupland, 2010)

Many issues facing Urban Planning Professionals today derive from past planning endeavours which lacked long-term perspectives for what in their time, were considered solutions.  The Suburbs are a widely recognized example of this—ostensibly solving problems of inner-city crowding and disease transmission, but resulting with issues of social isolation, and community disconnect, not to mention traffic, pollution and many forms of waste; loss too, of the dynamism found in earlier more concentrated urban settlements and, in many instances, the built form around which it occurred. Contemporary Planning attempts a more holistic approach, promoting the three Es: Environment, Economy and Equity (or social imperatives).  Saha & Paterson’s work speaks to the necessity for questioning and altering lifestyles.

The furthering of economic security, ecological sensitivity and social justice in the name of the future is said to require a shifting of paradigms (Greek for patterns) occupationally; recreationally; as well as existentially. (Saha & Paterson, 2008) 

Only through such multi-pronged strategies, it is claimed, will current planning decisions have enduring positive influences on contemporary cities, towns and natural environments, both for the inhabitants of today as well as beyond contemporaneous lifetimes.

 

The Story of a Lifetime

Our curse as humans is that we are trapped in time; our curse is that we are forced to interpret life as a sequence of events—a story—and when we can’t figure out what our particular story is, we feel lost somehow.” (Coupland, 2010; p5)

An interesting element of time that the characters in Coupland’s story ponder is that of the narrative of life.  Mentioned in multiple circumstances, by distinct characters is what in Coupland-speak, three concepts allude to: Narrative Drive[3], Denarration[4] and Sequential Dysphasia[5].  The first of these terms describes the ascribing to life, a storyline, plot, or narrative thread.  Denarration is said to be the loss of such a Narrative due to Sequential Dysphasia.

         By definition, the question of a narrative to life implies the observance of a sequence of events, and apprehension of a purpose within this progression.  Narrative structure is composed of a beginning, middle and end. This vision of timescape exists within the context of Sustainable Planning as well.  Douglas Farr, in Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design with Nature (2008), notes the transience of North American existence and life progression. In contemporary built-form, such as within urban sprawl with imposed socio-economic and inter-generational segregation, neighbourhoods are unable to support the ‘aging in place’ of community residents, through the provision of “housing suited to every phase of life,” (Farr, 2008) thereby precluding vibrant, enduring social connectivity and strong relationships from flourishing both between individuals, as well as between places and people. In the vibrant neighbourhoods mentioned in Jane Jacobs’ popularly cited works, the most significant elements are the relationships between all the residents of a bustling diverse neighbourhood, composed of the youth and the aged, immigrant and native, financially modest and well-to-do.  This rich tapestry is what created the socio-spatial narrative for Jacobs’ cherished Manhattan of the 1950s. (Jacobs, 1961)

Sustainability with regard to neighbourhoods is enriched from the planning for, and adapting to, the natural progression of life (and successive lives), so that a sense of togetherness and connectedness may be preserved without the disruption of necessary population upheavals on regular intervals from shifts of individuals and demographics.  Planners, by challenging norms of corporate branding and market segmentation which have dominated city-building over the last several decades, can exert some influence on encouraging development which accounts for life progression and provide thereby, within the same geography, for the needs of a diversity of individuals in the narratives of neighbourhoods, and future generations.  Historically, a failure of this has been witnessed in the socio-spatial fragmentation of traditional neighbourhood structures over the past several decades.  (GHRS, 2009:p41)

Time Crystallization

An interesting observation Douglas Coupland makes in Player One is that humans have the ability to commodify time and opportunity.  In coining the term Crystallographic Money Theory[6], he postulates that money is a ‘condensate’ or ‘crystalized’ combination of time and free will.  The logic behind this contrivance carries over to sustainability once more, as it has been argued that the concept of sustainability signifies the striving to proffer future generations as many options as possible (Crabbe, 2006)—‘options’, it may be argued, are composed of free will and time.  In the calculus of the three Es an attempt is being made to account for the current costs of future deprivation.

Dale states in no uncertain terms that unsustainable patterns of the recent past have persisted due to the transference of costs to the future, to other geographies or “to the buffer/sink capacity of the surrounding ecosphere.” (Dale, 2001)  Having endured for over two generations, these unsustainable patterns have altered the landscape not only literally, but also figuratively with regard to systems of finance, land-use regulation, and the provision of, and infrastructure for, transportation. (Farr, 2008) Such composite elements entrench a sense of inevitability to the North American urban lifestyle.  Long term strategic planning and policy initiatives are called for to cement the reorganization of priorities required to address sustainability concerns.  This however would imply the raising of awareness of those who elect the officials and pay the taxes.

Awareness of Time

The introductory quotation of this paper makes reference to Time-Will Uniqueness[7], or in Coupland-speak, the belief that Free Will and Time Awareness is that which fundamentally separates humans from other earthlings.  This cognizance is also that which allows humans to plan for the future, avoid untoward happenstances, and recognize patterns such as the weather and business cycles and work around them.  Sustainable Planning evokes the idea of ‘Backcasting’ rather than Forecasting for the future—the former indicating working backwards from an ideal circumstance, rather than attempting to predict a future end result, as with the more common, latter, notion. (Dale, 2001)

The greatest gift or the greatest curse for humanity is being able to perceive the direction in which it is headed.  Coupland as explanation for his term Proscenial Universe Theory[8], quotes Joyce Carol Oates as stating that Time is indeed “the element in which we exist.  We are either borne along by it or drowned in it.” (Coupland, 2010).  A Procenium is the small area on a theatre stage between the orchestra and the curtain.  Coupland explicitly states at one point in Player One that “Fate is for Losers, and Destiny for Winners” (Coupland, 2010).  This would suggest that those who remain passive with regard to the progression of time, must deal with their consequential fate; while those who embrace life actively, can appreciate their destiny.  The metaphor here, for sustainable planning could not be more cogent.  As the effects on the environment from human activity become more and more apparent and accepted, there are those who may choose merely to observe, while failing to alter their actions and behaviours.  It is incumbent however, upon the vast majority of humanity to take action, to participate in altering the fate not only of the species, but of the entire biosphere, so as to appreciate a greater, sustained, destiny.  As Farr pointedly exclaims, the “time for half measures has passed.” (Farr, 2008).  Piecemeal efforts at urban planning sustainability may be argued to lack the coherency and the strategic force necessary for significant, real change to occur. 

An unfortunate reality of humanity is that most do not perceive time beyond their lifetimes either historically or with regard to the future.  As a very self-absorbed species, the present seems the most important as it is the time-frame being personally experienced.  Coupland-speak refers to this as Centennial Blindness[9], and it may even lead to many not being able to contemplate further than the day after tomorrow, let alone further than a decade.  This lends itself to justify the significance of the planning profession in furthering socio-political awareness of the issues facing the world today, and potential solutions in our lives at a municipal level.

When to Act

“Jesus, Rick, only losers make decisions when times are bad.” (Coupland, 2010) states a character in Player One. Coupland-speak refers to this as Castastrohasic Shifts[10]—the dramatic, life-altering changes one attempts in the middle of a crisis—changes which are perhaps made in haste, without full consideration of the situation.  Dale observes how humanity is hard-wired to react quickly to threats, emergencies, scarcities—to the immediate and personal, yet ignore the white-noise of the apparently routine.  This she laments is what makes raising awareness about the gradual negative shifts in our biophysical environment so difficult.  The world is not facing an acute natural disaster from human activity but rather a slow abiotic decline.

Anthropocene[11], Coupland explains to us, represents the time period, or distinct ‘geological epoch’ which is defined by the human footprint on the planet Earth—there was a time before and after the advent of Man, and this is unfortunately ecologically observable. Player One reminds us however that the Anthropocene has in fact been quite short—especially in relation to other earthlings, current and past—with every human alive today having only 19 previous generations coming before.  This knowledge should give us pause to the thought of how many future generations are to come.  This destiny truly is available to be won.

“Humans have to endure everything in life in agonizing endless clock time—every single second of it.  Not only that, but we have to remember enduring our entire lives.  And then there is the cosmic punchline that our lives are, in fact, miniscule compared to geological time or the time frames of the galaxies and stars.” (Coupland, 2010)

Coupland draws a parallel between current generations of humans not having consideration for their progeny, and the tragic fate of those who suffer from Alzheimer’s.  “Alzheimer’s makes your parents forget you”, a character laments.

Alzheimer’s may be a “punishment sent to (humanity)” for refusing to change its ways, states another.  Coupland’s use of the theme of time and humanity’s gift of awareness of it, reminds us that we must pay heed, or suffer the consequences.  Current populations are the creators of their legacy and if they fail to consider them in the present, they all may as well be parents suffering from Alzheimer’s.

________________

Works Cited

Coupland, D. (2010). Player One: What is to Become of Us? House of Anansi Press Inc. Toronto. 

Crabbe, J. (2006). Challenges for sustainability in cultures where regard for the future may not be present. Sustainability: Science, Practice & Policy. Fall 2006. Volume. 2. Issue 2.

Dale, A. (2001). At the Edge: Sustainable Development in the 21st Century. UBC Press. Vancouver.

Farr, D. (2008). Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design with nature. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Global Report on Human Settlements. (2009). Planning Sustainable Cities. UN HABITAT. United Nations Human Settlement Programme. Earthscan: London.        

Jacobs, J. (1961). The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Random House. New York.

Our Common Future (1987).  Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development. Transmitted to the General Assembly as an Annex to document A/42/427 - Development and International Co-operation: Environment. United Nations.

Saha, D. & Paterson, R.G. (2008). Local government efforts to promote the “Three Es” of Sustainable Development. Journal of Planning Education and Research. 28, pp. 21-37


[1]Binary Subjective Qualities: Subjective human qualities that most of us take for granted but which remain elusive for some people with brain anomalies.  These include humour, empathy, irony, musicality, and a sense of beauty.  Subjective sensitivity is often regulated by specific nodes in the right side of the brain that fine-tune and contextualize the information we take in.” (Coupland, 2010)

[2] Chronocanine Envy – “Sadness experienced when one realizes that, unlike one’s dog, one can not live only in the present tense.  As Kierkegaard said, “Life must be lived forward.” (Coupland, 2010)

[3] Narrative Drive – “The belief that life without a story is a life not worth living—quite common, and ironically accompanied by the fact that most people can not ascribe a story to their lives.” (Coupland, 2010)

[4] Denarration – “The process whereby one’s life stops feeling like a story.” (Coupland, 2010)

[5] Sequential Dysphasia – “Dysfunctional mental states do stem from malfunctions in the brain’s sequencing capacity.  One commonly known short-term sequencing dysfunction is dyslexia.  People unable to sequence over a slightly longer term might be “no good with directions.”  The ultimate sequencing dysfunction is the inability to look at one’s life as a meaningful sequence or story.” (Coupland, 2010)

[6] Crystallographic Money Theory  – “The hypothesis that money is a crystallization or condensation of time and free will, the two characteristics that separate humans from other species.” (Coupland, 2010)

[7] Time-Will Uniqueness – “The belief that awareness of time and the possession of free will are the only two characteristics that separate humans from all other creatures.” (Coupland, 2010)

[8] Proscenial Universe Theory – “The notion that time simply provides a medium—an arena—within which emotions are able to plays themselves out.” (Coupland, 2010)

[9] Centennial Blindness – “The inability of most people to understand future time frames longer than about a hundred years.  Many people have its cousin, Decimal Blindness-the inability to think beyond a ten-year time span—and some people have the higher speed version, Crastinal Blindness—the inability to think past tomorrow.” (Coupland, 2010)

[10] Castastrohasic Shifts – “Enormous, life-changing decisions that are delayed until a crisis has been reached.  In most cases this is the worst time to be making such decisions.” (Coupland, 2010)

[11] Anthropocene – “A term recognizing that human intrusion on the planet’s surface and into the atmosphere has been so extreme as to qualify our time on earth as a specific geological epoch.  Along with vast increases in anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases, which have drastically raised the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, our human footprint now covers more than 83 percent of the earth’s surface, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.”


[VIDEO] Michael Shermer: The pattern behind self-deception

“Michael Shermer says the human tendency to believe strange things — from alien abductions to dowsing rods — boils down to two of the brain’s most basic, hard-wired survival skills. He explains what they are, and how they get us into trouble.” – TED Talks


[VIDEO] Cracking a raw egg 60 feet (20 meters) under water…


[VIDEO] NASA TIMELAPSE OF EARTH

“Vimeo user Tomislav Safundžić knitted NASA footage into this beautiful time-lapse video of Earth — its continents, seas, the lights of cities — and the surrounding sky and stars as they appear from the International Space Station. As astronaut Ron Garan wrote here on The Atlantic last December, seeing our planet like that imparts the realization “that we are all riding through the universe together on this spaceship we call Earth, that we are all interconnected, that we are all in this together, that we are all family.” Take two minutes to enjoy the video below (full-screen recommended), and get a glimpse of the world from that “orbital perspective” — both literally and figuratively.”


[VIDEO] The South American Spectacle Bear–the closest relative to the Giant Panda of China and the inspiration for Paddington Bear!

The most loving bear in nature. Mothering for 3 years.


“Space scientists recently completed an examination of orbital debris, recovered after circling the Earth for several years. They discovered that much of it was coated with a thin film of what was delicately described as “fecal matter”, attributed to astronaut’s sloppy sanitation. This may solve one of the mysteries of life’s origin on Earth: it seems to have arisen almost as soon as conditions were favorable, and not after the billions of years of molecular trial and error required by what Isaac Asimov called the “unblind working of chance.””

Toilets of the Gods 
Or: The Colonisation of Space
By Sir Arthur C. Clarke

Space scientists recently completed an examination of orbital debris, recovered after circling the Earth for several years. They discovered that much of it was coated with a thin film of what was delicately described as “fecal matter”, attributed to astronaut’s sloppy sanitation.

This may solve one of the mysteries of life’s origin on Earth: it seems to have arisen almost as soon as conditions were favorable, and not after the billions of years of molecular trial and error required by what Isaac Asimov called the “unblind working of chance.”

Obviously, organized life-forms need have occurred only once in this Galaxy, if the very first space-faring civilization was as careless about the environment as we are. Years ago, Hoyle and Wickramasinghe suggested that life had a cosmic, and not terrestrial, origin. They may be right, though not precisely in the way they imagined. It’s a humbling thought that we may have arisen from dumped sewage; the first chapter of Genesis would certainly require drastic revision.

On the other hand, if – as some philosophers have suggested- this Earth does indeed harbor the only life in the Universe, that deplorable state of affairs is now being rectified. We may draw some consolation – I hesitate to say inspiration – from the fact that our descendants are already on their way to the stars.

But we certainly would not recognize them, and it might be tactless to ask exactly how they got there.


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