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Project MUSE - On Nonscalability: The Living World Is Not Amenable to Precision-Nested Scales
"Because computers zoom across magnifications, it is easy to conclude that both knowledge and things exist by nature in precision-nested scales. The technical term is “scalable,” the ability to expand without distorting the framework. But it takes hard work to make knowledge and things scalable, and this article shows that ignoring nonscalable effects is a bad idea. People stumbled on scalable projects through the same historical contingencies that such projects set out to deny. They cobbled together ways to make things and data self-contained and static, and thus amenable to expansion. In European New World plantations, the natives were wiped out; coerced and alienated plants and workers came to substitute for them. Profits were made because extermination and slavery could be discounted from the books. Such historically indeterminate encounters formed models for later projects of scalability. This essay explores scalability projects from the perspective of an emergent “nonscalability theory” that pays attention to the mounting pile of ruins that scalability leaves behind. The article concludes that, if the world is still diverse and dynamic, it is because scalability never fulfills its own promises."

"How is scalability created? It is not a necessary feature of the world. People stumbled on scalable projects through historical contingencies. They cobbled together ways to make raw materials (for both goods and knowledge) selfcontained and static, and thus amenable to expansion. In European sugarcane plantations, the natives were wiped out; exotic, coerced, and alienated plants and workers came to substitute for them. Profits were made because the general mess of extermination and slavery could be discounted from the books. Such historically indeterminate encounters formed models for later projects of scalability.

Do we live in a world of scalable nonsocial landscape elements—nonsoels? Yes and no. The great “progress” projects of the last several centuries have built on the legacy of the colonial plantation to make scalability work in business, government, and technology. But scalability has never been complete. In recent years, changes in global capitalism have challenged the assumption of scalability for labor and natural-resource management, and at least some theorists in the social sciences have pointed out the malevolent hegemony of precision. Meanwhile, critics of scalability have raised distress signals about the fate of biological and cultural diversity on earth. It is an important time to develop nonscalability theory as a way to reconceptualize the world—and perhaps rebuild it."

[PDF here: ]

"I can’t say enough how good Anna Tsing’s essay on nonscalabilty is. “On Nonscalability: The Living World Is Not Amenable to Precision-Nested Scales.” Common Knowledge 18, no. 3 (September 19, 2012): 505–24. "

"Scalability is the enemy of difference. (Page 507)

"On Nonscalability: The Living World Is Not Amenable to Precision-Nested Scales by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing" ]

[See also:
"“On Nonscalability” of teaching and learning"
annalowenhaupttsing  scale  scalability  slow  small  2012  difference  diversity  capitalism  knowledge  expansion  growth  degrowth  culture  technology  progress  labor  work  biology  humanism  humanity  sustainability  environment  sugar  teaching  learning  howweteach  howwelearn  unschooling  deschooling  antigrowth 
10 days ago by robertogreco
Dr Fish Philosopher🐟 on Twitter: "1. <Brews some coffee.> <puts on anthropologist hat> <cracks knuckles> So the theft of my wonderful colleague, @kahente's, daughter's name by a non-Indigenous film production raises the issue of how western/euro-americ
[images throughout with screenshots of citations]

"1. <Brews some coffee.> <puts on anthropologist hat> <cracks knuckles>

So the theft of my wonderful colleague, @kahente's, daughter's name by a non-Indigenous film production raises the issue of how western/euro-american folks understand 'culture'+ the erasure of Indigenous laws

2. Western/euro-american folks have employed the notion of 'culture' to describe the 'customs, traditions, languages, social institutions' of The Other for a long while now. Made perhaps famous in anthropology's embrace of this unit of analysis in the last few hundred years.

3. the thing about 'culture' in its emergence as anthro's unit of analysis (vs, say, sociology's also fraught but in different ways study of 'society') is that it was employed through colonial period (+ still) to displace the legal-governance standing of nations of 'The Other'.

4. While Euro nations/the West were deemed to have 'laws', everyone else (the Rest) were deemed to have 'customs'/'traditions'/'culture'. This coincided with vigorous efforts by British/American & other western actors to do everything possible to invalidate the laws of 'The Rest'

5. What happens when 'the Rest' have laws? It means that Euro-American actors ('The West') might actually have reciprocal responsibilities to those nations under emerging international law in colonial period & cannot just steal land and destroy nations without legal consequences.

6.(Interlude --- everything I know about this is from Joanne Barker's fabulous book "Sovereignty Matters" and Sylvia Wynter's crucial, canonical piece "Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation--An Argument").

7. As Barker (2005:4) shows us: law matters because this is medium through which nationhood/statehood were recognized+asserted. Both Treaties and Constitutions were mobilized to assert claims over lands/peoples. Genocide was done 'legally' within precepts of euro/american law

8. What happened when euro-american actors entered into treaties with Indigenous nations/confederacies in NA? Euro-american colonizers quickly realized recognition of the laws of the 'Other' meant their claims to lands were vulnerable to international challenge (Barker 2005)

9. So, euro-american colonizers had two handy little tricks up their sleeve: first, invalidate the humanity of those you colonize (Wynter 2003). Place them firmly in the category of the 'fallen flesh'/sinners/'Other' incapable of rational thought (law) ((Wynter 2003: 281-282)

(sorry, this one is a slow burn because I want to make sure I cite sources fairly and generously and provide ample material for folks to consult and check out)

10. This invalidation is helped by the papal bull of 1493, which establishes the 'Doctrine of Discovery' (aka: Spain and Portugal have the right to claim lands they 'find' in the name of God). This is re-asserted in 19th century USA

11. Second, once you invalidate the humanity of those you colonized, & established that only euro-western/euro-american 'man' can possess rational thought/law, you invalidate the knowledge/being of the other as 'myth/ 'story'/ & 'CULTURE'. Law for the West, Culture for the Rest.

12. This is where the rise of Anthropology is so crucial. It arises at a time when euro-american actors are frantically looking for ways to invalidate the laws, sovereignty, nationhood, self-determination and humanity of everyone they colonized.

13. Just when euro-american actors are looking for ways to legally justify their breaking of treaties they entered into with folks they colonized, anthro trots in with its focus on 'culture'. Culture as embodiment of everything that comprises law without recognizing its authority

14. Once you've established a hierarchy of humanity with white western christian males as the only real '(hu)Man' (see Wynter (2003) and Zakiyyah Iman Jackson (2013)), you can set about bracketing out 'the Rest' from your notion of legal and scientific plurality.

15. All of this is crucial. The western 'modern' framing of White Western Christian Men as the only beings capable of rational thought. The anthro fascination w/ 'cultures' of 'The Rest'. (The west/rest framing I borrow from Colin Scott's "Science for the West/TEK for the Rest")

16. This is of course entangled with capitalist expansion. Who can possess things, people, lands is important to expanding claims to property. The designation of subhumanity/de-authorization of laws of The Other are crucial to the violent capitalist white supremacist project.

17. As Christina Sharpe (2016) teaches us: "the history of capital is inextricable from the history of Atlantic chattel slavery".

18. This all comes to matter, anthropologically, because anthro becomes the 'caretaker' of The Other and their de-authorized legal orders, laws, knowing, being. This is the white possessive, as Aileen Moreton-Robinson ((2015) and Moreton-Robinson (2014: 475)) demonstrates:

19. So, when western actors are shocked to discover that they cannot just take things from other nations/societies/confederacies/legal orders, this is because anthro has faithfully done its job as acting as 'caretaker' for the laws/knowing/being of all those nations dispossessed.

20. Remember that the invention/fetishization of small c plural 'cultures' was crucial to the de-authorization of laws, epistemes, ontologies, being of everyone but White European Christian Rational Man. Anthro is basically an epic legal argument against sovereignty of 'The Rest'

21. And this coincided, not innocently, with assertions of racial hierarchies that deemed certain peoples to possess rational law, science, sovereignty, authority. The possession of law coincides with western beliefs in rationality (Wynter 2003).

22. Anthro has a buddy, and that buddy is biology. Biology, as Wynter (2003) demonstrates, mobilizes in the 19th century to develop the notion of Man(2). Man(2) not only has rationality, but he has evolution on his side, justifying his white possessiveness (Wynter 2003: 314-315)

23. So, as long as The West has Law and the Rest has culture, white western actors will continue to dispossess, appropriate, steal,+violate the legal orders of those peoples they colonize, because they believe they have an ontological right to these things (Moreton-Robinson 2015)

24. And anthropology has a lot of answering to do, still, for its role in de-authorizing the legal orders of those colonized by western imperial actors. It is complicit in the re-framing of legal orders, being, and knowing as 'culture', 'myth', 'tradition', and 'custom'.

25. Finally, for an in-depth examination of the ways anthro works to de-authorize Indigenous law, please buy+read Audra Simpson's _Mohawk Interruptus_, which demonstrates how anthro's focus on 'cultures' is used to dispossess Haudenosaunee in North America

26. Please amend tweet 6 to read: Everything I know about this is from Joanne Barker, Aileen Moreton-Robinson, Audra Simpson+Sylvia Wynter!!! These 4 thinkers should be among the canon of work taught in Anthro theory courses to help displace its pervasive white possessiveness.

27. So, to wrap up this essay -- the incident this week was the theft of a Kanienkeha name. Audra Simpson (2014) here explains how the concept of 'culture' & western property (il)logics are used to deny Indigenous ownership of lands, knowing, being through white possessiveness:

28. Anthro must contend with this reality that Audra Simpson so clearly lays out in her work: it is built entirely on the denial of Indigenous sovereignty. And Anthro relies on racial hierarchies that emerge with assertion of 'rational' western white christian 'Man' (Wynter 2003)

Important addition to this morning's twitter essay! I cited Colin Scott's 'Science for the West, Myth for the Rest?',but David kindly points me towards the crucial work of Stuart Hall here (which I will now go read!!!) "

[unrolled here: ]
zoetodd  2018  anthropology  cul;ture  sociology  socialsciences  colonialism  decolonization  capitalism  indigeneity  indigenous  law  joannebarker  sylviawynter  power  truth  freedom  treaties  constitutions  humanity  humanism  dehumanization  spain  portugal  españa  invalidation  thewest  hierarchy  hierarchies  colinscott  zakiyyahimanjackson  othering  rationality  biology  dispossession  colonization  audrasimpson  myth  myths  tradition  customs  aileenmoreton-robinson  property  possession  possessiveness  sovereignty  race  racism  stuarthall 
december 2018 by robertogreco
10,000 ["How to Send a Message 10,000 Years into the Future."]
"This is The Ray Cat Solution:

1. Engineer cats that change colour in response to radiation.

2. Create the culture/legend/history that if your cat changes colour, you should move some place else."

"In the 1980's, a curious project was proposed by two scientists : why not creating a breed of radioactive cats that would change colors when they are next to nuclear waste?

OFFICIAL SELECTION Pariscience 2015 - International Science Film Festival -- This film is on free access - if you like it or if you feel it should be seen, feel free to share it.

Philosophers Françoise Bastide and Paolo Fabbri were part of the Human Interference Task Force, employed by the US Department of Energy and Bechtel Corp at the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository in 1981. Their solution consisted of two steps:

Engineer a cat that changes colour in response to radiation.

Create a culture around this cat, such that if your cat changes colour, you should move someplace else.

This requires a combination of scientific work in biology as well as social sciences and art, and there are many questions to consider:

• How do we actually engineer this cat?
• What are some of the scientific challenges?
• How do we create this culture?
• What types of art are more effective?

and much more..."

This project is as multi-faceted as it can be. Everyone's expertise and opinions are welcome and encouraged. We are here to challenge each other, ask questions, learn and share knowledge and perspectives with eachother.

How do we engineer a colour change in response to radiation?
Where do we start and what are the challenges?

How do we send a message 10,000 years into the future?
What types of projects do we need to do in order to create this culture?

How is science funded?
What are the regulations and current perspectives on this type of project?
Should ray cats be allowed to exist?"

This isn't a project. It is a movement. It doesn't have a particular direction, nor is it meant to. We are starting out with a blank canvas, and many directions we could go. The movement exists simply from those who choose to visit it and contribute.

We encourage creativity, and discussion. Question each other's ideas, inspire new ones, think out of the box and listen to what people have to say. Every mistake made and every question asked is progress.

This movement and process is bigger than the cats. This page also exists as a challenge to artists, scientists and anyone. How provocative are your ideas? Does this project have any less or perhaps more meaning than yours? Are your ideas truly creative and innovative?

There are many questions to answer, and even more questions to ask. We are in our first few years of another ten thousand. If nothing else, we at least have some time.

Feeling inspired? Want to start a project? Not sure how you can contribute? Write to us at: "
cats  bioluminescence  biology  bioengineering  multispecies  radiation  via:vruba  pets  françoisebastide  paolofabbri  color  art  design  science  future 
december 2018 by robertogreco
Studying Humpback Whales to Better Communicate with Aliens
"In this video, a pair of scientists talk about their work in studying the communication patterns of humpback whales to learn more about how we might someday communicate with a possible extraterrestrial intelligence. No, this isn’t Star Trek IV. For one thing, whales have tailored their communication style to long distances, when it may take hours to received a reply, an analog of the length of possible interplanetary & interstellar communications. The scientists are also using Claude Shannon’s information theory to study the complexity of the whales’ language and eventually hope to use their findings to better detect the level of intelligence in alien messages and perhaps even the social structure of the alien civilization itself."

[video: ]
animals  biology  communication  whales  2018  multispecies  morethanhuman  sound  audio  via:lukeneff  intelligence  informationtheory  seti  complexity  language  languages  structure  anthropology  social 
november 2018 by robertogreco
Juana Gómez
[via: "Chilean artist Juana Gómez uses photography, weaving and embroidery to explore themes of genealogy, biology and interconnectivity in her own (and her daughter's) female lineage #womensart" ]

[See also: ]
chile  glvo  embroidery  art  artists  juanagómez  geneology  interconnected  biology  interconnectivity 
september 2018 by robertogreco
foone on Twitter: "So, programmers, you know those systems that have been maintained for TOO LONG? that are just too expensive (in terms of technical debt) to replace, that are just hacks on hacks on hacks at this point, are a never ending maintenance nig
"So, programmers, you know those systems that have been maintained for TOO LONG? that are just too expensive (in terms of technical debt) to replace, that are just hacks on hacks on hacks at this point, are a never ending maintenance nightmare that can't be killed?

That's life. Not in the sense of "your life", but Life in general.
Life was a moderately scoped novel idea for a single-celled lifeform that consumed chemicals spewing out of deep sea vents. simple, easy, ship by christimas, we'll be done and can move onto other projects.



with evolution, there's no second system. there's only iterative development over billions of years. it's frankly lucky that anything works at this point.

it'd be a fun idea for a comedy sketch. an anthropomorized God comes to reverse how the "Life" project is doing, and Evolution has to present their work.

"So, how are those sulfur-eaters doing? I know you had some schedule slips, but I bet they're really optimized now."
"Well... let's focus on the positives. They made it to the Moon!"
"The... Moon?"

"And they built global communication network! They can transmit messages around the world in milliseconds, and they use this for all sorts of things. Entertainment, commerce, diplomacy..."

"Let's not focus on the 'Human' branch so much. Check this branch out: The Blue Whale! Largest animal, EVER, even bigger than those award winners back before we had that crash back 65 million years ago. we're talking 190 tons, 100 feet long."

"Amazing. Well, at least you're sticking with the sea-bound branch. I never really believed in that 'land-based' fork."
"Uh, well, about that"
"They're descended from land animals..."

"You're telling me that you took my design for single-celled life, built it up into multi-cellular life, build the whole "fish" branch, then they developed that into land-based animals, developed mammals as a specialized sub-class of land-mammals, then PUT THEM BACK IN THE SEA?"

"Yeah. They're actually related to giraffes."
"Steven, can you bring in the Giraffe?"

"Check out the long neck on this baby!"
"Why? Why would you do this?"
"Well, we thought it'd be useful for eating leaves higher up in the trees, but it turns out they don't really do that. Instead they mainly use it for watching for predators and keeping track of other giraffes."

"Wait, wait. I remember seeing an earlier document on this. How'd you handle the
recurrent laryngeal nerve problem?"
"Yeah, yeah, in vertebrates the left nerve goes under the aortic arch. You clearly had to redesign that for an animal as long-necked as this 'Giraffe'"

"uhh... well, you see..."
"Don't tell me that you didn't..."
"We ran out of time, and couldn't do a full redesign of that system. We just had to hack it into a working state, so we just..."
"You just what?"
"... made it longer?"

"You made it longer? but it only goes from the larynx to the vagus nerve! those are both up there in the top of the neck!"
"Yeah, but for historical reasons we designed it to go around the aortic arch in the heart. It made sense back in the early tetrapod era, with fish"

"So how long is it now? In Giraffes?"
"Uh... it's about 15 feet long"
"yeah. Man, you should have seen some of those sauropod designs back in the day! We're talking 92 feet, 30 meters!"

"No wonder we canceled that project."

"Don't worry. The 'human' branch is working on canceling the rest of the projects for us, so we'll finally be free of this mess."
"Good. I've been meaning to start working on the Europa site, it looks like it'll be a lot more fun. No "land", just miles and miles of sea.""
coding  evolution  humor  life  2018  nature  biology 
september 2018 by robertogreco
The world is poorly designed. But copying nature helps. - YouTube
"Japan’s Shinkansen doesn’t look like your typical train. With its long and pointed nose, it can reach top speeds up to 150–200 miles per hour.

It didn’t always look like this. Earlier models were rounder and louder, often suffering from the phenomenon of "tunnel boom," where deafening compressed air would rush out of a tunnel after a train rushed in. But a moment of inspiration from engineer and birdwatcher Eiji Nakatsu led the system to be redesigned based on the aerodynamics of three species of birds.

Nakatsu’s case is a fascinating example of biomimicry, the design movement pioneered by biologist and writer Janine Benyus. She's a co-founder of the Biomimicry Institute, a non-profit encouraging creators to discover how big challenges in design, engineering, and sustainability have often already been solved through 3.8 billion years of evolution on earth. We just have to go out and find them."
biomimicry  design  classideas  janinebenyus  biology  nature  trains  shinkansen  japan  birds  sustainability  biomimetics  form  process  plants  animals  2017  circulareconomy  ecosystems  systemsthinking  upcycling  cities  urban  urbanism 
may 2018 by robertogreco
PIG/PORK: Archaeology, Zoology and Edibility: Pía Spry-Marqués: Bloomsbury Sigma
"Pigs unite and divide people, but why? Pig/Pork explores the love-hate relationship between humans and pigs through the lenses of archaeology, biology, history and gastronomy, providing a close and affectionate look of the myriad causes underlying this singular, multi-millennial bond.

What is it that people in all four corners of the world find so fascinating about the pig? When did the human obsession with pigs begin, how did it develop through time, and where is it heading? Why are pigs so special to some of us, but not to others? Pig/Pork sets out to answer these and other porcine-related questions, examining human-pig interactions across the globe through time, from the Palaeolithic to the present day. The book dissects pig anatomy and behaviour, and describes how this knowledge plays a major role in the advance of the agricultural and medical sciences, among others. The book also looks closely at the history of pig-human interaction; how they were domesticated and when, how they affected human history through their diseases, and how they have been involved in centuries of human conflicts, with particular reference to the story of the Iberian Jews and Muslims at the time of the Inquisition. The book goes on to look at how pigs' characteristics and our relationship with them have combined to produce many of the world's great dishes. All this is accompanied by a liberal peppering of pork recipes and the stories behind them, along with facts, wisdom and porker lore, providing a thought-provoking account of where our food comes from, both historically and agriculturally, and how this continues to influence many parts of our behaviour and culture."
pigs  books  pork  human-animalrelations  human-animalrelationships  morethanhuman  multispecies  livestock  agriculture  history  culture  food  archaeology  zoology  gastronomy  biology  science 
may 2018 by robertogreco
Scientists Still Can't Decide How to Define a Tree - The Atlantic
"So far, there is no standout gene or set of genes that confers tree-ness, nor any particular genome feature. Complexity? Nope: Full-on, whole-genome duplication (an often-used proxy for complexity) is prevalent throughout the plant kingdom. Genome size? Nope: Both the largest and smallest plant genomes belong to herbaceous species (Paris japonica and Genlisea tuberosa, respectively—the former a showy little white-flowered herb, the latter a tiny, carnivorous thing that traps and eats protozoans).

A chat with Neale confirms that tree-ness is probably more about what genes are turned on than what genes are present. “From the perspective of the genome, they basically have all the same stuff as herbaceous plants,” he said. “Trees are big, they’re woody, they can get water from the ground to up high. But there does not seem to be some profound unique biology that distinguishes a tree from a herbaceous plant.”

Notwithstanding the difficulty in defining them, being a tree has undeniable advantages—it allows plants to exploit the upper reaches where they can soak up sunlight and disperse pollen and seeds with less interference than their ground-dwelling kin. So maybe it’s time to start thinking of tree as a verb, rather than a noun—tree-ing, or tree-ifying. It’s a strategy, a way of being, like swimming or flying, even though to our eyes it’s happening in very slow motion. Tree-ing with no finish in sight—until an ax, or a pest, or a bolt of Thanksgiving lightning strikes it down."
biology  botany  classification  trees  2018  verbs  rachelehrenberg  plants  science  genetics  multispecies  wood  longevity  andrewgroover  ronaldlanner  evolution  davidneale  genomes  complexity 
april 2018 by robertogreco
80-Year-Old Man Hasn’t Watered This Sealed Bottle Garden Since 1972 And It’s Still Alive
"Almost 54 years ago, David Latimer had opened a bottle and had planted a seed that would soon amaze the entire world. Whereas the ecosystem was closed, it was functional. Yes. David Latimer has successfully and surprisingly grown a plant that was sealed inside a glass bottle.

According to sources, the plant was sown on a Sunday of the Easter in 1960. Inside a 10-gallon glass carboy, David added a small amount of compost and some water. In 1972, he opened the bottle again to add just a little amount of more water and then that was it. The glass bottle was destined to be sealed.

Where this might seem like an undoable and unachievable thing, it has been done and it has been achieved. A sustained ecosystem is now growing by the day in David Latimer’s sealed glass bottle and is an amazing version of our earth at a micro level."
classideas  via:doingitrong  terraratiums  1972  2018  biosphere  biology  ecosystems 
april 2018 by robertogreco
OCCULTURE: 66. Gordon White in “Breaking Kayfabe” // Ursula Le Guin, Dragons & the Story Shape of the 21st Century
"If ya hit the ol’ play button on this one, it’s probably because of the name in the title. Gordon White is in the house. Mr. White as he’s known in the metafiction that is our current cultural narrative. But Mr. White is no reservoir dog in this story. He’s the Humphrey Bogart of High Magic, the main mage behind the oh-so-popular Rune Soup blog and podcast. You’ve read it, you’ve heard it. And if ya haven’t, well, you’re in for quite the trip on this here starship.

Gordon’s mind is a cabinet of curiosities and we pull out quite a bit of them here, including how we can rearrange our reality, the magic of fiction, artistic impulses, Game of Thrones, a game of tomes, and if ya ever wanted to hear Gordon White speak in pro wrestling terminology, well, there’s a bit of that too.

So let’s do this damn thing already and cast this pod off deep into the primordial chaos, where the protocols of the elder scrolls read more like a legend on a map of Middle Earth than they do a plan of global domination."
gordonwhite  fiction  fantasy  novels  art  makingart  magic  myth  mythology  belief  creativity  ryanpeverly  nonfiction  stories  storytelling  change  homer  bible  truth  ursulaleguin  2018  occulture  westernthought  carljung  josephcampbell  starwars  culture  biology  nature  reality  heroesjourney  potency  archetypes  dragons  odyssey  anthropology  ernestodimartino  religion  christianity  flow  taoism  artmagic  artasmagic  magicofart  permaculture  plants  housemagic  love  death 
february 2018 by robertogreco
When Scientists "Discover" What Indigenous People Have Known For Centuries | Science | Smithsonian
"Our knowledge of what animals do when humans aren’t around has steadily increased over the last 50 years. For example, we know now that animals use tools in their daily lives. Chimps use twigs to fish for termites; sea otters break open shellfish on rocks they selected; octopi carry coconut shell halves to later use as shelters. But the latest discovery has taken this assessment to new heights—literally.

A team of researchers led by Mark Bonta and Robert Gosford in northern Australia has documented kites and falcons, colloquially termed “firehawks,” intentionally carrying burning sticks to spread fire. While it has long been known that birds will take advantage of natural fires that cause insects, rodents and reptiles to flee and thus increase feeding opportunities, that they would intercede to spread fire to unburned locales is astounding.

It’s thus no surprise that this study has attracted great attention as it adds intentionality and planning to the repertoire of non-human use of tools. Previous accounts of avian use of fire have been dismissed or at least viewed with some skepticism.

But while new to Western science, the behaviors of the nighthawks have long been known to the Alawa, MalakMalak, Jawoyn and other Indigenous peoples of northern Australia whose ancestors occupied their lands for tens of thousands of years. Unlike most scientific studies, Bonta and Gosford’s team foregrounded their research in traditional Indigenous ecological knowledge. They also note that local awareness of the behavior of the firehawks is ingrained within some of their ceremonial practices, beliefs and creation accounts.

The worldwide attention given to the firehawks article provides an opportunity to explore the double standard that exists concerning the acceptance of Traditional Knowledge by practitioners of Western science.

Traditional Knowledge ranges from medicinal properties of plants and insights into the value of biological diversity to caribou migration patterns and the effects of intentional burning of the landscape to manage particular resources. Today, it’s become a highly valued source of information for archaeologists, ecologists, biologists, ethnobotanists, climatologists and others. For example, some climatology studies have incorporated Qaujimajatuqangit (Inuit traditional knowledge) to explain changes in sea ice conditions observed over many generations.

Yet despite the wide acknowledgement of their demonstrated value, many scientists continue to have had an uneasy alliance with Traditional Knowledge and Indigenous oral histories.

On the one hand, these types of knowledge are valued when they support or supplements archaeological, or other scientific evidence. But when the situation is reversed—when Traditional Knowledge is seen to challenge scientific “truths —then its utility is questioned or dismissed as myth. Science is promoted as objective, quantifiable, and the foundation for “real” knowledge creation or evaluation while Traditional Knowledge may be seen as anecdotal, imprecise and unfamiliar in form.

Are Indigenous and Western systems of knowledge categorically antithetical? Or do they offer multiple points of entry into knowledge of the world, past and present?

Ways of Knowing

There are many cases where science and history are catching up with what Indigenous peoples have long known.

For instance, in the past two decades, archaeologists and environmental scientists working in coastal British Columbia have come to recognize evidence of mariculture—the intentional management of marine resources—that pre-dates European settlement. Over the course of thousands of years, the ancestors of the Kwakwaka’wakw and other Indigenous groups there created and maintained what have become known as “clam gardens”—rock-walled, terrace-like constructions that provide ideal habit for butter clams and other edible shellfish.

To the Kwakwaka’wakw, these were known as loxiwey, according to Clan Chief Adam Dick (Kwaxsistalla) who has shared this term and his knowledge of the practice with researchers. As marine ecologist Amy Groesbeck and colleagues have demonstrated, these structures increase shellfish productivity and resource security significantly. This resource management strategy reflects a sophisticated body of ecological understanding and practice that predates modern management systems by millennia.

These published research studies now prove that Indigenous communities knew about mariculture for generations—but Western scientists never asked them about it before. Once tangible remains were detected, it was clear mariculture management was in use for thousands of years. There is a move underway by various Indigenous communities in the region to restore and recreate clam gardens and put them back into use.

A second example demonstrates how Indigenous oral histories correct inaccurate or incomplete historical accounts. There are significant differences between Lakota and Cheyenne accounts of what transpired at the Battle of Greasy Grass (Little Big Horn) in 1876, and the historical accounts that appeared soon after the battle by white commentators.

The Lakota and Cheyenne can be considered more objective than white accounts of the battle that are tainted by Eurocentric bias. The ledger drawings of Red Horse, a Minneconjou Sioux participant in the battle, record precise details such as trooper’s uniforms, the location of wounds on horses, and the distribution of Indian and white casualties.

In 1984, a fire at the battleground revealed military artifacts and human remains that prompted archaeological excavations. What this work revealed was a new, more accurate history of the battle that validated many elements of the Native American oral histories and accompanying pictographs and drawings of the events. However, without the archaeological evidence, many historians gave limited credence to the accounts obtained from the participating Native American warriors.

Hypotheses incorporating traditional knowledge-based information can lead the way toward unanticipated insights. The travels of Glooscap, a major figure in Abenaki oral history and worldview, are found throughout the Mi’kmaw homeland of the Maritime provinces of eastern Canada. As a Transformer, Glooscap created many landscape features. Anthropologist Trudy Sable (Saint Mary’s University) has noted a significant degree of correlation between places named in Mi’kmaw legends and oral histories and recorded archaeological sites.

Opportunities at the Intersection

As ways of knowing, Western and Indigenous Knowledge share several important and fundamental attributes. Both are constantly verified through repetition and verification, inference and prediction, empirical observations and recognition of pattern events.

While some actions leave no physical evidence (e.g. clam cultivation), and some experiments can’t be replicated (e.g. cold fusion), in the case of Indigenous knowledge, the absence of “empirical evidence” can be damning in terms of wider acceptance.

Some types of Indigenous knowledge, however, simply fall outside the realm of prior Western understanding. In contrast to Western knowledge, which tends to be text-based, reductionist, hierarchical and dependent on categorization (putting things into categories), Indigenous science does not strive for a universal set of explanations but is particularistic in orientation and often contextual. This can be a boon to Western science: hypotheses incorporating traditional knowledge-based information can lead the way toward unanticipated insights.

There are partnerships developing worldwide with Indigenous knowledge holders and Western scientists working together. This includes Traditional Ecological Knowledge informing government policies on resource management in some instances. But it is nonetheless problematic when their knowledge, which has been dismissed for so long by so many, becomes a valuable data set or used selectively by academics and others.

To return to the firehawks example, one way to look at this is that the scientists confirmed what the Indigenous peoples have long known about the birds’ use of fire. Or we can say that the Western scientists finally caught up with Traditional Knowledge after several thousand years."

[See also:
"How Western science is finally catching up to Indigenous knowledge: Traditional knowledge has become a highly valued source of information for archaeologists, ecologists, biologists, climatologists and others"

"It’s taken thousands of years, but Western science is finally catching up to Traditional Knowledge" ]
science  indigenous  knowledge  archaeology  ecology  biology  climatology  climate  animals  nature  amygroesbeck  research  clams  butterclams  birds  morethanhuman  multispecies  knowing  scientism  anthropology  categorization  hierarchy  hawks  firehawks  fire  landscape  place  nativeamericans  eurocentricity  battleofgreasygrass  littlebighorn  adamdick  kwaxsistalla  clamgardens  shellfish  stewardship  inuit  australia  us  canada  markbonta  robertgosford  kites  falcons  trudysable  placenames  oralhistory  oralhistories  history  mariculture 
february 2018 by robertogreco
How Birds-of-Paradise Produce Super-Black Feathers - The Atlantic
"Blackbirds, it turns out, aren’t actually all that black. Their feathers absorb most of the visible light that hits them, but still reflect between 3 and 5 percent of it. For really black plumage, you need to travel to Papua New Guinea and track down the birds-of-paradise.

Although these birds are best known for their gaudy, kaleidoscopic colors, some species also have profoundly black feathers. The feathers ruthlessly swallow light and, with it, all hints of edge or contour. They make body parts seem less like parts of an actual animal and more like gaping voids in reality. They’re blacker than black. None more black.

By analyzing museum specimens, Dakota McCoy, from Harvard University, has discovered exactly how the birds achieve such deep blacks. It’s all in their feathers’ microscopic structure.

A typical bird feather has a central shaft called a rachis. Thin branches, or barbs, sprout from the rachis, and even thinner branches—barbules—sprout from the barbs. The whole arrangement is flat, with the rachis, barbs, and barbules all lying on the same plane. The super-black feathers of birds-of-paradise, meanwhile, look very different. Their barbules, instead of lying flat, curve upward. And instead of being smooth cylinders, they are studded in minuscule spikes. “It’s hard to describe,” says McCoy. “It’s like a little bottlebrush or a piece of coral.”

These unique structures excel at capturing light. When light hits a normal feather, it finds a series of horizontal surfaces, and can easily bounce off. But when light hits a super-black feather, it finds a tangled mess of mostly vertical surfaces. Instead of being reflected away, it bounces repeatedly between the barbules and their spikes. With each bounce, a little more of it gets absorbed. Light loses itself within the feathers.

McCoy and her colleagues, including Teresa Feo from the National Museum of Natural History, showed that this light-trapping nanotechnology can absorb up to 99.95 percent of incoming light. That’s between 10 and 100 times better than the feathers of most other black birds, like crows or blackbirds. It’s also only just short of the blackest materials that humans have designed. Vantablack, an eerily black substance produced by the British company Surrey Nanosystems, can absorb 99.965 percent of incoming light. It consists of a forest of vertical carbon nanotubes that are “grown” at more than 750 degrees Fahrenheit. The birds-of-paradise mass-produce similar forests, using only biological materials, at body temperature.

Vantablack is genuinely amazing: It’s so good at absorbing light that if you move a laser onto it, the red dot disappears. But McCoy has created a similar demonstration with her super-black feathers. In the image below, you can see two feathers, both of which have been sprinkled with gold dust. The left one is from the lesser melampitta—a bird of average blackness—and it looks as golden as its surroundings. The right one comes from a paradise riflebird—one of the 42 species of bird-of-paradise. Yes, it is covered in gold dust. And yes, it still looks black. The gold settles within the grooves of microscopic forest, and all of its glitter is lost.

This opens up several other questions, says Rafael Maia from Columbia University, who studies the evolution of bird colors. “Is this something unique to birds-of-paradise, or have other species evolved similar optical solutions?” he says. “If they have, do they use the same type of feather modifications?”

Many animals and plants use microscopic structures to produce exceptionally vivid colors with metallic sheens; this is called iridescence. Comparably fewer species use microscopic structures for the opposite purpose: to absorb colors entirely. These include a few butterflies and the Gaboon viper.

The viper—whose fangs, at two inches, are the longest of any snake—likely uses its super-black scales for camouflage, breaking up its outline so that the rest of its body better blends into the leaf litter of a rainforest. The birds-of-paradise, meanwhile, probably use their unfeasibly black blacks for the same thing that seems to motivate everything about them: sex.

“These likely evolved as an optical illusion, to make adjacent colors seem even brighter than they are,” says McCoy. “Animal eyes and brains are wired to control for the amount of ambient light. That’s why an apple looks red whether it is in the sun or the shade, even though the wavelength hitting our eyes is quite different in those scenarios. A super-black frame inhibits this ability, so nearby colors look like they are very bright—even glowing.”

The male birds use this illusion to great effect. The magnificent riflebird—that’s its adjective, not mine—splays out his super-black wings and flicks his head between them, showing off his electric blue throat. The superb bird-of-paradise—again, that is literally its name—spreads a cape of super-black feathers to highlight the electric blue patches on his cheeks and chest. He ends up looking like a spectral, wide-mouthed face. The six-plumed bird-of-paradise erects a super-black tutu and shimmies about to show off his kaleidoscopic throat bib.

Feathers on birds-of-paradise contain light-trapping nanotechnology that makes some of the deepest blacks in the world.

The illusions work best when viewed straight on. From that angle, the little barbules and spikes are pointing straight at you, and they become better at trapping light. When viewed from the side, the super-blacks lose some of their blackness. That’s why the dancing males take such care to face the objects of their attention, bouncing around so their audience never gets a side view.

Super-black surfaces have plenty of uses for humans, too. They could camouflage military vehicles, help solar panels collect more light, or stop stray light from entering telescopes, improving the ability to spot faint stars. Vantablack can already do all of the above, but McCoy thinks the structure in super-black feathers might still be useful to engineers. “If these could be really cheaply 3-D printed, that would be amazing,” she says."
birds  nature  color  black  biology  biomimcry  science  2018  edyong  nanotechnology  vantablack  blackness 
january 2018 by robertogreco
Human cumulative culture: a comparative perspective [.pdf]
"Lewis G. Dean, Gill L. Vale, Kevin N. Laland, Emma Flynn and Rachel L. Kendal"

"Many animals exhibit social learning and behavioural traditions, but human culture exhibits unparalleled complexity and diversity, and is unambiguously cumulative in character. These similarities and differences have spawned a debate over whether animal traditions and human culture are reliant on homologous or analogous psychological processes. Human cumulative culture combines high-fidelity transmission of cultural knowledge with beneficial modifications to generate a ‘ratcheting’ in technological complexity, leading to the development of traits far more complex than one individual could invent alone. Claims have been made for cumulative culture in several species of animals, including chimpanzees, orangutans and New Caledonian crows, but these remain contentious. Whilst initial work on the topic of cumulative culture was largely theoretical, employing mathematical methods developed by population biologists, in recent years researchers from a wide range of disciplines, including psychology, biology, economics, biological anthropology, linguistics and archaeology, have turned their attention to the experimental investigation of cumulative culture. We review this literature, highlighting advances made in understanding the underlying processes of cumulative culture and emphasising areas of agreement and disagreement amongst investigators in separate fields."
lewisden  gillvale  kevinlaland  emmaflynn  rachelkendal  2013  culture  animals  human  humans  anthropology  biology  crows  corvids  multispecies  psychology  economics  cumulativeculture  apes  chimpanzees  orangutans  linguistics  archaeology  morethanhuman 
january 2018 by robertogreco
Children Of The Anthropocene | Future Unfolding | Heterotopias
"Look beneath your feet and you will see the Anthropocene. It is made of the deep concrete that paves our cities, the abundant plastics that constitute our waste and the metal pipes that funnel our water and oil. Look up and the chances are you will see it, too. Vapour trails linger in the air after an aeroplane has shot through a clear, blue sky, their chemical residue spraying delicately over the earth below.

“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life”
In 2000, the Nobel-prize winning atmospheric chemist, Paul Crutzen, and biologist, Eugene F. Stoermer, advanced a theory suggesting we are no longer living in the geological epoch known as the Holocene. Following the Paleolithic Ice Age, the Holocene provided us with stable, mild climates for approximately 12,000 years. Weather patterns were relatively predictable while land, animals, plant and tree life carved out a flourishing existence amidst its warm, pleasant temperatures. Citing the measurable effect greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane were exacting on the atmosphere, Crutzen proposed the Anthropocene, “the age of man”, the delineation of a time defined by human action on the environment. While the term has not yet gained official designation, there are increasing efforts to scientifically prove its existence. Global warming, plastic pollution, nuclear waste and many other human-driven phenomenon leave an unmistakable trace in geological records, the data of which is being used to evidence the Anthropocene.

Despite the bleak hubris and narcissism underpinning the term, these scientific efforts are facilitating a broader dawning ecological awareness. Eschewing the apocalyptic fatalism of its many contemporaries, Future Unfolding asks not what the world looks like after the deluge but before it. The game pulls off the temporal trick of transporting both player and setting back in time, adopting an almost childlike gaze of its seemingly edenic world. Inspired by designers Mattias Ljungström and Marek Plichta’s own experiences growing up in the Swedish and Polish countryside, dense forests of coniferous trees grow unchecked and its woodland floor is often carpeted with delicate red and yellow flowers. With such a shift in perspective—a reversion back to an earlier self—Future Unfolding asks us to assume a state of naivety and rediscover a sense of openness. With it, we might relearn our relationship with nature, unpick our assumptions and dissolve the hubris of our Anthropocene.

Things don’t function as you might expect in Future Unfolding. A tree is often a tree but at other times it is a portal, capable of transcending time and space. Sometimes these portals appear in its fauna like the idly grazing sheep who possess the ability to teleport. Elsewhere, amidst the ferns and luminescent lichen, pines appear to make patterns, simple shapes that when strung together, produce an entity capable of dissolving obstacles such as the impassable boulders strewn across the land. I remember playing in the ancient woodlands of Snowdonia as a child, forging many of the same connections and exploring the same potential of the environment that Future Unfolding depicts. That landscape hummed with the vibrancy of life, from the insects that consumed the pungent, rotting leaves on the ground to the thick, green moss that covered each rock. It offered me a window into another world that, as a child, echoed in my consciousness."

"For a crisis as enveloping as the Anthropocene, there is a value in this type of universalism. Specific problems abound that require specific solutions, of course, but Future Unfolding, along with other video games, literature, art and music are beginning to craft a new vernacular capable of conveying this shift in expression. Bjork’s work has long since channelled some sort of symbiosis with nature. Speaking about utopia in a recent interview with Dazed, she said: “There’s this old argument that civilisation treats nature the same as man treats women—you have to oppress it and dominate in order to progress. I just don’t agree with that. There is another way.” Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith crafts what might be considered the sonic equivalent to Future Unfolding’s pristine wilderness, her dense latticework synths sparkling with the same primordial urgency as the game. Track titles like “Existence in the Unfurling” speak to a similar biological enmeshing that Future Unfolding works towards. Ed Key and David Kanaga’s Proteus explores similar terrain, that game’s fizzing soundtrack determined by your place in the environment. Trees, hillocks and beaches all carry specific sounds, the effect of which jostles you into paying closer attention to its procedurally generated landscape."

"Throughout both Future Unfolding and the Southern Reach Trilogy, the gap between “us” and “them”—between humans and other life—is broken down. Sleeping mammals with long, white hair populate the game’s glowing landscape, each one keen to dispense knowledge. “Things near are not less beautiful and wondrous than things remote,” one said to me. “The near explains the far. The drop is a small ocean.” Their words emphasise wholeness and co-existence at times while also asking the player to unknow. “Don’t worry if you don’t understand everything,” said another. “Not till we are lost. In other words, not till we have lost the world do we begin to find ourselves.” This might sound like the garbling of a new-age hippie but these messages signal to a wider picture while the moments of discovery and interaction enable us to peek at the minutiae of blooming flowers and bobbling rocks.

Adopting this shift in perspective allows us to understand the scope of the Anthropocene as well as a way out of it. In his 2016 book, Dark Ecology, the philosopher Timothy Morton, wrote that “ecological awareness forces us to think and feel at multiple scales, scales that disorient normative concepts such as ‘present’, ‘life’, ‘human’, ‘nature’, ‘thing’, ‘thought,’ and ‘logic.’” But in traversing and reconciling these eerie phenomena we might reach a state of intimacy with nonhumans. “Coexisting with these nonhumans is ecological thought, art, ethics and politics.” For Morton, such a coexistence doesn’t entail a deferral to primitivism but an embracing of technologies amidst a transforming viewpoint. Play is crucial to the process and Future Unfolding gives us a space where we might test out these ideas for size to see how they fit, feel and taste.

Future Unfolding’s childlike gaze gently encourages a flexibility of thinking within us. It asks us to forget old cognitive pathways and instead forge new routes of thought. It is sometimes a sticky, unsettling process and, eschewing formal instructions or direction, the game reflects our current state of unknowing. We are prone to flailing in the murky darkness of the forest. But as we reformulate our relationship with nonhumans, Future Unfolding asks us to push through the uncomfortable anxiety of dawning ecological intimacy. Only then might we reach the ecstasy the Biologist experiences in Area X. We are prone to flailing in the murky darkness of the forest. But as we reformulate our relationship with nonhumans, Future Unfolding asks us to push through the uncomfortable anxiety of dawning ecological intimacy. Only then might we reach the ecstasy the Biologist experiences in Area X."
anthropocene  2017  lewisgordon  games  gaming  videogames  timothymorton  paulcrutzen  eugenestroermer  systems  systemsthinking  edkey  davidkanaga  proteus  kaitlynaureliasmith  futureunfolding  johnmuir  nature  mattiasljungström  marekplichta  globalarming  climatechange  via:anne  trees  lanscape  toplay  universalism  jeffvandermeer  southernreachtrilogy  biology  morethanhuman  multispecies  darkeccology  ecology  björk 
october 2017 by robertogreco
Gig Posters for Scientists | Flickr
"Hand screen printed posters for distinguished scientists visiting UNC Chapel Hill Biology."
posters  science  via:unthinkingly  biology  scientists 
october 2017 by robertogreco
Profile: AURA: Aarhus University Research on the Anthropocene
"We have entered the Anthropocene - a new geologic epoch, defined by unprecedented human disturbance of the earth’s ecosystems.

The Anthropocene is a confusing age. At a time when humans have come to be a 'force of nature' that is instrumental in causing rapid, often unintended, changes to the earth they inhabit, nature in its classical sense is over. Nature itself has become a cultural side-effect, a side-effect full of unintended consequences.

At the heart of our confusion is the problem of unintentional design on anthropogenic, i.e. human disturbed, landscapes. Human projects do not always result in the landscapes of which we dream. Climate change is one example of unintentional design; new zoonotic diseases are another. As these examples suggest, we tend to imagine unintentional design as a danger to human survival. But what if anthropogenic landscapes were sometimes also sites of new designs for living—unplanned but still life-enhancing?

New approaches that cut across the conventional divide between the human sciences and the life sciences are required to consider these Anthropocene dilemmas.  "Living in the Anthropocene: Discovering the potential of unintentional design on anthropogenic landscapes" is a research project at Aarhus University that seeks to study these dilemmas.

Headed by Niels Bohr professor and anthropologist Anna Tsing, the project aims to open up a novel and truly trans-disciplinary field of research into the Anthropocene.  Applying insights and methods from anthropology, biology and philosophy, the  project will focus on the 'co-species landscapes' that humans and other species come to co-inhabit in the Anthropocene.  The projects suggests that a descriptive and trans-disciplinary approach is needed to understand the kinds of lives that are made and the futures that are possible in the ruined, re-wilded, and unintended landscapes of the Anthropocene."
annalowenhaupttsing  anthropocene  capitalism  climatechange  nielsbohr  aarhusuniversity  multispecies  ecosystems  landscapes  anthropology  biology  philosophy  morethanhuman  annatsing 
september 2017 by robertogreco
Insects Unlocked - Entomology for Everyone
"Insects Unlocked is a public domain project from The University of Texas at Austin’s Insect Collection. In 2015, our team of student and community volunteers crowd-funded a campaign to create thousands of open, copyright-free images. From more than 200 small contributions, we built an insect photography field kit and photo studio. This website holds discussions of the small animals we encounter, updates from the project, and other entomological miscellanea.

To view our galleries, visit Insects Unlocked on flickr. [ ]"

[via: "The Entomologist Giving Bugs Their Close Up" ]
insects  biology  classideas  science  photography  nature  via:subtopes 
july 2017 by robertogreco
More Than Bread: Sourdough As a Window Into The Microbiome : The Salt : NPR
"Benjamin Wolfe sticks his nose into a Ziploc bag and takes a whiff. "Ooh! That's actually kind of nice," he says. Inside the bag is a pungent, beige goop. It's a sourdough starter — a slurry of water, flour, yeasts and bacteria — from which loaves of delicious bread are born. And it's those microbes that have the attention of Wolfe, a microbiologist at Tufts University.

As the microbes munch on the sugars in the flour, they produce carbon dioxide, ethanol, acids and a smorgasbord of other compounds that give sourdough its bouquet of flavors and aromas.

It's got "a little bit of buttery and barnyard," he says. He hands me the bag to sniff, and surprisingly, it does smell like butter. But barnyard? "It's like fermented hay and manure," he explains. "But in a good way."

This starter, which came in the mail from New York, and other samples sent by home bakers will be used to better understand how the mix of microbes in a starter imbues it with its unique flavor and character. The submissions are part of the sourdough project, a citizen-science initiative led by biologist Rob Dunn at North Carolina State University. Wolfe is a collaborator.

The project is trying to answer many questions: How does a starter's microbial ecosystem vary with different flours? How does a new starter compare with one that's 200 years old, filled with tradition and lore? Do they change with geography, as some claim? And, of course, how can you bake a more delicious loaf?

Not long after the researchers asked for volunteers last fall, I sealed my own starter in Ziploc bags and mailed it to Wolfe's lab. About 1,000 others responded to the initial call, and 571 of them submitted samples — mostly from the U.S. and Europe, but also a few from Australia, New Zealand and even one from Thailand.

"In terms of getting a great depth of sampling across a huge geographic area, this is impressive," Wolfe says. "We've never done anything like this for any fermented food before."

The researchers are just starting to analyze the samples, but Wolfe hypothesizes that microbial variations will be determined more by whatever microbes are already in the flour than by geography. And a rough, preliminary analysis of a few samples seems to support that. Comparing East and West Coast starters hasn't revealed any obvious differences so far. Another test shows that the microbes in different starters bought from King Arthur, a flour company, appear to be similar to one another.

For Wolfe, food is an avenue for his larger goal of trying to better understand microbial ecosystems, or microbiomes, which are found everywhere, from your gut to the oceans. In recent years, scientists have learned that microbiomes have an outsize influence on nearly every aspect of the world, including health, agriculture and the environment. Imbalances in our gut microbiomes, for example, have been linked to a laundry list of health issues, including obesity, colon cancer and autism. Last year, then-President Barack Obama launched the National Microbiome Initiative, a half-billion-dollar plan to study the microbiome.

Unlike most microbiomes, which contain up to thousands of species, fermented foods like sourdough, sauerkraut and kimchi have only a few to a couple of dozen species, making them easier to study. At the same time, they share commonalities with more complex microbiomes. For example, the microbiome on cheese rinds is similar to that on your skin.

Fermented foods, then, are like the lab mice of microbiomes, Wolfe says. "Just like how people can take a mouse and learn human biology, we're taking fermented foods and trying to learn about microbiomes." He wants to understand what environmental factors and biochemical processes determine which organisms can thrive in different microbiomes. The ultimate goal is to pinpoint the intricate molecular machinery that dictates how microbes interact and change over time under different circumstances.

And this kind of change can happen fast — within a few weeks, as Wolfe has discovered with his experiments on cheese. For example, a mold found on Camembert cheese called Penicillium (related to other molds that produce the antibiotic penicillin) grows blue-green and fuzzy in more austere, wild environments. "It looks like the thing that might rot your bread or fruit at home," Wolfe says. It produces pigments and toxins that help fight off other microbes — a reaction to stressful environments.

But in the comfy confined environment of a cheese cave, for example, the microbe no longer needs those harsh survival tactics. It stops making toxins, loses pigment and takes on the familiar white of Camembert. "We can see microbes completely transforming their physiology in the cheese-making environment, which is really cool," he says.

These changes aren't necessarily new species but are akin to wine-grape varieties or dog breeds. They're variations that give rise to the range of textures, aromas and flavors of cheese. Wolfe has been working with Jasper Hill Farm, a cheese-maker in Vermont, helping it to analyze its cheese microbes and better control flavors.

Wolfe and his colleagues are also studying salami, fermented cabbages like sauerkraut and kimchi, and fermented teas known as kombucha. Sourdough is just the latest to join the lab.

Back in the lab, Elizabeth Landis, a graduate student, is processing the new starter sample. After sterilizing a corner of the Ziploc bag with ethanol, she snips it with a scissors and squeezes some of the starter into small vials for freezing.

The frozen samples will be sent to Dunn's lab to have their DNA sequenced to identify every single species in the starter. But to learn how microbes interact and evolve, Wolfe and Landis need their microbes alive.

So they freeze another sample with glycerol, which keeps the microbes viable. They will isolate individual microbial species, letting them grow on petri dishes under different conditions, like varying amounts of food and nutrients. Then, they can observe how the microbes react to and change in different environments.

Wolfe and Landis look at another sourdough starter under a microscope — the sample I had sent in a few months ago. I was curious: Was an imbalanced microbiome the reason my bread didn't rise the way I wanted it to?

"You've got some good stuff!" Wolfe says. Right away, he spots a few globules and a bunch of smaller, pill-shape critters: yeasts and bacteria, respectively. The proper ratio of yeast cells to bacterial cells, he tells me, is about 1 to 100. "It's a typical sourdough," he says.

So it wasn't my starter that was at fault, after all. It was me.

These samples will now go to Dunn's lab, which is trying to take a DNA snapshot and capture the most detailed census ever of a sourdough microbiome. The researchers plan to begin sequencing the first batch of starters in a few months. The hope is that identifying individual microbes in the starters will help answer the hows and whys behind the spectrum of aromas and flavors in sourdough. What they learn may even help bakers create new kinds of even more delicious bread.

We may never look at sourdough the same way again. "We have these things right on our dinner plates," Wolfe says. "Yet there are all these mysteries of the microbiome that's right there that we haven't figured out.""
science  food  bread  bacteria  cooking  classideas  2017  microbiomes  kombucha  biology 
july 2017 by robertogreco
Towards an Internet of Living Things – OpenExplorer Journal – Medium
"Conservation groups are using technology to understand and protect our planet in an entirely new way."

"The Internet of Things (IoT) was an idea that industry always loved. It was simple enough to predict: as computing and sensors become smaller and cheaper, they would be embedded into devices and products that interact with each other and their owners. Fast forward to 2017 and the IoT is in full bloom. Because of the stakes — that every device and machine in your life will be upgraded and harvested for data — companies wasted no time getting in on the action. There are smart thermostats, refrigerators, TVs, cars, and everything else you can imagine.

Industry was first, but they aren’t the only. Now conservationists are taking the lead.

The same chips, sensors (especially cameras) and networks being used to wire up our homes and factories are being deployed by scientists (both professional and amateur) to understand our natural world. It’s an Internet of Living Things. It isn’t just a future of efficiency and convenience. It’s enabling us to ask different questions and understand our world from an entirely new perspective. And just in time. As environmental challenges — everything from coral bleaching to African elephant poaching— continue to mount, this emerging network will serve as the planetary nervous system, giving insight into precisely what actions to take.

It’s a new era of conservation based on real-time data and monitoring. It changes our ecological relationship with the planet by changing the scales at which we can measure — we get both increased granularity, as well as adding a truly macro view of the entire planet. It also allows us to simultaneously (and unbiasedly) measuring the most important part of the equation: ourselves.

Specific and Real-Time

We have had population estimates of species for decades, but things are different now. Before the estimates came from academic fieldwork, and now we’re beginning to rely on vast networks of sensors to monitor and model those same populations in real-time. Take the recent example of Paul Allen’s Domain Awareness System (DAS) that covers broad swaths of West Africa. Here’s an excerpt from the Bloomberg feature:
For years, local rangers have protected wildlife with boots on the ground and sheer determination. Armed guards spend days and nights surrounding elephant herds and horned rhinos, while on the lookout for rogue trespassers.

Allen’s DAS uses technology to go the distance that humans cannot. It relies on three funnels of information: ranger radios, animal tracker tags, and a variety of environmental sensors such as camera traps and satellites. This being the product of the world’s 10th-richest software developer, it sends everything back to a centralized computer system, which projects specific threats onto a map of the monitored region, displayed on large screens in a closed circuit-like security room.

For instance, if a poacher were to break through a geofence sensor set up by a ranger in a highly-trafficked corridor, an icon of a rifle would flag the threat as well as any micro-chipped elephants and radio-carrying rangers in the vicinity.


These networks are being woven together in ecosystems all over the planet. Old cellphones being turned into rainforest monitoring devices. Drones surveying and processing the health of Koala populations in Australia. The conservation website MongaBay now has a section of their site dedicated to the fast-moving field, which they’ve dubbed WildTech. Professionals and amateurs are gathering in person at events like Make for the Planet and in online communities like It’s game on.

The trend is building momentum because the early results have been so good, especially in terms of resolution. The organization WildMe is using a combination of citizen science (essentially human-powered environmental sensors) and artificial intelligence to identify and monitor individuals in wild populations. As in, meet Struddle the manta ray, number 1264_B201. He’s been sited ten times over the course of 10 years, mostly around the Maldives.


The combination of precision and pervasiveness means these are more than just passive data-collecting systems. They’re beyond academic, they’re actionable. We can estimate more accurately — there are 352,271 elephants estimated to remain in Africa — but we’re also reacting when something happens — a poacher broke a geofence 10 minutes ago.

The Big Picture

It’s not just finer detail, either. We’re also getting a better bigger picture than we’ve ever had before. We’re watching on a planetary scale.

Of course, advances in satellites are helping. Planet (the company) has been a major driving force. Over the past few years they’ve launched hundreds of small imaging satellites and have created an earth-imaging constellation that has ambitions of getting an image of every location on earth, every day. Like Google Earth, but near-real-time and the ability to search along the time horizon. An example of this in action, Planet was able to catch an illegal gold mining operation in the act in the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest.


It’s not just satellites, it’s connectivity more broadly. Traditionally analog wildlife monitoring is going online. Ornithology gives us a good example of this. For the past century, the study of birds have relied on amateur networks of enthusiasts — the birders — to contribute data on migration and occurrence studies. (For research that spans long temporal time spans or broad geographic areas, citizen science is often the most effective method.) Now, thanks to the ubiquity of mobile phones, birding is digitized and centralized on platforms like eBird and iNaturalist. You can watch the real-time submissions and observations:


Sped up, we get the visual of species-specific migrations over the course of a year:

[animated GIF]

Human Activity

The network we’re building isn’t all glass, plastic and silicon. It’s people, too. In the case of the birders above, the human component is critical. They’re doing the legwork, getting into the field and pointing the cameras. They’re both the braun and the (collective) brain of the operation.

Keeping humans in the loop has it’s benefits. It’s allowing these networks to scale faster. Birders with smartphones and eBird can happen now, whereas a network of passive forest listening devices would take years to build (and would be much more expensive to maintain). It also makes these systems better adept at managing ethical and privacy concerns — people are involved in the decision making at all times. But the biggest benefit of keeping people in the loop, is that we can watch them—the humans—too. Because as much as we’re learning about species and ecosystems, we also need to understand how we ourselves are affected by engaging and perceiving the natural world.

We’re getting more precise measurements of species and ecosystems (a better small picture), as well as a better idea of how they’re all linked together (a better big picture). But we’re also getting an accurate sense of ourselves and our impact on and within these systems (a better whole picture).

We’re still at the beginning of measuring the human-nature boundary, but the early results suggests it will help the conservation agenda. A sub-genre of neuroscience called neurobiophilia has emerged to study the effects on nature on our brain function. (Hint: it’s great for your health and well-being.) National Geographic is sending some of their explorers into the field wired up with Fitbits and EEG machines. The emerging academic field of citizen science seems to be equally concerned with the effects of participation than it is with outcomes. So far, the science is indicating that engagement in the data collecting process has measurable effects on the community’s ability to manage different issues. The lesson here: not only is nature good for us, but we can evolve towards a healthier perspective. In a world approaching 9 billion people, this collective self-awareness will be critical.

What’s next

Just as fast as we’re building this network, we’re learning what it’s actually capable of doing. As we’re still laying out the foundation, the network is starting to come alive. The next chapter is applying machine learning to help make sense of the mountains of data that these systems are producing. Want to quickly survey the dispersion of arctic ponds? Here. Want to count and classify the number of fish you’re seeing with your underwater drone? We’re building that. In a broad sense, we’re “closing the loop” as Chris Anderson explained in an interview:
If we could measure the world, how would we manage it differently? This is a question we’ve been asking ourselves in the digital realm since the birth of the Internet. Our digital lives — clicks, histories, and cookies — can now be measured beautifully. The feedback loop is complete; it’s called closing the loop. As you know, we can only manage what we can measure. We’re now measuring on-screen activity beautifully, but most of the world is not on screens.

As we get better and better at measuring the world — wearables, Internet of Things, cars, satellites, drones, sensors — we are going to be able to close the loop in industry, agriculture, and the environment. We’re going to start to find out what the consequences of our actions are and, presumably, we’ll take smarter actions as a result. This journey with the Internet that we started more than twenty years ago is now extending to the physical world. Every industry is going to have to ask the same questions: What do we want to measure? What do we do with that data? How can we manage things differently once we have that data? This notion of closing the loop everywhere is perhaps the biggest endeavor of … [more]
davidlang  internetofthings  nature  life  conservation  tracking  2017  data  maps  mapping  sensors  realtime  iot  computing  erth  systems  wildlife  australia  africa  maldives  geofencing  perú  birds  ornithology  birding  migration  geography  inaturalist  ebird  mobile  phones  crowdsourcing  citizenscience  science  classideas  biology 
july 2017 by robertogreco
Your car has just been crushed by hagfish: Frequently Asked Questions | Southern Fried Science
"1396 words • 6~10 min read
Your car has just been crushed by hagfish: Frequently Asked Questions
Wait, what?

Earlier today, Oregon State Police reported that a truck carrying a shipment of live hagfish overturned, spilling it’s slimy cargo all over the highway and damaging at least one vehicle."
science  humor  hagfish  2017  oregon  biology  andrewdavidthaler  nature  multispecies  fish  fishing  commercialfishing 
july 2017 by robertogreco
A biologist explains CRISPR to people at five different levels of knowledge
"For the second part of an ongoing series, Wired asked biologist Neville Sanjana to explain CRISPR to five people with different levels of knowledge: a 7-year-old, a high school student, a college student, a grad student, and an expert on CRISPR. As I began to watch, I thought he’d gone off the rails right away with the little kid, but as soon as they connected on a personal issue (allergies), you can see the bridge of understanding being constructed."

"CRISPR is a new area of biomedical science that enables gene editing and could be the key to eventually curing diseases like autism or cancer. WIRED has challenged biologist Neville Sanjana to explain this concept to 5 different people; a 7 year-old, a 14 year-old, a college student, a grad student and a CRISPR expert."]

[See also: "A neuroscientist explains a concept at five different levels" ]
biology  CRISPR  genetics  nevillesanjana  science  video  explanation  communication  teaching  complexity  classideas  howweteach  2017  genomes 
may 2017 by robertogreco
Monstrous, Duplicated, Potent | Issue 28 | n+1
"On first read, I was dazzled and bewildered. Desperate to impress the organizer, who I thought brilliant, I strained over it line by line in hopes of insight. In the end, I mumbled through our meeting. I didn’t understand the Manifesto until I’d read it three more times. In truth, I probably still don’t. But for a young woman struggling to understand the world after Hurricane Katrina and a global financial crisis, Haraway beckoned. She offered a way to make sense of the things that seemed absent from politics as I knew it: science, nature, feminism.

The Manifesto proclaims itself to be against origin stories, but its own is hard to resist. In 1982, the Marxist journal Socialist Review — a bicoastal publication originally titled Socialist Revolution, whose insurrectionary name was moderated in the late 1970s as politics soured — asked Haraway to write five pages on the priorities of socialist feminism in the Reagan era. Haraway responded with thirty. It was the first piece, she claimed, she had ever written on a computer (a Hewlett-Packard-86). The submission caused controversy at the journal, with disagreement breaking down along geographic lines. As Haraway later recalled in an interview, “The East Coast Collective truly disapproved of it politically and did not want it published.” The more catholic West Coast won out, and the Manifesto was published in 1985 as “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the 1980s,” though it has been known colloquially as the Cyborg Manifesto ever since.

In one sense, Haraway did what she was asked: she outlined the contemporary state of political economy from a socialist-feminist perspective. Her reading of the shift to post-Fordism was loose but lucid. The rise of communications technologies made it possible to disperse labor globally while still controlling it, she noted, scattering once-unionized factory jobs across the continents. The gender of industrial work was changing too: there were more women assembling computer chips in East Asia than men slapping together cars in the American Midwest. Automation was lighter and brighter: in place of hulking industrial machinery, our “machines are made of sunshine” — but this light, invisible power nevertheless caused “immense human pain in Detroit and Singapore.” Family structures were changing: mothers increasingly worked outside the home and headed up the household. The result was what Haraway, drawing on Richard Gordon, called the homework economy — a pointed term for what’s euphemistically and blandly called the service economy.

The Manifesto offered a new politics for this new economy. Prescient about the need to organize the feminized, if not always female, sectors, Haraway explicitly called leftists to support SEIU District 925, a prominent campaign to unionize office workers. She also criticized the idea of a universal subject, whether held up by Marxists (the proletarian) or radical feminists (the woman). A new politics had to be constructed not around a singular agent but on the basis of a patchwork of identities and affinities. How, then, to find unity across difference, make political subjects in a postmodern era, and build power without presuming consensus? “One is too few, but two are too many,” she wrote cryptically. “One is too few, and two is only one possibility.” Acting as isolated individuals leads nowhere, but the effort to act collectively cannot leave difference aside. Women of color, Haraway suggested, following Chela Sandoval, could not rely on the stability of either category; they might lead the way in forging a new, nonessentialist unity based on affinity rather than identity.

This is where the metaphor of the cyborg comes in. For Haraway, the cyborg is a hybrid figure that crosses boundaries: between human and machine, human and animal, organism and machine, reality and fiction. As a political subject, it is expansive enough to encompass the range of human experience in all its permutations. A hybrid, it is more than one, but less than two.

In place of old political formations, Haraway imagined new cyborgian ones. She hoped that “the unnatural cyborg women making chips in Asia and spiral dancing in Santa Rita Jail” would together “guide effective oppositional strategies.” Her paradigmatic “cyborg society” was the Livermore Action Group, an antinuclear activist group targeting the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a nuclear-weapons-research facility in Northern California. The group, she thought, was “committed to building a political form that actually manages to hold together witches, engineers, elders, perverts, Christians, mothers, and Leninists long enough to disarm the state.”

What set the Manifesto apart from other reconceptions of feminism was its embrace of science. The cyborg was a figure that only a feminist biologist — herself an unlikely figure — could imagine. While by the 1980s many feminists were wary of biological claims about sexual difference, evading charges of essentialism by separating sex from gender (biology might give you a certain body, but society conditioned how you lived in it), Haraway argued that failing to take a position on biology was to “lose too much” — to surrender the notion of the body itself as anything more than a “blank page for social inscriptions.” Distinguishing her attachment to the body from the usual Earth Mother connotations was its famous closing line: “I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess.”

Who wouldn’t? The cyborg’s popularity was no doubt fueled in part by the vision of a bionic babe it suggested — a Furiosa or the Terminator — though it couldn’t be further from her meaning. Asked what she considered a true moment of cyborgness in 1999, Haraway responded, “the sense of the intricacy, interest, and pleasure — as well as the intensity — of how I have imagined how like a leaf I am.” The point was not that she shared some biological commonality with a leaf, or that she felt leaves to be kindred spirits (though she very well might have). What made her giddy was the thought of all the work that had gone into producing the knowledge that she was like a leaf — how incredible it was to be able to know such a thing — and the kinds of relationship to a leaf that such knowledge made possible.

Despite her frequent reminders that it was written as a “mostly sober” intervention into socialist-feminist politics rather than “the ramblings of a blissed-out, techno-bunny fembot,” many still read it as the latter. Wired profiled her enthusiastically in 1997. “To boho twentysomethings,” they wrote, “her name has the kind of cachet usually reserved for techno acts or new phenethylamines.” (More recently, the entrepreneurial synthetic biologist Drew Endy deployed the Manifesto in support of his bid to label synthetic biological products as “natural” under federal guidelines to increase their appeal to cautious consumers.)

Its Reagan-era coordinates may have changed, but the Manifesto remains Haraway’s most widely read work. The cyborg became a celebrity, as did Haraway herself, both serving as signifiers of a queer, savvy, self-aware feminism. Yet she has grown weary of its success, admonishing readers that “cyborgs are critters in a queer litter, not the Chief Figure of Our Times.”

Somewhat counterintuitively, it’s Haraway herself who sometimes seems the Chief Figure. There’s no Harawavian school, though she has many acolytes. She does not belong to any particular school herself, though many have attempted to place her. You can’t really do a Harawavian analysis of the economy or the laboratory; other than the cyborg, she’s produced few portable concepts or frameworks. Her own individual prominence runs counter to her view of intellectual work as collectively produced. Yet for thirty years she’s been ahead of intellectual trends, not by virtue of building foundational frameworks but by inspiring others to spawn and spur entire fields, from feminist science studies to multispecies ethics. Her work tends to emerge from problems she sees in the world rather than from engagement with literatures, thinkers, or trends, yet it manages to transcend mere timeliness.

Her new book, Staying with the Trouble, is a commentary on the most pressing threat of our era: catastrophic climate change. It’s hard to think of someone better suited to the task. Climate change requires ways of thinking capable of confronting the closely bound future of countless humans and nonhumans, the basis for certainty in scientific findings, the political consequences of such knowledge, and the kinds of political action that such consequences call for. If Haraway has long practiced such hybrid thinking, that also means the problem best suited to challenging her thought — to testing its mettle, and its usefulness to our political future — has decisively arrived."

"Under Hutchinson’s supervision, she wrote a dissertation heavily influenced by Thomas Kuhn’s 1962 landmark The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Kuhn had caused an uproar with his argument that rather than steadily progressing toward truth, the production of scientific knowledge was marked by conflict and upheaval. What scientists had once been certain was true would eventually be considered wrong. Each emerging framework was often incommensurable with what had come before. Kuhn called this phenomenon a “paradigm shift.” A classic example was the transition from Newtonian physics to Einsteinian relativity."

[See also: "Cthulhu plays no role for me" ]
donnaharaway  2017  science  scientism  feminism  cyborgs  serviceeconomy  economics  academia  philosophy  1982  1985  california  ucsantacruz  queerness  biology  nancyhartstock  marxism  fredericjameson  hueynewton  angeladavis  historyofconsciousness  teresadelauretis  climatechange  anthropocene  naomiklein  blockadia  rustenhogness  kinstanleyrobinson  cyborgmanifesto  jamesclifford  histcon  alyssabattistoni  blackpantherparty  bobbyseale  jayemiller  historyofscience  radicalism  radicalscience  multispecies  animals  praxis  gregorybateson  systemsthinking  language  storytelling  politics  intersectionality  situatedknowledge  solidarity  perspective  thomaskuhn  epistemology  reality  consciousness  primatology  theory  empiricism  octaviabutler  sciencefiction  scifi  patriarchy  colonialism  racism  ignorance  objectivity  curiosity  technology  biotechnology  technofuturism  companionspecies  dogs  ethics  chthulucene  capitalocene  ursulaleguin  utopia  mundane  kinship  families  unity  friendship  work  labor  hope  sophielewis  blackpanthers 
may 2017 by robertogreco
Flatbread Society Seed Journey

This journey to the Middle East can be seen as an awakening of the memory—the long journey the grain itself has taken—through the hands of time.

-Michael Taussig

Seed Journey is a seafaring voyage connected to a public art project* in the former port of Bjørvika in Oslo, Norway. Seed Journey moves people, ideas and seeds through time and space. This voyage—its crew and cargo—are agents that link the commons as they relate to local networks and a more global complex of seed savers and stewards of the land, air and water. A rotating crew of artists, anthropologists, biologists, bakers, activists, sailors and farmers join the journey and share their findings at host institutions along the route from small harbors to large ports from barns to museums (contemporary art, natural history and maritime) to social centers.


Seed Journey departs from the port of Oslo, Norway beginning with a few key defining points and space for new stops and invitations along the way. The crew’s interests will influence the route, but ultimately grains are the compass. Seed Journey maps not only space, but also time and phylogeny: while the more familiar space yields a cartographic map, time yields history and phylogeny yields a picture of networks of relationships between and among living beings—relationships between cultural groups, but also between human and non-human living forms such as seeds, sea-life and the terrestrial species from the various places and times we will traverse.



Flatbread Society is a permanent public art project created in a “common” area amidst the waterfront development of Bjørvika, in Oslo, Norway. In 2012, the international arts collective, Futurefarmers formed Flatbread Society as a proposition for working with local actors to establish an aligned vision for the use of this land. The groups’ dynamic activation of the site through public programs, a bakehouse and a cultivated grain field has attracted the imagination of farmers, bakers, oven builders, artists, activists, soil scientists, city officials; while simultaneously resulting in the formation of an urban gardening community called Herligheten, a Declaration of Land Use, and a permanent grainfield and bakehouse.

Flatbread Society has extended beyond Oslo into a network of projects and people that use grain as a prismatic impetus to consider the interrelationship of food production to realms of knowledge sharing, cultural production, socio-political formations and everyday life.

Flatbread Society is part of Bjørvika Utvikling (BU) public art program Slow Space, commissioned and produced by Bjørvika Utvikling and supported by The Norwegian Public Road Authroities (Eastern Region)."
futurefarmers  seedjourney  michaeltaussig  art  norway  oslo  bjørvika  naturalhistory  flatbreadsociety  slow  baking  biology  science  classideas  activism  sailing  boats  anthropology  barns  museums  seeds  sailboats  spain  denmark  españa  vejle  london  england  cardiff  wales  uk  antwerp  belgium  asturias  lena  mallorca  rmallah  palestine  istanbul  turkey  johanpetersen  børrepetersen  carlemilpetersen  fernandogarcíadory  agency  didierdemorcy  amyfranceschini  marthevandessel  viviensansour  ignaciochapela  martinlundberg  alfonsoborragán  hananbenammar  joeriley  audreysnyder  annavitale  jørundaasefalkenberg 
january 2017 by robertogreco
400-year-old Greenland shark is oldest vertebrate animal | Environment | The Guardian
"She was born during the reign of James I, was a youngster when René Descartes set out his rules of thought and the great fire of London raged, saw out her adolescent years as George II ascended the throne, reached adulthood around the time that the American revolution kicked off, and lived through two world wars. Living to an estimated age of nearly 400 years, a female Greenland shark has set a new record for longevity, scientists have revealed.

The discovery places the lifespan of the Greenland shark far ahead of even the oldest elephant in captivity, Lin Wang, who died aged 86. It is also far longer than the official record for humans, held by 122-year-old Frenchwoman Jeanne Louise Calment.

“It kicks off the bowhead whale as the oldest vertebrate animal,” said Julius Nielsen, lead author of the research from the University of Copenhagen, pointing out that bowhead whales have been known to live for 211 years.

But the Greenland shark doesn’t scoop all the gongs – the title of the world’s longest-lived animal is held by Ming, an Icelandic clam known as an ocean quahog, that made it to 507 years before scientists bumped it off.

Grey, plump and growing to lengths of around five metres, the Greenland shark is one of the world’s largest carnivores. With a reported growth rate of less than one centimetre a year, they were already thought to be long-lived creatures, but just how long they lived for was something of a mystery.

“Fish biologists have tried to determine the age and longevity of Greenland sharks for decades, but without success.” said Steven Campana, a shark expert from the University of Iceland. “Given that this shark is the apex predator (king of the food chain) in Arctic waters, it is almost unbelievable that we didn’t know whether the shark lives for 20 years, or for 1000 years.”

The new research, he says, is the first hard evidence of just how long these creatures can live."
animals  sharks  biology  nature  2016  longevity  age 
august 2016 by robertogreco
Humpback whales around the globe are mysteriously rescuing animals from orcas | MNN - Mother Nature Network
"Scientists are baffled at this seemingly altruistic behavior, which seems to be a concerted global effort to foil killer whale hunts."
animals  biology  whales  multispecies  altruism  behavior  2016  orcas  humpbackwhales  foreden 
august 2016 by robertogreco
What People Can Learn From How Animals Think - The Atlantic
"As de waal recognizes, a better way to think about other creatures would be to ask ourselves how different species have developed different kinds of minds to solve different adaptive problems. Surely the important question is not whether an octopus or a crow can do the same things a human can, but how those animals solve the cognitive problems they face, like how to imitate the sea floor or make a tool with their beak. Children and chimps and crows and octopuses are ultimately so interesting not because they are mini-mes, but because they are aliens—not because they are smart like us, but because they are smart in ways we haven’t even considered. All children, for example, pretend with a zeal that seems positively crazy; if we saw a grown-up act like every 3-year-old does, we would get him to check his meds.

Sometimes studying those alien ways of knowing can illuminate adult-human cognition. Children’s pretend play may help us understand our adult taste for fiction. De Waal’s research provides another compelling example. We human beings tend to think that our social relationships are rooted in our perceptions, beliefs, and desires, and our understanding of the perceptions, beliefs, and desires of others—what psychologists call our “theory of mind.” In the ’80s and ’90s, developmental psychologists, including me, showed that preschoolers and even infants understand minds apart from their own. But it was hard to show that other animals did the same. “Theory of mind” became a candidate for the special, uniquely human trick.

Yet de Waal’s studies show that chimps possess a remarkably developed political intelligence—they are profoundly interested in figuring out social relationships such as status and alliances. (A primatologist friend told me that even before they could stand, the baby chimps he studied would use dominance displays to try to intimidate one another.) It turns out, as de Waal describes, that chimps do infer something about what other chimps see. But experimental studies also suggest that this happens only in a competitive political context. The evolutionary anthropologist Brian Hare and his colleagues gave a subordinate chimp a choice between pieces of food that a dominant chimp had seen hidden and other pieces it had not seen hidden. The subordinate chimp, who watched all the hiding, stayed away from the food the dominant chimp had seen, but took the food it hadn’t seen.

Anyone who has gone to an academic conference will recognize that we, too, are profoundly political creatures. We may say that we sign up because we’re eager to find out what our fellow Homo sapiens think, but we’re just as interested in who’s on top and where the alliances lie. Many of the political judgments we make there don’t have much to do with our theory of mind. We may defer to a celebrity-academic silverback even if we have no respect for his ideas. In Jane Austen, Elizabeth Bennet cares how people think, while Lady Catherine cares only about how powerful they are, but both characters are equally smart and equally human."

"Even if the differences between us and our nearest animal relatives are quantitative rather than qualitative—a matter of dialing up some cognitive capacities and downplaying others—they can have a dramatic impact overall. A small variation in how much you rely on theory of mind to understand others as opposed to relying on a theory of status and alliances can exert a large influence in the long run of biological and cultural evolution.

Finally, de Waal’s book prompts some interesting questions about how emotion and reason mix in the scientific enterprise. The quest to understand the minds of animals and children has been a remarkable scientific success story. It inevitably has a moral, and even political, dimension as well. The challenge of studying creatures that are so different from us is to get into their heads, to imagine what it is like to be a bat or a bonobo or a baby. A tremendous amount of sheer scientific ingenuity is required to figure out how to ask animals or children what they think in their language instead of in ours.

At the same time, it also helps to have a sympathy for the creatures you study, a feeling that is not far removed from love. And this sympathy is bound to lead to indignation when those creatures are dismissed or diminished. That response certainly seems justified when you consider the havoc that the ladder-of-nature picture has wrought on the “lower” creatures."
fransdewaal  animals  biology  books  2016  intelligence  multispecies  psychology  cognition  humans  politics  chimpanzees 
may 2016 by robertogreco
Why Are the Scientists Who Classify Life So Mean to Their Dead?
"The open nature of the science of classification virtually guarantees fights."

"Taxonomy, the art and science of classifying life, really should be a civilized pursuit. It encourages solitude, concentration, care. It rewards a meticulous attention to detail. And while it might occasionally receive some good-natured ribbing from the popular culture—think of all those butterfly collectors stumbling around in Far Side cartoons—it continues to play a vital role at the foundations of modern biology.

It can come as a bit of a surprise, then, when that veneer of civilization cracks, and the field reveals itself to be one of the more contentious arenas in science, a place where arguments over names and classifications rage through the literature for decades. This is both a strength, as challenges to current classification keep the field dynamic and relevant, and an expression of its hardwired vulnerabilities."

"More than twenty years too late for his scientific reputation, and after having done an amount of injury to entomology almost inconceivable in its immensity, Francis Walker has passed from among us.”

Walker’s two-page obituary, in the November 1874 issue of the Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine, sits between a short research note (“Emmelesia unifasciata three years in the pupa state”) and some words on the passing of William Lello (“He leaves a considerable collection of Lepidoptera ...”). Written anonymously, it pulled no punches when it came to the late taxonomist’s legacy: The vast majority of the tens of thousands of new species he proposed were “objects of derision for all conscientious entomologists.” More than once, the obituarist referred to Walker’s work simply as the “evil.”

And yet, the man’s career had begun with promise. His first work, a well-regarded study of the tiny wasps known as chalcidids, had “marked an era in the study of its subject.” Despite considerable inherited wealth, he longed for a permanent position at one of Britain’s major collections. When that position failed to materialize, Walker, “in an unlucky moment,” instead took up the first in a long series of contract appointments cataloging insects for the British Museum.

This is where the trouble began. Moving from drawer to drawer through the collection, Walker took it upon himself to describe what he believed to be thousands of new species in virtually all major groups of insects, a task requiring skills far beyond what he, or anyone else, possessed. “The result,” the obituarist wrote, “was what might have been expected. The work was done mechanically: ‘new genera and species’ were erected in the most reckless manner ...” Through a Rafinesquean combination of industry and incompetence, the humble Englishman had begun to single-handedly wreak havoc on the classification of the world’s insects.

As Walker published more and more dubious names, in wider and wider groups, the entomological establishment grew ever louder in its condemnation. By the time he had exhausted most of the major insect orders, his once considerable “entomological reputation [had been] worn to shreds.” Walker, however, “appeared to be utterly indifferent to anything that could be hurled at him ... In his social relations he was amiability itself ...” When he died, at 65, the entomological community mourned the gentle soul who had walked the halls of the British Museum, but also let out a collective sigh of relief. “We earnestly hope,” the obituarist added, “that never again will it fall to us, nor to our successors in entomological journalism, to have to write such an obituary notice as this.”

But Walker’s name wouldn’t be the last to live in taxonomic infamy. In fact, his obituary seems downright tactful beside Claude Morley’s note, from 1913, on the death of Peter Cameron, an infamous describer of Central American insects.

“Peter Cameron is dead, as was announced by most of the halfpenny papers on December 4th. What can we say of his life? Nothing; for it concerns us in no way. What shall we say of his work? Much, for it is entirely ours, and will go down to posterity as probably the most prolific and chaotic output of any individual for many years past.”

Cameron, a Scottish amateur with a penchant for Central American insects, left a legacy that echoed for decades. Fifty years after his death, Richard Bohart, a taxonomist at the University of California Davis, would reiterate that the entomologist’s “work was careless, his descriptions poor, his locality data were often vague or omitted, his generic assignments were characteristically erroneous and contradictory, and he eschewed illustrations.” Despite all that, or perhaps because of it, Bohart wound up with the thankless task of sorting through Cameron’s North American contributions to a small group of wasps known as the Odynerini. Of the hundred or so names Cameron proposed within the group, almost all, Bohart found, were invalid.

Meanwhile, modern taxonomy has its own outliers. In 2006, over 50 scientists signed an open letter to the administration of the University of Utrecht protesting the work of one Dewanand Makhan, an amateur entomologist who frequently listed the university as his institutional affiliation. (Makhan was a contract employee at the university’s herbarium, and not a member of the academic staff; his publications now list a personal address.)

“For many years,” they wrote, “Dr. Makhan has been a growing threat to taxonomy and zoological nomenclature, publishing a large number of new genera and species in groups as wide ranging as beetles, spiders, and gastropods. These publications are uniformly poor in quality and scholarship.” A group of ant experts put it more bluntly: A 2007 publication by Makhan, they wrote, was “one of the most inadequate papers that has ever been produced in ant taxonomy.”

Makhan’s descriptions are notoriously short on detail. In place of clear scientific diagrams, he illustrates much of his work with blurry, out-of-focus photographs. Most frustrating to fellow entomologists, many of Makhan’s “new” species are instantly recognizable, at least to them, as already described insects. Despite numerous articles and blog posts on the so-called “Makhan problem,” new publications continue to appear, most in a small Australian journal without a traditional peer-review process. (As recently as last year, Makhan described a new species of waterbeetle, Desmopachria barackobamai—named, of course, for the 44th president of the United States.)

The story is a familiar one, but with a modern twist. That’s because the growth of so-called “vanity journals”—publications that look to all appearances like mainstream scientific outlets, but lack rigorous peer-review—has produced new avenues for what some have taken to calling “taxonomic vandalism.” As traditional boundaries between experts and amateurs dissolve in the face of digital publishing, more opportunities than ever exist for novel voices in science, journalism, and politics. Unfortunately, these opportunities come at a cost, as a growing tide of information challenges the discriminatory abilities of scientists and lay readers alike.

While discussions underway now could revise the Codes to include stricter controls on which publications count for classificatory changes, many taxonomists are wary of doing anything that might deter amateur contributions. With so many species left to discover, and with existential threats to biodiversity looming, they realize the field needs as much help as it can get.

In the struggle to balance its highest ideals with its unruliest practicioners, taxonomy teaches us an enduring lesson about science as a whole. While we like to think of that enterprise as an antidote to fallibility—a way of seeing that seeks, through meticulous care and relentless examination, to minimize our tendency toward error—it remains fundamentally, inescapably human. Somewhere in between is where real progress happens."
science  taxonomy  anselpayne  biology  2016  biodiversity  franciswalker  entomology  williamlello  claudemorley  petercameron  richardbohart  dewanandmakhan  amateurs  fallability  humans  zoology  constantinerafinesque  asagray  classification  taxonomists  iczn  naming  names  nomenclature  edmerrill 
april 2016 by robertogreco
The Parliament of Things: Into Latour and His Philosophy
"Researching the conversations between Things, Animals, Plants and People and design the House of The Parliament of Things."

"The Parliament of Things is a speculative research into the emancipation of animals and things. It acknowledges that mankind has reached the end of an anthropocentric world. We can no longer maintain the distorted dichotomy between culture and nature. We share this world with many. Law should not be centred around Men, but around Life. We are just one party, among all animals, plants and objects. What if we welcome all things into our Parliament? What would be the plight of the planet? The reasoning of a fish? What claims would trees make, and what future would oil see for itself?

Do you you want to join? Send us an e-mail:

We at Partizan Publik have invented the Parliament and are playing the role of clerk by bringing it to you. The writer’s contest was a collaborative project that was organized by several partners. In the winter and spring of 2016 we invite several organizations to build the Parliament with us."

"We Have Never Been Modern and the Parliament of Things


In We Have Never Been Modern (1991) Bruno Latour criticizes the distinction between nature and society. He states that our sciences emphasize the subject-object and nature-culture dichotomies, whereas in actuality, phenomenons often cross these lines. As an example, he mentions the hole in the ozone layer, and the different ways the sciences should look at it: ‘Can anyone imagine a study that would treat the ozone hole as simultaneously naturalized, sociologized and deconstucted?’ (6). With this mentioning of the hole in the ozone layer (as well as, among other things, computer chips, Monsanto, and aids) he gives an example of things or phenomena that are not merely objects, but that are hybrids between nature and culture.

With regards to the title of this work, Latour argues that this dualism between subject and object is a ‘modern’ mode of classification, and that this modern mode does not actually correspond with the practical ways in which we live. Thus, this modern dualism actually has never existed: we have never been modern.

The Constitution

‘Modernity is often defined in terms of humanism, either as a way of saluting the birth of ‘man’ or as a way of announcing his death. But this habit itself is modern, because (…) [i]t overlooks the simultaneous birth of ‘nonhumanity’ – things, or objects, or beasts (…)’ (13)

In this chapter, the question at hand is about the constitution. ‘Who is to write the full constitution?’, Latour asks (14). For political constitutions, this is normally done by jurists and Founding Fathers; for the nature of things, this is the task of scientists. But, if we want to include hybrids as well, who is going to write the complete constitution?

Latour calls this complete constitution the ‘Constitution’ with a capital C, to distinguish it from the political one. It defines ‘humans and nonhumans, their properties and their relations, their abilities and their groupings’ (14).

Hobbes & Boyle

When discussing the separation between science and politics, Latour uses the dispute between Robert Boyle and Thomas Hobbes as an example. Boyle can be seen as the founder of modern science – he developed the methodology in which scientists observe a phenomenon produced artificially in a laboratory (in Boyle’s case, the workings of a vacuum pump, in our case, for example, CERN).

Hobbes, on the other hand, rejected this manner of analysis, and focused on theorizing social and political order in terms of human conflicts and agreements. ‘Boyle and Hobbes, then, jointly constructed the program for purifying the discourses of nature and society – expunging from each the traces of the other’ (Pickering). This distinction between science and politics is not just typical for ‘modernity’, but actually defines it, as Latour argues: ‘they are inventing our modern world, a world in which the representation of things through the intermediary of the laboratory is forever dissociated from the representation of citizens through the intermediary of the social contract’ (Latour 27).


Latour established that the modern constitution ‘invents a separation between scientific power charged with representing things and the political power charged with representing subjects’ (29). However, he states we should not think that subjects are far removed from things. Even though Hobbes and Boyle create this distinction, they still speak about the same things: God, the politics of the King of England, nature, mathematics, and spirits and angels, to name a few. It becomes clear that in practice, this separation between science and politics, and nature and culture, does not hold. As Latour states:

Here lies the entire modern paradox. If we consider hybrids, we are dealing only with mixtures of nature and culture; if we consider the work of purification, we confront a total separation between nature and culture.’ (30)

The paradox of modernity, thus, is that we divided the world into two groups –

nature (science) and culture (politics) – but at the same time, in our daily lives, we constantly deal with hybrids between these two groups. But this division renders ‘the work of mediation that assembles hybrids invisible, unthinkable, unrepresentable’ (35). As Latour succinctly puts it: ‘the modern constitution allows the expanded proliferation of the hybrids whose existence, whose very possibility, it denies’ (35).

We Have Never Been Modern

‘Modernity has never begun’, Latour argues. Instead, he calls himself a ‘nonmodern’: ‘A nonmodern is anyone who takes simultaneously into account the moderns’ Constitution and the population of hybrids that that Constitution rejects and allows to proliferate’ (47). He states that hybrids – also called monsters, cyborgs, tricksters – are ‘just about everything; they compose not only our own collectives but also the others, illegitimately called premodern’ (47). So only minor changes separate our era from the periods that were before, Latour states.


In this part, Latour discusses the action that has to be undertaken to acknowledge the existence and the importance of hybrids:

When the only thing at stake was the emergence of a few vacuum pumps, they could still be subsumed under two classes, that of natural laws and that of political representations; but when we find ourselves invaded by frozen embryos, expert systems, digital machines, sensor-equipped robots, hybrid corn, data banks, psychotropic drugs, whales outfitted with radar sounding devices, gene synthesizers, audience analyzers, and so on, when our daily newspapers display all these monsters on page after page, and when none of these chimera can be properly on the object side or on the subject side, or even in between, something has to be done. (50)

Latour calls for the need to outline a space that encompasses both the practice of purification as well as that of mediation. ‘By deploying both dimensions at once, we may be able to accomodate the hybrids and give them a place, a name, a home, a philosophy, an ontology and, I hope, a new constitution’ (51).


Latour tries to locate the position of hybrids, quasi-objects and quasi-subjects by first problematizing the status of the social scientist. He argues that the social scientist, on the one hand, shows that ‘the power of gods, the objectivity of money, the attraction of fashion (…)’ have no intrinsic value, but ‘offer only a surface for the projection of our social needs and interests’ (52). To become a social scientist, Latour states, ‘is to realize that the inner properties of objects do not count, that they are mere receptacles for human categories’ (52).

On the other hand, social scientists also debunk the belief in the freedom of the human subject: they show how the ‘nature of things (…) determines, informs and moulds’ humans (53). So, Latour states that the social scientist ‘see[s] double’:

In the first denunciation, objects count for nothing; they are just there to be used as the white screens on to which society projects its cinema. But in the second, they are so powerful that they shape the human society, while the social construction of the sciences that have produced them remains invisible. (53)

The solution to these contradictory beliefs is dualism, much to Latour’s disapproval. The nature pole is divided into ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ parts, the same partition is made for the subject/society pole. ‘Dualism may be a poor solution, but it provided 99 per cent of the social sciences’ critical repertoire’ (54).

Latour, instead, states objects are society’s co-producters. ‘Is not society built literally – not metaphorically – of gods, machines, sciences, arts and styles?’ (54). He argues we should not focus too much on dialectics, as dialectics foreground the existing dichotomies; instead, he focuses on quasi-objects.

Quasi-objects are in between and below the two poles (…) [and] are much more social, much more fabricated, much more collective than the ‘hard’ parts of nature (…), [yet] they are much more real, nonhuman and objective than those shapeless screens on which society (…) needed to be ‘projected’. (55)

By focusing on the two poles rather than on that what is in between, ‘science studies have forced everyone to rethink anew the role of objects in the construction of collectives, thus challenging philosophy’ (55).


In this chapter, Latour treats the function of anthropology and the role it might be able to play, as well as the concepts of symmetry and asymmetry. If anthropology is to become symmetrical, ‘the anthropologist has to position himself at the median point where he can follow the attribution of both nonhuman and human properties’ (96).

To analyse this new field of study, anthropology … [more]
multispecies  objects  plants  animals  brunolatour  robertboyle  thomashobbes  hybrids  modernity  nonmodern  modern  quasi-objects  law  biology  anthropology  entertainment  science  architecture  campainging  literature  things  theparliamentofthings 
april 2016 by robertogreco
Revealed: why animals' pupils come in different shapes and sizes
"Wolves and foxes are closely related and share many of the same characteristics. But look at their eyes – where wolves have rounded pupils like humans, foxes instead have a thin vertical line. But it isn’t just canines –across the animal kingdom, pupils come in all shapes and sizes. So why the differences?

It’s a question that has long interested scientists working on vision and optics. In a new study published in the journal Science Advances, colleagues from Durham, Berkeley and I explain why these pupil shapes have developed.

Goats, sheep, horses, domestic cats, and numerous other animals have pupils which vary from fully circular in faint light to narrow slits or rectangles in bright light. The established theory for this is that elongated pupils allow greater control of the amount of light entering the eye. For instance, a domestic cat can change its pupil area by a factor of 135 from fully dilated to fully constricted, whereas humans, with a round pupil, can only change area by a factor of 15. This is particularly useful for animals that are active both day and night, allowing for much better vision in low light conditions.

However, if the only reason for elongated pupils was to control the amount of light entering the eye, the orientation would not be important: horizontal, vertical, or diagonal would all offer the same advantages. Instead, the pupils are almost always horizontal or vertical, which suggests there must be other benefits which explain this orientation.

Pupils fit for every niche

Our work has focused on the visual benefits of vertical and horizontal pupils in mammals and snakes. One of the most interesting factors we found is that the orientation of the pupil can be linked to an animal’s ecological niche. This has been described before, but we went one step further to quantify the relationship.

We found animals with vertically elongated pupils are very likely to be ambush predators which hide until they strike their prey from relatively close distance. They also tend to have eyes on the front of their heads. Foxes and domestic cats are clear examples of this. The difference between foxes and wolves is down to the fact wolves are not ambush predators – instead they hunt in packs, chasing down their prey.

In contrast, horizontally elongated pupils are nearly always found in grazing animals, which have eyes on the sides of their head. They are also very likely to be prey animals such as sheep and goats.

We produced a computer model of eyes which simulates how images appear with different pupil shapes, in order to explain how orientation could benefit different animals. This modelling showed that the vertically elongated pupils in ambush predators enhances their ability to judge distance accurately without having to move their head, which could give away their presence to potential prey.

Grazing animals have different problems to deal with. They need to check all around for prey and they need to flee rapidly in case of attack. Having eyes towards the side of their head helps them to see nearly all around them. Having a horizontal pupil enhances the amount of light they can receive in front of and behind them while reducing the amount of light from above and below. This allows them panoramic vision along the ground to help detect potential predators as early as possible. The horizontal pupil also enhances the image quality of horizontal planes and this enhanced view at ground level is also an advantage when running at speed to escape.

So, vertically elongated pupils help ambush predators capture their prey and horizontally elongated pupils help prey animals avoid their predators.

We realised our hypothesis predicted that shorter animals should have a greater benefit from vertical pupils than taller ones. So we rechecked the data on animals with frontal eyes and vertical pupils and found that 82% are what is considered “short” (which we defined as having a shoulder height of less than 42cm) compared with only 17% of animals with circular pupils.

We also realised that there is a potential problem with the theory for horizontal elongation. If horizontal pupils are such an advantage to grazing animals, what happens when they bend their head down to graze? Is the pupil no longer horizontally aligned with the ground?

We checked this by observing animals in both a zoo and on farms. We found that eyes of goats, deer, horses, and sheep rotate as they bend their head down to eat, keeping the pupil aligned with the ground. This remarkable eye movement, which is in opposite directions in the two eyes, is known as cyclovergence. Each eye in these animals rotates by 50 degrees, possibly more (we can only make the same movement by a few degrees).

There are still some unexplained pupils in nature. For example, mongooses have forward-facing eyes but horizontal pupils, geckos have huge circular pupils when dilated which reduce down to several discrete pinholes when constricted and cuttlefish have “W”-shaped pupils. Understanding all these variations is an interesting challenge for the future."
eyes  animals  vision  pupils  biology  anatomy  2016  via:anne  science  optics  eyesight 
march 2016 by robertogreco
What’s a Species, Anyways? | New Republic
"The search for the red wolf's origins have led scientists to a new theory about how evolution actually works."

"Evolution had always been represented as a “tree of life,” with animals diverging from each other until each species slotted into a terminal bud. In recent years, however, scientists have begun to adopt a more dynamic view of what constitutes a species. In 2011, Frank Rheindt and Scott Edwards, two researchers at Harvard, published a paper about hybridization in the scientific journal The Auk. They argued that “introgression”—the scientific term for when genes of one species enter the genome of another species through hybridization—had long been “underappreciated” and was, in fact, an “important and pervasive mechanism” in evolution. It allowed for the rapid introduction of “advantageous novelty” into a species’ gene pool. For example, the Neanderthal genes in the human genome affect the outer skin cells that produce hair, which researchers have suggested might have helped Homo sapiens adapt to colder climates when they migrated out of Africa some 60,000 years ago. Another research paper indicated that Tibetans gained the genes that help them breathe at high altitudes from the Denisovans, another ancient and extinct member of the Homo genus.

It is possible, certainly, for distinctive forms to be lost through hybridization. Non-native rainbow trout, for instance, have overwhelmed some of their idiosyncratic relatives in Western streams. But it is also possible for new forms to arise. No animal has demonstrated the rapid evolutionary advantages of hybridization better than the coyote. The coyote was native to the Great Plains but pushed eastward in the twentieth century into wolves’ former range along a front from Texas to southern Canada. The expansion, however, was not in lockstep. The coyotes that spread via Canada colonized new territory at a rate five times faster than their southern counterparts. A research team at the New York State Museum in Albany found that the northern coyotes encountered and hybridized with Algonquin wolves in Canada, producing larger offspring that could more easily hunt deer in Northeastern forests. These hybrid “coywolves” then spread into New York and Maine, states that had lacked wild canids since the nineteenth century. Evolution, a process that typically took thousands of years, had created a new form in a matter of decades. Hybridization held the key."

"To some biologists, the red wolf demonstrates how wrongheaded it is for the Fish and Wildlife Service to organize its conservation efforts around species in the first place, given how fuzzy the concept has proven. “I think it’s nonsensical for us to argue conservation-management practices on the basis of genomes that haven’t been impacted by genes from other species,” said Michael Arnold, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Georgia. “If we do that ... then there won’t be anything conserved.”

Instead, Arnold suggested a whole new paradigm for the natural world: not a “tree of life,” with its ever-multiplying and distinct branches, but a “web of life,” with species continually diverging and recombining over time —a truer picture of what actually happens in nature. He proposed that rather than spending conservation money to preserve what we have defined as a species, the U.S. government should buy up tracts of land and let natural evolutionary processes—including hybridization—run their course.

Scientists had hoped that DNA testing would yield clear definitions for animal species. Instead, it’s revealed just how impossible such precise determinations are. And yet few would suggest jettisoning the concept of a species altogether: It is, as E.O. Wilson wrote, too fundamental to human ideas of nature. The difference would be recognizing that a species is a human construction rather than a biological reality—a shift in perspective that would, if anything, give conservationists more flexibility to pursue their goals. “The Endangered Species Act is tied to typology, where it should be more oriented toward process,” Wayne said.

In this view, the red wolf need not be a paragon of genetic purity in order to deserve protection; it need only fill a niche in its ecosystem that no other animal does. Jenks echoed this point as well. “It should be about what an animal does in its habitat, and preserving that habitat, that ecology,” she said.

What that would mean for conservation efforts on the ground in North Carolina remains unclear. For the Fish and Wildlife Service, rescuing the red wolf from extinction is one of its greatest accomplishments. But as the agency continues to deliberate about the future of the recovery program, it has also signaled that it doesn’t have much heart left in the red wolf fight. This summer, a female red wolf wandered onto a landowner’s property in Hyde County. Typically, Fish and Wildlife employees trapped and removed unwanted red wolves from private property, but the wolves often journeyed back, and fed-up landowners have started to deny the agency access to their land. Rather than skirmish with another angry resident, the agency capitulated. It gave the man permission to shoot and kill the red wolf—a decision that drew the ire of environmental groups, who launched a lawsuit against the agency. On June 17, the man picked up a gun and, for the first time since the 1960s, intentionally took aim at and lawfully killed the red wolf. When he handed the corpse over to the Fish and Wildlife Service, they discovered that the wolf was nursing. Her pups would not survive without her care. "
biology  evolution  science  species  wolves  bencrair  joelsartore  animals  redwolves  coyotoes  dogs  hybrids  hybridism  wildlife  eowilson 
december 2015 by robertogreco
San Diego Opens First Public Library Biotech Lab
"The world’s first biotech lab in a public library celebrated its grand opening September 1 in the La Jolla-Riford Branch Library of the San Diego Public Library (SDPL). The Bio Lab is part of the library’s Life Science Collaboratory, which has hosted a variety of classes and talks from visiting scientists since it opened its doors in April. The Bio Lab, however, promises to take Collaboratory’s citizen science mission a step further.

Outfitted with used and donated equipment from local sources, the Bio Lab meets Basic Safety Level (BSL) 1 standards, the equivalent of a high school laboratory. It currently offers microscopes, centrifuges, DNA copying machines, electrophoresis gel boxes, a vortex mixer, and other basic molecular biology equipment, as well as access to the branch’s 3-D printer lab and a 50-person classroom. Drawing on San Diego’s thriving biotech community, the Collaboratory has assembled an enthusiastic volunteer staff to helps lead demos, lectures, workshops, and hands-on participation for users of all ages.

All-ages workshops are held monthly, as is a lecture aimed at adults. Workshops, offered by volunteers from the Wet Lab, a local citizen science facility, have included lessons in DNA extraction using a strawberry; lectures have covered topics such as the sensory system of sharks and rays, alternative energy sources, the intestinal parasites Giardia lamblia, and gene splicing.

The Wet Lab has been a critical partner, helping branch manager Shaun Briley set up the laboratory, creating the initial programming, and serving as its advisory board. The Collaboratory has also formed a partnership with the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, as well as local organizations Biomimicry San Diego and the San Diego Barcode of Life Initiative."

"SDPL director Misty Jones is pleased with the program’s reception. “The Library’s mission is to inspire lifelong learning through connections to knowledge and each other,” Jones said in a statement. “We are naturally technology facilitators and guides to the future. We know that fun and educational workshops pique the interest in the sciences among young people. She has already expressed interest in setting up a similar lab space in another branch.

While the regional biotech industry has helped ensure the success of the Collaboratory and Bio Lab, Briley feels that the program could be tweaked to serve any type of community—substituting an emphasis on environmental science or conservation, for example. Hyland agrees. “We want to make sure that this isn’t just something that happens once,” she told LJ, “that we set up a model that can be picked up by other communities.”

“What’s happening in biotechnology and how it’s going to impact everyone’s life is revolutionary,” said Briley, “and in order for there to be a proper civic debate about it, people who aren’t biologists need to understand it. We’re positioning ourselves as a place to do that. Most of what’s available right now is institutional laboratories in universities or in corporations, so one facet of this is that we’re providing public education to enable that civic engagement; the other is that we’ve actually created a Maker space for biology.”

“I love how everyone’s gotten into this, even people who don’t have a background in science,” Hyland said. “That’s why I think this is so fantastic—it’s allowing people who aren’t scientists to make science a part of their everyday life. And it’s not just people coming down from the ivory tower talking for half an hour and going back. This is actually something that’s going to be a part of people’s lives.”"
2015  sandiego  biotech  biotechnology  libraries  laboratories  hacking  citizenscience  science  lajolla  biology  biohacking  edg  srg  glvo 
october 2015 by robertogreco
Frozen Ark
"The earth is now suffering the greatest loss of species since the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Despite efforts to preserve their environments, at least 30% of all land, fresh-water and marine animals will go extinct within the next fifty years. Growth in human populations has led to habitat destruction caused by the need for agricultural land, by over-fishing, by pollution, and by the acidification of the oceans. These changes are well documented by the United Nations Environment Programme, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and by meetings at The Royal Society.

The Frozen Ark Project was set up in 1996 as a response to this crisis. Its objective is simple - to save samples of frozen cells containing DNA from endangered animals before they go extinct. Almost every single cell in an animal carries a complete blueprint of the animal stored in its DNA. Unless we save this information now it will be lost forever. The need is urgent

This is not an alternative to preserving animals in their natural environments or to keeping them in zoos, but a crucially important extra insurance.

Only very tiny samples are needed. They can be taken without pain to the animal concerned. Samples can be obtained from mouth swabs, from small numbers of hairs or feathers, from blood samples taken in routine veterinary treatments, or even from faeces. Once frozen, cells can be stored safely at very low temperatures, potentially for hundreds of years, in very little space. Ten million samples could be kept within the volume of an average house.

If they are frozen under the right conditions, many cells can be revived and regrown. Recent developments in molecular biology suggest that in the not-distant future animals could be recreated from these cells.

The frozen samples can also help currently endangered animals that have not yet gone extinct, to stay healthy by increasing genetic variation within their populations.

The Frozen Ark has now established a consortium of twenty-two major zoos, aquaria, museums and research institutions in eight countries around the world.  All of them share our aims."
biology  conservation  database  genetics  biodiversity 
august 2015 by robertogreco
The Next Black - A film about the Future of Clothing - YouTube
"The Next Black' is a documentary film that explores the future of clothing. Watch as we meet with some of the most innovative companies on the planet to get their opinion on clothing and its future, including: heroes of sustainability, Patagonia; tech-clothing giants, Studio XO; sportswear icon, adidas; and Biocouture, a consultancy exploring living organisms to grow clothing and accessories.

Learn more about the project:

Join the discussion on Facebook, Twitter and on the hashtag #thenextblack "

[See also: ]
design  documentary  fashion  video  clothes  clothing  glvo  reuse  mending  repair  materials  textiles  studioxo  biocouture  adidas  patagonia  recycling  waste  consumerism  consumption  capitalism  biology  wearable  wearables  suzannelee  technology  nancytilbury  suzanne  slow  slowfashion  fastfashion  dyes  dying  industry  manufacturing  globalization  environment  rickridgeway  uniformproject  customization  ifixit  diy  alteration  resuse  repairing 
july 2015 by robertogreco
The sound of a plant dying of thirst › News in Science (ABC Science)
"That is the sound of a plant dying of thirst. Heartbreaking isn't it?

As a plant's water source dries out, small bubbles form in the xylem — the hollow strands that carry water from the soil to the leaves of vascular plants.

The recording was made 30 years ago by Dr Kim Ritman, using a very low-fi phone receiver with a pin soldered onto it to amplify the sound.

Ritman, who is now chief scientist at the Department of Agriculture, spent a good part of his PhD poking the pin into leaf stems of plants and recording the clicks as bubbles formed. The idea was to see if the diameter of the xylem determined the frequency of the sound, and he found that the larger the xylem, the lower the clicking sound.

"In general, our hypothesis that larger conduits produced lower frequency signals and smaller units at the ultrasonic frequencies was supported", he writes in his study Acoustic Emissions from Plants: Ultrasonic and Audible Compared."
via:anne  plants  audio  sounds  botany  physics  nature  biology  kimritman 
may 2015 by robertogreco
Do trees communicate with each other? › Ask an Expert (ABC Science)
"Do trees communicate with each other?
Surprisingly, the answer is yes.

They might seem like the strong, tall and silent type, but trees actually communicate with each other.

Forest ecologist Dr Suzanne Simard, from the University of British Colombia, studies a type of fungi that forms underground communication networks between trees in North American forests.

Big old trees — dubbed 'mother trees' — are hubs in this mycorrhizal fungal network, playing a key role in supporting other trees in the forest, especially their offspring.

"If you're a mother and you have children, you recognise your children and you treat them in certain ways. We're finding that trees will do the same thing. They'll adjust their competitive behaviour to make room for their own kin and they send those signals through mycorrhizal networks," says Simard.

"We found that the biggest oldest trees had more connections to other trees than smaller trees. It stands to reason because they have more root systems," she says.

"So when a seedling establishes on the forest floor, if it's near one of these mother trees it just links into that network and accesses that huge resource network.""
trees  communication  plants  life  via:anne  2015  multispecies  suzannesimard  biology 
may 2015 by robertogreco
prosthetics, child-rearing, and social construction - Text Patterns - The New Atlantis
"N.B.: I am not arguing for or against changing child-rearing practices. I am exploring how and why people simply forget that human beings are animals, are biological organisms on a planet with a multitude of other biological organisms with which they share many structural and behavioral features because they also share a long common history. (I might also say that they share a creaturely status by virtue of a common Maker, but that’s not a necessary hypothesis at the moment.) In my judgment, such forgetting does not happen because people have been steeped in social constructionist arguments; those are, rather, just tools ready to hand. There is a deeper and more powerful and (I think) more pernicious ideology at work, which has two components."

"Those who look forward to a future of increasing technological manipulation of human beings, and of other biological organisms, always imagine themselves as the Controllers, not the controlled; they always identify with the position of power. And so they forget evolutionary history, they forget biology, they forget the disasters that can come from following the Oppenheimer Principle — they forget everything that might serve to remind them of constraints on the power they have ... or fondly imagine they have."

[See also: “Blueprint for a Better Human Body: People who wear and design prosthetics are rethinking the form of our species.” ]

[Follow-up post:

"I think there is a great tendency among academics to think that cutting-edge theoretical reflection is ... well, is cutting some edges somewhere. But it seems to me that Theory is typically a belated thing. I’ve argued before that some of the greatest achievements of 20th-century literary criticism are in fact rather late entries in the Modernist movement: “We academics, who love to think of ourselves as being on the cutting-edge of thought, are typically running about half-a-century behind the novelists and poets.” And we run even further behind the scientists and technologists, who alter our material world in ways that generate the Lebenswelt within which humanistic Theory arises.

This failure of understanding — this systematic undervaluing of the materiality of culture and overvaluing of what thinkers do in their studies — is what produces vast cathedrals of error like what I have called the neo-Thomist interpretation of history. When Brad Gregory and Thomas Pfau, following Etienne Gilson and Jacques Maritain and Richard Weaver, argue that most of the modern world (especially the parts they don't like) emerges from disputes among a tiny handful of philosophers and theologians in the University of Paris in the fifteenth century, they are making an argument that ought to be self-evidently absurd. W. H. Auden used to say that the social and political history of Europe would be exactly the same if Dante, Shakespeare, and Mozart had never lived, and that seems to me not only to be true in those particular cases but also as providing a general rule for evaluating the influence of writers, artists, and philosophers. I see absolutely no reason to think that the so-called nominalists — actually a varied crew — had any impact whatsoever on the culture that emerged after their deaths. When you ask proponents of this model of history to explain how the causal chain works, how we got from a set of arcane, recondite philosophical and theological disputes to the political and economic restructuring of Western society, it’s impossible to get an answer. They seem to think that nominalism works like an airborne virus, gradually and invisibly but fatally infecting a populace. "]
alanjacobs  posthumanism  prosthetics  technology  culture  2015  biology  multispecies  cyborgs  humans  humanism  control  power  robertoppenheimer  roseeveleth 
may 2015 by robertogreco
Warm-Blooded Fish Discovered Near San Diego | KPBS
"The opah has also been called the moonfish due to its unusually round, silvery body. But the opah's shape isn't its only unusual trait. In a surprise finding, San Diego researchers have discovered that it's also warm-blooded.

In a study published Thursday in Science, researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in La Jolla describe the opah as the first example of a fish that can warm its entire body above the temperature of surrounding waters.

Researchers reeled in more than 20 opah off the coast of San Diego for the study. Temperature measurements revealed that all parts of the fish were warmer than its environment. Scientists already know that tuna and certain species of shark can selectively warm specific body parts, but the opah's self-heating extends throughout its entire body.

"It's the first fish that actually has a warm heart," said study author and fisheries research biologist Nick Wegner. "This is significant because it allows the fish to stay at depth in cold water and function at a higher level."

Over the last three years, Wegner has been catching lots of opah during surveys for the Southwest Fisheries Science Center. He's not sure why his catch of opah has been increasing in California. He said it's common in Hawaii, where it's often sold for meat.

At first Wegner thought they were probably sluggish creatures like most of the fish in similarly deep, chilly waters. But he's learned that the opah — despite looking like a manhole cover that sprouted fins — is actually a fast and formidable predator. He thinks the opah's advantage is its elevated body temperature.

"At warmer temperatures, muscles contract faster and they have more power," he said. "It can swim around faster, respond faster and see better than these animals that are the same temperature as that cold water."

The researchers dissected some of the opah for clues about how its body temperature is regulated. They found an intricately woven circulatory system. The opah's veins and arteries overlapped tightly. That density allows blood in the veins, warmed by vigorous muscle movement, to transfer heat into the arteries, chilled by oxygen entering the blood from cold surrounding waters through the fish's gills.

Warm blood is often thought to be a unique property of mammals and birds. But Wegner said marine biologists can now point to the opah as one major exception."
fish  biology  sandiego  oceans  2015  opah  noaa 
may 2015 by robertogreco
The Book of Forgetting - Scientific American
"Much has been written on the wonders of human memory: the astounding feats of recall, the way memories shape our identity and are shaped by them, memory as a literary theme and a historical one. But what of forgetting? This is the topic of a new book by Douwe Draaisma, author of The Nostalgia Factory and a professor of the history of psychology at the University of Groningen. In Forgetting, Draaisma considers dreaming, amnesia, dementia and all of the ways that our minds — and lives — are shaped by memory’s opposite. He answered questions from Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook.

[Q:] What is your earliest memory and why, do you suppose, have you not forgotten it?

[A:] Quite a few early memories in the Netherlands involve bicycles, and mine is no exception. I was two-and-a-half years old when my aunts walked my mother to the train station. They had taken a bike along to transport her bags. I was sitting on the back of the bike. Suddenly the whole procession came to a halt when my foot got caught between the spokes. I’m pretty sure this memory is accurate, since I had to see a doctor and there is a dated medical record. It’s a brief, snapshot-like memory, black-and-white. I don’t remember any pain, but I do remember the consternation among my mom and her sisters.

Looking back on this memory from a professional perspective, I would say that it has the flash-like character typical for first memories from before age 3; ‘later’ first memories are usually a bit longer and more elaborate. It also fits the pattern of being about pain and danger. Roughly three in four first memories are associated with negative emotions. This may have an evolutionary origin: I never again had my foot between the spokes. And neither have any of my children.

[Q:] "Forgetting" is usually thought about in a negative sense but you come to it with a different perspective. Can you explain how you arrived at this way of thinking?

[A:] Psychologist Endel Tulving once counted how many different types of memory there are and he came up with a staggering figure of 256, each with their own laws of encoding, retention, reproduction, and so on. Then it dawned on me that there must also be a multitude of types of forgetting. Considering that we forget so much more than we remember, it is fair to say that the core business of memory is forgetting. After the switch, the topics came in swift procession. Why is it that your colleague remembers your idea, but seems to have forgotten that it was your idea? Why do portraits tend to eclipse our memories of faces? Why is there an art of memory, but no art of forgetting? See?

[Q:] Why does a colleague remember an idea, but not whose idea it was?

[A:] This phenomenon is actually a nice demonstration of the fact that we should think of ‘memory’ as a federation of different types of memory. Suppose you’re in a meeting with colleagues, discussing some problem. You come up with a suggestion, but is is decided someone else’s solution will be tried first. This situation activates two types of memories. Autobiographical memory takes care of retaining who was there, whether it was a morning or an afternoon meeting, perhaps even what the weather was like that day. Semantic memory retains the facts of the matter: what the problem was, which solutions were suggested, etc. The trouble is, semantic memory has trouble remembering sources and circumstances. Most of the facts you remember – such as the meaning of ‘incubation’ or the capital of Sweden – are just the facts, and you have probably forgotten who told you or where you read this. A week later, at a follow-up of the meeting, you may find that your colleague has retained your idea, thanks to his wonderful semantic memory, but has forgotten its source – you.

[Q:] And, tell me what an “art of forgetting” might look like — why would that be useful, and what might some of its techniques be?

[A:] Sadly, or perhaps fortunately, there is no such a thing as deliberate forgetting. Rather the reverse, we seem to have a very tenacious type of memory for the things we would gladly forget, such as childhood humiliations, embarrassing situations or scenes you had rather not witnessed. But even if there were some technique of forgetting, of editing at will what you remember or forget, most people tell me they would hesitate to do so. Consider the movie Eternal Sunshine on a Spotless Mind, which is a profound thought experiment on the averse consequences of deliberate forgetting. In the movie, Clementine and Joel were in a loving relationship when things turned sour. Clementine ends the relation and, moreover, wants to get him out of her memory as well. It then turns out that there is an obscure medical company, Lacuna Inc (!), specialized in erasing memories no longer wanted. Soon Joel has disappeared from her memory. On learning this, Joel wants the same treatment to get her out of his memory. At this point you may already sense the tenor of the story. They meet again, fall in love again, and again the relationship fails. Without painful memories you may find yourself repeating painful situations. So, not being able to forget what you dearly would like to forget may actually be a blessing in disguise.

[Q:] What light do dreams shed on how and why we forget?

[A:] Waking from a dream and then trying to remember it is much like watching the movie Memento: you try to grasp a story that is told in reverse chronological order. After all, you wake up with the final scene of the dream-story, and then try to remember what led up to this final scene. Julius Nelson, an American biologist, pointed this out in 1888. Reconstructing the dream-story means hunting it down till you finally reach the beginning. And since this is a time-consuming and elaborate process you will often find that the beginning of the dream is forgotten before you get there. To me, this demonstrates that our memory operates best with stories in their natural chronology, where you have causes and questions first and consequences and answers later.

[Q:] I wonder, do you see any connection between forgetting and sleepwalking, where someone wakes up, but fails to forget the dream in some sense?

[A:] The paradox of sleepwalking is that we do this during ‘deep sleep’, not during ‘rem-sleep’, when we are close to waking. Most of the dreams we remember are dreamt during rem-sleep. During deep sleep there is hardly any recollection of dreams, either because we dream less or because we are too far away from a conscious state to remember them. That is probably why people who are sleepwalking seldom remember having been sleepwalking as a result of some dream. If there was a dream at all, it is usually remembered in an extremely sketchy way, such as ‘something with a tomato cage’ (as in the YouTube-hit ‘My mom sleepwalking’)."
memory  forgetting  douwedraaisma  via:anne  garethcook  dreams  dreaming  sleepwalking  sleep  endeltulving  psychology  juliusnelson  biology  consciousness 
may 2015 by robertogreco
Alive | About

This world is happening right now. Today, designers and artists have begun to either embrace or rebel against this bioengineered world and as a result, new design directions are beginning to emerge. The exhibition En Vie – Alive, presents a new design landscape, where fragments of a possible programmable ‘synthetic’ future are confronted with ‘natural’ alternative design perspectives. The quest for a different kind of ecological design models underpins the selection of projects, which range from potential sustainable solutions, to poetic interpretations and extreme provocations.

Created and imagined by leading designers, architects and artists, the work showcased here is decidedly different. These designers create and unravel a future hybrid world, where our everyday products and manufacturing tools will be ‘alive‘.

They operate within a sliding scale of a ‘natural nature’ and a new ‘programmable nature’ in the quest for innovative ecological models. In this exhibition I have created a hierarchy of possible relationships with nature, and designers are grouped around 5 themes.

1/ The Plagiarists: (Nature as a model)

Here we present designers and architects who look to nature for inspiring role models and new engineering solutions. They work with biomimicry principles, imitating processes or behaviour found in the natural world, but working with man-made and digital technologies.

2/ The New Artisans: (Nature as a co-worker)

These designers and architects collaborate with nature. They work with bees, fungi, bacteria, algae or plants and develop new techniques to grow and craft consumer goods. Here, design relates more to gardening and farming than to manufacturing.

3/ The Bio-Hackers: (Reprogrammed, ‘synthetic’ nature)

These designers and artists work in collaboration with synthetic biologists or respond to cutting-edge scientific research in the field of extreme bioengineering. They imagine what the products and interfaces of the future could become with the use of engineered living organisms. Their ideas illustrate a possible future world.

4/ The New Alchemists: (Hybridised nature)

Here, designers, architects and artists propose to explore the merging of biology, chemistry, robotics and nanotechnology to create new hybrid organisms. They combine living (biological) with non-living (electronic and chemical) technology.

5/ The Agents Provocateurs: (Conceptualised and imagined nature.)

This final group of artists and designers explores a provocative far future. Their work encourages a debate around ethical issues related to living technology and high-tech sustainability.

I sincerely hope that this exhibition will inspire generations to come and help establish a map of creative thinkers who dare to imagine new relationships with nature and the living. This project highlights the search for new design frontiers in the quest for new ecological models pertinent for the year 2050 and beyond.

Carole Collet, Exhibition Curator and catalogue editor, Reader in Textile Futures, Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design, University of the Arts, March 2013."
design  art  biology  science  syntheticnature  nature  collaboration  biomimicry  carolecollet  hybrids  future  biohacking  fabrication  materials  biomimetics 
march 2015 by robertogreco
Trash Animals — University of Minnesota Press
"From pigeons to prairie dogs, reflections on reviled animals and their place in contemporary life

In Trash Animals, a diverse group of environmental writers explore the natural history of wildlife species deemed filthy, invasive, or worthless, highlighting the vexed relationship humans have with such creatures. Each essay focuses on a so-called trash species—gulls, coyotes, carp, and magpies, among others—examining the biology and behavior of each in contrast to the assumptions widely held about them."

in response to ]
animals  books  environment  human-animalrelations  human-animalrelationships  multispecies  pigeons  wildlife  urban  urbanism  coyotes  seagulls  carp  birds  fish  corvids  biology  behavior  kelsinagy  phillipdavidjohnson  invasivespecies  feral  nature  2013 
march 2015 by robertogreco
The American Scholar: Joyas Volardores - Brian Doyle
"Consider the hummingbird for a long moment. A hummingbird’s heart beats ten times a second. A hummingbird’s heart is the size of a pencil eraser. A hummingbird’s heart is a lot of the hummingbird. Joyas volardores, flying jewels, the first white explorers in the Americas called them, and the white men had never seen such creatures, for hummingbirds came into the world only in the Americas, nowhere else in the universe, more than three hundred species of them whirring and zooming and nectaring in hummer time zones nine times removed from ours, their hearts hammering faster than we could clearly hear if we pressed our elephantine ears to their infinitesimal chests.

Each one visits a thousand flowers a day. They can dive at sixty miles an hour. They can fly backwards. They can fly more than five hundred miles without pausing to rest. But when they rest they come close to death: on frigid nights, or when they are starving, they retreat into torpor, their metabolic rate slowing to a fifteenth of their normal sleep rate, their hearts sludging nearly to a halt, barely beating, and if they are not soon warmed, if they do not soon find that which is sweet, their hearts grow cold, and they cease to be. Consider for a moment those hummingbirds who did not open their eyes again today, this very day, in the Americas: bearded helmet-crests and booted racket-tails, violet-tailed sylphs and violet-capped woodnymphs, crimson topazes and purple-crowned fairies, red-tailed comets and amethyst woodstars, rainbow-bearded thornbills and glittering-bellied emeralds, velvet-purple coronets and golden-bellied star-frontlets, fiery-tailed awlbills and Andean hillstars, spatuletails and pufflegs, each the most amazing thing you have never seen, each thunderous wild heart the size of an infant’s fingernail, each mad heart silent, a brilliant music stilled.

Hummingbirds, like all flying birds but more so, have incredible enormous immense ferocious metabolisms. To drive those metabolisms they have race-car hearts that eat oxygen at an eye-popping rate. Their hearts are built of thinner, leaner fibers than ours. Their arteries are stiffer and more taut. They have more mitochondria in their heart muscles—anything to gulp more oxygen. Their hearts are stripped to the skin for the war against gravity and inertia, the mad search for food, the insane idea of flight. The price of their ambition is a life closer to death; they suffer more heart attacks and aneurysms and ruptures than any other living creature. It’s expensive to fly. You burn out. You fry the machine. You melt the engine. Every creature on earth has approximately two billion heartbeats to spend in a lifetime. You can spend them slowly, like a tortoise and live to be two hundred years old, or you can spend them fast, like a hummingbird, and live to be two years old.

The biggest heart in the world is inside the blue whale. It weighs more than seven tons. It’s as big as a room. It is a room, with four chambers. A child could walk around it, head high, bending only to step through the valves. The valves are as big as the swinging doors in a saloon. This house of a heart drives a creature a hundred feet long. When this creature is born it is twenty feet long and weighs four tons. It is waaaaay bigger than your car. It drinks a hundred gallons of milk from its mama every day and gains two hundred pounds a day, and when it is seven or eight years old it endures an unimaginable puberty and then it essentially disappears from human ken, for next to nothing is known of the the mating habits, travel patterns, diet, social life, language, social structure, diseases, spirituality, wars, stories, despairs and arts of the blue whale. There are perhaps ten thousand blue whales in the world, living in every ocean on earth, and of the largest animal who ever lived we know nearly nothing. But we know this: the animals with the largest hearts in the world generally travel in pairs, and their penetrating moaning cries, their piercing yearning tongue, can be heard underwater for miles and miles.

Mammals and birds have hearts with four chambers. Reptiles and turtles have hearts with three chambers. Fish have hearts with two chambers. Insects and mollusks have hearts with one chamber. Worms have hearts with one chamber, although they may have as many as eleven single-chambered hearts. Unicellular bacteria have no hearts at all; but even they have fluid eternally in motion, washing from one side of the cell to the other, swirling and whirling. No living being is without interior liquid motion. We all churn inside.

So much held in a heart in a lifetime. So much held in a heart in a day, an hour, a moment. We are utterly open with no one in the end—not mother and father, not wife or husband, not lover, not child, not friend. We open windows to each but we live alone in the house of the heart. Perhaps we must. Perhaps we could not bear to be so naked, for fear of a constantly harrowed heart. When young we think there will come one person who will savor and sustain us always; when we are older we know this is the dream of a child, that all hearts finally are bruised and scarred, scored and torn, repaired by time and will, patched by force of character, yet fragile and rickety forevermore, no matter how ferocious the defense and how many bricks you bring to the wall. You can brick up your heart as stout and tight and hard and cold and impregnable as you possibly can and down it comes in an instant, felled by a woman’s second glance, a child’s apple breath, the shatter of glass in the road, the words I have something to tell you, a cat with a broken spine dragging itself into the forest to die, the brush of your mother’s papery ancient hand in the thicket of your hair, the memory of your father’s voice early in the morning echoing from the kitchen where he is making pancakes for his children."
2012  briandoyle  via:jenlowe  animals  nature  birds  hummingbirds  numbers  time  repetition  metabolism  biology  hearts  whales  bluewhales  mammals  anatomy  lifetimes  scale  size  life  speed  velocity 
january 2015 by robertogreco
Selin Jessa on Twitter: "Phrases, lately: (0. "bits of poetry stick to her like burrs" Jenny Offill's Dept. Speculation)"
"Phrases, lately: (0. "bits of poetry stick to her like burrs" Jenny Offill's Dept. Speculation)"

"i. "between kind wildness & wild kindness" @mojgani, …"

"ii. "a practice of worlding" …"

"iii. "craftmanship of knowing" Latour in Visualization and Cognition"

"iv. "to bring the body back in" Towards Enabling Geographies, Chouinard (ed)"

"v. "your bones as piccolos" …"

"vi. "the bone of the planet" a misreading of @alexismadrigal's 11/05 5IT"

"vii. "each cell shimmying on its little mitochondrial hilt" Carson, Red doc >"

"viii. "the tree unleafing" …"

"ix. "visitations of light" Ledgard, Submergence"

"x. "May your listening be good!" …"
selinjessa  language  phrases  jennyoffill  anismojgani  brunolatour  judithbeveridge  poetry  poems  alexismadrigal  redcarson  janehirshfield  jmledgard  submergence  yvesbonnefoy  verachouinard  thomvandooren  worlding  craftmanship  knowing  visualization  cognition  body  bodies  bones  biology  unleafing  plants  science  nature  light 
december 2014 by robertogreco
Is it time to cut adrift from island thinking? – Libby Robin – Aeon
"Island-mindedness is born in island places, but the islands of the mind have a broad appeal. Is this hard-wired? Recognising an island of safety and refuge might have enabled our hominin ancestors to find stepping stones out of Africa in times of environmental stress. The concept of the island has long been prominent in literature and useful in science: biologists and geographers, national park managers and archaeologists, linguists, geneticists and evolutionary theorists have all turned at times to the model of the island. Yet it might no longer be a great model for the new needs and concerns of our rapidly globalising century."

"An island is as much metaphor as it is physical place. Nature and wilderness reserves became the real nature for quantitative biological theorists. They could ignore the complex stuff of urban development and human communities. An island could stand for the Garden of Eden, in an age when wilderness was the highest ideal for conservation.

Islands are also devices for thinking mathematically, for simplifying the real world and leaving out messy variables. MacArthur and Wilson were conscious of the complexity of the processes they wished to explain quantitatively – processes such as dispersal, invasion, competition, adaptation and extinction. An island-based theory, they acknowledged, left out ‘many of the most troublesome – and interesting – problems’. Ecological principles need sound theories and statistical significance if they are going to attract support from governments and policymakers. Ultimately, they argued, islands and continents need to be understood together, but the island was the basis for mathematical certainty – for laws – in the management of nature. Their final chapter, ‘Prospect’, argued that biogeography was mature enough to ‘be reformulated in terms of the first principles of population ecology and genetics’."

"The island had seemed an ideal field for ‘experimentation’, but island biogeography did not take sufficient account of time and history, and the assumption that the island’s ecological future was heading steadily towards some sort of ‘balance’ was misplaced. In 1986, the Finnish philosopher-ecologist Yrjö Haila argued that the equilibrium model had ‘ossified into a simple formula that began to suppress creative thinking instead of stimulating it’.

Haila advocated ‘a broader, pluralistic appreciation of the role of theories in general’. But ecologists have found it difficult to let go of the elegance and parsimony that equilibrium theories embody, and to see the way life works afresh without theoretical assumptions. In 2006, the ornithologist and oceanic island specialist David W Steadman argued: ‘Data that fail to support an ‘elegant’ model are often regarded as noise or the exception that proves the rule. Elegant models made by deified people die hard.’

Wilson’s fame gave the equilibrium theory a longer life than its data supported. The balance of nature was attractive beyond science, and it has a romantic following, particularly among conservationists and nature lovers who support the national parks and ‘wilderness’ ideals. The US Wilderness Act is now 50 years old, and things have moved on during the Great Acceleration of change in the same period.

Even as the theory of island biogeography was gaining supporters, the critique of the balance of nature was gathering pace within ecology. National parks and nature reserves management took for granted that nature could somehow heal itself, if protected from humanity. Experimental ideas about islands drove – and at times limited – the conservation agenda, because managers still indulged the idea that nature could be fenced off, or isolated from the threat of humanity. In the past half-century, during which the human population has more than doubled, theories for protecting nature from our overexploitation have proliferated. Biological extinctions have accelerated unabated."

"In the ‘post-national’ 21st century, borders are no longer as fixed as national jurisdictional law suggests. Australia has, at times, excised itself from its islands to handle the politics of asylum‑seeking. Would-be migrants, seeking refuge in Australia, are held on offshore islands until their status is legitimated or denied. By this means, successive Australian governments have deprived vulnerable people, including children, of basic human rights. For the sake of domestic political convenience, the nation of the plastic stencil sometimes defines itself without the islands where refugee boats land. The fact that people abandon nations and passports because of global pressures, because of the impossibility of being at home where they were born, is part of what is changing the nature of nations in a global world. People are no longer from where they came from. They become citizens of where they wash up, or the world. Island-mindedness – the separation of places from other places – is no longer an option.

In this global world, it is flows and circulation, rather than land parcels, that are important. Just as Google maps and GPS have become widespread, territoriality is changing. Flows are about land-and-sea-and-sky-and-people – a collective consciousness that is hard to represent on a 2D map or a phone app.

The island-minded idea of nature, separated from culture, has also changed. Some say we are at the ‘end of nature’: there is now a human signature on all the global flows: the biophysical system is also cultural, as the new epoch of the Anthropocene is imagined. To rework the poet John Dunne, no island-nation is ‘entire of itself’, nor can any island-nature be other than ‘involved in mankind’. Perhaps the bell now tolls for the last island: the blue marble of planet Earth, an island in the infinity of space."

"Surtsey is still bleak and black, but mosses and lichens, windswept grasses and stunted shrubs now soften its edges. All its creatures still live as much with the global systems of winds and storms as on the precious fragment of land that erupted 50 years ago. Surviving on such a remote island is, paradoxically, a mark of cosmopolitanism. Only plants and animals that travel easily will flourish there."
libbyrobin  via:anne  2014  iceland  islands  science  isolation  cosmopolitanism  judithschalansky  picoiyer  surtseyisland  peterveth  charlesdarwin  alfredrusselwallace  galápagos  alexandervonhumboldt  newzealand  australia  bali  lombok  ecology  biology  life  robertmacarthur  edwardowilson  ecosystems  discreetness  nature  wilderness  complexity  extinction  dispersal  invasion  adaptation  competition  biogeography  geography  lordhoweisland  yrjöhaila  equilibrium  conservation  adrianmanning  jakobvonuexküll  flows  circulation  borders  people  humans  separation  anthropocene  darwin 
december 2014 by robertogreco
"A few years ago, our cat Mimi broke her leg. We freaked out when we learned it would cost about $5,000 to repair it. Our only other option, it seemed, was to kill her. We payed for the surgery (they even used pins to set her bones) and she turned out fine.

The whole experience helped me understand the evolutionary function of love. I’d heard about how our emotions had their roots in some biological necessity, but I didn’t understand what necessity love fulfilled. Now it’s obvious to me.

We love Mimi. Which is to say we don’t want her to die (among other things). We certainly can’t imagine killing her. When she broke her leg, I learned that when we get people to love us, we win protectors. We gain people who don’t want us to die. They’ll work to keep us from dying.

That might sound mercenary, but I think it’s beautiful. Most of us can think of several people who love us. All of our love for one another weaves a safety net that we can all fit in. Caring for people and being cared for feel good. I’m glad this is one way humans (and cats and dogs) have figured out how to survive.

We have a primal need to know that we’re loved. Infants learn early on to make eye contact and play games to get attention. It’s the simplest way to get the reassurance that, “yes, there’s a person here who probably won’t let me die.”

I think this need for attention creates one of the most pernicious things about social media. Follows, friend requests, comments, shares and likes all satisfy this basic need to feel like people are paying attention to you. I’m not sure they are.

The other week, I shared these thoughts with my friend Marcin as we walked around a neighborhood in Louisville. It was nighttime and balmy. The sidewalk was dark in front of dark houses. Trees still thick with leaves eclipsed the street lights.

I said, “People see that little red number on Facebook, or they see that they got retweeted, and they’re like ‘Yes! They won’t let me die!’”

And Marcin said, “But, of course, that’s the thing. They will.”

And we laughed."

[via: ]
jedsundwall  love  socialmedia  anthropology  humans  relationships  sacrifice  attention  survival  social  care  caring  emotions  biology  evolution  protection 
december 2014 by robertogreco
bento·lab - bento·bioworks
"bento·lab is a powerful, personal laboratory that enables scientists, DIYbiologists, artists and all curious minds to engage with biology and biotechnology any place and any time.

Our Vision
We believe the world is ready for personal biotechnology tools. Our mission is making great products that enable everyone to work with biology as a material and a technology. Safely, conveniently and creatively. We make tools for scientists, pioneers, learners, artists and makers.

Our Team
bento·lab is created by six Londoners. The team brings together a passion for biology, discovery and citizen science with experience in precision engineering and design. We are all committed to increasing safe and affordable access to biotechnology.
We are supported by UCL Biochemical Engineering and UCL Advances"
biotech  diy  science  citizenscience  biology  art 
november 2014 by robertogreco
Amazing Graphics Show How Much Peaches, Watermelon And Corn Have Changed Since Humans Started Growing Them | Business Insider
"If someone handed you a peach 6,000 years ago, you might be surprised: the sour, grape-sized lump you’d be holding would hardly resemble the plump, juicy fruit we enjoy today.

Throughout the 12,000 years or so since humans first developed agriculture, the foods we eat have undergone drastic transformations. Farmers have found ways to select for different traits when breeding plants, turning out generations of larger, sweeter, and juicier crops.

Australian chemistry teacher James Kennedy got interested in the topic and started doing some research. His findings inspired him to put together a series of infographics [ ]explaining how some of our most beloved snacks have changed over the centuries. With Kennedy’s permission we’ve posted three here: Peach, watermelon, and corn.

First up is the peach:


Native to China, the original peach was only a fraction of the size we’re used to today and tasted “like a lentil,” Kennedy writes.

“After 6000 years of artificial selection, the resulting peach was 16 times larger, 27% juicier and 4% sweeter than its wild cousin, and had massive increases in nutrients essential for human survival as well.”

Next, the watermelon:


Kennedy writes, “I set out to find the least natural fruit in existence, and decided it was probably the modern watermelon.In 5,000 years, the watermelon has expanded from its original six varieties to a staggering 1,200 different kinds. Modern watermelons are available in a handful of different colours and shapes, and can be bought conveniently seedless.

“Originally native to a small region of southern Africa, the watermelon is now grown in countries around the world. Modern watermelons are about 100 times heavier than their ancient predecessors and much sweeter.”

Finally, corn:


Corn was first domesticated in the area we know today as Mexico and Central America. At the time, an ear of corn was only about a tenth as long as the cobs we’re used to today and had just a handful of tough kernels. For the sweet, juicy meal we enjoy today, Kennedy says you can thank the Europeans.

“Around half of this artificial selection happened since the fifteenth century, when European settlers placed new selection pressures on the crop to suit their exotic taste buds,” he writes.

As you can see, we’ve come a long way from the days of our ancestors and the small, unappetizing fruits they munched on.

Click here [ ] to check out more of Kennedy’s work at his blog."

[watermelon and sweetcorn:









coffee bean:



banana, blueberry, egg:

“Ingredients” lesson plan:

poster set: ]
fruit  history  cultivation  peaches  watermelons  corn  produce  agriculture  breeding  jameskennedy  strawberries  pineapples  lemons  cherris  passionfruit  bananas  food  blueberries  ingredients  lessonplans  teaching  chemistry  science  biology  botany  genetics 
october 2014 by robertogreco
Trees | The Evergreen State College
"How do trees, and forest communities, function? What makes them tick? What determines the tallest trees in the world? What makes trees some of the oldest organisms on earth? These and many other questions about trees have captivated humans since the dawn of time. In this program we will closely examine trees in their variety of form and function. We will use our studies to learn how understanding of tree form and function integrates study of botany, mathematics, physics, chemistry, geography and ecology.

Our studies will be divided between those that focus on individual trees, forests and whole forests. We will also read classic and recent texts about human interactions with trees and how our relationships to trees still help shape our collective identities and cultures. Students will learn how to read and interpret recent scientific studies from peer-reviewed journals and be challenged to reconcile popular belief about the roles of trees with scientific observations. Day trips, workshops, labs and a multiple-day field trip will allow us to observe some of the largest trees on the West Coast and observe and measure trees in extreme environments. Communication skills will be emphasized, particularly reading scientific articles and writing for scientific audiences. We will also practice skills for communicating to a broader public using nonfiction and technical writing."
evergreenstatecollege  coursedescriptions  programdescriptions  2014  biology  botany  environment  environmentalstudies  naturalhistory  riting  fieldstudies  forestry  trees  plants  ecology  naturalscience  science  dylanfischer 
september 2014 by robertogreco
What is the blue light from our screens really doing to our eyes? — Tech News and Analysis
"An eye doctor says he’s recently seen a few 35-year-old patients whose lenses, which are typically clear all the way up until around age 40, are so cloudy they resemble 75-year-olds’. A sleep doctor says kids as young as toddlers are suffering from chronic insomnia, which in turn affects their behavior and performance at school and daycare. A scientist finds that women who work night shifts are twice as likely to develop breast cancer than those who sleep at night.

What do all these anecdotes have in common? Nighttime exposure to the blue light emanating from our screens."

"The latest research, in fact, overwhelmingly suggests that delayed production of melatonin due to blue light exposure at night is causing far more problems than insomnia, from diabetes and certain types of cancer to lupus and migraine headaches. Optometrists are even seeing high levels of retinal stress in young people that could lead to the early onset of macular degeneration, which in extreme cases can cause near blindness."

"For those who like to read the scientific literature directly, here’s a quick tour of some of the latest findings, and a search on blue light and melatonin via the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s PubMed search tool can yield larger results:

• Room light not only suppresses melatonin production, but it could also impact sleep, thermoregulation, blood pressure and glucose homeostasis
• Blue light is considered a “carcinogenic pollution” that in mice correlates with higher cancer rates
• A lack of melatonin is linked to higher rates of breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers, while blocking those blue rays with amber glasses is linked to lower cancer rates
• Exposure to blue light in people appears to have an impact on mood
• Lower melatonin in mice is linked with higher rates of depression
• Too much light exposure can cause retinal toxicity
• Blue light exposure may be playing a role in the higher incidence of cataracts and macular degeneration seen today"
biology  health  light  eyes  eyesight  insomnia  sleep  2014  screens  bluelight  mood  depression  cataracts  melatonin  cancer 
september 2014 by robertogreco
Should You Fear the Pizzly Bear? -
"In New England today, trees cover more land than they have at any time since the colonial era. Roughly 80 percent of the region is now forested, compared with just 30 percent in the late 19th century. Moose and turkey again roam the backwoods. Beavers, long ago driven from the area by trappers seeking pelts, once more dam streams. White-tailed deer are so numerous that they are often considered pests. And an unlikely predator has crept back into the woods, too: what some have called the coywolf. It is both old and new — roughly one-quarter wolf and two-thirds coyote, with the rest being dog.

The animal comes from an area above the Great Lakes, where wolves and coyotes live — and sometimes breed — together. At one end of this canid continuum, there are wolves with coyote genes in their makeup; at the other, there are coyotes with wolf genes. Another source of genetic ingredients comes from farther north, where the gray wolf, a migrant species originally from Eurasia, resides. “We call it canis soup,” says Bradley White, a scientist at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, referring to the wolf-coyote hybrid population.

The creation story White and his colleagues have pieced together begins during European colonization, when the Eastern wolf was hunted and poisoned out of existence in its native Northeast. A remnant population — “loyalists” is how White refers to them — migrated to Canada. At the same time, coyotes, native to the Great Plains, began pushing eastward and mated with the refugee wolves. Their descendants in turn bred with coyotes and dogs. The result has been a creature with enough strength to hunt the abundant woodland deer, which it followed into the recovering Eastern forests. Coywolves, or Eastern coyotes, as White prefers to call them, have since pushed south to Virginia and east to Newfoundland. The Eastern coyote is a study in the balancing act required to survive as a medium-size predator in a landscape full of people. It can be as much as 40 percent larger than the Western coyote, with powerful wolflike jaws; it has also inherited the wolf’s more social nature, which allows for pack hunting. (In 2009, a pack of Eastern coyotes attacked and killed a 19-year-old Canadian folk singer named Taylor Mitchell in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.) But it shares with coyotes, some 2,000 of which live within Chicago’s city limits, a remarkable ability to thrive in humanized landscapes.

“We’re kind of privileged in the last 100 years to watch the birth of this entity,” White told me, “and now the evolution of this entity across this North American landscape that we’ve modified.” Evolutionarily speaking, coyotes diverged from gray wolves one million to two million years ago, and dogs from wolves roughly 15,000 years ago. Yet over the past century, as agriculture moved to the Midwest and California, farmland in the East reverted to woodlands. The rise of fossil fuels reduced the demand for firewood. Forests spread, and deer and other prey proliferated, while human intolerance for wolves kept a potential competitor at bay.

Thus did humans inadvertently create an ecological niche for a predator in one of the most densely populated regions of the country. In an exceedingly brief period, coyote, wolf and dog genes have been remixed into something new: a predator adapted to a landscape teeming with both prey and another apex predator, us. And this mongrel continues to evolve. Javier Monzon, an evolutionary biologist at Stony Brook University, has found that Eastern coyotes living in areas with the highest densities of deer also carry the greatest number of wolf genes. Another scholar of the Eastern coyote — Roland Kays, a zoologist at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh — estimates that the Eastern coyote’s hybrid ancestry has allowed it to expand its range five times as fast as nonhybrid coyotes could have. In the urbanized Northeast, of all places, an abundance of large prey seems to have promoted a predator whose exceptional adaptability has derived, in large part, from the hodgepodge nature of its genome."

"The widespread evidence of intermixing has spurred a reassessment of the notion that hybrids are born failures. In its place a more nuanced view has taken hold: While hybridization can certainly be destructive, it may also expedite adaptation. New creatures may emerge seemingly overnight from cross-species mating. “Long after speciation, even nonsister species can actually exchange genes, some of which are useful,” James Mallet, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard, told me.

Indeed, today’s hybrids may signify more than just the erosion of biodiversity. They may signal a kind of resilience in the face of sudden environmental change."
biology  evolution  species  nature  animals  hybrids  hybridity  anthropocene  climatechange  crossbreeding  via:javierarbona  science  2014  biodiversity  genetics  environment  ecology  ecosystems 
august 2014 by robertogreco
Donna Haraway, "Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene: Staying with the Trouble", 5/9/14 on Vimeo
[transcript: ]

"Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene: Staying with the Trouble

Sympoiesis, not autopoiesis, threads the string figure game played by Terran critters. Always many-stranded, SF is spun from science fact, speculative fabulation, science fiction, and, in French, soin de ficelles (care of/for the threads). The sciences of the mid-20th-century “new evolutionary synthesis” shaped approaches to human-induced mass extinctions and reworldings later named the Anthropocene. Rooted in units and relations, especially competitive relations, these sciences have a hard time with three key biological domains: embryology and development, symbiosis and collaborative entanglements, and the vast worlds of microbes. Approaches tuned to “multi-species becoming with” better sustain us in staying with the trouble on Terra. An emerging “new new synthesis” in trans-disciplinary biologies and arts proposes string figures tying together human and nonhuman ecologies, evolution, development, history, technology, and more. Corals, microbes, robotic and fleshly geese, artists, and scientists are the dramatis personae in this talk’s SF game."
donnaharaway  2014  anthropocene  capitalocene  chthulucene  lichen  ursulaleguin  sciencefiction  multispecies  symbiosis  life  biology  collaboration  reworlding  speculativefiction  soindeficelles  sympoiesis  autopoiesis  synthesus  transdisciplinary  art  arts  glvo  ecologies  ecology  evolution  development  history  technology  humans  coral  corals  microbes  robots  animals  scottgilbert 
july 2014 by robertogreco
Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg and the problem of design fictions | Features | Disegno Daily
"Confusion is one of the results that typically arise from design fictions like those Ginsberg creates. The discipline seems to suffer from a problem of how exactly its fictions are to be read. It is sometimes difficult to know how tongue-in-cheek its proposals may be or how seriously we are meant to take them, and consideration of related disciplines makes the point clear. We know that art, for instance, is often oblique, non-literal or metaphorical; it cannot always be taken at face value. Yet literality is precisely what we expect of design, a discipline we are near hard-wired to think of as problem solving and practical. Qualities like humour, provocation, politicisation or subversion are common in art, yet their presence in design is rare. Just as when a designer presents a chair we assume that it must be to sit on,5 so too when a designer suggests growing a Maui’s dolphin in your womb there is a temptation to take it is an order."

"If industry characterised the 19th century, and information technology the 20th, it is tempting to look at biotechnology and synthetic biology as strong candidates for the 21st. The capacity to grow non-consumable products – as Suzanne Lee has done with her Biocouture project – or to create low-emission fuels or cheap pharmaceuticals is clearly appealing, while notions of programming DNA like computer code hold obvious attractions (as well as generating obvious fears) for areas such as agriculture. If farming is the practice of coercing nature into producing desirable results, biotechnology presents a development of this idea: nature rewired to produce these same results “naturally". It is a point writer H.G. Wells made 119 years ago in his essay The Limits of Individual Plasticity: “We overlook only too often the fact that a living being may also be regarded as raw material, as something plastic, something that may be shaped and altered."

Such an idea understandably resonates with designers, yet also raises questions about how design as a discipline will adapt in the the future. What role do designers play if synthetic biology becomes a dominant production mode? Biology is not an equivalent material to wood or metal; a new matter that can be easily subbed into the design process and subjected to the designer’s expertise. Rather, it is a substance that, at least for the foreseeable future, requires the knowledge of a biologist to manipulate.6 It is a point to which Ginsberg is sympathetic. “I think synthetic biology presents an interesting area for designers because it makes you ask what designers will be doing if biologists are designing,” she says. "My question is 'What does design become in that space?' I’m curious to see if design can reflect on itself by working in a very unfamiliar space. Is there an opportunity to think about what we make, and what we should or shouldn’t be making?”

These are some of the questions addressed by Synthetic Aesthetics, a book that documents an ongoing research project of the same name. The project was initiated by the University of Edinburgh and Stanford University in 2010, and paired synthetic biologists with artists and designers to generate residencies that examined crossover between the disciplines. While not all of the resultant projects are fictions, many are.7 Biologists Wendell Lim and Reid Williams for instance collaborated with IDEO designers Will Carey and Adam Reineck to propose drinking vessels formed from dormant bacteria that, when awakened by water entering the glass, would activate to mix and form a probiotic drink. "The book in a way was laying out what we’ve learned from the residencies, but it asks questions as well,” says Ginsberg. "What is synthetic biology, what is design, what do we want design to be in synthetic biology, and how do we bring its ideas of ethics, innovation and sustainability together?”

Such open-ended questions however feed back into the problem of design fictions. As a field, design fictions is not interested in providing definite answers or pursuing clearly defined goals (à la a brief to design an affordable, ergonomic aluminium stacking chair) and that’s where confusion enters in. Rather than problem solving – as conventional design is typically seen as being –8 it seems most contented when simply probing, holding a mirror up to debates that have no easy answers. "There is an understanding that design can only make stuff to sell, that it translates technology into things to consume,” says Ginsberg. "I think there is room for design practices that challenge and expand that. In a way, my practice is a design-based think tank."

Yet it is a state of affairs that makes the publication of Synthetic Aesthetics significant. Books about design fictions are comparatively rare, a fact that in part contributes to many people’s uncertainty with the discipline: it is simply not well-known enough yet for the process of acclimatisation to have taken place. Prior to Synthetic Aesthetics, the most visible texts in the field have been Dunne’s Hertzian Tales9 and his subsequent collaboration with Raby on 2014’s Speculative Everything. Writing about this latter title, the design scholar and director of London’s Design Museum Deyan Sudjic remarked that "design is about asking questions, as well as answering them” and it is true that the emergence of design fictions is not the first occasion in which design has acted as provocateur. The Italian design avant-garde of the 1970s were highly critical of the society in which they operated for instance and such precedent suggests that there is nothing conceptually confusing in design acting in the way that it does in design fictions. Design fictions aren’t confusing in and of themselves any more than a projection of a train is confusing in and of itself; all that is lacking is familiarity with the discipline.

Publications like Ginsberg's Synthetic Aesthetics are an important step in the acclimatisation process. As we become more used to the notion of design fictions, it becomes easier for them to do the work they were intended for. Rather than prompting confusion and misapprehension, they can begin to spark debate, generate ideas and inspire research. It is a similar process to that which L'arrivée d'un train en gare de La Ciotat would have gone through more than a century ago. What initially provoked terror was actually a marvel – a train’s arrival preserved on camera; a moment in a Marseillaise town bottled and unstopped in a Parisian theatre. On a second viewing the film’s audience would have seen that."
designfiction  speculativedesign  alexandradaisyginsberg  daisyginsberg  biology  2014  biotechnology  via:anne  anthonydunne  dunne&raby  fionaraby 
may 2014 by robertogreco
The Flora of the Future: Wild Urban Plants: Celebrating the Botanical Diversity of Cities Places: Design Observer:
"New Infrastructural Taxonomies

The plants that appear spontaneously in urban ecosystems are remarkable for their ability to grow under extremely harsh conditions — most notably in soils that are relatively infertile, dry, unshaded and alkaline. [14] Through a quirk of evolutionary fate, many of these plants have evolved life-history traits in their native habitats that have “preadapted” them to flourish in cities. Stone or brick buildings, for example, are analogous to naturally occurring limestone cliffs. [15] Similarly, the increased use of de-icing salts along walkways and highways has resulted in the development of high pH microhabitats that are often colonized by either grassland species adapted to limestone soils or salt-loving plants from coastal habitats. Preadaptation is a useful idea for understanding the emergent ecology of cities because it helps explain the patterns of distribution of plants growing in a variety of distinctive urban habitats, including the following:

The chain-link fence is one of the more specialized habitats of the urban environment. They provide plants — especially vines — with a convenient trellis to spread out on and a measure of protection from the predation of maintenance crews. Chain-link fences also provide “safe sites” for the germination of seeds, a manifestation of which are the straight lines of spontaneous urban trees that one commonly finds in cities, long after the fence that protected the trees is gone. Root suckering species such as Ailanthus grow particularly well along chain-link fence lines.

Vacant lots that have been cleared of buildings are often mulched with masonry and construction rubble. Their soils typically have high pH levels, and they are usually colonized by a suite of plants that I like to refer to as a “cosmopolitan urban meadow.” Many of these plants, including mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris) and curly dock (Rumex crispus), are common in the dry, alkaline grasslands of Europe.

The highway median strip is typically only a few feet wide, with minimal topsoil above a compacted subsoil layer. Initially these areas may have been planted with lawn grasses, but they usually end up dominated by crabgrass (Digitaria spp.). As most homeowners know, crabgrass comes up in lawns in late spring, when temperatures consistently get above 70 or 80 degrees. It’s a warm-season grass that thrives when it’s hot and dry, and because it is an annual species, the road salt used in winter has no effect on its development. In short, the median strip is perfect for crabgrass.

Stone walls and masonry building façades provide great habitats for plants — especially when their maintenance has been neglected. From the plant’s perspective, these structures are good stand-ins for a limestone cliff, and many cliff species are well adapted to growing on city walls. [16]

Pavement cracks are among the most distinctive niches in the urban environment. Wherever you have two types of paving material coming together, you have a seam, and the different materials expand differentially in response to summer and winter temperature to create a crack. We tend to think of pavement cracks as stressful habitats, but in fact, as the water sheets off the pavement, it flows right into the crack, making it a rich site in terms of its ability to accumulate moisture and nutrients. With oil from cars as a carbohydrate source available for decomposition by fungi and bacteria, cracks can develop significant microbial diversity.

Specialized microclimates are as important in cities as they are in natural environments. As an example, carpetweed (Mollugo verticillata), a summer annual from Central America, subsists only on air-conditioner drip. Its seeds germinate under a window air-conditioning unit when it is turned on in early summer, and it dries up and sets seed when the unit is turned off in September. Many annuals common in cities display similar capacities to exploit ephemeral urban niches.

River corridors, annually disturbed by fluctuating levels of water during the course of the year, are typically dominated by spontaneous vegetation with broad environmental adaptability. They serve as important pathways for the migration of both plants and animals into and out of the city. The same is true for railway corridors. At the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, where I have worked since 1979, coyote, deer, fox and pheasant are commonly sighted, often coming up from the suburban south following the railroad line that borders the eastern edge of the property."
peterdeltredici  2014  nature  plants  flora  interstitial  interstitialspaces  borders  boundaries  urban  urbanism  between  fences  biology  cities  botany  landscape  ecology  vegetation  betweenness 
april 2014 by robertogreco
Robert Hooke's Micrographia
"Robert Hooke (1635-1703) was an artist, biologist, physicist, engineer, architect, inventor and much else; a man who rubbed shoulders with many of the great minds of his time, and quarreled with most of them. Micrographia: or Some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies made by Magnifying Glasses was Hooke's masterpiece, an exquisitely illustrated introduction to the microscopic world that lay all around."

[Other books: ]
biology  books  science  roberthooke  micrographia  magnification 
april 2014 by robertogreco
Ants of the Prairie: Into the Wild - Architect Magazine
"Joyce Hwang’s practice, Ants of the Prairie, is generating buzz with innovative projects that create urban habitats for bees, bats, and other threatened species."
2014  joycehwang  art  architecture  animals  bees  bats  birds  battower  zoology  biology  highline 
april 2014 by robertogreco
Slow Life on Vimeo
""Slow" marine animals show their secret life under high magnification. Corals and sponges are very mobile creatures, but their motion is only detectable at different time scales compared to ours and requires time lapses to be seen. These animals build coral reefs and play crucial roles in the biosphere, yet we know almost nothing about their daily lives.

Learn more about what you see in my post:

This clip, as well as stock footage, is available in 4k resolution. Make sure you watch it on a large screen! You won't be able to appreciate this clip or see individual cells moving in a sponge on a smartphone. If you have a full-HD screen, when you enter full-screen mode, please press on "view actual size" next to the HD icon to improve sharpness.

To make this little clip I took 150000 shots. Why so many? Because macro photography involves shallow depth of field. To extend it, I used focus stacking. Each frame of the video is actually a stack that consists of 3-12 shots where in-focus areas are merged. Just the intro and last scene are regular real-time footage. One frame required about 10 minutes of processing time (raw conversion + stacking). Unfortunately, the success rate was very low due to copious technical challenges and I spent almost 9 long months just to learn how to make these kinds of videos and understand how to work with these delicate creatures.

I am glad that I abandoned the idea of making this clip in 3D (with two cameras) - very few people have 3D screens and it doubles processing time.

- Canon 7D (died at the beginning of the project as I had overused it in my research), Canon 5d Mkiii (90% of footage is done with it)
- Canon MP-E 65 mm lens
- adjustable custom-spectrum lamps (3 different models)
- several motorized stages including StackShot for focus stacking
- multiple computers to process thousands of 22+ Mpx raw images and perform focus stacking (an old laptop died on that mission after 3 weeks of continuous processing).

Edited in Sony Vegas, Adobe Photoshop CS6, Zerene Stacker, and Helicon Focus.
Music: Atmostra III by Cedric Baravaglio, Jonathan Ochmann and Zdravko Djordjevic.

Visit my website to see more cool stuff:
(consideration to buy a print from my website or to use the tip jar below the video is always welcome)

Inquiries/licensing/press: find my contact details here:

Please do not share this clip to promote or endorse marine aquarium industry. I simply want people to admire life, but not to be told to buy stuff, especially poses captive animals
More about using my videos: "
slow  nature  time  scale  biology  timelapse  via:vruba 
march 2014 by robertogreco
I’ve been waiting 16 years to know: what is the ocean dandelion? | Deep Sea News
"You are one animal, that’s clear, but you’re not one cell. You’re trillions of cells all working together in a cooperative fashion. And the product of all that cooperation is singular: one unique YOU made up of trillions of individual cells. Biologists talk about this in terms of ‘levels of organization.’ On one level, you’re trillions of cells, on another level, you’re one unique animal. So far we’re talking two levels of organization. Level 1: cell. Level 2: animal. Can you imagine what kind of crazy weird creature would exist if we add a third level?

Imagine a creature that is not just made up of trillions of cells, but also hundreds of animals. All these animals work together in the same way your cells work together, creating a kind of superorganism. Ants could be considered a superorganism, all working together with one queen.  Siphonophores, like the ocean dandelion, take this whole idea one step further.

The ocean dandelion is like an ant colony on steroids. Like an ant colony, each ocean dandelion is a collection of individual animals, all working together for the colony. There are different jobs for different members. Some protect the colony, some catch food, some reproduce. But there is one key difference between an ant colony and an ocean dandelion: individual ants work together, but still remain separated from one another, for members of the ocean dandelion colony, this isn’t true. They actually share tissues with one another. They have one shared community stomach, so what one animal eats, all get to digest.

Forget the hammer and sickle: Communism, your symbol should be the ocean dandelion.

Crazy to think about, but beautiful to look at. Each ‘petal’ of the disintegrated ocean dandelion I saw  years ago was actually a single member of the colony, able to survive a short time on its own before starving to death. A change in pressure, or bumpy ride to the ocean’s surface, may have been what caused the colony to collapse.

Despite the time that’s passed since I first saw the ocean dandelion, there’s still a lot we don’t know. What does it eat? How does it reproduce? But we know something about how it’s put together, and I never would have guessed the answer would be so strange. Twelve-year-old me would be thrilled."
biology  science  nature  oceans  marinelife  2014  superorganisms 
march 2014 by robertogreco
The True Inner Beauty of Fishes | Science | Smithsonian
"A biologist and a poet team up for a new exhibition at the Seattle Aquarium that features images of bleached and stained fish skeletons"
animals  biology  fish  fishes  photography  adamsummers  helenthompson  poetry  sierranelson  nature  museums  translucence 
january 2014 by robertogreco
AAAARG!!!! I love the sentiment and the poetry of... • Harkaway
[Embedded image that reads: "You're a ghost driving a meat coated skeleton made from stardust, what do you have to be scared of?"]


I love the sentiment and the poetry of this. I do. I get that it’s important.

But (with apologies to Theremina, who is awesome) it drives me CRAZY. Why?

Because NO, NO, NO, you are not a ghost driving a machine. You are not a tiny green homunculus sitting at the controls of a steampunk automaton. You are not Spock trapped in a body that wants to be Kirk. You are not dual, you are not refined intellect riding gross matter like an unruly mustang. You are not Ariel carried by Caliban.

You are you. Your body is you. Your cognition exists in the flesh. [ ] It is not separate, not spun glass in the hands of a chimp. Your body creates your mind. Your gut, the ropy intestinal tract that digests your food, has 100,000,000 neurons in it. There are quite a lot of animals with fewer than that. Your whole physical shape, your food and drink, exercise, amount of sunshine, of sex, of affection, sitting position and amount of sleep, affects not only your mood but your supposedly pure cognitive choices. Look down and to the left and name a string of random number between zero and ten million. Now do the same looking up and to the right. The second batch will be higher. And your body’s genes play a role in your thinking, too - identical twins separated at birth and raised separately are often seen to develop, if not similar politics, similar moods of political opinion.

The need to separate the body from the mind comes from an old slander that physical matter is dross, simply too crude to support the fineness that is thought. Physical matter, forever dancing around energy, shifting from one configuration to another, even now withholding secrets from our most sophisticated inquisitors, is not crude. It is brilliant, and yes, you are made of stardust and stars are made of you, so why - oh, why - would you try to distance yourself from the beauty of it and reach for comfort in the form of some old Cartesian slur derived from a tacit heteropatriarchal fear of physical desire?

Consider what you are: the most recent iteration of your genetic code, itself the product of strange chemistry in bubbling primordial pools, in turn resting upon vast releases of energy into stunning cold according to a template almost bizarrely suited to the emergence of conscious life - which may, in turn, be a vital component of its function. Caught midway between the appalling vastness of the Newton-Einstein universe and the implausible mechanics of the tiny, you exist in both; composed largely of water, whose relationship with the quantum world is only just beginning to reveal itself, you are gorgeously liminal, fragile, biological and complex.

And, that, that is why you’re incredible."

[via: ]
nickharkaway  2013  cognition  humans  embodiment  physicality  context  genetics  complexity  biology  fragility  liminality  liminalspaces 
november 2013 by robertogreco
Art | Sci Center + Lab | UCLA Art | Sci Center + Lab
"The Art|Sci Center is dedicated to pursuing and promoting the evolving “Third Culture” by facilitating the infinite potential of collaborations between (media) arts and (bio/nano) sciences. The center’s affiliation with the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI) offers access to cutting edge researchers and their laboratories and a dedicated gallery for exhibitions. Here too the center hosts the Sci|Art NanoLab Summer Institute for high school students by introducing them to the vast possibilities in the quantum field of art|science for the present and future generations. In cooperation with CNSI, the UCLA School of the Arts and the Department of Design | Media Arts, the Art|Sci Center supports visiting research scholars and artists in residency from around the world. The center presents lectures, mixers, and symposia to bring artists and scientists together in order to mesh these cultures and inspire individuals to think about art and science as already interrelated and relevant to our society."
ucla  art  science  thirdculture  openstudioproject  education  interdisciplinary  nanotechnology  biology  mediaarts 
november 2013 by robertogreco
University of California Research Microbial Dark Matter Is space really the final....
"Is space really the final frontier or are the greatest mysteries closer to home? Researchers estimate that there are more undiscovered microbes on earth than stars in the sky.  These microbes are known as “microbial dark matter” and form the pervasive (yet practically invisible) infrastructure of life on the planet.
A single handful of dirt contains approximately 100 billion microbes, but we have only been able to access the genomes of a few thousand of them.  One large problem is that many microbes are unable to grow outside of their natural environment.

Researchers at the Joint Genome Institute are try to fill in these gaps of knowledge through new identification techniques (single-cell genomics).

Watch the video → "
darkmatter  bacteria  science  biology  2013 
november 2013 by robertogreco
Ellie Irons
"I am an interdisciplinary artist exploring the interplay of humanity and ecology through drawings, environmental sculpture, and electronic media. Born in rural Northern California, I went to college in Los Angeles, where I studied art and environmental science. After falling in love with biology field work, I began combining ecology with art. I relocated to New York City in 2005, and completed my MFA at Hunter College in fall 2009. I now teach and keep a studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn."
art  artists  biology  ecology  brooklyn  interdisciplinary 
october 2013 by robertogreco
Medical Museion | Biohacking forside
"Medical Museion is currently hosting an open biohacking laboratory, pieced together from recycled furniture, IKEA cabinets, and cheap “hacked” instruments made by do-it-yourself biologists from BiologiGaragen and Hackteria. At a series of hands-on events and discussions, visitors are invited to step inside the world of practical biotechnology, and encounter the dreams and realities of open science.

This is an online version of the exhibition where you can also find photos, video and press coverage. Click on the titles below to explore:"
medicalmuseion  biohacking  ncmideas  hacking  events  openstudioproject  lcproject  hackerspaces  makerspaces  citizenscience  biologigarden  hackteria  biology  science  biotech  biotechnology 
august 2013 by robertogreco
A Hackerspace for Biology in San Diego » Bio, Tech and Beyond
"Bio, Tech and Beyond is an open innovation space dedicated to biology. We are a hybrid: part science educator, part biotech start up accelerator. Since we believe that people learn best by doing, our seminars and courses are complimented by wet labs where you can get your hands dirty and really understand how science works."

[See also: ]
hackerspaces  makerspaces  biology  biotech  biotechnology  biotechandbeyond  carlsbad  openstudioproject  science  making  citizenscience 
july 2013 by robertogreco
Cybernetics on the Prairie | Complex Fields
"The core of this project takes the form of BCL/IGB, a commissioned public artwork in three parts: a printed mural, a reprinted collection of historic texts, and a recreated historical computer. I intended the work as a monument to an under-recognized episode in my home institution’s history, constructed in a form appropriate to the content.

More ambitiously, this work is an attempt to deal with the nature of institutional memory, especially in the context of scientific research. More personally, I entered the project as a way to learn how one might successfully navigate the complex moral and philosophical challenges of teaching, research and administration in a modern American University."


[The Whole University Catalog and in .pdf: ]
biologicalcomputerlab  instituteforgenomicbiology  kevinhamilton  sybernetics  complexfields  ncmideas  projectideas  zines  education  history  teaching  biology  research  wholeuniversitycatalog  humbertomaturana  herbertbrün  counterculture  1960s  1969  univeristyofillinois  deschooling  unschooling  pedagogy  radicalpedagogy 
july 2013 by robertogreco
The RoboRoach: Control a living insect from your smartphone! by Backyard Brains — Kickstarter
"The RoboRoach is the world's first commercially available cyborg! That's right... A real-life Insect Cyborg! Part cockroach and part machine. This is not a gimmick... just good ol' fashion neuroscience, evolution and engineering."

[See also: ]

[Related: Garnet Hertz: ]
ios  cockroaches  electronics  biology  cyborgs  neuroscience  engineering  2013  kickstarter 
june 2013 by robertogreco
Backyard Brains
"As grad students at the University of Michigan, co-founders Tim and Greg often interacted with schoolchildren during neuroscience outreach events. We often wanted to show real "spiking" activity to students, but this was impossible due to the high cost of equipment. By using off-the-shelf electronics, we designed kits that could provide insight into the inner workings of the nervous system.

Our first product, the Spikerbox, uses invertebrates to help you learn about how the cells in the brain work to communicate. We also have an EMG SpikerBox that you can use to record electrical activity produced by cells in human muscles. We just recently launched the Completo which is a full tabletop, portable electrophysiology rig. All of our products are accompanied with Lesson Plans and Experiments to make learning (and teaching) neuroscience a breeze.

We also have three products that are still in beta: the RoboRoach, that can give you insight into neurostimulation, a Micromanipulator that can help you position your electrodes precisely, and a RoachScope that allows you to turn your mobile phone into a microscope.

Thank you for your interest in Backyard Brains."

[See also: and ]

[Related: Garnet Hertz: ]
biology  neuroscience  technology  backyardbrains  greggage  timengineer  kyleshannon  chile  michigan  annarbor  electronics  cockroaches  roboroach  spikerbox  projectideas  neurostimulation 
june 2013 by robertogreco
What Neurons Look Like (as Drawn by Students, Grad Students, and Professors) - Rebecca J. Rosen - The Atlantic
"The authors believed that the undergraduates were missing a "central imaginative step" -- the "ability to embody a neuron's perspective" -- and that it was holding them back from deeper learning. Could they be taught to understand neurons like the more advanced scientists without going through the years of enculturation and research?

They decided to modify the experiment. Before telling the undergraduates to "please draw a neuron," they put had them participate in exercises designed to get the students to think from the perspective of the neuron -- for example, by having students fan out across the lab in a pattern that mimicked a neuron's growth. The authors found that following the interventions, the students drew much more varied images of neurons. "The brief encounters with a teaching approach aimed at embodied knowledge have apparently liberated a divergence of conceptual ideas about brain cells," the authors write. They can't know for sure why, but, "a tempting hypothesis is that postintervention the students have been licensed to show an innately playful and creative approach."

The experiment is a perfect demonstration that knowledge and understanding lead to creativity. The undergraduate drawings weren't wrong; they just were unimaginative, rigid. As people progressed in their scientific careers, their ideas suffused their drawings. If that's not a great reason to commit yourself to trying to understand something new, I don't know what is."
rebeccarosen  representation  drawing  howwelearn  howweteach  neurons  learning  education  understanding  creativity  knowledge  tbs  tcsnmy  science  imagination  conceptualization  play  embodiment  patterns  sensemaking  davidhay  biology 
june 2013 by robertogreco
"Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen run a London based experimental practice that produces fictional objects, photographs, performances and videos exploring the tensions between biology and technology.

Inspired by designer species, composed wilderness and mechanical organs, they set out to create posthuman bodies, bespoke metabolisms, unnatural animals and poetic machines."
art  design  cohenvanbalen  revitalcohen  tuurvanbalen  via:bopuc  animals  biology  artificial  bacteria  biotech  biotechnology  bionics  biosensors  sensors  blood  bodies  body  human  humans  brain  memory  cellularmemory  science  choreography  cities  clocks  cooking  cyborgs  documentary  dogs  eels  electricity  ethics  exhibitiondesign  exhibitions  families  genetics  gold  goldfish  heirlooms  immunesystem  immunity  implants  installations  language  languages  leeches  lifesupport  life  machines  numbers  organs  performance  phantoms  pharmaceuticals  pigeons  birds  placebos  poetics  posthumanism  sheep  psychology  rats  prozac  suicide  soap  spatial  serotonine  superheroes  syntheticbiology  video  yeast  utopia  yogurt  translation 
june 2013 by robertogreco
"A product is designed especially to be made in China. The object’s only function is to choreograph a dance performed by the labourers manufacturing it.

The project seeks to explore the nature of mass-manufacturing products on various scales; from the geo-political context of hyper-fragmented labour to the bio-political condition of the human body on the assembly line. Engineering logic has reduced the factory labourer to a man-machine, through scientific management of every single movement. By shifting the purpose of the labourer’s actions from the efficient production of objects to the performance of choreographed acts, mechanical movement is reinterpreted into dance. What is the value of this artefact that only exists to support the performance of its own creation? And as the product dictates the movement, does it become the subject, rendering the worker the object?

The assembly/dance took place in Zhongshan, China between 10-19 March 2013 and resulted in 40 objects and a film documenting the choreography of their assembly."
via:bopuc  2013  75watt  china  manufacturing  factories  labor  choreography  assembly  objects  cohenvanbalen  art  revitalcohen  tuurvanbalen  biology  technology  design  electronics  dance 
june 2013 by robertogreco
Critical Making | materials protocols and culture
"Critical Making will operationalize and critique the practice of “making” through both foundational literature and hands on studio culture. As hybrid practitioners, students will develop fluency in readily collaging and incorporating a variety of physical materials and protocols into their practice. With design research as a lens, students will envision and create future computational experiences that critically explore social and culturally relevant technological themes such as community, privacy, environment, education, economics, energy, food, biology, democracy, activism, healthcare, social justice, etc.

While no previous technical knowledge is required to take this course, class projects will involve basic programing, electronic circuity, and digital fabrication design. While tutorials and instruction will be provided, students will be expected to develop basic skills in each of these areas in order to complete the course projects. The course will result in a final public show of student work.

The course goals are:

• develop a critical understanding of emerging making technologies and their role within the current cultural and social context
• establish proficiency with the fundamental concepts, methods, and practices of physical modeling, sketching, form giving, electronic prototyping, and hands on making across a range of materials
• improve students ability to make expressive, physical, interactive objects that critique and advance computing culture through the production of making and artifact creation
• advance the communication and presentation skill of students through the process of the studio critique


This is a studio class with time devoted to lecture, discussion, practice activities, design worksessions, and critique of student work. This course will consist of two Provocations and a Final Project demonstrating a functional interactive object set within a real life context and scenario. There will also be a series of Field Activities and in class sessions that are incuded as a portion of your particpation grade.


Readings will be assigned throughout the semester. Everyone is expected to read the readings. One or two people will be selected for each reading to prepare a class presentation. Each student is expected to engage in class discussions when readings are assigned. This counts towards your class participation grade.


Most classes will begin with a zip.crit. A zip.crit is a rapid crit of an interface, object, design, etc. We will be rotating through the class roster and choosing one person to do a zip.crit each class. That person will select an interface, object, design, instructable, kickstarter, toy, etc. At the beginning of class that person will briefly introduce the object, interface, design to us. The class will collectively critique the artifact.


Work and performance in the course will be evaluated after each Provocation and the Final Project. In addition, the process of exploration is as important as the final product, so it is important that students manage time well and devote time to working on the assignments during the course of a week. If class time is given as a worksession and is not put to good use, students’ grades will be penalized. For assignments done in teams, students will be graded on individual contributions as well as synthesis with the team. Work that is late will be decremented in grade.

rules of engagement

One of the main learning exercises in this course is the critique. We will be building this skill throughout the semester Each of the assignments will be critiqued in class.

Be there!

Critique days mandatory attendance. If you are not in class or late, we will deduct from your attendance grade. There will be no exceptions.

Attendance of all classes is mandatory. You are allowed one absence for the semester without penalty (except critique days); thereafter you will receive zero credit for the missed studio. To receive an additional excused absence, you must ask in advance, and receive an acknowledgment from the instructor.

Excusable absences include family emergencies, job interviews, and presenting at a conference. It does not include wanting to leave early for long weekend or vacation. To receive credit for attendance, you must arrive on time. No late assignments will be accepted

Be active!

During the in class critique everyone is expected to be engaged in the discussion. Assignments, timely attendance, and in-class and team participation are a critical part of the grade. Bringing examples from outside of the class is considered to be an assignment and is also important.

Be attentive!

No laptops, phones, electronics out or used during critique and at other selected parts of class.

grading criteria

participation in assignments
good use of class time: attendance, critiques, (NO multitasking)
problem selection
rigorous design explorations
quality of craftsmanship and level of completion
quality of the team’s reflection and communication about a design solution and process
For projects done in teams, students will be graded on individual contributions as well as synthesis with the team.
Work that is late will be decremented in grade.


[See also: ]
education  sustainability  making  classideas  syllabus  2013  ericpaulos  krisfallon  chrismeyers  environment  biology  democracy  activism  healthcare  socialjustice  studioculture  openstudio  openstudioproject  makers  berkeley  bayarea  programming  coding  computing  electronics  digitalfabrication  technology  learning  lcproject  kickstarter  instructables  prototyping  glvo  edg  srg  syllabi 
may 2013 by robertogreco
Creepy or Cool? Portraits Derived From the DNA in Hair and Gum Found in Public Places | Collage of Arts and Sciences
"The 30-year-old PhD student, studying electronic arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, extracts DNA from each piece of evidence she collects and enters this data into a computer program, which churns out a model of the face of the person who left the hair, fingernail, cigarette or gum behind.

It gets creepier.

From those facial models, she then produces actual sculptures using a 3D printer. When she shows the series, called “Stranger Visions,” she hangs the life-sized portraits, like life masks, on gallery walls. Oftentimes, beside a portrait, is a Victorian-style wooden box with various compartments holding the original sample, data about it and a photograph of where it was found."
dna  art  science  biology  diy  heatherdewey-hagborg  humans  genetics  portraits  faces  evidence 
may 2013 by robertogreco
Design for the New Normal (Revisited) | superflux
"I was invited to talk at the NEXT Conference in Berlin by Peter Bihr, as he felt that a talk I gave last year would fit well with the conference's theme Here Be Dragons: "We fret about data, who is collecting it and why. We fret about privacy and security. We worry and fear disruption, which changes business models and renders old business to ashes. Some would have us walk away, steer clear of these risks. They’re dangerous, we don’t know what the consequences will be. Maintain the status quo, don’t change too much.Here and now is safe. Over there, in the future? Well, there be dragons."

This sounded like a good platform to expand upon the 'Design for the New Normal' presentation I gave earlier, especially as its an area Jon and I are thinking about in the context of various ongoing projects. So here it is, once again an accelerated slideshow (70 slides!) where I followed up on some of the stories to see what happened to them in the last six months, and developed some of the ideas further. This continues to be a work-in-progress that Superflux is developing as part of our current projects. "

[Video: ]
anabjain  2013  drones  weapons  manufacturing  3dprinting  bioengineering  droneproject  biotechnology  biotech  biobricks  songhojun  ossi  zemaraielali  empowerment  technology  technologicalempowerment  raspberrypi  hackerspaces  makerspaces  diy  biology  diybio  shapeways  replicators  tobiasrevell  globalvillageconstructionset  marcinjakubowski  crowdsourcing  cryptocurrencies  openideo  ideo  wickedproblems  darpa  innovation  india  afghanistan  jugaad  jugaadwarfare  warfare  war  syria  bitcoins  blackmarket  freicoin  litecoin  dna  dnadreams  bregtjevanderhaak  bgi  genomics  23andme  annewojcicki  genetics  scottsmith  superdensity  googleglass  chaos  complexity  uncertainty  thenewnormal  superflux  opensource  patents  subversion  design  jonardern  ux  marketing  venkateshrao  normalityfield  strangenow  syntheticbiology  healthcare  healthinsurance  insurance  law  economics  ip  arnoldmann  dynamicgenetics  insects  liamyoung  eleanorsaitta  shingtatchung  algorithms  superstition  bahavior  numerology  dunne&raby  augerloizeau  bionicrequiem  ericschmidt  privacy  adamharvey  makeu 
april 2013 by robertogreco
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