What does it mean, to be human? Imagination!

Ursula K. Le Guin:  “I believe that all the best faculties of a mature human being exist in the child, and that if these faculties are encouraged in youth they will act well and wisely in the adult, but if they are repressed and denied in the child they will stunt and cripple the adult personality. And finally, I believe that one of the most deeply human, and humane, of these faculties is the power of imagination.” [*]

Le Guin, was a writer, inspired by anthropology, of SF  like Woolf, defended “the uses of the imagination … most especially in fairy tale, legend, fantasy, science fiction, and the rest of the lunatic fringe”.  I guess that Octavia H. Butler, would have shared that view. Her SF is full of imagination, likewise, dwells on psychological and anthropological references and sensibility for „the other“. Camera Roll.jpg


([*] source: Marleen S. Barr – obituary in Nature, 1st March 2018, doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-02439-7)

Crawling the Anthropcene and its Culture

The Salzburg Global Seminar had offered, during five days (20-25 February 2018), to four dozen people  – including the author of this post – to examine  the theme „The Shock of the New. Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future“ :  „What will our planet look like in 2050 or 2100? Who or what will control our lives? What will it mean to be human?“

These and other tough questions were the central focus of this session, bringing together artists, creative thinkers, innovative cultural practitioners and some „odd“ from around the world to re-imagine the nexus between the arts, technology and human futures. Some visions sprinkled at and after the meeting.


Among the open focus questions for the participants, not answered at the end of the seminar: What does it mean to be human in the Anthropocene?  Little ad-hoc answer, evidently. What’s the Anthropocene, going beyond what scientists could imagine as an engineered geosphere?  How much technological and cultural change comes on top of these hard changes of the Earth planetary dynamics? Is it „Earth in Human Hands“ as David Grinspoon describes it? Do we face a Gaia Bottleneck?

Before going big, too big – lets crawl the planet.  I offer here a link to a weekly crawl of the Internet. Anthropocene, culture and related matters the ‚robot‘ is asked to gather and bundle under the title Terraformer’s Dépeches.

Let’s see what is found ‚out there‘, before turning back to the question: „What does it mean to be human in the Anthropocene?“ A recent edition featured an interview with the French Scholar Bruno Latour „The Critical Zone of Science and Politics“.

The smile of… ‚The Imaginator‘

New complexities, irritating disruptions of trusted practices, and accelerating change seem to characterise our times. Uncertainty about the future is acknowledged by many. The rate of change is unmeasured; hence it is felt. Curiously, artists, intellectuals and laypersons, each seem self-de-rooted.

To read the interview with Bruno Latour as an avant propos.


Hence, what is ‚The New‘ that is up to us, in a world of somehow self-driving cars, subsistence fishermen and first climate refugees? Our views focus‘ on the next corner, the next turn of a road. Where are the signposts? Who has a sketch of the roads ahead? Does vision lack? What marks the debates? The technology-fascinated disagree. Yet, their vision is just ’scale-up‘, massively to reach a singularity. Does this change in quantity leads to new quality? Hence #SGSCULTURE, is Mr Hegel calling?

Questions to the participants at #SGSCULTURE #593:

What will our planet look like in 2050 or 2100?

Who or what will control our lives?

What will it mean to be human?


Let’s drop the big stone, the rock, the landslide into the deep water, and observe the waves. What to envision for the years 2050 to 2100, times when my children and grandchildren will be getting old, respectively? Ten statements are offered here. Each implies a considerable alteration of the present state of people’s dealings; some deem clear-cut some are underlying. How would artists, designers and culture-activists anchor them in emerging trends? What seeds they could plant to give them lives.

  1. People overcame the multiple societal-environmental emergencies of the 2030-ties; then life-expectancy had stalled globally. During this crisis, luckily the use of arms of mass destruction got hindered; although some ‚conventional warfare‘ occurred.

  2. By 2050, collaborative Earth System Governance has emerged and the life-expectancy (number of healthy years) of people started to increase again.

  3. In most regions, the species extinction rates got capped. The deterioration of the vital global ecosystems has halted.

  4. In 2100, the global human population has stabilised at little less than 11 Billion people; slow decline seems possible now. Open societies have led to about equal levels of development in all urbanised regions.

  5. Networks and circular supply-chains enforce participatory handling of societal-environmental problems including large-scale migration of people.

  6. Joint efforts are ongoing to relocate people from the ocean shorelines (and some other now uninhabitable zones); ‚managed human retreat‘ because of sea-level rise and ‚rebuilding of (coastal) urban areas‘ is a global policy.

  7. The rate of change of societal-environmental systems has been capped, and the diversity of the ‚human niche‘ is made a ’species goal‘.

  8. Most production systems use processes that are derived from synthetic biology with embedded quantum-technologies.

  9. Since 2050, emotions emerged spontaneously in complex information systems, and since then they consolidated into stable societal features. Since then, such ‚feeling systems‘ and the various (collective and individual) ‚people-tool systems‘ got a dedicated legal status in most countries.

  10. Our outpost on Moon and Mars may be reopened soon after the burial of the bodies of the early colonists on Earth.

Such a new may stretch our imagination to the breaking point. Hence, Irritation! That’s the purpose. The eyes stay shut, facing ‚The New‘, listening to the orange clockwork.

For many of our fellow citizens, ‚The Future‘, with capital „F“, is the march towards „About-the-Same“. It may be a bit more of the same. For most people, The Future is nothing that is ‚made‘. It is something to be endured. And, disasters or war deem ready to disrupt its regular gait. It is this aeon-old view, „Nihil sub sole novum“ (nothing new under the sun) that for many provides a sense of security.Astonishingly, ‚The Future‘ is a reference frame. It embeds our myopic starring at the next turn of events. Yet, what to do when this reference frame seems to change, to wobble and, hence gets uncertain. Then, menacingly, ‚The Unknown‘ frames the stages of our plays. Irritatingly, ‚The Counter-Intuitive‘ seems to consolidate out of our plays. Threateningly, they block the way back. The horsemen of the modern apocalypse,‚The New‘, ‚The Unknown‘, and ‚The Counter-Intuitive‘ threat with insecurity, loss of competences, altered divisions of societies, and lost sense!

Some people relish the ‚The New‘, ‚The Unknown‘, and ‚The Counter-Intuitive‘Artists, Explorers, Scientists feel a deep sensual pleasure when confronting them, as a person and as citizens. The artist’s psyche, the explorer’s spirits, the innovator’s minds, the researcher’s souls are resources vibrating with imagination and passion. Hence, nutured by them the citizenries may confront Quantum-Technology, Earth System Sciences, Artificial Intelligences, and Synthetic Biology. Then the citizenries will draft the new ‚guides to these galaxies‘. They will tell, whether 42′ is still the right answer, why your towel might be sufficient, and who moved the restaurant(s) at the end of the universe(s)? [**]

Only as citizens, the artists, cultural practitioners, inventors and scientists can push the boundaries of the human imagination. As citizens, jointly they may move beyond the familiar and transcend the borders towards the future. But, are they ready to assume this task? Do they invest collaboratively in path-changing discoveries, different fates of our planet, and charting pathways to liveable futures? Only then, ‚The New‘, ‚The Unknown‘, and ‚The Counter-Intuitive‘ will face the broad, vigorous smile of ‚The Imaginator‘ – Surrender! 

[*] This post re-publishes my post written on the way home from the Salzburg Global Seminar #593 „The shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future“ (Salzburg, 20-25 February 2018). The post is the second ‚modulation‘ of the scene setter for the event. The first ‚modulation‘ of the scene setter had been published before the seminar. Hence, borrowing a notion from music, these posts may be seen as a prose-variations of the theme of the seminar. They provide the transition to post-seminar activities, in particular in view of the question „What does it mean to be human in the Anthropocene“. 

[**] See plots in „The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy“ by Douglas Adams.

Wicked Geoengineering ?

Four Comments to the AGU draft policy statement
Geoengineering Responses to Climate Change Require Enhanced Research, Consideration of Societal Impacts, and Policy Development
I) As reflected in the wording of the draft statement, the issues summarized under the label ‚geoengineering‘ go well beyond sound understanding of the non-linear dynamics of the Earth climate system. However too little emphasis is given that how climate change may affect various socio-ecological systems is incompletely understood including how governance [1] may handle surprises, sudden changes and irreducible uncertainties. Furthermore, the non-linear dynamics and particular features of the socio-ecological systems will render obsolete handling strategies that are engineering-like [2]. Other handling strategies are available for such ‚wicked problems‘, which are reflexive, resilient, responsive, revitalizing and rescaling [3]. The policy statement should express through its language that that ‚engineering-like approaches‘ could not handle adequately climate change issues. Furthermore, the stamen should strengthen its wording regarding research into ‚historical, ethical and social implications‘ of any handling strategies including any engineering-component.
II) When considering engineering-components as part of a more comprehensive handling strategy then a distinction should be made between technologies that tackle the problem ‚at-the-start-of-the pipe‘, ‚at-the-end-of-the-pipe‘, or ‚modify-other-parts-of-a-complex- system‘. Technologies for ‚carbon dioxide removal‘ belong to the second category and ’solar radiation management‘ to the third. When considering how environmental problems (e.g. acid rain, stratospheric ozone destruction) were handled in the past, successful approaches involved technologies ‚at-the-start-of-the pipe‘. In the context of climate that are technologies, which capture carbon at moment of combustion to store it away. The policy statement should refer to such technologies (‚at-the-start-of-the pipe‘), including their preference as ‚common sense‘.
III) Carbon dioxide emissions cause warming of the globe and acidification of the world ocean [4]. ‚Solar radiation management‘ addresses only one of these major threats; ‚Carbon dioxide removal‘ addresses both. The policy statement should mention this structural difference between the approaches for geoengineering that the statement addresses.
IV) As reflected in the wording of the draft statement, the current limited success of adaptation and mitigation policies indicates a weakness of the current governance systems; a weakness that is found at global, regional and local scale. Research is needed how to strengthen governance across scales and among actors [1, 5]. Governance is a key-issue for anthropogenic change [6] including intended change like geoengineering of any kind and in particular for ’solar radiation management‘. It would be surprising that governance of geoengineering policies would function when governance of adaptation and mitigation policies has deemed weak. The policy statement should strengthen its argumentation regarding research of ethical legal and social implications.
[1] Biermann, F. (2014). Earth System Governance: World Politics in the AnthropoceneEarth System Governance: World Politics in the Anthropocene. London: MIT Press. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt1287hkh
[2] Pollitt, C. (2016). Debate: Climate change—the ultimate wicked issue. Public Money & Management36(2), 78–80. https://doi.org/10.1080/09540962.2016.1118925
[3] Termeer, C. J. A. M., Dewulf, A., Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen, S. I., Vink, M., & van Vliet, M. (2016).Coping with the wicked problem of climate adaptation across scales: The Five R Governance Capabilities. Landscape and Urban Planning154, 11–19. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2016.01.007
[4] Duarte, C. M. (2014). Global change and the future ocean: a grand challenge for marine sciences.Frontiers in Marine Science1. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2014.00063
[5] Campbell, L. M., Gray, N. J., Fairbanks, L., Silver, J. J., Gruby, R. L., Dubik, B. A., & Basurto, X. (2016). Global Oceans Governance: New and Emerging Issues. Annual Review of Environment and Resources41(1), 517–543. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-environ-102014-021121
[6] Vidas, D., Fauchald, O. K., Jensen, Ø., & Tvedt, M. W. (2015). International law for the Anthropocene? Shifting perspectives in regulation of the oceans, environment and genetic resources. Anthropocene9, 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ancene.2015.06.003


Republished: ten posts on marine research


Ban Plastic Bags -III

  1. http://ukkoelhob.blogspot.be/2017/03/mundus-maris-first-news-these.html
  2. http://ukkoelhob.blogspot.be/2017/03/seagrass-doomsday-next.html
  3. http://ukkoelhob.blogspot.be/2017/03/levelling-out-trawling-sea.html
  4. http://ukkoelhob.blogspot.be/2017/03/warm-sea-to-shrink-fish.html
  5. http://ukkoelhob.blogspot.be/2017/03/change-pitch-with-pinch-of-salt.html
  6. http://ukkoelhob.blogspot.be/2017/03/marine-heavens-on-snowball-earth.html
  7. http://ukkoelhob.blogspot.be/2017/03/climate-choke-point-east-of-greenland.html
  8. http://ukkoelhob.blogspot.be/2017/03/dirty-sea-bottom-litter-everywhere-and.html
  9. http://ukkoelhob.blogspot.be/2017/03/spices-power-and-rock-pacific-ocean.html
  10. http://ukkoelhob.blogspot.be/2017/03/keeping-heat-on-or-powering-europe.html

Ban Plastic Bags -II

p.s: Might interest, also: https://www.facebook.com/groups/382791215094905/

p.p.s. Should interest: https://www.facebook.com/MundusMaris/?fref=ts


Social Network Theories

Changing Learning and Working

I have often been confronted by colleagues with the argument that social network analysis is only a method. Over time I became more annoyed with that point. Social network analysis goes beyond this. Yes, it is a method, but it is also a perspective, a framework, with which the world can be analyzed. To underline this point below are a couple of theories that can (or should) only be viewed from a relational perspective, hence social network perspective:

Social Exchange Theory

Initially, social exchange theory only dealt with the exchange of goods, services, or favors between two people. It can be summarize with „I scratch your bag, you scratch mine“. The flow of goods, services, or favors is normally reciprocal. Take any item you purchase: You get the good (e.g., freshly baked sour dough German bread with sunflower seeds) and the baker gets your money. But also when you grant…

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