This week → Fermented code: modelling the microbial through miso ⊗ Rewilding mythology ⊗ Why every designer should be a systems thinker ⊗ Why isn’t everybody rich yet? ⊗ Designing the future with applied Sci-fi
It’s not the first time I’ve said this, but one of the things that keep me writing this newsletter is the joy of finding connections and uncovering them serendipitously. I received the first article, by Claire L. Evans (the most clicked article from a year ago was also by her), directly from her newsletter and the second was posted by Keely on the RADAR Discord. Both looked intriguing but it’s only when sitting down to read them that they ‘magically’ fit together perfectly, talking about mythology, history, systems, nature, and more-than-human entanglement while connected through fermentation and composting.
Relatedly, to me anyway, some readers have said that Sentiers stretches their brains, gets them to read things they wouldn’t have previously, or that they ‘graduated to’ over months. I’m doing the same in the researching and writing of each issue, I hope that’s what it brings to you too; extending ourselves and our understanding, discovering new perspectives we hadn’t considered before.
If you look on the website you’ll see that I tagged this piece with complexity, ecosystems, systems, trees, nature, fungi, fermentation, microbiome, synthetic biology, and biology. Some of these overlap and are there for findability but still, I rarely use that many tags on an article, which just goes to show the breadth of what Claire L. Evans wrote here.
From a missed batch of home-fermented miso, Evans considers all of the above topics, jumping from nature to coding, trees to models, and more besides. She shows how models (code, a selection of microbes) are used to understand parts of more complex systems, knowing full well that they don’t represent the whole thing, the whole map. Each model (or each miso culture) is a subset of a larger systems, and what is taken out or ignored is as impactful as what is included.
Wonderful piece from one of my favourite writers of the last couple of years. Beyond the actual topic and sub-topics, it’s also a great example of looking to history, looking to nature, looking beyond humans, to find inspiration, questions, and hopefully solutions.
More → When microbes and fermentation are mentioned, I feel I have to also link to Robin Sloan’s great books Sourdough, and The Suitcase Clone (further down the same page).
[A] growing awareness that the solutions to the future’s most intractable problems would not be found exclusively in silicon chips or Silicon Valley, but by drawing inspiration, as Katz and others suggest, from the webs of life beneath our feet, in our gardens and in our guts. […]
My miso, then, is already a kind of model – one good enough to eat. It is a semi-natural interface between the artificial simplicity of a lab system and the dizzyingly diverse communities of microbes flourishing outside my kitchen door. Fermentation is a way of capturing the complexity of microbial ecology, literally drawing it from the air, rendering it knowable, and ultimately domesticating it. […]
There will always be something a model misses or ignores. This is by design. Making a model requires elision: choosing between what is meaningful and what is merely noise. This is complicated by the fact that what appears to be noise at one scale can look like a signal at another. […]
Recent research in ‘unconventional computing’ suggests that we might do well to skip the model entirely and turn to the natural world itself as a computing substrate, building computers from slime mould, fungal mycelium, seedlings, and perhaps entire ecosystems. […]
I think of it as a reminder of all that is still unknown, and unknowable: that which exists beyond the model’s frame.
Myths document the understanding of the world, as discovered by our predecessors. Whether real 10 000 year-old comets remembered through legends, interdependence represented in cave frescoes, or heroes and heroines representing anthropomorphized plants and animals tribes depended on. Sophie Strand advocates for a ‘composting’ of our myths, history, and knowledge, saying that we must rediscover what preceded us and include it in the ‘fermented soil’ we might grow solutions and evolve from. Worth a read to get to the last quote below with the proper framing.
I’m going to have to come up (suggestions welcome) with a word/category for this type of article. I love the portrayal of mythology, I agree with the inspiration it can play, but I’m … dubious? Sceptical? Unconvinced? of the way Strand connects both… strands (sorry). I don’t disagree or contradict, rather it’s something I’ve felt in a few other readings over the last year; is my scepticism warranted or am I missing something? Am I unknowingly too attached to the mental models I’ve been living with to accept what she is saying? “Colonialism” sometimes feels overused here, some other connections too esoteric, but is the author exaggerating? Or have I not delved deep enough, thought deep enough about the topic? This is how I’m sharing it here; lots of heady worthy ideas, but also some that are either too lyrical, go too far, or that I’m not grasping properly yet.
The Pit River Nation of northeastern California, also known as the Achumawi, have a cosmology that dates the universe at 10,000 billion years old, a mythic origin that far predates the material reductionist conclusion that the universe’s age is, indeed, close to that estimation. […]
Just as fungi taught plants how to root into the soil, so do myths teach us how to root into our ecological and social ecosystems. Mycorrhizal fungi map the relationships in a forest just as myths map the specific relationships of a community rooted in place. […]
We cannot simply decide that civilization and patriarchy are toxic and then reject them. Instead, we must take responsibility for our bad stories through the alchemical power of rot. On the compost heap, nothing is exiled. […]
While science and myth are often seen as opposed, I want to propose that the tools of science have provided us with a unique window into the lives of the beings whose myths might save us. Inspired by the work of philosopher Isabelle Stengers, I believe the most resilient thinking will occur in the overlap of disciplines, creating what Stenger’s calls an “ecology of practices.” We can return to the hybrid wisdom of the theriomorphs: symbiosis is the basis of life itself. Biological and mythic novelty arise from unruly compositions between species, between epistemologies, and between beliefs.
I’m not sure if the title of this article by Helge Tennø is the correct angle, as it’s not that much about design. Doesn’t matter, it’s a good read on systems thinking, which I haven’t mentioned as much recently, but fits perfectly with the two other featured above. More importantly, I recommend it as a jumping off point, using the multiple links and embedded videos he includes.
Analytical thinking helps us understand how stuff works, systems thinking helps us understand why stuff works. […]
With too many models the risk increases that the models don’t communicate, inform each other or help the team prioritize across. More models aren’t necessarily better. Fewer models might focus and strengthen the insights collection and sensemaking. […]
In linear thinking you assume the solution is known and you are trying to have less people decide. In systems thinking you assume the perfect answer is not known, but needs to be learned and you motivate the whole system to learn and share — increasing the speed and scale of learning.
For The New Republic, Timothy Noah reviews J. Bradford DeLong’s
Slouching Towards Utopia alongside Thomas Piketty’s A Brief History of Equality. The former being the center piece and Noah uses the same idea of “the long twentieth century” to recap the main events of that socioeconomic period. DeLong ends it in 2010, including the computer-driven economic boom, while Noah believes in a simple century ending in 1980, saying it was a different transformation on a smaller scale.
To answer the title quickly and somewhat tongue-in-cheek: if your country is in the North Atlantic, blame Reagan and Tatcher, everywhere else blame colonialism. (Via nothing here, issue 192.)
In summary, the advantage that came from being first to industrialize made North Atlantic countries so rich so fast that they were able to make the rules, and the rules they preferred set the price of entry too high for latecomers. […]
The computer boom mimicked the effects of the Industrial Revolution but fell well short of its breadth and magnitude. The wealth it created boosted middle-class incomes for a few years in the late 1990s, but it boosted incomes for the superrich much more, and, after 2000, pretty much exclusively. That made it a less transformative event than the Industrial Revolution, whose benefits were, during most of the twentieth century, shared widely.
Futures, foresights, forecasts & fabulations → Designing the future with applied Sci-fi. Featuring Bruce Sterling, Julian Bleecker, Anab Jain, Alex McDowell, and Radha Mistry. Nuff said. ⊗ RADAR futures report, A Future In Sync. I’m on their Discord so I saw some of the work and research going into it, should be excellent. ⊗ Connecting the Brain and the Body for Futures Thinking.
No.235 Asides ⊕ See Note
- 😍 😍 🗺 🐦 The Bird Migration Explorer “is your guide to the heroic annual journeys made by over 450 bird species, and the challenges they face along the way.”
- 🤔 🇦🇶 ✈️ Refreezing Earth’s poles feasible and cheap, new study finds. “Scientists laid out a possible future program whereby high-flying jets would spray microscopic aerosol particles into the atmosphere at latitudes of 60 degrees north and south—roughly Anchorage and the southern tip of Patagonia. If injected at a height of 43,000 feet (above airliner cruising altitudes), these aerosols would slowly drift poleward, slightly shading the surface beneath.”
- 🤔 🌖 🇨🇳 China Discovers Stunning Crystal on the Moon, Nuclear Fusion Fuel for Limitless Energy. “According to state media, the new lunar samples also contain helium-3, a version of the element helium that has long fascinated scientists—and science fiction creators—because of its potential as a nuclear fusion fuel source.”
- 😍 💦 🇳🇱 ‘This is what a river should look like’: Dutch rewilding project turns back the clock 500 years. “Europe’s largest river restoration is making changes across the entire landscape, bringing benefits to wildlife and people.”
- 🌊 🇦🇺 🇮🇩 Australia’s ocean forest of 35-metre ‘trees’ is growing at light speed. “The forests grow two to eleven times faster than many crops cultivated today, such as wheat, corn or rice, they found. Australia’s neighbour Indonesia reaps the benefits in their seaweed aquaculture on land, with seeds extracted from the ocean forests.”
- 🤔 ☀️ 🏢 🪡 🇳🇱 Pauline van Dongen designs Suntex solar textile for architecture. “Suntex is a durable and water-resistant solar textile that could be used to clad entire buildings, turning them into huge solar-energy generators.”
- 👀 🇩🇪 🇩🇰 Fehmarnbelt Tunnel will be the world’s longest immersed tunnel. “When completed, the Fehmarnbelt Fixed Link will be the longest combined road and rail tunnel anywhere in the world. Descending up to 40 meters beneath the Baltic Sea, it will link Denmark and Germany.”
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