Note — Nov 28, 2021

The Earth After Humans

Second piece at Noema, this one by Rob Dunn. He shows us that nature or ‘life on Earth’ isn’t in peril, our living conditions are and even if we disappear, other species will thrive under the new conditions we are creating. Good perspective but I’m including it more for the part on microbes, which aligns with the fungi pieces lower down, and the last part on forms of intelligence.

But there is also another kind of intelligence: distributed intelligence, the sort found in honey bees, termites and, especially, ants. Ants are not inventively intelligent, at least not individually. Instead, their intelligence stems from their ability to apply rules about how to deal with new circumstances. Those fixed rules allow creativity to emerge in the form of collective behaviors. Looked at this way, ants and other societies of insects were computers before computers. Their intelligence is different from our own. They are not self-aware. They don’t anticipate the future. They don’t mourn the loss of other species, or even their own dead. Yet they can build structures that last. The oldest termite mound may well have been inhabited for longer than the oldest human city.

Speculation, invention and making new worlds

In this issue of the newsletter where he explores the themes and questions of the upcoming MSc in Heritage Evidence, Foresight and Policy, Richard Sandford presents an excellent overview of the multiple speculative practices and approaches around design, sci-fi and philosophy.

Speculative design, speculative fiction, speculative philosophy and research are not all trying to do the same thing, but they all have a common interest in trying out new ways of being in the world. They suggest that speculation about the future is less about simply moving our present further along the timeline, and more about finding new ways to imagine relating to the world and each other. […]

[T]he kind of conceptual accounting that Donna Haraway dissolves majestically within her methodological approach of ‘SF’, invoking “science fiction, speculative fabulation, string figures, speculative feminism, science fact, so far” (Staying with the Trouble, p. 2) as she weaves a path into understanding a more-than-human present. […]

But when the present circumstances are too different from those in which our dispositions were developed—when the game changes—our expectations and anticipations fail. The world demands new thinking of us. It requires that we come up with different ways of thinking, that we experiment with new ways of relating to the world—that we speculate.