Bring Water back to Philosophy

Reading Meandering and Riversphere is a new experience for me. Although it is apparent that multiple philosophers from diversified cultural settings think through water, river, or ocean, I do not realize that the paradox of Heraclitus could provoke such deliberate and fruitful thinking about the river, or in a more broader perspective, the water research. As far as I am concerned, there are at least two illuminations emitting between the lines.

meandering

First and foremost, this research provides me with a vision of future water research. Water research ought to be presented not in a singular dimension, but through poly dimensional contexts. As the earlier center of the western culture, ancient Greek city-states such as Miletus, Samos, Athens, Sparta were also earlier urbanized areas. Research concerning water quality and health problems in Ancient Greece and Rome suggests that the public health effects of water have caused much attention and been recorded in the scarce resources (see A Brief History of Water and Health from Ancient Civilizations to Modern Times). It is not clear whether there is any such water crisis in Miletus which makes Thales considers that water is the exclusive and absolute element in the universe. However,  the water problem in ancient urbanized areas could not be paralleled with the water crisis in the 20th century. Even back in the 19th century, water issues could not be so complicated and entangled with so many aspects of human life. The sprawl of urban areas in the 20th century not only dramatically changed the landscape, it also engineers water into an artificial object which could be operated and manipulated by plants, dams, and pipeline engineering. Are there any rivers running freely on the planet without any engineering trace? I doubt it deeply. Water has become a super complicated conundrum involving all the classical disciplines we developed so far. The problem is, the sum of the human knowledge from every discipline might not be enough for us to tackle the problem.

Second, in order to deal with this super complicated situation, Meandering and Riversphere establishes an angle through which we could possibly begin our clarification. By clarification, I mean this research clarifies the ontological and epistemological meaning of water issues. “Riversphere” is a better term than “watersphere” on the grounds that atmosphere is a combination of atmos and sphaira, the former of the two is a tangible object. Riversphere is an ontological probing of the water. The term, as the research emphasizes, is “a thick concept” that intertwines the sciences such as hydrological, biological, ecological knowledge and the humanities such as social-cultural movements, political activities, and narratives. It discloses the super complicated reality of the water issue. On the other hand, meandering reveals the epistemological approach of the water or river. Although the research itself distinctly regards this term as a metaphor, this term sheds lights on the epistemology of the water. Furthermore, it symbolizes a unique cognitive orientation. I would not say it is a pattern or paradigm, but I consider it as an inclusive orientation bringing into different patterns and models. It embraces uncertainty, fuzzy control, and unexpectedness, but it does not ignore the opposite patterns of those.

Eventually, “meandering” and “riversphere” would bring us back to the paradox which takes us to a world where the world of being and the world of becoming build up their reconciliation.

Hyperobjects

 

To understand Timothy Morton, I tried to listen to some of the music of My Bloody Valentine. I am not encyclopedically a fan of music art, but I found these dissonant, violent, nervous music are the sorts that I listened when I was a college student. I am not sure at that time I was really loving these music or I was just following the fashion. Time flies and all of sudden, I realize that I listen to Louis Armstrong and Leonard Cohen much more often than those bands. The only boisterous band survives my capricious music penchant is the Lake of Tears. And the reason that I love this band is not for its wildness or enthusiasm, but its occasional effusion of a glimmer of tranquility and introspection. Could I understand Timothy Morton and his hyperobjects by not taking My Bloody Valentine inside me? And there are much more than just My Bloody Valentine. Popular culture, literature, visual art, science, philosophy, and personal narration, are the very specific elements incorporated into one single form, a book about hyperobjects, or a viscous product out of viscous ideas.

For him, the birth of the modern is the begetting of the death or the end. Modern sets the trajectory to the end. I use the trajectory in a Newtonian sense, meaning that the starting position, time, and the velocity determines the ultimate motion in a sense of determinism. However, there is an odd coincidence happening in the modern time. On the one hand, Copernican revolution moves men out of the center of the universe, or use his terms, displacement. On the other hand, contrary to this displacement, human behaviors and activities collectively demonstrate a very strong anthropocentrism. How could this consciousness of human beings as no more the center produce this tremendous planet damages?

Theory of Hyperobjects is thus becoming an ontological effort to reconstruct a lucid explanation of our current weird situation living in a stage after the conventional ontological entities have collapsed due to discoveries from the theory of relativity or quantum physics and our own activities on the earth, or “quake in being”. By developing or defining hyperobjects, we discover the “truth”. The hyperobjects are not conventional entities that could be sensed through our sensory perceptions. Neither are they some sort of abstraction in our minds of earth data or information. They are ontologically and phenomenally real entities. Welcome to the world we created through our modern uncanny sprawl, ideologically, technologically, and materially. Hyperobjects like global warming are real things we are going to live to the end. Even though the attributes of the hyperobjects are beyond our capacity, we have to stay with them. Does it matter we change from intersubjectivity to interobjectivity since things are already out of control? Overall, I respect his grand work of integrating things together, but the ontological explanation is somehow causing my worrying.

The one is the all. The all is the one. Everything is everything else. Existence is coexistence, from the tiniest microparticles, cells, individuals, to ecosystems, biosphere, planet, solar system, and the entire universe. This discourse somewhat sounds like Buddhism. I quickly search in my mind for my limited knowledge about Buddhism and try to build some connection between hyperobjects and Buddhist worldview. The most typical observation of the world from the Buddhism is like this, “all conditional dharmas are like dreams, illusions, bubbles, and shadows; like drops of dew or flashes of lightning, thusly should they be contemplated” (Elder Subhuti, Trepitaka Kumarajiva, The Diamond Sutra: and The Heart Sutra, p. 23-24.). From this point, everything in the world and their ensemble is conditional dharma. They possess such attributes like the qualities that the dreams, illusions, bubbles, shadows, drops of dew, flashes of lightning have. Those things are unreal, ephemeral, intangible, and nihsvabhâva (无自性). They are products out of karma and circle of birth and death. If we take the standpoint of Buddhism, then hyperobjects eventually are just phenomena, not real entities. For Buddhism, there is no essence for everything. For Morton, the essence is permeating and nothing is out of it. This is the difference between Buddhist and Morton’s vision.

Take the difference into account, no matter a person is a Buddhist or a Mortonist, the bestand of the person becomes an ethical issue. Narration prescribes some normative behavior or living pattern. In a Buddhist narration, after contemplating the attributes of hyperobjects as just ephemeral (imaging in a different time scale) phenomena, it is not appropriate to live with a strong purpose to destroy or sustain any objects or hyperobjects. What would Morton suggest us to do?  Dissolution of the world and nature, applying OOO to incorporate relativity, quantum theory, and ecology, rejecting both undermining and overmining and recognizing the authenticity of living in hypocrisy, weakness, and lameness, accepting the coexistence, embracing speculative realism, opposing the correlationist, aren’t these mere cognitive adjustments? Please forgive my obtuseness. I wonder where the ethical parts are, which are supposed to tell us how to live with/in hyperobjects, or what is the thing we should do. My gratitude to Morton would be a thank, for letting me realize that hope is gone. After hyperobjects, to exist becomes the most difficult thing in spite of the bestand. Now I need a walk in the woods to refresh, and to make my future walking in the woods probable, I would plant as many trees as possible.

Apocalypse Now and Then

8191wcerfml

In her Apocalypse Now and Then, Keller argues that the Christian prophecy of Apocalypse has become a self-fulfilling prophecy which influenced the thinking pattern of western civilization, particularly in such aspects as the thought on text, time, place, community, and gender. She is insightful, and apparently, she succeeds in avoiding obscurity even though the terminology is a modicum of esoteric.

Literally Apocalypse means an end, a cataclysm or large-scale disaster through which the divine purpose of the creation is achieved and the forces of good eventually and permanently triumph over the forces of evil. In the preface of the book, Keller points out that the original meaning of Apocalypse (Apokalypsis in Greek) was not to terminate, but “to unveil, to disclose, to reveal” (p xiii). Somehow this disclose meaning evolves into “the end”. And in “the Revelation of John”, the end is the termination of the current world and the coming of a new earth with which are the resurrection and the judgment. This narrative structure and its implications to the massive public are tenacious throughout space and time. Keller proposes two different apocalypses, namely, retro-apocalypse and crypto-apocalypse. The former is from the conservative Christian literalists to refer the narrative events to current generation; the latter “drifts in the subliminal margins, not really inaccessible but unaccountable to it” (p. 8). She cites James Scott and expresses how the apocalyptic representation occupies the public unconsciousness and affects the social revolution in the west, especially the history of late modernity. She is penetrating and accurate at apperceiving the proclivity of this apocalypse pattern.

The formation of this “apocalypse habit” (p. 11) creates the issue of self-fulfilling prophecy. In a practical level, or with regard to the cultural performance of apocalypse, some historical processes and other significant movements such as colonizing Christianity, urbanization, feminism movement, nuclear threat, and the current ecological deterioration, are associated with the apocalypse, in her terms, “the lens of apocalypse”. For instance, she mentions “the religious habit of imagining the world out of existence would not seem to be irrelevant to the material habits of world-waste running our civilization” (p. 2). Furthermore, the “apocalypse habit” creates the reality that “we (the west) are in apocalypse” which means “we enact habitually when we find ourselves at an edge” (p. 12). In other word, on her opinion, apocalypse is both the reality and the interpretation of the reality.

Keller ultimately recommends a “counter-apocalypse” which “would avoid the closure of the world signified by a straightforward apocalypse, and would avoid the closure of the text signified by an anti-apocalypse” (p. 19). She holds high expectation for this counter-apocalypse as she recognizes that it “situate ourselves in a fluid relation to the text” (p. 20). Keller points out that the purpose of the counter-apocalypse, of such a feminist theology, is “the healing of the kosmos” and “the endless ‘end’ of counter-apocalypse” (p. 31). It is right here that this intriguing work becomes self-referential. If the end is an issue, the effort for terminating the narrative of the end is itself an end.

Living in Anthropocene

learning-to-die

This is a reading material for my class PHIL 6740. I read the whole book and write the following as a response:

My culture does not teach me a terminative or apocalyptic thinking. What I learned is a nonlinear, sinusoidal and oscillatory thinking pattern with two, or three, or multiple but reducible elements interacting into an infinite evolving universe without an ending. Big Bang is another story because it is not told in a human time scale, but a cosmos time scale. I still remember the first moment that I was in a tremendous shock when the different thinking pattern informs me that there is an end anyway. The alarm is not from the description of the Revelation. It is from a Hollywood movie, The Road, which was released limitedly in 2009 in the United States. I do not remember in which year I watched the film. The film depicts how a father protects his son and brings him to see the ocean after a global cataclysm on the earth. The film was identified as a post-apocalyptic film. It represents the audience a shattered world not as a consequence of climate change or the breakthrough of the artificial intelligence, but the rooted evil of human nature.

Roy Scranton is really thinking ahead to the end, both of the entire humanity and of the individuals. He is brilliant at associating all his unparalleled experiences and extensive knowledge together into a philosophical introspection of human civilization in a discourse of carbon-fueled economy, global climate change, resource and energy challenge, terrorism, wars and politics. His introspection makes me think what we call “civilization”. Is civilization a selective consequence of human reason, or it is just a random survive by throttling other alternatives of itself? Agricultural civilization smothered away gather-hunting and nomadic living mode; industrial civilization replaced agricultural system. Right now, does our style, if it is something between the industrial and the one emerging, be eliminated by the emerging one? The problem is not the termination. What bothered us is that we ourselves are the terminators. Not as a concreate corporeal individual, but as a giant Leviathan. As he writes, “The enemy isn’t out there somewhere — the enemy is ourselves. Not as individuals, but as a collective. A system. A hive.” (p. 85). It is a tragedy that collectiveness has crippled every individual, weakened him/her, and caused him/her losing the integrity he/she has in the beginning. It is a tragedy because we did not do it right. We screwed up. Now a theoretical question behind this mess is, do we screw up because of the flaws inherent in our moral reason, or because of the defects of our physical and corporeal nature?

What difference does it make between if we believe the ending is open or if we believe the ending is on the way? The difference between the hope and the desperate? What is the hope? After the dismantling of the human individual, we are now fragmented into pieces that cannot bear a slight blow. Death becomes the last thing to make us whole again. The only hope. The uncertain certainty. Learning to die is a daily practice. It lies just in the fleeting moment between the inhale and exhale. A fleeting moment has contained all the vicissitude of the living things and their entire context.

Easier to be a vegetarian in China?

Kevin de laplante, an independent critical thinking educator and also the creator of the Critical Thinker Academy, was invited to Xidian University to give several speakings to the students. I believe that the students were benefited very much by his talking regarding the Elements of Genuine Science Literacy, the  Biodiversity-Ecosystem Function Debate, and Why Critical Thinking Is A Martial Art.

Since he had stayed at the university for about two weeks, and as he had observed the life styles there, it is reasonable that he thinks it is easier to be a vegetarian in China. When people walk into a food store, it is true that there are huge amounts of diversified vegetable supplies like these in walking distance.

market 1

(Privately-owned vegetable stores are in waking distance everywhere.)

market 2

(Vegetable counters in a supermarket with meat production on the upper left corner.)

I would agree with him  on this issue five years ago. However, statistics from UN Food and Agriculture Organization shows that meat consumption in China increases dramatically, which means it is becoming more difficult to be a vegetarian in China now, probably due to the reasons like the majority people living an urban life style, people buying food resources from the commercial food industry but not producing food by themselves, also the country declaring to improve the living standard with which more meat consumption means a higher life quality (It is understandable though).

But I think when Kevin says it is easier to be a vegetarian in China, he might mean that the way the Chinese people cook the meals is more healthful. Look at the following photoes to see how green the meals are.

a

(A meal without meat. Price: about $1.0.)

b

(A meal with half meat. Price: about $1.2.)

c

(A meal with a mass of meat. Price: about $1.6.)

Which one would you like? Eat green. It keeps you fit and saves your money.

 

The nature of science

Is nature a coherent system, and can it be perceived by human reason? Or is nature just like a madman, disjointed, lunatic and irrational? Some scientists assert that the nature itself is full of chaos and madness. Thus the entire knowledge system of science, which was requested to pursue the ultimate truth of the universe, was and is filled with conflicts and debates.

In his paper, Origins and Development of Ecology, Arnold G. van der Valk devotes to explore the shaping process of ecology as a distinct science. Basically, the foundation of his investigation lies on two concepts proposed by Charles S. Peirce (1839-1914), namely, abduction and convergence. Abduction brings novel hypotheses; convergence develops the confirmed hypotheses and discards the unconfirmed hypotheses. Arnold examined five hypotheses and claimed three defining hypotheses continue to be influential during the later development of ecology. The three defining hypotheses are adaptation-distribution, community-equilibrium, succession/super-organism hypotheses. However, two of these hypotheses are ambiguous, and ecologists’ conceptions on some core terms in the discipline are divergent.

The debate between the holistic character of Frederic E. Clements and the individualistic hypothesis of H.A. Gleason, the debate over island biogeography, and the debate over biodiversity and community, make the reality that it is difficult for ecology to converge when it was supposed to. Besides, Arnold considers that in ecology, “problems with the formation of some defining hypotheses” and “the lack of a uniform community of ecologists” are responsible for the current inconsistent state of ecology.

Taking his analysis into account, I find that the formation of ecology is very interesting. The disciple appears to be going through the same struggling process when in astronomy the geocentric theory and the heliocentric theory were irreconcilable, and in optics the wave theory and the particle theory were colliding with each other. The history of science tells the nature of it. I would say science could not survive without debates.

Above all, Arnold makes a very impressive job when he analyses the structure and effectiveness of an analogy, through which Clements proposed the terms like climax formation, super organism, and climax community and these are just like an individual plant, grow and die. It is a problem because in his analysis the analogy Clements utilizes seems to be inappropriate.

Mimic nature, can we?

Many people might know that when Garret Hardin writes his theory of lifeboat ethics, he argues against the international food aids and green revolution. In his writing, he refutes the Chinese proverb “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach him how to fish and he will eat for the rest of his days ” and arbitrarily considers that teaching a man how to fish means unsustainable catch and the depletion of natural resources.

As we know, that any proverbs or saying has its background or cultural context. When setting the proverb in the context of Chinese culture, the real meaning to “teach people how to fish” is not only to teach fishing skills, but also to ensure the fish pond in a productive and sustainable state. For instance, among the records of hunting rules in the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC), the principle of the king’s hunting is documented in The Book of Rites. It only allows the king’s hunters chasing preys and besieging animals from three directions and leave one direction for the sturdy animals to escape. The rules are so detailed that they even prescribe that burning forest is prohibited before the insects hibernate dormant under the earth. Other rules such as no fishing before March, no hunting before the winter, no callow animals, no pregnant animals, and so on.

In western tradition, we know that in the beginning people only uses animals as sacrifices for God. Only after the flood, Noah was told that he could eat meat. Can we treat the records historically and regard this as the beginning point of unsustainable hunting? Thus, when human beings gave up this sustainable hunting behaviors is a problem. A research compares the patterns of hunters and fishers with the predatory behaviors of other species, and the researchers found that human beings “kill adult prey, the reproductive capital of populations” rather than as other species killing weak or aged preys. They then define human as extremely unsustainable “super predators” and suggest human beings should mimic nonhuman predators.  (Chris T. Darimont et. Al., 2015)

Some ancient teachings implicate the importance of mimicking nature. For instance, Taoism is eminent in propounding that nature is far wiser than human beings, as it is written, “it is the Way of Heaven to diminish superabundance, and to supplement deficiency. It is not so with the way of man. He takes away from those who have not enough to add to his own superabundance.”

As we can see, mimicking nature is valuable and it has implications for sustainability. Although sustainability is attacked because some people assert that it cannot preventing consumerism from becoming worse, sustainability might be the only choice we’ve got. Sustainability is not safe enough, but unsustainability is definitely a disaster.