The Cave Without​ A Name

I was reading the book Foundations, written by Eugene Hargrove, several days ago. He talks about his Onondaga cave in Chapter 6.

The Onondaga cave arouses my feeling of a slight nostalgia and reminds me of the cave without a name which I explored with my teenager companions when we were about twelve years old. The cave is about 30 minutes away from our homes by bicycles. Its entrance locates at the foot of a mountain beside a river. Nearby there are very few houses or people. Apparently, we have an association with this particular place which brought the rare experience of adventure to four teenagers. We explored the cave with candles in our hands. When the lights shed on the drops of water attached to the stalactite, they were shinning in the darkness like diamonds and we cheered. We did not attempt to try further in the cave after 15 minutes, we had the worries that we might get lost in the cave. And because there was seldom people around the cave, getting lost would be a tragedy. This exploration of the cave happened several times until our parents or guardians found out our secret and we were forbidden to enter into it without a companion of an adult. It never happened because entering the cave with an adult would destroy the adventure. Soon we entered the middle school and learned some geographical knowledge about karst topography. We were informed there are many more caves in our area and the largest one would be very quickly developed into a tourist destination to show the world “the greatest wonder”.  The largest cave is the Hunaglong Cave, covering a total area of 48 ha (120 acres), and now it is a national 4A rated scenic. But, we miss the small cave without its name rather than the Huanglong Cave. By telling this story, I am trying to say that some places have their identification. We associate the places for our experiences and memories. It might be anthropocentric, but it does not exclude the uniqueness of this place. 

I take the uniqueness of a place as its intrinsic value. It is similar to what happens when we talk about the unique value of a person, an artwork, or other good things. The uniqueness indicates irreplaceable. My cave is unique to me in this sense that I identify it as part of me. It is not because I own it, but because without it I might lose some part of my own uniqueness. In this way, the uniqueness produces something superior to my identity just through its existence. If my cave for some reason was gone, I return to the cave site and find out my attached place disappears. There is no place I can attach myself to. That is what the majority of the world population experience right now. Urbanization swallowed North America, South America, and most of Asia, not to mention old Europe and the new Oceania. Homogenization deprives the uniqueness of the places and replaces it with monotonous hybrids of nature and cities. The idea of preservation has something to do with this uniqueness. What has been preserved are supposed to be samples of those places with uniqueness. Unfortunately, uniqueness could not be saved by samples because sampling indicates abstracting and the absence of uniqueness. The only option to save the unique value of the places would be inhabiting without interfering.

I am not claiming that the preservation is not necessary. 

Marsh, Man and Nature

 

Marsh, George Perkins. (1864) Man and Nature, Or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action. New York: C. Scribner.

 

The ideological dichotomy – Nature/culture, material/mind, physical/mental, subordination/domination – has become a powerful contemporary locution to understand environmental history and the variation of the human-nature relationship. The pragmatic dichotomy – exploitation/conservation, damage/restoration, conquering/stewarding- is also one prominent pattern employed in analyzing environmental practices. From these two types of dichotomy, the ideological and the pragmatic, George Perkins Marsh’s book Man and Nature, Or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action is a vanguard masterpiece of environmental thinking because this book outlines the fundamental environmental issues more than one hundred years earlier than the environmental movement in the 1960s. Moreover, the argument and thoughts in this book match the latest apprehension of the extensive human-nature pertinence.

In the first chapter of the book, Marsh adopts the historical evidence of the decayed Old World to address the similar ongoing environmental degradation of the New World. In his opinion, the Old World including the Roman Empire, areas around the Mediterranean region, and other places with prosperous civilization created its progress with the price of “the physical decay.” To be specific, the once fertile and productive land “is now completely exhausted of its fertility … no longer capable of affording sustenance to civilized man” (p. 5). This typical nature/culture dichotomy deeply depicts the perpetual tension between human development and nature’s affluence. The physical decay of the surface of those areas demonstrates how culture has exploited nature. And this physical decay of the natural environment sequentially impairs the continuous prosperity of the human civilization. Marsh’s point here also implies that humans cannot survive without a vitalized nature. The deterioration of nature creates a culture declining and pushing forward extinction rather than cultural prosperity. This admonishment could be a prompt awakening for the New World that repeating the old strategy of exploiting the earth as an inexhaustible resource would render the same dissolution of the New Frontier. Taking Marsh’s view to reflect the human flourishing in the New World, not exclusively the United States but also the whole of North America, Australia, New Zealand, some areas of Latin America or far East, it would be a severe challenge to not suspend the contemporary and probably ephemeral success. In brief, his fundamental assumption is that no human world could survive with a degenerated nature.

Turning to the pragmatic strategy for a degraded natural world, Marsh emphasizes physical restoration. Although there were debates on whether humankind should practice restoration ecology to intervene in the ecological processes and some people insist that the best restoration is just to allow nature taking its course, renewing and restoring degraded ecosystems and habitats has become a dominant practice in the industrialized world. It is very impressive that Marsh covers the topics such as ecosystem equilibrium (p.43), ecological succession (pp. 27-32), ecological disturbance (pp. 31-37) and restoration ecology (pp. 52-56 ) which are common concepts nowadays, but apparently are quite far ahead of the time when they were developed by Henry Chandler Cowles, Frederic Clements, and other pioneers in this field. Marsh has his own accounting of what nature is. To be specific, the earth is not exclusive for human-use, but “only to the sustenance of wild animals and wild vegetation” (p. 38). This is apparently an ecocentric view. He attends to the difference of the destructiveness between humans and animals. In contrast to animals which survive by destroying other life and nature has a chance to endure all those destructiveness, to all appearances, (civilized) man’s assaulting of the earth is contagious suppression of nature, transforming the terrestrial surface, extirpating indigenous vegetation and animals, replacing them with exotic species, and exhausting all natural resources man could exploit. He also attends to the contradiction between man and “the wandering savage” (p. 41) who could survive by not overpowering nature. This implicating other patterns of human subsistence is insightful. Marsh is precisely right when he writes that “man is everywhere a disturbing agent” (p. 36) and man always brings disharmony to nature, turning nature into artificial non-nature. Therefore, he proposes practical restoration on this harmony-based concept, in his words, “physical improvement”(p. 44),  “a partial reverse”(p. 44 ), or “geographical regeneration” (p. 47). He eulogizes the existing achievements in forest restoration and governance of the aquatic environment, and claims that “these achievements are more glorious than the proudest triumphs of war” (p. 45). Marsh is also aware of the predicament of future improvement, and he expects some radical changes in the politics and morality to prepare for it. This is to say, Marsh has envisaged the complexity and poly-dimensionality of the pragmatic strategy of restoration.

The writing background of this book is also thought-provoking. Apparently, Marsh’s writing is unlike other early American environmental writings such as Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Nature (1836) and Henry David Thoreau’s Walking (1861). Although it shares the same theme with the other two writers in reflecting human/nature and culture/nature relationships, Marsh distinguishes himself from them by blending his research in the sciences. For example, he specifically mentions the accomplishment of the new geography, stressing that Humboldt and other geographers are more philosophical than their predecessors through human geography (p. 8).  This increasing philosophical trait in geography deepens the perception of the influence of physical environment on social development which stitches the traditional aversion between the mind and material in the western ideology. The reunion of the mind and the material was derived from reflection on the separation of mind and matter but from a strong aspiration in western science to generate a unification of the world. At Marsh’s time, this effort was particularly reinforced through Charles Darwin’s evolution theory, Rudolf Clausius’ thermodynamics, and James Clerk Maxwell’s electromagnetism. Evolutionary theory breaks the boundaries among organism and animate bodies. Thermodynamics makes the union of the massive mechanical world possible through heat, power, and energy efficiency. Electromagnetism unifies the physical interactions among microscopic particles. Marsh does not necessarily attend to these theories, but the trend of discovering the universal and pervasive connection or kinship among different entities might have created a detectable atmosphere, attracting him to the new geographical school. Moreover, the perception of pervasive connections among different entities contributes to building up his ecological consciousness so that he could break through the boundary between the organisms and the inorganic environment. For example, he recognizes the moisture and warmth of the soil would affect the growth of vegetation and how insufficient our observation and knowledge to our climate are. Thus, he addressed that one of the most important branches of research is to investigate the “the proportions between precipitation, superficial drainage, absorption, and evaporation” (p. 24). This tints his book a style of strong empirical feature, rather than hermit-like witticism or cynical resentment.

To sum up, Marsh reflects the human-nature relationship with great profundity. The merits of his assumption of an indispensable equilibrium nature for human civilization, a pragmatic strategy of geographical regeneration, and his science-oriented attitude manifest that he fully deserves a solution for his foresight and sagacity.

 

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

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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.