So much news in the past days has had to do with computer security. Wired features a video discussing how two hackers have figured out how to take remote control of a Jeep, by accessing its onboard systems via cellular networks, allowing them to control not just the entertainment system but, by moving laterally across connections, the car’s steering, breaks, and engines, essentially turning the car into a kind of drone. Another Wired peace discusses how hackers have figured out how to access data stored on an air-gapped computer using Malware and a very basic cellphone. Meanwhile, the New York Times (July 26) featured stories both about (1) Cliton’s use of a private (non-secure) email server, on which certain pieces of classified information were stored (against policy) and (2) how the recent hacking of the American government results in so much lost data that many US spies can no longer be sent abroad. The point is not (only) that no system is secure, but that in connecting everything we’re witnessing a breakdown between systems, between insides and outsides, between that which is “fictitious” and that which is “real,” between control and lack of control, between me and you, between them and us. The film “Pixels” (2015) would seem to capture precisely this breaking down, the “hacked” nature of our lives—as does the (so-far fabulous) new book by Ernst Cline, Armada (2015), of which more in a future post. The Leblox application moreover brings this blurring into everybody’s life, as does Minecraft perhaps.
Various news outlets have been announcing the discovery of a new candidate for Earth 2.0, i.e. Kepler 452b. The Huffington Post announces: “NASA's Kepler mission team revealed during a teleconference […] that an alien planet similar to Earth, named Kepler-452b, has been discovered in the "habitable zone" of a sun-like star.” Other information here. I particularly like Jeff Schweitzer’s title for his blog post: “Earth 2.0: Bad News for God!” Various websites are thus posting artist impressions of the new planet, from close-up and from afar, for example the New York Times. Strangely contemporaneous with this is the fact that NASA also just released a new image of Earth 1.0, apparently the first image for decades (since the Blue Marble) that isn’t the result of stitching various photos together: “A NASA camera on the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite has returned its first view of the entire sunlit side of Earth from one million miles away.”
I’m busy planning the course I’m teaching in the fall at Harvard University titled “Gods and Giants in the French Renaissance,” a course intended as an invitation to think about “supersized agencies” (like those of all anthropoi as a “geological force”) from the perspective of early modern literature. The aim of the course is to see how early modern writers imagined and pictured such agencies, in order to explore how formulations of “huge” agencies relate to political ecologies. One train of thought will be the question of gender: giants (though not gods) tend to be masculine, and fighting a giant often has to do with proving/defending a certain culturally constructed notion of masculinity. Thanks to this particular train of thought, then, I’ve come across some interesting articles and reflections that will figure somehow in the course.
In the Guardian in October 2014, Kate Ranworth asked “Must the Anthropocene be a Manthropocene?,” pointing out that: “Leading scientists may have the intellect to recognise that our planetary era is dominated by human activity, but they still seem oblivious to the fact that their own intellectual deliberations are bizarrely dominated by white northern male voices.” More recently (May 2015), Noah Theriault responded to Ranworth’s article, to ask the more theoretical question: “How does our perspective on the Anthropocene change when we take gender into account?,” to which a first answer is given: “Our conversations about habitability are inevitably about power and difference and thus also inevitably about gender” (emphasis mine). In a word, “Difference matters, even (and perhaps especially) in a time when global accountability and cooperation seem increasingly necessary.” Theriault concludes: “What habitability means in the Anthropocene is a question fraught with many others. For whom do we hope the planet will be habitable? Whose voices define habitability? Which earthly beings have a right to habitability? And so on. We cannot convincingly or justly answer such questions—and thus we cannot convincingly or justly address habitability—without a gendered perspective on the world we inhabit and the challenges we face.” (My emphasis). A number of scholarly articles also call to be read in this context: Gibson-Graham’s piece on “A feminist project of belonging for the Anthropocene”; Haraway’s piece on “Making Kin.” There is also the recent book by Wendy Harcourt and Ingrid L. Nelson about “Practising Feminist Political Ecologies.” (Nelson teaches at the University of Vermont- her page is here)
An article in the Guardian today reports that "In two separate experiments, scientists have formed a network from the brains of monkeys and rats, allowing them to co-operate and learn as a “superbrain”". In a nutshell: scientists have connected monkey and rat brains together so that the brains connect and solve problems as a neuronal team. Miguel Nicolelis says that "the development of brain-machine interfaces [...] could allow amputees and paralysed people to directly control prosthetic limbs and exoskeletons," and that the "latest advance may have clinical benefits in brain rehabilitation [...] but could also pave the way for “organic computers” - collectives of animal brains linked together to solve problems." Most telling is Nicolelis's response to the thought that--just perhaps--such an experiment might force comparisons with science fiction: "“We’re conditioned by movies and Hollywood to think that everything related to science is dangerous and scary. These scary scenarios never crossed my mind and I’m the one doing the experiments.”" The scary scenarios never crossed his mind--isn't that the problem here?
Wendy Koch at National Geographic wrote recently about how NASA satellites are showing China’s efforts to meet their pledge to the UN to cut carbon emissions, by comparing images of China’s Gobi Desert comparing how much land was covered by solar panels in 2012 and in 2015—the covered surface tripled in just three years.
Meanwhile, Switzerland is busy planning to fill the sky with postal delivery drones, reports the Guardian.
And a fabulous little video (see below) at the Guardian explains just how much global warming is affected by the production and consumption of meat and animal products. In a word, meat eating contributes more to global warming than cars, planes, and many other factors all added together.
Do you have to be a vegan to help fix climate change?
Project THE HUMANIST anthropocene
is a thought archive and workspace of Phillip John Usher (NYU) at the crossroads of early modern humanism and the problems and insights of the Anthropocene. Main Research Page.
ASLE (Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment)
Environmental Humanities (journal)
Resilience (A Journal of the Environmental Humanities)
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