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Are Plants Conscious?

Are Plants Conscious?

It’s often the things we take for granted that have the most potential to provide significance and meaning in our lives. Like many things in our environment essential to our being and our becoming, plants are commonly overlooked, and so it might not feel natural or even useful to ask, are plants conscious? It can come as a surprise to learn that more than ninety-nine percent of all biomass on our planet consists of plants. They have an enormously consequential presence in our lives and yet in many ways we can easily misunderstand the nature of these fascinating beings. 

When we raise the question of what it is like to be a plant, a different picture begins to emerge, though we must remain aware of how easy it is for us to project the qualities of our own subjectivity into the answers we come up with. 

The specific question of whether plants are conscious remains open and our approach to answering this query informs the type of answer we arrive at. In the recently published book, The Mind Of Plants: Narratives of Vegetal Intelligence, a diverse group of authors, poets, naturalists, and social scientists examine their own connections to plants and elaborate on the questions and answers that these relationships produce. The editors of this collection intend to “inspire fresh ways of seeing—of feeling and of being with—the photo-synthetic personae with whom we share this precious, imperiled planet.” It is with this spirit of openness to a new phenomenology that our questions will prove most rewarding and conducive toward gleaming whether plants are conscious, and what we can learn from their intriguing and mysterious experience.

What is Consciousness?

A clear definition of what consciousness is has continued to elude consensus and, much to the dismay of apostles for scientific materialism, there continues to be ample disagreement regarding whether their current theories can accurately describe the faculties of consciousness displayed by earth’s organisms. 

The Oxford Living Dictionary defines consciousness as “the state of being awake and aware of one’s surroundings.” If we think of consciousness as the state of being aware of one’s surroundings it seems that plants qualify, after all, many plants direct the growth of their roots based on the amount of nutrients they encounter in soil and they extend their branches toward the direction where light emanates from. However, more nuanced definitions of consciousness include the ability to be aware of oneself, and to be intentional, or to have volition. Even with these more demanding constraints on the definition of consciousness, it is not immediately apparent that plants can be disqualified. Although consciousness is evidently and notoriously difficult to explain, certain characteristics of what we consider consciousness have been clearly observed within plants

Examples of Plant Consciousness

In recent years the debate over whether to classify plants as conscious or not has developed with several factions presenting evidence and making competing claims. There have been important publications that support the idea that plants are conscious including a study published last year in the journal Nature which examined the patterns of growth exhibited by the common bean as it sprouts and seeks a feasible path for its limbs. The researchers found a difference in how the beans grew when placed in a pot with a cane which they could grab hold of or when placed in an empty pot. This seems to suggest that the plants have some kind of sense which allows them to know if there was anything for them to climb on or not. 

Arguments Against Plant Consciousness 

There are of course many scientists who for several reasons believe that we cannot properly call plants conscious. Many of these points are outlined in a paper published in 2019 in the Journal Cell in which a group of biologists and plant physiologists argue that consciousness is too complex of a state for us to attribute it to the plant behavior observed. One of the authors of that paper, Lincoln Taiz, is a botanist working at UCLA who believes that proponents of plant consciousness fail “to consider the importance of brain organization, complexity, and specialization for the phenomenon of consciousness.” 

Monica Gagliano, a professor in the School of Biological Studies at the University of Western Australia, and co-editor of The Mind of Plants, responds to this by pointing out that if plants are conscious we should not expect the mechanisms by which consciousness is correlated in physical systems to necessarily be the same.

Rethinking Plant Intelligence

Plant Neurobiology is the recently developed field of study that looks at “how plants process the information they obtain from their environment to develop, prosper and reproduce optimally.” By rethinking plant intelligence, this field is providing new perspectives for how we view and relate to plants. Botanist Stefano Mancuso is Director of the International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology which proposes renewing our view of plants by understanding them as “information processing organisms with complex communication throughout the individual plant.” The areas which Mancuso and his colleagues work on include plant behavior, plant intelligence, and plant signaling. In their research, they take the view that “plants are dynamic and highly sensitive organisms… capable of a refined recognition of self and non-self…”

The legacy of Western historical perspectives continues to be challenged and it seems in some ways science is approaching a closer balance with the view held by Indigenous knowledge for time immemorial that plants are conscious and even teachers. Let us accept that we are invariably influenced by the underlying ontology that we absorb and uphold. But, let us also acknowledge that our own mysterious capacity to reflect in consciousness allows us to play with our imaginative capacity and thus perform both measurements and interpretations of what consciousness is like on the far side of our subjective divide.

The Mind of Plants Book Launch Event

World renown ethnobotanist and researcher Dennis McKenna, PhD, will give an introduction at a global, live-stream event to celebrate the publication of The Mind of Plants: Narratives of Vegetal Intelligence, on October 28. 

The Mind of Plants event will feature the book’s editors, John Ryan, Monica Gagliano, and Patricia Viera as well as reflections from José María Pout, whose illustrations bring the plants to life throughout the collected works. Multi-instrumentalist January Kultura will also provide a deep listening experience for event attendees.

Learn more and register here.  

 

Introspection, Integration, and the Expansion of the Self through Psychedelic Journeying with Dr. Kile Ortigo

Introspection, Integration, and the Expansion of the Self through Psychedelic Journeying with Dr. Kile Ortigo

Author and award-winning clinical psychologist Dr. Kile Ortigo, speaks with Synergetic Press about his recently published book Beyond the Narrow Life: A Guide for Psychedelic Integration and Existential Exploration. Throughout the conversation, Ortigo reflects on what spurs our introspection, the benefits of becoming more comfortable with uncertainty, the role creativity plays in the process of individuation, and some of the pitfalls commonly encountered on the journey of integration and existential meaning-making.

Marco Orozco: The first question I have for you is broadly about your path towards arriving at the introspective journey. What is it about either introspection or psychedelics specifically, that ignited a spark in you to pursue writing Beyond the Narrow Life?

Kile Ortigo: So much of the book and of my work comes from within, it’s very much an authentic expression of my sense of curiosity and interest in so many different things about life. I knew I was going to do psychology in high school, but I didn’t know what I was going to do with it. And then when I got to college, there was just so much joy I had in learning not only about psychology, but a lot of the other things that are in this book, like film to mythology, Joseph Campbell, and Carl Jung. 

Getting exposed to that at a young age very much inspired me. But I realized when I started to specialize in clinical psychology, a lot of these ideas and approaches, the depth-oriented transpersonal stuff, were kind of passé. And, really, if I didn’t go outside of the Department of Psychology, I probably would never have heard about Jung, certainly not about Campbell, despite enjoying Star Wars. This book was an opportunity to bring these big ideas back into the fold because there are such powerful, transformative, transcendent, mystical-like experiences that can happen during a psychedelic journey. It was an opportunity to bring back the depth of the psyche to modern psychology and to integrate the things that we’ve learned in the field for the past several decades. 

Personally, it was a prime opportunity to synthesize many of my deeper interests, passions, and favorite fields of inquiry in a way that I hope is helpful for people and their own path of discovery and meaning-making in life. It was a creative project, first and foremost, but one that I believe can be useful in our individual journeys of what Jung called “individuation,” the lifelong process of personality growth and the striving for wholeness that we all can go into if we choose to say ‘yes’ to that journey.

MO: I ask because it seems like introspection and conscious meaning-making are not something that always come easily to everyone, not everyone is drawn to do this naturally. I’m curious if you see this book as being for people who have a kernel of introspection or self-reflection already planted within them? Or is it something that you’ve also written with people who haven’t had that experience in mind?

KO: I wanted to cast as big of a net as possible for the book while recognizing that if someone has zero interest or motivation to do deeper self-reflection, or to ask profound questions and tolerate ambiguity, this would be a hard book for them to read and work with. At the same time, people who by their own character proclivities don’t self-reflect a lot, often come to a point in life when they confront situations where it feels like the rug was pulled out from under them. It could be because of a tragic accident, a loss, or a major change in career. Or, even a very positive mystical experience can do this. Those people, when they hear what Campbell referred to as the ’Call to Adventure,’ a signal that there’s more out there than our everyday sense of mundane reality, which is not a reflection of reality itself, but our relationship to it, that those people when they hear that call, they can say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ But however they respond, it’s an opportunity to go deeper, a realization that there’s more beyond one’s typical everyday ego awareness.

In approaching Beyond the Narrow Life, readers who are deeply self-reflective can do the activities independently on their own. But if someone needs additional support, I wrote it in a way that two or more friends can do it together. That helps with motivation, or it could help if you have a coach, and of course, if you have a therapist. This book is an opportunity to deepen relationships, which are often simultaneously important to people and challenging. There are all these different pathways, one can walk with or without the book when developing a relationship to its contents and using its exercises. That sense of connection to the inner mystery, of the psyche, and the mystery of our relationships and our shared reality, I think, is an exciting prospect for people who have never opened up to question some of these things.

MO: My next question is about ‘meaning making’ and finding meaning, and specifically, how the psychedelic experience and these potential medicines bring us closer to a more meaningful way of making choices and utilizing our consciousness and our freedom to make choices. What is it about the psychedelic experience that can bring us closer to a sense of ownership over our choices?

KO: It depends on the person and where they’re at in their life. The majority of people who are going to be reading this know about set and setting, the medicine, the dose, intentions, the importance of all those things. But part of that ‘set’ is just one’s internal psychological makeup, and life experiences. And for someone who is feeling a lack of meaning, or blandness about life, psychedelics can open the mind to color, possibilities, and depth which can be very meaningful. 

 

Wherever meaning is found in our personal values, in our worldview, relationships, community, etc., there’s always responsibility that’s tied to it. Psychedelics invite us to wake up to what intuitively feels meaningful and important to us, and then it’s up to us to try to apply that sense of meaning to our life, knowing that it’s never going to be perfect. Meaningful living is not a destination, rather it’s a process that unfolds.”

 

That meaning could be very individual, but often it involves a sense of interconnectedness, not just with other people, but with nature and even the cosmos. Sometimes psychedelics serve to shake up our sense of meaning, especially if it was rigidly defined, revealing that it may not be a core source of meaning. Psychedelics can create challenges around meaning or lack of it, as well as within the theme of responsibility, which is very important in existential psychotherapy. Wherever meaning is found in our personal values, in our worldview, relationships, community, etc., there’s always responsibility that’s tied to it. Psychedelics invite us to wake up to what intuitively feels meaningful and important to us, and then it’s up to us to try to apply that sense of meaning to our life, knowing that it’s never going to be perfect. Meaningful living is not a destination, rather it’s a process that unfolds.

MO: This ties into something I wanted to ask, which is that it feels like in our world and media, a lot of people are seeking to arrive at answers definitively. In your experience, how does psychedelic journeying help us become more comfortable with uncertainty and doubt? More comfortable with the accepting of our experiences as a process rather than a means to some end?

KO:  For most of us, confronting uncertainty and ambivalence breeds anxiety, and that anxiety may be conscious or unconscious. When it’s unconscious, it gets transformed into something else. Sometimes it’s the opposite, an overconfidence in our worldview and sense of self. And psychedelics can certainly challenge us. What would be helpful in preparing for a journey, and in life more generally, is to increase our tolerance for ‘not knowing,’ and recognize that we cannot know everything.

 

Even with the tools of history, scholarship, and science, there are always going to be mysteries and unknowns. And that certainly applies to our individual lives as we think about the future, which can breed anxiety for many people. It’s important to be able to think about the future, while also being able to stay grounded in the present.

 

Even with the tools of history, scholarship, and science, there are always going to be mysteries and unknowns. And that certainly applies to our individual lives as we think about the future, which can breed anxiety for many people. It’s important to be able to think about the future, while also being able to stay grounded in the present. There’s a similar argument to reflecting on the past; everything has to be in balance and finding that balance is an individual journey. But by just avoiding these topics, we’re not actually doing ourselves any benefit, because it’s a temporary pushing away of the anxiety. This avoidance of decisions, while we’re still making them day to day, may mean staying in a job that’s unfulfilling or that has a negative impact on the environment, as an example.

These questions are hard to ask and reflect on but to gain insight and make meaningful changes, we need to do that. If we can tolerate and recognize anxiety, fear, and frustration as temporary, emotional experiences, they don’t have to control our behavior or decisions. If we can tolerate them, they usually dissipate and don’t become as strong. There’s a litany against fear in Frank Herbert’s Dune that I think is a great mantra. It communicates how our grounded awareness can help us move beyond automatic, primordial fear.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration, I will face my fear, I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone. There will be nothing, only I will remain.” 

I found this after I wrote the book, but it’s an example too of the importance of stories and mythologies in helping us relate to the human experience, both its promises and perils.

MO: Jung suggests to certain patients to go into art-making, speaking about how that can transform us, or how it has the possibility of helping discover unconscious content. Part of that brings me to this question of what Stanislav Grof speaks of when he talks about the role of facilitators in journeying or healing. That is, activating what he calls the ‘self-healing intelligence’ within each of us. I relate that to something that comes through me when I’m making music or art in some way. I was wondering if you have any thoughts on this self-healing intelligence that takes place within us, and how that is manifested or expressed through psychedelic journeying.

KO: Jung talked about it as the capital S, “Self.” It’s an archetype of the psyche’s wholeness, often experienced in its broadest form as an inner godlike image. But the idea is that the Self is the totality of our unconscious and conscious parts. Parts include our conscious identity and ego all the way to what Jung described as complexes, our individual manifestations of archetypal patterns and relationships. Art is helpful in exploring unconscious content because words can create their own prison of abstract, intellectualized meaning-relations. It’s important in exploring our human experience of the psyche to look beyond words, and look at other types of symbolic relationships. Art is a great way to do that. 

You mentioned being a musician, and music is something that’s great for our accessing of emotions and expressions of self, for listeners and musicians. Of course, we know music tends to be a very important factor in psychedelic journeys and holotropic breathwork sessions, etc. 

The creation of art is a process of trying to bring to fruition some inner vision or drive for creativity that can come from the Self or other parts of our psyche. It’s a translation from the image or symbol in our mind to outward expression. But it can involve some pain and risk because the final product doesn’t always match our inner vision.

Even so, there’s a way to do creative work while acknowledging any perfectionism that can emerge when we’re at the edge of our skill. Certainly, my book felt impossible at different times as I was writing it. But for anything to be created, we must recognize such barriers and fears while remaining committed to the creative process. Joseph Campbell wrote in The Hero With a Thousand Faces that after going through the initiation and receiving their boon, the hero works to create an ‘elixir of life,’ some symbol that is healing for not only themselves but also for their community. Art is an elixir of life. It is uplifting to us, not that it needs to make us feel great all the time. Healing by engaging with art, whether by creating it ourselves or by deeply appreciating the art of others, is a worthwhile endeavor.

MO: What would you describe as some of the pitfalls of psychedelic use? The recreational use of psychedelics can awaken something deeper in people. Do you have any advice for people who utilize psychedelics outside of therapeutic settings, and are searching to make their journey more profound? 

KO: I think it important to emphasize that psychedelics are, as Stan Grof said, nonspecific amplifiers of the psyche, or unconscious content. There are sometimes parts of ourselves that are out of balance, or that we are simply not prepared to confront. 

That’s why in psychedelic-assisted therapy and in Indigenous and spiritual communities that use psychedelics, there are protocols or rituals in place to create a safe container for the journey. For example, it is important to have someone who is sober, trained, experienced, not new to this work and is very familiar with all the depths of the psyche, from the rosy to the complex, shadow side of things. Some people are using these substances because they read Michael Pollan’s book, or they hear about it from the New York Times without access to trained professionals from whatever tradition to support them in that work. 

 

The healing and transformative aspects of these experiences are often relational and involve a realization of interconnectedness. There are certainly lots of people that can have deeply meaningful experiences outside of clinical and spiritual contexts, but that’s not everyone.

 

The healing and transformative aspects of these experiences are often relational and involve a realization of interconnectedness. There are certainly lots of people that can have deeply meaningful experiences outside of clinical and spiritual contexts, but that’s not everyone. There are risks that are involved, and without getting into specifics, things can go wrong. Many things went ‘wrong’ in the 60s in the West and in America, for example. I don’t, however, want to emphasize the negative. At the end of the day, people ought to respect the power of these substances and experiences, and by putting in the work to set up safe protocols, many of the risks can be mitigated. 

This is part of what we call psychedelic harm or risk reduction. We need to educate our communities and make sure that we go about all of our life experiences as mindfully and respectfully as possible. In the book, I use the term ‘ego whiplash’. Namely, ego whiplash is when one delves into the depths of the mind and then goes back to everyday life immediately after as if nothing had happened. Sometimes after chasing ego death, people can have this ironic ego inflation that results. In our exploration of the Self, it’s easy for an inflated ego, inflated sense of self-importance to get brought into being. This is where we see self-proclaimed ‘shamans,’ and people who – I think often with good intentions – don’t realize the depth of complexity and breadth of experiences that people can have. Even Terence McKenna, the prototypical psychonaut, was seemingly fearless, but he had a journey that really shook him to his core and he couldn’t bring himself to talk about with others.

MO: This book is clearly a workbook with so many exercises and journeys within it. I’m curious as to what the process of creating it was like. I imagine that it required an enormous amount of introspection for you. And I’m also curious about how the process of writing changed you?

KO: The initial idea for the book was like a lightning bolt of insight and positive creative energy. Following that, I had to engage in the hard work of actually writing, refining, and going into the depths. The process involved a lot of ups and downs, especially because I started writing this book two and a half years ago. I did the bulk of the in-depth work last year (in 2020) when I began writing about death, loss, impermanence, loneliness, interconnectedness during the pandemic.

Besides giving me more time to focus and dedicate to the project, the pandemic gave me a sense of this parallel process of doing the work while I was writing it and creating a guide for other people. It’s part of my own ethics and sense of authenticity, to not ask or suggest to others something that I wouldn’t be willing to do or haven’t done myself. That was very much a part of these exercises and activities. This was from my own deeper reflections, explorations, and meaning-making process. But it has been a joy to pour so much life force into this book, and to see the energy coming out the other side when starting to hear the impact it’s having on people’s lives. That’s deeply meaningful to me and absolutely why I felt like I needed to do it. In many ways, really, the book was written through me, not simply by me. And now it’ll have a life of its own.

Bringing the Climate Crisis Home

Bringing the Climate Crisis Home

As is shown by extreme weather events that have affected nearly every corner of our world, the climate crisis is coming closer to all of us. The evidence is plenty: unimaginable heat records are being set across the northern hemisphere, droughts are creating unlivable conditions, unstoppable fires are raging in some of the world’s largest forests, and floods are displacing millions while taking hundreds of lives. The past few years have certainly demonstrated that these extreme events are becoming more common and a media landscape inundated by these images can produce a kind of fatigue or sense of normalcy. However, looking at the data from these climate occurrences can shed some light on the scale of what we are dealing with. 

Extreme Heat and Drought Close to Home

Climate scientists have identified the recent heat waves in North America as “the most extreme in modern history.” They were so intense that the record for the highest temperature recorded in Canada was broken on three consecutive days. The longstanding record of 113 degrees Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius) was broken on June 27th, before being surpassed again on the 28th, and on June 29th when the temperatures reached a mind-boggling 121 degrees Fahrenheit (49.6 degrees Celsius). Part of what stuns veteran scientists is that the record was surpassed by 4.6 degrees Celsius (8 degrees Fahrenheit), whereas record-breaking temperatures are typically set within a closer range. Records for the hottest temperature recorded north of the Arctic Circle were also broken in the Russian town of Verkhoyansk where the thermostat reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). 

Above-average temperatures across the Western U.S. have combined with below-level precipitation resulting in a widespread drought that has made life difficult for farmers in the region and created circumstances making wildfires more likely and more dangerous. Drought conditions in Western states have prevailed for nearly 20 years leaving many reservoirs with record low levels of water including the nation’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead. Lake Mead supplies water to around 20 million people in California, Nevada, and Arizona currently holds just 35% of its capacity. River flows throughout the region have been likewise affected by the drought, threatening to disrupt power plants that rely on those flows to generate electricity for large numbers of people. A warming climate has the potential to exacerbate these problems significantly for as Radley Horton from Columbia University notes, “You’re effectively going to see more evaporation of whatever moisture there is into the atmosphere much earlier. So suddenly, the risk of things really drying out before the rains come again the next fall isn’t just a little higher. It’s a lot higher than it would have been.”

Destructive Floods Across Continents

As experts have suggested throughout the past decades, our changing climate is resulting in more extreme weather throughout the globe with an increase in intensity and frequency of events previously thought to occur once in a lifetime. Devastating floods in Europe have made clear that unprecedented weather may be the new norm. Over a two-day period on July 14th and 15th, several European countries including Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg saw as much rain as was expected in two months leading to the deadly floods in river basins of the region. In the past few days, massive downpours have affected China’s Henan province where the capital city of Zhengzhou saw a full year’s worth of rainfall during just four days. Additionally, unprecedented floods in the Maharashtra region of India have led climate scientist, Roxy Koll of the Institute of Tropical Meteorology, to note that “We already see a threefold rise in widespread extreme rains that cause floods across India.”

From Mismanagement to Movement

Shocking as it is to see these disasters throughout the world, it is perhaps just as surprising to witness the failure in our collective capacity to effectively adapt to these conditions. We live in an era acutely marked by a developing ability to organize groups of people on a large scale. Our lives are filled with instruments and systems designed, produced, and utilized by large (and growing) groups of individuals collectivizing their efforts in a variety of ways. Is it then a matter of what incentivizes us to collectivize, does that determine whether we choose to work together toward some common goal? 

The evident increase in our capacity to collectivize our impact upon our material world has not yet resulted in a more gracious interaction with it. Resilience and adaptability are, however, innate human qualities and perhaps it is these significant changes in our environment that will galvanize our actions. Liz Bentley from the Royal Meteorological Society in the UK points out that, “It often takes a massive high-impact event to change attitudes to the climate – so let’s hope what’s been happening recently with extreme weather will raise the will to tackle the problem.” Our role must shift from spectators to participants, with the proximity and prevalence of climate disasters informing the actions we are willing to take in order to become collectively responsible for the world we live in. 

 

Photo via Renzo D’souza on Unsplash. 

What is the Noosphere?

What is the Noosphere?

The noosphere is a term used to describe how human consciousness and mental activity has influence on the biosphere, including its relation to planetary evolution. The word’s origin is associated with the thought of a few seminal thinkers of the early 20th century, including philosopher Eduard Le Roy who coined the term, pioneering geochemist Vladimir Vernadsky, and paleontologist and theologian, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. For each of them, the noosphere is a way to describe the evolutionary stage that we have arrived at in which the human capacity for thought has become a determinant factor in the development of our planet. 

Vladimir Vernadsky, 1934

Noosphere in Vernadsky and Teilhard de Chardin’s Thought

Vernadsky wrote extensively on the concept of the biosphere, the zone of the planet that is characterized by the presence of life. For Vernadsky, “Living nature is the fundamental trait of the manifestation of the biosphere, and by this clearly distinguishes itself from the Earth’s other envelopes. The structure of the biosphere is characterized first and foremost by life.” The concept of the noosphere emerges from the idea that the biosphere humanity inhabits is transformed by our ‘nous’, or thought/mind into a “natural body, new in its geological and biological processes… the noosphere.”

In Teilhard de Chardin’s body of work, the noosphere takes on a more explicitly spiritual role. His perspective sees the evolution of life and the universe manifested in the “birth of thought” in humankind. In his book The Phenomenon of Man, Chardin describes the significance of self-reflective consciousness for the direction that the universe itself has taken. It is of such importance that “Among all the stages successively crossed by evolution, the birth of thought comes directly after, and is the only thing comparable in order of importance to, the condensation of the terrestrial chemism or the advent of life itself.” 

Noospheric Concepts in Biosphere 2

There were those who took up the mantle of Vernadsky’s ideas of the noosphere and the biosphere. One such project was the Biosphere 2 experiment in which an independent and autonomous biosphere was created by a team of scientists and researchers in Oracle, Arizona. The project housed six participants for two years as they lived inside the massive, enclosed laboratory, testing the limits of self-sufficiency and of the pursuit for environmental harmonization, in other words, the integral synchronization of the noosphere with the biosphere. Chairman of the Institute of Ecotechnics and Biosphere 2 crew member Mark Nelson, relates how Vernadsky’s thought was implicit in the experiment, asserting that as “humanity gained scientific understanding of the Earth and became more cognizant of the consequences of our actions, a noosphere (sphere of intelligence) would eventually arise.”

From the Noosphere to the Anthropocene

The noosphere describes the component parts of our planet that in some sense have given way to the Anthropocene. The deliberate modification of planetary elements (i.e. our ‘resources’) on a vast scale has come as a result of the systems that we have constructed through our collective manifestations of mind or nous. The Anthropocene era began as a consequence of the development of our capabilities to direct and transform our world. In a sense, the current geological stage that our planet has entered is defined by the indelible marks our kind is imprinting upon our environment.

Noosphere and Technology

Technology is shaping the landscape of our world. Because of the insular perspective that many hold toward their place and position in the broader context of life on planet Earth, the relevance of Vernadsky’s work and his approach to the 21st century is perhaps difficult to conceive, yet, it becomes apparent while examining the impact that our systems of organization, authority, and communication are having upon our planet. After all, those systems exist as the palpable materials and items we physically interact with, but they are also expressed in a mental/nous-based aspect that exists only as a reflection of the abstract conceptions we have in our mental and rational constructs. 

Entering the Anthropocene creates an imperative for us to become capable of directing the impact we have on our planet with a modicum of responsibility. Vernadsky believed that the noosphere would become manifest after our world’s societies were unified under a singular overarching and bonding system, a characteristic prominently displayed in our world today through the large and diverse networks present in our lives. Examples of our use of materiality are everywhere around us, just as are instances of the blending of our developed mental faculties with the applications of our technologies. We are coming to an unprecedented elaboration of new languages with new expressions through the blending of our society with an expanding array of technological applications.

Artwork via Brett Richie on Unsplash.

Earth Day: From Cataclysm to Catalyst

Earth Day: From Cataclysm to Catalyst

An annual event celebrated around the world on April 22, Earth Day began as a response to the devastating impact that industrial activity has had upon our natural world. It was specifically precipitated by the 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill which released more than three million gallons off the coast of California. After having seen the damage from the spill, US Senator Gaylord Nelson, environmentalists Selma Rubin, Denis Hayes, and others were moved to create an initiative that would raise awareness and push for advocacy surrounding broad environmental issues. In the five decades since Earth Day was created, the world has witnessed more disasters accompanied by growing consciousness around these issues; the relevance and magnitude of its observance has only increased. 

With each published study that demonstrates the catastrophic state of our natural environment comes a subsequent blow for the hope of a world existing in harmony with nature. As the perception of hope for solutions diminishes so our inner psychological state answers in form with a kind of degradation of the outlook we hold for ourselves and our kin. No single person can know the fate of our civilization and confidently discard the possibility of a more gracious and reciprocal relationship with our planet, yet we often live as if it was so; many of us convinced that we have gone too far in the decimation of our environment. 

Refuting a Hopeless Assessment  

It is the loss of hope and instinctual refutation of any possibility of improvement that seems to be so dangerous, for as previously stated, it is highly unlikely that any one of us at any point in history could have the certainty over our entire civilizations denouement, yet this is precisely what we claim when we look at our current state and conclude with self-assurance that there is nothing to be done. As author Christian Schwägerl writes in his book The Anthropocene: The Human Era and How it Shapes our Planet, “it is important to move beyond the doomsdayism so typically associated with environmentalism…”

So it seems that if we are to act in accordance with a vision for better planetary stewardship, we must believe such a vision is plausible; that we are capable of doing so, and that we are not as many have felt “too late, and too flawed” to come up with some effective shift. There has been recent acknowledgment of ‘climate fatigue’, a term used to describe a typical response in today’s youth toward climate and environmental emergencies. It seems pressing to acknowledge that there is an inner psychological component to our circumstance that directly affects our capacity to strive for solutions. So, as our inner state is constantly fed a barrage of information confirming our most feared environmental dread, how can we distinguish the reality of our world and the hopeless one we project outward? 

Climate Crisis as a Mirror

Perhaps some of our answers lie not only in collecting more accurate and representative data but in transforming our capacity to interpret it. We must find a way to avoid becoming dogmatic about the environment’s demise to the point where we think the possibility of change should be repudiated as dangerous because it distracts from the ‘unquestionable fact’ that we are headed toward extinction. And in order to transform our ability to interpret the world we need to come to terms with the attitudes, expectations and assumptions we hold about the world that are deeply embedded within our psyche. In some sense, what we need is to reconcile ourselves with our shadow self, the part of ourselves we obscure and that negatively informs our interpretation of the world, producing conclusions that are based on our preconceived notions of reality as opposed to on what is true or what is possible. 

As Carl Jung pointed out a century ago, there is an inextricable link between the external and internal worlds, and a manifestation in one is often accompanied by a reflection in the other. Jung spoke of large scale events that occurred during his lifetime as having a deep-seated parallel existing in the collective unconscious (the part of the unconscious mind which is derived from ancestral memory/experience and is common to all humankind) of entire civilizations and there is something to be gleaned about our own predicament considering the magnitude of its scale. It is sometimes easier for someone who has lost hope, to believe that it is all unsalvageable precisely because the possibility of hope brings with it the possibility of its loss, and for some that is simply too much to bear. 

Reciprocity and Responsibility: From Spectators to Participants

Much to our chagrin, our role is not one of mere spectators. We must take up our environment as something not separate from us, and certainly not something which we can take for granted as if it were some perpetual machine that will continue its rumbling without affecting us and without being affected by us. The global COVID-19 pandemic has made us all rethink how through our unchecked activity in industrialized meat production we might be creating a source of a number of novel pathogens

In his book What Has Nature Ever Done For Us?, Tony Juniper takes a profound look at how it is that we depend on the natural systems around us in ways we are not even aware of. In fact, he points out a simple but often unacknowledged truth, “Natural capital sustains financial capital.” The unique crossroads at which we stand compels us to make a courageous gesture reflecting this interconnectedness, yet we frequently feel utterly deflated by the popularly held conception that there is simply no use in trying. In order to move forward, we must acknowledge that we cannot do so without bringing our own shadow with us and that if we continue with significant unconsciousness, this, in turn, has the potential of souring any step we take.

 

Photo by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash

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