Science is the lens through which I understand the world. Paleontology and evolutionary biology are particularly revealing because they deal with the history of life, with mortality, chance, and earths deeply interconnected web of plants, animals, geologic and climatic conditions. This is the basis from which I think about us humans and about our proper place in the world. The study of nature was once, with good reason, a branch of philosophy. It still is, arguably, the most rational basis for considering how to live and how to die.
My work explores the boundary between natural history and philosophy, seeking paradigm change by contextualizing humans within the deep history of life on earth--almost four billion years from earliest inception. It is only through science that we can understand the deep past of our planet, its powerful cycles of change, extinction, and creation.
Cognitive neuroscience is helping us understand the frailty of our untutored understandings of life. We are compelled to make stories to explain what we dont understand. We focus on our immediate hour-by-hour and daily surroundings, and delete past history from our attention, thereby deleting huge amounts of information that could help us better cope with the present. We are literally blind to the unexpected and believe what we want to or are trained to believe; we see the world through our preconceptions. Science can snatch away our blindfolds and allow us to understand how the world really works.
We are not as a species doing a good job of integrating ourselves with the complex ecosystems that have evolved over millennia, and which have produced this unique era in the history of lifethat of a relatively stable world filled with the most bio-diverse and beautiful suite of plants and animals in the history of life. What most of us do not know is that this complexly balanced system produces the very conditions that support usthe very air we breathe, our rain, our plants, our livable temperatures. These are not guaranteed conditions. Earth has experienced multiple massive ecosystem collapses in the pastthe Great Extinctions. Conditions have been very different and very hostile to our sort of life multiple times, and could easily become so again. This is what knowledge of the deep history of life on earth teaches us. It teaches us that the very air we breathe, blue oceans, rain, abundant creatures and plants to eatare fragile. The oceans could turn purple, the air could become poisonous with hydrogen sulfide, all our current plants and animals could die and never return.
We humans through our sheer numbers are now equivalent to the massive geological forces that produced past Great Extinctions. We are powerful.
Thankfully, complex systems are resilient, and Earths life systems can recover if we let them. Human ingenuity could, with proper paradigm change in the way we conceive of ourselves and with uncorrupted leadership, figure out how to live sustainably. Because we are story-telling and irrational animals, paradigm change in the stories we tell, our beliefs, our myths, and our ethics must occur before truly sustainable change can happen. We must think outside the box. Because of our sheer numbers we alter, usually dominate, and often destroy every ecosystem we touch; we are consequently at an urgent crossroads. The path we are on, characterized by uncontrolled population increase and rampant consumerism without conservation, will lead to an inevitable systems crash, total misery and a greatly impoverished world.
It is our children who will need to grasp this new world we are in with all its challenges; new ethics and world views are indeed already developing. My own thought is that right now we need to urgently preserve what we have, establish corridors for plants and animals to survive the climate changes we have unleashed upon ourselves, and to cherish verifiable information about how life really works. We can speak, vote, work for change, resist negative life choices, and support the good. We humans are powerful in numbers; individual action counts, and government policy affects millions. This is why scientists are now banding together to urge our government to base policy upon verifiable information rather than ideology.
Nature and the study of its creatures is my solace. I am immensely pleased that scientists are now admitting that animalsyes, even fishhave minds, emotions, and consciousness; that plants are aware of the world in ways we are too deficient in imagination to comprehend, and that forest trees have social lives. The world is miraculous. My current work contemplates our place in deep time, in nature, in the cycles of life, death, and transformation. I paint the beauty of the natural world, complicated by ourselves.
Brooklyn, July 2017