Thursday, June 02, 2011

Stewart Brand - "Look At the World Through the Eyes Of A Fool"

This is a cool interview with Stewart Brand from The European - if nothing else, you gotta love the title of the interview. Stewart Brand is the founder of the Long Now Foundation, the Global Business Network, and of the internet platform The WELL. From 1968 to 1998, he was editor of the Whole Earth Catalogue. Brand was the original founder of the Haight-Ashbury Trip Festival and, in the 1960s, persuaded NASA to release the first pictures of the whole earth from space after studying biology at Stanford University and serving in the US Army.

I disagree with Brand on nuclear power and some other things, but it's an interesting article with an interesting man.

"Look At the World Through the Eyes Of A Fool"

The European: You are currently involved in the Rosetta Project which aims to preserve the world’s dying languages. Has society become too eager to discard things and ideas?
Brand: Interesting, I never thought of it that way. I think we have become too shortsighted. Everything is moving faster, everybody is multitasking. Investments are made for short-term returns, democracies run on short-term election cycles. Speedy progress is great, but it is also chancy. When everything is moving fast, the future looks like it is next week. But what really counts is the future ten or hundred years from now. And we should also bear in mind that the history that matters is not only yesterday’s news but events from a decade or a century or a millennium ago. To balance that, we want to look at the long term: the last ten thousand years, the next ten thousand years.

The European: A big picture approach to issues like climate change and cultural transformation?
Brand: We’re bearing in mind the big picture. Let me give you an example of how that approach might play out: When NASA released the first photographs of the earth from space in the 1960s, people changed their frame of reference. We began to think differently about the earth, about our environment, about humanity.

The European: Did the idea of the “Blue Planet” even exist before those photographs became public?
Brand: There had been many drawings of the earth from space, just like people made images of cities from above before we had hot-air balloons. But they were all wrong. Usually, images of the earth did not include any clouds, no weather, no climate. They also tended to neglect the shadow that much of the earth is usually in. From most angles, the earth appears as a crescent. Only when the sun is directly behind you would you see the whole planet brightly illuminated against the blackness of space.

The European: So the arguments we make about politics or about the environment are very intimately tied to our perceptions, and to our emotional reactions to those perceptions?
Brand: I think there is always the question of framing: How do we look at things? The first photos of the earth changed the frame. We began to talk more about “humans” and less about Germans or Americans. We began to start talking about the planet as a whole. That, in a way, gave us the ability to think about global problems like climate change. We did not have the idea of a global solution before. Climate Change is a century-sized problem. Never before has humanity tried to tackle something on such a long temporal scale. Both the large scale and the long timeframe have to be taken seriously.

The European: Do you belief in something like a human identity?
Brand: In a way, the ideal breakthrough would be to discover alien life. That would give us a clear sense of our humanity. But even without that, we have done pretty well in stepping outside our usual frame of reference and looking at the planet and at the human race from the outside. That’s nice. I would prefer if we didn’t encounter alien intelligence for a while.

The European: One framing issue that comes to mind is the question of the extinction of species. The current rate of extinction is many times higher than the evolutionary average. Yet few people would probably argue that we are living through a critical period of the earth’s history.
Brand: Geologists are making very persuasive arguments about the effects that our behavior has on the scale of tens of thousands of years. We have become part of the geological record. As a biologist, I would say that the rate of extinction is problematic but not as bad as we used to think. But what I am more interested in is the recreation of extinct species using DNA samples. If we can bring back the mammoth, it could replace the Tundra with the old Mammoth grasslands, which fixes much more carbon.

The European: What is the value of reviving extinct species? Evolution progresses, species die and new ones arise. Why do you want to tamper with that process?
Brand: It sends a message of hope. We can rectify past mistakes, we can undo damage and harm. It would give people the sense that if we can fix something as profound as the extinction of a species, what else could we do for biodiversity? Instead of just complaining about problems, we would move towards fixing problems.

There is much more - read the whole post.

No comments: