sustainability IS gardening

Posted by on May 20th, 2013

A short follow-up to my recent post, Conservation ain’t what it used to be (WE NEED TO BE BIGGER)


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1500s prosthetic hand by Ambroise Paré

Posted by on September 28th, 2012

From io9, this prosthetic hand was designed in the 1500s by Ambroise Paré:

It was a hand that was operated by multiple catches and springs, which simulated the joints of a biological hand. When he showed his design to colleagues it was such a sensation that they worked up a prototype, and in 1551, a movable prosthesis was worn into battle by a French army captain. The Captain claimed it worked so well that he was able to grip and release the reigns of his horse.

“…it was the computers that exploded, not the bombs”

Posted by on February 17th, 2012

Highlighted by moleitau.

Nietzsche on the ‘noble education’

Posted by on February 9th, 2012

I put forward at once — lest I break with my style, which is affirmative and deals with contradiction and criticism only as a means, only involuntarily — the three tasks for which educators are required. One must learn to see, one must learn to think, one must learn to speak and write: the goal in all three is a noble culture. Learning to see — accustoming the eye to calmness, to patience, to letting things come up to it; postponing judgment, learning to go around and grasp each individual case from all sides. That is the first preliminary schooling for spirituality: not to react at once to a stimulus, but to gain control of all the inhibiting, excluding instincts. Learning to see, as I understand it, is almost what, unphilosophically speaking, is called a strong will: the essential feature is precisely not to “will” — to be able to suspend decision. All unspirituality, all vulgar commonness, depend on the inability to resist a stimulus: one must react, one follows every impulse. In many cases, such a compulsion is already pathology, decline, a symptom of exhaustion — almost everything that unphilosophical crudity designates with the word “vice” is merely this physiological inability not to react. A practical application of having learned to see: as a learner, one will have become altogether slow, mistrustful, recalcitrant. One will let strange, new things of every kind come up to oneself, inspecting them with hostile calm and withdrawing one’s hand. To have all doors standing open, to lie servilely on one’s stomach before every little fact, always to be prepared for the leap of putting oneself into the place of, or of plunging into, others and other things — in short, the famous modern “objectivity” — is bad taste, is ignoble par excellence.

For one cannot subtract dancing in every form from a noble education — to be able to dance with one’s feet, with concepts, with words: need I still add that one must be able to dance with the pen too — that one must learn to write?

What the Germans Lack, Twilight of the Idols: or How to Philosophize with a Hammer.

100 Years of Synthetic Biology

Posted by on October 9th, 2011

via Scientific American

Rebecca MacKinnon’s call for a ‘Magna Carta’ for the Internet

Posted by on July 15th, 2011

From NYT, A Call To Take Back The Internet from Corporations:

“The sovereigns of the Internet are acting like they have a divine right to govern,” said Ms. MacKinnon, whose book, ”Consent of the Networked,” will be published by Basic Books in January 2012. “They are in complete denial that there is something horrible they would ever do.” She gave a preview of her book at the TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh on Tuesday morning and in an interview.

Governments at this point rarely act directly to constrain the Internet; instead, their policies are mediated through privately owned and operated services, Ms. MacKinnon said. This is true of China, which maintains the famed Great Firewall that blocks sites like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook in favor of local services. But domestically, every year the Chinese government gives out “China Internet Self-Discipline Awards” to honor companies that voluntarily cooperate with its censorship policies. Baidu, which had been Google’s rival in China before the search giant redirected China users to its uncensored Hong Kong site in 2010, has been among the honorees.

Although “we don’t always do it very well,” people generally know how to hold governments accountable, particularly in a democracy, said Ms. MacKinnon. However, it’s still unclear how users can push back against private transnational companies on the Internet. The solution is most likely not for Congress or other lawmakers to pass regulations alone, she said. ”It’s going to require innovation that is not only going to need to focus on politics, on geopolitics, but is also going to need to deal with questions of business management, investor behavior and consumer choice,” she said.

Ms. MacKinnon, who made a similar argument at the Personal Democracy Forum last month, said companies should start thinking of their users more as constituents who have a voice in the policymaking. Also, good corporate governance policies, like the ones that have become standard for clothing manufacturing companies, could become more widespread. Google, for example, regularly releases a transparency report, which lists how many requests for information it receives from each government. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have helped develop a code of conduct around Internet freedom through the Global Network Initiative. However, Twitter and Facebook have not joined in, limiting the impact of the code.

Her PDF talk, The Consent of the Networked:

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via @sfslim


The Guardian is hosting the video of her TEDGlobal talk (which is, as specified, an expansion of the PDF one):

The Empathic Civilisation

Posted by on July 13th, 2011
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via Wes Unruh

A 21st Century Enlightenment

Posted by on May 6th, 2011
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Tim Flannery on humanity’s future as a super organism

Posted by on May 4th, 2011

From the Guardian, where it appears Flannery is updating the Gaia hypothesis:

Tim Flannery argues that humankind is evolving into a ‘super-organism’ where interdependence has profound consequences for the individual.

Look for an expansion of this in his Long Now seminar.

“My Body, My Laboratory” in TIME

Posted by on March 17th, 2011

One of a rare breed of scientists willing to volunteer their own bodies in the service of science, professor Warwick let British surgeons place a silicon chip with 100 spiked electrodes directly into his nervous system in March 2002.

Any excuse to post a pic of Kevin Warwick, but this is taken from TIME’s overview of the advances made via self-experimentation and how it’s continuing today amongst enthusiasts on the internet; My Body, My Laboratory:

For centuries, self-experimentation was an accepted form of science. Sir Isaac Newton almost burned his cornea because he could think of no other means of understanding visual hallucinations than staring at the sun. But in recent years, the academic institutions, grant agencies and journals that have codified the scientific method have come to view self-experimentation with suspicion, worrying that it leads to bias or misleading results. Nevertheless, the practice continues among a small number of professors and doctors who see it as the last chance to prove an underfunded theory, as an act of solidarity with other study subjects. Or simply as an avenue to fame.

Self-experimentation has also found new life on the Internet. So-called self-tracking has already made lay scientists of many of us as we buy the latest exercise device or nutritional supplement and then log into forums to compare our findings with other investigators. What the practice lacks in rigor, it makes up for in zeal, not to mention the sheer number of subjects running their mini-studies. Somewhere in there, real — if ad hoc — science might occur. “To me, [self-tracking] is the future of self-experimentation,” says Seth Roberts, a professor of psychology at Tsinghua University in China, whose work led to the quirky best-selling diet book The Shangri-La Diet. The practice will continue among “normal people who are simply intent on discovering what works for them.”

Denis Harscoat, co-organizer of the Quantified Self group in London, agrees. Workers are more productive if they complete regular, small tasks rather than an occasional large project; the same is true of do-it-yourself science, he says. At the meetings Harscoat convenes, members discuss everything from monitoring their blood pressure to which behaviors best facilitate writing a play. “You might think we are a bunch of data-crunching geeks,” he says, “but it’s good to track.”

And track the Quantified Selfers do, often aided by new products designed for them: Zeo headbands, said to monitor sleep phases; Nike plus, shoes with a distance, speed and time sensor embedded in them; Asthmapolis, which records the location, time and date of each breath so asthmatics can monitor their attacks. Every bit of data is shared in meetings so it can be considered in the aggregate.

Martin Roemers’ “Relics of the Cold War”

Posted by on October 3rd, 2010

This and many more amazing photos via who explains:

Dutch photographer Martin Roemers spent ten years compiling an incredible collection of images that expose the clandestine underbelly of the Eastern Bloc. Relics of the Cold War explores and documents underground tunnels, abandoned system control centers, former barracks, rotting tanks, and destroyed monuments.

Late 19th/Early20thC Prosthetic Arm

Posted by on August 30th, 2010

From the UK’s Science Museum’s History of Medicine:

Made from steel and brass, this unusual prosthetic arm articulates in a number of ways. The elbow joint can be moved by releasing a spring, whereas the top joint of the wrist allows a degree of rotation and an up-and-down motion. The fingers can also curl up and straighten out. The leather upper arm piece is used to fix the prosthesis to the remaining upper arm. The rather sinister appearance of the hand suggests the wearer may have disguised it with a glove. Among the most common causes of amputation throughout the 1800s were injuries received as a result of warfare.

via Warlach & Commuter Dirge

The Transhuman Race

Posted by on July 27th, 2010

“Man remaining man, but transcending himself, by realizing new possibilities of and for his human nature.” – Julian Huxley

“Transhumanism is the philosophy that we can and should develop to higher levels, physically, mentally and socially using rational methods.” – Dr. Anders Sandburg

“[Transhumanism is] a strange liberation movement” [that wants] “nothing less than to liberate the human race from its biological constraints.” – Francis Fukuyama

“Transhumanism is the idea that new technologies are likely to change the world so much in the next century or two that our descendants will in many ways no longer be ‘human’” – Dr. Robin Hanson

“Transhumanism is the doctrine that we can and should become more than human.” – Mitch Porter

“Transhumanism is a class of philosophies that seek to guide us towards a posthuman condition. Transhumanism shares many elements of humanism, including a respect for reason and science, a commitment to progress, and a valuing of human (or transhuman) existence in this life [..]. Transhumanism differs from humanism in recognizing and anticipating the radical alterations in the nature and possibilities of our lives resulting from various sciences and technologies[…]” – Dr. Max Moore

I want to share something with you – probably the most important thing I’ve told you in these pages.  It’s not quite a secret, though you probably won’t hear it this way from anyone at the Singularity Summit.  Still, it is the single most important thing you will ever learn about the “Transhumanist movement.”

There is no such thing as Transhumanism.

Don’t ignore the bulk of Transhumanist and Extropian research and writing.  Don’t ignore the  vast amount of pontificating on post-singularity existance.  Don’t ignore the ten-thousand dollar a head business day camps and the tech seminars and the religious zealots who desperately need a mind-controlling conspiracy to oppose.  All of that work and thought and effort is very real and, even if you’re just hearing about Transhumanism in the last couple of years you will see these things trickle into your life in the most unexpected places.

That’s because Transhumanism is real.

What do you think of when you think of Transhumans?  Life extension. Cyborgs.  Artificial Intelligence.  Uploading. Skynet. Nanoswarms. Uplifted octopi. Geoengineering. Sex-bots.

What if I asked you to think about examples of Transhumanism in the present?  Life extension. Athletes with prosthetics.  Prosthetic faces. RFID chips. Artificial eyes. Printable organs. Transexuals.  Rudimentary robots.  Industrial exoskeletons.  Military exoskeletons. Genetically Modified Organisms.  Artificial life. Patenting genomes. Augmented Reality. Sex-bots.

What if I asked that question in 1990?  1970? 1960?

It’s pretty easy to answer in these decades.  There’s a wealth of books and articles and essays and failing that, it’s simple to turn to fiction as the decades move backwards.   Implants hook antiheroes to computers beneath skies the colour of dead televisions while FM-2030 tries to open eyes to Transhumanity in the 80′s before his date with an Alcor storage chamber and hopeful cold resurrection.

The term “Transhuman” wasn’t coined until 1957, so before then to ask our hypothetical question, we might have to be a bit more descriptive.  Still, if you conjured an image of human and technological hybridity for the advancement of the human organism in years prior you’d get different but amazingly similar images as you traveled back to the industrial revolution and beyond.

There would be repeating themes as you traveled back – immortality, health, flight, a desire to be smarter/faster/stronger.  After that, though, you’d be left with  - just as our technological obsessions reveal, today – the image of humanity in the interviewee’s eyes.

Transhumanism – the desire to refine the human vessel and spirit into something more via technology is not new.  As Erik Davis points out in his book TechGnosis – this drive has been there as far as we know how to look back to.  The tools are new but the aims are the same.   Yesterday’s mysticism beget yesterday’s alchemy, which brought the enlightenment, which brought industrialization, which brought futurism and today, we call the mass of thoughts surrounding this drive “Transhumanism.” (Or better still: Extropianism, which is a more specific and technically precise term but one that hasn’t permeated the popular consciousness, yet.)

Here’s the trick of it, though.  Many individuals when discussing Transhumanism, get tied up in the technology aspect of it and the miss the forest for the trees because the trees seem to be growing human tissue.  To consider Transhumanism a movement, you have to realize that it is refering to a series of events that began when Grock picked up his first rock.

Transhumanism is a name applied to a kind of thinking concerning technological hybridity.  It is a mathematics that adds human to a variable to get Human Plus, which in turn is added to a variable and a new result is produced.

This isn’t new.  We’ve been a tool-using species for a hell of a long time.  Grok plus a rock for hitting things was Grok Plus.  Grock with a rock and fire was the Grok Kurzweil of his time.   It might have been a low-bandwith exchange, but Grok was changed by his usage of tools as much as he used his tools to change his environment.

We have always been human/technology hybrids.

Throk has symbols and sounds.  Those symbols become language.  Language both changes how the brain works and jacks Throk and his descendants into the very first augmented reality.  Throck pointing at a symbol on the wall and evoking a wolf shares the same technological space as my pointing at a wolf made of prims in Second Life as a kid pointing at the wolf on an AR display in Tokyo.   Throk has the killer app and from now on everyone will have proto-Augmented Reality and someday it will be so ingrained and natural that we will be unable to uninstall it.

Throk begat a species of Transhumans who will always have self-upgrading versions of Language installed.  Even if for some freak reason the app doesn’t get installed, the wetware will still be optimized to use it.

Language and tools gave us discernible culture – a whole series of interlocking technologies that are designed to propagate and spread and protect the clients who have it installed.  Culture becomes agriculture and suddenly everything changes all over again.  The technologies of agriculture make humans change their lives around them.

Transhumanism is concerned with events that began before the dawn of recorded history.  Transhumanism – as most people will present it to you – does not exist because the core concern of Transhumanity is the Human condition itself.

Human history is Transhuman history.  We have always been a species using technology to transform ourselves, make ourselves better or even just figure out what “better” means.

In fact I’ll go out on a limb here and lay out my most tightly held belief - I’m not a big believer in “human nature” but if there is one facet of human nature that I believe in it’s this:

The nature of mankind is to transcend itself.

The urge for technological transcendence and refinement – and the follow-through upon it is not new.  What changes is the scale and complexity involved.  Things become more complex, which creates change at a faster and faster rate however; while the shells may be moving faster and there may be more of them – the game remains the same.

William Godwin tells his daughter Mary Shelley about the link between liberty and human immortality as elsewhen Thomas Aquinas St. Ambrose performs the nearly miraculous act of reading silently without moving his lips.  Agriculture causes a vast population boom, but also creates the conditions that will one day develop into global war, ecological disaster, patriarchy, and genocide.

Fukuyama who has devoted his life to Capitalism and Democracy proclaims that Transhumanism is a threat even though Capitalism in and of itself is a technology designed to propagate and maneuver goods, services and currency which are all in and of themselves technologies designed to enhance or expand the human condition.  Francis Fukuyama is a Transhumanist, too.

Transhuman technologies heal your diseases, bind your wounds, purify and pollute your air.   Memory palaces made the mind bigger, psychedelics make the ego membrane more permeable.   The internet makes us smarter or maybe it just makes us faster at being shallow.

Transhumanism does not exist – it is an illusion.   It is a construct that allows the examination of Humanity through a lens that makes the implicit hybridization of the human organism and technology explicit.   It is a trick of the eye to try and help us not suffer ontological shock when the future comes and it is both different from the one we expected and filled with changes to ourselves.   Each generation takes technologies and normalizes them – moving them from the realm of the strange and the Other into their accepted schema of how the world works.  Glass eyes move on to artificial hearts, to personal internet  to sex changes to better-than-human prosthetics.

This is how it works, because this is how it has always worked.

There is no such thing as Transhumanism. And that is why it is such an important and vital concept at its core when stripped of the commercial baggage.

Transhumanism is a story we tell ourselves in order to recover from the culturally-stagnating and dangerous idea that we as humans are separate from and somehow not responsible for our technologies.  And in that way, while it is a fiction, it is a useful fiction – a minor trick of mental prestidigitation that people of all types can use to contextualize themselves in the ever more complex and constantly transforming narratives of history.

It’s the eternal romance that even though the dancers may change – somewhere out there, humanity will still be dancing.

Bruce Sterling defines Atemporality at Transmediale

Posted by on February 13th, 2010

Previously on Grinding I posted a video of Bruce talking about Gothic High-Tech and Favella Chic in his Reboot 11 closing speech. In it, he mentions he was trying to make concrete his notion of what this next decade might be, something he was calling Atemporality (“it’s steampunk with metaphysics”, he said).

At the recent Transmediale Festival, he’s back to report that all the historical narratives are broken, multi-temporality is the new multi-culturalism and network culture is the new dominant force.

Strap your brains in, take your smart drugs and drink deeply from the fount of knowledge that is Sterling’s mind:

Did You Know 4.0

Posted by on September 18th, 2009

The latest installment of the “Did You Know” video series.  This time on the topic of Convergence.

See also: Did You Know 3.0, and Did You Know 2.0.

Neanderthal: The Other White Meat

Posted by on May 19th, 2009

So the last time I brought up the possible conflict between our ancestors and their Neanderthal contemporaries, I may have done a bit of butchering to the fields of Anthopology and Evolutionary Biology.     (The increasing dischord between those two fields, is a topic for another time.)  But hey, it’s a learning process, right?  However, many of you sent in a link to a recent Guardian article discussing some grisley new findings regarding possible details of the species war.

One of science’s most puzzling mysteries – the disappearance of the Neanderthals – may have been solved. Modern humans ate them, says a leading fossil expert.

The controversial suggestion follows publication of a study in the Journal of Anthropological Sciences about a Neanderthal jawbone apparently butchered by modern humans. Now the leader of the research team says he believes the flesh had been eaten by humans, while its teeth may have been used to make a necklace.

Fernando Rozzi, of Paris’s Centre National de la Récherche Scientifique, said the jawbone had probably been cut into to remove flesh, including the tongue. Crucially, the butchery was similar to that used by humans to cut up deer carcass in the early Stone Age. “Neanderthals met a violent end at our hands and in some cases we ate them,” Rozzi said.

Now the article goes on to point out that this could have been an isolated incident, or that violence could have been but one of many reasons why “we” won and Neanderthal man exists only in museums, Geico ads, and Encino.  However, it’s yet more evidence that not only was there violent conflict, but that whatever cultural paradigm existed in that area, it was one that saw Neanderthals as sufficently “other” to be foodstufs — if perhaps only in a particular set of circumstances.

The Silent Tombs of Dead Cosmonauts and Open Source Science

Posted by on April 29th, 2009

Warren Ellis linked to this article a few days ago, and while I realize that means half of the known world has now read it, I had to repost it over here due to the extreme relevance.  While yes, it’s a story of the strange places the space race played out in, it’s also the story of how a few hobbiests turned a garage into a hub of international activity and secret intelligence with just their passions and the tech they could find and repourpose.

Suddenly, an angry voice rang out; the man who lived on the floor below leant out of the window and screamed: “Will you stop that racket, I’m trying to sleep!”

One of the young men shouted back “Sorry sir; the Soviets have launched a satellite and we’re trying to intercept it!”

The brothers finished setting up, grabbed their head-sets, twiddled the knobs on their portable receivers, hit the record button and listened…

“Come in… come in… come in… Listen! Come in! Talk to me! I am hot! I am hot! Come in! What? Forty-five? What? Fifty? Yes. Yes, yes, breathing. Oxygen, oxygen… I am hot. This… isn’t this dangerous?”
The brothers looked nervously at one another. They only fully understood the Russian later when their sister translated for them, but the desperation in the woman’s voice was clear.

“Transmission begins now. Forty-one. Yes, I feel hot. I feel hot, it’s all… it’s all hot. I can see a flame! I can see a flame! I can see a flame! Thirty-two… thirty-two. Am I going to crash? Yes, yes I feel hot… I am listening, I feel hot, I will re-enter. I’m hot!”

The signal went dead.

Today, there are do it yourself genetics clubs, you can mail out to have your genome sequenced, open source engeneering labs and all sorts of places that people can come together and test new frontiers outside of an institutional heirachy.  The street still finds its own uses for things, and while the space race has stagnated (a topic of black rage for myself) , there are still many envelopes to push, many mysteries to probe, and many wonders to be found with whatever tools we can scrounge to find them.

Sorry, if I sound like an evangelical Grinder, today, but I find this article to be really inspiring.

[Via Warren Ellis and Fortean Times]

The History of the Internet

Posted by on January 27th, 2009

The story uses PICOL – Pictorial Communication Language – icons, to tell the tale. Such humble beginings, to now:

Link and video via