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Using Advances in Science to Re-Think the Nature (Karl McKimpson)

October 24, 2009
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I recently ran across some articles on Science Daily that I thought particularly relevant to our discussion on navigating the environment. Below I’ve noted my favorites and included a brief commentary.

Clock taken from Used with permission

Clock taken from Used with permission

An MIT team reports the discovery of a “time-keeping” group of neurons in primates. I got to thinking about navigating the environment in the same manner.  Do we “stamp” some natural events, occurrences, and characteristics in our construction of the environment and not others? How are these used to create a progressive “timeline” for action? What informs our choice of emphasizing some events and not others?

The summary also highlights that time can be perceptual and can appear to alter by slowing down and speeding up perceptions of time. In terms of cybernetics, this discovery calls into question the notion of time as a universal constant, a necessary part of the natural world to reproduce. Instead, it can be potentially altered. How much of what we consider “environment” is dependent upon ideas of time?

Picture of Sunglasses.  Used with permission from

Picture of Sunglasses. Used with permission from

A second article covers work of a group at Duke that has been trying to model the “ecology and evolution of fast-morphing viruses” of influenza infection patterns. Upon reading this I found myself reminded that the “environment” is a broad term that also encompasses figurative domains beyond literal “nature” that we interact with: animals, germs, rocks, trees, etc.  In this case the “ecology” is a system that does not deal directly with human being, but is the relationship between viruses and micro-bacteria. Only when the model is expanded do humans enter the equation. Technically, only some strains of influenza actually require human beings to exist.

I’ve been bothered by the frequent binary in  eco-criticism of human/nature, but in this case, humans don’t have to enter. However, I have to note at the same time that the study is only conducted because of our concern for those strains that do affect us, which seems to put a filter on just what activity is being predicted. I’m forced to wonder if there is a way to dispense with this filter, see the world without rose-colored glasses. This seems to me to be what we are trying to do in class; we are trying to get past our own filters.

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