The Web of Life and Plastic Rocks

in #science2 months ago


The above image was made with stable diffusion using the prompt 'fractal patterns in the ruins of a city overgrown by nature.'


As humans, we evolved to interact and appreciate the web of life in which we're embedded. This love of life has been referred to as biophilia, arising in both an ontogenic and a phylogenetic sense. Strangely, our anthropogenic artificial environments and landscapes typically fail to accommodate our biophilia. This has negative implications for health, involving heightened stress responses and related inflammation.

For me personally, being immersed in environments assembled from unnatural textures and right angles stresses me out. The effect is most pronounced during cluster headaches, when having my bare feet on the ground and looking at plants markedly reduces the perceived severity of headache attacks. But it's also noticeable every time I visit a suburb. Suburban landscapes make me feel lost and dizzy and just plain wrong, in an animal way.

Plastic Rocks

Recently, I learned that plastic pollution has entered our planet's geological processes. Here's a quote from an article about that:

Geologist Fernanda Avelar Santos was startled to find an unsettling sign of human impact on the otherwise untouched landscape: rocks formed from the glut of plastic pollution floating in the ocean. ... She and her team's study, published in September in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, classified the new kind of "rocks" found worldwide into several types: "plastiglomerates," similar to sedimentary rocks; "pyroplastics," similar to clastic rocks; and a previously unidentified type, "plastistones," similar to igneous rocks formed by lava flow. "Marine pollution is provoking a paradigm shift for concepts of rock and sedimentary deposit formations," her team wrote. "Human interventions are now so pervasive that one has to question what is truly natural."

The idea of rocks made of plastic is disturbing. But the idea does have a somewhat hopeful implication. Geological processes are taking plastic pollution and making it nature-shaped. So maybe exposure to the elements can make other artifacts of human folly nature-shaped on a long enough timeline.

Fractal Preference

Biophilia evolved in us for good reasons, yet the vast majority of Americans seem totally desensitized to their body's innate love for life. Some people never even step out of their artificial environments, and are so disconnected from their bodies that they can't conceive of experiencing themselves as part of the larger web of life. Everything about modern land use practices is more necrophilic than biophilic. There are whole industries whose sole purpose is to spray poison on everything, and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

It is of course possible to incorporate biophilia into the design of everything from furniture and appliances to buildings and parks. A love for life was historically encoded into traditional crafts and some forms of architecture, and there's no good reason it can't be reintroduced. Maybe biophilia is more expensive to embody than the ethos of mechanical death that rules our culture. Yet I feel like embracing life would be worth the cost.

Here's a quote from a great piece by Connor Wood on the subject:

Biophilia implies a preference for self-similarity or fractal forms whose structures repeat themselves across scales, as in the trunk, limbs, branches, twigs, and finally veins in the leaves of trees. We humans like fractal patterns so much that observing them alleviates physiological stress and even reduces fatigue. Perhaps not coincidentally, older, traditional building styles, such as Gothic churches and medieval mosques, were chock-full of fractal patterns. By comparison ... few modern or postmodern buildings use the natural patterns our perceptual systems are optimized for.

Our culture's anti-life design choices are largely products of expedience. But part of me wonders if there isn't some nefarious intelligence behind these choices. The failure to satisfy our evolved biophilia creates a baseline level of psychological stress in our population. This could negatively impact critical thinking skills. And if it leaves us more prone to fatigue, that could also make it more difficult for us to do something about societal problems we encounter.

To be honest, I highly doubt that evil central planners are using their positions of power to consciously undermine our biophilia. But I do think that there are central planners and many other types of people unconsciously choosing death over life as they carry out their duties. They hate the messy reality of actual life, preferring the sterility of death, because it looks cleaner to their eyes.

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Nice post! I feel very passionate about this topic. With me, you won't have to worry about living in sterile plastic-driven environments :) I want to get as far away from that as possible. This is a huge reason why the Colorado mountains keep calling my name...

I agree with you that any efforts to undermine biophilia is mostly unconscious. And I also feel like humanity took a turn with the Cartesian system of rationalism: the domination of philosophy based in reductionist, mechanistic thinking resulting in a subjugation of knowledge systems based on interconnections and relationships. This paradigm/worldview cuts us off from body intelligence, embodiment, and slowing things down. Without these more yin qualities to balance out the yang, our biophilic roots can't be felt and therefore considered as part of reality. Even if it's innately natural to us.

I believe we are nature becoming aware of itself through the evolution of our consciousness. Hopefully, we are awakening to the shadow side of individualism and separation. Here's a quote by Vandana Shiva from an excellent interview:

Let us shift our minds to regenerating the currencies that make our life work, and the currencies that come from nature as the original source. These are the currencies of food currencies, of water currencies, of bread, currencies of love, relationship, currencies of being cared for, and the capacity to care. Now, once you do that, instead of looking towards the market, or the financial sources, you start to turn to nature and to each other. What is it that we can do with this amazing body that has been made to disappear in the Cartesian world? Descartes said, I'm a thinking thing without a body. That break is the curse of humanity, because it crippled us from ... recognizing that we are bodily beings that connect to the Earth's body.

Lastly, this post reminds me of one of my favorite books: The Sacred Ego: Making Peace With Ourselves and Our World which explores a radical new way of integrating our ego (vs. seeking the death of the ego) as a form of activism. Here's a screenshot of one of the chapters:

Screenshot 2023-03-24 at 5.38.05 PM.png

Thanks for the thorough response! I feel like we're in close alignment on these matters: )

Time to escape the world's roars and live in a forest together ...

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