How to Grow a Planet

Professor Iain Stewart tells a stunning new story about our planet. He reveals how the greatest changes to the Earth have been driven, above all, by plants

Solidarity Session #11 – Indigenous thinking with Tyson Yunkaporta

Chat with Tyson Yunkaporta – author, academic, maker, and Indigenous thinker of the Apalech clan in North Queensland. We talk about the need for Indigenous thinking in our food systems, decolonising agriculture, and how non-Indigenous growers and eaters can work in solidarity with First Peoples.

Tyson’s work examines global systems from an Indigenous perspective. It explores how we we learn, look at, and talk about patterns of creation, and how we can learn to live within those patterns again.

We talk to Tyson about what this means for the food sovereignty movement – which itself was born out of Indigenous and peasant struggles, and in which advocating for the rights and sovereignty of Indigenous peoples is a core principle. We explore how we can build solidarity-based communities that respect and work with Indigenous knowledges, and build food systems based around those principles.

Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States

Against The Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States is a 2017 book by James C. Scott that sets out to undermine what he calls the “standard civilizational narrative” that suggests humans chose to live settled lives based on intensive agriculture because this made people safer and more prosperous. Instead, he argues, people had to be forced to live in the early states, which were hierarchical, beset by malnutrition and disease, and often based on slavery. The book has been praised for re-opening some of the biggest questions in human history. A review in Science concludes that the book’s thesis “is fascinating and represents an alternative, nuanced, if somewhat speculative, scenario on how civilized society came into being.”

THROUGH THE PROCESS | A Conversation With Applied Mathematics Professor Steven Strogatz

Join myself and Applied Mathematics Professor Steven Strogatz, author of “Infinite Powers: How Calculus Reveals the Secrets of the Universe”, as we talk about the creative powers of math, as well as poetry and the writing process, and finding the connections between the two.

If you’ve never thought of math as beautiful or creative this episode just might change your mind. I hope you will love this conversation as much as I loved being a part of it!

Path Dependence, its critics, and the quest for ‘historical economics’

The concept of path dependence refers to a property of contingent, non-reversible dynamical processes, including a wide array of biological and social processes that can properly be described as ‘evolutionary’. To dispel existing confusions in the literature, and clarify the meaning and significance of path dependence for economists, the paper formulates definitions that relate the phenomenon to the property of non-ergodicity in stochastic processes; it examines the nature of the relationship between between path dependence and ‘market failure’, and discusses the meaning of ‘lock-in’. Unlike tests for the presence of non-ergodicity, assessments of the economic significance of path dependence are shown to involve difficult issues of counterfactual specification, and the welfare evaluation of alternative dynamic paths rather than terminal states. The policy implications of the existence of path dependence are shown to be more subtle and, as a rule, quite different from those which have been presumed by critics of the concept. A concluding section applies the notion of ‘lock-in’ reflexively to the evolution of economic analysis, suggesting that resistence to historical economics is a manifestation of ‘sunk cost hysteresis’ in the sphere of human cognitive development.

The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World

This book argues that the division of the brain into two hemispheres is essential to human existence, making possible incompatible versions of the world, with quite different priorities and values.

Most scientists long ago abandoned the attempt to understand why nature has so carefully segregated the hemispheres, or how to make coherent the large, and expanding, body of evidence about their differences. In fact to talk about the topic is to invite dismissal. Yet no one who knows anything about the area would dispute for an instant that there are significant differences: it’s just that no-one seems to know why. And we now know that every type of function – including reason, emotion, language and imagery – is subserved not by one hemisphere alone, but by both.

This book argues that the differences lie not, as has been supposed, in the ‘what’ – which skills each hemisphere possesses – but in the ‘how’, the way in which each uses them, and to what end. But, like the brain itself, the relationship between the hemispheres is not symmetrical. The left hemisphere, though unaware of its dependence, could be thought of as an ’emissary’ of the right hemisphere, valuable for taking on a role that the right hemisphere – the ‘Master’ – cannot itself afford to undertake. However it turns out that the emissary has his own will, and secretly believes himself to be superior to the Master. And he has the means to betray him. What he doesn’t realize is that in doing so he will also betray himself.

The book begins by looking at the structure and function of the brain, and at the differences between the hemispheres, not only in attention and flexibility, but in attitudes to the implicit, the unique, and the personal, as well as the body, time, depth, music, metaphor, empathy, morality, certainty and the self. It suggests that the drive to language was not principally to do with communication or thought, but manipulation, the main aim of the left hemisphere, which manipulates the right hand. It shows the hemispheres as no mere machines with functions, but underwriting whole, self-consistent, versions of the world. Through an examination of Western philosophy, art and literature, it reveals the uneasy relationship of the hemispheres being played out in the history of ideas, from ancient times until the present. It ends by suggesting that we may be about to witness the final triumph of the left hemisphere – at the expense of us all.

The Mysterious Stranger

During the late 16th century, a strange man visits a deeply religious village in Austria and introduces himself as Satan.

The Mind in the Making – The Relation of Intelligence to Social Reform

James Harvey Robinson (1863 – 1936) was an American Historian. In his writings he stressed the “new history” – the social, scientific, and intellectual progress of humanity rather than merely political happening. The Mind in the Making: The Relation of Intelligence to Social Reform was published in 1921. In the beginning of the book Robinson states his purpose as follows: “As an old Stoic proverb has it, men are tormented by the opinions they have of things, rather than by the things themselves. This is eminently true of many of our worst problems to-day. We have available knowledge and ingenuity and material resources to make a far fairer world than that in which we find ourselves, but various obstacles prevent our intelligently availing ourselves of them. The object of this book is to substantiate this proposition, to exhibit with entire frankness the tremendous difficulties that stand in the way of such a beneficent change of mind, and to point out as clearly as may be some of the measures to be taken in order to overcome them.” He goes on to say: “I come back, then, to my original point that in this examination of existing facts history, by revealing the origin of many of our current fundamental beliefs, will tend to free our minds so as to permit honest thinking. Also, that the historical facts which I propose to recall would, if permitted to play a constant part in our thinking, automatically eliminate a very considerable portion of the gross stupidity and blindness which characterize our present thought and conduct in public affairs, and would contribute greatly to developing the needed scientific attitude toward human concerns–in other words, to _bringing the mind up to date_.”

Rats, Lice and History

When Rats, Lice and History appeared in 1935, Hans Zinsser was a highly regarded Harvard biologist who had never written about historical events. Although he had published under a pseudonym, virtually all of his previous writings had dealt with infections and immunity and had appeared either in medical and scientific journals or in book format. Today he is best remembered as the author of Rats, Lice, and History, which gone through multiple editions and remains a masterpiece of science writing for a general readership.

To Zinsser, scientific research was high adventure and the investigation of infectious disease, a field of battle. Yet at the same time he maintained a love of literature and philosophy. His goal in Rats, Lice and History was to bring science, philosophy, and literature together to establish the importance of disease, and especially epidemic infectious disease, as a major force in human affairs. Zinsser cast his work as the “biography” of a disease. In his view, infectious disease simply represented an attempt of a living organism to survive. From a human perspective, an invading pathogen was abnormal; from the perspective of the pathogen it was perfectly normal.

This book is devoted to a discussion of the biology of typhus and history of typhus fever in human affairs. Zinsser begins by pointing out that the louse was the constant companion of human beings. Under certain conditions–to wash or to change clothing–lice proliferated. The typhus pathogen was transmitted by rat fleas to human beings, who then transmitted it to other humans and in some strains from human to human.

Rats, Lice and History is a tour de force. It combines Zinsser’s expertise in biology with his broad knowledge of the humanities

On the Origin of Species

The Origin of Species is the magnum opus of natural scientist Charles Darwin. In the book Darwin presents the theory that populations evolve over the course of generations through the process of natural selection. The book goes on to present a body of evidence for the hypothesis that the diversity of life in this way arose by common descent through a branching pattern of evolution.

Darwin had gathered much of his evidence for the book on the Beagle expedition in the 1830s to among other places the Galápagos Islands.