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What is Next Nature?

With our attempts to cultivate nature, humankind causes the rising of a next nature, which is wild and unpredictable as ever. Wild systems, genetic surprises, autonomous machinery and splendidly beautiful black flowers. Nature changes along with us.

Posts Tagged ‘Designed-by-Evolution’

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    The Soul is a Plastic Bag

    In the film Plastic Bag, the title character spends a lifetime (or more) on a quest for a creator not even aware of his existence.  A stunning short by Ramin Bahrani, director of Man Push Cart and Goodbye Solo, Plastic Bag is both a postmodern spiritual pilgrimage and an ecological fable.   It is strange, wry, and by the end it had my eyes welling up like the Deepwater Horizon.

    Plastic Bag makes a fitting companion to Grizzly Man, and not just because the ponderous tones of Werner Herzog give voice to the Bag’s 18-minute monologue. Like Timothy Treadwell, the Bag is an artifact of human civilization searching an impassive world for a sublime, and entirely fictional, true connection.

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  • The Institute for Digital Biology

    The Institute for Digital Biology

    The Institute for Digital Biology researches next steps in the evolution of the internet, where websites and services develop into living creatures.”
    This scenario lives in the mind of Walewijn den Boer, graduated from KABK in 2010.

    During the exhibition, visitors were able to feed a colony of microscopical pop-up creatures, save Chinese websites from a pageview-shortage, preserve an Amazone tribe from extinction by subscribing to its homepage and view a short documentary on how the living internet established itself.

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    Amber Case: We are all Cyborgs Now

    Technology is evolving us, says cyborg anthropologist Amber Case in her 8 minutes of TED. We become a screen-staring, button-clicking new version of homo sapiens, relying on “external brains” (cell phones and computers) to communicate, remember, even live out secondary lives. But will these machines ultimately connect or conquer us? Buckle up for some surprising insight into our cyborg selves.

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    Urban Birds

    It’s been known for a while that birds increase their singing volume to make themselves heard in the big city, but recent studies show that the city birds might even be evolving into a new species.

    “Silvereyes are common native Australian songbirds found in both town and country. “Their natural sounds would be masked by urban noise,” says Potvin. Such noise, generated mostly by road and air traffic, is at pitches between 1 and 4 kilohertz – bad news for silvereyes, which sing in the 2 to 6-kilohertz range.”

    The results of the study showed that City Birds sing in a much higher pitch (about 195Hz higher) and in a slower manner. The higher pitch makes the songs possible to recognize from all the city noise, while the slow singing could be to counter the sound-reflecting effect of the buildings, as longer pauses between their ‘syllables’ make them easier to understand.

    I just wonder when they change their color to match a certain other Urban Bird.

    Source: NewScientist

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    Next Nature Movie #1: Quest for Fire

    The Quest for Fire (1981) shows the Next Nature of 80.000 BC. Set in a world without highways, supermarkets, airports, Internet, television, farming, money or written language, the film depicts a group of Neanderthalers who are able to control fire, but cannot create it. Similar to our habit of carrying a mobile phone, these Neanderthalers consequentially wonder around with a mobile fire.

    When one day their fire is tragically smothered, the three bravest men leave the tribe and set out in a quest for fire. Throughout their journey they meet with various other humanoid species, of which the most outlandish is undoubtedly the Homo Sapiens, who impress not by their size or posture but even more by their ability to domesticate their surroundings through the use of tools and technique.

    While the Neanderthaler men are accustomed to a life in caves, the geeky Homo Sapiens amazes them with technological gadgets like pottery, an artificial cave created from animal skins, advanced weaponry and, most of all, their astonishing ability to create fire – which in its time was at least equally if not more impressive than any nano-, bio-, or digital technology of today.

    The Quest of Fire is a honest attempt to look at the origins of the species and the development of humanity through loss, tragedy, hardship, hostile elements and the beginnings of laughter, morality, community service, leadership, friendship and of course, love. A wondrous feat of body language performances as there is no truly discernible spoken dialogue.

    The film can be thought of as the first five minutes of Space Odyssey 2001 (1968) stretched up to a feature film length. Director Jean-Jacques Annaud manages to capture the essence of the human condition as ‘natural born cultural beings’. Which deepens our understanding of the ever-changing relation nature and makes us see some of the contemporary technological ‘upgrades’ in a different light.

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    Passed: 2001: a Space Odyssey (1968), The Gods must be Crazy (1980), Surplus – Terrorized into Being Consumers (2003).

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    Next Nature Movie #4: Blade Runner

    Look around you and try to find the most natural thing in the room you are in now. It is you. Now, you wouldn’t be so sure in the apocalyptic Los Angeles of 2019 depicted in Blade Runner (1982), where a Craig Venter–like entrepreneur called Eldon Tyrell, and his Tyrell Corporation create human clones, called replicants, used as servants to do work unfitted for humans.

    “More human, than human” is Tyrells motto, but when four replicants are out on the loose in a quest to expand their lifespan, which has been genetically programmed to a maximum four years – to avoid they will develop emotions of their own – Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrisson Ford) is assigned to ‘retire’ them.

    During his detective journey Deckard finds it increasingly difficult to draw the line between people and products. He falls in love with replicant Rachel, is saved by Roy and finally even doubts whether he might be a replicant himself.

    Blade runner is one of the best science fiction films ever made. It explore themes like the 1) dehumanization of people through a society shaped by technological and capitalistic excess. 2) The diminishing border between people and products. 3) The roles of creator and creation, their mutual enslavement, and their role reversal. 4) The nature of humanity itself: emotions, memory, desire, purpose, cruelty, vulnerability, self–awareness and personal identity.

    Is the quest for humanity a crime? Find out for yourself.

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    Passed: Frankenstein (1931), Metropolis (1927), The Stepford Wives (1975), Gattaca (1997), X-Men (2000), Children of Men (2006), Surrogates (2009)

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    Next Nature Movie #6: The Matrix

    In the last few decades there have been numerous films that take the struggle between mankind and its increasingly intelligent and autonomous technology as a leitmotif. Ranging from Stanley Kubriks magnificent artwork Space Oddysee 2001 (1968), which is better defined as a posthuman than a nextnature film, to Disney’s cartoonish Tron (1982), to the Terminator series (1984, 1991, 2003).

    The notion of technology becoming competitive with the people who created it, is clearly a thankful movie subject. Pity though, the issue is always projected in the future – at distance from our everyday lives – as this limits the opportunity to reflect upon the co-evolutionary state people and technology have been caught up for a long time already.

    Apparently this is a movie law difficult to get around, and one that directors Andy and Larry Wachowski willingly accept. Yet they do something brilliant. They have a philosophical idea that they want to get out, but they are aware their idea is difficult to sell. If they had made it too explicit their movie would have been an art house film, or a giant flop. So they took their idea and wrapped it up in a sci-fi story, in an action packed blockbuster.

    The subtle premises of The Matrix (1999), is that the people subjected by the machines aren’t aware of the artificial intelligence that is ruling their lives. Like the prisoners in Plato’s Cave they’re blind to the simulation drawn before their eyes – a situation only stirred up with the arrival of the manga style dressed Christ–like savior Thomas Anderson, aka Neo, aka The One, played by a perfectly casted Keanu Reeves. Postmodernity in the overdrive? That’s not giving enough credit.

    Through their syncretic cocktail of ingredients from western and non-western philosophy (*), art and religion, the Wachowski brothers manage to achieve exactly what they want. Like a Trojan horse, they’ve planted something into your mind, the seed of doubt, even if you have no idea it’s there, yet it’s there. That voice in the back of your mind that something is wrong. That feeling you got left with after seeing the movie that it wasn’t just about computers and artificial intelligence but about something else, something more important, something you’re familiar with but just can’t put your finger on.

    The Matrix is a philosophical film that has cut through an entire generation, which now thinks differently about the technology in their surroundings than any generation before them. They’re aware that there may never be a day that technology awakes, becomes conscious and – politely or impolitely – introduces itself to us. They’re aware that this doesn’t withstand that technology is a strong all-pervasive force in our lives: A force that is not only driven by us, but in turn, also drives us. What is the Matrix, you ask? Something closer to reality than you think.

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    (*) Prior to the start of the filming the Wachowski brothers required the principal actors of the film to read three books: ‘Simulacra and Simulations’, by Jean Baudrillard, ‘Out of Control’ by Kevin Kelly, and ‘Introducing Evolutionary Psychology’ by Dylan Evans.

    Passed: Alphaville (1965), Space Oddysee 2001 (1968), Tron (1982), Tetsuo the Iron Man (1989), Terminator 2 (1991), Ghost in the Shell (1995), Technocalyps (2006).

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    Next Nature Movie #10 – Idiocracy

    As we are nearing the end of the year, and anticipate you might have some time to watch a film, we discus our top 10 Next Nature movies.

    Idiocracy (2006) is not a great film, honestly you will find it rather corny if you are older than twelve and chances are you might not make it to the end – so be warned. Yet, its basic premise is so thoroughly next nature, this flick still made our list.

    The film opens with the observation that technological achievements not only result in a smarter environment, but also in dumber people – without natural predators, the evolution of the human species does not necessarily favor the quickest, smartest, and strongest people for progression of genes. Over time, the co-evolution between people and technology results in an idiocratic society in which citizens are consumers, garbage dumps have the size of skyscrapers and plants are watered with lemonade.

    It’s not quite as damning a dystopia as 1984, but this movie paints an ugly future for our culture. In fact, this movie is essentially Planet of the Apes (1968), but with people who are the mental equivalent of apes. More confronting. We crave for a more sophisticated remake of Idiocracy, although its rudimentary quality is perhaps the point.

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    Passed: 1984 (1984), The Planet of the Apes (1968)

  • Botnet Storm

    Botnet Storm

    No, this is not some solar system far, far away. Closer than you think, this is is a visualization of a botnet storm. For all you know this malicious virus, or one of its siblings, is controlling your computer – spamming thousands of innocent internet users on your behalf – at this moment. Feeling paranoid already? Yes, next nature can be harsh sometimes.

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    Nomadic Plants

    Nomadic Plants are a species assembled from a group of robotic-electronic-biological organisms living in symbiosis in order to survive in habitats affected by human activity.

    The nomadic plant automatically moves towards water when its bacteria require nourishment. It contains vegetation and microorganisms living symbiotically inside the body of the apparatus. The robot draws water from a contaminated river, decomposes its elements, helps to create energy to feed its brain circuits, and the surplus is then used to create life, maintaining plants that, at once, complete their own life cycle.

    Gilberto Esparza created these Nomadic Plants as a metaphor for the supposed alienation of the human condition and the impact its activity has on its environment. By creating these plants nomadic plants, which obviously haven’t evolved by themselves, its creator hopes to instigate critical reflections on the ambiguity of the force wielded by technology.

    Seen at HAIP Festival – New Nature.

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    Engineered Bacteria heal Cracks in Walls

    Researchers have designed bacteria that can produce a special glue to knit together cracks in concrete structures.

    Technews Daily reports the genetically modified microbes have been engineered to swim down fine cracks in concrete and once at the bottom produce a mixture of calcium carbonate and a bacterial glue. The building is “knitted” back together as the glue combines with the filamentous bacterial cells and hardens to the same strength as the surrounding concrete.

    The bacterium tweaked by the researchers is called Bacillus subtilis and is commonly found in soil. Accordingly, the research team calls its building-healing agent “BacillaFilla.” Its spores start germinating only when they make contact with concrete – triggered by the very specific pH of the material – and they have a built-in self-destruct gene that prevents them from proliferating away from the concrete target.

    Via MSNBC News. Thanks Jan van der Asdonk.

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    Essay: From Main Street to the Mansion: Disney, Playboy and the Next Nature of Sex and Death

    Nature demanded that we make a choice between immortality and sex, but the Next Nature of the 21st century may not. For help, we can look back to the 20th Century, which had many storytellers playing with the parameters of the sex equals death equation. None were more successful than two young men from the Midwest who ended up here in Southern California, making their dreams in to reality which Los Angeles always promises, but rarely delivers. Walt Disney and Hugh Hefner, who seem miles apart, are in fact two sides of the same coin, flipping to decide what the Next Nature of sex and death will be.


    Life itself had a choice to make early on. Would life choose unchanging immortality, or infinite mutability punctuated by death and rebirth? Though single-celled organisms are still around, life in its wisdom abandoned self-replication and embraced sex, the intertwining of individuals to produce different offspring, which adapt to their environments, and grow into their own sexual maturity to repeat the process. In other words, life would rather fuck and evolve than endure the stasis of immortality. Life traded sex for death, and we are all the better for it.

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    Symphony of Science

    As it is Sunday today, lets indulge in a scientific spiritual music video.

    Created by John Boswell. Thanks Finnigans Riverrun.

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    European Parliament goes Next Nature

    Alright the title “Making Perfect Life”‘ may sound a bit 20th-century-modernistic-techno-optimistic-naive, but for the rest we are confident this conference is going to be pretty good study material for the European parliament members.

    “Biology is increasingly engineered in much the same way as technology, while technology is becoming more and more life-like. These two engineering trends not only intensify current debates about the desirability and acceptability of genetic engineering and human enhancement, but also raises novel issues, like who’s in control of machines with a life of their own? The social and political consequences of these two bio-engineering trends are discussed at the conference Making Perfect Life on November 10th 2010 in the European Parliament in Brussels.”

    Organized by our friends of the Rathenau Institute. And guess what, you can register too.

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    Are Mushrooms the New Plastic?

    Mushroom based plastics? Designer Eben Bayer must have eaten too much of the wondrous chanterelles perhaps? No seriously, the man is turning his vision into a reality with an utterly–innovative–fungus–grown–plastics–packaging–material.

    Welcome in the 21th century folks! Yet we couldn’t help noticing that Eben in his TED talk presents a very traditional, static idea of nature. Amazing that a guy who grows plastics from mushrooms gives a talk so deprived of next nature thinking (rather than seeing nature as static, we should perceive it as a dynamic force that changes along with us).

    Hence, we can’t help but wonder what Eben thinks of the bugs that eat plastic – rest a sure, we applaud him nonetheless for his innovative mushroom material.

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  • Goodbye, Nature vs Nurture

    Talking about nature and nurture as separate, clear-cut forces is far adrift from the complexities of developmental science, says Evelyn Fox Keller in NewScientist.

    ONE of the most striking features of the nature/nurture debate, the argument over the relative roles of genes and environment in human nature, is the frequency with which we read it has been resolved (the answer is neither nature nor nurture, but both) while at the same time we see the debate refuses to die. So what is it that evokes such contradictory claims, that persists in confounding us? Indeed, what is the debate really about?

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