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Writing in the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science blog Auxiliary Hypotheses, widely published University of Exeter philosopher John Dupré recently announced a project entitled A Process Ontology for Contemporary Biology (PROBIO).

According to Dupré, who is director of Egenis, the Center for the Study of the Life Sciences (formerly the ESRC Center for Genomics and Society), the project aims to “redress the balance” between substance based and processual views within the philosophy of science. Giving the example of the cellular structure of the human body — where 90% of a body’s cells are microbial symbionts —  Dupré notes that

“In general, it seems increasingly plausible that there is no unique way of distinguishing biological things from the multiple processes by which they are sustained, which supports the hypothesis that the ontology of biological things is less fundamental than that of living processes.”

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The preliminary program is up for the third Under Western Skies conference, “Intersections of Environments, Technologies, Communities,” which will be held in a couple of weeks at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta.

And it looks fantastic. I think the biennial UWS gatherings are becoming one of the leading interdisciplinary forums for environmental thinking, critique, and engaged scholarship.

The topics cover a remarkable range: environmental politics, climate change activism, fossil fuel and resource conflicts (tar sands being prominently featured), indigenous struggles, eco-art and aesthetics, ecopoetics and literature, music and acoustic ecology, film and media, pedagogy, animals, ecophilosophy, e-waste, ecological economics, geoengineering, disaster planning and preparedness, health, food, and much more.

Keynotes and plenary activities cover a similar range, from indigenous activists Idle No More and Winona LaDuke (who will speak on the Keystone XL pipeline) to anthropologist Tim Ingold, western historian Patti Limerick, eco-religion scholar Bron Taylor (speaking on “Terrapolilitan Earth Civilization: Toward an Evolutionary and Naturalistic Environmental Ethics”), ecologist David Schindler, and Justice Thomas Berger (best known for his role in the Mackenzie Pipeline Inquiry). They even found a spot for my own keynote, entitled “From the Age of the World Motion Picture to the Archive, the Cloud, and the Commons.”

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The following is a guest post by Clive Hamilton, professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University in Canberra, Australia. It continues the Immanence series “Debating the Anthropocene.” See herehere, and here for previous articles in the series. (And note that some lengthy comments have been added to the previous post by Jan Zalasiewicz, Kieran Suckling, and others.)

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The Anthropocene: Too Serious for Post-Modern Games

by Clive Hamilton

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[Note: This post has been edited slightly since it was first published, to clarify the difference between sound waves and radio waves.]

Everything new under the sun begins as an anomaly; but not everything thought to be new is genuinely new. Everything new and anomalous, if studied in the right way, can be explained; but it may take years of creative trial and error before we know what that “right way” is.

Those might be the twin mottos of the research field known as anomalistics — a field I’ve been interested in, without necessarily knowing it, since I read J. Allen Hynek’s book The UFO Experience at about age twelve. Hynek was the astronomer and scientific skeptic appointed to consult the U. S. Air Force on their Project Blue Book, started in 1952 to scientifically analyze UFO-related data and determine whether they indicated any threat to U. S. national security. Over the course of a few decades, Hynek came to believe in the reality of something he called the “UFO experience,” while never quite accepting the main explanations of that experience ascribed to it by the majority of its experiencers. (Briefly, the two predominant explanations are known as “ETI,” or the Extraterrestrial Intelligence explanation, and “EDI,” or the Extradimensional Intelligence explanation.)

The anomaly I’ve become particularly interested in recently is one known by some as “the Hum,” or “the Global Hum,” and it is one that I believe is somewhere on the trajectory of going from anomalous to explained. It’s also one that I believe has implications for how we think of the Anthropocene.

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Kieran Suckling’s post Against the Anthropocene, originally posted here on July 7 and subsequently shared with the International Commission on Stratigraphy’s Anthropocene Working Group by Andy Revkin, has elicited a round of emailed back-and-forths from some noteworthy individuals, including paleobiologist Jan Zalasiewicz and paleoecologist Anthony Barnosky.

As this debate would be of interest to readers of this blog (and because it hasn’t been shared elsewhere), I’ve decided to share some of that conversation by permission of the individuals involved.

Tony Barnosky first sent around his article Palaeontological evidence for defining the Anthropocene, referring to it in a response to Suckling as follows:

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The following is a guest post by Kieran Suckling, Executive Director of the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity. It follows the discussion begun here and in some AESS conference sessions, including Andy Revkin’s keynote talk (viewable here) and responses to it (such as Clive Hamilton’s). 

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In considering why the name “Anthropocene” has been proposed, why it has been embraced by many, and what might make a better alternative, it is instructive to look at how geologists have named previous epochs. From such a view, “Anthropocene” immediately stands out as an anomaly.

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I’ll be the guest speaker at the Environmental Studies colloquium at the Antioch University New England Graduate School tomorrow.

Title of my talk: “Culturing Nature: Ecology, Gaia, and the Parliament of Lively Things.”

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The new issue of Parrhesia: A Journal of Critical Philosophy includes work by Quentin Meillassoux, Tristan Garcia, a review panel discussing Katrin Pahl’s Tropes of Transport: Hegel and Emotion, and a piece by me on the objects-processes debate in speculative realist philosophy.

The latter, entitled “Beatnik Brothers? Between Graham Harman and the Deleuzo-Whiteheadian Axis,” is an updated version of the talk I gave at the 2012 Nonhuman Turn conference at the University of Milwaukee’s Center for 21st Century Studies.

The complete issue can be downloaded here.

Two quick observations about art and ecology at Welcome to the Anthropocene:

1) I’m impressed with how well art has been integrated into the program, thanks in part to Jennifer Joy‘s work in weaving her own performances with a troupe of local artists and dancers throughout the events. (And how none of it is the cloying kind of art one sometimes finds when environmentalism and art meet.) This should be the goal of any interdisciplinary environmental conference or gathering; this conference, in many ways, raises the bar.

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The following are the comments I prepared for the roundtable “The Arts and Humanities Respond to the Anthropocene.” They follow in the line of critical thinking on the Anthropocene initiated by gatherings like the Anthropocene Project (see here, here, and here, and some of the posts at A(S)CENE) and journals like Environmental Humanities.

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As a cultural theorist, I come to the topic naturally asking what the different theoretical paradigms in cultural and environmental theory can say about this term “Anthropocene.” These paradigms stretch across a spectrum that can be very loosely grouped into “realist” approaches and “constructivist” approaches.

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