from the world's big
Terraform Mars? How about Earth?
Fauna and flora refuse to go quietly into the Anthropocene.
- Pioneers of the Greater Holocene plan to strike back against concrete.
- Seed packets and plant nutrients are the weapons of choice for standing up to humanity's destructive impact.
- Hopeless? Maybe. Poignant? Absolutely.
We're seeing a lot of references to Earth entering a new epoch characterized by all the changes — okay, damage — we've wrought upon the planet.
That epoch, of course, is referred to as the Anthropocene, and as soon as the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) decides that we've truly left a sufficient enough mark/stain on the place, it's out of the Holocene and into the Anthropocene we go.
Some people are just not having it, though. In the same way that many pagan believers stood resolute against the onrush of Christianity, Pioneers of the Greater Holocene plan to populate cracks in the conquering Anthropocene with surviving floral of the Holocene.
"The International Union of Geological Sciences is expected soon to proclaim a new epoch dubbed the Anthropocene," says Pioneers founder, experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats. "While their work is laudable, we need to take it as a challenge. We should do all we can to protect and promote the Holocene, the geological epoch we inherited."
While no one expects the Pioneers to actually prevent our epoch of reckoning, the (literally) grassroots guerrilla campaign still has something to contribute to the conversation.
Fudging the geological record
Image source: Lukasz Kochanek / Shutterstock
The Holocene era began after the last ice age 11,700 years ago. The word's meaning is "entirely recent." However, since atmospheric scientist and Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen popularized the concept of the Anthropocene in 2000, a growing number consider it a sensible delineation given humanity's track record of mass plant and animal extinctions, pollution, and damage to the atmosphere.
With geologic eras defined by layers they leave in geographical strata, the IUGS hasn't yet identified an exact point — at which they'd place a "golden spike" — where the Holocene layer would give way to the Anthropocene.
Image source: Pioneers of the Greater Holocene
What Keats is putting together is a grassroots campaign to terraform — or re-terraform, really — our cities, beginning with a burg under rapid development: San Francisco. "The Bay Area has a reputation for disruption. Preventing a new epoch by re-terraforming the planet is the ultimate disruptive act," says Keats. He's proposing a collaboration "with plants, fungi and bacteria to rewild the planet."
What Keats specifically plans is that native-grass seed packets will be distributed throughout SF, and that these seeds "will take root wherever people spread them, from empty lots to busy streets." His hope is that "Over time, these grasses will provide the groundwork for forests to flourish within the urban matrix, not as decorative features for humans but as habitats where all species meet as equals."
In addition to the seed packets, he plans for the San Francisco campaign to involve the distribution of a nutrient mix for "lichens, symbiotic organisms capable of transforming concrete into soil while also purifying the atmosphere."
The Pioneers, he suggests, will eventually encompass "a global network of concerned humans and other organisms from all phyla."
A touching reminder
Image source: Pioneers of the Greater Holocene
Big Think readers know Keats as the face behind a number of projects that puckishly illuminate what are actually pretty important ideas, and this one is no exception. Though largely a symbolic and definitely tongue-in-cheek effort, it also aims to serve as reminder of a choice we barely seem to be consciously making: We're so ready to give up a place that has everything we need, not to mention in a form that's often achingly beautiful. There's a certain sweet sadness in the mental image of plants quixotically fighting their way through cracks in pavement and walls to survive.
"This layer of crust we live on is really quite pleasant," says Keats. He suggests that, even now, "We have the potential to bound the human stratum, and perhaps even to remediate it, putting the Anthropocene behind us as an unfortunate geological interlude."
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Why do so many people encounter beings after smoking large doses of DMT?
- DMT is arguably the most powerful psychedelic drug on the planet, capable of producing intense hallucinations.
- Researchers recently surveyed more than 2,000 DMT users about their encounters with 'entities' while tripping, finding that respondents often considered these strange encounters to be positive and meaningful.
- The majority of respondents believed the beings they encountered were not hallucinations.
What are DMT beings?<p>Do DMT entities actually exist in some other dimension, or are they hallucinations that the brain generates when its visual processing system is overwhelmed by a powerful tryptamine?<br></p><p>The late American ethnobotanist Terence McKenna believed that DMT beings — which he called "machine elves" — were real. Here's how he once <a href="https://www.ranker.com/list/dmt-machine-elves-facts/inigo-gonzalez" target="_blank">described</a> one of his DMT experiences:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I sank to the floor. I [experienced] this hallucination of tumbling forward into these fractal geometric spaces made of light and then I found myself in the equivalent of the Pope's private chapel and there were insect elf machines proffering strange little tablets with strange writing on them, and I was aghast, completely appalled, because [in] a matter of seconds... my entire expectation of the nature of the world was just being shredded in front of me. I've never actually gotten over it.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">These self-transforming machine elf creatures were speaking in a colored language which condensed into rotating machines that were like Fabergé eggs but crafted out of luminescent superconducting ceramics and liquid crystal gels. All this stuff was just so weird and so alien and so un-English-able that it was a complete shock — I mean, the literal turning inside out of [my] intellectual universe!"</p><p>McKenna believed machine elves exist in alternate realities, which form a "<a href="https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/old-favourites-the-archaic-revival-1991-by-terence-mckenna-1.3924887" target="_blank">raging universe of active intelligence that is transhuman, hyperdimensional, and extremely alien.</a>" But he was far from the first to believe that DMT is a doorway to other realms.</p><p>Indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin have used ayahuasca in religious ceremonies for centuries, though no one is quite sure when they first started experimenting with the psychedelic brew. The Jibaro people of the Ecuadorian rainforest believed ayahuasca allowed regular people, not just shamans, to <a href="https://atrium.lib.uoguelph.ca/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10214/17902/RichardsonG_202004_HonThesis.pdf?sequence=3" target="_blank">speak directly to the gods</a>. The 19th-century Ecuadorian geographer Villavicencio wrote of other Amazonian shamans who used ahaysuca (known as the "vine of the dead") to contact spirits and foresee enemy battle plans.</p><p>In the West, research on DMT experiences has been sparse yet interesting. The psychiatrist Rick Strassman conducted some of the first human DMT trials at the University of New Mexico in the early 1990s. He found that <a href="https://www.erowid.org/chemicals/dmt/dmt_article3.shtml" target="_blank">"at least half"</a> of his research subjects had encountered some form of entity after taking DMT.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I was neither intellectually nor emotionally prepared for the frequency with which contact with beings occurred in our studies, nor the often utterly bizarre nature of these experiences," Strassman wrote in his book "DMT The Spirit Molecule".</p>
Manuel Medir / Getty<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Whenever I tried to pull any information out of the entities regarding themselves, the data that was given up was always relevant only to me. The elves could not give me any piece of data I did not already know, nor could their existence be sustained under any kind of prolonged scrutiny."</p><p>It's also worth noting that not all people who smoke DMT see beings, and that some see beings that look <a href="https://www.erowid.org/chemicals/dmt/dmt_article3.shtml" target="_blank">nothing like elves or aliens</a>. The diversity of these reports seems to count against the argument that DMT beings exist in some objective alternate reality.</p><p>In other words, if DMT beings exist in some other dimension, shouldn't they appear the same to anyone who visits that dimension? Or do the beings assume a different appearance based on who's looking? Or are there many types of beings in the DMT universe, but most look like elves? </p><p>You might start seeing elves just trying to sort this stuff out.</p><p>Ultimately, nobody knows exactly why DMT beings take the forms they do, or whether they're just figments of overstimulated imaginations. And the answers might be beside the point. </p><p>In the recent survey, 60 percent of participants said their encounter with DMT beings "produced a desirable alteration in their conception of reality whereas only 1% indicated an undesirable alteration in their conception of reality."</p><p>DMT beings may be nothing more than projections of the subconscious mind. But these bizarre encounters do help some people find real meaning, whether it's through personal revelation or the raw power of ontological shock.</p>
President Vladimir Putin announces approval of Russia's coronavirus vaccine but scientists warn it may be unsafe.
A new coronavirus vaccine on display at the Nikolai Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, Russia.
Credit: Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr/ Russian Direct Investment Fund via AP
Medical workers draw blood from volunteers participating in a trial of a coronavirus vaccine at the Budenko Main Military Hospital outside Moscow, Russia.
Credit: Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP
A report from the New York Times raises questions over how the teletherapy startup Talkspace handles user data.
- In the report, several former employees said that "individual users' anonymized conversations were routinely reviewed and mined for insights."
- Talkspace denied using user data for marketing purposes, though it acknowledged that it looks at client transcripts to improve its services.
- It's still unclear whether teletherapy is as effective as traditional therapy.
Talkspace.com<p>Former employees also questioned the legitimacy of certain interventions by the company into client-therapist interactions. For example, after one therapist sent a client a link to an online anxiety worksheet, a company representative instructed her to try to keep clients inside the app.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I was like, 'How do you know I did that?'" Karissa Brennan, a therapist who worked with Talkspace from 2015 to 2017, told the Times. "They said it was private, but it wasn't."</p><p>Other former employees said the company would pay special attention to its "enterprise partner" clients, who worked at companies like Google. One therapist said Talkspace contacted her for taking too long to respond to Google clients.</p><p>Talkspace responded to the Times with a Medium <a href="https://medium.com/@founders_22883/talkspace-founders-respond-to-a-new-york-times-article-78d6f5c45c59" target="_blank">post</a>, which claimed the Times report contained false and "uninformed assertions."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Talkspace is a HIPAA/HITECH and SOC2 approved platform, audited annually by external vendors, and has deployed additional technologies to keep its data safe, exceeding all existing regulatory requirements," the post states.</p>