Our group project involves many different topics that at first we had trouble stringing together in a cohesive way. Our discussion with Dr. Vesna was useful in illuminating a nice structure to follow. Our piece will be split into two sections: how the environment can help us, and how we can help help the environment. We hope to lace these two ideas together through a journey of scale - discussing detailed examples of biomimicry and biophilia (how nature helps us) and then transitioning into larger topics of perception and climate change (how we must help nature). We may include a graphical introduction, similar to a Prezi, where the reader can click portions of the image and be taken to that section of the book. We will highlight the necessity of a reciprocal relationship with nature and use the novel coronavirus pandemic as a case study/platform to introduce artistic/architectural pieces to bolster this relationship.
Below is a rough draft of my paper thus far. I need about 1000 more words to hit the needed word count, but I am having trouble figuring out what to expand on. I would love for any feedback regarding where to go next, or what needs to be clarified. I'm thinking about including a section about traditions and customs of groups of people who do have a reciprocal relationship with nature and how others can learn from those customs.
Thus far, we have seen innovative cases of biomimicry and biophilia – particularly in sourcing from Mother Nature to help us live cleaner and more wellness-oriented lifestyles. Our reliance on the Earth is not new, and anthropogenic effects on the planet and its climate bear disastrous implications for the future of many organisms, including ourselves (Tilman 2001). While most humans take from the Earth, very few give back. This discrepancy must be changed to combat dangerous trends of climate change. This change begins with altering our perception of the environment around us. As you will go on to read in this section, drastic change in the way we think about the Earth is necessary to create a sustainable relationship with our planet. This quest begins with elucidating how we respond to our surroundings, for how we perceive our surroundings is the first step in interacting with our environment.
Responding to our environment is as much about awareness and observation as it is perception. Perception is the organization and interpretation of the sensory information we extract from our surroundings (Merriam Webster). An essential element to organizing information is categorization, or grouping information based on common elements or characteristics in the experiences (Trafton 2011). The human brain’s ability to categorize information is in part what makes us such complex creatures. Categorization allows us to respond to situations we have never experienced before, because the brain is able to extract generalized information from previous experiences that it recognizes are like the one at hand (Seger 2012). One primary characteristic the brain uses to categorize objects is size (Julian 2017).
Size plays a Darwinian role in perception. Variations in real-world size can indicate different ecological functions (Julian 2017). Our brain recognizes an apple as smaller than us, perhaps contributing to the innocuous connotation of an apple. On the other hand, a bear’s large size relative to us highlights the threatening nature of the animal.
Figure 1. Stimulation of Brain Regions based on Object Size (Konkle 2012). Here we see examples of small and large objects shown to subjects in this study and the corresponding region of the brain involved in recognizing and categorizing those objects.
Discuss more about study?
Konkle and colleagues conducted an fMRI study where patients were shown images of objects and told to imagine certain objects at various sizes. In all the tests, the objects were relevant to a real-world size and were familiar to the subjects (Konkle 2012). Size remains an important tool for perception in these real-world scenarios, but size fails as a categorization technique in the extremes. How does the human brain perceive objects that are not real-world size, either the very large or the very small?
IMAGINING THE VERY LARGE
Many notable scientists and scientific writers have long debated the human brain’s inability to understand the vastness and complexity of our Universe (Krulwich 2013). The human experience is built on concepts with a beginning and an end, like seconds or weeks (Tater 2015). So how do we process the Universe, something that is infinitely big and has no beginning or end?
In response to this question, Doug Wheeler created the “Infinity Environment”, an exhibit at the David Zwirner Gallery in New York City. The “Infinity Environment” is a bright, white room with curved edges and angled lighting to limit shadows. It mimics the sensation of looking into an infinity (Wolchover 2012).
Figure 2. The “Infinity Environment” (Wolchover 2012).
This installation is an optical illusion, and viewers could be disillusioned by walking forward into the wall or throwing something against it. Optical illusions have been used to show infinities since the invention of the kaleidoscope in 1816 (Brecher 2017). Notably, Gary Alison’s piece “Cosmos” is a holoscope, an object with mirrors on the inside, that contrasts the two notions we have about our Universe. From the inside, our Universe appears infinite, just as the mirrors on the inside of “Cosmos” create an inescapable infinity environment. The external closed edges of “Cosmos” highlight our simultaneous hope that the Universe is finite, that it has an edge. Of course, from the inside you cannot tell this is the case. In “Cosmos”, the optical illusion of inifnity is not as easily defeated.
Figure 3. “Cosmos” (Brecher 2017).
Through physical manipulation of dimensions and lighting, Doug Wheeler simulates the sensation of infinity in our Universe with “Infinity Environment” (Wolchover 2012). Gary Alison elevates this sensation to a more humanistic perspective with his holoscope “Cosmos” (Brecher 2017). By creating an internal infinity with mirrors in a closed object, Alison comments on the contrasting feelings humans have about the Universe: from the inside it is infinite, yet we hope it has a finite edge (even though current science suggests it does not). Although the brain cannot categorize the Universe because of its infinite size, artists have highlighted sensations brought on by our Universe and infinite size. Artists have also attempted to aid our perception of the very small.
IMAGINING THE VERY SMALL
Despite being the smallest creatures on Earth, bacteria play an essential role in our lives and the planet’s biome. We have a complex relationship with these single-celled organisms that swings between annihilation with the overuse of antiseptic and antibiotics, and reverence with the growing interest in the gut microbiome and probiotics. The role of bacteria in our lives is too complex to settle on one side of the spectrum (Yong 2016). The confusion and complexity of the current sentiment toward bacteria is compounded by our inability to even see them, limiting our ability to categorize these organisms by size to help our understanding. Many artists have aided in the visualization of bacteria by changing scale through magnification or inverting expected scale.
Termed by the medium that bacteria are usually cultivated in, “agar art” is a growing attempt to visualize bacteria and invoke a positive connotation on their existence. Different bacterial strains are grown in a patterns to create an image, which can be quite detailed. The bacteria are only visible when they form colonies; agar art magnifies the bacteria to increase the audience’s awareness of the organism and make it relevant to realms outside of the microbiology community.
Figure 4. “A Battle of Two Seasons” (Tan 2018).
Beyond simple magnification to highlight scale, artists have also inverted scales to visualize small objects. In “The Butterfly Kite”, Nic Joly inverts the expected scale of a butterfly and a human. This piece calls for a change in perception regarding human presence on the planet. The human is attached to the butterfly via a string, highlighting our undeniable tie to nature. However, through this string, the human is also trying to control the butterfly as a kite, attempting to guide its natural path through the sky. Despite the butterfly’s large size in comparison to the human, the human still tries to maintain the control, though it may be futile. Based on the scale shown, the butterfly may just fly off with the human. In other words, Nature takes final control. Perhaps “The Butterfly Kite” is a call to change the age-old perception many humans have – it is our duty to control nature, to guide it away from its natural path to suit our needs.
Figure 4. “The Butterfly Kite” (Miniature Art).
Agar art magnifies the scale of its bacterial subjects, making them into a recognizable, artistic form. This act challenges the public’s view of bacteria as something needing to be eradicated and familiarizes the audience with microbiological concepts. Inversion of scale, such as in “The Butterfly Kite”, works to redefine the role of humans in nature by miniaturizing humans relative to traditionally smaller organisms, like insects. Underlying suggestions about control and manipulation of nature to satisfy human needs contrast with the possibility that Mother Earth will ultimately have control. Two simple approaches to scale when visualizing the very small bring diverse concepts to the table and are promising techniques for visualizing another very small subject, the novel coronavirus. Perhaps with inversion and magnification of scale, we can familiarize the novel coronavirus and suggest some fundamental changes to our perception of our environment that are needed to overcome the impact of the virus on our communities.
VISUALIZING THE NOVEL CORONAVIRUS
Good human eyes can see objects with a width of about 0.04mm. This is about the width of a human hair (Wong). Artists have aided in the visualization of bacteria, single-celled organisms about 2 micrometers or 0.002mm, something about 20 times the size of the SARS-CoV-2 (Levin 2015). In contrast, SARS-CoV-2 (the virus causing COVID-19 infection) is about 120nm wide (Coronavirus 2020). 120nm is 0.000120mm, or 3 thousandths of the width of a human hair.
Thus far, artists have tackled visualizing something so small by instead creating work about the feelings and ideas the pandemic have brought on. Rather than try to visualize the almost infinitely small, they have worked to visualize conceptual, non-concrete ideas like determination, fear, and unity. These ideas can be considered infinitely large, just like the Universe, they cannot be given a definite size and thus categorized by size characteristics. For example, “Front Line” by Terrance Osborne, an allusion to World War II’s Rosie the Riveter, invokes ideas of determination, strength, and unity. It calls upon the strength of our nation in a time of crisis and lauds the work of healthcare personnel.
Figure 5. “Front Line” (Osborne).
Pieces centered on depicting the virus rather than its affects are successful in magnifying scale for better visualizing. Long’s piece, “CD Virus” not only bears a striking similarity to SARS-Cov-2, but also highlights the sense of disorder and wildness associated with the virus. The abundant branches pointing in all directions create an image of a virus with familiar components, but its overall structure and chaotic and foreign. The reflective CDs act as mirrors, calling to light the all too familiar phrase “Humans are the virus” (Garcia 2020).
Figure 6. “CD Virus” (Long).
Jerram’s glass replica of SARS-CoV-2 is a striking representation of intricate biological knowledge and scale magnification.
Figure 7. “Coronavirus COVID-19” (Jerram 2020).
Art plays a monumental role in representing communities and inspiring growth during crises and is a powerful medium during the current pandemic (Affairs 2020). Yet, helping the brain understand the virus’s small size is not enough to guide the change needed at this time. The contrasting familiarity and chaos in Long’s “CD Virus” should be coupled with the determination in “Front Line” and the scale magnification and biological knowledge in Jerram’s glass piece. Only with each of these features, could a coronavirus art piece begin to unravel the effects of the pandemic while familiarizing the audience with the virus itself.
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Tilman Human-caused environmental change: Impacts on plant diversity and evolution
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Yong 2016 I contain multitudes book