Terraformation, Emergence and Human Agency (edited)


I think often about Taolin's remarks in Trip (2018) on how "everything is fractal". This notion of fractality as that strange, ineffable phenomenon that underpins the logic of microcosms nicely ties with the concept of emergence; this refers to an entity or system having properties that its parts do not have on their own - we say we observe emergent properties when there is epistemic or ontological irreducibility to lower levels.

During my trip to Bali, I noticed similar patterns emerging across "natural" landscapes and anthropogenic marks. This aesthetic pattern is not uncanny, when we think about the self-similar characteristics across nature and culture. I like to think we are genetic expressions of nature. And as Taolin puts it:

But humans, being natural, are also fractal and so enjoy behaving and creating fractally.

bali-1 pictured: melasti beach, cliffs being tapered off by land developers to make way for luxury resorts the area is famous forr

bali-2 pictured: alien rock formations on the earthly ground

Thus, I had a loose conception, an idea:

terraformation, or any anthropogenic activity, is an emergent property of our earth's biosphere.

The pattern continuity in the images reveal the self-similarities across human action and nature. Our actions and the imprints we leave are fractals emerging from the same universal pattern.

Hence we should not be surprised at the Anthropocene—to delineate and call it out as such could be an erroneous diversion. The distinction between nature and technics is problematic.

Time and again, we hope that concepts of emergence from astrobiology and physics strengthen the post-anthropocentric thought, where we come to know our world through entanglements v of a cosmic web.

on terraformation

Why Terraformation, the geo-engineering process?

Interpretation of the cultural necessitates biology, geophysics, chemistry, etc., to be tools of knowledge permeable to one another.

Benjamin Bratton (Strelka Institute), architectural and design theorist, and Sara Imari Walker (ASU-SFI Center for Biosocial Complex Systems), theoretical physicist and astrobiologist, touched upon the concept 'terraformation' in different contexts. So I thought it worthwhile to poke at the convergences a little further, and understand where/why the disciplines might diverge.

Bratton now helms the Strelka Institute, spearheading a research initiative titled The Terraforming.

Terraforming, then, is defined as such:

The term 'terraforming' usually refers to transforming the ecosystems of other planets or moons to make them capable of supporting Earth-like life. However, the looming ecological consequences of human activities suggest that in the decades to come we might need to terraform our own planet if it is to remain a viable host for Earth-like life.

With this main argument, he puts forth an epistemological case for why we need a shift in understanding human agency, in order to save the planet and avoid the demise of our species.

The artificial is nature. Both terms are problematic, but this should suffice as a corrective to the current discourse. Our species is a result of the co-evolution with our ancient automated landscapes. He borrows from evolutionary thinking and descriptive facts about nature, to weave an imperative to humans, sentient as we are, to understand the artificial as natural processes, and with this premise, edge closer to a planetary-scale artificial program to terraform our own planet and away from the hostile climate which ironically the very same practice has built.

And so, he writes:

There is chemistry, abstraction and phase change, pattern and then collapse, and other things besides. Biology returns — but so does geology.

The observational tenacity of biopolitics will shift from human bodies, action, and opinions as disciplined vessels of sovereign voice to flows of biochemisry and energy…

Following the shift towards concepts in physics, one of his main assumption for this research program, in fact, interlocks with that from the field of astrobiophysics: the planet is artificially sentient.

Elsewhere, astrobiologist Sara Walker had an amazing podcast with Sean Carroll, and refers terraforming here to:

… in some sense the biosphere could reproduce itself, but in order to reproduce it would have to emerge a technological civilization that moved off-planet and terra-formed another planet to look exactly like our planet. And then you could think about planets as a whole, reproducing themselves.

To Walker, our biosphere counts as a unit of life.

Cross-planetary terraformation represents the reproducibility of our biosphere. Any fully mature biosphere can generate sufficiently advanced beings to develop the ability to migrate beyond the biosphere and alter other planets to allow their own form of life to exist on the surface.

I found this an elegant proposal, a repackaging of the ways we come to know our Blue Marble, the Earth.

Synergized with Walker's concept, could the terraformation of our own planet, thus, signify, a rebirth? A second chance at a newer biosphere, and, Life?

Terraformation could be a site in which the disciplines of cultural studies, origin of life, chemistry, biology, physics, converge.

Powerful terraforming enterprises in human history are tied to the cumulative force of capitalism and colonialism, linking resource extraction to industrial agriculture and urbanization.

Can the planetary-scaled engineering ameliorate hostile climate in which we live in? Can we re-invoke the recursive practice rooted in patterns of nature in terraforming thus re-engineering our earth? Re-orienting our evils require a shift in intention.