Adaptability in an Accelerating World (1 of 3)


“Life is flux.”

-Heraclitus of Ephesus (c. 500 BCE)

“The only lasting truth is change.”

-Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower (1993)

Accelerating Change

The philosopher Heraclitus lived about 2,500 years ago, back when most people could generally expect to live a life much like their parents and grandparents, and then fully expect to pass along a similar life to their children and grandchildren. In fact, most of humanity until quite recently lived in such a time. Plant in the spring; harvest in the fall. Bring the goats to high pasture in the summer; shelter in the valley below in the winter. Celebrate the annual rituals in the well-known ways over and over, generation after generation, and the divine will provide. Et cetera. Yet even with that slow, cyclical pace of life, observant people like Heraclitus could see that nothing ever really stays the same. He famously pointed out that even though a river may appear the same one day to the next, you can never truly step in the same river twice. So part of being a wise adult is learning how to deal with the inevitability of change.

So what about us? We, the frazzled masses of the 21st century? As we can see before our very eyes (and, like, on graphs and stuff), the rate of technological change in our world is rapidly accelerating. Furthermore, despite some potential hold-ups involving the physical limits of computer processing speed, overall technological change is likely to continue at a breakneck speed for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately for us planner-aheader types, we can’t predict exactly how it will develop, but we can be reasonably certain that it will develop. And it should go without saying that technological change drives forward economic, social, and environmental change, for better or for worse.

Yet humans, for all practical purposes, are staying exactly the same as we’ve ever been. We’re the same as we were in the 1990’s when Octavia Butler published her chilling and prescient Parable of the Sower, quoted above. We’re the same as we were when Heraclitus was wandering around the Mediterranean countryside, musing on the nature of the universe while generally trying to avoid everybody in it (he was famously misanthropic). For that matter, we’re basically the same as we were circa 200,000 years ago when our ancestors were moseying around the grasslands, snacking on roots and berries and the occasional woolly mammoth or whatever. Same old homo sapiens.

Yet wherever and whenever we find ourselves – in a prehistoric savanna, an unexplored arctic tundra, a theocratic city-state, a sanitized modern suburb, or a maze-like city of 20+ million others – humans have always found a way to survive and sometimes even thrive. How?


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Dirt, Carbon, Shit & Saving the World

Image source: Beiler, K., Durall, D., Simard, S., Maxwell, S., & Kretzer, A. (2010) Architecture of the wood‐wide web: Rhizopogon spp. genets link multiple Douglas‐fir cohorts. New Phytologist. 185 (2). p543-553.

What on earth possessed me to move into an apartment without a damn dishwasher? I hate – really, it’s not too strong of  a word – I HATE doing dishes. It’s mind-numbingly boring task without end. Ugh. I guess I was bamboozled by the picture windows and the “old world charm.”

Anyway, the only thing that gets me through this onerous domestic task is listening to captivating podcasts. For a podcast to capture my antsy mind, it generally has to be (1) sciencey or philosophical in nature, (2) somewhat unpredictable, and (3) well-produced and scripted. I rarely have the patience to listen to any unscripted (i.e. rambling chit-chat) podcast all the way to the end, regardless of content. That said, I do sometimes enjoy Russ Roberts’ wide-ranging, off-the-cuff, nerdily-titled interview show EconTalk. He has a wonderful way of selecting interesting guests, and then just totally geeking out with them on their area of expertise in a really authentic way that I find endearing, and occasionally even captivating.

This week I scrubbed and lathered away to a lively interview with Moises Velasquez-Manoff about his recent article on regenerative agriculture and climate science in the New York Times Magazine. I actually listened to the end. (You could too!) Here’s my take on Velasquez-Manoff’s story.


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