Enjoy our carefully crafted, yet always debatable and probably incomplete list of ten books that continue to inspire the next nature philosophy—gathered for you to read this summer. If you think we've missed something, feel free to enlighten us.
Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard
Simulations are now more meaningful than the reality they represent. Media technologies play a fundamental role in our construction of meaning. This is not necessarily a bad thing, nor is it entirely new. Yet, it has consequences for our understanding of virtual and real. Baudrillard uses the concepts of the simulacra - the copy without an original - and simulation. These terms are crucial to an understanding of the postmodern, addressing the concept of mass reproduction and reproducibility that characterizes our electronic media culture. Do we still have genuine experiences at all, or are we living in a Society of Simulations?
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Whereas representation attempts to absorb simulation by interpreting it as a false representation, simulation envelops the whole edifice of representation itself as a simulacrum.
Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, 1981
The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
We humans, and all other animals, are basically survival machines for the genes we carry in all our cells. These genes aim to replicate by way of propagation or infection. This guarantees not individual survival, but the endurance of the genes shared. Individuals, families, and their species are merely vehicles in that quest to survival. Today, memes behave much like genes, replicating themselves in order to live. Genes spread by bodily reproduction or by viral infection, while memes spread by imitation, leaping from brain to brain. Dawkins figured that although evolution made species adapt over time, people changed significantly, almost instantaneously through ‘memes’, the common denominator for popular culture.
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When you plant a fertile meme in my mind you literally parasitize my brain, turning it into a vehicle for the meme's propagation.
Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, 1976
Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
Geographical and environmental factors have undeniably shaped our modern world. The developments in agriculture paved the way for writing, technology, governments and organized religions. Yet, how has human history unfolded so differently across the globe? Diamond shows how basic agricultural differences between early societies magnified over time leading to the vast differences between societies’ health, technology, and social structure. This progression in certain parts of the world, mixed with the desire for power, led to the conquering and decimating of preliterate cultures; with this, the spreading of nasty germs and weapons of war.
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History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples' environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves.
Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel, 1997
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harrari
100,000 years ago, at least six human species inhabited the Earth; today there is just one: Homo sapiens. In retelling the human story, Harrari walks us through the evolution of humanity. Framed around four key milestones and summarizing the development of the human psyche, the book starts with the cognitive revolution around 70,000 ago, which kick started our history, and traces it all the way to the agricultural revolution around 12,000 years ago which speeded it up. Each stage of evolution is deconstructed to examine humanity’s tenancy on the planet, our belief systems and what the world will be like in the millennia to come.
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You could never convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven.
Yuval Noah Harrari, Sapiens, 2011
Staying with the Trouble by Donna Haraway
For multispecies feminist theorist Donna J. Haraway, “it matters what stories make worlds, what worlds make stories.” She studies the current age as the Chthulucene (chthon, meaning “earth” in Greek), rejecting the doomsday rhetoric of the Anthropocene, an era in which the human and nonhuman are inextricably linked. For Harraway, learning to stay with the trouble means existing on a damaged Earth, and to find the means to build a more livable future. The book offers proactive ways in which we may reimagine our relation to Earth and all its inhabitants, “making kin” with the species we share the planetwith and interacting from a multispecies perspective.
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It matters what stories make worlds, what worlds make stories.
Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble, 2016
What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly
Technology is a living, evolving organism with its own needs. A wild system that is compared to the processes of biological evolution. The term “technium” is used to describe the growth of the globalized, interconnected technological world we live in today. Kelly gives insights to a new theory of technology, offering three lessons. To listen to the desires of technology in order to prepare ourselves for what tech is to come, to adapt principles of proaction and engagement to steer technology to its best role and lastly, to align ourselves with long term necessities of this superorganism so we can truly capture its full gifts.
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Humans are the reproductive organs of technology.
Kevin Kelly, What Technology Wants, 2010
Novacene by James Lovelock
At the age of fifty, Lovelock presented his Gaia hypothesis, exploring how all living matter is connected; a superorganism that optimizes conditions for life on Earth. At the age of 100, Lovelock introduces a new theory about the future of all life on Earth. After the Anthropocene, a Novacene unfolds. Lovelock argues that artificial intelligence, cyborgs and other technological organisms will have a greater impact on Earth than human beings. He teaches us that nature is not static but dynamic. What we see today as artificial and unnatural will in time form a new phase for life on Earth. Both human and artificial intelligence is the only hope Earth life has to survive the sun's burnout in five billion years. Lovelock's philosophy shows that we will not be unprepared. We still have time to mend this existential catastrophe.
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The experience of watching your garden grow gives you some idea of how future AI systems will feel when observing human life.
James Lovelock, Novacene, 2019
The Medium is the Message by Marshall McLuhan
"People don't actually read newspapers – they get into them every morning like a hot bath.” For philosopher Marshall McLuhan, the medium of communication, as opposed to the content that they carry, is the focus of study. When McLuhan states "the electric light is pure information," it is the lightbulb itself creating an environment by its presence. Read today, the internet is the medium that creates the environment. He suggests that the medium affects the society through its characteristics, rather than its content. The medium is the message in the global village we find ourselves in.
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"The personal and social consequences of any medium - that is, of any extension of ourselves - result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology."
Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Message, 1964
The Mushroom at the End of the World by Anna Tsing
Envision a future of sustaining life on a fragile planet from the lesson of a rare mushroom and weed: the Matsutake. The mushroom grows in human-distrubed forests across the northern hemisphere, nurturing trees and helping life grow in daunting places. Tsing uses this to explore what manages to live in the ruins humans have made. Through exploring the unexpected corners of capitalism, fungal ecologies and forest histories, Tsing helps us to better understand the promise of cohabitation in a time of massive human destruction. A prerequisite for continuing life on earth, the book relates to capitalist destruction and collaborative survival within multispecies landscapes.
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Neither tales of progress nor of ruin tell us how to think about collaborative survival. It is time to pay attention to mushroom picking. Not that this will save us—but it might open our imaginations.
Anna Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World, 2015
Alone Together by Sherry Turkle
Technology has infiltrated our intimate spaces. Now more than ever, across the globe, we look towards simulated relationships instead of the real thing. The online world offers a veil of companionship, connectivity and sociality. MIT professor Turkle discusses the impact on our inner selves, with this omnipresent connection leading us into a deep solitude. Alone Together analyzes the impact of our technology on our emotional selves, examining the unsettling relations between our loved ones, friends and family. Is our relationship with technology altering what it means to be human?
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Technology promises us lives on the screen. What values … follow from this new location? Immersed in simulation, where do we live, and what do we live for?
Sherry Turkle, Alone Together, 2011
Next Nature: Why Technology Is Our Natural Future by Koert van Mensvoort
Okay we said 10 books. But the list is simply not complete without Next Nature: Why Technology Is Our Nature Future.
Think of nature and you’re likely to picture a forest, not a freeway. But how natural is nature really? We live in a world of constructed wildlife reserves, rainbow tulips, designer babies and cultured meat. We control a tomato’s biology so precisely, you can hardly call it natural anymore. Meanwhile, our grip on the Internet and the financial markets has grown so slight that they’re coming to resemble forces of nature. Along the way, a totally new view of the natural world will unfurl – one that’s not only more realistic but infinitely more creative, exciting and beautiful.
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To cope with the immense challenges facing the world today, we need to go forward, not back, to nature.
Koert van Mensvoort, Next Nature: Why Technology Is Our Natural Future, 2020