I would like to say a big thank you for sharing your perspective on this as an art professor. I really appreciated your comments. It does seem to be yet another renaissance in human thought (and, hopefully, in human action!). We were once extremely geocentric. Even after the dawn of science, we adamantly remained anthropocentric. Even today, we remain infocentric, placing human-crafted ideology and human-made products at the apex of the Scala Naturae... just below the digital angels it seems. And we continue to think that, whatever works for us, must work for nature. But as Mark points out, there is nothing natural about the digitization and mass production of human ideas. It isn't really art anymore, nor even inspiration (in many cases). It's how smart you are with manipulating software, or how many clicks your work can get so people will want your work. (My daughter has been teaching me this - she too was an art student! A digital art student as it turns out!). These wonderfully creative youths feel deluged and disappointed, when they see how much competition is out there for technical ability and how many copies you sell, rather than those subtle flaws in each work that tell us a living man or woman was here, whose passion could not be hidden by perfection.
You mention two great examples, including Washoe (and there is always Kanji too). You mentioned how we have begun to see "that animals have inner lives and languages", as perhaps do virtually all things (if we will just be a bit less human-centric). Tesla and Lorenz suggested that "the weather" is a living system that "notices" what it adapts to, and what we call "climate" is part of an eco-communication and geo-homeostasis network just like our own body's ecological balancing system - not the fickle attitudes of Olympian beings toward humans or a planet with bad behavioral responses to our progress. Scientists have found that even water is much more complicated than we thought, almost as though it too were a living system, and quantum things want to be perceived, as Berkeley put it.
For me, rather than say we are becoming more biocentric (since that leaves out the anaerobic Earth too and anything without DNA), or even ecocentric (because everything cannot be the center), maybe we could call the dramatic shift we are seeing in art, literature, science, and beyond, as a kind of "anacentrism" (up and away from centric thinking). Just as anastasis means up from death, anacentric means up and away from centric attitudes (meaning, hopefully! the death of prejudice, the awakening of an openness that will never die).
My mentor and colleague, Dr. Markey, and our new colleague Luke Barnesmoore - who is incredibly in touch with the urban mind versus the native mind have been looking into this very thing (i.e. the New Urbanism, Mumford, Geddes, and Fuller).
Mark - what you share reminds me of the "trim tab" theory Buckminster Fuller loved so well. Almost no effort in, with oodles of beneficial modifications out. But we lose so very much, when the effort we put in is not equal to (or less than!) what comes out - for we begin to adore our own efforts, rather than what inspired us to set out.
Corinne, in terms of art, I think you would be the most in the know when it comes to an original work versus a mass printing. Yes, it is wonderful that, no matter how poor we are, we can all bring home a Rubens and admire it at our leisure. But too, which of us has to ever make a bucket-list pilgrimage to the Louvre to see the only Rubens there is? How can it be special to have a docent lift the veil, if all we need do is type in a few keywords and tons of digital brides lift their veils for us? Where is the passionate messenger that knocks on our door and says, "I've seen something astonishing! Come and see!". Instead, we check our email to see if anything astonishing can be sifted from among the spam.
Things are too easy now. And an artist can use a software program and a typewriter to make digital art. But the works that my daughter crafted that I treasure most, are the ones she made with her hands alone, and with crayons - the scribbles she left in my important work printouts, and on every page of our coffee table magazines - as if to say, Jenny was here. Suddenly my work was less important than her scribbles, and it seemed to be a Gestalt-like, wake-up moment for me - the figure/ground effect.
Because a living girl can only be in one place at a time - as can one of a kind works by that young woman. So if I abandon all else to see her (or one of her works), we all know what mattered most to me. I either spend time with her now, or spend time with her works later and wish I had as I weep over them.
As Corinne mentions here, this new posthumanism is also the restoration of our intrinsic value as individual beings. When we begin to see value in the least human thing (say, a wildflower where we wouldn't expect a flower to grow), the next time we someone we love when we didn't expect to, we begin to see his or her value too. If I may, the woman I love is not just "a rose" - she is the one and only rose of her kind. She isn't one member in the category of female humans, so that if I should lose her, I can select another. Like a Rubens, a photograph of her isn't enough; reading about what she does isn't enough; knowing all about her hidden traits and accomplishments isn't enough; I have to go and see my rose while I still can, to know what it is like to lift the veil on a Rubens again and again, and have the same feeling of awe every time.
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