Friday, November 18, 2016

Patterns of narrative

More and more, it seems clear that human thought naturally organizes itself along patterns of narrative.

Story is how we process and understand our world, then encode that information to pass along to others. There is an argument that information passed down through aboriginal Australian songs may encode verifiable geological events from 8,000 years ago. Their visual art tradition appears to do something similar. And--at its best--what is the Judeo-Christian bible if not distilled wisdom about how to be a human from about 10,000 years ago to 100 a.d.?

Business theory accepts this idea. The "knowledge transfer cycle" states that:
"Knowledge can be stored in databases, documentation, process tables, decision trees, wikis and quick reference guides. But one of the most powerful ways to store knowledge is through stories. Much knowledge, especially tacit knowledge, exists in the minds of the experts and can be made accessible through mentoring or through connections using social media tools."
In the 1960's, Philosopher Roland Barthes worked to understand in narrative, "a principle of classification and a basis of description," pointing out that "there is a deep gulf between the most complex product of chance, and the most simple conscious construction..." He looked for the rules governing narrative construction in narrative itself: all narrative.

More recently, story narrative has been getting attention from science.
"...mathematicians at the University of Vermont have now looked at more than 1,000 texts to see if they could automatically extract their emotional arcs. And their results show something interesting, not just about narratives, but also about using this approach to study literature."
Using digitized texts from Project Gutenberg, the study found 6 consistent patterns of story. And--startlingly--these patterns hold not just in fiction but in non-fiction as well. We impose these patterns on all communication.

So what does that mean to FSMLs? Only that if we are not creating our own narrative, someone else will do it for us (and we may not be happy with the results). Understanding narrative may be a scientific process, but creating it is not: it is an artistic one.

a2ru Lays Out Aggressive Agenda for Role of Arts

"At the Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities (a2ru) conference this month in Denver, representatives from over 30 member universities talked about the need to reinvent the college curriculum, and retrain faculty too. Our students, many said, need the new thinking skills for the new economy or they will fail to get a job. The so-called 'jobless recovery' will march on but with fewer and fewer American kids...using the arts and arts integration, teaching through the arts, has the most potential to change the basic curriculum. 
Taken together, these techniques will engage students; enhance their memory and retention. Importantly, it will give them the skills they need to compete in an economy that values not just knowledge but creativity that leads to innovation. 
Yes, there are other ways to generate creativity but as Laurie Baefsky, an extremely talented executive with skills in the arts, education and conference management, and Executive Director of a2ru put it: 'arts integration is the bullet train' to acquiring creativity..."
Read complete article at Huff Post.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Art needs science

The value to science and scientists of connecting to art is something we have explored extensively in this blog, i.e. this post. In making this connection at field research sites and marine labs, society benefits hugely from the increased discovery and outreach potential that artists can bring.

But society also benefits by increasing the environmental literacy of artists. The art/sci disconnect comes from both sides (see this discussion). Art builds culture, and in the absence of ecological understanding, aesthetics can make disastrous messes:
"We have come a long way in our understanding of introduced species in the century since publication of the Journal of Ecology began. One hundred years ago, introductions were widely celebrated, and acclimatization societies were busy ‘enriching’ the flora and fauna in many regions world-wide. Some of the more notable achievements of acclimatization societies include introducing starlings and house sparrows to the United States (in an attempt to introduce all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s works to New York’s Central Park; Marzluff et al. 2008)...and distributing ornamental plant species such as Lantana camara and Miconia calvescens to gardens world-wide (Meyer 1996CRC Weed Management 2003)." -- Moles, et al

CFP: Land Use and Ethics in Search of a Wild-Earthen God

June 9-11, 2017

SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry’s Northern Forest Institute
At Huntington Wildlife Forest

SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry’s Northern Forest Institute invites submissions for its fourth symposium of interdisciplinary scholarship in land use and ethics.

Author and environmental activist Wallace Stegner grounded his argument for the protection of wild places in the spiritual imagination. Wilderness was a landscape that he said was worth saving for the likelihood that it might in turn save us soulfully. Stegner is one of many who rest their defense of wilderness on the idea of open plains, deep forests and vast deserts as spiritual centers. Philosopher Henry Bugbee calls us to a sabbatical placement in wild places where the rituals of mindfulness, of acknowledgement, keep faith with the deliverances of solitude.

More than merely employing the language of redemption, these philosophers, writers and activists trace the reverence humans have felt for wild nature from indigenous cultures forward to the men who corrupted Judeo-Christian teachings in order to colonize and devastate them. In every known spiritual tradition, wild geographies are thought to be earthen domains of grace even as we acknowledge a national history of perverting faith traditions in order to subdue and violate other communities who nevertheless share a vision of the value of wild nature.

Wilderness advocates who turn towards the mythical and the spiritual value of these so-called landscapes of hope in fact make an ecological argument that honors the sanctity and the complementarity of all living things with rights to exist independent of species, kind and importantly, extractive human usefulness. The wild as mystical landscape is complex territory, and still pan- cultural theological, spiritual, transcendental and inspirational arguments for land preservation remain one compelling and important moral approach.

We welcome submissions related to the Symposium theme from perspectives including and not limited to Traditional Ecological Knowledge, spiritual ecology, eco-theology, deep ecology, Gaia theory, animism as well as eco-spiritual and theological resistance to industrial, social and political ruin of wild and natural ecosystems. We will accept 15 proposals that together are meant to generate a discussion around this variety of approaches to land use, the moral implications and usefulness of these approaches, as well as the ways that they influence the ongoing debate over how to achieve social and environmental justice. Submissions are encouraged from emerging or established writers and scholars, activists as well as anyone whose primary work lies outside the liberal arts and/or academia.


DEADLINE for submissions is January 15, 2017. All submissions must be submitted as a Word document via e-mail to Symposium Chair Marianne Patinelli-Dubay according to the guidelines below. Acceptance notifications will go out no later than February 15, 2017 along with detailed travel and accommodation information, preliminary information is below.

Electronic submissions require the following: 
  • Title
  • 250 word abstract and paper is not to exceed 4,500 words 
  • Author information:
    • Affiliation (independent writers and scholars are welcome) 
    • Full name
    • Daytime phone
    • E-mail
    • Mailing address


Submissions: One aim of this meeting is to provide a collegial environment for new and in-process work, and for ideas to be offered for comment and critique. If the paper/essay is not completed at the time of submission, the committee will accept an abstract and may contact the author for additional information prior to making a decision. The Symposium Chair will accept electronic submissions and distribute them blindly to the committee.

**Event Style: Authors will not read their work in traditional conference style. Instead, in turn, each participant will present key ideas and questions raised in/by their work that she/he would like to pursue in conversation. In this way, the symposium discussion will be conducted in round-table or seminar fashion and participants will receive a reader including all of the accepted papers no later than April 15, 2017. Participants should read the packet prior to the event in order to allow for full participation in the discussion. Each presentation is meant to further the overall discussion and for this reason, presenters are expected to participate in the entire program scheduled between noon on Friday, June 9 and Sunday, June 11, 2017.

Confirmation: Anyone making a submission will receive confirmation of receipt within 48 hours. If you have not received confirmation of receipt and/or notification regarding the Program Committee’s decision about your submission by February 15, 2017 please contact Marianne Patinelli-Dubay.


  • All correspondence regarding submission and/or program content should be directed to Symposium Chair Marianne Patinelli-Dubay
  • Meals, accommodations will be provided on-site and included in the cost of participation. For information on registration, fees, lodging and accommodations contact Guest Services Manager Daphne Taylor.