- Authors Michael Charles Tobias and Jane Gray Morrison answer questions about their book: "Random Homeostasis."
- A young beaver could all but save the cleverest fool among us from a great flood.
- The psychology of boundaries and sovereignty, including personal space, is undergoing a critical revolution.
Michael Charles Tobias and Jane Gray Morrison are ecologists focused on the behavior and cognitive and emotional lives of diverse nonhuman species.
In their latest book, Random Homeostasis - On the Nature of Contingent Reality, they discuss "landmark theories of ecological imagination, survival ethics, and an altogether original discourse on the nature of Nature."
They highlight for example:
- Because so much of natural selection has today been undermined by human selection, the status of an individual’s ethical convictions has never been so precarious and important
- The psychology of boundaries, territory, and sovereignty, including personal space, is undergoing a critical revolution that can’t happen fast enough, for it concerns the future of all interspecies relations
- What for thousands of years we thought was the balance of nature, equilibrium in math and physics, and homeostasis in physiology, in fact, maybe thoroughly random, and undetermined, shedding important new interest in the debate pertaining to individual free will and human interactivity with other species.
Here's what Michael and Jane had to say about their latest eclectic and thought-provoking book.
Marc Bekoff: Partway through this extremely provocative analysis of what humans have always thought of as the balance of nature, you bring up the notion of relevant homeostasis. What does that mean?
Michael Charles Tobias/Jane Gray Morrison: Every organism embodies a rich set of behavioral probabilities that we can, in so many ways, relate to. With every one of those individuals, there is so much fantastic potential. Will we gently observe, and passionately engage in a manner that transforms an encounter into a deeply consoling experience? Some might simply ignore first contact, flee, or worse.
But hundreds of millions of people obviously do befriend world-altering companions; empathizing and partaking in their very life cycles. Such relations are by no means academic and disassociated but remarkably involved at levels of what can be described as humanity’s most profound yearning. In most cases, our psychological relationships with others are itself a question of utmost relevancy. Will we be wonderfully stunned by the sight of a songbird, a brown bear, a curious ant? Deeply concerned by an encounter with an organism in peril? Relevance is the degree to which we care.
There’s an abundance of scientific literature recognizing all those animal and plant symbioses and mutualisms etc., that are crucial to their survival. We have to see that such relevancy is fundamental to our own future, as well; and not just our mental health but the very future of evolution for all living beings. We can think of it as accelerated biophilia in an era of ecological crisis, but also as a final human reckoning.
MT/JM: Absolutely. We tend to assume there is some standard biological default of normalcy, like the forces that enable trees to withstand wind up to a point. Or Antarctic krill to flee threats at a velocity of up to two feet per second, or various hummingbirds to flutter their wings 70 times per second. Countless sets of (human) measurements that span all of nature as we are long-accustomed to thinking of environmental totalities.
But the breakdown of biotic systems as the chain result of humankind’s inflictions has shattered previously held paradigms in ecology and psychology. We are confronted by the biological whiplash of many of our actions, by our mistakes. And this stark syndrome of critical red lines and warnings is finally being taken seriously. It wasn’t in previous generations. Now, when we think of homeostasis, or equilibrium, we suspect it is as fleeting as the weather, or the health of other species’ populations, most of which are in severe decline.
The reckoning is about our personal involvement in restoring what we used to believe was something akin to balance, to normalcy. The nostalgia for nature and a golden age of health. Can we ever get there?
MB: How does an individual do that? What are the obstacles and the possible outcomes?
MT/JM: The challenge is compelling because the full picture vanishes at death by means which sustain the living world. This invokes our involvement at a level far more critical than living in a metaphor, like some generalized compassion, or in denial, or clinging to cliches. In fact, these are poetic and metaphysical injunctions best served without the arrogance of authored understanding. To put it differently, one’s full immersion in what we think of as biodiversity and its ecosystems is actually the triggering of introspection-in-action. It’s a crucial softening of our entire approach to economic, political, and scientific greed, leveling off at a most personal, singular orientation that must respond to pain in others.
MB: Is this inherent to your book’s subtitle, On the Nature of Contingent Reality?
MT/JM: Precisely. There are at least 10,000 diseases known to humanity, and at least 60 percent of them are believed to affect other species as well. These are certain constraints, pathogenic spaces of zoonotic overlap. Evolution has selected, it would appear, for a terrible amount of pain, and no philosophy of pacifism is going to stop that. What the revolutionary, post-modernist non-violence activist can do, however, is to relate unabashedly, and wholeheartedly to others who are suffering, or likely to be placed in clearly vulnerable positions. Does evolution chart that course for us? Yes. It is balanced within chaos, not just human chaos. Is there kissing in the Serengeti? Absolutely. But individuals need to make balance a moral priority. If animal and habitat liberation are the focus, which we thoroughly advocate, then informed choices beyond our species’ claustrophobic, dangerous boundaries, are of maximal importance now.
MB: Are you hopeful?
MT/JM: We’re reassured that humanity has what it takes. Every individual needs to go out on that limb and make appropriate, tender contact. There’s not much time left to express what is most natural for us: unconditional love.
In conversation with Michael Charles Tobias and Jane Gray Morrison. For another interview with this powerful team see Terminal Philosophy Syndrome: A Wake-Up Call for All;