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WEEKLY VIEWS, REVIEWS & NEWS FROM THE OKANAGAN INSTITUTE

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Finding the Still Small Place
 
 
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NUMBER 131   ll   FOR THE WEEK OF APRIL 21-27, 2014

Let Gaia Rain On One and All

Before a cloud can produce rain or snow, rain drops or ice particles must form. This requires the presence of aerosols: tiny particles that serve as the nuclei for condensation. Most such particles are of mineral origin, but airborne microbes - bacteria, fungi or tiny algae - can do the job just as well.

The effect of the biological "ice nucleators" on precipitation has been a mystery, not least because no one had been able to detect them in clouds. Now microbiologists have catalogued these rain-making microbes by looking at fresh snow collected at various mid- and high-latitude locations in North America, Europe and Antarctica.

They filtered the snow samples to remove particles, put those particles into containers of pure water, and slowly lowered the temperature, watching closely to see when the water froze. The higher the freezing temperature of any given sample, the greater the number of nuclei and the more likely they are to be biological in nature. To tease apart these two effects, the team treated the water samples with heat or chemicals to kill any bacteria inside, and again checked the freezing temperatures of the samples.

The researchers were surprised to find "rain-making" bacteria in all samples. The results add evidence to the idea that microbes can safely travel long distances in clouds, and suggest that substantial biology-driven precipitation occurs everywhere on Earth.

Most rain-making bacteria make their living as pathogens, using their ability to promote freezing at relatively warm temperatures to break the cell walls of the plants that they feed on. Some scientists note that this freezing ability also means that the bacteria get out of clouds and back to Earth more quickly, which is to the microbes' advantage.

Freshsheet Okanagan Media ApplianceFreshsheet This idea that bacteria are at an advantage if they can travel distances in clouds and then return to Earth features in the Gaia hypothesis, that holds that the living and non-living parts of the Earth are a complex interacting system, in which living things have a regulatory effect that promotes life overall. Humans also have a big effect on these regulatory processes. Changes in land-use, forestry and agriculture, such as expanding monoculture, changes the composition of microbes in the atmosphere. As biological components seem to have a large role in how rain forms, such changes may affect rainfall and climate in many places on Earth.

It is worth noting in this context that over 95 percent of organisms in the soil alone are unknown to science. Many of them labor unseen, in the dark, serving as the churning stomachs of our planet, digesting dead plants and animals and, in the process, enriching the earth we depend upon for food and fiber. Other organisms expel their gaseous waste - a precious resource known as oxygen - to create the atmosphere that supports and sweetens the earth with all manner of glorious creatures, not to mention their contribution to the formation of clouds and rain.

And yet, in the earth's sixth great extinction event, currently under way, many organisms - great and small - are silently sliding into oblivion. According to some estimates, by the end of the 21st century, one-quarter or more of all species of plants and animals now living will have been expunged from the planet. And they are being snuffed out at a rate that is 1000 times more rapid than that of any extinction event documented in the fossil record.


The End and the Beginning

IT MAY BE TOO LATE TO SAVE OUR PLANET, BUT NOT OURSELVES

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Many myths and religions maintain that the world ended in flood the last time, and will end in fire this time. With the presently unfolding climate catastrophe, we actually see both - a world heating up from trapped greenhouse gases, melting glaciers and polar icecaps, unleashing increasingly great floods, raising the seas and engulfing islands and heavily populated coastal areas.

A new myth is not called for to embody this story. Whatever story we tell ourselves about the coming climate catastrophe, it must include a powerful redemptive component along the lines of resurrection. In some stories of the great flood, the world that emerges from the catastrophe turns out to be better than the one before. This, too, is the kind of hope that people will need to cope with the trials and tribulations ahead.

The kinds of stories we most definitely do not need, and that will only add to the suffering, are the stories like the now popular "taken" series, where the chosen ones are magically transported to a better world, leaving the rest behind to suffer, and the even more dangerous and associated Armageddon myths.

Of course, it is not at all helpful to tell people what not to believe, but we can at least cultivate and reinforce more redemptive narratives, and do our best to put the more destructive ones into the language of inner struggle.

It does seem that, with the advent of the climate catastrophe, our spiritual container will have been utterly broken, all of our notions of the future shattered, and the need will arise for a new world view to rise from the chaos like the Phoenix from the ashes.

But we must also remember that just as we approach this metaphorical end-time, we are also at a point in the development of the human race when our knowledge of reality has never been closer to complete.

Freshsheet It is rather stunning to contemplate the photographs now being captured of galaxies 12 billion light years out into the farthest reaches of space, offering a glimpse into the very creation of our universe, and based on similar surveys from the Hubble telescope, it is now believed that there are about 100 billion Earth-like planets in the Milky Way galaxy, with another 50 sextillion habitable planets included in the other 500 billion galaxies.

At the other end of this nearly infinite spectrum, the discoveries of quantum physics continue to be assimilated with mind-boggling implications for our world view in general, and our notions of death in particular.

Cardiologist Pim van Lommel has written compellingly about his own conclusions, from witnessing and studying now-common near death experiences, concerning non-local consciousness that has and always will exist independently from the body. Dr. Robert Lanza, who was voted the 3rd most important scientist alive by the NY Times, has joined a growing body of quantum physicists in the belief that all matter is an emergent property of consciousness, and not the other way around as mainstream science continues to insist, radically calling into question our notions of physical reality and what happens when we leave our physical bodies.

It is from this kind of liberating knowledge that a workable myth can emerge to contain our collective grief as the visible world around us crumbles and human populations plummet off the Malthusian cliff.

In fact, the near death experience itself may provide an appropriately mythopoetic motif for this purpose. As Joseph Campbell teaches us, a completely alive, new mythology must serve four functions: to waken and maintain in the individual an experience of awe, humility, and respect; to provide a cosmological image of the universe; to maintain and validate some kind of order; and, to centre and harmonize the individual.


IDEAS WORTH CONSIDERING

Stop the Food Fetishistas

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It's not clear when it happened. Maybe it was when the molecular gastronomy craze hit a few years ago, and chefs started squirted popcorn and gumdrop foam over our duck breast, and the all too seemingly simple art of preparing a meal became a science experiment?

Maybe it was the proliferation of celebrity cooking and food related shows that don't seem to actually be interested in food.

There's nothing wrong with charging $16 for cocktails at our local watering holes. Nor with bartenders dripping some magical, homemade bitters or tincture involving foraged dandelion root into a tumbler, taking a sage leaf, spanking it between their palms to "release the fragrance," and proceeding to mash it with a weapon, or light it afire, or both, before shaking but not stirring it into an organic, sustainably-produced gin.

But people relentlessly posting photos of their latest culinary adventure on Facebook is a problem. It's just one more hearty winter stew, after all. And let's stop this persistant practice of photographing our restaurant meals. And the case for why restaurants should forbid patrons from taking pictures of their meals is, in short: it distracts eaters from the reason why they are there - to eat.

Too often, reading a menu can sometimes require an advanced degree in linguistics or botany, or both. It's time for bistro menus without the fancy "Heirloom Beans" and "Scituate Lobster." Resisting the temptation to detail an entree's provenance as if it was some Kennel Club purebred, the chef might simply - but bravely - admit, "Diners, this is an ordinary chicken breast from God knows where cooked the way your grandmother might have. Enjoy."

Freshsheet Food-themed reality TV shows further exacerbate this escalation of food fetishism. Especially the ones that promote the idea of cooking as competition, as something to be quantified and judged, as something that contestants win and lose at, akin to a sports match or spelling bee. Meanwhile, easy-on-the-eyes chefs further spin the craft of cooking to sexy and stratospheric, not earthbound, degrees. Some of those programs make food hunting and gathering seem like an extreme sport.

Then there's the trend of DIY food-making and husbandry, from urban rooftop tomato patches to backyard chicken-keeping and the explosion of artisan everything. That's important, to be sure. But may be shouldn't forget how to buy a good piece of fish,a pot of honey and a bag of sweet potatoes without them always having to be farm-raised, line-caught and solstice-harvested?

Things have changed since Julia Child simply showed us how to cook, slowly, methodically, in real time. How well would Julia fare in an amped up, timer-ticking, food smackdown versus her arch rival, whoever that might have been? Probably not so well.

Rather,Julia Child, one of our earliest food ambassadors, had more down-to-earth ideas about cooking and food. 'You don't have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces,' she once said, "just good food from fresh ingredients."

Nobody's against good food. And there's nothing wrong with consumers buying from smaller, local farms and producers. No argument there. But maybe it's time to ramp down this notion of food as fetish, food as porn, food as adventure, food as performance, and get back to basics:

Food is after all just food, something we eat, and enjoy.



LEARNING TO CHALLENGE AND CHANGE
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Social Narrative in Design

All designers have something to say, a story to tell. There are a variety of means designers employ to express their own, or their clients, values, thoughts, wishes, beliefs, and desires.

Some designers choose to incorporate an entire story into a single design, while others "write" continuing sagas in which each design is a sequel to the last. Some allude to earlier work by masters or to vernacular traditions. The best narratives give designs added meaning and encourage people to become involved with and to cherish works of design.

Designers usually develop projects and express themselves only by visual language and seldom use written and oral expression. But in fact, every design is defined by social narrative, and the behavior within the design spaces, objects and experiences are influenced to a large extent by the social context within which the design resides.

Narrative is a good way to develop design ideas in a fluid and engaging way. Narrative can be constructed and understood in many ways. The form of design narrative varies. It could be a small description of the most ordinary living scene, and it can also be multi-layered, ranging from a whole city image or just the simplest scene of people's daily life.

Freshsheet The Story School
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The narrative has three aspects during the design process: it helps designers get a better understanding of the project; it is a design and exploration tool to inspire a positive outcome; and it fosters better communication between designers and others.

During the design process, the narrative design method helps designers respond to the problem, bring in the history, collective memory and identity that make a statement. Design by narrative can also add meaning to the project. Adapting the narrative as a design tool or an exploration tool could instigate something interesting and add a layer of meaning to the project. At the same time a designers' personal reality, thinking and ambitions can be permeated into the final outcome.

Freshsheet Narrative is derived from people's experiences and memories. It helps us understand, for example, in our neighbourhoods, how people live in their homes and what is memorable to them. Narrative can also be forward looking, constructing a future through storytelling and scenario playing, but also more passive descriptive of the uncovering representation of personal and social lives within the community.

There is no design in silence. All designers, like all designed objects, tell stories. Design is permeated with narratives because it is constituted within a field of discourses: formal, psychological, ideological and theoretical.
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Freshsheet The Story School is about narratives. Narratives that explain, entertain, engage, energize and elevate. Narratives that demonstrate how things get done, how ideas get formed and delivered. Narratives that persuade. Narratives about change and opportunity, about setting and realizing goals and about accomplishing the nearly impossible.

The programs at the Story School are for people who aspire to deep knowledge about design, technique, technology, and to business mastery. The faculty are practise leaders tasked with delivering a rich and meaningful learning experience.

Watch this space for details.



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The Story School | Better Narratives   •   Programs: Media | Pictures | Terroir | Writing | Sageing | Youth | Design



COMMENTARY

Scientists who use advanced imaging technology to study brain function report that the human brain is wired to reward caring, cooperation, and service. According to this research, merely thinking about another person experiencing harm triggers the same reaction in our brain as when a mother sees distress in her baby's face. Conversely, the act of helping another triggers the brain's pleasure center and benefits our health by boosting our immune system, reducing our heart rate, and preparing us to approach and soothe. Positive emotions like compassion produce similar benefits. By contrast, negative emotions suppress our immune system, increase heart rate, and prepare us to fight or flee. ¶ These findings are consistent with the pleasure most of us experience from being a member of an effective team or extending an uncompensated helping hand to another human. It is entirely logical. If our brains were not wired for life in community, our species would have expired long ago. We have an instinctual desire to protect the group, including its weakest and most vulnerable members - its children. Behavior contrary to this positive norm is an indicator of serious social and psychological dysfunction. - David Korten



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Finally, there is a club that will have us. Limited memberships available. Get in early before they're gone: www.proofclub.ca
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Proof. The Club for Creatives
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Club | Laboratory | School | Kitchen | Gallery | Lounge | Workshop | Speakeasy | Incubator | Library | Makerspace | Emporium | Studio




The Journey of Creative Ageing

The most recent issue of the Okanagan Institute journal Sage-ing with Creative Spirit, Grace and Gratitude is online at www.sageing.ca

A volunteer publication of the Okanagan Institute, intended as an initiative for collaboration and sharing, the journal presents the opportunity for the free exchange of wisdom gleaned from creative engagement, and is focused on honouring the transformational power of creativity.
We hope that your perspective on the arts and creative engagement might also change as you read stories of Okanagan artists, experienced and emerging, who engage in art for the joy of stimulating personal and community wisdom and well-being.
Freshsheet Sage-ing Okanagan Institute

Freshsheet A JOURNAL OF THE ARTS & AGING
"One of the strengths that sages possess, regardless of age, is a willingness to be educated by all things. Curiosity leads them to learn from all they encounter. They do not judge people or situations. When one relaxes into just being, everything can nourish and stimulate. For those who embrace life as a sage-ing experience, things come to them from the world and from the events in their lives. By taking time and giving attention to creatively respond to what might at first seem ordinary and not deserving of notice, life ripens with significance and meaning."

To view online go to www.sageing.ca