Week 27 — the desire to survive

A week feels so long. I hope you are all ok.

I keep yoyo-ing between a range of emotions, but I had vegan banana bread for breakfast and half-way through writing this I got up to practice with my fav teacher so for now it’s ok. A bit lighter on the cv-19 reading as well, I guess I’m yoyo-ing that too.

This week on animals was one of those where the reading just barely gives a taste of the amazing lecture. Octopodes + plants + Deleuze & Guattari + mind-blowing philosophical takes… I’m here for it. Mariam, and this module, are unbelievably class. It was also the last lecture, which is sad, but … BUT! we are going to start a reading group.

Deep Intellect
by Sy Montgomery

A gorgeous read on octopuses. Octopodes. Did you know that octopi is incorrect? Sy also wrote a book which my mate Jon highly recommends but gave it to charity before lending it to me. Anyway, back to gorgeous article about gorgeous octopodes of which the point could maybe be summarised as

challenging our understanding of consciousness itself

The article cycles through a lot of the ways in which we humans try and measure intelligence or consciousness or subjectivity or ‘Dasein’ or ‘lights on’ or whatever else we call it. It then shows the ways that those measures are inadequate purely through the octopus.

“I think consciousness comes in different flavors,” agrees Mather. “Some may have consciousness in a way we may not be able to imagine.”

The whole “What Is It Like to Be a Bat” is really turned on its head when you take an octopus. I mean, just get a load of this

… researchers found that the skin of the cuttlefish Sepia officinalis, a color-changing cousin of octopuses, contains gene sequences usually expressed only in the lightsensing retina of the eye. In other words, cephalopods — octopuses, cuttlefish, and squid — may be able to see with their skin. (emphasis mine)

Ok as you can probably tell, I’m very enamored with octopodes. There are some bits in the paper which I found uncomfortable to read, esp the parts where the octopodes are resisting captivity and study. As much as I’m delighted to discover all the amazing things that the octopus can be, I also feel bad that we don’t just leave them alone.

Emoji summary: 🧠 🐙 😍

The mind of plants: Thinking the unthinkable
by Monica Gagliano

What do plants have to do with animals? Well, if the premise is “challenging our understanding of consciousness itself” then it turns out, quite a lot. This short paper describes some experiments in applying classical conditioning to the vegetal world. Show that

plants are able to encode both temporal and spatial information and modify their behavior flexibly.

in plants too, associative learning has a range of ecological purposes from foraging to danger avoidance to social interactions above and below ground.

The conclusion certainly raises a whole host more questions.

… questions about the cognitive capacities of animals and specifically, animal consciousness often play a role in discussions about animal welfare and moral status. This debate has been recently extended to include plants and as experimental evidence for the cognitive capacities of plants accrues, the controversial (or even taboo) topic regarding their welfare and moral standing and our ethical responsibility toward them can no longer be ignored.

Emoji summary: 🍃 🏞 👨🏻‍🌾

What Is It Like to Be a Bee?
by Natasha Frost

I like that folks randomly send me animal articles now. Long may that continue.

This article is a bit of a riff on the famous Nagel paper, and it’s kind of ok but also kind of basic/meh. For example, yes to the hot potato, no to the ‘in general’.

But what consciousness means more generally, for other people and other creatures, is a hot potato tossed between philosophers, biologists, psychologists, and anyone who’s ever wondered whether it feels the same to be a dog as it does to be an octopus. In general, we think that if you have some kind of unique, subjective experience of the world, you’re conscious to some extent.

Frost actually mentions the experiment by Monica Gagliano above, dropping plants, but says about the plants

But few suggest they possess consciousness.

Which is kind of missing the point of Gagliano’s work. I guess the point being that our ‘subjective experience’ consciousness might not be the best measure.

Emoji summary: 🐝 🤨 🌱

The Pandemic Epicenter: Pointing from Viruses to China’s Wildlife Trade by Lyle Fearnley and Should Wild Meat Markets be Shut Down? by Tamara Giles-Vernick

Both deal with animal questions about CV-19, but firmly from a speciesist position. How can we protect humans. The Fearnley text is better, imo, and at least questions the domestic/wild divide (the Swanson paper from wk 23 is brilliant on that). Neither discuss animal welfare, which was disappointing.

I’m actively looking for texts on cv-19 and animals or ecologies or eco-fascism. Please send.

Emoji summary: 🐝 🤨 🌱

1. New Moon
by sarah mccarry

Sarah, whose work is heartbreakingly wonderful, starter a newsletter. She’s the kind of writer that lines things up so well it’s like tiny little bombs in your soul. Which means pulling quotes can kind of ruin the affective quality but I’m doing it anyway.

—and what I am trying to say is that we already know how to take care of each other in a crisis, friends and strangers alike; we have been doing it all of our lives. … You know how to be the best version of yourself when you have to be, which is almost certainly now.

Kinda to encourage you to clickity click but also I guess because this newsletter is to share what speaks to me. I think it’s interesting to see what bit of the text jumps out to different people.

A lot of bad things are going to happen and a lot of this is going to be hard. You already know that, too. It’s okay to be afraid. Take a deep breath and hold that fear tight in your heart and think: The other side of fear is the desire to survive. Now exhale.

We have never lived through anything like this but we have lived through hard bad things before. The word apocalypse comes from the Greek apokalupsis: to uncover or reveal. An unveiling or unfolding of things not previously known and which could not be known apart from the unveiling. Another world is possible; another world is almost here.

Emoji summary: 💛 🌑 🚲

My Father the Druid, My Mother the Tree
by Robin Sloan

By now, you’ll have heard me talk about Robin Sloan a lot, all the way back from the very first of these when I had 0 (zero) subscribers. I think about his book Sourdough a lot these days, esp when my starter overflows its jar.

This is a little, fictional short story that is just tremendous. Which should be obvious by the title but just in case …

I learned that the trees were… how else can I say this? They were shouting. They had been shouting for years, and they had more recently settled on a strategy, and now, thanks to the tree service, its strange invention, they had spokespeople.

… a tree patterned with a mind that had, apparently, always harbored a dream of insurrection, because it too was shouting:


Emoji summary: 💛 🌑 🚲

Quarantine Part 1
by The White Pube (GLP)

Ooof. This is an oof text. I recommend the audio version.

I get so angry thinking about how much I hate the rich, especially celebrities; how we made them that money and now they won’t help us in return. One minute i’m fine and then I remember summer is coming and we are all locked inside running out of money and trying not to die.

Ban, and I cannot stress this enough, billionaires.

Emoji summary: 💔 🥺 👩🏾‍⚕️


Book review by of a book I haven’t read yet but have on my bookshelf. It’s a good review, regardless of the book. Great website it’s published on as well.

Lana Del Rey by Shon Faye. One of those I read because of the author, who is ace, even with no interest in the subject. Read it if you care about Lana or boyfriends, I guess. (Ugh, Dazed web design is awful. What is that tiny text and those long ass lines?)

A couple corona ones because, of course, one can’t get away from it.

The best one is It Wasn’t Just Trump Who Got It Wrong by Zeynep Tufekci. Zeynep has been writing about the virus since way back in February (January?) and is consistently informative and critical.

Eugenics Isn’t Going to Get Us Out of This Mess by Sarah Jones I agree with the title but NEITHER IS RACISM and it annoys me that the cover/social photo for this article is an asian person in a mask. Interesting comparison to ‘let old people die’ and abortion rights.

It’s All Just Beginning by Justin E. H. Smith for a very tone-deaf piece by a very privileged person. Small redeeming critique of human exceptionalism at the end.

While I was writing this, the aforementioned Jon sent this photo to our group chat. I’m sure you can imagine some of the excellent memes that it generated. Tag me with yours.


Emoji summary is 100% nicked off my favourite art critics The White Pube. They said they don’t mind.