It is so easy to under-estimate the value of public engagement in R&D – there’s no doubt I’ve been guilty of this myself and have been made to think more deeply about it. In the sort of research I want to do, it’s so important to make opportunities for conversations with a wide range of people about the subjects I’m thinking about.
Yesterday I met with three artists whose work I respect and value, all of whom are great at getting people together to make and do stuff. How great it is to be part of a network of generous, professional, creative people and to be able to benefit from putting our minds together to think about these things. I’ve asked the three to run some practical workshops for my project which will not only get people making and doing but will also get them talking about some of the interesting and challenging ideas and questions which the themes of my research bring up.
I’m at that really tricky part of the planning where the foundation for the project is solid but the subject matter is still very wide. There are so many potential directions it could go in that it can be difficult to focus, so it was really useful for me to have to spend a day thinking about how to articulate the key areas of the project to my collaborators without inflicting information overload.
We had some really useful conversations and the discussions helped me clarify and hone quite a few of my ideas. As usual, this pruning process means having to let one or two things go in order to focus on key areas, but this sort of editing is a crucial part of the process and actually, planning, fundraising and proposal writing provides the framework that helps me do that pruning. Here are a few notes I made at the end of the day. It felt like progress.
“I want to work with the public, other artists and scientific experts to explore ideas about change and evolution in the Anthropocene* era and “extreme present” – “a time in which it feels impossible to maintain pace with the present, never mind to chart the future.“**
*Anthropocene: relating to or denoting the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.
** Hans Ulrich Obrist
- Foundation/anchor: the origins of life and past research for Improbable Experiments With Growing Stones
2. Juxtaposing/merging of manmade and “natural” so that it’s hard to tell the difference
3. How life might evolve in the Anthropocene era (plastics, future geologies and the influence of human activity on the evolution of living organisms including the human body)
4. Extreme present – speed and the pace of change
- Learn from the past to think about the future
- Speculation about the future must be grounded in reality – not fantasy
- Making time NOW to think about what we want the future to be before we get swept along in the tide of progress – quote from bio-ethicist Prof John Harris (talking about increased life spans but also applies to all sorts of other progress): “It is unlikely that we can stop the progression [to increased life-spans and even “immortality] and it is doubtful that we can produce coherent ethical objections. We should start thinking now about how we can live decently and creatively with the prospect of such lives.“
BOOKS I’m reading:
The Age of Earthquakes: A guide to Extreme Present by Shumon Basar, Douglas Coupland, Hans Ulrich Obrist
Homo Deus: A brief history of tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari
The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution by Nick Lane
(I know, I know… it’s not really a good idea to try to read four books at a time but that’s just the way it is. Slow progress though.)