Being Spoken to Meaningfully by Constructs
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 25 Sep 2023
Reframing Cognitive Implication in Nature and Natural Disasters
25 Sep 2023 – Emphasis is increasingly given to the problematic “disconnect” from “nature” and to how this might be recognized and remedied:
- Thomas Beery, et al: Disconnection from Nature: expanding our understanding of human–nature relations (British Ecological Society, 22 February 2023)
- Jack Gelsthorpe: Disconnect from Nature and its Effect on Health and Well-being: a public engagement literature review (Natural History Museum, April 2017)
- Pelin Kesebir: How Modern Life Became Disconnected from Nature (Greater Good Magazine, 20 September 2017)
- Kristophe Green: What Happens When We Reconnect With Nature (Greater Good Magazine, 1 March 2017)
- Judith Chen-Hsuan Cheng, et al: Connection to Nature (Environment and Behavior 44, 2012, 1)
- Lucy E. Keniger, et al: What are the Benefits of Interacting with Nature? (International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 10, 2013, 3)
- Richard Louv: Last Child in the Woods: saving our children from nature deficit disorder (Algonquin Books, (2005)
- Aiko Huckauf: Biodiversity conservation and the extinction of experience (Mitt. Arbeitsgem. Geobot. Schleswig-Holstein Hamb. 65. 2008)
- Paul Wesley Schultz: Inclusion with Nature: the psychology of human-nature relations (Psychology of Sustainable Development, 2002)
- Selin Kesebir: A Growing Disconnection From Nature Is Evident in Cultural Products (Perspectives on Psychological Science, 12, 2017, 2)
- Masashi Soga, et al: Extinction of Experience: the loss of human-nature interactions (Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 14, 2016, 2)
Whilst helpfully indicative, such references frame the question as to the very “nature” of any connection with nature and how it might be appropriately renewed — and how it can be meaningfully discussed. Given the many “natural” disasters, there is also the warning framed by Julian Sheather (‘Reconnect with nature’ by all means – but don’t forget its lethal power, The Guardian, 3 May 2021).
The disconnect may well be a feature of the frequently articulated need for a paradigm shift in response to other problematic conditions of society. One controversial framing is through a more radical understanding of “intercourse” given its cognitive connotations (“Human Intercourse”: “Intercourse with Nature” and “Intercourse with the Other”, 2007). This is associated with clues to the nature of “second-order dialogue” and “magical intercourse” (Second-order Dialogue and Higher Order Discourse for the Future, 2023; Magical Discourse Contrasting Human and AI Identity, 2023). Is there a “magic” to connectivity with nature, as many have argued — most notably through poetic expression?
As explored in what follows, a more radical appreciation of such connectivity can be brought into focus through recognition of occasions when the nature of particular experience is framed and justified by the phrase “it speaks to me”. The phrase is most commonly used with respect to paintings, music and song — or even to clothing. The question is then how such cultural artefacts “speak” and how this is meaningfully understood as a source of inspiration. An alternative phrase, otherwise meaningful, takes the form of “calling”, as in “being called” — whether in relation to a vocation, or more questionably in the case of a military “call up”.
A variant may be used regarding the experience of a significant other — whether a person, a leader, or an iconic figure, or even a pet. The phrase may also be used with respect to a place, a mountain, a view, a tree, or a river. Much is made of the value attached to the sense of place, especially over generations (Yi Fu Tuan, Topophilia: a study of environmental perception, attitudes and values, Columbia University Press, 1990; Lucy Lippard, The Lure of the Local: senses of place in a multicentered society, New Press, 1998; Tim Cresswell, Place: a short introduction, Blackwell Publishing, 2005).
Australia is witness at the time of writing to a highly controversial national referendum regarding modification of its constitution to recognize a “Voice” through which First Nations peoples will be enabled to speak to Parliament. It is of course the case that such institutions, despite the associated controversy, variously enshrine the voice of God as fundamental defining principles by which a civilization is purportedly governed.
It is then appropriate to ask whether there are ways in which sensibility to being “spoken to” can be diluted, distorted or dismissed as a “mere” figure of speech — especially when marketing skills may be carefully deployed to ensure that an advertisement “speaks to” a target audience, whether in support of a consumer product, an ideology, or a political campaign.
The focus in what follows is on the possibility of a radical cognitive engagement with the environment — one which challenges the conventional categories and distinctions of “objectivity” and “subjectivity”. The challenge notably follows from both the familiar experiential framing of “vibes” and from the understanding emerging from quantum mechanics, as previously discussed in relation to the sense of “magic”.
The argument considers how being “spoken to” (or “called by”) merits exploration in the light of speech act theory — thereby challenged by the cognitive engagement in a process which has experiential dimensions ranging from the spiritual to the romantic. The array of speech act categories is then of particular relevance to the evocation of engagement with problematic global conditions and natural disasters — variously understood as “speaking to” individuals and human civilization.
How is who to respond to the assessments of the UN Secretary-General on the occasion of the General Assembly (Humanity has ‘opened gates to hell’ by letting climate crisis worsen, The Guardian, 21 September 2023; UN secretary-general warns of ‘Great Fracture’ as world leaders begin debate, CNN, 19 September 2023; UN chief sees a world ‘becoming unhinged’ and a completely absent leadership: ‘we seem incapable of coming together to respond’, Fortune, 20 September 2023)? To whom do such assessments really speak? Who is “touched” by them?
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