Sunday, June 12, 2011

Escaping the limitations of human perspective

In 1940 Aldo Leopold penned his famous essay "Thinking like a mountain" which drew attention to the limitations of human understanding of nature. Leopold's point, that human based perspective is not the only (nor necessarily the best) way of perceiving the world is nicely illustrated by the following video -- which records a girl hula hooping taken from the perspective of the hula hoop. Note the markings on the hoop and the way it, from the perspective of the camera embedded in the hoop, remains stable while the girl and the sky rotate around it.

Solving our environmental problems requires us to escape from the limitations of our human perceptions -- which are increasingly insulated from nature (see, Bill McKibbon's The Age of Missing Information), from phenomena that play out on time scales that differ from ours (Leopold's point) and from phenomena that exist at very large or very small scales (see the chapter titled The Big I in Homer-Dixon's Ingenuity Gap.) The role of scale and the dominance of the human perspective are humorously illustrated through a contrast with the following xkcd comic and the Eames film (The Powers of 10) it parodies.

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