This is a preprint
The Ancient Origins of Consciousness: How the Brain Created Experience by Todd E. Feinberg and Jon M. Mallatt
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Leonardo Reviews 89 opportunities to sustain and restore natural ecosystems for current and future generations. Ethical stewardship is also an ecocentric ethic to some degree, for “an ecocentric ethic thus recognizes that if humans are to be considered part of nature, they, like all other species, should have the right to exploit it.” In other words, humans as biotic species are functional parts of complex adaptive ecosystems. While recognizing humanity’s right to exploit nature, such an ethic is not intended to give humanity license to exploit ecosystems without regard to sustainability. Systems thinking teaches us that to maintain sustainability of the whole system, humans must act in ways that preserve food web structure, and also preserve the dynamism created by species interactions and feedbacks (pp. 145–146). Chapter 6, “Hubris to Humility,” shows how difficult it is to design ecosystems in a real sense. This chapter begins with a discussion of Biosphere 2 (Earth is Biosphere 1), a 1990s science experiment that took place in a fully enclosed glass facility near Tucson, Arizona. The enclosed space contained several miniature ecosystems, heating and cooling systems, and space for human habitation and agriculture. Eight people were sealed into the facility for two years. The project included monitoring the participants’ health and the air, water and soil functioning in the biosphere. The problems the experiment exposed show how difficult it is to engineer a functional natural economy . Humans complained of hunger the first year, although they did adapt in the second. Ecosystems in the biosphere became underdeveloped, or transformed in other ways, because of unforeseen limitations related to how the crafted environment evolved. The most significant challenge was maintaining balanced levels of carbon dioxide and oxygen. The experiment, which cost about US $200 million, was halted after two years because many of the species in the biosphere had died and the human participants began to experience apnea and chronic fatigue. While I appreciate Schmitz’s expression of the need for humility and his presentation of the New Ecology as offering an approach by humans for humans, a major reservation I had as I read was that humans in this book are more conceptual than “actual,” because he treats humanity as if it is all of one piece. People interested in learning about how an ecologist sees this vocation will no doubt enjoy this book, particularly those who desire a view that counters the idea that we are headed toward a global environmental crisis. Even still, it is hard to avoid concerns about the human enterprise, as Schmitz’s comments about global climate change remind us: Layered upon all of this, with poten­ tially conflating effects, is global climate change. Domestication of nature by humans increases greenhouse gas emissions through land clearing and resource exploitation, land conversion for agriculture, rearing livestock, production and use of cement for infrastructure development, energy generation, and transportation of humans, their goods, and their materials. A warming Earth selects for those species with the suite of physiological traits that allow them to adapt to changing conditions. Those that are incapable go extinct (p. 84). In summary, Schmitz’s arguments, while sensible, are presented without the cacophony of human voices. I would have liked him to critique his own proposals, to name competing ideas about proposed policies that aim to combat climate change, and to name theories to a greater degree (e.g. the Jevons paradox). I am not suggesting that he should have given voice to environmental skeptics. Rather, as Schmitz tells us, scientific understanding of urban environments remains rudimentary. Because his discussion read more like a story detailing ecology through his own eyes, the critical evaluation was sparse. Schmitz’s urge for innovations and a scientific approach to urban design, while compelling, did not include enough about human complexity. Perhaps this will come in another book? Suffice it to say, I was hoping The New Ecology would provide scientific details that would open entry into the issues circling within the implementation debates when environmental questions arise. Schmitz, instead, punts: The specter that humans can insti­ gate rapid evolutionary change is well appreciated in an environmental stewardship ethic. . . . But what it means operationally for the interplay between changes...


pdf