The Planetary question via Dipesh Chakrabarty:
We now have two registers through which we make sense of our lives. There’s register A of the human drama in which we complain about taxes and stick ‘Support Ukraine’ decals on the bumper. Then there’s register B in which our agency is set alongside the agency of impersonal and unconscious geophysical forces as DC says.
Can we make sense of both registers at once or are they incommensurable?
The gap between A and B is smaller than we have been led to believe. Let me rephrase that: A and B aren’t the right way to characterize social and geophysical forces, for those two positions presuppose much of the division between ‘society’ and ‘nature,’ the very dichotomy we are trying to overcome.
The humanist human is as much a caricature as the geophysical human, though we will have to dig into the origins of experience and intentionality to understand those caricatured positions. What we are looking for is the modern equivalent of the Hiranyagarbha, the womb of Being.
Not interested? Can I offer you a dose of big history instead?
Big history is a reductive approach to making sense of the sweep of human history within the larger story of the universe. In crude form, it says:
Physics → Chemistry → Biology → Psychology → History, i.e., Big Bang → Formation of elements → Origins of Life → Origins of Mind → Hominids → Humans → Civilization → Anthropocene
Other exponents of (broadly) the same explanatory strategy: E.O. Wilson, Steven Pinker, Jared Diamond, Yuval Noah Harari….. It’s the Kenny G approach to sense-making. Is there a credible alternative? How can we legitimately extend meaning and agency to non-human beings?
One point of entry is in opening up the ‘Origins of Mind’ slot to a lot of creatures, perhaps all of them. We will start with that tomorrow.
First stop Philip Ball: