Philosophy Without Borders

PHILOSOPHY CAUSES TROUBLE. It makes people want to think for themselves, and even worse, teaches them how to do it. We have to kill it! Let’s fill its mouth with salt, sew its lips together, put a stake through its heart and bury it deep in the earth, beyond all human reach.

Just kidding. Playing devil’s advocate to get your attention. Did it work?

The reality is, you can’t kill philosophy. You couldn’t even if you wanted to and we hope that’s not the case, despite human history being strewn with attempts to suppress free thinking. Philosophy is as natural to humans as breathing. It’s the inevitable outcome of minded animals, including humans. It will keep popping up like the heads in a Whac-A-Mole.[1]So, we’re stuck with it. But what is it good for?

We know it used to be:

  • the primary source for Life, a user’s manual, as opposed to religion, which is deeply flawed by being based in illusion and delusion;
  • a big influence in Ancient Greece, Confucian China, Christian empires (with some sneaky contributors like St Augustine and Descartes) and, more importantly
  • the driving force behind the Enlightenment when European and north American societies drifted away from religion and monarchies, towards science, democracy, parliaments and arguably embarking on a trend towards emancipatory freedom.

But what now?

The modern era, culminating in world wars obviously capable of destroying civilization altogether and rendering the planet unfit for human life, has been amonster downerand a scary lesson,scaring humanity so much that no further equally-catastrophic global conflicts have occurred for the last 74 years.

This monster downerscary lessonwas odd, because in the modern era humanity was starting to get some glimpses of progress in many areas, including physics, medicine, sanitation, radio, television, movies, literacy, respect for minorities, respect for the environment, respect for women, abolition of slavery and respect for other races. It’s true parts of the world altered their relationship with the biblical value system which for good or ill, was doing a lot of the heavy lifting in the ethics area.[2]At the same time the world also saw some unwelcome and perhaps too rapid developments in overpopulation, capitalism, individual and economic depressions, urbanization, warfare and genocide. There was, go figure, a widespread positive belief in the possibilities of technological and political progress. But if things were going so great, why all the fascism, totalitarianism and war?

Strangely, after a promising start, the last 74 years also saw decline in the prestige of ethics, philosophy and philosophers. Can you name a universally recognised contemporary philosopher? (No, John Lennon, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell don’t count.) The relevance and cut-through of philosophy has been going down the gurgler. Is there a correlation between the decline of philosophy and humans rushing to their doom down the climate plughole? Maybe, maybe not. But we’re just sayin’… there has been a lot of misinformation, dithering and a clear lack of critical thinking, people.

In 2019, it’s pretty obvious. In the grand scheme of things, philosophy is a non-starter. It is no longer a force for reason, sanity, or getting a handle on shit that actually makes sense. The reason for this, however, is not for the lack of philosophers. There are hundreds of thousands of them teaching at universities, more than all the philosophers prior to the twentieth century combined.

Why do we need philosophy now?

It is generally acknowledged we face a catastrophic global threat caused by out-of-control, overpopulated, competitive, selfish and sometimes just-unthinkingly-following-along humans. In other words, us. We are responsible for mass extinctions, global warming and all the sorts of world-fuckers you can imagine and some you can’t. These creeping and possibly unstoppable changes will play out over the next 100 years, for bad or worse. The writing has been on the wall for so long it’s getting faded. This threat is more than just the obvious threat itself, it’s the rise of denialism, post-truth, fake news and false thinking which is really setting off alarm bells.

This essay is first and foremost an attempt to address these challenges and to argue that philosophy might be part of the answer.

Do humans have a rosy future?

Briefly, no. But you already know this. If things go on the way they are, we are going to be in a pretty pickle sooner than you can say global warming. However, this is a theoretical rather than direct threat for most people, in practice affecting only a few thousand people whose rooves blew off last week because of global-climate-change-induced severe weather[3]and some rather unhappy folk on Pacific islands who are finding their idyllic island home is rapidly disappearing underwater.[4]

Nevetheless, it’s a clear and menacing danger. In response, you would expect rational humans to say, whoa, that’s really bad, we ought to do something about it. But no one really cares. At least not when our self-interest gets in the way. Perhaps with the exception of Greta Thunberg. But she’s having a hard time actually convincing any people in charge, who seem to have more than a passing interest in keeping things as they are, a system which is the product of global economics, profits and the concept of nation states which enshrines the right of countries (nation states) to go to hell in their own fashion, even if it destroys the whole planet.

Strictly speaking, the problem is soluble, by getting rid of the cause, which is humans. Yes, too many of us doing too much bad shit, of course, but also our wilful and absurd practical denial there is even a problem to begin with. We might pay lip service to action on climate change, but we aren’t going to sacrifice anything for it. Go on, admit it, you’re not doing anything. No-one is. Except Greta and her friends. You might be one of those, but the entire world-population of genuine Greta-friends amounts to only a vanishingly-small, ineffectual, brave but pathetic squeak from a far-away land.

What to do? Short of decreeing compulsory and immediate euthanasia for all humans on earth, which might seem to some of them a tad extreme, we can argue against climate denial and propose things to do about it. Why aren’t we doing this already? Or at least, other than ineffectively.

Obviously[5], each generation has challenges to meet. Distressingly, history has shown our first inclination is to avoid them. Is this because of the comfort in the old saying, better late than never? Is this why we need to seelife-taking, body-maiming, freedom-crushing, baby-snatching, excruciatingly-painful in-your-face day-to-day horrorbefore we do anything?

What crisis haven’t we dealt with, eventually? Hitler and the Nazis? Ok we let that one go on a little too long.Stalin and the kill-the-peasants thing?[6]The concept of allies got stretched a bit there, and yes Stalin was a big boo-boo, but he’s gone now. Really, we are great when we put our minds to it. We’ll leap into action to tackle this thing and whup its arse, you’ll see. Any day now. Even the craziest denialist will be there re-refrigerating the polar icecaps after the first global famine makes life extremely unpleasant even in Wyoming. Yes, it will be late, but as the saying goes, better late than never. 

But what if there is no difference between late and never?

Huh? No such thing! It’s never too late.

Oh yeah? What if the lag between action and result gets so huge that when we start to act it is alreadytoo late? Can that happen? Oh yes, it already has. The much vaunted 350 parts per million upper limit of carbon dioxide was way back. We’ve passed 390 ppm and still rising fast. We’re in the frying pan, the fire is right here and it’s a big one. It’s going to burn for decades. Harvard dude James Anderson[7][8]says this amount of atmospheric carbon hasn’t been seen for 12 million years. We’re being pushed into a new Eocene, with no ice on the poles, the ocean 10 degrees warmer than now, and no temperature gradient from the equator to the poles.  “The chance that there will be any permanent ice left in the Arctic after 2022 is essentially zero,” Anderson said.[9] 75 to 80 percent of permanent ice has already melted already in the last 35 years. The oceans will die, and the coral reefs will die first. We can see that happening already. Other parts of the oceans have also died.[10]Those dead zones are expanding to kill one of the biggest biomasses on the planet, krill.[11]When they go it won’t be pretty and it will smell even worse.

If action were taken within the next five years, let’s say before 2025, it would need a WW2 scale global collaborative effort to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and stop sunlight hitting the poles, to even have a chance of keeping the place habitable. After 2025, forget it. Even if we did take big action in time, the task requires getting the carbon footprint down to zero by 2040. That’s near impossible. Oh, we’ll try. After decades of denial and delay, we’ll have a good old British try. Say goodnight to Irene on your way out.

Is it really too late? Are we all doomed? In that case, what difference does it make? The answer is yes, it’s going to get ugly, but if we do something on a global scale by 2025, we can prevent most of the life-taking, body-maiming, freedom-crushing, baby-snatching, excruciatingly-painful in-your-face day-to-day horror.

Who knows about this? Why wasn’t I told?

Actually, you were. Everyone was. It’s common knowledge.[12]

All right, we’re fucked. So, apart from that, what’s the problem?

The real and very sinister problem is this is only one of many instances of concerted misinformation and spin campaigns at the highest levels, in favour of extremely powerful and wealthy vested interests, to deny a whole lot of bad shit so they can keep on doing what they are doing (the source of their vast power and wealth) long enough to see them out. These people are invariably over the age of 70, so they’ve got an average of 10 years to live. If they’re lucky, 20. Life expectancy for males in the UK and the US has actually dropped substantially in recent years. What do they care about 2040? Not a fig’s fart. It’s not their problem. It’s ours.

Do people have the ability to realise this? Maybe, but it isn’t easy when governments are in denial. And it is not easy if you haven’t got the skills for, and experience of, thinking for yourself, gathering the facts, knowing which are true and which are false, having the ability to analyse an argument and detect bullshit. Not to mention scientific literacy. You are going to have to know why things grow and why they don’t, what are pollutants and what aren’t and how to do agriculture on a human rather than agrobusiness scale without blanket pesticides and dump-on fertilizers. You might even have to learn the names of two or three plants and animals. You are certainly going to have to know what carbon dioxide really is, why humans need vitamin C in their diet and why bicycles use less fossil fuel than 18-wheeler, long-haul trucks. You might already be very familiar with the word extinction, but what does it mean for you?

Yes, you are going to have to know all this because knowledge is critical for understanding. You might think, since you are part of the western world living in relatively good times with a stable democracy[13]why would governments and business interests lie to you either by omission, or spin? News flash. Everybody lies.

What’s philosophy got to do with it?

This is where philosophy comes in. Thinking for yourself and not accepting with blind faith, explanations for the world ranging from “trust me I’m a doctor” to “if you don’t put money in my donation box you’re going straight to hell on the express lift.”

We expect to be told the truth. In case you haven’t heard, this doesn’t happen any more. We have post-truth. We need help. The philosopher knights in shining armour will come to our aid in these dark times, won’t they?

And who might they be?

Those hundreds of thousands of philosophers you were talking about in universities.

Nope. Sorry. They are way too busy disagreeing with each other about a) what sort of philosophy they do and b) why the other types (they aren’t doing) are rubbish. If you look up contemporary philosophy, you’ll find it is characterised by 1) increasing professionalisation and 2) the rise of analyticand continentalphilosophy — which in turn led to the analytic-continental divide, which (as it turns out) is entirely irrelevant to anyone other than philosophers. Unfortunately, whatever is withineither contemporary analyticor continentalphilosophy is also entirely irrelevant, because it betrays the legacy of philosophy. This legacy is the search for truth. Philosophy which betrays the legacy of philosophy simply isn’t philosophy. Sorry. It’s not personal. There may be real philosophers in academia, but academic philosophy in the English-speaking world is not about doing philosophy. It’s about existing in a tertiary education system, and Darwin knows that’s hard enough without the added complication of actually having to do something. Here’s a tip. If you want to gain some useful skills in thinking, steer clear of university philosophy departments. Except for the Critical Thinking program at University of Queensland, and other such exception-proves-the-rule outliers.

Just take one example, a priori. What does that mean? Lots of things, apparently. In a dictionary it might mean Relating to reasoning or knowledge from theoretical deduction rather than observation or experience.[14]In a university philosophy department, or in a great heap of books on philosophy, versions of a prioriturn out to be not only complicated, confusing, esoteric, unclear, indistinct and unreadable but also fiercely contested, as Robert Hanna found when writing his book Cognition, Content, and the A Priori[15]where he distinguishes, spells out and critically discusses eleven—fair dinks!—different conceptions of a prioribefore finally deciding to defend only the eleventh one.

What is real philosophy?

Real philosophy is your philosophy. If you want real philosophy, you are going to have to do it yourself. And be prepared to be a pariah. You will be vilified and excluded in the world generally because you will be branded a self-taught trouble maker. In the world of professional academic philosophy, practitioners and administrators will brand you a maverick, a malcontent and a traitor to their cause.

All right then, but what are the hallmarks of real philosophy. By the sounds of it, being ignored?

For the moment, yes. Any real philosopher is on a hiding to nothing, ignored and vilified both inside and outside the academy as “one of those” but sooner or later, the present philosophical establishment will be crushed out of existence by the remorseless drive to eliminate every type of education if there isn’t a dollar in it. Independent thinkers, who keep the light on the hill alight by seeking to say important things clearly and cogently, will be realised as pioneers, one day. You might be dead by then, but at least you can live with yourself in the meantime.

Fake philosophers (philosophy teachers who don’t do any real philosophy) can be spiteful, exclusionist, nasty and evil in their treatment of real philosophers. But where does spite come from? It comes from inadequacy and doubt. In forgetting to align their intentions with the task of answering humanity’s need for philosophy, contemporary professional academic philosophers abjure their right to call themselves philosophers. On the other hand, we know there is good and bad in everyone, so we don’t hate them. We just consider them imposters as far as philosophy is concerned.

Philosophy can help clarify humanity’s shared understanding of reality, or zeitgeist.[16]It can help with aligning shared reality with truth, by helping people achieve clarity of expression and the capacity to understand. Individual real philosophers canmake a difference, whereas the professional academy is severely limited, being mired in squabbles about philosophical schools, abandoning the need to make sense to ordinary humans, and at the same time being whittled away by bean counters. Individuals like you can make a difference by telling the most important truths and being alive to the spirit of inquiry, not the death of “understanding.”

Philosophy Without Borders

Like a club for non-conformists, Philosophy Without Bordersis an open-source, open-minded forum for sharing original philosophy, produced by critically thoughtful, insightful, reflective people for other critically thoughtful, insightful, reflective people, with no restraints on what form the philosophy may take and with no restriction by borders or boundaries of any kind. It is a small but growing cosmopolitan community of people, widely distributed in space and across time-zones, connected by the Internet. Its two basic aims are 1) to enable and support the pursuit of philosophy, worldwide, and 2) to create and share original works of philosophy freely available to anyone, anywhere.[17]

Philosophy Without Bordersassumes universal enfranchisement and emancipation as a goal, so that all people may participate in the generation and discussion of philosophy. Its only requirement is that the cultural products shared contain real philosophical thinking.

Real philosophical thinking means unhindered and not self-censored by subservience to any so-called philosophical authority or canon, aimed at least in some way at generating, elucidating or commenting on philosophical ideas and respectful of the assumed universal enfranchisement and emancipation of all people and therefore communicated in a spirit of love, peace, and understanding — not hate, conflict, or vilification.

Radically enlightened philosophers have existed in all cultures and all ages, readily recognised by their support of unrestricted reason and universal respect for human dignity as the two primary vehicles for creating understanding, and calling for disputes and conflicts to be resolved or avoided by means of the search for logically-guided, evidence-based truth rather than personal beliefs, creeds, mysticisms, or other ideological constructs. Philosophy Without Borders is a safe haven for thinkers to explore and warn against the incursions against radical enlightenment by abuses of greed, power, control, oppression, obedience, censorship, hate, advertising, derision, bullying, xenophobia, nationalism, feudalism, group-think, expensive bottled water and other crimes against and limitations of humanity. Philosophy Without Bordersin this sense can be thought of Enlightenment Redux, not just a passing phase, but the underlying principles of all humane activity. Philosophy Without Bordersopposes oppression by complacency, stupidity, and evil, which persist all around the world, not only in despotic regimes, but also in supposedly enlightened ones, mostly as a result of an obsession with self-interested competition and the possession of coercive power, rather than mutual aid and constructive cooperation as the bases for rational human activity.

There is a place for all sorts of stuff in Philosophy Without Borders. The readership, in the last six months to June 30 2019, has quadrupled to almost 8000 readers a month. Even if this one outpost trying to do real philosophy is being ignored by the philosophical establishment others are arriving and staying—and in the end, it’s the free agency of all those others that Philosophy Without Bordersis trying to prime via its work. We welcome your contribution, to Hugh Reginald, Editorial Team Leader, Philosophy Without Borders: philosophywithoutborders1@gmail.com

 

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whac-A-Mole

[2]Ethics (moral philosophy) is a branch of philosophy for understanding, defending and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct and considering matters of value. Yes, philosophy is that important.

[3]As the world has warmed so have changes in extreme weather and climate events, with increases in prolonged periods of excessively high temperatures, heavy downpours, severe floods and droughts. https://nca2014.globalchange.gov/highlights/report-findings/extreme-weather

[4]Since 1900 sea levels have risen by about 20 cm, rapidly accelerating since 1993. Levels are conservatively predicted to rise by 120 cm by 2100, or by 240 cm if Antarctic ice melts are factored in. This acceleration is due mostly to human-caused global warming, which is driving thermal expansion of seawater and the melting of land-based ice sheets and glaciers.

[5]If it was otherwise, we wouldn’t encounter the problems, would we, because we wouldn’t have any problems to deal with. La de dah de dah.

[6]Stalin killed millions. A Stanford historian answers the question, was it genocide? https://news.stanford.edu/2010/09/23/naimark-stalin-genocide-092310/

[7]Not the English cricketer.

[8]The Harvard dude https://climatechange.environment.harvard.edu/james-anderson

[9]https://www.sciencetimes.com/articles/23104/20190703/only-5-years-to-save-the-world-from-climate-change-warns-harvard-scientist.htm

[10]Oceans suffocating as huge dead zones quadruple since 1950, scientists warn https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jan/04/oceans-suffocating-dead-zones-oxygen-starved

[11]Most Antarctic krill are found in an area from the Weddell Sea to the waters around the Antarctic Peninsula, the finger of land that juts up toward South America. They serve as an important source of food for various species of whales, seals and penguins. While those animals find other food sources during lean years, it is unclear if those alternate sources are sustainable long-term.https://www.climatecentral.org/news/climate-change-could-put-tiny-krill-at-risk-20641

[12]This will be essential, they say, to save coral reefs worldwide from a catastrophic decline which threatens the livelihoods of an estimated 500 million people globally. https://www.uq.edu.au/news/article/2009/11/scientists-call-urgent-global-cooling-save-coral-reefs

[13]Never mind Brexit which is potentially destabilising, but it’s never going to happen so we can leave it to one side.

[14]https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/a%20priori

[15]https://global.oup.com/academic/product/cognition-content-and-the-a-priori-9780198716297?cc=us&lang=en&

[16]Yes, every view of the world and universeis subjective, but philosophically this doesn’t get us anywhere unless we also realise the map is not the territory. This means what we construct in our subjective view of the world and universe is necessarily not the real thing, it is our understanding of the real thing, and may not be entirely correct. This notion is obvious to science which requires the scientist to remain open to the possibility of being wrong. Mapping the territory is a natural, good, worthwhile, helpful thing to do and the closer the map is to the territory it represents the better, as Korzybski said. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Map–territory_relation 

[17]https://www.patreon.com/philosophywithoutborders

Notes on some cigarettes appearing in Manacles

Last week I found a Camel cigarette packet in a box which once contained cigars. I bought the box in 1981 in Singapore on the way to London. The cigars were from the Philippines and long gone. The cigarette packet was of uncertain vintage, but very likely also came from the 1980s.

It’s strange to think of those times when so many people smoked cigarettes. My parents both smoked Camel cigarettes, an unfiltered, strong cigarette, incredibly popular in its day. Before they smoked Camel they smoked Temple Bar. My mother worked for Philip Morris when she was a young woman in Melbourne in her 20s after WW2. Smoking the house brand was quite the thing to do.

According to Wikipedia, Philip Morris is still going strong. The current operations is located in Lausanne, Switzerland. The company apparently still owns seven of the top 15 tobacco brands in the world. In 2015 it sold 850 billion cigarettes. Any updates, people 

My mother had a stroke last week, as a result of the damage past smoking had on the small blood vessels in her brain. She stopped smoking, mostly, after about 1989. Last week, some of those damaged blood vessels just shut down. She rang me at 8am after trying to talk to her cat but found she couldn’t pronounce the words properly. Her voice was slurred. In the mirror, she saw the left side of her face was slack, and her mouth was wonky. I called an ambulance.

Temple Bar is not in Wikipedia as a cigarette. I might have imagined the cartons of cigarettes that were bought and lodged in the walk-in wardrobe in my parents’ room in Taringa, a suburb of Brisbane, but I didn’t. They were real. I know they were real because the pictures on the internet are the ones I remember seeing in the 1960s on the coffee table still there under the standard lamp beside a bookcase. I found the image here:

Why aren’t they in Wikipedia? I don’t know. If I wanted to find out about Temple Bar cigarettes, I would Google them. If Wikipedia had a page about them it would rank high in the search results, because Wikipedia is a trusted source. Information on Wikipedia can be wrong, but it doesn’t stay wrong for long. There are Wikipedians out there who get notified of articles and changes to articles and check them. They don’t like wrong information. They like to see the evidence. They like facts. They are sometimes a bit too keen on shooting down articles because they lack facts, references and hard evidence. I wondered innocently if they could just as well use their energy to search out and supply the facts themselves rather than binning or flagging an article they deem unworthy.

But there was no Wikipedia page on Temple Bar. Like a warning on a Wikipedia page, this made me think there was a warning in my brain, something like: “Your memory has multiple issues. It is possible Temple Bar London should be merged with Temple Bar Dublin. This fact needs further references for verification.”

It is very likely someone out there knows the facts about Temple Bar cigarettes. They could supply this information to Wikipedia and it would be gladly received because it is notable, ideal for inclusion in an encyclopedia, and  presently, lost to the history of the world.

Why don’t they supply this information to Wikipedia, these knowledgeable souls?

Because they don’t realise they can. While Wikipedia is a daily “go to” source for information “consumers” those same people don’t usually think they could be information providers. 

So much for Temple Bar and the consumer versus the contributor culture. What about Camel cigarettes? I know my school friends scorned them, saying they tasted like camel dung. They did taste a bit strange, because of the Turkish tobacco. 

Camel does have a Wikipedia page and when I visited it, I came with a couple of warnings, a) that Camel Crush [could] be merged into this article and b) the article needed additional citations for verification. 

I evaluated these and decided to remove the warnings because

  1. Camel Crush is its own page and can stay that way; and
  2. the need for additional citations are not so dire as to require a big scary warning at the top of the page.

After doing this I was free to read the page unencumbered by what one might call “excessive gatekeeper zeal”.

In doing so I learned that Camel cigarettes were something of a marketing marvel.

“In 1913, R.J. Reynolds innovated the packaged cigarette. Prior cigarette smokers rolled their own, which tended to obscure the potential for a national market for a pre-packaged product. Reynolds worked to develop a more appealing flavor, creating the Camel cigarette, so named because it used Turkish tobacco in imitation of then-fashionable Egyptian cigarettes. Reynolds priced them below competitors and within a year, he had sold 425 million packs.”

“Camel cigarettes used an advertisingcampaign of “teasers” simply stating “the Camels are coming.” This marketing style was a prototype for subsequent attempts to sway public opinion into backing the United States’ entry into World War I, and later World War II.”

Isn’t it amazing what you can learn from Wikipedia. 

My mother spent a few days in hospital leaning there are types of strokes which occur because of damage from smoking decades before. I took her home after she was thoroughly and expertly checked out. I warned her she would feel lost and bewildered, but this would pass. 

It hasn’t yet. 

Great changes and sad losses

So many great legends have left us in these past few weeks. John Sinclair, genuine hero of Fraser Island, died at the relatively young age of 79. One of the last things he did, obviously exultant, was promote the 2018 Cooloola Coast bioblitz on ABC TV here. Barbara York Main was a giant in pioneer arachnology in Western Australia. Densey Clyne, working furiously and methodically, with great skills and compassion, died this week at 96.  She was one of our greatest science communicators. Always bubbly and cheerful, yet with steely scientific rigour. Also on the Cooloola Coast, Maree Prior was the pint-sized conservation powerhouse of the Cooloola region.

John Sinclair was the pioneering conservationist who spent decades lobbying to stop sand mining and logging on Fraser Island, before it was World Heritage-listed in 1992, has died. John Sinclair protested against sand mining on Fraser Island, leading to a ban on export sales of mineral sands from the island and its eventual recognition as a World Heritage Listed-site. His son Keith after they won the battle to stop mining, remembered his father said “Now we have to stop Fraser Island from being loved to death. As long as you look after the place, you can repeat tourism, you can keep taking people back there.” Mr Sinclair’s family requested that John Sinclair be remembered by donations to further the wisest possible use of Fraser Island.

The Lady of the Spiders, Barbara Main (nee York), left a consummate scientific and literary legacy that was generated by her passion for the natural environment, dedicating her working life to documenting the spiders and other invertebrate inhabitants of Australia. Barbara became the first female PhD in the Department of Zoology at the University of Western Australia. Her strong connection to natural landscapes was shown in Twice Trodden Ground, where she declared that she longed “to return to a wild, lonely, forgotten piece of unwanted ‘useless’ land no good for farming … the sort of place where one finds a kind of earthly anointment”.

Pint-sized Cooloola Coast conservation powerhouse Maree Prior, past Cooloola Coastcare Coordinator and Life Member, passed away on Sunday March 17. In 2017 she took a position as Projects Officer for Biodiversity with Burnett-Mary Regional Group where she continued her tireless work for the environment she loved so dearly. Maree devoted herself to projects related to better understanding and management of coastal systems, including ocean beaches, estuaries and wetlands, through community engagement activities and on-ground work.

Densey Clyne’s environmental work with cinematographer Jim Frazier and lifelong study of insects, plants and the delicate relationship between all living things was ground-breaking.

Her lifetime was dedicated to exploring, understanding and sharing knowledge about the natural world. She was a writer, photographer, speaker, TV presenter and producer and has scripted documentaries and worked with the legendary Sir David Attenborough. 

These great legends held up the sky.  

 

The BioDiscovery Project at The Woodfordia Planting

The upcoming Planting Festival (May 3-5), is not only about planting. It is also about ideas for conserving and regenerating our planet. The BioDiscovery Project hosted by The Planting Festival, will see scientists and citizens engaging Woodfordia’s biodiversity; from the tiny microscopic life to the large, colourful and furry. The species which make our life possible have been evolving over millions of years, but many face extinction as we continue to warm the globe. However, in the doom and gloom of the future humanity is facing, seeds of hope still thrive.

 

The Planting Festival celebrates biodiversity in nature and in culture, embracing life through the efforts of thousands of hands coming together over the last two decades to revegetate the now beautiful landscape that is Woodfordia. This evolving landscape of cultural and botanical diversity  supports thousands of species of wildlife, many of which are still unknown to science. Last year a new species of crab spider was discovered at The Planting, nicknamed named Lehtinelagia woodfordia.  Through the efforts of scientists and citizen scientists,  children and parents, close to 300 species of wildlife were documented through QuestaGame, a biodiversity research app.

Woodfordia’s Environmental Projects Officer and passionate biologist, Dr. Sandra Tuszynska, is trying to discover all the creatures living at Woodfordia.

“From bioluminescent fungi, to giant beetles and iridescent moths, Woodfordia is truly a land of magic, where community efforts create and celebrate biodiversity. The Planting is a one of a kind event, demonstrating the power of a community who gather to nurture the land, receiving back the incredible gifts of biodiversity and wonder. It is all about sowing seeds of hope for future generations, through conservation, science, art and hands-on education,” said Sandra.

The BioDiscovery Project will continue the stock take and celebrate community efforts in growing Woodfordia’s biodiversity. Scientists who specialise in the various lifeforms be it fungi, mosses, spiders or insects will engage patrons in the scientific methods of biodiversity research. Using QuestaGame, citizen scientists will have the opportunity to contribute to Woodfordia’s biodiversity research in a fun and meaningful way in the field, and at the DiscoveryLab, a place for intimate discussions with bio-experts and microscopic observation of the various lifeforms which support life on Earth.

 On this year’s Planting Festival menu, Australia’s celebrated biologist Tim Low will discuss The New Nature explaining how humanity’s influences help some species to thrive. Robert Whyte will be looking for more new spider species. Professor Jean Mark Hero, will lead us on a frog quest, while Wayne Boatright, the president of the Queensland Mycological Society will explain how to identify fungi. We will explore the tiny forests of mosses and other Bryophytes with Andrew Franks, and we will look under the microscope at the root symbiotic fungi which sequester carbon from the atmosphere into soils. There will be much discussion about how to remediate, halt and reverse climate change, while the Citizen Science Panel with James Gullison and Caitlin Syme from the Queensland Chapter of the Australian Citizen Science Association, will discuss how we can become involved in various citizen science projects for a brighter future. Explore the Planting Festival program.

 

Science Festival Jolt-worthy

Jolt Science’s  Sandra Tuszynska, Robert Whyte and Anne Jones

Jolt Science did a session with the Royal Society of Queensland (our oldest and most venerated science society) at the Brisbane International Science Festival on Saturday 23 March 2019, with Robert Whyte, Anne Jones and Sandra Tuszynska taking the “Ask an Expert” chair for the morning session. Included herein are excerpts from the report of Royal Society event organiser Tony Van Der Ark. Also Sandra’s piratical journeys to the ABC tent to steal an interview with Dr. Karl.

The event went very well and beyond our expectations.  Across the 15 hours we were open, the stand was at capacity for at least 60% of the time and we didn’t have a single minute with fewer than 8 people. The shell displays were amazing and extremely popular. We had a great team of learned folks from Birds Queensland, the Royal Society of QLD, the QNC and Jolt Science answering questions ranging from slides rules, standing waves, fossils, to the scale of the universe. Hundreds of children and parents absolutely loved it. Young Harry displayed great stamina and enthusiasm giving non-stop explanations of the demonstrations, a number of people commented on his proficiency and surprise that he has only just turned 15. 

An Exhilarating Encounter with a Hummingbird Moth

Originally posted here on 16/02/2015 by Mt Gravatt Environment Group

by Sandra Tuszynska

 About two weeks ago I experienced something out of my ordinary. I was talking to a friend in her garden at around 6 pm. As we stood by a red bottle brush (Callistemon), we heard a very loud buzzing sound. A larger than normal pollinator hovered with it’s extremely rapidly beating wings near the flowers. It was just like a tiny hummingbird! We were so intrigued, we almost got fooled, but I knew that unfortunately, we do not have hummingbirds in Australia.

I started craving for my camera. Soon my friend brought out her brand new Canon hoping to maybe get a shot of this fascinating little creature, so we could get a closer look. As we have suspected this fantastic, hovering beauty was a hawkmoth. I was determined to get a closer pic and was very glad when my friend handed me her camera. I followed the very adamant creature trying to capture its beauty on camera. It was fast and I just stood there mesmerised by its disposition.

After some time it seemed to have become accustomed to my prying presence and began to ignore me, completing its seemingly single-minded mission, as I ecstatically snapped away. I could have stayed there for ever. I didn’t want this experience to ever end. After a while though, it was time for me to. As I walked away, I hoped that at least some of the photos would turn out, so I can identify the creature and perhaps share its beauty with others.

I asked my friend if I could borrow her SD card to copy the images onto my computer. I could not believe the treasure I have acquired. I felt so much joy, just like an excited child who has just received a brand new toy, or better yet a brand new puppy!

Some days later I sat down to get a closer look at the images and choose a few good ones to share. I also started doing some research to identify this hummingbird-like hawkmoth. This turned out to be a long-winded venture. I first looked up Google Pictures to see if any other person has posted a photo of this creature. I found a few similar moths but from China and Europe. The genus I began to suspect, wasMacroglossum, but I could not find photos of any similar species in Australia. This led me to find an incredible photographer, SINOBUG form Toowoomba, who has moved to China to photograph insects. Another fantastic resource I encountered is the Australian Wildlife Photography group on Flickr, where people post some of the most amazing images of Australian Wildlife.

I emailed Helen Schwencke, a butterfly expert and author of Create More Butterflies,  Earthling Enterprises. Helen suggested that it might be a Bee Hawk moth, Cephonodes spp., but after some comparison of the features between the moths I was in doubt. I’ve checked the Australian Museum site and images, and Ous-Lep a site dedicated to Australian Lepidoptera, the moth and butterfly order, but I could not see what I was looking for. It is not easy to compare a photo of a live specimen with a drawing or photos of dead specimen.

I’ve decided to ask What’s that Bug. This incredible site is run by passionate volunteers in the U.S., who identify insects from photos that people upload. To my surprise, I received a message from them in less than a day and here is what Daniel wrote:

Dear Sandra,

We believe we have identified your diurnal Hawkmoth as Macroglossum micacea based on images posted to Butterfly House where it states:  “The adult moths of this species have dark brown forewings sometimes with indistinct paler bands across them. They have even darker brown hind wings with two yellow areas by the inner margin. The moths have a wingspan of about 5 cms.”  Little other information is provided and the site does not indicate the species flies during the day.  The Sphingidae Taxonomic Inventory shows Queensland as the only part of Australia where sightings have been reported.  Since they are in the same genus, the similarity to Macroglossum stellatarum is understandable.  It is also pictured on the Papua Insects Foundation.  Most online images are of mounted specimens, and we are thrilled to be able to post your excellent action photos of this lovely diurnal Hawkmoth.

I was so grateful and absolutely delighted by this response. I notified Helen who suggested to Ask an Entomologist to confirm the moth’s ID. So I emailed Dr. Kathy Ebert to illuminate me further on this humming query. I have not heard back yet but I am patiently waiting. In the meantime I have started to do some research on hummingbird and other hawk moths.

I have downloaded some fascinating science articles on moth vision. Here is a preview of what’s to come in the next post:

Hummingbird moths are actually diurnal species, meaning that they forage during the day. Besides using olfactory or scent senses, they have colour or chromatic vision to identify their food source. Additionally they also use achromatic cues such as intensity of contrast or brightness to identify their preferred nectar sources. Like us and bees, they also use colour constancy, the ability to recognise a specific colour regardless of the illumination, which may change the shade or intensity of a colour. However, unlike us and bees, who are colour blind at night, nocturnal moths are able to discriminate flowers at starlight intensity. Moths, like us, bees and other animals learn to distinguish colours and can be trained to do so, if given a sweet reward.

So until next post, I hope you get to enjoy the incredible natural beauty that we still have around us.