55 - "Creativity & Catastrophe" (Talk at Palenque Norte, Burning Man 2017)

Tue Jan 09 2018 (01:00:30)

We’re living through a mass extinction – which is also one of the most awesome opportunities for creativity the Earth has ever seen.  In this talk that I gave at Burning Man 2017’s Palenque Norte Speaker Series, I give a short tour of Great Catastrophes of Natural History and show how each of them was also equally the advent of new life, intelligence, diversity, and richness. 

Studying how crisis is the mother of invention, it’s my hope that this talk will inspire you to see our turbulent, chaotic age as something to be celebrated.  Learning what we can from evolution, we can shed new light on how to steer ourselves away from global ecological disaster – perhaps to even revel in our role as agents of epochal change in Earth’s amazing story.




In this talk I discuss:

• Going backward in order to go forward, the reclamation of the traditions and wisdom we have abandoned in our March of Progress;

• The importance of situating ourselves and our moment in the larger context of Natural History;

• The “Press-Pulse” Theory of mass extinction;

• The emergent forms of life and evolutionary creativity ignored by nearly every conversation about how we’re “killing the planet”;

• What The Great Oxygenation Event has to teach us about pollution and creativity as a response to danger;

• Why philosopher Galen Strawson doesn’t believe in free will;

• How the evolution of flowers was a huge catastrophe;

• Richard Doyle’s update of the Stoned Ape Hypothesis and the role beauty and seduction have played in the evolution of consciousness and culture;

• What the evolution of early birds has to teach us about the proliferating ecosystem of mobile devices;

• Hopeful developments in the area of plastic-eating microbes and fungi, and using living machines to digest pollution;

• The wilderness lives on in cities in the Anthropocene;

• And how awesome the film Shin Gojira (2016) is.

• PLUS:  What if we are living in a giant galaxy-sized brain?


Bruce Damer, Jake Kobrin, Mitch Mignano, and more speak up in the Q&A.



“The story of life can be told as a series of nested singularities, nested horizons of knowing and understanding.”

“Sex is a far more effective R&D situation than clonal reproduction.”

“Everything that we’re creating now, we want to treat it with love, and an understanding that it has a life and a destiny of its own, and it’s not something we control.”

“Cultural realities are starting to seem less and less sufficient for describing and experiencing the full range of human potential.”



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