Why farmpunk?

A farmpunk could be described as a neo-agrarian who approaches [agri]culture, community development and/or design with an anarchistic hacker ethos. "Cyber-agrarian" could supplant neo-agrarian, indicating a back-to-the-land perspective that stands apart from past movements because it is heavily informed by conceptual integration in a post-industrial information society (thus "forward to the land" perhaps?) The art and science of modern ecological design—and ultimately, adapting to post-collapse contexts—will be best achieved through the combined arts of cybermancy and geomancy; an embrace of myth and ritual as eco-technologies. In other words: the old ways of bushcraft and woodlore can be combined with modern technoscience (merely another form of lore) in open and decentralized ways that go beyond pure anarcho-primitivism. This blog is an example of just that. Throughout, natural ecologies must be seen as the original cybernetic systems.

**What we call for at the farmpunk headquarters**
°Freedom of information
°Ground-up action + top-down perspectives
°Local agricultural systems (adhering to permaculture/biodynamic principles) as the nuclei of economies
°Bioregional autonomy
°Computers are optional but can be used for good—see peer to peer tech, social media for direct popular management of natural or political disasters (e.g. Arab Spring), or the mission of the hacker collective Anonymous

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Dear readers... meet my goats!

Why haven’t I posted a pic of mah herd on here yet? I don’t know, but here they are (all 3 of them). :P

They are Nigerian Dwarves. They were actually first imported to the U.S. to be fed to zoo animals, big cats and such. Eventually they began to gain some recognition as livestock for very small-scale animal husbandry… particularly micro-dairy because their milk is high in butterfat and relative to their size they produce more milk than many other breeds of goat. Muddy’s the big one with the horns—he’s a wether (a castrated male). Tank is the one on the well-head and Clove is the brown one on the right-hand side. They’re does—around 8 months, I think. Hard to believe, but those little squirts are technically old enough to be bred. We however won’t breed them until they are at least a year old.

I have a profound love for cloven-hoofed creatures that has taken many forms, but in the last five years of my life led me to a series of apprenticeships on small goat and sheep dairies—many of them also artisan creameries. Now, with grad school and “nesting” with my partner on the horizon, I want to maintain a link to the land ethic and lifestyle that a bond with these creatures enables. These three are helping me do that… moreover, if my partner and I end up moving away from Vermont for school for a couple of years, my mom is on board for shepherding-duties… and the benefits, of course (milk!)

Anyhow, they help me keep things primal, mythic and just plain mischevious. XD So I wanted to introduce them to y’all.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Science concedes: Being Here Now is the way to be

Just read this article in the paper today. Cool that science is finding a way to articulate how much being in the moment/having your focus consumed by a single task can be deeply satisfying. I've long understood that humans aren't one-job animals, but I think we're likewise one-job-at-a-time animals. It's not that multi-tasking is bad—but rather the option of multiple tasks is what can wear at your ability to focus on one thing that you really love, for long enough a period of time as to allow you to feel like you've truly connected with/become that thing. Nicholas Carr talks about the cognitive clusterfuck precipitated by the ways some of us interact with cyberculture in his recent book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.
A lot of my own experience with craft/skill/geekdom has corroborated this; it's all about the flow.
Article: When the Mind Wanders, Happiness Also Strays (New York Times)


Just so no one thinks I'm implying that daydreaming/mind-wandering is bad: There have also been recent studies about how "letting your mind wander" while at work, say, is beneficial, and that it stimulates creativity— basically it's good for your brain, just like dreaming while you're asleep is! But that stuff isn't actually antithetical to this—I think they're two sides of the same coin. Of course you've got to let your mind wander at work & give yourself "mind breaks"; we haven't evolved to sit at a desk 8 hours a day (thank God!)

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Commons: Not an inevitable tragedy!

Great study reported at ScienceDaily. People have been using the "tragedy of the commons" to further their political agendas long enough...it's time for some alternative perspectives.

Overcoming the "Tragedy of the Commons": Conditional Cooperation Helps in Forest Preservation

ScienceDaily (Nov. 13, 2010) — Many imminent problems facing the world today, such as deforestation, overfishing, or climate change, can be described as 'commons problems.' The solution to these problems requires cooperation from hundreds and thousands of people. Such large scale cooperation, however, is plagued by the infamous cooperation dilemma. According to the standard prediction, in which each individual follows only his own interests, large-scale cooperation is impossible because free-riders enjoy common benefits without bearing the cost of their provision. Yet, extensive field evidence indicates that many communities are able to manage their commons, albeit with varying degrees of success.

Full article

Post-theism and non-theism: Refreshing alternatives

The excerpt from Wikipedia below is a succinct summation of why I refuse to identify as an atheist even though lots of my peers with whom I share worldviews do identify that way—or at least seem to.

This has been partially inspired because I've recently joined a certain social network with the explicit goal of connecting with other queer and transgendered folks. Many of them are sharp-witted kids who can wax some sweet poetics on gender studies, queer theory, and postmodernism in general. You'd think they'd be accepting of other people's beliefs, right? But actually, lately I've seen a lot of really hurtful, anti-Christian stuff posted. And some of it is even kind of triggering. I guess I've been feeling disappointed - and distanced from a group that I have found such deep, personal solidarity with. I guess it's my problem for assuming queers are socially liberal. Eh.. you live, you learn. I digress.

Anyhow, I disagree that the logical conclusion of the juxtaposition of "our" liberal, pro-queer culture with conservative, religious fundamentalist culture is that liberals should choose to "be atheist". To do so, IMO is to use "atheism" as an aegis for political (and also interpersonal/emotional) motives. The atheist-theist binary sucks, and that's an understatement. (It's non-binary identities all the way down, folks!) Modern “explicit atheism” —stoked by showcasing "neo-atheists" like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennet in pop-culture science mags— is steadily sucking young, intelligent people into its ranks. Dawkins, Dennet, Pinker et al. are scientists, and reductionist ones at that. I actually really like Dawkins and appreciate his work in the realm of evolutionary biology. But they're not scholars of religious studies or theologians (and FYI, theologians can be agnostic or non-theist!) —and the fact that most of the neo-atheists think that the field of religious studies is "dead in the water" is a pretty good indicator to me that I'm going to have to ignore the stuff they say about religion.

Post-theism is a variant of nontheism that proposes to have not so much rejected theism as rendered it obsolete, that God belongs to a stage of human development now past. Within nontheism, post-theism can be contrasted with antitheism. The term appears in Christian liberal theology and Postchristianity.

Frank Hugh Foster in a 1918 lecture announced that modern culture had arrived at a "post-theistic stage" in which humanity has taken possession of the powers of agency and creativity that had formerly been projected upon God.[1] Post-theism thus recognizes the point made by criticism of atheism that atheism may lead to moral defect, but at the same time asserts that the only reason for theism is the prevention of such defects, and that once nontheistic morality has reached maturity, theism has fulfilled its function and may be discarded.

Denys Turner argues that Karl Marx did not choose atheism over theism, but rejected the binary "Feuerbachian" choice altogether, a position which by being post-theistic is at the same time necessarily post-atheistic.[2]

Related ideas include Friedrich Nietzsche's pronouncement that "God is dead", and less pessimistically, the transtheism of Paul Tillich or Pema Chödrön.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Occult Legacy of Nature-Gnosis

The Rosicrucians (an occult Christian brotherhood - not much is known of historical members) call the people who abide by the secrets yielded by natural wisdom "the Followers of the Spherical Art". The following passage from one of the anonymously published 17th century Rosicrucian manifestos (The Fama Fraternitatis) succinctly sums it up. I found this paragraph to be a mind-blowing summation of the results of high-order contemplation of the natural world (which includes one's body). Mental contemplation and ascecis—techniques of bodily discipline—are in fact two aspects of the same endeavor. All is yoga.

"King Solomon testifies of himself, that he upon earnest prayer and
desire did get and obtain such Wisdom of God, that thereby he knew how
the World was created, thereby he understood
the Nature of the Elements, also the time, beginning, middle and end, the increase and decrease, the change of times through the whole Year,
the Revolution of the Year, and
Ordinance of the Stars;
he understood also the properties of tame and wilde

Beasts, the cause of the raigning of the Winds, and minds and intents of
men, all sorts and natures of Plants, vertues of Roots, and others, was not
unknown to him. Now I do not think that there can be found any one
who would not wish and desire with all his heart to be a Partaker of this
noble Treasure..."

Monday, November 8, 2010

Why you can't just blame religion: part two

Read the first post in this series here.

Some popular theories of religion focus on defining it as designed to serve some members at the expense of others. But it is not as simple as that. Such theories often reflect political bias and a projection of intention onto founders or religious leaders that simply is not there. I'm always amazed at how many staunch atheists I know who are conspiracy theorists, btw. So the projection of intention onto things is okay when they do it but not when other people do it? Lul.

It would seem to me that "corruption" in or of religious groups (too often referenced in popular discourse) is largely an emergent property—a type of social entropy that naturally unfolds, perhaps revealing "design flaws" in social systems over time. Power and influence accumulate in a small sector of the group and becomes unavailable to the majority of members. Take religious reformation movements, for example. Perhaps they illustrate the need to re-establish "low-entropy" systems through reformation, and the process starts again, though it may be filtered through a different schema. (This is consistent with the definition of entropy as the amount of unavailable energy in a system). David Sloan Wilson writes: "religions not only adapt to their social environments, but also change their social environments, leading to an endless cycle of corruption and renewal..."

So, to all the atheists out there - If religion is 'maladaptive', its 'maladaption' is a function of process, not necessarily intrinsic qualities of a religion! Which leads me to the rather dry, yet tempting conclusion that people are agents of action, not religions. Guns don't kill people, people kill people.

Moreover, such 'corruption' can sometimes be unwittingly helped along by prestige bias - mimicry of prestigous or successful individuals by the laity (animals do it too). This can help explain behavior of members of religious cults, for example, who idolize their leaders. There is a human proclivity to mimic the behaviors of successful individuals - this has been studied in the field of evolutionary psychology and anthropology. In the animal kingdom, we can see "success" as ability to successfully attract a mate - thus the common scenario of young males in a band of chimpanzees, for example, copying the behaviors of an alpha male. On the other end of the spectrum, discussions of egalitarian groups (egalitarian in an intra-group sense, not inter-group) are also interesting. However, even here it seems like there exists a "flat hierarchy" where some sort of active process requiring constant feedback is needed to manage 'inevitable social entropy'.

Social cybernetics takes critical thought to a whole new level.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Why you can't just blame religion

A LGBT-themed blog I follow posted this quote by Harvey Milk today and it inspired me to put some thoughts out there, as a queer person who doesn't have a problem with religion per se, and, in fact counts saints, mystics, and spiritual scientist-artists almost exclusively among my greatest influences. There's somethin' we've gotta reconcile here:

"The fact is that more people have been slaughtered in the name of religion than for any other single reason. That, that my friends, is true perversion."

-Harvey Milk

This is such an interesting topic. For some reason this happened to inspire me to comment. Partially because when leaders of movements, especially representing oppressed groups or minorities that we're part of, say things like this - we hear it.

I hear pithy quotes about religion being an instrument of genocide & hate a lot. While I get it, the religion scholar in me cries out in a tiny voice. In short, humans are social animals, like wolves and apes, who necessarily form groups that must cohere to a certain degree in order to survive. Those groups needs rules for ensuring maximum in group cooperation and minimum "cheating" or free-loading; i.e. doing anything to sabotage solidarity and the ability to "act as one". Acting as one unit, on multiple levels has been essential for the evolution and survival of our species, among other higher primates.

It sucks now, I know, when giant populations in the modern world who DON'T necessarily have to worry about their basic survival "act as one". It's sociobiology and group-psychology gone awry. Anyhow, these rule-systems that were formed by our ancient human (and also non-human) ancestors were none other than ethical systems, and many of those systems were codified within a world-view that could be easily transmitted. A religious belief system. In many cases where religion is accused of many of the wrongs of the world or as the "opiate of the masses", "religion" is only the cover for tribalism, ethnocentrism and xenophobia. If not religion, some other belief structure would justify violence, unfortunately. The point is, we can't blame the messenger - religion is a natural phenomenon. That's like blaming math for political deception.

In our country, for example, I wouldn't worry so much about religion in the raw, quotidean form (people going to church, people believing in God). Believe me, you've got bigger fish to fry! The dear dollar as well as and our neo-liberal world view are the REAL opiates of the masses. This does have theological roots, but it's not religion's fault. Religion is a category of human behavior, not a thing you can make go away.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

"This is Not a Farm"

Below I'm pasting my girlfriend's most recent blog post on her rehabilitated Tumblr account!

She definitely speaks for both of us with her core sentiment - that we are seeking to do something that perhaps isn't as accurately described by "farming" as we once thought.

I thought it was, but I was wrong.

What I’m doing, and what I want to do, is not the same as farming. I thought it was, but I was wrong. To me, farming is production agriculture. The activity of farming is to seek to extract profit from the soil, in the form of food products. When I began this journey I thought that’s what I wanted, and so farming was a stand-in for any sort of profit-seeking activity. It was my job.

It’s a hard job. For a year I worked as an intern or apprentice on small farms that were operating at (and beyond) the limits of what can be extracted from the soil by human energy with a minimum of fossil-fueled assistants. So I hoed a lot, I crawled a lot, I scratched the soil with my own two hands. A lot. I baked in the sun and shivered in the morning frost. By the end of the 13 months I was understandably burned out on the whole farming thing. My back developed a very painful protest to the action of bending, lifting, weeding, and especially to walking on my knees while lifting.

I had learned a lot about vegetable production in the only way I really like to learn: through experience. But I also had decided it was not a feasible career for me. It wasn’t just because it hurt so much. I figured a good routine of weight-lifting and yoga could fix that. It was also because I deeply felt that the acts of farming, unless accompanied by near-religious composting, were detrimental to the soil. At the end of my farming summer in Vermont I could see the tired, compacted, dried up naked earth complaining. I could see that the tons of crops we had extracted from this soil had not left the place better than when we found it (and as this is the golden rule of girl scouts, I don’t take it lightly!).

For the past year I’ve been mulling over my gleeful exodus from the “farming” of production ag. Since May my partner and I have been playing with the land in a new way, and now as the growing season comes to a close, I feel the need to articulate what’s meaningful about this leg of my journey with the earth.

I’m not the only young person I know who is engaged on a similar path. Many still call what they do “farming”, and this name remains meaningful to them. But to others I know, the models of production agriculture are not satisfying. They’re not enough.

We may be growing edible plants and raising livestock animals for food, but we’re not seeking to extract profit from the land. We are seeking something else, and we are doing so through an ever-deeper relationship with the land and natural processes. But it is the seeking something else that really matters, and it is, I think, what guides our work—more than the desire to grow food to sell.

So what are we doing? What are you doing? What does it look like? What does it bring you beyond delicious meals? I want to know. Let’s put images and thoughts into this framework. Help flesh it out.

Perhaps if we do so, we’ll help create a new set of options for other seekers. You don’t have to be a “farmer”, there are many ways to seek nativity to the land, to a place. But seek for answers from the land itself, instead of just from culture.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

How fire helped us evolve...

There's a new book out by Harvard biological anthropologist Richard Wrangham on how the harnessing of fire by our ancestors nearly 2 million years ago catalyzed a new phase in human evolution. It pivots around the changes in our physiology enabled by the fact that cooking food, especially meat, essentially pre-digests it for us and helps cut way down on chewing time. In addition to affecting our digestive system, this also precipitated changes in our jaw and face physiology, and allocated more space and energy for our brains, the author argues. Despite this landmark study, the topic remains controversial - for good reason. What does the author have to say about the shrinkage of the human brain... over the last 10,000 years - as discussed in recent studies? ( see http://www.livescience.com/history/091113-origins-evolving.html ) How much does this undermine the raw food movement, and the dietary choices we make? Is there such a thing as too much cooked food? With obesity at an all time high, there probably is...

It's called Catching Fire: How Cooking Made us Human

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Jedi training in the hundred-acre wood

The pivotal moment of my week-long wilderness survival class occurred a little more than halfway through the week.

We had gotten into nuances of stalking and camouflage - the art of movement and the skill of blending your form into the baseline pattern of the woods. Not only these, but almost every art and science that we'd studied that week finds consilience in the hunt. The hunt requires you to recollect the primordial language of animal tracks and signs - deciphering scratches on trees and snapped twigs and turning them into meaningful propositions; it requires you to be wary of the wind, temperature and humidity, and note when they change; it requires you to recognize patterns at ever-expanding concentric levels of existence - to know the earth like you know your mother, and to feel her beating heart wherever you sit or step.

The scope of 'the hunt' goes beyond looking for animals - it also includes foraging for plants that are edible or useful in some way - or searching for water, or looking for the right stone, or tree that for some reason the situation calls for. The hunt is a 'geomantic' state of mind wherein you are on a search for some soon-to-be aspect of yourself. It is both curious and intent, playful and somber. It is realizing that you belong in the web of life - you are welcome there if you practice humility and patience. Yes, you belong there - it's your birthright.

Most of us didn't grow up learning traditional ways of questing in the wilderness - whether for visions or for resources - so for me at least, that space feels distinctly, indubitably sacred. I felt that same dark, visceral enchantment when my partner and I slaughtered our lambs last fall, or when I went to a primitive hide-tanning gathering for the first time and spent a day scraping a cow hide that I'd brought with me - becoming absorbed in navigating the miniscule landscape of the creature's skin with my scraping tool. The power in such experiences can feel downright profane when you aren't prepared for them. I've experienced such 'profane illumination' myself, where I feel that I've stepped into a river of mana that is almost too swift and strong for me to bear - so I simply forge ahead, putting one foot in front of another (and this is where protective rituals and spell-casting come in!) and am left bewildered as Pan disappears back into the forest...

This past week, however, I never got the sense that I tumbled or crashed into that holy wild space… I slipped into it, like dozing into hypnagogia. And in that dream-time I found nothing like the Revelations of St. John, but rather a sort of mundane sacredness, characterized by such a subtle change in vibration that I can see how easily it can go untapped.

It is in the most quotidian aspects of modern living - things like conjuring calories and warmth - that in the wild are clearly times of high alchemy. Those are the times when we feral sorcerers oversee the transubstantiation of one element into another. They are when energy and matter trade places. Friction turns into fire, and other organisms give their life-energy to us. It is at those times of creation and participation that, if we were to lift our heads and look around us, we would see the gods seated there in a semicircle, silently watching with broad elfin smiles and half shadowed faces.

There's something about that mundane vanilla holiness that makes it so much more preferable to the contrived, liturgical holiness that only occurs at set, formal times. The latter abounds in the modern world. What if a ritual is there but there is no spirit inside it, no god? Indeed, I think this is how many people experience various organized religions. They see (and feel) an aesthetically pleasing vessel - but it is empty - it contains no nourishment. And many of them know that there is something missing. I fear that we aren't routinely empowered to ask the questions necessary to dismantle the distraction of dead ritual - and we definitely aren't empowered to create our own rituals - to fashion vessels for our own gods. (And I think "our own" gods are the gods of us all - the gods of fire, food, thunder, sex, death…) People ask me what studying religion has to do with farming (because those are the two things I pursued as an undergraduate) - and I often find myself talking about rites-of-passage and vision quests… our society suffers a lack of such traditions, that really reveal to us personally how much stardust and energy goes into supporting the life and well-being of our bodies and minds. Moreover, we lack even a grammar for such things - which prevents us from hacking new rites, rituals and myths - we've forgotten that they are [open-source] things that can be parsed and recompiled. They're not supposed to be static… or at least, only as static as Mama Nature herself.

There was a point in the week where I did hear a couple of angels sing, though. We had practiced transforming our gait, widening the angle of our vision, and using one of the simplest weapon-tools known to primates; a throwing stick. All these things we had approached independently earlier in the week, with accompanying lectures, demonstrations and anecdotes. On Thursday, we did an exercise that gave us a context for combining these sensory and kinesthetic skills - we were to go into the woods wielding a stick (a solid, wrist-thick piece of wood about a foot and a half long) and practice stalking, approaching and throwing at targets as soundlessly and seamlessly as possible - using trees or stumps in place of actual woodland critters.

I had been at a slow fox walk for about 20 minutes - periodically sliding up to large trees and crouching in their shadows for a few minutes to motionlessly observe the forest. I concealed the stick behind the arm that was holding it and kept both arms close to my body - at times I was almost at a crouch.

It didn't take long for me to notice that being 'armed' (or thinking of myself as armed) exerted a very potent psychological influence. It was nearly subconscious - my posture registered in my limbic system as being one poised for attack and this went straight to my muscles and senses - causing me to slow down and enhancing the precision of my movements. I felt like a cat. This way of moving felt strangely familiar and simultaneously alien. I let these feelings register as thoughts and swirl around my head, and did my best to feed them back into my body - I didn't want my 'thinking' mind to be in charge.

The stick was like a magic wand, I realized - it was acting as a conduit and guide for my awareness. Magicians often speak of magical items used in spellcasting and ritual as being devices for amplifying the 'signal' of our intention. I suddenly had the experience of what that meant.

I sat down in front of a large tree and savored this body-buzz. I looked forward into the forest with all its dimensions and textures and felt that my vision was different - as if I was suddenly seeing in high-definition. I didn't feel anxious at all, or like I was 'waiting' for anything - a rare state, I think, compared to the humdrum of everyday civilized life. I knew that when I moved a muscle next it would be a totally intentional movement, not hasty, because I wouldn't be trying to get anywhere - I would just be continuing a kinesthetic conversation with the woods, with perhaps just curiosity as my guide. I knew that by the time I stood up, I would be part of this forest. And when I did stand up, I felt all the hairs on my body raise - as if in praise. As I continued on my stalk, I decided to try my hand at some target practice. And miraculously, my aim was radically improved from when we'd practiced throwing at targets back at camp. The targets I chose were further away, too. It made all the difference for the throws to be in the context of a meaningful activity. My solitude helped too - I didn't feel like I was performing in front of anyone, and was able to approach my targets and get into position slowly and deliberately. At one point I found the precision to hit a mushroom off a tree trunk from 20 feet away!

Being a human can be fun again when you realize you're a special kind of animal with a unique and wonderful skill-set. It is, indeed, something to be admired - just as we so admire our beautiful hooved, winged and pawed brothers and sisters.

Friday, May 14, 2010

a cool prayer

Religious poetry/psalms/prayers are one of my favorite types of writing. At the center of so much mystical poetry is reverence for nature - often "god" and "nature" are functionally and effectively the same. This cry to God - or Nature - put into words is, in a nutshell, what spurred my interest in human religion. And in it stewardship of nature, religion, and the potential of spoken and written language are all stunningly realized.

Here is a "Christianized" rendition of a traditional Native American prayer.

O Great Spirit,
whose breath gives life to the world,
and whose voice is heard in the soft breeze:
We need your strength and wisdom.
Cause us to walk in beauty. Give us eyes
ever to behold the red and purple sunset.
Make us wise so that we may understand
what you have taught us.
Help us learn the lessons you have hidden
in every leaf and rock.
Make us always ready to come to you
with clean hands and steady eyes,
so when life fades, like the fading sunset,
our spirits may come to you without shame. Amen.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

other greenpunks n' some farmpunk news

"The arts are well placed to lead an ecological insurrection by again valuing food as contiguous with cultural production"

This quote is from an article by the author of Permapoesis - thanks @ socialfiction for the link to this blog!


Also, check out this article in the Telegraph about the influx of the farmpunk/eco-punk meme in urban Japanese culture.

And for some quality mind candies visit Greenpunk on Wordpress, who, in their words
"Envisions a world in which the detritus of consumer culture as propagated by the Elite is appropriated and repurposed by the masses toward the reconstruction of a devastated ecology and the address of social ill.”

I like, I like!

(This manifestoid sentiment reminds me of something I articulated as Re-Sourcery in a previous ramble!)

My prime partner in justice, who works at Chelsea Green (some serious farmpunk headquarters, there!) is the author of Underground, which gives you just a glimpse of her ecologically-inclined and organically-articulate intellect.


Well, that's all the jewels I've got in the bag today. I'm currently shacked up at the Tuckerbox in White River Junction, VT - finishing the LAST paper of my undergraduate career. Hooray! This cafe has it all going on - good coffee, great atmosphere, right across from the train station, and it even has a chic website. What's up, White River Junction? Luckily this paper is incredibly fun to write - it has me waxing neurological about group dance rituals. Basically, I had to find a way to write an academic paper about psytrance and doof parties, and now I can consider it done. Woooooot.

I finally get the ol' bacheloroid degree on May 23rd. In the next few weeks my girlfriend and I will be settling into our new place in Woodstock, Vermont (my hometown) on an amazing and magical piece of land that is mostly conserved by the Vermont Land Trust. We live in the bottom floor of a quansit-style renovated dairy barn. Our bedroom is the old milk room. The building is bermed into the hillside so we've got max thermal mass - the place is going to be cool as a cave in the summer heat. Basically you couldn't get much more farmpunk, for a building.

In a nutshell, we gon' do some farming. And BTW, we want to come up with a different word to use in place of "farming", because we want to avoid trying to define ourselves as farmers. We feel that to do that for us is to make a false identity claim that people of our priveledge perhaps should not make. Being a farmer is NOT like being queer, for example, because not everyone who is a farmer considers themselves to be part of any punk, counter or sub culture. Makes me feel like a hipster, or a fraud. I like "food producing", although that is kind of a mouthful. "Resourcery" could work, I s'pose. Farmpunkery? Hmmm. So stay tuned. This blog's about to get hands (and paws) on!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

blood magic

Medical studies have shown that men who periodically donate blood are at a lowered risk for heart disease. Males are at a higher risk altogether than women, for various reasons, but one is that they have an increased red blood cell count that is precipitated by their natural levels of testosterone. Higher red blood cell counts are correlated with higher risk of heart disease. This is interesting to me because lots of "pre-modern" cultures, historically and presently, practice bloodletting for medicinal reasons. Actually, bloodletting was the routine medical procedure of choice for two millenia prior to the 19th century. It is well-documented that bloodletting (in men) was seen in Hippocratic medicine as a purging process sharing isomorphic functions with menstruation in women. As cited on Wikipedia, Hippocrates maintained that one of the functions of menstruation was to "purge women of bad humors" (humors = essential biological substances, of which there were four in Greco-Roman medicine). So, testified by this renewing ecological function of the female mammal, blood-letting was appropriate for achieving similar things in non-female-bodied individuals. Wow, did I just feel a shred power given to the processes of the female body? That sure went away in the middle ages in Europe, when we suddenly developed a fear of female overflow. But of course, it was okay for Jesus to do it on the cross.

My mother grew up in a small mountain village in Greece in the wake of the Greek civil war (she was born in 1948). When I was in high school, my mom, with the help of my older brother, shot and edited a documentary on women healers in Greek pastoral culture. She was able to focus on several healers that had lived and worked in her home village, interviewing her siblings, cousins, and surviving elders who she knew as a young girl. A story of bloodletting was included in the film - and it featured a woman who for some reason could not menstruate. This woman would go to a local healer once a month, and have blood let out of her leg.

It isn't hard to see that this form of folk medicine was passed down, in the landlocked mountain villages of Greece, from ancient Greek and Mesopotamian culture, for whom bloodletting was as routine as gargling with salt water when you have a sore throat. Many historians point out, however, that bloodletting was definitely over-prescribed (by our standards, perhaps, which are much more ontologically informed about physiology and pathology - for better or for worse). Indeed, the exemplars of ancient medicine - like Hippocrates and Galen - performed bloodletting sparingly and with caution.

Addendum: It is worth noting that the state of the medical art declined in the middle ages, which is to say - it stopped progressing with the momentum it had in the ancient world. This was not in small part due to the politicizing of medicine by the Catholic Church, who decried any kind of "mutilation" of dead bodies (it might make it harder for their souls to escape?). This means, of course, no dissection. And, not surprisingly, disease pathology was theologized, too.

more on medieval medicine & the church

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Computers: Confounding philosophy since the atomic age

Or, why your mind is more like a steam engine than a pocket calculator...

Today, mainstream philosophy of mind and cognitive science has a little limp in the methodology department. The root of it, perhaps, is computationalism: the notion of mind as computer. It is more specifically a notion of cognition as computation - cognition being the processes of thinking, knowing, and assimilating sense perception into something coherent. For many, "mind" and "cognition" mean roughly the same thing - I like "cognition" because it denotes process and dynamic nature more than the word "mind" does.

One of the reasons computational methodologies are so hard to grow out of is that the idea of the theoretical Turing machine in the 1940s - and its actualization shortly thereafter in computers - was readily adopted as the ultimate heuristic for understanding minds. Briefly (if I can!) a Turing machine is an abstract 'conceptual' machine, although it can be - and is - realized in actual machines i.e. computers. At the time of its conception by mathematician Alan Turing in the 1930's, the technology available for him to draw from aesthetically was basically state of the art printing technology. Thus early descriptions of Turing Machines are reminiscent of typewriter-like contraptions, except instead of like 50 typebars, there is only one, and this is a magical typebar because it can not only print a symbol on the paper, it can also read the symbols on the paper. The Turing Machine has basically two elements - a 'tape' or strip of paper or something divided into boxes or cells where symbols are read, written and overwritten (1 symbol per cell) and a read-write head (our magic typebar!) It can do a few discrete things including be in a finite number of states, carry out instructions, move to the left or to the right, and read symbols and write symbols. The instructions typically go something like this “if the machine is in state X and the current cell contains a zero then move into state Y and change the 0 to a 1”. This is called a transition rule and is the basic building block of what we would now call a computer program for the Turing Machine to carry out! The machine stops when it cannot carry out the specified transition rule that it is currently on (i.e. when the program's purpose has been served). If you've heard of binary you know that ones and zeroes form the most fundamental level of code for all computers. The computer you're using is a really, really fancy Turing Machine - or rather, a snazzy conglomeration of them. One of the reasons 'the original' Turing Machines are kind of a bitch to understand (at least for a social science critter like me) is that we really take computers for granted nowadays. They are such a part of our cultural fabric and daily lives - and for most of us it is only their highest-level functions - like a graphical user interface - that we deal with. So to most of us "computer" evokes memories of like, fiddling around on your desktop, browsing the interwebs, and maybe just how cool your laptop looks with its new skin on. Don't worry. I understand.

The following is excerpted from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's entry on Functionalism. Please check it out and scroll down to find "Machine state functionalism" for more.

"In a seminal paper (Turing 1950), A.M. Turing proposed that the question, “Can machines think?” can be replaced by the question, “Is it theoretically possible for a finite state digital computer, provided with a large but finite table of instructions, or program, to provide responses to questions that would fool an unknowing interrogator into thinking it is a human being?” Now, in deference to its author, this question is most often expressed as “Is it theoretically possible for a finite state digital computer (appropriately programmed) to pass the Turing Test?” (See Turing Test entry)
In arguing that this question is a legitimate replacement for the original (and speculating that its answer is “yes”), Turing identifies thoughts with states of a system defined solely by their roles in producing further internal states and verbal outputs, a view that has much in common with contemporary functionalist theories. Indeed, Turing's work was explicitly invoked by many theorists during the beginning stages of 20th century functionalism, and was the avowed inspiration for a class of theories, the “machine state” theories most firmly associated with Hilary Putnam (1960, 1967) that had an important role in the early development of the doctrine."1

To many, a computer was (or, is) more than just a metaphor for mind. Rather, the cybernetics of the computer came to constitute the new optimal solution for explaining how minds work. Cybernetics is the study of the structure of information flow within a system - in this case, a digital computer. To be clear, we are not hampered by a focus on cybernetics per se - in fact, cybernetic theory as applied to living systems (yielding focus on complex/dynamic/adaptive systems) has lots of promise in terms of revolutionizing the surprisingly tidy, curiously inorganic allegations made by computational theories of mind. When quantum computing is the state of the art, philosophers of mind will probably say that the brain is a quantum computer. Whether or not that would be "a step in the right direction" is irrelevant (indeed, some existing theories in that vein are quite fascinating and deserve much attention) - the point is simply that technophilia by itself is a poor basis for philosophy.

It's no coincidence that the "cognitive revolution" began to bloom in the immediate wake of the commercial computer's entrance on the cultural scene of the 1950s. In this world, data (represented information) was king. More specifically, syntax was king - the linear way in which data are organized. Variables and algorithms, the fundamental building blocks of computer programs, are purely syntactic and linear in nature. They follow if/then protocols and adhere to numerical precision. And they are fixedly sequential; only one action can be executed after a necessary preceding action. A theory of mind founded on computational characteristics pictures the mind as a network of cognitive modules that deal in some sort of symbolic language akin to machine code; our internal states, dispositions, feelings, are thus precise results of some sort of strict procedural (not to mention linear) sequence. Thus many theories that could be called computationalist are lazily founded on the idea of static mental representations. I have been wondering, though, given the sheer number of neurons in the brain (100 billion), and thus the staggering number of possible neural connections - are any two brain states ever exactly the same? I think not... it's not a river we can step in twice. I realize that neural states and "mental representations" aren't really the same thing to theorists. But then what the hell are mental representations? Are they cognitive phenomena that we perceive? In that case, they belong to a phenomenology of perception, not to cognitive science (and in the former realm they would be welcome!) I simply wonder if we need theories of representation at all here. But I digress - back to our sketch of the computational trajectory in cog sci. For such theorists, the target question becomes: what are these fundamental data by which intra-cranial commerce is achieved? This is in fact, an irrelevant question, because the brain does not deal in symbolic representations! There is no "data" as such in the brain. To see this clearly, we must attempt to shed the influence of our cultural obsession with data (which could be said to be the most ethereal incarnation of oil...) Instead of being like a collection of Turing machines, imagine that a cognitive system is more like a network of self-regulating mechanical gizmos - whose design and functioning is sourced from the laws of nature like gravity and thermodynamics. Instead of being made up of daisy chains of transistors and switches, like a computer, cognitive and perceptual systems are made up of a bricolage of "natural machines" - devices like gyroscopes and centrifuges, that are linked in webs of cause and effect with each other and with the encompassing environment.

This latter proposition, which could fall under the umbrella of dynamicism, has been well illustrated by Australian philosopher Tim Van Gelder, who maintains that a better characterization of cognitive systems are dynamical systems that self-regulate.

Before I go any further I have to couch this into a broader theoretical context. Connectionism is an umbrella term for a range of theoretical positions in any philosophy or science of the mind that see cognition as an emergent phenomenon arising out of the procession of a complex adaptive system. The complex system is, namely, the totality of the neural networks contained in at least the entire nervous system (not just the brain). In this system, and in many other complex adaptive systems (bee or ant colonies, for example) the constituent units that make up the system at large often have a very narrow scope of agency. In other words, they have a simple repetoire of relational actions - actions or events that can effect other units or nodes in the system. (Indeed, in the jargon of the field such units are called agents.) For example, we know of several factors that modulate the degree of agency one neuron can have on another. Theories embracing complexity, however, do not focus on the units of the system in a reductionist way [in isolation] but rather they focus principally on relationships and patterns in the system. It is there - in the temporal dimension of those process-based phenomena - where the closest thing to 'information' - and perhaps meaning - can be divined. The structural foundations of complex systems are, contrary to what one might think, often very simple from a design standpoint. It is not how they work at a systemic level that is mind-boggling, but rather it is what such systemic operation enables them to do and to be on a large scale. A key feature of complex adaptive systems like the brain's neural network is that processing tasks are distributed over a huge (ginormous, really) number of agents. This makes them very resilient, among other things.

So, proponents of connectionism favor the description of information storage and manipulation as being the arrangements and rearrangements of neural pathways in the brain, as opposed to explaining mental models and their syntax, a hallmark of computationalist theories. Jerry Fodor's theory on the language of thought is an exemplary computational approach to cognition. As you may discern, a lot of computational talk is simply a totally different manner of talking about cognition than is the connectionist dialogue. I would say it's a more narrative theoretical language, very grounded in linguisitcs, and thus a little bit more compatible with our native folk psychology (how the average person typically perceives their own thought processes). It is mythic, in a sense - but I don't think in the good sense. If you're familiar with this blog you know that I'm quite a fan of mythic language and thought when it's self-aware and utilized as a spiritual and emotional tool. My beef with computationalism is simple really: my brain ain't a Turing Machine, yo! Y'all think it's so good at making decisions - ze brain? Discrete decisions don't really even exist on a neurological level. Perceptually, they do - but inside there it's just warring groups of neurons, vying for your attention.

Searching for an alternative model to the ever-popular Turing Machine, Van Gelder describes the centrifugal governor, a mechanical device invented in the 1780s to enable factory steam engines to maintain a constant speed.

I'll try to briefly summarize the workings of this device for the purposes of our discussion. Essentially, the genius of this governor lies in its inclusion of a centrifugal mechanism; an object with a component that revolves around a fixed central axis, and of course requires earth's gravity to function. This centrifuge is connected in such a way to and from various part of the steam engine so as to enable the engine to continually adjust its incoming flow of steam - effectively producing a static speed. In this case, the "centrifuge" is the component to the far right with the two fly balls. The belt wheel below the fly-balls is connected to an 'output shaft' attached to the engine whose rotation reflects the engine's speed. If this shaft spins too fast or too slow, the horizontally-spinning fly-balls will either rise or lower (thanks gravity!), which through a series of connected spindles, adjusts a throttle valve on the pipe carrying steam into the engine. Viola! You have a mechanical feedback control system.

The centrifugal governor is thus temporally synchronized with the steam engine; it is a mechanical extension of the engine itself. It is like a limb extended into the environment, designed to gather dynamic "information" using a sense modality - in this case to sense an effect of gravitation - that then modifies the functioning of the engine. The steam engine has something like a sense organ, perhaps!

I put "information" in quotes above because there is something curious about self-regulating contraptions such as James Watt's governor compared to the technology we take for granted today - these contraptions are nonrepresentational. That is, they don't rely on any static set of programmed commands to function. A computerized device could be designed to do the exact same thing as the governor - but wouldn't that be a waste of energy, what with gravity already here to help? To make a computerized governor we would have to create an abstract program - a set of rules for the computer to follow - that would have to continuously engage in a sequence of tests in order to help the engine achieve a constant speed. But with the centrifugal governor, to quote Van Gelder, "there are no distinct processing steps, [so] there can be no sequence in which those steps occur." The centrifugal governor constitutes a cyclic program, not a sequential one with a defined beginning and an end.

The brain is a kluge of such self-regulating contraptions - jerry-rigged and feedback-looped together by great spans of geological time. They run on pathways carved by gravity, thermodynamics, electromagnetism, and surely quantum mechanics! A cognitive system contains intercomplementary parts; quantities that are "coupled" to feed back each others' energy. Such couplings are analogous, in the governor, to 1the position of the fly-balls on the centrifuge and 2the amount of fuel (steam) running through the engine. This sort of coupling creates consistency - not precise consistency, of course - for that does not really exist on the level of complex organ(ism)s. Rather, it creates a sufficient consistency - a seamlessness in operation that suffices for whatever particular goal the system has. In the case of the governor, the goal may be to keep a steam engine in a textile factory from slowing down and causing an industrial loom to malfunction. In a cognitive system perhaps consistency is a range of neural state-space necessary for, say, seamless visual perception to occur (or, as the case is, the cognitive apparition of seamless visual perception, since our eyes have large blind spots, etc). What is maintained in the case of the governor, and perhaps similarly in cognitive systems, is a dynamic equilibrium; a system that maintains a steady state by regulating its outputs in proportion to its inputs.

This leads me to a compelling thought: such systems of dynamic equilibrium (or stable disequilibrium) have a functional metabolism, of sorts. Which leads me to this next idea:

A cognitive system is much more like an ecosystem than a computer.

Using ecosystem as metaphor could at least lead us down a more intellectually fruitful path than explaining a mind in terms of a tool of its own creation. The computer is a tool of the mind. But not so with an ecosystem - indeed, it is the other way around: the mind is a tool created by the ecosystem. Let us then defer to systems ecology, situated in the safe embrace of physics and biology, as an arena within which we can continue our inquiries into the nature of mind and cognition.

A computer is a simplified electro-mechanical system. Quasi-similarly, a garden is a simplified ecosystem. Unlike a garden or an organism, a computer is a CLOSED system. Computers do not draw from the edge of chaos for their continued functioning. They turn off and on and experience "new" things only when we give them formal input. But dynamical systems, like the earth's biosphere or a cell, do balance on a thin edge between chaos and order, where novelty is at a maximum. Computers don't have mechanisms that enable metabolic processes - and this is one of the reasons that we haven't realized strong AI. As Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote; to think, we must eat. Metabolism is what allows a system to maintain a relatively steady state through controlled process of decomposition and growth. Specialized structural (physiological) features allow an organism to engage in both entropic (involving the dispersion of energy) and complex syntropic (involving the organization of energy) processes. These coupled processes occur at many levels and on many scales - from cellular respiration to breathing. The intercomplementary relationship between entropy and syntropy is, to put it one way, the scale-invariant rule of the Jungle. All organisms - and, in fact, some systems that we think of as nonliving like ecosystems and planets - need to devise mechanisms for combating the second law of thermodynamics if they want to stick around for more than a little while. But to be clear, organisms care more about sticking around in the same form than do ecosystems or stars, which are a little more adventurous and all like "blaaaaargh!"

Can you guess what would happen if your brain reached a state of thermodynamic equilibrium? Yep, you would die. There needs to be a constant influx of energy into living systems, thus there need to be mechanisms for gathering that energy and then there need to be ways to sufficiently utilize energy once it is in the system. Lastly, the system needs to figure out a way of..er... gracefully liberating expended energy. :P

This is not just true for living systems! As Star Larvae points out, paraphrasing James Lovelock's Gaia Hypothesis:

"Lovelock...describes Gaia as being in a state of stable disequilibrium. Gaia operates far from equilibrium, not in a haphazard way with wild fluctuations, but with remarkable stability. For what now has been at least three billion years, the conditions of Earth have remained within the narrow chemical and thermal range that has enabled life to proliferate and evolve to its present state of complexity. Lovelock lists ranges of specific physical conditions within which Gaia must remain to survive as a living entity. A slight decrease in the proportion of oxygen in the atmosphere, for example, would suffocate all but the most anaerobic forms of life. A slight increase, and the planet’s surface would incinerate.... [e]arth's chemistry is finely tuned to keep life alive."1

We can use this discussion of metabolic process to shed light onto another confounded area of philosophy: artificial intelligence. "Strong AI" refers to synthetic intelligence that is equal to or greater than the intelligence of an adult human. What this means, formally, is for a machine of some sort to be able to carry out the same intellectual tasks as a human can. I'm not alleging that proponents of strong AI claim that intelligence is analogous with sentient understanding (although it sort of has to be if you really want to duplicate the "human intellect"). But many functionalists, who don't care to distinguish between ability and understanding have made that claim [if quacks/walks like a duck, then = duck]. American philosopher John Searle, making a refreshing case against a functionalist interpretation of strong AI, famously argues that digital computers - regardless future technological advancement - simply cannot possess sentient intelligence because their operation solely relies on their formal syntactic structure - and such structure does not in any way enable or cause the sort of semantic content that exists in a living, situated mind. Even as well as we may be able to simulate neural networks nowadays, it cannot be said that these networks are intelligent, just as it cannot be said that a weather simulation program is creating a hurricane when it is displaying an animation of one the computer screen. You can't separate the syntactic structure from a brain, translate it into some sort of material network of inorganic stuff and claim that intelligence or understanding can emerge from this network's functioning. What arises is merely the simulation of part of the brain's formal structure - nothing more. As Searle says, "no simulation by itself ever constitutes duplication". He finishes his article Can Computers Think? with this delightfully flippant paragraph:
"The upshot of this discussion I believe is to remind us of something that we have known all along: namely, mental states are biological phenomena. Consciousness, intentionality, subjectivity, and mental causation are all a part of our biological life history, along with growth, reproduction, the secretion of bile, and digestion."
(Emphasis mine)

To paraphrase something Bill Hicks once said, it's really no more miraculous than eating a burger and a turd coming out of your ass.

Cognitive systems have not just syntax, but unique semantic content. Semantics connects syntax to the world. But wait; this semantics is not unique because it is sui generis, strictly irreducible OR contains some immaterial quality - as many chomping at the bit to yell "dualist" would like to be the case! Cognitive systems have semantics because of the existence and interplay of four basic characteristics and their iterations - which differentiate us from the theoretically "intelligent" digital computer. These are 1) metabolism, 2) non-linear memory, 3) self awareness and 4) ability to autonomously and spontaneously experience one's environment (i.e. being perambulatory). I think that these four things are essential to this elusive "semantic" dimension of mind that even the most syntactically complex system could not touch. Our physical movement through the world, which is an environment of continuously emerging novelty, forms feedback loops with these four functions, which are in turn provide feedback for one another. Our agency is coupled with them.

The unique thing about the realization of consciousness is that it is (was) ultimately caused by millions of years of biological evolution and adaptation. Proximately (like, right now) it's caused by a bedlam of emergent biochemical phenomena in your nervous system. And ontologically consciousness seems like no biggie so it's no wonder we think that we can duplicate that shit with technology.

Machines will start to think when they have to eat and attract mates to survive (seriously!)

As we read earlier, James Lovelock made clear that the earth's biosphere is in a very graceful state of stable disequilibrium. We can undoubtedly say the same thing about consciousness. Indeed, it is a state very, very far from equilibrium - it is a complex metabolic state, that is to say, a system continually straddling entropy and complexity - in a very special way. A brainy way.

A brief addendum: I don't refute the possibility of strong artifial intelligence. But like Searle I just don't think a computer as we know it is capable of strong AI. I don't think the intelligent machine will be "built" in the mechanistic sense. It will be grown, more likely. We've got a lot to learn, that's for sure - consider me along for the ride!

Thanks to the folk at Star Larvae whose work taught me to take the concept of metabolism to whole new levels. Please read their excellent essay on "Metabolic Metaphysics".

Also see Tim Van Gelder's article, parts of which I summarized above, here (downloadable pdf).

Some more concise resources

What are Complex Adaptive Systems?
The Core Concepts of Neuroscience
YouTube vid of a Turing Machine made out of LEGOS
Machine State Functionalism - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

gender identity & participatory ecology

I believe that something rather esoteric lives at the root of our sometimes confused and repressed relationships with both food and sexuality.

That something is our gender identity - and how it is or is not shaped by our relationship to the Land.

I am not borrowing anyone else's definition of the term "gender identity". What I mean by it is concise: it is the perception of one's embodied power and agency; what we perceive our bodies to be instruments of.

"Earthling" is effectively a gender identity for me, because it literally means one who dwells on, works, and is from the soil. 'Eorthe' in Old English means "ground, soil or dry land". The suffix 'ling' indicates that something is from something else, or literally born from something in the case of, say, diminuitive names for newborn creatures. A duckling, for example, is a creature taht was begotten by a duck. An earthling is then one who is begotten or engendered by the land. Of course, this is true in the sense of evolutionary ecology; it is the relative stability of the earth's biosphere over millions of years that gave rise to life on this planet. But it can also be true on phenomenological, vocational, community and spiritual levels.

Unfortunately, any positive models of "earthling" identity these days are drowned out by one powerful and presiding basis of gender identity: sexuality -- or, to be more precise, sexuality as defined by the corporate media. In a society that is increasingly urban, increasingly professionaly specialized in technological and industrial sectors, and increasingly disconnected from community agrarianism, some are left with one clear answer to the question "What is my body for?". Still mired in Victorian morals and Cartesian philosophy, our society tells us that our bodies are good for thinking rationally and displaying our status as a desirable mate through ornamentation. The latter essentially translates to buying trendy clothes/making ourselves "sexy". (It's what the Victorians did, too - they just had different fashion standards. The deranged and dissonant ideas about personal agency were the same!) Please note that for some reason this mate-status display has become conveniently (for profiteers) connected to what we buy. Hmmm...

The question "What is my body for?" is not really asked, therefore we as a society can pretend that we don't have to answer it. But we are gravely mistaken, for this question should be assumed to be tacit - and the opportunity for its answer a birthright.

Our bodies are for these things (answers are not political, they are taken from our sociobiology and our evolved physiology - function is inferred from form):

*Daily participation in small, close-knit community groups.
*Experiences of collective joy or emotion with and within said groups (such experiences were literally born from the outcomes of food security efforts like hunts or harvests)
*Walking/hiking/trekking over land - this includes exploration of novel landscapes
*Making and using tools - this includes building dwellings and other structures (inferred from physiology of the hand)
*Identifying ripeness of edible fruiting bodies (perception of color)

These are just a few of the things our bodies might rather be doing than, say, being emotionally overstimulated (TV) or physically understimulated (a lecture hall) in repeated and alternating succession, day after day after day.

Farming - an activity that calls upon many of these social and physical purposes - has been incredibly empowering to me in a manner that I perceive as gender-based. Embracing my queerness was cool - learning about queer theory was cool - but being rooted to the land through sustainable animal husbandry - that completed the circuit of my previously 'theoretical' self-actualization. It allowed me to steward beneficial reproduction - of animals, plants, soil, and traditions, and what could be more empowering than that? When your body becomes an organic extension of the landscape, you begin to live the religious experience; you feel at home in the universe because your body fits into the earth in a reciprocal, creative way. It no longer matters what you look like or what your 'social' gender identity is - for that is merely one tiny slice of the encompassing earthling identity. It matters how you function.

Form and function, forever. With Love.