Creative responses to climate change

Creative responses to climate change

Perspectives in having extraordinarily valuable and important ideas that in their own day seemed merely bizarre. For example: developments in artifici...

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Perspectives

in having extraordinarily valuable and important ideas that in their own day seemed merely bizarre. For example: developments in artificial intelligence and robotics, many of them now in useful application everywhere from hospitals to spaceships, were anticipated by C L Hull, who in the 1920s and 1930s conceived of the first neural network and parallel processing systems. Because of the Dr-Strangelove-sounding names he gave the proto-computers he tried to construct to instantiate such systems (“psychic machines”), and because Lemov persistently implies that it is strange to think that mental phenomena are wholly rooted in physiological processes, she misses the importance of this early work. It has (and perhaps for good enough reason) become a reflex of

liberal-minded folk on both sides of the Atlantic to think that if the CIA funds anything from a magazine to a research project, they thereby render it questionable. But in the 1950s, when Korean War prisoners returned to the USA in what seemed like a brainwashed state, it was entirely appropriate that research should be conducted into the matter, and equally appropriate that it should be funded by the security services. Lemov takes CIA involvement in this chapter of the social sciences’ adventure to be the seal on the case she makes. But in this case the CIA had a legitimate worry, and did the appropriate thing in response. But even if some social scientists aspired to find the techniques that would subjugate human beings to the will of scientists, politicians,

or policemen, the fact that large increments of understanding have resulted is in itself a plus. When Yale researchers tried to marry Freudian theory to behaviourism and to explain everything in terms of “frustration and aggression”, a development well described by Lemov, they did more than introduce a new repertoire of psychological notions into common currency. They also laid the foundations—by the mistakes they made—for better theories of psychology to come after them. This suggests a caveat to bear in mind while reading Lemov’s account: that it needs to be placed in the context of a larger and longer story. When done so, her book is a stimulating read.

A C Grayling [email protected]

In brief Exhibition: Creative responses to climate change

The Ship: The Art of Climate Change On show at the Jerwood Gallery, the Natural History Museum, London, UK, until Sept 3, 2006. Admission free. See http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visitus/whats-on/temporaryexhibitions/the-ship

For more about the Cape Farewell project see http://www.capefarewell.com

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We are now almost 10 years on from the Kyoto treaty, yet the consequences of carbon emissions remain a major threat to our planet. The Ship: The Art of Climate Change— a product of the Cape Farewell project—is a timely exhibition. Initially inspired by mathematicians who had devised a computer model of the North Atlantic Ocean, the Cape Farewell project is the brain-child of artist David Buckland. The project aims to engage with climate change and raise awareness of the issue. So far, scientists and artists from the Cape Farewell project have been on three expeditions to the high Arctic, aboard the 100-year-old schooner The Noorderlicht. On the most recent expedition, Buckland invited a team of 16 acclaimed artists on board. The result is The Ship: The Art of Climate Change—a varied selection of works, including

essays, films, paintings, sculptures, and photographs. This collaboration of scientists and artists is a complementary one: the scientists seek to understand the effects of climate change and how to stop it; the artists communicate their interpretations of climate change through their creative work. The centrepiece of the exhibition is the breathtaking Stranded—a 6 m minke whale skeleton blanketed with ice-like glistening alum crystals. The skeleton of the whale was washed up near Skegness, UK. The artists, Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey, were inspired by their adventures in the high Arctic, and what results is a piece that pays tribute to the damage sustained by wildlife as a result of uncontrolled industrial development. Art from a Changing Arctic, an enlightening 59-min documentary directed by David Hinton, recounts the tale of the artists on the expedition: the seasickness; their

fears; the first encounter with a polar bear; and being inspired by the beauty of the Arctic. Notably, this work details the discovery by Alex Hartley of a new island that was revealed as a result of a retreating glacier. Climate change is a growing public-health issue, and we need to halt its progress. The Ship: The Art of Climate Change displays some poignant images to remind us of this issue: melting glaciers, animals born with reproductive abnormalities, and species on the verge of extinction. The effects of global warming tend to be far removed from our everyday lives, but Buckland and the innovative Cape Farewell project have made some headway in their mission to inform the public of the way climate change is transforming our environment and its inhabitants.

Seema Kang [email protected]

www.thelancet.com Vol 368 August 12, 2006