12. Notes

Notes to ch. 1, “The River Owns Itself”

Epigraph: quoted in Donald Worster, Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity, and the Growth of the American West. New York: Oxford UP, 1985. p. 46.

Opinion piece: Michael Cohen, “Salton Sea – A time for action,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 19, 2007.

Aral Sea: Marq de Villiers, Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource. Houghton Mifflin, 2001, pp. 105-116.

Origin of the Salton Sea: see Worster, pp. 195-197; Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert: The American West and its Disappearing Water. New York: Penguin, 1993. pp. 122-123.

Official proposal for restoration of the Salton Sea: http://www.saltonsea.water.ca.gov/docs/Pref_Alt_and_Funding_Plan_Report_May_2007.pdf

In 2008 the Legislature approved the following expenditure (Chapter 374, Statutes of 2008): Salton Sea Restoration. The budget provides about $14 million (bond funds) for planning, monitoring, and various early actions relating to the restoration of the Salton Sea. http://www.lao.ca.gov/2008/spend_plan/spending_plan_08-09.aspx

Delta of the Colorado and Lake Cahuilla: Eugene Singer, “Geology of the Imperial Valley.” http://www.sci.sdsu.edu/salton/AncientLakeCahuilla.html

“The river, it was then believed . . . belonged to itself”; doctrine of prior appropriation: Worster, p. 88.

“the riparian owner . . . could not . . . insist that the stream flow undisturbed by his porch, affording an amenity to enjoy, nor could he protect it as the handiwork of God. Both would have been indeed unreasonable and wasteful.” Worster, p. 108.

For the Bonneville Project, whose goal was electric power at “postage-stamp rates,” and Lewis Mumford’s vision of the Neotechnic, see Richard White, The Organic Machine: The Remaking of the Columbia River, New York: Hill and Wang, 1995, pp. 64-69.

See Worster, chapter 6, for a discussion of economic and political power in the modern West.

quarter of a million acres of cotton in the Central Valley, 2008: http://westernfarmpress.com/tree-nut-crops/permanent-crops-0409/

agricultural runoff to the Salton Sea: Elizabeth G. Hill (Legislative Analyst’s Office), “Restoring the Salton Sea.” pp. 4-5. http://www.saltonsea.water.ca.gov/docs/Restoring_SS.pdf

On the idea of a divine mandate for exploitation of resources, see Worster, pp. 74, 78, 97-98, 115.

The goal of producing 160-acre family farms: see Worster, pp. 160-169, on the National Reclamation Act of 1902; also Reisner, p. 337.

The suburban yard like a miniature 1840’s farm: John Stilgoe, Outside Lies Magic. New York: Walker & Co., 1998. pp. 126-127.

a hybrid and impure nature: see Richard White, “The Problem with Purity.” Tanner Lectures on Human Values, UC Davis, May 10, 1999. http://www.tannerlectures.utah.edu/lectures/documents/white00.pdf

Notes to ch. 2, “Causation, Complexity, and Life”

For falsifiability as the crucial aspect of a scientific hypothesis, see Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (New York, 1959).

Also see Gregory Bateson, Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity. Hampton Press, Cresskill, NJ, 2002, pp. 25-27, “Science Never Proves Anything”: “the next fact is never available. All you have is the hope of simplicity, and the next fact may always drive you to the next level of complexity.”

We could apply Aristotle’s four causes to the origin of the Salton Sea:

Material cause: water, earth, tools used to dig out the bank of the river.

Efficient cause: the Colorado River, workmen.

Formal cause: the relationship between the Sink and the river (the Sink was lower than the spot where the riverbank was breached, and reachable by a downhill path); Rockwood’s design for a diversion of the river, because it determined the place where the breach would be made.

Final cause: Though Rockwood’s project failed to achieve its purpose, that purpose nevertheless caused the Salton Sea as an unintended consequence. Beyond that would lie the question of whether the Colorado River could be said to harbor a purpose, e.g., to build up its delta.

“The whole thrust of the old Aristotelian analysis of causation is to make it manifest that no one mode of causal entailment suffices to understand anything. At root this is because the causal categories do not entail each other.” Robert Rosen, Life Itself: A Comprehensive Inquiry into the Nature, Origin, and Fabrication of Life. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991. p. 132.

Complexity is defined as follows by theoretical biologist Donald Mikulecky: Complexity is the property of a real world system that is manifest in the inability of any one formalism being adequate to capture all its properties. It requires that we find distinctly different ways of interacting with systems. Distinctly different in the sense that when we make successful models, the formal systems needed to describe each distinct aspect are NOT derivable from each other. For a much fuller exposition, see http://www.people.vcu.edu/~mikuleck/ON%20COMPLEXITY.html

Plants and animals supporting each other in an ecosystem: see Daniel A. Fiscus, “The Ecosystemic Life Hypothesis.” http://www.calresco.org/fiscus/esl.htm

The scenario described here is that of “coupled transformers,” originally the work of A.J. Lotka. Elements of Physical Biology. Baltimore: Wilkins and Wilkins,  1925.

diagram of “indirect mutualism”: Robert Ulanowicz, Ecology: The Ascendent Perspective. Columbia UP, 1997, p. 42.

final cause involves the future acting upon the present: see Rosen, p. 133.

Ascendency: see Ulanowicz, p. 75. The apparent misspelling of “ascendency” is deliberate on Ulanowicz’s part, in order to mark the word as a term of art having a specialized meaning (note 2, p. 9).

Rosen on Newtonian causation: see Rosen, pp. 89-103. I’m enormously simplifying his argument.

an unbroken succession of instants, each one entailing the next: also see Rosen, pp. 69-73, on “Chronicles” and “Recursive Chronicles.” “Specifically, every value f(n) entails the next value f(n + 1). . . . This apparently trivial situation is the germ on which the state concept, and hence, contemporary theoretical science itself, rests.” When Rosen says “contemporary theoretical science” there, he emphatically means theoretical science other than his own.

For a discussion of “functional components,” and a powerful overview of Rosen’s revolutionary ideas, see Donald Mikulecky, “Robert Rosen: The Well Posed Question and its Answer – Why Are Organisms Different from Machines?”

“The entire biological edifice” etc.: Antonio Damasio, The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1999. p. 145.

“a material system is an organism if, and only if, it is closed to efficient causation”: Rosen, p. 244.

short-lived enzymes needing to be replaced by a process requiring further enzymes, etc.: see Athel Cornish-Bowden, “Putting the Systems back into Systems Biology.” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine (2006) 49, 475–489.

Notes to ch. 4, “From a Single Cell to Human Awareness and the Self”

epigraph from Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, The Tree of Knowledge:The Biological Roots of Human Understanding. Revised edition. Boston: Shambhala, 1998, p. 246.

“We speak of structural coupling whenever there is a history of recurrent interactions leading to the structural congruence between two (or more) systems.” Maturana and Varela, p. 75.

There is no representation of the outer world within a person’s head – a position which recent neuroscience confirms: e.g., Damasio, p. 320:

The problem with the term representation is . . . the implication that, somehow, the mental image or the neural pattern represents, in mind and in brain, with some degree of fidelity, the object to which the representation refers, as if the structure of the object were replicated in the representation. When I use the word representation, I make no such suggestion. . . . Whatever the fidelity may be, neural patterns and the corresponding mental images are as much creations of the brain as they are products of the external reality that prompts their creation. When you and I look at an object outside ourselves, we . . . can describe the object in very similar ways, down to fine details. But that does not mean that the image we see is the copy of whatever the object outside is like. Whatever it is like, in absolute terms, we do not know.

Also see Walter J. Freeman, How Brains Make up their Minds, New York: Columbia UP, 2000, esp. chs. 2 & 4; N. Katherine Hayles, “Constrained Constructivism,” New Orleans Review 18, no. 1 (1991), esp. notes 5 & 6.

We are always creating what we “are” and imagining that this identity is stable, but in fact it is in constant transformation via language and other social actions: “We work out our lives in a mutual linguistic coupling, not because language permits us to reveal ourselves but because we are constituted in language in a continuous becoming that we bring forth with others.” We are “an ongoing transformation in the becoming of the linguistic world that we build with other human beings.” Maturana and Varela, pp. 234-235 (my emphasis).

“Through this ongoing recursiveness, every world brought forth necessarily hides its origins. We exist in the present; past and future are manners of being now. Biologically there is no way we can put in front of us what happened to us in obtaining the regularities we have grown accustomed to: from values or preferences to color qualities and smells.” Maturana and Varela, p. 242.

Notes to ch. 5, “The Fresh Pond Marshes”

William Brewster, Birds of the Cambridge Region. Memoirs of the Nuttall Ornithological Club, no. 4 in a series, 1906.

Map of the Fresh Pond Marshes ca. 1866, drawn in 1906 by Charles D. Elliot, from Brewster’s book cited above.

advice from a civil engineer: John R. Freeman, “Report on Improvement of the Upper Mystic River and Alewife Brook by Means of Tide Gates and Large Drainage Channels.” Report of the Board of Metropolitan Park Commissioners. Boston: Wright & Potter Printing Co., State Printers. January, 1905.

Notes to ch. 6, “Beyond Ascendency”

Epigraph: Chuang Tsu, Inner Chapters. tr. Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English. Vintage, 1974. p. 89.

Odum’s description of the ecosystem’s goal: “The Strategy of Ecosystem Development,” Science, no. 164 (April 18, 1969), p. 266.

overhead: see Ulanowicz, p. 77 ff.

“A sustainable system requires a balance between ascendency and redundancy”: Ulanowicz, p. 86.

“the endpoint of senescence, owing as it does to insufficient overhead, engenders in us a new appreciation for the necessary role that inefficient, incoherent, redundant . . . events and processes play in maintaining and even creating order throughout the lifetime of a system.” (my emphasis): Ulanowicz, p. 92.

Ulanowicz (pp. 157-158) points to the Challenger space shuttle disaster as a situation of insufficient overhead. NASA was instructed to make its operations more efficient in a period of tight budgets, but greater efficiency necessarily meant less overhead, which in this case meant less system redundancy for the purpose of assuring flight safety. Though reliability engineers would have appreciated the significance of this trade-off, that point of view did not prevail, with tragic consequences. In his recent book A Third Window: Natural Life beyond Newton and Darwin (West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Foundation Press, 2009), Ulanowicz develops further his insights into the “agonism between ascendency and overhead” in systems of many kinds.

“the going-on shifting and sliding of ideas”: Gregory Bateson, Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity, p. 193.

Notes to ch. 7, “White Geese at Rush Hour”

Leonard Koren, Wabi-Sabi for Artists,Designers, Poets & Philosophers. Berkeley, CA: Stone Bridge Press, 1994.

Friends of the White Geese website: http://www.friendsofthewhitegeese.org/

Allison Blyler: see http://www.bu.edu/bostonia/fall07/geese/

Notes to ch. 8, “A World Beyond Our Intentions”

each neuron maintains at least ten thousand input and output connections: Walter J. Freeman, How Brains Make Up Their Minds. Columbia UP, 2000. p. 47.

“Chaos is like the movement of bodies in an airport terminal: patterns change at moments of announcements.” Freeman, p. 6.

Our perception consists of interior constructs: see Freeman, p. 9.

causal feedback loops within the brain: “Each neuron acts onto a myriad of others within one to a few synaptic links, and already the returning impact of those others alters its state before it can send another pulse. . . . Simultaneity violates the requirement [in linear causality] that effects must follow causes, and the distributed nonlinear feedback makes a mockery of any attempt to determine which neuron caused which others to fire or not to fire.” Freeman, p. 129.

neuroscientists disagree on whether these signifiers are stable or not: For the view that they are not, see Freeman, ch. 2. In his research on the sense of smell in rabbits, he says, “I have observed that brain activity patterns are constantly dissolving, reforming, and changing, particularly in relation to one another. When an animal learns to respond to a new odor, there is a shift in all other patterns, even if they are not directly involved with the learning. There are no fixed representations, as there are in computers; there are only meanings.” (p. 22)

But also see Antonio Damasio, Self Comes to Mind (Pantheon, 2010), p. 133: “The hallmark of brain maps is the relatively transparent connection between the thing represented – shape, movement, color, sound – and the map’s contents. The pattern in the map has some patent correspondence to the thing it maps” – although current brain imaging techniques do not yet enable us to read what each map stands for in the outside world.

what we store is a set of directions for how to create an as-if experience: See Damasio, Self Comes to Mind, ch. 6, “An Architecture for Memory.”

preafference: see Freeman, p. 33.

perception framed by intention, hypothesis-driven mind: these are major themes of Freeman’s book. See esp. pp. 90-92.

brain activity of forming an intention precedes the awareness of intending something: see Freeman, pp. 124-125.

consciousness as an operator: see Freeman, pp. 135-136.

See Freeman, ch. 6, for a discussion of causality, awareness, and intention. I take issue with Freeman’s account of formal cause, but otherwise my argument on intention and causality mostly reflects his. In what follows I use the word “self” to mean our idea of the self, while Freeman uses it to indicate the dynamic system of one’s actions constantly changing one’s relationship to the world.

Mental image: I use that word to mean all the sensory modalities. We can have an “image” of a smell or a sound or a bodily state as well as an image of something we’ve seen.

In The Feeling of What Happens (1999), Antonio Damasio makes a detailed argument, based in research, for the position that the self is far less of an abiding essence than we imagine. The activity that gives rise to consciousness comes in cycles or pulses: see esp. Damasio, ch. 6. “[T]he brain reconstructs the sense of self moment by moment. . . Our sense of self is a state of the organism . . . a vulnerable pattern of integrated operations whose consequence is to generate the mental representation of a living individual being.” Damasio, pp. 144-145. We have only a “seemingly continuous experience of moments of conscious individuality”: Damasio, p. 217.

Notes to ch. 9, “The Muddy Edge of Sky”

“Fox on the Shore” appeared in Ecotone vol. 3, no. 1 (fall 2007), pp. 182-199. The ending of the published version is slightly different from the original version given here.

Drought in California: officially declared by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, June 5, 2008.

the modified Klebsiella bacterium: see Nature’s Operating Instructions: The True Biotechnologies, ed. Kenny Ausubel. Sierra Club Books, 2004.


John Todd’s work at Harwich: see John Todd, “The Evolution of a Water Doctor.” RMISolutions (Rocky Mountain Institute Newsletter), vol. xvii no. 1, spring 2001. p. 14.

Notes to ch. 10, “The Dream of Perfect Control”

Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching. tr. Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English. Vintage, 1997.

Paired dance improvisation: Recent research on mirror neurons reveals what happens in the brain to make this possible. The function of the mirror neuron system is to enable us to have a first-person experience of what we see another person doing, by means of a virtual enactment within our own brain of the other person’s actions. This goes on constantly in everyday life and is the means by which we recognize what others are feeling, intending, thinking but not saying. We are innately equipped with the ability to be the other, so much so that it’s now thought we need to inhibit this ability in order to maintain our own individual identity.

Target CO2 level 350 ppm: James Hansen et al., “Target atmospheric CO2: Where should humanity aim?” Open Atmospheric Science Journal (2008), vol. 2, pp. 217-231. Abstract and full text available at http://arxiv.org/abs/0804.1126.

Notes to ch. 11, “A Promise of Future”

epigraph: Robert P. Harrison, Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition. U. of Chicago Press, 2008. p. 17.

growing food in empty lots in Flint, Michigan: see http://facingthemortgagecrisis.org/?p=706

Philip Henshaw’s question: see “Economies that Become Part of Nature,” at http://www.synapse9.com/drafts/NaturalEconsTOD.pdf . His website, www.synapse9.com , is filled with provocative thought about the workings of natural systems.

power line corridors and their effect on the ecosystem: see “Green Lines,” by Beth Daley, Boston Globe p. K1, November 22, 2009.

“weeds” are not inherently weeds: see Peter Del Tredici, Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast: a field guide. Cornell UP, 2010. pp. 1-23.


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