94 - Mark Nelson on Ecotechnics & Biosphere 2 (Part 1)

Ep. 94

This week’s episode is the first of a special two-part conversation with Dr. Mark Nelson, one of the eight “biospherians” who lived for two years inside the closed ecological network Biosphere 2 – one of the most ambitious experiments ever performed, the reproduction of five distinct biomes inside a building in the Arizona desert. Mark is the author of the newly-published history of his experience in Biosphere 2, called Pushing Our Limits – he’s also the author of The Wastewater Gardener, which applies the same closed-loop, full-system ecological thinking to more easily attainable forms of agriculture.

I know Mark through my lucky acquaintance with Synergia Ranch just outside Santa Fe (where I am right now, editing this episode) – the home base for The Institute of Ecotechnics, the group that pioneered the discipline of “Biospherics,” and the hub for a planetary network of brilliant, passionate, eclectic individuals whose stories never cease to blow my mind. Mark’s tale of his two years living under glass with seven other brave souls is powerful, inspiring, and full of potent lessons for both life on Earth and life in space.



We Discuss:

– How theater can save a tight team from decaying into “kill the leader” reflexes and the importance of drama to living a full human life;

– Gerard O’Neill and the Space Studies Institute, Stewart Brand and the Whole Earth Catalog, and how space exploration went in, then out, then back into fashion;

– Biospheres are materially closed but energetically open;

– The study of comparative biospheres;

“If anyone’s running the show, it’s the microbes. It’s a reality that’s actually quite joyful to realize. You are NOT an island. We are totally enmeshed biologically in the biosphere.”

– Carrying around the trauma from the Great Oxygenation Event in our intestinal microbiota;

– Biomes as the building blocks of a biosphere;

– The Research Vessel Heraclitus, the Institute of Ecotechnic’s rehabbed Chinese junk, exploring the World Ocean;

– How they designed “lungs” for the building to enable pressure differences inside the building;

“Life transforms the planet. And in fact, when we look out, we’re looking at the by-products of life. And even a lot of what used to be thought of as mineral deposits – these huge deposits of iron, for example, used to be considered to be ‘natural’ formations, ie, geologic ones. No! In fact, [it was the work of] ‘slime’…juicy, fecund with life.”

“I think we need a whole new generation of creative people to give us the storylines for new outcomes. I kind of borrow from William Burroughs, who said, ‘We need a new mythology for the Space Age.’ And he further said that we’re going to judge heroes and villains by their intentions toward the planet.”

– Synergy (popularized by Buckminster Fuller) and synergy in life and love;

– Saving his sanity with “Hallucinogenic Outback Comedies” and using original plays and dances to communicate nonverbally around the world

“In the negative news stories, they would say, ‘These aren’t scientists, these are recycled actors from New Mexico.’ Well, Biosphere 2 was an in-life production…I have some friends who say that Biosphere 2 was John Allen’s greatest theater production. We really thought it was going to be a quiet research facility.”

“Thinking is hard. But PRETENDING to think, I can do that really well.”

“The opposite of an actor is a RE-actor.”

– Theater as a way of escaping the person you are at 7 AM

“I’ve had the great pleasure of meeting quite a number of astronauts and cosmonauts…and they’re all changed men.”

– The first and second Inter-Biospheric Festivals

“Our culture, I think, and it may have a malevolent intent in doing so, tends to diminish people’s expectations of what they personally can do.”

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189 - Planet-scale Musical Chairs: 21st Century Human Geography with Parag Khanna

Ep. 189
This week on Future Fossils, we sync up with globe-trotting (Singapore-based) futurist Parag Khanna, author of several internationally best-selling books on the shifting landscape of human geography and technological evolution. My acquaintance with Parag dates back all the way to 2011 when I found his Hybrid Reality Institute, and started writing for his BigThink blog, thanks to the writing of Jason Silva — I knew this was a party I couldn’t miss, even though I was then, as now, deeply ambivalent about the contours of the futures he and his colleagues were making visible with their rigorous research. This spirit has defined my entire adult life: if you want to help steer something in a better direction, you might just have to get your hands down into the murk and engage with it deeply enough to be in the position to make a difference. So when his agent contacted me about interviewing him about his latest book, 2021’s Move: The Forces Uprooting Us, I knew it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. But let me be clear that Parag sees things very differently than I do, and I appreciate that about him: he has a keen sense of the risks and dangers of our times but emphasizes the opportunities because the facts are there to support it. If you move around as much as he does, and always has, you get a kind of synoptic view of the planet and the tension between individual destiny and collective momentum comes into a new tuning. This is a beast of a conversation. It was hell to edit. I’m glad it happened. Here you go!Complete, extensive show notes at Patreon.✨ Housekeeping:• Intro music is "You're In My Self-Portrait" from my 2012 album Golden Hour. Outro music is "City of Jewels" from my 2013 EP of the same name. For something completely different, check out my latest live album, recorded at Meow Wolf Santa Fe while opening for DeVotchKa.✨ Other Ways To Support The Work & Community:• My roughly-monthly newsletter at Substack• Venmo: @futurefossils• PayPal.me/michaelgarfield• ETH: FutureFossils.eth• BTC: 1At2LQbkQmgDugkchkP6QkDJCvJ5rv3Jm• NFTs: Rarible | Foundation | Voice | Hic Et Nunc | Mint Songs