Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

EASY COME, EASY GO


Yesterday evening, I finished reading The Sixth Extinction, a relatively light, rather chatty and anecdotal, but nevertheless quite interesting book by Elizabeth Kolbert.  There have been five great extinctions – periods of time short by geological standards when as much as fifty or sixty or even ninety percent of all extant species of living things disappeared.  Most of these extinctions were the result of gradual changes in the world’s environment – a rise or drop in temperature, for example.  The last and most famous, the Late Triassic extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs and made ecological room for the expansion of the mammalian population [and eventually, for us], was the result quite literally of an event, the crashing into the earth of a five mile wide asteroid.

Kolbert’s thesis is that human beings are producing a sixth great extinction by their expansion across the planet, their rearrangement of ecological spaces [by clearing forests, building cities, and subdividing old growth areas into parcels too small to support many species, for example], and by raising the planet’s temperature so rapidly that species do not have time to adapt.

This is presented by her as a disaster, but that depends on one’s point of view.  Several years ago, there were reports that the lions in Kruger National Park in South Africa were dying of pneumonia.  This was widely viewed as a crisis, but it was, of course, a success story for the virus or bacterium causing the disease.  E. O. Wilson likes to tell us how successful ants are as a family but not many of us have learned to adopt a formicaedean standpoint.

Anyway, the book is perfect summer reading.  Enjoy.

3 comments:

Magpie said...

Thanks for the suggestion, Prof. Sounds like the kind of thing I can enjoy.

"This is presented by her as a disaster, but that depends on one’s point of view."

Personally, I can understand her concern: the loss of diversity and the possibility that this diversity will never recover, even in the geological time-scale.

Maybe the species disappearing contain the secret to cure diseases or in any other way improve our lives; maybe even if our species went extinct, at least we could hope a closely related primate, or maybe a highly intelligent bird, could eventually take our place and re-create a civilization, their own -- perhaps a better one than ours -- culture, science, art. But they, too, are vulnerable.

Maybe it's silly, but the sheer waste depresses me.

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Just a little quibble: I think you mistook Jurassic for Cretaceous.

David Auerbach said...

In which case, here's a more uplifting view:
http://www.amazon.com/The-World-Without-Alan-Weisman/dp/0312427905

Magpie said...

Thanks David. Actually, one of my hobbies is to visit decaying urban sites, to imagine a world without humans.

I suppose it's kind of morbid.