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I'm home now. The weather has turned. The wind is howling through the fir trees on the edge of my bluff. The gusts carry with them a horizontal rain that is pelting the windows. This rain and wind have gathered their energy far out in the North Pacific and are expending it against my trees and house. Immense thermal forces that are generated thousands of miles from here are knocking on my windows to remind me that the small place where I live is connected to the whole planet and is subject to its forces.

Inside, it's calm. The cats are sleeping on their respective turfs. There's a low fire in the ill-scaled stone fireplace. In the bookshelves above the fireplace there is a book entitled "Life". The author Richard Fortey, who was chief paleontologist of the British Museum, traces in a mere 400 pages the history of life for the past two billion years. This synopsis of the broad sweep of evolution concludes with a photo of rows and rows of slot machines. The photo is used to illustrate the fact that we are the product of a million times a million almost random chances, possibly more chances than the number of stars in our galaxy. He makes it clear that we were not inevitable. At each chance occurrence in the history of life, things could easily have gone a different way. Given the enormously compounded number of events that created us it is probable that we are unique in the universe. There almost certainly is other life out there, but something that sees, perceives, and feels the world around it the way that we do is highly unlikely. For all we know, we may be the only living thing in the universe that feels emotion or sees beauty. Our rational and emotional cognition of the world around us is what makes us human. It is a gift beyond measure.

Given this singular ability, I would argue that responding to, revealing, reflecting, and protecting the uniqueness of the real world around us should be our highest calling. Choreographing the visual experience of individuals so that the most poignant "photos" of a particular set of circumstances are revealed can give viewers the opportunity to understand the world around them, not only on an intellectual but on the more important emotional human level. These emotional responses connect us strongly to the world and in this memorable way they open the doors for us to feel and love, in essence, reminding us of the gift of being cognitive.

In a world in which the sheer pressure of human population growth is devouring our biodiversity and changing our atmospheric chemistry to the point of radically altering our climate, there may be great value in employing an ethic that guides people to an emotional connection to reality. I know of no one who is in favor of these ongoing environmental alterations or is looking forward to the unpredictable consequences. I also know of no one who feels that the planet will be a better place to live 200 years from now. So why do we do very little—or nothing—about changing this potentially unpleasant future?

Even though the answers to this question may be politically complex, I feel that the core of the problem lies in our fundamental disconnection from the living world that sustains us. We, as a culture, no longer have that primitive emotional knowledge that we and the rest of the living world are one. We may not ever be able to do anything about this loss and its concomitant problems but if there is a path that avoids this looming future it will start from an ethic of respect, appreciation and love for all the variety of this planet. That love can only be fostered by first promoting an emotional connection to the world. Where our hearts go our minds and actions will follow.

I feel that any methodology, in any craft or profession, that reinforces an emotional recognition of the gift of the real world is valuable in defending a future in which, I hope, other people can enjoy the wind howling through Douglas firs.

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Posted 05/24/02