The theory of evolution connects us to the natural world, explaining how and why we are a part of nature. The idea of progress, on the other hand, projects a destination. "If nature can supply wonderfully elegant solutions to the problem of survival by trying out test models derived solely by chance, then surely it's possible for us to find our way forward," write David Rothenberg and Wandee Pryor, setting the terms of the discussion. But is society going somewhere in particular? Is nature improving? The stories, poems, essays, and artwork in Writing the Future examine the concepts of evolution and progress through a variety of artistic and scientific lenses and speculate on how these ideas can help us appreciate our place in the world.
The first section of Writing the Future, "Science, Mustard, Moths," looks at evolution's founding concepts and personalities, and includes Theodore Roszak's challenge to a Darwinian orthodoxy, which he traces back to another pioneering theorist, Alfred Russel Wallace. The second section, "Steps from the Cave," focuses on human change, and features Ellen Dissanayake's unusual look at prehistoric cave paintings in France, poetry by John Canaday, and a richly layered short story by Floyd Skloot. The third section, "Places in Time," moves outward to examine the world evolving and includes a reminiscence by Leslie Van Gelder of growing up "in the church of Darwin" and Eva Salzman's account of an infinitely reverberating walk through a Long Island neighborhood. In the fourth section, "Getting to the Future," the writers consider different manifestations of progress: Katherine Creed Page examines a "future perfect" through reproductive technology, Kevin Warwick reports on linking his nervous system to a computer by means of a small electronic circuit implanted under his skin, and Joan Maloof meditates on our possible future "de-evolution" – an abdication of our dominating role and gradual return to nature – which brings Writing the Future full circle.
" [...] [A] book that will delight the reader [...] an exemplary anthology."
– William Kowinski, San Francisco Chronicle
"The strength of these pieces lies in their powerful sense of place, binding diverse human activities to their natural context."
– Elizabeth Sourbut, New Scientist
"What a fascinating and moving collection! Rothenberg and Pryor have drawn together the work of writers, ecologists, scientists, and philosophers, creating a collection that struggles with the pressure of time, the dream of progress, and the ambivalent offers of nature. Sometimes using poetry or autobiography, elsewhere deploying steely analysis or political protest, this hugely diverse assembly of authors grapples with a receding future, even as they try to come to terms with various pasts from the paleolithic to their own memories. Located somewhere between a performance piece and a scientific intervention, this is a collection that should intrigue and provoke for a good long time."
– Peter Galison, Mallinckrodt Professor of the History of Science and of Physics, Harvard University
"Terra Nova has produced another brilliant cross-disciplinary exploration of a profound theme. This collection of essays mimics evolution itself in its creativity and diversity, its capacity to startle and delight."
– John Horgan, science writer, and author of The End of Science and Rational Mysticism
"A dazzling collection, full of insights, surprises and useful provocations. I was very impressed by the clarity and vividness of the selections and found them to be engaging even to a non-specialist."
– Scott Slovic, Professor of Literature and Environment , University of Nevada, Reno
"An interesting and highly leavened mix of thought, perception, and speculation, all of which provokes more of the same. Its premise – that there must be an underlying creative impulse that governs biological evolution and human progress – is challenging and timely now, when the concept of natural selection is under political attack"
– David Appelbaum, Professor of Philosophy, State University of New York at New Paltz
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David Rothenberg is Professor of Philosophy at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and founder of the Terra Nova book series. His most recent books are Always the Mountains and Sudden Music: Improvisation, Art and Nature.
Wandee J. Pryor is former Managing Editor of Terra Nova projects at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.