Alexander von Humboldt: the first Solarpunk

Alexander von Humboldt served as a role model for Goethe’s Faust and helped Thomas Jefferson build the agricultural power of the United States. He inspired Charles Darwin to hop on the beagle to follow in his steps, Thoreau to seek close connection to nature at the Walden Pond, and Muir to create the national park system.

He has sown the seeds for the environmental movement of today, but he was not enthusiastic about the prospects:

“The human species could turn even those distant stars ‘barren’ and leave them ‘ravaged’”, Humboldt wrote as early as 1801, just as they were already doing with earth.

Andrea Wulf, the Invention of Nature

Humboldt was captivated by lush nature but loved humanity and the new technological developments. He believed that if we understand Nature and the laws governing her, we can create a sustainable future. He was the first Solarpunk and here are his ideas:

#1: Everything is Connected

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

John Muir wrote, summarizing Alexander von Humboldt’s ideas.

The idea of interconnectedness is central to Alexander von Humboldt’s intellectual pursuits. His relentless curiosity drove him to explore the messy reality of nature. Before Humboldt’s time, the role of the scientist was like one of the librarian – classify, label, and shelve facts. The most recent breakthrough of the natural sciences was the binomial classification – a system of grouping species originating from counting how many teeth or hooves they may have. Humboldt quite prophetically was opposed to such one-dimensional treatment of Nature and relegating science to forever slicing up the world into smaller pieces so they can neatly fit on a bookshelf.

Probably his most influential concept was the Naturgemalde: A vision, painting, and a scene illustrating how different parts of the ecosystem influence each other.

Humboldt’s Naturgemalde: the cross-section of Chimborazo volcano with the entire ecosystem explained.

Naturgemalde was not only a new way to showcase facts and figures like the altitude, vegetation, and snow cover of the Chimborazo volcano but the first piece of art illustrating the influence of these facts over each other. It was during the assembly of Naturgemalde that Humboldt first introduced the idea of vegetation zones – the altitude and temperature range suitable for certain species of plants, creating similar ecosystems in similar places around the globe. 

The evocative nature of the painting has inspired a generation of artists to seek unity and deepen our understanding of Nature instead of resigning ourselves to classify it.

#2: What speaks to the soul escapes our measurements

“What speaks to the soul escapes our measurements.”

Alexander von Humboldt, from the Invention of Nature

Humboldt was a scientist through and through. But as Leonardo Da Vinci before him and Richard Feynman two centuries later, he found beauty in discovering the truth about the world. Nature was a value in itself for Humboldt, not just a means to an end or something to conquer.

It is that emotional bond with the world that let him create the Naturgemalde.

“Nature every where speaks to man in a voice familiar to his soul.”

Alexander von Humboldt, from the Invention of Nature

Poets and authors like Coleridge, Goethe, Thoreau, and Verne were deeply moved by Humboldt’s descriptions of the natural world and paid him homages in their own art. Goethe based Doctor Faust on his dear friend Humboldt, and Julius Verne made sure that Nautilus contained “the complete works of Humboldt”, as Captain Nemo was a great fan.

#3 Humanity has to work WITH nature.

During his travels, Humboldt saw the ruthlessness with which humans treated nature.

Humboldt wrote about the destruction of forests and of humankind’s long-term changes to the environment. When he listed the three ways in which the human species was affecting the climate, he named deforestation, ruthless irrigation, and, perhaps most prophetically, the ‘great masses of steam and gas’ produced in the industrial centres.

The Invention of Nature

Humboldt understood the connections between different parts of the ecosystem and it was clear that short-sighted exploitation of nature will not only destroy habitats but also have dire consequences for humanity. He wasn’t opposed to technology (in fact, he was very excited by the advancements of the 19th century), but he advocated for a nuanced approach towards nature rather than plantations of cash crops.


252 years after the birth of Alexander von Humboldt birth, the world hasn’t changed much. His prophetic warnings about Humanity’s devastating impact on the natural world have unfortunately came to pass, and we are still trying to find our way out of this mess. I believe that way is the Solarpunk – a trend focusing on inspiring a sustainable future through art, and finding a way for modern technology to coexist with lush nature.

Solarpunks believe that this way is through Art and Technology. Humboldt believed in the power of art to capture and express more than formulas ever could and to inspire others to appreciate the complexity of Nature. Solarpunks believe that this Art can also inspire technologists to create sustainable solutions and policymakers to implement them. Humboldt believed that technology not only can, but has to coexist with Nature:

Humboldt, however, warned that humankind needed to understand how the forces of nature worked, how those different threads were all connected. Humans could not just change the natural world at their will and to their advantage. ‘Man can only act upon nature, and appropriate her forces to his use,’ Humboldt would later write, ‘by comprehending her laws.’

Andrea Wulf, the Invention of Nature

Solarpunks believe that technology coexisting with nature is the only way out of our climate predicament. Alexander von Humboldt was the first member of the Solarpunk movement.

One more thing: I am helping to fund a Solarpunk Art Contest and we are waiting for your Naturgemalde.

Solarpunk Art Contest

Last week, I transferred $1000 worth of magical Internet money (Ethereum) to an Internet stranger (@Yishan), so he can award it to artists inspiring a sustainable future (aka Solarpunk Art contest). How was your week?

Why Solarpunk?

Artist: Imperial Boy

I have written about Solarpunk in a previous issue of this newsletter – it’s a trend focusing on inspiring a sustainable future through art, and finding a way for modern technology to coexist with lush nature.

Solarpunk focuses on tales to inspire, not tales to condemn. Unlike the current debate about climate, it’s not anti-anything. It’s not shaming you for using your car, nor scaring masses with the warnings of the terrible outcomes of our habits. This is not the way out of this mess.

Chill with the dystopias

The original points of Cyberpunk, Mad Max, Black Mirror, and other dystopian stories were to warn us about the slippery slopes, so we can avoid dire consequences. It all backfired, inspiring creators and technologists to make that vision a reality because the aesthetics accompanying the message were compelling.

Please tell me if you know the original source.

Technologists live to create things that they fell in love with as children. Star Trek should be credited for the invention of the iPhone more than Steve Jobs because it sent millions of engineers onto the paths that resulted in technology combined in the slick monolith you hold in your hand today.

Art inspires, and technology follows.

I want the future to be hopeful

The lovely Solarpunk-inspired Chobani commercial

I believe the future is good and humanity’s best days are yet ahead of us. Technology has the potential to not only help the climate (which it did harm before), but continue providing improvements to longevity, health, and education.

We need to point technologists towards respecting nature, and all species on planet earth, creating sustainable habitats, walkable cities, and clean energy sources. We need artists to lead us, so technologists can follow. So lead us somewhere nice.

This is where you come in.

The Solarpunk contest I helped fund is running until November 1st, 2021. The format can be any visual medium (digital, ink, paint, 3D, animated, etc). It should be original art, not published elsewhere. Winners will be chosen by the CEO of Terraformation (@Yishan).

  1. First Place: $2,740 + $100 reprint purchase offer to publish the winning entry as cover art on one of the six first year issues of Solarpunk Magazine$1,000 payable in SOL (Ryan will help you claim).
  2. Second Place: $2,140
  3. Third Place: $1,740
  4. 7 other winners: $1,540

Submission procedure and more details are in this post.

Show us a nice future so we can build it. My future grandchildren are counting on you.

In other news, to match the growing nature-inspired focus of this newsletter and the blog, I redesigned to match. Tell me what you think!

The interconnected mess of it all


“The Heart of the Andes” by Frederic Edwin Church aimed to present the interconnectedness of the ecosystem, with everything interacting with everything else.

While reading “The Invention of Nature” (a book I’ll definitely reference later), I stumbled upon the concept of Monism.

In a Monistic worldview, there is no difference between organic and inorganic life because they are deeply connected. There is no hard boundary between humans and animals because we’re all part of nature. There is no division into different drawers of sciences just because of some obscure taxonomy. Monism stands in opposition to Dualism, first popularized by Plato, and later embedded in the western culture.

The perils of dismantling the world into even smaller parts and declaring them separate sciences seems to underline many of my talking points. While studying Computer Science and Psychology simultaneously, I couldn’t help but notice how interconnected and similar those seemingly disparate areas can be, but how ignorant experts are to anything outside their precious labels.

The last 2 years (!) of the pandemic have shown how dangerous this mindset can be. Organizations like CDC, FDA, WHO, US Army, and countless other acronym holders did everything according to their own procedures. Still, it ended as an utter fiasco costing millions of lives because everyone focused on their own little slice of reality and missed the big picture.

Samuel Coleridge (a British poet) called the early 1800s an ‘epoch of division and separation,’ of fragmentation and the loss of unity. He was lamenting the loss of what he called the ‘connective powers of the understanding.’ He had no idea.

I’ll read up on Monism some more and report back the findings to you.

Deliberate work

In “Your lifestyle has already been designed,” David takes a closer look at the default workforce lifestyle, observing that it definitely is not aimed at helping the little guy:

For the economy to be “healthy”, America has to remain unhealthy. Healthy, happy people don’t feel like they need much they don’t already have, and that means they don’t buy a lot of junk, don’t need to be entertained as much, and they don’t end up watching a lot of commercials.

He also makes an excellent point about the 8-hour workdays:

But the 8-hour workday is too profitable for big business, not because of the amount of work people get done in eight hours (the average office worker gets less than three hours of actual work done in 8 hours) but because it makes for such a purchase-happy public. Keeping free time scarce means people pay a lot more for convenience, gratification, and any other relief they can buy. It keeps them watching television, and its commercials. It keeps them unambitious outside of work.

But it all has to be worth it in the end, right? Few decades of slogging through, and you’ll be able to retire happily! Philip, who has reached the Nirvana of early retirement, is documenting his “struggles”:

Americans cannot imagine stopping work before they’ve either (1) purchased everything that they could conceivably want, or (2) collapsed from physical exhaustion

He recommends shifting the mindset before retirement because jumping from worker mentality straight to empty days can be more than a little disorienting:

Suppose that you are retired. At this point, your one job is the pursuit of happiness. If you are not happy, therefore you are a failure at your job and in your life. But how can you be happy 24/7?

Retirement forces you to stop thinking that it is your job that holds you back. For most people the depressing truth is that they aren’t that organized, disciplined, or motivated.

“Worried Denizen” argues that Leisure is the end in itself, and we have to learn to “waste it”:

In the long run, wasted time is indistinguishable from time well spent.

The only viable strategy to make the most out of your time is to make sure that it’s fun

Climate Tales to inspire

Companies like Heimdal are working carbon-negative cement – it means that they suck out CO2 to produce the material, in opposition to the traditional manner, which is a huge contributor to climate change.

Concrete is responsible for 8% of global CO2 emissions. Cement is usually made from mined limestone, which is one of the largest natural stores of carbon dioxide. Using that to make cement is a bit like burning oil. The world is addicted to concrete, so this problem is not going away. We make synthetic limestone using atmospheric CO2, such that when it is used to make cement, the process is carbon neutral.

This essay is a fantastic resource on the economics and chemistry of carbon-negative concrete.

PS: Yes, this issue of my newsletter is sent late. We are finally on the road, giving our RV a spin, and so far – so good!

Book: Of Wolves and Men by Barry Lopez

The truth is we know little about the wolf. What we know a good deal more about is what we imagine the wolf to be.

This was a very sad book to read. Humanity has dealt the wolves great injustice, blaming them for everything under the sun (and the moon), and then some more. Barry Lopez shares some context on how wolves actually behave and why they were so vilified.

We tend to compare the to humans, either presenting as the opposite, or a friend. But wolves are proudly themselves. They do exhibit some behaviour we understand, and some that we don’t They are alive, and have the very right to.

Wolves vary their hunting techniques, share food with the old who do not hunt, and give gifts to each other.

The wolf seems to have few relationships with other animals that could be termed purely social, though he apparently takes pleasure in the company of ravens. 

Nature was for the most part cruel and dangerous to humans (more on that in Sapiens), so taming it was a sign of virtue, progress, and hope for prosperity. From Factfulness:

There was a balance. It wasn’t because humans lived in balance with nature. Humans died in balance with nature. It was utterly brutal and tragic. (Location 1066)

For most of the civilization, nature was the enemy, and the wolf – the ambassador of the wild.

In a hunter society, like that of the Cheyenne, traits that were universally admired—courage, hunting skill, endurance—placed the wolf in a pantheon of respected animals; but when man turned to agriculture and husbandry, to cities, the very same wolf was hated as cowardly, stupid, and rapacious.

To kill a wolf was to tame the wilderness, to prove the mighty man’s strength can win with the claws and the teeth of the primeval. And men had a lot to prove.

Part of the tragedy—and it was a tragedy—was that wolves who bothered no cattle were hunted down by men who largely wanted to prove to other men that they were no fools.

There is something deep-seated in men that makes them want to “take on” the outdoors, as though it were something to be whipped, and to kill wolves because killing a wolf stands for real triumph.

Barry Lopez lists countless examples of cruelty the wolves received from men. The most gruesome were the “brave hunters” who would shoot machine guns from an airplane to kill hundreds of alaskan wolves per day.

Thanks to the book I understood a little more about my own dog, but the author warns against extrapolating wolf behaviour onto their domesticated brethren.

The habit dogs have of rolling in putrid substances is also found in wolves. It seems possible that odors picked up in this way and carried to other pack members have some communicative function.

Related Books

Recommended on the Tim Ferriss show – somebody said it’s a book similar to The Overstory. I still prefer the Overstory.

My Kindle Highlights

  • The truth is we know little about the wolf. What we know a good deal more about is what we imagine the wolf to be.
  • If someone says big males always lead the pack and do the killing, the Eskimo shrug and say, “Maybe. Sometimes.” (Location 85)
  • Wolves vary their hunting techniques, share food with the old who do not hunt, and give gifts to each other.
  • once saw a wolf on the tundra winging a piece of caribou hide around like a Frisbee for an hour by himself. (Location 89)
  • For example, wolves do not kill just the old, the weak, and the injured. They also kill animals in the prime of health. And they don’t always kill just what they need; they sometimes kill in excess. And wolves kill each other. The reasons for these acts are not clear. No one—not biologists, not Eskimos, not backwoods hunters, not naturalist writers—knows why wolves do what they do. (Location 94)
  • they once roamed most of the Northern Hemisphere above thirty degrees north latitude. (Location 167)
  • Irremotus (Northern Rocky Mountain wolf) means something like “the wolf who is always showing up there.” (Location 197)
  • By placing muzzle and unprotected nose between the rear legs and overlapping the face with the thickly furred tail, wolves can turn their backs to the wind and sleep comfortably in the open at forty degrees below zero. (Location 278)
  • One observer followed two wolves who broke trail through five feet of snow for 22 miles in British Columbia. The animals paused in their tracks but never lay down to rest. Taking wolves on Isle Royale as an example, they average 30 miles of travel a day in winter. (Location 337)
  • The animal can develop a crushing pressure of perhaps 1,500 lbs./in2 compared to 750 lbs./in2 for a German shepherd. (Location 345)
  • As a rule, only one female becomes pregnant. The pups are born sixty-three days later. (Location 360)
  • The social bond between them is so obvious that in 1576, in an age when people believed the worst of wolves, a sportsman wrote in a book on hunting: “If the pups chance to meet their sire or dam anytime after they leave the pack they will fawn upon them and seem in their kind greatly to rejoice.” (Location 384)
  • With respect to females, who have largely a subordinate standing in Western human societies, the analogy, I think, is poor. Female wolves may not only lead packs but outlast a succession of male alpha animals. It is females, moreover, who decide where to den and thus where the pack will have to hunt for five or six weeks. (Location 423)
  • The male hunter-male leader image of the wolf pack is misleading but, unconsciously, I am sure, it is perpetuated by males, who dominate this field of study. (Location 428)
  • Social structure in a wolf pack has been observed in greatest detail among captive wolves, which makes extrapolating to wild wolves risky. (Location 432)
  • Alpha animals do not always lead the hunt, break trail in snow, or eat before the others do. An alpha animal may be alpha only at certain times for a specific reason, and, it should be noted, is alpha at the deference of the other wolves in the pack. (Location 446)
  • Human beings, particularly in recent years, have grown accustomed to speaking of “dominance hierarchies” in business corporations and elsewhere, and the tendency has been to want wolf packs (or troops of chimpanzees) to conform to similar molds. The social structure of a wolf pack is dynamic—subject to change, especially during the breeding season—and may be completely reversed during periods of play. (Location 449)
  • To place a heavy emphasis on such supposed facets of behavior as “intimidation,” “pulling rank,” and games of psychological cruelty based on social structures, however, is simply to confuse the tools of human analysis with the actual behavior of wolves. (Location 454)
  • Daily activities center around the mouth of the den until the pups are about eight weeks old, at which time the adults move them to the first of a series of rendezvous sites where they remain while the others hunt. (Location 469)
  • Adolph Murie wrote that the strongest impression he was left with was of the wolves’ friendliness toward each other. (Location 493)
  • Even as adults, wolves play tag with each other or romp with the pups, running about a clearing or on a snowbank with a rocking-horse gait. They scare each other by pouncing on sleeping wolves and by jumping in front of one another from hiding places. They bring things to each other, especially bits of food. They prance and parade about with sticks or bones in their mouths. (Location 495)
  • They can howl lying down or sitting on their haunches. I’ve even seen a wolf, with an air of not wanting to miss out, howl while defecating. (Location 507)
  • In chorus like this, each wolf chooses a different pitch. The production of harmonics (see chart, page 42) may create the impression of fifteen or twenty wolves where there are in fact only three or four. (Location 539)
  • The habit dogs have of rolling in putrid substances is also found in wolves. It seems possible that odors picked up in this way and carried to other pack members have some communicative function.
  • The animals may be marking things they consider dangerous to other wolves, especially pups, for wolves also mark traps and poisoned baits by defecating on them. (Location 643)
  • Wolves commonly go without food for three or four days and then gorge, eating as much as eighteen pounds of meat in one sitting. Then, “meat drunk,” they may lay out in the sun until digestion is completed (in two or three hours), and then start again. (Location 684)
  • All wolves eat grass, possibly to scour the digestive tract and remove worms. Consisting mostly of cellulose, the grass itself is never digested. (Location 692)
  • The latter point should be well taken: in the past, it was assumed that wolves were basely motivated and bloodthirsty; then in an environmentally enlightened age, it was suddenly assumed that they were noble and wise. So, (Location 836)
  • For my own part, I mean to suggest that there is more to a wolf hunt than killing. And that wolves are wolves, not men. (Location 839)
  • Wolves have a curious dependency on caribou to act as snowplows. It seems clear that tundra wolves do not follow caribou in winter solely to feed on them but because the herds open the way and pack the snow down. (Location 914)
  • The wolf seems to have few relationships with other animals that could be termed purely social, though he apparently takes pleasure in the company of ravens. 
  • (The set of steel nubs on a leather strap seen on dogs today is a gentler version of the spiked collar dogs once wore as protection against wolves.) (Location 937)
  • A common practice in captivity is to allow wolf pups to establish a bond with an older dog. The relationship gives humans an intermediary, and makes handling the wolves easier. (Location 939)
  • The mistake that is made here, with consistency, it seems, only by educated Western people, is to think that there is an ultimate wolf reality to be divined, one that can only be unearthed with microscope and radio collar. Some wolf biologists are possessed of the idea of binding the wolf up in “statistically significant” data. They want no question about the wolf not to have an answer. (Location 1045)
  • “The more reflective Nunamiut do not search for a primordial cause, a complete explanation or order of the nature of ultimate destiny.” (Location 1054)
  • we do not know very much at all about animals. We cannot understand them except in terms of our own needs and experiences. And to approach them solely in terms of the Western imagination is, really, to deny the animal. (Location 1149)
  • What happens when a wolf wanders into a flock of sheep and kills twenty or thirty of them in apparent compulsion is perhaps not so much slaughter as a failure on the part of the sheep to communicate anything at all—resistance, mutual respect, appropriateness—to the wolf. The wolf has initiated a sacred ritual and met with ignorance. This (Location 1288)
  • Just as intriguing is the idea that some game animals assent to a chase-without-death with wolves. Caribou and yearling wolves, for example, are often seen in harmless chases getting a taste of death. Building spirit. Training. Wolf and caribou. (Location 1379)
  • It should be understood, however, that the Indian did not rank-order animals. Each creature, from deer mouse to meadowlark, was respected for the qualities it best seemed to epitomize; when those particular qualities were desired by someone, that animal was approached as one who knew much about that thing. (Location 1391)
  • To fit into the universe, the Indian had to do two things simultaneously: be strong as an individual, and submerge his personal feelings for the good of the tribe. In the eyes of many native Americans, no other animal did this as well as the wolf. (Location 1427)
  • The inclination of white men to regard individual and social motivations in themselves as separate led them to misunderstand the Indian. The Indian was so well integrated in his environment that his motivation was almost hidden; his lifeway was as mysterious to white men as the wolf’s. (Location 1438)
  • There are no stories among Indians of lone wolves. (Location 1442)
  • The Ahtena Indians of southern Alaska brought a wolf they’d killed into camp on their shoulders, chanting: “This is the chief, he is coming.” The dead wolf was taken inside a hut, where he was propped up in a sitting position and a banquet meal was set before him by a shaman. Each family in the village contributed something. When it was felt the wolf had eaten all he wanted, the men ate what was left. (Location 1503)
  • This person then might explain to the dead wolf that he had been hired by some other village so the wolf would take out any revenge at the wrong place. The Chukchi Eskimo of northeastern Siberia routinely told any wolf they killed that they were Russians, not Eskimos. (Location 1509)
  • At the heart of theriophobia is the fear of one’s own nature. In its headiest manifestations theriophobia is projected onto a single animal, the animal becomes a scapegoat, and it is annihilated. That is what happened to the wolf in America. The routes that led there, however, were complex. (Location 1949)
  • In Europe at the same time the subjugation and ordering of shabby wilderness had reached its exaggerated apotheosis in the excessive neatness of the Versailles gardens. (Location 1974)
  • Roderick Nash writes: “In the morality play of westward expansion, wilderness was the villain, and the pioneer, as hero, relished its destruction. The transformation of wilderness into civilization was the reward for his sacrifices, the definition of his achievement and the source of his pride.” (Location 2000)
  • If a horse kicked a pestering child and the child died, the horse was to be tried and hung. (Location 2035)
  • To clear wolves out of the forest so man could raise cattle was perfectly all right. It was not only all right, it met with the approval of various religious denominations who admired such industry, and of the state, whose aim was a subdued, pastoral, and productive countryside. (Location 2054)
  • Descartes articulated the belief that not only were animals put on earth for man’s use but they were distinctly lowborn; they were without souls and therefore man incurred no moral guilt in killing them. (Location 2058)
  • There is something deep-seated in men that makes them want to “take on” the outdoors, as though it were something to be whipped, and to kill wolves because killing a wolf stands for real triumph. (Location 2264)
  • Men in a speculative business like cattle ranching singled out one scapegoat for their financial losses. (Location 2628)
  • Part of the tragedy—and it was a tragedy—was that wolves who bothered no cattle were hunted down by men who largely wanted to prove to other men that they were no fools. (Location 2673)
  • do not think it comes from some base, atavistic urge, though that may be a part of it. I think it is that we simply do not understand our place in the universe and have not the courage to admit it. (Location 2837)
  • They wanted the attention and respect they used to get in a township, young boys tagging after them, men their own age cheering their shenanigans with the game wardens. It was all slipping away from them now. That afternoon (Location 2876)
  • We killed hundreds of thousands of wolves. Sometimes with cause, sometimes with none. In the end, I think we are going to have to go back and look at the stories we made up when we had no reason to kill, and find some way to look the animal in the face again. (Location 2884)
  • cannot, in the light of his effect on man, conceive of the wolf as reducible. (Location 2904)
  • The Roman Church, which dominated medieval life in Europe, exploited the sinister image of wolves in order to create a sense of real devils prowling in a real world. During the years of the Inquisition, the Church sought to smother social and political unrest and to maintain secular control by flushing out “werewolves” in the community and putting them to death. (Location 2951)
  • The Greek for wolf, lukos, is so close to the word for light, leukos, that the one was sometimes mistaken for the other in translation. Some scholars have argued that Apollo only came down to us as both the god of dawn and a god associated with wolves because of this etymological confusion. (Location 2981)
  • Saint Francis was trying to get the animal to desist. He and the wolf met one day outside the city walls and made the following agreement, witnessed by a notary: the residents of Gubbio would feed the wolf and let him wander at will through the town and the wolf, for his part, would never harm man (Location 3005)
  • Seventeenth-century Europeans commonly referred to a lump that might announce breast cancer as a wolf. They similarly called open sores and knobs on their legs (and on the legs of their animals) wolves. In nineteenth-century medicine a type of general skin disorder characterized by ulcerative lesions and tubercules was called lupus vulgaris, the common wolf. A related disorder was lupus erythematosus unquium mutilans, literally “the mutilated red talons of the wolf,” a disease that attacks the hands and so disfigures the skin and nails that they look like the paws of a wolf. The (Location 3055)
  • Today, systemic lupus erythematosus is recognized as one of the most puzzling disorders in medicine. (Location 3059)
  • Middle Ages. At a time when no one knew anything about genetics, the idea that a child suffering from Down’s syndrome—small ears, a broad forehead, a flat nose, prominent teeth—was the offspring of a wench and a werewolf was perfectly plausible. (Location 3239)
  • Civilization was not as precious as it is to us today. The temptation to strike back at a painful world must have been strong. (Location 3242)
  • In Africa there were werehyenas, in Japan there were werefoxes, in South America there were werejaguars, in Norway there were werebears. In Europe there were werewolves. (Location 3282)
  • In a hunter society, like that of the Cheyenne, traits that were universally admired—courage, hunting skill, endurance—placed the wolf in a pantheon of respected animals; but when man turned to agriculture and husbandry, to cities, the very same wolf was hated as cowardly, stupid, and rapacious. (Location 3326)
  • a wolf is wounded and a human being is later found with a similar wound—was the basis of proof in many werewolf trials.) (Location 3343)
  • And it was a general belief in Europe that those unfortunate enough to be born on Christmas Eve would be werewolves. (Location 3390)
  • evidence. The idle word of a neighbor, the gibberish of a village idiot, a shaving cut that showed up the morning after someone claimed to have driven off a wolf with a sharp stick—for these reasons and less thousands died at the stake. (Location 3419)
  • People wanted society to work smoothly, to be rid of whatever ailed it. (Location 3422)
  • Malleus Maleficarum, published in 1487. Its title, Hammer of Witches, derives from a title sometimes bestowed on Inquisitors, Hammer of Heretics. One of the purposes of the book was to refute in tedious scholastic fashion every objection to the existence of werewolves. The Malleus (Location 3437)
  • Because the wolf children described by various writers were all probably autistic or schizophrenic, suffering either congenital or psychological problems or both, the issue of whether authentic wolf-raised children ever existed seems a hopeless, not to say pointless, inquiry. (Location 3522)
  • The earliest Aesop in Greek is one from the second century by Babrius, but it shows the effects of his having lived for a while in the Near East. The influence of fable collections from India, called the Fables of Pilpay or Bidpai and taken from the Panchatantra and the Hitopadesa, and stories of the Buddha in animal form from the Jatakas, show up more clearly in Aesopian collections after 1251, (Location 3653)
  • The possibility has yet to be realized of a synthesis between the benevolent wolf of many native American stories and the malcontented wolf of most European fairy tales. At present we seem incapable of such a creation, unable to write about a whole wolf because, for most of us, animals are still either two-dimensional symbols or simply inconsequential, suitable only for children’s stories where good and evil are clearly separated. Were we to perceive such a synthesis, it would signal a radical change in man. For it would mean that he had finally quit his preoccupation with himself and begun to contemplate a universe in which he was not central. (Location 3928)
  • AT THE SOUTHERN END of the Acropolis in Athens stand the ruins of the Lyceum. Philologists argue about the origin of the name but it seems probable that the building was once used as a place of worship for Apollo, the Wolf Slayer. (Location 3935)
  • DURING THE TIME I was researching this book, my wife and I raised two hybrid red wolves at our home in the woods in Oregon. (Location 4038)
  • They often sought out ridges, high on the slopes of the mountain valley where we lived. I assumed at first that it was for the view but later it seemed it was for another reason as well. Here the air currents that moved strongly upslope in the afternoon reached them intact, not broken up, with the olfactory information they carried scattered, as happened when the winds blew through the trees. (Location 4080)
  • someone let them out. We never found out who. I think it must have been someone who believed all wild animals should be free but who did not know that wild animals raised in captivity are no longer wild. River was shot and killed by a man who told us later he wasn’t sure what kind of animals they were but they looked wild and were trying to play with his neighbor’s dogs, (Location 4099)
  • “There could be more, there could be things we don’t understand,” is not to damn knowledge. It is to take a wider view. It is to permit yourself an extraordinary freedom: someone else does not have to be wrong in order that you may be right. (Location 4122)

All about the trees on the Internet

I have just finished „The Overstory” by Richard Powers. This delightful book recounts the story of a group of individuals and their relationships with trees and time. The trees are the real heroes of this fiction, and their stories unfold at the speed of wood.

Richard Powers has read over 120 books about trees as research, but his deep insights do not stop at flora. While learning the story of Neelay Mehta (one of the characters that is not a tree), I was immersed by the real and visceral depiction of the early Internet days and the current startup culture of San Francisco. I am sure Nick Hoel from midwest or Patricia Westerford were also true to their respective backgrounds.

I consider The Overstory one of the most compelling, beautiful, and essential fiction books. If my recommendation is not enough, take Hugh Jackman’s or Columbia University’s, which awarded the author a Pulitzer Prize.

Why is this newsletter about the consequences of the Internet devoted to trees? Even in computer science, we have learned a lot from them. Concepts like „branches” and „roots” are used by programmers daily, and it’s impossible to pass any job interview without a question about „tree balancing algorithms”. Trees are the mainstays of human consciousness – mighty Yggdrasil connected the many worlds of the Norse mythology, while the first people of Abrahamic religions did something involving a tree.

What are the lessons for the connected age?

  • Just like many rings add up to the thick trunk, the real advantage is built with compounding and time, not with viral sensations.
    On the Internet, it’s always a good idea to own your platform (steady trunk), so you can branch out.
  • Success may require sending many acorns out there before one takes hold.
    Somebody’s success may look overnight to you, but in fact, they endured rejection after rejection and kept trying despite unfavorable weather and the barren soil. The Internet makes it easier to send more acorns that ever before.
  • What inspiration can you take from the trees?
To make this issue (a)cornier, I couldn’t resist including this photo of my wife and me planting a tree at our wedding.

I thing I wrote

„Taking a walk to get unstuck” explores the Japanese tradition of forest bathing to improve mental health, how Plato has screwed us all, how Remote Work can bring us closer to our roots (pun intended), and outside – where we belong.

Tree surprising consequences of the Internet

  • Climate Strike Software License
    The things you use daily are based on freely-maintained software. From servers delivering you fresh Instagram photos, to factory equipment protocols that helped machine your sunglasses, to this very blog built on WordPress, the entire economy is running on top of Open Source. Just how all knowledge is built on top of previous discoveries.
    A group of maintainers had the idea to forbid the companies causing the climate change from using any software licensed under Climate Strike Software License. Quite often, software dependencies resemble trees themselves. If enough projects at the Root adopt this license, seemingly unrelated projects will use it as well, fossil fuel companies will have more operating costs, and renewable energy will win in the open market.
  • When You Give a Tree an Email Address
    The city of Melbourne assigned trees email addresses so citizens could report problems. Instead, people wrote thousands of love letters to their favorite trees.
  • Treehouse rentals are booming, according to Airbnb CEO.
    Not only are people booking rentals outside of cities, but they’re also looking for “something more private, intimate, smaller, unique, special — something that could be a destination in and of itself,” he said.
    To be honest, I always dreamed of opening a Treehouse resort. I forfeited that plan, when the pandemic hit, concluding that hospitality is risky. But maybe that’s a perfect opportunity to start something unique?

The printing of this issue of Deliberate Internet has not harmed any trees. It was solely focused on a single topic, gathering from different perspectives – what do you think? Do you like that approach or you prefer a medley? Let me know!

Take a walk to get unstuck

Let’s start from the beginning.
Ever since Plato (423 BC), humanity was plagued by this notion of mind-body duality. Dark Ages have really entrenched the idea that the body is only a vehicle to move around our pristine and godly minds. The flesh pursuits are of lesser concern and don’t deserve much attention.

“Plato and Aristotle, conniving about derailing humanity’s understanding of mind-body connection”. By Raphael.

And this particular idea has seeped into western philosophy. We don’t pay specific attention to the link between the way we treat our bodies and mental performance

  • We try to “save time” by sacrificing sleep, resulting in severely diminished productivity and mental skills,
  • We sit all day on our asses, getting more and more stressed about some artificial situation, avoiding the solution that our bodies were built for,
  • We forget to hydrate or eat properly, because – of course – we “don’t have time.”

How taking a walk can help you get unstuck


Japanese, forest bathing: The immersive experience of spending time in nature.

Spending time in nature has a profoundly therapeutic effect on thinking clarity, overall health, and is a surefire way to lower the stress levels. Shinrin-Yoku (forest bathing) is a recognized treatment in Japan, and British doctors are looking into prescriptions for mindful walks in the woods themselves.

Our bodies evolved in green space, surrounded by trees, shrubs, streams, and rocks. We are familiar with the wild in the core of our souls. This is where our ancestors lived their whole lives, honing their genome to fit the environment.
Is life in a concrete jungle so drab? Can a few hours in a forest significantly improve my mood? I set out to answer these questions.

For a few years now, I document my thoughts in a journal. I have an Evernote-based system, where I mostly rate the previous day and recap what happened.
I will expand on this in another post, but one of the valuable insights I was able to discover is the answer to the question

“What do my happy days have in common”?

Every quarter or so, I review my notes and try to tease out what consistently made me happy during this time.
Over and over again, spending time in nature (and preferably good swimming) is at the top of the list.
Maybe it is because I was a scout for 11 years, and I am trying to reproduce the conditions of my youth. But perhaps it is because I am a human being, and this is the environment where humanity was thriving in for millennia.

My Wife, recognizing the importance of trees and taking a walk.

I try to plan my life accordingly, but as you probably know – it intervenes sometimes. Deadlines pile up, work has to be done, and I forget what restorative effect a walk has on my thinking.
I forget that it clears my head and allows me to get a fresh perspective.
I tell myself: “Tomorrow, I don’t have time today.”

What does the science say?

The science says that I’m dumb.

“To improve your thinking skills, move.”

Chris Medina, “Brain Rules”

Moving can help our brains via several mechanisms:

  1. Moving means more cardiovascular action, which means more oxygen. Our brains REALLY like oxygen. Brains like oxygen how I like the georgian meat pies. Often and in any quantity.
  2. Moving means neurons firing in the brain. Think of it as a bit of a rhythm. By making the body move, the brain gets into a groove of action, and any cognitive tasks get accomplished easier.

“Your lifetime risk for general dementia is cut in half if you participate in physical activity. Aerobic exercise seems to be the key. With Alzheimer’s, the effect is even greater: Such exercise reduces your odds of getting the disease by more than 60 percent.”

John Medina, Brain Rules

Before you embark on spending an exciting 60 minutes on a treadmill, consider the messy outside world. Moving helps but to get the best results, combine it with spending time outdoors.

“People living near more green space reported less mental distress, even after adjusting for income, education, and employment”

This is your brain on nature, National Geographic

What could you do to combine the amazing effects of moving with restorative effects of spending time in the green? Guess what! Take a walk in the forest!

Would it help to convince you, if you knew Steve Jobs was pretty insistent on walking meetings?

Check out Outside Magazine amazing feature “The Nature Cure

Artur, but this is basic! DUH!

I clicked on your link expecting some insightful comment, and I don’t want to be lectured about such basic things!

I hear ya. But this advice needs repeating.

Intellectually knowing something is not enough. As Derek Sivers says, “If knowledge was the problem, we would all be billionaires with perfect abs.” We can know something is true and still act totally irrationally.
By all means, I am guilty of this as well. I sometimes discard this advice as “not serious enough” and “this is fine for those wellness people, but I have serious work to do.”
Intellectualizing is not the answer. If you care about doing something, you need to build a habit around it.

The Outside Challenge ™️

Do a test! Check if going outside is really for you.

  1. Get your ass outside first thing in the morning, for a week.
  2. Just walk around, notice things. DO NOT STARE AT YOUR PHONE.
  3. After 30 minutes, go back home.
  4. Be awesome!
  5. Crush your day.

Subscribe to learn more about remote work

Remote work helps again.

I know not everybody has a nice green space near home.
But… If you worked remotely, what precludes you from living near a forest?
You could even have a view on the trees, getting the benefits of surrounding yourself in nature while you work.

Have you noticed that I post lots of pictures of my laptop opened somewhere in the wilderness?

Because for me, there is no better place to work than surrounded by tress, with wind on my face.

You don’t have to be in exotic place, or wait till the weekend to enjoy time in nature.

You can pick your laptop, hop on a bike (or into a car) and after an hour, you will most likely be in the forest. Yes, I’m pretty certain that they will have LTE coverage.

Now go outside and take a walk!