Change & Adaptation

I've always thought my brain was a fairly useful part of my anatomy.

But since my climbing accident last year, I've gained an increased awareness of the ways in which it is quite unreliable.

So, an article in this week's New Zealand Listener grabbed my attention immediately. It was a plug, under the guise of an interview, (and by whom, I don't recall) for a recent book by New York University professor Gary Marcus. The New Scientist reviewed it here earlier this year. The main point seems clear enough: the brain was not so much designed, as cobbled together, using a kiwi "number 8 wire" method, with whatever was at hand.

In a word, the brain is a kluge [rhymes with deluge].

Here's an example of one (from his blog).

Although it isn't elegant, it works – more or less! It certainly isn't the solution you'd come up with if you started from scratch.

It's a word which now seems indispensable!

My life is a bit of a kluge. One bit gets added on to the previous bit and I try to fit it all together with a careful narrative that is flexible enough to accommodate various about-turns!

So, we're moving up to Fox Glacier soon. I decided to apply for a position at Fox Glacier School, equivalent to the one I have here at Jacobs River, and was offered the job last week. It's a sudden change in some ways, but one which has obvious benefits for me professionally, and for us as a family.

Something that surprises me is how, no matter what decision I make, I usually find a way of justifying it to myself. It's one of those unreliable things about the brain!



The stork outside our house attests to the contribution we've made to our small community. The future of the school at Jacobs River is in doubt because of low numbers of children and the next closest school, at Fox Glacier, is hardly bursting at the seams. So, babies are especially celebrated here. And rightly so!

But throughout the world, babies are born every second. About 4 and a quarter babies per second, in fact! Mitigated by deaths, this equates to two and a half extra people on the planet each second. If you need a sobering reminder of just how fast the world's population is increasing, visit this live counter.

Remote as we like to think we are in South Westland, we're certainly not isolated from the rest of the world. Even here, I notice the effects of population growth. People from other parts of the world come here in increasing numbers, hoping to enjoy the natural beauty of the area. As a result, the village of Fox Glacier that I first visited 10 years ago has changed markedly. People I meet continue to wonder how I can possibly live anywhere so small but, to me, some parts of the village have taken on a distinct suburban feel. (I don't dare point out to them that I actually live in another, much smaller, settlement!) The latest, shameful, addition to the village's growing list of motels is a collection of fake Tuscan buildings, which have taken the place of the rainforested "Glow Worm Grotto". The sign outside says "We only look expensive".

This afternoon, I came across this video of my grandfather-in-law at home in Tacoma, Washington, answering a few questions about his book, Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change. He first became sensitised to population pressure when he noticed the increased numbers of visitors to National Parks in Washington state. It's worth listening to him explain some of his thoughts on the matter.

Elsewhere, he makes the point that, although the Earth's human population hasn't reached the astronomical numbers Malthus might have feared, the situation is actually worse than he predicted. Because we consume at a greater rate than Malthus could have envisaged, we're using more resources than billions more of our predecessors might have. Which is why it's wrong to blame the Earth's problems on population growth in developing nations; we in the developed world use far more resources than they do, despite their greater numbers.

Incidentally, World Population Day is 11th July. Be sure to put it in your diary!