Christopher X J. Jensen
Associate Professor, Pratt Institute

WmD Episode #00002 has been released

Posted 07 Aug 2015 / 0
WmD Logo 2014-07-24-1000px

It took me a lot longer than I would have wished, but I have released the second episode of WmD’s video blog:

You can see this episode in its ‘native habitat’ here.

The first season of WmD is dedicated to the “big questions in ecology and evolution“. This episode, “Keep on keeping on… until you don’t”, is meant to cover these questions:

  1. Why do some individuals die and some live?
  2. How to do living things survive?
  3. How random is nature?
  4. Why don’t we live forever?

This is definitely a far more complex episode than the first, which basically just carried the weight of introducing the project and its major premises. This is the first episode where we see WmD really getting to thinking about a biological topic. Although all these Season 1 episodes are basically about WmD asking questions, you will also note that he is already anticipating some potential answers to his questions.

One of the devices that I am using in the development of WmD as a character is geography, and this episode takes big advantage of the fact that WmD lives right next to one of the biggest cemeteries in Brooklyn. You also learn a little bit more about where WmD went to high school and where he currently works.

Biologically-speaking, WmD ponders a number of really foundational issues in this episode. At its core, this episode is about lifespan, and looks at a variety of determinants of lifespan including the ability to compete for resources, the ability to avoid enemies such as predators, the role of luck, and evolved rate of senescence. WmD uses different observations in his environment to consider the factors that influence survival, and to suggest that we may have an overly-simplistic idea of what it takes to survive. I am particularly excited about how WmD addresses the four big causes of death: not meeting basic biological needs, getting killed by some other organism in your environment, bad luck, and advanced age. He hints at the fact that the reason we reproduce is because we face the risk of death. He also starts to grapple with the ‘problem of stochasticity’, which is basically that you cannot ignore the influence of random factors and yet if randomness rules no order emerges; eventually, when he gets to considering natural selection versus neutral change, WmD will revisit this topic. And I also have WmD considering senescence and the fact that different organisms senesce at different rates. This episode considers a lot of questions that will need to be answer in subsequent seasons.

One of the things that I definitely want to do in this series is to utilize the living environment of Brooklyn to illustrate broader ideas about how the living world functions. In particular, I want to leverage plants, which are often over-looked by everyday folks, to understand the nature of life. In this episode WmD uses trees to understand competition (by looking at the nature of forest canopies) and to question the inevitability of senescence (by pondering whether trees die of old age).

Although there was some footage from Calvert Vaux Park in the first episode, I took full advantage of this park in this second episode. Located near where WmD works, Calvert Vaux is an indispensible resource because it provides such an amazing intersection of the wild and the urban. WmD discusses a predation event at Calvert Vaux; this event was inspired by an actual squirrel-hawk interaction I observed at Owl’s Head Park in Bay Ridge.

You can download a transcript of this episode here.

Credits for this episode:

Gregory Tague gave me feedback on the initial script for this episode as well as an initial rough cut. J. Matt Hoch, and Bricks Avalon also provided me with feedback on the rough cut.

Thanks to Petland Discounts on 18th Avenue in Bensonhurst for allowing me to shoot the mice footage (no mice were harmed in the filming of this episode!). Various employees at Washington Cemetery were gracious enough to pay me no heed as I lurked around (and in one case, in) the cemetery to make this episode.

A Major Post, Belief, Competition, My publications, Population Growth, Predation, Religion, Senescence, Survival, The WmD Project, Urban Ecology

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