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Welcome to the Human Nature Dictionary discussion page. Conversation about the growth, implications, and historical and cultural referents of the Human Nature Dictionary project are welcome. To edit this page and others on the site, create a user account. Or you can email me your thoughts and, with your permission, I'll share them here. Posts below are listed in reverse chronology, like a blog.

Thanks for participating!

Freedom Baird, Human Nature Dictionary coordinator/editor


June 1 2016, posted by Freedom Baird

During the public word-coining sessions I've been giving a brief presentation about nature as a social construct in different cultures, historically and in the present. One questions I've been asking attendees is: what is nature? Here are some answers offered.


Mar 31 2016, posted by Freedom Baird

I had a really good discussion with MassArt Professor Sharon Dunn and her graduate students about the Human Nature Dictionary. Some ideas and concerns that came up included:

  • Defining otherwise undefined things can be reductionist. Is it better to leave them un-labeled? Is it better to experience them, rather than to "know" them? Experience without language can be transcendent.
  • Language itself may be the thing that separates us from nature. So, are we solving a problem by creating a problem?
  • Creating language may be an imperial project. For example there was always a botanist on board every colonial voyage, cataloging and defining their "findings". So, how do we insure that the Human Nature Dictionary is inclusive and empowering? One suggestion: include perspectives that dismantle the imperial nature of language.
  • An idea: create multiple words for every definition. Multiple symbols. Invite more voices.
  • Another suggestion (from my friend Nina) - offer the option for participants to creatively sabotage definitions.
  • Where are word-coinings for the Dictionary being held? Who is being invited to attend?
  • As the editor of the Human Nature Dictionary am I mainly providing a platform for language creation? Or am I also creating language?
  • How should we handle language that is potentially offensive. E.g. I used the word "bum" in one of the definitions. It has potentially derogatory connotations around homelessness, vagrancy. Should we swap in a different word?
  • Regarding the idea of a stamp that I'm interested in using to mark contributions as "open content" and as part of the Human Nature Dictionary. A stamp is problematic because it connotes ownership, it connotes institution. How can we subvert the stamp? Maybe use a different symbol? A universal symbol? Or let people add their own stamp. E.g. their fingerprint.
  • Look at symbols with universal meaning. Look at the Codex Seraphinianus by Italian artist, architect, and industrial designer Luigi Serafini
  • Look at Chinese artist Xu Bing's Book from the Sky in which he used real and invented components of Chinese characters to create an new, familiar but meaningless alphabet of over 1000 characters, which he then use to print thousands of pages of meaningless writing.
  • Idea: the dictionary could take place at the moment when humans and nature got separated.