Layers of knowledge (and etymology)

Art by Catherine Nolan

Page from Catherien Nolan's process journal

Page from Catherine Nolan's process journal

Catherine Nolan’s research involves art making and writing.

Etymology is the study of the origins of words and how their form and meaning changes over time.

Identifying and naming parts of a system is a vital early stage in understanding how they may work together.

Clear writing is vital for communicating (to our our selves and to other people) new understandings that arise from conversations with people, the environment, and materials and technologies that we use to create.

About Lisa Roberts

Project leader
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One Response to Layers of knowledge (and etymology)

  1. As I continue my research into the marine system and the impact of global warming on it, a couple of things become apparent. One, is that for the lay-person (like me) there are so many layers of knowledge (and etymology) required to gain understanding of the entire system, that it’s head spinning. I fall into the trap of wanting to understand too much, all at once. I start out looking up autotrophs, and end up investigating cyanobacteria and water column stratification. Each area adds a tantalising piece to the picture I am constructing, but raises a million more questions than it answers.

    I realise that the approach I am taking, while lacking scientific method, is useful for the way I am working; investigating fragments of the system, in order to understand the whole. Each part (for example, plankton) is generally fairly simple and beautifully balanced. Until, among other things, humans started releasing sequestered carbon into the atmosphere at an unprecedented rate. Other events, such as increased solar output (which would seem to be beyond human intervention?), may also have an impact on coral bleaching. The more unnatural inputs into the natural system, the more unpredictable and perhaps unstable the system becomes.

    Reading about certain natural processes, or looking at pictures, sparks a resonance, and in my mind’s eye, I see the picture I would like to paint. Often the things that are invisible to the naked eye are the most interesting subject matter. I am fascinated by all the natural processes that go on endlessley, unnoticed, and feel a sense of awe when a scientific instrument allows me see beyond the usual.

    As I am painting, I observe that the consistency of the paint must be exactly right, both for the type of brush, and the wood onto which I am painting. I see a parallel with the ecosystem, where organisms must exist in balanced numbers, in chemically-balanced environments, or failure of the system ensues. The ‘blooming’ of cyanobacteria is a good example. Not only are cyanobacteria able to assimilate carbon dioxide, but their relative numbers are a useful basic litmus test of the health of the (mainly) acquatic environments in which they live. (Some also live in the fur of sloths, but that’s another story…).