Erasmus Magazine: Carefully Reckless with Jos De Mul

Campus woudestein in summer
Ronald van Raak kijkt in de camera

To live better lives, we must learn to think differently about ourselves. Jos de Mul can help with that, according to Erasmian Values Professor Ronald van Raak. Whether it’s the pollution of the planet, global warming or the extinction of other species, we humans are not treating the world around us well. Calls to do something about this are getting louder and louder, including at Erasmus University.

But is this even possible for us; are we capable of solving the problems we have caused ourselves? Or is creating waste and exhausting resources just the way we are? What kind of creature is man anyway? That question has long been under consideration at the Erasmus School of Philosophy. Jos de Mul in particular, who retired as a professor last year, has been asking this question. In this Month of Philosophy, he offers us a new book on how we might better deal with the challenges of our time.

Earth’s history includes a variety of geological ages, such as the Pleistocene and Holocene. We now live in an era when humans are having a disproportionate impact on the earth, far beyond that of any other species before us. That is why this era is sometimes referred to as the Anthropocene age (‘anthropos‘ is Greek for human). There certainly seems to be some logic behind that name: the imprint we as a species are leaving on the earth is great. Yet it is strange to put ourselves at the centre like this, as if the earth and all life would depend on us. As if we are not equally dependent on the world around us. As humans, we are part of so many networks: the nature that feeds us, the culture that teaches us something and the technology we work with.

Mankind is not autonomous from the earth. A term like Anthropocene only confirms this mistaken self-image. Continuing to believe that we can take matters into our own hands will only make us more reckless. If we want to live better lives, we must learn to think differently about ourselves. This becomes clear from Welkom in het Symbioceen. Over de verstrengeling van natuur, cultuur en techniek (Welcome to the Symbiocene: On the intertwining of nature, culture and technology), Jos de Mul’s recently published book. The climate crisis, as well as the struggle between democratic and authoritarian forms of government and the increasing dependence on artificial intelligence, can only be understood if we accept that we are intertwined with our environment, he shows.

In the book, Jos de Mul also makes this clear in a symbiotic way. He does this by presenting a picture of humans in the world, based on philosophy and science, but also through the use of films, literature, games and other cultural expressions. Partly because of this, Welcome to the Symbiocene is of interest to a wider reading audience. This exercise in thinking about ourselves presents a hopeful picture, because it shows how people can rise above themselves through good cooperation with nature, culture and technology. “Life is deeply symbiotic: we must work together to be part of a living planet”, writes De Mul.

Humans have to explore everything and give everything an honest try – and we will continue to fail in this, because that too is part of being human; we are, after all, reckless creatures. Doing so while having a sense of connection with our environment can also lead to a ‘careful recklessness’, according to Jos de Mul. An attitude to life and a self-image that result in us not being a danger to the earth – and to ourselves.

On Sunday, 28 April, the Rotterdamsch Leeskabinet will be organising a book launch of Welcome to the Symbiocene. Berrie Vugts will be talking to Jos de Mul.

Jos de Mul book launch: Welcome to the Symbiocene | Erasmus University Library | Erasmus University Rotterdam (

More information

This article appeared on 24-04-2024 on the website of Erasmus Magazine

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In deze editie van het Leeskabinet bij Donner interviewt Berrie Vugts filosoof Jos de Mul over zijn nieuwe boek. Locatie: boekhandel Donner.

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