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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Afterward: Humboldt was Right.

  • Author(s): Wise, M Norton
  • et al.

Alexander von Humboldt provides a point of reference for questions that arise when reflecting on the papers in this special issue on "Experiencing the Global Environment," for he aimed to integrate local and global experience and qualitative and quantitative observation in his conceptions of physiognomy and of instruments. What are we to understand by direct experience? How do we draw the limits of our senses, whether in the larger world or internally? Does recent scholarly interest in distributed cognition illuminate the distributed experience of global phenomena obtained through mapping? How do our concepts shape our experience, whether local or global? Finally, do recent trends in the sciences, emphasizing complexity and contingency, tend to make traditional tensions between local and global priorities and between qualitative and quantitative description less relevant? Humboldt would have thought so.

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