Jason Wells is BadAssery, Defined
Alistair Sat Down with our Favorite Renegade-Maker-Poet!
I’m going to make an admission. In the Facebook vs. Twitter debate, I’m on TeamTweet. Don’t hate me FB-fans. Twitter’s allowed me to meet a ton of interesting personalities and interact with readers in real-time. For every weirdo that wants to send me pics of their cocks trussed up like Spiderman (I’m on Team Batman, by the way, for any future pervys) there’s also a ton of brilliant people on there working tirelessly to promote their work.
One of these people (the brilliant kind, not the pervy kind, although hey, no judgments here) is writer, speaker, maker, boy-genius Jason Wells. Wells’ has been running his own site for years where he posts his thoughts on a myriad of subjects. I stumbled onto his page last month and was completely blown away by how easy it is for him to talk about incredibly complex concepts in a way that’s relatable and easy to follow – I had to scoop him up and introduce him to our readers, and I hope you guys don’t mind our lengthy conversation, but I promise that it’s worth it, and I hope you become Wells-obsessed like I am:
AA: Let’s list everything that’s not fair about you: you’re brilliant, you’ve got a beautiful wife, you travel all over the world, and you’re not only a hot-brooding-photographer, you’re also a hot-brooding-scientist – and you can write. How do you juggle so many passions?
JW: Stop, you’re making me blush. Well first… I don’t really think of myself as a scientist–I’ve only done a little true research–but a lot of my free time goes to reading and learning. The notion of art and science as a unity–what the ancient Greeks called “techne”–is extremely important to me. Fractal geometry is an example of this: incredible artistic beauty unlocked from mathematically generated chaos. I love that. I don’t see how to flourish without the whole of techne always in my life.
As I mention on my blog, I’m a maker. It’s something I became as I branched out from my software career and the Burning Man subculture. Being a maker is constant learning; there’s always more skill to have, deeper insights into how things work. I took a couple welding classes, one on laser engraving and a few classes on electronics and physical computing. Programming microcontrollers, reading sensors, blinking lights, stuff like that. With each thing I learn, it’s a new dimension of creative possibility. That gets my juices flowing.
My last adventure was a road trip to Glacier National Park to see the last glaciers before they disappear forever. I do love foreign travel, and much of my photography ties into this passion. The world is overflowing with beauty. I hope eventually to set foot on every continent in the world, Antarctica included. That goal seems increasingly realistic as long as I can make the time. My dad got a nice place in Boracay and wants me to come visit one of these days. And Heather and I are going to Australia to witness the solar eclipse and to go scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef. That’s another thing I need to learn pretty soon, scuba.
Heather is a beauty, isn’t she? Everyone tells her how gorgeous she is, but she won’t have any of it. Among her many gifts and talents, she’s a professional belly dancer with Nouveau Caberet in San Diego. Can I plug just for a second? She’ll be performing on stage at the Labyrinth of Jareth masquerade ball at the end of June. If you’re in LA then, come check it out.
You recently spoke at BIL 2012 - can technology positively affect the relationship between humans and nature? Are my Blade Runner-like fatalistic visions of the future too jaded?
Probably. Unlike almost everyone I speak to, I don’t think we’re completely fucked as a species. The kind of radical change to the world that humanity represents will explore all possible vectors of greatness and vileness. Just as it does now. But I think as time goes by, the playground of possibility gets vastly larger, and much of the darkness and evil behavior ultimately is a dead end. H. G. Wells (no relation!) said the choice was the universe, or nothing. That’s the truth. When you really take in all of the creativity, growth and energy we’re a part of, it’s almost overwhelming.
We’re used to seeing our technology harming nature heedlessly. That’s because what we have is extremely crude and really idiotic compared to what’s coming soon. This is a theme I explore in the talk I gave at the BIL conference last March. If technology is the relation we have between ourselves and the natural otherness around us–and I think it has to be–then we need that relation to be so elegant and sophisticated that our technology seems to become as nature itself is. No giant supercomputer ever made has the complexity of a single microscopic plant cell. But if we can somehow reach that level of sophistication–and of course we can, given enough time, resources and knowledge–then our technology becomes our language of nature.
Ultimately all successful technology will have to embody this kind of relation or it isn’t going to last in the long run. We will have to stop fighting against nature and start to learn how to work with it. Sometimes it seems like we are practically at war with nature, like sullen emo teenagers are with their helpless parents, but I believe with enough wisdom we can have peace. Can you imagine what kind of beings would be capable of making this kind of technology? If you love yourself, your children and growing things, it should be a warming thought.
Ever thought about starting your own cult? I think you’d make a fantastic cult-leader. You don’t need to be the super creepy kind of fundamentalist, “fuck young girls” kind of cult – maybe more like a Heaven’s Gate thing. (Actually they were kind of weird with the sex-thing too, but just go with me on this.)
Thanks! I appreciate the compliment. That’s something I may be better suited to than anything I’ve done to date. Thing is, while assembling a suicidal cult harem is an intriguing idea, if I tried it I know Heather would kill me in my sleep. Besides, after your glowing introduction, my narcissistic tendencies don’t need much more encouragement.
Funny you should ask though. In all seriousness, I’ve given some thought to the reasons people turn to religion, despite all the wickedness it causes. I think the world could use a place for community, tradition and connection based on a purely natural worldview. I don’t think anyone’s really done this right, and it needs doing.
How should the presidential candidates this year be approaching scientific research and environmental preservation funding?
Honestly I wouldn’t know what to recommend. I’ve never witnessed a time when mainstream voters were remotely enthusiastic about science or the environment. They want to experience the benefits of both without having to pay for either. It’s a profoundly childish mentality, but it’s not restricted to these particular policy domains.
If we’re really going to be totally spoiled brats, then we’re never going to get decent results. If we don’t want the government to invest research dollars into computing, then we aren’t going to get the Internet. Does anyone really think the Internet would exist if it weren’t for tax dollars being spent on computer science research by the military in the late 60s? Would we have SpaceX getting off the ground–literally–without NASA spending a fortune on its freight services? Does anyone seriously believe the air quality in LA would continue improving every year, as it has for decades, if it weren’t for tough government environmental regulations? It seems obvious, but when people vote, their higher reasoning seems to go offline and they vote with their id-hindbrain alone. It’s maddening, because even appeals to naked self-interest seem to be completely unpersuasive.
This is what I see. Here’s this incredible instrument of enormous power, unparalleled in human history, one that was created on purpose centuries ago by venerable men; a radical new form of government, one shaped along rational lines, designed to be used to solve huge problems and do amazing things according to the will of those it governs; but almost nobody wants to use it anymore, because shit, it costs money. So that’s where things are. Unless Obama or Romney promises a free lunch, no one’s buying.
Any last words? Rallying cries? 2012 Doomsday Predictions?
Just this: Be the artist and engineer of your reality. Express yourself radically and completely, however you see. Don’t be afraid to fuck up. Seek out new experiences. I can’t stress that enough. Every day is one day less in front of you, so relish the unparalleled experience of the incredible beauty and abundance of the world. Don’t worry about its fate too much. There’s never been a Doomsday… by definition, right? Despite the 0% success rate of doomsday predictions, folks still believe we’re doomed… but life always manages to grind on. To paraphrase the end of Desiderata:
“Be at peace the world, and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with yourself. With all its shams, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”
And to that I add, as a fictional character I think of as a personal hero said, “Be magnificent.” Unless you’ve got something better to do?