Olivier Hamant

The Third Path of the Living Publication date : February 2, 2022

Olivier Hamant is a researcher at the Institut national de recherche pour l’agriculture, l’alimentation et l’enviornnement (INRAE) [French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment], within the ENS [École normale supérieure] in Lyon. He is director of the Michel Serres Institute (ENS-Lyon), working on humanity’s new relationships with nature.

Redundancy, the random, slowness: all notions perceived negatively in a society that promotes performance, control, and speed. Sensing the inadequacy of this dogma of the optimum, in this book Olivier Hamant turns to the life sciences to suggest another path. Though there do indeed exist very efficient biological mechanisms, recent work also reveals the key role of mistakes, heterogeneities, and slowness in the construction and resilience of living organisms. Might nature be sub-optimal, made of imperfect adjustments, wasted resources, and incompletely exploited potential? Might we see in a sort of biologically-inspired sub-optimality a counter-model challenging the credo of performance and control in the Anthropocene?

This is the thesis of this book, which uses a knowledge of the living world to analyze the situation of the human species today. A well-known biologist and researcher, the author is supported by cutting-edge science to propose this ambitious and remarkably well-informed portrait of the state of the world and of human societies within the environmental context that they have created.

The book is underpinned by a humanist desire to confront the climate of environmental and civilizational catastrophe which is its point of departure. A pessimistic observation: the race toward an optimization of human activity threatens to lead to an imminent collapse, making humans dying creatures on borrowed time.

And so, the author proposes anticipating the catastrophe and formulates courses of action to avoid it. He describes a bio-inspired “counter-model” that would reorient human activity in all its dimensions.