Shallow and Deep Collaboration: Art, Ecology and Alexander von Humboldt

How can we put deep collaboration into practice, asks philosopher Dalia Nassar, and what can we learn from the legacy of one of history’s greatest environmental thinkers?

In this essay, adapted from the third annual Iain McCalman Lecture, philosopher Dalia Nassar dives into the world of 18th century botany, exploration and ecology to find inspiration in tackling the environmental crises we face today.

“The environmental crisis is a crisis of knowledge, but also of sense and imagination—or, more specifically, of the separation of knowing from sensing, feeling and acting, and the separation of the natural sciences from the arts. It is a crisis that has to do with a chasm within us: where we know but do not really know. Where the kind of knowledge we cultivate is disconnected from the reality in which we live, or—better—where our very practices of knowing actively disconnect us from this reality.”

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The Iain McCalman Lecture celebrates SEI co-founder and former co-director Iain McCalman’s dedication to fostering and pioneering multidisciplinary environmental research. The lectures aim to highlight the work of early to mid-career researchers working across disciplinary boundaries to impact both scholarship and public discourse.


Dalia Nassar is a senior lecturer in the Department of Philosophy. She works on German romanticism and idealism, the philosophy of nature, aesthetics and environmental philosophy. Her current project focuses on a distinctive methodological approach to nature, which emerged in the late Enlightenment and Early Romanticism, and on the ways that this methodology can be brought to bear on current environmental questions and concerns.