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  • Writer's pictureTHE SEED


By : James Karl Fischer PhD RIBA IES

I am very grateful to The Seed for providing a platform to those of us in the lighting design fields unafraid to confront significant critical aspects of light and life. As central as light is to people’s awareness, it is often the thing unseen as the setting of how we get on. The Seed offers a terrific opportunity for voices that would otherwise be silent.

My work coalesces around a nonprofit, The Zoological Lighting Institute (ZLI). ZLI supports the sciences of light and life through the arts for animal welfare and wildlife conservation. This mission is rather specific, but each element is important. As everything we do feels novel, each of these warrants some explanation.

The sciences of light and life refer to photo-physiology, sensory ecology, and integrative photobiology. The latter might be thought of as a process specific way to think of ecological relationships.

The citation of the arts recognizes that the sciences entail valuable questioning from many perspectives, even as the parameters of science exclude facets that are outside its scope of interest. Artistic perspectives might be multi-cultural or have extraneous purposes, and they might be both critical or demanding of outcomes that science will not provide. Yet they are important to prevent the sciences of light and life from slipping into dogma.

That is not to say that there is not a purpose nor benefit to supporting or pursuing the sciences. When the ZLI Mission identifies ‘animal welfare’ and wildlife conservation’ as recognizable subjects intended to benefit from its work. Animal welfare refers in this instance to an intention to reduce suffering in non-human and human animals alike. The proposition is that Inattention to the scientific aspects of light intensifies suffering, by ignoring knowable factors to health and well being.

‘Animal welfare’ precedes wildlife conservation in the mission, as paying attention to the unique biological arrangements of every animal will improve outcomes in wildlife conservation, as well as serving to put questions to the sciences of light and life themselves.

When we talk about animal welfare, we are also speaking of something very specific. ‘Scientific’ animal welfare monitoring means monitoring specific aspects of an animal’s biology contributory to its well-being. Standard practice in this subject has followed the path of The Five Domains Model of Animal Welfare; a document that in turn recognizes the physical nature of consciousness that was later formally recognized by The Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness in 2012. For our part, we believe we have advanced this Model by prioritizing light as the transport mechanism of one of the four (and only four) physical forces in the universe (electro-magnetic radiation). But more on that later.

Animal welfare monitoring entails considering a living being first as an individual, second as representative of a species, and third as generated from a particular habitat as a physical, biological entity. The first recognizes that the challenges are not abstract, the second that well-established principles of organization are involved and thirdly, that life is not independent from environmental realities.

Traditionally (for about thirty years now), The Five Domains Model of Animal Welfare encourages risk management through the practice of

monitoring each of four ‘Domains’ (Environment, Nutrition, Health, Behavior/Interactions), leading to a contributory assessment of the

penultimate ‘Mental Domain’. Different practitioners set different criteria depending on the individual, species, or generative/present habitat, but there is general consistency across the board. The point though is that monitoring precedes intervention, so that what exactly is being rectified or addressed is suitable to the very ‘non-human’ animal in front of us.

ZLI’s ZALA (Zoo and Aquatic Light Assessment) Monitoring protocol is an adaptation of The Five Domains Model of Animal Welfare. Yet it

takes up the proposition that light is vital to each Domain, and not something that can be thought of independently or excluded from them.

For this reason, ZALA begins with the ‘Mental Domain’, arguing that ‘capacity’ and the ‘degree of capacity limitation’ is the central tenet of animal welfare and not the attribution of a ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ state as such.

Within the Mental Domain, ecological light is central to perceptual-consciousness (pcpt-cs) directly. Light essentially takes the place of hormone intervention in the retinal transduction cascade; what one might call a process at the edge of neurological systems. Yet just as natural light cycles, so too do the operations of receptors sensitive to it. There are ‘perceptual states’ involved, which all are familiar with as involving the high sensitivity rods and low sensitivity cones in our human vision.

‘Perceptual states’ are in fact ‘conscious states’, and they are variable. Describing mental functioning as entailing ‘pcpt-cs’ rather than simply ‘self-awareness’ more accurately describes the physical relationships, and is a way to consider the potential of a given living being’s mental functioning.

It is vital to note that every species is different, and every individual also has a history embedded in its body that impacts such

capacity as well. Other senses play roles, as well as the musculature in its ability to train, by confirming or denying, visual relationships.

Although we are not used to ascribing to non-human animals a complexity of ‘mental states’ (and the role of pcpt-cs states within them), the effective biological role of cyclical natural light in vision as a hormone equivalent, demands it.

Now, most people involved in lighting are sensitive to circadian rhythms and the like. Within the retina, a third class of receptors links exterior light directly to the endocrine system. In other classes, such as in many bird species, these receptors are located elsewhere in the brain.

These impact the cycling of hormones in the body, and so have a role to play in nutrition, reproduction, development, and interactions.

Nutrition is not simply the intake of nutrients, but rather an involved process that involves targeting food, processing food, digesting food, absorbing food, assimilating food (into activities), and eliminating waste. The vitality of each phase depends on the cycling of hormones in a living body, in addition to overall systemic fitness. Light impacts each of the six nutritive phases. The ZALA protocol offers a metric within each phase, specific to the individual and species involved.

Health has many meanings but the associated Health Domain of The Five Domains Model of Animal Welfare is guided in general by a

mandate for ‘Freedom from Disease’. The ZALA protocol adds additional concerns, in terms of developmental and reproductive biology.

This is an area typically overlooked in animal welfare discourse, with reproductive wellness being overshadowed by questions of productivity (more births being an indicator of better welfare and more beneficial to wildlife ‘restocking’ for conservation). Yet in a manner similar to our handling of ‘Nutrition’, the ZALA protocol breaks down reproduction in terms of the role of dynamic light across vertebrate sexual stages,(Pre-fertilization, Fertilization, and Post-fertilization), from the perspective of developmental biology (fertilization, cleavage, morula, blastocyst, gastrula and organ formation), and the reprocessing of organic materials through shedding and death.

Behavior in The Five Domains Model of Animal Welfare refers to the interactions that a living being is capable of, likely to express, and the factors that either facilitate or suppress its portfolio. Musculature entwined within the preceding three Domains (Pcpt-states, Nutrition, Health) dominates behavior, meaning that behavior is context specific to the light around an animal, or rather, us.

This brings us to the last ‘Domain’, the Environment. While it would be easy to accept that ‘light’ is simply one environmental factor among many, light in a physical sense is always an experimental result rather than a given. We ought to be really careful here, physical light is completely describable by Maxwell’s Equations as the transport mechanism of electro-magnetic fields. There is no mystery to it in this sense.

Yet the manifestation of light in living perceptual systems depends on many factors, from the sensitivity of a species ‘action-spectra’, its eye position, its neurological composition of images and reactions, and most especially the habitats that led to the species and individuals under question. Environment(s) are always read, and they are a multiplicity in perception, rather than a container within which independent consciousness find themselves in.

The Zoological Lighting Institute emphasizes light monitoring as a necessary precursor to any lighting design, and a form of commissioning indispensable to any claims of public welfare by the industry. At stake are mental health, reproductive health, healthy aging, food security, social justice (a separate article), and ecological functioning. ZLI addresses each of these concerns in dedicated ZLI Campaigns, and focuses outreach based upon them.

I will end by thanking The Seed for the opportunity to present this work. Because environments present natural light cycles that induce

multiple perceptual-conscious states, and because light induced hormone cycling informs nutrition, reproductive and developmental cycles, impacting all facets of behavior and the cosmological understanding of worlds, lighting design is pretty important.



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