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A New Blog Series - Light, Animal Welfare, and Social Justice

Published 02-12-21

Submitted by Zoological Lighting Institute



A New Blog Series - Light, Animal Welfare, and Social Justice

Dr. James Karl Fischer PhD

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Inlightenment, Enlightenment, and Timing to ‘Let Science Lead’

The Zoological Lighting Institute is pleased to introduce the ‘Inlightenment’ blog series. This series articulates ZLI's Mission by considering various photobiological topics, along with their importance for public health, safety, welfare, and social justice. Inlightenment is a new take on and development of ‘enlightenment’ that recognizes the integration of non-human animal life within human life and eschews faulty ideas of separation that hinder science, sustainability, and community wellbeing. 

Inlightenment focuses on physical light, rather than the dogmatic, theological concept of light that inspired 18th century science and industrial norms. It is intent on exploring the photobiological categories of the ZLI Framework, an organizing tool dedicated to developing a deep understanding of just how important natural light is for physically bound animal life. 

This marks a significant difference, and it places scientific inquiry at the heart of decision making, whether we are speaking about animal welfare, preventative medicine, wildlife conservation, or social justice. This has not been the case despite enlightenment principles, which held light as a sacred and protected element supporting a rather mystical connection between it and human self-worth and awareness. Inlightenment is a new take on ‘Enlightenment’ principles. In addition to embracing the ZLI Framework, the blog will explore the concept of ‘photodiversity’, that is to say a multi-cultural approach to the act of question-making in the sciences of light and life, intently.

Certain ‘Enlightenment’ values remain relevant, namely service to human life through the application of the sciences to address pragmatic questions. The consequences of non-scientific thinking on light has had consequences. Protected from criticism, light became understood purely as a positive force to drive humanity to betterment. A physicist’s understanding of light leads to something different though. Light is, for all intents and purposes, simply electro-magnetic radiation; a quantized field of energy with measurable levels of intensity, various qualities, and (biological) effects. Measurable, not mystical. Human betterment remains an important and plausible purpose, and theological reasoning valuable in its own sphere of establishing this very agenda of science, to free understanding of false or misleading shackles. It demands courage however to explore the physical world with a directness that corrects misapplication of theological defenses.

This philosophical repositioning of light and lighting is intended to let science lead in the fields of animal care, architectural development, and education. The series is inaugurated on 13 January, 2021, which also happens to be a new moon in addition to its hopeful political event. This is not accidental. One benefit of the natural sciences is that they reaffirm connections of people to the environment around them. Lunar cycles tend to go unnoticed by most, due not simply to artificial night lighting but also a more general disconnect from immediate ecological pressures. For this reason, Inlightenment entries will be published on new and full moons, with a few additional essays at significant times.

The ZLI Mission and Social Justice

‘Building back better’ means having a methodical, scientific understanding of any subject, a well thought out plan, and then applying that understanding practically as a way to improve people’s lives. ‘Decide what’s right, then do it’, if we are to be ‘American’ about it. Building back better strives for social justice, a betterment of every individual life rather than indifference to them. 

ZLI’s Mission advocates ‘supporting the sciences of light and life through the arts for animal welfare and wildlife conservation.’  When ZLI initially related the ‘sciences of light and life’ to animal welfare, it made an argument that light itself, in its biological and ecological consequences, was important for social justice. It is incumbent on Inlightenment to explain this mission first, and then how elements within it are conceived. 

The ZLI Mission it is fairly well structured, if open in the particulars. ‘Supporting the sciences’ refers to a method of investigation, one that is open, critical, and progressive. ‘Light and life’, refer to an overarching view of the biological interactions of physical light and animal bodies, mental states and relationships. ’Through the Arts’ indicates that the mode of investigation is not only inclusive of many different forms, but also that the scientific method and peer reviewed papers benefit from multi-cultural perspectives and questioning. The sciences and arts of light form a means of critical investigation into the world around communities, and categorize the types of creative production necessary to pursue for social justice. 

The second two points, ‘for animal welfare and wildlife conservation’, address the local purposes of such work, that in turn serve social justice. Animal welfare, as a concept, recognizes that life is valuable and that it bonds human communities. Wildlife conservation, as a concept, recognizes that practical management is required to offset human impacts on earth, and that sustainability, or rather restraint from over-exploitation, doesn’t simply happen without effort.

Inlightenment Content Plan

First Series: 13 January - 28 March 2021

The first compilation of entries of Inlightenment, explore the biological relevance of light across each of the Five Domains, as seen through a particular organizing lens. The ZLI Framework organizes photobiology into photo-physiology, sensory ecology and integrative photo-biology. Each of these categories, and attendant subcategories, entails a certain scientific perspective worth noting at the outset. 

Photo-physiology begins with the assumption of living beings as open systems, integrally processing environments rather existing separately. It encompasses biophysical subjects such as external EMF effects, internal EM Field Analysis and neurology.  Additionally, it coordinates light related biochemistry subjects. Within bodies, ample light related research opportunities exist to explore the relationships of light within the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis, hypothalamic–pituitary–gonadal (HPG) axis, skin-based photo-biological topics, non-ocular receptors (non-retinal photoreceptors in various parts of a body or cell), including but not limited to the pineal gland, septum, hypothalamus, hindbrain and spinal cord. Biochemistry also takes into account important mechanisms within ocular refresh rates, important to the next ZLI Framework Category, Sensory Ecology. Finally, photo-physiology explicitly identifies bioluminescence as a category of its own, exploring the relative electro-magnetic output of organisms, the chemical mechanisms behind it and the physical inter-organisms relationships that bioluminescence creates.

Sensory ecology accounts for the specific manner in which a specific animal of a specific species maps and can be mapped in space by ‘others’ integral to the specific environments that organisms evolved within. It too has three subcategories within the ZLI Framework, including visual ecology. This field looks at subjects such as ocular action spectra, the qualities of light that an animal might use in mapping space, motion detection, eye positioning, and spatial functional integration. Sensory ecology also looks to animal coloration, and the species specific role that dynamic color profiles play in an animal’s environment. Finally the ZLI Framework organization of sensory ecology recognizes the interplay of different senses in spatial mapping, under the heading of cross-sensory modalities.

The third category, Integrative photo-biology considers fitness degradation. That is to say, as conditions of environmental broadly speaking are different from what generative conditions had been, the changes in lighting that one might find across ex-situ care or in-situ habitats, degrade the fitness of an animal to thrive in its (new) environment without aid. Changes due to artificial light for example, tend to limit the qualities and dynamism of light that an animal would normally be exposed to. Integrative photo-biology relies upon differential metrics, rather than absolute values. The ZLI Framework distinguishes subjects very important to prominent issues, such as epidemiology, along with the timing, spacing and conditions of foraging / predation, reproductive cycles and the like.

The ZLI Framework is the group’s the most important resource. It is an organizational tool for research, rather than research itself. But this organization, this management of such important scientific fields, improves risk management by facilitating the application of research that might otherwise sit siloed without general application. The ZLI Framework had been formed to identify research needs within the field, but it has this outreach potential.

The ZLI Framework categories have a ‘general’ biological importance, but articulating their specific importance to advances in animal welfare will be useful to such initiatives. To maintain an ongoing conversation, Inlightenment will explore relationships of light to each of the Five Domains of Animal Welfare. These are health, environment, nutrition, behavior and mental health. Installments of Inlightenment will explore each Domain.

Second Series: 11 April - 8 August 2021

The second compilation of entries of Inlightenment, set to begin publication on 11 April 2021, will explore various perspectives on light and animals, expressed by the cross-cultural arts. 

Considerations of light in painting, sculpture, architecture, music, poetry, theater, dance, and illumination arts inform the kinds of questions that are possible within the scientific method, especially when science turns to something as loaded as the word ‘light’ can be.  Standard ‘task-based’ lighting metrics, such as lux and lumen, are culturally defined, only marginally referencing the physical sciences. Although we intend the second compilations to gather international references, the historical grounding of ‘lux and lumen’ within European Christian theology demands that Inlightenment give the subject as it plays out in the history of European Art some attention. Remarkably, the technical development of the lighting industry as it relates to concepts of lumen and lux in Christian theology, which has its own place of course, has rarely if ever been published or commented upon within otherwise excellent histories of light and lighting. Inlightenment entries will attempt to fill this need. 

The third compilation of essays, set to begin publication on 22 August 2021, focuses on familiar social justice subjects. These have already been gathered into ZLI Campaigns, providing fertile examples of how closely animal welfare and wildlife conservation work is to social justice. These ZLI Campaign publications will deal with the following subjects:

Third Series: 22 August - 18 December 2021

ZLI’s Beached Campaign entry will focus on bias in the sciences, for example. Concerned that anti-Asian sentiment in the US was clouding potential dialogue and conjoined action, this campaign took courage from the adaptability of cetacean visual systems and the connection to animal intelligence in familiar behavioral ecology studies. With the goal of fostering dialogue, engagement and action, this campaign also looks to coastal lighting and its impact on marine systems, and the importance of marine systems to cultures around the globe.

ZLI’s Bearanoia Campaign focuses on mental health and anxiety, taking its cue from recent medical research that solidifies links between artificial light at night and hormone related stress disorders. Bearanoia underscores the importance of mental health in human and non-human animals alike. It confronts the familiar and heartbreaking site of bear pacing in managed care and considers environmental factors such as light in this, while also taking on the difficult challenge of unsubstantiated human anxiety in either living directly with wildlife, or in having the courage to deal with wildlife conservation and climate change issues by productive daily actions.

ZLI’s Healthy Glow Campaign focuses upon the various environmental impacts of light on reproductive health, and the importance of preventative health care for human and non-human animals alike. Natural light cycles inform hormone cycling, contribute to vision based mating and rearing behaviors, as well as to the phenological and territorial spacing crucial for ‘reproductive choice’. The Healthy Glow Campaign offers a unique perspective on the connections between science and well-being, that admits of both traditional and contemporary medical approaches. ZLI’s Healthy Glow Campaign, featuring sharks as ambassador animal, due to the vibrancy of these animals, the importance of light in elasmobranch endocrine cycles, along with the lamentable role of shark fin soup in wedding ceremonies, opens a path to partnership (yoga, fitness and extended care communities).

ZLI’s Insect Apocalypse Campaign focuses on food security, following on recent research documenting the debilitating impact of artificial light at night on insect populations. Crucial not simply for agriculture but also ecological food chains, insects offer a particularly powerful subject to address hunger issues. They connect every animal in a zoo, due to the services they contribute to food. Insects form a particularly important area of photo-biological research as well, due to the obviating fact that science is absolutely necessary to understand animals with such different visual systems from vertebrates. Mitigating hunger by addressing the biological and ecological effects of light pollution may seem odd at first, but the issue connects a range of stakeholders (restauranteurs, religious organizations, service organizations, and food suppliers) that are absolutely essential to forestalling ecological collapse due to the disappearance of insects. 

ZLI’s Otohime’s Time Campaign features sea turtles to focus on agism, seasonality, and the dynamism of natural light; whether of star, sun, or terrestrial in origin. The significant connections of time to light draws upon the Japanese legend of Urashima Taro, and opens discussion of age related issues. These might be of animals themselves, or of community members at various stages of life. The Campaign stresses the value of different contributions that different stages of life offer, even as it underscores the importance of light as a dynamic physical quality rather than as a static or absolute resource. Outreach potential includes family and youth organizations, as well as pensioner advocates).

ZLI’s Save a Billion Birds! Campaign focuses on migration; specifically the role of light and electromagnetic radiation in animal navigation, but also the habitat productivity possible due to migration. This productivity extends to human migration, and so to ex pat and humanitarian partnerships. As a practical matter, the Campaign seeks to address the over one billion or so birds killed every year in the northern hemisphere due to collisions with glass in developed countries. A focus on this issue offers a very specific outreach potential, coordinating zoo and aquarium based remediation projects with similar initiatives in the community hosted by sponsors and supporters. ZLI’s Animal Welfare Labs offer a means to assess, plan, and coordinate bird-friendly design, monitoring sites for collisions while planning progress. 

So, the goals for 2021’s new blog Inlightenment are simple, though at times demanding due to the material itself. Inlightenment explores the relationships of light to animal welfare, animal welfare to wildlife conservation, and of wildlife conservation to social justice. Because of the interwoven relationships set within human and non-human animal mental functioning, and in particular the question of  persistent facts of human identification with suffering in animals, whether positively or negatively, Inlightenment immediately connects human health, safety, and welfare, to that of animals. Above all though, the blog is focused on light in this context.

Over the course of 2021, the year where the world begins to build back better, installments will be published every new and full moon, adding a few special episodes here and there as we go. As the world heads towards the 2021 winter solstice on 18 December, we intend to make the case that the physical light in the world, of the world, is the most important subject of all. It demands attention. Look at Inlightenment then, as a diva. The ultimate goal, is to get people to understand the importance of natural light and act upon this understanding, and to aid ZLI in ‘Supporting the Sciences of Light and Life through the Arts for Animal Welfare and Wildlife Conservation.

Zoological Lighting Institute logo

Zoological Lighting Institute

Zoological Lighting Institute

A unique charitable 501 c(3) with a mission to ‘Support the Sciences of Light and Life through the Arts for Animal Welfare and Wildlife Conservation,’ The Zoological Lighting Institute embraces the concept of ‘PhotoDiversity,’ referring to the importance that the diversity of natural light holds for living things, as well as the importance of cultural, social and human diversity has for science and its application.

With an international Board of Directors overseeing four departments, including Film & Media, Education, Sustainable Design and the PhotoSciences, The Zoological Lighting Institute is breaking new terrain in the application of science to address the under appreciated realms of light and life. Current Campaigns include Beached, Bearanoia, Insect Apocalypse, Otohime’s Time, Precious Light and Save a Billion Birds!. Please visit for more information on Sponsorships, Donor Advisory Fund (DAF) Giving Opportunities and Matching Contribution Programs.

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