A Conceptual Evolution of our All Too Human Species
Humanity walks on the edge of a knife which has sliced through its shoes and is now digging into its feet. It must leave this painful epoch between industrialization and ecological enlightenment, yet it hesitates to its detriment. Industrialization is the warm nostalgic blanket of comfort; ecological enlightenment is the hard foreign future of change. Humanity terries because of flawed conceptions of its all too human spirit and its relation to nature. This essay will give a neo-axiom of humanity’s relationship to nature.
Nature has such a powerful nature that sometimes when it realizes its nature it expels its nature which can disrupt the intrinsic nature of nature and this is never good for human nature. This absurd sentence expresses that the word “nature” within the English language and embodies Derrida’s idea of différance. Type “nature” into the online Oxford English Dictionary and you are bombarded with a cacophony of meaning. Everything from gentiles, vaginal fluids and semen to “a person’s character, personality” to definitions surrounding the material world (Oxford). Ultimately the word is meaningless without contextualization and even then one could argue that it would be impossible to derive any concrete meaning from the word. Given the plethora of signification this word has it is not surprising that English based cultures have no meaningful understanding of “In wider sense: the whole natural world, including human beings; the cosmos. Definition Obsolete” (Oxford).
The abstraction of nature is clearly complex and intricate, even across cultures. In the book Keywords: Nature the editors attempted to see how this concept is related cross-culturally. There is no clear consensus. If anything the term becomes even more diverse. Ouédarogo suggests in his piece “Africa: Human Nature as Historical Process” that African’s sense of nature was raped and pillaged out of them by colonial expansion of the European powers. However, there was a time when native Africans were pantheistic and viewed themselves as integrated into the whole (Keywords 18-19). On the opposite end of the spectrum America, or more specifically European colonials, viewed nature as scary, wild and something to be subjugated to the superior will of puritan ideologies sanctioned by God (Keywords 42-43).
The elusive nature of the word nature is also expressed by Kovel. He postulates that language itself is “an imperfect mirror of reality [and] is densely social and historical”; as such we have lost touch with the word “nature” all together (95). In the contemporary context nature is something out there or something that used to be here. Hence Kovel attempts to give the word new meaning. According to Kovel we should think of nature “as the integral of all ecosystems, extending in every direction and beyond the limits of the planet” (98). Nature should be seen as extending from the beginning of time, to the present day and onward toward the evolutionary future. Additionally, nature is the smallest postulated particle, the “Higgs Boson”, to the macro conception of the multiverse.
Indigenous North American cultures saw, and see, nature as both holistic and spiritual. The Koyukon conceptualize nature as “a community of entities that are intrinsically supernatural as well as natural. In fact, the strict western conceptual distinction between natural and supernatural would probably make little sense to the Koyukon” (Berkes 113). Although “traditional world views of nature are diverse … many share the belief in a sacred, personal relationship between humans and other living beings” (Berkes 115). These concepts of nature bring forth the idea of a “community of beings” with no actual hierarchical status. Each one is an interconnected part of the whole which deserves a broad based equality. Thus from the small amoeba, to the most “intelligent” of beings, there is no hierarchy, no better or worse, just different manifestations of energy or nature.
Within this essay I will use a combination of Kovel’s conception of nature integrated with that of the “traditional world view”. Thus nature is the asomatous interdependency of all beings, it extends from the beginning of time toward the evolutionary future and incorporates the smallest of particles to the immense conception of the multiverse. Such a definition invariably brings us into connection with the infinite. I do not mean this in any theological way; rather, we are forced into incomprehensibility. This “failure to compute” decentres us away from McKibben’s “hyper-individualism” into a humble aggregate (McKibben 96-98). Far from demeaning humanity it reaffirms that we are one of natures great achievements. Within this boundlessness, this measureless darkness, spins a blue planet in which nature has birthed biological “AI”. Moreover, within this conception there is no reason not to believe that biological units are strewn throughout the universe/multiverse. Our collective existence, and I say this in the broadest of senses, are all connected to the same quantum fluctuations which nature created in the Big Bang. To be true this view a nature at time degenerates into pantheism, yet I do not believe it is incompatible with atheism or agnosticism. One might argue that this definition is inherently religious or spiritual. Although I would disagree on the characterization of religious, it would be harder for me to disagree with the spiritual. This definition is not religious in that it does not impose any dogmatic and metaphysically based precepts. Hence this explication finds its root in the sciences and is subject to changes within scientific discovery. Within regards to the spiritual I would cite the Koyukon who see no distinction between the natural and supernatural (Berkes 113). Our platonic conceptions of this division should give way to more primal/indigenous understandings of holistic integration.
Abrahamic based religion has had a huge effect in creating an oppositional dichotomy between man and nature within the human psyche. Genesis 1:26 reads, “let [man] have dominion over … every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth”; in addition to Genesis 1:28, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (New Scofield KJV). Although some have argued that Genesis 1:26 and 1:28 were “lost in translation” and were meant to reflect “stewardship” rather than dominance, this is just simply not the case. The Strong’s Concordance “H7287” reveals that the Hebrew word “radah” means “to rule, have dominion, dominate, tread down, subjugate” and has no relation to stewardship (Blue Letter Bible). Moreover, if we look at the word used in verses like Leviticus 26:17, Numbers 24:19, Nehemiah 9:28 and others we find that this word was generally associated with lack of freedom and subjugation, not stewardship (Blue Letter Bible). The Bible conceives nature as unrefined and terrible. When Adam and Eve are sent out of Eden nature changes from that which gives subsistence, and that which Adam has stewardship over, to that which terrorizes and seeks to destroy. Genesis 3:18-19 reads, “Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (New Scofield KJV). This seems to be a far cry from the stewardship which was in the garden of Eden. Nature has turned antagonistic and vile. Nature itself seeks to subjugate us and thus we must attempt to subjugate it.
The sociological result of this has been outlined by many people. Kovel discusses how our “ecodestructive capitalism was … deeply influenced by the dominant Christian religion, spiritual edge of an extremely powerful and by no means ecologically friendly world-view” (123). He goes on to characterize Christianity as one of the great ecodestructive evils to ever beset our beautiful planet (124). Leo Marx outlines this concept as well in the book Keywords: Nature. He discusses how certain American Puritan Christian sects saw the wilderness as the Devil’s domain and the indigenous population as “wild beasts” (Keywords 42-43). Across the pond in Europe Pierre Zaoui discusses how medieval Christianity was radically a-cosmic and anti-naturalistic (Keywords 123).
Although Kovel practically lays the entirety of current ecodestruction upon the whole of Christianity, a general categorization which dismisses Christian naturalism among other redeeming aspects, he does cede that the correlation with historically populist Christian dogma and ecodestruction “does not entitle us to declare Christianity the villain of the piece, either, since the crisis is quite capable of being reproduced without it” (124). Kovel goes on to hypothetically speculate about what capitalism would of looked like if it began under other cultures. This point is an important one. All too often western colonialism, capitalism and religion become the scapegoats within the dialogue. Of course criticism is completely warranted, and fully valid, we must not let this blind us to critique other cultures and societies, or for them to critique themselves. In other words we must consider the whole of human society and not just a particular culture. Chen Shao-Ming displays this in Keywords: Nature. He writes that Chinese communism views nature as “separated from the mind and regarded as the object of subjugation with a view to achieving material prosperity” (Keywords 110). A good example of this is the Three Gorges Dam. Additionally, although China is becoming better, their environmental carelessness is well documented as a quick Google search will reveal. Moreover, their struggle with air pollution at the 2008 Beijing Olympics also speaks to this point (Pollution). It is impossible to argue that China’s mentality on this came about due to Christianity, colonialism, religion or western mentality. China has always been a very cryptic country to the western world. It has been largely closed off, isolationist and resistant to western influence over the centuries of contact. Mao’s cultural revolution would have dismantled any semblance of western influence the country did have. Although Karl Marx did have influence, Kovel himself goes to great lengths to argue that he was not inherently antagonistic to nature’s ecology (231-233). Thus we must conclude that the Chinese developed their own opposition towards nature’s ecology irrespective of western influence.
Many environmental critics like to romanticize indigenous lifestyles before the “white man” came to corrupt them. It is said that they display humanity’s true connection and integration with nature’s ecology. While I completely agree that we have much to learn from indigenous knowledge, I disagree that somehow they reveal that humanity is inherently ecological, or that it is solely the horrors of the “white man”, capitalism and Christianity which has thrust this environmental crisis on us. I will give two examples. Although there has been some debate recently about the demise of the indigenous peoples of Easter Island, it is still widely accepted that they caused their own demise through deforestation and environmental degradation (Dangerfield). “In his book Collapse, Jared Diamond refers to the Rapanui’s environmental degradation as ‘ecocide’ and points to the civilization’s demise as a model of what can happen if human appetites go unchecked” (Dangerfield). My second example is that of the Mayan people. “The root cause [of their society’s demise] was a chronic food and water shortage, due to some combination of natural drought and deforestation by humans” (Rise). These two examples clearly show indigenous peoples living in opposition to nature’s ecology.
I am sure if I continued my search I could find more examples of humanity, indigenous or otherwise, living in opposition to nature’s ecology without having been influence by the great European evil. My main point in putting this forth is to bring some realism to the argument and understanding of humanity and nature. Nature as I have defined it has no set parameters in how it is to materialize. Venus has become a boiling global warming nightmare. Mars a cold dead planet that might have formally sustained life. Galaxies collide, stars collapse and black holes undermine Newtonian physics while quantum physics undermines Einstein. Thus nature has not prescribe to humanity how it should act. Nature will continue on, creating new life, new biological AI and we will be but reincarnated stardust amongst the cosmos. Thus humanity’s natural state is not in relationship with nature, nor in opposition to it. Humanity’s natural state is only to evolve and perpetuate its genetic code. Given this we must choose to be ecological; moreover, we are in a unique position of being able to define our relationship to nature’s ecology. Neither choice is “natural”, but each has its consequences. We should not seek to find scapegoats for our own stupidity since ultimately we are all collectively to blame for what befalls us.
Our Herd Species
“We simply lack any organ for knowledge, for ‘truth’: we ‘know’ (or believe or imagine) just as much as may be useful in the interests of the human herd, the species; and even what is here called ‘utility’ is ultimately also a mere belief, something imaginary, and perhaps precisely that most calamitous stupidity of which we shall perish some day” (Nietzsche 300). It would seem that this “calamitous stupidity” is now creating our demise. Nietzsche, among others, has tried to disrupt the idea of humanity being something more than just a herd species. We are animals who think entirely too much of ourselves; and all our knowledge and truth is based on human utility. In other words our “truth” is nothing but a collective egoist impulse with homo sapiens as its focus. We must begin to break down this conception of ourselves and move towards the perception that we are just another biological unit among an infinite number of others.
Alasdair Macintyre goes to great lengths in his book Dependant Rational Animals: Why Human Beings Need the Virtues to reformulate the conception of Man as animal. He writes, “we conceive of ourselves and imagine ourselves as other than animal, as exempt from the hazardous condition of ‘mere’ animality” (4). It is interesting that he characterizes the condition of animality as hazardous. Society views the conception of us being animal as hazardous and thus sees itself as above animality. This comes from the view of protecting our species self-worth. If we are no more than animals we are suddenly no longer dominant via theological declaration or rational/intelligent superiority. It is postulated that this “degradation” of the human condition will inevitably disintegrate our society. Yet what is so horrible about that? Possibly our society could use some disintegration. Not in some apocalyptic way, but in how we structure our society in relation to nature’s ecology.
Macintyre discusses how commentators have failed to accurately probe the question of our animality in relation to our rationality. “They have underestimated the importance of the fact that our bodies are animal bodies with the identity and continuity of animal bodies, and they have failed to recognize adequately that in this present life it is true of us that we do not merely have, but are our bodies” (6). This is a very real consideration which has been overlooked by many since the age of rationalism. The dualism of Descartes and others saw our bodies as something separate from our cognitive capacity. Thus we were only trapped in animality, but not actually animal ourselves. Without a doubt this has been the dominant world view of western society on some level or another. Yet as Macintyre states, “there is no significant difference in the case of the relationship of human beings to members of certain other animal species” (15). I personally would change the word “certain” to “all” in an effort to broadly reformulate humanity’s perception of itself. Rationalists like Descartes have tried to state that animals amount to nothing more than biological machines (Descartes 40). Modern science has revealed that there is a gradation of rationality amongst animals. We just happen to be an exceptional example of nature’s impartation of rationality. Yet I would not go so far as to say we are the pinnacle of rationality. It is very possible that there are other beings who have reached a higher state of rationality/intelligence amongst the universe/multiverse if we consider the infinite possibilities of nature in relation to the assumptions of mediocrity when ruminating on the existence of life.
In a way Macintyre himself speaks to this point by articulating a gradation of rationality amongst all animals. He argues that if we are to ascribe rationality we must look at how other species act out their goal-directedness and judge their effectiveness (25). The Oxford English Dictionary defines rational as, “The rational part of the human mind; the power or faculty of reason”; Oxford defines reason as “The power of the mind to think and form valid judgements by a process of logic; the mental faculty which is used in adapting thought or action to some end” (Oxford). It must be noted how the word “rational” is intrinsically intertwined within the “human mind” in the first definition. This speaks to the point that we conceptualize the rational has being distinctively human. Disregarding this, to be rational is to utilize the power or faculty of reason. Reason is the power to make judgments, through logic, which allows one to modify their actions accordingly. Without a doubt Macintyre articulates this through his dolphin example. He effectively argues, and gives examples of, dolphin’s “perceptual and communicative capacities necessary for them to become aware of relevant facts” (26). Dolphin’s clearly make judgments and modify their actions accordingly. It is argued that for a being to be rational it needs some level or capacity of language. That is to say they need modes of signification with which to compare and thus rationalize. Yet, not only do dolphins have language, they also have been taught by Louis M. Herman an acoustical language with which homo sapiens can communicate to them (27). This goes way beyond teaching a dog how to sit. Amazingly these dolphins respond to “syntactical distinctions between sentences and to changes in word-order, but also to discriminate between syntactically deviant and syntactically standard sentences” (27-28). This requires a high level of abstraction, memory and a firm level of signification; but most importantly this necessitates a substantial rational capacity.
Another great example of high intelligence within nature is the Brown Tufted Capuchins of Boa Vista in Central Brazil. In the extraordinary series by BBC Earth called Life, they document these “highly intelligent monkeys” (Challenges). The most interesting of which is the process by which they eat the nuts from the “Nut Palm”. These nuts present animals with a problem in that they are extraordinarily hard to crack and eat. Yet the Capuchins have developed a remarkable method of extracting out the nut’s sustenance which requires an exceptional amount of forethought, dexterity and tool use. First these primates check the seeds for ripeness, then tear the fibrous husk away and allow them to dry for a week (Challenges). A task which requires the signifiers: “ripeness” and “unripeness”. Additionally they need a rational capacity to differentiate between the two and the forethought to leave them dry in the sun for a week. Once dry the Capuchins take their nut to an “anvil” and use a “hammer” to crack them (Challenges). Yet they cannot just use any “anvil” or “hammer”; the anvil is made up of a softer rock than the hammer (Challenges). Moreover, the children of this society can take up to eight years to master this process; much of which is learned through imitation and trial and error (Challenges). This learning style demands and extraordinary amount of self-reflexivity and rationality. Moreover, “the Capuchins use of these stone tools requires an exceptional level of intelligence, planning and dexterity” (Challenges).
There are many more examples which display varying ranges of intelligence and rationality. We could point to dogs or even viruses which mutate, or evolve their RNA, six times faster than human DNA (Holmes). If we take a step back for a moment, away from our “Man” centric notions of intelligence, there is no reason why we should not conceive of viruses as highly intelligent. They learn from their environment and rationally react accordingly through RNA changes. As such we should not view humanity as being the pinnacle point of intelligence. Although we are unique on this planet for our intellectual manifestations, and what we have achieved with them, we should not discount nature’s infinite capacity to develop and evolve intelligence across the universe/multiverse.
Infinitely Intelligent Nature
While nature may have no set prescriptions on how it is to materialize, it does have an extraordinary level of intelligence and rationality. Again, we must breakdown our egoist ideas of what intelligence and rationality means. Rather than anthropomorphizing them we should look towards nature as our guide. Well it is true that, according to human logic, there is disorder in the universe with colliding stars/planets/galaxies, supernova, quantum physics and black-holes. Its only disordered because we view order as that which is most amenable to “life” as we conceive of it. Thus colliding or exploding stars, which could possibly decimate a planet as biologically diverse as ours, seem to us as non-rational or in opposition to nature’s ecology. Yet we ourselves are products of third generation star dust which was formed through such processes (Sun). Thus this apparent disorder becomes completely rational and fully amenable, in fact integral, to life.
Nature is infinitely rational beyond what we could ever conceive. Although Venus is a global warming nightmare, such a state is only irrational when compared to our planet. There is no reason why nature must create warm blue planets like our own; nor is there any reason why it should not create them. Everything is rational in nature because it sets the parameters for rationality. Nature is infinitely symbiotic and something’s “death” or “extinction” simultaneously gives rise to “birth” and “life”. The universe/multiverse is a bubbling cauldron of energy. Viewed holistically we are just minute parts of the whole. Although our species may (and some say will) become extinct, nature itself will always exist and our energy will be reformulated in new ways. What could be more rational and intelligent that this?
A subtext to understanding nature as rational and intelligent is through the idea of ecology. Ecology can give us a deeper understanding of nature while allowing us to formulate a new ethic from which we can structure society. The word ecology itself finds its root in the Greek word “oikos” which means “household” (Angus). There is a two fold concept within this word. Firstly there is the idea of interdependency of individual actors working together for subsistence. Secondly there are boundaries which contain the household; this could be the walls of the house itself, the property line on which they live, the broader community in which they interact or any variation of these (Angus). Ultimately what this conveys is the idea of the “unit-whole”. Which is to say everything an animal needs to exist/survive (Angus). Rather than just focusing on the individual, like biology, ecology focuses on the individual in relation to its subsistence, or one could even say in relation to its ecology (Angus). Thus we get the word ecosystem which is a “structure of interrelating elements defined both spatially and temporally … [ecosystems] are bounded but also interrelated with each other” (Kovel 96). Reformulating our concepts about ourselves through ecology, and the idea of ecosystems, allows us to develop and ecological ethic (Angus). This ethic displaces humanity from the centre into a series of interconnected relationships (Angus). In a way we could see this as the final great decentring of “Man” back to man. From Galileo to Darwin to Freud we have decentred ourselves from everything but our relation to the environment and our insatiable need to dominate it. The time has come to make the final ascent into ecology.
A practical application of integrating the natural intelligence of ecologies was put forth by Bill McKibben in his book Deep Economy. In this book he discusses the idea of ecological economics (26-30). Taking the rationality of how interrelated parts within the ecosphere of the planet interact and maintain each other, we can formulate our economies to emulate this rationality. One of the main precepts of this idea is to set up an “ecosystem services” fee which would accurately reflect the environmental damage of a product (McKibben 27). It is the practical application of nature’s ecological knowledge which will save our species from disaster and possible extinction.
Indigenous traditional knowledge can also help us to develop an ecological world view. Berkes argues in his book Sacred Ecology that amalgamating elements of contemporary philosophy and scientific knowledge with that of indigenous philosophy and tradition will help us develop a sacred ecological ethic from which to move forward. According to Berkes this will allow a “restoring of the unity of mind and nature; providing intuitive wisdom for developing awareness of the nonlinear nature of our environment; addressing the problem of a self-identity distinct from the world around us; and restoring a cosmology based on morality towards nature” (274). We must reformulate our cosmology drawing upon nature’s rationality, historical and present day indigenous knowledge, scientific inquiry and the decentring of Man in western philosophy.
As I have attempted to show in this essay, our society needs to reconceptualise some core ideas about humanity and nature. Firstly we need to redefine the signifier “nature”, or even create a new word, which will actually reflect what it intends to define. Currently, within the popular conscious of society, this word is meaningless. I have personally propose a definition which I think encapsulates the infinite wonder and reality of nature. Moreover this definition helps decentre Man by allowing it to confront the infinite.
Secondly we need to understand that there is no intrinsically proper, or “right”, way for humanity to live within nature; yet each choice has a consequence for our ecosystem, humanity and the beings we coexist with. However, nature itself will remain unaffected. Some cultures have been very integrationist, while other have been oppositional towards nature. Although there could be some good arguments made to put more blame on one culture than another for our planet’s current ecological state, ultimately this detracts from critiquing humanity from a holistic view. Moreover, scapegoats inherently deflect ecological degeneracy within ones own culture. It is impossible for any culture to be completely ecological, or holistically responsible, and thus we must be ever vigilant in our self-criticism.
Thirdly humanity needs to conceive of itself as absolutely biological and unconditionally animal. We are a herd species on a stunning blue planet with millions, perhaps billions, of other biological entities. Humanity is no more, or less, valuable than all the parts of the whole. Nature flows throughout humanity and all existence. Moreover, we all find common ancestry in the quantum fluctuations which caused the Big Bang and of which we all collectively, as a universe, took part in.
Finally we must view nature as our benchmark for intelligence and rationality. Humanity needs to analyze how nature utilizes ecology. We have to stop anthropomorphizing intelligence and rationality as this blinds us to nature’s infinite potentialities. “Man” will have to decentre itself and approach every culture, tradition and nature itself, with respect and a critical eye in an effort to develop a holistic ecological ethic. Without this we are inevitably doomed to self-destruction. Yet I doubt we would be the first species to destroy ourselves through ecological stupidity. Nor will nature blink if we do. It will continue on as it has for thirteen billion years reincarnating our energy perhaps into more intelligent species.
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 The multiverse is an idea that had its source in science fiction but now find justification in Physics. According to the Big Bang theory there was a period of “inflation” which was the space/time fabric expanding out much faster than the speed of light, and thus much faster than our universe itself could expand. As such our universe is just one of a potential infinite amount of universes within this space/time fabric (Trottier).
 Artificial Intelligence. I characterize it as such to undermine hubris ideologies of superiority. Intelligence itself is a very arbitrary designation with its benchmark in humanity, yet there is no need to see it as such. If I was to give a benchmark for intelligence I would point to nature itself. After all, it gave rise to us did it not? We are its subordinates.
 This is discussed by Pierre Zaoui in his piece “Fables of Nature” in Keywords: Nature (124-125).
 As you can see I myself have given a critical analysis of nature in Christianity’s most sacred text.
 I completely agree that these are major factors but it goes deeper than this; to the core of humanity and nature itself.
 Humanity is completely nature since nothing can help but be so. We might live in opposition to our ecology but never to nature. The only opposition to nature is anti-matter itself.
 This is not to say we should not criticize cultural institutions which are antagonistic to ecology. Rather we should not blind ourselves by focusing all our criticism onto a single cultural institution. Much like Hitler did with the Jews. Yes of course there is justification to criticize Jewish society, but they also have some amazing cultural elements which we can learn from and to which we are indebted.
 A scientific theory which postulates that: “(1) because life on Earth depends on just a few basic molecules; (2) because the elements that make up these molecules are (to a greater or lesser extent) common to all stars, and (3) if the laws of science we know apply to the entire universe [and there is no reason to assume that they do not], then – given sufficient time – life must have originated elsewhere in the cosmos” (Chaisson 487).
 I have tried to articulate this through the ideas of multiverse, black holes and quantum physics. All of which contradict what we would consider normal materialization. Nature is infinitely possible.