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wdmn

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Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« on: May 14, 2019, 01:39:48 AM »
For the last year and a half I've been fascinated by traditional distinctions between natural and unnatural. My interest emerged out of a conflict with government over the management of a species-at-risk. The argument that we should "allow nature to take its course," was made repeatedly in defence of government inaction.

Recently I was watching a video called "Early Anthropogenic Transformations of Earth's Climate," in the thread "Early Anthropocene." In it, the lecturer, Ruddiman, makes the comment, "What can you think of as ‘not natural?’ Well, humans."

Of course the antropogenic vs. natural distinction is one that is commonly used, and generally does not lead to any confusion. However, I argue that the distinction is actually untenable, and leads to the perpetuation of a mythology that undermines science and clear thought.

There is much that can be written on this topic, and there are some philosophers who have (for example Steven Vogel). For the sake of this thread I will try to be brief.

The main problem with the above distinction is how to reconcile it with evolutionary biology, which describes human beings as just one of many species that have evolved according to the same sorts of processes as all other species. To separate our consciousness and our products from the rest of nature seems to require a kind of intrusion, whether supernatural, or unnatural, that gave rise to our consciousness. This should sound familiar, since it is the kind of story we find in many mythologies and religions.

Perhaps the easiest way to explain this is to ask, according to the definition of "unnatural" as anything caused or made by humans, are beaver dams natural? The answer is obviously, yes. Is a  pile of rocks made by a human to mark the direction they're traveling natural or unnatural? According to the definition, it is quite clearly unnatural. Now, it is obvious that beaver dams have much more impact on their ecosystems and the environment than a pile of rocks made by a human to navigate. The value of putting these into unique ontological categories is dubious. If beavers have evolved to build dams, and modify the environment in doing so, why should we think of it as unnatural that human beings build things that modify the environment?

Of course, there is a difference between a pile of rocks and a project like the three gorges dam. But the standard definition does not distinguish between the two. It simply places our artifacts in a unique category distinct from the rest of the world.

The consequence, I would argue, is that we smuggle in a kind of dualistic thinking that sees human beings and our consciousness as something alien to the universe. As a result, it alienates us from our environment, as we fail to recognize how we are another creature on the planet shaping our environment that arose out of this planet, not something that arrived here and started mucking around, that doesn't belong here, that can only either interfere or not interfere.

As far as this relates to climate change, I think this kind of hidden moralism makes the environmental movement less attractive. It ends up being romantic, always harkening back to a "nature" or "natural" that in fact, by definition, excludes us, and so we could never return to anyway. It can also lead to a primitivism, and the kind of mistrust of the intellect that is sometimes found in Fascism. It seems strange to wonder, what would have happened if we weren't here, since, though we may be an accident in the sense that all evolution is accidental, we are an accident of this earth, the natural history of this earth. Our choices are part of that history. Our choices, one way or the other, are natural. All of our politics, our follies, our plastic, all of it, part of the natural history of this planet. It's time we reconcile ourselves to that, accept that this is our home, and that we had better adjust our behaviour if we want to keep it.

oren

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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #1 on: May 14, 2019, 02:45:28 AM »
When species struggle within an ecology under evolution, even when using primitive tools (stone, stick, beaver dam) it's considered natural.
When one of them wins, multiplies and then subverts the whole ecology, using tools such as mined fossil fuels and radioactive metals, it's considered unnatural. It's nothing specific to humans, except we are the "winning" race. I would say it's a matter of degree, of signal to noise ratio.
Should the human species go extinct or go back to being just one species among others, it would be proper to call it natural.

wdmn

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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #2 on: May 14, 2019, 02:56:33 AM »
Oren,

An interesting definition. But it rests on a presupposition of "balance" and "harmony" in nature. While I certainly acknowledge the tendencies within the universe towards equilibrium, to me it is more mythological than scientific to privilege balance over imbalance.

Balance within any system, after all, always disappears as we extend the x-axis (when the x-axis is time). Any predator prey cycle, climate cycle, etc. appears as noise within the larger trend.

The cyclical, balanced view of nature is very ancient. It permeates ancient religions. It is obvious that from a human timescale it is very intuitive. We have the seasonal cycles, the cycles of the sun through the zodiac.. etc. etc. (However, even the zodiac changes with time).

It has been argued that evolution occurs rapidly during areas of great unrest (Stephen Jay Gould, for example). From that perspective, biodiversity is dependent upon these periods of imbalance, even if they also sometimes result in a loss of diversity.

I would also argue that culturally and scientifically speaking, it is during moments of upheaval, when the previously stable system breaks down, that many new ideas appear.

Finally, the "natural/unnatural" distinction as you use it is a moral one. And the problem with attaching morality to this distinction is that it is fallacious. The "appeal to nature" fallacy gets us no where closer to ethics, since we can find examples of all sorts of "immoral" things within nature. In fact, the appeal to nature for morality effectively undermines morality, which leaves us back at the same point; how do we make arguments for why this mass extinction is wrong? How do we make arguments for why this change in the climate is wrong?

To appeal to nature (in the traditional sense) gets us nowhere. Something more is required, precisely because, in the traditional sense, morality is unnatural.


edit:

I would also add that we can find lots of cases of herbivores on islands without predators overpopulating the island and wiping themselves out. Or, predators on islands with a ton of food, wasting kills and eventually starving to death after they've wiped out their prey. Nothing much "unnatural" about a lack of consciousness leading to disaster, it would seem.
« Last Edit: May 14, 2019, 03:07:40 AM by wdmn »

wdmn

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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #3 on: May 14, 2019, 04:17:42 AM »
"Morality and ethics is as natural for humans as rocks are natural to Earth."

That hasn't been disputed. But if you apply the standard definition, that means that morality is unnatural (since all things created by, or caused by humans are unnatural).

"Thinking in only science mode is unnatural. It gets you stuck fast."

You're applying a different definition of unnatural. Apparently doing something that doesn't benefit your survival is unnatural. But in that case, other animals also do it all of the time, and so it seems to be a feature of evolution. And now you're left calling evolution unnatural.

"Flip it to get it right"

No, it's both a cause and an effect. The breakdown allows for the new ideas to appear. It also forces people to think differently.

Pmt111500

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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #4 on: May 14, 2019, 04:43:29 AM »
I've, in own thinking, currently set the unnatural of the human culture to begin in the beginning of bronze age, but agree there's plenty to talk about. Birds can use human made roads as an aid to navigate, are crows eating a roadkill unnatural, are pests eating on monocrop farms unnatural, do sea eagles eat unnatural food from fish farms? Human might be the unnaturaliest of species but are the other species which use the spoils of humanity (traditionallly called opportunists). If we don't tell a child how anything works, does he become more natural?
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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #5 on: May 14, 2019, 04:49:55 AM »
Scientists studying animal behaviour believe they have growing evidence that species ranging from mice to primates are governed by moral codes of conduct in the same way as humans.

Until recently, humans were thought to be the only species to experience complex emotions and have a sense of morality.

But Prof Marc Bekoff, an ecologist at University of Colorado, Boulder, believes that morals are "hard-wired" into the brains of all mammals and provide the "social glue" that allow often aggressive and competitive animals to live together in groups.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/wildlife/5373379/Animals-can-tell-right-from-wrong.html
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wdmn

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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #6 on: May 14, 2019, 05:00:21 AM »
"Morality and ethics is as natural for humans as rocks are natural to Earth."

That hasn't been disputed. But if you apply the standard definition, that means that morality is unnatural (since all things created by, or caused by humans are unnatural).



Irrational. Definitions do not determine reality.


You have entirely missed the point of this thread.

From my first post, "Of course the antropogenic vs. natural distinction is one that is commonly used, and generally does not lead to any confusion. However, I argue that the distinction is actually untenable, and leads to the perpetuation of a mythology that undermines science and clear thought."


@Pmt

Thanks for your contribution. I'm still wondering what you mean by "the unnaturaliest?" Since the point of this thread, missed by Lurk, is to challenge the standard definition.

Pmt111500

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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #7 on: May 14, 2019, 06:36:59 AM »
'Most unnatural', not a native speaker... As soon as we learn to read and write a whole array of past experiences of a thousand years becomes available to us, essentially giving an individual human a sort of 'parent' who has more knowledge than any individual father or mother of any species, including rational humans. A cat may learn how to open an unlocked door, and a regular parent can teach a child how to use a key, but to design a modern lock and assemble it, requires an exceptional individual or learning from the past exoeriences and failures with material defects and such. This learning from the people gone by might be considered unnatural.  Where to set the beginning of this, probably somewhere at the beginning of the Enlightment Period, the days when an exceptional individual of almost any rank might get a grant to go to a school.
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wdmn

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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #8 on: May 14, 2019, 06:52:03 AM »
Pmt,

I was not poking fun, but liked your turn of phrase.

You're essentially saying that culture, accumulated overtime, becomes unnatural. And you're saying that that tipping point was reached in the Enlightenment in Europe.

But this seems to me strange, since then unnaturalness emerges simply as an accretion of naturalness.

I think part of the challenge is that we also have a sense of 'natural' as automatic. So culture, which includes both choice and degrees of mastery seems something different. I don't think the point is to lose choice. But rather, I would say that we should be "naturalizing" culture, as opposed to denaturalizing it. That this emergence should not be seen as something that goes against nature, but something that emerges out of it.

"Nature's course," is full of divergent paths and choice. Nature's course, includes our ability to have preferences, learn skills and have an ever increasing impact and control over our environment. Or did this not emerge as part of "nature's course?" Again, did something alien enter? This is why I suggest that the opposition of natural and unnatural ends up undermining science. I don't see how it can be reconciled with evolutionary theory.

I also believe that there is learning within the rest of the animal kingdom, where if you were to lose a generation you would lose whole skills within a population.

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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #9 on: May 14, 2019, 06:56:10 AM »
Can someone define 'unnatural' in concrete terms, please?

wdmn

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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #10 on: May 14, 2019, 07:03:48 AM »
b_l, somewhere buried in my original post, I mention that the definition (which I take to be standard) that I was originally responding to is as seen in the image below.

However, as my last post reiterates, I believe the problem is much more fundamental. I believe that evolutionary theory demands a monistic metaphysics, rather than a natural/unnatural dualism. So it doesn't really matter exactly which definition you use, the problem remains the same: how does something unnatural arise out of nature's course, unless something alien interferes? (And by alien, I mean alien to nature. Something supernatural, for example).

I would suggest, therefore, that if one wanted to keep the natural/unnatural, or natural/artificial distinction, they would have to recognize that unnaturalness, or artificiality is a subcategory of natural, and not an opposite.

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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #11 on: May 14, 2019, 07:24:39 AM »
Thanks Wdmn.

With the original definition, i have a logical problem. Mankind comes out of nature. The definition is a contradiction of itself.

When you write 'artificiality is a subcategory of natural' i completely agree. But isn't it here, where the debate should end?

Sorry if this sounds naive to you, but i genuinely don't understand the motivation to separate ourselves from nature in this way.

wdmn

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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #12 on: May 14, 2019, 07:32:04 AM »
b_l,

I think we are in complete agreement. The debate should end, but it usually doesn't. And the use of natural/unnatural as a binary is pervasive in science, in spite of the fact that it seems to undermine science itself.

To me there is a profound lesson here, even though for you it seems obvious: "there is a whole mythology embedded in our language," to quote Ludwig Wittgenstein. Even science is in need of philosophy sometimes, in order to illuminate this mythology.

Pmt111500

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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #13 on: May 14, 2019, 07:59:42 AM »
Entropic principle could come into discussion. Is unnatural something that decays faster than natural things? What would be the limit of years? Human body may last well over 70 years but we have some tech appliances that are still working after this time.  Should these be called natural? More importantly, should we consider, not individuals, but reproductive lines natural? Where is the border in each case? Agree that there should be a limit what id unnatural. This is something to think in the unnatural heat of sauna.
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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #14 on: May 14, 2019, 08:03:40 AM »
As usual, Michael Pollan puts the putative dichotomy very well. In his book "Second Nature"

"But the discovery that time and chance hold sway even in nature can also be liberating. Because contingency is and invitation to participate in history. Human choice is unnatural only if nature is deterministic, human change is unnatural only if she is changeless in our absence."

"if its history will always be the product of myriad chance events, then why shouldn't we also claim our place among all those deciding factors ? "

"what if nature decides on Japanese honeysuckle -- three hundred years of wall-to-wall brush ? ... At this point in history when humans have left their stamp on virtually every corner of the Earth, doing nothing is frequently a poor recipe ..."

"if we do nothing we may end up with an impoverished weed patch"

" "All or nothing" says the wilderness ethic, and in fact we have ended up with a landscape in America that conforms to that injunction ... Americans have done an admirable job of drawing lines around certain sacred areas ... and a terrible job of managing the rest of our land. ... Once a landscape is not longer "virgin" it is typically written off as fallen. We hand it over to the jurisdiction that other sacrosanct American ethic: laissez-faire economics. "You might as well build put up condos" And so, we do. "

"indeed the wilderness ethic and laissez-faire economics are really mirror images of one another. Each proposes a quasi-divine force  --- Nature, the Market -- that left to its own devices, somehow knows whats best for a place ... Worsjippers of either share a deep, Puritan distrust of man, taking on faith that humans tinkering with the natural or economic order can only pervert it."

"The old idea might have told us how to worship nature, but it didn't tell us how to live with her. It told us more than we needed to know about virginity and rape, and almost nothing about marriage."

"If nature is the one necessary source of instruction for a garden ethic,culture is the other. Civilization may be part of our problem with respect to nature, but there will be no solution without it. As Wendell Berry has pointed out, it is culture, and certainly not nature, that teaches us to observe and remember, to learn from our mistakes, to share our experiences, and perhaps most important of all, to restrain ourselves. Nature does not teach its creatures to control their appetites except by the harshest of lessons–epidemics, mass death, extinctions. Nothing would be more natural than for humankind to burden the environment to the extent that it was rendered unfit for human life. Nature in that event would not be the loser, nor would it disturb her laws in the least–operating as it has always done, natural selection would unceremoniously do us in. Should this fate be averted, it will only be because our culture–our laws and metaphors, our science and technology, our ongoing conversation about nature and man’s place in it–pointed us in the direction of a different future. Nature will not do this for us.”

sidd

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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #15 on: May 14, 2019, 09:39:39 AM »
I think of man as natural when living in a natural environment, for example some of the last amazonian tribes. When we live in cities depending unnatural supply lines and munching on horrible processed foods much less so.

Much of us live in totally artificial environments and thus we are shielded from natures whims especially if you are in a rich nation which enough purchasing power to get whatever is needed from global markets. We also live there in unnatural concentrations which will be a problem in severe supply shocks. Just pick a random big US city and turn off the electricity on a monday.

The problem is that we often forget or ignore that we still live in this natural environment and that nature will evolve to survive our antibiotics and herbicides. And the big things which you cannot really ignore like the global mass ice loss are politicized because of existing profiteering actors like big oil, german car manufacturers that rather cheat then engineer etc.

We are for now the masters of the earth but profits are more important then stewardship.

The problem is not natural vs unnatural but a total failure to act responsibly.

There are hordes of people out there who never think about natural vs unnatural and who figure someone will come up with a technological solution to fix it all or who care more about a new phone gadget then the planet.

I think this whole consumer class is a much bigger problem then people musing about philosophy.
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Pmt111500

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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #16 on: May 14, 2019, 09:42:27 AM »
Entropic principle could come into discussion. Is unnatural something that decays faster than natural things? What would be the limit of years?
Then we went unnatural when Homo Erectus started using fire during the lower paleolithic era?
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Well, that's one definition. Probably it's possible to create a windmill or waterwheel without metal tools and metal, though. Capturing energy from sun would be another way, but using some ice lens to gather heat isn't very good way and light trapping semiconductors cannot really easily, or at all, be made without fire, there are no natural gatherers and carriers of electricity (except the electron chain in chloroplasts and cyanobacteria) The better solar panels capture more energy than plants. A machine civilization would probably have problems with residual heat still as the vibration of atoms by heat becomes a hindrance in semiconductors.
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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #17 on: May 14, 2019, 09:56:04 AM »
yes .. while everything else is a part of .. the ego is apart from .. b.c.
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Pmt111500

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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #18 on: May 14, 2019, 10:28:45 AM »
yes .. while everything else is a part of .. the ego is apart from .. b.c.
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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #19 on: May 14, 2019, 10:47:56 AM »
As there are no time machines the label does not actually translate. Everything is what it is. ;-) It could not have been any other way. It just is until it is not.

I like the old quip by Carl Sagan "If you want to make an apple pie from scratch first you have to create a universe!" It got me to thinking. "If you want to create a universe first you have to exist!"

Not as a personality of course that would be silly  ::) 8)
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Pmt111500

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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #20 on: May 14, 2019, 11:50:03 AM »
As an illustration to kassy's post above, unfortunately I've forgotten where I found the image so no credits to the photographer, sorry...
Ah, this brought to mind a short private study in which I tried to classify the area where I live according to its naturalness. This was initiated by the astonishment by the hobby friends who were curious of how low an insect diversity is present here. Didn't finish it yet, but the results so far, for the near city centre area of detached housing were quite revealing. Won't reproduce the maps here, though. Somewhat surprisingly I got a whole 3% of the study area to be near-natural. 30% was reserved for cars, walkways and bikelanes, ~15% for the housing, 10% for the trees (both foreign and domestic) and the rest was lawn and shrubs (only c.15% of species foreign ones). Tried to estimate the naturalness of the lawns by the times they were cut, but this I had to abandon. Trees had a very large diversity compared to most forests in the area, but you really can't call them naturally grown on an area like this. Counted total of 50 species of trees. Part of the reason of low insect diversity is of course the bird nestboxes on most yards but the extensive gardening practised by most residents is probably another large part. Third is the amount of paved or built surfaces. Still the area is rather nice to live in, but if you try to find insects living on grass or domestic plants it becomes clear something is different from areas further out of the city. (3rd commonest moth species counted was Paradrina clavipalpis, which tells lepidopterists enough)
« Last Edit: May 14, 2019, 11:55:12 AM by Pmt111500 »
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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #21 on: May 14, 2019, 02:23:47 PM »
Quote
Natural = existing in or derived from nature; not made or caused by humankind

The two part definition is quite excellent because it shows the duality of the problem.

existing in or derived from nature: Humans exist in nature and are derived from nature, thus Humans are natural. Since humans are natural everything humans do is derived from nature, thus everything humans do is natural.

not made or caused by humankind: Humans are natural by the first definition but that definition alone makes the word useless. Thus humans and all their actions are removed from the definition of natural.

Literally, humans are not natural, but scientifically humans are natural. This is a very important distinction.
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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #22 on: May 14, 2019, 05:16:04 PM »
It is natural to take care of one’s needs.  (I’m thinking Maslow’s hierarchy of needs).  At an evolutionary level, it made sense to live longer, the ‘grandmother hypothesis', where we became better at transferring knowledge from generation to generation.  Once we learned how to write and read, this ‘ability to take care of our needs’ was extended.  All quite natural.

What we got with the ‘good stuff’ were the questions: “Who are we?”, How’d we get here? “Why did we survive?”  And Bingo:  religion.

Even mundane things get immortalized “religiously” [see this Snopes article].  On some concepts, we get truly stuck, such as with “Be fruitful, and multiply, and … subdue [the Earth]: and have dominion over …every living [thing] …” (Genesis 1:28).  I intentionally left out (where the first ellipsis is) “and replenish the Earth”, because it is ignored while the rest is held as “God’s Truth” (by ‘western civilization’ for about 4 thousand years, and who knows for how long by other ‘civilizations’).
 
So I suggest “unnatural” is when we don’t get the message straight [edit: accurately] from our ancestors – where we go by ‘belief’ and not ‘understanding’.

I am religions, but my faith is based on experience (mine and my forebears) and upholds understanding and questioning (and minimally on ‘rites’), as does the scientific method.  [Included ‘rites’ include style of worship service, tools for engagement and a shared vocabulary.]
« Last Edit: May 14, 2019, 08:50:08 PM by Tor Bejnar »
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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #23 on: May 14, 2019, 07:06:41 PM »
Hi all. Another long time lurker here.
The information and discussions here have become a quite important part of my day for me to follow the accelerating destruction. Therefore I am very thankful for all your posts. I am not a climate scientist but have become specialised in the outside-of-all-things-normal view of human cultures/choices: why we arrived at this apocalyptic situation for life on earth.

"Is Man the unnatural animal?"

I've found (remaining fitting hypothesis) that when a lifeform thinks it has supremacy over living nature it becomes insane/unnatural and if it has destructive technology it will conquer/'eat' everything.
Other lifeforms are known to use technology (tools) but they don't show supremacy and they live as part of the ecosystems. Not insane.
I think all forms of supremacy lead to different forms of insanity (e.g. aristocratic 'good life', modern consumerist culture). And they accumulate through "normal" in the mind's worldview/perception/culture.
This has happend to a very small fraction of human tribes in nomadic history (e.g. mediterranian tribes, mongols, maya's?) and combined they have conquered everything now. Almost all other human tribes troughout history have 'seen' their culture been deleted.
Please realise that the culture you are in now is the end-result; the global 'civilisation' of those conquering tribes. When discussing humanity or human nature your should realise that there were many other tribes that didn't conquer and had no army, wars, warriors, nature ownership, fathers and social hierarchy. The few remaining nature tribes now (Amazon etc.) are an example of that. Living with and in nature (but not as part of ecosystems I think).
So, to me, unnatural is a state of mind and the destructive actions that follow from it because all supremacy makes insane and insanity is always destructive. With natural I mean with regard to the systems of living nature because nature is everything; the universe.
As a further introduction, I never became part of the 'grown-up'/adult culture and my communication is therefore different, I found.
I wish you will enjoy my posts.
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wdmn

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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #24 on: May 14, 2019, 08:30:19 PM »
@sidd

I'm with Michael Pollan up until the end.

I believe it would be as natural for us to destroy ourselves, as it would be for us to fight for our survival.

In other words, "naturalness" ceases to be meaningful once you accept the rest of what he says. Culture is a product of nature, one part of nature most specifically; human nature. Whatever choices we make are natural in that sense.

This has the same effect as his argument, in that it puts all of the onus back onto us to decide, justify, and execute to the best of our ability our path. But, I think, it is more consistent because it doesn't, in the end, denaturalize this choice.


@archmid
"Literally, humans are not natural, but scientifically humans are natural. This is a very important distinction."

It is an important distinction, because it reminds us of the order of language use. Scientific language makes use of the same terms as we find outside of science. It is very easy for the mythologies embedded in these older ways of thinking and speaking to creep into science.

This is not about nitpicking over terms for academic reasons. The consequences for how we think about ourselves and our environments are tremendous.

So I note that Kassy's post is exactly the sort of thinking that is loaded with mythology, which I've already pointed out in this thread, but nevertheless is made again.

Picking some Amazonian tribe as a standard for naturalness is absurd. Most tribes are eager to get their hands on modern textiles, technology, tools, and medicine.

Moreover, Kassy's statement, which seemed to find much support, "I think of man as natural when living in a natural environment," begs the question rather than answering it. What is a "natural environment?"

1) human beings seem to have evolved mostly in the savannah and not tropical rainforests, which are horribly miserable places to live; humid, full of threatening insects, parasites and fungi, with poor soils, little sunlight, and lots and lots of rain. What about Inuit or Sami, living in areas with no trees at all?

2) we know that, because of the poor soils, even Amazonian tribes modify their environment. And as already made with the beaver example, it is difficult to see how an organism modifying its environment can be considered "unnatural."

3) the appearance of the "ego," unless you seek some supernatural explanation, as well as the appearance of the poorly designed, overcrowded, car dependent city, all appeared out of the human organism interacting with its environment. i.e. evolution. I'm not sure how many times this point will have to be made in this thread, and by how many different people. No one has provided any evidence to prove that any of this emerged as the result of something from outside of nature. (Again, where did the ego emerge from?).

4) Natural seems to basically be getting used in the sense of, "an environment that we have adapted to over a long period of time." So natural is like an extended "normal," that has been given extra moral weight as a result. There may be good reasons for this, but no one has yet provided them. We should not ignore the lessons from the climate deniers here. The climate always changes. Baselines always change. Usually slowly, but there are lots of periods of rapid change also. To fix one baseline (Amazonian tribes) as "natural," and judge the rest of history against that baseline seems to me to completely ignore everything that science tells us. And yet we have people arguing for just that on a board that is concerned with the changes happening to the world's climate, which we would not even be able to measure with any accuracy, or understand the risk of, if it were not for science!

wili

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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #25 on: May 15, 2019, 04:41:14 AM »
"..."naturalness" ceases to be meaningful ..."

Exactly.

Pollan talks 'pretty,' but ultimately his argument is just a mixture of sophistry and rationalizing.
« Last Edit: May 15, 2019, 02:29:55 PM by wili »
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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #26 on: May 15, 2019, 05:17:58 AM »
I seem to be reading Pollan differently. I think he would agree with wdmn.

Perhaps better for people to read the whole book. I have excerpted only a small part of a single chapter ...

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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #27 on: May 15, 2019, 06:24:07 AM »
I will take a look at his book.

My favourite way to think about this is that by renaturalizing humans, we -- in some sense -- denaturalize nature (of course not literally, since that would be senseless). It ceases to mean the same thing as it did before. This is not the mother nature of our old mythology.

Or as Zizek puts it, quoting Lynn Margulis, don't mystify Gaia as the good mother earth, "Gaia is a dirty bitch."


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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #28 on: May 15, 2019, 07:12:09 AM »
"Is Man the unnatural animal?"

I've found (remaining fitting hypothesis) that when a lifeform thinks it has supremacy over living nature it becomes insane/unnatural and if it has destructive technology it will conquer/'eat' everything.
Other lifeforms are known to use technology (tools) but they don't show supremacy and they live as part of the ecosystems. Not insane.

Thanks for the contribution.

I would challenge you to justify your claims empirically. I think they are charged with mythology rather than fact.

So, for example (as I referred to earlier), I can give specific cases of predators on an island killing way more prey than they need to, eating only the choicest parts of the kill (high grading), and leaving the rest to scavengers. They do this while the prey numbers are high. The population of predators grows, and they eventually kill off the main prey. The result is that they turn to cannibalism and eventually starve to death.

Our problems are often all too animal, as in they happen due to a lack of thought, a lack of consciousness.

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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #29 on: May 15, 2019, 07:45:39 AM »
Just adding a snippet starting at 12:26 in to the lecture where Ruddiman first explains himself.
Compressed w/o MAC support to keep the size down.

Thank you Sleepy. I don't have a problem with Ruddiman's point. It's quite clear that he means the baseline cycle was broken due to human activity, where the baseline was the glacial-interglacial cycle of the last 100,000 years.

The problem is that he treats this baseline as though it should continue forever, independent of what happens within the rest of nature's course. We know that is not the case. We know that organisms are capable of altering climate cycles, as are asteroids and volcanoes.

So his point is fine, but his language is sloppy (though standard).

wdmn

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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #30 on: May 15, 2019, 08:42:07 AM »
By calling the baseline "natural" and the actual course of nature (which included anthropogenic factors, since humans emerged out of nature during that time period) "unnatural" he is implying that the baseline trend should have continued.

There are other things to discuss, sure. Are you suggesting that we aren't capable of holding various conversations simultaneously?

This thread should make clear how very smart (well educated, and aware) people can get very confused as a result of language, and that the confusion has serious implications for how people think about our world, the directions we should be heading in, and what counts as right and wrong.

It is a time for action. I would warn against the attitude that this means it is not also a time for thought.

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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #31 on: May 15, 2019, 08:54:56 AM »
 :) :P ::) ;D, Framing "natural" to include modern spoils of culture is of course natural for humans. Could we agree on something, is throwing edible food to dumpsters natural?
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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #32 on: May 15, 2019, 09:11:00 AM »
:) :P ::) ;D, Framing "natural" to include modern spoils of culture is of course natural for humans. Could we agree on something, is throwing edible food to dumpsters natural?

Within the context of this discussion, you are free to propose any distinction you'd like (outside of this discussion the meaning will be subsumed into language as it's generally used), so long as you account for the fact that any "unnaturalness" must be, at best, a subcategory of naturalness. In other words, you can make the point that this behaviour is immoral (and your use of unnatural can mean immoral, if you'd like), but  that does not mean that it is alien to the possibilities of the natural world.

@ sleepy
You can keep the forever or drop it, because the implication is due to the entanglement of these concepts in mythological thinking, as I've been explicit since my first post, and not because of any intention of Ruddiman. This is another important point: our intentions alone do not determine the meaning of our speech. "A whole mythology is embedded in our language."

I'm not sure that the thread has been a roundabout. However, I commend you for going for a run.

sidd

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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #33 on: May 15, 2019, 09:18:38 AM »
Mmmm.

1) Ruddiman knows perfectly well that the glacial/interglacial cycles began 3 Myr ago with 40Kyr periodicity and switched to 120 K cycle circa 1Myr-0.8Myr ago. He is specifically comparing the deglaciation during the previous 120 Kyr cycles to the last deglaciation.

2) He is marshalling evidence that that human influence can be detected earlier than previously imagined, and indeed that it is suppressing future glaciation.

3) There are other studies that support his view, some calculate that we have suppressed the cycle for 50Kyr or more.

4) As i read him, i see nothing to indicate that he considers humans either "natural" or "unnatural"

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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #34 on: May 15, 2019, 09:50:38 AM »
Sidd,

I'm not suggesting Ruddiman is unaware of these things, nor am I suggesting he is wrong in his arguments. I quite enjoyed his talk, because I found it to be of great merit.

He does explicitly define humans as unnatural.

See my last post, or first post, or several others, for the implications.

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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #35 on: May 15, 2019, 10:06:21 AM »
In about 5 billion years, the Sun is expected to swell up (and heat up) and "swallow" the Earth, cooking off all the water first.

Well before then, around 800 million years from now, all multicellular life WOULD BE expected to have died out ... due to carbon sequestration, which has been going on since the Hadean period (atmosphere reacting with rock), with the addition of sequestration due to life itself since carbon-fixing through photosynthesis began, about 2.5 billion years ago.

Would be.  Then along comes homo sapiens.  I'm just throwing it out there....
« Last Edit: May 15, 2019, 10:12:43 AM by mabarnes »

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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #36 on: May 15, 2019, 10:36:52 AM »
Re: He does explicitly define humans as unnatural.


Where ?

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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #37 on: May 15, 2019, 10:42:17 AM »
I'm afraid I rather would see it the other way around, and introduce several (at least three) kinds of unnatural domains in the middle of which the 'natural' is. Kind of same way the livable conditions on earth are bound by too much heat, cold or vacuum of space (or human ego/deus ex machina type solutions) . Maybe this is due mother tongue differences, I guess this is mostly semantics so I'll exit.
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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #38 on: May 15, 2019, 02:09:08 PM »
Re: He does explicitly define humans as unnatural.


Where ?

sidd

Ah well, apart from this:
Just adding a snippet starting at 12:26 in to the lecture where Ruddiman first explains himself.
Compressed w/o MAC support to keep the size down.

He get's a question at 29:38 to which he responds like below (he goes on a bit further but I snipped it off at 31:12).

Ah, unforeseen might have been a better choice for the word. Now we could ask how long it takes for unforeseen ecological and climatological changes to become natural? As it can be argued it's natural for a species to feed itself, should we first eradicate hunger or throw food to waste? A badger makes its dams in part to improve its environment so how is this different from humans? I can't seem to be able to pull out of this very easily.
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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #39 on: May 15, 2019, 03:21:14 PM »
A badger only knows how to build dams.

We can do that and more and we do that and more while we see we are actually running out of planet.

We can´t claim unforeseen either.

There is climate change but our agriculture and fisheries are not exactly future proof either.

Our habitat is this one planet.

If all the people got to vote on important things like `Would you prefer a habitable planet for your grandchildren´ people would vote yes but we get to vote on career politicians not issues which is a pity.

The way you are looking for an exact dividing line for calling us (un)natural is like measuring England with ever better rulers.

When we noticed we destroyed the ozone layer we did something about it but destroying the planet is sadly too profitable. Can´t be natural though.

Þetta minnismerki er til vitnis um að við vitum hvað er að gerast og hvað þarf að gera. Aðeins þú veist hvort við gerðum eitthvað.

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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #40 on: May 15, 2019, 04:42:12 PM »
no other animals are preoccupied with time other than the present and no other animals judge things right or wrong ..
  b.c.
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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #41 on: May 15, 2019, 05:05:17 PM »
no other animals are preoccupied with time other than the present

You can't prove that, but plenty of animals display planning and other features that depend on time awareness.

Quote
no other animals judge things right or wrong ..

Again you can't prove that, but plenty of animal testing suggest that animals can indeed make a judgement within their own "ethics".

Really, I don't think there is one human behavior that is unique to humans, not even language or mathematics ( which are learned).
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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #42 on: May 15, 2019, 05:37:32 PM »
"Really, I don't think there is one human behavior that is unique to humans, not even language or mathematics ( which are learned)."
I can't think of another animal that lives in groups of a size it is not adapted to, iirc humans are wired for about 160 contacts, so groups of maybe 600, it's very unnatural to be surrounded by 'strangers' and yet to have any kind of civilization inevitable.

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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #43 on: May 15, 2019, 06:43:03 PM »
all nature (universe) are existing only through imbalance, total balance means nothing exists.

all that exists is natural, the topic of this thread should be about welcome or not welcome changes and from which view.

even if mankind extincts itself, perhaps a future species will think back and be greatful that they could prosper thanks to extinction of mankind?

we are way to self centered and even if we consider mankind as against nature while in fact it's part of nature with all it's doings, whether we like them or not, the rest of nature, especially laws of physics and a lot of spiritless parts of nature like gravity and radiation are way more cruel, deadly as well as destructive than we are.

so as usual we should more seek optimization and efficiency within a range of feasibility instead of either looking at ourselves (species-wise) as either totally evil or the top of evolution, speak nature.

if we want to survive for a foreseeable future we have to optimize things but planet earth is as doomed as the solar system as a whole. it's only a matter of time scales we are looking at.

for the (probably/hopefully) few who don't know yet. the sun will die in around 5 billion years to be a white dwarf and long before that in about 2 billion years will go through the state as a red giant and first burn the planet and then digest ist for breakfast one day.

why do i say this, because the title of the thread is wrong (buzzy) and because of this a discussion over a buzzy title will lead not far because all opponents are right and wrong at the same time.

result, it's mostly useless, let's concetrate on solutions instead of taking extreme stances that are both all wrong and lead us nowhere in our task to become more efficient more ethical and more honest. (less hypocritical)

nanning

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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #44 on: May 15, 2019, 08:05:28 PM »
Reacting to wdmn's « Reply #32 :

Thank you for the reply and questions wdmn.

First, a further introduction; I am not an academic but I am a talented thinker. I seem to have a great and rare ability to see the systems I'm in. From a very young age I was a very independent and critical thinker (I can give examples), not in abstract contexts. That was just a statement about me, but relevant I think. Sorry, I was born this way, I'm not superior or anything like that.

Mythology? No, it goes against everything in my quest for truth and human reality (outside the 'bubbles', the 'normals' of this tribes' culture). I don't think there's much real information in mythology.

To address your other question:
Your predators didn't have this insane thought of supremacy. That's the distinction. Ecosystems are not stable at all levels, more a sort of complex metastability. What you describe is an example of that instability. Swarms of locusts are also within ecosystems. They are not insane or violent or anything like that. Same with temporary invasions of parasites and diseases and algae.

This will seem as outside the context but maybe I just want to add that; anthropomorphism is a really strong observational/interpretation-error I've found and understood I think. This is not meant as an insult. I am very aware of the enormous power of 'normal' in peoples' interpretations in all contexts. I am also human, I have to fight it.

I wish I answered your question.
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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #45 on: May 15, 2019, 09:24:20 PM »
Ruddiman prefaces the statement with "if down is natural and up is not natural" and then deduces that human are the cause. I prefer his earlier term "anomalous" rather than "unnatural" and i think that Ruddiman would agree. YMMV.

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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #46 on: May 15, 2019, 10:12:59 PM »
no other animals are preoccupied with time other than the present and no other animals judge things right or wrong ..
  b.c.

I am not trying to erase the possibility of distinction from other animals. Simply all of those distinctions can be classified under an "empty" signifier, which is "life," and somewhere above that is "nature." Neither of these terms have a referent.

@Nanning
Nanning, I would suggest that your response is a reiteration -- in a different form -- of the definition that makes human consciousness unnatural. Again, no one has given any reason why evolution should have created one, and only one, "unnatural" thing.


@sidd
Good observation about Ruddiman prefacing the statement. The point was never to attack Ruddiman. I had been meaning to create a thread on this subject before I watched that video. It was just a good example of how this language appears again and again even in science. I agree that "anomalous" is better, but maybe the best would be to simply say, "divergent from the baseline," as in: "if down is in keeping with the baseline, and up is divergent from the baseline, we ask, well what could have caused this divergence? And the answer is humans and their activities."

To me that is simple, accurate and clear.

Again, I was not attacking Ruddiman, and have a lot of respect for his work.

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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #47 on: May 16, 2019, 04:48:27 AM »
Here I give the historic chain of events that have set up our general supremacy/unnaturalness in my understanding:

The discovery of how to make fire through experimentation (at first accidental) started an evolutionary path were we learned to cook/cure our food which gave a much higher energy nutrition and food safety which gave us an energy surplus that is spend on bigger brains for us through specialisation of hand/eye/brain skills; toolmaking. Tools became more sophisticated and at some point, inevitably, we built tools that could do serious damage (spear? axe? other?). Language will have changed to include technology use and hunting/killing. And now comes the distinction; if only just one tribe thinks they are supreme with their technology in hunting/killing and later with boats etc. it is the beginning of the end; there's no way back. That mindset is the danger: Take/kill more than you need. We are not predators even though techology can give us that idea.Technology use comes with a high responsiblity with regard to all other life.
"One and only one" because is it an extremely improbable chain of events.
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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #48 on: May 16, 2019, 06:13:18 AM »
I tend to the position that no matter how improbable evolution of homo xxx, nevertheless homo xxx is natural. For example you could make the argument that any organism on earth is highly improbable, given the chain of coincidences that led to it.

I tend to claim that homo is perfectly natural. However if you were to ask for a single defining characteristic of, say, post agricultural humanity, that sets us apart from all other creatures, i would say writing. So far, at any rate.

sidd


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Re: Is Man the "Unnatural Animal?"
« Reply #49 on: May 16, 2019, 06:47:30 AM »
I think you are missing an important point in evaluating homo sapiens - it all depends on political structures.

The advent of agriculture meant grains could be stored and this is the basis of a monetary system.

A hierachical governance system was a consequence as wealth accumulation became a thing.

We left the Garden of Eden (hunter and gatherer), which eventually led to Jesus losing his cool with money dealers at the Temple.

Australian Aborigines lived in harmony with nature for over 2,000 generations before the rapacious
colonisers arrived.
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