Laboratory Coordinator, Texas A&M University Corpus Christi

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Nature does not care. We need to accept this.

Nature has no wisdom. Nature has no mind. Nature does not care what happens. Nature just is. There is no "balance" that is "maintained" except through the stochastic interplay of opposing forces. So long as we cling to the superstition of a "wisdom" or intent-driven "balance" of nature, we will continue to go down dead ends when it comes to sustaining our existence as a species.

There have been massive extinction events in the past. Each time nature has gone on. Nature doesn't care that the giant dinosaurs are dead. Nature doesn't care that the entire ecosystem of earth was destroyed when the atmosphere became oxygenated (yes, oxygen was an ecological disaster, it killed off the carbon-dioxide ecosystem that went before it).

There is no "proper balance of nature". Plants and non-human animals do nothing active to "maintain a balance". They simply lack the efficiency we have at exploiting the world. Every species will exploit up to the limits of its ability.

We are unusual in that we have the capacity to voluntarily limit our exploitation and intentionally husband our resources. So long as we cling to a childish, superstitious view of "nature" as some kind of "caring" or "thinking" being, we will keep running into dead ends and refuse to step up to the plate and act like "adults" (as a group).

Even the philosophical underpinnings of anti-environmental conservatives take this superstitious view of nature. They subscribe to the "mother nature can bear all burdens" superstition (i.e., the environment will magically "fix" things), the "God will provide" superstition (there will always be some magical "fix" from technology or unforeseen events), or an immanent end times belief (the eschaton is already upon us--nature has a pre-planned "end", so we don't need to think about the future).

Behind both environmentalist and anti-environmentalist still indulge in the same fantasy, that there is a "mind" attached to "nature".

We need to realize otherwise.

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    May 12 2014: Bryan,
    I agree with you-there is no purposely driven caring mind behind what we label nature-. If tomorrow a cataclysm occurs that radically alters the mechanisms & ecosystems crucial to mankind survival we would be up the hill without a paddle. Most of the confusion is in the language semantics beyond that is nonexistent .
    The personification of nature and the "woo" of Quantum consciousness has sold books-a-many. And sold parcels in Beverly Hills.
    All that said it is mankind's duty to be take care of this big bus we called Earth-as best as we can.
    Perhaps the "personification of nature" is a marketing ploy in order to make the pill easier to swallow by the public's mind (get more bang for your marketing buck). Think of it this way our actions as a whole are driven 80% by our emotions-we need something to cling on to, to cuddle with like a teddy bear (remember Give a hoot don't pollute ?! marketing campaign against forest fires?Smokey)
    Man if telling the truth is difficult in one on one relations imagine when you scale at a level of a country, for example the Japanese goverment hiding the truth about Radiation leaks that are exposing children and workers to toxic levels of radiation (0.12 microsievert per hour, at Omika Elementary School, located about 21 km (13 miles) from the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, in Minamisoma, Fukushima prefecture.)
    Behind your questions lurks a 100 ton gorilla: is Disinformation "truth"at wholesale prices and who gets to tell it . How the world's attention gets focused. The old trick, freeze the subject, personalize it then polarize it & voila you have controversy and nothing gets done by ether environmentalists or government besides spending money they excel at that.
    • May 15 2014: I agree with a duty of care, if nothing else, it's where we keep all our stuff.
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    May 18 2014: No, nature is not a being and it does not have a mind. However it is a reactive entity, which means nature tries to rebalance itself to equilibrium after it has been altered in some way by external influence.

    To some, that rebalancing looks like a brain or a mind at work. It can either react counter to the stressors we put it under - or work harmoniously with us if we play by its rules and we work alongside it to sustain that equilibrium. Karma for reductionists, really.

    The idea that nature has a brain is a kind of metaphor. Mythology and metaphor help to clarify the nebulous - to intuit the mysterious. It looks like fantasy, but in the absence of science, it's all we had in our armoury to understand the nature of the world.

    Now we DO have science, it is no longer necessary for the more mechanistically-minded among us to use metaphor and myth. I have to say though, that for the more poetic and artistic among us, metaphor still has powerful abilities to bring things to mind that are otherwise unseen. Metaphor is just a way of understanding things in full colour rather than just black and white.
  • May 18 2014: Could not agree with you more - The world, nature does not care about the human race nor any other species.
  • May 18 2014: Your mind organizes the Nature so well that you are no longer able to see it.
  • May 18 2014: Nature is a consequence of the physical factors that determines its composition and behavior that reflect a reality that is best understood by objective observations of its empirical makeup and description.

    Many North American natives have a view of nature that I think is underrated. They had and many still have a reverence toward all aspects of nature. They considered themselves part of nature, and viewed it in terms of their well being.

    Obviously there are remote factors that can cause an incredible disruption to the current state of nature on earth such as the well documented chaos resulting from a collision with an asteroid.

    Nature does not have some self conscious role, as you note. It is subject to abrupt inhospitable conditions brought on by things of which we have virtually no control noted above, to numerous things (which would involve us humans and our ingenuity) that can and have directed aspects of reality to better suit our needs AND for example, the frightening conditions of nature that would arise from a nuclear weapons exchange in a world wide conflict.

    My point is that we (as humans) are not APART from nature and do and have significantly affected the nature of our spaceship earth, especially during this modern era.
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    May 18 2014: I agree to everything in you post except this

    "We are unusual in that we have the capacity to voluntarily limit our exploitation and intentionally husband our resources."

    I think, things that will, eventually, limit our exploitation of resourses have little to do with human intentions - they are a) depletion of the resources or b) Complete or partial extinction of humans. E.g., I don't think people will switch from oil to other energy sources while oil is abundant and cheap. I'm talking about humanity as a whole, not individual people.
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    May 17 2014: I can totally take your point.Now,people are trying to take advantages of high-tech to dominate the ecosystem.but some people didn't realize that we are part of the ecosystem,we are not the neighbor of it.We dominate the ecosystem means that we are controlled by ourselves.The question is,how to integrate human into the ecosystem,how can we use high-technology to create a new ecosystem which is valid and how to solve root causes.
    restoring,sustaining and conserving resources is a splendid way to keep a green environment.
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    May 13 2014: Nature to me is the sum of everything there is.
    So if we and other animals (and why not members of other kingdoms and domains) can care, then the conclusion would be that nature itself as a sum does somehow care.
    At the same time the idea of earth as some kind of organism with interacting and communicating lifeforms on it, is getting less and less abstract with accumulating evidence (--> plant neurobiology).
    Every lifeform in our natural environment has a purpose and can only be if it uses only the required minimum of resources for its survival and if it gives as much back as it takes.
    Looking at the current human way of life, which is highly alien to our own human nature and off-balance in terms of give and take and minimal use of natural resources, I strongly believe that nature cares for us to change our ways.
    I do not see nature as a ""caring" or "thinking" being". nature however is the only place where we can survive the way we were born and only if we master this skill with little impact, can we be.
    As a depending part of nature it is our responsibility and priority to care for nature (the common good of all life) to the highest possible extend.
    • May 15 2014: How does it care? If we died tomorrow, completely, not a trace behind, if all the mammals just snuffed out, would "nature" somehow "be sad"? No. Nature would not care, there is no mind. There is no emotion. Nature just is.
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        May 25 2014: Hi Bryan,
        even if we were the only ones who care (and presumably there are others), we would be enough part of nature to make it appear caring by definition.
        However, nature is. I agree. "Nature" is a word that we give to something that we study and do not fully understand. We can not know if nature cares nor can we proof the opposite.
        It seems however that the rest of nature has a great interest in us to change our ways.

        Btw, I do spend a lot of time in the woods, and it feels like I am well taken care of when I am "there".
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    May 13 2014: As everyone has mentioned, I like how you point out the misconceptions that both environmentalist and non-environmentalist have in regards to nature. I too believe that nature is indifferent and operates in its own way. Water flows down the stream as it is suppose to...plants will continue to grow (as long as we don't mess with its development).

    What I don't really see is any possible solution that you propose. You've identified the problem but what possible solutions can you prevent other than changing our perspective on nature?
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      May 18 2014: I see Bryan's post as a statement of a fact, not as a statement of a problem to be solved. But, I agree that these existential musings have little practical value.
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    May 12 2014: "The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model for the early development of the universe... In particular, the Big Bang model suggests that at some moment all matter in the universe was contained in a single point, which is considered the beginning of the universe. Modern measurements place this moment at approximately 13.82 billion years ago, which is thus considered the age of the universe. After the initial expansion, the universe cooled sufficiently to allow the formation of subatomic particles, including protons, neutrons, and electrons...

    Abiogenesis (/ˌeɪbaɪ.ɵˈdʒɛnɨsɪs/ AY-by-oh-JEN-ə-siss or biopoiesis is the natural process by which life arose from non-living matter such as simple organic compounds. The Earth was formed about 4.54 billion years ago. The earliest life on Earth existed at least 3.5 billion years ago, during the Eoarchean Era when sufficient crust had solidified following the molten Hadean Eon. The earliest physical evidence for life on Earth is biogenic graphite in 3.7 billion-year-old metasedimentary rocks discovered in Western Greenland and microbial mat fossils found in 3.48 billion-year-old sandstone discovered in Western Australia. Nevertheless, several studies suggest that life on Earth may have started even earlier, as early as 4.25 billion years ago according to one study ..." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Bang

    "Current data suggest that modern humans evolved from archaic humans primarily in East Africa. A 195,000 year old fossil from the Omo 1 site in Ethiopia shows the beginnings of the skull changes that we associate with modern people..." http://anthro.palomar.edu/homo2/mod_homo_4.htm

    From nature with no mind, no wisdom, came forth humans capable of thinking and asking questions:
    - What am I?
    - Who am I?
    - Why am I here?
    - Am I different from the other living things on Earth?
    - What is the meaning and purpose of my existence?
    - Do I have a spirit? If yes, where will it go after I die?
  • May 7 2014: For humans,
    all this thinking is what has caused our problems.
    Now we attempt to use that very same thinking to solve them, only to make everything worse.
    One reason being we see ourselves and most everything else, as separate entities.

    We can only "solve" to some degree many of the problems we face, by stopping what we are doing.
    Try stopping one simple thing that contributes in your own life to our global problems
    and you will see that it is suddenly extremely difficult to do. The first difficult part is being able to see and
    admit the truth about yourself.

    It's so true and so simple but the majority of people today no longer want the true, seek the truth, live by the truth,
    trust the truth but worst of all, they can no longer discern the truth.

    So there isn't a mind to nature. There is our mind and therein lies the cause. We cannot use it to solve our problems.
    We have proven that over 1,000's of years.

    We are all internally related to the whole, this everything we are in. It all happens in ONE place. Our consciousness, thus, we all share ONE consciousness which is an internal experience. We are all internally related to all and until we BEGIN thinking in that manner until we "get it", we will treat everything and everybody with ignorance, lack of respect, hatred, fear and we will take murderous action upon others, environments and ourselves.

    Talking on here is a waste of time.
    • May 12 2014: If we cannot use our mind to solve our problems, then THERE IS NO SOLUTION TO OUR PROBLEMS. Our mind is all we have. There is no "one consciousness". Show the hard evidence for this "one consciousness" or be exposed as merely mouthing another silly superstition.
  • May 4 2014: Is the 'anthropomorphication' of nature a ploy to get the indifferent to care about it?
    • May 12 2014: It could be, but I doubt it. For it to be a ploy would be to ascribe far too much intelligence to the people who make the claim for nature having a "mind".
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    May 3 2014: "NATURE" is a man-made concept/term. Every mind interprets Nature uniquely, but we all feel no matter what we are trying to do, that we are goverened by its unavoidable laws. We still neither understand nor respect these laws.

    Nature - perhaps this term has been invented when our predecessors have been worshipping the unknown, the powerful, the giving, the generous, but mercless when we do not hear, ignore, or never learn...

    What is this, you call Nature? Our direct environment or the world that we may never see as it is?
    • May 4 2014: Yes.
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        May 4 2014: Bryan, I think we agree on something here. Our typical human tendency towards anthropomorphism, or personification of everything we see does not prove that Nature possesses our limited human abilities to think,or our sense of ethics or any other features..Attributing our own human characteristics to anything other than a human being is based on our perpetual fantasies and this lead us to endless confusions.

        However, we're a tiny natural event on its mighty stage, and even if not at all "normal" or typical, our minds and bodies are its unique expression.
        • May 4 2014: We are certainly within and part of nature. We're a part that might have the capacity to intentionally redirect its impact. If we really ought to leave things to following the "natural" way, we should simply embrace famines, plagues, wars, and local environmental destruction/realignment and celebrate them. Those are natural things. Grazers come along and strip the land? It naturally changes into something inhospitable to grazers. A herd or pack becomes too large for local sustainability, it naturally starves (dies) back down. We don't want the wilderness. We want managed. We want a garden. The trick is that gardening is very challenging, you have to be flexible and not rigid in your methods.
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    May 3 2014: well, is nature the sum total of all the entities that compose it? All the humans, animals, plants, rocks, air, and so on? But if some of the entities composing nature do care, say I care that the dinosaurs died, how does that affect your assertions?
    • May 3 2014: No.

      However, since you've proved yourself to not be a dimwit, I shall elaborate. Metaphor is lovely. I adore metaphor. I use metaphor. I have even used metaphor within the context of peer-reviewed scientific papers (and the metaphors passed muster). That being acknowledged, there comes a point at which one must set aside metaphor for specific purposes. If one is a doctor talking to a frightened patient, metaphor can be great comfort to the patient. When one takes off the doctor's coat and puts on the surgeon's scrubs, one sets aside metaphor in order to perform difficult surgery with greater clarity.

      Individual organisms (not just humans) can and do care. They are part of "nature". That does not give "nature", in and of itself, an sort of mind or capacity to care. Indeed, if one starts going down that metaphoric path too far, one becomes beset with all kinds of wacky superstitions, like ascribing emotions to rocks.

      Are you familiar with the concept of emergentism? An emergent model accepts that it may be possible for a composite hierarchical system (NOT a "hierarchy" in the military sense--while the group of animals includes the groups of mammals and reptiles, the group of majors does not include the groups of captains and lieutenants) to have properties at a higher level of organization that are not trivially deduceable from the properties of lower levels. Such properties need not always be "positive" in the sense of acquiring a new trait. They could be "negative" in the sense that a trait found at a lower level is lacking in the system as a whole when taken at a higher level.

      Thus, in an emergent system, something can be simultaneously more than and less than the "sum of its parts". A higher hierarchical level is not just a sum. Thus, while I may weep, no society weeps as a whole--it lacks the capacity. Instead, we only say that "Paris wept" in a metaphorical sense, not in the literal sense of Paris physically weeping.

      Nature is very emergent.
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        May 3 2014: well to me Bryan it seems like we might be talking about two different conceptualizations of nature. One concept might be nature as something different from all the individual bodies that physically exist and comprise nature. The other might be nature as only being the individual physical bodies that comprise it. But what if we saw that the majority of bodies that comprise nature did care, then could we say in general, or in most cases, that nature does care?

        Sorry, I don't understand emergentism as you've explained it, it sounds interesting.
        • May 4 2014: Wrong on all counts. Nature cannot care. It does not have a mind. It just is. It does not matter that COMPONENTS of nature might or might not care, because "nature" as a whole has no mind to care with.
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        May 4 2014: well, bryan, I would tend to think that most times when someone says nature does or doesn't do something, or feels or doesn't feel something, what they mean is that most of the physical entities that comprise nature do it that way, or feel that. For example, if they say Nature seeks the path of least resistance, they mean that most of the physical entities that comprise nature seek the path of least resistance most of the time. It's a little lazy on their part because they know there are exceptions and they should mention the exceptions, but they're interested in just saying what Nature usually does? I suppose in this case it would be smart to pin them down, depending on the situation, and make them acknowledge that there are exceptions to the rule?

        I suppose in some cases they may appear to use the word "nature" to mean that there is some sort of "nature-mind" independent of any individual physical entity, or entities. In this case, depending on the situation, it might be good to pin them down as well, to ascertain what they mean by this "nature-mind," it may be that they think nature often just acts somewhat in groups, and that the members of the group all influence each other, and somewhat think or act cohesively,or harmoniously. Which seems true?
        • May 12 2014: Plants don't have minds. Rocks don't have minds NATURE DOES NOT CARE. Nature has no plan. NATURE HAS NO INNATE BALANCE. Nature just is. There is no "proper balance of nature". The "balance of nature" is whatever situation happens to exist at any given moment. Things die. Sometimes, LOTS of things die and humans have NOTHING to do with it. Did we cause the great extinctions of earlier geological eras? Who did nature punish for them? After all, the superstitious ninnies who natter on about the "balance of nature" also blabber about nature "punishing" us for our misdeeds.

          Nature does not have a balance. Nature does not have a mind. Nature does not punish.
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        May 12 2014: Well, plants probably do respond to external events, though, don't they, Bryan? For instance, if you pump a bunch of air pollution into the air, don't plants become less healthy? Well, I would say with the great extinctions of earlier ages, the creatures affected didn't have the intelligence to change the situation, or they didn't do too much to cause it in the first place. Whereas humans have gotten so good at affecting the environment, and at changing how they affect the environment, that if the environment is bad you can somewhat blame human beings? Blame them for causing it and blame them for not finding a way not to cause it?

        Yeah, I've rarely heard the phrase "balance of nature," but when I did, it seemed kind of vague. It would be good to pin someone down who uses the phrase and see what they mean by it. Maybe they mean something really intelligent, it's possible, isn't it? If you heard a really learned eco-scientist use the phrase "balance of nature," you might wish to know what he or she meant?
        • May 15 2014: THAT STILL DOES NOT MEAN THERE IS SOME KIND OF BEING CALLED "NATURE". That still does not mean that the mystical claptrap about nature "caring" or "feeling" or any of that other silly superstition is actually valid.
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        May 15 2014: I agree, Bryan, there is no kind of being called "nature." I would think when people say "nature cares if you pollute," what they mean is the majority of creatures in nature are adversely affected by pollution, and they don't like being adversely affected. For example, a fish doesn't like being made sick by human pollution in the ocean, even if it couldn't articulate those thoughts, or even realize what is making it sick. I would tend to think that when people seem to be talking about nature as some kind of being, it's only a kind of shorthand, a kind of edited way of speaking, and what they really mean is they are speaking for the reactions of the large majority of creatures in nature, and what they mean by caring, well, some people do believe animals and plants have pretty sophisticated reactions and do care if they get sick, some might use "caring" to mean a simpler reaction, that an animal simply doesn't like being sick, and if it understood what is causing the sickness wouldn't like the cause, either. But there may be people who believe nature is a unified being, I think when you hear someone say something like "nature cares," if it matters to you, you could pin them down as to what they mean.

        By the way, were you saying the milk from a Maasai cow would be healthier than from one that just lies around in a corral all day? (I couldn't reply on the other convo because your comment was at the third level.) Why would that be? I believe I do better on organic milk than "conventional" milk. In California, for a farmer to call his milk organic, the cow has to graze on a real field from real growing grass at least 75% of the year. "conventional" is where they lie around and the hay is dumped for them to eat. About a year ago, I shifted from all conventional to all organic. I immediately noticed that my beard got lighter, which I liked, it made me feel more civilized and less brutish.
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        May 15 2014: I eventually noticed my nose was producing less mucus on the organic, which I also liked because it meant I pick my nose less. I actually shifted to organic for the cows, the organic life sounded better than the conventional one, at least they get to roam around a field. Organic is more expensive.