HJ Tan

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What is nature? What is natural? Is human part of nature? Should all acts of men be considered "natural" therefore be justified?

People often refute ideas and acts of human by accusing it’s against nature. (For example, genetic modification) In your opinion, what is nature? Is human part of this 'nature'? If so, then, may we assume all acts of human behaviors are "natural" and will lead to a “natural” consequence, therefore be justified?

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    Aug 24 2011: I'm not sure that an action may be justified simply because it is natural.
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      Aug 24 2011: Goodness why not ?
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        Aug 24 2011: Murder is natural occurence but not always justified.
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          Aug 25 2011: I don't think that animals are everconsidered guilty because of aggression. Do you ?
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          HJ Tan

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          Aug 25 2011: What I believe to be a fair point here Matthieu. Being "natural" doesn't necessarily means being "correct". At first I wasn't thinking about acts like murder, since these acts have severely damaged the interest of the human society as a whole and should be prohibited. I'm more interested about science and technology(more like the grey area). It does seems like every scientist are trying to make the world a better place, however no one knows how we would end up in the long run. Are we driven off the so called "natural path"? What do you think about genetic modification (on animals,plants to fit out needs), or say like fighting cancer and prevent aging?
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          Aug 25 2011: @M Simmer down...You took me to task when I said humans were more than just animals. did you change your mind ?
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        Aug 25 2011: Humans are.
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          Sep 7 2011: Youare not supposed to use curse word according to TED rules of Conduct.
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        Sep 7 2011: So are we ever going to hear about that point of yours or are you just going to avoid the topic all together, telling people how they should behave on TED? It's boring and off-topic.

        Humans are animals. Animals are part of nature. Murder is natural but not justified. Now would like to clarify what your point was if you would be so kind?

        Dawkins is not my guru and should be nobody's guru. However, it would be a mistake to reject a professor's scientific work on the sole basis that he so happens not to agree with ones religious views (an issue far removed from his work). The idea remains the same whether I mention Dawkins or not.

        Now let's actually have a conversation.
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        Aug 25 2011: Just like a beaver makes a dam and recreates his environment around him to secure his survival, so too does human create the means by which to extend life and cure disease. It is what Richard Dawkins would call the extended phenotype. As humans, we just have the benefit of being able to pass it on through culture whereas other living beings are stuck within their generation or can only develop culture in a limited fashion (ie. chimpanzees from particular groups who teach their offspring skills that are not innate to a chimp, but acquired by particular individuals).

        I think our acts are natural in the sense that we're doing what's been done before but on a magnitude that far exceed the capacity of other animals. It's a shame we seem to be destroying our ecosystem in the process. Does the natural side of our actions make these justified. No, we have the intellectual capacity to know better.
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          Aug 25 2011: Well, I guess I see things a little different since I don't accept Dawkins as my guru.
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          Aug 25 2011: As I see it natural is a useless word. Its creates a dichotomy between the word of people and everything else, when it would behoove us to look at how we fit into the natural world. So many of our problems stem from this false duality that places people above nature, and therefore not subjected to its rules.

          Just as beavers naturally make dams, people naturally make language which is the basis for passing down cultural knowledge, our sharpest evolutionary tool.
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    Aug 24 2011: I think the border between what we call nature and not is a bit fuzzy.

    Nature can mean:
    - all living things on earth
    - the total ecosystem
    - an opposition to culture and artifice

    So depending on the definition, your (first 3) question(s) has different answers.

    What I don't understand is the leap towards the 4th question...
    Justice and nature are not mutually inclusive or exclusive.

    Justice is based upon laws and is limited to the human realm (society).
    Whether you cal an act natural or not, it does not matter.
    If your act is against justice, the appropriate measure (according to those laws) will be taken.

    you can argue that our justice system is natural too, so punishing troublesome people is a natural response too, and a part of nature too...
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      HJ Tan

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      Aug 25 2011: Dear Christophe,

      Thanks for giving me a different persperctive here.

      By pointing out the several definitions of "nature", and it's connection to justice, it now seems to me that what's "natural" doesn't necessarily means it's correct/right (or we would be facing a paradox when a murder case is brought to court) , and I shouldn't have lumped these two concepts together without clarifying which definition of nature I'm to stick with.

      I believe one of the reasons I overlooked the many definition is because I first thought of this question in Chinese! "自然"(which is translated as nature) simply meant "the whole universe" ,including both the external and internal world of a human being, it's also often used to indicate "the way things are".

      Are acts of human part of this realm? Human acts such as prevent aging(fighting cancer,overuse of medicine), consuming/producing genetic modified food have been accused by many for being against nature, therefore should be stopped. I'd like to know how you think on these issues.
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        Aug 25 2011: I don't really believe that rejecting technologies is a good idea in general, especially not those who are beneficial.
        The argument that it is unnatural for me is invalid. We humans naturally evolved and started to adapt our environment to fit our needs and desires (in a way no other creature has done before)... And that is a good thing...
        So again: i would argue that the division of things between natural and unnatural is not the criterion to base our decisions on when it comes to our society.
        i do however think we need to take care about nature (as in: not destroying everything). But that argument can be made with self-preservation reasons.
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        Aug 25 2011: 1 day ago: Definition of nature: "The inherent character or basic constitution of a person or thing...a creative and controlling force in the universe...an inner force or the sum of such forces in an individual...a kind or class usu. distinguished by fundamental or essential characteristics...the physical constitution or drives of an organism...spontaneous attitude...the external world in its entirety..."

        HJ Tan and Christophe,
        Above, is the definition I found the other day, which seems to support what you are both saying?
        It seems logical to present your question as you did HJ Tan. This definition (Websters) seems to include the internal and external world of the human being, as well as the whole universe.

        I agree with Christophe, that to reject technologies would be unnatural, because we, as humans who are naturally part of the whole, have minds that are capable of creating and contributing to our evolution. I think it is a good thing to adapt our environment, and we need to do it in a way that does not challenge the environment in relation to other parts of the whole.
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          HJ Tan

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          Aug 25 2011: Can't agree more. Although it would be hard to tell whether a new technology will be beneficial at it's experimenting stage, I guess we'll have to prove that through time. Let's hope we can have the wisdom by then, and hopefully come up with more solution to make the world a more sustainable place to live in. Thankyou for sharing your thoughts Colleen! Cheers~ =)
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    Aug 24 2011: Definition of nature: "The inherent character or basic constitution of a person or thing...a creative and controlling force in the universe...an inner force or the sum of such forces in an individual...a kind or class usu. distinguished by fundamental or essential characteristics...the physical constitution or drives of an organism...spontaneous attitude...the external world in its entirety..."

    According to the definition, it seems that humans are part of nature. "If so, then may we assume all acts of human behaviors are "natural" and will lead to a "natural" consequence, therefore be justified?

    If we look at the definition pertaining to "a creative and controling force in the universe"..."drives of an organism"..and "the external world in its entirety" could we then assume that humans, as part of the whole have some creativity and control over the evolution of the world in its entirety? Can we, as a whole organism be more creative in addressing those behaviors that are not good for the whole, and therefor not justified? It seems to me that this would be the natural thing to do:>)
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      Aug 24 2011: I don't think so.
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        Aug 25 2011: Helen,
        What do you mean? You don't agree with part or the whole comment? You have another idea?
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          Aug 25 2011: She'll let you know after posting four cryptic messages.
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          Aug 28 2011: Dear Steen,
          That's a very difficult question for me.
          Ultimately, we don't have solution for this matter..I think.
          Definitions and words have INNER problem..I think.
          So, If we have to solve this problem to better way,
          I think it's important that people's consent of definition.
          So, we have to many discussion about definitions and words to give more clear meaning.

          Sorry, maybe my expression of my opinion has many many problem.
          It's very though work for me..to express my opinion in English.
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        Aug 27 2011: We all have the problem about definitions and words..

        These definitions and words have a inner limits to express real world.

        And Tan's Question has same limit and problem. I think.
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          Aug 27 2011: Jang,
          Yes. We all have problems about definitions and words, and our definitions and words have limits. How can we solve this problem?
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          Aug 28 2011: Dear Jang,
          It is a difficult challenge for all of us. You are right...we have to have discussions about definitions and words to give more clear meaning. Thank you for your valuable opinion:>)

          If you have time and interest, I am interested in your opinion on this Ted talk:
          "How can we cultivate courageous, non-violent dialogue between youth and power- Alex Blanes"
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    Aug 24 2011: I think it's a definition problem :)
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      Aug 24 2011: Dear Jang,
      We must be telepathically connected!!! At the same time you were writing "it's a definition problem", I was writing the definition...I LOVE it!

      Do you think it's a "definition problem"? Or is it our interpretation as individuals that causes the challenge? The definition seems pretty clear to me:>)
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        Aug 27 2011: :) I think it's a definition problem..I'm a Korean and I really don't familiar to English.

        But I think it's clear to Tan's Message has problem.

        I think Tan has problem with English as it has mime..

        Sorry about my English grammar. I visit this site for my English skill..
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          Aug 27 2011: Dear Jang,
          I will practice english skill, and explore this topic with you if you want. I think I understand HJ Tan, and we seem to agree.

          Why do you think the definition is a problem? Do you understand his questions, and how the questions may be important to us?
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        Aug 28 2011: Dear Steen,
        First, Thanks for your suggestion. I'm very pleased to your kindness.

        I think he's question is metaphysical, and so It has no ultimate answer.
        People have preferrence for this question each other, and there's no right answer.

        In my opinion, of coursely human is part of nature, but that's not meaning
        of we assume all acts of human behaviors are natural.
        Our science has been amazingly progressd, but that is not meaning it's going right way.
        And "right way" is no where. We human being has no ultimate goal except to survive, I think.
        So, everything except survive have to have agreement.
        I think people's agreement, consent is important because there's no "right way"or "right person".
        And I think there are some noises but it's working through human history.
        Maybe I am a optimistic person.
        Human beings have been crashed many problems and have been make many mistakes
        but slowly progressed, I think. Many past problem is now not a problem.
        And I don't think there's no ultimate "right thing" or "natural thing". That is illusion.

        Sorry about my discursive sentences and my poor English grammar.
        I'm not good at English. I wish to my grammar will progress.
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          Aug 28 2011: Hello Jang,
          I'm very pleased for your reply:>)

          You think the question is "metaphysical"?
          Do you mean "supernatural"? Or "highly abstract"? Both of these could mean metaphysical.
          I think you mean "abstract"? I agree.

          HJ Tan askes..."what is your opinion?". I appreciate your opinion Jang. We may not be looking for one "right" answer. Perhaps it is an opportunity to explore the topic?

          I agree that survival is a goal. You say "everything except survive have to have agreement".
          You think we could work better together to survive and be in agreement?

          I am optimistic too Jang, and I think you are a very wise young person (your photo looks like a young student...yes?)

          Your English is very understandable, and I wish I could speak Korean as good:>)
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    Aug 28 2011: Dear HJ Tan,

    Well I think is a dangerous thing to say all human actions are natural and there for Justified. Justified being the dangerous word. Some Action's are justified in a purely scientific view like rape, however they are certainly not just from a moral standpoint.

    If One where to define human action as natural, then yes all human action is nature. However if you define natural as instinctual behavior as natural then, no not all human actions are natural, and humans do not run entirely on instinct (in fact there's parts of our brain devoted to fighting instinct).

    As it's been said, it's a problem with definitions, so in order to properly answer your question HJ, you'll need to answer the first two questions before you can properly move on to the others.

    I would define Nature as Our biosphere Earth, and human actions as a natural progression. Our actions as a race, and as individuals can be explained in an evolutionary view. Humans are a new force in our word (relatively speaking) And we're causing an upheaval, but so did photosynthesizing micro-organisms some 3 billion years ago. (oxygen is nasty stuff: See oxidization)

    However I'm still shy of using the word Justified for the way some people have been known to misuse it.
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    Aug 25 2011: Something is only unnatural until we figure out how to do it. As of right now, time travel, willing yourself temporarily out of existence, and making decent vegan cheese all fall under unnatural acts because no one is capable of doing it. As we learn new skill we broaden the definition of what is natural. Whether this is good or bad it is interesting.
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    • Aug 25 2011: I find this definition lacking. A pack of Orca uses hunting technique, and monkeys use sticks. If this is not natural, what is?
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          Aug 25 2011: The finer point being that, whichever definition of natural we use, humans fall into the natural category.
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    Aug 24 2011: As conscious, intelligent beings, it is beholden upon us to adopt a stance of stewardship for all of nature and its well-being. Why? Because all other creatures behave and respond to instinct, they follow a natural trajectory of evolution and they live and die according to the innate rules of sustainability. We, as humans, do none of those things.

    No doubt the 'Logic Police' will pull me up on this, but James Lovelock's Gaia Theory illustrates this point well - in that the planet should be regarded as a single, self-sustaining organism. Where, I wonder, are we placed in that system? Are we a virus? Are we a parasitical organism? Or could we be become as sustainable as the other creatures we share this planet with? The choice is ours...
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      Aug 24 2011: You underestimate how developed certain of our Ape cousins are. It doesn't all come down to instincts.
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        Aug 27 2011: Maybe so, but when an intelligent creature evolves away from an instinctual existence over the course of many generations, there is then the probability that such an emerging intelligence would modify its own environment to suit its own existence - possibly at the cost of other creatures, and even whole ecosystems. Such unmediated intelligence is fatally flawed, because inherent greed and centrism would eventually bring about its own extinction.

        Intelligence simply has to run concurrently with empathy, and the knowledge that our every action has consequences on something, or someone else.
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    Aug 24 2011: Natrual is a possible tendancy of the living. Human nature involves the result of one acting upon common normal emotions. There are natural results such as sadness=tears. But as humans get smarter, human natures goes into another level reguarding what's right and wrong. With great knowlege comes great responsibility. If one understands their actions and possible consequences when making a decision...........all I'm trying to say is one is driven my by the nature of their knowlege. So what you know determines you nature. Acting on the nature of feelings is almost a thing of the past in some cases......animals act like that 24/7. Humans have come a long way
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    Aug 24 2011: It is a question that crossed my mind few times in my life and my personal answer to that with my humble knowledge is that EVERYTHING HUMAN DOES IS NATURAL. We are there, inside there, changing things there without thinking to much until lately thats all. Ethical or "green" is something else
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    Sep 7 2011: When you look at nature, be ignostic, practice the thinking with the respects to the ying-yang.

    Unnatural is as natural as anything else in nature.. What we "perceive" or create a conscious consensus on as "unnatural" is a human short coming. Intelligence exist in the universe, thus only perception can be what is "real".. must create a perception that is natural as well as humanistic. Because we are both apart of nature as well a species in the universe..

    "Justifiable" is just another idea, some how we as people automatically know the difference between "right" and "wrong" because we think we know what these words mean... You may think this is "better" or "worse" but unless you know this and that, this and that, this and that about "this" you do not know the full extent of "this"... This being pretty much any idea or thought, belief or fact, reality or unreality in respects to your conscious mind.

    Sam Harris is right to say science can answer moral questions, but that doesn't mean morals are easy business.
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    Aug 28 2011: Well I don't know if this is a problem. If then we are natural, does that mean we will use the term 'natural process' to justify everything we do? If we do, then that is the problem. If there is one characteristic about human beings that is unique, it is the ability of personal evolution and that is where we have the space for creativity. We can self evaluate. And, therefore whatever the definition of "nature" and how much ever we see of ourselves in it we cannot use it to justify ourselves. We need to self evaluate and figure it out. There are so many natural processes like massive earthquakes, sunstorms, hurricanes and tsunamis we do not excuse from our judgement. We call "nature" cruel and a mystery. If so, that is our commonality with nature as an entity and us as society and individuals. We are cruel and we are a mystery to ourselves. Maybe, let's try and define this personally for each of us and then let's share without making much generalisation. :)

    Lovely discussion!
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    Aug 27 2011: What is natural?
    Wild animals in the wild act natural. If you keep them in the zoo they often behave unnatural because they are limited in expressing that natural behavior.
    Civilizations are some kind of self-made zoo's.
  • Aug 26 2011: nature is total material in universe.
    human has two part: body (material) and soul
    body is natural. but not soul.
    Intend can not be from nature.
    according to physics laws a material can not be the starter of a action (move) and can only transfer the move.
    so there is something that starts the move. there is a point in brain that first starts the command of move of a part of body. but how that first point/cell/molecule starts working? it is incompatible with laws of science and nature that a cell/molecule can START working/moving. material only can transfer move/energy/Momentum

    acts of human can not be justified because human has free will and who has free will will be responsible for his/her acts.
    animals have not free will and so not responsible
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      Aug 27 2011: SR, what is soul? can soul exists without materials?

      "acts of human can not be justified because human has free will and who has free will will be responsible for his/her acts.
      animals have not free will and so not responsible"

      what you mean by free will?
      • Aug 27 2011: "SR, what is soul?"
        soul is agent of move. agent of Intend. and has memory and has eye (the eye you see with it in sleep dream when your eye of head is closed. soul manages body and thinks and has memory. soul is not material at all but controls body by using brain. brain us like a terminator that transfers information and orders from/to soul. animals have soul. soul of human is from soul of God. soul is not material so can not be detected by empirical science in lab.
        soul is non-material part of human. for example in deja vu human see future in sleep dream. but according sciense material can not go to future. this shows human can go to future. also Intend. how a material can START move Initially? material can not and soul can. material does not have Intend. consider a robot. can only and only itself alone decide to start move? it needs program and program for start needs a button and button should pressed with using INTEND of human.

        "can soul exists without materials?"
        yes sure. soul can leave body. when you sleep your soul leave your body and at morning back again.

        "what you mean by free will? "
        decide between doing a good or evil deed.
        for example you can tell lie or not tell. you think and decide to do good or evil. but animals have not such thing. good and evil deeds has no meaning for animals. their deeds all are neutral. they are reprogrammed.
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      Aug 28 2011: "so there is something that starts the move. there is a point in brain that first starts the command of move of a part of body. but how that first point/cell/molecule starts working? it is incompatible with laws of science and nature that a cell/molecule can START working/moving."

      Well I would have to disagree with you. The Thought to move a body part come from an other thought, not from no where, like every other impulse or thought. And your very first mental impulse could likely be programmed into our genetic code. And never make the mistake of saying that something doesn't work with in the laws of physic because you don't know, as no human being or group of human beings know all the laws of physics. A Much safer phrase to say is "is doesn't work with in the know laws of physics." Though in the end I must disagree with you regardless of your choice of words.
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      Sep 5 2011: THere is not a single atom in your body not acting according to the rules of physics.
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    Aug 25 2011: .................
    Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto.
    ........(from Terence's Heauton Timorumenos).
    I am human, nothing human is foreign to me.
    If we can imagine gods (who are arguably better than us depending on the region, people and time of the imagining) then we can imagine better behavior of ourselves, and it is every bit as "natural" as the behavior we started with on the savannahs of Africa millions of years ago. There is nothing inherently 'bad' about value judgments and prejudices, it is in a way natural to us to have them and to try to make others accept them. We just need to find a better way to do so, or better values.
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    Aug 25 2011: Good question. Humans are part of nature as everything else. Their appearance changed the face of the earth what in itself is a new step of natural development, an expansion of consciousness.
  • Aug 25 2011: I once heard a quote that "Nature is Satan's church." This is the idea that all life will do what it takes to survive despite circumstances, consequences, or rewards.
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    Aug 25 2011: I thought about my reply and I wasnt trying to be lame by riddling an answer its just that the conversation really goes to the source here. And that is "Are we as humans operating in a certian framework" Imo and some may disagree and that sok I love a good conversation....Is that natural and justified are both moral inquiries. Nature may superceed morality or it may even exsist beyond that sort of thing. I have never been a tree (yet) so I cant answer that. I guess what Im saying is. Do you feel that in regards to something being justified or natural that it is relative to this conversation to talk about a moral framework or lackthereof
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    Aug 25 2011: I heard once this kid asked a philosophy professor " How do I know I exsist" and the professor said. " Who shall I say is asking?" Sort of the same thing here I think because if you ask if somehting is natural you presuppose it is a natural question to ask. I guess what Im saying is asking the question is most of the answer.
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    Aug 25 2011: thanks to history we know that it does not repeat itself, human nature tends to be consistent. since we no longer rely on nature for survival, most believe that nature works against them. we now rely on macines and other humans for suvival. is morality found anywhere in nature besides the human species? where is nature in a factory? a supermarket? when every man can feel the sweat on his brow, the sun on his back, and the fruitlfulness of good soil, or plentiful waters,is this nature? how can man made inanimate objects find peace and harmony in nature? there are no charging stations in a forest or jungle. the acts of men besides that of cultivation and procreation are a desperate attempt to break away from the animal kingdom for some reason i am unaware. we did not descend from apes, we ascended from the primates if anything. is the creative intelligence we possess even natural?
  • Aug 24 2011: The real question is what is normal? Normal doesn't exist it's what we believe to be sane.
  • Aug 24 2011: I think it's our nature to try to improve our life and our chances of survival, sometimes at the expense of other natural "beings". But we sometimes want to be green, or not cruel to animals. most organisms don't worry about that. Are we being altruistic, or do we just like taking walks in nature?

    If we truly want to be green and uncruel for altruistic reasons as well as personal gain, then i think it's a bit unnatural. If we only want to help the environment to better our chances of survival, or for our pleasure, then it is only natural.
  • Aug 24 2011: I often thought about this in conversations around road building and the resistance to "destroying nature" in the process. Always though to myself "The M1 is a human track...as natural as a deer track".