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NATURE AND HUMAN NATURE June 21, 2011

Posted by wmmbb in Natural Environment, Social Environment.
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Our aboriginal and agricultural forbears were acutely aware of nature because they had to be. Their survival and welfare depended upon it.

Polynesia, for example, extended from the topical realms of the Pacific Ocean and extended to the temperate zone of New Zealand, which represented a cultural challenge. Polynesia was connected by ocean voyages made possible by accurate observation and memory.

In The Boston Globe, via Common Dreams, James Carroll that many modern people have become detached from nature and modern civilization has become indifferent to it at the cost of climate change, which in terms of the predicted extreme weather events seems to be building as an increasing rate.  At 3.16am on Wednesday, June 22, will be the shortest day of the year – the Winter Solstice. Of course for him it is the longest day and the Summer Solstice since he is in the Northern Hemisphere. To be honest had it not been brought to my attention the significance would have passed me by.

James Carroll observes that the:

. . . habit of regard for nature was essential also to the transition into modernity. Contemplation of the sun was nothing less than the incubator of our age. Copernicus and Galileo, after all, ushered humans into the breakthrough of testable knowledge by means of their study — one theorizing, the other experimenting — of Earth’s place in the solar system. The solstice, previously perceived as the sun’s standing still for a moment before reversing course on the horizon, would never be understood that way again. Heliocentrism initiated the maturing of science, which eventually would demonstrate that seasonal rhythms not only produce global dynamics of climate but also hormonal changes — daily, weekly, monthly — within the individual human body, each person biologically synchronized to the cosmic clock. Because of science, we were able to grasp the age of the earth — to know that there have been more than 4 billion summer solstices. Humans awakened to the full complexity of the universe.

Ironically, the accompanying social revolution of industrialization led to illusions of human mastery over nature, and ultimately to detached indifference toward it. Contemporary technological civilization became blinded to key phenomena of the living world, much as the night sky is blotted out by the artificial light of cities. Most recently, the cycles of time have given way to the eternal present of the computer screen — detachment squared. As humans came to know so much, we lost our grip on the knowledge with which we became human: our familiarity with the physical universe we live in. Imagining that we no longer needed nature, we ourselves became the great threat to nature. As our sense of the complexities of life quickened and deepened, our destructiveness of life also quickened and deepened. Through ambitions of unlimited growth, consumption, competitive manufacture, and self-expanding technology, we humans have become a mechanism of extinction. When we stopped noticing Earth, we began to destroy it.

Some cultures and activities retain their embeddedness with nature. Surfing is one example. However, James Carroll’s position is mostly true, to the extent that we have forgotten that we are part of nature. To be alienated from nature suggest we are disconnected from our selves, which raises the philosophical question, What is Self? What is to be done about “the optical delusion of consciousness” that Einstein suggested is constructed? Which in turn begs the fundamental question: What is consciousness?

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