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josie's avatar

Why do people imagine that Mankind operates apart from the "Natural" world? Who proposed that strange notion?

Asked by josie (27483points) August 25th, 2011

It is a fallacy of course.
We are no less a product of nature than are the stars, the Earth and birds and the bees. Our existence, our consciousness, even our reason and volition are products of the arrangement of the materials of the universe.
And yet, to hear people talk, humanity acts apart from nature. Humanity is a blight upon nature. There is Man’s world, and then there is the “Natural” world. Etc.
If it wasn’t such a weird notion, it would be funny.
Even if humanity could engineer the disappearance of everything real, it would still be according to the laws of nature, no different than black holes, the speed of light, comets smashing planets, super novas, the extinction of species etc.
But the “man is divorced from nature” idea started in someone’s imagination, sometime, someplace.
Who first proposed the curious notion that Man was not an extension of Nature?

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26 Answers

Blackberry's avatar

I don’t know where it came from, but some people are under the impression that we are sheltered, or “above” nature due to our technology, bustling cities, medicine and general capabilities. When it comes down to it, they fail to realize we’re a bunch of animals with toys lol.

the100thmonkey's avatar


“And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”

Moreover, the story of Genesis indicates that (as far as the story tells us) Adam and Eve were the only living things to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge.

The distinction is as old as our culture.

wundayatta's avatar

Religion, of course. Some religions, notably Christianity, made man separate and even gave man dominion over the rest of the animal kingdom, if not the world. Thus, if we have dominion, we can not consider ourselves the same as nature. We are above it.

It’s a complete fallacy, as you say, and yet it is a powerful meme leading to many logical mistakes. People believe humans are different from nature. We are, in fact, unnatural. This causes all kinds of problems as people claim we are unnatural and the stuff we do is unnatural. As if “natural” actually means something.

Blackberry's avatar

@wundayatta These types of people usually think that humans aren’t animals lol.

El_Cadejo's avatar

Its because we’ve become so disconnected with nature. I realize we are still just animals but if you look around at everything else in this world it becomes obvious very quickly we’re the odd ones out. Most people in this world would be totally helpless if you took away their modern conveniences. They would have no clue how to get clean water, food, and shelter to survive. They’ve lost all touch with their instincts. The only way humans interact with nature in a big part it seems anymore is by destroying it. I look at tribes of humans living in the middle of rain forests and think that they are far more a part of nature than we’ll ever be. They understand the world around it and interact with it. We just live in a diluted digital dream.

mazingerz88's avatar

Why? Ignorance.
Who? Mr. Hubris.

Blondesjon's avatar

It’s a Corporate Mantra used to shill Corporate Product. It’s been around since we came down out of the tress and the message is simple: If they rely on nature they won’t rely on us.

We’ve been weaned from nature and force fed consumerism for thousands and thousands of years. This is why there is a McDonald’s on every corner and major deforesting in the Amazon. It’s been bred in to us.

josie's avatar

@uberbatman I thought that the cool thing about human beings was our ability to filter our instincts through our reasoning consciousness so that we would not be limited to them or made excessively fallible by them. If you develop an aversion to living like the beasts along the way, so what?
Regarding tribes in the rain forest. Why is their way superior to the way of techno-man?

El_Cadejo's avatar

@josie One word. Sustainability.

XD's avatar

Not enough time for a GA, but It makes me think of the 4 basic conflicts in literature: man vs. man, machine, nature, and himself. Goes back a ways I guess.

mazingerz88's avatar

@uberbatman Yes, it’s all about sustainability. Agree. It’s to Man’s disadvantage to exploit Mother Nature rapaciously. Actually, there is no nature, as in Mother. It’s just a human sentiment to embody nature as someone which sustains us, therefore deserves all the respect we can give. But humans obviously would rape anybody or anything, a slow journey to his own inevitable demise.

flutherother's avatar

Because it has become true. We don’t live in trees any longer we live in houses and we have gained the power to usurp the natural order of things and to drive entire species to extinction. Operating apart from nature is not a strange notion it is a fact of daily life. To ignore this glaring fact is to give ourselves a licence to destroy because we imagine that everything we do is natural and a part of nature and therefore we are not required to take responsibility.

We have God like powers and the minds of children. We imagine that somewhere are parents who will take responsibility and who are looking after us. There are no such parents, we have to look after ourselves and that means working in harmony with Nature of which we are a part.

josie's avatar

What is unsustainable? No species is going to outlive it’s ability to “sustain” itself. No matter what the human critter does, nature holds the last trump card. So what are people talking about?

mazingerz88's avatar

Sustainability only as far as Big Mama shows up that last trump card so she could cash in. No need to keep calling her bluff all the time.

josie's avatar

What are the signs and symptoms that the moment is approaching. When did similar signs and symptoms appear in the past to the extent that we would recognize them again?

mazingerz88's avatar

Global warming. But that is subject to debate last time I checked the news.

gondwanalon's avatar

Many people forget or refuse to accept the fact that humans are animals. A lot of us turn our backs on nature with our power machine driven transportation (cars, trains, planes, escalators, elevators, etc). Those machines deny us the use of our muscles which over time makes us weak and even more dependent on engines and motors to get around.

Fortunately there are a few of us good animals out there who realize the importance of regular and vigorous physical exercise in order to maintain good health. You can see us now and then going to the gym or on the roads walking, jogging or cycling.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@josie “What is unsustainable?” Seriously? You dont see the way we use resources and abuse the planet as an unsustainable thing? You dont see where this will lead to down the road? I mean come on “the affected area may be twice the size of Texas”

Then we look back at the humans living in the rain forest secluded from all this living the same way for thousands of years. And probably would do so for thousands more assuming we dont destroy all the rainforests…. and have to ask what makes them superior? Sure our technology is superior, but at what cost?

JHUstudent's avatar

@uberbatman You’ve misunderstood. Humans are animals and do what they do to survive. We have evolved to a point where some of the things we do to “mistreat” the planet may be in fact one of our ways of survival. We haven’t done some huge misjustice to the planet..some of the things that have happened are obivously unfortunate, but it comes with the existence of the humans who have evolved to this point. At some point in the future, our means of existence will dissapear and we will be extinct. It’s just how it goes. That’s why nature has the “trump” card as everyone keeps referring to.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@JHUstudent but my example of the tribes is the fact that we dont have to do these things to survive but we choose to.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@JHUstudent “At some point in the future, our means of existence will dissapear and we will be extinct.” We are the very cause of our means of existence disappearing. You’d think if we’re so evolved we could change our ways….

JHUstudent's avatar

@uberbatman That is a good example, no doubt. But wouldn’t you consider the tribesman “less” evolved than someone like you and I? I don’t mean less evolved with the idea that they don’t walk on two feet. Maybe more “enlightened” is a better term…being educated (presumably), needing to earn an income to support ourselves, family(ies), relatives. We live in a world that is obviously more technologically supported and with that some unfortunate accidents have happened. That’s all I’m saying. The way OUR world is, is different than theirs. Are you saying you’d rather go back to being hunter-gatherers?

gasman's avatar

Why do people imagine that Mankind operates apart from the “Natural” world?
Because our minds operate apart from the natural world. We don’t just see reality, we see ourselves seeing reality. That “meta-ness” changes everything.

wundayatta's avatar

Let’s get rid of inflammatory terms like “natural” and talk about the underlying issues. There may be a number of them, but there are some that seem to me to be very important. The first of these is the issue of sustainability. Are we using the resources of the planet in such a way that we will make it impossible for future generations of humans to survive?

The second is less important but far more emotional. Do humans have a right to use the resources of this planet for our own ends without concern for any other creature, including our succeeding generations?

The second question first: there are no such thing as rights guaranteed by anything other than humans. So we have the right to exploit the planet if we choose to have that right. Some people do grant themselves the right, and others say that we should not be so reckless. Some of the things we do may come back to bite us in the ass. So let’s act as if other creatures or the planet itself has it’s own rights. It’s an emotional argument, which is what people resort to when they don’t believe evidence will help their cause.

Let’s turn to the issue of sustainability. Are we using resources in a way that we will destroy the ability of future generations to survive?

The answer to this question requires an ability to see into the future, and nobody has that. We can not know the answer to this question. We don’t know what efficiency improvements we will make that will make it possible to support many more humans. We don’t know the impact of loss of species. We don’t know what will happen if we burn up or poison our environment.

We know some nasty things could happen, but we really don’t know how nasty they are. We know that nuclear weapons can do a lot of damage. But if every nuclear weapon on the planet was used at one time, and two-thirds of all humanity were killed, there would still be two billion people left. In addition, we know that there will be evolutionary adaptations to the new, highly radioactive environments, and creatures of all kinds will survive.

Is global warming bad? I don’t think anyone can know. Yes it warms the atmosphere. Yes the sea levels will rise and weather patterns will change. But is this bad? We don’t know. It could be good. It might make the planet more productive in ways that humanity likes. We simply don’t know.

Conservatives will say that we should stop change. Or make change very slowly. Except political conservatives say lets not let the global warming change our behavior. Liberals may say that we have to step back and see what is happening, and we have to work to put the planet back the way it was.

I don’t know what will happen, and no one can know. Is conservativism the right way to go? Or the left way to go? Should we take it slow and try to minimize and ever reduce the impact of our footprint on the planet? I submit that even if we try, we will do nothing. Economic factors are far more powerful that human ideologies.

Anyway, I think we should be talking about underlying issues, not emotional rhetoric. I’ve outlined a couple of things that I think are underlying issues. I’m sure other people have different ideas. But I believe we can have a reasoned discussion based on evidence and not rhetoric. I hope that’s the conversation that happens.

Blondesjon's avatar

@wundayatta . . . Let’s turn to the issue of sustainability. Are we using resources in a way that we will destroy the ability of future generations to survive?

The answer to this question requires an ability to see into the future, and nobody has that.

Are you telling me that if you open the fridge at home, and see that you only have about a quarter gallon of milk left, that you would have to possess supernatural powers of divination to know how much longer that milk would last? Are you saying that, if the stores are out of milk, you would need to be The Amazing Kreskin to know that the kids weren’t going to be getting any milk?

I must have otherworldly powers because I don’t need a crystal ball to know that there is some dry ass Captain Crunch in my future.

wundayatta's avatar

@Blondesjon Hey lover boy! If you want to consider figuring out when you need milk to be the same thing as figuring out how much the sea level will rise, and what impact that will have on humans, go right ahead. Pardon me if I respectfully decline to pay you for your analysis.

Dude. I can’t believe you said that. Is all that sex making you soft in the head?

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