Flow of energy = flow of information?

Nature to me should not be thought of as this great and beautiful thing. The fact that we are capitalizing it and essentially romanticizing it is in my opinion, naïve. Nature is not something to be thought of as separate. Everything on the earth is “Nature,” and there is not a distinct part of this world that is impervious to the forces of it. This being said, I do agree with the thesis when it says “Human beings are a part of Nature, but Nature is not human.” This statement means that we are as much a part of nature as the trees and bugs and wind. We think we are above the forces of nature and that we can take control of it, but it is obvious that this mentality has only put us in a worse position. Nature is unpredictable, as “it can not be reduced to any calculus of probabilities.”

I agree that the flow of energy is an essential process. However, the flow of information was one that stumped me for a little bit. At first I was very skeptical, as information is something I associate with the brain, and consciousness. Thesis 16 gives an example of a tree drawing water from its roots and reacting to an insect eating its leaves. To me, it doesn’t seem to match up in a biological standpoint, as those processes work in a cyclic manner, and it has nothing to do with awareness or information – the tree has no brain, it is not aware that insects are eating its leaves. All of these processes are cause and effect. But, a tree could not choose one day to not draw up water to its roots, unless there was a chemical process that blocked it for some reason. Information processing to me assumes choice. The tree will automatically shed its leaves during the winter if it is deciduous. If it doesn’t, it is the cause of a genetic mutation, not because the tree chose not to.

After reading on to Thesis 17 however, I started to think about it differently, as it mentions that information requires ‘sentience’ which means being ‘able to perceive or feel things,’ instead of consciousness. I agree that sentience would lead to information processing, but I don’t know how sentient much of the natural world is, other than animals of course. If they are able to ‘feel’ things, what kind of reaction would that mean chemically? Personally I think ‘feel’ is the wrong word. They have forces acting upon them, sure, but that is different than the organism ‘feeling or perceiving’ the force.

Whether trees can feel things or not, it is an interesting topic to bring up and it makes me realize how lucky humans are to be able to process information. It is what has brought us to our current level of domination. While that level has brought down some unfortunate negative anthropogenic effects on the earth, perhaps our higher processing power can be the vital savior to our all encompassing, radically open, ever beautiful “Nature.”

Is Nature out of our grasp?

Humans are naturally curious from the time we were toddlers to when we become adults. We tend to want to know more in order to understand our surroundings to exploit for our own advantages. For instances, since the advent of agriculture, humans have been manipulating plants to be more nutritious and high yielding through artificial selection and more recently genetic modification. Through technological advances, people have bettered the lives of others using nature as both a resource pool and catalysis for innovations. However, we also overexploit Mother Nature because we sometimes think of ourselves as against nature. As thesis 1 states, “it makes no sense to oppose nature to culture” as we depend on nature itself for our successes. How can we be against nature when human inventions such medicines are derived from plants in nature and flight was achieved by observing birds? By that logic, destroying nature slows our rate of technological advances.

 

I also find that thesis 3’s quote about how “Nature itself is always in movement” which is very true to me. Nature will always move on without humans as it had when humans did not exist. The concept of nature conservation is conserving nature so that it is habitable for us, not that it will be destroyed for all life. Life in nature will always appear in some form just as how it appeared out of simple chemicals through abiogenesis during the Planet’s infancy. In that sense, we do not control nature as it is something that defines us and our culture. We do not build dikes and earthquake to quell nature, but rather to live with nature. Like the article says, “we must think of Nature without any residual anthropocentrism” because nature does not care if we’re in the way.

 

Lastly, I believe that thesis 7’s quote “Our task today is, similarly, to conceive of Nature in ways that are grounded in, but are not reducible to, the best contemporary science” really speaks to me as a STEM student. In many ways, many of us tend to think that the math and sciences are inherent truths, but they are realistically the closest understanding of the universe at the time. “The best contemporary science” is one that evolves like an organism because there is so much information that gets supported and unsupported every day. The best mathematical models, such as ones for fluid flow in pipes, all have a degree of uncertainty because it is our best estimate. In other words, as much as we try to understand nature, we can only get closer but never achieve a “Theory of everything.”

Is nature God?

Nature is all-encompassing. It is both our physical world and the vast emptiness of space that surrounds it as well as the reactions that result from every action. No matter whether it is a thermostat who “feels” a change in temperature or the stone falling from a cliff that “feels” the pull of gravity, nature is within everything. Sounds familiar, right?

 

While reading this entire article, I kept thinking about how similar the author’s views were with common religious ideas. According to religion, God is everywhere, whether the physical world or the imagination. God is even “with us” in every action we perform, in every stone that falls, and I guess using the same logic, in every thermostat that “feels” a temperature change. During the second half of the article when the author started discussing nature as information, I couldn’t help but feel like there were some underlying religious messages that he was trying to sneak in.

In terms of my own opinion, I don’t know if I like thinking about nature as the “force” controlling my every action. I prefer to think of nature as the physical and the experience, but not as a “force” that influences. It’s hard to put this kind of conceptual, almost philosophical, idea in words, but none-the-less the idea that nature is both everything and energy is an interesting idea.

Separate From Or A Part Of?

When considering the exquisite intricacy of every piece of nature, it can be difficult to imagine that you may be a part of that too. That the delicate hand that traced the veins on a leaf made the creases on your palm. The question of whether or not humans are a part of nature has been greatly debated in the past. Writing on the Center for Humans & Nature website, a man called Vucetch proposes that “we are one and the same. In fact,” he says, “humans and nature are so intimately connected that acting as if we are separate and abusing nature is tantamount to abusing ourselves.” Yet today, so few people will admit that the natural world is as interconnected as it is. This is demonstrated in our abuse of animals, in deforestation, in the combustion of fossil fuels that pollute our skies. But it is so necessary to understand, as the first thesis of the Twenty-Two Theses of Nature states, that “human beings and their productions are not separate from Nature; they are just as much, or as little, ‘natural’ as everything else.” This understanding is fundamental to protecting the world that we live in as it is in an ecological crisis.

The Twenty-Two Theses of Nature encompass the idea that nature is all-encompassing and therefore one and the same with the human race. It is a foolish and selfish idea to say that nature is centered upon human beings or anything human. I enjoyed the ideas presented in some of the later theses concerning the difference between information and perception. It’s interesting to think that information exists primarily in our brains and in the way we communicate things to each other. An individual piece of nature has in itself so much information but it itself is not information. Therefore, it is important to note that what we understand about nature and the planet lies almost entirely in our minds—a bear hunting only understands and cares about catching its next meal, whereas we have the opportunity to see the future of the world and therefore help it. If we realize and accept that we ourselves are a part of nature, maybe we can turn our selfish mindsets toward aiding it instead of being against it.

Let Nature Guide You

“The greatest danger to our future is apathy.” -Jane Goodall

The natural world is such a beautiful, magical thing.  To think that we are not a part of it or that we did not come from these more “natural” beginnings is to deny that we are not organisms of Earth. We have created, the concrete jungles and other artificial landscapes, is not nature. We as a species are a product of natural phenomenons, but its manipulation and destruction is not natural.

We have completely removed ourselves from the checks and balance system that you would see in the heart of the Amazon, for example.  If a prey species saw an increase in their population size, then their predator species would also see an increase. No one species becomes too dominant in all habitats. There are still competition and resource limitation to adhere by, but to us Homo sapiens those limits do not exist, apparently.  Some of us do not even give nature or the consequences of our actions a second thought.

With that being said, there are those of us that do often think of nature and its processes. There are the scientists and naturalists working to understand how it all works and what defines it, and of course  there are  those who care because it is what keeps this planet healthy and what kept it function for millions of years before us. There are also some that do put too much thought and theory into what nature is and what is the reasoning for it existence aside from a scientific/biological reason.  For me, there is often an unnecessary search for a deeper meaning.  Some people get too caught up in trying to anthropogenize natural processes, as if was created around us. As we evolved, it evolved to meet our needs. We are trying to find the most complex way to describe some of the simpler phenomenons it seems.

We just need to take a step back to appreciate and observe what nature is and what it does for us and the planet. We do not need to over complicate what already exists, but we also need to acknowledge that is there and living.

It’s human nature to think we are unnatural

The 22 theses of nature revolve around the concept of how human beings perceive themselves as a product of the natural world. Some teachings believe humans are separate from nature since our conscious thinking and ability is far above anything else. Logically, we should hold ourselves to a higher standard than any other creatures due to our influence and impact around the globe. I side with the author, however, who declares that humans are a part of nature. We are bound by the same natural laws and carry the same physical limits a natural being would have. Humans are certainly unique and have a special origin, but they belong on this Earth just as much as the grass beneath them. That doesn’t mean people should act entitled to the environment and abuse it however they see fit. Overall, people should act with conservationist mindsets, using the environment as a tool for survival and well-being, while at the same time respecting its longevity. I don’t think people should feel guilty that we have taken ownership of the planet as a species; only that we have been very irresponsible in taking care of our “kingdom”.

The second half of the paper discusses the idea of thinking of natural life as information or energy. It is a very interesting debate, especially as we advance further and further with our scientific knowledge. While science has certainly taught people immense truth, I still believe there is much we do not, and may never understand. This “energy”, as the author names it, represents the miraculous odds life had to overcome to even be possible. It is hard to believe the stars aligned perfectly, merely on accident, so things could be the way they are today. So as society continues to advance in its technological strength, it is important to keep a sense of humility when uncovering the mysteries of our amazing universe.

Stuck between oblivion and eternity

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the state,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an Idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

–William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Macbeth (Act V, Scene 5)

Try as we might, any reason and meaning humans articulate to portray how we understand the world, pales in comparison to the grandness and entirety of nature. How could something as limiting as human perception be used to encompass all this world and universe have to offer? We humble ourselves and give praise to the forces of nature and the phenomenon that lies out of our control. But it is a false humility. We sing songs of worship about the world around us and then simply write in our books made out of paper harvested from the trees that used to clean the air for us while we expel carbon dioxide from our lungs. After becoming aware, we then aim to reduce the amount of green we wipe forever out of existence and instead turn to creating high powered, clever, and elaborate technology created from rare earth metals that we gouged out from under our feet.

Our impact is not slight, though we may feel minuscule and insignificant in the blinding light of existence in our universe. Our actions are loud. Our words, however, are ephemeral.

Nevertheless, the first and most crucial step towards action is awareness, which begins with a conversation. After all, it is what we are good at.

A Classic Joke: How many humans does it take to understand nature?

Humans have desperately desired to reign over nature since the beginning of time. For that matter, humans have sought control over their surroundings via numerous methods. I found it particularly interesting that there are so many formulated these on nature. Humans want to control it, yet they struggle to understand the entirety of nature. These theses appear as another means by which humans think they can control things, as they want to classify nature and put it in its place.  

The train of thought which follows with the desire for humans to be a small part of nature (instead of over-glorifying the human race) was seen in multiple theses. This seems to be quite prevalent in our society today, as humans begin to realize the consequences of their actions with regard to the environment.  

In particular, thesis 14 widened my perspective on understanding nature. This emphasized the difference between focusing on informational terms rather than energetic ones. It alluded to humans having excessive concern for informatics which is ruining our comprehension of energetics. Where nature falls into this thesis, I am not exactly sure. However, in this day and age, data and information rule human society. Nature is merely thought of in quantitative measure. For instance, humans care about the population of a species, the amount of pollution emitted into the atmosphere, the amount of untouched land, and the volume of resources left. I think that maybe this thesis wants humans to understand nature as a whole, and see our world in more than facts and data.  

On the other hand, thesis 16 argued that perception becomes action through obtaining information. This thesis appears to place an importance on processing information, and not just for humans. The excerpt provides an example of this process in a tree. I found this very interesting because usually, humans perceive themselves as the main or sole user of information, facts, and data. However, according to thesis 16, the crucial use of information is prevalent throughout nature.  

Whether these theses emphasize the relationship between cause and effect within information, the infiniteness of space and nature, or the transformation of energy, there will never be enough written theses to explain the different views on nature. One of my personal favorite theses explained that nature is the thing which places the everything we know in a common world. Nature cannot be explained, for it is such a broad aspect of existence. To every individual, it means something quite different, but that is what makes it so fascinating to ponder.

 

Nature, or Religion?

When reading these 22 theses on nature, I can’t help but think of Martin Luther’s 95 theses on religion, both because of the name, and loosely because of content. The way the author of these 22 theses describes nature is spiritual. Saying nature is “all encompassing,” “simply given,” and “radically open,” is not usually a way in which we think about nature. The first thesis implores the importance of considering humans to be a part of nature, and nature as being a part of humans, especially in our anthropocentric age of climate change and general destruction of the planet. Perhaps if more people thought about nature with the same reverence and respect people grant their religions, we would be more prone to take care of our planet.

The sections on perception are particularly resonant with the idea of nature as a spiritual entity. All things surrounding us change us, at least in small ways. The same feelings of awe and connection many people feel while out in natural spaces could be described similarly to religious connections people experience. The author of these theses, however, in a way argues that those feelings of connection need to be felt even in areas that humans have heavily impacted. We are part of nature, and cannot be without it, so by extension our communities and human inventions should be revered as natural. It is because of this we must change the ways the human parts of nature effect all other parts. There should be no separation, and the way we currently live our lives brings about that separation.

This article brings up an interesting point about nature: we are just a small part of it. Nature is “all encompassing,” as the theses describe, so it will go on once we are gone. Any harm to nature will eventually be repaired, but it is not likely that humans will be there to see it. Nature will go on without us. It is much more resilient and flexible than humans are.

Human nature: an oxymoron?

Good grief.  The ideas presented in the afterword Twenty-Two Theses on Nature are “all-encompassing”.   The statements often proved much more verbose than required to portray an idea.  Nevertheless, the overall concepts extended from the theses are agreeable.

First, given our ecological crisis of today, Man versus Nature is no longer an option.  “We can no longer think of Nature as one side of a binary opposition”.  With a continued practice of this idiom, our world resources will continue to decline, and our human population will continue to struggle against a Whole much larger than ourselves.

Second, Nature has always been, and always will be.  “The radical unknowability of Nature is not an epistemological constraint; it is a basic, and positive, ontological feature of Nature itself.  Regardless of the affects Man has imposed upon Nature, humanity’s understanding of Nature is that it will persist past our timeline.  Planets, moons, stars, galaxies, and solar systems will all endure.

Third, Nature is a loose construct with much to still be discovered.  “Perception is only a particular sort of causality.  When I perceive something, this means that the thing in question has affected me in some way”…”But if I’m affected by something, then that something has had an effect upon me.”  And “I am often affected by things without overtly perceiving them.  I feel the symptoms of a cold, but I do not sense the virus that actually causes me to fall ill.”  Humans have adeptly realized the extent of our ecological crisis through the construct of Nature.  Global warming directly swells Earth’s oceans, and species suffer as habitats are rapidly dissolved, all due in part to the implicit nature of humanity.  Humans are the virus to the Nature of Earth.  We see the symptoms, but a virus cannot contain itself from spreading.

Given these Twenty-Two Theses on Nature, I find it intriguing to consider further developing the current concept of human nature.  To perceive “human nature” not as the essence of humanity, but as a descriptor of the adapted environment around us.  Nature will continue to exist, but humanity has developed a perceived control of nature through food production and technology.  Given Nature is a loose construct, I encourage us all to consider if “human nature” could mean a Nature where humans adapt to better coexist and provide nature and resources to the world.

WARNING: Take only as directed

Many of us have heard of a tapeworm: a parasite that sets root in a host’s intestines and feeds on the host’s partially digested food to leech nutrients for itself. A very interesting tactic that the tapeworm has however, is that it keeps its host alive for a very long time. While some infections or parasites kill their host, a tapeworm needs its host’s digestive environment functioning in order to make its home. Only when tapeworms breed out of control and the sheer mass of them causes blockage, impaired host functioning, or settlement of cysts in places other than the intestines is there a huge problem. Otherwise, a worm can live in a host without them ever even being aware of the threat.

Sounds gross, I know. Nevertheless, it is an apt analogy to the kind of threat and damage humans pose to the planet we reside on. We feed off of the planet’s resources and maneuver around the parts of the environment which we can reasonably gain access too. A distinct difference however is, we have now become aware that we are a detriment to our planet.

But think about it this way, if a tapeworm population became aware that their existence inside the host was causing their host to weaken and perish, what could the population reasonably do to limit their detrimental impact on the host already? The host is obviously already struggling: resources are dwindling but the parasitic population requires a consistent supply to keep them alive. What could be done?

Easy answer would be to get rid of whatever is causing the host to die. The parasite is the cause of the host’s misery; therefore, it must go, or else the host will go with them.

When considering a tapeworm, the concept of “limiting” the population wouldn’t even be discussed. The main reason being that if the population got out of control once, it would only be a matter of time before that happened again. The concept of degrowth seems to be the same for me. Humans, try as they might, are fighting a losing battle, we try to rework our resource consumption and find ways that we can hurt our surroundings a little less, but at the end of the day, our own existence and sheer mass of a population is hurting the place we call home.

Regardless, we can’t just kill off an entire population of humans. In the end, all we can do is treat the symptoms. Whatever medicine we prescribe for ourselves is simply treating the nuisances brought on by a chronic condition. The environment has sustained us for a long time now, all that’s left to see is how long can it go on for.

Any scientist would be able to recognize that a system with a positive feedback loop usually leads to instability and collapse.

An exponential curve is not something commonly found in nature, and when it is, it is usually dangerous. Just like how populations in an ecosystem have a carrying capacity, our economy should be limited. A lot of times people say that the economy needs to grow to keep up with the continually growing human population, but I would argue that they are less dependent on one another than one would think, and if there is no stabilization factor, they are both going to reach an undeniable, disastrous natural limit or “carrying capacity.” This limit is already being shown, in the very real threat of climate change, deforestation, mass extinction, population density, food scarcity and the list goes on.

This idea of “degrowth” may be radical and non-capitalistic, but the idea of zero/negative economic growth is very appealing. It is clear that as our economy grows, the amount of waste and use of fossil fuels also grows. A quote from the article states that, “to date, there are hardly any countries who can claim an absolute reduction in material use or carbon emissions while growing.” This is very important because while some people would think that we can continue to do what we are doing as long as we just make an effort to clean up waste better or invest more in renewable energy, the reality is that we are already past the point of human destruction. We are in the Anthropocene. We have caused species to go extinct, we have changed the chemical makeup of the atmosphere, we have put so much plastic in the oceans that it has essentially created land mass. We need to stop what we are doing, and so a radical idea actually isn’t so far out of the range of thinking.

I don’t think that the idea of “degrowth” is perfect. The focus on the evils of capitalism seem pointed and accusatory. The article states that ecological technological advancements are not in the scope of degrowth because they also promote growth and consumption, but I would argue that we need more technology to make processes more efficient so that they consume less.  It also assumes that this new society of simplicity and care/education/environment is something everyone would be susceptive to, however I don’t believe that is something our era of humans could transition to, maybe an earlier, more primal era would be. However there are things about degrowth that I find promising. Such as the idea that science should become more political, or the argument that growth can never produce enough for everyone because if everyone is growing, then no one is actually gaining anything. The main idea I appreciate from the degrowth argument is the criticism of the social idea that growth is a good thing. As I mentioned earlier, anything with unlimited growth is bound for an unwanted fate. The idea of limiting our growth before nature does is mature, productive, and maybe even revolutionary.