One of the most interesting things of all of our readings so far this week is the fact that many, if not all, of them have argued and shown that humanity’s perception of nature is skewed. The 22 Theses on Nature is no exception, it talks about how nature is composed of many parts from consciousness vs sentience, to how past thinkers have tried to interpret nature, to continual flows of energy. For me the part that stuck out the most was the differences between consciousness vs sentience.
Putting nature aside, I think that the question of which is which, regarding consciousness and sentience, is fun to think about. In the reading, the author makes the connection that the definition of sentience could mean that a thermostat is sentient, which initially to me sounded absurd. But taking a second to think about it fully, I could actually make sense of it. When I initially read it I was very confused but when I re-read the paragraph, the idea that because the thermostat is an information processor means that it is sentient, like a tree.
Going to nature: From the reading I had a thought that maybe because sentience is far more widespread than consciousness and that sentience is a “lower” level of information processing, it leads to humans thinking that they are superior to sentient things. While this, probably, isn’t a revolutionary idea the passage helped me visualize this. The fact that trees only process information and change accordingly means that they are only sentient, but a dog is, to a degree, self-conscious puts them at a higher value in the eyes of some.
Because people have thought about these differences, they’ve concluded that the harm of polluting, for example, has a less negative effect because it doesn’t impact humans. It is a very “out of sight, out of mind” way of thinking but because it doesn’t have instant feedback, like the bark of a dog, many people have minimized the impacts of climate change.
Aside from this week’s reading by Steven Shaviro “Twenty-two Theses on Nature”, not many other works of writing are in the style of separate, but related theses; except for one of the most famous pieces of reformational writing: Ninety-five Theses by Martin Luther. Shaviro seems to have taken inspiration from the change Luther’s writing brought about to reflect on the change that needs to happen surrounding humanity’s relationship with nature.
Shaviro addresses multiple facets of how humans think about nature, from the very broad, to very specific, especially in the sense of hard sciences such as physics, or informatics. He encourages his audience to move away from the school of thought that nature is an entirely separate entity from nature. It is not humans and nature it is humans IN nature, also drawing attention to the idea that what we tend to think of as nature is not actually nature, the trees, or the grass, or the animals are just in it.
While Shaviro’s arguments contain many scientific elements that add credibility to his article, he approaches the overall idea much more philosophically or psychologically, trying to instead change the ways of thinking of his audience with the information he provides instead of simply presenting the information. The psychological nature of his writing is apparent in his use of certain terms, such as individuation, the emergence of a stable state of being, contrasted with his use of the term meta-stable, which infers that a system (nature) is in a state of equilibrium, but can also move to a state of higher equilibrium. The individuation of nature is constantly happening as processes occur, leading to metastability in the environment because of the constant gain and dissipation of energy, but could be more stable if the processes simply ceased.
Changing the way we think about nature is a very important step in fixing the current issues surrounding it, but this might also lead to the thought process that issues such as climate change are simply just more processes that will bring nature to a higher state of equilibrium. Nature is ever changing, so adaptation should be considered a strategy for combating climate change, not just stopping it.
The reading summarizes 22 different theses about nature and how we should conceptualize nature. Although each thesis varies from one to another, the general theme is that nature is constantly changing. There is also a general opinion among the theses that humans are not superior to nature. It is that very belief – that nature is made to serve humans – that has gotten us to this debate over how to save our world. One interesting take in this reading was that we must recreate nature in a way that is not in our own image – we are part of nature, but we are not nature. This is a hard point to argue because although the intention is pure, I am afraid humans have left such a deep mark on the world that we cannot wipe away our mistakes, and we are responsible to care for them in a way that best serves the interest of nature, not our interests. There are many people that are willing to do this, but those with money and power will most likely continue to serve their own interests. For example, many high profile people that travel to climate summits fly in their own private jets — this only shows that they don’t actually care about the climate, but about their image and their own interests.
An interesting term was presented in this reading; individuation. The definition of individuation is the development structure of a person associated with their social environment. Individuation relates to nature in the means of its energy and informatics. These ideas only further reinforce that nature is continually changing and has no end. As we know that nature is always changing, we have to consider what we as humans do to influence that change and whether our influence will be good or bad for Earth.
The view humanity holds towards nature has a bumpy record, full of superiority and misinformation. Nature, as is now clear, is not a separate section of the world or on the other side of some human-made line. Our human actions have a direct impact on nature, but nature’s activities are not dependent on humans. In other words, nature includes humanity but is also other things and is not reducible to only humanity. It’s made up of all life, including life that may not be categorized as alive in most people’s mind. The reading from this week brought up some interesting and valuable points about humans’ perception of nature and the differences between sentience and consciousness.
It’s interesting to think about what we’ve learned about from all of the readings so far in this class and the common theme that humanity has a skewed view of nature. This outlook on our environment can be deemed as the root of our current environmental crisis. In all these readings it has been asserted that nature is everything, and though we’re included in its bubble, we don’t really matter to it in the long run. This is an intriguing argument to think about, because despite the claim that we don’t matter to nature, we still have an immense effect on it. Humans are the ones that have caused this current crisis, so couldn’t it be said that we are indeed important to nature? Although some claim that humanity’s impact will eventually be washed away by the force of the environment, humans are also the only ones who can turn around the climate crisis in the present moment, in a manner which wouldn’t take a millennium to complete.
The points made about sentience versus consciousness were also thought provoking. Some things which most people wouldn’t consider alive are sentient, which is a word that most people would relate to life. This reading, however, explains that sentience is something that is widely seen in nature, with some organisms requiring perception to survive, and perception in turn requiring some degree of sentience. Consciousness, on the other hand, is seen much less in nature, and is usually only in those things which most people would consider alive.