Saturday, May 9, 2015

Human (&) Nature

Mid Journey
As I transition from several days backpacking in the Colorado wilderness to spending a few days at the American Humanist Association's annual convention it seems an appropriate moment to discuss the relationship of Human to Nature.

I was raised to believe that humans were a special creation within Nature by a supernatural being.  More slowly than I like to admit, the overwhelming evidence gradually won me over to the natural evolution of humans biologically.  We are the products of 14 billion years of gradual, unguided upgrade processes that moved matter from atomic to molecular to systemic complexity.

The trail that our journey has traveled to date, save perhaps the last million years of cultural development, has been more or less on Nature's autopilot, specifically at Natural Selection's whim.

So where does that leave us homo sapiens? There was a (brief) time when I felt whatever humanity did, whether peace-loving or warlike, whether emotionally driven or rationally driven, we were indeed on an inescapable natural path.

Four days on the Colorado trails emphasized to me just how much we depend on the thousand year old technologies humans have developed to survive at all.  Hybridized food for nutrition, specialized gear for shelter, fine-tuned techniques for navigation, even the worn trail paths themselves serve as inherited intellectual wealth to help us amble through the natural landscape.

The point is that we humans are very separate from the Nature that spawned us. We are the very embodiment of artificiality and our attempts to embrace Nature will always have a looking-through-the-window-pane effect.

Perhaps the exception is when Nature reaches out to embrace us. In moments of injury or pain, and dying in the extreme,  Nature sniggers at our technological adaptations and reminds us that our bodies are ephemeral manifestations. Then Nature pulls us back into the universal, molecular fold -- perhaps only then do we get a glimpse of the visceral wilderness that is our connection to Nature's essence .

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