Re: What Is Natural?

Richard Spear (
Fri, 27 Jan 1995 18:28:28 PST

In article <> (Thomas Pardoe) writes:
>From: (Thomas Pardoe)
>Subject: Re: What Is Natural?
>Date: Fri, 27 Jan 1995 14:50:16 GMT

>> I'll take responsibility for that post. Yes, culture *began* as a natural
>> adaptation to the environment (as Service and Sahlins point out and expound
>> on in _Evolution and Culture_) but it has, IMHO, developed into
>> something far more complex and "unnatural." Because of culture humans have
>> ceased to _evolve_ biologically as a result of *environmental conditions* [in
>> large measure--I'm sure there are minor characteristics, such as the brain and
>> cognitive capacities, that are still evolving--but you get my drift]. In
>> Philip Tobias claims that the brain has become the central focus of further
>> evolution in homo sapiens. Good news for psychological anthropology!

>> Culture has become the buffer between us and the environment to such an extent
>> that *it* evolves in our place. This is my basis for claiming that we have
>> become so removed from nature that we, as well as our technology [what is
>> natural about what I'm doing right now?], have become decidedly "unnatural."
>> I know I feel unnatural everytime I go camping :-)

>> my $0.02,
>> james benthall
>I understand your point james. But what is "unnatural" about what
>we're doing right now? It's "unnatural" in the sense that a computer
>is not an organic thing, but it is part of our ecosystem. It's natural
>for human beings to use technology. Technical artifacts are extensions
>of the body and yet at the same time a withdrawal of body
>consciousness - the buffer between us and the environment. Would we
>consider all this unnatural if we weren't being so rotten to our
>environment? I doubt it. But I don't wish to turn this into argument
>over semantics. Thanks for your reply. I shall keep it in mind.
>By the way, a couple friends of mine (biologists) told me that there
>are physiological changes in human populations taken place. One I
>hadn't heard was that we are apparently losing our small toes as
>generations pass. There ya go, eh?

>Thomas Pardoe
>Carleton University
>I am the slime oozing out from your TV set.
> - Frank Vincent Zappa, 1940-1993
>Email address:

Well, if you are asking what natural meant to Darwin, it meant "without human
intervention". He discusses at great length the evidence for modification
brought about by culling and selection of plants and then turns to a
discussion of selection in a "natural" environment. The central diffences are
the mechanism (natural selection of alleles based on survival and
reproduction) and the *time* it takes (lots!).

Sorry to repeat myself, but this ongoing "discussion" merely argues for a
sociobiological analysis of human development ... and I stand firmly opposed
to this.

Regards, Richard