Re: What Is Natural?

29 Jan 1995 14:55 CST

In article <>, (Greg Stevens) writes...
>In <> (JAMES BENTHALL) writes:
>> 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."
>By what kinds of processes did culture evolve to become unnatural? By
>natural processes? What kinds of natural processes give rise to
>unnatural things, and exactly how natural is that?

If I knew the answers to these questions I would write a book and become the
darling of anthropology. I'm not saying that culture has ceased to be natural
but that certain *consequences* of it have an "unnatural" aspect. The removal
of homo sapiens from the influence of the forces of nature (climatic changes
and such) to the point that biological evolution has all but halted, except
the diminishment of the little toe and some cognitive adjustment, to me appears
to make us ecological anomalies. Certainly, the nonexistence of any predators
that we have to worry about and the burgeoning world population adds credence to
this claim.

>>Culture has become the buffer between us and the environment to such an extent
>>that *it* evolves in our place.
>Culture effects our environment. You're being environmentocentric. Why
>are cars houses and cities less valid as "environments" than jungles?
>>This is my basis for claiming that we have
>>become so removed from nature...
>You see, you presuppose that our environment is removed from nature, and
>use that to conclude that....

I don't see how you can sit there in your climate-controlled enclosure typing
away at someone half way round the world and NOT feel _removed_ from nature?

Getting back to the original question. Natural Selection is the differential
survival and reproduction of a population [in a natural environment]. If
homo sapiens have successfully negated the effects of natural forces in their
lives, to the point that we have completely inverted the food pyramid that
places large mammals at the top with fewer members and plant species at the
bottom with the most numerous, how can we continue to call this situation
natural? If nature plays no role in our lives, other than an amusement or a
nuisance, how do we continue to be natural?

>Are birds' nests unnatural? How about beavers' dams? Why are they more
>natural than cities? Birds and beavers can destroy parts of their
>"natural" surroundings because of these creations. Aren't they polluting
>the "natural" environment with their "unnatural" acts?
>Which, by the way, help them to survive, just as houses help us to
>survive. Are bird nests "preventing birds from evolving" somehow?

No. But if birds ever build nests that remove them from the effects of
nature, to the point that their biological evolution grinds to a halt, then
I will consider them "unnatural" as well.

just some thoughts,

anomalous james