Discovering “Nature” by Abandoning the Word Altogether

by Victoria “Stokastika”

I was referred to this website by a fellow graduate student at UC Santa Barbara. I wanted to state that the first time I really started to conceptually and experientially grasp the notion of  “nature” was when I chose to abandon the word all together (and “culture,” both on the cus word list, with all the other f* and s* and b* words out there), since there is so much baggage and vagueness in the term (see Kate Soper’s book written in 1995, see William Cronon’s chapter ‘The Trouble With Wilderness’ in Uncommon Grounds). For example, is “nature” referring to all things that are not made or touched by humans, or is “nature” inclusive of human nature, not only the landscapes that humans have generated (cities, grocery stores) and modified and bounded (national parks) but also the “inner” human nature, which is often studied by those sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists and and the like.

I disagree with the thesis of this project such that there is a “loss” of “nature” and loss of the “language” of nature. If one has a more inclusive world view of “nature,” then loss of a language of nature would mean that humans have no longer an ability to speak or write or share ideas all together, which is certainly not the case. As a matter of fact, I’m interacting with “nature” right now, whether I like it or not, whether I’m conscious of it or not. I think that we are all doing it at all points in space and time.

As explored in the attached cartoon, the landscapes that we live in have been greatly modified over the last ten thousand years, and instead of using vague words such as nature and culture, I suggest that we try to find more spatially-temporally bounded, discrete terms in order to better and truly comprehend how our inner and outer environments have changed, how our inner and outer selves have changed.

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Posted: Monday, June 7th, 2010

15 Responses to “Discovering “Nature” by Abandoning the Word Altogether”

  1. GirlfromtheSky says:

    Dear Victoria,
    You write, “…I really started to conceptually and experientially grasp the notion of “nature” was when I chose to abandon the word all together…”

    Why do you put nature in quotation marks?

    If we abandon the idea of nature, as in sycamore trees, giant redwoods, eagles, rolling mountains with blue ridges…then we are in a position to lose a lot.

    I agree that it is a difficult problem because we have to answer for wheter we, as humans, are nature too. Are humans a part of nature?

    I think we are and we need to know nature to know ourselves.

    The nature of ourselves.

    You suggest the following: “spatially-temporally bounded, discrete terms” to better describe are landscapes. What are some examples of terms that you’ve thought of? This seems really interesting.

    Thanks for your thoughts. I think the website needs to do a better job defining what they mean by nature.

  2. This is a really interesting thread, and I hope authors contributing so far continue to do so. I am about to embark on a PHD here in the UK with a focus on using narrative and story as tools for connecting children to nature, on the basis, like this website, there seems to be a lack of ‘connecting to nature’, however defined. I think for the purposes of my interest, I believe what we’re saying is that there is a poverty of experience with nature; that while we are constantly connecting to it in subtle ways, biologically, socially, communicatively, and even via images watched on the TV, these do not compensate for the more immersive, out there, in wild spaces, touching, feeling, sensing experiences of nature. And these can be human nature too, but in the context of the natural world in a wider context.

    I shall keep my eye on this post

  3. Matias says:

    I hear what you’re saying, but I think it misses the point and is really unnecessary and is purely intellectual garbage (I do not mean this in any negative way, i just cant find a better word for it at the moment). In philosophy there are ideas that actually bring some sort of progress to the individual and ideas that are there merely to prove or disprove rational thought processes, which may have no effect on the betterment of growth. They are both fun to discuss; One is more valuable than the other, while the other one is a waste of time seeing as that time could be spent discussing something with a beneficial effect.
    I hear what you are saying, if it is what you are saying.
    Here’s my response:
    Everything in the world is material- there is no separation. My T-shirt is a material object as much as the tree in my yard. But whats important here is the intention we place on such materials. If you are claiming that we haven’t lost any “nature” (a self-sustainable plot of ecosystem) then you are being ignorant to the fact of what is happening in our world all over. However, I do not think that you are claiming that, so i will discard it. Nature does not exclude humans. You could make the argument that anything we make is natural as it comes from the earth. Although you could prove this using philosophical methods, it wouldn’t grant you much more than a conversation and would depend entirely on how you define certain terms in your pre-argument.

    At the moment, human interaction/intention with other living beings on our planet is unsustainable and overall detrimental to our own existence. I think that the point of this project is to remind us that we can interact with very different life forms and experience something very valuable through that interaction. Maybe by spreading this awareness, people will put “nature” at a higher place in their list of important things.

    We have to remember that this website is not targeted only to those people who like to philosophize specifically about environmentalism/nature. The average person will understand what it is getting at, and I’m sure you understood that too. While I appreciate your input on the definitions of terms such as nature and culture, i ultimately think you fail to realize the important issue here.

    You say that “If one has a more inclusive world view of “nature,” then…” Are you saying that we should include the legislative travesties that the government imposes on us that creates destructive consequences in the natural world (self-sustainable plot of ecosystem), as part of a new definition of nature, simply because such decisions are a part of a system, which is a part of a body of people, which is a part of the earth? Because everything on our earth is natural in one way or another?
    If it is thought of in this way, then a new variable has to be attached in order to figure out what is healthy nature vs unhealthy nature, and that variable is ignorance. And after all this philosophical BS, we still come to the same conclusion: Unhealthy nature is taking place of Healthy nature, and we want more healthy nature.

    so once again,
    At the moment, human interaction/intention with other living beings on our planet is unsustainable and overall detrimental to our own existence. I think that the point of this project is to remind us that we can interact with very different life forms and experience something very valuable through that interaction. Maybe by spreading this awareness, people will put “nature” at a higher place in their list of important things.

  4. Wow! I didn’t expect such response here. I didn’t mean to be a philosophical thorn in anyone’s behind; I’m sorry if I sounded too harsh. This is cool though, because not many people like to talk about the fundamentals of definitions; even some university folk squirm. Yet, if we don’t have basic definitions and assumptions, we can’t build a coherent universe and our sense of place in this universe otherwise.

    I do agree that “humans and human activity on planet earth” is metaphorically equivalent to an exploding population of bacteria on a petri dish, the most severe of bioturbators engaging in geologic engineering experiments at the planetary scale… I agree with all this, and this situation is not exactly a stellar state of collective co-existence among my fellow Homo sapiens, but I am upset that the word “nature” is used so frequently, despite its vagueness.

    If you asked a bunch of humans to draw “nature” on their own pieces of paper, no one would draw the same thing–whether they are landscapes or creatures or rocks or city streets (composed of rocks) or chinese food (composed of creatures) or whether even humans are included or not included, maybe someone will draw the human heart or the brain. I currently like the “human-dominated ecosystems” terminology, as proposed by Vitousek, Lubchenco, et alia, in their 1997 Science paper.

    One of my committee members told me that vague words such as “nature” can have political advantages in terms of how this word is being interpreted into practice–laws, regulations, management plans, which I think has not been overall good, and I’m sure we can agree on that as well.

    A major part of my research entails a VISUAL exploration of human-environmental relationships, primarily because a huge problem about “the environment” entails human PERCEPTION of the environment (and/or “nature”), and the way how we communicate. I propose to just skip over the University Tower of Babel jargon jungle and let’s try something else–how about cartoons?! How about iconography–the language of simple visuals in which all humans around this planet can understand and communicate and act appropriately, and with coordination, in which ambiguity induced by complex, obscure, multi-definitional words can be eroded to concrete, well-defined, conceptual specifics? Cartoons can also help us laugh and think and do, all at the same time. Because if we think too much, then we’ll all become envirochondriacs. But, if we don’t think at all, we will continue to mindlessly use the words “nature” and “culture” without getting to the specific problems and solutions concerning present, past, and potentially future human-environment interactions.

    Philip–best wishes with your research! I’m in southern California, more surrounded by Hollywood than redwoods. In many respects, I’m sure you’re in a much more inspiring place :-) . I’m on leave from grad school right now… I guess I’m trying to re-connect with my inner “nature”…

    Thanks for all the discussion!

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