How about this as a definition of nature, and an exploration of whether both man and his artifacts are part of it?
(Please correct me if my reasoning is flawed.)
The universe is infinite.
The law of the conservation of mass-energy states that the total amount of mass-energy in the universe never changes. E = mc² allows mass to change to energy, and energy to mass, but does not allow an increase or loss in the total amount of mass-energy. Therefore everything in the universe consists of some part of that unchanging amount of mass-energy.
If nature is defined as the essence of a thing, is it then reasonable to postulate that the stuff of which the universe is made – its mass-energy, its essence – is definable as its nature? If so, doesn’t it follow that, since everything which we can perceive consists of either mass, or energy, everything we perceive must be said to be part of the nature of the infinite universe? Can’t nature then be defined as that which we can perceive as the universe? In other words, the universe itself is nature.
If everything we perceive is part of nature, then every event (I’m using event to mean any configuration of mass, or energy, be it animate, or inanimate, from a sedimentary rock to a vertebrate to a black hole) which has a possiblity of occurring within the infinite universe must be natural. This makes it meaningless to speak of an event, or a possible event, as being unnatural.
When we say an event is unnatural what we really mean is that we think it may be harmful to us in some manner.
Take G. Nome’s hypothetical example of a human/camel hybrid, for instance. When I think of events which have occurred in the last few years within the field of biotechnology, events such as introducing the luminescence of a firefly into a tobacco plant, or causing a mouse to grow a human ear (the first example consists not only of transferring a gene between species, but between phyla!), I immediately want to pronounce these things as unnatural because I don’t know where they will lead. What I actually mean is that I’m afraid that loss of control of biotechnology will harm me or my descendants in some manner.
But humanity is only one small part of nature. What is harmful to us as individuals, or as a species, is not harmful to nature as a whole: Remember, the total of amount of mass-energy which is the essence, the nature, of the universe, never changes.
I can see the possiblity of this line of thought leading to nihilism. But I don’t believe it has to.
While we may seem insignificant in the infinite(?) array of possibilities inherent in the nature of the universe, we must remember that, by virtue of the fact that we exist as an event within the universe, we are an essential part of nature’s form, just as nature – because we are made up of molecules which consist of atoms which are in turn comprised of the sub-atomic particles which appear to be the basic fabric of that very mass-energy which is nature – is the essence of our form. We are formed from the essence of nature.
Our very consciousness, the thing on which we pride ourselves, is made possible by nature. The consciousness which allows us to perceive and observe the rest of the universe is seated firmly in the brain. And what is the brain but one possible event, one possible configuration, of that mass-energy which never increases or lessens?
Our artifacts are not willed into being. They require the spending of energy. First we conceive of the possiblity of an artifact in the consciousness, the brain. We call this being creative; it uses energy. Then we look for the best possible way of making that which we conceived. We call this analysing; it also uses energy. Once we have decided on how to make our artifact, we gather what we need from our surroundings; again using energy. Each step of the process from conception to completion involves manipulating a part of that total mass-energy.
From this (wordy and unwieldy as it may be) can we not conclude that humanity and everything humanity makes are part of nature?
(Does that make any sense to others?)
[Edited by Czarcasm on 01-18-2001 at 09:04 PM]