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This section was my workspace for philosophy essays between July 2006 and April 2008. I call this "Prehistoric Kilroy" because it gave me practice for more disciplined essays in Kilroy Cafe. Also see my philophical blog and Twitter feed.

Issue #77, 1/28/2007

Getting in Touch with Nature

By Glenn Campbell
Family Court Philosopher

Ted Kaczynski's Cabin
We usually think of "nature" as all the things not made by man. Nature is birds, bees, rocks and trees. To "get in touch with nature," you could hike in the woods or stroll along the seashore. You would observe the animals, plants and geography and thereby learn about their structure and how they work. Maybe you could camp on remote island or build a cabin in the wilderness then figure out by trial and error how to live comfortably in this environment.

But nature isn't limited to the woods and seashore, and you don't have to travel anywhere to find it. Nature is in everything and everybody. People have their "human nature," and even man-made objects follow their own natural laws.

If you take up the skill of welding, you will find that steel has its nature, and if you want to join steel to steel, there are natural rules you have to obey. Books can teach you some of these rules, but the best way way to learn about nature is direct observation and experience. Only by actual welding can you learn the best ways to work the metal.

"Nature" is the inherent characteristics and qualities of any object or system, independent of human intent. On one side, there is the way you want things to be, and on the other is the way things actually are. Nature is the latter.

To best achieve your goals in any environment, you should work "with" nature and not against it. For example, if you have gone to college to become a schoolteacher and have just started your first job, you may bring with you certain theoretical ideas about how children should be taught. The students, however, have their own nature, and they are not necessarily going to respond to the structure that you try to impose upon them. To be the most effective at teaching, you have to step back from your wishes and intentions, observe how the subjects actually respond, then tailor your methods accordingly.

It is okay to have theories, but nature alone is the ultimate test of them. A theory can explain only a tiny little fraction of what is happening, and that is why you need observation. No matter how good your theories may be, observation is bound to give you something unexpected. For example, no theory about life on earth, from the European perspective, would have predicted the kangaroo, yet kangaroos exist, and only direct observation would have revealed them.

There is always going to be conflict between man and nature, because man always wants things to go a certain way. Man wants to impose his own structure on the world based on his wishes, theories and prior emotional investments, while the world has its own characteristics and its own inherent needs that may be at odds with man's intent. Man, in his frustration, may then be tempted to hit nature with a sledgehammer, trying to force it into the form that he chooses. This is crude and clumsy and usually leads to man's own failure in the long run.

No matter what goal you choose to pursue, your environment has its nature, and you have to notice it and respect it. If you are a politician trying to get elected, then the electorate has its nature, which you have to study and respond to and not just theorize about. If you are unemployed and are looking for work, then you have to consider the realities of the market and not just what job you want. If you decide you be a fashion model in Detroit, you are probably destined for failure because that's not in the nature of the local job market.

Observing and respecting nature may seem like an obvious philosophy, but time after time, we see people throw themselves against nature, expecting it to conform with their wishes. People are often dominated by what they want to believe, rather than the way things are, and this can lead to some remarkably foolish mistakes.

Thinking about a current Middle East war, "intelligence"—that is, the collection of the data about actual conditions—can often become compromised by "politics," or the ego needs of the electorate or the people in power. When we let politics subvert our own data collection system, then we may end up working against nature, getting ourselves involved in stupid, unproductive conflicts with no way out.

You also have your own personal nature, which is quite independent of what you think it should be. For example, there are things that you think will make you happy and things that actually make you happy, and the gulf between the two can be huge. Your life has a certain nature, and it takes a while to figure it out. The things that make you feel comfortable and fulfilled are often extraordinarily easy, but you may overlook these options for years, because you are pursuing other goals that have been handed to you and are not really our own.

Part of the problem is that we have so many messages from the outside telling us what life is all about. Advertizing, mass media, peers, religion, culture and our own upbringing may tell us that we need X, Y and Z to be happy. In fact, if we directly study our own nature without deferring to others, then we may see that we don't really need those things at all. If we struggle all our lives to attain the things that other people think we need, then we may find later that we were wasting our time.

Sometimes, the best thing to happen to us is some crisis that strips these unnecessary things away. For example, if a meteorite rips through your roof and takes out your television, you might find, after living without TV for a while, that you never really needed it. In that sense, the meteorite did you a favor and helped you get closer to nature.

People can find their true nature in all manner of bad events: divorce, disease, death of a loved one, unemployment, bankruptcy. These bad things can often be blessings in disguise if they force us to examine the roots of our existance and to return to what is really important.

It is a shame, however, to wait for hardship or misfortune before studying nature. We should be doing it all the time. What really gives us satisfaction? How does the world really work? What is below the surface of things? Shouldn't we be finding out before a crisis forces us to?

Without a crisis, most people tend to accept things at a superficial surface level without inquiring deeper. Where does electricity come from? For the majority of people, it comes from a socket on the wall, and they have no significant interest beyond this. People tend to be just ignorant about their own bodies and minds. They rely on what people tell them about themselves and won't investigate on their own. Their interest ends at the wall, while a vast "nature" exists within them that they do not care to understand.

The more you know about nature—both your own and the world's—the better you can home in what is really important. Forget what other people tell you; you have to test things on your own then make your own decisions about what really works.


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