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What is Nature? 
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Post What is Nature?
This thread picks up on the discussion under Your Inner Fish Chapter One, Finding Your Inner Fish

DWill wrote:
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DWill, what you say about stoicism reflects common usage, but I was talking about the philosophy: as http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stoicism puts it, "The core doctrine of Stoicism concerns cosmic determinism and human freedom, and the belief that virtue is to maintain a will that is in accord with nature." This stoic theme of coordination of will and nature is deeply evolutionary in character.

I would just say that the "natures" in the quoted part and your comment are different. I distinguish, as I think is common, between "the nature of things" and nature in the natural science sense, which is what evolution concerns. I also think the important feature of Stoicism is exactly the attitude toward circumstance that it teaches us to have. I see nothing less important about philosophy in the popular sense. I should have made it clear that "unlawful" means not following natural law. Although evolution does proceed mechanically by lawful processes, some believe that it is led by a force or impetus that is not lawful in that sense, but creative.
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Science has a unitary understanding of nature, so the relation between 'the nature of things' and 'physical nature' must resolve to an underlying unity. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus expressed this underlying unity in his famous statement 'ethos anthropoi daimon', translated as 'the ethos of humanity is spirituality', or 'character is fate'. The link to nature, in Greek physis, is that the character which emerges from attunement to ethos is entirely natural, and indicates the path on which the person will live. Hence in stoic thinking, nature is one, and freedom consists in living in accord with the underlying unity of the universe.

Aristotle formulated the logical principle of non-contradiction, that a statement cannot be true and false. This implies a self-consistent universe, in which concepts such as nature have a single underlying meaning. Martin Heidegger picked up on this theme, analysing the Greek ideas physis (nature) and aletheia (truth = unhiddenness), to show, in his terms, that ontology is the original ethics. By this I take him to mean that evolutionary nature, in the natural science sense, is the same thing as 'the nature of things' in human life. Otherwise we face the logical problem presented by Stephen Jay Gould in his concept of 'separate magisteria', the idea that science and religion belong to intrinsically separate realms and cannot be reconciled.



Thu May 29, 2008 11:48 pm
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Post Re: What is Nature?
Robert Tulip wrote:
Martin Heidegger picked up on this theme, analysing the Greek ideas physis (nature) and aletheia (truth = unhiddenness), to show, in his terms, that ontology is the original ethics. By this I take him to mean that evolutionary nature, in the natural science sense, is the same thing as 'the nature of things' in human life.


Having just finished a seminar on Martin Heidegger (and written my final seminar paper on aletheia), I'm really curious about where you're getting your support for this conclusion. I've found that Heidegger is almost never interpreted in the same way by any two people, but your conclusion seems anti-Heideggerian to me, not an extension of him.


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Hi Indigo. The claim 'ontology is the original ethics' comes from Heidegger's 1946 Letter on Humanism. The ideas of physis and aletheia are discussed, together with logos, the third person of the existential trinity, in the Introduction to Metaphysics. IM discusses physis as 'that which emerges and endures', in terms of Parmenides' observation that there is only one reality. In his trinitarian atheism, Heidegger identifies the meaning of being as found in the unity of physis, logos and aletheia - nature, language and truth, or emergence, connection and openness. In Being and Time, his main work, Heidegger contrasts the scientific and humanistic perspectives (present at hand and ready to hand), as different ways we engage with nature, but these different ways of engagement point back to a primordial existential unity. My point is that for Heidegger, authentic human nature is grounded in physical reality, so the suggestion that 'the nature of things' in human life requires a separate concept of nature from evolution seems inauthentic. You are right that Heidegger has been interpreted differently, notably in the relativist post-modern views of Rorty and Derrida. I disagree with them.



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Post Re: What is Nature?
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Science has a unitary understanding of nature, so the relation between 'the nature of things' and 'physical nature' must resolve to an underlying unity.

You can't mean the modern sciences of biology, zoology, etc., can you Robert? This is not a scientific topic but a philosophical one. If scientists use the word "nature" as a shorthand or informally, they surely do not mean to also cover those particular characteristics of a single species that we summarize under the term culture. The dispute here is not with the assertion of an underlying unity; that may be established in some way, at some point. But this involves a synthesis that is still a gleam in the eye of some scientist-philosophers.
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Mon Jun 02, 2008 9:22 pm
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As I read scientist-philosophers such as Dawkins and Gould, and I think Shubin, they argue that the self-consistent universe described by natural science also encompasses human culture, and therefore that laws of the evolution of life apply to human culture. For example, Shubin cites as a law that every organism has parental stock. This may seem a no-brainer, but on it zoology has built a remarkable picture of the evolution of life.

Of course people are free to behave in ways not strongly determined by science, but this does not mean our behaviour is not caused, or that we inhabit a 'nature' that is somehow separate from material nature. This issue is at the root of the dispute between science and religion, in that religion claims access to a miraculous 'special revelation' whereby human life is somehow separated from the context of natural science, while science says that consistency means all culture obeys the laws of science. So I do think scientists claim that when they categorise nature, human culture has its place within the overall scheme, described by taxonomy, phylogeny and more specific empirical methods. As I see it, recognising this natural context of culture is a key to overcoming the alienation of humanity from nature, and also of understanding such mythic narratives as the fall from grace.

I don't think the unity of nature is just a gleam. At the religious level it goes back to the old Hindu idea that all is one. For science it reflects the assumption that the laws of physics apply consistently, and the goal of a theory of everything, integrating the four forces of physics in the Standard Model - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_Model .

Shubin is showing us the unity of nature in the most beautiful way we can imagine - that all our innards are largely shared with the tree of life. DNA on earth has a unity which science is now unpacking in all its marvelous elegance. It would be completely inelegant to say there is an aspect of life, namely culture, which is not part of the tree of life.

DWill, you seem to be implying that culture is a superstructure without causal basis in nature. Karl Marx had interesting views on this. I agree with this base-superstructure distinction to some extent, except that nature provides our bearings, speaking of collective humanity rather than at the individual level. When we are attuned to nature, we can steer a course through its hazards, but when we lose contact with nature we are like a ship drifting onto rocks.

The core message which I take from Your Inner Fish is that we can learn from the history of life about the real challenges of evolution, and help humanity to understand its real place within the river of time, learning from our origins in the distant past to help understand our present situation and choose our possible future destinations.



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Robert Tulip wrote:
As I read scientist-philosophers such as Dawkins and Gould, and I think Shubin, they argue that the self-consistent universe described by natural science also encompasses human culture, and therefore that laws of the evolution of life apply to human culture. For example, Shubin cites as a law that every organism has parental stock. This may seem a no-brainer, but on it zoology has built a remarkable picture of the evolution of life.


Robert, we're probably just going to have to settle on areas of disagreement. I know of no scientifc laws whereby the changes in culture, economics, politics, and so on are explained much less predicted. Shubin's law pertains to biology, and as a careful scientist he wouldn't make claims he hasn't been able to test.

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Of course people are free to behave in ways not strongly determined by science, but this does not mean our behaviour is not caused, or that we inhabit a 'nature' that is somehow separate from material nature.

Yes, this freedom to act nondeterministically (emergently, in the moment) is what makes cultural "evolution" a tenuous scientific project. The matters of whether our behavior is caused somehow, and how far we are out of the reach of nature, are just academic next to this.
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while science says that consistency means all culture obeys the laws of science.

This is exactly what I very strongly doubt: that science has established this or even anywhere makes this claim. You talk about "implications" of science, but these are at some remove from the science itself, and are your own.
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For science it reflects the assumption that the laws of physics apply consistently, and the goal of a theory of everything, integrating the four forces of physics in the Standard Model

But this theory of everything or string theory is not an assumption; it is the very thing that still needs to be proved. And there is considerable doubt that everything in the universe can be reduced to particles in motion, which would defeat the theory of everything.
Quote:
Shubin is showing us the unity of nature in the most beautiful way we can imagine - that all our innards are largely shared with the tree of life. DNA on earth has a unity which science is now unpacking in all its marvelous elegance. It would be completely inelegant to say there is an aspect of life, namely culture, which is not part of the tree of life.

This is of course well said, Robert, but what does elegance have to do with it? It's really about nitty-gritty things such as organisms having sex and producing offspring that have to compete for limited food. That's all it's really about on Shubin's level. Cultural forms do not have sex and compete for food or survival (I already know that you will say they do the latter, but it's not the same)
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DWill, you seem to be implying that culture is a superstructure without causal basis in nature.

The causal basis that I care about is the causal basis in humans. Humans have been able to construct a culture in the first place by being able to operate at a greater remove from nature.
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The core message which I take from Your Inner Fish is that we can learn from the history of life about the real challenges of evolution, and help humanity to understand its real place within the river of time, learning from our origins in the distant past to help understand our present situation and choose our possible future destinations

Have you read the last chapter of the Inner Ape book? De Waal makes some interesting observations on the prospects of future evolution of our species. He says that the natural pressures that drive evolution are mostly removed in our case.

DWill


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Fri Jun 06, 2008 10:21 pm
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Beautifully said, Will.


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DWill wrote:
I know of no scientific laws whereby the changes in culture, economics, politics, and so on are explained much less predicted.
A good example was the conquest of the USA by Europe. Native Americans saw the superior technology and predicted their land would be stolen. This is indicative of the operation of evolution in culture and politics



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