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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Natural vs. Artificial

I was reading recently about the coming doom predicted by the Mayan calender. According to the theory in December 2012 we will move into a new era. Sort of like in the Chinese calendar moving from the year of the dragon to the year of the rat. Of course, some take this 2012 as a sign of Armageddon (which is Christian end time not Mayan end time) and then all of the conspiracy theorists take over and predict all types of horrible things. But in reality nothing so amazing is supposed to happen (cross our fingers). It is simply moving from one astrological frame of reference to another. In this new era, a new balance is supposed to be reached between heaven and earth, or humanity and nature, etc. You can Google it if you desire more details. This is all just a preface to some thought I had. As I was reading, the author of the article about 2012 pointed out the disparity of time. We live in time dictated by the clock, not by nature. Think about that for a moment.

Think about Nature and the natural flow to life:
  1. Seasons
  2. Birth/death cycle
  3. Migratory cycles
  4. Sunrise/sunset time frames
  5. Eating when hungry
  6. Subsistence living
  7. Hunter/gather: nomadic

Natural living is the rhythms inherent in nature expressed through intuition and instinct.

Now think about artificial living and the flow of life it creates

  1. 9-5 work hours (set work days) and long commutes
  2. Clock time
  3. Calender time
  4. Money ordered existence: consumer mentality
  5. Residential housing, private ownership
  6. Existence (self worth) defined by career or ownership

Artificial living is through constructs created to shape life with ulterior motives dictated by external pressures not internal needs.

Now I know perhaps I have lost some of you at this point. No, I don't advocate going back and living in caves as hunter/ gatherers. But I do wish that we could allow natural rhythms to have a say in how we live and commune with each other. What if I could eat when I was hungry instead of at dinner time. If I was tired can I sleep in or will my boss get mad if I am an hour late, even though the extra sleep will make me more productive? Yes, there are easy abuses in this system. I think it takes a lot of trust in fellow humanity. Can I depend upon the other person to do their job? But does that matter? Look at the stock market. That is a completely artificial system built into and on top of other artificial systems. But even it has its natural rhythms. And will it collapse if I take a few extra minutes sleep? Can a company be run upon the ideas of natural rhythms in life and in trusting others to do their jobs? Or are we all that cynical and suspicious?

I watch these squirrels run around my back yard. Right now they are mating and eating and doing squirrel stuff. But in another few months they will begin to store up for the winter. Those who store up enough survive; those who don't die. Pretty simple. Apply that to humanity. Is it even possible to live that simply? Think about it. Think about what would happen if the tree charged the squirrel a percentage for the nuts. And the dirt, a charge for storage. And then some hawk had to be paid for security. Of course the tree doesn't want more nuts; it wants fertilizer. So the squirrel has to find a way to trade nuts for fertilizer which introduces the middle man and then of course, the bank who charges interest on the exchange rate. And now the poor squirrel has to gather twice as many nuts to pay all the fees, charges and taxes (because those hawks can't be left unsupervised and the banking system needs to be regulated and so they need a government). And still it may not be enough to make it though the winter because there could be fluctuations in the exchange rate that eats up all the savings. How is a man to make it in this new crazy world? This is a drastic oversimplification. Or is it? Can we simplify society, life, community, work, etc. to reflect the instinctual natural tendencies? Can we blend the natural and the artificial to create a balanced, harmonious life, taking the good that both has to offer? Or is this a crazy Utopian dream? Maybe 2012 when force and answer or maybe not.


Anonymous said...

Very intriguing. The squirrel scenario is quite humerous but then again, so true to our lives! There must be some simplified "natural" rhythms of time that humans in our American culture ascribe to. Children must be the experts in this case. They'd probably have no sense of time if it wasn't for us "grown-ups." A child can play for hours, get lost in their imaginary world, and gain developmental milestones all at their own pace. Left to their own devices, they most likely would wander into the kitchen when they're hungry rather than when mom or dad call them to dinner. In our society, for adults, this is much more difficult. However, other societies and cultures are able to function on individual, natural time lines. Initially, it is probably very frustating for us North Americans to visit these places, but nonetheless, it does work. In order to live this natural way, perhaps it's about giving up a sense of control and embracing a "go with the flow" attitude.

Unknown said...

Natural vs. Artificial...It is hard for me to understand how anything that humans do is artificial; instead I would argue that any action we take is the natural reaction to the world that we perceive (people react to perception not actuality). I understand the appeal of relating the society that we live in with the natural world that animals live in, however, as you stated, this is a grossly oversimplified manner of looking at society. Firstly, it completely discounts the greatest advantage of civilization, specialization. Accounting for specialization we are not that different from the natural world in the simplest manner of perception. Second, it fails to address the fundamental difference that separates humans from the rest of the animals, that being the ability for complex thought and emotion. The argument has a tone that implies the squirrel is happier than us. How could this be? It is my opinion that squirrels are not capable of happiness in the way that humans define it, and if they were capable of human happiness (and we can stipulate that happiness is in the pursuit) their goals or expectations would have to be limited for them to be fulfilled. Similarly, we control our expectations of ourselves in our pursuit of happiness.
As far as the “structured” world we interact with, it is not artificial instead it is a complex system of societal, cultural and individual agreements between the applicable parties to meet the needs of the whole. Take the example of the person who goes into work late because they are more productive. This occurs thousands of times a day for those individuals that have a social contract based on productivity (salary) rather than availability (hourly). That does not imply that any one is the better system, instead it merely recognizes that flexible and multiple solutions are required for a variable as complex as the individual. Even in the case of productivity contracts a “boss” may get upset when the individual does not come in at the agreed upon time. This is caused by a breach of the individual contract the two parties have, however, the employee freely gives up some freedom of schedule for freedom of performance. As always, the greater the accountability that is accepted the greater the freedom. It is as you stated all just a matter of trust, the question is though, do all people want to be fully trusted if that means they are held fully accountable?

Brad using Tracy's account

Daav Corbet said...

Yes this is an oversimplification, most likely brought on by the desire to be happy with out the work that the "pursuit" requires.

I do find it interesting that in todays culture (gen X and beyond) the way in which time, work, play and living all blur together. One is instructed to find a job that brings happiness as well as the needed paycheck, or one can work the hours they need to as long as the work is getting done. I see this as a longing for the naturalistic instincts and way of life blurring into the structured societal expectations. Bringing us to the point: is there a significant difference or is it in fact "all that humans do natural"?

It is natural for us to build, but the building is not natural. It is natural for us to create but the creation is not natural. When we put intention to work against nature to form that which would not otherwise be, the result is an unnatural occurance. So yes we are natural in our actions but the results are not natural. Hence the squirrels apparent happiness, and our apparent pursuit of happiness.

Don't do... just be.

Unknown said...

Perhaps we should define natural vs. artificial, this has always been intriguing to me where everyone draws the line. As in the example above you said it is natural to build but the building is not natural. Are the piled stores of acorns artificial? It seems from your(and many others) definition that the results from human enterprise are artificial. The implication is that if it is artificial it is not natural. I agree this is a common definition but to me the “resulting from human enterprise” definition of artificial can still be natural, it is merely a designator that illustrates the addition of human acceleration and mirroring of the natural world. I am not trying to parse the definitions too close, it is just that artificial has two meanings one natural and one unnatural, and that play on words can give very different impression to the reader depending on the prevalent definition of artificial in the readers mind.
I could have missed the boat, but it seemed to me the author was invoking the unnatural version of the definition. So one would determine that the author believes that the systems that have formed, as of late (gen x and beyond), are arbitrary. If the structures are arbitrary they would have had to be created deliberately by a single person or body of people? Who is the person or who are they? What benefit/incentive do “they” have for forming long term arbitrary systems? What is more natural than longing for the simple life of times gone by?
Back to the original question, what makes something natural or artificial? Other than the clear distinct definitions of artificial (i.e. supernatural, contrived, imitation, fake…etc.) there seems to be a lot of overlap. Birds are able to fly for the same reason planes are able, but is the plane’s flight artificial? Everything “works” because it conforms to the natural laws. Is all learned knowledge artificial because we weren’t born with it as an instinct? How can intention be against nature? Isn’t oddity and complexity part of natural evolution? Or if we are guided by intelligent design, then isn’t it all part of a greater plan than we are capable of understanding.
It seems the author believes society is longing for simplicity not natural instinct.
Being is the simplest form of existence…doing or progression has to be the goal. As stipulated before, happiness is in the pursuit and there is no pursuit in sedimentary being. One cannot be good without doing good.

Daav Corbet said...

The most basic of definitions which I hold to for natural vs. artificial is:
natural: those things which exist in nature
artificial: things produced by humans.

The 9-5 work schedule is artificial. There is no reason beside human desire to work those hours which mandate their use. Any other set of hours would work just as well.
The seasons are natural. If you want to grow food to eat you must plant at a particular time to harvest at the right time. If you don't there will be no food. It is mandated to plant/harvest according to a natural cycle.

But human intervention can create greenhouses to grow crops "out of season." That is artificial.

Yes I agree it becomes a slippery line to hold. We as humans operate out of our own natural inclinations, abilities and desires. It is natural to do so. But at some point it moves from natural to artificial. Not our actions, just the end results.

Our purposeful action brings about something that would not overwise be. So is the pile of acorns natural or artificial?

I think that we have evolved in such manner that we can see and use that which we feel is going to be to our advantage. At some point in the distant past fire was a threat, but then we learned to control it. We evolved society. Sometimes cooperation pays off and sometimes it is competition. So that little squirrel putting acorns aside for winter is moving towards artificial. And when it finally learns why it acts in such a manner and then how to improve those actions... I think the move to artificial is complete. It will act with intention to manipulate the natural world through artificial means to bring about that which is going to serve it best.

The real question is? What serves us best, individually and then collectively. How do I manipulate the natural world to serve my best interest? Yes good people do good actions. But bad people may do good actions if it will serve their long term goals. And the right action may appear wrong in the eyes of others.

Unknown said...

Agreed….If by definition anything humans do is artificial then anything they do is artificial. I thought in the original post you were calling for a shift in human action from the artificial to the natural.
You do bring up a really good point on people’s actions being for bad but appearing good to people in the short term. If you were to start a new post on how to easily teach others to determine that something is wrong despite the fact that it is in the best interest of the individual in the short term I would be really interested. As an example, cheating, cheating is actually the “smarter” thing to do in the short term because it requires the least effort for the most reward. We all know (via teaching at young age) that teaching is wrong. I argue though that it is wrong, not just on moral grounds, but because it is not in the best interest of society and therefore not in the individual’s interest over the long term. I would be interested in your and others thoughts on if they believe that all things are inherently right and wrong, and what makes them right and wrong other than an overly simplified moral fables.

Daav Corbet said...

In my original post I was calling humanity back to a supposed more simple time of a "naturalistic" existence. But I think as we have both discovered. That is more a myth then a reality simply because humans do create to their own ends and introduce a measure of artificiality into our lives. Some of it is necesary and some of it is not. I dont think we want to give up modern medicine, but do we really need all those drug companies advertising on the TV (do we need TV). I guess the real point is living life by your own intentions, not letting others dicatate to you what life should be. Even when they get in the way of what you know you can do, should do and will do. I think we are moving into a new age where "clock time" is becoming less meaningful. If I miss an episode on TV of my favorite show I can watch it at my leasure on the net. I am not dictated by the networks.

I will start a new post soon dealing with the idea of right and wrong in the eyes of society. It may be ruthless.

Daav Corbet said...

To make some clarity after further contemplation. This post is about the natural rhythms of life verses the artificial rhythms imposed upon us by others. A bit of a blurry line which I certainly over simplify. But I am not attempting to talk about human creativity or ingenuity. Although a created (made) object is artificial, what I am getting at is the way in which culture, society and business construct the day, the office space and the living space. It is natural to eat when you are hungry, it is artificial to eat at noon because it is the lunch hour and yet you are not hungry. Those types of reenforced behaviors may or may not be rooted in some natural causes, but they become artificial when they are imposed upon others for no discernable natural reason. Banking hours are from 9-5 (and following suit so are business hours), but why? because the banker wants a leasurely morning and yet still be home for supper. The work week is five days (for many four days), why? Full time is 40 hours, why? College is the natural (seemingly) progression after high school, why? If a valid reason can be give why it must be this way then perhaps it is natural, but certainly life can be structured in other ways. I think we are moving to those other ways as more and more people are attempting to structure their own lives in ways they find meaningful for themselves.