Nature In The Third Millennium
Clearly, the idea of nature is semantically and conceptually conflicted. If we think of nature as meaningful across multiple temporal and spatial scales, from the cosmic to the subatomic, then we can also understand that our dysfunctional relations are due in part to our lack of either the ability or the commitment to integrate knowledge of nature across scales. Contemporary thinkers argue that the hold of ancient dreams, especially the return to the Garden, must be put behind. And the failed idea of nature inherited from classical science must be replaced by alternative ways of conceptualizing nature and our place therein.
Some of these emerging ideas were first broached in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by alternative voices such Henry David Thoreau and Aldo Leopold, and then more vigorously in the latter part of the twentieth century by Ilya Prigogine and Edward O. Wilson. Thoreau argued that the best humankind could hope for was a sympathy with the intelligence of nature rather than sure and certain knowledge. Leopold, observing the destruction of nature at an unprecedented scale, argued that humans should think of themselves as citizens of the land community rather than as the conquerors of nature. Near the end of the century Prigogine argued that humankind must, for the first time in its history, engage the evolved complexity of the natural world in dialogue, as a conversational partner. And Wilson made clear that humankind's actions over the first few decades of the new millennium would have profound consequences for the future of life.
As a linguistically reflexive, naturally evolved yet culturally self-conscious species, we might yet find our way into more tenable and less destructive notions of nature. But the challenge is enormous. How might we break free of the notion that we are the dominators of a brute, blind, material world of nature into an idea that leads us to restore some sense of ourselves as natural creatures, living in harmony with nature, while also retaining our distinctive cultural identity? There is no ready answer. Perhaps we will come to know the idea of nature more fully when we have come more fully to realize the enormity of time and our own historicity. There are reasons to think, as we enter the twenty-first century, that humankind might come to embrace an idea of nature that includes ourselves as cognizing subjects within it while not reducing ourselves to it.
See also Aristotelianism; Biology; Development; Ecology; Evolution; Life; Life Cycle; Natural History; Naturphilosophie; Newtonianism; Organicism; Physics; Science, History of; Scientific Revolution; State of Nature.
Aczel, Amir D. God's Equation: Einstein, Relativity, and the Expanding Universe. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1999.
Bernstein, Richard J. Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983.
Cohen, I. Bernard. Revolution in Science. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1985.
Collingwood, R. G. The Idea of Nature. Oxford: Clarendon, 1939.
Darwin, Charles. The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. London: John Murray, 1871.
Einstein, Albert. Ideas and Opinions. Translated by Sonja Bargmann. Rev. ed. New York: Modern Library, 1994.
Evernden, Neil. The Social Creation of Nature. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.
Firor, John. The Changing Atmosphere: A Global Challenge. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1990.
Glacken, Clarence J. Traces on the Rhodian Shore: Nature and Culture in Western Thought from Ancient Times to the End of the Eighteenth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967.
Kirk, G. S., J. E. Raven, and M. Schofield. The Presocratic Philosophers: A Critical History with a Selection of Texts. 2nd ed. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1983.
Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1996.
Lederman, Leon M. The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question? New York: Dell, 1993.
Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac: With Essays on Conservation from Round River. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1970.
Levin, Simon A. Fragile Dominion: Complexity and the Commons. Reading, Mass.: Perseus, 1999.
Mayr, Ernst. The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution, and Inheritance. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982.
Merchant, Carolyn. The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution. New York: Harper and Row, 1980.
——. Earthcare: Women and the Environment. New York: Routledge, 1990.
Oelschlaeger, Max. The Idea of Wilderness: From Prehistory to the Age of Ecology. New Haven, Conn., and London: Yale University Press, 1991.
Prigogine, Ilya. From Being to Becoming: Time and Complexity in the Physical Sciences. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1980.
Prigogine, Ilya, and Isabelle Stengers. Order Out of Chaos: Man's New Dialogue with Nature. New York: Bantam, 1984.
Rees, Martin J. Our Final Hour: A Scientist's Warning: How Terror, Error, and Environmental Disaster Threaten Humankind's Future in This Century—On Earth and Beyond. New York: Basic Books, 2003.
Williams, Raymond. Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.
Wilson, Edward O. The Diversity of Life. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992.
——. The Future of Life. New York: Knopf, 2002.