Is nature “natural” anymore? When encountered this question in a book I am reading it caused me to pause and reflect – for quite a while. It is remarkable how a powerful question can unexpectedly emerge and then refuse to leave us alone. I began to realize that I had become entranced by a threshold question, that is, a question that opened up compelling new terrain to explore that would influence and transform my own direct felt experience of nature.
How does human activity and the ways in which we alter the integrity of the environment influence aging?
Today, instead of adapting to the natural world in which we live, we’ve created a human environment in which we’ve embedded the natural world. – Diane Ackerman
Diane Ackerman is an inspiring author, poet, and naturalist. In her latest book, The Human Age, she poses a transformative question, “Is nature ‘natural’ anymore?” The underlying premise of the book is that humans figure as a geological agent comparable to the relentless power of erosion or volcanic eruption. Our impact on the oceans of the world is on par with an asteroid’s. She pursues these insights with a remarkable sense of equilibrium grounded in hope.
Direct felt experience refers to our capacity for personal observation, open awareness of our immediate surroundings, and clarity of perception. This is a pathway to authentic knowledge and understanding. The idea of directly felt experience retrieves our animal sensibilities. Intelligence is distributed throughout our embodiment, that is to say, human intelligence is a full-bodied physiological phenomenon. We can feel this kind of intelligence most profoundly when we are in nature, and most especially when we have an encounter with nature that startles our sensibilities.
Ackerman reminds us that the word “wilderness” was formerly used to refer to a wild and often perilous place full dangerous threats – a kind of essence that does not include us. In more recent times, nature has been often presented as a sanctuary of beauty and serenity. The truth is somewhere in the middle. Today we view nature as being permeated with vulnerability, that is, the human biomass on the planet has morphed into an unintentional but plausible nightmare.
“What is my own direct felt experience of nature?” It’s a good question to ponder. What do you think of when you reflect on this question? There have been times hiking when I simply feel more alive. The feeling of being surrounded by a capricious wildness brings sensibilities to life. Our mind touches and is also touched by the ecological surround. And our spirit revels in a mysterious unity that defies our comprehension. To be of nature is to know what being rooted is.
To capture a glimpse of how we have “embedded” a human environment into the natural world we can compare two images of Earth. The first (above) is a “Blue Marble” image captured by NASA in 2012. The second (below) is a NASA composite animation known as “Black Marble,” which portrays the Earth at night. You can also view a number of interesting composite animations that reveal greater detail of the electric night in different parts of the world.
The Black Marble photographs and composite animations offer a glimpse of our embeddedness on Earth. If we understand nature as something not made or caused by humankind, then we struggle to identify places on Earth that have not been directly or indirectly influenced by human activity. As compelling as this imagery is, we are still viewing the world through the lens of abstraction.
The directly felt experience of nature is local, personal, and immediate. To some extent, human intelligence has become biased by armchair observation and the glare of neon screens. Nature is an invitation to reclaim and recover our senses, both literally and figuratively.Perhaps this is one of the reasons for the emergence of eco-psychology.
As we’re redefining our perception of the world surrounding us, and the world inside of us, we’re revising our fundamental ideas about what exactly it means to be human, and also what we deem “natural.” …humanity’s unique bond with nature has taken a new direction. – Diane Ackerman
Is nature “natural” anymore? There is still a fierce untamed wildness inside nature that can awaken even the most insensitive among us. As much as the human biomass has embedded itself in the natural world, nature will constantly adapt to our presence, even in ways that threaten the continuity of our existence. There is a natural essence of nature that will endure.