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#8 Any Sufficiently Advanced Civilization is Indistinguishable from Nature

Rachel Armstrong

Next Future

December 24, 2012

In Western cultures, nature is a cosmological, primal ordering force and a terrestrial condition that exists in the absence of human beings. Both meanings are freely implied in everyday conversation. We distinguish ourselves from the natural world by manipulating our environment through technology. In What Technology Wants, Kevin Kelly proposes that technology behaves as a form of meta-nature, which has greater potential for cultural change than the evolutionary powers of the organic world alone.


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Posted by Rick Searle  on  01/15  at  08:58 PM

It’s probably way to late to comment on this article, but you’ve been brought back into circulation by getting into the top 10 (congrats!), so here goes.

I think your article is fantastic, but one thing I wondered is if there is more of a continuum between the way human beings have related to nature in the past and the way they will likely relate to nature in the future that you lay out which I think is spot on.

It seems to me that human beings have always tried to reshape the environment to shape their own needs, but only now are we becoming armed with enough knowledge to do this in a less blunt force way that actually takes into account the living quality of the nature we are trying to shape.

As an example I live on the East coast of the US and was surprised to learn that before Europeans arrived the area was largely without trees because Native Americans had burned them down so they could farm and more easily hunt. The more knowledge of nature we gain the less such blunt force methods of making nature conform to our will are necessary, the more capable we become of tapping into the natural world itself. But just as in the Native American example their should be clear signatures that this is not a naturally emergent order but a designed one.

And I wonder whether this “natural” order has its own issues of sustainability perhaps acting like a continually destabilized immune system with the unintended consequences of our actions requiring yet further interventions with yet more unintended consequences ad infinitum?

Posted by Kris Notaro  on  01/15  at  10:53 PM

“naturally emergent order but a designed one.” What do you mean by that? by a god, or by people? It is indeed, as far as science can tell, the ecosystem that is, is an emergent property of our earth from millions of years of evolution, etc. So, now we have very intelligent minds altering the ecosystem, but intelligent minds are complex emergent properties as well…. brains. Therefore, because we used to rely on the emergent property of the ecosystem (and still do of course!) we must look at geoengineering to fix what we “broke”, even though we really did not brake anything -

See it is the will to live, to live long, happy, high quality lives humans are striving for in the industrialized world. BUT, the industrialized world is composed of emergent brains relying on bodies that have adapted to the emerged ecosystem. So, philosophically, the ecosystem is simply an emergent property as are brains, and for them to coexist, it is up to the more complex emergent system - the brain - to adapt to what it has caused (global warming). Adapt by thinking very hard about the ecosystem and how it functions, so that we can, one day, control it through geoengineering. Now scientists have already acknowledged the fact that geoengineering may effect other species - therefore we must construct an environment (if you believe in caring for animals that are left on the earth, who were and are part of the system) that supports the life of both us and animals. This would take great scientific thinking and implementation, but something that must be done, ethically speaking.

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