Nature Cause by Human Culture
April 19, 2009 7:12 AM   Subscribe

Next Nature is the nature caused by human culture. The technological world has become so intricate and uncontrollable that it has become a nature of its own. Scientific research into nanotechnology, genetic manipulation, ambient intelligence, tissue engineering... all of these young research fields radically interfere with our sense of what is ‘natural’. Here's a visual introduction into next nature.

Real nature is not green.

There’s precious little nature left that has remained untouched by humans: perhaps a bit here and there on the ocean floor, the South Pole, or the moon. Old concepts like nature and culture, human and animal, and body and mind seem inadequate for understanding ourselves and the technological society we live in. Cloned babies, rainbow tulips, transgenic mice afflicted with chronic cancer to serve medical science: are they natural or cultural?
posted by netbros (13 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
thanks! i was thinking chernobyl or congo (or detroit ;) but yea the boundary between 'artificial' and 'natural' always seemed rather, uh, artificial to me... altho i would also say humans do seem to have the unique (lamarckian) ability to divorce themselves from nature! it's good to explore boundaries :P
posted by kliuless at 7:42 AM on April 19, 2009

and i guess one of the relevant lines of inquiry from 'next nature', perhaps uncomfortable to some, sort of like using a 'value neutral' approach, is whether anthropomorphic climate change has any salutary effects ('benefits'), e.g. greenland, the northwest passage or, eventually, like galápagos (the vonnegut book) or whether it really even matters in the end if, say, the vogons are making way for an intergalactic highway...
posted by kliuless at 8:08 AM on April 19, 2009

there's always been a reciprocity between nature and culture, (i think culture comes from cult/to cultivate (so nature "caused by culture" would just be...more culture) and the distinction between that and nature can be traced all the way back to the greek idea of physis and nomos, wherein physis is that which is what it is all by itself and nomos is that which is effected by man, a distinction between essences / being (this was preceded by the even more compact tension between fecundity and death as two sides of becoming)). the idea of culture as purely artificial and opposed to nature is a modern phenomenon (or human v animal, body v mind...think I need a shortcut key for your_favourite_oppositional_binary_is_a_modern_phenomenon).
posted by doobiedoo at 9:09 AM on April 19, 2009

The concept of nature is actually fairly new, as far as human concepts go. Nature is not an objective thing that exists out there independent of culture, it is a cultural artifact itself.
posted by stbalbach at 9:32 AM on April 19, 2009

as an ecologist, I can't help as seeing this as hubris-- Designers not knowing what in the blazes they are talking about. It's confusing to me that this spread contains a blurb like "people know more logos than biological species."

How do you have enough arrogance to critique a subject, "nature" or whatever you please, by proclaiming your ignorance of it? how can you say that ecosystems are similar to a complicated highway, if you are ignorant of either?

Of course there is interaction between nature and culture; my concern is that this "next nature" has included only new gadgets and technologies in its vision, and seems to have left the problems of "nature," and even many of the problems of "culture" out of the picture completely. What of all the species that are made extinct before we ever knew about them? What of the ecosystems that could have taught us about nature, but had been destroyed before they were ever studied?

What of all of the disappearing languages across this wide earth, languages that contained unique knowledge of local species and dynamics of local ecosystems?

There is so much we don't know about the history of ecosystems, even ecosystems cultivated by humans, and so much we don't know about the cultural resources that we are losing, that the idea that human-created, "gadget-nature" is neutral or "better" is just "better living through chemistry" all over again. Can we eat any of this stuff?

John Day [pdf], among others, have written about a future more heavily reliant on ecosystem services after the end of cheap oil. Ecosystem services that we hardly understand. In fisheries science, the newest idea is "back to the future," an approach that looks for hope for life in what little we know about the more productive past.

case in point, much of Southern Louisiana [swf, 7 min.] has been destroyed, erased from the map, ultimately by levee constriction of the Mississippi, but proximately by industrial shipping and oil extraction. The native people, with their specialized knowledge of local animal and plant species, are forced from their homes in the marsh, and from what little of their native lifeway was left.

Of course, although humans are the cause, no human or human institution is to blame or held to account, since, in 1930, we didn't understand the geological processes that sustain the wetlands in a volatile deltaic system. Even now that humans understand the natural geological processes enough to propose solutions for our survival, organizing the political will seems like a task too much for the institutions in charge, and we are drowning in our apathy and stupidity.

The premise of "nextnature" is intriguing, since humanity is powerful enough to change the chemical nature of the earth's atmosphere. But this is a website for selling gadgets, and offends in its ignorance of the scope of both culture and nature.
posted by eustatic at 10:59 AM on April 19, 2009 [8 favorites]

The picture of the human high heels hurts just to look at.
posted by Countess Elena at 11:43 AM on April 19, 2009

The concept of nature is actually fairly new, as far as human concepts go.

I'm sure you have a point here, but you're going to have to be more precise. The way you've stated it has no basis in reality. The concept of nature is pre-historic. Just as one obvious example, "nature" comes from the (millenia-old) Latin natura, which means pretty much the same thing as our word. Not to mention the oldest religions all had nature at their center.
posted by one_bean at 1:54 PM on April 19, 2009

one_bean: Not necessarily. Some consider "physeōs" a Greek invention. It reminds me of Sophocles:

There are many strange and wonderful things,
but nothing more strangely wonderful than man.
He moves across the white-capped ocean seas
blasted by winter storms, carving his way
under the surging waves engulfing him.
With his teams of horses he wears down
the unwearied and immortal earth,
the oldest of the gods, harassing her,
as year by year his ploughs move back and forth.

He snares the light-winged flocks of birds,
herds of wild beasts, creatures from deep seas,
trapped in the fine mesh of his hunting nets.
O resourceful man, whose skill can overcome
ferocious beasts roaming mountain heights.
He curbs the rough-haired horses with his bit
and tames the inexhaustible mountain bulls,
setting their savage necks beneath his yoke.

He’s taught himself speech and wind-swift thought,
trained his feelings for communal civic life,
learning to escape the icy shafts of frost,
volleys of pelting rain in winter storms,
the harsh life lived under the open sky.
That’s man—so resourceful in all he does.
There’s no event his skill cannot confront—
other than death—that alone he cannot shun,
although for many baffling sicknesses
he has discovered his own remedies.
posted by ageispolis at 2:16 PM on April 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

(in other words, paved paradise and put up a parking lot)
posted by ageispolis at 2:16 PM on April 19, 2009

I agree w/ eustatic re: the understanding of nature. This guy has just read the medium is the massage one too many times ( look at the visual introduction link) and it trying to extrapolate "green" tech into something that it's not.
posted by bigmusic at 2:22 PM on April 19, 2009

humans do seem to have the unique (lamarckian) ability to divorce themselves from nature

I don't think "Lamarkian" means "able to divorce yourself from nature" does it? I think of it as an alternate mechanism for evolution, popular then discredited then somewhat popular again - albeit in a form quite different from its original.

More to the point - what does it have to do with "Next Nature"? If you consider all the cool new epigenetic and central-dogma-violating biology to be "lamarkian" (I don't, really), it's been around the whole time right? Even in the "Old school" Nature we grew up with?

Lastly, what the fuck? There has been no consistent stable static ecosystem since time began. Critters change the environment, the environment changes critters - isn't that what the impact from Humanity comes down to? This is just bullshit human exceptionalism from people who ironically enough spend too much time reading Wired stoned and not enough outside or learning biology.
posted by freebird at 6:51 PM on April 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nature is just another word for the physical universe in the present tense,
no boundaries.
Descriptions and partitions of nature are labels, languge, speech, cultural product,
Mice man and microbes are self evident existing in the processes of the physical universe/ nature. That's just the way I see it, not biologist.
posted by hortense at 11:50 PM on April 19, 2009

in the case of lamarckism i think cultural transmission, expression and practice takes place with descriptive language (models) -- used i think at first to primarily simulate nature (approximately) -- that 'evolved' the capability of abstraction, not unique to humans, but that still on some level 'divorces' us from nature, like the virtual from the real, cf. gellner or egan...
posted by kliuless at 10:40 AM on April 21, 2009

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