Thursday, 9 August 2007

We didn't start the fire.

Nobody puts it better than Monty Burns.
Oh, so Mother Nature needs a favour? Well, maybe she should have thought of that when she was besetting us with droughts and floods and poison monkeys. Nature started the fight for survival and she wants to quit because she's losing? Well, I say hard cheese!

The way this post has started off may lead you to the conclusion that I'm going to do some environmentalist bashing, but no. It's just about a certain hypothesis I have.

I find this whole business of blaming humans for state in which the planet is today a bit unfair. We are, after all, products of evolution. This logically implies that all those 'artificial' things which we have today are also products of evolution. They emerged from the human brain, didn't they?(which is natural, I'm sure you agree). This means that antibiotics, computers, automobiles and even the atomic bomb are all, technically speaking, part of nature. Saying that all the technology we have today is not a product of nature is like saying that the weaver bird's 'house' is 'unnatural'. Any product of a product of nature, is also part of nature, is all that I'm trying to get across.

Survival is difficult, and the fact that Nature equipped us with a superior brain to survive was probably the mistake. This brought other consequences with it. A brain that could device antibiotics, could also build an atom bomb. If it could comprehend the advantages of agriculture, pesticides were not far off. If, for shelter, we need to cut down forests, then that's the way it is. It's not our fault. It's inherent to human nature to do these things, and we can't help it. We didn't ask for it, it was given to us by Nature.

I whole-heartedly agree that things like wars are a terrible waste of human life and cause wide spread, sometimes irrepairable, damage to our surroundings. I am not defending the human race, but only saying that pollution, global warming, animal extinction, deforestation, poaching and the like were bound to happened. Evolution took an ugly turn, but took it nonetheless. Creating a species that could survive under any circumstances brought a huge cost along with it. Nature made the mistake, not us.

The ability to realize what we are doing and where all this leading has also been given to us, and is a product of the evolution of the brain. It's upto to us to now make amends. As far as we know, we are the only planet that harbours life, and we aren't going to get help from outside. We have to do it not only for ourselves and our race, but for the sake of a wonderful accident called life. But if it doesn't work out, it wouldn't be our fault.


Ganesh said...

Very nice.Have been wanting to write about this for a long time,you defeated writer's block before I did!
The division of natural and artificial is quite arbitrary..statements like this cream has 'chemicals' and is therefore unsafe,and some other cream is perfectly safe because it has 'natural' substances in it highlight this very kind of scientific ambiguity,also humans are a subset of nature...and humans building a dam is not very different from a beaver building one, and everything is inherently 'natural'
However what people are really convey is that the rate of human induced change is very high when compared to any other agent...and that is exactly why the terms like 'sustainable development' are in vogue these days(no offence to a monthly publication :))
However even if our current lifestyle meant our destruction,who are we to prevent it?it probably means that the dominant lifeforms of today's earth aren't built to be resource efficient,and that we are one of nature's failed experiments:this might seem fatalistic,but that's only because we overrate our power and importance.
Therefore the only question that remains is whether humans can use their tools(intelligence etc) to increase our chances of being considered one of nature's successful experiments :)

Aditya said...

Nicely written GanC, couldn't agree with you more.

Onymous said...

Ok, I was bowled over by the novelty of the notion, and I still applaud your thinking.
Before I proceed, let me make definitions. Let 'Nature BB' be the idea of nature in my head before I read your blogpost, and 'Nature AB' be the same after reading the blogpost.
It is not too good to remove all blame from the race -- because rational thinking of the human brain gives Man the previlege of choosing. Yes, you may say that even that choosing is part of Nature AB, in which case I must say that you mustn't use the word Nature at all in the first place. You could say it's part of the eventline, that it's a logical consequence of brain development that has resulted in imagination coupled with survival instinct. Each species utilizes Nature BB to last out and propagate its kind -- but there is a limit to its utility. Homo sapiens, though, does not have that limit, purely on the merit of his thinking prowess. Hence he makes use (paraphrased as 'exploits' by sympathizers of Nature BB) of Nature BB to his best possible extent, for his own idea of survival.
'Nature made the mistake, not us.'
Well, you mustn't shift the blame on Nature either (AB as well as BB). One must not even say it's a 'mistake', for the music faced due to our race's activities is 'bad' only because it has unpleasant consequences on ourselves and other genera. Speaking from a strictly non-humane point of view, some sort of randomness has been created by one set of objects (which can move and replicate) on a round rock, which comes as no surprise since that set had unusual properties, the mainest of such properties loosely termed 'thinking', in plenty. That is all.
Most of the words we use are humanish. 'Evolution took an ugly turn'. Ugly because it has had a bitter effect (Even bitter is humanish, for that matter) on us. If we start looking at the world from outside the human perspective, nothing can be blamed, nothing can be commended. Everything becomes just an impassive chronicle on the timeline.
I'm not sure if I've communicated my thoughts properly. A memorable post, all the same. Thank you.
[Pardon typos, if any]

Onymous said...

Ganesh has published his comment while I was writing mine. Lol. I saw it only now.

Durga said...

I agree with you. Have you read "The State of Fear" by Michael Crichton? Though it largely talks abt global warming, I felt that it definitely conveyed the point that you have mentioned here, though not very explicitly.

parseval said...

While I agree with the last paragraph, I tend to disagree with the rest of the article.

As N pointed out, I don't think we can apply human concepts like 'mistakes', or 'faults' to nature. It's not a question of unfavorably 'exploiting' nature, but optimally utilizing the resources it offers to sustain our life and those of future generations (which in turn is heavily dependent on most forms of life around us, which is dependent on the environment)

Also, there's an important point here. While the intelligence we have is a direct consequence of evolution, we now have the ability to make decisions independent of evolutionary forces like natural selection, which very few other species have the ability to do.

The crucial thing is that we now have both the scientific knowledge and the technological ability to minimize potentially catastrophic (to life) changes to our environment. Yet, if we still continue to make a conscious decision to allow damage to our environment, then it's indeed very much our fault.

Onymous said...

'While the intelligence we have is a direct consequence of evolution, we now have the ability to make decisions independent of evolutionary forces like natural selection, which very few other species have the ability to do.'
What I could not convey clearly in the third paragraph of my comment, Parseval has done with ne plus ultra. Thanks, P :)

Droopy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Droopy said...

It's an interesting article. But why do you think that evolution took an ugly turn. Who are we to decide what is ugly and what is not. Also who says nature is losing. No matter what we do nature wins. What is "unnatural" now, maybe natural in a few thousand years. You can consider how unnatural it would be to a dinosaur to even think of a mammal dominating earth after a few million years. Also if the human race does destroy itself who says another being will not dominate the planet. Some being will definitely evolve to survive in conditions considered harsh for human survival. Therefore no matter what man does some being will continue to survive.

Mathew said...

Ookie, lets start at the beginning.
First questionable assumption-we are here because of evolution.

Let us, for argument's sake assume evolution brought us here.
Humans are dumb sure but not suicidal.

Once the effects of global warming really become apparent, say after Bush suddenly realises he can no longer holiday in Mauritius because it is under water, millions would have died, maybe a couple of billion.

But hey, there are still 2 or 3 billion left, with most of the wealth of the world, who will realise they can literally 'stem the tide' after all.

Some would even argue it is nature's way of reducing our population since we have no species preying on us.

So basically, all the human race has lost is a little genetic variety which it can regain in a few thousand years.

Of course, if you believe in Aryan supremacy, it's just good riddance.

parseval said...

Mathew, to put it bluntly, evolution is NOT a questionable assumption.

Scientists consider the existence of biological evolution to be a fact. It can be demonstrated today and the historical evidence for its occurrence in the past is overwhelming.

As Stephen Jay Gould said,

"Well evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts."

Evolution is to biology like gravity is to physics.

Aditya said...

And Mathew, if you don't get that, you wont go anywhere in the GRE analogies. :P

Mathew said...

Ah I notice both of you have concentrated on my opening para(inserted just to get under your skins) and ignored the crux of my argument.

As I recall, we fought the intelligent design vs evolution argument to a stalemate, though I was outnumbered several to one.

parseval said...

What do you mean, stalemate :p ?

If I remember right, it ended when, despite our best attempts to tell you about the scientific basis behind evolution and abiogenesis, you "magicked" the supernatural into the picture. After all, there's no reasonable way to argue against that. You might have as well magicked the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or the Invisible Pink Unicorn. Besides, I'd hardly call that a stalemate, as it's your inability to understand the science, and the current scientific consensus :p

parseval said...