Are We Part Of Nature?

Photos and meditation on our connections

Are human beings a part of the natural world, separate from it living in our own human-made world, or somewhere in between? As a professor of anthropology (retired!) I have thought a lot about these questions.

Consider this photographic example—a jet’s contrail passing (or so it seemed from my perspective on my patch of earth) above a sundog.

Contrails damage the atmosphere. Do they thus represent our human interventions as a sort of outside enemy of the natural world, or does their intervention in the world reveal them to be a part of it?

Here is a photo I cannot explain. As I crossed a street in Phoenix, Arizona, I saw this beautiful filament catching the color of a gorgeous sunrise. Was it someone’s monofilament (fishing line)? The string—clearly some human creation, whatever it was— reflected the light (epitomizing nature).

The last photo I share with you here can be thought of as defying the laws of gravity, or as an exemplification of frail humanity moving through the air and miraculously held up by it.

The question of our role in the natural world is no ivory tower matter. The idea that our very capacity for creating culture is founded in our biology, and at the same time that our human biology reflects our cultural environment (think of marriage as a cultural institution that can shape precisely what sorts of genes are passed on in a particular social group, etc.), may be a very academic meditation indeed. But it points to the theme of this post—the interaction of people and the environment that they shape but that shapes them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: