Synthesis Forum 5

After Monday's class, each member of Team 5 will comment and reflect on any ideas raised, or neglected, in the question, keyword, response and discussion process during the preceding week.

Ezra Awumey's Synthesis

Our discussion on Monday was very interesting to say the least. At first, I was very frustrated that we were unable to work out a definition for nature. Although I understand why there was a bit of hesitation in doing so, since it is hard to separate definitions of nature from a managerial outlook on nature as Amanda pointed out. However, after a while, people’s views on nature started to come out and we were able to have what I thought was a very fruitful conversation. A very interesting point brought up was how hard it is for us to define even the smallest units of nature such as “wetlands,” or even what exactly invasive species are. This is understandable since nature has become a very politicized topic and certain views of nature benefit the aims of different people.But it poses a problem for attempts at fixing things.

An issue we struggled with was how to incentivize a sustainable view of nature. While discussing this we realized that short sighted business practices and perhaps even capitalism itself stand in opposition to any change in the way we view nature. Beyond this, the way in which institutions are configured makes it hard for interdisciplinary research to be conducted. This is especially troubling since most of the ecological problems that were facing today might be solved if people from different fields worked together.

One thing that I found very interesting was the overwhelming negative reaction to the nature-art metaphor. Most of the class felt that nature has an intrinsic value whereas the value of art was subject to random/individual preferences, like who the artist was or if patina that had formed on the frame over the years. The class felt that an attempt to relate how we evaluate art to how we evaluate nature was silly. Personally I agree, although I do think the metaphor is useful for exploring how we might appreciate a"restored" nature.

Kian Lua's Synthesis:

Our in-class discussion about Eric Katz’s The big Lie: Human Restoration of Nature was interesting and thought provoking. Katz questions the nature restoration policies that present the message “that humanity should repair the damage that human intervention has caused the natural environment” (443). He is right in saying that nature cannot be made “whole” again and that these policies merely humans “feel good” because the prospect of restoration “relieves the guilt we feel about the destruction of nature” (443). I would also add that human belief in technologically restoring nature is a dangerous anthropocentric worldview, for humans could be too complacent about their intervening and destroying of nature if they think that they have the power to restore, regenerate, and redesign nature.

Katz states that a restored or re-created nature is nothing more than an “artefact created for human use” (445). Evidently, an artefact is not equivalent to a natural object. A philosophical issue at hand is our definition of “nature”. What is nature? Does nature constitute everything in the ecology except humans? Are humans considered a part of nature? If humans are one with nature, then are human actions and technology then “natural”? Further, if human actions and technology are “natural” then would a technologically restored nature be “natural” as well? Some may think that, since humans are “animals”, human intervention and manipulation of nature and its resources could not be in any way different than other animals’ activities in nature, such as beavers creating dams, birds building nests, or bunnies digging underground holes to live in. I think it is unhelpful to compare human-created artefacts to those created by other animals, because among all “animals”, humans’ ability and tendency to consume and destroy nature is unprecedented. Simply put, other animals do not possess the same ability and capacity as humans in destroying and degrading Earth’s natural landscape and resources.

Moreover, a restored nature that is created with anthropocentric worldview is different from the original because whereas natural entities were not designed for a purpose, restored nature it is not detached from anthropocentric values and uses. A technologically restored nature also can never replicate the original because its “continuity with the past” and many of its physical elements and ecological connections will be lost. Due to the above reasons, restored nature is indeed human artefact.

As previously mentioned, Katz’s piece serves to question our anthropocentric treatment of nature, and the erroneous human belief that nature can be restored to its original state with technology. In order to for humans to truly protect and preserve nature, humans need to understand nature as having its own intrinsic value, as something precious in its own sense, and as something that is beyond human domination and manipulation. To achieve this, perhaps it is useful to separate nature in its original state from human culture and actions, and to discuss nature in its purest and primordial state.

Annie Patrick's Synthesis
Nature, what is it? This is one of the first questions that was proposed during the group discussion. And this question needs to be addressed before one can take on the efforts to restore nature or prevent the destruction of nature. However, even at the end of the class, I do not believe there was final definition of nature. And that doesn’t imply that the discussion was a failure in regards due to the difficulty of defining nature. However, what I took away from the discussion is that there are very strong feelings and beliefs about what makes nature and perhaps this reflects the personal relationship that we all have with nature. The complexities of definitions and linguistics made another pass in class after the discussion of defining nature. Even after forming a definition of nature, there is the additional task of defining the parts of nature. What is a wetland? What is an invasive species? Answering these questions are just as important to what is nature and the forms of actions to recover nature from man’s actions.
Katz was not an advocate of the “restoration thesis” and from the discussion, neither was the class. A good point from the class was the factor of time. Even if one was to consider the restoration of nature, how does one decide where in the timeline to begin or stop that restoration? There are also questions to consider as to the political process of approaching nature. Who makes the decisions of nature is restored or protected? How does technology and science play a role in nature? How do STS scholars address nature? The issue of how to preserve nature is a very complicated issue…kind of like nature.

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