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In a natural world, does anything artificial exist?

 
 
Reply Sun 7 May, 2006 09:01 pm
This may be a silly question based on semantic wordplay, but I'll try it anyway... just to see if a debate will break out Smile

Everything is natural, and we evolved out of a natural world, yet when we make something we call it artificial, which seems to imply that it's not natural. Isn't that kind of a limited treatment of the understanding of how things come about.

Granted the term artificial is useful to differentiate man-made things from natural things, but in a larger sense (as when debating the future of humanity) is anything really artificial?
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Ray
 
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Reply Sun 7 May, 2006 10:50 pm
I don't think so. As you know, when people say artificial and natural, they often mean man-made vs. everything else, but this kind of useage bothers me sometimes because it can cause some confusions (especially with extreme environmentalists). Basically it depends on what you mean by nature.

I know what you mean about the future. It seems some people often talk about "going back to nature" and all that kind of stuff. That's a vague statement and I don't agree with ever "going back to simpler times" because that's a myth. I do think that progress must be accompanied by awareness, and some things might be best left alone.
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Shapeless
 
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Reply Mon 8 May, 2006 04:56 am
Re: In a natural world, does anything artificial exist?
rosborne979 wrote:
Granted the term artificial is useful to differentiate man-made things from natural things, but in a larger sense (as when debating the future of humanity) is anything really artificial?


It is true that this is mostly a semantic issue, but I'll play along. You may be right that nothing is really artificial in the "larger sense," but if that's true then it also undermines the meaning of natural, because if absolutely everything is natural, then the word "natural" ceases to have any significant meaning--i.e. it no longer describes any important characteristic of anything, since everything in the universe has it. It's sort of like saying that such-and-such object is composed of matter. It's a true statement, but since it's such a universal property, making the statement doesn't convey any useful information about the object. The same goes for the word "natural"... if it's a universal property, then the statement "X is natural" doesn't really tell us much, at least not anything that might be useful for debating the future of humanity.
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Setanta
 
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Reply Mon 8 May, 2006 05:19 am
I believe i know why you'be started this thread, Ros, and why you mention the semantic issue. The thought that there were only a semantic issue might not embarrass a philosophical discussion, although it might be a problem in a wrestling match with a fundamentalist, young-earth christian.

Those things which are artifacts are artificial. For an object to be an artifact, and therefore artificial, there must be an artificer. Few artifacts exist which are not the product of mankind--but some do. Some birds use saliva to glue together their nests, some insects create "wax" to store their food, some denizens of the sea stack up stones to build "houses." To the extent that the artificers are a part of the natural world, one might allege their artifacts are as well. To the extent that said objects are the product of intent, and not the coincidence of natural laws, one might allege they are not natural.

There, Ros, that should be no help at all.
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rosborne979
 
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Reply Mon 8 May, 2006 05:43 am
It's possible that this whole question is a rusty cart which just won't go. But I thought I might bring it up anyway because many people seem to think of "artificial" as also being "un-natural", and that's an interesting error to make.

Things that are artificial, are a sub-set of things which are natural. they are NOT the OPPOSITE of things which are natural.

On some of the creation/evolution debates, some people who staunchly support the idea of a natural world, also seem to argue that things which are artificial are not natural, and that's an interesting error to make because it almost implies a third view of things: Natural, Supernatural and Artificial

(I'm still tryin to make the rusy cart go... thinking that there's a discussion in here somewhere. But I'm having trouble even convincing myself Smile )
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rosborne979
 
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Reply Mon 8 May, 2006 05:47 am
Re: In a natural world, does anything artificial exist?
Shapeless wrote:
rosborne979 wrote:
Granted the term artificial is useful to differentiate man-made things from natural things, but in a larger sense (as when debating the future of humanity) is anything really artificial?


It is true that this is mostly a semantic issue, but I'll play along. You may be right that nothing is really artificial in the "larger sense," but if that's true then it also undermines the meaning of natural, because if absolutely everything is natural, then the word "natural" ceases to have any significant meaning--i.e. it no longer describes any important characteristic of anything, since everything in the universe has it.


Yes. When treated at a large scale, "artificial" loses it's value. It's only useful when treated as synomyous with "Man Made".

Set mentioned animal constructions; but is a wasps next artificial?
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sumac
 
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Reply Mon 8 May, 2006 05:49 am
How about this meaning of artificial? Not the original...not real....not what it appears to be.

In the natural world there are subterfuges, camoflages, behaviors intended to appear "as if".

Are they artificial. Or, since they are occurring in the natural world, are they......? What?
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Setanta
 
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Reply Mon 8 May, 2006 06:04 am
An artificer creates an artfact which is therefore artificial. That does not mean that it is unnatural. In terms of the issue of poofism, that puts the issue to rest, as it means that you are dealing with a matter or semantics.

A wasp builds its nest from natural materials. I've seen mud-dauber nests which were as much as a foot in diameter, containing dozens of tubes in which the eggs are laid. A paper-hanger builds a similar nest with many tubes. The one uses naturally occuring materials (mud and twigs) the other uses its "saliva" which is a naturally occuring material.

But there is a significant difference which arises in a comparison of the artifical "creation" and the creation implicit in poofism. If a man build a cart (whether or not it is rusty, which may or may not go), he avails himself of materials which occur in the natural word, and simply reassembles them. One member in the "Evolution? How?" thread, known for many consecutive posts filled with rambling incoherence and appeals to mystical nonsense statements, has said that man creates but then arrogantly claims that god cannot create. But a man, in the act of creation, rearranges the materials of the natural world. Poofism holds that a god created the natural world out of nothing. These are not at all the same. That something be artificial does not mean that it is unnatural.
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sumac
 
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Reply Mon 8 May, 2006 06:28 am
Artifical, artificer, artifact. Is there a common meaning in all three?
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Setanta
 
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Reply Mon 8 May, 2006 06:48 am
Yes--all are the product of art--in the sense of skill.
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sumac
 
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Reply Mon 8 May, 2006 06:53 am
I'll have to wait a bit on this discussion then.
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Steve 41oo
 
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Reply Mon 8 May, 2006 07:24 am
This is a good question Ros. I would say yes but only because we define artifical as requiring an artificer as Set says. Non humans have created some pretty impressive artefacts, so I suppose we should describe a wasp's nest as artificial. But then there are even more impressive structures galaxies, solar systems even mathematics itself which display order on a grand scale, and we dont consider them artificial unless they are indeed all products of the Great Artificer in the Sky. And if everything is artificial then the word loses all meaning. At which point I'm artificial ducking out...
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sumac
 
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Reply Mon 8 May, 2006 07:44 am
Nice response, Steve.
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Cyracuz
 
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Reply Mon 8 May, 2006 02:42 pm
Rosborne wrote:
Quote:
Granted the term artificial is useful to differentiate man-made things from natural things, but in a larger sense (as when debating the future of humanity) is anything really artificial?


No. Nothing is really artificial. We humans are natural beings, so our skills are natural skills, or skills that nature possesses. Thus what we create is natural. The only reason we call something artificial is that we have intimate knowledge of how it came to be, and that it required our intervention.

So this word, "artificial", is really nothing more than a testament to the pride of our species and the fact that we see ourselves as something set aside from evolution.

That is wrongheaded in my book. Evolution did not end in humans. We just took the reins of it in part, and we are, no matter how hard we deny it, both the products and instruments of causality.
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rosborne979
 
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Reply Mon 8 May, 2006 02:54 pm
Cyracuz wrote:
So this word, "artificial", is really nothing more than a testament to the pride of our species and the fact that we see ourselves as something set aside from evolution.


I think that was the point I was trying to make, but was having trouble putting into words.

Granted some people may treat the word "artificial" only as an indicator of man-made origins, but many people internalize that word differently. And I think that subliminal interpretation tells us something about how we really feel about ourselves.
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Shapeless
 
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Reply Mon 8 May, 2006 04:57 pm
Whatever it tells us doesn't strike me as unreasonable. I'm not entirely sure that CDs, fiberglass, ball-point pens and tennis balls are necessarily expressions of the pride of our species or transcendence over evolution, but they do pretty incontrovertibly set us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom.
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Cyracuz
 
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Reply Tue 9 May, 2006 08:59 am
Shapeless wrote:
Quote:
Whatever it tells us doesn't strike me as unreasonable. I'm not entirely sure that CDs, fiberglass, ball-point pens and tennis balls are necessarily expressions of the pride of our species or transcendence over evolution, but they do pretty incontrovertibly set us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom.


Not the trinkets in themselves. It's how we relate to them that is the giveaway. Some people think of our species as the defining force of our world. There is a lack of humbleness wich I find disturbing in such an attitude.

It's like Douglas Adams says in the Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy: "Humans think they are smarter than dolphins because they have houses, cars, jobs, worries and ambitions while dolphins just swim around in the ocean all day. Dolphins think they are smarter for precicely the same reason"
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Setanta
 
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Reply Tue 9 May, 2006 09:03 am
Cyracuz wrote:
Shapeless wrote:
Quote:
Whatever it tells us doesn't strike me as unreasonable. I'm not entirely sure that CDs, fiberglass, ball-point pens and tennis balls are necessarily expressions of the pride of our species or transcendence over evolution, but they do pretty incontrovertibly set us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom.


Not the trinkets in themselves. It's how we relate to them that is the giveaway. Some people think of our species as the defining force of our world. There is a lack of humbleness wich I find disturbing in such an attitude.

It's like Douglas Adams says in the Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy: "Humans think they are smarter than dolphins because they have houses, cars, jobs, worries and ambitions while dolphins just swim around in the ocean all day. Dolphins think they are smarter for precicely the same reason"


That leads to an interesting thought. The cosmos might in fact be full of sentient and highly-intelligent life forms who are content with their lives, and who therefore will never strive to acheive inter-stellar travel.
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Shapeless
 
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Reply Tue 9 May, 2006 09:07 am
The lack of humility is a good point, certainly. I'm just not sure if that inheres in the definition of "artificial"... if only because I very rarely hear the word used as a virtue. (It used to be, just a few decades ago, by artists we now call "high modernist"... but they claimed to be using it out of humility too.) These days it seems like the word is usually used to disparage something, which makes me wonder if the word really is an expression of pride and dominance.
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Cyracuz
 
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Reply Tue 9 May, 2006 09:17 am
Good point, Shapeless. I'll have to think about that. I see how to argue agains your point, but not how to put it into words.

Setanta, that is a very interesting thought indeed. It might well be that we are not the most intelligent creatures on our planet.
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