Naturphilosophie

Gazette

Mike, from Music Through Heart and Hands responded to my post about symbiosis with a quote from philosopher Friedrich Shelling who wrote Uniquely in us Nature opens her eyes and sees that she exists. What an interesting idea, full of significance. Stanford’s Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes that Shelling’s work, in particular his Naturphilosophie, … opens up the possibility of a modern hermeneutic view of nature that does not restrict its significance to that which can be established in scientific terms. Once I looked up the definition of hermeneutic I determined that what Shelling was saying was that there is something to nature beyond that which can be quantified. And I agree, nature is transcendent. With regard to the quote, Shelling believed that we are unique among the animals because we are self-aware. I disagree. To complicate the issue I believe that Shelling’s statement is exposed as an If-a-Tree-Falls conundrum [If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?] for it takes parallel aim at a slightly different philosophical target within the realm of questions concerning the relationship between observation and reality. Shelling’s comment begs the question of whether or not an organism can exist without being self-aware? And, for that matter, can the beauty of nature exist without conscious organisms capable of being aware of its beauty? If one believes that humans are unique with regard to this capacity then it is reasonable to consider therefore whether nature existed at all before the rise of Homo sapiens? How absurd, for surely it did. Nature’s beauty has abounded for more than four billion years. Because Man (in the generic sense, if you please) was not around to appreciate it until sometime more than 250,000 years ago is irrelevant. I abhor the use of the terms higher and lower in discussions of animal diversity, but allow me to do so just this once. Tapeworms are flatworms and are considered by many to be among the lower animal forms. Tapeworms and their relatives, the Flukes and the Planarians, have a nervous system, indeed they have a nervous system that is nicely laid out with branches along either side of the body with delicate connections between – like a ladder. Flatworms are cephalized because they have concentrations of nervous tissue at their front end. We call these ganglia and view them as the very distant forerunner of the human brain. Although Tapeworms have a nervous system I do not believe that they are capable of a round of chess or that they might appreciate Mozart. Humans, of course, can do both. Surely there is a continuum of cognitive processing power between a Tapeworm and a human and this must relate to the absolute number of neurons which comprise the brain (ganglia), neuronal density, and the number and kinds of connections between and among neurons. Among the vertebrates there are innate, hard-wired, responses to pain and to fear, for example. But among us we have also seen in the eyes and behaviors of our dogs and cats, labile expressions of joy, excitement, sadness, jealousy, and understanding. Among the breeds of livestock we have raised here on the Farm there have been many instances of emotive expression. So to close this rhetorical loop, and getting back to Shelling’s statement, let us agree that these observations tell us that non-human primates and even other mammals, at the very least, are aware of themselves, others, and of their environment. Let us then modify the famous statement with which I started this post to say something like For more several hundred million years certain higher animals have been very much aware of the world of which they are a part … and they have seen that it is good.

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