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.

9 thoughts on “Naturphilosophie

  1. I just finished commenting in last post that all it takes is a brain to not be a parasite … now I’m wondering if I told a lie? I’ll let you clarify that with discussion of neurons and ganglia. I think I might have been arrogantly human and a little too self-centered there.

  2. I was surprised to find a post of yours with a German title! πŸ™‚ Unfortunately, what I remember from German idealism, is very patchy. I have always found it hard to comment on anything philosophical – I feel the need to get immersed into the author’s texts and historical meta-information. I am probably also biased, as I am under the influence of Bertrand Russell’s bias as his History of Western Philosophy as the last book on philosophy I had read (and one of the most awesome). Russell didn’t like the the German idealists (and their anthropocentric view) too much as he felt there was a direct link from Fichte – Schelling – Hegel – Nietzsche … to German national socialism. I have always found it weird that a worldview that was initially triggered by the romantic movement finally ended in something not very appealing. Russell on the other hand represented “pure logic” and advocated a less emotional account of nature, but on the other hand he tried to put the role of Mankind into some perspective. So in summary: I agree with you πŸ™‚

  3. Wow you’ve done some impressive research and have given this a lot of thought, which has inspired me to do the same πŸ™‚ Firstly, thanks for correcting my source for the quote, obviously I was quoting somebody who was quoting Schelling. Given your findings for Schellings meaning behind the quote I completely agree with your thinking. I have always been uncomfortable with the anthropocentric view of nature, in that it only has value, or indeed exists if we observe it. Clearly, as you say, we’ve only been around a very short time and nature has been around for a very long time. I suppose I assumed Schellings quote was saying that we are the first species that we know of to have actually observed and quantified the universe. We, unlike all other animals, have observed the origins and size and complexity of the universe, and so in that sense nature (in the fullest sense of the word – ie everything in the universe is nature) has truly observed itself for the first, and possibly the last, time. Perhaps that’s not what he meant, but if I were to hijack his quote, that is what I would mean! I didn’t take the quote to mean that other animals do not feel emotions or that they are not aware of themselves and their environment, because that clearly isn’t true.

    Anyway thank you for yet another impressive and thought provoking post πŸ™‚

  4. Ah, I love those clever rectangle eyes, full of mischief and good humor. I always found it so funny when people talk about our place as the only “thinking” animal. Clearly they have never had goats, or dogs, or pigs, or interacted with those unique members of even the most mundane barnyard species (remember our yard chicken Scarface?) who clearly somewhere in their life history developed an awareness of their world beyond what might be expected for their species. The feeling of wonder at our natural world is best shared with the animals appreciating it along with us.

  5. This morning I awoke around 5:30 to the sight of a cloudless sky and the sound of a bird just outside my window. The temperature was only 4C but I know it’s going to 12-15 or so today. I went downstairs and put a load of ‘whites’ in the washer knowing that after I drop Son #1 off at 7 for his work-term job I’ll come back here and hang them on the line in the backyard, sip a tea or maybe a coffee and marvel at just what you speak of. Before heading off to work. I know it does not need me to exist but I am profoundly grateful that I get to be a part of it anyway. Normally I arrive at work around 8 or so but today i think I’ll just get in at 8:30. Just because.

      • LOL – mother nature has been playing mith me so far today. I did wash those whites and brought them out the back but I noticed a bank of fog moving in from the harbour and so, brought the clothes back and put them in the dryer. Now, here I am at work and the fog has burnt off again and I’m wishing I’d just gone ahead with the original plan.

  6. That’s why we love our animals, and your picture says that. The seeing eye of your subject speaks volumes, there is more to our animals than many realize.

    A wise old owl lived in an oak
    The more he heard the less he spoke
    The less he spoke the more he heard
    Now wasn’t he a wise old bird.

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