© Luc Viatour (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Every time I write about nature I get deep into human consciousness. You can’t really separate the two. There is no “nature” – no way to identify, quantify, categorize, articulate, or understand it—apart from human consciousness, from how we think and talk about it.
We can’t study or explore or write about nature as something separate from ourselves, our own senses and experiences, our own thinking, perceiving, observations, experimentation. In that sense, nature is subjective, no matter how hard we try to objectify it.
This is not new, of course. Better writers and thinkers, from different disciplines, have explored this in more depth and detail that I can here.
This grand book the universe . . . is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it: without these, one wanders around in a dark labyrinth. —Galileo, Astronomer
All my knowledge of the world, even my scientific knowledge, is gained from my own particular point of view, or from the experience of the world . . . . –Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenologist
We see and hear and otherwise experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretation. –Edward Sapir, Linguist
If the world exists and is not objectively solid and preexisting before I come on the scene, then what is it? The best answer seems to that the world is only a potential and not present without me or you to observe it. . . . All of the world’s many events are potentially present, able to be but not actually seen or felt until one of us sees or feels. –Fred Allen Wolf, Physicist
Ah, not to be cut off,
not through the slightest partition
shut out from the law of the stars.
The inner—what is it?
if not intensified sky,
hurled through with birds and deep
with the winds of homecoming.
-–Rainer Maria Rilke, Poet
The sun shines not on us, but in us. The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing. –John Muir, Naturalist
At times I feel as if I am spread out over the landscape and inside things, and am myself living in every tree, in the splashing waves, in the clouds and the animals that come and go, in the processions of the seasons. There is nothing . . . with which I am not linked. –Carl Jung, Psychologist
See this rock over there? This rock’s me! –Australian Aborigine
But in the ordinary play of our day, we forget this. We experience everything outside ourselves as “not me,” “alien,” “other.” Even our own bodies are commonly experienced as “not me.” We say “my stomach growled,” or “my foot fell asleep,” or “my sinuses are acting up,” because they seem to act involuntarily, with a mind of their own, without our conscious consent. As does nature, and other people, and the things we create—toasters and cars and computers.
Separating the whole of life and existence into parts is a useful way of talking and thinking about things.
But too often we fail to put everything back together and see how interdependent it all is, how embedded we are in the whole, and the whole in us. When we fail to do so we lose a vital understanding of ourselves and the universe, and we act in ways that may be harmful to the whole.
The see the ocean in a drop of water, to see ourselves in everyone we meet, is not, as some think, merely a poetic and rosy way of looking at the world. It’s to see things as they actually are.
Original posted 8-9-2012