The difficulty of understanding nature

A precious thing that being a biologist gives you is the ability to see the world in a different way. As you can imagine this includes many different aspects, most of them very subjective. One of my favorite biologist-peculiar special views is how we see our place in the universe. By our place I mean how I see humans amongst all species.

It takes years of study and understanding to finally have a glance into what being a living being means. Understanding how deeply connected the biosphere is and how stunningly intricated and smartly designed life can be is an immensly hard process. That’s why I’m very fond of people that can appreciate the right place of the human species in the world.

Humans are one of the infinite species existing, existed and “existable” throughout history. We have no priorities, no special rights nor authorizations to act as we were special. We are just one of the many species. The fact that we evolved a big enough brain to develop civilization and defy evolution means nothing in the natural world. We have to realize our connection to mother nature.

The tendency of our culture to anthropomorphisize everything is a product of our restricted point of view on life. It’s understandable that we try to humanize the universe, because, to us, it’s the only possible perspective. That’s why being a biologist allows you to escape this tendency and get a grasp on how nature really works. We tend to find goals, reasons, meanings, objectives, motivations and explanations even where those make no sense. From this misunderstanding a huge difficulty in understanding nature arise.

Nature doesn’t behave according to our cultural or ethical standards. It just acts according to its evolution. Viruses need to parasitize cells to keep reproducing, the fact that they cause a disease is not bad intention from the virus part, it’s just a side effect of using the cell metabolism to reproduce. In the same way lions are not evil because they kill gazelles to survive. And gazelles are not evil for eating grass (nothing less than another living organism). We have to be able to disentangle our tendency to find ethical reasons in natural phenomenons from how nature really works. Cancer develops because of a series of biochemical reactions not because of bad luck, God punishment or cancer evil intentions.

Nothing is bad or evil in nature. It’s true that everything happens for a reason, but that reason is always physics, chemistry or biology in the natural world. Similarly nothing is good or benevolent in nature as well.

If we can’t apply our cultural standards to nature, even more we can’t justify human business through natural phenomenon. “The evolutionary survival of the fittest” doesn’t mean that weaker humans have to die. It doesn’t justify Nazis jews persecutions nor racism towards other humans.

The biggest misunderstanding in this regards is what’s called “The nature fallacy”: believing that everything that is natural is good and/or correct. GMOs, drinking milk, vaccines are not bad because they’re not “natural”. Technology isn’t bad just because we invented it, it just depends on how we use it. Actually, even if we can’t find good or bad in nature, things like terrifying predators, horrid diseases and extreme poisons, definetly don’t make nature “good”.

We should stop thinking  that nature proceed on the same railways that we use to behave in our cultural environment. That’s also why being a scientist is so hard, we have to think outside our own ethical conditioning. Give it a try! The world will look very different to you! Let me tell you another story..


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