Are Humans and Their Actions Part of Nature?

Discuss Francis Tapon's 2007 CDT Yo-Yo hike or specific issues about the CDT.
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Are Humans and Their Actions Part of Nature?

Post by FrancisTapon » Mon May 28, 2007 1:29 pm

During my CDT yo-yo, I wrote an article On Being Human.

This thread is for comments on that article.

8)
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Post by xjenx » Sun Jun 17, 2007 7:07 am

Hey Francis,

Glad to see you are thinking about things other than just Paris Hilton
on your hike, you want to know what I think? Here you go:


1) I don't believe you :) Like me you believe man is part of the
natural world (Huxley said in response to the question what is man's
place in nature?: Among the apes. The early Darwinians realised man
was not a separate entity but just a continuation of natural
selection. Arguing man is not natural is probably as wrong as arguing
man was created by divine intervention –perhaps we have never fully
been able to accept that man is the same as every other organism)
however you are still, like me, vegan and you are still minimising
your footprint. I think if George Bush had typed the email you just
typed his conclusion to "man's actions just being part of the cycle of
the natural world" would be to crank up the burners and rev up the
chainsaws. You, I think, can see both of the perceptives, man being
part of nature, but man's actions as 'unatural' in that they are
damaging what we have.

2) Scale! The Beaver can do whatever he pleases, reconfiguring
all the rivers in the world is nothing compared to altering the chemical
make up of the atmosphere and potentially/making extinct a whole range of organisms. (I am sure you will cover this in your global warming email – natural oscillations have always happened and climate change is just one of those things. However, this is the first time when humans have had
the brain to appreciate (admittedly we understand very little) what is
happening. We also must accept climate change, in the drastic sense,
will be the demise of our civilisation as we know it – yeh ok its
natural, but its also, in your definition, natural for us to try and
stop it to preserve our way of life).

3) We have a sophisticated brain and are able to type emails like this.
We have the privilege of being able to put things in perspective and
think retrospectively. We are emotional and that is as much of being
human as anything else. The polar bear who pushes the freeze button
(love it!) might think twice about putting his paw down if he had the
brain to firstly appreciate natural beauty and the diversity of the
world at this moment in Life's history and secondly the comprehension
that by pushing it, he would be destroying all of that. We have the
capability of planning. Yeh we could all live like they do in Tokoyo
in a barren world with no biodiversity but would we be happy? Are we
even happy now? All that nature might want and what we are
adapted to do is to replicate DNA but we understand this – so if we
don't like it we can do something about it. E.g. choosing not to have
kids – its 'unnatural' but we can make that choice.


Err here's a few things that came to mind as I read that might
illustrate the above points better.


> However, it's a bit crazy to believe that our brains, which are
> only 100,000 years old, would be capable of overriding three
> billion years of programming.

I think the Western lifestyle with the privilege of not having to
worry about where our next meal comes from have the luxury of being
able to do this. An Asian fisherman might get out his drag net even
though he knows that there's no fish left from necessity, we don't
have to do this.

> I love to ask myself odd questions when I'm walking in the
> CDT. Why are blades of grass so tightly packed? Why aren't
>they spread out like trees in alpine terrain? Why aren't trees in
>alpine terrain packed like blades of grass? The answer is always
>the same: that's the maximum the environment can sustain.

I like this. I had to read Origin of Species the other day for my
exam. Darwin talks in chapter 4 of the natural world being 'full' on
every level there are different species adapted to their niches and if
there is room for something else it will evolve and fill the gaps (that
is why a foreign species can be introduced sometimes and prosper
without necessarily out competing something else and why new varieties
comes about) – evolution is not complete because everything keeps
shifting to fill in these gaps and make Life denser and denser.


>Perhaps that wall is 20 billion humans on the planet (we're 6.5 > billion now).

And what happens when we hit it? I reckon our population will suddenly
crash. If we all lived in carbon neutral houses and didn't pollute
then hypothetically we could reach massive numbers (we could work out
this number using an equation) but we wont ever live like this –its
contrived. Instead we will get to the point when all the rivers are
unfit to drink and all the food is no longer giving us the nutrients
we need and the air is rank.
I think it is better we quit now while we are ahead :)

>Is fully utilizing all their talents "unnatural"? On the contrary,
>not fully utilizing all our talents is unnatural! Just ask Dolly
>Parton.

Deciding not to with our brains is just as natural as deciding to do so.


> How many strawberries, corn fields, and chickens would exist
> in the world if humans weren't around? We're doing those
> species a favor by modifying the ecosystem so that they
> reproduce more than if we weren't helping out.

I think a lot of lifestock would have a hard time surviving without
our helping hand – we have artificially selected them to be
monstrosities! A cow, bred for its huge udders or its massive rump
could no longer run from your mountain lion if it was put back into a
'natural' environment.

>become a vegan like me.

Have you always been a vegan? That's a pretty unnatural diet to your
standards ;)

>But aren't we "artificially" helping some species with our
>tractors and pesticides? A tractor and pesticides are as natural
> as the stick a chimp uses to access a hole full of ants;

SCALE!
A tractor vs a stick!

>Also, all the artificial stuff we create (polyester, sucrolose,
>Untrioctium) are all derived from natural elements, just like salt
>is a combination of sodium and chloride (NaCl). We don't create
>anything from scratch.

Is this natural?

http://www.creightonmagazine.org/files/ ... se-ear.jpg

> At times we'll unwisely alter an ecosystem, but after paying the
> price, we adjust. That's what all life does.

Are humans prepared to pay the cost of this? If this is the attitude
we must take, we must be prepared for life as we know it to rapidly
change and the population to plummet and then rebuild. This is not
pleasant, its very harsh truth with a lot of death and suffering. I'd
say most people would rather avoid it and with our brains we could do.

>Not compared to the "100% all-natural" asteroid that pummeled
>our planet 65 million years ago and killed off the dinosaurs.

That could not be predicted. Our disasters potentially can.


:)


xjenx

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Response to XjenX's post

Post by FrancisTapon » Sun Jun 17, 2007 9:59 am

xjenx wrote:1) I don't believe you :) .... You, I think, can see both of the perceptives, man being part of nature, but man's actions as 'unatural' in that they are damaging what we have.


I agree with point #1. I do see both sides. I'm just sharing how my perspective has changed. All this backpacking opened my eyes up to the perspective that man is just a cog in the wheel of this earth.

xjenx wrote:2) Scale! The Beaver can do whatever he pleases, reconfiguring
all the rivers in the world is nothing compared to altering the chemical
make up of the atmosphere and potentially/making extinct a whole range of organisms. (I am sure you will cover this in your global warming email...


Yes, I'll talk about that in my global warming email. You're right about scale, I admit to that when I say that "humans are like beavers on steroids." But an asteroid hitting the earth is like humans on steroids! :wink: (Oh wait, a human on steroids is Barry Bonds...) :lol:

The impact dinosaurs had on the planet during their peak was far greater than the beavers. Scale again. Dinos as a group probably rivaled what we're doing now.

In short, scale is relative. Yes, we have a much bigger impact than the beaver, but other natural events/species have even a bigger impact than we have.

For example, I tried to imagine what the world would be like without mosquitoes. I often wonder this when I'm getting chased by them. If we eliminated the mosquito species, the cascading effect, the scale of the problem, would probably alter the entire planet. Micro-organisms might have equal impact (or more).

If these tiny, yet ubiquitous, species would have such an impact if they didn't exist, then that means that they're having a huge impact right now, just like humans. Scale is a good point. My point is that humans aren't the only species that has an enormous impact. We tend to think we have the greatest impact on this planet, more than any other species. That's probably true, but probably not as great as most think.

xjenx wrote:3) We have a sophisticated brain and are able to type emails like this.
We have the privilege of being able to put things in perspective and
think retrospectively. We are emotional and that is as much of being
human as anything else.


Sort of. Most animals are emotional too. That's where we get it from. So emotion isn't a unique trait of "being human." I don't think you were suggesting that it is a unique human trait, but I wanted to clarify.

However, you're right that thinking deeply is a unique human trait.

My point is that our inherited baggage (e.g., urge to reproduce, emotion, survival, expansion of the species) has far more impact on our behavior than our rational brain. In theory our brain can override our base tendencies, and individuals certainly can do that, but as a species we can't.

xjenx wrote: The polar bear who pushes the freeze button
(love it!) might think twice about putting his paw down if he had the
brain to firstly appreciate natural beauty and the diversity of the
world at this moment in Life's history and secondly the comprehension
that by pushing it, he would be destroying all of that.


I disagree. I'm sure some polar bear "environmentalists" would be protesting against the freezing of the earth, but as a species, they'd push the FREEZE button in a heartbeat.

There are scientists that talk about terraforming Mars by releasing the CO2 trapped in its poles and creating a greenhouse effect. There are other terraforming plans for Mars, but the point is that we're already talking about transforming Mars into a livable habitat for humanity.

Now let's say we found life on Mars. Let's say it's some small organism that survives off the Martian rust. Perhaps it's even a small ecosystem of organisms and species that live on Mars now.

Do you think we'd say, "Let's forget the terraforming idea so that those little species can continue to live. Let's preserve Mars like it is to 'preserve its natural beauty!'"?

Give me a break. We'd terraform that planet as soon as it becomes economically and technologically viable to do that. We'd try to preserve the DNA of the native Martians, perhaps in a Martian Zoo. After doing that, we'd press the TERRAFORM button and start buying and selling Martian real estate.

I'm sure you see my point now. The polar bear would think the same way. They'd lament the lost of diversity, but in the end, they'd appreciate the expansion of their habitat. All life thinks like this because all life wants to expand their DNA far and wide.

xjenx wrote: We have the capability of planning. Yeh we could all live like they do in Tokyo in a barren world with no biodiversity but would we be happy? Are we even happy now? All that nature might want and what we are adapted to do is to replicate DNA but we understand this – so if we
don't like it we can do something about it. E.g. choosing not to have
kids – its 'unnatural' but we can make that choice.


As individuals, yes, as a species, no. As a species, we have no choice: we must expand. It is our destiny and our fundamental programming.

Some scientists predict that we'll grow to 5-10 quadrillion humans over the next few centuries:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overpopula ... rojections

Why would we stop? No other life form that we know of has willingly restricted its reproduction when there are still resources that let it expand. Our job is to keep harvesting more and more resources (food, energy, water) so we can keep adding more humans to the universe.

We'll only stop when:

a) We run out of resources (or hit a resource equilibrium).
b) We kill ourselves.
c) A virus or meteor wipes us out.

I suspect that in the next century there will be a global war between species: the human mutants vs. the regular humans. The genetically and robotically enhanced humans will be Homo Superior and battle Homo Sapiens, like the Neanderthals fought and lost to us. That could also stop or reverse the expansion of homo sapiens, but I'm digressing.... :roll:

xjenx wrote: And what happens when we hit it? I reckon our population will suddenly crash. If we all lived in carbon neutral houses and didn't pollute then hypothetically we could reach massive numbers (we could work out this number using an equation) but we wont ever live like this –its contrived. Instead we will get to the point when all the rivers are unfit to drink and all the food is no longer giving us the nutrients
we need and the air is rank.
I think it is better we quit now while we are ahead :)


People said the same thing when we had only a billion people on the planet. Thomas Malthus didn't believe 6.5 billion people could be on this planet. What would surprise him even more is that the average standard of living on this planet has gone up! He predicted that we'd hit a population wall around 1850. :shock:

So 20 bililon seems unsustainable and 650 billion even less so. But we'll try.

I agree that we'll hit a wall and there will be a temporary population crash. That's what happens with other species. The deer population always reproduces more than the environment can sustain and every winter the weak ones get weeded out.

The same will happen with humans at some point. I'm not sure when we'll hit that wall, but let's just say it's 20 billion. We'll have famines and wars and the population will drop back to 5-15 billion.

But then technology will eventually allow us to attain 50 billion. We'll find new ways to harness energy, grow food, purify water, etc... Then we might hit a new wall at 50 billion, but then in 2300 we have a new breakthrough that lets us jump to 500 billion.

It all seems hard to imagine, but imagine telling the cavemen that someday their species would grow from 100,000 to 6.5 billion. They would say, "Impossible! There's not enough caves!!!"" :lol:

xjenx wrote: Have you always been a vegan? That's a pretty unnatural diet to your standards ;)


I'm a Pragmatic Vegan. :P

I try to eat like a vegan most of the time, but sometimes lapse into vegetarianism. It's hard to say no to ice cream and pizza. :wink:

Moreover, as I mentioned in my book, Hike Your Own Hike, I eat anything when I'm traveling or when I'm a guest at someone's house and they serve me roasted pork.



I'm not sure how it came about. There are humans born with ears for noses and other odd mutations. The strangest mutations never even get born. They're labeled as miscarriages. There's Nic V., who was born without legs or arms and is all over YouTube. All those mutations are perfectly natural.

I'd argue that the genetically modified mutations are also "natural" since we (a natural thing) made it. Everything we do is natural.

Of course, I understand the counter-arguments completely, so don't waste your breath. I'm not a fanatical believer of my argument and I can see the other side perfectly. I just get tired of some people who think humans are some extraterrestrial plague that has invaded this planet and is "ruining the natural environment." Sorry, they're wrong. We're part of that natural environment.

xjenx wrote: Are humans prepared to pay the cost of this? If this is the attitude we must take, we must be prepared for life as we know it to rapidly change and the population to plummet and then rebuild. This is not pleasant, its very harsh truth with a lot of death and suffering. I'd say most people would rather avoid it and with our brains we could do.


I agree completely. I just don't think we'll avoid the inevitable. We'll learn the hard way, unfortunately. We'll change when we have to, when it becomes uncomfortable/inconvenient/painful not to change.

I love your thoughts/feedback. Very profound and astute thinking. Keep challenging my thinking! :D
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Re: Response to XjenX's post

Post by davelab6 » Mon Jun 18, 2007 6:12 am

FrancisTapon wrote:Some scientists predict that we'll grow to 5-10 quatrillion humans over the next few centuries:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overpopula ... rojections

Why would we stop?


http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-st ... redux.html has some fun thoughts about that :-)

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Space Colonization

Post by FrancisTapon » Mon Jun 18, 2007 7:18 am

That link to Charlie's website is great. It shows how difficult space travel and colonization is (and will be).

However, walking across the Bering Strait's land bridge 12,000 years ago, sailing across the Atlantic in 1492, and walking to the South Pole (or the summit of Everest) are all crazy, hard endevors that humans have done.

We'll colonize space. It's inevitable. We'll solve the power requirements.

There's always humans who are willing to live in inhospitable places. Many humans lives on the South Pole, the Gobi Desert, the Space Station, and Detroit. :wink:

We won't have problems finding volunteers willing to put up with the inhuman Martian landscape and even Titan's methane filled muck.

One key point that Charlie leaves out is that in less than 100 years human astronauts won't really be "human." They'll be genetically modified, robotically enhanced cyborgs that probably will be capable of living forever (or at least until their internal Windows operating system crashes). :lol:

I know that sounds nutty, but if you look closely, it's already happening. Humans can already control a computer using their brain, artificial limbs and organs are commonplace. In the next 25-100 years we'll merge with genetic engineering, computers, robots, and nanotechnology and develop a new species. Call it Homo Superior. That species will colonize space. The DNA won't be Homo sapien, but it'll be close enough...
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inhuman astronauts

Post by ben » Fri Jun 29, 2007 7:52 am

speaking of future astronauts no longer being truly "human"...

since our atmosphere only allows a small sliver of the electromagnetic spectrum to penetrate, we've developed organs, eyes, which can use this small sliver of the spectrum to help us make sense of the world around us.

astronauts may have access to much more of the spectrum than we do, though they'd want to shield most of their bodies from it for fear of damaging their cells from all that radiation.

our brains are famously elastic. here are three examples:
1) i knew a guy who ran an animal research lab. he studied olfaction. he would remove the olfactory bulbs (probably just sever the connection, rather than actually remove) in very young mice. they would then mature, and he would test their ability to discriminate between different scents. they were perfectly able to do just that, using a part of their brains not normally associated with smell.
2) i once saw an old filmstrip in school with a person, blind from birth, testing out a new-fangled device. the device was probably essentially a video camera, but it was hooked up to a chair. the blind guy sat in the chair. hundreds or thousands of little knobs covered the back of the chair, and they would push out in response to the feature outlines of what the camera was pointed at. as the guy sat in the chair, manipulating the camera, all these bumps would push against his back. at first it just felt like bumps on his back, but after just an hour or so he began to understand the feeling on a different level. pointing the camera at a candle flame, he was astonished to realize for the first time in his life that a flame has a shape.
3) the sensory part of our brains has been mapped out. all along the outer cortex, the sensory system is laid out like a map of the human body, though the regions associated with very sensitive body parts (like face and hands) are over-represented, while less sensitive areas get less cortex devoted to them. phantom limb pain has been shown to be alleviated by scratching, or just lightly stimulating, a body part whose sensory cortical area neighbors the sensory region of the brain that had been devoted to the missing limb. the idea being, when the limb is lost, neighboring brain regions crowd into the newly sensory-deprived region (the area whose limb is now missing, and no longer sending sensory information to the brain). after all, it wouldn't do to just let all that cortical real estate remain empty. normal stimulation to the part of the body now being routed to the missing part's brain region lead to a sense of stimulation to the missing limb, sometimes pain. so, because the sensory area for the hand is right next to the sensory area for the face (presumably because in the womb, in the fetal position, as our brains are developing, our hands are held up near our faces), phantom limb pain from a missing hand can be alleviated by lightly brushing the cheek on the same side of the body.

okay, so back to the astronauts.

perhaps someday, perhaps in a zero-g environment where we can do without our legs, people will remove their legs (use a hover-chair), freeing up tons of sensory cortical space. then they just plug in a little "box" filled with vat-produced sensory neurons specifically engineered to respond to parts of the energy spectrum never before encountered on earth, allow these new neurons free reign in the empty cortical space, and viola! maybe in a few hours these astronauts would start "seeing" some crazy things that had only previously been seen by radio telescopes.

i'd like to see that.

of course, by that time maybe they could just make new cortex as well as sensory neurons, rather than cut off legs to free up usable space. but my way is more dramatic. and it has the added bonus of the hover-chair.

ben

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Re: inhuman astronauts

Post by FrancisTapon » Tue Jul 03, 2007 3:55 pm

ben wrote:perhaps someday, perhaps in a zero-g environment where we can do without our legs, people will remove their legs (use a hover-chair), freeing up tons of sensory cortical space. then they just plug in a little "box" filled with vat-produced sensory neurons specifically engineered to respond to parts of the energy spectrum never before encountered on earth, allow these new neurons free reign in the empty cortical space, and viola! maybe in a few hours these astronauts would start "seeing" some crazy things that had only previously been seen by radio telescopes.
ben


Ben, good thinking and comments! :idea:

The only thing I disagree is that in the future I don't think we'll have to do a trade off in our brains to make room for more advanced features. Instead, we'll just append to our brains with neuro-implants, like math co-processors and such.

Until then, I'll depend on my abacus... :lol:
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Re: Are Humans and Their Actions Part of Nature?

Post by FrancisTapon » Mon Jun 28, 2010 2:23 am

It's hard to imagine increasing our population to 100 billion, but take a look at this map which shows areas of high human density in red:
Image

The fact is that we can fit 7 billion people in Texas or France. Of course, there's lot of logistics involved to pull that off, but space-wise, we can do it without having 1km high skyscrapers. But forget about that for now.

The main point about the map is that there are vast empty areas is most of Australia, Tibet, the American West, and the Sahara - all deserts. Since we're running out of arable land, we will make more it, and deserts are prime real estate. It's not terra-forming, but ag-forming. ;)

1. We'll transform deserts into farmland: Deserts are relatively free of life and so there are relatively few environmentalists to contend with. :lol: Also, desert soil is often nutrient rich and fertile. If we could just get water there, then crops would boom. Hence, two basic ways to get water there:

a. Desalinization: It's half as expensive as it was 10 years ago. Today, it's just $2 for 1,000 gallons. In San Diego, where they use it, the price is the same as traditional water. The world's largest desalination plant is in the United Arab Emirates, which can produce 130 million gallons per day (the biggest in the US only does 25 million gallons/day). Over 13,000 desalination plants produce more than 12 billion gallons of water a day. Cheap desalination will make it easy to transform deserts lying next to the ocean into rich agricultural fields.

The downside would be transport costs for deserts that are far from the ocean. It can be done. After being desalinized at Jubail, Saudi Arabia, water is pumped 200 miles (320 km) inland though a pipeline to the capital city of Riyadh. But perhaps a cheaper solution will be.....

b. Making it rain: we're just entering the era where we can alter the weather. By the end of the century we will be making it rain in the Sahara, turning it all green.


2. We'll create fertile dirt for non-arable land. Tibet, for example, has nearby water sources (the Himalayas), but infertile land, which explains why few live in that high desert region. This century scientists will be able to transform that poor land into rich land for crops. With a nearby water source, we won't need to resort to making it rain or desalinating water.


3. We'll do more vertical farming. They're already doing it in Manhattan. It will become more cost-effective and popular in the future.


People in the 22nd century will laugh when they hear that in 2011 people thought that the Earth can't sustain more than 10 billion people. In 1994 (when the US had 254 million people), two researchers argued that America can't sustain more than 200 million (we're 310 million now). In the 22nd century, they'll giggle at that prediction, because by then the US will have over 1 billion inhabitants. It's similar to how we giggle at Malthus for saying that human population would peak in 1850. Those who say we're overpopulated are making the same mistake as Malthus: underestimating human ingenuity and technology.

In short, with just a bit of imagination, we can see how we can dramatically increase the food supply by turning vast unproductive areas (like deserts) into food meccas by a combination of desalination, weather control, vertical farming, and converting dead land into fertile land. That combination can take us to 100 billion humans.

To get to 1 trillion, we need to transcend our biology and become cybernetic. But that's another story..... 8)
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