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The End of Nature


The nineteenth century dislike of realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.
(Oscar Wilde, Preface to A Portrait of Dorian Grey)


The difficulty stems from a notion shared by Platonists, Kantians, and positivists: that man has an essence namely, to discover essences. The notion that our chief task is to mirror accurately, in our own Glassy Essence, the universe around us is the complement of the notion, common to Democritus and Descartes, that the universe is made up of very simple, clearly and distinctly knowable things, knowledge of whose essences provides the master-vocabulary which permits commensuration of all discourses.
(Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature)


Conditions of well-functioning are met when there is an appropriate match between behavior and the states tracked in the environment. If the swampman has his needs met and flourishes, then his actual environment meets that condition and can supply the representational content. Hence the swampman can have phenomenal character, and so can his grandchildren. (How bitter a pill for the poor swampman who is not flourishing to find out that precisely because he is not flourishing, his agony is unreal!)
(Ned Block, Is Experiencing Just Representing?)


To use the word Nature, as a comfortable reference to that which is geological, terrestrial, vegetative, basically that which is non-human, richly deposits the namer in a prison of equivocation. The confinement is not to be taken lightly; it limits all sorts of discourse. And though it is not new to say that we exist in a post-naturalist or post-enlightenment understanding of things, it has hardly common. The popularity of the concept Nature, without a doubt, persists because of what is perceived at risk with its removal: human ascendancy over the all-else.

The pejoration of the concept, “Nature” at the fore of this brief essay, has nothing to do with enjoyment. It is not to disparage a walk in a Pine rimmed glen or taking pleasure in seeing a storm approach over a bay. These are galvanizing activities, but they are no different than looking at a glowing urban grid from a night flight or marveling over the effects of a successful rhinoplasty. When we invoke Nature, as a digestible semiology, we are isolating happenstance, concealing anthropomorphism all through an Enlightenment- framed filter. We are not the grand stewards standing akimbo atop the food chain nor are we omnipotent ciphers. The combustion engine is wholly Natural as well the winds that blow on Callisto as well as the carton of milk spoiling on the market shelf. Is a dolmen less Natural than a dune? Hardly.

What comes after the end of Nature? Surely the answer lies in what role nature has played. Nature has been one of an infinite set of bridges, proxies of intelligibility, linking man to the all-else . But how are we to fair forward in bondage to the word? It is always terrifying to play with the stability of our phenomenal character (Block, see above). But play we must. Who knows what body surrounds our body or what the physics of our sciences are. For sure there is much, unknown things, aspects outside our rate of understanding: telepathy, digital migration, immortality! All paths are speculative before traversing; a map is just a depiction of a particular theme.



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