NATURE VERSUS TECHNOLOGY  -  Wednesday November 4th, 2009

A natural landscape. See also: 14, by David Bickerstaff.

Technology, as I wrote yesterday, means only ‘to assemble’ (and shares this root with ‘tectonic’). The traditional misconception, however, is that nature is somehow atechnological. Nature is pure, it precedes humanity and is complete without it. So there is a dichotomy established- that technology is dangerous, that it will threaten nature. In light of the original meaning of ‘technology’ nature is most certainly a technological creational force. The dichotomy disappears.

Human technology, as opposed to natural technology, is distinct only in the manner by which the product comes to being: the body must always be the mediator for its creation, while nature generates itself. Hence the association that the root of technology is the tool, and the belief that if the tool is made big and dangerous enough it will one day turn back on its maker and pummel him.

The etymology of ‘nature’ is the Latin ‘nasci’ meaning birth (the root trickles down to ‘renaissance’). The Roman notion of birth is that it occurs when the baby is complete – which is why nature carries implications of being finished, perfect and balanced. The sense of these two terms opposite each other is: the perfect, finished world versus the constructive, unfinished assemblage. And so the point I am making is that the meaning of ‘nature’ is misconstrued, and that it is also technological, it is also in a state of construction and evolution, and is not a static, finished thing. There can therefore be no such thing as ‘tampering’ with nature, or ‘playing God’, since all our actions are essentially natural.

Let’s just assume that global warming stems from human activity. It remains nonetheless a natural process. But it is also a technological process, since it occurs over time and through the coming together (arrangement, assemblage) of innumerable sub-processes. This distinction carries through to all of our current experimentation with ‘nature’. Growing an ear on the back of a mouse, cloning a sheep, stem cell research, each of these is both technological and natural.

  1. Kevin Clement says:

    maybe technaturalogical? Also, I don't see how the etymology of the word "technology" necessarily ties the body to mechanical production. In other words, just because the word once simply meant "to assemble" doesn't mean that this assembly couldn't "turn back on its maker and pummel him" in the same way that nature pummels us all the time.
    Even if we see Global Warming as both natural and technological, it's still going to suck being a human living threw it.

  2. Kevin Clement says:

    oh, also, if you haven't checked the novel out yet, Bruce Sterling's Schismatrix is a rad take on this dichotomy.

  3. N_O_R_T_O_N says:

    Jack: thanks for the comment over on the Mockitecture WebLog. All of this talk about nature & technology reminds me of Henry Ford's failed utopian village in Brazil called Fordlandia. Images over at Iconic Photos: