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How much of science is culturally constructed? How much depends on language and metaphor? How do our ideas about nature connect with reality? Can nature be "reinvented" through theme parks and malls, or through restoration?
Reinventing Nature? is an interdisciplinary investigation of how perceptions and conceptions of nature affect both the individual experience and society's management of nature. Leading thinkers from a variety of fields -- philosophy, psychology, sociology, public policy, forestry, and others -- address the conflict between perception and reality of nature, each from a different perspective. The editors of the volume provide an insightful introductory chapter that places the book in the context of contemporary debates and a concluding chapter that brings together themes and draws conclusions from the dialogue.
In addition to the editors, contributors include Albert Borgmann, David Graber, N. Katherine Hayles, Stephen R. Kellert, Gary P. Nabhan, Paul Shepard, and Donald Worster.
A Note from the Editors
Introduction: Nature Under Fire \ Gary Lease
The boundary between the world and human beings is under fire. On the one hand nature is personified; on the other hand the idea that nature needs protection from humankind's onslaught begs the definition of the boundary and turns our attention to contesting constructions of nature and to competition among human groups for access to resources and power. Whose story (narrative, paradigm, construction) will prevail? Deconstruction insists that we must not ignore these cultural questions, even in the formerly exclusive provinces of science and conservation. Reverberations of past issues are sensed in debates over what is ""out there,"" what is nature, and the locus of the human species vis- à-vis the divine. The Western tradition has not found the answers. Postmodern answers, to date, have ignored certain actors and obscured certain questions?for example, the issue of conceptual constructions of nature versus the role of human beings in the physical construction of ecosystems. The answers will affect the lives of many.
Virtually Hunting Reality in the Forests of Simulacra \ Paul Shepard
The postmodern constructionist view is that all texts, reports, narratives are but descriptions?focused chatter about an unknowable external world, psychobabble, webs of words that serve as ammunition in struggles over who dominates whom. But Derrida, Lyotard, and other deconstructionists have about them the smell of the coffeehouse, a world of ironic, patronizing remoteness in which the search for generality and truth would be an embarrassment. Moreover, somehow justified by the deconstruction of nature are the theme parks, malls, and other virtual simulations of originals that create a world easier to control, a world where imagination is the only real landscape and where denial replaces even disengagement and relativism. The loss of contact with nature, a biophilic deprivation, must lead to pathology. But other animal species, because they have no words to confuse themselves, are not so deluded.
The Nature of Reality and the Reality of Nature \ Albert Borgmann
For most of human time, reality/nature were divine and one thing. The Greek thinker Thales stands for the rupture of this spiritual plenum. By the sixteenth century, nature was seen as the recalcitrant power against which people had to struggle, then vanquish?leading, in the late twentieth century, to the end of nature. Now the fragmented, anthropogenic wilderness cannot be left unattended lest it deteriorate even faster. Modernity paints this dismal scenario, a melancholy acquiescence to decline; but this view rests on a false dichotomy: natural vs. artificial, independent vs. managed. An alternative to ubiquitous artificiality is the admission of degrees of ""reality."" The criteria are genuineness, seriousness, and commanding presence. Thus the substitute for the dualism of natural and artificial is a new continuum: reality-hyperreality. And even if nature (reality) is to some extent a human invention, it still can be eloquent and inspiring and still can invigorate the notion of excellence. A general guideline: to save or restore a wild area's commanding presence and to guard its coherence with its environment and tradition.
Searching for Common Ground \ N. Katherine Hayles
The deconstructionist paradigm, if accepted broadly, would not only threaten the privileged role of science as a source of truth about reality. It would also destroy environmentalism, since the environment is just a ""social construction."" Short of dismissing the institution of science, not to mention all of ""reality,"" we might adopt a constrained program of deconstruction using the concepts of interactivity and positionality. This program may create a common ground between adherents of the strong program of deconstruction, on the one hand, and traditional objectivists (for example, Western scientists) on the other. For example, human beings develop their models of reality with their sensory/cognitive apparatus, ""the cusp,"" each person being uniquely embodied and positioned. But not all representations of reality are equally acceptable because certain constraints, such as consistency across cultures, can falsify representations. (Thus this ""constrained constructivism"" does not mean that all realities are equally valid, as does the strong program.) The notions of interactivity and positionality enliven the stakes in contesting for the integrity of the environment. Those in power, therefore, should consider marginal points of view, including those of other species.
Nature and the Disorder of History \ Donald Worster
Attitudes about nature and the environment change. But contrary to the belief of many contemporary postmodern historians, whose excessive relativism may distort reality, change may not be the most important metaphysical principle. Still, disorderly change is the fashion of the day. Just as in ecology, where the Victorian paradigm of stability, equilibrium, and order has been superseded by a paradigm of disturbance and disorder, the contemporary historian's view of human society rejects the notions of normality, equilibrium, progress, and all value judgments; it is fixated on disorder. As Marx said: ""All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned."" Because modern historicism leads either to cynicism or to banality, it could be described as a degenerate worldview. A less extreme interpretation of contemporary history and ecology might stress two principles: one is social and biological interdependence; the other is successful adaptation to situation and place by human groups and species. Change is not a good in itself. But preserving a diversity of change, not freezing nature, ought to stand high in our system of values.