The distinction between Life and Nature

Written by Zac on March 26th, 2009

There is a common mistake in everyday language of neglecting to distinguish between life and nature. We tend to speak of things being ‘natural’ as opposed to being ‘man made’, though calling anything that’s not man made natural is something of a sweeping generalization that overlooks a very important distinction between two very different things. I intend to make a series of posts to outline some of my views of the world we live in.

I took the below photos in Masaya, Nicaragua after hiking up the side of an active volcano to peer into it’s maw… On the left we can see the active mouth of the volcano, spewing forth a fog of noxious gasses and heat; on the right, we see the long ago retired mouth of the same volcano, where lava once flowed and gasses once brewed but which has gradually cooled and closed over. 








The active mouth is an expression of nature, it is natural forces at play in a world, an expression described through physics and chemistry, one that is not generally considered to be alive despite it’s occasional liveliness. The second mouth’s natural energies have all but depleted, leaving mineral rich volcanic ash behind and creating a haven for  new life to thrive in; life that moves in and takes over, transforming the environment and basking in the energy and minerals produced by these forces of nature. Life is something that manipulates the forces of nature for its survival, it is not driven solely by natural forces but is rather more self-guided.

Now that we’ve established this disinction, we can further explore what constitutes life and how it differs from nature, a discussion that I will largely defer until another time but for the few inklings of it below:

The distinction between life and nature can be seen as the distinction between observer and observed, subjective and objective, intrinsic and extrinsic, etc.  Nature is observer independent, it does not hold ‘meaning’ nor ‘purpose’; so far as we understand Nature, it is the play of forces and materials and nothing else, and as it can be seen as exactly the sum of its parts.. Life on the other hand relies heavily on meaning, purpose, and ‘observer’ (which I will have to later explore in further depth), it is what it is because it made its self that way, and somehow it exceeds the sum of its parts, all of which are inherently of Nature. Life is an expression of nature in a sense; it is constructed from natural elements and forces and seems to have miraculously  sprung into being from Nature, though Life differs from nature in what seems to be some underlying driving force: it changes and adapts to its environment, pushes forward to find new ways to make use of its environment, develops new resources and constantly moves towards the optimal use of its environment. As this progress is made, life begins to feed on its self; symbiosis develops and beyond simply exploiting the latent capacity of the natural environment it begins to make use of other life forms, it shows a tendency towards complexity. This brings up many questions: what exactly is life, where did it come from, what drives it, all of which lead to the other question; is there a God?


Perhaps there are a number of assumptions on my getting this far which I have neglected to present, largely due to my lack for time to explore them. I will explore many of these, as well as the other questions pose in future posts in which I hope to explore my concepts of Nature, Life and God.


3 Comments so far ↓

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