The word natural is used randomly to express whatever the speaker wants to say, while being understood by the recipient however that person views the word, and I would dare say, most people do not have a clear view on what natural means.
The first meaning given in the dictionary is something I take issue with because it separates humans from nature and we are part of nature.
1. existing in or derived from nature; not made or caused by humankind.
2. in accordance with the nature of, or circumstances surrounding, someone or something.
The second meaning given in the dictionary is where ambiguity comes in.
What is nature? Furthermore what is the nature of something?
I like the quote from Robert Sapolsky : “The nature of human nature is not to be particularly constraint by our nature.”
I take issue with calling something natural or unnatural because it seems to attribute to that something a higher quality, if it is natural it is meant to be, and if not it shouldn’t exist. And yes, it is true, something not natural doesn’t exist. Nonetheless, if it exists it is natural.
For instance gay sex is considered by some unnatural since sexual organs evolved for reproduction and that should be their only purpose, regardless of the fact that nature has no purpose except to exist in any form. However, living organisms have a purpose: to replicate, reproduce, perpetuate. One could say that it is natural for living organisms to do all they can to survive and reproduce, and unnatural to do otherwise. Feels like a compelling argument. Logical. And, yet, we have gay people (and other gay animals). They didn’t chose this (animals surely didn’t). So, if we exist we must be natural. Because sex has other purposes than reproduction, regulating the chemestry in the body for one. Pleasure for another. Both equally important for survival. If there’s no pleasure in living you might opt to kill yourself or simply not reproduce. And we can’t have that, can we?
What triggered me to write all this was that while reading Gabor Maté’s “The myth of normal*”, I noticed he keeps calling this and that “unnatural” and my brain always stops and goes: he means to say that it is not suitable for the organism, that it leads to disease and death or something else. Basically, he could use other words to say what he means. For instance, he wrote at one point “as certain environments are unnatural for oak trees“. He means that in certain environments oak trees will not grow or will wither and die. However, that is natural. Death is natural.
If we would consider natural only what is alive, we disregard the part of nature that isn’t alive: rocks, metals, earth, water, air and so on. If we consider natural only what sustains life, than Mars is not natural ? What about the void in space? Organisms cannot live there without creating themselves a microenvironment that is suitable for them, but that doesn’t make the rest of the universe unnatural. It is natural we cannot live there. Everything that is, is natural as it is and it as it becomes.
I consider we shouldn’t use the word natural anymore as it doesn’t have a clear meaning, being used either to express an ethical view of what things should be or not be like, or to depict what is suitable or not suitable for life, or any other meaning the speaker might need a higher authority for to sustain their arguments. Because nature is the highest authority. Except it has no consciousness outside our own. So it’s basically like quoting yourself to sustain your point of view, but others regard it as if you quoted someone important.
Gabor Maté also says at one point “it was never nature’s agenda, if we can speak of such (…)” – well, we cannot and shouldn’t. Nature has no agenda. Not even survival, because not everything in nature is alive. But we can have an agenda. Unfortunately, we need a higher authority to enforce it, be it nature, God or karma. Simply caring for eachother isn’t consistent with our current economical society.
Later Maté writes “addiction is the organism’s natural response to unnatural events like trauma in childhood…”. It’s like saying that an earthquake is an unnatural event because it destroys something. It seems that throughout the book Maté uses natural and unnatural to depict what is suitable or not for a human’s healthy development and life, and that is purely subjective no matter how many times he says there is scientifical evidence for what he is claiming. What is suitable for one person isn’t necessarily suitable for another.
*Normal, another useless word that means nothing except what suits the speaker in order to impose their point of view.
I agree with everything in Gabor Maté ‘s “The myth of normal”. I do not agree with the way the word “natural” is used by all people, including me. It sometimes escapes my lips and I have to ask myself what did I actually want to say with it. same for “normal” and “real”.
Otherwise Maté is really careful to not be misunderstood it leave any opening for his words to be used otherwise than he intended. It feels like a lot of effort, but I am so glad he did this.