Can Man tame Nature?

September 5, 2009

Understanding Nature

Nature, in the broadest sense, is equivalent to the natural world, physical world or material world. “Nature” refers to the phenomena of the physical world, and also to life in general. It ranges in scale from the subatomic to the cosmic.

Man’s appreciation of nature and the quest to understand her is well known. Beauty in nature has long been a common theme in life and in art, and books emphasizing beauty in nature fill large sections of libraries and bookstores. Some fields of science see nature as matter in motion, obeying certain laws of nature which science seeks to understand.

Imitating Nature

True to the quote of the famous poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow “The counterfeit and counterpart of Nature is reproduced in art” we find several noteworthy accomplishments in the fields of science and technology that in the past have made and in future promises to make a positive impact to the lifestyle of modern man.
To note a few examples,
* The modern aviation industry is a result of multiple attempts of several individuals to mimic the ability to fly as birds;
* One of the combat techniques used in war, the ability to remain unseen by enemies through camouflaging, is a result of studying similar defense mechanism exhibited by certain species of the animal kingdom;
* One of the recent discovery in the domain of nanotechnology is to create adhesive power that aims to recreate the remarkable ability of the Gecko lizard to climb effortlessly across any vertical surface;
* Daniel Nocera, Professor of Energy, MIT predicts water plus light would be the future oil, proposing to mimic photosynthesis to store high-energy bonds of light for later use;

And trying to control it

Besides these positive outcomes of understanding nature one must also admit the negative impact of trying to tame nature. Although humans comprise only a miniscule proportion of the total living biomass on Earth, the human effect on nature is disproportionately large. There exists a highly complex feedback-loop between the use of advanced technology and changes to the environment that are only slowly becoming understood. Man made threats to the Earth’s natural environment include pollution, deforestation, and disasters such as oil spills.

Could the man-made disasters and natural catastrophes that continue to periodically strike the world and wipe out the lives of several thousand be a response of nature to bring man to the understanding of being subordinate?
It could well be so, especially when we consider the age old wisdom of living in harmony with nature being a proven ideology. This should not, however, be misunderstood as being conservative at exploring the possibilities of tapping the resources of nature. Rather it is based on acceptance of reality of man being a tiny part of an orderly creation, meant to utilize the facilities provided by nature to achieve a higher dimension of existence. Vedic texts, especially the Bhagavad-Gita, acknowledge the innate inquisitiveness of a human and advices channeling the same towards questioning higher truths of existence.

Francis Bacon, British painter, says “We cannot command nature except by obeying her”. Instead of
* Trying to control hurricanes, as attempted by the ‘giant- tub proposal’ funded by Bill Gates, which the critics say as akin to placing pennies on a railroad track and hoping to stop a freight train or
* Shoot dust into threatening clouds as planned for the 2008 Olympics, an endeavor that had several meteorologists and weather modifiers of the world chuckle or
* Build dams like the ‘Three Gorges’ on Yangtze river whose disastrous environmental/social impact is well documented,
man would do well to lead a life of humility, gratefully acknowledging the gifts of nature and utilizing it towards enabling one to attain higher dimensions of blissful existence that have so often been alluded to in several ancient texts of the world, especially the Vedas.

Else, nature would have to continue to brutally remind man of his foolhardy attempts to dominate.
Nature… She pardons no mistakes. Her yea is yea, and her nay, nay. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Vedic Observer

Man prides himself on being a creature of reason, above the lowly beasts. Yet it seems that when he applies his reason to unlocking the secrets of nature for his benefit, he sinks deeper and deeper into a quagmire of intractable problems. The internal combustion engine gets us where we’re going faster, but also results in choking air pollution, the greenhouse effect, and a dangerous dependence on oil. Harnessing the atom gives us cheap energy, but also leads to weapons of mass destruction, Chernobyl, and a rising tide of dangerous radioactive waste. Modern agribusiness produces a dizzying variety and abundance of food at the supermarket, but also results in the death of the family farm, the pollution of ground water, the loss of precious topsoil, and many other problems.

It’s clear we’re missing something in our attempts to harness the laws of nature for our own purposes. What is that “something”? We find out in the very first mantra of the Isoupanishad the foremost of ancient India’s books of wisdom known as the Upanisads: “Everything in this creation is owned and controlled by the Lord. One should therefore accept only those things necessary for himself, which are set aside as his quota, and one should not accept other things, knowing well to whom they belong.”

In nature we see this principle at work. Nature’s arrangement, set up by the Lord, maintains the birds and beasts: the elephant eats his fifty kilos per day, the ant his few grains. If man doesn’t interfere, the natural balance sustains all creatures.
Any agriculturalist will tell you the earth can produce enough food to feed ten times the present human population. Yet political intrigues and wars, unfair distribution of land, the production of cash crops like tobacco, tea, and coffee instead of food, and erosion due to misuse ensure that millions go hungry, even in wealthy countries like the United States.
We must understand the laws of nature from the viewpoint of the Supreme Lord, who has created these laws. In His eyes all the earth’s inhabitants—whether creatures of the land, water, or air—are His sons and daughters. Yet we, the human inhabitants, the “most advanced” of His creatures, treat these sons and daughters with great cruelty, from the practice of animal slaughter to destruction of the rain forests. Is it any wonder that we suffer an unending series of natural disasters, wars, epidemics, famines, and the like?

Peace Formula

The source of our problem is the desire for sense gratification beyond the consideration of anyone else’s rights. These rights are the rights of the child in relation to the father. Every child has the right to share the wealth of his father. So creating a brotherhood of all creatures on earth depends on understanding the universal fatherhood of God. This is the peace formula.

Suggested Reading

# “Laws of Nature” by A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami.

Written by Kaushik Balasubramanian.

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Base men do not undertake any work apprehending obstacles. Mediocres make a start, but cease working when they encounter hindrances. The men of excellence, however, after commencing a job do not give up despite of recurrence of impediments.

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