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Archive for February, 2012

Natural

“Cities are no more artificial than the hives of bees”  — John Gray (Straw Dogs)

I often find myself confused by what people mean when they say that something that exists is unnatural.  Are genetically modified foods ‘unnatural’? What about clothing?  Music? Dogs?

One definition I saw for natural is: Existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind.   What about things that were made by non-human sentients?  Why draw the line at humans?  And if humans naturally came to exist, shouldn’t we think of what they create as natural?  What is special about conscious design?  Do we even know what would exist right now if the world had been free from human intervention?

An alternative is to think of anything that doesn’t actually exist as unnatural (counterfactual worlds).  Is there more utility with the current definition?

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I was watching little kids play tag.  I noticed that if whoever was ‘it’ was running towards a group of children, the children would scatter, and one extra-slow kid would lag behind.  The slow kid was the obvious target for the it kid.  This reminded me of a lion chasing zebras, and eating the one that is slowest or injured.

But then I wondered, why don’t all games of tag quickly end up in an absorbing state where the slowest kid is it?  Obviously, the game wouldn’t be fun if that was the case.  Perhaps kids like to be it sometimes, and let the slow kid catch them.

Does this work as a metaphor?  It’s not hard to think of all kinds of examples of people being ‘slower’ than their peers (intelligence, beauty, size, strength, energy, mood).  Do we let the slower people tag us?  And if so, is it to be nice, or is it because we enjoy the chase?

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