Personally,I found the first half of the book to be a better read than the second half, even though I was more prepared this time for the detailed style of Coates’ writing. The first half of the book depicted more of the old attitudes on nature, which sparked more interesting elements and philosophies in myself. I thought that the way ancient greeks and romans viewed nature as more of a place that affected their everyday life. The second half fades away from earlier ideologies of nature, and ventures into more modern attitudes, which are also interesting but a bit less mysterious (as in ancient views). Here are a couple of fascinating quotes and ideas from the second half of the book:
- In Chapter 7, Coates describes the character of Ernst Haeckel. Haeckel was an aggressive atheist who decried Christianity for generating contempt for other creatures. He was influenced by Goethe’s Romantic holism and interested in Buddhism, which was expressed in monism – a belief that all matter is invested with spirit and the matter and spirit are a part of a common substance within a unified cosmos. I found his view on human vs. animal consciousness to be a bit radical, but interesting nonetheless, “Our own, ‘human nature’…..has no more value for the universe at large than an ant, the fly of a summer’s day, the microscopic infusorium, or the smallest bacillus” (142-143).
- In Chapter 9, the idea of human vs. animal consciences mentioned in Chapter 7 by Haeckel, is further examined. German thinker Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz reinforced the case for immortal souls of animals in the late seventeenth century, arguing that human and animal intelligence differ only in degree. He saw nature as a hierarchy of states of consciousness. “At the bottom resided dead matter, fated to eternal sleep; just above this were plants in a passive state, followed by the lower animals; then came the more alert consciousness of the higher animals. Humans perched at the apex of self-consciousness, yet remained part of the collective structure” (181). This idea of structural hierarchy of consciousness, may hold some merit. For example if you look at apes and dolphins, they hold a higher level of consciousness than other animals, such as butterflies and toads.
- In Chapter 6, Thomas Jefferson believed that American virtue and vigor stemmed directly from redemptive contact with the soil. For Jefferson, wild and unmodified environments did not constitute nature. “Wilderness was the raw material out of which nature was fashioned- nature being the improved, privately owned landscape of farms, gardens and rural estates that occupied the middle ground between industrial urban society and untamed savagery” (123). I like this idea of wilderness perceived as being different than nature; as being the raw material of nature. It does do both terms justice: nature being a man made concoction out of an untouched wilderness.