Collin Nature Response

September 20, 2017


A connection that has recurred throughout this course is that of “nature” to spirituality. Coates, too, references this many times throughout his philosophical musings in Nature. Now, it must be briefly mentioned that Coates is a prodigious quoter of intellectuals both past and present, so it is often difficult or confusing to determine his position on whatever he is discussing. This serves as a disclaimer if I accidentally quote something out of context. Returning to the subject of nature and mysticism, Coates documents this supposed or actual relationship, often dichotomous, since the Classical Era. With regard to the Greeks, he writes that “Greek deities were overwhelmingly nature based… correspondence between the domain of the gods and the world of nature encouraged the belief that the natural world and its parts were sanctified” (Coates 30). Though Coates goes on to investigate the ways in which this eco-spirituality did not entail environmental attitudes among the ancients, paganism still retains the image of a more natural, environmentally inclined faith. Indeed, many modern neo-pagans tend to be environmentalists and seem to have adopted their resurrected faiths as a consequence of some deeply held affinity for the Earth. This is often coupled with a rejection of the Christian religion, which is perceived as mandating the supremacy of man over all else.

Naturally, no pun intended, it’s worth mentioning that the pagan philosophers propagated ideas that run counter to this notion of a historic, ecological religion. Plato valued the soul over the material world, and Aristotle promoted humankind as resting at the top of the hierarchy of beings. Despite their pre-Christian worldview, these philosophers were beloved by the educated medieval class. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is their ideas of man’s supremacy that outlasted their religion, no matter how unevenly it protected the environment. Despite this, the symbolism and iconism of paganism survived the promulgation of Christianity. However, it was inverted, which I would haphazardly attribute to the shift from polytheism to monotheism. Rather, it was necessary to recontextualize this symbolism within the confines of a singular transcendent deity. Much as the forces of the sky were once represented by Zeus, the Middle Ages used nature to signify elements of Christianity. Coates writes that “The pelican was reputed to feed its young on its own blood, a trait taken to be symbolic of Christ giving life to mankind through his blood” (Coates 60). Zeus represents and has power over a facet of nature. Conversely, the pelican, a facet of nature, is subordinated to the new god, Christ, whom has total dominion over the pelican. With Zeus, it is difficult to tell whether he symbolizes the sky or the sky symbolizes him. In the case of the pelican, the answer is much clearer.

Though Coates doesn’t address any of these points, he arguably documents how this process continues, even as nature evolves from its medieval symbolism phase. Instead, the figures of the Renaissance and Enlightenment enact a fascinating reversal: nature ceases to be the symbol and starts to be the symbolized. This is indicated by the treatment of the natural world as a knowable, deterministic machine. Quoting Johannes Kepler, Coates states “My aim is to show that the celestial machine is to be likened not to a divine organism but rather to clockwork” (Coates 71). Thus, nature becomes symbolized by or likened to a machine. Although still subordinate to the Christian god, this variant of nature is well on its way to secularization. Indeed, the transmogrification of nature as symbol to the symbolized removes it of any spiritual element. The symbol of nature or its disparate factors previously referred to a divine power, but in this era, nature became an end to be referred to in its own right. The sacred is slowly banished to the penumbras of the human conception of the natural world due to humanity’s developing phenomenal and symbolic comprehension of it.

Environmental News:

Scientists have acquired evidence that a certain species of octopus, octopus tetricus, actually builds so-called “cities” in the ocean. These “cities” are described as artificial reefs comprised of clam and scallop shells, which were fashioned into dens for the octopuses to occupy. Apparently, however, these octopuses are quite quarrelsome, for they will frequently try to evict their neighbors from their respective dens.


Current Event-Daniel Delatte

September 19, 2017

Current Event:

Hurricane Maria is coming up next right after Hurricane Irma. It’s the strongest storm to hit the region in 90 years. “You have to evacuate — otherwise, you are going to die,’ he said, according to Telemundo, NBC’s Spanish-language network. ‘I do not know how to make this any clearer.” Yikes.

Nature: Western Attitudes Since Ancient Times- Daniel Delatte

September 19, 2017

Coates writes this book much like Pascal Bruckner did in his piece The Fanaticism of the Apocalypse. The only difference is that he doesn’t go about blaming anyone. He’s a “neither nor” type of guy, where he even refers to the Nazi’s in one of his arguments. He also chooses to explain things in the easiest manner breaking it up into subjects inside the chapter. The style, however, is the same to Bruckner’s where he goes on bringing about points and defending them in the next. He constantly reverts back to things that occurred previously in history to show how people of that time would handle situations of improper ecology. He uses many sources, like the Bible, which is something we’ve seen a lot of these environmental authors do. It’s interesting to me to see it done so often by these scientific scholars who you wouldn’t think would try to acknowledge it in their works because of their backgrounds. I think what he addressed early on in the book, the responsibility aspect of it, was most important because of exactly what he said, “no human society has ever lived completely inside or outside of environmental change.” I don’t see how we could play the blame game on something that’s going to happen regardless of who’s inhabiting the land at what time.


Miranda: Week 5

September 19, 2017

Peter Coates investigates and speaks towards the ideological and material factors that influence the human being state of observation of nature—the very world that surrounds us.  Coates talks about how nature, beyond what humans view and have contributed to the world, has its own separate history and identity.  Questions such as “is nature unaffected by humans?” are spoken about through the human perceptions of religion and ethics, science, technology, economics, gender, and ethnicity.

The book is geared towards those who seek to understand the role of nature and the history of ideas surrounding nature.  Nature is an impressive display of meanings as a physical place, as an inspiration and source of authority as the collective phenomena of the world.  It is contrasted with culture.

Over recent history Coates speaks about how writers have interpreted humans past dealing with nature and the writers efforts to directly find a root cause to the contemporary ecological problems.  He also mentions the future of nature and where the human understanding may move next.

Zak Hill: Coates Nature (Part 1) Response & Environmental News

September 19, 2017


I  thought this book was a very drastic change from the books we were previously reading.  This book read much more like a textbook than the last two books we had read for class.  Peter Coates explores the idea of nature, and how Western civilization has viewed their relationship with nature at different periods of time.  He begins his analysis during the times of the Greeks and Romans.  He introduces the idea of their word, “natura” which represented the natural world apart from the world of civilization and society.  He also explores some of the ways ancient societies went on to alter their environment which inevitably leads to change in the world around them.  Nature and society were clearly divided back in the time of the Greeks/Romans were the forest where nature resided, apart from society.

The next chapter explored The Middle Ages in which some of the views on nature still have influence today.  This chapter was characterized by religion, and its influence on societies view of nature.  This period of time produced a lot of artwork, and scientific evidence that characterized humans separation from nature at the time.  The Christian faith has a lot of influence on the world we live in today, and the way we view nature.  For example, in colonizing Western America people used the idea of manifest destiny to colonize the land.  They believed that God gave them the right, and wanted them to colonize America from sea to sea.  People could say that God gave them the right to this land, but this land is founded on the idea of freedom of religion.  So who’s religion is right?  The part about the Franciscan alternative view was also very interesting because they preach to be good stewards of the land, and use their resources to their fullest potential leaving very little to waste.

The next chapter introduces the idea of modernity, and the drastic changes that time period brought.  The age of Enlightenment, and the Scientific Revolution sparked drastic change in human’s understanding of nature.  This also sparked change in the way people understood their relationship with the world of nature.  He focuses on scholars of the time like Newton who discovered the Laws of Gravity.  These conclusions further separated the worlds of nature and society which further separated the two worlds.

The last chapter of this weeks reading assignment seemed to talk about North America in general, The Native Americans, and their outlook on their relationship with the world of nature.  It explored some non-western ideas of nature, and how they contrasted to the western ideas earlier explained in the chapter.  However, there is evidence that the Native Americans altered their landscape even back then.  I thought it was curious that he explored the Aboriginals of Australia’s view of nature, just because of the sheer distance it was to all of the things he was talking about in the chapter but realized that ancient Aboriginals had some similar views of nature as the Native Americans did. At the end of the chapter, he explores how colonialism created a strict dualism between ecology and empire, where only one could survive.

Environmental News:

I just thought this article was a little humorous.  I also just really like ducks.  I accidentally introduced the article to my friend as, “What Swims like a Duck and Quacks like a Duck but Could Still be a Duck.” That is to say that the article explored how a hybrid species of duck could lead to the extinction of one of the parent species.  The mallard duck which is able to mate with the less common Mottled Duck has created a hybrid species that may end up causing the mottled duck to go extinct.  Hybrid species have previously caused species to go extinct in the past, and now researchers are looking for solutions on how to save the mottled duck species.  This is interesting to me because I am sure that human’s impact on the environment has caused both duck species to lose habitat, increasing the two species interactions with each other.  I say this based on species niches to where both duck species probably could not compete for the same habitat and survive.

Nature anaysis by Makali

September 19, 2017

This book gave some interesting perspectives, and it thought it was helpful to get a glimpse into the mind of people from a different time. In the book, he said, “Saint Benedict believed that it was the duty of the monks to work as partners of God in improving his creation or at least giving it more human expression”. It is interesting to me that he equates human expression as an improvement. It seems so backward in our society, we try to limit as much as possible the effect we have. Can we actually improve the natural world? MAny people would answer different ways. In certain Greek stories, Coates explained that some animals purpose wast to help adjust people’s attitudes. Like how mice lived in order to warn people to stop being untidy. Although I don’t believe this theroy, it is an amusing way to think about nature.

Cotes explained another person’s belief in how the world is a dynamic system, it can and does change without harm. He goes on to say we need to “foster a working relationship with nature”. Cotes relived earlier that the world did change in many ways including getting a few degrees warmer between 1086 and 1300. He later retells how a man believes that all our changes to the earth are just “shaping new ecosystems”. I think hearing these beliefs help counterbalance all the extreme environmentalist theories, and give people a more reasonable outlook on our ecosystem.

Current event: Archeologist recently stumbled onto a tomb in Guatemala. Although there is no writing the man was covered in textiles and surrounded by offering vessels, so they are concluding that it was a Mayan king. They believe that it was from 300 to 350 A.D., which is one of the earliest tombs they have found in that region. The king was wearing a red jade mask and jade stones on his teeth. They also noticed that the artifacts were made in a hurry indicating that this King likely died unexpectedly.



Amber Week 5

September 19, 2017

Nature: Western Attitudes since Ancient Times Notes Part 1

Nature: Western Attitudes since Ancient Times by Peter Coates at first reminded me of the first day of class where we were asked to define the word wilderness. Coates opens the book by defining what nature is today but goes further by explaining how the word and attitude toward nature has changed in the western world. Coates seems to settle on the concept that nature is something that humans have created and that our attitude toward is is dependent on numerous variables such as a place of beauty, joy and source of wealth. I have found the first half of this book to be quite interesting as he has been able to integrate historical information into the text, but I also like history. Coates starts off at the beginning of the “western intellectual experience” by looking at the ancient Greeks and Romans. For the Greeks, nature was intellectual property and principle instead of a physical object. I found this interesting because it seems like today most would think of nature as physical object that is made up of many physical objects. The Greeks were considered soft towards wildlife compared to the Romans who used violence for their entertainment in the form of gladiator contests. Considering the number of organisms that went extinct in the area during the time of the Romans, it makes sense now what might have happened to them as the Romans frequently used them for sport. Another point I found interesting was how many of today’s places in Europe were shaped by the events of the past. The example Coates provides is when the Black Death claimed millions of lives in Europe thus leaving many villages and fields abandoned for nature to reclaim resulting in their present appearance. Another point I found interested was the common thought that the native americans did not do much damage to the environment compared to other people. Coates provides a decent counter argument to this way of thinking by suggesting that they were not entirely as innocent as the movie Pocahontas portrays them. The Aztecs used the soil in intensive agriculture practices that potentially they would have fallen from that had the Europeans not arrived first. Numerous people from in present day Arizona and New Mexico, evidence suggests that their numbers began to decline in the 1500s due to climate change from over cropping and deforestation as the land turned to desert. When horses arrived back in North America from the Europeans, hunting of the buffalo caused the buffalo population to plummet which fits the trend of when humans first arrived on the continent and over hunted large game to extinction. All of these points indicate that native americans might not have been the perfect environmentalist that most depict them as. Overall, I have found this book to a more enjoyable read compared to last week’s book. At times it can be dense to read due to the amount of philosophical writing that is incorporated but   the historical aspects of it have kept me interested.

Environmental News

The usage of body farms can be a controversial but they help in understanding the decomposition of human body. In turn, understanding human decomposition allows scientists to solve murders, find missing people and identify them.  There are a number of body farms in the US and one in Australia and now some scientists are arguing to have one in the UK.  The sequence of events that occur in body decomp is the same no matter where the body is left but the timing of events varies depending on the environment. It is also argued that body farms also provide a place to train cadaver dogs and further learn how facial features and fingerprints change. By having a body farm in the UK, scientists will be able to learn about how bodies decay in their climate.