Tag Archives: nature

Inside or Outside?

A few months ago, my dad built a nice patio in our front yard. It is outside and only 15 feet from the street, but trees offer privacy. There are shaded parts and sunny parts and there are always birds chirping and a nice breeze. When the sun was out, I would do all of my homework sitting there, and it was much more enjoyable than sitting inside.

I found a very interesting expose in the New York Times, on kids spending time outdoors. It featured an editorial by Nicholas Kristof, an article about kindergartners that spend three hours a day in the forest, and a chance for students to talk about what they think of nature.

Kristof mentions a book called Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv. Louv’s thesis is that the baby boomers are most likley that last generation that will share an intimate connection with the land and water. What this means, is that our generation will be far less connected (face it we are) and further generations will be even less so. It’s almost inevitiable. I remember reading a book by Isaac Asimov, a reknowned science fiction writer, in which cities became enclosed metropolitan areas, completely distinct from nature. I think that is a entirely possible, however disgusting it may be. Granted, it will take hundreds of years to get there. But still, it could.

The most interesting thing I saw was something that Louv calls ‘nature defecit disorder.’ Essentially, not being in nature is linked to depression, obesity and ADD. It makes sense. There is an overwhelming sense of calm and serenity you can gain from reflecting in nature. At the same time, it encourages young kids to be active. When I was young, my friends and I didn’t need video games to keep us busy. Our imaginations took us everywhere in parks and backyards. And this activity fights obesity.

I think that a big problem is that nature often comes into conflict with efficiecy. If you put computer engineers on laptops on a park bench in Central park to work, they would not get work done. That is, unless they were already so lost to the world. And these days, its all about cramming as much into your day as you can. That leaves no room for some time for fun or relaxation in nature. Too many people would rather run on a treadmill than go run at a county park. Too many people would rather hurry home than stop and smell the roses.

I have been trying to understand how this relates to our heightened awareness of environmental problems and the trend to going green. It seems hypocritical to drive a prius and use cloth bags at the grocery store, but not spend time outdoors. If we are trying to save the world for later generations, why not enjoy it for ourselves in the meantime?

While it may not be the most productive thing to sit and watch a sunset from a hilltop, or the tide come in on the beach, it is certainly worth the time. Nature, like friendship and family, goes beyond having a monetary value and for that reason we should treasure and cherish it more than we do. It deserves our love, respect and attention.

the beach in half moon bay CA

We Are … Star Trekkers!

This Thanksgiving break has been all movie time (By the way, Balto was a really nice movie. Thank you Walter). During one boring night, I decided to re-watch Star Trek. Throughout the entire movie, you see spaceships warping (traveling at the speed of light or greater) to various parts of the universe. Inside the command center, you literally behold space beginning to bend and stretch as the ship goes into warp drive. Similarly, beaming is the teleportation of people from one location to another. In one scene, an engineer discovers the equation to beaming people onto moving objects and exclaims, “Of course! I never would have thought of space as a moving force!” Although these space travel concepts are merely theoretical, I believe that they are attainable and will be implemented in the far future. As human technology progresses, we will be able to bend space, time, and the basic laws of nature. A truly formidable power, don’t you agree? “With great power comes great responsibility,” as everyone has heard. I agree that if we are able to achieve such technologies, we could use it for a multitude of beneficial applications. I cannot even begin to list ways we could help nature; just use your imagination. However, powerful things always have possibilities to go horribly wrong. For example, space/time travel could always be dangerous, especially with the “affect something in the past changes everything in the future” type of thing. Small changes that could be made through advancements in human technology could have quite damaging effects on nature and its living organisms. The theme of science and its effects on nature is what I will be exploring further in my paper.

The Distant Past: A Shroud of Disregard

The Great Wall of China

After reading Lindsay’s “China’s Three Gorges Dam,” I could not refrain myself from writing about one of the most important monuments in China’s history, The Great Wall of China. Because the Great Wall is not nearly as new as the Three Gorges Dam, it poses subtler questions about its effects on nature. It in fact is so old that it seems like a part of nature itself, much like how we consider the Stonehenge to be a part of nature. But in actuality, it is the product of the human hand, literally.

I cannot help to wonder how such a huge structure, over five thousand miles long, would have affected nature and its animals. How many habitats were destroyed with the construction of this unthinkably massive wall? Such questions inundate my mind, for I would never have thought that this revered structure, built to prevent destruction of humanity from war, ironically, could have caused major damage to nature. I am very surprised that I had never thought of this topic before, but then again, the Great Wall successfully shrouded itself with its blanket of grass and trees in order to blend into nature.

I wonder why there is always controversy about recent technological structures that could harm nature such as the Three Gorges Dam but not about things of the past such as the Great Wall. Is destroying nature with human technology a concept strictly limited to the present and the future? Why do we not talk about things of the distant past and their effects? Is it because humans were not harmful before, but are becoming increasingly so as we progress through time? And if this is true, how are we evolving so quickly? What are our outlooks for the future? I don’t know about you, but my mind is sufficiently blown.

Cheating Extinction

I read Matt’s post about the danger of trash to animals and I am definitely looking forward to the discussion we will have in his class on Tuesday. But before that, I will present some initial thoughts regarding Matt’s main topic of discussion, “If we believe in evolution, survival of the fittest, and that extinction is a natural part of life, then why do we feel the need to ‘save’ endangered species.” Firstly, I think there is a dichotomy between those who think that extinction is natural and those who feel the need to save endangered species. Therefore, “we” should be better specified. So from now on, I shall use “we” for those who want to save endangered animals.

Some might consider the people who want to save endangered animals as “good” and people who will not step into action due to the belief in the naturalness of extinction as “bad”. But I shall state otherwise. Those who want to save the animals are the ones who want to transcend nature. Similar to the popular idea of cheating death, these people hope of cheating nature’s principles of evolution and extinction. I found a TV show on Animal Planet called Orangutan Island, in which people are trying to save the endangered Orangutans by protecting them and giving them homes. The title of Season 2’s Episode 1 is “Cheating Extinction,” which pertains quite well to our discussion. The regular viewer would think that the Orangutans are cheating extinction, but actually we are the ones cheating extinction. Not our extinction, but the Orangutan’s extinction. So now, we play a key role in the fate of other animals. Quite a weighty responsibility, isn’t it? Of course. Attempting to invalidate nature’s inherent laws by replacing it with human power is no small deal.

How Much is Too Much?

I was actually just reading the article written about mice with human brains before I saw Walter’s post on the same article. As carefully justified in the article, and also mentioned by Walter, this kind of research is purely used for medical purposes, and not anything like attempting to create new species. Being able to “try out both stem cell interventions and other potential cures on living human brain cells without having to use humans in the process” is the big advantage, and it’s a big step towards curing many diseases.

What I read from this article is that any kind of research or experiment is okay as long as it stays in the lab. They did manage to ban mating among the artificial species to try to regulate this branch of research. It seemed that they were saying that if we don’t allow reproduction and don’t release them into the wild, creating a mouse with a human brain is perfectly fine. Right now they are only studying brain development through medium that’s not human. But what will happen once they want to study environmental effects on the brain? Would they have to make a creature with a brain so similar to a human’s that it would react the same way a human would when stimulated by its surroundings? If we created an new species that has almost the exact characteristics as humans, is it still going to be morally right to do so if we promise to keep it in the lab?

All these questions lead to the debate of where to draw the line and how much meddling with nature is too much. We allow the sacrifice of many dispensable lives of mice in order to cure humans of illnesses. In the future, when we advance even further in science and medicine, are we just going to re-convince ourselves that whatever research we do then is completely justified by the benefit is brings?

The (Sim)bolism in Games

Let’s do something different. I am in the gaming mood right now, but trust me, I wasn’t playing video games over the entire weekend. Remember the simulation game made by Electronic Arts called Simcity? Well I noticed that there are some ideas related with nature in this game. Create new profile: Miles. Start city. Before you begin building your city, you are in the stage called “God Mode”. In this stage, you can manipulate nature into almost anything you want. Perhaps a mountain here would be nice. Maybe a lake would enhance my city-under-construction. Let’s add some trees to create a jungle. How about some llamas? I don’t know about you, but I find this game naturally addicting. For some reason, I find pleasure in making nature into anything I wish. I find pleasure in summoning UFOs or tornadoes to attack the city. Why? I do not know. It’s not like I’m a bad person who enjoys the sight of pain. I think it’s just this inherent human characteristic. We all want power over nature. It’s built into our minds and hardwired in. That is how EA can make so much money from its games. They appeal to natural human desires. Now this is what I consider an effective corporate marketing strategy.

You can’t talk about Simcity without talking about its counterpart, the Sims. I have recently spent some time playing Sims 3, in which you get to create and control your Sim’s life and fate. Again, you play the god figure. First you construct the physical features of your Sim. Next you can select from a plethora of personalities and traits to create your ideal (or non-ideal) Sim. You control his or her lifespan, every action, and basically everything. This successful game is quite popular and widely acclaimed. Why do we find so much pleasure in controlling the lives of other “humans”? Does this game serve as a means of venting or living vicariously? Maybe we want the feeling of power, not just over nature, but also over other humans, which makes us consider whether the major battle is always between nature and humanity.

We Can’t Control Everything

Travis the chimpAbout a week ago, Oprah featured a woman named Charla Nash (see part 1 of the video here). She came on the show behind a black veil, guided by Oprah into her chair. The story that brought her to national television happened in February, 2009. Nash received a call from her friend, Sandra Herold, asking help to get her 200-lb pet chimpanzee, Travis, back into his cage. Upon Nash’s arrival, the chimp suddenly attacked her and started to rip off her nose, eyes, and upper jaw. By the time the police arrived, Nash’s face and fingers was almost completely gone. Travis went for a police, and was subsequently shot and killed.

Humans have a desire to be in control. Our technology gives us the ability to manipulate our surroundings, which only adds fire to the appeal of conquering nature. The romanticized idea of being in control of a wild animals is present in stories throughout history, real and fictional. Being the proud owner of a vicious animal is looked upon with admiration. But bringing a wild animal to one’s home as a pet will only cause trouble on both sides, and Nash’s story is just another reminder of that fact.

As renowned primatologist Jane Goodall said in this opinion piece, “a chimpanzee can never be totally domesticated”. Wild animals are called wild for a reason: they have primal instincts that can’t be nurtured away. In Travis’ case, the chimp had done commercials as a baby, wore humans clothes, and entertained himself with TV. However, even living a life in captivity couldn’t erase the violent nature of the animal. Because of his captivity, the abilities Travis should have had, like knowing how to interact with other chimps and finding himself food, had been replaced by human traits such as being toilet trained and eating from a table. This results in the chimp losing the life it could’ve had in is natural habitat, and instead, received a life of confinement and forced adaption. No matter how good we are at using nature to our advantage, there are some things that we just can’t change.

Sometimes the wild should remain in the wild.