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Related Words, Beliefs, Background

Worldview Theme #27: Belonging to Nature

alphabetical listing: A to K 

  alphabetical listing, continued: L to Z
Contrast Worldview Themes #27 and #25 --  these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!         

agriculture--the technology and practice of farming--preparing the soil, planting, nourishing, cultivating, and raising crops for food or fiber--or raising livestock, fish, etc. for human consumption.  Its earliest beginnings, nearly 10,000 years ago, allowed humans to start trading hunter-gatherer lifestyles for more settled existences.  In the last century, the development of manmade fertilizers, pesticides, mechanized farm equipment--and more recently new varieties of grains--has greatly increased agricultural productivity.  While globally agriculture still employs 35 % of the world's workers,  in affluent countries the corresponding figure is much less (in places dropping below 1%).    

alienated--estranged, the opposite of belonging

animal rights --the idea that some animals should have the same most fundamental basic rights as human beings, and that animals in general should be treated with greater respect. Thus some animal rights advocates work for legally guaranteeing certain animals (notably the great apes) the right to life, liberty, and freedom from torture; others push for ethical treatment for animals in general.

animism -- the belief that all things, living or non- living, possess a spirit or soul that is separate from their physical form. Many peoples' earth-based spirituality is founded on this belief.

appropriate (or soft) technology--technology selected, designed and implemented with the special environmental, cultural, social and economic aspects of the community it is intended for in mind. It typically has little or no significant environmental impact and is well suited to an area since it makes use of what is relatively abundant--for example, labor in places where people need jobs.     Typically it involves devices that are small, relatively simple, inexpensive, decentralized, and that can preserve meaningful experiences or work for people. In contrast high or hard technology typically has much greater environmental impact, tends to replace people with machines, and can involve more technological complexity, equipment capital outlay, etc. Example: Using lots of workers with hand tools to control unwanted brush and growth in a forest--so that young trees can get more sun and grow better--would be an appropriate technology solution; using one person flying over a forest in a helicopter spraying a chemical herbicide to kill unwanted growth would be a hard technology way of accomplishing the same thing.                                               

biodiversity -- a term that refers to the biological diversity and genetic variation present in an ecosystem -- be it tiny biological community or the whole biosphere. It can be gauged by counting the number of species the ecosystem contains. Preserving biodiversity can be important to the stability of the ecosystem, and may have practical benefits in that little studied or unknown species can be sources of new drugs for medical treatments, food crops, inspiration for engineering design, etc.  Besides habitat destruction, and genetic manipulation, humans threaten biodiversity with intentional or unintentional introduction of species not native to an ecosystem (invasive species)-- increasingly a problem with growing tourism and globalization of recent decades.

bioregion--a region sharing common geography, similar biological communities, and other climate, cultural and environmental factors that make it stand out as an organization unit for planning purposes. Note that parts of a given bioregion can be in different countries and that a single large country can contain many different bioregions.

biosphere -- the part of the Earth that supports life.

debt for nature swap -- foreign debt held by an organization is exchanged for a typically larger amount of domestic debt , which is then put toward financing preserving naturally beautiful areas or resources under pressure to be exploited in Third World debtor countries

deep ecology --believing that humans are not separate from, but rather part of the Earth, this philosophy urges people to take an ecocentric not anthropocentric perspective. Thus it urges more equally valuing all living things, the integrity of ecosystems and natural processes.

dharma--a concept central to the religions of India, symbolized by the wheel, it refers to the underlying principles / inherent order in nature and belief that it is one's duty to live in accordance with them.

Earth's natural cycles--study of that very complex system, the roughly 8000 miles in diameter spherical planet  Earth, is facilitated by considering its numerous subsystems--some of which are naturally conceptualized as cycles of matter moving within and between the Earth's biosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and lithosphere.  Driven by input of solar energy, especially critical to life is the closed system cycling of six chemicals--providing individual oxygen, water, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur cycles. The key to understanding the appearance of the Earth's surface landforms--and operating over a much longer time frame--is the rock cycle. 

ecological conscience--a term popularized by Aldo Leopold who connected it with treating the land right--in accordance with his land ethic.  More generally it involves feeling obligated to treat the natural habitat where one lives right: 1) not making a mess of it, and  2) not incurring ecological debt.

ecology--a branch of biology involving the study of living things and their  interrelationship with each other and the environment. Its Greek roots (oikos = house & logy = study of) suggest it refers to study of one's habitat

ecosharing --an environmental ethic for people to live by: that their own impact on the Earth’s biosphere be limited to no more than their own fair ecoshare. An ecoshare is determined by overall assessment of the human impact on the biosphere, computer models of its future condition, and necessary limits imposed by sustainability criteria. The book Coming of Age in the Global Village (published in 1990) sought to quantify an "ecoshare" by linking it to average world per capita income and energy use.  According to CIA World Factbook figures, the 2007 world per capita income (adjusted using purchasing power parity exchange rates) is $10,000 / yr per person. World energy use per capita is 66.4 MBTU  / yr per person, based on 2003 figures from WRI.

ecosystem -- a self sustaining, interacting  natural community of animals, plants, and their physical environment. While matter cycles through such systems, energy moves in one-way (linear) fashion through the associated food chain. At its bottom, plants capture solar energy, are eaten by animals (herbivores and omnivores), who in turn are eaten by other animals (carnivores and omnivores) at the top. These are eaten by microorganisms (decomposers)-- by which time all of the energy that initially flowed into the system will have flowed back out as waste heat.  Each living component has a continuing, dynamic relationship with the others.  If numbers of species A fall, numbers of species B, which preys upon A, will similarly fall. With less predation of A its numbers  begin climbing, and likewise numbers of species B recover as well.

ecological groundedness -- a feeling of being intimately, confidently , enjoyably -- sometimes even joyously -- connected to the wild, natural community where one lives.

endangered species--a biological species whose number of individual members has gotten so low that it is threatened with extinction.  In many countries, laws protect such species from humans.  see also species

evolution -- the ongoing process of physical, chemical and biological change that can be traced from the beginning of the universe, to the lifeless Earth coming into existence 4.5 billion years ago, and to its current state of teeming with a diversity of living things. Biological evolution refers to the process by which the individual members of a species, and species themselves, slowly change due to changes in genetic makeup, environmental circumstances, etc.

extinction -- refers to a biological species ceasing to exist, either because it disappears (perhaps relatively quickly) or slowly evolves into something else. Species can disappear very abruptly in mass extinctions caused by asteroids or comets impacting Earth, or relatively quickly (given that the typical lifetime of past species might be three to five million years) due to negative effects of human activity on the biosphere.

Gaia / Gaia Hypothesis -- Gaia, the ancient Greek earth goddess, has been resurrected in recent years as a sort of presiding spirit of the Earth. According to the Gaia Hypothesis, the whole Earth is in some sense alive and functions as single self regulating organism.

grace -- a person’s belief -- sometimes difficult to sustain given hardships or evidence to the contrary -- that God , Nature or Reality is ultimately on his or her side and will occasionally gift one with unwarranted help. Those who more fully embrace its existence may use the term “miraculous” (or “amazing” as in the song!) in describing grace.

Green / Environmental Movement--a movement that blossomed in the 1960s with growing concerns about environmental pollution and manmade destruction of natural beauty, which, by the start of the 21st century had developed a political dimension with the formation of green parties in many countries. The chief goal of this movement is the development and maintenance of a sustainable society. It hopes to bring this about democratically by applying ecological wisdom and economic thinking that no longer ignores, but rather heavily factors in the environment.  Minimizing pollution, promoting efficient use of natural resources, recycling, shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy, protecting biodiversity, and helping affluent western societies transition from wasteful, destructive multinational profit-minded corporate driven consumerism / globalization to more environmentally sound, ethical, socially just, sustainable economies are important goals of this movement.

human evolution--the evolutionary change that saw modern humans (homo sapiens) develop from the earliest primates over the sixty-five million years since dinosaurs became extinct.  The common ancestor of monkeys and apes (a family which includes "naked apes" or humans) was the lemur--a rat sized mammal.  The evolutionary paths of gorillas, chimpanzees and humans split around ten million years ago. The first members of the genus "Homo" appeared around 2.5 million years ago, and homo sapiens  around 250,000 years ago.  A 1987 study, based on analysis of DNA in mitochondria (the cell's power plant), announced that all modern humans are descended from a female (dubbed "Eve") who lived 200,000 years ago.  Studies based on both archeological and genetic evidence suggest that humans lived exclusively in Africa until 50,000 years ago--when a small group left their home-land in the Great Rift Valley.  Geneticists' maps (based on DNA markers in Y chromosomes) trace their subsequent migration--to  Asia, then the Middle East and Europe. There, they out-competed a rival species, homo neanderthalensis, which died out 30,000 years.  After crossing Siberia, humans populated the Americas 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. 

humanistic religious naturalism--unlike traditional humanism, whether secular or religious, which are human-centered (anthropocentric),  humanistic religious naturalism is natural world centered.  Perhaps Carl Sagan was describing it when he wrote, "A religion that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by traditional faiths."

humility -- or being humble. According to Alan Morinis this involves “limiting oneself to an appropriate amount of space while leaving room for others. Weaving humility into relating to other people means valuing an orientation that proclaims, “I don't have all the answers and I want your contribution.” Embracing humility, according to Gary Zukov, means embracing the “harmlessness of one who treasures and honors and reveres life in all its forms”.

hunter-gatherer society--one in which people derive their sustenance from wild plants and animals, and often (seasonally or otherwise) move if necessary.  Before the domestication of these resources, beginning over 10,000 years ago, all humans lived in such societies.  

indigenous people--in 2004 the United Nations provided the following definition: "Indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing on those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal system."

instinct--an organism's response to environmental stimuli or inherent deposition toward a particular behavior. It is  genetically determined, hard-wired and thus independent of previous experience, learning, or memory.  Distinguishing  instinctual from learned human behavior can generate controversy amongst sociobiologists, psychologists, etc

  land ethic--as first formulated by Aldo Leopold in his 1949 classic A Sand County Almanac, "a thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."  

love vs. hate–Collier describes love as having to do "with bringing together into a whole that which belongs together" and hate "with enforcing separation and difference, driving apart [what is] inherently whole." 

natural capital -- is to be distinguished from manmade capital and human capital. Natural capital includes natural resources (air, water, soil, forests, minerals, fossil fuels, fish, etc) and the biodiversity of natural living ecosystems (grasslands, wetlands, ocean coral reefs, etc.)

natural selection -- a natural process that has the effect of allowing the survival and reproduction of those individuals best adapted to their environment. It operates at genetic, individual organism, and group / species levels and over very long time periods and is the mechanism that explains the appearance of design in nature without invoking the presence of a designer.

naturalistic fallacy -- the (mistaken?) belief that what happens in nature is always right, to which some would add things like “nature knows best”, “living as nature intended is best”, “natural foods are healthiest”, etc

naturopath -- a practitioner of naturopathic medicine. Such a doctor takes a wholistic approach to health care -- emphasizing health maintenance through prevention,  and improving health /  treating disease by assisting the body's innate capacity to heal itself. 

overshoot and collapse -- a phenomenon often seen by ecologists in studying ecosystems. It occurs when the numbers of a certain species dramatically rise, exceed the carrying capacity of the ecosystem, and then fall suddenly. Their numbers can recover eventually, provided the demands on the environment were not such that the carrying capacity is permanently degraded.

pantheism -- the belief that God is everywhere, inherent in all things, acting through natural laws and forces

panentheism -- unlike pantheism, which equates God and the universe, panentheism extends this with the following beliefs: 1) there is more to God than the material universe, as in “the whole is more than the sum of the parts”, 2) God is the animating force behind the universe, 3) as the Creator, God exists and remains within all Creation, and 4) God is the source of a universal morality.

pagan--the term has two somewhat different meanings: 1) a person who believes there are many gods (polytheist);  2) one who enjoys sensual pleasures (hedonist) and has no religion.

photosynthesis--a process of plants, algae, and certain bacteria in which sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide are absorbed and transformed into chemical energy of carbohydrates (sugars, starches), and oxygen is given off.  Light trapping green pigments known as chlorophyll typically play a key role in this process. 

polytheism--belief in more than one god  

recycling--instead of throwing out / trashing certain materials (newsprint, cardboard, office paper, aluminum cans, plastics, glass, metals, etc.) they are instead taken to a recycling center where they are sold / returned to manufacturers for reuse.  The practice saves both non-renewable resources and energy, and can reduce pollution and problems associated with landfills / dumps.  Food scraps, leaves, tree trimmings and other biodegradable waste can be recycled--in this case, returned to the ground to enrich the soil--through composting, anaerobic digestion or other processes involving micro-organisms. 

reproduction--the process--typically involving cells dividing, combining, or both--by which life creates new life and organisms perpetuate themselves.  It involves a species transmitting genetic information, in the form of hereditary material known as DNA, which insures that the structure, function, and other things associated with the species are passed on. Reproduction can be asexual--where a single parent splits to produce genetically identical offspring, or sexual--where offspring who are genetically unique individuals result from a combination of genes contributed by each parent.  Changes known as mutations, either random or due to radiation / environmental factors, in reproductive cells can be passed on to the next generation--resulting in unexpected genetic differences, birth defects or diseases. 

seasons--periods associated with a particular kind of weather and activity.  The Sun's apparent position in the sky during the middle of the day changes seasonally: high in summer (so radiant energy received is more direct/ greater and days are long); low in winter (radiation energy received is less direct / diluted and days are short).  Seasons are caused by the tilt of the Earth's axis: 23.5o from the direction perpendicular to the plane of its annual orbit around the Sun.          

shamanism--An ancient form of mind / body healing that believes in the ultimate connectedness of all things and employs altered states of consciousness. Shamanism is a sort of synthesis of mysticism and magic worldview themes. Shamans attempt to heal by restoring a person's balance with the natural surroundings and all life.

species--a biological term used to classify living things.  Its specification provides the lowest level in classification schemes, followed by (in order from lowest to highest) genus, family, order, class, phylum, and kingdom. While classifying organisms as belonging to the same species originally meant they shared structural and functional characteristics, then extended to mean they were capable of breeding, today there is widespread debate as to the exact definition. There seems to be general agreement that a species is a group of organisms with a common gene pool and is a distinct, evolving lineage.

stewardship--responsible, caring management of something (perhaps natural resources, a piece of land, etc) that is entrusted to a person, organization, or people.

tao / Taoism--the former is a concept from ancient China that can be thought of as the way of nature and, as related to human behavior, the path of virtuous conduct in accordance with nature; the latter refers to the Chinese mystical philosophy or folk religion built around conformity to the tao. Founded by Lao-Tzu in the 6th century BCE, Taoism is polytheist / animist / shamanist in a traditional Chinese way. Ethically it values compassion, moderation, and humility.

Tooth and Claw Ethics / Law of the Jungle--both of these date to the late nineteenth century, the former was made famous by "Darwin's bulldog" Thomas Huxley, one of the founders of evolutionary ethics, the latter by Rudyard Kipling (perhaps influenced by the Social Darwinist currents of the time) in The Jungle Book   Earlier in that century, British poet Tennyson had characterized nature as "red in tooth and claw".  The Law of the Jungle is basically "kill or be killed".

trickster, the--from the folklore and mythology of various diverse cultural traditions, the trickster is a spirit or figure who is typically linked with disorder, mischief, and chaos.  Ancient Europeans have linked the trickster with gods like Prometheus, Hermes, and Dionysus, while Native Americans have connected him with foxes, ravens, coyotes, etc. For this latter group tricksters were often clowns who made them laugh--something they deemed a prerequisite before they could properly commune with what they considered sacred.  In general, tricksters have been associated with bringing change--sometimes initially disruptive, painful and unwanted, but ultimately a positive cultural development.  Modern analysts of the civil rights movement in 20th century America have interpreted Rosa Parks' 1955 refusal to give up her seat at the front of the Montgomery bus as a trickster tale.  

wholism (or holism) -- a philosophical orientation that promotes consideration of whole systems , rather than exclusive focus on individual, component parts. This consideration is urged in the belief that the essence of the system can not be grasped by merely analyzing its constituent parts. Examples of systems that lend themselves to wholistic study: a human being, the human species, the Earth’s biosphere, planet Earth, the Milky Way Galaxy, the universe. The opposite approach to wholism is reductionism.

witchcraft / Wicca--the use of sorcery or magic, the practice of which varies widely.  It has roots in a pre-Christian, nature-centered witchcraft religion based on Goddess worship. In post-Christian European cultures it became linked to evil, and the Devil.  Witches were typically women, believed to have supernatural powers, who perhaps practiced in secret.  During the height of the witch mania, the 15th--17th centuries, hundreds of thousands of women are believed to have been burned at the stake. Wicca is a 20th century revival of ancient pagan witchcraft--which  incorporates worship of God and Goddess.  These are sometimes seen as dual, complementary aspects of a universal life force--symbolized by the Sun and Moon.



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