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What is Humanity’s Role in Nature?

Humanity’s Role in Nature

Have you ever thought about humanity’s role in nature? Our various mythologies and religious origin stories offer some ideas that are generally accepted by many, but those are conflicting and I still wonder. Are we here to rule? To support and steward? Or perhaps to destroy?

Our current political, economical, and sociological situations have me wondering about humanity’s role in nature, in general.

Humanity's role in nature - what exactly is it?
The beauty of nature often awes me.

Beauty and Awe

So often I am awed by the beauty of nature. And then I am intrigued by the capacity of humans to experience that beauty, by the impulse to ponder. I feel most human, most in communion with the Divine, when I am witness to the extraordinary normalcy of Nature’s glory.

Maybe not effortlessly, but seemingly without thought and pre-planning, the cycle of life continues. One phase leads to the next without fail. The Great Mother marches onward without a glance back to see who’s lagging behind, who’s keeping up.

Vicious and Horrific

Harsh? Yes. But that precision march is what keeps chaos from ruling. The illusion that we are able to control Nature is the reason we most often refuse to keep up with the cycles and why we so often fail to observe and work in concert with the cycles. Instead we try to create our own rule of order.

And yet, life and death still happens. In spite of the flinches we experience when death strikes too close to home, still the world turns without a hitch.

No Pretense, No Propriety

Everything in nature carries on without questioning whether what they say, think, or do is wrong or right, or whether it will make someone smile or frown, draw toward or repulse in horror.

Nature extends to that which is both beautiful and horrific in its reach.

It is not existence without consequence. Some might say selfish. But that’s not true. In nature, everything plays a role, everything works together.

The humans who left this evidence lived much closer in proximity to humanity's role in nature - but I still can't clearly see what it was.
The humans who left this evidence lived much closer in proximity to humanity’s role in nature – but I still can’t clearly see what it was.

Nature directs the entire orchestra, not just the individuals. Only when all the voices are heard will the symphony be harmonic.

Everything *is* or *isn’t*. No pretense, no propriety.

In our man-made constructs of home and hearth, we either try to keep up or deny the progression as Nature marches past. Nothing is immune.

Whether we like it or not, admit it or not, humanity reflects the nature of Nature – both beautiful and horrific in its reach.

That’s why I love it here near the wilds. It makes it easier to see the human realm within the natural realm and, to me, the perspective is comforting.

fungi in the wilds at Wild Ozark
We have so many beautiful fungi out here. This is one of my favorite photos.

I often wonder about humanity’s role in Nature. On a Universal scale. Are we builders or the decomposers? Or are we perhaps a mixture of both?

Are humans just another form of decomposers?

There are many decomposers at work in the ecosystems of our planet. If you look at smaller and smaller systems, you’ll find repetitions in scale of the same kind of work. Oxidizers work on the molecular level, breaking down and scavenging any electrons it can wrest from unsecure bonds. Mushrooms are at work on the everyday realm, breaking down just about anything that once lived a vital life.

What if humans are decomposers on a planetary scale? And if so, why is this not simply part of Nature, just like the fungi and the molecular reducers?

chickweed with orange fungi

Just as there are checks and balances in action on the molecular scale, with the reducers balancing out the oxidizers and the fungi activity resisted by immune activity of living things, so too there must be equal and opposing forces to the destructive habits of humans.

Perhaps such is found in the form of other humans inclined to equal or opposite behaviors.

Duality exists on so many levels in nature: predator and prey, night and day, life and death, male and female… Just as some bacteria cause illness and some also maintain health, maybe the nature of humanity is dual.

Perhaps it is our nature to tear down and also build up.

Maybe we are the terraformers of the Universe.

If this is our nature, then we are not acting unnaturally in our destructive tendencies. Nor in our conservative and protective efforts. Maybe it just is what it is, and we are both destructive and creative, horrific and beautiful, just as Nature intended.


This topic on the natural-ness of man was sparked by a conversation I had with my youngest son one day a couple of years ago. I can’t remember the exact subject of the conversation but it had to do with birds being natural building nests of things they find in nature, why are human’s houses considered any less natural than the bird’s nest just because we went through extra measures, enabled by our more complex natures, to procure the building supplies?

3 thoughts on “What is Humanity’s Role in Nature?”

  1. I think we are all nature. Plantes, water, trees, even the animals that roam free will continue to flourish. It is when we, man puts his hands in nature do things begin to decompose. If this planet blows up humanity would be gone but nature will return stronger and more resilient. I believe.

    1. I agree with you that the Earth will carry on just fine even if all the humans disappeared. But I still think the humans and their behaviors are a natural part of the whole.

  2. Carrying some comments over from Google+:

    “Hmmm, good question! I’d have to side with the humans as destroyers right now. I mean, we may build things, but they are not natural.” – Allyssa Riley2:44 PM

    I suppose we’d need to define “natural”. With the definition I’ve come to believe, I’d have to counter that point of our building things unnatural. We have more complex minds and are able to procure materials from more complex structures (underground or wherever, combine things not normally found in combination, using things all procured from nature). Even if what we build is not naturally occurring, we, being natural creatures, using our naturally-complex minds, have not departed from Nature in our constructs. A bird’s nest is not naturally occurring. The bird had to gather materials and build that nest. The bird doesn’t have a complex enough mind to mine ore and forge metal, but he will use shiny things and polyester fibers if he sees them lying around in his world. How far back would we have to go to still be considered “natural”? And how many tools, with what degree of complexity, can an animal use and still be considered natural? I think the nature of man is a duality, as creators and destroyers. Very much like the gods (God) we’ve mirrored throughout our existence. Another question is where to draw the line of nature’s existence. Is it only on earth? Or does it extend into the Universe at large? LOL, as you can tell, I’ve been in a very “pondering” mood today ;)

    I think when we refer to “natural” we mean things found as close to their “whole” state as possible. We humans tend to break things down and process and combine them to create wholly different things. But then, are those new and different things “unnatural” or just … what? And are we unnatural in our doing so, or is this just the nature of our beings to do it?

    Allyssa Riley 3:34 PM -Hmmmm… I’ll think on that! Plastic still seems unnatural to me.

    Madison Woods 3:41 PM – Well, it’s definitely not naturally occurring, and doesn’t break back down into anything naturally occurring (I don’t think). So maybe the plastic can be considered unnatural. But I think that the creation and use of it comes from a natural human behavior (and it is both creative and destructive).

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