Humanity’s Inherent Earth-First Value Preference

Posted on June 26, 2010 by Amy Lenzo

Photo by Amy Lenzo

by Leon Miller
It is possible to have a more advantageous view of nature by maintaining a perceptual focus on what enhances the human experience while avoiding that which diminishes human well-being.

Humanity’s understanding of the nature of existence is primarily based on perception.  Humanity has long held a perspective on existence where nature and human culture exist in dichotomy.  But this perspective of nature has not always been the view through which humanity perceived and experienced the environment and is not the only view through which the nature-human relationship is based.  It is clearly possible and preferable to have a perspective that allows taking advantage of nature’s signaled opportunities for flourishing while avoiding what would diminish human well-being.  Being able to take advantage of this improved nature-human relationship is a matter of perception.

The first segment of this article describes the possibility for enhancing the perception of the nature-human relationship.  Such a perceptual shift would contribute to human flourishing by providing a better connection with the environment.  Human flourishing is based on maintaining a perceptual focus on nature’s life enhancing opportunities and avoiding what would diminish human well-being.  Failing to adhere to this natural impulse could result in increased fragmentation, reducing human flourishing and consequently threatening existence.

The second section of the article describes why the human biological system has an inherent value preference for an ecocentric perspective on existence.   I offer a biological explanation to support the claim that humans exist with an inherent, natural impulse to interact with nature in ways that enhance being.  The biological perspective-for understanding human intentionality-is significant in that it helps us to understand the very nature of what it means to be a biological organism and how this is reflected in the human biological nature.

The final section describes the significance that humanity’s natural value preference for cooperative interaction has for human culture and for improving the nature-culture relationship.  A flourishing culture is built on increasing the range of internal and external mutually beneficial interchanges. There is a conceptual understanding between all the participants that the highest level of being can be actualized when such a belief is shared and practiced.  Such a perspective on existence takes us beyond a sense of dualistic contention into improved connections with the things we need to flourish.

The Role of Perception in the Human Experience of the Environment
Recent research in cognitive science sheds light on the significance of perception in the human experience of nature, thus on the connection between humanity’s inherent biological impulses and perception.  Studies in perceptual psychology and neurobiology reveal that it is preferable to view existence from the perspective of nature-human “complementarity.”[1]  We know that human perception (triggered by sensations) operates with an intention to organize and categorize human reactions to external phenomena.   The key to doing this successfully is the ability to perceive nature’s signaled opportunities for flourishing, nourishment and growth while also recognizing nature’s signaled warnings to avoid that which would diminish being. Eco phenomenologists advise that viewing nature from this perceptual advantage offers the possibility of increasing human-nature beneficial exchanges.

Neurobiologists and bio-ethicists claim that human neural networks partially function in an attempt to shape the components of experience into the perception of a unified whole (with anticipatable and appreciable continuity).  The human neurological preference, as an extension of the human biological system, has a value preference for a complementary  nature-body-mind interconnection there for promoting a sense of “integral being.” Human fitness can be thought of as dependent on the perceptual ability to effectively manage nature’s beneficial opportunities and avoiding that which would diminish a nature-human beneficial exchange.  Thus the human natural value preference-for being a fully integrated being-is realized by acting to “modulate the human connection with the natural order”[2]

Humans necessarily exist with a correlated tension between how nature is affected by human perceptions and how nature itself shapes these perceptions.  “We are the world that thinks itself- or that the world is at the heart of our flesh. Once a body-world relationship is recognized, there is a ramification of my body and a ramification of the world and a correspondence between its inside and my outside and my inside and its outside.”[3]  Because of the “feedback” or “looping” relationship humans have with nature we are continuously both a product of nature and producing feedback of the human perception of nature.  In other words the human experience is shaped by a reflective interaction between the environmental “signals and the interpretant.”

It is important to remember that the environment and the perceived experience of the environment are linked together in a way that creates co-dependency (coition or mutuality) between our bodies and things.”[4]  Thus today we recognize that it is preferable to think of the necessary interaction between nature and culture as a complementary interchange between two interdependent organic systems.  In other words an ecological perspective recognizes that some aspects of the perceived (necessarily components of nature) correspond with some aspects of the self (which are also components of nature).  An ecocentric perspective reduces the difference between the perceiving subject and the perceived object by making the apprehension of things and the meaning assigned to the experience a reciprocal interchange.

Nature provides abundant evidence of patterns of natural interchange where biological elements cooperate to form structures of beneficial exchange (the very basis of life is the ability to form structures of cooperative interchange). Flourishing depends on being able to recognize, participate in and sustain opportunities for cooperative interchange.  Perception is the key to fulfilling the neural value preference for having a beneficial exchange with nature.

The Inherent Value Preference for an Ecocentric Perspective on Existence
Organic organisms attempt to achieve intra and inter-structural integrity.  The ability to achieve and maintain such integrity is based on appropriate interactions with the surrounding environment.  As human cognitive skills developed the human neural network would “fire” in patterns promoting a value preference for relating to things in the environment in ways that are beneficial to human flourishing.  This inherent predisposition urges humanity to choose interactions that could prompt human growth and development, that increase the possibility of satisfaction, and to avoid acting in ways that threaten human well-being.  Many of the world’s wisdom traditions have always asserted that achieving the natural value preference-for harmonious interactions with nature-sparks regeneration, benefits health, increases human vitality and heightens mental abilities.

Nobel Prize–winning neuro scientist Gerald Edelman sheds light on the integral relationship between humans and the environment.  Edelman explains that there is a fundamental connection between nature’s biological principles and the value preferences naturally triggered as human cognitive skills developed.  He believes humans exist with a natural neurological value preference so inclined because our biological nature urges the selection of behaviors that result in a feeling of being well-integrated.

Edelman claims that groups of neurons (synapses and neural networks) are inclined to select behaviors that increase the human effectiveness to respond to multiple stimuli from the outside world. Thus humans are “hard wired,” with a neuro biological, value predisposition that developed with the intent to “reinvent” internal-external ecological equilibrium.

Edelman offers a neuro biological explanation for how humans “make sense” out of interacting with the environment.  He believes that human consciousness is a natural manifestation of the human organism’s interactions with the surrounding environment.  He uses the term “primary consciousness” to describe the fundamental influence that the human biological tie to nature has on human value preferences.  Edelman refutes reductionism and dualism with the Holistic claim that the relationship between person and environment in a healthy individual is unitary or integrated.[5]  Humans are not discrete epiphenomena distinct from the environment. The nature of human response, growth, awareness and movement has all been continuous ecological adaptation.

Modern philosophers of mind agree that biological functions give rise to intentions. In other words neurons respond to stimulus by inciting the selection of what is most useful for supporting the integrity of the organism.  John Searle states that the human organism is interlaced with elements of nature in a particular way that shapes consciousness.[6]   Searle claims that intentionality is a special feature of the human effort to incorporate various elements into an interchange that contributes to the human endeavor to experience growth and development.[7]

Life and growth demand the ability to hold an organism-with a complexity of components-together as a unified whole.  The world’s wisdom traditions all agree that achieving an experience of unified wholeness is the basis of maintaining an organism’s integrity and in the human situation helps the individual experience a fuller sense of the self.  For complex organisms this requires a system of cooperative interchange with many other aspects of the environment.  Thus the inherent human value preference is for experiencing a harmonious cooperative exchange with as many other aspects of the environment as possible.

The human urge to participate in the natural process of interchange with the environment sparks awareness of the fact that existence demands perpetual integration (or reintegration) with nature.  This process (of creation shaping Being into an ability to be aware of the self as necessarily and perpetually in affective interchange with life’s fundamental elements) is the most basic feature of nature’s ontology. This process could be described as “the primordial biological elements of nature in continuous, spontaneous and creative interchange.”  From all appearances this interchange is intended to sustain life, produce regeneration and stimulate growth.

Cooperative Interactions and Enhanced Human Interactions
The human neural network fires in patterns that support the attempt to create knowledge of how to realize inherent value preferences.  Reliable knowledge (triggered by the human inherent value preference) takes us beyond being cut off from those things we need to flourish.  Knowledge improves our effectiveness for interacting with nature and improves our interactions with each other. There is a conceptual understanding between all the participants that the highest level of being can be actualized when such a belief is shared and practiced. As a result of such cooperative interaction the fullest sense of self is actualized.   It is such knowledge that is a preferable basis for the cultural belief systems in their attempt to regulate human interactions.

C. S. Pierce believed that individuals act on the basis of knowledge that is believed to be reliable for effectively managing encounters with the environment.  Peirce considered knowledge as reliable belief when it accurately describes how to enjoy nature’s life enhancing possibilities.  Peirce goes on to explain that there are always some spontaneous, unexpected disruptions that are characteristic of nature’s dynamic creative forces.[8]  Peirce would say that reliable belief reduces the disturbance of the ambiguity humans experience with nature’s by increasing the probability of anticipation becoming experience.

John Dewey understood that there is a certain contingency that humanity faces in relationship to nature that creates precarious nature-culture interactions. He claimed that the ability to survive in the natural system depends upon recognizing nature’s signaled warnings to avoid that which would diminish the human experience.  However the capacity to enjoy the natural system depends upon the ability to foresee nature’s opportunities for satisfaction and fulfillment.[9]    Dewey recognized that nature’s principles operate on the basis of a reciprocity encompassing both organism and environment.  This means that a flourishing culture is built on increasing the range of mutually beneficial interchanges. This is necessary because the life principle is built on organic elements participating in continuous exchange.  This interchange is the only means for nourishment and growth.[10]

Dewey believed that cultures are ethically obliged to structure their mega systems so that they are in line with humanity’s natural biological predisposition.  Dewey stressed that culture should be understood as a highly advanced complex structure for binding units together into greater harmonious cooperative interactions.  Such a perspective on existence takes us beyond a subject-object split into cooperative union.  As a result of such cooperative interaction the greatest benefit to humanity and culture(s) would be realized.

[1] Gibson, James J. The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. (New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1986), 127.

[2] Merleau-Ponty, The Phenomenology of Perception. ( London : Routledge, 2005), 225.

[3] Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible. (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1968), 136.

[4]Merleau-Ponty, Ibid., 373.

[5]Edelman, Gerald. (WS) Wider than the Sky. (New Haven : Yale University Press, 2004), 7.

[6] Searle, John. Intentionality: An Essay in the Philosophy of Mind.  (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 37.

[7]Searle, John. Ibid., 46.

[8] Peirce, Charles S. “Evolutionary Love.” The Monist, vol. 3, (1893), 6:303.

[9] Scheckler, Rebecca Klein, Weaving Feminism, Pragmatism, and Distance Education.  Doctoral Dissertation in Philosophy, Published by the Education Dept. of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University: (2000), 35.

[10]Dewey,John, Experience and Nature.  (New York: Collier Books, 1938), 4.

Leon Miller is an instructor of The History of Culture, Comparative Religion and Business Ethics at Tallinn University of Technology.  He has written numerous peer reviewed articles on the Philosophy of Religion, Global Ethics and Intercultural Relations.  He also affiliated with the International and European Peace Research Associations.

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