Natural is not that Natural

A passing comment recently made me think (yet again) about how difficult  we find communicating a clear idea.  The comment was about  whether something wasn’t natural.

So I did a web search about the word ‘natural’ and was quite disappointed with the offerings, so just went to the dictionary. It had 18 meanings of the word ‘natural’, some of which don’t make entirely good logical sense and present a bit of a circular argument. It had 20 meanings of the word, ‘nature’.

However there wasn’t a clear definition for the natural as used by the comment which was about a science-fictional situation in which a man converted himself into an underwater creature. Thereby the comment, ‘that ain’t natural’. And I wondered about the usage which I have commonly heard for an action, usually an elite skill. Now the action does take place, so the meaning is not that it doesn’t exist in nature. Even in the sci-fi, the desire of the writer seems to be to impress upon us that it was a ‘real’ ‘existing’ thing. So why might we say something is not natural, even when we see it right before our eyes.  Like a perfect 10 dive  in the Olympic Games.  So it seems we mostly means something out there at the small end of the bell curve or outside some normative situation. So when we create our identity in society, most of us must be trying to find a  socially comfortable place, a place where most people exist. Or maybe we all want to be the king, but when it becomes clear that we won’t be the king, we put our efforts into being properly ordinary (even if with a few tickets on ourselves). Our sense of our being ordinary, therefore translates into the natural thing.

We probably have a tendency then, perhaps strongly at adolescence and young adult hood, to bounce off everyone around us in an effort to find whether our ideation at the time is picked up by others. If it is, we add it to our collection of ‘natural’. If it doesn’t, we add it to our collection of un-natural. If we have persuasive capabilities, we might become a setter of what is natural for others, and there acquiesence will reinforce for ourselves that we were correct to see the idea as ordinary, natural. And if we are insecure, we might find it in our interests to agree with the ideas of the big talkers, and thus accept that those ideas are ‘natural’. It seems that, if this situation is part of our ‘natural’ development, then society is always at risk of being sucked into a stagnation of social behaviour that follows the loudest talkers, often the traditionalists, but in this modern world, any audacious message boosted by media outlets.

Traditionalist voices of ‘natural’ is quite likely to stall the progress of society in ethics, social interactions, knowledge. The audacious voices of ‘natural’ may stall progress by simply having society turn very fast in limited circles, providing the impression of progress, but really just providing circuses. But there is a voice of ‘natural’ that, I think, is viable for progressive human society. It is the voice that says it is natural to learn, to care, to communicate, and competing to be the best at these things.


One thought on “Natural is not that Natural

  1. You’ve raised a valid point here. Not only does a society change in culture over time, but the language that any given people use to communicate also changes over time. I’m sure that if you went to a dictionary from early in the 20th century that the definition of “natural” would not be exactly the same as it is today. Also, advancements in technology and other sciences continually discover new meaning in the world around us, or nature.

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