4 September 2021

Forces of Nature

A Call to Fight Equilibrium

Beautiful, isn’t it?

This is the archetypal image that comes to my mind when I think about the word ‘nature’.

An open, vast and awe-inspiring landscape.

Minimal human intervention.

As raw of an experience as possible.

Recently, I had gathered some new perspectives on nature from listening to Robert Breedlove’s conversation with Alex Epstein on his ‘What is Money’ Show podcast.

I am yet to not be astounded by how abundant and openly accessible high-signal knowledge is out there in the world, especially through the podcasting medium. What a time to be alive.

Delicate Nurturer vs Wild Potential

The whole conversation is a fascinating one, and I won’t be able to do the whole 2 hours and 40 minutes justice, but I would like to further explore a particular idea that came up.

The idea that nature can be seen from two different lenses:

  • Nature as a ‘delicate nurturer’ that prioritises the prosperity of living beings, while being fragile to any sort of intervention. A perspective of ‘nature knows best’.
  • Nature as ‘wild potential’ that needs to be deliberately harnessed and tamed, a force that does not, by default, prioritise the prosperity of living beings.

Going back to the original photo above, the delicate nurterer lens sees nature as source of abundance and generosity — the provider of flowing and clear water, crisp and clean air, trees to construct basic shelter and boats out of. As it is, the picture is perfect, and the least that we do as humans to alter this natural environment, the longer we will be able to preserve the status quo and the better off we will all be.

Through the wild potential lens, this example of nature can be seen as unpredictable, untamed and perhaps even hostile.

What if the water is tainted and the raw source as it is turns out to be undrinkable?

What happens when the crisp and clean air escalates into a perilous storm?

What does one do if there were no trees around to use as lumber for shelter?

These would be the basic, primal questions that our earliest ancestors would have had to face on a relentless frequency, back before there were such things as tools to expedite construction or the technology of fire to harness energy in order to boil water or the luxury of being to admire a raw, natural environment until dusk without having to worry about ‘where am I going to find shelter to survive through to tomorrow?’

Nature can even be viewed as a system, one that it in continual optimisation of itself, it has no obligation to give a damn about whether one particular living being makes it through to the following day or not, let alone prosper into the future.

‘Nature knows best’ — but for who?

It is then the ultimate responsibility of each living being to attempt to the best of his abilities to harness the environment he is placed within, to make sure that his own survival has the highest probability of success.

There is a great segment from Jeff Bezos’ 2020 Letter to Shareholders, where he quotes from Richard Dawkins, one that I keep revisiting:

Staving off death is a thing that you have to work at. Left to itself — and that is what it is when it dies — the body tends to revert to a state of equilibrium with its environment…

If living things didn’t work actively to prevent it, they would eventually merge into their surroundings, and cease to exist as autonomous beings. That is what happens when they die.

Fighting Equilibrium

The universe is not conspiring to defeat you at all times, it just… does not have the capacity to care about the well-being of any one particular individual.

Realistically, the system is too busy balancing, optimising and managing an infinite array of complexities that there is not the slightest chance for it even to stop for a moment to thoughtfully consider any particular section, let alone a single individual.

Staving off death is something you have to work at.

The fire of the mills was dying down. There was only a faint tinge of red left on the edge of the earth, just enough to outline the scraps of clouds ripped by the tortured battle of the storm in the sky…

“It’s a terrible night for any animal caught unprotected on that plain,” said Francisco d’Anconia.

“This is when one should appreciate the meaning of being a man.”

- Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged