Tue 12 Nov 2019 08:46:35 PM -03


  • Bohm's process physics.
  • Ilya Prigogine new thermodynamics.


Between the sixteenth andseventeenth cerfturies the image of an organic cosmos with a living female earth at its ceriter gave way to a mechanistic world view in which nature was reconstructed as dead and passive, to be dominated and controlled by hufuans. The Death efNature deals with the economic, cultural, and scientific changes through which this vast transformation came about. In seeking to understand how people conceptualized nature in the Scientific Revolution, I am asking not about unchanging essences, but about connections between social change and changing constructions of nattlre". Similarly. when women today attempt to change society's domination of nature, 1:\1~¥.,~e acting to overturn moder_n constructions of nature and women as culturally passive and subordinate.


Today's feminist and ecological consciousness can be used to examine the historical interconnections between women and nature that developed as the modern scientific and economic world took form in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries-a transformation that shaped and pervades today's mainstream values and perceptions. Feminist history in the broadest sense requires that we look at


My intent is instead to examine the values associated with the images of women and nature as they relate to the formation of our modern world and their implications for 'our lives today.

In investigating the roots of our current environmental dilemma and its connections to science, technology, and the economy, we must reexamine the formation of a world view and a science that, by reconceptualizing reality as a machine rather than a living organism, sanctioned the domination of both nature and women. The contributions of such founding "fathers" of modern science as Francis Bacon, William Harvey, Rene Descartes, Thomas Hobbes, and Isaac Newton must be reevaluated. The fate of other options, alternative philosophies, and social groups shaped by the organic world view and resistant to the growing exploitative mentality needs reappraisal. To understand why one road rather than the other was taken requires a broad synthesis of both the natural and cultural environments of Western society at the historical turning point. This book elaborates an ecological perspective that includes both


Nature, art, organic and mechanical:

A distinction was commonly made between natura naturans, or nature creating, and natura naturata, the natural creation.

Nature was contrasted with art (techne) and with artificially created things. It was personified as a female-being, e.g., Dame Nature; she was alternately a prudent lady, an empress, a mother, etc. The course of nature and the laws of nature were the actualization of her force. The state of nature was the state of mankind prior to social organization and prior to the state of grace. Nature spirits, nature deities, virgin nymphs, and elementals were thought to reside in or be associated with natural objects.

In both Western and non-Western cultures, nature was traditionally feminine.


In the early modern period, the term organic usually referred to the bodily organs, structures, and organization of living beings, while organicism was the doctrine that organic structure was the result of an inherent, adaptive property in matter. The word organical, however, was also sometimes used to refer to a machine or an instrument. Thus a clock was sometimes called an "organical body," while som~ machines were said to operate by organical, rather than mechanical, action if the touch of a person was involved.

Mechanical referred to the machine and tool trades; the manual operations of the handicrafts; inanimate machines that lacked spontaneity, volition, and thought; and the mechanical sciences. 1

Nature that nurtures and thats also uncontrollable, replaced by "the machine"

NATURE AS NURTURE: CONTROLLING IMAGERY. Central to the organic theory was the identification of nature, especially the earth, with a nurturing mother: a kindly beneficent female who provided for the needs of mankind in an ordered, planned universe. But another opposing image of nature as female was also prevalent: wild and uncontrollable nature that could render violence, storms, droughts, and general chaos. Both were identified with the female sex and were projections of human perceptions onto the external world. The metaphor of the earth as a nurturing mother was gradually to vanish as a dominant image as the Scientific Revolution pro- ceeded to mechanize and to rationalize the world view. The second image, nature as disorder, called forth an important modern idea, that of power over nature. Two new ideas, those of mechanism and of the domination and mastery of nature, became core concepts of the modern world. An organically oriented mentality in which female principles played an important role was undermined and replaced by a mechanically oriented mentality that either eliminated or used female principles in an exploitative manner. As Western culture became increasingly mechanized in the 1600s, the female earth and virgin earth spirit were subdued by the machine. 1

Mining and the female body

The image of the earth as a living organism and nurturing mother had served as a cultural constraint restricting the actions of human beings. One does not readily slay a mother, dig into her entrails for gold or mutilate her body, although commercial mining would soon require that. As long as the earth was considered to be alive and sensitive, it could be considered a breach of human ethical behavior to carry out destructive acts against it. For most traditional cultures, minerals and metals ripened in the uterus of the Earth Mother, mines were compared to her vagina, and metallurgy was the human hastening of the birth of the living metal in the artificial womb of the furnace-an abortion of the metal's natural growth cycle before its time. Miners offered propitiation to the deities of the soil and subterranean world, performed ceremonial sacrifices, · and observed strict cleanliness, sexual abstinence, and fasting before violating the sacredness of the living earth by sinking a mine. Smiths assumed an awesome responsibility in precipitating the metal's birth through smeltin,.g, fusing, and beating it with hammer and anvil; they were often accorded the status of shaman in tribal rituals and their tools were thought to hold special powers.

Is there a relation between torture (basanos), extraction of "truth" and mining gold out of a mine? See discussions both on "The Counterrevolution" and "Torture and Truth".

Hidden norms: controlling images

Controlling images operate as ethical restraints or as ethical sanctions-as subtle "oughts" or "ought-nots." Thus as the descriptive metaphors and images of nature change, a behavioral restraint can be changed into a sanction. Such a change in the image and description of nature was occurring during the course of the Scientific Revolution.

It is important to recognize the normative import of descriptive statements about nature. Contemporary philosophers of language have critically reassessed the earlier positivist distinction between the "is" of science and the "ought" of society, arguing that descriptions and norms are not opposed to one another by linguistic sepa- ration into separate "is" and "ought" statements, but are contained within each other. Descriptive statements about the world can presuppose the normative; they are then ethic-laden.


The writer or culture may not be conscious of the ethical import yet may act in accordance with its dictates. The hidden norms may become conscious or explicit when an alternative or contradiction presents it- self. Because language contains a culture within itself, when language changes, a culture is also changing in important way~~ By examining changes in descriptions of nature, we can then perceive something of the changes in cultural values.

Renaissance: hierarchical order

The Renaissance view of nature and society was based on the organic analogy between the human body, or microcosm, and the larger world, or macrocosm.


But while the pastoral tradition symbolized nature as a benevolent female, it contained the implication that nature when plowed and cultivated could be used as a commodity and manipulated as a resource. Nature, tamed and subdued, could be transformed into a garden to provide both material and spiritual food to enhance the comfort and soothe the anxieties of men distraught by the demands of the urban world and the stresses of the marketplace. It depended on a masculine perception of nature as a mother and bride whose primary function was to comfort; nurture, and provide for the wellbeing of the male. In pastoral imagery, both nature and women are subordinate and essentially passive. They nurture but do not control or exhibit disruptive passion. The pastoral mode, although it viewed nature as benevolent, was a model created as an antidote to the pressures of urbanization and mechanization. It represented a fulfillment of human needs for nurture, but by conceiving of nature as passive, it nevertheless allowed for the possibility of its use and manipulation. Unlike the dialectical image of nature as the active uni- ty of opposites in tension, the Arcadian image rendered nature passive and manageable.


An allegory (1160) by Alain of Lille, of the School of Chartres, portrays Natura, God's powerful but humble servant, as stricken with grief at the failure of man (in contrast to other species) to obey her laws. Owing to faulty supervision by Venus, human beings engage in adulterous sensual love. In aggressively penetrating the secrets of heaven, they tear Natura's undergarments, exposing her to the view of the vulgar. She complains that "by the unlawful assaults of man alone the garments of my modesty suffer disgrace and division."


Such basic attitudes toward ·male-female roles in biological generation where the female and the earth are both passive receptors could easily become sanctions for exploitation as the organic context was transformed by the rise of commercial capitalism.


The macrocosm theory, as we have seen, likened the cosmos to the human body, soul, and spirit with male and female reproductive components. Similarly, the geocosm theory compared the earth to the living human body, with breath, blood, sweat, and elimination systems.


The earth's springs were akin to the human blood system; its other various fluids were likened to the mucus, saliva, sweat, and other forins of lubrication in the human body, the earth being organized "'. .. much after the plan of our bodies, in which there are both veins and arteries, the former blood vessels, the latter air vessels .... So exactly alike is the resemblance to our bodies in nature's formation of the earth, that our ancestors have spoken of veins [springs] of water." Just as the human body contained blood, marrow, mucus, saliva, tears, and lubricating fluids, so in the earth there were various fluids. Liquids that turned hard became metals, such as gold and silver; other fluids turned into stones, bitumens, and veins of sulfur. Like the human body, the earth gave forth sweat: "There is often a gathering of thin, scattered moisture like dew, which from many points flows into one spot. The dowsers call it sweat, because a kind of drop is either squeezed out by the pressure of the ground or raised by the heat."

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) enlarged the Greek analogy between the waters of the earth and the ebb and flow of human blood through the veins and heart


A widely held alchemical belief was the growth of the baser metals into gold in womblike matrices in the earth. The appearance of silver in lead ores or gold in silvery assays was evidence that this transformation was under way. Just as the child grew in the warmth of the female womb, so the growth of metals was fostered


The earth in the Paracelsian philosophy was the mother or matrix giving birth to plants, animals, and men.

Renaissance was diverse

In general, the Renaissance view was that all things were permeated by life, there being no adequate method by which to designate the inanimate from the animate. [...] but criteria by which to differentiate the living from the nonliving could not successfully be formulated. This was due not only to the vitalistic framework of the period but to striking similarities between them.


Popular Renaissance literature was filled with hundreds of images associating nature, matter, and the earth with the female sex.


In the 1960s, the Native-American became a symbol in the ecology movement's search for alternatives to Western exploitative attitudes. The Indian animistic belief-system and reverence for the earth as a · mother were contrasted with the Judeo-Christian heritage of dominion over nature and with capitalist practices resulting in the "tragedy of the commons" (exploitation of resources available for any person's or nation's use). But as will be seen, European culture was more complex and varied than this judgment allows. It ignores the Renaissance philosophy of the nurturing earth as well as those philosophies and social movements resistant to mainstream economic change.

Mining as revealing the hidden secrets

In his defense, the miner argued that the earth was not a real mother, but a wicked stepmother who hides and conceals the metals in her inner parts instead of making them available for human use.


In the old hermit's tale, we have a fascina,ting example·of the re:· lationship between images and values. The older view of nature as a kindly mother is challenged by the growing interests of the mining industry in Saxony, Bohemia, and the Harz Mountains, regions of newly found prosperity (Fig. 6). The miner, representing these newer commercial activities, transforms the irnage of the nurturing mother into that of a stepmother who wickedly conceals her bounty from the deserving and needy children. In the seventeenth century, the image will be seen to undergo yet another transformation, as natural philosopher Francis Bacon (1561-1626) sets forth the need for prying into nature's nooks and crannies in searching out her secrets for human improvement.

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