Modern human nature is artificial

Sun, 06 Dec 2020 00:57:43 -0800

Tags: personal


Almost a year ago, my son was born. He came about one month earlier than expected and he almost crashed NeurIPS that we were attending together with the very pregnant wife.

The months that followed have been a lot of adaptation for the three of us. Annie went back to work in April and I have been taking care of the little boy since then up until last week when we got a spot in daycare. Parenting has been a lot of work and the pandemic has crushed some of our earlier plans of enjoying more time outdoors with the baby (but we have done fine and people have whole lives crushed by the pandemic so there is nothing we can really complain about it).

Besides mentioning I'm now a very old new dad, this blog post is about some cognitive disonance brought by raising the boy. In my mind, I had a dichotomy of "natural vs. artificial". We are "nature" and then, in some moment I thought, we learn the artificial. But nature comes first, because we are animals. Thus the narrative of "returning to nature", of "going back to where we belong" put forth from people who love the outdoors (just in case we never talked about it, I grew up alone in a forest, I had enough outdoors for the rest of my life, so they are not my thing).

Seeing the boy growing and learning to make sense of the world, I realized that narrative is incorrect. His world is 100% artifical and synchronic with our current technology. The technology of the generation he is born into is glued to the neural connections he makes as he grows. For him, a light switch is part of the world the same as dew is to a spider. And given the pandemic and the fact we live downtown, actual nature is odd to him. The first time he touched the bark of a tree he was truly puzzled. It was something new to him that felt... unnatural.

Thus, we can talk about "incorporating more nature in our lives" or "moving into nature" but the idea of "returning" only makes sense in an ancestral manner. And even then it is returning in a very limited sense (nobody is advocating living without an abode, even ancestral humans favored caves for a reason). But the point remains: the nature of modern humans is artificial. The connections in our brains generated at very early age are to make sense of carpets and furniture, of lighting fixtures and keyboards. That (seemingly obvious) fact had escaped me and wanted to share it with you all.

I will be sharing more parenting stories as they come my way, trying to respect his privacy as much as possible. Cheers.


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