Environmental History According to Oelschlaeger Term Paper

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On the other hand, nature-as-machine proponents view nature holistically, and the "whole is greater than the sum of its parts," (Oelschlaeger 1991 p. 130). Water is a lake, an ocean, or a river. Oelschlaeger calls seeing the forest instead of the trees "synoptic holism." The synoptic holism integral to the nature-as-organism view opposes the reductionistic atomism common to the nature-as-machine stance. In other words, where the reductionist sees a bunch of quarks, the holist sees a bird.

The nature-as-machine proponent also thinks in terms of external relations. Individual parts of the machine interact with other parts as independent entities; thus, they can be removed and replaced without upsetting the balance of nature. This stance supports the view of humanity as external to nature. On the other hand, the nature-as-organism proponent perceives nature in terms of internal relations, and human beings are part of nature's internal whole. Individual parts of nature are interdependent and interrelated; one part cannot be replaced by another without consequence because of the essential integration of the organism. External relations allows clear-cutting of forests on the grounds that trees can be replanted; internal relations views the forest as an ecosystem and takes into account bugs and birds as well as trees.

Invariant repetition is also integral to the nature-as-machine stance. Parts of nature's machine are invariant: they do not change over time and they do not learn or gain intelligence. Moreover, their functions are specific and unchangeable, subject to indefinite repetition. An ant will always carry out ant functions; an atom of carbon will always behave as an atom of carbon. The nature-as-organism stance celebrates the ability of parts to evolve, learn, and grow. Oelschlaeger refers to the phenomenon as "emergent novelty" because of the potential for newness and dynamic transformation as well as "genuine evolution," and "qualitative infinity," (p. 130).


Oelschlaeger, M. (1991). Wild nature. Chapter 4 in The Idea of Wilderness: From Prehistory…

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Oelschlaeger, M. (1991). Wild nature. Chapter 4 in The Idea of Wilderness: From Prehistory to the Age of Ecology. New Haven: Yale University Press.

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