12 geniuses and their thoughts about nature

They marveled at it.

  • Stop and reflect on what nature meant for some of the greatest scientists and artists.
  • Explore philosopher, Alan Watts' take on the interconnectedness of the world.
  • Nature is known to evoke sublime literature and imagery.

Nature in its unbounded glory and awe-inspiring beauty has been a preeminent muse for humans for as long as we've existed. Revered, feared and idealized, we cannot escape its ever present grasp on anything we do. For many, the word nature usually conjures up visions of vast green pastures, forested grooves and a more simpler and idealistic way of life. While this clichéd view does have its place in the literature on nature, the subject has been explored in many deeper and more fascinating ways.

We all interpret the world through a unique lens of cultural upbringing, varying mental and physical dispositions and knowledge of reality. It is through this diverse opinion of experience that we shine light on our truth and the deeper meaning of existence. Nowhere is this more beautifully done than when great artists and poets muse on the motherseed of life itself – nature.

Here are 10 great quotes and passages on nature from a wide perspective of greats throughout the ages.

On the interconnectedness of all 

We do not "come into" this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean "waves," the universe "peoples." Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. – Alan Watts

Alan Watts, philosopher and early popularizer of Eastern philosophy spent much of life stressing this point of existence. The inescapable fact that all nature is one and together. Separation is merely an illusion.

The sanctity of nature

Aldous Huxley. Image source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Modern man no longer regards nature as in any sense divine and feels perfectly free to behave toward her as an overweening conqueror and tyrant. – Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley saw the immensity of nature overwhelming. He also lamented in the fact that it's superior and all-encompassing being was overlooked, which made it much easier to diminish its significance for all.

Cutting to the core of life

After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, and so on — have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear — what remains? Nature remains.
– Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman was the quintessential man of the groove. Leaves of Grass, his 19th-century poetic epic, traversed far and wide on the trascendental meaning of it all.

How we view nature through science

Here, then, is the genesis of two of the most important historical premises of Western science. The first is that there is a law of nature, an order of things and events awaiting our discovery, and that this order can be formulated in thought, that is, in words or in some type of notation. The second is that the law of nature is universal, a premise deriving from monotheism, from the idea of one God ruling the whole world.
― Alan W. Watts

Alan Watts was fascinated in the way in which we delude ourselves through language and complicate what he believed was a simple fact of being.

The reason for being

Whitman And Brown Attend Womens Conference 2010

Mary Oliver was an incredible contemporary force of poetry. Her simple yet poignant observations of the wild world around her won lots of praise from many readers and the poetic community at large. Ms. Oliver stands with many of the great American Transcendentalists and their mystical pronunciations of the natural world around them.

"Snow was falling,
so much like stars
filling the dark trees
that one could easily imagine
its reason for being was nothing more
than prettiness."

By Mary Oliver

Nature as the ultimate teacher

Nature is the source of all true knowledge. She has her own laws. She has no effect without cause nor invention without necessity.
– Leonardo da vinci

One of the greatest artists of all times was humbled by this undeniable fact. All stems from the well of nature. There is no greater artist than nature herself.

Science’s assault on the mystery of nature 

Edgar Allan Poe is probably more well-known for his macabre gothic fiction. But this sonnet, a passage from his collected works explores what it means to unravel the mysteries of nature through science.

Sonnet — To Science

Science! true daughter of Old Time thou art!
Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.
Why preyest thou thus upon the poet's heart,
Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?
How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise,
Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering
To seek for treasure in the jewelled skies,
Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?
Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car,
And driven the Hamadryad from the wood
To seek a shelter in some happier star?
Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood,
The Elfin from the green grass, and from me
The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree?

By Edgar Allan Poe

Humanity's place in the great chain of being

Jane Goodall changed the way we view ourselves in this world. She is by and large the world's premier expert on chimpanzees. Goodall has spent her entire life and a good 55-year study on the social and natural dynamics of wild chimpanzees. Throughout the years she's given us knowledge that has humbled and dignified our place with the rest of the great apes.

Remarking on her time with the chimpanzees, Goodall found it an eye opening experience for herself spiritually.

I became totally absorbed into this forest existence. It was an unparalleled period when aloneness was a way of life; a perfect opportunity, it might seem, for meditating on the meaning of existence and my role in it all. But I was far too busy learning about the chimpanzees' lives to worry about the meaning of my own….

All the time I was getting closer to animals and nature, and as a result, closer to myself and more and more in tune with the spiritual power that I felt all around. For those who have experienced the joy of being alone with nature there is really little need for me to say much more; for those who have not, no words of mine can even describe the powerful, almost mystical knowledge of beauty and eternity that come, suddenly, and all unexpected.

Human intelligence emerging from nature

Artur Schopenhauer. Image source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Nature shows that with the growth of intelligence comes increased capacity for pain, and it is only with the highest degree of intelligence that suffering reaches its supreme point. – Arthur Schopenhauer

Arthur Schopenhauer, always a pessimist stickler for the inherently bad in life seemed to view intelligence as a paradoxical curse gifted from nature.

Peace in the silence

"There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,

There is a rapture on the lonely shore,

There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more"
― Lord Byron

The eponymous Byronic Hero himself found solace in the silence away from man and alone in the depths. Taken from Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, this is a beautiful quote on the sanctity of being alone.

A cure for civilization

We need the tonic of wildness... At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature."
― Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau knew what spending time outdoors could do for the body and soul. His advice is more relevant than ever.

Ignorance in the face of nature

We still do not know one thousandth of one percent of what nature has revealed to us. – Albert Einstein

Another genius humbled before nature. Einstein understood that all of our combined knowledge barely scratched the surface on the nature of being.

3D printing might save your life one day. It's transforming medicine and health care.

What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.

Northwell Health
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
  • Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
  • Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
Keep reading Show less

An organism found in dirt may lead to an anxiety vaccine, say scientists

Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.

University of Colorado Boulder
Surprising Science
  • New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
  • Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
  • The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.

Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.

For most of history, humans got smarter. That's now reversing.

We were gaining three IQ points per decade for many, many years. Now, that's going backward. Could this explain some of our choices lately?

The Flynn effect appears to be in retrograde. (Credit: Shutterstock/Big Think)
popular

There's a new study out of Norway that indicates our—well, technically, their—IQs are shrinking, to the tune of about seven IQ points per generation.

Keep reading Show less

Lama Rod Owens – the price of the ticket to freedom

An ordained Lama in a Tibetan Buddhist lineage, Lama Rod grew up a queer, black male within the black Christian church in the American south. Navigating all of these intersecting, evolving identities has led him to a life's work based on compassion for self and others.

Think Again Podcasts
  • "What I'm interested in is deep, systematic change. What I understand now is that real change doesn't happen until change on the inside begins to happen."
  • "Masculinity is not inherently toxic. Patriarchy is toxic. We have to let that energy go so we can stop forcing other people to do emotional labor for us."
Keep reading Show less