The name of this blog, Rainbow Juice, is intentional.
The rainbow signifies unity from diversity. It is holistic. The arch suggests the idea of looking at the over-arching concepts: the big picture. To create a rainbow requires air, fire (the sun) and water (raindrops) and us to see it from the earth.
Juice suggests an extract; hence rainbow juice is extracting the elements from the rainbow, translating them and making them accessible to us. Juice also refreshes us and here it symbolises our nutritional quest for understanding, compassion and enlightenment.

Tuesday 23 January 2024

Nature Disconnect in 7 "Easy" Steps - Part 3

Ernst Heackel's 1879 "Tree of Life"
with Man (sic) at the apex 
Part 3 of "Nature Disconnect in 7 'Easy' Steps looks at the most recent steps taken in our disconnection from nature.

Step 6. The Reformation

If any vestiges of links between nature, the earth, and religion still existed by 1500 CE, then the Reformation went some way towards clearing them away. Although primarily the Reformation was a period of upheaval within European churches, and a splitting of the Catholic and Protestant faiths, what emerged by the end of the period was the separation of church and state.

The affairs of the spirit became entirely the realm of religion, and the affairs of everyday activity that of the state and secularism.

Over the course of two or three centuries secularism itself split into a number of variations, including atheism, political secularism, secular philosophy, humanism, naturalism, and materialism.

One outcome of secularism was that, in intellectual circles at least, the universe came to be viewed in a materialistic manner. Notions of the soul and any thought of an animated (or spirited) world were negated.

This materialist view of the world took us one further step away from nature. Furthermore, it paved the way for an even greater step to be taken with the Scientific Revolution.

Step 7. The Scientific and Industrial Revolutions

Although the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions could be considered as two separate steps, I am presenting them here as a single step as the Industrial Revolution in many ways was the applied form of scientific theories developed during the Scientific Revolution.

To say that this was a step is also rather prosaic. Stride might be the better term, as that word tends to imply something of greater purpose, length and/or significance.

The Scientific Revolution served to firmly infuse three long-lasting metaphors within human consciousness: 1. Nature as a machine, 2. Nature to be tamed and conquered, and 3. Homo sapiens exceptionalism.

In 1605 the German astronomer and mathematician, Johannes Kepler, wrote to a friend stating that his aim was to show that the ‘celestial machine (can be) likened to clockwork.’1 The implication is obvious. There is no life, no animation, no essence, in a machine that runs like clockwork. Robert Boyle, the Irish chemist and physicist, took up this refrain later that century stating that, ‘The world is like a rare clock.’

By characterising nature as a machine, the early pioneers of the Scientific Revolution stripped away any mystery, wonder and vitality from nature. The door was opened to enable people to tinker (as might a clockmaker) with nature.

Moreso, the machine characterisation led inevitably to the second metaphor – that nature was to be tamed and conquered. For, if nature was nothing but a machine, then any relic of a wildness trait had to be purged.

For at least one of the major scientists of the time, Francis Bacon, the imagery was violent and contained disturbing sexual innuendo. Bacon genderised nature as female, but not in the wholesome manner of earlier personifications. The scientific method for him was to discover ‘the secrets still locked in (her) bosom… (so that) she can be forced out of her natural state and squeezed and molded.’

Bacon was vehement in his desire to conquer nature. He exhorted his fellow scientists, and indeed humanity generally, to ‘storm and occupy her castles and strongholds and extend the bounds of the human empire.’

The third metaphor – human exceptionalism – is not a metaphor that has its origins in the Scientific Revolution; however, it does find a novel expression in the scientific method.

Human exceptionalism – the notion that humans are different from, and superior to, all other life forms – can be found in early scriptural writings and monotheism. What science offered the notion of human exceptionalism came as a result of discoveries in evolution. The Theory of Evolution arose not during the classic period of the Scientific Revolution (the 16th and 17th centuries CE) but during the 19th century CE. It did however, owe its instigation to the scientific method developed during the Scientific Revolution. Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (published in 1859) was promoted by the German naturalist Ernst Haeckel as the tree of life in his 1879 publication The Evolution of Man (see graphic above.) Haeckel’s depiction of evolution as a tree placed humankind at the apex of the tree, suggesting that humanity was the inevitable and only possible outcome for evolution. This depiction still has favour today, with humanity’s superiority being at least tacitly assumed.

Thus, although the Theory of Evolution dislodged creationism as the process by which life on Earth has been formed, it did not (until very recently) dislocate humanity from the place of primacy in the scheme of things.

Although we do not go about our daily lives thinking of the world as a machine, or that we must conquer nature, and assert our place of superiority, these three metaphors continue to influence our behaviour and beliefs at a subconscious level, both individually and collectively. Furthermore, the three metaphors are still actively promoted in popular science.

As recently as 1986 Richard Dawkins, one of the world’s foremost popularisers of the scientific method and the discoveries of science, titled one of his books The Blind Watchmaker. Although Dawkins’ purpose was to espouse evolution rather than intelligent design, he still retained, and promoted the metaphor that nature is nothing more than a mechanical interaction of moving parts.  

Our fascination with technology (the child of science) since the Industrial Revolution has further entrenched the metaphor of nature to be tamed and conquered. When combined with human exceptionalism, technology has been the tool by which humanity has sought to improve the world. This arrogant desire to improve upon nature can be seen most clearly in responses to climate change. Technology will save us is a familiar, if not explicitly stated, refrain. Technological solutions (e.g. geo-engineering, electric vehicles, space shields, colonising Mars, wind and solar farms) are simply the latest examples of the three metaphors at work.

The 7 “Easy” steps outlined here have taken us, collectively, a long way from our natural connection with nature. Will our next steps remove us further, or is there a chance that we may begin to retrace our steps?

If you have read through all three parts of Nature Disconnect in 7 ‘Easy’ Steps then you will appreciate a few corollaries that must be stated as a result.

Corollary 1. Each step did not have a clear and defining beginning. Furthermore, each step is ongoing. The Agricultural Revolution has not ended, nor have the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions.

Corollary 2. There are other events and times that could also be considered as steps. One significant one, that I have not addressed here, is the impact of colonisation with its decimation of indigenous and nature-based peoples and the consequent dismissal of indigenous worldviews more attuned with nature.

Corollary 3. Although it is possible to outline these steps and their impact, casting blame and criticism upon those who undertook these steps is pointless and self-righteous. Our responsibility today is to learn from hindsight. The lessons from this hindsight will be addressed in a future blog.

Corollary 4. Associated with Corollary 3 is the recognition that each step along the way was most likely seen as a good idea at the time. Most likely, those who initiated each step probably thought they were bringing benefit to humanity.


1. Many of the quotations in this section are found in: Jeremy Lent, The Patterning Instinct, Prometheus Books, Lanham, Maryland, 2017

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