To what extent is human life natural? To what extent is it natural life? This is the fundamental un-answered question of anthropology. On all sides, on all related sciences there is an assumption that human life is different –either superior or inferior—but essentially different to nature. The presumption is that human life is either extraordinary or anti-natural.
But, is it possible to reach the anti-natural or the supernatural in any form by accident? Perhaps by intervention?
The stronger, authentic position starts from the rejection of these assumptions, when we recognise the continuity, inclusion and complementarity of natural and human life. It is only through this that we can see human characteristics like symbolism, dress, language, social systems and technologies as completely “natural” phenomena, i.e. as part of Natural History.
These grow from the ground of the natural, biological individual, both from its powers and its limitations. More specifically, from the mysterious phenomenon which causes our limitations to appear as powers and which up to this day and perhaps forever, closes the gates of understanding.
To what extent is human life natural? To answer this question we should instead consider a different one: What does human life take from nature, instead of adding to it?
The question should really be what the human being takes from nature: what we ignore or do not see; because, when observed carefully, we must recognise that we don’t add, but subtract from nature, inasmuch as we differentiate ourselves from it, from other human beings and –essentially—from ourselves.
It is the “mystery” of man and woman that subtraction, difference and distance may seem like addition and equation. This detraction is the prototype of history, a framework of allowances that remains after wars, uprooting and destruction, i.e. the true result of differentiation and subtraction. In other words, we are natural in that we incarnate oblivion of natural being.
This is why “culture” is un-analysable and permanent: it truly is the residue of history, or better the accretion of loss and tragedy.
What human culture adds are words and figments, stories and ideologies, but these only represent our desires. Culture covers the long sequence of loss and separation. Anthropologically, an interesting perspective opens: that language must also be seen as the product of a need that arises because of distance and separation. This distance exists before language develops. So the mark of human being is not language but the need for language.
By answering the question set above we also arrive at a point where we can say that distance and separation from nature (being natural phenomena) also create the need to close the gap, and a permanent desire to return from the contingent world which this alienation has created.