Reeve+Wagner NSIIFinalcopy

This research topic submitted by on 5/4/98 .

“Oh my God! You killed nature!”
Humans’ Obsession With Conquering Nature

Our study included research into the history of human beings’ desire to control nature as
well as an empirical study of the existence of such a desire in people today. We researched a
wide variety of areas of control, including: manifest destiny--westward expansion and space
exploration; the obsession with using medication for the treatment of illness; the use of chemical
poisons as an attempt to control “annoying” aspects of nature; forestry practices; and agriculture.
After completing our introductory research, we devised a survey including questions which
would tell us whether our respondents attempt to control nature in their lives. Our survey would
also give us an idea of our respondents’ attitudes toward other’s attempts to conquer nature. In
general, our results supported our hypothesis that the control of nature we discovered through
our research would also be found in the lives of our respondents.

Thomas Reeve
Margie Wagner
Chris Myers 11:00AM

Thousands of years ago, humans made a decision that would alter their lifestyles
permanently. With the advent of agriculture the interaction between human beings and nature
took a 180 degree turn. Upon realizing that they could use the nature which surrounded them to
their benefit, they took control. Forestry practices became extremely common and valuable to
human beings. The notion of Manifest Destiny led to the need to master outer space as well as
other parts of our world. As humans continued to evolve, they began to conquer something even
more fragile; they began to use unnatural methods of caring for themselves. Since the days when
agriculture was a new idea, human beings have become more and more obsessed with finding
ways to take over the natural aspects of our world through the use of insecticides, herbicides, and
pesticides. Our human nature project has given us the opportunity to investigate research which
has already been conducted on this topic as well as to empirically test this theory on Miami
University students.
Taking control is not the only reason that humans exploit nature. Nature is the ultimate
test of strength, endurance, and intelligence. It has been the driving force in the evolution of
humankind. As people have evolved, they have mastered the elements, which has led to the
mind-set that nature is just an inconvenience (Kellert 1997).
In many ways, humans have succeeded in their attempts to conquer nature, but with
many unforeseen and quite negative consequences. Agriculture and forestry practices began as
innocent ways of improving the lives of humans. With the writing of the Bible and the desire for
larger communities, Manifest Destiny originated. Some early intellectuals, such as Descartes,
Bacon, and Freud, tried to show the world the “Truth”. This craving for control is slowly leading
to our downfall.
In his book, The Future of Illusion , Freud states that,

It (human civilization) includes on the one hand all the knowledge and capacity
that men have acquired in order to control the forces of nature and extract its
wealth for the satisfaction of human needs, and, on the other hand, all the
regulations necessary in order to adjust the relations of men to one another and
especially the distribution of the available wealth (Freud 8).
This statement illustrates how important nature is to human civilization. It has always been
there challenging the human race. A good example of this is the expansion of the Old West and
the belief in manifest destiny. For years people ran to the west, trying to fill up the country.
Land and gold rushes led the way for early pioneers. As towns eventually grew, even more
people were to follow. In 1845 John O’Sullivan coined the phrase “manifest destiny” in a duet
of essays on the annexation of Texas. This use of religion and ethnocentrism pushed the people
westward (Manifest Destiny Launch Page). The wilderness was soon tamed and the time
became a part of history, but the knowledge still remains in popular culture.
Now that expansion of the planet has basically come to a close, humans are looking
towards space as “The Final Frontier.” In his 1962 address to students at Rice University, John
F. Kennedy said:

“If this capsule history of our progress teaches us anything, it is that man, in his
quest for knowledge and progress, is determined and cannot be deterred. The
exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not, and it is one of
the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of
other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space” (Address at Rice
This quote illustrates the drive behind the race into space. It seemed like a logical step for the
people of the time. The technology was available, and there was no where else to go on the
planet, so outer space was the only option. As an interesting side note, the series, “Star Trek”
and “The Next Generation” both were televised at times when the space program was under flak.
These shows could have convinced the public that the space program was a good idea. Who
knows where Manifest Destiny will take us in the future.
Kellert states that the popularity of outdoor activities is due to the fact that we are no
longer at the mercy of nature and its creatures. These creatures, mainly large animals of prey,
still plague our nightmares. Campers in Yellowstone fear death from a grizzly bear even more
than death in a car accident, even though the odds are 1 in 1.5 million and 1 in 4600 respectively.
This illustrates that nature is seen as much more scary than man-made devices (Kellert 1997).
One reason for the fear is the fact that nature is unpredictable while technology is an extension
of the human body, so it seems controllable.
Human beings’ assumption that the human body is, or at least should be, under our
control has let to the expansion of our need to dominate into the world of medicine and health
practices. Since the beginning of human beings’ study of health and disease, allopathic medicine
has been the primary focus of attention of western doctors. The use of medicine in the treatment
of illness has become so widespread that control of drug promotion has decreased. One
consequence of this is the irrational use of drugs, which can have many negative effects on all
involved. These effects may include: treatment failures and problems caused by the use of the
wrong therapy for a given ailment; patients’ suffering from unnecessary adverse effects of
treatment; increases in antibiotic resistant micro-organisms; and the waste of patients’ money on
unnecessary treatments (Chetley 1-5). In his book, Health and Healing, Dr. Andrew Weil tells
the reader that:

“War and battle imagery are abundant in allopathic literature and thinking. The
pharmacopoeia is the ‘therapeutic arsenal.’ New machines for diagnosis and
therapy are ‘new weapons’ against disease. Specific drugs are ‘magic bullets’ to
be aimed at pathogenic organisms” (Weil 114).
It is clear that people are beginning to think that allopathic medicine is evidence of human
beings’ desire for control.
Drugs have become a problem today because of the way that they are prescribed and
used, not because of their inherent pharmacological risks. The huge number of drugs now on the
market has brought us to a day when health professionals have an unsatisfactory familiarity with
both the desired effects as well as the possible side-effects of the drugs that they prescribe. One
step toward a more rational use of drugs would be to limit the number of drugs on the market
(many drugs are available today which treat the same problem) until the only ones which are
available are those for which there is a clear medical need (Chetley 5-10).
Only one hundred years have passed since humans discovered that bacteria can cause
illness, and only fifty years have gone by since the discovery of antibiotics. Because of the
originally dramatic effect of antibiotics in treating previously fatal illnesses, health professionals
and patients began to expect a great deal from these drugs. Once such drugs became readily
available, even minor symptoms, (which would previously be treated by time and the healing
effects of the body alone) began to be attacked by antibiotics. Increased and prolonged use of
these medications has led to the selection of bacteria which are resistant to antibiotics (Levy
In many parts of the world today, inexpensive and safe antibiotics are no longer
successful, (because of growing bacterial resistance) and effective treatment can no longer
occur. Newer drugs which have been developed to treat otherwise resistant bacteria are too
expensive for some national budgets to make them available. As a result, the older and
ineffective drugs continue to be prescribed and used, and new and more resistant types of
bacteria are the result. This is simply an example of how the distribution of these drugs is
extremely uneven; effective antibiotics are too accessible in some countries and not available at
all where they may be most needed (Levy 68-71).
Not only are bacteria becoming resistant to the drugs that once conquered them, but
many resistance traits are even transferable from one type of bacteria to another similar type or
even a totally different type; the resistance is spreading. This phenomenon is what Dr. Stuart B.
Levy has referred to as the “Antibiotic Paradox”. Most strands of bacteria which used to be
universally susceptible to all types of antibiotics now are at least resistant to some types of the
drug, and in many cases antibiotics fail to conquer the bacteria all together. This does not mean
that antibiotics cannot work or that they should no longer be made available. It is only evidence
of the dual nature of these powerful drugs, and it should stand as a warning that the drugs should
be used sparingly and cautiously. This is obviously the only way to benefit our species (Levy
Throughout the past several decades, some students of allopathic (traditional scientific)
medicine have strayed from the path on which they were encouraged to remain. Dr. Andrew
Weil, for example, graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1968 with no intention of
continuing his allopathic studies. In his book, Health and Healing, which was originally
published fifteen years after the completion of his formal education, he explains the reason for
his change of interest:

First, I did not feel comfortable using the methods I had been taught because by
and large they were not methods I would want used on myself if I were sick.
Second, I came to feel that most of the treatments I had learned did not go to the
root causes of disease but rather suppressed disease or masked its expressions. I
wanted to know how to help people not get sick in the first place and how to
promote real healing (Weil vii).

What Dr. Weil (and many others as well) began to realize was that the efforts of human beings to
suppress the natural state of things (to have ultimate control)--in this case the possibility for
humans to get sick--were heading in the wrong direction. Somewhat to the surprise of
allopathically-trained doctors such as Andrew Weil and Stuart B. Levy, our self-centered
attempts to conquer nature in order to improve our lives have backfired. Although we have
utilized nature for some productive and less harmful reasons, we seem to have gotten carried
away (Weil vi-viii).
Alternatives to our dependence upon medicines for healing our illnesses do exist, and
many of these have been studied by Dr. Weil. In his book, Spontaneous Healing, Dr. Weil
advocates trusting one’s body to heal itself in many cases. He believes--and I feel it is clear that
this is in fact the case--that we may be hurting ourselves if we do not. Dr. Weil promotes a
healthy diet as one of the easiest and also most beneficial ways of maximizing our bodies’
potential to heal themselves. There are five major areas of one’s diet which can be modified in
order to promote “spontaneous healing”. These include: total caloric intake, total fat intake,
protein sources, amount of fruits and vegetables eaten, and amount of fiber eaten (Weil 136).
Many people eat not only when they are hungry, but also when they are anxious,
depressed, bored, etc. As a result of such habits, many of us take in too many calories to stay
healthy. There are two main ways to reduce one’s total caloric intake: (1) modify the diet so
that the food which is eaten has less calories; the amount of food eaten is not reduced, but the
total number of calories is; or (2) fasting or limiting the amount of food which is eaten. When
we give our bodies a break from eating, our bodies are able to shift from digestion mode to
healing mode, so that toxins may be removed from our systems (Weil 137-139).
Modifying protein intake can also boost the body’s healing power. When one’s diet
revolves around a lot of protein, one ends up getting more protein than is needed for the body to
make and repair muscle tissue; the remaining protein is used as an energy source. However,
protein is not a good source of energy, (carbohydrates, for example, are a better source). Protein
molecules are big and complicated, and are therefore so difficult for the body to digest and
metabolize that the body does not have enough energy left over to heal itself (Weil 145-149).
Another way that human beings attempt to control nature is through the use of
insecticides, herbicides, and pesticides. The similarity between what has begun to happen with
these and what has happened as a result of the use of antibiotics is incredible. In her book, Silent
Spring, Rachel Carson expresses her belief that:

“The ‘control of nature’ is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the
Neanderthal age of biology and philosophy, when it was supposed that nature
exists for the convenience of man. The concepts and practices of applied
entomology for the most part date from that Stone Age of science. It is our
alarming misfortune that so primitive a science has armed itself with the most
modern and terrible weapons, and that in turning them against the insects it has
turned them against the earth” (Carson 297).

The Natural Resource Council’s Board on Agriculture wrote a book titled, Pesticide Resistance,
in which they address the fact that hundreds of species of plant pathogens, insects, rodents, and
weeds have become resistant to the chemical poisons which are used in an attempt to control
them. This is a global problem, as is the problem of bacterial resistance to antibiotics. Scientists
recognized the resistance of insects to insecticides over seventy years ago, but the problem
continues today. As the number of chemical poisons used to kill such pests increases, so does
the number of pests which cannot be killed (a “chemical poison paradox” of sorts). As with the
problem of bacterial resistance, there has to be an alternative to the continued use of such
poisons (National Research Council 1-5).
The incredible volume of research which has been done on humans’ need to control our
natural world led us to desire to see whether or not such a need exists in the lives of Miami
University students. We hypothesized that this need for control would, indeed be found in our
peers as well. Having learned of the possibly negative effects of such a desire, we almost hoped
our hypothesis would be negated.

In order to test our thesis, we decided to create a survey. We thought it would be
interesting to see whether our hypothesis regarding human beings’ tendency to control nature
was supported by students at Miami. (Our survey was somewhat unusual, which reflected the
interdisciplinary nature of our topic.) The questions we asked included:

1. Do you enjoy nature?
2. Do you participate in any outdoor activities (hiking, camping, mountain/rock climbing, etc.) ?
3. Are there woods near your house? If so, do you know if part of the woods was cleared in
order to build your house?
4. Does your house have a fireplace? If yes, how often (approximately how many times per
year) does your family build a fire? Where do you get the wood?
5. Is there much development near your home? If so, how do you feel about the development?
Was the development site open and clear before the development, or did the land have to
be clear cut before the development could take place?
6. Have you ever been prescribed antibiotics? If yes, for what? Approximately how many times
have you taken them? Did you feel as though they took care of the problem/symptoms
(did you feel better and continue to feel healthy)?
7. When you are not feeling well, how do you first try to remedy yourself? If you normally take
medicine, have you ever tried any other techniques (changing your diet or sleep habits)?
8. Please provide us with your general thoughts on nature.
We administered our survey to a total of thirty Miami undergraduates taking classes on both the
Western and the main campus. We did not ask for a name, sex, or age, because we felt these
questions were irrelevant to our study. Those students who did not wish to participate in the
investigation did not have to, and we provided answers to any questions the students had along
the way.
Once we had acquired responses to our survey questions, we chose three of the questions
to test statistically. At first, we were afraid that our responses would not lend themselves to be
tested statistically, but after some consideration, we came up with a method of doing such an
analysis. We decided to test whether or not there was statistical significance to these hypotheses:
(1) People who participate in more outdoor activities also take more antibiotics; (2) Those who
take more antibiotics will have positive feelings about development in their neighborhoods;
(3) People who participate in more outdoor activities will have positive feelings about
development in their neighborhoods. In order to test these hypotheses, we used Statview to
obtain P-values for each (and also a regression plot for the first hypothesis).

The first statistical test completed was a regression plot for the hypothesis that there
would be a correlation between the number of times that our subjects had taken antibiotics and
the number of outdoor activities that they listed as being ones that they enjoyed. (We did not
actually ask our respondents to list such activities, but everyone who said that, yes, they did
enjoy outdoor activities listed them for us.) We assumed that there would be such a correlation,
because our research has convinced us that both of these actions are examples of humans’ need
to conquer, or at least control, the world around them--including the pathogens which make them
The graph (figure 1) appears to show a positive correlation. Most of the points are fairly
near the line that the program chose as having a “best fit” to the data, (but those points which
were not close were definitely “outliers” for they laid a good distance from the line). The R^2
value, however, is .021, which is not close to a perfect correlation of R=1.0. To make sure that
the results of our hypothesis were not due to chance alone, we did an ANOVA table (figure 2)
test as well (# time taken antibiotics vs. # outdoor activities enjoyed). We obtained a P-value of
.4448, which means that there was a 44.48% chance that the answers we obtained were in fact
due to chance only. These results are not positive. It appears as though either our subjects are
not representative of the human population, or perhaps there does not exist a correlation between
these two variables after all.
The next hypothesis (that there would be a positive correlation between the number of
times our subjects had taken antibiotics and a positive feeling about development) was also
tested using an ANOVA table (figure 3). We achieved a P-value of .4535. Once again this value
shows that our data was probably not statistically significant, but that there is a 45.35% chance
that our findings were due to chance alone. It is also possible that the computer did not
understand that we were trying to test the correlation that we were; I am not sure that we did all
we needed to do to let the computer know what our intention was.
The final hypothesis (that there would be a positive correlation between the number of
outdoor activities that our subjects enjoyed and a positive feeling about development in their
neighborhoods) was tested with an ANOVA table as well (figure 4). This one gave us a P-value
of .2378. According to statistics, there is a good chance that these data were statistically
significant. Our ANOVA table tells us that there is only a 23.78% chance that our findings were
the result only of chance. Maybe this is because the respondents who enjoyed the nature aspects
of the world would not want such aspects to be covered up by houses and parking lots.
We decided to make a few graphs in order to display the data we received from questions
#3 and #4 on our survey. The graph we made about question three is shown below. It is clear
that most of our respondents--twenty-two out of thirty--said that yes, there were woods near their
house, and yes, it appeared as though part of the woods was cleared in order to build their house.
These were the results we were expecting. We think that it is fairly common for development to
take place that requires the clearing of part of an area of woods, and this does seem to be the
case, according to the results of our survey.

3. Are there woods near your house? If so, do you know if part of the woods was cleared in
order to build your house?
The second graph we made displays the results of question #4. We expected almost all
of our subjects to say that, yes, they had a fireplace, and we thought that most families would be
in the habit of building a fire often. We were somewhat surprised to find that nine of our
respondents do not have a fireplace in their house. However, 19 of the 21 people who said they
do have a fireplace said that their family does build fires. (Two people said that they have a
fireplace but do not build fires! Interesting!) The novelty of bringing a fire into one’s
home--and therefore having control over it--is obviously still in effect.

4. Does your house have a fireplace? If yes, how often (approximately how many times
per year) does your family build a fire?
We did not consider the results to the rest of our questions to be very meaningful, but we
will address them briefly here. Every one of our subjects answered question #1 saying the they
do enjoy nature. This being true, we found it to be somewhat unusual that so many people are in
the habit of trying to control nature in several ways--found through the answers to our other
questions. One thing that discouraged us after reading the answers to question #6 was that a few
people said that they had been prescribed antibiotics for a cold. We certainly hope that these
people were mistaken, because antibiotics do not fight the common cold. Either they were
confused--which would mean that they were taking medication without knowing what it was
for--or they have doctors who do not know what they are doing. Either of these possibilities
would be very unfortunate. Almost everyone answered question #7 saying that they do try other
healing remedies than medication, and we were happy to find this. We think that there is a trend
toward the use of alternative medicine. One person said that they do not like to use antibiotics
because of antibiotic resistance! Wow! Our last question was very open-ended and we hoped to
find out some other interesting things from people’s answers. Most people said some positive
things about nature and said they think nature should be preserved. So do we.

There might have been many problems with our survey. We think that people did not
take it very seriously. It is possible that we should have explained the reason for the survey,
(which we did not do) because several people were very shocked--and possibly turned-off--by
the fact that the survey was so diverse. No one

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