- For alternative meanings, see nature (disambiguation).
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Nature (also called the material world, the material universe, the natural world, and the natural universe) is all matter and energy, especially in its essential form. Nature is the subject of scientific study. In scale, "nature" includes everything from the universal to the subatomic. This includes all things animal, plant, and mineral; all natural resources and events (hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes). It also includes the behaviour of living animals, and processes associated with inanimate objects.
Nature outside Earth and its atmosphere
Events and phenomena outside Earth and its atmosphere are in the natural science of astronomy.
Life, the characteristics and behaviors of organisms, how species and individuals come into existence, and the interactions they have with each other and with their environment are all in the natural science of biology.
The structure, properties, composition, and reactions of chemical elements and compounds are part of the natural science of chemistry.
Matter and force
The behaviour and interactions of matter and force are a part of the natural science of physics.
Everything relating to the planet Earth is a part of earth science.
Some people believe in the existence of a non-material world in a sense beyond that of just mental experience. They rather believe in supernatural beings and in a supernatural reality absolutely different in kind to that of the natural world. Even if such a reality exists, many scientists and other assert that it is beyond the reach of science. On the other hand science has been very successful in bringing apparently inexplicable and supposedly supernatural phenomena within its scope.
In philosophy, the view that the material world of atoms, animals, gravity, stars, wind, microbes, etc., actually exist independently of our observations of them is termed realism; the opposing view is called idealism.
The natural and the artificial
A distinction is often drawn between the "natural" and the "artificial" (="man-made"). Can such a distinction be justified? One approach is to exclude mind from the realm of the natural; another is to exclude not only mind, but also humans and their influence. In either case, the boundary between the natural and the artificial is a difficult one to draw (see mind-body problem). Some people believe that the problem is best avoided by saying that everything is natural, but that does little to clarify the concept of the "artificial". In any event, ambiguities about the distinction between the natural and the artificial animate much of art, literature and philosophy.
Another approach is to distinguish natural processes and artificial (man-made) processes. In this viewpoint, a process is deemed to occur either at the behest of man, or not. For example, flipping a light switch might illuminate a room, or perhaps a sunrise might illuminate that room. In this viewpoint, the sunrise would be termed a natural process; the decision of a human being to flip the light switch would be termed an artificial illumination, in contrast. In this viewpoint, artifice (art or literature) is clearly the result of willful human action; furthermore, the act of stating a philosophical position could also a willful action (and hence at the behest of man), whether or not the content of the philosophy were to be about science.
The term natural science is used in a variety of ways, primarily:
The term natural philosophy formerly named the scientific discipline now known as physics.
Natural theology straddles the disciplines of theology and philosophy of religion.
In education and related areas, the contrast "natural/artificial" can appear as " nature/nurture".
See also: praeternatural, unnatural and supernatural.
The word nature comes from the Latin word, natura, meaning birth or character (see nature (innate)). In English, its first recorded use in the sense of the material world was in 1662.
Last updated: 10-14-2005 07:49:09