It's "Natural" therefore it's "good". It's "Artificial" therefore it's "bad".

I hear it all of the time. "I don't want to take that medicine because it's not natural". "This food is not natural". "I choose to live this way because it's natural". "This is good because it's natural". "This is bad because it's artificial".

Actually, we live in a world that is not "natural". It's difficult to define "natural" but many people seem to think that it's how were "intended" to be. The "artificial" character of medicine, vaccine, and food processing somehow indicates that these are harmful. The fact that we evolved in a world that wasn't human-made, somehow indicates that we are not "designed" for the modern world.

Think of dogs. Chihuahuas would not survive in the wild that their ancestors occupied. Neither would poodles. Neither would most domestic animals. Neither would we. "Natural" is not an option.

Actually, benefit and harm are both independent of "natural" vs. "artificial", and there is almost nothing left that is not modified already by human activity. The climate, CO2 content of the air, earth's temperature, the substances that waft about in the air and water, and permeate our bodies, have all been created or modified by human activity. Our brains and our relationships have been modified by human activity. All ecosystems have been significantly impacted by human activity, with intended and unintended consequences, beneficial and harmful depending on your perspective. So have our bodies. Our predecessors and ancestors had much smaller build. They were shorter and slimmer. Obesity either did not exist, or was rare, in ancient times. Lives were also shorter - much shorter. Life was also brutal. Ancient diseases are now almost forgotten in Western society - polio, leprosy, cholera, bubonic plague, tetanus, smallpox, typhoid fever, gangrene. Many aspects of life are immeasurably better, and it's not "natural."

Exercise is good for us, but not because ancient people had to work hard. Lack of dietary excess is good for us, but not because ancient people were thin. Sanitation is good for us, and ancient people who had sanitary systems likely benefited as well, but humans evolved in a presanitation world.

Humans by Era Average Lifespan at Birth (wikipedia)
(years) Comment
Upper Paleolithic 33 At age 15: 39 (to age 54)
Neolithic 20
Bronze Age 18
Bronze age, Sweden40-60
Classical Greece 20-30
Classical Rome 20-30
Pre-Columbian North America 25-30
Medieval Islamic Caliphate 35+ The average lifespans of the elite class were 59–84.3 years in the Middle East and 69–75 in Islamic Spain.
Medieval Britain 20-30
Early 20th Century 30-45
Current world average 66.57 2009 est.

There is no evidence that any "natural" activity of ancient times was beneficial to quality or quantity of life, because they simply did not live that long. Not their food, not their farming methods, not their medical technology, including Indian and Chinese herbal remedies.

So we are unnatural creatures in an unnatural world. That doesn't mean that pesticides are good (or bad) or fertilizers are good (or bad) or medicines are good (or bad) or SUVs are good (or bad) or processed food is good (or bad) or vegetarianism/omnivory is good (or bad). The utility, benefit / cost of these substances and activity is independent of their "naturalness", and depends on how they are used, in what circumstances, and to what degree, and their interrelation to the rest of their world, local and global. I think that many of the excesses of modern industrialized, commercial life are very harmful, but it's not because they are unnatural.

Sometimes, when people tell me "I don't want to take this cholesterol pill. It's not natural" I tell them "Neither is living past 30. If nature was all that we had to go by, you would be dead already, and so would your kids."

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Replies to This Discussion

A bottle of horseshit is all natural, but that doesn't mean its good for you.
Have homeopaths found a use for a diluted tincture of horse piss yet?
Actually, animal urine is already in a lot of cosmetics, if I am not mistaken, along with placenta and other such yummy things.
Placenta does have a proven benefit, but it's for fetuses. Of course, they only benefit from their originals.

In addition, some new parents apparently have the placenta for a gourmet feast. Tom Cruise had a few things to say about placenta Tartar. Plus - placenta is the ONLY meat that comes not from taking life, but from giving life. So it's ideal for vegetarians. And it's natural! I suppose that if mom was given a major dose of sedative prepartum, your guests might wind up falling asleep at the table, after feasting on their placenta aglio, olio e peperoncino .

Note for Felch. None of this came from wikipedia. Therefore it's true.

Cannibalism. It's not just for breakfast anymore.
The medication "premarin", I believe has to do with pregnant mare's urine...I could be wrong about that though.

Premarin is not, of itself, good or bad either. It depends on who takes it and why. The risks are for increased likelihood of heart attack and stroke, and breast cancer. The benefits are for increased comfort and mood stabilization. For women whose lifes and marriages are disrupted by hormonal shifts in menopause, the mood swings are far from trivial.
Someone else told me it cause birth defects for the pregnant mares.
Glen and Dallas
HOW IS PREMARIN MADE? (hormone replacement for women)

Urine extracted from the mares on the PMU farms (both in Canada and the United States) is shipped to the processing plant in Brandon, Manitoba for manufacture and marketing. There are roughly 490 PMU farms at this time, and there has been much controversy over the living conditions of the mares that are kept at these farms, as well as their foals. For more information please see
An expanded definition would state that "if it exists, it's natural".

This goes for dietary habits, sexual habits, consciousness-altering substances and their ingestion, technology, etc.

As you point out, we can debate what's harmful and what's beneficial. But if it exists or if it's been done, somewhere, sometime, it's natural.
That looks like a pretty useless definition. What would it be good for? Except for evidences like "Nylon stockings are natural to us, but they weren't to Marie-Antoinette", I have no idea.




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