touchstone archives


Piquant excerpts lifted from Touchstone editors' own reading & listening.

Topic: Nature

[The Creator] gave to the world the figure which was suitable and also natural. Now to the animal which was to comprehend all animals, that figure would be suitable which comprehended within itself all other figures. Wherefore he made the world in the form of a globe, round as from a lathe, having its extremes in every direction equidistant from the center. . . .

Timaeus, 33d (ca. 350 b.c.)

Nature Commonplaces #13 March/April 2020

But it may be that the truly "modern" thing about the modern age, the nineteenth century and the twentieth, its really diagnostic train, is the interest in beginnings, in origin, in aetiology: when we try to say what something is—witness Darwin, for example, and Freud—our way of doing it is to go back and talk about how it got to be the way it looks now. Or it might be said that with the eroding away of the assumptions of the first chapters of Genesis, other mythology had to be supplied, mythology in the fashionable scientific language, if only in order to fill up what began to appear as the dark backward and abysm of time.

Howard Nemerov
from the Introduction to Poetic Diction by Owen Barfield (1928)

Nature Commonplaces #31 Nov/Dec 2019

For the person who has ever known even one mature and normal erotic fulfillment, it is impossible to imagine turning by choice to a biologically inappropriate partner or placing partial or deviated aims above what has been so obviously well designed for the purpose. What the human organism shows anatomically is scarcely more clear than the emotional evidence, at physiologic as well as at broader interpersonal levels of reactivity. Even from more remote and less tangible sociologic aspects, nature has left no room here for doubt.

Hervey Cleckley, M.D.
The Mask of Sanity (1982), 223

Nature Commonplaces #53 May/June 2019

I’m not crazy about reality, but it’s still the only place to get a decent meal.

Groucho Marx

nature Commonplaces #147 Nov/Dec 2022

Johann Christian August Heinroth (1773–1843) is often ridiculed today as the man who proclaimed that the main cause of mental illness was sin. In fact, it would suffice to replace the term “sin” by that of “guilt feeling” to make him appear almost contemporary. Heinroth was a learned man, a foremost clinician, and the author of a complete theory of the human mind . . . . Conscience [probably “consciousness” in ET] originates neither in the external world nor in the ego, but in an Über-uns (over-us) which Heinroth seems to equate with Reason and a way to God. According to him, health is freedom and mental illness is a reduction or loss of freedom. This loss of freedom is a result of Ich-Sucht (self-love) [self-seeking or self-absorption] and of the various passions. Delusion is a disturbance of the intellect, even though its cause lies in passion.

The second volume of Heinroth’s textbook contains a systematic description of his psychotherapeutic methods: The first step consists of determining to what degree a pathological state requires therapeutic help, and then to evolve a specific therapeutic plan that will consider not only the symptoms but also the sex, age, occupation, personality, and economic and social conditions of the patient. This plan of treatment should also extend to the patient’s family and surroundings. One main concern is to abstain from any unnecessary or dangerous treatment [primum non nocere!]. Heinroth then describes in a detailed and practical manner the various treatments that should be given to the excited and depressed patients as well as to patients of all conditions. Once again, the reader marvels at the modern character of many of these concepts.

Henri F. Ellenberger
The Discovery of the Unconscious (1970)

Nature Commonplaces #177 July/August 2023

If Berkeley is right, Orion and the Pleiades, whether considered as points of twinkling light, or as celestial balls, or as whorls of flaming gas, are essentially significant, bearing an indefeasible, inalienable relation to mind, and the persistent attempts of the human mind to think away their meaning, and to resolve them, in thought, into meaningless atoms or similar entities, barely existing, are suicidal. They subsist in the mind of God, because He thought and thinks them, willed and wills them, created and conserves them, orders them, and has set them for signs. To his act and will and thought and law they owe their permanence, their subsistence, from night to night, from age to age, whether they are actually perceived by man or not. A “lost Pleiad” is a loss to man’s perception of “the flight of doves,” but is no casualty in God’s host. To say, then, that bodies subsist in the mind of God is to say that God is the home of the perceivable when it is unperceived by man.

A. A. Luce
Berkeley’s Immaterialism (1945)

Nature Commonplaces #166 May/June 2023

The scientists of today think deeply instead of clearly. One must be sane to think clearly, but one can think deeply and be quite insane.

Nikola Tesla

Nature Commonplaces #167 May/June 2023

Light after light goes out, fire after fire is extinguished. And this gathering darkness has been the work of Science. That is the paradox. The Christians had a very clear picture of things. The simplest peasant could take it in and the subtlest schoolman could spend a lifetime interpreting it. It was simple and permanent. But then Science came along and substituted something difficult and provisional. Decade by decade the picture became more complicated and shorter lived—until now neither the learned nor the simple at all know where they stand. And it is thus that Science puts out the lamps of reason; it is thus that Science is a vast softening process, a vast clearing the way for world-wide superstition. Science offers no fixed points of belief. And Science, in the popular mind, is the sphere of the unaccountable and the marvelous.  . . . The Scientist is always there, and he is nothing more or less than the old Magician.

Michael Innes
The Daffodil Affair (1972)

Nature Commonplaces #168 May/June 2023

Beyond the necessary protection of the environment, neglected for too long by the industrial era, ecological thinking develops a real and proper philosophy of life. It does not remain at the level of the defense of the environment. There is a very specific reason for this fact. We have a whole Christian tradition of defense of nature, from St. Francis or St. Hildegard of Bingen up to, in our own day, the “philosopher farmer.”  . . .

In this tradition, nature is considered a divine creature and protected as such; the defense of nature finds a place inside faith in transcendence and a humanism that places man at the center. But when Christianity vanishes, and with it transcendence, it is inevitable that the sacred will reappear in one form or another. The moment the defense of the environment is affirmed as an urgent and evident duty, nature then sees itself sacralized, that is, put in a preserve, set above, made inviolable.  . . .

Nature becomes the object of more or less evident worship. Mother earth becomes a kind of pagan goddess, and not only among Bolivian natives, but also [in the cultured West]. So much so that Pope Francis [cf. his involvement in the Pachamama affair] speaks today of “our mother earth,” obviously in the Christian sense, but leaving open the ambiguity that allows the link with contemporary beliefs. Our contemporaries defend in all its forms the nature that has been denaturalized by man, just as they do not hesitate to hug trees. We are in a phase in which, in the vast field opened by the elimination of Christianity, new beliefs are appearing: and above all the pantheism that translates the defense of the environment into religion.

Chantal Delsol
cited in Sandro Magister, Settimo Cielo (November 18, 2022)

Nature Commonplaces #169 May/June 2023

The majority of men in every generation, even those who, as it is described, devote themselves to thinking, live and die under the impression that life is simply a matter of understanding more and more, and that if it were granted to them to live longer, that life would continue to be one long continuous growth in understanding. How many of them ever experience the maturity of discovering that there comes a critical moment when everything is reversed, after which the point becomes to understand more and more that there is something which cannot be understood.


Nature Commonplaces #188 Nov/Dec 2023

The moral anarchy of our day may be excused, in a certain degree at any rate, on the ground that the puritanical “pretend you don’t know” morality often led to disgusting hypocrisy; as a reaction against this hypocrisy there arose not only the natural human demand to become acquainted with one’s own nature, but a contention that human beings have the right to be as Nature made them; that which is natural is good. Primitive Christianity taught on the contrary that the natural human being is not good, because he is incomplete: he has thrown away a perfection which mankind was created to possess. Only the grace of God, which does not disturb, but perfects, nature, can make man good, since it makes him complete again.

Sigrid Undset
Stages on the Road (1934)

Nature Commonplaces #189 Nov/Dec 2023

George MacDonald did not exaggerate the power of the imagination. Imagination is a power of discovery, not a power to create. The latter capacity he reserved to God alone. Nor did MacDonald equate imagination with mere fancy, what we used to call “vain imaginings.” Rather, for him, imagination is a power of perception, a light that illumines the mystery that is hidden beneath visible reality; it is a power to help [us] “see” into the very nature of things. Reason alone, MacDonald argued, is not able to recognize mystery or grasp the moral quiddity of the world. As the sensible mind needs eyes to see, so reason needs the imagination in order to behold mystery and to perceive the true quality of things. Imagination takes reason to the threshold of mystery and moral truth and reveals them as such. Reason may then approve or submit. But it remains for the heart of courage with the will to believe and the vision of imagination to embrace the beauty of goodness and the strength of truth as the foundation of virtuous living.

Vigen Guroian
Tending the Heart of Virtue: How Classic Stories Awaken a Child’s Moral Imagination, 2nd edition (2023)

Nature Commonplaces #203 May/June 2024

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