We are part of this natural system where we live and that we named. Our cities, our trains, our streets, some beautiful and some disgraceful, are all part of our natural world, of what we have built for us. Those streets, concrete buildings and airplanes for examples are all products of the engineering skills of humans, one of the most prolific species in the natural world. The concrete, the plastic, and even your phone are all natural products because made by a natural entity. Otherwise, how would you consider a birds nest, beaver dams, or the net of a spider? The only difference is the complexity but complexity does not mean artificial. I often see a representation of humankind as a sort of extraterrestrial race dealing with his own technology, cables, busy life, in contradiction with a wild setting where the "animal kingdom" belongs. Even the concept itself of "artificial" is something created by humans but I still believe there is nothing artificial (unnatural in this case) in our existence. Creating and transforming matter is an extraordinary capability where humans excel. But it's an acquired capability, like being able to talk and communicate, we are not born with the potential but with a natural predisposition to do it. My question is: following these thoughts, isn't correct to consider an iPhone, a car, a computer as an extraordinary natural product?


The answer depends on your definitions. You provide one set of definitions, but they aren't the only ones.

Alan Watts often pointed out that there are two ways to treat yourself or other humans. You can say "I came into this world," or you can say "I came out of it." If you say that you came into this world, then you are not of this world, and thus you can draw a line between what you do and what "natural" things do. On the other hand, if you say you came out of this world, your argument appears: that you are indeed natural and the concept of anything that is not-natural is simply foolishness.

So it is reasonable to say that, if we follow your logic, an iPhone is a natural product. However, I'd point out that we did so by stating "all things are natural products," so we're really begging the conclusion here. I'd prefer to say that, using your logic, the concept of "natural" becomes a meaningless concept, so stating that an iPhone is natural is a rather meaningless statement in the first place. However if we use the other approach, where that which is human is not natural, then we come to the conclusion that an iPhone is not natural rather easily.


The laws of thought

  1. A thing exists

  2. It is either true or not

  3. There is no middle place between true or false

Natural - not influenced by man, man-made - created or changed by mans influence.

The word natural is culturally used to be the opposite of man made. If you use the term natural to include all living organisms and part of the material world, then of course this includes the realm of man-made objects.

The term natural often is used to mean something good, while man-made is suspect and damaging. But this implied meaning is just that, and is too imprecise to be useful. We have changed the landscape of many countries, and be very successful in harnessing animals and plants for the benefit of all.

And equally some natural organisms like honey fungus, or japanese knot weed are seriously destructive and dangerous. Anti-biotic resistant bacteria now threaten our very survival which underlines there is no "nice" summary here.


Your phone is not a natural object in the way a tree or a storm or the planet Mars is. We can claim that the natural is a social construction in the sense that all we have access to is a world conceptualised by us and never an unconceptualised world. But then within our conceptualised world we cannot avoid a distinction between what is brought into existence by human beings and what is not. If both Mount Everest and your phone are social constructions, human artifice, skill, technology created your phone in a way in which they did not create Mout Everest.

Your phone is not a supernatural object.

It is also not a self-created object that emerged ex nihilo, supranaturally.

It is not an object that exists purely by social convention such as a contract.

It is a hybrid - an object which has been created by natural objects, in this people or machines created by people, for the purposes of largely unnecessary communication. As created it is an artefact; as created by natural objects its source is firmly in the natural world. If such a phrase were allowable, as of course it is not, I should be inclined to call your phone an artifico-natural object, neither quite one thing nor quite the other.

  • So If a computer or a bridge is an artifact, what it a birds nest or a beaver dam? They did not come into existence spontaneously but with the effort and abilities of a creature of the animal kingdom. Also the word "spontaneously" can create a bit of confusion, there should be a cause to have an effect.
    May 9 '18 at 17:14
  • Hi ! I'd call a bird's nest and a beaver's dam artefacts. I've changed the text and removed 'namely'. Also removed the 'spontaneously' passage. Thanks for the creatively critical comment. Nice question. Best : Geoff
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    May 9 '18 at 18:28

I think that the presence in our language of the word "natural" implies that there is something other than what is natural.

In the same way, the words "artificial", "impossible", "unnatural", "fake", "processed", "hideous", "man-made", "false", "personal", "uncanny", "irrational", and "manufactured"---- each of which is "not natural", would be meaningless if there were no such thing as "that which is not natural".

So by observation, I believe that making an all-inclusive definition for natural that would include the iPhone can't be correct. Otherwise, this whole body of well-used distinctions would turn out to be truly vain.

  • Well, it's not supernatural. May 9 '18 at 19:29
  • "Unnatural" is something against the nature. People invented this word to denote miracles, gods, etc. Well, "fake" means something that is not normal/common. Actually, I'd say that's just commonsense in people that defines the border between natural and artificial. In the same way it defines the border between rational and irrational.
    – rus9384
    May 9 '18 at 19:55

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