Exploring our understanding of Nature, as well as the power and limits of modern science, in the light of human experience and rational inquiry


Reconsidering Nature

What exactly is “Nature”? It is at once one of our most familiar words and concepts; and at the same time, one of the most mysterious. We understand artificial things, what they do and how they do it and why they do it and how they came to be, because we make them. As their authors and creators, we know artificial things in a profound way, from the "inside out" (so to speak); from the parts or components forward, and from the purpose back.

But what makes a natural thing be what it is, and do what it does? And why does a natural thing always (or for the most part) do one particular thing in a given circumstance rather than something else? And why do the "degrees of freedom" of natural things seem to progress in an orderly way in the ascent from particles to persons?

We can't ask questions about Nature without also asking questions about modern empirical science. What exactly does modern science teach us about Nature? The Nature that we experience on an everyday basis is full of beauty and purpose, as well as cruelty and chaos. Is this common experience a naive illusion, and Nature nothing but purposeless particles in motion according to inexplicable laws, the "things" of common experience nothing but arbitrary arrangements of an underlying quantum flux?

Are the natural sciences the only means by which we can answer those kinds of basic, rational questions about Nature? Or are the kinds of answers typically given by science—answers in terms of mathematical laws and mechanical causes—inherently limited, unable to encompass what we otherwise know to be true in other natural and rational ways?

The Institute for the Study of Nature (ISN) was founded to provide a forum where interested people can discuss and debate the question “What is Nature?” in ways relating science, human experience, rational inquiry, and neo-classical philosophy. You can learn more on our “about” pages and get a better idea of the range of issues addressed by the ISN by reviewing our articles and essays page.

News & Events

The ISN has not been able to organize confernences in recent summers. We hope to be back before long—stay tuned!

The ISN held its third annual Summer Seminar, "Reduction, Emergence, and Essence," June 15-19, 2009 at MIT.

The ISN sponsored the Insurgent Science Series as part of MIT's January 2009 Independent Activities Period. The text of "A 'Bigger' Physics" is now available.



This page last updated on February 19, 2014