The Naturalist’s Presence: Notes Toward a Relational Phenomenology of Attention and Meaning
Deepening our authentic human relationship with the rest of Nature requires learning about Nature in ways that avoid treating this vibrant, intimate Other as an inert, distant object. Natural history—defined for purposes of this chapter as the multidisciplinary, nondestructive study of the natural world in situ and over time —offers such an approach to nature study. A phenomenological examination of the naturalist’s integrative experience, which engages affective, cognitive, and transcendental dimensions, may shed light on constitutive aspects of being a human-in-relationship with Nature.
This chapter begins with a phenomenological description of the naturalist’s experience with Nature, with particular emphases on the naturalist’s attention and on meaningfulness of natural history. Natural history is place based and, therefore, requires attending in multiple ways: to animal and plant creatures, events, and physical phenomena such as temperature, wind, landscape, and precipitation. We follow the naturalist’s attention as she balances open awareness and focused attention, engaged with the challenge of remaining open to Nature’s showing itself from itself while simultaneously evaluating potential spatial and temporal patterns in Nature’s self-manifestations.
Based on this information, we then explore the naturalist’s underlying relationship with the natural Other as it reveals itself through the initial description. The naturalist’s attention is characterized by fascination, which may be associated with innate biophilia; animal presence and the “zoological gaze,” in particular, draw the naturalist’s focus. Temporality frequently shifts to become place based. Finally, a loss of self-awareness can lead to a felt sense of meaningful intimacy through immersion in a transcendent natural whole.
KeywordsNatural history Naturalist Attention Fascination Phenomenology Transcendence Natural presence Place
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