Friday, December 21, 2007

Natural and artificial -- Part 5

Natural and artificial are sometimes conflated with real and fake. While the former distinction becomes increasingly difficult to maintain, real and fake are pretty straightforward.

We know there's a difference between a real and a fake Picasso, even if we can't tell the one from the other. We know the difference between a real Gucci handbag or Rolex watch and a fake bag or watch, even if the latter is indistinguishable to the people we are trying to impress. Fake Christmas trees look more like the real thing every year, but they are still indubitably fakes.

A tree-farmed Christmas tree is no more or less natural or artificial than one made in a plastics factory in Indonesia, but we have no problem calling the former real and the latter fake. One can quibble over whether a Viagra erection in natural or artificial, but still agree that it's easier to fake an orgasm than an erection.

All of which is to say that we can move into a future where the natural/artificial distinction is irrelevant, yet still, as a matter of personal preference, choose the real over the fake. Revel in the real snowfall while rejecting the flocked tree. Choose real life over Second Life. Prefer a real $30 Timex to a fake Rolex. Fill the house with lopsided real flowers that wilt rather than the perfect silk creations that will look as "fresh" next year as on the day we buy them.

And, yes, we'll opt for real science, too -- as defined by the established consensus -- rather than fake sciences, such as intelligent design, astrology, homeopathy, parapsychology, flood geology, and all the other quackeries that distract us from the awesome wonders of the real.