Lesson 19 The Idea of Nature








                Man-made representation of Nature decides of man’s relationship to it.  Oddly, we don’t think of the natural in the same way as we think of Nature.  The natural is what we find in its “wild” state, what has not yet been domesticated by culture.  This can be the animal in man; if nature inside man is the seat of animality and instinct then it must of course be tamed.

                However Nature is also Cosmos, it is the totality formed by living creatures.  It is an altogether different thing to perceive it as a system in equilibrium allowing for life to grow than to think of nature in terms of instinct.  And we get yet another idea from Science since Descartes urged us to view Nature as a blind cosmic mechanism, without intelligence, ruled only by the natural laws that science discovers.

                  What is Nature?  Is it even possible to reconcile some way or other such different and opposite points of view?  It is almost as if there was a permanent misunderstanding and that we speak of Nature with different ideas in mind.


A.      The World as Alive, Great and Eternal.


    The word nature has two main meanings: one applying to individuals and one to cosmos.

1)  What does one mean when speaking of the nature of something?  We understand by this term the innate principle that makes the thing what it is.  We say that it is in the nature of fire to burn, of water to wet.  Without these qualities fire would not be fire and water would not be water.  At the level of inert things we already find nature and this nature refers to the qualities proper to a substance.  These qualities cannot be swapped.  If milk can be turned into cheese and clay into a pot, one cannot transform milk into a clay-pot or clay into cheese.  Hence each thing possesses by virtue of its nature a certain fate[1] belonging to it and which is not that of another thing which would be of a different nature.  Logically then nature is therefore a subject endowed with attributes.


There is more.  The nature of something may also refer to the nature of a living thing.  Therefore we need to complete what has been said so far.  It is in the nature of a bud to become a rose.  It is in the nature of the flower to become the fruit.  The flower of the apple-tree yields the fruit, the fruit which is the apple can fall to the ground, rot and the seed become the apple-tree and so on.  When we say that it is in the nature of the flower to become the fruit, our idea is that of a vital principle that animates the plant to make it become what it should be.  The nature of the seed is its principle of growth and evolution during a sequential process of development in which nothing is left to chance.  It becomes sprout, stalk, branch, leaf, tree etc… Then this nature involutes again to become a seed and the cycle starts again.  The seed is the seat of innate potentialities that unfold in time and these potentialities are its nature.

It also happens that we speak of the nature of Jack and Jill.  We say that one of them is an artist by nature, the other active by nature and someone else can be naturally melancholic.  Speaking in this way we mainly refer to the temperament of the one or the other.  We found our reasoning on the idea that one cannot radically change somebody’s natural inclinations, and thus there is always a fundamental nature that characterises each and everyone.  Our reasoning assumes that there is a stable principle which constitutes the qualities of Jck or Jill  and make them become what they are.

The nature of something is therefore this stable principle which works at this something from within in order to make it come to be in conformity with its own nature, be this one inert, alive or even thinking.  This is exactly the point of view that we encounter in the system of Aristotle.

2)  Yet the word Nature can also have a more general meaning.  This is Nature as cosmos.  From having been an internal principle, Nature is now taken to be an external principle, the orderly space which assigns to each thing its due place.  Nature is the sum of things that exist, but as they exist in a specific order, a Cosmos and not in some kind of unorganised chaos.  This is the order of Nature which yields the vegetation and animal life of a given region. This is also the order that imposes the natural rhythms, the rhythms of the seasons, those of reproduction, the balance between all  things living.  It is this order which sees to it that each living species has its own habitat in and through which it can prosper.  Through our diet, sleeping cycles, basic needs, we are, whether we want it or not, subjected to Nature.  Our very traditions are rooted in the geographical and climatic conditions of our country.  It is this idea of Nature that we have in mind in all our ecological references.  Without it, the idea of life according to Nature would be meaningless.  We cannot conceive of a life in harmony with Nature unless Nature already contains a certain order that wisdom invites us to respect and that is not just an individual summoning, but involves the Totality of things.  Here again is a point of view shared by Aristotle.


Unbeknown to us, we live in a representation of Nature that has adopted a specific historical form in the philosophy of Aristotle.  In Greek Nature is phusis, that is at once the idea of the principle orchestrating the development of a living creature and the totality of things taken in their order tou pantos phusis.  The word phusis comes from the verb phusein that means to grow.  The phusis therefore directs all things from inside, in the same way as it organises the universe.  It acts in such a way that models or perfect types are actualised (that of the daisy, that of the squirrel) .  The plant tends towards its end which is the fruit as towards its accomplishment.  On the other hand Nature forms a harmonious whole where, in a vast and deep promotion of life, everything conspires to a common good.

Does this mean that in Nature nothing is artificial?  How can we mark out the difference between natural things and artificial things?  The animal, the plant, the elements such as Water, Earth, Fire, Air exist by nature.  This means that they possess in themselves motion and fixity.  It is of course not man who has the mountain erode, the rain fall and so on.  Everything changes and modifies itself all the time in a natural way.  Therefore it is correct to assign to each thing its proper place.  The centre of the earth is that place towards which heavy bodies tend.  Fire, on the other hand, ascends upwards.  Fern grows in the underwood.  Poppies like the sun.  On the contrary it is not nature that has the bed or the coat appear.  If I bury a bed under the ground it will not grow into something the fruit of which is beds!  The process of growth of the artificial object is that of its natural constituents and not itself as object.  The wood of the bed will rot and it will be eaten by maggots exactly like the branch rotting in the wood.  The object therefore returns to Nature, from which human work had extracted it.  Hence man finds in Nature a collection of materials.  It subjects them to a series of transformations which yield the artefact.  This one will need all the care and maintenance man can give it to prevent its constituents to gradually return to nature.  The loveliest statue, if left in a garden, will deteriorate into mere stone worn by the elements.  Therefore we understand this definition by Aristotle: “Nature is a principle and cause of motion and rest of the thing in which it immediately resides”.  The presence of Nature in something is not accidental, all objects carry within them Nature’s dynamism.  Thus since everything changes and even changes all the time, everything changes by virtue of Nature.

Nature resides in all things and confers them their motion by necessity; it is the cause in four different meanings:

1)  it is the material cause: that of which the thing is made: wood, brass, stone.

2)  it is the formal cause: that which gives the thing its structure, the exemplary idea, which for instance makes the turtle dove conform to the idea of its species.  When producing, Nature is not capricious.  It always follows the same laws with regularity.  It happens however that in the realm of life matter is rebellious to form and the operation of Nature.  This yields monsters of life, creatures that are not up to the idea of their species (the one-armed star-fish for example).  Nature’s work allows for chance and failure.  Yet, Nature remains the force responsible for change and motion.

3)  it is the efficient cause or the motor of the natural thing, that which changes reality.  Even occasional irregularity, nature achieves its ends and produces harmonious creations.

4)  it is the final cause which decides of the purpose of a production.


Globally, as a contemplative vision in the eyes of the herbalist naturalist collecting in the woods, Nature appears as a sort of great eternal living being, an idea we meet again in the stoics and which serves as common ground for traditional thinking.

B.      Cosmic Machinery



     Today however this interpretation is very far away.  If it subsists in language, as a representation it is only to be found in literature, in writers’ romantic outcries, or in nostalgic ecologists.  Some of Rousseau’s writings are marked by it.  Yet since the XVIIIth century we interpret Nature very differently.  In the XIVth century medieval scholastics found its inspiration in the Aristotelian system and took its interpretation to absurd extremes.

      Let us consider for instance the phenomenon by virtue of which strands of straw are attracted by a piece of amber that has been rubbed.  Today we explain this rationally as resulting from static electricity.  We look for causes and posit laws in order to account for natural phenomena.  In the mind of men in the Middle Ages the interpretation of Nature was animistic; it invoked the action of “spirits”, of “forces” in order to construe some very muddled interpretations.  An alchemist would say that “the amber is a fountain and that the straw wants to drink”.  The  motivation – borrowed from human behaviour – of thirst which pushes one to look for something to drink, is superposed on a natural phenomenon.  One reasons as if there were intentions in Nature, like there are human intentions, and a set of means to realise them.  The straw goes towards the amber because it “wants” to drink.  The amber has a “function” which responds to the demands of the straw.  This is ridiculous.  It sounds like the explanation of a child. For the child a branch is “bad” because he knocked himself against it.  He too attributes intentions to Nature, good or evil.  We, men of the XXIst century, can no longer look at Nature in this way.

    In the XVIIth century Descartes became aware of how obscure the knowledge of his time was, as was its vision of Nature.  For this reason he banned the study of final causes from Physics.  Behind a phenomenon one must look for causes, but not causes pertaining to anthropomorphism, that is the tendency to consider Nature in the image of human beings.  For instance it is this kind of naivety which makes Bernardin de Saint-Pierre say that if melons have stripes on their surface, it is because Nature foresaw that men would cut them in quarters!  Attacks against this absurd form of finalism is a constant in the writings of the XVIIIth century, as for instance in Spinoza’s Ethics.

      As an indirect consequence this critique of anthropomorphism brings us this other model, Descartes’ mechanistic interpretation.  Descartes uses the model offered by the marionettes of Vaucansson.  These are ingenious apparatuses that have all the appearance of life without being alive.  Yet the automate can be explained referring only to the concept of mechanisms and collections of mechanisms.  Everything in it can be explained as springs, gears, wheels and pulleys, by the chain of cause and effect.  To account for the animal, finalism invoked its “nature”, saying it was endowed with a “vital principle”, or “soul”.  Yet one may just as well consider it a complex machine.  Similarly why not consider natural phenomena as complex mechanisms?  This would spare one unscientific and obscure principles such as the “nature” of fire, the “soul” of the dog or the “vital principle” in the bee.  It is enough to reserve this notion of an immanent principle  to the soul, and to a being whose consciousness we cannot doubt, man.  From then onwards it seems justified to consider Nature as a huge machinery moved only by mechanical principles.  Let us therefore take it that man alone possesses an immanent principle, ends and a will.  Nature has neither immanent principle, nor an end, nor a will.  To the obscure Physics of qualities, we must substitute a Physics of measurements.  Instead of saying that a clock works by virtue of its “clockwise qualities” we will say that it is a mechanism capable of producing a continuous movement capable of measuring time.  The stone that falls does not fall because it wants to go back to its place, but because it is moved by mechanical causes, in conformity with the laws of Physics.  In addition Descartes was a mathematician of genius who saw that it is possible to apply algebra to Physics.  For the first time, with the objective approach to knowledge, the fundamental component of human representation becomes the care to measure.  A phenomenon is part of the field of knowledge only insofar as it can be measured.  Henceforth Mathematics are the only language that enables us to read the big book of the World:  Nature is written in the language of mathematics, Descartes explains.  The notion of a cause then takes on a more restricted meaning.  The mechanistic explanation only retains the efficient cause, eliminating formal and final causes.  In motion it sees only local transport, a displacement one can describe in geometrical terms.

       Mechanism is an explanatory paradigm.  It is a model of representation of Nature in which causality only follows succession in time.  Causality has no part to play as an end to be reached, a goal as was the case in finalism.  If in this context one invokes “laws of nature”, it is not to say that Nature is “foreseeing”, that it has its rules of “wisdom”.  Natural laws only refer to constancy, the constancy of an efficient causality regulated in an infrangible and necessary manner.  The mechanistic universe is founded on the hypothesis of determinism, one that excludes any determination by ends.  A physical law is the mathematical formalisation of a constant relation within the framework of a strictly determined phenomenon.

      So we find ourselves in a representation of Nature which is totally different from that of traditional thinking.  According to Koyré[2] it is no longer the closed World of traditional thinking, but the infinite Universe.  A closed World, organised by divine immanence, can only fill one with admiration: so much prodigious wisdom and boundless creativity cannot fail to astonish us and fill us with wonder. On the contrary, an infinite universe, not made for man, in which man is just a small something, can only frighten!  The Greek feeling of awe Aristotle feels for Nature stands in violent contrast with the feeling of fear we find in Pascal’s Pensées.

   Aristotle's Nature was creative, the nature of Pascal and Descartes merely created.  Christianity wants to found its theology on the new representation of Nature: Nature was abandoned by God after creation.  The Creator only gave it a first impulse, and then left it to its own devices.  It is suspended above a void under the constant threat of falling back into nothingness.  Like Malebranche, theologians repeat that “Nature is cursed”, and therefore one is tempted to consider that Nature is after all just an object in the hands of man, an object which has been given to him to transform “at the sweat of his brow”.

    In the Discourse on Method Descartes makes an extraordinarily prophetic statement: “man must become like a master and owner of Nature”.  For what reason?  In order for technical mastery over Nature to yield a more comfortable existence in this world.  Knowledge of the mechanisms of Nature implies that of the causes on which it is possible to act, which in turn means the ability to reproduce a phenomenon. Of course Descartes remained conservative: he spoke of being as if master and owner of Nature, meaning that man cannot become the king of Nature; there is only one master and possessor of Nature, God.  This caution has been dropped by modern man.  Today we have effectively become masters and owners of Nature.  However, it is precisely this relation to Nature that is frightening.  The enthusiasm aroused by technicist ambitions, the myth of progress that incensed the XVIIIth century lasted only for a short time.  In Pascal’s vision, Nature seems frightening because it is a mute and limitless abysm.  Yet human power is even more frightening, because it has so succeeded in humanizing nature that it has generated a destructive process which turns against man himself.  Man seems terribly lonely and estranged in Nature, yet his will power has been set free.

     We are far from the feeling of Nature we could have shared with the Greek.  We are also far from Greek contemplative and disinterested knowledge.  We live in a time of scientific knowledge, aiming for technical mastery, we are exploiting Nature, and our major imperative is economical: efficiency and return.

     Hence our representation of nature has totally changed.  This is reflected by our vocabulary in many ways.  What an odd reversal: Nature loses what the Greek considered to be its dynamism.  It is no longer defined as the “set of material things”.  We call natural phenomenon “anything produced in the universe with neither calculation nor thinking”.  The word natural in our modern language does no longer mean alive, it means above all uncivilised, and therefore raw, wild or inert!  A field in its natural state is one that has not yet been cultivated.  As a result what is natural is understood as what is “wild”, what is not civilised, what remains primitive.  In the same logic, man’s natural state means his biological side, the animal that is, rather than the human side which we refer to as “culture”.  There is a clear gap between man and nature in their modern representation and this gap will yield an opposition, that of nature and culture.

      Our modern representation of Nature inserts a total disillusion into our relation to nature.  The enchanted world of myths and religions crumble.  We find an expression of this consequence in Jacques Monod’s Chance and Necessity: “ It is high time that man awakens from the dream he has been dreaming for thousands of years to discover his total solitude, his radical strangeness.  He now knows that, like a gipsy, he is in the margin of the Universe in which he must live.  This universe is deaf to his musicindifferent to his hopes, as to his crimes and sufferings”.  Man’s old relation to Nature was reassuring, yet illusory.  Modern man’s relation to Nature is worried, but rational: “a rationality that leaves him alone in a mute and stupid world”.  Yet a disenchanted world is also a very malleable world, made to be reduced to the status of an object, to useful things, a world that can be cut and taxed at will.


C.      Recovering Nature.


Let us examine the above contrast in the form of a table:


Finalist interpretation

Mechanistic interpretation

See Aristote

See  Descartes

Complex causality :

material, formal, efficient and final cause

Simplified causality : efficient cause:

Arrangement of efficient causes with respect  to temporal motion

Understanding of Nature : means/end

Explanation of Nature : cause/effect

Subject : the natural substance, milk, clay.

subject :  thinking substance, mind, the human soul



Vision inspired by contemplation

Vision dominated by technical goals

Order oriented towards Good, limited disorder

order and disorder without purpose

Model science : biology

Model science : mathematical physics

Physics of qualities

Physics of quantities

Naturalist observation

Physical experimentation

Creative Nature : growth and perfection

Created Nature : force and complexity

Living eternal Nature : nurturing mother

Nature, the cosmic machinery, the great watch.

Man as part of Nature

Man as dominating Nature

Nature is an immanent intelligence

Man alone is intelligent, Nature is inert and mechanical

Traditional wisdom : knowledge of Nature in order to live in harmony with nature

Knowing Nature in order to master it with technology



    This is a brutal opposition of two visions of Nature, and the duality seems insuperable: the split between ancient and modern, the schism of modernity. We cannot switch the clock back, the old vision seems naïve, at best it has a poetic value.  On the other hand the mechanistic paradigm of Nature in which modern science is evolving is just as unsatisfactory.  It totally separates poetic sensitivity and scientific explanation.  It even rests on a deterministic vision which even contemporary physics itself finds questionable.  The mechanistic vision yields a predatory attitude with respect to Nature which worries and even occasionally repels us.

    It is patent that our representation of Nature is undergoing a crisis.  Today we are seeking for a new paradigm for the relation between man and Nature.  In the words of Prigogine and Stengers, we look for a New Alliance between man and nature.  There must be a possibility to recover our enchanted view of Nature without falling back into animism and without losing what science has achieved until now.  We need a vision of Nature which is at once a science and at the same time rooted in humanity’s most ancient traditions. 

     To achieve this we must rethink our scientific framework in its totality as well as its paradigm of objectivity.  Against the belief of XIXth century scientists, we can no longer separate the subject and the object.  Our relation to the fundamental areas of Nature is not one of being above or opposed, but one of belongingness and participation.  Prigogine even says that scientific methodology should be conceived as “ a poetic listening to Nature and to natural processes”. [3]

   Nature’s time is not that of classical science.  The recent discovery of unpredictability brings us back to a perception of Nature which is much more alive and dynamic.  What this asks us to rediscover is “this process of autonomous transformation that the Greek called physis”.[4]

In order to think Nature we must also modify our representation of causality in order to think of causality in a circular and not just linear fashion.  This means that we should learn to think in a global manner, and think of all the natural processes in the form of a system.  Only global thinking can build a constructive relationship to Nature.

A powerful lever that can modify our apprehension of Nature is to consider the way of thinking and the observations of ecology.  Ecology replaces analytical thinking with systemic analysis.

Let us consider a simple example.  From the analytical point of view there is not relation between the old spinster who takes care of cats and the prosperity of Great Britain.  But from the systemic point of view it is not that simple.  Cats chase fieldmice. Fieldmice destroy the nests of bumblebees, bumblebees enable the fertilisation and growth of clover.  Cows graze clover.  Cows also allow farmers to prosper.  If cats did not destroy fieldmice, these would prevent clover from growing and at the other end of the causal chain it is human economics that would pay the price.  We have:

Spinsters 1 cats 1 fieldmice 1 bumblebees 1 clover 1



prosperity of Great Britain 2 British farmers


Therefore the care of old maids for their cats is directly related to the prosperity of Great Britain.

    This example may make you smile, but it illustrates an essential truth about the relation of man and Nature.  Causation in nature is retroactive (a process of feed-back).  The effect returns to the cause in a loop.  Natural phenomena are always retroactive loops.  Each loop defines a level of equilibrium.   The destruction of one link in the chain takes the whole system to an inferior level of equilibrium.  The strengthening of each link helps every element of the chain to thrive, each creature living in its eco-system.  Human action dos not fall outside this frame, but within it.  All processes implied in nature are systemic.  What is remarkable is that systemic analysis succeeds in reconciling two points of view: the idea of finality  (the promotion of life) and that of mechanism (a system of cybernetic interaction).  This means that we recover the finalist intuition without losing the assets of mechanism.  In this way a climatologist has been able to show that the Earth functions as a giant living being[5] that auto-regulates its own development through maintaining its temperature at all times.

    Thus we understand that in Nature everything is connected.  Individual does not exist as a separate entity.  All beings alive on Earth are inter-dependent.  Better: species, societies and individuals are not independent.  Also all reaction generates a reaction.  If you deforest huge areas of woodland, then it should not astonish you that desertification follows.  Once Spain was an immense forest before one cut down trees to fabricate the ships that were to explore the New World, which resulted in the desert of today.  Any pollutant thrown away in Nature will, like a boomerang, come back in some form or other; it is only a matter of time.  What does not appear to have any consequence now will necessarily have consequences later on, whether we want it or not.  Consequently any action in Nature must be considered globally.  We must reconsider our field of action and substitute a global action to a fragmentary one.

    Only a change of consciousness in humanity can accomplish this progress in man’s relation to Nature.  What we need is an understanding which also enables us to respect Nature.  Of course we have left Greek animism behind.  Yet we must also go beyond the predatory attitude to Nature that our technique has made possible, without bringing any remedy.

    In our own way we must learn to live according to Nature.  But to do this we must first perceive the full extent of the denaturing of post-modern  man.

    Denatured man means man cut off nature and tied up to his own man-made culture.    Denatured man is man torn between all sorts of dualities.  Between city-dweller and farmer.  The first abides an artificial environment, stuck in cities, harassed by the imperatives of work, consumption and  long hours of stressful driving.  The farmer, who also aspires to the status of consumer, has to be equally productive and is condemned to a very difficult life.  The result is weird: on the one hand we flee the city, on the hand people leave the country-side.  The farmer must reduce his costs and increase his production.  To achieve this anything goes even if at the end of the day it results in the destruction of soil health and the beauty of the landscape.  Denatured man is also the individual as an object of the consumer-system, an object of the economical processes.  Post-modern society is partly ruled by money, productivity and competition.  It is not Life that comes first in the eyes of modern man, but economic interests.  In the same way, post-modernity maintains an opposition between intellectual work and manual work.  The one devotes itself to abstractions, thinking, culture, knowledge; yet it ignores practical knowledge, empirical aspects, know-how.  The other creates, plays with concrete things, offers his fatigue and his courage to often very repetitive machines, but does not have access to knowledge and culture.  In our denatured and compartmentalised world, in our fragmentary activities, we no longer have a global perception of our actions, and we no longer feel genuinely responsible for what we do.  Whence the denaturation of work. As a working individual, one does not feel one is a person: one is an object, something ready-made, a “member of staff”.  Outside work, denatured man compensates for boredom through entertainment.  The passive spectator, living through images from the media, forgets the dullness of his own life when identifying with these images.  Dazed by a constant flow of information, bombarded every day by dazzling sensations, modern man is regularly inoculated against his own sensitivity.  Perverted.  The spectacle of reality even manages turn itself into near-reality: the artificial is more real than reality.  Thus we say that a landscape is “pretty as a postcard”!

   Our culture of images denatures our taste for aesthetics, the true sense of the moment and memory of beauty.  Denaturing as well is the ideology upholding quantity against quality: a journey is thought of a so many hours on the road, so much fuel consumed; physical exercise in thought of as setting and beating records, love in number of partners, films in millions of dollars and other figures as if life could only be enjoyed when in can figure in the book of records.  In sports, what counts is the speed of the ball, the number of goals and so on.  Objectivation.  Perverse too is the ideology of ever more, the feeling of consuming more and enjoying life quantitatively as much as possible.  Another aspect of the denaturation of nature is rootless man, all these cultures disappearing in the rolling mill of our post-modern mass culture.  Whole sets of customs and traditions keep disappearing all over the planet, while everywhere we drink the same Coca≈Cola, smoke the same cigarettes, and wear the same jeans.  The result is that contemporary man no longer perceives his continuity with previous generations.  When entering the world of consumerism, post-modern man has not even found worldly security.  Never before has he been this disillusioned.  The passivity of his daily life is mirrored by a mental passivity.  In the midst of social competition he has learnt fatalism and selfishness.  Because he is selfish he focuses on his own interests and concentrates on pleasures outside his activity.  Because of fatalism he is resigned to accept everything and say nothing.  Politics may go left or right, he remains indifferent, doing like everybody else.  Too much commitment has also bred disenchantment and disappointment.  The post-modern world is defeatist.  Surrounded by pessimism we become totally indifferent and feel entitled to turn away from the world and retreat into ourselves.  Of course we enjoy a few pleasures, yet we are so bored and avid for sensations that our denatured existence comes to an end in this mediocrity.  Having learnt that man is cultural being, we must also understand that he is above all part of Nature.


                                                                                   *              *






    Hence the idea of Nature is not one idea among others.  It structures our very conception of   our own existence.  The “natural” is not just a fashion.  Nature is not a cultural concept.  The understanding that we have of Nature decides of the quality and value of our relation to Nature, be this one predatory, or one of  fusion and co-existence.

    Our idea of Nature must be re-thought along the lines of a natural contract analogous to a social contract.  We must move beyond the naïve belief that man lives in a closed environment, that of culture.  When man gets out of touch with Nature, this does not yield a better society, nor better relations to others.  Frantic and predatory exploitation of Nature goes hand in hand with the exploitation of man by man.

Establishing a true relation to Nature is a challenge we leave to future generations, not a goody-goody ideology suited only to a few go-back-to-nature apostles.  We have no choice but to respect Nature, which alone can promote life on the planet.  We must definitely drop all these vain speculations on cultural artifice and take the problem of man’s place in Nature very seriously.


[1] Fate translates the French word devenir, meaning to become.  The idea conveyed by the use of the verb devenir as a noun is that of a process something goes through, which changes it from one thing into another thing or from one state to another state.  Hence is it the becoming of an acorn to turn into an oak or a young man to turn into an old man.  English does not admit of this use of the verb to become, and when translating one has the choice between violating the English language and introduce a new use of this verb, speaking of the becoming of this or that thing, or using an approximation such a fate, destiny or making of something. 

[2] Alexandre Koyré From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe

[3] Prigogine and Stengers The New Alliance

[4] Prigogine and Stengers  op.cit.

[5] Read James Lovelace The Gaïa Hypothesis