Biophilia

Exploring our innate connection to the natural.

Biophilia might sound like a perverse word (you can’t help but think of pedophilia, a word we’re too familiar with, and that’s given the whole suffix a negative connotation), but it actually defines something amazing about our human nature (BIOphilia, not the other one).

The term was first used by a social psychologist named Eric Fromm, and was then popularized by a naturalist and biologist named Edward O. Wilson, who evolved it into the Biophilia Hypothesis in the book Biophilia. The word literally means “a love of life or living systems.”

The Biophilia Hypothesis is described as “the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life.” Wilson suggested that humans may have an innate biological need to connect with other forms of life; animal life, plant life, and all the like.

It poses an interesting thought to the discussion of nature, gardening, and the protection of wildlife and biodiversity, not just as a means to rejuvenate our planet and ecosystems for their own sake, but as a way to sustain our own connection to it, and by proxy, our own welfare.

Are you truly happy in a concrete city? Our doses of trees and shrubs provide decorative markers in a landscape that is otherwise completely unnatural, but in most western cities, parks and natural spaces are essential to the wellbeing of a community. Cottage and country getaways are a holiday custom for urbanites, and snags people away from the cities almost every summer weekend. Gardening—no longer treated as a necessity—continues as a hobby for so many urban residents—whose determination, by the way, to maintain a garden is amazing to observe; gardens in recycle bins, on rooftops, and community gardens plopped wherever they can fit. I know for myself, a simple trip to a community garden, hand-picking some fresh tomatoes I waited weeks to harvest, can solve almost any physical or mental ailment afflicting me at the time. Being in nature is being at peace. And if you consider your attraction to it beyond the logical reasoning of getting away, de-stressing, and taking time off work, you might start to recognize your own biophilia.

What’s even more interesting about the Biophilia book, is an excerpt that connects the concept of our love of nature to that of Wisdom:

“The essential question may not be whether biophilia is an innate and universal human tendency, but why a very recent branch of human culture as veered away from it. And how long we can survive in its absence. As we work to resurrect a sustainable human lifeway, I believe we have much to learn from traditional cultures…Even now, we are finding our way back to the same principles that have guided their long and successful membership in the natural community. If we can discover that lost wisdom, the physical and spiritual affinity with life celebrated by the concept of biophilia might so deeply pervade our worldview that we would no longer apply a name to it.”

(The Biophilia Hypothesis, by Stephen R. Kellert, Edward O. Wilson)

(Original image by John Andreas Olsson).

Reply