Karen's Essay on Biophilia

The Love of Nature Important for our Well-being 

Karen M. Diefenbach, 4/27/2017

          Okay, so we have managed to put a man on the moon, and split an atom. We have figured out how to heat our homes to a comfortable temperature, even in climates like Alaska and Canada. We have sewage and running water, globally, for the most part. We have invented all kinds of machines and computer devices, which are very handy, making our physical work lighter and more attainable. Inventions like the internet have many useful roles, like in making the world “smaller”, so to speak. We are able to exchange useful information worldwide now. People can learn from each other, from all over the world; many of us can now see what we are all doing; share, exchange and grow faster, with this increase in the ability to communicate. If I want a recipe for some kind of ethnic dish, I don’t have to find a friend somewhere in my town or city to help me, which could take a lot of time, or may never happen--all I have to do now is, Google it. The shared information possibilities within my lifetime have been very welcomed. Many areas in life like, education, business, weather forecasting, astronomy, and science…any interest one has perceived of, has become more accessible, by this ingenious human invention of the computer.

          But, it’s also very clear to me how inadequately we have taken care of many other things in the world that seriously need our attention. One being, the care of the environment (Bloom, 2009, p. 677), and, the other, establishing peace among all nations, within our own country, and with all living creatures (Leopold, 2011, p. 676). There are, probably, depending on who is reading this, many other subcategories to be covered that may come to mind, like our healthcare system and the non-accountability of the pharmaceutical companies or how our government is functioning, but I would like to focus on peace and the environment, as I am feeling that if we were to concentrate on solving just these two, in a sincere way, we might be able to, in turn, address many other things, automatically.

          Fortunately, we do have scientists and social scientists who are interested in an orientation that can encompass both the ideology of peace and living sustainably within the environment. Such has been done by the providential work of Edward O. Wilson, as described in his The Biophilia Hypothesis: We as humans were formed through nature and have an indispensable connection to all of the planet’s living things, which includes, natural substances and whatever animates everything in the living world. Nature has not only sustained us, but it has helped us mature and develop our minds, bodies and souls. The stimulation within nature was and is part of our nurturance, whether “positive or negative”, it has made us what and who we are (Gullone, 2000, pp. 293-306). The more we spend time in nature, the more we can consciously realize this necessity, whereby, the absence of nature cuts us off, not only from the benefits, but to the inclination towards biophilia (Kellert, 2015, p. 289).

          Fromm coined the term, biophilia, and included it in his system of thought, which was an approach to help remedy the ecological damage we have caused and continue to produce. Erich Fromm offers us some ideas on how to do this. His advice states that before a biophilia model for the world can be implemented, however, a certain kind of socioeconomic structure must be in place. It’s common knowledge, we have been warned about our destructive unsustainable patterns, since the 1970’s, and it is clear, today, we haven’t done enough to address these issues. If we were at a tipping point nearly 50 years ago, where must we be now? The question is, when will we pay more attention? What will eventually turn the tide? What can be done now? (Gunderson, 2014, pp. 182-183).

          We also have Kellert who has opened up this idea of biophilia in his own way through his “Nine perspectives describing humans’ relationship with nature” (Gullone, 2000, p. 305) and his work in the field of biophilic architecture (Kellert, 2015). The diversity in nature is so very important for the support of the whole biosphere. All species have a reciprocal purpose together on the planet. We also wish for this affiliation within nature and require its beauty. It’s encoded within us, but the less we connect with nature, the more we keep forgetting; creating a wider and wider divide between us and natural phenomenon, which is a great loss to many aspects of being fully human. For the past 200 years or so, we have increased our isolation, from the natural world, through the era of our mechanized society. This has given us less ways to take-in natural impressions, which has been shown to deaden the human being. Humans are not able to fully express themselves through the many ways nature gives them, if they are not in a biophilic relationship to it (Gullone, 2000, pp. 293-305).

          Continuing with Stephen Kellert’s observations, it is through exposure to nature that we get in touch with our creative side, whether it be through art, symbols, science, pleasure, emotions or sense of reverence (Gullone, 2000, pp. 304-305). For our survival, we have learned to use nature primarily for food, shelter, clothing, tools and medicines, focusing much of our inherited talents on conquering nature, but this is hardly our full endowment from living on the earth. Here is where the problem lies. We are not only disregarding nature, we are disparaging ourselves. Perhaps we haven’t matured enough to partake in the full extent of our inheritance. Maybe, our minds are stuck in survival mode and we haven’t been able to expand ourselves enough to see the bigger picture, somewhat like a child or a teenager (Gunderson, 2014, pp. 183-185).

          Right now, in office, we have a president who is rolling back the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); he is putting executive orders into action to press the fracking business onward, in spite of the huge demonstrations against it, and the damage it has caused with earthquakes and water contamination, not to mention the new science now regarding “heat-absorbing” methane’s role in global warming (McKibben, 2016). He is corroborating in the slaughter of the endangered wolves and endorsing hunting of bear cubs in their dens, while they are hibernating…while doing nothing to invest in green energy sources…This is a person who builds skyscrapers and who lives in a big city. It’s conceivable, he is a perfect example of being totally out of touch with nature and, as a consequence, has no conscience about how to live along with nature. According to him, we need to extract every bit of coal out of our rocks and even says, global warming is a hoax! What about pollution? Anyone who has lived between 1950 and 1970 until now, can and has, most certainly, seen a huge shift in the climate, and a huge relief when the smog was finally controlled in NYC.

          What is also very concerning is there is an increasing body of evidence showing a growing problem of mental illness in our world, which has been markedly rising for at least the last two generations, particularly, children born in the later part of the century have been more prone to depression (Gullone, 200, pp. 309-310). Also, severe changes in children’s free outdoor play has abruptly changed in the last generation from 4 hours a day to 30 minutes, due, in part, to their parent’s fear of them being outside, alone, and to our new mode of play, which is in computers and computerized devices (Kellert, 2015, pp. 288-289).

          Sources of study, along the lines of biophilic thought, have shown a strong indication that the natural world has a vital importance in the development of our children. One study in Australia was done with children between the ages of 5-12. It found improvement in them, on many different psychological levels, when they were exposed to the outdoors in nature. The specific attributes that were found to improve were: “Self-confidence, ability to work with others, caring, peer relationships and interaction with adults”. Another study has shown that critical thinking and “creative” play has increased in children who are exposed to nature, or who are in “nature programs” (Kellert, 2015, p. 289).

          Further, people diagnosed with schizophrenia have been shown to do better, with a more promising recovery, or in having actual improvement, in more traditional lifestyles or of what is considered a lifestyle of the undeveloped world. What do those lifestyles look like? They are less city-like and generally of a slower more direct pace, which includes a close knit family and a supportive network of friends, built right into their community (Gullone, 2000, pp. 307-308).

          Depression, another psychological ailment, associated with the developed world, is very prevalent now worldwide. The more affluent, the deeper the pathology and the less likely one is to recover. Depression has also been linked to physical ailments such as, fatigue, weight loss, and body aches and pains (Gullone, 2000, pp. 307-310).

          Some schools of thought, outside conventional medicine, suggest there are, often times, associate physical symptom related to certain mental states, but in order to enumerate each and every connection that has been observed, this would take us outside the scope of this essay. Integral wellness thinking, however, is becoming more and more acknowledged, which is to say, the body, mindful and spiritual aspects of healthcare are beginning to become clearer and more fully understood. This may be something useful to keep in the back of the mind, while reading this essay, as far as in considering another good reason why we may earnestly want a friendly relationship to the environment (air, water, earth) and all other living beings (humans, plants & animals), recognizing that a biophilia stance is really a vitally important attainment to both our physical and mental health and well-being.

          As we understand, regarding the biophilia mode of thought, this new connected thinking has been unfolding for many years.  How can we reach a greater understanding as a larger group, in order to turn the tide of our destructive ways of exploiting our environment and ourselves? Should we market it differently, as a product of “happiness” (Bloom, 2009, p. 679)? Or, should we make scary films like they do in defensive driving class? All kidding aside, this is what I would like to discuss in the next section. I do feel we are at a threshold, currently, in this quest of living peacefully among nature.  Even among these times of waring between countries, which as I will be pointing out, may directly subside, if the majority of us become less alienated to nature.  I see many organized green-movement groups becoming more and more active, but on the other hand, as stated before, lethal steps against nature have recently been made by our new president, Donald Trump, on top of an already toxic setting, not to mention Big Pharma’s contribution to pollution (Harvard Health Letter, 2011) and its anti-biophilic corruption (Rodwin, 2013).

          What does biophilia really mean, besides, “love of life” (Gunderson, 2014, p. 183) and loving all living things and sensing our affiliation, connectedness and need for the aliveness nature endows? To my understanding, it also includes the love (fears antidote) of the natural development of all living things, in order to thrive and advance in their own way. A sense of tending to the growth and livelihoods of all, like what, in essence, nature does with us, whether human or other species. An attitude of allowing the swell of life. An appreciation for the diversity in nature, including the multiplicity within humans, which makes life the mysterious thing it is (Gunderson, 2014, pp. 187-188).

          Can we embrace the enigma, instead of narrowly trying to control the world, as it seems we are doing now? When we turn to biophilia, we are finding our way into greater awareness, furthering our evolution, and “unity” anew (Gunderson, 2014, p. 186).  So, in practical terms, it could be about scaling back our extracting modes, and becoming more giving in nature; finding our legitimate role in “creation” by replacing what we use, taking care of what there is and regarding other living things as equals, thus, living more supportably, within the biosphere (Jarman, 2017, p. 679). To find our complete rightful place in the world, whether individually or as a whole global society, would take an expansion of our consciousness. I believe this is our next important and larger step in human evolution.

          I can understand hearing the word “equals” in context to living among all living things sounding unnerving; for as I write it, I have to acknowledge my own sense of fear. However, some other words like, justly, correspondingly, impartially and equitably may sound more attainable for now…Can we ponder this? I am trying…I do sense this is the right direction. This subject touches the field of science and the realm of religion or spirituality. For many, it’s understood there are certain ways of looking at the world from either a religious side or a scientific side. Why can’t we consider both? Here is where humans may need to do their most growing, as there certainly is common ground (Wilson, 2011, p. 464).

          Nature’s beauty corresponds to the miracles of life and faith. Science helps us further appreciate these miracles. Science is relatively finite in knowledge, as spirituality has an infinite—expanding quality. According to Stephen Kellert, people need both for their brains to continue to develop (Gullone, 2000, p. 305). Environmental scientists, obviously, love nature. Love is at the heart of all major religions (Fromm, 1964). Further, both science and religion can serve as powerful forces to help preserve our environment (Wilson, 2011, p. 465). Along these lines of uniting separate fields of thought, Fromm’s analysis on this subject, offers us much on this topic of attaining biophilia through bringing in sociology, economics, environmentalism, “cooperative” humanism, psychology, religions of Judeo-Christian thought and Buddhism into one conversation, in order for us to construct a new paradigm, in “human [to] nature relations” (Gunderson, 2014, pp. 183-185).

          Fromm says, our division from nature is due to the kind of creatures we are (less instinctive and more reason oriented) and in turn, this causes us to feel a “powerful fear of isolation and meaninglessness.” All humans have this sort of desperation, which causes a sense of needing to overcome this feeling of nothingness (Gunderson, 2014, p. 186). This touches on Fromm’s interpretation of the Bible. He describes the myth of the fall as an expression of our roots in nature; then our division from it to our longing to find our place within it. This is very similar to a person’s process of breaking away from their parents to become a separate entity, with a destiny of their own; only to be reconciled when they have gained their self-hood or grow-up into self-differentiation or “Individuation”. Fromm posits this design was to help us evolve into our full potential. However, human perfection cannot exist without alignment with nature; without nature humans are disordered (Gunderson, 2014, pp. 193-196).

          Fromm explains that later in the text of the Old Testament, it describes our “solution” through a “messianic concept of peace (shalom)” (Gunderson, 2014, pp. 193-194). Fromm also acknowledges other traditions who were compatible with his thinking, including Christianity and Buddhism (Fromm, 1964) and the philosophies of Karl Marx (a socialism and philosophy differing from the common concept of communism). When humans feel united with each other, and all living creatures, they inherit a sense of “integrity and independence,” which is the current to help them come to terms with their innate sense of desolation, reclusiveness or confinement, in order to feel whole and related, but this concept of biophilia needs the right setting, in order to come into its full expression, within the human race. (Gunderson, 2014, pp. 193-194). But, that doesn’t mean we can’t still acquire some more, than we have now, through our individual efforts.

          Fromm continues: Humans need to feel they aren’t fighting for survival and that they are equal, which means no ranking or pecking order, and they need to have a sense they have an open access to their full capacity. Currently, the way our socioeconomic system is set up, it produces many job situations, where people have to work within limits, becoming like “automatons unable and unwilling to develop their humanity freely and responsively,” forestalling the human being’s ability of establishing in themselves the biophilic sensibilities. As stated previously, we have seen more of this happening since the industrialized revolution (Gunderson, 2014, pp. 192-193).

          As far as Fromm’s emphasis on the environment, he says, if we aspire to his humanistic views of knowing ourselves by cultivating our “thoughts, emotions” and usefulness, we will connect to everything in nature. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we innately correspond to nature. “Cooperation” with nature will bring forth the vacancy of war and spoliation, but this cannot happen, according to Fromm, as stated above, without “humanity’s formation of biophilous social character,” which, again, is a new social structure based on equality, love of life and all creatures, with an affinity for the growth of all things living, and in regard to their natural development and evolution, including a protection of all of nature. Biophilia is a total way of being. A person or a nation has to be fully engaged with this sort of mechanism. It’s not just philosophy, it’s a picture of an evolved state. In order to help us evolve, in this way, we need to become aware of the shadow sides of our unconsciousness, so we can become integrated into a full-self of biophilic quality (Gunderson, 2014, pp. 191, 196-197).

          As we can see, this is a tall order and would take our evolving or the elevating of our consciousness. This is a lot of intentional work and, as we can also see, we may not have it so easy, as regards to changing the political scene, as Fromm knew.  But, we do have a consumer vote and still have the use of a free internet, which guides us and informs us globally.  We now can communicate at the speed of light.  We also have some control over our own lives to focus, intelligently, on what we can do, individually, to create more biophilic qualities, within ourselves, and in our world. The idea of the microcosm within the macrocosm.  This can also serve as an effective way to attract others back into a harmonious relationship with the natural environment. We could do this by studying the living world, caring for and spending time in nature.  Also, sharing nature, implementing biophilic principles into our zoos, educational, religious and artistic arenas’ or, even informally, as in caring for our pets.

          While researching for this paper, and having learned how the beauty of nature supports me, I was struck, one evening, by a beautiful sunset, realizing in this simple pause, I am being loved, and decided to turn from my activity and honor the moment. It was a reminder to me that even to behold a sunset, is on some level stimulating a higher essence within, reminding me of my affinity, and nurturance through the natural world.

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