Biophilia!

Patricia Lake and Pyramid Mountain

Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction.

E.O. Wilson

When Wilson spoke these words intuitively I doubt he knew just how scientifically accurate he was. Wilson is widely accepted as the founder of sociobiology, which he himself defined as “the extension of population biology and evolutionary theory to social organisation.” In other words it’s the study of group behavior from an evolutionary perspective, a close cousin to evolutionary psychology. I find his work fascinating, and it was brought to the forefront of my mind recently thanks to an article in the July/August edition of Men’s Health magazine about Wilson’s theory of “biophilia”: the innate human attraction to living systems. Wilson notes in his book Biophilia: “It seems that whenever people are given a free choice, they move to open, tree-studded land on prominences overlooking water.” It immediately struck me how obvious this truth was. After all, a room with a view is always the most desirable (and also the most expensive)! Men’s Health writes,

Zookeepers go to great lengths to simulate natural habitats in order to keep animals healthy. Otherwise the animals don’t eat well or mate, and sometimes they hurt themselves. Does that sound familiar?

I commend Men’s Health for publishing such a great article and diving deeper than just the latest technique for chiseling six-pack abs. The article cited numerous recent scientific studies that demonstrate the stress-reducing, anger-abating, physical- and mental-performance-enhancing, mental-disorder-repelling, social-bond-strengthening, immunity-boosting and cancer-fighting (seriously!) effects that even glimpses of nature can have on us. (Several of the experiments measured the effects of artwork depicting nature, photos of nature scenes, and proximity to windows on subjects’ various physical and mental states.)

So as it turns out we would all do well to get some fresh air a little more often, not just for exercise, but for sheer exposure to the environment in and with which we evolved for millions of years. And when we’re tethered indoors to our computers and other electronic media because of the inevitable demands of the information age, let’s not deprive ourselves of the glimpses of nature that can make a difference for our physical and mental wellbeing. Keep plants around the home and office, stay close to windows when you can, and if possible, give yourself a little natural background music. Go ahead, unleash your inner biophiliac!

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