Biophilia Hypothesis

Oct. 29, 2017

The biophilia hypothesis suggests that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. Edward O. Wilson introduced and popularized the hypothesis in his book, Biophilia (1984). He, along with Kellert, define biophilia as the urge to affiliate with other forms of life. Wilson uses the term in the same sense when he suggests that biophilia describes "the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life." He proposed the possibility that the deep affiliations humans have with other life forms and nature as a whole are rooted in our biology. Erich Fromm describes a psychological orientation of being attracted to all that is alive and vital.Aristotle was one of many to put forward a concept that could be summarized as "love of life". 

Think of the mental and emotional state one experiences in natural settings. People are naturally drawn to trees, oceans, mountains. Most people enjoy engaging with animals. We do enjoy our pets, but there is also magic in a natural encounter with a wild animal. Also, the appearance of the natural world, with its rich diversity of shapes, colors, and life, is universally appreciated. There are many reocurring shapes in nature, spirials, dendrites, labrynths, honeycomb structures. Many of these fractal features are based on phi, a natural ratio that is appealing to the human aesthetic. These are often invoked as evidence of biophilia.

Some of the most powerful evidence for an innate connection between humans and nature comes from studies of biophobia (the fear of nature), in which measurable physiological responses are produced upon exposure to an object that is the source of fear, such as a snake or spider. These responses are the result of evolution in a world in which humans were constantly vulnerable to predators, poisonous plants and animals, and natural phenomena such as thunder and lightning. Fear was a fundamental connection with nature that enabled survival, and, as a result, humans needed to maintain a close relationship with their environment, using sights and sounds as vital cues, particularly for fight-or-flight responses.


The symbolic use of nature in human language, in idioms such as “blind as a bat” and “eager beaver,” and the pervasiveness of spiritual reverence for animals and nature in human cultures worldwide are other sources of evidence for biophilia. Such spiritual experience and widespread affiliations with natural metaphors appear to be rooted in the evolutionary history of the human species, originating in eras when people lived in much closer contact with nature than most do today. When thinking about our ancestry, human beings have spent much more time as hunter-gatherers than farmers, herders or urban dwellers. Our brains and bodies evolved in the complexity of nature. Human divergence from the natural world appears to have occurred in parallel with technological developments, with advances in the 19th and 20th centuries having the most significant impact, fundamentally changing human interactions with nature. In its most literal sense, this separation was made possible by the construction of enclosed and relatively sterile spaces, from homes to workplaces to cars, in which modern humans were sheltered from the elements of nature and in which many, particularly people living in more-developed countries, now spend the majority of their time. Young people much of their time in a virtual world. I wonder about the impact of our disconnection from nature on our health, mental agility, emotional resiliance and our spirits.