What if the urge you feel to connect with nature was more than simply a response to the abundant distractions and stresses of your modern urban lifestyle? What if it actually represented an innate human tendency, one you happen to share with every other person on the planet? This line of thinking, a hunch which a great many of us may have occasionally pondered, has been given ample scientific scrutiny in the past decades and has coalesced into the so-called Biophilia hypothesis – the notion that a love of living systems is an inherent feature of our biology, an instinctive bond between humans and the more-than-human world.
The term biophilia first appeared in The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1973) by German-born American psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, defining it as “the passionate love of life and of all that is alive,” and was further popularized within the pages of the book Biophilia by American researcher and naturalist Edward O. Wilson. The messages contained in these works, which urge us to foster a sense of environmental stewardship as an appropriate response to the practical, emotional, and psychological value we draw from nature – are perhaps needed even more now than when they were first published. Today the term is employed chiefly in reference to the simple notion that our species subconsciously seeks out deep connection and affiliation with other forms of life and with nature as a whole. Contrary to phobias, the aversions and fears we may have to things in our environment, philias refer to positive feelings and attractions we experience toward organisms and habitats in our natural surroundings. If you’re reading this right now because you feel drawn to the idea of immersing yourself in a forest therapy walk, take comfort in the fact that you are fundamentally in tune with humanity’s evolutionary path, and that this desire for connection with what’s around us extends all the way back to our earliest ancestors.
Once we start to look into some of the shared characteristics which extend fluidly across culture, geography, and points in time, we find an expansive amount of support for this theory. Examples include the thorough and pervasive appreciation for the visual appearance of the natural world, with its balance of simplicity and complexity, of form and pattern, delighting the eyes of all and serving as inspiration for rich artistic traditions. Additionally evident is the widespread spiritual reverence for plants and animals which may be found in nearly every historic culture in nearly every region, and the extensive use of natural idiomatic references in language, such as “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed,” “eager beaver,” “gentle as a lamb,” or “ahead of the pack.” All of which reaffirms what many of us perceive readily with our intuition: that we are not separate from nature but still intrinsically a part of it, that we should nurture and act on our desire to see this biosphere flourish, and that far from being merely a place to visit, nature is in fact…home.