“We have only the world that we bring forth with others, and only love helps us bring it forth.”
— Humberto Maturana & Franciso Varela (1987, p.248)
The eminent biologist Edward O. Wilson suggested that the need to relate to other life forms and natural processes is an essential and integral part of human development and physical and mental growth. He discussed this concept under the name ‘biophilia’ (literally the love for life) and defined it as “an innate tendency to focus on life and life like processes” (in Kellert & Wilson, 1993, p.20). In other words, we have an innate urge to affiliate with other forms of life.
The biophilia hypothesis suggests that humanity depends on nature not only for the obvious material and physical sustenance, but also for much deeper and equally important human needs for “aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual meaning and satisfaction” (Kellert & Wilson, 1993, p.20).
What makes us human has evolved in intimate reciprocity with the environments our human ancestors found themselves in. The animals and plants we shared ecosystems with have honed our senses, shaped our abilities, and helped us to become who and what we are. Reconnecting with our innate love for life in all its forms lies at the heart of creating a more regenerative human presence on Earth.
The biophilia hypothesis suggests that there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems.
“Our sense of urgency is prompted by the conviction that the modern onslaught upon the natural world is driven in part by a degree of alienation from nature. Our modern environmental crisis — the widespread toxification of various food chains, the multifaceted degradation of the atmosphere, the far- ranging depletion of diverse natural resources, and, above all, the massive loss of biodiversity and the scale of global species extinctions — is viewed as symptomatic of a fundamental rupture of human emotional and spiritual relationship with the natural world.”
— Kellert & Wilson (1993, p.26)
David W. Orr has called for a Biophilia Revolution. He describes biophobia (literally the ‘fear of life’ or ‘the fear of the living’) as ranging “from discomfort in ‘natural’ places to active scorn for whatever is not man-made, managed, or air-conditioned”; and defines the term as “the culturally acquired urge to affiliate with technology, human artifacts, and solely with human interests regarding the natural world.”
With regard to defining biophilia, Orr favours the psychologist Erich Fromm’s definition of biophilia as “the passionate love of life and of all that is alive” over Edward O. Wilson’s definition quoted above (Orr, 1993, p.416). Orr warns:
“Whatever is in our genes, the affinity for life is now a choice we must make. Compared to earlier cultures, our distinction lies in the fact that technology now allows us to move much further toward total domination of nature than ever before. Serious and well-funded people talk about reweaving the fabric of life on earth through genetic engineering and nanotechnologies; others talk of leaving the earth altogether for space colonies; still others talk of reshaping human consciousness to fit ‘virtual reality’. If we are to preserve a world in which biophilia can be expressed and can flourish, we will have to decide to make such a world.”
— David W. Orr (1993, pp.416–417)
Studies show that people living near greener zones are healthier, more active- they tend to be more relaxed and less stressed put (more). Greener and cooler outdoor environments are found to encourage physical and social activity.
The future is wide open! Our technological abilities have put humanity in a position where the decisions we take collectively within the next thirty years will drastically affect what the world of the 22nd Century will look like. If we simply visualize what is technologically and culturally possible today that even a very educated person in 1919 — only a hundred years ago — would have considered impossible and utopian, it becomes clear that during the next hundred years much technological and cultural development will come to pass that we cannot even imagine yet.
Ray Kurzweil suggests that the technological change of the next decade will be equal to the last 1000 years of technological change. This does not mean that the general trajectory into the future that we choose today will not decide whether we are moving towards a positive, regenerative and humanly fulfilling future — a sustainable and attainable utopia, a eutopia (a good and healthy place)– or a challenging, ecologically and socially destructive, and humanly demeaning future — a dystopia (a bad and ill place). [For more on the issue of run-away tech and the singularity: click here]
We have to choose our future consciously and by design. If we chose life and the health and well-being of the whole biotic community, we need to start exploring in our communities and regions how to co-design and co-create diverse and locally adapted regenerative cultures (see Wahl, 2016).
“The ecological crisis, in short, is about what it means to be human. And if natural diversity is the wellspring of human intelligence, then the systematic destruction of nature inherent in contemporary technology and economics is a war against the very sources of mind. We have good reason to believe that human intelligences could not have evolved in a lunar landscape devoid of biological diversity. And we have good reason to believe that the sense of awe toward the creation had a great deal to do with the origin of language and why early hominids wanted to talk, sing, and write poetry in the first place. Elemental things like flowing water, wind, trees, clouds, rain, mist, mountains, landscape, animals, changing seasons, the night sky, and the mysteries of the life cycle gave birth to thought and language. They continue to do so, but perhaps less exuberantly than they once did. For this reason I think it is impossible to unravel natural diversity without undermining human intelligence as well. Can we save the world and anything like the human self from the violence we have unleashed without biophilia and reverence for creation?”
— David W. Orr (1993, pp.425–426)
Biophilia is the deep calling to rejoin the wider community of life. It invites us to redesign the human presence and impact on Earth just in time to avoid cataclysmic climate change and a further worsening of the climate and extinction crises beyond what we are now already committed to. Biophilia is the sentiment that drives our blessed unrest. Biophilia is the emotional motivation for the reGeneration rising all over the world.
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Daniel Christian Wahl — Catalyzing transformative innovation in the face of converging crises, advising on regenerative whole systems design, regenerative leadership, and education for regenerative development and bioregional regeneration.
Author of the internationally acclaimed book Designing Regenerative Cultures