by TIES Faculty Tamara Castleman
Edward O. Wilson, who named the biophilia hypothesis, says that humans “have an urge to affiliate with other forms of life.” Philip Snow Gang calls it love: “Love as biophilia is a sensitivity and respect for life in all its manifestations” (Educating for Right-Action and Love, p.187).
I fear that sometimes we take that love for granted, almost forgetting that it’s there. I think of my friends who motivate themselves to go for a run by sticking in ear buds and listening to someone tell them a story. I think of those who can’t be without recorded music. Often when we’re in nature, our collective ears seem to be stuffed with that that is not nature.
I wonder what would happen if we intentionally unplugged and listened to nature, bringing biophilia to the fore. I have found that natural sounds start out delicate, almost difficult to hear, but before long it is a cacophony of birds and insects and rabbits hopping through long grass.
A new study shows that the “sounds of nature can decrease pain, lower stress, improve mood and enhance cognitive performance.” The study says that the “sounds of water boost positive emotions and health outcomes, while bird sounds combat stress.” If you have been out walking without interruption from technology during this time of Covid, you have been boosting your mental health.
This all sounds very intuitive, don’t you think? Time spent in the natural world is soothing, so it seems to follow that natural sounds would be part of what makes it soothing. But the truth is that, in my experience, we have so much competing for our time. Most people, I believe, thrive when they have a sense of purpose, which is often confused with productivity. Get an hour’s walk in and finish a book? That sounds productive. It sounds much more productive than walking for an hour listening for geese and crows, doesn’t it? But biophilia says we long to be connected to geese honk and crow caw. Biophilia suggests that going out with no purpose other than to Be is one of the most productive things we can do.
Next time you’re ready for a walk, claim your biophilia, leave the headphones at home, and silence your phone. Nature will serenade you with her glorious music, and I think you’ll find it well worth the price of admission.