SAN DIEGO, February 21, 2016 – The word “biophilia” intrigues me. I’ve been thinking about it for years. I want you to start thinking about it too. Contrary to first impressions, it’s not a bad word.
Now you should be asking (if you don’t already know), “Jim, what the heck are you talking about? And why are you obsessed with it?”
I can tell you to look the word up in the dictionary, but it won’t do the concept justice. Biophilia is the natural appreciation and affinity every human being has as part of our biological connection to life, nature, science and the living world. Simple. The hypothesis behind biophilia is this: all humans have a deep affiliation to nature that is rooted in our own biology. We are connected to everything living because somewhere deep inside, we are wired to be so.
The term was created in 1984 by scientist Edward O. Wilson and introduced in a book titled, appropriately, “Biophilia.” He defines biophilia as “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life.” It is a psychology explaining why we are attracted to other living things. A “philia” is the opposite of a “phobia.” Instead of a fear, a philia is an attraction.
These genetic memory marks are sometimes called “instincts.” Why do ordinary people care for and sometimes risk their lives to save domestic and wild animals? Why do we think baby animal faces are cute? Why do we love cat videos? Biophilia.
Why do we feel a need to surround ourselves with plants and flowers in our homes, workplace and during our leisure time? Why does a well-set dining table always have a centerpiece of flowers or plants? When we go shop for food at the grocery store, there is a flower and plant department. Plants and flowers are as important to us as food. Again, biophilia at work.
The founding fathers of New York City believed everyone needed a green space to enjoy, complete with trees, flowers, birds and even an occasional deer. Central Park was the first landscaped public park in America, and it remains its most celebrated and famous park. Even back in 1870, the decision to give up precious real estate on the island of Manhattan was not made casually. The original 700 acres acquired by eminent domain cost five million dollars. Adjusted for inflation alone, the purchase would be worth $95 million today, and it would still seem like a bargain: Biophilia at work as part of urban planning.
We protect open spaces and living things with our lives. Ask the protesters in front of Sea World San Diego or Sea World Orlando. Everyone has an opinion about the orcas in captivity.
If you have a moment, check out the Icelandic recording artist Bjork’s website and take a listen to her album “Biophilia” published in 2013. She has created an album that “reconnects musicology with nature.” Called “sonically brilliant, emotionally stirring,” her music may not be for everyone, but it sure gets people talking. Better yet, take a look at this video of Bjork’s full 2014 concert tour production of the album.
Bjork’s Biophlia Concert Tour
As we spend more and more time inside buildings and more time connected to technology, we risk becoming disconnected to nature, and it hurts our health and well-being. The good news is that people are pushing back, because the innate urge among people to reconnect with nature is so strong.
I’ve devoted myself to connected people with nature through plants, plantscaping, and green building such as living walls and green roofs for 30 years. Re-establishing our connection to nature and honoring our biophilia by smarter design for eco-friendly “biophliac” cities with more green spaces and integrating the natural environment into our homes and workplaces will keep our planet and each of us healthier mentally and physically.