Thursday, June 14, 2012

Juneathon Day 14 - Biophilia

Juneathon Day 14 - Biophilia
Cycle - 15 miles, Time - 1hr 8min, Weather - clouds and some blue sky, cool, blustery wind

This is a follow on from my post about Sam Murphy's attitude to the recent study on the efficacy of exercise as a treatment for depression. (No I am not going to flog those arguments again - the subject can quietly rest until the next study or new conjecture stirs up some interest). In defence of her position she Tweeted:
@Kocenator Don't agree. Exercise can work on depresive mood in so many ways - distraction, self efficacy, social contact, biophilia effect
Although irrelevant as a comment on the Bristol study the word 'biophilia' grabbed my attention and forced me do a little research. From Wikipedia I learnt that it was coined by Erich Fromm, a psychoanalyst and social commentator, who used it to mean basically a love of life. There is something quite affirming about his creed "I believe that the man choosing progress can find a new unity through the development of all his human forces, which are produced in three orientations. These can be presented separately or together: biophilia, love for humanity and nature, and independence and freedom." (from 'On Being Human'). I am not sure whether socially we have progressed as much as he would have hoped in the past 50 years - but I like the idea.
However the meaning of the word in the biophilia hypothesis, proposed by E O Wilson, is subtly different: an encoded attraction to nature that has an evolutionary purpose (a description of the hypothesis can be read here ). Again this is quite affirming as people have accounted for that theory in the design of living spaces and justified the need for greenery. 
My guess is that Sam Murphy is probably using the word to describe the feeling you can get out on a run, when you become aware of the landscape and other living creatures and feel a connection, i.e. that sense of attraction. The encounter I had yesterday with a heron is probably an example of this. Yes it can happen through exercise but exercise is neither necessary or sufficient. For example one of the times I feel it most strongly is sitting still, in a hide, watching birds. Similarly I can feel the same sense of happiness patiently waiting to take a picture of a bumble bee.
I think it is an important feeling but the only pre-requisite is to be outside in some sort of natural environment, the amount of physical exertion involved is not relevant. All that matters is the counterbalance to something else Fromm wrote about "Briefly then, intellectualisation, quantification, abstractification, bureaucratisation, and reification – the very characteristics of modern industrial society, when applied to people rather than to things, are not the principles of life but those of mechanics. People living in such systems become indifferent to life and even attracted to death" (Heart of Man)

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