Biophilia: an evolutionary adaptation that concerns all human beings.

We all love to walk in the green countryside, in a wood, across a meadow full of flowers, or in a park in the city rich in biodiversity and well cared for. Our evolutionary memory reminds us that green is synonymous with life. We know that where there is life, there is usually water and other resources necessary for our survival. From an early age we are fascinated by the variety of living forms that surround us. Some of us go further and develop ambitious projects to satisfy an ancient curiosity about potential life forms on other planets in the universe. This all depends on our innate biophilia. It is so obvious that many of us not only do not know it, but those who know it often forget its importance.


The term biophilia is a combination of two words that descend from Greek: "life" (bio) and "love" (philia); it literally means "love of life", in a broader sense also "love of nature". Here Nature is understood as a total system of animals, plants, fungi, rocks, minerals, air, water, soil and its invisible inhabitants.

From its earliest studies, biophilia was placed in a space of overlap and interdisciplinary research between psychology and biology.

The word biophilia was first coined in 1964 by the German psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, to describe the psychological orientation of human beings to be attracted to all that is alive and vital (Fromm, 1964). According to Fromm, biophilia is realized only if the natural and social environmental conditions favour growth and development in a natural and spontaneous way.

Twenty years later, independently of Fromm, the American biologist Edward Osborne Wilson used the term biophilia to indicate an empirical experience of profound communion with Nature, describing it as an evolutionarily adaptive trait of being attracted to what is alive and vital. (Wilson, 1984).

Despite being so pervasive in everyday life, for a long time it has been difficult to study biophilia, because the love of life is a complex psychic orientation. It was necessary to identify some constructs of the simpler and more easily measurable biophilia. In 2002 Wilson described biophilia as "our innate tendency to focus upon life and life-like forms and, in some instances, to affiliate with them emotionally" (Wilson, 2002).

He defined the two constructs of biophilia: attention, which is Nature's ability to attract our involuntary attention and affiliation which is our feeling of connection with Nature.

According to Wilson, biophilia is not a single instinct, but a set of learning rules that can be untangled and analyzed individually. Feelings shaped by the rules of learning fall on different emotional spectra: from attraction to Nature (biophilia) to aversion to Nature (biophobia) (Wilson, 1993; Ulrich, 1993).

During evolution our ancestors had to face the hostile forces of wild Nature. The learning rules of biophilia and biophobia are still rooted in our behaviour and genetic heritage today and have made a valuable contribution to improving human efficiency in the search for resources (food) and a save shelter (refuge).

We have spent approximately 99.9% of our evolutionary history in close contact with Nature. Our physiology and psychology are still perfectly suited to it, but we seem to have forgotten about it.

The more we manage to synchronize our rhythms of life today with those of Nature, the greater our feeling of comfort and well-being will be.


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Bettina Bolten, Biophilic design consultant

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