The loss of nature: why we need to (re) establish contact with it

The Director, author, actor and musician Woody Allen is famous for being a person who takes extraordinary precautions in order to limit physical and mental contact with the flora and fauna of natural environments.

For example, he doesn't visit natural lakes, because "there are living things in there". Allen prefers Nature found in a city like New York. He invented the phrase "Nature and I are two" - (Nature and I are two separate entities).

In this article:


The aversion that Woody Allen feels towards Nature seems to be a serious form of BIOPHOBIA, which manifests itself in states of anguish, fear, repulsion or even terror towards other forms of life.
It is an increasingly common phenomenon among people who grow up almost entirely indoors in large urban or suburban centres, where Nature acts as a decoration at its best.

Biophobia ranges from discomfort for natural environments, to active contempt for everything that was not created or managed by man.

It is a cultural acquisition that leads us to become affiliated with technologies, human artifacts and a natural world intended exclusively as a font of resources to be exploited in our favour.

Now it is natural to think that it is a phenomenon of recent times, but the loss of contact with wild nature has much older roots and has gradually continued over the long years of the evolution of our species.




It can mainly be traced back to two different moments that gave rise to important detachments of the human being from Nature. Let's try to rebuild them.

For 99.9% of our evolutionary history, we have lived in close contact with the natural world, for a long time in the African savannah or environments similar to it. Scientists argue that the evolutionary transition from homo erectus to homo sapiens probably occurred more than 300,000 years ago.

The narrative starts from the PALEOLITHIC period which covers approximately 95% of human evolutionary history. In this period, humans have perfected a set of adaptive responses to different natural environments (the so-called wilderness).Our ancestors were organized into small nomadic clans with a lifestyle of hunters and gatherers who lived off what they found in the wilderness. They moved to look for places rich in resources, preferably near water sources.The evolutionary success or failure of our ancestors depended on various factors closely linked to Nature, such as climatic and environmental conditions, the availability of food sources (plants and animals) and the availability of safe shelters. They had a strong contact with Nature.

The NEOLITHIC period (ca. 14,000 years ago), on the other hand, covers only 5% of human evolutionary history. Human life became sedentary, agriculture began to be experimented and developed and some animal species were domesticated. At the same time, the population in the villages increases more and more and with it the increase of STRESS in people.During this period what we call the FIRST DETACHMENT FROM NATURE (WILDERNESS) takes place. Human beings begin to avoid WILD NATURE which is experienced as dangerous, uncontrollable and unpredictable, in favour of the more controllable and less dangerous DOMESTIC NATURE.

Finally, in the URBAN ERA that begins with the INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTIONS (about 250 years ago) which covers less than 0.08% of our evolutionary history, some permanent and irreversible transformations of the environment took place at the hands of man.
This period is characterized by the general lack of greenery, by ever larger crowds of people and by the lack of natural light in the places of everyday life.

In this period, the SECOND DETACHMENT FROM NATURE (DOMESTIC) takes place and the INNATE BIOPHILIA of individuals atrophies more and more due to the lack of natural stimuli. This detachment has not stopped. Today more and more people are living with sporadic or no contact with the natural world.




There is growing evidence that Nature and we are not two separate entities (as Woody Allen argues!). An increasing number of scientific research is showing that the brain and even human behaviour are closely linked to the natural world, only that many of us are not aware of it or have forgotten about it.Our lifestyles today now follow a pace dictated by increasingly advanced technologies and designed without taking into due consideration the biophilic fraction of the user, and our activities take place almost entirely inside buildings. We increasingly develop pathologies linked to various stressors present in artificial environments, with states of anxiety, depression, concentration deficit, panic, etc.

Fortunately, we have found that direct contact with Nature has important beneficial effects on humans and specifically can make a valuable contribution to preventing and treating many diseases. Sensory contact can help us fully utilize Nature's regenerative potential for greater inner balance.We need to (re) discover and feed our BIOPHILIA through a sensory and direct contact with Nature to counteract some negative developments of our species and to guarantee us numerous physiological and psychological benefits.





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Bettina Bolten, Biophilic design consultant

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