A Conversation on the Biophilia Hypothesis with Lewis Harrison
Foundational Principle for this Conversation:
To explore the linkbetween humanity and nature.
Definition: Biophilia Hypothesis - “Biophilia" literally means "love
of life or living systems." The term is commonly used to mean that
there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living
STUDENT: What is the history of this term?
LEWIS: Edward O. Wilson, the noted American biologist, researcher,
naturalist and author. Introduced and popularized the hypothesis in
his book entitled Biophilia and it was first used in psychology by
Erich Fromm the noted social psychologist, and humanistic philosopher
to describe a psychological orientation of being attracted to all that
is alive and vital.
STUDENT: Why is this idea of biophilia important at all?
LEWIS: The understanding of it, I believe can help a person to live
his or her best life.
STUDENT: Is there some opposition to the concept?
LEWIS: According to how Wilson understands it, Yes. There are two
primary streams of thought concerning our relationships to the natural
The first stream is that it is all hierarchical, and mankind sits on
top of the hierarchy. In such a worldview, all that exists is here to
serve man. Often this view is supported by some quote or a religious
perspective supposedly supported by some scared text. Those who
strongly support this view would have difficulty accepting Dr.
The second perspective is that there is a natural connection between
all living things and that human beings are hard wired to seek and
experience these connections both consciously and unconsciously as a
matter of instinct.
STUDENT: So our connections to nature would be rooted in our genetics
and our biology?
STUDENT: How does this connect to the concept of natural law?
LEWIS: As I describe in the Conversation on Understanding the
Concept of Natural Law When we are being our authentic selves we will
have a natural attraction and positive feelings towards certain
objects, beings, habitats and activities in their natural
surroundings. We may feel something special at the sight of puppies
playing, planting a garden or eating fresh picked fruits or
It is even part of our positive psychology. We may tell someone who
is over worked, “Don’t forget to smell the roses.” These feelings of
love of nature are often known as “philias.” This is a term that
relates to one of the four types of love referred to in ancient
Greece. Here it has a much broader definition; a mutual love between
different living entities in nature.
STUDENT: What is the benefit of philias?
LEWIS: Many researchers believe that philias, especially those
experienced in early and middle childhood can make us into more
empathetic individuals. This would explain ordinary people feeling
such compassion towards domestic and even wild animals; going out of
their way to care for them even at risk of life and limb to save them.
Our natural love for life helps sustain life.
STUDENT: This seems rather complex and contradictory. At the same time
that some people are repulsed by something as cruel as the “so-called”
sport of cock fighting, these same people will go home and have a
chicken dinner. I don’t get it. Where is the biophilia here?
LEWIS: Don’t try do understand this. It does not need to be rational
or logical or even consistent. At times we are compassionate towards
other life forms and sometimes we are not. It is an expression of
emotion and compassion based on biology and genetics. It just is.
STUDENT: What if a person has negative associations with living things?
LEWIS: These are called phobias. There are many types of phobias but
some are specifically irrational fears of things in the natural world.
Any phobia can interfere with one’s ability to live a life filled with
love, abundance and freedom.
STUDENT: Why has a love of nature become so important to humans?
LEWIS: There is no definitive answer but there are many clues as to
why this has evolved to be part of our biology however if all living
creatures are linked than the survival of one can help insure the
survival of others. This would explain why not only human adults but
also adults in many mammal species seem to have a positive emotional
response toward baby mammals in other species. This behavior may help
increase the survival rates of all mammalian species. Of course
according to advocates of biophilia theory this biological evolution
has been refined and ever more effectively expressed as a result of
experience and the development of culture.
STUDENT: Is there a religious explanation for this concept?
LEWIS: All religions teach love of nature and of life in some way. The
Jain faith of India has an entire philosophy built around this
concept. It is known as “Ahimsa”, a Sanskrit word which means “to do
STUDENT: How would I explore this concept further?
LEWIS: The Biophilia Hypothesis is taken very seriously by different
disciplines in the scientific world. Over time it has come to be
considered a category in the discipline of Evolutionary Psychology.
This is the place to begin your research into this subject.
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