Biophilia: E.O. Wilson, from Thoreau to Theroux

In December 2010 the Oxford English Dictionary (fondly called the OED) added 2,400 entries, including “biophilia“.  But E.O. Wilson published the term (as well as it’s city kin) in 1984 in the book of the same name.

My attention was on the forest; it has been there all my life.  I can work up some appreciation for the travel stories of Paul Theroux and other urbanophile authors who treat human settlements as virtually the whole world and the intervening natural habitats as troublesome barriers.  But everywhere I have gone–South America, Australia, New Guinea, Asia–I have thought exactly the opposite.  Jungles and grasslands are the logical destinations, and towns and farmlands the labyrinths that people have imposed between them sometime in the past.  I cherish the green enclaves accidentally left behind.

Denotative meanings of the word aside, to me the connotation resonates with the magnetic power that nature holds over many of us.  The calm feeling of being at home I often feel while standing under the canopy of old growth forest.  The thrill I feel when spotting either an ethereally floating butterfly or a majestically flying bird.  We don’t need to use the word itself to describe or relate to it’s meaning.

Wilson’s idea may well be only a hypothesis, but there are examples of that idea everywhere. Whatever terms we use to describe it, we respond to nature.  It speaks to us in a language from time immemorial.  Featured artist Mary Ellen Croteau describes it here. Collective contributors have exemplified it here, here and here, among others.

Henry David Thoreau went to the woods to “live deliberately.”  John Muir went out for a walk and felt he was actually going home. Both men refer to the essential lessons that nature teachs us, the sense of being at home.  (And Paul Theroux, in addition to his descriptions of bustling cities also wrote feelingly about a snowbound week in the Maine woods…)

As a conservationist, it sometimes appears that the steady pace of environmental destruction is an indication of biophobia.  I hope not.  I can only hope that its only a matter of lessons not yet learned…

“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”

–Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods

20 thoughts on “Biophilia: E.O. Wilson, from Thoreau to Theroux

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  12. ‘Tis a fine philosophy, Amie! 🙂 Although, I have to say
    I adhere to it more than I act on it. Wish I could more often –
    go out to get back in – but one day, I hope to retire.

    I might then react by reacquainting
    myself in a reenactment of sorts,
    that requires no rehearsal,
    nor prior rearrangements.

    Going in alone is a surefire way
    to get out and get gone and find God.
    No doubt. Peace and luvz, Uncle Tree ▲

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