Biophilia 101

A slightly furry, pale yellow, green, beige magnolia bud swell and looks as if it is to open its arms to spring.

a quick history of biophilia

The idea of biophilia first took form in 1973 when German psychologist Eric Fromm when it appeared in his book Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1973). Borrowing from the ancient Greeks their words for life and love, he gave birth to biophilia.

Life (bio) + love (phil) = a “passionate love of life and all that is alive; it is the wish to further growth, whether in a person, a plant, and idea, or a social group.” (p. 366) Fromm’s use of biophilia was meant to emphasize his theory that the human need to cultivate a capacity toward love was a critical factor in mental health. I certainly agree with this notion, and its a place to start place. For as this love of life theory suggested, ideas can likewise take on a “life” of their own.

Fromm’s biophilia lived a quiet life, albeit a rather mundane under-developed one. This was all about to change with its next reincarnation in 1984, when the pioneering Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson made a hybrid of the same two ancient roots. Wilson was unfamiliar with Fromm’s work, but his new biophilia contained the former idea and expanded upon it. For Wilson, it was a love of life and living processes, as it related humanity’s ability to cultivate and bond with other expressions of life, and how this developed in our genes due to an evolutionary exposure to biodiversity.

biophilia: the innate tendency to be attracted by other life forms and to affiliate with natural living systems.

A red clay statue of a woman carrying live growing herbs appears to come out of an earthen mound of grass. There is a massive stone mortar and pestle behind her and botanical plants with healing properties ring the grass circle.

Earth Mother in the Healing Garden

Wilson’s biophilia, being a landmark idea, was ripe for exploration. It enjoyed yet greater fleshing out in The Biophilia Hypothesis where other scientists and professionals turned it over, poked, prodded, and ran it through some test models. It passed muster and has since been in the public’s consciousness. Notably, with some modification it has been applied to the fields of architecture, city planning, and landscape conservation with the advent of biophilic design. In fact, it has enjoyed something of a renaissance in past years, even if never specifically named. The rewilding movement, alternative energy industries, and increased strife between earth-changes and climate communities. Lastly, while our world’s plummeting biodiversity is not anything new, not in my lifetime at least, we are now effectively standing at the tipping point of the sixth great extinction event.

E. O. Wilson has spent the last three decades tirelessly developing and furthering his work regarding humanity and The Future of Life. Inside his latest work, Half-Earth; Our Planet’s Fight for Life,Wilson presents his most compelling argument to date. He implores that we must set aside half of the earth for the rest of the planet’s species. It seems fair, no?

the quest of the ages

We are living in unprecedented times. The stakes are high, the costs critical, and yet the gains have never been greater. Saving the planet from ourselves might just be the greatest expression of humanity…assuming we can pull it off, that is. Surely our future has all the components to be greatest story ever told. The question is, will any live to tell it?
A concrete stacked wall, two blocks deep, slowly being overgrown with green moss and vines. Its a beautiful textured effect.

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