Biophilia Hypothesis

Introduction to Biophilia Hypothesis

The Biophilia hypothesis is a hypothesis that states that humans are driven towards nature and anything that is alive because they have innate characteristics that steer us towards nature and other forms of life. The love for nature and animals is an inherent feature of all the human species. This is also explicitly visible with the close relationship humans have with nature and the different life-forms it offers as compared to the relationship humans have with their own artificial objects. 


The Development of Biophilia Hypothesis

The tendency of humans to have belongingness with nature and different life forms is the main basis of the biophilia hypothesis. It has been evident since the appearance of the first humans on this planet and hence has been a noticeable trait since ancient times. Aristotle was one of the many people who put forward a concept that was summarised as “love of life”. With the use of the word philia (i.e. love) Aristotle emphasizes the relationship between humans and nature and highlights the idea of reciprocity of similar drive that is exhibited between humans and different organisms culminating into friendships that are beneficial to both parties. He clearly states that out of the many benefits received by both humans and the other life-forms the most significant is the way of happiness that it provides especially for humans. 


Over the years this concept has been stated and notified and established in one form or another. The biophilia hypothesis definition was first given by Erich Fromm when he used the term “Biophilia”, meaning an innate affinity of life or living organisms while describing a psychological orientation that causes an intense attraction towards all that is alive and vital. The idea of biophilia was introduced as a concept and hypothesis in the book Biophilia by biologist Edward O. Wilson. According to the biophilia hypothesis definition given by him, the hypothesis is a concept of Biophilia which is “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life”. In the book, Wilson also says that biophilia is a description of “the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life”. 

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The connections or the love described in the biophilia hypothesis definition are not only the responses of attraction or moving towards but also the responses of fear or moving away from certain life-forms. For example, since olden times, humans have been attracted to particular flowers and fruits as they have lived very closely with nature in the past and that attraction continues even today. This is because these flowers and fruits are a source of diversity and nutrition respectively and provide feelings of satisfaction, psychologically speaking. On the other hand, humans have been afraid of snakes and arachnids such as spiders, which is a phobic response to life-forms since they have been dangerous to human beings in the past and the response is still significantly visible in the population. So, both positive and negative affiliations towards nature and natural objects such as species and natural phenomena, as compared to artificial ones, have been evidence of biophilia.


Peter Kahn and Stephen Kellert have stated in their book, Children and Nature: Psychological, Sociocultural and Evolutionary Investigations have emphasized the importance of animals in the development of nurturing relationships especially with the kids during early and middle childhood. The book also reports the help that children affected with autistic-spectrum disorders gain with their relationships to animals, thus showing results in favour of the biophilia hypothesis. In the book, The Biophilia Hypothesis, edited by Stephen Kellert And Edward Wilson and Lynn Margulis, the hypothesis is further developed as part of the theories in the field of evolutionary psychology. Also, the work of Stephen Kellert attempts to determine and define the common human responses to the perceptions of and about plants, animals, and to explain to them the terms and conditions of human evolution. 


Biophilia in Context of Biological Evolution

The psychological responses that are generated within humans with respect to nature and different life-forms have been known and clear since the arrival of the first homo species. The responses of attraction that are generated with respect to favourite trees, fruits, flowers, animals, etc. and the responses of repulsion or fear generated with respect to reptiles like snakes, arachnids like spiders, etc. depict the level of connection or intimacy between humans and other living beings. This is visible by the practices of keeping plants and flowers in and around the homes and keeping animals as pets. 


Although these responses and preferences have been refined through different experiences and culture leading to the present state, hypothetically they are products of biological evolution. And this is not limited to only humans but can be found commonly in all living organisms. The best example of such a relationship between biophilia and biological evolution is the attraction that adult mammals have to baby mammal faces as they are found to be appealing across species. The large eyes and small features of any young mammal face are found to be more appealing than adult features and are a common aspect of any species. This hypothesis explains why ordinary people show care and a protective attitude towards domestic and wild animals even to the extent of risking their lives. 


Thus, our love for life helps sustain life. 


Biophilia in Modern Culture

One of the best examples of adoption of the concept of biophilia hypothesis is in the ecogothic novel Perdita by the Canadian author Hilary Scharper. The novel explicitly adapts Edward Wilson’s concept of biophilia and depicts a mythological figure bringing biophilia to humanity. Another well recognisable example of this concept, even though not explicitly stated, is the movie series, Jurassic Park. The strong connection between humans and dinosaurs and the risk of life the characters entail protecting each other is central to the movie plots and is a basis of the biophilia hypothesis. 


It has been widely accepted that with advancement in technology there has been a growing distance between nature and humans. But even then the drive of biophilia is such that there has been the development of the concept of Internet Of Things (IoT) in which we use devices that have their computer-generated voice and arise a feeling of being alive when around us. Because of such results, American philosopher Francis Sanzaro put forth the claim our world is more driven by the biophilia hypothesis than in the past.


Biophilia in Conservation

With the development of technology and the industrial revolution, there has been more and more seclusion. With the development of structured buildings and people living in enclosed spaces, there has been a decrease in the relationship between nature and humans. This decrease in connection with nature has been stated to be one of the primary reasons leading to environmental pollution and degradation along with the extinction of various species in nature. Therefore, the concept of biophilia which states and emphasizes the primary relationship between humans and nature has been one of the spearhead concepts used for propagating and actualization of environmental conservation. 

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. What is Biophilia and Why Is it Important?

Ans: Biophilia hypothesis is a concept that states there is an innate drive in humans to affiliate with nature and other forms of life. There is an attraction and a psychological relationship between humans and nature that has existed and developed over time with significant contributions from our biological evolution as well. Biophilia is important as it shows how important the connection between humans and nature is, as, for many humans, nature and the presence of living organisms in the surroundings serves stress-busters and also in the way of happiness. This hypothesis also becomes important from the point of conservation of nature. 

2. What Does the Word Biophilia Mean?

Ans: Biophilia means “love of life”. The concept was first put forward by Aristotle. Later on, the concept and the hypothesis has been developed in which Biophilia means innate affinity of life or living systems. It arises from “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life.”