The Biophilia Hypothesis
Excerpted from Peter H. Kahn, Jr.’s Developmental Psychology and the Biophilia Hypothesis: Children’s Affiliation with Nature
The Biophilia hypothesis asserts the existence of a fundamental, genetically based, human need and propensity to affiliate with life and lifelike processes. Consider, for example, that recent studies have shown that even minimal connection with nature—such as looking at it through a window—increases productivity and health in the workplace, promotes healing of patients in hospitals, and reduces the frequency of sickness in prisons. Other studies have begun to show that when given the option, humans choose landscapes such as prominences near water from which parkland can be viewed that fit patterns laid down deep in human history on the savannas of East Africa. Wilson (1992) points out that people crowd national parks to experience natural landscapes, and ‘‘travel long distances to stroll along the seashore, for reasons they can’t put into words’’ (p. 350). According to Wilson (1984), the biophilic instinct emerges, often unconsciously, in our cognition, emotions, art, and ethics, and unfolds ‘‘in the predictable fantasies and responses of individuals from early childhood onward. It cascades into repetitive patterns of culture across most or all societies’’ (p. 85). Thus, what makes the hypothesis particularly important is that it provides an overarching framework by which new scientific ground across many disciplines can be charted that bear on understanding the human relationship with nature. Written by Peter H. Kahn, Jr. Read the full thesis Here.
An Interview with E.O. Wilson and Peter Tyson, Editor in Chief of NOVA Online
I found that book incredibly rich. You get all these essays from heavy thinkers, people who’ve really thought about it.
That’s very true. In fact, there are specialists in aspects of this. For example, those who study the biology and the psychology of phobias quickly arrive at the flip side of biophilia. But I always wanted biophobias to be part of biophilia, because the evidence is that the response to predators and to poisonous snakes (which spreads out to snakes generally) generate so much of our culture: our symbolism, the traits we give gods, the symbols of power, the symbols of fear, and so on. They are so pervasive that we need to include biophobia under the broad umbrella of biophilia, as part of the ensemble that I mentioned.
What could happen to people, to society, if, despite your optimism, we continue to distance ourselves from nature and let our biophilia atrophy?
I don’t know. There’s now a lot of concern, even consternation, among not just naturalists and poets and outdoors professionals but spreading through I think a better part of the educated public, that we’ve cut ourselves off from something vital to full human psychological and emotional development. I think that the author of Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv, hit on something, because it became such a popular theme to talk about that book [which posits that children today suffer from what Louv calls “nature-deficit disorder”] that people woke up and said, “Yeah, something’s wrong.”
To what degree do you think that emotional problems that many people today, particularly in cities, suffer from, like depression and anxiety, might be due to a lack of contact with nature?
I think it may have a lot to do with it. Psychologists and psychiatrists themselves seem in agreement on the benefits of what’s called “the wilderness experience.” To be able to [give this to] young people who may have gotten themselves all tangled up with their concerns about ego and peer relationships and their future and are falling into that frame of mind and becoming very depressed because they have such a narrow conception of the world. The wilderness experience is being able to get into a world that’s just filled with life, that’s fascinating to watch in every aspect, and that does not depend on you. It tells them that there’s so much more to the world.
I’ve never seen a test made of it, but I’d be willing to place a bet that among full-blown outdoorsmen, the birders and the fishermen, people who get out into the outdoors early and really love it, I bet there are fewer depressed people. That’s an interesting proposition to check out.
Read the full interview edited by Peter Tyson here.
Associated Causes: biophiliaeducational.org
Every other week, Make it last’s sustainability expert Anna Brismar of Green Strategy answers questions about fashion and sustainability. Have a question you want answered? Send it here. And read more about what sustainable fashion really is, or at least how we define it with the help of Anna, here.
This week’s question:
Designers have a significant role to play in moving away from planned obsolescence towards a more sustainable fashion industry. What choices can designers make to contribute to more long lasting fashion?
Anna Brismar: Yes, the fashion industry has been dominated by the strategy ofplanned obsolescence since at least the 1950s. We now need to move away from this unsustainable industry norm towards more sustainable production practices. As a designer with influence or control over design and material sourcing, there are various choices to be made to prolong the lifetime of a garment. Of course there will always be trade-offs and practical limitations involved, but knowing one’s possibilities and preferred choices is a first step in contributing to a more long lasting and sustainable product. Here are some key aspects to be considered in the process of design and sourcing:
Choice of fabrics and other materials
An important part of the design and sourcing process is the choice of fabrics and other materials:
More sustainable fibers: Organic and/or locally produced fibers, as well as fibers from recycled textile waste, are to be preferred as opposed to conventional and virgin fibers (see MADE-BY’s fiber comparison). Similarly, other materials in the garment, such as thread, buttons, zippers, and prints, should also be sustainably produced and sourced. Using yarn from recycled textiles is a growing trend that we will see more of in the coming years.
Durable fabrics that last in quality: The fabric also needs to be as durable as possible, i.e. it must not easily tear, break or wear out. Some fabrics are more sensitive than others, but will still last long if they are cared for in the right way.
A good mixture of fabric fibers: The “weakest part” of a garment will always be the limiting factor. Clothes sometimes contain a mixture of different fabrics. For example, if a blouse contains a mixture of silk and viscose, the silk parts may be the first to break and will thus limit the garment’s life expectancy. Likewise, other materials, such as the thread, buttons, zipper and prints, should also be durable. Plastic prints are often quick to lose their texture, which can be seen on many children t-shirts, thus reducing the overall durability and lifetime of the garment.
Color pigments and dyes: The fabric should also be chosen with respect to dyes and coloring pigments, opting for both durable and non-toxic alternatives. Some dyes quickly lose their color intensity and may not be ideal on certain clothes. For example a black cotton skirt may easily fade after some washes, while a black wool skirt will look well longer. Thus, the challenge is to use a dye that fixes well onto the fabric, or use a coloring technique and shade that fades with beauty.
Ethical supply chains: The supply chain of the garment’s fabric and other components should be transparent and ethical, which includes workers’ rights and conditions and animal welfare.
Easy to wash and care: All the material in the garment should be selected and combined to enable easy and gentle care, in terms of washing, drying, ironing, etc. Fabrics that do not require frequent washing, such as wool, may be a better option than cotton on certain clothes. A mixture of different materials demanding very different caring practices are not optimal for easy care.
Choice of design, style and fit
Choices related to design, style, and fit are also crucial aspects of making more long lasting products:
Long lasting design: Garments should be designed to look good and feel comfortable for as long as possible, ideally for a lifetime. As we know, successful fashion trends return, and some design pieces become wardrobe classics while other styles become long-lasting essentials.
Customizable and adaptive design: Garments can be designed to allow for adjustments in terms of size and fit. For example, a blouse can be designed with horizontal straps to adjust the size around the chest. Likewise, trousers can be designed with an elastic band or straps at the waist, to enable resizing of the waistline. The same garment can thus be made to fit two body sizes, for example 36 and 38, thus allowing for slight fluctuations in weight over time.
Design to facilitate repair: An essential design strategy to prolong a garment’s life expectancy is to allow for easy repair. This practice is sometimes called “modular design” or “circular design”. (In modular design, the garment is designed in modules that can be easily taken apart to enable easy repair and redesign.) For example, children’s jeans may be designed with knee patches already from the start (stretching all the way to the side seams). The patches should have separate seams at the knees that are easy to rip when repairing. Hereby, replacing a worn-out knee patch is facilitated and the new patch is less likely to fall off compared to a circular patch.
Zero-waste cutting: Pattern making and cutting practices are also part of the design process. There has been intensive research in this area in the last years, to develop new pattern making and cutting practices that minimize textile spill and enables more effective use of the fabric.
Design on demand: Finally, making fashion on demand is a very promising strategy to make consumers hold on to their garments for longer as they are taking an active part in the design process (primarily in its final stages). This practice is sometimes called “participatory design”.
This summary is by no means exhaustive – there are surely other important design choices and sourcing practices that could have been mentioned here. Thus, for further reading, please see Fletcher and Grose (2012) and Gwilt and Rissanen (2011).
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