In recent years, a growing body of research has documented the psychological and even health benefits of spending time in natural settings, such as forests or parks. This research has shown that people who live in urban areas that feature more trees have better physical health, that nature walks decrease a tendency towards harmful mental “rumination” and much more.
None of which comes as a surprise to E.O. Wilson, the famed Harvard biologist and conservationist known for his influential ideas about evolution, the “consilience” of human knowledge and much more. In fact, you might say that the recent research amounts to a modern reaffirmation of Wilson’s more than 30-year-old idea of “biophilia,” which he described in an eponymous 1984 book as “the innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes,” including both living organisms and the environments they occupy.
Recently I had the privilege of speaking with Wilson while he was in Washington, D.C., for the 125th anniversary celebration of Rock Creek Park, organized by the the Rock Creek Conservancy, which aims to protect and preserve the park where Wilson, as a child, collected butterflies and ants. He now sits on a Green Ribbon Panel of advisers to the Conservancy on the park’s future, and wants to see a full biological survey of all the species it contains, and a combined future for the park as a hub for both research and also education for children.
“That’s what Rock Creek Park has: Real nature,” Wilson told me. “Original forests. It’s a little beat up but it’s the real thing.”
In the interview,…
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