Biophilia hypothesis

Biophilia hypothesis

The biophilia hypothesis suggests that there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems. Edward O. Wilson introduced and popularized the hypothesis in his book entitled "Biophilia." [cite book|last=Wilson|first=Edward O.|title=Biophilia|date=1984|publisher=Harvard University Press|location=Cambridge|id=ISBN 0-674-07442-4]

Love of living systems

The term "biophilia" literally means "love of life or living systems." It was first used by Erich Fromm to describe a psychological orientation of being attracted to all that is alive and vital. [cite book|last=Fromm|first=Erich|title=The Heart of Man|date=1964|publisher=Harper & Row] Wilson uses the term in the same sense when he suggests that biophilia describes "the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life.” He proposed the possibility that the deep affiliations humans have with nature are rooted in our biology. Unlike phobias, which are the aversions and fears that people have of things in the natural world, philias are the attractions and positive feelings that people have toward certain habitats, activities, and objects in their natural surroundings.

Product of biological evolution

Human preferences toward things in nature, while refined through experience and culture, are hypothetically the product of biological evolution. For example, adult mammals (esp. humans) are generally attracted to baby mammal faces and find them appealing across species. The large eyes and small features of any young mammal face are far more appealing than those of the mature adults. The biophilia hypothesis suggests that the positive emotional response that adult mammals have toward baby mammals across species helps increase the survival rates of all mammals.

Similarly, the hypothesis helps explain why ordinary people care for and sometimes risk their lives to save domestic and wild animals, and keep plants and flowers in and around their homes. In other words, our natural love for life helps sustain life.

elfish genes

Richard Dawkins proposed the theory of Selfish genes and The Extended Phenotype. Selfish gene theory suggests that genes evolve to replicate themselves. The Biophilia hypothesis needs to explain why living organisms help other living organisms which do not contain their DNA. Domestic animals and plants can evolve genes which make humans want to care for them and protect them. However some evolutionary biologists believe this can be explained by reputation based models, which demonstrate an individual's genetic quality by his ability to not only look after himself, but others as well. Helping others at a small cost to yourself is an honest signal of genetic quality because it is costly to maintain, and only high quality individuals can afford the cost. It should also be noted, that the tendency to care for animals and plants could be a byproduct of our development of agriculture and domesticated animals. Although purely hypothetical, these behavioral attributes could have been beneficial to our ancestors who were largely dependent upon these for their survival.

Also humans have evolved genes which make us want to look after babies and children. In this way we help children who are related to us. We also help unrelated children whose relatives may later help our families. These genes can make us want to help young mammals and other young vertebrates which have some features of babies and children.


The hypothesis has since been developed as part of theories of evolutionary psychology, in particular by Stephen R. Kellert in his book "The Biophilia Hypothesis" [cite book|last=Kellert|first=Stephen R.|title=The Biophilia Hypothesis|publisher=Island Press|year=1993|id=ISBN 1-55963-147-3] and by Lynn Margulis. Kellert's work seeks to determine common human responses to perceptions of, and ideas about, plants and animals, and to explain them in terms of the conditions of human evolution.


ee also

* Nature deficit disorder

External links

* [ Edward O. Wilson's Biophilia Hypothesis]
* [ Biophilia, biomimicry, and sustainable design]
* [ Biophilia?]

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