Nature’s benefits to us

On one level, nature has been providing us, the human species collectively, with all the bounty for all our physical needs for eternity.  We have always taken full advantage of nature, extracting and exploiting everything that is accessible, available and useful to us.  Nature, being free for the taking, never charges for any of its offerings.  Maybe because there is not an actual price tag, we never fully understand and appreciate its true value.  There is no doubt that we have been spoiled and we have squandered most of our natural capital, irresponsibly and irrevocably for far too long.  Nature will never completely disappear but it has been severely compromised by human actions, at our own peril.  The day of reckoning for us may come sooner rather than later now that we can no longer take all the clean air, clean water, trees, plants, animals, birds, fish and other living organisms known and unbeknownst to us for granted.

On another level, what is it about nature that is beneficial and appealing to us individually other than its utilitarian functions?  That was the question we asked ourselves today.  We talked about and shared fond memories of nature hikes, camping trips, going to the beach, swimming in lakes and oceans, climbing mountains, all kinds of outdoor activities like cycling, skiing, canoeing, sledding, etc.  But we also enjoyed less physical pursuits like exploring in the woods, climbing a tree, digging in the dirt, splashing in the rain, tumbling in a leaf pile, getting lost in a corn maze, picking apples in an orchard, etc.; or the more mundane ones like listening to the water from the rain, river or ocean waves, stargazing at the night sky, watching wildlife, staring at a campfire, smelling the flowers, etc.  We all agreed that being outdoors with nature and being physical particularly had some magical effects on us.  Then, someone mentioned “nature deficit disorder,” first coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods about how humans without access to and interaction with nature, especially children, suffered from different behavioral problems.

We tried to take a crack at the same issue.  While being outdoors, we all recalled feeling an extra infusion of energy.  Where does that energy come from?  Perhaps, it is from the physical forces of nature, maybe gravity or the magnetic force fields.  Or it may come from the life forces of all living things.  We speculated that being a part of nature and being connected to this complex web of life give us a sense of purpose and meaning, physically anchoring us in our rightful place in the universe.  The rhythm and order of nature has everything in place and naturally puts us at peace.  Not surprisingly, it is constantly therapeutic and inspirational, and simultaneously gives us a sense of wonder.  A melding of our body and mind, physical and mental, makes us complete.

There is actually a book written by E.O. Wilson, also known as ‘the father of sociobiology’ in 1984, called Biophilia, literally meaning ‘love of life or living systems.’  He suggests that “there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems.”  Furthermore, the environmental consulting firm, Terrapin Bright Green, also cites in its paper “The Economics of Biophilia” that:

Over the last quarter century, case studies have documented the advantage of biophilic experience, including improved stress recovery rates, lower blood pressure, improved cognitive functions, enhanced mental stamina and focus, decreased violence and criminal activity, elevated moods and increased learning rates.

On the contrary, being indoors cocoons us in our artificial structures and isolates us from the natural world, while blocking the free flowing of energy.  No wonder a lot of us feel disoriented, disconnected, unnatural or not in our elements at different times.  We habituate and trick ourselves into thinking that we are better off because we are well sheltered and protected in the comfort of our man-made environment.  The tradeoff is: As we disengage ourselves from nature, we stop evolving with it.  Just like pain is our body’s warning and defense system to prevent further injury, certain physical discomforts serve the same purpose.  By interfering with that same warning and defense system, we become desensitized and oblivious to all the harm and danger around us, even the ones that we are doing to ourselves.  At this moment we are incapacitated to the point that even though we are aware of the danger posed by all kinds of environmental hazards, yet we are reluctant to do anything to save ourselves.  According to Andrew Grove, “Success breeds complacency.  Complacency breeds failure.  Only the paranoid survive.”

Does it mean that we should go back and live like the cavemen?  We have come too far along to revert the entire human civilization back to a certain earlier point in history.  We cannot and probably should not undo scientific and technological advances, especially those of the lifesaving and life sustaining ones.  It does not serve any purpose to regress without achieving any worthwhile goals.  It makes more sense to reintegrate nature back into our lives sensibly and try to return balance and equilibrium to the present.

Let us imagine what if…