Biophilia hypothesis

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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, Biophilia (1984).[1] He defines biophilia as "the urge to affiliate with other forms of life".[2]

Love of living systems[edit]

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.[3] 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 other life forms and nature as a whole 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 organisms, species, habitats, processes and objects in their natural surroundings. Although named by Fromm, the concept of biophillia has been proposed and defined many times over. Aristotle was one of many to put forward a concept that could be summarized as "love of life". Diving into the term phillia, or friendship, Aristotle evokes the idea of reciprocity and how friendships are beneficial to both parties in more than just one way, but especially in the way of happiness.[4]

In the book Children and Nature: Psychological, Sociocultural, and Evolutionary Investigations edited by Peter Kahn and Stephen Kellert,[5] the importance of animals, especially those with which a child can develop a nurturing relationship, is emphasised particularly for early and middle childhood. Chapter 7 of the same book reports on the help that animals can provide to children with autistic-spectrum disorders.[6]

Product of biological evolution[edit]

Human preferences toward things in nature, while refined through experience and culture, are hypothetically the product of biological evolution. For example, adult mammals (especially 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.

Very often, flowers also indicate potential for food later. Most fruits start their development as flowers. For our ancestors, it was crucial to spot, detect and remember the plants that would later provide nutrition.

Biophilia and Conservation[edit]

Because of our technological advancements and more time spent inside buildings and cars, it is argued that the lack of biophilic activities and time spent in nature may be strengthening the disconnect of humans from nature. Although, it also has shown strong urges among people to reconnect with nature. The concern for a lack of connection with the rest of nature outside of us, is that a stronger disregard for other plants, animals and less appealing wild areas could lead to further ecosystem degradation and species loss. Therefore reestablishing a connection with nature has become more important in the field of conservation.[7] Examples would be more available green spaces in and around cities, more classes that revolve around nature and implementing smart design for greener cities that integrate ecosystems into them such as [biophilic cities]. These Cities can also become part of wildlife corridors to help with migrational and territorial needs of other animals.[8]


The hypothesis has since been developed as part of theories of evolutionary psychology in the book The Biophilia Hypothesis edited by Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson[9] and by Lynn Margulis. Also, Stephen 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.

Biophilia in Fiction[edit]

Canadian author Hilary Scharper explicitly adapted E.O. Wilson's concept of biophilia for her Ecogothic novel, Perdita.[10] In the novel, Perdita (meaning "the lost one") is a mythological figure who brings humankind biophilia as one of the four loves of ancient Greek cosmology. She is an illicit child born to Hephaestus and Pandora and is hidden away among the Three Fates where she gathers up the "extra threads of life." Perdita is eventually given to Prometheus who promises to conceal her among humankind. (Perdita carries the four loves in her bundle of "lost threads.") Along with Prometheus' gift of fire, they are given to humankind: friendship (philia), erotic love (eros), unselfish love (agape), and biophilia, the love between humans and the natural world. In the mythological version, humans seize upon fire and begin to use it‚ but they forget about Perdita and eventually abandon her. The fourth love of biophilia is thus lost to the western tradition, but is rediscovered and rescued in the present.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wilson, Edward O. (1984). Biophilia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-07442-4. 
  2. ^ Kellert & Wilson 1995, p. 416.
  3. ^ Fromm, Erich (1964). The Heart of Man. Harper & Row. 
  4. ^ SANTAS, ARISTOTELIS. "Aristotelian Ethics And Biophilia." Ethics & The Environment 19.1 (2014): 95-121. GreenFILE. Web. 24 Feb. 2015
  5. ^ Kahn, Peter; Kellert, Stephen (2002). Children and nature: psychological, sociocultural, and evolutionary investigations. MIT Press. p. 153. ISBN 0-262-11267-1. 
  6. ^ Katcher, Aaron (2002). "Animals in Therapeutic Education: Guides into the Liminal State". In Kahn, Peter H.; Kellert, Stephen R. Children and Nature: Psychological, Sociocultural, and Evolutionary Investigations. MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-11267-1. Retrieved January 30, 2013. 
  7. ^ Rogers, Kara. "Biophilia Hypothesis". Encyclopedia Birtannica. Retrieved 10.2.2015.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  8. ^ Biophilic Cities [] Check |url= scheme (help). Retrieved 10.3.15.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help); Missing or empty |title= (help)
  9. ^ Kellert, Stephen R. (ed.) (1993). The Biophilia Hypothesis. Island Press. ISBN 1-55963-147-3. 
  10. ^ "Arousing Biophilia". Retrieved 2015-11-03. 

External links[edit]