The Literary Influence 5: Biophilia Theory

Pagans are more known for their ‘live in a field’ aspect than that of ‘live in a library’, but camping out amongst the shelves may just find you a gem or two which has influenced pagan critical thinking about how we see the world around us, and how we view the past.

Biophillia theory proposes an instinctive bond between humans and other living things.  It explains why we keep pets, plants and flowers in our homes. In other words, our natural love for life helps sustain life.

First proposed in 1984 by Edward Wilson  in his book, Biophilia (1984). He defines biophilia as “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life”.  A ‘phobia’ being a fear of something, a ‘philia’ is a natural attraction towards, or like of something.

The book itself is not a scientific one, but rather a collection of nine autobiographical essays.  The opening chapters illustrate the principal rather than describing it, taking the reader along on his journey in searching for a particular type of ant in the Amazon.  Through the middle of the work Wilson sorts out different time divisions, arguing that the way you organize time creates biases. Wilson holds that most humans divided time according to their own evolution. Humans are not the only species that matter. Bacteria, fungi, protoctists, and plants have been around far longer than Homo sapiens, and humans depend on these other kingdoms for survival. This argument allows Wilson to build a platform from which to apply his notion of biophilia.

Wilson alludes to a “conservation ethic” throughout the first half of the book of which he makes his readers aware in later chapters of Biophilia. Wilson’s term “conservation ethic” describes what humans need to do because of biophilia. Clear evidence shows that humans depend on other living organisms for survival. Wilson argues that humans need to care for natural resources if we want to remain alive. He uses this book as strong evidence to form global awareness of biophilia and the conservation consequences it warrants.

Wilson closes this book by recapping his intense accounts of the explorations of untamed nature in the Amazon river basin. He mentally leads the reader through forests with clear descriptions of the thousands of organisms he encountered.

The hypothesis has since been developed as part of theories of evolutionary psychology in the book The Biophilia Hypothesis edited by Stephen R. Kellert,  Edward O. Wilson and Lynn Margulis.  Additionally other authors have applied the same theory to children in Last Child in the Woods which advocated maintaining a connection between children growing up and building a positive connection to nature.


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