The uses of nature

Psychologist Paul Bloom had a piece in the New York Times Magazine that neatly captures the essence of what I’m trying to get at with this blog. He gives the argument against the Heidi Hypothesis:

No sane person would give up antibi­otics and anesthesia, farming and the written word. Our constructed environments shield us from heat and cold and protect us from predators. We have access to food and drink and drugs that have been devised to stimulate our nervous systems in magnificent ways. We sleep in soft beds and have immediate access to virtual experiences from pornography to classical symphonies. If a family of hunter-gatherers were dropped into this life, they would think of it as a literal heaven.

And then provides evidence that it’s correct:

Many studies show that even a limited dose of nature, like a chance to look at the outside world through a window, is good for your health. Hospitalized patients heal more quickly; prisoners get sick less often. Being in the wild re­duces stress; spending time with a pet enhances the lives of everyone from autistic children to Alzheimer’s patients. The author Richard Louv argues that modern children suffer from “nature-deficit disorder” because they have been shut out from the physical and psychic benefits of unstructured physical contact with the natural world.

His conclusion is that we should make a cold-blooded, utilitarian assessment of nature – and figure out what parts make our lives better and what parts we can do without. (Should the Endangered Species Act protect the smallpox virus?) He has no problem eventually replacing nature with technology as long as we do it in a way that improves human happiness.

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