June 29, 2010

Technological Nature? Just not the same…

What happens when real nature is replaced by computer generated nature?  What happens when we forget what the Earth was once like; green and lush and alive?  How is our treatment of environmental problems affected by our complete lack of awareness of it?  The more the Earth is degraded, the more it seems that each new generation accepts the new level of degradation as normal. This condition has been labeled environmental generational amnesia by psychologists.  So what happens when Mother Nature is replaced with technological nature?

When the natural world is simulated visually through TV or through robotic pet animals, what may seem as a simple replacement is actually part of a much larger mistake.  A mistake in the sense that Biophilia, or the need to commune with nature as a human, cannot be replaced by anything artificial. Having plants growing in a room, or petting a cat, or sitting outside in a park connect humans with something Universal and healing.  The best example that this study brought up was that sending flowers to someone who is not feeling well is much more than just a social advertisement.  The sight, smell and beauty of the flowers have an effect… an effect that cannot be substituted.  Biophilia seems to be written in our genetic code, woven in our minds, and blossoming from our hearts.  Who doesn’t love being outside, or having a picnic by a creek?  The definition that the researchers created for Biophilia also included non-living nature, like mountains, boulders and volcanoes.  Try as we might, I don’t think that people can recreate things with such total power and beauty in the way the Universe does.  But there is still more to discover about this topic.

To simulate nature, the researchers placed high definition TVs in rooms to substitute for a real window, creating a TV window, so to speak.  90 participants were placed into three groups, where each group of 30 either saw a real nature scene through a window, the TV nature simulation, or a blank wall.  The participant’s heart rate was monitored during their reaction to the room.  In their study of heart rate and reaction to the scene in front of them, the researchers found that the TV produced the same effects on the participants as the blank wall did:  nothing. Only the true nature scene had any effect on measured heart rate.

Evolutionarily speaking, replacing nature with technological nature does not seem like a good idea.  We need that breathing space, that connection to feel human.  We must be more aware of what we are letting ourselves get used to.  Even looking through a window at nature can decrease illness in prisons, help the healing of hospital patients, and can increase health in the workplace.  I think that instead of trying to plasticize everything, we should think about how to become more integrated with nature in our cities, whether it is saving space for a community park, or putting a bonsai tree in our office.  Let us not forget, or claim environmental generational amnesia.   This study is intriguing in it’s results, because although I truly enjoy nature shows like Animal Planet and the Disney film Earth, it is pretty neat to see actually scientific results in what I have always felt; it may look the same, but science still isn’t nature.

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Amber Dehn  |  Contribution: 1,200