This research topic submitted by Tracey O'Donnell (odonnete@miamiu.miamioh.edu) on 2/26/98.

Human Nature Proposal
Nature is Naturalistic

Let me start with a basic question: Why do people want to spend long amounts of time in natural areas? It could be a societal value that is becoming more and more popular as people are spending longer hours in an office and city living is expanding. It could also be as E.O. Wilson created in the term biophilia, the innate human need for a balanced relationship with the natural world.

Stephen R. Kellert along with E.O. Wilson feel that humans value from an intimate contact with the natural world. He states four adaptive advantages that will set the tone to what I am going to argue. These are "enhanced physical fitness and vitality; expanded curiosity and imagination; increased self-confidence and self-esteem; and greater calm and peace of mind." On the other side of the coin though, Aldo Leopold argues that people are bent on destroying nature, in A Sand Country Almanac he states, "the problem is how to bring about a striving for harmony with the land among a people many of whom have forgotten there is any such thing as land, among whom education and culture have become synonymous with landlessness."

Basically what I am presenting here, is that there are two opinions on nature being naturalistic. One opinion states the need to feel connected with the natural world in ingrained in us, in a sense part of our genes. The other opinion is that a harmony with nature is learned and taught.

Right now in society I can see arguments for both. The number of people visiting national parks and natural areas is increasing. The number of field guides being sold is also increasing. But what does this prove. With the advent of concrete subdivisions and longer working hours, are people's genes shouting out to them, "get me into to woods to relax, you need to be one with the earth." Or is it that hiking and birding are just becoming popular free time activities. Is this need to connect with the natural world, conscious or unconscious? Why now are we beginning to realize it so strongly?

I think that it will be also important to examine the conservation and preservation of natural areas, and what kind of environmental education message we are sending to kids.

If nature is ingrained as stated by Kellert and Wilson, then why do we keep logging and polluting and destroying wilderness. Still, if we are learning and the importance of the preservation of wildlands is being discovered, why are we not doing more to protect it? I have a feeling my latter question will never be answered.

One way I am going to approach this topic, is to do a survey. In my survey I am going to questions on the importance of natural areas, why people go to them, how often they go to them, how they feel about preserving them. Rather than just passing out the survey, I think that I am going to pass it out in certain populations and keep the answers separated in some aspects of analyzing my results. I will survey the sophomores and freshmen on western. I will survey all the people I work with at the Outdoor Pursuit Center and I will survey the girls in my sorority. If my research points to the idea that the need for nature is learned, by the keeping the results separate, I will get a better sense of what kinds of people have learned this. I also think on my survey it will be important to find out where people grew up, and some other background info.

Into my research I would also like to incorporate some of the things we are talking about in CC. In particular how and why the plantation owners and puritans manipulated their environments and in doing do made nature less natural. I think that this idea is leaning toward the idea that the need for nature is learned and not in the genes. But maybe religious and societal forces overpowered genes in this case.

Personally I would like to believe that nature is in our genes and that all people are able to find solace in nature.

Some books I plan on using.

Blocksma, Mary Naming Nature. New York: Penguin Books, 1992.

Brower, David Let the Mountains Talk, Let the Rivers Run: A Call To Those Who Would Save The Earth. New York: Harper Collins West, 1995.

Bonta, Marcia Myers American Women Afield: Writings by Pioneering Women Naturalists. College Station, Texas: Texas A & M University Press, 1962.

Bonta, Marcia Myers Women in the Field. College Station, Texas: Texas A? University Press, 1991.

Duensing, Edward Backyard and Beyond. Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Publishing, 1992.

Finch, Robert and John Elder The Norton Book of Nature Writing. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1990.

Halpern, Daniel On Nature: Nature, Landscape and Natural History. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1987.

Keene, Ann T Earthkeepers New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Kellert, Stephan R. The Value of Life Washington D.C.: Island Press, 1996.

Kellert, Stephan R. Kinship to Mastery Washington D.C.: Island Press, 1997.

Kircher, Harry B, et al. Our Natural Resources: and Their Conservation. Illinois: The Interstate Printers & Publishers, Inc., 1988.

Muir, John John Muir's Wild America. Washington D.C: National Geographic Society, 1976.

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