I pretty much take it as fact that human beings have not evolved to run on concrete. It kinda makes sense that scrambling over boulders and swinging from trees are better exercise for micro-muscles than are gym machines. And I can mostly accept that our digestive systems have not evolved to handle processed foods.
But what nearly made me spit coffee out my nose this morning was reading Dr. Ming Kuo explain that getting out into nature is healthy for us because
Nature makes us feel safe. Right. Try telling that to the guy who stumbled over a sleeping grizzly last week and wound up having to shove his arm down the bear’s throat to convince the beast to stop biting him. Nature is no place to relax. It is out to get your ass.
In all of modern man’s 200,000 years on this planet I’d say that it’s only been since they put bathrooms in nature that anybody felt like nature was a great way to “get away from it all.” Prior to that most people spent all their energy trying to get away from nature. Going back to the 9th century most people felt that nature was a hostile, miserable place, a wilderness that needed to be tamed and subdued. To the extent that this taming and subduing was successful humanity began to have better feelings about the wilderness. Consider that Rousseau’s philosophy of the Natural Human followed on the heels of the Age of Discovery in which the globe and its continents were transected, mapped and claimed.
There is a notion going around these days, the biophilia hypothesis, that suggests we have evolved to have a natural fondness for nature. That feeling of OMG when you see a beautiful sunset. It goes a little deeper than that – merely getting a glimpse of nature is supposed to have beneficial impacts on our health.
I think a better argument can be made that humans are hardwired to flee nature. To hide in caves, to put up walls, and to pave the hell out of anything soft and springy. As Woody Allen said, “nature and I are two.”
If Dr. Kuo is saying that there are good things in nature that our bodies need, things that can’t be found in a formaldehyde-belching office environment, well I can accept that. But to suggest that human beings are evolved to spend time in nature is to ignore humanity’s relentless campaign to plow everything under.
As much as I love the idea of forest bathing I rather fear that our evolutionary agenda is less to find ourselves in nature than it is to whip, beat, pummel and torture our natural environment until it whimpers and is willing to eat from our hands. Then we will view pictures of nature and feel at peace with ourselves.