Environmental Deficit Disorder: The Biology of (Not) Being Outdoors

British kids can more easily identify Japanese cars than native plants and animals, says moderator, Robert Draper here at the Aspen Environment Forum, sponsored by the National Geographic and the Aspen Institute.


American children not readily exposed to nature are more prone to depression, obesity and attention deficit disorder. This is a global phenomenon. What else happens when there is a growing disconnect between a modern society and the biosphere?

Can we draw a link with this disconnect and the loss of biodiversity at an unprecedented rate? By 2050, the majority of our citizens will consist of the young people where that disconnect is most profound.

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Sally Bingham, Episcopal priest and an environmental activist
Audrey and Frank Peterman, authors of "Legacy on the Land"

In the days of Thoreau, the love of God was inseparable from the love of Nature. Has that changed? Bingham says that most people attending the Forum in Aspen probably have had a spiritual experience with nature as a child. Her strongest experience of God has been in nature and she believes that that is true for most people. She believes that there has been a disconnect with nature (and God, presumably) because children are spending less time outside. We pick up sticks and stones because they are part of what we are. As we have become more urbanized we have lost the sense of belonging to God through nature.

When Bingham began speaking of our responsibility of taking care of our environment and recognizing that climate change hits the poor the hardest, she was called a communist by many in her congregation in San Francisco.

Frank noted that his parents knew nothing about National Parks, even though his family lived near the Everglades. When he brought a group of children and adults to the Everglades, recently, they were overjoyed. He saw an instant connect to nature. He believes we are hard wired to make that connection, because that is what we come from. If they were afraid, the fright lasted for at most of 2 minutes.

Audrey and Frank noticed on a tour of the National Parks a few years ago, they were struck by the beauty and the diversity of the plants and animals. They noticed that the people were not diverse- no black people. So they began a public relations campaign encouraging people of color to take in the outdoors through trips to national parks.

Bingham thinks that it is a spiritual experience to grow, harvest and cook food. However, few people, less than 2% of Americans have this experience. This loss contributes to this disconnect from nature that it destroying our souls. How do we get children to know where there food comes from? She believes that children that gets lost in the wilderness and then find their way have more confidence. If you are hooked into nature as a child, it stays with you your whole life. We need these children because they are our future environmentalists.

In NYC, they cant see the stars anymore.

More like this

So true. And yet there are some fabulous resources out there for bringing children closer nature, even if, perhaps, their parents are already disconnected. They could do with being promoted, passed around and imitated as much as possible.

My daughter finished the National Parks Webranger program, this spring, and I couldn't believe how good it was. I can't think of anything more calculated to get kids clamoring at their parents to take them to a park. And when they get there, there'll be a lot more kids' activities available.

On a more local scale this summer, in Orkney, Scotland, we found a book in the tourist office called Orkney Nature Detectives. It was a kind of field book/coloring book, with finds to tick off, questions to answer and observations to make. The kids got points and could win patches. I thought it so exemplary, I'm thinking of making one for our region. The black and white coloring book format makes it easy to publish. Any nature-loving adult could create something like this for their area. Even NYC has nature, people just have to be taught to see it.

American children not readily exposed to nature are more prone to depression, obesity and attention deficit disorder
I don't feel convinced about this. How do we know that the lack of "exposure to nature" wasn't just a lack of "exposure to a quiet, non-busy environment"?

I also don't see where this argument stops. This seems too convenient Bingham thinks that it is a spiritual experience to grow, harvest and cook food

Why stop there? How about the spiritual experience of spearing a live animal, ripping it's insides out and feasting on it with your family? The idea is not expanded and conveniently limited to only those activities which are compatible with the worldview of the author.

By PandaWood (not verified) on 27 Jul 2010 #permalink

I think most people who hunt *for food* would say that it is a solemn experience (even when it can be fun); and also one that tends to make them *less* gung-ho about killing. And much more aware of death and nature than buying butcher's meat. (For the record, no-one trusts me with an air-rifle, never mind a proper firearm, but I have cleaned and eaten game shot by others.)

By stripey_cat (not verified) on 27 Jul 2010 #permalink

For decades I have observed this disconnect with our natural environment. I appreciate PandaWoodâs observation that the article makes assumptions that are not warranted. I think that the article is somehow imbued with an unnecessary and a bit woo wooey quality.

I have no sympathy for the âsoulâ idea or âspiritualityâ unless these terms are defined, which they are not. Nor is any evidence presented to support the proneness to depression etc. of those who donât interact with nature.

I do know however, that having grown up in tropical and sub-tropical climates meant that most time was spent outdoors with light clothing and no shoes. I have also owned and operated two small rural holdings of about 15 acres on which food was grown for the household and for market and animals provided eggs, milk and meat. I used to fish as well. We also swam a lot in fresh water rivers and the sea. I have mentioned my hydroponics farm on a previous comment thread here.

I didnât think much about it until I grew up a bit. I met a New Yorker in Melbourne in the 1970s who didnât know that beetroot was a vegetable that grew in the ground. She had only seen cans of beetroot. That took me aback! It was after this that I owned the farms. It was enough to make me get out of cities for the sake of my childrenâs well being.

I recall reading that city people were less able to identify insects, plants and were apprehensive about the wide outdoors. Children didnât suffer this. Most kids adore being able to run around.

Now I live in Scotland â it is very much the opposite of outdoor living except for a bit of sun in the back lawn with a drink if the sun happens to show its face which isnât often enough!

I am the only person in my small group who doesnât wear shoes either in the house (carpeted) or outside on the grass.

All the people I know canât look at an insect or spider (there are a few, not many) without wanting to kill it. Practically all food comes packaged, sanitised and looks perfect. âLetâs go to the supermarket and get foodâ. All so distant from where it was grown.

The thing that disturbs me is that my group doesnât even see a lack of anything in their lives while I am champing at the bit to be outside. They go on annual holidays and get sunburnt without realising they are living a different life. They still donât really âtouchâ the world. And they keep their shoes on!

I canât put my finger on it but they are missing out on an essential part of being a human being alive on a planet that is full of other species. We kill and eat some of them, grow and harvest others and the understanding of this on a very basic, raw level is I think, healthy.

To dig oneâs fingers in the ground, gardening, living closely with other vertebrates, looking after and supplying oneâs own foodstuffs makes one aware of natural cycles that just doesnât happen otherwise. I realise that the vast majority of people don't do this but neither do they appreciate what it takes to provide their foodstuffs.

It saddens me that people are losing their essential humanity and their self-sufficiency. It does not augur well for the world, for other species or for us. It is the opposite of enlightened self-interest in the long term.

Thanks for the comments everyone. I agree there was a lot of speculation in the comments by the panel members. Still the overall gist of the comments rang true,

Just yesterday here in beautiful colorado, I went for a walk along the river. I saw the most beautiful large berries. The trees looked exactly like the service berries we have in the mountains in california except the fruits were three times as big and delicious. So in the quiet of the wilderness I munched happily away. When I asked some locals what they were they had no idea and were shocked that I would eat something growing in the wild when I had not yet googled it.

I later found out that they were indeed service berries and I plan to go get some more right now.

Gee, is this really that complicated? Shove the kids outdoors and lock the door behind them.

For some people, there is no "outdoors" to shove the kids out to. If you shove them out the door and lock it behind them, the only nature they will encounter is the nature of the street. Would you shove your child outside and lock him out knowing a passersby might shoot him just for kicks?

Richard Louve is really the best resource when it comes to the topic. You all should check out his wonderful book on the topic.
I work hard everyday to make sure my children do not suffer from this and as an environmental educator I also work with inner city parents, teachers and scout leaders to ensure the children that Tenebras might be referring to also don't suffer from this.

"Would you shove your child outside and lock him out knowing a passersby might shoot him just for kicks?"

Depends on the child.

Seriously what is with the touchy feely "over-soul" crap in the O.P.. How the hell is "Sally Bingham, Episcopal priest and an environmental activist" competent to talk about anything except her own brand of Voodoo and the view from her window and why should we care?

What does the attempt to baptize a terrible 19th century American misreading of Hindu religion into the C of E have to do with biologically deleterious effects of children growing up in a filtered pasteurized environment?

We have all had a "transcendental moment" in nature but unless you are an idiot you also have them when you aren't awanderin' at Walden's. For instance the moment you realize on the highway that you are inside a hunk of metal screaming across the earths surface at 70 mph surrounded by other hunks of metal doing the same thing. Or when you look out the window of an airplane and realize the entire proposition holding you thousands of feet in the air on wings full of explosive fuel is just an idea by a 37 year old Swiss guy who studied smallpox morbidity.

You become aware you are immersed in the ever changing and unfamiliar so every gland associated with perception goes into overdrive. What the hell does that have to do with environmental activism or the episcopal church.

"Audrey and Frank noticed on a tour of the National Parks a few years ago, they were struck by the beauty and the diversity of the plants and animals. They noticed that the people were not diverse- no black people."

Yea. That's germane. As they were 'struck' by the beauty of the plants and animals did they notice most tourists are ugly as well as white?

Let's get on that Audrey and Frank. An elective surgery, spa and agri/ecotourism day for people who qualify under the FEORP guidelines.

That conference would drive me insane. It sounds like a big concrete container for people already contained by the clay of their uselessness jibbering at each other about what they see when they stare at their respective navels.

By Prometheus (not verified) on 28 Jul 2010 #permalink

Prometheus, obviously, you need to take a walk in the park! (Great comment, it had me in stitches, so true, so snarky, and so you)

I am most stimulated in city environments, as long as they are positive ones (I am essentially safe, have nice digs, have income/friends, etc.). One can be just as connected to a bigger reality in the city as one can in the country.

However, in the country, is where I can relax to a depth that I can never do in the city--the air is cleaner, it is quieter, and it is less structured and simple in terms of interacting with the environment and others. Both city and country have their purposes for the young, old, and in between.

It drives me nuts when gardeners (and I am an avid one) blather about needing woo, like moon cycles and that bizarre Rudolf Steiner crapola, so they can feel friggin connected to nature, or city folks saying they feel disconnected, while there is all this evidence showing how connected they are to each other and to the city. It may just be a case of the grass is greener on the other side until you get there and then the side you just left looks greener.

Pam wrote:

"In NYC, they cant see the stars anymore."

Of course you can, you just need to make reservations.

Liza Minelli is at Da Luna every Thursday.

By Prometheus (not verified) on 28 Jul 2010 #permalink

Children having authentic and numerous contact with natural settings, and by that I don't mean driving the scenic route through a National Park and stopping only at the overlooks, but spending time exploring, even if its just the cracks between city sidwalk sections, especially with a parent, are better learners. They are encouraged to think outside the box when confronted with questions and look for multiple reasons. Children are naturally inquisitive. Exploring natural settings prompts questions in their minds, and they seek broader and more complex answers. They also learn and are encouraged to question.
Scott Mercer Author, Whalehead Nation, Creating and Keeping an Environmental Ethic in Children.

By scott mercer (not verified) on 28 Jul 2010 #permalink

I think what kids are suffering from today is LAPDD otherwise known as Lack of Attention from Parents Deficit Disorder. Although it will surely help, I do not believe that nature is going to rather mystically cure kids or society of its ills. Kids need exercise, healthy food, stimulation, and above all positive attention. One can just as easily help to cure the ailments mentioned in the article through a parent shooting hoops, fixing a car, making dinner, building a toy or doing just about anything with a kid. I do not feel that the activity needs to be outdoors. Nature is wonderful and probably the best tool but not the only one.

Wow, I'm not used to so much woo on scienceblogs -not without it being deconstructed in-post anyway. I am usually hostile to woo, but I do think in some cases it is better just let other people run with it. Different people are persuaded in different ways and have different motivators; it would be silly to only offer one type of argument in favour of awareness of the wilderness and agriculture (and hopefully its protection), no matter how convincing we sceptics find it. The panellists (and a large proportion of the world population) are spiritual/religious. I canât see it disappearing any time soon despite our best efforts, so why not use religion when we can?

That said, Iâm rarely convinced by correlative data. American children not readily exposed to nature may be more prone to depression, obesity and attention deficit disorder; but why? Is it just because they donât get to walk in a forest? Is it something about the colour green triggering something in our brain? Is it rather the peace and quiet compared to a city? Is it a removal of overstimulation from videogames and TV? Is it exposure to sunlight (this could be part of the depression, and is well documented in Russia and other places that have dark winters)? Or is it something more sinister, like unhappy families being less likely to take the family camping? Or is the data skewed by poor children in high-crime neighbourhoods, with parents who can only afford takeout to eat and who donât have a car to take them to safe parks?

Lastly, I am surprised at the surprise and hardly-veiled contempt some commenters have expressed at people not being able to name local insects and plants. These people you talk about live in an urban wilderness, one full of beasts called cars, which UK kids can identify pretty well apparently. I know I canât. Why the hell would they ever need to know the name of that garden spider or where beetroots come from? I bet if I took a bunch of you to the beach or harbour and pointed out various seaweed species you couldnât name them. Which ones are edible? How many species of prawn can you seen in that tide pool? Which fish will try to eat your toes if you swim barefoot? Which spiny ones are poisonous? What time and where are dogfish most likely to be active? How many of you can tell the difference between a blue shark and reef shark? Hell, even a short-finned mako and a great white? How many of you have walked down a beach and picked up and popped a pipi in your mouth as you went along? Just because most people I know donât know the answers to those questions, doesnât mean they donât appreciate the beaches they visit, or want to protect beaches for others who do.

And why do people have to have the same interests (i.e. agriculture/wilderness) as we do? Yes, nature and agriculture are important and fulfilling etc, but so are a lot of things that Iâm not interested in. And no matter how much we make people hike/sail through the wilderness, not everyone ever will be interested in it. Some people just donât like digging in dirt to make their own food (myself NOT included). Getting people to do so is not the only way we can get people to understand where their food comes from. Just like I donât have to work with child slaves to know I donât want to support such a regime.

Oh, pet niggle: If a termite colonyâs system of tunnels etc is natural, why are human tunnel systems considered unnatural?

By Hinemoana (not verified) on 28 Jul 2010 #permalink

Hinemoana, good comment. AA, for example, uses the higher power concept to assist addicts to focus on something bigger than their tiny world of pleasure and pain avoidance. Existing religious beliefs can be used as spring boards if necessary, though one must always be aware of not accommodating the brain-dead deference to non-evidential beliefs.

"Oh, pet niggle: If a termite colonyâs system of tunnels etc is natural, why are human tunnel systems considered unnatural?"

It is a never-ending battle to get that point across, everything in this universe is natural, including man-made things. However, when probed, naturalniks often say they mean simple. Then say that, say simple, for goodness sakes. The best technology is exactly that. Simple and elegant.

Dear Tenebras: Any parent who would raise children in an environment where shoving them out the door puts them at risk for being shot needs to take a long look at their own capacity to parent. We are animals; we operate on instinct: if you listened to instinct, as any other mammal would, you'd get the hell out of there. And don't say you can't: the human species has been migrating in search of better places from the beginning. A Cheetah doesn't say, Gee, this is a great place to raise cubs; there are lion prides allover the place. We'll set up camp here.

Humans have created violent, dirty, poisonous and insane environments, not only for ourselves but the creatures we live with. Religion has condemned instinct, particularily in women, when it's our onboard compass. We need it, but religion and politicians and sociologists and the PC crowd want people to be helpless. Keep them caged, stupid, sick, unable to make valid decisions, frightened, powerless. That's not natural: that's religion, consumerism, hatred of our species. The United States has a HUGE Judeo-Christian hangover.

I engage fat kids, in both rural and urban areas, in conversations about their emotional well being and their fat....

No I don't. Neither do these reporting conference attendees.

This is just fabulism.

"British kids can more easily identify Japanese cars than native plants and animals..."

Doomed! Those kids are Doomed!

Hey wait a minute, lets examine that proposition....

"Prometheus will now stroll up front get a cup of coffee where there are a dozen houseplants in reception and dozen cars parked out front."

*whispery game show/Marlin Perkins/golf announcer voice*

"Let's see which he is more successful at identifying."

*cue music*


9 out of 12 houseplants

All the cars.

Buuuuuuuut before you drag a chubby kindergarten class into the Mohave desert here is a possible explanation for this phenomenon:

Cars have their goddamn names written on them.


"Existing religious beliefs can be used as spring boards if necessary, though one must always be aware of not accommodating the brain-dead deference to non-evidential beliefs."

I would like to think you could pull that off but I think what will happen instead is nature getting reinforced as a form of escapism.

It reinforces the lunacy we already have where we treat the indoors as reality and the outdoors as idyllic artifice.

I see the junk from this conference as doing that now. Religion is just too intellectually toxic to be allowed near anything important.

By Prometheus (not verified) on 29 Jul 2010 #permalink

I grew up working on our family ranch. I think I see the world differently than a lot of folks do. My kids all spent summers at the ranch, and are very glad that they did. Taking university level classes on field trips has made me quite aware of the urban fear of nature.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 29 Jul 2010 #permalink

Children today can suffer from attention deficit of her parents, which causes them to have possible depression. Nature can help them get distracted but not necessarily to heal, since apart from the children ditraigan is vital that their parents care about them, not necessarily giving them relagos but being with them and paying attention. Nature is beautiful but the child can be healed only difil, it must be his parents at his side.

Hello, we are students of pedagogy in science with mention of the Universidad Catolica del Maule, Chile. We believe that children today may suffer from attention deficit, lack of concern for their parents, which leads to possible depression. Nature can help them get distracted but not necessarily to heal, and that apart from ensuring that children get distracted, it is essential that parents care for them in every way, but not necessarily giving them gifts, but being with them at all times and giving them the attention. Nature is beautiful and very entertaining, but the child alone, it is difficult to heal because they have to be beside her parents worried.

Just so people know, I was not talking about using religion (like AA does) on people that arenât religious. Instead, religion should be (and apparently is by the panelists) used for those that are already religious -like church groups etc. I remember my ex-church being very supportive of secular human charities. Why not promote looking after 'Godâs natural gifts' to them?

In no way do I support using (and thereby promoting) religion, âspiritualityâ or other woo to people that are not already deeply woo-ish. I in no way support organisations like AA.

By Hinemoana (not verified) on 29 Jul 2010 #permalink

I'm glad I live in Wyoming where all the academics are in one town, and most of them are veterinarians.

@ Bo Moore # 23

And why is that?

Also, I must say, your #17 comment seems rather over-simplistic. People in rough neighbourhoods should just move? Well, I was a migrant... and itâs tough. First you have to leave any support networks you may have -family, friends etc. Then you have to find a place that will accept you and has available and affordable shelter. Then you have to find work. If you canât find shelter or work then youâre even worse off than before. Migrating is a huge unknown; a risk that should not be underestimated.

Often, the safer option is staying in a rough neighbourhood and just being more careful.

By Hinemoana (not verified) on 29 Jul 2010 #permalink

There sure are a lot of "spiritual" nature lovers who are shallow thinkers who like to pat themselves on the back for their supposed profundity.

How many of them really appreciate, say, that those magnificent redwoods are only so wonderfully tall because of useless, brainless, incredibly wasteful competition? All that height is massively inefficient overkill, with the trees all needing to be just a little taller than each other. They've stuck in a ruthlessly and horrendously wasteful competitive trap for millions of years, because evolution is so shortsighted.

Most wooey nature lovers are sadly ignorant of the real structures and functions of the natural phenomena around them; I'm pretty sure I get a deeper connection to nature by sitting at my computer reading scienceblogs.

I agree that it can be very nice to get out and have a change of scenery---to go someplace where things are "simpler" because you're so self-servingly oblivious to the bustle and waste and horrors of the astonishingly complex interacting systems around you. That can be pleasant, like taking a calming drug, and about as in touch with deep reality as sparking a doobie and playing video game.

a possible explanation for this phenomenon: Cars have their goddamn names written on them.

Prometheus wins the thread.

I'm pretty sure I'd know more a lot more plants than cars if and only if they had their goddamn names written on them.

There are a lot of biological and ecological phenomena that I understand and most people don't. But for most of them, I wouldn't recognize them if I was looking straight at them. I don't know what their surface characteristics are.

We'll be more in touch with the reality of nature when we can walk around in it with heads-up displays that tell us what the hell we're looking at, what it's competing with, what its parasites' strategies are, etc.

Until then, we're like stone agers transplanted into a massive super-sophisticated industrial complex, agog at all the funny shapes and smells and surfaces.

I wonder if there's any decent neurological evidence for it? I definitely get the feeling that identifying plants is something my brain is inherently good at, but I've got no basis for asserting this to be true of everyone.

And Paul W., your value judgment imposed on natural processes is just as moronic as theirs.

@ Prometheus and Paul W.

I find going to botanical gardens helps. There, the plants DO have their names written on them. Or at least near them.

It'd be nice for them to put something more than names down though. Something like; this is X plant and here are three interesting facts about it or what we use it for.

By Hinemoana (not verified) on 30 Jul 2010 #permalink

@Bo Moore
So basically what you're saying is "fuck the people who can't afford to move out of the city, they just shouldn't have kids." Can you POSSIBLY be any more ignorant or simplistic?

"less than 2% of Americans have this experience" - this is really terrible. I can't imagine not ever having close-to-the-Nature experience. Fortunately as they said, it's so easy to re-connect.

Jack Jackson

""less than 2% of Americans have this experience" - this is really terrible."

I would agree if it were true. 51 million people in the U.S.A. live in the close-to-nature experience. That's 21% of us who aren't just visiting Walden's pond, 21% of us are Mr. Walden.

Think for a moment about the idiotically worded a poll that produces that stat is and where that poll was given (Mall? Internet maybe?).

By Prometheus (not verified) on 01 Aug 2010 #permalink

I have found that botanical gardens, aquariums, zoos, etc. generally fail to label the most interesting specimens on display. I suppose it is just me. These days, if one has a name, one can Google it. I do recall an incident in a public aquarium back in the 1960's. They had a specimen the European Wels, or man-eating catfish, in a tank, with that information on a label. The specimen was only about a foot long, and none of the people reading the sign had any idea which fish it referred to.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 01 Aug 2010 #permalink

These people you talk about live in an urban wilderness, one full of beasts called cars, which UK kids can identify pretty well apparently. I know I canât.

There is no urban wilderness in the UK of the kind that's devoid of nature. I've lived in several large UK cities including London. They are full of trees, birds, insects and miscellaneous things growing through the cracks in the tarmac. Also rats and foxes. Gardens are common, and where they're absent, there are parks. I think we're going to have to fall back on the 'cars have their names written on them' argument.

Lastly, I am surprised at the surprise and hardly-veiled contempt some commenters have expressed at people not being able to name local insects and plants.

Personally I'm surprised at the hardly-veiled contempt for any specific form of knowledge or experience some commenters have expressed. Speaking of religious woo, there's no wonder creationists have a field day when most people aren't really aware of more than a couple of hundred species of animals, and most of them from continents other than the one they live on.

"There is no urban wilderness in the UK of the kind that's devoid of nature."

So I have seen. I was thrilled to see a fox slinking through a London school when I was visiting last year (though I'm told they're considered a big pest by most Londoners). Similarly, I was fascinated by the bats flying around in Sydney. If you visit NZ you can rummage in garden bushes and find weta.

"I think we're going to have to fall back on the 'cars have their names written on them' argument."

That probably helps a lot. It probably also helps that they're utilitarian and a status symbol that most people aspire to own one day -which gives people the motivation to read and remember those names. I've never had the desire to own a car and never bother reading the names. I recognise most brand symbols when I see them on cars, but other than that they're just a colour to me.

âI have found that botanical gardens, aquariums, zoos, etc. generally fail to label the most interesting specimens on display.â

I completely agree. Some places have terrible labelling. In one Russian museum I went to, there were two sections; human history and natural history. In the human history section they had a few shards of pottery etc and screeds of writing describing everything about what people made it and used it for. SCREEDS. In the natural history section they had some wonderful skeletons and stuffed animals⦠with a tiny placard saying their scientific name. Nothing else.
On the other hand, our local aquarium has a picture of the fish next to its scientific and common name as well as some interesting info on them. For ALL of the fish in the tanks, you you can identify every specimen. Our zoo has upgraded most of its signs similarly. The local botanical gardens is still languishing in the era of tiny placards.

By Hinemoana (not verified) on 01 Aug 2010 #permalink

Another reason for knowing car names, and not plant names - some skeezy dude isn't going to pull up in a marigold and ask if you'd like to see his puppies.

I garden, volunteer killing invasive plants, pick straw- rasp- blue- and blackberries and various other food, have been eating allot of chanterelles and Dentinum lately, and kill deer, but it is occasionally hot, or buggy, or scratchy, and to the kids, can resemble work. Yeah, I don't see foxes or mink every minute, or kill 100$ fish every day. They find movies and internet more comfortable and entertaining. Expertise at simulations is about as valued as expertise with the real world, and it is easier. (One might argue that whatever exists is "real".) My contempt for this, and considering it as an impoverished existence, is very romantic I know, but I continue to want others to see what I see.

And Paul W., your value judgment imposed on natural processes is just as moronic as theirs.

In some cases, sure, and that's part of my point. Romanticizing and spiritual-izing poorly understood machinery that happens to have been designed by evolution is just another kind of cargo cult. Nature is what it is, and isn't what it isn't, and it's good to be aware when you're just projecting---and to be careful about thinking your projections make you superior to people with different interests.

Many people get a visceral pleasure from just being out in nature and interacting with it in the flesh. That's fine by me, and I'm one of those people sometimes. What bugs me is when people think there's something intrinsically, qualitatively better about interacting with nature than with artificial systems, and get all self-congratulatory about it. A lot of people just like that sort of thing, but aren't really interacting with nature on a deeper, more sophisticated level than others interact with a video game. (And their superficial and/or romanticized view of nature is no more realistic.)

Nature has more amazing stuff going on than any video game designer can hope to approach, but most people just don't get that stuff anyway. (Or care, really.)

I find it a little creepy to find cargo-culty, wooey nature worship stuff on a science blog, presented with apparent approval. Ick.

Sorry all,

It was a hectic weekend. I rounded up a bunch of sad fat black kids and dropped them off in the swamp.

Don't worry though I gave each of them a book of common prayer and a St Martin's Golden Guide to North American Weeds.

They should be hitting nirvana right about now.

In all seriousness, how do these people not get that humans are the ultimate invasive species.

The best thing you can do for nature is leave it the hell alone.

It hates you.

I was thinking about the time the moat around Monkey Island froze in Oklahoma City and 200 gibbons invaded the upscale exclusive neighborhood of Forest Park. Screaming, biting and throwin' poop at Mrs. Gotrocks.

That's what it must be like for a turtle minding its own goddamn business in the everglades when Audrey and Frank Peterman start stomping around in Birkenstocks with digital cameras and biodegradable recycled starbucks to-go soy milk cappuccinos, babbling about ethnic diversity in ecotourism .... while bonding.....with nature.

I hope they get ticks.

By Prometheus (not verified) on 03 Aug 2010 #permalink

..useless, brainless, incredibly wasteful competition..

It isn't "useless" if it fosters fitness and there is no waste in nature. "Ruthless" and "horrendously"? Project much, do you?

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 03 Aug 2010 #permalink

It isn't "useless" if it fosters fitness and there is no waste in nature.

WTF? "If it fosters fitness and there is no waste in nature"?

Do you know what "fitness" means (and doesn't mean) scientifically? Pretty much anything fosters fitness of something.

No waste in nature? Gimme a break. By what standard?

Take the Redwoods example that I gave. How is the absolute height of Redwoods not wasteful, when they're basically playing a zero-sum game for relative height?

By any reasonable standard, there's a tremendous amount of waste in nature, unless you think the function of nature is to do exactly whatever the hell it ends up doing.

Sure, it's not "wasteful" if you mean that it has no purpose, and hence can't be efficient or inefficient in fulfilling its purpose.

"Ruthless" and "horrendously"?

Ruthless is simply true. How could evolution be ruthful? (Look it up.)

"Horrendously" is admittedly a value judgment, but not meant as anything else.

If we're going to go around imposing human values on things, like thinking nature is "glorious" or "beautiful" or whatever, let's not kid ourselves about it.

Project much, do you?

No, actually. I'm not kidding myself; my point is that other people seem to be doing so. I think nature is blind, brainless, and ruthless, except where there are actual eyes, brains, and/or ruth. Let's not kid ourselves otherwise.

Nature is an amazing, big old mixed bag, by any reasonable human standard---and it's fascinating---but getting all religious and/or "spiritual" about it usually involves some sort of projection that requires something like rose-colored glasses.

I saw a program on TV about urban foxes in England. It said that fox density in English cities was higher than in English countrysides.

In relation to kids in a bad neighborhood, I met a schoolteacher from East St. Louis, IL, who was well known for having his classes pick leaves from local street trees and identify them.

I also overheard a trip leader talking to a group of kids from East St. Louis. They were going on a field trip to the St. Louis Zoo. He told them there were going to be a lot of white people there, but they did not need to be afraid, because no one would bother them.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 05 Aug 2010 #permalink