Biophilia and Gaia: Two Hypotheses for an Affective Ecology

Giuseppe Barbiero, PhD
Università della Valle d’Aosta / Université de la Vallée d’Aoste
Facoltà di Scienze della Formazione – Faculté des Sciences de la Formation
Interdisciplinary Research Institute on Sustainability
Università degli studi di Torino


Affective Ecology is a new branch of ecology concerned with emotional relationships
between human beings and the rest of the living world. The basic instinct that guides the
evolution and maturation of a well-tuned relationship with the living world seems to be
biophilia, our innate tendency to focus upon life and life-like forms and, in some instances, to
affiliate with them emotionally (The Biophilia Hypothesis). Our feeling of a deep connection
to Nature, our sensation of being a child of Mother Earth, of Gaia, is probably an instinct and
it is present in all human cultures, including those more technologically advanced, where a
scientific understanding of the planet’s living nature has been developing to an ever more
advanced level (The Gaia Hypothesis). Nevertheless, within our artificial society, now distant
from the natural world, we are running the risk that our biophilia is not becoming adequately
stimulated in order for it to flourish as naturalist intelligence, the ability to take care of and
subtly interact with living creatures. On a brighter note, we are discovering that Gaia
continues to affect us on a deep psychological level, activating our involuntary attention
(fascination) and favouring the restoration of our attentional capacity. We can all learn to
respond to the call of Gaia and the natural world, to refine our senses and our mental
capacities through the practice of active silence (mindfulness meditation); an engagement that
seems to be particularly efficient in re-establishing our personal connections with Gaia and
the living world.

Keywords: Active Silence Training (AST); Affiliation; Attention Restoration Theory (ART);
Directed Attention; Empathy; Fascination; Mindfulness Meditation; Open Attention.

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