Nature relatedness” is one of those academic terms that is really not good. “Honey, let’s go hiking. We need some nature relatedness.” See what I mean? But feeling connected to nature is important. It inspires empathy and a desire to preserve what is being lost. Feeling nothing for the natural world has allowed a certain powerful American to feed more than 100 environmental regulations into a paper shredder with glee.
But empathy is not enough. Nor is a conception of conservation as something outside ourselves. We are the something. Conservation is about sustaining ourselves in tune with nature. Highlighting the threads of that harmony is where science comes in, and where this issue of Nautilus follows.
For the next month we offer reports from blossoming fields of environmental science. We go inside the brain to image the neural web of, oh, OK, nature relatedness. And above all we aim to illuminate the big picture. I once asked paleontologist and author Neil Shubin where his mind went when he stood alone on a vast and remote place like Ellesmere Island, not thinking about work.
“I just feel an immense beauty in the connections between our bodies and other species, between our bodies and other physical entities—rocks, planets, and stars,” Shubin said. “What you see is a network of connections that exist among us and the rest of the universe, and that network of connections is found in the shared history we have with the rest of the universe. I feel a great privilege as a scientist to be able to study that.” In those connections, and feelings, stories begin.
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