Nature, Man and Psyche: The Implications of Losing Touch with Reality

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Organizational Structure. 

In understanding the implications of man’s disconnect from nature, it will first be important to explore how the distinction between men and animals has changed throughout history, mainly within the last few hundred years. The influence of technology, western thought, the capacity to change our environment and Darwinian concepts will be discussed. The role of nature will also be discussed with respect to its relationship to the psyche of man. Mainly, the role of scientific inquiry and its inability to explain deeper facets of human nature will be utilized to show that work like Hillman’s imaginal theory offer a richer understanding of the subject. Moreover, the implications for survival will be explored in order to show that nature serves the vital purpose on enriching and validating the human condition. However, man’s disconnect from nature results in less relief from suffering and an inherent hubris towards how we are destroying the environment. A personal example of a child that has lost touch with the suffering of others will show that there are tangible implications in terms of psychological development. Finally, a discussion will follow that reflects on nature, man the psyche and how this area of psychological inquiry is subject to rapid change. 

Men, Creatures and The Self

The distinction between men and animals. 

Man has experienced a drastic shift in terms of self-perception with regard to the animal kingdom. Throughout history, man has considered itself a special being because of its capacity for self-perception, rational thought and higher level intelligence. Religion has contributed to this viewpoint by denoting that man was created with a special purpose to rule over the animals. However, as Theodore Roszak outlined in “The Voice of the Earth,” Darwin’s research and inquiry into evolution and the development of mankind surely burst a perceptual bubble of superiority (52). As man began to realize that it shared traits of existence just like other animals, there was a strong sense of realization that mankind was not as different from other animals in many core facets of livelihood. Despite this, the last one hundred years has shown that man has surely differentiated itself from animals even more, albeit in a much broader sense than just mere social constructions of superiority.

In fact, man’s modern distance from the perception of itself as an animal has stemmed from his disconnect from nature. As most humans have adapted their lifestyles to meet the demands of an urban environment, the disparity between men and animals has grown even more. Many people do not interact with the natural world as we used to. Surely, zoos and digital media offer a glimpse at what the natural world has to offer; however, the reality is that “we have already lost an awareness of ourselves as animals” (Slater 173). That is, man’s perception of itself has been molded to be distinct from animals because there is a strong distinction between our living environments. This has caused a further divide because future generations of humans come into less and less contact with the diversity of the natural world. Abram (1996) went as far as to lament that we “ignore existence of other species…humans have become blind to the reality that we are still just animals (Abrams 28). This disconnect with the life of the natural world has further shaped the way in which we perceive ourselves from other perspectives as well. 

The context of man in a changing environment. 

Aside from the distinction between humans and animals, man has disconnected itself greatly from nature as a whole. This has been primarily accomplished through our urban environments that we have come to adopt. In his research article on humanity’s disconnect from nature, Glen Slater argued in Cyborgian Drift that as society progresses in term of technological innovation, the natural world is lost. Given that man does not need to actively hunt in the wild and competes for resources in different contexts than before, there is an inevitable drift away from the natural world. In citing Michael Whan, Leslie Stoupas remarked that “disengaging from the natural world is easy when that world is viewed with enmity, a world that has been ‘disenchanted’ due to the ‘inward turn’ of the soul caused by the Christian and Cartesian threads of western thinking (Stoupas; Whan 29). Surely, religious notions of civilization and the theme of man dominating his environment has been glorified in the sense that man does not need to dominate animals and abide by extinct principles of survival. The environment that we live in today fosters the viewpoint that nature is just a facet of society that will always be there. However, the role of nature has been discredited from a psychological sense in terms of its role and influence on the psyche. 

The Role of Nature

As mentioned prior, the natural world has been a facet of psychological research that has failed to meet the standards of traditional scientific inquiry. To exemplify, the way in which man engages with the environment has changed so much in the last century that it is difficult to consider that ecology even plays a pivotal role in influencing the psyche. Roszak (1992) remarked that even for fields like human sexuality and other primitive parts of the psyche, scientific inquiry has been difficult to fully utilize: “Freud struggle[d] with no less determination throughout his lifetime to remain as rigorously scientific as possible- a goal that, for the most part, he fortunately failed to achieve” (51). The example of Freud and his quest for defining primitive human behaviors through the lens of rigid structures and concepts has failed because the human psyche is much more complex. Just like subconscious inclinations towards dreaming about personal conflicts and repression, the relationship between man and nature shares the same stigma of mystery and complexity that cannot be fully analyzed through scientific inquiry. 

Nature, sensation and the imaginal world. 

Despite this inherent complexity with defining the role of nature with respect to man, Hillman’s “Thought of the Heart/Soul of the World” offers evidence that shows how the power of sensation is intrinsically related to the human psyche. In doing so, he first defined perception and sensation with respect to the Greek word aesthesis, “which means at root a breathing in, or taking in, of the world, the gasp, ‘aha’, the ‘uh’’ of the breath in wonder, shock, amazement, an aesthetic response…” (Hillman 107). Hillman believed that the psyche was merely an extension of the natural world in which we used our senses to take in the environment and form our perception of the world. The psyche and soul in itself is “a perspective rather than a substance, a viewpoint toward things rather than a thing itself. This perspective is reflective; it mediates events and makes differences between ourselves and everything that happens” (Hillman xvi). As a result, much of Hillman’s work on the imaginal world emphasized on the way in which man interacted with the environment. The role of nature is thus not only a complex inquiry into human nature and psychology, but also ecology and its role in influencing facets of human nature like the soul and psyche that are not well understood. 

Implications for Survival

Relief of suffering. 

Nature, with respect to the human psyche, is surely related to the way in which we relieve ourselves from suffering. Hillman regarded nature as a means by which we opened our senses in order to experience beauty, love and compassion for the world around us (Hillman). This is a way of healing that extends further than just the psyche and requires interaction with the natural world. Surely, without nature as a means of understanding the world and experiencing compassion towards suffering, there are other negative implications. In “The End of Nature,” Bill McKibben argued that man’s dominance over nature has resulted in a general lack of commitment across the human race. For instance, while humans used to worry about the acts of God and works of nature in terms of guiding their lives, this is not the case anymore. There is a general disconnect with regards to who controls the course of life. Without such a relationship to nature, man loses touch with the compassion that he once felt towards others because so much of life is controlled by non-natural elements. This results in a relationship with nature that not only does not relieve suffering, but makes it worse: McKibben lamented that “if I knew as well as a forester what sick trees looked like, I fear I would see them everywhere” (McKibben 180). This statement reflected McKibben’s viewpoint that he has lost touch with the presence of nature as it used to be. In general, nature as a form of relief from the suffering of the world is being hindered by man’s perception of dominance over it and reliance on the industrial world. 

Indeed, the human psyche will not enjoy the natural world as a means for expression and relief as it used to. For instance, as people spend more time indoors and do not interact with the outside world, the benefits will no longer be there. In the future, McKibben lamented that works like that of Henry David Thoreau will be incomprehensible (180). Thoreau’s works that describe nature and its implications for well-being will be just a strange piece of literature from the past that humans cannot relate to anymore. Because Hillman outlined that internal healing stems from perception of the natural world, the proposed end of nature by McKibben would suggest that humanity is doomed to address problems in new ways (Hillman 16; McKibben). Indeed, this affects the human psyche because internal healing would be subject to change where the natural world would not play an integral part as it used to. 

Capacity to destroy nature. 

Another major implication for survival is the fact that humans have the capacity to destroy nature. For all of human history, man has been bound by nature in terms of weather conditions, destruction and resources. However, the last century has shown that man can dominate the environment in profoundly new ways. With this, man also has the capacity not only change, but ultimately destroy the natural world. McKibben remarked that man’s power in this day and age is much different from previous times in history: 

For the first time human beings had become so large that they altered everything around us. That we had ended nature as an independent force, that our appetites and habits and desires could now be read in every cubic meter of air, in every increment on the thermometer. (McKibben xviii)

This chilling introduction to his book outlined that man is the new Godly force in the world, not nature. With skyscrapers, automobiles and nuclear weapons, man surely has the capacity to destroy the whole world in a matter of minutes. This has contributed to a further disconnect from the natural world. Because it is taken for granted, human beings are further contributing to the destruction of the environment in a positive feedback loop; that is, as future generations grow up without interacting as much with the natural world, they are used to it and have no issue passing on those values to their offspring. 

To exemplify, consider how future generations will interact with nature. A great example is a child that has not been exposed to nature in the way that older generations have. Roszak delivered an anecdote about a boy in a waiting room flipping through a magazine that featured a picture of a tiger from the wild. The author lamented that while the tiger may soon be extinct, the child will never understand the implications of such a tragedy and will not be able to experience the natural world in that sense; instead, the child’s imagination will be populated with images of characters like Bart Simpson. Roszak summarized: “The little boy turns a page. A species dies. A television cartoon takes its place in his life. He does not know, he does not feel” (Roszak 50). By expressing that the boy does not feel, Roszak means that the boy is not only not mature enough to understand his own behaviors, but that his general disconnect from nature is something that is not reversible when he becomes older. Such an example clearly demonstrates that the capacity to cage wild animals, cause extinction and change the environment clearly alienates younger generations from experiencing the natural world. Consequently, the role of nature in healing the psyche and expressing feelings of the soul is hindered if not completely limited. 

This is not to say that future generations will not survive without a direct connection to the natural world; instead, it merely reflects that there will be profound changes in the way in which the psyche is affected by the natural world (or lack of it). The aesthetic response that Hillman remarked of in terms of sensation will be filled with experiences that are inexplicable to future generations. Furthermore, Abram went further to argue that such a disconnect from the natural world can cause destruction for our own species. That is, if we lose the sense that we are animals and allow others to go extinct, it is probable that humans will consider themselves infallible to the laws of nature that they are still ultimately bound to. The role of the natural world is to remind humans that they belong to an ecosystem in which each animal is subject to life, death, extinction, overpopulation and much more. However, man’s disconnect from nature fosters the development of a special type of hubris in which nature has been dominated. 

The bully-explained.

A neighborhood child recently had an issue in school with harassing other children. This boy frankly did not understand that being physical or domineering over other children was either uncomfortable for other children or just outright violent. In speaking with his mother, I realized that the boy was raised in the city where he did not have much exposure to the natural world. While most of the neighborhood children grew up going outside and playing in the grass, trees and beach, this boy was only exposed to concrete, buildings and urban settings. Although this situation does not indeed reflect causality, there was a serious correlation between his behavior and extent to which he interacted with nature. For example, while I learned compassion for others through having pets and playing outside with my friends, I learned from his mother that this boy had recently truck a wild animal with his BB gun for the joy of it. In telling me the story, the mother shared that the boy simply did not understand that he was inflicting damage to a living creature. This disconnect epitomizes the way in which McKibben and Roszak described man’s departure from its relationship with nature. Moreover, the implications of such a boy’s behavior reflect a lack of compassion that Hillman deemed as being necessarily developed through sensation of nature. 

Discussion

As we have seen, man’s disconnect from nature has direct implications on the human psyche and the means in which we survive. The role of man was explored in respect to perception. While man deemed itself superior to animals from the early times of history, Darwinian concepts of evolutionary development placed man on an even keel with animals. Despite this, man has lost its general appreciation of the natural world. As humans have adapted to urban living environments, there was been a strong disconnect. The natural world is not a primary living condition and as a result man does not consider itself to be part of the natural ecosystem of the wilderness. 

The role of nature was first shown to have a strong basis in a field of psychology that is difficult to quantify and explain through traditional scientific inquiry. Hillman’s work on imaginal theory reflected how man utilized nature as a means to relieve suffering and experience feelings such as love, beauty and compassion towards the outside world. Without the sensation of experiencing nature, this would not happen. Consequently, relief of suffering was shown to be a major aspect of human interaction that would be hindered through less natural exposure. Mainly, if man is not exposed to the natural life and death processes of the natural world, then there is a general loss of compassion for the reality of living in a fragile world. Moreover, if humans continue such a disconnect from nature, then future generations will be puzzled when reading the works of Thoreau as the concepts will be alien to them.

Finally, we explored the capacity to destroy nature and the way in which this has impacted our outlook on animals and resulted in hubris towards the world. Examples from various scholars has shown that man’s dominance over the environment is unprecedented as we can change almost every facet of it. This means that as generations grow up in urbanized cities, there is a strong sense of hubris towards natural resources, other animals and the value of natural experiences. An anecdote of a young boy seeing a tiger in a magazine reflected the way in which younger generations will not be able to conceptualize and gain value from seeing the natural world that previous ones did. Finally, a personal example of a young city boy who had serious issues with regards to physical confrontations showed that interaction with nature may have been the missing element. Without such an influence to ground his psyche with respect to his place in the animal kingdom, he developed an attitude and possible lifelong value system that is without the consideration of the real world that we live in. 

Works Cited

Abram, David. The Spell of Sensuous. New York: Vintage Books, 1996. Print.

Hillman, James. Thought of the Heart/Soul of the World. Dallas: Spring Publications, 1993. Print.

McKibben, Bill. The End of Nature. New York: Random House, 1989. Print.

Roszak, Theodore. The Voice of the Earth. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992. Print.

Slater, Glen. "Cyborgian Drift." Spring 75: Psyche and Nature, Part I of II. New Orleans: Spring Journal, 2006, pp. 171-195. Print.

Stoupas, Leslie. "Red Feels Like Red!”:  The Aesthetic Body in the Sensual World." Mythological Studies Journal Vol.1 No.1, 2010. 

Whan, Michael. "The Unsayings of Stone in Jung's Psychology." Spring 75: Psyche and Nature, Part I of II. New Orleans: Spring Journal, 2006, pp. 23-41.