Feeling our way in ecopsychology

Stevens, Paul (2014). Feeling our way in ecopsychology. Ecopsychology, 6(1) pp. 28–29.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1089/eco.2013.0074

URL: http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/eco.2...


At a recent conference, I was asked about ecopsychology. Specifically: What kind of approach did I take to try and understand the human-nature relationship? I dutifully talked about my research—how fractal geometry related to levels of physiological arousal and place preference, or how emotional states affected perceptions of the restorativeness of nature— talking about innate responses and possible evolutionary reasons for this and relating it all to the practical, therapeutic benefits of being in natural environments. The response was, well yes, but how did that explain the feelings of awe, of reverence, of need? How did I explain the transcendent experiences that many people have in natural settings, sometimes on an everyday basis? And that stopped me. I realized that, rather than explaining ecopsychology, I was rationalizing my being an ecopsychologist, trying to justify my research by just talking about what fits into current perceptions of what science should be. In short, I was ignoring what got me interested in ecopsychology in the first place: the feelings of excitement, of new ways of looking at the world, of different stories that were more meaningful to my own experiences, and that feeling of ‘‘coming home.’’ I was falling into the same pattern of behavior that has so often annoyed me about mainstream psychology: the tendency to dismiss, or explain away as illusory, the difficult questions that undermine the simplicity of standard models. Self—an experience that most of us say we have—is illusory (e.g., Hood, 2012); consciousness, in some ways the driving force behind the creation of psychology, is illusory (Ebert & Wegner, 2011); any anomalous experiences (anomalous only in terms of psychological models, not in terms of how often or how widespread the experience is) are misperceptions or fabrications. I would hate to see ecopsychology go down this route, either purposefully or by default, trying to explain away by reducing, mechanizing, or even worse, dismissing the amazing, life-changing experiences that people (of many species) have.

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