When it comes to understanding anything human, I often do a quick check-in with an evolutionary perspective. And the same obviously goes for understanding the behavior of any species.
My wife and I are stewards of beautiful land in the Andes mountains.
Why do we see it as so beautiful? Why do we feel so connected with it?
We fell in love with it within seconds of our first visit. And it feels as if the land chose us as much as we chose it.
OUR ANCESTRAL HOME
One answer, which came up in my environmental psychology classes at the University of Utah, is that humanity comes from the Great Rift Valley in Africa so we are naturally drawn to that type of landscape. It’s our ancestral home. We love open landscapes with trees and shade. It’s the environment we co-evolved with.
Our pre-human ancestors likely lived for innumerable generations in that landscape, and our first human-like ancestors lived there before they started migrating out to the rest of the world.
In this case, there is a clear similarity between this land and the landscape of the Great Rift Valley. (Not surprising since both are close to the equator and about the same elevation.)
Many if not most of the ancestors in me feel at home there.
There is also a much deeper and general reason for our love – and sometimes fear – of nature.
We are nature. So we love, and sometimes fear, nature.
The universe is a seamless whole. It’s a holarchy, a whole with wholes within it.
It’s also an evolving system, expressed through and as – among everything else in the universe – our living and evolving planet and us as a species and individuals.
As Carl Sagan said, we are the universe bringing itself into consciousness. We are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe.
When we look into the universe, we are looking back at ourselves. When we experience nature, we are experiencing ourselves.
We co-evolved with all of it.
We find nature beautiful because we recognize ourselves in and as it, whether we are conscious of it or not.
THE LANDSCAPES WE ARE ATTRACTED TO
At a more conventional level, there are other reasons why we tend to find nature beautiful, and why we are especially drawn to certain landscapes.
Our ancestors lived with, from, and as nature, so it makes sense to be attracted to nature. It helped them survive. (Neutrality or aversion would not be so productive.)
It makes sense that we tend to be attracted to open landscapes. Having a view helped our ancestors to survive. They could see prey, friends, and enemies from far away and prepare accordingly.
It makes sense we tend to be attracted to green landscapes. For our ancestors, it made sense to be drawn to green landscapes since it means vegetation, and vegetation means shade, protection, and food.
It makes sense we tend to be attracted to moderate climates, for obvious reasons.
It makes sense that we are attracted to running water since it means fresh water for drinking, bathing, and cooking food.
Many love sitting by a bonfire or a fireplace, or even just a candle. For our ancestors, these types of smaller and controlled fires meant food, warmth, protection, and community.
The ones who were drawn to these features of nature were more likely to survive and they passed these inclinations on to their descendants, including us.
And it makes equal sense we are afraid of or slightly repulsed by certain things in nature. Most of us have some fear of heights, and this fear has helped our ancestors avoid dangerous situations. We tend to have some fear of snakes and some insects for the same reason. We avoid places that smell musty, moldy, or rotten.
Our ancestors who experienced some fear or repulsion to these things were more likely to survive, have children, and pass these tendencies on to us.
CULTURE AND ANYTHING HUMAN
Human culture and anything human – all our experiences, thoughts, and feelings – are obviously part of the seamless whole of existence. It’s all the evolution of the universe and this living planet expressing itself in these ways, through and as us and our experiences.
We obviously find a lot in humans and culture beautiful. But not always. Why is that?
Again, an evolutionary perspective can give us answers. If we see an open and infested wound, it makes sense to experience some repulsion since it can help us not get infected. If we meet someone who is chronically caught up in anger, blame, or similar, feeling less attracted to it can help us to avoid problems. If we see a building or village in disrepair, it may be best to find another place to go. And so on. (This is obviously a very simplified outline.)
On a more immediate level, what we find beautiful and not has to do with how we relate to our thoughts about it. If we believe our thoughts about something or someone, it will often create attraction or aversion.
HOLDING IT LIGHTLY
As usual, it makes sense to hold all of this lightly.
An evolutionary perspective on psychology and behavior helps us arrive at educated guesses at most. It’s not something we can verify once and for all.
Personally, I often use it to find more understanding and empathy for myself and others. I find a plausible explanation in an evolutionary context, and that helps me see that our experiences and behavior are not as personal as they first may seem. It all comes from somewhere else.
Note: The photo above is from our land in the Chicamocha Canyon.
I often check in with an evolutionary perspective to see how it may shed light on anything human.
My wife and I bought beautiful land in the Andes mountains, and I am wondering why I feel such a connection with it.
On the one hand, it was as if that particular piece of land picked us. The spirit of the land is strong and noticeable, and it feels connected with us somehow.
And the area in general looks a lot like the “cradle of humanity” – the Great Rift Valley – where our prehuman ancestors lived and we decide the first humans were born. In many ways, we are designed through evolution to feel at home in that type of land. We are designed to love nature in general, and especially that particular landscape.
The photo above is from the land, which does look a lot like the Great Rift Valley.
One answer, which came up in my environmental psychology classes at university, is that humanity comes from the Great Rift Valley in Africa so we are naturally drawn to that type of landscape. It’s our ancestral home. We love mostly open landscapes with trees and shade. It’s the environment we co-evolved with. And that’s not wrong. Especially, in this case, there is an obvious similarity between this land and the landscape of the Great Rift Valley.
So what about human culture and anything human? Is that left out of this picture? Why don’t we always find what’s human-made so attractive?