City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

April 25, 2017

April 20th

Filed under: Long-leaf phlox, Mallard, Poison ivy, Weather — canopus56 @ 7:19 pm

Biophilia – Part II – Nature Liking Studies

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Snotel Snow Pack at Louis Meadows. Source: Natural Resources Conservation Service. (2017).

4:30 p.m. It has rained for most of the morning, and a brief interlude of sunlight breaks the coldness. As I start today’s jog, the Sun is replaced by the cloud shelf of the next approaching rain front. It is raining as I start today’s jog; this turns to hail near mile 0.8; but then the returns to a slow drizzle. Even in this inclimate weather, there are about ten people walking or running through the cold spring rain. The rain and snowmelt has surged to a new highest level accompanied by a deafening roar, but at the Zen Rock which I use to determine stream height, in a small rock protected calm near the shore, a single mallard sleeps while the stream gently rocks it back and forth. The stream lulls the bird to sleep. I would have missed the mallard since it was visible only through a thick of trees, but by turning its head around and resting it on its back, the mallard’s iridescent green neck made an incongruous flash of color against the otherwise grey and brown shoreline. The stream’s loudness may not continue because the mid-level snow pack is spent. The SNOTEL station at Louis Meadows, elevation 6,700 feet, reports that the snow pack is gone, but the Lookout Peak station at 8,200 feet near the canyon’s headwaters record about thirty-two inches water-equivalent snow left on the ground, or perhaps as much as four or five of snow feet once the air-content is included. This higher elevation snow might continue to feed the overwhelming white noise of the stream through most of May.

In the glade above picnic site 3 that holds purple Long-leaf Phlox, late blooming yellow poison ivy flowers have opened. The glade is also punctuated by shafts of dark horsetails, and it is framed above by orange complex inflorescences of a blooming river birch tree and on the sides by the new green leaves of small trees.

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In 1984, Nobel laureate E. O. Wilson proposed another explanation of humans’ attraction for nature by re-purposing Fromm’s biophilia term that may also explain my fascination with nature. Wilson’s biophilia hypothesis stated that modern humans have a genetic predisposition to be attracted to and to be fascinated by nature, and this predisposition is the result of eons of years of natural selection acting on pre-history humans (Wilson 1984, Wilson 1993). Humanoid precursors that paid close attention to nature would have had a higher probability of surviving and of passing their genetic material to latter generations (id). Thus, my attraction to nature and stream noise is driven my genes.

The biophilia theory was subsequently was developed by many evolutionary biologists and in 1993, Wilson, with Stephen Kellert at Yale and Roger Ulrich at Texas A and M published a review of its development (Kellert 1993, Ulrich 1993, Wilson 1993). In that review Ulrich discusses evidence supporting the hypothesis based on studies done by many researchers. Types of studies include biophillic (liking nature and positivistic), biophobic (fear of nature and negativistic), and genetic heritability. The body’s biophilic reactions are more difficult to measure behaviorally and are less susceptible to behavioral conditioning. Thus, biophilic studies provide less definitive evidence for a genetic basis for human attraction to nature. Biophilic studies involve viewing images containing various degrees of natural through urbanized settings. Participants rate their preference for each scene. Several biophilic studies found that across cultures, people express a preference for viewing savannah-like open forests (Ulrich, 90-96). This is interpreted as indirect proof of a genetic preference formed as early man evolved on the African plains. A recent liking study replication reaching similar results is Han (2007).

Hence, I and other moderns are attracted to being in the canyon because our primitive ancestors grew up in such an environment. But liking studies are a weak sign for the genetic liking of nature hypothesis, a point that Ulrich concedes, because it is almost impossible to develop an ethical controlled experiment that tests the theory or that separates cultural conditioning for its genetic component. This indirect proof of a genetic compulsion could just as easily be caused by a purely sociological and psychological reaction where city dweller seek relief from a stressful modern life. Such indirect proofs, although tempting to believe (and I want to believe them), may be what sociobiology’s critics like Stephen J. Gould, called another “just so” story.

A more recent theory that extends and stretches the limits of the biophillia hypothesis is oceanographer Wallace J. Nichols’s Blue Mind Hypothesis (Nichols 2014). The blue mind hypothesis poses that humans are compelled to be close to water because of a genetic predisposition that associates water with survival. And indeed, forty percent of the world’s population does live within 100 kilometers of a coastline. The proof that he offers is mostly of the indirect liking survey type, and simpler alternative explanations exist. For example, more people may live closer to coast lines because the access to a larger economic network that water travel provides makes getting a living easier.

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On April 20th, 2006, Ensign Elementary plans its annual fund raising walk up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune).

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