Behold the Earth is a feature-length documentary that inquires into America's divorce from the outdoors, built on a foundation of American roots music, compelling nature cinematography, and conversations with leading biologists and evangelical Christians. The film is directed by David Conover. Filmmakers' blog is below.
Feeling depleted from too many screens? Immersion in the outdoors restores the prefrontal cortex-mediated executive attentional system. So concludes the first study “…to document systematic changes in higher-level cognitive function associated with immersion in nature.”
The study was done with a group of novice Outward Bound students on a hike. As a former OB Instructor myself, I noticed and then I read, even though I’m not really that well versed in this field, to say the least. To quote from the paper’s abstract (PLOS ONE “Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings“)
“…four days of immersion in nature, and the corresponding disconnection from multi-media and technology, increases performance on a creative, problem-solving task by a full 50% in a group of naive hikers.”
Why? Three thoughts: Simply unplugging accounts for some of this. Carrying a little weight might sharpen one’s focus. Then there is that gentle soft fascination with outdoor experience. There’s just so much more than us and our little gadgets.
To be imprisoned in an artificial world of human-crafted environments is a terrible kind of poverty. These words came from a Pastor, who wondered why we like looking at pictures of things rather than the things themselves. He writes further about his most fervent wish for his grand-children:
“I want you to be aware. I want your faith to include a focus, not just on a world to come, but on the world right now. I want you to go outside, and be mindful of the air, the soil, the birdsong and the insect wing, the water and growing things. I want you to feel intensely a part of all this, not apart from it or over it. I want you to replace worry and anxiety with awareness and mindfulness: with gratitude to God for the gift of Being. I want you to consider that a central aspect of faith is drawn from nature, and determine both to spend time every day appreciating the life within and around you, and considering how your decisions and behavior and relationships have either a life-enhancing, or a spoiling, effect on neighbor and nature. I want you to up your nature quotient, to commit yourself to a recommended daily allowance of nature as an essential spiritual discipline as important as prayer, so that your faith in God includes awareness of and appreciation for, the garden from which you sprang.”
I’m not in a faith community, but nonetheless share most of this wish. Why not focus on where social experience of the outdoors is common ?
We are expanding our inquiry to younger Americans. To flesh out some of the questions we wish to ask, we’re talking with a young and energetic biology teacher at a high school on the Maine Coast. An initial excerpt from this “scouting interview” is below. More to come. Ken Vencile reflects on the students he worked with while teaching “Introductory Biology,” as well as the students he worked with while teaching “AP Biology.”
What was the outdoor experience of the first students he taught (Intro Bio) and what was the outdoor experience of the second group of students he taught (AP Biology) ??
Looking forward to a visit to Chesapeake Bay to give a talk at the Garfield Ctr for the Arts on October 27 @ 5pm about this film ! Tim Eriksen is then giving a concert later that night @ 8pm. The Sultana community, as well as the folks from the Center for Environment and Society, sound like a great group. Please come if you are in the neighborhood.
The Center for Environment & Society is a co-sponsor. They are doing related work, in fact, a whole academic department focused on the American connection to the outdoors.