The evolution of reality: Psychology professor explains how each generations’ perception of their environment changes the definition of “the natural world”
11/26/2017 // Rita Winters // Views

Each and every person defines nature in his own way. For some, nature may be a city park. Others consider nature simply as a flower pushing through the pavement. No matter how urbanized or polluted a city may be, some people would consider a single tree in the midst of skyscrapers to be “nature”. This is not the case however, according to psychology professor Peter Kahn, from the University of Washington.

Every generation will have its own perspective or understanding of what the norm for nature is, despite the surrounding pollution and concrete (infrastructural development). A child who grows up in the middle of New York city would consider Central Park as “nature”. However, parks are developed and managed by human beings, which is not the actual definition of nature. Real nature can be defined by one word, “wild”. The older generation might get it right, since to most of them, nature can be described as untamed mountains and undeveloped beaches.

Other cultures even have their own terms for nature, or mother earth. The Aztecs call this Tonantzin, the Incas Pachamama, the Chinese Hou Tu, and the Greeks Gaia. Despite all its names, nature is known globally as an uncontrollable force, something that literally “naturally” happens. That being said, Kahn describes younger generations' distorted understanding of nature as “environmental generational amnesia”.

Urban dwellers, especially the younger people, define nature depending on what they grew up in. This poses a problem because pollution and the concrete jungle of cities are detriments to real nature. What people think is normal does not make it a fact. To be able to understand what nature really is, people have to be exposed to it and learn how to interact with it.


Nature is slowly retrogressing due to the rise of concrete jungles instead of natural ones. People try to create nature within cities by planting trees, developing parks, and incorporating it in interior design in the form of potted plants. It does not, however, provide the same type of rejuvenation and reflection a walk through a woody forest provides. Children today do not understand the benefits of a natural world, and instead, consider high-rises and pavements the norm. Schools may be teaching children not to pollute, not to throw trash in rivers, but do not teach them “why”. Having children spend time in nature, and feel the calming benefits of it, will encourage them to do more for the natural environment instead of not polluting out of rote memory.

It isn't easy, however, since real nature is not easily accessed. It takes time and money to travel to a remote, undeveloped location, and not everybody has that convenience. Nonetheless, experiencing and interacting with nature is crucial to a person's overall well-being. Individuals who get to spend time with big nature have healthier lifestyles, in general. Big nature provides the mental rest and physical relaxation from the frenzied city life. Currently, most of the population have sedentary lifestyles: Sitting in front of the computer for hours, lying down when bored, and having food delivered instead of heading to the kitchen. Exposing oneself to nature counteracts the effects of inactivity, and again, establishes good health.

People have to learn to appreciate the natural world in order to reap its benefits. Children have to start understanding that food should come from plants, and we in turn, have to take care of the plants that provide us our sustenance. Most of us spend too much time worrying about our daily lives, especially where to get money for food. But we all have to understand that everything we ever need to survive comes from nature, which is obviously free.

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