Human Brain Development and Nature
The mountain behind my house seems to talk and when I’m lucky I can feel the motion, the life, of the spirit of the Land. To me this isn’t theoretical or a fantastical idea, and thankfully I’m not the only one who has this experience, so I don’t feel strange or alone with that sense. Feeling connected to this land is a great gift and it furthers my perpetual question: who are we and how do we know who we are? As people, as an individual, as woman, a man, or as a transgendered person? How do we know who we are when we hurt, when we grieve, when we rejoice? I’ve come to thinking that we know what an experience is through an experience’s opposite. We know ourselves through encountering and experiencing others. Here in this world, we would not know or understand sorrow if we didn’t experience joy. If we were always on vacation or had never ‘worked’, would vacation be relaxing? If we have something forever, would we love the way we do knowing that nothing in this life lasts forever?
Perhaps seeing how we are individuals in relation to other people is easy. For example, someone might be loud, you might be quiet, or a friend grew up in Pakistan and you grew up in Inverness. But what about how we can know ourselves as human beings? How do we mature into adult people from our beginnings as infants and children? In Robert Bly’s book The Sibling Society one of the most interesting aspects of brain development is proposed. Bly quotes the Woodsworth, a famous poet/philosopher when he said people get to adulthood to not from childhood, but that children go from childhood to nature to adulthood. This idea is set within the evolutionary concept that the human baby is in a sense born a month early. A chimp one month before birth has some distinctly human traits that disappear through the last month of gestation - that is very interesting! The consequence of this is the human brain must develop its understanding of the world, social instincts and ability to preserve its own life through learning after birth, whereas a chimp or ape is born with the vast majority of these instincts intact. Fascinating stuff.
So humans have the ability through the incredibly curious and plastic neocortex, as Bly describes it, to constantly innovate. However, there’s a catch - we require Nature to do this. Nothing a human can invent will ever be as complex, intricate, magical, and perfect as Nature; by our natures’, and our births’, we are meant to learn from Nature. Walk around in a field that has been left to it’s own devices for a couple years, let your mind settle and you’ll be amazed to witness the complexity of plant, insect and bird life. This is what our children require to be immersed in to develop their brains into adult brains. I think that something profound happens we we see the otherness of Nature, and we can only truly sense who we are as Humans through a relationship with this otherness, just as we can only know sorrow through joy. We come from Nature and so we deeply need it to develop into adults, capable of stewardship of this place for our children’s children. Evolutionary biology has provided some very interesting concepts to understand how much our brains need Nature.