Sounds True, 2018
Reviewed by Chris Holmes
We know that being in natural surroundings is good for us – though for some it seems to be greeted as a 21st century discovery. ‘The Biophilia Effect’ by Clemens Arvay seeks to explain the science behind our love of nature and in under one hundred and ninety pages he does a masterful job, showing how plants, forests, green spaces, rivers and mountains influence at a deep level our physical, mental and emotional well-being. Well qualified as a biologist to write on the subject, his prose is straightforward and totally accessible, a considerable achievement given that the original was in German (2015) . It is a delight to absorb some of the profound central European ‘Nature’ tradition – sometimes our focus on the English speaking tradition, rich though it is, seems very insular.
The first chapter (of four) shows how plants communicate with and enhance our immune systems. The chemistry is fascinating and the author builds a strong case for spending as much time as possible in the forest – shinrin-roku ( forest bathing) the Japanese call it – which strengthens the case, if it needed it, for protecting and enhancing the diversity of our tree life.
Chapter 2 looks at the way plants and landscapes communicate with our Unconscious and help reduce the stress of modern life, while Chapter 3 considers the therapeutic powers of immersing oneself in wilderness. The final chapter ‘Your Garden, Your Healer’ shows how the garden can be adapted to very specific physical and mental needs including the needs of the elderly. As Clemens writes, Nature teaches us about the circle of life through a garden and it is fitting that the closing pages of the book show the importance of gardens in the dying process and in particular of soundscapes – hearing being the last sense to go.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and my only minor criticism is a lack of discussion as the meaning of the word ‘biophilia’ which is more complex and nuanced than its popular usage might suggest. However, an excellent read.