I was drawn to Florence Williams’ book because I had a gut feeling that we as humans need more nature around us in order to reach our full potential. I was, therefore, looking for some answers on this. I thoroughly enjoyed reading “The Nature Fix” and I found it very informative, but it was not what I had expected it to be.
The book follows the “nature pyramid”, a concept explained in the book, which groups our needed interactions with nature by intensity and level of immersion. Therefore, Florence Williams presents research and programmes ranging from occasional visits to natural places that last up to a few hours, all the way to full immersion for several days or even weeks. The book takes us on a journey through Europe, Asia and the United States, meeting scientists, park rangers, and social workers who take people in nature, looking for positive results mostly in terms of their mental, but also physical, health.
To begin with, I thought the book would give some sort of concrete answers, but it does not. If you start reading the book thinking that nature is good for you, but you’re not sure exactly why, that is also the feeling you will have at the end of the book. If, on the other hand, you start by not being convinced, you probably won’t get any clear arguments that would satisfy the purely logical mind. In this sense, I thought the subtitle of the book was inappropriate, as you cannot tell why exactly nature makes us happier, healthier and more creative. Studies show that it does, but there are only theories as to how and why nature has such effects on us, but no definitive answers.
An aspect that left me rather displeased was the actual research conducted on nature. This, I am ready to admit, is not the author’s fault and, therefore, not exactly a negative point of the book itself. But the human tendency to split hairs so much that you forget you were looking at hairs to begin with is rather counterproductive, if you ask me. What difference does it make if it is the sounds or the sights of nature that make us feel better? What difference does it make if we’ve identified the exact brain waves associated with a nature experience that supposedly make us feel better? What difference does this all make when it is also clear from these studies that only contact with proper nature has the best effect? When it is clear that replicating nature in very landscaped ways is okay, but inferior? When it is clear that virtual reality nature is very far from having similar results as actual nature?
What I did appreciate was that with every crazy experiment trying to trick the human mind into thinking that it is in nature (and mostly failing), Florence Williams has expressed her disagreement. A true nature lover, she does not want to trade the real thing for a beautiful, anywhere-accessible virtual nature. And I think this message needs to be spoken more clearly and more loudly. Investing in better technology for virtual reality will not improve people’s lives, but investing in creating more green spaces, in making it easier for people to have access to them has been proven to significantly and positively affect people. Fewer suicides, less depression, decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, fewer kids with ADHD or at least fewer taking medication for it.
Many programmes have been instituted to help such kids with ADHD, to help veterans with PTSD, to help people suffering from depression and feelings of alienation caused by their high-intensity work and lifestyles. These programmes show that deep immersion in nature helps all of them. So I think this should be the main take of the book: irrespective of what the reason behind us prospering in nature is, we need to draw human living spaces closer to nature. All of us need regular interaction with nature, and I liked the nature pyramid presented at the end of the book, because it shows that we need varying degrees of contact with nature at varying intervals (so not necessarily running off into the woods to live there all alone).
Another important point from the book is that not everyone will benefit from immersion in nature. Some people are put off by some aspect of it (bugs? Probably a big human-repellent), which creates more stress and unease, and some have various types of allergies that make being in nature an actual physical ordeal. But these people too need nature. It is just a matter of finding the right degree.
All in all, I liked “The Nature Fix” and I would recommend it. It is a manifesto to go outside and get in touch with nature again, to experience a lifestyle that is not connected 100 percent of the time, and to reap the benefits. But it is not a book that will tell you exactly how nature works on us, and maybe science shouldn’t even go there. One concept that stood out to me from the book was “awe”. We need awe in order to appreciate nature and experience its positive effects. If everything is explained down to the last brain wave, association, hormone regulation, and who knows what else, would we still experience awe at its fullest?