The Planetary Mind

I am familiar with the word topophilia from my time at Sydney University where I worked with Dr. Terry Purcell, a psychologist specializing in what was then called man/environmment studies. It means ‘love of place’, and was used by the Chinese-American scholar Li-fu Tuan in, Topophilia, Columbia University Press, New York, 1974, a landmark work which sets out to study the affective bond between people and places. For me it opened up a new way of thinking about our relationship with the environment.

It turns out that Li-fu Tuan did not coin the word topophilia. It was used by W.H. Auden in the late 1940's to describe an aspect of John Betjeman’s poetry. Much of Betjeman’s poetry was a valentine to particular places, mostly in England, and it was for this love of place that Auden coined the word. In a piece in the New York Times Magazine, January 31, 2010, titled Is There an Ecological Unconscious? by Daniel B. Smith there are reports of more word coinage to deal with our increased awareness of our relationship with the land.

Solastalgia has apparently gained some traction after being coined in 2004 by Glenn Albrecht to describe the disaffection experienced by those who are displaced from their lands or see their environment destroyed by, for instance, strip-mining.This latter experience he suggests, is a homesickness experienced when one is still at home.The topophiliac is clearly susceptible to solastalgia when his or her environment is damaged. By extension, our minds suffer as our environment is degraded. The article then documents the development of a new field of study and practice: ecopsychology.

But it is Gregory Bateson, (husband to Margaret Mead while she conducted her seminal field work in Bali) who seems most clearly to presage the development of a new consciousness in which there is an interdependence between the human mind and nature based on a deep understanding that they are a part of the same system. Bateson argued, in Steps to an Ecology of the Mind, University of Chicago Press, 2000, that humankind suffers from an 'epistemological fallacy': we believe that our minds and nature operate independently of each other. He argued that nature is a recursive mind-like system with which humans, historically, exchange information. Glenn Albrecht has coined a term for those who seem to exhibit exactly that kind of interconnectedness with their natural surroundings. They are soliphiliacs - those who feel "love..responsibility for a place, bioregion, planet and the unity of interrelated interests within it".

 It seems to me that this behavior is fundamentally human and we don' t need academics who had dictionary pudding for lunch to exceptionalize those who have a natural synchronicity with the wild environment. Nevertheless, words can be useful in opening up a space for new ideas. 'Green' has very little mileage left in it. Soliphilia is a non-starter. 'Eco-consciousness' seems like a reasonable way to describe this integrated world view where the divisions between humankind and nature dissolve into the planetary mind.