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Peter H. Kahn

Peter H. Kahn, Jr., is Professor in the Department of Psychology and Director of the Human Interaction with Nature and Technological Systems Laboratory at the University of Washington. Kahn and Hasbach are coeditors of Ecopsychology: Science, Totems, and the Technological Species (MIT Press, 2012).

Titles by This Author

Adaptation and the Future of Human Life

Our forebears may have had a close connection with the natural world, but increasingly we experience technological nature. Children come of age watching digital nature programs on television. They inhabit virtual lands in digital games. And they play with robotic animals, purchased at big box stores. Until a few years ago, hunters could "telehunt"—shoot and kill animals in Texas from a computer anywhere in the world via a Web interface. Does it matter that much of our experience with nature is mediated and augmented by technology? In Technological Nature, Peter Kahn argues that it does, and shows how it affects our well-being.

Kahn describes his investigations of children's and adults' experiences of cutting-edge technological nature. He and his team installed "technological nature windows" (50-inch plasma screens showing high-definition broadcasts of real-time local nature views) in inside offices on his university campus and assessed the physiological and psychological effects on viewers. He studied children’s and adults' relationships with the robotic dog AIBO (including possible benefits for children with autism). And he studied online "telegardening" (a pastoral alternative to "telehunting").

Kahn's studies show that in terms of human well-being technological nature is better than no nature, but not as good as actual nature. We should develop and use technological nature as a bonus on life, not as its substitute, and re-envision what is beautiful and fulfilling and often wild in essence in our relationship with the natural world.

Titles by This Editor

We often enjoy the benefits of connecting with nearby, domesticated nature—a city park, a backyard garden. But this book makes the provocative case for the necessity of connecting with wild nature—untamed, unmanaged, not encompassed, self-organizing, and unencumbered and unmediated by technological artifice. We can love the wild. We can fear it. We are strengthened and nurtured by it. As a species, we came of age in a natural world far wilder than today’s, and much of the need for wildness still exists within us, body and mind. The Rediscovery of the Wild considers ways to engage with the wild, protect it, and recover it—for our psychological and physical well-being and to flourish as a species.

The contributors offer a range of perspectives on the wild, discussing such topics as the evolutionary underpinnings of our need for the wild; the wild within, including the primal passions of sexuality and aggression; birding as a portal to wildness; children’s fascination with wild animals; wildness and psychological healing; the shifting baseline of what we consider wild; and the true work of conservation.

Science, Totems, and the Technological Species

We need nature for our physical and psychological well-being. Our actions reflect this when we turn to beloved pets for companionship, vacation in spots of natural splendor, or spend hours working in the garden. Yet we are also a technological species and have been since we fashioned tools out of stone. Thus one of this century's central challenges is to embrace our kinship with a more-than-human world—"our totemic self"—and integrate that kinship with our scientific culture and technological selves.

This book takes on that challenge and proposes a reenvisioned ecopsychology. Contributors consider such topics as the innate tendency for people to bond with local place; a meaningful nature language; the epidemiological evidence for the health benefits of nature interaction; the theory and practice of ecotherapy; Gaia theory; ecovillages; the neuroscience of perceiving natural beauty; and sacred geography. Taken together, the essays offer a vision for human flourishing and for a more grounded and realistic environmental psychology.