Wednesday, October 5, 2011



One of the great things about collecting and working with rocks, minerals and fossils is that I get out in the open spaces of nature.  For me, most anytime that I get out in the country, a”runners high” is achieved.  Physicians tell me this endorphin rush is related to strenuous exercise, pain, excitement, danger or stress.  In my case, I am convinced that the “rush” is simply related to the excitement of seeing birds and flowers and trees and rocks and whatever else is out there.  All of these external stimuli seem to trigger my pituitary and hypothalamus glands to produce these endorphins, a compound that sort of acts like an opiate to produce a feeling of well-being.

Erich Fromm (1964) used the term biophilia to describe our attraction to all that is alive and vital (animals and plants).  Edward O. Wilson (1984), in his book entitled Biophilia, stated that biophilia describes the connections that humans seek with other life forms, something that is inherent in our internal biology.  In other words, our “humanness” connects us with other living creatures and we have this affinity with nature ingrained in our genes.  Philias (the love of nature) are the opposite of phobias (our fears of nature).  We often use biophobias, think arachnophobia (fear of spiders), ophidiophobia (fear of snakes), or even xenophobia (fear of “foreigners”) to try and scare people, or even eliminate animals and people.  However, biophilias are used to calm and comfort people, think the use of green plants in homes and business or even the use of animals, especially infants, in all sorts of advertisements.  Research findings, especially by Robert Ulrich from Teas A & M University, seem to show that “nature” has a positive and calming effect on hospital patients.  I argue that experiencing, or even seeing “nature”, also has the same calming effect on most everyone.  Biophilias, I believe, can produce the release of endorphins and cause a feeling of well-being. 

In reading Wilson’s book he stated that most children have a bug period, and I never grew out of mine.  This got me to thinking about my childhood and my love of rocks, fossils and minerals and made me think that I had a rock period and never grew out of it.  For me, the endorphins seem to release as I climb among the ledges or simply reach down and pick up that shiny specimen of chalcedony.  I suspect that similar feelings are achieved by faceters and jewelry makers as they inspect their final projects. 

So, these thoughts made me ask “is there a geophilia hypothesis”?  The literature about such is quite scarce but Paul Faulstich in 2004 used the term to define a biologically based tendency to emotionally associate with the landscape and further believes this evolutionary heritage forms the basis for our conservation ethic.  I believe geophilia is much broader than Faulstich’s thought and should include our emotional association with all things geological, not just the landscape.  This would put the term in a context similar to biophilia.  Every morning I “need” to see Pikes Peak so I get that calming effect and that release of body opiates to notify my brain that “all is good” in the world.  I may be ill or in a cranky mood, but the vision of Pikes Peak reminds me that the natural world is still in order and that is a calming effect.
In the opposite spectrum, perhaps a geophobia would include a fear of a beautiful treed landscape with a trout stream running down the middle of the property.  Someone with that fear would likely envision the bustle of a housing sub development!  I don’t know!  I have not run across any specific listed geophobias, except perhaps spelunkaphobia (fear of caves) and acrophobia (fear of heights).

So, what does all this mean for readers?  Perhaps nothing except that this beautiful fall weather allowed me to do some thinking about the big picture of life.  But then again, perhaps it means that rockhounds have some sort of an evolutionary propensity, something built into our genes, that allows us to communicate with, and hear the call of, rocks, minerals and fossils.  I learned long ago that the rocks could really talk; one just had to listen and to understand!

Perhaps we need this relationship and affiliation with living organisms (biophilia) and the land (geophilia) to not only enhance our commitment of living sustainably with the earth, but also to live in a life full of moments of well-being.  I prefer this latter explanation!
The contemplation on this question during the day has lead to a very relaxed state of mind as I dream of flowers, quartz points, mountain peaks, and snakes in the grass.  Life is good.  Enjoy it to the fullest.

I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.  John Muir,

This article was originally printed in the Newsletter of the Rocky Mountain Federation of Mineralogical Societies.  However, the current and fantastic 2011 autumn weather, coupled with a recent camping trip to the Sawatch Mountains, has made me dream about communing with the rocks. 


Faulstich, Paul, 2004, Natural Considerations: The Human Ecology of Place-making:
Fromm, Erich, 1964, The Heart of Man. New York: Harper and Row.
Wilson, Edward O. 1984. Biophilia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.