The Nature Principle

The Nature Principle - by Richard Louv

Published in 2011 by Algonquin Books,The Nature Principle, Richard Louv's follow up book to Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, expands the focus beyond children to our society's needs for nature. He maintains that “reconnection to the natural world is fundamental to human health, well-being, spirit, and survival.”1 Richard sees seven integrated concepts of nature's “restorative and productive powers:”2 finding a natural balance in a high-tech world, improving health through Vitamin N, establishing a hybrid mind, defining communities to include all living things, including natural history as part of human history, utilizing biophilic designs in building communities, and conserving and creating natural habitats for optimum human performance.3 As a summary, he says The Nature Principle is “about the power of living in nature – not with it, but in it.”4

The beginning, according to Richard, is to connect with the natural world through all possible senses, including newly theorized senses such as “mindsight,” spatial awareness, or early warning systems. This awareness is the “optimum state of learning” in which thinking is sharpened, connections are noticed, attention is focused, and creativity is fostered. Richard explores how school gardens, the power of dirt, biological time, and nature's “loose parts” contribute to “full connection” learning versus an “information transfer” education.5

This sensory connection and the often resulting humility are necessary to balancing modern technology intrusion. He maintains that, “The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.”6 Nature is an effective means to reduce stress and restore brain acuity in a modern world of virtual bombardment and distractions. Rather than shut down the electronics, Richard pleads for the development of a “hybrid mind” in which people “live simultaneously in both the digital and the physical world, using computers to maximize our powers to process intellectual data and natural environments to ignite all our senses and accelerate our ability to learn and to feel.”7

Known for coining phrases, such as the “nature-deficit disorder,” Richard now adds “hybrid mind” and “Vitamin N” to that list of new phrases. By expanding the “mind/body” connection to the “mind/body/nature” connection, he introduces the power of Vitamin N – nature – to foster and restore physical, emotional, and societal health. Richard defines nature broadly as, “Human beings exist in nature anywhere they experience meaningful kinship with other species.”8 Such a definition can include the Japanese “forest medicine” retreats or houseplant tending in urban dwellings.

According to Richard, health is more than the absence of pain, “it's also physical, emotional, mental, intellectual, and spiritual fitness – in short, it's about the joy of being alive.”9 This shift to “natural fitness” can be seen in outdoor training that utilizes irregular ground surfaces, extreme sports, nature prescriptions from physicians, healing gardens, park adventure therapies, integrated medicine, and a new look at the national health care system. Noting that being outdoors promotes consistent physical exercise, Richard declares “nature is full of gyms, if we look for them.”10

Correlating research, Richard notes that as little as 5 minutes of outside green time is effective in promoting emotional health.11 Nature therapy is further boosted by proximity to waterscapes, interactions with animals, the beneficial bacteria in dirt, and the conservation of the environment.

Sustainable happiness, Richard maintains is found in a connection with “place,” the communities around us. He cautions against being blind to places and plants, summarizing “We cannot protect something we do not love, we cannot love what we do not know, and we cannot know what we do not see. Or hear. Or sense.”12 Once again Richard expands a known term - “social capital” concerning how well people look out for each other in a community – to become “human/nature social capital” and thus includes nature in this community. Therefore, when nature is preserved, the bond between man and nature is also preserved.

The balance of The Nature Principle involves taking these principles and creating an “everyday Eden.” Using restorative designs, known as biophilic designs, to promote “health, human energy, and beauty,” Richard suggests the main goal is to “erase the wall between the inside and the outside.”13 Some of the possibilities include green roofs, interior gardens, recycled building materials, rainwater collectors, water gardens, and natural pools. His design rules involve using natural systems to enhance human life and to plan for long-term plant growth. Some special concerns involve noise levels, artificial night lights, and how to partner with business in preserving and promoting nature.

In the rural landscape the focus is on preserving nature while in the urban landscape this focus shifts to creating nature. Some ideas that Richard explores are creating “a button park in every neighborhood,” planting trees, establishing community gardens and vertical farms, designing walkable communities, and planning greenways.14 In fact, Richard seeks to shift the current idea of having a botanical garden in every city to the vision of “every city should be in a botanical garden.”15

As to “how to get there from here,” Richard offers the Three Ring Theory: the first ring being traditional community groups, non-profits, schools, nature centers and parks; the second ring being individuals and volunteers; and the third ring being the synergism of associations, families, and individuals that are connected through social networking.16 He sees timely, effective change coming from the “grass-roots” of a committed and connected society. Family nature clubs, health care nature prescriptions, natural teacher networks, and green building designers are examples of the power of this anchoring third ring.

The Nature Principle explores how nature can “expand our senses and reignite a sense of awe and wonder not felt since we were children; it can support better health, enhanced creativity, new careers and business opportunities, and act as a bonding agent for families and communities. Nature can help us feel fully alive.”17

  • 1. Louv, Richard. The Nature Principle. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books, 2011. p. 3.
  • 2. Op.cit., Louv., p. 281.
  • 3. Op.cit., Louv., p. 5.
  • 4. Op.cit., Louv., p. 6.
  • 5. Op.cit., Louv., p. 32.
  • 6. Op.cit., Louv., p. 24.
  • 7. Op.cit., Louv., p. 38.
  • 8. Op.cit., Louv., p. 52.
  • 9. Op.cit., Louv., p. 71.
  • 10. Op.cit., Louv., p. 70.
  • 11. Op.cit., Louv., p. 60.
  • 12. Op.cit., Louv., p. 104.
  • 13. Op.cit., Louv., p. 163.
  • 14. Op.cit., Louv., p. 108.
  • 15. Op.cit., Louv., p. 257.
  • 16. Op.cit., Louv., p. 260.
  • 17. Op.cit., Louv. p. 6.