People have always interacted with organic landscapes. These environments were filled with complex shapes, existing in a multitude of colors, formed into intricate patterns and interwoven layers. Our minds have needed to make sense of this, and there is little doubt we have an incredible ability to decipher this complexity. In fact, these settings have undoubtedly played a role in shaping our cognitive ability. That is, until now. Domesticated humans spend a great deal of time indoors and within urban settings. Humans construct objects in simplistic terms, using un-complex shapes, such as rectangles, circles, and triangles (or their three-dimensional equivalents: boxes, spheres, and pyramids). The rooms in our homes are not built on multifaceted layering. They do not challenge the mind to perceive the individual elements of a composite landscape. These settings stall cognitive development in children. They make contemporary humans less aware and less intelligent.
Perhaps you feel that is a bold statement that our very homes (or, more accurately, the fact we spend inordinate amounts of time in them) are contributing to a decline in cognition. If you disagree, you should be aware that peer-reviewed research has demonstrated that exposure to nature improves cognitive function in people, including advancing creativity and problem-solving, bolstering cooperation, building observation and awareness skills, contributing to more diverse play with less bullying, and improving concentration power while decreasing stress. Studies have demonstrated that children who have abundant access to nature, all things being equal, will have superior cognitive abilities to those who don’t.
But do we really need studies to convince us of this? Do we actually believe that a child who stares at a small screen (which only interacts with one or two of our senses) and is led through a series of images will have greater awareness and problem-solving than a child that spends a great deal of time in highly complex environments (i.e., natural places). These settings require children to create sense of it all, using all of their senses, interpreting irregular shapes, merging colors, and changing textures. Not to mention, those children playing in wild areas have their senses unrestricted—they can view, listen, and smell as far as they are able. Computer, tablet, and smart phone screens do the exact opposite; they stifle awareness and restrict the use of the senses.
Children today spend so much time inside, using technology that suppresses perception and creativity. This occurs, in part, because the parents are more comfortable and would prefer to be inside. The many years of domestication have created a living being that enjoys a thermostat-controlled environment. However, parents might be more willing to “endure” the outside environment if they realized that wild and untended areas offer great benefits for their children’s developing central nervous system, including easing attention deficit and hyper-activity disorder symptoms. We are meant to be wild beings that interact with complex landscapes, not captives in a human zoo that displays primarily simple geometric patterns. These indoor settings do not challenge the cerebral power of our brain in the same way. With very few exceptions, when we shift from the lifeways that have existed for thousands of years, we incur costs to our health and ability to perceive. Not only do we lose out on a power of observation that we should possess, but our wild (i.e., complex) landscapes also lose out, because our muted senses can no longer perceive how valuable these places are to our physical, emotional, and spiritual being. Rewilding offers a path to building exposure and connection to nature, which comes with associated benefits. Nature connection can be accomplished in many settings (i.e., it doesn’t require deep wilderness). Playing and exploring in open spaces are not optional activities. They are crucial pieces to the full maturation of the human individual, a person that has the ability to recognize their place on this planet and truly understand how important healthy ecosystems are to their existence.