Re-wilding Paris: Part Three – French philosophy & re-connecting with our elders

This three-part series explores what it means to “re-wild” as I invite nature in from the periphery with respect to Paris terrorism, climate talks and philosophy.

Part 3: Re-wilding French philosophy and re-connecting with our elders

In the third and final part in this series I turn my curiosity to how it’s come to be that our animal instincts are so undervalued and why we’ve come to need to re-wild.

One part of the answer is we have less obvious use for them – originally our instincts evolved to help us hunt for food and protect us from animal predators. In the city we have less need for this. A second part is what I allude to in my second post – that modern life and all its distractions numbs our bodily senses and keeps us from hearing their instinctual wisdom.

But how did we come to create this modern life in the first place? Part of the explanation is in our western world today we tend to value the intelligence of our minds over our other forms of intelligence, namely emotional and instinctual. And a key influencer behind this was the Frenchman, Rene Descartes, known widely as the father of modern western philosophy.

In the early 1600s, while reflecting on how we know we exist (a form of philosophy called epistemology) Descartes concluded famously “Je pense, donc je suis”; “I think therefore I am”.  In truth the experience of our feelings and our senses also help us to know we exist.

A possible reason these weren’t valued at the time is we share these faculties with the rest of the animal kingdom. Given the fashion of the day, which was to distinguish humans from the rest of nature, it was humans’ capacity to think that was considered to justify claims of our superiority over the rest of nature.

In retrospect, what Descartes did was help set us on a path of biasing the younger part of our brain (rational thought) and devaluing what I call the “elders of our brain” (our emotions and instincts).

Our emotions and instincts are housed in the older part of our brain (the limbic system, and the part of humans that Darwin considered to be the “left overs from our animal past”). Rational thinking is housed in the younger more recently evolved part of our brain (the neocortex).

Re-wilding is about re-connecting with the wisdom of our elders. The elders of our brain (where our emotions and instincts reside) as well as the elders of our society (our indigenous cultures who hold valuable earth-based wisdom) and the elders of our species (the plants and animals who preceded us in the planet’s evolutionary journey and with whom we share a majority of our DNA).

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