Question

Empathy – A Measure of Connectedness

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In the article the term connectedness is defined as the extent to which an individual views him or herself as a part of nature, rather than separate from nature. My experience with zoos and aquariums is anecdotal. Based on a data set of one, I agree that zoos and aquariums increase my concern for and prioritization of nature. However, I feel that it is empathy for the animals and plants that increases my concern and prioritization, not viewing myself as part of nature. I do admit that increased empathy could be a measure of connectedness to nature. If this is the case, then zoos do increase my connectedness. 

It feels true that personal (in addition to direct experiences) experiences at zoos and aquariums create a lasting connection between humans and nature compared to technology mediated experiences. My most memorable experiences at zoos and aquariums are the personal experiences, watching the otters play and be fed at the Monterey Bay Aquarium; and walking under a large aquarium watching fish and sharks swim overhead and through a rainforest exhibit at the CA Academy of Sciences. I remember the sense of awe and wonder from these experiences. Whereas, I don’t remember any of the technology mediated exhibits as they didn’t evoke emotion. 

In addition to personal experiences, zoos should be structured such that visitors don’t view themselves as dominate over nature or animals like going to a circus or manicured garden. When I walked under the large aquarium, I felt a sense of awe, wonder and a bit of fear. I was walking underneath 100,000 gallons of water, natural habitat and a variety of fish. This is very different than a county fair and an elephant ride. The elephant is for amusement and is dressed accordingly. The fair showcases domestic animals in non-natural environments. The awe and wonder of novelty increases and that of nature is diminished. The experience is more dominion over and not preservation of nature. Though the animals do evoke empathy. 

I hypothesize that invoking positive emotion is an effective means of increasing concern and prioritization nature. Based on the Article and my experience, living things are better than computers at invoking emotions in humans. As such, zoos and aquariums when structured appropriately increase concern and prioritization of nature through fostering empathy for the plants and animals. The question remains whether empathy is a measure of connectedness. 

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