Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Daring the Sea: Exploring Aesthetic Experiences in Prolonged, Extreme Natural Environments which Reconnect Individuals to the Ecosystem
by Way, Cynthia J., Ed.D., The George Washington University, 2020, 253; 27672288
Abstract (Summary)

Humans have an innate emotional connection to the natural environment, called biophilia (Wilson, 1984), which comes from our genetics and cultural adaptations (Kahn, 1999). However, humans have become less and less connected to the natural environment, leading to the desecration of the ecosystem—the very system crucial for human survival. The problem is that the more individuals leave the ecosystem out of their thinking and daily lives, the less they understand and interact with it. The purpose of this basic qualitative study was to explore the role of aesthetic experiences in the development of ecoconsciousness among 12 of people who have had intensive, prolonged experiences in extreme natural environments. The research question was as follows: What is the nature of aesthetic experiences in prolonged, extreme natural environments? The supporting questions were as follows: What particular events or sequence of events trigger an aesthetic experience? What do people report as learned from these experiences? What implications does this learning have on their worldview and lifestyle? Do their worldview and behaviors reflect ecoconsciousness?

This study found that an aesthetic experience is a recursive learning process that helped the participants develop a deep awareness of and experience a keen sensory connection to the environment and entire ecosystem. While ecoconsciousness refers to a deep abstract understanding of this connectedness, biophilia is a tangible, sensory experience and feeling of connectedness. It was also found that the process by which the participants learned their ecoconsciousness and experienced their biophilia was similar to that outlined in Bateson’s (1972) levels of learning, which is a framework for how learning occurs in a multi-layered system wherein each level incorporates elements from the previous level into a progression of thinking and understanding. Individuals in the study journeyed through each of Bateson’s learning levels, in which the aesthetic stimuli they encountered caused a disruption to their habits and ways of operating in the world. This sparked an emotional response stimulating a reflective learning cycle of introspection, sensemaking, and finally, the readjustment of their habits. It is concluded that this learning cycle, when directed at understanding the connection between the self and the environment, is ecoconsciousness. After returning to society from their prolonged experience in nature, the participants continued in this learning cycle, or ecoconsciousness, in order to recover and sustain their biophilic feelings and connections. With this research, strategies to promote reconnecting humans to nature can be developed by educators, as it provides empirical evidence relating to understanding how aesthetic experiences contribute to individuals reconnecting to their biophilia and living in an ecoconscious way.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Scully-Russ, Ellen
Commitee: Swayze, Susan, Allen, Kathleen E.
School: The George Washington University
Department: Human & Organizational Learning
School Location: United States -- District of Columbia
Source: DAI-A 81/7(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Adult education, Sustainability, Aesthetics
Keywords: Aesthetic education, Aesthetic experience, Aesthetics, Biophilia, Ecoconsciousness, Sustainability
Publication Number: 27672288
ISBN: 9781392580196
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