Outside New York, a high place where with one glance you take in the houses where eight million human beings live.
— Tomas Tranströmer, Schubertiana
According to a study done by psychologists at Exeter University, humans are hardwired for rural environments.
An MRI scanner revealed that human brains grow confused at the image of cities. Meanwhile, reviewing photos of the countryside calmed down the mind to a meditative state.
Reports researcher Dr. Ian Frampton:
“When looking at urban environments the brain is doing a lot of processing because it doesn’t know what this environment is. The brain doesn’t have an immediate natural response to it, so it has to get busy. Part of the brain that deals with visual complexity lights up: ‘What is this that I’m looking at?’ Even if you have lived in a city all your life, it seems your brain doesn’t quite know what to do with this information and has to do visual processing.”
We all know the city can make us feel like another rat in a cage. The zoo metaphor isn’t off. Said one Exeter professor: “If you don’t get the conditions right in zoos, the animals start behaving in a wacky way.” To quote novelist John Berger, “the zoo is the epitaph to a relationship.”
Urbanization is not natural, so the brain does its best to adapt to infrastructure and chaos. Catalan artist Arnau Alemany depicts the relationship between the metropolis and the fields. City parks provide an important outlet to human nature.
Despite the chaos, cities work. Like our crazy neurons, there seems to some order in the disorder. The brain is plastic, after all.