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Who isn’t made blissful sitting at the edge of the ocean, feet dug into the sand, staring out at that indefinable line where blue meets blue? I’ll wager that a majority of people on the planet feel that seaside allure. I mean, more than half of the human population actually lives within an easy drive of a coastline.
What is it about the ocean that is so meditative, so curative? Why do we long for it when it’s not nearby? Why does it feel so good when we return to its edge?
Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, a research associate at the California Academy of Sciences and adviser to environmental groups and think tanks, is an accomplished ocean doer. Over the past decade, he’s started a handful of grassroots organizations aimed at protecting species (turtles) and spaces (the wild coast from Oregon to Mexico). He’s also something of an ocean big-thinker.
Here are some of the questions roaming around in his mind: “Why does the ocean really make your brain and body feel so good?” “Ever wonder why ‘ocean view’ is the most valuable phrase in the English language?” And “Why is the ocean so romantic?”
To help answer some of his own questions about the lure of the ocean, Nichols has organized an event he’s dubbed Blue Mind at the CAS on June 2, with the support of Nautica, lumosity.com and Light and Motion. The goal is to explore the link between mind and ocean.
Nichols has gathered neuroscientists, dopamine addiction experts, neurosurgeons, evolutionary psychologists, explorers, futurists and biologists to engage in the conversation. He hopes the day-long, livecast summit will draw some 4,000 to a NightLife Ocean celebration. Check out www.mindandocean.org.
TakePart caught up with the ocean researcher to find out what’s in his head in advance of the gathering … and what he hopes to gain from others.
TakePart: Okay, I’ll bite. Why is “ocean view” the most valuable phrase in the English language? What is it that so connects us to that place where blue meets blue?
Wallace Nichols: We’re going to find out “why” once neuroscientists and ocean folks connect. But consider that a house, apartment, hotel room or bowl of clam chowder can have a 50 percent “ocean view” premium attached. In San Francisco, I know of two identical (down to the doorknobs) penthouse apartments that are differentiated by $500,000…the only difference is that one comes with an “ocean view.” Add up all those premiums, and we’re talking hundreds of billions of dollars. I find it incredibly fascinating (and understandable) that people are willing to open their wallets and bank accounts so readily to “own” a glimpse of ocean.
TakePart: What do a neuroscientist and a deep ocean diver have in common when it comes to a love of the ocean? Do they have similar motivations, a similar worldview?
Wallace Nichols: You can say that both explore the depths of our planet. Both are intellectually and emotionally stimulated by the activity. When we all get together, it will be mind-blowing (pun intended).
TakePart: If someone lives far from a coastline, but loves the ocean … how do you encourage them to stay connected?
Wallace Nichols: The human mind is amazingly powerful. Conjuring up the ocean is one way to visit the ocean. Many great photographers and filmmakers make it easier for us, not to mention a variety of ocean sound apps. Many people stay connected by connecting with each other. There’s even a thriving ocean advocacy community in Colorado that meets each month for Blue Drinks. They plan trips, share information and build camaraderie.
TakePart: We’ve been talking a lot recently about the 100th anniversary of Jacques Cousteau’s birth. What do you think JC would make of the state of the ocean today? He knew how to use “anger” in proper settings … Do you think he’d be angry about the current state of affairs? Or still preaching love?
Wallace Nichols: I think he’d be very upset. No, make that pissed. And he’d be as passionate as ever, as his son and grandkids are. Anger combined with inspiration can motivate us for sure. But it comes back to love…as Jacques always said. One goal of BlueMind is to give scientists permission to talk about love in public.
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