Peter Kahn

Peter Kahn

Ecopsychology; Human Dimensions of Interacting with Nature and Technological Systems; Interaction Pattern Design for Urban Sustainability

College of the Environment profile


Office: Anderson 123F
Email: pkahn@uw.edu

Graduate Interest Group(s): SOCIAL SCIENCES

Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley, 1988
MS University of California, Berkeley, 1984
BA University of California, Berkeley , 1981

Research Areas
Two world trends are powerfully reshaping human existence:

1. The degradation if not destruction of large parts of the natural world, and
2. Unprecedented technological development, both in terms of its computational sophistication and pervasiveness.

Humans will adapt to such changes. In response, some people say: "Don’t worry, adaptation is how we evolved, and adaption is good for us; we’ll be fine." But adaptation is not always good for a species. An African elephant can "adapt" and live "sustainably" in zoo confines the size of a parking lot, but that doesn`t mean the elephant is flourishing given its evolutionary capacity. We could all adapt to living in San Quentin Prison, but that doesn`t mean we would do well. Against this backdrop, I am pursuing the following questions:

• Is it the case that frequent interactions with nature help people physically and psychologically? If so, then these empirical findings provide powerful support for a conservation agenda, for we can’t interact with that which no longer exists.
• How can interactions with nature be characterized? This agenda sets into motion what I call interaction pattern design for urban sustainability.
• Do we need interaction not just with domestic nature but more wild nature – that which is often big, untamed, unmanaged, self-organizing, and unencumbered by human artifice? I think the answer is yes. We need to rediscover the wild.
• What are the psychological effects of interacting with “Technological Nature” – technologies that mediate, augment, or simulate nature (e.g., robot pets, real-time digital windows of nature, and tele-operated gardening)?
• How can technological systems be designed to enhance the world and human flourishing?

I aim for rigor in scientific research. Depth in apprehension of the problems. Solutions that build on the authenticity of human experience. And far-ranging visions of the future.
Courses Taught:Quarter offered:
ESRM 200 Society and Sustainable Environments (5)Spring
ESRM 431 Ecopsychology (5)Winter
Recent Publications:
Kahn, P. H., Jr., & Hasbach, P. H. 2013. (Eds.). The rediscovery of the wild. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Kahn, P. H., Jr., & Hasbach, P. H. 2012. (Eds.). Ecopsychology: Science, totems, and the technological species. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Kahn, P. H., Jr. 2011. Technological nature: Adaptation and the future of human life. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Kahn, P. H., Jr., Severson, R. L., & Ruckert, J. H. 2009. The human relation with nature and technological nature. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18, 37-42.
Kahn, P. H., Jr., Friedman, B., Gill, B., Hagman, J., Severson, R. L., Freier, N. G., Feldman, E. N., Carrère, S., & Stolyar, A. 2008. A plasma display window? – The shifting baseline problem in a technologically-mediated natural world. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 28, 192-199.