AskDefine | Define wildness

The Collaborative Dictionary

Wildness \Wild"ness\, n. The quality or state of being wild; an uncultivated or untamed state; disposition to rove or go unrestrained; rudeness; savageness; irregularity; distraction. [1913 Webster]

Word Net



1 a feeling of extreme emotional intensity; "the wildness of his anger" [syn: abandon]
2 the property of being wild or turbulent; "the storm's violence" [syn: ferocity, fierceness, furiousness, fury, vehemence, violence]
3 a state of nature [ant: tameness]



  1. the quality of being wild or untamed


See also: Wilderness
Wildness is literally the quality of being wild or untamed, but further to this, it has been defined as a quality produced in nature (Thoreau 1906), as that which emerges from a forest (Micoud 1993), and as a level of achievement in nature (Cookson 2004). It differs from wilderness, which is a place where wildness occurs. The mechanisms involved in producing wildness have not been elucidated.

Human perceptions of wildness

Wildness is often mentioned in the writings of naturalists, such as John Muir and David Brower, where it is admired for its freshness and otherness. Henry David Thoreau wrote the famous phrase, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” Some artists and photographers such as Eliot Porter explore wildness in the themes of their works. The benefits of reconnecting with nature by seeing the achievements of wildness is an area being investigated by ecopsychology.
Attempts to identify the characteristics of wildness are varied. One consideration sees wildness as that part of nature which is not controllable by humans. Nature retains a measure of autonomy, or wildness, apart from human constructions (Evanoff, 2005). Another version of this theme is that wildness produces things that are natural, while humans produce things that are artificial (man-made). Ambiguities about the distinction between the natural and the artificial animate much of art, literature and philosophy. There is the perception that naturally produced items have a greater elegance over artificial things. Modern zoos seek to improve the health and vigour of animals by simulating natural settings, in a move away from stark man-made structures.
Another view of wildness is that it is a social construct (Callicott 1994), and that humans cannot be considered ‘unnatural’. As wildness is claimed to be a quality that builds from animals and ecosystems, it often fails to be considered within reductionist theories for nature.

Wildness in animals

The importance of maintaining wildness in animals is recognized in the management of Wilderness areas. Feeding wild animals in national parks for example, is usually discouraged because the animals may lose the skills they need to fend for themselves. Human interventions may also upset continued natural selection pressures upon the population, producing a version of domestication within wildlife (Peterson et al. 2005).
Tameness implies a reduction in wildness, where animals become more easily handled by humans. Some animals are easier to tame than others, and are amenable to domestication.

Rating scales for mouse wildness

In a clinical setting wildness has been used as a scale to rate the ease with which various strains of laboratory mice can be captured and handled (Wahlsten et al. 2003): In this sense "wildness" may be interpreted as "tendency to respond with anxiety to handling". That there is no necessary connection between this factor and the state of wildness per se, given that some animals in the wild may be handled with little or no cause of anxiety. However, this factor does clearly indicate an animal's resistance to being handled.

Degrees of domestication

''Main article: Domestication
A classification system can be set out showing the spectrum from wild to domesticated animal states:
  • Wild: These species experience their full life cycles without deliberate human intervention.
  • Raised at zoos or botanical gardens (captive): These species are nurtured and sometimes bred under human control, but remain as a group essentially indistinguishable in appearance or behaviour from their wild counterparts. (Zoos and botanical gardens sometimes exhibit domesticated or feral animals and plants such as camels, mustangs, and some orchids.)
  • Raised commercially (captive or semidomesticated): These species are ranched or farmed in large numbers for food, commodities, or the pet trade, but as a group they are not substantially altered in appearance or behavior. Examples include the elephant, ostrich, deer, alligator, cricket, pearl oyster, and ball python. (These species are sometimes referred to as partially domesticated.)
  • Domesticated: These species or varieties are bred and raised under human control for many generations and are substantially altered as a group in appearance or behaviour. Examples include the Canary, Pigeons, the Budgerigar, the peach-faced Lovebird, dogs, cats, sheep, cattle, chickens, llamas, guinea pigs and laboratory mice.
This classification system does not account for several complicating factors: genetically modified organisms, feral populations, and hybridization. Many species that are farmed or ranched are now being genetically modified. This creates a unique category because it alters the organisms as a group but in ways unlike traditional domestication. Feral organisms are members of a population that was once raised under human control, but is now living and multiplying outside of human control. Examples include mustangs. Hybrids can be wild, domesticated, or both: a liger is a hybrid of two wild animals, a mule is a hybrid of two domesticated animals, and a beefalo is a cross between a wild and a domestic animal.

Wildness in Human Psychology

''Main article: Ecopsychology
The basic idea of ecopsychology is that while the human mind is shaped by the modern social world, it can be readily inspired and comforted by the wider natural world, because that is the arena in which it originally evolved. Mental health or unhealth cannot be understood in the narrow context of only intrapsychic phenomena or social relations. One also has to include the relationship of humans to other species and ecosystems. These relations have a deep evolutionary history; reach a natural affinity within the structure of their brains and they have deep psychic significance in the present time, in spite of urbanization. Humans are dependent on healthy nature not only for their physical sustenance, but for mental health, too. The destruction of ecosystems means that something in humans also dies.

Wildness in Political Philosophy

Main article: State of nature
The concept of a state of nature was first posited by the 17th century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan. Hobbes described the concept in the Latin phrase bellum omnium contra omnes'', meaning "the war of all against all." In this state any person has a natural right to do anything to preserve their own liberty or safety. Famously, he believed that such a condition would lead to a "war of every man against every man" and make life "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."
Hobbes's view was challenged in the eighteenth century by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who claimed that Hobbes was taking socialized persons and simply imagining them living outside of the society they were raised in. He affirmed instead that people were born neither good nor bad; men knew neither vice nor virtue since they had almost no dealings with each other. Their bad habits are the products of civilization specifically social hierarchies, property, and markets. Another criticism put forth by Karl Marx is his concept of species-being, or the unique potential of humans for dynamic, creative, and cooperative relations between each other. For Marx and others in his line of critical theory, alienated and abstracted social relations prevent the fulfillment of this potential (see anomie).
David Hume's view brings together and challenges the theories of Rousseau and Hobbes. He posits that in the natural state we are born wicked and evil because of, for instance, the cry of the baby that demands attention. Like Rousseau, he believes that society shapes us, but that we are born evil and it is up to society to shape us into who we become.
See also:

External sources

Callicott, J.B. (2004). A critique of and an alternative to the wilderness idea. Wild Earth 4: 54-59. Cookson, L.J. (2004) Wildness, the forgotten partner of evolution Gatherings, J. Internat. Community for Ecopsychology. Evanoff, R.J. (2005). Reconciling realism and constructivism in environmental ethics. Environmental Values 14: 61-81. Micoud, A. (1993). Vers un Nouvel Animal Sauvage: Le Sauvage ‘Naturalisé Vivant’. Natures Sciences Société 1: 202-210. Peterson, M.N., Lopez, R.R., Laurent, E.J., Frank, P.A., Silvy, N.J. and Liu, J. (2005). Wildlife loss through domestication: the case of endangered key deer. Conservation Biology 19: 939-944. Thoreau, H. (1906). Walking. In The Works of Henry Thoreau, Walden Edition Wahlsten, D., Metten, P. and Crabbe, J.C. (2003). A rating scale for wildness and ease of handling laboratory mice: results for 21 inbred strains tested in two laboratories. Genes, Brain and Behavior 2: 71-79.
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