Naturally Connected



Have you ever wondered why we are magnetically drawn to water? Why we feel enchanted, or stress relieved when we drive past the ocean, dip our toes in water, or listen to the soothing sound of waves crashing? Many have tried to answer these questions, but an interesting explanation may come from neuroscience.

“I started having questions about the emotional connection we experience with the ocean, and I did not have the necessary training to answer them.  So I thought, ‘why don’t I hold a conference?’” says Dr. William “J” Nichols, a distinguished sea turtle biologist, ocean advocate and Research Associate at the California Academy of Sciences. He has made it his mission to shed new light on the ocean, and its great emotional power.  For the past four years Dr. Nichols has brought together neuroscientists, explorers, water practitioners, and ocean scientists to discuss and explore the intersection between our brain and the ocean.  Some of the research that preceded his findings has been remarkable.


There is something that happens to our brains that makes any water setting appropriate.  Our energy and brain shifts into a relaxed state, also known as the Default Mode Network, which is a perpetual contemplative and relaxed state of mind. Dr. Nichols says it’s easy to achieve this mind state, “all you need to do is show up, observe the water, and it will do the rest for you.” That’s why the ocean view is such a desired facet when purchasing a property, or selecting a hotel room for your vacation.


Now, if you find it hard to believe “showing up” to a body of water gives you the capacity to free your mind, then read on.  Scientists at the University of Queensland, with the help of the Water Memories Swimming Club, challenged water’s capability to shift the brain, of people suffering from dementia, to the Default Mode Network . In order to claim dementia, one must show significant impairment in the following functions: memory, communication, ability to focus, reasoning and judgment, and visual perception.  After the patients were exposed to a significant body of water they were observed and placed through a series of cognitive tests. Undoubtedly, the team of researchers determined there was an overall improved functional capacity.  In addition, there was a direct effect on specific aspects of their  quality of life., “Sleep, appetite, behavioral and psychological symptoms, depression, and their sociability was positively enhanced,” says Christine Neville, Professor of Mental Health at the University of Queensland.


Whether we are swimming in it, or just observing it, water is proven to positively affect our functionality, and it has been for years.  Some say this ancestral bond exists because we used to call the ocean our home.  In 1960, an Oxford professor named Alister Hardy first put the Aquatic Ape theory forward.  He contended that the evolutionary ancestors of modern humans spent a period of time adapting to a semi-aquatic existence.

Hardy suggested that because there are many characteristics that make humans so different from apes, humans must have evolved through a semi-aquatic phase of life.  For starters, our brains are nearly identical to that of cetaceans (dolphins and whales).   More interestingly, is the lack of hair humans have in comparison to apes. The Aquatic Ape Theory points out that the majority of hairless mammals are aquatic, and the only ocean mammals with hair are those that surface from time to time, such as seals.  The most notable similarity between humans and cetaceans is the fatty layer beneath our skin, which cannot be found on any existing ape.

One can argue for, or against each side of this theory, as there are plenty of differences between humans and ocean mammals.  If the Aquatic Ape Theory is proven to be true, it may further explain why we have such a familiarity and sense of peace when we see the ocean – Feelings that most of us share only when we go home.

As more theories emerge and more research is done about humans’ connection to water, there are a few facts that we cannot ignore:

  • We are born in water
  • We are made up of about 60% water
  • The Earth’s surface is 71% water
  • We cannot survive without water 

Article from The Aquatic Issue 2014