Peter Kahn

  • Professor
    • 206-616-9395
  • Peter Kahn

    • Professor

    Research areas

    B.A., University of California, Berkeley
    M.S., University of California, Berkeley
    Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley

    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.

    Peter Kahn is currently accepting graduate students. 


    • ESRM 200 | Society and Sustainable Environments (5) - Spring
    • ESRM 431 | Ecopsychology (5) - Winter

    Selected publications

    Kahn, P. H., Jr. (2018). Technological nature and human wellbeing. In M. van den Bosh & W. Bird (Eds.), Oxford Textbook of Nature and Public Health (pp. 160-164). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.  Link

    Kahn, P. H., Jr., Weiss, T., & Harrington, K. (2018). Modeling child-nature interaction in a nature preschool: A proof of concept. Frontiers in Psychology9:835.  Link

    Kahn, P. H., Jr., Lev, E. M., Perrins, S. P., Weiss, T., Ehrlich, T., & Feinberg, D. S. (2018). Human-nature interaction patterns: Constituents of a Nature Language for environmental sustainability.Journal of Biourbanism1&2, 17, 41-57.  Link

    Hartig, T., & Kahn, P. H., Jr. (2016). Living in cities, naturally. Science352, 938-940.  Link

    Kahn, P. H., Jr. (2011). Technological nature: Adaptation and the future of human life. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.  Link