The human sense of spirituality is the feelings of wonderment and awe when coming face-to-face with something far greater and immeasurably more vast than yourself, glimpsing the essence of reality and being overawed by it. In the Buddhist tradition, it is often referred to as satori; Christian charismatics call it the sense of God's presence or the Holy Spirit moving in one's heart; while a devotee of a mystical sect might refer to it as union with the Absolute. Whatever one chooses to call it, though, it is a powerful and profoundly moving experience, one which often has long-lasting effects on a person's view of the world.

Jake Abrahamson, assistant editor of the Sierra magazine, responded to experiencing a thunderstorm in Utah's Green River canyon with a group of teenagers as follows:

"Scientifically speaking, the storm brought me into a state of awe, an emotion that, psychologists are coming to understand, can have profoundly positive effects on people. It happens when people encounter a vast and unexpected stimulus, something that makes them feel small and forces them to revise their mental models of what's possible in the world. In its wake, people act more generously and ethically, think more critically when encountering persuasive stimuli, like arguments or advertisements, and often feel a deeper connection to others and the world in general. Awe prompts people to redirect concern away from the self and toward everything else. And about three-quarters of the time, it's elicited by nature".


We interact with nature by being part of an ecological system either as an observer, recorder or an investigator. Systems biology is the study of the interactions of biological components in a spatial entitiy . The components may be molecules, cells, organisms or populations. The spatial entities may be habitats, organisms or organs. At the core of systems biology is holistic thinking. This is the desire to understand natural systems as a functional whole, rather than a sum of parts. Thus, it is not sufficient to simply recognize the different facets of complexity. Instead, there comes a desire to discover and examine the generally hidden threads that hold everything together and elucidate how these functional links can lead to the emergence of new phenomena and understandings of our place in nature.

Examples that provoke systems thinking about our relationships to other living things in the human ecological niche are important to support lifelong learning. Such educational materials are called bioscopes, a category of teaching materials we owe to John Henslow. Henslow, as professor of botany at Cambridge, was the mentor of Charles Darwin, but from 1844 he also taught the children in the Suffollk village of Hitcham where he was the priest. Bioscopes are living worlds within worlds and the particular educational example of systems biology that Henslow introduced to village schoolchildren was plant-pollinator interactions so that they should obtain a basic understanding of sex. The phenomenon could be readily observed in the local hedgerows, and in the village classroom it was taken down to the level of naming the sexual parts of flowers. Because of the role birds and bees play in plant reproduction, to tell children about "the birds and the bees" has since become a euphemism for sex education in the English language.

Potent bioscopes also reinvigorate the connection between beauty and the environment. Kate Cullity defines this beauty as the all-encompassing somatic and visceral kind, with the power to awaken a re-imagining of new ways to relate to and care for nature of which we are a moving part. All bioscopes have ecological processes of natural selection, regeneration, competition, death and decay and nutrient recycling plumbed into a managerial background. Finally, the deeper and wider messages from bioscopes is that they undermine the foundations of many of our 'confectionary values', which are grounded in the economy of commodities and unlimited economic growth. All these behaviours link us as consumers with ecosystems near and far. In this context, bioscopes show us that humankind is at one with all non-human beings in that we partake of the same pool of Earth's resources.

In summary, bioscopes reveal that all living things are part of a global human ecological niche in which we of necessity take, but should also give. We are but one species in a multitudinous mass of living organisms built on the same dynamic carbon framework. This biochemical oneness with all other creatures is expressed in every breath we draw in. It is also expressed in our mortality when an individual's life course ends in death. Evidence that elders take readily to educational bioscopes comes from the membership lists of nature conservation organisations and surveys of visitors to nature sites. The issue is how to embed learning through bioscopes into the entire life course of everyone so that we manage nature for a greater purpose and pass this message on to future generations. The starting point is that ageing makes our mental picture-making become more holistic to increase the focus on development of hidden or neglected skills which, through delight in life, has potential for cultural change.

Bioscopes are based on mindmaps or educational frameworks showing the main concepts and their relationships. Clothed with information they make stories which illustrate our complex interactions with ecosystems of the vast human ecological niche which provide a range of services from survival kits to pleasing surroundings managed for pleasure.