The Block Island Times

A scientific summit tries to answer a poetic question: Why does the ocean make us relax?

BLUEMIND Summit comes to Block Island next week
By Lars Trodson | May 24, 2013

Anyone who has experienced a moment of stress knows that a walk along the beach is a quick way to ease the tension. Water, for some reason, has the ability to calm us down.

But why is that? And what will happen if this enormous and beneficial natural resource is in turn irreparably harmed? If we knew more about the connection between the human mind and the bodies of water around us, argues Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, we might be more protective of them.

Those fundamental questions are the reasons why Nichols founded the BLUEMIND Summit in 2010. The third annual incarnation of this annual event arrives on Block Island on May 30 to continue its expanding conversation about the intersections between human neuroscience, psychology and the waters of our planet.

“The project can be traced back to college when I was thinking about the human brain, neuroscience, and not finding a lot of traction with my professors,” Nichols told The Block Island Times. “Then I began connecting the dots between aquatic ecosystems and the human brain.”

Nichols has a theory that he calls “cognitive benefits and cognitive services.” He explains: “When you say ‘I’m feeling relaxed’ — whether your looking at a bathtub, hottub, creek or pool — you’re perceiving a shift in your neurophysiology — changes. Why does that happen?”

The discussions during the BLUEMIND Summit will explore that question. “If we learn how or why that happens, we may be better stewards of our aquatic planet,” Nichols said.

The summit brings together a wide variety of professionals, including cognitive scientists and water-related practitioners (including musicians and artists) to create dialogue.

An essential corollary to the connection between bodies of water and the human brain, Nichols said, is the ability to keep our water supply healthy.

“Some coastal environments can stress you out, if there are ships, if there’s an oil slick washing up on the beach,” he said. “You lose the cognitive benefits when you lose biodiversity.”

Nichols recalled the British Petroleum disaster in the Gulf of Mexico a couple of years ago.

“If you added all the stress up that was caused from that, and then put a [monetary] cost on it, it would be enormous,” said Nichols.

The group chose Block Island as the site of this year’s summit for a variety of reasons. “Block Island has cared for its home quite well, which is one of the reasons why we wanted to do it there,” he said.

And after a day of conversation, Nichols said, the participants can all go off to the ocean and relax.

Attendance is by invitation due to the limited size of the venue. For more information, please visit:

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