Let me be blunt: This site is probably not for you. Most people find comfort in boring lives; this site is for the minority genetically disposed for adventure. Most people believe that hard work is a virtue; this site is for those the minority who understand that there’s no such thing as a work horse, let alone a work human. Most people believe that happiness is something bestowed upon us by religion and eternal and ethereal quests; this site is for the minority who understand that science can teach us how to be superhumans with the best lifestyle on earth.
The Paleo Diet Meets Paleo Psychology
Humans evolved to have a few friends, play, eat, work (a little), love, play, and make love (and play). Humans did not evolve to sit in traffic, hang out at the gym, farm, have 2.7 million neighbors, or eat food that’s been pre-chewed by robots from a feeding trough. The modern world prevents us from maximum flourishing, but we can hack the hell out of it to fix that.
The rapidly expanding paleo community is a reflection of, or reaction to, Western/American culture. The bad thing about the paleo movement is the incessant and myopic focus on diet and exercise as if those are the beginning and end of a great lifestyle. There’s already a huge amount of paleo diet info circulating just beneath the surface of popular culture. I’ll inevitably end up repeating some of it. Maybe I’ll have some less obvious insights. But! The rabbit hole goes deeper than diet and excercise. Much deeper.
Evolutionary psychology and biology proved so powerful to me that my entire view of the way the world works was simultaneously destroyed and brought into focus almost completely. The logical frameworks forced me to re-read half of my favorite books in order to understand them in this new light. This was true of everything from Debord to Baudrillard to Ogilvy to Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson,
Bukowski, Kurt Vonnegut, and Plato. It also ingrained in me a new system of analysis when reading things for the first time. I find myself consistently noticing ill-conceived ideas in the context of Pre-Darwin, Pre-Origin of Species, or Pre-Descent of Man. This is understandable for writings that predate Darwin, but much of the thought of the 20th century was practiced with Post-Origin of Species logic, a but Pre-Descent of Man understanding. The amount of great thinking that’s a little bit wrong at its genesis and dramatically wrong at its conclusions because of this error is astounding. It can be seen in the work of Marshall McLuhan, Ayn Rand, and countless others. To be fair, much of the specific development in evolutionary psychology occurred after their writing (or death). However, they missed huge opportunities by missing or failing to grasp the significance of Darwin’s later 1872 work.
The bottom line is this: among the regrettably small percentage (anything less than 100% is regrettable) of people who believe in evolution, do not correctly understand it. And… nobody fully understands it.
“Hey Andrew! What’s the relationship between evolution and diet and money and dating and whatever else you talk about on this site?”
Well aren’t you glad I assume you ask that?
Why you have feces coursing through your veins (and why I’m not joking).
First off, get “survival of the fittest” out of your head. Survival is overrated. Well, I mean, in the big picture. I’m quite fond of it myself. That’s kind of the point actually; we don’t need any reminders that survival is important. The useful principle of Darwinian evolution is not survival, it is adaptation. This site is about the application of the principles of evolutionary adaptation. Evolution demands that, over evolutionary time, species adapt to variables in their respective environments.
Back to the paleo diet. What evolutionary biology tells us about our health is that, over evolutionary time, species will adapt to the food sources (and myriad other conditions) available in their respective environments. An obvious example would be the giraffe. Giraffes have long necks because the food sources in their environment applied adaptive pressure on the evolution of the species. No brainer, eh? What isn’t so obvious is that stomachs, intenstines, and the other bits of digestive and metabolic systems are under the same pressures. Now that humans aren’t typically limited to ingesting items indigenous to our geographic locations, we’re riddled by a choice of eating… well… anything. We are, quite literally, out of our element.
Most of the evolution unique to humans took place in the Paleolithic/Pleistocene era. Therefore, to ascertain an optimal grocery list, a good strategy would be to eat what we ate during this phase of human evolution. Unfortunately, that era ended before the historical record begins. Thus, we must rely on the work of archaeologists and anthropologists for insight into that past, then project it forward. From the other direction, biologists can look at extant structures and systems in humans, then work backwards. The more their research provides cross-discipline corroboration of timeframes in the paleolithic, the more confident we can be that we’re onto something.
Since this is only the ‘About’ page, I’ll touch on the three paleolithic insights that I find most important for our health, then briskly move on without supporting any of it:
- Humans evolved NOT eating grain (grains required domestication and cultivation that didn’t occur until the agricultural revolution, 10K years ago or less)
- Humans evolved in the sun (vitamin D deficiency is a major problem with life in high latitudes and indoors)
- Humans evolved with lifestyles of significant physical activity (20 minutes, 3 days a week ain’t gonna cut it)
Now… deeper into the rabbit hole…
What came first, the objectification of women, or the insecurity of men?
(Evolutionary Psychology: First Order)
Principally, evolutionary psychology is a subset of evolutionary biology. Where evolutionary biology describes the physical adaptations of organisms (including the structure of the brain), evolutionary psychology describes both the adaptive reasons for, and consequences of, our brains’ evolution. To the chagrin of some adherents to other flavors of psychology (and the social sciences generally), all psychology is subject to evolutionary psychology… by definition.
Not coincidentally, we can trace the development of much of modern human psychology to the Paleolithic/Pleistocene for the same reasons as in evolutionary biology. However, the environmental pressures that shaped our evolved psychology are quite different from those that impacted our gastroenterology and metabolic nuances. One of the main differences is the influence of Darwin’s largely unknown concept referred to as “sexual selection”. Darwin himself considered this perhaps more important than natural selection, but for various reasons (mainly political), the idea was largely swept under the rug. After 12 years of research, study, and writing, Darwin unleashed his lengthy book describing sexual selection, The Descent of Man. If natural selection can be referred to as adaptation due to “survival of the fittest”, sexual selection can be described as adaptation resulting from “reproduction of the sexiest”. Survival of the fittest simply happens… if you’re dead, you can’t reproduce. It doesn’t require any thought or proclivity. Sexual selection is the acknowledgement that in a variety of species, individuals have a degree of choice in selecting a mate. The example that’s always offered is that of the peacock. There is no survival benefit to a peacock to have a bulky plume of feathers that are highly visible to potential predators. On some level, brains get involved. The implications of this insight are where things get really interesting. The implications and their applications are the reason for this site.
“Sexual attraction may not have been the only basis of mate choice, but it certainly was an important one. Potential mates necessarily varied in mate value… just as potential food varied in food value and potential habitats varied in habitat value.” -Sexual Nature/Sexual Culture
One of the main influences on human evolution in the paleolithic was group dynamics. Humans typically lived in small groups. In this case, small probably meant dozens or less… and almost always less than 150. Group size and dynamic influenced brain development, the differences between sexes, and many of the difference between humans and other primates… including those existing today. This period also influenced the development of human emotions, cognition, and language.
Insights into our evolved mind are applicable to relationships with friends, family, lovers, and as I discuss next… business.
How blowing your budget on Ferrari is the smartest thing for your business.
(Evolutionary Psychology: Second Order)
I referred to the last section as First Order because the psychology that evolved to increase our reproductive success in the paleo, is often directly transferable to the same situations now. Of course, the scenarios look different, the population is much higher, and the risk profiles have shifted. However, when it comes to business, things are totally different. A layer of abstraction between work and sustenance has been added that requires a higher degree of extrapolation between then and now. We’re forced to deal with complex economic/monetary systems with DIY, hunter-gatherer minds. Much less information about the application of these insights exists than that of personal relationships and health/diet. My marketing/advertising background pulled me down this path. I didn’t really have say in the matter. I invite you dive in with me.
… Now with triple redundancy!
-verb (imperative tense)
1. to change or develop gradually.
2. natural process of adaptive development between states.
3. to “cause to be”, “to make”, “to become”, “be made”.
In other words, “evolve” is my charge to you, “to evolve” is by definition a description of what happens to everything through time, and converting it to “evolvify” amplifies both iterations of the verb imperatively and transformationally.
Uh oh! This post is already at 1600 words and I didn’t answer all the big questions. Well… you can probably figure out how to subscribe by email or RSS up and to the right.