11

votes

The psyche of the paleo and modern humans

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created September 12, 2010 at 12:39 AM

I've been reading Spencer Wells's "Pandora's Seed", and it got me thinking. He mentioned that real hunter-gatherers would not engage in a stressful problem, but rather would avoid it, leave it, move on in order to save crucial resources (and stress is draining).

When I want to follow a similar technique, my therapist would tell me that I avoid the problem, that I have to face it... people with even more serious issues in that field will be told to have "avoidant personality disorder". When we think about what paleo human society looked like, suddenly social anxieties, shyness, troubles with interacting with strangers, remembering new names etc., seem really "normal" and "healthy", not something that should be changed with therapy or pharmaceuticals.

Very often our modern SAD diet is linked to depression, anxiety, autism and many other mental disorders. S.Wells predicts (based on WHO I think)that soon it's the mental illnesses that will take over chronic diseases, which took over infectious and contagious ones...

He also mentions something that really struck me - that schizophrenia might be just one too much "creativity" gene. It might also be that people with manic disorders, bipolar were the ones who caused their people to suddenly jump ahead with genius discovery of a new tool, new way of hunting, new way of communicating. Soon these people were considered shamans, special persons with special connections to the outer world. Which would also mean, the the genetic load that might cause (esp. if the material is doubled from both parents) mental disorder, was also very beneficial to the ancient communities. Similarly to physical disorders which can be potentially dangerous (sickle-cell anemia) but also save from other dangers (malaria)

What I am wondering - and i want to ask you, what other modern disorders, mental diseases, lesser social quirks, anxieties etc. (that are seen as negative treats) are actually completely normal and healthy from evolutionary, paleo perspective?

Which ones possibly developed as a natural response to paleo lifestyle, the needs of paleo individuals or their family and community that today are seen as negative character traits, inconvenient personality traits or disorders? Which ones instead of being seen as natural are portrayed as wrong?

For years (esp. in the beginning of psychiatry and psychology) so many people were considered mentally ill, only b/c they didn't fit the society's norm (uppity women for example). We still don't know much, and the doctors always look from modern perspective.

Should i just think of my personality as struggling with accepting the neolithic social stresses and requirements and move away from a city to be surrounded by no more than 150 people as we were supposed to be? :)

93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13

(10502)

on September 23, 2010
at 05:41 AM

"real hunter-gatherers would not engage in a stressful problem, but rather would avoid it, leave it, move on in order to save crucial resources" --- this is radically wrong. HGs engaged in stressful problems ALL THE TIME such as hunting large game or making war.

62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on September 22, 2010
at 03:31 PM

Ikco, I like to reframe it to the idea that my goal is to give it a shot and not run away. I can't guarantee I will always succeed but at least if I know I gave it a shot, then I did as best as I could. Then trying becomes the success.

84666a86108dee8d11cbbc85b6382083

(2399)

on September 13, 2010
at 07:04 PM

There is a theory that anxiety occures when the (imaginary) challenge is too big for your (imaginary) skillset. A way to change that is too reframe the situation and the thing you're trying to achieve. For instance public speaking -If your focus is to deliver information there is no physical barriers for that (unless you are mute) and therefore your skillset is equal/greater than the challenge but if your focus is that people will like your presentation (you) which is something that you can't guarantee and therefore the challenge is greater then your skillset, anxiety appears.

A68f24168bc0de414a038037e287b581

(4896)

on September 13, 2010
at 01:52 AM

oh, I never even thought of rejecting - rather narrowing. Instead of living in a big city, moving to smaller village, town etc., where it would be easier to create meaningful relations with the smaller amount of people you would encounter on the daily basis. we know that scientist link over crowding with violence and a lot of mental disorders. and anyway, I was more into theoretical discussion, not personal stuff, that was only a starting point.

62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on September 12, 2010
at 11:40 PM

Is the advice to avoid interpersonal problems or to avoid dealing with interpersonal problems. Hiding from the probs is exactly what allows them to grow. Dealing with them is how you avoid them growing.

A68f24168bc0de414a038037e287b581

(4896)

on September 12, 2010
at 02:10 PM

I've heard a lot of that, especially from extrovert friends and therapist... and I think that for example the anxiety of speaking in public might be much closer to the fear of swift river than a problem that needs to be overcome. And from what I understood the paleo were avoiding interpersonal problems as well - if there were too many issues in a group (often b/c it was begin to grow too much), they would split and go separate ways.

A68f24168bc0de414a038037e287b581

(4896)

on September 12, 2010
at 02:06 PM

thanks for the links. I already found the Evolutionary Psychiatry, quite recently, but have been trying to catch up. Will check the others as well.

Be1dbd31e4a3fccd4394494aa5db256d

(17969)

on September 12, 2010
at 04:01 AM

However it would seem that today it is less acceptable to be obviously dominating and egotistical but to be more subtly so in many situations.

Be1dbd31e4a3fccd4394494aa5db256d

(17969)

on September 12, 2010
at 03:56 AM

Egalitarian, perhaps, but not equal in perception, you are conflating different ideas. The general attitude, and it remains today, is that higher social and economic status is more desirable and there are clear indications of social and economic status, it is downright obvious. http://www.pnas.org/content/106/21/8665.long http://www.epjournal.net/filestore/EP06603612.pdf The idea is to be perceived as "the man". This drive rules the male psyche and those who do not exhibit such a drive are simply those who have failed at it. Even if there were no rulers, there still was egotism. It was sexy.

62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on September 12, 2010
at 03:41 AM

Yes Yoannah, I agree. From what I have seen of huntergather societies, social structures vary a lot but in many grandstanding by the males is seen more in the games and dances but the rest of the time, good hunting skills and providing skills where what was most impressive. Talk is cheap and success is obvious. It's the insecure that feel the need to grandstand and being insecure is not attractive.

A68f24168bc0de414a038037e287b581

(4896)

on September 12, 2010
at 02:11 AM

and how do you know that "chicks tended to like that"? There is a lot of anthropologic evidence that suggest that the paleo communities were pretty equal in social stand, there were no "alpha-males". It's not fair to project our modern patriarchal systems on paleos.

2fd2b2346da1afd4cea4de40ed8480a0

(106)

on September 12, 2010
at 01:20 AM

This is a great question, and if anyone has a good answer for it, i'd love to hear it :)

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7 Answers

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3
Ce0b5fd94b1034e96cf710b6f138c29d

on September 12, 2010
at 12:15 PM

I'm tempted to say that depression and anxiety are probably perfectly normal responses to that hugely unnatural and stressful situation called living in modern society.

Paul Shepard touches on evolutionary psychology somewhat in Coming Home to the Pleistocene and Thinking Animals. When you think about it, the sort of learning humans did over the course of our evolutionary history must have been vastly different from the education we get today, not to mention childhood development. I think that there's a good case to be made that the Standard American Upbringing is probably as bad for your psyche as the Standard American Diet is for your body.

4
D13278772f6612432bf53413fad4e7af

(801)

on September 12, 2010
at 10:53 PM

It's tempting to romanticize or mythologize the past -- pre-Industrial Revolution, pre-Agricultural Revolution -- as an Eden where people were physically and mentally robust and naturally in tune with their environment and community. Rousseau's Noble Savage, anyone? But it's not clear that world ever existed, and pursuing it can be a disorder in itself: Ted Kaczynski, the "Unabomber," was a brilliant guy who believed that modern institutional society usurped his and everyone's individual freedom, so he withdrew from society and tried to stop science. I'm obviously not comparing the questioner to him -- but I think it's worth pointing out that, even though so-called mental illness is undeniably a function of social conventions and assumptions, a wholesale rejection of society is a much more uncertain step than adjusting one's diet or exercise regimen.

A68f24168bc0de414a038037e287b581

(4896)

on September 13, 2010
at 01:52 AM

oh, I never even thought of rejecting - rather narrowing. Instead of living in a big city, moving to smaller village, town etc., where it would be easier to create meaningful relations with the smaller amount of people you would encounter on the daily basis. we know that scientist link over crowding with violence and a lot of mental disorders. and anyway, I was more into theoretical discussion, not personal stuff, that was only a starting point.

4
D339c39d94d65460e28128174845f423

(821)

on September 12, 2010
at 07:46 AM

The short answer is that you're perfectly normal and society is out of balance.

You very well might benefit from living in a natural environment more suited to your genes.

But the society which nurtured you may have left its imprint, rendering any break with it to be most challenging.

You may consider seeking out some of the writings on Ecopsychology which relate to your question.

I hope that you continue asking these tough questions and that you take solace in the knowledge that you are not alone.

2
89e238284ccb95b439edcff9e123671e

(10299)

on September 12, 2010
at 08:45 AM

Randolf Nesse, one of the founding fathers of evolutionary medicine (together with the brilliant George C. Williams, who died september 8th 2010) is a psychiatrist who talks about evolution and mental health quite a lot.

His website with a lot of references and free papers

And a recent very interesting paper here

Here's a blog by Emily Deans: Evolutionary Psychiatry

Alot of food for thought...

A68f24168bc0de414a038037e287b581

(4896)

on September 12, 2010
at 02:06 PM

thanks for the links. I already found the Evolutionary Psychiatry, quite recently, but have been trying to catch up. Will check the others as well.

2
62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on September 12, 2010
at 03:51 AM

I think there is perhaps a difference in what is being avoided. Avoiding a slippery cliff, a swift river, or a difficult to hunt animal is not the same thing as avoiding doing your taxes, having a frank talk with your girlfriend, or learning how to assert yourself at work. SOme of these will save you trouble down the road and others will continue to cause you trouble down the road. YOu will want to confront and deal with problems that are holding you back from success and happiness. By doing so, by confronting your fears, you will be made stronger in the long run. Or you can hide and not improve yourself. I think both the desire to hide and the desire to overcome are natural. In some situations, one is more useful, and in others, the other is more useful. Since we don't have many life and death situations anymore, the drive to overcome is often more useful in current society. But nature does not like to put all her eggs in one basket. She makes a variety of personality types such that whatever happens, there will be people who are well suited to that environment. My feeling is that, even if you prefer a small town life and choose to live that life, you will be a stronger and more secure as a person if you learn to be functional in other types of society as well. Choose to live in a place because you like it best, but not because you are running away from something else. Problems have a weird way of chasing you wherever you go. The only true way to get rid of most problems in current society is to deal with them, not run from them. Just because something is 'natural' does not make it good for you.

A68f24168bc0de414a038037e287b581

(4896)

on September 12, 2010
at 02:10 PM

I've heard a lot of that, especially from extrovert friends and therapist... and I think that for example the anxiety of speaking in public might be much closer to the fear of swift river than a problem that needs to be overcome. And from what I understood the paleo were avoiding interpersonal problems as well - if there were too many issues in a group (often b/c it was begin to grow too much), they would split and go separate ways.

84666a86108dee8d11cbbc85b6382083

(2399)

on September 13, 2010
at 07:04 PM

There is a theory that anxiety occures when the (imaginary) challenge is too big for your (imaginary) skillset. A way to change that is too reframe the situation and the thing you're trying to achieve. For instance public speaking -If your focus is to deliver information there is no physical barriers for that (unless you are mute) and therefore your skillset is equal/greater than the challenge but if your focus is that people will like your presentation (you) which is something that you can't guarantee and therefore the challenge is greater then your skillset, anxiety appears.

62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on September 12, 2010
at 11:40 PM

Is the advice to avoid interpersonal problems or to avoid dealing with interpersonal problems. Hiding from the probs is exactly what allows them to grow. Dealing with them is how you avoid them growing.

62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on September 22, 2010
at 03:31 PM

Ikco, I like to reframe it to the idea that my goal is to give it a shot and not run away. I can't guarantee I will always succeed but at least if I know I gave it a shot, then I did as best as I could. Then trying becomes the success.

1
5be844214037850c304c1e6a05dc5277

on September 23, 2010
at 12:32 AM

Great question, I think we have still a huge amount to learn about these kind of ideas...

I am very into sport (Rugby) and I had a fascinating insight (to myself!) whilst watching the other night. An extremely quick and agile winger had just earlier raced down the field beating 2-3 players on the other team to score a great try (goal). Then it was becoming a messy affair in the middle of the park as each team fought for field position, and one of our main BIG men was just was having a great game, in everything, and just showing an incredible drive, commitment, and aggressiveness. My friend commented how "he just never gives up! it's like his life is on the line. he's everywhere! has to be the hardest worker on the field" ... With my Cave Man Mind always at play, I started thinking about the evolutionary roots between all the difference characters and body-types on the field! It struck me that this must be an evolutionary adaptation having these diverse minds and bodies in a human tribe (or football team!).

The lightning quick and agile runner, the big hulking aggressive alpha male, the guy that just never gives up and would do anything for his kin (or again team)! I think this is not just chance, and I imagine all these diverse personality types playing varying beneficial roles in a hunter-gatherer tribes' fight for survival. Evolution is very hit and miss, trial and error, and it is the law of large numbers that is the winner in the end. So perhaps all our uniqueness is evolutions way (getting anthropomorphic here) of covering all the bases, that each "type" may have its own advantages and disadvantages, but in the super-organism known as human society it is a net-positive...

0
Be1dbd31e4a3fccd4394494aa5db256d

(17969)

on September 12, 2010
at 01:33 AM

In modern times being aggressive, egotistical, and condescending is seen as personality disorder but if you are drawing from the same mate pool as everyone else it makes sense to assert yourself as the alpha-male since paleolithic chicks tended to like that; it meant wealth and protection. These days "look at me look at me I am so rich and powerful and awesome" is still lauded by some, but most would find the arrogance in poor taste, and so people aren't quite so ostentatious about themselves anymore except in certain circumstances. These days we quell that sort of attitude by playing sports or other games that allow us to assert our superiority but within the constructs of a game that implies our superiority without it having to be loudly proclaimed and demonstrated. This seems to be the result of the segmenting of a society where we don't identify with everyone else as strongly, and different people in the same city or country have completely different identities and behaviors.

Be1dbd31e4a3fccd4394494aa5db256d

(17969)

on September 12, 2010
at 03:56 AM

Egalitarian, perhaps, but not equal in perception, you are conflating different ideas. The general attitude, and it remains today, is that higher social and economic status is more desirable and there are clear indications of social and economic status, it is downright obvious. http://www.pnas.org/content/106/21/8665.long http://www.epjournal.net/filestore/EP06603612.pdf The idea is to be perceived as "the man". This drive rules the male psyche and those who do not exhibit such a drive are simply those who have failed at it. Even if there were no rulers, there still was egotism. It was sexy.

62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on September 12, 2010
at 03:41 AM

Yes Yoannah, I agree. From what I have seen of huntergather societies, social structures vary a lot but in many grandstanding by the males is seen more in the games and dances but the rest of the time, good hunting skills and providing skills where what was most impressive. Talk is cheap and success is obvious. It's the insecure that feel the need to grandstand and being insecure is not attractive.

A68f24168bc0de414a038037e287b581

(4896)

on September 12, 2010
at 02:11 AM

and how do you know that "chicks tended to like that"? There is a lot of anthropologic evidence that suggest that the paleo communities were pretty equal in social stand, there were no "alpha-males". It's not fair to project our modern patriarchal systems on paleos.

Be1dbd31e4a3fccd4394494aa5db256d

(17969)

on September 12, 2010
at 04:01 AM

However it would seem that today it is less acceptable to be obviously dominating and egotistical but to be more subtly so in many situations.

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