You know what I love most about reading the best and latest books on evolution & the results of evolutionary biology? My mind is constantly being blown by the brilliant insights into how the world came to be the way it is, and what that means for how we need to respond to it now, in order to get it to where we want it to be in the future.
Take, for example, Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. I usually don't have time for novels, but I had to make my way to chapter 28, where I learned about how humans' bipedal, furless advantages led to persistence hunting, which shaped our bodies into those of incredible endurance runners. And then there's Your Brain at Work by David Rock, in which I learned how our development in highly interdependent social contexts shaped our limbic system to respond to social threats and rewards as strongly as it does to those that involve so-called "primary needs," like food, water, and reproduction.
My Favorite Part: Monotheism
Essentially, back when we had no understanding of infectious diseases, illness and plague were often blamed on supernatural causes. When a certain monotheistic tradition began prescribing a set of scientifically-sound hygiene practices as some of its primary tenets (making up a huge segment of the rules laid down in the first few books of the Bible), which had the effect of keeping its "blessed" followers alive longer and in better health than the heathens, the reproductive fitness of its followers improved, and it was thereby cemented into our cultural heritage (Chapter 4: Moses the Microbiologist). Oh, the irony!
Better Practices for a Better World
One of the recurring themes of the book is the idea that things have to get worse before they can get better. It's not until we experience problems that tell us we're doing something wrong, that we can learn what it is and what we can do better. Which is to say that our society right now is at the cusp of a very important development: We are just beginning to realize how many things we have been doing wrong in caring for ourselves and our fellow humans, and we have an incredible opportunity and responsibility to begin to set things right.
I love science, but I have also been heard to say "science is overrated." What I mean by that is that we often get hung up on scientific study findings that are disseminated through unreliable channels, based on frequently flawed studies, and which attempt to isolate highly confounding variables. The problem is that bad science is not differentiated from good science, and good science is incredibly difficult and time consuming. A major strength of Durant's work is his emphasis on "hacking," heuristics, and taking our best educated guess while embracing failure as a means to getting useful data, ruling out alternatives, and making faster progress toward success.
And he of course does a fantastic job of summarizing all the background problems that have gone into our misunderstandings about diet, activity, sunlight, and other factors, including promoting the principles found in Paul & Shou-Ching Jaminet's Perfect Health Diet -- my favorite book on understanding how nutrients actually function in the human body.
Overall, just because we don't yet have the data to PROVE things like: 1) a paleo diet is the best baseline starting point in our efforts for optimizing human nutrition, or 2) that barefoot running is actually safe and healthy for humans, and 3) that training in accordance with our design promotes the most long-term musculoskeletal health, this doesn't mean that we don't have a good enough basis in reasoning and justification for pursuing these approaches, especially given the shoddy results we've been getting with more so-called "traditional" (HAH!) approaches.
Lastly, I'd like to offer my approach to addressing one point from Chapter 6: Biohackers. Durant questions, "How does the body work? The simple truth is that no one has a very precise idea." Personally, I hope to get us closer to having an idea with my upcoming book (hopefully series) in development: The Human Body User Manual.
The concept that "It's not a bug, it's a feature," which he brings up in the same chapter, is one of the most important in understanding our physical development. We are used to blaming the body for breaking down and misbehaving as we age, when what we don't realize is that it's actually operating very much in accordance with it's design -- we are just failing to give it the stimuli that it USED to be able to rely upon in, in the environments in which we evolved. I believe this will be an incredibly powerful step in changing the way we practice health care and making the shift toward using an evolutionary biology perspective. Please join me with a contribution to my Indiegogo campaign to fund The Human Body User Manual, and reserve your copy in advance!
-- Stephanie (@REWSteph)