Apr 20, 2020

Our Modern Skulls House A Stone Age Mind

The phrase above appears in Evolutionary Psychology: A Primer by Leda Cosmides and John Tooby. It is one of the Five Principles of Evolutionary Psychology they identify.

They argue that natural selection is the process that designed our brain and that natural selection takes a long time to design a circuit of any complexity. The time we are talking about is beyond our comprehension and it is measured in hundreds of thousands of years. Cosmides and Tooby  posit that the environment that humans and human minds evolved was very different from our modern environment. Our ancestors lived most of their evolutionary history in hunter – gatherer societies, which means that our ancestors lived in small, nomadic bands of a few dozen individuals who all got their food each day by gathering plants or by hunting animals. Cosmides and Tooby write that our ancestors were on "a camping trip that lasted their entire lifetime."

This way of living lasted for the last 10 million years, with agriculture and the end of a nomadic lifestyle only appearing on earth about 10,000 years ago. And, only in the last 5000 years when the human population moved to farming rather than hunting and gathering. What they concluded is that natural selection being such a slow process, there haven't been enough generations for it to design circuits that are well adapted to our current industrial life. They conclude, that our modern skulls house a stone age mind the circuits that were created in the first 10 million years were designed to solve the problems of that environment, not to solve the day-to-day problems of our modern lifestyle. The stone age mind can solve some problems extremely well, but does poorly with others. It has been estimated that most hunter gatherer groups were no larger than 150 people, with the majority being much smaller. Imagine the stone age mind, having learned to adapt to a small group of 50 - to-150 individuals, living in the city with thousands upon thousands of people that he or she would have to interact with.

The information processing systems that evolved in the first 3 million years of  hominin evolution solved adaptive problems of that environment, of the ancestral environments in which the human line evolved. Therefore, evolutionary psychology is  "relentlessly past oriented."

Conclusion: The cognitive mechanisms that currently exist because they solved problems efficiently in the past will not necessarily generate adaptive behavior in the present.

Jun 9, 2019

Avoiding "Dirty Pain"


Troubling emotions and unpleasant memories are part of the human experience. We do not control the fact that they come up, unbidden and most unwelcome, but they come up to our awareness nevertheless.
The effort we put into NOT having these emotions, thoughts, sensations, and memories is called “dirty pain.”  Clean pain is the natural and automatic result of living life. When we try to deny, suppress, or “get rid of” normal life pain, we get caught up in a battle that causes even more distress.

Anxiety, depression, and fear all occur naturally in the human experience. But when we decide we do not want to have those negative feelings—thinking that they need to be gone before we can enjoy life-- and begin taking action to get rid of them, then we create the "dirty pain" that becomes more intense in direct proportion to our desire to get rid of them. The bad memory, the fear, the depressive thoughts are all transient, but when we engage them in a fierce battle they settle in for a good fight.

For many years I thought that I could control everything that went on in my mind. Of course, I failed miserably in trying to run my mind through logic alone. All these messy emotions kept coming up!  I wondered if there were some flaw in my personality that prevented me from suppressing specific emotions and memories.
Current research into the minute workings of the human brain gives strong evidence that to be human means that we must accept and co-exist with an ongoing reactive set of  distress signals—which we do not control. These distress and alarm signals are part of the  primal mammalian survival mechanism; a system exquisitely attuned to the slightest deviation from our personal sense of comfort and safety. This is the system that tells us to run when we see a charging bear, but it is also the same system that sends alarms when we are late to work and the person in front of us is driving at the speed limit. Always on the lookout for what is "NOT right," the alarm goes off constantly in daily life.

Is there no escape? No, if the question is "are we able to escape from who we are" but yes, if it asks how may we work more effectively with who we are.The solution is to work with, accept, notice, observe-- all in a non-judgmental way what is  actually occurring inside of us. Often, when we tune in and ask: "What is actually happening to me right here, right now?"  The answer is...Nothing is actually happening to me right here, right now."  But our internal struggle, the "dirty pain" we have created, makes it seems as if we are in a life and death struggle.

Next time you are in intense emotional distress, check in with yourself and ask: "What is actually happening to me me right here, right now?" You may be pleasantly surprised by the answer.

 Reference:  Learning ACT Therapy Luoma, Hayes, and Walser

Apr 10, 2019

Anxiety, Stress and Negativity

"Why do anxiety, stress, and negativity arise?  Because you turned away from the present moment. And why did you do that?  You thought something was more important. One small error, one misperception, creates a world of suffering."   http://www.eckharttolle.com/

Eckhart Tolle

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