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Ahead of our time

As human beings we pride ourselves on how well we have evolved and adapted. We compare ourselves to other species, and often give ourselves a bit of a ‘pat-on-the-back’ for having done so well, risen so high and orchestrated such advancements.

But is all of this really so deserved?

You see, we are actually very badly suited for the lives we live today. We have indeed evolved and adapted, but not for challenges, tasks and requirements we usually face. Let me give you an example.

Take stress. Most of us have suffered from it at one time or another, some of us maybe suffering from it now. I am sure it is a condition which we can all relate to anyway. Now, the human response to stress is a very efficient and effective set of physiological changes which take place within our bodies. These are designed to help us to deal with the source of the stress we are experiencing. So, on detecting a stressful stimulus, some of the changes our body produces include:

  • Increase in heart rate, blood pressure and breathing
  • Increased dilation of the pupils
  • Reduced production of saliva, slowing down of digestive processes

These are all designed to support us as we address the source of the stress. So, if we were cavemen and women, the stress may come from seeing a wild animal approach us. In this case we work very effectively. The changes outlined above would all help us to optimise our chances of survival, pumping our blood to our muscles and vital survival functions, and taking precious resources away from things like digestion which are not significant at that time. We are basically being prepared for what has become referred to as the classic ‘fight-or-flight’ response.

However, if instead, the stressful situation is that we have to give a speech in front of many people, how does that response suit us now? This is far more likely to be a source of stress for us in our lives today, and yet, each one of those changes will work against the achievement of that task. This is why we get sweaty hands, can’t read our notes easily and usually feel sick at the thought of it.

So, in essence, we have evolved very well for a life we no longer live. The rate of change, technological advancements and living standards, is far out-stripping our rate of evolution. And it is not surprising. When we have such large gaps between each generation, the chances for mutations and changes to take effect is extremely small, and therefore slow.

So, for now, instead of patting our own backs, maybe we should all learn to embrace the cave-person within us!