Old Brain, Modern World


Human nature will be a recurring theme on the blog, and this topic often sparks a debate about “nature vs. nurture.” That is not my purpose. The reason we need to understand human nature is so that we can design more effective forms of nurturing. Genes aren’t destiny. Human nature can be tamed and directed, and that can only be done through nurturing. But it’s difficult to design helpful nurturing without knowing our nature. Human nature is a complicated topic, so we won’t tackle it all at once. This post is simply a starting point.

You may live in the modern world, but your brain wasn’t designed for it. Your brain spent most of its evolutionary history outside of civilization. Our species has been farming for 10,000 years. Before that, we were hunter-gatherers for between 200,000 and 7 million years. Before that we were apes, then monkeys, then mammals, then reptiles, then fish, and so on back to the beginning of brains.1 The details of this aren’t important. What matters is that you grasp the vast scale of time that predates our modern, sedentary lifestyle. There hasn’t been enough time for our brains to adapt to our new environment.2

We didn’t evolve to sit at desks all day staring at bright screens. We evolved to move a lot more than we do now. Our brains want to exercise. We evolved in a world where bright lights meant daytime. Now we stay up too late because of artificial lights, and our sleep, health, and brain power suffer accordingly. We did not evolve to eat massive amounts of sugar and salt – the hallmarks of modern processed foods. We did not evolve in a world of constant stimulation, in the form of brightly colored images and non-stop noise. We used to live in nature.

Our brains will be much healthier, happier, and more useful if we take this into account. We need to provide our brains with the exercise and unprocessed foods they crave. We need to get away from bright screens and turn down the lights when it’s approaching bedtime. We need to create quiet times for our brains to recover from the overstimulating modern world.

Works Cited

1 Christian, David. This Fleeting World: A Short History of Humanity. Berkshire Publishing Group, 2007.

Wright, Robert. The Moral Animal. Vintage Books, 1994.

Image Credits

Savanna: Danila Medvedev. “Amazing Savanna.” https://www.flickr.com/. Creative Commons 4.0.

Cityscape: Jamie McCaffrey. “A Second City rose from the ashes of the first – Chicago.” https://www.flickr.com/. Creative Commons 4.0.

Images combined into one, cropped, words added.

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