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Human Society Is Changing Too Fast For Our Brains To Keep Up – Here’s What You Can Do

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It’s fascinating how much of our modern-day troubles, like the surge in mental health issues and environmental destruction can be traced back to our breakneck technological advancements and rapid modernization – all driven by our current economic design.

Advanced weapons, AI, social media, and other technologies have taken us wildly out of touch with how we relate to each other, make money, plan our future, work and live healthy lives. Instead of major advancements taking 10 or 20 years, they are happening every 1 – 3 years.

It’s mind numbing. It’s like we’ve been given the keys to the future but can’t figure out how to stay within the lines.

Yet it’s intriguing that coupled with ancient prophecies about NOW being a major time where humanity’s consciousness shifts toward a new world, we are seeing this incredibly disorienting advancement.

But, this disorienting effect gets our attention and gets it fast. Giving us the opportunity to create a conscious evolution as opposed to an unconscious one.

Conscious evolution meaning: waking up and beginning to be more intentional about where we’re headed vs. letting market dynamics and human stress call the shots as it has for thousands of years.

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Evolutionary Mismatch

With all that is changing, between technological advancements, the way we relate to ourselves and others, and how much our current systems are collapsing, we’re having a hard time staying sane within it all and picturing where we might be headed.

One theory suggests we’re feeling so disoriented because our brains aren’t evolved to handle such incredible change. This is referred to as an evolutionary mismatch.

Picture this: you’re a moth, evolved to navigate using the moonlight. Life is straightforward, right? But then, humans come along with their brilliant idea of street lamps and suddenly, you’re running into streetlight glass constantly thinking you’re going toward the moon (poor moths.)

This very misalignment between the moth’s evolved traits and the new environment is what’s called an evolutionary mismatch.

Are we trying to orient to something in our world for stability and salience, yet things are changing so fast we can’t hold on?

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Does This Apply To Humans?

Some say humans aren’t so different from those moths.

The evolutionary mismatch hypothesis points out that we were exposed to different stressors in our natural environment in the past, and that today the types of stressors we face, their speed and chronic frequency, are wreaking havoc on our well-being.

For example, our food and eating patterns are different, we now have access to mass-produced foods and we’re eating them in quantities that aren’t natural, therefore producing imbalances and diseases we did not see in the past given the way we would have normally eaten.

Similarly, our sleep patterns are different from what’s natural, we lack natural amounts of exercise, and even lack necessary green spaces (which I’ve written about before here.)

But that’s not all, when we look at the way we are designing our cities, based on economic necessity, we’re producing stress, disease and loneliness on top of everything else.

Consider our social instincts. We evolved to thrive in tight-knit tribes of about 150 to 600 people. These groups provided a sense of belonging and close bonds. But now, many of us live in sprawling cities filled with strangers, and that same need to belong can leave us feeling isolated and lonely.

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Studies on social animals show that crowding causes competitive stress, affecting their health and fertility. Humans in packed cities experience similar stress, leading to health issues and a decline in birth rates. It’s like we’re in a constant state of fight-or-flight, but the threats aren’t always visible.

As one study states:

“While some individuals may experience heightened stress and reduced fitness under species-typical social density, the population average fitness will be higher under moderate than under extreme social density. In this framework, social density functions as a stressor, with extremely high and low levels of social density eliciting stress of different forms.”

Looking at this in my own life, there are times when I’ve felt socially anxious even being around medium sized groups of people. This had more to do with my prior trauma patterns than it did with anything innate in my being as a human. This points out the importance of not conflating our current trauma responses with what we experience.

However, even when I go into Toronto (a big city) for a few hours, everything about me says this isn’t natural nor healthy long term. The energy of it is simply ‘off.’ The same can be said for isolation. Over COVID I felt too isolated, seeing people maybe a few times a month. In both cases, the extremes don’t feel healthy long term, and this feels like a natural response.

Of course, we haven’t even gone into the ways in which phones and social media have literally put the entire world in our pockets, connecting us to billions of people in ways we can’t quite wrap our minds around yet. We also aren’t talking yet about how AI is rapidly changing the way we process information, create it, perform art, and work.

All that said, we’re seeing how evolutionary mismatch is affecting our well-being. Simply put, we’re designing things and advancing in ways that don’t keep our natural needs in balance.

Sure, we can survive, but we won’t thrive. And the longer we continue to use silly justifications to keep pushing ahead without wisdom, the sicker we’ll get.

Some good news is younger generations have been reevaluating the goals held by existing society and their parents. Amongst youth, a shift towards prioritizing mental and physical health is occurring.

But Are We At Our Potential With Keeping Up With Change?

I often wonder how much change we can truly handle. The first thing that comes to mind is the difficulty in getting a realistic baseline of our ability to keep up with change.

This is hard because it currently seems like we have less resilience in keeping up with change given the constant stress we experience. The efficiency and flexibility of our brains, bodies and well-being are hindered and thus as we consider our ability, we get a false sense of what we’re capable of.

That said, we are here now, THIS is our moment. So accepting where we are and working from here is our task.

While I believe there is an amount of change that is too much for humans, I don’t want us to close the door to how much more resilience and capacity we can have as beings by measuring our capability in a sick modern world.

The Takeaway

The reality of evolutionary mismatch doesn’t mean we need to revert to living like our ancestors and shunning tech, it also doesn’t have to mean we become transhuman and increase the speed of our brains with implants. Instead, we can embrace our untapped human potential, design society in better ways, and bring awareness and wisdom to the process.

Make it a practice to slow down, be more present and orient to your surroundings with your senses so subconscious stress patterns aren’t running in the background.

Eat healthier, smaller and whole-food meals. Water is your friend.

Think about ways to reduce crowdedness in your life and increase access to nature and animals.

Stay in touch with the world, but be careful to obsess over constant news exposure and social media scrolling. The discussions around our stress physiology in this piece are partly why I developed my Embodied Sensemaking theory years ago. Being mindful, attuning to your bodily, sensations, and the present moment contributes to how we take in and discern information. It also helps us see when our stress physiology is producing bias.

Make time for regular exercise. Walk every day, lift heavy things, and avoid creating habits that keep you sedentary.

Taking small steps with these habits can contribute to the rebuilding of our individual and collective resilience. Making it easier for us to move through times of great change consciously, and also giving us the opportunity to shape our future with wisdom instead of stress and economic incentive.

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