Sunday, March 22, 2009

Health and Evolution

I know that many people object to Darwinian evolution for various reasons.
I can only suggest that if you do feel this way, take a moment to consider the usefulness of evolution as a thought process in understanding the human condition.
New scientific approaches embrace evolution and have made interesting headway.

Evolutionary psychology for example has this to say about depression.
A period of low mood in fact depression, is natures way of telling you to let go of unattainable goals.

In fact one misconception about evolution is that we expect the most evolved organisms to be the most perfect. Looking at the flawed design of the human body and our vulnerability to disease, we should realize that there is nothing divine in the creation of human beings.

Evolution and Healing, Darwinian approach to medicine.

The book starts by explaining the essentials of Darwinian natural selection and then embarks on showing how these ideas illuminate the reasons why we become ill. Probably the most important notion here is that of the perpetual war that goes on between host and parasites. Like other organisms, we are constantly under attack from bacteria and viruses; we have evolved complex defence systems against them and they, in their turn, have evolved ever more sophisticated weapons of offence. A continual evolutionary arms race is under way. It is our genes which enable us to respond in this way, but there is an inevitable cost; the defence mechanisms can cause disease as well as prevent it. Autoimmunity, in which the body's defence mechanisms are turned against its own tissues, is an example of this. Another may be allergy, for it is thought that allergy may be part of the defence mechanism against cancer. (Cancer cells can be thought of as parasites that are produced internally by the body instead of invading from outside.) Psychological disorders may also have an evolutionary origin: anxiety, for example, may be an exaggeration of the fear mechanism that protects us from dangerous situations. Aging occurs because natural selection has no need for us once we have passed reproductive age, so mechanisms for very prolonged survival have not evolved.
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Jeannie said...

I'm all for evolution - I think humans are still evolving - our ability to store and share knowledge has a lot to do with that. I'm just not sure about Darwinian evolution. I don't believe that perfection was ever "God's" intention even though that is a widely held misconception. We learn more through experimentation and diverse outcomes. Getting hurt is inevitable. Avoiding the hurt makes us more clever - planning and anticipating exercises our brains. We seem to have a lot of questions about why we are here. I think the answer is bigger than - just because. That answer is just not satisfactory.

Hammer said...

Humans are one of the longest lived mammals on this planet, we have the potential to live to 100+ with proper nutrition and medicine.

All the other primates usually max out at 40.

As far as diseases go I'm not sur human evolution has caught up with all the environmental factors that we are recently subject to. Sedentary lifestyle, rich diet, smoking, contaminants, etc..

Anonymous said...

And I always thought that depression was civilization's way of telling the monkey within him, "no."

Anonymous said...

Lex, sorry to bombard you with comments. I haven't been blogging for a while. On your comment that there is nothing divine in the creation of human beings...I wish you could sit in on a gross anatomy dissection lab. The design of the human heart is amazing. And the brain...the brain is still far more complex than even our most advanced computers. Our neurons process data thousands, if not millions of times faster than the latest and greatest PC.

Depression? It's the human condition just like any other disease. We live on earth where things are not perfect.

It's a pisser.

I'm fairly simple minded.

Lexcen said...

Pinky, check out the design of the human eye which is far less than perfect and compare it to the design of the eye of the octopus which is perfect.

Anonymous said...

So, could the same maker not have made them both? I don't have a problem with Him/Her making me less than perfect.

The knee is way less than perfect. I've injured mine multiple times, had one surgery, and will eventually need a replacement. I still see divinity in it all.

Lexcen said...

Pinky, I cannot argue with religious beliefs, what's the point?
In fact I find militant atheists distasteful and complete bores.
My goal is to give a better understanding of evolution.

Anonymous said...

You've certainly done that with me, Lex. :-)

I ditto your point...about militant anybodies!