There are multiple changes in environmental stimuli which modern humans with ancient anatomies struggle to acclimate to: Artificial light, abundant food, population concentration, language headaches (as we interact with other people and subcultures at an ever-increasing rate), creating biological stresses, and structural violence. Global climate change is not the only crisis of the second replicator. Memeplexes are creating internal crisis in their hosts though altering our environments and our mental flexibility / adaptability.
Let's start with the environmental changes. Artificial light doesn't just complicate the lives of plants and nocturnal animals. It's an environmental change (read: selective pressure) for our own species. Artificial lighting and screen time disturb our hormonal patterns and interfere with natural sleep cycles. Medical authorities and historians are reconsidering our understanding of natural sleep cycles, theorizing that segmented sleep is the natural pattern for humans. This form of sleep is becoming increasingly rare with modernized, industrial schedules.
We have an abundance of high-calorie foods laden with chemicals engineered to enhance flavor and cravings, even when these foods ignore our nutritional needs. Suddenly we can't trust our cravings and our taste buds to lead us in a healthy direction. This is an environmental change, with evolutionary consequences.
In the public discourse, we talk about dietary diseases (diabetes, heart disease, obesity) as stemming from either a lack of restraint (eating the wrong foods) or a lack of initiative (not exercising) when the subject is more complex. Food deserts, income, and stress hormones play key roles in food 'choices'. The evolutionary pressures we create with engineering our foods is another factor missing from our dialogue. And what ties it together? The memes. The ideas which have engineered this modern world in the way it is, putting evolutionary pressure on us. [Bear in mind: When an environment changes too rapidly for adaptation and too many individuals are eliminated or prevented from reproducing, population deflation or extinction occurs.]
We also come into contact with more humans than our Neolithic minds know what to do with. The Dunbar Number sets the limit for human social groups at around 150 individuals. This is about how many people one individual can maintain relationships with. But in our ever sprawling megacities and mass migrations, our brain's social networking is used in other ways.
[Listen to Dawkins speak about religion, gods and "imaginary friends". One might think this is evidence of mental illness, but when we look at this as an evolutionary adaptation to physical and social change, it is not so startling. It becomes less a question of widespread madness and more a study of how modern changes have been advantageous to the spread of certain memeplexes and the extension of immaturity--which we will investigate further on.]
The city, telecommunications and transportation expose us to culture shock as we bump into subcultures, workplace cultures, venues (a club vs. piano bar vs. a drum circle), experience age and gender segregation, role expectations and then the disillusion of these constructs. We do not have to travel internationally to experience language headaches. Often different use of words, changes in speech patterns, terminology/acronyms/slang, and ideology-heavy English (say you watch Bill O'Reilly then browse Infoshop.org, or read Capital and Atlas Shrugged simultaneously). Language headaches can then morph into migraines when there is a memetic barrier to adopting a new language.
These social and environmental changes are a form of structural violence within our cities. These rapid (evolutionarily speaking) environmental and social changes have immense human fallout. Our inability to recognize the cause, to focus on the effect & blame the neurobiology of the individual, to prescribe industrial solutions instead of neutralizing the causes, is yet more structural violence.
What lead us into this modern land? In our earlier discussion about our need to cultivate symbiotic relationships with memeplexes, I did not intend to suggest we do not benefit already from symbiosis with them. We developed a symbiotic relationship with memeplexes from the start. The memeplex played a parenting role, stabilizing our food supplies, developing architecture. As we domesticated other species, we domesticated ourselves.
Civilization extended childhood, even empowered people to experience lifelong "immaturity" (meaning a dependency on the society to feed, clothe and shelter). A book could be written about the drawbacks of domesticated humans and where it might lead our species. But let's look at some of the advantages. We have increased leisure time (read: playtime, oh yeah!), meaning an increased potential for learning and a increased opportunity for creativity. We have increased life expectancy, material goods and food security.
If you didn't take the opportunity before, listen to this recording of Dawkins b/c it addresses the domestic anatomical and psychological features of humans.
[There is actually more study on this subject than I initially realized. Gregory Stock addresses self-domestication in several works, as a potential road of future human evolution. It would be interesting to find a paleoanthropology study on the morphology of the human body as we became modern humans. I am also curious to find out if there are studies about human mate selection that go beyond the traditional assessment of selection due to symmetry and class signifiers. Could we be selecting for domesticated attributes (wide eyes, round face, small jaws, docility)?]
It is important to keep in mind that our symbiotic relationships with memeplexes are not completely beneficial. While they provide so much, they also limit our mental flexability, innovation, action and freedom. To create a truly symbiotic relationship with the memeplex, we must take initiative and recognize those social constructions which have created alien environments hostile to our biology and mental health.
Continue to Importing Memes and Maddness
Continue to Importing Memes and Maddness