Well, in prehistoric times we weren’t wearing shoes and we – women at least – were getting pregnant a lot, one suspects. So…
So what? Well, a new version of the argument that we should be bearfoot and pregnant is in the forthcoming Scientific American Mind. You can see a free preview, but here are, as they say, the key concepts:
Rates of depression have risen in recent decades, at the same time that people are enjoying time-saving conveniences such as microwave ovens, e-mail, prepared meals, and machines for washing clothes and mowing lawns. People of earlier generations, whose lives were characterized by greater efforts just to survive, paradoxically, were mentally healthier. Human ancestors also evolved in conditions where hard physical work was necessary to thrive. By denying our brains the rewards that come from anticipating and executing complex tasks with our hands, the author argues, we undercut our mental well-being.
The examples make it clear that the article is best read as about affluent Western countries, and the US particularly.
We nuke prepared dishes rather than growing our own food and machine-wash ready-made clothes rather than sewing and scrubbing.
Machines for cutting the lawn also among the culprits. So the idea is that we evolved to wash clothes by hand and hand-mow our lawns? Hmmmmmm. That doesn’t sound right. The species closest to us evolutionarily wash their clothes in streams and hand-mow their lawns? That’s not quite right either. Chimps are out there slaving away? Well, maybe but not in the pictures I’ve seen.
The authors offer as evidence that you can get really zippy rats by making them forage for treats.
And they look at brain circuits which seem to link physical exertion with feelings of pleasure and well beings. OK, I’m actually quite a fan of that stuff, fMRI and all that, you know. But they seem to have to recognize that for us at least the exertion should be significant and meaningful, as presumably for rats also, at least in their terms. And that makes all the difference. And that may be why quite early on the things that machines now do were not generally done by those in a society with the power to avoid them.
I think the bottom line is that meaningful exercise can add to your sense of well being. And if you find mowing your lawn meaningful, go for it! Why I remember how my father used to come in on Saturdays feeling so happy from mowing…O, wait, that didn’t happen.
Well, I’m going to get my bowling partner organized. We now have brain science on our side, in addition to just about every health guru on TV. Or maybe find a good old-fashioned washing machine, so I can spend a day a week storing up good feelings. I can remember how my mother felt so happy after using hers… O wait. That didn’t happen either.