Barefoot and pregnant?

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.

    9 thoughts on “Barefoot and pregnant?

    1. Yes, I am old enough to remember my mother using one of those. It was very scary, particularly if the adults around you controlled your behavior by scaring you witless.

      In case you can’t see the problem, imagine a small child seeing something go through the ringer and being warned against touching it.

    2. Why would anyone argue that women should be bearfoot? [see 2nd paragraph ;) ]

      Reading this:

      So the idea is that we evolved to wash clothes by hand and hand-mow our lawns?

      leads me to ask: Are they actually arguing that we evolved to do X or that doing X affected our brains’ evolution? I’d be surprised if they were actually arguing the former bc, IIRC, evolution isn’t considered a purpose-driven mechanism.

      My mom also had one of those washers. When I was young, I put my hand in the roller (to see what it was like; I also touched an iron to see if it was hot; it was). Fingers went in partway, either me or my mom reversed the roller and here I am, 30+ years later, typing away so all turned out well.

    3. Good point, Annie. We evolved in response to factors with the result that certain things are good for us. Like washing dishes. Sure.

      Good for you and the washer. I am sure my mother ‘knew’ of some little girls who had lost limbs to those machines. I still remember the story of the little girl who stuck her arm out the window of a moving car. It got snapped off.

      Nothing, however, compared to later nuns’ stories of children getting zapped in the belt buckle from lighting after committing a sin, and other such facts.

    4. That makes a ton of sense to me.

      Baking bread from scratch = meaningful chore, makes me happy

      Cleaning up the mess afterwards = not meaningful chore, makes me grumpy

    5. I think conveniences do make us depressed. Because what are we doing with the time that is freed up? We need conveniences because we work so much. Work at a job doing someone else’s bidding. And since we don’t have much time left, we use the money we earned to pay for other people to do the essentials.

      Humans are happiest when the consequences of their actions DIRECTLY affect their lives/survival. With work, it’s all indirect. When something directly affects you, it’s more meaningful. The most meaningful parts of our lives are food, clothing, and shelter. Hardly anyone makes their own shelter and food anymore, and with all the modern convenience foods, lots of people have forgotten how to cook from scratch.

      I get immense enjoyment from knitting, in part because I’m clothing myself. I’m not dependent on sweatshops in third world countries to stay warm. I’ve learned how to spin so that I’m not dependent on yarn companies. It’s very fulfilling.

      I also wash my clothes by hand, because they actually are cleaner than when I use the washing machine in my building. And it’s less aggravating, because I don’t have to have a fistful of quarters and I don’t have to worry about someone leaving their clothes in the washer all day and wondering what their reaction would be if I took them out and laid them on top in a sopping pile. Less stress, cleaner clothes=one satisfied woman.

      Oh, I want to mention one other thing. TV watching. It’s linked to depression. It aggravated me to no end when someone sees me knitting in public and asks me how long it takes. It takes as long as it takes. They’re obviously worried about the time it takes to knit a hat, but what are they doing? Probably watching several hours of TV a night. So, they go to work, which is depressing, and then they come home and watch TV, which is depressing. Fun!

    6. I did not mean to suggest that washing dishes is good for humans and/or human brain evolution. I was thinking more along the lines of the 3rd bullet point from the article’s key points:

      “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.”

      I don’t know why the key points move from talking about mundane tasks in the 1st point to complex tasks in the 3rd point. I’d like to see the entire article, which I will try to do. I think it’s an interesting question if they’re talking about the lack of mentally complex challenges possibly related to depression. But handwashing clothes and dishes? Just the thought of that is depressing.

    7. Annie, Let me go back a minute to your earlier comment. I think the literature around mental representations often takes traits to have been produced by evolution for certain jobs. It seems to me wrong, but maybe how I picked up the teleological expressions, that you rightly pointed out.

      The article does bring together two things: physical exertion and meaningfulness, but the first seems the top concern.

      I envy people who can find cooking or sewing can be a big part of a meaningful life. At one point, I felt at such a distance from analytic philosophy that I dropped out. One factor that was just too hard about the life of the cook, sewer, gardener, etc., is that I ceased to be a meaningful person in many people’s eyes. One becomes invisible.

    8. I don’t know that it’s just physical exertion as opposed to general busy-ness. We can more easily get depressed when we spend a lot of time contemplating our circumstances, and we do this more when we have more time on our hands.

    9. It just means that women need to have there sports gear and hiking gear made as well as the mens, and women need more time for exercise.

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