Observing the water

I took a course on Semester At Sea that really intrigued me. It was a newer field in psychology (scoffed by many, probably still is), evolutionary psychology. It took the basic Darwinism theory, of survival of the fittest, and applied it to behaviors. It attempted to explain gender differences through the lens of evolution. Men act a way to produce the most offspring and women act a way to attract the right protector to make sure their offspring survive. 

The whole thing was fascinating. Could all of our thoughts and actions, all of the movies we are experiencing be just expressions of our genetic code? All that “free will” that we go on and on about is just bullshit? 

And here I am again, thinking about Darwin.

Thinking about how our lives are blips on the evolution scale. Living a hundred years may be a new achievement in mankind, but real change takes at least a million. It took one MILLION years for Homo Habils to become Homo Erectus. No one has lived to see human evolution. And what are we going to become next? Will there even be next?!

And just for those who need a refresher course, Darwin’s theories is that evolution is driven by environmental survival. So people evolve as the environment changes. Remember the finches?

And BOY have we had some environmental changes. Can we all agree to that? Is that no longer a controversial thing to say?

My own father only accepted climate change LAST year. So I do need to ask this. He and I would argue. I would show him tables and he would say. “You know what this is called WEATHER.” I’m not kidding. This was years of my life. So I’m just checking here. We are all good now right? We all believe in MATH? Climate change you can count just like cards.

And it’s not just the climate that has changed, its everything, our daily environment too. From food, how we communicate (electronically), how we transport, or even how we get to transport with security at the airport, etc. Things have changed rapidly since I was born. And I’m a blip on the evolutionary timeline.

Could we be poisoning ourselves and not even know it?

But how would we know? 

 It really reminds me of “It’s water” by David Foster Wallace. Especially the quote below.

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

And as usual, I’m drawn to history. This whole ignoring what is RIGHT in front of us is NOT new. Not because we are stupid or evil, we just don’t question it. Like the fish. They never realized that they were swimming in “water.” They were just swimming.

And this is not just a funny story, this is an allegory of our history. 

The most obvious example I can pull would be the history of smoking. In the early part of this century, four out of five people smoked. In some countries, it was nine out of ten! Smoking was a connector. You wanted to smoke (beyond because it was addictive). It was social and something that united mankind. Rich or poor, you smoked and often you could collide on streets offering a cigarette to your neighbor. Doctors smoked. Everyone smoked. “What do you smoke” became a dating question. Are you a Marlboro man or Camel type of guy? This was just part of day to day existence.

And it would take DECADES until that changed, and yes, there were factors like money and special interest groups that hindered understandings. However, for a long time there was no data to hide, because no doctor was looking into it. Why would they? They were just swimming.

“When a risk factor for a disease becomes highly prevalent in a population, it paradoxically begins to disappear into the white noise of the background.” – Siddhartha Mukherjee (The Emperor of All Maladies)

“By the early 1940’s asking about a connection between tobacco and cancer was like asking about an association between sitting and cancer.” – Richard Peto, epidemiologist (Oxford)

So I do a lot of sitting these days. 12-14 hours a day. I’m questioning over here and observing. Observing the water. It feels warm.

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