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October 15, 2017


Evolutionary error – brains too big for our britches,

In modern society information is food. We no longer take our cues for daily living from stars in the sky, shadows, colors, movement of light and air, foliage and the sounds of animals. We have experts who decode these things for us in niche modes of specialization. We rely on them – and stars on the screen – to provide infrastructure and tools necessary to navigate the urbanized world that is projected on those screens.

Am I planning to leave New York and become a hunter-gatherer? Hell, I can discern a tree from a flower. Then my nature knowledge base bottoms out. And I’m ok with that. This is not a critique of nowadays. I assume that the crooning we hear about the good ol’ hunter-gatherer days is hyper-romanticized anthropology standing in as argument against contemporary baditude. And with little material evidence to validate a nuanced picture of daily life in the Paleolithic Age. Some contemporary studies of remaining hunter-gather societies describe a pretty damn civilized format compared to the rest of us. But then there’s headhunters and other more assertive versions than these new studies are reporting. 

Also, there’s probably too much genetic bandwidth in the paleolithic and the current hunter-gathers for a single narrative that accommodates thousands of years of waking, aching, cleaning up after kids and hungover in-laws; hunts with no din-din in the sack; leafy sofabeds reeking of every kind of weather, bug, kid and that damn hungover in-law (I thought he was leaving last week, Woman!); injuries major & minor from tripping over a fallen tree on the way to the outhouse at night. 

So the Paleolithic testimonials are not persuasive. Not to mention my bias against broad social assumptions and the stress of pondering a transition to the hunter-gatherer paradigm at this point in my life.

My real point here was something else entirely but the hunter-gatherer analogy shoved it off the podium in my brain. So here we are… But it’s a place to be for a minute so let’s do this.

Humans, like a bunch of other animal species, use technology – mechanical extensions of the body – to overcome limitations that evolution hasn’t addressed yet. Technology refers to an iPhone, a rock, stick or sharp object. 

Adam was banged out on a single Saturday afternoon. The design was a bit shoddy… let’s say, a work-in-progress. Daddy was tired after a long week of universe construction. What Adam lacked was at least one of the followind: flesh-ripping teeth and nails, rhino-like impenetrable skin, fur for warmth when the chilly rolled in, feline/canine speed, a shnoz that doubled as a poison-squirting dagger, wings for flight. So we came up with fire, wheels, knives, forks, guns, agriculture and naugahyde that looks exactly like real leather; you’d never know! 

But we didn’t stop with just the survival tool kit and that’s where the problems began. We did junk food, insecticides, plastic throw-away shaving razors with 6 blades per blade. We lost the need to naturally select for sharp teeth and all that. We can thank the evolution of our big brains. But I believe the brain that achieved that degree of survivability turns out to have been too big for our designer jeans. 

When survival is no longer a daily challenge we’re no longer expending the enormous amount of energy necessary for constant vigilance, strategies for detecting danger and scarce food sources plus the ability to fight off attacks of predators and obtain the chow. The stress those daily chores exact also burns energy, wears down the immune system and impacts social encounters.

With the stresses of basic survival alleviated thanks to the technology our bit brains dreamed up we start to relax and discover right away that relaxation feels good. Feels comfy. We want more comfy than these damn rocks and trees can provide so we use the big brains that selected for survival to invent technology that provides more comfort. 

And then I want even more comfort because I just had a close call out there and I’m stressed. Gotta have some comfy fast. No, man… faster! NOW!!  

Upon arrival at the Comfort Station I realize that I should always have an extra supply of comfort on hand so when the next crapfest happens I can just grab a chill pill out of my pocket. So our big brains figure out that grinding up that yellow plant with that purple one does the trick. Yeah, feels ok. Not too bad but just in case, y’know I’d feel a lot better if I had enough food and comfort to last as long as I live. And as long as my kids live and their kids and grandkids so they won’t be stressed and I’ll be remembered as the great patriarch and I’ll need way more space to put all this stuff and and make it look as impressive as possible so those hyper-snooty jerks down the street know who their daddy is and I gotta stock up to pay the thugs I hire to protect it from all those envious freeloaders and to get a few politicians laid so I can get a tax break or two cause I’m breaking my back here to provide the low paying jobs for so many complainers and all that. Gotta come up with a punchy we’re-all-family narrative to make em think I give a shit. Gotta create some unity around here too. Been hearing mumbles and griping. Come up with some deities who want them to behave in an orderly fashion and respect their favorite prodigy who employs them. They’ll like that. I feel better now.

So nice to have some gainful employment working for that gonif up there in the mansion with his we’re-all-family poop. Most of the hours of the day are spent on the job performing tasks too tedious to describe here and with no apparent purpose and nothing I can point out to my offspring with a sense of pride. But there’s enough comfort inducers out there to take the edge off but after awhile comfort gets kind of mundane. Boring, to be perfectly honest. By now my brain has evolved even more complexity and mass to hold even more cells and synapses and lobes on top of lobes. That over-abundance of comfort doesn’t let my body relax and conserve energy, though. While my body is flabbing out on the sofa, this huge mass of brain cells, wiring and plumbing are twirling and twitching up there and suddenly I’m talking to myself with no sound coming out. Why are we here? Where did we come from? Am I good enough for… something-or-other or do I not measure up? Where do we go after we die? What determines each person’s destination? Feeling a bit stressed. Exhausted, frankly, but not enough to fall asleep. If I can’t sleep, then I want to feel a big ZZAPP.

Turns out ZZAPP inducers are for sale over on the other side of town. Ba da BING! I’m laughing with my peeps and getting big ideas, finding solutions to problems which will create new problems that won’t be identified for a few generations down the line when even bigger brains will devise solutions and those solutions will create global cultural revolutions which will create upheaval when large swaths of the population can’t keep up so those big solutions will be adapted for the warfare to come, causing a massive amount of deaths, crippling, disease, polluted food and water supplies, new and more powerful forms of anxiety and complex ways of acting them, chilling them and reacting to the economic collapse caused by chillin’ and not willin’ to do a hard day’s work around here so we need a new pill or sport or war to everybody back in the game and all these innovations morph to new and exciting forms of social pathologies and need for novel forms of comfort and excitement inducers to counteract the boredom that arises from too much comfort and yakking to oneself about metaphysical issues that can not be adequately nailed down which spurs the need for some fuckin stability and belief in an easy, codified explanation for my place in this life sphere and proof that I’m part of a breed and tribe that’s far superior to all the other assholes out there spraying stress rays into my precious comfort zone but those assholes out there also have evolved the same big brains which have formed narratives that prove beyond any possible doubt that it’s their breed and tribe that’s really the superior one and a jerk from one side messes up an important totem belonging to the other side and the latest technology for the betterment of all humanity that’s been adapted for maximum destruction and death is applied to a righteous war that’s laid waste to vast stretches of geological and biological doodads, not to mention the messes made to produce tastier snacks while entertaining myself out of a bad mood from too much thinking about all this stuff I’m reading on the internet and all the ugly crap people are posting on my Twitter feed and there’s some good stuff there too and, hold on, gotta check… lotsa flooding, fires tornados out there pick up a pizza but better fill the tank first 

Brains too big.


Imagine waking up knowing exactly what you have to do and you do it and it’s so obvious what the purpose is and that purpose and hard work has evidence for all to see along with evidence of every other bee’s work day and the hive is always worth risking your life for. Not because of a charismatic leadership with fantasies about the world and your hive that happen to line up with your own fantasies.  There are no fantasies. You put yourself out there because that’s what you’re here to do. It’s so obvious that you never have a single thought about it. When the hive is at risk everyone’s prepared to fight and, if necessary, everyone knows their role in searching for, constructing and maintaining a new hive. And when it’s die time you know it and it’s no biggie because dying is just what you do after the living part.

Hard day’s worth of purposeful work. Eat. Rest. Work. Problem. Strategize. Fix. Do. Done. Eat. 

Just the right size brain.

— Polar Levine, News Goo Dissection, October 15, 2017

© Polar Levine 2017 content should not be reproduced elsewhere without prior permission

Polar Levine

working class college dropout who loves to learn, poke his biases and waste time looking around