Did you know that today, more people die from obesity than from starvation, from old age than from infectious diseases, and from suicide than warfare? And, in the USA alone, more than $2 trillion is spent on healthcare annually, when 70% of the illnesses are preventable.
Have you ever considered how humans ended up living the way we do, and where our choices today will lead us collectively as a species?
Well, in this article, we’re going to take a brief look at our evolutionary history and consider the implications on 2 important areas:
• Your health; and
• The future of mankind.
The Story of the Human Body gives a detailed account of how Homo Sapiens came to have the bodies we have, how cultural evolution recently changed the way we live, and why many of our modern-day diseases are the result of a a mismatch between our bodies and our lifestyle.
The broad idea is this: It took millions of years for the first Homo Sapiens to evolve from apes (and each our body features evolved for a reason), yet we totally changed the way we live in the last 10 generations, throwing millions of years of evolution out of the window. Because our new lifestyle is totally different from what our bodies were evolved for, this creates “mismatches” and dys-evolution, to bring our modern-day diseases. With the right lifestyle change, most of these diseases can be prevented. [You can read more about the 5 stages of biological evolution and the 2 phases of cultural evolution in our summary of The Story of the Human Body.]
Most of the diseases we’re getting sick from (e.g. osteoporosis, depression, cancer) are actually preventable. From an evolutionary perspective, almost every major disease can be attributed to 3 problems with our modern lifestyle:
• Diseases from Excess, including obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart diseases, and reproductive tissue cancers, are the result of having too much food (most of which are processed foods with little/no fibre and lots of starch and sugars) and too little exercise. The excess energy in our body creates issues–which can be addressed with exercise and a sound diet.
• Diseases of Dis-use. The body decides where to invest its energy budget using the “use it or lose it” concept. Health issues like Osteoporosis, impacted wisdom teeth, and allergies are the outcome of dis-use of our bodies, which again can be remedied with lifestyle changes.
• Diseases of Novelty. Our modern-day conveniences and comforts are new/novel to our bodies by evolutionary standards. Things that we take for granted–e.g. shoes, eyeglasses, and chairs–may actually be bad for us with excessive use, as they change the natural way our bodies function and adapt.
By understanding your body and making lifestyle adjustments, you can actually improve your health and prevent unnecessary evolutionary diseases.
Homo Deus focuses more on mankind’s cultural and social evolution. Unlike other species, mankind has the unique ability to imagine, create stories and meaning, allowing us to organize ourselves flexibly in large numbers, and giving birth to our current legal systems, stock-markets, global trade, etc.
Harari details how our beliefs, ideologies, and relationship with other living creatures have evolved over time, and presents some thought-provoking scenarios and questions of our future as a species. In a nutshell, he suggests that our desire for constant progress, eternal youth and lasting happiness could ironically be the catalysts to drive Homo Sapiens out of existence.
Let’s take a quick look at 3 of the current driving forces behind human societies, and the dilemmas that they bring:
• Capitalism & Growth. Capitalism has brought mankind amazing growth, progress, power and control. However, Capitalism assumes the wheel of growth will spin constantly and indefinitely. The dilemma is this: continuing our growth will likely lead to a total ecological collapse, but stopping the wheel of growth can crash our global systems. Will we be prepared to slow down our growth to address the ecological crisis?
• The New Human Agenda. Besides our need for never-ending growth, humans also have ambitions for immortality and lasting happiness. Biological engineering (e.g. rewriting our genetic codes, growing new body parts), cyborg engineering (e.g. bionic hands, artificial eyes) and creation of non-organic beings (e.g artificial intelligence, robots) are already a reality. The book presents many worrying scenarios to suggest that, as we continue to replace our body parts and genes, we may very well end up with a new species of Homo Deus that is no longer “human”.
• The Humanist Revolution. Humanism is the dominant religion today, placing humans at the centre of the universe. We no longer depend on the Gods and religious scriptures to tell us what’s good or right, but believe in our free will, and depend on our inner feelings and desires to guide our decisions. Yet, if you dig deeper, you’ll realize that many of our modern ideals about humanism are merely myths. Humans may eventually lose our value as unique individuals as (a) computers become more intelligent, rendering us obsolete, (b) we become increasingly reliant on technology for decisions, until one day they know us better than we know ourselves, and (c) a small group of elite, upgraded superhumans could emerge to dominate other humans using technology and computer algorithms. [Read more from our Homo Deus summary here].
These 2 books remind us of where we came from as a species, and provide important perspectives and questions to help us step back and look at our world from a wider perspective. While these social and cultural trends cannot be reversed by 1 person, we can each make a difference by making enlightened personal choices and spreading awareness.
Ask yourself, “What’s my purpose on this world?”, “How do I choose to live today?”, and “What legacy will I leave?”. By taking responsibility to improve your personal heath and making conscious lifestyle choices, you can do your part to help shape the future of mankind.