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Why we are not Modern Humans

The ice block in the middle of the room contains an early human, frozen in an instant. The scientists believe they can unfreeze him and ensure he returns to life. Walking, talking, interacting and hopefully understanding enough that we can study him. 

Even though our expectations need to be tempered because this has never been done before, we are highly curious how they will fare in this modern time. Can ancient humans adapt to living in modern society? 

We all know the story in one form or the other, an “ancient” person comes to modern times and chaos ensues. They fail or have a hard time adapting, don’t understand many of the social cues but at the same time seem to adapt in the end. Have you ever really thought about how strange that conclusion is? We truly believe on a subconscious level that the body and mind that is suited for the ice age is also built for modern days. Trading spear and animal skin for a computer and a suit. That’s it… now you’re ready for the modern world.  Humans (as any organism) keep evolving, but our social evolution is going far faster than what our bodies can keep up with. Genetically we have very little difference from those ancient ancestors, but our world has changed completely. Genetic changes take many generations. The speed of evolution always depends on how hard we are pressed to change. Pressed by immediate dangers this could be relatively fast (like with skin colour) or take way longer (walking on two feet) A population-wide genetic adaptation in humans on average takes twenty thousand years before we are completely adapted to new circumstances.

Reading it quickly twenty thousand years doesn’t sound like a lot, so let’s put that into perspective. Farming has been one of the greatest changes in our society. Without farming and all its direct and indirect effects, almost everything we do today would be impossible. So how long ago do you think we started farming?Evidence puts the earliest farming somewhere between ten and twelve thousand years ago. So with a bit of luck humanity is genetically just over halfway adapted to living the farm life. 

You are probably reading this while sitting in a warm building, with some drink and food nearby during your spare time. We hardly need to move, we eat and drink things our ancestors couldn’t even dream of and we follow a clock to tell us when we can do what we want. How can we expect ourselves to be adapted to this kind of modern luxury when we haven’t even adapted to farming yet? Yes, we are living the lives of modern humans, but we still come with a framework (the primal being) that isn’t built for modern times. We can fight that reality all we want, but it will take many, many, many generations before we can truly call ourselves modern. 

We are at the exact point “where the falling angel meets the rising ape” right in the middle between primal instinct and modern man. We need to accept that we live in the grey area between the entirely rational and fully instinctual and we need that balance to be fully human.

When we look at the four pillars of health we can see how extreme the mismatch is between the modern lifestyle and our primal being and how difficult balance can be. All these pillars will in time get an in-depth blog of their own, for now however we will keep it short.

Nutrition: Modern-day abundance in both food and alcohol is something we’re not built to manage. Our cravings used to be our guide, but now they betray us. Because they no longer know what food is “real” and don’t need to adapt to the seasons anymore. 

We see the effects all around: beer bellies, obesity and now we even have “skinny fat”. And let’s not dive into the vitamin and mineral deficiencies that run rampant. 

Rest: Clocks, calendars and schedules dictate our days. We know when to go to sleep, when to eat, when to work and even when to relax. We are equipped with an ancient biorhythm which between obligations, (screen) lights and stress seems to have been forgotten. The clock knows everything the modern human needs to know. 

Movement: Modern human can do everything from the comfort of their computer while sitting in a comfy chair. When we want to move we go to a centralised building to challenge ourselves. Our primal being remembers the days we NEEDED to move every single day, to get to food or safety. Our sedentary lifestyles are slowly killing us and we accept it in the name of comfort. 

Community: The nuclear family has been the holy unit in recent times. Four of five members are your direct community, everyone else is further away, lives their own lives or has others to care about. Social media connects us in spirit, but those connections are fleeting at best. Humans are built to be part of our tribe, and take care of those that are part of “us”. But with so many people around, our friend groups don’t overlap and change all the time. The “us” has been lost and so is our primal being. 

I don’t want to end on a negative note, so let’s be clear: modern society has a ton of amazing benefits we shouldn’t dismiss. We don’t need to fight off tigers or the cold, we no longer starve during the winter and space for specialisation (like medicine) is much appreciated. Modern human is taller and growing older than ever (together they form the best indication of health).

What we however also shouldn't dismiss is that we are still human, not that far away from our hunter-gatherer ancestors. 

Accepting both truths simultaneously is needed in our quest to find balance. Where in return that balance comes with a happier and healthier life. So let’s celebrate that we are neither modern beings nor our primal nature. We are the place where these two meet. We are primal beings. 


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