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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mind Over Matter Matters

Humans are convinced that we have the best brains on the planet.  If tool making is any measure, there is no doubt of it.  Until we learn to speak whale or dolphin, we may never know if we’re the greatest philosophers.  Maybe it’s enough to know that we’re in the top three.

On the other hand, our bodies are nothing special.  There are lots of animals that are bigger, stronger, faster, stealthier and more adaptable.  Even our opposable digits, which are critical to our tool making, are not unique.

By this evaluation, our bodies are just a receptacle for our amazing brains.  Yet for all of our mental powers, many of us conclude that the joys of the flesh are the reason for our existence.  Why do I say this?  Just look at what we do: overeating, recreational narcotics, unhealthy lifestyles, dangerous activities, smoking, overworking, and under exercising.  We abuse our bodies in pursuit of “feeling good.”  Sometimes, we feel bad the next morning, but we do it again anyway.  The point is, the pleasures of the flesh tempt us beyond our mind’s ability to control it.

Maybe this is all part of evolution.  We are still essentially survival machines.  We’re programmed to do things that make us feel good.  It is a primitive mechanism to direct us towards “good” behavior.  The problem is – what was good behavior back in the caveman days of our existence, may not be so good now.  Eating is a good example.  Back when we were hunter-gatherers, our species ate lots of fruits and vegetables in the summer.  Our bodies made good use of the high quality sugars in the fruit.  In the winter, there wasn’t any fruit to be had, so our consumption was seasonal.  Today, we have access to unlimited, year-round highly refined sugars.  In nature, we never had the opportunity to consume so much.  Now, it’s easy and cheap.  No wonder obesity is such a pervasive problem.

Our ancient impulses still control our actions.  Some of us have begun to gain control of our impulses, but as a species, the practice is not as widespread as it should be.  Our minds may be getting stronger, but clearly we have a long way to go to take full advantage of our full potential.  For now, our bodies still rule, but one day, maybe…just maybe…

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