Mind-Body Dichotomies — The Evolutionary Approach

I alluded to this back when I announced the new name of this blog. You’re welcome to review that, but here’s the gist of the particular reference, from two sources: Wikipedia and Objectivism Wiki. The most concise way I can describe it is the notion of either "body and mind," for the more secular among us, or "body and soul" for the most religious / spiritual. In essence, the idea seems to either call for "balance," such as in eastern mysticisms, to a more mind-centric philosophy at the expense of bodily urges, to a near complete rejection of the body ("pleasures of the flesh") in some religious philosophies.

Why is this important?

First, I reject them all on the basis of evolutionary biology. My approach is materialist (every thing is composed of matter or "material"), with a caveat: we either have free will, or our belief in our own free will is sufficient to be tantamount to free will (i.e., the determinism of our own biology is so complex that we can’t as yet begin to comprehend or unravel it, so it is, to us, free will). Another way to think of it is that values seem to transcend the sort of programming one would have to imagine us having if every act was a mere consequence of complex chemical reactions. We all have a vastly different set of values and we all, in various ways, seek to gain and keep them.

Back to why this is important. Virtually everything around you is based in some way upon the notion that this dichotomy exists. So, it’s important from the standpoint of optimal health. How arrogant am I, eh; everybody is wrong? Well, the paleo and EvFit guys get a lot right, most even, but then I see some advocating this governmental program over that, this regulation and that one, this politician over that one, this public policy over another, or some spiritualism or religion as superior to another.

So how does it play out?

When you divorce mind and body, or body and "soul," it’s essentially a divide and conquer strategy. Soon enough, you have every sort of "authority" claiming dominion over this "common" mind or soul. How? They dictate the values. So, whether it’s the local city counsel, D.C., Brussels, or the Vatican, sure enough there will be someone to tell you how, if you don’t hold a certain set of values, your thinking is off, you’re a derelict or criminal, or your soul is in jeopardy.

Folks: you evolved over millions of years to account for the values and behaviors of about 25-30 people and that’s what you’re hardwired for. Certainly, since many of our neural pathways are established in response to sensory input (environment) in the first few years of life, there’s wiggle room — just like you could take a wolf pup, hold it 24/7, and establish neural pathways accustomed to the smell, sight, and movements of humans. But then again, that wolf would not be existing even remotely close to the sensory stimuli, diet, and activity that would fully express its genes for optimum health and wolf-well-being.

Where this is going is that Freeing the Animal is not only about diet and exercise, but about mental well-being, happiness, tranquility and harmony as well. Of course, we can’t ever "go back," nor would I want to. I just want to do the best I can to model and simulate a whole health, and much of that involves how you come to regard much of the modern world.

So what can you do?

I’d suggest establishing for yourself a simple hierarchy, just like you do for food, where you can assign things a relative position according to how well it reflects or harmonizes with our evolutionary heritage. So, for example, you’ve got wild game and foraged roots, plants and berries on the one extreme (fully consistent) and grains, refined sugar, vegetable oils, fast food, baby food and formula, and processed foods on the extreme other (slow-acting poison). In the middle, you have dairy, and maybe a little higher up, nuts of various sorts and wines. A little higher: fruits. Below dairy, you’ve got things like potatoes, beer, spirits and so forth. You see you could go on and on, and really, working that out over time and refining it can be fun, and you’ll learn a lot.

How about various institutions? On the extreme end of evolutionarily inharmonious, I’ve got government (without meaningless distinctions over what kind). For starters, it’s a lot more than 25-30 people, I have zero control or influence, and the notion that people in Washington D.C. can dictate a large percentage of my values and fine or lock me up for not at least going through the motions of holding them is foreign to your genes and by consequence, your thinking.

"Thinking is as biologic as is digestion." – Weston Price

And before you dismiss that, think about this: how well do you think when drunk, stoned, or are experiencing chronic pain. Have personal problems ever made you sick to your stomach? We are fully integrated. You cannot separate biology from the mind.

On the other end, you’ve got the family unit. Absolutely harmonious with evolution in every way — beautifully so. I quoted Weston Price, above, and should you ever have the opportunity to read "The Fountainhead" of nutritional wisdom, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, you’ll take note of his descriptions of harmonious family life, and in particular, the superbly well-mannered children, none of thousands of whom he ever witnessed being subjected to any sort of corporal punishment.

Also near the top of harmonious I’d place small and medium sized businesses — those that don’t rely on the government to carve out special laws for them or set up barriers to entry such that only the very biggest can play. Why? Simple: because I can take ’em or leave ’em. It’s no more complicated than that. They don’t try to force values on me. Rather, they strive to meet my standards of values in exchange for trade.

I might place some forms of religion in the middle. While I don’t think any of them qualify as fully harmonious, I do understand that small bands of religious people seem to fare quite well. The larger, more hierarchical and authoritarian, the father away from nature.

How about financial markets? To me, financial markets are like a huge vat of snakes, 99.99% harmless — fun even, for some. You may go a whole lifetime without encountering that .01%. You may not. My point is that we are not even close to being designed to properly assess the risks inherent in financial markets (source: The Oz Report).


Now, that’s all a quick exercise, much off the top of my head, and I don’t expect anyone to come up with the same answers I do. Perhaps I’ve missed something, and there’s certainly a lot of other elements in society to evaluate. It’s really about the process of evaluation and the need to do so — to become your own authority — that makes this important. Also, probably more important is the relative position to which you assign things rather than the absolute position.

And how this conditions your values and actions going forward is up to you. You know, I’ve just got to have a big juicy burger (w/ bun, toasted!) and fries about every couple of months, always will. And I’m not completely adverse to getting plastered, now and then. It’s not a race, but a life way. Just having clarity about what in your environment makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint, what doesn’t, and what’s of various shadings in-between is the first step in conditioning yourself to live as harmoniously as you can with your own biological reality.

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  1. Nolan Eakins on October 9, 2008 at 13:59

    If you enjoy reading stuff from the choir, both Gerald Edelman's "A Universe of Consciousness" and Douglas Hofsteder's "I Am a Strange Loop" both rule out the mind/body dichotomy. Edelman builds his theory up from cellular biology and evolution, while Hofsteder has been thinking about thinking all his life. Duality is getting harder and harder to support, which might be the 21st century's gift to the future.

  2. Keith Norris on October 9, 2008 at 13:29

    Insightful line of thought, Richard. This dovetails nicely with my reading of “The Agile Gene” (Matt Ridley). Our body, mind, soul and phenotype are all integrated and constantly morphing.

  3. Jessica on October 10, 2008 at 11:10

    It's really gratifying to see that there are others in the world who seek to live an integrated life and share their successes along the way. Thank you for this blog…you've definitely contributed to the further integration of my life by documenting your own. Cheers!

    I am constantly discovering that the process is a wonderful feedback loop that continues to grow with each new integration. The more connections I make, the easier it becomes to make the next connections, the better life gets, and the harder it is to drift and revert back to the old, broken and un-integrated way of being.

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