A Hunter-Gatherer's Guide to the 21st Century: Evolution and the Challenges of Modern Life Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
A provocative exploration of the tension between our evolutionary history and our modern woes - and what we can do about it.
We are living through the most prosperous age in all of human history, yet we are listless, divided, and miserable. Wealth and comfort are unparalleled, but our political landscape is unmoored, and rates of suicide, loneliness, and chronic illness continue to skyrocket. How do we explain the gap between these truths? And how should we respond?
For evolutionary biologists Heather Heying and Bret Weinstein, the cause of our troubles is clear: The accelerating rate of change in the modern world has outstripped the capacity of our brains and bodies to adapt. We evolved to live in clans, but today many people don’t even know their neighbors’ names. In our haste to discard outdated gender roles, we increasingly deny the flesh-and-blood realities of sex - and its ancient roots. The cognitive dissonance spawned by trying to live in a society we are not built for is killing us.
In this book, Heying and Weinstein draw on decades of their work teaching in college classrooms and exploring Earth’s most biodiverse ecosystems to confront today’s pressing social ills - from widespread sleep deprivation and dangerous diets to damaging parenting styles and backward education practices. Asking the questions many modern people are afraid to ask, A Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century outlines a science-based worldview that will empower you to live a better, wiser life.
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|Listening Length||8 hours and 17 minutes|
|Author||Heather Heying, Bret Weinstein|
|Narrator||Heather Heying, Bret Weinstein|
|Whispersync for Voice||Ready|
|Audible.com Release Date||September 14, 2021|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #2,357 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#4 in Biology (Audible Books & Originals)
#9 in Evolution (Audible Books & Originals)
#17 in Anthropology (Audible Books & Originals)
Reviewed in the United States on September 15, 2021
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Reviewed in the United States on September 15, 2021
The problem, of course, is how far you’re willing to take this argument. It’s one thing to concede that evolution gives us certain predispositions (e.g., the compulsion to binge eat) that no longer match environmental realities (an overabundance of sugary foods), leading to disastrous consequences (obesity, heart disease, etc.), and that by understanding the mismatch, we can modify our behaviors (whole food diets, intermittent fasting, etc.), leading to better outcomes. Few reasonable people would argue against these more clear-cut cases.
But the authors don’t stop there. They want to take the argument further and claim that all long-standing cultural adaptations “evolve to serve the genome” (and they really mean this). This tactic, however, seems little more than using genetics and evolution to support the beliefs and practices approved by the authors. If every long-lasting cultural practice can be said to support the genome, then those practices can be defended on seemingly scientific grounds. But this is nothing more than an illusion, and should be recognized as such by the reader.
It’s not necessarily useful to think of humans in this way. Humanity separated itself from the rest of the animal kingdom primarily via our ability to transcend genetic determination and to decide how to live using reason and experience. And if a cultural practice is bad for the genes but good for the individual, to hell with the genes. The classic example is contraception. This long-running practice of enjoying sex without bearing children cannot have “evolved to serve the genome,” and yet those who practice it by intentionally not having children are not living an impoverished or defective life in any sense simply because their genes may not like it.
If reason tells you that you would prefer a child-free life, then that’s what you should do, irrespective of what your genome would tell you. Similarly, in many matters, evolutionary biology offers us no help whatsoever in making life choices; rather, philosophy becomes far more important. But the authors want to pretend that every aspect of our lives can be guided by evolutionary logic when in reality they’re simply using a particular reading of evolution to justify their own beliefs (don’t watch porn, have casual sex, or take medication). Readers should be able to see through this ruse pretty easily, I would hope.
So take the content for what it’s worth. As I said above, there’s much to learn about our evolutionary past, which can provide deep insights into how we can modify our behavior for the better. But don’t think that evolutionary logic can make all the decisions for us, or that our own reason and capacity for independent philosophical thought cannot or should not override what may or may not be “best” for our genes, or for whatever traditional practices justify themselves on the basis of longevity alone (a BS argument often used by conservatives or religious fundamentalists).
Reviewed in the United States on September 16, 2021
This book also seemed to use evolution to support the author's opinion of how to live without scientific evidence to back it up. For example, the book infers that it is better to eat cod then to take a vitamin d supplement, that fluoride in water is bad for you (doesn't say how so), and that leaving a broken bone exposed to air is better than wrapping in a cast.
They tackle big questions about our species with clarity, wit, and the wide perspective of the evolutionary lens.
They see humans in the modern world as hyper-novel. They say: “ … humans are extraordinary well adapted to, and equipped for, change. But the rate of change itself is so rapid now that our brains, bodies, and social systems are perpetually out or sync. For millions of years, we lived among friends and extended families, but today many people don’t even know their neighbors’ names. Some of the most fundamental truths – like the fact of two sexes are increasingly dismissed as lies. The cognitive dissonance spawned by trying to live in a society that is changing faster than we can accommodate is turning us into people who cannot fend for ourselves. Simply put, it’s killing us.”
The authors claim, “if we don’t figure out how to grapple with the problem of accelerating novelty, humanity will perish, a victim of its success.”
They understand the need for a revolution to save the human species --- and they comprehend the ancient wisdom to let what works for humans, remain. They rightly observe that most revolutions make things worse ---- we need to respect traditions – such as religious belief and respect for ancient wisdom that informs us what works in our society. They quote the writer G. K. Chesterton who reminds us to be careful when we approach a fence --- we shouldn’t tear down the fence just because we don’t know why the fence is there.
Heying and Weinstein are wedded to first principles – assumptions that cannot be deduced from any other assumptions. They are aware of the naturalistic fallacy of what is or what is natural must be good --- a confusion of fact and value. What is, is not always what should be.
Heying and Weinstein propose practical guidelines for such important topics, and chapter titles as, “Ancient Bodies, Modern World;” “Medicine;” “Sex and Gender,” “Parenting;” “Becoming Adults;” “Culture and Consciousness,” Heying and Weinstein tell us much about their views of human nature informed by evolution.
The following are examples of the “Corrective Lens” offered at the end of each chapter:
• Become skeptical of novel solutions to ancient problems.
• Become someone who recognizes patterns about yourself.
• Move your body every day.
• Do not forget that food is social lubrication for humans.
• Develop a ritual in advance of sleep.
• Avoid sex without commitment.
• Do not succumb to social pressure to embrace easy sex.
• Do not helicopter or snowplow your children.
• Be the kind of person you want your children to be.
• Civilization needs citizens capable of openness and inquiry.
• Always be learning.
• Get over your bigotry.
• Learn how to give useful critique without backing the other person into a corner.
• Be barefoot as often as possible.
• Sit around more campfires.
For millennia, humans have been sitting around campfires, sharing ideas, bonding with each other and solving problems.
I welcome the opportunity to sit around a campfire with Drs. Weinstein and Heying, college students, and a group of ideological diverse academics from a variety of disciplines to ask questions, discuss disagreements, and digest more intellectual, gourmet food found in this excellent book.
Because I’m a psychologist with 45 years of experience, I would challenge the authors allergy to psychiatric medications. I’ve witnessed many children, adolescents and adults benefit from these medications, sometimes preventing suicide, major depression, academic and job failures. It’s difficult to get people to take 8 days of antibiotics; and more difficult to get people to take daily psychiatric drugs unless these medicines help. Psychiatric medications treat our “hard drive” and talking therapy treats our “software.” Both talking therapy and pharmacotherapy are often essential for treating mental distress. Humans have the most flexible software of any animal on the planet. A core deficit in our understanding of the mind is we have no clue how our material brain creates our sense of “I” - our sense of self.
I would like to know how these authors would square their pessimistic view of our world with the writings of psychologist Steven Pinker - “Enlightenment Now,” and the physician, the late Hans Rosling, co-author of, “Factfulness.” Both authors describe the tremendous progress we’ve made in the last 200 years such as reducing world poverty from 90% to 10%; increasing life span; reducing infectious diseases; and much more. Perhaps Pinker and Rosling would say even these brilliant evolutionary biologists are shaped by millions of years of evolution to adopt a negativity bias, keenly aware of threats to our species.
Don’t miss their Dark Horse podcasts.
To help keep my sanity in this world, I turn to another quote of G. K. Chesterton: “He is a sane man who can have tragedy in his heart and comedy in his head.”
Top reviews from other countries
"Nearly every student whom we taught was, in the end, game to be challenged, actually challenged - told when they were wrong, told when they were wrong (sic), and told that they needed to learn to pose real questions, and then sit in the not-knowing for long enough to figure out how one might figure it out."
I'm sure they were most inspiring teachers, and most of their students realised how fortunate they were to have been taught by them (though the goons and cowards who ran Evergreen were too stupid to support them against a small band of malignant and noisy know-nothing ideologues). This is a book from which almost anyone with an open mind and a true thirst for understanding will benefit greatly: but Belles-lettres it aint! - though to be fair, I don't suppose it was meant to be.
Along the way, I read things which were literally life changing, which left me enhanced with new pragmatic insights - texts which provided answers to my fundamental questions: "what happened to me?"; "who am I?"; "how do I get a better?". Books such as Stephen Porges' "Pocket Guide to Polyvagal Theory", Gabor Mate's "When the Body Says No", Heller & LaPierre's "Healing Developmental Trauma", Iain McGilchrist's "The Master and His Emissary" all left their indelible marks on me. Each added a new lens with which to construct a more panoramic view of my inner world and the embedded relationship with culture and society.
These books gave me new tools with which to reconfigure myself and my life in to more healthy states, allowing me to build a new pragmatic toolkit of self-knowledge and understanding, with which I slowly, but surely, began to progressively reduce my symptoms. These books not only made be better, but also made me a better person, through a deeper understanding of, and compassion for, the human condition.
"The Hunter Gatherer's Guide to The 21st Century" is, for me, most definitely the next chapter in the evolution of pragmatic knowledge about myself and my fellow humans, the rightful inheritor to the series of life changing books I've read that altered my perspectives forever, and provided me with much needed actionable insight. In particular, The Hunter-Gatherer's Guide broadens out the answers to my fundamental questions to: "what happened to US?"; "who are WE?"; "how do WE become better?". It has added the Evolutionary Lens to my toolkit of self-knowledge and understanding.
The book also provides further, deeper lessons for becoming better, both in the sense of healthier, more robust and fulfilled, and in the sense of better homo sapiens - how to be more kind and compassionate, more understanding, and more forgiving of the foibles of our shared human condition too.
Perhaps even more so than the others texts I've read, this book is also purposefully empowering and aims to be highly pragmatic, setting out to provide an applied toolkit with which the reader can analyse problems for themselves. It codifies the Evolutionary Lens via a flow of relatively simple questions, such as their "Omega Principle", "Three-part Test of Adaption" and "Precautionary Principle".
In particular, the book answers questions which I have been musing on for some time about the origins of the rise and rise of [idiopathic] [incurable] chronic illness, namely whether it is our brains and bodies which have become so maladaptive, or whether we have created an environment for ourselves that is toxic to our own biology, and which we are continuing to change too fast for biology to keep up. The book comes firmly down on the side of the latter. In fact, the authors' coin a term for this: "hypernovelty".
The authors' illustrate the application of their method by turning it to several hypernovel issues we face in modern life, under the themes of: medicine; food; sleep; sex; parenting; relationships; childhood; school; growing up; consciousness; culture. They do not harken back to a mythological golden age, but seek to make sense of the modern world and navigate a safer way forward. As well as the illustrative analyses, they share their own actionable solutions which they have applied to their own lives at the end of each chapter, via a section called "The Corrective Lens".
The book is written in conversational, narrative style, highly accessible, easy reading and without scientific jargon. The case studies are illustrated with stories from history, nature and science, as well as lessons from the authors' own life experiences. Key points are clearly broken out from the text with bullet point boxes and diagrams.
Perhaps one small point of concern I have, as a person with a sensitive nervous system, is that the author's tend to come out on these issues with all guns blazing... a more conciliatory or humble tone may have helped more people who would benefit be able to listen to the messages.
This book was not easy for me to read.
I’m one of those people who struggled with mainstream education.
I’ve always been hungry for knowledge though.
The book is written well, concepts explained so I could follow in most part.
But having come to the end, I think another, more informed read is needed. And further exploration of the field too – the book contains recommendations.
On reflection – the chapters stayed with me, as I got on with my day – I kept thinking about the content, at points frustrated, as I did not fully grasp – I kind of like and hate that, it keeps me coming back for more, and distracted from what I really ‘should’ be doing.
At no point did I want to stop reading this book.
It gently unfolded the complexities of the natural and social world I never previously thought of.
The evolutionary lens comes to life as a useful tool if Humanity is to find some balance.
I look forward to further publications from the authors.
The book touches on so many topics (and I still have two chapters left) and certainly doesn't explore them in fine detail. But it does provoke the reader to re-evaluate their assumptions around certain hypernovel modern practices and see if they can augment them to better suit their own lives.
It's a great book and if you enjoy books on evolutionary theory and animal behaviour then
it's an obvious read. Readers of self help books will also love this book as it provides a lens or blueprint to thinking through decisions on novel solutions. Definitely a great read.