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For years and years, I have studied the area of human “operations” and written full time about what works in life. AND... I loved this book, perhaps even better than some of the other seminal books in psychology, like those by Kahneman and Seligman.
The technical and explanatory level is excellent and convincing AND the stories are very interesting and well-written, even entertaining in many ways.
It is relatively easy to read even though it does go deep, with 77 pages of notes. And I would estimate that, for anyone who read it and thought about it, it would start a cascade of observations and adjustments in how one thought of reality, one’s beliefs, and one’s behaviors. Reading the book will likely cause certain unperceived realities to become blatantly and blaringly obvious, in flashing neon lights. Life will never be the same after it, if you apply it, of course.
I would place it in the “necessary for reading” list for those who want a better life. And, different than many books that one reads to “grow”, this has massive substance in relatively little space. (See also Shermer’s The Believing Brain, which is a great complement to this book, helping to shatter false beliefs that lead us into less than great lives...)
Its worth a read, with lots of highlighting, and then a review and then a plan to implant it. I will be making a summary table of the key realities and how we can adjust to make our lives work better by refining where evolution has left us (with a number of things that do not work in this modern environment). From this we can fashion our own adaptation, but much quicker than the slow, limited process of evolution.
After all, the key trait of man that caused his survival is “adaptation”, so doing our own intention caused adaptation seems an appropriate thing to do in this world if we truly want to be happy....
When I saw the blurbs from both Dr. Robert Sapolsky (whose work Behave is a doorstop of intellectually stimulating neurological insights) and Dr. Michael Gazzaniga (who has put out a bookshelf-full body of work on neuroscience and consciousness), I caved and added this new work by Dr. Randolph Nesse to the cart. To be blunt, this was a great idea.
Good Reasons for Bad Feelings is focused on the emerging field of evolutionary psychiatry and it’s attempt to “bridge the canyon” between the fields of evolutionary biology and psychiatry.
Dr. Nesse’s overarching question throughout the book is straightforward: as animals who’s minds, behaviors, emotions and feelings have been shaped by natural selection, why - given our pliability to adaptations and hopes of genetic fitness - why do our minds leave us vulnerable to mental diseases, feelings, sociality, ungovernable actions and brain disorders?
The book is divided into four easily digestible parts; the chapters are not long-winded and full of jargon. Instead, Dr. Nesse provides insights into past, present and future studies involved in answering the questions posed above, relying on his professional experience in treating patients, work performed with colleagues and examples of everyday life.
Specific highlights of the work: psychiatric diagnosis is often convoluted because it fails to distinguish symptoms and diseases; emotions are evolved mechanisms of coping; the “Smoke Detector Principle” and its correlation with why certain levels of anxiety are a good thing; dieting fads spur evolved famine protection mechanisms which cause eating disorders; the genetic correlation between fitness and schizophrenia and autism; and lastly - understanding evolutionary biology is crucial in understanding mental illnesses.
An excellent work for anyone interested in human evolutionary history, behavior and biology, Good Reasons for Bad Feelings is worth every dollar you will spend and every minute you invest in.
Now to dive into his recommendations for future reading; turn the pages!
Nothing in biology makes sense save in the light of evolution. Nesses shines that light on the most intractable of scientific problems, the human mind and its emotions. Specifically he provides an invaluable perspective that can help us understand the origin of mental illness. However the book doesn’t just stop with the “why” questions it relates these to the “how” questions. This book can save lives. It offers traditional psychiatry a way out of its dark cave.
All psychiatrists should read this book. All psychiatrists-in-training should read this book. Any and all mental health professionals will profit from Dr. Nesse’s volume.
Surgeons have long possessed an accurate anatomy of the human body. Psychiatrists lacked a basic anatomy of human nature to understand the emotional illnesses that arise from it. Now we have a substantial anatomy of human nature thanks to the application of Darwin’s great idea to the mind. Even though Darwin foresaw that psychology would be based on a new foundation, a century and a half elapsed before his idea was systematically applied to psychology and social relations. The advent of evolutionary psychology stands as one of the great intellectual revolutions of all time. The mind is what the brain does and evolved under the rules of Darwinian natural selection. Randy Nesse was one of the first psychiatrists and certainly is the most important one to see the centrality of evolution for psychiatry and medicine.
There are many strengths to the book. Dr. Nesse structures the narrative arc with his personal professional journey. Any mental health professional will identify with this. How does one understand the nature and causes of the suffering that daily confront us as clinicians? How do we treat patients and effectively reduce or relieve suffering? What theoretical framework best explains the facts before us? What treatment modalities give us a running chance at success? To fix a broken leg you need to know its anatomy. Now we have that anatomy. The mind is shaped by natural selection. Our emotions are designed for our genes’ interests, not our individual self-interest.
All of the problems that we see as mental health professionals are addressed. No matter what area a clinician reader might focus on, Randy Nesse teaches valuable lessons.
One of the most important lessons we learn from him, which our profession still has failed to master, is that we confuse adaptive defenses with disease. We continue to conceptualize and medicate the phenomena of anxiety and depression as illnesses that float free of the individual’s unique life experiences and the evolved structure of the mind.
Any mental health provider will be familiar with the failure to find genes specific to the illnesses we treat. A Huntington’s disease model of one malfunctioning gene will never bail us out. We now know that the risk alleles for the major mental illnesses are numerous and probably there for other good evolutionary reasons. So how do we comprehend the devastating diseases like schizophrenia and bipolar illness? Dr. Nesse’s application of “cliff edge fitness landscapes” to severe mental illness illustrates his perseverance and brilliance. He utilizes the tools of evolutionary biology to comprehend the devastating diseases we treat. I’ll explain ‘cliff edge’ no further. Read the book to learn this idea. You will be rewarded.
It is rare to find a crackerjack scientist who can write like the wind, describe complex matters in understandable language, and entertain the reader with clinical stories of real people in real circumstances - all the while showing us how evolutionary psychiatry offers immediate real-world remedies to the problems of living. More, he makes his journey of discovery ours, and with all the humility of a true explorer. In 79 years, of which 50 have been spent teaching students and practicing psychology, I can't think of another "break through" book to better explain the mental health ailments of the modern world as viewed through the lens of deep time. Anyone interested why the human condition is the condition it's in right now, will find this book illuminating. Paul Quinnett, Ph.D.
There's considerable speculation in this book, but the author shows a through understanding of evolutionary theory and the literature. I enjoyed reading about the author's intellectual journey into a scientific field that he initially knew little about but that over the years entirely changed his understanding of human vulnerability to both physical and mental illness, especially the so called diseases of civilization. The scientific revolution that is transforming psychology, psychiatry, and even the social sciences owes a lot to the pioneering scholars from the U. of Michigan (Alexander, Neese, Axelrod, Low, Betzig) and to the many who visited or spent some time there (Hamilton, Williams) . I especially liked the discussion of substance abuse. I amuse my students by telling them that THC and nicotine are natural insecticides but far less harmful to them than ingesting DDT. Now I can refer them to the author's book.
The is an easy-to-read encyclopedia of everything that has been learned about the relationship of mental illness to human evolution by the founder of the field of evolutionary psychiatry. At the same time that attempts at a microbiological and genetic understanding have progressively (and expensively) failed to reveal any mechanisms for mental illness, a macro-biological evolutionary understanding is being assembled brick by brick as you will see when you read this very important book. In addition, there is lots of fun stuff, like the evolutionary reason why men always infuriatingly pull out before females complete their orgasm!
This phenomenal book will open your eyes to the reasons we, as humans, are vulnerable to mental health problems - and where the field of psychiatry has gone astray by ignoring the natural function of emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. It doesn’t just criticize - Nesse provided a roadmap to a new psychiatry with a non-reductionist core informed by rock solid evolutionary biology. Perfect for any reader curious about the workings of the mind, but especially for researchers, mental health professionals, students, and people affected by mental health challenges and their families. I can’t stop thinking about this book!