Our current lifestyle is not normal, from an evolutionnary point of view
Last year’s (2022) Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine was awarded to a biological anthropologist who discovered that in ancient times the Homo sapiens and the Homo neanderthalensis were interbreeding as such it seems like that bioanthropology is coming to public attention all of a sudden. It is a basic science, not applied science, but I think that what bioanthropology reveals will serve as a tool to relativize our current way of living from the viewpoint of a very long-time scale of human evolution.
During my career as a scientist, I have been studying the behavioral ecology of various animals including Japanese monkeys, chimpanzees, deer, sheep. So, whereas they are now confined to African rainforest and listed as an endangered species, we humans have spread right across the Earth and are increasing our number year by year. Clearly, we are quite successful as an animal species.
A long evolutionnary line
The common ancestor of current chimpanzees and human lines started to differentiate its evolutionary path around 6 million years ago. It was just two hundred thousand years ago, and for almost entire time ever since humans have subsisted as hunter gatherers. Yet around ten thousand years ago, we invented agriculture and cattle raising and adopted a sedentary lifestyle.
From then on, cities were built, and civilizations started to rise up and the speed of societal change skyrocketed to the point where it is now no longer sustainable. During the last century and the half, we completely transformed our entire lifestyle. However, our current civilization of mass production and mass disposal is not sustainable, and our modern societies are imposing many novel stresses on us.
This is not in the least a normal lifestyle from an evolutionary point of view. We humans have always coped with environmental fluctuations with innovative thinking and flexibility.
Rethink about what it means to be happy. We can do it and biological anthropology is a kind of a basic science that can provide us with a clue to how.
Mariko Hasegawa, The Graduate University for Advanced Studies, SOKENDAI
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