I am about to start reading a book by Randolph Nesse titled __Good Reasons for Bad Feelings__, and thought i would start a new method. The method is to write down the state of my raw intuitions and guesses prior to reading, and a more careful analysis. My hope is that this method - let us call this practice the method of an Active Reader - will help an authors development and learning, and the readers comprehension and honest evaluation.
# Good Reasons for Bad Feelings
My understanding is that this book will look at the evolutionary basis for depression, and that Nesse is one of the key architects of Evolutionary Medicine. I've long been interested in this from having read the Myth of Mental Illness as a medical student (which had a profound effect for various reasons, and having researched the evolution of the immune system while studying Immunology at UCL. But that was a long time ago.
I cannot remember my thoughts, some of them are recent and I made a note that I should write them down. I will try to remember them now.
The big impression - that is the unsaid thing in the room - is that depression, self harm, and the tendency towards destruction in our approach to life (at least our mental life) is not just pervasive, but extraordinarily so. At the same time ti makes almost no sense. Suicide is the number one cause of violent death, and kills more people globally each year than ...
In 2016 suicide killed 817,148 people around the world. This is far more people than homicide, war, terrorism and all natural disasters combined (548,311). Throw in drug and alcohol abuse and together we have a comparable figure - ourworldindata.org
390794 Homicide 115782 Conflict 34676 Terrorism 7059 Natural disasters SUM
173893 Alcohol disorder 143775 Drug disorder SUM
It is astounding about this figure is not simply the tiny amount of our (media) attention this issue commands, and yet these figures take no account of either the mountain of pain and suffering that that suicide causes families and relatives, nor the way that the underlying depressive states feed into years of chronic distress and other causes of death related to self harm through drugs, alcohol, diet and obesity amongst other factors.
When we compare suicide to terrorism, murder, war, drug abuse and natural disasters - any one of which command many times more media coverage - we begin to sense an invisible mountain of suffering.
As a one of the pre-eminent cause of death amongst young people and parents of young children, depression surely has a significant reproductive disadvantage - yet it appears to be relatively stable and prevalent across cultures and throughout history (at least as far as we have records of such things).
At the same time, the narrative, literary, and psychological explanations I have read - frankly appear incredibly weak - almost dismissive.
So what would my thinking naturally tend to with regard to an explanation of the phenomenon of suicide at this scale amongst human populations?
My starting point would be to come up with strong clear advantages to the individual and to the tribe of a depressive attitude, and secondly to explore unpalatable thoughts in order to increase my chance of unearthing causal factors overlooked by mainstream science and society.
The most obvious reason I can think of is the clear advantage of avoiding conflict, and of coordinated group behaviour through being submissive. The avoidance of conflict through ritualised submission is common as dirt in the animal kingdom, furthermore me can imagine additional advantages for social animals.
Submitting to either a leader, or the tribe, is clearly required to achieve coordinated action, whether in hunting or conflict. And the a priori relation between submission and depressive thinking is superficially obvious.
In attempting to balance aggression, dominance, and submission we can clearly see an evolutionary and culturally advantageous set of behaviours in mankind's evolved psyche.
We can test this hypothesis in other hunting collectives - wolves and chimps perhaps. But then we need to look at how a modern life can affect such base instincts. Perhaps we look to pattern languages and emotions.
Finally I see a relation to religion that would be fruitful to explore. The banning of suicide, like the banning of sex, clearly indicates an attempt to channel this energy and repurpose it for collective reasons. Religiosity is alos clearly related
Now we can read.
Reading the sleeve, we see the more obvious style explanations regarding the advantage of being cautious, and risk averse - though for me the link between anxiety and depression is not obvious. More interesting is a hint at the evolutionary benefits of schizophrenia, though I doubt this book will be somewhere that explores that truly (for US markets) controversial thought trail. I keep my fingers crossed that this book contains bold and rationally supported claims - I fear the worst.
Reading the chapter heading we can see this book should be good:
- Low mood and the art of giving up - Know thyself - NOT! - Minds Unbalanced on Fitness Cliffs
Hint at chapters that state the obvious but controversial, and:
- Bad Sex Can Be Good -for Our Genes - Guilt an Grief: The Price of Goodness and Love
look like chapters which may contain non-obvious ideas. I begin to get excited :)
# See also