13 January, 2015

Nature vs. Nurture

When I was living in Issaquah, Washington with an unbalanced manic lady and her cat, my own "schizotypal" symptoms, especially those concerning auditory hallucinations became much worse. I stayed busy, worked and volunteered and tried to do as many positive things as possible, but my life continued to deteriorate. It wasn't until I left that house that I retained some sense of balance. My personality and hers clashed and no amount of positive thinking could change that. Moving on from there and finding more balanced environments, I regained emotional stability.

Time after time I am surprised just how little I actually control in my life and how much is influenced by the circumstances I am in. It's empowering to believe that having a positive mindset and trying hard is all that is needed to lose weight or get a job or change the world, but I don't think that is how things work. The people around you, the geography, the weather- these all profoundly impact how you interface with the world. It makes a good story to think a man controls his destiny with his will, but I believe our cognitive mind does very little and the way we use it currently is causing all sorts of problems in our lives.

When I was a kid, I grew up in a neighborhood that was 99% white. The few minorities I met were from Baltimore and Baltimore was scary to a kid who lived in "Cow County". I knew on a cognitive level that there was no reason to be racist, but it wasn't until I was exposed to a larger sampling of people of all races that I really learned there was no reason to be racist.  I couldn't just think it, though, I had to experience it firasthand.

Similarly, I know it is a good idea to eat well, but it wasn't until I actually changed and was in an environment where I could change- that had organic produce available that things improved.
 This changed my sleep schedule, hormonal balance and stomach pH balance. Besides the stabilisation of blood sugar levels that comes with reducing and eliminating boxed foods, eating less meat, for example, changes the amounts of all sorts of hormones. If one eats a lot of soy, you'll start noticing decreased muscle mass, for example and all sorts of bodily changes because of this. Your sleep cycles will change, your reaction to anger will change and so will the microbial flora in your gut. If you have lentils, yams and potatoes one day, you'll be a lot more mellow the next day due to the slowly releasing starch and high amounts of tryptophan you had just consumed. It's a simple change, but has vast impacts.

Another thing I've noticed that has a vast impact on my life is how much time I am outdoors. I can try to think positive, once again, but nothing can change the fact that I am very depressed being inside a lot. If I am in a situation where I am able to be outside, my mind is much more active and I am less afraid of the world. I do not make a concious decision to be more confident- I simply am because my mind responds to the environment it is put in.

This is not at all to say that I think humans are weak pieces of trash, but simply that I think we vastly overestimate how important our own thinking process is and how much is dependent on how we interface and interact with reality. We can not simply think our way into being healthy and happy and kind- it is the end result of the positive interactions we have with the world. The mantra "it takes a village to raise a child" is true. We are not created by ourselves, but by the universe, which dreams us into existence.

And so we find ourselves in a pickle since our entire system is not set up to make happy and healthy people. We live cut off socially and disconnected from the environment- spending most of our time behind computer screens, behind a desk or behind a wheel and changing that is not always possible(not now, at least).

I don't know what the answer is to get to a healthier place, but I think the time for blaming the person needs to go. The time for saying "every man must find happiness for himself" is for the past. To me, It makes perfect sense that a person who sits all day and is presented with tasty sugary snacks would get fat. The solution isn't to impose more stress on the mind, by saying that willpower is the answer, but to place the person in an environment where he is getting the exercise he needs and such food is not easily available and so the person can develop the correct body that he naturally needs and be happier and healthier naturally.

Again, I don't know how we can get there, but if we can, it will take a village. Perhaps even a whole world to do it. We won't get there with positive thinking and the solution isn't to try harder. It's to try smarter.

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