What Is A Mismatch Disease?

An evolutionary mismatch disease is a sickness caused, at least in part, by an environment that is vastly different from those that our bodies are best suited for. Humanity has changed the world in innumerable ways over the past thousand years, and our bodies are slow to catch up. Of course, not everything about modern life is a curse; but mismatch diseases are typically caused by stimuli that are too much, too little, or too new.

For some perspective: human beings have been around for about roughly 200,000 years, while agricultural communities were first settled about 12,000 years ago. Meanwhile, consider that the in 1883 the Brooklyn Bridge was the tallest man-made structure in the Western hemisphere, cars are only 130 years old, and the internet as we know it is barely 30 years old. Our bodies are far behind the evolution of our environment. This sort of rapid technological progress is called cultural evolution, as opposed to the much slower and naturally occurring biological evolution.

Along with ageing, the leading cause of most mismatch diseases is a long-term positive energy balance. Your energy balance is in equilibrium if over time you are neither gaining nor losing weight. However, cheap calories are now readily available and sitting still is incentivized by school and most jobs. Because a negative energy balance is maladaptive (bad for reproductive success), we tend to consume more calories than we spend. Over time, the tendency toward a surplus of calories leads to obesity and all of the corresponding complications (including increased cardiovascular blockage, and a higher risk of reproductive cancer). Considering the rule of the Axemaker’s Gift, negative consequences of many aspects of modern life can be inferred, from foot problems from ill-fitting sneakers to anxiety brought on by planes and automobiles.

If anything, the best actionable advice to counteract the effects of environment and heredity are to follow a regular regimen of varied physical activity and to maintain a balanced diet while avoiding an excess of sweets and alcohol. Easier said than done, I know.

Below is a list of maladies thought to be most aggregated by this tension between genes and environment. Click the links to find out more about any given disease. Please note that this list is by no means definitive–many of the online resources admit only vague understanding of the condition’s root causes.

Hypothesized Noninfectious Mismatch Diseases
Acid reflux/chronic heartburn Flat feet
Acne Glaucoma
Alzheimer’s disease Gout
Anxiety Hammer toes
Apnea Hemorrhoids
Asthma High blood pressure (hypertension)
Athlete’s foot Iodine deficiency (goiter/cretinism)
 Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder Impacted wisdom teeth
 Bunions Insomnia (chronic)
 Cancers (only certain ones) Irritable bowel syndrome
 Carpal tunnel syndrome Lactose intolerance
 Cavities Lower back pain
 Chronic fatigue syndrome Malocclusion
 Cirrhosis Metabolic syndrome
 Constipation (chronic) Multiple sclerosis
 Coronary heart disease Myopia
 Crohn’s disease Obsessive compulsive disorder
 Depression Osteoporosis
 Diabetes (type 2) Plantar fasciitis
 Diaper rash Polycystic ovarian syndrome
 Eating disorders Preeclampsia
 Emphysema Rickets
 Endometriosis Scurvy
 Fatty liver syndrome Stomach ulcers

Source: The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease

“Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“The only way to stay creative is to oppose the wear and tear of existence with techniques that organize time, space, and activity to your advantage. It means developing schedules to protect your time and avoid distraction, arranging your surroundings to heighten concentration, cutting out meaningless chores that soak up psychic energy, and devoting the energy thus saved to what you really care about.”

Like his previous book Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi attempts here to get at what it means to spend your life in a meaningful way. This time, his focus is on creativity: what it is, how it works, and what we can do to live a more satisfying and creative life. A daunting and ambiguous task, to be sure.

To study creativity, Csikszentmihalyi starts by defining what ‘creativity’ is: to be sure, many people are brilliant and interesting, but leave no lasting impact on their culture or society. Many are personally creative in our everyday lives. Perhaps we build a custom headboard for our bedroom or think of a faster way to do the dishes. Both of these forms of creativity are important, but the type of creativity that this book is primarily concerned with is the type that pushes a person to advance a domain, whether it be science or the arts, and has a lasting impact on the culture.The Leonardos, Edisons, Picassos, or Einsteins of any given field.

With the help of a team of graduate research assistants, Csikszentmihalyi conducted extensive interviews with a wide range of creative people. The men and women he interviewed are from all types of different professions, from sculptors and businessmen to scientists and social reformers. Each participant was at least 60 years old coming to so coming to the end of their distinguished career. A few that were asked declined to participate, citing the ability to turn down frivolous research studies as the key to their continued success.

What follows is a nuanced study of what creativity is and how it feels to practice it. Some of the people who I felt had the most interesting quotations were Madeline L’Engel, Hilde Domin, and Jonas Salk. Each came from a less than optimal background and in the beginning showed no evidence of their later eminence but nonetheless eventually reached the pinnacle of their respective professions. In the end, there is no ‘secret’ formula to creativity, but the book ends with a few simple suggestions that mostly work to cultivate a sense of curiosity and critical thinking.

Further Links:
My review of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s previous book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.
A summary of the Creative Personality, written by the author for Psychology Today.
A 15 page abstract of the author’s research: “In order to want to introduce novelty into a domain, a person should first of all be dissatisfied with the status quo. It has been said that Einstein explained why he spent so much time developing a new physics by saying that he could not understand the old physics. Greater sensitivity, naivety, arrogance, impatience, and higher intellectual standards have all been adduced as reasons why some people are unable to accept the conventional wisdom in a domain and feel the need to break out of it.”
Quotes and Anecdotes: The Process of Cultural Evolution ; A Definition of Creativity ; Anticipation and Commitment: The Story of Motorola ; Being a Good Ancestor ; and The Axemaker’s Gift.
Buy on Amazon: Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention

Stuff of Interest:
false consciousness
perpetual motion machine–a physical impossibilty “Oh ye seekers after perpetual motion, how many vain chimeras have you pursued? Go and take your place with the alchemists.”— Leonardo da Vinci, 1494
Lorenzo Ghiberti, Gates of Paradise
convergent and divergent thinking–Convergent thinking is measured by IQ tests, and it involves solving well-defined, rational problems that have one correct answer. Divergent thinking leads to no agreed-upon solution. It involves fluency, or the ability to generate a great quantity of ideas; flexibility, or the ability to switch from one perspective to another; and originality in picking unusual associations of ideas.
peripatetic method
the poetry of Anthony Hedcht and Hilde Domin
Vivaldi concerto
deficit motives–“Wilson has been a ceaseless worker all his life. A painful childhood instilled a certain amount of insecurity in him, which he decided to overcome with a relentless drive modeled on an idealized Southern heritage long on pride, sacrifice, and discipline. These were what the current psychological jargon calls deficit motives, based on efforts to compensate for undesirable early experiences.
Road to Damascus–An important point in someone’s life where a great change, or reversal, of ideas or beliefs occurs. Based on the conversion of St. Paul to Christianity.
centrifugal and centripetal forces–centrifugal forces move away from a center while centripetal forces move toward a center.

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Documentary: “The Century of the Self”

The Century Of The Self – Part 1

–a fantastic documentary, via Brain Pickings. This BBC documentary recounts the history of Freud and how his theories came to influence Nazi propaganda, advertising, political campaigns and modern life at large. The production and conspiratorial-toned narrator crack me up and remind me of Chris Farley’s Coffee Crystals SNL skit, but the information conveyed is prescient, shocking and frighteningly accurate. Also check out parts two, three, and four.

“Basin and Range” by John McPhee

“To a naturalist nothing is indifferent; the humble moss that creeps upon the stone is equally interesting as the lofty pine which so beautifully adorns the valley or the mountain: but to a naturalist who is reading in the face of rocks the annals of a former world, the mossy covering which obstructs his view, and renders indistinguishable the different species of stone, is no less than a serious subject of regret.”

-James Hutton

Basin and Range is the first book of John McPhee’s mighty five-book collection The Annals of the Former World. Each book, written between 1978 and 1998 and then later revised and updated, covers some facet of the geology of North America. Basin and Range is primarily concerned with the story of how the vast age of the earth has been measured (but scarcely comprehended), and the nature of plate tectonics–what it is, who figured it out, and how.

McPhee’s writing is a joy to read. From paragraph to paragraph, his subjects range from the minute to the cosmic in scale. He lingers on specific bits of knowledge and explains all that needs further elaborating with the exuberance of a passionate teacher. He somehow makes rocks interesting. Here he is describing the geological event that eventually made Nevada so hot and arid: “As the developing Sierra made its skyward climb–as it went on up past ten and twelve and fourteen thousand feet–it became so predominant that it cut off the incoming Pacific rain, cast a rain shadow (as the phenomenon is called) over lush, warm Floridian and verdant Nevada. Cut it off and kept it dry.”

In the conclusion, McPhee writes that “if by some fiat I had to restrict all this writing to one sentence, this is the one I would choose: The summit of Mt. Everest is marine limestone.” The earth is ANCIENT and in a state of eternal recomposition. That’s all you need to know, but it’s fun to read everything he has to say.

Further Links:
Video of a playa lake advance in Black Rock Desert, Nevada
Quotes and Anecdotes: The Naked Ambition of Langford Hastings and The Blind Man and the Elephant.
Buy on Amazon: Annals of the Former World

Stuff of Interest:
playa lake –Playa lakes are round hollows in the ground in the Southern High Plains of the United States. They are ephemeral, meaning that they are only present at certain times of the year. The temporal nature of playa lakes led to confusion on the part of early European explorers, some of whom described the region as a desert and others a land of millions of small lakes. Most playas fill with water only after spring rainstorms when freshwater collects in the round depressions of the otherwise flat landscape of West Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas. There are also a few saltwater-filled playas. These are fed by water from underlying aquifers, which brings salt with it as it percolates up through the soil. As the water evaporates, the salt is left behind in the increasingly salty playas. There are many theories as to the origin of playas, but the most widely accepted are that playas are either carved by wind or formed by land subsidence (they are sinkholes).
proscenium arch
adsorb–(of a solid) hold (molecules of a gas or liquid or solute) as a thin film on the outside surface or on internal surfaces within the material.
Iapetus Ocean–an ocean that no longer exists! How crazy is that?
The Pikeville Cut-Through
James Hutton
Kit Carson
James Ussher
Lansford Hastings
Plate Tectonics

Major Lithospheric Plates and Some Minor Ones

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What I Learned in March

The Great Salt Lake, Utah

This month, I got more adventurous in the kitchen. I cooked Grain-free banana pancakes, lasagna, and chicken fajitas, while my brother cooked turkey meat loaf (all delicious!) from The Paleo Cookbook: 300 Delicious Paleo Diet Recipes.

I learned a little about North American geology, human health and evolution, and what it means to live a happy life (hint: what you spend your time concentrating on is of paramount importance).

I took an exhausting but glorious hike up the Manitou Springs incline.

The most interesting article I read online was called ‘In Search of Japanese Roots‘ about the confusion of native Japanese heritage, and their ongoing enmity with the Koreans. Japan is so isolated, being about 100 miles from mainland China, but among other curiosities are that it has the first recorded instance of man-made pottery—made especially strange by the intuitive bias that ancient innovations began on mainland territories then filtered out to islands. Also of interest in this article are the Korean nose tombs (it is what it sounds like) and the unclear origins of the Ainu. For more information, check out the Association for Asian Research.

From Netflix

(I watched entirely too much TV. No regrets.)

The third season of House of Cards was thrilling as usual. I’ll keep mum on the spoilers and leave it at that. Black Mirror blew my mind, especially ‘The Entire History of You‘, which Wikipedia says Robert Downey Jr. has optioned to make a film of. If he can do better, good luck, but he’s probably just high again.

American Experience: JFK revealed the 35th president to me in ways I’d never before known him. I had heard about Kennedy’s shameless philandering but didn’t know about his serious health problems. This guy was on a crippling amount of narcotics throughout his presidency. I didn’t realize how underdeveloped his presidency was. He made a ton of mistakes. He made a lot of fumbles with diplomatic relations with Cuba and Soviet Russia. He set the Vietnam War down the ruinous path it ultimately took. He trusted brains over experience. But he prevented the outbreak of nuclear war, which was scary close to happening. And if several of his advisers had had their way, the Cuban Missile Crisis would’ve gone much differently. In school, I learned that his cabinet was a textbook example of groupthink. It certainly was, but if it had been mindless and without conscious a nuclear bomb certainly would’ve gone off.

Vietnam in HD showed me combats footage and interviews with the men who served in the Vietnam War. This documentary isn’t very good, it’s full of clumsy celebrity narration that was only put in there for the sake of attaching famous people to the project. But it does have some insane war footage, and I cringe to think that my own father could’ve been sent there. I didn’t realize that for a time the draft didn’t exempt college students. If anything, this documentary is important only because it shows how fallible those in power are and that something equally terrible can still happen.

Prohibition by Ken Burns held similar lessons. That even when your intentions are pure, the outcome of your actions are entirely unpredictable and can even lead to moral catastrophe. Even at a superficial level, the parallels between the problems of prohibition and the War on Drugs have been uncanny. I’d known that prohibition had happened but only peripherally—I didn’t appreciate that it was an amendment to the Constitution! The law itself lasted 13 years, 10 months, and 18 days. As one confident teetotaler said, “There’s as much chance of repealing the 18th Amendment as there is for a humming bird to fly to Mars with the Washington Monument tied to its tail.”

Among other things, I found out about Carrie Nation, the bitter old woman who went around trashing saloons; that during World War I sauerkraut was rechristened liberty cabbage as part of the anti-German propaganda campaign, the rise and tragic fall of George Remus, and more.