Translators: Mike Zonta, Melissa Goodnight, Richard Branam, Hanz Bolen
SENSE TESTIMONY: Beliefs keep out-picturing in our lives until we no longer believe them.
5th Step Conclusions:
1) I believe that I am Reality, that I am whole, complete, perfect Mind knowing Itself as Mind, believing all things, permitting all things, loving all things, seeing through all things as the appearance, apparency of my/our own Being.
2) There is only this ONE, fathomless fullness, Knowing Being, That I AM — always expressing, completely and absolutely, the whole/sound/totality of Perfect Reality — this is all I do know, all I can know, and all I now forever accept !!
3) I Am All life, All Being, All Consciousness, absolute, innate, emanating, evidencing, instantaneously and universally only sound whole complete powerful abundant Truth I Am. // The Integrity of Truth is All there is.
4) Truth is Wholly, sound Consciousness Aware Completion, this Principled Pre(Mise), is the Ultimate Assumption, Complimenting its’ individualized Universal Androgynousness, this persistent adherence is the Symphony of the Rhythm, and Harmony of love, this Semantic Housekeeper, the Inter – Acting unification is the seeing through lifes; Universal Minds’ Heavenly Painting.
All Translators are welcome to join this group. See Weekly Groups page/tab.
Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn (11 December 1918 – 3 August 2008) was a Russian novelist, historian, and short story writer. He was an outspoken critic of the Soviet Union and Communism and helped to raise global awareness of its Gulag labor camp system.
“Give a man a mask and he will tell you the truth.”
Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (October 16, 1854 – November 30, 1900) was an Irish poet and playwright. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, the early 1890s saw him become one of the most popular playwrights in London. Wikipedia
Meeting Pablo Escobar’s brother turned out to be one of the more disappointing moments of my life. In Medellin, Colombia, you can go to the Escobar house. In fact, there’s a whole tourism industry that’s sprouted up around Escobar and the old cartel. Much of this tourism is promoted and encouraged by the Escobar family themselves, as it’s ostensibly the only way they have to make much money these days.
When you meet him, Roberto Escobar is a short, hunched-over old man. He’s nearly blind and deaf from a letter bomb that blew up in his face years ago. His eye sockets sink into his skull leaving two golf-ball-sized craters in his face. His gaze is lifeless. It passes through you when he speaks to you, as though you were some sort of hologram.
There’s an emptiness when he speaks. His Spanish tumbles out of his mouth in a monotonous slur, sometimes indecipherable. Occasionally, when he speaks to you he reaches out and puts his hand on you in the way a politician might. Except the way he does it, there’s no emotion to it, no charisma. It’s as if he’s making sure you’re still there — that he’s still there.
When you meet him, there is a small table on his porch stacked with assorted DVD’s, postcards, and, of course, his book. You can purchase them and then pay double for an autographed copy.1
He reminds us of this multiple times.
For the uninitiated (or those who don’t have Netflix), Roberto’s more famous brother, Pablo Escobar, was the leader of the Medellin Drug Cartel and likely both one of the richest and most violent drug dealers in human history. Beginning in 1975, Pablo built a multi-billion dollar empire by introducing the world to the wonders of cocaine. His smuggling would inspire the drug craze in the US of the late 70’s and early 80’s, the crime waves that followed in its wake, the crack epidemic, and ultimately the US government’s draconian War on Drugs policies which are still in effect today.
At his peak, Pablo’s power was incomprehensible. He literally bought his way into Colombian parliament by building entire neighborhoods of houses and then gifted them to thousands of impoverished Colombians. He then ran in their district. In the 80’s, Forbes estimated him to be the seventh richest man in the world with a net worth of approximately $35 billion US dollars (that’s $82 billion in 2018 dollars). In his book, Roberto claims that at one point the cartel was making so much money that it spent $2,500 each month just on rubber bands to stack the bills.
To maintain his power, Escobar was ruthless. He didn’t just use violence to punish foes, he used it to send a message. He once had a man skinned alive and then tied him to a tree to bleed to death in the hot Colombian sun. Castration wasn’t an unusual punishment for enemies–nor, as we’ll see, a coincidence. When the government threatened to extradite him to the US on drug charges, he exacted terrorist attacks on thousands of civilians as a form of blackmail. Parliament called an emergency session and amended their constitution to make extradition illegal, just so Escobar would stop bombing malls and busy intersections. During his reign, Pablo slaughtered judges, paid off entire prison staffs, flew in the best soccer players in the world to play with him on his ranch, and leading up to his demise, wrought full-blown urban warfare in the streets of Medellin, killing almost 500 police officers in the process.
Thirty minutes into our visit, I conclude that Roberto Escobar might be the biggest sociopath I’ve ever met. In between regaling us with stories of Pablo’s smuggling heroin through Panama, and how he threatened to murder the families of any police who arrested him, he says he’s also willing to take pictures with us for a small fee.
Drugs, money, violence, drugs, money, violence — the afternoon repeats itself. Desperate to be convinced this man has any sort of humanity at all, I ask him what his favorite memory of Pablo is. I want to sense some sort of emotion from this man, some level of depth beyond simple cost/benefit analysis of the living and dead.
He meanders into a vague story about the time he helped Pablo escape from prison. I press further, “Por qué esa memoria?” Why? Why that memory?
He replies, “It was the first and only time he told me I did a good job.” The only time? Roberto was Pablo’s accountant, his most trusted employee for almost 20 years. His own brother. That’s it?
Roberto’s anecdote contained a sliver of emotion, but I still get the blank stare, the empty eyes. So I keep pushing. “What about your childhood? What were you and Pablo like when you were kids?”
A pause. “We used to go fishing a lot.”
And we’re done. He turns around and reminds us that if we buy a DVD, the second one is half off.
Why are the Worst People in Human History Almost Always Men?
A question occurred to me as we toured the Escobar home: why are the most ruthless and violent people throughout history always men? If there’s ever been a mega-violent, drug-slinging dominatrix, I’ve sure never heard of her. Or what about a murderous dictator? Rebel military commander? Serial killer? Playground bully? Again and again, almost all men.
Men perpetrate over 76% of the violent crime in the US. Worldwide that statistic is likely much higher.2
Men are 10 times more likely to commit murder and nine times more likely than women to end up in prison.3 Men commit 99% of the reported rapes and sexual assaults.4 And boys perpetrate 95% of the violent crimes at the juvenile level.5
Anyone who’s grown up with a penis or around someone with a penis knows that boys can be cruel. When I was a kid, we used to steal matches from the kitchen and catch bugs and burn them alive and then laugh about it. Some boys would set fireworks off in people’s mailboxes to see if they would explode. There was a girl down my street named Cynthia. We once made her cry because we threw eggs at her. We were little assholes. And when I think back, I can’t comprehend any logic or reason behind it.6
But I wasn’t unordinary. Most of the other boys my age were just as mischievous and cruel.7 My older brother beat the crap out of me on the regular. And where do you think I got the idea for my shenanigans anyway?
Why are men such dicks? Even the word itself, “dick,” the male sex organ, refers to someone who is being rude and offensive. Why us? Why men? Is it in our biology? Did we evolve this way? Or is there some broader cultural force at work?
The answer, as with every nature versus nurture question, is: it’s both.
A Brief History of Male Violence
Human history is rife with competition and violence. There has pretty much never been a point in human evolution that we weren’t killing each other in one way or another.
This competition and violence existed for the simple reason that resources are scarce, and the advantages given to one tribe/society for conquering/controlling those resources were huge. Therefore, people fought over them. And they had to keep fighting over them because once you won the land or gold or sweet ass river with a lot of bananas growing by it, then you had to protect it.
Back before drone strikes and cruise missiles, the people most adapted for conquest and discovery were invariably young men. One, because they were physically the strongest and most able. But also because they were disposable. If you want a new generation of children, you need a full generation of mothers to birth those children. But you only need a couple men. Therefore, if you were young, broke, and unproven, then off you went to kill something and prove yourself.
The most successful societies were therefore generally those that developed cultures praising and rewarding young men for mastering violence and conquest. These young men not only served as purveyors of a society’s further growth and wealth but also acted as protectors. They protected the community from wild beasts, fought off invaders, and killed icky, icky spiders.
Masculinity has historically been all about the three P’s: protector, provider, procreation. The more you protect, the more you provide, the more you fuck, the more of a man you are.
For the most part, this is still widely considered masculinity today, although the 3 P’s look slightly different in different cultures. It’s why a frat bro who bangs half a sorority is a stud, while the sorority girl who blows the baseball team is a slut. It’s why a woman who speaks up at board meetings is seen as shrill and bitchy, and a man who talks over people and demeans them in front of others is seen as bold and a strong leader.
But this version of masculinity evolved for a particularly socially-beneficial reason — to protect us from invaders and protect the town and kill bears and stuff. We needed men to fuck a lot because something like half of your kids didn’t survive into puberty. We needed them to provide because you never knew when the next horrible winter was around the corner.
And the fact that this form of masculinity came at a cost — both to the men in terms of their own health and mortality, and to society in terms of violence and patriarchal dominance — was discounted. Who cares if men die, suffer, and lose their minds at startling rates? It’s simply the price we pay for protection and prosperity (and babies).
The problem is that today, things have changed:
Violence has largely been automated or outsourced or just plain eliminated. Factory farms provide our food. Small, specialized militaries protect our borders. But given how economically interdependent and wealthy the world has become, violence has declined.
Service economies mean that women are just as capable (and perhaps even more capable) to work and earn a living than men are at most professions. Male advantages in strength and expendability are no longer necessary for a healthy society.
We have like, women’s rights and equality and stuff. Fact is, we’re much more conscious and moral than we used to be. Therefore, the drawbacks of masculine aggression and dominance present not just economic liabilities, but ethical ones as well.
Truth is, when all is said and done, the ancient bargain of strength, durability and expendability for prestige, dominance and tons of hot babes doesn’t evolutionarily make sense anymore. The male body is becoming outdated tech.
The Hidden Costs of Being a Man
When I was a kid, if I fell down on the playground and started crying, my cries would usually be met with some form of, “Get up. Be a big boy.” If I got beat up by my brother, my father admonished me to hit him back. The other kids at school would make fun of boys who were weak or were bad at sports. As a teenager, I was bullied at times in the locker room for being nerdy.
This stuff is normal. So normal that it feels stupid to even write because my guess is every single male reader can relate to one of the above experiences. It’s often written off as “boys being boys.” And it has a long cultural history.
Again, for most of civilization, young men were the ones responsible for protecting society. By the time they were adults, they needed to be battle-hardened and physically strong — the survival of the community often depended on it. As a result, brutal, physical violence among men (through organized sport) was celebrated (and still is today, although this is beginning to change). And men who weren’t able to make the cut were shamed for their physical weakness, for their emotional displays and vulnerable demands for affection. Men were meant to be ruthlessly competitive, and emotionlessly self-contained.
Well, this may not surprise you, but repressing emotions fucks people up. And shaming people for weakness and vulnerability can result in all sorts of mental health problems, not to mention encourage them to lash out in anti-social ways (i.e., shoot up a school, or ram a car into a crowd of people, sign up to be a militant in some crazy religious organization — sound familiar?).
Men commit suicide at a rate five times that of women while teenage boys commit suicide nine times more often than girls.9 They are also diagnosed with depression and ADHD at a rate of 4-to-1 to girls the same age.10 Men make up 2/3 of the homeless population,11 are more than twice as likely to become alcoholics and are approximately three times more likely to become drug addicts.12 It’s widely documented that men are far less likely to ask for professional help, medical or otherwise, even when experiencing significant health problems or depression.13
Men are the victims of the majority of violent crime, but also far less likely to report it for fear of appearing weak. One survey found that 40% of the victims of domestic violence are men, yet they were far less likely to report the violence and far less likely to be taken seriously by police.14 Men take on more dangerous jobs and are less likely to report any injury suffered at work. Men work far longer hours, take fewer vacations and sick days, and suffer worse symptoms of chronic stress and fatigue. Men even die on the job at a startling rate. In short, most men treat themselves as nothing more than a walking paycheck.15
And, in fact, it’s this objectification of their own lives that kills men faster. One research summary of emotional suppression went as far to say: “emotional restrictiveness is the leading cause to why men die earlier [than women].”16
Men are so emotionally incompetent without women, that getting married may statistically be the best thing a man can do to improve his longevity and mental health. Married men live longer and score higher on pretty much every quality-of-life metric there is, including happiness and life expectancy. Marriage is apparently so important for men’s emotional stability that some sociologists go as far as to state that simply being married can raise a man’s life expectancy by almost a decade.17 Elderly men who are in good marriages have lower rates of heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, depression, and stress than elderly single men.18
But then we’re often woefully equipped to handle that. Women initiate more than 70% of divorces and separations with the most common cause cited as “emotional neglect” from their husbands.19 Those divorces also hit men the hardest: recently divorced men are more likely to suffer depression, alcoholism, mental illness, and suicide than women are.20
Let me state that more clearly: Not dealing with your emotional baggage can literally kill you or make you go crazy.
For all of our strength and power, we sure do die quickly and often. For all of our cunning ambition, we regularly end up miserable, violent, and even suicidal. And for all of our self-sufficiency, we rely on women for our emotional and physical well-being to a startling degree.
Ironically, manhood does not seem very manly.
What’s So Wrong With Getting Rich and Killing Things?
Later on in the day, we’re touring the old Escobar home. It’s filled with pictures and memorabilia from the 90s. In between prattling on about Pablo’s exploits, Roberto mentions he competed in the Tour de France when he was a young man. A quick Google search on my smartphone shows this to be false. Earlier he tried to convince us that he had found the cure for AIDS in the 1990s, but the U.S. Government suppressed his research. I didn’t bother to look that one up.
For all of his power, his wealth, his domination over a country and a culture and a people, Roberto struck me as something pathetic. On the surface, this is a man who had experienced as much power as anyone in the world. Yet his attempts to impress us bordered on the delusional. How could a man who was this powerful be so insecure?
And yet, as we walk through the corridors of the Escobar house, riddled with triumphant family photos and bullet holes, the home that bore a thousand broken lives and left a billion-dollar bloodstain across two continents, I find myself trying to empathize with the man.
It’s easy to look at the results of a man’s life and judge without looking at the process that led him to those results.
Perhaps Roberto Escobar wasn’t always so heartless and delusional. Perhaps investing his entire life and identity in a brother who couldn’t even be bothered to tell him he was proud of him pushed him to accept a sicker fate. Perhaps growing up a poor boy in rural Colombia with a dozen siblings and absent father made him feel more alone than he could handle. So he shut down. He shut down and chose to see the world in the only way that made sense — as a bunch of numbers and profitable opportunities. Perhaps that letter bomb that exploded in his face so many years ago stole more than just sight and sound.
The problem with the traditional masculine formula – protection, providing, procreating – is that they require men to measure their self-worth via some external, arbitrary metric. They require men to mortgage their emotional health for the sake of their physical safety. But in a cushy first world where security is more or less guaranteed, those interest payments start adding up.
Men don’t just do this to themselves though. They do it to each other. Hell, women do it as well. Educated women will complain that men are superficial and only want to date women who look like a Victoria’s Secret model. Yet ladies, how many of you are running out the door to date a janitor?
We unfairly objectify women in society for their beauty and sex appeal. Similarly, we unfairly objectify men for their professional success and aggression.
But the biggest problem with these external metrics – making more money, being stronger and more domineering than the competition, having sex as much as possible – is that they never end. If you measure yourself by how much money you make, then whatever you earn will never be enough. If you measure yourself by how strong and dominant you can be, then no amount of power will ever satisfy you. If you measure yourself by how much sex you can have, then no number of partners will ever be enough.
These are metrics that, while on a population level, were good for society for thousands of years. On an individual level, they fuck a man up, destroying his self-esteem and encouraging him to objectify himself, to see himself not as a human with strengths and weaknesses, virtues and flaws, but rather as some vessel with no other prerogative than to accumulate as much power and prestige as possible.
And what do you end up with?
A former billionaire drug lord, trying to lie to a group of strangers, claiming he was a world-class athlete and a world-class medical researcher. It’s like, “Dude, what more do you need?” And the answer with men like Escobar is: more. Always more.
And it’s this “more” that ultimately destroyed his own family, aside from an entire country and millions of lives. It removed a father from his children. A husband from his wife. It removed a part of him from himself.
In the 21st century, we need to evolve our definition of masculinity. Yes, we’re still protectors and providers. And you’re damn right we want to keep pro-creating.
But there need to be new internal metrics for a man’s worth as well — his honesty, his integrity, his emotional openness and ability to remain strong in the face of vulnerability.
Some lament the “pussification” of men happening today. But dropping the bullshit tough-guy act isn’t the same as weakness. On the contrary, it’s an even deeper form of strength.
Our Escobar pilgrimage fittingly ends in a graveyard. On December 2nd, 1993, Pablo made a phone call to his son to wish him a happy birthday. Pablo didn’t normally make phone calls himself, but on this occasion, it seemed justified. He then sat down to eat lunch with his mother. “He was always a family man first,” Roberto claimed, without any irony. Minutes later Pablo received a tip-off that the police had tracked him and were on their way to raid his house. He escaped, but only for a few hours. That afternoon, Pablo was shot hopping across Medellin rooftops, one last ditch effort to escape himself.
Whether Pablo was shot by the police or he shot himself is still disputed. Either way, a bullet entered Pablo’s skull behind his ear and killed him instantly. He fell to the ground below, where police took pictures posing with his corpse. Not just another death, not just another achievement—one of the cruelest and richest men in modern history taken down by the ricochet of his own violence. The photo would be sickening had it been anyone else: piles of debris and guns waving, all smiles between the flow of blood.
In the graveyard, we’re led to a small grove. The landscaping is clean and well-kept. Gravel is spread out in a square framing a plot of earth containing half a dozen gravestones lined up in a row. Two stones are bigger than the others. It’s the Escobar family plot. There is no defacing or signs of tampering. Death is unprejudiced.
One of the larger headstones reads Pablo’s name. The stone is humble: just a name and some dates. Next to him are his mother and his sister. Further down are his other siblings and lost family members.
Years ago when I was conducting my doctoral research on the evolutionary history of men among a remote indigenous community of hunter-gatherers living in the forests of South America, I came across a man donning a well-worn baseball cap likely donated by missionaries. The cap read, “There are three stages to a man’s life: Stud, Dud, Thud.” Indeed. It is somewhat sobering to see one’s life’s research summarized on a piece of headwear that can probably be found for a few dollars at a roadside truck stop. But such is the elegance of interesting science.
It’s no secret that mortality due to accidents and risky behavior is much higher in young men, particularly those in their late teenage years and early 20s. This, by the way, is not news to insurance companies. It’s also true that men die earlier than women, regardless of their environment or lifestyle, and are often more susceptible to some cancers and heart disease at an earlier age. In fact, men are at a higher risk than women when it comes to most of the top 15 contributing sources of mortality in the United States—which account for nearly 80 percent of all deaths.
In the words of a Yale evolutionary biologist, “Macho makes you sick.”
Evolutionary factors are clearly at play. The question is why. What is natural selection’s deal with men? It’s a compelling academic question, for sure. But now that I’m in my 50s, I have to admit the issue of aging gets more relevant with every new gray hair.
As it turns out, shorter lifespans and higher male mortality risk are quite common in many species. Natural selection doesn’t necessarily favor traits commonly associated with health, vigor, and longevity. Instead, it promotes characteristics that provide greater lifetime reproductive success, or in the parlance of evolutionary biology, fitness. If the benefits of increased fitness are greater than the cost of a shorter lifespan or poor health, biology will prioritize those traits. In essence, sex trumps birthday candles.
This trade off between longevity and reproduction takes an obvious form in women: Pregnancy, childbirth, and lactation are all physically taxing and energetically costly. Research has shown that bearing more children is associated with higher oxidative stress, which can in turn lead to accelerated aging in post-menopausal women.1 A 2006 historical study of rural Polish women, for example, found a correlation between having more children and a significantly shorter post-menopausal lifespan.2 Although more research needs to be done, it would seem that reproductive effort can literally take years off your life.
Male quolls (above) experience a dramatic one-time rise in testosterone that triggers intense bouts of mating – and very high mortality. Wikimedia Commons
But what about men? While they obviously don’t bear the costs of pregnancy, they do still allocate a great deal of energy—also to their own detriment later in life—to improve their chances of reproduction. This “reproductive effort” takes place through engagement in riskier behavior and the accumulation of greater body mass, particularly sexually dimorphic skeletal muscle mass, the extra male-specific muscle in the shoulders, back, and arms. The metabolic costs of maintaining this muscle in men over a lifetime are comparable to the energy expenditure women experience during pregnancy and breast-feeding, but they and their associated health challenges are somewhat manageable. After all, it would be a good idea to evolve physiological mechanisms to manage the tradeoffs that result from the often conflicting needs of body functions. Hormones are one of the most vital agents in managing these tradeoffs. In men, testosterone regulates investment in muscle and reproductive behavior. But like everything else, it, too, has its price.
Testosterone is often described as the male sex hormone. Women also produce testosterone, but in much smaller amounts. Aside from its sexual effects such as stimulating beard growth and deeper voices, testosterone is an important anabolic hormone that has a significant impact on the energetic costs in men. That is, it promotes anabolism, or muscle-building, and increases metabolism, the rate at which that muscle burns calories. Testosterone also promotes the burning of fat tissue. And yes, it can also boost libido and mood. So testosterone does a lot of things that sound healthy—but it can be a double-edged sword.
Burning fat may make you look better in the mirror, for instance, but in the wild, less fat makes you more vulnerable to food shortfalls and infection. This is apparent in many organisms, whose acute rises in testosterone signal an increase in reproductive effort, only to cause challenges to other physiological demands related to well-being. Take the northern quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus), a medium-sized Australian marsupial. Male quolls experience a dramatic one-time rise in testosterone that triggers intense bouts of mating—and very high mortality due to male/male aggression and fat depletion. Females live up to three years, whereas males are lucky to make it a year. As ecologist Jaime Heiniger so eloquently states, “It could likely be that they [males] shag themselves to death.”3
The cap read, “There are three stages to a man’s life: Stud, Dud, Thud.”
To get a better picture, then, scientists have had to examine the effects of testosterone supplementation in “intact” males as well. Ornithologists have shown that experimentally increasing testosterone levels often improves a male bird’s ability to establish multiple nests, ward off competitors, and father more offspring compared to unsupplemented males.6 Moreover, males that have naturally high testosterone levels exhibit the same advantages. If testosterone is so beneficial for reproductive fitness, then why don’t all males maintain such high testosterone levels? Again: There are costs. While testosterone-supplemented male birds had greater reproductive fitness, they also exhibited compromised survivorship. Supplemented males put on less fat and had a harder time making it through the breeding season.
Moving beyond birds, testosterone supplementation in otherwise healthy men has become increasingly popular and could provide insights into the tradeoffs between reproductive effort and longevity. Although it is still too soon to determine whether men on testosterone have shorter life spans, evidence is emerging. According to one 2014 study, older men taking testosterone were more likely to experience an acute, non-fatal myocardial infarction 90 days after the first prescription, as compared with prior to the treatment.7 Higher testosterone might be beneficial for muscle growth, but other organs in older men may not be able to tolerate the metabolic burden. Clearly more research is necessary.
As an ecologist eloquently states, male quolls, a small marsupial, “shag themselves to death.”
Testosterone doesn’t just cause metabolic changes: It’s also responsible for significant immunological effects during a man’s lifetime. In the words of Yale evolutionary biologist Stephen Stearns, “Macho makes you sick.” Indeed, men often have a harder time than women fighting off infections. There are several potential underlying causes for these differences. Perhaps males are simply exposed to more opportunities for infection than women are. Or it may be that men are at a chemical disadvantage when it comes to fighting off infection—a hypothesis for which there is mounting evidence. Testosterone suppresses immune function, while estradiol, the primary sex steroid in women, bolsters immune function. (The latter does, however, also increase women’s risk of autoimmune disease—again, a compromise nature is willing to make in return for estradiol’s beneficial role in reproduction.) In wild bird, reptile, and mammal populations, testosterone has been found to compromise immune function, and increase the severity of infection and consequentially mortality. Whether this is true for humans remains to be seen, but it seems to fit data collected from men living in regions with high infection risk. In 2005, researchers conducting a study in Honduras found that testosterone levels were lower in men with malarial infections compared to uninfected individuals. When infected men were treated, testosterone rebounded to levels exhibited by uninfected controls.8
And infection isn’t the only kind of disease men have to worry about. Testosterone and other sex hormones are also associated with greater cancer risk, particularly when it comes to prostate cancer. Populations with higher testosterone levels, for example, tend to also exhibit higher incidence of prostate cancer.9 Once again, sex trumps candles.
So why do males tolerate the negative effects of testosterone? The Darwinian explanation is that the potential reproductive payoffs are huge in mammalian males compared to females. Mating opportunities are an important constraint for male fitness. Hypothetically, a male mating with 100 different females in a year could potentially father 100 offspring or more. The same is not true for females. The prevalence of polygyny in mammals, other primates, and many human societies is evidence of the influence of this difference in fitness constraints between males and females. Women can also increase their fitness by obtaining more mating opportunities, but not through bearing more offspring. In essence, mammalian males are willing to deploy costly hormones such as testosterone, invest in expensive tissue, and engage in risky behavior because the potential fitness payoffs are so high.
This makes sense if you’re hominid living in the Pleistocene a couple million years ago. But is this relevant for men today? Perhaps. While humans are tremendously influenced by culture, the conditions of natural selection—trait variation, trait heritability, and differential reproductive success—are difficult to escape.
This does not mean, however, that men cannot evolve other reproductive strategies. Despite their propensity to engage in risky behavior and exhibit expensive, life-shortening physical traits, men have evolved an alternative form of reproductive effort in the form of paternal investment—something very rare in primates (and mammals in general). For paternal investment to evolve, males have to make sure they are around to take care of their offspring. Risky behavior and expensive tissue have to take a backseat to investment that reflects better health and perhaps prolongs lifespan. Indeed, men can exhibit declines in testosterone and put on a bit of weight when they become fathers and engage in paternal care.10, 11 Perhaps, then, fatherhood is good for health.
I doubt that natural selection is done with men, or humans, in general. We may still endure shorter lifespans and worse health due to our evolutionary history, but the essence of evolution is change over time. At our core, humans are incredibly malleable. The physiology that supports this malleability is probably why our species has evolved the traits that define us: big, expensive brains; long lives; extended childhood; offspring that require lots of care. It might also help explain why there are over 7 billion of us. That is a lot of reproductive fitness. Men have evolved novel reproductive strategies such as paternal care that likely contributed to their evolutionary success. But that doesn’t change the fact that they still require testosterone to reproduce. It is unlikely they will ever do away with the associated costs to lifespan and health—but that being said, it’s certainly better than being a northern quoll. Although it is a hell of a way to go.
Richard G. Bribiescas is Professor of Anthropology and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, and Deputy Provost for Faculty Development and Diversity, at Yale University. He is the author of How Men Age: What Evolution Reveals About Male Health and Mortality, and Men: Evolutionary and Life History, as well as numerous peer-reviewed articles on human evolutionary biology.
1. Ziomkiewicz, A., et al. Evidence for the cost of reproduction in humans: High lifetime reproductive effort is associated with greater oxidative stress in post-menopausal women. PLoS One11, p. e0145753 (2016).
2. Jasienska, G., Nenko, I., & Jasienski, M. Daughters increase longevity of fathers, but daughters and sons equally reduce longevity of mothers. American Journal of Human Biology18, 422-425 (2006).
3. Dunlevie, J. & Daly, N. Sex life of northern quolls: Reproduction rituals on Groote Eylandt exposed. www.abc.net (2014).
4. Wilson, J.D. & Roehrborn, C. Long-term consequences of castration in men: Lessons from the Skoptzy and the eunuchs of the Chinese and Ottoman courts. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism84, 4324-4331 (1999).
5. Min, K.J., Lee, C.K., & Park, H.N. The lifespan of Korean eunuchs. Current Biology22, R792-793 (2012).
6. Reed, W.L., et al. Physiological effects on demography: A long-term experimental study of testosterone’s effects on fitness. The American Naturalist167, 665-681 (2006).
7. Finkle, W.D., et al. Increased risk of non-fatal myocardial infarction following testosterone therapy prescription in men. PLoS One9, e85805 (2014).
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This article was originally published on March 1, 2017, by Nautilus, and is republished here with permission.
Don’t look at the clock! Now tell me: How much time has passed since you first logged on to your computer today? Time may be a property of physics, but it is also a property of the mind, which ultimately makes it a product of the brain. Time measures out and shapes our lives, and how we live our lives in turn affects how we perceive the passage of time. Your sense of time is malleable and subjective—it changes in response to changing contexts and input, and it can be distorted when the brain is damaged, or affected by drugs, disease, sleep deprivation, or naturally altered states of consciousness. However, a new set of neuroscience research findings suggests that losing track of time is also intimately bound up with creativity, beauty, and rapture.
Time is most commonly manipulated by the kinds of things we do to fill it. When our minds are under-stimulated, time often feels like it is moving in slow motion, as in the scene in The Simpsons where Bart is made to lick envelopes for Principal Skinner all afternoon and groans when the clock starts ticking backward. On the other hand, when we are fully engaged, especially in the kind of “flow state” familiar to artists, athletes, and other top performers, our sense of time appears to speed up, or even to disappear entirely.
Many people describe being “enchanted” or “transfixed” when watching a live performance or viewing their favorite work of art. For example, when exploring the European paintings section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I enter into a kind of dissociated, transcendent state, which many people report experiencing. All of our cares and worries disappear and time seems to stand still or fade away as we become lost in the world of the story, or work of art, or the virtuosity of the performer. This loss of time-awareness mirrors the process occurring in the brains of the performers or artists while they create.
The inner critic must be shut down, and the inner Picasso turned up.
During what psychologists call “flow states,” where one is completely immersed and absorbed in a mental or physical act, people often report an altered sense of time, place, and self. It’s a transportive and pleasurable experience that people seek to achieve, and that neuroscience is now seeking to understand. A great example of flow state is found in many improvised art forms, from music to acting to comedy to poetry, also known as “spontaneous creativity.” Improvisation is a highly complex form of creative behavior that justly inspires our awe and admiration. The ability to improvise requires cognitive flexibility, divergent thinking and discipline-specific skills, and it improves with training.
Not surprisingly, the frontal regions of the brain that have been shown to be involved in time perception and impulse control are also involved in spontaneous creativity. Improvisation appears to take place in an altered state of mind/brain, and studies of the neural mechanisms of musical improvisation have identified a network of prefrontal brain regions linked to improvisation. The creative act of improvisation, at least in the musical realm, appears to be a result of changing patterns of activity in two key areas of the prefrontal cortex (PFC).
During musical improvisation, in jazz or freestyle rap, studies show a distinctive increase in medial prefrontal cortex activation. The medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) is a brain area known to be involved in intentional, internally generated self-expression and the pursuit of goal-oriented behaviors. This makes sense, since improvised performance requires you to come up with new material in a rapid stream, and deploy it just as quickly for a listening or watching audience. The other aspect to this pattern is a decrease in lateral orbitofrontal cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex activation (DLPFC). The lateral orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex are brain areas involved in conscious self-monitoring, effortful problem solving, focused attention, and evaluation and regulation of goal-directed or planned behaviors. These lateral areas assess whether behaviors conform to social norms, and exert inhibitory control over inappropriate or maladaptive behavior. But as any skilled performer will tell you, inhibitions are the enemy of improvisation.
When mPFC activation is turned up, it encourages the internal generation of ideas. And when lateral PFC brain areas are simultaneously turned down, it allows novel thoughts and behaviors to emerge uninhibited, leading to divergent thinking and unfiltered creativity. In other words, the inner critic must be shut down, and the inner Picasso turned up. Deactivation of lateral PFC regions is associated with free-floating, defocused attention, allowing spontaneous associations between ideas to arise, and sudden realizations or insights to occur. Creativity appears to occur when the DLPFC decreases its regulation of the contents of consciousness, allowing for unconscious, unfiltered, or random sensations and thoughts to arise in the flow state. Just as children will play more wildly when the teacher isn’t watching, when we reduce the influence of the DLPFC on our behavior, it allows us to think more like artists.
Improvisation appears to take place in an altered state of mind.
Future research could explore whether this pattern of brain activity is in fact a neural signature of improvisation that occurs across all art forms, for instance during painting, theater, comedy, and dance improvisation, or whether the signature is unique to the musical and verbal forms it has been found in so far. When the lateral PFC regions—where our sense of agency is created after ongoing actions take place—decrease in activation, a performer’s moment-to-moment decisions and actions may feel as if they are occurring outside of time and without conscious intention, as if they are “coming from somewhere else.” This is consistent with the sentiment many artists express that their creative process is being directed by a “muse” or outside agent.
However, improvising performers are not oblivious; momentary “check-ins” to see how your performance is going can provide necessary environmental (or audience) feedback, helping to revise your approach and optimize performance in real-time. Creative thought also involves the “default mode network” (DMN), a set of brain regions active when attention is directed internally and suppressed when a person engages in externally directed tasks. The DMN is active when you’re daydreaming, but not when you’re filling out an application form, which requires executive control areas like the DLFPC. Improvisation requires a balance in activation between these two networks, reflecting the extent to which creative thought and behavior needs to be responsive to environmental input, and constrained by certain rules to meet the specific goals of the task at hand. But if you become overly self-aware or self-conscious for too long, you can lose the flow state and the performance will suffer. Of course, you don’t need a cognitive neuroscientist to tell you that. Just listen to Eminem:
You better lose yourself in the music, the moment You own it, you better never let it go You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow This opportunity comes once in a lifetime
Luckily, you do not need to be able to improvise (or take drugs) to achieve flow states. Deactivation of the lateral PFC also occurs during other altered states of consciousness such as meditation, hypnosis, and daydreaming. And a similar pattern of dissociated activation in PFC has been identified during REM sleep, where dreaming usually occurs. Dreaming involves unplanned, irrational associations, defocused attention, an altered sense of time, and a feeling of lack of agency or volitional control (with the exception of lucid dreaming). These same characteristics are associated with creativity when one is fully awake.
The sense of time passing, producing its changes and progressions, is a capacity our brains evolved for adaptive reasons. How long have I been sleeping? How soon do the kids need to eat? How fast will I have to walk to make it home before dark? Keeping track of time is something we do instinctively, and our instincts have recently been supplemented by cultural inventions such as clocks and calendars, which train our brains to map its instincts onto scales and increments. However, we have also evolved the ability to turn off this constant time-keeping, in moments of artistic rapture or contemplation, and that adaptive sense of timelessness gives our lives much of its beauty and meaning. How we choose to spend our time, which remains our most limited and valuable resource, is one of the greatest gifts, and responsibilities, we are given.
Heather Berlin, Ph.D., MPH is a cognitive neuroscientist and assistant professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She practices clinical neuropsychology at Weill Cornell Medicine in the Department of Neurological Surgery, and is a Visiting Scholar at the New York Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. She hosts Startalk All-Stars with Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and has hosted series on PBS and the Discovery Channel.
This article was originally published on June 7, 2018, by Nautilus, and is republished here with permission.
“Over the course of his life, it would appear that Ram Dass has led two vastly different lives,” writes Katie Serena in an All That’s Interesting profile of the man formerly known as Richard Alpert. By embodying two distinct, but equally influential, beings in one lifetime, he has also embodied the fusion, and division, of two significant cultural inheritances from the 60s: the psychedelic drug culture and the hippie syncretism of Eastern religion Christianity, Yoga, etc.
These strains did not always come together in the healthiest of ways. But Ram Dass is a unique individual. As Alpert, the Massachusetts-born Harvard psychology professor, he began controlled experiments with LSD at Harvard with Timothy Leary.
Then, Alpert travelled to India in 1967 with a friend who called himself “Bhagavan Das,” beginning an epic spiritual journey that rivals the legends of the Buddha, as he describes it in the trailer below for the new documentary Becoming Nobody. He transformed from the infamous Richard Alpert to the soon-to-be-world-famous Ram Dass (which means “servant of god”), a guide for Western seekers who encourages people not to leave it all behind and do as he did, but to find their path in the middle of whatever lives they happen to be living.
“I think that the spiritual trip in this moment,” he said in one of his hundreds of talks, “is not necessarily a cave in the Himalayas, but it’s in relation to the technology that’s existing, it’s in relation to where we’re at.” It might sound like a friendly message to the status quo. But Ram Dass is a true subversive, who asked us, through all of the religious, academic, and psychedelic trappings he picked up, put down, and picked up again at various times, to take a good hard look at who we’re trying to be and why.
Ram Dass’ moment has come again, “as the parallels between today’s fraught political environment and that of the Vietnam era multiply,” writes Will Welch at GQ. “Yoga, organic foods, the Grateful Dead,” and psychedelics—“all of them are back in fashion,” and so are Ram Dass’ talks about how we might find clarity, authenticity, and connection in a distracted, technocratic, polarizing, power- and personality-mad society.
In a recent interview with The New York Times, he described “nostalgia for the ‘60s and ‘70s” as a younger generation showing “they’re tired of our culture. They’re interested in cultivating their minds and their soul.” How do we do that? The journey does resemble his in one way, he says. If we want to change the culture, we first have to change ourselves. Figure out who we’ve been pretending to be, then drop the act. “Once you have become somebody,” he says in the talk further up from 1976, “then you are ready to start the journey to becoming nobody.”
Learn much more about Ram Dass’ journey and hear many more of his inspiring talks at the Be Here Now Network.