As mentioned in my previous article, a very dear friend, Matt Hoyles, passed away last year. However, before he passed, he was working on a book about human wellbeing, a book I am certain would have been brilliant and full of insightful wisdom. Sadly, Matt will never be able to complete that book, but I will publish the few sections I have from it in the hope that his writings will still reach, inform, and inspire some people.
Below is the summary he wrote for the book, and the contents page breaking down the sections that he planned to write. Matt spent years researching and planning this book, and I hope this level of rigour and his love for the subject matter come across. He was meticulous over every sentence, wanting it to convey exactly what he wanted in the simplest terms possible. I hope you agree that from the little he did achieve, it is clear that it would have been an extraordinary and informative book.
Human Wellbeing: An Evolutionary Approach to Physical and Psychological Health - By Matthew Hoyles
The genus Homo, Latin for human, has been around for over two million years. Our closest surviving cousins are the chimpanzees from which our last common ancestor (LCA) lived over six million years ago. By nearly every measure, the 21st century is the best time for Homo sapiens to be alive. Longevity, wisdom and the standard of living have never been higher; and infant mortality, famine and violence never lower. However, we seem incapable of appreciating the progress made and how lucky we are to be living in the modern world. Indeed, many believe that life is no better now and that developed countries are suffering from a health crisis. Mental disorders like depression and anxiety along with physical ailments like obesity and diabetes seem to be rising precipitously. What are we to make of this seeming paradox? I advocate that by exploring our evolutionary past we can not only understand why this might be but also be better informed on how to tackle these problems and improve human wellbeing.
What is our evolutionary history and what are humans adapted for? What are our most important evolved characteristics? What are our main needs, preferences and vulnerabilities? Exploring these questions can help shed light on maintaining physical and psychological health. Ultimately, all species have a nature so what is human nature and how can we use that knowledge to improve the human condition?
In this book I will hope to convince you that the human body – seemingly slow, weak and fragile compared to most other mammals - is indeed beautifully adapted for its evolutionary niche. However, that niche is nearly unrecognisable to the modern world and the differences are highly salient and informative. More importantly, I will argue that the evolved human mind is incredible and adaptable, yet highly fallible. It has a strong tendency towards the negative and for good evolutionary reasons! Elucidating the strengths and weaknesses of our uniquely evolved mind can help to improve our psychological wellbeing.
Tying these together, I will argue that that the relationship between the body and mind is more important and closely coupled than is generally appreciated. A concept I will term reciprocal determinism. Furthermore, how we think, feel and act are so strongly interconnected that by nudging one in a positive direction the others are likely to follow suit. I will try to give the best science-based advice on how to this.
This book is divided into three parts. Part1 Human Evolution looks back over the last six million years of our evolutionary history and the selective pressures and changes that produced our bodies and brains. In Part2 Human Nature I look at how strange and unique we really are as a species and how these characteristics shed light on what we are adapted for. Furthermore, I argue why this knowledge is highly relevant to our health and wellbeing. Finally, in Part3 Human Health and Wellbeing I present what I believe to be the best science-based practical advice for a healthy body and mind, and why it is consistent with an evolutionary perspective.
An evolutionary perspective offers novel insights into achieving physical and psychological health. By understanding our evolutionary history - the selective pressures that produced our unique bodies and brains - we will be better informed on how to achieve human wellbeing.
Part One: Human Evolution
• Survive and Reproduce
• Replicator Genes & Organism Vehicles
• Evolutionary Niche (or EEA)
• Species ‘Nature’
Human Timeline: 6mya to present
• LCA Chimps c.6 mya
• Changing Climate & Habitat
• Bipedal Ape with Expanding Diet
• Ancestral hominids 6 - 2.5mya (Australopiths etc)
• Ever Improving Hunter Gatherers
• Arise genus Homo c.2.5mya
• Homo habilis & Homo erectus
• Expanding and Dispersing
• Homo sapiens 0.3mya
• Agricultural Revolution 10,000ya
• Industrial Revolution 300ya
• Information Revolution 60ya
Part Two: Human Nature
Characteristics of the Human Body - The Strangest of Mammals
Our Big Evolutionary Trade-Offs and their Relevance to Physical Health
• Upright Ape: Locomotion & Travelling
• Naked & Sweaty Ape: Endurance & Thermoregulation
• Fat Ape: Storage for Lean Times
• Hungry Ape: Energy-Guzzling Brain
• Tooled-Up Ape: Weapon-Wielding Predators
• Social & Chatty Ape: Strength through Communication & Co-operation (not Muscles)
• Nerdy Ape: Slow, Weak & Fragile but damn Intelligent
Characteristics of the Human Mind – The Cleverest of Mammals
Affect, Behaviour and Cognition: The ABC of Human Psychology
• Transcending or Controlling Nature?
• Culture, Language & Information
• Thinking of the Past & Future
• Unconscious, Subconscious & Conscious Mind
• Our Inner Dialogue
• Cognitive Override
• The Negative Bias
• The Smoke Detector Principle
• Other Biases & Tendencies
• Faulty, Distorted & Detrimental Thinking
• The Concept of Reciprocal Determinism
Part Three: Human Health & Wellbeing
Science-Based Practical Advice:
A Probabilistic World: Improving Your Odds for Wellbeing
(Few certainties, absolutes, or guarantees)
• Sleep: The Elixir of Life
• Active: The Importance of Exercise
• Nutrition: The Right Energy
• Excess-Avoidance: The Boring Maxim of Moderation & Balance
• Medicine: Vulnerabilities and Fixes
• Know Thyself: The Strange Problem of Understanding Your Mind
• Personality: An Individual’s Nature in Microcosm (Five Factor Model, FFM)
• Psychological Wellbeing: Six Factors of PWB
• Self-Improvement: Four Factors of Self-Efficacy
• The ABC (Triangle) of Psychology: Affect, Behaviour & Cognition
• Flow: Attaining Optimal Experiences
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