Published July 2020 on Spotfiy

377: Randolph Nesse | Good Reasons for Bad Feelings

1. Introduction

Randolph explains how natural selection has shaped our genes and why we have evolved certain traits, including mental illness. He also discusses the importance of bringing evolutionary medicine to psychiatry.+

2. Understanding Anxiety

Understanding Anxiety:Randolph Nesse, an expert in evolutionary medicine, discusses the usefulness of anxiety and why our bodies are designed to experience it. He also explains how his career has been focused on asking why the human body is vulnerable to certain illnesses and conditions.+
Anxiety and Evolution:Randolph Nesse explains how anxiety is an evolutionary adaptation that helps organisms survive. He also discusses the "smoke detector principle" and how it can lead to excess anxiety in humans.+

3. Anxiety Evolution

Pain and Anxiety:Randolph explains how natural selection shaped the pain and anxiety systems, and how they are vulnerable to overshooting. Chronic pain and anxiety can be a result of these systems not doing their job. The solution is to self-adjust and become more sensitive, but this can lead to a positive feedback loop.+
Overcoming Anxiety:Randolph explains how the anxiety system self-adjusts and how exposure to anxiety-inducing situations can help reduce anxiety in the long run. He also discusses agoraphobia and the tight connection between panic attacks and not wanting to go out.+
Anxiety Evolution:Randolph explains how anxiety is an evolutionary response that helps us stay safe. He shares a story of a woman who had two traumatic experiences at two different grocery stores, which made her feel like she had abnormal anxiety. However, Randolph explains that her anxiety was a useful response to a dangerous situation.+

4. Anxiety and Natural Selection

Anxiety and Social Selection:Randolph explains how anxiety is triggered by danger and how it can overshoot, causing people to care more than necessary about what others think of them. He also discusses how natural selection has shaped us to care about what others think, as it affects our social selection.+
Natural Selection's Middle Ground:Randolph Nesse explains how natural selection tends to settle on a middle ground, favoring traits that are neither too bold nor too timid. He also discusses how anxiety disorders can result from not having enough anxiety, which can lead to reckless behavior.+
Male Mortality Rates:Randolph explains how men have a higher mortality rate than women, even in the first 10 years of life. This is due to the evolutionary drive to compete for mates and pass on more genes, even if it shortens life. The ratio of men to women dying at age 20 is 300:1 in every country in the world.+

5. Evolutionary Insights

Reproduction vs Health:Randolph and Jordan discuss how natural selection has shaped humans to prioritize reproduction over health and longevity, leading to behaviors like thrill-seeking. They also touch on the distressing idea that our bodies are designed to prioritize what's good for our genes over what's good for us.+
Quitting and Evolution:Randolph discusses the evolutionary advantages of quitting and how it is sometimes best to give up on certain pursuits. Jordan raises the question of why women may be attracted to dangerous men despite the risks, leading to a discussion on the evolutionary pressures that influence mate selection.+
Human Cooperation:Randolph explains how humans are unique in their ability to cooperate and take care of their offspring. He discusses how natural selection has made us connect with each other and stick with each other to raise children, and how this cooperation may have led to the origins of human morality.+

6. Sponsors

Randolph Nesse joins the show to discuss the importance of online privacy and how VPNs can help protect it. Jordan and Sal also learn what VPNs are and how they work.+

7. VPNs for Privacy

Jordan explains how VPNs can be used to protect your privacy and secure your online activity, especially in sensitive situations such as using public Wi-Fi or living in countries with government surveillance. Sal agrees to start using a VPN for his hotel room sessions.+

8. Sponsors

Jordan and Sal discuss the importance of using a reliable VPN and recommend ExpressVPN. They also talk about how to get rid of unwanted stuff and mention Mercari as a great platform for selling items.+

9. Minimalism and Decluttering

Jordan and Sal discuss the benefits of minimalism and decluttering, and how the Mercari app can help turn unused items into cash without leaving the house.+

10. Sponsors

Jordan and Sal promote Mercari, an online marketplace where you can sell and buy almost anything from home.+

11. Fear, Mastery, and Aging

Fear, Mastery, and Aging:Randolph explains how natural selection shapes our fears and why some people seek out fear-inducing activities. He also discusses how genetic traits that provide benefits in childhood can lead to health problems later in life. Jordan questions why evolution hasn't eliminated these traits, to which Randolph responds with a humorous remark.+
Aging and Natural Selection:Randolph discusses his research on aging and natural selection, explaining how natural selection has postponed the effects of aging and allowed humans to live longer. He also explores the mystery of why humans continue to live long after reproduction has stopped.+
Natural Selection's Indifference:Randolph explains how natural selection doesn't care about our happiness or coordination, it only cares about making sure that nobody stops doing anything sexy until those sperm get on their way to the right place.+

12. Evolutionary Medicine

Evolutionary Medicine:Randolph Nesse discusses the concept of evolutionary medicine and why diseases are not adaptations gone wrong. He explains that diseases are not useful and are instead a result of natural selection not making the body more robust. The conversation also touches on the prevalence of cancer in humans and other species.+
Elephant's Cancer Protection:Randolph Nesse explains how natural selection has been working to eliminate cancer ever since multicellular animals have originated. Elephants have been shaped by natural selection to protect themselves against cancer by having extra copies of a gene called p53, which is there to kill off cells or become cancerous.+

13. Mental Illness Search

The Search for Mental Illness:Randolph explains how psychiatry has been attempting to put mental illness on a solid scientific foundation for the past 40 years, but has been unable to find specific genes or brain hormones that cause mental illnesses. Despite the disappointment, the National Institute of Mental Health is still determined to keep looking harder.+
Evolutionary Psychiatry:Randolph Nesse discusses the need for psychiatry to be based on evolutionary biology, rather than just treating symptoms. He also talks about the limitations of traditional psychiatry and the potential for AI to assist in understanding patients' needs.+
Coping with Emotional Problems:Randolph Nesse discusses the three things that can help someone with an emotional problem: changing the situation, how you think about the situation, and the brain. He advocates for doing whatever works to alleviate suffering, including online cognitive behavioral therapy. Nesse also talks about the emotional toll of COVID-19 and its complications on people's lives. Jordan Harbinger and Nesse also touch on the challenges of diagnosing mental health issues and treating them effectively.+

14. Mental Illness Evolution

Mental Illness Evolution:Randolph Nesse explains that mental illness is not something that evolved, but rather a byproduct of the brain's information processing system. He suggests that we need to start recognizing mental illness as a computer that's vulnerable to crashes, and not just because of hardware problems but also because of software problems.+
The Edge of Fitness:Randolph discusses how certain traits, like regulating motivation for bipolar disease, regulating social systems for autism, and regulating cognition for schizophrenia, have been pushed so far up a slope of fitness that they get to the point that works really well for almost everybody, except for a few people who fall off the edge.+

15. Sponsors

Jordan and Sal discuss the benefits of custom suits from Indochino and the importance of mental health during these challenging times, with a special offer from Better Help for listeners.+

16. Emotions and Evolution

Emotions and Evolution:Randolph discusses how emotions benefit genes more than they benefit us as people, and how grief is a natural thing that varies from person to person. The conversation also touches on why we evolved to be susceptible to disease and how emotions like jealousy can be useful.+
Why Disease Exists:Randolph explains the reasons why disease exists, including natural selection's limitations, living in different environments, and natural selection's focus on genes rather than individuals. He also discusses the role of emotions in our lives and how low mood can be helpful in certain situations.+

17. Understanding Depression

Understanding Depression:Randolph Nesse explains how depression can be caused by being trapped in a situation where you can't succeed or quit, and how eating disorders often start with crash diets that escalate into a vicious cycle.+
Evolutionary Eating:Randolph and Jordan discuss how our bodies are hardwired to store energy effectively when food supplies are erratic, leading to weight gain. They also explore how eating disorders are not people's fault, but rather a result of fighting against evolved mechanisms and getting into a positive feedback cycle. Finally, they touch on how mood regulation evolved as a way to determine how long to stay in a patch of food before moving on to the next.+

18. Animal Motivation

Motivation and Payoff:Randolph explains how every animal has a built-in system that decreases motivation when the payoff is not enough. He gives examples of how animals find the maximum amount of payoff per minute and how humans have a similar system. Randolph also talks about how there are times when the best thing to do is nothing, and how low mood may be our system's way of encouraging us to not do anything.+
Evolutionary Self-Deception:Randolph Nesse discusses the evolutionary benefits of self-deception and how it can help individuals think well of themselves. He also explores the idea of being unaware of our own impulses and how psychoanalysis can help us better understand ourselves.+

19. Deceiving Ourselves

Randolph Nesse discusses the usefulness of self-deception and how it can prevent us from acting on negative impulses. He also touches on the Buddhist idea that most bad feelings stem from desires we cannot satisfy. Jordan Harbinger reflects on the consequences of extreme emotional responses and patterns.+

20. Outro

Jordan discusses the importance of finding a balance between being too enthusiastic and not being motivated at all. He references a previous episode with Todd Kashdan about the usefulness of negative emotions. Jordan also shares his thoughts on the book "Good Reasons for Bad Feelings" by Randolph Nesse and the interesting experiment about berry picking.+