From the Neolithic to Today: How Are We Still Evolving

From the modern no-sex revolution to the agricultural revolution of the neolithic, in this episode Dr. Josh Stout looks at how we evolved and are still evolving in coevolution with our culture.

From the Neolithic to Today: How Are We Still Evolving

No Sex and No Touching Is Not Good For Evolution

Eric 0:08

This is Friday, November 17th. And here we are with Dr. Stout again. Hey there Josh. 

Dr. Josh Stout 0:15

All right. So we're going to talk about in what ways we're still evolving and what things are not a matter of evolution, starting with the end of the Ice Age. So through the Neolithic and on through to well, today. 

Eric 0:30

So we're we're going back pre points that we've talked about before.

Dr. Josh Stout 0:33

Right. Well, we're basically going to the dawn of farming again. And so we've talked about the farming trap in itself, but now we're just going to sort of be breezing through that on the way to the modern world. So we're just going to go go back a little bit to sort of set the stage. So setting the stage is the end of end of the ice Age. We've gone through these periods of really rapid climactic transition. And there was a couple of times when farming tried to start, but it did. It wasn't successful because the climate was changing too fast in various places. 

Eric 1:05

But we know that we attempted it. 

Dr. Josh Stout 1:06

We know that we tend to believe that we found grain storage. We found people who done farming, but it didn't work out for them. 

Eric 1:14

So impeded by by climate change. 

Dr. Josh Stout 1:16

Climate change and farming don't go together very well. But finally, things start to to warm up in a nice, steady way where we're able to get the crops to grow and the Neolithic starts. And so the Neolithic is called that because of the stone tools. It's the new Stone Age Neo Neil Exactly. So the Paleolithic had chipped stone tools. You would take a rock and you would hit it and you would make an arrowhead out of it. The Neolithic is characterized by ground stone tools. So mostly they were using different kinds of rocks because they needed something that wouldn't ship. When you slammed it into the ground to dig something, or if you were cutting down a tree to make a dugout canoe or all the other things that they did a lot of in the Neolithic, the chipped stone tools wouldn't work for that anymore. They didn't stop making ships, stone tools. The earliest sickles that they used in the Neolithic were were chipped into shape, but amazing pieces of work. 

Eric 2:06

Needed something new. 

Dr. Josh Stout 2:07

They needed something new that wouldn't ship. And so they had to grind things. 

Eric 2:10

In stone. 

Dr. Josh Stout 2:11

And new stone to. Exactly. And so they had to grind things into shape. And so one of the ones all over the world that was the primary stone there rose at this time was Jade, which is one of the reasons I'm interested in it. If you make a what's called a Celt out of Jade, it's going to last much better than really any other kind of stone out there. So Celts are the number one tool that was developed during this time, developed by basically every culture, everywhere in the world that had farming. 

Eric 2:35

Like the Next Hand Axe. 

Dr. Josh Stout 2:37

It's the next hand axe. It's the thing that replaced everything it was, and it basically had very little to do with the previous stone tools. They put up a picture, but they were more or less shaped like a chisel, like like a stone chisel. And you put this thing on on on a haft and that would be what you would chop down a tree with or dig out a canoe or do your farming. And you needed a stone that wouldn't wouldn't break in half while you did, and. 

Eric 3:02

That would be Jade. 

Dr. Josh Stout 3:05

The very best ones were Jade. But Jade quickly became so precious that these then became the first monetary items. They were traded over long distances. They became cultural artifacts in themselves. They were worshipped in their own right. They were then broken for burial rites. So they they quickly became the most valuable thing and then too valuable to use and but still made throughout the world, you know, until until they were replaced by steel. And, you know, in in Papua New Guinea, they were still being used up until, you know, through the last century, both for actual tool use and as you know, trading for a wife. And so a monetary thing, you know, one one axe would get you a young wife for something like six pigs. 

Eric 3:53

And know. 

Dr. Josh Stout 3:54

There was a very you know, well-recorded medium of exchange. So anyway, agriculture is starting for good in in northern Anatolia at this time. And it's interesting that we used to think that cities began first and then as the cities would need more and more food, they would develop farming as a way to have surpluses that could support the city. We now think it's actually the other way around that I, I what we started off with with ceremonial centres and as as hunter gatherers were coming to these ceremonial centers, imagine something like Stonehenge, they would be depleting the resources, but always coming back to these same places. And so they would have, you know, garbage middens or wherever they were throwing their their grains that they were just eating anyway. And they would see these things growing. And so one of the earliest of these stone circles. 

Eric 4:51

So they so they inadvertently discovered that they could grow things. 

Dr. Josh Stout 4:55

Or advertently they might have known farming for a long time. If you were a hunter gatherer, there would be a profit in leaving some seeds in a place you'd come back to, even if you weren't farming so much. If you had a garbage heap that was really fertile and you threw some seeds in there, I think very early, well before farming, you would see things coming up in that same spot again. You'd be going to the same spot. It was part of your travels around as as as a nomad. We knew we knew something. We knew we knew what a seed was, in my opinion. So go back a little teepee. Is this one of the earliest of these stone circles? It's it's a mound in Turkey. And we have evidence that people were having, you know, ceremonial events there. This is building a population. And it was only about 20 miles away that the coalescence point for wheat occurs. So weed can be genetically determined. And you look at where where the diversity spreads from and you can come back to a single point in space and time. And it happens at the same moment as as as this ceremonial centuries develop there. 

Eric 5:59

Where we evolved. 

Dr. Josh Stout 6:01

Where wheat first was developed, we wheat had to have been found from the very beginning as a as a cultivated plant, wheat is not like you or me or other plants. We are deployed. We have one set of chromosomes from a mother, one set of chromosomes from a father. And then we have two sets of chromosomes and that's us. And then we give half our chromosomes to our offspring. That's normal reproduction. Wheat has six sets of chromosomes, so three sets, full sets of parents. It has three mothers and three fathers, all in one genome. So this happened basically in one move. For whatever reason, the the the the genome wasn't splitting apart to make sperm and eggs, but you stayed whole. And then the two somehow unified into this super plant and this super plant wouldn't have been able to survive on its own very well. But we then noticed because we were coming back to the same places all the time, harvesting the same grains that we were seeing over thousands of year period, we suddenly noticed this one group that has really, really large grains that are useful to us because the more chromosomes you have, the more DNA you have, the more proteins get made by this. DNA doesn't work for animals very well, but this is fairly common in plants. We do this all the time with our modern foods. We don't even call it GMO. You just you cause a plant to double the number of chromosomes and suddenly you get a bigger plant. And so we did this with. 

Eric 7:23

More protein and therefore more nutrients. 

Dr. Josh Stout 7:26

Well, more. 

Eric 7:26

Everything, more everything. 

Dr. Josh Stout 7:27

More everything. A bit just bigger plant, more plant, more plant. And the main thing we were actually aiming for was, was the the storage portion of the grain we were looking at to add the starches which called the endosperm. So that that's what we were actually after. We didn't care about the protein so much, but it was just a matter of we happened to find this thing because we were right there planting them. We planted a whole bunch of grains that we ate and suddenly they merged into one and that became our new super grain and that was wheat. And so this region in northern Anatolia was was the birthplace of of, you know, wheat culture in general. So beer was developed, their bread was developed, their bread and beer are sort of the same thing. You leave you leave wheat extra, extra liquid for a while. You get beer, you take the liquid, you let you know, you mush it around some and you make a dough and you put in the fire and you have bread. They're basically exactly the same thing and you need both of them to support these these these new developing societies starting off with your your religious centers. And now you have farming happening around it to keep everyone fed to supply the beer for your rituals. You know, alcohol and beer are closely related to too many, many, many rituals in the world as. 

Eric 8:43

As as his bread. 

Dr. Josh Stout 8:44

As his bread. Exactly. You know, these are these are not unrelated concepts. So these, you know, the staff of life. This is this is where where where civilization comes from is is is really just this this moment. So in addition to development of agriculture and these new kinds of stone tools, now we're staying in the same place. So it's worthwhile to make pottery. Pottery had been discovered several times by hunter gatherers, but now we need places to store our grain and so we put them in big pots. These big pots are not to be carried around, but they can be defended. And now we start doing all those things I was talking about with happening with farming, where we have walls around our storage where we try and capture people to help work for us. You know, all of these things I slavery are happening because now we have this, this defendable resource. 

And so it's it's really interesting to think of how this transition happened because of our our our ritual life, not because we were starting by learning to be farmers. And then we had a surplus that we then developed. Then we have a pottery made because we had a surplus. This is how I was taught in fourth grade, right? Right. You know, you'd have you'd have the specialized classes that developed the priests and the Potters and Sumeria. 

Eric 10:03

We were also taught taught that there was a time when everything was a barter system. So that's that all of that is. Yeah, yeah. No, everything. We were told a. 

Dr. Josh Stout 10:11

Lot of things were in your life. Yeah, exactly. 

Eric 10:13

So that's a difference. 

Dr. Josh Stout 10:14

So, you know. No, we were, we, we had trade and these handouts, things were traded early and then they did, the Celts were traded, became instantly basically a currency. Yeah. You know in and this was often then seen like so some of the earliest currencies in China were actually bronze knives that you couldn't use as a knife but would have a hole in the end so you could string them on chains and you could have a whole bunch of money that before even coins. And then the coins just turned out to be little circles with a hole in it in China. So you could string them on, on, on strings. And so, yeah, so often, often our tools would sort of be culturally evolving. I'm not saying tools evolved, but they culturally developing and changing in a way that would start off as something we just needed and then would become these, these items for for a trade that was instead of just barter, you didn't have to carry your pile of wheat over to someone who had a pile of fish and hope you have a pile of wheat on the same day. He got it. And I would say the way we were taught in school. Yeah, right. It never was. That happened. It never happened. Yeah, exactly. So one of one of the interesting things that happened in the conquest of the New World, not one of our, you know, stand out moments as as humanity, but we were proselytizing. And in California, in the Spanish mission, in Spanish missions, where Spanish Catholics were coming in, proselytizing to the natives who lived in the area and converting them and then getting them to live on on the on the missions. And so we were actually able to see people who are born and grew up as hunter gatherers buried at the mission and their immediate relatives who grew up on the mission as farmers. And so we can see the same people with the same genetics living in the same place. What happens when you become a farmer. 

Eric 12:04

Fascinated What happens when you become a farmer in one generation. 

Dr. Josh Stout 12:07

In one generation, and immediately people become shorter, their lifespan goes down, they get bad backs. They, they, they it's tremendously difficult on their joints. 

Eric 12:17

They observe. 

Dr. Josh Stout 12:18

Yes, you can see it happening in one generation in the same people. So all all of the problems, suddenly they develop cavities because they're eating much more to start eating. 

Eric 12:27

Why you made this jump in time from practically prehistoric to now. I see. I see. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Dr. Josh Stout 12:34

There was something that was happening and we did this sort of inadvertent experiment in California or the Spanish were doing it where we could see the real transition between. 

Eric 12:44

These, these. 

Dr. Josh Stout 12:44

These, these lives. And so this is what I'm talking about in the farming trap Is, is, is, is how bad farming became for us. But the question I want to talk about today is also how are we still evolving? And we've only had about 600 generations since the Paleolithic, since the Ice Age, so we haven't had that long. 600 generations is not a lot of time for evolution, but the things you would look at for look for it in are things associated with diet particularly. So, you know, when we moved on to the Serengeti, the things we see changing first are things like teeth, because now we have to have a new diet, things that are highly selected for very, very quickly. We suddenly get thicker tooth enamel almost overnight. What do we see in this Neolithic revolution? We see increases in the the enzymes that digest starch is a particular one. So amylase. So in this wheat we developed was a sugar called amyloidosis Amarillo starch, made up of lots of little sugars. Amylase is what breaks it down into little pieces. So if you put a cracker in your mouth and you suck on it for a while, it's going to start to taste sweeter because you're actually taking that starch and you're breaking it down into sugar molecules that you can now use and you can taste. 

Eric 14:00

Right there in your mouth. 

Dr. Josh Stout 14:02

Right there in your mouth, Yeah. And so it begins right at the very beginning and continues on. This is this is you know, so if you want to make beer, for example, one of the things you'll do is you'll take grain and you will soak it in water and let it sprout. And so grain actually produces its own enzymes that break down its own starches to make sugars because yeast wants to eat sugar. And that's how you malt grains in some places in the world where they can't where they don't malt grains, they do it in a different way. So chicha is made where usually an old woman will chew on some of the corn for a while, spit it into a container. And I've thought about that. It's like it was her spit that was fermenting. It was super gross. I now understand what's actually happening. It was the enzymes in her mouth are converting the whole container. So you don't need a container full of spit to make ketchup. 

Eric 14:51

But you do need spit. 

Dr. Josh Stout 14:52

But you do need some spit because it has amylase. And now we can make the same chicha with, with enzymes you can buy off the shelf. You don't need an old lady spitting into a jar, but it is still can be made that way and is in in some places. So this this idea of enzymatic breakdown of starch is right at the very beginning of making alcohol. It's something that we've understood right from the very beginning of of of wheat and of beer and its relationship to bread and how bread rises and yeast and beer again. And all of these things are coming from the very beginning. And we're developing our own enzymes from this very beginning. 

Eric 15:29

So you're saying that we knew of, of these, these enzymatic reactions prior to actually understanding farming like this predated this problem predated maybe. 

Dr. Josh Stout 15:41

But we would have, we would have started to understand it as soon as we did farming. If you want to eat these grains, you have to soak them and if you leave them too long, they might sprout. 

Eric 15:51

So this has been with us at least as long as farming, if not right. 

Dr. Josh Stout 15:54

And so that those sprouted things would have tasted sweeter. You would have been actually be able to taste it. 

Eric 15:59

You're saying that for possibly a millennia prior to farming actually taking hold, we were passing by these same places where these grains were growing the whole time We were possibly knew this before we. 

Dr. Josh Stout 16:11

Very possibly so we would have been soaking grains before we ever had farming because we that's the only way you can really eat the grains. We would've been soaking them and grinding them. Some of these grains would have sprouted. Yes. We would have noticed that they were sweeter. We'd have noticed that if you then take those sweeter grains and and roast them, you can then use that as a basis for something to ferment. I suspect that that's where we started making beer. And then we got really good at farming as we got better and we had a at a ceremonial place, all of these things came together. But yes, there was a period of sort of the high, the high Neolithic called an end to fire. And in the Middle East, the high Neolithic. 

Eric 16:49

I love that. 

Dr. Josh Stout 16:50

Well, it was we it was the best time. You barely had to go anywhere, but you were still Neolithic, you were still hunter gatherers. You didn't have farming and villages and all the problems of farming and villages. There were just people everywhere. There was there was animals to hunt everywhere. There was grain everywhere. And everything was wonderful. Then again, there was there was a climactic collapse. This age ended and we were stuck. And so suddenly we, we, we, we, we no longer had, you know, all of these resources that then in 2000 it had. And so this was just prior to this transition is we sort of had one little last climate moment that pushed us into a new direction. And at the same time we're building these ceremonial centers. And so we needed the food that these these green productions could have. But yes, we for four millennia we had been harvesting grain before we were farmers. So, yes, you're absolutely right. Yeah. So once we once we we transition, we, we we have a lower, lower lifespan reduced we have increased infant mortality. And this only goes down in the last hundred or so years. So from the period of hunter gatherers to, let's say 1900, our lifespan and our infant mortality are terrible. 

Eric 18:10

And this is because of what everything you talk about in the farming tract, the transition to the. 

Dr. Josh Stout 18:14

Transition to farming. Yeah. So more disease because you have more density, poorer nutrition because you're only eating one thing, you're only eating the sugar and the starch, your war famines because you're only you're stuck in one place, you can't move to the next thing. All of the pestilence in the Bible is specifically due to because we're farmers, you know, a rain of fire of frogs is not a plague. To a hunter gatherer, that's a rain of food. But to a farmer, that's a problem, right? This most of these locusts are not a problem for hunter gatherers. Again, a rain of food. These are only plagues for farmers. 

Eric 18:48

That's the one thing I remember from grammar school that remains is children picking locusts out of the sky and the filmstrip telling us that they eat it like we eat shrimp. Yes, well. 

Dr. Josh Stout 19:01

We actually got got to this country and we wiped out our locusts. They were all coming from one valley in, in, in Utah. And for tens of thousands of years that had been what everyone lived on when they arrived. And we showed up and we didn't like them. So we just wiped them out. As soon as we got through, like the first pesticides, it was the first thing we did was wiped out the entire species of the American locusts. I and you know, the native peoples had lived on them for, for, for, for, for, you know, millennia. Millennia. Yeah, exactly. So anyway, we, we, we, we tended to address these things that had been manna from heaven and call them plagues. And so farming was really changing our entire attitude towards the world around us. Things were no longer a gift from God. They were. They were, they were, you know, God punishing you for something. 

Eric 19:52

And that's just that's inconceivable almost to me. But clearly it's conceivable. But yeah. 

Dr. Josh Stout 20:03

So and our health is not continuing to improve. Right. Things got better about 150 years ago with with improved hygiene and things like that. Flush toilets were great. But, you know, today two thirds of American adults are overweight or obese and a third of children, you know, so this is not good. We're actually starting to go down again in longevity. So we are really putting pressure on ourselves. And so I want to think about not just what we've done to ourselves with farming, but how this might affect evolution. And so I mentioned that we have increased amylase genes. We can get more calories out of the starch. But again, if you leave that that cracker in your mouth, it's going to turn to sugar and you're going to get cavities. And so we start seeing cavities are happening much more commonly. But still, as you get more and more modern to Calvary, the cavities increase. So even even farmers don't have it. Same access to sugar that people do after the Industrial Revolution. Once you get industrialized sugar, then you really get candy and cavities and all of these things are happening much faster. But these are not evolutionary changes. These are things that we're doing to ourselves outside of of evolution. The only evolutionary change we had was was was the amylase. The rest of it is just something that we are doing to ourselves. So our bodies are responding to much older evolution, even though we've changed our environment. 

The other thing we have is several populations have developed lactase, so we have enzymes that mammals really only have as infants because that's when they're they're nursing and they're taking in milk. And several populations around the world have independently developed the ability to digest milk till later in life. But this is uneven. It's not spread among every population, and many people lose this ability as they age because it's just not evolved to get you through your twenties. We get you through your twenties, you're having your babies. That's all evolution cares about. After that, they don't care. And so the genes are not really stable in a way that you can still digest lactose when you're when you're 60, say. And so a lot of older people then start developing these issues. And so these are things that we have started to develop a little bit of, of of change in response to our farming. But it is by no means I a solution to all the problems that you. 

Eric 22:29

Thought an evolutionary level change. Well, it's. 

Dr. Josh Stout 22:32

Evolution happened but it's not necessarily working all that well and it's mostly just to get a few more calories out of out of what we have done. Right. So we get more calories out of our plants. We get more calories out of our animals because we now have these enzymes that can get the calories out of it. But we can certainly in a modern world, live without it. And mostly these changes have have to have downsides because, you know, not not everyone can digest milk later in life. And having having sugar in your mouth is not necessarily good for you. So these these these things have are an evolutionary thing, but they're not necessarily causing us to survive better anymore. 

So we'd thought for a long time within evolutionary biology that there was really no evolution in this period because culture was replacing evolution. If there was a pressure on you, you would just culturally adapt to it. But that's not true. We actually have been through things, many of them related to farming, that have caused evolutionary change, such as the Black Plague. So the Black Plague wasn't just a random event, it was a mixture of empire building on behalf of the Mongols, spreading all the way from China to Europe, able to spread the plague with them, with things that accompany farming like rats. We know what eats grain. It's going to be the rats. So you have this these these large populations in Europe with high numbers of rats eating their grain and suddenly you have a new disease, Yersinia pestis that is able to to kill people widely. It starts off as just coming from the flea bites, but very quickly spreads to turns into the nomadic version where you can spread it person to person just by breathing on someone. 

Eric 24:19

And something like, that's a mutation that happened inside. 

Dr. Josh Stout 24:22

It's not a mutation, it's what happens when the plague gets bad. When people have a very high amount of this bacteria inside them, they can spread it between each other. 

Eric 24:32

It's just right. 

Dr. Josh Stout 24:33

It's actually normally plague only comes from fleas, but once it gets into populations, it becomes a nomadic plague. And that's what probably wiped out about a third of Europe. We wipe out a third of people. You're talking about something that actually has evolutionary impacts. 

Eric 24:49

Oh, yeah. 

Dr. Josh Stout 24:49

And so there is some evidence that we actually changed European populations, particularly changed the way they address iron in their body in a way that sequesters iron from bacteria perhaps to to defend against things, change the way immune systems work. Some people think that this gave Europeans a slightly higher defense against COVID. So there's a few changes that happen that might have given Europeans the ability to spread around the world like we did later because the Black Plague weeded us out so quickly. And because it it wasn't it certainly wasn't a, you know, ubermensch kind of situation didn't make people super, but it gave him a couple of extra abilities within a within the immune system. But the same populations that often have some heightened resistance often also have heightened autoimmune diseases. So our immune system is attacking ourselves. Some of. 

Eric 25:49

These when the Europeans left and came to the new World, instead of being defeated by the diseases that were already there, they just brought their own and they. 

Dr. Josh Stout 25:57

Brought their own. Yeah, yeah. Guns, germs and steel makes things. It's very clear that the certain certain immunities allow you to be a colonizer. And, you know, there were places in Africa that weren't colonized until very late because they had diseases that the Europeans couldn't go into. But if you're a continent that runs north south, you have diseases that run north, south. The southern diseases don't go north, vice versa. If you were, say, Asia and Europe, you can pass things east, west and everything stays at the same temperature. And so the diseases you bring with your animals can spread right across. So the chickens went from Malaysia to Europe by the by the late or sort of early iron age and probably brought various things with them. You know, pigs and chickens bring you the flu. So all of these things, when we go to the new world, white people out because they didn't have this kind of exchange across a very, very wide area. But, you know, we had suffered certainly the Black Plague was the worst thing that ever happened and was worse in Europe than it was in Asia. Where they'd been living with it for a longer was was much, much worse in Europe. So there are events that do cause evolution, and it does have an effect on our future way we interact with the rest of the world. 

The huge eye increase in geographic diversity has led to selection pressures. Not everywhere is the same. So if you live at high altitude, you have a harder time than if you're living at low altitude. So, for example, we think that some of the Denisovan high altitude genes or what went into the Tibetans, and so they're able to live at higher altitude. And so things like this are happening with agriculture. So I probably the the amylase gene was spreading out of the Middle East where agriculture was first developed into Europe. And, you know, so that's that's what we're getting it from. So you can see these these population movements associated with a little bit of the evolution. Some of the cultural changes that changed our physiology are probably just cultural. So we have smaller faces than the hunter gatherers did, probably simply because we don't chew as much. So our jaws are smaller, our teeth are smaller, we don't need to chew as much, so we have less selection causing us to have that. So there's a little bit on the genetic side. We don't need to have these huge teeth. The peoples who became farmers last have the biggest teeth. So in Australia the native peoples of Australia have the largest teeth of any population. So there's definitely a genetic side to things, but they are now developing the same problems with teeth that we had. And so their teeth are getting smaller because they don't fit in their jaws anymore. If you don't chew your jaw, stay smaller, your bones get bigger when you use them. And so if the jaw stays smaller, the teeth literally don't fit in there and you have problems, wisdom, teeth, etc. that the hunter gatherers never did. And even some of the early farmers would have had these problems. But as soon as you get farming, you're chewing softer grain. You know, bread is easier to eat than, you know, a carcass out on the Serengeti. 

Eric 29:05

So you drive basically what you just said is that when we when we moved to agriculture, a whole lot of people died terrible, painful deaths because their their mouths. Yes. Didn't work. 

Dr. Josh Stout 29:15

Yes. And then we figured out how to pull teeth. Yeah. And teeth were rotting and cavities happened and people died. Early deaths, you know, many of the early deaths. 

Eric 29:23

Their mouths. 

Dr. Josh Stout 29:24

Mouth from their mouth. Yeah. Many people probably dying in their fifties and late forties. Was was these things as well as people dying, you know, in their in their early twenties because of of wisdom teeth issues. Yeah. So all of these things are going to cause selection pressures but we have not in no way it had time to evolve to them. There's some slight change. Our teeth have gotten slightly smaller that that's about it. Our populations in general have gotten shorter. But it turns out when you start feeding people enough, we get taller again. And so we've had a very rapid increase in stature relatively recently as we stopped starving ourselves. So populations were selected against for size for a very long time. So we probably lost some of the height genes, but most of the shrinking was just environmental, just not getting enough food and periodically starving ourselves on. 

So health is generally determined by the spread of culture, not genes. And there's there's, there's, there's lots of accounts of this. So type two diabetes is now spreading into East Asia, not because of some gene that has come from Europe, but because of European lifestyles that spread type two diabetes. And so many of our health things are are now cultural and not evolutionary. We have some evolutionary changes, but most of it's going to be cultural. 

Things that are good for you in one way are often bad for you in another. So diet or exercise that are good for you and what in some ways can put stress on joints or, you know, AIDS, a paleo diet, which I will talk about at some later date that sends you into ketosis, might be good in that it will burn fat, but can put other, you know, stress on on your metabolism in other ways. So so there's always going to be tradeoffs. We over millions of years did our best to evolve to our particular environment and we've done the best balance we could to that situation. Now we're in a new environment that we have not evolved for. And so these trade offs cost us a lot more, so that when you when you make one thing get better, it tends to to impact another thing. 

Fats in our diet or an example, too much bad fat and too little good fat and now we have even new indigestible fats. So we particularly, you know, modifying fats, you know, in the factory so that we can't digest them. And so you get the runs, but you don't get you don't get fat. We love the fat. We love the flavor of the fat. We want it because it builds our big brains. And and we know that if we're not fat, we're not fertile. So evolution is pushing us towards these things at the same time as we're trying to culturally adapt ourselves to give us give ourselves fats that won't make us fat. But, you know, the companies want to push the fats because that's what sells. They know we're programmed to eat this stuff and they're not going to go against programming. They're just going to give us what we want, which is what capitalism says they should do. They should give us what they want. They should make money off of it, and then we all get fat and we die early deaths because of it. And it's not a scheme, it's not a conspiracy. The companies didn't decide to kill us. It's what we want. And they're just giving us what we want. 

Eric 32:32

We are designed to. 

Dr. Josh Stout 32:33

It's what we're designed to want. It's what we designed ourselves to want. 

So civilization in general has led to increasing specialization. So that part of your history was, you know, was correct. But this then leads to increasing specialization in activity. So many of us now sit in cubicles all day and do nothing where there are other people who spend their entire life exercising. So we have specialized athletes and they can do things that we can no longer even conceive of. And this really creates a divide where we don't think we can do that sort of thing, right? If you went out and started training for a marathon, any weight issues you had, any cholesterol issues you had, all of that would go away overnight, but your body would suffer because you're not you're not experienced in this thing. 

Eric 33:22

My body would suffer. 

Dr. Josh Stout 33:23

Your body would suffer, yet my body would suffer. Yes. Yeah. You would hurt your knees. You would hurt yourself in many, many ways anyways. 

Eric 33:30

So we can't and we've we've. 

Dr. Josh Stout 33:31

Lost the ability in many ways because of specialization, to do the things that would most help us, help us in terms of health. 

We've also seen things becoming more common today that we can't exactly explain. We don't know if it's cultural or if it's genetic or if we're just discovering them. Things like autism, ADHD, pancreatic cancer are much more common today. We didn't see these things as much before, but we don't know if this is something that we're just testing for today and we just ignored before. We had all sorts of terrible names for people who were not like us and they were often segregated in some way and put away in special places so that we didn't see them. And now we're understanding that some of that might have been mental health, but some of it might have just been someone who was super hyperactive and difficult to control and we didn't know what to do with them. And they didn't have a mental health issue. They had a dopamine issue. And so there is a lot of things where we don't exactly know how long these things have been in our culture and what effects they've had on us. We're just sort of noticing them. We're waking up to a lot of these these these these things that have been living with us for we don't know how long some of them might be environmental, might turn out. The pancreatic cancer is due to a particular things we're doing to our environment, perhaps with some of the modern pesticides that the Nazis developed in World War Two, that we spray on everything we eat. You know, those those things have tremendous effects on our endocrine systems and on brain development and all of this stuff may well be related, but we have no idea and and we're not really looking. 

Eric 35:08

And we march ahead, keep using them. Yeah, because. 

Dr. Josh Stout 35:11

What else are we going to do exactly? Yeah. 

So there are some things where we're the real problem is the mismatch between our environment and how we are evolved. Mismatch diseases. Don't it happen in hunter gatherers because they're not mismatched. They happen to us today. 

But it's even difficult in hunter gatherer cultures. We can't necessarily find people because we haven't put people in sort of the equivalent of of a of an island zoo to see what a hunter gatherer does if they're not exposed to us. So hunter gatherers drink, smoke cigarettes, get outside diseases, have, you know, phones and televisions and all the things that we have. So it's really difficult to know. You know, there are there are there are there are literally hunter gatherers who can pull out their cell phone and, you know, they're actually mostly using Facebook. I know for a lot of the world that is the Internet and it's what you do with the phone and Facebook gives you the free phone and you know all this anyway, the world is you. I know the world is not what you think it is. 

So I want to just bring up sort of an example, scurvy and cavities as two things that have happened to us relatively recently with different examples of how we deal with them. So scurvy is lack of vitamin C, We started exploring the world, getting on ships, and everyone started dying of scurvy. As soon as you didn't eat fresh vegetables, this would never happen to a hunter gatherer. They were never away from fresh vegetables. It's why we don't make our own vitamin C. Most animals make our own their own vitamin C, We don't make our own because we never ran into a situation where that was necessary. But you get on a ship or you're in a city where there's no fresh vegetables over the whole winter, people can start getting scurvy. We learned the answer to this. We learned that we need fresh vegetables. We started bringing limes with us. You know, the limes the British Navy and all that. And we cured severe scurvy in this way. So we actually addressed the problem. Whereas cavities, we know what causes cavities. It's too much sugar in our diet, soft food and, you know, basically poor oral hygiene. These are what cause cavities. We do not address this by eliminating the sugar in our food. We address it with better oral hygiene and going to the dentist and getting our teeth filled or pulled as this professionally cleaned. Professionally cleaned. We go to the dentist. Exactly. Yeah. So we have in no way addressed cavities. We've just moved forward, as you say, just pressing on with with with or without with the way we live. And then we just deal with it in certain ways, you know, some people think eyeglasses might be similar. That meeting glasses is pretty rare in hunter gatherer societies. And as soon as you get people who are reading a lot, people start needing eyeglasses and it seems to be getting worse with the screens we're using all the time. So we don't address the issues that we're looking at things too close to our face and we're not exercising our eyes properly. We just put on glasses because that's what we need. And so many, many cases we, we we don't address the actual problem. We just address the symptoms. And so these this is sort of how we approach things. So we don't evolve so much. But we, we do notice the problem and then we try and solve it technologically to. 

Eric 38:25

Treat the problem. We treat the symptom. 

Dr. Josh Stout 38:27

We treat the symptoms, and we try and treat it with our technology and we try and make money off of it because that's how everything works.

Eric 38:32

That's how everything works. 

Dr. Josh Stout 38:33

Exactly. But I wanted to bring up a modern epidemic that has really started pretty recently and may well have an impact on evolution. I don't know how this is going to pan out, but this is going to put severe pressure on us evolutionarily, and that is that we're not touching anymore. So primates are evolved to need touching. It's part of our entire social organization. And we we know that there is tremendous health effects if we don't get enough touching. So in 1989, at the fall of communism, when the Romanian dictator was overthrown, they went into the state orphanages and found all the orphans who were being just lined up in beds and not touched. And they had profound difficulties, blank expressions, stereotypical movements, social withdrawal. So this is this is what happens. And you can see the same thing in primates. Hopefully we're not doing experiments anymore. But if you torture a primate by not letting it touch things, it goes insane and the same thing happens to human beings. And so we seem to be doing this to ourselves. We are moving into a society where touching is is forbidden, particularly for men, and where this is causing, I think, severe psychological distress. And we see symptoms of it like things like Incels, who are the involuntary celibate men who blame women and want to kill women because they've gone insane. And this is a symptom of insanity. And it is clearly, you know, related to evolution. If you're not reproducing and it is clearly related to who we are as primates, the lack of touching causing us to become aggressive and lashing out and, killing the females. This does happen to primates. Periodically. Primates will go insane and kill the females around them and kill infants as well. It's a it's a it's a it's a form of insanity. And it can be directly brought on by by by not touching. In the 1960s, Sidney Jourard studied conversations between friends in different countries and found that friends in England never touched each other. Friends in the US made contact twice. Friends in France and Puerto Rico touched each other 110 to 180 points in a single conversation just over the course of a conversation, just constant touching of each other. So it's specifically American and an English Anglo European culture that is really pushing this anti touching. I think it's starting to spread around the world. I think I think we're moving in this direction and there's there's real evidence that this can affect us. So if you're if you're you're your server, your waitress waiter touches you on the arm, you're likely to give a higher tip because you respond directly to this. If a professor or a teacher touches a student, they are more likely to speak in class. I am never going to touch a student. I know this. I know that it is good for the students and it is good for me. But we have developed a culture where I cannot do that. Yeah, it's. 

Eric 41:47

Probably a much better idea for you to not do that. 

Dr. Josh Stout 41:50

I will never, ever touch a student and it doesn't matter if they're male or female, I am not going to touch them. And this is sad, but it's beyond sad. It's actually bad for the students and for me. And if the way we have to live and so we are we are entering this sort of touch, puritanical society that it has tremendous repercussions. And it is absolutely not evolutionarily derived. It is going against our evolution. It is a culturally derived situation, but it will have profound effects on our health and potentially on our evolution. 

Touching is also strongly discouraged in the workplace. You know, this is not something we can do. It would be very good for people's relationship with their employers to be touched with them and touch their employers. But that is the worst thing. A player should never touch their employees. Even if it would build bonding, it would be good for everyone involved. We cannot do that. 

Eric 42:47

Not today. 

Dr. Josh Stout 42:47


So possibly related to this, in 2010, the life expectancy of men was 76 years and women was 78 years. In 2021, the life expectancy of women was 79 years would gone up. One year. But men with 73 years gone down three years. So women's life expectancy is. 

Eric 43:13

2021, though. Yeah. 

Dr. Josh Stout 43:15

Okay, so COVID has something to do with it, which has something to do with your immune system, which is directly related to things like touching things like depression. It is also directly related to fentanyl. So the opium epidemic is often described as as an epidemic of despair. And despair and lack of touching are closely related. So I'm not saying this is causal, but I'm saying there's a lot of correlation and there are causal components to it. 

Eric 43:42

Hard, hard to argue with this. Yeah. 

Dr. Josh Stout 43:44

And so, yeah, men are in a crisis in many dimensions. I want to have a talk about that in particular and you know, is directly related to sexism and the way men treat women and is directly related to the repercussions of that. So I'm not saying that women are mistreating men. That is not what I'm saying by any means. But there is something happening culturally that is impacting men to the point where you're seeing changes in in their life expectancy. 

Eric 44:12

Decline in life. 

Dr. Josh Stout 44:14

A dramatic decline in life expectancy, even even as our health care technology is improving and something that is not happening in other parts of the world is not happening the same way in Europe and is not happening the same way in Asia. So it is very much a local cultural phenomenon. Um, there's something else that's happening which is going to affect evolution even more strongly, and that is we're not having sex anymore. I there's been a bunch of studies from 2009 to 2018. All forms of partnered sexual activity have gone down. That's all forms of partnered sexual. 

Eric 44:54

Activity that even measured like how. 

Dr. Josh Stout 44:57

You ask people, what are you doing? What are you up to? 

There's even lower masturbation. 

Eric 45:03

It's gone down compared to when? 

Dr. Josh Stout 45:05

From 2010 to 2018. So recently. Wow. There has been a dramatic lowering of sexual activity of all kinds, partnered and non partnered. All sex is going away and this is a dramatic problem going away. Let's continue talking. Okay? Okay. Okay. 

Eric 45:25

Okay. I'm not going anywhere. 

Dr. Josh Stout 45:27

Between 2009 and 2018, the proportion of adolescents reporting no sexual activity, either alone or with partners went from 28% to 44%. That's all adolescents. Adolescents aren't even masturbating anymore. 44%. That is crazy. Now, this is a mixture of men and women, but this is all sexual activity. And I and partnered or solo in in adolescents has now 44% are not engaging this is not a 44% reduction is 44% straight out are not engaging. So we're looking at a major, major problem that is happening right now. It's difficult to believe it's difficult to understand. And this is happening the same time as we have, you know, all of these apps that can do the hookup culture where people are having one night stands is a lot of literature on the one night stands and relating to to social media. But what's actually happening is people are abstaining, particularly young people. And this is going to be a tremendous issue. We have we have a demographic collapse across the board simply due to, you know, women are staying in school. They're delaying reproduction that that demographic collapse. But this is something else entirely. We we have just less sex across the board. Now, in some ways, this is great. We have fewer teenage pregnancies. Great, wonderful. But this is just across the board. People are not having sex among young men. 2009 to 74% among young women. No sex at all. 

Eric 47:09

Say that again. 

Dr. Josh Stout 47:10

So, yeah, I had to go back and check these numbers. Okay, So in from 2009 to 2018, the. 

Eric 47:17

Same dates we've been talking about, right? Yeah. 

Dr. Josh Stout 47:20

Going from 28% of men are virgins to 44%. 

Eric 47:27

You mean all men? Everyone of all ages. 

Dr. Josh Stout 47:30

This is young men. This is younger men in their twenties. Okay, A classic time that we are. 

Eric 47:35

Evolved to reproduce. Yes. Okay. 

Dr. Josh Stout 47:38

And 49% and young women to 74%. We are not reproducing. We are not having sex as well. And sex is itself important outside of reproduction. So the populations seems to be divided into one group with relatively frequent, often physically aggressive sex and another group that is not having sex at all. So the more aggressive and and free with the sex one group is becoming, the less the other group wants to engage with them because the sex that's being have is not enjoyable to a large group of people. The whole hookup culture that the frat parties or the alcohol is being said no to. So alcohol use has gone down at the same as sex is going down. And so this is a sort of puritanical approach that is in response to what everyone is seeing with the the drinking and the hookup culture. Now, alcohol use going down is great. But, you know, if you're shy, alcohol might be the way you were having sex. And so there is there's a relationship directly between adolescents use of alcohol being reduced and their chance for casual sexual encounters. So all of that is sort of good. But, you know, this is going down and is a problem. And it's what we've been telling kids to do forever. We've been telling them not to have sex and not to drink, and now we're getting it. And it might be a problem. I don't know if they stopped because we told them adolescents never really listen to us, but it's definitely happening. 

Eric 49:11

So are all these numbers in adolescence and early like in young people? Because does this continue. 

Dr. Josh Stout 49:18

Getting to that? Okay. So with with for for married people, it's still very low. Percentage of married people have not had sex at all within the last year. But for unmarried people, it's something like 15% for men and about 20% for women have not had any sex in the last year. 

And this is not confined to Western societies or American society in in in Japan. 

Eric 49:54

Yeah, Japan. 

Dr. Josh Stout 49:56

42% of men and 44% of women, almost half of Japan's singles aged between 18 and 20 and 34 are virgins. Almost half of people between 18 and 34 in Japan are virgins. 

Eric 50:10

Have such a hard time with that. That's so difficult. 

Dr. Josh Stout 50:13

I know. I just deny it. I had to I had to look at many studies. This is why I'm actually like carefully reading the numbers. And they they're all pointing in the same direction and they're all coming up with the same numbers. This is something that we'll change us. This is not a small thing. It's one it's making us more anxious. It's making us more upset. And it's going to have an evolutionary effect if we don't reproduce clearly. Right. Who is going to reproduce? The people I think of as bad people, The people who have the violent sex and are drinking at the frat parties. Right. The people who are nice kids who stay home and are not going to the parties. They're not reproducing, they're not having sex, and they're putting off reproduction, which will definitely lower their reproductive rate. 

Eric 50:54

Those numbers would just for Japan. But what about what about people in the very surround the rest of the world? 

Dr. Josh Stout 50:58

It's similar. I don't have studies from everywhere in the world, but this is this is something that's happening across what we would call the developed world. It is not happening in Africa. I Africa is expected to double its population within the next 20 years. And it is it is something like a fifth of people are going to be Africans by by by 2050. And, you know, we're going to have to deal with our racism issues and our immigration issues as our populations collapse and as we need workers. Those workers are going to be coming from Africa and we are not ready for this culturally or, you know, in any way, really. And we we need to start doing preparation in some way. 

Eric 51:40

We need to acknowledge that this is happening. 

Dr. Josh Stout 51:42

We are not acknowledging that this is happening. And when we do acknowledge this is happening, there's a whole bunch of things we do. The first thing I would do would be sending aid to Africa so that when we get people, they are educated and they are, you know, people we want to have in our societies and they're not desperate people getting on a boat because they're starving to death. You know, those people can turn into great productive people and become great in a society, but when they get off the boat, they're going to need help. And that's going to be a huge cost. And by the 2040s and certainly the 2050s, this is going to be a tremendous cost in the world if we don't do something about it right now. 

A study has found having sex just twice a week halves a man's chances of getting clogged arteries. 

Eric 52:25


Dr. Josh Stout 52:26

Compared to those who indulge in less than less than once a month. So if you have sex less than once a month, you have twice the chance of having clogged arteries as if you have sex twice a week. 

Research published in Journal of Sexual Medicine and Sex slashed men's levels of homocysteine, a harmful chemical which can trigger cardiac problems. So there's a particular thing that gets reduced in response to sex. It's believed that men having regular sex have better circulation and healthier blood vessels. So this is a direct health consequence, not just a population and evolutionary issue. Benefits are less pronounced for women because they don't have the same response to circulation, men's sex response, directly to circulation. And so it's not seen as strongly in women. Now, this could go the other way. It's hard to tell what's causation in something like this. If you have circulatory problems as a man, it's harder to have sex. And so there could be a reverse correlation. But in general, the correlation is more sex, the better your circulation is going to be for all people, but particularly men. And so this decline in men's health that we're seeing is directly related to decline in men's sex. So there are definitely strong correlations that appear to be at least partially causal. And some of these things are feedback loops and they go. 

Eric 53:47

Now, does masturbation account for any of this? What what effect would masturbation have? 

Dr. Josh Stout 53:52

Tremendous benefits, but not the same oxytocin benefits. So you. Well yeah. So the cuddle hormone responds to cuddling and so so this is another thing that lowers lowers cortical co steroid levels. The stress hormones are lowered by touch. And so having an orgasm is tremendous for you. In many ways. It's going to have improvements to cardiovascular health. 

Eric 54:16

So masturbation can account for some of what's lost by not having sex, but not certainly not all of it. Yeah, you could use something that we know inherently kind of you you could you. 

Dr. Josh Stout 54:26

Could probably figure out a way to to get your your cuddle needs and your orgasm needs without actually having sex by separating these two. But we're certainly evolved to have them at the same time there. That's that's how we evolved to be. That's why evolution rewards us for these things. It wants to reproduce, It wants you to have sex and have babies and it will punish you for not doing it. 

Eric 54:47

Let's make it clear that this doesn't mean that any individual person deserves them. 

Dr. Josh Stout 54:52

No, no, no, no, no. Absolutely. And this is this is one of my fears, is that the people who least deserve sex are the ones having the most and the ones who are most likely to reproduce. You know, we don't necessarily want pregnant. 

Eric 55:05

No, I don't want to stray towards any sort of incel training. 

Dr. Josh Stout 55:08

No. And I don't and I don't want to do eugenics either. I'm very much against eugenics. This is something that, you know, evolutionary biology has a history of promoting the right people to reproduce and the wrong people to not reproduce. 

Eric 55:21

We're not talking You're not talking about promoting anything. 

Dr. Josh Stout 55:23

I'm not promoting anything. I'm saying there is a problem that seems to be happening. And yes, this can go down a wrong path and has many times in the past and I'm sure will again. But yeah, there there really is a problem. One of the things about circulation health, there's been some really interesting studies recently on Viagra and improvements in if you take Viagra your you have a lower chance of cardiovascular issues and you have a lower chance of dementia. 

Eric 55:55

Men and women. 

Dr. Josh Stout 55:57

Well, men taking Viagra, they haven't studied, women taking bacteria. So both of these things could well just be the sex or they could be the Viagra itself. So Viagra affects nitric oxide. I uptake in the body. Nitric oxide affects cardiovascular health so you can take nitroglycerin for your heart to open up the blood vessels. It's it's a classic heart medication. One of its side effects is erections. They don't mention it much, but it was actually discovered back in the days of dynamite. People who handled dynamite, their heart would start racing and they would get an erection. That part didn't get mentioned much, but it's what led to the research that led to Viagra. So Viagra might be having a direct effect at increasing blood circulation to the brain and increasing heart things. But it could be a secondary effect that if you're taking Viagra, you're probably someone who's having more sex. So you have lower dementia and improved circulation. Again, these things are both circular and causative. I think there are relationships that go both ways on these things as well as directly. 

Eric 56:59

So I think though that you're you're in many ways you're kind of harkening back to the end of the episode. It's mostly not your fault. We really need compassion for ourselves. 

Dr. Josh Stout 57:08

Oh, absolutely. Yeah. And this is this is something that we have not done for ourselves. We are we are we are blaming each other for everything all the time. And it's making us depressed and anxious and not wanting to go out and see people. And so we sit at home and we don't have sex. 

One interesting landmark 2005 study in biological psychology found that intercourse is far more, in fact, effective than masturbation in terms of overall health. But again, it's related to the oxytocin and the and the cortisol. So these these are these are things I relate related to stress. So, yeah, orgasms are important, but being with other people and touching them is important. So these are two separate issues that can be united. Certainly having sex with people implies you are touching them, but we've lost touch throughout our society and we've lost all forms of orgasm throughout our society. And both of these things are super bad for us in terms of stress and, in terms of population levels of of I you know, stress within ourselves and, you know, getting angry at each other and behaving badly. You know, again, the insults, murdering women because women won't have sex with them. But also, you know, are are very much things that can affect evolution itself. Right. If you're not reproducing, you're not evolving. So there will be long term effects of evolution. 

Eric 58:30

When you started with the Neolithic, I had no idea we'd be ending. 

Dr. Josh Stout 58:33

I didn't really either. But when I was putting together my notes, I really wanted to talk about we've evolved lately and the directions we've been going, and this was such an important direction that we seem to be happening right now that will affect evolution. And so I wanted to go there. So. 

Eric 58:50

So the title of this episode is both a statement and a question. 

Dr. Josh Stout 58:53

It is both a statement and a question. Exactly. And yeah, so yeah. Thank you very much. 

Eric 58:57

Thank you. Fascinating, as always. Josh All right. See you next time. 

Dr. Josh Stout 59:00

See you next time.

Sidney Jourard - Wikipedia
A ‘failure to launch’: Why young people are having less sex
Nearly 40% of young adults surveyed in California in 2021 had no sexual partners in the prior year. Millennials and Gen Zers are having less sex than earlier generations.
Changes in Penile-Vaginal Intercourse Frequency and Sexual Repertoire from 2009 to 2018: Findings from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior - Archives of Sexual Behavior
Solo and partnered sexual behaviors are relevant to health, well-being, and relationships. Recent research shows that sexual frequency has declined in the U.S. and in other countries; however, measurement has been imprecise. We used data from 14- to 49-year-old participants in the 2009 and 2018 wave…
People Have Been Having Less Sex--whether They’re Teenagers or 40-Somethings
Among the young, social media, gaming and “rough sex” may contribute to this trend
The Demographic Outlook: 2023 to 2053
At a Glance The size of the U.S. population, as well as its age and sex composition, affects the economy and the federal budget. For example, the size of the population ages 25 to 54 affects the number of people employed; likewise, the size of the population age 65 or older affects the number of ben…

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