technology changing our nervous systems

The Long Body with Frank Forencich (LBP 041)

Frank Forencich and I talk about "the long body". A Native American term about how we are massively connected with the biological and social world around us. Put another way- and borrowing from the title of Frank's article about this concept- "habitat is tissue". 

In our conversation we get into questions like:

Where does the human body begin and end? 

Why is our perception of ourselves as isolated units dangerous? 

Why do we have nervous systems?

Are we currently living in an alien environment?

What are some of the features of our culture that make is a "short culture"?

How is technology changing our nervous systems and our relationships? 

How has stress changed since paleo times?




Conversation highlights

  • The long body is a Native American term which refers to the individual body plus the life support systems around it. It is a much bigger conception of the human body than we have in western culture, and considers the body continuous with the larger environment.
  • The perception of our bodies as isolated units is dangerous because  it doesn’t take into consideration that organisms live in context. We co-evolve with our habitats over many millions of years.
  • We think we have nervous systems to regulate our bodies- and we do- however the nervous system has other functions- for humans in particular its purpose is to learn habitat and our social environment too.
  • We have to appreciate how alien our modern environment is to us now. I mention a Love + Radio show I listened to about the first group of people who are competing to colonize Mars (in resources). Frank mentions an article in New Scientist magazine which states that of our (approximately) 78 years of life, we spend on average 70 indoors.
  • Social behavior comes through the body- not just the brain. We rely on our mirror neurons which respond to other people’s movements and attention and allow us to perform a simulation of what they are experiencing in their body. It feeds down into the limbic system, also goes down into abdomen via vagus nerve into the gut. Daniel Siegel discusses this as the resonance circuit [resources].
  • Eliminate nature and authentic face-to-face interactions with people and no wonder we feel so much stress and unhappiness.
  • Stress has changed radically since paleo times- Stresses would have been acute but not chronic.
  • Most of us are facing chronic stress that never really goes away. It’s not adaptive, it’s not normal.  That’s damaging for tissue throughout the body- cardiovascular and nervous system,  it changes our cognition.
  • The notion of time itself has changed. Time was always seen as something circular and flowing, and now we see time as a commodity, we take a linear view. That in itself is a tremendous stressor.
  • Eastern cultures tend to look at things in a more integrated way. In the book Crazy Like Us by Ethan Waters- he looks at the prevalence of mental illness around the world. After the tsunami in Indonesia  Western psychologists went to help out and this was a tremendous culture clash- there was an expectation of PTSD. People had unexpected reactions to talking exclusively about themselves. Instead of talking about themselves with certain symptoms they talked about this web of connection which was disrupted.
  • How can we practice long health- go outside and slow down in habitat. We see a lot of fitness people using nature as a tool. But we can take more of a john muir type experience. We have to slow down to make that happen. We should also pay more attention to face to face contact with other people. Put down the phone.

Home play!

That last piece says it all! Go outside and see if you can think about your environment less as a tool to use, than as an extension of your tissue.


Exuberant Animal

Frank's article: Habitat is Tissue

Frank's Health, Performance, and the Human Predicament event in London coming up June 20-21st in London

Love and Radio's Hostile Planet episode (on the group of people competing to colonize Mars)

Resonance Circuits, Mirror Neurons, and Mindfulness Daniel Siegel

New Scientist Magazine: Kid's Eyes Need the Great Outdoors

Crazy Like Us by Ethan Waters

If you’re inspired to leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher I would be oh so grateful! If technology isn’t your thing however you can just tell your favorite body nerds about the show. It keeps the show rolling and connects us more as a community. Body nerds unite!