February 20, 2012

Darwinian Medicine

"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be"
-Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

I'm currently in my Neurology clerkship rotation - and it's totally fascinating, but I haven't been writing too much about it from sheer brain exhaustion from planning my fourth year.  Back to millions of forms to fill out and boxes to check and months to move around in my head and thinking about how to pay for all of it.  
So anyways, that's why you haven't heard about it until now.  

But this morning our Grand Rounds lecture was on migraines, and in part of her talk, the lecturer focused on whether there were some evolutionary reasons why migraines would still be around even though they cause a lot of pain.  

With migraines, she demonstrated that people who get migraines are more sensitive to their environments.  This takes the form of being more sensitive to light, to strange tastes, to strange smells - which one must admit could be evolutionarily advantageous if it means you can taste poison faster and drink less of it, or smell a toxic chemical sooner and steer clear of that cave.  She also discussed that people who do not get headaches - ever - are generally insensitive to their environment, and often have somewhat reckless behavior, which could preclude survival long enough to pass on genes.  

Her lecture was interesting, but as I was sitting there, drinking my coffee and trying to maintain focus, I was wondering if these concepts could be applied to not just diseases but all of our qualities that we perceive as negative - and if thinking about qualities this way would help me to better accept them - about myself and other people.  She offered these 5 explanations for why something that seems negative (like a migraine, or like being a worrier) could persist with evolution, despite its potentially negative consequences.  

Why Evolution Doesn't Cut Out All Negative Traits
(aka why you may have some characteristics that you're not necessarily thrilled about)

1. it's a defense mechanism 
(e.g. it literally helps with survival - not necessarily happiness, but survival)
2. it's an advantage in a conflict
- but it might not feel like an advantage in daily life
3. the trait is just too new, and it just takes time to adjust
or to realize that it's not going to work 
4. the benefits outweigh the losses
5. "design constraints" which really means you can only move forward 
(in evolution and in life)  by building on things, not backwards to erase them.  Something can dwindle and drop out with time, but it's impossible to go back three steps.  Character development is kind of like this too.

How does this apply to your character?

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