Mean Genes

Scientific American

“Consider this book an owner’s manual for your brain.”  Why does one need such a manual? Because we have inherited genes that worked well for our cave-dwelling ancestors but get us in trouble in an industialized world. “A prime example is our love of eating. Ancestral humans were always hungry having no reliable food source and no refrigerator or storage system. Their survival rule was simple: eat as much as possible. When we follow this rule in our rich modern world, many of us become overweight and unhealthy.”

We also battle these “mean genes” over sex, spending, drugs and many other things. Burnham, a professor of economics at Harvard University, and Phelan, a professor of biology at the University of California at Los Angeles, describe those battles and propose ways of moderating the compelling effect of the mean genes. “The key to a satisfying life,” they say, “is finding a middle ground that combines free-flowing pleasure, iron willpower, and the crafty manipulation of ourselves and our situations.”