EPISODE 14 OF THE UNBOXABLE, UNSTOPPABLE PODCAST
Modern society, yada-yada. Western culture, yada-yada. We’ve heard it all before.
So much so that we seem to have become very good at ignoring the fundamental importance of connection within and between us humans and why exactly we need it so much.
The American Academy for the Advancement of Science lists a study carried out way back in 1988 on the link between social relationships and health.
[The study found an] increased risk of death among persons with a low quantity, and sometimes low quality, of social relationships. Experimental and quasi-experimental studies of humans and animals also suggest that social isolation is a major risk factor for mortality from widely varying causesSocial relationships and health, JS House, KR Landis, D Umberson
Science 29 Jul 1988: Vol. 241, Issue 4865, pp. 540-545
There is a reason that the most severe of penalties in all our history, fables and even today, involves segregation, isolation, ‘the shoe’ or exile. One great example that comes to mind is David Malouf’s book, An Imaginary Life, which tells the story of Ovid, the most famous poet of imperial Rome. Ovid’s irreverence leads to his banishment and the book outlines it beautifully. The intricacies of living as an outsider in a village filled with people speaking a different language, and in a place where nobody understands who or what he is.
Why is exile the greatest punishment?
Anthropologists commonly understand that we can live in groups only because we are able to cooperate and collaborate. By doing this we are able to work together to optimise chances – and the quality – of survival. When we divide tasks we allow people to specialise and become experts. By doing this we get more done. The book Sapiens explains in great detail the reason why Homo Sapiens are the species of humans that survived evolution.
Why? According to Harari, the author of the book, those of us whose brains developed enough to be able to conceptualise and visualise was able to act according to ideas, not just what was in front of us. Stories that were compelling enough allowed us to work in groups in the thousands rather than just in groups that could directly communicate with one another. By being compelled to act on the idea of a group, and that idea unifying that group, allowed homo sapiens to overcome other human species. Win the fights. Compete for food. All that ancient survival stuff.
What does that have to with human connection?
Our brains have now evolved to feel a threat to social connections in a very similar way to how we feel physical pain. The same neural pathways are activated. If social pain and physical pain feel the same, then children are compelled to stay close to their parents, and therefore remain safe. This same neurological link between physical and social pain guarantees that social connectedness takes its place right up there on the hierarchy of need, alongside food, water, and warmth. For more on this take a look at Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, by neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman.
More on this topic in Episode 15 of the Unboxable Unstoppable Podcast.