Human evolution brought up some clever ideas how to survive in the wild. From my courses on becoming a swimming trainer, I know some parts of the physiological aspects in play when you exercise your body. While reading through Pragmatic Thinking and Learning from Andy Hunt, I was amazed that evolution build up the same concepts inside the brain. Here is my summary on it.
Back in the wild, nature provided the human system a vital part for its survival. The survival modes in our physiological and mental parts are part of the lizard portion, and they’re mostly subconscious. On it’s way to intelligence nature provided the human with short-term memory and the ability to flee over short distances from bears and other wild animals. On top of this, humans needed further structures for survival. So, long-term memory and stamina was build into the human system. We’ll take a closer look on the lizards, the short-term, sprinting abilities, as well as the long-term, endurance capabilities of the human body and mind.
There are lizards out there
Early on people needed some deep survival mechanisms. Hearing the roaring of a nearby tiger turned a switch, so the individual can flee from the wild animal. The human body provides energy to its muscles using assets of last resort. The body is able to have great strength based on this energy. The delivery to the muscle is quick, but it cannot last long. You got merely a few seconds, before this survival is exhausted.
Similarly deep inside your brain, the unconscious self from the earlier centuries still sleeps. In times of great stress, this lizard brain may awaken. These are the times, when your measurement system is taken down, and you react upon your lizard brain. Seth Godin explains in this video how you may defend your lizard brain in such situations. Though, keep in mind, that taking a deep breath and counting to ten while in front of the tiger may not work.
Having survived the tiger doesn’t help that much, though. Just fleeing from tigers wouldn’t help us survive in the long-term. So, people started to go out hunting. Since the deers and gazelles were quiet fast, the human body needed to cope with this. Therefore nature brought up the concept of short-term sprinting abilities. A 100m runner may still perform in his lizards resorts, but a 200m runner is winning based on his sprinting capabilities. The energy system suitable for sprinting is providing some smaller amount of energy to the muscle compared to the lizard system. But it outperforms the lizard system in its endurance. Usually lasting for up to one and a half minute, this system provides the ability to run short distances in a fair amount of time.
Similarly, the short-term memories and the linear thinking modes in the left part of the human brain provide sprinting abilities to your thinking. You can draw quick conclusions, and come up with linear conceptions based on what you just heard. Already in the conscious part of your brain, your no longer responding with survival responses to what you just perceived. The linear thinking model outperforms the lizard model in its consciousness, though it’s not the one you want to draw on in life-critical situations. As James Bach educated me, in these situations, context may not matter.
The long-distance runner
Now, in order to hunt deers, the human body needed endurance. I seriously doubt we would have survived, if we just had the one and a half minute to hunt our lunch down. So, between short sprints, the muscle gets energy from the endurance serving system. This system provides fewer energy per time-scale, but is able to outlast the sprinting system by an order of magnitude. Marathon runners and long distance swimmers make use of this system. They can serve the muscle with fresh energy for several hours, though the performance is not as high as with the sprinting system.
Similarly the brain has the ability to store information for long periods of time. Fetching this information back from the memory is slower than the short-term memory. The right part of the brain uses pictures and other non-verbal information to store relevant information into this memory. Unfortunately, in order to fetch the information the brain mustn’t be occupied with the more important left part of your brain, as it may block your right part from working. Your right part of the brain is able to store information away for several decades.
As any other muscle and energy providing system in your body, your brain may also be trained. But there are confronting in the training. The lizard part of your body and your brain may not be trained. The short-term and the long-term systems though may be manipulated. But it’s hard to train both. So, there are people with a preference on the short-term performance, and people with a preference on the long-term performance.
Of course, you can transform a short-term preference to a long-term preference and vice versa. Interestingly in the physical training, it’s easier to transform the long-term performer to a sprinter. The other way round is possible, too, but very daunting. From the understanding I got about the brain, the same seems to hold for training the right and the left part of the brain. So, better draw on your right brain.