Unfit for Purpose: When Human Evolution Collides with the Modern World

Unfit for purpose

Adam Hart,
Bloomsbury Sigma, £16.99

We live in a confusing world and I suspect we’ve all sometimes felt that we are a mismatch for it. Our evolutionary heritage has provided an incredible capacity to adapt to the modern world, yet in many ways it has left us facing a tough time. We are compelled to do things that are bad for ourselves or for others, from consuming sugary foods to failing to act on climate change. In Unfit for Purpose, Adam Hart describes some intriguing ways in which we are ill-adapted for 21st century living.

The information in the book can help us navigate the world. For a start it may help us understand our own behaviour and other people’s. Knowing what to do with this information isn’t always simple – Hart argues that evolution may explain violence but doesn’t excuse it, for example – but it may still help us change our outlooks or lifestyles. It seems, for example, that we are not all equally susceptible to the potential negative impacts of social media on mental health. This knowledge may help us recognise the best way to use it (if at all).

Perhaps the greatest example of our unfitness for the modern world is that, although our dexterous hands and complex social brains were perfect adaptations to allow our population to boom, we now risk using them to bring about our own destruction. Our brain is an exquisite tool for the here and now, but today’s challenges require long-term thinking. One barrier revealed by psychological experiments is that we perceive our future selves as other people. If our knowledge of this ill-evolved tendency can help us to counteract it, then

Hart hopes that maybe we can start to treat future-us a little bit better.

Dr Rebecca Nesbit