Why has our species retained the potential genetic combinations that result in mental illness?
We need to realize that the cost of the development of our greatest gifts as a species are being paid by those who carry the genetic combinations that put them at risk of developing serious ‘mental illness’ conditions. These people are forced to suffer at the opposite end of the spectrum and continuum of giftedness because many of our greatest human gifts are actually related to signals related to ‘conspicuous consumption’. We have our gifts because we can afford to pay for them, and the gifts themselves are reproductive fitness indicators that act as signals of our ability to handle the cost of keeping them.
This brings to mind the current financial complications our culture is experiencing related to an imbalance in conspicuous consumption practices. In order for this process to operate in a good fashion, what is being consumed and displayed has to be paid for.
From a human point of view, the existence of the pyramids, the Vatican, Versailles, the Parthenon, and even the great wall of China are all manifestations of conspicuous consumption indicators. Someone could afford the cost and paid for them.
On a more mundane level, I can imagine conspicuous consumption being like a peacock’s feathers if I think about someone going to a store, picking an isle and buying everything in that isle whether they needed the goods or not. If they take them all home and dump them in a pile in their yard so the neighbors would drive by and think, “My oh my that person must be rich! All those goods in their front yard indicate that they are.” We do that in our culture with all sorts of items. We don’t realize that the basis of our actions are still grounded in the ancient evolutionary practice of signaling our reproductive fitness that we can afford all of these things.
During the evolution of our species it was only when we were not under threat of immediate extinction that we could dance out our dramas or learn to chit chat about our trivial experiences. It was only as we could afford to protect and provide for mothers so that they had the safety and security to spend the time required for long developmental stages leading to advanced mental capacities that we began to develop our FOXP2 gene’s ability for language in the first place (about 140,000 years ago).
In this way all of our advanced gifts were allowed to evolve as indicators of conspicuous consumption because their existence meant that we had access to the resources we needed in order for them to be developed from the start. The appearance of these gifts within our species today still reflects the fact that we have access to the resources we need to keep them.
In the end, it always comes back to the issues surrounding resources. If we don’t have the resources, or don’t use them wisely to protect the unborn and the newly born from the consequences of having to adapt to a malevolent environment, ‘mental illness’ will continue to plague our species far more than is required from us to maintain the existence — in our gene pool — of our gifts.
The most important step we can take toward ending unnecessary traumas during infant developmental stages that trigger many ‘mental illness’ genetic combinations would be to destigmatize ‘mental illness’ by appreciating the gifts of our species that are connected genetically to ‘mental illness’ risk factors. By doing so we would greatly increase our opportunities to intervene constructively with ‘mentally ill’ parents who are most at risk for severely traumatizing their offspring, thus alleviating a major portion of the suffering of future generations.
Yet when it comes to our species’ more intangible gifts we can easily lose site of the genetic combinations that allow these gifts to exist. I believe that many families who can point to ‘mental illness’ in their lineage also could point to many great examples of genius and talent. It is the unfortunate preventable manifestation of the suffering of ‘mental illness’ that concerns me. In today’s enlightened world we have information that can help us prevent much of its occurrence. We can effectively lessen the human cost of keeping our greatest gifts through paying close attention to the early infant traumas that often cause ‘mental illness’ genetic combinations to manifest so that we can prevent them.
Because all of life operates in circles and cycles of balance, our species cannot retain the ability to display our great gifts related to our intelligence, our creativity, language, movement and dance without retaining the risk factors that are connected to these gifts. Our species beat out at least 19 other hominid species because we have the gift of an extremely agile brain. But the cost of maintaining the gene pool linked to our agility also means that the risk of fragility must also be maintained.
When we think about reproductive fitness indicators even within our advanced species we need to think in three directions at the same time: male to male reproductive fitness indicators often related to combat competition, female selection indicators related to preferences for selection of mates, and survival fitness indicators among siblings that allow them to compete with each other for resources that the parents provide.
Then we need to realize and remember that for every group of survival reproductive fitness indicators that we have evolved related to these three different survival spectrums our species has a corresponding genetic potential for opposite risk. In addition, our most valued resources are so expensive to maintain (like the peacock’s feathers) that all they really do is indicate that we can afford to keep them.
In my thinking this means that when the difficulties of ‘mental illness’ manifest themselves in members of our species we need to hold these people carefully in the palm of our species’ hand because without the negative risks that exist related to the genetic combinations of our species’ gifts we would not have their positive expression, either. The people who end up suffering most are paying the highest price for the cost our species must expend to retain what made us endure, survive and beat out all our competition in the first place.
That the actual expression of many of these ‘mental illnesses’ results from interaction between the sufferer’s genetic potential and harsh, toxic and malevolent environmental conditions from conception to the age (especially) of two means that the rest of us have an obligation to make sure, wherever possible, that early conditions of infants are maintained well enough that these genetic combinations are never forced to appear in their full negative display. Current scientific research is confirming that this preventive potential DOES exist regarding mental illnesses. We need to understand what this research is telling us and we need to apply the research findings effectively through the prevention of early maltreatment to infants and young children.
We need to stop condemning the ‘mentally ill’ as if they are substandard, inadequate members of our species. We need to realize that within their genetic combinations lies links to the greatest giftedness of our species. If anything, we need to humbly acknowledge the fact that when early abuse and trauma triggers the full spectrum of the opposite end of our giftedness to appear, we are to a large extent responsible as a culture for their suffering.
Certainly there are instances when the genetic combinations of ‘mental illness’ will manifest no matter how well or how adequately these people were cared for from conception. But research is also demonstrating that a recognizably large percentage related to the appearance of ‘mental illness’ is directly connected to some form of malevolent conditions as they existed in an infant’s early environment, particularly related to early caregiver attachment disorders.
I understand that only particularly interested readers will spend the time thinking about this topic that following the links below will require. I know that I am only at the beginning of following the information through myself. I find it fascinating that we are, as sophisticated users of technology, simply continuing a process that takes place from the time of our birth when we use information available on the internet to increase our knowledge about this (or any) subject just as we used the information in the brains of our caregivers to form our own brains.
Infants share cognition with their mothers and earliest caregivers as their brains develop. We are in a very similar way sharing cognition with all the others who have placed their own thoughts and information on the web for us to access. Through this process of shared cognition we grow our brains today related to any subject we choose to research and to learn about.
Understanding how the risk factors for ‘mental illness’ are directly connected to the greatest gifts of our species will require that we all pursue new directions in our thinking to understand the implications of this information. By doing so we will discover that the supposed curses related to mental illness and the blessings of our gifts are simply on the two ends of the same reproductive fitness indicator spectrum.
The gifts of our species are expensive and we retain them by paying the cost. Just because some people are able to enjoy the benefits and others must suffer the cost does not mean that all of us are not equally responsible for trying to lessen the impact related to risk.
This has been a difficult post for me to attempt to write because I perceive that I come from a family whose lineage has repeatedly included ‘mental illness’. Because of this fact there has existed a continued pattern of neglect and maltreatment that continues to influence how our family’s at risk genes are expressing themselves. It becomes hard for me not to wonder if some families are thus having to pay the price for the ‘goods’ that other humans get to enjoy, while the rest of us end up not able to experience the benefits equally because of our suffering. Writing this post feels like staring down the throat of the beast.
Why do male peacocks create their brilliant tail displays when they are not connected to mating success which is instead related to their vocalizations?
SEE on peacocks:
Note the following:
“The plumage of the peacock, and the peahen’s preference for its exorbitance, is a classical example of sexual selection and especially the handicap principle. However, in recent years scientific research has shown that the size and brilliance of a male’s plumage does not meaningfully correlate with his mating success nor his health, and that instead the key factor for attracting females is the vocalizations made prior to mating.”
From handicap principle.:
“The central idea is that sexually selected traits function like conspicuous consumption, signalling the ability to afford to squander a resource simply by squandering it. Receivers know that the signal indicates quality because inferior quality signallers cannot afford to produce such wastefully extravagant signals.”
From the section on sexual selection:
see also for an example of the fascinating connection between ‘intelligence’ in humans and our reproductive fitness indicators —
“Some hypotheses about the evolution of the human brain argue that it is a sexually selected trait, as it would not confer enough fitness in itself relative to its high maintenance costs (a quarter to a fifth of the energy and oxygen consumed by a human).  Related to this is vocabulary, where humans, on average, know far more words than are necessary for communication. Miller (2000) has proposed that this apparent redundancy is due to individuals using vocabulary to demonstrate their intelligence, and consequently their “fitness”, to potential mates. This has been tested experimentally and it appears that males do make greater use of lower frequency (more unusual) words when in a romantic mindset compared to a non-romantic mindset, meaning that vocabulary is likely to be used as a sexual display (Rosenberg & Tunney, 2008).”
“The theory of sexual selection was first proposed by Charles Darwin in his book The Origin of Species, though it was primarily devoted to natural selection. A later work, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex dealt with the subject of sexual selection exhaustively, in part because Darwin felt that natural selection alone was unable to account for certain types of apparently non-competitive adaptations, such as the tail of a male peacock.”
Now if we shift over and look for the direct connection between the cost of peacocks’ feathers and the cost of our most extravagant human gifts, we find a direct connection to the existence of mental illness in our species.
See for example
“There is little doubt about the existence of a fecundity deficit in schizophrenia. Affected individuals have fewer children than the population as a whole. This reduction is of the order of 70% in males and 30% in females. The central genetic paradox of schizophrenia is why if the disease is associated with a biological disadvantage is this variation not selected out? To balance such a significant disadvantage, a substantial and universal advantage must be exist. Insofar, all theories of a putative advantage were disproved or remain unsubstantiated.”
The references noted for this quote are:
- (58) Crow TJ (July 2008). “The ‘big bang’ theory of the origin of psychosis and the faculty of language“. Schizophr. Res. 102 (1-3): 31–52. doi:10.1016/j.schres.2008.03.010. PMID 18502103. http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0920-9964(08)00149-7.
- (59) Kim T. Mueser, Dilip V. Jeste (2008). Clinical Handbook of Schizophrenia. New York: Guilford Press. p. 22–23. ISBN 1593856520.
Now, to consider a link between reproductive fitness indicators within our species and the continued appearance of autism:
The abstract of this article,
Autism as the Low-Fitness Extreme of a Parentally Selected Fitness Indicator
“Abstract Siblings compete for parental care and feeding, while parents must allocate scarce resources to those offspring most likely to survive and reproduce. This could cause offspring to evolve traits that advertise health, and thereby attract parental resources. For example, experimental evidence suggests that bright orange filaments covering the heads of North American coot chicks may have evolved for this fitness-advertising purpose. Could any human mental disorders be the equivalent of dull filaments in coot chicks—low-fitness extremes of mental abilities that evolved as fitness indicators? One possibility is autism. Suppose that the ability of very young children to charm their parents evolved as a parentally selected fitness indicator. Young children would vary greatly in their ability to charm parents, that variation would correlate with underlying fitness, and autism could be the low-fitness extreme of this variation. This view explains many seemingly disparate facts about autism and leads to some surprising and testable predictions.”