Many people seek to understand the human connection to nature, wondering about our place in the world, and intuitively sense that it cannot be fully explained within the limited frame of individual experience. They often look for insight by trying to understand the life our distant ancestors experienced, prior to civilization. I’ve noticed that the “savanna hypothesis” is one of the most common search terms that brings readers to my blog.
An evolutionary perspective on our relations with the environment might be the most profound, and perhaps the most useful when it comes to analyzing our emotional reactions to it. It goes beyond our immediate response to our surroundings, and focuses on how one particular type of environment in East Africa shaped many of our psychological processes. It addresses mechanisms that we’re not consciously aware of, though we experience their end results. We sometimes take these for granted — thinking, for example, that it is accepted knowledge that snakes are scary, and that’s just the way it is — while at other times the power of those evolutionary influences amazes us — how can sunsets be so compelling, though they are a common phenomenon in our lives?
A growing body of research in the field of evolutionary psychology has enabled scientists to offer many fascinating hypotheses regarding the relationship of evolution, environment and our behaviour. Gordon H. Orians, a biologist and the author of the savanna hypothesis, brings together theory and research in his new book Snakes, Sunrises and Shakespeare. He discusses how evolution shaped what we like and what we fear in the world around us.