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DESPAIR AND HOPE IN THE AGE OF DYSPHORIA (Added Nov. 2017, Updated Mar. 2018)


Human hunter-gatherers experienced a sudden transformation in evolutionary terms into fully modern man when they entered civilizations (“the transformation”). Their cognitive (short term memory and concentration) performance improved and physical robustness declined, as exemplified by written language, mathematics and architecture, and need for clothing, shelter and bedding, respectively. Such abrupt multifaceted change suggests environmental (phenotypic) as opposed to genetic causality. I propose that these differences are accounted for by the effect of attenuated mobility inherent to nomadic foragers transitioning to civilizations on endorphins. Foraging required near constant mobility which yielded high endorphin levels, and in turn, ideal pain sensitivity, temperature tolerance, mood and anxiety. Amplified mobility was learned following the conditioning model whereby ideal and intolerable levels of pain, temperature tolerance, mood and anxiety were positive and negative reinforcers, respectively. Constraints on nomadic foraging by excessive population density necessitated transition to civilizations so recently that adaptation through natural selection was likely impossible. I propose that civilizations became dominant because in addition to allowing population concentration, the lowered endorphins removed cognitive impairment typical of opioids thereby allowing technological innovation for the first time in human history. But with lowered endorphins came despair which arose from inexplicable and unmanageable pain, temperature intolerance, and excessive anxiety and depression (“dysphoria”). Dysphoria extinguished inherent altruism and social cohesion of hunter-gatherers. Unadapted to civilizations and bitter from dysphoria, a weaponized elite minority typically dominated an enslaved majority composed of conquered groups. Burgeoning intellectual performance from even lower endorphins through improved transportation technology amplified dysphoria thereby paradoxically advanced technology of hegemony rather than common good. Loss of hope made citizens susceptible to simplistic arguments from demagogues and authoritarians. It is now inappropriate to return to optimal endorphin levels because advanced civilization requires better cognition. As a remedy, far greater use of antidepressants and safe analgesics will instill hope through moderating the effects of insufficient endorphins without causing cognitive dysfunction. This portends less dysphoria thereby reduced dependence on addictive pain medication and destructive euphoria producing substances. Greater optimism may lead to less hoarding of resources by elites and disinterest in populists, demagogues and war.


The term “human hunter-gatherer” (hunter-gatherer) is used here to signify humans living in nomadic groups that survived through foraging before the age of civilizations, because after hunter-gatherers were influenced by civilization created technology. "Civilizations" are considered here relatively large groupings of humans that lived at a fixed location, used written language, grow crops and domesticated animals. Skeletal remains of hunter-gatherers indicate they were shorter in stature than modern man but this could be accounted for extreme nutritional stress during early development. Their relatively limited technological advancement suggests poorer cognitive performance. "Cognition" is used here to mean short term memory and concentration, which are fundamental to complex ideation. "Dysphoria" and "euphoria" mean relatively amplified and attenuated mood combined and anxiety, respectively. Hunter-gatherers undoubtedly had to maintain near optimal fertility rates for survival of the specie, well above those seen in contemporary humans. This suggests that they were relatively euphoric. Lack of evidence of clothing, shelter and bedding suggests far greater tolerance of core temperature variations and a higher pain thresholds.

In contrast, humans in early civilizations closely resemble contemporary humans in requiring clothing, shelter in bedding. Most scientists consider they cognitive performance approximately equal to modern man considering that without significant accumulated knowledge they developed written language, mathematics, architecture, and written achieves indicate intellectual enquiry which is sophisticated by modern standards.

Despite these considerable dissimilarity between hunter-gatherers and modern man, no data are available indicating that these differences can be accounted for by genetic dissimilarity. Further, the sudden transformation from hunter-gatherer to fully modern man with civilizations (“the transformation”) convincingly supports the notion that they share a near identical genome and their differences are caused by environmental (external) influences, although none has ever been proposed. The transformation has convinced geneticists of this genetic homogeneity and external cause, but they apparently have not forcefully enough advanced this to health scientists probably due to the solitude between basic and applied research.

It is understandable that the general public favors the notion that hunter-gatherers and modern humans differ genetically considering their different way of living, and prevalent pseudo-science attempting to ascribe genetic dissimilarity with even extant groups of humans, such as the myth of races, however it is alarming that health scientists have never analyzed this issue objectively. They have never explored health issues such as pain control, fertility, obesity, and dysfunctional mood and anxiety as being strongly influenced by environmental factors nor have they searched for this external influence. They seem to be influenced by the same anecdotal references and pseudo-science considering race continues to be allowed as variables in published reports in medical journals without evidence of actual genetic difference between humans in terms of race, and evidence that social class has been shown to account for nearly all dissimilarity attributed to race.

Knowledge of the environmental cause of the transformation has considerable health significance because contemporary humans suffer from excessive pain, anxiety and depression and hunter-gatherers seemed less troubled these problems. Identifying the environmental cause of this difference portends substantial improvement in well being of contemporary humans.

This report starts from the notion that hunter-gatherers and modern humans are genetically homologous. It searches verified published anthropology and physiology reports for a single external factor that could account for the transformation.


Homo sapiens first appeared perhaps 250,000 years ago as distinct hominids living exclusively as hunter-gatherers in sub-Saharan Africa. They expanded their territory beyond this region about 70,000 years ago.

It is estimated that group size of hunter-gatherers was approximately 50 individuals. Humans presumably through natural selection developed an affinity to groups of this size because smaller or larger sized groups impaired survival. This preferred group size appears to be retained in modern humans as indicated by the “platoon” proving to be the most effective unit in armies worldwide, and the effectiveness of group therapies. The diet of hunter-gatherers was mainly animal based. Large piles of smashed bones from large grazing animals have been found along with tools used to crack them. These bones are a selection from the animal skeletons with the ample marrow and cortex so thick that no animal could access the marrow without tools. This indicates that hunter-gatherers were largely scavengers that lived off remains left by more able predators which only they could exploit. Bone marrow provided humans with abundant calories for muscular work, but also animal based essential fatty acids which is now thought to be the most critical to the existence of humans because of role in neurological development. Humans retain an adaptation suggesting the importance of animal based fatty acids to their survival because this group of nutrients delays gastric emptying than any other thereby allowing total assimilation.

Humans must have displayed group protective behavior which likely involved weapons such as spears, otherwise they would have been eliminated by more able predators such as lions. Food was plentiful when animals herds were present, but seasonal herd migration left them unable to maintain homeostasis in terms of energy and essential fatty acids. This may may explain the short stature implied by early human remains, but also less reliance on their cognitive potential because it was often developmentally compromised through insufficient essential fatty acids at critical stages. Survival of periodic starvation was dealt with through an adaptation that is present in a minority of primates all of which live under conditions of periodic (typically seasonal) nutritional scarcity. It consists of low satiation and intense foraging intensity when food is available that leads to sufficient periodic adiposity to survive periodic famine.

Human foraging consisted of finding abandoned animal carcasses, separating target bones from it probably with the aid of tools, transporting bones to a central location, cracking them and extraction of marrow. All steps were energy intensive and two required prolonged mobility. "Mobility" is used here to signify all forms displacement of the human center of mass when weight-bearing, which occurs when walking, running, and even maintaining stable equilibrium which involves constant postural adjustments therefore considerable work. When nutrients were in abundance the life of hunter-gatherers involved near constant mobility in their Sisyphean attempt to satisfy their unrelenting hunger.

Hunter-gatherers lived essentially unclothed and minimally sheltered notwithstanding small numbers of hunter-gatherers that reached extreme latitudes. No evidence of sophisticated bedding has ever been identified, therefore they likely slept on hard relatively irregular surfaces. This suggests that hunter-gatherers were far more tolerant to variations in core temperature, and were less sensitive to pain compared to modern man.

Civilizations first appear less than 10,000 years ago probably first in Asia, and soon thereafter in Asia Minor, therefore the transition from exclusively a hunter-gatherers to civilizations being dominant was recent and sudden. It is not certain what caused the transition to civilizations, but most think that the success of hunter-gatherers in mastering life in sub-Saharan Africa lead to higher human population density than what permitted adequate nomadic foraging. This forced hunter-gatherers to territories with limited grazing animal populations, thereby necessitating experimentation maintaining animals in captivity and the addition of crops to supply their nutritional needs. This system of managing their nutritional needs involved considerably less mobility when compared to foraging.

High infant mortality, substantial maternal mortality, predators, periodic starvation and no health care as we know it made it essential that hunter gatherers maintained near optimal reproductive rates whereby every ovulating female soon became pregnant. The success of humans in becoming the dominant hominid suggests optimal fertility. Their fertility rate would far exceed the rate current in economically advanced countries.

There is no convincing evidence of a single example of written language with hunter-gatherers, yet it is so associated with civilizations that typically it is used in defining them. There is general agreement that the cognitive capacity of even those living in early civilizations resembled contemporary humans based on their ease in developing written language, mathematics and architecture. Further, ancient archives have been discovered that are considered sophisticated even by current standards. Reports from early civilizations indicate health problems with sedentary behavior, persistent obesity and significant dysphoria among at least a portion some of the population. This implies not only lowered mobility, but also loss of the drive to be mobile. Dysphoria is used in this report to indicate excessive anxiety and depression.


Addictive substances are considered here to be psychoactive chemicals that may be either exogenous (not normally present in humans, (i.e.; opioids) or endogenous (normally present in humans, (i.e., endorphins) which are capable of developing tolerance with prolonged use, and a dysphoric abstinence syndrome with a sudden discontinuation of use.

Endorphin is a neologism that was created by combining parts of the words “endogenous” and “morphine” to signify what is now a heterogenous group of psychoactive peptides (endorphins, encephalins, dynorphins, nociceptin/orphanin) that are produced by humans and many other animals, and resemble morphine in that they are capable of producing mild to profound analgesia, lower anxiety, and elevate mood to the level of euphoria. There is a negative relation between their blood concentration and cognitive processes, such as complex reasoning and problem solving. They all are highly addictive with prolonged use, and often cause death through hypoxia and hypercapnia probably through suppression of central oxygen and carbon dioxide sensing centers which are located in the brain stem.

Endorphins are released in humans in response to many environmental exposures, behaviors, homeostatic processes and disease states. Prolonged mobility of moderate intensity appears to be the only behavior that could be both performed on a daily basis by humans and account for steady high blood levels of endorphins in healthy humans. Anxiety and depression increases as endorphin levels decline both in humans and many other mammals There is no evidence that this is an abstinence syndrome because these emotional states persist indefinitely when endorphin levels remain low.

The near constant mobility required for survival through foraging by hunter-gatherers probably accounted for persistent extremely high endorphin levels compared to humans living in civilizations, and even more so when considering minimally mobile contemporary humans.

Hunter-gatherers lived with no written language therefore accumulated knowledge was limited to oral history, consequently their world was unpredictable and magical by modern standards. This would certainly cause extreme anxiety in contemporary humans. Hunter-gatherers probably tolerated this better due to the anxiolytic effect of much higher endorphin levels.

High endorphin levels in hunter-gatherers is also suggested by their presumed fertility rate. The relation between human emotional states and fertility is so strong that fertility rates can be used as a surrogate measure of emotions and vice-versa. Anxiety and depression suppress fertility whereas positive emotional states amplify it. The only known mechanism that is capable of amplifying fertility to these levels would be at least mild euphoria from amplified endorphins.

Hunter-gatherers lived essentially unclothed, poorly sheltered, and used minimal bedding. The only available explanation of both low environmental temperature and pain tolerance that this entails is endorphin levels substantially higher than with modern man.


Thorndike and Skinner are credited for identifying conditioning as a form of learning whereby behavior is modified ("shaped") by perceived consequences of behavior ("reinforcers"), with positive and negative reinforcers either increasing or reducing the probability that a behavior persists, respectively.

Based on verified reports from human anthropology and physiology presented earlier, it is hypothesized that decline in magnitude of mobility inherent to life in civilizations is the single external factor that can account for all of the differences between hunter-gatherers and humans that live in civilizations. More specifically, survival of hunter-gatherers depended on optimal foraging and fertility. Superior foraging required a means of forcing amplified mobility in an otherwise sedentary animal, and optimal fertility required an extremely positive mood. The adaptation that provided both was based on learning with the endorphin system providing the positive and negative reinforcers. Euphoric mood and pain and temperature tolerance were positive reinforcers, and dysphoric mood, excessive pain sensitivity and perhaps even abstinence syndrome from sudden endorphin decline being negative reinforcers. Optimal fertility parsimoniously was an additional important benefit from this drive to enhance mobility.

High endorphins that were required for the survival of hunter-gatherers interfered complex ideation and problem solving which accounts for little technological innovation despite having the potential for it.

Civilizations were a consequence of technological innovation brought about by lessened endorphins through attenuated mobility. Freeing human intellectual capacity allowed innovation to deal with the temperature intolerance through clothing and shelter, and bedding that somewhat aided help coping with amplified pain sensitivity. Humans were left with excessive pain sensitivity and dysphoria consisting of persistent excessive anxiety and depression. This increased with further decline in mobility caused by transportation technology and labor saving devices. Fertility rates follow dyshoria amplitude.


Contemporary science relies heavily on the “Law of Parsimony” (“Ockham's Razor”) when inferring strength to causal hypotheses because empirically hypotheses with the fewest assumptions tend to validated once means become available to test them directly. It is proposed here that mobility decline with civilizations is the cause of all of the suspected differences between hunter-gatherers and modern man. Furthermore, all can be explained by the relation between mobility and endorphins. This hypothesis is extremely parsimonious.

Disease” has come to mean a disorder of structure and function of an organism that is not caused by trauma. It originated from Middle English and Old French words meaning “lack of ease” or “inconvenience”. The earliest definition of disease seems most appropriate when considering limitations imposed on the well-being of contemporary humans caused by the consequences of the sudden transition from hunter-gatherer to civilizations without adequate time to genetically adapt.

Adiposity in humans is not directly related to endorphins but deserves some mention because its management relates to this report. Contemporary humans retain the low satiation of hunter-gatherers, but rarely face their periodic starvation nor do they expend energy foraging. The resulting persistent obesity can impair health. This obesity problem continues to worsen via technological innovation that further attenuates mobility. According to the present report, satiation may be unachievable in humans. Intense dietary vigilance has been shown to moderate the problem, but this relies on the use of foods groups that humans never used historically. They may be poorly adapted to them which can result in novel disorders. According to the present report controlling obesity in contemporary humans through extremely high levels of mobility could cause impairment of cognitive processes. Extreme dietary vigilance can control obesity but these changes in diet can cause new problems. Most dietary means of obesity control rely on amplified intake of dietary fiber. It is thought the resulting over distention of the distal colon progressively damages it, resulting in symptoms that have been called irritable bowel syndrome. It eventually is thought to led to formation of diverticula.

Amplifying calorie burn through increase in mobility can lower adiposity but exercise far beyond the modest amount associated with cardiac health may elevate endorphins sufficiently to impair concentration and short term memory. The ideal solution in dealing with this adaptation that served hunter-gatherers well but now is problematic is dealing with it directly through raising the now overly low sense of satiation by medical means. No safe medication is currently available that raises satiation, but eventually one will become available that will substantially improve health.

Contemporary humans can be characterized as dysphoric in that the majority complain of excessive anxiety and depression, and many exhibit evidence of these problem who deny it. This presumably results from insufficient levels of endorphins because it is associated with low fertility rates which is mood related. This could be remedied by dealing with its cause, insufficient mobility. But using mobility to significantly amplify mood risks moderating cognitive performance. It seems sensible to recommend mobility in overly anxious and depressed people to modest levels associated with cardiac health but not beyond. Anti-depressant medication appears to be an ideal solution because they are capable of significantly lessening anxiety and depression with little risk of producing euphoria and without impairing cognitive function. Anti-depressant medication has been used in groups that meet the arbitrary criteria of a mental health disorder with great success. But these medications have been shown to lower chronic anxiety and stabilize mood in humans with more modest dysphoria. This report suggests that most would benefit from expanding the use of these medications to essentially the whole population.

Pain is a vastly more complex sensation than others such as vision and hearing because central processing of afferent signals strongly affect its intensity. Dysphoria amplifies pain and euphoria moderates it. According to the present report contemporary humans live with pain thresholds substantially lower than what is required to protect, and pain is further amplified by dysphoria. Even modest pain sources, such as discomfort of early chronic degenerative arthritis that afflicts all humans, may account for disabling pain in most humans because they are dysphoric. This implies that all humans complaining of persistent pain should be first managed by mild analgesics and anti-depressants before using strong analgesics. Failure to follow this plan may make pain management impossible, thereby increasing patient misery, but also result in opioid addiction, unnecessary costly testing and useless surgery.

Since most humans suffer from dysphoria from inadequate levels of endorphins, they may produce collective responses that vary between nation states in relation to overall education level and mental health care availability. Since anti-depressants are administered by doctors, management of collective dysphoria varies in relation to availability of particularly quality mental health care services. Furthermore, economically advanced countries vary greatly in relation to the teaching of the critical thinking needed to understand mental health problems. For example, there is positive relation between religious observance and educational level. Countries with large populations of religiously observant and poorly educated people may be less willing to deal with their dysphoria through anti-depressants and may turn to pseudo-science such as prayer. Both education and health care deficits of a population seems like a recipe for expressions of collective helplessness from their persistent dysphoria. The recent rise of populism and demagoguery brought about by the rural-urban divide in health care resources and education level may ultimately have these roots.

This report should alert those concerned about voluntary individual euthanasia policy. This policy is challenging considering contemporary humans have a strong bias to dysphoria and live with unnecessarily low pain thresholds. Surely all individuals being considered for voluntary euthanasia should be adequately managed with anti-depressants prior to their wishes of dying be considered. They should also be allowed to use exogenous endorphin equivalents.