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social studies

Our environment is helping us live longer than ever Add to ...

Our long modern lives

“Humans are living longer than ever,” reports LiveScience.com, “a lifespan extension that occurred more rapidly than expected and almost solely from environmental improvements as opposed to genetics. [Researchers said that] four generations ago, the average Swede had the same probability of dying as a hunter-gatherer. … In Japan, 72 has become the new 30, as the likelihood of a 72-year-old modern-day person dying is the same as a 30-year-old hunter-gatherer ancestor who lived 1.3 million years ago.”

Having a warm spell

“According to data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the globe recorded its warmest September on record, tying with 2005 for the title,” reports ClimateCentral.org. “Global surface temperature records stretch all the way back to 1880. September marked the 331st straight month with above-average temperatures, and the 36th straight September with a global temperature above the 20th-century average. The last below-average September was in 1976, when … Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak formed Apple Computer Co., and the last below-average month for any month of the year occurred in February 1985, during the Reagan Administration.”

Happiness vs. guilt

“Although we are taught the benefits of kindness and altruism, it seems we are happiest when simply told to pursue our own self-interest,” says The Daily Telegraph. “Researchers found the key to contentment is feeling we have no choice but to be selfish. In contrast, the study, carried out by psychologists at the University of Pennsylvania, found that those who actively choose a selfish path usually have to battle with guilt. They speculated that because we’re taught as children that ‘sharing means caring,’ if we make a decision out of self-interest we often feel bad for prioritizing ourselves over others. But that frequently means we forgo the things we know will make us happy.”

When we were a meal

Why do modern humans walk around so anxious and full of fear? Rob Dunn, a scientist at North Carolina State University, writes in Slate.com that “the answer is our legacy of ancient fears, the result of having spent millions of years running from predators. … Humans were eaten by giant hyenas, cave bears, cave lions, eagles, snakes, other primates, wolves, sabre-toothed cats, false sabre-toothed cats and maybe even – bless their hearts – giant predatory kangaroos. … Some predators, such as leopards, ate many of our ancestors. Others, like crocodiles, komodo dragons, or sharks, took their bites, but more opportunistically. … We were, in other words, their thanksgiving turkey.”

When pandas were food

“A Chinese scientist says that humans used to eat pandas,” says Associated Press. “In a newspaper interview, Wei Guangbiao says prehistoric man ate the bears in what is now part of the city of Chongqing in southwest China. Wei, the head of the Institute of Three Gorges Paleoanthropology at a Chongqing museum, says many excavated panda fossils ‘showed that pandas were slashed to death by man.’ … ‘In primitive times, people wouldn’t kill animals that were useless to them,’ and therefore the pandas must have been used as food.”

Making a child’s politics

“Providing the best evidence yet to back up a decades-old theory, researchers writing in the journal Psychological Science report a link between a mother’s attitude toward parenting and the political ideology her child eventually adopts,” says Pacific Standard magazine. “In short, authoritarian parents are prone to produce conservatives, while those who gave their kids more latitude are more likely to produce liberals.”

Thought du jour

Those things are dearest to us that have cost us most.

Michel de Montaigne, French essayist (1533-92)

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