October 31 2017 by Dr. Kaminski
I see my early life as divided into distinct stages: the first decade was a time of innocence and wonderment, the second decade a grand rehearsal for adulthood. Young adulthood had not begun until I turned 20. That order of my early life seems quaint today. In our 21st century Western society, we have a “cultural growth spurt”: innocence gives way at 6, adulthood rehearsal occurs in preteens, which turns into “adulthood” in middle and late teenage years. Consequently, many arrive at their actual young adulthood jaded, wizened and bored.
While young people experience maturity at an accelerated pace, our instincts cannot be pushed to match the rapid social and cultural changes. Thus, the juxtaposition of contemporary experience and ancient instincts is more a collision course than a harmonious shared journey.
This interplay between nature and nurture is made even more discordant by the breakneck, exponential progress of modern technology. This is a very recent phenomenon. In the past 10,000 years, from early agricultural society until 300 years ago, every member of a generation could expect to live life analogous to the previous generation or the future one. Every generation was identical in all aspects of daily life: The velocity of travel, life expectancy, the total dependency on the elements; all have barely progressed throughout the millennia. Humans lived in moving frames of a “perceptual here and now”, invariably bound by the limits of their senses. The elders were seen as a possessing trove of information by experience, something that the “Google generation” finds useless and quaint.
In recent time, and especially over the last 50 years, we have advanced so far, that other than the laws of physics nothing seems to limit our senses, and our perceptual experience, from endlessly expanding. The artificial expansion of our senses, the ability to hear and see far distances and into the past, the velocity of travel, the boundless communication, the immediacy of information all give us powers unimagined a hundred years ago. But what about our instincts? They have had no chance to correspond in similar expansion. They take a very long time to change: in fact, only a thin veneer of culture separates us instinctually from other mammals. Our emotional life, while sophisticated compared to other primates, had not been challenged by rapidly added abilities until the industrial revolution. The discrepancy that exists between our everyday life and our inner world is growing: we are emotionally akin to a toddler operating a space shuttle. The automatic pilot is on and as long as nothing unusual happens, and the toddler does not touch anything detrimental we have the illusion of adequacy. But it seems to me that handling adversity has become increasingly inefficient. Further, there are numerous new challenges, some developed as recently as 10 years ago. The contemporary psychiatrist cannot take comfort from the permanence of human nature. In a way, human nature is struggling under the increasing assault on what used to be our boundaries. I made up the notion of “Avant-garde psychiatry” in order to examine this unprecedented friction between nature and nurture - between our mammal core and technological abilities.