Thanks to Gujarat University I was able to realize a childhood dream of meeting Nobel laureate biologist Ada Yonath whose work on ribosome has earned her this highest intellectual honour.
Her work in the field of cellular biology was really interesting; but, even more interesting was that she equated being a grandmother an achievement greater than winning a Nobel Prize. As she is a biologist who knows inner workings of life, her cherishing her life as a “normal” person has really made me think.
Life of a human being today is mostly about fighting the body biology. We have turned blind to the fact that we are primates evolved to live in a clan consisting of our blood relatives. As we have survived over a million years through defending small territories with the help of our blood relatives, we are xenophobic apes uncomfortable in strange environments. And yet, we have built now massive economic structures that force us to live together with large number of strangers in massive cities, travel long distances and accept stress, the underlying fear caused by this lifestyle, as a normal part of our lives.
As individuals, we are animals who need intense parental care for a prolong period. Even after maturity, we need proximity of our kinfolks to feel safe. This lifestyle has led us to evolve a breeding behavior beyond sexual consumption and into strong bond-forming with our mates and our progeny. Family, home, love and care form the backbone of our life. And yet securing imaginary safety of tomorrow and securing gratification of today has led us to forego all of these psychological needs that are natural to our biology.
The real reason behind this strange transformation of man-ape is evolution of neocortex that has empowered us to simulate imaginary reality. This capability has helped us prosper but it has also created an ever-widening gap between imaginary and actual reality that we are now struggling to bridge with technology.
Unfortunately for us, our body-biology also uses technology that it has evolved over billions of years. It rules our old brain through hormonal cues too powerful for neocortex to suppress. Net result is that we are in a constant state of conflict that is turning all of us into schizophrenic zombies serving two masters and satisfying none.
If we define modern living, our life is now in a constant state of dissatisfaction intermittently resolved by gratification.
As gratification allows momentary relief from dissatisfaction, we are now like drug addicts constantly looking for gratification-fix. As there is no escape from the angst caused by this two-brain conflict, we are unarguably the unhappiest creatures that ever walked on planet earth.
While we fight our biology in search of happiness as neocoretx knows it, we fail to realize that our biology is actually designed around rewarding us with happiness if we follow its dictates. In fact, gratification also depends upon the same hormonal rewards that biology has provided; only difference is, it tries to short-circuit these ancient reward circuits. So, even though biology has already provided us with a key to happiness, we prefer to throw it away and then spend the life trying to force open the lock.
For me, biologist Ada Yonath had a very important message for us all. She showed that it is possible to achieve the highest honour in pursuit of knowledge without compromising with one’s own biology. She showed that being a man or woman and having a family is just as fulfilling as any mental or intellectual achievement. Our body biology is designed to help us live a happy life, provided we follow its cues instead of fighting them.