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Can it be doubted that three-kilogramme brains were once a nearly fatal defect in the evolution of the human race?"

Econ Nerd Review: Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos and Your Big Brain

This post discusses depression, anxiety, addiction, suicide, and self-harm. I think it does so in a pretty constructive and helpful way? But I wrote it, so here are some large grains of kosher salt.

Boy howdy do I love this gif.

Reading! It’s just like they said it would be! “I can go anywhere. Friends to know. Ways to grow.”

Today I want to share with you my favorite book about mental health. It’s not a memoir or a self-help book. It’s not even nonfiction! No, it’s a little ditty from 1985 about evolution, ghosts, Armageddon, and nubbins. Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos is a brilliant satire on the evolutionary advantages and disadvantages of the human brain. And it completely changed the way I think about mental health, including my own depression.

The opening scene follows a woman as she attempts suicide, and it’s narrated by the dispassionate ghost of a Richard Attenborough nature documentarian type. Here’s a brief excerpt, with a few plot things trimmed out:

“Mary taught that the human brain was the most admirable survival device yet produced by evolution. But now her own big brain was urging her to take the polyethylene garment bag from around a red evening dress in her closet, and to wrap it around her head, thus depriving her cells of oxygen.

“Before that, her wonderful brain had entrusted a thief at the airport with a suitcase containing all her toilet articles and clothes which would have been suitable for the hotel.

“Her colossal thinking machine could be so petty, too. It would not let her go downstairs in her combat fatigues on the grounds that everybody, even though there was practically nobody in the hotel, would find her comical in such a costume. Her brain told her: ‘They’ll laugh at you behind your back, and think you’re crazy and pitiful, and your life is over anyway. You’ve lost your husband and your teaching job, and you don’t have any children or anything else to live for, so just put yourself out of your misery with the garment bag. What could be easier? What could be more painless? What could make more sense?’

“Just about every adult human being back then had a brain weighing about three kilogrammes! There was no end to the evil schemes that a thought machine that oversized couldn’t imagine and execute. 

“So I raise this question, although there is nobody around to answer it: Can it be doubted that three-kilogramme brains were once nearly fatal defects in the evolution of the human race?”

Yeah. This novel completely changed the way I thought about the human mind.

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If you think houses are money pits, try having a fucked-up childhood!

Stop Recommending Therapy Like It’s a Magic Bean That’ll Grow Me a Beanstalk to Neurotypicaltown

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which makes this an excellent time to talk more about our beautiful broken brains!

(Ahem. Because I am an honest chap, I feel compelled to stress that we did not plan this in advance. We are not nearly organized enough to do that. It was purely coincidental.)

I’m an advice column junkie. My regs right now are Where Should We Begin?, Dear Prudence, Dear Sugars, Savage Love, Care and Feeding, Captain Awkward, Ask a Manager, My Brother My Brother and Me, and the collective wisdom (?) of r/relationships. Yeah… it’s a problem.

When the subject of mental health arises, I’m perennially dismayed to see a very narrow, circumscribed answer appear again and again and again. It goes something like this:

“Go see a therapist; get counseling; find a psychologist; get into therapy; go see your school’s counselor; go to a mental health clinic; you need to be in therapy; find a support group; have you talked to your therapist; have you tried group therapy; talk to your doctor; therapy, therapy, counseling, therapy…” 

And this really bothers me.

It’s not that this advice is bad. It’s not bad! All things being equal, most people would probably benefit from therapy. I have no doubt that the net benefit of professional mental healthcare is incalculably vast.

But it pains me to see therapy described as a one-size-fits-all solution for every person in every situation. I’m someone who experiences intermittent depression. Like half of all mentally ill people in the United States, I’m not currently receiving medical care for it. This doesn’t mean I’m irresponsible or helpless. There are a lot of very understandable reasons why people can’t or won’t seek professional help. Let’s talk about a few of them.

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