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article imageReview: 'Biohistory — Decline and Fall of the West'

By Holly L. Walters     Oct 2, 2015 in Science
Author Dr. Jim Penman PhD discusses the future of western civilization in his new book – turns out, the future for many of us isn't pretty, and the content within 'Biohistory: Decline and Fall of the West' let's us in on the reason why.
If you've ever pondered about what was really at the heart of the rise and decline of ancient civilizations such as the Roman Empire, this book is for you. Dr. Penman's theory, which is discussed at length within 'Biohistory,' strongly suggests the civilization of the West is in a precipitous decline.
At the heart of his theory, according to the UK Telegraph, he claims that all civilizations move in cycles fueled by environmental factors – factors such as religion, war and famine.
The markers are there, he says, that highlight the phenomenon he and his team have identified through research. Faith in democracy is fading, economies are stagnant, and birth rates are declining. He claims the worst is yet to come. Why?
The answer for this is found in Penman's book. He explains the likelihood of this scenario by explaining what role biology plays in the rise and fall of modern and ancient civilizations. In a nutshell, biohistory explains a large part of society's growth or shrinkage.
For those of you that aren't familiar with the term, biohistory involves the study of biological roots of social behavior in humans. Biohistory is also behind the rise and fall of economic growth, famine, the outbreak of wars, the formation of government and the growth and inevitable decline of civilizations.
One key factor of the theory is that biohistory involves a vital change in the overall temperament of populations, a change that is ingrained in the physiology of epigenetics. The book discusses how epigenetics also occurs in several animal societies the same way it does in human civilizations.
Epigenetics is a fairly young science that has many definitions, and geneticist Professor Marcus Pembrey defines it most simply as "a change in our genetic activity without changing our genetic code."
Epigeneticists hold the belief that behavior and the environment can mark DNA, thereby passing changes on to subsequent generations. This phenomenon is known as epigenetic inheritance, and the factors that affect us: pollution, war, disease – not only affect the parent's genes – but also their offspring, as well.
This is at the root of attitudes and behavior that societies experience through a passed on epigenetic effect. The characteristics can be pass from generation to generation, not only by direct inheritance, but also through the way children are treated in early life.
Penman also discusses how societal changes are dependent on levels of testosterone and vigor, and how stronger and weaker civilizations respond to these changes.
Interestingly enough we find out through the book how many factors influence the development of strong and weak civilizations, and why we may want to be more like a certain type of monkey in this regard.
As we pointed out before, the author theorizes that civilization fundamentally thrives or dies based on the temperament of its population. That is the main point of 'Biohistory' and the premise Penman’s theory is founded on. Additionally, there are key factors based in the epegenetic effect that influence this temperament.
Several of these key factors influence the viability of a human society through the temperament of its populace, and according to Penman, they include levels of people's testosterone, people's overall vigor, stress levels and the treatment of infants, children and adolescents in the way of indulgence or punishments.
There is also evidence that support the epigenetic effects of inherited stress levels in pregnant mothers that survived the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. Psychiatrist and neuroscientist Rachel Yehuda discovered the mothers had offspring with lower levels of cortisol because they suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after 9/11. Cortisol is a hormone associated with an elevated state of alarm, and Yehuda's research indicated that the effect was also inherited by the children of Holocaust survivors.
Dr. Penman later points out in 'Biohistory' that the wide availability of food, lack of sexual restriction and riches that a civilization has access to has negative repercussions. These factors of excess lead to societal decline if the research results Penman has summarized for his readers is any indication.
Penman suggests within the pages that understanding and acting on the relationship that causes these undesired changes in temperament might prevent the West from sharing the same societal collapse that befell the Roman Empire.
Lastly, Penman discusses how societies incorporate artificial controls to negate the harming effects of an excessive society. He also writes that social change can be tested and predicted and be "potentially modified through biochemistry."
'Biohistory: Decline and Fall of the West' is a sobering work of literature, and it is a book you'll want to sit down and digest. What you'll realize during reading it is that Penman's research makes a compelling case, and although the concept is alarming, if he, and other researchers like him, are correct, we may be headed toward a path of destruction – a path that we have the capability of influencing and stopping.
More about Biohistory, Jim Penman, Epigenetics
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