Humans Are Approaching The End Of The World
Humans are doomed, why? Let’s find out!
As you know we evolved and so did our brain, meaning our brain is a combination of systems that have evolved on top of one another. Which boils down to the fact that we still use the systems that we had for a very long time in order to survive in a prehistoric dangerous world.
Two of these systems dominate our behaviour:
Approach and the avoidance system.
The approach system is responsible for rewarding us through dopamine release when we do something that increases the chance of survival. The avoidance system is responsible for activating our fight or flight response so that we can react fast to dangerous situations. But here’s the thing: Both of them are out of date and neither works effectively for the problems of our CURRENT world i.e. civilization.
The most recent thing that evolved in our brain is the neocortex. It’s a complex part of our brain that allows us to understand math, create music and art, and basically allows us to be at the top of the foodchain.
You’d think that, given that we’re no longer (for the most part) in constant danger of violence and starvation, that we’d favour this part of our brain over the more primitive part of our brain, but that’s wrong.
The limbic system is integrated in such a way that it can easily take over when we’re in situations where it might be needed. We can, of course, override it, but most of us aren’t aware of this option (I will show you how to this in PEAK) and so we end up making most of our decisions with a system that evolved close to a million years ago.
Let’s think about this for a minute. For the first time in human history many of us can have pretty much whatever we want. We have access to abundant food and clean water, we have shelter and warmth, and constant access to entertainment and communication.
We don’t have to struggle much anymore, and what struggle we do have dwindles into insignificance when compared with the difficulties faced by our ancestors. Do we use this new-found security and comfort to devote our lives to greater meaning and wellbeing? Do we strive to make the world a better place?
Yeah, sure we do, by consuming at an unsustainable and insatiable rate, by wanting everything now, by becoming increasingly intolerant, by becoming excessively narcissistic, and by demanding and expecting more and more. We’re using our approach/avoidance systems as the primary drivers of this behaviour and, when it suits us, the neocortex as a system for helping the approach/avoidance centres get what they want.
In other words, as a species we’re getting more stupid. Technology makes it easier for us to rely on the limbic system, and therefore lust and anger become primary emotions. While compassion dies a shitty death.
Sounds bad? Well, bear with me.
Let’s look at the other great human failing, our inability to think long-term. Again, we can blame evolution for this. Until relatively recently, humans were lucky to live more than about 35 years, and only 20 of those years were productive.
We’re just not hardwired to conceive of a span of time longer than a human life, and mostly we’re a lot more concerned with next week than next year, and next year over the next decade.
As humans we’re also crap at statistical reasoning. Because the human brain evolved for pattern recognition, most of us believe that unrelated events are connected, simply because we notice a similarity. We’re easily convinced that correlation equals causation. Put together, this means that most of us can’t take in data effectively, make decisions rationally, or believe anything that we don’t see with our own eyes.
And we believe our own crap (yet another evolutionary flaw).
Here’s a brilliant metaphor to explain this flaw. Take a bicycle. It’s easy to understand, and you can take it to pieces and put it back together again. It might even work better after reassembly. Now take a frog. At first it might appear bicycle-like (in that it moves), but if you start removing pieces (“oh, that frog’s far to heavy, if we remove the legs it’ll be a lot more efficient”) catastrophic failure will occur – we can’t reassemble frogs once we’ve broken them. Humans are forever mistaking frog-systems (i.e., complex systems that aren’t easily understood) for bicycle-systems (i.e., simple systems that are easily understood). So we fuck with them, and we break them.
Thus, when we put a bunch of flawed humans in charge, they will, by default, start thinking short-term, even though they know that the long-term is probably important. For people, it’s the next meal, the next paycheque, the next election cycle. Because our survival instincts evolved for keeping us and our tribe alive through the winter, we don’t entertain thoughts of future generations seriously, and we can’t easily comprehend how our actions will affect the future. Worse, in their arrogance, those with power often treat frogs as bicycles, and break things in the process. The only way we can intervene effectively is to use scientific methodologies that isolate us from our limbic systems. But most of us, including those in charge, simply won’t do this. Hence, our political and economic systems reflect our short-term biases. We’ve constructed complex systems that keep us locked into short-termism.
And when, from time to time, we do get it, we’re too easily distracted. You might have heard the term “bread and circuses”. It’s used to describe how politicians and organisations manipulate the public by distracting us with baubles, effectively bypassing our neocortex by appealing to the limbic system. It’s another evolutionary flaw. And, even if I’m in power, my instinct will be to protect my position, and I’ll most likely do that by attempting to control those around me. Distraction is a great way of keeping people docile, especially when that distraction stops them from thinking in any sort of complex way.
But learning to think in more complex ways is exactly what humans need. If we can learn to recognise our inbuilt predilection for error and use more complex systems to help us focus on the important things, we might be able to do something in time.
But, I don’t think that enough of us have it in us to make that much change. And the bread and circuses continue to distract us from taking action. After all, who doesn’t want a new car, upgrade to the next best iPhone version, or those new shoes? And one day in the near future it, will actually be too late.
We’re all doomed.
P.S. If you liked this post then you’ll like my books as well. You can get them on Amazon.