Reflexiones sobre ciencia, economía, ecología, política y comportamiento humano
En la red
Esta obra está bajo una licencia de Creative Commons.
Pedro J. Hernández
Now some of your mind's goals are closely aligned with your genes' goals. You want to have and raise successful children. You want to have sex with fertile and fit people, which tends to produce such children. You want to be healthy, and to have friends and allies, all of which helps you to survive and have children. And you want to learn about the world you live in, which can help you achieve these goals.
But you also seem to care about love, humor, talk, story, art, music, fashion, sport, charity, religion, and abstract ideas. In fact, you are often passionately obsessed with these things. You believe that you care about these things for themselves, and not just for how they can help with more basic goals, such as health, sex, and children. And you care about these things far more than seems directly useful in pursuing more basic goals.
Why do humans have such big brains, which are so devoted to a dream world of abstract ideas and feelings that have so little direct relation to personal survival and reproduction? Our best theory at the moment is that this dream world is produced by sexual selection, much like the large and colorful and otherwise useless tail of the peacock. A particular peacock has little use for his tail other than to impress potential mates, i.e., to try to convince them that he has good genes and few bad genetic mutations. Yet peacocks devote an enormous fraction of their resources to their tails. The theory is that we similarly have "mating minds", i.e., minds that are designed in large part to impress potential mates and allies. When we display to observers how agile and creative we are at love, humor, talk, story, art, music, fashion, sport, charity, religion, and abstract ideas, we show those observers that we have high quality genes, with few bad mutations. Having such minds also helps us to judge the quality of others' genes from their displays.
For reasons that are not entirely clear, however, our genes have chosen not to make us fully aware that the main function of our dream world is to impress potential mates. Instead, we believe that we care about it directly and strongly. Except that our actions often suggest that we care about this dream world much less than we profess. Let me give some examples.
We think that we participate in conversations in order to gain information from others; in fact we prefer more to talk than to listen. If we were doing our best to form beliefs about how the world actually is, we would not knowingly disagree with each other; in fact we disagree all the time. We use vocabularies that are far larger than needed to get our message across. We tend to think we are more able than we are, and that our feelings of passion toward others will last longer than they do.
Students often say that they love learning, and wish they could get into better schools; in fact anyone can get a free education from the very best schools, by unofficially sitting in on classes and forgoing the credentials. Professors say they choose their career for the ideas, but their conversations are mostly about office gossip, and their output falls enormously once they get tenure.
Most reviews of art or music talk mainly about what these things reveal about the abilities of the artist, with very little discussion of how this art or music makes people feel. People who feel passionately devoted to charities actually give them very little, and pay very little attention to how the money is spent.
Overall, we are basically self-deceived. That is, we think we care a great deal about love, humor, talk, story, art, music, fashion, sport, charity, religion, and abstract ideas. But when push comes to shove, we mostly follow the passions our genes use to guide our actions, and those feelings end up caring less about these abstract things than we think. We care more that others see us doing these things, and that they be impressed, than we care to admit. And we care less about these things as our mating opportunities are reduced with age.
Why are we self-deceived about this? One theory is that people who are too self-aware about these things tend not to be trust-worthy allies. Someone who is capable of overruling his feelings based on conscious calculations of what is in his interest may decide it is no longer in his interest to be loyal to you (or your genes). If so, our genes may well have instructed us to avoid associating with such people, which then encouraged genes to avoid creating such people. Another theory says that such a person is likely to decide children are more trouble than they are worth, and so fail to reproduce.
Whatever theory is right, it should be clear that these abstract things are our dream world, a less-real world that our slave-masters, our genes, have pulled over our eyes, blinding us from the truth. The truth is that deep down this dream world is not very important to us; guided by our feelings, we mostly act to serve our masters, and follow the strategies they command to maximize the number of children who share our genes. But few of us publicly admit this, and we deny it all the more passionately because we fear it to be true.
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