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HOW EVOLUTION EXPLAINS THE HUMAN CONDITION
Or, Why We See Beauty
By ROGER BOURKE WHITE JR.
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2013Roger Bourke White Jr.
All rights reserved.
Observations About How We Think
Introduction: Why We See Beauty
OK! Let's get to why you probably picked this book up in the first place.
Why do we see beauty? We see beauty because it is a signal to cooperate.
In the Stone Age environment, the environment in which the human species has lived the most time, two groups need a lot of help: Children and young mothers having their first or second child. If they get it, their community prospers a lot more than if they don't.
This reality was a challenge for Mother Nature.
("Mother Nature" is how I anthropomorphize the evolution and natural selection processes. I envision her as a design engineer at a drafting board, with each mutation in an organism being a change in its blueprint.)
She asked herself, "When big, tough, older men and women are hungry themselves, how do I get them to not grab food from babies, kids, and weak young mothers, but give them food and other resources instead? That calls for a radical change in their thinking depending on the situation!"
Fortunately, she had a lot of time to work on the problem of having us contest with members of one group and treat those in another group totally differently. Proto-humans and humans are not the only species that care for their young ones; Mother Nature has been working on this issue through millions of generations.
So she tried hundreds of thousands of experimental changes. (That's all mutations are, changes.) About 99 percent were dismal failures, a few of the others made no difference, and an even smaller number helped. A collection of those changes added seeing beauty to our thinking process, which helped humans survive.
The root use of seeing beauty is as a signal to cooperate with kids and young women, but that use is as capable of being changed as any other part of being human is, and it has changed. We now see beauty in animals, in things, and in other kinds of people, and we feel like cooperating in some fashion with whatever's making us see it.
So it's a very practical solution toward the long-standing challenge of humans living successfully on Earth. Just as many other peculiarities of human thinking turn out to be, when viewed in the right Neolithic contexts. It's only when they appear in the various more civilized environments that they look like fascinating mysteries.
Now that you've seen an example of the kind of insight that this book is about—there'll be more on this point in Book Two—let's look at the bigger picture: The whole business of how evolution has shaped human thinking.
How Evolution Has Formed Our Thinking
All living things on Earth today are high-performance beings, the result of a trillion experiments run by Mother Nature to solve the challenge of living on Earth: They all had a trillion ancestors who were winners—meaning they had many grandchildren—so most are well adapted to living in their current surroundings. (A significant number are well adapted to living in environments that are no longer available, or not available in sufficient area, and are therefore in danger of extinction.) The humans alive today are one of the success stories, with our physical shape, our internal chemistry, and our thinking all part of the experiment.
But evolution takes time. The quickest and simplest chemical adjustments to how a body works take about ten generations to take hold, and changing thinking is neither simple nor quick. So human thinking is still well adapted to the Stone Age lifestyle, not to the smart phone–and–Internet lifestyle many of us experience today, or even to the Industrial Age or Agricultural Age lifestyles that led to it.
But as we will see in this book, human thinking is now being pushed to change in new directions by civilized lifestyles.
I will be talking about how our thinking is organized. I will be introducing a new concept—the Thinking Stack—and then talk about the ramifications of that on how we make choices. The Thinking Stack concept leads to good explanations for such interesting phenomena as Instinctive and Analytic thinking, and also for Panic and Blunder thinking, the choices people and communities make that cause us to scratch our heads and ask, "What were they thinking?"
After establishing the Thinking Stack concept, we'll look at the Prisoner's Dilemma and delusional thinking, and how those too influence decision making.CHAPTER 2
The Human Thinking Stack
What Is a "Thinking Stack"?
The "human Thinking Stack" is not a scientific fact but simply my model of how human thinking is organized. It is based on the ISO OSI model of computer networking. In that model's terminology, interaction between computers is controlled by a communications stack—thought of as layers of networking protocols, which are the procedures that programs use to talk to each other, each communicating with the protocols above and below it in the stack.
In humans, and in all multicellular organisms, the complex task of thinking—in the sense of responding to our environment—is similar. Sensory input is collected, refined, and passed on to a decision making module, and the decision made is sent out to the various action takers: Muscles and secreting organs.
In addition to that complexity, there's the complexity of multiple thinking processes going on inside people, most of them unconscious. For instance, your stomach and intestines have to decide how to digest food—which enzymes to secrete. That decision has nothing to do with the decisions involved in keeping your body's balance while leaning across the restaurant table to take your date's hand, or in looking into your date's eyes, or in saying something to impress him or her. Whew! Complex, indeed!
However, this book considers only the part of the human Thinking Stack involved in conscious thinking that relates to voluntary decisions. That means concentrating on the input and output connected to the brain.
Why Do We Have a Brain?
Single-celled organisms can respond to food sources, adapt to changing environmental conditions, and flee or shut down in some fashion when conditions get too harsh. Likewise, growing plants respond to their environments.
Neither single-celled organisms nor plants need brains for this. Why do animals have brains?
Brains make moving around work well for multicellular organisms. They provide quick communication between input sensors (touch, taste, smell, and muscle status in the simplest organisms, plus hearing and sight in organisms with ears and eyes) and motion activators (muscles) on what to do and where to go next, plus high-level coordination for the processes involved.
Brains are expensive. They are tricky to make and they consume lots of energy. For that reason some animals lose theirs when they are no longer needed. A baby barnacle, for instance, is a free-swimming tadpole-like creature. It has a brain. But when the barnacle attaches to something and becomes a stationary adult filter feeder, it resorbs its brain and does just fine without one.
Coordinating movement was the reason Mother Nature invented brains. The rational thinking that humans do with theirs is rich, rich dessert beyond that meat and potatoes function.
Using Only 10% of Our Brains?
There is a widespread urban myth, about a century old, that humans use only 10% of their brains at any one time. This idea endures because it offers hope of developing extrasensory powers, or just improving our memory, conce
Excerpted from HOW EVOLUTION EXPLAINS THE HUMAN CONDITION by ROGER BOURKE WHITE JR.. Copyright © 2013 by Roger Bourke White Jr.. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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