May 07, 2015

Don't Let Your Domino Fall Alone

Our mind is a surreptitious and tyrannical ruler. We may have a sense of self consciousness (some of us a very inflated one), but so many vestigial processes rule our brains' functioning that we fail to fathom how little room we actually have to exercise our freedom.

No organ in our body has been more shaped by the "trial-and-error" process of evolution than our brain. Our irrationality, biases, fears, addictions, and phobias are all somehow anchored in an ancient and obscure vestige behavior that allowed our ancestors thrive past through harsh conditions.

Don't know about that gag reflex that prevents you from drinking perfectly safe purified sewage/toilet water? There's a reason we innately find excrement and fetid matter gross. Couple thousand generations ago our brains had to incorporate this preservation mechanism to avoid dysentery, cholera, and many more nasty digestive-born diseases.

Ever heard of trypophobia, that irrational repulsive reflex towards images of clusters of holes? Yeah, that was buried into our psyche thousands of years ago to prevent you from going touching that outrageously poisonous blue-ringed octopus, or people with smallpox --the disease that wiped out 90% of the natives in the Americas in the 1500s.

Boredom? That's a tricky one. It basically is the evolutionary consequence of having developed such a huge brain (compared to other animals). Zynga thanks your business. It's also a preliminary stage to depression; a lack of meaning that leaves us in an emotional limbo. Viewed from a glass-half-full perspective, it's evolution's shock mechanism that pushes us into self-realization. After all, restlessness and inquisitiveness have been the key drivers of human advance. So don't feel empty when your soul-eating, 9-to-5 job damps your mojo. Go write an obscure blog post about the evolution of the brain that no one will read, or something [wink, wink].

Even our urge to socialize is based in primal, evolutionary instincts. We are wired to connect to something. Anything. If that connection happens to be with a good, nurturing group of people, all the better. But it's not always the case, as many drug addicts can attest. Put us alone and isolated from society, and our bodies will trigger inflammatory signals; an immunological alert state of stress that makes us prone to depression. And it only makes sense. Pushed to the edges of society --the proverbial primitive pack-- we become vulnerable to the attacks of the dreadful Saber-Toothed Tiger, hence the crucial importance to belong; to be protected from predators by outer layers and layers of our very own kind. That's where our imitative behavior comes from: the core of complex human civilization.

But how did all begin? Was there an inception-like point in time when the acceleration of these transformational changes occurred? For all the negative connotations around belonging to a monolithic, societal state of mind, it turns out that following a crowd may not have been all that bad after all. Around 50,000 years ago, when modern, societal behavior spearheaded (pun intended) the explosion of human ingenuity --technological innovation, art, cultural exchange-- there was also a marked decrease in the level of testosterone, which fomented interaction, decreased aggressiveness, and encouraged cohabitation. The emergence of more feminine-like skulls (the product of less testosterone) during that period proves it. Ideas, which need the nurturing of a sounding board for them to evolve and propagate, found the propitious launching pad in this less aggressive, social man. People with ideas are like dominoes falling. When one happens, it needs another one around to propagate and transcend.

So, relish those boring moments. Linger on them. Let the vagueness of the wandering mind attack you, because that's when really cool things are created. Don't let them be a solitary domino falling without consequence. Share them. Bounce them. That's how progress is made.