Photo by Glogger – Wikimedia
Rats and humans have so much in common. It’s all about the rewards. Mother nature is spring-loaded too.
Life happened. If there were some awesome cognition in the universe, I’m sure it would consider life an amusing incident. But such a God, in order to think, would also have to be the product of such an amusing incident. So let’s just consider ourselves an incidence of replication, reproducing molecules that further elaborated themselves into reproducing cells and then into reproducing organisms. We are and forever will be unknown in the galaxy, occupying a thin watery layer of just the right mix of precursor molecules just the right distance from a star. Our ancestors have been thoughtlessly slaughtering and eating each other for several billions of years as a matter of course. It’s all seems as meaningless as the circulating currents in the seas and atmosphere, we’re like little spinning tops just throwing off heat on the way to our next meals. All of the evolution leads nowhere except, as I’ve tried to convey on this blog, to a different scale of the same thing – technological evolution, competition, degrading resources, throwing off heat and mutually assured destruction (MAD). And the destruction is most assuredly assured if we take just a few more steps down the path of technological competition.
So why take survival so seriously? Aren’t you just being a dupe in continuing the madness? Why not put an end to life, the competitive madness that leads nowhere but to more competitive madness, once and for all? Perhaps it’s because of the reward system. We don’t have time to think about what we’re doing and our concerns are focused upon getting the next rewards. We must or die. If there’s anything that gets the dopamine flowing it’s the chance at a big reward, an opioid brain cocktail, and that’s what we think about mostly (and the obstacles between ourselves and our happy destinies). Organisms rarely have time to consider what they’re doing, but must continuously have in mind their next reward lest some other greedy organism take the opportunity from them and win in the survival of the fittest. Generally speaking, the fittest are those that can acquire the most rewards vis-a-vis their competitors. Strangely, many of those that have been most successful at running the reward maze, have forgotten to procreate. Go figure.
At this point in human evolution, as we have been reduced in stature from free-living system to molecular operator in technological cells, one must wonder what continuance has to offer. Another iteration of Ipad or Iwatch or perhaps ICBM mark VI? Unfortunately the neurological adaptations allowing our technological conversion can not be seen as progress in the evolution of life, they rather have marked the departure of humans from the ecosystem, at least partially. Human technological development is a step backward, like when humans get cancer and it spreads all over their bodies and often causes such disruption as to kill the system. Imagine that. We took the fork in the road that leads to such rapid and toxic evolution and growth that massive extinction and alteration of the biosphere will be the result. Technology won’t replace the pyramid of life that concentrates biomass into bite-size chunks of food for us, but temporarily it can create irresistible rewards. We’re a package of cells moving relentlessly from one resource gradient to the next brandishing new tools on-the-fly to degrade everything we come in contact with, but building magnificent malignant cells and distribution systems along the way. Magnificent!
Apparently and in accordance with the Holy Book of Thermodynamics, there is no
“reason” to live except to seek rewards and that is what we will do to the best of our technological and personal abilities until the very end. Humans can not be expected to not seek rewards, even though their self-satisfying behaviors in sum total are suicidal. Neither my writing nor any other writing will retard destiny in progress. Hope you get some of whatever you seek right up until the very end, before its too late – perhaps it’s already too late (see rat above).
Professor John Gabrieli (MIT) explains how humans lose the ability to consider bad news as they grow older. Also note that they are unlikely to seek new information. The entire video is worth watching but most interesting part begins at 40:35. Older people ignore bad news and have a relative positivity bias.
Sensory organs and brain (ganglia) function in tandem to move mobile organisms towards positive stimuli and away from negative stimuli. In the evolutionary past this was accomplished subconsciously based upon hardwiring and limited learning. The human cerebral cortex is a neurological amplification of the simple environmental surveying and reward seeking circuits possessed by more simple animals. Instead of simple stimulus-response circuits, the environmental stimulus is mapped into a fluid neural representation of the world, or network, before appropriate movement or behavior, if any, is promoted. With an expanded prefrontal cortex, substantial planning of movement towards goals or rewards can be rehearsed before actual movement commences. During a work week a human may have to perform many preplanned movements to arrive at the reward at the end of the week. Waking up, taking a shower, getting the kids ready for school, filling the car with gas, driving to work, performing all of the variable movements at work, socially grooming the boss and co-workers and so on, just to arrive at a paycheck at the end of the week. The paycheck is not the ultimate reward, but rather what the paycheck can purchase is the reward. The cerebral cortex can be thought of as a massive elaboration of more simple circuits and ganglia, capable of maintaining a complex representation of the world into which environmental data is fed and processed prior to bodily movement.
Even though deficient in calculating probabilities, the human brain moves millions towards ticket outlets in search of mind-boggling lottery rewards or it can motivate a student to pursue good grades to achieve a degree and well-compensated employment. All movement requires energy and resources and ultimately, in sum total, all movement must be rewarded. Humans and other mobile organisms are on a tight leash to perform only those movements that are rewarding. If behavior and movement do not result in energy acquisition, then starvation and death occurs. Perhaps this is one reason we are so unconcerned with our impact upon the environment, our brains are preoccupied with producing movements that result in reward.