by Dr David, Editor / Publisher
I went to Escondido Place, the local hot springs, last week with a band of friends. Arriving early to beat the Semana Santa crowd, I was the first one in the water and had the chorro (water falling from the pipe) to myself for 10 uninterrupted minutes. After that "massage" I went to do my laps, snorkled and goggled, circling the round pool, which I also had all to myself.
I came back to where our company was sprawled out upon lounge chairs arrayed aside the pond. Serving out fruit smoothie which I had blended earlier that morning (watermelon, pineapple, banana, almonds, yogurt), I felt very good, good enough to wonder why it was I felt so good. They are nice people. It was a beautiful day. I had been relaxed by the thermal waters and toned by my swim. But there was something more.
It wasn't just psychological. I became aware that I was having a biological, a hormonal experience.
(Much of my understanding of the following, including some direct quotes, comes from a video, Constructing Your Identity, Chaos and Order, that I just finished watching.)
There is an evolutionary wind at our backs. There is a physics of being human. There are certain things which are true according to the algorithms that the brain is running.
The hypothalamus sits at the bottom of our brain. In fish, where there is no higher brain on top of it, it appears as a little globe like a ball atop the "cane" which is our spinal cord. We share it with virtually all animals that have a nervous system. It is unbelievably ancient.
The hypothalamus controls the 'Four Fs': feeding, fighting, fleeing and mating. Half of the hypothalamus governs motivation, directing our actions. For example, when we feel hungry the hypothalamus produces a hormone that makes us feel good as we move towards the kitchen.
The other half governs governs striving. When all your basic needs are met the hypothalamus then causes, urges you to be curious and explore. This often leads to the discovery of new resources that can in the future be use to satiate the fundamental motivations, the "Four Fs."
We are compelled by biology to strive, to progress, to be courageous. Hormones, or the lack of them, make us feel bad when we are just lazing around the house doing nothing.
Neurochemically we are rewarded for being higher or punished for being lower in a competency hierarchy. You may not want to feel bad when you are worse at something than everyone else, but you will.
Our social nature is so ancient that is has become programmed into our biology. Because we are social beings we will be punished by our conscious if we are not useful to other people. We may not want to, but we will feel bad when we are rejected. It's hormonal.
Psychology tells us that hope is the positive emotion that sustains us, striving towards something that we want. Attainment, has it's own obvious advantages, but it is satiating, not motivating. Drugs, like cocaine and amphetamines, are so attractive because they activate the brain system that regulates our emotional response to evidence that we are moving towards a desired goal. Cocaine exhilarates because it hijacks the brain function that tells us that things are worthwhile.
The man in the video on which this article is based is Dr. Jordan Peterson. Social justice warriors hate Jordan Peterson, because he informs them that as humans we are nested in an evolutionary context. Our brain comes pre-programmed with neurochemical algorithms; we are not blank slates upon which utopian imaginings may be written. Peterson points out the hundred million plus deaths (and incalculable non-fatal suffering) wrought by social experiments in the Soviet Union and communist China that tried to override this human pre-programming.
Petersen is all for progress, but he mocks the naivete of social justice warriors, "You can put your social constructivism up against 350 million years of evolutionary history, but good luck with that." That some people are better at some things than are other people may not be fair, but then neither is life. Equal outcomes for all is a wonderful, but unrealizable ideal. Competency hierarchies, putting the best people in charge, is best for everyone.
Petersen does not suggest that these neurochemical rewards and punishments are the source of all moral value, that they determine all of our experience. However, he does insist that they are evolutionary constraints that must be taken into account when positing the future of humanity.