Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Extremely Negative Psychology

This came in the mail today, I've been giggling about it all evening. It's been a very long time since I've been this interested in any subject not related to development economics or Africa.

My current understanding of evolutionary psychology is this: our brains have evolved into finely-honed machines that are geared towards making us good at being cavemen. By good I mean, good at spreading our genes, good at surviving and reproducing. This presents us with two problems, one obvious, the other less so. The obvious problem is that we are no longer cavemen. The pace of change in human society over the past 200 years has been too rapid for our evolving brains to keep up. The sorts of traits that are desirable in modern societies are quite different from those that were desirable in pre-industrial societies, but our brains are geared towards the caveman stuff.

The less obvious problem is that being "good" isn't really what we care about after all. Instead, we care about being happy. But the unfortunate reality is that our brains have not evolved to maximize the happiness of people like us in the information age, they've evolved to maximize the fitness of cavemen. Ultimately, happiness is nothing more than a tool that our brains use to manipulate us into doing the things that allow cavemen to spread their genes. And it gets worse- the brain doesn't want us to be happy, it wants us to pursue happiness. The brain doles out pleasure and satisfaction when we increase our status, accumulate more resources to impress mates or protect our children, and punishes us with anxiety and misery when lose status, or fail to attract a mate or protect our children. But the reward is rarely as good as we think it's going to be, because our brains don't want us to rest on our laurels. They want us to go out and get more.

Anyways I am thinking of starting an academicky movement around these ideas with sinister, cult-like overtones, similar to the Postive Psychology movement. Only I'm going to call mine the "Extremely Negative Psychology" movement. My first book will be called Damn You, the Human Brain!

Any joiners out there?

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