Monday, 25 January 2010

On the Brink : Between Gut and Mind

Humans are in a quandary. Until relatively recently in our history, evolution has made us a creature capable of surviving in climates and situations normally inhospitable to any creature incapable of thought. But here's the problem: technological advances, and the excessive riches generated thereof, have eliminated any need or even motivation to use the tool — thought — that allowed us to survive thus far.

What separates us from animals is our ability to analyse our perceptions and memories, and constantly return to them and re-analyse them at will, thus making it possible to return to our mistakes and successes again and again and try them against every new tool we learn. Yet this 'second level' is only a layer added to the basic functions we share with animals — functions that, in my opinion, could work on an animalistic scale quite well on their own — perception-based instinctive behaviour and our empirical memories of our experiences with the same. From here on I'll call our thought ability 'mind' and our more animalistic tendencies 'gut'.

Our minds are a funny thing, as they can even work against us: not only is it possible to relive certain experiences through our memories, it is also possible to arrive at any conclusion we want based on the same, or in other words, re-invent our past (or ignore parts of it or all of it altogether). In our primitive environment, still tightly entwined with the rules and dangers of nature, such tendencies would most likely mean certain death. Yet today such dangers no longer exist: the enemy most present in our minds is 'discomfort' and the (armed) irrationality (in our opinion) of other (groups of) humans.

Comfort is a state that has no dependence at all on thought; in fact, I would say that it is a 'gut' state of satisfaction whose continuity would be destroyed by any notion of thought. Take our sexual practices for example, and try to sum and predict our pleasurable sensations in a rational way: doing so would distract from and dilute the very sensations we take such pleasure in.

I'd almost like to think of the interaction between gut and mind to be something like computer and program(mer): new routines, once imagined and 'proven', can be fed into the machine and thus modify its function. In short, our lives are an ever-evolving computer program fed into a base and never-changing hardware: push certain physical buttons and certain things happen, but with time and new routines, the base reaction would be modified by later-added sub-routines.

So basically our problem is this: we are a species whose wiring, made for a harsher environment and direct confrontations, is at odds with the programming dictated by the status quo of today. Today's status quo is an education that is still partially based, in many ways, on the 'dangers' of years before — dangers that, for most of us, only exist in our imaginations. This is the reason for the irrational and self-contradicting behaviour that is so widespread today.