22 Jul 2011

You’re a stubborn man

Yes – these are the words or similar I’ve had hurled at me at various points in my life. I’ve had words such as ‘rigid’, ‘insensitive’, ‘obnoxious’ and far worse abusive language thrown at me.

When I look back upon myself, searching for how I became ‘this’ way – as perceived by others, I’ve come up with a few things that are meaningful to me. I’m not saying they are pure or justified explanations of my modus operandi, but they explain a few things.

From an early age probably around the age of 10 I took a very keen interest in Star Trek (just hold off, I’m not a Trekkie). I became fascinated with Mr Spock and how he reasoned on difficult or simple things and came to decisions. The battle between logic and emotions (or the passions if you like), is one that interested me and would repeatedly be played out in my life - to this day. Of course it has been explored by numerous a philosopher – and I don’t really want to go into academia here.

The stubborn man! :)
I too found a home for myself.. in a new world.

At one stage my siblings used to mock me, as did some of my classmates – that I behaved like Mr Spock. Well yes, I often referred to the lack of logic in their arguments. You could tell that when they were losing an argument, the last ‘best’ strategy to ‘win’ as they saw it, was to disparage me or the way I was arguing a point. Yeah – many a debate did I have during lunch times up to the time I left high school (aka College back on a godforsaken Rock). I learned early on that when people want to win a point they would discredit the person presenting their point – not the logic behind it. Or they would stop listening entirely, and walk off ‘waving hands’ in disgust. I coped but not well or to this day. The stupidity of emotional expression in ‘humans’ confounds logical debate. And yes – you will see me fighting fire with fire out here at times.

It’s easy to see how cut and dried Mr Spock is on certain issues – at times lacking empathy, sympathy or feeling for the views of others. What can raw logic have to do with that? 1 + 1 is not a thing to get emotional about – and yes – raw logic is very mathematical at it’s core; it doesn’t care what you think or feel. That kind of response is bound to get up most people’s noses – people want to feel respected etc.. not have their thoughts and opinions demolished or diced up.

My analysis of this tension between what is logical and what is broadly of ‘emotion’ has deepened in recent years. There is something of an enhanced realisation – though not a new one. I’ll share:

  1. Accepting evolution as an explanation of the present existence of humanity, I have come to understand that evolution had very limited time for selecting species for survival on the basis of their ability to think logically. Cognitive processes are a very new phenomenon – I mean like only about 100,000 years and being sharpened only in the last 200 years or so. It is only ‘now’ that survival advantage is being decided by the integrity of cognitive processes. In other words evolution is now taking a different course based on a dramatically new survival factor.
  2. But what does that mean? It means that the hardware of our minds (the brain), is all hardwired to function on instinct, emotion, gut feeling etc etc. Those were the things that came with our evolutionary baggage. I don’t know to what extent they had survival value – that’s another debate.
  3. However, I’m thinking that when we were animals – I mean real animals – the business of mating and reproducing couldn’t be held up logical weighing up of which mate had carried the best survival features. Nature found other ways to deal with that. Strength, persistence, aggression, might, beauty, resilience were far more important and immediate means of deciding the business.
  4. Now – us ‘animals’ have been ‘given’ cognitive processes – the greater ability to be self-aware, to plan and to think. We can weigh up – and think – about who’s a good mate etc. But hold on – there is still the problem that the ‘animal’ in us takes over, when it comes to the business of procreation. And keep in mind that ‘nature’ – that mechanical thing – that orchestrates this world, doesn’t know the word ‘procreation’.
  5. And the animal – now trapped in a 21st century world has to cope with very serious demands. There are important decisions to make, I mean really important – not things that determine ‘survival of the species’ as such – but a whole new set of values and considerations that never could be dreamed of 100 centuries ago. Like? What career to seek, what  phone or computer to buy, what perfume is good, what car is best value for money, when and how to get pregnant, how not to get pregnant, when and who to marry, how many children is best, what university to study at, which country to live in, what to drink, what to eat…. Blimey - Caveman never had to cope with that kind of complexity!! He basically had to work out how to find food, shelter and stay safe – and he would have been supplied with strategies handed to him by his tribe, which he might modify to suit – but it wasn’t as complicated or demanding on cognitive processes. Children would happen by a combination of a lack of planning, accident and instinct. Caveman’s existence couldn’t possibly have involved the complex analysis of a range of factors that could be involved in accepting a job offer i.e. moving house, pleasing wife and kids, earnings, pensions, contractual matters etc. Caveman had largely a day to day existence or one determined by the seasons. Our present-day existence is determined by global influences, our age, our sex, our race, culture, which country we live in or choose to go to live etc etc. I hope you get my drift i.e. a range of factors we can control or cannot control, but for which we may try to find strategies to adapt. All this demands much ‘processing power’ to bring a favourable outcome.
  6. But in practice, what happens? The majority of people do not really weigh up pros and cons squarely, do not weigh opportunities and losses, do not calculate well into the future. For the minority that do, when the crunch comes, what do they do? They go with the ‘feeling’. So ultimately – what tends to rule is something that may be informed by logical analysis but which can easily overrule that kind of analysis.
  7. A potentially dangerous hand-me-down from our evolution is the ability to suppress logical analysis. So we can ignore that which taxes the brain or which is likely to add to our discomfort. If thinking and analysis causes us stress we can easily do away with it. We can opt to pick the path of least discomfort, even if ultimately doing so will bring the least good/advantage to the greatest number or to ourselves.
  8. And yet another serious danger lurks. This is one where we take what’s in our heads as fact, because we believe a thing to be real. That computer in front of you is a real object, but always remember that the perception of it is a constructive representation of the world in your head. The latter is not bound to match that which is outside, or to match closely. So belief about what’s in the head ought to be very carefully approached – always. Why? Because reasoning on beliefs that may have been improperly constructed by psychological or biological forces can lead to serious errors of judgement. The irreversible mistake is the worst kind to make.

This last point – is – I think the most dangerous part of our current existence. Look, I’m not suggesting that I’m better than thou. I too make silly mistakes. However, I think that being aware of the danger above is better than not being aware of it. At least I can try or struggle to do what is right by applying processes that are more adapted to my current world than one of 100 centuries ago.

If you got this far, thanks for taking the time. Even if you disagree with the above the value is in thinking about it. I’m delighted to think about it because it helps me to build on my thoughts of today.

I am a stubborn man relative to the expectations of others. I’ll more quickly and flexibly change my opinions and modus operandi where I see a sound logical basis to do so. However, I’m as cold and hard as granite in response to emotional attempts to sway my mind. Notice the words ‘more quickly and flexibly’ – I cannot root out the ‘evolutionary animal’ embedded in me by nature.

Best wishes to all.

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