No 2295 Posted by fw, June 10, 2018
To access links to all other posts in this series, click on the Tab titled “Where Are We Going? by Dr. Nate Hagens” in the top left margin.
“A Harvard psychologist explains how our once-helpful instincts get hijacked in our garish modern world. Our instincts—for food, sex, or territorial protection— evolved for life on the savannahs 10,000 years ago, not in today’s world of densely populated cities, technological innovations, and pollution. We now have access to a glut of larger-than-life objects, from candy to pornography to atomic weapons—that gratify these gut instincts with often-dangerous results.” —Deirdre Barrett, evolutionary psychologist
In yesterday’s post, Pt 11, continuum 10, Dr. Hagens alerted us to another reason why our human nature sabotages our motivation to be proactive in the face of dire, looming existential concerns – threats that do not affect us, our loved ones, and our “tribe”, life and limb — directly, immediately, and into the future — are unlikely to motivate us to take timely, preventive action.
In today’s post, Pt 12, continuum 11, I have chosen evolutionary psychologist Deirdre Barrett to substitute for professor Hagens, to clarify the equally concerning Supernormal versus Normal continuum. In an abstract to her paper, Barrett applies the concept of “supernormal stimuli” to explain how primal urges have overrun their evolutionary purpose to become a major cause of today’s most pressing problems, including obesity and war.
Below is the embedded video of Hagens’ 60-minute address, followed by an 18-minute Q&A session. My transcript of Pt. 12, continuum 11, runs from 20:00 to 21:14.
Alternatively, a video of Hagens’ talk, along with a “loosely related” essay on the talk, are available by clicking on the following linked title. This version, published by Resilience.org, also includes excellent readers’ comments, including responses by Hagens.
TRANSCRIPT (from 20:00 to 21:14)
20:00 – [Continuum 11: Supernormal vs Normal] – There’s something in biology and ethology called “supernormal stimuli” where scientists exaggerate a trait in an organism’s environment. In the case on the left, the scientists painted a baby bird or a popsicle stick bright red and they made the popsicle stick bigger than the real baby birds in the nest. What happened is the mama bird preferentially gave the worms and grubs to the fake popsicle stick because the cues of red and big shouted to the mama bird’s brain – “This offspring is going to be more likely to survive. I want to preferentially give resources to that bird.”
20:47 – That happens every day to all of us with candy crush and words with friends and Facebook Likes. “How come that my friend didn’t like my post. He should have liked my post.” We’re going through all the really high points of our ancestral past trying to get those same feelings, but our modern technology, our modern social media can hijack these responses.
Supernormal Stimuli: How Primal Urges Overran Their Evolutionary Purpose, by Deirdre Barrett, Academia.edu, [no date] — A Harvard psychologist explains how our once-helpful instincts get hijacked in our garish modern world. Our instincts—for food, sex, or territorial protection— evolved for life on the savannahs 10,000 years ago, not in today’s world of densely populated cities, technological innovations, and pollution. We now have access to a glut of larger-than-life objects, from candy to pornography to atomic weapons—that gratify these gut instincts with often-dangerous results. Animal biologists coined the term “supernormal stimuli” to describe imitations that appeal to primitive instincts and exert a stronger pull than real things, such as soccer balls that geese prefer over eggs. Evolutionary psychologist Deirdre Barrett applies this concept to the alarming disconnect between human instinct and our created environment, demonstrating how supernormal stimuli are a major cause of today’s most pressing problems, including obesity and war.
About Dr. Nathan John Hagens – Hagens, 51, worked on Wall Street at Lehman Brothers and Salomon Brothers for 10 years before closing his own hedge fund in 2003 to develop a systems synthesis approach to the human predicament. At present, Dr. Hagens is a professor at the University of Minnesota where he teaches a systems synthesis Honors seminar called Reality 101, A Survey of Human Predicament. The readings and lectures cover literature in systems ecology, energy and natural resources, thermodynamics, history, anthropology, human behavior, neuroscience, environmental science, sociology, economics, globalization/trade, and finance/debt with an overarching goal to give students a general understanding of how our human ecosystem functions as a whole.
Visit Nate Hagens’ personal website at The Monkey Trap.
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