First feel, then think: is our brain really made for the modern world?

First feel, then think: is our brain really made for the modern world?

Have you ever felt like your brain isn’t meant for modern times, like it’s a relic of a bygone era? After all, we are afraid of snakes and spiders, even though we rarely encounter them in the developed world. We wolf down energy-dense fatty foods like our next meal isn’t a sure thing, even though most of us have access to far more calories than we need. And we are afraid of the dark in our own homes.

The human brain evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to deal with immediate risks, like hunger and danger, but the vast majority of humans today are neither starving nor in danger of being hunted by a predator or bitten by a poisonous creature. Instead, the risks we face – obesity, climate change, pollution, nuclear suicide – are creeping and complex. And they materialized in the blink of an evolutionary eye, leaving the threat and our brain’s thought systems unsuited to deal with it.

“Our brain is wired, and brain chemistry ensures that we feel first and think second,” said author and risk perception expert David Ropeik. think big. “It worked pretty well when the risks were lions, tigers, bears and darkness, oh my. It’s not as good now that we have to rationalize and reason and use facts more with the complicated risks we face in the modern age.

Can we do anything to overcome this ingrained irrationality?

“If the brain jumps to conclusions out of emotion first, just assume that your first decision might not be the most informed one,” Ropeik said. “Don’t jump to conclusions. Take more time, half an hour, an hour, a day, two. Think about it… Get more information.

Dan Ariely, the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University and founder of the Center for Advanced Hindsight, suggested another strategy when he sat down with think big.

“Think from an outsider’s perspective. When you think about your own life, you are trapped in your own perspective. You are trapped by your own emotions and feelings, etc.

But if you can think about an issue with an unbiased, independent perspective, you’ll likely come to a more rational decision.

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You can also outsource your brain’s thought process to friends, family, or even anonymous internet forums. Simply asking others for advice is a great way to approach problems more rationally, Ariely said.

Ariely suggests that the collective’s search for wisdom fits well with an idea that University of Toronto psychology professor Paul Bloom espouses: a human can be irrational, but humanity can be quite rational.

“My fellow psychologists, philosophers, neuroscientists often argue that we are prisoners of emotions, that we are fundamentally and deeply irrational, and that reason plays very little role in our daily lives,” Bloom said. think big. “Honestly, I don’t doubt it’s just in the short term, but I think in the long term, over time, reason and rationality tend to win out.”

Bloom cites humanity’s steady course toward collective betterment to support his hopeful outlook. Over time, humans have become more peaceful, less impoverished, live longer, and are more law-abiding.

“There are a lot of explanations for these changes, but I think a key part has been the exercise of reason, and I’m optimistic that we’ll continue that in the future,” Bloom said.

Daniel Dennett, Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy and co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, agrees. He predicts that our brain will gradually become better adapted to the modern era.

“It’s a pretty robust thought system that we have between our ears. We will develop more and better tools, and we will identify more weaknesses in our rationality.

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