It’s the end of the year, a perfect artificial marker for taking on ambitious undertakings. And what a better ambitious task could there be than for me to explain why we do the things we do? Yes, I’m going to attempt that, and on the way explain some of my motivations for continuously posting stuff on this blog.
Seriously, though: Why do we do stuff?
Why do we decide to get married to someone, why do we decide to have a child, why do we strive for a promotion at work, why do we choose to buy a totally impractical convertible, why, why, why?
When faced with this question, most of us will instinctively answer that they thought about things and decided on a certain course of action as the way to go. For example, they will say that they thought things through and decided to marry this particular guy.
Is that so?
No, it isn’t. Look yourself in the mirror, have a think about it, and you will quickly admit the truth (that is, if you’re brave enough): In the vast majority of cases, we make even the most serious of decisions first and then, maybe (but probably rarely) come up with reasons to justify them. If you have a problem accepting this last statement of mine then think about this: Last time you fell in love, did you really rationally choose the subject of your love or did it just happen?
Let’s face it: We do things and we make our decisions because our subconscious tells us to do them. The real question is, what does our subconscious contain? If we were to use a computer analogy of the brain (an analogy that happens to be pretty accurate, but let’s ignore that for now), then what is the program code our brain uses to run our subconscious with?
We don’t know the full answer to that question yet, but we are lucky enough to know how this bit of code was written and therefore know quite a lot about it even without looking at lines of code. Our brain is a product of millions of years of evolution, hundreds of millions of years of you start the counting from when some fat cells first started functioning as some sort of a nervous system. Assuming you accept evolution as a fact (which you should, if you’re sane), then you will have to accept that evolution has also shaped your subconscious as it went along: it is not only evidence that points to that conclusion, it is also common sense; your brain has had to evolve together with the rest of your body.
Looking at my baby child and his development, signs of evolution affecting his behavior are everywhere: they are in his will to become bipedal, they are in his attempts to talk, and they are in the incredible similarities between the ways all babies start to talk regardless of demographics or culture. As adults, we can see evolution’s programming at work in our craving for sex, power and status: we are programmed to constantly seek out ways to immortalize our genes.
Now let me ask another question: Given that we are all running evolution’s programming in our minds’ subconscious, and given that this subconscious is in charge of most of what we do, does that mean we are prisoners of evolution?
Well, evidence points at most of us being prisoners of evolution’s programming most of the time. But this is not a necessity: Personally, I would like to think of myself as above evolution. I would like to think that I have my own goals, my humanist goals, and that these goals are my driver and not evolution.
The trick, though, is to learn how to release yourself from the captivity of evolution and set your mind free. That involves awareness as a mandatory ingredient: Without awareness, without knowing where you came from and where you want to be, you can never truly release yourself from evolution’s captivity. The problem there is that we have many distractions in our path to awareness: we have wishful thinking agendas in the shape of religion coming in to tell you what its version of the truth is (only that its version is completely unsubstantiated); and we have marketing, advertisements, and culture in general always inferring that they know what is really best for you (and you’re just lucky enough for them to completely relieve you of any sort of thinking that might promote actual awareness).
Achieving awareness is thus a hard and constant battle. With it, though, and with rational questioning and a healthy skeptical mind holding its hand, you can set yourself any goal you wish to achieve. And there lies a risk: There is nothing preventing you from setting yourself a goal similar to, say, Hitler’s. The trick is, however, that not all of evolution's subconscious code is bad; some things, such as the sense of morality we inherit and our instinctive recognition of good from bad are essential for a healthy society and should therefore be kept in mind; after all, this is exactly why we have inherited them (to one extent or another). if, like me, you share the humanist point of view, your freedom of mind will not only benefit you, it will benefit the whole of society.
Indeed, one of my reasons for maintaining this blog is to promote my humanist values and to promote awareness. Hopefully, I managed to make some sort of a difference to this world by doing so.