Sunday, March 12, 2006

Evolution evolves emotions

Recently, I read a New York Times story alluding to the notion that human evolution is still underway. This probably won't seem as one of the greatest of discoveries or insights of the century because as the word itself would hint, it's in the nature of evolution to evolve.

But apart from saying "so tell me something new", I find that there is great relief to be drawn from this "discovery". In fact, I would dare to say that these are really wonderful news. I believe it's fantastic to hear that somewhere in our genetic pool there is still a lot of room for improvement.

So, how does knowledge of this largely accepted fact help you or me? Well, it doesn't really.

But since we are (still) inquisitive creatures, why not keep on wondering and ask where evolution is planning to take us:

Even if evolution were to ever be finally finished, what sort of species would we then be?

Scientists study evolution mostly from the physical perspective. They focus mostly on the fossil and DNA records of our ancestors. Instead, I am more interested in the evolution of emotions. How will evolution evolve our emotions. Will it magnify the positive emotions and do away with the negative ones? After all, if evolution is the survival of the fittest then feeling good should certainly part of it.

So I wonder,
  • Will we then be satisfied?
  • Is pain going to not longer be part of love?
  • Will loneliness become archaic?
  • What sense will drive us?

Food for thought.


Margit said...

Quite interesting thoughts you are having. So, let's start the discussion. :)

I don't think just having positive emotions will be a good development! I really hope that won't happen!

How would we be able to tell the difference between average and ecstatic feelings? How would we be able to appreciate that we are on cloud 7 or higher? How can we be satisfied if we don't experience the meaning of not being satisfied?

So, I hope evolution will instead help with us with handling different emotions and situations better. I guess whoever develops the best coping strategies will survive in the battle to be the fittest.

Anonymous said...

Hi David,

We haven't heard from each other for quite a while. But I've recently discovered your blog and followed it for the past few weeks as an interested reader. In enjoy your ideas for discussion and Margit encouraged me to be a more active participant, so I am going to try... :-)

As to whether it is desirable to only have positive emotions, I tend to go with Margit: we'd lack the comparison and might thus not appreciate our positive emotions to the same degree. On the other hand, if we always feel great, who cares about the comparison ;-).

Another thought comes from a paradox experience. Sometimes I enjoy sadness. A good movie drama, for instance, often leaves me with a deep sadness for a while. However, I usually don't regret having seen the movie afterwards. How is it that sadness can be enjoyed? Would I still be happy if this experience was to be taken away from me?

This said, how likely is it to happen that our distant descendants will miss out on the opportunity of a cinematic catharsis? This would not only require a mutation in the human genome that prevented any negative feelings, but also a strong link of positive emotion and increased reproductive activity. Only then could the new humankind sufficiently proliferate and prevail in the survival of the happiest.

While fertility rates in the developed world have been dwindling, there seems to be no evidence that the sadness in our experience is to be held accountable for this development. Unhappiness doesn't seem to prevent people from setting children out into this world. While differences in average happiness between countries are only subtle, those between fertililty rates are striking.

Some couples perceive children as the path to happiness. And often major life crises do occur after one's own children have already left the house as young adults. And sometimes it is happiness, not unhappiness, that prevents people from childbearing. This is when one has gotten used to a certain satisfying lifestyle and sees exactly this endangered with children.

Sounds like there is no hope for eternal happiness. Or should I say: happy descendents?

The friend of friends

Anonymous said...

Having explored your Blog, Just a 'poem' full of paradoxes for a journal full of contradictions ;) . Hope you enjoy:

Auguries Of Innocence

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

A Robin Red breast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage.
A dove house fill'd with doves & Pigeons
Shudders Hell thro' all its regions.

A dog starv'd at his Master's Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State.
A Horse misus'd upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood.

Each outcry of the hunted Hare
A fibre from the Brain does tear.
A Skylark wounded in the wing,
A Cherubim does cease to sing.

The Game Cock clipp'd and arm'd for fight
Does the Rising Sun affright.
Every Wolf's & Lion's howl
Raises from Hell a Human Soul.

The wild deer, wand'ring here & there,
Keeps the Human Soul from Care.
The Lamb misus'd breeds public strife
And yet forgives the Butcher's Knife.

The Bat that flits at close of Eve
Has left the Brain that won't believe.
The Owl that calls upon the Night
Speaks the Unbeliever's fright.

He who shall hurt the little Wren
Shall never be belov'd by Men.
He who the Ox to wrath has mov'd
Shall never be by Woman lov'd.

The wanton Boy that kills the Fly
Shall feel the Spider's enmity.
He who torments the Chafer's sprite
Weaves a Bower in endless Night.

The Catterpillar on the Leaf
Repeats to thee thy Mother's grief.
Kill not the Moth nor Butterfly,
For the Last Judgement draweth nigh.

He who shall train the Horse to War
Shall never pass the Polar Bar.
The Beggar's Dog & Widow's Cat,
Feed them & thou wilt grow fat.

The Gnat that sings his Summer's song
Poison gets from Slander's tongue.
The poison of the Snake & Newt
Is the sweat of Envy's Foot.

The poison of the Honey Bee
Is the Artist's Jealousy.
The Prince's Robes & Beggars' Rags
Are Toadstools on the Miser's Bags.

A truth that's told with bad intent
Beats all the Lies you can invent.
It is right it should be so;
Man was made for Joy & Woe;

And when this we rightly know
Thro' the World we safely go.
Joy & Woe are woven fine,
A Clothing for the Soul divine;

Under every grief & pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.
The Babe is more than swadling Bands;
Throughout all these Human Lands

Tools were made, & born were hands,
Every Farmer Understands.
Every Tear from Every Eye
Becomes a Babe in Eternity.

This is caught by Females bright
And return'd to its own delight.
The Bleat, the Bark, Bellow & Roar
Are Waves that Beat on Heaven's Shore.

The Babe that weeps the Rod beneath
Writes Revenge in realms of death.
The Beggar's Rags, fluttering in Air,
Does to Rags the Heavens tear.

The Soldier arm'd with Sword & Gun,
Palsied strikes the Summer's Sun.
The poor Man's Farthing is worth more
Than all the Gold on Afric's Shore.

One Mite wrung from the Labrer's hands
Shall buy & sell the Miser's lands:
Or, if protected from on high,
Does that whole Nation sell & buy.

He who mocks the Infant's Faith
Shall be mock'd in Age & Death.
He who shall teach the Child to Doubt
The rotting Grave shall ne'er get out.

He who respects the Infant's faith
Triumph's over Hell & Death.
The Child's Toys & the Old Man's Reasons
Are the Fruits of the Two seasons.

The Questioner, who sits so sly,
Shall never know how to Reply.
He who replies to words of Doubt
Doth put the Light of Knowledge out.

The Strongest Poison ever known
Came from Caesar's Laurel Crown.
Nought can deform the Human Race
Like the Armour's iron brace.

When Gold & Gems adorn the Plow
To peaceful Arts shall Envy Bow.
A Riddle or the Cricket's Cry
Is to Doubt a fit Reply.

The Emmet's Inch & Eagle's Mile
Make Lame Philosophy to smile.
He who Doubts from what he sees
Will ne'er believe, do what you Please.

If the Sun & Moon should doubt
They'd immediately Go out.
To be in a Passion you Good may do,
But no Good if a Passion is in you.

The Whore & Gambler, by the State
Licenc'd, build that Nation's Fate.
The Harlot's cry from Street to Street
Shall weave Old England's winding Sheet.

The Winner's Shout, the Loser's Curse,
Dance before dead England's Hearse.
Every Night & every Morn
Some to Misery are Born.

Every Morn & every Night
Some are Born to sweet Delight.
Some are Born to sweet Delight,
Some are born to Endless Night.

We are led to Believe a Lie
When we see not Thro' the Eye
Which was Born in a Night to Perish in a Night
When the Soul Slept in Beams of Light.

God Appears & God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in the Night,
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of day.
--William Blake

Anonymous said...

some one explain the hidden meanings of auguries of innocence please!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

cindy said...


Seriously, "auguries"?

If that's not a typo, I hope I still have a seat on the short bus.