Extra 1.5: Human Impairments and Solutions

Our minds and bodies are solutions to the environment, built for adequacy, not perfection, and we must work to control our lives. Described below are 1) human flaws that impair our everyday judgment and decision-making, and 2) solutions. In internalizing both, we better understand ourselves and can better develop ourselves objectively (for better values and adherence to them). Note: Every individual has personalized biases and self-limitations. This section is only to help development of one’s purpose. Once one has set him/herself upon a purpose, it is easier to overcome the impairments and resist distraction from one’s purpose.

Human Nature: General

“Egotism and competition are far greater forces than public spirit and sense of duty.” – Einstein
Our ego is insatiable and overpowering. It perpetually encourages us to find ways to feel important, to rationalize that our self, beliefs, possessions, lineage, or abilities are better than other peoples’ and that we deserve more. We even try to convince others, such as by demeaning them or bragging or rebelling (disobeying or trying to be different without reason). Ego also causes us to believe we are smarter than experts even, and to ignore or argue angrily with people who think different from us or criticize us. Nietzsche describes the ego’s drive as the human need to envision an event occurring, and attributing one’s actions to its occurrence: a need for the feeling of power/dominance. Boosts to ego are always temporary, as are escapes from ego like entertainment or our passions. Egos, in addition, can be hurt easily by mistakes or external factors because of our expectations that continually rise towards perfectionism. We find it easy to let things get us down and we despise it. To protect our egos, we try to avoid self-disappointment: we lower our standard of success (sometimes giving up) or we set ourselves up for failure (self-handicap, half-ass, spend all our time preparing but never actually do it), and we try to shift the blame onto someone/something else or just tell ourselves “it wasn’t meant to be.”

Relative Thinking, Desire and Envy – Ego can also be explained to exist due to humans both being social creatures and relative thinkers so we, as such, are compelled to make judgments and crave recognition. We judge ourselves and what we have by comparing to others, which may lead to “becoming vain and bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself” – Desiderata. We get upset/jealous over everything that others have but we don’t (luxury/technology/leisure time/status/relationships/etc), which may lead to perpetual dissatisfaction, and in-appreciation for what we have (we easily get used to having what we have). Jealousy encourages us to use increasingly immoral means to the ends of “one-upping” the people we compare ourselves to. Enjoyment obtained from the suffering of others (Nietzsche’s schadenfreude) also appeases our envy (those with low self-esteem are more likely to have it). On the other hand, relative thinking at the survival level is beneficial – it encourages perpetual improvement through competition.

We naturally act in our self-interest, driven to obtain more power/resources, either out of fear (uncertainty of future) or ego, even to the detriment of others (with insufficient rationale such as “the future is uncertain,” “it is legal,” “I deserve it,” “just obeying authority,” “just doing my job,” “everyone is doing it,” “if not me then someone else”). We do these things, when many times, if we were not benefiting, we’d be morally against it. “It is the human wish to be told lies that keep us as primitive morally and socially as we are… I am persuaded that a lie grounded in human desire is too powerful for mere reason to kill.” — David Horowitz (ie Nietzsche believes the idea of the afterlife/god exists due to the fear that life is meaningless and desire that it isn’t). And many believe there will be a point of power/resources when we will have less self-interest, saying how when we become wealthy, we will be generous, however, insecurity/relative thinking or the hunger of ego is not satiated. Millionaires believe they will not be safe without a few million more. In addition, our drive for status and fear of rejection from society seems so strong – perhaps as strong as our response to hunger. When we have additional funds, we tend to spend it first in ways that will be noticeable to the outside world (cars, house, clothes), seldom in ways where only we would know (health care, retirement, etc.).

The Duality of the Brain – The Ancestral Brain vs The Deliberate Brain – We are equipped with two response systems – one that is quick, automatic and almost entirely unconscious (the ancestral brain), and the other that is slow and conscious (the deliberate brain). The ancestral brain is driven by our primal needs: food, shelter, status, procreation, while the deliberate brain allows us to consciously use logic to make decisions that may be selfless. These two systems do not exist independently – the decisions we make are often done by an interaction of the two (“deliberate prefrontal thought is piled on top of automatic emotional feelings”). Interestingly, where the two systems conflict, the ancestral brain tends to win and also tends to make immediate (mostly bad) decisions, especially the more we are stressed (tired or under pressure or emotional). This deficiency of our self-control, an inability to suspend judgment, causes much of our irrationality and poor decision making. As solutions, we can anticipate impulsion, can also imagine that our decisions will be spot checked (or, think like an airline pilot, where all checks you make have to be thorough) and can consider how we will feel about the decision in future. We must not just set goals but use an if/because statement afterward – I must read more books then I will have more knowledge. Always trying to perform a cost benefit analysis would help also.

Innate Empathy Only to Other Humans – Because we are self-interested and social creatures, our strongest innate empathy is towards other humans. We are sad for when someone we know dies, or even an acquaintance, yet do we visibly shed a tear for pollution or extinct species? Our empathy for these things is not innate because 1) our natural self-interests are not immediately affected by them, and 2) we cannot relate as easily as to another human. Empathy must be created for things else we find ourselves allowing atrocities to occur via lack of interest. Even still, many times we lack empathy towards other humans who are different from us (race, culture, beliefs), because trust evolved at a tribe level, not a species level. David Hume goes further and suggests we have three biases: similarity bias (“we favour people who resemble us”; ex: how we struggle to slaughter a lamb because it is mammal but easily catch fish or boil lobster), familiarity bias (“the more we see, the more it matters” and flipside “out of sight is out of mind”) and kinship bias (in a situation of a burning house, people choose to rescue their own child over three unrelated children).

Pursuit of Happiness, and Unproductivity
Evolution did not “evolve us to be happy, it evolved us to pursue happiness.” Our judgment of what exactly makes us happy seems to be faulty. We find ourselves involved in activities that don’t positively impact our long-term happiness and self-fulfillment, such as spending long hours working to gain more objects of “instant gratification,” when on our deathbeds we wish we instead spent more time on our loving relationships, family and friends, helping the world, etc., which we took for granted. No matter how much we self cultivate, we will want irrational things that we instinctively want (whims), despite positive or negative results it may bring. In addition, because we are addicted to instant gratification and our habits, and we fear trying to find happiness in the real world and failing, we can perpetually find time-wasting activities/desires/addictions that are only temporary solutions to our long-term happiness. Examples: 1) pursuing societal-imposed desires ie money/tech/status/opposite gender, 2) self-pampering with luxury/entertainment, 3) collecting knowledge/objects/media consumption, 4) dwelling/regret/fear/fantasizing over thoughts/events/past/present/future, 5) pursuing recognition/attention/love. Studies on true happiness have shown a few common denominators: social bonds, trust in people, trust in society, religion (great social network) and prosocial behavior (charities, helping others). Our evolutionary past centered on being cooperative and social in order to protect ourselves, which placed little value on personal gain (money).

Buddhism (and Preference Utilitarianism) touts that it is not desire that directly causes suffering/unhappiness, but when our wandering minds make our happiness contingent upon fulfilling our desires and these desires go unmet. Buddhism challenges us to give up desire so that we’ll try and fail to give it up. We end up realizing removing desire entirely is impossible (we would be desiring to give up desire) and that desire itself is essential, it is our driving force, and without it we would be devoid of both suffering and happiness. We realize that when we don’t avoid the bad or focus on good, but embrace both (both are ephemeral and part of the human condition), we break the cycle so that we may learn to be perpetually content. Asceticism also states that attempting to give up all desire gets you more in touch with the unconscious desires you can do without, allowing you to cut them out and ultimately figure out and focus on what it is you actually want and why, instead of drifting un-thinkingly through life towards what you’re supposed or expected to want.
Apatheia, similarly, was a chief aim of the Stoics, meaning “freedom from emotional responses to external events.” Not living indifferently, but without feelings/impulses/passions that interfere with the exercise of virtue. Their techniques to achieve this freedom include: 1) Use awareness and self-examination to help avoid the dangers of identification of our psyche with anything. 2) Distinguish genuine wants (food, shelter) from false wants (needless cravings) because the self, itself, has all that it needs. 3) Avoid the unhealthy desires (painful, compulsive, nervous, or angry) and seek those that are virtuous or aid self-understanding. 4) Think of ourselves in the third-person (a more objective self-observing view), to help separate the way we feel from the way we truly are. from stoicism

Our Environment Develops Us: Conformity without questioning
“People are sheep in credulity and wolves in conformity.”
Character is a lie, automatically and unconsciously built up to adjust to parents, peers, the world, and one’s own existential dilemmas. We take up values, desires, and lifestyles from our environments without questioning or conscious calculation, due to the strength of habits/beliefs/conditioning formed early in life (primacy error) and our powerful drive for conformity. Even our emotion and thought patterns, important to our well-being, are automatic developments. When we assume that these all are intrinsic parts of ourselves, we live in a conditioned prison of culture, lulled into triviality by the comfortable routines of society and the limited alternatives and dull security it offers. This man fears freedom of thought (thinking for himself), because it would endanger the structure of denial that surrounds his routines. He is effectively denying authentic impulses (everything that makes us human) and his potential of self-creation, as he allows the will of another person to change his actions. Sartre has a very low opinion of conventional morality, ie being a “moral person” as defined by society, condemning it as a tool of the bourgeoisie to control the masses (ex: a “Keep Off The Grass” sign, a bourgeois need but hindrance to the need of the masses for play and relaxation). Similarly, society’s idea to “be yourself” might seem good because it seems to say “don’t feel pressured by conformity,” it actually says to do what is natural to us, which is already heavily influenced by our environment. It discourages us from using higher intelligence to analyze and choose our ways of ethical living. Many people seem to only improve their morals and lifestyle if forced (by laws, “cultural normality”, etc.) or if their character itself naturally adjusts to the world, and this is insufficient.
Socrates asked the similar question: Why do so many people go along with the crowd (herd mentality) or authority, and fail to stand up for what they truly believe? He answered: partly because we are too easily swayed by other people’s opinions (we are gullible or desire to be liked/valued) and partly because we don’t know when to have confidence in our own. Popularity Bias: “If someone/something/an idea is popular, it must be good/deserve it.” Don’t consider any thought/position to be “common sense,” because the idea of “common sense” is based on human experience and individual perception, altogether subjective. As social beings, conformity is a good thing for cooperating to better protect and (early on) develop ourselves, and we see key informal systems such as gossip and shunning that punish anti-social and non-conformist behavior.

Our Insatiable Desire for Fulfillment, and the Self-Deception/Freedom Dichotomy [Existentialism]
Camus touted that the absence of religious belief is usually accompanied by a longing for “salvation and meaning.” This anguish derives from existentialist paradoxes, such as the very basic: We seek purpose in a life without inherent meaning, a life condemning us to be free and responsible for our actions. Or that we have free consciousness, purity and spontaneity of thought, limitless desires, but the physical world constrains us with rules and limited choices of action. Or that we are impulsed to be free to overturn one’s roles and take up new paths but our conscious desires peaceful self-fulfillment through physical actions and social roles, as if living within a portrait that one actively paints of oneself.
In our anguish, people tend to look outwards for fulfillment, defining themselves and acting based on their perceived social role or adopted values/rules/demands of authority/etc, ie “all the people in my workplace have a nice car/house/are aggressive, thus I will be fulfilled with the same.” It can even be simpler, ie the thought “I cannot risk my life, because I must support my family”, claiming one conscious possibility takes undeniable precedence over all others, which is essentially trying to convince oneself that he is bound to act by external circumstances (like an object). This is called “bad faith,” as people come to despise their free conscious, trying to escape the awareness of their total freedom and responsibility for their choices and its anguish. However, they are unable to escape, and their satisfaction/fulfillment is fleeting. existentialism summarized
Finding Meaning in a Meaningless Universe – When we recognize our freedom and responsibility for our actions, we are better able to live to our true self/feelings, without self-deception. This recognition involves the questioning of all choices, taking responsibility for the consequences of one’s own choices and therefore; a constant reappraisal of one’s own and others’ ever-changing humanity. Furthermore, instead of identifying ourselves the same way others judge us, through occupation, social status, choice of leisure activity, or other superficial ranking, we could, for example, create identity/purpose through output to society (work itself as the reward).

Freethought: Skepticism and Zeal for Truth
“Ignorance is NOT the root of all evil, the root of all evil is the illusion that we have found the truth.”
Freethinking, or independent thought, is one of the most important solutions to solve flawed morality and lifestyle, given a rational thinker. Knowledge requires caution, intellectual moderation, discipline, and self–overcoming. The individual thinks for him/herself, objectively understanding both his own and differing ideas, and only accepting ideas as truth on the basis of knowledge and reason, instead of authority, tradition, dogma, bias, or fear. Wisdom is a reward from critical thinking, not an entitlement with age. 1) Skepticism and 2) Truth seeking, are two major components of freethinking.
1) Skepticism – Descartes stated that the mind tends to effortlessly and automatically take in ideas and information without intellectual filters. In today’s swamp of commonplace nonsense, misinformation, superstition and paranormal claims, one needs more than intelligence, one must actually utilize critical thinking (open-minded/skeptical, rational, and informed with evidence) to filter the noise. Whenever you hear anything said confidently, the first thing that should come to mind is “wait a minute, is that true?” Whereas skepticism is a drive to find the facts behind ideas (a method of thinking), cynicism constitutes an aversion to probable facts (a jaded negative perspective). Skepticism has to be learned, often by painful experience. Skeptics are neutral on an issue until they have sufficient evidence, and maintain the option to change their mind given new overriding data. They question everything: social conventions, their desires, tendencies, beliefs, and lifestyles. And skeptics ask more substantial questions, instead of always who/what/where/when, they ask: How likely? How does it compare? How does it affect everything? They also understand to not be in a hurry to make (many of our) decisions, that we have a tendency to be lazy and shortcut decisions.
2) Truth Seeking – Alongside our questioning, our drive for truth will propel us to find better worldviews and solutions to problems. We must base our decisions on evidence using our critical thought, as ideas without evidence or immune to evidence are inherently unreliable. The Socratic and Scientific methods, which are “a way of thinking,” refines itself by eliminating errors as it progresses [Positivism], basically always looking for exceptions and updating the original statement with the exceptions until it is impossible to disprove.
“No matter how satisfying and reassuring the delusion is, it is far better to grasp the universe as it really is.” – Carl Sagan.

Human Nature: Specific Types of Bias

There are several bugs in our cognitive system – confirmation bias, anchoring, framing, lack of self control, motivated reasoning, false memories, absent mindedness, an ambiguous and inefficient linguistic system, vulnerability to mental disorders, etc. Also, complexity of decision and irrationality are positively correlated.

Generalizations and Gullibility
Gullibility: When young, humans tend to adhere to authority due to our dependence. Later, in adolescence, our desire for independence struggles with our inexperience of it, thus many of us rebel in strange ways.
Generalizations: Humans evolved the most during the Paleolithic period, the period spanning 99% of prehistoric man’s timeline. The Paleolithic man lived in small sample sizes (tribes) with simpler lives, thus, we place significance on little coincidences. We tend to create patterns/generalizations in our heads prematurely, using single statistics to draw big conclusions. For example, one friend has trouble with his Volvo and all Volvos are off the buy list. We tend to also think in black and white (absolutes), when few things are.
The evolutionary reasons for these are simple: gullibility, black-and-white thinking, and generalizations are good traits for children to listen to parents and to learn quickly. However, they cause great hurdles for our higher-level thinking: thinking objectively, complex thinking, and when we wish to see the world as it is (with a lot of gray areas and exceptions). Additionally, believing something is true (ie an animal is dangerous), does not hurt us, but believing it is false, hurts us. So society tends to have more superstitions than belief-denials that would get us killed. On a similar note, a problem with statistical assessments is that we often look at what is possible, not what is probable. This is good for evolution of technology, however, again, causes small hurdles in everyday rationality. We must remember that correlation does not mean causation and that sample sizes are better with larger numbers.

Confirmation Bias
When evidence arrives that might prove we are wrong, we use motivated thinking to criticize it and may even try to avoid it. We only seek out evidence that confirms our conclusions, convincing ourselves we are right (flawed rationalizations can always be made). Perhaps this was developed to help motivate us to make decisions, or perhaps to fuel ego (ie to stay feeling correct, to gain confidence in ourselves to attract the opposite sex). Ironically, the only way to substantiate a belief is the opposite, to try to disprove it with evidence, which we always should be doing with our beliefs/opinions. Sunken cost error is similar in that, when resources (efforts such as time or money) have been sacrificed in making or assessing a decision, people will continue with their decision in spite of there being no further gains, and might even believe it to be more sensible.

Thinking Superficially (Short-Sightedness)
Most problems in the world are created by short-sightedness. We tend to only think of the short-term, obvious, more self-focused impact. Short-sightedness has a positive side, though, such as instances when being rational is not smart: stopping oneself from laughing at a silly joke and spoiling the fun, forsaking happiness.

Our Own Needs

– Human Needs and Solutions
We cannot help others until we help ourselves. Different people feel different needs – Happiness/love with yourself, Support system – Friendship/Family/Relationships/Romantic, Health, Employment, Creativity