(Reading time for an average adult 8-10 minutes)
Today I want to share with you one truth about me. I never outright believe how people describe themselves. Not because I have any negative predisposition about their trustworthiness. On the contrary, I try always to be positive when I am meeting a new person. I want to believe that they will be proved to be a good character and I behave accordingly. The reasons are different and I will thoroughly explain below. At the same time, I don’t think that way because of egotistical reasons. Because the truth is that many times I don’t even trust my own beliefs about my emotions, my actions and the reasons behind so I have to question them. And this leaves open the possibility that I won’t come to a perfectly rational conclusion.
A modern way of thinking
In this blog I am suggesting a new way of thinking. One that of course wasn’t invented by me. Scientists like Ori and Rom Brafman in their book Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behaviour, Don Ariley in Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions or even the Philosopher Dan Dennett in his speak on TED The Illusion of Consciousness are among too many others who have explained that our personal perceptions and our “thought to be” rational judgments aren’t always accurate. Maybe the most profound scientist was Dr. Daniel Kahneman who has written the New York Times best seller Thinking, Fast and Slow and on 2002 became the first non economist to win the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on decision-making under uncertainty.
Evolution on the Brain
When in the 1960’s the biologists started taking into account more seriously the – undoubtedly best proven way to explain the world – Evolutionary Theory, they were explaining the human physical traits as results of changes over millions of years according to what was most appropriate for the corresponding environment. By the word appropriate I mean that this trait was the optimal fit for the individual to have good chances to survive enough so they can reproduce successfully and to leave healthy offspring. So the biologists studied and explained through the years why and how the specific physical characteristics of humans were adaptive enough to give the opportunity to our species to exist approximately 4 million years.
But it was only in the late 80’s when the psychologists started examining that, like the other physical parts of the body, the brain is an organ shaped through evolution and has specific tendencies that were valuable for our survival and succesful reproduction. That evolution, apart from shaping us physically, is changing us mentally, too. Many of these mental traits are designed adaptations that are always “turned on” in the subconscious level. I am sure you have seen your friends at least one time being afraid of something but fanatically claiming that they aren’t. Their subconscious mind was giving them messages that they were rejecting. Further explanation on this can be found on the hyperlink above of Thinking Fast and Slow.
After Cosmides, Tooby and Barkow published The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture there has been a vast amount of research in the field of evolutionary psychology. These psychologists explained concepts about the human nature that had been unanswered for plenty of decades. Up to that time there was a belief that our brains had evolved in that size for survivalist reasons. That the brain was growing bigger and humans could invent more efficient tools, weapons, ways of hunting etc. However, many of the findings didn’t fit. For example, the increase of the size of the brain wasn’t analogous at all with the invention of modern tools. Instead it was analogous to the increase of the average size of the tribe and thus more complicated social relationships.
The Brain as a sociosexual ornament and the Mating Mind
And there was a profound theory of one of the most influential psychologists around, Dr. Geoffrey Miller. Miller’s theory of the Mating Mind presented in his book The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature was describing the brain as a sociosexual ornament and NOT a survivalist one. An organ that has specifically evolved to automatically advertise traits that will make us attractive to mates and other people in general. A mechanism that tries to prove our quality to stand out in the social environment and be selected by high quality(healthy, fertile and resourceful for men) mates so that we achieve succesful reproduction. Even though art isn’t helpful for a survivalist standpoint (good singing abilities cannot save anyone in a jungle environment), great art performances are admired and a lot of great artists are considered attractive. You know that… This happens because the excellent artistic skills advertise an individual’s genetic quality. Think, as well, of creativity and sense of humor that are considered among the most sexy characteristics.
Subconscious designed adaptations
Science every day is proving how significant is the influence of our nature-our genes in the formation of our characters. Simply because Evolution couldn’t just select genes with traits of fully independent behavior of organisms. Of behaviors that weren’t taking into account the physical laws. On the contrary Evolution selects only effective traits through thousands of years deeply featured in the organisms. This is proved by the laws that govern evolution itself. Because else in the long-term through thousands of years the ones that weren’t taking into account the fundamentals of their environment would have been eliminated by the ones who were. It’s all about adaptation, and failing to be aware of the environment can be fatal…
This predictability may sound creepy but truth is that day by day more patterns in human behaviors are being found. Human logic is a double-edged sword. Even though it gives us the potential to understand more patterns around us and explain the world better than any other organism, on the other hand it gives us the delusion of confidence about our understanding. Once again I will refer to Kahneman who explained that the fact that we feel confident about sth is not always a result of enough proofs about it. Instead it comes from the quality of the story we have created in our minds. For example, there exist hundreds of cognitive biases that shift our judgments although we feel certain that we know what we are doing. This doesn’t have to do with logic and is beyond our consciousness many times. It’s the natural needs that contradict with our theoritical values. Marketers especially the last few years have been thoroughly studying these principles for obvious reasons…
Our brains automatically try to make us attractive
One of the functions of the brain is to advertise that we have great social and sexual skills in order to form alliances with people of the highest value possible and attract mates of the highest quality possible. Don’t tell me that you don’t automatically start feeling differently when you are among other people compared to when you are alone. The reason is that the brain changes mode and tries to impress even though sometimes you may not even think about that. Of course this happens in a low-level with people who you are close because you deeply feel comfortable so you don’t need to prove anything because they know you well. So a silly answer in a discussion is not so crucial compared to how it would feel among an unkown company.
Brain’s consistency with the environment
The brain has also another function. It needs consistency with the environment. So when there is a real need to advertise a good trait we actually start believing that we possess it. In one sense it’s the brain’s way to be effective in persuading others in what you want to advertise. On another sense it’s a brain’s mechanism to become used to ideas that is constantly presented. It’s plastic. So I see many women advertising that they love the animals. You know, altruism is a well-known sexy trait in biology. Well, if they really loved animals they wouldn’t be taking selfies in the zoos or maybe there are so many that I really wonder how come and all the animals on earth don’t live like princes and princesses. Another example is billions of men advertising peacefulness and agreeableness. That’s why the world is so peaceful. In all levels, from a family till whole nations.
And this behavior of the brain to remain consistent with the environment is another double-edged sword. I have recognised 2 tendencies among people when they believe that they are something higher than what they are. In the minority of situations people try to act according to that belief. They have an inner need to constantly pressurize themselves to display congruence with that higher belief. So this works in favor of them because they will actually, after some time, become that. This is why our beliefs are important. But in the majority of the cases people just remain in the belief. Their brain rationalizes every behavior incongruent with that belief about themselves and they remain in a peaceful comfort zone proudly demonstrating their high value characteristics without even realizing that they have been deceived.
They have been deceived by a brain that automatically works in a way to advertise traits of biological fitness even though it may not even be actual. When we display the latter tendency we usually put forth a lot of words to describe these traits. We constantly qualify ourselves even at a single suspicion of contradiction by others.
When we don’t observe
What has to be mentioned is that these mechanisms work in the subconscious level. When we behave like that, most of the times we don’t realize it. You don’t need to try to visualize this because you can’t, it doesn’t have a shape. Think of when a person suddenly appears in front of you in a random place and greets you. All this time that he was approaching you just doesn’t exist in your senses, it’s empty, you can’t somehow think that the experience existed and you deleted it. Unless you had seen him but you played you didn’t 😉 I know how many times it happens!
The above mean that a person that is incongruent in their description about their selves and their behavior doesn’t simply think :”OK, I am not these but I will try to deceive the others that I am”. Many times they actually believe their description and haven’t recognized the deceit towards themselves. This is why in a very deep level humans show great respect to congruent people.
Ethics and mental Deception
All this takes once again the discussion to ethics. Most people who belong to any given society eventually want to show to others that they are ethical. However, our natural needs seem to not always be the same with what we consider correct. Examples in the western society are fidelity among couples, peacefulness and common good among others. However, sometimes our natural drives, as I explained before, are so urgent that overcome our logic. Evolution has been shaping us with certain traits for millions of years. So, what commonly happens when we don’t behave according to our ethics is to find a good excuse or otherwise delete the event. It was alcohol, it was accidental, it was uncommon or maybe it was the zodiac circle and the bad eye. And we find it perfectly rational, we have built a quality story…
What I mostly want to say is that this behavior that all of us display in different levels should not be treated with hostility but with compassion. It’s a part of our nature and has helped our species survive in all these extremely difficult environments it has existed. It’s here for a reason and by results has been proven effective as far as we use it the correct way.
How you can fight the mental deceptions
And this is what we can do in this situation. It will be you that you choose if you want to be a product in a shiny facade that may impress customers but then leave them with a remorse about your substance. Or if you want to make your customers happy that they received the utility they were first expecting when they purchased you. And then of course come back to you because you have been proven trustworthy. You have sculpted and used the potential of such a superefficient ornament as the brain.
Big respect deserves great preparations, though. If you want to be a person with great ideas and characteristics that are not only displayed but are actual, you need to first of all realise that you need the appropriate attitude. If you don’t fully feel like accepting fallacies that you have (like all people), just accept that you shouldn’t be expecting any results and do something else, go for a coffee in the sun now that is summer.
Then you should understand the fundamentals of human psychology that humanity has discovered up to now. I am talking mostly about the proven findings and not so much about the random guessworks that too many of them exist around. You don’t need to be an expert but a basic understanding of the biases and the mechanisms of the brain is essential. Because they will give you a map that shows towards which direction you should be looking. Else, you will be subconsciously building effective rationalization mechanisms where the fundamentals are the ones that make you comfortable and are extremely easy changeable. In other words try to learn how the brain behaves independently of what you want to prove to yourselves.
I see people every day discussing their important psychological issues in a way that violate almost any possible law of the universe and without even suspecting that this is happening. There exist so many misunderstandings that it’s a pity for the century that we live and the scientific findings that have been achieved.
The practical things you can do is gather information about yourself through the following:
- Journaling. Write down in a personal document as freely as possible your thoughts. You should teach yourselves to write everything that comes to your mind. When you finish read it. If you think has important stuff come back another day, too, you will see it with a different eye.
- Other’s criticism. Take into account what others are saying about you and your beliefs
In the process of gathering information from the above evaluate it with the following way:
Compare the needs that you have learnt through studying that you have as a human being with what reasoning you use for your ideas. Is there hidden anger because someone didn’t accept your leadership but your reasoning for this is something totally insignificant? Is there hidden jealousy because a friend is with a girl you like? Is there hidden contempt because someone is doing something that you wish you could be doing, too? Were you really sincere when you said to your friend that you are so happy about her marriage or maybe deep inside you were jealous because your time hadn’t come yet? Are you really intelligent or you don’t put the slightest effort to improve your knowledge, critical thinking etc? Was it really alcohol?
All this is not a test neither a trial about ourselves. It’s a rational person’s way to transcend beyond their mortality and develop. It’s the appropriate way to make use of our human logic, destroy all the limitations we have been taught since birth and enjoy the benefits of a meaningful life, a life in compliance with our true selves and tendencies. In this process there isn’t everything easy, there are times of despair and regrets. But if everyone was able to manage this then it wouldn’t be distinguished and thus succesful. The succesful ones are only because they have pushed themselves hard to go beyond that kind of limitations that our nature and society are putting to us. What would be the leaders without battles to prove their leadership?