Two separate thoughts and a synthesis that I got from a mindfulness class this evening.


It’s really easy to come up with evolutionary explanations for facts about people and often there aren’t really obvious counter-examples, so one can easily feel like one has understood a lot of stuff by positing such explanations. Now many things about human society outrun evolution so far that coming up with these explanations doesn’t work so well. The point is not that the evolutionary explanation is just too complicated, but that evolution has nothing to say beyond writing the whole lot off as one massive side-effect of the evolution of rationality, or something like that. I don’t know enough about the theory of evolution to make this thought any more precise; I believe that there are different schools of thought on what the theory actually says and I am glossing right over these differences.


”You have to choose to be happy. It’s time to start living rather than just existing.” This is probably correct. When you’re stuck in a habit of worrying and being miserable, you need a concrete intention to change things before you will. As for the second sentence, I think it’s essentially a rallying call to make your life more aesthetically pleasing to yourself, or something.


Happiness really is the harder option: it’s not evolutionarily beneficial. Well, out there in the jungle it might be good if you’re happy sometimes, but in our modern society it’s not so clear. We set up our own version of survival—get a good grade, get a better job, get in a secure relationship—and end up striving for it above all else. Sometimes it works but often it doesn’t and in both cases we end up unhappy, but evolutionarily it makes sense. Happiness doesn’t. The distinction between existing and living becomes the distinction between following some broken evolutionary paradigm with your own version of survival, and taking control, setting and following your intentions, and concentrating on the here and now.

Edit 22/i/2013: Some clarification: the point is about choosing to appreciate something rather than noting the success and moving on to the next goal. This is the thing that isn’t so great evolutionarily.


What you seem to be alluding to in the first part of this post is what’s often called “evoloutionary psychology”. AIUI it is at /best/ a fledgling field. Generally any sort of explanation for human behaviour which goes “this would have been advantageous for cavemen ergo X” is some fine bullshit indeed, as far as I can tell.

Comment by salavant Tue 29 Jan 2013 12:52:00 UTC