29 Dec

Who gave You Your Morals?

Fairness

In the last post, we saw SCARF model proposed by David Rock, identifying five strong human motivations (Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness & Fairness).  The last post also discussed Status.  In this post, we will discuss the Fairness, or morality.

The most important paradigm shift on morality is this:

Fairness and other morals are hard coded in our genes!

The conventional belief is that the moralities have been given to us by religions.  But the more we understand how humans and other animals work, the more it becomes clear that

Religions have simply documented the moral values that we have inherited through our genes.

Unfortunately, religions have done a poor job of documenting morality.  Given that most of the religious teachings are hundreds or thousands of years old, they suffer from two disadvantages:

  1. The clarity of thought applied (while documenting the moral values) in the distant is substantially poor when compared with today’s rigorous standards
  2. The power of today’s science and mathematics to segregate the nuts and bolts of morality was not available in the past.  For the ancient thinkers, morality was too large to grasp, too dynamic to pin down and contained too many black boxes to make sense of.

Here is a wonderful TED video that shows morals are hard coded in the genes: Do Animals have Morals? (17 min).  The capuchin monkeys shown at 13 minute mark in the video have a brain that weighs about just 3.5% of a human brain!  Still, they clearly understand what is fair.  Understanding of fairness has been observed even in small fishes with pinhead sized brain, or in insects with no central nervous system.  If we know how to look, morality is seen in every animal.

Here is why the genetic origin of morality shouldn’t be surprising:

Proteins come together to form genes.  Genes, to chromosomes.  Chromosomes to organs to an organism.  Individual organisms come together to form a society/colony.

Each of these collectives has their own set of rules that must be preserved across time and generations.  Else, the process of formation of collectives stop from happening.

Chemical and physical rules govern the coagulation of organs into an organism (or upstream).  Morality is the rules that govern as to how individual organisms come together to form a colony/society.

Without morality, we will have no societies.  Because, morality is the fabric that holds us all together into a society.  The fabric of the society.

This idea has a few very interesting implications:

  • Since we don’t find many humans wanting to live in isolation for extended period of time, we can speculate that our ancestors who didn’t crave for fairness perished.  For today’s humans, fairness is a basic necessity.  Perceived lack of fairness and morality in other people can make us do funny things.
  • Since fairness is built into our genes, we should expect the world to become a more just place to live with time.
  • Morality is a component of the society.  Moral values usually give more importance to the society, than the benefit of an individual.
  • All agents of morality (including the religions) will mostly put the benefit of the society above the benefit of an individual.
  • We don’t need the religious teachings to tell us what is right and what is not.
  • Because of the poor standards of thinking of understanding involved in the religious teachings, we will be much better off if we replace the religious teachings with scientific understanding of moral values.
25 Dec

Seek Status. Be Happy.

Seek Status

If you are a corporate type, I am sure they have already bored you to death with Abraham Maslow’s human need pyramid.  Maslow proposed that human beings start addressing their needs from the bottom most layer.  Typically, after the bottom layer is addressed, they move to the layer above.  How-much-ever popular Maslow’s pyramid is, I can never figure out what self-actualization is!

Maslow's Pyramid

Fortunately, there is a delightfully alternative human-drive model that works for me.  Proposed by David Rock, the SCARF Model identifies five human needs that have huge impact on our decisions.  And it is not as if one of them is more important than the other.

SCARF Model

Maslow and all other teachers before him (including the religious teachers) completely missed the human hunger for status.  Almost every religion, without an exception, preach that status seeking is evil or trivial thing.  People readily die in order to retain their status.  In fact, almost every one is spending their whole life pursuing status.

With the help of modern science, animal studies and hard data, we now clearly know that having high status adds a few years to one’s life.  Not only that, we now know that the people/animals with lower status suffer much higher levels of stress and anxiety, making even their shorter life much less pleasant.

Status seeking is a selfish act, done to benefit the self and near-self.  Selfishness in itself is not a bad thing till such time it affects others in an unfair manner.  Unfortunately, status seeking is a win-lose game; for one person to win, other(s) must lose.  An individual’s status seeking threatens the status of (few) others in the group.  Sometimes, the entire group is threatened by an individual’s status seeking.  Groups almost always hate status seekers.

Religions are a product of group selection.  They almost always put the benefit of the group above that of the individual.  Religions always belittle an individual’s self-centered reward seeking behavior.  Ironically, religions smuggle an individual’s reward-seeking mechanism to serve the group.  If we look at it from this point of view, a religion is a parasite on its member, though a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship with the host might exist.

Interestingly, status seeking is driven by sexual selection.  Status seeking is usually an expression of the mate selection drive.  An individual’s status seeking drives roughly correlates with the level of androgens and other gonadal hormones in their body.  People are most status seeking in their sexual prime.  Kids and elderly, with their low gonadal hormone levels, more readily cooperate.  Men, with their higher androgen levels, are much more competitive than women.

Summary:

  1. Seek, and win, Status; it is good for your health and well being
  2. Your status-run will threaten your peers
  3. Institutions put their selfish motive above your individual welfare when they teach you not to seek status
  4. As you grow old, your status-seeking drive might diminish.  And, you might think that the status seekers are all foolish.

We’ll look at “Fairness” in the next post.

22 Dec

Anoxia of a Negative Thought

Happiness

We’ve heard people claiming that we use only 20% of our brain (or is it 10%).  It’s wrong!  We know beyond doubt that the brain is a finite resource and the demand placed on it often surpasses the resources available.

When the brain is assigned more than one task, they compete inside the brain for resources and the energy hungry tasks usually are sacrificed.  Of course, unless it is more critical or more rewarding (in which case, other tasks are sacrificed).

The neocortex (and particularly, the Pre-Frontal Cortex) is central in high cognition (though, higher cognition occurs outside the cortex too).  It is also the most energy inefficient part of the brain.  Evolutionarily, it is the most recent part of the brain, whereas the rest of the brain has been around for millions of years more.  The rest of the brain has had time to evolve better efficiency.

Neocortex is the part of the brain where you hold a thought and process it.  It is also where we hold a negative thought and ruminate over it.  If such a thought is about something that happened in the past, we call it sadness or regret.  If the negative thought is about the future, we call it worry.

Ruminating the past doesn’t change a thing.  We all know it but we often find ourselves unable (the thought it too powerful) or unwilling (we feel guilty to let go) to extricate ourselves from this thought pattern.  The sad thing here is that none of this will ever change the past.  But the rumination will deprive our ability to be available to the people and the challenges that are right in front of us today.

But there is a very interesting perspective to worrying that is not immediately obvious.  When we are facing a future challenge, we ‘usually’ do not need more than a few seconds (if not minutes) of thinking to find the solution.  If we are unable to find a solution after a short reflection, we probably lack data/skill and we need to go out and get some.  In the former case, worrying is a meaningless sacrifice of our mental health.  In the later case, worrying stunts our ability to acquire additional resources that will help us actually solve the problem.  Either way, worrying extracts huge cost from us.  Almost always, it is a wasteful exercise.

Here is a simple technique to stop from dwelving in a past or future negative event:

Do something that shifts the flow of blood (i.e. energy) from the neo-cortex!  It is that simple!!

Get up and walk.  Exercise.  Dance.  All these things shift the energy flow inside your brain to the regions that have the motor control.  If you are good at it, sing a song, play a music or simply listen to a type of music that doesn’t accentuates your negative mood.  Play with kids, play with pets, go to a movie, go to some chat room, spend time with friends.  Start a movement, contribute time to a cause, join a mission, join a competition.  Meditate. Cook.  Shop.  Party.  Watch a movie.  Fall in love.  Travel.  Bunjee jump.  Wear Spandex and fight crime.

The choices are limitless.  The point is to get on to something that shifts the blood flow from the structures that ruminate or worry, to anything other structure in the brain.  All the grand strategies that are taught to stop worrying/ruminating all boil down to this simple thing.

Most of the typical anti-worry or anti-rumination methodologies work ‘on’ the negative thought.  While working on a thought, you must hold it in your mind.  The more you hold a thought in your mind, the more deeply entrenched it becomes and the more difficult it is to extinguish it.  There lies the simple elegance of the shift-blood-flow technique.  It takes just a second to implement and it doesn’t ever involve working ‘on’ the negative thought!

20 Dec

Laser Beam, Table Lamp and DLPFC

Lights

We often focus like a laser beam: Precise and with high intensity.  When we focus like a laser, anything that is not under the beam vanishes from our attention, including our  perception of time.  We are usually under flow state and we are reasonably confident about cracking the problem that we are focusing on.

When we focus like a laser, a portion of our brain called Dorsolateral Pre-Frontal Cortex becomes highly active.  DLPFC is involved in our executive functions, working memory, self control, etc.

Other than laser focus, there is a diametrically opposite powerful mental state: Illuminate like a table lamp!  The light has no specific agenda.  But it has its fingers in every pie there is.  This is the state of mind we typically acquire when we become spontaneously creative.  Examples include composing a new tune, writing a poem, flirting with someone special, etc.

Interestingly, when our mind lights up like a table lamp, the DLPFC become under-active!

DLPFC often underlies the difference between the well-organized disciplinarian and the artsy-creative types.  The former has overactive DLPFC and the later has under-active DLPFC.

Each mental state has its own advantage.  There are times where we need to focus like a laser and there are time where we need to bounce around like the photons from a table lamp.  Usually, every individual is good in one type of thinking.

But there is a ridiculously simple way to acquire each mental state:

Mimic a laser beam or a table lamp with your attention!

Don’t think.  Just visualize your light source and mimic it with your attention.  You can shift your mental state in a jiffy.  With that, your whole persona changes!

19 Dec

Escape Velocity of Life Extension

Escape Velocity of Life Extension

One of the best kept secrets of medical industry is that life extension techniques are here and now!  We have known for decades that stuff like micro-nutrients (vitamins, minerals, etc.), hormone balancing, etc. can easily give additional 10 to 20 ‘fit’ years to an ageing individuals. However, for incredibly silly reasons, these techniques are not widely known or practiced.

For example, benefits of most of the micro-nutrients have been known for several decades.  No one can take a patent on them and there is not enough money for pharmaceutical companies to promote them.  All over the world, unfortunately, most of the (not all) physicians limit their post-college education to sales presentations given to them by medical representatives.  With no medical representative to show a nutrition therapy in front of a physician, nutrition therapy has become an orphan that no one cares about.

Hormone balancing, on the other hand, has a different story.  During the later part of twentieth century, many pharmaceutical companies have sold poor mimics of human hormones, resulting in several adverse side effects.  Consequently, hormones replacement strikes terror in the minds of the lay public and under-educated physicians.  Given that hormones are used by the body as the elixir of youth and vitality, ignoring their potential benefit because we are ill-informed is really sad.

But things are changing fast.  More and more physicians are waking up to simple, yet effective, ways to dramatically increase the fitness levels of the ageing.  People in the anti-ageing industry and patients undergoing age-management therapy, routinely claim that their biological age has been reversed by 10 to 20 years.  If not more.

10 to 20 bonus fit years is no small thing.  But that’s all we can hope to gain from today’s science.  However, there is an interesting aspect: With the breakneck speed at which science is progressing, it is generally believed that before the bonus time (of 10 to 20 years) runs out, newer understanding will come along, giving us additional 10 to 20 fit years.  And…so…on.

This speed of medical breakthroughs, which will ultimately give us immortality, is loosely called the ‘escape velocity of age extension’.  Most of the people in the know believe that the escape velocity is already here.  I tend to agree with them!

Of course, they could be completely wrong.  But what if they are right?  If you were born in the 1960’s or earlier, it is time to sit up and take notice.