Ch1 L14: The hierarchy of meanings

  1. In the last post, we opened up the discussion about supersigns as the building blocks of meanings [1] which enable us to show intelligent reactions to our environment and are created before concepts.
  2. Example 10: A new-born baby calms down faster when it smells her mom’s scent even coming from a blanket. This simple action signifies that the scent of the mother has special meaning to the baby because it triggers a specific reaction. Furthermore, it’s aligned with what we discussed about the exclusivity of meaning: the scent of the mother is different than all other scents [2].
  3. Emotion is our body’s first step to learn [3] and it has evolved to modulate our instinctive behavior. If you didn’t know your environment, you’d have to react spending the same amount of energy on every experience; however, the emotional tags [4] tell us how much energy we need to spend on something. Obviously, we need more energy to deal with a tiger than a cockroach [5].
  4. In the first post, we discussed Minergy [6], our tendency to use minimum energy to get things done. So, emotions are evolved along the minergy to optimize and budget the body’s energy.
  5. Therefore, at the first level, the intensity of emotions indicates the importance or meaningfulness of things around us. If something causes more emotions to circulate, it will be more important to us.
  6. We should know that importance is different than desirability. Almost (?) no one wants to get cancer but it dramatically affects our life, so it’s very important. In fact, our tendency to negative events or emotions outweighs the positive. That’s what Daniel Kahneman [7] who won the Nobel Prize in Economics with his colleague Amos Tversky [8], in his famous and must-read book “Thinking fast and slow” [9], has demonstrated that most of us are risk-averse. He scientifically [10] said that the pain of losing $100 is more than the joy of winning it.


  1. The above diagram which is obtained from the book “Thinking fast and slow” shows that losing $100 has 3 units of impact (psychological value) on us whereas winning the same amount has half roughly 1.5 units of impact which is half of the negative effect.
  2. In parentheses, this diagram also shows that winning $100 if you have nothing makes you happier than winning the same amount if you have some money (if you move from $100 to $200, it means that you won $100 but, according to the graph you wouldn’t feel as happy as you made your first $100) [11].
  3. It shouldn’t surprise us that the negative effects are stronger than their equivalent yet positive ones. We discussed that survival is our first mission [12]; thus, threat must be prioritized to opportunity.
  4. The second factor which modifies the importance of things (making them more meaningful) is thinking. Let’s imagine that emotion and thinking are two different agents in our mind. How can thinking affect or control emotion?
    1. When you like something and you don’t think about it, you might not notice its changes. So, thinking checks changes while emotion wants to repeat the same strategy. For example, if you met with a paroled criminal, you might feel uncomfortable, though they might have changed and become a good human being [13]. If your level of fear were at the panic level, you wouldn’t hear any logical reasoning to change your feelings. So, we can say that emotion is blind to changes. [14]
    2. Emotion is also holistic. If you love something or someone and you’re crazy emotional, you love everything about them and vice versa. Thinking can disintegrate that and tell you that this person is a criminal but he’s also a talented musician [15].
    3. Finally, emotion doesn’t see the long-term benefit or loss. This is the most crucial part that thinking needs to deal with it. This is the most important aspect of what we can call head against heart: to sacrifice temporary benefits for the long-lasting and to be careful while jumping from the frying pan, not falling into the fire.
  5. In the next post, we’ll unpack the nature of the fight between head and heart and how minergy would affect the rational performance.

Exercise 14:

  1. How do you know when you’re stressed out? What are your reactions to it? Are they beneficial in a long run?
  2. Playing video games excessively can be considered as an instant gratification to deal with stress. Have you experienced such a thing? How did you deal with the reminders in your head that playing the video game wasn’t gonna solve your problem?


[1] Link

[2] Link

[3] In this context, learning means adapting to the environment and how to have more intelligent reactions.

[4] Link to the post about supersign in which we discussed the emotional tags.

[5] Phobia normally comes from a traumatic experiment in which the fear exceeds the panic threshold and breaks the emotional thermostat of the brain; so, the person won’t be able to show a rational reaction to the same experience (Some can be cured or mitigated over time or with the aid of therapy). So, those who show an extreme reaction to the cockroach as if it’s as dangerous as the tiger, their emotional thermostat is broken.

[6] Link to the first post.

[7] Link

[8] Link

[9] Link

[10] Scientifically obviously means that backed up by experiment and deductive analysis which is different than personal experiences or beliefs.

[11] If we look at the graphs, after a certain level, the increase of the psychological value in both ends of gain and loss slows down which can be called numbness.

[12] Again Link to the first post

[13] That’s where people might bring the notion of nature to their argument to justify their emotions.

[14] That’s why we feel more comfortable with familiarity and repeat the successful or pleasant things because challenging oneself and taking risk means the increase in level of the fear and stress which we might not be so keen to.

[15] This attitude can be the source of one of the mental biases: we defend the people whom we like and belittle the good things in those whom we don’t.


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