Ch1 L48: Summary (Part 1)

  1. Death was the beginning of our journey [1]. As living organisms, we’ve evolved to fight it more skillfully which led to the development of intelligence. From the very simple stimulus-response system, we’ve moved towards complex analyses, evaluating many variables to come up with different decisions to choose from.
  1. Based on Minergy [2], the brain and body evolved to minimize the use of energy; thus, first of all, we avoid doing unjustified things, secondly, we develop habits to get things done quickly and less effortfully. Keep in mind that speed was the main factor for our survival [3].
  2. Then emotions were added to our system. In my opinion, they have two main functions: to regulate the amount of energy to deal with a particular problem and to learn from the experience. For example, reacting to a tiger would require more energy than to a cockroach, that’s why facing a tiger would be more terrifying and we hardly forget it if we survive.
  1. We used this graph is several posts to show our brain’s reaction to fear [4] or stress. If the stress is minimal, we even won’t notice it, that’s why either we won’t react to the problem, or we’ll make mistakes which will lower the performance [5]. You can remember very simple tasks or easy exams which you screwed up because you thought you could easily handle them. The stress needs to pass a threshold, so we’ll pay more attention and be more engaged. When we talk about stress management, we need to bear in mind that stress isn’t necessarily wrong whatever we’ve been equipped has evolved to help us survive; the problem with stress (and especially in the modern context) is too much stress makes us panic which lowers the performance.
  2. Again, there’s a biological reason behind this system that formed in a very long period which even dwarves the 70000 years of cognitive revolution [6]. Imagine that you’re running away from a tiger 200000 years ago. The high amount of stress hormones would tell your brain that you’d need all your energy to go through your muscles to run as fast as possible. So, two highly energy consuming organs should be paused temporarily: the digestive system and the brain. The main problems with this old mechanism are, first of all, running away from the tiger would take 10 minutes more or less but now we can spend long hours or days stressed out which can cause stomach ulcers [7]; secondly, in the modern era in which the problems have become more mental and intellectual, shutting down the brain in an intense situation (like an exam or, dating, or very important business meeting) can cause wrong responses which we’ll regret later.
  3. We can see that our body is unwilling to get things done unless it’s alarmed. Fear is the alarm of the body, telling the brain that it’s time to distribute energy to solve a problem. As we discussed in the 4th post, I called the flow of energy in our body anger, disregarding its negative connotation and use to describe aggression [8]. Then your brain will work on the problem till the stress hormones subside or the alarm would turn off. If you live in a stressful environment, then you’ll be more prone to induce a higher level of fear dealing with simple problems which can be reflected as OCD or perfectionism. If someone washes their hand 50 times and they still find it dirty, it means that the fear is still activated.
    1. To solve a problem we have two main solutions: fight or flight. How do you decide to go for either? Your confidence [9] which is the evaluation of your energy, skill and the difficulty or dangerousness of the problem will tell you that if you’re stronger than the problem, fight it; otherwise, run away from it. We need to know that historically, with the advent of sedentism, the flight response was thrown out of the window. To our hunter-gatherer ancestors, the flight was the main response. Whenever they couldn’t find food or they experienced a natural disaster, they migrated to a new land. Compare it with us who are expected to fight to the death to protect their land. That’s why we have socially learned and been encouraged to fight and evading problems have been shamed, calling it cowardice. So, we normally have fight-freeze reactions. Because if you can neither fight a tiger nor run away from it, you should fake death to survive.
    2. Besides, confidence is a tricky concept that requires self-awareness. Imagine that you saw a cafe and craved a cup of coffee. Then you thought that you had $10 in your pocket so you could easily treat yourself to a cup of coffee. After ordering the coffee, you’d dig your pocket for the $10 banknote and you remembered that it was in the pocket of another pair of pants. This is a simplified example of the dangers or lack of self-awareness. Self-awareness can be highly affected by others’ comments up to the point that I can say how you define yourself is almost how others (mainly your parents) have defined you to yourself.
    3. Freeze is the flight reaction in the panic state in which our brain shuts down the rational process and uses the default or rather an instinctive reaction. So, if your ancestors have been most aggressive, you’ll show aggression or fight; otherwise, submission or freeze.
    4. We also talked about happy hormones [10], because some of us might think that fear or stress isn’t the main reason to get things done. We engage in an activity to enjoy. First of all, I should say that first of all, there is nothing wrong with fear of being in charge of all our decisions if we don’t relate it to timidity. Secondly, happy hormones inhibit the fear or stress terminals in the brain. That’s why when accomplish doing something, we feel happy because we can’t hear the alarm any longer.

    Footnotes:

    [1] Link to the first post

    [2] Again in the first post, I introduced the word minergy to describe our tendency to spend minimum energy to get things done. Link

    [3] We started the brief study of habits from the 5th post. Link

    [4] Fear has been discussed in many posts, starting from the third one. Link

    [5] Take your phone alarm as an example. If its volume is very low, it won’t irritate you enough to wake you up. On the other hand, if it’s so loud, you might drop the phone and break it, or you might fall off the bed and so on.

    [6] Yuval Noah Harari [Link] has stated this estimation in his must-read book “Sapiens: a brief history of humankind” [Link]

    [7] I brought up this example before and I took it from another eye-opening book “Why zebras don’t get ulcers” [Link] by Robert M. Sapolsky [Link]

    [8] Link to the 4th post.

    [9] We discussed confidence in the 3rd post. Link

    [10] We studied the effect of happy hormones in the 6th post. Link

    Links to the pictures in the post:

    Link

    Link

    Link

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