Sunday, February 21, 2010

the following two brief essays are comments in the comment section of the Columbian newspaper about an article on cell phone use, texting and accidents:


A modern human's lack of fear about texting while driving is a perfect example of the things that evolutionary psychology (a branch of neuroscience) is discovering about human behavior. Most of the human species is still uneasy about deep water, snakes, spiders and et cetera but has evolved no instinctive fear of more modern dangers. This is because the modern brain evolved about 40000 to 100000 years ago (when cave painting began). Left over in our brains are adaptations for (or instinctive fears of) those kinds of dangers that caused death in prehistoric times. If your brain (you) didn't have a strong fear of those dangers, your genes weren't still around. Thus with texting... those who don't fear it while driving will have more deaths and their genes will slowly (I mean real slowly) cease to exist. Those who by genetic accident or normal attrition have higher fears of texting while driving will slowly become more numerous. After millions of years that fear will be strong and automatic enough to be called instinctive.

It takes forever for change in species to evolve. Goodness knows how many millennia it will take before we learn to fear texting. Perhaps autos will be extinct before the human species adapts for those dangers. OR more interesting yet, maybe the human species will be extinct before that adaptation becomes fully realized. People who still like to get away from the rest of us and live in mountains and rural regions probably are more afraid of urban living. Will that really be a better survival adaptation than clustering together for safety? My children are drinking bottled water. They've got a fear of tap water. I still drink tap water. Right now, our differences are purely cultural and informational differences. Millions of years later, one or the other might be instinctive... maybe....

Probably the reason some people don't or can't fear global warming is that it is just way too large for our individual alarm system to comprehend. How can I personally fear an ice cap melting at the poles? Picture information makes it more real than my ancestors two-hundred years ago could realize it. I don't fear global warming myself (not like I feared death by atom bomb when I was young), but I think the possibility that we are contributing to it is probably real, so the current cash crop of humans owes it to the next generation to mitigate the situation. Besides, it's a win win situation if we can avoid future wars over natural resources. But those dangers are way too far in the future for less highly evolved brains to see.


Maybe another study will cast doubt on the first study, but for right now, all we've got is the statistics to prove the danger of cell phone use while driving. It's a good thing that someone goes to the trouble of doing the studies. Without them, all we'd have are anecdotes to yell at each other and appeals to common sense. And those two items are notoriously wrong however effective. And common sense is made up of the common thoughts of each of us, so common sense on the individual basis is nothing but personal opinion.

The most interesting thoughts to me were dropbury's ruminations because he takes into account the relativity of what each of us fears or doesn't fear and how far an individual might go to protect himself from accident. All life's decisions result from chemical imbalances in the brain between fear and pleasure and which way they tilt the human animal from moment to moment. The most cautious of us will, by a statistically slim number, be better survivors that those with minimal psychological alarm mechanisms. Evolution will be the final arbiter of winners and losers.

Sadly, young people are more prone to accidental death than older human primates, and the more adventurous (ie testosterone laced) the youth is, the more likely (by a small statistical amount) he is to risk death and to die in accidents. Cell phone use isn't going to go away. Change is inevitable. We can only hope careless cell phone users will kill only themselves and NOT ME!

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