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The Meaning of Human Existence – part 2

October 19, 2017 by

Humans are unique because we have built social groups that have made us the dominant species on Earth. As I explained in a former blog, based on the book ‘The Meaning of Human Existence’ by Edmund O. Wilson, it is in our genes to work together in groups in order to achieve results, be it to hunt down a mammoth or execute a strategy. To enable us to do that, we have to engage into relationships with other people. Professor Wilson: “Humans are exceptional in their intense, even obsessive interest in other people. All normal humans are geniuses at reading the intentions of others, whereby they evaluate, proselytize, bond, cooperate, gossip, and control. Concentrating on others is how groups survive.” Therefore we gossip, worship celebrities and CEOs, and read biographies and novels.

We belong to the rare species that communicate through body language, emotions, and language. More than 99% of all species communicate through chemicals, but “we are chemosensory idiots. (…) The range of human perception is very narrow. Our sight, hearing, and other senses impart the feeling that we are aware of almost everything around us in both space and time, but these are only minute slivers of space-time, and even less of the energy fields in which we exist. (…) In each instant of present time, a flood of real-world information flows into our senses. Added to the severe limitation of the senses is the fact that the information they receive far exceeds what the brain can process.”

We tell ourselves and others stories to compensate for the poverty in our senses. We are meaning-making organisms. We look back to what happened to us in the past and we look forward to what might happen in the future; we make constructions in our minds based on that. “We summon the stories of past events for context and meaning. We compare them with the unfolding past to apply the decisions that were made back in time, variously right or wrong. Then we look forward to create multiple competing scenarios. These are weighed against one another by the suppressing or intensifying effect imposed by aroused emotional centers. A choice is made in the unconscious centers of the brain, several seconds before the decision arrives in the conscious part. It is a constant review of stories experienced in the past and competing stories invented for the future. Abstractions and metaphors are used as higher generic units that increase the speed and effectiveness of the conscious process.”

Professor Wilson says that we make most of our decisions unconsciously. We tell stories to explain our decisions afterwards, to ourselves and to others. Leaders differ from others in that they are excellent storytellers. They engage you with their stories and that is why you want to follow them. But their decisions are also made unconsciously, based on emotions and given our narrow perception. Hopefully they are just a little less imperfect than most of us.