I watched a very interesting TED video yesterday – A monkey economy as irrational as ours by Laurie Santos. Laurie, along with a team of students from Yale performed a series of experiments to try understand why the human species makes the same illogical blunders over and over again. Their focus was on the financial mistakes that we’ve seen over the course of humankind’s history. She initially posits that perhaps we put too many clever systems in place and then can’t keep track of them or can’t manage them because they’re too complex for us to manage. Her other supposition is that perhaps we make these mistakes over and over again because we’re hardwired that way. They experiments she performs end up proving the latter.
I can’t help feeling a little down by this result. These problems are hardwired into our very DNA from at least 35 million years ago. Trying to change habits we develop during the course of our own lifetime are difficult enough to change; what about a habit rooted in our very essence for the last 35 million years? That’s certainly going to take more than an Alan Karr seminar or two! But deep down I feel that these shackles we’re born with are there for the singular reason of allowing us to overcome them in order to advance along the next evolutionary step. Up until now, evolution has been governed by the selfish gene – the self-preservation instinct of the individual. We see this in every interaction we have with our environment, the other members of our species and indeed other species too. What if the next step in evolution is to step beyond the preservation of self and instead rise to the preservation of the species? Understanding the system we are a part of and making the necessary changes and individual sacrifices in order to keep the species alive? That would be the first step. Understanding the complex subtle interplays involved in the world around us and balancing the survival of our species with the survival of all others around us would be the next.
Noble thoughts, but possible? I think so. Now it’s just a case of convincing the rest of you.