Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Our Stone-Age Brains Do Not Help Us Survive Future Death Threats Such as Healthcare Disfunction, Global Warming, and Over Population

I grew up at a time after World War II where Americans had been subjected to the constant hate monger racist and fascistic Father Coughlin with the considerable help of government propaganda against over 100,000 Japanese-Americans who developed the feeling the hatred where we could see it almost without words, but just a look.

Black Americans who grew up under de-facto segregation in both the South and North also experienced severe racial discrimination and they can feel it instantaneously too in a way Europeans do not understand.

Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink shows how the art experts' knowledge gained through experience allows them to see a fake instantaneously before they think about it. Apparently President Obama does not feel racism, or else he is hiding it quite well. Jimmy Carter has felt it and I felt it when I traveled through the South, especially in South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas.

NY Times Nicholas Kristof attributes our problem of not being able to react to future events such as the worsening effects of Global Warming such as floods and famines because they will happen in the future because of our Stone-Age Brains. But even in our more modern world as we have seen drastic changes in the population of short beak and long beak birds on the Galapagos, the environment survival requirements changes these populations quite quickly because the type of bird who cannot feed dies off and those who can survive. I suspect similar situations exists for we humans in times of brutal wars and sparse food and shelter.

Native Americans survived very harsh times due to a lack of food so those who survived could live on sparse food and fight well. But the Europeans with modern weapons and deliberate or not spread of small pox easily subdued these fierce warriors.

A similar situation of survival occurred in the lowlands of Scotland and Northern Ireland many of whose immigrants migrated to the Appalachia Mountains and Southern USA and then spread out to other parts of the country and now make up a substantial part of the Confederate and Republican Party. A combination of ferocity and paranoid behaviors combined with religious fervor makes them a difficult opponent to overcome with logic.

(Only about 50 percent of college students can think abstractly. So why do we spend so much time and effort explaining concepts instead of a more concrete manner. I found that even graduate students have this problem. We are the most religious country in the World and far more religious than other industrial states including Italy. Even forty percent of our Academy of Sciences members go to church regularly. It seems obvious that we need to train pastors and priests to communicate to their flocks. We are the most fearful peoples in the world! Jim)

Of course we also have the hurdle that the wealth and power are quite skilled at taking advantage of them to increase their wealth. Money Equals Power as we have seen in the August disruption of Democrats trying to explain the healthcare bill by interested heathcare insurance companies

The many billionaire funded Republican Think Tanks make up the sound-bites Republican politicians use to appeal to the emotions of their supporters. The Democrats must stop trying to be so logical and appeal to the emotional factors that drive Democrats and Independents and ignore what the Republican politicians can contribute. They don't care about what happens to other Americans.

I talk often with working Americans who are intelligent, but enormously ignorant due to a concerted effort by those with Wealth & Power. If given factual information in an easily understandable manner with all of the truth which politicians such as President Obama who is more honest than most, still cannot tell the whole truth. Telling some of the truth is not the whole truth. Sure insuring another 50 million people is going to cost more, but Obama has done a very poor job in explaining how he plans to cut costs without compromising treatment and outcomes. He needs to spend a whole talk explaining this to Americans in simple language.

Jim Kawakami, Sept 16, 2009,

Our Stone-Age Brains Do Not Help Us Survive Future Death Threats Such as Healthcare Disfunction, Global Warming, and Over Population: NY Times Nicholas Kristof July 02, 2009

Evidence is accumulating that the human brain systematically misjudges certain kinds of risks. In effect, evolution has programmed us to be alert for snakes and enemies with clubs, but we aren’t well prepared to respond to dangers that require forethought.

If you come across a garter snake, nearly all of your brain will light up with activity as you process the “threat.” Yet if somebody tells you that carbon emissions will eventually destroy Earth as we know it, only the small part of the brain that focuses on the future — a portion of the prefrontal cortex — will glimmer.

“We humans do strange things, perhaps because vestiges of our ancient brain still guide us in the modern world,” notes Paul Slovic, a psychology professor at the University of Oregon and author of a book on how our minds assess risks.

Consider America’s political response to these two recent challenges:

1. President Obama proposes moving some inmates from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to supermax prisons from which no one has ever escaped. This is the “enemy with club” threat that we have evolved to be alert to, so Democrats and Republicans alike erupt in outrage and kill the plan.

2. The climate warms, ice sheets melt and seas rise. The House scrounges a narrow majority to pass a feeble cap-and-trade system, but Senate passage is uncertain. The issue is complex, full of trade-offs and more cerebral than visceral — and so it doesn’t activate our warning systems. (The Atlantic coast has already seen a measurable increase in average water levels. I recall it is about an inch plus. As we have seen the land ice in Greenland seems to be going into the ocean at a faster and faster rate, well beyond predictions. If all the Greenland Ice melts our coastal cities will be underwater. A German ship is planning to go to Asia via the Arctic Ocean very soon. A first. Jim)

“What’s important is the threats that were dominant in our evolutionary history,” notes Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard University. In contrast, he says, the kinds of dangers that are most serious today — such as climate change — sneak in under the brain’s radar.

Professor Gilbert argues that the threats that get our attention tend to have four features. First, they are personalized and intentional. The human brain is highly evolved for social behavior (“that’s why we see faces in clouds, not clouds in faces,” says Mr. Gilbert), and, like gazelles, we are instinctively and obsessively on the lookout for predators and enemies.

Second, we respond to threats that we deem disgusting or immoral — characteristics more associated with sex, betrayal or spoiled food than with atmospheric chemistry.

“That’s why people are incensed about flag burning, or about what kind of sex people have in private, even though that doesn’t really affect the rest of us,” Professor Gilbert said. “Yet where we have a real threat to our well-being, like global warming, it doesn’t ring alarm bells.”

Third, threats get our attention when they are imminent, while our brain circuitry is often cavalier about the future. That’s why we are so bad at saving for retirement. Economists tear their hair out at a puzzlingly irrational behavior called hyperbolic discounting: people’s preference for money now rather than much larger payments later.

For example, in studies, most Americans prefer $50 now to $100 in six months, even though that represents a 100 percent return.

Fourth, we’re far more sensitive to changes that are instantaneous than those that are gradual. We yawn at a slow melting of the glaciers, while if they shrank overnight we might take to the streets.

In short, we’re brilliantly programmed to act on the risks that confronted us in the Pleistocene Age. We’re less adept with 21st-century challenges. ...

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