RANDOM THOUGHTS 3 12 2015: From an evolutionary standpoint, why do we have both sentience and the ability to ignore what being sentient tells us

I’m back again with another series of random thoughts, thoughts that are building up inside of me and I have to let them out and do something with them. Though in this case, it’s to punish anyone who reads this by putting it out there with the possibility of being read.


As I said before, it’s a narcissistic thing to do, but I seem to be genetically programmed, like many other humans, to seek validation and attention, even if the way I chose to seek it may actually reap the opposite result.


Plus there are some thoughts that can’t be reduced to 140 characters no matter how hard I try (as Mark Twain said, more or less, I was going to write you a short letter rather than a long one, but I didn’t have time).


And again these are going to be random. I’m not going to bother editing them much, if at all, so if you are going to grouse at typos, misspellings and grammatical errors, I don’t want to hear it. But from this perspective, this is a sort of exercise, to let me thoughts fall where they may without thinking (yes, I know, irony) and see what happens.


This entry grows out of a conversation I was having with a friend over coffee (maybe it’s why I often have trouble getting people to sit down and have coffee with me). We began discussing (or I instituted the discussion, which I often do) the idea that as humans, what we actually spend our life doing is anything we can to make us forget, or obscure the fact, or ignore the ultimate reality that we are going to die, that life only lasts a certain amount of time and then that’s it, and that it has no inherent meaning.


I mean, it’s over, kaput, gone, we end up dead as a dodo.


But why do we do that? What do we keep doing things to create this illusion or make us forget that we are mortal?


For me, it has to be some sort of evolutionary response to our being sentient, self-aware, not just being alive, but knowing we are alive, and not just dying as all species do, but knowing and realizing and fully comprehending we are going to die. And not only that, that as humans, we search for meaning, but we can’t find meaning, and in fact, we create our own meaning (another thing we seem compelled to do in order to forget that we are going to exuent pursued by nothing one day).


If we didn’t have this evolutionary response, then we couldn’t survive as a species. After all, the most logical response to life not having meaning and knowing that we are doing to die would be to give up, do nothing, kill ourselves, not have kids, become so depressed we would quickly cease to exist as a species.


So what is this ability to create this illusion? Is it a genetic mutation that came about that helped keep the species going? So that those of our prehistoric ancestors that didn’t have this genetic mutation died out, and those that did survived?


That makes some sort of sense to me. After all, we are the only species that seems to have this sentience, this self-awareness, this knowledge that we are born, we live and then die. No other species seems to have it, so we are the only species who need this ability to forget death and a lack of inherent meaning in life. So if we are the only ones who need it, it makes sense that it would be some sort of genetic mutation that suddenly appeared around the same time we gained sentience in the evolution of our species.


But then that made me think: but why do we have sentience? Why does it exist in us in the first place? Other species don’t have it. But we do.


It just seems an odd evolutionary trait to have since it is inherently self-destructive. It is a trait that in and of itself should guarantee the dying out of a species rather than a trait that would ensure our survival. So why would we as a species develop a trait that is actually of no benefit to us when it comes to survival. After all, the vast majority of species don’t have this sentience, yet they have survived perfectly well without it; they haven’t needed it in order to survive and, in fact, if another species dies out it’s through natural disaster (an asteroid striking the earth) or our intervention.


So somehow we developed a trait not only unnecessary for survival, but also destructive to our survival, which just seems really odd to me, and something totally at odds with evolution. And it’s a trait that would have probably guaranteed the dying out of our species if we didn’t somehow also develop the ability to create an illusion that life has meaning or the ability to make ourselves forget we are going to die.


It seems to me that our species should not be around today. It makes no sense to me. Once you develop self-awareness, you should die out as a species. So why we developed such a trait is beyond me. But also beyond me is why we also happened to develop a trait to counteract the negative results of self-awareness, a trait that would insure our survival.


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