By Ajit Varki: Did Human Reality Denial Breach the Evolutionary Psychological Barrier of Mortality Salience?

Here is the latest talk by Dr. Ajit Varki on his MORT theory given April 18, 2018 at a conference on The Evolutionary Perspectives on Death held at Oakland University.

This talk repeats some content presented in previous talks, but also adds some important new ideas. There is evidence here that Varki, despite a large important unrelated day job, is still thinking about and developing his theory. That’s great news because, as I’ve said many times, MORT is the most important new idea since Darwin.

This slide depicts the emergence of the unique behaviorally modern human mind.

Mind Over Reality Transition (MORT)


This slide shows that most behaviors unique to humans no longer exist (grayed out) if you remove the adaptations for an extended theory of mind and reality denial.

Unique Human Cognittive Features


This slide explains the implications of the Mind Over Reality Transition theory.

Mind Over Reality Transition (MORT) Implications

Varki introduces a new idea that incomplete suppression of mortality salience may explain the need for Terror Management.  I wonder if Varki might be trying to get Sheldon Solomon, who has to date been juveniley dismissive of MORT, on board?

Mortality Salience Incomplete Supression

I found this slide on ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny interesting because I’m reading Michael Pollan’s new book on psychedelics in which the human brain’s Default Mode Network is explained to be the seat of self and theory of mind, and which is suppressed by psychedelic drugs thus re-creating what may be the tripping mind of a baby. I wonder if our adaptations for an extended theory of mind and reality denial somehow affected or created the Default Mode Network? I’m hoping a neuroscience expert will weigh in here.

Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny


This new idea from Varki on sex differences resulting from MORT is, I suspect, important, but I need to digest it more before commenting.

MORT Gender Phenotype


At the 23 minute mark Varki addresses climate change with a quote from his co-author Danny Brower which is a very nice summary of why I created this blog. If we do not acknowledge and manage our tendency to deny reality we are doomed as a species.

Brower on Denial of Climate Change

Aside 1: The video at 15:15 that Varki took on traffic from the window of his hotel room in India is hilarious.

Aside 2: The Q&A begins at 25:00 and I observe that, as with previous talks, no one in the audience seems to get the profundity of his theory.

Aside 3: I observe that the most important new idea in science, and the idea whose broad awareness may offer the only hope for our species, has 12 views on YouTube. Apparently, the only topic more unpleasant than human overshoot is our genetic tendency to deny unpleasant realities.




6 thoughts on “By Ajit Varki: Did Human Reality Denial Breach the Evolutionary Psychological Barrier of Mortality Salience?”

  1. I think the reason why it’s hard for people to get it is as he keeps pointing out……we are seeing the mind as it is today and not as it was over the huge time it has been evolving. The development of ToM couldn’t have happened ‘overnight’ and neither could reality denial. It’s more a basic lack of being able to ‘see’ the course of evolution over immensities of time that trips people up. Before you can understand Varki’s theories, you’ve got to have a basic understanding of evolution by natural selection and most people don’t have it. The most interesting question of all is still Danny’s original question….why don’t we see ToM in other intelligent animals. Given enough time and the right circumstances, I think it will happen. The proper answer to Danny’s question is probably…”because there hasn’t yet been enough time.”

    Oh, and loved the traffic video!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You might be right but I think MORT hypothesizes that the adaptations for an extended theory of mind and reality denial occured very quickly about 100,000 years ago. This is consistent with the fact that behaviorally modern humans exploded on the scene and took over the planet in a very short period. I can visualize how this speed might have happened for reality denial since all that was required was a tweak to the fear suppression module that all mammals have. Given that small genetic changes can produce a wide range of mental disorders it’s not hard to visualize that the transition from having a theory of mind to an extended theory of mind could also have occured very quickly. Varki thinks it happened in a few individuals that then bred to create the small tribe that we all descended from.


  2. Rob, the video views are up to 57 – there’s still hope.

    I think less people are in denial than is commonly assumed and just remaining silent to protect their social standing and jobs.

    As see at Reddit r/collapse

    “My teenage son says it’s called “Generation Z” because there won’t be another one.

    submitted 7 hours ago by edsuom

    23 comments sharesavehidereport

    Nothing like a little gallows humor from a member of the generation being left with a dying planet, depleted resources, population overshoot, and out-of-control debt.”

    I don’t see how it matters since the behaviour is fixed and is only ever tweaked through culture or circumstance in one direction or another. Neither way makes a difference in the big picture. Fixed is fixed.


    1. Many agree with you that there is nothing that can be done about denial and other destructive genetic behaviors. I disagree. Some people have a genetic tendency to abuse alcohol. We understand this and prohibit them from being pilots. Why can’t we do the same with denial and leadership positions?


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