Theory (short)

Denial is the Beginning of the End


For explaining why humans are odd
To Varki and Brower we applaud
A great mystery they solved
With denial we evolved
And created the Higgs, overshoot, and God


This is my short version of Ajit Varki and Danny Brower‘s theory on Mind Over Reality. A longer more complete version by the authors is here and here. I also wrote a more thorough explanation here.

The human brain is much more powerful than the brain of any other species. Why?

Most people ask “What is special about humans?”.

It’s the wrong question.

A powerful brain with an extended theory of mind is clearly a useful adaptation for an intelligent social species because it has permitted humans to take over the planet.

The correct question is “What has prevented other intelligent social species like chimpanzees, elephants, crows, and dolphins from evolving brains similar to humans?”

The answer is that an extended theory of mind, while being advantageous to a social species because it enhances cooperation through individuals being able to understand the minds of other individuals, also reduces reproductive fitness through depression and reduced risk taking that results from becoming aware of mortality from observations of daily activities like hunting and childbirth. A mutation for an extended theory of mind is therefore blocked from fixing in the gene pool.

A way to break through this mortality barrier is to have a mutation for an extended theory of mind simultaneous with a mutation for denial of reality. What were on their own two reproductive fitness disadvantages together become a powerful fitness advantage and the two mutations will fix in the gene pool.

This simultaneous combination of mutations is improbable and apparently has occurred only once on this planet.

The likely mechanism for how denial of mortality reality is implemented in the brain is to suppress the fear of injury module, which all animals have,  and which makes the mortality denial quite broad in scope which means that humans tend to deny anything they find unpleasant, and also tend to have an optimism bias.

Denial is not a defect. Denial is what made us human.

Once having broken through the mortality barrier the brain was free to evolve more power which humans used to dominate all other life.

Denial now prevents us from acknowledging and changing behavior that threatens our long-term survival and therefore denial may destroy us.

Hence this site’s tagline…

unmasking denial: creator and destroyer



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