Theory (Short)

Denial is the Beginning of the End

This is my short version of Ajit Varki and Danny Brower’s theory on denial. A longer more complete version by the authors is here. I also wrote a more detailed explanation here.

The human brain is 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. The mutation for an extended theory of mind therefore never fixes in the gene pool.

The only 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 was a reproductive fitness disadvantage then becomes 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 makes it 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.

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: the creator and destroyer

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