According to urban legend, humans only tap into 10 percent of their brain’s full capabilities. Whether this is true or not, no one really knows, but it is easy to come to the conclusion that human brains are among, if not the most, fascinating, complex, and powerful processing units to exist. Calculate 99*99 in your head. Chances are, most people cannot do this type of calculation in their head. Why? Brain Bugs: How The Brain’s Flaws Shape Our Lives, by Dean Buonomano, gives us insight into this and many other hurdles humans must overcome on a daily basis due to outdated brain features that were once advantageous for survival.
When evolutionary adaptations are taken out of context, they often result in deleterious effects for the organism. Similarly, the features our brain evolved to aid our survival several hundred thousand years ago are now compromising our daily lives. There are many small “brain bugs”, as Buonomano refers to them, that we deal with daily. For example, everyone deals with mathematics every day in the form of financial decisions. Budgeting is an area many people struggle with that often lead to financial repercussions. Buonomano easily explains why this is the case.
For one, our brain did not evolve to easily manipulate large numbers. As primitive humans, there was no need to distinguish between 100 deer or 200 dear. All that was necessary was to count the two or three that would be caught for dinner on that given day. Eventually, as humans settled down because of agriculture, we needed to be able to calculate certain things like the number of people in the village that needed to be fed. The period in which civilization has persisted has been very short on an evolutionary time scale, and not enough time for our brains to evolve.
Our brain has still managed to keep up and come up with magnificent ideas even without being upgraded thanks to its plasticity. Furthermore, on our daily struggles with financial decisions, because in a cold world that did not assure the survival of anyone, only fast, shortterm decisions that kept us alive mattered. The result of that has been our brains predisposition to perceive the value of any expected reward to decrease with the passage of time. Buonomano’s argument is that like before, any immediate reward was better for the survival than any reward that reward waiting when survival was not by any means ensured (100).
This need for immediate gratification afflicts everyone to a certain extent. Even though it is possible to train the mind to reap the benefits of the waiting game, the wiring of our brain leads us to make short-term decisions that have short lived positive effects on our lives and wallets. There are more noticeable and extreme “brain bugs” that often stop some of us from doing certain things or going to certain places at all costs. Fear, like Buonomano and many others have argued, has kept us alive over generations, but we now fear many things that are no longer a threat to us.
I will restrict my argument to people of developed countries, because there are places and people who do legitimately fear these creatures and rightly so. In our concrete jungles, phobias to spiders, height, and social situations can be very unhealthy and unjustified (Buonomano, 122). Our innate fears which helped keep our ancestors alive do not apply to our modern times; they have been taken out of context (Buonomano, 123).
Spiders can be dangerous, but there are now antidotes that can combat any venomous encounter. hereas our ancestors did not have that advantage. Social encounters in the past definitely triggered fear because you did not know whether the people were friends or enemies that could lethally harm you. Now, we do not really have to worry about that because there are laws and there is a better grasp of morals within every person so there is no reason to really fear social encounters the way our ancestors did. Even so, many people fear social situations so much that they avoid doing certain things like speaking in front of people or going out to social events.
These “brain bugs” are often the cause of the many problems that plague our modern lives, but on the bright side, the brain can be trained to overcome these flaws to a certain extent. Tam not perfect. These brain bugs affect my everyday life, some more than others. I think one of my biggest issues is my inability to see the value of a potential reward in the distant future. Temporal discounting is something I struggle with on a daily basis. I love to workout and I know it takes many, many months and often years to reach a goal in the gym.
So when someone places a nice, big piece of chocolate cake in front of me, I know that it will have a negative impact on my goals, but my desire for immediate gratification overrides that knowledge. In order to satisfy my desire, I have that piece of cake. Well then Thave satisfied a short-term desire, but overlooked a long-term goal that I work towards everyday. So in that respect, I am weak and I work to improve myself everyday. Not only does immediate gratification and temporal discounting affect my health, but my wallet as well.
Often times I buy things I do not need, because it feels so good and the negative effect of spending the money does not become real until I really need the money to buy something else. It is often hard to see that many things are not necessities, and only satisfy our materialistic desires in that moment. Now I am not saying I go around spending my money on whim left and right, but I do sometimes spend money on things I don’t necessarily need and later end up asking myself, “was it really worth it? ” This is a problem that can be addressed by simply working on being more patient and rational with financial decisions.
Another brain bug that I deal with every day is that I speak before I think more often than I would like. Now, I can associate that to neural mechanisms in the brain. Activity in neurons often spreads to other neurons “representing associated concepts, emotions, and actions” (Buonomano, 168). In other words, when I hear something that triggers activity in my brain, I tend to let my thoughts flow rather than carefully pick and choose what to say. This results in a little embarrassment, but I think of it as a part of the way I learn. Slowing down a bit, and sorting through all the junk before speaking is key to solving that problem.
I find the associative architecture of the brain extremely interesting. It is so powerful and comparable to a search engine, though more complex in its nature. Brain flaws are definitely the source of the absurd political climate that surrounds this year’s presidential campaign. Donald Trump is no real politician. He is an entertainer. He is a successful businessman (eh), and a successful TV celebrity, considering his show The Apprentice has been going on for 14 seasons and counting. So why has he been so successful in this presidential campaign?
It comes down to brain bugs in the general public. The name Trump has been a symbol of money and power. Many studies have shown that people imitate and respect those they consider superior to them in wealth and power. Furthermore, the Trump name is a household name. Neurons fire a certain way when we hear this name. It has become so ingrained in our mind that Trumps stronghold seems to be rooted in the past and not so much in what he is saying now, which is truly the scary thing about this election. Donald Trump has been the source of endless controversies and drama.
The media loves him and they run pieces on him all the time because they sell. This contributes more to his brand and name recognition. What Trump is very good at doing is framing and anchoring what he says in such a way that people are drawn to him for all the wrong reasons. His arguments are circular and he acts like a five-year-old. He has become an outlet for people to vent out their frustrations. By no means is he suited to be president. I may be biased about Donald Trump, but it is not hard to recognize that he is making a mockery of the presidential election.