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Unread October 29th, 2006, 02:27 PM
Margaret McGhee Margaret McGhee is offline
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Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 271
Default Re: Evolutionary Psychology and Mental Dysfunction

Alex, please don't bother to respond to my posts as I know you are busy with important things. In that light, here are some additonal thoughts on this topic for your amusement when you have a few moments.

The phenomena of addiction (obsessive behavior of various types) I think illuminates something important about the mind. If one accepts my premise that the mind is an emotional computer that produces behavior choice - then, one can say that evolution has created a mechanism in our CNS that uses emotional forces to generally cause behavior choices that ultimately result in propogation of our DNA into future generations. i.e. our minds evolved in a way that they automatically organize themselves to generally produce and respond to emotional forces in such a way as to produce beneficial behavior choices in terms of our survival and propogation.

In that regard, the principle is that we are only capable of making choices that we "emotionally believe" will result in the best outcome in terms of our future emotional well-being. (That's my premise as to how this mechanism operates.)

In that regard, this "emotional level of belief" is the one that counts - what we "think" about our behavior choices is secondary. Further, that when our intellectual beliefs are not congruent with our emotional beliefs - we will change the former (rationalization).

It is possible for persons with a strong committment to reason - to allow their reasonable conclusions on some matter to alter their previously established emotional beliefs. But, I suspect that we are much less proficient at that than most would accept.

We will be free to use our reason when we encounter a situation where we have no strong emotional beliefs. These are areas where usually there is no important survival effect - like which offramp to take to a store we've never been to before.

Also, it is important to see that in those cases where we do alter our emotional beliefs using reason, even thenbehavior choice is still the result of (now altered) emotional beliefs - which, as I have asserted, will always be the case.

Addiction is a prime example of this process. My partner has suffered for the last year from an addiction to Freecell, an internet solitaire game that is available on-line as well as in resident form in one's hard drive. The online version allows the player to immediately compare their cumulative score after each game with others (all over the world) who are currently playing. She developed the ability to score fairly high and apparently is addicted to those competitive aspects of the game.

As time went by - she got better and better at the game and it became a sure and reliable source of fast positive emotions when she was bored or struggling with a difficult task. She was starting to feel terribly guilty about the siginificant amount of time she was wasting online playing this game - and how little work she was accomplishing. She became periodically depressed about this.

Since she has no strong desire to play it alone - she asked me to do something to her computer so that she could not access the game online. This was after trying several other remedies. First, she asked me to hide her wireless modem card - but she needs to be online for her work. (She works part-time as an editor for a national philosophical magazine. She screens manuscript submissions for them and does all her work by transferring files over the internet. Just as background, she has a PhD in political science (Corrected 11/2, her PhD is in Political Theory) and is retired as a researcher for the US Dept. of Education.)

I tried asking her several times a day (in a friendly way) if she was working or playing Freecell. That eventually resulted in her relating to me as her nemesis. Bad for the relationship - so I stopped that.

Finally, I went into her laptop one day when she was out and inserted a couple of lines into her system admin area that now re-directs any browser requests for a list of URL's that I specified - to a dead-end. This was a month ago. She is now a much happier person and thanks me every few days for having done that.

As is the case with most addictions - the addictee knowns full well (intellectually) that the behavior is destructive and ultimately will decrease their well-being. Still, the emotional strength of their need to choose the compulsive behavior is far stronger than their ability to resist it. In my view, their intellectual conclusion does not have sufficient emotional strength to overcome their desire - to play the game in this case, and derive the sure emotional payoff.

My analysis - intellectual "knowing" is not emotional "knowing". Only the latter can affect our behavior choices. Saying that, "I know that smoking is bad for me", as many smokers will readily admit, is not really "knowing". It is simply saying some words that I suspect they hope will possibly result in less condemnation for their behavior.

Only when intellectual "knowing" in the form of words and concepts - transforms into emotional "knowing" (of sufficiant strength) can it actually alter our behavior choice decisions. For typical smokers, only when the fear of a terrible death from lung cancer becomes emotionally "real" enough - will that "emotional belief" be able to take part in their decisions.

(A prediction of this theory is that addicted smokers will be more likely to stop smoking after they witness a friend or relative die a painful death from similar behavior choices.)

The example of addiction only makes this more obvious. I assert that all our behavior choices are determined by that purely emotional behavior choice mechanism that evolution has provided for us. A basic problem with modern psychology is in assuming that what we think about things determines our behavior and that our emotions are just interesting side-effects - when the opposite is actually the case. (The whole field of Cognitive Psychology is chasing down the wrong alley IMHO.)

The underlying question regarding mental disfunction becomes a question of how our minds adjust to provide different weights (amplifiers, attenuators plus positive and negative feedback) for various emotional inputs - something we are designed by evolution to do. Certainly, in some cases there is pathology, a diseased tissue in our CNS that does not respond as it should. But the human mind especially - is designed by evolution to provide many different ways to reorganize itself according to changes in its environment.

Addiction, while ultimately destructive to the organism, could be the price we pay for having a mind that is capable of such creative re-organization in response to strong emotional inputs. While some humans may die of their addictions, others' minds may reorganize in ways that create cures for pathological diseases - and even remedies for emotional addictions - in response to similarly strong emotional inputs.

Simply being aware of the destructive power of such addictions is probably the best way to minimize the damage they cause to individuals and to society. Of course, by being aware - I don't simply mean being intellectually aware - I mean being emotionally aware, and therefore having real emotional fear of the damage they can do to us.

Cheers, Margaret

Last edited by Margaret McGhee; November 2nd, 2006 at 12:47 PM.
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