46 – What are Brains REALLY For?


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Alien: “One of the problems with you humans is that you don’t understand what your brains are for.” 

Human: “What do you mean? We know perfectly well what our brains are for! They’re useful for all sorts of things. The brain interprets internal signals from the body and external ones from the environment. Then, we respond to them.” 

Alien: “You just described a lizard’s brain. Let me rephrase my comment. While you humans seem to grasp that your brains are more ‘advanced’ than supposedly ‘lower creatures’, you don’t understand how they got that way.” 

Human: “Well, we are obviously more intelligent than other creatures. This is our planet, after all. We rule the roost!” 

Alien: “Yes, you’re all geniuses. But why humans and not other creatures? If your intelligence is so marvelous, then why haven’t other life-forms developed similar levels of intelligence?”

Human: “Didn’t we out-compete them?”

Alien: “That’s a nice way of saying that you killed them all. Life is not all peaches and cream. Humans don’t like competition, so any creatures that are even remotely threatening to you are tossed out the tenth floor window. Not to mention all the other creatures that you’ve either eaten to extinction, or ruined their habitats. That explains why there are no longer any other ‘homo’ species. Only homo sapiens. The brain is an organ that evolved through a process of natural selection, which is a nice way of saying that less brainy humans either got intentionally killed or simply died off because you out-competed them for mates and resources. You do understand that humans can be competitive killers, right?”

Human: “That is way too negative. What about the obvious fact that we’re such amazing cooperators? Our cooperation and self-domestication have led to our incredible success and vast civilizations. We humans team up together to accomplish impressive feats that no single human could ever accomplish: Huge cities, complex sanitation systems, planes that fly around the world, and amazingly realistic video games!” 

Alien: “Along with killer drones, submarines with nuclear missiles, weaponized anthrax, and genetically modified killer viruses.”

Human: “Well, you have to take the good with the bad. Can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!” 

Alien: “Holding two conflicting concepts in your mind at the same time creates cognitive dissonance, which is a behavioral problem for you humans. You tend to focus on the good stuff at the expense of the bad, which you push out of your conscious awareness.”

Human: “Why focus on the negative? That seems to be a habit of yours.” 

Alien: “I only mention it because it’s a huge problem for you humans. You ignore the fact that you’re cooperators and killers. You focus on global warming because it’s a ‘feel good’ problem where everybody pulls together for a common cause. That’s a good thing, because you’re heating up the planet at an alarming rate. However, you ignore nuclear weapons proliferation, chemical warfare, and genetically manipulated bioweapons. Why? Because that’s part of your ‘killer’ mentality. Makes you very uncomfortable to think about. Heaven forbid that you admit that it’s an imminent threat to your survival as a species, and derives from the fact that you spend a lot of time figuring out how to kill each other, usually in the guise of ‘defense. This cognitive dissonance makes things very complicated. You constantly have to figure out who to cooperate with and who may be plotting to kill you. Or steal your mate, or perhaps your job. Your history of warfare, deceit, and endless plotting is most impressive, but all this Machiavellian behavior requires a high level of cognitive skill.” 

Human: “Wait a minute. Are you saying that our brains became so smart in order to kill each other?”

Alien: “Now you are the one being too negative. Your brains also developed in order to figure out how to cooperate with each other. Navigating through the complex social situations that you humans have created is a tricky business. Why do you think you’re always frantically casting your minds back and forth in time? Most creatures live in the moment. Not you humans. You torture yourselves by constantly agonizing over past deeds. ‘How could I have handled that better?’. And future actions. ‘What will I tell my boss when she finds out I screwed up the project?’. You even worship gurus who counsel you on how to live in the moment and get some peace from all your mental squirming.” 

Human: “And there’s some point to be made here?” 

Alien: “Yes. Your brains developed what you call ‘intelligence’ to deal with each other, not to deal with the rest of the outside world. Most of your so-called success is a byproduct, primarily due to writing stuff down so you can build on prior knowledge.” 

Human: “That’s ridiculous! What about our marvelous intellect? Our amazing inventions? Why, we’ve travelled to the moon! Soon we’ll be conquering the Galaxy!”

Alien: “I can hardly wait. In the meantime, please try to remember that we Aliens view you Humans like you view your pets. In case that’s not clear enough, we don’t think very much of your cognitive skills. We understand where they came from, and why. They were birthed to help you navigate the complexities of your own social structures, not to conquer the Universe. Sorry, but to our Alien minds, your cognitive skills are trivial.” 

Human: “Why do so many of our conversations end on such a negative note? You need to lighten up a bit. Speaking of which, it’s time for lunch! While I’ve really enjoyed your put-downs, I must be going now. See ya later!”

Alien: “Have a nice lunch, Human. Try not to eat too many animals.”

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