The mix of instinct and rationality in the human species is what makes life so fascinating, and it’s what’s going to kill us.
Instinct guides us to behaviors that are high yield and reasonably simple. Want to eat more fish? Catch more fish! Fishing hole fished out? Head over the hill and find a new one! A million years of evolution taught us these instincts, and they got us where we are today: Stupidville. Because where we are today requires us to switch out of the instinct mode and into the rationality mode, and we can’t.
The Mars rover Curiosity is trundling about the red planet sending back lots of information that we refuse to understand properly. It just told us that there was definitely abundant water flowing on Mars. We can understand that right? Wrong. We get the facts, which are genuinely interesting, but we persist in missing the larger lesson, right there screaming at us, as big as life. As big as death. The lesson? When we’ve fished out the fishing hole here on earth, there IS NO NEW FISHING HOLE out there on other planets. There are no fish in that Martian river. There never WERE any any fish in that Martian river. There is no water in that Martian river. Our instincts tell us there must be, there, or SOMEWHERE out there, and by golly, that’s the way we’re going to believe and behave. What do I mean by that?
This. Back here, where we still HAVE some fish? We’re busy fishing them out. Because if you want more fish, you catch more fish, Right? Wrong. Precisely and exactly backwards. If we want more fish, we need to catch FEWER fish. Hey, that’s counterintuitive, requiring ‘rational’ thought to guide our behavior, and we can’t go for that, nooo, no can do. The story hopefully points out that there’s still time to reverse the damage to our fisheries. It was good to see this story in the Washington Post, because the news media generally don’t care about this stuff. Their ‘instincts’ tell them it’s boring. When I tried to find the story on the Post website, I had real trouble. Even when I found the Health & SCIENCE part of the website, nope! I did see a big headline there that said. “Mouth Pain Gives Woman Rotten Feeling.” Not so much about how we’re destroying fish populations. But the story says there’s hope, right? Sure. But the story’s bottom-line? Still declining. Curiosity Rover: Look harder!