Values of Animals: Truth, Perception, and Results

All animals seem to have exaggerated perceptions that keep them safe and help them get what their genes programmed them to want.

And humans are no exceptions.

There’s now overwhelming evidence (and even whole new fields of study) suggesting that humans evolved not to see the world objectively, but to see ourselves, others, and ultimately everything in evolutionarily, culturally, and personally skewed ways. Our perceptions, it appears, evolved to benefit our genes, ourselves, and our tribe. My perceptions may occasionally help me see the world as it is, but they are there first and foremost to drive me to survive, and mate.

For example, my perceptions and sensations evolved to make sure that I EAT. So, when I’m “starving,” I feel I could eat a horse! Now at first that might help motivate me to get my ass in gear and get some food, but if an hour later I’m feeling stuffed, I might never want to eat again…

A prey animal’s paranoia – often irrational fears – turns out to be very effective at keeping it alive. Likewise, a mammalian predator, like me, feels DRIVEN by something, quite possibly a primitively cognitive sense of overconfidence: she’s going to catch that prey.

Though in truth she may not.

Why would evolution cripple her with doubt at the beginning of a chase? Only if her nervous system sensed that it was truly a waste of her time.

Every woman knows (and many lament) that a human man’s overblown ego can be infuriatingly effective in an attractive sense. And some men have started noticing how a woman’s inflated sense of her desirability is often exactly what helps to CREATE her (supposedly purely physical) allure in the first place.

Our brains tell our visual system to MAKE her look hotter the more she presents herself as “hot.” Neuroscientists call this top-down processing: our brains actually have ten times more neuronal connections going from thought to perception than from perception to thought. Neither Marilyn Monroe nor Cleopatra – arguably two of the most attractive women in history – were considered objectively beautiful, even in their time. What these neural connections (and an arc of social research) indicate is that we are HARDWIRED for the hypnosis of human culture. These women had discovered and mastered the power of suggestion.

Perceptions matter more than objective truths.

Have you ever noticed all the average people who seem to think they’re above average: more smart than they are, with a wife more beautiful and kids, too? These beliefs evolved to be more effective in getting ahead, not being more objectively true. All successful peacocks think THEY are the most beautiful. These are the peacocks that mate and pass on their genes.

And my aforementioned hyperbolic perception that I could eat a horse (and the horse’s quite literal perception that I might try) are senses evolved to regulate our behavior: the ways we see things affect the ways we DO things – and in turn what HAPPENS to us and our genes. Even altruism and tribalism evolved to benefit copies of our genes residing in our relatives. And those relatives’ perceptions? Are they geared to see us, themselves, or ANYTHING with pure, disinterested objectivity? No, because perceptions didn’t evolve to be accurate, they evolved to be functional.

Evolution is simply the neverending perpetuation of what works best.

In the end, what we animals value is not truth, but results.


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