intelligence, the brain

Notes for a Neurological Theory of Evil

Our symbolic capacity makes us dangerous in a way no other animal is. We do the most and the worst of our killing for ideas—ideas of “us” and “them,” of our god vs. their god, of purity, of beauty, potency, power, revenge, immortality. We value symbols more than realities—a discussion I had recently with a friend who’s trying to fund scientifically based nutritional approaches to cancer prevention and longevity (many of which wind up confirming in molecular terms the wisdom of traditional approaches). There’s no profit in it, and therefore little interest. Money is a symbol of immortality and people would rather have the symbol than the (modestly attainable) reality, maybe because the symbol imposes no such limits. The funders of research, who are as vulnerable and mortal as anyone else, act as if they personally would rather have money than health. They’d rather pursue an exciting, profitable drug that doesn’t work than a boring dietary modification that does. If you want to state it in scientific terms, the harnessing of the dopamine reward system to the symbolic capacity says a whole lot about the pros and cons of Homo so-called sapiens.

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