In short, our deep feelings direct us to execute behaviors which proved adaptive in the evolutionary past, even when those adaptations make no rational sense in the present or future. Why does something feel bad or good to us at all? It’s because the ancestors who “felt good” about doing things, which happened to enhance their relative fitness at that time, survived to pass on these tendencies and their behavioral rewards. Sex feels great. Eating high-energy-content food feels great. Being a high-status tribal member feels great. Hating outgroups feels great. And killing large prey (and outgroup members during wartime) feels great. This is such an uncomfortable thing to hear that it feels wrong. Your authors have given this set of deep feelings a name: the gene agenda . It is neither admirable, nor useful; it just exists in our minds as the default hardware settings and represents a steep hill which must be climbed to pursue any rational goals. TaaL: There are upsides and downsides to being ‘adaptation executors”. The upside is that it’s pleasant and non -stressful to max out the yummy behavioral reward that brain chemicals give you in the short term. The downside is that for a species that dominates a planet’s biome, it’s eventually suicidal, resulting in exponential growth with no happy ending, expanding until you rapidly slam into hard limits. Caring about which of those paths occurs is a part of sapience. (Sapience doesn’t evolve : it’s a conscious and ongoing re- shuffle of the brain’s default actions and reactions which is initially difficult, but ultimately wonderful, exactly because it runs counter to the “gene agenda”.) It’s good to remember that the strategy of being an “adaptation executor” has been life’s default mode since before brains evolved . Now that you actually HAVE reasonably complex brains, it’s an opportunity to move away from acting, as you are in some ways, like bacteria, executing past feel- good adaptations in the face of all logic. You can also imagine a sane future and take steps toward it, ignoring the brain rewards for bad ideas and the punishment for good ones. Because it’s pretty clear that “fitness” for decent human futures now requires that some adaptations not be executed. Moreover, to the extent one can overcome the siren song of the “feel good” gene agenda, it IS possible to pursue better futures, because minds can look forward with understanding which will be forever denied the process of evolution.
The Bottom Line: We don’t seek to maximize our fitness. We
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