The Psychological and Evolutionary Roots of Resource Overconsumption Revisited

This post examines our own history on the planet, outlines how the ancient-derived reward pathways of our brain are easily hijacked by modern stimuli, and concludes that in very real ways, we have become addicted to the 'consumptive behaviors' linked to oil.

Gold Plated Porsche

Editor's note: I have learned a great deal more on the twin drivers of consumption - relative status and habituation/addiction since what follows was first written. However, despite best intentions, I am personally even more habituated to stimulation offered in modern American culture and my life still has about the same physical dependence on oil's emergent properties as it did back then. On the bright side however, I have continued my decade long shift of 'competition for status' away from pecuniary metrics...


“Selfish behaviors are reward driven and innate, wired deeply into the survival mechanisms of the primitive brain, and when consistently reinforced, they will run away to greed, with its associated craving for money, food, or power. On the other hand, the self restraint and the empathy for others that are so important in fostering physical and mental health are learned behaviors – largely functions of the new human cortex and thus culturally dependent. These social behaviors are fragile and learned by imitations much as we learn language". Dr. Peter Whybrow - "American Mania"

An advertisement for BMW cars -and freedom, and power, and sex, and status.... (Click to enlarge)


The majority of Peak Oil writing and discussion centers around the upcoming date of an all liquids peak and how steep the subsequent decline rate might be. There's also active debate on how to best replace the coming shortfall in fossil energy with renewable flows. Fewer discussions are about relocalizing a global economy dependent on cheap transportation fuels, and how best to structure a world with lower density energy. Yet fewer still delve into who we are, how we got here, and what and why we use energy, and seemingly want more of it every year. Essentially, most of our energy conversations, at conferences, schools, institutions, and the blogosphere, focus on the means, and not the ends. The ends have generally remained unquestioned. There seems to be an implicit assumption that worldwide energy demand will continue to grow something akin to a natural law, and that solutions should focus on ways to increase supply and/or efficiency of energy. But in an economic system based on self-interest on a finite planet, the true drivers of demand will need to be better understood beyond the microeconomic mantra "price will change behavior".

This post examines our own history on the planet, outlines how the ancient-derived reward pathways of our brain are easily hijacked by modern stimuli, and concludes that in very real ways, we have become addicted to the 'consumptive behaviors' linked to oil. "Traditional" drug abuse happens because natural selection has shaped behavior regulation mechanisms that function via chemical transmitters. Just as an addict becomes habituated to cocaine, heroin or alcohol, the 'normal person' possesses neural architecture to become habituated via a positive feedback loop to the 'chemical sensations' we receive from shopping, keeping up with the joneses (conspicuous consumption), pursuing more stock options and profits, and myriad other stimulating activities that a large social energy surplus provides. In order to overcome addictions, it is usually not enough to argue about which year the drug supply is going to begin its decline. It's a better path to understand the addiction, admit it before one hits rock bottom, and either begin the cold turkey process or become addicted to something else.


Timeline of human evolution - Source: Dr. William Stanton (Click to enlarge)

To understand how and why our demand for oil and energy services has continually increased, and what behavioral constraints we might encounter if an energy decline occurs, it will be necessary to review 'some' evolutionary history. For those familiar with biology it will be a quick refresher - for those not, it shouldn't be too painful, (but maybe a little).

All life on earth originated from the same single celled organisms. We are used to thinking in terms of months, years, decades, etc. so it's difficult to grasp millenia let alone millions or billions of years. As can be seen in the above graphic, human history takes up a very small % of the time of life on earth and an even smaller % of the time since Earth was first formed. We share a great deal of our genes with simpler organisms such as mice or wheat, and considerably more with dogs or other primates like chimpanzees. Of the genes actually used, or ‘conserved’, we share more – over 60% with fruit flies and over 96% with chimpanzees. We are all kin, somehow traceable back several billion years to the origin of life on earth. I am not only related to my colleague Euan Mearns, but to a lesser extent his dogs, and still lesser extent, the plants in his yard.

Charles Darwin’s maxim of evolution: "Multiply, vary, let the strongest live and the weakest die" has gradually, but definitively shaped who we have become as humans today. This theme has been expanded by modern biological research to focus less on 'the strongest' in the physical sense, and more on the concept of 'relative fitness' (or inclusive fitness), that those adaptations that are successful in propelling genes, or suites of genes, into the next generation will have outcompeted those that were deleterious or did not keep up with environmental change. Evolution does not have 'purpose', it just combines time (a great deal of it) with the substrate of life and hones and culls as eons pass. A male spider is sometimes consumed by the female after they have sex. This obviously is a bummer for the male spider, but can be explained by evolution if the nutrition provided for his offspring (carrying his genes) outweighs the sum of his future mating opportunities. Thus the spider, when presented with a 'hot female spider' is not 'calculating' the odds of being eaten vs. how many nutrients are in his body, but performing a behavior that was successful for his ancestors, and therefore chemically 'felt right'. (spiders share many of the same neurotransmitters as humans, e.g. serotonin and dopamine). All of life has arrived in 2008 by some path like this, including and especially human beings.

Fossil hominid skulls - Image Copyright Smithsonian Institute
A more detailed description Doug Theobold, Phd (Click to enlarge)

* (A) Pan troglodytes, chimpanzee, modern
* (B) Australopithecus africanus, STS 5, 2.6 My
* (C) Australopithecus africanus, STS 71, 2.5 My
* (D) Homo habilis, KNM-ER 1813, 1.9 My
* (E) Homo habilis, OH24, 1.8 My
* (F) Homo rudolfensis, KNM-ER 1470, 1.8 My
* (G) Homo erectus, Dmanisi cranium D2700, 1.75 My
* (H) Homo ergaster (early H. erectus), KNM-ER 3733, 1.75 My
* (I) Homo heidelbergensis, "Rhodesia man," 300,000 - 125,000 y
* (J) Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, La Ferrassie 1, 70,000 y
* (K) Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, La Chappelle-aux-Saints, 60,000 y
* (L) Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, Le Moustier, 45,000 y
* (M) Homo sapiens sapiens, Cro-Magnon I, 30,000 y
* (N) Homo sapiens sapiens, modern

Man split off from the rest of the apes about 5-6 million years ago (my). It is estimated that our earliest hominid ancestors, the australopithecenes were the first to walk upright. Can you imagine the excitement and attraction to the first few pairs of these creatures that started walking on two legs instead of four? Must have been like having the shiniest muscle car on the block!
Tens of thousands of generations of various stages of human ancestry passed in Africa, the big cats and environmental hazards keeping hominids close to or under local carrying capacities, with no real need to migrate. Genetic analysis shows that the intelligence that distinguishes us as homo sapiens is of comparatively recent origin-emerging perhaps a mere 200,000 years ago, compared to the millions of years that the hominid line has been in evolution. Wildly oscillating climate and the introduction of language were likely strong influences on the increase in hominid brain size during the past 1 million years.

History of human brain volume (Click to enlarge)

Modern humans ultimately emerged around 125,000 years ago and remained in small hunter gatherer tribes until the invention of agriculture around 12,000 years ago. It was not until we started 'spending' our 'ancient sunlight' bank account in the late 1700s that our population began its moonshot trajectory. The average American today uses around 60 barrel of oil equivalents of primary energy each year- depending on the assumptions this represents hundreds of annual energy 'slaves', for each one of us.

The Triune Brain (Mclean) viewed through the lens of natural selection (Click to enlarge)


I have (briefly) gone through evolution of the triune brain several times on TOD before. The various layers and mechanisms of our brain were built on top of eachother, via millions and millions of iterations, keeping intact what 'worked' and adding on what changes and mutations helped the pre-human, pre-mammal organism incrementally advance. Brain structures that functioned poorly in those ancient environments are no longer around. Gradually, organisms became more complex and the human neocortex developed on top of, and in complex synergy with, the older brain structures of the limbic system and the primitive reptilian core. We are, all of us, descended from the best of the best at surviving and procreating, which in the environment of privation and danger where we endured the most 'iterations' of our evolution, meant acquiring necessary resources, achieving status, and possessing brains finely tuned to natural dangers and opportunities. In our modern environment, it is the combination of pursuit of social status and the plethora of fun, exciting/novel activities that underlies our large appetite for oil.


Status has historically been a signaling mechanism that minimized the costs of competition, whether for reproductive opportunities, or for material resources. If you place 10 chickens in an enclosure there will ensue a series of fights until a pecking order is established. Each bird quicly learns who it can and cannot beat and a status hierarchy is created, thus making future fights (and wastes of energy) less common. Physical competition is costly behavior which requires energy and entails risk of injury. Status is a way to determine who one can profitably challenge and who one cannot. In our ancestral environment, those men (and women) that successfully moved up the social hierarchy ladder, 'improved' their mating and resource prospects. The ones at the bottom of the status rung did not mate at all. In modern humans, status is defined by what culture dictates – popularity, physical looks, wealth, fast cars, political connections, etc.

Biologists have shown that historically, the primary way to reliably demonstrate one's 'quality' during courtship is to display a high-cost signal - e.g. a heavy and colorful peacock's tail, an energy expending bird-song concert, or a $100,000 sports car. Only these costly "handicap" signals are evolutionarily stable indicators of their producer's quality, because cheap signals are too easy for low-quality imitators to fake (Zahavi and Zahavi, 1997). In this sense 'waste' has been evolutionarily selected for! Think of the 3 drawbacks to a male peacock of growing such a hugely ornate tail: 1)the energy, vitamins and minerals needed to go into the creation of the tail could have been used for other survival/reproductive needs, 2)the tail makes it more likely to be spotted by a predator, 3)if spotted, the tail makes it less likely to get away from a predator. All three of these negative fitness hits MUST have been outweighed by the drab female peahen's preference for males with larger more ornate tails. This is all outlined by the evolutionary theory of sexual selection (please read the wiki intro if this is a new concept to you).

It follows that the larger a cultures energy subsidy, the more opportunity there is for ‘status badges’ to separate from traits actually correlated with basic needs (e.g. strength, intelligence, adaptability, stamina, etc.) In many societies, achieving cultural success appears to lead to biological (genetic) success. Though ‘what’ defines status may be culturally derived, status hierarchies themselves are part of our evolved nature. Our ancestors at the bottom of the mating pecking order, ceteris paribus, are not our ancestors, and many of our ancestors had orders of magnitude more descendants than others. For example, scientists recently discovered an odd geographical preponderance for a particular Y chromosome which turns out to be originally descended from Ghengis Khan. Given the 16 million odd male descendants alive today with this Y marker, Mr. Khan had 800,000 times the reproductive success than the average male alive on the planet during 1200 AD.


The brain utilizes about 40% of all available genes and consumes over 20% of our caloric intake. When it comes to self preservation, nature is especially parsimonious in shaping the brains survival systems to become incredibly efficient. Incremental biases in how our brains recognize, process, and react to the world around us either contributed to our survival and thus were carried forward, or died out. Of major importance in the millions of years of hominid adaptation was the concept of 'salience', which is related to curiosity, novelty and reward seeking. Salience is noticing what is important, or different; what contrasts from the usual. All of the various precursor hominid species to modern man evolved under conditions of privation and scarcity, at least until 20-30,000 years ago, (which is too short of time to meaningfully impact millions of years of neural sculpture).

Salience recognition is part of the mesolimbic dopamine reward pathway. This system of neurons is integral to survival efficiency, helping us to instantly decide what in the environment should command our attention. Historically, immediate feedback on what is 'new' was critical in avoiding danger as well as procuring food. Because most of what happens around us each day is predictable, processing every detail of a familiar habitat wastes brain energy. It also would slow down our mental computer so as to become a deadly distraction. Thus our ancestors living on the African savanna paid little attention to the stable mountains on the horizon but were alert to any change or movement in the bush, on the plains, or at the riverbank. Those more able to detect and quickly process 'novel cues' were more likely to survive and pass on their genes. Indeed, modern experimental removal of dopamine receptor genes in animals causes them to reduce exploratory behavior, a key variable related to inclusive fitness in animal biology. Novelty also played a role in mating selection itself as well. Perceptual biases (e.g. greater responsiveness to large, bright, high-contrast, loud, rhythmic, or novel stimuli) can influence the direction of sexual selection and the details of courtship displays (e.g. Endler, 1992; Ryan & Keddy-Hector, 1992). Small differences between species in these perceptual biases could lead to large differences in the courtship displays they evolved.

We are instinctually geared for individual survival - being both reward driven, and curious. It was these two core traits which the father of economics himself, Adam Smith, predicted would be the drivers of world economic growth in "Wealth of Nations". According to Smith, uniting the twin economic engines of self-interest (which he termed self-love) and curiosity was ambition – "the competitive human drive for social betterment". Charles Darwin, about 70 years later after reading Adam Smiths “Theory of Moral Sentiments” recognized the parallel between the pursuit of wealth creation and the competition for resources that occurred among species. More recently, books by Peter Whybrow "(American Mania)"and Michael Shermer (The Mind of the Market: Compassionate Apes, Competitive Humans, and other Tales from Evolutionary Economics) have suggested that our market system of allocating resources and 'status' has been the natural social culmination for an intelligent species finding an abundance of resources.

But, as we shall soon see, the revered Scottish philosopher could not have envisioned heli-skiing, Starbucks, corporate jets, 500 foot yachts, and many other stimulating and pleasurable objects that his modern descendants compete for and so easily become acclimated to. (I doubt he ever conceived of Peak Oil either).

The major brain dopamine pathways (Thanks to Dr. Peter Whybrow) (Click to enlarge)


"Americans find prosperity almost everywhere, but not happiness. For them desire for wellbeing has become a restless burning passion which increases with satisfaction. To start with emigration was a necessity for them: now it is a sort of gamble, and they enjoy the sensations as much as the profit.” Alexis DeTocqueville, Democracy in America 1831

An explosion of neuroscience and brain imaging research tells us that drugs of abuse activate the brain’s mesolimbic dopamine reward system, the neural network that regulates our ability to feel pleasure and be motivated for “more”. When we have a great experience – a glance from a pretty girl, a lovemaking romp in the woods, a plate of fresh sushi, hitting 777 on a $5 machine, catching a lunker pike, watching a sunset, hearing a great guitar riff etc. – our brain experiences a surge in the level of the neurotransmitter dopamine. We feel positively charged, warm, ‘in the zone’ and happy. After a while, the dopamine gets flushed out of our system and returns to it's baseline level. We go about our lives, looking forward to the next pleasurable experience. But the experience has been logged onto our brains limbic system, which in addition to being the center of pleasure and emotion, holds our memory and motivation circuitry. We now begin to look forward to repeat performances. This desire has it's beginnings outside of conscious awareness. Recent brain imaging research shows that drug and sexual cues as brief as 33 milliseconds can activate the dopamine circuitry, even if a person is not conscious of the cues. Maybe that’s why they hide artistically shaped sexual images in advertisements for whiskey and such.

Historically, this entire system evolved from the biological imperative of survival. Food meant survival, sex meant survival (of genes or suites of genes), and additional stockpiles of both provided success relative to others, both within and between species. There was a discrete payoff from waiting hours for some movement in the brush that signaled ‘food’, or the sound of a particular bird that circled a tree with a beehive full of honey,etc. Our pattern recognition system on the Pleistocene would have been a grab-bag of various environmental stimuli that ‘excited’ our brains towards action that correlated with resources (typically food). In sum, the brain’s reward pathway records both the actual experience of pleasure as well as ensures that the behaviors that led to it are remembered and repeated. Irrespective of whether they are ‘good’ for the organism in the current context– they ‘feel' good, which is the mechanism our brain has left us as a heritage of natural selection.




Rescorla Wagner Learning Function (Click to enlarge)

Habituation (and subsequent substance abuse and addiction) originates in the mechansims of how we learn. Dopamine responses comply with basic assumptions of formal learning theory. Learning depends crucially on the discrepancy between the prediction and occurrence of a reward. The importance of such prediction errors is derived from Kamin’s blocking effect (1969) which postulates that a reward that is fully predicted does not contribute to the learning of a stimulus or action, even when it has been repeatedly paired with the stimulus or action. This is conceptualized in the Rescorla-Wagner learning rules, according to which learning advances only to the extent to which a reinforcer is unpredicted and slows progressively as the reinforcer becomes more predicted.

Dopamine activation has been linked with addictive, impulsive activity in numerous species. Dopamine is released within the brain not only to stimuli an organism finds rewarding but also to those events which predict rewards. It has long been known that two groups of neurons, in the ventral tegmental and the substantia nigra pars compacta areas, and the dopamine they release, are critical for reinforcing certain kinds of behavior (Dayan and Montague, 1997; Glimcher, Dorris and Bayer, 2005; Schultz, 2002). Wolfram Schultz measured the activity of these dopamine neurons while thirsty monkeys waited for a tone which was followed by a squirt of fruit juice into their mouths. After a regimen of fixed, steady amounts of juice, the volume of juice was doubled without warning. The rate of neuron firing went from about 3 per second to 80 per second. But after several trials, as this new magnitude of reward was 'habituated to', the firing rate returned to the baseline rate of 3 firings per second. The monkeys had habituated to what was coming. The opposite happened when the reward was reduced without warning. The firing rate dropped dramatically, but then returned to the baseline rate of 3 firings per second. (Gowdy 2007)

The first time we experience a drug or alcohol high, the amount of chemical we ingest often exceeds by an order of magnitude the levels of naturally occurring neurotransmitters in our bodies. No matter how brief, that experience is stored in our neural homes for motivation and memory - the amygdyla and hippocampus. Getting drunk with your friends, getting high on a ski-lift, removing the undergarments of a member of the opposite sex for the first time –all initially flood the brain with dopamine alongside a picture memory of the event linked to the bodys pleasurable response to it. As such we look forward to doing it again, because we want to repeat that 'feeling'. But in a modern stimuli-laden culture, this process is easily hijacked. After each upward spike, dopamine levels again recede, eventually to below the baseline. The following spike doesn’t go quite as high as the one before it. Over time, the rush becomes smaller, and the crash that follows becomes steeper. The brain has been fooled into ‘thinking’ that achieving that high is equivalent to survival (even more so than with food or sex which actually do contribute to survival) and the ‘consume’ light remains on all the time. Eventually, the brain is forced to turn on a self defense mechanism, reducing the production of dopamine altogether – thus weakening the pleasure circuits' intended function. At this point, an 'addicted' person is compelled to use the substance not to get high, but just to feel normal – since ones own body is producing little or no enodgenous dopamine response. Such a person has reached a state of anhedonia, or inability to feel pleasure via normal experiences. Furthermore, being addicted raises the risk of having depression; being depressed increases the risk of self-medicating, which then leads to addiction, etc. via positive feedback loops.

Habituation and eventual addiction to a substance (the graph indicates endorphins, which relate to opiates, but similar patterns exist for dopamine) (Click to enlarge)

Essentially, when exposed to novel stimuli, high levels of curiosity (dopamine) are generated, but it is the unexpected reward that causes their activation. If I order a fantastic array of sushi and the waiter brings me my check along with a breath mint, I am going to have a plunge in dopamine levels which will create an immediate craving for food. It is this interplay between expected reward and reality that underlies much of our behavioral reactions. Ultimately, repeated use of a dopamine generating ‘activity’ causes tolerance. Withdrawal results in lower levels of dopamine and continuous use is required to keep dopamine at normal levels, and even higher doses to get the ‘high’ levels of initial use. (1)

Taking this further, the Rescorla-Wagner learning function 'shape' seems to be common in life -kind of like the 80/20 rule. Here we see it with happiness and GDP. There is something important here....


“Most of these people in the nations of the United States are extremely eager in the pursuit of immediate material pleasures and are always discontented with the position they occupy. They think about nothing but ways of changing their lot and bettering it...An American will build a house in which to pass his old age and sell it before the roof is on. He will plant a garden and rent it just as the trees are coming into bear. He will take up a profession and leave it, settle in one place and soon go of elsewhere with his changing desire. Yet at the end of the year crammed with work he has little spare leisure. His restless curiosity goes with him traveling up and down the vast territories of the United States.” Alexis DeTocqueville, Democracy in America1831!

All humans share the same general neurocircuitry that can be hijacked by access to intense and pleasurable stimuli. But some are more at risk than others, both genetically, and as is increasingly apparent in the fast paced OECD world, by culture. Just having a genetic predisposition to a certain condition doesn’t assure that the condition will happen. In order to ‘switch on’, certain genes must interact with or be triggered by environmental factors. If that doesn’t happen, the addiction will not occur. Temperament and character are the 2 key components that comprise individual personality. Their distinction is inherent when we separate instinct and inborn habits from free will and what we learn. 'Character’ emerges over time through self-awareness - it is learned behavior shaped largely by the family and the culture we grow up in. "Temperament' on the other hand, is an inborn pattern of emotional style that starts to unfold in childhood and persists into adult life. Temperament is strongly heritable, accounting for approximately 40% of behavioral variance in twin studies.

Professor Robert Cloninger has developed a system of evaluating human temperament and character and their variations. Utilizing a large database from over two decades of research, Cloninger has integrated objective psychological testing of individuals with the growing knowledge of the brains anatomy and chemical messenger systems. His research confirms that patterns of temperament are heritable, but further suggests that different personality patterns reflect variation in the genetic programming of neurochemical communication. The common behavioral patterns of temperament appear to reflect the balance of activity among the dopamine, norepenephrine and serotonin systems (the 3 information superhighways linking the ancient brain stem to the neocortex). His research has identified behavioral clusters that describe 4 major temperament styles -the poles of which are 'harm avoidance' (shy) and 'novelty seeking' (bold).

Cloninger's analysis integrates common patterns in which we interact with others and how we respond to social challenges. Briefly, individuals with harm avoidance temperament are generally shy and anxious in the face of social competition. (Research in humans and other primates suggest this pattern is associated with a dominance of serotonin in the brain messenger systems). On the other hand the temperament clusters of reward dependence, persistence, and novelty seeking – the 3 behaviors that overlap with curiosity – are linked to the activity of the brains reward system as well as to the dopamine and norepenephrine superhighways. When we are 'curious' and try some new snack, play a new video game, write a good rebuttal to a Stuart Staniford post, or meet somebody we really like, it is our dopamine reward pathways that are activated, reminding us to repeat the experience. This pleasurable reinforcement begins a positive feedback loop – a reward and an individuals response to and dependence on that reward is a large part of what defines ones type of temperament.

Individuals who are fascinated by novelty and risk are less anxious and fearful when confronted with uncertainty or danger. On the flip side, they are also easily bored, (for example by reading long oildrum posts with low 'graphic/text' ratios). The association of exploratory behavior across species (genetic ‘conservation’) with the D4 dopamine receptor complex suggests that this circuitry has played an important role in mammalian adaptation to changing environments throughout evolution. It is this novelty seeking temperament that is important in understanding exploratory (migratory?) behavior. This temperament style appears to reflect genetic differences in the dopamine reward system of the brain. Those scoring high on this scale are bold and curious individuals, who enjoy exploration and challenge and are risk takers with thick skins in social situations.


“In Europe, we habitually regard a restless spirit, a moderate desire for wealth and an extreme love of independence as great social dangers, but precisely these things assure a long and peaceful future in the American republics” - Alexis DeTocqueville "Democracy in America" 1831(this guy was a freakin' prophet!)

“America was set apart in a special way. It was put here between the oceans to be found by a certain kind of people. A beacon of hope to the rest of the world” Ronald Reagan – A Time for Choosing 1984

An invasive species will be defined as “an alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health” - Executive Order 13112 signed by Bill Clinton in February 1999

The fact that patterns of temperament are strongly heritable has obvious implications for understanding the restless curiousity and risk taking that is so characteristic in American culture. 98% of all humans who have ever lived on the planet never moved from their birthplace.(9) Beginning in Africa, as few as 500 humans migrated northward into Europe and Asia, which began the population seeding of the rest of the world around 120,000 years ago. Fast forward to the 17th-19th centuries, a relatively empty America was rumoured to be a land of opportunity and full of resources. Typical migrants to our shores were self-selected and for a variety of individual reasons, chose to come here (with the exception of slaves). Whether it was to escape oppression, to better ones-self and family with the promise of riches, or to quest for new lands and experiences, America has become a melting pot of immigrants in the past few centuries. If only 2% of the worlds population is migrant, then it logically follows that Americans, in their risk to start life anew are a self selected subgroup of that émigré population. At the time of its first Census in 1790, the United States was home to a population of just over 4 million people. Today, 98%+ of our 300 million residents were either born elsewhere and migrated here or born into families that migrated to the United States in the last three centuries. (The other 2% being Native Americans). This phenomenon is not confined to first generation migrants – over 20% of Americans change their residence every year and this trend has been in place since the 1950s.(1)

There has been considerable genetic testing on a suite of alleles accompanying the D dopamine receptor, which in some tests showed a high correlation with novelty/impulsivity, especially at the DRD4 polymorphism. Lack of funding (and perhaps lack of political correctness) has precluded the obvious hypothesis tests to see if Americans really are more 'genetically' wired for novelty/impulsivity. Though the brain sciences have made major advances in the past decade, they are still in their infancy in what they might accomplish. Parsing behaviors down to one particular allele, though possible, doesn't seem too likely. However, the premise that Americans are genetically/culturally more prone to risk taking, impulsivity, novelty-seeking, and therefore addiction, is the main theme of the excellent book "American Mania" (a book which I've heavily borrowed from in this post) by Dr. Peter Whybrow, who heads up the Semel Neuroscience Institute at the UCLA Medical School. I find this thesis, especially given my personal history on Wall Street and interaction with people around the world, a compelling one.


Americas Addictions - Time Magazine July 2007(Click to enlarge)

It would be pretty hard to be addicted directly to oil. Its toxic, slimy and tastes really bad. But it can be quite possible to become addicted to the energy services that oil provides. Within a frenetic culture of 'more', it is no wonder we have so many addicts. By instinct we are geared for individual survival-curious, reward-driven and self-absorbed – modern technology has now become a vector for these cravings. Material wealth and the abundant choices available in contemporary US society are unique in human (or animal) experience – never before in the history of our species have so many enjoyed (used?) so much. High density energy and human ingenuity have removed the natural constraints on our behavior of distance, time, oceans and mountains. For now, these phenomenon are largely constrained to developed nations - people living in a hut in Botswana or a yurt in Mongolia cannot easily be exposed to the 'hijacking stimuli' of an average westerner, especially one living in a big city in the United States, like New York, or Los Angeles.

Many activities in an energy rich society unintentionally prey on the difference between expected and unexpected reward. Take fishing for example. If my brother and I are out on a lake fishing and we get a bite -it sends a surge of excitement through our bodies - what kind of fish is it? how big is it? etc. We land an 8 inch perch! Cool. A minute later we catch another 8 inch perch - wow there must be a school! After 45 minutes of catching nothing but 8 inch perch, our brain comes to expect this outcome, and we need something bigger (or at least different) to generate the same level of excitement - so we will likely move to a different part of the lake in search of 'bigger' or 'different' fish. (though my brother claims he would never tire of catching fish no matter the size or species I think he's exaggerating).

But given the above mechanics of the habituation process to 'real' drugs, one can understand how some initially benign activities can morph into things more destructive. Weekly church bingo escalates to $50 blackjack tables; Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, several years down the road results in monthly delivery (in unmarked brown packaging) of "Jugs" magazine or cybercams locked in on some bedroom in Budapest; youthful rides on a rollercoaster evolves into annual heli-skiing trips, etc. Video game sales just reached $18 billion annually (and are getting more violent by the year - Lord of Rings type stuff is too mild..) Globalization and cheap travel has enabled an explosion of internet matchmaking, where 10s of millions of singles ostensibly seek a mate, but all too often get habituated to the actual 'seeking' process itself (unexpected reward writ large). Many sites now cater to short term encounters (adultfriendfinder has 21 million members). So what started off with a small yearning for flowers and companionship often ends up with exposure to more and more extreme stimuli. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss.

The world wide web is especially capable of hijacking our neural reward pathways. The 24/7 ubiquity and nearly unlimited options for distraction on the internet almost seem to be perfectly designed to hone in on our brains g-spot. Shopping, pornography, gambling, social networking, information searches, etc. easily outcompete the non-virtual, more mundane activities of yesteryear. Though becoming addicted to more 'information' doesn't use a great deal of energy relatively speaking, it, repetitive use can be highly addictive, though psychiatrists in different countries are debating whether it is a 'true' addiction. For better or worse, the first things I do in the morning is a)check what time it is, b)start the coffee machine then c)check my email, to see what 'novelty' might be in my inbox. Bills to pay, and emails from people who are not important or interesting, wait until later in the day, or are forgotten altogether. Then I walk the dog. At least I don't own a television.

Novelty. Novelty. Novelty. Always something new in the inbox... (well, an email from Vladimir Putin would certainly qualify). Don't you just WANT to click on some of these? (Click to enlarge)

As you read this the World Series of Poker is going on in Las Vegas, with upwards of $200,000,000 in total prize money. There has been an explosion of young people playing poker, many of them dropping out of college to do so. Many young players have made millions and gone broke numerous times before their 21st birthday.
With numerous 19-22 year olds making millions per year, this is one modern cultural aspiration that seems to be trumping 'solar installer' or 'micro-hydro engineer'. Once exposed to playing 4-6 high stakes online poker games simultaneously (and winning), planting potatoes or backpacking in Yosemite become the neural equivalent of a baked potato (with nary salt nor butter).

Regarding sex, there are few healthy men on the planet today that in social settings do not respond, outwardly or otherwise, to the attention of a high status, attractive 20-30 something woman. This is salient stimuli, irrespective of the mans marital status. But here is one example of where nature and nurture mesh. Despite the fact that 99+% of our history is polygynous, modern culture precludes men from running around pell mell chasing women - we have rules, laws, and institutions such as marriage. Though habituation to various 'things' may at least partially explain the 60%+ divorce rate in modern society. The grass is greener and such...

Seriously, the entire brain and behavior story is far more complex than just one neurotransmitter and its reward pathway. But the pursuit of this particular 'substance' is clearly correlated with anxiety, obesity, and general increasing of conspicuous consumption in our society. (1) That dopamine is directly involved is pretty clear. Parkinsons Disease is a condition where dopamine is lacking in an area of the brain necessary for motor coordination. Here is a fMRI photo of dopamine levels of a Parkinsons patient vs. a control. The Parkinsons drug, Mirapex, increases dopamine levels in that area of the brain, but since pills are not lasers, it also increases dopamine in other areas of the body, including (surprise) the reward pathways. There are numerous lawsuits currently pending by Parkinsons patients who after taking the drug, developed sex, gambling, shopping and overeating compulsions (Journal of Neurology Sep 2005).

Food is also an area that can trick the brain. We evolved in situations where salt and sugar where rare and lacking. When we taste Doritos or Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie, our reward pathways say 'yes yes - this is good for you!!', at the same time our 'rational' brain reminds us of the science showing obesity comes from eating too much of the wrong type of foods. For most (myself included) my rational brain is batting about .250 or less. Americans lead the world in obesity(Percentage of population with Body Mass Index > 30 SOURCE - OECD FACTBOOK 2005 – ISBN 92-64-01869-7 – © OECD 2005). Since we are exporting our culture (via the market system) to developing countries, it is no surprise that China is following in our footsteps. From 1991 to 2004 the percentage of adults who are overweight or obese in China increased from 12.9% to 27.3%.(8) Furthermore, we can become habituated to repeated presentation of the same food type - we quickly get tired of it and crave something different. We like variety. In food and in other things.

(Side note: recently I've been cooking for myself - I cook too much and share the leftovers with my dog. He now shuns his regular food (unless he's starving). Apparently dogs can experience food habituation as well (which is bad for me - he is now a perpetual beggar).


As has been previously written about on here, the economic term for impulsivity is steep discount rates, which means we weight the present predominantly more than the future when making decisions (consciously or otherwise). (I am beginning to think this phenomenon is really the ecological maxim, The Maximum Power Principle, integrated with culture) The discounting model of impulsiveness (Ainslie, 1975) implies that discount rates are positively correlated with impulsivity. On average, heroin addicts' discount rates are over double those of controls. Furthermore, in tests measuring discount rates and preferences among opium addicts, opioid dependent participants discounted delayed monetary rewards significantly more than did non-drug using controls. Also, the opioid-dependent participants discounted delayed opium significantly more than delayed money, more evidence that brain chemicals are central to an organisms behavior and money and other abstractions are secondary. Subsequent research has also shown that deprivation of various addictive substances even further steepens a subject’s preference for immediate consumption over delayed gratification. This grid summarizes some of the latest research statistics on addiction to various substances that cause us to choose small short term rewards over larger long term rewards. (source - Intertemporal Choice - Chablis et al. -The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, 2007). Even if we are not snorting cocaine or binge drinking on a Tuesday night, in a world with so much choice and so many stimulating options vying for our attention, perhaps more and more of us are addicted to...time.


Source - "The Overspent American" - Professor Juliet Schor (Click to enlarge)

Though we might claim otherwise, we always want more. Many desires have negative feedbacks however. I can only eat about 3 cheeseburgers before my stomach sends a signal to my brain that I am full - if I ate 4 or 5 my stomach and esophogus would eventually fill up so that I couldn't physically eat another one. This is not so with virtual wealth, or many of the "wanting" stimuli promoted in our culture. In ongoing research Professor Juliet Schor of Boston University demonstrates that no matter how much we (the study was on Americans) make, we always say we'd like to make a little more the following year. Similar research, by UCLA economist Richard Easterlin followed a cohort of people over an 16 year period. (he is the eponymous coiner of the "Easterlin Paradox" which points out that average happiness has remained constant over time despite sharp rises in GDP per Capita.) The participants were asked at the onset to list 10 items that they desired. (e.g. sports car, snowmobile, house, private jet, etc.) Over the 16 year study, all age groups tested did acquire some/many of the things they originally desired. But in each case, their desires increased more than their acquisitions. This phenomenon is termed the "Hedonic Treadmill". Clearly mansions and sports cars don't inherently elicit lifelong cravings on their own. Culture plays the integral role in linking our neural scaffolding to consumptive pursuits. Modern brain research indicates that we get a higher buzz by pursuing the type of 'status' symbols (in this study, cars) that society attaches value to. In my opinion, this behavior is at the heart of the Peak Oil problem, and gives me less confidence that we are just going to 'tighten our belts' when the energy situation gets a little tougher and more expensive. That is unless, we change what we want MORE of.

In evolution, (and other fields), this is known as the Ratchet Effect, where once a certain level is reached there is no going backward, at least not all the way. An example of this is obesity - as we get fatter the body creates more adipocytes (adipose tissue). But this system doesn't work in reverse - even though we can lose some of the weight gain, the body can't eliminate these new cells- they are here to stay - thus the ratchet effect. In biology, animals will expend more energy to defend freshly gained territory. In humans, related concepts in economics are the endowment effect and loss aversion - the pain from losing (money) is greater than the pleasure of gaining it.


Our gradual acclimation to substances and activities that hijack our reward system is increasingly forcing us (collectively) to live in the moment. Unwinding this cultural behavior may prove to be difficult. The sensations we seek in the modern world are not only available and cheap, but most are legal, and the vast majority are actually promoted by our culture. If the rush is tied to something that society rewards we call it ambition, if its attached to something a little scary, then we label the individual a ‘risktaker’ and if its tied to something illegal – then they are an ‘addict’ or substance abuser. So it seems culture has voted on which drugs are 'good' to pursue.

Thought experiment on drugs - legal and illegal vs energy footprint(Click to enlarge)

This is (obviously) a hypothetical chart, so I will follow it with a hypothetical question. What would society look like if Starbucks dispensed marijuana and Home Depots were giant opium dens? Would we be better off, collectively? (Caffeine is akin to horizontal drilling of oil - it maximizes current production at the cost of higher future depletion).

Drug addiction is defined as "the compulsive seeking and taking of a drug despite adverse consequences". If we substitute the word ‘resource’ for ‘drug’, have we meaningfully violated or changed this definition? That should depend on the definition of ‘drug’ – "a substance that a person chemically comes to rely upon" is standard. Proximally, a drug is a physical substance, but ultimately, it is any activity or substance that generates brain chemicals in a pattern we habituate to. Thus, it is not crude oils intrinsic qualities we crave but the biochemical sensations we have become accustomed to arising from creatively using its embodied energy.

Take stock trading for example. Neuroscience scans show that stock trading lights up the same brain areas as picking nuts and berries do in other primates, suggestive of what our ancestors must have 'felt' as they tried to increase resources. In my opinion, there are three (at least) 'objectives' one gets from investing/trading in the market, in varying degrees in different people. Neoclassical economics suggests it is the efficient allocation of capital to the company that rewards the investor for risk. I think people trade for a)money/profit (to compete/move up the mating ladder), b)to be ‘right’, and c) for the excitement/dopamine of the unexpected nature of market movements. While they are not mutually exclusive, it is not clear to me which objective dominates, especially among people who have already attained infinite wealth (technically their annual expenses divided by the t-bill rate). This I witnessed first hand for many years as my billionaire clients on average were less 'happy' than the $30k a year clerks processing their trades. More exciting lives perhaps, but not happier. The rich wanted 'more' because they were habituated to getting more - it's how they kept score. Unless you inherit it, you don't get to be a billionaire if you are easily satisfied. Old brain - new choices.

Regarding compulsive shopping, if this were a rational process, and our choices were influenced only by need, then brand name t-shirts would sell no better than less expensive shirts of equal quality. The truth is that many shopping decisions are biased by corporate advertising campaigns or distorted by a desire to satisfy some competitive urge or emotional need. Payless Shoe Stores has just set up a website campaign for women who love shoes, etc. If the statistic in stating that 99% of what we buy ends up as trash within 6 months is correct, then we really have created an entropic machine (I don't know how to check that source - but the video is worth watching). The peak 'brain cocktail' is the moment we decide to buy that new 'item'. After a brief euphoria and a short respite, the clock starts ticking on the next craving.

Not shown on the chart would be many activities falling in the lower left part, both legal and low energy: gardening, reading books, playing games with the family, going for hikes, thinking, sleeping, playing sports, etc. Also not shown might be the hugest dopamine rush of them all - attaining high political office. Unlike heroin and opium which work on opiate receptors and 'satiate' the user, dopamine is a 'wanting' drug. One more orgasm, one more pair of shoes, one more million in the bank, one more social approval, one more check of my email, one more political notch, etc. I wonder what a brain scan of Hillary Clinton during a debate would look like compared to someone on cocaine. I'm guessing pretty similar. (fMRI machines, in order to function, have enormous magnets, and thus only work in lab settings - they cannot be made to be mobile in the forseeable future, but that would be fun)

Also missing on the graphic is violence. Recent research shows that the dopamine we (males) receive from aggression rivals that of food or sex. This is not encouraging.


The Global Carrot for 6.6 billion and growing is What and Whom?(Click to enlarge)

So what are the drivers of economic growth and resource depletion? The "aspiration gap" is economic-speak for the relative fitness/status drive towards who/what is at the top of the status hierarchy. Envy is a strong motivator. A friend recounted that when he last visited Madagascar, the 5th poorest nation on earth, the villagers huddled around the one TV in the village watching the nations most popular TV show 'Melrose Place', giving them a window of desire into Hollywood glitz and glamour, and a beacon to dream about and strive for... More recently, a prince in the royal family of U.A.E. paid $14 million for a vanity license plate "1". "I bought it because I want to be the best in the world." said Khouri, whose family made its fortune in real estate. What message do the kids watching TV in U.A.E receive?

The above graphic is a hypothetical normal distribution of world population. Modern developed nations are competing for profits, yet we are doing so smack in the face of declining energy surplus. When a new child is born, it has all the genetic material he will ever have (all his ancestors until that moment have honed his/her neural wiring for fitness maximization - but when he is born, his genes will interact within the environment indicating what to compete for status, respect, mating prospects, resources etc. From this point forward, the genes are 'fixed' and the infant begins life as an 'adaptation executor'. What will a child born in the 21st century 'learn' to compete for? Historically, we have always pursued social status, though status been measured in dramatically different ways throughout history. Currently, most people pursue money as a short-cut fitness marker, though some compete in other ways - politics, knowledge, etc. Modern fMRIs show artificial cultural objects associated with wealth and social dominance elicit activation in reward-related brain areas (Erk 2002) (in that study, peoples anterior cingulate lit up more (had more neural response) to visual cues of sports cars vs limosines or small cars). Thus, a large looming problem is that the Chinese (and other rapidly developing nations) don't just aspire the wealth of average Americans - they want whole hog to be millionaires. The only way this can happen is that after basic needs are met, the definition of 'millionaires' changes (or I suppose, central banks could dramatically increase the money supply)

A hypothetical human timeline of stimulation opportunities (Click to enlarge)


I recently returned from a weekend trip to Las Vegas. On the plane home, full of disconsolate, exhausted zombies, it struck me that Vegas is a microcosm of modern society in several important ways.

1)On the plane ride to Vegas, everyone was giddy, sociable, even manic, anticipating all kinds of unexpected reward in the Babylon of 21st century. Once you get off the plane, its like you are on one extended 72 hour search for unexpected reward. Can't find it here? Let's go there. Craps, horses, poker, women, golf, swimming, booze, craps, massage, sleep, craps, women, sushi over and over. It's society compressed into a weekend.

2)I probably know more about the issues surrounding Peak Oil than 99% of people on the planet. Yet among the bright lights, freely flowing drinks, friendly company, and non-stop excitement, not only did I forget about our pending date with a global oil peak, but for about a 12 hour period, under influence from friends, Peak Oil actually seemed impossible. There is no way all this glitz and glamour could end - the vitality in the casinos was viral. The availability heuristic, and other psychological phenomenon were very powerful indeed to thus anesthetize a peak oil curmudgeon like myself. (2 hours back at the cabin reading the Drumbeat straightened me right out). My point is that few will believe until events force them too. I've known this for a while, but this little personal vignette sealed the concept.

3)There is a shared mythology in America (and spreading) that we can each enjoy fame and opulence at the top of the social pyramid. Even though everyone (I think) knows the odds are stacked against them - they have hope they will be the big winner. 78% of Americans still believe that anybody in America can become rich and live the good life (15). The reality is that the longer one gambles in Vegas, the higher the odds are stacked against you. In our economic system, not everyone can be Donald Trump by definition - there are not enough resources - it's the carrot of potential reward that keeps people working 50 hours a week until they retire at 65. All cannot be first. All cannot be wealthy, which makes capitalism, on a finite resource planet not dissimilar from a Ponzi scheme.

4)Vegas may be a canary in our societal coalmine, as the just-in-time delivery model has to run just right in a desert community importing food, water and energy. Already, there are studies showing there may not be enough water for flat consumption by 2020, let alone enough for planned expansions and a new airport. The Mirage may one day be aptly named.

Given what I've outlined in this post, perhaps the worst thing that can happen to a 'new gambler' (or child) is to hit 777 or win big on his/her first experience - its sets up a mental feedback system via the amygdyla and reward pathways that raises expectations in the future, thus making the allure of one armed bandits, etc. difficult to just walk past. A similar setpoint may occur with skiing, buying a new car, making ones first million, or any number of socially sanctioned activities using energy....


This essay has explored some of the underlying drivers of resource depletion and human consumption: more humans competing for more stuff that has more novelty. The self-ambition and curiosity that Adam Smith hailed as twin engines of economic growth have been quite effective over the past 200 years. But Adam Smith did caution in "Moral Sentiments" that human envy and a tendency toward compulsions, if left unchecked, could undermine the empathic social relationships that would be essential to his economic model and the successful long term operation of free markets. Smith lived before the creation of the megacorporation, before 24 hour global commerce and before stock options and NASCAR. Amidst so much choice and wealth, we are discovering some uncomfortable facts backed up by modern neurobiology that confirm Adam Smiths fears. In an era of material affluence, when wants have not yet been fully constrained by limited resources, the evidence from our modern American experiment suggests that humans have trouble setting limits on their instinctual cravings. And our rational brains have an equally hard time acknowledging this glaring fact.

This essay has likened the chemical sensations we receive from many socially available stimuli in our fast paced world to the same neural patterns that occur with illicit drugs. "Addiction" can mean many things to many people. I am quite certain a psychiatrist would refuse to diagnose any of us with 'an oil addiction'. But perhaps not an ecologist. The literature from economics as well as psychology and neuroscience suggest that when an addict (broadly defined) is exposed to higher prices, conventional economic theory will not hold. Since the rational actor model has now been thoroughly disproven so as to almost be an economic footnote, this should not come as a surprise.

In conclusion, dear reader, I have thrown a great deal of information your way. I hope it is clear(er) that we have both biological and cultural constraints on our behavior and that finding the next billion barrels may or may not prove to be a good thing. If you have read this far, I doubt you have serious addiction issues. An addict would likely not have had the patience to read 8,000+ words..;-)


0. The Human Economy==> We turn natural resources into dollars, and then turn dollars into brain chemicals + waste.

1. If we do manage to increase societies aggregate energy gain, this surplus will be split amongst the entrepreneurs and consumers and ripple through the economic system like a deposit in a fractional banking system. More stuff to become habituated to. Thus, What Price Progress?

2. I have come to the conclusion that we cannot change our penchant to want more. We can only change how we define the 'more'. Put aside Peak Oil and Climate Change for the moment. We have it in us to ‘nudge’ how our brains get ‘hijacked’. We can choose to go for a jog/hike instead of sending 10 emails and websurfing, we can choose to have a salad instead of a cheeseburger, we can choose to play a game or read a story with our children instead of making 5 business phone calls, etc. But most of these choices, in my opinion, require prior planning. Because ‘at the moment’, our brains will fall into the neural grooves that modern culture has worn into them. It takes conscious plans to change these behaviors, and for some this will be harder than for others (for me very hard). But in choosing thusly, we are likely making ourselves as individuals healthier and happier, with the positive externalities of using less energy and slowing and eventually reversing the societal stimulation feedback loop.

3. It sounds corny, but the ratio Dopamine/Entropy may be a better choice to maximize than many economic formulas. The brain is clearly not as simple as just a single one of over 100 neurotransmitters - but in our current cultural runaway feedback, dopamine looms large. However, in addition to maximizing Dopamine/Entopy, we know that we will want MORE (of something) in the future. So we have to build that in to the equation, and only aspire to maximize Dopamine/Entropy, e.g. keep the first derivative positive but second derivative negative (or zero). Perhaps maximizing ==>(Unexpected Reward-Expected reward)/Entropy might be a more complex but loftier goal. Food for thought.

4. In the 1970s resource concerns spawned analyses on net energy (Odum), limits to growth(Meadows et al) and criticism of the neoclassical economics model (Georgescu-Roegen, Daly), but the planet was still comparatively empty, and cheap resources still abounded. However, things are really starting to change quickly- the global rich are at least beginning to realize the implications of peak oil, even if they don’t believe it is imminent. They will gradually understand that a GINI coefficient rising towards 1.0 and accelerating ecosystem destruction will not leave them or their children much of a place to enjoy their money. This means there is a real possibility of educating local, regional and national leaders (likely via the rich and powerful) towards a different system. It's now in their interests.

5. In my opinion, the United States has a monumental (though long odds) opportunity to shift the worlds carrot away from conspicuous consumption. As ostensible leaders of the free world, we need to set an example that others will follow. The only thing standing in the way is the overwhelming pursuit of profits as our end goal, despite the rationale for the economic system being continually debunked. At a minimum there needs to be government regulation of some areas of the market. Costs that have long been externalized need to be accounted for. Perhaps a system where the market allocates and votes on 'luxury items' while government manages the commons and basic goods? I do admit that Europe is a good deal further than we are on many of these fronts. My fear is that Americans 'ingenuity' will focus entirely on replacing our energy supply with lower EROI renewables, and thus not only miss the larger prize, but win the booby prize. (An upcoming post will be on The Tragedy of the Energy Investing Commons)

6. The planet is finite: there is only so much land, oil, water, dolphins and gold. No matter how efficiently we use our resources, if there are more users competing for more stuff, we will eventually run out of goods. However, information is limitless. We can explore, research, study, and learn as much as we wish. With the caveat that 8 hours of reading be balanced by hearty physical exercise, information is one thing we can compete for that uses few resources. Look at as one example. Vernadskii dreamt of a system he called “noosphere” – a biosphere driven by human intellect, spirituality, knowledge, and understanding. This has a shot.....(but then, what would we DO with the information...?

7. There is anecdotal evidence that the typical american diet high in processed starches and sugar robs us of our baseline serotonin - the zen master of brain neurotransmitters. Lack of serotonin makes us more susceptible to cravings/behavioural changes and throws the reward machinery out of whack. Food we buy/eat is available at stores and restaurants because a)it is profitable b)it is convenient and c)it tastes good. I suspect that future changes in diet towards more vegetables and less processed food might improve our collective addictions/impulsivity. However, this is speculation as the data is sparse.

8. If we can be neurally hijacked, what does it suggest about television, advertising, media, etc? The majority of the neuro-economic sources I used in writing this post were a byproduct of studies funded by neuromarketing research! How does 'rational utility' function in a society where we are being expertly marketed to pull our evolutionary triggers to funnel the money upwards??

9. In retrospect, this has not been a post about Peak Oil. From the perspective of perpetual wants in an existing system, Peak Oil may only appear to be a crisis, but it might also be the needed catalyst for change. We, collectively, are in charge, but need to look at the real big picture, with science, hope and community.

10 The propensity for neural habituation is analog, not digital. Each of us has something akin to an habituation potential 'rating' on a scale of 1-10 (1 being totally non-addictive and 10 being full-on addict -valuing only the next few minutes in their lives over any future rewards/punishments. ) The higher the cultural composite sum of these ratings (adding up and averaging a population) the harder it will be to access long term positive decisions. Reducing our addictive behaviours (collectively) will make it easier to face the situations likely during an energy descent.

Footer This amazing photography work artistically frames some of the impacts of the ideas in this essay.)

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(editor's note by PG: This is a slightly revised post adapted from this one which originally ran about a year ago, but it seemed time to bring it back out again. :) )

Very interesting post. Another good book on the subject is: The Hypomanic Edge: The Link Between (A Little) Craziness and (A Lot of) Success in America; by John Gartner. Lots of data on the preponderance of manic people in the U.S. I hope that we are beginning to see a very small shift in the activities that bring us pleasure. Many of us are very driven people yet not materialistic- I think we just find our rewards in other things- some good and some not.

As demand is the precedent of supply, addressing it openly allows each of us to confront that which we take for granted (or attempt to ignore); why do we unconsciously seek the most resources possible?

This and a related post are two of the most important contributions on TOD on the 1/2 of the equation that is lightly touched on. The more we confront this perpetual monkey on our backs, the more we realize we've been wearing virtual ruby slippers all along...

Very good, very thorough post.

The more I dwell on this topic the more I think the fact that we evolved during a period of scarcity is the root cause of most of our behavior. You mention it briefly, but I think it deserves more attention as the possible basis for why we are attuned to novelty and why the habituation mechanism works as it does.

Scarcity goes a long way to toward explaining much of our behavior. Interestingly, I think the richest in our society are often the ones operating from scarcity the most, that's in fact what is driving them incessantly to greater achievement: "$1 million in the bank isn't enough, I need $10 million....(some time later) $10 million in the bank isn't enough, I need $100 million...(some time later)...$100 million isn't enough, I need $1 billion" and so on. What kind of person needs to keep growing their cache like this? The kind of person who is operating from "this (whatever this is at the moment) isn't enough" (i.e. scarcity).

Or it's common to hear on a first date how people don't speak freely about what they really want in a relationship out of fear that the person won't come back for a second date. But that only makes sense if there is a scarcity of potential mates. If the person was operating from the context that there is an abundance of potential mates, the more productive strategy would be to say what one wants right away to filter out those people who don't want the same thing. Then we would go to the next person rather than waste our time. "I couldn't possibly tell him that! What's if he's the one?" That behavior is clearly absurd and is best explained because the person is operating from the context that there isn't another potential mate to replace the discarded one (i.e. scarcity).

There are lots of other examples. For instance, "collectors" of all sorts say that they "just like collecting" and will wax poetic about how lovely each piece is, but what truly drives them to enlarge their collection? I think scarcity has a fundamental underlying role here, too.

If one looks around, we (humans) do lots of things that seem to be best explained because even though we now live in an age of abundance, our wiring is still geared for scarcity. When true scarcity does arrive, as it is already and will continue, our defense mechanisms will really kick in to protect what we've got — a necessary strategy because there won't be more of whatever it is we are protecting coming.

We could just as easily call the second half of the Age of Oil as the Age of Scarcity. We will watch international treaties fail (it's easier to be generous when there is abundance), democratic social institutions break down (same reason), fights over resources and much more.

The worldwide psychological shift about to occur in our species will be astonishing to watch. The advances we have made in subordinating our scarcity wiring are beginning to unravel.


The worldwide psychological shift about to occur in our species will be astonishing to watch. The advances we have made in subordinating our scarcity wiring are beginning to unravel.

Perhaps we just need to create new information feed back loops. Either that or find ways to actually short circuit the scarcity wiring loop in ways that will make us feel as if we are experiencing abundance.

5. Information flows.

There was this subdivision of identical houses, the story goes, except that the electric meter in some of the houses was installed in the basement and in others it was installed in the front hall, where the residentscould see it constantly, going round faster or slower as they used more or less electricity. Electricityconsumption was 30 percent lower in the houses where the meter was in the front hall.

Systems-heads love that story because it's an example of a high leverage point in the information structure of the system. It's not a parameter adjustment, not a strengthening or weakening of an existing loop. It's a NEW LOOP, delivering feedback to a place where it wasn't going before.

In 1986 the US government required that every factory releasing hazardous air pollutants report those emissions publicly. Suddenly everyone could find out precisely what was coming out of the smokestacks in town. There was no law against those emissions, no fines, no determination of "safe" levels, just information. But by 1990 emissions dropped 40 percent. One chemical company that found itself on the Top Ten Polluters list reduced its emissions by 90 percent, just to "get off that list."

Missing feedback is a common cause of system malfunction. Adding or rerouting information can be a powerful intervention, usually easier and cheaper than rebuilding physical structure.

Donella Meadows: Leverage Points - Places To Intervene In A System

You raise a very good point. I've found that having the instantaneous mileage feedback while driving my wife's Prius has me drive differently (her, too).

In Canada, an experiment was performed in which people were told how much their choice of medical procedures was going to cost. People chose less expensive procedures most of the time after having a conversation with their doctor about the relative merits of the options. This is astonishing because in the Canadian medical system the patient does not pay out of pocket for the procedures. It seems that when given extra information, more people choose to be parsimonious with their selections (more evidence of our evolutionary wiring to operate from scarcity, I would say).

BMW has had a realtime milage indicator (vacuum gauge) for ever and it does get your attention and cause more conservative driving habits.
If medical care was treated like any other consumer service the price would come way down.
The reason anything that is insured is very expensive is the lack of barter habits.

The more I dwell on this topic the more I think the fact that we evolved during a period of scarcity is the root cause of most of our behavior. You mention it briefly, but I think it deserves more attention as the possible basis for why we are attuned to novelty and why the habituation mechanism works as it does.

I suppose one could argue that we were archaic humans before the Toba catastrophe and modern humans after it.

Interesting analysis. I have come to the conclusion that the Buddhists have gotten something figured out in their ability to subdue desire and be happier as a result. I wouldn't say I'm buddhist though, I don't have the time in this modern society to pursue it .... hehe. Some day.

I have always found it strange, and even more so nowadays, that one of the leading indicators of our economic "health" is the number of new housing starts. If there is anything in our economy that is not sustainable, it is building new houses. It makes no sense, but at the same time it fulfills a deep urge we have inside to biuld our own shelters, and somehow we as a society accept and even value this most intrusive of human behaviors as a good thing that needs to be stimulated.

I guess it goes back to our days on the savannah when we lived in temporary structures and roamed the fields. You'd make a house, live in it for a year, then move on. Then your "house" would burn down or be trampled by animals, and revert to the way it was before. Population was stable, so no big deal. Well now, with property rights nobody moves on, the land does not revert back to its original state after you move out because you instead sell your house to someone else, and with population growing they just gobble up more land to build more houses.

It's very bizzare.

Null, I have to say that Buddhism came to my mind as well as I read Nate's detailed overview of addiction. Attachment Causes Suffering is all the Buddhism I am acquainted with, but it echoes here. Subsequent experiences of some joyful thing just can't match up with the first experience, and we are disappointed (suffer) as a result. Moderation, in part, implies laying off the joyful experience almost until we forget it. Then it can be (almost) as joyful.

Yes, the Buddhists did figure this out thousands of years ago without the knowledge of neurotransmitters. It's roughly translated as attachment and craving.

It's a very sophisticated philosophical framework, but in practice it often gets reduced to ritual and superstition, like with my Chinese family. It hasn't stopped them from being superstitious about luck and gambling, something else common in Asian cultures.

but in practice it often gets reduced to ritual and superstition

It is like some kind of Immutable Law that even the greatest paradigm-shifting ideas have to devolve into a ritual for the masses. I think Max Weber referred to it as 'routinized charisma.'

99% of Buddhism is superstition based like the rest of religion, with ritual, social control by a elite class the major goal.
However, the concept of codependent origination makes the other 1% very interesting.

If you have read this far, I doubt you have serious addiction issues.

I beg to differ! My dopamine receptors are firing as I struggle to respond to the bit torrent of information stimulus in your post. Naturally, in my addled state, I will think what I am saying is brilliant while more sober observers will recognize it as prosaic, even tiresome. Arguably, though, I can't help myself so here are some brief thoughts:

de Tocqueville was an exemplary early chronicler of the American phenomenon. Essentially, he saw the response of humanity to what was, in the American continent, the discovery of a virgin Europe (i.e. an unexploited country climatologically very similar to the old country). Probably actually two Europes resource-wise, but with all of old Europe's accumulated technology available to apply. In hindsight it seems obvious that colonists and their decendents would run wild. Your discussion linking it up to the dominant personality type that would come to America adds another dimension to understanding this, IMO.

You touch on the evolution of cultures as well. A type of natural selection would seem to operate here, most simply expressed as the biggest tribes corral the most resources and thus win out. But it seems to me that how a tribe gets big (assuming the resources for growth are available, not true in the case of many societies) turns out to be complex. All the structures of government, monogamy, and ethics/civics seem to me to have evolved to manage problems with the increasing complexities of larger tribes. Many of these structures try to rein in our instinctive proclivities, to keep them from damaging the tribe. I had imagined that managing widespread environmental destruction was a replay of the development of these earlier cultural structures, writ global. But declining energy superimposed on top of the need to develop these 'new structures' makes humanity's challenge all the harder.

You mentioned information being free, which is an important point. The virtual network provided by information could be a key tool to help us all along. I imagine self-reliant communities that nonetheless can turn to digital how-to manuals and YouTube videos from anywhere on Earth to address problems, sharing solutions as they go.

And then I remember the grid, sats, and servers that support all that content today. Can we leverage the virtual network and minimize the physical network, as it appears we must?

Great post!

Much sense in this post. I'll just raise the odd negatives.

Firstly, your opening citation:

“Selfish behaviors are reward driven and innate, wired deeply into the survival mechanisms of the primitive brain, [ snips..]
On the other hand, the self restraint and the empathy for others [....] are learned behaviors [....]". Dr. Peter Whybrow absolute cobblers. If natural selection really did favour selfishness and disfavoured self-restraint and empathy, then it would have no difficulty selecting out the ability to learn such supposedly disadvantageous tendencies. But it doesn't because they are not disadvantageous. Can you seriously imagine that anyone who is a totally selfish arsehole has any success in life? The honest answer is no. Everyone cooperates (to some extent) because anyone who did not would rapidly find themselves in a community of one reject.

As for the supposed distinction between temperament and personality, this is a case of wordism (a false conceptual scheme derived from or imposed on the set of words in the language). HJ Eysenck pioneered long ago the original research on personality dimensions (without presuming about their genetic/env causality). ENP- extraversion, neuroticism and psychoticism. The later imitator is rarely any improvement on the great original (of which another instance is Rokeach's "Dogmatic Personality" book studiously ignoring Eysenck et al's previous publications on the same matters).

I think we also need to emphasise more than you do here that people are not all the same. There are a lot of people who think ahead and not impulsively and or ambitiously and or even selfishly.

Even a grasping multimillionaire raises questions. Just before superficially scanning your essay, I read an email from such a multimillionaire, his latest "John's Rant"
, explaining why he no longer whizzes the 200 miles down the motorway to London but gets the train instead! Maybe the wider understanding is getting to him too.

Since I'm in the office working for peanuts [not nearly as many as in the photo] I don't have time to read the whole article and probably never will given its length and elevation above my ability to understand it. I think I get the gist though. This warning rings true:

But Adam Smith did caution in "Moral Sentiments" that human envy and a tendency toward compulsions, if left unchecked, could undermine the empathic social relationships that would be essential to his economic model and the successful long term operation of free markets.

My anecdotal observation is that "human envy and a tendency toward compulsions [addictions]" is the eternal human paradigm and "empathic social relationships" appear to be limited in extent to the family, friends and a smattering of associations.

And as they said in the old Vanilla Fudge song You Just Keep Me Hanging On "There ain't nothin' I can do about it, baby."

I'm sure after this essay you are ready for a hike on the Appalachian Trail or maybe if that's not enough a quick trip to South America.

In the imortal words of Van Morrison, "Danga Langa Lang, I'm in Heav-on" (Jackie Wilson Said)

Something has to be wrong with your math about Ghengis Khan. 800,000 times more fecund? Assuming that each male alive in 1200 CE has just one living male descendant, then 800,000 times means that Ghengis had to impregnate over 62 women each day/night for 35 years straight-- and that they all had boys. I think that you may want to reword this as "Ghengis Khan and his descendants." If Ghengis and his sons were only twice as likely to produce male heirs than the average King Henry VII (for example), then this would explain, over 40 generations, the entire discrepancy.

And, of course, I have special authority on this point, since I am a direct descendant of Charlemagne.

I changed it to 'reproductive success' from 'fecund' to be more clear (I don't think he had many sons - but IIRC one son, Khublai Khan, sired a boatload of children...

Excellent post, Nate, as always. Made this required reading for my EcoPsych students.

Unfortunately, inclusive fitness is relative, so we are never satisfied with just "keeping up with the Jones," we feel an irrational need to one up them.

I offer the following video clips as incontrovertible evidence:

Awesome post,Mr Hagens!

If you will please post any additional book titles and authors that come to mind as I mostly buy second hand and the more the better when you hit the e stores.

The book The Evolutionary Basis of Consumption came out after I wrote this post - I actually just found out about it and ordered it and have not read it.

In my opinion, the 'unexpected reward/habituation' concept, is underexplored and underlies much of our recent lack of family time to internet, inability of people to come to lectures because they are too busy, less books being read, and overall ratcheting up cultural stimulation thresholds.

What does it profit a man if he gains the world but loses his soul? Jesus and other spiritual teachers have looked on the accumulation of goods as something bad for our long term well-being. Native American world view stated that the richest man was the one who gave away the most and was exemplified in the potlatch ceremony of western Canadian First Nations people. A few years ago I heard about an heiress who suffered from chronic depression which was only relieved when she started giving her money away.

NYTimes has something related:

How the Food Makers Captured Our Brains

Well, it's a nicely argued and logical analysis of what motivates us.

The only problem I can see is when I try to apply it to myself. I've worked on every continent (including Antarctica), and currently live about 10,000 miles from my birthplace. So I must be one of those people who crave novelty rather than safety. On the other hand, I have lived in the same house for nearly thirty years, and drive a ten-year-old car with over 150,000 miles on it, badly in need of washing and missing one hubcap. I've also had the same wife (my first) for nearly thirty years. So I must be one of those who craves stability rather than status. Real people do not fit the stereotype or average.

Nate's reaction to Las Vegas is very different to mine. I have been there a few times, so I do know what I'm talking about. I once saw, years ago, a TV interview with an English tourist who was visiting Death Valley in summer:

Interviewer: Did you ever get the feeling that this might be what Hell is like?

Tourist: Not at all. But I did have to go through Las Vegas to get here. I rather think that is what Hell is like.

That nicely sums up my thoughts about Las Vegas.

American people -- and all people for that matter -- are much more complex than this analysis suggests. But there are people who fit the stereotype. Even within my limited circle of acquaintances I know two men who have bought 2009 Chevrolet Corvettes within the last month. Talk about tail feathers.

Nate's reaction to Las Vegas is very different to mine.

Either materialism or sensualism can get the dopamine flowing, and I imagine it differs from person to person and even over time.

Pursuing the chance to live all over the world but being indifferent to the condition of your car makes you more of a sensualist than a materialist. The conspicuous gambling that goes on in Vegas appeals to the materialist, and is therefore distasteful to you. OTOH, when Nate talks about what gets his motor running, it tends to the materialist.

I'm overgeneralizing. The above is not meant to be judgemental. Why would I post dime store psychoanalysis?

It occurred to me reading your post that the sensualists could decry the materialists and vice versa, neither accepting responsibility for their part (our part) in pushing humanity over the edge.

If this is true, then I think there won't be much left if we have a "great collapse"... it all reminds me of WWII cases like Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany where the addiction to a collapsing ideolgy was so great that many individuals chose to die rather than adapt to a different reality.

Yes, except that in this case it will be all the greater an intellectual collapse.
By the way, in your ahem, Ignorance do you have any documentation of the "great many individuals" choosing to die rather than adapt?
I don't otherwise trust anything I hear on this dodgy site!


If you read "The Rising Sun" by John Toland he describes the many Pacific island battles as well as the last days before V-J Day. This book is based on interviews of Japanese survivors and is considered the first book that presents the Japanese point of view concerning WWII.

"The Last 100 Days" - also by Toland - covers the events in Europe.

You can also read the frustrations of German Luftwaffe General Adolf Galland in "The First And The Last" as he is powerless to stop the suicidal missions of German pilots.

A few years ago an independant German film (don't remember title; circa 2003-2006) depicted how many of Hitler's followers decided to commit suicide rather than live in a Nazi-free world.

Read about how some of the Soviet generals commited suicide after the USSR fell and read their suicide notes.

A good study on suicides: Baumeister, R.F. Escaping the Self: Alcoholism, Spirituality, Masochism, and Other Flights From the Burden of Selfhood, Basic Books 1991, ISBN: 0465020534


Wow!...if that's ignorant, what word is left to describe myself!
Actually I had been wondering on watching (though not exactly enjoying) some of the Nazi propaganda films, how they had built up such a notion of how they were working towards a wonderful (for some) future, and investing so much effort into it, that it must have been a shattering shock to see it all come to so much worse than nothing.

I suspect that it was not so much the intellectual shock as partly the fact they had invested so much work into the failed enterprise (if that's the right word for what the Nazis did). Also a third thing which is shame of failure. Like the designer of the Tay bridge who appears to have died of shame (albeit not by suicide) after it collapsed with a train crossing.

And then a fourth factor which is commitment to a group (which failed). So in these three extra respects the psycho-impact of a "mere" general collapse could be less rather than more.

I think this post is a good example how you have fallen to the evolution addiction. Lots of what you say does not need evolution at all as an explanation. Nevertheless, you cannot get the positive feedback in your brain if you don't somehow attribute things occurring in nature to evolution. Apparently Evolution is the magic that makes you tick, like porn for others. Evolution is the opium of the science....

I have several addictions and evolution is not one of them (though internet is).

All of these behaviors are true whether you apply an evolutionary lens or not - the description is just richer (and the opportunities for solutions greater) if you understand the greater backdrop that created the behaviors. Conventional psychology and sociology were always so many 'theories' by well read persuasive people without any unifying thread. Look at the research at Max Planck Institute in Germany or many of the neuroscience schools in California (UCSD, UCSB, UCLA,etc). The idea that we are not fitness maximizers but adaptation executors (and certainly not rational actors) is finally taking hold - I expect it to continue to solidify despite it being uncomfortable and unacceptable to many (remember - only 40% of americans believe evolution even happened....)

Indeed, evolution, and evolutionary psychology in particular, is the required foundational meta-theory for psychology and the social sciences.

Without evolution, all you are left with is "psychological creationism."
This is about as helpful as physiological creationism.

Ah, here you show nicely the motive why you need to believe in evolution: because the alternative you contemplate is "not helpful" to you.

What alternative theory explain our addictions and consumptive behaviours along with the odd mix of selfishness and altruism that we have, and how can we falsify or test it, and what predictions can it make?

An alternative theory is that of believing the wrong story and then act on it and finding that you're wrong you find relief in making another one complicit to share the guilt. And on and on it goes. It's an old story.

I'll rephrase.

What coherent alternative theory explains our addictions and consumptive behaviours along with the odd mix of selfishness and altruism that we have, and how can we falsify or test it, and what predictions can it make?

The story I mentioned is very coherent. It has been falsified (tested) and predicts with high accuracy what you see around you, perhaps even in yourself.

Indeed, evolution, and evolutionary psychology in particular, is the required foundational meta-theory for psychology and the social sciences.

H'a'h! Many years ago when even younger than now, I decided I had to study social causality as my grand project. And I decided that psychology must be a/the foundation of social science, and evolution the foundation of psychology.

I thereafter learnt that the most fundamental dogma (neutral meaning) of sociologists was that psychology is a construct of sociology and that the latter had no need to study the former!

Can I take it that in your above sentence you are expressing a new consensus that sociologists have moved to, or alternatively persisting in disagreement with their religion?!

"All of these behaviors are true whether you apply an evolutionary lens or not".

So, you do acknowledge that evolution is not necessary for these behaviors to exist. Nevertheless, you get a kick out of applying this supposed evolution to these behavioral mechanisms by citing evolution at length. It is very likely that you demonstrate an increased appetite for dopamine in your brain when you envision these supposed evolutionary patterns. Not in the least because that tends to give you credence and acceptance among your peers, which of course further enhances the chemical satisfaction in your brain. (just look at the thread: "great post Nate").

Now, please think for a moment. Does it really make sense that the atoms in your brain working together as the result of pure chance (I don't care over how many years), can put out any truth statement that it is so?

You don't understand evolution very well. Evolution doesn't work via "pure chance."

What is the alternative to evolution? "Intelligent design"? If so, who/what created the intelligent designer?

The problem is: how is complexity generated? There are no other scientifically viable theoretical alternatives to compete with evolution.

"If so, who/what created the intelligent designer?" ??? Why must there be one?

Terribly disingenuous, I haven't forgotten last time you were here.

Propose an alternative to evolution, as understood and studied by modern biologists, that does not involve some sort of intelligent agent guiding things behind the scenes.

I'd be interested in hearing such a theory, especially if it had sufficient explanatory power to be testable.

I must confess that I don't understand what you're trying to argue, nor what's so "disingenuous" in asking why there should be a creator of the "intelligent designer"? Intelligence must come from somewhere... It is way more easy to believe that it all started with Intelligence than not.

A being capable of creating all of this must, of necessity, be even more complex than us.

It may be easier for you to believe that such a being sprang into existence randomly than that we did, but that doesn't change the inherent illogic of the position.

A position that starts from an illogical base is immune to logical attempts to assail it.

Besides: assuming a designer, one that created us in His image, we should be able to learn His tricks, no?

Anyone who has irrigated with a shovel knows, for certain, water can not be made to run up hill on it's own. This fact is a very good argument, all by itself, in my opinion, against Intelligent Design. A second argument is we have to go up hills, and thus, the necessity for work. Best from the Fremont

I don't see anything illogical in it. Please prove how your statement "A being capable of creating all of this must, of necessity, be even more complex than us" can jive with your assertion that all things "sprang into existence randomly". Show me the logic....

You asserted that all things sprang into existence randomly.

Prove that your creator being is more probable than I am. I have proof of existence on my side.

"You asserted that all things sprang into existence randomly." I never did.

Your second sentence doesn't make much sense except to say that if my creator does not exist, you wouldn't either.

Your third sentence therefore proves that both exist: you and my creator.

Asserting the conclusion.

you lose.

That still doesn't answer the question you are trying to answer, it just defers it. If one contends that its impossible for the observable Universe to exists without a creator you're still left with explaining the existance of the creator. From there its infinite regress or plea abandonment.

Everybody is convinced that they know all the secrets of the Universe-Americans are overqualified for everything.

I don't understand your reasoning. If it is indeed impossible that the observable Universe exists without a creator, the existence of the creator is thereby proven....

Only if. It is obvious that the universe exists, with or without a creator.

It is the existence of a creator that is an exceptional assertion and must be proven.

Or you would have to prove that the Universe exists without a creator.... Could you do that for me?

Pack it up. Nate should have mentioned Geriniol in his list of societal drugs and the role it plays in never-ending tar baby fights. There's always going to be more ways to willfully misunderstand and misread than ways to explain. Morton's Demon only knows why.

"There's always going to be more ways to willfully misunderstand and misread than ways to explain."

True. And how do you apply that to yourself? Or what makes you so sure you have the correct interpretation? Or how can Dawkins be so sure he hasn't drunk of the magic potion? Or....etc..

(by the way Dawkins seemed completely delusional in the movie Expelled, which I just saw a few weeks ago: he argues that life could not have been put on Earth by God, but possibly by living beings from another planet...... Now how life might have gotten there, only god knows I guess.)

I'll grant that Ben Stein exists. Richard Dawkins, too.

I would expect that in a movie intended to make a man look like a fool, he will look like a fool.

Now, without appeal to authority, can you defend your position?

I did not have the impression that the movie was a setup to make Dawkins look like a fool. But he certainly did in the end with the above mentioned remarks. (I was told that he and his lawyers tried to fight it after the fact: if that is true then that would only emphasize how foolish he was indeed.)

I can defend my position very well thank you.

Well, I don't know that the movie makers specifically set out to make Dawkins look foolish, but given that the fundamental thesis of the movie is opposed to his public statements in very strong wording it is a reasonable assumption.

Of course, I think that Dawkins is a fool, just not the sort they make him out to be.

"it is a reasonable assumption" ??? Such statement is only proof of how you "reason": badly. Maybe you have not seen the movie?

Maybe I haven't.

Since it is obvious that I agree with Dawkins on some particulars, and have no patience for ID, why would I waste 2 hours of my life on an ID advocacy film that bills itself as such up front?

Of course, you could use some more argument by insult, funny how coming from you it makes me smile :)

I remember reading an article on philosophy some time ago that argued the cases for no intelligent designers, one intelligent designer, or an infitine string of intelligent designers, each more complex than the last.

The 'one intelligent designer' argument was shot out of the water pretty quickly (adding just one extra step of complexity to solve a problem of complexity makes no sense), but the infinite string of intelligent designers had a lot of credibility...

Not you again.

That which observably exists does not need to be understandable by you to make sense. Which is a good thing, I'd hate to disassociate just because I was incomprehensible.

The spontaneous generation of a being orders of magnitude more complex than us capable of creating and managing the whole mess makes a whole lot less sense than our existence. At least we can see ourselves in the mirror of the world around us if we remove the scales from our eyes and look.

Rand et al. I beg to suggest we change the subject from what (supposedly) intelligent being designed my hair to fall out, and consider instead the question of what (supposedly) intelligent client the whole show was all designed for anyway. Then we can all have time to sleep tonight.
PS--solid proof of God/Allah/etc is that my ears were designed with a flap and a notch therein just so that a zillion years later my mp3 buds would hang in there neatly. Cool creator hey.

Good point. I wish I'd been the one to come up with the ear, it is pretty cool.

At the moment when I noticed the mp3/ear-design thing, it didn't quite cure my atheism, but it certainly made me jump!


You personally may never get used to it,but the Earth is not the center of the solar system.The fact that you do not believe in evolution does not mean that you are intellectually challenged but it does mean that you are about one hundred and fifty years behind.

I would add that an astronomer who has his life spent studying the heavens is far more impressed with the majesty and mystery of the universe than someone like my parents who are devout Christians.

Now having said THAT I will that add the very concept of the "Big Bang" is as good a proof as anyone could ever ask for that there are things beyond the ken of science.I have a lttle essay under construction that includes the line "God,Whom you may know as Big Bang,created the Heavens and the Earth".

Nothing should amuse the informed believer more than some straight faced physicist explaining how every thing originated from nothing-even if his account does mesh better with the known facts than other creation narratives.

(I just hope my line is original and not something dredged up from the depths of memory.)

Good Heavens! "the "Big Bang" is as good a proof as anyone could ever ask for" ???

Your "good heavens "reply indicates that you do NOT not comprehend my comments,which are very favorable to your pov.

Read again.

If you meant the Big Bang theory implies the reach of the boundaries of science, I agree.

We share a great deal of our genes with simpler organisms such as...

Stop right there. Enough with this pop-psych nonsense. Learn some basic biology first.

From one of my several links in the post, (which you didn't see because you stopped):

Fruit flies share nearly 60% of human genes and are studied by thousands of scientists around the world. The reason is that fruit flies and humans use the same or similar genes to develop into adults.


"Until recently, scientists were convinced that the incredible diversity of life must result from a similarly diverse set of processes and controls. Once genes were discovered, most scientists believed that they too were particular to each organism. We now know that all organisms—no matter how different they look from one another—have a vast number of genes in common. Because most human genes are identical to the genes of other living organisms, the genetic study of other organisms can reveal a lot about the human genome and how our genes function."


P.s. multi-level selection has also been resurrected, by some of its former critics...
p.p.s. based on relative fitness algorithms, I fully expect you to come back with some blustery obscure biological fact that only a full time biologist would understand - that I am not, but am willing to continue to learn.

I am also curious to hear what DD finds so ghastly about that sentence, though maybe his thoughts are the same as mine and it isn't that we have a lot in common with weed genetically he objects to, but the little, but horribly misleading word "simpler". I for my part find dogs in no way simpler than people, nor do I deem this true for flies, plants or, say, paramecia.
At least not until anyone clarifies what we use as base for assessing the complexitiy of life forms. Is it the number of cells they are made of? Then, I assume, a sequoia must be more complex than a human. Is it the brain, if they have any? Well, then I have to ask, is a fly doing fly business any more simpler than a clan of naked apes gathering around a box full of nonsense, dulling their minds and senses? Sorry, but it's not what you have in your head, but what you make out of it, and let's be honest, while you'll find plenty of Patrick Stars among mankind, the da Vincis are few and far between.
So, to find a way to make all life less complex than man, and hence allow us to caress our megalomanic ego, I guess we'll have to settle on something bare of any logic, like: "Homo sapiens is the most complex of all beings on Earth, no matter what."

We share 25% of our genes with a banana.
What was that Last Universal Common Ancestor?

I always thought it was Cyanobacteria but others say it was an earlier ancestor Cyanobacteria. But it is all guesswork, no one really knows. Anyway cyanobacteria, or blue green alga, was the first form of life that depended on energy from sunlight.
Ron P.

Actually, no, it would have been one of the early Protists. Probably something along the lines of the Diplomonads (Giaridia). In any case the last common ancestor between plants and humans was certainly a Eukaryote.

delete double post

Where is the error? There are histones that are conserved even across phyla, and some opsins are highly conserved also. Cytochrome-C does pretty much the same thing in humans that it does in mice.

We share a great deal of our genes with simpler organisms such as...

Stop right there. Enough with this pop-psych nonsense. Learn some basic biology first.

That we share a great deal of our genes with simpler organisms is an absolute hard biological fact. How can anyone who claims to know anything about biology deny that fact? I don't know what kind of biological knowledge Darwinsdog claims to have but it sure as hell looks like he has none whatsoever.

Ron P.

Stop right there. Enough with this pop-psych nonsense. Learn some basic biology first.

Nate is seriously wrong here in this X% common genes argument. (It is also used to supposedly prove that races are mere social constructs.)

In fact I debunked this fallacy way back in 1985 in a comment unpublished by Behav Brain Sci, which I titled "genes are not equal units" or somesuch. Twenty years later the most huh leading huh intellectual Rich Dawkins published a weaker argument to approximately same effect. (Dawks also published two of my other ideas in guardian letters a decade after I had already guardian lettered them myself (elected mayors as facilitating corruption; and sex selection helping to reduce population. So much for "leading" intellectual!)

The Lewontin error is in assuming that genes are all equally important. The reality is that many genes are just junk rarely if ever expressed or significantly changing anything, whereas a very few are of life-critical importance. For instance the sickle-cell/malaria gene. The dark-skin gene is highly useful for coping with strong sunlight but can get you killed by a racist elsewhere (or not killed by a black racist). The forward-facing-nostril genes which I share with far easterners also have their pros and cons for ventilation/heat conservation etc. And so on ad naus.

Nate is seriously wrong here in this X% common genes argument.

Baloney! Nate is exactly correct here. "Fruit flies share nearly 60% of human genes and are studied by thousands of scientists around the world." Deny that! Humans and chimps share about 98 percent of their genes and the gap widens as common ancestors go further back.

Genes are genes. Sure there are some DNA differences in each gene, that is why we are all different. But the genes are still basically the same gene.

Sorry that Dawkins plagiarized your work. Yeah right! And I am not really shocked that you drug race into the debate but I will not bite.

Ron P.

He might be objecting to the adjective 'simpler'. I had a bit of a pause when I read the sentence myself but mentally edited it out


No, simpler is the correct adjective. Evolution records an increase in complexity! As Robert Wright has pointed out evolution, or more correctly natural selection, is a NonZero process. Quite often, but not always, something is gained. Is not the human eye more complex than the light sensitive spots on the early animals they must have evolved from? Is not the human brain more complex than the brain of a frog. Or a mosquito? Are not humans more complex than paramecium? Or even cyanobacteria? Must we be so damn politically correct that we cannot admit that simple fact?

Ron P.

I wasn't intending political correctness.

My thoughts on the matter were that mice are as evolved as humans. I recognize that I was considering the animal vs the animal, and neglecting the social/tool using components, which is blinkered thinking. I would like to point out that while our brain is more specialized than a mouse's, our nose isn't. The use of the adjective 'simple' gave me pause for thought, that's all.

Interestingly, the posting proceeds to explain certain human behaviors as neurotransmitter mediated stimulus/response activity. Similarly, we learn not to touch fire because it hurts. I guess mice would too. Also, while humans have facility in speech, tool using and conceptual thinking I don't believe we have the ability to mentally model in 3-D the way a bird would, for instance, (I know this is throwing another animal into the mix) - so I don't know how that rates on the complexity scale.

Last thought was that humanity only minimally interacts with the 'natural' environment. Unlike other species our process seems to me to have been one of destroying that environment and replacing it with our own less diverse environments. Does this behavior indicate increased complexity? I don't know.

Anyway, that was my thinking when I ran across the adjective 'simple' in the referenced sentence. Likely I was just picking nits. My knowledge of biology/ecology is that of a lay person, so I defer to your expertise. I apologize to DD too, because he knows more about this than I do and likely my interpretation of his objection wasn't right. I also should point out that I am familiar with the content of Nate's posting through my work, so I was on a bit of mental auto-pilot when I read it. This sentence was interesting to me though, and I did spend a bit of time considering it - and likely came to incorrect conclusions - lol.(sic transit gloria)

While I have your attention though, I have to say that I didn't know that evolution is a pattern of increased complexity. My question would be "is complexity a desired trait?" Phrased differently, have complex creatures survived longer as species than creatures who are not as complex? The cockroach comes to mind. We may never know, even though a critical part of that experiment is being enacted while we watch.



I would like to point out that while our brain is more specialized than a mouse's, our nose isn't.

All roads, or nerves in this case, lead to the brain. Is a mouse's brain more complex than a turtle's? That is, is a mammal's brain more complex than a reptile's? Since we have a reptilian brain underneath our mammalian brain, I would say yes.

Specialization is not the same thing as complexity. Humans are the most complex animal on earth mostly due to our very complex brain.

I have to say that I didn't know that evolution is a pattern of increased complexity.

Are you saying you did not know that humans were more complex than bacteria or whatever one celled plant or animal we first evolved from? Evolution is not goal oriented, that's just the way it worked out.

My question would be "is complexity a desired trait?"

Desired ends implies a designer. Desire simply does not enter the picture. Desire has nothing to do with evolution. Natural selection is basically a battle for survival and that is why organisms get more complex as evolution progresses.

From NonZero:

The underlying reason that non-zero-sum games wind up being played well is the same in biological evolution as in cultural evolution. Whether you are a bunch of genes or a bunch of memes, if you're all in the same boat you'll tend to perish unless you are conducive to productive coordination.... Genetic evolution thus tends to create smoothly integrated organisms, and cultural evolution tends to create smoothly integrated groups of organisms.

The reviewer seems to think that is goal oriented. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you wind up in a given place, or with a given organism, this does not imply that you had an earlier goal of arriving there. It was simply what happened, the fickle finger of fate as they used to say on Laugh In. (I am telling my age now.)

Ron P.

True, all neurons lead to the brain. I suspect that the part of the mouse's brain which is responsible for smelling is more specialized(complex?) than mine would be. I would therefor, despite all my complexity, have a more difficult time living in a mouse's niche than a mouse would, because I lack complexity in that essential sense.

"are you saying that you didn't know that human's are more complex than bacteria..."

Nope - what I am saying is that I didn't know that evolution only worked in one direction: simple--->complex. That may be what is most familiar/common - but I didn't assume that it was the only way evolution happened. Just because I don't know of any examples of simplification in evolution, doesn't mean that I couldn't imagine a scenario where a decrease in complexity might result in an organism more adapted to its surroundings. (maybe cave fish? they have lost their eyes thereby reducing instance of injury in the dark = more survivability?) {Snakes don't have 4 limbs, are they more or less complex than a creature having legs? Hmmm...whales used to have legs and now they don't - do we consider them more or less complex - I might be on a roll here - :^) }

WRT the complexity as a desired trait - my next sentence rephrased the question so I think we can forget about me postulating a designer or intent in evolution. If it came across that way it was entirely unintentional.

Also - more fat for the fire - I don't think we have a reptile brain at all, embedded or otherwise. Reptiles are living concurrently with us. The structures in my brain which resemble the structure in a modern reptile's brain did not come to me from that modern reptile. Mammals and reptiles share common structures from way back when they diverged. We share similarities in body structure (heads, limbs, mouths, eyes, etc) and certain similarities in behavior - some of us are predatory omnivores. But I no more have a reptile in my head than a reptile has a little me in their head. What we both have are remnants of old uncle alphonse, so to speak.

Anyway, I am in waaay over my head here, and apologize for any abuse of evolution I have inflicted upon TOD. Thanks for taking the time to respond.


I hate to get into an argument about evolution with someone whose moniker is "Darwinian"... but.

Is not the human brain more complex than the brain of a frog.

Of course!

However while the brain of a modern frog may be adapted to it's current environment I doubt you could prove that it is more complex than the brain of an amphibian living in the Devonian.

I sense that you are propagating a common misconception, that hominids are the pinnacle of the evolutionary process. They are not!

A modern frog which may or may not be more complex than it's ancestors is just evolved as a modern human. To compare one to the other completely misses the point that the process of evolution does not require an organism to become evermore complex. Comparing the complexity of frog brains to human brains, BTW, is not a meaningful comparison.

There is nothing in nature that precludes an organism from becoming better adapted to its environment by becoming LESS rather than more complex. Ascidians for example are protochordates that have a neurotube in their free swimming larval stage which they lose when they attach themselves to some substrate to live out their adult lives as a sessil benthic organism that seems to have no need for a complex neural network, yet it is the product of evolution that has lasted just as long as the evolution of the hominid branch and one would be hard pressed to argue that it is not perfectly adapted to its environment.

The Ascidian as a Model Organism in Developmental and Evolutionary Biology

.. funny i was thinking about this topic over the weekend... I suspect/think hydroponic Marijuana grown with artificial lighting may be one of the most energy intensive crops on earth. I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about "skunk" as i find users who profess some sort of "connection" to the environment tend to be in denial about the energy cost of some drugs such as "skunk". OTOH grown in a greenhouse or in subtropical climes the issue is moot... In the UK hydroponic weed is pretty ubiquitous and often grown with electricity pirated off the grid.

Cannabis growing with artificial light is extremely energy intensive. Cannabis has domesticated us, and we now grow it all over earth, and carefully give it nurturing environments.

Not to mention our food crops such as soy, corn, bananas etc...

The broad thinking is great, but I find it hard to understand why the central feedback mechanism of finance and our attachment to it does not ever seem to come up in these discussions.

The main reason for having profit in the financial world is to feed it back into multiplying business, and so multiply more profit. How it's done normally includes using investment to create appetites and desires that didn't exist before, further enlarging the need for new kinds of businesses and profits.

Both of those are sources of our addiction-like attachment causing us to cling to the investment cycle as a way of life, and very important to examine along with other motives. Why we do it an how are two different things. How we do the actual mechanism of the feedback part of it is the part that seems so unexamined. That't the procedural act of retaining profits for reinvestment. That is the act that turns the cycle it into an explosion device rather than just being a self-maintenance device. We should study it.

To me, that's where the nature's secret of sustainability is hidden, in how she 'reforms' her little explosion devices all over the place to become happy and lasting self-maintenance device. From my own studies I'm convinced we could actually understand it well enough to copy the basic design.

Very nice, but where is your accounting for the push side, the institutional, coercive roots of the problem?

Corporate marketing is a $2 trillion/year endeavor, and a direct extension into off-the-job life of the managerial methods of Frederick Winslow Taylor.

If you don't account for this huge reality, you wind up implying that everything we are wasting is somehow freely, if crazily, chosen. That is false. We live under a dictatorship that works very hard to keep certain choices off the agenda and push mountains of waste into ordinary life.

For those interested in the push side of the story:

the 'pull side' would be much less onerous without the 'pull side'. In 'Spent - Sex, Evolution and Consumer Behavior', Geoffrey Miller suggests that 'marketing' is the single most impactful technological development by our species. It sounded odd at first but I tend to agree. We're wired to compete for status - when we are born we have all of our genetic material and then look for cues as to what will lead to status (or perceived status). As you point out, corporate marketers have taken on this role for the last few generations.

So if that machine could market a different way, maybe it would work...

No doubt the two sides both exist, and no doubt the push side exploits the pull processes. Hell, they study and manipulate our weaknesses very, very carefully.

Hi Nate,
A year ago I met a german in Dortmund, who has a good job and is a very good mechanical engineer.
He can afford an Audi RS6, but instead, the car he drives is a VW Lupo 3L (1,2 litre diesel engine)
which can travel 79 miles on a US galon of diesel. (3 litres of diesel per 100 km)
He is a good example of someone who is not addicted to luxury vehicles.

I know many who would have gotten a Lupo had they been available here. But the manufacturers won't bring these cars over here - instead they keep boosting the power even for economy models.

what is the end product..?

is virtue utilitarian?

To my mind NASCAR is a very good use of gasoline despite it serves no purpose at all except to panda to this addiction state.

to me commuting in hideous traffic in a fully loaded car with very good milage is a greater waste of fossil fuels than burning it recklessly driving round in circles for the hell of it.

over consumption is often in the areas of our life that are ordinary and unrewarding,

Great post Nate. Thanks for the energy and time.

I find the evolution of human history and the volicity at which things "seem" to be speeding up fascinating. That graph is priceless. I'm curious what the 777 means on the graph. Maybe nothing to do with your point, but any idea?


The '777' represents when our species basically hit the energy lottery when we started scaling our access to concentrated ancient sunlight deposits in coal, followed eventually by oil and gas.

In ongoing research in economics known as setpoint theory, it is suggested that lottery winners eventually revert to baseline levels of happiness. Winners often have other deleterious impacts from becoming suddenly fabulously rich (higher levels of depression, legal conflicts with family, etc.)

I was just suggesting there may be similar impacts on a species as opposed to an individual with the 777.

Every time this is posted, I'm going to note it's a masterpiece. That's not redundant; due to the recency effect, it seems better today than my memory of it did yesterday.

Really, this should be required reading for all humans; part of the owners' manual for a brain. (although pernaps Nate should charge $500 for viewing it so more people would want to).

I think I'll definitely make it a requirement for those seeking to intern with me in the future, and I'll test them on it.

And just to generally ramble, I went for my morning walk yesterday and it was "heavy item pickup day" in my Hawaii neighborhood, the one day a month in which people put "heavy items" out front for the state to haul to the dump. This despite the fact that most of them have gigantic shiny 4x4 trucks they use to go buy cigarettes.

(There was one such vehicle, a new black Nissan Titan, which had an oversized {like 2 feet wide} yellow and black bumper sticker on it that said "Watch Out For Our Children". I found this incredibly appropriate somehow.)

Anyhow, it was compelling in an archaeological sense, and in a spiritual-malaise sense, to see all the NEW stuff being sent to the dump. A matched pair of seemingly new washer-dryers with a couple specks of rust on one of them. Giant perfect glass doors. Working pedestal fans with a slight tinge of rust in their grills. A set of weights. A giant projection TV, Etc. Indeed, there was nothing out there which wasn't probably functional.

In most places on earth, it would have been a street of treasures; in this culture it's all smashed and thrown away despite being perfectly functional, because people have bought shinier ones.

And yes, I nicked a fair bit of it and will plan to do so from now on, lowering my already-preposterous entropy-footprint ever-further. The stand fan works great, the projection TV yielded a giant fresnel lens I can probably melt copper with, one piece of glass will cut down to replace a window, etc... my wife carried back other stuff. But nobody else was out there gleaning, and we only looked at one short piece of street: this is being played out on ALL streets, every month, here. Tsk. Dopamine is where you find it I guess. I certainly got some from my new 60" lens.

Gee, if I only had a TRUCK just think of how much more stuff I could bring back...

greenish, with you being from Hawaii, I am interested in how solar energy is progressing. I have read that Hawaii's power comes from diesel which is expensive and that solar panels are now becoming economically competitive. Do you think so? In 3 years when you can buy a cheap electric car I wonder if it would be cheap enough to put solar panels on your roof and charge it that way.

Hi Null.

I haven't bothered to become a local authority since I focus on a different level of action, and mostly not for humans. I'll give you my subjective impressions though, begging Nate's pardon for doing a drumbeat-style reply in a dopamine-related article. Of course, if we take Nate's piece as seriously as we should, nothing we might discuss will be entirely off-topic for dopamine.

Put briefly, it seems that I'm surrounded by insane delusional entropy-catalyst fire-apes who give not a single effective damn about solar energy, although in fairness there are a smattering of solar hot-water heaters to be seen in the more upscale places since it actually makes economic sense immediately.

All the electricity on Oahu does indeed come from burning fuel oil that's tankered in, and as I noted nearly everyone here now drives giant 4x4 cars and trucks, even though the island is only 30 miles across, water cannot exist in the frozen state, and there is no place to go offroad in an offroad vehicle. Riding a bicycle here is a near-death experience. This island is a city and its suburbs on a rock, with all non-fuel resources coming in on giant Matson container ships. To a good first approximation, no food is grown here, aside from some few fields of green pineapples, ornamental coconut trees at golf courses, and the stuff in my yard and a few others.

What could possibly go wrong?

There was only one local place selling PV solar panels I could find, and it was depressing when I went into check them out... it was a rather scabrous operation running an ornamental waterfall pump, with boutique prices, at an industrial area out by the airport. Looked like they'd be closing down soon. Likewise, the place selling the electric mopeds from China was a crummy parking lot behind a car wash in Kakaako, and you had to loiter until someone called the manager from his day job if you wanted to look at one.

Now there's no shortage of hype, and perhaps eventually reality, about wind, OTEC, seawater air conditioning, name it. Hell, the world's largest active volcano is fairly close, if you don't count calderas like Yellowstone, etc. It could be that the collapse of the Hawaii economy will get a bunch of federal money sent this way to do "proof of concept" projects, and Sen. Inouye is good at that sort of pork. However, that seemed more likely in the non-deflationary scenarios which are now seeming less probable.

I put an ad on craigslist to see about getting some folks to go together with me on shipping PV in, but there was very little interest - from anyone. Shipping adds a lot to stuff here, as you might imagine.

I finally picked up about 600w of panels via negotiating with several mainland places. The PV panels work well here as you might imagine from the high solar intensity, but I haven't set them up because they'd be stolen; I have 'em for AFTER the grid goes down, not before, and primarily to power communications and medical equipment.

In Hawaii you don't need energy for heating or cooling, or really cooking. I think geothermal could be greatly expanded if it weren't for the political incorrectness of "raping the volcano goddess" Pele. Honest, a lot of the local 'environmentalists' are opposed to geothermal, which means tanking in oil. What a silly species.

Solar-charged golf carts would be a great way to get around. The only drawback would be the cars. Heck, if the cars were gone, one could have some sort of electric or wind-powered ski-lift mechanism to tow people to the top of the Koolau mountains and coast down the other side on their bicycles. But that's dreaming.

The big isle has great potential. Geothermal. CSP in the Kau desert areas, discomfiting only scorpions. Wind. OTEC. PV. And about every other kind which exists, yet that island is seeing a net exodus of population, there aren't even doctors in the emergency rooms a lot of the time. What I see mainly is a whole lot of nothing being actually done, although there's no shortage of people advertising that they're doing something.

I think there will be no real demand until there's a hiatus, and at that point it will be too late for many sensible things which could have been tried. I may well move to the big isle before then, though; it's a beautiful place and the potential is impressive. It could potentially be a center of the Pacific, an island of appropriate tech and available energy.

note: I did recently install several self-replicating fractally-expanding solar-powered starch factories, which is to say breadfruit trees. Now there's appropriate tech.


Hawaii seems unprepared for peak oil. I recall reading an article by Michael R Fox on their need for nuclear power. A quick internet search shows other Fox columns in the Hawaii Reporter. What does the future hold for the various islands.

Honestly, Hawaii is terribly prepared for peak oil. Oahu is a potential famine trap.

With all the other potentials, I think it'd be a silly place for nuke power.

Really, though, aside from the fact that there would be no way for the human biomass here to support itself without shipped-in food (a non-trivial fact), one can get along here perfectly well with no energy at all aside from sunshine, even without PV.

I sold one of my cheap 3-acre lots on the big isle to a fellow who is now doing a self-sufficiency blog and posts here on TOD, and he's VERY self-sufficient.

Here on Oahu, I simply don't drive much except to take my elderly mom to doctor appointments, and a trip to Costco every couple months for bulk staples. The rest of the time staying in place is a reasonable option. Now if the sewage-pumping stations were powered by windmills on the Koolau's, we'd be set for rice rationing and bicycling.

I was on a beach in Hawaii one day and asked a man about Peak Oil ...

He said some military types have a beach picked out ....

If, and when necessary, they all report to the assigned beach with supplies and boats and secure the beach.

That's not a real long-term plan. I think I know the beach, if it's Bellows AFB, the landing craft used to practice there when I was jogging and my wife was horseback riding. Great beach for camping and minor body-surfing. But if they have supplies already, I'm not sure why they need to defend a beach...

What does this have to do with dopamine and human delusionality? Again, one doesn't have to dig deep, do they?

And in general, since I posted earlier about Hawaii being only kept functional by Matson cargo ships, I see that they're talking about going on strike, just since I posted.

So by tomorrow noon, if so, there won't be any toilet paper on the store shelves. Good example of phase shifted behavior, from "just in time" to hoarding.

"That's not a real long-term plan. I think I know the beach, if it's Bellows AFB, the landing craft used to practice there when I was jogging and my wife was horseback riding. Great beach for camping and minor body-surfing. But if they have supplies already, I'm not sure why they need to defend a beach..."

As I was told ....

with the ocean at their back they could fish and defend the land side .. and with the right supplies get threw the "bottleneck"

Every saturday our township dump is open for 4 hours. I take my recycling and bag of garbage to leave and almost always return home WITH something. The caretaker is even saving things for me now! I've had my eye on an old spring tooth harrow and if it's still there tomorrow I'm taking it.

Thank you Dr Hagens for the very effective and funny pictures allegated with your post ; we have appreciated them a lot. ( Saved some ones in my hard disk )
I hope you are enjoing and visiting Florence right now. ( I am Italian )
I have recently read some books by Dr Beckmann and Drs Pierce about ethologicals ethics and health care footprint and susteanibility : I think we basically have to shift our moral values from an antropocentric and wallmartcentric prospective towards a more global, newethic and noble one : it is time tio greatly reduce value we tribut to single human life " per se ", and rather consider what a single person have been able to achieve and propose himself as an example of virtue to other people, something like the concept of "glory" and/or virtue in ancient times ( Ancient Rome )
There is no more space/time available to let everyone do whatever he wants ( having loads of children included ), and if we want to respect our dignity we should empathyze more with other advanced mammals such as dogs,bears, monkeys and consider that we cant kill 1000 of them just to let human race grow in numbers a little more...

Interesting post Nate but the recommendations do not address the root cause of the problem.

What is the difference between a problem and a symptom? Consider a person with pneumonia and a fever of 103. We can eliminate the fever with cold packs, but if we do not cure the pneumonia the patient may die symptom free.

The difference is that if we eliminate symptoms the problem rages on, but if we eliminate the problem its symptoms will all fade away.

Discussion on the Oil Drum is almost all about symptoms, so much so that we think of them as problems, and seldom talk about the problem or its potential solutions.

It is often said that we are all responsible for our environmental problems and therefore we must all make sacrifices. Wrong. Your first graph clearly shows that the only people responsible for our environmental problems are people in the last 300 years who had more than 2 children. Technology is not the problem. The Easter Islanders destroyed their environment without technology. Had humans stabilized the population below 1 billion all people could enjoy well educated productive lives with a high standard of living while leaving large portions of the earth in a natural pristine condition for other species.

In a truly civilized world raising a child would be a privilege, like the privilege of driving a car, performing brain surgery or flying an airliner. It would require training, education and the meeting of minimum standards.

We need a Bill of Rights for children that guarantee each child good parents and a top notch education.

If we do not address the root cause of the problem we will eventually be subject to the mechanisms that have regulated life for 3 billion years, starvation, disease, predation and exposure.

Suppressing the symptoms without addressing the root cause is worse than doing nothing at all because it allows the problem to continue growing larger doing more damage to earths systems.

Technology is not the problem

I'm of two minds on this. On the surface I agree completely; technology per se is not a problem.

Scratch the surface a bit though, particularly in the context of Nate's essay, and the picture is suddenly very interesting.

There was an exchange in yesterday's DrumBeat on the malleability of human nature. Brif summry, hopefully not too inaccurate: Darwinian contends human nature is immutable, but has the ability to adapt to its environment.

The problem with that POW is that even small changes in environment can lead to large changes in behaviour... and further, as soon as some individuals start adapting to a new environment, the environment itself changes... other people are the most important parts of people's environments. And large numbers of individuals adapting to a perhaps rapidly changing environment, creating feedbacks left and right... This is a recipe for chaos; there's no telling what kind of society will emerge, no telling what the social norms will end up being.

Point is, there is no meaning without context. No word, no sequence of DNA has any intrinsic meaning; it only has meaning in a context. Change the context - the environment - and the meaning might change, qualitatively as well as quantitatively. The "meaning" of a gene is the phenotype. The exact same sequence of DNA can code for different proteins in different species... and males being mesmerized by female forms have wildly different effects in a hunter-gatherer society and in a context of abundant Internet porn.

Now, a change in technology is obviously a change in environment, and as such it is a problem, because our current individual and collective behaviour is a response to our technological environment. Whether those responses should be called "adaptive" is questionable. Is long nights browsing porn "adaptive"? (for some comic relief: Spent by Joe Matt) It's more like our systems have been hijacked by some superstimulus, like the red gape of the cuckoo chick hijacks the systems of its foster parents.

But we have a chicken and egg problem here. Is technology the prime mover of change, or is it, as you allude (I think?) just a symptom?

There is some evidence (must dig up sources later) that it is: That the prime predictors of technological/cultural/scientific level is population level and density. Which I think makes perfect sense: more people means more forceful feedback to new ideas, more deviant free thinkers producing odd insights (usually useless, but sometimes very useful). Tainter makes the case that the return on investment in R&D is falling in our society, and falling exponentially: I think his point is valid, BUT I think, also, that the rapidly expanding population so far may have countered that effect.

IF this is correct we're in an interesting bind. We have, then, technological development enabling/driving population explosion, and population explosion enabling/driving technology explosion, etc., a dual, mutually reinforcing spiral...

(Of course, population in the high-tech "west" has been rather stagnant these last decades, but I'd argue that the Internet has increased the "virtual population density", thus allowing the explosion to continue).


I agree very much that the important thing to limit is population. A conspicuos rich-bastard consumer that only has two children may use thousands of times more resources than a poor subsistence farmer, but if that farmer has ten children, and each of those has ten children, etc., the farmer's descendants' resource use will swamp the resource use of the descendants of the rich person within a handful of generations. The sneaky enemy here is exponential growth.

Problem is, lots of individuals feel, and major religions teach, that having lots of children is not only a great joy but a holy duty. Go forth and multiply and all that...


I like your comments and arguments up until your concerns about exponential growth of population. 50 years ago railing against social and religious pressures to breed would have been spot on. In the meantime for whatever reason fertility rates have plummeted. Worldwide it may have already reached replacement value. In the west most countries have below replacement fertility rates, and the less-developed regions fertility rates are plummeting. The continued increases in population are almost solely due to the previous higher rates. Our own baby-boomer population has created an echo boom purely on the numbers, not high fertility rates.

Just like the deflationary process in our economy of clearing previous debt, the numbers of people won't decrease until all the high numbered generations have worked their way through the reproductive phase and died. Of course most of here think that starvation and other causes of death will help the process along.


Yes, well, bit of a bee in my bonnet that, I must admit. And I didn't make myself entirely clear - well, not that I think "entirely clear-ness" is achievable, but at least I could be clearer... Longer though, but:

I agree, the global trend seems to be one of slowing growth.

The continued increases in population are almost solely due to the previous higher rates. Our own baby-boomer population has created an echo boom purely on the numbers, not high fertility rates.

Yes, the population momentum effect... Not to be underestimated, that. From the Optimum Population Trust:

The Earth faces the largest generation of young people in its history – a “youthquake” of some 1.2 billion people between the ages of 10 and 19, or three billion under the age of 25, many living in the new mega-city slums of the developing world. The “demographic momentum” they generate means global population will continue to grow for decades, even if replacement fertility is achieved. Their access to family planning services is thus crucial to achieving a sustainable population for the planet.

My emphasis - the OPT, for one, don't seem to take replacement (or lower) fertility rates as given.

In the meantime for whatever reason fertility rates have plummeted.

One of the salient points of the linked OPT article is that access to contraceptives seems to be the key to lower fertility rates, not greater affluence:

Many developing countries have reduced their total fertility rate (TFR) - their “average family size” - to close to two – and have done so about as quickly as China, but without the coercion that exists in China. They include Costa Rica, Cuba, Iran, South Korea, Mexico, Morocco, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Tunisia, Vietnam and - surprisingly, perhaps - South India. These low-fertility “success stories” often involve vastly different developing countries or regions but have one factor in common. Their governments recognised the population-poverty connection and took steps to remove the barriers to fertility planning.

Studies of such very different locations which have successfully lowered their TFR show that whatever else applies, including changes in prosperity, the key requirement - which can also be implemented much more quickly - is the removal of barriers to contraception. These barriers are widespread and include simple lack of access to the contraceptive methods themselves, ignorance and misinformation, some of it deliberate - for example, exaggerating the risks of a method. When these barriers are removed, through education and good use of the media, and contraceptives become easy to obtain, education and per capita wealth have virtually no extra impact on the use of contraception or family size. The chances of per-person prosperity increasing are also much improved, since there are fewer persons to share in the country’s wealth.

So yes, there are examples of countries, even rather poor countries, successfully lowering their fertility rate. But, if what the OPT states here is accurate, the key success factor is education on family planning and availability of contraception.

And openness and lack of disinformation are prerequisites to those.

Obama rescinded the Global Gag Rule, which is a huge step in the right direction; but the Pope is not exactly helping:

He also warned them that African life was under threat from a number of factors, including condoms.

"It is of great concern that the fabric of African life, its very source of hope and stability, is threatened by divorce, abortion, prostitution, human trafficking and a contraception mentality," he added.

...but, of course,

Africa is the fastest-growing region for the Roman Catholic church

This is the core of the problem, and the reason I'm ranting, and will go on ranting:

In my home town, there are several christian-fundamentalist societies. At present, they constitute a pretty small percentage of the population... but, a very BIG but, they have a much larger than average number of children. This IS an artefact of their religious beliefs, their dogmas; and they DO pass those beliefs on to (the vast majority of) their children.

(These people are also ardent missionaries...

The 50 poorest countries in the world will more than double in size, from 0. 8 billion in 2007 to 1. 7 billion in 2050, according to UN projections published in March 2007.

and they are active in excactly these countries. They are not helping, not people at any rate: They are helping their selfish ideology. And they have real political power - the Global Gag Rule was put in place to help their missionary efforts).

This means that, while the overall fertility rate in my country is just above replacement rate, there are people pursuing exponential-growth reproductive practices whose children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren and so on will almost certainly continue the same practices... Which means that the number of people following those practices will increase, exponentially, and much faster than the number of people not so indoctrinated. Which means the proportion of people following those practices will increase. Which means the low fertility rates in the west is likely a transient phenomenon...

(Some academic support: Demographic Projections Predict Fundamentalist Populations Surpassing Secular Counterparts)

The most striking and well documented example (quick search brings up this and this) of fundamentalist outreproduction is the ultra-orthodox jews of Israel, who are now up to about 25% of the Israeli population and increasing fast - fertility rate increasing.

This is not evolution in the strict Darwinian/biological sense, but it definitely is a selection effect, something closely related to evolution... Something in between pure memetic evolution and biological evolution; a breed of humans that "use" a symbiotic memeplex to out-reproduce the competition.

Some other commenters on this thread raise the point that to avoid being hijacked by the temptations of our techno-consumerist environment you must distance yourself from it. That is excactly what the fundamentalists do; they live behind memetic walls...

I propose that evolution is happening, right now, before our eyes, at breakneck speed. The people who let themselves be seduced by the sweet consumerist life, who pursue careers instead of children, who become addicted to internet poker (and by extension spend less time and energy on sex), who use contraception when they do have sex... are being out-reproduced. Their fitness in this environment is quite simply low.

Evolution will make religious fundamentalism triumph in the end. Isn't that a lovely piece of irony?


To sum up, efforts to stop further population explosion is under a two-pronged attack from various religious groups:

Firstly, they are actively sabotaging the most effective brake on fertility rates.

Secondly, they are out-reproducing the people who lower their fertility rates, effectively torpedoing any hope of any long-term solution.

Still time to rail against them, I think, though you may be right that 50 years ago was the last chance to stop them.

I feel like someone from another country when I read posts like this. I understand that Nate is describing characteristics of the modern consumerist culture he sees around him.

I'm aware of this culture from occasionally watching TV, going to a shopping mall or being around people who are caught up in this culture.

To me this is a very odd culture, sad and self-defeating. There are many other cultures which are not like this.

What is needed is cross-cultural perspectives to combat the tendency to parochialiality. We need to know about cultures in different historical periods and different geographies. Or even sub-cultures in another part of town.

For example, a commenter on TOD about a month ago described the very different point of view of his Albanian in-laws (they had no problem with Collapse - they were used to living like that). I come from a Quaker and non-conformist background, and the phenomena that Nate describes seem very alien to me.

I think that cultural anthropology and history have a lot more to tell us about the potential of human beings than do physiology and evolution.

Some of the people I most like to read have a multi-cultural perspective. For example, Dmitry Orlov or Amanda Kovattana. Or people who are rooted in a traditional faith.

Having a foot in another culture seems to protect one against the tendency to make universal generalizations based on one's immediate surroundings.

Even so, I enjoyed the essay and agree with most of it -- as long as it is clear that we are discussing a specific culture and not Universal Humanity.

Bart Anderson
Energy Bulletin


The energy bulletin is one of my favorite sites.

Now as to the nature /nurture debate,it is long since settled that the nature advocates won the war,although there are a number of nurture advocates holding out in isolated pockets of resistance.They will die w/o changing thier minds.

The nature warriors position is that nature sets the limits,which are in some respects pretty broad and others pretty narrow; and that these limits are subject to change only at the glacially slow pace of Darwinian evolution.

Cultural evolution on the other hand is Lamarckian in that it evolves by imitation of novel behaviors and can proceed at incredible speed,especially in a world with modern communications.

So far as I know, all the prominent biologists in the ev psyc camp are in agreement that culture is in the drivers seat,so to speak, at the present time,but the machine that culture is driving is the triune Darwinian human brain,and that brain sets the limits as to where culture can take us.

For the benefit of those who may not understand this reasoning, consider the fact that my farm tractor will go lots of places that a Hummer can't even start.Different machine,different possible destinations.(I've pulled a few jeeps modified for off road use only out of gullies and mud holes with it over the years.)

Since we all share the same brain,regardless of our cultural background,we are all at risk of the same hijacking of our innate behavior patterns.

The best single book that I have ever read that deals with this subject is Stephen Pinker's The Blank Slate.It is a dynamite read easily accessible to anyone familiar with the rudiments of evolution and I HIGHLY reccomend it to who anybody period not already well informed in this area.

I 2nd that book recommendation.

Also, see Pinker's talk re The Blank Slate on

Thanks for the kind words about Energy Bulletin and your take on the nature / nurture debate. For myself, I wouldn't say that either side has won. It seems more like a complex interaction between the two.

Actually, I think the real problem is making gross generalizations on the basis of a narrow sample, and then dragging in biology in an inappropriate way. Using biology/evolution to support dubious social theories has a long tradition, e.g. Social Darwinism.

During my lifetime, social behavior has changed dramatically Given your name of "oldfarmermac", you might be old enough to have seen similar changes.

When I grew up, people didn't eat as much and weren't as fat. Did human biology change in the last 50 years? Or was it the change in the food system, greater consumerism, more advertising, etc.?

Another dramatic example is what happened to the Himalayan state of Ladakh, when they unwisely decided to let in commercial television and other wonders of the modern world. As Helena Norberg-Hodge described, there was a big change in social behavior... for the worse.

The problem with attributing our ills to biology is that it makes us blind to the many actions we could easily take to ameliorate our condition. For example, shutting off the damn TV, staying away from consumerist culture, getting some exercise, etc.

The bastard Edmund has a great speech in Shakespeare's King Lear, in which he lambasts people for not taking responsibility for their own actions. In those days, people blamed astrology. Now we blame our genetic inheritance!

Edm. This is the excellent foppery of the world, that, when we are
sick in fortune, often the surfeit of our own behaviour, we make
guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars; as if
we were villains on necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion;
knaves, thieves, and treachers by spherical pre-dominance;
drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforc'd obedience of
planetary influence; and all that we are evil in, by a divine
thrusting on. An admirable evasion of whore-master man, to lay
his goatish disposition to the charge of a star! My father
compounded with my mother under the Dragon's Tail, and my
nativity was under Ursa Major, so that it follows I am rough and
lecherous. Fut! I should have been that I am, had the
maidenliest star in the firmament twinkled on my bastardizing.

all best, Bart / EB

Bart, I agree wholeheartedly with you in regard to taking responsibility for our own actions and not making excuses.This agreement is necessary for society to function.

But that does not mean that we should not use such good data as we possess in making any decision or passing any judgement-and evolutionary psychology IS well established science.Once you have studied it long enough to appreciate the subtleties,you will find that it's explanatory powers are formidable indeed.

One subtlety is that our intellects are NOT for the most part our bosses.

Let us apply the scapel of evolution to overeating.

We possess the ability to store fat and the desire to eat heartily because famine and starvation were historically more hazardous too our health than obesity.As a matter of fact obesity is not likely to ever have been a problem during our evolution.

Now evolution does not install feedback loops to control such behavior as overeating in the way that an engineer installs circuit breakers or speed governors on the machines he builds.

We will therefore overeat as the oppurtunity arises until such a time (when and if) as it interferes with successful reproduction,when the feedback of lowered fertility and lower numbers of grown up children provide the feedback needed to moderate the behavior.

Our appetites-and not just for food- are not centered in our intellects but are inextricabily rooted in our lower brain centers,and these lower brain functions ARE KNOWN to trump the intellect in many respects-even if the intellect is a powerful one and the individual is strong willed.

I am sure that you personally know some people who have dieted strenously but unsuccessfully who have stuck it out thru very tough circumstances such as raising children in a bad marriage for instance,which I have been told takes enormous will power.

It is an unfortunate accident that our neural pathways are so easily hijacked but it should come as no suprise that this is the case.They are not DESIGNED and therefore have no safegaurds except those that have been introduced by natural selection.Safegaurds of the sort under discussion were not needed until the present day and they therefore do not exist.

There is a substantial body of literature dealing with this subject.Some birds will abandon thier real eggs to incubate plastic eggs that are bigger than thier own, because the size of the egg stimulates them to "think" it will produce a healthier chick.They never abandon real eggs for smaller fake eggs.

Newsweek just published a long article on Evolutionary Psychologist which said that the field is on the ropes. An interesting read. (I'll leave it to other people to argue about!)
Bart /EB

"Don't Blame the Caveman"

Where, then, does the fall of evolutionary psychology leave the idea of human nature? Behavioral ecology replaces it with "it depends"—that is, the core of human nature is variability and flexibility, the capacity to mold behavior to the social and physical demands of the environment. As Buller says, human variation is not noise in the system; it is the system. To be sure, traits such as symbolic language, culture, tool use, emotions and emotional expression do indeed seem to be human universals. It's the behaviors that capture the public imagination—promiscuous men and monogamous women, stepchild-killing men and the like—that turn out not to be. And for a final nail in the coffin, geneticists have discovered that human genes evolve much more quickly than anyone imagined when evolutionary psychology was invented, when everyone assumed that "modern" humans had DNA almost identical to that of people 50,000 years ago. Some genes seem to be only 10,000 years old, and some may be even younger.

That has caught the attention of even the most ardent proponents of evo psych, because when the environment is changing rapidly — as when agriculture was invented or city-states arose—is also when natural selection produces the most dramatic changes in a gene pool. Yet most of the field's leaders, admits UNM's Miller, "have not kept up with the last decade's astounding progress in human evolutionary genetics." The discovery of genes as young as agriculture and city-states, rather than as old as cavemen, means "we have to rethink to foundational assumptions" of evo psych, says Miller, starting with the claim that there are human universals and that they are the result of a Stone Age brain. Evolution indeed sculpted the human brain. But it worked in malleable plastic, not stone, bequeathing us flexible minds that can take stock of the world and adapt to it.

Bart,Newsweek is not to my knowledge a publication that trys for balance in reporting on issues that touch on political correctness-and every field has a few practiceioners who draw bad conclusions.

Now it's hard to communicate well in space of a few paragraphs,and I do not doubt that there has been some physcal evolutiom of our brains in the last ten thousand years-but not MAJOR EVOLUTION.
We are pianting fast and with broad brushes.Ditto some change maybe in the "programs" buried in our lower brains-but not major changes.

Since my life's work seems to be to read ,and this is a field that I found to be intensely interesting I have delved deep into it,and the preponderance of the evidence is very much in favorof ev psyc-which is why I believe in it,as I went in open minded.Now to paraphrase some country musician who would you rather believe,the authors of the article,or your own lying eyes?

Look around-without the filter of preconcieved values,which have nothing to do with the truth or falsity of the theory.

I strongly reccomend Richard Dawkins The Blind Watchmaker as as additional read as it devotes many pages to the methods used by "science" journalists to create controversy where there is little or none.

Did you notice that this particular piece gave the ev psyc advocates approximately ZERO space?
EO Wilson is at Harvard and Pinker if I remember correctly is at MIT.Dawkins is retired from Oxford.

If you WANT to believe otherwise,which I suspect is the case given your remarks, no amount of evidence will convince you validity of ev psyc. -but if you look into the subject with the open mind of the impartial alien explorer so beloved of sci fi fans,you will find dozens of "fat nurses" for every skinny one.

Hi oldfarmermac,

The Newsweek article cites a number of academic critics of Evolutionary Psychology, including several former believers who have now changed their minds.

The counter arguments sound pretty good. I'd always been skeptical that specific complex behaviors could be inherited. The brain isn't composed of individual self-contained modules (e.g. attraction to wide-hipped women).

And I'm skeptical of the kind of person who seems to be obsessed with Evolutionary Psychology - older white guys with a technical background and little knowledge of the social sciences. The ideas of EP fit in suspiciously well with the prejudices of this group. We LOVE the idea of human beings as machines! Probably because we understand machines better than people.

I guess I've spent too much time with insightful women who made me realize how little self-knowledge we technical guys typically have. We flatter ourselves that we are objective and rational, when our thinking is shot through with wishful thinking, self-justification and prejudice. We are not that different from chest-thumping sliverback gorillas.

And we think we have special insights into human behavior! I wish I could portray my wife's indulgent, pitying expression when I make claims about understanding psychology.

PS I like the name "oldfarmermac". My father-in-law was an old Kansas farmer who was called "Mac." He left the farm for the oil fields when hail destroyed the crop that would have paid off the mortgage.

Bart / EB

Bart,I hope I don't come across as obsessed,and I do appreciate Shakespeare,although I wish somebody would come out with really good modernized editions.That goes DOUBLE for the Russian novelists,I had a hard tome keeping the names straight.A new edition should be like the old but remane the characters Mac ,Bart,Janet,etc.,and in the case of Shakespeare,modernize the language a bit.Purists can read the originals if they wish.

I don't know how often or thoroughly you read the OD but Nate Hagens posted links to rebuttal articles somewhere w/i the last two days or so.

Really if you reject the consensus of opinion of pretty much the entire biology establisment because you know of a handful of ev psyc dissenters,you have to accept the arguments of the GW dissenters on the same grounds.

Once you actually get acquainted with the subject ,you will find that the news week piece did a rushbo on ev psyc.

I believe Nates link was to a current article in Psychology Today.Please read it.

My nickname is actually Mac and I am getting old and I did major in ag and I do help with the family farm,thanks for liking my handle.But I try to keep the actual farming down to a couple of hours a day in recent years.It turns into work if you do it all day.

Since we all share the same brain,regardless of our cultural background,we are all at risk of the same hijacking of our innate behavior patterns.

We most certainly do not all share the same brain. For a start, the relatively blank slate of autism:
(totally unchallenged highly praised theory, not something you will find even remotely often I can assure you).


Or even sub-cultures in another part of town.

Indeed. It is very easy to be dazzled by the noisy and flashy and to assume it is the everything, overlooking the quiet and unflashy that is just as important in its different ways. I've just come from visiting friends 20 miles from my city, who have no fridge no car no fossil heating etc, but who did give me some eggs which were definitely free range as the hens were clucking around our feet, and as we chopped firewood in their holding. Unlike 99% of brits they know the names of the things that grow thereon, know about scythes and soil science. These people do not attract notice either physically or economically and this tempts a false assumption that they don't exist or figure.

So- we now have a reasonably sound basis for understanding our own behavior.Nate's article is as good a short summary of the subject of human psychology as it relates to our current habits as I ever expect to see.

Now that we know the why however the how of change looks harder than ever in some respects.

One thing that never ceases to both amuse and frustrate me every time I have a conversation with one of my more liberal friends is that thier mindset seems to tend toward the posiion that people can be changed by appeals to the intellect.

My more conservative friends tend to laugh at the notion that people think rather than just simply allow thier thier innate impulses to set hard limits on thier behavior.

I think the conservatives win this time.
It doesn't look as if appeals to the intellect will get the job done.

Anyone who doubts the truth of this assertion can walk into any hospital and conduct a quick visual survey of the doctors and nurses.These people are not only professionally trained in the science of nutrition but are also constantly in contact with people suffering horrible health problems as the result of poor eating habits.

I would guess that the average nurse wieghs almost as much as the average high school dropuot housewife.

Now as far as over consumption of salt ,sugar,and fat is concerned it has long been known that our metabolisms are not much changed from the time we were hunter gatherers.As these nutrients were in continious short supply those days it is no suprise that we are programmed to crave these foods.

Sugar is a very good source of calories and fruit is known to have been a major part of our diet in the early days.Not many plant foods,with the exception of nuts,contain a lot of readily digestible fat unless pulverized and cooked-technology not available to prehumans.

Meat however is a very good source of both fat and salt.

We are programmed to consume to the limits of availability these three nutrients,as overconsumption would have only very rarely been a problem historically speaking.

Getting eaten by a lion as a result of being too fat to run fast enough to get away,once spears were invented, was undoubtedly less of a hazard than starvation in the event of an extended drought or other stressful event.

Evolution adds on no unnecessary features.If overeating becomes a problem that interferes with successful reproduction,then the tendency to overeat will be culled by the survival of the fittest.

I have no idea how to go about changing our COLLECTIVE behavior before the heavy hand of selection changes it for us.

One trip thru the selection wringer is nowhere near enough to get the job done-any survivors will be rewarded with lots of grandchildren for resuming bau under the new bau paradigm.

As a matter of fact any number of population collapses can occur w/o changing the long term survival calculus if I am not mistaken.It's been a while since I have taken any pure play biology classes.

Lots of ideas from vegetarianism to the transition town movement may make a small difference here and there individually and locally but my personal plan is to be stocked up,buttoned up,and standing gaurd if I live long enough to see how it all plays out.

Just a suggestion: Read William Golding's Pincher Martin--a.k.a The Two Deaths of Christopher Martin. Golding puts his finger on the driving force of life: survival at all costs. Pincher eats his way through life--using people, garnering power, etc. Against Pincher is counterpoised Nathaniel--one who understands the futility of following such an impulse--contemplates his eons. The novel takes place during WWII.

The central analogy in the novel is that of the apocraphal Chinese box. The Chinese place a bunch of maggots in a box and bury it. Eventually, there is only one maggot left; at which point the Chinese (Nature for the simple minded) dig up the box and eat the lone huge maggot.

Yes, many good points here.

But I, too, am concerned about the underemphasis on the participation of corporations in creating and flaming desires. The psychological studies and understanding of human desire in corporate research departments is far, far advanced over those working in the academic side. They know how to keep most of us wanting and in debt. They know us, and they know how to manipulate/motivate us to buy, much better than we know ourselves or our loved ones.

Another issue I have is with the "drugs" graph. I know it isn't supposed to be scientific or precise, but there are lots of problems with it:

Why is porn put on the illegal side? Only a rather narrow range of it is actually illegal, no?

Fast cars, on the other hand, while not themselves illegal, are illegal to actually drive fast, unless you take them to a special track. Seems odd to put these on the most legal, but porn, most of which is not illegal to either own or use, near the least.

Why is pot considered so energy intensive. I guess you can grow it in an energy intensive way, but it's basically a weed that can grow just about anywhere. So it grows itself (or would if it were allowed to), then all you have to do is pick it and toke it. Cocaine and heroin require much more elaborate and (comparatively) energy intensive refining...before consumption.

I am in no way trying to promote (or for that matter disparage) any of these activities. I just found it curious where you chose to put things along your legality/energy intensity curve.

that graph was a hypothetical for a lecture to undergrads (and now 3 years old). I didn't mean the energy to GROW the drugs, but how much energy was used after 'experiencing' the drugs. Winning stock trading doesn't take alot of energy, but the dopamine it engenders from large windfalls is then spent on boats, trips, houses etc. Heroin addicts just zone out and sleep, etc. The stuff in between was just food for thought (though it would make for an interesting study...) So dont hold me to any rankings! (lest people project, my drugs of choice are stock trading, internet, poker and red wine -have never done any hard drugs in my life) drugs of choice are stock trading, internet, poker and red wine-have never done any hard drugs

Nate I beg to differ with you but those drugs are as hard as they get.

Case in point: 15 years ago I was working at a commercial real estate brokerage in Las Vegas and a colleague (and friend) suddenly came to me and begged me for a large personal loan. This surprised me because I knew that his recent commissions were some of the largest the firm had ever closed. After some investigation I discovered that he was addicted to electronic poker machines and was losing fantastic sums in them daily. After a while I agreed to make him a loan on condition that he enter a gambling rehabilitation program. I sponsored him and one night a doctor who ran the treatment center gave a long talk about gambling addictions.

His conclusions were that the new hybrids of video gambling machines were the "crack" of gambling. It made sense if you think about it. If you are sitting at a table you have to wait for the dealer to pass out the cards. In a video game you can increase the rate of exposure to many times that.

The shocking end to this story is that the "success" of my colleague as a real estate broker was primarily due to his obsessive compulsive disorder. Closing Big Deals, although legal and socially encouraged, was actually the biggest drug of all. Sadly this talented man passed away about 3 years ago at the age of 49 due to a massive coronary. Flat-broke.


Yes, how addictions are defined and ranked can tell us much about the philosophical and aesthetic position of the people doing the ranking.

The definition of drug addiction is interesting in itself:

"Drug addiction is defined as "the compulsive seeking and taking of a drug despite adverse consequences"."

Does this mean that if could find a recreational drug with no adverse consequences, it would no longer be an addiction?

The need for speed is another fascinating addiction. I have known people who have been addicted to fast cars to the point of bankrupting themselve in the pursuit of just a bit more performance.

But what about fast bicycles? Do a quick study of prices of bikes and parts and you will see that it can become a very expensive addiction.

Fast boats, but even more fascinating is fast sailboats, including 50 mile per hour sailing trimeran hydrofoils that can cost into the millions to construct, and serve no purpose other than to prove it can be done.

The stock market is mentioned, and surely it has been one of the most damaging addictions to strike our nation in recent years!

"Evolution" is given as the cause of the human addictive behavior and in a way that is true, but I don't think it has anything much to do with oil. Humans are addicted to experience. The new, the untried, the game that hasn't been played, the device that has not been built, the concert that hasn't been performed or heard, the play that can create emotions and feelings in the audience that they could not feel easily in daily is purely and simply experience and achievement that drive humans to be addicted to almost every aspect of life, to life itself.

I am trying to cure myself of an addiction. It started out as a one time thing, and then became occasional. Now it is an almost daily need. It consumes time that could be better used for other things, it causes me to actually have to expend effort to satisfy my addiction. I get nothing from it other than the opportunity to exercise my abilities in satisfying a deep need.

The addiction is reading and posting on The Oil Drum. Why do I do it? Why do I crave the experience of thinking, debating, learning new things, contributing and arguing my viewpoints? I have tried to quit many times, but I come back. I have "cut back", only to rise to my old levels of need again and again.

I have known people addicted to many odd things...jigzaw puzzles, reading, drawing. They used time that could have been used more profitably to do something that produced little or no profit. What about golf? Is there a more fascinating history of addiction in all of history?

Addictive behavior is as human as thumbs. Humans are addicted to life. What does that tell us about the energy situation or carbon release or sustainability? Sorry to say this, but very little actually. "Oil addiction" is but a sliver of the many ways in which human need for experience, achievement and consumption is satisfied or attempted to be satisfied. When oil is not available we will find substitutes. Particular addictions come and go. Human addiction for something more will never go away, not as long as humans are recognizably human.
At least let's try to make our modern addictions good clean fun! :-)


RC, I'm right there with you on the addiction of reading TOD posts. Maybe it's the multitude of varying perspectives on a plethra of complex subject matter, that excites the mind. Or maybe trying to extrapolate trends, like oil depletion, to try to predict what might happen. Whatever it is, its mentally stimulating. I guess as addictions go it can't be considered that bad. At least we're lucid, in the moment, and exercising the our grey matter.


The last time anything grabbed and held my attention the way the OD has was back in the late sixties and she was so good looking that one of the new male teachers ran his car into a fire hydrant watching her walk down the street the first day of her senior year-so help me God!
The relationship lasted about six years.

But I've got it figured out.Nate and crew have developed some devilish new way to control our minds by using subliminal content and once there are enough of us,we will have to pay a couple of hundred bucks for access every month or go cold turkey!!!

I think that being drawn to people of like mind is not as much an addiction as wanting to converse and exchange with peers.
If the internet has done one thing it has allowed minds to find each other independent of geography.
And who says that all this intellectual mixing of ideas won't end up having a profoundly positive effect in the future.
I see this differently and to me it is a correction of the gross lack of communication that our evermore fractured society has drifted toward as we spread out geographically.
Just my opinion.

...wanting to converse and exchange with peers.

Porge - There is a huge disconnect with the general population when it comes to the issues of Peak Oil or resource depletion. A lot of people who know me personally will roll their eyes the moment I mention the subject. As a result I tend to keep my views to myself.

We humans are a social species and we have the need to find "our tribe" that share our values and allow us the opportunity to express them. Therefore TOD for a lot of people is a tribe of sorts.


That is my point.
We are no doubt all in the same minority and this site is our turf so to speak.
I have no peers that are geographically accessible and I am sure that others here in this cyber domain can relate.

""Drug addiction is defined as "the compulsive seeking and taking of a drug despite adverse consequences"."

Does this mean that if could find a recreational drug with no adverse consequences, it would no longer be an addiction?"

Interesting that you should point this out. I was about to make a similar point.

A mathematician friend of mine regularly collects pools of money from investors, goes to casinos, applies mathematical and statistical analysis to the games, and plays long enough so that the statistics can come out in his favor. He can reliably win at "gambling" and does so regularly. He teaches a course in it.

He also regularly goes to conferences on gambling where just about everyone else is talking about the problems of addictive gambling.

His simple question to them, to which he has not yet received an answer, is: "Is it addiction, or is the addiction a problem, if the gambler always wins?"

Whatever you are addicted to, it is likely preferable to Demerol or other injected painkillers/opiates. Jacko, Elvis and Anna Nicole went off the rails on that one.

The painkillers also got Heath Ledger.

And quite a few WWE wrestling stars.

Nate- I always look forward to your posts. (Is that an addiction?)

When I was about 18 my favorite writer was James Michener and you remind me of him in a lot of ways. Interestingly most people that I have ever mentioned my penchant for Michener have immediately complained about the exhaustive detail and tiresome buildup in his novels. For me that was the best part. By the time modern civilization showed up in his stories it appeared to me as a Paradise Lost.

Personally I know a great deal about addiction. When I was 20 I read Jim Fixx's The Complete Book of Running and I thought I had found the perfect drug. I then spent years as a compulsive runner. 20 years later I had serious spinal compression and knee problems. Since that time it has been one addiction replacing another.

I don't know if you can ever conquer addiction. Perhaps the best we can do is to make better choices about where we get our dopamine.


I have come to the conclusion that we cannot change our penchant to want more. We can only change how we define the 'more'. Put aside Peak Oil and Climate Change for the moment. We have it in us to ‘nudge’ how our brains get ‘hijacked’. We can choose to go for a jog/hike instead of sending 10 emails and websurfing, we can choose to have a salad instead of a cheeseburger, we can choose to play a game or read a story with our children instead of making 5 business phone calls, etc. But most of these choices, in my opinion, require prior planning. Because ‘at the moment’, our brains will fall into the neural grooves that modern culture has worn into them. It takes conscious plans to change these behaviors, and for some this will be harder than for others (for me very hard). But in choosing thusly, we are likely making ourselves as individuals healthier and happier, with the positive externalities of using less energy and slowing and eventually reversing the societal stimulation feedback loop.

Those conscious plans pretty much have to involve disconnecting and insulating oneself at least partially from the dominant culture and rebelling against it as a counter-cultural non-conformist.

I am hardly the first person to recognize this fact. This theme has been sounded over and over again by prophets, rebels, and others. Those of us in the Boomer generation saw and heard a lot of talk along these lines in the late '60s and the '70s. Of course, most of it was just talk, and many of those doing the talking later became amongst the worst of the social-climbing yuppies.

The basic failure was due to superficiality. Those who thought they were "non-conformists" defined their non-conformity in terms of the types of clothes and hair styles they wore, the types of music they listend to, the types of drugs they consumed, etc., etc. The thing is, the "non-conformists" all ended up wearing pretty much the same types of clothes and hair styles, listend to the same music, consumed the same drugs, etc. They conformed to their peer group just as rigidly as the 1950s suburban "organization man" had conformed to his peer group. Since they were still conformists at heart, the popular culture had little trouble adjusting to them and co-opting them.

A more effective approach would have been to reject and insulate themselves from the popular culture altogether. Boycot the cinema, boycot television, boycot corporate music (make their own music instead), resist public schooling indoctrination, ignore all corporate advertising, live simply and try to get by with as little stuff as possible, and try to make as much of that oneself as possible, or get it directly from small independent producers.

There were a few people that moved more deeply into such a genuine counter-cultural mode, some more deeply and successfully than others. Such a counter-culture continues to exist, to a greater extent than is generally recognized since it is at least partially disconnected and insulated from the popular culture and is thus largely invisible to it. Interestingly, when we here at TOD discuss our visions for what we hope the best case future might be, it starts to sound pretty similar to this counter culture: people living simple and frugal energy-efficient lives, producing a lot of their own stuff, patronizing local independent producers for what they can't make themselves, schooling on a household or neighborhood scale (and maybe more practical and reality-based), and a locally rooted and produced popular culture (people making their own music and enjoying listening to each other perform, for example).

The thing that must be understood, though, is this: The dominant, corporate-controlled popular culture isn't going to get us there. In fact, it will be of no use whatsoever and is actually part of the problem. If we really want people to change their behavior (say, wrt how they use transportation), then we must also want people to disconnect themselves from and reject a popular culture that has encouraged them to do the exact opposite, and continues to do so. If you want a "revolution" (at least of the non-violent social kind), then a cultural revolution has to be a big part of it.

The core of the argument appears to be that our brains were moulded during times of scarcity.
Many commentators have observed that during the 'hunter-gatherer' era (when most of the evolutionary changes are supposed to have occurred) we actually had relative plenty and spent a smaller proportion of our energy obtaining the necessities of life than after we had adopted agriculture. The thesis is that hunter-gathering was a 'golden age' and things only went wrong for us when population pressure etc. forced us to practice agriculture.
Do you think this argument is false, or did our brains 'evolve' to their present condition only after agriculture and more intense competition for resources arose?

Do you think that population pressure caused a shift to agriculture or that agriculture was seen as a more efficient way of life and allowed the increases in population.
The fact that very impressive building and cultural projects took place in civilizations based on farming and animal husbandry seems to suggest the later.
Perhaps environmental change reduced the forage and caused hunter/gathers to look at other methods but it seems to me that it would be a whole lot easier to grow stuff near by than walk around all day looking for leaves and tubers etc. Also it is a lot easier to catch an animal in a cage.

Hi Nate:

I don't know if you are still lurking this post, but I had a question if so:

Here we see it with happiness and GDP.

This chart has been cited a few times in the context of ecological economics. When it has numbers on it, it appears as if the inflection point is ~ $10-12k per capita per year.

I was curious if anyone had tried to map GDP per capita back to basic energy requirements? Since energy is what we really use, and money functions as an imperfect representation of energy, the GDP per capita axis kind of 'hides the ball.'

What bundle of energy might we associate with that $10-12k figure? It's about 170 bbls of crude at today's prices (12000/70), or perhaps 150,000 kwh electric (12000/.08).

It seems like if you can map it back to energy you could start to address some interesting questions (can we afford to make everyone happy? how many might we sustain at enjoyable subsistence?)

Is this line of thinking a worthwhile exercise?

Thanks Nate for another excellent and thorough post (where do you get the time?)

My first impression was that your post was over the top, until a front page article caught my eye this morning in the WSJ. The article, titled "Retailers Cut Back on Variety" (; subscription required) mentions among other things that Wal-Mart has decided that 24 different tape measures is 20 too many.

It ain't easy being green or simplifying our cravings apparently, although "shelf space" limits (among others) can nudge us to simplify.

If the hunter-gatherer life was all that great, why would anyone have ever shifted to settled agriculture? The fact that they did, in multiple times and places, suggests that maybe the people actually there at the time saw some advantages to agriculture over being hunter-gatherers.

If the hunter-gatherer life is all that great, we should also expect to find examples of peoples ditching agriculture to return to being hunter-gatherers whenever a feasible opportunity presented itself. As human populations have increased, those opportunities have diminished to nothingness, but there were times in the past when it might still have been possible. The Black Death probably depopulated Europe sufficiently to make a hunter-gatherer lifestyle feasible again in a few areas, but nobody took advantage of that opportunity. When imported germs wiped out most of the native American populations, that was a unique opportunity for European agriculturalists to move in, take over, and ditch their hated agriculturalist ways of life for the hunter-gatherer nirvana. It didn't happen that way; they got agriculture going as quickly as they possibly could.

Being a hunter-gatherer is what people do when they have absolutely no other opportunity to do anything else. If they are really lucky, their environment provides enough food sources to allow the hunter-gatherers - they and all their potential competitors - to actually survive, more or less. The groups that don't survive (and that is a lot of them) we never hear about, unless some scientist just happens to stumble across a few of their bones.

If the hunter-gatherer life was all that great, why would anyone have ever shifted to settled agriculture?

Maybe an accident. Troop gathers edible seeds of grasses and bring them back to camp, seeds are dropped about the camp. Feedback loop of accidental seed selection and discoveries like pulling up non edible plants lead to agriculture. After the carrying capacity of what can be supported by foraging is exceeded you're trapped in agriculture.

Hunter gathers were healthy, but there were down sides. Often nomadic so accumulating posessions was kind of tough. Infant mortality was high, probably cared less for the elderly than their stationary counterpars.

"If the hunter-gatherer life was all that great, why would anyone have ever shifted to settled agriculture?"

By jove, that's the heart of it! Why would they? Let's accept that hunter gathering WAS that great for a moment:

This goes to the heart of what Toffler and other historical philosophers have played out: The need for EXPERIENCE, for new variety. At some point every "wealth producing" system (to use Toffler's words) plays out all it's possible options. It doesn't mean that the wealth producing system was "bad" or that people were that miserable with it, it simply plays out it's possibilities. People become effectively bored.

That is the heart of what is being defined as "addiction" here. The citizens who are able will attempt to do more, to experience more, inside the available wealth producing system until you end up with boring excess baroque consumption, such as the gold plated Porsche seen at the top of the article here. Everyone begins to realize we need a new path or we will simply suck the world bone dry trying out idiotic new but now boring excesses.

That is the real end of the industrial fossil fuel age, this is how it is happening: People now WANT to see if a different path forward will work, thus the fascination with wind, solar, ultra fast sailboats,and the art of truly "elegant engineering". Getting the absolute most experience from the absolute least amount of waste and consumption can be an addictive sport in and of itself!

This could be fun...


Your guess is probably the way it happened.
Why wouldn't people plant things near by? They still had to gather the food but it would have been concentrated and plentiful if planted and also known location. Saves a bunch of time and effort. Also raising livestock has the same advantages and is not life threatening like hunting must have been.
I don't understand why anyone would think that a hunter gatherer lifestyle would be better or more enjoyable.....What would you rather do fill a bushel basket by walking around the woods looking or just go into the field and pick?

If the hunter-gatherer life was all that great, why would anyone have ever shifted to settled agriculture?

Really now! Is not the answer to that question rather obvious? Agriculture, over a given area, can support perhaps ten times as many people as hunter-gathering can. The switch was not made accidental it was made because people overpopulated their niche and got very hungry. They knew they could eat seeds and roots or tubers. They would have easily figured out that seeds, left in the ground, would create many more seeds and tubers grew from other tubers. They began to plant gardens and they did it in order to survive.

But hell, everything has always been about survival...and sex. But survival first.

Ron P.

You are absolutely right on this. If you believe Jared Diamond (and there ARE reasons to complain about his writing) virtually every agrarian society has had a lower standard of living than the hunter-gatherers they replaced. Nevertheless the replacement went forward, almost certainly because there were so many more agrarians than hunter-gatherers. Even if each hunter-gatherer was worth five farmers in combat the farmers still win on shear numbers alone. The net result is that a new technology LOWERS the standard of living, but RAISES the population size. Evolution doesn't care how happy you are, only how many offspring you produce and how well you compete in the environment.

Hunter/Gatherer cultures, for the most part were small, three or four families, maybe. What remains of their culture in my part of the world is very simple; a wind cave with fire soot still clinging to the stone ceiling. A mano and metate, sharpening grooves in the stone, and scattered lithics of flint and chert. Corn and squash was planted in very small plots, often watered by hand with gourds, or containments were made at the base of over pours from the surrounding cliffs to provide a water source where there wasn't running water. Hunting provided a large part of the diet and generally, at least in this area, game was plentiful, Elk, Deer, Sheep, Antelope, Rabbits, and even some Buffalo.

The clue to why hunter/gatherers moved to the more "settled" model of the agricultural group can be found, I think, in the petroglyphs and the pictographs left behind by the original hunter groups. Without exception, they depict the wild animals that were essential for protein, the Deer, Elk, Sheep, or the power animals, the Bear, the Wolf, or the Lion. These animal representations, in various combinations, are always present in the panels that remain to this day. Also represented were maps of sorts, and clan symbols. I've seen a panel that represents a clan census, 18 individuals in all. Many of these drawings were ritual, ie., by depicting the Deer on the rock face, Deer would be plentiful on the mountain for the fall hunting. These drawings were an attempt to gain a bit of control over the whim of nature. Success was guaranteed because Deer would always be taken. Chip out the picture of the Deer in the rock, and that fall, Deer would be killed, maybe not as many as the previous fall, but, still deer would be taken and so the rock drawing was a success. Thus was born the opportunity for status. The feller who happened to chip a nice rock representation of the deer, and then, by the whim of nature, the fall hunt was a big success, would be immediately tagged as the guy to do the important animal representations in the future. So, he didn't have to spend so much time expending energy hunting as the rest of the group. He got to sit in the shade of the cliff and make animal representations. His job became more important than those who did the actual hunting. If the game disappeared, as it does, he was fired by the clan and a new artist installed. The game came back, as it always does, and there was a new guy firmly in the cushy job, at least until the next time the fall hunt wasn't as successful as necessary to avoid the rigors of cold weather starvation.

Agriculture offered many more opportunities for status of the sort enjoyed by the rock chipper. The idea of the overseeing power, the big guy in the sky, developed and was readily serviced by a waiting and eager cadre of priests and priestesses. Government was the consequence, a very good deal for those who govern, those on top of the heap. Sometimes, not such a swell shot for everyone else though.

Hunter/Gatherer groups were equal opportunity cultures. Agricultural groups were dominated first by the magicians, those who made the crops grow by their intervention with the higher powers, and then, formalized government followed as those who ran the show began to understand the scam. Government was the institutionalization of clan magic, after the magic had been removed and delegated to the priest class. Agriculture offered the opportunity for government, and government meant the concentration of power (the luxury of less work) to the few, those who found themselves on top of the stack by whatever means. So, I'm not sure that the agricultural organization of culture was a better deal for the average Joe, but, the development of agriculture pretty much guaranteed the development of classes, and that was a good deal for those at the top rungs and, they ran the show. Not a lot has changed. Our best, and best paid executives, those most powerful, are those who have been most favored by luck (the gods) as N. Taleb points out in his excellent books. Best from the Fremont


In Sunday School, I was taught that during the big council meetings in the Pre-Existence (where we all lived before we were given bodies and sent to Earth), there was much discussion, sometimes heated, as to how to even the burden between women and men. Women, according to design specifications, suffered menstruation and the pain of child birth. Men grew whiskers. Those who were to be women, called foul. Whiskers, no big deal, although whiskers were initially designed as a means of collecting garbage, and bad smells. Still, those spirits who were going to be women thought men were getting off easy, the best deal, and so they demanded a penalty, an equalization, and it was proposed that men have large feathers sticking from their behinds so there would be a constant tickling. The prospective men objected loudly and the discussion grew heated. Finally, after days, an accommodation was agreed on. Women would menstruate, they would have babies, but, to make all fair, men had to wear ties. The disagreement was settled. The Peacock didn't fare as well, although, maybe it's a tossup. Fremont

If the hunter-gatherer life was all that great, why would anyone have ever shifted to settled agriculture?

Because circumstances changed. As Arnold Toynbee in A study of history explained, civilisations arose from circumstances of great adversity. For instance the growth of the Sahara forced hunter-gatherers to move into the wild crocodile swamps of the Nile Valley characterised by vast floods. They there had to make radical adaptions to a radically new environment. And therefrom arose the ancient Egyptian civilisation (with a lot of natural selection elimination of would-be Transition Towner visioneers along the way). More here:

“If you place 10 chickens in an enclosure there will ensue a series of fights until a pecking order is established. Each bird quic[k]ly learns who it can and cannot beat and a status hierarchy is created, thus making future fights (and wastes of energy) less common.”

--- This will not happen if the chickens are living in a benevolent environment! Chickens only pursue “attack” behaviors amongst themselves if there is a scarcity of resources in their environment. Chickens live in peaceful, happy harmony if their needs are adequately met. Any disharmonious behavior that they might display is an indication that their environment is malevolent – something they critically need is missing.


“Biologists have shown that historically, the primary way to reliably demonstrate one's 'quality' during courtship is to display a high-cost signal - e.g. a heavy and colorful peacock's tail, an energy expending bird-song concert, or a $100,000 sports car. Only these costly "handicap" signals are evolutionarily stable indicators of their producer's quality, because cheap signals are too easy for low-quality imitators to fake (Zahavi and Zahavi, 1997).”

--- The condition of the ‘displayer’ of costly goods is reflecting not only their own individual fitness in being able to pay the price, but is more importantly an indicator of the conditions as they exist within the wider environment that created this ‘displayer’ in the first place. A better quality peacock’s tail signals to the female that conditions in her potential mate’s world are pretty darn good –– because the world is great and/or the male’s ability to provide for itself is great no matter what the conditions of the world are. He is therefore the winner of the hedged bet for genetic supremacy in regards to what really matters – ensured survival in the best or the worst of all possible worlds.


“… achieving cultural success….”

--- Cultural success meaning what? Creative, expressive and artistic pursuits – the intangibles? These are also directly linked to the same reproductive fitness indicator processes as are the peacock’s feathers.


“An explosion of neuroscience and brain imaging research tells us that drugs of abuse activate the brain’s mesolimbic dopamine reward system, the neural network that regulates our ability to feel pleasure and be motivated for “more”.”

–-- this system originates before we are born with the development of our endogenous opioid and cannabinoid systems that intend us to bond with and attach to members of our species. The more the need for human-to-human attachments becomes depleted, the more our reward chemicals compel us to search for reward elsewhere.

---- I believe that stubborn pursuit of destructive ‘addictions’ reflects fundamental flaws in the human attachment systems’ operations. Early insecure attachment environments create different kinds of brains than do early secure attachment environments because they each reflect information about the benevolent or malevolent condition of the world. The quality of our early interactions forms our body-brain-mind as these interactions build information about the environment we live in into us. Our developing bodies make adjustments so that we can best adapt ourselves to the conditions of the world we are being formed to survive in.

If we wish to explore root causes for imbalanced behavior, examining our attachment patterns is a good place to start because the quality, operation, organization and ordering of our attachments constitute the core of who we are and how we act. If we are not safely and securely attached on the micro level, we will not be so on the macro level, either.