Our brain is a perfect machine, built for an ancient world. We evolved not so that we could have a good life but so that we would be more likely to survive and reproduce.
Indeed, an individual who is utterly miserable but manages, despite his misery, to survive and reproduce will play a greater role in evolutionary processes than a joyful individual who chooses not to reproduce.
A lot of what the Stoics point to can be read and explained with our current understanding of evolutionary programming:
- our tendency to experience anxiety and insatiability is what made us survive in a world of scarce resources,
- even the fact that we find it pleasant to gain social status and unpleasant to lose it can be translated in the chances of survival by being part of a group or not.
Not being part of a group reduces our chances of survival, it is therefore likely that we are descendent from people that survived because this social trait, and we carry their legacy today as well. We now know with our vastly increased knowledge of the brain, that there is an element of our thoughts that is dependent on chemistry, that means that “our-selves”, as the mind controlling the ship, are in part influenced by our DNA.
If we translate the Stoics advice with our current understanding of the brain, we can use our reasoning ability to conclude that many of the things that our evolutionary programming encourages us to seek (which was thought to be Gods’ design by the Stoics) , such as social status and more of anything we already have, may be valuable if our goal is simply to survive and reproduce, but aren’t at all valuable if our goal is instead to experience a fulfilling life.
In the last century, technology advancements allowed human being to progress exponentially, and although our evolutionary programming helped us flourish as a species in the past, it has in many respects outlived its usefulness. It is important to be aware of our evolutionary autopilot, given a lot of what we do is driven by it, and some of it, most of the time, is counterproductive.
It is important also to know that everybody else share this legacy, which means that to thrive in the current state of the world we need to exploit this knowledge to avoid our autopilot make us miserable, but also understand that our actions will likely trigger reactions in everybody else’s autopilot.