Having a sweet tooth, a leaning towards gossiping and the unconscious tendency to criticize other people´s initiatives and ideas are three of the human traits that have taken us to the level of success that we have attained as a species. That, of course, assuming that having billions of copies of our genome inhabiting the planet is in itself a success. But that is another conversation.
Just like nature has gifted most dogs with an insatiable hunger (a surviving mechanism inherited from their ancestors the wolves) to overeat in times of food abundance, most of us have also cravings for sugar.
This was very useful to us when we were hunters and gatherers and sugar was very scarce, we couldn´t afford to pass on a glucose overdose if we happened to encounter a bee hive or a fig tree full of dripping fruits… The problem is the evolutionary mismatch we suffer today, with sugar everywhere and the insatiable desire to eat as much as possible of it.
As living beings, our brain developed and is hardwired to live in groups of around 100 to 150 people. This was the optimal size to survive as hunters and gatherers, below that number the group wouldn´t reach critical mass to organize a hunt and divide tasks in the camp to survive. Above that, the valley or area where the group was based probably would be over-exploited and resources would eventually diminish, not to mention how difficult it would be for such a big crowd to organize socially. Whenever that happened, the group would split in two.
Every individual was very aware that his or her survival depended upon the cohesion and the survival of the group itself, being expelled from it meant a sure death. That´s why keeping up with what was going on in other people´s life (gossiping) was extremely important for survival. So, they would say: ¨Hans is not doing a good job during his night guard shifts, Johanes slacks around when we go hunting and Sheila secretly ate all the berries we collected yesterday… if we don´t get rid of them, we will all die!¨ Funny enough, or not, 100 to 150 is the number of people our brain is capable of keeping track of.
For millennia, up to the agricultural revolution, we lived in a linear world. Our brain grew in a world in which life was exactly the same and didn´t change at all from one generation to the next. That is how we developed the mechanism to resisting change. Statistically, it was a safer bet to do things as ¨it has always been done¨, and for millions of years, it actually was. If the eccentricity to innovate with new ways in the defense against a saber-toothed tiger goes wrong, it would have been game over for the whole group. It wasn´t really worth it to even try.
But it so happens that we no longer live a world of caloric scarcity, and don´t have to live in groups of 100 people in order to survive. If we decide to try something new and it doesn´t work, the consequences are insignificant. But our brain does live in that world, at least the part that functions automatically, the reptilian brain, the most primitive part, and it sends strong signals and impulses to us: Eat sugar! Gossip! Criticize others!
Functioning in autopilot, with our brain sending those impulses and we going for it, has assured our survival for millions of years and we have been able to get where we are today as a species. BUT, the fact that it has worked for us to get from point A to point B does not necessarily mean that it has to work to get us from B to C. What yesterday was an asset, today can be a liability. YOU CAN´T CHANGE YOUR BRAIN, BUT YOU CAN CHANGE HOW YOU REACT TO THE IMPULSES IT SENDS YOU. That, of course, assuming you want to get to point C.