Thursday, 13 January 2011

Mysteries of Human Behaviour

I believe that after two months, a blog is officially considered "dead". If that is the case, I am resurrecting this one. I blame school for my long absence. However, I have now finished the requirements of my B.A. and should be convocating come June! :-D

I was a psychology major. Having spent nine semesters learning about psychology, it seems to be safe to tell you that psychologists often really have no idea what they're talking about. This is particularly true in the case of two specific items.

Item number one: Sleep.

There appears to be nobody alive, psychologist or otherwise, who can say why living creatures need sleep. Oh, sure, we know what happens if you don't get sleep. That's easy. First you get cranky, then you get slowed reaction times. Your brain power drains, eventually you go crazy and finally you die. But nobody can tell you what tremendously important function the brain or the body is performing while asleep that it cannot do while awake. It's a mystery.

There are a few theories out there, but none of them are highly convincing. Memory consolidation? Energy conservation? Regulation of timed behaviours? You have to admit, it'd sure be easier to evolve if we weren't such easy prey while asleep. And given that we spend between one-third and half of our lives sleeping, that's quite a long time to be sitting ducks for carnivorous foes.

My dad had an idea. Maybe sleep, and in particular, dreaming, is when the person (or animal) reconnects with the spiritual realm. The spirit gets "plugged in" to recharge for a while. If people are amphibious beings, this makes sense. Cut off your connection with the spiritual realm for too long, and it seems perfectly reasonable that you'd go crazy and die. Although this isn't scientifically verifiable, it's somewhat logical.

Item number two: Altruism

This is a popular topic, especially in social psychology. Why, in some cases, does selflessness suddenly trump selfishness? Nobody knows why altruism exists. Believe it or not, many psychologists (but not the humanistic ones) try to claim that altruism actually doesn't exist. They say that people will only perform altruistic behaviours because they believe subconsciously that such behaviours will actually benefit them in the end. Perhaps by helping this person, they are making society a better place, and by making society a better place, they themselves are benefited, because they live in this society. Nevermind that if you were an altruistic German seventy years ago, you'd be more likely to get gassed or shot than reap the benefits of making society a better place.

Other psychologists say it's all based on evolution. While sacrificing yourself for the good of others does not bode well for your future existence, in some cases it can prove useful for the species as a whole. For example, a mommy dog will sacrifice her life for her puppies because some innate evolutionary instinct in her tells her that her species must survive, even if she does not. In this case, altruism is just a biological impulse to perpetuate the species.

Still others claim that people are altruistic solely because they want to be altruistic, which means they're actually serving their own desires, and not altruistic at all. This is ridiculous. First, it doesn't account for the spontaneous desire to do something altruistic, and second, this argument would imply that only random behaviour can be truly altruistic. Yet random behaviour can't be altruistic - it's just random. This argument makes altruism an impossibility based on the redefining of altruism, not on disproving the desire to help others.

Psychologists have trouble with altruism, but they shouldn't. I know why people are sometimes altruistic. It has to do with something called the Holy Spirit and a desire to serve something other than ourselves...

Ah, well. If academia knew everything, there'd be nothing new to learn.

“Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.” C.S. Lewis


CavDawg said...

I've always been of the opinion that altruism was evidence of man's divine heritage, but you an I have similar biases in that regard. Either way, explaining altruism that was isn't very scientific, so one has to appreciate that those who want to use the scientific method to explain it have to search for alternative routes.

Also, altruism to benefit the species really only makes sense in an evolutionary context if it's used to benefit your own children. The theoretical goal of a biological organism in evolution is to carry on its own genetic code, without any particular regard for species.

art said...

I find dreaming a very interesting subject. I think I am concluding that it is impossible to prove that we are actually awake right now. I know in the movie Inception that a dreamer makes use of a totem to verify their reality but I am very skeptical that it would actually work. I have been in dreams that I only knew were dreams after the fact. Your memory can play tricks on you and your senses can be tricked. Perhaps, this is a dream and when we "die", we actually wake up. Will we remember this dream? I hope so.