25 May 2017

On Happiness

From this geneticist point of view, all human’s minds (and all living beings) have three layers, from bottom to top: Primal, Social and Learned; and each one is based on the one before.

The Primal layer is encoded in the genes (and thus, each one of us is different from all the others, Primal is stronger is some individuals and weaker in others when it comes to behaviour), and it represents the most basic instincts inherent to a species, like the survival instinct, the search for nourishment and the urge to mate and reproduce to inherit your genes. Primal has been selected over millions of years across millions of species, these instincts started to evolve from the LUCA, and are inherent to all living beings to a great extent and very difficult or almost impossible to override.

The Social layer is encoded through epigenetics, and is specific to species and even groups within the species when these are widely spread (like humans). These changes evolve much faster than hardcoded genetic mutations, and they are the basis for the adaptation to rapidly changing environments. Fear, love, hate, predominant aesthetic, and a wide range of what are considered mental disorders fall in this layer. These are more easily overridden than the Primal layer, which can be achieved in several ways, the most obvious, when they enter in conflict with a Primal, the Primal usually wins; but also they can be overridden by drugs or force of will for example.

The Learned layer is not encoded in the genome, neither in the genetics or the epigenetics of the individuals. What’s contained in this layer is passed from generation to generation through a combination of memes together with personal experience. Knowledge, science, religion, art, morals, fashion and many other human constructs fall in this layer. As you can imagine this layer is easily overridden and/or influenced by the Primal and Social layers.

These three layers are very abstract concepts, and, thus, very difficult to measure directly, hence, enter proxies. Proxies are widely used as easy measures of a thing that can tell us something about the measure of another thing which is much more difficult to measure. For example, when a human presents mongoloid factions, that is considered to be a proxy for a trisomy of chromosome 21, and, thus, Down syndrome. Not every human with mongoloid factions has a trisomy of chromosome 21, and more in general, no proxy correlates perfectly with its target trait, whether it is Primal, Social or Learned; but they work very nicely to predict things which would be very hard or impossible to predict otherwise if you find the right proxy.

It is also important to consider that this is not about how many things are contained in each layer (and that is also important, but a different discussion), but about how much of each layer is in each decision that we make in our life. There are very few things in the Primal layer, and tons and tons of them in the Learned layer (in humans, or some of them anyway), but in you, the Primal layer can be the one making the decisions over the others. If the hardcoded genetics variants you carry make you more Primal, and since Primal is most difficult layer to override by our conscious self, your decision making will be mostly Primal, and in which sense specifically will also be hardcoded in your genes. If the hardcoded genetic variants you carry makes you less Primal, but your epigenetics directs you to some aspects of Social more strongly, then the Social layer will be predominant on your decision making. If both your genetics and your epigenetics are not particularly strong towards one thing or another, then your decision making will be mostly influenced by your Learned layer, i.e. by the memes inherited from your parents, family and friends and by your personal experience; or the pool of all the knowledge your mind has acquired during your life up until the point you make that decision.

The brain is an architectural construct product of millions of years of evolution over the genetics and epigenetics of the species. The circuits of neurons within our brains encode all the information that is us, our mind; and these circuits belong into one or more areas of the brain that are in charge of different aspects of the mind, e.g. spacial perception, abstract thinking, self-awareness, memory, etc. How these circuits are and can be made and connected are first determined by our genetics, and most of it occurs during pregnancy (the foundation part if you will). What is not determined by genetics during pregnancy is determined by epigenetics (and this part can get really complicated, since we do not express our epigenetic alleles, but our parent’s). Then we are born, and the most basic things have been already set by our genetic variants (things can change during puberty, for although our genetic sequence does not change over life, the gene expression levels can, and some of these changes are genetically encoded, and puberty is a messy thing from a genetic and hormonal point of view), but epigenetics keep changing through our life depending on the environment, and also, we start learning things, and thus, building the Learned layer, which, usually, gets bigger and bigger as you live.

Taking all this together, each individual will be the mix of its three layers. One particularly impulsive individual in all matters maybe will be 60% Primal, 30% Social and 10% Learned for example (he or she could have tons of knowledge, but not used in decision making), while a person considered as very tempered could be 10% Primal, 30% Social and 60% Learned. How could we determine this? As we spoke before, proxies. So, which are good proxies for the strength of each layer? In my opinion there can be many, and a mean of plenty for each layer would be more adequate, but to keep things simple, and again, in my (educated) experience:

  • Number of wisdom teeth for the Primal layer. Most common number in humans is four, and in my opinion this is fairly primal (yes, most humans are reasonably primal, hence, the irrationality in the world). If you have six like me, you are totally screwed, but the good side of it is that people around you usually know how you feel, since you are very obvious and a fucking bad liar. One day, probably some 5,000 years from now, if we haven’t killed ourselves, hopefully the most common number of wisdom teeth in humans will be two, and the world will be a better place.
  • Number of people you consider your friends (they also need to consider you their friend) for the Social layer. No, Facebook friends do not count. Tweeter followers do not count. Only people that you would put your life in their hands.
  • Number of full (cover to cover) books you have read in your life for the Learned layer. In here there can be a lot of debate, as this is the most complex layer, but in my humble opinion things like twilight and fifty shades of grey do not count.
So now sum your wisdom teeth, your friends and the number of books divided by 12 (universal constant to normalize books that I just made up) and that’s your total (let’s call it N). Your Primal percentage is wisdom teeth/N, your Social percentage is your number of friends/N and your learned percentage is (number of books/12)/N. How are you? Do you agree? In my case it looks like….

Logically, you are born completely primal (no books, no friends, all teeth). According to this proposition, if you want to be less Primal, start reading more books and making more friends, motherfucker. On the other hand, if you want to be more primal, stop reading books and by all means tell everyone around you to go fuck themselves.

So, finally, happiness. What is happiness?. That elusive thing that all of us seek, none understand and few attain for more than some hours in a whole life. In my opinion, happiness is agreement, the agreement of the Primal, the Social and the Learned layer. Achieving this agreement in some banal decision like whether to cut your hair or leave it long will give you some 0.00000000000000000000000001 miliseconds of happiness (keep summing, champion!). Achieving this agreement when making the most important decision in your life could give you a whole year of happiness, but I don’t think that any human yet has been able to do this. Plus, if all the parts of your mind work at unison you become invincible, everyone knows that, while if they disagree, you, as a conscious being, is full of doubt, and doubt only leads to failure.

But then again, all is determined by the universe and written already in the universal equation, so why bother? Just do whatever it is you’re going to do.