According to accepted neuroscience, we have three brains: our brain stem, which controls motor function, our limbic or emotional brain and our neo cortex or rational thinking brain.
Our limbic, emotional brain, which is some 400 million years older than our neo cortex is primitive. Its purpose is to ensure survival, and all the complicated emotions and behaviors that survival implies. It is here that our basest of instincts thrive: sex, fury, fight. It is short term oriented, visual, concrete and self centered, and it is not designed to deal with abstract, complex concepts and ideas.
Ruled by the limbic brain, our ancestors were obsessed with consuming vital resources to keep them alive. They were consumption oriented not savings oriented. They were short term, immediate gratification oriented. They never thought about storing and saving because they never knew if they were going to survive from one day to the next. Consequently, they consumed not saved.
According to Robert Trivers, an evolutionary biologist at Rutgers University, “There isn’t necessarily a stop mechanism in us that says, Relax, you’ve got enough. We’ve evolved to be maximizing machines.”
For our ancestors the best way to save for the future was to consume now. Eating as much as they could, whenever they could, they were able to store extra calories in their bodies, in the hopes that this would carry them through any lean times that lay ahead.
This ancestrally dominated mindset has created many modern day problems: the tendency to spend and consume without any regard to the long term consequences, the addiction to instant gratification and the rejection of self denial and sacrifice, lack of patience and civility in society, micro term decision making by business and political leaders and on and on and on.
According to some Evolutionary Psychologists, our thinking, analytical, neo cortex brain has not evolved to keep pace with our complex, break neck speed society. Consequently, we are trying to cope in a complicated, frenetic world by using a brain that was designed to deal with much more basic human needs.
If our rational, analytical, thinking neo-cortex were truly in charge of our behavior we would engage in rational, intelligent, and civilized ways, but one does not have to look far to see the consequences of a society void of rational thought and dominated by the short term, emotionally motivated limbic brain.
Next time you make a decision, any decision, ask yourself is this a thoroughly planned, rationally thought out decision or am I making a decision based on short term, emotional gratification? If you are truly self aware and honest your answer will astound you.