The Evolution Of Emotion, Urge And Behavior

3846 words - 15 pages

- -'If intelligence sets us apart among organisms, then I think is probable that natural selection acted tomaximize the flexibility of our behavior. What would be more adaptive for a learning and thinking animal: genesselected for aggression, spite an d xenophobia; or selection for learning rules that can generate aggression inappropriate circumstances and peacefulness in others.' - Stephen Jay Gould, 1981True enough, the plasticity of human behavior is a very important hallmarkof the species; one which has facilitated its spread into almost everyecosystem on the planet. Yet, as correct as Gould's reasoning is; he isoverlooking some important perspecti ves.For one; assuming that humans evolved from organisms which hadsubstantially less ability to learn ontogenicaly; it is hard to deny that theremust be, at least some residual effects of prior evolution present in modernhuman behavior. It seems highly un likely that the behavior of humanity,however malleable, has completely escaped the slow progressive influence ofgenetic selection.If human behavior is learned, and is fully controlled by the 'freewill' of theindividual, then why is it so well geared to adaptive, gene promoting action?Is it by random chance that humans the world over choose to feel painfullyjealous if their mate leaves them for another or anguished at the loss of achild? Did every culture in the world independently just happen to feelaversion to incest and create taboos against it?Humans don't learn to get hungry when their bodies need sustenance; theyget an urge that influences their behavior in an unarguably adaptive manner.People are averted by spoiled food because it smells bad. Rotten food smellsbad because it sickened an d killed all those who did not mind its odor. Thereis nothing in the nature of fire or in its affect on human bodies and nervoussystems that provides an absolute, over arching reason why burns hurt.Rather, they hurt because humans have been genetical ly molded to dislikethe sensation of burning flesh. These examples of human behaviors are,without a doubt, adaptive and adaptations of this sort certainly suggest agenetic origin. The same can be said, but in varying degrees, for the feardarkness, b eing alone, and death as well as the love of children, sex andfriendship.Basic human emotions are the products of evolution but, they are translatedinto human culture and worked on by individual rationalization to becomewhat van der Dennen (1987) calls 'sentimental structures' which are'...exaggerations or hypertrophication s of which the emotion sec is the rawmaterial, elaborated and superimposed by convetional symbols and abstractconcepts.' Thus, as van der Dennen writes: '...The sexual urge is transformedinto the complex 'eroticism', the feeling of loss into the compl ex of'mourning', and the emotion of fear may be easily transformed in paranoidthreat fantasies, while the impulse of anger may be transformed into theuniquely human sentiment structures such as...

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