Struggling with Meaninglessness

searching meaning in meaninglessness

Psychological Glitch

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There was a bird, a Common Myna (picture), which used to sleep on the awning outside my room window. Common_MynaEvery morning, the bird punctually wakes up around 6.45 AM and then will start ‘singing’… very loudly. Well I suppose it’s pretty nice to have a morning call by the little bird before going to classes but when it comes to weekends, its pretty nightmarish and downright annoying. 

Common Myna are pretty smart and aggressive. It’s the only breed of birds in the urban areas which dare to stand up and fight against the ‘big bully’ crows. There was once I witnessed a little battle between a crow and common myna over a piece of food on the dustbin (while I was in the bus-stop waiting for bus) and the myna won. Even crows are not comfortable with human but this myna have the guts to sleep just outside my room (on the awning of my window). But these days, I rarely see it around my house anymore.

(BTW, I actually like reading a Singaporean bird-watching blog).

I noticed that Common Myna always make a high pitched noise and fly away every time I chased it away, something which goes like “Prvvvee-eeeet”. And I wondered why do they make such a habit of making this ‘Prvvee-eeet’ noise while flying away?

The more I think of it, the more I realized it must have something to do with alerting danger to other birds around it. Just like when crows hear the sound of gunfire, they will immediately caw and make the ‘ahhkkk ahhkkk’ noise and fly away in groups. I suppose many breeds of birds have this same habit of alerting danger to their own brethren.

But I just can’t get this out of my mind – The bird was always alone every time I chased it away, so who was there for it to alert to? I didn’t had any answer. And so, I pended my curiosity.

Few weeks ago, while sitting comfortably in front of my computer and doing some reading, I heard a loud and sharp shriek from my neighbour. And I right away speculated the reason – “Haha, she must have been frightened by a flying cockroach!”. Then the next question came to my mind – “ Why do girls usually shriek whenever they are frightened?  Guys usually do not usually shriek but nevertheless make some noise when frightened too.

Few seconds later, it’s as if someone magically knocked some answers to my head and I went “Aha! Psychological Glitch!”. And then I thought of the Myna bird and repeated “Aha! Psychological Glitch!”.

Understanding Evolutionary Psychology.

Before I can go on to explain Psychological Glitch, we first need to know some basic about Evolutionary Psychology first. Genes are responsible of playing the Evolution game in creating who we are today. Similarly, the genes play a major role in constructing our brain so that we, the human and the animals, will have a sense of coherency between our psychology and our body ability. For instance, the bull will know how to use its horn to attack foes and enemies. If the bull has horn but do not have the motivation to use it, then what’s the purpose of the horn then? Something needs to tell the bull to utilize its horn when fighting – And the psychology will basically play the major role in triggering such actions.

One of the false presupposed view we have regarding the nature is that survival of life is pretty straight forward. Well, this delusion is not surprising as most of us do not get our hands dirty to hunt or search for food anymore. Thanks to our intelligence and advanced civilization, many of us have the luxury to just sit around and get our food by literally, without lifting a finger. All we need is money – I pay, I eat, and I’m satisfied.

Similarly, we often apply this similar presuppose view to the animal kingdom – that survival is something very straight forward. The spider eats the ant, the frog eats the spider, the snake eats the frog and the mongoose eats the snake and then the cycle repeats again. Well in some sense, this view is correct but nevertheless pretty one dimensional. We often overlook the idea of ‘Struggle’ when it comes to the survival in the animal kingdom. It’s a struggle which not many of us could perceive with clarity.

Eliezer made a very interesting point over here:

Foxes seem well-designed to catch rabbits.  Rabbits seem well-designed to evade foxes.  Was the Creator having trouble making up Its mind? ….

… By now we all know the punchline:  You just say "evolution". -  Eliezer Yudkowsky from the article The Alien God.


Rehearse the quote over and over again and you will see the idea of struggling in a much better view. I will give you an example of a struggle in the animal kingdom.

The Asian Giant Hornet (Vespa Mandarinia) has extremely strong resistant to bee stings. This creature is beyond Rambo when it comes to killing bees – A single Giant Hornet alone is capable of wiping out an entire European Honeybee’s colony (which consist of around 10,000-30,000 bees).. And not many other animals could withstand the strength of this bug and it is as if Vespa Mandarinia is the king of the insect world. However, there’s only one species in the animal kingdom which could subdue Vespa Mandarinia, obviously besides human being – The Japanese Honeybees. Watch this fascinating 3 minutes video below.


I really do felt awe after watching this. So, I was thinking, if the Giant Hornet could evolved and gain a little ability to withstand higher temperature, then the Japanese Honeybees are pretty much screwed. But maybe the honeybee would have also evolved to counter the counter-evolved ability. A beautiful struggle.

Both European Honeybees and Japanese Honeybees shared the same ancestors. But why does one whole colony get slaughtered by a Rambo-bug and another have such sophisticated idea to take the giant warrior? To be honest, I do not know in detail how the Japanese Honeybees could gain such unique ability or idea. But I think its a safe assumption that both European and Japanese Honeybees started out being defenseless against hornets until one day, the Japanese Honeybee discovered that they could deploy such tactic to take down the hornet, just like how the first human being initially discovering on how to write.

The ultimate point of me talking about birds, foxes, rabbits, and bees is that Evolution and Psychology works hand in hand. Our brain, together with animals’ brain is NOT something which was born empty and its up to us to fill things in it. Rather, our brain and our psychology is entirely evolved and built up by our genes. There is a structure that determine the psychology of every species. This is what divides the psychology of, for example, a lizard which will leave the eggs alone once laying them and a bird which will remain taking care of the young after hatching.

The Imperfectness Of Human’s Psyche.

Human being lived in a hunter-gatherer society, presumably around 10,000 years ago in which human lived within a social group and inherently, placed certain priority towards ensuring the prosperity of the social group. Therefore, when certain situation arise which might bring danger or threat to the group, these people will make loud noise to alert everyone within the social group so that they would take notice and prepare to defend themselves. Human mind has already been programmed to instinctively react accordingly depending on situations, just like the Japanese honeybees moving their wings and body for coordination to take down the Giant Hornet.

So, how did the hunter-gatherer people judge when or not to make loud noise and alert the social group? Actually, they do not have a rational judgment at all on making the decision to make loud noise – it’s all instinctive reactions triggered by the emotion of fright and fear.

Fast forward to 10,000 years later, human being no longer lives in a hunter-gatherer society but in a little more complicated civilization. Nevertheless, we still do carry our basic instinct with us – same instincts, different environment. Therefore girls who have Blattodephobia (phobia of cockroach), will shriek and scream when seeing a cockroach flying around as triggered by the emotion of freight and fear. But its not like the cockroach will kill anyone physically (in an immediate sense), so why do some human, even some men scream when seeing them? Not only that, perhaps the intention of screaming is to alert the family members (to help getting rid of the cockroach) but don’t forget, we also do scream while being alone when nobody could help us.

Therefore, all these already prove that there’s certain glitch in our psyche. If you think screaming when being frightened and fearful is something universal which applies to all living creature, try chasing down a cat and tell me whether will they go shriek and go ‘”Miaaaaaaaaaowwwwwwwwwwww !!~” or not. I’ve personally experiment frightening cats when I was a kid and they don’t make any noise at all … it’s obvious since cats are solitary animal who do not live socially – there’s no purpose of making noise while running away, unlike human being and birds which live in groups.

Shrieking due to phobia of cockroaches is just one of the many psychological glitches that we have.

In my post Subconscious Survival, I’ve already highlighted 2 everyday psychological glitches that we frequently experienced but do not really pay much attention to – girls beautify themselves with cosmetic and our obsession with food which delights our taste bud such as chocolate, ice-cream and candy.

Another good example would be sex. I wanted to put it in my own words, but I thought R. Dawkins put it really well, so I will just quote him here –

An intelligent couple can read their Darwin and know that the ultimate reason for their sexual urges is procreation. They know that the woman cannot conceive because she is on the pill. Yet they find that their sexual desire is in no way diminished by the knowledge. Sexual desire is sexual desire and its force, in an individual’s psychology, is independent of the ultimate Darwinian pressure that drove it. It is a strong urge which exists independently of its ultimate rationale. Richard Dawkins – The God Delusion.

Several posts ago, I’ve written how human being are so altruistic towards animals. The reason is simple – we have a soft spot for innocence and helplessness. The root of this emotion is purposely to make human being to like and take care of children and the young ones within the social group. Imagine if a husband and wife thinking rationally rather than emotionally when it comes to weighing the pros and cons of having a baby – how can they justify their time and resources on a baby that they could be spent on other more constructive things? Heck, they wouldn’t even have gone into a marriage in the first place as having a spouse is kind of a ‘burden’ too. Therefore, with this programmed emotion of having altruism towards innocence and helplessness, human being inherently love and care for the young ones. Only with emotional-thinking, human being will have the motivation to spend more than 20 years of dedication to raise up and parenting the children and doing it without expecting any reward or return.

When it comes to animals especially domestic animals, we also do view them as ‘innocent’ and ‘helpless’ because subconsciously we know that these are submissive animals which will not hurt us human being. Hence, when it comes to a situation when we encounter helplessness for example hungry puppies or an injured bird or a pack of dogs chasing down a cat, then this emotion is triggered and we will have the urge to save or protect them.

The word glitch may sound as if all these are critical issues and needed to be ‘fixed’. But actually I’m only interested in finding the origin of human emotions and behaviors and not at all critiquing the scenarios above. I’m not ever going to hold on to the belief that we should live a literal life, for instance, believing girls should not beautify themselves with cosmetic because its a delusion. That’s equivalent of saying music is just a wave of sound with different frequency – in some sense its true, but life would be void of any artistic purpose if we choose to live that way. And the word glitch may sound as if it’s something bad, but actually it’s not. The word glitch merely implies a lack of consistency between the purposes and functions of certain cognitive area within our psyche.

(Out of topic : I just saw a documentary of Koko the gorilla which was trained to learn human sign language many years ago. But several years later, the project was defunded and then they placed Koko in a habitat at California. 14 years later, one of Koko’s former trainers visited the habitat for some project, and Koko went over to the trainer and in sign language asked – ‘Where did you go’?

Another ape with similar intelligence is the Orangutan Chantek – (worth reading)

The Great Apes – Chimpanzees, Bonobos, Gorillas, Orangutans and Human Being.)


Written by elan85

October 14, 2008 at 6:16 am

Posted in Evolution, Psychology

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