2010-05-13 / Sam Bari

Instinct, reason and free will

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand
By Sam Bari

An Internet article about the Food Network was the impetus for an interesting conversation.

Apparently, the demographic group of 18 to 25-year-olds has claimed watching the Food Network as one of its favorite pastimes. The coveted group, according to the media moguls, brought the network up to 40% of cable subscribers. That’s a high percentage by anyone’s calculations.

A look at the programming on the network reveals that the health conscious are not in control of content that hits the airwaves. “Death by Chocolate” and “Ace of Cakes,” as well as a program that features the host’s favorite dives, diners and fast food, pretty much says that the popular shows are about food that tastes good.

Not that programs about eating healthy don’t exist – they do, but the popular shows are all about goodies, treats and excessive calories.

That inspired a conversation about free will and the ability to reason setting humans apart from animals. The ability to think is a substantial power that gives humans a responsibility over all other living species.

The question was: What have we done with that ability?

One would think that a nation where obesity is a major issue would use the cognitive abilities of its population to focus on healthy lifestyles. The Internet, television, the publishing industry and every educational institute in the country spew information, encouragement and programs for improving physical and mental health.

However, how many of us take health seriously enough to do something about our physical condition? According to statistics, a little more than a third of the population leads a moderate to healthy lifestyle.

That doesn’t seem to make sense if we have free will and the ability to reason. How was that ability allowed to go astray and work against our instincts?

Let’s take a look at the animal kingdom. How often do we see obese animals in the wild? I don’t believe I can recall ever seeing that. Domestic animals – yes, because we overfeed them. But when animals are left to forage for themselves, they appear to eat what is necessary.

Food is only one issue. What else have humans accomplished with their cognitive abilities? We are the only species to go to war over ideology. That seems severe for differences of opinion about how governments should be managed. On a smaller scale, humans commit murder over ideology.

One could argue that some animals fight to the death over leadership, but that is rare. Most altercations for leader of the herd do not end in death. The contests come from survival instincts so that only the strongest will lead. Usually, an altercation between animals of the same species ends when one stops resisting the other and walks away in defeat.

Since none of the people involved in this discussion were scientists, the conversation about what mankind has done with the innate ability to reason and make logical decisions stayed at an elemental level, which made it interesting. The conclusions were accurate, and that is sad.

At the top of the “worst use of the human mind” list was the invention of weapons of mass destruction. That spawned other contributions to the conversation, citing innocent inventions that were thought to bring unparalleled improvement to the lifestyle of modern humankind, but did the opposite.

One of them was the invention of the internal combustion engine. The concept of varying types of engines dates back as far as Leonardo da Vinci’s time. The credit for the first internal combustion engine goes to Eugenio Barsanti and Felice Matteucci. They are rumored to have patented the first four-cycle engine in the mid-1800s, but the patent was lost.

If they had known the turmoil that would result from their invention, would they have made it available to the world? Their engine laid the foundation for the oil industry as we know it today. The internal combustion engine has been used in wars, polluted the planet and exhausted resources. The premature deaths of millions have occurred because of its use.

We can say the same thing about weapons, chemicals and all things that humans have invented in the name of need that have gone against the laws of nature.

Maybe a good look at the way the lesser creatures live might be a lesson for the so-called intelligent species inhabiting our little corner of the universe.

It is little wonder why we live in a system we can’t understand.

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