As our reliance on the artificial increases, Scott Allen wonders what that means for our future survival.
Though Creationists may argue this point, our DNA has accumulated millions of years of hard-wired survival tactics, passed down and ready for nearly any conceivable attack or stressor that threatens us. The short time span that we humans have been considered civilized has been but a drop in the bucket of the storehouse of information to which our DNA has access.
Hunger induces serious survival stress in any organism. When our ancestors felt hunger they went hunting to survive. This activity could last hours or even days wherein the hunter was locked in a sustained, trance-like manner. These natural, heightened states were influenced by our physiology more than we may realize.
Nature works to ensure survival by elegantly producing particular neurochemicals that release exactly what is needed at appropriate intervals to empower, energize, focalize, and even issue rewards for successful endeavors.
Testosterone is known to enlarge the heart, lungs, and liver so that we literally get pumped up, amplifying our hunting acumen. Dopamine and norepinephrine are released as not only stimulators, but also to lock in memory with the tactic used in a successful experience.
In today’s world, neurochemicals are produced in our brains when we engage in intense activities such as hunting, fighting, sports, and sex. But our brains also create these chemicals just from watching. This can be watching sports, playing video games, watching porn, etc. as the brain doesn’t differentiate well between virtual, imaginary or real experience.
Without these entertainments, would our hard-wired survival systems become dull from underuse since we seldom fight off attacking animals or marauding hordes? Or would they find new and perhaps more beneficial ways to express, as solutions to stress?
Science has verified that addictive drugs, such as heroin, mimic our body’s own endorphins. If we break a limb our body is instantly flooded with endorphins, which are basically very potent feel-good chemicals. These mask and counteract the intense pain. But if we simply ingest heroin, then we experience the feel-good states of euphoria without needing to break a leg, which most people would obviously prefer. This ease of achieving euphoria is what sets up the risk for addiction.
We can develop similar ‘drug’ addictions to our body’s own endogenous chemicals by simply watching experiences, as the study of mirror neurons confirms. We can feel ‘pumped’ from watching a good game without getting off the couch, and we can feel intense adrenaline from threats, fighting, killing, or from playing video games without engaging a real enemy or threat.
I wonder whether we unconsciously transfer our frustrated, hard-wired survival imperatives onto our entertainments? Not because we’re bored or in need of novelty, which is traditionally the purpose of entertainment, but because we are craving the body’s drugs that are produced through engaging with these entertainments? Could our innate desire to medicate away our social anxieties be enticing many of us to watch porn and play intense video games excessively?
The experience of porn (simulated sexual encounters) and video games (simulated violence) pale in comparison to common, real-life experiences. Even those with highly active sex lives can doubtfully replicate what any ordinary person can experience daily, within a few moments or hours of watching porn. And because our evolutionary brains always seek the most expedient means to accomplish any task, we unwittingly set ourselves up for compulsion as we keep repeating these feel-good experiences at our computers.
We have expansive and hungry brains, always craving, always progressively seeking new territory into which we can expand. Can video gamers easily downgrade from games like “Grand Theft Auto” back to the general innocence of a game like “Pac-Man?” Not likely. And when “Grand Theft Auto” fails to deliver the rush anymore, where will we go from there? The same principle is at work with porn. My own early experiences began with looking at Playboy magazines and then escalated into explicit internet porn, which is today’s “normal.” I didn’t even notice the escalation had occurred until harsh consequences forced me to take a long, hard look at that steadily-upward climbing curve.
Now I wonder, how will tomorrow’s porn satiate its consumers in this violent and gonzo-dominated market?
Neurochemicals like oxytocin, vasopressin, and norephinephrine create primary mate bonding, an important part of our hard-wired survival programming, designed to sustain protective and supportive bonds for the first years or rearing offspring. These chemicals flood our bloodstream during an orgasm.
If someone experiences virtual-generated orgasms, they are unknowingly forming bonds with the persona portrayed on the screen. They experience intense relational pair-bonding but in the reality of the afterglow, they are in actuality, alone. The feelings of intensity are fused with the ease of creating that bond. They are rewarded by our chemical system as a biological survival success, and as such are locked into our memory bank to be used again in the future.
We have become masters at deceiving the innate intelligence of our own bodies, forcing them to squeeze and deplete our precious bodily chemicals and fluids to serve our drive for entertainment.
Recent statistics state that the average age people begin viewing porn is 11 years old. Imagine a scenario where a kid wakes up, turns on a video game and begins slaughtering and mowing-down pedestrians in stolen cars, killing, raping, dying. Simply pumping their systems full of intense chemicals from the experiences… and then they switch over to porn… getting more jacked-up on hormones and chemicals before begrudgingly shuffling off to school, with fully hijacked brains and not exactly motivated for conjugating verbs.
If artificially-induced experiences imprint themselves on our psyches as real experiences, which much of respected, contemporary brain science confirms to be the case, then these children have likely already experienced more violent intensity and explicit sex than most humans, throughout history, have experienced in their entire lifetimes. As a parent, I am deeply troubled with how the exposure to now-conventional media can affect our children.
What is the mesmerizing fascination with TV and media screens? Could we be tapping into something else, something more ancient within our hard-wired memory? TV has reminded me of watching the glowing embers crackle in a campfire, the setting from which, for eons, our ancestors shared deeply meaningful stories creating the collective anthology of our mythos. The campfire is where our ancestors learned of life, the place where we cemented our bonds to each other and to the world around us. Perhaps our incessant preoccupation with our new media devices have replaced this ancient storytelling ritual?
Much of what I learned in childhood about the world and relating to others came from watching TV shows. If children today are absorbing what they see and experience from the ‘glowing’ fireside of their computers, if they are learning that life is about extreme intensity, hardcore sex and violence, under the guise of entertainment, then our future may present some very difficult times!
If Darwin were alive today I wonder how he’d rate our species’ chance of survival if we do not temper or abate this reliance on artifice. The basic physiology of any creature will eventually be overwhelmed by sustained high levels of stress, shock and depletion. If there is any truth in this, I wonder if we could steer ourselves away from the cliff… or would we scramble, like wired lemmings over the edge?