Sunday, August 30, 2009

Depression: Adaptation or Malfunction?

This article from Scientific American suggests that depression may play a different role in human behavior than had been previously imagined.

I found this article to be both intriguing and quite fascinating. Please read it for yourselves, and let me know your thoughts.


Matt said...

Maybe evolution doesn't explain depression because we didn't actually come from monkeys. Maybe humans struggle with depression because we've fallen from Grace into the grasp if sin and misery. We all have a hole that we can't quite fill. It makes sense at least, even if you don't personally believe it. Just a thought.

Alex said...

That the Earth is the center of our solar system also made sense even if you didn't personally believe it, was the consensus view for thousands of years.

When Copernicus and those after him ignited a paradigm shift in our understanding, postulating theories which placed the Sun, not the Earth, at the center of our solar system, the Church panicked.

Yet most people would argue that heliocentricity does not undermine any possible divine plan. So how is evolution different?

Or, maybe we tend to believe in heliocentric theories while still accepting geocentric beliefs? Maybe the entire universe isn't about us? Maybe there is a larger world that is not slave to human desires and human wishes and human values?

Yes, there are holes that we cannot quite fill, but that does not mean that we should automatically fill them with the divine.

Hundreds of years ago, would you have said that because science couldn't explain the orbits of the planets, then that validates everything about the Christian concepts of creation?

Matt said...

Just please keep searching. Don't close your mind.

Alex said...

Of course.

ananias said...

God might have gotten away with the forbidden fruit scam back when the only two people around were literally born yesterday. Today most would call it entrapment and probably regard God as a terribly unfit parent at the very best.

The article is spot on in my opinion. More people are depressed today because we evolved in very small communities where you could totally trust every single person you knew. (Not necessarily to have your best interest at heart, but to be more or less what you've grown to know them to be--not opportunists.) Now you can't even trust your own family members in most cases. I assume depression is so overpowering because nothing is more important to a social creature than being able to calculate the behavior of peers. If you look at what depresses most people the most, it's stuff like rejection, betrayal, etc. All failings of that capacity--being very wrong about how we expected someone else to behave or react.

I know I grew up depressed because I was so flatly disgusted with the callous attitude people had towards needless injustice and personal responsibility. It seemed to me that the subconscious predispositions that served our ancestors so well have become tragically dysfunctional today without much notice. (And many that do sense something fundamental is wrong assume that we've pissed off the celestial potentate by under-punishing sinners and thus we're all in dutch.)

I think the problem really is our religion. It stops us from properly connecting freedom to the responsibilities necessary to create it. If you define a right, but make no effort to redress the impact exercising that right has on everyone else (past the lip-service civil law pays to this issue), then you've set the stage to lose the most precious thing there is: our reason for actually loving our neighbors. If we do a piss poor job of engineering our liberties, then we'll predispose people to exploit each other, and we'll pay for it by growing an ever more toxic and harsh society. Drugs might ultimately cure the symptoms, but that will only allow the real disease to get even worse. I think the beatings will continue until our integrity improves.

Alex said...

I would call it negligence. I see no difference between two beings who have no knowledge of right and wrong and two toddlers.

Matt Dillahunty uses the following example: If you owned a house, and had two children, and you left a hot stove on, and told your children not to touch the hot stove, what would you do if they disobeyed you? Would you build a torture chamber for them in your house and send them there for the rest of time? And why would you even leave that hot stove on in the first place? And if your children did get hurt, because you had to leave the stove on somehow, why wouldn't you just tend to them lovingly instead of dealing vindictive punishment?

So why should the supposed God of Love not be more loving than any decent, ordinary human parent? Shouldn't the supposed Author of Love know more than its characters? Matt Dillahunty is someone I enjoy. His videos are on YouTube. He has a call-in show with the Atheist Community of Austin, and the videos of it are on the channel "TheAtheistExperience".

I also really enjoyed the article, and I found it insightful - which is why I posted it here.

I think the human race needs some new predispositions, or at least we need to modify the ones we have somehow. Do you remember in my latest entry when I was talking about "the others"? That attitude may have been great earlier, when we had more tribal societies, but with rising interconnectedness, and a society based on transitive values such as empathy and the Golden Rule, we need to shed that mindset if we want to flourish.

I think religion is one problem, but I also see many other problems, as well. I am sympathetic to many of the ideas of religion - I see a lot of its social utility.

If religion can persist with the idea that it is somehow true eliminated, I think that would be the best option. I call it, the Scandinavian option, because that seems to be the closest current example of what I'm envisioning.

I wouldn't mind so much a society where religion is part of the social fabric as ritual that enables individual and collective empowerment and morality while not actually being dogmatic or any one set thing. I desire religion that tells you not how to live your life, but how you can live your life.

Also, empty, conspicuous consumerism is another huge problem. What is to be done about all of the waste we produce? Society must be more sustainable, or much of our civilization will break down. The poorest among us will be affected the most, in all likelihood.

I think people consume because they are empty. Why are people empty? The religious say that people are empty because they do not have religion. The religious say that religion gives your life meaning. But I don't want the type of meaning in my life that religion is supposed to give it; I think that kind of meaning is absurd - if there were some evidence of its truth, I may be compelled to accept it.

The irony of religion is that it claims we have free will in a universe governed by a god that determines everything. For me, that is just as empty as having nothing.

So why are people empty? I am not always proficient with emotions, but I think they can help guide us.

If we had no emotions, how would we know what we want? Would we ever want anything?

If anything, the worst thing about religion is that it often prevents people from asking the sorts of questions that we're asking now.

ananias said...

I'm amazed how much more well read and thoughtful you are at 19 than I remember being at 30! But I think I have made some progress on some of the problems you've brought up.

The story of genesis is thus: I'm going to make you a certain way, then command you to be different, and then test and condemn you if you fail. Or as Christopher Hitchens puts it We're created sick and commanded to make ourselves well. It's not the sort of lesson I can make myself respect. Quite the contrary. It appears to be fantastically reprehensible; accepting it would actually impair a person's capacity for critical thinking in general. It forces one to accept the premise that we can never even know how to determine whether something is right or wrong. Because only a god could do such a thing.

I think most religious people are only trying to be great people. I honestly believe that their dogma changes the way they perceive the world. I wrote a blog essay My mother's main meme where I try to explain how her perspective seems to have affected the way I perceive the world. There really is just one actual real world out there (that we're sharing.) Which means that regardless of what works for us, the truth is really out there to be discovered, and our perspective is only important if it actually prevents us from ever stumbling onto that truth because it blinds us to it.

My mothers philosophy led me to a few simple heuristics that seemed to make it a lot easier to figure out what to do in any given situation:

1) Avoid unnecessary irreversible decisions of consequence.
2) Go out of your way to error on the side of kindness.
3) Try to remember that without me, the earth is more or less the same, but without the rest of you, I'm better off dead. And soon will be. Thus if I still haven't figured something out from 1 and 2, then I rethink the whole problem starting with the assumption that I'm already dead, and see if that works. And if that fails, I look for a much simpler resolution that I must have missed.

But all I'm really trying to explain is that our beliefs will have a profound impact on what we are capable of seeing. It is crucial for our survival that we take great pains to ensure our ideology hasn't literally blinded us to reality.

I completely agree that "If religion can persist with the idea that it is somehow true eliminated, I think that would be the best option." and wrote a blog essay, Religion could be our best invention, to explain precisely what you suggest.

I write about a lot of the things you've apparently already figured out as well. Maybe god is fresh out of souls and they're being recycled before we're even finished with them. I wouldn't put it past the bastard.