Authors · James Augustus · William Butchman

The Lies We Seek To Tell: Evolutionary Biases.


by William Butchman

“the lies they seek to tell”
Human bias is interesting. We have evolved machinery in our brains, and we are processing novel situations with these ancient systems, processing things that they were never designed to process. We use these mental models which are simplistic, and when something happens in the universe which breaks our model (because we don’t account for it) we ‘startle’ and a circuit built for snakes is activated. (I don’t know if I have this exactly right, I’ve only heard it once)

(From elsewhere:)

Why we believe snakes are the most evil things: Dr. Peterson suggested that the reason why we have a particular antipathy towards snakes is because we’ve long been their prey (since our ancestors were tiny rodents). I believe our fear and terror and hatred of snakes might also be particularly strong because they continued to kill us long after we outgrew the other reptilian predators (once you’ve evolved to be monkey-sized, you can handle lizards because you’re big enough to fight them and you can see far enough around you to avoid them. But you can’t see so well around your feet or the topside of tall branches, aka where snakes lurk. The threats we fear most are the ones we can’t see, Snakes happen to fit into all the hard to see places. There’s also something particularly traumatizing about having one of your primate relatives eaten by a snake as opposed to any other predator. Their deaths are the most agonizing. Unlike one of those big cats with teeth evolved to puncture skulls or a wolf that goes for the jugular, snakes kill by poison or suffocation and they swallow prey whole. Oftentimes over the course of several hours. Prior to human inventiveness, I can’t imagine a more torturous and agonizing way to die.

Snakes: these surprising dangers that lurk and jump out at us. We startle as we try to assess, an ancient circuit is activated. So, we have a bias to express the unknown, dangers, as snakes.

At least this is the evolutionary theory of the prevalence of the mythology. So, I can see (if this is true) how our biases may be built on ancient circuits.