When you notice ice cream, why do you want to eat it? When you notice a tarantula, why do you want to get away? When you notice a hottie, why do you want to have sex?
Isn’t it interesting that certain aspects of your surroundings incessantly draw your attention, while you have trouble noticing other aspects at all? In his book Why Buddhism Is True, Robert Wright explains that feelings are so powerful because “the human brain was designed—by natural selection—to mislead us, even enslave us.”
In other words, due to natural selection, over long periods of time humans began to have feelings that guided them toward things that kept them alive and having children and away from things that prevented them from staying alive and having children. Wright explains that feelings are thus not always accurate guides to what is true, logical, or conducive to happiness. They are merely rough approximations of what worked to keep people alive and having kids in the past.
Furthermore, natural selection works so slowly that it’s not the recent past that feelings reference, but the ancient past. Things that served our hunter-gatherer ancestors well, but aren’t productive in the modern world, are still “programmed” in our brains as good, and vice versa.
As if all of this weren’t fascinating enough, Wright goes on to intersect evolutionary psychology with a major world religion. Buddhist teachings and meditation practices, it turns out, can help us recognize our feelings as the evolutionary gimmicks they are, and learn to make decisions at a higher level.
When you think about the deceptiveness of feelings . . . how does that make you feel?