October 26, 2016

The Future of Humanity and Emotional Intelligence

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Jan Fawcett, MD

University of New Mexico Medical Center, Albuquerque


Humanity has evolved to a great degree, especially scientifically and technically. The development has been largely material in areas like medicine and science. We have also developed in the arts, but we have lagged in the area of emotional intelligence. We have not learned to support one another well. Part of our problem stems from the way we think. We have evolved through our pleasure system. We feel reinforced each time we think about our own values. This leads us to be reluctant to give up our cherished ideas, even when we are confronted by contrary facts. Yes, we can literally become “addicted” to our own ideas. This may be humanity’s greatest weakness.

In studies of people with a gambling addiction, exposure to gambling paraphernalia has been shown to light up the medial forebrain bundle as they experience a surge of interest. The new psychiatric diagnostic manual, DSM-5, has for the first time included the behavior of gambling disorder with substance addictions. It is just a matter of time until research presents evidence of other behavioral addictions, such as sex or food addictions.

Dopamine release from the median forebrain bundle may stimulate opiate receptors, leaving us feeling “good” about ourselves. Why would anyone want to give up an idea that makes us feel good? So, just as a pleasure response results from experiencing sex or a good meal, if we have a similar response from thinking about a cherished belief, are we going to give it up?

If we cannot change our minds, what does this portend for the future of humanity? How do we learn? How do we adapt to new circumstances, such as the onset of the results of climate change?

How do we learn to not believe in everything we think? In a 1965 issue of Science, physicist J. R. Platt used the analogy of parental love for a child to describe the way we cling to a hypothesis we have spawned. When we are focusing on a single idea, we try to make new facts we discover fit the original idea rather than adjusting the idea to fit the evidence. He suggested that we instead think of multiple hypotheses, so that our affections are divided. The hypothesis that is hardest to disprove is the closest to the truth. The problem is that it is often difficult to frame a study that will allow us to disprove our beliefs or hypotheses. And besides—who wants to change their beliefs?

What is our future if we are unable to change our beliefs? Are we unable to live by the Golden Rule, to treat others as you would like to be treated? We have learned to increase our material desires, and technology has allowed us to have access to more material things, including destructive technologies. If we can’t increase our emotional intelligence, our future as a species is in doubt. We need to apply our technological advances to developing emotional intelligence before it is too late.

Financial disclosure:Dr Fawcett has received honoraria from the University of Nevada and the Nevada Psychiatric Association and is the author of Living Forever.​

Category: Emotional Intelligence , Mental Illness , Substance Use Disorder
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3 thoughts on “The Future of Humanity and Emotional Intelligence

  1. I think that it is so unfortunate that we are driven only to feed our pleasure centers. Divergent thinking is not what we value nor is it tolerated well-just look at the presidential races. I can only hope that we learn somehow to value that skill set and the tolerance to withstand cognitive or emotional disequilibrium. Otherwise I think we will be throwing the baby out in favor of the bath water. Good Commentary.

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