Recently I was explaining dangers of mosquito-borne diseases to a gathering of astronomical scale (provided the astronomy under consideration is of people with 20/70 eye-sight) where I randomly asked the august gathering of sixteen strong if they knew that Kareena Kapoor was pregnant, and I was happy to receive a resounding confirmation from all present that this extremely critical nugget of information was indeed in their possession.
When I asked the same audience if they knew how many wings a mosquito has, it became clear that no human brain had consider it worth it to store this entomological trivia about an insect that kills about a million of us every year.
While it appears that knowing your mosquito should be far more important than knowing an actress, why does the human brain show a marked preference for an actress over our eternal enemy?
One possible explanation is that we are subjected to a constant barrage of information about the actress, while mosquito is not so much in vogue. But, as our brain has evolved specifically to help us survive, it must be having some system of prioritizing information as per its survival-usefulness. So, the survival-logic suggests that if the brain prefers Kareena over mosquito, it is either irrational in its functioning or knowing Kareena is more critical for our survival.
In case of our brain, irrationality has to be ruled out because it has been around for millions of years and hence it knows what works over a really long period. The fact that it chose Kareena over mosquito is part of a self-programming it has done while surviving over eons. Kareena-information supersedes mosquito-information because Kareena is a human being; and, evolution has taught our brain that information about other human beings is of paramount importance for survival.
While we don’t notice it, in terms of pure complexity, human information beats scientific information hands down. This is evident from the fact that same brain that can do mathematics to land a spacecraft on a planet 54 million KM away can’t calculate wife’s mood in the morning. Yet, evolution has forced human brain to opt for extreme human-centric adaptation because comprehending and connecting with other humans is the most important requirement our survival.
In the age of science, it sounds a bit counter-intuitive that human information could be more valuable than scientific information, but when we shift our attention from knowing about reality to surviving on this planet, it is easy to understand why evolution knows better.
While some of us are confused about our raison d’etre, our brain knows that staying alive is a priority that transcends everything else. Universe may contain great scientific truths, but we are here to live, and that living is possible only in company of fellow human beings.
Though Kareena-phenomenon highlights this grand evolutionary wisdom of our brain, but it also shows us how easy it is to hijack the brain that has no defense against technology that is able to thrust complete strangers into our lives. Hence, brain’s tendency to latch on to human-information is turning out to be its Achilles heel in the era of mass-media. Completely useless information is pouring in and sticking in our brain through this pathway. This is now scuttling a critical feature for our survival.
The need of the hour is to not only understand how important fellow human beings are, but to also set our perspective right about who they are. The only way to set right priorities for brain is to build emotional connection with those who are part of your life, because information about Kareena’s pregnancy is not worth even a fraction of that of your maid’s.