I'm 16, I don't study psychology in college, only biology, chemistry, physics and maths, but I find evolutionary psychology incredibly interesting, because it's the only psychological theory that makes logical sense, in my opinion.

If, by universal consensus, our body's functions are determined by the natural selection of the passing of genes determined by advantageous or disadvantageous applications to a person's environment for reproduction; which includes survival because the person needs to survive long enough to produce offspring and, for the most part, then raise it to promote further reproductive behaviours, then why would the same theory not apply to our psychology?

The brain is an organ like the liver and the heart, brain cells contain nuclei which contain DNA to be passed via mitosis, so therefore our brain is also affected similarly by evolution like our body. We project evolutionary psychology onto other animals, stating that their behaviour is purely motivated by search for mates, self-preservation and resources, but we are hesitant to apply that to ourselves due to ethical or emotional objections, even though we have evolved from LUCA the same way all other life forms have evolved.

The accepted theory of psychology in mainstream science mostly exclusively describes behaviour, and when the theory does explain it, it simply describes a certain gene from twin-studies or explains how the environment promotes the behaviour, without referring back to evolution or the "why", because, in most cases, there would be no ethical method to test evolutionarily psychological hypotheses, and therefore, a lot of theories cannot be proven even though they fundamentally make sense.

I was having existential thoughts the other day, because I realised that everything I do, consciously or subconsciously, is only a vehicle for me sexually reproducing, because I am an animal, like all other animals. And I started to break down the root causes of everything I ever loved doing in life, and realised that the only reason I liked doing them was because they were traits that correlated with reproductive success, and if they didn't I wouldn't like doing them.

For example, I like discussing debates on the Internet, but the only reason I like doing that is because of the idea of social bonding, and that because I am 'in touch' with a group of some sort, I have a chance of reaching potential mates in the group (of course the logistics of this are unrealistic, but my emotions haven't adapted to realise that, they are primed for an environment where everyone I talked to was close by). Or if I wanted to get rich, the only reason for this would be to invest those resources into a relationship for a female partner to increase the chances of successful raising of offspring with increased available resources (big house, better healthcare for the kid etc.).

Or another one would be that I had an interest in maths and physics, but the only reason for that interest was so that I could share that information with a group and increase the chances of survival (and therefore reproductive success) within the group or attract mates for myself, because they may see me as an intelligent father that can adapt to situations to protect potential children. And everything else I enjoyed doing eventually fell into this pit of evolutionary psychology.

I couldn't accept the idea that I had no free will, and that everything I ever did was predetermined by genes and/or the expression of those genes in response to an environment (including cultural influences), because it would eliminate all meaning in my life, because I knew why I did everything, and that there was nothing left to explore internally.

I also hated the idea of becoming a slave to other people in the pursuit of contributing to promote reproduction, so I felt a pressure to abstain from these behaviours as some sort of knee-jerk retaliation, but doing this would exhibit an equally miserable conclusion, since I would have cut off the chance of happiness in doing what I wanted to do, the happiness of 'not knowing why' now ruined because I now know why, it partially relates to the concept of "ignorance is bliss". I also started to apply this to other people that surround me, and I lost emotional connections with them because I started to unintentionally dehumanize them based off of this concept. I'm stuck in a philosophical stagnation of sorts and I would like to discuss this topic.

Should we abstain from what we like to do and our desires because we know why we do them?


3 Answers 3


I agree with some of things you suppose, but you have missed an important point, which is that the factors that were once important for human evolution are not necessarily important any more. One's chances of passing on one's genes to a large number of successors is no longer a matter of survival alone. I will probably live until I am 80, but I have no offspring because I would rather devote my time to things other than raising kids. Also, you miss the point that a general purpose facility, such as the ability to see or to reason, which helps an organism reproduce, can be coincidentally put to uses that have nothing to do with reproduction and survival. I suggest therefore that it is logical for you to spend your life doing whatever floats your boat, without being too concerned whether or not you are simply complying with in-built tendencies arising from eons of evolution.

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    That concept of not wanting kids is interesting. I think that the desire of 'wanting kids' was historically taken care of in that humans would want to have sex, wouldn't need to want that because them having sex took care of that. However the basis off of it is that the desire is emotional/illogical, so we can consciously use contraception to delude our dopamine receptors into thinking we are having reproductive sex, because the desire is vulgar and rooted deeply in evolution, it isn't rational. The conscious manipulation of natural urges is commonly seen today with food, video games, porn etc
    – user63990
    Dec 28, 2022 at 10:50
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    @AshtonDowling I think you are exactly right there. Much of human behaviour appears to be rooted back in the time of our remote ancestors when it certainly was important for survival. We are undoubtedly the possessors of tendencies that evolved in our ancestors many ages ago- some of us realise that and moderate or redirect those tendencies for other purposes. Dec 28, 2022 at 10:53
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    Re your "because I would rather devote my time to things other than raising kids", needless to say this is your privately examined life's conclusion not for public discussion. Just note it may not be logically tight such as evidenced by the famous mathematician Euler who liked kids and children so much that even during writing his many productive papers he could play with his many children in anecdotes, maybe some great ideas of him came from staring at the deeply naive but wonderful children's face uniquely from such experience? Not to mention he could directly pass down his ideas easily... Dec 29, 2022 at 16:22
  • @DoubleKnot Indeed! Euler must have been an extraordinary character. Dec 29, 2022 at 16:35
  • @AshtonDowling It's worth noting that not all humans would want to have sex.
    – Sandejo
    Dec 30, 2022 at 5:43

No! Take Socrates/Aristotle's advice and aim to live an "examined life".

I'm going to abstract away from your particular behaviourist viewpoint and deal with your overarching question. In essence, you seem to be asking whether you should avoid a behaviour if you become aware that you have some "ulterior" motive for that behaviour, which is essentially some broader or longer-term goal that motivates the specific behaviour or action. There is no absolute rule here of whether you should or shouldn't engage in such a behaviour, other than to say that it should be assessed on its merits taking account all relevant factors, including your long-term goals. Ceteris paribus, it is better to have more self-knowledge of the motivations for our behaviour and choices, and more knowledge of likely long-term causal results of your actions, so if you know that part of the motivation for behaviour X is to achieve some longer-term goal that may seem remote from that behaviour, then you should take that into account when deciding whether or not to perform that behaviour.

I actually think your behaviourist-evolutionary premise here is significantly exaggerated and that is leading you to trouble. It is also tinged with a collectivist sentiment where you assume that all action is oriented to social goals relating to others. (I recommend you read The Fountainhead as a counterpoint to the latter idea.) It is true that there is an evolutionary phenomenon where many of the behaviours we engage in are things that give a survival/reproduction advantage. It is also true that shorter term behaviours that are seemingly disconnected from these issues can be partially motivated by overarching meta-goals relating to sexual success, etc. However, it does not follow that this is the only reason that we can enjoy activities that are not themselves sexual in nature, nor that all motivation for enjoyment of an activity must come from opportunities to leverage this to social/sexual success. (If sexual success is the sole barometer of value then a person stranded on their own on a desert island, with no chance of rescue, would not have any motivation to do anything.) For example, it is perfectly reasonable to have an interest in mathematics, physics, etc., even if this does not manifest in any social interaction or benefit. If your interest in mathematics and physics can also help you get laid later in life (once you reach an appropriate age) then all the better, but that need not be the primary motivation; it certainly needn't be conceived as the "real" motivation overriding your actual interest in these subjects.

Ultimately, you are correct in your conclusion that refraining from behaviours merely because they might have a long-term social or evolutionary benefit, is a knee-jerk reaction. The fact that you are aware of evolutionary theories of motivation, etc., gives you some more information that can refine your decision-making. Take this into account but not to the exclusion of all other issues. Aim to live an "examined life" where you are aware of theories and ideas about your motivations for your actions and you have good self-knowledge.

  • What would be the other reasons for these behaviours that don't indirectly assist reproduction?
    – user63990
    Dec 29, 2022 at 11:36
  • Or at least don't hinder reproduction in some way. Some behaviours like contraception are directly opposed to reproduction but they are anomalies that come with the modern environment. It is a case where our conscious brain can manipulate our emotional brain because the emotional brain is illogical and based purely off of visual cues and sensations. Same with junk food, the brain releases dopamine when we eat these foods because it is assuming, in the food-scarce environment its adapted for, that we found a piece of food that gives us a lot of energy.
    – user63990
    Dec 29, 2022 at 12:32
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    So we may see behaviours that contradict the idea of reproductive success but these behaviours are eventually filtered out, whether they intentionally abstain from it or can't find a partner willing to have children or they die before they can have children, there is an equilibrium of sorts where we will always adapt to possess qualities that promote reproductive success, that is the only way subsequent generations can exist in the first place. All of these modern phenotypes related to contraception, obesity, asexuality etc. are not sustainable traits to be passed down among generations.
    – user63990
    Dec 29, 2022 at 15:17
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    In the case of the man stranded on the desert island, how would he knew he had no chance of being rescued? The sole reason that he still has a reason to live and try to survive long enough is the chance of him being rescued or encountering somebody. Besides, the desire to reproduce is not conscious, it's subconscious, emotional, its not adapted to face situations like this where he is suddenly ripped away from his society, so even if, rationally, he realises there is no way to reconnect, he will try to survive anyway, because he either 1. kills himself or 2. Has a chance, small as it may be.
    – user63990
    Dec 29, 2022 at 15:40
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    So even if someone becomes infertile and realises it, they don't immediately drop dead. They still attempt to contribute to society in some way because they are genetically predisposed to wanting to do that, they still have the ability to promote reproduction in others even if they they no longer have the ability to do that themselves, so they do it.
    – user63990
    Dec 29, 2022 at 15:52

A lot to unpack here. To answer the question first: for me, merely having some idea about why you do something is not a reason to abstain from doing it (if it makes you happy and you consider it good then what is the problem) and I don't think that there is a scientific or philosophical theory that would dispute this.

And neither it is possible to abstain from all our desires merely because we know why we have them e.g. people who are addicted to something would not stopping doing it just because they understand that they are addicts.

Also, the logic that you do everything that you do just because of genes and sexual reproduction is flawed - we are predisposed to do certain things in order to reproduce but we don't have to do them. e.g. what guides the behavior of the people who cannot have kids and sexual relationships, or the ones who choose not to have kids? You don't have to be "a slave to other people" - this is why art and religion exist (although nowadays they are partly corrupted by the desire for money and fame)

  • Refer to the comments of Ben's answer, I try explaining my reasoning for "exceptions" to the rule and I'm still at the same conclusion that everyone are animals acting out on psychological genotypes/phenotypes, leading to existential nihilism.
    – user63990
    Dec 30, 2022 at 11:08

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