A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread–and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness–
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!
The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam has long been one of my favorite poems and this well-known verse, taken from that poem, has always held special meaning for me. As I lay awake the other night thinking about nothing and everything it suddenly came to me that the poet long ago had a firm grip on the answers to some of the most pressing questions that we, as humans constantly ask. Using the poet’s jug of wine, loaf of bread and Thou as visual anchors, I will present theories in simple terms that explain three important concepts, that when combined form a universal theory of human behavior. These three questions are as follows:
Part 1: A JUG OF WINE: Why we do everything we do?
Part 2: A LOAF OF BREAD: What is Time?
Part 3: THOU: Who are we?
So let’s begin with what I call the Jug of Wine Theory. The hypothesis here is that every behavior or action that people take can be traced back to an innate drive for survival. To illustrate this this point we start with the most popular theory of working (short term) memory proposed by Baddeley and Hitch in 1974. That model says that working memory is like a 2 channel bucket (audio and optical) in which inputs from the ears and eyes are first examined then sorted to be looked at by our attention centers, stored as learned information, or forgotten. If these buckets process too much incoming information at once they can get full causing confusion and even frustration. Recent research in evolutionary educational psychology by Dr. David Geary from the University of Missouri has shown that humans absorb social information faster and better than cultural information. For example, a baby does not ever have to be taught to recognize its Mother’s face or the sound of her voice and children pick up language extremely fast in the first few years of life. These automatically-learned skills are all based on human social needs that are necessary for survival when we are young. On the other hand it’s extremely difficult for humans at any age to learn mathematics, physics and other subjects that are purely cultural in nature. We just don’t need that knowledge to survive. Clearly there is more going on in working memory than just filling, and emptying the buckets. We know that the brain is constantly processing physical information to keep our heart beating, blood flowing, respiration, chemical osmosis, etc. For the most part we cannot easily stop these survival processes or we will die. There appears to be a higher level of survival-related processing going on as well. This is the level that I believe is missing from the Baddeley and Hitch model of working memory that may also be largely responsible for almost every behavior we, as humans adopt. I found evidence of this level of survival processing in some recent experiments in which I used specific kinds of optical inputs outside of attention in the far peripheral vision to actually reduce a subject’s cognitive load levels. This goes against current theory based upon the Baddeley and Hitch model and has far-reaching implications that are just too complex to discuss in this forum. The basis of my hypothesis therefore is that the human brain is constantly evaluating the universe around itself in terms of threats to its survival from allowing social information to pass working memory more easily to subliminally biasing our decision-making in favor of actions that enhance our chances of survival. It’s a constant, and sometimes exhausting processing loop that was necessary for most of human evolutionary history when we were living in caves and throwing sticks at pigeons for food. But what about modern humans? Unless we just want to throw sticks at defenseless birds we live (for the most part) in what has become a safe environment. No longer is this constant survival processing needed so what do we do? We look for ways to relieve the pressure…i.e., a jug of wine. [You knew I would get to it sooner or later]. Modern humans are so safe compared to our ancestors that we spend a great deal of time and effort (without realizing why) trying to quiet this internal sentinel that constantly drums away at our senses. Chemical means are a quick and easy method of muffling this drumbeat (i.e., drugs, and alcohol). There is also the modern practice of taking vacations which is actually a way to put ourselves in an unfamiliar situation to satisfy the drumbeat by giving it something new and unusual to assess. Other ways we satisfy this constant need for survival are getting married (to procreate), having affairs (most of the time we don’t want to reproduce but we satisfy the constant drumbeat that makes us feel the need to partake in a reproductive act. Hate, war, fighting, the drive for wealth, hoarding, etc are all acts we engage in because we feel a constant need to compete for resources. The same is true for neighboring, tribes, close family units, nationalism, racism, joining, or the desire to belong to any group. These desires all have their genesis in this unconscious need to survive that we all have.
Still not convinced? I challenge you to think of any action, feeling or desire that a human has and I will bet it can be ultimately related back to the basic, unconscious human need for survival. In fact, have a couple glasses (or a jug) of wine while you do it. You will soon come to the realization that a) I am right and the Jug of wine Theory is a brilliant philosophical breakthrough, or b) you won’t care anymore and pass out face down in the mashed potatoes. Either way, it’s a fun and relaxing Gedanken experiment for those of you that enjoy reflecting deeply on why we do what we do.
Tomorrow I take off my Psychology hat and put on my Physics hat to discuss part 2 of the three theories that explain almost everything we want to know in simple terms. A loaf of Bread: An explanation of time.
Bevilacqua Research Corporation CEO and CTO
“Cognitive Psychophysicist with an interest in almost everything”