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Apocalypse Neuro: Why Our Brains Don't Process the Gravest Threats to Humanity

Stashed in: #TED, Brain, Awesome, Apocalypse, Psychology, Neuroscience, Vice, Climate Change!

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It’s an unfortunate quirk of human psychology; it’s allowed us to outwit and outplay most other species around the globe—we’re smarter, more resourceful, more conniving—but it might also come to mean we won't outlast them. There are currently a host of very real, very pressing, and very long-simmering crises on our plates; climate change, sure, but also biggies like mass extinction and biodiversity loss and ocean acidification, which will take up to many decades before they become full-blown, civilization-threatening calamities.

Human psychology does not tend to solve problems that are not immediate threats.

So I see the point. That could be our undoing. 

Humans have, historically, proven absolutely awful, even incapable, of comprehending the large, looming—dare I say apocalyptic?—slowburn threats facing their societies.

“Our brain is essentially a get-out-of-the-way machine,” Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard says in his university’s (decidedly less flashy) version of a TED talk. “That’s why we can duck a baseball in milliseconds.” That is, our brain seems to be programmed to react best to hard, certain information—threats that unfold over generations fail to trigger our reactionary instincts. “Many environmentalists say climate change is happening too fast,” Gilbert says. “No, it’s happening too slowly. It’s not happening nearly quickly enough to get our attention.”

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