by isaac black

I went on a bike ride today. My rides used to be a meditative time where I was forced to be alone with my thoughts. It was refreshing. But today it wasn’t so distinct a break from my usual day of doing and thinking nothing.

It made me think about what kind of creatures we are. Getting food 5,000 years ago was not much of a cognitive drain, whether one was hunting and gathering or farming. People, being social creatures, developed complex emotions to deal with the kinships and friendships that we relied upon to keep each other alive. Compared to the average office worker in 2016, a human 5,000 years ago probably used much less of their cognitive ability and much more of their emotional capacity.

The big selling point of the forty hour work week was that a worker’s productivity tapers off sharply after that fortieth hour. Despite the Western conception of the self as an intellect piloting a dumb ape body, what if humans just aren’t very good at extended bouts of reasoning, deduction, and decision making? Maybe a lot of our collective discontent comes from overworking our cerebrum and not adequately stimulating our emotions. Maybe the patriarchy that devalues emotional work leads us to think of ourselves as intellectual beings rather than emotional ones.

I have a lot of cognitive ability, but I spend only a couple hours a day, if that, really thinking about anything. I have no idea how representative I am of the general population. I do think that my anxious brain is maybe more inefficient than most, since with any given problem my brain doesn’t approach it methodically but instead by throwing every possible solution at it at once and seeing what turns the lock.

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