Tuesday, December 31, 2013

THINKING LIKE SQUIRRELS...




Several years ago I was interviewing a scientist (I’ll call him “Dr. Hal”) for research on a screenplay I was writing. We were talking and crossing the street and we came across a dead squirrel that had been hit by a car. Whatever we were talking about, it was totally appropriate for Dr. Hal to comment, “look at this poor creature here, lying as road kill. And do you want to know why? Because his little brain has been fine-tuned over hundreds of generations to avoid all of his food chain enemies so he can reproduce and keep his numbers strong as a species. But one of the things his brain was not programed for was fast moving, large bulky objects of steel, moving at incredible speeds. These objects the squirrel either misjudges, or worse - in a very significant way, he is “blind” to the impending threat because his brain simply does not register this speedy steel attacking creature as lethal because for thousands and thousands of years it’s never had to.”

Now I’ve never checked Dr. Hal’s observations on squirrels and cars to see if he’s onto something or if he just impressed me with something that I obviously found interesting enough that I’m repeating here. But I think it captures my feelings about a point in history that humanity is now facing.

As a species we have acquired certain skills, as it turns out, exclusive neurological skills that allowed us to triumph over our competitors as we fought our way up the ladder of evolution. One of the skills is that our brain became quite adept at seeing “patterns.” This skill allowed us to track game for instance. We also mastered the skill of abstract thinking. Put the two together and we could think about something that was going to happen (because it had repeatedly happened before), then plan ahead, be there before the final outcome (eventually even channeling the path of the outcome) and then take advantage of our forethought and planning.

But as we evolved as a species, it turns out certain parts of our brains have continued to think like squirrels. We often times miss seeing a threat to our lives, even if the threat is coming straight at us.

We homo-sapiens are both  “gifted” and “flawed” as a species. And along comes another year...  maybe the best time to work on the part of brain that is no different than squirrels.

I want to wish everyone out there a HAPPY NEW YEAR!

And lets all do our best in the coming year to stop thinking like squirrels...