Very informative and insightful.

“While we work to keep our emotions firmly planted on the positive end of the spectrum, our survival mode may have different ideas. It doesn’t care if a particular emotion makes you feel happy or fulfilled. It cares that it keeps you safe, even if you have to be uncomfortable or miserable in the process.”


American physician Randolph Nesse has great insights on this subject, which he covers at length in his excellent book “Good Reasons for Bad Feelings”.

Nobody likes anxiety, for example. Yet it can be invaluable. As Nesse puts it:

"Just as there are disorders of excessive anxiety, there are disorders of deficient anxiety. Patients do not complain of too little anxiety so they do not come to clinic to increase anxiety levels. Instead, they are found in the emergency room, the court room and jail."

Anxiety is related to “The Smoke Detector Principle”, a term coined by Nesse: “The Smoke Detector Principle explains why evolved systems that regulate protective responses often give rise to false alarms and apparently excessive responses. It gets its name because false alarms from the body’s protective systems are like smoke detector alarms—frequent minor annoyances that are necessary to avoid possible catastrophes. Anxiety, inflammation, pain, vomiting, cough and diarrhea are protective responses whose costs tend to be small relative to possible catastrophic costs if no response is expressed when a danger is present, so false alarms or excessive responses are expected from optimal regulation systems.”

Still, as you point out: “Of course, there are also times when dysfunction and mental illness work against even the lofty goal of survival. Freud once said, “Intelligence will be used in the service of the neurosis.”


Interested in natural selection, evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, science in general, human nature, consciousness, philosophy and ethics.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store