Too often in this world we are convinced by the media, our news feeds, and our surrounding chatter that the world is inherently “bad.” We read about disease, disasters, and technologies that will destroy all privacy and ruin our lives. It is true today that there is still darkness in the world, diseases that are not cured, unpredicted disasters, and technology that seems invasive. It is also true that today global problems pale in comparison to the same problems just 20 or so years ago. Take for example, the fact that today you only have a .03% chance of dying a “violent” death. This is down from over 15% chance in the early 20th century.
So why do we still feel unsafe, stressed, and worried about the world we live in? Meet your Amygdala. The Amygdala is a pesky part of our brains that made it possible for us to evolve. This is the part of our brain that is a “hot circuit” for fear. The same thing that makes us jump when frightened, and allows our bodies to react ultra fast to danger. Millions of years ago, that danger would be to out run, or out hide a predator. Today, modern media has exploited this piece of human anatomy as a hot circuit that we biologically can not ignore. We can’t help but be engaged to “bad” news. Its the same reason we find entertainment in a horror film. The problem comes when we overlay this biological fact with the advanced, media-rich world we live in today. Twitter, Facebook, push notifications on our iDevices, and advertising make it impossible to turn our amygdala off.
Understanding this, we can step back and realize these world problems that are so “insurmountable” are not so impossible after all. In fact, EVERY problem we know today can be solved with a simple formula: Technology + Capital + People . In some cases we don’t even need all three.
Maybe we shouldn’t identify our biggest problems today as ‘problems’ at all. They are the biggest opportunities of all. The faster we can execute on these opportunities, the better the whole human race will be. Of course, we’ll find something to do with that amygdala, more bad news is certain to flood our society – but this shouldn’t stop us from moving forward today.
One big question I had when listening to the SU debunk myth after myth about the world’s grand challenges (hunger, water, energy), was ‘what will we do when we live in a world with so few problems, there is not enough work to keep everyone busy solving them?’ It’s not such a crazy thought. Yes, we will inevitably create new problems by solving others, but surely the trend is a downward one. It was at this point Neil Jacobstein shared a profound thought: Altruism Is Currency.
I won’t pretend I didn’t check wikipedia to be sure I knew what Altruism means: Its the “principle or practice of concern for the welfare of others.” Let that sink in for a second. In other words, because nothing in this world is impossible, it means that we can begin to spend our time practicing altruism: solving problems for others. As the human race continues to grow through technology, the tools we create along the way can be used to solve the problems of our neighbors.
This turns out to be an incredible way to calm the amygdala. By giving to others, our brains create more Oxytocin – the chemical that helps to counteract the amygdala. This is the same chemical created when we laugh or love. This is perhaps the strongest argument that we solve problems exponentially with technology, because as one problem is solved, we are physically compelled to help others with the technology – speeding up the solutions to the world’s problems.
I’ll stop here for this post, and continue with more SU thoughts in a 3rd post. For now, I’ll end with a quote that is brought to mind as we realize just how quickly some of the world’s problems can be solved: