“Our neural material lets us push back the idea of ​​self-limitation”

By Elizabeth Berthou

Posted today at 6:30pm, updated at 8:59pm.

For the first time in its history, the human species must face an existential emergency: finding the conditions that will prevent the planet from becoming uninhabitable. Specialists in cognitive processes, Sébastien Bohler, neurobiologist, editor-in-chief of Brain & Psychoauthor of Human Psycho. How humanity became the most dangerous species on earth (books, 280 pages, 19 euros) and Thierry Ripoll, researcher in cognitive psychology, author of Why are we destroying the planet? Can Homo sapiens’ brain save the earth? (Le Bord de l’eau, 240 pages, 20 euros) bundle their analyzes of the biological determinisms that have driven humanity into a race to catastrophe.

They have an evolutionary approach to explaining human responsibility for the environmental crisis. What happens in the brain ofhomo sapiens ?

Sebastian Boehler: The vertebrate and mammalian brain has deep cerebral structures, the reward system of which is the striatum at its center. This neural structure is responsible for five basic motivations that still operate in humans today: eat, procreate, gain social status, minimize effort, and gather information. It encourages living beings to engage in these behaviors and ensures their survival without a priori set limits by giving them pleasure in the form of a molecule, dopamine. Humans entered the evolutionary stage by inheriting these basic motivations.

About three hundred thousand years ago, the emergence ofhomo sapiens is associated with the expansion of the cerebral cortex, which gives us the power of abstraction, language, planning and collaboration. This part of the brain will then be at the heart of a multitude of inventions that will be directed towards the satisfaction of the basic needs of the striatum. For example, the ingenuity of the cerebral cortex encourages the creation of tools that allow for more controlled and efficient food intake. With the Neolithic came seed culture, breeding, rationalization of the land, and the first agglomerations. Food production will continue to increase up to industrial agriculture. Today we are producing more and richer food for this fundamental part of our brain that is not programmed to limit itself. Overeating, obesity, overweight and the emission of a quarter of greenhouse gases are due to the lack of limits to our food needs.

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