Friday, April 17, 2015


We can all think of people that we consider intolerable, whether on the world scene or locally, and that we wish could simply be swept out of the way. The same way with many situations that we consider intolerable. Time to get on our high horses and clean the place up, right?

But of course this is impossible. We know that. What I am saying here is that it is also not a good idea to even try. I realized this while I was reading Robert Trivers’s book The Folly of Fools, a book about deception and self-deception. Early in the book he writes about nest parasitism, in which birds such as cuckoos lay their eggs in the nests of other species, and the parents of the other species feed and raise the cuckoo chicks. How could natural selection have produced birds that are so stupid as to be deceived by the cuckoos, especially when the cuckoo chicks are often much bigger than the birds’ own chicks? Surely natural selection could have been able to produce birds that could count up to, say, three, and realize that there are too many eggs in the nest, or recognize the big chick as being awfully weird-looking.

Natural selection could have done this but did not. One reason that Trivers provides for this is the cost of false positives. If parent birds start ejecting chicks, they might eject some of their own. The cost of ejecting even one of their own chicks might outweigh the benefit of ejecting the parasites. Furthermore, in the absence of nest parasitism, it makes sense for the parents to feed the biggest chicks the most, since those chicks are the ones most likely to survive. The risk of a false positive—host birds ejecting their own large chick thinking it to be a grossly oversized parasite—might outweigh the benefit of ejecting the parasite.

And so when I encounter intolerable people, I will try to just sigh and think of such people as cuckoos, and when I encounter intolerable situations, I will just think of it as a dirty nest. If the problem is easy to fix, I will fix it, but otherwise I will just save myself the cortisol and forget about it. Easier said than done, but that is my goal.

No comments:

Post a Comment