“Our neural material makes us push back against the idea of ​​self-limiting”

By Elisabeth Berthou

Posted today at 6:30 p.m., updated at 8:59 p.m.

For the first time in its history, the human species must face an existential emergency: to find the conditions to prevent the planet from becoming unlivable. Specialists in cognitive processes, Sébastien Bohler, neurobiologist, editor-in-chief of brain & psychoauthor of Human Psycho. How mankind became the most dangerous species on the planet (Books, 280 pages, 19 euros), and Thierry Ripoll, researcher in cognitive psychology, author of Why are we destroying the planet? Is the brain of Homo sapiens able to preserve the Earth? (Le Bord de l’eau, 240 pages, 20 euros), combine their analyzes of the biological determinisms that have pushed humanity into a race towards catastrophe.

You have an evolutionary approach to explaining human responsibility for the environmental crisis. What happened in the brain ofHomo sapiens ?

Sebastien Bohler: The brain of vertebrates and mammals has deep cerebral structures, the reward system of which is, at its center, the striatum. This nervous structure is responsible for five basic motivations still at work today in human beings: to eat, to reproduce, to acquire social status, to minimize one’s efforts and to glean information. It encourages living beings to perform these behaviors, guaranteeing their survival, without a priori fixed limit, by giving them pleasure in the form of a molecule, dopamine. Humans entered the evolutionary stage inheriting these basic motivations.

Some three hundred thousand years ago, the emergence ofHomo sapiens is linked to the expansion of the cerebral cortex, which gives us the power of abstraction, language, planning, cooperation. This part of the brain is then at the heart of a host of inventions that will be turned towards the satisfaction of the basic desires of the striatum. For example, the ingenuity of the cerebral cortex promotes the manufacture of tools that allow food to be obtained in a more controlled and efficient way. Will follow, with the Neolithic, the culture of the seeds, the breeding, the rationalization of the grounds, the first agglomerations. Food production will continue to increase up to industrial agriculture. Today, we continue to produce more and more and richer food for this fundamental part of our brain, which is not programmed to limit itself. Overeating, obesity, overweight and the emission of a quarter of greenhouse gases are due to the absence of limits in the satisfaction of our food needs.

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