Evolutionary Scenario linking the Nature of Self-Consciousness to Anxiety Management (Dec 2017)

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Anxiety is a main contributor to human psychological sufferings. Its evolutionary sources are generally related to alert signals for coping with adverse or unexpected situations [Steiner, 2002] or to hunter-gatherer emotions mismatched with today environments [Horwitz & Wakefield, 2012]. We propose here another evolutionary perspective that links human anxiety to an evolutionary nature of self-consciousness. That approach introduces new relations between mental health and human mind. The proposed evolutionary scenario starts with the performance of primate identification with conspecifics [de Waal 1998, 2008]. It is assumed that the evolution of that identification brought our ancestors to represent themselves as entities existing in the environment, like conspecifics were represented as existing in the environment. We consider that this process has implemented in the mind of our ancestors some first elements of self-consciousness [Menant 2014a]. But the same process has also produced new sufferings coming from identification with suffering or endangered conspecifics. In addition, the emerging performance of self-focus brought in the new feeling of being a suffering entity. We consider that all these new sufferings have created in the mind of our primate ancestors a huge anxiety increase, unbearable if not limited. Among the options available to limit that anxiety increase we focus on two of them that may have taken place. The first was a withdrawal from the process. Some primates may have simply rejected the evolution of identification (and with it self-consciousness). This may have led them to an ecological niche resulting in our today great apes. The second option was about limiting the causes of sufferings and taking advantage of possible resulting evolutionary benefits. This may have been achieved by developing performances like imitation, communication, simulation, synergy and ToM. Added to a positive feedback on identification these performances may have initiated an evolutionary engine that has accelerated the evolution toward human self-consciousness. That option is characterized by an early build up of anxiety limitation processes in an evolutionary nature of our human self-consciousness. This option corresponds to a human specificity and introduces anxiety management and self-consciousness as sharing a same evolutionary story. The build up of these anxiety management processes is now buried in the evolutiony story of our human mind. But these processes are still present in our minds at an unconscious level and participate to many of our human mental states and behaviors. Such positioning of anxiety management as part of the nature of human mind is new and makes available entry points for new understandings of human emotion, motivations and mental disorders. The proposed evolutionary scenario has been introduced in philosophy of mind [Menant 2011, 2014a, b] but it has not been so far explicitly part of primatology nor of psychology/psychiatry/ethics. We present here a drawing of the scenario with highlights on corresponding key points. More work is needed on these new evolutionary links between human mind and anxiety management. References: de Waal, F B.M. (1998). No imitation without identification. Behavioral and Brain Sciences (1998) 21:89. http://cogweb.ucla.edu/Abstracts/deWaal_98.html de Waal, F B.M. (2008). Putting the Altruism Back into Altruism: The Evolution of Empathy. Annu. Rev. Psychol. 2008, 59. http://www.life.umd.edu/faculty/wilkinson/BIOL608W/deWaalAnnRevPsych2008.pdf Horwitz, A. V. and Wakefield, J. C. (2012). All We Have to Fear: Psychiatry’s Transformation of Natural Anxieties into Mental Disorders. Oxford Univ. Press. 2012. Menant, C. (2011). Computation on Information, Meaning and Representations. An Evolutionary Approach. https://philpapers.org/rec/MENCOI Menant, C. (2014a). Proposal for an evolutionary approach to self-consciousness. https://philpapers.org/rec/MENPFA-3 Menant, C. (2014b). Consciousness of oneself as object and as subject. Proposal for an evolutionary approach. https://philpapers.org/rec/MENCOO Steiner, T. (2002). The biology of fear- and anxiety-related behaviors. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2002 Sep; 4(3): 231–249. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181681/
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