Apalla #35 - Psychology, Part 1

[Hey there — I wanted to let you all know about our latest project, Apalla Alexandria. Alexandria is an attempt to catalog professionally designed free courses available on a wide variety of topics. Right now, you can buy our database of courses for Humanities or for STEM!]

Today, we’re talking about some general psychology topics. Since I’m a big psychology fan, I have quite a few psychology docs on hand -- however, I do also have a “miscellaneous” doc for smaller topics. I figure I’ll start off the psychology folder by firing off a couple of these as their own Psychology series. 

To start ourselves off, we’re going to begin like we always do and talk about the basics. Now, basics is a little bit of a misnomer here in comparison to previous series -- unlike something like investing, we can’t just say there are a couple of broad, neat categories and call it a day. Really, there is nothing basic about psychology. So with that in mind, I’m instead going to use this post to talk about a series of seemingly unconnected ideas, that will hopefully play into one another and connect as a foundation as you read on -- either within this series or as you learn more about psychology in general.

The first main key to understand is that many parts of human activity have an identifiable and stable pattern. This is what we call heuristics, shortcuts in our ways of thinking across all spectrums that make life easier for us as a whole. Sound familiar? This relates back to our behavioral economics series, where we talk about heuristics and the things that make our heuristics turn against us: biases

Heuristics are an evolutionary inheritance -- if we spend too long thinking about basic things, it will drain our energy from what’s most important. Another evolutionary inheritance is our distractibility; humans cannot focus or pay attention very long for a reason, that reason being that a full understanding of the environment is a requirement in order to scope out threat.

Speaking of threats, it may be nice to bring up working models here as well. Typically someone has something between a hostile working model and a cooperative working model of their world. These represent the two states of evolutionary survival: if you have a hostile working model, you believe everything is a threat: your cortisol is high, and you tend to be distrustful and aggressive. On the other hand, if you have a cooperative working model, you’re relaxed and trusting. Of course, the best place to be is somewhere in the middle.

Most of what we’ve talked about is probably pretty standard across all mammals, give or take. Fragility priming is where things take a turn. You see, the number one thing that makes humans how they are is their ability to think abstractly -- this includes the capability to think up hypothetical situations, such as dying… also known as, well, failing to survive. It’s when we recognize the ultimate failure state, that we realize we are not just motivated by basic functions such as food or money -- we have bigger dreams as well.

So, once fragility is primed, what do people care about? It typically boils down to three things: happiness, engagement, and sense of fulfillment. But really that’s two things, since we get happiness through engagement and fulfillment. So, what’s up with these two?

Well, engagement is primarily driven by freedom and autonomy. Essentially, we don’t like being told what to do -- we like living life on our own terms. That being said, we can have all the freedom in the world, but a few days of sitting back and doing absolutely nothing will begin to drive anyone nuts. That’s what leads to the idea of fulfillment, or having a meaningful impact on the world. We have to always be working towards something, and that something has to have some intrinsic meaning to us. Some people can be more ambitious than others, but we all have that underlying drive to us. 

Overall, this episode might have been a little scattered, and you might still be wondering how all these concepts fit in together. This is pretty natural, and my hope is that later on things will become much clearer. But that’s all I have for now -- I’ll see you next time for an episode on refactoring, which will serve as an extension to our fragility priming discussion.