Has Evolution Wired Us To Pursue Novelty?

In the past century, the way we work, play, and relate to one another has undergone a dramatic shift. The values of prior generations have become the archetypes in the new generations Anti-Manifesto. What was once held dear has now been pushed aside for the new and improved. In the mix of this frenzy are two “teams”, those advocating for change, and those advocating for the way things are; novelty on one end and consistency on the other.

This leaves us to pose the question, would we be better off constantly pursuing what is new? Or are we better fit to seek safety and security? Are the two mutually exclusive? Maybe the allure of the “new” isn’t something only reserved for Neophiliac’s, maybe mother nature made sure we would always have an incentive to pursue more?

“It’s only when the mind is free from the old that it meets everything anew, and in that there is joy.”

Jiddu Krishnamurti

Our Brain On “New”

Our cerebral cortex (the outermost layer of our brains) provides memory, awareness, language, and analytical thought; the tools we use to solve life’s many unanswered questions. In doing so we attempt to eliminate uncertainty to the best of our ability, which can take many forms (e.g. threatening situations), and increase our likelihood of coming out ahead. By periodically seeking new experiences, we shift from predictable to unpredictable. This allows us to see the necessity of predictability/reliability as well as the potential rewards/risks with new pursuits.

Feelings associated with familiarity allows us to establish a “home base” of reference; to not feel like our lives are in a state of chaotic flux. But once our routine is established, we begin to seek out challenges to that routine. We do this to fine tune and improve upon what we’ve already built, and to gain new information that could be of benefit to us.

Activities like gathering/hunting food, securing shelter, sourcing clean water, were once at the apex of our priorities. This is one of the reasons why having a routine was so valuable, it ensured that our essential requirements for survival never went un-addressed. But in today’s world all of these things are being handled by someone else, leaving us to channel our focus towards anything we choose, which is intimidating. Our internal alarms immediately go off at the thought of steering our attention away from our necessities. But once we can rest assured that our fundamental needs are met, it is then time to trek into uncharted territory.

Satisfying The Brain With Reward

When we seek out new experiences our Substantia Nigra/Ventral Tegmental Area (SNVTA), located in the middle of the brain, is rewarded with dopamine, this reaffirms our curiosity and pushes us to pursue more in hopes of acquiring a greater reward. The reward from novelty also promotes Neuroplasticity, allowing new connections to be made between neurons that has shown to strengthen memory in animal test subjects (mice). This is important to note because the layout of the Hippocampus in mice is very similar to that of human beings. So then, in theory, by participating in novel behavior we can potentially increase the probability for remembering new, as well as old, information than if we hadn’t sought out new stimuli.

Should We Stay Or Should We Go? 

So does this mean that we should always be on the lookout for the “next thing”? Not at all. It means that we owe it to ourselves to not shy away from uncertainty, to instead embrace it and use it to our advantage.

Don’t let your nerves stand in your way. If new opportunities present themselves, seize them. You may not know where they lead but that is an essential part of being human – diving into the unknown.

 

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